Friday, 30 December 2011

Update on Tybalt

As those who follow me on Twitter will have seen, Tybalt had a further vet appointment this afternoon.

It was very encouraging. He's put on 600g ( over 1lb 4 oz) in the 10 days since he started on the thyroid medication, which is a pretty good sign that it is working.

Also his glucose levels are in the 'normal' range, which suggests that either he doesn't have diabetes, or that he does, but when he is eating normally and in better health generally it's stable.

We're going back in 2 weeks, when they will do further blood tests to check on his thyroid (by which time he will have been on the meds for a month) and see whether the dosage needs adjusting, but so far, things are looking much better than I feared, 2 weeks ago.

Thank gods for sardines!

Holidays & Family

I've been away, at my parents' house over Christmas, and didn't take my laptop, hence no blogging (Blogging by phone leads to SHORT posts!)

It was a lovely, relaxing time. My younger sister, and my brother were both there, too (My elder sister was with her out-laws) On Christmas Eve we decorated the tree  (we also decorated my brother, in order to allow him to prove to sceptical friends that he can do Festive if he wishes, but I promised not to post that particular photo on the internet, so you will have to imagine it!)

The tree was decorated to within an inch of its life. We have 40 years worth of decorations, and E declared that the aim was to make it "As gaudy as possible".  I think it's fair to say we met those specifications!

On Christmas Day, my parents and I went to the church, to ring the bells. Ringing is a long term hobby of theirs, and all four of  us were taught, as a matter of course, as children, but none of us currently rings regularly.

When my mum and dad moved down to Devon, after retiring, there was no regular band in the village, but a little over a year ago, they agreed to teach a local band.

video

The learners have now reached the point where they can ring rounds (i.e. all 6 bells ringing together) and this is the first Christmas they have been able to ring for Christmas Morning.

I went along to help out, and I recorded a snatch of the ringing when I wasn't joining in. It isn't great ringing (The aim is for the bells to ring evenly, with the same gap between each 'strike', but this is very good considering how short a time they have been learning, and the fact that they've all been learning together - it is much easier if you are the one learner and everyone else can just ring in the right place regardless of whether or not you do!)

The village church had been decorated for Christmas - there were around 30 different trees - I think all of the different groups, such as the pre-school, the school etc. had all decorated trees, and others were themed. Guess which of the three below was the bell-ringers' tree?



My mum and I stayed for the service (partly to support one of the ringers, who was leading it, as a lay-reader) which I enjoyed, even though I prefer the Prayer Book and King James' Bible to 'Mission Praise' and and 'Good News'. We got 3 proper carols, which is pretty much all I ask of a Christmas day service!

Then home, to open stockings (with no children in the house, not everyone was keen to wake up early to open them before we went to church!) traditional Christmas Dinner (with wonderful free-range, slow reared turkey) then lots of presents.

My siblings had clubbed together and got me a shiny new Kindle, which was a very nice surprise. I have been thinking for a while I'd like to have one, as, much as I love real paper books, there are times, especially when travelling, that it would be nice NOT to have to carry quite so many books..
 Mind you, I did only get 2 actual books for Christmas this year, which is something of a record for me. And one as a belated birthday present (The Heston Blumenthal / Dave McKean '|Fat Duck Cookbook' - beautiful, if impractical)

Then on Boxing Day we played host to my Uncle and Aunt, and to my cousin, her husband and their 14 month old son, who I haven't seen since he was 3 months old. |He's much bigger now, and crawling very fast. He was fascinated by the Christmas Tree, but as there were 9 adults around he was thwarted in all his attempts to clamber up it or take things off it!  I particularly enjoyed watching him with my brother and my dad (both of whom are very good with small children, despite their best efforts to pretend otherwise!)

then on Thursday we went over to my Aunt and Uncle's house to see them again, with my *other* cousin, her husband and their 2 boys. Much fun was had.

All in all, a very quiet, but enjoyable Christmas. I hope eveyone else enjouyed their holidays.



Sunday, 25 December 2011

Merry Christmas!

It's Christmas again. I'm down at my parent's home, as are one on my sisters, and my brother.

We have decorated the tree (as you can see, we considered restraint and subtlety, and decided neither has any role to play in tree-decoration)

Shortly, some of us will be going to ring the bells at church, and to a service.

Later, there will be gifts, and food, and chocolate, and jollity of all kinds.

Here's wishing you all a very Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and all manner of good things and great company!

Monday, 19 December 2011

Tybalt

As some of you know from twitter, I've been very worried about Tybalt. Last week, he suddenly got very sick, was peeing indoors (which clearly upset him; he's generally very good about going where he ought to - and I wasn't overjoyed, either) and generally very obviously not a happy kitty.

We went to the vet on Friday. She gave him an antibiotic shot in case the peeing was down to a water infection, but after examining him said she thought he has thyroid problems, and probably that he'd been under par for a bit, but not showing it, the way carts do (or don't).

She took blood to test, which, like the rest of the exam, Tybalt let her do without even trying to get away from her, which is VERY out of character - usually visits to the vet involve hissing, (which I've never seen him do anywhere else) and strenuous efforts to get away, including that thing cats do where they temporarily grow about 7 extra legs all covered in knives, and show their ability to levitate and to double in size.  So the fact that he was simply sitting there apathetically letting her stick needles into him was a very bad sign.

We also had a conversation about what the next steps would be if the blood tests showed he does have thyroid problems. The answer is that this needs regular meds, which worried me a lot, as Tybalt has NEVER been  a cat who it's easy to get tablets into, and I would have to think very carefully about whether it would be fair to subject him to the stress of forcing tablets into him on a daily basis, as I know from experience that he does get very stressed, and remains stressed for a long time.

On the plus side, he seemed to perk up a lot over the weekend, and the peeing issue stopped, so I think maybe he did have a water infection as well.

This afternoon I got a call from the vet - his blood tests show that he does have hyperthyroidism. They also showed low glucose level so he may also be diabetic (apparently they often go together)  They have suggested starting him on the thyroid tablets - basically, IF he can/will take the tablets without too much stress, they can then do urine tests for diabetes to see whether he does have this, and then monitor  to see whether he needs insulin or if it can be controlled by diet. They also said that if he cannot take the tablets without stress, it would be unfair to him to let him go on. Which is rather what I suspected, from the conversation I had when I took him in on Friday, but not at all what I wanted to hear.

So there's a lot of bad news.

So they have given me 2 weeks supply of the thyroid tablets to see whether he can/will take them (2 weeks due to Christmas. If he doesn't take them, we will have to go back sooner)

The good news is that while he spurned with barely-disguised scorn my attempts to get the 1st tablet into him cunningly disguised in cat-food, or in marmite (vets suggestion), or cheese (end result, one slightly damp and sticky tablet, and one smug cat with a mouth full of marmite and cheese) I then tried a two-pronged approach, involving a sardine, and my sitting at table with a plate (because people-food is always more attractive than cat-food)

So, three lumps of sardine, (tablet tucked into the 2nd and left to sit for a few minutes so the sardine oil soaked in a bit) this actually seems to have worked. He did look a bit suspicious afterwards, but he ate the third chunk of sardine, so that may simply be because he thought he'd got away with more people-food than normal.

Clearly he's not out of the woods yet - I don't know whether sardines will work long-term, and there's still the issue of whether he has diabetes and if so whether this can be controlled by diet, but things are looking much more hopeful than they were 3 days ago.

So, fingers crossed.

And thank you to those of you who've been sending encouragement and sympathy.

Monday, 12 December 2011

The Holidays Are Coming

It feels as though it's been a long week - I've been busy at work, and this past week has involved a lot of time out of the office, driving to court and meetings, which is tiring.

Friday night was our office Christmas Party - I wasn't feeling terribly festive but I think it went reasonably well. The Christmas trees are up in our receptions, at work, and the lights are up in the town centres, and I am beginning to look forward to seeing my family, and have done most of my shopping. Having lots of cards to send to friends in America spurred me on to organise myself, in order to catch the last posting date, so my inland cards went pretty promptly, too (am now sitting back, to wait for the first card to show up from someone I've forgotten to send one to, or for whom I don't have an address.....

Next task is to pack up the gifts for people I won't be seeing, in order to post them. This is bound to involve a lot of queueing, I fear..

Today, my (2nd) cousin came over for lunch, and to drop of gifts for my family and my (1st) cousins, who I shall be seeing and she won't. it was a nice lunch, though I do say so myself. I made Beouf Bourgignon, served with jacket potatoes, broccoli and cauliflower. And as a bonus, I find there are enough lefftovers for me to have it again, another day, which I was not expecting!

I have been having some issues with my central heating, which I only realised when it got very cold earlier this week - I found that one (the biggest - it would be) of my 3 radiators wasn't getting hot. I thought that |step one would be to bleed it, and this caused me to realise that, to my shame, I've never done this and had no idea how it was done. Fortunately, Twitter knows everything, so I got answers within minutes, and then had to go out and buy a radiator key ( and picked up a spare heater at the same time, to tide me over) Unfortunately, bleeding it does not seem to have worked as far as acheiving actual warmth is concerned (although it worked quite well as far as getting dirty water around the living room was concerned!)

I belive that the next step is flushing it and add inhibitor, but I think I shall need a plumber for that step. *sigh* Still, at least I have plug-in heater I just bought, to prevent me getting hypothermia in the mean time. (and over Christmas I shall be staying with my parents, and they have lots and lots of loverly central heating, even upstairs!)

I think next weekend I shall perhaps get further into the festive spirit by making some mince pies.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

In Which There is a Moving Castle (WARNING - SPOILERS)

I love Diana Wynne Jones' books. I have done for years and years, since I first met Christopher Chant in Wells library. I hunted down all of her books which I could find, (many 2nd hand) and  later, buying then new, as they were published. I had the pleasure of meeting her once, at the Bath Festival of Children's Literature, and she sent me a lovely, personal reply when I wrote her a fan letter.

So I was excited and nervous in equal measure when I found out that there was to be a stage adaptation of 'Howl's Moving Castle', one of DWJ's YA books.
(Picture from theatre website - southwarkplayhouse.co.uk )

I have a very soft spot for Howl, and for Sophie, and so while I was excited to see how the story would work on stage, I was also afraid that it would be spoiled, or that whoever played Howl might be un-Howl-like...

But I decided that I would have to see it for myself, and judge, so I got in contact with my theatre-going, retired librarian cousin, and booked tickets for the production, at the Southwark Playhouse. And that is where I went, yesterday.

The play was in the Vault, at the playhouse, which is a very small space, under the railway arch near London Bridge station.


Good start: The set consisted of a couple of burning torches, and then, in the stage area, a large castle, like a paper cut out. There was very little in the way of props - all of the rest of the set and scenery was done by way of lighting and projections, so when the Castle was moving, we had a panorama of mountains, at other times, the streets of Market Chipping, fantastical bare trees with living branches for the Witch's domain, and moving light for Calcifer. When Howl went to fight the Witch, the castle had (projected) propellers, and Howl's silhouette was projected - All the 'son et lumiere' parts of the production were excellent.

The play itself is but a shadow of the novel. There are only 3 actors (plus a recorded narration from Stephen Fry, and the voice of Calcifer) - Howl (Daniel Ings), Old Sophie (Susan Sheridan) and Young Sophie/Witch of the Waste (Kristen McGuire) and play lasts for less than 90 minutes, so the story has, inevitably and of necessity, been hugely cut and simplified.

I rather enjoyed Howl. He had more or less the right combination of cleverness and vanity, although I didn't feel his underlying goodness came through. I felt (old) Sophie came across well - determined, and more than a match for Howl,  but the Witch of the Waste was simply a pantomime villain - you expected her to start sending for her flying monkeys at any moment, which was a bit disappointing.

Over all, I felt that the play had tried for the feel of DWJs work, and had succeeded, up to a point, but only up to a point.For me, too much of the plot, and as a result, too many of the things which make the book so good, had gone.

I enjoyed it, but I felt that it had lost a lot in the adaptation. I still love the book best. So, if you have the opportunity, do see it. It's fun, and much more interesting than your average chirstmas pantomime, but it's not DWJ's story.

In Which I Go To London

I went to London yesterday. The purpose was to go to the theatre (which I'll blog separately) and to meet up with my cousin and his partner.

We were due to meet up at 1p.m., I got an earlier train, to allow time for delays, so of course both trains were on time, and the tubes round from Paddington to London Bridge were also all delay-free. So, having a little time on my hands, I took the time to wander around Southwark a little.

I visited Southwark cathedral, because I like cathedrals, and this one of course makes me think of Doctor Who (The Lazarus Experiment) although of course the interior scenes of that episode were not filmed at Southwark Cathedral, but in my old home town of Wells!

 The cathedral has a rather nice memorial to Shakespeare (the Globe theatre was, and the new Globe is, in Southwark)

You can't tell from the photo, but behind the effigy is a relief of Southwark, with the Globe.

I then wandered along the Thames path, past the replica of Drake's 'Golden Hinde' and further along, towards tower Bridge, HMS Belfast and the Tower of London.

I confess, it's a while since I've been on this part of the river, and I'd totally forgotten that the Tower of London was so close to Tower Bridge (I am somewhat geographically challenged at the best of times, and when you add in the fact that most of my London travel is done by underground, it's perhaps understandable!)

I enjoyed the contrasts between old and new buildings; this area has been through a lot of regeneration and is clearly doing well.

We had arranged to meet for lunch at the Butler's Wharf Chop House, where we dined very well, and I had some delicious black sheep ale, then had a chilly walk back along the Thames to the Southwark Playhouse.

(More photos in  my flickr set here )

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Quiet Pleasures

This week has mostly involved little, calm but nice things. Many of them food-related.
On Monday, on of my colleagues who is a member of a local shoot, gave me 2 brace of pheasant. He explained that he'd brought 4 birds as some of them were quite small, which was kind of him, but rather overlooked the fact that there is only one of me, so even a small pheasant goes quite a long way!

Anyway, I decided that I lacked the patience to pluck that many birds, so I skinned them (well, 3 of them) instead, which is much quicker, and two of them were casseroled with cider and apples (which worked very well - and which leaves me with at least 3 more servings in the freezer, for high-quality dining the next few times I don't want to cook properly!) One went to a friend, and the last one is in the freezer (jointed and de-feathered. Putting a feathery one in the freezer would be weird) awaiting further inspiration.

Tuesday evening was spent with relatives - my Dad's cousin M (a very young 80 year-old) invited me over for dinner, and to see our mutual cousin, J (who is the one I visit in London, and go to the theatre with, and who is the same age as my dad) I enjoyed the evening - it's nice to have a meal which I haven't had to cook for myself, and it was also very pleasant to simply sit and chat.

Then I managed to do some early Christmas shopping, as I found myself in Bath at lunch time, after going to court,  which meant I DIDN'T need to go in on Saturday, which was a bonus! It meant I got to go to the library on Saturday, instead. And to catch up with chores at home, which is good, as things are now tidier with fewer heaps-of-stuff. And I got to read two Amelia Peabody novels over the weekend.

The Bath Christmas Market has opened this week - lots of nice things, although as I get older and crankier I find I'm less and less willing to buy the kind of things which will be amusing for 10 minutes, and then will gather dust for the rest of their existence.  In fact, what with that trip, and the wonders of online shopping, I've done a lot of my shopping - just have Awkward Men, a 5 year-old boy and a few stocking fillers still to do.  Which is good. It means I don't have to get too stressed about shopping. although I will have the wonderful queueing-in-the-post-office with parcels event to do.

And I just realised that the stamps I have for sticking on cards for the USA all have George III's portrait on them. They beat him in the end, so no ones going to be offended, right?

This weekend I have a day-trip to London coming up - I'm meeting up with my cousin J and his partner, and we're having lunch and then seeing the Southwark Playhouse's production of Diana Wynne Jones' 'Howl's Moving Castle' - should be interesting.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

A Relaxing Weekend

This weekend, I'd arranged to go down to Devon to visit my parents. I saw them last weekend, while they were staying with me  while they went to a dinner locally. This weekend however was a visit just to spend some time together. And the weather was nice, too.
One of the nice things about visiting my parents is that as long as I don't get up too early, I usually get a cup of tea in bed ;-)  I love that little touch of luxury.
We decided that a nice walk by the sea would be an appropriate thing to do with a bright November morning, so we went to Westward Ho!, which is an uninspiring town, but where you can start a walk along the top of the cliff, and then down to a pebbly beach.

There was an offshore breeze, and very big waves, so there were a lot of surfers out, and despite being the middle of November, it has been so mild that there were still quite a few butterflies and dragonflies around.

And a really big mushroom, right on the cliff edge!

We didn't have a long walk, as my mum and dad wanted to get back in time to go to a local history talk in Bideford, but it was very pleasant.

While the talk was going on, I wandered around Bideford, and admired the bridge, and looking into a few shops, and a little later, we all went back home for a delicious meal of roast beef, Yorkshire pudding and then lemon meringue pie. All very good.

Sunday, we had a lazy morning, them they went out to Exeter for some ringing, and I came home, to be greeted by a very snuggly cat. Over all, a very relaxing weekend!


Friday, 18 November 2011

Ooops, it's been weeks!

Dear me! It's been weeks, hasn't it?

I haven't had a lot to blog about. My car got its annual service, and I got my flu jab, but neither of those is very exciting!

Last weekend my parents came to visit, as they had a dinner to go to near here. I always enjoy seeing them, and I had had a really shitty week at work and was feeling very stressed, so it was lovely to have company to distract me from brooding too much over things I couldn't do anything about until Monday morning...

On Saturday we did a little early christmas shopping, distracted only by the police doing a fingertip search of the High Street, and then on Sunday, which came a gorgeous sunny day, we went to Stourhead for a walk.


The colours were even better than when I was there a couple of weeks ago - mainly because the sun was out this time.
 In addition, we saw a heron. I don't think there is much risk it will go hungry - we aslo saw lots of leaping fish, in the lake.
There may have been a cream-tea before we went home, too.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

In Which I am Fascinated

Back in August, Nail Gaiman tweeted about the shows he was enjoying at the Edinburgh festival. One of them was 'Fascinating Aida' - and he exhorted all his readers to go to see them. I hadn't heard of them before, but when  looked I them up, I saw they were due to play in Bath on 30th October, so I bought a ticket, and so, on Sunday night, I found myself in the Theatre Royal, not entirely sure what to expect, but hopeful I would have a good time.

The current line-up consists of Dillie Keane, Adele Anderson and Sarah-Louise Young (the newest member). The show was great -modern, topical cabaret.

The opening song "Companies Using Nifty Tax Systems" (enjoy those initials..) was followed by the wonderful Dogging (very much NSFW) which included Ms Keane's warning "For those of a sensitive disposition.... what the fuck are you doing here"  I loved the show, and also got a good deal of pleasure watching the older ladies sitting next to be going gradually from incredulity to hysterical laughter!
A little later in the evening we were treated to the song 'Cheap Flights' (after which the current tour is named) at which point I realised I had seen them before. Very funny.

All too soon, the evening came to an end. The final song was dedicated to Bath itself, "your Roman ruins are extensive, but your pumproom teas are too expensive"...

Watch the videos, they give you a far better idea of what these women are all about that I can. and in the event they play anywhere near you, go to see them, You won't regret it. (unless, of course, you are of a sensitive disposition!)

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Autumn

This morning was rather grey and damp, but it wasn't actually raining (at least when I got up) So I decided that I would go to Stourhead, to see the autumn leaves.

I was a little startled that when I arrived, about 15 minutes after opening time, I found that the main car park was full and the overflow was getting pretty busy. I suppose that's what happens when the National Trust goes onto BBC Radio 4 and says that this weekend will be the best one to see the colours...!

Just as I got tho the entrance of the grounds it started to drizzle, and although this did stop when I was about half way around the lake, it continued to be pretty grey, so the colours didn't look as dramatic as they do when you manage to catch them on a day of glorious autumn sunshine!

There were swans swanning around on the lake, as well as the ducks, gulls and coots, and I saw a heron, too, fishing near the Pantheon, although it very uncooperatively had it's head down making it hard to photograph successfully.

I enjoyed the walk, and the views - I didn't even mind the rain, as it wasn't cold.

After leaving the main grounds, I drove along towards 'King Alfred's Tower', which is on the edge of Stourhead's park. On the way, I found a little space to park from which I could walk along to 'St Peters Pump', which is a little monument marking the source of the River Stour.

I then moved on to King Alfred's Tower itself. The tower is a folly, built in 1772 to mark the spot where it was believed Alfred the Great rallied his troops before defeating the Danes in 878AD. It's an interesting building - a triangular brick tower with a staircase in a little turret running up one corner, and is totally empty, (and very damp) It is claimed that when it was built, it marked the point where the counties of Somerset, Dorset and Wiltshire met, with one corner in each county, but I am a little sceptical.

You can climb up the tower (160', around 250 steps) and it is well worth doing so - the views from the top are stunning.  By the time I got to the top, the sun had come out.

Although I visit Stourhead fairly frequently, this is the first time I've been to the tower. I'm glad I did.

More photos in my flickr set, if you're interested

Saturday, 29 October 2011

In Which Mr Bill Bailey entertains Ilfracombe

I am signed up to Bill Bailey's mailing list, and as a result, I heard that he was doing two shows at Ilfracombe's Landmark Theatre as warm up for his new 'Dandelion Mind (gently modified)' tour, and, as Ilfracombe is only about 20 minutes from my parents' home, it seemed like a good opportunity to see Bill Bailey and my parents, in one fell swoop.
Pretty picture of the Landmark Theatre (photo from theatre website)
It was not 100% successful, as it turned out that my Mum and Dad were actually away all day on Saturday, but we did meet briefly as I popped in for coffee on my way past, en route to the theatre, and again on my return, for about 10 minutes before we went to bed.

The show was great.

I saw the 'Dandelion Mind' show last September (Blogged it here ) and this version of the show has some of the same material, with some new - including bots about 'Broken Britain' - I particularly enjoyed Bill's comments about the Coalition "It's like being governed by a bowl of pot pourri and a sea-cucumber" (which is one of the few descriptions I can remember, most of the others were more insulting. I kept expecting 'Cream-faced loon' to come up!

Other highlights included some art appreciation, a rendition of 'Scarborough Fair', in German, not to mention a song after the style of 'Chas'n'Dave', (during their Devil Worshipping phase).

Oh, and California Dreaming'  at different speeds, which is much funnier than you might think.

I had a great evening, and I'm really glad I went, as although the tour has dates all through November, none of them is near me.

This morning, my parents were leaving at some ungodly hour  7a.m. but did stick their heads round the bedroom door to say good morning and goodbye, and to bring me a cup of tea, before the left. I then went back to sleep, pottered around a bit, and then went on a long, meandering drive on my way home. (I'd planned to visit a couple of picturesque bits of Exmoor, and go for a couple of short walks and take pretty pictures, but unfortunately it started to rain very heavily at just the wrong moment, so in the end I ended up driving around some very narrow Devon lanes (albeit some of them with nice views) without any walks.

On arriving home I found my next door neighbours have moved out, and some new ones have moved in. I hope they are nice and quiet! The old ones were nice people, but had a very yappy little dog which got hysterical every time I went into my garden...

Tomorrow, I am going to see Fascinating Aida, and if it is a nice day I may go to Stourhead, as it's supposed to be at it's best, for the autumn colours, this weekend. (So it will probably pour with rain all day!) I went around this time last year, and got some gorgeous pics..

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

In Which I Go to Bristol

A long time ago, I signed up to attend BristolCon, having enjoyed it last year, and then I mostly forgot about it, and suddenly it was time to go.. The con was on Saturday, in (unsurprisingly) Bristol, which is of course practically on my doorstep.

The day didn't start well. I got distracted, so was still eating toast when the train I had originally thought of left. Then having, as I thought, left enough time to get to the station, I found that Every Single Traffic Light between my house and the station (5 sets) turned red as I approached it, and just for good measure there was the driver going Very Very Slowly and then randomly changing lanes in front of me without indicating. All of which, combined with the unheard-of event of the local train arriving (and leaving) on time, resulted in my missing the next train by a whisker. I saw it at the platform as I turned in to the station car-park, and it pulled out as I parked. So I ended up on the next train, arriving in Bristol shortly after 11. On the plus side, this meant I didn't have to queue to pick up my name badge, but it did mean I missed the Welcome, the first panel, Alex Keller's reading (which I'd wanted to catch) and the start of the second panel.

However, I was able to sneak into the 'Battle of the Books' panel, which featured Bob Neilson, Steve Westcott, Dolly Garland, John Meaney and Paul Cornell, arguing for their best books (and against those picked by the other panellists), and which was moderated with Extreme Prejudice by Cheryl Morgan armed with her zap-gun.  It was highly entertaining, despite some doubts as to the existence of one of the books, and made an excellent (if late) start to my day.
Alex Keller, Harriet Castor, Philip Reeve, MD Lachlan & Alastair Reynolds
I stayed on for the next panel, 'The Genesis Panel', which started out discussing how and why novels become epics, and which featured Alastair Reynolds, Philip Reeve, MD Lachlan, Harriet Castor and Alex Keller, and included commentary about books getting split in two by publishers, and the temptation to become epic-y. Interesting stuff.

It was followed by a short reading from Philip Reeve, which I enjoyed even though it was the second time I'd heard him read the same extract. (and I still want a Samovar Hat)

I then popped out of the Con to go down to Waterstones to meet Angie Sage, who was signing there - I enjoyed meeting her, but couldn't chat for long as she had too many others wanting to buy books and yet them, signed.

When I got back I was fortunate enough to bump into Philip Reeve and Thomas Martin (and others, whose names, I am ashamed to admit,  I did not note) over coffee, and chatted for a while.

Later, I went to the 'Life Cycle of the Author' (AKA 'George RR Martin is not your bitch') panel I enjoyed Wayne Simmons' moderating, which started by asking the audience what questions they would like to hear about, and which included comments about dealing with criticism and rejection,  writing avoidance techniques, and reader entitlement. (Also the revelation from Paul Cornell that he knows people who assume that comics come to a writer with all the pictures done, and the writer simply has to fill in the speech-bubbles... !)

I would have loved to go to Mike Shevdon's panel on Archery, but it clashed with Paul Cornell's Kaffeeklatsch, so I wasn't able to. |The kaffeeklatsch was small, and I think all the better for it, as were were able to have a casual chat, rather than  a mini panel. Much fun. this was followed by the "Dude, where's my jetpack?" panel, and what was and wasn't predicted, and what we all still want..

The final panel was another difficult choice as I would have liked to go to both of the streams! I actually picked the 'storytelling or literature' one, which was included topical conversation about the Booker prize, and when is genre not genre.

After which it was time to wind up the day and go home. It would have been fun to stay and chat in the bar, and try my luck in the quiz, but it was dark, and cold..

The day ended, as it had begun, with transport issues - half the roads in Trowbridge were closed, for the carnival, but very few of them had signs anywhere useful (such as at the start of the road) to tell you - I think we had to do 2 u-turns and 2 detours before finally making it home!

all together, though, a good day. Next year, BristolCon is on 20th October. Put it in your diary.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

In Which I Have a Simply Wonderful Day

Yesterday was my birthday. I was feeling a bit ambivalent about it, what with the getting older and older, and the inevitable musings on life, however, I then remembered that I had good friends coming to visit, and fun things planned, and felt a lot more cheerful about it!
My friends arrived from Manchester on Friday evening, in time for us to enjoy a leisurely meal (with cake!) and several glasses of wine, as we caught up, and just relaxed together.

Then yesterday, which turned out to be a beautiful, sunny day, we had a long lunch in Bradford on Avon, then spent the afternoon in Bath (1 pub, 1 independent bookshop) followed by a delicious Nepalese meal, and then Simon Callow's one-man show "Dr Marigold and Mr Chops", which was great!
Picture from BTR website
The show is Simon Callow performing two of Charles Dickens' monologues:

The first, about Mr Chops, was a short story published for Christmas 1858  entitled "Going into society", narrated by Mr Magsman, a showman, about a Dwarf known as Mr Chops who wins the lottery and goes into society. Although having its moments of pathos, it's very funny, and Mr Callow is excellent at doing all the voices!

The second, about Dr. Marigold (He was named "Doctor" after the Doctor who delivered him!) is longer, and although it has a lot of humour in it it, is a real tear-jerker. Narrated by Mr Callow in the character of Dr. Marigold, a cheap-jack, describing his marriage to an increasingly bad tempered woman, her cruelty towards their daughter, the child's death from illness and his subsequent adoption of a 'deaf-and-dumb' child, who had herself been neglected and abused.  Being dickens, it's not surprising that there is a deal of sentimentality, but before the happy ending there is a lot of (still relevant) content about poverty, grief, politics, discrimination and domestic abuse, and Callow's Dr. Marigold is a well-rounded, complete character, whose loneliness and grief comes across between the comedy moments.

It was a superb performance, and made for a thoroughly enjoyable evening. And all in all, the combination of good friends, good entertainment, and delicious food, wine and beer made for a great way to celebrate my birthday, and left me feeling set up for the year to come.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Bleugh!

So, I got home from Italy on Tuesday, and did bits of laundry and so on. On Wednesday I woke up with a sore throat, which I put down to having been cooped up in an aeroplane and a lot of trains. However, it quickly became obvious that that wasn't it.
I've spent most of the intervening time either curled up in bed, or on the sofa.
Now would be a good time to buy shares in tissues and lemsip.

Here's me and the excellent& lovely Moira Young prep... on Twitpic
(Picture borrowed from
@PhilipReeve1's twitter)
I think I'm starting to get better. I ventured out yesterday to go to Bath - the Bath Kids Lit Fest started on Friday, and I had a ticket to see Philip Reeve and Moira Young.

I enjoyed the panel, and it was  but it did make lovely to be able to say hello to Philip Reeve in person, after having spoken to him once or twice on twitter,  but I think I may have made a mistake in venturing out.

I was back at work today, but I only made it until about 1.30 before having to give up and go home.

I was due to go to a Kids Lit event this evening with David Almond, Melvin Burgess and Meg Rosoff but that's not going to happen, sadly. And the event on Sunday with Judith Kerr has had to be cancelled as she is not well, so my Kids Lit Fest this year will be a bit of a damp squib.

Oh well. C'est la vie.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

What I did On My Holidays - Part the Fifth - Naples Fiend-meet

After booking my holiday, it occurred to me that Sorrento and Naples are not too far from Rome, where my friend Nathalie lives, and when I got in touch with her it turned out that she was free on Monday, so we were able to arrange to meet up.  Nathalie generously agreed to come to Naples, and as Monday was my last full day, and I had a very early flight home on Tuesday morning, I'd booked a hotel in Naples for Monday night, so I travelled from Sorrento and checked in there, and Nathalie travelled from Rome, and we met in the lobby.
The weather had broken overnight - I was woken at 2 a.m. by a tremendous thunder storm - I thought for a moment the hotel was falling down around me! the rain lowered the temperature, which was nice, and it also meant it was a little clearer, although not by as much as I would have expected.

We set out to explore Naples - we started with the cathedral of San Gennero, as it turned out it was the day for the annual miracle, when some vials of St. Gennero's blood are brought out of the bank-vault in which they are normally kept, and the dried blood inside 'miraculously' liquefies. As a result, the church was very full, overflowing with nuns, and men in cassocks, and local dignitaries; we saw the tail-end of the procession going to the Church, but didn't wait for the miracle itself (although I gather this took place as advertised!)
'Dissillusion' (Pic from museum website)
We also visited the Cappella Sansevero, which houses a very famous sculpture of the 'Veiled Christ'. Unfortunately they have a very strongly enforced 'no photography' rule - however, the sculpture is incredible - really gives the impression of a body covered with a veil, through which details such as the wounds on the hands and feet can clearly be seen. The veil itself has delicate carved lace along the edges.

The sculpture is in the centre of the chapel, which also contains a number of other statues all having allegorical meanings, and with many references to freemasonry. To me, the most impressive is the statue depicting  disillusion, which has intricately carved stone netting!

Below the main chapel,  is a smaller chamber which contains two 'Anatomical Machines' which consist of two human skeletons, male and female, showing all the veins and arteries, and at least some of the internal organs. These were made in the 1760s, and no-one is entirely sure how they managed to do it. One theory is that it was done by injecting something, but according to the reading I've done since, it's now believed that the circulatory systems were made using wire, and plaster and beeswax, but it is still an incredible achievement - not least as it displays a much more accurate depiction of the circulatory system than was thought to be current at that time! The two bodies are looking somewhat the worse for wear, but very interesting, in a slightly gruesome way.
We went to the church and cloister of San Chiara, which features a cloister with majolica tiled pillars and seats. Most of the tiles features either daily scenes of trading or hunting, or of imaginative scenes of coaches drawn by lions, or peacocks, or sea monsters. Inexplicably, the scene in which the lions turn on their grooms and devour them, illustrating why cats are not suitable for this kind of work, is omitted.

We could only find one scene which related to the life of the convent, showing a nun feeding cats - two of which we identified as Bengals...

The church also has a small museum, in which none of the exhibits are labelled, so you find yourself looking at a mummified leg in a gilded case wondering who it (is supposed to have) belonged to.
We also visited a number of other churches, and we tried quite hard to visit Castel Nuovo, but unfortunately it was closed. It has a pretty impressive gateway, though!

We did, however, manage to find a nice restaurant where we ate pizza and drank beer, and later, we had coffee at Gambrinus, which is the oldest coffee shop in Naples, and still serves excellent coffee!

We were also unable to return to the archaeological museum, as that, too, is closed on Mondays. We did however, pass through the Galleria Umberto I, which is a huge shopping area, built in the 1880s, and featuring lots of angels, and glass ceilings and plasterwork. As shopping centres go, its pretty impressive.

There were a few more churches, and admired some .. interesting.. pieces of sculpture. I personally have no problems with Artemis of Ephesus or with one-legged Sphinxes as part of a tomb in a christian church, but I'm curious to know how they came to be approved, and what they were deemed to symbolise to make them acceptable for such a place!

We also spent a sensible amount of time sitting drinking granita and chatting, and simply wandering around, looking at streets and graffiti and stalls selling crib-figures, (and some figures *not* suitable for cribs, such as statues of Berlusconi and of various other celebrities and politicians.)

I really enjoyed the day - spending it with a friend made a wonderful finale to my holiday! (Although I did realise, when i got back to my hotel, that I had forgotten to give Nathalie the jar of home-made bramble jelly I brought all the way to Italy for her...

And then on Tuesday, I got up very early in the morning, and caught my flight home.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

What I Did On My Holidays - Part the Fourth - Villa Poppeae

After visiting the museum, I was on the circumvesuviana train back to Sorrento and decided, on impulse, to get off at Torre Annunziata, where I had seen that there is another Roman Villa, which was engulfed by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79AD.

I am so glad that I did. The Villa Poppaea Oplontis is amazing, and it was virtually empty - there were only 4 or 5 other visitors there so I was able to have most of the rooms to myself a lot of the time.

The villa is very complete, and the wall-paintings are incredibly well preserved. It's thought that the villa belonged to the family of Poppea (murdered wife of the Emperor Nero), and that it was empty and undergoing renovations after damage caused in the 62AD earthquake, at the time of the eruption.

The villa was large, with gardens and a swimming pool outside, and this, together with some of the decoration of the gardens and courtyard walls has survived.
You can also still see the plainer decoration on the pillars, and the walls of the corridors and the courtyards.

And wooden shutters have survived in places. The archaeologists have also been able to identify some of the trees and plants which were growing in and around the villa, and so the appropriate fruit-trees have been replanted.
But I have to admit that it is the paintings which I like best, and found most intriguing and memorable. seeing how bright the colours are, it's hard to realise that they were painted over 1,900 years ago.
I'm so very glad I did decide to get off the train, and go to look at the Villa.

(More pictures in my Flickr set here)

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

What I Did On My Holidays - Part the Third - more Roman Remains

Visiting Pompeii and Herculaneum was fascinating, but many of the paintings and mosaics, as well as other artifacts such as glass, silver, and household items have been removed, and are now in the Museo Archeologico Natzionale in Naples, so I decided to take a day-trip into the city to visit the museum.
It's housed in an imposing building, (originally built as a university) and includes a vast 'Great Hall of The Sundial' which holds an ancient statue of Atlas, carrying the globe which is itself carved with depictions of the zodiac. (The sundial in question is set into the floor, and lit by a hole in one corner of the hall, and is, as far as I could make out, designed to show mid day at different seasons, rather than to measure the hours each day.
Alexander the Great - Mosaic from the 'House of the Faun', Pompeii (detail)
Quite a few sections of the museum are closed, including, to my regret, the section holding the 'Farnese gems' (mainly cameos) and some of the Pompeii paintings, but I was able to see the mosaics from Pompeii, which are extraordinary. I think that the mosaic showing the battle between Alexander the Great, and King Darius is probably the most famous, and it is utterly amazing, but the others are pretty impressive, too.
Octopus vs. Lobster (detail of mosaic from the House of The Faun, Pompeii)
I liked the seafood mosaic, and little details of several of the others - this spiky-toothed hippo, for example, and the cat, lurking below a birdbath.

There are also mosaic-decorated pillars, more cats, another guard-dog mosaic.
Another room worth visiting is the 'Gabinetto segreto' (secret room). This is not so much secret as segregated - it contains lots of erotic art - originally, in the early 19th Century, the room was closed, and only those who were "of mature age and well known morality" were granted permits to view the "infamous monuments of heathen licentiousness".

It was then open during the Garibaldi period, and closed under the fascist regime, until 1967! Now it is open again, although there is a sign outside in four or five languages warning it may not be suitable for younger visitors..
Some of the artworks, such as the 'Venus in a golden bikini' are quite unexceptional.
Others, however, such as the statue of Pan with a she-goat, are more startling, to modern eyes!  There are also paintings taken from one of the lupanares (brothels) in Pompeii, with paintings showing different acts and positions, and various Herms, votive offerings (how often do you see a cupboard entirely full of penises?) and paintings, mosaics and statues leaving nothing to the imagination!

After which it was quite soothing to go and look at charming, if at times confusing, paintings from Pompeii - a cupid with a pair of shoes, for instance.
Portrait of the baker, Terentius Neo, and his wife
They also have selections of decorative silver, found at Pompeii (it survived intact having been stored in a chest, padded with blankets, possibly because the house was in the process of being reconstructed following the earthquake of  62AD. More amazingly, there are also glass items, and even papyrii which, despite the fact that they are seriously burned, archaeologists have succeeded in reading!

As well as the Pompeian art, there are also lots of sculptures, some of which were also found in Pompeii or Herculaneum
This lady -> is one of five statues found at Herculaneum, and still pristine.

One of the most famous sculptures in the museum is the 'Farnese Bull', which used to stand in Rome.

It is colossal. 

And while I can't approve of celebrating the habit of tying ladies to enraged bulls, (even if they have been misbehaving) you have to admire the craftsmanship involved!

As you do with the other sculptures.

(the dog, incidentally, is part of a table leg. He is one of the 3-heads of a dog emerging from the stomach of the sea-monster, Scylla, attacking Ulysses' sailors. But you probably knew that.)

all in all, it's a fascinating museum, and I'm very glad that I had the time and opportunity to go.