Saturday, 28 February 2015

*Sigh* The perils of living with little furry killing machines

I love my cats, but there are times when I could do without being reminded of their instincts..

Up til now, they have been fairly restrained - Loki brings in earthworms, which I can live with (although I feel sorry for them when he leaves them too near the radiator, and they dry out before I find them), and I have had to deal with one or two sad little sets of remains (which I would mind less if they didn't leave them on the living room carpet)

I came downstairs this morning to find both cats very intent on *something* in the fireplace. 

I moved the pictures to see if they had lost something, but couldn't find anything, but then 10 minutes later, as I was making toast, I heard squeaking, and Loki came running out of the living room (Coraline closely behind him) with a small furry squeaky thing in his mouth, and went out into the garden. (which on the whole I am glad about. I do not want small rodents in the house, alive *or* dead)

I did follow them out to see whether I could liberate the victim, but they were not prepared to give it up (Loki just ran away, but Coraline, dear, sweet Coraline, who is snuggly even with the vet, actually growled when I tried to get her to give it up.)  

I did manage to get it under a flower pot but fear that it had no sense of self preservation, as it burrowed out from underneath and got itself caught again. :(

I wish it was possible to teach them not to hunt, or at least not to play with their food. 

(although it is a reminder of just how strong instinct is. They have not been taught any of this - they left their mother pretty young and were brought up indoors, with no opportunity or need to hunt. )

I don't know, for certain, how the small sad squeaky thing got *into* the house, but I strongly suspect that one of them caught it and brought it in - I think it was a shrew, not a house, and I  don't think they come into houses on their own, much.

Monday, 23 February 2015

An Evening with Tom Hiddleston (and about 450 others)

Back in the New Year, I heard that Tom Hiddleston, who I was fortunate enough to see live in Coriolanus at the Donmar theatre just over a year ago (as well, of course, as enjoying his performances on screen, including his wonderfully insane Loki in the Avengers film) was going to be appearing for a one-off 'in conversation with' evening at the Nuffield Theatre  in Southampton.

The prospect of having to drive the (nearly) 2 hours home after the event was a little daunting, but not daunting enough to put me off booking, so last night, after a fun weekend with my sister and her husband, I arrived at the Nuffield ready to watch, listen and enjoy!

The theatre is a relatively small one (I think it seats around 450) and was almost full. I was fortunate enough to have tickets for Row D, which was the third row back, so had an excellent view.

Tom was interviewed by Sam Hodges, the theatre's director / CEO, who proved to be a good interviewer, willing to let his interviewee talk without interruption, and letting the interview develop as a conversation rather than a rigid set of questions, which was nice.

The event started a little late -it was closer to 7.15 than 7 when Tom came onto the stage, wearing a beautiful 3 piece suit and red tie. He immediately told  us that he would be taking his jacket off, "if we didn't mind" (there was a round of applause which I think could be interpreted to mean that no-one would mind in the slightest)

Tom spoke about his passion for the theatre, and how important to him the connection between the actors and the audience is, and how he first felt how powerful this could be when he attended a performance of Ibsen's John Gabriel Borkman starring Paul Schofield, when he was about 14 years old. He described seeing how before the play, all of the audience members were talking and worrying about babysitters and work, and there came a point in the show where the whole audience were united, and forgetting those preconceptions. He also mentioned that on a personal level he doesn't really understand why people chose to drink before attending at the theatre, as why would you not want to be completely alert and focused on what is happening?

He described how he sees acting - quoting a mentor, he said that it is about telling the truth in imaginary situations. Tom was very clear that he feels he has an obligation (he used the word duty) to try to be as truthful as possible in portraying characters and their emotions, and that he would never want to look back on a performance and feel he could have done it better.

This led on to discussions as to favourite performance spaces, and the pleasure of spaces with good acoustics and the ability to feel that connection with the audience. Tom explained that this was particularly true in Coriolanus, when he could hear the gasps from the audience, and see people shrinking back lest they were spattered with his blood! 

(He also explained that with a long run, there is always a challenge of trying to keep performances fresh, and that in Coriolanus, he would pick one of three possible entrances each night for his first entrance, so that the 3 actors playing the commons would be genuinely surprised,each night, not knowing where he would come from! )

Tom also talked about the process of acting - explaining that for his role as Loki, he spent days being filmed in ultra violet light by 160 cameras totally surrounding him, to register every different emotion, in order that this could then be used to put those expressions onto Loki's face in scenes (such as the Hulk smash ones) where Loki has to be created by CGI.

He confirmed that while he has great admiration for Daniel Day Lewis he doesn't consider himself to be a Method actor, he finds it more helpful to be able to discuss a character with the director, and to ask for input and make suggestions. (Although he did admit to staying in character to the extent of retaining the same voice/accent, when filming 'I Saw the Light' ).  Did I mention that when Tom quotes what other people have said he uses their voices? 

When Tom is quoting other people he uses their voices, so we heard Sir Anthony Hopkins (speaking about the way that people love dark and dangerous characters, even though they would run in terror were they to met those characters in real life, with reference to both Loki and Hannibal Lecter), and Rodney Crowell (who mentored Tom for 'I Saw the Light'  . My words cannot do justice to the sight and sound of Tom Hiddleston, in his beautiful waistcoat and lovely natural accent,suddenly coming out with a pitch-perfect Southern accent! You will just have to imagine it (at least until the film comes out)

The interview also covered the issue of education and equality of access - Tom explained that when he attended Cambridge, and then RADA, he paid around £1,100 per year for tuition fees, but now the fees are around £10,000 per year. He did stress that there are various bursaries and scholarships available, and that he believes that actors and other people in the industry are very welcoming and egalitarian (which I guess is good for young actors once they have managed to get one foot in the door!)

The topic of Tom's support for 'He for She' came up, and he dealt with it very simply by explaining that for him, it is inconceivable, anathema, to think that women and men are not equally capable, and should not be equally treated, so there was every reason to lend his support, and no reason not to.

Tom talked about the various roles he has played, and why and how he chooses them. He explained that he feels there is a part of him in in each role, 
his determination and self-motivation in Coriolanus,for example, and his sense of mischief in Loki, and also the roles follow on from one another - the goodness and decency of Captain Nicholls in War Horse came as a contrast with the dark and 'damaged' character of Loki (and of course there was also the opportunity to lead a cavalry charge, which is not an opportunity which comes up every day!)

The majority of the evening was in the form of the interview / conversation between Tom and Sam, including some questions which had been sent in in advance by audience members. 

At the very end there was about 10 minutes for audience questions. Sadly the first was someone trying to circumvent the very clear information about Tom being unable to stay to provide autographs, photos or a meet and greet, and to ask for an autograph but after that there were a couple of interesting questions. 

One woman asked whether, following on from various women playing male roles, there were any female roles he would like to play, and mentioned her own wish to play Iago (he told her to go for it!) His response was to say he thought there needed to be more women taking on traditional male roles.

It was a fascinating evening, and gave a lot of insight into Tom's approach to his craft, which he clearly takes very seriously, and works extremely hard at, to be the very best he can be. I would love to know whether there were many drama students or aspiring actors in the audience, as I think that they would have found it illuminating, and helpful.  

Oh, and did I mention the part where he offered one of the bottled of water from the stage to someone in the front row who seemed a bit hot and thirsty?  (It was very hot in the theatre). Such a thoughtful chap! 

We were not permitted to take photographs during the event, so I didn't, so here is a copy of one of the press pictures for 'Coriolanus' instead,  because why not?
I shall be looking forward to seeing I Saw the Light when it comes out (Apparently, all of the singing and playing is Tom himself) and will keep my fingers crossed that he comes back to live theatre (and that I can get tickets) sooner rather than later.

I got home very late, but very happy!

Family, and unpacking things

I spent the weekend with my older sister and her husband, who have just moved house. My visit was mostly to see them,but also meant I was closer to Southampton for the Nuffiled theatre event with Tom Hiddleston, so I could reduce the amount of driving needed on one day, which was why I visited this weekend rather than any other.

It was lovely to see them,and nice to see their new home, although I was slightly depressed to see that they have managed to do more in the way of redecoration and DIY in the 10 days or so since they moved in, than I have achieved in the 10 months I have been in my new house! Admittedly, there are two of them, and C is very competent at all kinds of practical stuff, whereas there is only one of me (the cats, unfortunately, are No Help At All when it comes to decorating and DIY) and I am not at all good at such things, so my methodology involves saving hard until I can afford for someone competent to do it for me!

So the weekend was fairly relaxed - on the Saturday we visited several DIY stores, and on the Sunday collected some final stuff from the attic in their old flat, and in between times they did proper housemoving and DIY stuff, and I helped where I could, with important tasks such as making tea, flattening cardboard boxes and stacking bottles of gin and champagne in the cupboard!

In the evening, we went to the Sailing club where K and C are members, to take part in a quiz and pot-luck style supper.

We joined forces with 2 of their friends, and ended up by winning the quiz, which was nice - it turns out that knowing the Maris Curie was Polish, and what the study of caves is called comes in handy for these things! (our prize was a feeling of superiority - my longstanding tradition the prize money was immediately donated to the lifeboat collection)

Sunday involved more moving things, and a lot of rain, and a very nice roast dinner, before we went our separate ways, me to Southamton to the Nuffield Theatre, and them to finish hanging curtains.

All very pleasant.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

A Quiet Weekend, with Marmalade

I was a bit under the weather this week, so planned a quiet weekend, and on the whole, that is what I got.

I didn't do quite as well on the 'having a lie-in' side of things as I had hoped, waking up very early, which was irritating.

I did manage to make a batch of marmalade, using half of the Seville oranges I bought, on Saturday. I'd planned to do the other half today but ran out of time and energy, so they will have to wait. Still, I have half a dozen jars of lovely tangy marmalade. 

I ended up with a little bit left over, so I made some chocolate orange cupcakes with it, which, though I do say so myself, are rather tasty. I vaguely remembered reading something about replacing sugar in a cake recipe with marmalade, so that's what I did, and it seems to have worked. although afterwards I found the recipe and it only suggested replacing half the sugar.

I've also sorted out my car insurance for the next year (got the MoT done during the week - the car passed first time, which is always a good thing), so with the road tax having been paid at the end of January (although I am not yet used to having no tax disc) the car is (legally) sorted for now.

 I also caught up with a few things I'd recorded on TV over the past few weeks, and read the weekend papers, all of which felt very self indulgent.

SO altogether, a satisfying weekend.

Next weekend is due to involve some socialising and other fun stuff.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

The Meroë Head

When in London last week, we had time to pop into the British Museum, after our visit to Magna Carta.

We didn't have a lot of time, so we didn't go into any of the (ticketed) special exhibitions, as we would not have had time to take advantage of them, but we did pop in to see the Meroë Head of Augustus, which is being specially featured at present.

It is a life-sized bronze of the head of the Emperor Augustus, dating to around 27-25 BCE, and discovered in what is now Sudan, in 1910.

Apparently this type of bust was sent to all corners of the Empire. 

This particular one was part of the spoils of war when, in 25 BCE a Kushite army made a successful raid on the borders of Roman Egypt, captures the bronze and buried it under the steps of their victory monument in order that everyone who visited the monument could trample on Augustus's decapitated head . .  As you do!

As you can see, it still has the original eyes, made of coloured glass paste, for the irises, surrounded by a copper ring, and set into polished stone. There are even the remains of his (copper) eyelashes.

It is a beautiful piece, and there is something haunting about seeing Augustus staring out from 2,000 years of history. (According to the museum's display, the same bust continued to be used throughout his reign, so although he was probably in his 30s when it was originally made, his image wasn't changed, so Augustus at 76 was still represented throughout the Empire by portraits of his 30(ish) year old self.

Maybe next time I visit the museum I shall have to make time to look at more of their Roman collection, to see who else I can find.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

A Visit to Glastonbury

This weekend, a friend of mine came to visit, which was fun.

My friend was keen to visit Glastonbury, soon Saturday, that is exactly what we did.

We started by visiting Glastonbury Abbey, which is, of course, a ruin, having made the mistake of being far too rich and having an Abbot who tried, allegedly,  to hide some of the Abbey treasures when the time came for the Abbey to be dissolved. The abbot ended up being Hung, Drawn and Quartered on Glastonbury Tor, in 1541, and the Abbey was duly dissolved.

(An earlier connection: Jocelin, Bishop of Wells and Glastonbury, was one of those named in Magna Carta as having been among those present at the negotiations)

The abbey was very quiet - probably in part to do with how cold and grey the day was, so we had each part of it more or less to ourselves.

As well as the ruins,there were flowers, lots of snowdrops, and some early crocuses, and also birds and squirrel.

Things have been updated since I last visited - the Abbot's Kitchen now has reproductions of tools and furnishings to give a sense of how it may have appeared while in use, which was interesting.

After walking around the Abbey, we spent some time walking around the town and visiting various shops, before getting lunch, and then moved on to visit the Chalice Well, which is a natural, iron rich spring.

The spring is a very reliable one, with archaeological finds of Mesolithic flints, and a few Roman potsherds, and the spring was channelled in the medieval period. (Archaeology has shown that the current well is probably a hole in the original, medieval well-house)

The Well  is currently advertised as a holy spring, with healing properties,and the water is channelled through various pools and waterfalls, including some pools in  which one may paddle / bathe if so inclined. Which was not tempting, given the freezing temperatures we encountered!  (There is a modern myth that the Chalice is the Holy Grail, hidden near the spring by Joseph of Arimathea - the more prosaic explanation is that the spring was known as 'chalk well' or 'chilk well' for most of it's history, and there is no evidence of it having any significant Christian or Pre-Christian spiritual or religious significance ) 

Whatever the origins and background, the garden is very quiet and tranquil, and there were lots of birds, including a very friendly Robin. The flowers are not at their best, but the pools are pretty. 

We tasted the water (rusty, but slightly more palatable than the spa waters at Bath), before moving on to climb the Tor.

We set off a little before four, and made our way up to St Michael's Tower. The Tor wasn't as busy as it often is, (probably due to the cold!) and despite it being a little hazy, the views were fairly good.

As always, it was breezy at the summit, so we didn't stay too long, before heading back down to the town, and back home for tea and cakes and a convivial evening. (calling in briefly on the 'Hot Fuzz' swan at Wells Police Station, on the way home)

Sunday, by contrast, was a much less energetic day; we had a lie in, then spent the morning snuggling the cats and catching up. 

Which was nice.

It turned out to be a very bright, sunny day, which the kittens made the most of. 

Cats are good at making the most of sunny days.

It was lovely to get to spend time with my friend, I enjoyed the weekend, and hope she did too (although I am rather tired, now - late nights sitting up and talking will do that!)

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Magna Carta - 800 Years and Counting

Back in October, I entered into the British Library's ballot, to try to win tickets for their Magna Carta Reunification event - all four surviving copies of the original 1215 Charter, brought together to be visited by just 1,215 members of the public.

In December, much to my surprise and delight, I got an e-mail from the British Library, which started "Congratulations, you have won tickets to the Magna Carta Unification Event on 3 February 2015." It appears that well over 40,000 people applied for tickets, and (given tht the tickets were available in pairs) the chances of winning were about 1 in 80.!

For the next couple of months, I kept going back and re-reading the e-mail, to check that it really did say what I thought it did. And then, in January, the actual tickets arrived, and I was convinced that it really was happening!

So, on Tuesday morning, I set off to the British Library, to enjoy some History.

We started in the Library's Conference Centre, where historian Dan Jones was to give us a brief introduction to the Charter. 

And we got a lovely surprise. We had asked, with every expectation that the answer would be no, whether they had happened to have any last minute cancellations which might allow my mother to come with us (I got 2 tickets. I invited one of my parents to come with me, and they agreed that that would be my dad, while my mum spent the day doing some research elsewhere) . Much to our surprise and pleasure, there was (or possibly they had been authorised to allow a few extra people in! ) So all three of us got to see the Charters!

There were a number of reenactors at the library for the event, soldiers / men at arms for security and crowd control, musicians, scribes, and others. For instance, we were greeted by one of the King's Marshals (who warned that anyone allowing their phone to go off during Dan Jones' talk would be taken up for witchcraft, as clearly small talking devices must be the work of the devil!)

Dan Jones gave us a short talk, summarizing the background to the grant of the charter, and explaining some of the differences between the 4 remaining copies - for instance, that three of them are written in 'Chancery Hand', a style of writing associated with the Court (and proto-civil servants) and the fourth is in a style associated more with the copying of prayer books and other literary works. 

He also spoke briefly about what is known of the provenance of each Charter, and about how it failed at the time, and  little about it's ongoing influence.  For instance, the second of the two copies held by the British Library, which was damaged in a fire in the 18thC, but it's current illegibe condition is due, not to the fire damage, but to the early Victorian attempts at conservation! (recently, research using photography using different lights has allowed much of the Charter to be read again)

Then, we were to go across to the main Library to queue to see Magna Carta itself.

While we waited,  there were further reenactors, including musicians,  a gentleman reading Magna Carta (in English) aloud, another writing out the charter, in (so we were told) accurate medieval Latin, complete with the various contractions used in the original Charter, and using a quill.

Others were moving around making conversation  we had a chat with Richard Poer, Bishop of Chichester, who was looking remarkably youthful for a prelate entering his 9th Century!

It took us a while to reach the head of the queue, but it was worth the wait.

When you see it, Magna Carta is surprisingly small. The handwriting is beautifully regular and clear (although unless you read medieval Latin, not actually comprehensible) 

On each one, it was possible to make out King John's name, in the first line, and to pick out where each clause began.

The 'London' Magna Carta (picture(c) the British Library)
Seeing the copies side by side, it was also possible to see the differences in style we had been told about.
The Salisbury Magna Carta (Picture (c) Salisbury Cathedral)
Seeing the documents, and knowing that they have survived for 800 years, and inspired and influenced law and constitutions worldwide, was awe-inspiring (although  King John, and the Barons, would of course all find the modern legacies of Magna Carta utterly alien and very different to their original intentions.!)

As we left the exhibition space, we were each given a rather nice goody bag, which contained, as well as souvenir pens and pencils from Lincoln and Salisbury cathedrals, a note book, and a very chocolate coin, a 'Golden Ticket' (to allow a visit to each of the three exhibitions, at the British Library, Lincoln Castle and Salisbury Cathedral, and a certificate of attendance at the event.

We were invited to go to the one-day-only scriptorium (usually the ticket office!) to have our names inscribed upon the certificates, which were then sealed with beeswax. 

Did you know that the whole thing about melting sealing wax over a candle to seal documents is a hollywood mistake? Modern sealing wax has shellac in, but beeswax, as used on Magna Carta, and our certificates, is simply warmed in the hands for sealing!

It was a very memorable day, and I feel privileged to have been one of the few people given this opportunity.

The British Library's exhibition Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy opens on 13th March, and runs until September. (You can also read more about Magna Carta on the Library's blog There are also exhibitions on in Lincoln and Salisbury. I am hoping that I shall manage to visit the Salisbury one, at least!

More photos of the day on Flickr
(BBC news story showing the copies of Magna Carta on display, here)