Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Gardening, films and stuff

For the record, the weather is foul. The east coast of the US has had record snow and winds, and it's said it's headed our way, except warmer. I don't know if it's got here yet. It's raining lots, and the wind is extreme. Several friends at the marina are reporting having bumpy rides without going anywhere!
"More Napoleon weather here (i.e. we're being blown apart, 50 mph winds again)" (NBAdagio)
So even if we were on the boat - which is where we want to be right now - we wouldn't be wanting to go cruising yet. There's still (or again) flooding in the north, and flood and weather warnings active. Being here means more table space for Grace to be preparing to paint the Castles and Roses on Kantara's sides. And it means gardening for me. Tree surgery, to be more accurate.
"I'm a lumberjack, and I'm okay.
I sleep all night and I work all day." (Monty Python)
First of all, Naomi, Steve and I reduced an old lilac tree considerably. That all had to be chopped small, loaded into the car and taken to the Recycling Centre. Yesterday, Nome and I made a very good start on felling a large hawthorn, and more chopping up of that wood for disposal.

I was halfway up the tree on a ladder for some of the time, and the wind rocked it alarmingly from time to time. Heavy rain has stopped us from continuing that today.

The garden's looking wintry still, but there are lots of signs of life beginning to poke through.

Naomi has it in mind to enter the garden for an "Open Garden" event in the summer. This isn't a showing-off of beautiful, floricured gardens, but a example of gardens which are of 'green' interest. So ours will feature the rather wild water habitats - a pond and a running water feature - raised beds for vegetable growing, butts for collecting rain water, composting, a hedgehog house. Even the solar panels on the garden side of the roof.

The event is being organised by Transition St Albans, who want to encourage more people to use their garden better to support and enhance the environment, and to embrace sustainability.

Grace and I have watched three more excellent films in the past few days.

Shutter Island
"It's 1954, and up-and-coming U.S. marshal Teddy Daniels is assigned to investigate the disappearance of a patient from Boston's Shutter Island Ashecliffe Hospital. He's been pushing for an assignment on the island for personal reasons, but before long he wonders whether he hasn't been brought there as part of a twisted plot by hospital doctors whose radical treatments range from unethical to illegal to downright sinister. Teddy's shrewd investigating skills soon provide a promising lead, but the hospital refuses him access to records he suspects would break the case wide open. As a hurricane cuts off communication with the mainland, more dangerous criminals "escape" in the confusion, and the puzzling, improbable clues multiply, Teddy begins to doubt everything - his memory, his partner, even his own sanity."

"Charles Schine and Lucinda Harris have noticed each other on the commuter train before. One morning their conversation leads to a flirtation which turns into an evening drink and then, before either one can stop it, a passionate one-night stand. But suddenly a stranger explodes into their world, threatening to expose their secret, and luring them into a terrifying game with more surprises than they saw coming and more danger than they may survive."

Rabbit Hole

"Becca and Howie Corbett are a happily married couple whose perfect world is forever changed when their young son, Danny, is killed by a car. Becca, an executive-turned-stay-at-home mother, tries to redefine her existence in a surreal landscape of well-meaning family and friends. Painful, poignant, and often funny, Becca's experiences lead her to find solace in a mysterious relationship with a troubled young comic-book artist, Jason - the teenage driver of the car that killed Danny. Becca's fixation with Jason pulls her away from memories of Danny, while Howie immerses himself in the past, seeking refuge in outsiders who offer him something Becca is unable to give. The Corbetts, both adrift, make surprising and dangerous choices as they choose a path that will determine their fate."
Some really good entertainment there! Now back to the flipping hawthorn!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Nine + 9 =

...equals very good viewing! Almost by chance we saw these two, almost-identically-named films last week. Both very different, quirky, fascinating!
"Nine" is a vibrant and provocative musical that follows the life of world famous film director Guido Contini as he reaches a creative and personal crisis of epic proportion, while balancing the numerous women in his life including his wife, his mistress, his film star muse, his confidant and costume designer, an American fashion journalist, the whore from his youth, and his mother.

OK, so it's not much of a story, granted, but it's based on a Broadway musical, and there are several big, bold scenes made in stage musical style, and the whole thing is very dramatic and theatrical. We saw it on DVD. It can be bought very cheaply, and it's more than worth the money.

That was "Nine". Next was "9".
In a world destroyed in a war between man and machine, a hand-stitched doll with the number 9 written on its back comes to life. The world he has awakened in is frightening, but he quickly learns that he is not alone and that there are others like him, also with a single digit written on their back. The first one he encounters is 2 who tells him something of what happened to the world. 2 is also thrilled with the disk 9 is carrying, one with three unique symbols on the front. 9 soon learns that the disk and some of the other dolls who are prepared to die for the good of humankind may be the last hope for man's salvation.

With so many good computer-generated animations to compare with, I think I have to say this is the best of that genre. Again, the story's not complex. It's certainly not new. But it's the animation of these unique little characters from which the film derives its greatness. The DVD includes a couple of extras which you have to watch, too - the "making of", and the short film from which this one grew. This is one I'll have to watch again.

It's not all been film watching here, honest. As always, the house has its demands to make upon us, and we've been working on various of those. All dull stuff, though, and Kantara's calling from a distance. I can't wait to return! 

Friday, January 15, 2016

2016, A Spacious Odyssey

It's not often that Grace and I go to the cinema in the St Albans area. Hatfield Odeon used to be our nearest, but long before this 9-screen monster was even conceived, St Albans had its own small Odeon. But that was closed decades ago, and fell into a sad state of disrepair. Locals feared it would be demolished to make way for a McDonald's Drive-Thru (because we all need one of those so badly) or housing (which we DO need, but NOT the stupidly expensive properties which keep appearing in the city), but it was finally bought by a man who had already refurbished an old cinema, The Rex, in nearby Berkhamsted. And in due course, our old, crumbling picture-house was beautifully renovated.
We paid it a visit yesterday, to see "Bridge of Spies".
"During the Cold War, the Soviet Union captures U.S. pilot Francis Gary Powers after shooting down his U-2 spy plane. Sentenced to 10 years in prison, Powers' only hope is New York lawyer James Donovan (Tom Hanks), recruited by a CIA operative to negotiate his release. Donovan boards a plane to Berlin, hoping to win the young man's freedom through a prisoner exchange. If all goes well, the Russians would get Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), the convicted spy who Donovan defended in court." (
The film was brilliant. Grace thought it was a bit slow to start with, and it is a long film at 2 hours 21 minutes, but I don't mind slow usually. Based on a true story, it's tense, gripping, intelligent. We loved it.
So too did we love the Odyssey experience. Where the Odeon had had a second screen added in a most clumsy and ugly way, the renovation returned the place to a single screen. It's spacious, comfortable and beautiful. I think it's the only cinema I've ever been in where the seats don't swing up when you leave them, and don't need to because the space in front of the seated viewer is perfectly adequate for people to pass in front of them without any need for anyone to stand up to let them by. Most seats are single and in rows, as normal, but there are also sofas for two, and seats arranged around small tables, at which the viewer can eat and drink while they watch.
I would have expected a visit to a very classy cinema like this to be expensive. It was cheaper than any we've visited in the past five years. Just £5 a ticket for us over-60s. Even their Maltesers were cheaper! The Odyssey in St Albans is well worth a visit.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Catching up - BIG time!

New years are seen in some cultures to be a time of renewing friendships, and it's on this note that I've had a fascinating and delightful experience over the past few days. It started when Naomi and Steve both received a Facebook message from a friend and colleague of mine who taught at the same time as me at Christ Church School. In the 80s. She was trying to get in touch with me. She'd recently joined a FB group comprising a large number ex-students of that school, some of whom were asking about me.

Now, I've been a FB refuser for years. As an ICT teacher, I thought I ought at least to know about it, so I created an account very early on in its history. But I wasn't attracted to it, so I let it lie dormant. I've been back to it a few times since, but deleted it a couple of months ago. After Maria's message, I created a new account, and joined the group. My goodness, what a welcome I received!
And then followed all of the greetings from dozens of people, most now in their 50s, to whom I taught RE all those years ago! Hundreds of messages now! Loads of them have friended me. It's really wonderful to hear from them, to see their photos and hear what they're doing, where they are. Lots of reminiscing, friendly teasing, banter. There were just three teachers in the group already, and I brought in one more. It's amazing what these "kids" will own up to, now they're grown up! I love Facebook!

I can't say we've been terribly busy since Christmas. The kids are back into work mode, and Grace and I have been rattling around keeping occupied. Grace has made a seat cushion for the sofa-bed we bought last year. It's a lovely bed, but rather hard as a sofa. The cushion sorts that out perfectly.

The book's selling well. "Life with our feet under water" There's only been one day since its publication when I sold no copies. I'm encouraged. Hopefully, it's going to be reviewed in Canal Boat magazine and Towpath Talk in the next few months.

We've been spoiled for choice of films to view, having acquired quite a pile from Naomi and Ed in their process of post-Christmas tidying-up, plus a host of good films on TV.

For my own record, we've watched...

Despicable me
Albert Nobbs
Iron Man 3
And then there were none
Shakespeare in Love

More on those another time.

I tweeted the arrival of Said the Maiden's CDs last week. "Of Maids and Mariners". 1,000 CDs. Find storage space for that lot in a house which is already bursting at the seams! The Maidens had already sold over 100 pre-release on their PledgeMusic campaign, and spent ages signing these one evening. Then came the official launch of the EP, yesterday afternoon.

As with their last CD, A Curious Tale, the launch was at St Albans' Empire Records, the vinyl record specialist shop Eddie works at. It was a great event. 

Loads of people came along, filled the shop, and spilled out through the door and around the windows. The Maidens sang the four songs from the EP, as well as a number of others.

Jess had been suffering from a cold for days, but her voice hung in there right throughout. Just!

Said the Maiden's music video can be seen on YouTube, and a live performance of their superb rendition of Joleen, too. It's a superb EP, believe me - though, of course, I'm biased! It'll be available on all of the music download sites very soon. Just you listen!

Sunday, January 03, 2016

And a Happy NEW Year, too!

I guess I'm not alone in hoping that the weather's going to change for the new year. I'm hearing complaints from the marina.

But there are those who just seem to be able to let the weather get on with it while they stay snug inside.

But the forecast's not good.

And there are those thousands of folk around the nation who have had it really bad. And it continues. Even boats aren't immune to this amount of rain.
And, of course, it's not been just those on the waterways who have suffered!
So many of these properties, and thousands like them, will be unsalable after this. It makes me feel bad that my biggest personal concern is how much of the canals and rivers will be navigable come February. I try not to think about it.

Well, my book's selling quite well, and some kind readers are Tweeting positive feedback.

And just in case you're new to this blog, and have no idea what book I'm talking about(!)...

A Happy New Year to you all! May it be a dryer one - but not TOO dry, eh?