Thursday, 29 July 2010

In Which There is a New Bed, and Daleks

I've been meaning to blog for a while, but there seems to be a shortage of round-to-its at the moment..My lovely new mattress arrived on Saturday - the delivery time was "7 a.m. To 2p.m." and so I was up early on the basis that pyjamas are not really suitable wear for taking deliveries, even (or maybe particularly) bed-related deliveries.

Besides, they were going to be taking away the old mattress!
The new mattress is LOVELY! And so much fatter than the old one. I likes it, I does. And if I can only persaude my neighbours and their drunken friends that there are better times and places to have a loud argument than the middle of the street at 3a.m, I might even get some decent nights sleep, now!

The mattress men arrived just before 9, took away the old one, brought in the new one, all very efficient. A gold star for you, John Lewis, with your non-pushy salesman and your cheery mattress deliverers.

Having admired my new mattress from several angles, I obediently left it to air for a few hours before trying it out, as insttructed, and while I was waiting, I wandered into town to pop to the library. I had forgotten that there was a special event going on, to encourage children to read and write, and specifically to read and write science fiction.

I had been planning to pop in in order to drop of some books (both borrowed and being donated) and pick up some light reading for the weekend. I was not expecting Daleks.

But then, who does expect Daleks?

As well as the Daleks , R2D2 was there, scurrying around the place, there was one adult and one child-sized Star Wars Storm Trooper, a Sontaran,TARDIS

and, sitting quietly outside, a certain Blue Box....

I arrived not long after the library opened and the place was absolutely packed, mainly with children.

I think that the event was part of a much wider 'summer reading challenge' across (at least) the county, but clearly the staff here had gone above & beyond in order to make it really interesting and appealing. Many of the staff were in costume (remember those clockwork robots from 'the Girl in the Fireplace'?)
One thing whch made me happy was seeing this lovely poster .
(photo stolen from @CherylMorgan)
Not becasue it's a great poster (although it is) but also because this poster and I have a history.
Last year, you see, Mr Lincoln (who designed the poster, which features Mr Billy Bones) sent me a couple of these, after I admired them, one for me, and the others for display in my local library or bookshop.
I took the poster down to the library and asked the Friendly Librarian whether they would like it, to display. "Yes please" he said, "but I won't put it up today as it doesn't fit with our current disply"
Fair enough. For the next few months, each time I went to the library I would look to see whether it was up, and each time, it wasn't. eventually I asked about it, and the (different) librarian whom I spoke to denied any knowledge of it, and told me that they wouldn't have kept it that long so it had probably been thrown away.
And I was sad, as it seemed such a waste.
But it seems that it had not been thrown away or forgotten, rather, the Friendly Librarian had lovingly hoarded it until exactly the rght moment to put it up.
So I am happy again.

Monday, 19 July 2010

More Music

Saturday night found me once again in Frome, for another Festival event, this time a joint concert by Bath Philharmonia and Bluegrass quartet Harpeth Rising, who were taking part in the Frome Festival as part of their first ever (I think) tour outside the USA.

The idea was to make a connection between the country / bluegrass music and more classical pices inspired by the same type of music.

The first half of the concert consisted of the Phil. playing Adams' 'Shaker Loops', with a song from Harpeth Rising between each of the movements; the second half involved the Phil. playing Copland's 'Appalachian Spring', again, interspersed with songs from Harpeth Rising. There was also one song, 'Abraham' in which the Phil provided full accompaniment to Harpeth Rising.

I really enjoyed the concert. I did feel that the 2nd half worked better than the first - 'Shaker Loops' isn't what you could describe as an easy or accessible piece of music, and I would have preferred to hear it in full, to concentrate, rather than with a different style interspersed. I also felt that the audience were less thean completely attentive.

I felt the mix of Copland & bluegrass was a much better 'fit', and as 'Appalachian Spring' is a much better known piece of music (and with more obvious structure) it didn't suffer from the "have they finished yet? Should we clap?" issue which was apparent during the Adams!

The concert was held in St John's Church in Frome: the seating may not be the most comfortable in the world, but it does make an attractive setting for a concert.

After my exhausting morning shopping I was in two minds whether to head out again - I'd been awake since 5.30 a.m. and the idea of a glass of wine, the weekend paper and an early night was very appealing, but I'm glad that I madethe effort to go, as I eneded up having a really enjoyable evening.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

In Which I Go Shopping

I do not like shopping.

I particularly don't like it when it involves big malls or crowded places, which tend to combine the panic-inducing large-numbers-of-people with the cluastrophobia inducing no-natural-light. I think that online shopping is the best thing since, well, ever, as far as shopping is concerned, but there are some things which cannot, to my satisfaction, be bought online. Clothes are one obvious example, and beds are another, albeit not one which creates an every day problem.

I have known for a while that I needed a new mattress, but new mattresses are expensive, so I have been busy saving up. I have also known that buying a new mattress would, at some point, involve going to try out mattresses and that this was going to require that I go somewhere where I could find many mattresses gathered together. I alos wanted to make sure I bought from somewhere I felt I could trust.

I have not bought a very large number of beds in my lifetime, but my bed-buying experiences have not, in general, been happy ones:

Bed #1: Picture the scene. I was a new graduate, on a low wage, and just about to move into my first house, from (furnished) rented accommodation. I had used up every penny of my savings to pay the deposit was starting out with furnishings limited to (i) the desk, chair and rug from my old bedroom at my parent's house (ii) the 2nd hand fridge selected at Dodgy Electricals R Us on the basis they were keeping their beer and sandwwiches in it so it clearly worked (iii) the cheap bed which I had ordered, and arranged to be delivered on the afternoon of the day I moved in.
I moved. No sign of the bed. No phone call.
I called the shop. The call went something like this:
Me: "Hello, I can't help noticing that my bed hasn't been delivetred, are you running late? Can you tell me when you're likely to get here>"
BedShop: "Oh. Our warehouse burned down last week. We don't have any beds"
Me: "And you were planning on telling me this, and refunding my money when, exactly?"
There followed a short conversation where they expressed their hurt that I should expect them to give me my money back on the flimsy excuse that they had totally failed to deliver the goods and had no prospect of being able to do so in the forseeable future, which was followed by my friend and I making a high-spped dash to get to IKEA before it closed and to buy their cheapest futon, the alternative being for me to sleep on the bare & splintery floor of my new house.

Bed #2 This was an improvement on Bed#1 purchase, in that a bed was, in fact, delivered. It would have been less stressful if the holes in the headboard & legs part of the bedstead had been drilled so that they alingned with the holes in frame part, and if the number of long and apparently non-standard length bolts supplied had been equal to, or greater than the number of bits of the bed requiring bolting together, but that was nothing that a lot of swearing, a trip to B&Q and some last minute drilling couldn't resolve.

Bed #3 Refreshingly, all the pieces of Bed#3 were provided, and once I got it into the bedroom it was comparatively straight forward to fit together. Getting it into the bedroom was the tricky point, as the bed-delivery people (from the specialist bed shop, whose job consists entirely of delivering beds) were shocked and incredulous to learn that I expected them to actually deliver the bed, and, crucially, the mattress, to the bedroom. This would have been irritating even if I had not checked when I ordered it that it would be taken upstairs to my bedroom for me on arrival...

Bed # 3 is the one (or rather, the mattress for bed#3) is the one now being replaced, as it was a cheaper mattress and is now rather lumpy and very uncomfortable.

So, I got up early enough to enable me to get to the Giant Shopping Centre of Doom not long after it opened, in the hope that it would be less crowded, fortified myself with toast and marmalade, took a deep breath and set off.

Fortunately, it seems that the bed department of John Lewis' is not the most popular shopping destination, and Colin, the bed-salesman was very helpful and not at all pushy, plus when you are shopping for beds you get to lie down a lot. I feel shopping generally could benefit from this approach. I'm sure I would get les stressed about finding shoes to find my apparently Very Awkward feet if I had the option of a quick snooze in between tryings on.

Having identified what seemed to be a suitable mattress, I decided to go away and think it over for a little while (after all, it's a major purchase, plus I need a little bit of a run up if I'm going to spend £700 odd.)

I ventured out into the rest of the Mall. My aim was to see whether any shoe shops were selling respectable black shoes for office wear, and possible to look for a new suit (again, for the office) I even found, and bought, some very cheap flats which I should be able to wear to work.

However, as I passed my 4th or 5th phone shop I thoguht I would just pop in to ask when they expected to have new iPhones in, as most of the websites have been saying that they don't have stock except for upgrades for existing customers.

I walked in, and was immediately greeted by a young woman who seemed extraordinarily cheerful for someone who spends their life trapped in a phone shop in a giant mall. I wonder whether permanent exposure to cheesy piped music has some kind of hypnotic effect? Or maybe they put something in the water.

This time, the conversation went something like this:

Worryingly Chirpy Saleswoman: "Hello, I am so happy you wandered into our shop! Can I help you?!? (Bounce, Bounce)
Me: "I know they aren't in stock anywhere but I was wondering if you have any idea when you're likely to have the new iPhones, for new customers, not upgrades?"
WCS "I'm so happy you asked me!! Actually, I think we had a delivary this morning. We've got lots!! Do you want one?"
Me "Um, yes, maybe, can we have a chat about different tarifs?"
WCS "I'm so delighted that you asked me! I'm really excited by this! (Bounce, Bounce) Come over hear and I will read you the shorter and less confusing words from the handouts displayed prominently all over the shop!!!"
Me "Thanks. Er, I've actually read those, I was hoping you could go into a bit more detail"
WCS "I am alsomost dizzy with joy. I will certainly not let the facts that I don't actually know anything about the tarifs and am having trouble navigation my own computer stand in my way!! It will be no trouble at all to go and repeat your question to one of my more geeky but less insanely cheerful colleagues, and I bet I can repeat their answers to you really well with only minor details like what product I'm talking about, and any number they may mention, being missed out. Did I mention how very happy this all makes me?"

Me [sits down quietly and reads the small print and other details from her computer, instead, while she riccochets around the shop]

Time passes. I agree to buy a phone. There is some momentary confusion as the complex issue of buy-one, get one half price on the accessories is negotiated. We establish, after one or two false starts, that this means if I buy one of the stickered accessories I get a second one half price.

WCS tried to put the booster battery I decided not to buy into my bag, I let honesty get the better of me and point out that I don't think she meant to give me a £40 accessory as a free gift. This makes her, if possible, even happier than before.

More time passes. I stumble out of the phone shop, exhausted by so much unrelenting cheerfulness. By this point, the Mall was starting to get pretty busy, and I felt unable to face trying on clothes and trying to find a suit whihc would be respectable without being eyewateringly expensive, so headed back to the comparative calm of John Lewis' bed department, where I lay on the mattress a little more (as much to recover from all that cheeriness as to check it still felt right) before going to actaully order and pay for it.

It will, apprently , be delivered next Saturday, possibly very early in the morning. And I checked, and they will definately carry the new mattress up to my bedroom, and carry the old one down and take it away. And when it is John Lewis' who tell me that they will do something, I belive them.

On the way home, it being now lunchtime, I stopped off in Bradford on Avon and treated myslef to some nice cheese and olives and bread. The advantage of buying a mattress and an iPhone all in one day is that when you then spend £10 in the deli it feels incredibly cheap and restrained :-)

I am not 100% sure, as I believe the brain tends to edit out traumatic experiences, but I think this was my first visit to the Giant Shopping Centre of Doom since I incautiously agreed to go with my mother, in exchange for my father doing some DIY in my house, shortly before Christmas of 2006. I can only hope that it will be at least as long again before I have to return.

Now, if you will excuse me, I have a shiny new toy to play with...

Thursday, 15 July 2010

In Which there is a lot of Laughter

So, the Frome Festival is currently taking place - it's now in its 10th year, and would, I think, best be described as a general arts festival - it tends to have a variety of events which can include classical music, jazz, art exhibitions, local interest, comedy and books.

I have been to one or two events in the past, but often find that the things I am interested in are either sold out almost immediately, or are mid-week while I'm at work.

This year, however, I managed to get a ticket to see "Paul Merton's Impro Chums" at the Memorial Theatre, on Tuesday evening.

It was great fun! Paul Merton was appearing with 4 other comedians - Richard Vranch, Suki Webster, Andy Smart and Phil (whose second name I unfortunately didn't catch). As the name suggests, it was an evening of improvisation, with different sketches and games incorporating suggestions from the audience. If you've ever watched the TV show "Whose Line is it Anyway?" you will get the general idea.

I admit that it added to the amusement for me, to have one of my suggestions taken up :-)

Excellent evening, and a great opportunity to see performers whoaren't usually to be found in small rural towns!

Some Book Reviews

So, the blog has been very heavy on music and theatre recently, so I've decided to do a post about some of the books I've been reading recently, and what I thought of them. All titles are links to the relevent amazon page, in case you get a sudden urge to go shopping!

'Stories' Neil Gaiman & Al Sarrantonio

I was fairly confident I'd find stories I'd like here - partly because I knew Neil Gaiman and Diana Wynne Jones are two of the contributors, and they are 2 of my favourite writers, but also because I trusted Neil in picking writers and stories (Not to say I couldn't also trust Al Sarrantonio, but I am not familiar with his work)

Inevitably there were some stories which I liked better than others, but there weren't any which I disliked, or felt I had wasted my time by reading, although I am sure that there are some I will re-read less frequently than others.

The stories in the collection are not limited to a single genre or theme, which adds a sense of adventure when dipping into the book - you never know what you are going to get!

I was not expecting to find Joanne Harris writing about fading gods hunting one another through modern New York, or Roddy Doyle a darkly funny story about vampires, for instance, whereas Michael Marshall Smith's dark assassination tale is perhaps more what I might have expected from him. Both were very good, and are stores I will undoubtable re-read in the future. Neil Gaiman's own 'The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains' is a very bleak tale of Jacobites, treasure and revenge, and Laurence Block's 'Catch and release' and Richard Adams' 'The Knife' are both chilling. Bycontrast, Diana Wynne Jones' Samantha's Diary is very funny, and will definitely be re-read at the appropriate time of year. The collection is heavy on the darker side, and has certainly made me interested in exploring further the works of some of the contributers.

'Troubadour' Mary Hoffman

Mary Hoffman is primarily known as a writer for young adults, I particularly enjoy her 'Stravaganza' series. This book was also only the YA shelves at my local library; It is a historical novel, with the protagonist being a young noblewoman, Elinor, living in the Langue D'Oc region of Medieval France, and living through the Cathar pogroms and crusade in the early 13th Century.

I found the book interesting - I knew next to nothing about the Cathars or the way they were treated, and the story provides that information, and whetted my appetite to learn more, but I was less gripped by it as a story - I never really felt I got to a point where I cared deeply about the characters, and did have several 'yes, but ' moments - would a group of troubadours really be willing to help their patron's daughter to run away from home? And would such a girl have been quite so shocked by the thought of being married off to a man chosen by her father?

All that said, I did enjoy the book, but I don't think I shall be rushing out to buy my own copy.

Perhaps unfairly, I think I would probably have rated the book more highly had it been written by someone else, so I wasn't comparing it to other books Mary Hoffman has written, but I have very high expectations of her which this book didn't quite meet.

'Between the Woods and the Water' Patrick Leigh Fermor

This is the second part of Leigh Fermor's autobiography charting his travels, as a young man, from England to Constantinople (the first part being 'A Time of Gifts', which is well worth reading, and which you should probably read first, in order to follow the journey in order) In 1933, having left school and finding himself at something of a loose end, Leigh Fermor set out to travel, on foot, to Constantinople. Between the Woods and the Water covers the section of the journey from the Danube to the Iron Gates (Ada Kalah, in Romania)

It is absolutely fascinating, as travel writing but also as anthropology. Leigh Fermor made most of the journey on foot and mixed with peasants, gypsies and down-and-outs, but also, through a series of friends-of-friends and introductions with various members of the nobility and gentry - so he found himself sleeping with gypsies one day, then playing bicycle polo with archdukes the next. The writing is beautiful, and the books give a fascinating insight into the period, as well. Leigh Fermor is clearly very erudite and well read, which means when reading I spent a lot of time making notes of various reference to go & look up later. He rather endearingly assumes that his readers are just as familir with classical allusions, and just as able to read Greek or Latin, so (in the edition I was reading, at least) there are no footnotes, and no translations of classical quotations. Don't, however, let this put you off. If stopping to look up quotations part way through a book isn't your thing, you can skip the Greek and just enjoy the writing!
Highly recommended!

Bluestockings Jane Robinson
I picked this up on impulse, and found it very interesting - it is a study of women's education, primarily focusing on women's access to, and involvment in university education in England, at the end of the 19th and start of the 20th Century, bilding largely on diaries, college records and personal memories. This makes for an interesting read, but does mean that it is difficult at times to determine which experiences are unique to one person, and which are examples of a more general experience.
Similarly, although very readable, it is occasionally unclear when the author has skipped from 1870 to 1920 or 1930! It's certainly an interesting, and very readable introduction to this area of social history, and also a salutory reminder of how far we've come.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

New Look

I was sorting out some paperwork this morning and realised that my passport expired last month, not, as I thought, in a years time. No biggie; I'm not planning to leave the country in the next few weeks, so I should be able to get a new one without having to pay for an express application, or any of that crap, but it did give me the impetus I needed to get my hair cut.

I've been meaning to for ages, for I am very bad at organising that sort of thing, partly because I don't actually enjoy the process - it is like shopping for clothes or shoes - I might be happy with the outcome, but I don't much like it while it's going on..

Fortunately, when I called the salon this morning, they had had a cancellation and were able to fit me in this afternoon, so I didn't have time to worry about it, and I did, for once, remember to put my contact lenses in so I was able to see what was happening. Normally, I forget, go wearing my glasses, which of course I then have to take off, and and spend the next 45 minutes looking anxiously at the blur that is my reflection, and wondering what they hell is going on!

This time, I was very pleased with the end result - it does help, of course, when the person cutting your hair listens to what you say you'd like.

I went direct from the hairdressers to the photobooth and got some pictures done which (assuming they are acceptable to the passport agency) should mean that I will look more-or-less OK in my passport for the next ten years. I shall probably not look quite as well groomed again until next time I get a hair-cut, however..
And it will be much cooler, which is another bonus.
I was very restrained, and managed then to get home again without spending any money in the bookshop or elsewhere, so I think the day can be counted a success all round.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

In Which we Meet the Man From Stratford

Last night I was at Bath Theatre Royal to see Simon Callow in his one-man play "The Man from Stratford ,about Shakespeares's life.
The play is loosely based around the "Seven Ages of Man" Speech from 'As You Like It', with this used as a starting point for information about Shakespeare's life, interspersed with extracts from various plays and sonnets to illustrate the different themes.

It was fascinating - I've always enjoyed Sahkespeare and have read quite widely about Shakespeare's life - most recently, James Shapiro's '1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare' so I found almost all of the factual material was familiar, although there were one or two little nuggets of information which were new to me - did you know that on his marriage licence, his name is spelled 'Shagspear', for instance? Or that 'puking' was one of the (many) words he invented?
And of course, seeing such a wonderful actor performing even little snippets of Shakespeare was a great treat. We heard 'Friends, Romans & Countrymen', from Julius Ceaser, 'Once More Unto the Breach' from Henry V, 'If Music be the food of love' from Twelfth Night and 'She should have died hereafter' from Macbeth, to name but a few.
All in in, it was funny, fascinating and hugely entertaining and enjoyable - I could happily have sat & listened to much more.
I am no longer much in the habit of hanging around stage doors (I used to, in my youth, when I had more time, and more stamina!) but I really wanted to be able to express how much I'd enjoyed the evening, so I decided to make an exception and wait a little - my patience was rewarded - Mr Callow came out quite quickly, and I was able to tell him how much I'd enjoyed the show, and (and, indeed, seeing him in 'Waiting for Godot' last year. He was very friendly and happy to chat - there were three of us hanging around; myself, a lad named Felix who is going to study drama, and a lady from Australia, and he was charming to all of us - a real gent!
In fact, my only criticism of the evening would be that as he was only here for 3 nights I had to go on a Wednesday,rathert than a Friday, which isn't ideal, in the working week, but despite another late night I have no regrets!
It is probably as well, however, that I haven't anything in particular planned for the weekend - I suspect that some serious catching up on sleep, not to mention catching up on housework, will be required.