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.
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.
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.
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*
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.
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.
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.
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 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 .
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 . . .