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Bookshops of Boston 1: Commonwealth Books

Bookshops of Boston 1: Commonwealth Books

Leo perusing the shelves of Commonwealth Books

Will bookshops survive the digital revolution? Perhaps some of them may. There is a special pleasure in reading on paper, browsing real books, picking them up and gathering in a moment a sense of their heft and gravitas. This January, among other things, I plan to read more, and to read more weirdly and widely, rambling without the direction or the cognisance of algorithms.

So on a snowy Sunday afternoon shopping for dull household items in Boston’s January sales, my feet turned as they often do towards the alley that houses Commonwealth Books. It’s a fascinating second-hand bookstore which is also the residence of a large ginger cat named Leo. Leo reminds me of a real-life version of the fictional ‘Bagpuss’, a shop-dwelling cloth cat whose magical adventure were narrated by Oliver Postgate on the BBC when I was a child.

Two Exhibitions: “Doppelhanger” at MOBA and “Frances Stark” at MFA

Two Exhibitions: “Doppelhanger” at MOBA and “Frances Stark” at MFA

I laughed more in my short visit to the Museum of Bad Art (MOBA) – than I can remember doing at an art gallery. But the experience was not only amusing; it helped me to reflect upon the curatorial process at work in all art galleries, and to reach a conclusion about the Frances Stark retrospective which is currently on show at Boston’s Museum of Fine Art.

The current MOBA exhibition is entitled “doppelhanger” and features portraits which bear an intended or accidental  resemblance to a famous person. My guide, Louise Reilly, pointed to “Sunday on the Pot with George” (above).

“This is one of my all time favorites. Pointillism is difficult. Why would anyone expend that much energy painting a middle-aged man in his tighty whities sitting on a toilet?” And look” she pointed to where the portrait ends, at the subject’s ankles, where either by accident or design the painter has avoided having to include those challenging feet.

Two Exhiitions: “Doppelhanger” at MOBA and “Frances Stark” at MOFA

Two Exhiitions: “Doppelhanger” at MOBA and “Frances Stark” at MOFA

I laughed more in my short visit to the Museum of Bad Art (MOBA) – than I can remember doing at an art gallery. But the experience was not only amusing; it helped me to reflect upon the curatorial process at work in all art galleries, and to reach a conclusion about the Frances Stark retrospective which is currently on show at Boston’s Museum of Fine Art. The current MOBA exhibition is entitled “doppelhanger” and features portraits which bear an intended or accidental resemblance to a famous person. My guide, Louise Reilly, pointed to “Sunday on the Pot with George” (above). This is one of my all time favorites. Pointillism is difficult. Why would anyone expend that much energy painting a middle-aged man in his tighty whities sitting on a toilet?” And look” she pointed to where the portrait ends, at the subject’s ankles, where either by accident or design the painter has avoided having to include those challenging feet.

Mysteries are a Great Way of Getting to Know a City

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Boston. Photo by Rob Bruce

 

Exploring the city of Boston, I have enlisted the help of a private eye. A six-foot-one ass-kicking redhead who moonlights as a part-time cabbie and roams the city night and day, rooting out the corruption which constantly reappears, always in a different form.

Is Farming the New Rock and Roll?

Is Farming the New Rock and Roll?


I was prompted to ask this question after meeting some start-up farmers in Massachusetts. They are interesting and unexpected entrants into a profession we are often told has a gloomy future: from a rock promoter to a Harvard educated bio-physicist.

Like other developed countries and the rest of the US, Massachusetts has a large number of farmers over the age of 65 with no identified inheritors. For 30 years, the number of entrants into farming was on the slide. However, over the last decade that has begun to change. It seems, farming is becoming cool again.

Adventures in Boston and Portland, Maine

Adventures in Boston and Portland, Maine

Jackie Kemp in Boston: Photo by Rob Bruce

“Large, hot Earl please,” the waitress yelled in a cafe this morning. I smiled, seeing in my mind’s eye a dashing peer of the realm with a twirling moustache, like a character from Blackadder, rushing out of the kitchen. But no, just a tepid tea in a paper cup. Spending time in Boston this week, where my husband is working, I have been reminded of the saying, attributed to George Bernard Shaw, that Britain and America  are “two nations divided by a common language”. At the library when the attendant said:  “check your bag, please,” I opened it thinking she meant she wanted to look inside. But she meant it had to be put in a locker.

I belong to Europe, by David Kyd

(To the tune of I belong to Glasgow https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eJwl9GLaUAU) I dinna belang to the Glaekit! I belong tae Europe Europe’s affa doon Since it got a kick in the Brexit…

Is the Curriculum for Excellence Dumbing Down Scottish Education?

What do we mean by a good education? It’s not the same as being intelligent of course. An educated young person has skills they can take with them into the world. But should these include reasonable fluency in a modern language, an understanding of the sciences, maths, some knowledge of literature and history? Or, in this age of easy fact-finding on the internet does an educated person mean: a successful learner, a confident individual, a responsible citizen and an effective contributor, as Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence has it? The Scottish government is wrestling with the implementation of this curriculum, which was intended to build on the concept of the “democratic intellect”, a generalist approach favouring interdisciplinary study. But how is it working in practice?

A Sleepless Night

I composed this poem one night when I couldn’t sleep. It was also partly inspired by hearing about an ancient method of hunting where two or three hunters with only…

Drinking, Feasting, Fighting, Wearing Bling – the Celts Come to Town

Drinking, Feasting, Fighting, Wearing Bling – the Celts Come to Town

Detail from the Gundestrup Cauldron, circa 100BC, Denmark.

Images courtesy of the British Museum and the NMS

Celts could be weird and scary. They were mad for the drink and when they had it, you had to watch out for them: they saw things and became aggressive. They were radge fighters, absolutely mental, they dressed up to go into battle and they played great big war horns that made a sound that would scare the living daylights out of you. And they liked bling, loved it actually: gold, bronze, iron, glass, precious stones. They wore chunky jewellery decorated with abstract patterns and symbols. They were skilled at metalwork, leatherwork, pottery and weaving and if something precious was broken, they would mend it – a bronze flagon with a broken handle would get a different handle, or a hole would be fixed with a decorated patch, and made as good as new – better in fact. Oh and they loved parties and feasting; the women were great hosts and they were buried with their special pots and flagons, probably so they could use them for a big after-party on the other side.

Creativity and Courage: An Exhibition of Women’s Art

Creativity and Courage: An Exhibition of Women’s Art

Catterline in Winter. Joan Eardley. Images Courtesy of the National Galleries of Scotland

 There are many powerful pieces in the current exhibition of Modern Scottish Women’s Art from the late Victorian era to the early 60s and the show casts light on the challenges that women artist faced.

They had to contend with barriers such as the bar on married women’s employment and the misogyny which meant they were not admitted to bodies like the RSA. There was prejudice from families which made it harder to train and caring responsibilities which absorbed their time and emotional energy.

But these were strong women all of whom earned at least a partial living from their endeavours as artists and this exhibition is a rare opportunity to see their often unfairly neglected work.

What really happened at “1707: What Really Happened?”

History Festival

The faultlines of Scottish politics go back a long way: historians are still arguing about the Union of Parliaments back in 1707 when the Scottish Parliament voted itself out of existence. For some it was a pragmatic decision; for others it was a grave error. These controversies were argued over afresh at “1707: What Really Happened?” at Scotland’s History Festival last month.

Playwrights Tim Barrow and Jen McGregor read from Tim Barrow’s play “Union’ set in 1707. The scene dramatised the clash over the Treaty of Union between Lord Queensberry who was a main proponent of the measure and steered it through Parliament and Lord Hamilton, who led the opposition to it.  Here is an excerpt from the scene, set in the “magnificent chamber of the Scottish Parliament”.

Excerpt from the play ‘Union’ by Tim Barrow set in 1707

This is an excerpt from a scene which was read at an event at the “Previously…” Scotland’s History Festival, on November 19 2015

Set in the magnficent chamber of the Scottish Parliament, the scene features Lord Queensberry, the main proponent of the Treaty of Union and Lord Hamilton, who led the opposition.

“Story is in our DNA”; A successful book on failure by Brené Brown.

If there is one thing that Americans do a lot better than Europeans, it is failure. An example is ‘Rising Strong’, an incredibly successful book on the subject of failure and its aftermath. Now a UK best-seller, I picked it up from Edinburgh airport bookstore, drawn by the sub heading “If we are brave enough, often enough, we will fall. This is a book about getting back up.”

Arts news: Mairi Campbell’s new show ‘Pulse’ to premier at Showcase at Celtic Connections

‘Mairi Campbell reacted angrily when she was downgraded for playing her own composition in her final exams and left Guildhall College of Music and Drama for her bolthole on the Isle of Lismore. Supportive tutor Peter Renshaw found the phone number of the family’s cottage there and called her, a moment which features in the show. “I said ‘you can get tae fuck’ and got on the train home to Edinburgh. I never went back.  The next thing was Peter’s call to Lismore where I was recuperating.  He said that they’d keep up the fight.” ‘

PULSE to showcase at Celtic Connections, Jan 2016

Not many musicians could hope to fill a theatre with a one-woman experimental musical about their own lives. But Mairi Campbell’s new show ‘Pulse’ in which she acts, sings, plays the fiddle and dances the story of her own musical coming of age has been selected to represent the best of Scottish musical culture at the prestigious Showcase event at Celtic Connections in January 2016.

Road Trip Part Two: Utah. Zion and A Bottle of Water That was the Answer to a Prayer

Road Trip 2. (Find more in this series under ‘Travel’ on the right hand menu). First light is the best time to take pictures, and on our road trip stop off at Zion National Park, a chilly dawn found us at Overlook Point, Rob and his tripod hovering on the edge of a 1,000 foot drop. The landscape stirs echoes of cowboy B movies, Star Trek scenes and prehistoric epics. You could almost believe the rocks were polystyrene and peering down into the deep valley, I half-expected to hear a dinosaur roar. This area has been the backdrop for many movies, the most famous being Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.