Monday, 29 August 2011

Bank Holiday Fun

This weekend was a bank holiday, and I had pondered whether I  might be able to meet, and perhaps go sailing with, my sister and soon-to-be-brother-in-law, but it turned out thet they weren't going to be home, so instead I arranged to go to Devon and spend the weekend with my parents.
And it then turned out that both of my sisters were planning to do the same, so it ended up with all 3 of us (plus K's fiance, C) being there for the weekend, which was lovely.
It traditionally pours with rain over the august bank holiday, and this one was no exception - I drove down after I finished work on Friday evening, and the drive was NOT fun - lots of very heavy rain, standing water, and, of course, the kind of drivers who don't realise that rain makes a difference to driving....

However, once I arrived, there was food, and wine, and company, and lots of catching up to do.
On Saturday there was more rain, and then during the afternoon all of us other than my dad went in to Barnstaple to look at possible dresses for E&I to wear in out role as bridesmaids, and for my mum to wear in her capacity of mother of the bride. We didn't buy anything, but we did quite a lot of trying on. (actually, most of it was getting my mum to try stuff on.)
On Sunday, K&C went to church (On the basis that it seems only polite to go occasionally, to the church where you wish to get married) while the rest of us had a nice long lie-in, then we headed out in order to meet up with my uncle and aunt, who live just down the road from my parents.

We all met up at the  Hunters Inn,where we had a pub lunch (and some rather nice beer) followed by a short walk down the valley to Heddons Mouth.

The walk takes one along near the little river, down to a tiny, pebbled beach, framed by steep cliffs.

It's beautiful - and after a wet morning, the sun came out, and the sea and sky were both blue and white and windswept and beautiful.
Walking abck up the valley, the youunger half of the party crossed the river using stepping-stones, and the older half stayed on the same side of the river they started on, and walked back that way - until we met up at a small, Billy-Goats-Gruff style bridge, and walked the last stretch back in company.

It was a very nice afternoon.

In fact, it was a very nice weekend, despite the rain.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Which Involves Churchill, and Jason Webley

I could get to like staying in expensive hotels (especially when I don't have to pay). The Hilton Waldorf's breakfast would set anyone up for the day - possibly for several days.

After breakfast, E suggested that we go and visit the Cabinet War Rooms, which were the underground shelters from which Churchill and his government operated during the London Blitz, in WWII. At the end of the war, they were closed up (although it appears that they got some further use during the Suez crisis in the 50s) and then were opened to the public during the 1980s. They are currently run by the Imperial War Museum.

I'd been once before, when K and I were taken as part of a trip to London when we were children, but that was over 20 years ago, so I wasn't averse to making a second visit!

The museum includes some of the rooms used during the war, which in some cases were left untouched at the end of the war, and in others were re-furnished (using old photographs as guides) when the rooms were opened as a museum. I found looking at things such as the cutting-edge technology (an entire bank of switches and wires, to allow for transatlantic phonecalls, for instance) fascinating - a reminder of just how quickly technology has advanced over the past 70 years). It also left me feeling a little claustrophobic, and very glad that, unlike the various clerks and secretaries I don't have to send the best part of 6 years huddled in a basement barely seeing daylight!

The museum also includes a big museum about Churchill, including not only the war years, but also informtion about his childhood and youth (including one of his cavalry uniforms, demonstrating that he was quite slender as a young man!)

All very interesting. I left a bit sooner than E, on account of needing to get back to the hotel to collect my blongings and then get to the station to return home. I was rather startled to come upon Boris Johnson wandering through Churchill's bedroom. Due to my poor facial recognitian skills, he's probably about the only politician I would recognise on sight, as he is so distinctive-looking, but it is rather disconcerting to bump into any politician without warning!
Anyway, after getting over that unpleasant surprise, it was a relief to have a straighforward journey home, and to then have time to relax and make a meal before heading back out to Bristol to go to Jason Webley 's gig.
The pub where the gig took place was in Stokes Croft, which is not the best part of Bristol - I was a little nervous about leaving  my car, but the pub itself seemed fine, although when I went into the room the gig was in I was somewhat surprised to find that the room consisted of no seating,  and also no windows or aircon, so the room resembled a large, somewhat BASIC sauna....

There were two other performers - a band called, I think 'Big Hello'  which featured a lead singer who sang with his back to the audience, and a drummer & guitarist who rather drowned out their singer. Then there was a solo artist 'Cat Green Bike' who sanfg and accompanied herself on the ukulele, and who had a small but dedicated cadre of her own fans.

Both fine, bu I admit I was waiting for Jason Webley, and that neither of the support acts were so good as to make me forget thet!

Once Jason started, however, his gig was great!

I particularly enjoyed hearing 'Eleven Saints' and 'Dance while the world crashes down', and loved having the chance to go to a small, intimate gig (even one with no ventilation!).

We had about 2 hours of music, ending rather abruptly as the pub had to close (So no 'Drinking Song') - but such fun. I was absolutely knackered, afterwards, but so glad I went. Especailly as it seems that  Jason is unlikely to be back in the UK for some time. I was able to say Hi to Jason, and give him a hug, which was nice :-)

In Which There is Much Squeeeeee-ing. (Also Culture & Literature)

I left you, at the end of the last post, as we were walking down Charing Cross Road to Wyndhams Theatre, to see 'Much Ado About Nothing'. We've been waiting and looking forward to it since we booked the tickets at the end of January, and so as you can imagine we were in a fine, happy mood! We splashed out on good seats, so were in the stalls, and Wyndhams is a relatively small theatre, so no-one is all that far from the stage.

And so to the play.
(Picture from
The setting was 1980s, and, judging from the sunshine and heat depicted, not in the UK  - Gibralter, maybe - just after the Faulklands War, to give Don Pedro, and Claudio, and Benedick a war from which to be returning.

We saw Hero (denim shorts, blonde bubble perm) sunbathing in the company of her cousin Beatrice (Catherine Tate), and then Don Pedro and his men arrived, all in crisp, white naval uniforms, and followed by Benedick (David Tennant)  driving a mini golf-cart, festooned with union flags  (and a single Saltire), clearly establishing himself as a joker, and there was then immediate drinking and smoking and joking and  high spirits.
(Picture from
The play was very, very funny. I don't think that one usually assosciates Shakespearian comedy with being genuinely, laugh out loud funny, but this production managed it. The cast (especially David Tennant) gave the impression that they were enjoying themselves, and the audience undoubtably were.

The masked dance scene was done as a fancy dress party, which of course made it rather more believable that Hero should not recognise Don Pedro, or Beatrice recognise Benedick. (It also provided an excuse for Mr Tennant to be dressed up in a very short denin skirt, and lacy tights, and wig, and for Claudio (Tom Bateman) to appear in leather trousers, pirate shirt and a single diamante earring, (think Adam Ant)

It was also very physical - during the scenes where Benedick  overhears his friends discussing Beatrice's alleged love for him, for instance, there was a lot of by-play involving paint, and as Beatrice overhears her friends discussing Benedick's alleged love for her, she is actually hoisted up on a pulley (and managed to continue to act under the circumstances - very impressive!)
The wedding scene was another opportunity to revisit the 80s, with Hero's wedding dress being the image of Princess Diana's (albeit with  a rather shorter train), worn with fingerless lace gloves, no less! And of course all the men in dress uniforms.

I was particularly impressed that both David Tennant and Catherine Tate were able to dial down the comedy so that their reaction to Cladio's accusations against Hero, and Benedick's subsequent challenge to him, came across as (quite literally) deadly serious.

So, all in all, a fabulous, hugely enjoyable performance. I think inevitably, the focus was on Tate and Tennant, but the rest of the cast were also very good - special mention is deserved for the boy, who has only 2 lines, but whose appearances (trying to do a Rubiks cube, fetching a book for Benedick and so on) added  very entertaining background.

Although we hadn't realised in advance, it turned out that this was the 100th performance of the show. That being the case, I found it was still very fresh. And, in case you haven't worked it out  yet, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I'd been looking forward to it hugely, and I think it's fair to say that it exceeded my expectations!

Thursday, 25 August 2011

In Which There Are Friends, Art and Food

(Photo from Cathedrals Express website)
I'm home now, having had a great couple of days in London.
I travelled up by train, which was a a smooth journey, through mainly rain-washed ladscape, and which included a somewhat surreal encounter as, on pulling in to Basingstoke staition, I saw a rather beautiful Steam-Engine - 'Tangmere', complete with vintage carriages., and diners sitting a little lamp-lit tables.

A little research tells me that this is a locomotive operated by a company called 'The Cathedrals Express', and that it is a post-war, Battle-of-britain class loco.  It looked very sleek and glossy, and all of the people on board looked as though they were enjoying themselves.

I got to Waterloo just in time for the really heavy rainstorm, and rushed up the Strand to our hotel, where I met up with my sister, who was not only providing me with accommodation (dur to haveing enough reward points for a free night's stay) but also brought lunch enough for two with her, so we were able to eat before venturing out for the afternoon.

We went to the National Portrait Gallery first, where we inspected a lot of Tudor and Stuart monarchs, and sir Francis Drake's choice of (pink) doublet  and hose, besides speculating on who it was who first  thought that huge ruffs were a good fashion choiuce, before meeting up with my friend E, and her friend A, at which point we adjourned to the cafe for tea and conversation, before popping round the corner to  The National Gallery where we dicussed our qualifications to write an art guide (Sample entry "Rubens - good at bums, a bit weak on boobs.".) Doctor Who (we checked Van Gogh's 'Sunflowers', just in case it mentioned Amy) and admired lots of pictures. I found time to check on Henri Rousseau's  Surprised, which is one of my favourites, and then we exited via the gift shop, and had a look at the giant  ship-in-a-bottle they've currently got opn the 4th plinth in Trafalgar Square, then went back to the hotel for a quick cuppa, before heading out for supper.

We'd booked at a restaurant called Arbutus, which my sister (the other one) recommended. It's nice. It has a Michelin star, but they do a fixed price pre-theatre meal which made it do-able for us.

And it was yummy.I picked the Salt cod brandade, then what the menu described as a 'pork and spinach meat ball' but was really a faggot - I liked it, it was very meaty, with a real punch to it,and just a touch of offal, although I suspect it wouldn't be to everyone's taste. We had some rather nice white rioja to go with it.In fact, the only disappointment was the cheese - it was very nice, but being given two small slices when you are expecting a choice of cheeses from the tantalising cheese-board you've passed on your way in is - well, a bit of a let down.

but apart from that, it was great. And it carried us nicely through til it was time to head down Charing Cross Road to Whyndhams Theatre, ready to see Mr Tennant and Ms Tate...

(in the next post...)

Friday, 19 August 2011

Things to Look Forward To

It's been another very long week, but hopefully things will be more fun, and much less hard work for the next few weeks, as I have lots of things to look forward to, and several short weeks:
Way back in January, we saw that the wonderful  Mr David Tennant was going to be appearing in 'Much Ado About Nothing' with the equally wonderful Catherine Tate, this year, so a group of us (Me, my sister, 2 friends, and 2 friends-of-friends) agreed to go - we booked tickets, way back then (Stalls, baby!) and on Tuesday evening, we are going! I'm so excited. I love going to the theatre, and I love David Tennant as an actor - I saw his 'Hamlet' in Stratford on Avon in 2008 (about 2 weeks before I started this blog, as it happens!), which was an amazing experience, so I am SO looking forward to seeing him in Shakespeare again, and also to see him with Catherine Tate, who I have never seen live beofre.

I'm also really looking forward to spending time with my sister & friends - we haven't yet decided what to do with the afternoon before the show - we may all be splitting up to check out different exhibitions & such, but we've then booked what should be a very nice restaurant for a pre-theatre meal, and as my sister apparently has zillions of points due to hotel stays (for her job) she and I get a nice hotel room for no money at all, too. It should be alovely couple of days, and of course having Tuesday & Wednesday off work makes for a nice, short, working week, too :-)

On Wednesday evening I am going to see  Jason Webley play, in Bristol, which should be fantastic - I gather this may be hos last European tour for a while, so I'm glad I can see one of the shows.

After that, we have a bank holiday weekend, and I'm planning to go down to Devon to spend the weekend with my parents, and I belive that my other sister and her fiance will be there.

Then the weekend after that, I am back in London once again, to see Amanda Palmer, and then to see Neil Gaiman at the British Library, which also gives me a free day in london, so I shall have the opportunity to go see another exhibition or two, and maybe even a show, if I can get a last minute ticket for something on the Saturday night.

So all in all, I have a lot to look forward to. And that's before I even have my summer holiday! (This year, I am actually leaving home!)

Monday, 15 August 2011

More Shakespeare!

It's been a long & tiring week - lots of rushing around at work, and on Friday I found,on going to move my car for a colleague, that my rear number plate was missing, so I had to rush off as soon as I finished work, to get a replacement made. I am hoping that the old one simply fell off, and that it wasn't stolen. The young man in Halfords who made the new one said that he would normally expect them to steal both, if that were the case, so I am hoping that he is correct.

So it was good, once I was able to get back home,  to be able to relax and start the weekend.

My friend Cheryl came round on Friday evening, bearing interesting jams and honey and chocolate from her recent trip to Finland, (and left with a jar of my bramble jelly).  Lovely to have an evening just to relax and chat a little!

To my irritation, I then ended up sleeping very badly, so didn't feel terribly energetic on Saturday, so I didn't get a lot done, other than  picking a few blackberries and elderberries - and saw a kingfisher, which is always lovely!

Then, in the evening I went into Bath, to see 'Henry IV, Pt. II', at the Theatre Royal. It was the same cast as last week's 'Henry IV, Pt I', so King Henry, Lord Scroop, Falstaff and Prince Hal were all played by the same actors, while others took on new roles - Hotspur (being dead) reinventerd himself as Pistol, for instance. Perspanally, I have very poor facial recognition so it didn't faze me (I had to look them up in the programme to see who was who) but I can't help but wonder whether it might be a little distracting to those who do recognise people, especially if they don't leave a week between Parts 1&2, as I did!

I'm still not a Falstaff fan, but that is Shakespeare's fault, not that of the actors or this production.

I did have one gripe, however - the  guy sitting in front of me, who fidgeted constantly (and I mean, CONSTANTLY,) through the entire performance. And not only fidgeting, but scratching his armpits, scratching his back. I came *this* close to giving him my best Joyce Grenfell "George, Don't do that". But I didn't. Sometimes I think I must be turning into an adult.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

In Which Shakespeare Happens

The Peter Hall Company is in Bath for the summer, and the plays they are giving include Henry IV, Parts 1 & 2. I'd thought, when I first saw the season programme, that I would like to see them, but didn't get around to booking until yesterday, when I booked to see Part 1 this afternoon, and part 2 next Saturday.( I could have seen them both, back to back, today, but I decided that 6 hours of Shakespeare might be a little too much of a good thing!, plus it's a long time to be sitting in a possible very hot theatre!)
The costuming was early Victorian - dark, dress uniforms with lots of gold braid for the nobility, big shirts and waistcoats for the tavern scenes. The tavern scenes worked pretty well on that basis - gave the impression of the seedier side of Victorian society, where the rougues and whores and vagabonds wouldn't be out of place. It didn't work quite so well for the more formal court scenes, I think perhaps as there was little in the way of props and set-dressing. The King (David Yelland) was definitely of the 'elder stateman / George V style, which made him seem a little old to be fighting hand-to-hand at Shrewsbury (I believe in reality he would have been around 35 at that period)

Prince Hal and Hotspur (photo from outside theatre,
so presumably (c) The Peter Hall Company)
Over all, I enjoyed the play. I'm not sure I'd have given it 5 stars (which some of the papers have done) but I will reserve jugment until I've seen Part 2. I felt that both Hotspur and Prince Hal (Ben Mansfield and Tom Mison) were excellent - although I felt Prince Hal was more convincing in the second half of the play, with the battles, than in the tavern scenes - he didn't come across as convincingly dissolute.

I wasn't taken with Sir John Falstaff (Desmond Barit) - not because the acting was poor but because I struggled to see what Prince Hal would see in him - they seemed not to have anything in common, so the scene foreshadowing  Hal's rejection and banishment was very convincing, but the scenes of Falstaff and Hal together at the tavern, and the Prince's distress at believing Falstaff dead at the battle of Shrewsbury were less so.

I am looking forward to seeing Part 2, next weekend.

I got very wet walking back to the car, as what had been a lovely sunny day when I went in to Bath had turned into torrential rain by the time I came out, so I abandoned my half-formed plan to harvest some more blackberries and/or elderberries on my way home! Still, at least I need not worry about watering the tomatoes today.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

In Which There Are Books, A Boat, and More Blackberries

A little while ago I saw this article in the Guardian about The Book Barge, and saw that it would be visitng Bradford on Avon (this weekend) and Bath (next week).

as it happened , I had to go over to Bradford on Avon so I had the perfect opportunity to go to see the Barge.

I saw on Twitter that owner/skipper Sarah needed milk, so picked up a pint on my way in, then strolled along through the park. On my way, I passed a wedding party, a posh picnic featuring champagne and strawberries, a group of children paddling in the river with a large dog of indeterminate breed, and a cricket match - in fact, practically everything (other than a sudden rain-storm) which you might expect of a British summer!

The barge is wonderful - there's an excellent selection of new and used books, plus mugs, cards, postcards and (at least if you turn up bearing milk!) the offer of a nice cup of tea and some banana bread!

I left with three new-to-me books, and felt I had an excellent bargain, as Sarah insisted on my having one of the books in barter for the milk (I feel sure I got the best out of that deal!) If the Book Barge goes anywhere near you, go visit it!

Oh, and the blackberries? I made another small batch last night/this morning - I ended up with a smaller volume of jelly this time - only one and a half jars, but then picked another couple of pounds of berries this morning, which have now reached the 'hang up to strain for at least 12 hours' stage of the recipe so I should be able to pot this batch 1st thing tomorrow morning.

At this rate I may have to bake some scones, soon, in order to have something to eat bramble jelly off!

Monday, 1 August 2011

In Which There Are Blackberries

It was very hot over the weekend, and I ended up sleeping badly (not helped by the delightful neighbours who decided to re-ent their favourite rugby passes at top volume in the street until 2 a.m.)

I walked into town on Saturday morning (where I ended up accidentally spending £40 in the bookshop, which I ought not to have done..) and noticed on the way that there were a lot of ripe blackberries in the hedges, although it's pretty early for them to be ripe, so |I decided to get picking.

I managed to get about 3lbs on Saturday (and then a further 2lbs on Sunday) and spent Saturday evening and Sunday morning making some of them into Bramble Jelly - I ended up with 5 jars of jelly (made using 2lbs of blackberries and about 1lb of bramley apples) and I have frozen the other 3lbs of berries, so I should be able to make some more next weekend, when I have time. I'm also considering getting some local honey, and trying a batch using honey instead of sugar (or perhaps part and part). From what I've read, it looks do-able, but may have an effect on how well the jam sets, so a bit of trial-and-error may be needed...

The nice part is that there are a lot of blackberries which are still green, and other brambles still flowering, so there should be berries ripening for several weeks more, and the opportunity to make rather more jelly than I managed last year (when I only made one lot, at the start of September)

I'm also pondering whether to try making some rosehip jam or jelly. I am reasonably confident I can accurately identify rosehips.... In fact there seem to be some ripening alongside the blackberries.

The downside of jam-making is that all these fruits will insist on ripening just when it is really hot, and standing over pans of boiling fruit and sugar is least appealing (at least marmalade season comes in January, when boiling stuff for hours at a time has its own appeal!