Thursday, 29 January 2015

Saturday Night (and Wednesday and Thursday Afternoon) At The Movies

Our regular toddler minding sessions in Kent are drawing to a close and next week we will be doing our final two day stint for the foreseeable future. I said in an earlier blog that we will miss our little granddaughter terribly but we won't miss the driving - on Tuesday we left Framlingham at 5.25 in the morning only to find the main road to the A14 was closed at Pettaugh due to a water mains burst. The tortuous diversion added thirty minutes to the journey which led to another thirty minutes delay due to us being late on the A12. What should be a two hour drive took us three hours and ten minutes. Thankfully we got home inside two hours.

It was after ten and I settled down to watch the Capital Cup Semi Final second leg. I'd recorded the game and didn't know the score. It was well past midnight when the match finished. I was disappointed with the result but thought it was a spirited display from the Reds.

We've kept ourselves busy this week with our passion for films. On Saturday we watched Philip Seymour Hoffman's final film  A Most Wanted Man on Sky Box Office and realised what a huge loss his death was to the movie world. Based on a John Le Carre novel, it's an old fashioned spy thriller with a tremendous and intricate plot with all the twists and turns you would expect from Le Carre. Hoffman was outstanding as the hard drinking, chain smoking and down at heel German spy in a top secret cell playing cat and mouse with both his official German intelligence counterparts and the CIA in a plot involving funding terrorists in the Middle East. It's intelligent, exciting and worth looking out for.

By contrast, Kingsman, which we saw on Cineword's fabulous IMAX screen this morning, is a thoroughly modern spy thriller. Think Roger Moore's James Bond meets Kill Bill with a little bit of Kick Ass thrown in for good measure and you'll get the idea. Colin Firth is tremendous as the suave and sophisticated Harry Hart (code name Galahad), part of the Kingsman private secret service, seeking to prevent the megalomaniac Valentine (a wonderful lisping Samuel L Jackson) from fulfilling his world threatening scheme. 

Galahad's teenage, rough diamond protege Eggsy (newcomer Taron Egerton) is enlisted at spy school to see if he can make the grade to replace the spy codenamed Lancelot who recently met a sticky end. Will Eggsy graduate? Will Valentine take over the world? All is revealed in a fabulously foul mouthed, incredibly violent and extremely funny caper that has some of the most beautifully choreographed fight scenes ever to grace the screen and makes the House Of Blue Leaves episode from Tarantino's  Kill Bill Vol 1 look like an episode of In The Night Garden. It's all strangely inoffensive though (just a 15 certificate), being more Tom And Jerry than The Godfather. If you want something to wake you up, give this a try - great fun.

The best film we've seen this week was Birdman which we saw at Aldeburgh on Wednesday. Michael Keaton has been nominated for an Oscar in his role as a faded movie star trying to resurrect his career by funding, directing and acting in an intellectual play on Broadway. His past role as superhero Birdman haunts his every moment and his troubled daughter, now his assistant, is a constant reminder of his failure as a husband and father. The film is shot using a device that appears like a single take and this gives the movie a tremendous feeling of pace. But it is the actors that steal the show. Not only is Keaton, outstanding, so too are Emma Stone as his daughter Sam, Zach Galifianakis as his world weary friend and producer, Ed Norton as method actor Mike and Naomi Watts as Mike's partner Lesley. The Oscar nominations for Keaton, Stone and Norton are thoroughly deserved and I will be very surprised if Keaton and Emma Stone don't land the prize.

It's a brilliant film, originally filmed, very funny and with an exceptional musical score. This is one you really must see.

I just watched the first episode of Fortitude on Sky Atlantic. Interesting stuff but not totally gripped yet. Will give it another try next week. 

Monday, 26 January 2015

Framlingham Surreality

I'm not sure which was more surreal - walking four minutes down the road on a winter's Sunday evening to the church hall that doubled as the Detectorists' detecting club and finding it absolutely packed with local residents for an hour long one-man comedy sketch show/monologue - or the performance itself. Framlingham is hardly Edinburgh and yet we were treated to James Bloor's SPLIT which I am sure would (will?) earn rave reviews were it to be performed at The Fringe.

We saw James last year when Slice Of Life, a local group aiming to bring the arts to Framlingham, brought The Cambridge Footlights to the town. I wrote on the blog then how much we enjoyed the event and mentioned James' "randy chameleon" as one of the highlights of the review.  We must thank Slice Of Life for bringing James back to Fram. He is a hugely talented young man who combined an amazing range of facial expressions with near elastic limbs and a hugely intelligent script which, over the hour of the show developed into a jigsaw in which the final pieces finally fell into place.

With just a two tiered stage and a chair as props we started out at a garden centre, visited a tiny garden (with a trellis to hide the oil tank) and were introduced to a camp barber with a propensity for taking the tops of ears off , his demonic assistant, a poetic chain smoking AA member and her schoolboy writer son, some amazing young texters and a couple in mid life crisis. It was both funny and, at times, dark - sad even. The audience loved it and I am sure that James Bloor is a name that we will be hearing a great deal about in the future.
Recognise these two? They started in the same Cambridge review.
It was an otherwise quiet weekend. We had our regular breakfast at The Lemon Tree and had a relax reading the weekend papers.

It was a magnificent sunset last night - we are very lucky to have this landscape on our back doorstep.

I'll finish today with a blast from the past. When I was researching photos for today's blog this photo from my old Instanta blog came up on Google - I don't know why as I had been searching Cambridge Footlights. When we ran our business in Southport I used to write a daily blog. I tried to fill it with a bit of humour as well as commercial news and for some reason (don't ask me why) we once recreated The Usual Suspects poster for the blog. Where are they all now?

Friday, 23 January 2015

Battling Bugs In Framlingham, Big Eyes In Woodbridge And Ex_Machina At Cineworld

Marion has been poorly this week. It didn't stop her joining the protest against the greenfield development on a very cold Monday morning (which set her recovery back a few days) but it has meant her missing several of the spinning and circuit training classes at Fram Leisure. I've been lucky and managed to shake the bug off a few weeks ago and have been able to keep up the exercise classes at the college but the illness has been with Marion since our stay at the caravan over the New Year.

We had intended to take advantage of the beautiful winter sunshine and go on a couple of walks but decided that that wasn't conducive to a rapid recovery for Marion and went instead to see a couple of the films on our lengthy wish list.

Big Eyes at The Riverside in Woodbridge was our first outing on Wednesday. It tells the fascinating true story of 60s artist Margaret Keane who specialised in kitsch paintings of children with huge doleful eyes. A potential buyer thought her husband Walter had painted one of her early works (they were signed simply "Keane") and, instead of putting the record straight,  Walter played along with the mistake. Sales of the paintings took off and Walter continued to take credit. He became a brilliant marketeer and created huge sales of prints, cards and posters as well as originals. Margaret played along with the deception and the couple became extremely wealthy. The film is very entertaining and has an excellent performance by Amy Adams as Margaret. Christoph Waltz, in an unfamiliar role, portrays Walter as a character lurching violently between drunken, aggressive, control freak and charming  bon viveur and didn't quite convince me.  Before the film we had a super light lunch at the Riverside's restaurant - it really does make a cinema trip a little bit special.

No such culinary delights at Cineworld yesterday although I can't knock the Starbucks which has friendly staff, comfortable seats and a decent (if overwhelmingly large) cup of coffee. We were there to see new release Ex_Machina. Geeky young computer programmer Caleb ( Domnhall Gleeson) wins the company lottery and his prize is to be transported by helicopter to spend a week's holiday with the company boss Nathan (Oscar Isaac). Now, a week's holiday with the boss is possibly not everyone's idea of the perfect prize, but, as Nathan is one of the world's wealthiest men (his company Bluebook is some sort of Google world-domineering tech company), and a computer genius , Caleb is delighted with his prize.

Nathan lives in a wonderful high tech residence on a remote rocky mountainside hours away from civilisation and Caleb soon discovers that his "prize" is to help his reclusive boss to test AVA, his robot creation's, ability to convince that she is an intelligent being. The only other person at the residence is female servant Kyoko (Sonoya Mizuno) who attends to all of Nathan's requirements. I don't want to spoil any of the plot for you but AVA (Alicia Vikander), despite a profusion of transparent limbs and obvious robotics, is an alluring presence and, young Caleb is soon seduced by her personality. As the week progresses the relationships between innocent Caleb, manipulative Nathan and the charismatic AVA develop and lead slowly to an exciting and (for me) unexpected climax. Marion thought it predictable but for me it took the premise of the recent Her a step further, added a physical presence and gave me plenty to think about. I didn't enjoy Nathan's misogyny (which may bring some criticism - I've seen no reviews yet)  but it is an important part of the plot and, as he's an unsympathetic character, I'll excuse Alex Garland the director.   

If you've followed this blog you will know that we are massive advocates of shopping local. We do our best to buy everything we can here in Framlingham. So, when we decided that we needed a metalwork arch to grow climbers over and separate one area of the garden from the rest, we had a look for ideas on the internet and then went to local blacksmith John Ball. John took our ideas and measurements and went away. He then came back this week with a template for us to look at - now you don't get that on the internet.

I left Marion wrapped up in front of the log burner on Tuesday and had my first outing of the year with the detector. It was bitterly cold and started to snow so I didn't stay out for too long. I  have searched the small field pretty thoroughly so wasn't expecting many finds. I thought that this was simply a big lead washer but when I washed the mud off at home I discovered that it is an alnage or cloth seal - you can see the remains of a rampant lion or other fantastical creature but sadly, the second half of the seal which would have the rest of the impression, has gone. It's probably the oldest seal of its type that I have found and I guess that it dates to the late 15th century.

As I finish this post I am pleased to say that Marion managed the spinning class this morning and says that she is starting to feel better.

Monday, 19 January 2015

You're Never Too Old To Start

We lived through all the riotous years of the 60s anti bomb protests, the 70s Trades Unions, the 80s with Greenham Common and the miners strikes but only when we move to a sleepy little market town in rural Suffolk do we get involved in our own demonstration.You're never too old to start so, this morning, we stood firm with local residents to show our disapproval of plans by Taylor Wimpey and Persimmon Homes to build hundreds of homes on greenfield sites in Framlingham.

BBC local radio came to report on the protest and parked on the site in Fairfield Rd which is crossed by a well worn footpath used by hundreds of local residents and visitors.

Plenty of dog walkers use the path and some joined us in our show of disapproval.

Let's be realistic. Is a road like this suitable for hundreds of new homes with a couple of cars per household?

Today local Community Policemen eased congestion by directing traffic but on a typical day motorists have to negotiate this bottleneck without assistance.

I know that it looks like we are a couple of middle class NIMBYs who haven't even lived in the town for two years and should mind their own business but we chose Framlingham because it has a perfect balance of housing, tourism and independent local shops. Tip that balance with developments that will increase its population by 30% and the entire character of the town and its friendly community will be destroyed. And that's something worth protesting about.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

A Bit Of A Rant And Then Normal Retirement Blogging Is Resumed

I haven't  followed up Monday's post about the 273 kidnapped girls for almost a week as I wanted as many as possible to see it and I'm pleased to say that it is my most read blog for some time. Has it had any effect? Well, a few people have commented that they had forgotten about the Nigerian girls and there were a few newspaper mentions this week (not as a result of my blog I hasten to add) but generally the story has gone back to sleep and is probably unlikely to resurface for a couple of months on the anniversary of their abduction.

I suppose it's no surprise that the story has been forgotten with so many more immediate and horrible events happening in the name of "religion" - even the Pope condoned violence this week by saying that  he would punch his pal if he insulted his mother.... er, what was that Jesus said about turning the other cheek?  But the Pope probably only said that to mollify Muslims and protect Christians in dodgy minority situations. Religion eh? It's a strange religion that condones throwing gay people from the top of high buildings, stoning women for adultery, shooting, crucifying or beheading people who don't share the same view, murdering your daughter or sister for shaming your family (perhaps just for wearing a bit of make up), mutilating girls genitalia, jailing women for having the temerity to drive a car, lashing a bloke for writing something on the internet (looks carefully over shoulder), or creating a vicious campaign against someone who (wait for it) was filmed cooking sausages. I'm not just having a go at followers of Islam. There are some (thankfully very few) Christians in the US Bible belt who would probably think some of the foregoing punishments were too soft on the sinners. Rant over -sorry but it's off my chest and you'll be pleased to know that I only wrote a quarter of what I would have liked to say.

So back to the usual retirement stuff. You may have read on earlier blogs how, due to our family in Kent being badly let down, we started to do regular trips to Rochester to help out with some babysitting. We've been doing it for several months now, and, apart from the travelling, have loved every minute of it. We've got to know our granddaughter so well and we're regular faces at the local mums and tots clubs (which should be renamed granddads, nannies, mums and tots). 

But that travelling! This was the scene on the A12 on Tuesday morning. We set of from Framlingham at 5.25 a.m to beat the traffic but at about 8 we hadn't even reached the M25. "What does that sign say?" Marion asked.

Someone clearly had a sense of humour. I feel so sorry for those involved in the two horrific accidents that caused our delay but,at 3.5 hours, this was the longest journey yet. I won't be able to moan about it in three weeks though as a solution to the childcare has been arranged and our weekly visits to UKIP land will finish. We'll both be really, really sad.

But we will have more time to indulge in our favourite pastimes like cinema. We've got a huge list of new and recent movies we want to see and got off to a great start on Thursday with Foxcatcher. It's based on the true story of multi-millionaire John DuPont and his association with Olympic wrestlers Dave and Mark Schultz. It's a strange story about an extremely strange man and Steve Carell's performance as the delusional DuPont is well worthy of the Oscar nomination he has been given for it. The action is slow and ponderous but the characterisation is perfect and we both found the film gripping. Next week we've got a huge choice - American Sniper,Birdman, Big Eyes, Wild, Whiplash and Testament Of Youth. Unless the weather is glorious we should catch a couple of those in matinees.

Last night we went with neighbours to a very good quiz at Thomas Mills' School although our lack of knowledge on current TV celebrities and rugby players left us languishing near to the bottom of the scoreboard. We've also booked half a dozen classes at Fram Leisure next week  which should see us getting back to our pre-Christmas fitness levels.

Before that we'll be lending our support to the Framlingham Residents' Association who are planning a morning of civil obedience tomorrow when planners visit the town to assess some aspects of the plans to build hundreds of new homes on two greenfield sites. I help write the blog for the association and, as I've said on there, I'm not against development per se but there is sensible development and overdevelopment. The plans on the table would wreck the character of the town, are way above a fair share of the local authority's planned requirements and would clog the place with traffic. Please join us in the morning and show your support.

Monday, 12 January 2015

273 Days - 273 Girls

If you clicked on the blog today for the latest instalment of our Suffolk retirement antics, an update on my exciting metal detecting finds or the brilliance of our granddaughters I'm afraid that you should leave now as I'm devoting this to an event that has been in my mind for two hundred and seventy three days now.

Some of the 273

Yes, its 273 days since 273 - that's right 273 girls were kidnapped in Nigeria by a group of thugs calling themselves Boko Haram. Now, if just three girls were kidnapped in the UK, USA, France, Germany or any Western nation we would hear about nothing else for as long as it took to win their freedom. 

Poor little Maddie was abducted almost eight years ago but hardly a week passes without her pretty little face peering forlornly out at us from our screens, newspapers and magazines and yet what do we hear about these poor Nigerian girls? That's right - absolutely nothing.

At one stage a campaign started rolling. #Bringbackourgirls was suddenly all the rage and, like the Ice Bucket Challenge, it soon went viral and everybody who was anybody was involved and posted their photo looking suitably anguished. But it soon went the same way as most viral fads and faded to be taken over by another worthy bandwagon. And all the while those poor forgotten girls will have been subjected to unimaginable conditions. Gestation is, on average, 280 days so it is highly likely that, if it has not happened already, the offspring of the vile captors and their child victims will soon be arriving in the world.What future awaits them?

Atrocities in France last week brought millions onto the streets of Paris to protest at the tragic deaths of seventeen people. Around the same time that the radical fanatics were carrying out their killing spree, it is reported that Boko Haram slaughtered 2,000 - that's right 2,000 in Nigeria.

If millions can protest in France and around the world at the horrific and unjustifiable killing of seventeen why is the world silent at the slaughter of 2,000 and the kidnap of 273? Why are they forgotten? Is it because "it's only Africa" or because the girls are black? When is a world leader going to bring the matter to the West's attention and DO SOMETHING.

273 days is 273 days too long. Please let's get the girls situation back into the news and save the poor kids from a life that's not worth living.

Monday, 5 January 2015

And So That Was Christmas

We've had a wonderful Christmas break and enjoyed two Christmases. The first was spent on Christmas Day in Rochester with son Paul and family. We had a great time and enjoyed a fabulous Christmas dinner with some outstanding and delicious cooking. It was over too soon alas and we then drove up north and, after a night with my mum in Southport on to St Andrews where we did it all again with another super Christmas dinner with Sarah, Duncan and our two Scottish granddaughters Rose and Melody. It's so good to get together with family at Christmas and it is sad that our son and daughter are so many hundreds of miles apart.

Which means that this sort of thing continues to be a regular feature in our life. This was the journey up to Southport when we braved the M6 for the first time in many months and realised that it's just as bad as it always has been and our four hour leisurely drive from Framlingham became a nightmare journey of almost seven hours. Arriving the following day in Scotland made us appreciate that it is all worthwhile as it is so good to be part of Rose and Melody's lives - it must be horrible for grandparents whose children emigrate to the other side of the world.

As she is always reminding us, Rose is a big girl now.

Her little sister Melody has been practising her smile - she's getting there. 

The icy weather turned the football pitch at the caravan site into an ice rink so Rose was in her element playing at being Queen Elsa from Frozen.

Whilst Melody loved her visits to the caravan.

My book was on free promotion on Amazon for five days over Christmas and I was amazed at how many copies were downloaded. Over three hundred were requested in just one day. Consequently a few more reviews have started to arrive and I am delighted to say that they continue to be positive. 

We are still in Scotland now but are returning to Framlingham later in the week. On Saturdy we went down to the Lake District for a surprise 60th birthday party for our dear friend Janet Wareing (pictured above with her son Will). Janet's husband Dave had booked a large house almost on the banks of Coniston Water and thirteen of us enjoyed an excellent dinner  there with copious amounts of wine on Saturday night.

On Sunday morning we blew away the cobwebs and walked across the hillside to Tarn Hows.

Tarn Hows holds some special memories for me and I took a brief detour from the rest of the party and went to see this hidden cottage called Rose Castle. It's very remote and hidden away above the lake. When I was about nine our family spent a summer holiday in it and it was idyllic to have the whole of Tarn Hows to ourselves when the few visitors left in the evening. That was over fifty years ago before the M6 made Tarn Hows much more accessible but the cottage (now a National Trust property) still has a secluded feel. Although it holds fond memories for me, I am not sure that my mum would agree as there was no running water and we had to use a well in the field. There were no flushing loos either and we had to make do with a thunder box - a plank with a hole in it in an outbuilding.

After the detour I caught up with the rest of the party and headed back to Coniston and the house where it was time to pack up after too short a time with missed friends.

Before we hit the road back to St Andrews we went to The Wilson Arms in Torver for a late lunch. This was my single portion of fish and chips. I have never seen such a huge fish served in a pub or restaurant. Even I, with a guilt complex about wasting food, had to send some of this back to the kitchen. The food was delicious and the service was outstanding but this could honestly have served three people. No wonder there's an obesity crisis in the country.

I'll finish back at that frozen football pitch. What three year old wouldn't grab the opportunity for this?