Sunday, 30 June 2013

Not an Invasion, despite initial appearances.

Summer seems to have finally arrived, and bizarrely, this weekend has been full of bright sunshine despite the fact that Glastonbury is on, not far down the road. I'm not regretting that i'm not there, as I don't do well in crowds, or with limited sleep, and I'm not a big fan of camping, but I've been enjoying watching bits and pieces on the TV,and I'm happy for all those who are there, and enjoying themselves.

 I've had a pretty lazy weekend - I pulled up some weeds in the garden, and walked into town to go to the library. at which point I discovered that there were rather a lot of tanks and armoured cars and stuff all over the park.

It appears that this was because it was Armed Forces Appreciation Day.

So  there was also the Mayor, and some spare Mayors and deputy Mayors from neighbouring towns, all looking very hot in their robes and chains of office. (Mostly the robes. I don't think the chains make them any hotter)

There were lots of cos-players / re-enactors -most were in  WWII costumes (although there were some WWI Germans, who seemed to be getting on very well with the WWI Tommies next to them)

These guys even brought their own bombed out building (and stuffed chicken)with them.

Nor was it limited to the World wars. There was (On Sunday) a splendid gentleman with a tent and accoutrements appropriate for the Zulu or Boer War (He had suitably Victorian mutton-chop whiskers, too, and a solar topee, but I carelessly failed to take a picture of him.

There were also some people with lovely vintage cars - which I admit I like rather better than the tanks and armoured cars (although should we ever find that the town is invaded, I concede that a Scimitar tank or two, and a few armoured cars, may be more effective as a defence than an elderly MG and similar...)

I was a little bit disappointed that the Spitfire wasn't there this year, as it has been in the past (I like planes better than tanks, too) but after I got home on Saturday afternoon, there was a fly-by by a Dakota, which conveniently went over my house.

When I wandered into town again on Sunday, to buy a paper, I found that the event was on for a second day.

There was  a slightly different variety of tanks and things, and with additional silver band, plus some 1940's style live music.

It wasn't until Sunday evening that I remembered my half-formed plan to go to Old Sarum this weekend. Perhaos I shall manage it next weekend.

So; How was your weekend?

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Another Author

I've posted before about how lucky we are to have two wonderful independent bookshops in Bath, both of which hold regular author events.

This week I went to another event at Toppings - it was just a smidgen smaller that the last one  - I would guess that there were between 40 and 50 people there.

The author in question was Melvyn Bragg (Lord Bragg) - I think he is probably best known as a broadcaster, but he's also written both fiction and non-fiction. I enjoyed his The Adventure of English, which was both a TV series and a book, and I've read some of his other work, and enjoyed other documentaries he's been involved in, so I was interested to see he was coming to Bath.

He was here to promote his new novel, Grace and Mary, which is  based on a re-imagining of the lives of two women who are based on his own mother (who died recently, after suffering dementia) and her mother.

He spoke at some length about his mother and grandmother - he only met his grandmother a few times in his life, and only learned she was his grandmother when he was leaving home, as his mother was illegitimate, and was either adopted or fostered.

He spoke eloquently about the relationship he had with his mother, particularly in her final years, when she had memories of the past, but not of the present.

He made clear that although the key characters in the book are based on his family, it is not a memoir. He commented "a [person writing]a memoir has a responsibility for accuracy. Fiction has a responsibility for truth" and also "I prefer mis-remembering to remembering. It's more interesting"

Bragg also talked about writing, and his writing in particular. "I would never describe writing as hard work because I was brought up with people who really did work hard!" and that he had not, in the past, found writing autobiographical fiction cathartic - indeed, he said, it had left him unable to write fiction at all for some years, but this story he felt needed to be written.  It was a very personal talk - and this is obviously a very personal novel.

The short readings he gave made the book sound interesting, so I bought a copy, although I hadn't originally planned to. I shall see how it goes.

An interesting evening.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Bill Bailey - Qualmpeddler

I mentioned in my previous blogs that this was a VERY busy weekend for me. The final event (again, booked long before I knew Neil would be in town) was Bill Bailey's live show - Qualmpeddler. 

I've seen Bill Bailey twice before, and he did not disappoint. Having booked early (benefits of being on the mailing list) I found that I was seated in the 3rd row of the stalls, which was nice (if loud).

The show is almost all new material - and covers ground from Danish TV murders, to badgers, to internet acronyms. There was a song about Quantum Physics (shades of Mitch Benn!)

Bill also made his views of 'celebrity' know (He's a little vague, but I think he's against it...) he critiqued the quality of the heckling, and there was a certain amount of clapping along..

Oh, and a discussion about how no phrasebook, ever, includes the phrase "You use the oven glove to hold the owl, I will cut the sellotape off using the nail scissors". Apparently Bill needed that phrase while in China. (Yes, the story is just as weird as it sounds)

It was a lot of fun.

Sunday night was the last stop on the current leg of the tour (The first time I saw him was in Bristol, on the last night of his tour, and his Roadies put glue on one of the parts of the set so his shoe stuck to it part way through the set. Nothing of that kind this time, although he did at one point get down from the stage, and had a certain amount of difficult getting back on...)

The tour continues in September - if you're anywhere it goes, do go and see him. It's well worth it. Intelligent comedy for the win!

Monday, 17 June 2013

'The Ocean at the End of the Lane' - A Review

I already blogged about Neil’s event for the launch of ‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’  but I’ve now had the opportunity of actually reading the book.

It’s a very good book. In fact, I think it is a great book.

It captures and recalls the feeling of childhood extraordinarily vividly – the impotence in the face of adult power, the fears and joys.  And the fact that one can be content without being happy.

“I was not happy as a child, although from time to time I was  content. I lived in books more than I lived anywhere else”

The narrator is touchingly vulnerable. At seven, he recalls, he learned to climb down drainpipes because that’s what children in books did, and took courage from the example of the plucky school girls he read about in school stories. But he was afraid, doing it.

And later, he learns that the adults are not as confident and powerful as they appear to us, when we are children;

Grown-ups don’t look like Grown-ups on the inside, either. Outside, they’re big and thoughtless and they always know what they’re doing. Inside, they look just like they always have”

This is a Gaiman book, so it’s no surprise that there is magic and myth;  Names, (true names) are important, and the triumvirate of the Hempstock women are undoubtedly related to the triple goddess of maiden, mother and crone.

There are no safe, happy endings here, but there is hope. (And grief, and memories,  and sacrifice, and fear, and love) And there is comfort, too.

“  ‘And did I pass?’
The face of the old women on my right was unreadable in the gathering dusk. On my left, the younger woman said
 ‘You don’t pass or fail at being a person, dear’.”

This is not a book to read once. It’s a book to read again, and again. I read it on Sunday morning, and my immediate reaction then (compressed into a single tweet) was “
I have just finished reading 'Ocean'. It is beautiful and wise and made me cry and thank you. And now I shall read it again.” And I think that still summarises who I feel about it.

Anyone who has any memory of what it is like to be a child will, I think, find that it resonates with those memories. And perhaps it will remind those who don’t remember, what it is like.

Thank you, Neil.

(The book can be bought here, or from your local book shop)

More Fun - Including travel and food and rainbows

Back in the mists of time, before I knew that Neil would be coming to Bath,and that Nathalie would be coming to see him and to visit me, I booked a ticket to see The Cripple of Inishmaan on Saturday. Which was a pity, as it restricted the time I had available to spend with Nathalie.

But we did our best. We breakfasted on Sicilian style Brioche which Nathalie brought with her, and then caught a train to London. the train was surprisingly full, but we managed to find seats together, and the train was on time, which was a bonus!

Once we arrived we went to Chinatown, and had lunch at a restaurant called Dumplings' Legend. Not the greatest food in the world, although the vegetable dim sum were delicious, and my friend beef Ho Fan was very tasty, too.

As we left the restaurant, the sky was suddenly full of aircraft - a Lancaster Bomber, then some larger and newer planes (one in formation with some fighters) and finally the Red Arrows, in formation (I didn't get my camera out quick enough, but I found some pictures here)  I'm choosing the believe that the fly-past was in Nathalie's honour. I am sure that the fact the it was apparently the Queen's Official birthday and the Trooping the Colour was therefore taking place was purely a coincidence...

After lunch I had to say goodbye to Nathalie, and we parted company. it was lovely to see her, and next time we shall manage (or, it would be fairer to say, *I* will manage better) so we can have a little more time to hang out.
So, at 2.30 I was settled in my (somewhat cramped, and lacking in legroom) seat  in the Noel Coward theatre, waiting to see The Cripple of Inishmaan. It's part of the same season as  Peter and Alice, which I saw in March, and stars Daniel Radcliffe as the eponymous 'Cripple' Billy. I saw him in Equus back in 2007 so I already knew he is more than just Harry Potter.

I was not familiar with the play before seeing it, but I enjoyed it - it's a bleakly funny play, set on a small, impoverished island off the Irish coast in the early 1930s. News comes that a Hollywood producer plans to make a film on the neighbouring island, and Billy, the cripple of the title, wishes to be in the film.

Throughout the play there secrets and lies - did Billy's parents drown accidentally trying to get to America, or kill themselves at the thought of having a crippled child, or kill themselves so that their life insurance money would pay for Billy's treatment..? Or was it something still more disturbing?

There's a very strong cast -particularly  Sarah Greene as Helen McCormick (who gets to throw a lot of eggs) and  Pádraic Delaney as BabbyBobby.

And Radcliffe is excellent, both in the comedic parts of the play, and in Billy's frustration with his physical limitations and the poverty and limits of his home.

Well worth seeing.

After the play, I had a smooth trip home, in a virtually empty train, through sunlit landscapes.

The sun was still out as I arrived in Bath,  but as I waited for my train home it started to rain, and there was a glorious rainbow.

It made for a fitting end to a long, and very enjoyable day.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

The Ocean at The End of the Lane

This weekend is simply stuffed with good things.

Those of you who've known me for a while know I'm a big fan of Neil Gaiman's, so I've been very excited about his new novel, The Ocean at the End of The Lane, which officially comes out on Tuesday. I was even more excited when I learned that the first of Neil's events was to be in Bath, and that several of my friends would be coming to see him, so I'd get to spend time with friends as well as hearing Neil speak, and getting a new Gaiman novel. What could be better?

I spent part of Friday morning baking flapjacks, with honey and blackberries and seeds (of which more later) and ventured into Bath around 4p.m. in order to meet up with Nathalie, who came all the way from Rome for the event. Given that the doors to the Forum were due to open at 7.15 for Neil's event, I was a  little (but only a little) surprised to see that there were already 5 or 6 people queueing...

Nathalie and I walked up to Toppings to pick up her ticket, and met Cheryl there. We were in the queue by about 5.30, together with more friends - Anabel and Ian, Brain, Holly, and various of *their* partners and friends, so we were able to take it in turns to take breaks from the queueing to get food!

All the queueing paid off and we were all able to get seats fairly near the front at the Forum (its a re-purposed cinema. It seats 1,600 people, and I believe that Toppings sold around 1,100 tickets, so the stalls were completely full, and the last 350-400 people to arrive would have had to sit up in the balcony.

Unfortunately toppings didn't do allocated seating (which is what the Bath Literature Festival normally does for the events they have in the Forum), so there was no choice but to queue. It was worth it, though!

Neil was interviewed by a Telegraph journalist whose name I didn't catch, and there was also a Q&A session at the end.

Neil started with a short reading from the book; it was a very funny passage, right up to the point the corpse was discovered. Then he spoke a little about where it came from (the story, not the corpse) - it started as a short story for Amanda, It became a novella, then a novel.

The protagonist is a child who is sort-of-but-not-really-Neil-as-a-boy, and the landscape the book is set in is the landscape of Neil's childhood, although it is not an autobiography. It is, Neil says, Lies. But they are lies which tell us truths.

Neil talked about the Hempstock's farm, explaining that when he was a child, he heard about one of the local farms having been mentioned  Domesday Book, and, at that time, didn't think about people living there in huts, but assumed that the red-brick farmhouse had been there for a thousand years..

And that by the time he came to write the book, the idea that the farm, and the family, had been there forever was entirely at home in his head.

Neil signing
I love the fact that whenever I see Neil speak I learn new things - this time it was more about the Infancy Gospels - the (now apocryphal) gospels which cover the childhood of Jesus, and his habit of killing people who annoyed him. (sometimes they were just struck blind, but mostly they died). Neil was talking about myths and stories and religion..

Also about how people who write Horror are the moth cheerful, happy people around (and that Joe Hill may in fact be a clone)

We learned that the American Gods production is working its way up the echelons of HBO, and may very soon get to the level of the people who can say "yes" or "no" to the production going ahead; that there is nothing at all that Neil can talk about, regarding any possible Good Omens film at the moment.

Neil unsurprisingly confirmed that he would be happy to see a female Doctor Who ("given that I'm the person who made it canon that Time Lords can change sex..."

He was asked about his favourite myths - which he said changes, but he always comes back to the Norse gods, because they're doomed, and about writers who have influenced him - Alan Moore (by showing that you can do the things people tell you can't do) Jonathan Carroll, Gene Wolfe, and Diana Wynne Jones (which last did not surprise me, but did make my heart happy, as I think everyone should know about Diana Wynne Jones, and read her books)

After the Q&A came the signing. We were lucky to be near the front of the queue, so got to meet Neil and get our books signed early on.  And I gave Neil some of the flapjacks I baked in the morning (I trust you have not forgotten the flapjacks, O best beloveds) because I worry about him keeling over from loss of sustenance.

And some of the party may have got hugs and kisses, because that's how these things go, sometimes.

Then while we waited for the rest of the party I took the big box of cookies which I brought with me to share with the queue, and, well, shared them with the queue. Or at least parts of it.

The Signing queue (which also extended out into the lobby)
I didn't bring 1,100 cookies, because that would be impractical. But I met lots of nice people, briefly, including an old school friend I have not seen for almost 20 years, and I got lots of thanks and one marriage proposal, which I think is a pretty good return on a box of cookies. Even if it is a big box.

We left the hall at about 11p.m, and went for drinks and conversation in the Raven pub.

When we went past the Forum on the way back to the car at midnight, it was clear from the stream of people coming out of the building that Neil was still signing inside.

I gather that he didn't finish until 1.30 a.m. (having arrived some time around 7, after a day of interviews and editing, and having pre-signed 1,000 books before the event started...

And just before I fell asleep, I checked twitter and saw this tweet ->
Which made me happy.

It was a wonderful evening. Although I do now need to reorganise my bookshelves, as my Neil Gaiman shelf is full!

And Neil of course went on to do it all all over again the next day, in Cambridge.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Highs and Lows

It's been an odd week.

It was another lovely sunny weekend, and on Sunday my friend Cheryl came over for lunch, (and brought wine and yummy chocolate) and we caught up. Cheryl has been very busy, what with the  International Gay Rugby Tournament, and trips to Finland and Canada, so it was good to have time to catch up (and the chocolate was appreciated, too!)

After she left, however, things deteriorated. I went out into the garden to do a bit of weeding, and the hellspawn kids next door decided to start throwing stones at me, which was very unpleasant. I ended up logging it with the Police, and with the Housing Association which is her landlord, who promised to send someone to speak to her.

Then it was a busy and at times stressful week at work, and I've been sleeping badly due to all the stress...

BUT on Today, when I got home, late from work (realising, just as I pulled up outside my house at about 7 p.m. that I had a ticket to see the NT Live broadcast of 'The Audience', in 7p.m) a woman came out of the house next door and asked to speak to me.

She had received the letter from the Housing Association, and had come to offer apologies and explanations! It appears that the really aggressive woman who I thought was the tenant, is actually her sister, and the the ringleader of the children throwing stones was not her child. The older teen (who told me she was relaying messages from her mother, when she was verbally abusive when i went to ask them to turn the music down the first time) *is* her daughter but apparently has moved out... I still have reservations about how she managed to not know (which she claims she didn't) how her visitors were behaving, but to do her justice all of the children concerned have turned up at my door to apologise.

I am currently feeling cautiously optimistic!

And the reason that I was late home was that I had finally managed to sort out a very long-standing case at work, avoiding the need for a contested court hearing, which is always satisfactory!

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Catch Up

I've not blogged for the past couple of weeks partly as nothing very exciting has happened, and partly as my laptop has been poorly, and life is too short to try to blog from a phone!

My backspace key came off, and the tab key became extremely stiff and unreliable, so I decided that replacing the keyboard, rather than just the one key, was the way to go.

and then as I waited for the local repair shop to get the new keyboard in, I managed to spill a glass of G'n'T, and while I didn't, at the time, think any of it had gone onto the laptop, other than (literally) a drop or two on the casing, the laptop then intermittently  refused to start up which seems a bit of a coincidence.

Anyway, I took the battery out, and left everything in the airing cupboard for a few days. I thought it was completely dead, and was comforting myself with the reflection that I'd just backed everything up, so wouldn't lose anything.

However, (touch wood) it seems to be behaving again now, so it looks as though I have a reprieve, if not a cure.

I also now have a new keyboard.

And today I learned I won a book in a competition on The History Girls blog, which is a very nice surprise (it's a very interesting blog, I heartily recommend it, quite apart from the chance to win books) and I found that the unexpected parcel I had to collect from the post office this morning was a couple a books which I had forgotten I'd ordered, which is also happy-making.

And less than a week from today I get to see Nathalie, and Anabel, and Ian, and Brian, and of course Cheryl, and we all get to see Neil and get our copies of  The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

And I have booked a day off work so I will have a short week, although we have a partners meeting this week so there will be at least one very long day!

Meanwhile, it a a beautifully sunny day, and I have been pottering around, repotting tomato plants, and doing laundry (so nice to be able to dry things outside).