Saturday, 28 June 2014

A Quiet Week

It's been a fairly quiet week.

On Tuesday, my brother, his girlfriend, and another couple they are friends with, came to say over night in order to be able to get up early with a view to getting a reasonable pitch at the Glastonbury Festival. 

It was lovely to see them, and we had a nice, relaxed evening and were even able to sit outside on the patio to enjoy the last of the sunshine, before going to bed.

They got up very early, and very quietly, and presumably did less queuing, and got a better pitch for their tents,   than they would have done if they had started from Manchester that morning! I have been feeling for them, today and yesterday, as I watch the torrential rain showers, and the thunderstorms, from my warm, dry house :).

Today I have been catching up with various errands and things - I got my hair cut, which I found less stressful than usual, as I remembered, for one, to wear my contacts, so I could actually see what was happening.

I called in at the Theatre Royal, to book some tickets for the new season. 

Then I visited Toppings bookshop, to pick up my ticket for their event with Sandi Toksvig next month, and inevitably bought a couple of books. 

also called in at Mr B's to collect my pre-ordered copy of Shaman Rises, which is book 9  of C.E.Murphy's Walker Papers series. I have spent the past week re-reading the other 8 books so I am up to speed. I may have bought another book, too.. 

But then it is the first day of Independent Booksellers Week, so buying shiny new books from both my local independent bookshops is pretty much obligatory. And I only had 5 more books when I got home than I'd had when I left. Well, 10 if you count library books.

Sticking with the bookish theme, I then went on to complete my registration at my local library (the house move means I now live in a different county, so I couldn't just transfer my membership across. 

Now, I just need to do the housework parts of the 'to-do' list . . .

Monday, 23 June 2014

Nick Harkaway at Mr B's

I have blogged before about Mr B's Emporium of Reading Delights, one of Bath's 2 lovely independent bookshops. They have lovely events, with writers and conversation and food, and on Wednesday, the writer in question was Nick Harkaway, author of 'The Gone-Away World', 'Angelmaker' and, now 'Tigerman'.

The evening didn't start too well for me, as I had forgotten that They were closing the road in Dunkerton, so I had to go the long way round, and then I got held up because there had been an accident (not, I think, too serious - the police were there, and a 1st response car, but all the people seemed to be standing around and talking to each other).  

All of which meant that I got to Bath late, and had to scratch plaintively at the door of the shop like a delayed cat, to be let in. And then try to sneak in to a gathering where the only available seat was in the 2nd row which you absolutely can't do without people looking at you.

Anyway, once the embarrassment factor of causing a disturbance had settled I was able to start listening to Nick, who was reading an extract (about the English, and T.S.Eliot, among other things) from 'Tigerman'.  Which was very, very funny. 

And then there was conversation. The evening was nominally themed around Father's Day, but as often happens at Mr B's, due to the conversational nature of the evening,discussions around the theme were only a minor part of the evening!

Nick talked about various things which led into the book, including his own experience of a close encounter with the Esso tiger, and of learning to shoot while in Thailand.

There was also some discussion about his experience of fatherhood, and in particular the protectiveness which comes with that, and about other notable fathers in literature.

As always with a Mr Bs event, there was a break in the proceedings for food and mingling - on this occasion, the food part of that included a lemon drizzle cake with blueberries in, which was such stuff as gastronomic dreams are made on...

And there were some interesting (mostly travel related) conversations over food, too.

Finally, Nick signed copies of his books for us. It was a thoroughly enjoyable night, and I am looking forward to reading Tigerman, now I have my very own shiny copy!

Saturday, 14 June 2014

'Intimate Apparel'

Last night I went to the Ustinov Studio in Bath (which is a small, studio theatre attached to the Theatre Royal) to see a production of Lynne Nottage's Intimate Apparel
Tanya Moodie as Esther

I visit the Theatre Royal pretty regularly, but this was the first time I've been to the Ustinov, which is a much smaller (and newer) theatre.  I really enjoyed the evening.

I have to admit that I'm not familiar with Lynne Nottage's work, but based on this performance, I have been missing out, and would like to see more of her work.

The play is set in New York in 1905, and is an imagined history of the author's own great-grandparents. Esther (Tanya Moodie) is a 35 year old seamstress, who has lived in the same  boarding house for 18 years, since walking to New York to seek work, and who sees other girls coming and going, moving on to marriage and motherhood.  She longs for love, and dreams of opening her own beauty parlour where poor, black women such as herself could go to be pampered and treated well.

Esther then receives a letter from George Armstrong (Chu Omambala), a labourer on the Panama Canal. Being illiterate, Esther relies on two of her clients, wealthy, unhappily married Mrs Van Buren (Sara Topman) and singer / prostitute Mayme (Rochelle Neil) to read the letters to her, and to compose replies.

Esther also has a friendship with Mr Marks, (Ilan Goodman) a Jewish haberdasher with whom she bonds over a shared love of fine fabrics.

Tanya Moodie's performance is perfect, creating a deeply moving, poignant character, longing to be loved.

George is a less obviously sympathetic character, particularly in the second half of the play, and I was slightly distracted by his accent, which seemed to slip from the Caribbean, to Bristol, to Ireland.

Over all, however, this is a fantastic performance, of a great play. And it's on in Bath until 28th June, so if you live locally, there is still time to see it. (and it is in London after that)


Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Dave McKean: 9 Lives

Did I mention that I really love Dave McKean's work? I really love Dave McKean's work. So going to London to see a live event, with him playing and singing his own music at the British Library was too good to resist. 

Dave McKean
Having spent the afternoon at the Foundling Museum, I got to the Library in plenty of time, and was able to have a cup of coffee and admire the Steven Appleby art on the walls (there was an event relating to his book, 'The Good Inn' after the Dave McKean event, and the library appeared to have focussed on that)  before going in to the Auditorium to see and hear Dave McKean.

He was accompanied by a quartet of other musicians, and performed a total of 9 pieces, each accompanied by one of Dave's own short films, all different, and all amazing!

The 9 songs were:

Tempest - a melancholy song of rain, and rising floodwater.

Sheepdip, Johnson and Dupree
His Story - a haunting story from McKean's book 'Pictures That Tick' - the film was a animated version of the art which appears in the book, and left me thinking about the connection between parenthood and childhood, and memory.

Sheepdip, Johnson and Dupree - this was one of the songs which McKean performed at the 'Late at the Library event a couple of weeks ago - I think it would be fair to describe it as weird, but in a good, entertaining, way...

Neon - a strange, ghost story of a song, set in Venice (or a Venice-like city.

Mixed Metaphors - this was an absolutely beautiful piece of animation, the title sequence from 'Luna', (with no titles on it, as yet) beautiful images of paper birds, and flight. It made me  long to see the full film.

Words - another segment from 'Luna'.

The Coast Road - The coast road started life as an art exhibition (which I sadly missed) and became a book (which I happily have). Dave read the full story, with the artwork creating the film, and with the other musicians providing the music. It's a poignant, but ultimately optimistic story, about despair, hope and art.

June - another of the songs which McKean  performed at 'late at the library'.This was apparently written in response to a challenge from his pub music group (and I do wish I lived near a pub where people wrote new songs every month!), and involves a mince pie, and cleavage, and is is solemn and sober as that suggests!

finally,  The Cathedral of Trees, a haunting finale to the evening. Dave explained that this was written as part of a collaboration he is working on with a theatre company called 'Wildwalks' (I think) for an immersive production called 'Callisto and the Wolves'  It was strange, haunting, and beautiful (also, the earlier part of the piece, which was filmed inside what I assume is McKean's home, gave me bookshelf envy!)

It was a fantastic evening, and I was very happy to be able to speak briefly to Dave after the event, to get  book signed and to give him some chocolate! Because of the Steve Abbleby event (I assume) the library had not made any specific arrangements for Dave to sign, and they didn't have any of his books for sake, which was a shame.

I would like to be able to mention the other musicians by name, as they were excellent, but unfortunately I was too busy listening to the music and watching the films when they were introduced, to make notes, so I can't provide their names. They were excellent, though.

To my frustration, I got to Paddington about 90 seconds too late to catch the train I had been planning on, so I had to wait an hour for the next one, and finally reached home just before midnight, but it was worth it. I'm glad I went. 

Monday, 9 June 2014

Thomas Coram's Foundling Hospital

When I booked to see Neil Gaiman and Tori Amos at the British Library, I saw that there was another event, involving Dave McKean performing some of his own music, and happily there were 2 performances, one on Friday evening, and one on Saturday evening, so I was able to book for the Saturday without having to book a day off work.

I got a train up to London, around midday on Saturday. The Dave McKean event wasn't until 6.30, so I had a few hours in London, and I decided to go to a museum I've not previously visited, The Foundling Museum, which is close to the British Library.

The museum is on the site of Thomas Coram's original Foundling Hospital - Coram was a sea captain, who became appalled at the sight of children abandoned and dying on the streets of London, and who campaigned to get a Royal Charter in order to set up a foundling hospital. He wasn't particularly well connected, and it took him 17 years to get what he needed, but he got his Royal Charter signed by George II in 1739, and founded a ' Hospital for the Maintenance and Education of Exposed and Deserted Young Children

The hospital was so popular that they had to introduce an application process, and parents were encouraged to leave a token to allow them to identify their child if they were ever able to return to reclaim them. 

The museum has a lot of the tokens on view - some serve to illustrate how poor the parents were - there are little twists of ribbon, beads, even playing cards. There are also more distinctive tokens - a bone fish (probably a gambling token) and a medallion which was a season ticket for Vauxhall pleasure gardens.

The children were given new names when they were admitted, and (if not reclaimed by their parents) were apprenticed once they became old enough, with a view to them becoming productive members of society.

Coram may not have started with much in the way of influence or connections, but he managed to achieve both - William Hogarth became a Governor of the hospital, and designed its coat of arms, and the original uniforms, as well as donating art works. 

Handel supported it, conducting charity concerts, including performances of his 'Messiah' Oratorio there, to benefit the hospital, and remembering it in his will. 

As well as information and exhibits relating to the history of the hospital, the museum has a lot of art - the current displays include copies of Hogarth's Rake's Progress' etchings, together with modern interpretations and reflections of similar themes, by David Hockney, Yinka Shonibare, Jessie Brennan and Grayson Perry

It made for an interesting, thought-provoking, and occasionally heart-breaking afternoon. 

The Coram organisation still works with children and  their families, although they no longer run children's homes directly. And the museum is well worth visiting, if you have the opportunity.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

'Twas on a Tuesday morning that the Plumber came to call..

This house is solidly build, but very little has been done to it for years, so I knew I would have to Get Stuff Done.

The first bit of Stuff I got done was the electrical Stuff - replacing some sockets, moving some light switches (I am baffled as to why someone would think putting the light switch 3 feet into a room, rather than, y'know, next to the door so you can turn it on as you go in, and off as you leave) The electricians also checked everything and did a couple of things to improve safety, which seems like a good idea. And put the TV ariel where I wanted it, so I don't have to have wires trailing all over the living room. Which is nice. I mean, I had got about 3 channels, by hanging a little ariel off the end of the curtain pole, but I missed BBC 3 and 4. 

Oh, and they installed a doorbell. Which is good, as I sometimes have visitors who I want to let into the house, and that's hard of they can't attract your attention.

The next (and so far biggest) bit of Stuff I have had done is the Plumbing Stuff, and specifically, replacing the boiler. The boiler which was here was an extremely elderly back boiler, behind an extremely elderly and unattractive gas fire. It had two settings - 'on' and 'off' and was probably at least as old as I am. Maybe older. 

So, I searched for 'boilers least likely to explode and take your house with them', and then got a few plumbers/heating engineers round to quote and to make recommendations, then on tuesday the chosen plumber came to do all the actual work. 

going. . .
As well as removing and replacing the boiler, they took out the old hot water cylinder, and the airing cupboard it was sitting in, the removal of which makes the spare bedroom feel much bigger - it's now possible to have a bed in there *and* open the door!

There was a slightly worrying moment when it became clear that removing the airing cupboard left me with rather less than the recommended amount of floor, and indeed ceiling, in that corner of the room, but happily, a lot of bits of plasterboard later, everything was sorted!

While the plumbers were here, I also get them to put a hand basin in in the downstairs WC (hurrah for hygiene!) and a raditor (hurrah for not freezing!) and they also cleaned out all my gutters for me, and moved my fridge, so I know have a fridge and freezer which both work, in the kitchen, and the one which came with the house, which only works intermittently, is out in the shed as a spare. 

All my radiators now have proper thermostatic valves on them, and I have a new widget for controlling the heating, which is very exciting - it has 7 day programming, you can tell it when you are going on holiday so it will turn the heating on the day you come home, and it even has a little button you can push if you are having a day off work, which causes it to substitute Sunday's programme for the normal one for the day. Those of you who have modern heating systems probably don't find this very exciting, but my last house had a very very old system (options were to have the heating on, or off) and the house before that didn't have any hearting, except for a gas fire in the living room, so it's all new and exciting to me!

For reasons which I do not entirely understand, changing the boiler means I have lots more water pressure than I had before, which has had a very positive effect on my shower!

I was very favourably impressed with the plumbers, who were fantastic about clearing up after themselves, both as they went along, and once they had finished. 

The next project will be to get insulation into the loft (and into the wall cavities, which I suspect are not currently insulated, although I need to check) and then to get the dreadful stone-cladding out of the living room, and removing the equally hideous  charming  wallpaper there, with a view to them getting the whole room re-plastered and redecorated. I need to start getting quotes for all of that to work out whether I can afford it now, or whether I shall need to save up again, first!

In the meantime, I thought this little gem from Flanders and Swann, might be appropriate . . 

Thursday, 5 June 2014

House, and friends

Having moved in at the start of April, I decided it was time to have a housewarming party.

Last week, I sent a fair amount of time baking, and buying booze, and even vacuuming so that the house looked respectable (if very poorly decorated) 

And then on Saturday, I started to panic that no-one would come, and that I would end up sitting alone in my nice clean house, among the mountains of food.

Luckily, my friends are much nicer than that, and many of them showed up. 

We were lucky with the weather - it got nicer throughout the day, so we could spend much of the afternoon outside - admiring my water feature, playing with my new mini-croquet set (is it very very wrong to be pleased I beat another player, even if the other player was 7?) and later we moved inside, and from Pimms to Prosecco . . 

I had fun. I think my guests did, too. 

And everyone helped clear up before those who were staying overnight went to bed. 

Then on Sunday, after everyone had left, I had to make a start on getting ready for coming of the Plumbers, on Tuesday . .