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.