Monday, 31 October 2011

Ghoulish Gourds

Happy Samhain one and all.

Following on from costumes, here's pumpkins.

First, scoop out the brains!

      Mum's                                                   Mine        

Time for...

Lights out!

Blessings for the year ahead.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Happy Halloween

Evenin' ladies and gents.

Sitting here rocking out to Sum41's Fat Lip, reminding me of Monday night Rock Nights at the Fez Club in Reading when I was a student. Reliving the glory days.

Had a wicked night down my local tonight - t'was the Halloween party.

Haven't done fancy dress since uni either, but thought I'd push the boat out this year.

Ordered liquid latex from a funky online store called Liquid Flesh.

Here's the transformation...

Me, scary enough without any makeup on!

Rather cool but, on the whole, pretty 'armless.

Thanks to several very helpful YouTube tutorials, I managed the following:

Not quite as good as this lady, as I didn't have any wax and had to make do with brown wrapping paper. Not bad for a first attempt though. I'm working up to this. Got loads of great comments on it.

I used a basic range - liquid latex, brown paper and toilet paper for the structure, some wax face crayons from the Post Office that looked like they'd been there since the early 80s! They were advertised as 'clown makeup' but contained all the colours for great bruising: yellow, green, red and black. Used black eyeshadow under my eyes and eyeliner to outline the cuts. Not a lot else to it really. Only other tip from YouTube worth following: mix your fake blood with Vaseline to make it shiny and prevent it from running too much.

Happy Halloween everyone - hope you're having a thoroughly ghoulish time!

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Nobby's Brew

First of two promotional posts today.

Sorry for the recent silence. Currently on retreat in Northamptonshire, trying to kick my third novel into shape. Working very hard, but marginally distracted Friday night by a bottle of Portuguese Firewater. Falls somewhere on the scale between Absinthe and Ouzo. Frightening stuff. Thank you Rosa.

Otherwise, it has been a productive few days.

I'd like to shout out to our local Master Brewer, Nobby. He and his wife Kate run a microbrewery out of our local pub, The Ward Arms. He's extremely good at it. So good that you can now find his beer in selected Co-op stores around the county. They should eventually be rolling them out nation-wide. All of his beers are barrel condition - no re-fizzing or funny business.

Nobby (right) receiving his GOLD award for
"Guilsborough Guzzler 3.6%" at the SIBA midlands beer contest 2011.

You can check out his website for more information about his ales, news, and tips on making your own beer. You can also take a tour of his brewery, including a tasting session. Then there's Nobby's Facebook page.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Silver Bells And Cockle Shells

Don't know about anywhere else, but Autumn's finally arrived in Gloucestershire. Despite the sunshine and unseasonably green trees, there's a definite nip to the air.

Packing my bags and heading off on retreat to the Northamptonshire countryside tomorrow. Lot of writing to get done. Before I go, I thought I'd take a trip down Memory Lane. We've visited some beautiful gardens this year. If you visit the Nature in Art museum at Twigworth, they have the most incredible painting as you go up the main staircase. It's a spiral, starting in the middle with a snowdrop and circling out to the edges, depicting every type of flower imaginable as the seasons progress.

Visiting gardens throughout the year, I feel a little as though I've lived that painting.

Started off in February with Colesbourne Park, which opens each year for the snowdrops. They have around eighty different species. You can read more about it in my post, here.

Ice house at Colesbourne Park

Shortly afterwards we went to the Rococo Gardens at Painswick. More pictures here.

Snowdrops at the Rococo Gardens

In June we went on a sculpture trail at Quenington, in the Cotswolds.

Triffid at Old Sodbury.

In July we visited Old Sodbury (a delightfully West Country name!) for more sculpture and unusual plants.

I apologise for my cack-handed photography - it's based on enthusiasm rather than skill.

In September we headed to Wyck Rissington.

Church at Wyck Rissington. Impressive roof, strange mosaic.

Dad's an avid gardener. The flowers in the first picture are from his own garden. I think they grow so well due to the company he keeps:


Green Men who watch over the garden.

Edinburgh's over, Cheltenham Literature Festival's through, the garden is fallow for winter. It feels like the right time to remove myself to a quiet place and write.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Bidh mi 'gad fhaicinn Edinburgh

A French woman, a Scots man, an Irish man, and an English woman sat in the kitchen...

Sounds like the set-up for a joke.

Our friend Ruairí arrived from Dublin in the wee hours, by which time Martine had taught me the basics of Bridge, just for fun. Not an easy game to play with two people. I had to take the place of my imaginary partner, so spent most of the game playing with myself (err...). Not bad, but I think I prefer Tarot.

At 6am, I was woken on the sofa when Ruairí came in to watch the Ireland v. Wales rugby match. The last time we watched this was at the Deputy Ambassador's house in Kigali back in March 2009. At the time, around twenty Irish people had descended on her house after celebrating the first official St. Patrick's Day celebration in the country the night before. It was a mega atmosphere.

I was the only Wales supporter, having lived in Cardiff for three years beforehand.

A night never forgotten, as Ireland won 17-15. The first Irish grand-slam in sixty-one years! But, as a friend back in Wales said: "Seven world championships, women's championship, Deaf world rugby championship...guess we can give away one to someone else this year."

The atmosphere this time wasn't quite so great. We couldn't figure out how to turn the telly on. So, after clawing out from under the duvet like one of the living dead, I eventually flopped back down to sleep whilst Ruairí went to watch it on his iPad in the kitchen. Apparently, Wales won. Off to google the England score in a minute.

Today my wonderful time in Edinburgh draws to a close. Later, I drive for Glasgow. Off to see another really good friend of mine, Tas. She is an absolutely amazing artist.

Black and white butterfly design.

I'm hoping to get some of her work on my website at some point. Or you can contact her through Facebook. Just staying one night before heading back down South, but can't wait to see her.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Edinburgh Part IV

Smoked salmon and cream cheese for breakfast. Could anything be finer?

Went to The Cameo on Wednesday with my friend Laetitia. Like The Film House, it's one of Edinburgh's quirkier entertainment venues. The main screen is a converted theatre surrounded by a proscenium arch. Huge place, and very atmospheric.

We went to see Melancholia. Despite its 7.7 IMDB rating, I'm afraid I'm more inclined to go with the harsher critics on this one. Really wasn't that enamoured. The choice of using the Blair Witch wobblecam method of shooting led to several people leaving in the first few minutes, I suspect to be sick. I'm usually okay with it, but I did find myself staring at the ceiling until my stomach settled down. This was a shame, as there was some beautiful imagery, and a starlit cast (Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kiefer Sutherland and John Hurt to name but a few) - to lose viewers for the sake of motion sickness seems a waste.

Here's a fairly balanced review. It is highly reminiscent of The Tree of Life, and I suspect that we'll see a lot more like this as an impressionist cinematic phase emerges. My main reading of Melancholia was that you're more likely to be mentally well adjusted to the total inhalation of the world if you're clinically depressed to begin with. Normally well-adjusted people will probably fly off their hinges.

Whether that concept really required two and a half hours to explore is open to debate. As the review says:

The problem with Melancholia is that each of these characters is so entrenched in their particular outlook that it becomes difficult to relate to any of them...

And, for that reason, it does become a bit of a challenge to care. I'm all for experimental and alternative cinema. However, directors themselves must be aware that, if you're going down that route, you're after a niche market. On this occasion, it wasn't a niche that I fitted into.

Still, there's nothing like surviving a questionable movie to bond you over a drink in the pub afterwards. It did provide a few giggles.

Tonight, our friend Ruairí is arriving from Dublin. Haven't seen him since the start of the year, so very excited. The picture above is from January when he last visited. We had a fondue party and learned to make the perfect Irish coffee. Much fun had by all:

Fondue for all!

And other nommy stuff.

My chocolate box hat.
All the rage after a few Irish coffees.

After dinner entertainment.
The tale of one rabbit's fight to overcome alcoholism.
'VSO RVs Rock'
Indeed they do, Laetitia. Thank you.
January view from the kitchen.

I leave you with pictures of Rosslyn Chappel, which features heavily in Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code. It's very near Edinburgh. Sadly you're not supposed to take photos inside, but there are around 110 Green Men in there, and it is extremely beautiful. If you get the chance, it's worth a visit. 

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Edinburgh Part III

Well, so much for the heatwave! Gales are howling between the houses once again, reclaiming Edinburgh's title of 'The Windy City' (and no, that has nothing to do with our curry at In Delhi).

Actually, the wind, rain, oceans and mountains are all part of our ever changing landscape (tenuous link coming up) as I discovered when I visited Our Dynamic Earth experience on Monday.

There aren't that many decent trailers for it, but this gives an idea:

It's well worth a visit. It's set out like a time machine, and you travel back through history in a capsule until you're surrounded by stars - very pretty. It opens out on the Big Bang. You go through a succession of temperature controlled rooms, like the volcano experience where the ground actually shakes. It's extremely well thought out. Might be a bit scary for very young children, but it's hugely interactive.

Then you progress through the stages of evolution and climate development, including a real iceberg, to see a show in their Dome at the end. The Dome was great. A film about astronauts and space travel projected across the ceiling.

Spent most of yesterday concentrating on the second edit of my second novel, Georg[i]e, which should be out later this year. My friend's home is a beautiful place to sit and write. Very unusual in that she inherited chandeliers with it:


She also has a wonderful eye for interior deco.

Believe it or not, the black and white swirly picture in the centre is from Rwanda, and traditionally made from cow dung!

I do love being here. There's always something pleasing to look at. 

Going to try and get a little more editing done, then off to the movies tonight. First time I've ever taken advantage of 'Orange Wednesday'. If you're on the Orange phone network and call 241 (as in two-for-one), you get a text that allows you two cinema tickets for the price of one. Quite nifty.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Edinburgh Part II

Yesterday we went to see the David Mach Precious Light exhibition at the City Art Centre.

Edinburgh's City Art Centre

Earlier in the year, Gallery Pangolin held an exhibition at Gloucester Cathedral, which was amazing. One of the first things you saw on entering the cathedral was a giant sculpture of a man on a crucifix with pins coming out of him. I didn't realise at the time, but that was a David Mach.

He is absolutely outstanding. He has done a modern-day retelling of the bible in collage. It's hard to explain, but if you get the chance - go. It's truly spectacular and thought-provoking. If you Google Image 'David Mach', you get a sense of the sort of things he does.

Another thing he's become renowned for is making sculptured heads out of matchsticks, then setting fire to them.

We followed up the exhibition with a lovely meal at In Delhi, which is a gorgeous little place that does the best mango lassi in the world.

Mango lassi at In Delhi
Inside In Delhi (click to enlarge)

We've also been doing some cooking ourselves. During our Tarot marathon, we made pasta with nibbles from Westmorland Farm Shop which is on the M6 as you come through Cumbria. It's a great place and I stopped off on my way up.


Busy in the kitchen.
Continuing the fun and frolics in Edinburgh. Further updates soon.

This post also goes out to our good friends Jo & Pierre, who last week welcomed their daughter, Zuba, into the world. Her name is Kinyarwanda for 'sun'. We're sure she's going to be a little ray of light.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Edinburgh Part I

Prophecies of 2012 may indeed be true.

Look well, dear readers, for this is a sight you are unlikely to see again in your lifetime.

It's the sun.

In Edinburgh.

I kid you not. When I drove up here last Wednesday, it was 22°c and not a cloud in the sky! Certainly thwarted the Cloud Appreciation Society's anti 'blue-sky thinking' campaign. A mockery, indeed. By Friday it hit 24°c. Unheard of!

My friend and I avoided its searing rays by hiding away in The Film House. We watching a very strange Spanish film starring Antonio Banderas, called The Skin I Live In (La piel que habito). Even though you know that he is Spanish, it's still strange to see him acting in Spanish. But the film was very good - an entertaining couple of hours.

I always have a lovely time here. Other discoveries include:

Buckyballs. The most infuriatingly addictive invention. Tiny, magnetic ball bearings that you fiddle with until your fingers get sore. Above are two of my attempts. We stick them to the metal chandelier when we're done, then take it in turns trying new patterns. We've just about cracked 'the cube', which involves making six rings of twelve balls each, then aligning them perfectly and squeezing. It's probably the simplest trick, but we're working up to this:

Also had a lot of fun learning to play Tarot. I always associated this with reading the future, but it's actually a card game played in France. It's a bit like Whist, with a lot of rules. The deck is lovely:

French Tarot Deck

There are four court cards: King, Queen, Cavalier and Valet. Then twenty-one trump cards (top right), two of which, along with 'L'Excuse', are special cards called 'bout' (boo) or 'oudler' (oodler). Then the standard suits in order. We've had a lot of fun playing this with our friend Laetitia.

Finally, I've been introduced to the joy that is crème de marrons (chestnut puree). It's served in tiny glasses, topped with cream, as a really sweet dessert. Or, as I like to call it - breakfast.

Chestnut Puree

Nom nom nom...

I leave you with a video from YouTube, which made us chuckle: