Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Bank Holiday

For some reason, we get two bank holiday Mondays in May. (I feel they could usefully move one of the into the bank holiday desert which runs from August to December, but they are nice when they happen)

This weekend has turned out to be warm and sunny, and I decided to make the best of the weather on Monday, by visiting one of our local landmarks, the White Horse at Westbury.

Bratton Hill at Westbury has clearly been an important place for a very long time. There is a Neolithic Long-Barrow there, around that the walls and ditches of an Iron Age fort.

It's difficult to give an idea of the hill fort from pictures - the one above is taken from the ditch between the inner and outer wall - the whole thing is very big, and dramatic (and full of sheep)  You can see it fairly well on Google Maps.

View Larger Map

The fort is about 2,000 years old, and it appears that the Iron Age population preserved the Neolithic Barrow inside the fort.

The White Horse itself is believed to have first been carved into the chalk of the hill in the mid 17th Century, although it was re-cut in the 1770's by someone rather better at drawing horses, and since the 1950s it has been covered in concrete, which doesn't require so much maintenace.

I love the new facts one can learn by reading the information boards at places like this. I knew that there are lots of White Horses around the place, and that most of them are fairly modern (Uffington is the exception, being about 3,000 years old).

What I didn't know is that one of the reasons so many 18th Century West Country land owners chose to add white Horses to their hills was that there was a belief that the original, Uffington Horse had been carved by (Or at least on the orders of) King Alfred the Great, to commemorate his victory over the Danes, and of Christianity over Pagans, and therefore the White Horse was seen as symbolic of that fine, upstanding English Christianity personified by King Alfred.

Another reason may have been as a demonstration of more modern patriotism; a white horse features on the coat of arms of the house of Hanover, and of course George I, the first of the Hanovarian Kings of England, came to the throne in 1714, about 25 years before the Westbury White Horse was first recorded.

We shall probably never know, but whatever the reasons for its creation, it's an arresting sight, and a lovely site for a walk.

Monday, 27 May 2013

What I did for the rest of the day

My last post was about my trip to see 'The Hothouse', which was the main purpose of my day trip to London. However, that didn't take all day, I had time to take in a few other points of interest.

I started by going to The Illustration Cupboard, a small gallery/shop, which is currently showing the illustrations from David Almond / Dave McKean's new book, 'Mouse. Bird, Snake, Wolf' .

They are gorgeous (there's a full list, with images, on the gallery's site), and since I got home I have been looking down the back of the sofa in the vain hope of finding £1,500 or so, so I can go back and buy one.(I especially like 'They Made a Wolf', if anyone has a sudden urge to buy me an unbirthday present). The gallery also has lots of other nice art and prints.

My second non-theatre-y indulgence, after the play finished,  before I caught my train home, was more art, at the National Gallery, which has the advantage of being close to the theatre, and of being free, so its possible to call in and spend a little time visiting a few highlights, without feeling that you've wasted the visit.

I spent most of the time I had looking at some of the galleries earliest works, among them one of my personal favourites, the  Wilton Diptych, which was made for King Richard II, at the end of the 14th Century.

I love the way that the angels all wear Richard's badge (even if some of them look pretty bored).  I particularly like the white stag on the back of the diptych.

I also enjoy the other early works - the gallery has a couple of Uccellos (including a delightful St George and the Dragon (which seems to show that the dragon was in the RAF, so it seems a little unpatriotic to have killed it...)

Leaving the Gallery I found that Trafalgar Square was full of many competeing groups of Morris Dancers. Which was unexpected. I'd noticed that the pub I ate lunch in seemed to have an unusually high number of men in white with bells round their knees, but I just put it down to the local clientele!

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

'The Hothouse'

A few months ago I saw that John Simm was going to be appearing in a play in London, and as I still haven't really got over the fact that I missed seeing his Hamlet when that was on, I decided that this time, I'd make it to see him.

He is appearing in The Hothouse, and as I realised after booking, not only does it feature Simm, but also Simon Russell Beale (who I last saw in the cinema broadcast of the National Theatre's Timon of Athens). The rest of the cast is equally impressive:
Harry Melling (best know as Dudley Dursley, but unrecognisable)
Christopher Timothy (who has got somewhat older since playing James Herriott),
Clive Rowe (among other things, he was in the Voyage of the Damned episode of Doctor Who),
Indira Varma (Suzie Costello of Torchwood) and
John Heffernan (I don't think I've seen him before, but I think he is going to be one to watch)

I haven't seen the play before, and decided not to read any reviews before seeing it, so as to see it fresh.

The play is set in an Institution. It's never explained what  kind of institution, whether it is a rest home, a psychiatric hospital, or something more sinister - we never see any of the inmates (patients?), although we hear wails and screams, and learn that they are known by numbers, not names, and that they are locked into their rooms., and everything is run under the distant control of The Ministry

Simon Russell Beale is Roote, the director of the institution, initially merely ineffectual, but as the play proceeds, increasingly, frighteningly unhinged and unpredictable. Simm's Gibbs is coldly efficient, the perfect 'company man', apparently more in control of himself than the other staff members, (and perhaps therefore more culpable) .

As the play unfolds, we learn that one inmate has died, another has given birth, probably as a result of rape by one of the members of staff. We see the hapless Lamb (Harry Melling) subjected to mental and physical abuse in the name of experimentation, and things do not end well.

Despite the nature of the setting and subject matter of the play, it is full of very funny moments - as long as you don't think too closely about what you are laughing at. It's a very strong cast, and well worth seeing.

(oh, and I'm even more disappointed I didn't get to see Simm as Hamlet)

Monday, 13 May 2013

Space Oddity

This is all over the internet, as it should be.

What could be better than Commander Chris Hadfield, real live Astronaut, performing a cover version of Bowie's 'Space Oddity' IN SPACE!

Truly, we are living in the future!

Saturday, 11 May 2013

The Wheelie Bin Saga

We have rather a lot of bins.

- A grey wheelie bin, for general rubbish
- A green wheelie bin, for garden waste
- A black wheelie bin with a blue lid, for cardboard and recyclable plastic
- A black box, for newspaper, glass and tins.

Which is a bit irritating, as there is nowhere to keep any of them except on the street in front of the houses, and there is not really enough space for 3 big bins. I was able to get smaller bins for the grey and green ones, but they don't offer smaller ones for the recycling (and really, who produces 240 litres of cardboard and plastic a fortnight?)

ANYWAY, in January, the bin-men broke the lid of my blue-lidded bin.

"No Problem", I thought. "Wiltshire Council has a handy on-line form you can complete to report such things, and they will then replace or repair your bin."

I filled in the form, and received an acknowledgment, which warned that it might take 21 days to replace/repair a bin.

Time passed. No new bin appeared.

More time passed. No new bin appeared.

Even more time passed..

In March, I sent a further mail to the council. Maybe council-days are longer thn normal ones, and "up to 21 days" really means "2 months or more"

I got a response. It seems that my original request had been cast into a deep pit of forgetfulness. But they were very sorry and I would get a new bin within 21 days.

Time passed (again). No new bin appeared.

More Time passed. No new bin appeared.

About 5 weeks after my second request, a brand new black recycling box appeared.

For reference, what I needed was a 240 litre wheelie bin. What I got was a 55 litre box, to replace the completely undamaged and usable box I already had.

I e-mailed the council again. I'm on first name terms with Jonathan in the waste and recycling department, now. He seems nice.

He apologizes. He will  try to sort things out. He warns me that it may take up to 21 days for my new wheelie bin to be provided...

Today, (a mere 121 days after my original request) I looked out of my window to see a crew of council workers removing my old, damaged bin and delivering a new one!

And then, about 90 minutes later, a second crew turned up, with another shiny new bin. I saw them standing outside trying to see how my bin was damaged, and I was only just in time to stop them taking the new one away (I mean, I hadn't had time to get attached to it, but I had stuck some sticky numbers on it to identify it as mine, and I should hate for it to be rejected so early in it's career.

The only thing is.... someone stole my recycling box yesterday, so I've just reported that and requested a new one.

I've got an e-mail back from the council.

They say it may take up to 21 days to replace my recycling box......