Cape Trib

Saturday, 26 August 2017 17:13
strange_complex: (Cities Esteban butterfly)
Ah, free weekend! How blessed and rare you are. Time to push on with my Australia posts, then.

After Brisbane, my next stop was Cape Tribulation. My stay here was probably the highlight of my travels, but it was also the least well-represented on Facebook because there is no mobile reception there, and only very slow / limited wifi. So this post will do more than some of the others need to to fill in the gaps.

Cape Trib (as it's called locally) is in Queensland, but a little over 1000 miles north of Brisbane, and I got there by flying to Cairns and then driving another 100 miles north in a hire car. Cape Trib is located in a large region called the Daintree, which bills itself as being 'Where the rainforest meets the reef'. This is the photo I took which best captures that - basically a forested mountain range sloping down to beautiful beaches, and with the reef about 20km off-shore.

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I got myself a good dose of both rainforest and reef by staying for two nights in an absolutely beautiful isolated log-cabin looking right into pristine rainforest, and then another two in a slightly-less-magnificent but still totally adequate beach hut which was part of a larger resort. This was the one single FB post which I managed to make while there, from the bar area of the beach hut resort. I didn't put comment under any of the pictures at the time, because I knew my connection could drop at any minute, but I've added a few in square brackets now.

14th July: rainforest and beach at Cape Tribulation )

The owners of the log cabin had set up a self-guided walk which you could follow through the rainforest, which I did on my first day, and which is where I took the pictures in the FB post above. It is pretty amazing just clambering through the rainforest all alone, and I took a little selfie video which I think captures how ïnto it I was:

[There is a video here in the LJ version of this post, but DW can't host it. Please click through if you'd like to see it.]

I also went swimming in a freshwater creek, which is what you have to do locally if you want to swim. Sadly, all those beautiful beaches aren't actually safe to swim off, because there are marine crocodiles in the area who can lurk unseen in the water, and will attack people paddling or swimming. I did want to take the opportunity to swim while I was there, though, as it was nice weather, with temperatures usually in the low-to-mid twenties, and the creek was quite idyllic, with trees overhanging the water and a shoal of fish swimming around in the swimming-hole. I chatted to a family from Melbourne having a winter holiday there while we lounged around in the water, and picked up a few tips for the next leg of my travels.

The following day, it was time to meet the reef, which I did by booking myself onto a snorkelling tour with these people. I have never snorkelled before, and it was a pretty choppy day to be heading out into the open ocean in not much more than a large motorised dinghy. We certainly got sprayed in the face a lot, although the guy at the wheel made it fun by playing stuff like Queen's Bo Rhap on the ship's stereo as we crashed through the waves. Then when we got there and I actually plunged into the water, I had a minute or two of thinking I wasn't going to be able to do it because I was trying to gasp for air and didn't like the way the snorkel mask blocked off my nose and restricted the amount of air I could pull in. But the lady who was guiding and instructing us all explained that I just needed to relax and breathe deeply and slowly through the snorkel, and after a few minutes I got the hang of that, put my face in the water, and it was all worth it!

Sadly, of course, there aren't any pictures, because I don't have a water-proof camera, so I can ony do my best to convey in words how amazing it was. Where we went, the coral was so close to the surface that you had to be very careful in a lot of places not to accidentally bash it, practically sucking your stomach in as you floated over. So it was an incredibly close-up view of huge amounts of marine life. And it really was teeming. I'd always assumed that documentaries etc about the reef were highly selective, focusing in on isolated highlights, but where we went the whole area was alive with brightly-coloured fish, coral, anemones, sea-cucumbers, starfish etc. It really didn't matter much which direction you looked in - everything was utterly amazing.

My most exciting moment was watching a blue spotted ray glide along the ocean floor and then disappear under a coral over-hang, but I also saw iridescent fish, brightly-coloured stripey fish, royal blue star-fish, fish cleaning each other's gills, plants undulating to trap tiny life-forms, spiky blue-tipped coral and giant clams. I didn't even think giant clams were real - I thought they were a joke from Doctor Who - but nope, they are absolutely real, and live ones have beautiful blue or purple tissues lining their shells. I'm not by nature an active sports person, and suspect I am unlikely ever to snorkel again - but I'm very glad I made the effort to do it, and will definitely remember it all my life.

The day after that I had booked another tour, this time in a small group with a local guy who has a four-wheel drive. The sealed roads up the Queensland coast end at Cape Trib, so if you want to go any further north you need something which can handle rough surface and plunge through creeks. He took us about another 20 miles north to Wujal Wujal, a community belonging to the local Kuku Yalanji people, where one of their number, who told us to call her Kathleen, walked us up to a beautiful waterfall. She explained all about how it is a sacred place for her people, and that there is another waterfall further up the same river which is reserved for women only, and is where previous generations of Aboriginal women went to give birth. (Some still do now, but most opt for the local hospital.) She also told us about how the coming of the seasons has changed over her lifetime due to climate change, including bringing crocodiles up to the waterfall part of the river when they didn't used to be a danger in her childhood. Apparently, her people are able to smell the crocodiles even when they can't see them - they smell of mud and fish, she said.

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Later, we drove along the river which the waterfall feeds, called Bloomfield River, looking for crocs out basking on the banks. It didn't take long for our efforts to be rewarded, although my camera was far from adequate at capturing the results. The first picture is my own, zoomed in as far as it would go; you can just about make out the crocodile about one-third of the way along the bank from the left. The second was taken by the guy doing the driving and emailed to us afterwards. This whole trip really made me realise that while my camera is excellent for taking photographs of buildings, often allowing me to get the whole thing in while people around me are stepping backwards and backwards and cursing that they can't get far enough back to do so, it is dreadful for capturing smaller things like wildlife for the same reasons.

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Anyway, I was very glad after having seen the zoomed-in photo to have been on the other side of the bank from that!

Finally it was time to drive back down to Cairns, but I stopped off half-way down for a couple of hours at the Mossman Gorge Centre. This was still within the Daintree rainforest, in land belonging to the same Kuku Yalanji people as live at Wujal Wujal, and one of the things you can do there is to book a guided walking tour through the forest led by one of them. This time our guide told us the name he goes by amongst his own people, and I tried so hard to remember it, and succeeded for most of the afternoon, but unfortunately it wasn't familiar to me so I have forgotten it again now, and can only record the alternative white-people name he gave us that I already knew: Skip.

I won't forget what I learned from him about his people and their relationship with the rainforest, though. This included things like how he learnt as a child which 40 or so out of the c. 150 fruits in the rainforest were OK to eat; how his people recognise six different seasons of the year, defined by things like hot, cold, wind, rain, dry etc., each with their own different plants and fruits; how in the past they lived in huts in the forest, but would only ever stay in one place for a maximum of three years to allow the ground around them to recover; how they interacted with the plains people and picked up the use of boomerangs from them, but of course couldn't throw them in the middle of the rainforest so just used them to bang for music instead; how they make body-paints from ochre and clay and what the various patterns and symbols mean (e.g. rain-drops, family groupings); and how they collected sasparilla from the forest edge and scrunched it up in water to get a form of natural soap.

The whole picture of a people living in symbiosis with the land until (implicitly - he didn't say this, but didn't need to) white settlers came along and ruined it all was incredibly humbling, particularly coming on top of having gaped in awe at the teeming life of the reef in full awareness of how much of it has already been destroyed by pollution and climate change. Australia is certainly a stark lesson in the impact of British colonialism if you're willing to take it. Anyway, I didn't take a photo of Skip himself, but these are his paints. I just hope there will even be anyone around with the cultural knowledge he has another generation from now.

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Thailand

Wednesday, 9 August 2017 17:48
strange_complex: (One walking)
As explained in an earlier post, I am trying to capture my recent trip to Forn Parts here on DW / LJ by replicating and linking to the FB posts I made at the time, but also adding supplementary photos and text for anything I feel deserves better documentation. BTW, if you are reading this on DW / LJ and we're not already FB friends, I'm very happy for that to change. Here's my profile; please leave a note saying who you are on DW / LJ if you think I'm unlikely to recognise the name you go by on FB. Stuff about Thailand follows below, with material already posted on FB under the cu-tags, and additional DW / LJ-only material at the bottom.

29th June: first evening's impressions )

30th June: a day in Bangkok )

1st July: summer palace, Ayutthaya, river cruise )

1st July: anniversary of Mum's death )

That covers the main outlines pretty well, but I tended to use my Proper Camera when going round the temples and palaces, and photos from that aren't so easy to upload instantly to FB. Now that I've downloaded and sorted them all, here are a few for the record, under headings naming the locations:

Grand Palace, Bangkok )

Wat Pho temple, Bangkok )

Bang Pa-In Summer Palace, near Ayutthaya )

Temples of Ayutthaya )

Tributes to the deceased king )
strange_complex: (Dracula Risen hearse smile)
I spent last weekend in Whitby with various members of the Dracula Society - i.e. the same people I went to Romania with at the beginning of the summer. Back when I lived in Oxford, I attended the annual Whitby Gothic Weekend at least three times. As far as I remember they were the Aprils of 1999 and 2000 and the October of 2001, but I didn't have a livejournal back then to record the great events, so who knows! Anyway, between the fact that the WGW always falls during term-time, and that even from Leeds Whitby is still at least a two-hour journey away, I have failed to go again ever since. So when the Dracula Society chair let me know that a few members would be there in mid-September for a long weekend, it seemed like a good opportunity to put that right.

It wasn't a formal Society trip like the Romania visit - just a group of friends hanging out in a place of relevance to their interests, really. Most of the time we bimbled around the place, shopping, sitting in pubs and cafes, enjoying the local sights and so forth. But Julia (the Society chair) does like to look after us all, so she had recommended places for us to stay and made bookings at local restaurants for evening meals, while on the Sunday morning we all met up together and walked around some key sites of relevance to Stoker's novel and to the Dracula Society. For me, this made just the right balance, with plenty of opportunities to get together and do things, but also plenty of time to just wander, relax and bump into one another randomly.

I deliberately didn't take my digital camera, reasoning that I had been to Whitby and taken photos of it before, there are zillions of pictures of it all over the internet anyway, and I would prefer to just concentrate on being with people and experiencing the town. But of course once you get there, you get caught up in the beauty of it all, and our little walk around on the Sunday morning in particular brought up various things I wanted to photograph after all. So three cheers for smartphone cameras.

We began our walk by dropping in on the Great Man himself - or at least the guest-house where he and his family stayed when they visited Whitby )

Following the West Cliff round and turning as it does into the harbour mouth, you come to East Crescent, where this little row of houses looks out over the harbour itself )

Meanwhile, on the corner between the two where the cliff curves inland is the Royal Hotel, and in their lobby is a portrait of Bram Stoker donated by the Dracula Society on their first formal visit to Whitby in 1977 )

Actually, while I was in Whitby, Julia and her partner Adrian were kind enough to sit me down and show me a documentary made about the Society in 2003, its 30th anniversary, by one of its members who worked as an editor for the BBC. It includes interviews with the founder members, spliced together with a presenter's framing narrative, hand-held video footage of the trips they have taken over the years (including the earliest ones to Romania), and numerous spots on TV documentaries and quiz-shows. The Society was formed primarily to travel to Romania, but after a few years they decided to branch out and try some other things - hence the Whitby visit and the donation of the portrait in 1977. But honestly it was so funny hearing the founder members talking about the Whitby visit in the documentary, saying how obviously it had been quite difficult to plan it all from a distance. This from people who had already been to Romania while it still lay behind the Iron Curtain! Yes, Yorkshire is evidently alien indeed to people from That London...

By 1980, though, they had recovered enough from the experience to venture a return, and this time dedicate a bench in collaboration with the local council. I saw footage of the dedication ceremony too, in the documentary. In truth it is a bit of an Archimedes' bench by now, in that much of it has been replaced since 1980, including the dedicatory plaque. But it still sits proudly at the top of the Khyber Pass looking directly across the harbour towards the church and abbey on the East Cliff, and thus commemorating the various scenes in the novel when Mina and / or Lucy look in the same direction and see either Lucy and / or Dracula in the churchyard. The pictures below show both bench and view )

We gathered collectively at the bench at least twice for tuica brought back from the recent Romania trip and general collective toasting, as of course you would if you were in a town which contained a bench commemorating the Society you had come there with. Here, stolen from Julia's Facebook page (for which I hope she'll forgive me if she sees this!) is the group shot from the Sunday evening, taken before we all went for dinner in one of the restaurants on the west harbour pier.

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A lovely lot, all of them.

That was it for the (really very in)formal elements of the weekend, but while we were there plenty of us of course went up to the Abbey and inside the church )

It was strange all round, though, returning to the site of Whitby Gothic Weekends long past, and feeling the ghosts of that event and its people all around me. Even though it still goes on, for me it is something that belongs squarely at the turn of the century - and there I was again, doing almost the same thing, but not quite. Actually TBH one of the most striking differences was that back then I was a student, but now I have a salary, so that instead of staying in the cheapest places we could find, eating at takeaways and agonising over every tiny little purchase, I stayed in a luxurious room beautifully decorated in purple and gold, ate out at nice restaurants and Just Bought a pair of Whitby jet earrings (which I've always wanted) without worrying about it. Other than that, I hung out with people of a broadly gothic inclination, exchanged much the same kind of geeky in-jokes with them as Goths do, and enjoyed the Stoker-infused gothic atmosphere of the town. It was a little more about sharing a love of narrative and a little less about dressing up and listening to bands, but the lines are very blurry. Or maybe that was just all the tuica...?

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strange_complex: (Cities condor in flight)
Last week I wrote about [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan's and my visit to the Mossman Carriage Collection in Luton. That, though, was only the first leg of our Hammer-related weekend of adventure. After exhausting the delights of Luton, we continued onwards in a south-easterly direction, over the Dartford Crossing (which confused us considerably by turning out to be a bridge rather than a tunnel), and towards the pleasant sea-side town of Whitstable. Why Whitstable, you may well ask? Well, because Hammer stalwart and [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan's on-screen boyfriend Mr. Peter Cushing lived there from 1959 until his death in 1994.

We had booked ourselves into a nice little B&B on the edge of the town, where we arrived about 6pm on the Saturday. That gave us an initial evening to explore and have dinner, followed by a good full day on Sunday to complete our Peter Cushing tour. Equipped with maps and a list of places to visit culled from the internet we took in the following locations:

Peter Cushing's house )

The Cushing bench and view )

The Tudor Tea Rooms )

The Peter Cushing pub )

Whitstable Museum )

Not directly Cushing-related Whitstable experiences )

Even if you're not that bothered about Peter Cushing, I can certainly recommend a visit to Whitstable. And if you are, I think you will definitely come away understanding him quite a lot better than you did before. It is well-to-do, full of charming and welcoming people, and replete with a spirit and character all of its own. But it has the feeling of hailing from another age at the same time, and I can't imagine it has changed very fundamentally since Peter first moved there in the 1950s. And I can see all of that really suiting him, both in the early years with Helen and in his later life. A quaint and quiet retreat from the bustle of London and the film-sets where he worked; a genteel and unchanging world where he could be acclaimed and valued without being mobbed. Yes, I can really see him loving that, and being loved for it by the locals in return. The fact that some of them wrote this song about how cool it was to have him living in their town now makes complete and utter sense:


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strange_complex: (Dracula Risen hearse smile)
Last weekend, the lovely [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan and I set off on a Hammer horror-related adventure, the first leg of which took us to Luton. More or less every person to whom I mentioned the Luton part of this endeavour curled up their lips in disdain, from which I gathered that Luton's public image is more or less equivalent to Birmingham's. But, just like Birmingham, Luton is actually well worth visiting for the under-rated treasures it offers to the intrepid visitor. In our case, the main attraction was the Stockwood Discovery Centre - once the grounds of a stately home; now home to a multiplicity of attractions, including gardens, adventure playgrounds, a local history museum and the the Mossman Carriage Collection.

What was so exciting about the Mossman Carriage Collection? Well, it contains more or less every horse-drawn vehicle ever to appear in a Hammer horror film, not to mention at least 50 other films made between 1937 (Doctor Syn) and 1985 (Out of Africa) besides. Basically, if you have ever watched a British-made film or TV production from that period which featured a carriage, the odds are it came from this collection. The man behind it was George Mossman, a Luton businessman born in 1908, who realised just at the time when horse-drawn transport was passing out of regular use that it would be a) fun and b) a good idea to buy up and restore some of the many carriages which were by then languishing away in barns and coach-houses across the country. Lending them out to film companies was of course one way of helping to make back the cost of buying and restoring them, and on Mossman's death the collection passed to the Luton Museum Service in 1991.

Before we went, I spent the best part of every evening for a week screen-capping every single carriage to feature in a Hammer Dracula film, and combing through the pictures on the Mossman Carriage Collection website to try to identify them. I'm glad to say that on arrival, my identifications proved 100% correct, so below each cut which follows you will find historical information about the carriage in question as taken from the website, pictures of it as it appears today, and screen-caps showing it in use within the Dracula films. Any pictures with me in them were of course taken by my trusty travel companion and acclaimed professional photographer, [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan. Oh, and it's important to note that the paint colours on the carriages today don't always match up with how they look in the films, but as the website notes explain for the Private ‘Favorite’ Omnibus (first entry, immediately below), Mossman himself was quite happy to repaint them as required for film commissions. In most cases, I was able to confirm what previous colours each of the carriages had been painted by simply looking closely at the inevitable scratches in the finish to see the previous layers.

Private ‘Favorite’ Omnibus, about 1880 )

Hearse, about 1860 )

Town Coach, about 1860 )

Victoria, about 1890 )

Brougham, about 1860 )

Round Backed Gig )

So far, so lovely, then. But after this, things got a bit frustrating. Because on arrival, we discovered that a wedding reception was going on inside the largest room of the collection, housing on my estimation at least half of the carriages. And we were not allowed to go in. That's pretty damned annoying when you have travelled all the way from Leeds to get there, I can tell you - especially when there is nothing on their website to warn potential visitors that this might happen. I'm pretty sure that there were at least three more carriages in that room which were used in the Dracula films, but I could only see one of them well enough to get a photograph of. Thankfully, it was the carriage I was second-most excited about seeing after the hearse, but I would really have liked to see it a lot better than I did - to say nothing of the other two which I think were in there.

Travelling Chariot, about 1790 )

There are a number of other carriages in the Hammer Dracula films which I never could identify on the Mossman Collection website, and after having visited as much as I could of the collection and looked through their excellent souvenir brochure as well, I have concluded that this is probably because they never came from it in the first place. From about 1970 onwards, Hammer must have been hiring from somewhere else - or possibly even making their own replicas, which would of course have had the advantage of being able to be bashed about a bit in the course of filming if needed. Certainly, I can't identify the Hargood family coach in Taste, the coach which Paul falls into from the window of Sarah's party in Scars, or the coach from the famous opening chase-through-Hyde-Park sequence at the beginning of Dracula AD 1972.

Meanwhile, the Mossman Collection Carriages of course had a wide and varied film career which went well beyond the world of Hammer. On the whole, I didn't worry about this - indeed, I didn't even worry about Hammer films other than the Dracula cycle. There's only so much film-geekery one brain can manage, after all. But I was excited to stumble across a replica chariot which its information panel informed us had been custom-made by George Mossman for use in Ben Hur (1959):

Replica Roman Chariot )

The fact that I was able to stand in it was in keeping with the collection's general policy, which was that genuine antique carriages had 'do not touch' labels on them, whereas visitors were allowed to sit or stand (as appropriate) in the replicas. This seems reasonable, but on the other hand I'm not sure they have thought hard enough about the heritage value of even some of the replicas, especially where they have appeared in really famous films like Ben Hur. Certainly, they don't draw very much attention to it. Only one small section of the museum mentions it, and this was the only information panel I saw which linked up a specific vehicle with a specific film. Meanwhile, as you can see in the photos, the decorative detail on the chariot is badly degraded. At first we assumed that this was just because it had been made in the first place of materials which had naturally perished over the years, but this is a picture of the same chariot from the collection's souvenir brochure:

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And this is it again in a video which was playing in one of the rooms of the museum:

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Judging by the hair and clothes of the people in the video, it must have been made within the last ten years at most. And meanwhile, when we looked closely at the chariot we realised that all the damage to its decoration is concentrated on the side of it which faces outwards from the arched entrance-way where it stands, and hence towards the elements. So in other words, at some point in the last ten years it has been placed facing into an open courtyard, and the result is that an iconic prop used in one of the biggest block-busters of the 20th century, which was fine ten years ago, has degraded into the state seen in the above pictures.

This makes me feel really sad, not only because it is a neglectful waste, but also because it is surely very short-sighted on the part of the museum management. Film tourism is a real thing, as our own visit proved, and the value of a prop from a film like Ben Hur is only going to grow as time goes by. Imagine being able to say at the time of its centenary in 2059 that you have a chariot used in that film! You know, a film which is famous for its chariot races... Except that a prop which is rotting away in the rain is going to be a lot less of a draw than one which has been kept in good condition.

In fact, I think the Mossman Collection could do with getting some film specialists to collaborate with them asap to draw up a proper and comprehensive list of all the films its vehicles have been used in, complete with screen-caps of the kind I've done here for the Dracula films, which could be displayed on their website and within the museum. They could reach whole new audiences by publicising that information properly - but right now, it is acknowledged only fleetingly and incompletely. It is up to geeks like me to create their own guide to the carriages used in the films they are interested in if that's what they want to see - and while I will do it and enjoyed the results enormously, even I would have been glad of a guide which covered just the other Hammer films at least.

A bit of a sad note there at the end, then, and the wedding reception thing was annoying too. But on the whole I would very much recommend a visit to the Mossman Collection, especially if you are a British film geek. You just might need to be prepared to do your own research in advance...

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strange_complex: (Wicker Man sunset)
This is the second in a series of photo posts, aimed at sharing the highlights of my Romania holiday. I've written an overview of the holiday itself here.

Bram Stoker never visited Romania, drawing his descriptions of the country and its history entirely from library-based research. But that doesn't mean you can't trace the footsteps of his characters through the actual landscape if you do go there - and that, of course, is exactly what the Dracula Society likes to do. The relevant parts of our holiday are shown below, in the order in which they occur in Stoker's novel (though that wasn't the order we did them in).

The novel begins with Jonathan Harker in Bistritz (nowadays more usually spelt Bistrița), writing up his diary from the Golden Crown hotel, where he is staying overnight before travelling up the Borgo Pass to meet Dracula's carriage. The Golden Crown is an invention of Stoker's, but in the early 1970s, an enterprising local businessman built his own 'Coroana de Aur' to capitalise on the western interest in Dracula tourism )

Bistritz is Bistritz, though, and we had plenty of time to wander around it before our lunch. This is what it actually looks like )

In order to reach Castle Dracula, Harker travels up the Borgo Pass from Bistritz in a stage-coach, through "a green sloping land full of forests and woods, with here and there steep hills, crowned with clumps of trees or with farmhouses, the blank gable end to the road". Stage-coaches weren't available to us, but from time to time Harker's coach also passes "a leiter-wagon - the ordinary peasants' cart - with its long, snakelike vertebra, calculated to suit the inequalities of the road". These are still in common use in Romania, and enterprising local farmers are very happy indeed to earn extra money transporting parties of Dracula-obsessed tourists through the Borgo Pass, just like Jonathan Harker. Thus it was that on our seventh day, we did this:
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More horseyness )

Dracula failed to meet us at the top of the pass, no doubt because it was still daylight, but his castle awaited:
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More castleyness )

Stoker's novel ends with a wild chase back to Dracula's castle, which sees the party of vampire hunters catching up with the gypsy cart carrying the count back home just as the sun sets. As Mina puts it in her journal:
The sun was almost down on the mountain tops, and the shadows of the whole group fell upon the snow. I saw the Count lying within the box upon the earth, some of which the rude falling from the cart had scattered over him. He was deathly pale, just like a waxen image, and the red eyes glared with the horrible vindictive look which I knew so well. As I looked, the eyes saw the sinking sun, and the look of hate in them turned to triumph.
The count's triumph is short-lived, of course, but still there was something about watching the sun set over the Borgo Pass from the terrace of the Hotel Castle Dracula which momentarily brought him back to life, and will stay with me forever:
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strange_complex: (Cicero history)
This is the first in a series of photo posts, aimed at sharing the highlights of my Romania holiday. I've written an overview of the holiday itself here.

We begin with the historical Dracula, because while Hammer's Dracula and Bram Stoker's Dracula are both very exciting, and their imaginative use of the Romanian landscape certainly shaped the way I saw it (see future posts on this), still in truth they are the products of Britain and Ireland respectively. It is direct encounters with the historical Dracula and his world that Romania has to offer, and that was my number one reason for wanting to go there. This isn't to say we visited every possible site connected with him while we were there. In practice, our trip was focused on Transylvania and Moldavia, whereas he was Voievod of Wallachia - the southern part of the country, between the Carpathians and the Danube. So we only spent a single day in the part of Romania which he actually ruled, which means there are still plenty more historical-Dracula-related sites for me to discover on a return visit. But between our day-trip to Wallachia, the fact that he spent a lot of his life in exile in Transylvania anyway, and the wider cast of historical characters who also have a role to play in his story, we did pretty well.

The highlight of our visit was Poienari castle, which we visited on our second day )
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Many more Poienari pictures )

On our third evening, we arrived at Sighișoara, where we proceeded to stay for the next two days. It is a medieval fortified town, with its centre very little changed by the march of history, and it contains this house:
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More of the house, in which the historical Dracula may or may not have been born )

After those two sites, we were done with the historical Dracula himself, but there were still plenty of places on the itinerary where we came across various of his political allies, enemies and relatives )

All in all then, traces of the historical Dracula were never too far away, and of course just being able to explore the geography and settlement structure of the landscape in which he operated helped me to understand him far better than I did before I went. There is more to learn, as ever, but this was a very satisfying historical Dracula field-trip.

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strange_complex: (Me Art Deco)
I wrote up my overall experiences curating the [twitter.com profile] PeopleofLeeds Twitter account a couple of weeks ago, and followed that up with a post containing some of the pictures I had shared of local Headingley landmarks. But the real theme of my week on the account was Art Deco Leeds, so this post rounds off the story by recording some of the pictures I shared on that topic. I'm not including absolutely every picture I took or tweeted here, as that would get a bit much, but these are the highlights of my Art Deco week.

Art Deco Headingley )

The University and city centre )

But the grand climax of my week was the Sunday, when I armed myself with my SatNav and a list of every other Art Deco building I knew of in Leeds, and drove around the city visiting and photographing each one )

Meanwhile, outside the sun set on my day of Art Deco, and my week as the Twitter face of Leeds. As I said in my previous post, it had its pros and cons, but the prompt to finally get myself organised and visit all these buildings systematically was very definitely one of the pros.

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strange_complex: (Penny Lane)
I wrote about my experiences curating the [twitter.com profile] PeopleofLeeds Twitter account earlier today, and said at the end of that post that I would share here some of the pictures which I posted to that account during my week, so that I have a more permanent record of what I did with it. This post contains some (though not all) of the pictures I took of non-Art Deco landmarks in Headingley during my week, and the things I said about them.

The no-longer original oak )

5, Holly Bank, one-time home of J.R.R. Tolkien )

The Cottage Road and Hyde Park cinemas )

Remants of the Victorian-era Leeds Zoological and Botanical Gardens )

None of the above photos are that great, of course, because they were taken with my phone camera, and I didn't usually have the luxury to be able to wait around for good weather, good lighting, no cars, etc. before I took them. But that's the nature of Twitter, and I think they did convey a good sense of what I like about my area.

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strange_complex: (Me Art Deco)
Three years ago, I had just moved into my current house, and jointly celebrated that event and my 31st birthday with a 1920s and '30s-themed housewarming party. Lots of my friends and colleagues came along, as did some of the cheekier neighbourhood cats, and a marvellous time indeed was had.

This year, I decided it was time for a similar celebration to mark my 34th birthday (which is actually on Monday this year), but this time based around a barbecue and without the period theme. 'Cos dressing up is fun, but you can't do the same thing every time. A man turned up from Sainsbury's with eight boxes full of STUFF at 10 o'clock on Saturday morning, and I sprang into action - chopping vegetables, marinading meat, threading things onto skewers and (most importantly) mixing cocktails!

The weather looked decidedly shady for most of the day, but thankfully around 3pm rays of sunshine started to appear, and by the time my first few guests arrived the skies were blue and almost cloudless. My colleague's children ran around the garden while we got the barbecues going (two of them, because they were only diddy ones), and began grilling the first few burgers. And after that everything became a bit of a blur as people arrived, and handed me presents and cards, and I whirled around the place making sure everyone had drinks and introducing people to each other and so forth. But it was a very nice blur! I just have a kind of vague general impression of being surrounded by lovely people all being witty and sociable and exciting and beautiful all around me, and lots of hugs and laughter and (though I say it myself) delicious food and so forth.

Around 9ish it began drizzling a little, but that was OK really, as most people had finished with the barbecues by then, so we just carried on the party inside. An interesting spontaneous gender division occurred, as most of the ladies present ended up in the kitchen discussing various types of relationships, while most of the gentlemen were in the dining room discussing joke websites. But hey - both rooms seemed to be having an awesomely good time, so that is fine. Then around 11ish most of the further-flung guests decided it was about time they started their journeys home, so the scene shifted again to a more intimate gathering of myself, [livejournal.com profile] ant_girl, [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan and [livejournal.com profile] planet_andy, chilling out in the lounge discussing serial killers for another hour or so.

And now this morning, here I am browsing through last night's photos, eating delicious Belgian chocolates which somebody gave me and generally basking in the afterglow of a most excellent evening. Many thanks to everyone who came, and especially those who helped keep an eye on the barbecue, which I could not really have managed on my own alongside meeting and greeting everyone and generally being the charming hostess. I'm slightly delicate today, and unlikely to move terribly far from the sofa, but it was definitely all worth it. Give me another three years, and I might be ready to do it again... ;-)

Photos follow under the cut )

Oh, and if anyone wants the recipe for the marsala peaches we had, and on which I got several compliments, Delia is your lady. I shall be enjoying the few which were left over with my lunch today. :-)

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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)
On Saturday, I reached the grand old age of thirty-two, and went on an outing to Castle Howard to celebrate. I had [livejournal.com profile] redkitty23 and her partner, Vincent, as house-guests for the weekend (en route to a Primatology conference in Edinburgh), so we were able to pile into Anna's cute little retro-style Fiat 500, swoop [livejournal.com profile] big_daz up from Wortley, and head off out into the countryside.

At first, we were guided on our way by 'Ken', the Australian voice on Anna's Tom Tom, but he unfortunately let us down by taking us straight into an all-but-stationary traffic jam going past York. Luckily, however, we had an alternative Yorkshire navigation system available to us: Daz Daz, armed with Local Knowledge and a road atlas. And so it was that we found ourselves bowling through Georgian brick-built villages and along sunlit country lanes, listening to The Cure while our hair whipped around in an invigorating breeze, and only got to Castle Howard half an hour later than Ken had said we would. [livejournal.com profile] snapesbabe and [livejournal.com profile] matgb, alas, were not so lucky, and despite gallant efforts to join us were eventually forced to turn back before they had even arrived. :-(

And this was a great pity, not only because it deprived me of the opportunity to lust over their new purple Ka, but also because Castle Howard is ace! It really is a stately home par excellence, with expansive grounds, beautiful formal gardens, fountains, peacocks, endless opulent drawing rooms, rococo furniture, plutocratic portraits and so on. But I think what I liked best about it was the extensive collections of Classical sculpture (which seemed to go on and on in every hallway and corridor), and the answering neo-Classicism of the building itself and the works of art which adorned it. It began to feel as though you couldn't turn a corner without seeing something Classical or Classically-inspired: which is quite frankly exactly how I think the world should be. ;-)

Anyway, a day like that is probably best told in pictures, rather than words, so here are some of my favourite photos from our outing )

... and if you liked those, you can see the full gallery here.

As we left in the late afternoon (Ken still relegated to the boot in favour of Daz Daz), Anna suggested that we should eat out in the evening. I'd planned to cook us a casserole, but who would cook on their birthday when friends were offering to take them out instead, eh? So we ended up at Jino's, where we guzzled delicious Thai food, and the waiters put a candle in my ice-cream when Anna told them it was my birthday, and then returned home to mine for frighteningly potent cocktails.

Presents were mainly books from my family, but Anna got me a beautiful orchid, while Daz (who clearly knows me far too well) got me an enamel K-9 pendant like the ones shown below (just one, though!), and my parents got me a Tiffany floor lamp to go in my dining-room:

Presenty goodness )

So, all told, an excellent day, and some nice mementos of it to take away with me. So far, I'm enjoying being 32. It feels like a nice solid, self-confident age to be - properly into my 30s, in contrast to 31, which felt a bit apologetic about it. It's also a multiple of eight, which I've always thought of as being 'my' number - not necessarily my lucky number, but just the number that signifies me. As being born on the 2nd of the 8th and growing up in a house with the number 82 will tend to make you think...

Here's to my thirty-secondthird year on this planet, then. I intend to make the most of it.

Lesbian bingo

Sunday, 20 July 2008 21:12
strange_complex: (Me Art Deco)
I went on a lovely excursion today with [livejournal.com profile] glitzfrau to Hebden Bridge: allegedly, the lesbian hub of Britain.

Glitz knitting on the train )

I'd been there the previous Friday for Moths Ate My Doctor Who Scarf, but had only got to see it relatively briefly and in partial day-light, so when [livejournal.com profile] glitzfrau expressed a desire for a Sunday excursion, it seemed like a great opportunity to go back for a proper look. It's ever so picturesque )

The weather, alas, was rather English, which curtailed our photo opportunities, and also put paid to some half-conceived plans to go for a walk along the river. However, so were the people )

In fact, the need to take shelter from regular showers of rain, coupled with the ready availability of charity shops, antique shops and festival stalls, meant that the day ended up developing largely into a very rewarding shopping trip. [livejournal.com profile] glitzfrau got two very pretty tops and some nice bread (which I'm sure she will post about shortly), while I got a nice lilac blouse, a very classic-looking battered denim jacket and the purple flared trousers of my dreams! Seriously, they are the trousers my sixteen-year-old self would have died for - except that back then, they would have fallen off my hips. Now, however, they fit perfectly. Yes, there may be some advantages to growing into a slightly more womanly figure, after all...

Oh, and I got one other thing too. *embarrassed shuffle* A thing I knew about, but had actually consciously planned not to buy, lest it shatter my fannish illusions. As Glitzy will testify, though, it was Not My Fault - it just fell on me in an antiques shop. For £4. So now I have a copy of Who On Earth Is Tom Baker?. Oops!?

Holiday snaps

Wednesday, 5 September 2007 15:19
strange_complex: (Hastings camera)
Right - it's time we had this canal holiday in pictures, then.

Warning - there are 86 of them )

strange_complex: (Penny Crayon)
I've now uploaded all of my ball pictures into my LJ scrapbook. There are three pages worth, they're visible to everyone, and you can see larger versions of them by clicking on each thumbnail.

I was going to post a few of my favourites in this entry too, but they are so HUMONGOUS that, even under cuts, they would just be obnoxious. So instead, the captions below link to the medium-sized versions of them visible in the gallery:

Some of the Oxgoths contingent: Andy, violetdisregard, Cat and edling

La Fleurissima

A beautiful eighteenth-century lady, who bears a strong resemblence to redkitty23

Double Helen joy

Huginn and Muninn attempt a beak kiss

King and Queen contest: mask fellatio

OMG kitten!!!

Sheer costume genius, both made by the young lady on the right (Megan)

King and Queen contest winners: Boy-on-Boy Action

When the world outside breaks in

For real photographic genius, though, and an excellent sense of what the night was like, I highly recommend visiting the collection of the official ball photographer, [livejournal.com profile] dylan.

Links to other collections will be edited in below as I come across them:

Purple joy

Sunday, 12 June 2005 01:00
strange_complex: (Megara flowers)
Thanks to [livejournal.com profile] damien_mocata and his digital camera, I can now show off the big puffy skirt I got at the Rusty Zip a few weeks ago. These pictures were taken after we went to see Dracula on May 28th.

Big puffy purple joy under here )
strange_complex: (Rick's Cafe)
This afternoon, after a nice lie-in to recover from last night's cinema trip, I happened to catch the opening credits of The World of Suzie Wong on Channel 5, while channel-hopping. I hopped no further - I was hooked.

I'd heard of the film before, and knew it was a legend amongst Hong Kong movies, while the opening credits wowed me with scenes of the harbour and the Star Ferry that transported me right back to my visit there last Easter.

The film is set in Hong Kong in 1960, and is about an American architect who goes there to try to make it as an artist, and a prostitute, Suzie Wong, who starts posing as his model. They go through all sorts of trials and tribulations, including of course a lot of prejudice from his white friends, but eventually they come through them all, realise that they should be together and decide to marry at the end of the film.

Both characters were dynamic and very three-dimensional, and their interactions together complex and quite heart-rending in places: I found myself crying at the end! It also didn't hurt that the actress playing Suzie Wong, Nancy Kwan, was a visual delight if ever I saw one. But what really made it special for me was the fact that the film-makers had obviously decided to make a point of capturing the sights and sounds of Hong Kong. The ramshackle apartments in the poorer areas of the city were all there; the washing and banners hanging out into the streets; the sampans in Aberdeen harbour; stepped streets climbing steeply up the hill-sides; temples full of incense, hot food stalls and places selling exotic dried produce. And of course also many things which have changed between the 60s and the city I saw last year - the film featured rickshaws and people carrying baskets on poles over their shoulders, for example, which have both all but disappeared, and a sky-line which was virtually unrecognisable due to the myriad sky-scrapers which had sprung up since it was made. And the harbour - I've heard people in Hong Kong say it gets narrower and narrower every year as the shore-line on each side gets extended out into the sea for more building space, and having seen this film I fully believe them. The trip across the water on the Star Ferry which was featured at the beginning of the film seemed to take twice as long as I remember it taking last year, and the far shore looked impossibly distant when they first set off.

But what made watching this film really nice was that my Dad actually happens to be out there right now - lucky devil! I'm not sure quite what he's doing - some kind of Engineering conference I think. But I am jealous to think he's there, anyway, and it was nice to watch the film and think of him walking essentially the same streets (if forty-five years later). I shall look forward to hearing his traveller's tales when he gets back.

Finally, this has reminded me to share one of my favourite photos from my own trip to Hong Kong, which I don't think I've got round to posting in this journal before (apologies if I have):

All roads lead to Hung Hom station )

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