Sunday, 30 October 2011


This morning was rather grey and damp, but it wasn't actually raining (at least when I got up) So I decided that I would go to Stourhead, to see the autumn leaves.

I was a little startled that when I arrived, about 15 minutes after opening time, I found that the main car park was full and the overflow was getting pretty busy. I suppose that's what happens when the National Trust goes onto BBC Radio 4 and says that this weekend will be the best one to see the colours...!

Just as I got tho the entrance of the grounds it started to drizzle, and although this did stop when I was about half way around the lake, it continued to be pretty grey, so the colours didn't look as dramatic as they do when you manage to catch them on a day of glorious autumn sunshine!

There were swans swanning around on the lake, as well as the ducks, gulls and coots, and I saw a heron, too, fishing near the Pantheon, although it very uncooperatively had it's head down making it hard to photograph successfully.

I enjoyed the walk, and the views - I didn't even mind the rain, as it wasn't cold.

After leaving the main grounds, I drove along towards 'King Alfred's Tower', which is on the edge of Stourhead's park. On the way, I found a little space to park from which I could walk along to 'St Peters Pump', which is a little monument marking the source of the River Stour.

I then moved on to King Alfred's Tower itself. The tower is a folly, built in 1772 to mark the spot where it was believed Alfred the Great rallied his troops before defeating the Danes in 878AD. It's an interesting building - a triangular brick tower with a staircase in a little turret running up one corner, and is totally empty, (and very damp) It is claimed that when it was built, it marked the point where the counties of Somerset, Dorset and Wiltshire met, with one corner in each county, but I am a little sceptical.

You can climb up the tower (160', around 250 steps) and it is well worth doing so - the views from the top are stunning.  By the time I got to the top, the sun had come out.

Although I visit Stourhead fairly frequently, this is the first time I've been to the tower. I'm glad I did.

More photos in my flickr set, if you're interested

Saturday, 29 October 2011

In Which Mr Bill Bailey entertains Ilfracombe

I am signed up to Bill Bailey's mailing list, and as a result, I heard that he was doing two shows at Ilfracombe's Landmark Theatre as warm up for his new 'Dandelion Mind (gently modified)' tour, and, as Ilfracombe is only about 20 minutes from my parents' home, it seemed like a good opportunity to see Bill Bailey and my parents, in one fell swoop.
Pretty picture of the Landmark Theatre (photo from theatre website)
It was not 100% successful, as it turned out that my Mum and Dad were actually away all day on Saturday, but we did meet briefly as I popped in for coffee on my way past, en route to the theatre, and again on my return, for about 10 minutes before we went to bed.

The show was great.

I saw the 'Dandelion Mind' show last September (Blogged it here ) and this version of the show has some of the same material, with some new - including bots about 'Broken Britain' - I particularly enjoyed Bill's comments about the Coalition "It's like being governed by a bowl of pot pourri and a sea-cucumber" (which is one of the few descriptions I can remember, most of the others were more insulting. I kept expecting 'Cream-faced loon' to come up!

Other highlights included some art appreciation, a rendition of 'Scarborough Fair', in German, not to mention a song after the style of 'Chas'n'Dave', (during their Devil Worshipping phase).

Oh, and California Dreaming'  at different speeds, which is much funnier than you might think.

I had a great evening, and I'm really glad I went, as although the tour has dates all through November, none of them is near me.

This morning, my parents were leaving at some ungodly hour  7a.m. but did stick their heads round the bedroom door to say good morning and goodbye, and to bring me a cup of tea, before the left. I then went back to sleep, pottered around a bit, and then went on a long, meandering drive on my way home. (I'd planned to visit a couple of picturesque bits of Exmoor, and go for a couple of short walks and take pretty pictures, but unfortunately it started to rain very heavily at just the wrong moment, so in the end I ended up driving around some very narrow Devon lanes (albeit some of them with nice views) without any walks.

On arriving home I found my next door neighbours have moved out, and some new ones have moved in. I hope they are nice and quiet! The old ones were nice people, but had a very yappy little dog which got hysterical every time I went into my garden...

Tomorrow, I am going to see Fascinating Aida, and if it is a nice day I may go to Stourhead, as it's supposed to be at it's best, for the autumn colours, this weekend. (So it will probably pour with rain all day!) I went around this time last year, and got some gorgeous pics..

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

In Which I Go to Bristol

A long time ago, I signed up to attend BristolCon, having enjoyed it last year, and then I mostly forgot about it, and suddenly it was time to go.. The con was on Saturday, in (unsurprisingly) Bristol, which is of course practically on my doorstep.

The day didn't start well. I got distracted, so was still eating toast when the train I had originally thought of left. Then having, as I thought, left enough time to get to the station, I found that Every Single Traffic Light between my house and the station (5 sets) turned red as I approached it, and just for good measure there was the driver going Very Very Slowly and then randomly changing lanes in front of me without indicating. All of which, combined with the unheard-of event of the local train arriving (and leaving) on time, resulted in my missing the next train by a whisker. I saw it at the platform as I turned in to the station car-park, and it pulled out as I parked. So I ended up on the next train, arriving in Bristol shortly after 11. On the plus side, this meant I didn't have to queue to pick up my name badge, but it did mean I missed the Welcome, the first panel, Alex Keller's reading (which I'd wanted to catch) and the start of the second panel.

However, I was able to sneak into the 'Battle of the Books' panel, which featured Bob Neilson, Steve Westcott, Dolly Garland, John Meaney and Paul Cornell, arguing for their best books (and against those picked by the other panellists), and which was moderated with Extreme Prejudice by Cheryl Morgan armed with her zap-gun.  It was highly entertaining, despite some doubts as to the existence of one of the books, and made an excellent (if late) start to my day.
Alex Keller, Harriet Castor, Philip Reeve, MD Lachlan & Alastair Reynolds
I stayed on for the next panel, 'The Genesis Panel', which started out discussing how and why novels become epics, and which featured Alastair Reynolds, Philip Reeve, MD Lachlan, Harriet Castor and Alex Keller, and included commentary about books getting split in two by publishers, and the temptation to become epic-y. Interesting stuff.

It was followed by a short reading from Philip Reeve, which I enjoyed even though it was the second time I'd heard him read the same extract. (and I still want a Samovar Hat)

I then popped out of the Con to go down to Waterstones to meet Angie Sage, who was signing there - I enjoyed meeting her, but couldn't chat for long as she had too many others wanting to buy books and yet them, signed.

When I got back I was fortunate enough to bump into Philip Reeve and Thomas Martin (and others, whose names, I am ashamed to admit,  I did not note) over coffee, and chatted for a while.

Later, I went to the 'Life Cycle of the Author' (AKA 'George RR Martin is not your bitch') panel I enjoyed Wayne Simmons' moderating, which started by asking the audience what questions they would like to hear about, and which included comments about dealing with criticism and rejection,  writing avoidance techniques, and reader entitlement. (Also the revelation from Paul Cornell that he knows people who assume that comics come to a writer with all the pictures done, and the writer simply has to fill in the speech-bubbles... !)

I would have loved to go to Mike Shevdon's panel on Archery, but it clashed with Paul Cornell's Kaffeeklatsch, so I wasn't able to. |The kaffeeklatsch was small, and I think all the better for it, as were were able to have a casual chat, rather than  a mini panel. Much fun. this was followed by the "Dude, where's my jetpack?" panel, and what was and wasn't predicted, and what we all still want..

The final panel was another difficult choice as I would have liked to go to both of the streams! I actually picked the 'storytelling or literature' one, which was included topical conversation about the Booker prize, and when is genre not genre.

After which it was time to wind up the day and go home. It would have been fun to stay and chat in the bar, and try my luck in the quiz, but it was dark, and cold..

The day ended, as it had begun, with transport issues - half the roads in Trowbridge were closed, for the carnival, but very few of them had signs anywhere useful (such as at the start of the road) to tell you - I think we had to do 2 u-turns and 2 detours before finally making it home!

all together, though, a good day. Next year, BristolCon is on 20th October. Put it in your diary.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

In Which I Have a Simply Wonderful Day

Yesterday was my birthday. I was feeling a bit ambivalent about it, what with the getting older and older, and the inevitable musings on life, however, I then remembered that I had good friends coming to visit, and fun things planned, and felt a lot more cheerful about it!
My friends arrived from Manchester on Friday evening, in time for us to enjoy a leisurely meal (with cake!) and several glasses of wine, as we caught up, and just relaxed together.

Then yesterday, which turned out to be a beautiful, sunny day, we had a long lunch in Bradford on Avon, then spent the afternoon in Bath (1 pub, 1 independent bookshop) followed by a delicious Nepalese meal, and then Simon Callow's one-man show "Dr Marigold and Mr Chops", which was great!
Picture from BTR website
The show is Simon Callow performing two of Charles Dickens' monologues:

The first, about Mr Chops, was a short story published for Christmas 1858  entitled "Going into society", narrated by Mr Magsman, a showman, about a Dwarf known as Mr Chops who wins the lottery and goes into society. Although having its moments of pathos, it's very funny, and Mr Callow is excellent at doing all the voices!

The second, about Dr. Marigold (He was named "Doctor" after the Doctor who delivered him!) is longer, and although it has a lot of humour in it it, is a real tear-jerker. Narrated by Mr Callow in the character of Dr. Marigold, a cheap-jack, describing his marriage to an increasingly bad tempered woman, her cruelty towards their daughter, the child's death from illness and his subsequent adoption of a 'deaf-and-dumb' child, who had herself been neglected and abused.  Being dickens, it's not surprising that there is a deal of sentimentality, but before the happy ending there is a lot of (still relevant) content about poverty, grief, politics, discrimination and domestic abuse, and Callow's Dr. Marigold is a well-rounded, complete character, whose loneliness and grief comes across between the comedy moments.

It was a superb performance, and made for a thoroughly enjoyable evening. And all in all, the combination of good friends, good entertainment, and delicious food, wine and beer made for a great way to celebrate my birthday, and left me feeling set up for the year to come.