‘Captain Fantastic’

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To watch the trailer for ‘Captain Fantastic’ having seen the film last night, I am reminded of the poignant beauty of the endeavour which Ben Cash (Viggo Mortensen) and his wife set out to accomplish by raising their family off-grid and by a very different set of rules which challenge twenty-first century Western sensibilities. The film is raw and thought provoking, it nods to the human darkness and the teetering knife edge of sanity (a nod to the mother’s bipolar disorder) and crafts a tale of independent, stripped back to nature life where a father is raising his children to be “philosopher kings”. Ben Cash is either “the best father in the world or the worst” and both are possibilities as the film unfolds and we watch as the ideologies and honest truths of the Cash family life are challenged by necessary and unavoidable clashes with modern social norms and expectations.

Love and the extremities to which man will go to cultivate and defend what he believes to be right and important are central to this film. The children are raised to fend and fight for themselves, their thinking is informed and highly intelligent because they are challenged and engaged, reading Middlemarch and discussing Marxism and Noam Chomsky round the fire at night. We really see their natural spiritedness through their creativity and musicality where in one particularly poignant scene the family sing and dance around a funeral pyre on a cliff top to celebrate life, death, and love.

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The film is soulful but also grates on you, you leave feeling divided about Cash’s parenting and the extent to which his love and determination borders manic extremism and potentially abusive situations, such as creating a ‘mission’ for the family to “free the food” from a supermarket; things are unravelling at the seams and the Cash family way of life entirely is called into question during the whole film. Is Ben Cash and the children’s sense of reality skewed, or are we as an audience being asked to wonder what makes our accepted social reality ‘the right way’ to view the world?

‘Captain Fantastic is not a sugary sweet ‘hippie’ tale of peace, love, and harmony and I think that the writer/director Matt Ross thoughtfully explores the adventure and possibility that life can take you on. The film is an exposition of the extent to which one can truly remove oneself from social norms and yet see the bigger picture and relate to world as a whole through negotiation and open mindedness of what is right.

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I left the cinema with divided sympathies and my head a whirr of thought and wonder. ‘Captain Fantastic’ reminded me of people I met and befriended living in Byron Bay, Australia where many people choose to try to live off grid and ‘alternative’ lifestyles. The culture-clash when I first encountered some of the people in this hippie paradise subsided when I let my guard down and stopped feeling like I had to defend myself and the way that I knew life to be. In opening my mind to other ways of educating oneself and of interacting with the world, I took in new perspectives and had a re-think, which I know was a very healthy and beneficial process to go through.

When watching ‘Captain Fantastic’ I smiled thinking of my barefooted bohemian friends.  The film struck my fancy on first glance not only because it reminded me of people and ways of life which I came across whilst living in Australia, but also because of my current position at the beginning of my teacher training and the insight it gave into childhood, education, and the wonderful hope for raising children to take on the world as “philosopher kings”, bringing power to the people and sticking it to the man.

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Hello You

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‘One inspirational letter can change your life forever.’

Well that’s something I can certainly stand behind.

 It’s no secret that I have an active enthusiasm for the written word, and written correspondence by letter is right up there amongst the favourites. It was much joy that I came across another avid epistolarian, and Jodi has taken her passion one step further by engaging in an letter-writing drive.

Browsing through the latest issue of ‘Oh Comely’‘Issue 32 in which we talk about letters’-this one had me at hello- I earmarked an article titled ‘Dear Stranger’ about author and poet Jodi Ann Bickley’s project: ‘One Million Lovely Letters’.

To summarise, finding herself swallowed up in darkness whilst suffering from meningoencephalitis (Google was required) Jodi thought of others who were similarly losing themselves. She decided to set up a website, send messages out to the world via Twitter: ‘I’m going to write you a letter…just to make the day a bit better or to remind you of the bloody amazing stuff about you you’ve forgotten.’ Overnight she received two hundred responses from strangers, and Jodi responded to these individually with much care and attention. The project has expanded and unique, thoughtful letters are sent and received across the world by Jodi and her team at ‘One Million Lovely Letters’.  Jodi has even brought out a book with the same title to tell her story, and I have just added it to my online “shopping cart”.

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We’re the same age, Jodi and I, and that caught my attention on top of the subject matter of the magazine article. We are two individuals, strangers to one another with a shared appreciation for letter writing and understanding of the subtle power which one small gesture can have for the life of someone just at that right moment in time.

This morning I wrote my own contribution to Jodi’s project and future exhibition. Encouraged by the invitation at the end of the ‘Oh Comely’ article: ‘something which would make a stranger’s day’,  I sat down with a cup of tea and put pen to paper to scroll out three pages to someone, anyone. I wonder where it will end up. I included a letter for Jodi herself full of praise and enthusiasm, because she should know she’s doing something really inspirational.

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For anyone else who might want to take part, you can find more information about ‘One Million Lovely Letters’ here.

And of course, I wouldn’t even know anything about the project without the article by Lottie Storey in ‘Oh Comely’ magazine, and their website can be found here.

“…when I’m letter writing it feels a little bit like magic”.

Violet

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Last month I found the perfect gift for a friend’s birthday: a beautiful recipe book filled with ideas and pictures of baked goods, the stylish cover catching my eye on the shelf and calling out: “pick me, pick me, pick me!”
So I did; the reduced sticker winking at me with a knowing look, you’ll be back, and oh how it had me at hello as I did go back to buy a second copy for myself, and I love it.

It wasn’t just the bargain price tag that made me covet the gift and will me into buying a second copy of my own, but there was something else which rang a bell, as if I had come across ‘Violet’ before. On reading the foreword I realised perhaps my instincts were correct. The ‘Violet‘ bakery finds itself in Hackney, East London and started life at Broadway market before opening as a café and bakery in 2010. I think the darling little bunting bedecked stall was in fact pointed out to me by my friend Sarah when I was in London with her in March, so I knew there was something magical about this purchase a few months later.

Four recipes have already been followed to great success, and I took great pleasure in seeking out the shop front itself when in Hackney once again last week on a wee holiday.

20160819_095234 The summer light rain that morning was the only thing which dampened the mood as my friend Sophie and I sat sheltered under the peach coloured awning of the unassuming ‘Violet’ bakery. We started the day right with black coffee and a slice of sponge cake with coconut cream icing. I may have been slightly overwhelmed by the strange familiarity of finding somewhere I had seen in pictures in a book yet had never actually been to and therefore in retrospect I might have made the wrong cake choice. I don’t actually have a very sweet tooth,  however not a crumb was left and even if the cake was a little too sweet for 9 o’clock in the morning I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of sitting watching the world go by and smiling at the worthy locals popping in and cycling away again.

 

Tucked away on an unassuming residential street in Hackney, ‘Violet’ was a gorgeous find and is truly worth a look if in the area and like me enjoy feeling like a local, people watching, and sampling delectable baked goods at any time of the day.

The successes so far from ‘The Violet Bakery Cookbook‘ are:
-Chewy ginger snaps
-Banana buttermilk bread
-Wild blackberry crumble tart (made for my return from London by my mum for my birthday cake)
-Tomato and marjoram tarts (which we had for tea this evening/as a snack on returning from a dance class later on)

A Walk About Town: Part Two

A mere stone throw away from the Castlegate, I continued on my treasure hunt trail to experience the Look Again Festival by locating the Peacock Visual Arts centre down a little alleyway so surreptitious in its location that I almost missed it completely. Thankfully, I did not and found what was to be my favourite discovery of the whole festival: ‘The Brutalist Playground’, by architect collective Assemble and artist Simon Terrill.

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The juxtaposition of the marshmallow-esque building blocks and austere minimalist structural positioning really struck my fancy, and was very effective in establishing ‘a contemporary narrative’ for the post-war urban planning prevalent in and around London ’50s and 60’s. Fun, engaging, and provocative, ‘The Brutalist Playground’ was originally commissioned by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) in 2015, and asks the audience to reconsider the original Brutalist designs and intentions, and our own contemporary attitude towards risk assessment and freedom to play. Not just for children, the light hearted nature of the ‘The Brutalist Playground’ inspires joy in people of all ages, something special and to be commended.

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The public is invited to be part of the installation, what is a playground if not a space for play, the reconstituted foam providing a gloriously springy, playful platform for sensory experience. Not one to shy away from silliness, I was at first surprisingly self conscious as an adult on my own and felt an awkwardness reminiscent of infancy watching the big girls playing together and wishing they’d let me join in. One trip up the squishy pink staircase and down the appropriately adult-hipsize wide slide dispelled all social inhibitions prerequisite to maturation into the “grown-up world” and I fell a little bit more in love with the whole concept and piece.

There were a number of excellent events and exhibitions which I was unable to take in on my cultural treasure hunt including the ‘Unreal Estate’ commission, although I was amused to come across ‘Locked’, one of Iain Kettles’s two inflatable structures as part of Interzone, whose undisclosed locations encouraged the puplic to participate in a hide and seek game and question the relationship we all have with our surroundings. The playfulness of the Look Again Festival taking residence in such a rigid city centre surrounding built primarily of cold, grey granite was enchanting and I am delighted to discover that several of the exhibitions will still be accessible for the month of May, so there’s still time for more enlightening discoveries.

Aberdeen, you’re not so bad, and just like the bare Scottish landscape coming out of the winter and welcoming spring there are small signs of life starting to poke out and bring a little smile to my face. The year ahead is looking a little less grim and I hope to continue to find inspiration in my surroundings now I’ve seen the benefits of giving a place a second chance to show just what it has to offer.

A Walk About Town: Part One

What else can you do when invited to embark on a treasure hunt but tie up your boots straps and set off on the adventure, keeping your eyes open at every turn. Marching down the main street in Aberdeen city centre a couple days ago I set off with a smile on my face and an open mind ready to get engaged.

Promising to “challenge the way we all see the Granite City“, the Look Again Festival has certainly done just that and I must write to the organisers and pass on my congratulations. Subtle yet creatively conspicuous in the city, the diverse programme of exhibitions and events spread out beyond the confines of the city centre to one of the university campuses and a number of art spaces in the surrounding area. As a pedestrian this was the perfect introduction to the small galleries whose existence had been unknown to me prior to this weekend, with the keen volunteers at hand to offer directions and navigate highlights at the different sites.

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Starting my cultural trail with perhaps the most accessible project, the ‘Mirrored Pavilion’ situated was in the Castlegate and beautifully reflected the historical architecture of the area. Designed by Lucy Fisher, second year architecture student and winner of the Look Again Architecture Design Competition, the bold and elegant sculpture caught the eye, draws the attention of the public into the festival vibe, as well as played the pivotal role as information hub for the festival and exhibition space for the Look Inside Design Collective. I found the ‘Mirrored Pavilion’ to be charming, prominent without being ostentatious and I saw how it caught the attention of members of the public more often inclined to keep on walking whilst minding their own business; the perfect focal point to catalyse enthusiasm and promote the ethos of the Look Again Festival.

Sharing the Castelgate location, the ‘Diabolical Dance‘ installation found particularly poignant staging at the Mercat Cross. Shelagh Brown, a final year Contemporary Art
Tactics student at Gray’s School of Art here in Aberdeen, created a hauntingly moving spectacle which drew inspiration from the history of the city. Twenty-four pairs of shoes, embedded in concrete, were position around the Mercat Cross to represent twenty-four named witches in Aberdeen in 1596 and 1597 accused of ‘dancing round the Mercat Cross as Halloween’. I was unfortunately unable to make it to the official talk with the artist at the Town House but had the good fortune of meeting Shelagh Brown herself at the actual site of the installation and a short discussion with her gave fascinating insight into the thought process behind the piece.

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Little fun fact, a number of the pairs of shoes used as moulds were the artist’s own, including the fur lined boots she was wearing when we met. The cast and sculpted pairs of concrete shoes actualise the ‘impossibility of defence against the accusations’ and cleverly invite an audience to feel the weight of such persecution and empathise for the victims, centuries on but not without forbearance on modern times. By asking the public to put themselves in someone else’s shoes, I think Brown wonderfully connected with the sentiments of Look Again Festival and I applaud her for doing so in such a modest and gracefully striking way.

Feeling Inspired

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I set out today to my favourite spot to write, a little café tucked down a side street in the less fashionable end of town. Stationed on a large, wooden up-cycled communal table I set up office with black coffee and a delicious wholemeal scone as big as a man’s fist. The weather outside had subdued from intense hailstones coming at you at a sideways tilt to thick, fluffy flakes of snow giving a whole new meaning to the image of April showers.

I do not love the city that I live in. I do the best with what I have, if you put out positive vibes in life you’re more likely to feel positive vibes back in return, but Aberdeen is lacking as cities go. Where other Scottish cities are applauded for their integrated and dynamic cultural heart amidst a hubbub of commerce and trade, Aberdeen is like the poor relation in the family tree. In recent years something has gone awry, and the Granite City has lost her sparkle.

I set out this morning to have a day to myself, to get out of the house and to go find inspiration. And lo’, inspiration I did so happily find in the form of a poster advertising a festival of visual art and design here in Aberdeen this very weekend. The by-line for the Look Again Festival: “become a tourist in your own city”, caught my attention hook, line and sinker, and before I had even finished my coffee I had looked the festival up online, plotted out a map of the projects sites around the city centre, and set off on a treasure hunt. Seek and you will find.

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The Look Again Festival premiered in 2015 as part of a three-year project to showcase the best of visual art and design from the north east of Scotland. Recognising that the region was “crying out for a large scale festival celebrating its innovative visual art and design projects” the cultural community combined forces and resources. The festival seeks to encourage creative connections locally, nationally and internationally, and support and promoting the existing and next generation of artists and designers here in the north east.

Having spent many years looking at this city in a certain light, I want to give it a chance to change my mind a little and open my eyes to the creativity and cultural atmosphere that I always felt Aberdeen has been missing. I intend to follow the motto in the by-line, to become a tourist in this city and the Look Again festival is a fantastic platform to help me see the potential Aberdeen has to offer. I hope to write another post in a couple days to reflect upon the exhibitions and creative spaces which I come across over the course of this weekend, and from what I’ve seen so far, I already have so much positive words to say.

For more information on the full festival guide take a look at the Look Again Festival website linked here.

Podcast Mania

“I was listening to a podcast the other day and they were talking about this really interesting idea…”. This is my new line. I utter it approximately five times a day, to the extent that now some of my nearest and dearest roll their eyes at the mention of the P word.

I have always been in favour of distraction from the more mundane routines of daily life. When I was a child I used to tie my shoelaces with my foot clamped down on the middle of an open book, to be able to continue reading as I got ready for school (much to the despair of my mother, waiting at the door). While my commitment to children’s literature was certainly laudable, teeth brushing, cereal eating and hair drying often took twice the time than it should have. What’s more, having my head in a book is no longer the most suitable “routine-distraction”, as the requirements of adult life demand free hands. For laundry, kitchen cleaning and walking to work, new methods needed to be employed.

“I just can’t seem to get into podcasts”, “I always choose boring ones that I think will be educational” are some of the comments I’ve heard from friends. As an answer to these cries for help, I’d like to share my extensive and ongoing research into the best stories, with narratives that weave emotion and suspense into their journeys, presenters who I would like to have a glass of wine with, and topics that spark ideas galore. This is Suzy’s Best of the Internet Airwaves I. They can all be found on iTunes, downloaded on to phones/pods/computers and you’re off on your way.

Midori House

Podcast 101 for the amateur listener, or alternatively launch pad for the international affairs enthusiast, this half-an-hour programme is the lazy way to get a feel for the daily news. That is, if you like your news liberal/left-leaning, euro-centric, and with a bit of cynical humour. I tune in daily to hear the short debates and opinions from expert analysts on the top stories, and I always come away from listening a little bit more informed, and with a few more questions as to how global issues will unfold. Midori House is one of the programmes from the media company Monocle, which mixes serious journalism with hipster flair for design. For more in-depth analysis of foreign affairs, check out other Monocle podcasts such as The Globalist and the Foreign Desk, but note that these are a little more serious.

Radiolab

My love for Radiolab runs deep to the extent that I ration my listening of their archives for lucky days. Their tagline says it is “a show about curiosity. Where sound illuminates ideas, and the boundaries blur between science, philosophy, and human experience”. Hmm, ok. Radiolab basically picks apart interesting stories and explores them, asks difficult questions and stirs up suspense.

It’s not quite art, it’s not quite journalism, yet the pace, the sequencing of the story, the humour of the presenters and the execution of production, to me, feels like the modern reincarnation of the ancient tradition of storytelling. I would suggest starting with Update: New Normal, which asks the question “will humans ever stop fighting wars?” (or in other words, will human nature ever change?), and Nazi summer camp which is a super interesting discussion about the real value of international law. But…it’s fun. Promise.

FP Editor’s Roundtable

More news analysis, this time from the Editor in Chief of Foreign Policy and his pals, Washington elite and top thinkers from top think tanks. They are all extremely cynical and don’t leave you with any hope in international negotiations and diplomacy, yet the politics nerd in me loves tuning in for an update and a giggle. My previous post references an episode with an interesting discussion on the social media generation and grassroots emotion.

TED Radio Hour

“What if I told you…” (“I could change the world with this fifteen minute speech”), sound familiar? Those clever guys and gals from TED created a programme on general topics (fear, money, love, death, change) from extracts of the best speeches on their platform. Some of these are really great. I particularly enjoyed the ones on tending to mental health, and on what screentime does to our minds and relationships. However, a word of warning, TED Radio Hour episodes, just like TEDtalks, are a bit like Easter chocolate. They must be consumed in moderation; otherwise they just become a bit sickly.

Magic Lessons

These are wonderful little discussions for anyone struggling with creativity, or lack of. Liz Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, has recently written “Big Magic”, a sort of self-help book for creators suffering with writers block (musicians block? artists block? you get the drift). People phone in and explain their problems with getting down to finishing that book, or starting that album. Usually the problems are more than time management, Gilbert seeks out the emotional baggage behind and helps the caller to tackle the barrier. She then calls back in six months to see the progress. Whatever you think of her writing, Gilbert is a terrific mentor with her down-to-earth attitude and sense of humour. I really enjoyed listening to these conversations and realising that everyone can be creative, and that everyone needs to create, even if it’s just for themselves.

The Longest Shortest Time

First things first, let’s make things clear: this is a parenting show, I am not a parent, nor do I intend to be one any time soon. However, I know I am not the only non-parent who enjoys this podcast, because although the stories are about pregnancy, labour, infants, crazy tantrums, and the wacky things children say, they are also about humans, stress, love, families, and how everyone reacts differently to different hardships. Just as books and documentaries help us to see how other people live, this podcast helps us to understand the reality of bringing up children, of how families and marriages change, of how other people survive life’s tests, and how most of all, we should all just judge a little less.

Radio Ambulante

So far this is the only non-US/UK based podcast I listen to and I would definitely welcome others if you have any suggestions. Radio Ambulante is a Spanish language podcast telling Latin American stories, made by journalists based across the American continent. So far the episodes that I have listened to have included beautiful testimonies and tales on different topics such as migration, crime, and family. A good place to start would be with the following entertaining discussion about those who dare to criticise Peruvian cuisine, and what the backlash says about national identity, or this story from the only international correspondent covering corruption and impunity in Honduras. It is a privilege to listen to such stories and to be able to access journalism of this quality for free on the internet.

Happy listening, and I welcome your feedback and recommendations for the next time it’s my turn to clean the windows!