Thursday, 28 November 2013

Beep Beep, Beep Beep, The Car Went Beep Beep Beep.

We were in Rochester on Tuesday visiting our family before heading up to Scotland for a couple of weeks. It was great to see Paul and Josephine and see how much Catherine has changed in the eight weeks since we last saw her. She’s become a real chatterbox and it’s lovely to see her running about and hear her starting to talk.

As we started back home a red light came on on the Prius dashboard and a loud beep started. We realised that the interior lights were still on. The dashboard light indicated an open door so we pulled over at the first opportunity and checked them all. The doors were all shut and there were no obvious obstructions in the locks so we had little choice but to drive on with the fault still showing. Have you any idea what two hours of driving with a high-pitched and constant beep is like? I imagine it’s the sort of thing a particularly nasty torturer might come up with. We put Heart FM on the radio at full volume but it didn’t drown out the warning. And no jokes about Heart FM being worse than the beep please – I quite like it.

Arriving home at ten I checked the doors out again with a torch. We’d taken some garden waste to the tip for Paul and a tiny piece of grit had slipped into the boot catch. It must have broken an electronic circuit. Problem solved.

There were no problems with the other car as we headed up to St Andrews yesterday.  It uses such clever technology that it notices subtle changes in your driving and tells you to take a break. We did the 476 miles in just over eight and a half hours and now we’re settling into the caravan and looking forward to seeing Sarah and Duncan and our other grandchildren Rose and Melody. 

There’s not much of a broadband signal here so my use of Facebook and Twitter will be curtailed. I just hope that I can get on Betfair during X Factor. My annual bet is looking okay at the moment with £340 win if Sam is successful but the show has thrown up a few shocks in the final weeks over the past few years and I want to be able to respond and cut my losses if she suddenly ends up in the bottom two.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Catching Fire At Cineworld

After the sad and gentle Saving Mr Banks at the intimate Aldeburgh cinema on Tuesday we headed to Ipswich yesterday for something a bit more explosive and watched Catching Fire, the latest in The Hunger Games Trilogy on the enormous IMAX screen. 

The cinema foyer was packed - Hunger Games is a hugely popular franchise and Cineworld were screening the film in several screens. We stuck out like proverbial sore thumbs being at least twenty years older than everyone else there but hey, you're as old as you feel and anything with Jennifer Lawrence in has to be worth watching - we've been big fans since her breakthrough in Cold Mountain. 

The dystopian story continues and, in order to try and quash undercurrents of rebellion amongst the plebeian population of the districts, President Snow (wonderfully portrayed by Donald Sutherland) has decided to use Katniss (Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and their hugely popular love story by pitching them into another Hunger Games. This special event which is held every twenty five years pitches past survivors (winners) against each other and the aim is for the dissident lovers to come to a horrible end and subdue the populous. 

But are they lovers or is Katniss still in love with boy next door Gale? It's a question that leaves us guessing. Perhaps she loves them both. The film is visually stunning although I was a little disappointed that some scenes (the competitors' entrance chariot parade) were almost identical to those in the first movie. Josh Hutcherson is perfect as all round nice guy Peeta and Lawrence's Katniss is steely and tough but with a hint of vulnerability. 

I felt that Saving Mr Banks would have benefited from a 15 certificate rather than being PG and I feel that Catching Fire has possibly been over sanitised to reach a wider young audience. When you think about the subject matters - fighting to the death for mass entertainment and beating down a rebellious population  - it's fairly tough stuff but the director has definitely pulled his punches for the sake of gaining a 12. 

it's entertaining stuff; very colourful, plenty of excitement and with far more characterisation than your average blockbuster. Try and see it in IMAX if you can.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

A Wine Goose Chase

No that's not a misspelling in today's heading. We thought that it would be nice to give a couple of friends a taste of our new county as a Christmas present and, after a good deal of research online we found a vineyard with wines that had won awards. So off we went this morning on a sixty mile round trip to find that due to a heavy frost in 2011 there were no wines available apart from a sparkling wine at about £26 per bottle (we could get one of the Which best buys for that). I realise that things like this can happen but a quick post on their website to the effect that there were no wines available could have saved us both a wasted morning and a fair few litres of diesel.

It was a pity that the morning was wasted as we had put it aside to try and complete our Christmas gift buying before heading up to Scotland next week. Marion has located some further prize winning Suffolk wines so we're off to seek them out tomorrow. We'll be in Scotland for about two weeks and it will be good to have two weeks before Christmas back in Framlingham as there's plenty going on in the town in the run up to the festivities.

One of the less welcome things going on is the proposal by Taylor Wimpey to build two hundred new homes down the road from us. Now I don't want to be a NIMBY, after all we are incomers to the town and we don't really have the right to comment on what goes on yet. I want the town to be successful and I want the shops and businesses to thrive. But two hundred new houses! As far as I can see the population of the town is about 3,000. This means that if the average household in the new houses is say three people the population will increase by six hundred or a massive twenty percent. An equivalent increase in our old home town of Southport would equate to nearly twenty thousand people. These houses on top of other developments in the pipeline will surely put too much pressure on the town's infrastructure and risk damaging the unique character of the place. Parking is already difficult for visitors and residents. Add another two hundred cars to the mix and there's a recipe for disaster.

We bought our house for this lovely view. The roofs of the new development will just be visible at the top right of the yellow field. It's not the end of the world but once the houses or (worse still) the supermarket needed to service the expanded population spills into these fields it may sadly be time to move on. 

On a lighter note we went to see a preview of the new Disney movie Saving Mr Banks at the super Aldeburgh Cinema last night. This great little independent picture house was lucky enough to get the chance to show the film, a full ten days before its release in the UK. The screening was gifted to the cinema by Disney so all box office takings could go to much needed fund raising - a generous gesture by a very big fish supporting a minnow. 

The film tells the story of Mrs P L Travers (Emma Thompson) the author of Mary Poppins and the efforts made by Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) to buy the screen rights. The narrative is constantly cut between Travers' childhood in Australia and her time at Disney Studios in LA where she faces an uphill battle to minimise the Disneyfication of her cherished work while Disney faces an uphill struggle to get her to sign on the dotted line - he has been trying for eighteen years but only now in 1964 as Traver's finances are almost depleted has he come close. At the heart of the film is the author's relationship with her father Travers Goff during his fight with alcoholism. The outcome of the story revolves around Disney's handling of the character of the father Mr Banks and ultimately unlocking the key to Travers' apparently stoney heart. It's a very "nice" film - which is what you might expect from Disney and the PG certificate. We both enjoyed it very much and Marion was reaching for the tissues at the very sad ending but I felt that it could have benefited a little with a 15 certificate and Goff as a real drunk rather than a Disney one. Emma Thompson is perfect as the ever so correct Englishwoman that Travers became, Tom Hanks does an excellent Walt Disney and Paul Giammati is wonderful in his supporting role as the Disney Studios' driver.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Lettin' The Good Times Roll

It's been quite a musical couple of days as we headed down to the Lemon Tree Bistro on Friday evening for one of their regular Jazz Nights. We were entertained by the excellent Frank Noble Band who performed non stop for over two hours and included a rendition of Ain't No Sunshine that would have done Bill Withers proud. There was a good choice of tapas on the menu to accompany a decent wine list and we had a great evening. We're looking forward to the next event in December. There were some empty seats on Friday and that's a pity as it was an excellent night.

Saturday was quiet but on Sunday we headed down to London. We decided that our winter wardrobes were in need of an update so we spent the day in Selfridges where they've got a fantastic selection of menswear on offer. I'm doing my best to shop local and support Framlingham businesses but as there are no men's clothes shops in Framlingham I didn't feel guilty in splashing out in Oxford St.

I ended up with a mixed bag of trousers, shirts, knitwear and a nice leather jacket that should comfortably see me through the winter. Poor Marion was left with just a couple of hours on Monday after we had bought almost all of our Christmas presents although she did manage to find two lovely coats.

On Sunday night there was more music as we headed to The Palace in the West End for Roddy Doyle's The Commitments. It's not as good as the film as it's played for laughs compared to the original which also had elements of gritty drama. But the music is great and, as we had aisle seats in the stalls, we were able to join in when the lead singer came down amongst us, put his arm around Marion and handed us the mic for a quick chorus of "Ride Sally Ride" in Mustang Sally. It's in this second act that the show comes to life and turns into one big party - great fun.

Quite a few years ago I visited the Antiques Roadshow when it was being filmed in Clitheroe. Expert Lars Tharp was interested in my collection of Japanese Satsuma and it was a novelty at the time to find a collection bought on eBay. I was included in the show and in the interview Lars singled out this piece as very fine (it is) and valued it at £2,000. After we moved to Suffolk we decided to sell the collection as we had no room for it. We went along to Bonhams who, as you will know if you read earlier posts, sold it for some great prices.Two lots remained unsold and went into the November sale where one sold. This left us with just one unsold lot from the whole collection and we went into Bonhams to collect it yesterday. No need to guess which one was left unsold. Despite a reserve of under half Lars ' Roadshow estimate there were no takers. But on a positive note it's still a very fine piece of pottery and it won't take up a lot of room.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Keeping Busy

On Monday we were back in Southwold again for the Ways With Words Literary Festival. The day's session was held in the magnificent St Edmunds church which was completely packed for a talk by Jeremy Paxman. We didn't go to the earlier guest Alan Johnson's talk so when we got inside the building most of the seats were taken and we could only find a pew behind a pillar with a very restricted view of the area set up with microphones. However it was decided that Jeremy would not talk from that area but instead from the pulpit which just happened to be immediately above us so we ended up with the best seats in the house. It was a fascinating talk about his new book on the effect of World War I on the social history of Britain. He was an exceptional speaker and, as he is on both Newnight and University Challenge, the master of the putdown. He was introduced by John, a Southwold man who once worked with Jeremy at the BBC and who commented that their paths crossed about every twenty years - to which Paxman replied that, with current life expectancy, they wouldn't be meeting again. Whether the needling between Jeremy and John which continued in the Q&A session was real or contrived it was great to see the quick wittedness on display. 

We took advantage of being in Southwold by visiting the excellent Adnams shop to stock up on a few early Christmas presents. We're very much on top of the present buying already. I know that there's a long time to go but with several trips north ahead of us in the near future it pays to be organised.

On Monday evening an old colleague came to stay for the night so we took him down to The Crown for a bite to eat. The food at The Crown continues to go from strength to strength on every visit and we had another excellent meal from head chef Matt Ransome's kitchen. Both the dining room and the pub were very busy for a Monday night but, as always, the service was speedy, friendly and attentive. 

After a brief visit to the opticians with Marion I spent Tuesday and Wednesday reading through the final copy edit of my novel. I've paid for it to be done professionally and I'm very pleased with the results. My editor corrected all my errors perfectly and, in addition, made a number of suggestions to improve what I had written by getting rid of a few clunky sentences and descriptions. It's funny that she highlighted a number of passages that I knew were a bit flowery but had left in perhaps to show off a bit - they've all gone now. Traditionally the next step would be to send the manuscript off to scores of publishers and wait for the rejection slips but with the wonderful world of self publishing I can now publish it myself and inflict upon the reading public yet another wannabe's effort. I'm fairly friendly with a few self-published authors on Twitter and some have had amazing success and sold over 100,000 copies. If I do a fraction as well as them I will be happy.

 With the editing done and dusted we headed off to the super Ipswich Film Theatre Trust for a matinee showing of The Selfish Giant. This is a British film that has achieved massive critical acclaim but is never going to make it to the multiplexes. It's the story of two school friends Arbor and Swifty in Bradford. Arbor is small, scrawny, foul mouthed and angry. Swifty is much taller, overweight and a far gentler character who is bullied at school. They're both troubled teenagers from troubled backgrounds and it reminded me of the characters in the early episodes of Shameless before it became a ridiculous parody of itself. After seeing men stealing cable from a railway line and then being excluded from school they attempt to make money from scrap metal, riding a borrowed horse and cart around the streets scavenging for whatever they can. Arbor is hell bent on making money by whatever means while Swifty's passion is for the horses. 

Thuggish scrap metal merchant Kitten plays a pivotal role in the film by encouraging Swifty to train to ride a horse in a trotting race and by encouraging Arbor to steal heavy duty power cable. The horse gives Swifty hope but Arbor is hellbent on self destruction. This is a very powerful film. The direction and the acting are exceptional and those glowing critical reviews are well deserved. But, as well as powerful, the film is also extremely grim and I'm not a lover of grim. So if you want to see a powerful and devastating drama give it a try but if, like me, you like a bit of happiness in your filmgoing, give it a very wide berth.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

The Power Of Love In Southwold

The Ways With Words Literary Festival has been running in Southwold for the last few days and we were lucky enough to get tickets for some of the speakers. We had expected an insight into the authors' latest books and perhaps a little background on how they were written and indeed that's what we got with Robert Harris and Salley Vickers but in the other talks, each by a widowed author, we found ourselves witnessing an emotional insight into love and loss - subjects very close to our hearts now that we are in our later years.

Barry Norman, on our screens for over twenty six tears, was widowed in 2011 and it was little surprise to see this veteran presenter fight back welling tears in talking movingly about SeeYou In The Morning the book that he has written about his wife of 53 years. The title is the five words the couple shared each night before going to sleep and it was difficult not to listen to the talk (or even to recall it now) without finding a lump in your throat. We bought the book ( we bought almost all of the books the authors were promoting) and Barry signed it for us. Being passionate about films I thought about what to ask him as we waited in the queue but was for once lost for words when he did the signing - pointedly signing to Marion and John when the man alongside had written John and Marion on his prompting slip. I felt that this demonstrated the importance that he placed on a wife.

But we realised how well Barry had controlled his emotions when, on Saturday morning, we listened to Allan Ahlberg. Anybody who has had children or grandchildren during the past thirty years will be familiar with Allan. I can still recite Each Peach Pear Plum by heart some thirty years after it came into our lives. And it's still in our lives today as Rose, Catherine and, eventually Melody will sit down to hear us read it to them. Allan lost his wife Janet, the illustrator of those wonderful books, almost twenty years ago but from the onset of his talk ,which he gave in the manner of a storyteller gathering children around his feet, it was clear that she has never left him. As he took a teddy bear from his holdall and dressed it in a hat and scarf that had once been Janet's his emotions overtook him and the audience was stunned into silence to see a man who minutes earlier had joshed and joked with us, lose all composure and weep quietly. It was a poignant moment for all who witnessed it and spoke more of the power of love than a thousand words could ever do. I've always resolved to live life as fully as possible and Allan's grief drove home the importance of cherishing every moment we have with those who we love.

Penelope Lively (to whom we will be eternally grateful for giving us the fabulous The Ghost Of Thomas Kempe to read to our kids) was widowed some years ago. Her talk did not dwell on her love for her husband but love was never far behind what she said as there was an overpowering sense of passion for her family in everything she said. She has written a book Ammonites And Leaping Fish a memoir about ageing (again close to our hearts). She's a sprightly and thoroughly modern eighty year old and reminded me of my own mum who is 87 and will probably (like Penelope) be sitting at her iPad using Skype, iTunes or email as i write. I've often asked her about writing down her memories which will one day be lost but she's just too busy to do so.

It's back to Southwold to see Jeremy Paxman tomorrow. I somehow doubt that he'll leave us with tears in our eyes - they'll be for the first person to bring up Russell Brand. Looking forward to it. It's been a brilliant literary festival. We always promised ourselves to get to literary festivals when we retired and have talked about getting to Hay on Wye for years. I'm glad that we finally managed one and I'm sure that we'll be going back next year. It was interesting to see the make up of the audience. The average age must have been over sixty and women outnumbered men by at least four to one. Does this signify the end of reading for young people or did the chosen authors simply appeal to an older crowd?

Here are some of the books we bought while we were there. I'll leave you with a topical and relevant song

Thursday, 7 November 2013

A Painful Time For Marion, Summer In February In Framlingham And Gravity In Cineworld

Marion had a tooth abscess a couple of weeks ago. She went to the dentist who extracted a wisdom tooth and in a couple of days she was well again. Unfortunately her good health was short lived as she started to have terrible pain in the other side of her mouth last weekend. I don't think I've ever known her be in such pain. Her mouth started to swell up but, as it was weekend, she couldn't do much other than take painkillers and wait for the dentist's surgery to open on Monday. Monday came and we managed to arrange an emergency appointment. I sat in the downstairs waiting room as Marion was treated but even downstairs I heard her scream as another wisdom tooth was pulled. She was in terrible pain for hours afterwards but I am pleased to say that it has subsided now and her swollen face has returned to normality. This tooth infection followed an expensive course of oral hygiene treatments over the last couple of weeks. Whether the two were related or not is anybody's guess. As the first abscess was before the treatment I suppose it's just a coincidence.

Last night we went to FramSoc the society run by Framlingham College for pupils' parents and Framlingham residents. We've been to some great FramSoc talks in the last few months and this was another excellent event. The speaker was Jonathan Smith who wrote the novel Summer In February  and went on to write the screenplay when it was adapted for the screen. We've not read the book but we've seen the film which tells the true story of acclaimed artist Sir Alfred Munnings' first marriage. The short-lived relationship, which involved a love triangle with Munnings' friend Gilbert resulted in the tragedy played out so brilliantly in the film.

Jonathan, a schoolteacher by profession, told us how, through school contacts he met Gilbert's son, heard the story and was so gripped that he felt compelled to write about it. School contacts also resulted in Jonathan coming to Framlingham college; headmaster Paul Taylor told us how he and Jonathan were colleagues at Tonbridge School. A surprise for the audience was a passage from the artist's autobiography which described his unhappy time as a fourteen year old in (where else?) Framlingham College. Further school connections were also involved; Jonathan was so impressed by the teenage Dan Stevens when he was a pupil at Tonbridge that he kept in touch and Dan made a pact to play Gilbert if the novel ever came to the screen.

Jonathan was an excellent, warm and genial speaker and I imagine that he must have been an incredible teacher. He didn't hold out much hope for me as a novelist though. He said that the greatest artists tend to have had troubled childhoods and troubled, rebellious, teenage years; my life has been pretty happy from the start so my book (which I have just had professionally edited and will be ready to upload to Amazon soon) won't stand a chance. 

Talking of not standing a chance, picture this scenario - you are an astronaut out in space fixing some equipment on your space station when the debris from a huge explosion comes into your orbit. This is what George Clooney and Sandra Bullock encounter in Gravity, the film we went to today at the fabulous IMAX screen in Cineworld Ipswich. To tell you what happens next would spoil the film for you as it's certainly better to see it without knowing. The effects are spectacular - as good as anything I've ever seen in the cinema - and IMAX enhances these brilliantly. Bullock and Clooney give good solid performances although they don't engage the viewer like Tom Hanks did in the recent Captain Phillips. People are raving about this film. It's certainly entertaining and well worth seeing (especially if you can get to an IMAX screening) but Oscar material? Other than for special effects, I doubt it.


Monday, 4 November 2013

Call That A Cake, Bake Off?

I've often mentioned the fabulous (and ridiculously underpriced ) celebration cakes made by our old friend and colleague Jan Harbon. Whenever we've had a big event in our lives Jan has turned up trumps with something beautifully creative and highly original.

Like this beautiful strawberry creation made for our daughter Sarah's thirtieth. Each of the strawberries and every leaf and flower was made individually and the butterflies looked amazingly real.

When we celebrated Rose's arrival there was this gorgeous cake made up with alphabet blocks, children's toys and, of course, roses.

And on my 60th there was this cake celebrating my metal detecting hobby when Jan recreated many of my detecting finds in icing - a truly remarkable feat.

But Jan has now taken things to a new level. I was checking out her recent Facebook posts and saw a link to her grandson's birthday cake. It's not just a cake, it's a true masterpiece that would not have looked out of place amongst the competitors in the Hotelympia Salon Culinaire. Check out this click here and see how good she is. I know that Jan is planning to make The Cake Shed Southport a business rather than a hobby so please keep her details in mind for your special celebration.

While I was watching Jan's video of her cake I remembered how I used to spend time in between taking phone calls at work watching videos on YouTube and embedding the best in my blog. I haven't had time to do this since I retired but after spending a day with our lovely granddaughter Catherine yesterday and seeing her laugh so much I remembered this one.