Thursday, 20 December 2012

Duke Special - Shepherds Bush Empire, 20th December 2012

I first went to see Duke Special live at the Shaw theatre in May 2010 - I had a seat in the very front row, and he was playing with the same full band as tonight. On that earlier occasion the mix of songs was mainly from his Mother Courage and Silent world of Hector Mann collections. Since then I've seen him live at the Union Chapel and at Wilton's Music Hall  - both times mainly solo, save for the odd guest to duet with, or (at UC) one or two musicians accompanying. I think that's all the times I've seen him live - but that's only over a period of two and a half years.

But the full band sound - with sax, double bass, drums, quirky percussion, hammond organ and guitar - that's the business! Definitely the best way to experience the Duke! Wasn't so struck by tonight's main support act - Michelle somebody? (there was another featured female vocalist for one song in the encores - a song about an angel? And also the bearded chappy mentioned below) The duet with Michelle was reasonably good - a cover of a cheeky song but not terribly memorable.

Tonight there were lots of the old favourite classics, particularly during the encore (Salvation Tamborine, Apple Jack, I let you down, No CoverUp, Digging an Early Grave, Last Night I nearly Died, Love goes Deeper than This, but sadly not FreeWheel), plus my new favourite from his most recent album, about the human condition, and lots of lesser-known songs from Under the Dark Cloth and O Pioneer, his two most recent albums. Not all of them are 'big hits', but Hand of Man (spirit of America) and Snakes in the Grass are pretty good. And so is the Georgia O'Keefe one (which features the O Pioneer line), and also the final  'bird on the edge of space' one, (will add more if I can recall them.)

There was a fab duet with a singer/guitarist whose name I didn't catch, but who seemed to be scandinavian, judging from his accent. They first sang one of DS's songs (Washday blues I think it's called) and then did one of his. His song, with DS accompanying, was superb - the patience of angels? I recorded a goodly chunk to help me identify both the song and the singer in due course.

I was particularly struck tonight by how beautiful DS's voice is. He has such a fantastic range - there was one song in particular with very very low bits, then his fine tenor range - and then (in other songs) he can produce a very sweet and gentle falcetto at the top end too!

Wish I could recall which song featured a very fine screeching top note sung by the sax player! It was fab!!

And the squeeze box sustain notes accompanying No cover up - another terrific aspect.

The whole sound was just so wonderfully rich, combined with perfectly crisp audible lyrics.

I liked what DS was wearing - a red shirt, thin black tie and a dark grey suit jacket - quite a formal look really! He had a  real go at XFactor - really loathes it and sees it as inimical to art (he sees his job as being an artist with something to say via his music)

Standing was ok (there were seats up in the circle - not sure if I even knew that was an option when I booked), except for the pain I started to feel in my left knee towards the end - and the fact that my view of DS was only very much glimpses, albeit from reasonably close. But I stuck with my position - until shoved out of the way by two drunk and annoying blokes just in time for the final bop-along encore numbers. I almost let my annoyance spoil the end part of the gig! My view got even worse and - after trying to maintain my position despite them inserting themselves into my personal space, I eventually gave up and stood behind them again - because I couldn't even bop along otherwise.

I was paranoid about the risk of getting my phone(s) pickpocketted, so my hypervigilance prevented me getting too engrossed. I was also aware of feeling a bit sad about being on my own - I really don't think I will attempt to go to a gig like that on my own in the future.

My other REALLY big mistake this evening was the hotdog. Oh my god - that was so foul! And I attempted to start eating a SECOND one, just because I had a 'two for the price of one' offer via O2 Moments. Not a good idea. Felt so sick - in fact I STILL feel sick now!! I only ate a small fraction of the second one in the end. I did, however, enjoy my pear cider very much (despite its price)

Cheekily saved money on the tube fare by re-using Bob's card, since he was already 'maxed' on the daily limit. Seemed to work.

Forgot to mention - initially forgot my ticket and only discovered it when I had parked at Ealing Broadway - had to go back home to fetch it. Glad I checked before travelling to Shepherds bush, but wish I'd listened to my innner voice on leaving the house, cos it was telling me to check if the ticket was in my bag before I drove away from the house!

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Jesus Christ Superstar - O2 and Wembley (Arena Tour 2012)

Just got back from my third time seeing JCSS with Tim Minchin as Judas, Ben Forster as Jesus and Mel C as Mary M (plus Chris Moyles as Herod) -


It was wonderful. Not such a close-up seat as my 5th row central position for the Sunday evening at the O2, but it was still a great experience to see it from the rear stalls (slightly tiered), giving an excellent view of the whole staging, ensemble choreography and the screeen (I noticed things I'd missed previously)

In general I thought the company were more 'in the groove' at this stage in the tour, and the show benefitted from that extra confidence and ease. Minchin's performance was as powerful as ever, if not more so, although his voice seemed to crack more than just for emotional effect during his song of despair, just before he hangs himself. I'm kicking myself now for not managing to grab a sneaky audio recording of his Heaven on their Mind number (sadly the video of that - by someone else - is now deleted from Youtube) and his Damned for all time/Blood Money song. I prefer both of those as vocal performances and as songs - although the Death of Judas bit is incredibly moving and powerful, and JCS at the end is fun, if slightly underwhelming in its impact, for some strange reason.

Apart from the incredibly moving Death of Judas, my favourite parts of the show (for differing reasons) are:

- all the songs by Pontius Pilate -the one while he exercises is cleverly staged and effective in its dismissive, casual exercise of power, but I particularly like the haunting quality of the first dream song, and the exasperated, powerless, forced exercise of 'power' in the final 'you innocent puppet' one.

- the Poor Jerusalem bit - another haunting moment

- the final part of the show - AFTER the big Jesus Christ Superstar number and Jesus' final words on the cross. The red petals fall as Jesus 'gives up the ghost', and then there's the dignified, gentle deposition, with the symbolically effective cruciform lift (on a big music cue) and thecarrying of the dead Christ. That, for me, was the more emotionally powerful crucifixion moment - far more so than the actual one (although the lighting burst when the cross blazes out is visually powerful). And - after the petals, and the carrying of Jesus up the steps to be lowered (buried) at the back of the stage - I remained captivated by the beautiful final strains of music and the placing of the flickering tealights on the stage by all the cast members, as a modern 'lest we forget' ritual, complemented by imagery on the screen of a kind of 'tributes' wall, with cards and flowers, similar to those often placed as memorials these days (such as at the site of a fatal car crash,, or on the railings of Crossbones Graveyard in Southwark). It's a very beautiful ending, pointing towards an 'immortality' of some kind, a life after death through being remembered so fondly by so many people (Jesus as 'the light of the world' I suppose, but a blazing cross becomes merely fragile and poignant tiny little dots of light scattered over the steps - although as the main light fades, I notice matching dots of light about, like stars - so perhaps the perspective is larger at the very end?

The lyrics of the songs - by the almost UNACKNOWLEDGED Tim Rice (Andrew - you didn't write the words - stop taking ALL the credit!!!) are so challenging and intelligent. The christian in me (as was) baulks somewhat at the reductive Last Supper 'for all you care, this wine could be my blood...', while the new sceptic in me nods wryly at the 'God as sadist' implications of both the Gethsemane number and all the other fatalistic references to Jesus' passion as pre-ordained death-quest.

The show's themes are not christian themes per se (although see * below)- they include reflections on what happens after you die in a much more human sense; there's a hint of the celebrity culture - of wanting more than anything to be famous - anxiety about being remembered at all, the transition from the man to the myth (Jesus the man to Christ the Superstar), how we mark the passing of the dead, and elevate the person - and (in the case of both Pontius Pilate and Judas) the fear of how one may be(unfairly) remembered....
 (* I suppose the Last Supper becoming Communion  'Do this in remembrance of me' is all about remembering = re-membering,- the bringing alive (!) through a ritual of memory is indeed at the heart of christian faith)

Wanting to be remembered in a particular way - it's about control, really - the desire for control over one's own fate, and the inability to control other people's perceptions of you. There is great emphasis on the death of Jesus being part of God's plan, something Jesus (albeit reluctantly) drives forward - so he (and God) are in control of his fate, not Judas, not Pontius Pilate (and not even Caiphas et al). There is deep irony and tragedy in Judas' anguished cry to an absent (about to be crucified) Jesus, as he prepares to hang himself  'You have murdered me'.

The 'could we start again' song - the desire to re-write the script, fearing how the story looks like it is going to end - feels like part of the theme of fate as someone's script - catching out those who thought they were in a rather different story.

(By the way - I found the sudden dispersal at the end of the Heal me Christ song jarring once again. It's a disturbing and powerful scene, but the impact just evaporates on the line 'Heal yourselves!' when they don't allow even a 'beat' before scurrying off to allow Mary to pass straight into the reprise of 'Try not to get worried...')

The Jesus in this show - partly deliberately as an interpretation, and partly through the limited charisma of the person playing the role - is definitely lacking in appeal. There is a hollowness at the centre - as if he never was anything very special - and all the hype, the poster boy image (on the Believe posters) is concocted like spun sugar around an empty space.

Tonight, for the first time, during the big JCS number, I saw Judas as diabolic - certainly in that song he seems to be taunting Jesus (in the hallucination) as if he - Judas - were the very devil himself. So is that Jesus's projection onto Judas, or is that an element in the story through-out? (certainly in church tradition Judas was seen as having fallen for the seductive whisperings of the devil....Damned (to hell) for all time...(Note to self - I must re-read that wonderful play about the Last Judgement of Judas Iscariot).

Blog to be further edited and expanded - if I get around to it. But rather than leave this as a draft in suspended animation, PUBLISH AND BE DAMNED!

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Malvern. Aberystwyth, Forest of Dean

(This isn't really worth posting as a blog; it's just a lengthy diary from when Bob and I visited the Forest of Dean earlier this year - I must check the actual date and add that)

Bob and I combined a bit of fun with our duty trip to see his parents in Aberystwyth. We managed to set off by 7pm on Friday and had a remarkably quick and trouble-free drive to Great Malvern - even beating the Satnav's initial timing estimate. We found the hotel easily and (after a tiny bit of confusion at the check-in desk) settled in to our lovely room, with an absolutely VAST bathroom! Bob enjoyed a nice soak in the bath, and I had a lovely hot shower the following morning. The view out of our window was rather nice, with the hillside visible in the dusk. Glad I saw it that evening - because all was veiled in heavy grey cloud and mist the following morning.

I ventured down to the bar before bedtime to  bring back a bailey's as a nightcap - it was remarkably noisy down there, with a live musician (but none of the noise reached our room on the 3rd floor). Had a fairly early night, but we had a nice relaxed start the following morning. We went out to see if Waitrose was open already and to try to buy a few missing items. Managed to get shampoo, toothpaste and wrapping paper, but not socks.

We put Cadi in the car while we went in for breakfast - Full english breakfast for me, kippers and scrambled eggs for Bob. Hilariously OTT 'host' - who I misheard when he asked me about 'fido', and who mistook us for coffee people (shock horror!) I noticed one particular rather attractive stained glass window in the dining room.

We checked out shortly after 10am but were able to leave the car where it was and go off to explore the town. First we took Cadi for a proper walk in Priory Park, which proved to be a lovely green space right in the middle of the town. Then we put her back in the car and went in search of socks (and possibly shoes). We ended up walking all the way to the very top of the town and a remarkably old fashioned Department store called Brays. Bob found some socks that he liked and we left the shop - only to be lured back in again when I spotted some rather funky pink trainers I liked the look of (we weren't supposed to be shopping for shoes for me, but hey) We went upstairs to the Outdoor section and I tried on several different trainer/walking shoes. Ended up getting the light-weight pink ones, even though they're not water-proof (which the lime green ones were).

After Bray's we walked back down to the Tearooms we always go to, and had an earlyish and fairly small lunch.

We then headed off for Aberystwyth, and again the journey went very smoothly. We stopped for petrol and I rang to give an ETA - and we did indeed arrive shortly after 4pm.

Tea and cake in the conservatory, and later a longish walk all the way down to the sea via the converted railway track and back along the river. Back just in time for an evening meal of ham with special potatoes with onion and sauce, and peas - simply but tasty (and upside-down cake for afters). Conversation rather than TV all evening, and a fairly early night.

The next day was a bit more problematic. The weather was horrible, but nonetheless we headed for Borth (Emrys in the end didn't come along, as he had first planned to do) - it was cold, wet and miserable there - so we only took the dog onto the beach for a very short walk. And when we drove along to Ynys Las we didn't even get out of the car - it was so cold and wet! Back to the other end of Borth and a choice of tea rooms for a cuppa and a cake. My coffee was extraordinarily awful - I couldn't finish it - but the chocolate fudge cake was nice.

Lunch back at Cae Pant was cold ham and lots of nice tubs of salad. After lunch, we started to watch the River Pageant - and that turned into the whole of the afternoon. Perhaps an easy distraction?

The evening meal was a delicious casserole with fruit pie to follow (Cadi later managed to climb up and steal a bit of the left-over pie - oops!) In the evening, Bob played welsh scrabble with his dad while Peggy did a few crosswords and I dozed (due to too much alcohol!)

And that was that, really. The following day was just a matter of getting up, breakfasting, packing and setting off (we were away by just after 10am.)

My plan was to drive to the Forest of Dean via a different route than usual. The route worked fine BUT it took a lot longer than I had realised it would!! We stopped off for lunch at an outdoor place called the Georgian Garden in ???  (Cadi came with us, but she was such a nuisance whining and begging)

We had initially thought of going to one or two places en route, but in the end I just wanted to get to our hotel straight away. We found the George Inn in Ayleburton quite easily and (despite my worries) it turned out to be very nice. For some reason we were both very weary, so we ended up having a long nap until almost time for our evening meal. Not sure if we walked Cadi before or after our nap - I think it was after. We walked through the village and then back to the playing fields, with a path out into the fields beyond. Cadi loved it!

Our meal in the Inn's restaurant was excellent! Another very pleasant surprise. (chilli prawns and fish for me, with choc tort to follow; Bob had duck spring rolls, paella and lemon syllabub) We were both STUFFED! And I had a couple of drinks - zzzzz! Back to the room, and the Jubilee concert on TV, much to Bob's disgust, but I ended up watching it to the very end. Not a good night's sleep for Bob, and Cadi needed to be taken out very early (my fault, cos I didn't take her out last thing in the evening)

We both had a full english for breakfast (despite the big meal the night before!) Then we checked out and  headed first for Lyney harbour - which (in Bob's eyes anyway) won the 'worst place we've ever visited' award! But Cadi liked it - and she did a poo, which was the main thing. We next set off for the Forest of Dean Heritage Centre (along a very scenic road), eager to spend one of our Tescoes days out vouchers! Cadi had to stay in the car, but that was fine, since it was cool and overcast. The Centre was good (and I vaguely remembered some bits from a visit several years ago. The pigs were adorable, the forester's cottage was great, and I liked the working models of various pumps, plus the 3D topgraphical model and the rubbing. Bob found a geological cross section which he liked and photographed.

We finished with a bite to eat in the cafe - a smallish lunch (we had 2 different soups). By now I had realised that I'd left my earrings back at the hotel, so we drove back to try to get them. And fortunately this didn't take too long - and we were successful.

By now the rain was coming down quite heavily, but I wanted to visit a National Trust Roman Villa along our route home (via the A40). The Villa turned out to be a LONG way from the main road along very narrow roads. Again the dog had to stay in the car. Bob was a bit too tired to be terribly impressed, particularly in view of the rain and the huge crowds, but I thought it was amazing! Extraordinary mosaics in situ - room after room. Very good new covered building, and the little museum was also a highlight. I also liked the water shrine. Time for another cup of tea and a cake, followed by a quick browse in the gift shop. Went back to the car and gave Cadi a very quick little explore (going along the public path at the far end of the car park, which led to a railway tunnel).

And that was enough - time to head for London. The A40 route was fine, with the M40 section allowing for some pretty fast driving (despite the wet conditions) Had to stop for another very short power-nap, to avoid falling asleep at the wheel. Got back home around 5.30pm. Very tired again (despite the power nap) so I had to go for ANOTHER nap!

Friday, 25 May 2012

Duke Special and more

Last night I trekked across town in the heat (Central line and Victoria line - actually not tooo unbearably sweaty) to the Union Chapel near Highbury and Islington tube station. Got there a little after 7pm to see the line of ticket holders still queuing to get in (the line was moving - it was just taking a while to get in).

Inside I spotted a good spare place in a central pew fairly nearly the front. Laid down my cardigan to hold the spot and queued to buy an icecream tub. Once in my place, I had time to photograph the beautiful ceiling,

and to tweet, and then the first support act was starting. He was quite good (and I later bought his CD, which was only £5) but I must confess I did carry on tweeting during his set. He had old TVs showing odd images (or, in one case an actual video of his song) Boxes used a lot of pre-recorded backing track music and beats. Hmmmm.

The next (main) support act were on next - Foreign Slippers. This singer is Swedish and she wore a retro looking red suit with matching red hat (later Duke Special was also wearing a bright red shirt - colour co-ordinated!) As she started to sing her first song at the piano, I thought her voice sounded like a female version of Antony and the Johnsons - although a bit less mannered. She does have a superb and beautiful voice. I liked some of her songs very much; couldn't hear all of the words and greatly disliked the songs when she used a horrible thumping pre-recorded drum track.

An interval gave me time for a pre-emptive loo visit AND the opportunity to go mad o the merchandise stall and buy a CD from each of the night's 3 acts. This included the new CD by Duke Special even though I hadn't heard any of the songs (a bit risky perhaps?)

This is the third time I have seen Duke Special live. the first was at the Shaw Theatre with a full band. The second was solo (just with piano) at the wonderful Wilton Music Hall. And this time he had a drummer (with a lot of big bass drum featuring) and a Hammond Organ player - plus of course the piano. And a couple of guest vocalists later on in the set (the drummer also provided some harmonies on a few earlier songs)

It was a mixture of songs from Under the Dark Cloth (I particularly love the long explanatory introduction to the Rita di a Costa one),

some older 'classics', including FreeWheel, Last Night I nearly Died and Digging an Early Grave, one Ruby Murray song and several from the new CD. I tried to keep track of the set list - although I think I may have missed some, and/or got the order wrong. I may come back to edit further, but this is my initial attempt (some titles not correct)

For me the highlights were the beautiful stripped back version of Freewheel, featuring guest vocals by Foreign Slippers, plus a final section of what sounded like extemporized lyrics referring to the Union Chapel venue itself and (very movingly) God - really stopped me in my tracks that did: quite a moment. It seemed so appropriate, in a song about Freewheeling, for him to stop a moment and just let his mind freewheel about what was right there and then in that very moment. I felt privileged to share that unique live experience! (I recorded part of it, but missed the first section sung by Duke Special before the section sung by Foreign Slippers)

I also loved the I am Perfect song with so many clever opposites - far from obvious ones and very subtle in the rhyming. The line about the words crawling back inside the ink was another real 'wow!' moment!

Spiritual America - Dark Cloth
Rita di a costa - Dark Cloth
Hand of Man - Dark Cloth
Snakes in the Grass (from the new CD)
Nothing shall come between us (from the new CD)
Last Night I nearly died
Apple Jack
Punch of a Friend - from new CD (& single)

Lost Chord ( I misheard this title as Wasps Court!) - duet with Foreign Slippers - from new CD

Freewheel (duet with Foreign Slippers) - with improv references to the venue itself. ONE OF THE HIGHLIGHTS OF THE NIGHT FOR ME!!

Condition (I am perfect) - from the new CD  (the words are crawling back inside the ink) A WONDERFUL SONG!!

Happy Days and lonely nights (a Ruby Murray song)

Wanda - Hector Mann

Salvation tambourine (I could go to London)

Hard times (duet with friend he pulled out of the audience)

How I Learned to love the Sun (oh the feeling) (from new CD) - with umpapa style - also featuring Duke singing part of the song up in his falcetto range - which I'd never heard before. Not sure about that aspect.

I wish I was a fisherman (Foreign Slippers song - with Duke singing harmonies) - I've found a You Tube video of this on a different night - see below. It's very lovely.

FINAL ROUSING ENCORE = Digging an early grave (with audience joining in, and also some from front rows invited up onto the stage!)

BBC Recording - was it worth the heat?

My main reason for going to Rufus Hound's Teenage Diary radio recording last night was to get QI tickets. It was very hot in the bar, where I ended up waiting for a VERY long time! Moreso because it turned out my ticket number - 488 - was among the last to be called to go into the actual studio (they started with 301 and went up 20 at a time) However, on the plus side, there was a single seat quite near the front, so I did ok!

I didn't buy a single drink in the bar. I had bought KFC and a cup of tea - consumed these, then managed to find a chair for most of the rest of the time, quick trip to the loo and then had to stand for the last bit till I got in. The guest was interesting enough - not exactly a draw, but good for the purpose of the show. It was Julia Donaldson, the author of The Gruffalo, and also the Magic Paintbrush.

I was left with a vague curiosity about my own copious volumes of teenage diaries. Not long ago I looked at my youngest teen diaries - the one recorded in the 'lockable' 5 year diary, which only gave space for very short entries each day. These were sporadic - resumed from year to year, giving quite interesting parallels.

But my later diary was the hilariously titled 'The Living Breathing Heather Douglas in Print' - known (to me) as TLBHDIP, and further shortened to just TLB. I kept this title for volume after volume. I know it's mainly tedious accounts of endless boy obsessions. But maybe I could find some gems in there. It occurred to me that it might be interesting to type any such extracts as blogs and launch them into the realm of the internet. I suppose I could even scan some pages. It's an arrogant thing even to consider doing. But we shall see.

The Waterboys

I went to the Waterboys gig at the Hexagon in Reading a week or so ago (Tuesday 15th May 2012)
Prior to going I only really knew their recent album 'An Appointment with Mr Yeats'. The first half (and the encores) of highlights from their whole back-catalogue was a great discovery. I found the loud rock numbers a bit OTT on my ears - preferred the ones with more of a celtic feel (when the electric fiddler was part of the sound texture); and I also preferred the quieter ballads.

Although I had been looking forward to the Yeats part of the show, those particular songs didn't quite work as well live as I'd hoped. I still love the album, mind you! My very favourite song from the album - Let the Earth Bear Witness - wasn't featured (they only did 8 of the songs out of the 14 or 15 on the CD)

The Set list (not sure of some of the actual song titles yet - will have to hunt around on youtube etc)

1. How do ya like (Nothing) ?? Very loud rock and roll style
2. Indian Summer - killing my heart when you go away - another loud one
3. The Thrill has gone (from Pagan Place) - not played often. A sad song  (liked this one a lot!)
4. (piano led) I remember Johnny come lately
5. A girl on the swing (I redorded a snippet of this one)
6. How long will I love you (as long as the stars are above you) = acoustic guitar and keyboard only
7. Glastonbury Song (5 playing - not fiddle)  - There's a green hill far qaway, Going back there one fine day (blinding spot lights - shining out at audience, and back-lighting lead; green red yellow in turn; swivelling up, down and side to side
8 (segue into ) Bright Lights Big City  (Banter with fiddler when he re-entered; the old ways - tell us? no)
9. Pan Within (Come with me on a journey underneath the skin)
10. Lonesome Wind (like a hymn) - one of my favourites in the show!


1. Hosting of the Shee (come away, come away)
2. News for the Delphic Oracle  (nymphs, dolphins etc)
3. The Song of the Wandering Aengus (Little Trout to girl) VERY MOVING = one of my favourites in the show
4. White Birds (v simple, delicate)
(drunken idiots in my row - v annoying)
5. Mad as the Mist and Snow - acoustic guitar and keyboard only. Then fiddler re-entered, wearing a black mask. Others later re-entered, built to a crescendo. Suddenly dark  and just beat and guitar
Then fiddler lit, and keyboard player now in a mask too =- a discordant duel Mike also at the back also in a grotesque mask. - then came forward with a big black book. The mask had 3 faces on it. Read from the book - Yeats poem: Falconer.... The Centre cannot hold....Surely some revclation is at hand, surely the 2nd coming is at hand....
6. An Irish Airman forsees his Death (This life, this death...)  Started drum and keyboard only (marching style) Steel guitar solo later.
(Rebecca whatserface observation in lead-in to next anti-corruption song)
7. September 1913 (written 100 years ago - "could've been written five fucking seconds ago!")
(Romantic Ireland's dead and gone, it's with O'Leary in the grave in the grave)
(Grid of diamonds design for the back-lighting on this one.)
8. Politics (Yeats as an old ma wishing to be young enough again to woo a young woman he's just seen across a public space) "last of this section of the show"
Harmony vocal from the keyboard player (hadn't noticed any previous harmony singing on any songs??)

FIRST ENCORE  (pretty long break...)
1. Don't bang the Drum - title?? (Kalidescope lighting pattern on back wall. Spanish feel to trumpet sounds.)
2. The Whole of the Moon (started with a reggae rhythm, and then went into the normal version)- fiddler playing guitar for this one - now wearing gold lame jacket.

SECOND ENCORE (with guest guitarist from NY - introduced just before Knocking on Heaven's Door)
1. Man is in Love (not sure of the order - was this the first of 2nd encore?) - acoustic guitar and fiddle only (the others dancing irish style around back of stage as they came in; referred to in next bit of chat as 'the watermelon dancers')
2. Knocking on Heaven's Door
3.. Wish I was a Fisherman (got the audience to join in with twirls)

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Roald Dahl Museum

Got the chance to go to the Roald Dahl museum and story centre in Great Missenden last week - with a Year 3 school trip (they were short of parent helpers, so drafted me in (as a TA), since I work with the class 4 afternoons per week). Trips can sometimes be hard work - depending on the children, the destination, the staff, and the organisation/planning. This one, however, was both easy and great fun. Very few difficult children, and none in the group of 5 for whom I was directly responsible. The travel only took about 45 minutes each way, and the Education Officer at the Museum was EXTREMELY good - I was very impressed.

Even the potentially tedious half of the day spent on a map-making exercise along the main street of the village went well. We did rather a lot of extra walking - because we went both to the churchyard to see Roald Dahl's grave, and to Gypsey House, where he lived (and where his widow still lives). We got tantalising glimpse of both the house and the garden (I found it touching to notice that the main door of the house was yellow, with yellow tulips on either side, having earlier been told that yellow was Roald Dahl's favourite colour). I'm glad we risked a short distance along a road with no pavement to get there (we were very careful indeed to ensure the children were safe at all times!) The garden was open that day, as part of the British Garden Association programme - so it was a real shame we couldn't go in (the children would have been free, but it was £4 per adult - and (more crucially) we didn't have time. I checked the list of dates once I got home, but they all fall on mid-week working days for me, so no chance of going.

It started to rain before we got back to the museum to meet up with the rest of the group and to go back to the coach. But just a light drizzle, so (given what it COULD have been like) no real complaints.

I was somewhat disappointed that - when I asked if he'd like to visit the place - Bob was so entirely uninterested in going to see the museum or village. Hey ho. Mind you, the museum is very much targeted at children, so maybe he's right.

Monday, 7 May 2012

News from Gardenia - spoilers! (don't read this blog unless you've already read the book)

This book has got under my skin. I'm not sure why. There's plenty to like (and Bobby is so lovely I was predisposed to like his book anyway). As he promised me on twitter, there aren't any sex scenes as such - although a sexual relationship does feature (it's just that the actual love-making isn't described - a welcome change from that particular toe-curling feature in ALL his previous books).

The novel is written in the first person and, while the central character isn't Robert (obviously) - he's younger for one thing - I can't help seeing Gavin as his creator (and of course the audiobook cannot but strengthen the association). He's a sympathetic character certainly, but perhaps a bit of a cipher: the necessary provision of our era's perspective on the future of 200 years in the future.

I thought it an interesting decision that Gavin isn't a parent (less of a wrench to be leaving his 21st century life?) and has a seemingly problematic relationship with his wife. Is it unfair of me to find it slightly predictable that Gavin so quickly finds a woman who wants to have sex with him - and to have his baby?  Overall I wasn't keen on this 'utopian' vision of relationships between men and women - devoid of one-to-one commitment (it seemed). Although at least Robert does have it both ways - mentioning that not everyone in Gardenia lives in such communities, that some still live in smaller houses. I shouldn't feel so threatened by this - it's certainly true that even in our era there are quite a range of arrangements.

The route from 'here' to 'there' is attempted -  via the history book Gavin is given to read - and it seems that utopia has only come about as a result of some fairly horrendous dystopian intermediate steps! In particular the shockingly fascist and eugenic population control through sterilisation of less intelligent males. So, the move towards reducing the world's population can only be envisaged as taking place due to something as morally repugnant as that!?! That's such a high price! Does the end justify the means? I am not persuaded. (On the other hand, I like the fact that Robert keeps his history 'dirty' and rough around the edges - more believable in a way I suppose)

Similarly, democracy is sacrificed as a step towards this utopia of no government, no police, no laws (why does this need to be a feature of utopia? Why anarchy?? There is some crime, we are told, but nothing like as much, and no prisons -  just small secure living places for those who commit such acts.No hospitals, although advanced forms of medicine are available locally, and most people live healthy long lives. And (of course?) there's no money. Free and plentiful energy has been harnessed from renewable sources (mainly the sun). and there's lots of recycling being done - not least the reclamation of the metal and plastic previously used (and thrown away) by us - the previous generations. But (as in certain Star Trek episodes) there is a growing lack of specialist knowledge to be able to maintain the advanced technology being enjoyed. But this is a recognised problem (albeit one not being tackled) and there's a sophisticated awareness, on the part of the New Gardenian citizens, that 'this too will pass'.  (Jules Verne's TIme Machine story springs to mind - a story I only really know via the 1960 film -  with its soft surface dwellers of the far future, but  - in the case of New Gardenia - no underground trolls)

London has disappeared - flooded by the rising sea level. That seems logical. I was, however, not so sure about the well established forests. They are there, I assume, as a way of combatting excess carbon; and also as a natural consequence of no longer having grazing animals. But would the forests have had time to grow to maturity? It would mean that vast replanting would be having to start very soon! (I think there is an explicit mention of such a programme at one point). Why are nationwide subways better than surface tracks? Is it just a case of freeing up more land for cultivation? The exclusion of personal units of autonomous transport (ie cars) seems fine however.

How much land would be needed to feed everyone, on such a micro level (with no big specialist farms? just lots of small community gardens everywhere?) Specialism no longer exists - everyone (in Gardenia anyway) has to do their own share of the growing. It goes so much against the grain - to abandon specialisation (baby with bathwater?) and - in jettisoning commercialism and industrialisation, to take out all forms of trading. Just goes to show that one person's utopia (based on the prime objective of sustainability) is another person's polemical powder-keg. I am left thinking about what I would hate in such a world.

It's a world without television, without films (in Gardenia at least). No-one consumes entertainment, or makes such entertainment. (a child does mention watching old films - and 'the book' seems to provide access to lots of information, in a similar way to the internet, and also provides the means of communication, in place of phones. email etc.). I did love the depiction of these 'books'

There's a tiny bit of art - the sketching done by one character - on old fashioned paper with (presumably) old-fashioned pencils - both of these made where and by whom? (and there are digital paintings on the wall). No mention of novel writing / fiction or poetry. The clothes - made where and by whom? No possessions (so no temptation to steal....apparently). Very much the world of 'Imagine' by John Lennon - in Gardenia at any rate. Not sure I'm quite so optimistic about human nature in even in such a non-stress environment.

I could accept that the eating of meat had vanished (it's certainly a less efficient way of generating nutrition for the same amount of land).

I very much liked that the world is shown as remaining varied. Gardenia is not the only system - and Gavin has a whistle-stop tour (a slight but handy plot device to have Gavin visit the descendents of his wife and her second husband), visiting some other major cities where the system of money is still used (with a vicious remnant of America as an unpleasant sounding state which we don't visit but hear about - with an hint that it's a whites-only enclave.)

Loose ends - the games (themed on particle physics) are never explained, which I found somewhat frustrating. And of course the VERY annoying ending! It sets up for a sequel - there jolly well better be a sequel!

It's easy enough to take pot-shots at anyone's vision of the future. I am aware that Mr L has spent a lot longer researching and thinking about this than I ever have. But I don't necessarily think I therefore have to agree with everything he's put in the novel - it is designed to be polemical I think. It certainly engages and stimulates and challenges. Indeed, I am left wondering why some of the ideas bother me SO much? Says more about me and my assumptions than anything else!

Whatever really does happen in the end, there will be much that just 'happens' rather than being planned. Like evolution itself, there is an element of blindness and chance. Hopefully we will stumble upon things that help and things that work - things that prove useful and 'fit' for survival. We already work outside and beyond strict biological evolution (a great deal of medical intervention could be viewed as bucking that cold hard logic) and we are rightly warned about applying evolution as an analogy to non-biological systems, such as societal 'evolution'....But what I'm getting at is the impossibilty of one great big coherent plan being actioned with no wrinkles or quirks. That doesn't mean we shouldn't try to action some plans - try to work on the problems we already know about. But there are bound to be bumps and kinks along the way.

That's one thing I particularly like about the book - it's a utopia which still has fallibility and rough edges.

Greenwich - May Bank Holiday

It's a long way to go - from Ealing in the West all the way by Central Line and DLR to the South Eastern side of London, but that's what we decided to do today, to reach the heart of Royal Greenwich. In fact it didn't take *that* long, was a very easy journey and was well worth it. Overcast skies and spitting rain featured from time to time: a typical May Bank Holiday. And (equally typical) throng upon throng of fellow visitors - British, overseas, young and old.

Greenwich itself - away from the fine Maritime buildings - featured multiple chip shops and souvenir tat shops, a fundraising pearly king (with similarly decorated black cab), young sailors in traditional garb, traffic jams, patriotic bunting, a tattoo and piercing studio and a palpable seaside atmosphere (despite not being on the coast!) A fine Hawksmoor church (St Alfege) proved photogenic - ostensibly at the heart of modern urban life, when taken from one side, but deceptively rural-looking from the other. The revamped and uplifted Cutty Sark also looked very fine. Like children at a sweet shop window, we peered through the smoked glass to see the shiney hull hidden within that glazed 'payment zone'.

The chance to walk under the Thames itself, via the 1902 tunnel, and to 'drive' the driver-less DLR train were simple pleasures we could not resist. ('How old are we?' Bob asked rhetorically, before realising - to his horror - that our combined ages already take us well over the 100 mark - eek!)

On arrival at the National Maritime Museum, our first port of call was....the loos, then a long queue for our tickets, and (cunningly) a simultaneous queue for the cafe. We both then rapidly chomped our way through posh wholegrain baguettes with brie, cranberry and rocket and quickly (with barely a minute to spare until our 1pm booked time-slot) headed - at last - for the special exhibition in the National Maritime Museum - "Royal River: Power, Pageantry and the Thames"

I had pre-booked our tickets online the day before (£11 each plus booking fee!) It was okay....but not brilliant. I felt vaguely disappointed - perhaps having built it up into something it could never be. There were a few highlights, and I learnt a few fairly interesting things I hadn't known before - but to be honest, there is a lot to enjoy in Greenwich (and - according to Bob - at the nearby Museum of London in Docklands) which is free, so paying for that exhibition felt a bit silly. Bob is refusing ever to go inside the Cutty Sark, due to the entrance fee, and ditto the Royal Observatory (which I would, in contrast, LOVE to go into, despite the charge). On this occasion, we didn't look around the rest of the National Maritime Museum - which is free. Perhaps we'll go back when it's a bit less busy!

After the exhibition we had a good look around the shop, but (with no thimbles to be had) resisted all but one impulse purchase (a book about Inigo Jones for Bob). Another visit to the posh cafe followed - for a drink and a small but exquisitely expensive sweet treat (in my case possibly the nicest chocolate eclair I have ever had). We sat outside sheltering from the light drizzle under the big parasols.

I'm so glad we decided to go and have a look at the Queen's House next (which had been designed by Inigo Jones). The entry was free and I quickly googled a bit of info before we headed over, which gave us an idea of what to look out for. It was lovely - not many original features (no furnishings etc), but those that did remain were elegant and very pleasing to the eye - namely the very striking marble floor in the great hall and the delightful tulip spiral staircase.

The extensive art collection (from Elizabethan to modern) housed in the property was too much to take in - instead we skipped through, focussing on just a few works here and there. And, to be honest, that was a pretty good way of doing it! Surprisingly, although there were *some* people around, the Queen's House far less busy than the rest of Greenwich - including the outdoor areas, even in such iffy weather!

The numbers streaming up and down the hill to the Observatory (and prime meridian) were quite a surprise. There were a lot of temporary barriers up everywhere, and what looked like scaffolding or some kind of temporary seating structure - was it something to do with the Olympics? Or the Jubilee? Or some other event? Frustrating not to know. Pretty ugly whatever it was.

(Post script: Spotted a sign outside for a Titanic 'garden of remembrance' - it turned out to be a pathetically small area of border. I couldn't help feeling it was worse than nothing, being so insultingly tiny!)

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Ham House

Ham House was pretty impressive today. Bob got all squeamish about the wealth on display: they really did go OTT with the lavish decorations and furnishings - real 'look at how rich we are' style! Loved the period authenticity - the house dates from 1610 and (after a serious of improvements and extensions) much of it remains virtually unchanged since about the 1670s. 

I liked the fact that the guiding (wealthy) hand shaping the house's style was that of a woman - Elizabeth Dysart (later Duchess of Lauderdale when she married for a second time)

Both Bob and I liked the servants working quarters in the basement very much indeed. Much simpler in style (obviously) and the real 'engine' of the house - the kitchen, the beer cellar, the meat hanging room, the servants's dining room. And - last but not least - the Duchess' great innovation: one of the first bathrooms ever built in this country (in 1675). This at a time when washing was not considered essential (she had a back staircase from her bedchamber directly to this bathroom) Apparently (although no longer to be seen), she also had a bathhouse built for her servants - outside in the courtyard, adjacent to her own bathroom.

I am fascinated by this woman and want to find out more about her. 

Saturday, 28 April 2012


At such a time,
 in such a mood,
whispers seek release
while rain drips
and dark air flaps
an entry at the door.

The Legacy of the Daisy Chain

Driving back from Hitchin, having just seen my oldest friend, I found myself musing on life after death - in the sense of what survives us after we die. I've known my friend since we were both 14 years old. That's 35 years ago now. We don't get together very often (hence I received my belated birthday gift from her today - just 3 months late), but the friendship is important to both of us and we keep the link going.

My friend is coping with cancer at the moment. We don't talk about the shadow of death. She's very strong, very positive, and - despite the cancer coming back a year ago - this time metastasized (it was orginally breast cancer), the last year of treatment seems to have it on the retreat at last.... for now. 

To be honest, based on the pessamistic appraisal of her chances from a couple of mutual friends who are doctors, I had thought her survival for even a year was unlikely. But here she is! Every so often a phrase slips out that reveals that she knows her time may be quite limited. And in this her 49th year she has been doing plenty of special 'bucket list' things - while at the same keeping life as normal as possible for her 12 year old son. She goes to work, she does all the normal stuff. For now. But will she get another 5 years? 10 years? Another 20? A full life-span? 

As for me, I'm currently happy to be alive. That may sound trite, but it's surprisingly novel for me. My recurrent depressions are always marked by finding it hugely onerous to have to go on living. But I'm not depressed at the moment - I like not being depressed! I am, however, being rather careless with the gift of my life. I had an abnormal smear a few years ago and had to have laser ablation. Got the all-clear thereafter, but am still supposed to have a smear every six months. For the second year, I have ignored the recall letter - putting it off till it's more like 12 months since the last smear. Is this sensible? Of course not! 

And in the car, I was thinking about how we live on -  in people's memories and the like. I no longer believe in a spiritual survival after death - so as far as I'm concerned when you die you die and that's the end. But the effect we have on the world can live on after we have gone. The most obvious way, for me, is through my sons - and possibly (in due course) their children and their children's children. There's the biological survival of the DNA - but there's also the shaping of their formative years and what they take into their adulthood and future parenting (if any). And so on. 

There are other marks we leave on the planet - good and bad. For example that blithe carbon footprint and all those disposable nappies in landfillI on the down-side (how will the next generation - and the one after that - cope in the world *we've* taken for granted and left spoilt? Will there come a time when it would seem kinder not to bring a child into such a world, I wonder?). 

once did the thought experiment of writing my own imaginary epitaph, choosing what I would like to have achieved, what I would like to be remembered for (we were encouraged to dream rather than restrict ourselves to what was strictly likely in a prosaic sense). My epitaph was mostly about family stuff (eg 'a greatly loved great-grandmother', that kind of thing) rather than (say) inventing some new amazing gizmo. Perhaps I also included a bit of credit for my role in scouting - I like to think some of the Beavers over the years might retain some memories of the things they enjoyed doing, and that had an impact on them, thanks to that Beaver Leader of theirs - what was her name? Keema?? 

 I love the quip I read once - no one ever looks back and says ' Oh I just wish I had spent longer in the office.' Apart from the vocational saints and geniuses, work is not 'life' - it is not where our fond and meaningful memories are to be found (although now that I'm in an educational job, rather than an administrative one, I do feel more connected: the effect of what I do now to help these young children, especially the ones with special needs, seems so very very important.) I don't remember the name of my Brownie leader, or (even younger) my Bunnie Leader, but I do have a few tiny memories of doing things in those groups. I remember my P2 teacher a little bit (mostly the negative aspects - cos she was very scarey!), but I don't remember my P1 teacher at all. One primary school teacher in particular (P3? P4?) had a HUGE and very positive effect on me - Mrs Cook. She was a wonderfully enabling and permissive (yet strict) teacher, and I blossomed in ways I might not otherwise have done thanks to her. 

Books and the like are all very well (the other kind of children you can leave behind you and which carry part of you into the future (until all the copies in the world are lost...or just unread), but they're not the same as living in someone's memory (unless, perhaps, you are Shakespeare; although now some say the man called Shakespeare wasn't the true author of the plays - 'the play's the thing' not really any man behind them - he hardly matters in the end.)

Not sure why it should matter, but the thought of being forgotten seems sad. Of course most of us do eventually get forgotten - the history books only record a very very tiny minority of all the humans who have ever lived. I can still remember both of my grandmothers. Even my eldest son (possibly the youngest too)  has tiny bits of memory of them, having visited them many times when very young (great granny who can't hear and great granny who can't speak). But eventually I will die and eventually my sons will die - and in the end there will be no-one alive with any first hand experience or memory of my grandmothers. The chain only stretches that far. The hands linking one-generation-to-the-next-and-the-next is fragile and short. A limited daisy chain, pretty but soon broken. 

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Another gulp by the culture vultures: David Hockney conspicuously consumed

Bob and I went to see the David Hockney exhibition at the Royal Academy today - Easter Sunday, 8th April 2012 (we had a timed ticket for 6.30pm). Despite the crowds, there was much to enjoy. Room after room glowing with views of the lush green (or mellow hazy purples, oranges and browns) of the yorkshire countryside. Wall after wall stuffed full of images. The impact was one of accumulation rather than individual focus.

Bob consumes exhibitions ridiculously quickly. He called me selfish for not being willing to bolt my own visual banquet, since he then had to hang around long enough to get very VERY tetchy about the wait. But I simply could not digest the feast any quicker!

Having gone through all (but one) of the rooms, I tracked back to the start and walked through again one more time, more quickly this time, just trying to fix in my memory the lasting traces of each room's effect (affect?) on me, and the highlights that 'spoke' to me (singing off the walls) here and there.

The very first circular room had four paintings of the same scene with three trees, portraying the four seasons. Winter in this room was an out and out highlight for me - I bought the mug with this image on it (one way to consume art: I like getting to see it frequently in this form).

The second room was of early landscapes - some of them all time wonders, such as the grand canyon and the Mulholland Drive ones. And another couple of highlights for me were to be found in the third room, the first yorkshire landscapes - with wonderful stripey plough-lines in the fields, the patchwork of fields and the swooping, curving road (this latter one now adorning my fridge as a fridge magnet). (A different example from this room is shown below)

A less successful section was the wall of watercolour sketches in the next room. Hockney's watercolours just look crass; he does not use the delicacy of the medium but rather just ends up with faded muddy approximations of his oils. The wall of smallish landscape oils seemed to me an example of when more is somehow less - the huge number of images almost devaluing each one as an individual painting. At right angles, on the wall opposite the watercolours, was a much larger vibrant yellow oil painting which stood out as a particular favourite. 

The next room (5), was Tunnels. On first encounter I liked several of these, but on my repeat 'walk-through' they didn't stand out (although I did like the effect of so many images of the same scene with each looking so different; in this case the cumulative effect was enhancing and effective).

Room 6 was Woldgate Woods - Six massive canvases focussing on the same scene. One or two I liked better than the others, but again no particularly strong highlight, but rather an enjoyment of them in juxtapostion.

Room 7 - Hawthorn blossom - had one singing highlight, with a delightful picture that made me literally smile with pleasure when I first turned to look at it. But in the same room there were also some heavy, lumpy pictures which (for me) didn't really capture the delicacy and frothiness of abundant white blossom (whereas, oddly, the charcoal studies did). Some of the pictures were, however, appealing for other reasons - reminding me of alien landscapes with vivid exaggerated colours and weird bulky white shapes, like aliens

Trees and Totems (No 8) was my absolute favourite of all the rooms. And I loved, loved LOVED the biggest of the works, with the fauvist intensity of the colours (purple and rich yellow ochre) and the simplified graphic style of the shapes, and the sinewy lines. These are studio works, based on many charcoal studies. The imaginative freedom reduces the sense of 3D space in the final works (compared with those painted fast in situ) BUT the flatter decorative surface and intensity of colour really zing! This was the only postcard I purchased (a consumer again) It is currently attached (by magnetic clip) to the fridge. Nom nom nom.

In the Arrival of Spring room (No 9) the much vaunted ipad art was effective but overblown - they did not really translate well to the vastly enlarged print size. On the other hand, viewed from the distance of half-way across the room, they did 'work'. I did, however, love the huge 32 canvas work on the remaining wall - stylised and decorative, (reminding me a little of Gauguin - or perhaps I mean Matisse, I'm not sure which!) - and this was another work which translates very well to the form of mug decoration for my continued enjoyment
Next was the Sermon on the Mount room (No 10). The final and largest work in here left me rather cold - the orange mountain/rock just looked silly I thought. The less exaggerated, more naturalistic version of the picuture was ok, but again it struck me as a bit ho hum. The only work that piqued my interest was the (almost humorous) study with the mountain now a cosmic pyramid shooting out rays of energy (or something like that!). I suppose part of the trouble with the Sermon on the Mount project may have something to do with the interest in the landscape being to the detriment of the original spiritual focus of the Claude Lorrain painting which Hockney was reworking here. 

The moving (but not moving in the emotional sense!) multiple images in the video room (No 11) didn't convince - more headache and eye-ache than anything else. 

But beyond that room was another which I almost missed out (and I later helped another couple who were in danger of omitting it in error), a tiny dark cave-like space, cocooning the secret heart of the exhibition, in the shape of sketch-books and actual ipads (Room 12). This was very much one of the highlights for me - and I only wish I could have spent longer looking at every single image in the slideshow for each sketchbook (the sketchbooks themselves being in the glass cases, open at one double-spread page each, but with an electronic slideshow on a screen above). 

And then in the final room (No 13)  (or two rooms, due to a major central partition) - there were recent works. First a set of several HUGE ipad prints of Yosemite Valley - which, despite him questioning the overblown size for the unsubtle nature of these ipad images, held up as overall favourites in the exhibition for Bob. I remain torn. Part of me just thinks 'ego' when I see the images enlarged to such a ridiculous size when originally created at the size of an ipad. But at the same time, they do have an impact and the simplicity of line and shape 'works' - as long as you don't go up and peer at them. You have to stand back and then the scale can have the right impact. Round the dividing wall and the very final space featured a few more of the studio pictures with vivid colours and  almost abstracted shapes, with oddly floating disembodied glowing green leaves in the very forefront of the picture's surface. Another pleasing graphic design for endless reproduction.

 The colour pallette of both these final works - and those in the Trees and Totems room -  were cleverly turned into beautiful (abstract) silk scarves in the Hockney shop. But I resisted the temptation, beautiful as they were.

I further exasperated Bob by spending another sizeable chunk of time in the shop - selecting the two mugs, the fridge magnet and the postcard mentioned above, in addition to the full (expensive!) exhibition catalogue.

By the time I joined him outside he was nigh on apoplectic, which meant that the journey home was rather unpleasant. He kept calling me selfish, because I (as always) got what I wanted and didn't compromise (ie by spending much longer than he wanted to spend looking around the exhibition) - but the sacrifice he was insisting I should have made would have been too much for me to bear: ie to leave the exhibition prematurely - when Bob was sated but I wasn't. Like leaving a play at the interval, or having one's gourmet meal whipped away after the first few mouthfuls, just because another diner had eaten as much as they wanted.

I don't know what the answer will be for future exhibitions - can we ever manage to go to exhibitions together without falling out over the difference in the amount of time we each want to spend there? Can I speed up a bit without feeling miserable about it? Perhaps Bob should just be free to go on home and leave me to it. (I'm sure the time of day didn't help on this occasion - even early evening is not a Bob-friendly time slot. I've now got huge concerns about the theatre tomorrow evening. Forcing Bob to come with me may prove to be a terrible mistake - he's almost decided already not to like it cos he feels press-ganged into going.)

 (I don't recall us falling out so badly over the other exhibition we went to recently: the Yayoi Kasama one. Did I go faster than I would have wanted to, left to my own devices? Did I compromise?? I can't really remember. But certainly Bob didn't get sooooo cross - I don't recall him getting cross at all - and he enjoyed the shop bit almost as much as I did on that occasion (we spent even more money on exhibition-related items that day!)

Our journey home was dreadful - misjudgement after misjudgement made for a horrible combination of tube, replacement rail bus, ordinary bus, longish walk, and then (finally) car. But we managed to achieve an equilibrium, with mugs of tea, so that if not altogether fond we were at least no longer furious by the time Bob turned in (at a surprising late - for him - 10pm)

So, there you have it - art and marital issues. Chomp, chomp chomp.

(Post script: Bob really enjoyed the play - 'The Recruiting Officer' the following night, as did I. Very relieved, I must say!)

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Christy Moore

Before I went to the concert at the Royal Festival Hall this evening (on my own) I was a tad worried that I wouldn't enjoy it and would regret having bought the ticket. I need not have worried. The live experience was electrifying! A smattering of songs I knew and many I didn't (I only have two Christy Moore CDs, the old classic Ride On and his most recent one, Folk Tale.) It was hearing the Morecombe Bay song on Radio 4 a month or so ago that prompted me to buy a ticket to see him live. He did indeed play that particular song, and also (as the last one before the encores) the classic Ride On.

Duriing the concert, I tried to keep a note of the set list, although the oddities of predictive text scrambled some of the titles beyond any recognition.

Here's the list as far as I have it recorded# (I think I missed a few)
In addition to the ones mentioned below, I've got one other whole song recorded (audio only) which I don't know the title of; and a snippet of video which I also don't know.

How long
Sacco and Vanzetti
Missing You - RECORDED
Farmer Michael Hayes
Holy Ground
Casey you're the devil
The City of Chicago (on the Ride On CD)
My Little Honda 50 (not a song I'd liked previously, but it was great live!)
Little Musgrave
((?? Predictive text put 'Ots one', so no idea what this one was!)
Sunshine (a solo by Declan)
North and South of the River (written with Bono and the Edge; there are versions by Christy with the U2 guys providing backing vocals and there's also a version by U2)
Viva la Quinte Brigade (on the Ride On CD)
Butterfly (So Much Wine) - have now discovered this song is a cover, original is by The Handsome Family, but Christy sings it about/dedicates it to George Best.
Don't forget your shovel
Delirium Tremens  (mentioned in the Telegraph Review)
Matty (=Dark Familiar one) - have this one RECORDED in full (audio)
Sweet Thames (apparently he always does this when performing on the Southbank)
McIlhatton (on the Ride On CD)
Joxer (=  funny football song, referencing Jack Charleton)
Ride On  (have this one on the Ride On CD ofcourse)
Burning Time
(Cliffs of Dooneen?) - RECORDED
Lisdoonvarna - RECORDED (and it's on Ride On CD)

Links to articles about Christy Moore

His song-writing (in the Telegraph):

A review of the Concert I saw (in the Telegraph)

Another review (in the Guardian)

Just been listening to 3 very different versions of 'North and South of the River' - on Youtube. It was one of my favourites during the concert -  a beautiful song about the relationship between the north and south of Ireland.  It was co-written by Christy Moore, Bono and The Edge. Both U2 and Christy Moore have performed and recorded it. The only live version by U2 differs greatly from their recorded version (I don't much like the latter). And there's an early version with main vocal by Christy plus backing vocals by Bono and The Edge (hard to get hold of, but I've ordered a CD from Amazon that I *think* has it on it.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Week-end trip to Malvern

Bob and I went away for a couple of nights. We set off late morning on Friday, heading for Droitwich (where?); I had booked a place called Middleton Grange near the village of Salwaupe just outside Droitwich, planning to use this as a base to explore both Worcester and the Malverns.

We tried to go to a National Trust place in the area, but discovered it was shut that day. We then had a look at Droitwich itself, never having been there. It wasn't really worth the effort. One rather fine tudor building, the Raven Hotel, was sadly all closed up and impenetrable. Instead we found a little bistro for a quick bite (rather a late lunch; we didn't finish eating till about 3.30pm!) I had a panini - tuna, onion and melted cheese; Bob had spicy soup and a sandwich. I must confess I also had an icecream sundae (yum!)

We went straight to the Guesthouse after that, greeted by the very friendly owners. We had a cup of tea in our room, then went for a short walk in the immediate area, mainly for the dog's sake. We couldn't follow the public footpath across the field because an odd bloke was sitting on the style (with his black dog beside him) We went down a farm road instead, but had to double back, then contemplated walking along the other road to the village, but decided there was too much fast farm traffic! We then tried the other direction, and then a muddy track across a field, but decided to turn back in the end, cos it wasn't particularly interesting - and we then discovered we were taking a vast amount of the field's mud with us (my boots had doubled in weight!) Back at the car, prior to going anywhere for a meal, it took quite a while to remove all the mud (Bob had picked up a stick specially for the job)

Since it was still fairly early (and we had eaten such a late lunch), we decided to drive a bit further to find somewhere to eat. We drove into Worcester and discovered a whole line of Indian restaurants. We picked the one we liked the look of, left the dog in the car, and tried to order a *small* amount of curry! Both of us tried unusual sounding dishes (I think it was a Bangladeshi restaurant) and I liked mine rather more than Bob liked his. But the main highlight of the experience was the wonderful subtitling on the Bollywood music video on the big TV screen: 'she stole my heart under various pretexts' Now that's a song lyric to boggle the mind!

We headed back to our B&B for a nice relaxing evening of TV (Bob fell asleep very early indeed - but he really was - and still is - very poorly with the same nasty cold I had last week!) I was secretly pleased to get to watch American Idol, although I did also get to grips with the instructions of both of my new board games (no chance of getting Bob to play either of them, not with his head so full of soggy cotton-wool) I also had a quick look at my new book - the Companion volume to the Hugo film.

Saturday looked like it might be a good day. We had booked breakfast for 8.30am and that felt just right - not too early but not too late either. I had a much bigger cooked breakfast than Bob (which seemed a bit odd) Off we went, with plans to climb some hills. First, however, we stopped off in the centre of Malvern itself and found a wonderful second-hand bookshop for some lengthy browsing (dog back in the car ofcourse). A spot of tea (or rather hot chocolate) and cake in the Blue Bird Tearooms (lemon drizzle for me, some apple/sultana teacake for Bob). A quick visit to the Tourist Info centre supplied us with a couple of handy leaflets with car parks marked for access to the hills. And then lastly we popped into the Priory Church and were rather taken with the MODERN stained glass window. Also spotted the medieval tiles on the wall round the back of the altar. We didn't have the camera with us, unfortunately. Just bought a thimble, but not the guide book. Wish I could remember more about what we saw.Must ask Bob tomorrow.

We headed back in the car (our two hours had just expired!) Headed down the road to pick a car park and realised the weather had disintegrated into dodgey and potentially rainy. Nonetheless, for the sake of the dog, we decided a quick brum was necessary. We parked near the British Camp and headed up the path, intending initially just to go as far as it took before Cadi 'relieved' herself. But - despite the light rain - I couldn't help but want to head on up and up and up! (I had an umbrella and my full length furry coat) The grey clouds got lower, the wind got stronger and - by the time we had nearly reached the top - the rain had turned into hail!!!!! My umbrella blew inside out time after time (but it was still better to have it than not!)

On the way back down, I could see the back of Bob's legs - totally TOTALLY soaking wet, from thighs to ankles. So there was nothing for it but to head across the road to the Hotel./Bar/Restaurant - lunch simply to allow us to sit in the warm to dry off! We left the soaking wet Cadi in the car (wrapped in a towel so she didn't get chilly) Bob enjoyed his lamb shank, but I wasn't really hungry enough to enjoy my cod and chips! Cups of tea (ofcourse!) but Bob also had room for a pudding! He had a creme brulee thing that looked very nice. We picked up our boots again from the porch and headed back to the car - the sun now streaming from a bright blue sky!!!!! But we had lost our umph so couldn't face another hill-walk. Instead (barring one brief stop for some photos - just to prove how lovely the scenery now looked in the sunshine!) we headed for Worcester, to visit the Cathedral there. We found a relatively convenient car park, and had a chance to get a closer look at the remaining tower of St Andrew's on our way. Left the dog in the car again (still soaking wet, but not cold) The Cathedral was wonderful - so much to take in. Lots of quirky details. I particularly loved the Crypt, and the circular Chapter House (with the old bells along the shelf just outside it)

We decided we didn't really need an evening meal and instead stopped off at a convenience store to pick up some emergency rations to take back to our room. As Bob said this morning, it was a bit like having a midnight feast! We both indulged in the dubious pleasure of Pot Noodle! Unfortunately Bob decided to share his with is trousers! His only pair of trousers on the week-end trip (yes, he wore them again today with visible splats)

Bob again fell asleep very early, and I watched some undemanding telly until ready to sleep as well. But (like the previous night) I had to take Cadi out for her late-night widdle before I could go to bed. Unfortunately Cadi then woke me up wimpering to be let out at 7am. Grrrr. I took her out, but she wasn't really desperate after all - faker! There was a light dusting of snow or hail stones on the grass and the car. But the day looked set fair. Another small breakfast for Bob and a BIG one for me! A quick shower after breakfast (Bob had had his beforehand) and we checked out just before 10am, paying in cash.

We had decided to wend our way home by a different more scenic route, but first went south and decided to stop off for a quick walk somewhere on the Malvern Hills - a sunny walk to make up for the previous day's very wet one! I remembered seeing something in the tourist info leaflet about a hidden lake, and we managed to find the car park nearest to it. The easy access trail was flat and took us to the quarry with the lake in it. We walked right down to the edge of the lake and Cadi - crazy dog that she is went right in (the water looked freezing, with areas of ice in parts!)

We decided to carry on - the trail started to climb and to bend back on itself as we climbed up and up - eventually skirting along the very top of the Quarry itself. It was fantastic when we found a way onto the top of the ridge, and were then able to see the view on both sides. We could also see right along the ridge, with the British Camp in the distance. The sun was dazzling. It was still cold, but we warmed up through walking. The dappled shade in the woods on the steep hillside looked particularly beautiful.

I was surprised to discover how long we had been up the hill! It was already after 12 by the time we got back to the car! We headed for the British Camp car park in search of toilets and decided to go over to the little outdoor snack hut to get a hot drink (or, in Bob's case, some soup) before we headed on. We sat in the car to drink these (I had a rather thick and sickening hot chocolate, along with a large banana - a good combination; although I did feel a bit sick later as a result) Bob had a huge bread roll with his tomato soup, and a rock cake as well! That was all the lunch we needed really. I set the Sat Nav to take us the 'shortest' way, rather than the fastest, and we headed south. The route included an alarmingly narrow B road, and a bit of a problem when the Sat Nav wanted us to go along a road marked 'Private Road' which we then had to work around. BUT - despite Bob's grumbles - the main advantage was that we ended up going through Tewksbury - a town we had never visited before. It was absolutely beautiful! Full of stunning half-timbered tudor buildings. The route later also took us through Cheltenham, which wasn't so impressive - apart, that is, from Cheltenham College, which looked absolutely beautiful!

Short routes are very VERY much slower, so it took a lot longer to make our way back. We had to stop two more times, however.Once was a fairly urgent stop because I became SO sleepy I knew I was in danger of falling asleep at the wheel. We just pulled in to a parking area and I grabbed one of my micro-naps: my seat reclines really well so I quickly nodded off for 20 minutes. Unfortunately Bob couldn't work out how to recline his seat.

We also stopped off for a cup of tea/coffee in Burford. I had a cream tea, but swapped the tea for coffee. Bob had a toasted tea cake with his tea. We popped into a trendy clothes shop - interesting rain coats and hats but far too expensive.

The rest of the journey went pretty quickly and we were back just after 4.30pm. A bit later than I'd hoped but not too bad. This blog is rough and ready - just didn't want to forget the bare bones of the trip.Things get jumbled so easily. I can always come back and edit it, to add details etc.

Last night I felt pretty negative about the trip as a whole, but this morning really changed things for me and balanced the whole thing out somehow. For both Bob and I, the sunny walk this morning was the highlight of the whole week-end. Other favourite bits were the WET walk (funnily enough!) and  either the second hand book shop or (for me, as an equal third to that) the Indian meal on Friday evening. Bob's illness was definitely a factor, but he pushed on and just kept taking doses of tablets every 4 hours. It did, however, prevent him from enjoying Worcester Cathedral as much as he might otherwise have done.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Hugo - my 3D epiphany

I can't remember when I last cried SO much during a film! I saw Hugo (in 3D) for the first time earlier today and totally fell in love with it. I had to stay for the whole of the end credits because my eyes were still leaking so much (quite glad I went on my own to be free to indulge the catharsis!) I am so glad I got to see this film in 3D: I'm not usually a fan of this fad, but Hugo is 3D at its very best.

Now busily researching the extraordinary early history of cinema, referenced so wonderfully in the film, as well as the rather interesting children's novel upon which the film was based. There may well be purchases ahead!

This film now ranks very VERY high among my all time favourite films. Others include Le Balon Rouge, The Princess Bride and Night of the Hunter. None of those others made me cry - only Up did that (although I wouldn't, in other respects, rank Up as highly as the others I've listed).