What fun!

Friday, 26 December 2014 23:52
strange_complex: (Claudia Cardinale car)
What fun it is when you're driving along the motorway, and you can't tell whether or not you are properly in a lane because you can't see the white lines under all the snow!

What fun to discover that when you try to correct your position, the car starts skidding!

And to realise that all of the other drivers around you have no more control over their cars than you do!

And to gradually see the illuminated signs which are telling you that there are hazardous driving conditions and that a temporary speed limit of 40mph is in force disappearing behind a coating of snow!

And when what would normally be a 2h15m journey takes closer to 4 hours because even 40mph is in fact way too fast in weather like that, so that you have to do most of it at more like 20-30 miles an hour.

And seeing at least 15 vehicles at the side of the road with their hazard flashers on during that time, only one of which was being attended to by a repair van, and three of which were in actively dangerous positions.

And driving past an articulated lorry which had jack-knifed across all four lanes of the opposite carriage-way, complete with a van and a car smashed into the side of it.

What fun!

I'm glad to say I am safely back home in Leeds now, but that was easily the worst drive I have ever done. I very definitely wouldn't have set off if I'd had the faintest idea it would get that bad, but Birmingham was merely slushy, with the snow that had fallen earlier in the evening actively melting; and weather reports had told me the same was true in Leeds, which was perfectly accurate. It was just everything in between that was the problem - and by the time I discovered that, it was way too late...

Update: obviously I couldn't take a picture, as I was driving, but this person did:


They were clearly heading in the opposite direction to me, and didn't know yet about the jack-knifed lorry causing the jam. Just horrible, all round.

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strange_complex: (Saturnalian Santa)
OK, last meme entry. And again, although Boxing Day was awful, thankfully Christmas Day itself was all right, so I can describe it fairly normally.

I actually began Christmas Day at my sister's house in Warwick, because she had invited me and her old sixth-form friend Duncan over for the evening to keep up our old tradition of toasting in Christmas together at midnight. We had a lovely evening of canapés, drinks and chat, and did our little toast together at midnight (me with raspbery and cranberry juice), even though we were all yawning by that stage. Then Duncan and I bid them goodnight and headed off in my car, under a bright starry sky and taking care to avoid the (very few) other cars and people whom we saw pursuing their own rather drunken-looking paths home. I crept quietly into my parents' house with the benefit of much practice acquired during my teenage clubbing years, and sank into bed.

The next morning, we all got up, had breakfast, got ready and headed back over again to my sister's house in Warwick for Christmas Day itself. We arrived around 11am, and sat down with a round of coffee while we showered Eloise with presents. She is one and a half now, and has very definitely become a little girl rather than a baby:

Eloise


She also genuinely manages to get even cuter every time I see her. The picture doesn't begin to capture that, because so much of it is about her lovely smiling animated face and her increasingly eloquent chatter, and nor does it even really show off the growing mass of blonde curls hiding at the back of her head. But I hope it gives some idea at least.

Eloise's presents )

Christmas dinner )

Adult presents and Christmas TV )

A decent day all told - and a jolly good thing too, given what followed. :-/

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strange_complex: (Saturnalian Santa)
I'm answering this for my parents' house in Birmingham, because that's where I have always usually spent Christmas Day - although in fact this year we won't be doing so, as we are going to my sister's house in Warwick instead. I don't normally decorate my own house, although I did buy a wreath for the door last year, and will probably put that up tomorrow.

We usually have a tree in the front hall, standing on top of a side-table which is there throughout the year. This gets set up and decorated by me and my sister on Christmas Eve, except in the years when we have hosted a Christmas party, when we set it up in time for that instead. On the same day, I go out into the garden to collect sprigs of holly, ivy and other ever-green shrubs or winter-flowering plants, and then slot them into holes drilled into a log for me by my Dad, which is then set up on top of the mantelpiece in the lounge to create a wintry display. As it happens, I took pictures of both our tree and the mantelpiece display in 2006, so can show you what those look like:


My Dad also has two sets of those Swedish candle bridge style light sets, which he likes to set up in the windows half-way up the stairs and on the upstairs landing, and which do a great deal to make the house look cheery and festive from the outside. The upstairs landing window doesn't actually have a proper sill for them to stand on, so this involves some quite elaborate jerry-rigging with string and blocks of wood to support them. But in all honesty, I think that inventing clever methods to get the lights to sit where he wants them to in defiance of the design of the house is half the fun of those lights for my Dad.

Other than that, we put cards up on bookshelves, dressers and plate rails, occasionally put a wreath on the front door, and that's about it really. We did have some streamers and other paper decorations when I was a child, but those have long since outlived their natural lives, and I don't remember any member of the family protesting when they were quietly retired some ten or fifteen years ago.

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strange_complex: (Nennig musicians)
I spent the weekend in Birmingham on a parental visit, vaguely structured around going to a concert in Warwick on the Sunday afternoon. Mum is looking slimmer and stronger every time I see her now that she has come off the steroids, though she is still slow and wobbly compared to how she was before she became ill. She likes going for walks around the neighbourhood to build up her strength, so on Saturday afternoon we walked along the local part of the Rea valley trail past playing-fields, dog-walkers and children on bicycles, while on Sunday morning we went up into Bournbrook to have a look at the massive demolition, river-culverting and road-construction works which are under way with the aim of completely changing the course of the main traffic flow through that area. It will definitely alter the landscape of my child-hood – but less so than I'd thought from what I'd heard about the project. In fact, as we walked around we passed my old piano-teacher's house, my old Brownie hall and even the row of purportedly-temporary huts on the University campus where my mother used to take me for the Mothers and Toddlers club when I was all of one year old. So I don't think I need to get too concerned about having my past erased.

The concert in Warwick is described under here )

Meanwhile, being in Warwick gave us a chance to drop in on Charlotte and Nicolas after the concert, which was great because I haven't seen their new house since the day they moved in. It's now looking a lot more cosy, with a lovely big soft sofa in the front room, a nice antique-looking coffee table and an iron-framed bed upstairs. We were also able to have a quick look through their wedding photo album, which our cousins (who did the photos) finally got round to putting together last month – only six months after the wedding. ;-) It's lovely, though – there are some absolutely gorgeous photos of Charlotte looking like someone out of a bridal magazine, all the standard shots you would expect of people processing out of the church and standing in groups, but also lots of lovely 'behind-the-scenes' shots of people who didn't know they were being photographed, laughing and smiling and playing silly jokes. It really captures the day very nicely, and I think was worth waiting for.

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strange_complex: (Me Art Deco)
A couple of weeks ago, [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan and I spent a day in Saltaire, with the particular aim of checking out an antiques dealer with a bit of a line in Art Deco furniture on the top floor of Salt's Mill. I was looking in particular for a largish sideboard / cabinet to go in an alcove next to my fireplace, and I'd hardly got inside the shop when I saw an absolutely wonderful example, in a golden maple-wood finish with a bowed front and lots of lovely storage capacity. The price was high enough that I had to spend quite a bit of time thinking it over and psyching myself up before I took the plunge - but eventually I did, and it was delivered today.

This is what was previously in the alcove which it now occupies )

Perfectly all right, but not really making the best use of the space. What I needed was something that would look good and allow me to stash lots of crap inside it!

So this is what I have now )

Meanwhile, the old low-level beechwood sideboard which used to stand in its place is now surplus to my requirements, and therefore for sale to anyone who might be interested. It's good solid wood furniture, with a lovely spicy smell when you open the drawers, and there are a couple of pictures here if you want a closer look )

In other news, I spent this last weekend in Birmingham visiting the parents. Mum is still doing pretty well - enough to go to a jazz concert on Friday, have my sister and fiancé (!) round on Saturday, and then go and visit some local gardens which were having an open afternoon on Sunday. While there, I also stocked up on floaty purple skirts at The Oasis, because (despite the rain today) there is clearly no way I am going to make it through the summer without a good selection of light-weight medieval princess skirts that ripple around my ankles when I walk. I also spent Saturday afternoon reading in dappled shade on a deck-chair in my parents' gloriously beautiful garden while my sister and fiancé (!) planned wedding stuff, my Dad made random observations about the state of the world and my Mum sat in the summer-house. It was a perfect slice of English summer, and I hope there will be more in the same vein over the next couple of months.

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strange_complex: (Me Art Deco)
Firstly, thanks to everyone for their comments on my last post. 'Cathartic' would be an understatement.

But secondly, because not everything is about doom and gloom, I have some lovely pictures to share. They are from two publications of the 1930s, and both were found in the family archive last weekend, where they'd obviously been preserved by my step-grandmother.

The first ones come from a page of the Daily Mirror, published on Monday September 17th 1934. It's the women's page (page 23), which she had torn out and kept, though we're not quite sure why. Anyway, it's an absolutely brilliant snapshot of feminine life in the 1930s. You've got recipes, fashion reports, household tips and (best of all) an article about Meg Lemonier, a 'charming little French actress' who is also a male impersonator. I've scanned it in four over-lapping parts, so that every article can be read in its entirety on at least one of the scans.

Daily Mirror, 1934 )

The other side of the page is sporting news, but apart from a few pictures of very 1930s-looking rugby-players, it's nothing like so exciting. Teams win and teams lose in every era, and unless you're invested in their fortunes, it's pretty dull to read about.

Meanwhile, my second find was a souvenir programme printed to commemorate the centenary of the City of Birmingham being awarded a royal charter in 1938. The official content is again kind of dull - there's a great deal of stuff about centenary committees and awards, and a bit of stuff about decorations, floodlights and pageants put on to mark the occasion. Best of all by far, though, are the period adverts, which take up about 50% of the booklet. Click on each one to go to the gallery, and then again for the full-size version.

Vintage ads ahoy! )

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strange_complex: (Doctor Caecilius hands)
I'm up in Birmingham for the weekend, making sure that Mum's OK while Dad spends a weekend in Cambridge at his annual college reunion event. Mum continues to make good progress, but she's very tired out all the time. So, while she's sleeping, I hope you'll forgive me if I take the chance to catch up on a bit of Who blogging. There may be some spam - but I'm sure you're all very adept with the scroll function!

First up, Midnight (yes, you remember - from nearly two weeks ago...)

The cabin fever genre )

How it's used here )

The power of speech )

The Doctor as enabler )

The power of silence )

The power of trust )

strange_complex: (Tom Baker)
So we're back to Tom Bakery goodness with UKTV Drama. Well, except that they last stopped at Robots of Death, and have now picked up again with Horror of Fang Rock, meaning that I had to acquire The Talons of Weng Chiang via Other Means. *shrug* UKTV Drama is a very strange channel.

Fourth Doctor: The Talons of Weng Chiang )

And, ladies and gentlemen, if I may indulge for a moment, I treat having seen this story as a moment of graduation. It was a pretty random choice of reference to include in the post which started off this whole Who Odyssey back in January - but, nonetheless, it is at this stage that I get to progress from being vaguely aware that The Talons of Weng Chiang features a giant rat in a sewer to having a meaningful grasp of the plot and some actual opinions about it. I claim my Geek Certificate and Coffee Mug of Rassilon, please.

Fourth Doctor: Horror of Fang Rock )

And now? Well, now, we have a Thing. Which is that I've already seen the next three stories UKTV Drama will be broadcasting, and would have to wait until the end of May to come back in at Underworld. Only to then meet the Key to Time season again two stories later, anyway.

Fact is, though, there's another thing happening here, too, and a very sad thing at that. See, as of now, I have only eleven stories left to see from Tom Baker's time as the Doctor (or twelve if you count the video reconstruction of Shada, which I think I shall). It's my own fault, really, for getting greedy already and skipping ahead of the UKTV schedules. I could have spun things out by watching stories featuring other Doctors in the interim, but no - it had to be Tom. It had to be the piercing blue eyes and the dazzling grins and the bouncing curls and the ginger side-burns and the noble profile and the chocolatey voice and the guh! *swoon*.

So I'm certainly running low on UKTV Drama stories in the immediate present - but also facing the horrible prospect of reaching the end of the Tom Baker era in the not-too-distant future if I don't rein things in pretty soon. I don't want it to end, and I can't begin to imagine the trauma of having to actually sit down and watch Logopolis. But, having thought about it carefully, and considered the alternative possibility of watering down my Tom Baker diet by interspersing his stories with those of other incarnations, I decided - sod that! Fie to delayed gratification, and sensible rationing out of indulgent pleasures! Instead, I am just damn well going to max out on his Doctor, right here, right now, while I'm really into him. Because, frankly, I won't rest until I have, and any other Doctor will merely be Not Tom Baker until and unless I know that I have seen every single one of his stories. Then, and only then, will I be able to find it in me to entertain the possibility of anyone else in the role.

So it's goodbye to UKTV Drama now, because you're just going too slowly for me, I'm afraid. Time to plough wildly headlong through those remaining unwatched stories - and I'll leave bitter repentance of my foolish extravagance for the other side of Logopolis!

strange_complex: (Lee as M.R. James)
This is a rather odd review to be writing, because the subject of this book is my step-great-great-grandfather, and its author is my mother. But, then again, I did finish reading it two nights ago, and I am blogging all my leisure reading again this year. So I guess I kind of have to, really!

Of course, the book itself, now that it has finally emerged into the world, is only the culmination of a project which I've been intimately aware of for many years. Origins )

My own reading experience )

A man of his time )

Naturally, I'm bound to conclude by saying that this book was brilliant, and that everyone should rush out and buy a copy. ;-) But I really did get a lot out of it, and not solely because it concerned a (step-)ancestor, or allowed me to get closer to the subject my mother has been working on for so many years. West's life gives us a genuine window into the world of a typical Victorian medic - and in this book I think my mother has done a great job of helping us to see through it. I'm deeply, fiercely proud of her achievement.

Meanwhile, in a brilliant stroke of timing, this seems like the perfect opportunity to plug once more the serialisation of West's last diary which I am undertaking to celebrate the publication of this book over at [livejournal.com profile] jamesfraserwest. The first entry will in fact appear on Friday, since West for some reason did not start writing in his 1883 diary until January 11th (more details here). I know a lot of you have friended the diary already - but if you kind of meant to take a look last time I mentioned it and never quite got round to it, or thought you'd wait until it started up properly, now is the time to get over there and hit that add button! It's very much worth reading, and since it runs out in April when West enters his final illness, it really is a case of add now or miss out. Hope to see you there! :-)

strange_complex: (ITV digital Monkey popcorn)
IMDb page here. Seen on Christmas Eve at the Electric cinema, Birmingham - which has had a major face-lift since I last went there, and now sells possibly the best chocolate ice-cream in the world.

Having gone in to see this with very low expectations, I was actually pleasantly surprised. From time to time the plot felt like it was going through the motions a bit, but the characters all came to life beautifully, Lyra's world was intriguing and convincing, and I think it was probably better-paced and structured than the book. It's long enough since I read the latter (about six or seven years, I think), that I wasn't in the least bit troubled about whatever changes they might have made to the plot, and in fact was rather glad of all the explanatory voice-overs and unrealistically expository passages of dialogue that were thrown in to help us along. For someone who hadn't read the book at all, the film would be a breeze to follow - but I think someone who'd read it recently would find the explanations heavy-handed, and the plot rather stripped of its finer subtleties. I worry about how that will pan out over the next couple of films, as there is a risk of reducing the stories to simple good vs. evil battles, and that would be a great injustice.

Certain Catholics have got very upset about the representation of the Magisterium in the film, feeling that it is directly modelled on the Catholic church. But while that's certainly an element, I picked up visual references to both Eastern Orthodoxy and Chinese temples as well, so in fact I think a pretty good job has been done of representing the Magisterium as a generic, rather than specific, religious authority. I thought Oxford had been used beautifully, and indeed all of the sets and locations were visually stunning. The casting couldn't have been much better, either - a really triumphant combination of big names and impressive unknowns. I was particularly taken by the stunning Eva Green as Serafina Pekkala, and might well succumb to the temptation to make an icon out of her shortly.

So, all in all I'll definitely be seeing the next instalment - but without expecting a masterpiece of cinematic subtlety as I do so.

Christmas '07

Wednesday, 26 December 2007 15:50
strange_complex: (Saturnalian Santa)
As planned, Christmas Eve was spent going to see The Golden Compass in town, although I shall write about the film itself separately. I'm always surprised by how few people are out and about on Christmas Eve. I mean, I'm sure you can't really go out and party if you have kids, as there are Santa duties to be attended to. But why don't those in the pre-parental phase of life want to go out and toast in Christmas Eve? I know I used to quite often in my late teens and early twenties, but it was the same story then - a world half-deserted.

Anyway, Charlotte and I caught the bus in together, and then she went off to meet her friend Duncan while I saw my film, and we reconvened later when it was over. I met them in an 80s bar called Reflex, which I could see was probably a real swinging joint most nights of the year. As it was, though, they had about six customers, including us, for most of the evening. I wondered why they were even staying open - and by about 11:30 they'd obviously started wondering the same thing, as they shut up shop and kicked us out. So we decamped to Glamorous across the road, a gay bar which was in fact pretty full. As Duncan pointed out, a lot of gay people don't have families to go home to at Christmas in the same way as straight people do. They had possibly the world's worst drag cabaret act going on - decent enough outfits and everything, but the problem was that they weren't actually singing; just mouthing the words to other people's risqué songs, played way too loudly over the PA. And to a comedy routine about contraception, which involved two participants, but only had one person on stage, mouthing half of the words. So we grinned and bore it until midnight came round, but then made a quick exit.

Christmas day itself was much the usual sort of thing. All my presents went down well, and I got lots of nice things, including chocolate, Art Deco notecards, calendars (guinea-pigs for work, Erté for home), a vintage purse and belt, and a lovely pair of nested tables from Past Times which we're actually going to pick up from Leamington tomorrow. At the risk of sounding like an ungrateful brat, though, nothing from my Amazon wish-list. Which in fact meant no stories - no books, no DVDs, no worlds of magic and adventure. Well, actually Santa was kind enough to bring me a rather splendid David Tennant dream in the early hours of Christmas morning, and there was also the small matter of the Doctor Who special later that day (anticipation for which I think inspired the dream). But I could have done with Who season 3 or Order of the Phoenix on DVD, too.

The Who special had better have its own post, too. It had to be time-shifted, anyway, as we have our Christmas meal in the evening these days, so we were busy serving up and eating goose when it was on. Which was very tasty. And then after Who, it all seemed to be over for another year, and there wasn't even a film that was worth staying up huddled under a quilt for, so it was off to bed at a very conservative 23:45.

Today has seen our annual Boxing Day pilgrimage to the Waltons', for nibbles and drinks and chats. I swear little Holly is twice the size she was last year now, and from certain angles looking at her is like looking 27 years back into the past, and seeing my childhood playmate - pictured here, f'rinstance - now her mother.

strange_complex: (Cicero history)
Right. It is time for me to introduce you all to a Great Project. It's the culmination of something which I have been working on since the summer, and which my mother has been working on for over five years now.

See, in 1991, my step-grandmother died, and left to my mother an archive of family documents. Amongst them was the last diary of her grandfather - James Fitzjames Fraser West, a Victorian surgeon who worked at Queen's Hospital, Birmingham from 1854-83, and had an extensive private practice of his own. We quickly realised the incredible interest of both diary and archive, and, around the year 2000, my mother started work on a full-scale biography of West. In September of this year, that biography was published, under the title A Victorian Surgeon. A Biography of James Fitzjames Fraser West 1833-83, Birmingham Surgeon.

The diary itself is published in full as an appendix at the end of the biography. But, as a regular reader of [livejournal.com profile] pepysdiary, I knew that it had far greater potential than that. And so I have set up [livejournal.com profile] jamesfraserwest - West's own home in cyberspace, where his final diary will be serialised, complete with pictures and annotations for the people and places mentioned in it, starting from January 2008.

And this is where you come in.

I firmly believe that this diary will be of enormous interest to huge numbers of people. Those who like reading [livejournal.com profile] pepysdiary, for a start. Those who enjoy Victorian history, medical history, or simply like reading other people's journals, to boot. And there are special treats in store, too, for those who like travel writing, since West undertook a month-long excursion around France and Italy with his wife during March and April 1883, visiting historical sites, churches and local hospitals as he did so. (That's my personal favourite bit, and I had a lot of fun helping Mum make sense of West's visits to archaeological sites in Rome and Pompeii while we were transcribing the diary). Just check out the 'taster entries' I have put on the journal's profile page if you want a sense of why this is great reading material.

But, unlike Samuel Pepys, only four months' worth of West's final diary survive. So people really need to know about it now if they're going to get in on the action before it's all over. The boon which I crave from you, then, is this - help me spread the word.

Friend the diary yourself. If you already read [livejournal.com profile] pepysdiary (and if you don't, you should!), I guarantee you will love it. And of course you'll also be ensuring that it gets on a lot of friendsfriends pages in the process! ;-)

Tell your friends. And tell them to tell their friends. Don't hold back - let's get a snowball rolling here. Basically, it would be hard for anyone who is already into blogs and blogging not to enjoy this. So tell them - and point them either here or directly at [livejournal.com profile] jamesfraserwest if you want to tell them why.

And let me know if you think there are any communities besides [livejournal.com profile] history, [livejournal.com profile] 19th_century and [livejournal.com profile] medical_geeks where I could be plugging this.

For any or all of the above, my heartiest thanks and gratitude. I'm really excited about this project, and I think you'll see why when you take a look at what we've put online so far. Help me give it the kick off the ground it deserves, and I'll look forward to sharing the diary entries with you when they start in January!

strange_complex: (Snape WTF?)
So I'm sitting at home in my study, working away at a lecture for Monday, when from the street outside I hear a distinct *clip-clop, clip-clop*. "Er, that's a horse, isn't it?" I think. "A horse is going by". That in itself is surprising enough to make me dash to my bedroom window (which has the best view out over the street), and peer out, expecting to see police horses in training or maybe a particularly foolish leisure rider.

But no. The sight that in fact greeted my eyes was a lovely light-coloured shaggy-footed cart-horse, pulling what was quite clearly a traditional rag & bone man's cart, loaded up with old unwanted domestic appliances. (And a rag and bone man, natch).

To which I can only say - *boggle*. A rag and bone van used to patrol my parents' neighbourhood in Birmingham back in the '80s. But I literally don't think I've ever seen an actual rag and bone cart in my entire life, anywhere.

Wish I'd had me camera.

strange_complex: (Snape writing)
1. Last Wednesday - went off for the day with Mum on the Severn Valley Railway. We saw partridges, pheasants, rabbits, butterflies, great crested grebe, elephants, bison and gazelle. Although I suppose it's only fair to explain that the last three were in a safari park visible from the railway. Enjoyed a lovely picnic at Arley, then walked along the river a bit, glorying in the warm weather. All the way there and back, I examined properties along the route with a buyer's eye. I can't help it now - force of habit.

2. On that note, I'm still waiting to hear about the house. My first offer was rejected; I raised it to what was my absolute upper limit and said so; the seller relayed that it was rather less than she wanted but she'd think about it; I enquired again of the estate agents on Friday, but they said she still hadn't decided. I do know that no other offers have been made, though. So ideally she'll wait a bit longer, see that no-one else is offering and accept my bid. Two people saw it over the weekend, apparently, but I know a lot of people have seen it by now and very few have offered, so I'm cautiously hopeful.

3. Thursday to Saturday saw me attending the annual Classical Association conference. Well, actually it carried on this morning too, but I decided to bunk the last part for the sake of a lie-in and some more relaxed parent time. I must say it was probably the best CA conference I've been to (out of three altogether) in terms of papers and general conviviality. Logistics perhaps not so great - it was in a fairly second-rate hotel, with not wonderful food and tedious queues at the lifts to move around the building. But I spent the conference dinner last night (in the much nicer surroundings of the University of Birmingham's Great Hall) with a big grin on my face, feeling on a high from the whole experience. There's too much to record now, of course, but highlights were the comedy caretaker during John Henderson's opening lecture, some cracking panels on Roman cities and all flavours of Classical Receptions (including Buffy and Achilles / Patroclus m-preg fanfics), and all the lovely people I got to catch up with.

4. Did some enjoyable shopping in Brum on Saturday afternoon - scheduled as excursion time for conference-goers, but I'd been to all the places they suggested visiting many times before, having grown up here. Surprised myself slightly by buying some baseball boots - not my normal style, but I really was desperate for new shoes by this stage, and I think they can become my style. Also got CivCity: Rome, which I've wanted for about a year now, ever since I first heard it was coming out, and was reminded of by a great session on Classics in computer games at the conference. And I enjoyed just generally wandering around Birmingham city centre, experiencing the weird combination of things which haven't changed at all and things which are totally unrecognisable, and exploring the various memories which streets and buildings threw up in my mind. I'm proud of my roots here.

5. Term starts again tomorrow. Wah! Only two weeks of teaching and one of revision classes, but they're going to be pretty tough. I'm more-or-less ready, but have a lot to do over the next few days.

6. Haven't seen this week's Who yet, as I was out at the dinner last night, and now my parents' cable box is broken! So that will have to be squeezed in over the next few days too. Have been reading people's online reactions, though. It seems to have provoked quite a lot of discussion and some division.

7. I am travelling home first class in the train tonight, because there was a cheap weekend upgrade available, and I've always wanted to try it out. It'll be a bit different from the Severan Valley Railway, where we were in a third-class compartment!

Easter weekend

Monday, 9 April 2007 14:31
strange_complex: (Cocoa beans)
On Saturday, my Mum and I went shopping in Solihull - an extremely posh suburb of Birmingham which likes to pretend it has nothing to do with Birmingham whatsoever. There, I noticed that both John Lewis and Beatties sold miniature morning coats and pinstripe suits for tiny little children - presumably so that they can be page-boys at weddings and so on. SO CUTE!

My main mission was to buy shoes and bras, since I'm getting dangerously close to having no wearable examples of either. Since I was effectively going to have to start my bra wardrobe again from scratch, I got myself measured up, figuring I might as well do it properly. For years, I've believed I was a 34B, but it turned out I'm actually a 32C - a significant (and rather pleasing!) difference, as female readers will realise. So I'm now feeling a lot more comfy in the bosom region.

Pity I can't say the same for my feet, though. Of course, when I say 'shoes', I actually mean 'ankle-boots', since that's all I ever wear. But there are next to none in the shops at this time of year, and what there are are all hideous. So I gave up in the end, and consoled myself by buying a posh frock for my cousin's wedding in June, instead.

In the evening, still in my old, nearly-dead shoes, I went over to [livejournal.com profile] hollyione's parents' house, where she (like me) was spending Easter weekend at the family homestead. We watched Doctor Who with her two-year-old daughter, who was allowed to stay up for it specially, and then ate yummy kebabs and played Trivial Pursuit with her parents. The game never quite got finished, as everyone became very merry and eventually had to toddle off to bed, but it was lots of fun, and [livejournal.com profile] hollyione and I as the last two players agreed to declare an honourable and amicable draw.

Sunday was mainly Verulamium-article-writing, but there was a bit of chocolate-egg-exchanging too, while in the evening we ate a delicious juicy duck. I then wound up the day by rewatching Doctor Who, as there were quite a few bits of dialogue I'd missed the previous day while [livejournal.com profile] hollyione's daughter was trying to decide whether she was scared of the witches or not!

It definitely rewarded a second watching, though. I got the chance to notice things like the conversation over the TARDIS console at the very beginning of the episode, where Martha is asking how exactly the TARDIS can travel in time, and the Doctor replies with something like, "Oh, you've got to take the magic out of everything haven't you - it just does!", thus establishing the magic / technology issue right from the opening scene. And how cool that Queen Elizabeth is his sworn enemy, even though he's never met her! I can't see an obvious episode in the coming series where that will be resolved, so I take it as a long-term promise for an Elizabethan story involving her as a character - ideally while we still have David Tennant, to explain how she recognises him. And I like that we're dealing with a series which troubles to set up long-term plot elements like that.

Oh! And a thought: since Shakespeare is set up earlier in the episode as being so very perceptive (noticing how old the Doctor's eyes are, and how Martha looks at him as though she can't believe he exists), does this mean we are to take him 100% seriously when he says to Martha that the Doctor will never kiss her? (Excepting, of course, the fact that he already has - I mean kiss her in lurve?) Or is it just a corny line to get himself a snog? Discuss!

Meanwhile, in the realm of the scarily-real, I have made an offer on this house. But not heard anything back yet. Wah, the frustration! I'm on tenterhooks about it all the time, waiting, and wondering, and trying to second-guess what's going on in the seller's mind. It's like waiting to hear about a job interview.

Well, you'll hear about it here when I do!

strange_complex: (Nennig musicians)
Wow. I've just come back from what I think is one of the best performances of Bach's St. Matthew Passion that I've ever seen. And I have seen a fair few, because the Birmingham Bach Choir perform it on Good Friday every year, and while a quick glance back through my archives tells me I haven't been to one since starting this LJ, that's not representative of my overall life-time trend.

Everything about it was good really - I was completely gripped and entranced from start to finish. The only possible gripe was that the text was sung in English - accessible, yes, and the translation used was good, but it does inevitably mess up the rhythms from time to time. I'll note down my thoughts on the soloists particularly, though, so that I know what names to look out for in future:

Christopher Gillett - Evangelist (tenor). He usually sings this role for the Bach Choir, and I'm pretty sure I've seen him do it before. And so he should, because he is just perfect. Clear, unmannered and with a brilliant range of tone and colour considering that all he has to work with is recitative. When he sang that Jesus cried aloud and died, it actually happened. And the entire auditorium rang out with stunned silence afterwards.

Paul Whelan - Christ (bass). Much the same to say about him, actually - including the fact that I'm pretty sure I've seen him as Jesus before. I don't tend to like basses, but he had little of the toneless croak which normally puts me off. Instead, he was powerful, commanding, and - when the text required it - very, very human. Plus he was extraordinarily tall, and chose to emphasise this by wearing white tie and tails. So, points for presentation.

Christopher Purves (bass). My usual rule about basses was broken even harder by this guy. I actively loved his voice. It was rich, full of tone and expression, and perfectly controlled. He just sounded to me like a good tenor with a lower-than-normal range. Hooray.

Brad Cooper (tenor). This was a substitution - we were meant to have Paul Nilon, but after hearing him recently in Orfeo, I'm not sorry we didn't. Instead, we got a young Australian guy called Brad Cooper, who was (understandably) a little nervous, but fundamentally had a nice voice. A little more work on polishing it up, and he should be one to watch.

William Towers (alto). Like I say, they were all good, but he was the star of the show for me. Absolutely took my breath away. He has incredible power, and his upper range is so sweet, pure and beautifully controlled, I sometimes I had trouble believing that it was actually a human being who was singing, and not some perfect Platonic form of a voice. His lower range isn't quite so wonderful, being a little thin (though still powerful). But for some arias, that sound really works. It was when he sang 'Have mercy, Lord'1, for which this was very much true, that I was really won over. Mum and I were giving him secret silent hand-claps behind the backs of the seats in front of us for that one, and you can rest assured that I'll be buying CDs in the very near future.

Elizabeth Watts (soprano). Not so much praise for her, in that she wasn't in any way bad, but also wasn't as outstanding as most of the others. Could perhaps have been richer in tone and greater in power, I guess. But then again, she didn't warble or shriek. Just did the job very nicely.

We also had yummy toasted hot cross buns before we came out, and also Mini Eggs in the interval (which is probably an act of High Blasphemy, or something). So, all in all, I am glad that Jesus died. Much appreciated, dude.


1. I can't be bothered to look up the usual German names for the arias, but it's a little over half-way through.

Weekending

Sunday, 18 March 2007 18:54
strange_complex: (Claudia Cardinale car)
Well, I had a very lovely weekend with my Mum.

The focus of her visit was really Opera North's performance of Monteverdi's Orfeo: one of the first true examples of the opera genre, which enjoys its fourth centenary this year. It was on at Leeds' Grand Theatre - a triumph of Victorian opulence which makes you crane and peer around the auditorium in a mixture of horror and wonder while you are waiting for the show. Nonetheless, it still didn't quite make it into the same league as Belfast's Grand Opera House, by the simple dint of failing to have ornamental elephants.

The production was - interesting... The story, of course, is the straightforward tale of Orpheus and Eurydice, covering in this version their wedding, his journey into hell, his fatal look back, his despair at losing her a second time, and finally his transportation into the heavens by his father, Apollo. So a simple production could have cast the singers as alternately Arcadian nymphs and shepherds and demonic residents of the underworld, or perhaps gone for a 17th century courtly Italian look, in keeping with the anniversary and the work's original context. No-one can do a simple production of an opera in this post-modern age, though, can they? Instead, the cast were mainly dandies and bohemians, from a mix of different ages and cultures, looking on and laughing with ironic detachment at the somewhat crazed antics of Orpheus and his (decidedly unwilling) bride. A personification of La Musica, who introduced the performance, was a deliberately ungainly cabaret dancer with smudged make-up, while Apollo at the end was revealed to have been a stooped, greasy-haired, balding old man, who'd been sitting on the side of the stage all evening, ostentatiously recording Orpheus' every aria with a portable tape machine.

I'm sure it said a lot of profound things about the artificiality of spectacle, the cruelty of the human condition and the haziness of the lines between life and death, sanity and madness, spectacle and spectators, etc. etc. But, basically, it was overly-contrived showiness for the sake of it, and I wish they'd just let the music speak instead. Especially because it was so good - as a score and as a performance! It was rich, lively, varied, engaging, and really brought the story and the characters to life. In this case, of course, the effect was that two narratives were going on in parallel - aurally, Monteverdi's sincere love story, but visually, the director's crazy weirdness. Musically, my only quibble was that I wasn't very fond of the voice of the singer who played Orpheus, Paul Nilon. The rest of the audience obviously disagreed with me, as he got thunderous applause at the end, but I just found his voice too strident, and lacking in warmth or sweetness of tone. I guess Orpheus is always going to be a hard role to cast, though, if he's to be a convincing musical genius for everyone.

The rest of the weekend we spent mainly taking advantage of the fact that Mum had come up in the car, so we could get around and about the place more easily than I usually can on my own. We did a good batch of house-hunting on Saturday, seeing four properties around the Headingley area. In the end, I didn't fall for any of them, but we nipped round to a couple of others today to have a look at them from the outside, and they did look promising. So I've got a couple of leads, and will phone tomorrow to get appointments to see them properly.

Another little car job that needed doing was taking my old stereo to the tip - it's been sitting in my hallway ever since my new one arrived back in November! Unfortunately, I didn't bank on Mum deciding to make her trip up to Leeds into a jaunt for the parental second car (which doesn't get out very often), so we must have looked a right pair of prats turning up at the tip in a red Mazda MX-5 to throw away a stereo!

Anyway, from there, we progressed out from Leeds in a north-westerly direction in search of pub lunchy goodness, and ended up at the Red Lion in Burley on Wharfedale, whose Sunday carvery I can thoroughly recommend! Succulent honey-roast ham, soft, plump Yorkshire puddings, delicious gravy and very generous portions - we ate around 12:30, and even now at ten to eight I'm only just starting to think I ought to make myself some dinner.

Yes, definitely nice to have a weekend together - especially since it was (coincidentally) Mothering Sunday today. And I'm looking forward to early April, when I'll be spending about ten days with both parents in Brum - besides also attending the St. Matthew Passion and a conference.

Between now and then, I have the luxury of term having finished on Friday to enjoy - but a helluvalot of other things to catch up on!

strange_complex: (Chrestomanci slacking in style)
Oh dear. I seem to have spent far too much time over the last few days doing nice things or falling asleep on sofas (also a Nice Thing) to write on live journal. Let's see now:

Christmas presents: an excellent haul, aided in no small measure by the gentle introduction of parents to Amazon wish-list. I got:
  • DVDs - Life of Brian, a particularly gripping performance of Handel's Giulio Cesare.
  • Books - Architectural Guide to Leeds, Terry Pratchett's Wintersmith, enormous Collins English Dictionary (now all language is mine! Ha-ha-ha!), Andrew Lintott's Imperium Romanum (handy for teaching), C. Steven Larue's Handel and His Singers and The Quest for the Wicker Man.
  • Chocolate - enormous raspberry truffle, box of dark chocolates.
  • Tokens - £10 book token from paternal aunt (today converted into Plutarch, The Age of Alexander) and £15 Waterstone's token from maternal uncle (today converted into Ancient Cities by Charles Gates).
  • Other - notebook with pictures from the House of the Vettii on it, facsimile Roman oil-lamp which by an amazing coincidence happens to have the exact goddess I am going to the Dark Masquerade Ball as on it (name withheld for the present to preserve a suitable sense of Mystery), sandalwood incense sticks, ticket for ice-skating on the outdoor rink currently operating in Birmingham town centre, incredibly cute K-9 key-ring, Guinea-pig calendar, L'Oreal lipstick.
Christmas dinner: we did goose, which very nearly didn't fit into the oven, but eventually was squeezed in diagonally. It was really nice, and I think the first time I've ever had goose at all. But I prefer the taste of duck. Just a pity that one duck doesn't quite provide enough for four people.

Boxing day: went over to the Waltons', as we usually do. Chatted, caught up, and marvelled at the cuteness of little Holly. Came home and watched lots of TV. On which note:

Doctor Who: I gather a lot of people have been all snide and grumpy about this episode online. But I really enjoyed it, so I don't care what the cynics say. I was impressed that Catherine Tate managed to make her character so sympathetic (especially given that I usually can't stand her), and the Empress of Racnoss reminded me a lot of Echidna, the Mother of all Monsters from Hercules: the Legendary Journeys, both in appearance and characterisation. (The real character looked a lot more like the Empress than that action figure, but I can't seem to find a picture of her). Looking forward to the next series.

The Hogfather: I did enjoy this, especially each time I got the same thrill I remember getting from Rivendell in Lord of the Rings of 'recognising' a place I'd only seen before in my imagination. And seeing Pterry himself in the toyshop at the end was particularly groovy! But somehow it wasn't quite what I'd hoped. I think the problem is that Pterry doesn't actually write stories as such, but rather narrative explorations of abstract concepts. And so the storyline wobbled, flailed and dragged, failing to impart the significance written deep into the book, and yet I suspect also confusing those who hadn't read it. Oh well - I appreciated the fact that it was made at all, though.

Today: La Sistrella and I used our ice-rink tickets to swish and glide around in central Birmingham, enjoying watching people's rosy laughing faces, misty breath and children falling over as we did so. Then we went shopping to spend our tokens, and returned home to eat party left-overs and indulge in more nodding off on the sofa. A most satisfactory way to spend the day, except that my groin muscles are killing me now. Apparently I only ever use them when ice-skating.

And that would appear to bring me back up to date.

Bemused

Sunday, 24 December 2006 16:21
strange_complex: (Chrestomanci slacking in style)
Hmm - OK. I just Googled "bournville + carols + green" to find the starting time for the Christmas Eve lantern-lit carol event we've been going to for the last couple of years, only to find that my own journal is Google's number three hit for that query - above the parish church's official page which actually answered the question. Doesn't anyone else who goes blog the event?

Well, for anyone who finds themselves here as the result of a Google search: it starts at 6pm.

Today's been a pretty quiet day in the Goodman household, after last night's excitement. My Mum was apparently so hyped-up by it all when she went to bed, that she couldn't get to sleep for hours, but instead kept having the giggles over things which had happened at the party: one recorder player stopping and asking what on earth was going on when she found herself playing an unexpected (but perfectly correct) solo in the 'Amen' chorus; the piano-player making a swift and judicious change of key during at least two of the carols, and all the singers heaving a sigh of relief, as it had been far too low before; banter about whether the cracker-whistles were at 414 or 440 pitch (to which one joker replied, 'Both'); and the look on a whistle-player's face when she suddenly realised she was meant to have played her note in the Can-Can about 10 seconds ago.

We've been eating up left-overs, and watching a Channel 4 documentary (on Telewest's 'Teleport' service) about the Noble Whale of London Town - which basically concluded that the whale's death had probably been encouraged, if not actually caused as such, by a combination of changing climate and confusing man-made sound-signals. :-(

And now, I shall share pictures of domestic winter greenery which I also took yesterday with my digital camera:

Winter greenery )

strange_complex: (Me as a child)
It's funny how your behaviour changes with your environment. I have Spider Solitaire on my own computer at home, but never play it, thinking it dull and boring. When I'm at my parents' house, though (as now), I hardly seem capable of going to bed without first playing, and winning (playing alone will not do) a game of it. It is just part of my bedtime ritual in the room where I sleep when I'm here.

And it leads me off on strange trains of thought like this:

When I was young, and playing games of Sevens Patience (now more usually Americanised to 'Solitaire') on the carpet, I very quickly developed marked value judgements about the various suits in the pack. These were based mainly on the division between red and black, but even within each colour, one of the suits appeared to me to be distinctly superior to the other. One colour I related to, and thought strong, good and worthy of victory. The other, I saw as alien, weak, unreliable and generally best avoided.

The pictures on the cards did help to forge these judgements, as did a knowledge of things like Alice in Wonderland and the nursery rhyme about the Jack of Hearts. So it's likely that more than the 50% of the population whom probability alone would suggest might share them actually do. But let's see, shall we?

[Poll #885480]

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