One of the luxuries of lockdown has been a total absence of anything to do. Nothing is open, no theatre shows are on. Mercifully, we have been spared the horror show that are pantomimes, though I imagine they will return with a vengeance. I could have spent lockdown getting ‘fat and sassy’ (see below embedded video for reference, if outraged. NB: the remix video is excellently sassy), but I felt an uncontrollable desire to go outside. Since we were largely allowed to do so, I began going on more and more runs. In traditional fashion in this blog, I shall now recommend to you a run which can be done by people of all physical abilities throughout the centre of my favourite city.
The run, which is embedded below, can be started at any point on the trail below. It is aimed to take in what I consider to be the key highlights of the city centre.
Beginning then at the University of Law (though as I say you can start anywhere on the loop), You would run down the hill towards Snow Hill. You can take in the superb St Chad’s Catholic Cathedral, which is a typical Birmingham red brick building. You would then cross the St Chad’s Queensway and turn right on Colmore Row. This allows you to run past the glorious St Phillip’s Cathedral from the other Christian denomination.
From there, run to Victoria Square where you can take in Birmingham’s iconic Town Hall and Council Building, both of which are jewels in the Birmingham crown. From there, take a left down Chamberlain Square, taking in the staggering Birmingham Museum and Art gallery as well as one of the Joseph Chamberlain Clock, which is now housed in an open square with refurbished paving. Thence, run past the Birmingham Library, which is the building in the cover image of this post.
The new face of Symphony Hall
This is the difficult bit. Walking through the ICC will give you a chance for a quick break and enjoy an, in my opinion, underrated building in Birmingham. This is currently closed for refurbishment of Symphony Hall at the time of writing. My advice would be to run down the right side of the ICC if this is still the case when you undertake your run.
The map is wrong here as Google is not aware of the multitudinous pathways around the Birmingham canal network. You can run directly from the bridge across the ICC (towards Pitcher and Piano) and go on in a straight line past the Ikon Gallery. There is a staggering collection there at the moment which I managed to see before the latest lockdown. Highly recommended.
Turning right towards Brindley Place, you will enter the last stretch of this run. Get on the canal behind the Sealife Centre and run all the way to St Paul’s Square. This is flat and sometimes down hill. I would echo Matthew’s recommendation about slowing down when running downhill. This way you do not use up energy stores trying to match the pace when the path flattens out. So much of running is about conserving energy.
Finally, after the breathtaking underside of the Emerald Living Space, a building which sits over the canal over shortly after Newhall Street, turn left and come off the canal. This is another aspect of the map which is wrong on account of Google’s seeming anti canal prejudice. You can get off after the underside of the Emerald Living Space. Just watch out for the huge white pillars which support the building and turn left here.
Finally, run past St Paul’s ‘Other Christian Denomination’ Church, up Caroline Street and rejoin the University of Law . This completes the run.
Gratuitous picture of St Thomas’ Church, not included in the run
I hope that those of you who undertake this run enjoy it. Others I hope have enjoyed the commentary on highlights of central Birmingham. It goes without saying that this is an equally lovely walk, weather permitting.
Broadway Tower is a beautiful folly which sits atop Beacon Hill, the second highest hill in the Costwolds, after Cleeve Hill. This tower was the brainchild of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown and built by James Wyatt for Lady Godiva between 1798-1799. Lady Godiva wondered whether she could see a beacon from her house in Worcester, some 22 miles away. She must have been chuffed that she could in fact see the beacon clearly. We visited this wonderful monument following another Walking Englishman Walk. Walking outside was at the time one of the view government sanctioned ways to meet up to people without falling foul of the law.
In the late 1950s, Broadway Tower monitored nuclear fallout in England; an underground Royal Observer Corps bunker was built 50 yards (46 m) from the Tower. Manned continuously from 1961 and designated as a master post, the bunker was one of the last such Cold War bunkers constructed and, although officially stood down in 1991, the bunker is now one of the few remaining fully equipped facilities in England. Wikipedia
The view from Broadway Tower was quite stunning. We went on one of the last days of summer and could see as far as sixteen counties at once, not sixteen countries as I pronounced when there. Please see below a snap shot of the view with Matthew and Phil, suitably distanced, blocking it.
Matthew and Phillip going down
Interestingly, around 1870, Sir Thomas Phillipps, aniquary and book collector, used the tower as his printing press. You’ll be glad to know he collected the largest collection of manuscripts in the 19th Century. He spent almost all of the substantial estate he inherited from his father on vellum, a sort of calf skin paper. the Magna Carta, for example, is written on vellum. Please see below another snap shot of the glorious view from Broadway Tower.
In summation, I hope you have enjoyed this brief history of a wonderful monument with a magnificent view. I have had to pinch the cover photo from the official website because we arrived just after 11am which meant that the hordes of tourists had descended and I would not be able to post any of the photographs we took for fear of data protection breaches. But to appease the photo hungry among you, please find attached one final picture of this excellent view atop this monument. I hope you will visit. There is a museum in this tower now but sadly due to the nature of our walk we were unable to visit it.
Have you ever asked yourself the question; is there such a thing as artful violence? John Wick answers this violently in the affirmative. Perhaps I am late to the party reviewing this film, but I was so astounded by John Wick that I could not but extol its virtues. Directed by Chad Stahelski and David Leitch (the former being Reeves’ stunt double in the Matrix), this film offers excitement, excellent acting and explosive beautifully co-ordinated fight scenes.
There are, broadly speaking, two ways to go when it comes to fight sequences. The first is to bust a few moves then use lively camerawork and quick edits to make an indifferent pugilist look like The Grandmaster. The more challenging route is to choreograph an extended sequence, sit back, frame a nice wide shot and let the actor carry the can. Given that first-time directors Stahelski and Leitch are both veteran stunt co-ordinators, that fact that they opt for door number two is not surprising. The assured proficiency with which they conduct John Wick’s symphony of gunplay, however, is. Empire
Interestingly, while both Stahelski and Leitch directed this film, the latter is credited as a producer due to MPA regulations only allowing one director. (It may well be another regulatory body but the point is the same).
In terms of plot, John Wick tells the story of an ex-assassin whose wife passed away and sent him a puppy in lieu of marriage. No, in seriousness, Iosef Tarasov (Alfie Allen), son of mobster Viggo Tarasov (Ian McShane), decides he likes the look of John Wick’s 1969 Mustang. He asks Wick his price “у каждой суки есть цена” to which Wick replies “не эта сука”. I’ll let you translate for yourselves. Iosef, not content to take не эта сука for an answer, decided to storm John Wick’s house, beat him up, murder his new puppy and steal the Mustang. Iosef did not bet on Mr Wick being an ex associate of his father’s and merciless killing machine.
From the use of colour and music to the scenery-chomping by supporting players Willem Dafoe and Ian McShane, these are guys bursting with a love for genre cinema but aren’t too enslaved by affection to let in a little air. There’s a wonderful free spirit with the use of New York City locations that ditches verisimilitude for storytelling. The Surrogates’ Courthouse downtown is actually a Bosch-ian dance club with an interior of Scarface-esque hot tubs? Who in their right mind would disagree! Guardian
Overall I liked this film because it was mindless violence, portrayed beautifully and with some heart. One could look at this film as a vengeance tale for a small puppy, but I see it as a well-crafted ode to the beauty of vengeful violence. Every move in every fight scene is beautifully choreographed and seamlessly executed by Reeves, a veteran of the action movie genre. The plot is hearty and there are some wonderful scenes, most notably in the Red Circle club. I do so hope you will enjoy John Wick, allow him to transport you to a world of wonderful violence, far removed from the current agony in which we find ourselves.
Jean-Etienne Liotard was one of the most accomplished portrait artists of his time. Born in Geneva, Switzerland in 1702 he went on to have a very successful career, completing most of it in stays in Rome, Istanbul, Paris, Vienna, London and other cities. At the height of his career he was commissioned to represent members of royal families in his respective residences. The masterpiece came to my attention through a recent Guardian article, exploring how the painting was donated to the National Gallery through the UK’s AIL Acceptance in Lieu scheme. This painting was given in exchange for a waiving of a whopping £10 M inheritance tax bill. The government must be thrilled. Let’s explore it further.
Jean-Etienne Liotard was an artist in great demand across Enlightenment Europe and beyond. An eccentric and distinctive portraitist, his work conjures up the magnificence and cultural curiosity of the age in vividly lifelike detail. Royal Academy
This masterpiece represents a tender moment captured between a mother and her daughter having breakfast. the level of attention to detail is astonishing here. Look at the reflection of the tableware from the perfectly lacquered breakfast table. The reflection of the light on the metal pot and the porcelain jug, subtly different from each other, is impressive indeed. Liotard has produced this effect by wetting the pastels and creating lumps to give it form. And look at the reflection of the window pane in the milk jug!
Perhaps the greatest detail is the sheet music in the open drawer in the bottom left hand corner of the painting. Liotard has actually signed his name and the place the painting was made “Liotard, in Lyon, 1754”. Self referential? Yes, but in the most marvellous way.
Observe the tender look the mother is giving her daughter while steadying the saucer, observe the little curls of paper in the daughter’s hair and the concentration with which she is dunking. These paper curls were used to set her hair for the day, further confirming this scene is taking place at breakfast. If you look closely you’ll see that the mother’s finger tips and nails are reflected in the table, which is an extraordinary detail. Also, the cup of coffee into which her daughter is dunking is about to overflow, hence the need for her mother’s steadying hands.
The satin-esque material of the mother’s dress is resplendently portrayed, especially as contrasted with the simpler ‘smaller’ version of the same dress her daughter is sporting. Notice the similarity in the cut of both dresses and the ruffles in the sleeves.
The gallery said the level of care with which the still life aspects of the work had been executed was extraordinary. They include unusual layers of thick wet pastel to create the illusion of reflection on the metal coffee pot and Chinese porcelain. The Guardian
Overall I am awed by this work. The fact that a pastel work from 1754 has managed to last nearly 300 years and still be in this remarkable condition. The definition of each constituent part of this painting and the sheer detail Liotard has managed to expose to us is extraordinary. See below for more details on this painting, as told by the National Gallery’s curator for portraits 1600-1800, Francesca Whitlum-Cooper.
Have I mentioned I’ve been to Japan? Of course, when I went I was what can only be described as a chippy oik (definition here). I neglected to visit any of the sensational art galleries throughout Japan, despite extensive travel throughout the country. Perhaps I shall make up for this glut with the following post. Kiyochika Kobayashi (1857-1915) was a Ukiyo e painter, a school of Japanese art dedicated to depicting subjects from everyday life, on wood blocks or paintings. Cat and Lantern was a wood block piece.
[Kobayashi was] also referred to as Hoensha, Shinseiro, and others as Betsugo. He didn’t have any particular mentor, but made a friendship with Shimooka Renjo and Kawanabe Kyosai , and also being on close terms with Shibata Zeshin. In 1874 approx., he had a chance to learn the western -style painting under Wirgman, which enabled him to invent Kosenga, a new style of multi-color prints taking in the western -style painting’s technique. He also handled caricature, and in his latest years, left many autographs. Japanese Fine Arts
As you can imagine I fell in love with this woodblock print. 1886 is a little later than my favourite period of art but this is just so delightful. This is a Japanese Bobtail cat, playing with a bamboo cane and a knocked over lantern. The richness of the gold really captures my attention, especially as contrasted with the bell on the cat’s vibrant red collar. Its eyes are fixed on what appears to be a red piece of string leading into the lantern. For a wood block artwork, the light shining both through the lantern and atop the black lantern rim are exceptionally well done. The cat itself is just delightful. Its fur is meticulously rendered, as is its semi pouncing stance. I just adore this wood print piece.
According to Japanese folklore, a Japanese bobtail cat’s tail caught on fire while it was sleeping. Alarmed, the cat ran through the village and began spreading the fire with every flick of its tail. Once the village was reduced to ashes, the Japanese emperor insisted that all cats’ tails should be shortened to prevent a repeat disaster. Pet Insurance
Now in the spirit of contract and compare, see below Tomoo Inagaki’s (1902-180) Black Cat. This was painted around 1940. Inspired by Onchi and Hiratsuka, Inagaki’s cats are modern and stylised. They are almost always in black and grey. Usually modern art will send me into fits of revulsion, but this struck me as unique and quite beautiful. The wide leg stance, made popular before the Tory Power Stance debacle of 2015, the curious gaze and the crudely rendered whiskers add up to a suitable amount of whimsey. Observe the minor disruptions in the fur added around the neck and ear. The choice of shades of beige as the background to this delightful cat are a terrific contrast with the black and grey of the fur. Overall this is an excellent concept for a wood print, flawlessly executed by one of Japan’s great modern artists.
By way of an amusing tangent, please see below the cover of The Best of Emerson Lake and Palmer, which emplys with very same Ukiyo e style to combine a thoroughly modern scene with an ancient setting:
Overall I hope these two feline art works have brought a suitable amount of joy and whimsey into your day. They have certainly made mine better.
Guido Reni (4 November 1575 – 18 August 1642) was a Baroque painter whose main body of work consisted of religious figures. Reni also painted mythological and allegorical works. While living in Rome some time ago, I would often walk past the Palazzo Spada on my way to some extraordinary restaurant or other and wonder in awe at it. Cardinal Spada bought this building in 1632 and commissioned Fransesco Borromini to create the masterful forced perspective optical illusion in the arcaded courtyard. Borromini used a rising floor and diminishing rows of columns to create an illusion of a 37 metre gallery, when in fact the gallery itself is only 8 metres long. See it below.
For this post I should like to focus on Reni’s wonderful portrait of Cardinal Bernadino Spada, the owner and commissioner of this wonderful gallery in the heart of Rome. This painting is the iconic depiction of Cardinal Spada and a key piece in Reni’s body of work. The cardinal is depicted looking stern and occupied, mid letter. Though I do not understand why the nib of the quill is so near the middle of the page when the last sentence seems to have been written at the top. Another sacred mystery I suppose.
Observe the perfect crease in the centre of his Hat and the way the shade from the light source to the right is depicted. Similarly, look at the way the shadow from his nose falls across his face. The folds in the fabric from his odd seated position are also very fine indeed. Look at the astounding way in which the felt on the chair is rendered. It looks so real. The folds in the white cotton, the way the silk appears almost as though it is moving, the simplicity of the background as contrasted with the complexity of the subject – everything about this portrait is exceptionally fine.
I thought it might be interesting to include another portrait of Cardinal Spada, painted the same year (1631), by Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, known as Guercino. This portrait was commissioned directly by Pope Urban VIII. I won’t go into too much detail, but observe the stern look. This translates to me as almost scornful, or as though the audience are being rebuked for disturbing the cardinal at work with blue prints in hand. This looks to be the blue print for the central quad of St Peter’s Basilica, but this was completed in 1626, five years prior to this painting. Observe the richness of the colour used and the beauty of the light hitting the folds in the cloth. The casting of shadow is quite similar to Reni’s work above. This is likely because both artists were from Bologna and will have been influenced by the Bolognese School of painting, which rivalled Rome and Florence between the 16th and 17th century. Important representatives of this school include the Carracci family, who were instrumental in the progression of the Baroque style.
I hope this post has been as enlightening for you as it has been for me. A lot of research goes into this blog in an effort to be factual and accurate in a world which seems to have disconnected from reality. Until next we meet…