Thursday, 30 December 2010

More Seasonal Fun

Boxing Day continued the 'relaxed christmas' theme - mainly spent watching the goldfinches, chaffinches and bluetits on the birdfeeder, (although there is also a magnificant cock-pheasant which comes to help himself to the fallen seed)

Some of us then decided to be energetic and went for a steep and snowy walk down (and back up) the valley near the house.
Other members of the party chose to stay home on the basis that all the white stuff out there was a Sign, indicating that it might be Cold out there...

They might even have been right.

Sadly, the village pub has recvently closed, and we were unable to locate another within walking distance, so were unable to finish our walk with the traditional pint in a nice, warm pub, but were forced to return to the house and drink our own beer instead.

A different selection of people chose to go shopping on Monday. I don;t think they bought anything, but I am not sure - I was not part of the shopping contingent.I was part of a contingent of one, which decided that staying in bed for ages and then having a bath of truy epic length was a much better option...

Then on Tuesday, we met up with my Aunt & Uncle  (who live about 12 miles away) and my cousin A, her husband and two boys, which was lovely - A and M live down in Kent so we don't see them very often. We all went for a slighty damp walk to the Valley of the Rocks, where we  saw some of the feral goats, avoided losing any of the children over the cliffs, and  got some rather lovely atmospheric views before the rain really came down.

And as some of you may have seen on facebook, we hae also spent several evenings looking at slides from when my eldest sister & I were small - leading to much hilarity..

As you can see, I was so photogenic.... (and a good driver!)

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

in Which There are Family Festivities

I arrived in Devon mid-afternoon on Christmas Eve, after a drive through sunlit, snowy landscapes. The view from my parent's house was looking pretty gorgeous, too.

I was the last of the immediate family to arrive, so the decorating of the Christmas Tree was already underway.

We soon had our tree done, as you can see,we kept it pretty minimalist, complete with the 40-year old fairy on the top (who is very much showing her age, but is a part of every family christmas)

The rest of the evening included lots of talk, and food, and wine, and a certain amount of last-minute gift-wrapping.

Christmas morning started early for the contingent which had commmitted itself to ringing for an early morning church service,  but for those of us who had not, the morning started rather later (there being no children in the party) once the first contingent returned. In our family, Christmas stockings are for everyone, not just children, (although everyone tends to contribute) and so everyone ends up with their personal selection of new books,  squeaky balloons, and chocolate.

it was just as well that Father christmas supplied plenty of chocolate, as brekfast (smoked salmon & scrambled eggs, as you asked!) didn't take place until nearly noon. Later in the day, we moved on to gifts, and Christmas dinner, and more conversation, and phone calls to other members of the extended family, and perhaps a certain amount of wine...

It was a lovely, relaxed day.

I hope you all had an equally enjoyable day.

Saturday, 25 December 2010

A Very Happy Merry Day to You!

It's Christmas! So, to all those of you who celebrate it, I wish you a Very Merry Christmas, and to those who don't, a Very Merry Midwinter Day With an Excuse to Eat and Drink a Lot.

This post is going up by the magic of sheduled posting (all being well) but when it posts,  I think we should just about have reached the croissants & bucks fizz (mimosas) for breakfast stage of the day...

I hope you all have a day full of joy, and the company of people whom you love.

Friday, 24 December 2010

Drive By Blog

I had to work this morning, but managed to leave early by dint of (a) working late yesterday (b) arrive g early today (c) Royal Mail requiring last post by 12 and (d) being the boss.

So - dashed home, shoved cat & other perishables into the car & drove to Devon. The drive was much better than I'd feared - not too much traffic,  roads clear of ice until I got to the village my parents live in, and as I came into Devon the sun came out and the views of sunlit, snow covered hills were breath-takingly beautiful.

And I managed the whole drive in daylight.

I was the last of the family to arrive , and during the afternoon we toasted R's success in becoming a 1st Class Nerd, decorated the house and he tree to within an inch of their lives, and ate, and drank.

I am happy.

And do to bed.

I have some nice pictures of snowy Devon, but I am too tired to post them now.

Good Night, all.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

the Birds Are Flying High Tonight

Last night I headed over into deepest Somerset in order to collect our Christmas turkey, which has been wandering around the farm, eating all sorts of interesting things, flying*  and generally doing turkey things, for most of the last 6 -7 months. 
Last weekend, it was called to its forefathers, and last night I went to get its mortal remains, which will be translated into glory on Christmas Day.

The drive over was fine - one or two icy patches on the roads, and some interesting patterns of drifted snow on some of the walls and hedges.

However, arriving in the village, things were a little different. There was absolutely no way I could have got up the lane to J's farm - it is narrow, twisty, and has very unforgiving stone walls and cliffs up both sides, so instead I walked up, and J, out of the kindness of her heart, walked down to meet me:

SCENE:  An Icy lane, by moonlight.

FIRST MYSTERIOUS FIGURE:        Hello
SECOND MYSTERIOUS FIGURE:  (Cradling a swaddled bundle) We must stop meeting like this.
FMF:         You know why I'm here
SMF:         Yes .
FMF:          Do you have it?
SMF:          I do.  (Hands over swaddled bundle) 

They part.                  

I wonder whether cold war spies did this. I felt I ought to be giving a password.                      

*Turkeys are not the most aerodynamic of birds, but if you have a turkey-house at the top of a steepish slope, and the kitchen garden at the bottom, they can show you one hell of a glide. There is nothing like being dive-bombed by low-flying turkeys to reconcile one to the prospect of eating them, I can tell you!

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

In which There Are Visitors (And Snow)

So, I had Monday & Tuesday off work, as I had guests.

My plan for Monday went something like this:-
1. Wake up. Revel in the luxury of a Monday morning with no work, and the freedom to sleep late
2. Get up. Wallow in hot bath, then do last minute bed-making and stuff before guests arrive
3. make mince pies
4. Buy bread, milk & cheese, post final parcel
5. Amble down to railway station to  meet guests, walk home with them
6. Give them tea and mince pies, be sociable
7. Have extra friend round, eat, drink and be merry.

I was highly sucessful with items 1-3 on that list, and managed 4, although it was harder work then expected as the streets were quick icy, and it was very cold, and snowing, so walking into town & back was much harder work than usual, and the going to the station disappeared altogether, as guestas were delayed, and in the end got a taxi. However, from then on, things progressed as planned.

As fiends already know, my guests were Jess and Mr Jess. They were due to arrive mid afternoon on Monday, and actually made it around 6, after a journey with many delays - I'm most flattered that they didn't give up half way, to be honest! And they brought wine, and chocoloate, and the poster I had ordered, and which they kindly carried across the Atlantic for me. They are Good Guests, and will be welcome back any time :-) And they entertained Tybalt a lot.
Me & Jess, for the 'pictures or it didn't happen bunch

Cheryl  came over for supper, and brought chocolates. She, too, is a Good Guest.

here was a certain amount of eating, and even some drinking and some making merry. 'Twas fun.

On Tuesday we decied to go & be a bit touristy in Bath. It turns out I suck at being a tour guide. I suggested we see the Herschel museum, but failed to find out in advance that it had, in fact, closed for the winter*. 
Then afterwards I suggested that we go look at the titthe barn in Bradford on Avon, which turned out to be being locked up just as we got there. Still, we did look at the Abbey, and there was a very nice pub lunch with some festive beer, and a nice independent bookshop, so all was not entirely lost.

And the outside of the tithe barn looked pretty in the snow, and we walked a little by the canal, which was frozen, (and we were not foolish enough to try to walk on the ice).

It's possible that there may have been a little more making merry that evening, too.

Sadly, on Wednesday, I had to go back to work, and Jess & Paul to go back to do family Christmassy things, but I enjoyed myself, and hope they did too.

(*Actually, their website doesn't mention that they are closed for the winter either, so I maybe don't suck quite as much as I thought)

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Winter Is Here

It has mosty been a fairly dull week - cold, and uneventful, and I have mainly just been going to work, and trying to remember to go to bed early, being knackered.

Friday, however, was a little more interesting -in the evening was our work Christmas meal, and earlier, we were having snow forecast. It did snow a little - just a sprinkling, enough to make eveything look pretty, but not enough to stop me going out.

I'd left myself a lttle extra time to drive to work, in case of snow or ice, which meant I had time to stop to take a picture or two as the sun came up, as I drove across the hills.

By the time I got home it was much colder, and my enthusiasm for the work Christmas party was rapidly waning - I alwayss end up fretting about what to wear, and the possibility of being over- or under-dressed, and knowing how foolish this is doesn't seem to make much difference. However, once there, I quite enjoyed myself - although I was glad to get home.

I didn't sleep well, and woke up very early; after giving up on the prospect of getting back to sleep I got out of bed and looked out of the window to find that it had snowed, quite heavily (for England) overnight, so I  got up to go out and play in the snow. It was early enough that the sun wasn't yet up, and no-one else had been out, and there is something irresistable about pristine, unmarked snow...
I went down by the stream behind the houses opposite - as you can see, the sun was just coming up and gave everything a pinkish glow.

Livng in a town, as I do, you rarely get to her silence (yes, I know. But you know what I mean) it was lovely to be out with no sound but the creak of the snow as I walked, and birdsong, and the trickle of water from the stream.

As I am quite practically minded, even when admiring the beauties of nature, I took the opporunity to walk down to the paper shop and buy some milk, as I guessed (correctly, as it turned out) that my milkman would probably not be making any deliveries.

On the way, I found myself reminded that even the most prosaic of things, such as a streetlight, can turn out to be unexpectedly beautiful, in the right conditions.                                                                                         

It seemed as though most households were still asleep as I walked past - those few where there were lights on all seemed to be people who had got up early in order to watch the Ashes si as I walked by, in the snow, I could see glimpses of  bright sunshine, and cricketers, as though a little piece of summer was spilling out into the winter landscape, to remind us that all things will pass...

A little later in the morning, as I was making coffee and looking out into the street from the shelter of my nice warm kitchen, I saw the little girl who lives across the road come out of her house. she had, I suppose, just woken up & seen the snow, as she came bouncing out in her pyjamas and wellinigton boots, bouncing around like an excited puppy. (She didn't stay out for long - so I didn't need to get too worried about her lack of proper winter clothing)

I spent most of the rest of the day catchinng up with housework, and then dressing my Christmas tree and wrapping presents, which, together with the snow, put me in a properly festive mood.

Now, if everyone could keep their fingers crossed for the snow to go (and for  no more to fall) by next weekend, so that we can all mae it down to the parent's house for Christmas.... (Once we're all their, it can snow as much as it likes, just not before, please. 'Kay?)

Monday, 13 December 2010

In Which There Is Music

I don't often go to the theatre two nights running, but this week was an exception - Saturday night's 'The Merry Wives of Windsor' being followed on Sunday by a trip back to Bath to see Handel's 'Messiah', performed by The 18th Century Concert Orchestra who perform in period dress and on period instruments.
It was wonderful!

It's a while since I have seen any classical or choral music live, and this reminded me what a great experience it can be.

I enjoyed the fact that all the musicians were in period dress, each of them slightly different, and with slightly different wigs (although no real macaroni or beaus among them!)

The orchestra consisted of 5 violins, 1 vola, 2 cellos, a double bass, a harpsichord, an oboe, 2 trumpets and a timpanist on kettle drums, and there was a 13 person choir. The aim was to provide a concert which sounded as it would have done when Messiah was premiered, in 1741 - I am not (obviously) in a postion to say how successful they were on that front, but I'm willing to take in on trust - the rest of it was spot on!

I had been feeling tired and wasn't over-enthusiastic about going, but I am so glad that I did!

All in all, an excellent evening out.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

In Which There is Shakespeare

I spent most of Saturday being moderately lazy - fair bit of reading, some gift wrapping (Tybalt "helped" with that, so the  recipients will get some bonus cat-hairs and, in at least one case, tooth marks) I shall have to finish the wrapping and then, on Monday,  make a trip to the Post Office to get all the parcels which have to go by post sent off.

This year, I have done quite well as far as the 'remembering to buy things which don't weigh too much if they will have to go by post' side of things go, not so well on the 'buy things which are nice reguar shapes and thus easy to wrap' side. Oh well.

I then spent the evening at the theatre, to see The Merry Wives of Windsor at Bath. The production is one which was originally at the Globe, and is now touring. It had a big cast, and was performed in period Elizabethan dress and with it's own minstrels gallery (on top of the half-timbered house which formed the main set). There were 5 or 6 minstrels who appeared to be playing period instruments - some of them, at least. I am not sure whether the kettle-drums and triangle were common in Elizabethan times, but one person was playing what I think was a rebec, another a hautboy, and another instrument which I coldn't identify - a very long-necked string instrument.

I enjoyed myself, although there was a lot of over-acting going on, which gave the whole thing a somewhat pantomimic feel - with touches of Blackadder and a soupcon of 'Allo 'Allo.

The theatre was pretty full, and the play enthusiastically recived.(although in the case of the 2 ladies sitting immediately behind me, I think that part of their enthusiasm must be attributed to the fact that they had clearly been enjoying a drink or 6 first, to the point where a man wering tights was hysterically funny....)

Tonight I am going back the the theatre for some candlelit music. And also trying to remember how to set the video recorder, as I see thaey are showing Ptrick Stewart's Macbeth tonight on BBC4.

Friday, 10 December 2010

In Which It is a Bit Chilly

We haven't  had any more snow, which is a relief, but it has been very cold, so the hoar frost didn't melt, most days, so we ended up with frost  on frost. Chilly, but very pretty!
I have spent most of the week busy with work stuff, which is time consuming but doesn't make for terribly interesting bloggage.

I did, however, get to see my parents, who came to stay overnight on Wednesday, en route to a funeral. It was good to see them,  and gave me an excuse to make a nice hearty casserole (Beef in Guinness, if you're interested)

Although this week has been relatively uneventful, I do have lots of nice things to look forward to.

Tomorrow  evening  I shall be heading into Bath to the Theatre Royal to see The Merry Wives of Windsor - the production is the one which was on at the Globe Theatre, and is now touring. It should be fun.

And then, on Sunday evening, I am going back to Bath, back to the Theatre Royal, to see Handel's Messiah . Every year, around this time, there is a performance of The  Messiah by musicians using period instruments,  in period costume, by candlelight.  I've been wanting to go for several years, but as it is only on for one night, I've never managed to be organised enough to get a ticket, before.

Then, on Tuesday, I shall be going to see the historian, Bethany Hughes, talkng about her new book about Socrates.

Should be fun.

And of course, the week after that, I shall have lovely, fiendish guests :-)

Sunday, 5 December 2010

In Which There Are Medlars

So, those of you who follow me on twitter may remember that several weeks ago I bought some Medlars (left) becuase they seemed interesting, and then when I got home I looked them up to see how they should be cooked or eaten.

They are not very attractive fruit. Apparently they were, in medieval times, known as cats arse fruit, (and in French they are cul de chien which is no better)
And, as I learned, you can't use them stright away, but have to wait until they have "bletted" - effectively this means waiting for them to start to rot.. they go darker, and much softer.


I had some reservations, but decided to press on, having aquired the things, so they have spent the last few weeks sitting in  a paper bag in the shed, bletting away to themselves, and today I decided it was time to move on. The most common recipie seems to be for Medlar jelly, so that's what I decided to make, although you can eat them raw, or bake them, or make 'cheese' out of them.

They looked even less appetising when I cut them up: completely borwn inside, whereas the flesh is white (like an apple) before they are bletted, but I did taste one - a rather unplesant 'wooly' texture, but the taste was OK - a bit like spiced apple,.

The recipie I used also included apple, and was pretty straightforward - you cut up the apple and medlars and simmer in water until they go soft, then strain them overnight before boiling up the juice with some sugar and a little lemon juice.

I ended up wih more liquid than I'd expected (the recipie didn't specifiy, just said to use enough to cover the fruit) so I was concerned that the jelly might not set, but it does appear to be doing so.

I haven't tasted the jelly yet, but it looks pretty. Mine is a little cloudy, but I think that is purely aesthetic, and won't affect the taste.  It apparently goes well with game or lamb (as one might use redcurrant jelly) but I suspect it might be rather nice on toast, too. 

And on a cold, icy, day there are worse things to do than to fill the house with a warm, spiced-apple aroma!

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Brrrrrr

It is very, very cold.
Not, of course, for those of you in truly cold places such as Minnesota, Wisconsin, or Iowa, but cold-for-England. It's about -3 celsius, And feels every degree of it.

Lots of parts of the country have had snow - unusually early and heavy. We had a sprinkling on Friday night, and a little more on Monday night - just a few milimetres, but enough, having frozen overnight, to make driving the first little bit of the way to work ....interesting.

On Monday,when I had a day off , I went into Bath to do some Christmas shopping. Bath has a Christmas Market, which runs for about 3 weeks - lot of craftspeople, selling all sorts of lovely things and interesting foodstuffs. I managed to finish off most of my shopping, which is a relief - I like giving people things,and the pleasure of trying to find thibgs which he recipient will really like, but I hate crowds, and don't much like shopping, so shopping in crowds is definitely not my thing!

Then on Thursdaay, having watched most of the rest of the country being half buried in snow, and been lulled into a false sense of security, I woke up to find that it had snowed properly overnight.

I was a little worried, as I was due to go to  meeting the other side of Bath, and there are rather a lot of hilly bits in between, but as it turned out, once I got out onto the main road the roads were all pretty clear, and the countryside was looking pretty.

Coming home was less fun, though - I found that the roads leading into my street had had just enough traffic to ensure that the snow had been compacted down into ice, which was starting to freeze...

Driving on an ice rink is not my idea of fun. (At least in my own car and with lots of things to hit) It's forecast to be colder than ever tonight.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

This one is for Nathalie

This is a brief Birthday Blog for SpacedLawyer . These manufacturers need to work on their spelling, but I hope you agree they have the right general idea....
And of course, one needs something to look at while enjoying that glass of wine..
Happy Birthday, Nathalie

Saturday, 27 November 2010

I am starting get a bit miffed.

I booked my car in to have a brake check this morning, as a general precaution to check it's all fine.

I dropped it off just before 10. Asked if I was right in thinking that the check takes about 45 mins, which they confirmed.

At 11.40 I went back to the garage. I hadn't had a call from them, but I thought that was probably because I'd been in & out of shops & had had an intermittent signal.

Nope. They'd got it in the bay, but said "it's almost done" so I decided to wait, rather than walking home, or popping to the library.

I then waited for over an hour, getting gradually colder and colder.

They informed me that the brakes & systems are all fine, nothing needs to be done.

Oh good.

Except. . .

As I drive out of the garage to go home I find they have managed to give it a fault. The handbrake/brake warning light going on and off at random.
To be fair, they did sort it pretty quickly when I went back (they'd failed to reconnect one of the clips properly) but even so, it's annoying.

Friday, 26 November 2010

In Which There Is Weather

So, it appears that the country is about to grind to a halt, as it has been snowing. It has even been snowing a little bit here, although it hasn't been settling here as it's too wet, so thus far we mostly have sleet. What fun.
It's been very cold all week - every morning has been clear, with lots of frost (Oh, happy mornings, spent scraping ice off the car!)  It's  pretty. The last few days, I've woken up to a deep blue sky, a little before sunrise. The clear skies have meant Venus has been clearly visible, and you can see a lot of detail on the Moon even with the naked eye.

Then, driving to work there's been a whole week of bright, frosty mornings - sunlight on frost is so beautiful. The hedges are fiull of scarlet berries, and of Old Man's Beard, there are still some leaves on a few of the trees, so you get bright,, sunlit copper leaves, on stak black brasncheds against pefect duck-egg blue sky.

There are a lot of pheasant around, and I have also, almost every morning this week, seen a large bird of prey which I think must be a buzzard - it's too big to be a peregrine falcon.

And I remember that this really is a beautiful part of the world.

(It's still too cold, just now, though!)

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Tales of Mr Maupin

Last night saw me in Bath again for another author event organised by Toppings bookshop.

This one was a reading and Q&A by Armistead Maupin, as part of his world tour for the publication of the latest 'Tales of the City' book, 'Mary Ann in Autumn'

He started by reading the first chapter of the new book, then took questions, while skirting carefully around any potential spoilers, either of this book or the earlier ones.

He talked a little about the musical of Tales of the City, which features songs written by Scissor Sisters (He mentioned that "There's an 'O my god I'm pregnant' song, which Mona sings while she has her feet in the stirrups at the gynocologist")

He admitted having borrowed Mrs Madrigal's background from a story told to him as a journalist in San Francisco, when he was attending a fundraising party held by a transwoman to fund her final operations - she called it "The ball to End All Balls" and it featured a 70 year old fan-dancer, Sally Rand!

He also spoke of having encouraged Alexander McCall Smith to write a serial novel in his newspaper column. "Alexander McCall Smith? I hate him. He writes a book every 10 minutes..."

He also spoke briefly about his pride at having played a role in gay history, and his view that opening marriage to more people, recognising gay marriage does not undermine, but rather honours the institution of marriage. That one got a round of applause all of its own!

it was a hugely entertaining evening, and I'm looking forward to  readng the new novel.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Tybalt

I had a day off work today - I have been pretty busy, and not as organised as I should have been, so I have ended up with 5 days of leave to use up before Christmas. when I booked today, I planned for it to be a day when I could make a start on some Christmas shopping, hopefully avoiding crowds, and also perhaps do some baking and cooking meals to stock the freezer.

In the event, it didn't work out quite as planned.

Tybalt was very slighty lame on Saturday, and by Sunday was not putting any weight on his (front) right paw, although I couldn't find any problem with his pads, and nothing seemed to be swollen, or hot, or even tender. So the first thing to do this morning was to call the vet. Of course the only available appointment was right in the middle of the day.

The vet identified that the problem is with his elbow: There is  no obvious fracture or swelling, so it may be that he has jumped or landed awkwardly, and strianed it. Tybalt is nearly 13, and gets very stressed at the vet, so being aneasthetised to be more thoroughly examined would be quite a big deal,so on the vet's advice he is having painkillers for now, to keep him comfortable and  see whether it improves on its own, before we try anything more drastic.

The vet gave him a shot while we were there, and within 15 minutes of being back home Tybalt was using his leg (including bearing weight on it) almost as usual, which I think is a good sign, so I am hoping that it will turn out not to be too serious.

After the visit to the vet, I did make it into Bath to do a little shopping, but wasn't very organised. I feel another expedition will be necessary, although I shall see what I can do online, first. I do enjoy finding gifts for the people I care about, but I hate shopping in crowds.

Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam

After our  lovely relaxed evening we had a slow start to the day, with coffee, and  fresh croissants and pain au chocolat for breakfast, and a morning spent reading the weekend paper.

we then headed for Bath, via Bradford on Avon and the world's best tea shop, where we had lunch.

Bath was absolutely packed, and after a little window shopping we headed to the Victoria Art Gallery where it turned out there was an exhibition of Don McCullin's photography.

The exhibition was extraordinary. There were pictures from throughout McCullin's career, from his youth, photographing gang members in finsbury Park, in London, through the Vietnam War, Biafra, Bangladesh, The 6-day War and Northern Ireland. Amazing, moving and disturbing images. Finally there were some of his recent works, landscapes and still lifes, many of them of the Somerset Lvels around Glastonbury, which were beautiful.

We had to leave when the gallery closed at 5, by which time it was already dark. we walked past the Abbey, outside which the Remembrance Day cross of poppies is still present, under the newly erected Christmas tree.

We didn't, however, go in, chosing instead to find a wine-bar for a cheering glass or two, before heading to a fantastic Nepalese restaurant (Yak Yeti Yak) for a pre-theatre meal.

After a delicious (vegetarian) meal we walked up to the Theatre Royal, for Spamalot!

The show is, as it's own publicity states, "Lovingly ripped off from Monthy Python &  the Holy Grail" so virtually al of the dialogue and characters are very familiar, none of which in any way detracts from the sheer enjoyment of the show.

It is absolutely hilarious, just plain good fun from start to finish. Marcus Brigstocke played King Arthur - I'm mostly familiar with him from his appearances on Radio 4, on things such as the News Quiz, and it was good to see him singing and dancing as well!


all in all, we had a great time, and it was marred only by the fact that, when we got to the station to get our train home, we found that it was delayed by 45 minutes, which woud hve ment we had to wait for almost an hour, so we eneded up getting a taxi at vast expense instead. *sigh*

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Fly-By Blog

It's been a busy week - I've been in court, and in meetings and haven't had a lot of time to do anything more entertaining.

However, this weekend will be fun.

Last night, my friends J & J arrived for the weekend - I hadn't done quite as much as I'd hoped to in sorting out the heaps of books and other bits of clutter before they arrived, but the place is clean, and the company of friends and the presence of good wine cure all ills!

I had roasted some pumpkin before they arrived, and had planned to make a risotto: it ended up being cooked by committee, and was lovely - and we had a relaxed evening with much rambling conversation. We worked out that we haven't seen each other since about April, which is WAY too long.

We have tickets to see 'Spamalot' tonight, and will be eating out before the show, but other than that have no fixed plans for the day. It's looking rather grey & damp outside right now, so it may end up mostly sitting around and talking.

It's good to know that I don't have to entertain them, that just hanging out together is fine with all of us.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

General Round Up

Dear me, no blogging for a week. I have been slack.

On the other hand, there has not been a lot to blog about. Its been a bit of a frustrating week at work, one way or another - the way when you have one thing which goes wrong, or one client weho is difficult, you suddenly have 2 or 3 more.

This weekend I had been planning to go to London to see Bitter Ruin - I have seen them before - they opened for EvelynEvelyn back in April, and Cheryl and I went to see them when they played in Bath in June.

When the tickets went on sale for this tour, I bought a ticket for the Friday night (as that was origianlly the onlt show within a distance I could get to) then when they added an extra show on Saturday I bought a ticket for that instead as it is easier to do these things on weekends. - However, I came to realise that it really wasn't going to be  practical to go. I was too tired, feeling too run down, and the logistics (I had inadvertently booked myself in for a flu jab on Saturday morning, which I couldn't reschedule as my GP's surgery does them on designated days and this was the last one) plus to cost of travelling up etc. meant it just wasn't going to work out.

On the plus side, I was able to find someone else who could use each of the tickets, so at least they didn't go to waste.  And given how much timme I have spent either sleeping, or curled up on the sofa this weekend, I am sure it was the right decision, but I am sorry I  missed seeing them.

As I found myself in town to get my flu jab, I did do a little shopping, and found a couple of shirts and a coat, all on sale, and also picked up 4 new books, 2 of which are definitely going to be Christmas gifts, and the other 2 may be (I bought them with other people in mind but would rather like to keep them...)

Things I hoped to get done but didn't (once I had resigned myself to not going to London) included making and freezing food for next weekend, when I have guests coming, and going to the framers to get my 'How to Talk to Girls at Parties' print and my 'Billy Bones' illustration, framed. Oh well. Soon.

I kind of hoped that some housework would get done, too. Sadly the houswork fairies seem sadly delinquent at present.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

In Which I Go to Bristol

Some time ago, my friend Cheryl suggested to me that I might like to go to BristolCon (of which she is a committee member) and, as it is practically on the doorstep, and membership was only £15, I thought "Why not? It might be fun"

So I spent yesterday there, and it was.

My day didn't start too well. Having got up remarkably early for a Saturday, dealt with some urgent errands in town and got myself to the station on time, I found that the train I was planning to catch was running very late, so had to wait half an hour for the next one, and arrived a little later than intended.

However, one I arrived and was registered, things sarted to improve. The hotel had provided tea & coffee, so I was able to get by blood-caffiene levels up, and to take a look around the dealers room and art show before heading to my first programme item - a short reading by Juliet McKenna. The programme was set up so that each panel item was 50 minutes long rather than an hour, with 10 minute readings sandwiched in the gaps. A nice idea - you get the chance to get a 'taster' of different books and writers, or alternatively to make that essential coffee or loo break without missing or disrupting a panel.

My first full panel was Cheryl Morgan interviewing Joe Abercrombie, one of the Guests of Honour.

I have to confess that I haven't actually read any of Joe's novels, but hearing him speak about the process of writing was interesting. cheryl was also able to disclose that George RR Martin is a fan, and any further delays in his completing the next book may be blamed on the fact that he is reading Joe Abercrombie novels instead of writing...

There was much discussion of hacking people to bits, and of blood spatter. Joe Abercrombie: "People getting hacked to pices, what could be funnier?"

I stepped out for the nxt cupld of pnels as I was supposed to be meeting a friend for lunch, and was back in time for local journalist and novelist Eugene Byrne's talk about Bristol.  This was fascinating - he started by telling us Bristol's founding myth (which has brothers who were rivals in love) then de-bunked the urban myth about the Bristol Zoo carpark and talked a little about the Suspension Bridge, and the Victorian lady who threw herself off it, butwas saved by a combination of her crinolenes and the very soft mud into which she fell. He then took us on a brief 'walking tour' via google streetview of some notable spots in Bristol, including Thomas Chatterton's house (almost opposite the hotel), the (site of) the church of Saint Wilgefortis, (AKA St. Uncumber) who is the patron saint of unhappily married women, and the non-existant street. It was all fascinating and highly entertaining.

I stayed for the short reading by Mike Shevdon - I saw him on a panel at EasterCon talking about fanastical London, and wrote his name down intending to buy his book, and I finally managed to buy 'Sixty One Nails'(the first one) and get it signed. He read the opening of the book and I am looking forward to reading the rest.

I also had a brief chat with him earlier in the day, when I spotted him with Paul Cornell, and asked them each to sign books for me ;-)

The next panel I went to was entitled "Future Science" and featured Alastair Reynolds, Jon Turney, Nick Walters, Gareth L. Powell and Paul Cornell,  discussing the science which they hope, fear or expect for the  future.

Paul Cornell wants to live forever, everyone expects that there will be a total loss of privacy, and that science fiction today is notably more pessimistic than it used to be.

This panel was followed by Paul Cornell's GoH spot, in which he talked, very entertainingly about past and current projects, including writing 'Death' for the Lex Luthor comic (and being able to liaise with Neil Gaiman about her dialogue, his current work in progress which is an urban fantasy novel, but without sexy, sparkly vampires - more police proceedural with supernatural elements (which to me sounds as though it may have a similar sort of flavour to Mike Carey's 'Felix Castor' novels, which would be just fine by me!)

He also broke the disappointing news that the BBC will  not be commissioning 'Pulse' - apparently it was initially approved but then cancelled, which is a great shame.

At the end of his spot Paul read from his short story "The Occurrance at Slocombe Priory", an hilarious M.R.James/ScoobyDoo mash up... That was the last of the panels I attended.

As well as the panels, however, I enjoyed meeting Alex Keller, after a mutual friend told me, via Twitter, that he would be there and I should say hello. An he was, and I did, and I bought his book, and we chatted ., and I enjoyed myself :-)

 I also briefly met Ben Jeapes - sitting down before Paul Cornell's talk I noticed the name badge of the person sitting behind me, so asked whether he was the Ben Jeapes who wrote 'His Majesty's Starship', and it was! So I was able to tell him how much I enjoyed it, and asked whether he has anything else in the pipeline (yes, but probably not for a year or two). A completely unexpected pleasure. And if you haven't read HMS (which I think was also published under the title 'the Ark') and the sequel, 'The Xenocide Mission' give them a go.  He has more convincingly alien aliens than I've come across for a long time.

All in all, I enjoyed myself a lot.

I didn't so much enjoy my trip home. I got to temple Meads about 15 minutes before the train was due, to discover it was running 40 minutes late. The next one (25 minutes later) was on time, but very crowded, and with 2 platform changes, which is a lot of running around. Oh, and the reason given for the first one being so late? It was due to "the number of people wanting to board the train in Cardiff, following a rugby match". Now, I don't claim to know much about sports, but I am pretty sure that International rubgy matches  are planned in advance, and do not simply happen spontaneously, flash-mob style. I am also fairly sure that lots of people will use trains every time there is a match, so you'd think the train operaters might be able to work this out, too, and consider, just maybe, putting on extra trains/carriages or at the very least, taking the extra volume of people into account and adjusting the timetable if needed. But obviously not.

Oh well.

Friday, 5 November 2010

In Which There is an Historian

Last night I went to Bath again, this time it was to see Michael Wood, who was there to talk about his recent TV series and the book which accompanies it,'The Story of England' 

But before I got to that part of the evening I had time for a quick visit  to Mr B's bookshop which is a very nice bookshop (with free coffee & comfy  chairs upstairs, which I didn't have time to enjoy this time round) and a wall papered with pages from Tintin, which I rather enjoyed.

 I then had to spend a couple of hours on a work related course, and had just time to grab some mediocre chinese food (and all-you-can-eat buffet is your friend when you only have 20 minutes in which to eat) before heading to St Michael's church, where Mr Wood's event was taking place.

I have to thank Cheryl again, who not only spotted that this event (and Monday's, with Iain M Bnks) was on, but also booked the tickets and got to the church first and saved me a seat.

Mr. Wood was talking about The Story of England, and it was fascinating. The premise is that he set out to look at the history of England (and he was careful to note that it was just England, not Britain) by looking at a single town.

The one he picked is Kibworth in Leicestershire. It was picked because it is (geographically) central, and broadly on the border between the part of England which was under Danelaw, and that part which was Anglo-Saxon , but mainly because it has excellent written records - one half of the village was bought by Merton College, Oxford, so there are 750 years worth of written records. The parish is made up of 2 distinct villages - Kibworth Beauchamp (the posh bit) and Kibworth Harcourt (the poor bit)

The aim was to look at the history and development of the villages from the perspective of the community - bottom-up, not top-down, history.

The two halves of the parish are very different - they have different entrances to the church, and the Vctorian rector recorded that when a sewage system was being mooted, the villages wanted separate systems, so thast the effluvia from Kibworth Beauchamp was not contaminated by that of Kibworth Harcourt.... (and in case you think tht's a one off, Michael recalled hearing a discussion in a cambridgeshire village, when it was proposed that 2 neighbouring parishes should be combined, due to declining congregations. One parishioner, entirely seriously, and wholly outraged , exclamed "We are not almagamating with them. They were Parliamentarians!" It's understandable, I suppose. After all, its only 350 years since the civil war...

In Kibworth, the social divisions certainly went back as far as Domesday book (there were fewer slaves and  villeins in Kinworth Beauchamp than in Kibworth Harcourt) and possibly longer - Michael had a theory that it may do, and that the names of the fields were anglo-saxon in one area, and celtic in another.

The project not only involved looking at the history of the community, but also involving the community in the research - they dug 55 test pits all over the parish, (including one in the pub car park where they found a fragment of an Anglo-Saxon  bone comb)

The village lost 2/3 of its population in the Black Death. The quality of the records mean that it is possible to trace 15 generations of peasant families.

The series (and book) go right up to the present day. I have not yet seen all of the episodes but I'm looking forward to seeing the rest, and to reading the book.

After his talk, Michael signed books, and was very friendly  and chatty.

A most enjoyable evening.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

In Which There is Another Author

A couple of weeks ago, my friend Cheryl asked whether I fancied seeing Iain M. Banks, who was going to be coming to Bath.
Well, obviously the answer was "yes", so last night I headed into Bath after work, ready to enjoy myself.

Cheryl and I met up and had a very nice meal at Wagamama, then headed to Toppings Booksellers, who had organised the event.

Toppings is a nice bookshop. It's independent, which is always good, has a nice selection of books, and has its own slightly idiosyncratic approach to shelving, which adds interest to shopping there (books appear to be shelved to some extent by size as well as being sorted by author / genre, so a writers most recent (big, hardback) book may be in a different place to the earlier (paperback) books by the the same author)

The shop is not, perhaps, the ideal venue for a reading / Q&A, as it is rather long and thin, with bookshelves arranged in bays, like an old fashioned library. All of which is very nice, but means that lines of sight etc are a little tricky. However, anyone who doesn't have a good view of the writer concerned will be seated among bookhelves and have the oppotunity to indulge in a little browsing while they listen, so I doubt that blocked lines of sight present much of a hardship!

We found seats in one of the front rows, so ended up sitting just to the right and very slightly behind where Iain was standing, and settled in to enjoy ourselves.
Iain started by explaining why he uses the "M" for the Science Fiction and not for the mainstream novels, on the basis that someone always asks, and then moved on to talk about how he started out, the revelation that 2nd drafts have a purpose, and the perils of too much research. (Quote: "I make stuff up. It's my job") Also, he likes unexpected endings and thus does not like people who read the end of a book first and spoil the surprise.

The Q&A lasted for about an hour, but felt much shorter. Afterwards, Iain signed books and chatted to fans .

It was fun.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Hallowe'en

Hallowe'en has never been a really major part of my life: when I was small, I don't remember Trick or Treating being something which was done, much, and then when I was 10 we moved to Somerset and our house was on a dangerous road, (and very few children lived at that end of the village) so we never had anyone come to the door.

Now, however, I live on  a large housing estate and there are a lot of families with young children, so I get lots of children coming.

I did not dress up myself, but I admit that I did quite enjoy proffering my skull, and politely asking "Would you like an eyeball?"

The answer, mostly, was yes. The eyeballs went much faster than the skeletons or ghosts...

I do find it slightly odd, however, that so many people are apparently quite happy to let their children go out, after dark, to knock on strangers' doors, unsupervised. Of the 6 or 7 lots of children who knocked on my door, only 2 had an adult with them (One father was dressed up in full Count Dracula gear, which definitely gets him extra points!) I'm all for kids learning to be independent, but some of the unaccompanied children were very young - under 7, and I can't help but feel that at that age, even if they are not at any risk from the knocking on doors part of the evening, that when they are over excited and on a sugar high they are probably not stipping to think before (say) running across the road . . .

Oh well.

I also released several bookcrossing books over the weekend in celebrations of Neil Gaiman's proposed new tradition, All Hallow's Read.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Autumn Colours

I had planned to catch up with housework, and other things which have piled up over the last couple of weeks, while I've been busy partying in Dublin and then being sick-unto-death. And I started well, this morning: I finally managed to post a birthday present to my best friend (admittedly her birthday was a week ago, but it felt like an achievement)

I even did some vacuuming and some laundry. However, I noticed while I was in town that the trees are looking rather colourful just now, and that it was actually a rather nice day, so I decided to change my plans and head to Stourhead to go for a walk, and enjoy the autumn colours.


Stourhead is owned by the National Trust these days, but it used to belong to the Hoare family, who were London bankers. They had a manor house built in the 1720s, and the gardens were laid out between 1740 and 1780.

There is a lake, surrounded by woods, and overlooked by a grotto, the 'Temple of Apollo' and an reproduction of the Pantheon.

The woods around the lake have a lot of beech trees, and rhodedendrons, and there is, of course, a rustic cottage.
I also found some wonderful fungi, on a fallen tree.

and of course, the gate house going up p he house itself, is, well.... modest and unpretentious...
I wonder whether I can fit a small castle on to the front of my house, too?
Tomorrow is forecast to be cold and wet. I'll do housework tomorrow.