Monday, 31 December 2012

Family and Holidays

How was everyone's Christmas? (Or non-Christmassy holiday celebrations)

I had a quiet time, with my parents and siblings (and a brother in law and sister's partner) - it was consistently wet, with alternating rain and snow,so we didn't end up going for any walks, or indeed leaving the house except briefly to visit other relatives on Boxing Day, but despite, or perhaps because of, the lack of other activities, we had an enjoyable time.

A small cohort of us rang for the local church service on Christmas morning, we all (including Tybalt) watched the goldfinches and tits on the birdfeeders outside, Tybalt met [one of] the cats who live next door, and also had a lot of fun playing 'wrong side of the door' (my parents house has a *lot* more doors than mine does, AND they have carpets, which means that he cannot be left to scrabble at the door, as this leads rapidly to  scratched carpets, which is Not On.

He didn't succeed in getting to the turkey, despite his many attempts.

I returned home yesterday, and have today and tomorrow at home before I go back to work. I've come home with a nasty cold, so I'm not planning to stay up late tonight - I think I shall have an early (and solitary!) celebratory glass of cava and then go to bed early to help fight off this cold!

2012 has been a very mixed year, with a lot of personal and work-related stress, and family-related happiness. I'm hoping 2013 will be more even, and better, on a personal level.

And I hope it will prove to be a happy and successful year for all my friends out there in the internets!


Tuesday, 25 December 2012

December 25th...

Have A Very Merry Christmas 
(or whatever other celebration you wish!)

Monday, 24 December 2012

A Grand Day Out

I spent Saturday in London, to meet up with friends Jess, Paul, Anabel and Ian. I saw Ian and Anabel when I was in Dublin in October, but it's been over a year since I last saw Jess and Paul (Pittsburg and Trowbridge being, unfortunately, too far apart for frequent visits)

I was concerned about getting to London, as there were reports of flooding causing major delays on the trains, but I found in fact that the train into London was more-or less on time, and not particularly crowded, which was a pleasant surprise!

We all met up the British Library, and then started with a visit to the V&A, where we found Creepy Dolls, and a Wish Fulfilling Cow, and a golden chicken (which he label insisted was a goose, but which was, quite clearly, a chicken, and made me think immediately of The Bloggess).

We visited the Tippoo's Tiger, and looked at some of the South East Asian textiles and other exhibits.

 I loved  this 1900 year old winged lion, which is from India, but which looked somewhat Celtic to me.

After some lunch, we headed over to Sir John Soane's house, which is now a museum. You are not allowed to take pictures inside, but should you find yourself in London it's well worth a visit. Soane was an a architect, who died in 1837. He was a avid collector, and the house has everything from a Caneletto, several Turners and Hogarths, to pieces of Roman masonry,  the sarcophagus of King Seti I, and a roof boss from the old Westminster Hall. The museum is set up as it was at the time Soane died (which does mean that many parts of it are very gloomy, as it is lit by candles!)

We then tried to visit the Hunterian Museum in order to see Babbage's brain,but sadly it was closed, so we went to Forbidden Palnet instead, before finishing the day in a pub near St Pancras.

It was great to hang out with everyone, and to have some bite-sized bits of culture!

I did have some delays getting home - my train from London was fine (although not actually the train which was on the timetable) I felt sorry for those wishing to travel beyond Bristol - just after we pulled out of Paddington (with no further stops until Reading) they announced that the train (due to go to Exeter) was not going beyond Bristol, that there was no alternative transport being provided and that they suggested that anyone wishing to travel went back to their point of origin to try again... Given that the train had been sitting, fully loaded, for about 15 minutes, it seemed a little unkind not to have made the announcement 5 minutes earlier!)

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Not the Best Day

Today didn't start badly. I mean, I had to get out of bed when it was still dark outside, and to try to achieve the hand, eye, and sardine coordination to get a pill into the cat, but those are par for the course.

And it seemed to be going well, during the morning. I managed to remember that there were roadworks due to start by the castle on my way to work, so I left extra time for the commute, and then I got to the roadworks just as the lights turned green, so I wasn't delayed, and in fact, arrived early at work, which meant I got the feeling of slightly smug virtue, and the 30 minutes of uninterrupted time to work which are the rewards of early arrival.

The rest of the morning passed smoothly, with no more than the usual number of interruptions or foolish questions.

It was around lunchtime that the day started to go downhill.

Our bathroom has two cubicles, each of which has a small sink, with an individual hot water heater, as well as the WC. So, as I was .. minding my own business, when I noticed the sound of trickling water - not something which attracts much attention, under the circumstances. The next thing which happened was much harder to ignore. I was hit with a sudden and vigorous jet of icy cold water, as whatever widget it is which lives inside a tap and keeps it turned off when it's off, failed, suddenly and dramatically. This did nothing to add to my enjoyment of the day. Particularly as I was not, at that moment, in any position to retreat.. It is surprising how very wet you can get in a very short time.

There is a tap on the pipe leading into the water heater, and I thought turning that off would stop the flow. It might have done, had I been able to turn it, but I couldn't, and achieved only a wrenched shoulder from trying to hard and at an awkward angle. (It is a slight comfort to me that my bigger and stronger (male) colleague, when I was able to get him, couldn't, either)

We did manage to track down and turn off the stop-cock, (inconveniently located in the shop next door) and to catch most of the flood in the bin, and to track down an emergency plumber..Eventually.

It's surprising just how wet you can get, in just a few moments. After helping to sort out the plumber, and dealing with a few other things which couldn't really wait, I decided to head home. Somehow spending the next 4 hours in trousers wet from the hip downwards and a shirt with one soaking sleeve didn't appeal. The drive home wasn't a lot of fun, either.

I suppose that on a positive note, tomorrow ought to be an improvement. I just wish I had had time to eat lunch before all this happened.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Small, Day to Day Things (and Carols)

Saturday turned out very wet indeed, so there was no incentive to go out, but today was milder, and the sun even came out for a short while!

I caught up with a little shopping (standard, non-christmassy things) and tidied up the garden a bit - it's been so very wet and cold that I haven't had any opportunity to clear up the last of the leaves, for instance.

This evening, I decided to go to the the Service of 9 Lessons and Carols at the local church - I'm not a frequent church-goer, but there is something special about singing carols with lots of others, and to take a little time for quiet reflection.

I had mixed feelings about the service. On the one hand, the church is beautiful - I forget, between visits, that it has a roof full of angels with gilded wings, and they had some beautiful crimson and gold flowers today, too.

The church was pretty full, which is always good for the singing. And the carols we got to sing were all "proper" ones - the traditional ones which everyone knows. I was however disappointed that whoever is in charge if the choir had decided that this would be a good opportunity to show off their skills, and make more than half of the carols 'choir only'. This is fine if you have maybe one or two less well known carols which the choir can perform, but to have seven and a half (out of 14) restricted to the choir, including  3 and a half well known carols (which were sung to the usual tunes, and with the normal words, so there were no special circumstances to justify excluding the congregation) seemed to me excessive. Particularly as the choir's level of talent and skill was not so great that you could lose yourself in the music.  So that was a little disappointing.

Still, despite that, I did enjoy most of the service, and I'm glad I went. It never feels quite like christmas without at least one church service..

Friday, 14 December 2012

Errands and things

I had a day off today, so have been catching up with various errands, on the basis that shopping and such are likely to be less stressful today, than on Saturday when no doubt everywhere will be busier.

I had planned to have a nice lie-in before starting everything else, but naturally, having made that plan, I then work up at about 5.30 and couldn't get back to sleep, so ended up getting up in disgust a little earlier than on a normal working day. And as there's a lot of cloud around, I couldn't even take the opportunity to try to spot some of the Geminid shower.

After all the ice and frost of the last few days, it's turned very wet (somehow without feeling any less cold, which seems illogical) so I had no encouragement to linger when I got into town.

This morning involved:

  • A trip to the Post Office, to post 9 parcels (amazingly, I didn't need to queue, which I am quite sure would not be the case on Saturday morning!)
  • A trip to Boots, to pick up my repeat prescriptions to ensure that I don't run out of anything over christmas.
  • A trip to the vet, to ensure that Tybalt doesn't run out of his meds over christmas
  • A trip to the paper shop to pay my account off, and sort out what papers I want when.
  • A trip to Big Supermarket, initially just to pick up an extra pint of milk, and some chocolates to take into work, but in fact, as it turned out, also to pick up some booze and chocolates, mostly either as gifts or to take with me to share over christmas.
Then this afternoon I made a start on wrapping gifts for the people I shall be spending time with over christmas (unless I've forgotten something, all the ones which need to be posted, have now been posted) I'm starting to feel just a little bit festive..

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Ice and Frost

The past few days have been bitterly cold (at least by the standards of this country!)

Tuesday was horrible - lots of ice, and fog. However, Wednesday was very different -  I drove into work in sunshine, and as there was a very heavy hoar frost it was a drive through beautiful scenes.

I saw a group of roe deer in one of the fields - I haven't seen them much recently, so that cheered me up.

I had to drive across from one of our offices to another at lunch time, so I took a few minutes to stop and admire the scenery (particularly as the sun came out again) Despite it being mid day, very little of the frost had melted, and the trees looked as though it had snowed.

 It was almost lovely enough to make one forget just how brass-monkeys cold it was!

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

'London Falling'

I've met Paul Cornell  several times, at BristolCon, and EasterCon, and Melksham, and he's alkways lived up to his reputation as one of the nicest men in SciFi.  He also wrote one of my favourite Doctor Who episodes (Family of Blood), and is a good friend of my friend Cheryl.

He's now written a novel, 'London Falling' and he was in Bath at Topping and Co to read from it.

It was a bitterly cold night, but despite that there was a reasonable turnout, and it was a fun evening.

 Paul  talked about the book (it's all about the occult history of West Ham football club, apparently), read several extracts from the novel, and answered questions.

And, of course, afterwards, he signed copies of the book for those of us who wanted them, plus extras, so if you are in Bath and want a copy, Topping & Co should be able to meet your needs!

Several of the others who came to the event know Paul from Cons. and Paul had some time before his train home, so after the official event, a group of us popped into the pub down the road, where conversation covered issues as divergent as Fringe, the Church of England, Arrow, Wicca, Marriage Equality, and Babies.

And Paul showed us a picture of baby Tom, who looks adorable.

It was a good evening. I'm looking forward to reading the novel.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

In Which there is Art, and Family

My parents were here to visit this weekend.

I noticed a little while back that Kaffe Fassett was due to speak at Topping and Co in Bath, and knowing that my mum has been a long-term admirer of his work, I asked her if she would like to go, which she did, so I booked a couple of tickets, and she and my dad arranged to come for the weekend.

The event was on Friday night, and I found it interesting despite being there primarily to keep my mum company! (I like Fassett's work, but probably would not have chosen to go to the event if it were just me!)

The talk was as part of a tour to publicise his new autobiography, and he spoke about his journey from painter to knitter to quilter and embroiderer, his passion for colour. He showed 2 of his current works in progress (photos aren't very good, as we were sitting quite far back!)

It's clear he has a passion for his work, and a huge enthusiasm for his work, and for sharing it and encouraging others to explore their own creativity.

On Saturday, the three of us went to Stourhead for a walk. It was a lovely day - very cold, but bright and clear.

We started by walking up to the obelisk, and then walked down through the woods and around the lake.

There was a 'festival of song' taking place which meant that there were 3 or 4 choirs singing at
different places around the grounds, so there were faint echoes and the sound of distant song as we walked around.
There is a rather nice pub just outside the gardens, so we treated ourselves to a delicious lunch (and some totally unnecessary and extravagant desserts) and then went for a short further walk, as a result...

I noticed, for the first time, that the relief on the outside of the 'Temple of Flora' includes these rather nice ox skulls.
Detail, Temple of Flora
We'd timed it all well. As we left, it started to rain.

Sunday was a much quieter, lazy day. In the morning, we went into Frome, which was having it's 'Christmas Extravaganza' - the High Street was closed, and there were all the usual stallholders from the Farmer's Market together with various craft-stalls. After that, we spent the rest of the day relaxing, reading papers and such, finishing with a supper of venison casserole and an early night.

A most enjoyable weekend!

Monday, 26 November 2012

Water Everywhere

I had a day off work today, and decided to go into Bath, to make a start on some Christmas shopping and some non-Christmas shopping which I've been avoiding, visit the Bath Christmas Market, and so on.

I went in by train, as parking is expensive in Bath, and driving there is no fun, especially at this time of year, with the Christmas Market on.

After my trip to London on Saturday I was expecting to see a fair amount of flooding, from the train, but there was more than I expected (I didn't have a window seat on Saturday morning, so my view out was restricted) The river (Avon) has burst its banks in many places  - I'd say pretty much everywhere outside the towns themselves. I feel sorry for the farmers, who will be losing grazing, and no doubt suffering damage to their fences and hedges, at the very least.
the river is usually over where the line of trees can be seen

As we drew into Bath I could see that the cricket Club's ground was completely covered in water - there appeared to be a pair of swans about where the wicket is generally found, and once I left the train and started into town I was able to see how high the river is even in town.

 Pulteney Bridge, and Pulteney Weir, usually looks like this:-
(Normal appearance of Pulteney Bridge and Weir)
Today, it looked rather different.
Pulteney Bridge and Weir

The contrast gives some idea of the sheer volume of extra water which is coming down the river at present. And this was taken on Monday morning - the really heavy rain was mainly Thursday and Saturday, so I think it was probably higher, a day or two ago..

More pictures here. (many taken from the train, so a bit blurry)

Once I had spent some time staring at the water, I got on with my shopping, which was moderately successful - I now have some new-and-dull clothes for work, and a few other bits and pieces I've been needing to get for a while. I have also done some christmas shopping, which is good (somehow having done a little bit makes the rest seem more manageable). But this whole shopping marlarky is exhausting. And I irrationally resent spending time and money buying clothes which are (mainly) for work - I suppose it feels a bit like a uniform.. And pyjamas, though important, are not very exciting. 

Sunday, 25 November 2012

In Which there is Bronze and Regicide

I spent Saturday in London, enjoying a trip to the Royal Academy, to see their Bronze Exhibition, and then to Hampstead theatre to see '55 Days'

I has a slightly stressful start to the day, as the first of my two trains turned out, when I got to the station, to be running late, which seemed likely to cause me to miss my connection, but as it turned out, we made up a bot of time getting to Bath, the London train was slightly delayed too, so with a bit of running, I managed to catch the train, and even to find my seat (not an easy task, as the train was very crowded due to an earlier cancellation), so made it to London as originally planned.

The exhibition at the RA was fascinating. The curators have chosen to group the bronzes by theme, rather than chronologically or by region, so in the section devoted to 'figures' were examples of ancient Greek and Etruscan figures,(including the first piece in the exhibition, a glorious and beautiful 'dancing satyr', around 3,500 years old, found quite recently near Sciliy)
'Dancing Satyr' 

Also medieval saints, works by Ghiberti and Cellini,  images of the Buddha and figures from Benin.

Similarly, in the section devoted to 'Animals' there was a glorious Etruscan Chimera (from around 400BCE), as well as a Louise Bourgoise spider, a Baboon made by Picasso, an Elephant from China, and many others.

There were also sections titled 'groups' which included a Frderic Remington group of 4 cowboys on horseback, and also one of the most extraordinary pieces, the Trundholm 'Chariot of the Sun' which is beautiful in it's own right, as well as awe-inspiring for it's age and fragility (It's believed to have been made between 1,800 and 1,600 BCE
Trundholm Chariot of the Sun
I am so glad I managed to get to the exhibition - I know the RA managed to borrow pieces from all over the world for it (although Florence appears to have been particularly generous!)
'Damned Soul' Massimiliano Soldani-Benzi, after Bernini
And of course, the 'poster boy', Soldani-Benzi's 'Damned Soul', which I feel sure must have inspired the 'weeping angels' (I felt safe visiting, there were so many people looking at it at all times...)

After visiting the exhibition, I headed across to the theatre, where, after a brief and welcome break for a sandwich (at one of the least stable tables I've encountered for some time)

I had booked my ticket because I wanted to see Mark Gatiss, and because I thought the play (which deals with the period leading up to the conviction and execution of Charles I, at the end of the English Civil War). I hadn't been the the Hampstead Theatre before, and had not realised that the play is by Howard Brenton, who also wrote 'Anne Boleyn, (which I saw earlier this year, and blogged about here)
Mark Gatiss as Charles I
It's a small theatre, with a central stage with entrances at both ends, which means that a lot of the time the actors don't face the audience - but once I got used to it I rather liked it - it makes you feel more engaged in what's going on on stage.

The play switches between the two main protagonists - Mark Gatiss's Charles I, arrogantly and utterly convinced of his own divine right to rule, and Douglas Henshall's Oliver Cromwell, equally sure of himself (perhaps with better reason) and, despite his talk of 'waiting on Providence', coming across as a far more canny politician.

Charles was presented in period costume, but all of the other characters were presented in (fairly) modern dress - with a 50s feel to it. Despite knowing the inevitable outcome the play still managed to be gripping, as the parliamentarians struggles with the issues of whether to put the King on trial, and if so, whether he should be executed, not to mention whether and how Parliament could try him, and whether the ends (putting him on trial) justified the means (Pride's Purge of Parliament, which effectively rigged the vote by ensuring that anyone who voted against the trail, first time round, being excluded from the second one...)

The performance I saw was the last but one of the run, so I can't advise you to grab tivkets and see it, but if it were still running, I would, as it was well worth seeing.

It was a long day, as I didn't get home till  around 9.30, but very enjoyable. I haven't any further theatre trips planned until the new year, now, so for the last \play of the year it was an excellent one to go out on!

Thursday, 22 November 2012

A Dark and Stormy Night

(It was also a dark and stormy day, but that is less dramatic!)

Yesterday was incredibly wet - there have been a lot of floods, although (at least so far) they have mainly been west of me. ( BBC news have some pictures - both Bath and Bradford on Avon, are very close to me)

This morning, driving in to work, wasn't bad, although there was surface water in various places, but as the day wore on, it got a lot more windy and wet. At around quarter to five, one of my co-workers came in to say she thought I might want to know that one of the big bins in the carpark had just been blown across the car park and hi my car, and she was very sorry, but although she'd seen it, she hadn't been able to get to it to stop it. (I must say, I think this was probably a good thing. They're pretty big, metal bins and while I'd obviously rather my car didn't get hit, it's better than someone getting hurt. It looks as though there's a big scratch on the front of the car, but no real damage (it missed the headlights, at least) so I'm relatively sanguine about it (although that might change when I can see it in daylight!)

By the time I set of to drive home it was raining quite heavily and was very windy, and it was gusty wind, which I think is worse, as it's so unpredictable. My drive home is mainly along country roads, and there were a lot of small branches and other debris on the road. About half way home I found that the turning I usually take to get home was closed. (I suspect there was a tree down, blocking it. all that was visible were some blue flashing lights, and several very wet, cold looking police officers, trying to help people turn round, and I decided that it would not be helpful to start asking them questions about what the problem was.

I decided that it would not be a good idea to do what I'd usually do when that road is backed up, which would be to dive off and go through some of the smaller lanes, so I ended up having to take a rather long way home, and with the wind, and lightening, and rain, it really wasn't a restful drive.

I'm hoping that it will get better - not least because I am supposed to be getting a train up to London for the day on Saturday, and if it carries on like this half the track will be underwater (there are already several stretches of railway closed or on reduced services, although so far they are further towards Devon)!

I have to go to the far side of Bath tomorrow, for a meeting, so I think I shall have to leave extra time for the drive, in case of detours...

On the plus side, my house is wind-and weather-proof, and mercifully un-flooded (I had a flood 5 or 6 years ago, and although it was caused by improper drainage on the council's neighbouring land, and since they put in a new drain, it hasn't happened again, but I always get a bit stressed when we have a lot of heavy rain, just in case.)

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

A Small Update about Tybalt

Those of you who know me on Twitter may recall that I was very worried about Tybalt at the end of last month.

Last year, just before christmas, Tybalt was diagnosed with Thyroid problems, and he's been on medication ever since, and has been doing pretty well.

Then last month he suddenly lost  his appetite, lost a lot of weight again, and was, very definitely, not himself.

When I booked him into to the vet I feared that there was a real risk he might not get to come home with me. However, in the 18 hours or so between making the appointment and attending it, he perked up a little and ate a meal or two. The vet found he was running a temp. so she gave him a shot of antibiotics, and other of painkillers, and booked him back in for a further appointment in 2 weeks time to have the general review, bloods etc that were due in January (with the proviso, of course, to bring him back sooner if he deteriorated.

Fortunately, he didn't - indeed, he got his appetite back with a vengeance!

When his blood and other tests came back last week, they were - mixed.

  • His thyroid numbers are are the very high end of normal. Vet doesn't recommend increasing the thyroid meds at this stage, as the numbers may be related to poor management over the last few weeks due to the infection and appetite loss, plus increasing them could push his numbers too low..
  • Liver enzymes are higher than normal. This could simply be due to the infection and to his body burning muscle because he wasn't eating. It could be a sign of more serious problems but would need general anaesthetic and biopsy to find out, which would put a lot of strain on him, especially in his current state.
  • White blood count up, so he hasn't got rid of the infection altogether yet.
  • one of the parameters relating to his kidneys in the blood test is high, the rest at within normal range but high normal. 
  • his urine test showed some proteins which could be due to the infection or could mean he has the start of kidney problems.
So. He has a course of antibiotics to get rid of the end of the infection (he was no longer running a temperature, and with him having got his appetite back and being much more himself, the vet was pretty confident that it's mostly gone - the extra course is mainly a precaution.

And he has continued to improve. He is much better in himself, and seems to be regaining  a bit of weight, so hopefully we can both relax for a bit longer.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Charley's Aunt (From Brazil, where the nuts come from)

Charley's Aunt was originally performed in 1892, and ran for 4 years. The current production stars Matthew Horne as Lord Fancourt Babberley, and is excellent!

It is pure, frothy, Victorian farce. Horne is excellent as Lord Fancourt-Babberley, coerced by his friends into impersonating Charley's aunt, Donna Lucia, in order to act as chaperone so they can see their respective sweethearts.

The plot is, of course, entirely predictable and the ending obvious from the outset, but that in no way detracts from the entertainment value. It has a similar flavour to 'The Importance of Being Ernest', but without the depth...

Matthew Horne is the star of the show but the supporting cast, particularly Jane Asher (Charley's real aunt), are excellent. I think it's fair to say that the male characters are stronger than the female ones, but I think this is down to the writing not the actors - the female characters (other than the real Donna Lucia) are present really only as the love-interests for their respective swains.

All in all, good, clean, undemanding fun. The set was also impressive (although elaborate, which was no doubt why the play had two full intervals, rather than just a quick scene change!)

Timon of Athens

I’ve blogged before about the National Theatre Live broadcasts. I think they are an awesome idea, and I have very much enjoyed those which I’ve seen.

I had booked to see the most recent production, Timon , on 4th November, but couldn’t go as I was busy suffering from lurgy, but happily there was a second ‘encore’ showing on Sunday evening, so I was able to see it after all.
( photo from National Theatre site)
Timon is one of Shakespeare’s least known, and least frequently performed works, and I'm a big Shakespeare fan, so I was always going to be keen to see it. The fact it got excellent reviews was a bonus!

This production has a modern setting, which works very well. In the first half of the play, Timon is wealthy, sought-after, and renowned for his generosity. When he loses his wealth, his erstwhile friends (depicted as city bankers, socialites and trust fund hipsters) all drop away, refusing to assist him or lend him money.

Alcibiades and his followers are depicted as rioters, recalling last summers' riots, and after his successful invasion of Athens we see him joining the board of directors of an unspecified company. La plus sa change...

Simon Russell Beale's Timon was a slightly pathetic figure - even in his wealth, seeming uncomfortable with others, and later, in his poverty, unable to accept the genuine affection of his steward.

It's far from being a cheerful play, but it was exceptionally well done, and well worth seeing.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

A Quiet Weekend

I have been enjoying a quiet weekend. My parent were here overnight - they are members of a local bellringing society and travelled up in order to attend the annual dinner, and spent the night with me.

The dinner meant that they were out yesterday evening, so I had the slightly odd experience of lying in bed listening, and waiting to hear them come in. This must be what it is like being parent to a teenager (although less stressful, as I have confidence that my parents' judgement is rather better than that of the average teenager)

Today, we enjoyed a tranquil, sociable day, croissants for breakfast, and a proper roast dinner. As it's quite chilly, and my Dad and I are both still suffering from the tailends of colds we decided not to go out anywhere. Besides, sometimes it's good to just spend a little time being together, without doing anything.

They are coming back again in a few weeks time - one of the people who is coming to Topping's Bookshop in Bath soon is Kaffe Fassett, and as my mum has been interested in his work for years, I asked whether she'd be interested in hearing him speak. She said she would be, so I've booked a couple of tickets, and my parents will come for the weekend, and my mum and I will go to the event. It'll be good to do something together, and to share with my mum something which interests her.

(I enjoy looking at the quilts and things but don't have a deep, personal interest in meeting Kaffe or hearing him speak)

Friday, 9 November 2012

Pestilence and Plague

OK, so maybe I’m exaggerating a little, but only  a little.

I came down with a perfectly revolting flu-ey bug, at the end of last week – mercifully the hearing I had, which was listed as a two day fully contested hearing, settled on the morning on the first day, and equally mercifully I had opted to travel in by train, as there isn’t much parking near the court which we were in, so I didn’t have to drive.

I was sneezing and coughing away as we waited, and realised when I got up to speak that the room was revolving gently around me, so as soon as we were done, I went home, and went to bed. I pretty much stayed there, except for brief forays down to the sofa, until Monday. Which I can’t help feeling was a bit of a waste of a weekend.

I was particularly disappointed as it meant I missed a trip to the cinema to see the National Theatre Live broadcast of ‘Timon of Athens’, had to cancel a dinner with my elderly cousin, and (worst of all, because unlike the others I can’t rearrange it) missed Thea Gilmore’s performance in Bristol on Monday evening. It’s a damn shame – it’s about 2 years since she last played locally, and I was really looking forward to seeing her again.

I am not feeling much better – still have an impressive hacking cough, but it is improving, and I managed a half day at work on Tuesday, and full days since then.

Today I had to take Tybalt to the vet to have bloods taken – he has been losing weight again, and not eating well, which is a worry. I took him to the vet 2 weeks ago, because I was worried about him. He turned out to be running a slight temperature, so he was given antibiotics and painkillers, and his review (for his thyroid problem) brought forward from January to today.

He did not enjoy his visit to the vet. He has been subjected to the indignity of being weighed, and listened to, and having bloods taken, and his results should be available on Monday.
I am really hoping that this is something which can be treated by tweaking his meds, and not the effect of new, and different medical problems.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Hosting a House Concert

In my last post I wrote about the House Concert which Marian Call held at my home, and the fun and music. This one is more about the experience of hosting a house concert - it wasn't something I'd ever done before, and I wasn't too sure what to expect.

On her blog, Marian has information for would-be hosts, and I thought it might be worth while writing about how it worked out for me, as a host....

I had only ever been to one house concert before, (which I blogged about here) and that was hosted by the band themselves, so I wasn't too sure what to expect.

So, how was it?

Well, I said when I signed up for the Kickstarter, and Marian's mailing list, that I might be able to host a house concert, and also that I might be able to provide accommodation.

Marian e-mailed me about 6 weeks before the date of the show, to check whether I was able to host, and then once I said yes, we agreed the date and other arrangements and the concert went onto Marian's tour schedule.

I was also a little worried about whether the concert would be a success - I don't host a lot of parties. I tend to be more the small dinner party type.(In fact, my last actual party may well have been my house warming party, and I've I've lived in this house for 10 years now.)

And I panicked about whether the space would be too small, and whether the strangers coming to my home would turn out to be, well, strange.

In the event, I need not have worried.

So: Specifics: (based on the points made in Marian's 'house party 101)

'My house is too small'

My house *is* pretty small. But Marian knew that when she asked me if I was still happy to host. I made sure, in my invitation e-mail to interested parties, to make it clear that the house was small and that I didn't have masses of chairs - I suggested that people bring extra cushions to sit on, and some did, and eveyone knew what to expect.

'I've never done anything like this before'

I really haven't. I tend towards small numbers of people for meals, rather than larger parties. In the end I decided not to worry about this one.  - I was as clear as I could be about what people could expect, both in terms of the size of the house, and what refreshments I would be providing, and decided that since people would be coming to hear Marian and Scott,  there wasn't actually the pressure on me that there would have been if I were hosting a party just as a party. It was a very soothing thought!

I also considered that while *I* haven't done this before, Marian has, and has found that it is a format which works. I was willing to trust the expert:-)

I opted to provide drinks and nibbles - since I quite enjoy cooking, I baked a quiche, and made a couple of dips, and I bought in some other dips, and provided crudités and crisps (chips) for dipping, and enough wine, beer and cola for everyone to have a drink or two. I made it clear on the invite that I'd be providing drinks and snacks for the 'mingling' part of the evening, and that people were welcome to bring extra drinks or snacks of they wanted.

I ended the evening with more cola than when I started (which amuses me, as I don't drink cola) and with more crisps and some bonus chocolates. There was some of 'my' wine and beer left over, and I 'won' some, so over all, I was 'down' 1 quiche and about 2 and a half bottles of wine. Which is not a lot, even if you're aiming to entertain on a budget! And of course, I could have opted for a completely 'bring your own' approach,

'I don't know if I want strangers in my house'

I had opted not to publicise my address, but instead, to provide a contact e-mail address. Another fan (Thank you, Tamzin!) did a lot to publicise the event, and I ended up with 14 guests (so 15 people including myself) plus Marian, Patrick and Scott. I only actually knew one guest in advance, but the fact that everyone had to e-mail me in advance to get my address made me feel more comfortable, as it meant I had everyone's name and contact details, and could have said no if there had been any enquiry from anyone I didn't feel comfortable about.

I also felt that as Marian is a cool, smart, geeky person, there was a good chance that her fans would be similar, and therefore not so strange. And they were. People were complimentary about my books and decor, which was nice, and I enjoyed meeting new people who shared me interests.

I've also, personally, had good experiences in the past with meeting up with people I only know from the internet, and indeed staying in the homes of people I've only met on the internet, so it seemed only reasonable to suppose that the experience could be just as positive as host rather than guest. Which it was.

'It will take so much time'

Not really. I spent some time making sure that the house was tidy, and making up beds (as Marian and Co. were staying with me after the concert). I also spent some time preparing a meal for us to eat before the concert, and baking quiche/making dips, but no more than I'd have done for any other house guests. I was fortunate in that the gig was part of Marian's Kickstarter tour, so she was in the area because people locally had shown interest in her playing here. I used twitter and facebook to publicise the concert, and put up some posters.I also had the benefit of another local fan publicising the show. None of it was very time consuming.
The concert itself was one evening, so I spent time cleaning up and preparing, but saved time in that I didn't have to travel anywhere to get to the show!

'My place is a mess'

Well, yes, but you have to clean *anyway*, and mostly you don't get fun guests and awesome live music as a reward when you've done it.

'You can't come to my town, I'm out of the way'

I admit that I was a little surprised. Trowbridge, where I live, is not exactly on the beaten track, so I had not expected it to be on Marian's route. Of course, if you're from Alaska, I'm not sure that anywhere in the UK really counts as being 'out of the way' (once you're in the country). But I guess that this is an 'if you don't ask, you don't get' situation.

After the Show
Over all, I found that the whole experience was remarkably stress-free.

The concert itself was fantastic, the people who came were lovely, and having it in my own home was a special kind of 'access all areas'.

 I'd do it again in a heartbeat. So, if you're wavering, take courage, and take the plunge. You won't regret it!

Saturday, 3 November 2012

In Which There Is Music (With A Typewriter)

Back in June, I backed a Kickstarter for Marian Call's European Adventure Tour. Because I like her music, and I hoped it might turn out that she'd be playing somewhere near enough to me that I go go and see her. But in my response, when I signed up, I did also say I might be able to host a house-concert.
Typewriter (and Ziggy the deceased cat)
Then, just over a month ago, I got an e-mail from Marian to ask whether I could host. I said yes, and we then e-mailed back and forth a little to arrange a date, which turned out to be Tuesday, 30th October.

So, on Tuesday afternoon, Marian, Patrick and Scott arrived, and there was time for us to chat, and to eat, and for Scott and Marian to set up in one corner of my living room, before guests started to arrive.

Marian Call and Scott Barkan
After half an hour or so of chatting and mingling Marian started her show - with 'Good Morning Moon'.

Jayne hat for Jayne song!
During the rest of the evening we also heard 'Dear Mr Darcy', which I think may be my favourite song on the album, ( not least for the wonderful line "I've been dropping hints like bricks on you"), the Avocado Song, and of course, "It's Good to Have Jayne on Your Side", complete with Jayne hat, and lots of audience participation!

Marian has a great voice, and I love the combination of witty, geeky, lyrics and 'folky' music. I also really loved the intimacy of having a show in such a small venue (and of course, on a personal level, having it in my own house meant no pesky travelling or queueing!)

In addition to accompanying Marian, Scott also performed some of his own songs, from his album 'Little Days'
Scott Barkan
It was a lot of fun, and I enjoyed meeting the other fans who came to the show, all but one of whom were complete strangers to me!

Here's a taster for you - lots more of the music to watch,listen to and buy on Marian's  website.(and a couple of others on my youtube channel

If you have a chance to see Marian play, take it. You won't be disappointed.

(More of my photos here on flickr, plus further pics here from another guest, Andy.)

Sunday, 28 October 2012

In Which There Is Some Great Acting (and Nakedness)

Having spent the morning listening to Rupert Everett talking about his new book, I then spent the evening at Bath Theatre Royal watching him, and others, in David Hare's play "The Judas Kiss"

It was a superb production.It covers two events; the hours at the Cadogan Hotel, immediately before Wilde's arrest for gross indecency, and a similar period at Wilde and Bosie's  home in Naples, immediately prior to their final separation.

Rupert Everett as Wilde
(photo from Bath Theatre Royal website)
Everett is completely convincing as Wilde: witty, satirical and an ultimately tragic figure. Calm in the face of his own impending arrest and disgrace, and Robbie's increasingly desperate attempts to persaude him to flee to the Continent while there is still time, he is moved to tears by the kindness of the Hotel servants.

 Toward the end of the play,we see him refuse his wife's demand to separate from Bosie (knowing this refusal will result in her stopping his allowance, leaving him penniless) only to learn that Bosie is abandoning him at his own family's behest - Bosie, characteristically, tries to disclaim any responsibility for anything which has happened, even going so far as to claim he was 'never an invert' (homosexual) "No," responds Wilde, dryly "Just a very good mimic"
Freddie Fox as 'Bosie' (from Theatre Royal website)

Although Freddie Fox's Bosie is so petulant, hypocritical and spoilt that it is a little hard to see why Wilde would have remained so devoted to him, he is very consistent, and convincing, and is also very beautiful, which of course could explain a good deal! Cal MacAninch was excellent as Robbie Ross, whose good sense, and enduring friendship for Wilde did not seem to be well rewarded, and was at times heartbreaking.

Oh, and the nakedness?  the maid and valet at the Cadogan, in Act One (taking advantage of Bosie's room while cleaning) And Bosie and Galileo (a fisherman of Naples) (Tom Colley), who sleeps with Bosie and makes conversation in Italian with Wilde.

It's ultimately a tragic play, but there are so many entertaining one-liners that it is easy to overlook this, for large chunks of the play.

It's now transferring to the West End, to the Richmond Theatre. It's well worth seeing, if you can manage it.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

In Which There is An Actor

I've written before about the nice people at Topping and Co Bookshop, and the events they organise - there was another one today - they had invited Rupert Everett along (to publicise the new volume of his autobiography, Vanished Years)

I've enjoyed seeing his work on screen, and I had, several months ago, booked to see him in 'The Judas Kiss', at the Theatre Royal, so the opportunity to meet him and hear about the book was too good to pass up!

When I bought my ticket, the event was going to be 'coffee and cake' at the bookshop, but it was obviously more popular than originally expected, as it was moved to the Forum's 'ballroom', which sadly also meant no coffee or cake (never mind. I still have lots of lovely, rich chocolate brownies made for me by my equally lovely (if less chocolatey) brother).

Everett was interviewed by (presumably)someone from the shop, and talked about Noel Coward, playing female roles while at his (all boys) school, and deciding he wanted to grown up to be an actress, and his unnerving experience appearing on the celebrity version of 'The Apprentice' - apparently he'd never seen the programme so didn't know what to expect, and started out deeply confused, having mistaken Alan Sugar for Sid James (which is impressive, as Sid James is dead) and then the horror began, as he found himself on a team with Alistair Campbell, Ross Kemp and Piers Morgan "I felt as if I'd fallen into Hell".

On a more serious note, he spoke about his father's death, the excellent care he had received, and his own assumption that he would die alone and uncared for, on account of not having a wife(!)

He was very complimentary about the Theatre Royal in Bath, and its acoustics, and very rude about journalists (with particular reference to a journalist who quoted him out of context, following Michael Jackson's death, resulting in his receiving death threats.)

In answer to questions from the floor, he said that his ambition is to be able to get the rights to,and produce a TV series of, Greene's 'Travels with my Aunt' ,that he always uses stunt doubles where appropriate, and that he is still insecure about finding work.

Rupert Everett, Bath
He was very entertaining, witty and self-deprecating, and was then chatty and friendly as he signed books for people after the interview.

I had fun. Even without the coffee or cakes.

Friday, 26 October 2012

In Which There Are Many Happy Things

The full title of the post should really be "In which there is family, and art and museums and friends and Rock and food and beer and meeting people and brownies and lots of fun" but that's a little too long.

You see, Wednesday was the day (night) that Amanda Fucking Palmer was performing in Manchester. when the tickets first went on sale, I had to decide between the London and Manchester shows, and picked Manchester because although it involved more travelling, I got to combine the gig with a visit to my brother, and to introduce him and his girlfriend to Amanda's music, which seemed like a good idea!

I drove up to Manchester in the morning, and was able to meet R for lunch (unfortunately, my visit coincided with the only-available-about-twice-year-and-very-useful training day he needed to do, so he couldn't take the afternoon off, which was a shame, but such is life. R works at the BBC, at Salford Quays. It was odd for me to visits the Quays, as they have changed almost beyond recognition since I lived in Manchester - the area was almost all industrial wasteland in my day...

After lunching, I went to look around the Imperial War Museum North -which has exhibitions relating to modern warfare, and in particular to the impact of war, so there were exhibits about victims of shell shock, and trench warfare, and about prisoners of war, and victims of concentration camps, (and those who were involved in liberating them) as well as about more recent events such as the 9/11 and 7/7 attacks. Not an uplifting experience, but both interesting and thought-provoking.

A little later, after nipping back to R's house to drop off my stuff and park my car, I got a tram into Manchester and spent half an hour in the Manchester Art Gallery. I only had time to visit a small part of it, but it was nice. They have some lovely Victorian decor - I liked the fishes and bees, for instance...

There are also some quite nice pictures - I didn't get as far as the Lowrys, but I did see the William de Morgan tiles, which were always a favourite of mine, and I enjoyed the juxtaposition of old and new art - the butterflies are by an artist called Claire Brewster, and are all cut from ordnance survey maps... I liked them a lot!

I didn't get to stay long, as the gallery closes at 5, and I then had to leave, after which I met up with R and his girlfriend, J, for supper (an American themed meal, involving milkshakes)

and then it was time to head to the cathedral. We went via Sinclair's Oyster Bar, which is a lovely looking half-timbered building (built in 1720, and moved a few hundred yards, after the 1996 IRA bomb and subsequent redevelopment of the area) We had some rather nice beer, and met up with my friend Hellie, who was also heading the the gig.

And so - the main event!

AFP watching the stage
I have been to Manchester Cathedral before, for services, but never for a gig - it made for a pretty awesome space.

 Once inside, we spotted Laurie Pink and Essers (which was good, because it turned out that Twitter had been hiding their DM's from me, when we were trying to work out if we could meet up!)

They had cunningly spotted that there was space to stand around the side of the stage, where there was a good view! So we did standing there, too.  There was some brass band going on at the other end of the nave , then the vicar came to welcome everyone. I suspect he doesn't get massive applause and cheering on a Sunday morning, generally...
Friendly vicar says hello

Jherek Bishoff
Then there was music. Jherek Bischoff played - including a piece called 'Cistern' which, he explained, was written in an empty, underground water cistern and rarely performed, but the cathedral seemed an appropriate space to try it in (for the record, it really, really, worked!)

After the second opening act, Amanda Palmer started her own set (having introduced the others) with an a capella version of 'The Wind that Shakes the Barley', sung from the top of the (medieval) rood screen, above an array of painted angels. It was stunning.

She then came down onto the main stage and was, well, Amanda Fucking Palmer. Most of the show involved songs from the new album,  Theatre is Evil, but we also got 'Leeds United'..

It was an awesome night. We didn't stay for the post-show ninja encore outside the cathedral, on account of having to catch the last tram home, but even without it I was on a high.

And when we got back to the house, R revealed that he had specially baked some chocolate brownies for me, as a bleated birthday treat, and he & J stuck candles in them and sang 'Happy Birthday' to me at midnight, which made for a lovely, if slightly surreal end to the day. (plus, I got a whole lot of delicious brownies to bring home)

(more photos, as usual, on flickr