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Cultural Corner

CULTURAL CORNER by Shaista Tayabali 

October 2018

I have been gone a while, gone to equatorial zones, which under normal circumstances would have been a relief from the cold, but of course England has been experiencing the most incredible wave upon wave of heat. 

So I have returned to balmy climes, to sunshine on my face, to continued Vitamin D. Hurrah for the little things that give us cause to delight and pleasure in. While I was away I didn’t think about Trump and Brexit, or even North Korea or forest fires in Vancouver. I immersed myself in the bubbles of my friends’ lives, and enjoyed the flora and fauna of otherwhere. I returned after twenty one years to the place I was born, and was indulged at every turn being asked, ‘what would you like to eat?’ and ‘where would you like to go?’ and I floated along, knowing well that once I returned to this side of the globe, Addenbrooke’s would come calling, and blue paper curtains, and needles, and waiting rooms with indefinite hours…

My phone as you can imagine is bursting with endless photographs, of the Dharavi slum blue tarpaulin roofs, of ancient banyan trees, crows waiting for my toast to fall, and the faces of my nieces and nephew… so when I saw the photo competition for a Little Shelford digital radio I was absolutely in the mood to capture a snapshot of my return to the autumnal world. How exciting to have a village radio in my favourite blue… the colour of my front door, my newly painted shed, my nails… I’m not expecting to win, just hoping… where is that line from? A John Travolta film called ‘Phenomenon’…

The Shelford fun weekend sounded super creative. And competitive in the best way. I hope you won exactly the award you most longed for! I loved visiting the rec during the summer when the ice cream stall was busy and the children were singing their hearts out on the stage… ‘Wind in the Willows’ I think it was? Isn’t this the England A. A. Milne sought when he wrote Edward Bear into being?

In less happy news though, it was awful to read on the Little Shelford Facebook page about the Co-op being burgled, being driven into and so flagrantly destroyed. The disparity of wealth is part of the human urge to rectify injustice, but a local shop is hardly the best place to display righteous lawlessness. Protesting on the streets is. Taking a stand for what you believe in, even if it makes you unpopular is, but the local milk and veg place? Although I suppose it has been a tradition in America to steal from newsagents, hold them up at gunpoint. Let me give thanks here for no guns on our streets. Knives, yes, and some would say those have a brutality all too real. 

Oh dear, so much for a light cultural correspondence from me. But bubbles never last. And we do live with each other, either as village neighbours or as global neighbours and we may as well speak of it all. Truth and fiction, for example, are perfectly married in Sarah Vaughan’s third novel ‘Anatomy of a Scandal’ which is out in paperback on October 4th. In some ways writing a novel about the abuse of privilege by those in power, most often wealthy men, in this case men in Westminster, is always going to ring true, but never more so than last autumn when the women of that same wealthy world began to tell the truths of their lives. Me too, in case you were wondering. 

So congratulations to Sarah for her timely truth-fiction, and a small nod in the direction of yours truly whose first collection of poems, ‘Something Beautiful Travels Far’ is also out in paperback. Amazon will find us both. Something beautiful travels far, something truthful travels far – we need only stretch out our arms to embrace it. 

Cultural Corner

June 2018

Every day when I open the door of my little house in the garden, I wonder which country I have fallen into. Mykonos in Greece? Lisbon? Corfu?

            The sun is drying out the grass so that it has turned colour from green to yellow, but that’s a minor quibble. England in the sunshine is as beautiful as anywhere you might dream to be. Unless of course you can’t bear the heat, and these heatwaves are your idea of a nightmare? In that case, make sure you have stockpiled on ice-cream, chilled wine and a pick of any of the numerous summer reads that flood the marketplace. Our own Shelfordian Sarah Vaughan will be doing a reading soon of her latest novel. There is a film out at the Arts Picturehouse I can’t wait to watch called ‘The Bookshop’ based on a Penelope Fitzgerald book. Did you come across Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan trilogy? I tried listening to it on the plane but found it too slow a listen. Perhaps another time. Books have to find us at the right time, don’t you think?

            This evening the Shelford Rugby Club will be enjoying a veritable feast of international eats from pizzas to churros, craft beer and 70 tantalising gins. 70! I’ve never thought of rugby players as being gin aficionados but perhaps they are? I wonder what cocktail football players secretly love? Yesterday’s England match was a peculiar let down after the excitements of South Korea vs Germany. But sunshine and cold drinks make everything better.

            Our Shelford Feast week is fast approaching, so more to celebrate. I have been nowhere local for culture – I went further afield. To the Amalfi Coast where I got so nauseous on the winding uphill road to Nocelle by bus, that I determined to walk down the hill – 1,750 steps down to be precise! Positano could make anyone an athlete, even yours truly. I found Capri slightly strange. An odd jewel from a different time, trapped in its own tourism bubble. Ischia might have been the better choice with all those thermal baths healing our step-weary legs, instead of Capri with her designer perfumeries. Food in Italy was divine everywhere (except for Pompeii’s on-site tourist-trap café). I’m sure the pizza tonight at the rugby club will be perfectly nice, but Da Michele in Napoli has now set the standard for me.

            Dad has finished the last of the pistachio gelato from our freezer, and I have some plants to water. I wish you cool breezes if you should be longing for them, but otherwise roll on summer!  

Cultural Corner

May 2018

What a month it has been! Compared to my usual crawling pace of social activities, this month I am almost all cultured out. Perhaps it is the magical dust of the royal wedding?

What did you make of the wedding? Did you watch all five hours? Would you believe I was actually in London on the day? But no, not invited to the wedding… although I did do something related to royal history.

Last year, in January, I booked tickets to a show called Hamilton – it was all the rage in America as soon as it hit Broadway. Written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, it takes up the story of Alexander Hamilton, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, founder of the nation’s financial system, first Secretary of the Treasury during George Washington’s administration. An unlikely contender for a musical, and, even more unlikely, a hip-hop musical featuring an almost exclusively non-white cast of characters. Except for King George III, played with a childish pout at losing one of his favourite colonies. There were very obviously Americans in the audience, partly because prices for Hamilton tickets shot up to astronomical figures last year. Cheaper to watch it in London, it seems. England has been sensible and conservative by creating non-transferable paper tickets.

A week after Hamilton, I was back in London, this time for the Chelsea Flower Show. My first time – and what an experience. It was Saturday, the 26th, last day of the show – so I was able to see the exhibits as they were meant to be enjoyed, and also as they were dismantled and a mad purchasing rush ensued with myself partaking in the scavenger hunt for plants being tossed to the ground – a free for all. I collected an interesting variety from the post-colonial section – some South African protea and even a bird of paradise. Everything was looking a trifle worse for wear, but still, flowers are delightful in a giant bouquet, when tucked under your arm as you travel on tubes and trains.

I missed lambing season at Wimpole, but still enjoyed the shire horse, the new baby piglets, and feeling concern for that poor donkey who gets its coat brushed by hundreds of eager little hands during half-term. Did any of you take your grandchildren or children to Wimpole this month?

In matters closer to home, my mother delivered a talk at one of the Shelford gatherings about her wedding day, which was an interesting cultural adventure for those listening. I always think it a wonderful personal achievement to stand up in front of others and share a power point presentation – I remember doing them at university, and all the preparation involved.

Our June roses are out and trailing up and down their trellises. What are you looking forward to in June, I wonder?


Shaista Tayabali

May 2018

Spring sprang, and took the daffodils with it.
Is sprang a word? Lately words are becoming more of a challenge to recognise, what with
the new social media cultures, shortening of words to letters and even the loss of words. Have any
of you bought Robert MacFarlane and Jackie Morris’ book ‘Lost for Words’? It is a beautifully
annotated encyclopaedia of nature related words that are in danger of being ousted in favour of
supposedly less grandiose words.

At the Cambridge Literary Festival, on the 14 th of April, Jackie Morris live painted an otter,
using Japanese ink and water drawn and bottled by MacFarlane from the chalk springs at Nine Wells
in south Cambridge. A Cambridgeshire campaign to save these lost words by ensuring every primary
school has a copy of the book has been very successful. I feel inclined to buy a copy for myself and
the four children who meander in and out of my life. The walls of our front living room are covered
by animal artwork anyway, although perhaps not using the sumi ink and gold leaf of Morris’
illustrations… her website is a treasure trove of her drawings.

Mum has planted a very conservative tray of tulips after the muntjacs devoured hundreds in past
years. But I have bought a variety of bright orange gerbera and a pot of vivid purple something or
other from Scotsdales, determined to have splashes of colour everywhere possible.
As the blossom were coming down, I attended a funeral of a dear friend of mine who also had lupus,
but in the end was swallowed up by pancreatic cancer. Before she died she asked me to write and
recite a poem for her at her funeral service. So I did. The crematorium was actually quite a beautiful
building, with the architecture designed in such a way that light and tree and cloud streamed in
throughout the ceremony. I could picture my friend there, dancing in spirit if no longer flesh.

Poetry was also a feature at the Cambridge Literary Spring Festival, with Wendy Cope talking about
her latest collection. She was going to call it ‘Seventy’, the age she is now, thinking it would be an
attractive selling point for the seventy year old market. But then she realised it might not appeal to
every other age, so she changed the name to ‘Anecdotal Evidence’. She was as droll in person as she
is in verse.
In wider British news, we have a new possible king! Well, hopefully Princess Charlotte stands a
chance first (the first royal sister to hold her own place in the lineage) but still, welcome Prince Louis
Arthur Charles! Closer to home, we have the wonderful news about the Little Shelford recreation
funding project that will enable a spruced up play area. And finally, huge congratulations to our very
own newsletter editor and put-togetherer (see how easy it is to make up new words?!) David
Martin, and former Arsenal footballer Steve Morrow, for raising 139% of their target goal for MS
Trust Charity at the quiz earlier this month. Good luck on the June cycle ride from London to
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