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

Satish Kumar

satish-kumar-photoBridport Literary Festival
Electric Palace 13 November
BR Rating ****
By Sam Barker

If there were a day for a saint, it was Saturday the 14th. In the rain and the wind, with new words such as ‘Bataclan’ staking a new place in reality, nearly 450 Bridport people came to hear Satish Kumar talk about his new book, Soil, Soul, Society.

A former Jain monk, who walked from India to Moscow to London and Washington DC, who practises peacefulness and environmentalism, Kumar sat on the stage as the living antithesis to the night of the 13th. One day earlier, only half the tickets had been sold. Come Saturday morning, everything had changed; people kept arriving, standing in the aisles, crowding into seats, bringing whole families to hear him speak.

Sitting on a chair beneath the stage lights, Kumar was at once diminutive and immense. An eighty-year-old man with the face of a benevolent eagle, he laid down the philosophy behind his book. His ethos is a reversal of the Maslowian hierarchy which says progression starts with the fulfilment of personal needs and ends with self-actuation. Instead, Kumar puts care for the soil at the core of well-being, followed by care for the soul and for society.

“Be the change that you want to see in the world,” he intoned. “Suppress your ego…be attentive…practise peace and non-violence every day.”

Someone posited a Manichean perspective during the questions that followed: “Didn’t he have the impression that a struggle between good and evil is taking place?”
“People are not evil, they are just unenlightened,” said Kumar. Light and dark both have their place in the world. Plurality is to be celebrated – no religion is better than another, respectfulness and celebration of difference are better than the compulsion to evangelize.

There were moments when English seemed too mean and guttural to express Kumar’s meaning. Twice, he switched to either Urdu or Hindi, and the lyrical otherness of the language resonated more deeply than the words that were more clearly understood.

When it was over, Kumar walked up the crowded aisle and it seemed that people were compelled to touch him. Outside, his book sold out almost immediately. Its message is unusually pertinent now.

By |November 16th, 2015|Books, Sam Barker|0 Comments

How did we let win Letwin?

BR OpinionBy Sam Barker

Who knew? Who would have guessed that beyond the tangerine diamonds and exhortations to vote Green that Bridport was somehow blue? That the man purveying shredded Letwin literature as toilet paper outside his house was not representative of the voting intentions of the town?

But then maybe it wasn’t Bridport. Maybe it was elsewhere in West Dorset that gave Letwin this supercharged majority? The man himself seemed strangely absent from DT6 during the weeks of the campaign, preferring friendlier territories like Poundbury or Sherborne. Not that he didn’t come here at all – in a video on his site he’s standing outside the South Street toilets one Tuesday in April, all gap-toothed equanimity, saying how much he likes being out on the election trail talking to “all sorts of interesting people who raise all sorts of interesting points and questions,” celebrating “the chance to argue things out.”

Maybe there should have been more arguing things out. That way, an impassioned minority that felt like a majority might have better known what it was up against. But then maybe it was the arguing that drove the majority to cowed silence. A few weeks ago, Janan Ganesh, the political commentator, said that voting Conservative had become a transgressive act, like being punk or emo. He was right, except that unlike punks or emos Conservative voters played it normcore until the opportunity came for self-expression in secret.

Presciently, Letwin himself foresaw the outcome. In another video filmed on May 1, he says that the last few days of an election are a “precious moment” in which there is the possibility of a “large number” of normally disengaged people actually “attending to the political question.” As the “awesome decision” approaches, he predicts that this group will, “probably more and more decide that they opt for securing a better future for themselves [by voting Conservative]…”

For Letwin, therefore, voting is a private act, the culmination of a short but intense period of personal reflection. A moment of deep communion between citizen and state. Not an expression of long-term tribal affiliation to be displayed on Facebook.

Where does this it leave Bridport? With high house prices and low pay the town has benefited from the tax credits that look most at risk from the new regime. The new government aims to make £12bn in cuts to benefits by 2018 and Liberal Democrats such as Ros Kayes will not be there to check this. Sometime soon, those decisions made in private will start manifesting themselves in public. Start donating to food banks now.

By |May 9th, 2015|Opinion, Politics, Sam Barker|2 Comments

Short Films

shortfilmsBridport Arts Centre 11 April 2015
BR Rating N/A

By Sam Barker

There’s something ignoble about coruscating criticism of films made by students. Fledgling filmmakers need nurturing, not annihilation. Gloves off, not gloves on. Gentle encouragement, not ungentlemanly smackdowns.

In this spirit, the short films made by local students and showcased at the Bridport Film Festival on Saturday were more than outstanding. In a selection of five two-minute shorts, the audience was treated to an odyssey of social commentary with localism as the unifying theme. The cinematography may not have been brilliant, the camerawork was often shaky, the editing erratic, the dialogue indistinct, but this was Dorset seen through the lens of a generation brought up with smartphones. And it was refreshingly different.

In the first of the films, a fisherman reeled in relentless Morrisons’ ready meals in the wake of the storm which spewed mountains of rubbish onto the beaches last year. In the second, the inhabitants of a seaside town were subject to a curfew which saw them confined to their homes between May and September. In the third, a mysterious vat of rubbish rose strangely from the ground alongside the A35 at Broomhills farm. For the fourth, one of Bridport’s last surviving rope-makers reminisced about the town in the 1940s while averring his current support for UKIP. And finally, we were treated to an ethereal ghost story set on a desolate Eggardon Hill after the September kite festival.

Interesting, entertaining and thought-provoking.
Except… none of this actually happened. There weren’t any short films at this year’s festival. No one submitted one. This was a shame: anything is better than nothing. And we would have been gentle and encouraging. Honestly.
Maybe next year.

By |April 13th, 2015|Film, From Page to Screen Festival, Sam Barker|1 Comment

Bloodied but unbowed, home from Waterloo

Sideways GlanceBy Sam Barker

If you live in Bridport, it’s not the thing to confess that you rely on London for your lucre. That instead of being locally grounded, you are tied to one of the tendrils of the metropolis – that you are one of the tendrils of the metropolis. And that, by inference, you are partly to blame for rising house prices, gentrification, Farrow and Ball on the Dreadnought Estate.

The metropolitan migrants, therefore, bear their burden lightly. Burden? The 4.30am starts, the 10pm returns, the dark and icy badger-strewn drive to Crewkerne station. And the hours of life lost to South West Trains.

My first peregrination of 2015 was not auspicious. From Bridport to Crewkerne, to a succession of incidental places (Tisbury), to Salisbury, to Waterloo, to Old Street. And then back. Except the return journey was cut short by an inexplicable signal-apocalypse for all stations west of Salisbury. “We don’t know what caused it,” explained the customer relations manager on Salisbury station, “It’s not the snow.” Not that there was any.

By a quirk of fate, there were a lot of people travelling from Waterloo to Crewkerne that evening. None fitted the suit-wearing commuting archetype. Most were women. Some were drunk. Some were drunk women, brandishing an open bottle of Prosecco.

To South West Trains’ credit, they coped. There’s nothing like a public transport failure, miles from home, on a biting winter’s night, to dispel the illusion of self-determinism. On a hot summer’s evening several years ago, the trains malfunctioned outside Woking, leaving thousands of incarcerated commuters to dehydrate until the system resumed – the drinks trolleys denuded of everything but vodka. But last Tuesday, SWT was organised. A fleet of taxis was waiting at Salisbury. The stranded were segregated into groups and sent on by destination.

The Crewkerne taxi was more of a minibus. The camaraderie fizzed and faded as phones came out and the dislocated journey was dissipated across friends and family. The taxi driver went fast, maybe even too fast, and we were back in Crewkerne by 10pm, in Bridport by 10.30pm, ready for work the next morning. The secret commuters of DT6.

By |January 22nd, 2015|Sam Barker, Sideways Glance|3 Comments