Saturday, 16 November 2019

Count Arthur Strong - 'Is there anybody out there?'

(picture from here)
Chris and I went to see Count Arthur Strong at LPAC in Lincoln last Thursday.  He is currently touring with his new show 'Is there anybody out there?' We absolutely loved the show and laughed a lot. I was going to write about my highlights, but I found a review which sums up the show far better than I could.

This review is by Steve Bennett at the Leicester Square Theatre, London and can be found here.

"Science has given us great communicators like Carl Sagan, able to convey the complex, awesome mysteries of the universe with wonder and perfect clarity. Count Arthur Strong is not one of them.
In his new show – one of his funniest yet – the constantly befuddled star of stage and screen addresses the vast subject of ‘astromonography’ from the ‘Big Bump’ to space exploration.
Needless to say he does not stick to his planned trajectory. How many talks about cosmology end up with long digressions about bats being hit on the head with pineapples or an attempt to name the films of ‘Dustbin’ Hoffman?
Each turn of events makes certain sense to him at the time, until he suddenly comes to, hit by a sudden realisation how far off-topic he’s strayed. If punchlines are essentially misdirection, Count Arthur has the advantage that even he doesn’t appear to know where he was supposed to be heading in the first place.
One malapropism leads into another, and words prompt entirely unrelated memories – ‘I’ll tell you who had long arms!’ he non-sequiturs, leading into a wonderful reverie from the variety hall days. And his playlet depicting the origins of the telescope, as invented by ‘Gary Barlow’ is hilarious – you’ll never hear Galileo’s name in quite the same way again.

The Count’s professional background is shrouded in ambiguity, as is the premise of this show, which starts as some sort of pitch to replace his nemesis, Brian Cox, on the BBC but freely drifts into a talk to schoolchildren, complete with a conversation with the first monkey in space that turns a bit Rod Hull in one of his now-ubiquitous ventriloquism routines.
Not that it matters. Like so much in the Arthur Strong universe (no pun intended), the silliness doesn’t hold up to much scrutiny, but the random outbursts are viscerally funny, more than the mix-ups and misunderstandings have any right to be.
It’s a verbal slapstick, and like the physical sort is enhanced by the character. Someone falling over is funny; a pompous ass falling over and blaming the ground for hitting him even more so.
That Count Arthur is a proud and stubborn know-it-all adds force to the many gags Steve Delaney packs into these two hours. His enduring alter ego is so certain in himself that he ploughs on with his mistakes pigheadedly, and is quick to pick fights others when his train of thought inevitably derails, whether it’s his unseen stage hand, us in the audience, or just some random unseen force that stops him from being responsible for his actions. 
Asides give brief glimpses into how this curmudgeonliness leaches into his offstage life, irritating everyone he comes into contact with. And then there’s his pretentious affectations, such as pronouncing ‘actual’ as ‘arctual’ in the hope of adding gravitas to his idiocy. 
All this, and the inherent surreal unpredictability of proceedings, will have you laughing like a drain at some of the set pieces. The count’s dubious musical talents that top and tail the show are a delight, the elusive words and rhythm even more hilarious when under pressure to keep . And his dance moves! The Quo hands-on-hips  twist to Bowie’s Starman is something else…

Count Arthur’s BBC One show might be dead – unless he can land that stint on The Sky At Night –  but the good count was always best live, and this proves it. Even if it definitely isn’t rocket science… "

(picture from here)
It was an excellent show with a tour de force performance from the man himself.  I particularly enjoyed the list of chocolate bars named after space bodies and bats being hit on the head with pineapples...
Count Arthur has appeared in his own tv series and also radio too - there are lots of snippets on youtube if you are intrigued.  If the tour is coming near you, do try to catch it.

Thursday, 7 November 2019

This year's reading highlights

I have been enjoying a wide and eclectic variety of books this year and here are some of my favourites.  (The pictures for the first five books are from World of Books). I don't have images of these books myself because they are on my kindle.  I won't give too much away, just in case you want to read any of them.  The one above had its harrowing moments, being about life in France during WWII, but had a blind heroine and a young German hero.  It had a very satisfying ending and felt as though the story had come full circle.
I really enjoyed the fast pacing of the Lockwood & Co stories, although there are some scary descriptions and situations for the group of young ghost hunters through the five book set.  They are Young Adult books but I know that I wouldn't have been able to cope with them as a young adult and even as an adult, I can't read them at night. (Even in the daytime, I have to check over my shoulder!) The series comes to a satisfactory conclusion and the huge increase in ghostly activity is explained.  I am not sure, but I feel that one of the characters might also feature in the Bartimaeus books by the same author.
A colleague at work recommended this book which I thought really original and interesting.  it's another Young Adult book and is also about ghosts, but is set in the Civil War and concentrates on a family with a rather interesting ability.  It was one of those stories which I just had to read with no other distractions.
Another Young Adult book by the same author which had a fascinating premise and described some disturbing events, but was ultimately another satisfying book.
This was also recommended by a different colleague and is based around and in WWI, with a heroine who, like Cassandra, can see the deaths of people around her.  It was another Young Adult book but again, kept me gripped.

 The final Young Adult books, by the Lockwood & Co author, with the same snappy dialogue but this time featuring a very sarky demon who enjoys belittling the reader (and any other humans) with comments in footnotes.  I enjoyed them all, but my favourite was the 'prequel', The Ring of Solomon.
Moving away from Young Adults, I really enjoyed the beautiful writing in the Easternmost House which I felt deserved to be savoured, so I took my time reading it.  It is a year in the life of the author, living in a house that will have to be demolished as the sea erodes the cliff on which it stands.  The description of the coastal and countryside life she leads, the attention to nature and appreciating it all makes this book special.
I was riveted to a brief series on BBC4 recently, called Handmade in Bolton.  Each week, an incredibly talented, self-taught man called Shaun Greenhalgh was challenged to recreate a artwork from previous times - a gold eagle, infilled with garnets and amethysts, a Pallissy ceramic dish, a Nottingham alabaster carving and a rock crystal bottle.  This Renaissance Man was Shaun Greenhalgh who was convicted as a forger and spent time in prison.  He has an amazing knowledge of so many art forms and how they were created.  Having watched the series, we ordered his book which he wrote while in prison.  If you haven't seen the programmes and are able to watch them on iplayer, I recommend them. His book is written in a very accessible style and explains how he taught himself all the different techniques and how he got drawn into forgery. I haven't finished it yet but am enjoying reading about him.  I am sure his work will be collected because it is by him - he can turn his hand to so many types of art and craft.
 This book was a real trip down memory lane, delving into the childhood reading of the author.  Some books were familiar, some less so, but she is a kindred spirit!
Finally, a gothic tale which has left me with some unanswered questions.  It kept me gripped and had elements of Victorian novels such as Jane Eyre, The Woman in White and Lady Audley's Secret.  In the beginning chapters, the author describes what it is like to be a reader, to have characters stay with you and to resent starting a new story and having to push previous stories aside.  The story twists and turns, with disturbing elements and lots of 'ah, I see' moments too.

Sunday, 3 November 2019

Creating cards (and new stamps and dies)

I have been busy with more making (and purchasing...) recently and here is a round-up.  It's not often I need to make a card like the one above, but I was pleased with the end result and I hope the recipient liked it too.
This was for my nephew and I used the spotlight effect again which gave a sort of 'now you see it, now you don't' optical effect.
It's a bit easier to see in the close up.
Another more masculine card, for my brother-in-law.
I enjoyed making this card for my sister and I hope she liked it.
I also stamped the envelope.
Playing with some background dies has been fun too.
This one used a die cut as a stencil, with pixie powders (coloured powders with shimmery mica powder added to them which activate with water) sprinkled through and sprayed with water.  You never know what effect you will get.
I have been watching lots of youtube videos - this watercolour was inspired by 'creationsceecee' who does some lovely pieces.  I like watercolours but am not very good with them, so was pleased with these flowers.
More new dies which I think will be versatile as they can be used in lots of different ways.
More dies (used before but in great condition) and a new stamp set from one of my favourite companies, Visible Image
Here's a couple of the dies cut out and I shall be using these for Christmas cards, in different coloured glitter papers/card, I think. 
Finally, a new stamp set from another of my favourite companies, Altenew, (an American company, but there are stockists in the UK, such as Seven Hills Crafts) who are known for their layered designs.  This one is in three parts, flowers with two sets of leaves and they create the floral roundel on the left, which is really pretty.  
I am really enjoying my card making and papercrafting journey, although I have the sneaking suspicion that no matter how big my stash gets, it will never be complete, because there is always another stamp set, die, type of card, mixed media product that will appear and I have no willpower!  As long as I can afford it, that's fine...

Saturday, 26 October 2019

Little things making me happy...

With all the horrible things going on in the world, it is even more important to enjoy the little things. Things like the beautiful autumn colours of the leaves... a hydrangea...
...and a blueberry.
Magnolia Susan against blue sky (when there has been some)...
these leaves are now on the ground.
Hydrangea flowers still with colour...
Rose William Shakespeare 2000 flowering...
...and a splash of fuchsia pink from the asters.
They look much more bedraggled now.
Lovely delicate pink skies...
 ...echoing the New Dawn roses.
 Buttery yellow Ginkgo leaves.
 Inside the house, we have new tiles for the splashback behind the sink.  It's still a work in progress, but it is progressing.  I love the colours of these tiles...
...and the iridescence.  They make me smile every time I see them.
Finally, today's lunch - it is raining yet again, so what better to cheer up the day than a plate of beans on toast?  (These are Heinz, no added sugar ones as I find the original Heinz beans too sweet now.)  Little things that are making me happy - and don't we all need them?

Thursday, 17 October 2019


a page from my first art journal
(This post comes with a warning - I am going to get on my soapbox...)
As I have got older, I have realised the vital importance of creativity in my own life.  However, the word 'creativity' has a difficulty in itself.  Say it to people and they think of art, music or drama - the 'creative' subjects.  A new report has just been published about creativity in education in the UK, called The Durham Report.  For quite a few years, creativity in education has not been given the time and recognition it deserves.  In the report (which I admit, I haven't read all of yet) there is a definition of creativity:
"Creativity: The capacity to imagine, conceive, express, or make something that was not there before."

Other definitions in the report are:

"Creative thinking: A process through which knowledge, intuition and skills are applied to imagine, express or make something novel or individual in its contexts. Creative thinking is present in all areas of life. It may appear spontaneous, but it can be underpinned by perseverance, experimentation, critical thinking and collaboration." 

"Teaching for creativity: Explicitly using pedagogies and practices that cultivate creativity in young people. "

The gradual removal of creativity from the curriculum over the last ten years or so (since I was working with four and five year olds) has upset and bothered me enormously.  I do feel that this has been a contributing factor to the huge increase in mental health issues affecting young people.  (I do realise that there are many other contributing factors and that each person will have experienced many different causes). 
I remember going to a school to help my husband with a puppet making day a few years ago and was told that we were part of a creativity week which happened every two that point, I despaired for the children.

So, the point of this post?  Well, with the publishing of this report, perhaps the curriculum makers will have the dawning realisation that we are all creative beings and we need to express this.  Perhaps children will be encouraged to explore their creative ideas, which will be valuable and valued and perhaps this will benefit future generations too.  I am feeling just that little bit more hopeful.  We shall see. 

Sunday, 13 October 2019

Autumn soup recipe - sort of...

I have been asked for the roasted squash, pepper and sweet potato soup recipe.  Chris didn't use a recipe (unlike me who always has to follow a recipe), but here is a sort of recipe.
He roasted a squash, onion, peppers, tomatoes and garlic in the oven, until they were softened, having drizzled them with a little oil (or Frylight).  He then chopped up sweet potato and ordinary potato and added the roasted veg into a pressure cooker and added vegetable stock.  He let it cook for 5 minutes (this could all be boiled in a large pan for about 20 mins (that's the way I would have to do it, because pressure cookers scare me!).   As I am fussy (!) he then blitzed the soup down until smooth, although if you like chunky soup, you can leave the chunks in.  He probably added a little butter, some salt and pepper and some wine too.
It does taste lovely!  

Sunday, 6 October 2019

Autumn food and gardening

There is a definite feel of autumn now.  Subtle changes such as darker mornings, cooler evenings and foliage starting to fall or change colour.  I have been enjoying comfort food this week and soups and rice pudding have featured.
Above is a delicious soup Chris made - roast squash, peppers and garlic, sweet potato and potato.  Really warming and gorgeous.  We have also had leek and potato soup which was also delicious.  Leek risotto has featured as has Yorkshire Sponge Parkin cake with the ginger and spice flavours.  I made my first rice pudding yesterday which tasted really good, but I need to work out how to get the rice and milk mixture incorporated better.
My autumn gardening has included planting my allium Globemaster bulbs which I bought from RHS Chatsworth and finally getting round to planting a replacement Winter Flowering Jasmine which has been in a pot for a year or so and which I hope will grow well now it has been released into the garden. I have also planted some foxgloves 'Foxy Hybrids' and 'Apricot' which I grew from seed so I am looking forward to seeing them grow too.

Sunday, 29 September 2019

Walking round the garden, whatever the weather

 We have had quite unsettled weather this week.  There have been beautiful blue skies...
...roses enjoying the sunshine (Olivia Rose Austin)...
 ...dry days which the sempervivums have liked...
 ...and the japanese anemones, both white...
 ...and pink.
 When we have had rain, the droplets settled beautifully on the alchemilla mollis leaves.
 They look a bit like liquid mercury.
 Clematis Prince Charles looked really awful and brown last month, so I cut it back and it has rewarded me by re-growing and flowering, which was an unexpected and very welcome bonus.  Some flowers have five petals...
 ...and others have four. 
 The little hydrangea I bought at RHS Chatsworth is turning shades of pearly pink and green.
 Liriope Muscari is getting bigger every year and giving a very welcome splash of colour to a shady border.
 The combination of buddleia, perennial sunflower and aster look lovely when the sun shines.
It has rained all day today, on and off, but occasionally, there is the reward of a rainbow.  Seeing one never fails to amaze me.