Monday 28 September 2015

Berwick Film Festival 2015

I think that the Berwick upon Tweed Film and Media Arts Festival ought to be re-named the Festival of Film in Caves. Not since the prehistoric painters of Lascaux  have so many artistic productions been found in subterranean environments.

The video installation shown on the left was actually one of the less impressive offerings this year, but Coxons Tower is such a fantastic venue that it makes anything look good. It is the inside of a lookout tower on the defensive walls of Berwick and has striking stone vaulting.

You can see in this picture that the organisers have had the wonderful idea of installing a couple of real cinema seats in the Tower for viewers of the video. There is something really memorable about sitting in a red plush seat inside a centuries old fortification watching an ultra modern video.

Several of the other venues on the 'trail' of video art installations are ice-houses. Bleak, dank, echoing man-made caves, effectively, temporarily illuminated by film. You slither down, or up, the muddy entrance paths and pick your way across the uneven beaten-earth floor with a feeling of excited anticipation about what you may see inside. Nobody who has experienced this aspect of the Berwick festival ever forgets it.

To add to the excitement the festival now has a 'fringe', which has stuck with the subterranean theme by using the empty cellars of a house in the town centre. There seemed to be a smell of stale wine in the air when I visited and this led me to assume that the cellars had previously been used for wine storage, but when I mentioned it one of the young organisers said that it was more likely to be the result of their own activities the night before.

Most of the art in the 'fringe' house was as good as the official installations, and some of it was better than some of them. Special mention to Carole Lubey's powerful piece, shown left, of an older woman dancing nude, and Brooke Stephens' beautifully observed film of the patterns made by water spreading on a wall and mist rising Gothic-ally from a cemetery.

To grab the attention of passers-by the location of the fringe house was marked by this piano. I'm told that somebody was playing it some of the time, though I didn't catch that myself. Rather brilliantly, a Northumberland County Council parking permit had been propped on the lid of the keyboard, so that the piano could stand in the car park all day with perfect legality.

I'm afraid that this year's Festival finished on Sunday 27th September so it's too late to see any of these exhibits now. But do come next year, you will not regret it. 

Tuesday 15 September 2015

The Ruins of Temperance

This is my first posting of photos taken with my new camera. The woman in the shop assured me that it had huge quantities of megapixels and would produce photos of a quality that would make me gasp in astonishment compared with those feeble efforts taken by my old camera. So far, I'm not convinced. But to be fair, it hasn't been trialled in a clear atmosphere yet, because the weather over the last few days has not been dry - unlike the subjects of this post (ha!).

This is the only surviving wall of the Good Templar Hall in Berwick. The name meant nothing to me at all, I had to google it. Turns out the Good Templars were / are an international organisation promoting the cause of temperance, that is abstention from alcohol. They have their own website if you would like to know more. Only American links come up, the UK branch of their operation seems to have quietly faded away. (If you know differently, please do leave a comment.)

I learned more about this building from a booklet with the splendid title Berwick's Battle Against Drink by Wendy Bell Scott. I originally bought my copy a couple of years ago from a newsagent while killing time in the main street of Spittal waiting for the Christmas reindeer to appear. My first thought was that, unlike Flodden (q.v.) it is a battle most Berwickers seem to be trying to lose. The book is also available online from a local publishing outfit called Blue Button. Wendy's research started life as part of her studies at the Open University, and I was delighted to see one of my own former O.U. advisers, John Wolffe, featuring prominently in the bibliography. Pious Victorian reformers are one of his things.

The subject of excessive consumption of booze is still very much a live issue, and Berwick as usual has particular problems because of its position on the border. I'm told that in the past, before I lived here, there was an influx of Scots on Sundays because in those days Scotland took a stricter approach to pubs opening on the Lord's Day than England did. This cross-border situation is likely to be recreated, because the Scottish government is keener than the Westminster one to introduce compulsory minimum pricing for alcoholic drinks, in an effort to reduce consumption. In a previous post I described the likely effect on the parts of England just over the border of suddenly making booze more expensive in Scotland. Thankfully, implementation of the legislation to that effect passed by Holyrood in 2012 is being held up by legal challenges from the alcohol industry. I say thankfully - at a personal level I have always been sympathetic to temperance ideals, but the prospect of my street filling up with Scots who don't share them is not an enticing one.

God knows our resident English drunks are already a big enough nuisance. The original plans for the restoration of the riverside park included provision for some brave soul to abseil down the steep bank beside the river to collect up and remove all the cans and bottles chucked down there over the years. By now the lower levels must require techniques more closely related to archaeology than to simple litter-picking. Sadly it was reported that the assessment of the bank found it too unstable for abseiling to be safe. And in any case the drinkers can throw the things down faster than the council can pick them up. So beer cans and wine bottles continue to roll out of the undergrowth at your feet and witness to the cause for which the Good Templar Hall was erected.

P.S. I shouldn't forget to mention that the new leader of the Labour party is reportedly a teetotaller, a welcome survival of the historical association of the temperance movement with socialism, particularly Christian socialism.