Sunday, 14 December 2014

The Imitation Game (mild Spoliers) and Meteors

Saturday was mostly spent running errands - my car now has nice new brake discs and pads, and as had something underneath tightened slightly so there is no longer a tiny oil leak, I've bought the last few christmas gifts and have posted most of the ones which need posting (one more to go!) and bought various bits and pieces of food (I am hosting christmas this year, for the first time!)

While the car was being worked on, I went over to Wells, which was looking very pretty in the winter sunshine. We had a heavy frost overnight, which was only melting as the sun got round. (the picture is of the Bishop's Palace) 

It was rather chilly, but lovely to look at! 

I also did the kinds of things one has to do at weekends, laundry and cleaning and the like.

In the evening, I headed back out in order to go to the cinema, to see The Imitation Game. 

I first learned about Alan Turing when I went to see Derek Jacobi in a play called Breaking the Code, in Bath, in around 1987 (the play, still starring Jacobi as Turing, was made into a TV production by the BBC in around 1996).  More recently, I've had the chance to visit Bletchley Park, and 2 years ago visited the Turing exhibition at the Science Museum in London 


'Bombe' room. (C) Bletchley Park
He was an extraordinary man, and his achievements, both during the war and in relation to the development of computers, cannot be overstated.

The film is interesting, although (perhaps inevitably) takes a fair number of liberties with the facts - everything from Turning's age when his friend Christopher died, to the sub-plot about Soviet spies, to the suggestion that Turing himself would break his silence to tell a police detective about his war-time activities! 

The there is also implication that Turing has Aspergers Syndrome, given scenes when, as a schoolboy, he is upset by carrots and peas touching one another, and another scene, later, when he appears not to understand that he is being invited to join his colleagues for lunch. I did find this slightly irritating - it seemed to be there in order for Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley) to then teach him how to interact with other people.

However, despite these liberties, the film is still extremely good - Cumberbatch's Turing comes across as ferociously intelligent,  emotionally vulnerable, and very, very logical. 

Mark Strong, as Stewart Menzies, (MI6) was delightfully smooth and Machiavellian, and Charles Dance, who played Commander Denniston was excellent as an old-school Navy type (which I suspect may be another variation on the truth. But which makes for a good drama!)

I think I shall be buying this when it comes out on DVD. 

It was a very clear, cold evening, and after getting home I went out to see whether I could spot any of the Geminid Meteor shower, which was due to be at its peak. I went out a little after 10 pm, and despite only being in my back garden (with  a street light in front of my house, and other in the road behind) I nevertheless was able to see masses of stars, and saw 5 or 6 meteors in the 10 minutes or so I was out. Which was nice.

I did peer out when I woke up around 1 a.m., as I believe that peak density was due to be visible around 2, but it have become quite cloudy and overcast by that point, and I could only see a very few stars, so I decided against getting out of bed and going back outside for star-gazing! 

Saturday, 13 December 2014

In Which there is an Astronaut

This week involved a visit from an astronaut, which is not something which happens every day! 

The astronaut in question was the awesome Col. Chris Hadfield, who was visiting as part of his book tour, promoting his book, 'You are Here', at an event organised by the ever-lovely Topping and Co. When I booked the ticket, I had mistakenly thought the event was in the evening, so when I realised it was actually mid-morning, I had to hurriedly arrange a day off, as I did not want to miss this!

It was a very interesting event.
Col. Hadfield began by talking about how difficult it is to safely leave Earth, and then explained that, as a 9 year old boy, he watched Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin as they walked on the Moon, and, as he said "realised that impossible things can happen", and decided that, like them, he wanted to do the impossible thing and to go into space.


He explained that, 26 years later, after years of hard work (which involved moving from Air Cadets, to the Air Force, two or three degree, time as a test pilot, and then astronaut training) he finally got to climb into the Space Shuttle and leave Earth.

He came across as being (still) awed and excited about the experience. And his enthusiasm is infectious.

He described how complex flying a rocket ship is, and how many people are involved (It had not occurred to me, that every launch involves clearing areas of the Indian and Atlantic Oceans, not to mention emergency airstrips across the world. 

He compared space travel to other forms of exploration, referencing the Franklin Expedition, and Shackleton, among others, and giving the opinion that, at present, going to Mars would be the equivalent of the Franklin Expedition - people would die, because we don't yet know enough, but that we will get there, just as we went from losing expeditions to having people living permanently in Antarctica.

Col Hadfield also commented about the perspective going into space gives you - for instance, seeing Jaguar's recent ads boasting of vehicles with 500 horsepower, and thinking "500? Huh. We had 80 million horsepower...!"

And spoke about visiting the Great Wall of China and being told, (as every one is) that you can see the Great Wall of China from space. No,he told us. You can't. He looked *really* hard. But you can see the M25! and he showed us the pictures to prove it!)

It was fascinating. After the main talk, Commander Hadfield answered questions, which included his speaking about having 16 sunrises a day, of the 'perpetual delight' of seeing Earth from Space, and of the fact that the ISS runs on UK time ('Coordinated Universal Time', which, as he pointed out, may come as a surprise to the rest of the Universe, who haven't been consulted...!)

Finally, he got his guitar (which is not the same one as he played on the ISS - that one is still up there!) and sang to us.


Which was a lot of fun. 

Sadly, I didn't have time to stay after the event to meet him, as the queue was very long, and I would have been pretty near the back, but I am very glad that I went. He is a very impressive and inspiring man.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Theatre - witches and valets and such.

This week I had two, very different theatrical experiences - the first was the cinema broadcast of Arthur Miller's The Crucible, on Thursday evening.

I had been toying with the idea of going to see it live, in London, but didn't get myself organised to do so, so I was very glad to see it was being broadcast.



It is neither a short, nor a cheerful play - the broadcast was about 3.5 hours, and of course it is based on the Salem witch trials, and as such, is in many respects depressing viewing.

This production is excellent - Richard Armitage is very good as John Proctor, particularly in the second half of the play, as he agonises over whether to make a (false) confession of witchcraft in order to save his life, and Anna Madeley is his wife,a much less showy role, but essential, and she portrays Elizabeth's quiet, steadfast character very well.

Adrian Schiller, who played Rev. Hale was also very good  - gradually breaking down as his certainty that the village is affected by witchcraft is eroded and he realises how much blood he has on his hands..

It was also interesting to see William Gaunt, as Giles Corey, having seen him  live in Exit the King 

The second show was Jeeves and Wooster at the Theatre Royal, Bath - which was a total change of pace, and a lot of fun.

The play is presented as Wooster appearing on stage and describing his recent weekend, with support from Jeeves, and his Aunt's butler Stebbings, each playing a multitude of  other parts,which has the advantage of allowing him to narrate, and also to break the 4th wall and chat to the audience from time to time. (mostly expressing admiration at Jeeves's provision of props and scenery!)

I thought they did an excellent job of translating Wodehouse's story to the stage, and special mention must go to Joel Sams, who is the Understudy for Wooster
 and appeared on the night I went.

A fun, lightweight show. I enjoyed my evening out!

I also learned this week that my name was one of those drawn in the British Library's Magna Carta ballot, which means that I shall be one of the 1215 getting to see all 4 original copies of the charter together, as part of the celebration of its 800th anniversary! Which I'm quietly happy about - I have read that they had around 45,000 apply, so I'm really surprised that I was one of the winners! I'm looking forward to it.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

More fun stuff

After two weekends of guests, it was my turn to go visiting last weekend - I went up to visit my sister and her partner, who have recently moved house, so it was my first opportunity to see their new home (it's very nice!) 

They had also invited our cousin, her husband and son, so we were able to have a mini family reunion. Which was nice.   And we got to play with lego and to watch 'Frozen'.


Sunday turned out to be a bright, clear day, so we went to a local reservoir for a walk, and (as we had 4 year old Small Cousin with us) a quick trip to the playground.  

It was another relaxed weekend, which was nice, although my drive there was less relaxing as it was quite foggy for the first hour or so. Why is is so many people who drive silver cars *also* seem unable to turn on their lights when driving in fog?

But apart from that, it was a lovely weekend.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Busy, Busy

I haven't blogged for the last few weeks a I haven't had time - I've been too busy having guests, and being a guest!

First up was a visit from my parents, who were attending an event near me, which led to a slightly unsettling role reversal where I drove them to their 'do' then spent the evening at home waiting for them to phone for me to pick them up!  

The following day, my dad's cousin came over for Sunday lunch, which was nice.

The the following weekend by friends J and J came down for the weekend, and we spent a restful Saturday mostly eating and chatting, before heading into Bath in the evening for a rather nice meal, and to see 'Exit the King' at the Ustinov Studio. It was very suberb (if a little odd, which, given that it is by Ionesco and is 'theatre of the absurd', is not surprising!


The play featured Alun Armstrong as the King, Siobhan Redmond  as his first wife, who guides him in accepting his impending death, and William Gaunt as the Doctor.

The play is all about the King's death, and his difficulty in letting go, and is strange, but very good, and it benefited from the excellent cast!

I am not sure whether I would have booked had I not had guests coming, but am very glad that I did! 

And I loved having J and J here, and being able to spend a relaxing couple of days catching u, and playing with the kittens.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Henry IV (Part II)

A couple of months ago,  I went to see the RSC's production of  Henry IV, Part I,  which was broadcast to cinemas. I enjoyed it - particularly Trevor White's performance as Harry Hotspur!

The production is now on tour and came to Bath last week, so I went to see Part II.  I rather regret the fact that Hotspur, having died in Part I, does not appear in Part II! (Trevor White did appear in part II, as Lord Mowbray, but that is a less showy role)
Jasper Britton as King Henry IV and Alex Hassell as Prince Hal
Photo by Kwame Lestrade.
This production features Sir Anthony Sher as Sir John Falstaff, and he is very, very good in the role. Even though I' not a big Falstaff fan, I did enjoy his performance.


And Alex Hassell (Prince Hal) was excellent - particularly in the scene where he tries on his father's crown.

All in all a fun evening out.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

In Which There are Kittens (Again)

The past couple of weens have been quite exciting, and a bit stressful, for the kittens (and me)

They have a cat flap, and have been going out - it took them a couple of weeks to work out how to get out of the back garden, and they seem to have been cautiously exploring, but popping back regularly to reassure me, and to get snacks and snuggles.

Last Sunday, they went out, and did not come back. It started to rain. No kittens. I started to fret. No kittens. It stopped raining. No Kittens.
Loki, not looking his best

I went out, looking for them, in case they had gone a little further than usual and forgotten their way home. No Kittens.

Mid afternoon, Loki came home, looking *very* bedraggled (the photos is *after*  I sponged the worst of the mud off him) 

There was still no sign of Coraline, which left me even more worried,as of the pair of them, she is generally less adventurous, and the first to come back in.

Finally, at about 7.30, (having been out since around mid-day) Coraline came in - she was even wetter and muddier than Loki, and had lost her collar (it was the kind with a safety release, designed to break if she got caught on anything, so I guess that worked...)

She was so caked in mud that I wound up giving her a quick shower, to get rid of the worst of the mud, and even after that, there was still enough mud on her to coat most of a bath towel.

I suspect that they may perhaps have been into one of the fields, and perhaps met something, whether another cat, or a dog or fox which was bigger and scarier than them.

Then after all that excitement on Sunday, they both went to the vet on Tuesday,for their spay/neuter operations. 
Cone-Head Coraline
And came home, that evening, wearing matching cone-collars and disgruntled expressions!

I learned that having 2 cats, simultaneously wearing these collars is more than twice as funny to watch as one cat in such a collar. 

I also learned that, as I have suspected for some time, Coraline is brighter than Loki.  She worked out much more quickly how to mange her collar and still get her food, and stopped bumping into things much more quickly. 

Luckily for Loki, he doesn't need to keep his collar on for anything like as long as her, having had a less major op.  Both seem to be doing well.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

A Quiet Weekend

After a couple of weekends having, and being a visitor, this weekend was quieter.

Saturday involved making my Christmas cake, doing laundry, reading the papers and, of course, playing with the kittens.

They have not yet quite worked out how to use the cat-flap - they haven't yet sussed that they can open it for themselves, so I am propping it open for them and hoping they work it out before the weather gets much colder! 

It's only in the last week that they have been allowed out unsupervised - the first day I left for work leaving the cat flap open I felt a little like parents leaving their children at school on the first day must feel!   

(I came home to snuggly cats, with wet feet, so they had obviously been out and about while I was out!)


Then on Sunday there was the thrilling cleaning and vacuuming, a quick trip into Bath to pick up my copy of 'Pictures that Tick:Vol 2., and one of this year's 'Book are my Bag' bags. 

I was also able to admire their lovely, newly decorated  Chris Riddell loo!

Apparently he came in to decorate it while he was in Bath for the Kids Lit. Fest.and personally decorated it! 

I particularly like the pipes, all carefully marked 'gurgle'.

I was very good, and only bought one book apart from the one I had ordered, and it's going to be christmas present, so it doesn't really count as me buying books..

On the way home, I called it at the village hall, where there is an exhibition about the history of the village - it has been part of a bigger exhibition (covering, I think, 3 local villages) at the local museum, and was set up in the Village Hall this weekend. 

It was quite interesting - it didn't, as I had hoped it might, include any old photos of my house or information about when it was built, but I did learn that Samuel Taylor Coleridge passed through in 1794 and write a poem about a spring here (although unfortunately mis-remembered the name of the village). 

Beau Nash had family here, and may have lived here, (although based on what I know of Beau Nash, I suspect his connection may have involved shaking the dust of the village from his feet at the earliest opportunity, never to return) Gainsborough apparently also passed through, although apparently only to see his doctor!

More recently, the village seems to have lowered the bar a little for 'famous links' - Queen Mary visited a soldiers'  recuperation home here during WW2. 

After that, in the 'Famous people' section,  we were down to the local doctor, (retired after a lengthy career, in 2002) who used to make house-calls on horse-back, and who cross-qualified as a vet in order to look after the health of his own horse!.

I knew that the village was a mining village - now I know where all of the mines were - and also where the railway ran, which I didn't know before.

All in all, an interesting way to spend an hour! 
I think next weekend is mostly likely to involve finding out whether or not the kittens are freaked out by fireworks. Tybalt, despite being very nervous generally, was totally unfazed by them. I am hoping this pair are the same...

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Hypochondriacs, Hamlet, Friends and Fun

There's been a lot of theatre in my life just recently. Last weekend, my parents came down for the weekend, and we went to see 'The Hypochondriac'  in Bath, starring Tony Robinson. It's not a play I've seen before, and I admit that I had vaguely assumed, given that it is a classic of French theatre, that it would be erudite as well as funny.  

I discovered that it is (in this new translation, at least) pure farce, with many jokes about pee and shit. The plot, involving an avaricious 2nd wife, a beautiful daughter in love with an unsuitable young man,and a selfish father, is predictable, but none the less fun for that, and we enjoyed the evening.

Then *this* weekend, I was up in Manchester to visit some very good friends, and we went out to see 'Hamlet' at the Royal Exchange.

This production features Maxine Peake in the title role - I'm most familiar with her as the tough barrister, Martha, in the TV series 'Silk', although she also appeared as 'Doll Tearsheet' in Henry IV Parts 1 and 2 when they were filmed  for the 'Hollow Crown' series. 


I have not seen her live on stage before.

It was an excellent production - Peake's Prince comes across as vulnerable, and very much a grieving child, rather than a Prince resentful of the loss of his throne.

I didn't feel that there was much chemistry between Hamlet and Ophelia (Katie West) but Ophelia seemed a fuller character than she often is - very aware of the manipulative way which Claudius and Polonia use her, and unhappy about it. Which feeds in well to her grief and madness following the death of her mother.

The play has some cuts - all mention of Fortinbras and the Norwegians have been cut, leaving very little in the way of political content. There have also been some changes to the play - Laertes returns home in time to see Ophelia in her madness, for instance, and the 'To be, or not to be' soliloquy comes later in the play than normal. 


Hamlet - Maxine Peake ( (c) Royal Exchange Manchester / Jonathan Keenan)
 On the whole, I thought the production was very good, with an extremely strong cast. John Shrapnel (playing the ghost of Hamlet's father, and Claudius) was suitably unlikeable as Claudius.

There were one or two things I wasn't too keen on (aren't there always?) - for instance, in contrast to the otherwise fairly sparse staging, the gravedigger scene suddenly involved a big heap of old clothes falling from the ceiling and being 'dug' to make Ophelia's grave, with Yorick's skull being represented by a rolled or folder sweater. I assume that the aim was to avoid the cliche of an actual skull, but I found it rather distracting and out of keeping with the rest of the production.

However, this was a pretty minor issue in an over all very strong production, and I'm really pleased that we saw it. I think the run ends this Friday so not many chances more to see it!

The rest of the weekend was lovely - lots of relaxed time with dear friends!

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Stephen Fry, Cinema and cats

Last Wednesday there was another live broadcast to cinemas - not a play or ballet this time, but the lovely Mr Stephen Fry, talking as part of the publicity for his new book, 'More Fool Me'

The cinema had not sold many tickets, which I didn't find particularly surprising: it was a Wednesday night, plus the cinema has only fairly recently started to do the live theatre screenings or other 'art' events (unlike the two other cinemas  the district showing the live broadcasts, both of which have been showing 'art house' , rare and foreign language films for decades, and have therefore, naturally, built up a loyal audience for such films.

Which is relevant, as when we arrived (and it turned out that the start time had been changed by the broadcaster, so we had a wait) the cinema owner (Retired -I think his daughter(s) now run it) came into the auditorium, and having started well by welcoming us and explaining the reason for the delay, he then unfortunately decided to give us all a scolding about how if not enough people come to the live screenings then they won't be able to continue, and it involves  a lot of work,and how more people ought to come. 

It went on for about 10 minutes,  and really soured the evening. I can understand that he might be frustrated at the low turn out, but seemed to have missed the point that those of us sitting there, having bought tickets, are not the ones who need convincing. And I doubt anyone would show up in response to  a scolding.

Fortunately the evening improved once the broadcast began and Mr Fry came on screen.

He was (as anticipated) highly entertaining, in particular talking about his encounters with Prince Charles, (with passing reference to the perils of being friendly with impressionists, if you get unexpected personal phone calls from the heir to the throne..), who came to tea one Christmas. (Cue Rowan Atkinson frantically vacuuming, and discussions as to whether serving Battenburg cake would be considered a commentary on the Prince's ancestry, and what to serve to the bodyguards..

He also spoke about his current love of technology, and his love of reading and how important books and the mobile library were to him when he was growing up, and a little about his past use of cocaine, which is of course what made all the headlines the following morning.

An entertaining evening, apart from the poor start.

And the cats? They have had their second set of jabs, so they will be allowed to go outside very soon. I did take them each out briefly on a lead at the weekend, just in the back garden,which they both seemed to enjoy. 

I've had a new cat flap put in, but until they are a bit bigger, and have had their ops, won't be letting them out unsupervised (They will be getting their microchips while they are sedated for neutering, so they are not chipped yet)





Saturday, 4 October 2014

Garth Nix and Joe Abercrombie at the Bath Kids Lit. Festival

I was back in Bath this evening for an interview with Joe Abercrombie and Garth Nix (conducted by John McLay, who is the festival director)
Garth Nix and Joe Abercrombie

I have seen Joe a few times before, at Bristol Con, although I have not got around to reading any of his work, yet.

I love Garth Nix's work, and 'Old Kingdom' books in particular, so I was very excited to hear he has written a prequel to the existing trilogy, Clariel, (which officially comes out next week, but which was available at the event, so naturally I bought a copy!)

The event was a lot of fun, both Garth and Joe appeared to be enjoying themselves, and to be interested in the questions being asked.


Garth mentioned having recently rediscovered his first ever 'book' written when he was 8 or 9, leading to questions about whether either agreed with the proposition that a writer ought to throw away their first two or three books.Joe did not agree, commenting that as his first 3 books books are his trilogy, throwing them away without trying t get them published would have been a bit of a waste! 

Garth was kind enough to share the golden rule of getting stuff published (you have to finish things - finishing stuff doesn't guarantee you'll be published, but not finishing pretty much guarantees you won't get published!)

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Dave McKean at Bath Kids Lit. Fest

Saturday morning was devoted to dull but necessary tasks, such as getting up far too early for a Saturday in order to get a 'flu jab, buying food, doing laundry and getting a cat-flap installed ready for when the kittens are allowed out.

The afternoon, however, was much more fun. 

This year's Bath Festival of Children's Literature has begun, and one of the events was 'In Conversation with Dave McKean' which took place on Saturday afternoon at the Holburne Museum.

I was  particularly keen to see Dave McKean, partly because I love his work, but also as his event last year had to be cancelled, as he was prevented from getting to Bath by major road delays! 


He started his presentation by apologising for last year, and explaining that he had arrived in Bath 3 hours early, this time, to ensure that there wasn't a repeat of that issue!

He then gave us a whistle-stop tour of some of his works, with illustrations,  concentrating in particular on the work he has done with children's books.  It was particularly interesting to me to hear him explaining to people who might not know, who Neil Gaiman is, with particular reference to his Crazy Hair!

He also talked about his work with David Almond (in glowing terms, and pointing out first that David was sitting in the audience!) Richard Dawkins and S.F.Said, speaking a little about the techniques he had used for some of the different art works.

He mentioned that his new film, Luna, is out soon. He didn't play us the trailer, as it is not a children's film (apparently it has just been classified as a 15) but did mention that it will be showing in Bath next month, and that he will be doing a QandA, but he did play us Sheepdip, Johnson and Dupree whicch was fun.

After the event he signed books - sadly the  event bookseller had not brought any copies of his new book Pictures That Tick (Vol 2) - they only had older ones (all of which I already own!) but Dave himself had brought along some spare copies of Jazz (in Quotes) which is a limited edition collection of illustrated quotes, which was produced for SDCC, so I was able to get one of those, and to get Dave to sign a couple of my existing books. 

All in all, a most satisfactory evening. And when I got home, I was able to book a ticket for the screening of Luna