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 The weekend was busy. After seeing Hir, I stayed overnight in London, due to plans on the Sunday.

A little while back, I saw that Sir Ian McKellan was doing a one-man show, Shakespeare, Tolkien, Others & You  to raise funds for the Park Theatre in Finsbury Park, as the theatre wasn't given any Ats Council funding at all in the latest round of grants. 

Given that it was a fundraiser, tickets were, of course, expensive, and at first, I didn't think I could afford to go. But then, just s the tickets wet on sale, I got some money from my bank to say 'sorry we fucked up and locked you out of your account for months', so I decided that it should be spent on something frivolous and self indulgent, and booked my ticket!

I booked for the matinee, which meant I had time to visit the National Gallery - one current exhibition is The Caged Bird Sings, a tapestry triptych designed by Chris Ofili.

It's very beautiful. The gallery has displayed it in one of the side galleries and persuaded Ofili to create a mural of temple dancers to surround the tapestry. 





It is stunning, and the colours of the tapestry are incredibly effective against the greys of the mural.




I hadn't realised the exhibition was there, until I went into the Gallery, so it was a lovely surprise! It's on until 28th August, so plenty of time to see it if you wish!

I also had time to see a second small exhibit (in which photos were *not* allowed) of some of the works of Giovanni da Rimini, who created beautiful religious art work in Rimini in Italy in the early 14th century. I do have a soft spot for medieval art!

And there was just time to visit this,one of my favourites of the collection!

Then I met up with a friend for lunch. At her recommendation, we went to Yauatcha in SoHo, where we ate vast quantities of delicious dim sum (the Venison Puffs were my personal favourite), although sadly I hadn't time for dessert, so I shall be forced to return at some point...

And so, we parted, and I set off to see Sir Ian McKellan!

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Thanks to my friend A, I had a ticket for Neil Gaiman's London event for his newest book, 'Norse Mythology' on Wednesday evening, so I decided to make a day of it and also to attend Chris Riddell's event, earlier that same day.

I love Chris Riddell's art, and I've had the good luck to go to his events in the past and to see him drawing live, so was hoping for more of the same.

Chris had invited along some friends, Cressida Cowell (Author and illustrator of the 'How to Tame Your Dragon' series), Liz Pichon, creator of Tom Gates, and Posy Simmonds, who I know best for her creation of 'Gemma Bovery', (a graphic novel, modern take on 'Madame Bovery)

Chris's drawings of Cressida Cowell,

Liz Pinchon and Posy Simmonds


As we all filed into the auditorium to take our seats, Chris was making sketches of audience members. Sadly I wasn't one of those who was illustrated! (he also reassured everyone that they were not late, he just started early!) He then sketched his guests, from memory, before bringing them on stage.


Chris also introduced another, special, mystery guest - 'the Wise Wizard Gaiman'.


Once the guests arrived, he introduced each of them and invited them to speak and to show us their sketchbooks.

Liz Pichon explained that she had started out as a graphic designer before moving into picture books, and the writing the first 'Tom Gates' book, while Chris drew our attention to her beautifully painted fingernails and customised shoes. I'm not familiar with the Tom Gates books but they are clearly very popular, and it was interesting to hear about her creative process. She mentioned that Tom's dad is based on her own dad, who used to embarrass her, as a child, by turning up to collect her from school in his old gardening clothes (and showed us a card she made for him when she was young)

The next guest was Posy Simmonds, who showed us some of her sketch books, a recent one with beautifully detailed sketches of people in the street, and also selection of things she created when she was at school, including a comic strip murder mystery, drawn when she was 8, a spoof 'Observers book of Gurls' including a section on 'How to make yourself look excessively common' and a women's magazine she created while at boarding school, including careful illustrations of girls in bikinis, advertisements for imaginary products, and a short story which, she explained, got her into trouble, as it contained bad words, and a married woman with a lover!

She finished by showing us a sketch book which was the basis of her picture books, 'Fred', which involves cats and funerals..

Chris then introduced Cressida Cowell, explaining that he first met her when he was 'on a hot date with the Duchess of Cornwall', on a bus, and that Cressida was there to, and was not only managing to keep her balance on the bus, but also looking very glamorous and drawing things at the same time!

She told us that the 'How to Train Your Dragon' books were autobiographical... that as a child, her parents took them to a remote, uninhabited Scottish island every year, where there were ruins of Viking era houses, and she learned that the Vikings believed that Dragons were (or had been) real, and it started from there.

She also explained that she was inspired by Roald Dahl, and his willingness to have terrible things happen to people (for instance, James's parents (James and the Giant Peach) are eaten by a rhinoceros),and that her drawings are the kind which show readers they are "in the hands of a lunatic, who might do anything".She also explained that the books are about growing up, and that as they go through the serious, the style of the illustrations changes, they become less funny, and more difficult to draw!


She told us that she is working on something new, coming out in the autumn and set in the Iron Age.

Chris's final guest was Neil Gaiman.


Chris explained that he sees Neil as 'the Wise Wizard Gaiman', and pictures him arriving in robes to invite Chris (hairy feet and circular front door) on an adventure, which may involve Asgard, or London Underground, or Volcanoes and Time Travelling Dinosaurs. Neil claimed that he asked Chris to illustrate FTM "A very silly book" and that Chris got his revenge by drawing the Dad in the book as Neil.


Neil then read an extract from 'Fortunately, the Milk',while Chris sketched, and also read a poem, 'Witchwork' (which Chris had pre-prepared sketches for)

Neil had brought along 'Odd and Frost Giants' to show how gorgeous Chris's illustrations are, and claimed that Chris 'sneaks around' and illustrated things he's written, and he only finds out when they pop up on his facebook or other social media.

It was a lot of fun, and did feel, as the title said, like a conversation between friends, rather than a scripted event.

A Good Day

Oct. 16th, 2016 05:26 pm
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I got officially older yesterday, which isn't always much fun.

This time, however, my birthday fell on a Saturday, which is nice, and I have friends here, which was even nicer.

They arrived on Friday evening, and we walked down to one of the pubs in the village, (which I haven't been to before). It re-opened fairly recently following a total refurbishment and under new management, and the food, and ambiance, were both good. (And I notice that they feature a 'gin of the day', although I didn't try that (at least this time).

Then on Saturday, we went into Bath, where we met with some friends of my guests, who were both lovely! It was a beautifully warm,sunny day,so we ended up having lunch at Browns, and eating outside (not something which I often get to do on my birthday!)

We had pondered visiting the Roman Baths, but having looked at the queue and the prices we decided against it, and instead visited book shops and fudge shops and cheese shops and a tea shop (well, a tea shop in a cheese shop) and generally enjoyed one another's company. (Well, I enjoyed the company, and I think the others did too).

It started to rain just as we decided it was time to go home, where we tried some of my birthday gin, and spent the evening eating and chatting and watching Baldrick going to a walk.

gifts and one of my cards,, showing that my friends and family know me all too well

So, a good day.

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I spent last Saturday in London, mostly at the Barbican.

I'd booked to see 'Doctor Faustus', with my friend A (with whom I also saw the Jamie Lloyd Co. version back in April), and also to see 'The Alchemist' by myself - they are both RSC productions which have transferred from Stratford to London, and of the same actors appear in both.

They are, however, very different productions.

The Alchemist was written by Ben Jonson and was first performed, at the Globe Theatre, in 1610. This production was the first time I've seen it, and I avoided reading up on it in advance so came to it with an open mind.

This production was in period dress, (although the introductory music moves seamlessly from generic medieval twangly harpsichord to more familiar tunes - snatches of the 'Mission Impossible' and 'James Bond' themes being particularly notable!)

It made the most of every drop of comedy in the text. Dishonourable trio, Jeremy / Face (Ken Nwosu), Dol Common (Siobhán McSweeney) and Subtle (Mark Lockyer) take advantage of the fact that Jeremy the butler has been left in charge of his master's house, while his master flees the plague,  join forces to con their neighbours, with Subtle posing as a learned Doctor and Alchemist, and Face as his friend, the dashing Captain, and Dol as, well, whatever is necessary, from Queen Mab, to wealthy and learned lady.

'Dol Common' (c) Helen Maybanks

It's fast and farcial, as the trio try to prevent their various victims from running into one another, while making as much profit as they can without, of course, actually delivering anything in return!

I'm not a bit fan of farce but I did enjoy the show, and liked the way that this production draws in the audience, making us complicit in their (mis-)deeds!

After the show I met up with A and we had a very good meal, before returning to the Barbican for (for me) the second play of the day.

Doctor Faustus is a very different production, both from The Alchemist and from the previous production of the same play  we saw earlier in the year.

At the start, the Sandy Grierson and Oliver Ryan walk on stage in silence, mirroring each others actions. They each strike a match. The one whose match burns out first plays Faustus, and the other plays Mephistophelis.

It must be challenging, not to know until the last moment which role you will be playing that night!

For the performance we saw, Oliver Ryan played Faustus, and Sandy Grierson, Mephistophilis.

It's still a very odd play.

Oliver Ryan as Faustus (left) and Sandy Grierson as Mephistophilis.

(c) Helen Maybanks

I preferred this version to the Kit Harrington / Jamie Lloyd one I saw, and thought both leads gave extraordinary performances.

The production had some excellent, and at times (intentionally) disturbing characters and costumes: the seven deadly sins were a nightmare burlesque, gluttony in a fat suit, lust as a drag queen, envy in a gimp suit, and covetousness with prostheses allowing it to walk on all fours, for instance.

There were also scary clowns in bowler hats, and worryingly fascist soldiers with black uniforms, masks and red rubber gloves..

Things did not end well for Faustus.  But we knew that.

I'm glad to have seen it. I thought it was very interesting, and that the actors involved were excellent. But I'm not sure I would say I liked it, exactly.

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This weekend I had the pleasure of catching up with friends - J, her husband J and their nearly-new child (13 months old) came down for the weekend.

It been just over 6 months since I last saw them, so it was wonderful to catch up.

We had a quiet, low key time - catching up, playing with the sproglet, cooking, eating, and a short walk (more of an amble, really) in the village, including some mild foraging for ransoms (wild garlic).

We didn't actually see a wood full of bluebells, but there were lots in the hedge bottoms, and this seemed like a good opportunity to share the picture I took on Tuesday, instead!

There was also a certain amount of cooking, some parts of it more successful than others .. I tried out a recipe for an upside-down aubergine and courgette savoury cake, which tasted great but collapsed on coming out of the tin, so was less impressive visually than the recipe promised!

I also tried, for the first time, to make baklava, as it's nice, and hard to get hold of the good stuff here.

I went for the Turkish style (made with sugar syrup rather than honey) and it turned out pretty well, I think. Lots and lots of pistachios, not too much sugar, and a smidgeon of lemon juice - so it tasted good without being cloyingly sweet.

Next tie I make it I think I shall cook it for a slightly shorter time, and perhaps not reduce the sugar syrup so much, as it was slightly dry round the edges, but on the whole, it worked. And I still have 2 packs of filo pastry, so it won't be hard to try again..

My friends had to go home on Sunday, so I had Monday free, which I used for a little house work, a lot of snoozing (Small Person wakes very early, and I'm not as good as he is at napping during the day to make up!)

Then, as it was wet and unappealing outside, I went to the cinema and saw Captain America:Civil War . Which was good fun. Which was good fun!

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After spending last Saturday at the Barbican, (and having a longer-than-usual journey back, as the train I caught home was allowed to leave Paddington despite being faulty, and only limped as far as Reading, where we all had to wait on a cold platform and then catch another, later train to complete the journey) I was a little knackered, but not too much to enjoy seeing my friend A, who came to send the day and to take me out to see Henry Rollins in Bristol on Sunday evening.

We spent most of the day and evening talking and catching up, some of that time spent at the Pony and Trap in Chew Magna, which is a a gastro-pub with a Michelin star, and which provided us with a  delicious 3-course meal.(consisting, for me, of mussels,followed by a glorious piece of beef, and finally a 'Sticky Ale Pudding with salted caramel sauce and Stout Ice Cream' which was a deliciously grown-up version of parkin, and just the thing for a damp and chilly Sunday afternoon.

Then in the evening we headed into Bristol, to see Henry Rollins at St George's.

A had booked the tickets, and invited me to come, ages ago, and I have to admit that I hadn't previously heard of Henry Rollins, and had very little idea what to expect.

In the event, I had a really good time, really enjoyed Rollins' performance (and I was very impressed that he spoke for about 2 and a half hours without so much as a glass of water!

He covered topics as wide ranging as conservation and penguin shit, (he has recently returned from a trip to Antarctica), the late Lemmy (of Motörhead) who was a friend of his, politics, music and finding other people who share your particular brand of weirdness.

He's very, very good.

All in all, a very enjoyable day!

Time Off

Sep. 16th, 2015 03:12 pm
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I've got some time off work, but I'm not going away,partly as I'm not organised enough, partly because I'm too tired and just want to unwind, and partly because I spent all my money on having work done to my house.

However,I do have various fun things lined up for my holiday, and I'm also aiming to get things done round the house - for instance, buying and putting up curtain rails (and curtains), and unpacking more of the books.

On Monday I got to spend the day with one of my oldest, closest friends. We agreed to meet up in Cardiff, which both of us could readily get to by train, and I was looking forward to a relaxing day pootling round the city centre, perhaps visiting the pier and looking at nice views of the sea.

It didn't work out quite that way.

To start with, it was a very, very, wet morning, and the traffic was absolutely horrendous, which meant that despite having left myself about twice a much extra time as I thought I would need to get to the station, I missed the train. (I worked out, during the unexpected spare time I had while waiting for the next train, that I had averaged 11 m.p.h on my drive in...)

Sadly there's only one train an hour, so I arrived an hour later than planned, and it turned out that it was wet and windy in Cardiff, too.

However, we walked from the station to the Wales Millennium Centre, which is an absolutely beautiful building, not just the stunning front, but the rest of the exterior, which features lots of (presumably Welsh!) slate.

No sign of Captain Jack Harkness or Torchwood, sadly. Clearly that perception filter is still working!

We had lunch at the Millennium centre, (very nice tapas for J and I, and wearable broccoli and yogurt for A (J's little boy, who is 6 months old. He is approaching solid food with enthusiasm. Fortunately J had brought him a change of clothes!)

We then went back into the city centre, where we found a rather nice clock, complete with 3 (presumably blind?) mice..

And we got rained on some more, and then had coffee and cakes, and there was a lot of chatting, and lot of baby-appreciation, and generally, despite the late start and the nasty weather, a good time was had.

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The full-on Hamlet post will be coming a little later, this one is about the rest of my London trip

I arrived around mid-day, and checked into our hotel, near the Barbican, and met with my sister.

We had plenty of time before the highlight of the trip, so we decided to go and visit the Geffrye Museum, which is based in a former almshouse and is a museum of the home.

Outside there are trees and benches and grass.

Inside, there is a little chapel, and a series of galleries with rooms, furnished as a main living room or parlour would have been furnished, in various different periods, starting in the early 17th Century and continuing up to the 1990s.

There are, unsurprisingly, more rooms for the 29th Century than for earlier periods, but all are interesting.

After having lunch in the museum's cafe and  going through the galleries, we went out to the back of the museum where there are gardens, which are again arranged to reflect tastes of of different periods, together with a separate walled garden featuring bee-friendly plants, plants for dyes, medicinal plants, and edible herbs/plants.

And the museum also has a number of (very clean and bright!)beehives (wisely, these are beyond a flowerbed with clear 'no access' signs!)

It is not a large museum, but it is an interesting one to visit, and I am glad we went.

Afterwards, we walked back to our hotel to freshen up and change, then went to the Barbican where we were able to meet up on the 'lakeside terrace' with one of our group, for a quick drink and  lots of chat.

After this, we headed up to the 'Gin Joint' restaurant. This has (as the name suggests) an extensive list of gins available, and a very impressive cocktail menu which is would have been churlish to ignore.

We each indulged. Of course we did, how could we not?

Mine was a 'Bermondsey Orchard' which featured rhubarb liqueur, apple and sage and egg white (and gin, obviously).

Others in our group tried the 'Fort Fiesta' (which included pink gin and grapefruit) and a 'misty French' which involved lemon and champagne (and gin)...

They were all very nice. As was the meal which followed, although  it was a little alarming that all of the staff disappeared when we were trying to pay our bill. Given that this is a restaurant in a theatre, advertising  pre-theatre menu, and not particularly busy, to make it so difficult to pay, at a point 10 minutes before the evening's performance is due to start, is a bit of a failing!

Happily, however, we all made it into the the theatre and into our seats before the doors were closed!

Sadly, two of our original group were not able to join us, both due to family illness. We had one substitution, and returned the other ticket which was duly re-sold. I hope the young woman who bought it enjoyed her evening!

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Last week was mostly distinguished by being very, very hot. At least by English standards.

It was an mixed week for me - on Monday, the exhaust pipe (or at least the back half of it) fell off my car on the way home from work. Annoyingly, the exhaust broke somewhere in the middle,and the bit attaching it to the back of the bumper didn't, so it didn't actually fall off, it just dragged along the road, so I had to stop can carry out emergency tying bits of the car together (fortunately I had several bits of bungee in the boot)

Fortunately my neighbour is a mechanic and kindly removed it for me once I got home, and the car is now fixed, but it was not a good start to the week.

Wednesday I had planned to go to the cinema to see the live broadcast of Carmen but it was too hot, and by the time I got home from work I was tired, hot and had a nasty headache, so I didn't go.

After that, the week started to improve. On Thursday I went bee-ing again, which was interesting. I am starting to feel a bit more confident, and competent,  around the bees, which is nice. I am going to have to start scouting around to see where I might  be able to keep a hive or two next year...

Then on Friday evening I met up with my friend T to go to the theatre, in Bath,which was lots of fun.

Catherine Steadman (Kate) and

Michael Pennington (Mr Hardcastle)

We saw 'She Stoops to Conquer' which is on as part of the Theatre Royal's summer season. The play was originally performed in 1773, but for this production the setting has been updated to the 1920s, which mostly works - it is still feasible, just about to have the big class divides which underlie the plot.

The plot relies heavily on characters being unable to recognise one another, and on the dashing young gentlemen being fooled into thinking that the manor house was in fact an inn...

Hubert Burton plays Marlow, shy and tongue-tied with women of his own class, forward and brash with women he believes to be his social inferiors, and cringingly snobbish and superior towards his host, Mr Hardcastle (Michael Pennington) who he believes to be an inn keeper. Marlow has a touch of Bertie Wooster about him, and while his way with innkeepers and serving maids is a little unappealing to modern eyes, it is very well done.

Micheal Pennington had a far less showy role, but played it with beautiful restraint, as Mr Hardcastle, ready to welcome the son of his best friend as his daughter's suitor, but  met with arrogance and treated as a servant.

Catherine Steadman (who I last saw in 'Oppenheimer') was Kate Hardcastle, who seemed more n control of events than any of the other characters, and seemed to enjoy playing the barmaid to 'conquer' Marlow.

It was all good fun, I thoroughly enjoyed the evening and felt the setting - (both the period and the revolving set) worked well.

The play is on in Bath until 18th July, so plenty of time to see it if you are in the area!

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I just spent 4 very crowded days in London,doing all kinds of fun stuff, some of it with lovely people (and some by myself)

First up was 'An Evening with Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer' at the Hackney Empire, which was tied in with Neil and Amanda guest-editing an edition of the New Statesman magazine.

Despite the New Statesman having made a real mess of the ticket sales, I was fortunate enough to have not one, but two good friends who offered me tickets, which meant that not only did I get to go, but I also got to put friends in touch with each other so they could go too - so there ended up being 5 of us meeting up before the event (although we did not all get to sit together at the event ) for drinks and food and general catching up.

We drank beer (after a struggle with an entirely un-trained bartender) and bumped into further friends and acquaintances, and we ate delicious ramen at Tonkotsu, before we headed to the Hackney Empire.

After a brief introduction on behalf of the New Statesman, Neil and Amanda came on stage, and Neil read a new poem, Credo, (which is published in the magazine) then there was a mix of Amanda and Neil's performances, and a number of special guests.
Guests included Roz Kaveney, who is a writer and activist, performed a very personal poem, comedian (and transvestite vegan) Andrew O'Neill who performed what may have been the longest drawn-out joke ever, (and later, a wonderful reconstruction of the genesis of the 'knock-knock' joke....Writer Hayley Campbell, who read her piece from the magazine, a horrifying picture of what may happen if google and twitter ever publishes all our un-sent drafts, and comedian and writer Mitch Benn, who, in keeping with the 'saying the unsayable' theme of both the evening, and the magazine, performed a song written in response to the Charlie Hebdo murders.

Neil, Roz Kaveney, Haley Campbell, Andrew O'Neill, Amanda Palmer (and bump) Mitch Benn

Although the evening had a theme, and a set list, it was fairly free-form it was fun - everyone on stage seemed relaxed, despite the variations on the running order (Neil kept looking at the list in front of him and gently trying to follow it, but I think Amanda was seeing it more as a guideline than a binding list, and I suspect they were both a little jet-lagged!

But despite the slightly free-form style (or perhaps because of it!) the evening worked well, and little things like Hayley Campbell being introduced after, rather than before, her reading  with a mix of light-hearted and more serious takes on the theme of saying the unsayable, the age of outrage, censorship and its effects - Neil read a (very funny, but also scary) article about hosting a table at the PEN benefit where Charlie Hebdo received an award, and his story Babycakes (which he described as the only story he has written which disturbed him)

Amanda playing the Ukulele Song
Amanda played 'The Killing Type' and parts, by way of illustration, of 'Oasis', and there was discussion, and conversation. It felt very intimate; we, as well as those on stage, were among friends.

As always when seeing Neil and Amanda on stage together, I loved seeing the obvious and open affection between them, and enjoyment of one another's performances.

At the end, Amanda returned for an encore, playing the Ukulele song, with  a short, pregnancy acid-reflux induced interruption.

It was a whole lot of fun,and I think, on appearances, it was mostly fun for those on stage, as well as those of us off stage.

And yes, I have now bought a copy of their New Statesman edition!
Thanks again to Hellie and Lyle,who booked tickets.

There are a couple more pictues on Flickr, all from the curtain call, as photos were not allowed during the performance itself (and anyway, I was concentrating on what was being said!)
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The main reason for going to London (this time) were to meet up with N and A, and to see Neil give his lecture, but happily there was also time for other fun things.

When I first got to London, I met up with N and we had a delightful lunch at Nopi, Yotam Ottolenghi's restaurant.

I did not know before that yogurt could be caramalised, but it seems that it can... !

(the restaurant also has the most disconcerting bathrooms ever - they have infinitely reflecting mirrors, a  little like an unusually refined funfair...

Very elegant to have around the basins, but I am not wholly convinced that having multiple, full-length mirrors, in a lavatory cubicle is entirely appealing...)

After lunch we went to Foyles, for some book shopping. They had a delightful display of penguins in the window  (the artist was Chloe Spicer) . The penguins were made from, and celebrating the Penguin 'Little Black Classics'.

I was a little sad that perfectly good little books had died to make the little penguins, but they do seem to be happy, book-loving penguins, so I shall get over it!

I had not intended to buy any books, as they are heavy to carry, and I do have several lovely local bookshops, but I was unable to resist temptation. I have never found it easy to leave a bookshop without buying books, or indeed to pass a bookshop without going in.

Only two of the books I bought were full size, though. . . I did bring some little black penguin classics home with me, although I have not the skill to turn them into actual penguins after reading them..

We had time for some tea and cake before heading to Neil's lecture, and also to admire the beautiful Burmese cat living at N's BandB, which was very nice!

On the Wednesday, I had most of the day to myself, as my train was not until late afternoon.

I started off with a visit to Leighton House Museum, the former home of Frederic, Lord Leighton, who had the house built in 1866, and then extended a few years later to house Leighton's collection of tiles and other artifacts collected in the Middle East, and it is an amazing building.

(photo of 'The Roses of Heliogabulus from exhibition website)

It is also, currently, housing an exhibition of Victorian artwork owned by Mexican collector Juan Antonio Pérez Simón, and featuring in particular, Alma Tadema's The Roses of Heliogabalus, which was displayed in a rose-scented room!

For me, the highlight was not the artwork, but the building itself.

(photo of Arab Hall from museum website)

The house features the wonderful 'Arab Hall',a beautiful space, decorated with  Iznik (Turkish) and Syrian tiles, and modern tiles made by William de Morgan to compliment the originals, and fill in the gaps.

The hall is topped by a glorious golden dome, and contains a fountain.

I had arrived just as the museum opened and was lucky enough to have the hall to myself for a time, to enjoy the tranquility and the beautiful details.

The entrance hall is also lovely, with the most glorious peacock-blue tiles on the walls, although frustratingly, you are not allowed to take pictures, (and the selection of postcards was very limited :( )

The exhibition is ending at the end of this month, but the house is open all year round, and is more than worth visiting!

After leaving Leighton House, I moved on to another exhibition (also close to ending!) - the Sherlock Holmes exhibition at the Museum of London.  

The museum have the outside of the museum in an appropriate manner, and inside are all sorts of interesting things - after entering through a 'secret' door, there is a lot of information about Victorian London, including maps (some showing the routes taken by Holmes and Watson in specific stories, and the method of travel ( foot, cab, rail etc)

There was art, both contemporary art and photographs of London (Including a slightly unexpected Monet!), original illustrations from the stories, and a selection of posters and other artwork relating to various other iterations of the stories, including the Robert Downey Jnr. film, and a french pornographic film..

Further into the exhibition were some of Conan Doyle's original manuscripts, and information and artifacts related to criminal investigation in the Holmes era, plus examples of clothing, accessories etc. of the period. (including theatrical make up and props)

And, of course, props from some of the dramatisations, including Benedict Cumberatch's coat from the BBC's Sherlock.

I found it entertaining, but not quite the 'must see' which some of the reviews I have read suggested.

I finished up by wandering around the rest of the museum, including the parts devoted to Roman and Medieval London, before heading back to the station (and a *very* crowded train home.

Now to start planning what I shall do with my next visit to London, when I shall have another couple of days . . .

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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!)

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This week started well, with a visit from my sister and brother-in-law on Monday (which was a Bank Holiday, and therefore rainy). Since we've all been busy, I've not seen them for a while, and this was the first time they've been to the new house.

So we celebrated with prosecco, and by getting C to help put up some curtains and replace the thing to hold the shower head. (the old one was not up to the job, and I was unable to work out how to get the damn thing off the wall.)

Then on Thursday I had more visitors - E, who I was at University with, and her husband and daughter. E is one of my theatre-going friends, so I last saw her last November, in Stratford upon Avon, but haven't had the chance to send time with her family, so that was fun!

On Saturday, I travelled up to London for the day, to see Richard III at Trafalgar Studios, starring Martin Freeman in the title role.

My original plan involved getting to London with about 2 hours to spare, to allow time to go looking for a few of the Books about Town book benches, but unfortunately my train was delayed, and as they were predicting it would be at least an hour and a half before it moved on, I ended up getting off and taking a 45 minute bus ride, and another 40 minutes on the tube, to get to Charing Cross just in time, so other than taking a quick look at the giant blue cock in Trafalgar Square I had no time for anything other than the show itself.

Richard III is not my favourite play -  but decided to see this production as I was interested to see Martin Freeman in the role, and as I  have been to other productions at Trafalgar Studios,and directed by Jamie Lloyd, which I've enjoyed. And I did enjoy it.

The play is set in the 1979 'Winter of Discontent', with the the implication of a Royalist/Military coup having taken place just before the play opens - the stage is set up like a civil service office, with desks, phones, reel-to-reel tape recorders and sickly house plants. I have to admit, I didn't feel that this worked awfully well. It's too complex, and it doesn't really sit well with the severed heads .

Richard's initial speech was given partly as a 'public' address, given to the rest of the nobility, via mike, and partly as a soliloquy, with the mike off, and the others all frozen - it worked quite well, but the same convention wasn't followed for other asides and soliloquies, which seemed odd.

Freeman is good as Richard - there have been mixed reviews, but I felt he has created a truly scary Richard - as the play progresses, he comes across as an increasingly unpredictable and paranoid dictator, with his black humour leaving other characters unsure as to whether he is joking or not - Freeman is quite subtle - I liked it (one of my dislikes about the Kevin Spacey production was that everything was rather melodramatic and over the top)

I was a little worried about the welfare of the poor goldfish, in whose tank the Duke of Clarence was drowned (and into whose tank his throat was cut, too) I am not sure how goldfish feel about fake blood in their water, but having a person thrashing about in your tank can't be good.

All in all, I enjoyed the production, but having seen 2 versions of Richard III with modern settings, I would rather like to see a production set in its own period.

And for the record, I didn't experience any inappropriate applause (there have been a couple of reviews suggestion that 'Sherlock' fans unused to live theatre were attending and cheering / clapping at inappropriate points)

Me? I'd like to see Freeman in other live productions, and I think he benefited from a really strong supporting cast.
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As you'll have seen from the last 2 posts, I had a lot of fun on Friday in London, but the actual reason for which I went was to meet up with Nathalie and Alex, and to see Neil Gaiman reading 'The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains', accompanied by live music from the FourPlay string Quartet and illustrations from Eddie Campbell.


Nathalie had succeeded in getting front row tickets, so we had an excellent view. The show was sold out, (although I noticed that the seats behind us remained empty all evening, which made me sad, as I'm sure there were people who'd have loved them, and didn't get tickets)

Fourplay came on (bringing with them 2 violas, one violin and a cello) and started the evening with their version of the Doctor Who theme, (which, frankly, I think the BBC should pick up on and use for the new season)


They then played two other pieces, (I was enjoying myself too much to make notes of the titles, but I've bought a couple of their CDs so I should be able to hear them again!)

And then they introduced Neil, who was wearing a beautiful deep red waistcoat as well as his usual black. Very fetching!

He read us 'The Day Saucers Came' and a story called 'Adventures', and also sang 'I Google You' (with additional lines about Vine!)

During the interval, was able to buy a copy of 'The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains' , signed by both Neil and Eddie, and met another friend, Maggie.

In the second half of the evening, Neil read 'The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains' while Eddie Campbell's illustrations were projected behind him, and Fourplay provided musical accompaniment. Of course, this is not the first time that I have had the luck of seeing Neil read with music and other participation (that honour goes to the Fortunately, the Milk event, last October.) This was very different, except that both show how much fun having Neil read to you can be, and how much other artists and performers can add to the experience!

The story originally appeared in the anthology Stories, by the way (if you don't have a copy, go get one. Lots of great stories by lots of different writers. And get a copy of the new, illustrated version of the story, too ).

Hayley and Eddie Campbell

And it is tragic and chilling and oh so very, very good. Particularly with Art, and a String Quartet.

Once the story was over, both Hayley and Eddie Campbell joined Neil on stage, and threatened strange and terrible revenge for the killing of a number of Campbell's in the story. (I do hope Neil makes it through the Scottish performance. I find it a little ominous that it's billed as the very last. . . . .)

And then, as he was concerned that the tale might have left us a little down, and that it was a little lacking in feelings of warm fuzziness, hugs and bunnies, he decided to sing us a cheering and uplifting song, so that we could all leave light-heartedly.

It is possible that they may be better songs to achieve this aim, than Psycho. (which, I have to say, is scarier when sung with the backing of a string quartet, than with a ukulele. Or it is if you are in the front row)

It's just as well that my walk back to the hotel was only a few minutes long. And well lit.

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Yesterday was, according to the BBC (who, I feel sure, checked) the hottest day of the year so far, and when I left the Tate it certainly felt like it, particularly after walking along by the Thames, and taking the moving sauna tube, so I decided to head back to my hotel to change, and freshen up, before heading to the Barbican.

Just before I got to the hotel,  I saw a couple of people walking in the opposite direction, and thought vaguely 'that bloke looks a bit like Neil'. Then they got closer, and I realised it was Neil! And Hayley Campbell. Which was a nice surprise. And encouraging, as it seemed to suggest that the evening's show would be happening!

We said hello, and Neil introduced me to Hayley, who I haven't met before (although we've tweeted) then they went on (presumably to the Barbican, for sound checks and things) and I went on to my hotel, where I looked in a mirror and realised that I was in even more of a dire need for a shower and change of clothes that I'd thought :( (although I suppose it proves it really happened. If I imagined bumping into Neil & Hayley by chance I'd have imagined myself looking cool and collected, not scruffy and sweaty)

Once I was feeling, and looking, a little more human (thank you, rainfall shower!) I walked back to the Barbican, and went to their 'Digital Revolution' exhibition, which was fascinating.

There are various old video games, from Pong onward, to try, and then some glorious pieces of interactive digital art.

My favourite was Chris Milk's The Treachery Of Sanctuary, which allows you to become a flock of birds, or to grow wings. Beautiful and haunting.

I didn't have time the whole exhibition, and may try to make time to go back, if I am in London again before it ends in mid-September.

I then met up with Nathalie, and we looked around the second of the exhibitions at the Barbican; The Fashion World of Jean-Paul Gaultier.

Nathalie's hat, and Jean-Paul Gaultier's

Nathalie's glorious new hat fitted right in!

There were lots of amazing clothes - and many of the mannequins wearing them had faces projected onto their blank faces, so that they blink, or appeared to speak, as you pass. There is also a mannequin dressed as JPG himself, in striped jersey and kilt, speaking in French and English about the exhibits..

We didn't have time to view all of the exhibition as we had a dinner reservation at one of the Barbican's restaurants. I would like to go back to see the rest, if I have time. . .

However, despite having to leave the exhibition before we'd seen it all, it was good to be able to sit down, and talk, and eat.

(although despite eating in 'The Gin Joint' we didn't actually try any of their many gins... there wasn't time for cocktails after we had finished eating..!)

All great fun, and we have not even reached the main event of the day, yet!

marjorie73: (Default)
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 . .
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I spent this weekend enjoying the company of friends and family, in beautiful surroundings.
My oldest and best friend got married on Saturday, to a lovely bloke. I've know J for over 20 years, and her shiny new husband for nearly 10, and couldn't be happier that they they have now married.

I travelled up to Derbyshire on Friday - it was a lovely day, bright sunshine, getting nicer and nicer as I went north!

After arriving, and settling into my luxurious hotel room (in this beautiful hotel, originally built in 1652, and which has been an inn for at least 200 years), I met up with my friends, and J's parents, all of whom were staying in the hotel on the Friday night, and we spent the afternoon catching up, running errands, and all had dinner together.

On Saturday, I had some spare time while those in the wedding party were doing hair and nails and the like, so went for a walk around the village - it was not quite such a beautiful day as Friday, but the landscape is absolutely stunning (Chatsworth and Haddon Hall are both just up the road..)

And then of course the main event. I met up with other friends  at the wedding venue, (another very nice hotel).

Everything went smoothly - there was a ceremony, and photographs, and laughter, and food, and dancing, and laughter, and more food, and time with friends, and a very happy married couple.

It was a lot of fun.

On Sunday (Another gloriously sunny day) I drove to Manchester to see my Brother and his girlfriend, and catch up with them (and eat out at a superb tea room!) all of which was delightful.
marjorie73: (Default)
We're still having horrendous weather - yesterday we went from sunshine and rainbows, to hail, snow, rain, and sleet.Which was not a lot of fun, particularly the drive home through the sleet.

However, the evening was a lot of fun. I went into Bath, to Toppings Book Shop, for an evening with M.R. Carey (Mike Carey) who was there to promote and read from his new novel 'The Girl With All The Gifts'

I've enjoyed all of Mike's previous work which I've read: The Lucifer and The Unwritten series' of graphic Novels, the Felix Castor novels, The City of Silk and Steel novel written with his wife and daughter, so it was pretty much a given that I would be buying this book.. I bought my copy when I picked up my tickets for the event, so I'd read about a third of it before this event.
Mike started by reading from the beginning of the book, introducing us to Melanie, a very unusual little girl, living in a very unusual situation.

After the reading Mike did a Q and A session, explaining, among other things, that the novel has its roots in a short story called 'Iphigenia in Aulis' which was written for an anthology (An Apple for the Creature) - but no two people agree on how to pronounce 'Iphigenia', and anyway the story turned out to be more about Pandora than Iphigenia.

Also there will be a 6th Felix Castor novel, but this needed to be written first.

We finished off with a shorter,  second reading, then Mike signed books and chatted to us, which was fun.

Since Thursday I have finished reading the book. Its very, very good. I don't want to give any spoilers, so won't provide a detailed review -but will say that it far from being your average horror novel - it is as much about the relationship between the 5 major characters, and their individual characters and histories as it is about the apocalyptic world in which it is set.  If you like your horror thoughtful and thought-provoking, and if you enjoyed 'Let the Right One In', then I think you will enjoy this one.

As an added bonus, I was able to meet up with @TazorTam at the event, and we moved on from toppings to The Raven for a drink and a catch up, after the event, which rounded off a very enjoyable evening beautifully.
marjorie73: (Default)
This last week has been very much better than the preceding one, in many, many ways. admittedly, the bar was set pretty low, by last week, but this week would, I think have been good even without that comparison!

On Wednesday evening I was in Bath to see Mitch Benn's new show, Mitch Benn is the 37th Beatle which, as I understanding started out as his gig at the Edinburgh Festival. Its very good, and a lot of fun, even if, like me, you don't know much about the Beatles careers. There are a couple of songs which have appeared in Mitch's other shows, but the vast majority is completely new material, which is fun.

The gig in Bath was the first on the current tour, so there are lots of further opportunity for those of you in the UK to see it. I recommend it.

Then, this weekend, I travelled up to Manchester to spend the weekend with my best friend, ahead of her wedding in March, and to see my brother and his girlfriend.

I'm still pretty ouchy following the RTA I was involved in, and am finding driving pretty uncomfortable, so 2 long drives in 3 days seemed like a very bad idea, which meant I wound up getting the train to Manchester - it was a surprisingly smooth trip - not too crowded (at least once I was off the local train and onto the cross country one) and certainly less stressful than driving (particularly in an unfamiliar car) would have been. I'm not too keen on the courtesy car I've been given.

Once I arrived, I met up with J and we had lunch at the wonderfully kitsch Richmond Tea Rooms, before heading back to her home, where we spent the evening catching up, with the help of some lovely food, and some rather nice prosecco!

On Saturday we went into Manchester for a pre-booked spa session, which had some interesting moments - we assumed that a treatment which involved a segment described as 'baking' might involve a degree of warmth. Apparently not. (and when you are half naked and covered in mud, you're not really in a position to go looking for a staff member to sort it out! Fortunately, good company makes up for everything, and we just got the giggles (and warmed up in the steam room, later on!)

On the Sunday, after saying farewell to J, I met up with my brother and his partner, and we had lunch, an abortive attempt at cocktails, and some beer, and lots of conversation. I've not seen them since I went up to visit them last summer,  so it was good to have the chance to catch up.

And then there was another long, and happily, uneventful, train journey home.

It was a fun weekend.
marjorie73: (Default)
It's been a while since I posted, but there hasn't, until now, been much going on. I've been looking at houses, and not liking any of them very much, and I've been having a nasty cold, and not enjoying it very much, and none of that would be interesting to read about in any detail.

However, on Wednesday evening, Thea Gilmore was playing in Bath, and I had a ticket.

I went straight into Bath from work, and spent some time looking around the Christmas Market (not too crowded at that time) and had a quick pub supper, (well, as it turned out, a very slow pub supper - I think they forgot my order half way through. But it was tasty)

I met up with friends, who (as we worked out, eventually) I haven't seen since I bumped into them at the last Thea Gilmore gig we went to, which is about four years ago. It was good to catch up, and as the show started a bit later than advertised, we had time to chat!
The show was opened by  Nigel Stonier, who is Thea's husband and a talented songwriter in his own right, and who played us several of his own songs, then, after the interval, returned in his capacity of Thea's guitarist/keyboard player.

Thea was also accompanied by a wonderful cellist, and a violinist, and in two songs, by a 2nd violinist, her 7 year old son, Egan.

It was a fun evening. as it's now December, THea sang some of her Christmas song, although we were a little disappointed that we didn't get to hear Sol Invictus. But even without that it was wonderful!

The only down side was that when I got to the car park to drive home I found I had to scrape ice off the windscreen before I could drive home. I don't approve. It's one thing on the  morning, but when going home it seems unreasonable!


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