Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Manchester, Museums and Macbeth: Part 2

So, after our slightly scary and very confusing attempt to appreciate cutting edge art, we made our way to Castlefield for the big screen broadcast of Macbeth. 

The live production was staged in the (deconsecrated) St Peter's Church in Ancoats, so ticketing was pretty limited.

We were in the slightly less atmospheric venue of the NCP Car park at Bridgewater Hall, which is basically a large expanse of tarmac surrounded by high rise blocks of flats.

Although  we arrived 40 minutes before the performance was due to start, we discovered that the car park was filling up, and we had a little difficulty finding a space where we could spread out our picnic rug and see the screen.

The instructions we received mentioned that there would be no food or drink vendors, and that people were welcome to bring their own, and we quickly realised that our 4-pack of beer simply didn't cut it - out immediate neighbours, for instance, had brought poached salmon, chicken, a choice of white or rose wine, and much besides, and (as we later noticed) even after dinner mints.

We had picnic envy, and lacking food, were forced to make conversation with one another while we waited for the play to start.

It was an interesting production; the main action of the play takes place in a very muddy stage / aisle with the audience sitting on either side (and some additional action in the apse of the old church)

I have mixed feelings about the production itself - The Witches seemed rather  over done, even for evil harbingers of doom - they shrieked rather than speaking, and I felt that there were moments when both Macbeth (Kenneth Branagh) and Lady Macbeth (Alex Kingston) seemed rather, well, hammier than was strictly necessary.

There were however also some very high points; Ray Fearon was a convincing and moving Macduff - I shall be looking out for his name in future productions, I'd like to see him in other roles, and despite his occasional over acting, Branagh was also convincingly tormented, a study in increasing paranoia and violent despair.

An interesting production. But I would have preferred a softer carpark to sit on!

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Manchester, Museums and Macbeth: Part 1

I have just returned from a very enjoyable weekend in Manchester, visiting my brother and his girlfriend. They'd contacted me a little while ago to invite me, and to suggest that I come up this weekend which is the final weekend of the Manchester International Festival, and we could, they suggested, go to see the outdoor screening of a live broadcast of Kenneth Branagh and Alex Kingston's 'Macbeth'. (the live performances are in a small, deconsecrated church, and cost £65 a ticket, and sold out very fast, so that was never an option!)

It was also an opportunity for me to see R & J, and to see their new home.

I had a very hot and sticky drive up on Friday evening, but was greeted with mojitos, which is the proper way to deal with such trips!

Cotton Mill machines
On Saturday, after a leisurely and tasty breakfast, we visited the Museum of Science and Industry, which I haven't visited for about 6 or 7 years. They have some interesting exhibits about the cotton industry (which of course was one of the big industries in Manchester)

(replica of0 'Baby', the world's 1st stored-program computer, built in 1948
They also have exhibits relating to the history of computing, Manchester University having been at the forefront of early computing, and flight - the first closed-cockpit plane was built in Manchester.

However, the area where we spent the most time was the engine sheds - and (unlike on my previous visits) they had their replica of Stephenson's 'Planet' running.

The original engine was built in 1830, and was the first locomotive to be built in large numbers, rather than as a prototype- this replica was built by enthusiasts in the 1990s.

We decided that it would a shame to turn down the opportunity of a train-ride ( although I think we may have been the only passengers not accompanied by at least one small child!)

As the museum is housed in a disused station/ station yard, the tracks 'Planet' runs on run parallel to the lines still in use, running to and through Deansgate station, so you can wave at the trains as they pass!

A lot of the other steam-engines (most of them industrial, rather than locomotive engines) were also running, so the shed was full of the lovely smell of steam-engines, and rather warm.

So, logically, our next step was to find some of the best ice-cream on the planet, from the wonderfully named Ginger's Comfort Emporium ice-cream van, which was located in Albert Square, heart of the Manchester International Festival. I have to say, her 'Chorlton Crack' (salted caramel and peanut butter) was delicious, as was the coconut and lime, and i regret living so far from Manchester, which will severely limit my opportunity to sample more flavours!

Later in the day, after a very late lunch/early super, we visited another part of the Festival, a piece called 'This Variation', by Turner Prize nominee Tino Sehgal, at the Mayfield Depot.

The depot is a now-derelict railway depot, and the empty space we walked through to get to the Sehgal exhibit was actually quite striking.

'This Variation' however, was .... odd. And not a little disturbing. You walk into pitch darkness, surrounded by sounds - songs without discernible words, the thump of ?bare feet, people you can't see brush past you, and it's all rather strange and disturbing.

We did not stay long.

And so to Macbeth, which I think I'll give a post of it's own.

Friday, 19 July 2013

Under the Weather

I had various things planned for this week, but have not managed to do the fun bits - I got back from my holiday on Saturday, and I was due to go to the Amanda Palmer gig in Bristol on Monday night, but as it turned out,  couldn't go. It was simply too hot, and I finished the working day feeling exhausted, with a heat-induced headache, and felt that to drive all the way to Bristol to spend hours in a loud and hot environment would be a Bad Idea.

I was very disappointed to miss AFP, and to miss catching up with friends, but I think it was the right decision - I wound up having a quiet evening and an early night.

I am just not cut out for summer weather.

I also missed another outing on Thursday, due to heat and work related issues. *sigh*

Monday, 15 July 2013

In Which I Go on Holiday

A couple of weeks ago, my cousin contacted me to say that she and her parents, and her 2.5 year old son, had rented a cottage in South Devon for a week, and there was a spare room, so would I like to join them? And I would., so I did.
View from the door
Unfortunately I had to work on Monday, so I couldn't go for quite the full week, but I was able to drive down on Monday after work, and stay until Saturday.
Another view from the cottage
We were lucky that the weather has been so lovely - and as you can see, we had a wonderful sea-view, so when we were too hot to go anywhere, we could stay in the cottage and look at the views, listen to the sea, and watch the house-martins going to and from their nests in the corners of the bedroom windows.

We went to the beach several times - always an interesting trip, as most of the lanes were only (just) wide enough for a single car, so any drive was liable to include some reversing, and squeezing into hedge-bottoms!

The nearest beach was on the estuary, with a sandy beach, so although it was tidal, it had very few waves, which I liked, as I was able to swim without getting too many slaps in the face by waves (and I could leave my glasses on, which is always a plus!

We went late in the afternoon, when it was a little cooler, and there was shade, and this had the added advantage that many people were starting to leave as we arrived,so we got an uncrowded beach.

My cousin and I took J to Start Point Lighthouse, which is open to the public, as he likes lighthouses. It's quite a long walk from the car-park for someone who is only two and a half, but we all made it!

And then we all did the tour, and got to climb all the way up. I was a little disappointed that you can't get out onto the walkway outside the lantern - apparently the lighthouse-keepers used to have train so that they could abseil down the outside if it became necessary, in an emergency!

It was fantastic to have such a clear, bright day to visit (it was the coolest day of the holiday, so the walk was do-able; my aunt and uncle went for a proper, 5 hour walk elsewhere!

Start Point Lighthouse
Below the cottage were rocks, so we were able to take J down to investigate the rock pools, which was fun for everyone (there didn't seem to be much other than limpets and seaweed in the pools, which did not seem to detract at all from J's enjoyment, and which meant there was no sea life to be disturbed by his shrimping net!)

At the top of the field behind the cottage was the old coastguard station, now staffed by Coast-Watch volunteers, and we were able to walk up. The views were stunning!  There's a little one-room visitor centre with information about local wildlife and sea-life, and information about shipwrecks in the area. 
View from Coast Guard Station
And in the evenings there were BBQs,and champagne and strawberries, and 'treasure hunts' for J in the garden,and general relaxation. 

All in all, it was a lovely opportunity to relax and unwind (did I mention that there was no phone signal or internet connection at the cottage?)

On the way home, I met up with my parents for lunch, although we decided it was too hot to look around the gardens of the stately home we met up at. 

Of course, all good things must come to an end, and it was a little bit of a shock to the system to have to go back to work today, but such is life...

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Old Sarum

I realised a few weeks ago that although I only live about an hours drive from Salisbury, and often pootle in that direction to visit Stonehenge, I'd never actually been to Old Sarum. (I admit, to, that having read Diana Wynne Jones's wonderful 'The Merlin Conspiracy' I am very slightly anxious about it, as deep down I know believe that Old Sarum is both sentient and a little bad tempered and unpredictable. But I digress)

So, today, after a morning which involved some baking (not, I think, 100% successful - I should have listened to my instincts, and added some more extra flour - the shortbread tastes OK but is not perfect) I made a small picnic and drove to Salisbury, and thence to Old Sarum itself.
Inner Fortifications
Old Sarum was the original settlement, later displaced by Salisbury - the archaeology apparently shows that it was an Iron Age settlement, from somewhere between 400 and 100 BC. It was  then occupied by the Romans, when it was known as Sorviodunum, and later there was an Anglo-Saxon settlement, then William the Conqueror put a castle there.
Bridge to inner fortifications

You can see, even now, what a defensible place it is - the pictures above shows the inner Motte, which is big, with a huge, steep ditch around around it, and there is then a further, outer ditch, which is huge.
Outer ditch (with Salisbury cathedral in the background)
In the 11th Century a castle was built inside the inner motte, and a cathedral was built outside, but within the outer earthworks. It was finished in 1092, and struck by lightening 5 days after it was completed, but they were not ut off, and rebuilt it bigger and better! 
However, King John (who did use the castle) and his bishops had a falling out, and by 1220 the cathedral was abandoned and they built a new one in what would become Sailsbury.

The castle is mostly ruins, now, and the cathedral has gone altogether apart from the foundations, but the original earthworks are till there, and very impressive.
Castle ruins, from gatehouse
After walking around the castle ruins, I walked around the top of the outer earthworks - you can see for miles, and can see just how huge the outer ditch is, and how hard it would have been to take this place by force.

Outer Ditch
The path was narrow, and there were lots of wild flowers and grasses, and lots of butterflies, which made me realise how few I have seen this summer - it's been so cold and wet until now.

 There were also lots of bumble bees, and other insects - there was a tiny little spider with  a lime-green body, and some beautifully iridescent beetles,which appeared to come in both green and red varieties.

Across the ditch I could see sheep, grazing in single file on the top of the far side of the ditch, and at one point I heard (but didn't see) something larger than an insect - perhaps a snake or a mouse, among the grass.

There were birds, too - lots of crows, and pigeons, but I also saw (as I walked around the earthworks) goldfinches, and blackbirds, and red-legged partridges.
It was a lovely sunny day, and I really enjoyed my visit.

And after I got home, I learned that Andy Murray won Wimbledon, which is nice to know, as it will make lots of people very happy, and I completely missed the tennis match, which is ideal for me!

A very good day. 

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Al Reynolds and Doctor Who

My friend Cheryl is at Finncon this week, so she offered me her ticket to see Alastair Reynolds at Toppings in Bath, on Tuesday night.

He was there to celebrate the launch of his Doctor Who novel, 'Harvest of Time'

I've heard Alastair speak before, at BristolCon, so I wasn't surprised to find that he was entertaining and very approachable.

The novel features the Third Doctor (as played by Jon Pertwee), his companion Jo Grant, and The Master, and Al  explained that he had jumped at the opportunity to write a Doctor who novel, and was delighted to find that no-one had yet 'bagged' the 3rd Doctor!

Alastair read a short extract from the book, then spoke a little about it before reading a second extract, and taking questions.

He confirmed that he'd love the opportunity to write an episode for Who, were it to be offered, and that he did try to make the hard science - the helicopters and oil rigs, realistic.

There was a slight disturbance as a drunk tried to get into the shot while Alastair was reading, but other than that it was a fun evening, and I got the impression that it was fun or Al as well as for the audience.