Friday, 31 January 2014

An Evening With The World's Sexiest Man

According to Emma Freud who hosted the event, Tom Hiddleston who starred in the National Theatre Live's performance of Coriolanus last night, was awarded the title World's Sexiest Man by MTV (don't know what they see in him myself cough). We were at the lovely Aldeburgh Cinema for the performance as the excellent Framsoc run by Framlingham College had bought some tickets.

Marion did English at University and has always loved Shakespeare. I'm a little more Philistine but can appreciate the greatness of the writing. We used to go to Stratford Upon Avon regularly and memorably saw Kenneth Branagh in Hamlet, Patrick Stewart in The Tempest and Michael Hordern as Lear but we've not managed to go for some time. So it was great to have the opportunity to see some live theatre right on our doorstep.

The play was broadcast live from the Donmar Warehouse in Covent Garden where it is playing to packed houses after rave reviews. Tickets are like gold dust so the broadcast performance was our only realistic chance of seeing it. 

It is a truly stunning production. But you don't need me to tell you that - far better critics than me have said as much. Not only does the WSM (who was brilliant as Loki in Thor) give the performance of a lifetime, he is supported by a fantastic cast including Mark Gattis as Menenius (who has many of the best lines), and Hadley Fraser who gives a magnificent performance as Coriolanus' gruff arch enemy Aufilius. It was also good to see Danish actor Birgitte Hjort Sorensen who plays the spin doctor in Borgen give a fine portrayal as Virgilia. 

Marion was totally immersed in the play and left the cinema in tears at the power and intensity of what she had just seen.

So it's a big thank you to Framsoc for arranging the tickets. It's unusual watching live theatre in a cinema. It's not the same but if it gives you the chance to see sold out performances then it's very much the next best thing.

This is definitely not the world's sexiest man but he keeps cropping up on the right hand of my Facebook advertising some sort of health supplement. I don't know who thought that this might tempt anyone to click on a link - it totally baffles me.

Monday, 27 January 2014

Three Hours Of Excess

We've a busy week ahead so we thought we'd fit our weekly cinema trip in early and headed off to Ipswich today for a noon screening at Cineworld

I don't know about you but I've said and done one or two things that I am not exactly proud of when I've over indulged (and they're just the ones I remember). But, in Martin Scorcese's brilliant The Wolf Of Wall St, Leonardo Di Caprio (as financial crook Jordan Belfort) in a performance that redefines the term "wide eyed and legless",has shown my very worst excesses to be but minor indiscretions.

The film is based upon the true story of Belfort who, at the peak of his criminal financial activity was "earning" $50 million a year and, if we are to believe the film, squandered a huge proportion of it on drinks, drugs and prostitutes. After losing his job as a broker on Wall St in the 80's crash he started out selling penny shares and persuading small savers to part with their well earned cash for worthless stocks. Carrying on from the success he went on to sucker rich investors into the same mistakes (but with a lot more noughts on the amounts involved).

At three hours long you would expect the film to drag but there was so much excess in his business (dwarf throwing, naked bandsmen, and in-house orgies during business hours to name some of the minor ones) that it's surprising that Scorcese has managed to fit it all in. It's an entirely convincing performance from DiCaprio who is on screen for most of the film and speaks to us (a la Miranda) in a number of pieces to camera. In fact Di Caprio is so good and depicts the drug addled Belfort as such a charismatic leader that you almost side with a character who would have made Caligula blush.

I'm surprised that the film managed to make it onto the screen uncut - it holds the current record for f words and there's a hell of a lot of naked flesh but it's a film about excess and it has to be excessive for it to work. As a study of corruption and charisma it is a one off. 

There's a good supporting cast including Jonah Hill as Belfort's right hand man, Margot Robbie as his trophy wife and Kyle Chandler as his FBI nemesis. Matthew McConaughey gives an incredible cameo performance as Belfort's first Wall St boss but the film is all about  Belfort and DiCaprio is outstanding in the role. 

Saturday, 25 January 2014

It Never Rains But It Pours

We were looking forward to a relaxing three or four weeks in Framlingham for the first time since we moved here exactly a year ago. Although we've lived here a year we've hardly settled and haven't really had the chance to get into the swing of things. 

But the relaxation lasted for all of forty-eight four hours before I noticed a large damp patch above the bi-folding doors. The beautiful (and extremely expensive) wallpaper was ruined but that was the least of our worries as we didn't want rain coming in so I had to set about contacting the builder to try and discover the cause and how to put it right.

Being somewhat distracted by the leak I got into the car to take Marion for a hairdressing appointment and stupidly forgot that the gardener had parked at the end of the drive and even more stupidly I managed to clip his truck as I reversed out. 

Over £1,500 of damage just like that and with a couple of claims three years ago and a hefty excess on the insurance that's £1,500 that we'll have to fork out unless I risk losing all the discount from an insurer that covers two cars. Amazing that I've driven over twenty thousand miles in the last twelve months without so much as a chip and I do this backing out of the drive.

After dropping Marion at the hairdressers I drove on to the doctors as I had been asked to have a blood pressure check. You hardly need to ask what the outcome of that was and now I've got ongoing doctor's visits to look forward to.

In my dreams I imagine getting up on Thursday morning to a bright sunny day with not a trace of rain and not a sign of any damp. Which would have meant a relaxed couple of days, no ongoing doctor's appointments and £1,500 more in the bank.

Oh well, at least we had our weekly film visit to look forward to. The one that fitted in with our timings best was 12 Years A Slave - hardly recommend to perk us up. As it's so highly acclaimed we felt that we had to see it but, oh boy, it's grim. The cinematography is beautiful - evocative Southern swamps with vast skies and glorious colonial plantation houses, long lingering close ups of desperate faces but did we really have to suffer seeing the poor slaves brutalised, lynched, battered, thrashed, beaten, raped and lashed to within an inch of their lives for almost three hours? Great acting? Yes. Great direction? Yes. Entertainment? Only for sadists. I hope it doesn't win too many awards; it's not uplifting and worst of all for me has no redemption whatsoever - (spoiler alert)  I had at least hoped that the returning Solomon might have had a happy homecoming. I already knew that the slave trade was one of the most horrific atrocities carried out by man, this was preaching to the converted. 

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

A Great Week

We're back in Framlingham with another 1,000 miles on the car but plenty of memories of a great week away. I've already written about Dave Haworth's super private lunch at 60 Hope St in Liverpool but this weekend it was the turn of another very dear friend Dave Wareing to celebrate his 60th.

It was very much a flying visit to St Andrews but we crammed plenty in. We love the opportunity that the caravan has brought to see the grandchildren growing up. Rose is now following in her mum's footsteps as a dancer and has already mastered some simple moves. We spent plenty of time with the family and enjoyed a couple of meals in St Andrews at The Grill House and Zizzis (you're never short of anywhere to eat out in St Andrews).

From St Andrews we headed to the Lake District to meet up with Dave and his family. The weather was kind to us and the rain eased off just enough for us to enjoy a walk around Tarn Hows which holds some special memories for me. We stayed in a cottage there when I was about ten and I had another memorable visit with Marion when we were teenagers. 

Dave and Janet's daughter Lizzie and son William with his fiancee Sophie joined us on the walk before we headed to the celebrated Drunken Duck for an excellent pub snack.

Dave had booked a night at the famous Holbeck Ghyll above Ambleside. We were staying in the self-catering house Lowtherwood which is in the hotel grounds. It's a super house with four excellent bedrooms with luxurious bathrooms and an outdoor hot tub which we took full advantage of. In the evening Lizzie prepared nibbles and champagne and we presented Dave with his presents before heading off to the hotel for a fabulous meal in the Michelin starred restaurant. 

We had another fabulous meal on Sunday when we headed down to Ribchester to see our friends Mark and Nita who run the brilliant marketing company Workhouse Marketing. Nita cooked a sumptuous roast chicken dinner accompanied by some very fine wines from their son Tom's Whalley Wine Shop. We miss seeing friends Mark and Nita, Dave and Jane and Dave and Janet now we're in Suffolk but hopefully they will be visiting us in the not too distant future.

Mark has become a keen eBayer so I'm putting the following song on the blog for his benefit. I've put it on here before but he's not familiar with it and it's well worth another airing.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

A Week Up North

I said that it was going to be hectic when I last blogged and I wasn't wrong.

We drove up to Southport on Saturday and spent a nice evening with my mum, my brother and his wife Val.

On Sunday we went to Liverpool where Dave Haworth, who worked with me in Barclays many moons ago and has been a firm friend ever since, had arranged a private lunch at popular restaurant 60 Hope St (above) to celebrate his 60th birthday. It was a fabulous lunch, with excellent food,great service and lovely company and it was extremely generous of Dave and his family to cater for such a big group of people.

From Liverpool it was back to Southport for a quiet night in front of the telly watching Sherlock (after waiting two years I can't believe it's over already) before heading to St Andrews at 6.30 in the morning to do a spot of babysitting for Sarah.

Sarah is the only Birthlight™ trained Baby Yoga instructor in East Fife and has just started her business Warm Hearts Yoga Babies running yoga classes for parents and babies. At the moment she's holding classes in St Andrews but if it takes off (and everyone seems to love the classes) she hopes to expand further afield within the East Neuk of Fife. It's a pity that we aren't always on hand to look after Rose while Sarah is taking her classes but that's one of the perils of today's lifestyle - so many families are spread across the country (or even the world). In February she's taking a further course which will qualify her to do yoga with older toddlers and enable her to expand the sessions that she can offer. Check out her website here.

We've loved seeing our granddaughters Rose and Melody. Yesterday Rose went to the hairdressers for the very first time. She quite loved all the attention and made no fuss at all as the stylist trimmed back her curls. 

Melody is growing too and it's good that we've had this opportunity to see her again before the caravan site closes for its annual February shutdown. Next time we're in St Andrews in March she will have changed massively.

As for the caravan. I worried that we might have some bad winter weather but it's been unseasonably mild and, although it hasn't been sunny like this very much, we've managed not to freeze. 

Friday, 10 January 2014

Off On Another Adventure

Our nomadic existence continues and tomorrow we set off to Merseyside. We're staying with my Mum for a couple of nights. We're looking forward to seeing her along with my brother Pete and his wife Val who we've not seen since their daughter Lisa's wedding in the summer. After that we've got our great friend Dave Haworth's 60th birthday party in Liverpool on Sunday and then it's an early start on Monday as we head up to St Andrews in time to do a bit of babysitting for Sarah at lunchtime (please be kind to us weather and traffic).

A few nights in the caravan (please be kind to us weather) are planned before we head down to the Lake District on Saturday for another dear friend's 60th birthday. After that we've got Sunday dinner planned in Ribchester with more friends (my what popular people we are I hear you say) before returning to Framlingham on Monday. 

After that we've got almost two whole months in Suffolk. This will be the longest that we've been here since we moved to Framlingham almost a year ago and it will be good to have a couple of restful months as another hectic schedule is bound to begin again in the spring. 

We've got a few things planned already. Framsoc has some tickets for National Theatre Live's performance of Corliolanus at Aldeburgh Cinema. We've intended to go to one of these live theatre cinema screenings for ages but needed the impetus of someone getting tickets to push us into going - promises to be good. The last time we saw anything like this was the live transmission of Stephen Fry's one man show from London at FACT in Liverpool.

Whilst mentioning the cinema, I was pleased to see that all of those I suggested as worthy of Oscar Nominations from American Hustle and Nebraska the other day have been nominated for BAFTAs - I told you they were good. 

After Coriolanus we've booked a night away in The Ship Inn at Dunwich. It's only about half an hour away but we saw in Suffolk Magazine that they were holding a music night in February with dinner and accommodation (including breakfast) at a very reasonable price so we thought we'd give it a try. I know we could drive there and save a few pounds but we've not been to Dunwich yet and it will be good to be able to have a few glasses of wine or beer and not worry about driving.

After that it will be Valentines night. Last year we went to The Crown and I think we'll do the same again this time as Matt, the chef, is very good at coming up with some innovative and tasty dishes. It was interesting to see that the TO LET signs in The Lemon Tree Bistro (which sadly closed very suddenly in December) came down today. I do hope it's an eatery of some sort and not another gift or antique shop. It's not that I don't like gift shops or antique shops I just think we've got enough but we've not got enough restaurants - a pizzeria or wine bar would be good.

In our short spell at home we've crammed a fair bit in. On Wednesday we went and explored the Lanes in Norwich. We've been watching that retirees' fare Antiques Roadtrip on the telly and wondered if we too might find something in a shop for £100, persuade the owner to sell it to us for £40 (as if) and then watch it at auction as the feverish bidding starts at a fiver and finishes at er a fiver. It's very entertaining but I don't think those dragons on Dragons' Den would think much of the business model.

I'm still busily doing Jillian Michaels' Thirty Day Shred exercise DVD every morning although in my case Thirty Day Shrek might be more appropriate judging from the colour I go after twenty minutes. At least, in conjunction with the diet, it is working and I've lost the 5 lbs I put on over Christmas. Another seven to go and Leo's Deli might see the takings back up again.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

88 Today

Well it's tomorrow to be precise but I don't think that my mum will be looking at this blog this evening and I'm off out early in the morning so Happy Birthday Mum. Not too many people make it into their 89th year looking such a picture of good health and I'm very hopeful that I'll be saying something similar ten years into the future (if I'm still around to say it). We're always reading about how life expectancy is going up and up but when I look around I sometimes wonder whether those living well into their eighties and nineties have much quality in their lives. I'm glad to say that Mum is truly an exception to this. She's kept herself active with her laptop and iPad and always keeps up to date in her fashion sense without needing to dress like an OAP. Although she no longer drives she enjoys going out and about with her friends and I hope that her good health continues for years to come. We're going to see her at the weekend and look forward to finally showing her the delights of Suffolk in the spring.

I've had no contact with Instanta at all since we retired although I've kept up to date with what some of our old colleagues have been up to on Facebook, been to a few birthday parties and met up with Sales Director Nick (above) a couple of times when he's been working in the area. I knew that Nick was leaving but his departure was brought sharply into focus today when Paul from our old adversary Calomax sent me a press interview with his successor. Marion and I shared some very enjoyable times with Nick when we worked on exhibitions together in places as diverse as Birmingham and Dubai. He put in many many long hours and travelled thousands of miles in the years that he worked for us and his efforts greatly contributed to my writing Notes From Retirement today instead of Notes From the Office. We hope that he has a very happy and successful future career. 

His successor is Graham Crisp. We wish him and his new colleagues every success. 

Monday, 6 January 2014

An Acting And Directing Masterclass x 2

We're at that time of year beloved by regular moviegoers like us; the big Oscar hopefuls are all released over a couple of months and, like the proverbial London bus, arrive at the cinema in rapid succession. So we went to the pictures twice this weekend.

On Friday we did something almost unheard of for us and went to the cinema in the evening. Being retired we don't need to wait until 7.30 to watch a film but Nebraska is  one of those movies that won't get much of an airing in the multiplexes and when we saw that it was on at Aldeburgh Cinema we had to fit in with their evening showing. The Oscar nominations won't be announced until 16th January but I will be amazed if Bruce Dern does not get onto the best actor list for his role as Woody Grant. Woody is an old man; he's been a heavy drinker all his life and his mind is not what it used to be. One of those ambiguous prize notification junk mails arrives in the post and Woody takes the $1,000,000 winner headline as fact without reading the small print and decides to head to Lincoln Nebraska to collect his prize in person.

Saddened by his father's condition and realising that he is not  going to give up on his conviction that he is a big winner, Woody's son Davey (Will Forte) decides to drive him to Nebraska to claim his prize. Directed by the acclaimed scriptwriter and director Alexander Payne (The Descendants, Sideways and About Schmidt ) the film has all the elements of Payne's earlier work - the road trip, the disfunctional family and a large helping of humour. The stark environment and Woody's bleak outlook are darkly emphasised by the black and white cinematography but the film is not all darkness and there is both the touching relationship between Woody and Davey and the humour of their relationship with a myriad aunts, uncles and old acquaintances who refuse to believe Davey's insistence that his dad is not going to be a millionaire.  With fine supporting performances by Bob Odenkirk and June Squibb as Davey's brother and mother, this is a wonderful film that will not disappoint.

It was another odd viewing time when we went to Cineworld in Ipswich yesterday and saw the 11 a.m screening of American Hustle. This is another film that is heavy on acting and light on stunts and special effects. Set in the 1970's it's based on real events and tells the story of con artist Irving Rosenfield (Christian Bale) an out of shape chancer who teams up with Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), a loner with no cash and big ambitions, to make money from scamming desperate people. I won't give the plot away but they become involved in something much bigger as the law gets involved and the scams spiral out of their control. Films like this don't come around very often - I can only think of The Sting and Jackie Brown (both firm favourites) by way of comparison and, in my opinion, this is superior to both. 

What impressed me most with this film was the outstanding level of performance from the entire cast. Christian Bale and Amy Adams are brilliant in the lead roles but so too is Bradley Cooper as FED agent Richie DiMaso, Jeremy Renner as Carmine Polito and Robert De Niro as a hugely convincing and scary Mafia boss. Despite all these magnificent performances Jennifer Lawrence in her role as Irving's dim, dizzy and needy wife manages once again to upstage everybody - she really is a fantastic actor and this is a dream part for her. We both loved this film and I wouldn't be surprised to see Oscar nominations for Bale as actor in a leading role and, Cooper and Lawrence in supporting roles along with script and directing nominations - and not forgetting an amazing seventies soundtrack.

It was goodbye to the Christmas decorations today and everything looks a bit bare now but I suppose it's time to move on after a lovely Christmas.

We've got lots coming up in the next couple of weeks and are looking forward to heading north for a couple of 60th birthday parties and to see my mum, Sarah and Duncan and family and Mark and Nita in Ribchester. 

Meanwhile our diet continues. I baked a pizza for a neighbour today. It was quite hard taking this round to him knowing that I had a salad waiting for me at home. 

Thursday, 2 January 2014

And So That Was Christmas

Happy New Year to one and all. 

I've not been blogging for a couple of weeks. Shortly after my last blog we headed up north for the Christmas break and, if you've read these Notes From Retirement before you will know that the caravan, our home from home in St Andrews, has broadband with a speed that is slower than a three toed sloth. Which means that uploading photos of festive merriment with the grandchildren would have taken almost as long as the eight hours it takes to drive there. 

You may have noticed that there was quite a lot of weather about while we were in the caravan which is on a heavily wooded site. The winds were gusting at tremendous speeds and when the storm was at its height one of the panels buckled inwards before springing back out again and we felt the caravan move quite violently - giving Rocking Around The Christmas Tree a whole new meaning.

Anyway, better late than never, here is Marion with our lovely Scottish granddaughters Rose and Melody on Christmas day.

And here I am with Melody. We had a lovely Christmas day. Sarah and Duncan cooked us a fabulous Christmas dinner and there were plenty of fabulous presents.

Although this one, bought by my Mum for Marion, remains a bit of a mystery. Mum says that ,despite buying it, she doesn't know what it is either. It came from Marks and Spencer but if you type the code from the M&S label into their website, they too don't know what it is. Answers on a postcode or perhaps in a comment below.

We drove back down from Scotland in relatively light traffic on Boxing Day before heading to Rochester the next day for another Christmas celebration with the Kent side of the family. Josephine and her mum cooked us a fabulous haunch of venison and we had another session of giving and receiving lots of super presents. On Saturday we brought Paul and Catherine back to Framlingham as we wanted to do a bit of Christmas cooking ourselves. An accident on the A12 put paid to the timing of our plans and resulted in a three hour delay but we made it to Framlingham in time to put the turkey in the oven and enjoy another festive dinner.

The sun shone brightly on Sunday giving Catherine a chance to have a look at our amazing castle before we headed back down to Rochester, dropped them home and drove back to Framlingham - I think we're keeping Haynings Service Station down the road in business - they must wonder what we're doing with all that diesel.

We managed to get to see my mum before Christmas but missed my sister Julie and her family who made a flying visit to Southport from their home in Spain. But they did pop in to see us on Skype. Julie said "I hope we're not on a big screen". Yes Julie,as you can see, you were. I will never tire of the wonder of Skype. The quality of the calls gets better and better all the time. I've just downloaded Skype onto a neighbour's laptop and it means that we can check how he's doing and if he needs anything very quickly (okay I know we could do the same by going next door but that's not always practical). I'm hoping that we can get some more people that he knows onto the system and he can then pop in to see them from the comfort of his armchair.

New Year's Eve saw us heading down to The Crown Hotel. It's great to be able to go somewhere within walking distance so we can both enjoy a glass or two of wine.

The Crown's chef Matt put on an ambitious nine course taster menu. It was a delicious meal served over a couple of hours and everything ran like clockwork. There was plenty of experimentation with some quite adventurous dishes amongst safer courses and I particularly enjoyed the crab and langoustine tortellini and the fillet of brill as well as the superb fillet of beef with snails (Marion isn't keen on beef or snails so I ended up having an extra course). There was a wine matching option with each course so we had to give that a try but the glass sizes were sensibly small and seven glasses later (or probably nine for me and five for Marion) our heads were still clear. Marion has been suffering from a touch of flu so we left The Crown before midnight and got to bed just at Big Ben started to chime.

As you may gather from all those reports of feasting over the past few weeks, our Tesco Diet was put on the back burner but we're getting back into it from today. I put on five pounds over the holiday but I'm still seven pounds lighter than when I started the diet. 

We bought this DVD to help speed up our weight loss and I've been doing all the exercises diligently. According to the presenter Jillian if I keep it up for thirty days I'll look like this.