Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Almost any time on the cut is good

With the weather the way it is, we took the opportunity yesterday to come out up the canal a few miles, to do some remedial work to the various knocks and scrapes Kantara's hull suffered over the past months. The damage is largely to the rubbing strakes, and being knocked and scraped is what it's there for, after all.

We did the usual thing of coming up to the straight stretch just above bridge 27, working on the port side of the boat, winding just past bridge 28, and returning to the same spot to work on the starboard. The weather's beautiful, and so's the mooring. There are no roads within hearing distance, nothing to cause light pollution, so last night was still, silent and starfilled. The moon was full, and very bright. We awoke to a lovely morning, a little misty to start with, the sun burning through before 9:00. We'll finish the work today, and probably be back in the marina tonight. But there's no hurry, so we may decide to stay out for more of the weather and scenery.

We watched yet another surprising film last night. The box the DVD is in bears lots of fulsome praise, but they all do, don't they? I was prepared to be disappointed. I wasn't. The Holiday is a romantic comedy with a good cast, and some nice touches in the story. A good 'un! I'm not a great fan of Cameron Diaz, but her character reminded me a lot of Ali McBeal, so she did all right in my eyes in this film.
"Two women trade homes only to find that a change of address can change their lives. Iris is in love with a man who is about to marry another woman. Across the globe, Amanda realizes the man she lives with has been unfaithful. Two women who have never met, and live 6000 miles apart, find themselves in the exact same place. They meet online at a home exchange website and impulsively switch homes for the holiday. Iris moves into Amanda's L.A. house in sunny California as Amanda arrives in the snow covered English countryside. Shortly after arriving at their destinations, both women find the last thing either wants or expects: a new romance."

We'll be back this way again on Friday. Jane and Michael, old friends of ours from St Albans but now living in Hillmorton, will be visiting, and we'll probably be having lunch with them where we're moored now. On Sunday, the kids are all coming to see us. A belated birthday celebration. But six eating on the boat wouldn't be comfortable, so we'll be having lunch at The George. Oops, I'd better ring them now, and book a table!

Saturday, September 26, 2015

A really good day out

Grace had painting to do. I had various odd jobs to do. We needed to take Kantara out and touch up the scrapes and scratches on the hull blacking. But the weather was glorious, and we just couldn't resist the temptation to drive out somewhere interesting and beautiful. We've been to Upton House and Gardens twice before, but the National Trust recently notified us that the house is staging something of an exhibition, celebrating the life and work of former owner, Lord Bearsted. In particular, how, in 1939, he used his fabulous country house to support the war effort.

One of Lord Bearsted's 52 business concerns was the family's merchant bank, M. Samuel & Co., housed in London. When war was declared, he foresaw the danger of bombing in the capital, and moved the entire staff of 22 into his house, from which they continued to run the business. This helped to keep the wheels of the nation's commerce running during the war years, and the bank further helped the government by funding all sorts of projects, from supplying parachute silk to a system of credits for purchasing eggs from Hungary.

But far from ensconcing himself in the bank in his house throughout the war, Lord Bearsted joined the secret services, while his wife financed and helped run canteens in the bomb-struck East End of London. Both got involved in the desperate struggle to help fellow Jews in peril across Europe. 

Since we last visited the house, it has been transformed to how it was during those years. It was all very fascinating. Unlike most exhibitions of its kind, in this one, visitors are encouraged to touch artefacts, sit on the chairs and at the desks, lie on the beds, read the letters, both business and personal, and peruse the numerous newspapers and magazines of the era.

Lord Bearsted had a large collection of paintings and porcelain. Most of these were bequeathed to the National Gallery at his death, but many of them are still on display in the house. He arranged for some of them to go, with many of the most important works from the National Gallery, to slate mines in Wales for safe-keeping during the bombing of London.

I've never been one to feel awed when in the presence of anyone famous, but I was star-struck when faced with a huge Canaletto painting, just inches from me.

We even had a wartime lunch. "Woolton Pie". Seasonal vegetables topped with potato and cheese, and served with a thick gravy. Very tasty. The sky was cloudless, the sun was hot. Just perfect for strolling in the gardens, or sitting and enjoying the views.

Unfortunately, the lake had leaked away and was mostly quite dried up, but, coincidentally, it had been deliberately drained during the war so that the water couldn't create reflections which might have been seen by enemy aircraft crews, and prompted bombing.

It was a great day out, with the added bonus of outward and return journeys by different routes through beautiful Warwickshire countryside.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Films, just for the record

I turned 64 on Wednesday. I've become one of the millions of subjects of The Beatles' "When I'm Sixty-Four". I don't know what being 64's supposed to feel like, but I don't think the song paints an accurate picture of me. I feel like I'm 34.

However, I've always had a rubbish memory. At least, certain aspects of my memory have always been iffy. So this blog's one way of remembering things. My photos are another. I have for a long time wished I kept a journal of the books I read and the films I see. But even when I have that regret, I do nothing to rectify the situation. Perhaps I forget to do something. Anyway, in order to help me remember the films I've seen since September 2011, I write about them here. So...

Three more really good films Grace and I have seen in the past couple of weeks. And we'd not heard of any of them, so they were all the more a pleasant surprise. Firstly, Locke. (The following description is full of spoilers!)
"The day before he must supervise a large concrete pour in Birmingham, construction foreman Ivan Locke learns that Bethan, a colleague with whom he had a one-night stand seven months previously, has gone into premature labour. Despite his job responsibilities and although his wife and sons are eagerly awaiting his arrival home to watch an important football match, Locke decides to drive to London to be with Bethan during childbirth. Locke never forgave his father for abandoning him as a child, and he is determined not to make the same mistake.
Over the course of the two-hour drive from Birmingham to London, Locke holds a total of 36 phone calls with his boss and a colleague, Donal, to ensure the pour is successful, with his wife Katrina to confess his infidelity, his son, and with Bethan to reassure her during her labour. During these calls, he is fired from his job, kicked out of his house by his wife, and asked by his older son to return home. He coaches his assistant Donal through preparing the pour despite several major setbacks, and has imaginary conversations with his father, whom he envisions as a passenger in the back seat of his car. When he is close to the hospital, Locke learns of the successful birth of his new baby."
It's a really cleverly constructed film. Tom Hardy is the only actor, all other characters being just the other voices in his phone calls. The BMW he's driving is the only setting.

Next, Butterfly on a Wheel (aka Shattered).

This is a tense drama with a sting in the tail, brilliantly played by Brosnan, Butler and Bello, with direction to match. 
"Chicago residents Neil Randall and his wife, Abby Randall have the perfect life and a perfect marriage. With their beautiful young daughter, Sophie, they are living the American dream... until today. When Sophie is suddenly kidnapped, they have no choice but to comply with the abductor's demands. The kidnapper, Tom Ryan, a cold and calculating sociopath, takes over their lives with the brutal efficiency of someone who has nothing to lose.

In the blink of an eye, Neil and Abby's safe and secure existence is turned upside down. Over the next twenty-four hours they are at the mercy of a man who wants only one thing: that they do his bidding. It soon becomes clear that Ryan's demands are all the more terrifying because he doesn't want their money. What he wants is Neil and Abby's life, the life they have built over 10 years, to be systematically dismantled and destroyed, piece by piece."
We watched An Unfinished Life last night. Again, a good story, some terrific acting from the distinguished cast, and really worth watching.
"Stoic and heartbroken, Einar Gilkyson quietly lives in the rugged Wyoming ranchlands alongside his only trusted friend, Mitch Bradley. Then, suddenly, the woman he blames for the death of his only son arrives at his door broke, desperate, and with a granddaughter he's never known. But even as buried anger and accusations resurface, the way is opened for unexpected connection, adventure, and forgiveness."

We're really lucky to have the large and oft-changing DVD library in the marina. We've had very few disappointments over the years here. 

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Creative knitting!

If you read my post about G Dad's Collectables back in June, then I apologise for showing the same photos here as I did then. Grace and I paid G Dad's a return visit the other day. It's at Old Wolverton, near Milton Keynes, and right next to the Grand Union Canal.

This time, we went to their furniture warehouse as well, which was full of all sorts of fascinating, retro furniture and objets d'art. I really regret not having taken photos this time. I had my camera with me, but just got too carried away with the looking to think about the recording.

We spent several hours there, taking a break for lunch at the next-door Galleon Inn.

G Dad's stock had changed a lot since we were there last, but it was still the most amazing collection of ephemera and oddities that we've ever seen. It's not at all difficult to spend ages there. Surprisingly, we actually bought nothing this time, but we do highly recommend the place to readers who enjoy browsing and buying fascinating objects from past decades. And some of the prices are just stupidly low!

Returning from Sainsbury's on Friday, we stopped off at Kilsby village to investigate something we saw on our way out.

All of the knitting was in celebration of the 100th Anniversary of the Women's Institute. It put big smiles on our faces. A brilliant concept, very well executed.

Friday, September 18, 2015

I'm not going to talk about the weather...

...after all, it's what most of the boating community are talking about at the moment. As, no doubt, are countless others across the nation. Suffice it to say that Grace and I don't really care too much, so long as we get a few dry days come the time that Grace is ready to paint the roses and castles on Kantara's sides. She'll be practising on the inside of the rear and side doors before that, and she's practising for the doors right now, as I type, sitting in the well deck surrounded by paints, brushes, boards and... artisty stuff.

I've managed to add another five pages to Life with our feet under water. It wasn't deliberate. I just found a few places which needed a little bit more added, and it soon mounted up. 305 pages now. You're really going to get a lot for your money when you buy it, I promise you.

Another little taster
Our TV's not working at the moment. That is, we can't watch TV on it. But it will still play DVDs, so we've stocked up with a number of titles from the marina library, and bought some, too. Do you know zoverstocks? They sell used CDs and DVDs on the web. We've bought a lot of both since we've been on Kantara, and never been disappointed. Often, the price is just 1p, plus £1.26 p & p. Excellent value.

So, just recently we've seen four which we've found to be really good films.

The Railway Man Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman, and Jeremy Irvine playing a young Colin Firth, and doing it brilliantly. Outstanding performances, and a powerful, moving story.
Eric Lomax (Colin Firth), a former British army officer and POW, discovers that the Japanese interpreter who tortured him is still alive. He and his new wife (Nicole Kidman) set out to confront the man who caused him so much pain.

A Long Way Down I don't think I've seen Pierce Brosnan in anything else other than James Bond. It was an interesting role, and he played it well, of course. I've developed a great fondness and huge respect of British films of late. This is up there with the best of them.
Martin Sharp is contemplating suicide on New Year's Eve on the roof of the Toppers Building, high above London's streets. He is interrupted by a woman, Maureen, who has the same fate in mind. She shyly offers to wait her turn, until two other strangers, a young woman named Jess and a pizza deliverer called J.J., also turn up.
Martin is recognized by the others, having been a popular television personality before going to prison for a relationship with a girl who turned out to be 15. The four strangers join together as a kind of family, Martin the surrogate father, and make a pact, giving themselves the six weeks until Valentine's Day to find valid reasons to live.

Naomi was one of the many extras in The Invisible Woman, but we couldn't spot her. It's an outstanding film. Another British great.
Nelly, a happily married mother and schoolteacher, is haunted by her past. Her memories, provoked by remorse and guilt, take us back in time to follow the story of her relationship with Charles Dickens with whom she discovered an exciting but fragile complicity.
Dickens - famous, controlling and emotionally isolated within his success - falls for Nelly, who comes from a family of actors. The theatre is a vital arena for Dickens - a brilliant amateur actor - a man more emotionally coherent in his work, or on stage, than in life. As Nelly becomes the focus of Dickens' passion and his muse, for both of them secrecy is the price, and for Nelly a life of 'invisibility'.

I just have to watch anything with Meryl Streep in it. Ricki and The Flash has to be next. We saw the trailer for Hope Springs, bought the DVD and were surprised at the storyline. The trailer didn't really represent it well, we thought. Nonetheless, not a disappointment. Poignant and very funny.
Long-married couple Kay (Meryl Streep) and Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones) love each other, but after so many years together, Kay feels the need to spice things up and reconnect with her husband. Hearing of a renowned marriage counsellor (Steve Carell) in the town of Great Hope Springs, Kay manages to persuade her stubborn mate to attend a retreat with her. As they shed their bedroom hang-ups, Kay and Arnold find that the real challenge is reigniting the spark that originally brought them together.
Finally, for the time being at least, Seven Pounds. Will Smith starring in a curious film, but no less powerful and compelling for that.
A life-shattering secret torments Ben Thomas (Will Smith). In order to find redemption, he sets out to change the lives of seven strangers. Over the course of his journey, he meets and falls in love with a cardiac patient named Emily (Rosario Dawson), and in so doing, complicates his mission.Tonight, we watch another!