Friday, 20 October 2017

A Grand Day out in Salisbury

As you'll have seen from Monday's post, I went to Salisbury on Sunday.  My main purpose in visiting was to go to the Terry Pratchett exhibition but since I was there, I also visited the rest of the museum, and the Cathedral. (I've been before, but I like cathedrals!)

The museum is not large, but it has some rather nice bits and pieces, including a Royal Charter from 1461, with lovely illumination, and the seal of Edward IV, a Roman mosaic, and various artefacts from Stonehenge and the surrounding area.



Then I went into the cathedral, which happens to be hosting an exhibition at present, called Threads Through Revelation, which is an exhibition of embroidery and other textile art, by an artist named Jacqui Parkinson, based on the Book of Revelation.



I enjoyed the art. 





This is part of a panel featuring the four horsemen of the apocalypse. (which made a nice contrast to the Paul Kidby Horsemen, in the Terry Pratchett exhibition)



And a lovely seven headed dragon (part of the same larger panel). I assume that it is a Hellbeast of some kind, but I found it rather appealing...



The cathedral has a beautiful modern font, which acts like a reflecting pool for the nave.

There are also some gorgeous carvings - below is a section of the ceiling of the chantry chapel, which seems to have escaped the worst excesses of the puritans!


There is also a lot of fairly modern stained glass, including this, the 'prisoners of conscience' window (although the photos doesn't really do justice to the colours)


I didn't, on this occasion, visit their copy of Magna Carta, but if you are planning to visit Salisbury, you might wish to know that they have one, which lives in the Chapter House.

After all this culture I took myself to a nice pub for a belated lunch. It was the Haunch of Venison,  which bills itself as the oldest hostelry in Salisbury - the building is mentioned as having been used to house men working on the building of the cathedral spire, in 1320, although I think there have been a few alterations since then! It does have a mummified hand in the snug and some rare Victorian beer pumps, and it served some very nice food!

I enjoyed my day out.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Weird Weather - Hurricane Ophelia


Hurricane Ophelia has been in the news (although technically it has been downgraded to a storm), and this morning (Monday) we were seeing the early effects. 

Unlike Ireland, we were not in the main path of the storm, but it was showing its influence - the sky was a strange yellowish-grey this morning, with an ominous red sun. It was so dark that I had to keep the  lights on in the house, and was definitely  very strange, and more than a little eerie.



Later in the day, it became sunny and bright, but the wind got more powerful. I haven't been out, and while we were forecast gusts of up to 50 mph, I think we are past the worst, and, at least in my immediate vicinity, without any significant damage. 

I hope that those of my fiends who are in Ireland, or in the parts of this country closer to the heart of the storm, are all safe and with their property undamaged.

Inevitably, there has been a lot of discussion of the Great Storm of 1987, which was exactly 30 years before the current storm.

I remember that storm: We lost a couple if trees from the garden in that storm (including the Victoria Plum, which was a shame- we had several trees which bore unappetising damsons, but the Victoria Plum was pretty much the only one we had which had edible fruit) and I am fairly sure that that was when the back garden wall came down and we found a cow wandering in the garden in the morning!

We were without power for about a week, which was not fun, as we had no heating other than a smoky fireplace in the living room, and no cooking facilities other than a tiny, camping gas  single ring. I remember making arrangements to go and shower at a friend's house, as we were one of the last in the area to get our power back.

No doubt to those living in regions where hurricanes are common it all seems fairly minor, but we only get these events once every 30 years or so, and it's neither expected or familiar to us. 

I hope those affected will be back to normal soon. 

Monday, 16 October 2017

Terry Pratchett - His World

On Sunday, I took a day trip to Salisbury, to visit the Terry Pratchett exhibition at Salisbury Museum.

It's not huge, but there are a lot of interesting things.

There is a recreation of PTerry's study, with many  of his possessions on display - his desk (complete with cat-bed), the Luggage, lots of art..



 and a very interesting library book (spot the banananana book mark!) 




There are some of Terry's original sketches, showing his ideas of what Rincewind and Granny Weatherwax look like.


The exhibition also has lots of Terry's personal items - including the sword which he made, himself, from metal mined on his own land, and including some thunderbolt iron (meteor rock) 

Other items include Terry's Blue Peter badge, his Carnegie Medal, and of course, one of his iconic black hats.

There were also some of the rarer writings - a short story written for his school magazine, and a hand-coloured copy of 'The Carpet People', for instance.

And of course, lots of artwork. Some very familiar, such as original cover art for some of the books, and others that are less familiar.


I enjoyed the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse. And 'Discworld Gothic', (with Miss Flitwick and Good Old Bill Door), which I do not recall having seen before!

The notes (or footnotes)  for each exhibit are fascinating - some are quotes from the man himself, others from people (such as Rob Wilkins, Paul Kidby and Neil Gaiman, who knew him well.



And one or two other little touches, like the label on the Mona Lisa sketch...

Towards the end of the exhibition is a section including  a long quote from Terry about the embuggerance, and some incredibly poignant examples of the tests he was taking to measure the progression of his disease.




Generously, however, the curators didn't leave us there - there is a also a small section with things which have happened since Terry's death - details of the Order of the Honey Bee, a copy of the script for 'Good Omens' (tantalisingly showing only the cover page!), cover art for 'The Shepherd's Crown', and what looks suspiciously like a hard draft which has has a run in with a steam-roller.

Upstairs, there is a small, separate exhibit of Paul Kidby's work.

And as you leave that, there is a wall for memories of Terry, on which a number from people who knew him well, as well as those of fans and visitors to the exhibit, are posted. And you're encouraged to post your own, so the Ankh-Morpork Post Office has kindly provided sheets of paper, and a pillar-box, into which  memories can be placed..



I also took the opportunity to look around the rest of the museum, and I noticed that the Nac Mac Feegles seem to have found their way in...


The exhibition is open until 13th January 2018. There are a fewmore pictures on Flickr

GNU, PTerry.

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Stephanie Burgis and Claire Fayers at the Bath Kids Lit Festival

I didn't book as many events as I often do, at this year's Bath Festival of Children's Literature, but one I was determined not to miss was the one with Stephanie Burgis and Claire Fayers, discussing Dragons.

I've been familiar with Stephanie's work for a while, since meeting her a BristolCon a few years back, and have enjoyed her work, which includes the 'Kat' trilogy (Regency romance with magic), Historical novels with Opera and Politics, and most recently, The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart , which is set in a place and time which (other than the dragons) has a certain similarity to an 18th C Germanic principality, so I wanted to go and say hello, and hear her talking about the newest book.



I haven't previously heard of Claire or her books, but having heard her read an extract and talk about her newest book, The Accidental Pirates -Journey to Dragon Island, which is the second in a series, I want to read them, and bought the first in the series after the event. 

Claire and Stephanie both talked about the earliest dragons which inspired them - Tolkien's Smaug, for Stephanie, and the Dragons in Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea for Claire (which I can identify with. Orm Embar was, and is, a favourite of mine, too.


Claire Fayers and Stephanie Burgis

There was some discussion about research. Stephanie selflessly researched chocolate-making and the finer points of chilli infused hot chocolate. Claire did not (she claims) go so far as to become a pirate, but did re-read 'Treasure Island', and watch lots of 1930's pirate / adventure movies in order to recognise and subvert their tropes (leading to sand vines - the kind of vines which, when you grab them to haul yourself out of quicksand, attack you)

There was also discussion about the next books each author is writing; coincidentally both involve fairies. Stephanie's next is set in the same world as The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart, but will be told from the perspective of Silke, Aventurine's friend. Claire's next is not part of the 'Accidental Pirates' series, but is instead set in a Victorian England, where one small town on the Welsh border is the last place in England where magic still works, and which is twinned with a similar town in Faerie. 

I like the sound of both, and look forward to reading them.

After the event, I was able to say hello to Steph and CLaire, and get both books signed, before heading home.

And, as it was Bookshop Day today, I also called in at one of my favourite bookshops, Mr B's Emporium of Reading Delights,  before the event, where I was able to pick up a copy of Fraces Hardinge's A Skinful of Shadows, together with this year's 'Books are my Bag' bag, and where I bumped into a friend of mine, which was lovely. 


So, all in all it was a very pleasant afternoon!

Also, you should all buy these books :) 

Friday, 6 October 2017

'Against' at the Almeida

I saw Ben Whishaw's performance in 'Bakkhai' at the Almeida theatre a little while go, and really enjoyed it, so when I saw that he was appearing there again, I decided to book.

This time, rather than a take on an ancient Greek myth, the play was a new one, 'Against' by Christopher Shinn, which explores the issue of violence in society, how we respond to it, anf whether it can be changed.


Ben Whishaw and Emma D'Arcy CREDIT: JOHAN PERSSON
Whishaw plays Luke, a  Silicone Valley billionaire who has a revelation, believing he has heard the voice of god, and is called to "go where the violence is", leading him to visit the family of a school shooter, and a college campus where there has been a high profile rape (or rapes).

Its an intriguing idea, posing questions about violence in society is seen, and how we talk about it, and also about how the original, fairly simple idea which Luke has, of listening to people and giving them a space for their stories, becomes more complex.

There are some interesting (and uncomfortable) scenes with Kevin Harvey, as a college lecturer (and former sex worker), whose determination to stand up for the marginalised (sex workers, those in unconventional relationships) results in his being intolerant and bullying towards anyone who doesn't share his views, brow-beating his student, Anna (Emma D'Arcy) about the (thinly veiled autobiographical) short story she has written, to try to persuade her to change it to reflect his views, and  pushing Luke to disclose whether, and to what, he masturbates..

Harvey also appears as Jon, a friend of Luke's, and the founder and CEO of Eclipse, an Amazon-esque company where Luke plans to make his next announcement. (and there is a sub-plot, (which doesn't quite work), with Elliot Barnes-Worrell and Adele Leonce as a pair of low-wage workers at Eclipse.

It is a play which provokes thoughts and questions, but doesn't really offer any answers, and I did feel that the final scene, which introduces a totally new character, might have worked better had we met that person earlier in the play.

It was a very interesting play, with a strong cast. 

The performance I saw was the penultimate one, so it's now closed. 

Monday, 2 October 2017

Chedworth Roman Villa

This post is a little out of order, but on my trip back from Stratford-on-Avon  after seeing Coriolanus I decided to call in to a small National Trust property, Chedworth Roman Villa.



The site was originally excavated in 1864, and is believed to have been built in around 120AD, and subsequently extended and rebuilt, before being destroyed in the 5th Century.

It's a fairly small site (although is apparently one of the larger Roman Villas in this country) 

There are lots of walls, most about 2' high, marking the various rooms of the villa (Roman brickwork, topped with modern tiles to prevent deterioration) and then a large section of the villa where mosaic floors have been uncovered, in what were the Dining Room and Bath House. 



I gather that there were further excavations this year, uncovering more mosaics, but they have been recovered to avoid damage, so I didn't get to see them!

The villa is in a lovely secluded area, and as I arrived just before it opened, I had it to myself for  little while, before it started to get busier.



There was also an art exhibition taking place while I was visiting, which was fun - lots of sculptures scattered around the grounds.

I particularly enjoyed this hawk, and the shoal of fishes.


Definitely a nice place to visit, and an interesting way to break the journey home.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

'The Real Thing' at Bath Theatre Royal

On Friday evening I went to see Tom Stoppard's The Real Thing, at the Theatre Royal Bath, prior to a tour.

The only other Tom Stoppard play I have seen is Rosencrantz and Guildernstern are Dead, so I wasn't sure what to expect.

It's certainly very different to R and G. It was written (and in this production is set) in the early 1980s, and stars Laurence Fox as Henry, a successful playwright, although we don't meet him until the second scene; the opening scene is (as we later learn) a scene from his most recent play, dealing with a successful architect (played by Henry's friend Max ( Adam Jackson-Smith )) who believes his wife (played by Henry's wife Charlotte (Rebecca Johnson)  has been unfaithful to him.


The play then revolves about Henry's relationships - we learn that he has been having an affair with Max's wife, actor Annie (Flora Spencer-Longhurst).

The play addresses issues of love, fidelity and infidelity, and art and writing in particular. There is an ongoing sub-plot about 'Brodie', a young Scottish soldier imprisoned for desecrating the Cenotaph, allegedly in protest against nuclear weapons. We learn early on that Annie is a member of a committee seeking to claim that he is a political prisoner, having met him on a train. She visits him in prison and encourages him to write a play based on his experiences, resulting in further discussions of good and bad writing, with an excellent cricket bat analogy. (And a little twist at the end of the play)

It was entertaining. Not, in my view, as much fun as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and more than a little brittle and self-indulgent, but definitely entertaining.

Full disclosure. Despite the photo on the front of the programme, Laurence Fox does not, at any point, take his top off. 

The play is on tour until 4th November.

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Zoë Keating at Kings Place

Several months ago, friends of mine pointed out that the wonderful  Zoë Keating would be giving a concert in London in September , and suggested that we should meet up an go, which, naturally, I agreed would be an excellent idea.

I had stayed with my friends the previous night, which was an added bonus - we got to eat cheese, and snuggle the cat, and catch up, and drink gin. (apparently I have led them astray, into the word of gin).

When we got to London we visited the British Library's 'Treasures of the British Library' exhibition, and went to Forbidden Planet, and spent dome time in a pub on the South bank (where we had good beer and mediocre food) 

Then for the main event!



King's Place is a new venue to me, and it is rather nice - big atrium, adjacent art gallery and National Newspaper) 

Thanks to my friends, we had excellent seats - dead centre of the third row, which was great.

Zoë then played a mixture of new and older pieces, giving us a brief introduction to each, and taking the opportunity to thank everyone who  provided or offered help (BA lost her Cello and luggage, on the flight from Germany. Apparently it finally arrived just an hour before the concert, so she had spent a lot of time trying to crowd-source a suitable cello an electronics).

It was very good, and came to a close with a little Beethoven.



For those of us who then hung around in the foyer, there was the added bonus that Zoë came out and chatted to us, briefly.

If you are not already familiar with Zoë's work, check out her web site (zoekeating.com) and buy the CDs.  You can thank me later.

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Coriolanus at the RSC

I've only seen one previous production of Coriolanus, three years ago,  at the Donmar (review here), so I was interested when I saw the RSC were including it in this season.



I did enjoy this production, but I didn't find the interpretation of the text as interesting, or Coriolanus's character, as compelling as in the last production I saw.

In particular, Coriolanus seemed to have little agency in his own life, and his final choice, to stop the assault on Rome in response to the pleas of his wife, mother and son, lost much of it's force, as he seemed not to realise the implications, seeming almost surprised that the Volscian's didn't accept his terms. I preferred a Coriolanus who recognised and accepted that his choice would have a terrible personal consequence.

However, I think this was a choice by the director rather than a reflection on the actors involved, all of whim I felt did solid work.


I do find it interesting to see different versions of the same play, and to see how the same text can be interpreted, but in this case, despite strong performances from Sope Dirisu (Coriolanus) and Haydn Gwynne (Volumnia) in particular, I found this one  little bit disappointing.

I fairness, though we did a preview, it may be that the production will find itself as the run continues.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Salt

My friend A and I had booked o see the RSC's new production of Coriolanus on Saturday evening and were thinking about where to eat before the show, and a different friend of mine recommended  Salt, which opened earlier this year, after chef Paul Foster and his wife raised the money to open it, via Kickstarter.

We went for lunch, and chose to go with the tasting menu, which involved 6 courses (plus optional cheese course) and was delicious!

We were tempted to try the special cocktail on arrival - a gin & prosecco fizz, which was also very nice!

The restaurant is small, with a relaxed feel, and the service was friendly and efficient.

After the bread (which was delicious, malty and warm, served with locally churned butter - very rich, with a hint of clotted-cream taste to it!) we started with tomatoes with a linseed cracker and a shaving of cheese - apparently very simply, but a wonderful, rich tomato flavour. 


Then the next course was mussel broth, with salted cod, peas and beans (and mussels, and something which I think was samphire.

Next came a carrot and chicken dish, 2 or 3 different types of carrot, some cooked in chicken fat, others pickled, together with crispy chicken skin, like a tiny, intensely chicken-y piece of melba toast!



Next came the main, perfectly tender pieces of lamb rump, which came on a black garlic emulsion and with tiny onions and vegetables.

This was followed by the (optional) cheese course, which we, of course, opted to have, after which came desserts - first lime curd with yogurt meringue and sorrel, which was light and refreshing. I'm not normally a fan of meringue, but this wasn't overly sweet, and with the tartness of the lime and sorrel it worked really well.  



After this came a second dessert of dark chocolate cream with raspberries and a chunk of white chocolate 'aero'. White chocolate isn't my thing, but the dark chocolate and raspberries, and the milk chocolate shard which came with it were all gorgeous.


This brought us to the end of the menu, I finished with a coffee and we were given little choux pastry buns to finish with - again,  not over sweet, with more raspberries (possibly freeze dried, I'm not sure).

It didn't feel as though we spent a long time over the meal, but when we came to leave I realised it was almost 4 o'clock, so we have been there over 3 1/2 hours!

A fine meal. I shall definitely be going back, next time I am in Stratford, although I imagine that as the restaurant becomes better known and better established, it may get harder to get a reservation! 

Monday, 4 September 2017

Yerma

I wasn't sufficiently organised to get tickets to see Yerma at the Young Vic, but fortunately for me, the play was filmed for live broadcast via 'NTLive' so I was able to see it at my local cinema.



I was very impressed, particularly with Billie Piper's incredibly powerful performance as the (un-named) protagonist, who we see as she is gradually torn apart by her desperation to have a child.

The play has a lot of humour in the early stages, but gets progressively darker, and  parts are absolutely harrowing.

I'm glad I got to see it, but unlike many plays, a part of me is glad that I saw it on screen, not in the more immediate and intimate setting of the theatre.

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Loki vs. The Printer

Normally, my printer lives upstairs in the box room, but it's getting a bit temperamental about talking to the wi-fi, so I moved it downstairs where it's easier to turn it off and back on. 

I don't use it very often, and I think this might have been the first time Loki's been in the room which I printed something.


Anyway, as he seemed so interested by the noises it made when I turned it on, I thought I'd video him when it actually printed. ....



Here he is, for your amusement!

Saturday, 2 September 2017

In Which there is cooking

Last weekend was a Bank Holiday weekend, and for the first time in a while, I was neither madly busy and rushing around all over, or away. 

So, I got caught up with some boring but necessary stuff, such as cleaning the house, cutting the grass, and trying to reduce the proportion of the 'lawn' which is made up of docks and plantains.

And did a bit of cooking. 

First, some honey gazed halloumi, which, though I do say so myself, was delicious, and incredibly easy to prepare. (pro tip. fry thick slices of lemon with the halloumi, and a bit of thyme, the juice means the honey glaze doesn't make it too sweet)  And I had peas and tomatoes from my own garden for the salad.

It only took about 10 minutes to make, which is excellent, particularly as it was such a hot day, so minimal cooking time was ideal.




Then on Sunday I tried my hand at a pissaladière. I'd been planning to do some kind of onion/tomato tart, and then in my weekend paper on Saturday I saw a recipe for pissaladiere, so decided to give that a go. 


I cheated a little, and used shop-bought puff pastry for the base, but that was the only shortcut. It was good, but I think if I do it again I will seriously cut down on the number of anchovies, as a little anchovy goes a very long way. But the roasted tomatoes and slow cooked onions were delicious, though I do say so myself! 

Who knows, next time I might even make my own pastry, too!

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

The Lady in the Van

On Friday, I went to Bath Theatre Royal to see Alan Bennett's The Lady in the Van. Which (for those who don't know) is a play which Bennett wrote based on his own experience, and friendship (or at least acquaintance) with 'Miss Shepherd'. Miss Shepherd was a homeless woman who lived in a Bedford Van, and who moved the Van into Bennett's front garden when the Council painted double yellow lines on the street, and stayed for 15 years until her death.

In the original play, and in the film adaptation, Miss Shepherd was played by Dame Maggie Smith and Bennett (on of the two Bennett's in the play) by himself, which have to be hard acts to follow, but I think Sara Kestelman, Sam Alexander and James Northcote did pretty well!


Sara Kestelman as Miss Shepherd (photo from Theatre website)
Sara Kestleman's Miss Shepherd was acidic, brusque and generally unlikable, but with an element of vulnerability and pathos which won a certain amount of sympathy. Sam Alexander and James Northcote are Alan Bennett (the one who does, and the one who writes) discussing the situation with each other (or, I suppose, with himself)...

I enjoyed it. (and a day or two later, happened to watch the film, which was an interesting contrast)

Saturday, 26 August 2017

Devon, food, family and fun

I've recently got back after spending a long weekend in Devon, with my parents.

Its always nice to see them, and they do live in a lovely part of the country.

As the weekend weather wasn't expected to be very good, we decided to make the most of the better weather on Friday, and went for a bracing walk on the coast path, near Trentishoe.

It was windy, but despite very grey clouds at times, we didn't get rained on (although I did do something painful to my knee which made the last bits of downhill walking were very uncomfortable.)



There weren't a lot of other people around, although we did meet some other walkers...




The following day was rather wet, and we avoided any walking due to my knee, but we did take a trip into Barnstaple, to see the elephant.

Did you know that Barnstaple had an elephant? I didn't. Or, to be more accurate, they have parts of an elephant. It died about 125,000 years ago, and found in 1844, and now its teeth and skull may be found at the museum.

Plus they have a large tissue paper elephant in the stairwell.



The museum also has a small selection of fossils, some taxidermy, and, and some local history stuff, including a couple of adverts relating to a shop owned by one of my ancestors!

Rural North Devon isn't, perhaps, the obvious place to expect to find a Michelin starred restaurant, but The Mason's Arms in Knowstone is just that. 

Apparently, Chef Mark Dodson spent 12 years as Head Chef of Michel Roux’s Waterside Inn, in Bray, before starting his own restaurant, and promptly winning a Michelin star!

As it is only about half an hour away from my parent's home, I suggested to them that we pay it a visit, and we were able to get a last minute reservation. Which was nice :) 


Canapes
 We were tempted with delicious canapes while we waited for our table - little bites of fish eggs and taramasalata (I think) on puffed rice, decorated with petals, and beautiful little duck 'bonbons' with honey.

The meal itself was also lovely. And very pretty. I was sad that we were all too full to eat dessert. Maybe next time.


Arancini with beetroot 3 ways (Starter)
The the following day we got to have some unexpected family time - I'd posted some pictures from our walk, on facebook, and then got a message from my cousin to say she was visiting her parents (who live about 12 miles from mine).

So on Sunday, she came over for a few hours, giving me the chance to meet her daughter (15 months old) for the first time, (and her son for the first time in a while!)  which was a lovely addition to the weekend.  H was very taken with my phone, and took about 40 selfies, mostly of the top of her own head!


We discovered the 40 year old sticklebricks are still highly acceptable entertainment for small people, as are 30-60 year old dinky toys! 3 generations worth of enjoyment of the same toys ins't bad going!

Altogether a fun weekend.

Friday, 11 August 2017

Twelfth Night at the Globe

It's been a while since I have been to the Globe, and one of the plays I've seen there before is Twelfth Night, which I saw 5 years ago, in a very traditional production with Mark Rylance as Olivia and Stephen Fry as Malvolio.


I knew this production was going to be very different - it was directed by Emma Rice, who has now parted company with the Globe, and features Le Gateau Chocolat  as Feste, and has even more cross dressing than is usual for this play.

It is set (judging by costumes etc) in the 1970's, apparently on a Scottish island, so Antonio (Pieter Lawman) and Orsino (Joshua Lacey) were in kilts, and  Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Marc Antolin) was in a pink fair isle sweater and was extremely camp.


Stage / Set (taken during interval!) 
Viola and Sebastian (Anita-Joy Uwajeh and John Pfumojena)were both excellent, and both appeared very young, which works well with the text, and the whole thing was fun, and didn't take itself too seriously.



I can understand why Emma Rice and the Globe parted company - this isn't the traditional, Elizabethan style production which the Globe specialises in, although I can't help but feel that if Shakespeare had had the option of including glitter balls, fairy lights, gold  lamé and the fabulous Le Gateau Chocolat in his plays, he would have done so! 

The performance I saw was the penultimate performance, so the run is over now, but it was fun while it lasted!