Re reading last years notes, and once again grateful for the recorded memory, I transcribe for Sara: “The wind is a gentle southerly. The moon is almost full. My moon sister comes to the 2nd row to give me a hug. Her father has just died. She is fragile, and she is an orphan.”
There is no moon. There is no wind, the sea calm, and the weather so balmy that the hoods are down on the Aldeburgh convertibles. The U.K. Met Office, for the first time in my memory, has come out unequivocally to say these new weather patterns of warmer and wetter weather are consistent with human activities. Prosaically I am grateful for the lack of cold, as I prepare to camp in my usual place, down by Slaughden Yacht club,
After a false start – I left my handbag in the sitting room of Magnolia House – Michael and I arrive in time to check into the Wentworth, where he stays, and walk down the pebbles to the sea, throw a few sticks for the demanding dog Kali, and admire Maggie’s scallop, which shines gloriously and offer climbing adventures to young children, and whose words I forget each time so I may re-read with surprise to find another resonance each time “I hear those voices that will not be drowned”.
Our first gathering is with Sara and Jeremy at the South Look Out where Caroline Wiseman has an exhibition – words from poets inspired by our island coast and a wall of patchwork art inspired by the coasting words. Back in the van we ate a delicious fresh crab – bought an hour previous along the sea shore, salad, roast pumpkin, Manchego cheese and pear, washed down with a good wine from Michael. It was a fine start to the festival. Yes, the poets are gathering too, for the 3rd year, Aldeburgh Poetry Festival, now called Poetry in Aldeburgh, is on the same weekend. Does this dualism work is hotly debated. As one man in the cinema queue said to me:
‘My wife comes to the poetry. I like poetry too, but not a full weekends full, so I am here in this queue to see this film’.
I spotted Andrea Porter crossing the street to the Cross Keys, and quoted her ‘I lost my virginity on an Axminster Carpet’
‘My common sense to a packet of fags, friends to lack of care and a letter,’ she continued then added
‘It’s all true’
I love Properties of Loss.
While Jay and Michael watched ‘The School in the Cloud, about TED prize winner Sugata Mitra putting computers into an Indian village – Sara and I went up stairs to watch plastics where I was given this conversation from a gentleman in the seat behind who’d just been given his Aldeburgh Doc Fest arm band:
“Now I’ve got two bands, one says medical alert. ”
Was it that I had seen it all before in India that I became bored and unconvinced with the film? The myth of recycling was never explored. The life of two families – the owner and the worker who may have liked his beer – became the pivot, the woman giving birth amid the plastic waste in such a matter of fact way. Their desperate and so human expressions. We cannot smell it. It looked rather colourful without identification. It had no story line.
Sara asks ‘Haven’t you had any friendships with kindness then?’
We talk of Sara’s mother, who she misses still. We are both orphans now.
An end of the day whisky in the bar of the Wentworth, before dogs and I head for our usual resting place at Slaughden Yacht club. Clear sky – Orion rising – brisk dog walk along the beach. Heaven.
A brisk morning walk to the Martello tower, (I note the runners passing me – I was one of those last year), to observe the coastal work that continues here since last year. Will it ever solve the march of the sea? Up at the Wentworth, Michael and I find a new walk exploring the area beyond the caravan site and once again I enjoy his sense of adventure and desire to find new ways. Dogs settled, I arrive in good time to find us a seat in the 2nd row and find myself in conversation with an elegant Aldeburgh woman who has lived here for 30 years, having initially come here as a child on holidays. She asked where I came from.
‘I like Halesworth’ she said. ‘I go to visit a friend on Quay Street, we went to university a long time ago. And to go to the dentist’. Have you come to this festival before? she asks. She is good at asking questions
Since 2010, I say, adding how much I enjoyed it.
I’m glad to hear, she says, You see I was the one who started it. She said it with such modesty and straightforward honesty. Molly suggested it, she said. ‘She was going out with my son at the time. I knew nothing of documentary and had no connections but she had. I got Craig Brown (English critic and satarist, esp Private Eye) involved, and he was a marvellous interviewer. Yes Diana took over from me.”
When Michael arrived it did not surprise me that Felicity Sieghart (her name) knew Tamsyn and her friend in Quay Street – they were all Somervillians. Michael joined the dots. Her son, William Sieghart (entrepreneur, publisher and philanthropist) was the the founder of the Forward Prizes for Poetry.
Thanks to Sara – who gave us her Doc wrist bands (not Medical Alert ones) we watched this opening film, The Judge, about a Palestinian woman who against all odds became a Judge on the Shiria family bench. The film, made by a Jewish American woman, took 5 years, with one week a year filming in Palestine. No funding until production.
In this inherently and culturally male dominated arabic land, while there are female judges for civil courts, Shiria courts – which deal solely with family law – had only male judges until Khalid Al Faqih became admitted.
“We teach our children! She declares to a room of women – we teach our children not to be ambitious, to play with dolls and not to become judges. Why not the rights of women?” She was a very likeable woman, authentic, deeply spiritual, practical (mending bike pumps), a wife, mother and a judge.
Ah those Hand un-English movements. The story provides rare insight into Shari’a law, an often-misunderstood legal framework for Muslims, the directness of the cases, with all in the same room – no baraster protection here – public declarations, not in a private chambers.
“Just as a man walks out on his wife, and marries another, why can’t a woman not do the same?” She is a gentle revolutionist, the women re-acted with shock and emotion.
‘I thought it was a joke’, said the chief justice when she came to him and said she wanted to become a judge. It was he who gave her the opportunity.
Throughout the film is unashamed and unabashed chauvinism. “A women is more emotional and so cannot make rational decisions unlike a man. A woman gives birth, bleeds, she is so occupied.” She exists only for pleasure and childbirth
It was her father who laid the foundation. ‘A man can always find work, but a woman, she needs the weapon of education in her life.’
There is a story woven into the film. Envy and dislike of change manifests. Her mentor is dismissed and a hew Chief Justice takes away her workload, but there is a case which rocks the boat.
A woman petitions for a divorce citing her husband band is mentally ill and dangerous. In such cases once proven there is no necessity to go to court. The medical examination returns and diagnoses him with bi polar. However the Chief Justice says the case must still be heard, and both must attend. They did, and the man violently stabbed and killed his wife in front of all.
Who killed her? You killed her, said our judge to the Chief Justice.
There is light at the end. The corrupt Chief Justice retired. Another woman, the Judges protege, is elected to the bench.
You need two extraordinary influential people, one supporting the other.
An insight into Shiria law, and the unusual every day life in Palestine – only a few side quips at boarder controls.
Michael Laskey launching the Garlic Press Poets
In the Peter Pears room. It is full, but we manage not only to get in, but find seats right in the front row. Two poems attract, the alter ego Lizard, and both the wolf poems, one brilliantly spoken by LM Dearlove and one by Elizabeth Cook, of the Romulus and Remus wolf.
Under the Wire
A testament to Marie Colvin, (the American Kate Aidie) who was killed by Syrian fire in 2012 and based on Conroy’s book. He is here, on the Panel afterwards and we give him a standing ovation as he comes to the stage.
Conroy’s argument (as is Maria’s) is that we have to bear witness to human suffering. Maria’s experience in East Timor in which she remained and thereby saved the lives of the forgotten, holds fast.
They were an unlikely fit. So many camera men had come and gone, the last one saying, Marie was more frightening than the war they were covering.’
It was a gripping story, reconstructed, we hear later, by a call out for footage from home grown Syrian film makers. Only the pipe was a reconstruction in Morrocco. (Remember Rakka – City of Ghosts last year?
After Marie was blown up, there was a limbo time when both injured Conroy and French journalist (above all I did not want to be a burden) waited in the city, uncertain of who to trust, if they would losse a limb or life or what. Their trust in the stranger who said, don’t go into the Syrian ambulance, just one example.
After 23 operations on his leg, Conroy walked onto the stage. He is a natural raconteur. I wondered how is his every day life, after this.
We could not take any more so walked dogs and ate delicious Lamb biriani and Dal at the White Lion Spice, to digest this powerful film, before settling into the red chairs for evening movie.
The content moderators for Facebook, Twitter, and Google, that control what we see. Like most of the Aldeburgh audience I had no idea of these back room boys and girls, who somewhere in Manila make binary decisions, ignore, delete to images from terrorist videos, political propaganda, self-harm videos, and child pornography,
The movie showed the tech companies are so eager to grow, expand, and profit that they fail to recognise the ways their platforms are fomenting hate, discord, and violence, with devastating results.
I, like others around, slept in parts for it was long, too long, and without a thread. However the discussion afterwards was good, the University of Cambridge’s John Naughton particularly coherent
Like mining, oil, and tobacco, these people prey on human frailties.
Mark Zuckerberg – a man of great IQ who is foolish. Deluded.
Can you ever get on top of it? What’sap is encrypted. The impact on democracy is most felt on Facebook.
Our ritual end of the day whisky in the bar of the Wentworth, both delicious and warming.
Breakfast at the Wentworth – oh luxury – poached smoked haddock.
Gun No 6
I had to shake my memory to recall the beginning of the film – a man talking about a football match in which France won 2-1 to England, and the man, for the first time in many years, thought about that and not about murder. Until that moment I was not looking forward to this film – give me Syria any day, I thought – or war. I have nothing to do with guns, in my gentle life in Halesworth. But the film drew me in.
It takes as the story line, a track record of a single weapon, used 11 times, 3 of those fatal, and identified by ballistics by it’s individual fingerprint on the bullets, from a quality Czech revolver. The gun is still missing. Most surprising (to us anyhow) is that most people involved with this gun, from those hit to those around, refuse to ‘help police with their inquiry’, case unsolved. With no-one who has fired the gun willing to speak, director James Newton brings together six former-perpetrators of gun crime to offer insight into the driving force behind violence in Britain today.
‘The gun makes me feel important’, said one. Family and brotherhood.
It was the central story which moved the film through, and caught us all. The Gun No 6 10th fire, killed the son of a corner stop owner, trying to defend his fathers shop, (in his boxer shorts). Good people, honest people. ‘It doesn’t get any easier’.
The firer of the gun was Anselm Ribera – eventually convicted because of CCTV – and his life unexpectedly comes into the play. His girl friend, the woman who gave birth to his son – testifies to camera. Briefly she describes how he moved from burglary to murder (involved in Birmingham’s gang). She’d left him by this time. On hearing of Anselm’s killing, their son, Josh, went mad with anger, a father as a murderer. Through persistent care, love and watching he eventually came through and back, became a successful musician, a loving son.
Tragically and unrelated, Josh was knifed and killed. This action provoked his mother to dedicate her life to the film and this cause. ‘I had to be Josh’s voice’, she said. She comes on the stage. along with Craig, a black youth worker from the midlands, and the two young film directors. Nick Robinson in the middle.
A few moments I recall:
Never just one thing, but a jigsaw of pieces coming together.
‘I wanted a better life, better than my father had’.
Josh could have taken up arms and sought retribution, but he chose another way.
Glasgow the paradigm – looks at the health, wealth,community base of gun crime.
Only and estimated 40 well made guns in circulation.
For the first time, in Birmingham, she is going to meet the mother and father of Craig who her husband murdered.
It’s not gangs that’s the problem – gangs are good – it’s the killing, the violence.
We are a gang on this stage. You are a gang coming to this festival.
It presents an interesting determinism vs free-will dichotomy every time someone is asked why these events took place.
Lunch with Christopher in his Aldeburgh flat which over looked the sea, watching the fishing boats return at 5 am. Despite it’s great light and beautiful water colour paintings on the walls, it felt a sad place, missing Tina, Christophers wife. Good red wine, nourishing soup, tuscan orange cake, cheese and coffee, we were well fed. Trained as a chartered accountant, Christopher’s life took those random turns interesting to reflect upon now. He set up independent radio nationwide then Edinburgh, became President of the Royal Society of Arts, and locally he set up East Feast. He appeared envious of my humble people living on the land with me, for he was surrounded only by rich people.
Nick Broomfield outstanding contribution to documentary.
Ghosts – the cockle pickers and Battle for Haditha, were two I knew of. He was mono toned, despite Diana Quick’s questions, (‘We dated for a couple of those 45 years we’ve known each other’, was a highlight (I wasn’t going to mention that, she said). Roger Moor alike, chewing gum, he was not enlivened. A few of us took a nap in the red seats.
Fish and chips outside on the sea front! Warming up at the Cross Keys. Dogs happy and just got them back before the first fireworks began.
‘Award winning photographer’ Bill Jackson gave a brilliant introduction. He gave background, he drew us in, invited us to pay particular attention to certain moments. ‘The whole world is my gallery’. Benign intervention. JR knows and understands scale. A compassionate man (unlike Banksy) Bill has invited him to come 2020 to Lowestoft.
Agnes Varda, one of the leading lights of France’s New Wave cinema era, and professional photographer and muralist, J.R., go on a road trip, travelling around France in a van equipped as a portable photo booth, as they take photographs of people around the country. With that inspiration, they also create special colossal mural pictures of individuals, communities and places they want to honor and celebrate. Like the mining village with abandoned houses, only one still lived in by the last remaining woman, also honoured. Like the farmer with his fingers pointing down to the earth. Like the dockers women. Their friendship is touching. He puts her eyes and toes on giant rail freight cylinders – they will go to parts of the country you have never been to.
We leave this town that has occupied us so fully for what seems so much longer than 3 days, drive through empty A12 roads to our market town of Halesworth, so far from Palestine, Syria, Manila, where we have been. Images passing through: waking up to my view from my bedroom window over the marshes, seeing The Judge, eating fish and chips on the sea front with Michael and the hungry dogs.