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Cultural Corner

CULTURAL CORNER by Shaista Tayabali 

February 2018

It isn’t much, the snow. The Alaskans would not be impressed, but for those of us expecting the warmth of spring, snow flurries are still captivating. As February draws to a close, we are being teased by sunshine and snowflakes.

Has the wicked flu left your hearths yet? Or are there still remnants? Do you give thanks for your radiators and heaters, your antibiotics and your electric kettles for tea? I do. And yet, post snowfall, I suddenly had a craving for ‘Cranford’ last evening. Do you remember the series from ten years ago? It had Judi Dench in it, and the scene I most clearly remember is the anxiety felt by Dench on behalf of a blustery male character who stays longer than fifteen minutes when he comes to visit. Shocking bad manners, she thinks, but worries it might be bad manners on her part to inform him of the breach in etiquette. He had been away in India for years after all, and who knows what he might have unlearned there…

Speaking of historical matters, were you present at the recent history society talk? It was given by Rodney Tibbs, a Cambridge Evening News writer and enthusiastic gardener. His subject: the Cambridge colleges, with specific reference to their gardens. It was an excellent talk using Tibbs’ own collection of photographs to tell the stories of each of the colleges that loosely surround Petty Cury. He called the decades old destruction of the buildings around the market square the ‘architectural crime of the century’, a turn of phrase I really enjoyed, because it revealed Mr Tibbs as a man of great feeling and passion. Although he did seem just as perturbed by the misspelling of ‘omelette’ on a sign outside the Pembroke café… someone had written ‘ommelet’, I think. Or was it ‘omellet’?

Peterhouse’s extensive gardens were a revelation, as were the Japanese delights at Pembroke. Darwin’s brand new carpet was dismissed as far too glam, even bling, for Tibbs’ taste – he preferred the authentically dusty foot-worn rug Darwin himself would have trod on. He was even more snooty about Christ College’s Typewriter Building, designed by Denys Lasdun in 1966. Students who assiduously click clack their way through their degrees would argue that the tiny cells of the building are a perfect representation of the hive life of the Cambridge academic. But the shock of the glorious wisteria-garlanded Master’s Lodge ending in the ignominy of bland grey boxes was obviously too much for the aesthetics of our speaker.

That night, after the talk, and a particularly delicious cup of coffee (thank you to all the Shelfordian ladies who made the hot drinks and washed up), Mum and I walked home to discuss the finer points with Dad: Crick and Watson celebrating at the Eagle, Henry VIII’s sceptre being replaced by a chair leg, the poet Thomas Gray, who jumped out of his room at Peterhouse into a barrel of water to avoid a prank of ‘Fire!’… my father always says that he has forgotten most of the lectures he has attended over the many years of his life. And I agree. I would like to think I will remember Tibbs and the Gardens forever, but I might forget. Unlike J. M. W. Turner, whose art was directly influenced by the lectures he attended at the Royal Academy. Turner culled extraordinary scientific insight from physics and astronomy that he then translated into the movement of masterpieces such as ‘Bell Rock Lighthouse’ (1819) and ‘Rain, Steam and Speed – the Great Western Railway’ (1844).

As for speed, we have our own what with February whizzing to an end. Here comes March!

Shaista Tayabali

January 2018

December was a blur of Christmas lights strung in a professionally haphazard fashion by two four year olds with a distinctive sense of colour and texture.
When we were little, Mum would let us place baubles and tinsel hither and thither, but overnight the tree would mysteriously tidy herself and we never really noticed our efforts had been improved upon. As Grandma now, she behaves differently with her granddaughters. She lets her little chickens decorate at their pleasure, and then leaves the tree alone. Do some of you find yourselves behaving differently with your grandchildren?!

Here we are in the New Year. 2018. Trump seems to have held off pushing the red button, as well as his impending trip to Blighty. Banksy has a new piece of art up in Hull, but the Powers That Be are quickly dispatching their best graffiti-removers.

I still haven’t managed Degas at the Fitzwilliam Museum because of another ongoing infection but since this is the 250th year celebrating the Royal Academy in London, the Fitz will be pairing up for various collaborations we, in Cambridge, can enjoy first-hand. Seven Royal Academicians with Cambridge connections will be choosing their favourite work of art at the Fitz, like Antony Gormley, who has chosen Rodin’s ‘Man with a Broken Nose’.

In other collaborations I’m not sure what I think about our GP surgery joining hands with the Granta group, but patients are often the last to be consulted in these administrative or managerial moves. Let us hope for the best. Meanwhile we have books to read - ‘Based on A True Story’ by French literary sensation Delphine de Vigan is currently gripping my mother, while my father continues his reruns of his beloved Louis L’Amour Westerns. I have found myself re-reading books for some reason, but also a spate of memoirs by comedians Tiffany Haddish, Tig Notaro and Trevor Noah. We have movies to watch - Winston Churchill continues to inspire in the new body of Gary Oldman in ‘The Darkest Hour’, and across the pond Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks are spotlighting the necessity of a free and fair press in ‘The Post’. Both films re-immerse their audiences in history, with facts smudged according to convenience. So I almost prefer to look towards children’s films for more current truths. ‘Paddington 2’ and ‘Coco’ are proving that although we may get older, children’s movies are never just for children, because grief and migration affect all of us, across time.

So on we move into February. Don’t forget to swap your old bank notes for the new Jane Austen ones (yay for the women’s movement, not so yay for the environment) and perhaps the wicked influenza that has struck many of us across Shelford, debilitating Addenbrooke’s, will depart with the freezing winds and haphazard snow. But the daffodils and crocuses may stay.

Shaista Tayabali
The new personal cultural column from villager Shaista Tayabali that this month covers everyone from Vic Franklin and Tom Hanks to Degas.

On a bright November afternoon I decided to go for a walk - not as regular an occurrence as it ought to be in my life (or in most of our lives, according to various statistics) - but here I was, walking directly into sunshine, when I bumped into some Little Shelfordians also on the same quest. In the middle of the pavement, we stopped, exchanged greetings and began to discuss our various art, theatre and cinema related ventures.

And it occurred to me there and then, mid-conversation, that a cultural report in this newsletter might be something to delight in.

I missed Bridge of Spies at the village hall - did you catch it? Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance, famous for being two of the nicest guys in the movie business immersing themselves in one of the more sinister periods in recent human history, was no doubt serious acting at its finest.

A cinema treat I did catch was Stephen Sondheim’s musical Follies at Saffron Screen, although it was being screened across the nation on the same day. When I returned home and jumped on Twitter, I saw that #Follies was trending. Imelda Staunton’s musical turn in particular had the country by the tear ducts. I know her well from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - she was gleefully evil as Professor Dolores Umbridge - but here she was vulnerable, poignant and fierce in her extraordinary, unrequited passion for a rather ordinary man. At the last we see her, collapsed on the stage, all passion spent, eyes clear now, and the rest of life with her husband to contemplate. Will they overcome the emotional affair? Meanwhile, when the metaphorical curtains rose and the audience began their verbal assassination, a man behind us said, ‘There was too much singing in that for me.’ And a woman to his right said, ‘There was too much dancing in that for me!’ Et la. We cannot be satisfied.

Degas: A Passion For Perfection is on at the Fitzwilliam Museum until January 14th. I must find a way to visit him, although I’ve heard Matisse in the Studio at the Royal Academy, London - featuring the actual physical objects that the impressionist painted - was the winter exhibition to attend.

Closer to home, one of the local literary book clubs featured Liz Hodder, a Bloomsbury expert, to dissect the lives of Vanessa, Duncan, Lytton, Virginia, Leonard, et al. I thought she did an excellent job of creating postcard biographies, just deep enough to tempt the newcomer, or satisfy those of us familiar to the triangled, quadrangled, square rooted lives and loves of that street.

Finally, on a more personal note of artistry, because I am her daughter after all, my beloved mother Perveen taught a portraiture art class at the Pavilion and I think she was brilliant even though I wasn’t there to see it. I knew the effort she took to make the class zing, and having seen the final selfie portraits, I know I’m not simply biased. They have such character and energy, each artist using different mediums to make their faces speak. If you were inspired, and wanted to join the art group, Vic Franklin is the man to ring (01223 842276).

So there we are. December begins today, and Christmas will be upon us before we can say, “Do we have enough mince pies?’ Answer: ‘We can never have enough mince pies.’ Merry Christmas and may the weeks ahead bring more joy than stress!

Shaista Tayabali December 2017