Friday, 27 February 2015

Nobody likes a show off

If I wasn't writing this myself, I probably wouldn't believe it.  Especially as I know more about me than you do.

This week I have sipped cocktails and ate canapes with the French ambassador.  There may have even been some mild flirtation (her not me)

I have discussed Shakespeare, Sondheim and Bennett with the actor Jamie Parker

I have dined with Andrew Parker, Head of MI5 (no relationship as far as I'm aware with Jamie) and had breakfast and dinner with Professor Graham Zellick President of The Valuation Tribunal for England and a judge of the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (look it up...)

But best of all I had lunch with my brother, and renewed my friendship with Auntie Gwen over a pint

That's a good week indeed

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

2015 and all that

At any level 2015 has been a shitty year...and I haven't told a word of it so far.  And nor will I.  But I am reveling in my own self-pity.

Having thought that I'd kissed goodbye to some history at the beginning of the year, it came back and has bitten in a very, very painful way.  It will take at least until June to resolve, and even then a nasty taste will be left that will be difficult to forget.

I'm in need of Auntie Gwen's expertise, as things up North are not what they should be.

And if I wanted to, I could fill this post and a million others with a list of woes and misery.

But enough, at least I'm not living in fear of being burnt alive or decapitated in the middle east, or Nigeria, nor am I seeing my country torn apart as the Ukrainians are.  Everything in perspective.

At the weekend it was Valentine's Day, so you can imagine we had a romantic evening out at our favourite restaurant followed by a night at the theatre.  Well imagine away.  You couldn't be further from the truth.  We usually spend Valentine's Day in Brighton, and so we made plans for this year.  Cards and romantic gifts were exchanged in the morning before the day got going.  We did indeed spend Saturday and Sunday there...so that's good.  However, we traveled separately...like the Royal Family.  The Cat's Mother drove down, having worked out how to pay the new charge at the Dartford Crossing, to arrive at a freezing cold flat (I'd forgotten to put the heating on and she doesn't know how to put it on...it's a remote system on the mobile phone).  As she wasn't sure when I would arrive, she sat there twiddling her fingers...and TCM is not good when she's doing nothing.  Me?  I decided (encouraged by TCM) to cycle.  It's a mere 135km, and it seemed sensible to follow the National Cycling Routes 21 and 20.  I should have checked the Sustrans web site before I set off, because once out of London I quickly found myself on muddy tracks that would defeat even the most determined Russian tank in Ukraine.  Much time was spent yomping up (very steep) hill and down dale with a road bike on my back.  To rub salt into the would Google kept sending me the wrong way...it was more lost than I was, and at one stage I ended up in some sort of valley that had clearly not seen a living creature since the dinosaurs roamed there.  I can't tell you how angry I became, and if you hear the birds in your garden are no longer singing, but instead using the foulest of foul language, that's my fault.  Eventually the guiding technology of my mobile was switched off, I followed my nose and didn't get lost once.  I eventually arrived in Brighton at about 7.00pm ready for a romantic meal at home a deux. 

It was lovely.  Well I enjoyed it.  But I think TCM deserves better next year...

Sunday evening was spent mostly washing my extraordinarily filthy cycling gear and the bike all of which were caked in mud....I've cancelled my monthly donation to Sustrans given how ridiculous and cavalier I thought there approach was to route planning and development...

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Kulcher

You learn something new everyday whatever your age I believe.  And I'm delighted that's the case.  There are some things you should know when you're young, but some how they manage to go undetected.  I've learnt two things recently that I should have known years and years ago.  Whilst watching the absolutely superb Sound of Song programme presented by Neil Brand I discovered that Al Jolson was white.  I suppose I should have known, but his is not my sort of music, and he's just only ever been peripherally on my radar...and in the back of my head is a picture of a what I now know is a white man blacked up.  Oh dear.  Equally I thought Harper Lee was a male, not a female until all the news came out this week that she is to publish a text that she put aside to concentrate on To Kill a Mockingbird.  In this case, it was not just straight ignorance but the muddle of memory.  I realise that I'd managed to muddle To Kill a Mockingbird with Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger...and hence confuse the sex of the author.  Is that ignorance, forgetfulness, age or a combination of both.  Either way, I'll not be going on Mastermind!

One of the things we've been to see this year was Treasure Island...have I mentioned this?  We saw it at the National, and I snoozed through most of it because it was pants.  What annoyed me most was that Jim Hawkins was a girl.  No reason for the sex change, and the foolishness of that decision was probably reflected in one line by Cap'n Jack Sparrow (not really it was Captain Flint) who asked whether she was a boy or a girl, and the retort being "Does it matter?"  Well yes, it does matter.  If the original text had said Jane Hawkins, then she would have a girl.  In fact Jim's a boy..always has been, always will be.  I feel the same about some other nonsense that's doing the rounds on the internet at the moment...the idea of making Spiderman black.  Why?  What's the point?  he's always been white (not that his colour ever seemed to matter in any of his adventures), so let's just leave some things as they are.  Change is not necessarily better, often it's worse and change for the sake of change is pointless.

Down in Brighton the other week we went to see Return to the Forbidden Planet...a sort of modern musical version of the Tempest set in space.  Complete and utter nonsense, but equally just absolute fun if you're in pantomime mode...which I was.  It's on tour so I suggest you grab it whilst you can.  As someone in our group said, it's like a school production...that's as maybe, but it doesn't stop it being fun.

Not quite so good was Into The Woods currently showing at the local Roxy.  It's a nice concept written by Stephen Sondheim, but the performances were erratic - James Cordon may well have been way out of his depth surprisingly enough, but it's nicely put together and a good way to spend a couple of hours.  But don't for one minute thinks it's a kids thing...yes it is based on fairy tales, but the whole thing is quite grown up.  And don't go and see it somewhere that you are surrounded by people chomping and chewing, rustling crisps and slurping drinks, checking their Facebook food, or just generally chatting.  Because that would ruin it.

Quite the worst thing I've seen at the cinema for a long while is Oscar nominated American Sniper. It is a typical American 'we won the war', goodies versus baddies (in this case described as savages) and the creation of a hero.  Tragically it missed a great opportunity to examine the morals and ethics of sniping killing, and any reflection of the broader elements of war in the middle east.  I can't believe it's been nominated, and can only imagine that if it wins anything it's because Americans can't resist turning themselves into saviours of the world.

By comparison, The Theory of Everything was a revelation.  I was dragged to the cinema kicking and screaming because I couldn't face the thought of a cinematic glamourisation of the Professor's life.  What I hadn't appreciated was that it was based on a book by his ex-wife.  And a remarkable film it is.  Treading a very delicate line very carefully...neither too glossy, nor too mawkish.  Of course, some of his failing (as a father in particular)  are glossed over, but overall it was a very moving film that sought to tell his story in a reasonable and balanced way.  Rightly BAFTAs have been picked up, and I hope there may be an Oscar too.

We also went to see Imitation Game, which was good, in that lovely British sort of way...of course it's a story of triumph, but ultimately despair.  It was well set, well shot and well acted.

At this time of year there are so many films to watch, so I know we won't get to see them all, thank heavens for HMV.

We went to see the second showing of Grimms Tales - Philip Pullman's take on the fairy tales we all grew up with.  This time it was being held in the Barge House next to the Thames, with a new set of tales, compared to the event in Shoreditch last year. The setting was fabulous with the whole building completely dressed, so the feeling of immersion was total.  The telling of the tales was similar to last time with actors retelling the story whilst acting it out (rather than it being a straight play). It was beautifully done...some of the tales such as the Frog Prince and Hansel and Gretel were known to us, some were not familiar.  Are fairy tales for kids?  I don't think so, there wasn't a single one at the event, and all the grown ups were entranced.

Tom Stoppard has been asking whether people are knowledgeable enough to see his latest play, The Hard Problem.  Evidently we do not have enough general knowledge to get the references in his plays, in contrast to when he wrote Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.  It's become such an issue that the BBC has a helpful quiz on its news site so you can check.  As for the play, well it's fine, it's not as clever or interesting as it should be and a plot twist or two can be seen from a mile away.  Perhaps I'm just not clever enough.  The quiz is here

On the DVD front we've watched the very excellent Nebraska...a film we wanted to see last year, but ran out of time.  Genuinely moving, and amusing at the same time.  It will reinforce every prejudice you have against mid-west America.  We also watched Now You See Me...a sort of magic mystery crime caper.  Great for an evening's entertainment, with Michael Caine excelling in his usual acting technique.  Wooden.  I don't hold it against him.  We have a pile of DVD's yet to be watched, so let's hope we may yet get snowed in this year!

I've finally given up on a novel I've been reading for seven months.  I've never done that before, but really Kate Mosse should know better.  A book that's over 700 pages long needs to have a very strong storyline to hold on to its reader, and this one just doesn't.  I may need to read something with a bit more substance.

Friday, 6 February 2015

Pedalling ambition

Did I mention that I'm cycling to Paris in May?  I could have done it for charity, but there's only so many times you can ask people for money, so I'm self-funding.  For the same price I swear I could stay at the George V in Paris...I enjoy my long distant rides, and it has been in my head for a while that Paris would be a good place to cycle to.  I looked at it last year, but couldn't quite decide which organised group to go with so procrastination ruled it out in the end.  There are three routes you can do. Via Newhaven on the South Coast, but as I've ridden to Brighton more than once and the route is very similar I didn't fancy it, although it's the shortest ride. Via Portsmouth is another, but I've plumped to go Via Dover.  It's quite a long way round, and the real downside is that there are hills in Kent at the end of our first day, which is the longest day.  But what would life be without a challenge or two.  The net result is that even though the weather has been hideous I've been cycling.  I've had a couple of sessions round the cycling track at the Olympic Park which I've enjoyed immensely as I can switch off, put the headphones in and just pedal without fear of getting splatted by an HGV.  I cycled up to the downs in Sussex, and I've been cycling into London, and I'm beginning to see an improvement  in my fitness levels.

Worst ride to date was last weekend.  We went down to Beckenham in south London/Kent to visit The Cat's Mother's brother The Conductor who is suffering from a detached retina (ouch, yuk!), and I thought I would take the opportunity to cycle home.  In a straight line it's about 21 miles...a nice work out.  We shoved the bike in the back of the little Toyota Yaris (affectionately known as Le Taxi Yarees) and set off.  It was freezing cold, it was wet and just plain grim.  But The Cat's Mother said, as she drove off after the visit, "You can't wimp out now".  So I got on and started pedalling.  As it was raining I couldn't get my phone out, so couldn't read the map.  And I didn't know where I was. I'd had nothing to eat since breakfast either. I ended up heading south-east, before turning north and then turning west before eventually in more familiar territory turning north.  I've never subscribed to the north vs south London rivalry, but let me just say south London is sh*t.  No cycle lanes, no signs pointing you in the right direction and every vehicle seems to want to knock you off...I guess they don't see too many cyclists there.  The rain got worse and worse, and I got colder, wetter and more miserable.  By the time I was 5 miles from home, I could no longer feel my feet or ankles. At all.  This meant that when I was pedalling up that final steep hill and trying to put pressure and effort into it, I couldn't feel what was happening.  Still I did make it.  I'd covered just over 45km (only the Brits can use both miles and kms and get away with it!).  But worse was to come as the blood slowly returned to feet and ankles.  The pain was absolutely excruciating...it brought back grim memories of standing on the rugby field at school just freezing, freezing, freezing.  The result was a dash to the cycle shop on Monday to get a pair of these:


Waterproof and warming overboots.  Cycling in the cold has been transformed..

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

A new era

One of the changes that was set in motion in August was the decision to sell The Boy's Mother's house in Finsbury Park.  When she died over a decade ago, the place lay empty for more than a year whilst the emotional turmoil that her death had caused settled.  Although it wasn't truly my responsibility, I decided to take charge, as things couldn't stay as they were.  With all the upset, it was too soon to sell the place, so it was rented out.  Since then there have been good tenants, and not so good tenants, but generally it worked well.  It was quite a drain in terms of the cost of maintenance, and the time needed to manage it, but there was a good rental income.  In truth I'd never much liked it as a house simply because it was always problematic....there were always repairs that needed doing, and nothing seemed to last as it should.  When it was first purchased it had been bedsits, and the quality of the conversion work was not fantastic, and there were recurring problems...leaks, cracks, electrical issues and so on.  But now that The Boy and his sister are into adulthood and want to go their own ways, it was the right time for it to be sold.

Of course the process wasn't entirely smooth - the English way of selling property seems designed to be as difficult and stressful as possible.  Everyone in the process seems fine with being difficult and unreasonable.  Again, I took control, and spent hours, days, weeks negotiating and managing the process.  An offer had come in pretty quickly, and exchange took place the weekend before Christmas, with completion on 5th January.

That was truly a moment for reflection for everyone.  I think The Boy had closed his mind to it...he was after all only 8 when he left there.  I hope at some stage he will put time aside to reflect on how his life changed and how that has affected him and will affect him in the future.  For his sister, who was a teenager at that time, there must have been many more memories, and I'm sure that her visit to empty the house of furniture must have been painful.  Even for me the memories of the place are still very vivid.  Some amazingly good, some truly awful.  The moment of sale was one that managed to be both a happy one, and a very sad one.  But it was the lifting of a burden, the closing of a door, and I think for everyone the opportunity to move onward.  The grieving process was complete.





Thursday, 15 January 2015

"Putin is no longer the right man to lead our country"



Now where did we leave it?

Did I mention how well the New Year started?  No?  Well it didn't really...the house was burgled.  Not too much taken (money, mobile phone, credit cards...not mine - The Cat's Mother's), but that's never the point.  As it happens I'd left the day before to go and see The Boy in Austria, so The Cat's Mother was Home Alone, and left deeply unsettled particularly as the point of entry wasn't immediately obvious.  Having had a look at it now, you can't help but be impressed with the ingenuity of how they got in, and wonder how much money they could be earning if they put that to good use.

Over in Austria, The Boy took me skiing every day which was nice.  He managed to dine with me one evening, and I don't begrudge him spending the evenings with his ski buddies.  For January it was incredibly warm...in fact it wouldn't have been a hardship to have been skiing in a T-shirt such was the temperature on the last day.  I managed to drag him away and ensure he returned safely to Edinburgh, so another academic term has begun for him.



My last evening in Kitzbuhel was spent in conversation with a Member of the Russian Parliament, which was probably one of the most entertaining discussions I've had for years.  Essentially he said that the collapse in oil prices will within a couple of years cause political unrest, and that will cause problems for the rest of Europe - "You know how the Russians negotiate - we win, you lose!", Crimea was not something he approved of, although he didn't disagree with me when I pointed our that it had been part of Russia until 1954 and was only given to Ukraine when there was no thought of the possibility of the end of the Soviet Union.  Finally, he felt that Putin was no longer the right man....not something that would be repeated in Moscow I thought.

Of course whilst I was away, the terrible events in Paris unfolded.  Ultimately whilst I feel very sorry for the people who died, I feel much more sorrow for their families who have to face the future with the terrible burden of knowing how, when and why their loved ones died.  Their pain will never fade.






Sunday, 4 January 2015

The unexpected virtue of ignorance*

Happy New Year everyone.

Having totted up our list of 'stuff wot we dun', we realised that we'd missed a few...and that may suggest we do too much, but we can resist everything except temptation.  In Brighton for the new year, we went to a performance of One Man Two Guvnors...we'd seen this twice before, but the Muffins hadn't.  It was a treat for them and indeed for us as it still makes us laugh as much as it did the first time we saw it.  New Year's Eve saw us at a concert of Viennese music by the Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra, which was a nod to our last new year spent in Austria...it was very civilised and absolutely delightful, although in an auditorium of several hundred, we did lower the average age by half!  Fireworks were lit on the beach and we danced the New Year in...lovely.

January is always a busy month for films, and the first one we've seen is Birdman...which is an astounding and outstanding film about a fading actor who's determination to put on his own play is completely undermining his self-belief.  It is comic, dramatic and sad in turns, and there's not a single actor that doesn't excel...its very quirky, you won't have seen anything like it before nor will you again...

I've got back on my cycle properly again...it came down with us to Brighton, so I was able to do two rides up to the Downs.  I'd done one ride at the road track at the Olympic Velodrome before Christmas and another today...so the fitness levels are once more on the rise.

The Boy has been in Kitzbuhel again, teaching now that the snow has arrived.  He's no doubt had a great time again, but communications are not what they could or should be as his phone is also not quite what it should be.  Sigh.  anyway, I am off to see him later this week for a few days

Also sigh...I've decided to get a new car.  Very exciting.  I've surprised myself by going for another Jeep...I've never bought the same car before, but I love the one I've got, and am only replacing it because I feel I should before it gets too old...it's a first world thing isn't it?  Anyway, amazingly I have to wait almost nine months for it to arrive...they make them to order, and don't make them all the time.  It will truly be my new baby.

* that's the alternative title for Birdman

Friday, 26 December 2014

2014 and all that

So nearly at an end of another year.  To paraphrase a phrase known to many..it was the best of years, it was the worst.  Obviously the blog is not what it used to be...which saddens me..perhaps it had become just a habit, perhaps I've been otherwise focused...I'm not sure.  Who know what 2015 will bring...

Anyway, it's often said that The Cat's Mother and I are always out and about, so it seemed fun to write down what we've been up to (mostly cultural)....what can I say...aren't we very, very, very lucky indeed:

Films

Secret Life of Mitty - the only Ben Stiller film I've ever enjoyed.  Great fun

Inside Llwellyn Davies - Brilliant.  Especially if you understand about the cat

Who Framed Roger Rabbit - the original in a Secret Cinema event.  Jessica Rabbit.  Jessica Rabbit

The Book Thief - not liked by the critics...we did though

Grand Hotel Budapest - mad and brilliant

Millers Crossing - More Secret Cinema, more fun in the round

The Double - certainly appealed to me very much if not the rest of us who went to see it.  Surreal

Calvary - vies with Inside Llwellyn Davies for my film of the year.  Devastating

The Trip - yes we saw it at the cinema with a Q&A with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, as well as on TV; very well done...not as good as the first series

Rio2 - I didn't see this.  I don't think I missed anything

20,000 Days - Nick Cave talks us through his life.  Worth it to see Kylie driving along Brighton sea front.  We celebrated The Cat's Mother's 20,000 birthday too this year

Box Trolls - great animated fun

Rush - motoring racing turned into a great film about James Hunt...The Boy and I loved it

Imitation Game - Benedict does what Benedict does very well.  Surprisingly good, very British

Paddington - Brilliant.  Really.  Loved it

The Hermitage - a film guide to St Petersberg's most famous Museum.  Strangely compelling and enjoyable

Theatre

Emile and The Detectives - kids stuff; I snoozed through most of it.  But it's very popular

The Duchess of Malfi - a Jacobean drama in a candlelit Jacobean theatre.  What's not to like?

August Osage County - no, not the film, but The Cat's production in Exeter.  We travelled through floods to get there, and would do again

Coriolanus - a phenomenal production at the Donmar; we watched it live stream

King Lear - I was in a minority not liking this, even if it had Simon Russel Beale in

Taste of Honey - 1950's England revisited...and very well done indeed

Life of Mozart - the great man's life revisited at the Wannamaker - well done, but not really my thing

Knights of the Burning Pestle -  riotous fun.  Unbelievably written five hundred years ago.  Fab

Oh what a lovely war - great to see at the original theatre (Streatham Playhouse).  Sadly it hasn't survived the passage of time

1984 - at the Almeida.  The critics loved it; we thought it mediocre

Another Country - you can't keep a great play down.  Very, very well done

Grimm Tales - immersive theatre in the Shoreditch Town Hall basement...what a wonderful thing this was

Ellen Terry - I didn't see this, so can't say one way or another

Sonnet walk - Shakespearean actors performing sonnets around the streets of London; sadly I missed this year's one, but loved it last year

Hamlet - at The Globe.  Blood, guts, ghosts, Yorrick.  Perhaps not the best

Testament of Mary - another one The Cat's Mother saw and I didn't.  Sad to have missed it

Billy Eliot - amazingly I hadn't seen it before.  Glad to have ticked the list, but it's lost the sparkle

Onorous - classical Greek story in rhythmic pidgin English.  Much, much more enjoyable than we expected.  A highlight

Benvenuto Cellini - at the ENO.  Some spectacular moments, just not enough of them

Cabaret - one seen by The Cat's Mother in New York...if it was as good as the version we saw last year, it was brilliant

Titus Andronicus...more blood and guts than you can imagine in my favourite piece of Shakespeare

Norman Conquests - the Cat's second outing, this time in Camden; one play three different perspectives...a triumph

Medea - the critics raved, the audience raved, I quite liked it

Annie Get Your Gun...went to prove that Jason Donnovan could sing and act.  We were wrong

Shakespeare in Love...everyone else had seen the film, this was my first introduction and I loved it...but didn't enjoy the film as much when I watched it on DVD afterwards

The Boy Who Climbed Out of His Face - an immersive experience in shipping containers.  Not surprisingly the household was split.  I had a fab night.

39 Steps...I was taking The Boy to Edinburgh, so good job I'd seen this and enjoyed it before

Once - oh yes.  Surprised I loved this

Streetcar Named Desire - a towering piece of theatre, although not quite as I remembered it from O Levels

Bally Turk...lots of shouting and a programme that said you didn't need to understand it to enjoy it.  I did enjoy it, not sure I enjoyed it

'Tis pity she's a whore - more Jacobean theatre involving incest and death. Great performance

Alice in Wonderland - The Royal Ballet performing one of the greatest productions.  Second time we've seen it, and there's still nothing better at the RoH

Charles III - we'd both wanted to see this for ages, so it was a shame some of this was risible, some of it was obvious and we should have left at half time

Monty Python - most of the old team, still making everyone laugh, although a bit more slowly and nothing that's cutting edge (not surprisingly)

Music

Easystar All Stars - everything I was hoping for from the 25th Anniversary show of reggae Dark Side of the Moon

Rufus Wainright - I'm not a fan, but I strongly suggest you search YouTube for the clip of him singing Somewhere Over The Rainbow. Sensational

Mari Wilson - a small intimate venue, Crazy Coqs, was ideal for this lovely evening

Black Rivers - Two-thirds of Doves.  I so wanted to like this, but in truth it wasn't as good as it should have been...back to the rehearsal studio please

Temper Trap - in my eyes they can do nothing wrong.  We didn't agree about that

Bastille - actually we preferred the support and bought her CD.  Again I had a bug so was not having a great time really

James and Starsailor - a concert that truly restored my faith in concerts.  James were phenomenal....the best concert I've been to for years from a band that I hardly knew.  They understood how to entertain and delivered with aplomb

Comedy

John Richardson - he was very funny indeed.  And I don't like stand up comedy!

Julian Clary - music or comedy...well both really at the Crazy Coqs again.  Another highlight

Exhibitions

Henry Moore - just up the road from us is Henry Moore's old home estate, and we headed there because there was an exhibition on contemporary artists - I needed some pictures for my photo course and got them.

History of Germany - at the British Museum.  Fantastic, truly fantastic...so much to see and learn.  Loved it

The art of the brick.  Love Lego.  But it's not art.  No matter how many times the artist told us it is

Ansel Keifer - an exhibition that I was dragged along to kicking and screaming, but left feeling that I'd had a perfect couple of hours

Turner at The Tate - you've seen one, you've seen them all...well not quite, but perhaps I have no culture

Other stuff

Palace to palace cycle ride - a lovely day out with good friends...an early start, stags in Richmond Park and beautiful scenery along the Thames

Drumming at Lewes Bonfire celebrations...five miles banging on a drum fairly rhythmically surrounded by burning barrels, flaming torches and loud bangers.  For me the achievement of a long-held ambition.  So pleased to have done it

Sandringham on the Orient Express...another of The Cat's Mother's day trips.  A carriage of Essex girls on a posh train.  Would have loved to have been a fly on the wall

Ghostbus - a spooky tour of London that scared the living daylights out of Muffin minor...I should have gone on to a 100km cycle ride, but a bug that would subsequently last for 2 months kept me low

Tower of London Poppies - I planted, I picked, and we visited.  A remarkable and remarkably moving event

Sacred Monsters - Akram Khan and Sylvie Guillem giving a phenomenal performance at Sadlers Wells

Two book readings/discussions...one with the irascible Lynn Barber and the other with the talented Tony Parsons

I might also include my weekend of bobsleighing with Team GB

And I might even include getting a diploma in Photography

Charity run round the Olympic Park counts for something too

There are a few things just plain forgotten...but can you blame me?

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Too many yellow people

Yes, we're back on that UKIP theme again...we'll when you're on a roll it's hard to let go isn't it?  Good to see their General Secretary is in the news today for all the wrong reasons.

Anyway, back to those yellow people.  My brother has been in and out of hospital a bit too often for my liking (and to be honest his too probably).  Firstly a day trip to Papworth to sort out continuing heart issues...another stent seems to have sorted that out.  But at the same time they substantially upped his medication. So no wonder when he was in writhing agony a couple of days later, and rushed to Addenbrooks, the probable diagnosis was liver failure due to an overdose of prescription drugs.  He was popped into the ward where everyone with liver problems are being treated...and therefore, of course, they're all yellow.  It's an odd sight.  As it turns out, it was 'simply' his appendix.  Which he now doesn't have.  It's a real relief that it was nothing worse...especially for him, but truth be told the stress isn't too good for his mother or brother either.

Friday, 5 December 2014

More bloody immigrants



A couple of weeks ago I posted a heavily ironic piece called Bloody Immigrants.  I thought it was witty, amusing and clever.  Just like me.  I am sure you agree.  Anyway, a strange thing happened a couple of days later.  UKIP started following  me...digitally, not as in stalking me.  Clearly their social media manager cannot read beyond a headline. 

So I take from that I can say pretty much anything I like about the pig-ignorant right-wing thinking and racism that permeates that organisation so long as I say it in para 2 or beyond.  As it happens, I know someone who used to work with Nigel Farrage in the City, making his fortune by exploiting the weak and poor.  He has regaled me with stories of Nigel's drinking habits.  Some might call it a drinking problem.  I don't know if he still drinks himself silly on a regular basis, but I can think of at least one other politician who had a drink problem.  That was George Bush.  Look where he took us.

Anyway, I wish we'd taken on the Polish builders who bid for the work at our house.  The English one we took on has demonstrated that he cannot organise himself out of a paper bag, but has an endless capacity for bullshit.  Two months into the project, and we're a month behind a very detailed schedule.  Given that it's a six month project it looks like it will in fact be a nine month build.


Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Finished

It may or may not be worth the paper it's printed on, but this is what's been keeping me away for the last several months.  It's the first certificate I've got since I left school (if you include big persons school - University).  I'm quietly very pleased.  No I don't do weddings, bar mitzvahs or funerals.



Friday, 21 November 2014

Back again

I've become one of those occasional bloggers, sadly, for me at the moment.  A combination of being exceptionally busy and somewhat less organized than usual (and I set the bar pretty low here at the best of times) means that I haven't put anything down with the regularity I like...I think last year I was penning nothing in particular roughly every two days...now it's once a week at best.  One of the biggest occupiers of my spare time has been this photocourse I mentioned a while back.  I've been ploughing through it at the rate of a module a week..which even if I say it myself is pretty impressive, when it should be more like a module a month.  I have to do an assignment at the end of each module...and get marked for it.  There was one set back when I'd misunderstood what I needed to do (oh sweet memories of 'O' levels, 'A' levels and degree exams) and had to re-do it, but apart from that I've been hitting 80 -90% each time.  Which is amazing as the last module was Photoshop which I'm convinced would baffle Einstein himself...it did baffle me, but evidently I pushed the right buttons, lightened her, darkened there, sharpened this, raised the temperature on that and generally fiddled until the course tutor was satisfied.  Could I do it again?  I give the same answer as I would give if you asked me to re-do one of the questions on comparative international politics that gave me top marks back at University.  No.

So what else?

I went to an exhibition by a photographer who essentially takes pictures of the sea at night with an exposure time of 3 - 4 hours.  They are very good indeed.  What does he do in the meantime?  Essentially he sits there contemplating life, the universe and 42.  He invited me to join him.  I've neither declined nor accepted.

Our annual Old Boys Dinner.  Oddly, I then bumped into one of my table companions two days later on the tube, having never met him outside the school environment in the last 36 years.  Even more odd, was then bumping into another table companion, having also never met him outside the school gates.  Interesting how these things work isn't it?

Bonfire night was very special for me.  For many years I've attended the crush of Lewes where the traditions of parades through the high street have not changed for the last several hundred years...it's a dangerous experience indeed.  80, 000 people pack into the town, to be pushed and shoved inches from flaming torches, burning barrels and 20' effigies loaded with fireworks.  This year I managed to be part of the procession due to the participation of the Pandemonium Drummers...they're the folk who drummed at the Olympic Opening Ceremony, and invited me along.  I've never it a drum before in my life, and I had to do it for a five mile march, in costume trying to match everyone's rhythm.  For me, it was stupendous..an experience that will stay with me for many many years.

We saw a very, very funny Julian Clary at the Crazy Coqs - which is the most intimate venue imaginable, all art deco and reminiscent of something from the 1930's.  Think Berlin Burlesque cabaret and you're not far off.  He spoke his way through a number of songs in a Rex Harrison style, and we were captivated by his humour. I'd say more, but it's hard to describe.

On Halloween I was supposed to do one of my 100km night rides, but a bug has got me, and even now, a month later I can't shake it off.  I refuse to give in, but it's quite wearing really!  Instead we went with the Muffins of a Ghost Bus Tour's (say it our loud and you'll get it) trip round London town.  With a commentary from a haunted conductor and interrupted by a devilish inspector, this was a great way to see some of London's grisly sights and here about the gorier side of the city's history...even if it did reduce the smallest Muffin, who has a very vivid imagination, to a quivering tearful wreck...

A cultural evening to the Wannamaker Jacobean theatre to see 'Tis a pity she's a whore.  So lots of incest and anti-catholicism and it's good to be reminded that all the world's problems are the fault of women.  The Wannamaker is such a fabulous place it's hard to imagine that anything put on there could be bad...and the experience of seeing candle-lit performance is quite magical, and like nothing you have seen before.

We also went to the cinema to see a premiere...a film about the Hermitage.  It was fascinating...there are 2000 exhibit rooms, and when we visited I guess we didn't see more than 20.  An interesting experience getting a tour round like this, and the film makers did well to make it interesting.  We learnt that Sir Robert Walpole sold off many British pictures to the Russians...Catherine the Great really did have so much money she just didn't know what to do with it, but many then got sold to the Americans after WW2 when Russia was short of cash.  In the meantime, many additional pictures had been freed from the Germans at the end of the war as part of the Russian quest to give art the hme it deserved...and there's no chance of it ever going back.. 

Not quite up to date, but enough for now


Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Life in the trenches


I'm disappointed, but not surprised that the Political Pygmies (apologies to any pygmies reading this) have been playing their games at the Tower of London.  What should be just a fleeting memorial to the casualties of the Great War, has been seized on by politicians of all colours to gain an extra point in the popularity polls.  The poppies took several months to install, and will take several weeks to dismantle (my turn for picking is this weekend, after planting back in August), so there was never any question that they would magically disappear over night.  Sometimes.  No not sometimes, usually, politicians make me want to wretch.

The title of this post is rather a poor joke reflecting that today is Remembrance Day, and actually refers to our current distraction.  We are having building work done.  It started in October and will continue until April, at least.  They've done the demolition, and if drilling piles down ten metres can be considered progress, we are already into the construction phase. But the back garden does still resemble the Somme.













Tuesday, 28 October 2014

A complete family

I'm pretty upset to have been reading some statistics recently.  The average salary of a quoted company CEO is 130 times that of the average wage.  5 million people in the UK live beneath the official poverty line.  How can that possibly be?  What has happened to the concept of a fairer society.  One where we are all rewarded for our endeavours?  The poverty line statistic is utterly disgraceful, the CEO statistic is shameful.  How come 'Greed is good' has ceased to be a satirical line in a Hollywood movie and instead a life philosophy?  The salaries of top earners are way way beyond what they can spend in any way, let alone whether they deserve it or not.  I've often pondered what might be a reasonable annual salary for a top earner..one that allows them to live a luxurious lifestyle, but that does not represent exploitation...I rarely get above a few hundred thousand quids.  That's a massive amount by any standards, and beyond that it is just pure evil greed.  Having met and socialised with people whose wealth would make your eyes water, it never ceases to amaze me how clever, clever they think they are, how deserving they think they are and how resolutely detached they feel from the dreadful state that western societies are in.  The rapid concentration of wealth in the bank accounts of fewer and fewer people cannot be anything other than bad...and sooner or later it must bite back.

 I wonder if any of my Facebook friends have noticed that I've stopped clicking the 'like' button...I will comment on posts, or share, but not click like.  I saw somebody had suggested as a way of  'transforming my Facebook experience'.  I wouldn't say it's done that, but it does make me think a little bit more about what people are posting and why..so I'd say I get more out of it than I used to.

If you're wondering, and there's no reason you should be, I'm currently running about a fortnight, nearly three weeks in fact in fact make that four weeks), behind with my blog posting...so a bit like looking at a nebula, all the action happened a little while ago.

It was my brother's birthday in early October, and we always meet up for dinner. There's one thing he always is.  Prompt.  To the second.  He's never late.  So it was of some concern that we were sat in the restaurant for quite a while without him and his other half.  Eventually I texted, and a few moments later they walked in.  I'd say a little sheepishly; they'd deny it.  As it happens the reason they were late was because they'd been in the car park.  Not just sitting there.  They'd bought a new campervan...practically on the way to see us, so were excitedly exploring their new purchase.  No doubt they'll have many happy weeks exploring the English countryside...but hopefully not at the moment as we're currently enjoying the tail end of a hurricane the Atlantic has sent us.

The next day we jetted off to Cyprus for a few days to see Grandma and Grandpa.  It's a trip we've been promising for months, but it has proved difficult to juggle all our commitments...if only they lived just down the road we could drop in for a cup of tea and piece of cake every week.  A five-hour flight, and the clock being two hours ahead mean that flying out there effectively you lose a day.  So we left  comfortably in the morning and arrived in time for a late dinner.  A few days in Cyprus is lovely...enough to get some sunshine and a bit of relaxation and to catch up on how life is for Grandma and Grandpa in Cyprus.  My brother followed us a week afterwards...and even sent back a photo of the local launderette for the launderette blog