Saturday, 30 April 2011

That Wedding

One or two of you may have noticed that there was a wedding yesterday.

I have no particularly strong feelings about it; I don't think that the £5m or so costs of the added police etc. should have been paid by the taxpayers, but beyond that, I'm about as interested as I would be in the wedding of any other couple I don't know.. i.e. I'll glance at the dress if I'm passing (and lets face it, this one was hard to miss) but that's about it.

I have, however, been interested in some of the ways  people have reacted. In particular, I was driving through one of the neighbouring towns and noticed that several of the shops had decorated their windows with flags. . . and in every single case they were still showing the creases from where they'd been folded up.   Is it me? I mean, if you are feeling sufficiently patriotic / in the mood for a party that you go to the trouble of buying and putting up flags, why would you not iron the wretched things, or otherwise make sure they looked reasonable?

It just seems odd, to me. (And several of the shops concerned are ones which usually have well presented windw dressings, so I don't think it is that they were put up by the kind of person who wouldn't notice)

Oh, and the best bits of the whole circus, (the runaway horse, and the cartwheeling verger) can both be seen  here.

I have to admit, I'm also just a little bit proud that my street has shown no flags, no bunting, and no street party. ..

Monday, 25 April 2011

In Which We Go For A Walk

Easter Sunday was a quiet day - my parents had agreed to ring for a couple of church services, but I had no such committments, so had the kind of day which starts with tea in bed, and moves on to eating breakfast in pyjamas while watching Doctor Who, and then drifts onward to involve sitting around in the sunshine with  a Golden Age detetive novel and a cat.

Later, we had a deicious Sunday roast: Roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes and runner beans, with gin and tonic before hand, and red wine to accompany it, and lemon merienge pie and fresh coffee to follow. It was all delicious, and very relaxed and civilized..

looking West towards Combe Martin
So on Monday we decided to be a little more energetic, and to go for a walk.

We started near Trentishoe which is on the edge of the Exmoor National Park, and walked along the top of the cliffs.
It was another gloriously sunny day, and amazingly still, too, so that even on the top of the cliff there was virtually no wind, and no sound, either, other than the distant sound of the sea, the bird-song and the calls of the sheep and their lambs, grazing along the cliff top.

Heddon Valley to Heddon's Bay
  It's a fairly harsh environment - the grass is short and sheep-cropped, and the other plant-life mainly consists of bracken, heather and gorse.

The gorse is all in flower at present, profligate with it's bright gold flowers. The bracken is bright green with new growth, and the heather still has faded white flowers. There are a few foxgloves growing against the drystone walls, a few of them starting to show pinkish buds but the majority with nothing, yet, but large, furry leaves. (I was pleasantly surprised to find that I had managed to correctly identify them as foxgloves, even without the flowers - unlike my mother, I don't know much about plants)

Looking up Heddon Valley to Hunter's Inn

The soil is too poor, and there is too much wind and salt to allow many larger trees to flourish, but that does mean you can see forever, along the headlands.

After a little while, we parted company; my mum turning back the way we'd come (which was relatively flat, andfairly easy going) while my dad and I continued along the path, which got much steeper as it continued around the headland, with some more stunning views, this time eastward toward Lynmouth.  The path then turns inland, at the Heddon Valley.

The valley is very steep and narrow, and the path runs along one side of it, working it's way back downhill from the top of the cliffs, down towards the river which runs along the valley into the sea. F|rom above, you can see the tiny, rocky inlet where the river reaches the sea. there is a tiny, shingled beach, and lots of rocks.

We didn't go down to the sea, but instead continued down the side of the valley. As the path decended, we gradually left behind the heather and gorse, and  started to see many wild violets, primroses and, as we came among the trees, bluebells, vast drifts of them.

Most of the trees were birch, beech nd young oaks, all of them bright with new growth.

As we reached the bottom of the valley, we found ourselves walking by the side of the river, which is cold, and clear, and surrounded by beech trees, with primroses and white campion and ragged robin all growing along the banks.

We arrived at the Hunter's Inn about 10 minutes after my mum (who had returned to the car and driven it round to meet us) did.

Coming down from the cliffs and woods it's a little startling to come upon a beautifully manicured lawn and a set of peacocks..

However, when we went indoors we discovered that the place has a fine grasp of the essentials.

One of the nice things about going for a vigourous walk is that when you reach the pub at the end you do tend to feel that you have earned your beer!

Axe, coming intoWoody Bay Station
After enjoying our beer, and some very late lunch, we hedd home, via Woody Bay Station - this is a station on what was once (and hopes one day to be again) the Lynton to Barnstaple narrow-guage railway.  The railway opened in about 1898,  originlly built and run by a private company, over a distance of bout 19 miles. It was tasken over by Southern Railways in the 1920s and closed in 1935.

A small part of the railway has been restored and reopened, and it is now possible to go for a short train-ride (about 1 mile each way, I believe)

The railway was running, so we went and had a look at their displays, and watched the train leaving and returning, making little 'pish-te-cuff' noises just like Ivor the Engine,  nd mking that distinctive, Steam-engine smell of hot metal and cinders.

In it's hey-day, the railway ran through the village my parents now live in, and the current Trust hope one day to restore the entire 19 miles of track.

 A very pleasant day.

More pictures on my flickr stream here.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

In Which Is Sunshine and Seaside

It's Easter weekend, which means two Bank Holidays and thus a long weekend, and having been unable to join my sisters for a weekends sailing (as I left it too late, and so the boat is full) I decided to spend the weekend with my mum and dad, down in Devon.
I am fortunate in that I get on very well with my parents, so visiting them is restful, and they now live in a lovely part of the country.

View from the house
I had a smooth trip down on Thursday evening (except for the part where Tybalt got a little travel sick..).

On Friday my parents had various committments, so we didn't go out anywhere, but instead I spent the day between cooking (flapjacks, and lemon meriengue pie, and a casserole) and wandering around the garden in the sun.

We have been enjoying wonderful, unseasonably warm weather for the time of year - yesterday was in the 70s, so being outside is a pleasure.

On Saturday, they asked me whether there was anywhere I'd like to go, and I said the seaside.

Ilfracombe Harbour (Low Tide)
There are lots of bits of seaside near here, and on this occasion we went to Ilfracombe, which started life as a fishing village, and became a holiday destination in the Victorian period, and is now a little run-down. However, in the sun, and with lots of visitors for the Easter weekend, it was looking it's best. 


We walked down to the harbour, full mainly now with pleasure yachts, not fishing boats, and then to a little beach, where I paddled, because sometimes you have to, don't you? The water was very cold, but bracing... 
Juvenile Herring Gull

There were lots of Herring Gulls, and a few Black Backed gulls and a Kittiwake or two, and we saw a cormorant, too, later.

Harbour wall, and St Nicholas's chapel
After my paddle we walked up to the top of the  cliff (to the right of the beach) then along the path back toward the harbour,and up to St Nocholas's chapel, which is tiny (you can see it  perched on the hill on the left of the picture above) It was also the home of the harbour-master at one time - he and his wife lived there in the 1860s, with 8 or 9 of their 14 children...

By the time we came down, the tide had gone out, leaving all the yachts high and dry, although further out to sea were several, sailing, and also 3 or four retired lifeboats. (The current lifeboat was at the top of the slipway, flying lots of flags, and having a fund-raiser) 

Retired lifeboats

We must have spebt 3 or 4 hours wandering around, enjoying the views and the weather, and sustained only by large ice-creams made with local cream...

It was a lovely day, and then we returned to the house, in time for me to watch Doctor Who while my parents cooked supper.

A most enjoyable day.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

In Which I Spend a Cultural Morning

When I arranged to Zombie I booked a hotel for Friday night as well as Thursday, as I knew there was the possibility we might not finish filming until late, and I didn't want to be rushing to catch a train. It also left me with the option of spending Saturday in London.
Thame & Skyline from Canary Wharf

I was able to take some pretty pictures of the skyline before turning in for the night. The hotel I was staying in was right on the river, and had a ferry across to Canary Wharf, which I took in order to get a meal on Friday night.

Thames & Canary Wharf
On Saturday morning,  I decided to visit the British Museum, and to see the Afghanistan exhibition which is running until July.
The Great Court, British Museum
It really was very impressive.  And not only the exhibits but also the fact that they have survived at all - many of them were preserved by museum curators in Afghanistan who hid them to save them from looting or from destruction by the taliban.

The exhibits span millenia - there are gold vessels from around 2000 BC, through to painted glass, carved ivories and gold ornaments (including the crown) which date to the 1st Century AD. Afghanistan was on the Silk Road, and traded across the world, so the artefacts show influence (and sometimes imports) from Mespotomania, China, Indian, and the Greek & Roman Empires.

The crown was part of a set of grave-goods discovered with the body of a 1st century nomadic woman - it's actually made to come to pieces and fold flat, which displays a nice mix of practicality and adornment. it's also incredibly delicate - all of he individual flowers are  made from very thin gold, and even inside the safety of a display case it moved - presumably due to visitors footfalls - you can see how impressive it would be when worn, moving with evey breeze, and every movement of the wearer.

She and her companions also had numerous gold beads which originally decorated their clothing, also big, chunky necklaces, bangles and anklets. They were all very young - in their early 20s when they died. (the exhibition offeredd no explanation as to how they died, but I guess that life expectancy wasn't high for 1st century nomads)

When I had seen the exhibition, I look a quick look into one or two other rooms, to see some 20th Omani wedding jewellery, and to visit one of my favourite of the museum's exhibits, this Ice Age sculpture of swimming reindeer, which is around 13,000 years old. It gets me every time. 

It's such a lovely thing, and the thought that it has survived, and still speaks to us, after so long, is, at least to me, astonishing.

I do love the British Museum. I love that (apart from the special exhibitions) it's free, so that one can pop in and out, and spend just a little time, without feeling you haven't got your money's worth.

I love that it has such a huge range of exhibits, covering so many cultures, across so many centuries. I wish I lived s little closer, but as it is, I manage to visit most times I'm in London, and perhaps, by the time I am old and decrepit, I shall have managed to see it all...

On this occasion, I didn't stay for long, as my day as a zombie had worn me out, so I eneded up heeading back to Paddington to head home for an early night. Maybe next time I shall stay a little longer.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

In Which There Are Zombies

Isn't Twitter interesting? One of the people I follow is James Moran, and a little while back he tweeted about his film, Cockneys vs. Zombies and specifically, the fact that the director was looking for extra zombies, and that people were invited to apply.

I thought at the time, 'that might be fun' but I didn't get around to sending the necessary e-mails, then a bout 10 days back I sent hm a tweet meantioning that I'd failed to apply, he tweeted back to tell me they still needed Zombies, I applied, and so it came to pass that I found travelling up to London on Thursday evening, ready for a VERY early start on Friday morning.

The call was for 6 a.m., which meant leaving the hotel at around 5 a.m. It was too early for the buses, so I had a walk down to the tube station, which took me about 25 minutes. Turns out that there are lots of birds in London, and if you are walking just before dawn, when there's no traffic, you can hear them all singing their little hearts out. Also, the tube trains are lovely and empty at around 5.30, making for a very civilised journey!

With only a little bit of getting confused (which I am chosing to blame on the early hour and my under-caffienated state) I found the right spot..

Next came make up, getting checked over by the costume department (mostly checking that we were wearng clothes which we didn't mind getting blood on..

There was a fine selection of zombies, in various stages of decomposition.

Me, just before filming
One we were made up, we got to watch a short training video showing how a zombie behaves in the wild, and then, in small groups, we had Zombie school, to learn the finer points of Shambling, reacting to stimuli, and getting shot. Oh, and they added more blood.

There was coffee and sausage sandwiches around this point, too.

We were then taken to the location to start shooting. This was only just down the road, so we walked, getting one or two funny looks. Anyone would think that seeing a crocodile of blood-soaked zombies walking down the street is unusual in some way.

Once we got there, it was clear to see we were in the right place - several cars with smashed windows, random body parts strewn around the place (and they were very realistic. I just hope they remembered to pick them all up again afterwards)

We were mostly doing repeated takes of one scene (I won't say to much for fear of spoilers) I think I may reveal that it involved a fair few zombies, and some cockneys, and thet they weren't getting along.

Even Zombies chill out sometimes
Between takes, the make-up people were rushing about to freshen up our blood, including giving us fresh blood to put on our teeth and gums.

New thing learned : blood has a minty-fresh taste. Maybe this is why the zombies like it?

Actors including Honor Blackman , Alan Ford, Michelle Ryan were all there - although of course mostly (except when we were trying to kill them) they were at  a distance.

There are more pictures here (I wouldn't normally link to a Mail story, but needs must... this is the same place we were filiming, although a different day so none of the zombies in those pics are me, although I do recoognise several of them!)

We spent a long time on  the same scene, which was (as far as I could tell) being shot from lots of different angles. It was very interesting to watch, and to appreciate just how much time, hard work and painstaking attention to detail is involved in making a film. Also, from the little I heard of the dialogue it sounds as though it'll be entertaining. should be worth seeing for reasons other than to try to spot myself!

Hungry Zombie
Part way through we had to stop and wait as a tourist boat came through, and had to wait for the lock/bridge to open so it could go through. watching the looks on the faces of the passengers was entertaining, and I like to hink that they enjoyed being waved on their way by a bunch of living corpses..

We worked all morning, then back to base for lunch, then back to the same location for another, much shorter scene (I think this was mostly a long distance, panning shot in which I and the other extras will feature a distant blobs, but I may be wrong)

A small cohort were then driven away to be in a further scene, but I wasn't among them, so after getting most of the blood off my face, I was free  to go, at about 3 p.m. (It was tempting to leave it all on, and see what reaction I got on the tube and at the hotel, if I remained covered in blood, but in thhe end I felt it might give people the wrong idea, so I didn't!)
Zombie Me

I had a lot of fun - I'm very glad I did it - I enjoyed chatting to the other Zombies, and I'm really glad I've had the chance to be in a film, and to be a Zombie, and I have a newfound respect for those who do this all the time - I was exhausted after just one day!

So, after getting back to the hotel and showering to get the dried blood and grit out of my hair, I took myself out for an early supper, and went to bed, to dream of those juicy, tasty braaainssss.

If  you want to know more, the film has it's own twitter account and James Moran has listed various other twitterers associated with the film on his blog  here.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

In Which There is Friendship, Family and Theatre

This weekend has been lovely, in all sorts of ways. For a start, my best and oldest friend, J came down for the weekend, then it has been a wonderful sunny weekend, warm enough that we were able to spend time sitting out in the garden, reading the papers and enjoying the warmth.

On Saturday afternoon we went over to visit my 2nd cousin, who was celebrating her 80th birthday, then we went for a meal out, and to cap it all, we had tickets to see Derek Jacobi, and a wonderful cast, in King Lear.

It was good to see my cousin - most of the other guests were her friends and members of her church, but another of my dad's cousins was there with his wife, so I was able to do a little catching up with family, then J and I headed into Bath for a meal, before going on to the theatre.

The meal was at a rather nice Greek restaurant on the river - I haven't been before, but after sharing some very tasty meze, I'd be more than happy to go again..

Then on to Bath Theatre Royal. Way back in September, I bought tickets for this production, which has been playing at the Donmar Warehouse in London. I have been a huge fan of Derek Jacobi's since I first saw him as a teenager, and I know J would be keen to come too, and, being a Friend of the theatre I was able to take advantage of priroty booking, and get excellent seats in the middle of the front row of the Royal Circle.

Derek Jacobi and  Pippa Bennett-Warner
It was a wonderful production - a very plain set, and little in the way of props or set dressing. with the exception of the Fool, the costumes, too, were almost monochrome, which left nothing to distract from the strength of the actors and the play.

Lear is hardly a sympathetic character, but Jacobi manages to evoke sympathy, as Lear decends into madness and confusion, and the vengeful, tyrannical King becomes a bewildered, innocent old man.

Gina McKee and Justine Mitchell, as Goneril and Regan were both very strong - Goneril calculating from the start, Regan more changeable, becoming almost manic.

Edmund and Edgar (Alec Newmwn and Gwilym Lee) were excellent - Edmund initially appearing engaging, but quickly revealing his duplicitous, calculating behaviour, Edgar first aappearing somewhaat ineffectual, but later showing is strngth in furst supporting, then avenging his father.

All in all, it was an absolutely stunning performance - well worth the wait!

As an added bonus, he programmes, while a litle more expensive than usual, are beautiful - free from any  advertising, and including a full copy of the script, and a number of photos from the production.  A great souvenir of the production.

Friday, 8 April 2011


I drive to work every day. The journey is about 15 miles, and takes about 40 minutes, most days. I rather enjoy it, as I drive cross-country through some beautiful scenery.

This morning, it was cold and misty when I left the house, so the first part of the trip was shrouded in dim, grey vapour, with nothing to see bar the lights of approacing cars. However, as I left the town, and started to climb out of the valley, I burst into sunshine, into a wonderful clear, clean day, under a robins-egg blue sk, agaisnt which two hot air balloons hung, silently, as if painted on the sky.

There are signs everywhere that Spring is well and truly sprung. The hedges, now, are a patchwork of brown and grey and green and white - some parts still nothing but bare branches, interspersed with the white of May, and the vivid green of the new beech-leaves, and the grey of the pussy-willow's catkins.

In the fields, the Chestnut trees, too are covered with new leaves, the grass is bright, not yet dried or bleached by the sun. The hedgrows are full of the sunbursts of dandelions and the paler ivory and cream primroses.

This morning, the mist had left dewdrops sparkling everywhere, and coming up over the hills I could look down and see the valleys still filled with mist, the top of the mist lapping against the hills like a great grey lake.

Mornings like this remind me. This is my land. And it is beautiful.

Monday, 4 April 2011

In Which There Is Much Laughter & Music

A couple of months back,  Neil Gaiman was tweeting about how Lenny Henry had recently joined twitter, and that he had a tour on, called Cradle to Rave.

I was in two minds as to whether to book, as although I like Lenny Henry, the show was quite expensive, and the closest show to me was Bristol, and on a Sunday night  - both of which were off-putting. However, I did go ahead and book, and I'm very glad I did!

Last time I saw Lenny was 2 years ago, when he was playing the title role in  Othello, and was very impressive. This show is very different, and is a one man show, taking an autobiographical look back at his life (so far) and at the music which has shaped it and been important to him.

The show is very funny, a lot of the time, but it isn't a full-on comedy show - Lenny clearly has a passion for music, and is not above laughing at his younger self, but he also talks about his relationship with his father (constantly telling the children to keep the noise down) and his marriage (the incompatability of musical tastes).  He's very open talking about his longing to be a 'real' musician, and the realisation that he isn't going to be a rock star.

And in between the more serious reminiscence there's a lot of comedy, and a fair bit of music.  I think the show would be even better in a smaller theatre - there wasn't much in the way of audience participation, and wha there was was rather lost in the size of the Hippodrome.

But over all, it was a great night out, and I'm glad I went!

Friday, 1 April 2011

We Are Family

I have two sisters, and they both (with no consideration for my budgeting) have birthdays in March. This year, K had a land-mark birthday, of the kind that comes with a zero on the end, so we decided to get together & celebrate.

So, Friday saw me driving down to K&C's new flat (which I haven't visited before.) I arrived in time for supper and wine andd catching up on conversation, which is a good time to arrive.

Saturday turned put to be a lovely sunny day, and after a leisurely breakfast, E arrived, and we three girls went out to run some errands, and to go for what turned out to be an extremely short walk, and a fairly long lunch.

We went up to Fort Widley, which is one of the 'Palmerston Forts' in Portsmouth. The forts were built in the 1860s in order to defend Porrsmouth  (and in particular the Naval dockyards) from the risk of French invasion.

They are huge, and bizarre looking - the one we saw was one of a group intended to defend aginst the possibility of forces landing elsewhere on the coast and then attacking by land - which apparently led to persistent rumours that they had been built facing the wrong way...! They also turned out to be obselete as soon as they were built, although they were used as betteries for anti-aircraft guns during WW2.  For us, however, they were an interesting bit of landscape around which to walk en route to the pub.  We had gone up to Portsdown Hill as it has good views out over Portsmouth and the Solent, but it was so hazywe couldn't see anything, so we just sat in the sun and ate our jacket potatoes, and (in my case) enjoyed a splendid pint of 'Spitfire'

On the way home, we popped into the local VW dealership to be patronised by some car salesmen - you'd think with the global recession an' all, that that they might be willing to face he possibility that yes, women buy cars too, (Radical, I know) Still, at least it allowed my sis to identify one garage she *won't* be getting er brannd new car from :-)

The evening was for celebration - K had booked at a local restuarant called 'Kitsch'n D'Or', a french bistro-type place. It was great! I started with smoked duck, followed by pigeon breast, and with chocolate mousse to finish with. Other members of the party had the fresh, local mussels (stemed with a touch of curry spices), roast shoulder of lamb. . . in fact, there were so many good things on the menu I think we all could have quite happily come back for a second meal the next day. I'm still regretting the fact I couldn't manage the cheese course, too.

As well as the great food, we enjoyed some lovely won, and the whole evening was very relaxed - there was lots of time to savour the food, and enjoy conversation between courses.

I hope K & E enjoyed their birthday celebration - I certainly did!

Having had a late night, and with the clocks going forward, we ended up getting up late, and having a leisurely morning, a alte breakfast, and then K&C cooked us a (very late) roast chicken dinner befre E & I had to set off for our respective homes.

All in all, it was a really nice, relaxing weekend. The only downside was that I got held up in traffic 3 miles from home, which was a little frustrating, but it was the only thing which marred the weekend so not bad going!