Sunday, 29 April 2012

Grumbles, and Cheering Things

It has not been the best week. Lots of stress at work, I've been sleeping badly (which makes me feel ill) and it seems to have been pouring with rain without cease since last weekend. I think someone ought to tell the Rain Gods that the "Showers" part of "April Showers"  does imply that there should be gaps between the periods of rain.

However, as is often the case, even the most miserable week is not all bad.

On Wednesday, I received a package in the mail, from the lovely Kitty, of  Neverwear, containing my print of Neil's wonderful Poem, illustrated by Olivia Beradinis. It really is utterly gorgeous, and as it is printed on thick, rag-paper it feels nice, too.

Yesterday I took it to my local framer, (although I was a little reluctant to part with it, even temporarily) He recommends giving it a wide, black frame, with the inside edge of the frame lined with gold, so that when seen from an angle the gold will be visible.

He recommended it on the basis that the print needs a dramatic presentation, to reflect the dramatic nature of the print. I think he is correct. I shall look forward to seeing it when it is done, and shall occupy myself in the meantime, in deciding where to hang it.

I also went into Bristol, to run some errands, one of which involved going to a branch of my bank. I don't go often, as I usually deal with them by phone or online, but needed to drop some documents off, and Bristol is my closest branch. I got there to find a member of staff on the door denying everyone entry.

After a confused moment wondering when the bank started to employ bouncers, and how I ought to dress or act to get past them, I asked him what was up, and he explained that unfortunately they had had to shut, as their roof had just collapsed! As excuses for being unavailable to assist their customers go, I guess it is quite a good one.

I suppose I should be glad I didn't get rained on too badly - it absolutely poured while I was on the train, but only drizzled while I was actually out of doors. Small mercies...

Monday, 23 April 2012

World Book Night

It was back in December, I think, that I saw that World Book Night was inviting people to sign up as 'givers', to distribute free books on World Book Night - 23rd April - chosen as it is UNESCO's 'International Day of the Book', Shakespeare's birthday, and death-day, and the day Cervantes died (although I learned today that Cervantes and Shakespeare in fact died on the same date, in the same year, but on different days, as Spain had adopted the Gregorian Calendar and England hadn't)

Anyway, I liked the idea of joining in, to share my love of books and reading, and to get the chance to give away books to people who might not otherwise be reading, so I sent in my application, and forwarded the links to friends I thought might be interested in doing the same, and then I waited. And in February, I got an e-mail to say my application had been accepted, and I would get to play.

I'd had a hard time picking which of the books to ask for, but decided upon 'Good Omens', partly because it's a great book, one which I go back and re-read on a regular basis, and partly because I felt it was more approachable than some of the other books on the list, and that a book which makes people laugh might encourage them to read more in the future.

This is, after all, supposed to be something you do for pleasure! (Don't get me wrong, I love Pride and Prejudice, for instance, which is another of the books on this year's list, but for people who have been put off reading at school, I suspect Austen may just feel like more of the same...)

Last week I got an e-mail to say I could pick my books up, and so on Friday night I went to the Library to collect them - 24 beautiful new books!

Opening up the box and unwrapping the books, I felt like a child on Christmas morning. And, since I had to take the books out of the box anyway, in order to write their unique ID numbers in the front, it seemed only right to play with them a little, and make an interesting heap out of them...

Then, today, it was time to start giving the books out. When I applied, I explained that I would aim to give some of the books out via work - in particular to clients involved with Social Services. I hoped to give some to neighbours, too, as it's long been clear to me that books and reading are not a big part of the lives of most of my neighbours.                                                                           
It turned out that I had to be in court today, so I packed half the books into a bag and took them with me. The court was less busy than I'd expected, but I was able to give a copy to one of the security officers at the door, one to a server at the coffee shop outside, and one to lady waiting for hearing.

Later on, after getting home, I was able to give one to a neighbour (she told me she wasn't really much of a reader, I explained that meant she was exactly who the book was supposed to be for, and she smiled, and accepted it) and then walked down to my local chip-shop and gave several more to people waiting for their food. My favourite was the young man in a hoodie, slouched in the corner of the shop. He watched as I gave a book to the woman ahead of him in the queue, and then when I offered him one, he replied "really? No-one ever gave me a book before!" he seemed so surprised, not only to be given a book, but also, I think, that he was offered one, just the same as the other people waiting. I do hope he reads it. I do hope he enjoys it.

I still have quite a few copies, and I shall be trying to give away more tomorrow, when I shall be at my local Social Services offices. And then to the supported house for teenage mums, and the half-way house for those overcoming addiction. I'm sorry I couldn't make it to both of those this evening, but I believe that giving the books away 'on or near' World Book Night counts, and this way I should have time to explain a little why there is a strange woman showing up on the doorstep and pressing books on the residents!

Happy World Book Night, everyone!

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Barefoot in the Park

I've always enjoyed Maureen Lipman's work, both as an actor and writer, so when I saw that she would be appearing  at Bath Theatre Royal I booked my ticket immediately, and last night, I went to the show.The play was 'Barefoot in the Park' by Neil Simon, which I think it would be fair to say is not a heavyweight show.

The plot follows a young couple in the first days of their marriage, in their first, small, apartment, as they  meet their (odd) neighbour, and deal with the Bride's mother, and with their first row.

It *is* funny, although there are some aspects which are a little dated, especially in the relationships and expectations of the husband and wife (there is, for instance, no suggestion that the young wife might look for a job)

However, I did enjoy the play (other than the couple behind me who decided to chat loudly throughout the first act, despite glares from everyone around them. I mean, why bother to fork out £60 or more for a pair of tickets and then chat rather than watch the play?)

I will be looking out for Faye Castelow and Dominic Tighe (who played the young couple) in future productions, as, other than occasionally allowing their American accents to slip, both were excellent.

An enjoyable evening. And having made a spate of bookings, I am also looking forward to seeing Anne Boleyn, Matthew Bourne's Early Adventures and Henry V over the next few weeks.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Thoughts on a Drunk

I've been young. I've been drunk. Often both together.

I'm not entirely unfamiliar with the scenario which involves wandering a little unsteadily along the street in stocking feet, clutching impossibly high heels in one hand, and occasionally hugging a lamp post. Admittedly, I've usually been the slightly-more-sober-friend (query: is this likely to be a cause, or an effect, of being unable to walk in really high heels to start with?)

BUT: I'm sure that when I was young and foolish (and occasionally drunk) I'm sure that that stage in the evening didn't happen until very late. In fact, I'm pretty sure it didn't happen until the following morning, around 2 a.m. Usually in time to miss the last bus home and end up sleeping on a friend's floor. Or, if one is fortunate in one's friends, spending the night sleeping at a friend's home, and only realising when you get up the next day later the same day that the friend has given you the beds and has spent the night in the sofa.

Anyway, I was out at the theatre last night, and it struck me, as I was walking back to my car,and having to manoeuvre around several young women in that condition  that 10.15 p.m. was awfully early to be in that state.

Am I getting old?

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Ode Warrior!

On Wednesday evening, I went to see Mitch Benn and the Distractions, at the Rondo Theatre, in Bath. It's not the first time I've seen them, and of course I also enjoy hearing Mitch on the The Now Show.The Rondo is a teeny tiny theatre - I believe it seats around 100 people, so even if you're seated at the back, you're still very close to the stage!

I really enjoyed myself. I've seen Mitch several times before, so I had very high expectations, which were more than met! And I persuaded my friend Cheryl to come along, and I think I've converted her, too. Her review is here.

There were lots of new songs, including an excellent song about love (and allergies) written and sung by Kirsty Newton, and another about the Queen Mother's love of Jamaica...

Mitch wrote a song during the interval, (featuring the Titanic memorial cruise, and the extradition of Abu Hamza) which would have been impressive had it been pre-written, and was at least doubly so having been written in the 20 minutes or so of the interval.

I particularly enjoyed Mitch's Eurovision song (here - listen), which reminded me of what Flanders and Swann might have done if they had been allowed to use rude words, and of course, one of my absolute favourites, "I'm Proud of the BBC"

If you find Mr Benn is performing anywhere near you, go see him. And if he isn't, go and listen to the Now Show on Radio 4, and search for him on youtube.

You won't regret it.

(tour dates and stuff here

[Edited to add: Can't BELIEVE I forget to mention the song about Quantum Mechanics! There was a song about Quantum Mechanics, people!]

Friday, 13 April 2012

A Night with George

This is a little out of order, as I had forgotten I'd not had time to blog it immediately after the event!
Last Wednesday saw me headed in Bath, to St Michael's Church (St Michael Waitrose, as it tends to be known, due to it's location) in order to hear George RR Martin speak.

George was visiting prior to his appearance as Guest of Honour at EasterCon, and clearly also has a lot of fans in or around Bath!

They had wedged in all the chairs the church could possibly hold, and they were, soon, all full. I managed to find seats for myself and Cheryl near the front, and settled in to wait.

This being a Toppings event in a church, the evening began with the obligatory slightly uncomfortable prayer. This time, the vicar (I think a different one from last time) was a little more aware of the fact that not everyone in the building was necessarily christian, or religious, which I suppose is progress.

Then the meat of the evening! The first half of the evening was George being interviewed, with the second part being a short QandA and a short reading from the newest, and as yet unpublished, book.

George started by taking a little about his childhood, and how he started out making up stories about feuds and intrigues amoug his pet turtles (partly to explain why they so frequently died), then later discovered fiction, and in particular science fiction and fantasy, and Tolkien.

He moved on to speaking about his books, and his inspiration - he explained that he reads historical fiction and popular history, and that he became frustrated that in so many fantasy novels, writers take a quasi-medieval setting, but import 20th C American characters and attitudes, where peasants can give kings a good talking too. He wanted to make fantasy more realistic. He also explained that he is inspired by real events and places - for instance, a visit to Hadrian's Wall led him to consider how much more impressive the wall would be, if it were much, much taller, and made of ice...

In the QandA he revealed that he had a cameo role in the pilot episode of the TV series, (wearing an enormous hat) but the footage wasn't used, as a different actor was cast for the full series. And that he wanted to be a severed head on the wall, but apparently making severed heads of actual people is expensive..
He also talked about killing characters. He said that it was always difficult. He also pointed out that Joe Abercrombie, who, he said, "makes [me] look like Mary Poppins" was in the audience!

It was a fascinating evening. As we were seated near the front I was able to queue to get a book signed without having to wait for too long (and it would have been a very long wait).

Thursday, 12 April 2012


After all our shopping, we headed down to Devon, to my parents home, for the Easter weekend. Both my sisters were there, plus K's fiance. On Saturday evening, we decided to support local enterprise by visiting the local pub (One of the many good things about my parents' home is that the pub is within easy walking distance. And it has good beer)

Sunday morning involved ringing for some of us: my parents have been teaching a group of people to ring, as there was no local band in the village when they moved there. The church has been having some building works done, as a result of which the bells have not been available since just after Christmas, and Easter Day was the first service (other than a wedding the previous afternoon) for which the bells were rung.

I had got up early-ish, so decided to join my mum and dad and have a quick ring, then I left them to it, bought a Sunday paper or two and wandered back to the house. The field opposite their house is currently full of sheep and lambs, and I enjoyed hearing the bells and the bleating of the lambs.

As they were predicting rain, for later, we decided to head out to the seaside for a walk after breakfast, and we went to Baggy Point.
It was a greyish day, but didn't actually rain on us while we were walking. There were lots of people there, but also lots of wild flowers - I spotted primroses, violets, thrift, bladder campion, and a few others whose names I didn't know. There were skylarks, singing their best, and black-blacked gulls, looking sinister. In the sea were many surfers, inspired more by hope than reality, as the sea was flat as a pancake.

We then divided the party, with the more energetic half going on for a longer walk (and later, I heard, ending up in a pub) and the more decrepit half of the party walking back, via a small National Trust cafe with some of the slowest service I have met with for some considerable time! (The cake was nice, but it wasn't nice enough to justify the wait!)

And later, it being Easter, we ate roast lamb, with all the trimmings.

Easter Monday, being a bank holiday, was naturally soaking wet. I don't think it stopped raining at all, so we were forced to stay indoors, reading and eating chocolate and other good things. It was most restful.

And while my sisters both then departed, to drive home in the rain, I had booked Tuesday as a day off, so was able to stay on, and drove home in sunshine (and occasional hail) on Tuesday afternoon. It was a nice weekend.

Saturday, 7 April 2012


So, my sister, K is getting married in August and me and my other sister, E, are to be bridesmaids. Which of course meant that we need to buy frocks.

So, after much e-mailing, we arranged that both sisters would come to my house onThurday night, with a view to our having a major shopping trip on Friday (which, being Good Friday, was a Bank Holiday so none of us had to work)

They duly arrived on Thursday evening, and I plied them with food and alcohol with a view to lulling them into a sense of security, and then on Friday we got up almost as if it were a real work day, in order to get to the shops early, before they became too crowded.

We started with Clarks Village in Street, which has lots of sale/outlet shops, then went to Bristol, Cribbs Causeway (an out of town shopping centre which turns out to be way smaller than I remembered) and finally went to Bath. we spent around 7 hours all together (including about 2 1/2 hours travel time). this is about 5 hours longer than my normal tolerance time for shopping, but we were ultimately successful.

We found, and bought, some lovely full length navy blue dresses (these, for those keeping track) which seem to work for both of us,) of course, this isn't the end of the preparation - we still have to work out shoes, and jewellery, and flowers and whether or not we shall have anything in our hair, but it is a big step. And while shopping is not, by any means, my favourite pastime, it was good to spend some time with my sisters.

Having sorted our outfits, we were then all able to travel down to my parents' home, where we met up with K's fiance, and are all set to spend the Easter weekend together.

So farm this has involved some lovely food, and a trip to the pub. I approve.

(we have also inspected, and approved, my mother's 'Mother of the Bride' dress. Somehow, I think sourcing and approving a suitable tie for my father's 'Father of the Bride' will, by comparison, be very straightforward !)

She Stoops to Conquer

I have been a bit slow to blog about my theatre going. Last week, I was due to go to London, to meet up with my oldest, best friend and her partner, and to see  a live performance of 'The Comedy of Errors' with Lenny Henry. I was also due, on the Thursday, to go to the cinema to see a broadcast performance of 'she Stoops to Conquer'. Only one of those plans worked out...

On the Thursday evening I went to Bath, to the little theatre cinema, to see She Stoops to Conquer. I was a little underwhelmed. the comedy is fairly broad, and in this production I felt that many of the performances spilled over from 'exagerated for comedic effect' into over-acting. Mrs Hardcastle, for instance, (the archetypal Hyacinth Bucket) puts on so affected a 'posh' voice as to be almost incomprehensible, and both she and the other characters come across as being such exaggerated characters that I was left wondering whether I had stumbled  to a pantomime instead of a 'real' play. I suspect that this was attributable to the director, rather than the actors, but I was left rather disappointed by the production.

As a result of this being somewhat disappointing, I was looking forward even more to seeing 'Comedy of Errors', especially as I had seen Lenny Henry as 'Othello' 2 years ago, and knew how good he was in that. Sadly, on Friday morning I woke up with a stomach bug, and although i was starting to recover by Saturday morning, I was far from well enough to go to London. I was so eager to go that I did try - I went to the station to catch the train, but when the effort of trying to walk up the stairs to cross to the platform caused me to almost black out, I was forced to admit that I could not go to  London. I ended up returning home and going back to bed for 2 days, and it was a week before I was back to normal, but it was all Very Disappointing.

The only small mercy was that as it was my BFF, not me, who booked the tickets, she did have them, so at least my being ill did not stop them from seeing the play. Sadly, the performance we had tickets for was the last performance but 2, so there was no chance of my being able to re-book and see it once  had recovered.


Sunday, 1 April 2012


My friend Dragonsally has blogged, here, about her pettion requesting Blogger to reinstate the option to subscribe to comments. She says;

"If you follow any blogs on blogger, you'll have discovered that they recently introduced a new format, and have done away with (o lost) the ability for commenters to subscribe to follow up comments.

This is destroying the sense of community on blogs, so I've set up the following petiton.

Please share this on all your blogs - where ever they are hosted because this is something that I imagine has affected us all.

The petition address. "

I agree. Do please sign.

Death Comes to Pemberley (In more ways than one)

It pays to be cautious about sequels,  especially when they are written by someone other than the original author. Some, of course, are good. I enjoyed the first 2 of Jill Paton Walsh’s sequels to Dorothy L Sayers’ Peter Wimsey books, despite a few “yes, but” moments, and the occasional anachronism.

On the other hand, despite enjoying his other books, I couldn’t get into Eoin Colfer’s Hitchhiker sequel at all, to the extent of giving up without finishing it, which I very rarely do. I can’t not finish things, it makes my eyeballs twitch. (And technically I haven’t not finished it. it's still there on the bookcase, with a bookmark in. *twitch* *twitch*)

 All of which is leading up to the fact that I have just read P.D.James’s sequel to Pride & Prejudice, Death Comes to Pemberley’. I had high hopes of it. The reviews I’ve seen were positive, I enjoy P.D.James’s other books, and I love P&P.

Unfortunately, I found it very disappointing, and didn’t feel that it successfully captured either the flavour of the period, or of the original book.

I would assume that the obvious audience for a Pride and Prejudice sequel would be people who are familiar with Pride and Prejudice, so the lengthy recap at the start of the novel felt both clumsy and unnecessary, and for me, there was a similar problem throughout the novel – the research felt very obtrusive and clunky, in a “look, I’ve researched this slightly unusual term and am going to explain it v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y in case you can’t get it from contest, then use it constantly even though there are equally valid and better known alternatives” way, while at the same time, there were places where things seemed not to have been researched – for instance, when the news of the death is broken to the servants, we learn that there are “16 pairs of eyes” – even if this only relates to indoor servants, it seems a amazingly low number of servants for a man as wealthy as Darcy. (between 25-50 servants would be a more realistic number, and as the book is set just before a ball, it’s unlikely that any would have been given time off just then…

The plot, too, was disappointing and, in many ways inconsistent with the period and source material - I’m unconvinced, for instance, that someone in Mr Darcy’s position in 1803 would have felt it necessary, or even appropriate, to recuse himself from involvement as a Magistrate – indeed, since one of the things we know about Mr Darcy is his strong sense of duty and obligation, it would have seemed far more in character for him to have insisted on taking the lead into enquiring into a crime which happened on his own estate.

 I also felt the almost complete focus on the upper class characters as potential suspects, and the total lack of any suggestion that the crime could have been the work  of any servant, worker, poacher, footpad, deserter or discharged soldier to be so unlikely as to be unbelievable, and this is one of the issues which made me feel that James had not really got the flavour of the period at all.

This would have been less of an issue if the book had shone in other respects, but for me, it didn’t. The murder mystery itself was dull and predictable – I have checked, and my copy doesn’t in fact have large neon arrows in the text saying “Look! This is a clue” but it might as well have. I kept reading, waiting for a clever twist, but there wasn’t one. And the characters were so un-engaging that it was impossible to care who, if anyone, was either responsible or punished for the murder.

And despite several reviews claiming that James had captured Austen’s voice and style (‘pitch perfectly’, apparently) that didn’t come across to me, either. Elizabeth Bennet/Darcy has become a dull housewife, for instance, and Lydia, Wickham and Jane Bingley seem to have no character whatsoever. None of them seem to have anything in common with the original characters, and I found the style remarkably heavy-handed and dull,  which are not words which come to mind when describing Austen’s style.

There were one or two small mitigating factors – primarily including off-stage characters. There is a description of a letter from Mr Collins which is both funny and consistent with his character, and a reported comment by Lady Catharine de Bourgh, but 2 paragraphs in a book of this length is really not enough!

Still, I guess someone else might enjoy it, so I’ll be donating the book to the library,(Unless anyone else here wants it?)