Thursday, 30 April 2009

In Which I Volunteer

About 2 years ago, I was shanghaied volunteered to become the deputy Fire Warden for our office, but as I was only the ‘spare’ I didn’t need to do much. As H no longer wishes to carry on, we had to nobble encourage someone else to take over, and on Wednesday the two of us, plus the four Fire Wardens from our other two offices, found ourselves doing our fire marshal/warden training.

It was a four hour course – much of it taken up with watching Instructive Training Videos, from which I learned that Fire Fighters are not necessarily good actors and that even Really Dramatic Music does not make videos about checking the batteries in smoke alarms exciting.

On one of the more exciting videos, 2 very bad actors got to practice using fire-extinguishers. They had 2 firemen to help – one to set things on fire (donttrythisathomechildren), and one to tell them in a very serious voice how to use the different extinguishers. Then the bad actors got to put out the fires.(But only if it is safe to do so, and only if you have a safe exit so you can run away if need be)

We did not have our own fireman, so we were not allowed to set things on fire. We did however get to use fire extinguishers to put out some very dangerous waste bins in the car park. Playing with fire extinguishers is fun.

Also, I am now officially qualified to set the fire alarms off once a week, and force everyone to evacuate the building twice a year. I shall try to use my powers only for good.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

In Which I See 'Coraline' (WARNING - May contain Spoilers)

Coraline is due out here in the UK on 8th May, and I have been eagerly looking forward to seeing it again. I saw it the first time, of course, back in February, at the Dublin International Film Festival, (and blogged about it here)

So, when I saw that The Times were offering free tickets to preview showings this weekend, I rushed to get one. After all, free tickets, and a chance to see the film nearly 2 weeks before it comes out – what’s not to like?

The tickets were obviously popular – when I got mine, on Tuesday, there were only about 30 left for the showing in Bristol (bearing in mind that the details were twittered, but weren’t actually advertised in the paper until Saturday), and some screens were already booked out at that point. The showing was at 10.30 on Sunday morning, which meant getting up a little earlier that I normally do on a Sunday, as the cinema is just over an hour’s drive away.

The screening was very nearly full, and there seemed to be a very high concentration of young children – I would guess that about ¼ of the audience was under 8, which suggests to me that a lot of people had seen trailers or ads and liked the look of the film, rather than necessarily because they are hard-core Neil Gaiman fans. (The cinema is part of the Cribbs Causeway shopping complex, and there also seemed to be a high concentration of dads-with-children - eavesdropping suggested that a lot of mothers had taken the opportunity to go shopping, instead…

The high number of children also meant that there was a lot of noise and chatter before the film began, as one would expect when high concentrations of small excitable children are fed high concentrations of sugar and caffeine and food colouring.

It was great to see how quickly they settled and were drawn in to the film when it started, however, with even those seeming to have the shortest attention span completely mesmerised. The mouse-circus was particularly popular and got lots of laughter and ‘ooohs’, as did Misses Spink & Forcible, on both sides of the Door, and the Scottie dogs.

I really enjoyed being able to see the film for a second time and looking out at some of the smaller details which I had missed in looking at the ‘big picture’ the first time around – noticing that yes, there are insects in the pattern on the wallpaper in Coraline’s home, even before she goes through the Door for the first time – realising that the doll which is un-picked in the opening credits is one of the ghost-children, and that even the frogs and hummingbirds in the Other Garden have button eyes, for example, which were all things that I thought I’d glimpsed in passing the first time, but wasn’t quite sure of. Having seen the film before also meant I had a little more attention to bestow upon my fellow audience-members:

I didn’t see any children being taken out for being scared, but most of them were clearly very caught up in the story – the little boy in the seat next to mine (who I would guess was about 6) decided to move to sit on his dad’s lap around the time the Other Mother tried to sew Button eyes onto Coraline.

I heard a little girl (also around 5 or 6) saying in an anxious tone of voice “don’t go through there, she’ll catch you”, when Coraline decided to go back through the door to rescue her parents – she remained sitting on the very front of her seat, eyes wide open, but when her mum asked her a little later if she was frightened, she said, “No, she’s going to rescue them all….[long pause]……[firmly]she will rescue them”

Clearly, a child who knows how fairytales work!

The parents, and other unaccompanied adults also seemed to be enjoying it too.

It was a totally different ‘feel’ to the screening I went to in Dublin, where the audience was almost wholly adult. I only actually spotted 2 children, and they were both, at a guess, between 10 and 12.

I still have some reservations about the ending – I would have liked to see Coraline succeed in defeating the Hand as a result of her own resource and sagacity, as she does in the book, rather than by way of luck and Wybie, although I can see that this would take longer, which must be a consideration in a film.

All in All, I felt it was a morning very well spent. And the showing was in 3D, too, which I hadn’t expected, as last time I looked the cinema (in fact none of the cinemas locally) were offering 3D, and it wasn’t stated on the ticket. Of course, Monsters vs. Aliens opened here earlier this month, which I suspect has something to do with it, but it came as a very welcome bonus!

It was good to see that, although the film doesn't officially open here for another 12 days, the cinema did have quite a lot of 'Coraline' stuff in the Foyer - 2 out of 8 banner-type posters were for Coraline, plus a free-standing display and posters outside. I have started seeing trailers on TV, too, and most schools have their half term holiday towards the end of May so with any luck, it will still be in cinemas long enought to take avantage of that as well.
(very blurred shot of banners)

Now, if I can just get myself organised to see ‘Let the Right One In’…

After coming back from the cinema I did a little DIY – Highly chuffed to have successfully fixed a bolt to the WC door; it was my intention while the going was good to fix one to the bathroom door too (they both have the kind which are supposed to ‘lock’ the catch when you close the door but don’t, and I thought I really ought to do something about it before my lodger moves in next Saturday) My attempts at double DIY were however foiled when I opened the packaging of the 2nd bolt and discovered that, unlike the first, it did not come with any screws, and I don’t have any more the right size, so I shall have to leave that for a day or two until I can pop into B&Q again. But 1 out of 2 isn’t bad.

Blisters and Itches (a few of my least favourite things)

It’s been a mixed week. On Wednesday I developed a ‘prickly heat’ style rash on the palms of both hands – 1000’s of tiny, itchy blisters, like an orange with really bad cellulite, which also meant that my fingers and my hands as a whole were swollen and trying to grip anything was quite painful. And it looks icky, too.

the worst thing was that I have no idea what triggered it. I had a similar reaction a few months ago, but that time I was able to work out that I had reacted to some cleaning products I’d been using, but this time I can’t think of anything I have used or been in contact with, which is new or different, which of course means I could trigger it again at any time.

Happily it seems to be subsiding now, it is no longer painful, is much less itchy and the blisters are subsiding, although I could still masquerade as a grapefruit with chicken-pox.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

In Which there is a Plumber

Tuesday didn’t start well. I slept badly, woke up feeling sick and headachy, as a result of which I decided to stay home from work – I always feel guilty taking time of work unless I am truly sick-unto-death, but I am slowly learning that sometimes it makes sense to stop at the point where I am feeling unwell – but – not – yet –at –death’s – door, which often results in only having to be off for one day, whereas soldiering on until I am feeling at death’s door often then means 3 or 4 days off recovering.

Having made that decision I then went back to bed and slept for about 4 hours, which was undoubtedly a Good Thing, also pretty good proof that I was genuinely unwell, as under normal circumstances I cannot sleep during the day, even when I want to.

By mid afternoon, I was feeling a little more human, and I was sufficiently with-it to get hold of a plumber – I have been having trouble with my kitchen sink for a little while. I tried to sort it out myself at the weekend, but without any real success – the initial part – getting the s-bend unscrewed, worked just fine, as did emptying a lot of gunk out of it. However, getting everything re-attached to everything else was not quite so successful, as I ended up with an unintended dribble in the cupboard under the sink.

Also, the major problem, which was that the water was not draining away properly, was unsolved.

So I called a plumber.

He was very good. He sorted out the dribble (without laughing at me for my incompetence, which is a bonus) and also managed to solve the other problem,

It turns out, that the pipe outside the house (going from the plughole to the main drain) and which has (had) an uncapped bit of pipe at the top, has been being used by the local trainee delinquents little cherubs as a kind of wishing well.

The items fished out of it included:

1. 57 pence in small change
2. a 4” long piece of electrical cable
3. an assortment of twigs, of between 1” and 6” in length
4. several cable ties (in 2 different sizes)
5. an unidentified object, possibly a body part of a small doll
6. a teaspoon

This may explain why the water was not draining away very well.

My pipe now has a lid on it which should discourage further donations.

and perhaps one day I shall find out why it is that the water apparently drains away uphill from my house.

Monday, 20 April 2009

In Which there is Gardening, and DIY

I have been in the process of sorting out my spare room – partly because I have been intending to do so far a while, and partly because I shall be having a houseguest for a few weeks.

I have therefore been dredging through the various cupboards and boxes and deciding what to keep, what to throw away, and where to keep the things I want to keep.

Its amazing how much junk I have. There are some boxes which I have carted around through 2 house moves without ever opening, and decided that a lot of their contents could be thrown out. I did however find some much more interesting things – quite a lot of letters sent to me by friends and relations when I first went to university, for instance.

I also found an old school photo (of which the less said, the better) lots of old photos and negatives (must work out what the best way is to get these onto the computer) my exam certificates, old theatre programmes and tickets from my 6th Form days of visiting the theatre for the stand-by standing room every week – very entertaining seeing the cast notes and pictures of the impossibly young Colin Firth, and Colin Farrell, and the like!

Having cleared the room, it seemed a little empty, so this weekend I have been building a (flat pack) wardrobe. It’s a very basic one – wooden frame with a canvas cover, but the construction was not straight forward.

To start with, there is of course my own cack-handedness and lack of coordination, which means that any such endeavour is bound to be slow and tortuous in the extreme…

In this case, things were exacerbated by the somewhat, how shall I put it, challenging nature of the instructions. In particular, whoever drew the pictures had clearly not yet reached the stage in learning to draw where one learns about scale. Either that or they only had one picture of a screw. Which was a little confusing as I had 5 little bags, each containing screws of different sizes,and no clue anywhere in the instuctions as to which little bag contained screws "L", which was "M" and so on.

The instructions themselves (coming after the scale-less picture showing what was supposed to be in the box, which aslo failed to show the top of the wardrobe at all..) consited of a single exploded diagram which sugegsts that you are supposed to construct the thing by throwing the various screws and bolts at the frame very fast from all directions, somewhat in the stlye of the RAF Advert so as to end up with a complete wardrobe (or fighter plane). I chose to build mine in a slightly more restrained way,and ended up with something which was, indeed, recognisablyy a wardrobe. I am not 100% convinced that it will be very useful - the hanging rail sems a little thin and feeble to me, but We Shall See. In the mean time, i am choosing to belive that the 7 screws which I have left over were spares, and it is not that I have faield to attach some crucial parts of the structure to each other.

After building the wardrobe (and having a nice sit down and a cup of tea) I turned my attention to the gardden, as it was a beautiful sunny day.
The kingcups in my 'pond' (which is all odf 18" x 12") have all come out and the plant is clearly flourishing. I didn't rummage around in the water to see whether there are any tadpoles, or frogspawn yet, but I wouldn't be surprised.

I cut the grass - not a major task, as my back yard is very small, and mostly covered with concrete, so the grass only covers 2 small areas, one about 4' x 5' and the other about 6' x 5', so too small to make it worth my while investing in a lawn mower - I have a pair of shears instead, giving the grass that hand-hewn look after I have cut it. The lavender and rosemary are both flourishing, and have lots of buds, sadly the dead-nettles and bindweed sem to be doing well also.

I planted out seedlings of various vegetables, in the hopes that some of them may survive the ravages of slugs and rain long enough for me to eat. This year, I am trying for courgettes (zucchini), lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber and,due to an identification error at the garden centre my error, not theirs) cauliflower. It's nnot that I have anything against cauliflower, in fact, I rather like them, but as I do all of my vegetable-growing in (smallish) tubs I am not sure that cauliflower is suitable, as I think it may take up rather too much space, but we shall see.

I also planted some pansies, and having come across an old packet of seeds, some marigolds, so hopefully something may survive somewhere along the way.

And Tybalt provided help and support in his own way.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

In Which Shakespeare Happens

I was once again in Bath, for another evening at the theatre, this time to see ‘Othello’, with Lenny Henry in the title role. The production was originally at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, so the cast have had time to settle into it.

It is Lenny Henry’s first Shakespearean role, and I think first major ‘straight’ stage role (nothing like going in at the deep end), and the reviews have been a little mixed, so I was looking forward to seeing for myself how well it worked. I was very impressed with his performance as Fat Charlie (and Spider) in the radio adaptation of Anansi Boys, so I knew he could do striaght acting, but wasn't sure how he would be on stage, in Shakepeare.

The last Othello I saw was at the Globe, with Eammon Walker as Othello, and Tim McInnerey (Lord Percy / Cpt. Darling in Blackadder) as Iago…

This one was a little different.

The setting was broadly Victorian, and the sets pretty minimal – dark, panelled backdrop and a balcony (the bed for the murder scene was brought in later)

Other than Lenny Henry, all of the characters had Yorkshire accents, which was slightly distracting for a moment. And I can say for a fact that Mr Henry can act.

It was fascinating to watch him go from genial, tolerant and magisterial general, and besotted husband, to tormented and brutal murderer.

Iago (Conrad Nelson) was very convincing in his plotting and machinations, although it was harder to see why or how such a man could have gained so many people’s trust.

Desdemona (Jessica Harris) was played as very young, naïve, and deeply in love. Physically, she is tiny, which worked well with Othello who was (literally) head and shoulders above anyone else.

Emilia was played as an older, very pragmatic woman, loyal to her husband despite his behaviour to her and her disapproval of his actions generally., which made her final actions when she was pushed beyond endurance by her realisation that he was responsible for Desdemona’s death both believable and tragic.

There was a little light relief in amongst the tragedy – in particular, in Act II Scene iii – the ‘canakin clink’ drinking song made for a nice little interlude, it came with its own small brass band (thus proving that the production came from ‘oop north’!)

Of course, there are always minor niggles – I felt that Lenny Henry did rush his lines a little, but only in the first couple of scenes – he seemed to get into his stride after that – and as mentioned before, I felt that Iago did ‘evil’ better than ‘convincing people of his trustworthiness’, but all in all it was an excellent production, and I am very glad that I went! I think a lot of others must have felt the same – I gather that it was sold out all week.
So the question becomes, what should I see next? I haven’t any more tickets booked at present…

Professional review and photos here

Spring has well and truly sprung!

My own garden is not much to boast about, but I took the opportunity when visiting my parents to look at some of their botanical achievements:

I made several attempts to photograph the visitors to the various bird-feeders, too. These are very popular, and over the weekend I saw Bluetits, Great-tits, Goldfinches, Hedge and House Sparrows, Chaffinches and Greenfinches. There were also lots of ravens, a thrush and a Buzzard, although none of those last three were on the bird feeders.

Unfortunately, my attempts were unsucessful - the only visitor to the feeders which I did manage to capture was a one who was a little less welcome!

Perhaps my lack of success on the bird-photography front was due to my assistant?

Thursday, 16 April 2009

In which there is a Walk in the Country

I decided to travel down to Devon to see my parents over the Easter weekend, having not seen them since Christmas. As an added bonus, sister #2 was also there. Having been to the Theatre on Friday, I didn’t travel down until Saturday morning, which was probably a good thing, as it meant that I avoided the worst of the traffic as the entire nation drove to the west to spend the weekend in Devon or Cornwall!

After lunch, we decided that a walk would be in order, partly in a kind of pre-emptive against the Easter-egg-orgy anticipated for the morning, but mostly because it was such a beautiful day.

We headed off. Down the road, then down an impressively steep path. Steep paths, both up and down, were to be a feature of the walk.

After the (first) steep path, we had a wander through the woods, and across the fields. Our aim was a local church, about 2 miles from my parents house as the crow flies, and about 3 as the person walks – the church was in a rather lovely little graveyard, I particularly liked one early 18th Century tombstone, which had cherubs at the top, and a rather friendly looking skull at the bottom. There were also several Ridds buried there, although I didn’t spot any Doones…

Sadly the bells were sitting at the back of the church – they gave the appearance pf having been there for some time, so didn’t appear to just be there as part of a restoration or rehanging project.

After wandering around the church a little, we started on the walk home. This included much steepness.

If you look closely at this picture, you can just see a church tower, (between the branches of the tree, to the left of the main trunk) The photo was taken from my parent’s house, and the tower is the one we walked to – as you can see, there is a bit of a valley in between.

The walk back took us along some proper Devon lanes – deep, narrow lanes, bordered by banks topped with hedges. There were lots of wild violets and primroses flowering in the hedge bottoms, together with celandines , and wood sorrel. And lots of gorse.

We then had to go through several fields, going down a steep hill, across a stream and up an equally steep hill on the other side. The first field was labelled as containing a bull, and this turned out to be true. Happily it also contained many cows, so the Bull had no interest in us.

The field on the other side of the stream (from our perspective, the uphill field) was full of sheep. Less intimidating than bulls. Even happy contented bulls. (Of course, this may be a cunning plan on the part of the sheep. They may all be sneaky ninja stealth sheep, just biding their time. I which case we were very very lucky, because we got out of there alive.

And wandered along some more lanes (and past an alleged iron age barrow, indistinguishable from a natural bump in the field, I have to confess!) and home.

The whole walk was about 6 miles, mostly conducted at an amble.

And then we had hot-cross buns.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Another Knight at the Theatre

I had booked another ticket for the theatre – this time to see “The Tempest” – it was a joint production involving the RSC (which is based in Stratford on Avon) and the Baxter Theatre Centre (which is based in Cape Town). The production was touring, having previously been performing in Stratford, and being en route to the West End.

(picture from RSC website - more here)

I haven’t seen a live production of ‘the Tempest’ before, and it’s a while since I read it, so although I had a broad memory of the plot I couldn’t recall all the details, which I think is a good thing, as it allows you to see the play ‘fresh’.

In this case, the mixed Black & White, British & African cast and the very African setting made for a wholly new and exciting play. The Island on which Prospero (Sir Anthony Sher) and his daughter are shipwrecked, and Ariel and the other Sprites/Spirits living there were clearly native/African, as was Caliban (John Koni) and Prospero, The King of Naples and the Duke of Milan were present as Colonial Europeans, which made for a very interesting reading of the play – Caliban came across less as a villain than as an oppressed, wrongly dispossessed individual, mistreated by Prospero.

The songs were sung in (I think) Xhosa as well as English, and the various magics involved huge puppets, a giant Chameleon, puppet version of the witch, Sycorax, and Ariel on stilts, so it was visually a very exciting show, as well as verbally.

I was slightly underwhelmed by Anthony Sher’s Prospero – nothing wrong with his performance, just not stunning, either.

Ariel (Atandwa Kani) was very impressive, the more so as much of his performance depended on mime -he managed to balance the light-hearted, mischievous side of the character and the yearning to be free very well.

In short - an interesting, original and highly enjoyable show. And I was only thrown a little off balance by the fact that I have seen 'Return to the Forbidden Planet' (which of course owes much of it's plot and dialogue to Tempest) much more recently than I have read the play, and so part of me kept expecting the cast to burst into a rendition of 'Good Vibrations'....

Monday, 6 April 2009

In which Time Passes

I had friends visiting this weekend, which was lovely – they arrived on Friday and we spent a highly convivial evening, with the aid of some very nice prosecco and 6 months of chatting to catch up on.

Saturday turned out to be a wonderfully sunny day so, after a leisurely breakfast we drove over to Stourhead, which is owned by the National Trust, and went for a walk around the park and gardens there. They have a lot of rhododendrons, some of which are flowering at present, as are the magnolia trees. There are hundreds of daffodils out and many of the trees are beginning to show new green leaves. We saw a pair of great crested grebes as well as coots and the more usual ducks, on the lake, and even spotted a deer up near the Obelisk, although it didn’t allow us to get very close. I think it was probably a roe deer, as it was too small for a red deer and the wrong colour to be a fallow deer.

Outside the pantheon (modelled on, but rather smaller than the original in Rome) several families were enjoying picnics, and several small children were enjoying chasing the ducks, who seemed extremely relaxed about it –they almost gave the impression that they were running away (well, waddling away) just out of a sense of obligation – the certainly didn’t appear at all worried! A solitary Canada Goose declined to be chased, and as it was almost as tall, if not as big as, the small children concerned they took the hint and the goose and children then proceeded to ignore one another.

After the exertions of our amble around the grounds we sustained ourselves with tea and cakes (something at which the National Trust excels)

For the evening, we had tickets to see ‘Waiting for Godot’ in Bath – so had booked a table at deMuths vegetarian restaurant for a pre-theatre meal. En Route, we came across some interesting Hare-themed sculptures – I’m not clear where the minotaur comes in, I don’t know of any Bath or Somerset legends involving minotaurs…

I am not a vegetarian, and with so many other tempting restaurants in Bath I hadn’t eaten there before, and had booked based on reputation (not to mention the fact that finding a decent vegetarian restaurant, or a restaurant with decent vegetarian options, is not always very easy)

We were not disappointed. I think for me the highlight was the starter of beetroot blinis with sesame roasted beetroot and herby cream cheese - absolutely delicious! Mains (sri lankan curry, mid-eastern platter & Indian thali) were also excellent, and the service was friendly and efficient without being rushed.

Bath Theatre Royal is a very nice little theatre – I have lots of happy memories of it as, with a couple of friends, I used to spend every Wednesday evening there during my 6th Form years – we would get a bus into Bath, get some chips to sustain us for the evening and spend a little time reading the stock in Waterstones before buying stand-by, standing room tickets to see whatever was showing, which, as lots of plays come to Bath as part of a pre-west end reparatory, meant that we got to see many excellent actors and great plays.
We are getting a little old to spend 2 ½ hours standing so had been proper adults and booked seats, this time.

As well as the memories – It is also a lovely little theatre – it was built in Bath’s hey-day, at the end of the 18th Century - the boxes clearly designed to allow their occupants to be seen far more than to see the stage, they face slightly in towards the auditorium and are well endowed with rococo gilding and red velvet!

The play: waiting for Godot’
The Cast:

Estragon : Ian McKellen
Vladimir : Patrick Stewart
Pozzo : Simon Callow
Lucky : Ronald Pickup
Boy : one of 2 local boys, each in their first acting job

I hadn’t realised, until we arrived and bought our programmes that Simon Callow and Ronald Pickup were in it – the advertising had all focused on Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen. It made for a superb production – very funny in places – how often do you get to see 2 greats of the British Theatre, totally po faced, dancing and switching around 3 bowler hats? I think this is the first time that I have seen Simon Callow live, so that was a treat from me, too.

Well worth seeing - and over all a very satisfactory weekend!

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Tiscali: The Saga Continues

It all seemed to be going so well... I had ended up being transferred to the High Level Customer Complains team (which I cannot help but see as being suspended, perhpas in a hot air bolloon high above Tiscali's main office). This seemed to be a step in the right direction, as that is where they keep the real people.

We spoke, they told me (albeit with an actual apology this time) that no, they cannot re-conenct me to the internets (unless I want to sign up to a new contract, and even the Man from Tiscali didn't seriously expect that I would be willing to do that. )

So after a bit of to-ing and fro-ing, (in which it is possible thatI may have, um, accidentally let slip the fact that I am a lawyer and therefore do know what breach of contract means, and also that thismeans that I did read all of the small print and know that yes, they did breach the contract) they agreed to send be a smallish cheque by way of apology.

Having had some experience of them, I also asked them to let me have written confirmation that the account was clear and had been closed (as I have read of several people having their service ended but the account left open, and payments continuing to be taken.

That was last Wednesday.

I was very patient. I waited until yesterday (i.e. a full week after that agreement was reached) before chasing them up to enquire why I hadn't had the cheque, or the confirmation, and why they had tried to take another direct debit payment from my account. They didn't succeed in taking the Direct Debit because not having had a reply from them, and working on the basis that they couldn't organise a pissup in a brewery are not terribly competent, I made sure to cancel it before the 1st.

I have sent the guy in the complaints department a chasing e-mail and, having heard nothing, aslo managed to track down a phone number. I'm told he is off sick today and yestaerday (which doesn't really explain what he was doing for the other 4 working days since we spoke...)

So, we shall see.

On the plus side, my net connection should be in on Monday, so I am just keeping all available fingers and toes crossed that Virgin are a little more competent than their predecessors. Wish me Luck!