Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Domesticity, Annoying Things, and Spring

I've been dealing with a few irritating things in the last couple of days; I have been having an ongoing issue with being unable to access on-line statements for one of my credit cards (and have now had 3 or 4 telephone conversations which go along the lines of "Oh, we thought that issue was resolved!") Usually followed up with "Oh, sorry, I can see there's a note to phone you back, did no-one call you?"

I think I shall be writing to them instead - perhaps a formal complaint will get their attention. I mean, a glitch is one thing, but o access since mid-November seems a little unreasonable to me!

And then this weekend, I got a call from my other bank, about the credit card I have with them, which it appears has been cloned. I'm not sure what's bee going on. Last week I logged on and found I couldn't see any of my recent transactions, and discovered that they were sending out a new card as apparently there is a 'security concern'. But apparently actually telling me in advance, so I knew that a card should be arriving, hadn't occurred to them.

Then on Friday I got a call from them about some suspicious transactions, and it turned out that yes, there *were* some transactions which were not made by me. My new card has arrived, but because it is linked to the same account it now gets cancelled too, and they will be sending me a new one...

All of which is a little frustrating, although at least it shouldn't cost me anything in the long term.

I have been being domesticated, and dealing with various dull-but-necessary things, such as renewing my car insurance, and getting the car MoT'd, and getting a fault with my central locking sorted out. All of which had to be done, but is not very exciting. (And not cheap, either)

The weekend was taken up with housework. I fear that I may have to buy a new vacuum cleaner soon, as mine seems to be getting a bit inefficient. Although part of this is my fault. I should get my hair cut, and then at least when I shed hair all over the place (as it appears that I do) there will be less of it, and perhaps the vacuum won't choke to death on it so often!  

Although persuading Loki not to bring half eaten birds into the house so I have to vacuum up so many feathers would probably help, too.


I also made a second batch of marmalade, on Saturday, although I clearly started to put it into jars just a few minutes too soon, as in the first couple of jars the peel has separated out a little.Still,  I'm sure it will taste fine!


 I still have a couple of pounds of oranges in the freezer so will be able to make one more batch. 


Meanwhile, Spring is coming. There are lots of snowdrops in the hedge-bottoms, and in gardens (although not mine!)


 There are lambs in the field down the road, and there are primroses, including some in my garden, where there are also daffodils in bud, and about to come into bloom.


All of which gives me hope that things are looking up, and that days will get longer and warmer.

Monday, 20 February 2017

In Which there are Dodgy Gods

On Wodin's Day evening, after a lovely meal with a good friend, we made our way to the auditorium for the evening with Neil Gaiman, speaking about his new book, Norse Mythology, a retelling of some of the Norse Myths.



Just before going in we were lucky enough to bump into Chris Riddell, so I got to tell him how much I had enjoyed his event, and he also kindly signed my '100 hugs' book. (And he asked whether we'd seen the Terry Pratchett docu-drama 'Back in Black')

Neil's event started with him reading 'Freya's Wedding' from his new book; very funny.

Then he was interviewed, about the book and other matters. He explained that he first met the Norse Gods through the original Marvel Comics version of Thor, then read the Roger Lancelyn Green version of the Norse Myths, before reading Kevin Crossley-Holland's versions, and the Prose Edda and Poetic Edda as an adult, and he loves the human-ness of the Norse gods, and the fact that they have stories - they are dodgy gods, much more human than divine!

We then got to see a trailer for the American Gods TV series, and after that, a not-quite-final trailer for How to Talk to Girls at Parties both of which look very interesting (although I am still just a little doubtful about Ian McShane as Mr Wednesday; I find it hard to get past thinking of him as Lovejoy!

Neil spoke a little about the Good Omens TV series,which is about to start casting. He explained that he and Terry Pratchett had always agreed that they would do any sequel or adaptation together, but later Terry asked him, as a last request, to write the TV series, so he has. And that he spent time being angry with life, because he couldn't phone Terry and tell him when he wrote a really good bit, and angry at Terry because he wasn't there to call to ask him for ideas when he got to a tricky bit. 

He explained that the show is being made by the BBC with Amazon. The interviewer (whose name, unfortunately, I didn't make a note of) expressed reservations about Amazon' involvement, so Neil explained that the BBC are making the show and Amazon is simply providing wheelbarrows of money.

He also said that he thinks that it is the best thing he has ever written. Which when you think about it is pretty exciting!

We then moved on to the Q&A section of the evening.

He was asked about current works, and confirmed that he is writing a Neverwhere sequel, and that he feels that when he wrote Neverwhere, he had things to say about how society behaves towards the homeless, and that now, with his work with UNHCR, and seeing  attitudes towards refugees and the dispossessed, he feels he has things he is angry about, and cares about, and is writing Seven Sisters.

Another question was about whether he would write stories about the Norse goddesses, and he explained that it was harder, as while we know the names and attributes of some of the goddesses, no stories have survived. He also explained, which I didn't know, that the stories we do have were written down only after  Christianity took hold, and a large part of why they were written down was out of fear that 'kennings' (metaphors etc.) in the Icelandic sagas and poetry would no longer be understood, not out of a wish to preserve the tales and beliefs themselves. 

He was asked about his favourite lines, or the lines of which he is proudest, in his own work. He said it's not any of the things which get quoted a lot, (such as " you get what anyone gets, you get a lifetime"), it's a line from American Gods - "Chicago happened slowly, like a migraine"

And perhaps the most entertaining answer to a question was in relation to a question about what he reads to Ash. He told us that he reads the Chu books (because his publisher gave him copies!!) and that Ash enjoys the books also he has to read them over and over, and thinks it's a pity there are only 3, but that he has not, despite that, sat down to write any more! He also re-tells the story of the Three Little Pigs, because Ash enjoys the Big Bad Wolf, but he pus lots of variety in so *he* doesn't get bored (he mentioned, for instance, conversations between the Pig and the Hay salesman, extolling the virtues of hay as an ecologically sound building material) and that Ash puts up with it because he knows that the Big ad Wolf is coming. 

Which made me want to ask him to tell us the story of the 3 little pigs, to see what happens this time!

The tickets which we had included a signed copy of the book, so after the evening was over, I got to take the book away and am going to try to ration myself and make it last...


As you can see, Neil has recovered from his unfortunate recent hair cut...

Finally, for anyone who missed it when it was published in the Guardian, or when Neil retweeted it, have  look at the wonderful Tom Gauld's cartoon about the tour.  


Tom Gauld's wonderful cartoon / tweet
(I didn't spot Odin in the Festival Hall, but I wouldn't like to say, with any confidence, that he was not there!)

Oh, and check out Chris Riddell's Tumblr. He was sitting a few rows behind us and drawing his way through Neil's event, and the pictures are wonderful!

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Chris Riddell and Friends

Thanks to my friend A, I had a ticket for Neil Gaiman's London event for his newest book, 'Norse Mythology' on Wednesday evening, so I decided to make a day of it and also to attend Chris Riddell's event, earlier that same day.

I love Chris Riddell's art, and I've had the good luck to go to his events in the past and to see him drawing live, so was hoping for more of the same.

Chris had invited along some friends, Cressida Cowell (Author and illustrator of the 'How to Tame Your Dragon' series), Liz Pichon, creator of Tom Gates, and Posy Simmonds, who I know best for her creation of 'Gemma Bovery', (a graphic novel, modern take on 'Madame Bovery)


Chris's drawings of Cressida Cowell, 
Liz Pinchon and Posy Simmonds

As we all filed into the auditorium to take our seats, Chris was making sketches of audience members. Sadly I wasn't one of those who was illustrated! (he also reassured everyone that they were not late, he just started early!)  He then sketched his guests, from memory, before bringing them on stage. 

Chris also introduced another, special, mystery guest - 'the Wise Wizard Gaiman'.




Once the guests arrived, he introduced each of them and invited them to speak and to show us their sketchbooks.

Liz Pichon explained that she had started out as a graphic designer before moving into picture books, and the writing the first 'Tom Gates' book, while Chris drew our attention to her beautifully painted fingernails and customised shoes. I'm not familiar with the Tom Gates books but they are clearly very popular, and it was interesting to hear about her creative process. She mentioned that Tom's dad is based on her own dad, who used to embarrass her, as a child, by turning up to collect her from school in his old gardening clothes (and showed us a card she made for him when she was young)

The next guest was Posy Simmonds, who showed us some of her sketch books, a recent one with beautifully detailed sketches of people in the street, and also  selection of things she created when she was at school, including a comic strip murder mystery, drawn when she was 8, a spoof 'Observers book of Gurls' including a section on 'How to make yourself look excessively common' and a women's magazine she created while at boarding school, including careful illustrations of girls in bikinis, advertisements for imaginary products, and a short story which, she explained, got her into trouble, as it contained bad words, and a married woman with a lover!

She finished by showing us a sketch book which was the basis of her picture books, 'Fred', which involves cats and funerals..

Chris then introduced Cressida Cowell, explaining that he first met her when he was 'on a hot date with the Duchess of Cornwall', on a bus, and that Cressida was there to, and was not only managing to keep her balance on the bus, but also looking very glamorous and drawing things at the same time!

She told us that the 'How to Train Your Dragon' books were autobiographical... that as a child, her parents took them to a remote, uninhabited Scottish island every year, where there were ruins of Viking era houses, and she learned that the Vikings believed that Dragons were (or had been) real, and it started from there. 

She also explained that she was inspired by Roald Dahl, and his willingness to have terrible things happen to people (for instance, James's parents (James and the Giant Peach) are eaten by a rhinoceros),and that her drawings are the kind which show readers they are "in the hands of a lunatic, who might do anything".She also explained that the books are about growing up, and that as they go through the serious, the style of the illustrations changes, they become less funny, and more difficult to draw!

She told us that she is working on something new, coming out in the autumn and set in the Iron Age.

Chris's final guest was Neil Gaiman.

Chris explained that he sees Neil as 'the Wise Wizard Gaiman', and pictures him arriving in robes to invite Chris (hairy feet and circular front door) on an adventure, which may involve Asgard, or London Underground, or  Volcanoes and Time Travelling Dinosaurs. Neil claimed that he asked Chris to illustrate FTM "A very silly book" and that Chris got his revenge by drawing the Dad in the book as Neil. 


Neil then read an extract from 'Fortunately, the Milk',while Chris sketched, and also read a poem, 'Witchwork' (which Chris had pre-prepared sketches for)

Neil had brought along 'Odd and Frost Giants' to show how gorgeous Chris's illustrations are, and claimed that Chris 'sneaks around' and illustrated things he's written, and he only finds out when they pop up on his facebook or other social media.

It was a lot of fun, and did feel, as the title said, like a conversation between friends, rather than a scripted event.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

The Miser




Last Friday I went to see The Miser in Bath. It's a new, very free translation of Molière's play, and is in Bath prior to transferring to the West End. Which means that it is, in effect, in previews and the cast are still finding their feet. I did feel that perhaps a couple more dress rehearsals wouldn't have gone amiss.

That said, it was an entertaining evening, albeit more than a touch of pantomime and farce, which isn't my favourite thing. 

The production is based on a (very) free translation of the original play, and a lot of topical gags have been added, some of which (inevitably) worked better than others.

It works pretty well, but it is not subtle - Cléante, Harpagon's son (Ryan Gage) appears as a cross between a 17thC dandy and a pantomime Dame, complete with gags about underwear.

Lee Mack, as Maitre Jacques, Harpagon's servant (forced by Harpagon's miserliness to combine the roles of chef, sommeliere, groom, and others) is very funny, with lots of ad-libs, and physical comedy.

All in all, it was entertaining, but not in any way subtle! 

It's showing at the Garrick Theatre in London from 1st March to 10th June

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Winter is Coming

Well, I suppose technically Winter is here, and Spring is coming, but the other makes a better headline.

It was bitterly cold last night, and I was expecting frost, but woke up this morning to find we had actually had a sprinkling of snow.

Loki went out to investigate, and to find the one, evil snowflake which had to be destroyed.




After which he apparently decided that the others would have watched, and learned their lesson, and that he didn't need to catch and kill all of them, so he came back indoors to try out his new cat bed.



I *think* it meets with his approval.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Seville Season!

It's that time of year again.

Last weekend I was able to buy plenty of Seville oranges, and last Suday I made my first batch of marmalade, yielding around 7lbs.




I have another 5lbs or so of oranges in the freezer so will be making another couple of batches over the next week or so, and I am planning to see whether I can find some blood oranges and make a batch with those, too.

Friday, 27 January 2017

New Year and stuff

Hi. Sorry, it's been a while. Mostly because 2017 so far has not been great, personally or in the wider world. 

I came down with the Cold-From-Hell-with-added-Sinus-and-Chest-Infection  to coincide with returning to work at the start of January, and have been coughing, wheezing, sneezing and mainlining on Lemsip and honey ever since.

I am, at long last, starting to feel a little more human, but still not 100%, and it is soooo very frustrating,not least because it is so exhausting. Fortunately I haven't had anything much planned outside work so the fact that I've been too exhausted to do anything outside work hadn't been a major issue, although I had planned to see the RSC 'Tempest' at the cinema and wasn't able to go, which was annoying (and expensive, as I had pre-booked!)

Work is somewhat stressful - one of my Partners is in hospital and I've taken on some of his  tasks, which is tricky, and involves some fairly steep learning curves, and of course as he is a friend as well as a colleague I'm also  worried about him.

So January is not winning any friends in this household.

I'm hoping next month will be better.

My colleague is, we are told, starting to improve, I ca almost breathe normally again and live in hope of being able to sleep lying down soon, and I do have some things to look forward to.

On 15th February I'm going to see Chris Riddell at the Southbank centre, then meeting up with a friend before going to Neil Gaiman's event (for his new Norse Mythology book) that evening.

The previous weekend I am seeing The Miser, which is going to be presented locally before going to the West End, so with any luck, there should be some high points to the month! 

Meanwhile, it is marmalade season - I have about 7lbs of Seville oranges so plan to make a start on my marmalade this weekend.

Oh, and I did manage to get tickets for 'Hamilton' in London, so next June I'll be seeing that, with a friend.Which should be fun. (although the ticket prices are insane. More than seeing Cumberbatch's Hamlet, even though I didn't go for the top price tickets!. Top price are £200 a pop, which is just nuts. )

By the way, from now on, I will be cross-posting to Dreamwidth rather than to Livejournal. See you there!

Monday, 26 December 2016

Happy Holidays!

I had a lovely, low-key  Christmas Day with my  sister, her partner and our parents , and got some lovely gifts, including the new, illustrated versions of 'American Gods' and 'Anansi Boys'.

Also aquired some fancy fruity gin, and LOTS of chocolates!

More relatives today and tomorrow, and then some time with some old friends.

I hope your holiday season is full of love and happiness.

Monday, 12 December 2016

Shakespeare Trilogy at Donmar Kings Cross


Phyllida Lloyd first directed her all-female version of Julius Caesar 2 or 3 years ago, at the Donmar Warehouse, and followed up with a production of Henry IV, with a final production of The Tempest.

And all three are now being performed as a trilogy. People can see the plays separately or, as I did, can see all three in one day.

All of the plays are performed in the round (or technically, in the square), and are set in a women's prison, which does add an extra layer to the plays. Each actor plays the role of a prisoner, as well as their roles within the plays, and each play is introduced by  different actor, in character, explaining their character's offence, and there are moments in each play when the prison environment breaks through, and the play is interrupted, by the 'guards' or a person falling out of character. (for instance, in one of the tavern scenes in Henry IV, as Falstaff quarrels with the  'Hostess' (Zainab Hassan), they insult her increasingly personally, until she breaks character in distress and and the 'guards' intervene) 

This works surprisingly well, and invites us, the audience, to pay attention to the parallels in the plays with the prisoners own lives, and how the plays may speak to them.

Seeing all three plays together was amazing - for one thing, it allows you to see how incredibly versatile and skilled the actors are, but also to see how their characters develop.

In Julius Caesar, Harriet Walter is Brutus, Jade Anouka is a wonderfully eloquent Mark Anthony, and Jackie Clune a somewhat Trump-esque Caesar, and the prison setting worked very well indeed.

Clare Dunne's Portia was as eloquent as Mark Anthony - every un-heard and ignored woman..

Henry IV (which compressed Parts I and II into about 2 hours) featured Harriet Walter as Henry IV, tired, world-weary, less querulous than is sometimes the case, and obviously a prisoner of his own crown, softening the final scenes as Hal tries the crown.

Jade Anouka was an excellent Hotspur, and Clare Dunne as Hal,resplendent in headphones, baseball cap and Chelsea shirt! 

The scenes as Hal draws back from his relationship with Falstaff are made particularly poignant by the setting - Dunne introduces the play in character as a prisoner about to be released after a drug-related sentence, and so the farewells, and the idea of giving up excess and debauchery echoes with the 'reality' of the prisoners' respective positions.

The Tempest was, of the three plays, the one which  was most sceptical about, in terms of whether it would work in the pared down 'prison' setting, given the magical and fantastical content, and of course it was bound to draw comparison with the wonderful (and high-tech) RSC production we saw last week.


Harriet Walter as Prospero (photo from Donmar site)

I need not have worried. Of the three plays this was perhaps the most successful. 
Harriet Walter as Prospero gives a searing, heart-breaking performance - she introduces this play in character as 'Hanna', an inmate in her 60s, in her 4th decade of a life sentence - it highlights the way that the Island is a prison, despite Prospero's power there, and her grief and regrets.


The play also draws in the audience - on entrance we were all given tiny torches, which were used to create hundreds of stars, almost the only 'special effect' in the production.

Jade Anouka was again a stand-out performer, as Ariel, and the 'spirits' which guide the shipwrecked mariners were all dressed as prison guards, an insight into the 'inmate's' view of their situation.

As the play ended, rather than bringing the curtain down on Prospero's final words:

And my ending is despair,                        
Unless I be relieved by prayer,                
Which pierces so that it assaults              
Mercy itself and frees all faults.               
As you from crimes would pardoned be, 
Let your indulgence set me free.               
      
the production leaves Hanna alone in her cell (reading Margaret Attwood's 'Hag-seed') while the other inmates, not in civilian clothing, say their farewells, thanking her for her support and help. 

It's an infinitely moving way to end the performance, and the trilogy.

I would urge eveyone who can to see the trilogy, although that may be tricky -the run at Donmar Kings Cross finishes on 17th December. 

However, they were filming the performances I saw, so (though the cameras were a little intrusive at times) I think this must mean there must be a reasonable chance that it may be available in cinemas or on DVD at some point in the future. Which is a Good Thing. 

I would love for anyone who thinks that Shakespeare isn't relevant to modern audiences, or isn't for them, to see these plays.

(Edited to Add: The company have created more background for the prison Characters, which can be found at Donmarshakespearetrilogy.tumblr.com )

Thursday, 8 December 2016

The Tempest

On Saturday, I went with  some friends  to see the RSC's production of 'The Tempest' in Stratford on Avon.

The production has been created in collaboration with the imaginarium studio,  (Which did the motion capture special effects for films such as the Lord of the Rings) .

Stage, pre-performance

Going in the the theatre, the set is striking, the huge, broken shell of a  ship, and then of course the performance begins - Simon Russell Beale is, at first, not  a striking Prospero,a small figure, in a simple, dark, academic gown, but he grows in strength and power as the play progresses.


Simon Russell Beale as Prospero (Photo (C) RSC)
Ariel, (Mark Quartley) is one of the stars of the show, performing, as he does, with his own avatar - it's fascinating to watch, as mostly he is on stage at the same time as the projected version of him; sometimes in the shadows, sometimes more obviously. The avatar takes all sorts of different forms,  including a huge, winged harpy, and seemed almost synchronized with his movements, but sometimes with a slight lag, and occasionally appearing to be moving a little in advance of him!


Ariel in the cleft tree (C) RSC
It was absolutely stunning.

I was a little concerned that the special effects might overshadow the play itself, but I didn't feel that they did, largely due to Mark Quartley and Simon Russell Beale's performances.

I was slightly underwhelmed by Caliban,who seemed to be defined by grotesque costuming (and a fish) but had little opportunity to let any character show. I don't find the 'comedy' between Trinculo, Stephano and Caliban very funny, but it was well done (particularly Tony Jayawardena as Stephano.)



All in ll, I was very impressed, and enjoyed the play a lot. I know it is due to be broadcast to cinemas on 11th January and I am tempted to go to see it, to have the chance to look more closely at the details.

The live play is at Stratford until 21st January, and then in London at the Barbican from 30th June until 18th August next year.

There is a video about the making of the special events, for those who are interested!

Thursday, 1 December 2016

I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue

If you are familiar with  'I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue' you'll understand why I was so excited when I found they were going to be recording in Bath, on 27th November.

If you aren't familiar with it, I recommend that you go  here and listen to an episode or two, then pop back.

I've been fortunate enough to go to  previous recording, and to the touring show,  so I know I was in for a treat!


Chairman Jack Dee (and producer John Naismith)

And I wasn't disappointed. It was great fun! The Theatre Royal was completely sold out, with people also standing.

The evening starting with the producer, John Naismith,explaining the ground rules (including 'no-one can hear you smile on the radio, so do laugh' and 'if you're not sure whether something is supposed t be funny - give us the benefit of the doubt')

Jeremy Hardy and Barry Cryer
There were then a selection of all the usual games, from 'one song to the tune of another' (Barry Cryer singing 'I am an anarchist, I am an Antichrist, to the the of 'A You're Adoreable' was particuarly moving) to sound charades, and of course, Mornington Crescent!

We actually got tohear two complete recordings, which will be broadcast on 12th and 19th December, with the second episode being repeated on Christmas Day


Miles Jupp and Tim Brooke-Taylor (with Colin Sell at the piano)
It was an enourmous amount of fun!

Friday, 25 November 2016

Opus Anglicanum



Rather than trying to travel home late at night after my theatre-going on Saturday, I stayed overnight at a hostel close to St Paul's Cathedral. So I took the opportunity to take a few pictures of the cathedral from a slightly different angle from usual!



Then, in the morning, as it was Sunday and I was so close, I decided to go to the cathedral for the first service of the day.

It's years since I've been to St Paul's, and I had forgotten how opulent and visually impressive it is (even the Baroque is not my favourite architectural style)

There is also something quietly impressive about participating in a service in such a building,  Although it seems that even St Paul's can't muster a large congregation at 8 a.m. - there can't have been more than about 25 people attending!


St Paul's Cathedral Choir looking east, London, UK - Diliff
Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0

After the service and checking out of the hostel, I  went to the Victoria and Albert museum to see their current exhibition - Opus Anglicanum. For those (like me!) not fluent in Latin, this means, simply, 'English Work', and refers to embroidery, created in England during the 12th to 14th Century when, apparently, England led the world in creating such work.

The Toledo Cope, 1320-30, England.
© Toledo, Tesoro de la Catedral, Museo de Tapices y Textiles de la Catedral

The exhibition isn't huge, but it is fascinating. Most of the embroidery which has survived is ecclesiastic, as items such as vestments were kept carefully, and in some cases, high-status Bishops or other priests would be buried in their best vestments, so these were preserved in their tombs.  There were one or two non-ecclesiastical items, most notably the funeral achievements of the Black Prince (1367), and a fragment of a 14th C. horse trapping.

Fragment of Horse Trapper - 1330-1340

Extraordinarily, some of the items in the exhibition have been loaned by the current owners, which are the same churches or institutions they were originally made for - 700 or 800 years ago!

Detail from the Steeple Ashton Cope (1330)


I would have liked it had the exhibition included a little more background information - more details of the saints depicted on the garments, and the other images - I am not sure whether all the birds on the Toldeo Cope are symbolic or primarily decorative, for instance, but despite this, I enjoyed the exhibition.

The museum helpfully offered a little booklet which had crib sheets for each of the pieces, telling you which saints and bishops were depicted (I particularly enjoyed the images of St Margaret of Antioch, who had a Dragon) , and also a helpful diagram explaining what copes, chasubles and orphreys are, for those not intimately familiar with vestments! 

After visiting the exhibition, I had time to visit some of the rest of the museum. I found a rather nice 15thC tapestry depicting the Trojan War, for instance.


And of course, no visit to the V and A would be complete without a trip to the cast court, which features 19th C plaster cast reproductions of Italian sculptural masterpieces...

for Nathalie