Thursday, 29 July 2010

The odd dreams strike again...

One of my favourite books when I was a child was called “The Complete Book of Fortune". It was a huge compendium of fortune-telling methods, oracular games, popular superstitions and sayings, descriptions of amulets and their supposed powers, and so forth; all the myriad ways that we have tried to see the future, encourage good fortune and escape disaster, over the course of human history. Some of it (“Napoleon’s Book of Fate”, the Mystical Art of Phrenology and Physiognomy) is seriously daffy; on the other hand, I’ve found the chapter on how to analyse someone’s character from their handwriting very useful on occasion, and the results impressively accurate.

A whole section of the popular superstitions chapter concerns superstitions associated with weddings, including “How to divine the future with wedding cake”. When given a slice of wedding cake by the bride, you are meant to eat all bar one last crumb, wrap that crumb in soft fabric, and place it under your pillow when you go to bed that night. Then take a careful note of your dreams and interpret them in the usual way (ie with some confusion), as they will tell your fortune in love and marriage.

So of course, when I got given a slice of W’s incredibly rich wedding cake yesterday I had to save a crumb, didn’t I? I mean, come on – a dyed-in-the-wool old singleton like me - I’ve got to know my fortune in love and marriage!

Guess what - I dreamed I was having coffee with several Kew colleagues, funnily enough including Marinated Artichoke Man. Clearly my subconscious hasn’t completely got over that earlier dream yet. This was all very mundane, though; just a bunch of people chatting in one of the Kew restaurants. It was so normal and un-dreamlike I was quite surprised when I realised partway into the conversation that it was a dream.

Then the dream took me to a marvellous antiques shop specialising in Edwardian cookery equipment. I was looking round very thoroughly and taking notes, as I was preparing my Wedding List. Yes, it seems my subconscious wants to spend married life not just in the kitchen, but in a kitchen without electric mod-cons!

So there you are; a tribute to the power of suggestion. I tell myself I’m going to dream about my future in love and marriage, and I then dream about something that might actually happen in the future (=coffee in the Orangery) and then about something I might actually do if I were getting married (=buying kitchen equipment). At least Mr Marinated Artichokes featured, which is some consolation.

Subconscious mind, you’re hopeless.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Thank you, dear gods and little fishes!

I just got my blood test results. No idea why i'd had a dodgy result before, but i am in the clear - I am officially confirmed as Not Diabetic.

Thank you, Dear Lord. Thank you, Dear Goddess of Life. Thank you, thank you, thank you...

Back in London, back at work...

It doesn't feel as much like "back to reality" as perhaps it should, though. The whole Festival experience is so intense that it feels almost more real than daily life. I sit here in the office now and I feel as though I've been off a lot longer than four days. So WOMAD was the reality and this is the dream, not the other way around...

It was a good WOMAD. Interestingly, I'd been a little concerned beforehand by the line-up as there wasn't much I'd heard of or that really stood up and grabbed me. But in the field (as it were - quite literally in a field!), that simply meant I skipped a lot of the headline acts and went to the less well-known ones.

Result: Mongolian rock rocks; Finnish new-folk/jazz fusion is dreamy (& the double bass player was incredibly cute); Stornoway are excellent, so was Khyam Allami, so was Javier Conde, so were Bibi Tanga and the Selenites, the amazing Muntu Valdo, and the Hungarian gypsy string orchestra. Gil Scott-Heron was excellent; but so were the (to me) unheard-of Cedric Watson and Bijou Creole, and Dan Sultan and his band. I spent Sunday morning in a choral singing workshop, part of one evening learning how to make Finnish Summer Vegetable soup (at a cookery workshop hosted by the cute bass player! - ah, sweet...), and danced so much that my feet are still sore today.

Thursday, 22 July 2010


I'm off on holiday for the next couple of days, going to the WOMAD festival in Wiltshire. Good music, decent weather (hopefully), crazy food at crazy mealtimes, dancing in a field till all hours, and probably too much good hard west country cider. Have a great weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Latest medical...

Well, yesterday I had my glucose tolerance test; results should be available either tomorrow or the day after. My left arm was sore for the rest of the day after having needles stuck in it by the very nice but rather heavy-handed nurse. This morning I have a spectacular blotchy pair of bruises in the crook of my elbow. I look as though an elbow-fetishist vampire has had a go at me.

Meanwhile, though, there is good news from Mum. She went to see the eye specialist at the local hospital and discovered that her mild Dry Macular Degeneration has suddenly morphed into Wet Macular Degeneneration, which sounds nasty but is treatable (unlike the Dry form, which just quietly gets worse over the years). The treatment involves having a series of injections into her retina, through her eyeball, which she is horrified about, but it's apparently a very good treatment with a high success rate. Because it is most effective if done quickly she is having her first session later this week, so at least she doesn't have time to get herself too worked up about it, and the friend who is taking her to the hospital had his cataracts done six months ago and is being very reassuring about how easy and painless eye surgery is.

So I am still concerned about myself, but very much relieved for Mum.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Dreams odd and dreams odder

I dreamed last night that I was given a whole bunch of bicycle safety reflective dangly things. It seems too obvious, to say “This must be a dream about cycle safety…” so I guess it is about safety or caution or risk-taking in some other context. I’m still struggling to sort out what lay behind my dream on Friday night, which was a good deal weirder; it involved bondage (not of me, luckily) and marinated artichoke hearts, and someone I have never thought of in, um, that sort of context… The guy in question is a nice, courteous, friendly bloke of about my own age who is a mine of information about hothouse plants, and he’s perfectly presentable, but I’ve never looked at him going by and thought “Phwoar!”. I’m a bit baffled to have dreamed about him. Oddly enough, this morning he sent me a cheerful email with a beautiful picture of a sacred lotus attached. Spooky…

To add insult to injury (in a manner of speaking), I have been unable to shake the memory of this dream all weekend. Even during "Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg"; through six and a half glorious hours of Wagner in the sweltering gallery of the Royal Albert Hall, even as I listened in awe and delight to Bryn Terfel and Christopher Purves being utterly, utterly wonderful, there in the back of my mind was this image of the, ahem, marinated artichoke scenario.

Am I in lust with X without ever having noticing it? Can the subconscious hanker after someone without the conscious mind realising? Did my brain pick this chap to symbolise something else? If so, what? And why bondage? – bondage is pretty extreme, even the, ahem ahem hem, clearly consensual bondage in the aforementioned dream.

I don’t need to wonder about the artichokes. I love artichokes. They’re one of my very favourite foods. If I were into kinky activities involving food I’d be a lot more likely to use marinated artichokes than chocolate body paint, which is sugary disgusting stuff…

Oh, this is all too much for me. I’m going to make a nice cup of green tea and get back to the chaos that is registering Community Groups…

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Movie Adaptation...

One of those fraught subjects! Adaptations seem to be one of the trickiest things to get right in the whole entertainment business. For every perfectly-judged “Let the Right One In” or “Gone with the Wind” there are a dozen Horse Whisperers and Cats in Hats who should never, ever have been allowed to see the light of day, and the odd “Cold Mountain” that veers sickeningly between brilliant and utterly dire...

I've got this on my mind because I was watching the film of “V for Vendetta” on tele last night. I should explain straight away that I have not read the original graphic novel. I don’t read graphic novels. I don’t even think of them as graphic novels, to tell the truth; to me they’re comic books. If that confirms my intellectual snobbery, so be it. But because I haven’t read the paper version, I can’t make comparisons, though I gather the original author didn’t like the film at all.

I did. It has stayed in my mind all day. It’s an exciting and intelligent dystopia, and a lot more subtle than the reviews I remember had implied. The heroine is strong and brave, and she grows, instead of quailing, as events overtake her. There are a few massive explosions, but they serve the plot rather than being the reason for it – they are also decorated with fireworks, and fireworks are always A Good Thing in my book. The “superhero”esque hero is not really a superhero (though he is marvellously weird, which is almost as good). When he gets shot up at the end, he actually dies. Think about it; heroes who die aren’t that common in blockbuster SF movies.

The top-notch acting is another thing to enjoy. This is one of those casts that bat right down the order. I bet Roger Allam had fun playing that hideous fusion of Rush Limbaugh and Jonathan Ross. Stephen Fry creates a beautifully rounded and moving character out of what is in essence barely more than a cameo rôle. Tim Piggott-Smith is great – he’s been giving good villain ever since “The Jewel in the Crown” (but tucking in a few nice guys round the edges, like the heroine’s kind but silly father in the BBC adaptation of “North and South” and a lovely turn as Pliny the Elder in a drama-doc about Pompeii a few years ago). I won’t list everyone but, believe me, it’s worth seeing this for the acting alone. And it stars Hugo Weaving, who would be watchable if all he did was sit on the end of the bed and eat an apple (>sigh< I should be so lucky…). I remember noticing him years ago in a tele series about the bodyline controversy (I like my cricket) and thinking he had terrific dramatic presence and a nice quirkily handsome face. The moment, near the beginning of the first “Lord of the Rings” film, when he appears as Elrond was the moment when I felt able to settle back into my seat with confidence that this was not going to be a disaster.

Now there’s an adaptation that could have gone badly belly-up. Hugely long, hugely ambitious, huge need for special effects of every kind known to man, cast of thousands, original text that to many of its fans is bordering on holy writ… Peter Jackson could so easily have c*cked the whole thing up roundly. I remember my horror when I saw a picture of Viggo Mortensen in the months before the opening. A blond man was playing Aragorn? Aargh! Sorry, but No Way is Aragorn blond. My relief when Mortensen first appeared, with his fair hair appropriately darkened, was considerable.

Overall, I think Jackson’s film versions are terrific, and an enormous achievement both in their own right as films and as adaptations. Almost all of the casting and almost all of the design is so spot-on as to be quite uncanny. But there are bits in each of the three films that irritated me when I first saw them – and these same bits still irritate me now. And they are all changes to the original. I know that adaptation necessitates making some changes; these are the changes that don't work.

Making Arwen an elven warrior woman at her first entry is fun, and politically correct, but it detracts from the courage and determination of Eowyn. It also makes the further changes to Arwen’s rôle nonsensical, as well as unnecessary, since the tough-but-tender cookie we meet in “The Fellowship of the Ring” subsequently becomes wet and submissive. At least Tolkien’s original Arwen is consistently wet.

The temporary rupture between Frodo and Sam is terribly contrived. The complete omission of the Scouring of the Shire is infuriating (for my money it is one of the most crucial episodes of the whole story).
Faramir nearly turning to the bad because of his proximity to the Ring is a direct contradiction of the whole way the character is drawn. Faramir is not like Boromir; he is wiser and more self-aware, and it’s mean to undermine this for the sake of a little extra tension.

Then there is the bizarre transformation of Denethor from a flawed and tragic figure into a slavering despot who sneeringly sends his only surviving son to certain death. This is pointless and frankly rather nasty. In the books Denethor is worse precisely because he is not so obviously bad. If this change is partly intended as a way to give Faramir a bit more to do, I would have preferred to see his courtship of Eowyn filmed instead – it’s a lovely little scene in the book, and it would have been nice to see David Wenham and Miranda Otto share an onscreen kiss.

And the Shire looks all wrong. It does; it looks as if it was colonised a generation or two ago. The Shire should be a complex agricultural landscape with all the visual markers of somewhere that has been farmed for centuries.

And there are no hop fields and no oast houses. But hobbits drink beer – hobbits love beer! Beer without hops – does such a thing exist?

On which ranting note I may go home and drink a little beer of my own, and wish I had Hugo Weaving sitting on my bed and eating the contents of my fruit bowl…

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Sticky times

Just ate a very juicy nectarine and had to go and wash.

The weather has definitely broken a bit. It's a funny day - cool and grey yet still muggy. I wish the stickiness would pass. All kinds of stickiness are uncomfortable.

Making a not-entirely inappropriate segue from that, I'm delighted to see the Geek in The Gambia is posting again, and I urge anyone who has a sense of humour and doesn't mind acknowledging the existance of excrement to read this post.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Mixed blessings...

Or rather, to be precise, mixed blessings and things-where-you-have-to-look-hard-to-find-the-blessing-if-there-is-one-at-all-and-sometimes-I-do-wonder-about-that.

It rained last night, and the weather has cooled off enormously. Very refreshing; but being British I am already catching myself thinking "I hope I don't get rained on on my way home."

I am going to WOMAD in ten days time. Going to WOMAD is great, but I am now worrying about the weather (see above).

My Mum is having eye problems and her optometrist wants her to see a specialist; she is desperately worried and unhappy about it and there is nothing I can do except say reassuring things and listen while she worries.

And my blood sugar levels are Not What They Should Be, and I have to take a glucose tolerance test (which involves drinking a whole bottle of lucozade - a seriously ugh situation) to see if I have developed type 2 diabetes. I'm in the low-risk group, except for being overweight. So I'm hoping that it will turn out to have been a blip of some kind in the initial test results. Really, really hoping. Diabetes is manageable, and properly managed it doesn't have to have that much impact on one's life - after all, Steve Redgrave is a diabetic, and it clearly hasn't held him back - but it is a progressive and irreversible condition, and a diagnosis is truly a life sentence. So I am really, really hoping it turns out okay. And I am pledging myself firmly to go on working to shed the excess weight accumulated during my broken-wrist-inspired months of comfort eating, comfort drinking, and cheese-indulging, this past winter.

Feeling a little low, and determined to find the good in it. Not sure what good I can find in Mum's woes, though, and I hate seeing someone worry themself sick. If only there were something concrete I could do to help.

Friday, 9 July 2010


I just did it. I’ve made my first attempt.

I just sent the pitch letter (in about its fifteenth incarnation), synopsis and first 10,000 words of “Gabriel Yeats” to the first literary agency on my list. There. Now I’ve done it once, it can only get easier, no? I hope so (I feel all quivery at the moment).

It’s Friday, it’s five o’clock and I’m going home to try not to think about what I’ve just done. Cold beer ahoy (after I’ve done the watering).

It’s been a wonderful, scorching hot day. I went out into the Gardens on my bike at lunch, to see how the Rose Section is looking. Stunning, is the answer, despite needing a bit of dead-heading. One could smell all the roses as one came up the path, even from behind the ten foot yew hedges. In fact, everywhere I went the air seemed to be scented; linden blossom, pine needles, dry grass, lavender, roses, the resiny fragrance of Cistus ladanifer

“There still remains summer, the yellow essence,
And your hands touching the sea bells in the water.
Your eyes unveiled suddenly, the first eyes of the world,
And the marine caves.
Bare feet on the red earth.
There still remains summer, the fair-haired marble youth;
A little salt that has dried in the hollow of a rock,
A few pine needles left after the rain
Raggedly strewn, and red like tattered nets…”

George Seferis; from “A word for summer” (translated by Rex Warner).

It’s that kind of summer day.

And I have finally made a start on trying to get an agent for “Gabriel Yeats”.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Double-dose Tosca

I went back to see the ENO "Tosca" again last night. I'm really glad I did - I think I appreciated more of the subtleties for seeing it twice. Also the cast had settled more fully into their rôles, which meant two of them were even better than the first time (yum!) and the one I thought a little duff before was in much better form. My gods, Amanda Echalaz is stunning. The only problem about going a second time was being left once again with a vague and slightly kinky crush on Scarpia. Yes, I know, he's the bad guy. But I do like my baritones.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Accidentally and most definitely not on purpose

I'm not feeling at my best today; I'm stiff all over and my left leg hurts. Last night on my way home from work I had my first ever fall from my bike.

It was a completely unforeseeable accident, and frankly a bloody silly one, too. I was just coming to the point where the cycle track over Kew Bridge debouches into the road – I was slogging up the sloping approach, being boxed in by another cyclist who had begun to overtake me and then slowed down because he too was on a stiff slope; he was intent on turning right, I wanted to go left onto the bridge, but because of his position I was trying to keep tabs on where he was and not looking left as I should have done. As I came up towards the junction with the cycle path I looked left for the first time – and found another bike bearing down on me, coming off the slope of the bridge very fast, ridden by a huge bloke in black biker leathers covered with Harley Davison logos (god knows what he was doing on a pedal bike). He was heading not for the ramp off the cycle track but straight for the full-height kerb, and so directly at me. He was wearing dark glasses and had a pair of headphones on (I could see the wires), and he was not only not braking, but actively peddling, presumably to increase speed, despite coming down a steep slope towards a junction. He showed no sign of having seen me, and I panicked.

It was my own fault for not having looked before; but to be honest even if I had noticed the guy earlier, I would have assumed that he’d be braking sensibly on his descent and we’d be able to pass one another safely on the ramp. As it was, he was hurtling straight at me like an express train and I had no choice but to get right out of his way.

I wasn’t sure there was enough room to move forward without risking him smashing into my rear wheel, so I braked hard, dropped my feet to the ground, and managed to push myself backwards instead. But I lost my balance. I toppled with an undignified yell into the gutter, with my bike crashing on top of me. The big fella went straight past, completely oblivious, missing me by inches; he flew off the kerb showily and whizzed away in the direction of Richmond. I couldn’t help noticing, as I pushed myself upright and peered after him dazedly, that he was now cycling on the pavement.

I’m honestly not sure he ever noticed me. Maybe if you’re normally on a motorbike you get used to looking out for different things. But I wouldn’t have expected a proper biker to cycle on the pavement like a wuss. I mean, I don’t cycle on the pavement, and I’m a total wuss.

Anyway, I hauled myself to my feet, checked the Old Lady over for damage (not so much as a flake of paint) and then checked myself – torn trousers (damn; they were quite new and a nice colour), bruises and gravel burn. Gingerly rolling up the torn trouser leg revealed more bruises and a skinned knee worthy of an eight year old.

So I did as one is always advised to as an eight year old; I got straight back on my bike and started peddling again. But I’m afraid that when I got in I opened the bottle of Laphroaig I keep in the bottom of the wardrobe, and poured myself a stiff drink, before settling down to wash the gravel burn and the skinned kneecap, slap TCP on them, and coat most of my left leg in bruise ointment.

Poor little me, eh? But it could have been so much worse. Really, if I never take a more serious tumble than that, I shall count myself lucky. After all, I didn’t break anything!

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Pink champagne and sunshine

I have been drinking at work. One of my colleagues is getting married next week and we all had cake and pink champagne in a secluded corner of the Gardens to celebrate. I hope this fine weather holds for them. At the moment it is hot but not too hot, with sunshine and white puffs of cloud - perfect summer weather, couldn't be more poetic and romantic looking if it tried. Oh to be getting married under a sweet blue sky... >sigh< Laughs at self - that's the champagne talking, methinks...

Off home to put together a plate of salad.

Monday, 5 July 2010

See "The Road to Mecca" and die (or at least cry)...

On Saturday I went to Dalston. This is irritatingly difficult for a west Londoner – it took me longer to get to the other side of London by public transport than it would take to get to my mother’s, over seventy miles away. But it was worth it. I went to the Arcola Theatre, to see Athol Fugard’s “The Road to Mecca”, and it will be hard for my theatre-going to top it this year. It was absolutely bl**dy brilliant.

It’s a fine play which I have loved since I first read it in the late eighties. Perhaps it’s a little too drawn out in the first half – but it builds up to a terrific final scene and Linda Bassett’s rendition of Miss Helen’s great speech about her artistic journey and the purpose of her life reduced me to tears. If the play is still in print, I think a lot of my friends are going to get copies for Christmas this year. It says so much about creativity, about freedom, about women’s lives, about growing old, about inspiration and how we find meaning in our lives, about friendship and above all about being a creative artist, with all the joys and all the pains that that entails. And it says it all so beautifully.

It is on for another few days; if you possibly can, see it before it closes - Saturday the 10th is the last night. Sadly I think a play about an elderly South African outsider artist is probably way too much of a minority interest for anyone to fix up a West End transfer. Besides, the gorgeous, intimate studio space of the Arcola was a perfect setting, unlikely to be replicable elsewhere.

Nice café, too; six quid got me a good-sized plate of lovely veggie food and a cold pint; perfect on a very hot day. The cakes looked good, but I was strong. Incredibly, I resisted cake. Quite proud of that - I mean, they were brownies, and something with toffee on top, and carrot cakes...