Sunday, 26 July 2015

New New House!

Back in May, I moved all my furniture, and myself, out into the shed / garden annex / converted garage,  in order to allow a whole string of builders and plasters and electricians and decorators and carpet fitters to transform my house.
The living room. Note the lovely stone-cladding, and the artex ceiling

It was in great need of it. 

These are some of the 'before' pictures. The house has literally had nothing done to it for decades. 

I assume the wallpaper went up in the early 80's, and nothing had changed since. Not shown here: the lovely curtain poles, which were screwed to untreated bit of wood which were, in turn, glued to the wallpaper.

My Bedroom. With woodchip wallpaper everywhere
I can be quite certain that they were glued on, because whoever glued them on did not clear up afterwards, so there were lots of blobs of white pva glue sploodging out around the wood. 


Spare room. More woodchip. 
It's actually quite inspiring to think that there is someone out there who is even more clueless about DIY than I am...

The 'before' pictures of the bedrooms are less dramatic, because you cannot really tell that the walls (and ceilings) are covered with lumpy wood-chip wallpaper, and the carpets so thin that every floorboard could be seen. 

And these pictures don't show the black, sooty plaster, loose around the sockets and where the airing cupboard used to be. Or the lovely holes where the previous owners had TVs on the walls, and all kinds or random bits of wire everywhere...
Living room. 

Also not shown: the peeling artex ceilings in the kitchen and the bathroom. They were not fun. 

So, I moved out, and the builders moved in, and made dramatic and messy changes. 

It is very strange to come home at the end of the day and find that you can see all your brickwork, or can learn what your loft insulation looks like from the underneath. 
My bedroom. No more woodchip!
(Yellow, mostly, in case you were wondering!)
Also my bedroom. No more ceiling

But mostly what I came home to was dust. Black dust. Lots and lots of black dust. 

And then some more black dust. 

And did I mention the the black dust?

It was also a little worrying to see just how much stuff was ending up in the skip outside the house. I started to feel as if I might get home one day to find the entire house was gone, with nothing left but skip after skip of rubble.

Fortunately, things then started to improve.

I would return each evening to find plasterboard, and then plaster, and new skirting boards, and new electrical sockets, and all sorts of things.
Living room

And then came the decorators, and the new, non-black, walls went from pink, to  white(ish) to the colours which I had chosen.

Then, last week, after the decorators had finished, the carpet fitters arrived. I had not, originally, planned to replace all of the carpets but in the end, I decided it was easier than doing them bit by bit, plus they really, really needed to be replaced...


Bedroom
And so now I have new carpet everywhere. 

And it does, I think, all look rather nice.

The carpet fitter finished on Friday morning, and on Saturday morning two blokes with a van arrived to move all my furniture back indoors, so I am now, officially, moved back in.


spare room
And I feel that I now have the house which I 'saw', when I first looked around the house last Spring, before I bought it.

It is not quite finished:

 I don't have any curtains yet, and all of my books are in boxes (the third bedroom is, literally, half full of boxes of books right now.) 
Bedroom with furniture!

I am stalking a couple of carpenters with a view to getting some bookshelves and cupboards built into the living room, and one day I want to have a wood-burning stove in the fireplace, and some better quality furniture.
The books, awaiting unpacking.

And outside, the garden needs work.  But for now, by new house is all shiny and new, and I am very happy with it.

Now, I just need to get the books unpacked ...!

Friday, 10 July 2015

Car Troubles, Bees, Summer, and Friends

Last week was mostly distinguished by being very, very hot. At least by English standards.

It was an mixed week for me - on Monday, the exhaust pipe (or at least the back half of it) fell off my car on the way home from work. Annoyingly, the exhaust broke somewhere in the middle,and the bit attaching it to the back of the bumper didn't, so it didn't actually fall off, it just dragged along the road, so I had to stop can carry out emergency tying bits of the car together (fortunately I had several bits of bungee in the boot)

Fortunately my neighbour is a mechanic and kindly removed it for me once I got home, and the car is now fixed, but it was not a good start to the week. 

Wednesday I had planned to go to the cinema to see the live broadcast of Carmen but it was too hot, and by the time I got home from work I was tired, hot and had a nasty headache, so I didn't go.


After that, the week started to improve. On Thursday I went bee-ing again, which was interesting. I am starting to feel a bit more confident, and competent,  around the bees, which is nice. I am going to have to start scouting around to see where I might  be able to keep a hive or two next year...

Then on Friday evening I met up with my friend T to go to the theatre, in Bath,which was lots of fun.
Catherine Steadman (Kate) and
Michael Pennington (Mr Hardcastle)
We saw 'She Stoops to Conquer'  which is on as part of the Theatre Royal's summer season. The play was originally performed in 1773, but for this production the setting has been updated to the 1920s, which mostly works - it is still feasible, just about to have the big class divides which underlie the plot.

The plot relies heavily on characters being unable to recognise one another, and on the dashing young gentlemen being fooled into thinking that the manor house was in fact an inn...

Hubert Burton plays Marlow, shy and tongue-tied with women of his own class, forward and brash with women he believes to be his social inferiors, and cringingly snobbish and superior towards his host, Mr Hardcastle (Michael Pennington) who he believes to be an inn keeper. Marlow has a touch of Bertie Wooster about him, and while his way with innkeepers and serving maids is a little unappealing to modern eyes, it is very well done.

Micheal Pennington had a far less showy role, but played it with beautiful restraint, as Mr Hardcastle, ready to welcome the son of his best friend as his daughter's suitor, but  met with arrogance and treated as a servant.

Catherine Steadman (who I last saw in 'Oppenheimer') was Kate Hardcastle, who seemed more n control of events than any of the other characters, and seemed to enjoy playing the barmaid to 'conquer' Marlow.

It was all good fun, I thoroughly enjoyed the evening and felt the setting - (both the period and the revolving set) worked well.

The play is on in Bath until 18th July, so plenty of time to see it if you are in the area!



Sunday, 5 July 2015

Indigenous Australia, and Bad King John

I spent this weekend visiting relations in London.We had tickets to see the Globe Theatre's production of Shakespeare's 'King John', and also took the opportunity to visit the British Museum and see their 'Indigenous Australia' exhibition.

The exhibition is not big, but it is very interesting, and has some beautiful artifacts and art, and it appeared to me that the curators had tried very hard to ensure that the exhibition was presented in a way which was respectful of the indigenous Australian's culture and history, including details of how they were treated by the British Colonists and Australian Government, although there were a few odd phrases... for instance, referring to the lack if recognition of Indigenous People's rights to / occupation of Australia as a 'mistake' and a 'misunderstanding' seemed a little odd - not least because it implies that the country would not have been Colonized had Cook and his successors understood more, which, baring in mind British Colonial Expansion in the 18th and 19th Centuries seems a bit unlikely! 

But over all I enjoyed the exhibition, learned things I didn't know before, and would encourage anyone likely to be in London to see it.


After visiting the exhibition, we browsed a little elsewhere in the museum, including taking a look at the Waddesdon Bequest, which includes some lovely medieval jewels, plate and other artifacts.(The museum has just rehoused it in a newly refurbished gallery) 

I am not a big fan of the elaborate gold / gilt tableware, although the workmanship is amazing, but the various jewels are beautiful, and fun - I rather liked this little ram. I should be happy to give it a home, if the Museum should suddenly decide to start rehoming its art!

After that, we had a very pleasant Chinese meal before heading over to the Globe to see King John

I have never seen the play before, and deliberately decided not to read it before seeing it, although of course I am broadly familiar with the history. It isn't performed very often(this is, I think, the first time the Globe has done it) and I did wonder whether there was good reason for that, and that it perhaps isn't one of William's best.


I need not have worried. It was excellent, with a very strong cast. I enjoyed it immensely, and there were a surprising number of funny moments, among the battles and deaths and betrayals.


King John was played by Jo Stone-Fewings, (who played Buckingham in the production of Richard III I saw at Trafalgar Studios last year). His John was initially gleeful (the play started with his coronation, during which there was a plainsong setting of 'Zadok the Priest') 

Alex Waldmann, as 'the Bastard' had, in some respects, the biggest role, and seemed to have a good deal of fun with it, and left the distinct impression that had the play continued much longer, John might have discovered he had a usurper on his hands...

The rest of the cast was equally strong. Tanya Moodie's Constance seemed, at first, to be pushing her son (Prince Arthur)'s claims for political reasons, arguing her (his) case, but as the play progressed and Arthur was captured by King John, she was the bereft and mourning mother, a picture of grief.

I don't think there was a single weak link in the cast,

Although I had not realised it in advance (perhaps because it wasn't me that booked the tickets, the performance we saw was the last in the run, so after the play ended there was a brief speech from Artistic Director Domenic Dromgoole, followed by the cast throwing roses ito the crowd. (with a special cheer for (I think) Giles Terera who managed, at the third attempt, to get a rose up into the gallery! 



It was a great evening, and I'm really glad that I got to see the play. Seeing it at the Globe was an extra bonus, and even a minor train issue on the way back didn't dampen our enjoyment! 

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Two Plays

I had a ticket to see Damian Lewis, John Goodman and Tom Sturridge in Mamet's 'American Buffalo' at a matinee performance, and another to see Chiwetel Ejiofor in 'Everyman' at the National Theatre in the evening.

Which made for a fun day.

The last thing I saw Damian Lewis in was the BBC's adaptation of Wolf Hall, in which he played King Henry VIII.  His role here is very different.

The play is deceptively simple; three no-hopers, none of whom is as smart as they think they are, trying to plan a robbery to recover a rare and valuable coin (the titular American Buffalo (nickel) ) 
American Buffalo (photo from theatre site)
John Goodman is excellent as the slow-thinking Don, roughly generous towards the young, vulnerable,  Bob (Sturridge), and guilty when Teach (Lewis) persuades him to exclude Bob from their heist.

In fact all three performances are great - Lewis is flashy (and so very 70s!) but also lets us see Teach's underlying insecurity, and Sturridge's Bob is both pathetic and oddly appealing. 

It was a beautiful sunny day, so between plays I wandered along the embankment, through a pop up market, and visited Cleopatra's Needle.  Which is nice, and has some only-slightly-shrapnel-damaged sphinxes flanking it, which I don't think I have ever seen up close before.

Everyman  was very interesting. It's an updating (written by Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy) of a 15th Century mystery play in which 'Everyman' has to account to God for his actions in life.

Everyman (Image from National Theatre site)
I had mixed feelings about it. Ejiofor is a superb actor, and I enjoyed the verse and the updating of the story, with Everyman starting the evening with an alcohol and cocaine fuelled birthday party, before being confronted with Death, the frailty of his relationships with friends and material possessions, and even with his family. 

However, the staging seemed, at times, to overwhelm the play - I can't help but feel that a slightly more muted production might have allowed the acting, and the writing, more space! 

I did, however, enjoy the specially printed banknotes, some of which were blown out into the auditorium, and loved Kate Duchene's cleaning lady/God)

Everyman and God (photo from National Theatre production gallery)
Despite some reservations about the over the top staging, I did really enjoy the play, and I'm glad I went.  I may even see the NTLive broadcast to give me a chance to see it again, and see what else I spot on a second viewing. 

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

A Belated Post About London

There has been a bit of a delay in writing about the rest of the trip to London, what with the house being torn down around my ears leading to (quelle horreur) 2 weeks with no TV or internet access at home. So no blogging.

After the lovely evening with friends and with Neil and Amanda and their friends, I had another 2 days in London, as I had, before hearing about the New Statesman event, booked to see 2 plays, on the Saturday, so I decided to stay up and tke in an exhibition or two in between.

So, on Friday, I went to the British Museum,to visit their 'Defining Beauty - the body in ancient Greek Art' which was fascinating.

The exhibition looks at the evolution of the idea of beauty, from ancient Egyptian figures, through to the Renaissance's rediscovery of ancient Greek Art.

The exhibits include, of course wonderful sculptures. There are also  reproduction figures, reminding us that ancient Greek sculptures were not the classic white we know now, but were brightly, indeed garishly coloured. I have to say, I much prefer them without the colours!

There are also vases (mostly of Herakles, but also a very nice one showing a woman spinning (apparently an unusual example of a well-born woman - mostly women only get a look in as slaves or goddesses)

It's worth seeing.

I then went to the British Library to revisit their Magna Carta exhibition - it was less crowded than when I made my first visit, which was nice, as it meant I could spend time trying to read bits of medieval French manuscripts, and bigger chunks of trial transcripts. 

It's still a really great exhibition.

The following morning I went to look for art of a different kind - I wanted to see the mural in memory of Terry Pratchett and Josh Kirby, just off Brick Lane.

I found it, but before I got there, I also found lots of other wonderful art. 

I loved these steampunk ravens, and the fox, and there were also some wonderful octopi and a mongoose. 

Then the one I'd gone looking for - 
It is very impressive.



So much love on one wall!  I was really glad I got to see it.  And that the Librarian is there.

Sunday, 31 May 2015

A VERY busy weekend (but fun). Starting with Friends, and Neil and Amanda.

I just spent 4 very crowded days in London,doing all kinds of fun stuff, some of it with lovely people (and some by myself)

First up was 'An Evening with Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer' at the Hackney Empire, which was tied in with Neil and Amanda guest-editing an edition of the New Statesman magazine.

Despite the New Statesman having made a real mess of the ticket sales, I was fortunate enough to have not one, but two good friends who offered me tickets, which meant that not only did I get to go, but I also got to put friends in touch with each other so they could go too - so there ended up being 5 of us meeting up before the event (although we did not all get to sit together at the event ) for drinks and food and general catching up.

We drank beer (after a struggle with an entirely un-trained bartender) and bumped into further friends and acquaintances, and we ate delicious ramen at Tonkotsu, before we headed to the Hackney Empire.

After a brief introduction on behalf of the New Statesman, Neil and Amanda came on stage, and Neil read a new poem, Credo, (which is published in the magazine) then there was a mix of Amanda and Neil's performances, and a number of special guests.

Guests included Roz Kaveney, who is a writer and activist, performed a very personal poem, comedian (and transvestite vegan) Andrew O'Neill who performed what may have been the longest drawn-out joke ever, (and later, a wonderful reconstruction of the genesis of the 'knock-knock' joke....Writer Hayley Campbell, who read her piece from the magazine, a horrifying picture of what may happen if google and twitter ever publishes all our un-sent drafts, and comedian and writer Mitch Benn, who, in keeping with the 'saying the unsayable' theme of both the evening, and the magazine, performed a song written in response to the Charlie Hebdo murders.
Neil, Roz Kaveney, Haley Campbell, Andrew O'Neill, Amanda Palmer (and bump) Mitch Benn
 Although the evening had a theme, and a set list, it was fairly free-form it was fun - everyone on stage seemed relaxed, despite the variations on the running order (Neil kept looking at the list in front of him and gently trying to follow it, but I think Amanda was seeing it more as a guideline than a binding list, and I suspect they were both a little jet-lagged!

But despite the slightly free-form style (or perhaps because of it!) the evening worked well, and little things like Hayley Campbell being introduced after, rather than before, her reading  with a mix of light-hearted and more serious takes on the theme of saying the unsayable, the age of outrage, censorship and its effects - Neil read a (very funny, but also scary) article about hosting a table at the PEN benefit where Charlie Hebdo received an award, and his story Babycakes (which he described as the only story he has written which disturbed him)


Amanda playing the Ukulele Song
Amanda played 'The Killing Type' and parts, by way of illustration, of 'Oasis', and there was discussion, and conversation. It felt very intimate; we, as well as those on stage, were among friends. 

As always when seeing Neil and Amanda on stage together, I loved seeing the obvious and open affection between them, and enjoyment of one another's performances.

At the end, Amanda returned for an encore, playing the Ukulele song, with  a short, pregnancy acid-reflux induced interruption.

It was a whole lot of fun,and I think, on appearances, it was mostly fin for those on stage, as well as those of us off stage.

And yes, I have now bought a copy of their New Statesman edition!

Thanks again to Hellie and Lyle,who booked tickets. 

a couple more pictures on Flickr, all from the curtain call, as photos were not allowed during the performance itself (and anyway, I was concentrating on what was being said!) 

Saturday, 23 May 2015

In which there is a Lot Of Dust

When I moved house last year I knew that the place was going to need redecorating, and it was fairly clear that this would (unless I were willing to live with painted woodchip wallpaper for ever) also mean lots of plastering. 


Before starting work
 It took a while to get quotes, and to work my way up to taking the plunge, but I did, so this weekend just gone I spent a lot of time putting things into boxes.

End of day 1
Then on Sunday, watching while 2 removal men carted virtually everything I own out to be stored in the garage. 

And on Monday morning, work started.  I went off to work, leaving the house to the tender mercies of the builders.

It turns out that if you are to have new plaster on your walls and ceilings that this means that the old plaster all gets removed. Which I knew in principle, but that had not really prepared me for coming home to discover that my bedroom walls were down to bare brick. 
End of Day 2
Or to the new experience of seeing the loft insulation from underneath.

It is all rather alarming.  And they haven't even started on the living room yet. (when they do, that will be even more dramatic. 

End of Day 5
The bedroom decor looked OK from a distance (or in a photo). The living room will probably look better even at the 'bare brick' stage, than it does now!

In the past day or so they have started putting the new walls on, and I am sure that the extra space where the chimney now isn't will be nice, once the room is finished.

Meanwhile, I am getting used to sleeping out in the garden shed, (which is, I should add, built of brick and has electricity and light, so is fairly comfortable for a shed. Especially as it currently contains all my bedroom furniture) I find that I am remarkably efficient at getting up in the morning, due to a terror of being caught in a state of undress by the builders (they arrive very promptly in the mornings, and the bathroom is,despite dust, still in use. (Except for that one morning when they turned off the hot water and forgot to tell me, or to turn it back on afterwards, which resulted in my having an extremely fast, and bracing shower!)

I am, however, looking forward to my trip to London next week, when I shall get to sleep indoors, and will almost certainly not 

Now, if only I can find a reliable local painter and decorator..

Sunday, 17 May 2015

The Louvre - Pyramids and Beautiful Things

As our visit drew to a close we decided to visit the Louvre. I'd been once before, when I was still at school, and had a vague memory of visiting the Mona Lisa, but that was all, and I don't think that my mother had ever been before.


Last time I went was before the Pyramid was built, so I had not seen that before, in person.
I liked it.

Particularly the spiral staircase leading up to ground level, under the pyramid.

We decided that we would start by visiting some of the better known masterpieces, so we started with the Mona Lisa, (beautiful, but unsurprisingly, rather crowded)

In order to get to her, we passed through galleries of other Italian art - I particularly enjoyed Ucello's Battle of San Romano, (not least, I must confess, because I correctly identified it as being by Ucello before looking at the label!)
The Winged Victory of Samothrace

We then visited the Winged Victory of Samothrace, which is a little bit headless, but otherwise glorious. She is Greek, dating from around 190 BC. Apparently she may originally have stood above a pool of water, so that the (stone) ship on whose prow she stands may have appeared to float. I would love to see the Louvre display her that way..

As we were on a roll with ancient Greek sculpture, we moved on to visit Aphrodite of Milos, more famous as the Venus de Milo who manages to look very serene despite the huge crowds around her! 

I also found  this lovely little blackwork vase of an owl. I should have been very happy to take it home with me had that been permitted! 

There was an exhibition on, about the discoveries made in Bulgaria, of a number of Thracian burials - there were vast quantities of grave goods, many of them in gold or silver gilt, and none marred by any trace of restraint! 

Fascinating stuff! 

We then visited the wonderful Islamic Art department (via Coptic Egypt). 





Unlike the famous highlights, this section of the was almost deserted, and we were able to admire the beautiful tiles, woodcarvings and mosaics almost alone.   
Which was a treat.

By this stage, we were starting to become exhausted - there is only so much art one can take in at any one time, so we wandered back through the courtyard to visit the Horses of Marly, before heading out of the museum and into the Tuileries Gardens for a late lunch.


We then spent the final afternoon wandering around the ile de France. We had thought we might visit Notre Dame, but after seeing the queue to get in, decided that we didn't want to go as badly as all that!  

Instead, we wandered along the banks of the river, watching boats go past, and admiring the various bridges, including those where the railings are collapsing under the weight of 'love-locks'. . .

It made for a rather nice, relaxed finale to our holiday!

Our journey home  the following day was slightly marred by a security alert at the Gare du Nord which resulted in our standing in a very large queue for 40 minutes, while the security services carried out a controlled explosion on someone's luggage, but fortunately this was done swiftly enough not to delay our train. 

(More photos of the trip, for anyone who is interested, on Flickr)

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Science and other Interesting Things

On the Sunday we decided to visit the Musée des arts et métiers, which is another museum situated in a redundant church, and which is one of the world's oldest science museum.

It has lots of fun stuff, including 18th Century clocks trying to tell decimal time (I knew that the French revolutionary government renamed the months of the year, but had not realised they also introduced decimal time. It didn't catch on.)
Clement Ader's 'Avion 3' - 1890

There are also lots of weights and measures, many of them very beautifully decorated, and lots of bits and pieces from Lavoisier's laboratory.

I enjoyed the architectural scale models of bridges and windmills, and the baby steam engines.

There are also more modern exhibits - early televisions and computers, not to mention M. Lumiere's film.

My favourite part of the museum came at the end of the museum, however, where there are some early flying machines and vehicles. 

There was Clement Ader's 'Avion 3', which looks like an inspiration for Batman, and is displayed very strikingly above a staircase. It didn't quite achieve flight, but it does look impressive.

Then in the body of the church itself, there are further planes, (Including a reproduction of Louise Bleriot's plane, in which he crossed the Channel)  and Foucoult's pendulum, hanging from the centre of the Apse.

There's a walkway which allows you to climb up to see the planes 'face to face', as it where, and also to view various vintage vehicles.



I am not certain it would have occurred to me to display vintage aircraft in a deconsecrated church but it works beautifully!