Being a Beast

Kenneth Allsop Memorial Talk by Charles Foster
Bridport Literary Festival
Electric Palace, 12 November

By Martin Maudsley

After our own beastly-themed ‘Meet the Creatures’ kids’ event at the Lyric Theatre in the morning, it seemed entirely appropriate to spend the afternoon listening to veterinarian, barrister and writer Charles Foster’s account of ‘Being a Beast’.

Despite not (yet) having read the book, its title and premise were intriguing and I relished the opportunity to hear about it straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. It seems that getting inside the heads of other animals has been something of a life-long quest for Foster, and his opening narrative about an obsession with a blackbird in the garden of his childhood immediately drew me in. From then on, with regular questions and comments from on-stage presenter James Crowden, he discursively outlined the book’s contents through explorations of five species of British beasts, namely: badger, deer, otter, fox and swift.

From the outset Foster expounded his dislike for anthropomorphism, and his attempt in this work to try to get under the skin of his chosen other-than-human subjects without sentimentalism, which he described as ‘corrosive narcissism’. His alternative method can perhaps be described as a biological version of method acting – living for extended periods, as far as possible, within the habits and habitats of each particular beast. It’s clear that Foster undertook the project with unusual, perhaps unique, doggedness – living in a hole in a hillside, assuming nocturnal habits, lying in cold river-water, loitering in urban parks “with intent to be an urban fox” – all requiring admirable stamina and staying power, and Foster’s account briefly hinted at both suffered depredations and novel sensations.

However, despite the hugely visceral nature of the enterprise that he was describing, I found it strange, and somewhat disappointing, that the talk itself was not more engaging or effusive; tending instead towards rather dry discussions of ethology (the scientific study of animal behaviour) and ethics (he has written widely on moral philosophy).

There was precious little exuberance on display at having undertaken such amazing experiential endeavours or relish in telling the tales that accrued, and on the whole humour was surprisingly lacking (except perhaps in the dry-as-an-old-fox-bone sense). As the talk progressed, the pervading mood was that of the author’s dismay and disillusionment, both in failing to achieve what he set out to do (objectively understand the mind-set of another animal) and that his own affection for each animal species was lessened rather than deepened through the process of such first-hand animal encounters.

However, the conclusions from his ‘being a beast’ adventures, as outlined at the very end of the talk, are interesting and important. First, that we use very little of our own innate animal instincts (in particular, we have subjugated all our senses to the dominant one of vision). Secondly, that as humans we are “happiest when we properly connected with the things from which we have come”. This is evolutionary psychology, and Foster used the illustration of humans feeling cosy around a roaring fire because it satisfies our primitive need to defend ourselves from predators in the wild.

Despite the presentation feeling a little like a beast of burden, I suspect there is nevertheless much to be enjoyed and chewed over in the book itself – I might have to read it to satisfy my own animal instincts….

By |November 21st, 2016|Books, Martin Maudsley, Review|0 Comments

Farewell to Purgatory

By Sam Barker

Toponymically, last year’s appearance of the pop-up Lost Souls’ Bar at the end of Chideock’s Hell Lane seemed an inspired arrival. Where better to drown your sorrows in the post-Brexit, post-affordable housing, post-lapsarian world of uncomfortable convictions than a watering-hole named after purgatory at the lower end of hell?

I was going to go. I was going to walk to Lost Souls by Hell Lane at dusk and stumble back in the dark, telling myself I had nothing to fear but the ruts and idiot motorcyclists who presume the Lane is for their use only.

I didn’t. And now I can’t: I’m informed that Lost Souls has been closed, its clientele cast out into the newly renovated Clock House.

Chideock has long been a village of divisions. Before the disagreements about the road (Should, or should not, a tall plastic barrier be erected next to the pavement to dull the sound of traffic?), there were the disagreements about religion. In the 16th century, Catholic priests were banned and vagabond clergy went rogue around Chideock, hiding in folds and thickets before being caught and tortured. – So maybe bikes aren’t the only things to be feared in the dark up Hell Lane after all?

Now, though, it seems there’s a new fault line in the village: between the nihilists who would drink cheap pints in the arbitrary, uncomfortable Lost Souls Bar and the formalists who’d have a scampi and chips in the Clock House, reopened in June after catching fire and undergoing £500k of reconstructive surgery.

In theory, the establishments should be able to co-exist. In fact, Lost Souls’ – whose tenuous existence under a temporary licence never suggested endurance – has closed. Clamorous Chideock people want to get fully behind the Clock House. Lost Souls’ signage has gone. Its doors have shut. It’s been euthanized. A private party thrown Lost Souls’ venue after its death was allegedly infiltrated by an irate villager decrying its resurrection. Lost Souls must not be allowed to persist.

This seems a shame. Walking along Hell Lane to the Clock House, refurbished or not, doesn’t have the same ring.

By |October 26th, 2016|Sam Barker|0 Comments

Room With A View

Margaret Grundell has been looking at the view from the window of her ice-cream, sweets, teas and coffee kiosk on the promenade at West Bay for 48 years.
In 1968, Margaret and her husband, John, bought the lease on the kiosk and have been dispensing refreshments and friendship in winter and summer ever since. Now the kiosk is on the market, but Margaret and John, who live in Walditch, will keep it going until the sale is complete.

What have they seen from the window in all that time? A panorama of social life, a never-ending newsreel of change. And several rock-falls from East Cliff.

By |September 9th, 2016|Food & Drink|0 Comments

Film From All The World

Bridport Film Society has announced details of its programme for the 2016-17 season. It comprises a selection of contemporary films from all over the world, including Chile, Indonesia, Ethiopia, Ukraine, Turkey, Iran, France, Germany, Italy, UK and Belgium.

“Each year, our programming committee spends many hours watching and debating the merits of more than 60 films in pursuit of thought-provoking and inspiring choices,” said Chris Pike, BFS’s chairman. “This year’s selection is richly diverse and full of hidden gems.”

The season kicks off on Tues 27 Sept with Victoria, a thriller about two hours in the life of an immigrant worker in Germany, which develops intense suspense over an amazingly unedited single take. Other season highlights are Palio, which looks at Siena’s famous bareback horse race; Alejandro Jodorowsky’s surreal coming of age tale, The Dance of Reality; and Tangerines, a story of gentle reconciliation bridging the ethnic divide in a Georgian village.

The BFS will also host a special event on Tuesday Dec 13 as a fund-raiser for Bridport Arts Centre.

Full details available at www.bridportfilmsociety. Printed brochures available from the Bookshop, Fruits of the Earth and from the BFS stall outside the Arts Centre on Saturday Aug 27 from 10am to 1pm. Full season membership costs £35, and typically reaches capacity well before the start of the season.

By |August 26th, 2016|Film|0 Comments

Fistful of Tacos

Fistful of Tacos
Mexican street food
Behind Waitrose Thurs to Sat, 5pm-9pm
BR Rating ****

By Alison Lang

A friend mentioned to me that Bridport never used to be hip.
Well it must have had a hip replacement. The one thing I thought was missing was Mexican food, but now that’s sorted with a super van parked at the back of Punch and Judy bakery, just behind Waitrose, serving proper Mexican street food.

Delicious home-made slow-cooked pulled pork, Beef Brisket and Chipotle chicken in soft tacos and burritos with all the fixings, plus a beautiful vegetarian option with sweet potato.

It’s quite clever as a family connection allows them to use the ovens at Punch and Judy bakery when the bread baking has finished for the day. From chefing at the Bull, Avenue and the Watch House, Gerry Page and Mattias Larsson now make it all Mexican.

Grab a seat or take a taco home.

By |August 16th, 2016|Alison Lang, Food & Drink|0 Comments