Monday, 29 April 2013

A Good Weekend

I had a bit of a shitty week, one way and another, so I was determined to enjoy the weekend, and to do some fun things.

If you've read my last post, you'll have seen that I spent parts of Saturday exploring Bristol via art. On Sunday I went for the arguably less high-brow option of  going to see the new Iron Man film.

I don't want to spoil it for anyone who hasn't seen it yet so will keep it vague.

I enjoyed the film - it's more about Tony Stark than it is about Iron Man, I like the way it references the Avengers Assemble film, and the fact that it doesn't take itself too seriously. I loved Ben Kingsley. And the little extra at the end of the credits.

There were a couple of things I didn't like- I would have liked a little more backstory for one or two of the characters, and there were a coupe of points at the end which left me going :-/ but on the whole I think it's a good, fun, film.

Also, there's lots of stuff getting blown up.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

These Pages Fall Like Ash

A couple of weeks ago, I saw Nick Harkaway (@Harkaway) tweet about a project which both he, and Neil Gaiman have contributed to, together with Tom Abba and Artists' Collective, 'Circumstance'.

(Picture (c) the project)
The project, 'These Pages Fall Like Ash'  is an interactive story, part book, part city exploration with downloaded content, part personal imagination.

I booked a ticket (or bought a book, depending how you chose to look at it) and on Saturday travelled to Bristol to take part.  I picked up my book (beatifully packaged) from the Watershed, and got started.

The book is a beautiful little thing, made from wood and paper, and it tells two stories, or two halves of one story, one set in the Bristol we know, the other half set in a parallel city, with characters who may, or may not, know and remember one another.

The book also contains clues to locations within Bristol, at which you can download further parts of the story, using a smartphone or tablet. You have to find the right place; the content is stored on hidden hard drives, so you have to be in the right part of the city.

I wasn't able to complete the whole story (?stories) - the project hasn't been finished yet, there is still some digital content which hasn't yet been uploaded, and I had trouble with a couple of the sites, but it is a very interesting concept, and it caused me to look at the city in a way I hadn't done before.

I must have passed the hairdressers in St Nicholas Street numerous times, but had not noticed the veiled bust, for instance.

I hope I shall have time to go back and revisit while the project is up and complete, to finish the stories, but if I don't , I think some of the digital content will be available as a pdf once the project is over.

And I believe that there are plans for other, similar projects in other cities.

It's definitely an interesting and innovative piece of art, and I'm glad I joined in.

Monday, 15 April 2013

Very Old Things

Some time ago,I booked tickets for two of the British Museum's headline exhibitions for this year: - Ice Age art and Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum, so Saturday morning saw me on a train to London, to visit the BM and see them both.

I started with Pompeii. Well, to be truthful, I started with a very nice lunch at a lovely little French bistro not far from the Museum, but after that I went into the Pompeii and Herculaneum exhibition.

I was lucky enough to able able to visit both cities, about 18 months ago, together with the Archaeological museum in Naples, so I was not sure whether there would be many things I hadn't already seen (although of course I had no problem with seeing them again!)

Kitchen Mural
The exhibition is arranged by rooms, a little as if looking around a Roman house -  starting with the street, and moving in to an Atrium, Bedroom, Kitchen, Garden and so forth.

Many of the items were familiar - the 'Cave Canem' mosaic, for example, and the portrait of the Baker, Terentius Neo, and his wife, (which is the headline poster for the exhibition), others were less familiar.

 I don't remember seeing the more technical exhibits, such as pipes and valves which looked startlingly modern, or the fountain head in the shape of a rabbit, before.

There were also various pieces of furniture which I had not seen before - the poignant carbonised cradle, for instance (I'd seen it in TV documentaries, but not in person), a small household alter, and personal items found with some of the bodies, such as a surgeon's implements, a child's charm-bracelet and a key.

There were also items such as loaves of bread, dishes of figs, pomegranates and grain, all carbonised, and therefore preserved for over 2,000 years, which are just astonishing!

Garden fresco
One of the most dramatic and memorable parts of the exhibition, however, has to be the Garden frescos - 3 walls of gardens, with gorgeous and life-like plants and birds.

The exhibition does include a small number of the famous casts - one of a guard dog, and others of a family of four - parents and two young children, but the exhibition focuses on life rather than death. It's very interesting, and I'm glad I went.

(There are more pictures in the Evening Standard's review, here, and on the Museum's own website)

After this, I wandered upstairs to visit Noggin the Nog   the Lewis Chessmen, and a few other bits and pieces, while I waited for the time-slot for my entry into the Ice Age exhibition.

One of the things I like about the British Museum is how big it is, and how much stuff there is, so if (like me) you have a poor sense of direction, you tend to wander down a corridor, or turn a corner, and stumble upon the Mespotomanian Queen of the Night, or a glazed brick guardsman from the palace of Darius of Persia (both of which I saw in between Pompeii and the Ice Age..)

20,000 year old Bison sculpture
The Ice age exhibition was, to me, a little bit of a disappointment - they sell timed tickets, but seemed to have been greedy and overestimated how many people could reasonable view the (mainly small) at once. The exhibition itself is also fairly small. The curators have added some modern pieces, such as Matisse sketches and a Henry Moore sculpture, to highlight how close the relationships between modern and ancient art were.

Despite my grouching, there were some lovely pieces - a beautiful bison, and a lovely horse. And the swimming reindeer, which is part of the permanent collection, and one of my favourites.

It's fascinating to see the skill and accuracy of the sculptures, and to realise that they were created with nothing but bone and stone tools!

An interesting day. Long, but I'm glad had the chance to see both exhibitions.

(Edited to add. The British Museum has created an app to allow you to visit the exhibition vitually, if you can't visit in person.)

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Mitch Benn's Reduced Circumstances

Regular readers (if any of you are regular) will remember that I have several times been to see Mitch Benn, and as he's now touring, I got the chance to see him again, at the Rondo Theatre in Bath.

I like the Rondo - it's tiny (I think it seats about 80), so no matter where you sit, you're close to the stage, and it's run mainly by volunteers.

I like Mitch Benn, too. This gig was part of his 'Reduced Circumstances' tour - just Mitch and a small guitar, no band, and with slightly more in the way of stand-up and slightly fewer songs than previous gigs I've seen. He talked about his very dramatic weight loss,  about food as an addiction (and the difficulties of going 'cold turkey'!) and also talked about believers and atheism, and performed a series of new and older songs. (I have now heard Bouncy Druids song live, which was fun, and comes with commentary about the Olympics)

As those who've ever been to pone of Mitch's live gigs will know, he will take suggestions from the audience, just before the interval, about local or national news events, and write a brand new song during the interval, based on those suggestions.

This week, of course, there is only one News story, and there was a pause before anyone mentioned it... (Mitch commented that waiting to hear Jeremy Hardy on the new quiz, on the subject of Thatcher finally having died, would be worth hearing...) as was Mitch's song, which managed to include references to slasher movies, bedroom tax and Korea as well as the Iron Lady's final departure.(assuming of course that someone remembered the stake, and she is in fact gone for good)

It was a Good Gig. And it's near the start of the tour, so lots more chances for you to see it! Go. book here.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Things that Glow in the Dark

Tonic water and glass in normal light
So, about a year ago I heard about Uranium Glass (also known as radiation glass, or vaseline glass), which is made with small quantities of uranium, causing it to glow under black light, and I wondered, vaguely, whether the drinking glasses which used to be my Grannie's, might be made of Uranium Glass, but I didn't have any source of ultraviolet light to test it with.

Uranium glass in UV light
And then more recently I learned that the quinine in (proper, non-diet) tonic water also glows in the dark, under black light. I learned this in the context of realising that one can make G'n'T jellies, and who wouldn't love a glow-in-the-dark alcoholic jelly? (Well, my family, it turns out. I made some G'n'T jellies at christmas and it turns out that the flaw in the plan is that if you don't much like jelly, adding gin is just a waste of gin. Maybe if I'd had an ultraviolet light so it glowed in the dark we'd have liked it better)

In these circumstances, it was only a matter of time before I acquired a UV light and started to play..

Today was the day it arrived. And it's a weekend, so I was always going to be having some  gin, so I'd have an excuse to play with tonic water...

It turns out that my glasses are uranium glass...

And tonic water does glow in the dark.

And you know what? Drinking a G'n'T out of the glass, you can get some very pretty effects!

Radioactive Gin and Tonic
Well, it kept me amused for a time!

I understand that the level of radioactivity involved in Uranium glass is so low it doesn't present any health risk (unless you grind up the glass and inhale it)

Saturday, 6 April 2013

The Crane Wife

I've written before about Mr B's Emporium of Reading Delights, one of Bath's two splendid independent bookshops. They host wonderful author events (the last one I went to was with China Mieville, which I blogged here )

On Tuesday night, they were hosting the Patrick Ness, to celebrate the publication of his new novel, The Crane Wife. I missed Patrick when he visited for the publication of 'A Monster Calls', so I was particularly pleased to be able to get tickets this time!

And to meet some old friends and acquaintances - I knew that Cheryl was going to be there, what with our having bought the tickets together, and it was nice also to see Tamzin, (although my terrible face recognition skills meant I was confused for a moment, there)

As usual, the evening began with music from The Bookshop Band - with two new (and only just completed) songs inspired by the book. They were wonderful.
Patrick Ness

We then had the interview with Patrick, who apparently wrote the book at the same time as writing a new teen novel, (and has vowed never to do that again). The novel is inspired by a Japanese folk tale of the same name, which Patrick learned while a child in Hawaii. It's not one I am familiar with, but he made the point that, unlike most fairy tales / folk tales, it begins with an act of kindness, not an act of cruelty, so he was interested to explore the ideas of how a kind man would react to / deal with his  desires.

The interview also covered other points - the fact that people are complicated ("People are Legion") and don't conform to simple stereotypes; one of the reasons why Patrick rarely writes out-and-out villains, the need to write from the heart - drawing on real emotions.

He read us a bit of the new book (with a few interpolated comments - "I said 'penis' to a room full of people') then there were some questions, followed by delicious food from Made by Ben, and mingling, then further questions, and book recommendations, from Patrick, and the bookshop staff, and guests. Recommendations included Cat Valente's books,(the 'Fairyland ones, pluis Six-Gun Snow White,  WildwoodThe Armed GardenShadows on the Moon ,and the Cannongate Myths series.

Then the evening ended with Patrick signing copies of the Crane Wife and others of his books, with, inevitably, more conversation. A thoroughly fun evening.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Easter Weekend

I decided to go down to Devon for Easter weekend, to visit my parents and relax and unwind a little.

It was, inevitably, still cold, but also sunny, which made a nice change. And as it was a sunny day, we decided to go to the seaside, to the (Baggy Point end) of Woolacombe.

There were some brave souls surfing (although not, I think, with much success. The waves were big, but irregular and unpredictable) We stuck to the walking along wearing thick coats option, which was more comfortable. We also decided against having an ice cream. Even though it *was* the seaside.

Saturday evening was, of course, the first episode of the new series of Doctor Who - and my lovely parents arranged dinner to fit round it (and even brought me a pre-dinner drink as I watched!)

On Sunday the clocks went forward, and as it was Easter Sunday, there was a church service to ring for, which of course felt as though it was an hour early.

The church did look lovely, though - the church yard is full of daffodils and crocuses and primroses, and the sun was out.

After ringing, we went for a walk locally, through the beech woods, where the old railway used to run.

It was cold, but there are some lovely views. And lots of primroses and snowdrops in the hedge-bottoms. (We even found one violet, but it was the proverbial shrinking violet!)

I really enjoyed being able to relax and unwind. The house is so quiet - I love lying in bed listening to the birdsong, and the calling of the tiny lambs in the field outside, and I enjoy watching all the different birds which come to the feeders outside the living room windows.

The most frequent visitors are a gang of goldfinches, but there are also lots of sparrows, blue tits, great tits, chaffinches, a greenfinch, and blackbirds and thrushes (mostly on the ground under the feeders) I'm told there is a coaltit sometimes, although I didn't see it this time, and there is a very territorial robin, too!

Oh, and I got a lovely chocolate Easter Egg despite being officially grown up!

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

In Which There is a Cathedral, An Abbey, and a Bogus Monk

I was able to take (last) Monday off work in order to spend a bit more time with Wendy, and we decided to visit Wells and Glastonbury, both of which are within fairly easy reach of here.

It was another bitterly cold day, and kept trying to snow on us.

Vicar's Close, Wells
We started with Wells, which happens to be my old home town, and which is a lovely little city. We started by looking at Vicar's Close, which lays claim to being the oldest planned, residential street in Europe. The houses were originally built in the 14th Century. Originally there were 44 houses, with a chapel and library at the end of the street (and a gate and walkway to the cathedral at the other) After the reformation, once priests were permitted to marry, many of the houses were combined to provide bigger living accommodation, so there are now 27. One of them is now a holiday home, so you can stay in the close if you wish.

It was pretty much deserted (except for a friendly Border Collie)
Wendy at Wells Cathedral

After the Close, we went to look around the cathedral itself. I always enjoy visiting it  regardless of whether you are religious, it is a stunning building, both inside and out. (incidentally, it doubled as the interior of Southwark Catherdral, in the Doctor Who episode 'The Lazarus Experiment')
Astronomical Clock

We went to see the clock perform - It is an astronomical clock, and has 4 horsemen who joust every quarter of an hour, above the clockface.

It was made in around 1392, making it the 2nd oldest clock in England, after the one at Salisbury.  (although the original mechanism is now in the Science Museum, having been replaced in the 17th Century. 

There's a second clock on the outside, but that is less impressive. (It has no jousting knights, for a start)

Lady Chapel ceiling

We then went up to the Chapter House, which is a gorgeous octagonal building. 

Chapter House
It's all white marble and arching roof (it was built in the early 14th Century, so I assume that originally some of this may have been painted or otherwise decorated), although if it was, there's now sign of it now. 

It also has (as we found to our relief!) fairly effective, (presumably Victorian), heating. The Bishop and chapter don't meet there regularly there any longer, although it is still used on special occasions.

After all this uplifting architecture we had a spot of lunch at the City Arms, (which used to be the city gaol) before heading to Glastonbury, where we started by calling in on Liz Williams and Trevor Jones at their shop,  Cat and Cauldron, before visiting the Abbey.
Glastonbury Abbey
Glastonbury Abbey was the richest monastery in England when Domesday Book was written. In 1184, they had a fire, and then a few years later, they miraculously found the bones of King Arthur and Queen Guenevere were found there, which made them even more popular as a place of pilgrimage.. Which must have come in handy, for funding all the rebuilding.

Bogus monk at Glastonbury Abbey
There is also a legend that Joseph of Arimathea visited Glastonbury with the boy Jesus, and building the first church on England on the site.  Joseph apparently returned later, and buried the Holy Grail near the Tor.

The Abbey has a number of guides who dress up as different characters (real and otherwise) from the Abbey's history, and we joined a self-proclaimed 'bogus monk' for a walk around the abbey - I don't normally go for guided tours, but I did find this one entertaining, as he was so delightfully cynical, and tongue-in-cheek  about the abbey's history.

view down from the Tor
The Abbey was thoroughly dissolved under Henry VIII - it was at that time hugely wealthy (it owned a great deal of land, quite apart from the income from pilgrims) and the last Abbot was hung, drawn and quartered on Glastonbury Tor in 1539.

Ninja Wendy at Glastonbury Tor
After leaving the Abbey, we decided to go up the Tor. It was bitterly cold, and very windy, but (I think) worth it!

There were not many people on the Tor, (perhaps most had more sense than to expose themselves to the icy winds!) but it meant that we had the tower to ourselves for a little while.

It was a pretty long day, but enjoyable, despite my car misbehaving a little on the way home! And despite the weather's best efforts, it didn't manage to snow properly on us.

Monday was Wendy's last day with me - Tuesday morning saw me back at work, and Wendy on a train to Bath, and then London, but it was lovely to have a chance to hang out together. And maybe one day I shall make it to New Orleans!