Saturday, 18 June 2016

House and Garden

When I moved in to my house I knew it would need a fair bit of work doing, and last year I got the majority of the indoor work done, with a new boiler, insulation, and lots of redecoration.

This year, it's time for the outside, and on Monday morning, 4 blokes and a JCB turned up to get started.

pre work

At the front, the previous owners had tarmaced over the front garden, leaving it open to the road, and I've wanted to turn that back into a garden, (hence the JCB)

Apparently they took out about 18 tons of tarmac and rubble.



After which they laid topsoil, and built me a fence and a couple of gates.

I am of course partial, but I do think it looks rather nicer now! 

And I shall be starting to plant stuff at the front in the coming months.

At the back of the house, the previous owners had laid patio and gravel over most of the garden, and again, I wanted a bit more garden. In addition, at Christmas, the back fence succumbed to the weather.

The death of the back fence
pre-work back garden

So I decided that I would keep the patio but increase the amount of lawn, and of course replace the back fence.

new back garden

The new turf looks very neat and bright compared to the old grass (or it did..)

Because, having finished the work on Thursday, the heavens opened on Friday evening, and we had phenomenal amounts of rain in a very short space of time, which resulted in a very brief but spectacular flood.


Which was just a bit annoying :( I mean, the turf care instructions I have been given do say to "keep the new turf well watered" for the first couple of weeks, but I suspect this wasn't quite what they had in mind...

Friday, 17 June 2016

Jo Cox : RIP


I'm normally fairly light hearted here. I don't make a habit of positing about politics.

But today, I came home, I turned on the news, and learned that Jo Cox, MP a West Yorkshire MP, and former charity worker,  was murdered today. She was stabbed and shot while holding a surgery in her constituency.

I didn't know her. I didn't know her name, before today.

But I am appalled that anyone, politician or otherwise, has been killed for doing her job, for standing up for her principals, for holding, and expressing, views which others didn't accept.

She was only elected 13 months ago, in May 2015. She used her Maiden Speech in the House of Commons to speak out in support of the benefits of multi-culturalism and immigrants to this country, she seems, by all accounts, to have been an excellent and effective constituency MP, and she actively worked to support and welcome refugees.

Her death is a huge loss, not only to her family and  her own Yorkshire community, but to all of us. She was the sort of politician one can respect and support, and even if you don't share her political views, she clearly earned respect for her integrity, commitment and compassion.

And she was well-matched. Her husband, in the middle of the first shock of her death, gave a statement. He said:


“Today is the beginning of a new chapter in our lives, More difficult, more painful, less joyful, less full of love. I and Jo’s friends and family are going to work every moment of our lives to love and nurture our kids and to fight against the hate that killed Jo.

Jo believed in a better world and she fought for it everyday of her life with an energy and a zest for life that would exhaust most people. 

She would have wanted two things above all else to happen now, one that our precious children are bathed in love and two, that we all unite to fight against the hatred that killed her. Hate doesn’t have a creed, race or religion, it is poisonous.

Jo would have no regrets about her life, she lived every day of it to the full.”



My heart goes out to him, and their children. To be able to refrain from any mention of revenge, from any hatred.. I hope that he will find some comfort in the outpouring of love and support there has been for his wife.

I have also been thinking a lot about the word Neil Gaiman wrote, after and in response to the Charlie Hebdo murders. I think they apply here, too. 

"I believe I have the right to think and say the wrong things. I believe your remedy for that should be to argue with me or to ignore me, and that I should have the same remedy for the wrong things that you think.


I believe that you have the absolute right to think things that I find offensive, stupid, preposterous or dangerous, and that you have the right to speak, write, or distribute these things, and that I do not have the right to kill you, maim you, hurt you, or take away your liberty or property because I find your ideas threatening or insulting or downright disgusting. You probably think my ideas are pretty vile, too."

Thursday, 16 June 2016

TheThreepenny Opera

On Saturday, I saw The Threepenny Opera at the National Theatre. I've never seen the show before,although I am of course familiar with the song Mack the Knife.

I really enjoyed this production. The theatre's own website promises that it "Contains filthy language and immoral behaviour." and it does.



Rory Kinnear is Captain MacHeath, with Rosalie Craig as Polly Peachum, Peter de Jersey as Police chief 'Tiger' Brown (I kept thinking that he looked familiar, having looked him up when I got home I find he was Cominius in 'Coriolanus' at the Donmar, and Horatio in the David Tennant 'Hamlet', which would explain his familiarity!)



I thoroughly enjoyed the show. The staging is  almost cartoonish, with many props labelled - '"drugs", "loud" (on a megaphone) and so forth. My particular favourite was the newspaper with the huge headline "Mack Does Bad Things".

Rory Kinnear is convincingly amoral and scary, and he also has a surprisingly nice signing voice. 


And Rosalie Craig (Polly Peachum) was hugely impressive, both musically and and as an actor. As indeed were Jamie Beddard (stealing evey scene he was in) and Nick Holder's aimiable but terrifying Peachum.

Definitely worth seeing. I should like to go back and watch it all over again, if I could. 

Sunday, 12 June 2016

A Grand Day Out

On Saturday I spent the day in London, meeting up with friends in order to go to the National Theatre to see 'The Threepenny Opera'

We met up in time to have lunch (Pies!) near the river, then, as we walked back to the theatre, we found that the RAF had kindly put on a fly-past to celebrate our meeting.

(I suppose it is just possible that they may also have been marking the Queen's 90th Brthday and Trooping of the Colour) 


Spitfire and Hurricane - Battle of Britain Flight
There were initially a group of 4 helicopters, followed by a Hurricane and a Spitfire from the Battle of Britain Flight

There were then various other planes,  from the Hercules, and other big transport planes, to more modern jet planes, including Tornados and Typhoons.



The finale was provided by the Red Arrows, who came in over the Thames in their distinctive 'V' formation.



I hope the Queen enjoyed seeing them. We did!


The Red Arrows
And it was a fun addition to the day.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Beekeeping update

I've had the bees for 3 weeks now, and they have not given up on me in disgust yet, which is good!
Comb with Queen, bees, pollen and brood.
As I explained in my previous bee-post, I didn't manage to spot the queen when I installed the bees, but I did manage to see and identify her on my first inspection. She was supposed to come ready marked, but she isn't (or perhaps her workers have cleaned the marking paint off her).  She's also much yellower than I had expected, having seen much darker queens in the other hives I have seen.

But I did feel very pleased with myself when I managed to identify her! 

It was fascinating, too, to see the different colours of pollen as the bees bring in stores - if you look at the photo above, you can see one cell with bright orange pollen in, which I believe is likely to be dandelion pollen, for instance.



Newly drawn comb with eggs
The bees have also been busy as, well, bees, 'drawing out' wax into new cells to fill with stores and new bees - I was very impressed to be able to see the teeny tiny eggs in the new cells - clearly Her Majesty is hard at work!



I have also now received my first bee-sting (not something to celebrate, but I suppose it can be seen as  a rite of passage of sorts.

I had a bit of a wobble this weekend, as when I went to see them on Saturday they appeared to be much less mellow and chilled out  than they have been until now, but happily another local beekeeper came to inspect them with me, which was very reassuring.(We didn't either of us manage to spot the queen, but she was obviously there, as there were plenty of new eggs!)

I have added a Super to the hive - this gives the bees more space to keep stores, particularly honey, but the queen cannot get into it so she stays in the bigger brood-bx down below and keeps laying eggs. I am not really expecting to be able to harvest any honey this year, as it is the first year, as the bees will of course need stores to keep them going through the winter, but who knows? If they have a good year, they may have some honey to spare for me!

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Buzz Aldrin : A Remarkable Man

Photo of Buzz Aldrin taken by Neil Armstrong
On Friday evening,  I was privileged to see and hear, a real legend, Apollo astronaut, Buzz Aldrin.

He was visiting Bath in connection with his new book, No Dream is Too High





He spoke about his early life, giving us a potted biography, from his childhood (the name 'Buzz' coming from'Buzzer', as his sisters couldn't say 'brother' when they were very young), through his first flight at the age of two, and then (skipping a decade or so), he spoke about his service in the US Air Force, and flying as a fighter pilot during the Korean war. (including taking a photo from his gun turret camera, of a Russian pilot ejecting from his plane, which was published in 'Life' magazine)

And then on to his involvement in the Space program. He explained that he was encouraged by Ed White, who had been a close friend of his since they were both at West Point, to apply to NASA (White was later killed in the Apollo 1 disaster).




At first, he didn't succeed, as he had not been a test-pilot, which was one of the qualifications needed, but he persevered, and got accepted on his second attempt!

And, of course, then came the Gemini and Apollo programs - he spoke a little about these, and about the moon lading itself, including explaining that the black marks on his space suit in the famous photo of him on the moon are moondust left by Armstrong on the bottom rung of the ladder from the lander.

He also spoke about his love of diving (and showed a photo of him on a dive to celebrate his 80th birthday, hitching a lift with a whale shark!

The event finished with a few questions, including some from children. One of the kids asked whether he had needed a passport to go to the moon, and he explained that no, he didn't, but that he did fill in a travel voucher / expenses claim, setting out details of the full round trip!






I wasn't able to get a book signed due to the size of the queue - my seat was up in the circle. The venue holds about 1,600 people and I think it was sold out, so the queue as long, and I would have been near the back of it, so I didn't stay.

But even without meeting the man face to face it was an inspiring evening, with an extraordinary man, who has had the most extraordinary experiences. And a remarkable reminder of what scientific imagination can achieve.

(In fact, the one sour note of the evening was the number of people who were getting up and making a lot of noise, trying to jump to the front of the queue, before the event finished - do disruptive and rude!).
  

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Elegy at the Donmar Warehouse


After seeing Romeo and Juliet at the Garrick, I moved on (after a swift meal) to the Donmar Warehouse, to see Zoe Wanamaker, Barbara Flynn, and Nina Sosanya in Nick Payne's new play, Elegy.

The play is a short one, and not what one could call cheerful.

It posits a near future where diseases such as Alzheimer's can be cured,by removal of the affected parts of the brain, with these being replaced by a form of electronic prosthesis, modelled upon the patient's brain and thus allowing them to retain their character and intelligence, but lacking their memories.

We first meet Wanamaker's Lorna as she is being discharged from hospital, having undergone the treatment and having, as a result, lost all memories of her marriage and 20 year relationship with her wife, Carrie (Barbara Flynn), who, having held Power of Attorney for her wife was the one who ultimately made the choice to try the treatment.

Subsequent scenes flash back, to Lorna and Carrie meeting with the doctor (Sosanya), and as they come to terms, together, with the increasing effects of Lorna's illness.



It's pretty  bleak, but all three actors are superb. It's a poignant portrait of love and loss, and while it lacks tension due to the choice to start with the outcome, it's moving, and it does raise some interesting questions about medical consent and indeed, about memory and identity.

Monday, 30 May 2016

Happy 250th Birthday, Bristol Old Vic!


Bristol Old Vic is one of the oldest theatres in England, and claims the distinction of being the oldest which has been in continuous operation as a theatre. When it first opened, it did so illegally, as it didn't have a Royal Warrant, so patrons had to enter, speakeasy style, through a false entrance in a neighbouring house.  It became more respectable over time.


The theatre.
It originally opened in 1766, so is, this year, celebrating its 250th Anniversary.
I don't go to this theatre as frequently as I do to Bath - for one thing, it is a little further away, and less easy to get to, but I have been a patron for years - I saw my first 'Hamlet' there, (Iain Glen, in 1991, with Jame Purefoy as Laertes). 

So when I saw that they would be holding a 250th Anniversary Gala, I decided to attend.

It took place on Sunday evening, 29th May (The original opening, in 1766, apparently took place on 30th May)


The theatre filling up (and the starry ceiling)
On arrival at the theatre we were met with a red carpet, and, once inside, were plied with champagne and canapes, before heading in to take our seats.

It was introduced by Tom Morris, the theatre's Artistic Director, and featured appearances from many actors with links to the theatre or the Old Vic Theatre school, including Kwame Kwei-Armah (who performed the speech which Garrick gave, at the original opening).

Others who appeared included Samantha Bond, Stephanie Cole,Melanie Marshall,  Pippa Haywood, Toby Jones, Patrick Malahide, Michael Morpurgo, Siân Phillips, Tim Pigott-Smith, Caroline Quentin, Tony Robinson and Timothy West, as well as students from the Theatre School (Erin Doherty) and children's theatre.

We heard readings of various actors memories of the theatre, including those of Peter O'Toole, and readings of letters both those of  an 18th C. Quaker opposed to the theatre, and of modern greats such as John Giulgud, calling for the theatre to be saved, as it risked closure and sale as a warehouse, during WW2.

Drama was provided by short performances - we saw 2 recent graduates of the Old Vic Theatre School performing an extract from an early play, in which Sarah Siddons appeared, others performed Mercutio and Tybalt's duel from Romeo and Juliet, and Siân Phillips gave (superbly) Juliet's speech  ("Gallop apace, you fiery-footed steeds"). 

Timothy West (who is currently in rehearsals for the theatre's production of 'King Lear') gave us Lear's 'Blow winds, and crack your cheeks' speech (with added sound effects from the theatre's recently restored 18th Century 'Thunder Run', which uses cannon balls in wooden runs in the roof to create the sound of thunder)

There was light relief from Tony Robinson and Pippa Haywood as stage managers, wandering to the stage to interrupt, critisise and mis-name Tom Morris.

We also had music - a little of Handel's Messiah, a new setting of a poem written upon the death of a young Shakespearean actor in the 18th C, Melane Marshall performing one of he songs from the recent production of 'Jane Eyre', and an ensemble peice from the 2014 production of 'Swallows and Amazons', which featured beautiful wooden models of the two boats which were sent crowd-surfing through the auditorium.

Michael Morpurgo appeared, and read an extract from his semi-autobiographical picture book 'My Father is a Polar Bear', first explaining that his natural father, Tony Van Bridge, was an actor, who he never met as a child .

After which a horse arrived on stage, the amazing 'Joey' from 'War Horse', (apparently Tom Morris was the original Director) who trotted around the stage, snuffled at the front row of the stalls, and bucked and reared.

I've only seen the show as a live cinema broadcast, not in person, but the puppet-horse is stunning!

After the show ended there was live music in the foyer and gallery from local band 'The Zu Zu Men' and then, just as I was getting ready to leave, a door in the bar opened and out came a horse....
Joey 
I have to say, seeing Joey up close like this is extraordinary - he's very obviously a puppet - you can see the puppeteers, the structure, the pulleys and rods which allow him to be manipulated.

But he's also, utterly convincingly, a horse. So it is strange and surreal to meet him in the theatre foyer. I found myself worrying that those standing immediately behind him risked getting kicked, and noting how quiet and tolerant of the noise and the people he was!

It was an extraordinary opportunity to 'meet' him. Unfortunately, as I didn't cough up £10 for a commemorative programme I don't have a list of the performers, so I can't name-check 'Albert' or the operators of Joey, but they were great!

Joey, in the foyer of the theatre

It was a highly enjoyable evening, and I am glad I went. And I hope that the theatre is still going strong in another 250 years!

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Romeo & Juliet

Last week was a very busy one for me. After my trip to London on Thursday for the  Neil Gaiman's Likely Stories screening, I was back again on Saturday, for 2 shows, booked months ago.

The first of these was Romeo and Juliet, a production by the Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company at the Garrick.

I booked it because Sir Derek Jacobi was appearing,and I will always show up to see him perform, given the chance. I was intrigued to learn he would be playing Mercutio, as of course, it's not a role with which one associates with a 77 year old man).


Mercution, Romeo and Benvolio
(Photo from Theatre website)
The Production is set in 1950s Italy, so the sets reference fascist  architecture, and the costumes are very much 'La Dolce Vita' : virtually monochrome and very stylish. Setting the play in this period, and this place, with undertones of Mafia corruption, and more that a little machismo, works well

Juliet is played by Lily James, (Downton Abbey's Lady Rose / War and Peace's Natasha Rostova), and Romeo by Richard Madden (Robb Stark in Game of Thrones) 


Juliet and Romeo
I was very impressed by James's performance as Juliet - she is entirely convincing as an emotional, intense teenager.

Madden I found a little disappointing, he didn't seem to project any passion, and unfortunately his diction was not always as clear as it could be, leading to some of the verse being lost. Friar Lawrence (Samuel Valentine) was a young man, a close friend of Romeo's, and his performance was excellent - his youth made the friendship, and Friar Lawrence's actions in assisting the young lovers entirely believable. 


Tybalt (Ansu Kabia) and Mercutio (Derek Jacobi)

Derek Jacobi's Mercutio is a high point in the show. He is wonderfully urbane, witty and more than a little camp, twirling his sword-stick and offering worldly advice and bon mots to his younger friends. His 'Queen Mab' speech was pitch-perfect, and his duel with Tybalt has an added poignancy, as he gives the impression, until the last moment, that he expects, as is his wont, to duel with words, not swords. 

In all, a good, but not great, production. I enjoyed it. (Although was somewhat irritated by the chap sitting behind me, and explaining the plot and characters in piercing whisper, to his children!)

Saturday, 28 May 2016

Richard III. A Bad Man



Last Saturday evening, the BBC broadcast the 3rd in the current series of The Hollow Crown, Richard III. 

It features Benedict Cumberbatch as the scheming, murderous monarch, Judi Dench as his mother, the Duchess of York, and Sophie Okonedo as Margaret of Anjou, widow of Henry VI. 


The play follows on from the 2 previous episodes (compressed from the 3 Henry VI plays) and it helps to have watched the earlier ones to build up an understanding of the background, the characters, and their relationships, but this is the big one, where Richard III comes into his wicked, murderous own.


It's a very good adaptation. Cumberbatch revels in the role, particularly his soliloquies, spoken directly to the camera, drawing us in to his plots.

Between times, he spends a lot of time brooding over a chess board, drumming his fingers, never satisfied or safe.

They play is, of course, pretty bleak, but there are nevertheless moments of humour - the scene in which the Mayor of London and others arrive to 'persuade' Richard to take the throne is very funny.


The final showdown, at the Battle of Bosworth Field, is as grim as it comes, with endless acres of blood and rain and mud. 

Richmond (Luke Treadaway) naturally turns up, looking impossibly clean-cut and noble, and, inevitably, defeats Richard.

This is, of course, entirely consistent with Shakespeare's play, if not with history (the victory is true, of course. The nobility, less so) 

It's well worth seeing.

Monday, 23 May 2016

Shakespeare as you have never seen him before (Contains lots of Death and Spaceships)

I had a very Shakespeare-heavy start to the week.

On Monday night I went to see a local, amateur production of 'Return to the Forbidden Planet'. For. those who have not seen it, this is Shakespeare's lost Rock and Roll masterpiece - very loosely based upon 'The Tempest', with words stolen from all of Shakespeare's other pays, and (live) music from Rock'n'Roll's heyday, and Dan Dare / Thunderbirds style.

it is tremendously entertaining! I saw a professional production (set and costume designs by Gerry Anderson of Thunderbirds fame) years ago, and loved it, and have wanted to see it again, ever since.

I enjoyed this production, although it would have benefited from  larger stage, and the performances were a little patchy, but all in all, it was good fun. (And I still want to see another professional performance!) 


Then on Tuesday, I went to Bristol Old Vic to see SpyMonkey's 'The Complete Deaths'.

They have decided (as one does) to combine, in a single performance, all 75* of the on-stage deaths in Shakespeare's plays.

(*If you include the black, ill-favoured fly from Titus Andronicus. 76 if you include Ophelia despite the fact she really dies off-stage)
(C) Chris Riddell / SpyMonkey
I heard of the show via Chris Riddell,who illustrated a number of the Deaths, for the programme, and who has also illustrated the complete deaths card gayme,  and as one of places that the show is touring to was Bristol (as part of 'MayFest,) I decided to go.

It was a lot of fun - the deaths were presented in a huge range of ways. I am not certain whether it is Cleopatra's burlesque striptease, or all the Macbeth deaths presented via the medium of interpretive dance (by performers wearing flesh-coloured latex kilts) which will stay with me the longest . . .

The Shakespearean deaths are interspersed with interactions between the cast - Toby Park as the earnest intellectual, determined to confront the complacent audience with their own ultimate deaths, Aitor Basauri, longing to be a serious, Shakespearean actor (and having conversations with Shakespeare's disembodied head from time to time) Stephan Kreiss, nursing an unrequited (and at times very vocal) love for his colleague Petra, and  Petra Massey herself, determined to include the death of Ophelia. . .

I am not sure how much fun this would be if you don't have at least a passing familiarity with Shakespeare's plays, but if you do, it's highly entertaining, witty and extremely enjoyable.

Oh, and I bought the cards. And can now play a beautifully illustrated game of death top trumps.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Neil Gaiman's Likely Stories



Because I am a lucky sod, on Thursday, I got to attend a  preview screening, at the BFI, of 'Neil Gaiman's Likely Stories', which are to be broadcast on Sky Arts, starting on 26th May.

The evening started with live music from Jarvis Cocker,  supported by a 7-piece orchestra, as he played the songs composed for each of the four stories

There was then a short conversation with Neil, Jane Pollard and Iain Forsyth (who directed the series) and Jarvis Cocker. 

Neil explained that he had sent Jane and Iain a list of the the 40 or so short stories which were available and they had chosen four, not necessarily the four he would have expected..
Neil |Gaiman, Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard

Then we got to watch the films. The series consists of 4 of Neil's short stories; Foreign Parts, Feeders and Eaters, Closing Time, and Looking For The Girl, and for the screening they were all shown as one smooth whole, although I think they are being shown as separate episodes when it airs on TV.

And they are very good indeed - the films capture the dark , unsettling nature of the stories, both in content and in the style in which they are shot, and the music perfectly complements them. 

I was a little wary, a adaptations of books and stories so often fall short, and fail to do justice to their source material, but these don't.


All of the tales were set in London, but a darker, more mysterious and inexplicable London than the one you normally see.



It left me wondering, as I walked back from the Southbank, what exactly might be going on, just out of sight, and what it is that you half-see, from the corner of your eye, at such times...