Thursday 21 November 2019

First frost of the winter

It had to happen, didn't it?  We had the first frost of the winter this week.  I went out with my camera to capture these images before the sun melted it.  I was reminded that I haven't finished insulating my pots yet, so I do need to get on with that job.  Above is Hydrangea Annabelle, who often features throughout the year.
 Rose Gertrude Jekyll looking as though someone has sprinkled the leaves with icing sugar.
 The blueberries also looked lovely.
 Here's Annabelle again.
 This is Aster Little Carlow looking really quite graceful with frost on every dead flower.
 With the colder weather, I have been rewarded by this amazing colour display by Lysimachia Clethroides.  I bought it after watching Carol Klein extolling its virtues on the Chelsea coverage (I think, but it may have been Tatton Park or Hampton Court as I watched all of the Show coverage this year).  It has been in its pot since I bought it, putting on a bit of growth, with lovely green leaves and then this happened.
It is amazing and the colour zings out, particularly on a dull November day.
I am really impressed with it and am looking forward to seeing it grow next year and possibly flower.  It has long white flower heads which droop over, so it sounds interesting.  Apparently, it can be invasive but I am hoping it will be happy in a pot. (I have just been comparing this plant with photos on websites and the leaves of this one look a bit different from the ones on the websites although the descriptions of autumn colour sounds right.  We shall see...) 
I have also possibly done completely the wrong thing and pruned my hibiscus syriacus oiseau bleu pretty viciously.  It was getting too big and leaning madly over the border in a drunken fashion.  I love this plant so am hoping that I haven't killed it, but I will just have to wait and see on that as well.  My pruning book said they can be pruned during their dormant period and it is dormant, but I think I may have got a bit lopper-happy!  If the worst happens and I have killed it, I will be buying a replacement and will try to keep that one more under control.)  It's all part of the joys of gardening!

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...