Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Holidays and other fun stuff.

I enjoyed Christmas, and having visitors staying.  My parents arrived at the weekend before Christmas, and were able to  help me put up the tree, and do some last minute tidying up etc. We also went to the Carol Service in the local church,which was very nice - lots of 'proper', traditional carols with the familiar tunes!

The kittens, of course, helped. In their own way.

Then my sister and her partner came to stay, and my *other* sister came for the day on Christmas Eve, so we were able to have a bit of a party then, as well as celebrating on Christmas Day itself.

As even the youngest members of the party were well into their 30s, we were able to have a nice, civilized, lie-in, and then stockings and croissants and cooking and gifts and champagne and gifts and eating and such like.

It was low key, but very pleasant.

And then on 27th my brother came down for a flying visit,  overlapping with my sister and her partner for a few hours. He was only able to stay for one night, but it was lovely to see him. 

Today, my mum and dad left, so it's back to me and the kittens (well, me, the kittens, and about 4 tonnes of chocolate. And the remains of a turkey. I shall be making stock this afternoon!)

I have another couple of days off before I need to go back to work, so hopefully I shall  have time to unwind a little and, I hope, to get over the nasty head-cold I have been suffering from...

I hope all of you have had a good time over the holidays, whether or not you were celebrating christmas!

Sunday, 14 December 2014

The Imitation Game (mild Spoliers) and Meteors

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

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

It was rather chilly, but lovely to look at! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 13 December 2014

In Which there is an Astronaut

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which was a lot of fun. 

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

Monday, 8 December 2014

Theatre - witches and valets and such.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 6 December 2014

More fun stuff

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

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

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

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

But apart from that, it was a lovely weekend.