Saturday, 25 September 2010

In Which There Is Art, and I Am Made Very Happy

It's late September again which means the Bath Festival of Children's Literature is here again. This year I shall miss most of it, as I am away next weekend, which is a little sad, as I was going to have gone to see Michael Morpurgo, and Michael Rosen, and Cornelia Funke, but as I still haven't mastered bilocation it can't be done.

Robin Etherington, Garen Ewing nd Dave McKean

Tonight, however, was  this event, which made me go all fangirl  squee when I first saw the programme - Dave McKean, Garen Ewing and Robin Etherington talking graphic novels. To be honest, Dave McKean is the only one of the three I'd heard of, but I am a huge fan of his work and the thought of getting to see him & maybe get some of my books signed was too good to miss.

I was at Bath Guildhall in plenty of time, having spent some considerable time earlier in the day deciding (a) how many books I could legitimately take with me in the hope of getting them signed, and maybe even doodles, and (b) which ones. On browsing the bookstall in the foyer I found that 'Slog's Dad', the new book by David Almond and Dave McKean is now out, so I had to buy that, and I was also tempted to by the first two volumes of Garen Ewing's Rainbow Orchid graphic novel, as I like the look of them.

The Etherington Brothers books are aimed more at children and I did manage to resist 'Monkey Nuts' although  suspect for the average 7-11 year old child it would have vast appeal!
The event was very interesting, all three panellists talking about their latest projects;

 Robin Etherington works with his brother, Lorenzo - Robin does the words and Lorenzo the pictures, and they have the Monkey Nuts books, and a new one called 'The Baggage', about a lost-property worker trying to reunite a very old bag with it's owner - it sounds as though will be good, and more suited to a slightly older reader.

Garen Ewing is working on the third volume of The Rainbow Orchid trilogy, which is set in the 1920's and inspired by adventurers and adventure writers, such as Rider Haggard and Jules Verne - and which he  both writes and draws. The style of his art is linge clair (clear line) , which means that his comics have a familiar look , as it is the style Herge used for the Tintin adventures - I have to admit that it was that similarity which attracted me when I saw the books!

He spoke about his interest in research, for instance, getting the languages right (for a  single frame showing an ancient greek manuscript), and getting things like the appearance of the Natural History Museum in the 1920s accurate, and getting a friend to build a scale model of the bi-plane he chose to use so he could draw this correctly, also. 

Dave McKean spoke about 'Slog's Dad'  by David Almond, which is just out, about the 'The Rut' " exhibition just finishing in London, (and which he confirmed is going to be made into a book, too, which I shall look forward to) and about the other projects he's currently working on - a film (which he didn't give any details about) and the book he is working on with Richard Dawkins, called 'The Magic of Reality' which will be an illustrated book answering questions (such  as why does the sun shine), starting with myths and fables and ways in which people have tried to explain the world, and then giving the scientific explanation.
Dave had some slides of some of the art for the book, which looks amazing; I can't wait to  see the finished article.

All three were asked about getting started, Both Garen and Robin had started with self-publishing and with putting their work up online, and Dave talked about pitching work with Neil Gaiman ("to this day, I'm not sure we had an appointment")
There were then some time for questions from the audience - in response to the 'what advice would you give someone wanting to be you?'

Dave recommended going to art school to (among other things) have time to broaden your horizons and to learn about things  which are not immediately obvious to you, and three seemed to be giving the same advice which is to do what you love, and what is important to you, and to keep doing it, bit by bit. Garen and Robin both also talked about putting work online to get it out there.

I was able to ask about collaboration, and whether there was anyone whom any of them would (in an ideal world) like to work with - Garen talked about the possibility of working with Philip Pullman (and I have to say I think his style would work well if Philip Pullman's 'Sally Lockhart' books were adapted into graphic novels.

Dave McKean mentioned that he and Neil Gaiman were both interested in doing a stage show or musical together, and that he wanted to work more with actors, in lice theatre, and also mentioned wanting to work with Harlan Ellison, and Robin said he wanted to work with Garen Ewing and Dave McKean..!

And there was a certain amount of discussion about the validity of monkeys and zombies in comics.

It was a shame that the event was only an hour long, I would happily have sat listening to the conversation for much longer.

All three were signing afterwards, so I  queued up, and ended up not only with a lovely sketch of Julius Chancer in my copy of  the rainbow Orchid, Vol. 1, but also beautiful drawings by Dave McKean in 'Slog's Dad and 'The Graveyard Book'

I think these are so beautiful in their own right, but I was also mesmerised watching Dave draw them, and make such vivid pictures with so few pen strokes.  It's so unfair that anyone should be so talented *and& such a nice person.

While queuing and watching the artists draw we were also talking, one of the subjects being how most adults will see they can't draw, or make things up, but all children will say they can, and considering when and why that changes.

I am just so happy that I was able to go. 

Friday, 24 September 2010

Which Features Mr Mitch Benn, Rock Star

Last night found me in Bath once again, even though it was a work night and I was knackered and feeling somewhat battered, due to my visit to the Chiropractor on Wednesday (of which more later)

I was in Bath because the fabulous Mr Mitch Benn was there, performing at Komedia. I haven't been to Komedia before. I've previously seen Mitch at the Rondo Theatre, which is a nice but tiny theatre on the edge of Bath - a bit like a pub with tiered seating.

Komedia is a converted cinema, all red and blue and gold and fancy plasterwork, and an echo.

And Mitch Benn is a comedian and singer, and if you don't know him and all his works, you should. Go here and look, go here and download. You know you want to.

Anyway, I had fortified myself with a nice half of Bellringer Beer and some rather disappointing potato wedges at a pub down the road (Memo to the Westgate Pub - please check the definition of 'crispy' as it applies to bacon, and do not raise expectations which you cannot satisfy) and so was already beginning to de-stress by the time I got to Komedia.

Mr Benn certainly competed the de-stressing process! Having been to several of his gigs before I knew pretty much what to expect . There were lots of songs I was familiar with - 'Sing Like an Angel', 'Size Zero', 'African Baby' 'Now He's Gone' & IKEA.

There was the wonderful 'Macbeth'

Mitch commented that if you hang around with Thespians, then sooner or later, one of them will come out with the old chestnut that if Shakespeare were alive today, he'd be writing Eastenders. Mitch's comment was that no he bloody wouldn't (Doctor Who, maybe, "he's been in it, after all, and Neil' s doing it, so Shakespear can't be far behind" )

Macbeth is his take on what Shakespeare might, in fact, write if he were around now. And it's Awesome!

We also had some newer songs; such as the topical "The Pope Wants Vicars" (Which won my heart by rhyming 'Saint Thomas Aquinas' with 'scared of vaginas', and the song which definitely got the biggest cheers of the evening -
"Proud of the BBC" which is a response to all the selfish tightfisted bastards  individuals who begrudge paying the licence fee and want to destroy privatise the BBC.  It ROCKS. And I especially liked the 'FUCKFUCKFCKFUCKStart again' in the second line, although I suspect that may not actually be part of the official lyrics...

Mitch also did his 'write a new song during the interval' party piece - based on suggestions from the audience about topical news stories, which you've got to admit is impressive.

All in all, it was a great evening, and I came home with my very own 'Proud of the BBC' T-Shirt.

Of course, the one small fly in my ointment was that being a Thursday night, I still had to get up & go to work in the morning, but what the hell..

Thursday, 23 September 2010

In Whch I am Battered & Bruised

So, about 12 years ago I was involved in a road accident, when someone who clearly saw observation, speed limits, rights of way and and basic common sense as optional extras. It left my suspension bent, my front wing crumpled, and my neck and shoulder rather, well, buggered.

I saw lots of doctors, and physiotherapists, and osteopaths.

I had treatments involving exercises, and treatments involving being massaged, and treatments involving a kind of chinese burn, and treatments involving sitting having soundwaves pointed at me, and one treatment which involved sitting in front of a box having something pointed at me and then being locked in when eveyne went home for the night, although that wasn't strictly speaking part of the treatment. I was stretched and bent by an osteopath and saw several consultants and specialists, and had x-rays and MRIs and all sorts, and in the end, all of them said, one way or another,  "Meh,  You're broken. Learn to live with it"

And I did.  after all, there wasn't any alternative, and once I had learned which things make it hurt. And any way, worse things happen at sea.

Then, last year, a banker in a BMW drove into the back of my car at a junction which obviously caused some immediate prblems, but also aggravated the existing problems, and although since then the more obvious symptoms have settled, my neck & shoulder seem much more sensitive, and hurt more, and sooner, than they did before.

And the doctor I was sent to by the insurance company said he thought that seeing a chiropracter might help. I was sceptical, but willing to give it a go.

Which is why, on Wednesday, I found myself being politely beaten up for my own good.

I was given a series of chinese burns down my right arm, and then some crunching to my shoulder and neck. I'm prettyt sure that he gave me the Vulcan death dgrip at one point, too.

I was left feeling somewhat battered, butI am bound to admit that I seemed to have a little more movement that evening, so I shall go back next week and see whether it helps in the onger term.



Sunday, 19 September 2010

More of Cambridge, Books, Friends and Food

After the fun of Stephen Fry on Friday night, Saturday was devoted to socialising.

R, S & I went into Cambridge and went for a walk through the town and  along the Backs (behind some of the colleges) admiring the Mathematical Bridge,and the more decorative colleges (the picture below is, I believe, Peterhouse College) before walking along towards Grantchester, by the river.
Having arranged to meet up with my friend Em we walked back to be in the city by lunchtime, where  we had coffee. 

R & S then left, to undertake revision and chores respectively, and Em and I went off and had an excellent and adventurous lunch at the Cambridge Chop House, where our meal included a 'squirrel, hare & leek faggot', warm duck salad, and then specialist sausages & mash.

It's not a restaurant to which one would take a vegetarian, but the food was good, and the company excellent.

 Em and I were at university together, and don't see each other anything like as often as I'd like!

After our long and convivial lunch, we may have spent rather a lot of the afternoon, and of our spare money, at the Haunted Bookshop where we both filled in some gaps in our collections, and spotted many more objects of desire...

If only I had happened to have a spare £300 I could have had a beautiful  copy of 'Alice in Wonderland' with illustrations by Arthur Rackham, or some fairy stories with the Edmund Dulac illustrations.

It's a lovely shop. And I think we both enjoyed the afternoon.

I just had time for a cup of tea withh R&S before driving home, to be met by reproaches from Tybalt for havng left him so long.

A most happy-making day.

In Which Mr Fry Is Quite Interesting (And I spend time with nice people)

Friday found me driving down to Cambridge in order to see my brother, R, his girlfriend S, and of course, Mr Stephen Fry, live and in person, at the Corn Exchange.

I had planned to leave home in time to give myself a full afternnon on Cambridge, but I was not very organised, which meant that by the time I'd arrived, parked at R&S's home and taken a bus into the city it was well past 3 p.m.

I walked through the city centre, passing Kings College, and headed to the Fitzwilliam Museum.

I like museums, and this one is very nice. It has free entry, and is housed in a magnificant building, with pillers and stone lions outside, and mosaics and giding and all sorts inside. Sadly you are only permitted to take pictures in the entrance hall.

Having limited time, I started with the galleries, where I found several Monets and Renoirs, and a Pisarro or two, plus some nicely morbid William Blake watercolours, and a rather nice Augustus John portrait of George Bernard Shaw.

I then headed down to the Greek, Roman and Egyptian rooms - I am a sucker for mummified crocodiles but they also have several Sarcophogi, and some naturalistic grave portraits.

In the greek section there was a wonderful carved sarcophagus with a glorious elephant on the side (I wish I could have taken a picture, or  found a postcard of it...) nd there were some exquisite Persian ivories.

I then found myself in the "Fan Gallery", where there were examples of different kinds of fan - mostly European from the 18th - 19th Centuries,  painted, carved and embroidered, incredibly delicate and frivolous. In the same section were some samplers, including a couple of very detailed ones which as I read down I found had been completed by a 10 year old (!) in 1663. Beautiful, and so impressive in the skill demonstrated.

The meseum closes at 5 so I had to leave, but as R & S were just finishing work I was able to meet up with them and we then had an adequate but uninspiring Thai meal. We had been going to get a pint afterwards, but the Eagle was so packed we gave up, and then parted company for me to go to the Corn Exchange to see Mr Fry, and for R&S to head home.

The Corn Exchange is an interesting building, a huge, high hall, with (removable) seating in the main body, plus balconies and some tiered seating at the back. I had a good seat, fairly far forward.

Mr Fry was, as I  rather expected, highly entertaining. He sarted out by commenting about the hall, and the fc that, despite his many and various experiences, has never exchanged corn, and  wouldn't know how to set about it!

He spoke about his childhood sugar addiction, and the possibility of the role of the sherbet fountain (white powder consumed via a tube...) and chocolate cigarettes in preparing one for various adictions in adulthood...

There was some slightly sweary but good humoured chiding of latecomers (especially those who had seats near the front, and on the inside of the row, and who traipsed in 15 minutes into the eveent...

The sections of the book which he read were the same as he'd read at the Festival Hall and he did talk about some of  the same issues and experiences, but there was alo lots of different material, and in particular a long explanation of how he got into Cambridge (He managed to persaude his local community college registration to sign him up for the A-Levels he wanted, espite these being oversubscribed, by begging and promising that he wuld get A grades and win a scholorship to Cambridge, which he duly did) and an explanation of his love of Oscar Wilde, born of seeing "The Importance of Being Ernest' on TV at the age of 10.

It was a hugely entertaining and enjoyable evening.

I did succumb to the temptation to buy a copy of the book, and queue for it to be signed. This part of the evening wasn't very well organisd - we were told that the signing was limited to 400 peope, but we waited for over half an hour before anyone came along the queue to let people know whether they were going to get in, and at the front it was very regimented, with 'minders' to push everthing along, which did mean it wasn't practical to say anything other than 'Hello'.

But Mr Fry is well worth saying hello to!

Thursday, 16 September 2010

In which I become a Little Tetchy

So, about 5 months ago, I became a customer of HSBC. I did all the things you do, including, of course, providing them with proof that I am, in fact, me, and that I live in my house. (or at leas, have managed to steal my own drivers licence and bank statements)

Last week, I got a letter from their (Hah!) 'customer service' department. It was probably for me. It's a little hard to be sure. The letter was addressed to Mrs Margomusing, and I'm pretty sure I'd have noticed if I'd got married. It then started "Dear Sir", and I am ever surer that I'd have noticed that about myself.

It said that as I was a new customer they needed me to give them proof of my ID and address. You now, the stuff I gave them in May.

So, I phoned them. With what now looks like a niave but touching faith, I assumed that the sensible thing to do would be to call the bank, on the number on the letter they sent me, quoting the reference on that letter.

I did that.

It seems that merely being able to quote the reference on the letter sent to me, and to give them my name, address and date of birth was insufficient to allow them, to identify me or to allow them to explain why they were asking for documents they'd had for 4 months.  We didn't get as far as thae part of the converstion where I got to ask what they had done with my documens and whether I should now expect a touch of Identity theft.

It seemed that my diabolical plan of calling them on the number they provided and giving the reference they's asked me to quote had entirely flommoxed and discombobulated the system, so (after an attemot on their part to make me go away and call a different department, which hasn't been writing to me at all, and which they admitte wouldn't be able to discuss anything with me without asking me security questions (which haven't been set up) they decided the best thing to do would be to put me through to a supervisor.

It might have been a good idea, too, if it weren't for the fact that after no more formalities tha giving my full name, address, dateof birth, reference, details of the product, branch and name of all my female ancestors back to the Fall, the supervisor was able to put me on hold, and, after dribbling dreadful muzak into my ears for 10 minutes cut me off.

It was probably just as well.  After almost half an hour of alternating  muzak and incompetance I might have been a bit rude if I'd ever got to speak to her again.

I was, I admit, not in tthe best of moods when I got a call from someone who introduced herself as being from HSBC, about an hour later.

However, my mood, if not my opinion of of the bank, improved when she explained why she was calling. She was calling from the local branch.

She told me that I shoud never have recieved the letter. She had, she explained, specifically told them NOT to send it.

She knew I had given them my ID. She knew this because she had copied it, twice, and sent it to head office.

She had Had Words with them.

She is going to have some more Words. And requested that if I (or Mrs Margomusings, or Mr Margomusing, or any variation of the same) should happen to get any more letters requeting ID, or body parts, or anything, that I kindly let her know, so that she  could have More, and shorter Words with them.

I can't help wondering though, if they can't manage the filing, whether they can do the other stuff suh as putting the decimal point in the right place,and ensuring that 2+2 continues to come to 4.?

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

In Which I Listen

On Monday evening I wended my way back into Bath, to the Little Theeatre Cinema, for an evening with the always charming and erudite Mr Stephen Fry. Not, alas, in person - His Tweediness was at the Royal Festival Hall in London, but the wonders of modern tecchnology meant that his talk was to be live broadcast to about 60 cinemas up & down the country, Bath Little Theatre being one of them.

I dithered about going, becuase while it is a lovely little cinema, it isn't exactly cheap, and in addition I am going to be seeing Mr Fry on Friday, when he is speaking in Cambridge, but I decided it would be worth it, as  I suspect he won't be working from a script, and anyway, I could be prevented by a sudden meteorite strike or soemthing from going to Cambridge...

I'm glad I went. I had fun. Mr Fry read some short extract from his new book - one about sugar puffs, one about school, and one about meeting Hugh Laurie for the first ime. in beteen times, he talked, apparently without notes or preplanning.

He had a list of the various cinemas where the event was being screened, so took time to say hello to eveyone (except the places beginning with "C", who were accidentally missed out) together with a few asies about the various places, and some speculation about where 'Gorey' is - Mr Fry knew of the artist, Edward Gorey, but not the place (which is, it urns out, on Jersey)

there was some chat about Blackadder, with indidental impressions of some of those involved - lovely to hear Mr Fry impersonating Mr Atkinson and Mr Laurie, not to mention his description of taking Ben Elton, that well known leftie, to dinner at the Carlton Club (bastion of Old Tory politics) and startling Lord Hailsham...
Wonderful stuff.

And you know, I don't really care whether he says all the same things in Cambridge. I'd be quite happy to watch it all again . and I'm going to buy the book.

Monday, 13 September 2010

In Which I Continue to be Impressed by Old Stuff

After finishing my visit to Stonehenge, it occurred to me that the day was still young, and also that Avebury is not that far from Stonehenge (about 20 miles) and is also somewhere I haven't been for a while.
Driving cross-country I was surprised to see ahead of me a White Horse.

One of the small, unconsidered bonuses of having no sense of direction is that such things can sneak up on one!

This is not the White Horse I usually see - That is the Westbury White Hprse (which is visible on my drive home from work every day, if I remember to look, and provided it isn't raining) This one is the Alton Barnes White Horse, and it doesn't really belong in a blog about visiting prehistoric monuments, having been made in 1812.

I didn't go up to it, but enjoyed the view for a while.

The next unexpected pleasure was coming upon Silbury Hill. 

I normally approach Avebury on a different road ,which doesn't go directly past the hill, and I had forgotten it was so close.
It's another very impressive place.

Legend has it that there is a King buried under the hill, who will, as such Kings are wont to do, return when required. I admit, I can't think of very many situations in which we would find the arrival of a neolithic king useful, but still, that  may simply be a lack of imagination on my part!

Archeology says there is no (apparent) burial, but that the hill is entirely man-made, and that it was completed in aroud 2500 BC, making it  a similar age (and size) to the Great Pyramid of Giza.

I'm not sure how impressed we should be by this; on the one hand, kudos to our stone-and-early-bronze-age ancestors  for building the thing, but at the same time, given that the Egyptians were busy empires and inventing writing, and politics, and art, and so forth, building a big heap of chalk with only a deer antler or two seems just  a little slow off the mark.. Although I suppose they had better weather, and perhaps therefore more spare time.

The acheologists seem to think that the flat top may have come later, when the hill was used (possibly defensively) during the Saxon period.

Visitors are no longer allowed to go up the hill, as it risks erosion and damage to the structure (and upsetting the sheep)

So, after admiring it from the bottom from several angles I moved on to Avebury.

Avebury is best known for its stone circle (see how the Neolithic theme continues?) but the National Trust also owns Avebury Manor, which is a 16th Century Manor House and gardens, so I decided to pop in for a look around before going around the stone circles.

Unfortunately it turned out that they had had to close the house early, as several of the volunter stewards had had to leave early, so I wasn't able to go inside.

The gardens are very nice, however - I particularly liked the eometric patterns of hedges outside the back of the house, and the parsley borders in the herb garden...

I shall have to go back to see the house another time.

Avebury (the circle) is big - perhaps the only way to get an idea of the size and scope is from the air.

From ground level it is hard to get an idea of how large the circle is, as you can't see all of it at once. However, unlike stonehenge it is possible to go right up to the stones and even on to them.

You can also see the outer ditch, and when you consider the tools they had to work with, it really is an amazing construction.

The Avebury circles are thought to be older than Stonehenge, having been constructed starting in around 3000 to 2800 BC - the stones themselves were not imported from Wales like the ones at stonehenge, but quarried in the area (Clearly, this was a local stone circle, for local people, none of yer nasty foreign muck..).
A lot of the stones were destroyed or removed in the 13th - 16th centuries - apparently this was initially because the Church disapperoved of these nasty Pagan stones (although the local people buried the stones ather than removing them altgether) and later, stones were actually broken up in an attempt to clear the land for farming and to use the stone for building.

Alexander Keillor, the Marmalade Magnate who bought Avebury in the 1930's excavated and re-erected many of the  stones, and marked with concrete pillars where he found evidence of missing stones, and later geophysical surveys have shown that a further 15 or 16 stones are still buried.

One of he oddest things I learned was that, as far as they can tell, no-one actualy lived in the immediate area during the period the Stones were in use; it seems to have been purely a religious/ceremonial/sacred area. The other thing (which makes sense but which hadn't occured to me) was that it probably wouldn't have been turfed so it's likely the whole area was white from the chalk, so it would really have stood out against the surrpounding coountryside.

I went for a walk along the top of the mound, before heading back through the village for icecream, and a drive home.

On my way home, I did a little detour via Rowde, and the Caen Hill locks.

This is a flight of 29 locks on the Kennet & Avon  canal - they ccome in 3 groups - this one, of 16 locks, is the longest and most dramatic. Although having been on a canal boat holiday or two in my time, I can't help feeling it would also be awefully hard work, especially as there are no moorings so I'm pretty sure you have to do the whole flight at once....

Because it is so steep, with so many locks close together there are extra "pounds" storing water to the side of each lock.

The canal was completed in 1810 and was still in use commercially until 1948, then it fell out of use until it was restored in the 1970s and reopened in the 80s.

It was very peaceful, and was a lovely end to a delightful day.

One of the nicest parts of the day was when I was wandering around Stonehenge and saw a family - the little boy (maybe 5 or 6 years old) was talking 19 to the dozen, very excited - he was (I think) Spanish and I couldn't understand most of it, but every other word was 'Pandorica'... I noticed he had a Dalek in one hand, too.
I didn't see any (other) Daleks, hoever, and no Docctor or plastic Romans, either (more's the pity)

Sunday, 12 September 2010

In Which I Visit Various Very Old Places

Saturday wasn't a good day: I got woken up at 1 a.m. by some very drunk, very raucous tenagers, and things didn't get much better. So I decided to stay home & read, on the basis that if one is having the kind of day when things get dropped, broken, and generally don't work, its probably best not to be driving, or cleaning  the crockery cupboards...

This morning, however, it seemed like a very nice morning, and I decided to go out to play.

I startd by heading to Woodhenge, because I've never been. This is a site where there are Neolithic Eathworks (Durrington Walls) and the remains of a wooden Henge- It was dscovered in 1925 when it was surveyed by air, and dates to about 2600BC - I have to admit, however, that it isn't overly impressive to the non-expert - cConcrete posts have been set into the ground to show where the post-holes from the original structure were found, but  I have to admit that to me it just looked like a lot of concrete posts in a field....

The earthworks are more noticable - there is a pretty impressive ditch & mound.

The site is about 2 miles from Stonehenge as the crow flies, and I was able to park in Larkhill and walk across to sStonehenge (much less thaan 2 miles -about 20 mins walk) across the 'Stonehenge Downs' and via the 'Cursus' - a set of barrows which have been dated to about 3600 BC (which makes it older than the Henge itself. They don;'t know what the Cursus/barrows were built for..

I then got to Stonehenge itself,. It's one of those places I drive past fairly regularly, and which I have of course visited before,  but not for a while.

Of course, on a beautiful, sunny, September  Sunday it was very busy, but  one of the advantages of the fact that you cannot go into the circle itself is that no-one else can either, so provided you're willing to wait for a break in the crowd you can get an uninterrupted view.

And, strangely (to me, anyway) a surprising number of people come, pay to get in, and  yet don't bother to walk the whole way around the henge, so around the far side it is less crowded.                            
And even with a crowd, it is a pretty impressive place, paticuarly when you think it was built at least 3,600 years ago by people for whom bronze tools were still and undiscovered technology...

When I left, it as still gloriously sunny, and I had half the day ahead of me, so ather than go home, I decided to do a little more in the way of Ancient Monument Inspection.
(to be continued...)

Friday, 10 September 2010

In Which There Are Friends, Strawberries, Puppies and Other Fine Things

Thursday saw me heading over to Westbury-sub-Mendip, where I grew up, in order to spend the day with a friend who still lives (and farms) there. I stopped off to see whether there were any boks I fancied in the Library, which as you can see, is small but perfectly formed.  It is based on donations of booksand run by volunteers in the village Nice idea, don't you think?

 Last time I visited, they had some very cute, 4 week old puppies; this time, all the puppies bar one have left home, and young W has just started school, so J & I had a pleasant morning catching up on news of both our families before picking W up from school (as it is his 1st week of school, he only does half days) and going out for lunch.

It was odd to find myself back at the village school, which I attended for just over a year, when we first moved to the village. I was horribly bullied and hated almost every minute was not very happy there, but going back has it's advantages, not least as a reminder that my schooldays are well behind me, and no-one can make me go through that again!

We lunched in Wells, at a very nice restuarant called 'The Old Spot' which is one of my favourite places to eat out - they have a short menu, which tends towards fresh, seasonale (and often locally sourced) food, cooked to perfection. Not so good for vegetarians, but otherwise... oh my! 

We then walked up through the market place and round outside the Bishop's Palace, disppointing the ducks by our failure to bring them anything to eat.

We then took W to the park to play before heading back for further conversation, egg-hunting (free-range chickens have so many places to lay their eggs..) and playing with W, who is very much a farmers child - his soft stuffed cow & sheep have proper, DEFRA approved eartags and when he decides it is time to play farms this involves not only setting up model cows & sheep in the appropriate model pens, but also making up proper 'cattle passports', with correct ear-tag numbers and barcodes as well!

Meanwhile, J&I amused oursleves by looking through some old photo albums, including the oh-so-embarrassing "1st day at Secondary School" ones taken by her mum of the two of us at the bus stop, and several of us camping in various back-gardens.

I left laden with egss, and runner beans, and home made jam, and strawberries., and having put in an order for this christmas's turkey, last years ghaving been a great success.

In the evening I headed into Bath again, this time to see  'The Rivals' at the Theatre Royal.

I arrived with time to spare and it was a pleasant, sunny evening, so I collected a few more Lions  (I have all the Lions I have found so far in my flickr set here) before heading back to the Theatre, which has just reopened after some renovations - they havn't changed the auditorium -the changes are mostly to provide better access, improve the bars and (I think) upgrade the lighting etc.

The Rivals is the first production since the theatre reopened, and  of course has a special resonance here being set in Bath.

Mrs Malaprop was layed by Penelope Keith, and Sir Anthony Absolute by Peter Bowles. I enjoyed it - although I think that some of 1775's ideas of what was funny haven't worn terribly well...

As a whole, the play is still very entertaining, however, and there was an excellent  cast. I'm glad I went.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

In Which I Do Not Take The Waters

Today, as another pasrt of my holiday-at-home, I have been playing at being a tourist by visiting Bath (a 20 minute train journey away)

I started out by visiting the Thermae Bath Spa which was opened (4 years late and £32M over budget) about 4 years ago to allow people to once again swim in the natural hot spring waters which give Bath its name (and the name that the Romans gave it; Aquae Sulis) This hasn't been possible since 1978 although I'm not sure whether one could still swim in the Roman Baths that recently.

The Spa is owned by the Local Council, and is right in the middle of the city. There's a rooftop pool (top of the glass bit in the picture - the guy leaning on the rail is probably a lifeguard) so you can swim (very short distances!) or float, and look over the rooftops of the the city and out to Prior Park and the hills beyond. It''s very nice, and in defiance of the weather forecast it was a lovely sunny morning, which made it even better.

As well as the rooftop pool, there is a second pool, plus steam rooms. One can also book various spa treatments, which would be lovely if I'shad a friend to go with (and a bit more cash to spare!)There was a special offer on in conjunction with the local rail company giving 4 hours for the price of two, so I had 4 hours to play with, which made it feel slightly less extortionate :-)

Being midweek it wasn't too crowded - I shudder to think what it's like at weekends.

When I let the Baths I ambled along to the Pump Room , which is attached to the Roman Baths and was built in (I believe) 1799, and  of course features in Jane Austen's 'Northanger Abbey' and, at least by implication, 'Persausion'.

the majority of the guests (myself included) were less elegant and well dressed than Miss Morland and her friends, but I decided to go with the flow and ordered myself the 'Jane Austen Tea' - potted mackerel, scones & clotted cream, tea and a cupcake, plus 'ginger fizz', which was nice, fruity, gingery and a little unexpected. it was all very nice.

Of course, there are those who might consider that a cream tea and a cupcake rather goes against the whole 'healthy morning at the spa' vibe, but it was 3 p.m. and I'd missed lunch...

From the Pump Room you can see down into the 'King's Bath', which is part of the Roman Baths complex, although it is 12th & 18th century, built on Roman foundations.

Outside is another rather nice one of the 'Lions of Bath' - this one was designed by one of the keepers at Longleat, and is a Lion-version of Lord Bath  (Marquess of Bath, Owner of Longleat, and what happens when you let the aristocracy find out about sex & drugs & rock'n'roll).

I finished the afternoon by calling in to the Abbey, which I always enjoy visiting. It's a beautiful building, and as so many people used to come to Bath for medical reasons you get a fascinating selection of tombs and memorials. Including that of Beau Nash, who was a key figure in bringing Bath into fashion.

On this occasion,  there was an additional treat of The Bath Abbey Diptychs , an exhibitions of calligraphy/illumination and needlecraft by a local craftswoman.

they are utterly stunning. Well worth following the link to look at the peces in more detail.

I finished up with a quick visit to the Abbey vaults museum, as I've never been before (I had not, to be honest, missed much!)

And so homewards. I made a slight error of judgment in getting to the station at 5, so ended up on a very crowded post-work train, but it is a short journey, so didn't much matter.

Another good day.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

In Which I Holiday at Home

I am currently enjoying my holiday, without leaving home. It's rather restful, especially the total lack of any having to pack or be on time for anything!
I spent Monday pottering around at home, doing the stuff such as laundry and cleaning which I normally do at weekends, (having spent this weekend in London and then lazing around)

Today, I decided to go to Westwood Manor, which is a national Trust property about 4 miles down the road. It was built in the 15th Century with bits added and taken away since then.

It is occupied by tenants so only 5 rooms are open - lovely panelled rooms, with plasterwork ceilings -- upstairs in the music room is a 16th century Virginal and a 17th century Harpsichord (plus the harp)

There were also some panels decorated with the kings & Queens of Engand, in very dark oils on the panels, but sadly I accidentally delted those pictures, so you have to imagine the slightly lop-sided images of Henry VIII and a few others, for yourselves!

Outside there are some enormous yew hedges - about 7' wide, and in one part cut into a topiary house.

Definitely an interesting afternoon!

On my way home I stopped to pick  blackberries, with a view to making some bramble jelly.  It is currently in the 'dripping slowly through a bag' stage - tomorrow comes the 'boiling it with sugar to within an inch of its life' stage.

And then I finished the da with a nice, slow meal an a glass of wine. I might get used to this hoidaying at home idea!

Saturday, 4 September 2010

In Which There is More Culture

Afer the HyperComics exhibition I had planned to go the the Natural history Museum, where I'd heard tell of a Giant Kntted Squid (or possibly a knitted Giant Squid) but when I got there I found that the relevent exhibition cost £8 and had a huge queue.

I could've coped with one or the other, but not both, so the Giant Knitted Squid will have to remain a mystery.

Instead, I did go in for a short time, and admired some of the carvings and so on - I love that the building was designed to include representations of science and natural history, so that although it is a little like a cathedral, it is a cathedral adorned with wolves and rats and monkeys and octopi, instead of saints and demons.

However, the place was too overcrowded to be able to take much in, so after a very short time I headed next door to the V&A, where I spent a very soothing hour or so, mainly in the Medieval & Renaissance Galleries.
I found some lovely sculptures - this one of Alexander & Bucephalus, from 1515

There were also some lovely tapestries (although I missed the Raphael cartoons, as that exhibition doesn't open untilWednesday)
This one shows the Trojan War, and dates back to 1475.

And then I turned a corner an foun a little case, containing a note-book of Leonardo da Vinci...

There were, of course, also many statues, which I am sure at least one of you will enjoy...