Sunday, 28 February 2010

Art and Culture (& Keira Knightley)

I spent the weekend in London - I'd arranged to go up in order to spend some time with family, go to the theatre and take in a few exhibitions, and all of those things were sucessfully accomplished!

We started with a visit to the Royal Academy, which is having an exhibition of Van Gogh's work and letters. It was fascinating, and included quite a lot of Van Gogh's earlier works, showing very clearly his developing style - lots of works which one wouldn't, as a non-expert, immediately recognise as Van Gogh's!

The letters were also interesting; he was in the habit of smattering his letters to his brother Theo with sketches of the paintings he was working on, and it was interesting to see these next to the works themselves.

We'd planned to eat at Mildred's, but it was full, so we ended up at Prix Fixe instead - baked camembert followed by breast of duck... mmmmm.

On the Saturday, after a lazy morning, we headed into the city to Tate Britain where we saw the Henry Moore & Chris Ofili exhibitions - completely different to one another, but both fascinating, although I didn't enjoy the Henry Moore as much as the exhobition of his larger sculptures, in Kew Gardens, a coupls of years ago - I think I prefer the larger pieces, and seing them outdoors rather than on a gallery adds a lot to the pieces.

After the Tate, we met up with more members of the family at the Comedy Theatre, to seea matinee performance of The Misanthrope - this is a new, modern english version of Moliere's play, written by Martin Crimp and starring:

Damian Lewis (Alceste),
Keira Knightley - Jennifer (Celemine),
Tara Fitzgerald - Marcia (Arsinoe) &
Nicholas Le Provost - Alexander (Clitandre)

The play's setting has been updated to modern London, with Alceste a sucessful (if highly cynical) playwright, and Jennifer a young, beautiful american actress. There are plenty of knowing, tongue-in-cheek references to '17th Century plays' and to current events.

Damian Lewis was marvellous and, with strong support from Dominic Rowan (John / Philinte), really carried the play. Keira Knightley was good, and of course lovely to look at, but seemed at times to be struggling a little - she had a tendency to become rather shrill in order to project her voice. I think she has the potential to become a good stage actress but is perhaps not quite there yet!
I found the (sometimes a little forced) verse structure of the play to be a little distracting at times - rhymning couplets seem not to fit terribly well with modern english, but in spite of some critisism I did enjoy the play, and was very glad we had the opportunity of seeing it.

Following the show we went into ChinaTown to eat at Imperial China - good to have the time to socialise with family!

All in all, it was a very enjoyable weekend, and even spending part of Sunday morning hanging around Waterloo station, with rain beating down on the roof was not unpleasant (my habit of travelling with a book, and acquiring coffee on arrival at the station worked out well!)
My next trip to London will be to see see Amanda Plamer & Jason Webley's show, and will, I think, be a totally different experience!

Thursday, 25 February 2010

On Books, and Reading

Earlier today Phiala posted a link to this story.

Although I have seen similar reports in the past, I still find it hard to comprehend the idea that reading 4-9 books a year would class as 'avid' and that 1 in 4 [American] people read no books at all. I'm pretty sure I've seen similar figures for reading / book buying habits here, too

The thing that got me, though, was the thought that 4 books per year is the average. A lot of us read a lot more than that, though, so presumably at the other end of that scale there are a great many people reading even fewer then that.

The article also mentions younger people not reading as much. I'm not certain whether that is true, but if it is, I can't help thinking that children who don't see their parents, or the other adults in their lives reading, are unlikely to see reading as a normal, pleasurable thing to do.

I used to babysit quite a lot when I was teenager, and I used to see a lot of houses where there were no books, except perhaps a box, or a single shelf with some books for the child, but no sign that any adult in the household ever read. I used to find it sad, and a little disturbing. I still do. It is seems to me unsurprising that many children brought up in those houses grow up to be adults who don't read.
Books are not particulalry expensive, particularly when compared with other kinds of entertainment such as DVDs, computer games etc. And if you can't afford to buy, you can borrow them, free of charge, from libraries. Growing up, buying a new book was a rare treat, usually happening only following Christmas or a Birthday when someone had given me book-tokens (always welcome) or money. But we went to the library on a very regular basis, and there were 2nd hand books from charity shops, church fetes and 2nd hand book shops, too.

I grew up in a house full of books. Books in every room, and an assumption that picking them up, looking at them, touching them, reading them, was perfectly normal. (We have a family joke, that a sociable family gathering consists of us all sitting in the same room, each immersed in a different book...)

I don't remember a time when my parents didn't read to me, and to my siblings. Reading a bedtime story was a constant, and we were read to at other times as well. I am sure this is how I learned to read (I don't ever remember not being able to). I'm also sure that this helped us not to lose interest, as being read to allows a child to enjoy stories which she might not yet be able to read independently. I remeber my younger brother choosing 'The Hitchhikers Guide to The Galaxy' & Asimov's Robot books as bedtime reading when he was 6 & 7 (I believe that my parents may have very slightly edited as they went along, if only to avoid being asked to explain the significance of the triple-breated whore of eroticon 6..) As he is dyslexic and was a slow starter where reading was concerned, I suspect that without this he might well have turned into a non-reading adult. And think what he would have missed out on.
As a final thought, I decided to make a list of the books I've read in the past 7 days, and those I am currently reading...
In search of England -Michael Wood
Tall, Dark & Dead - Tate Hallaway
Frostbitten - Kelley ArmstrongBold
In the Garden of Iden - Kage Baker
City of Ships - Mary Hoffman
A Kind of Intimacy - Jenn Ashworth
The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England - Ian Mortimer
Kitty & the Silver Bullet - Carrie Vaughn
Women in England 1500-1760 - Anne Laurence
Leonardo - The First Scientist - Michael White
Undead & Unwed - MaryJanice Davidson
Quite heavy on the urban fantasy this week, but not an unusual quantity or selction, for me. And so much enjoyment from so little outlay!

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Shrove Tuesday!

There are some traditions I am happy to maintain....
Especially when they come with lemon & sugar.
The lemon counts as one of my five-a-day, doesn't it?
I love that something so delicious can be made so quickly and easily, out of such simple ingredients. And pancakes, like madeleines, are full of memories...

Sunday, 14 February 2010


I don't wish to tempt fate, especially after the false alarm last week, but it does look as though spring might be on it's way.

I spent some time in the garden this afternoon, clearing away dead leaves and so on. I'm not really a gardener, and I suspect that some of this is stuff which ought to have been done in the autumn, but better late than never...

I have two little clumps of snowdrops, both of which have buds just beginning to open, and some other green shoots which I think may be crocuses when they get around to it. The rosemary bush seems to be thriving.

The sun came out for a little while whilst I was outside, which was lovely, and made everything look more alive - I can start to believe that more things will grow, and reappear.

I also finished off the marmalade, with lids and labels. It And ate some of it for the first time - there was a little bit left over, not enough to fill a jar, which forces me to eat it straight away....It isn't perfect - I think I ought to have let it sit a few more minutes before putting it in jars, as the peel has risen a bit, but only a little, and it tastes OK.
Small things, but satisfying. I think, today, I am happy.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

In Which there is Marmalade

Remember that marmalade I didn't get around to making last weekend? I did get around to it this weekend (Well, mostly)
The thing I tend to forget, between one year's marmalade and the next, is how time consuming it is.

Mostly the chopping-orange-peel-into-very-small-pieces part, although the boiling of the peel to make it soft takes ages as well, you can mostly go away and let it get on with it.
In my case, 'preparation time' also included walking down to the shops to buy another 4lbs of sugar. I did go into the kitchen shop to see whether they had a jam funnel, to reduce the stickiness factor at the bottling stage. I didn't buy one, tho'. Partly because they were a bit pricy, and partly because all three of the shop assistants stood around chatting to one another and drinking coffee, completely ignoring me and 3 other customers, so I felt disinclined to buy lest it encourage them!

Chopping up was a frustrating experience for Tybalt. In his world, the sound of the kitchen scissors must mean that I am trimming meat or cutting up bacon rashers. He was therefore not best pleased when, having made the effort of running all the way downstairs, he found that I was not cutting up anthing edible at all! Having a short memory (or perhaps simply an optimistic character) He came to check on me several times. each time, he was disappointed anew to find nothing but citrus fruit....
Aside from a moment of panic when it seemed the marmalade was going to boil over, the marmalade-making seemed to go well, althoug I shall now have to wait for it to cool to see whether I get a decent set, but it doesn't look too bad so far - as far as I can see so far, the peel isn't rising to the top, which is a good sign.
I still have about 1/3 of the marmalade to make, but I've done all the chopping - it's just the easy boiling and decanting which still needs doing. That, and working my way through my current jar of shop-bought marmalde, so I can start eating the good stuff!
And for now, the whole house smells of oranges, reminding me of Laleah, my grandmother. She used to make the marmalde in this family - I never made any until after she died, as I could always rely on her to let me have a jar or two each time I visited..

Friday, 12 February 2010

Spring is Here, (or not)

I'd been thinking about writing a cheerful Spring-Time post, about how nice it it that there are snowdrops, and a few new bright green leaves beginning to appear, but then on Wednesday we had snow (although it didn't lie) and nothing felt very spring-like.

As weeks go, it started pretty well. My mother had signed up for a two days of patchwork workshops being held just down the road, so she and my dad came to stay with me for a couple of days. We didn't get to spend a whole lot of time together, as I was out at work, but it was good to see them, and coming home to find someone else is cooking supper is nice, too!

My dad sorted out tthe light in my WC (which had started coming on whenever I turned on the light in the bathroom)
I haven't done a whole lot else this week - although I did finally get around to putting my Dave McKean picture (Beachy Head Birdman #4) on the wall.
I bought the picture from his exhibition in Rye in October, but as I was then poorly and couldn't get there to see he exhibition & pick up my picture, it came to me via several friends and family members, finishing by being brought to our family Christmas. Since I got home after new year I have been propping it up in different room trying to decide where to put it. It is in the living room for now, but I am still pondering whether to put it in the bedroom instead, where I could see t eery morning when I wake up (well, once I have managd to get my eyes open & my glasses on, that is)

I think it is beautiful, and it makes me happy.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

A Busy Weekend

I did manage to get a fair amount done over the weekend (although no marmalade was made) Everything is clean and tidy.

I don't enjoy cleaning or housework, but I do like the results once it is done.

I also sorted a big heap of receipts and other financial bits and pieces which have been sitting around for a time. Which ought to make things simpler when it comes time to do the tax return. . .

The next job to be done (other than making marmalade) will be to sort through my books, to see whether I can bear to weed any out, as the heaps of books which will not fit into any of my bookshelves are becoming a little unmanagable. I do need to get some more bookcases, but I do not think new bookcases alone will be enough. And I know that there are some books which I am unlikely to want to reread, so it makes sense to pass them on. Once I get over the whole stress of parting with books (any books) that is!

I'm looking forward to seeing my parents this week - my mum has booked a couple of patchwork classes/workshops which happen to be near here, so they are going to be staying with me for a few nights. I always like to see them, and it's always nice to have visitors, and have company in the evening, from time to time.

Friday, 5 February 2010

A Long Week

It has been a long week. I'm still tired from the whole chest-infection, which has meant I've had just about enough energy to get to work, but absolutely none over to do anything else.

Which is frustrating. And also means that the things I normally spread over the week's evenings, such as laundry, cleaning and so on, will all need to be done over the weekend, in place of more interesting things.


It's marmalade making season, and I have bought a bag of seville oranges, so hopefully I will have the energy to make some marmalade over the weekend, too. (If not, I should be able to stick the oranges in the freezer until next weekend: it won't do them any harm, and I believe there are some who say it is beneficial as it softens the skins)