Tuesday, 28 January 2014

RIP Smart Car

My little car was inspected on Friday morning, and on Monday I got a text message (Honestly, this doesn't warrant a phone call?) from the underwriters,to say that they do not consider the car to be economical to repair so want to write it off. To be fair, they are probably right - its 12 years old, so not worth a vast amount, but I have owned it ever since it was new, and I got very attached to it.

So, I now have to buy a new (to-me) car. And I am finding the idea rather stressful, partly because I'm being bounced into buying at short notice. Also, because I am trying to move house, its  not the best time to be buying a car - I'd rather do it after I move, when I have a better idea of how much spare money I have. But needs must.

Ttoday, I had a conversation with the insurers to get hold of the engineers report to double check the figures, and to run it past my Smart guys (who confirmed that both the costs if it was repaired and the value are probably about right - it's not really possible to do a direct comparison, as there are very few of the age, make and model as mine around, and those which there are all have significantly lower mileage. The ones which are older are all left hand drive, as well, which makes it harder still. But I think if my garage who knows both the car, and the make, very well, think the figure is fair, then they are probably right.

So. I think I am going to hire a car for the next week or two so I have time to look around, rather than buying the first car I see because I have to give the hire car provided by the insurers back and need a car urgently - I think that spending £300 or so to make the time to find the right car rather than the first one I can find is probably a sensible idea.

But I can't really summon any enthusiasm for the task.

Monday, 27 January 2014

Mitch Benn, Music and Manchester

This last week has been very much better than the preceding one, in many, many ways. admittedly, the bar was set pretty low, by last week, but this week would, I think have been good even without that comparison!

On Wednesday evening I was in Bath to see Mitch Benn's new show, Mitch Benn is the 37th Beatle  which, as I understanding started out as his gig at the Edinburgh Festival. Its very good, and a lot of fun, even if, like me, you don't know much about the Beatles careers. There are a couple of songs which have appeared in Mitch's other shows, but the vast majority is completely new material, which is fun.

The gig in Bath was the first on the current tour, so there are lots of further opportunity for those of you in the UK to see it. I recommend it.

Then, this weekend, I travelled up to Manchester to spend the weekend with my best friend, ahead of her wedding in March, and to see my brother and his girlfriend.

I'm still pretty ouchy following the RTA I was involved in, and am finding driving pretty uncomfortable, so  2 long drives in 3 days seemed like a very bad idea, which meant I wound up getting the train to Manchester - it was a surprisingly smooth trip - not too crowded (at least once I was off the local train and onto the cross country one) and certainly less stressful than driving (particularly in an unfamiliar car) would have been. I'm not too keen on the courtesy car I've been given.

Once I arrived, I met up with J and we had lunch at the wonderfully kitsch  Richmond Tea Rooms, before heading back to her home, where we spent the evening catching up, with the help of some lovely food, and some rather nice prosecco!

On Saturday we went into Manchester for a pre-booked spa session, which had some interesting moments - we assumed that a treatment which involved a segment described as 'baking' might involve a degree of warmth. Apparently not. (and when you are half naked and covered in mud, you're not really in a position to go looking for a staff member to sort it out! Fortunately, good company makes up for everything, and we just got the giggles (and warmed up in the steam room, later on!)

On the Sunday, after saying farewell to J, I met up with my brother and his partner, and we had lunch, an abortive attempt at cocktails, and some beer, and lots of conversation. I've not seen them since I went up to visit them last summer,  so it was good to have the chance to catch up.

ANd then there was another long, and happily, uneventful, train journey home.

It was a fun weekend.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014


Last Wednesday was not a fun day.

I had a meeting at work so was a little later than usual going home. I was looking forward to a quiet evening, and was not at all happy when, as I innocently waited at a junction to turn left, another car slammed into the back of mine. Which was not fun.

The bloke who hit me did the right things - stopped, apologised, gave me his details, and I was able to get home (although there is a rather alarming light on the dashboard, and if I had seen then how far the back of the car was shoved in  might not have risked getting home. I'm not planning on driving it anywhere else until it has been checked out by someone competent to make sure that there is nothing important like the engine, or the back axle, damaged)

I also got myself checked out at the local hospital, where they reassured me that while everything would hurt lots, nothing important (such as, y'know, my spinal column) was anywhere it shouldn't be. Which is good. Although they are, unfortunately, correct about the whole everything hurting part.

However, I am trying to look on the bright side. Not least that fact that the car coming along the main road swerved in time and *didn't* hit me as I was shunted into its path. And I Ain't Dead Yet.

I am, so far, not overly impressed by the insurers - it feels as though everything has to be dealt  with by a different person in a different contracted out department, none of which are talking to each other, so things are not going very fast, And I suspect that the insurer may want to write off the car, as although the damage isn't huge, it's probably quite a lot in comparison with the value of my car, given that it is 12 years old. I hope not, as I really could do without the hassle of having to argue with them over valuation (which I believe is inevitable in those circumstances) and then having to try to buy a car in a hurry. So for now, I'm hoping I'm being overly pessimistic and that they will be able and willing to fix it!

Ah well.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

I am British: Hear me talk about the weather!

We have not been having sub-zero temperatures, or airport-closing snow, as is happening elsewhere, but we have been having some horrendous weather. Massive amounts of rain and wind.

I'm glad I don't live on the coast - this picture is Sennen Cove in West Cornwall.
Picture from 'I love Cornwall' on facebook
There is flooding in lots of coastal areas, and around Gloucester.  The Somerset levels are flooded.

Here, we've had pouring rain, which is unpleasant to be out in, and wind, and (yesterday) a fairly dramatic hailstorm - we had a ceiling leaking in one of our offices at work, which was no fun for the person who got an unexpected cold shower at her desk. We couldn't find any obvious holes or missing tiles - it may be down to the wind driving rain in, rather than an actual 'leak' - we'll have to see once it's checked out properly.

I walked down to the paper shop this morning - this is the little stream which goes under the bridge at the end of the road.

 And this is what it usually looks like (both taken from pretty much the same point!)

Apparently we are due for yet more rain and high winds over the next few days. My heart goes out to all those who have suffered, or are facing, flooded homes - I've been there, albeit to a fairly limited degree, and it's horrible.

I'm really hoping that things will improve soon.

And meanwhile I am counting my blessings - that I have not (yet, at least) suffered power cuts or flooding, and that my family are all safe, and my house appears to be weatherproof (at least, so far!)

Friday, 3 January 2014

Coriolanus (Or; Loki: Not Just a Pretty Face)

Way back in June, tickets went on sale for a production of 'Coriolanus'  at the Donmar Warehouse in London, with Tom Hiddleston  in the title role.

I was originally hoping to go with friends, but it appeared that everyone else had the same idea, and despite trying the moment that the tickets went on general sale, it was almost sold but immediately and I could only get a single ticket, and only on New Year's Eve.

So, New Year's Eve saw me setting off for London, on a surprisingly quiet train, travelling through water-logged country (but not as much flooding as I'd expected - most of the rivers were very full, but didn't, for the most part, seem to have burst their banks, or at least not within sight of the railway!) I'd built in lots of extra time in case of travel delays, so I arrived with plenty of time to check into my hotel (also booked back in June, which is just as well, it would have cost me more than twice as much had I left it to closer to the time to book!), eat and change before heading to Seven Dials and the Donmar Warehouse.

I haven't been there before - it's not a big space -just 4 rows of seats in the stalls, wrapped round 3 sides of the stage, and a slightly larger number of seats (I think) up in the circle. I was in the back row of the stalls, and right round almost at the end of the row, so I saw a lot of the action side on, but although this did mean missing some of the actors facial expressions at times, this wasn't a major issue. (and if I am 100% honest, there are worse fates, than to find oneself forced to stare at Tom Hiddleston's backside.. Or Hadley Fraser's, come to that.)

I haven't ever seen 'Coriolanus' before,(I saw parts of the Ralph Fiennes film version, but not all of it) and I am not familiar with the play (although I think  may read it now) and I think it has probably been cut quite a bit for this production, but it's not difficult to follow, and the lack of familiarity meant I was really focused on the dialogue, and not on waiting for familiar speeches or quotations.
For others who may be equally unfamiliar, the play focuses on Caius Martius,(later Caius Martius Coriolanus)  a noble of Rome. At the start of the play, we see the People of Rome are discontented, calling for bread, and fairly priced grain. Martius is one of the few to stand against them, sowing the seeds of their hatred of him. Mark Gatiss, as Menenius, is  more conciliatory and diplomatic (shades of his Mycroft, but much more approachable!)

In this production, there are few props or scenery, and the citizens mark their discontent with graffiti on the brick wall at the back of the stage, the Senate is represented by a row of chairs, and other than a lectern there are no other furnishings. Costumes are similarly sparse - a mixture of modern clothes with swords and leather breastplates which works surprisingly well.

Martius goes off to war, and we meet his formidable mother, Volumnia (Deborah Findlay) and his wife, Virgilia (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen). Volumnia is clearly the kind of Roman mother who expects her sons to return bearing their shields or upon them - and Findlay and Hiddleston do a fantastic job of showing the relationship between mother and son - it's obvious that Volumnia has shaped Coriolanus's character - he is desperate for her approval, and she is single minded in her pride.

We then see Martius as soldier, taking part in the war against the Volscians - at the siege of Corioli, he is the ultimate soldier - where others falter and  are willing to give up, (in the face of rains of ash, and fire) he swarms up a ladder and into the city, to reappear, bloodied from head to toe, as his companions give him up for lost, pausing only to reassure them before moving on to engage the Volscian general, Aufidius (Hadley Fraser) in single combat. he is, perhaps inevitably, victorious.  The fight was a very physical one, with the actors sword-fighting, then wrestling, throwing each other around the stage.

I admit that I lost the plot very slightly here. On account of that nice Mr Hiddleston taking his top off and having a quick shower. In a way which was, I am sure, entirely necessarily and justified. I'm sure Shakespeare would have said so, too. There is probably a footnote in a lost folio somewhere suggesting it.

Anyway, after his shower, and being given the name Coriolanus for conquering Coriolis all on his own, Coriolanus returns to Rome where he falls out with the populous due to his unwillingness to play politics. All joking aside, Hiddleston was superb - he brilliantly conveyed a mixture of contempt for the system and pride in his own achievements - as Coriolanus spectacularly, and inevitably, shoots himself in the foot.

It was at this point that I started to doubt the wisdom of the early Romans. It seems to me, that if you have a spectacularly successful soldier who has recently single-handedly invaded and defeated a rival city-state, then it is, to say the least, a little short-sighted to piss him off, throw rotting fruit at him and banish him from the city. You might make him angry, and you won't like him when he is angry..

Whatever his other failings (personal relationships, for one) Coriolanus doesn't lack chutzpah, and goes straight to Aufidius (last seen, if you recall, being comprehensively defeated both in battle and in single combat by Coriolanus) to put himself forward as a conquering-general-for-hire, in a home-erotic scene which leaves you wondering whether Aufidius is going to cut Coriolanus's throat, or take him to bed...

By this point, it's not hard to see that things are not going to end well, and they don't. Coriolanus is, ultimately, a tragic hero, and he finds himself, inevitably, at the gates of Rome at the head of an invading army, facing first his friend and mentor Menenius, and then his wife, child, and mother, as they try to persuade him not to invade and conquer his former home. The moment when he gives in to his mother's entreaty, and you can see him make that choice, to sacrifice himself, rather than his wife, son, and mother, is heartbreaking. Particularly as Volumnia seems unaware of the consequences of her action.

The play concludes with Coriolanus submitting to Aufidius's judgement for having failed to drive home his attack on Rome, and is executed (lots more blood.)

Over all? If I want to be picky, there were times when the use of the chairs on stage as props was a bit irritating, and I felt that the small child playing Coriolanus's son was mostly a distraction (He didn't speak until the final scenes, but appeared at various points to do.. nothing much)

But these are very minor points - the positives are much greater, and I loved that hiddleston gives us a Coriolanus who is very human. 

The run at the Donmar is completely sold out, but the production is being broadcast to cinemas as by NTLive - on 30th January in the Uk, and other dates elsewhere - well worth seeing if you manage it (I'm going - I want to see it all again)

And did I mention? that Hiddleston is a damn fine actor.