Monday, 28 December 2009

In Which there is Much Merriment

I think I am both fortunate, and perhaps unusual, in that I get on well with my (born)family, and the various component parts of the family all get along pretty well, too. Which is good a lot of the time, but particularly at Christmas, when the idea of being gathered together near the middle of no-where with all of my immediate family is something to look forward to, and enjoy, rather than to view as an endurance test.

I was working in the morning of Christmas Eve (But happily was able to sneak out of work rather earlier than planned) so I was the last of the family to arrive, getting to my parent's house by about 2.30 after a journey which was fairly uneventful, marred only by the large and extremely startling piece of stone which was thrown up by a lorry going the other way, and which left a large and unexpected chip in my windscreen. (Hopefully to be fixed by the man from autoglass, who is due to arrive at any moment)

There was a certain amount of tree-decoration going on - mostly consisting of my mother decking the tree while 4 offspring and one partner-of-offspring offered "helpful" advice and constructive critisism. In the true spirit of Christmas she refrained from decking us too!
In our family, everyone gets a Christmas stocking (not just any children there may be lying about the place) so the evening ended with many of us sitting on the landing stuffing stockings.

On Christmas morning, my parents went off, in a public-spirited way, to ring the bells for Christmas services at 2 different churches, and the rest of us, after stockings, and a breakfast of croissants and bucks-fizz (mimosas, to you Americans) went for a short and slippery walk around the village - it was a glorious sunny morning, but cold, and the hard frosts of the past few days on top of the rain and muddiness which pre-dated the frost meant that the steep parts of the path (i.e. almost all of it) were very icy.

Somewhat to my surprise, none of us actually fell over, although we all came close at different times!
The rest of the day passed with delicious food, lots of gifts, far too much chocolate & alcohol, and several games - K & C had brought with them a perfectly fiendish game, called 'Valley of the Pharoahs' which occupied those parts of the early evening not taken up with watching the 1st part of the Dr Who Christmas Special.
Boxing day involved a visit from more relations, which natuarally meant more food, wine, conversation, chocolate and games.
Then, as members of the party began to drift away we moved on to the more lazy and laid back portion of the holiday weekend. Happily, the one really wet and horrible day came on 27th when no-one needed to go out, anyway!

Friday, 25 December 2009

Merry Christmas, Happy Giftmas,
Happy (Belated Solstice)
Where ever you are, and whatever you are doing today, have a wonderful day - celebrate (or not) the way you want to.
(Posted, with any luck, automatically...I'm probably opening a stocking and thinking about breakfast, just about now)

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Let it Snow!

After the isolated snowflakes on Saturday I wasn't really expecting proper snow, but on Monday I woke to find that it had snowed over night - only a little, but enough to make everything look Christmassy for a little while. And, as it had rained/sleeted earlier the roads, at least the smaller ones which hadn't been gritted were very icy.

Happily, the schools broke up on Friday, so there wasn't as much traffic as usual, and I had remembered to wrap the car up so I didn't have to do too much ice-scraping. I was delighted to have an uneventful drive to work. And the snowy fields were very pretty.

The snow was all still there on Tuesday morning, and as I drove to work there was a wonderful clear sky, rose pink shading to duck-egg blue, with all the colours reflecting off the snow, and various pheasants and robins arranged decoratively around the place.

I was a little worried that it would still be icy this evening, as I had to drive over to the village where I grew up, in order to collect our christmas turkey. Some of the roads are quite small, and J&R live up a very steep little lane. Luckily for me, it started to rain mid afternoon, and it wasn't cold enough to freeze.

I was expecting to pop in, perhaps have a coffee, then pay for my turkey and be off, but J & R kindly invited me to stay for supper, which was great both as it gave us a chance to catch up a little, and of course, when the friends who invite you for supper happen to be farmers who grow pretty much all their own meat and vegetables the offer of food is always well worth accepting!

The turkey is one of those I met, back in October I know it had a good life, lots of freedom, and I am sure it will be absolutely delicious - always assuming I can keep it, and Tybalt, apart during my drive down to Devon tomorrow....

Sunday, 20 December 2009

In Which there is Food, and Electricity

Saturday started quietly with a snooze, then I did a little bit of tidying up, with a view to the house looking respectable once my guests arrived, and bed-making, with a view to them having somewhere to sleep.

It was another cold, but sunny day, and when I walked down into town in the afternoon I started to snow - huge, dry flakes, all properly snow-flake shaped, with 6 distinct points! I've rarely seen snowflakes like that, mostly we seem either to have much wetter, sleety snow, of the very fine grainy kind. It didn't settle at all, but we very cold - 20 minutes out doing last minute bits of shopping was more than enough, although the last of the sunlight and the sunset were both beautiful.
Julie & Jason arrived in time for a nice long supper - I had made smoky aubergine dip, so we had hummus, aubergine dip, olives, crudites and warm pita bread, with a rather nice bottle of prosecco which Julies & Jason had brought with them.

We then (despite the very small size of my kitchen) all joined in to cook the main course, which was the Nettle & Chestnut Risotto which I was harvesting and cooking nettles for, earlier in the week.


2 pints nettles (measured when picked), loosely packed
8 tbsp unsalted butter
approx. 1 litre vegetable stock
2 shallots, finely diced
7¼oz arborio rice
8¾fl oz dry cider
8oz peeled chestnuts, chopped in half
lemon juice
2oz fresh parmesan, finely grated, to serve

1. Wash the nettles in a large bowl, allowing any debris to drop to the bottom. Pick out any thick or tough stems. Do not be concerned that the washing water is peaty brown, this is normal.
2. To cook the nettles, heat one tablespoon of butter in a large pan over a high heat and drop in the leaves. Allow them to wilt and cook until they are tender.
3. Strain through a sieve, catching any liquid in a bowl. Squeeze the nettles and remove to a board, chopping them roughly. Set aside in a cool place while you make the risotto.
4. Heat the stock in a pan. Melt half the remaining butter in a large heavy pan, adding the shallots and stirring to soften them. Cook the shallots until they are tender and clear, then add the rice, stirring to allow all of the rice to be coated with some of the fat.
5. Add the cider and stir. While the cider is being absorbed, turn the heat to a medium simmer. Add ladlefuls of stock - two at first, and allow each addition to be absorbed. When two thirds of the stock is absorbed, add the chopped nettles and allow them to continue cooking in the rice. At this stage, add the chestnuts - they will break down slightly in the pan.
6. When most of the stock is absorbed, check the rice - it ought to be just cooked, the sauce still emulsified. Season to taste with salt and black pepper. Add the remaining butter and the parmesan, and serve with a sprinkle of lemon juice and a little freshly chopped parsley

The stock I made was partly made from soaking some dried mushrooms, so our risotto had a few mushrooms in it, too. The original recipie which (which I found on the BBC Food website) had dry white wine instead of cider, and suggests using chicken stock, which of course wouldn't be any good for vegetarians.

It really was very nice :-) So much so, that we ate all of it before I thought to take a picture of it!
I cheated on desert, and bought some Gu chocolate puddings. Pure decadence.

We had a lovely relaxed evening, talked, listened to music (Including comparing and contrasting the various 'IKEA' songs, by Mitch Benn, Jonathan Coulton and The Lancashire Hotpots )

I hope that they enjoyed the evening, I certainly did!

Sunday involved a leisurely breakfast, then Jason very kindly fixed the light socket in my WC - I had pulled the cord too hard and it broke, but when he took it to pieces, the socket itself was broken, so we had a quick trip to B&Q, and pausing only to google the changing rules about the colours of wires, and for me to borrow an electric test-y thing (multimeter?) from a neighbour, he fitted the the new socket for me, which was much appreciated. I can do some basic home maintenace - I can wire plugs and change fuses, but I am very nervous about anything connected to the mains, and because of my dodgy shoulder I find anything which involves working with my hands above my head almost impossible, which of course makes wiring in a new lighting socket to the ceiling quite tricky!

Sadly J&J couldn't stay later as they had lots of family to visit, so I wasn't able to give them lunch.

After they had gone, I spent the afternoon wrapping Christmas gifts and then ventured up into the loft to retrieve the christmas decorations, into the cupboard under the stairs for the Christmas tree, and put the two together.

I'm starting to feel a little festive!
I'd originally planned to go out this evening to a Carol Service (I'm not religious, but a carol service is a lovely part of Christmas) but it was so cold, and the road icy, and in the end I decided to stay inside in the wall, and watch a BBC4 documentary about Christmas Carols, instead.
(I also enjoyed a supper of Nathalie's Pumpkin & Almond Lasagna, which turned out beautifully. (I made mine with Butternut Squash, instead of pumpkin, and I have the other half of the Squash sauce in the freezer, so I shall be able to have it all over again, soon)
All in all, a most satisfactory weekend!

Saturday, 19 December 2009

In Which it is Cold

Yesterday was very cold. Unlike a lot of South East England, we had no snow, but it was cold enough, and my day busy enough that by the time I got home, I was not in any mood to go out again. Which was a shame, as it was our office Christmas party so I was due to go out almost immediately.

I had my normal panic about what to wear - it was far to cold for me to be willing to don tights and a dress - but once I arrived at the pub and had a pint of christmas ale in my hand, I did start to feel a little less stabby, although I was more than ready to leave when our taxi arrived at 11.

This morning started badly when, just after getting out of bed, I tripped over Tybalt and into the blanket box, bashing my shin with what felt like all the force in the world. It was (and still is) very hurty. And an hour later I managed to make a hole in the tip of my finger, on the handle to the window (Tybalt was involved in this one, too, as I was opening the window to let him out) I do feel that this required more skill than injuring my shin, as so far as I can see the window handle doesn't have any sharp or pointy bits on it, so I have no clue how I manged to damage myself on it.

I am naturally cack-handed and clumsy (more so at some times of the month than others) but this is worse than usual even for me. Hopefully three in row means I get to not damage myself anymore for a bit, now.

This afternoon we did have snow - not a lot, not enough gto settle, but some very large snowflakes, big and dry enough to see each individual 6 pointed star, which hardly ever seems to happen.

And in a little while, my firneds J&J will arrive for the night, and there will be much talking, and eating and drinking. (although with my track record, I'm not sure I should be allowed near sharp knives or open flames just now....

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

In Which There is a Day Off, and some Cooking

I found out last week that I had a day of holiday left from this year's entitlement, so I booked it for today.

I feel I have used it wisely.

There is, I think, very little which is more pleasurable than being able to lie in bed, and in the smug knowledge that all around you other people are having to get up and go out to work. Not, I hasten to add, that I stayed there all morning, but just an extra hour can sometimes make a lot of difference.

Most of the rest of the day was taken up with various jobs - I went and queued in the Post office to send Christmas gifts to friends and family members: It appears that the last posting date for posting 2nd class post in time for Christmas was yesterday, but I decided to risk it and send everything 2nd class anyway - none of the people I was sending stuff to are young enough to get upset if their Christmas presents are a day or two late, and anyway, I have a vast and touching faith in Royal Mail, and secretly believe that they will get there on time despite the late posting! We shall see.

I also did some shopping (mainly food) and some cooking - mostly the time-consuming stuff for the things I'm planning to cook at the weekend when my friends come to stay. Then I did a second lot of shopping to buy the things I forgot the first time, such as the camembert, which is destined to be studded with garlic, and baked into cheesy submission, and the lasagna dish, as I realised that the only dish I have is fine for making lasagna for one, but that I don't have a dish suitable for making lasagna. Just as well I realised today, and not, say, on saturday morning with a sheet of lasagna in one hand and a spoonful of sauce in the other...

And as it was, after all, my day off, I also found time to watch a little TV (A very old episode of StarTrek TNG, since you ask) and to have a lovely long hot bath accompanied by a murder mystery and and a nice cup of tea.

It didn't snow here, despite the weather forecast. It was however, cold. Tybalt managed to get into my bed, under the duvet (which he knows is not allowed, at least until he learns to wipe his feet first) twice - the second time despite my not only having made the bed, but also most unfairly having tucked the throw in all the way round to stop him... Of course, if he had been paying more attention, he might have noticed that as I was at home, I'd turned the heating on all day, so downstairs (where there are radiators) was much warmer than upstairs (where there are not).

Tomorrow I shall be back at work, and have the questionable pleasure of a meeting with Social Services to look forward to.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

In Which There is Housework

The last week seems to have gone on for a very long time, and I had deliberately made no plans for the weekend, so that I could veg out and do as close to nothing as possible. My plans involved a very long snoozy lie in with the papers, and perhaps a nice hot bath. . . .

The best laid plans....

I slept badly and woke up on saturday morning with a stiff neck & shoulder, which meant I did not, after all, lie in bed reading *sigh*. I did manage the bath, after which I ended up doing lots of house-work type stuff - I should really take Ms Fabulous's advice and find a cleaner, but no luck yet.

I did also go foraging for nettles, with a view to making a chestnut & nettle risotto next weekend, when my frinds J&J, who are vegetarian, will be visiting. I should be able to prepare the nettles and then freeze them, so that I don't have to spend too much time in preparation while they are actually here (My kitchen isn't big enough for social food preparation - it's barely big enough for solo cooking!)

I also did a bunch of cleaning, and re-arranged the furniture in my bedroom, which is something I have been meaning to do for ages but haven't got around to.

It all added up to quite a lot of work, but now I have a nice clean and tidy house, lots of clean laundry and I have now (sunday afternoon) also made and frozen a dessert to take down at Christmas.

I was also delighted to get a call from an old friend who will be in the area, and who is in the area and will be calling by later this afternoon, which is an unexpected pleasure.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

In Which There is Shopping (or not)

I've been doing a fair proportion of my Christmas shopping online. (no change there, I do a fair bit of my non-christmas shopping online, too) So far, virtually all has gone smoothly - the stuff from Etsy sellers arrived promptly, looking just like they did in the pictures, as did various books and so on.

Then we get to WHSmith. I had actually been to my local branch, but they didn't have the particular items I wanted. Nor did the independent stationery shop I normally buy from. Or Waterstones. So, I decided to order online instead. I mean, big retailer, should be fine...

In hindsight, this was my first mistake.

WHSmith's website didn't look terribly impressive, but as I already knew exactly what I wanted that didn't seem to much of a problem.

It was fun to discover that adding a second item to the basket automatically emptied it. As did hitting 'go to check out'

I probably should have given up at that point.

But I didn't. I tried again. This time, I got as far as the checkout. Filled in the details. Pressed 'submit'. And got an error message, apologising that my tranction had not gone through.

I definitely should have given up at that point.

I did. for a bit.

A day later, having failed to find an alternative supplier, I went back. Oh, I was careful. I double checked that the order hadn't gone through despite the message. No confirmation e-mail, nothing showing in orders.

So, I tried again. This time the order went through sucessfully. Confirmation e-mail arrived, all good.

[Pause for hollow laughing]

Next morning, I checked my credit card. And found that there were two, identical, payments. (Well actually there were 4, as bizarrely, each individual item had been separately charged)

So, my first call to Customer Services. Using Lorraine's patented Be Nice To Customer Services approach (which I have to say, is the route I'd go down anyway, in most cases) I got past person#1, who wanted me to accept that the only possible thing I could do was to wait until eveything was delivered, then send some of it back, and then they would give me a refund (but wouldn't refund the postage back) once they received the good.
Person#2 however, agreed that perhaps she could ring dispatch direct, and get them to manually take the ghost order out of the system, and also that she would in any event process the refund straight away, and would give me a freepost address if she couldn't stop the order going out. she even called me back, a few hours later, to say she had managed to stop one order, so I wouldn't need to send anything back.

"Excellent", I thought. All sorted.

As If.

Next morning I checked my credit card again. Partial refund. (remember the whole, each ite,m billed separately? Yup. Only one refunded. I even gave them the benefit of the doubt and waited 24 hours in case it was just a delay with the admin on the card.

So, 2nd call to Customer Services. After a little delay (because after all, just because I know the order number, billing and delivery address and the name of the last 2 people in customer services I spoke to is no proof I'm me....) I was given an apology and assurances that the rest of the refund would be made.
(of course, when I checked the credit card I found they had refunded the wrong amount, then clearly realised this and corrected it by separately refunding a further 76 pence to correct this, but as they managed to correct that one without me calling them it hardly counts as having made a mistake)

OK. So now it's all sorted.
On Monday, my order arrived. Well. Sort of. It seems they cancelled half of each of the two orders. And, just to put the cherry on the top, they sent two of the cheaper item so I'd been overcharged, too.

3rd call to customer services. Mangaged to get person#2 again. She was very apologetic, and promised to sort it out.

So, the current position is this.

I have sent back the unwanted duplicate (freepost)
She is reordering the correct one.
They are going, allegedly, to send me a gift card by way of apology (because, obviously, this experience has been so positive I'll be wanting to shop with them again...)

Given the stunning performance they have managed so far I am on tenterhooks waiting to find out what will actually show up with the 'corrected' order.

On a positive note, despite the truly abysmal performance when it comes to actually, y'know, delivering what I ordered, and charging me correctly, the lady in customer services couldn't be nicer in trying to sort things out. Still, I don't think I shall be using their website again any time soon.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

In Which There is Rain, and Seaside, and Rainbows (but no kittens)

My parents have just (last weekend) returned home having spent the past 7 weeks travelling around New Zealand, a trip which I should like to take some day, and I had arranged to go down to spend the weekend with them, and to welcome them back home.

It was a rainy afternoon as I drove down to Devon, and by the time I arrived, at around 5, it was dark, too. Living alone, I forget how nice it is to come 'home' to a warm, well lit house and have someone offer hugs and coffee!

The evening was spent catching up on conversation, hearing a little about their trip.
Saturday turned out to be intermittently very wet indeed, but having gone to see the sea we decided to go for a short walk despite the fact that it was raining by the time we got there (all of 10 miles from the house!)

We decided not to paddle, however.

After our short but bracing walk and some time spent in our families favourite method of socialisation (which involves everyone sitting in the same room, each absorbed in his or her own book) we cooperated to preduce a delicious meal of roast lamb with all it's tradional accompaniments, followed by a lemon layer pudding. Mmmmm.
This was followed by lots and lots of photos of New Zealand. Did I mention how much I would like to go there? As a nation, it appears to have more than it's fair share of scenery. (And sheep)

Glaciers and beautiful beaches, all within spitting distance of one another.

Sunday turned out to be an even wetter day, so we abandoned any thought of going for another walk.

Sadly, after lunch it was time for me to head back home. I very quickly found myself driving not through pouring rain as at their home, but through a surreal landscape with bright sunshine on one side, and black clouds and rain on the other. It was rainbows all the way! Even when I got stuck behind a large and slow-moving truck, the combination of surface water on the road and the sunlight meant there were rainbows in the tyre tracks.

The rainbows were some of the brightest I have ever seen. I stopped to take a few pictures - there was a glorious double rainbow as I came into Somerset - the inner bow exraordinarily vivid, and even the outer one as clear as most rainbows.
A little later, as I crossed the Levels, coming towards Glastonbury, there was a futher rainbow, and I spent a little time watching the flocks of starling wheeling across the sky.
The rivers and rhynes (drainage ditches) are all incredibly full - I imagine that the moors will flood in the next few weeks, unless it stops raining. Fortunately, the cattle are not generally grazed on the moors at this time of year.
It was, despite the weather, a lovely weekend.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

In Which Winter Arrives

I can't deny that, on this occasion, the whether had impeccable timing, bringing the first hard frost of the winter this morning, 1st December. It is on mornings such as this that I regret the fact my house has central heating only downstairs!

There was a lovely sunrise (and one good thing about this time of the year is that the sunrise comes at a relatively civilized hour of the morning!)
Then there was the less lovely scraping of frost off the car windscreen. Inside and out, as it turned out. Perhaps I should avoid breathing inside the car for the next few months?

Then off out for my drive to work. It was a pleasant change to not be going through pouring rain, and to be seeing blue skies and sunshine sparkling off the silver-grey grass, it was clear that the frost and ice were not confined to the the fields. There was black ice on the road, too. Particularly treacherous as the road had been gritted so mainly felt (and looked) safe.
As I came (thankfully slowly and carefully) around a corner it was to the sight of a car which had been driving in the opposite direction to me, spinning backwards into the hedge - I watched as it tipped up but, fortunately came back down the right way up, and the driver was only shaken, not hurt.

As we waited for her to extract her car from the hedge, and feel ready to drive on, a motor bike came (again, travelling in the opposite direction to me) - as he came level with the car in the hedge he also hit a patch of black ice. His rear wheel skidded and he and the bike went down. Fortunately he had already slowed down a good deal, presumably having seen the accident, so although he was clearly shaken and (I suspect) bruised, he was not seriously hurt and his bike wasn't badly damaged.
The rest of the journey was taken very carefully - and I passed another road-closure (police and all) which I suspect was also related to the weather, and a little later, the sight of another car in the hedge....
I arrived at work feeling very grateful that things weren't worse.
In more cheerful news, my parents are home now after spending the last 6 weeks in New Zealand, and I shall be spending the weekend with them (hopefully they will be more or less over their jet-lag by then)
I have also taken to heart Royal Mail's claim that the last posting date for Christmas, for stuff going outside Europe is this Friday (although I don't really believe it, and strongly suspect that I could post stuff for weeks and it'd still arrive in time) and have been writing cards for various non-european friends.

The frost was pretty, but I shall be quite happy if tomorrow is a little less wintery.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

In which I Survive Shopping

Ooops. No blogging for a while. Mostly because nothing very thrilling has been happening.

The last week seems to have consisted mostly of work, and of looing out at the rain. I am starting to wonder what the going rate for gopher wood and pitch is.

This weekend, for the first time in awhile, I had no visitors, no plans to go anywhere and no gig to go to. I did, however, gird up my loins and head into Bath in order to do those bits og Christmas shopping which can't be done online.

I've been involved in conversations elsewhere about the holidays, and not doing things just from a sense of obligation, so it is relevant to say that I enjoy Christmas. For me, it's always been about spending time with family, and I am lucky enough to have a family whom I love and (perhaps less common) get along well with. I also enjy finding suitable gifts for people - giving things to people can be very pleasurable, if you know the person well and can have the fun of finding something which is right for them, and will give them pleasure.

Those elements I enjoy.

The shopping, however. . . . .

I had hoped that as it is still November, it wouldn't be too manic. I had also planned to go into town early, however that part of the plan was scuppered by the need to wait in for a delivary. Still, at least I was able to get the train in so I didn't have to worry about driving or parking, which when I arrived and saw how packed it was, I could see had been a good choice.

Having a good idea of what I wanted (and a low tolerance for crowds and shopping, particularly together) I only stayed for an hour or two, but it was clear that many people were there for the full day.

I can't remeber last time I saw so many people looking so stressed and miserable.

I managed to find suitable gifts for most of the people I wanted to buy things for, and also had a very soothing time in Mr B's (a *very* good independent bookshop, which will even wrap your purchases, in brown paper and string and selaing wax, if you wish), and a tasty time in the cheese shop. (I wasn't shopping for cheese, but for the very nice confits and chutneys which they sell)

With any luck, I shall now be able to get anything further I want online, and shall be able to steer well clear of any major conurbation until after the madness is over.

Today was much more relaxed, and involved cooking - A big vat of (vegetarian) spaghetti bolognese (to freeze) and a venison stew which is sending delicious smells through the house even as I type. In fact, as it is so miserable outside, I decided to make some dumplings to go with it - should be yummy, and just the thing for a cold, wet, dank November evening.

I shall spend the evening writing my first batch of christmas cards, (this year, I'm sending cards only to those I want to send to, not to anyone (except a couple of very elderly relatives) just because I "ought" to. It occured to me that there are people who send me a card every year, and I feel obligated to send one back (or at least, slightly guilty if I don't) but whom I've not otherwise seen, heard or spoken to for years. It's pointless. So this year, actual friends and people I want to connect with only.

Sometimes, the simplest pleasures are the best. I have been getting a good deal of pleasure from watching Tybalt trying to crawl into a paper bag less than 1/3 of his body size. Simple pleasures.....

And in about half an hour, I shall be sitting down to a delicious, hearty venison stew and a glass of red wine. Another simple pleasure.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

In which there is more Rock!

I only realised a couple of weeks ago that Thea Gilmore would be playing in Bristol as part of her Wintertide tour, so I was happy to find that there were still tickets available, so last night found me heading over to Bristol (second time in two weeks - whereas normally I go very rarely,as I hate the traffic!)

When I arrived it was to an apologetic note on the door at the venue to say the doors wouldn't be opening until 8p.m. (The tickets said 7) - happily however I bumped into a coupe who were also arriving for the gig, and the three of us went off to a nearby pub for a quick drink while we were waiting - (of course, there are those who would say one shouldn't go off for drinks with strangers, but hey, you've got to live a little!

When we came back a little after 8 the doors were open, and when I went in, I bumped into a friend of mine & her husband. I hadn't known she was a fan of Thea's, so it came as a (nice) surprise.

The show was in a hall at the Bristol Folk House - it felt a little like a school hall, to start with, however, once the music started that was all forgotten.

The show was opened by Rod Clements (late of Lindisfarne), which was fun, then Thea herself came on after the interval.

She was accompanied by Nigel Stonier (gutiar, vocals, and occassional piano) and by 'Fluff' (violin, vocals and percussion) and the music was mostly from her new 'Strange Communion' album, so lots of new music, (for some of which, Rod Clements came back on stage) as well as one or two covers.

The evening seemed to pass very quickly, and before we knew it we reached the encore stage. Thea explained that while it's a while until Christmas, to help us all to get into the festive spirit she and the band had made a dart-board of really cheesy christmas songs (Fairy Tale of New York was excluded for being too good) and a member of the audience was invited to select one by the throw of a dart, to be sung in an (in)appropriate style....

We got 'So here it is, Merry Christmas' sung as a slow ballad... which, I think we can all agree, is an excellent way to sing it :-)

It made for a delightful end to the evening. And then, wnen it was over, there was the opportunity to say hello to Thea and the other musicians and to buy a copy of the new CD.
A most excellent evening.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Thoughts about the rain.

The last couple of days have been very wet and wild, although nothing compared with what has been happening in Cumbria - my heart goes out to the people whose homes have been flooded, and of course to the family and colleagues and friends of P.C. Bill Barker.

While the flooding at my home was nothing like like as bad at that faced by the people in Cockermouth, or those in Gloucester last year, but the sheer helplessness, the long drawn out time it takes to sort eveything out (rotting carpet, anyone?) and the sense of fear every time it rains hard, for years afterwards is much the same.

I have finally (after 3 flood-free years) got to the point where I no longer wake up in a cold sweat when there is a rain storm.

I just hope that those affected now will be able to put their lives back together, too.

Monday, 16 November 2009

In Which there is Jonathan Coulton, Paul & Storm and lots of Rock!

So, last night was the Jonathan Coulton and Paul and Storm gig in Bristol.

I've been looking forward to it ever since I saw that they were coming to Bristol, and I have to say that the show lived up to and beyond my expectations!

I arrived early having offered to help out with merchandise, and met with Paul and with my fellow Merchandise Minions, and started selling the occasional T-Shirt and CD.

The venue is fairly small - it's called 'The Tunnels', and, as the name suggests, is in, well, a couple of tunnels. They are part of the sub-structure around the railway station, although these particualr ones are arches under the station approach rather than under the railway itself. One tunnel has the bar and a seating area (and the merchandise table) and the other the stage & seating - I think for around 175 - 200 people.

I'd only previously seen Jonathan and Paul & Storm when they appeared as Neil Gaiman's support band when he did a Graveyard Book reading in Manchester last October, and on that occasion we only got one song from each of them. This time, I'm happy to say, there were lots and lots of songs. (although no tambourine-playing authors)

Paul and Storm opened the show with, appropriately enough, 'Opening Band' - they later asked how many of us had *not* seen them live before (answer: all but 3 of us!) and also treated us to lots more music, including 'Frogger! The Frogger Musical' , 'Live' and 'Nun Fight', before giving us 'The mother's Day Song' and 'The Captain's Wife's Lament' (With enthusiastic audience participation on all the Dejected Arrrs.

Lots of Fun.

During the interval I was kept busy selling lots of Dejected Arrr T-shirts (and other stuff. But mostly shirts) and had to dash to get back to me seat when Jonathan Coulton came on stage for the 2nd half...

There was, unsurprisingly, a lot of audience participation. In fact, Mr Coulton described us as the 'singy-est audience since Dublin', and let us sing 'Still Alive' by ourselves,

with hardly any Headline Singer participation at all - this led, inevitabley, to consideration as to whether there was anyone in the audience who could play guitar, which would allow for the possibility of a gig going ahead without any singer or band at all!

(Link for Video of I Crush Everything in case the embedding isn't working)

Lots of favourites - Code Monkey, Creepy Doll, Skullcrusher Mountain, I Crush Everything, Mandelbrot Set, You Ruined Everything, Mr FancyPants (with An explanation that 'pants' doesn't have quite the same meaning in American as it does in English..), I'm Your Moon -

There were people wandering up to the stage to leave little offerings of Jaffa Cakes at regular

The Future Soon, Shop Vac, and, then, as the evening was drawing to a close, we all had a quick lesson in how Zombies sing (ragged, none to tuneful) in order to perform our part...

After which there was just time for a couple of quick encores ('Talk with George' and 'the 1st of May' song, which I won't embed here as it's not exactly safe for work...) and lots of happy, clappy people joining in!

We were then very busy selling more T-Shirts and CDs as people left, and once eveyone had gone, were able to lend a hand packing up the unsold stuff, and to have a chance to chat a little to Jonathan and to Storm.

I didn't get home until almost 1.30 in the morning, totally exhausted, but I can't remember last time I had so much fun.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

It Was A Dark & Stormy Night....

Well, it was.

Actually, it was a wild and windy day, and a wilder night. Driving home from work last night I was driving through rain which was falling horizontally, mixed with whirling leaves and the occasional twig.

It was frightening to realise how little concession most drivers were making to the conditions - lots of tailgating and so on, despite standing water, poor visibility and lots of pther hazards. *sigh*

Relieved to note that no water has come into the house, however, which gives me encoragement to belive that the flood-risk really was fixed, when the work was done 2 years ago.

A silver lining to all the black clouds, perhaps...

Thursday, 12 November 2009

An Evening at the Theatre

Last night I ended up going to the theatre again. It was a fairly last-minute thing; someone who I've been chatting to a bit asked me out, and I thought, 'Why not?'

We met up at the Rondo Theatre in Bath (where I saw Mitch Benn last week) and saw Our Country's Good - it was an amateur production of the play, which set in Australia, in 1789, (based loosly on real events) in which the governor of the Penal Colony encourages the production of a play, in the hopes of bringing a little civilisation and humanity to the lives of the convicts, despite the difficulties which arise when half your cast are reluctant, or are laible to be flogged or hanged part way through rehersals! the play-within-a-play, which the convicts are trying to produce, is The Recruiting Officer , a restoration comedy whose characters and situations are a far cry from the lives of the convicts.

It was a little confusing - partly becasue many of the cast members were playing more than one role (with very limited costume changes) but very good fun.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

November, and some thoughts about Christmas Trees

After the glorious sunshine on Saturday, November seems to have arrived with a vengence, and the past two days have been decidedly less appealing - it's been misty, so driving to work has been like driving through a low-flying cloud, and I have finally given in and turned on the central heating and dug out the woolly bedsocks (no heating in my bedroom).

I've also noticed that the occupants of a house I pass on my way into work have already put up & decorated their Christmas tree. That is just plain Wrong. Surely you'd be awefully bored of your Christmas decorations if you have them up for 6 weeks?

Admittedly, my family have always been very traditional this we - we always used to put the tree and other decorations up on Christmas Eve, and take them down on 12th night, although admittedly I tend to cheat and put my tree up about a week before Christmas these days, as I'm rarely in my own house (as it's very small) over Christmas.

All of which is pretty much irrelevent to anything else, I guess.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

A Walk in the Country

It was chilly today, but around lunchtime the sun came out, so I decided to forget about the housework, and to head out for the afternoon.

I went to Stourhead, which is owned by the National Trust, now. The house is not open in the winter, but the park is open all year round, and it's a lovely place to go for a walk. There is a lake, with ornamental bridge, miniature Parthenon, and temple of Apollo, not to mention the grotto, thatched cottage and neoclassical summerhouse.

Its a little late for the best of the autumn coours , but there were still some lovely acers clinging on to the last of their crimson leaves, and plenty of beech leaves in every shade of copper. There are masses of rhodedendrons and although it's the wrong time of year for their flowers they have that dark green, shiny foliage against which the other colours show up beautifully.

I didn't see any deer this time - which probably had a lot to do with the high number of dogs and small and excited children around - but there were ducks, and swans upon the lake.

I saw several robins, and blackbirds, and a few chaffinches and something which may or may not have been a goldfinch.

All in all, it was a very

After my walk, I headed to the farm shop where I bought 3 different types of local apples, and some Medlars (the last, simply because I have never had them before, and know them only from Shakeapeare and other literary sources. They will have to be kept for a while to ripen properly, and it does appear that opinion is divided as to whether they are worth eating or not, but it will be interesting to see what they're like.

And as an added bonus, I got a lovely big paper bag to take my groceries home in, which proved very popular with Tybalt once I had emptied it of fruit.

A Good Day.

Friday, 6 November 2009

In Which Mr Mitch Benn Sings

The Fifth of November is traditionally Bonfire Night, with fireworks and bonfires the order of the day (or night) But I had a better offer, so around 7 I set off into a dark and drizzly night to head for Bath's Rondo Theatre to see the fabulous Mr Mitch Benn. I didn't miss out entirely on the fireworks, as there were several lots being set off which I was able to glance at in passing as I drove along.

The Theatre is a very small one - it only seats around 100 people, is mostly run by volunteers, and I think it must be related to the little shops in Sir PTerry's books, because I am absolutely certain that it is in a slightly different steep little backstreet in Bath every time I go. I like it.

I arrived, acquired a rather nice pint of Spitfire and found my seat, which was very close to the front (admittedly, as there are only 10 rows, it's quite hard NOT to be close to the front, but still...) It's the kind of place where you have a tendancy to meet people you know, or to fall into conversation with strangers.

Once settled, with my pint, I had nothing to do but wait for the show to start. Which, very shortly, it did.

Mr Benn (supported by Ivan Sheppard on drums, and Kirsty Newton on Bass, Piano Organ & vocals) began with 'The Interactive Song' (You have selected situational comedy in the style of Lily Allen')... which was a fun start.

We had quite a few of the older songs - one of my personal favourites 'Now He's Gone' (sung by Kirsty Newton) and a lot from the new albulm. ('Motorway Food' , Love Your Love Handles''What would Elvis Do?')

Where else can you see elderly ladies in tears of laughter over a song about Auto-erotic Asphyxiation?

I love that Mitch takes so many 'stock' types of song and totally subverts them - noting that there are plenty of break-up and unrequited love song, but very few songs about being happily in a relationship, which gives us 'Disgustingly in Love' ;

"Our friends all think we're dead but,
We just stay home instead 'cos,
We are disgustingly in Love..."

And who else would point out that, Shakespeare were alive today he would NOT, as so many people believe, be writing soap opera, but rap music. Which leads, inevitably, to his rendition of Macbeth (in the style of Eminem...)

I would love to hear that this was being played in schools - can't help feeling that, like Manga Shakespeare, it would probably go a way to encourage people to give the Bard a chance...

Then of course, there was the IKEA anthem, 'Please don't release this song' (with a spookily good Beatles voices...) and Sing Like an Angel, which perfectly captures the spirit of the X Factor and it's clones.

One of the most impressive parts ofthe eveing is that Mitch will write a whole new song during the interval - based on 2 or 3 recent news stories suggested by the audience - on this occasion, A (tiny)tornado in Bath, the opening of the new shopping centre ( a Much bigger story!) and the story about the court having thrown out Nick Griffin's allegation he'd been racially abused (Yay!!) 'twas a fun song.

Towards the end of the evening we got Mitch's Rock -Musical version of a great literary classic - The Very Hungry Caterpillar ...

Sadly, all good things must come to an end, and the final encore was the song Mitch wrote in Memory of John Peel - Let's have a minute's noise for John'

After the show Mitch was selling CDs so I had the chance to say Hi, and to buy a copy of the latest CD (Mitch Benn, where next?)

Having had the forethought to get a copy of Mitch and Jon Holmes' book A History of the World Through Twitter which he signed for me.

If you get a chance, go see the show. And if not, all the albulms are available as CDs or downloads here

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

In Which there is a Lot of Laughter

Today, I'm feeling very sleepy. Yesterday evening I went to see Jeremy Hardy - I went to his gig in Bath in May this year, and so when, at the last minute, I saw he would be in Street this week I decided to go to see his show.

I'm glad I did.

I'm just sorry that Street isn't a bit closer. I always think of it as being very close, and that was true when I lived with my parents near Wells, but as I don't live there any more, it's rather further away, (which I think is very inconsiderate - I'm sure they could have moved it for my convenience, had they wanted) and I always forget that it's almost an hour's drive away instead of 30 minutes. which, when you are leaving a gig after 10.30 at night, and you have to get up early the next day.

But, getting tired aside, I had fun. Some of the material was the same as when I saw him in May, but there was a lot which was different, too - a little less about MP's expenses, a little more about the possibility of Tony Blair as European President. It's shame that the story about the man acquitted of racial abuse of Nick Griffin didn't break until Wednesday morning, so we didn't get his take on that one!
Incidently, it's amazing how many people seem to be surprised and affronted when it turns out that you have to wait or queue in order to get out car park of a theatre, if you leave at the end of the (almost sold -out) show. I mean, it's not hard to predict, is it?

Monday, 2 November 2009

A Chilly Morning

It poured with rain on Sunday. I didn't mind too much, as I was having a fairly lazy day, especially having spent some of saturday trying to do a little pre-winter tidying up in the garden - (although I think possibly I should trim the grass one last time. )

There is something very cosy about sitting inside a warm, dry house listening to the rain and wind outside, and after 3 flood-free years I have almost stopped panicking about the possible consequenses, although my heart goes out to the people in Scotland who faced (much more severe floods than mine ever were) over the weekend. I was expecting another grim, grey, rainy day today.

Instead, I woke this morning to find that there was a chill in the air. It's not truly cold - there was no frost, but it has been so mild until now, that it feels much colder . It was a beautiful clear sunny morning, and even in the last week or so autumn has moved on - many of the trees - the poplars, the horse-chestnuts, and the ornaental cherries are almost completely bare now, and those which are left are every colour between gold and scarlett.

The Virginia Creeper has lost all of its leaves, and the hedges are almost bare, save for the clumps of ivy. Even the fields are losing their green.

Perhaps winter is coming.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009


This evening, I was sitting eating supper.

I noticed a squeaking sound from the doorway into the hall.

This isn't unusual. Now that it is getting colder, I am in the habit of keeping the doors and windows closed, so Tybalt has to knock to come in or out.

With the door, he knows that sometimes he can hook his paw under the door and pull it open, so that's what he tries, hence the squeak.

So, like a well-trained human, I got up to open the door.

He immediately sat down (just outside the door).

He didn't come through the door.

He looked at me, with a look of utter disdain, as if to ask why on earth I was standing in the doorway.

He didn't come through the door.

Eventually, I gave up, and sat down again.

As I did, I heard a squeaking sound from the doorway....

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

In Which I Talk in Public

So, yesterday afternoon, our manager got a phone call from a local radio station. They were planning to have a phone-in about Grandparents seeking contact with their Grandchildren, and wanted to know whether we had someone who would be willing to cme on answer a few questions about the legal aspects. Since this falls fair and square into my baliwick, Manager asked me, and I said yes.

Well, actually, I said "um, do have have to? well, okay then, yes" which comes to much the smae thing.

So this morning I found myself sitting at my desk (dressed in my best suit, because obviously you have to look your best on the radio) waiting for the phone call.

I was very nervous, but I think it went alright - apparently I didn't sound as nervous as I felt. I was only on for a couple of minutes (If Andy Warhol was right, I presumably have another 13 minutes of fame still due to me...) but i was left feeling quite chuffed about it, in a 'Wow, I did something in public and didn't make a total hash of it' kind of way.

For anyone who might be interested, I was on 'The Morning Show on BBC Somerset - you can Listen Again here for the next 7 days - my bit is about 44 minutes in (Blink & you'll miss it!)

It was an interesting experience, but I don't think I'd want to be a radio presenter. Far too nerve-wracking.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

In Which I Meet an Old Friend

Having spent the last couple of weekends mostly just curled up on the sofa fighting a cold, I had been looking forward to this weekend, and to meeting up with an old friend.

I started the weekend with an (always thrilling) trip to the garage to get my car fixed - nothing serious, just a new pump for the screenwash. It was a cold morning and absolutely pouring with rain, which (quite literally) dampened my enthusiasm a little. However, to my pleasure, as I left the garage the rain stopped, and I had time for a wander around the shops in Wells. That was a little confusing, as I used to live there, so it's all familiar, but I haven't been for a while, so some of the shops are different....

I enjoyed a lovely lunch at the Fabulous 'Old Spot' restaurant (chicken & Tarragon terrine, followed by Chestney & Radiccio risotto - Nom, Nom, and Nom again!)

And then, on to J's home. J & I were in primary school together - her parents had the farm opposite my parent's house, and when we moved there, when I was 1o years old, we became friends, and we still are.
Five years ago J married another local farmer, R, and now lives less than a mile from her parents, and next door to her in-laws, with other relayives almost as close, and gravestones in the churchyard marking the past 150 years of the family. I am not sure that I would want to live in quite such close proximity to my (extended) family, but at the same time I do have a degree of envy for that rootedness and sense of belonging.
J&R have a wonderful 3 year old son. Last time I saw him, he was rather shy with me, but this time, after a brief period of careful observation he became very chatty, and insisted on taking me on a guided tour of the house, introducing me to the old collie and to the nearly-new labradour puppy, and would have taken me on a tour to meet each individual chicken, turkey and cow!
J & I spent the afternoon catching up with one another's lives and preparing dinner - of which the only parts which were not home-grown were the carrots (apparently it wasn't a good year for carrots) - the roast pork was from a l
ocal ginger pig, personally selected on the hoof (or trotter) and delivered in easily freezable joints. Everything tastes better, fresh out of the garden.
Another neighbour was also there for supper - an older gentleman who has retired to the village.
We enjoyed some local rose cider with our meal, and remained talking until very late. At some point, we got onto the subject of homemaking, and ended up rooting through some old books (one of hobbies and handicrafts, published in 1935, and the other a book of cookery and household hints, which was undated but which we determined to be of a similar period.)
We have decided that the hint about soaking blotting paper in saltpetre and then burning it to cure asthma is *not* one we shall be trying, although J did claim to be tempted by the advice about fire-proofing one's children (or at least their clothes), although R seemed oddly unenthused by the suggestion that one could captivate one's husband (or desired husband) by knitting him a golf-jerkin or cricket jumper (incorporating his school or club colours, if you feel adventurous) and that one can also knit ones own alluring underwear (with ribbed cuffs) Be still my beating heart . . .
There was a wonderful section about planning a house and kitchen to minimise housework, which included the always-useful recommendation to ensure that you have a system of speaking tubes or telephones, for efficient communiction with the kitchen to avoid the maids having to run around the house . . .
Of course, neither 3 year-olds nor milking cows take account of late nights or the clocks going back, so we had a rather earlier morning than I am accustomed to on a Sunday morning.
before heading home, I helped to feed the chickens and turkeys (and have bespoken a Turkey, for Christmas, although not a specific, individual one) The turkeys are very free-range, but not, apparently, very bright.
I came away clutching some new laid eggs, wild mushrooms and a pheasant, as R had been out doing a little rough shooting on Saturday morning, and apparently one gets bored of pheasant after a while. It is now hanging up maturing (and being ignored by Tybalt, who, it appears, does not recognise meat when it is still covered in feet & feathers and things) and which I intend to roast next weekend.
Meanwhile, I have been admiring the beautiful feathers (it's a cock) and hoping that I can remember how to pluck and clean it. It's a reminder of how far removed we normally are from the way our food starts out, that this is only the second time I have had anything which needed that kind of prepararion. (The first time was a pheasant given to me by a farming friend, too!)
J & I are determined not to leave it so long before meeting up again, and I am hoping that she will finally make it over to mine before too long (She's never actually visited my house, partrly because until my parents moved I tended to combine meeting up with her with a visit to them, and partly because as there is only one of me, it's easier for me to go there than for her to organise a husband & small child to come. But I'm not giving up until I've managed to return her hospitality!
Altogether, a highly enjoyable time.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

In Which Very Little Happens

It's been a little while since I blogged, mostly because nothing very thrilling has been happening. I am still fighting my cold - it has the very irritating habit of getting a bit better, then, when I have been lulled into a false sense of security, it pops up again in a slightly different form.

I am currently 'enjoying' its attention in the form of a deeply irritating dry cough, wheezing, and bunged up sinuses, plus a frustrating tendency to be completely knackered & fit for nothing.

I keep getting letters from the National Blood Service begging plaintively for my blood, (which of course they won't want while I am all germy), but then I feel guilty about not giving them any.

I did manage to go out last night, as I was invited to go to my father's cousin's house for dinner, as another of her (and my) cousins was visiting her. It's always good to catch up with extended family, but being sociable is surprisingly tiring :-(.

This weekend I am due to spend Saturday night with an old school friend - hopefully the fun will outweigh the tiredness. Going to her home will involve going past our old house (which my parents sold 18 months ago, after they retired) My friend tells me that the new owners have been doing quite a lot of building work, so I shall have to cruise slowly by & have a good look!

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Aaaand the winner is. . . . .

OK, I said I'd pick who got the free book on Saturday morning, and now it is evening.

So, I got Tybalt to pick, (By having me put your names on pieces of paper, screw them up and throw them for him to chase. The winner is the first he ate!)

So, Sally, a copy of The Triangle for you. Can you e-mail or DM me your address?

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Book Give-away!!

As a result of going to Amanda Palmer's gig, and blogging and posting pictures of it, I found the blog of Rashbre, at Rashbre Central (Or to be stictly honest, Rashbe commented on one of my pictures, and finding the blog was pretty easy from there!)

As it turns out, Rashbre has written a novel, The Triangle, which has just been published.
Rashbre has kindly sent me a couple of copies, so it seems only fair to pass one on to one of you.

So, here's the plan. Today is Wenesday. If you would like a shiny new book, leave a comment, telling me why you want a copy of the Triangle. On Saturday morning I will pick one of you (maybe at random, maybe based on the wit and artistry of your comment, who can say?), and send you the book.

All I would ask is that if you get the book, that you post a review of it somewhere (your blog, amazon, Goodreads, whichever you prefer)

So, what are you waiting for? GO!

[And if you don't win, you can always order a copy...]

Saturday, 10 October 2009

In Which The Best Laid Plans go Awry

Very frustrating. I had planned to spend this weekend enjoying myself. I was going to drive down to Rye, today, to visit Dave McKean's exhibition at the Rye Art Gallery, then go to Shoreham to meet up with my sister and her partner. We were going to go out for dinner, probably Thai, probably in Brighton, and I'd be spending the night with them, and perhaps do a little sailing tomorrow before coming home.

Unfortunately, the evil little virii currently occupying my system have other ideas. I've been fighting them, but currently they are winning. So today I will mostly be curling up on the sofa and ensuring the future success of the lemon, honey and ginger industries.

At least I have already ordered a copy of the 'Coast Road' book, so I will get the opportunity to see the pictures and read the story once that arrives.

Now. More Tea.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

In Which There Are Skulls, and a Lion Hunt

As I was in London anyway, for the purpose of seeing the talented Mr Webley, I decided to take the opportunity before heading home, of visiting the Moctezuma exhibition at the British Museum. After all, it is all about Mexica, with skulls, human sacrifice and and bloodshed - what's not to like?

Of course, in an ideal world, I would have thought to check before I left the hotel, what time the museum opened, but as it turned out I was able to find a convenient coffee-shop to sit in, watching the rain fall and reading about Shakepeare's London for 45 minutes until the museum opened.

They have a temporary garden in the courtyard outside the museum just know - it is part of a collaboration with Kew Gardens, to accompany the 'Gardens of Jodhpur' exhibition, so I did wander past the Baobab and Mango trees briefly, before heading indoors into the dry.

The exhibition was fascinating. I knew, of course that the Aztec* civilisation remained until the conquistadors arrived with their guns and small pox, but I hadn't quite put the dates together in my mind to realise that in the 16th Century there were people carrying out human sacrifices, hunting using obsidian axes and so on. There were a number of skulls, including a genuine human skull which had been beautifully covered with turquoise and jet mosaic, and fitted with straps to allow it to be used as a mask. Delightful. There were also a number of manuscripts, written by the conquistadors but illustrated by Aztecs. Beautiful but sad - a record of the end of a civilization.

After seeing the exhibition I spent some time in other parts of the museum - the Assyrian rooms, featuring many beautifully carved reliefs, including a whole set featuring a lion hunt. (I felt sorry for the lions. They started out in cages, and never seemed to be allowed to win, or escape.) There were also many chariots, and some not-altogether-seaworthy boats, although I am not convinced that they were an integral part of the lion hunt! I find it incredible that they are so clear and relatively undamaged after almost 3000 years.

I also took the opportunity to visit the Elgin Marbles (after all, who knows how much longer they will be in London) Whtever the rights or wrongs of their ownership, they are beautiful.

(*Apparently 'Aztec' is an inaccurate, if well known description)

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

In Which There is a Coffee Percolator going Wheeeee!!

A few weeks ago, I got an e-mail from Jason Webley's mailing list, with details of his upcoming shows. At first, I thought I wouldn't be able to go, as the weekend ones (one in Brighton, just down the road from where K&C live) clashed with my Aunt's party which I was already comitted to attending, but then I had to cancel a day off work whcih I had planned, one or two things in my work diary moved, and I was able to book a day off and book a ticket for the London gig, on Monday night!

So, Monday found me rushing out of work, dashing home to feed the cat and legging it to the station to get to London...a couple of hours later, after having booked in to my (very cheap) hotel near Kings Cross, and reassured myself that it did not, so far as I could tell, also rent rooms by the hour, I headed off to Camden. A few wrong turns and a vietnamese meal later I was wandering along Camden High Street , round a corner and to the Green Note which is a very small, but perfectly formed venue - it's also a restaurant, but sadly the kitchen wasn't open, which was a shame, as the specials board on the wall had lots of tasty sounding dishes! So in the absence of food, what I found was a small bar, with lots of little tables, and the worlds teeniest stage tucked into one corner.

Finding an empty table near the stage (although it would be impossible, given the size of the room, to find a table very far from the stage) I asked the couple sitting at the next table whether it was free, as one does. After saying that it was, I noticed that she was giving me odd looks, and I started to worry that perhaps I'd upset them. Then she started asking me about where I was from . . . a few moments later, (as In panicked that she was a former, and potentially unhappy, client of mine) we established that she was a former colleague, having been an office junior with us 5 or 6 years ago. I'm notsure whether to be more impressed by the fact she recognised me after so long, or amazed at the coincidence - given that the venue was so small, and neither of us knew the other was a fan of Jason's... It certainly improved the evening, having good company!
So, after that interesting start, came the music.

Which, for the record, was fantastic. It was a most interactive gig. Not only was Jason taking requests for songs (whether or not he actually knew them - turns out he can play 'Oasis' but gets stuck in the lyrics round about the word 'barbarian'....) but was also enrolling us to sing the violin and trombone parts as required, and to join in with the music, with much encouragement. There was considerable Stomping, too.

Mid evening, during the break, I was able to get my 'counterpoint' CD signed (on reflection, I think Jason still has my Sharpie..) and say Hi to Jason. Told him I heard about his music via the Fabulous Lorraine and several of her fiends, (to whom he sent his best wishes)

For me, particular highlights were 'Eleven Saints' (Why yes, we did join in with the 'Wheeee's ), 'Dance While the Sky Crashes Down' and, much, much later in the evening, 'The Drinking Song' Mr webley's instructions "Look, I don't care if you don't know the words, just sing them loudly" (gap with raucous singing) "OK, my bad, I forgot to teach you the other part. It's 'Yo da dee, Yo Daah Dah'. It's russian"....

We were then critisised for not being drunken enough (that's what happens when it's a Monday night, y'know)
It turns out, that if you stand up, raise your right finger (proud and erect) and then focus on your own finger and spin round in circles, you do achieve a very close approximation to being drunk. (but without the hangover) Who knew? I am not 100% sure that this improved the Quality of the singing, but, combined with the hugging of neighbouring strangers and the swaying, it certainly increased the volume and the good humour!

Sadly, that marked the end of the evening's music, although there was still time for a quick sweaty hug, and then we (Jenny, her bf and I) walked back to the tube, passing, on our way, this estate agency, which I belive to be the one from which the late, great, Douglas Adams borrowed the name for his character!

Most entertaining.

Now, if Mr Webley can just be persauded to come back in the very near future.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

In Which There is a Party

My Aunt (one of many Many Aunts) recently turned 60, and retired, and she decided that a party to celebrate those things would be in order.

As a good neice, I decided to go. There was just one problem. She lives in Northumberland, which is quite a long way away. (about 6 hours drive away) And I don't have much un-booked leave left...

Anyway, much plotting of travel possibilities followed and after spending lots of time on Motorways (mostly I wasn't driving, which was good!) Then after arriving in Hexham, we found the Moot Hall where we were dragooned, like obedient neices (and neices-partner) into blowing up balloons, hanging up streamers, setting out crisps and nuts and generally making ourselves look useful. There was a certain amount of talking going on too...

Several hours, one coffee shop and a pub later, we returned to the hall, dressed in our best and ready to party. We did party. There was much talking, and catching up with all those family members who haven't seen one another recently (I disapprove, for the record, of my 'baby' cousins turning in to virtually grown up people, just becasue I took my eyes of them for a year or two!) There was food, and drink, and silly games. There was dancing, and, later in the evening, there was the part of the evening which involved trying on each others shoes... I suspect I would still have been unable to walk in these, even if they hadn't been a size too small...
Sunday morning wsa dedicated to breakfast, and more family catching up, including meeting the newest member of the family, who is just turning one, and who was remarkably sanguine in the face of a sudden influx of admiring uncles, great-aunts and uncles, cousins and a grandmother.
The afternoon and evening, of course, involved the 6 hour drive home...

Sunday, 27 September 2009

In Which There Is (you guessed it) Another Writer

After having my books signed by Chris Riddell and Paul Stewart I had about an hour before the final event of the day,Tony Lee 'Talking Graphic Novels' so I had time to pop down to the railway station to book tickets to go to London in 10 days time (for a Jason Webley gig)

I had decided to go to this event because I'd enjoyed reading Dr Who - The Forgotten and because I've been following him on Twitter and thought that it was likely to be interesting.

I was right - it was.

Tony was talking about his own experience and about writing comics in general - comparing it with writing novels - more 'show', less 'tell', with the need to be able to tell the story without acres of dialogue and description - also making excellent use of the flip-chart as a visual aid, encouraging audience participation to show how a stock situation (maid Marion on the scaffold, Robin Hood about to save her) becomes a story, looking at the web of connections, backstory and future possibilities which spread out from that single point, and make up the story.

Tony also demonstated his own awesome artistic talents to show what can be left out of a comic when telling the story. As you can see, his skills are such that Comic Artists everywhere will be looking to their laurels... He also spoke about how comics are laid out (i.e. cliffhanger at the bottom of a page - surprise twists on the left hand page so the eye doesn't skip ahead etc.)

I loved that Tony was so enthusiastic about his job - he also stressed that one should not become a writer to become famous - one should become a writer because one has stories to tell.

Also, if one wishes to break into comics, this can be achieved by lying ones way into interviews with DC & Marvel.

Tony was a little twitchy - he has, after all, just finished writing the graphic novel adaptation of 'Pride and Prejudice and Zombies' and was a little concerned that the Jane Austen Society may havbe a hit out on him as a result, which, given that the Jane Austen Festival is still going on in Bath means he was taking his life in his hands to attend... (Although thinking about it, the Jane Austen Society ought surely to be challenging him to a duel, rather than sending assasins....)

I thoroughly enjoyed the event, and was happy to get my copy of 'The Forgotten' signed at the end.

After leaving the Guildhall I took the opportunity to pop up to Waterstones to pick up a copy of Mike Carey's latest Felix Castor novel - passing one of my favourite Bath buildings - the old circulating library, where, I like to imagine, Miss Jane Austen, Miss Anne Eliot and others may all have borrowed novels, in their day.
In Waterstones I was surprised to find one final author - Allan Gilliland - who was signing copies of his book 'The Amazing Adventures of Curd the Lion and Us in the Land at the Back of Beyond' - As it happens, I saw the book in my local bookshop a couple of weeks ago, and bought a copy on impulse, as the illustrations are beautiful, and the book itself looks interesting and unusual, so it was a nice surprise to be able to meet the author .
All in All, Saturday was a Good Day. It makes uo for the rest of the week, which was considerably less fun!
In other news, my sister E has reached Singapore en route for Australia, and managed to see the qualifying for the Singapore F1 Grand Prix, despite jet-lag, which I'm sure she enjoyed, and which has the advantage of being something I need not feel envious of!
[edited to add: I was tickled pink to see Mr Lee has "blatantly stolen" my pictures for his blog of the event. They couldn't have been stolen by a nicer person.]

Saturday, 26 September 2009

In Which There Are More Authors and an Illustrator

I was late getting to Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell's event, talking about their collaborative series The Edge Chronicles due to standing in line to get my books signed by Geraldine McCaughrean and Philip Reeve. I have to confess to not having read any of the Edge Chronicles - I booked my ticket on the strength of Chris Riddell's illustrations for 'The Graveyard Book' but I'm glad I went - Chris and Paul were fascinating and I now have another set of books (The Edge Chronicles) to read. . . helpfully, Chris & Paul gave a quick guide to the books. Paul talked about 'learning' to speak Banderbear. Apparently, the language consists of 3 words - 'Wuh', Wuugh' and 'Wugh?' (although I may have mis-spelled them) but has a much deeper and poetic sign-and-body language which Paul demonstrated. Chris talked about becoming concerned about Paul's mental health.

Chris revealed that he started his career as an illustrator as a child - his father was a vicar, and he would sit at the back of the church during services "[My father] would be preaching about peace on earth and goodwill to men and I'd be drawing pictures of knights with their heads cut off" He explained that an old lady would sit in the same pew and would give him wine gums, and it was at that point that he decided that "that's want I wnt to do for a living - draw pictures and have someone feed me wine gums" (I bet that one isn't in the school careers office database..)

Both talked about the involvment of their children in the development of the books - the consensus seemed to be that daughters are much harsher critcs than sons, and also about their new website where they are writing an on-line novel set in the Edge Chronical's world.

They also spoke about inspirations for some of the creatures in the Edge chronicles, and the fact that they had determined that the world of Edge would not be a static world, so as you work through the books you pass through the 1st, 2nd and 3rd ages of flight, for example, and that there is a more industrialised society in the later books.

After the event (and giving the pictures which Chris drew to illustrate it to two members of the audience, the lucky dogs) Chris & Paul signed for all those who wanted it.

I had brought my copy of 'The Graveyard Book' for Chris to sign, and he kindly drew me a tombstone in it, as well. (Paul commented (tongue firly in cheek) that he had always preferred the Dave McKean illustrations . . ) I bought a copy of 'The Curse of the Gloamglozer' which is the first of the Edge Chronicals, which both signed - leving me with the happy feeling og having just discovered a new set of books to read.