Saturday, July 30, 2005

Mixed Feelings

The Stepson has gone back to spend some time with his mother and some time on holiday, so we won't see him again until the middle of August. We both really, really miss him. With one exception.... now he's gone at least we can read The Times on the day it comes out, rather than constantly looking for it because he's nicked it to do the Su Doku.

Thought of the Day

In absence of clearly defined goals, we become strangely loyal to performing daily acts of trivia.

-- Unknown

Thursday, July 28, 2005

The Proms

Following my last posting Cop Car asked what are the Proms. So, here follows the history lesson, .

A Prom means a Promenade Concert, or a concert where part of the audience stands in a "promenade" area of the hall. Promenaders have two choices of where to stand: either in the Arena, the floor of the hall and directly in front of the orchestra (where many consider this the best position in the hall) or high up in the Gallery where the sound just drifts up to you. Today there are over 1,000 standing places available at each and every Prom. The Promenaders enjoy the music at vastly reduced prices, this year they pay just £4 per concert.

The Proms started in 1885 when the manager of the newly built Queen's Hall in London, which was used for symphony orchestra concerts, decided that he wanted to try to reach a wider audience by offering more popular programmes, adopting a less formal promenade arrangement and keeping ticket prices low. He asked Henry Wood, an organist, accompanist, vocal coach and conductor of choirs, orchestras and amateur opera companies, to be the conductor of the first series of promenade concerts. That first season was followed by more seasons, and seasons have continued annually from then to now. After May 1941, when a Luftwaffe bombardment gutted the Queen's Hall the Proms moved from the Queens Hall to its current venue, the Royal Albert Hall, where it has remained ever since. The BBC took over the responsibility for the Proms in the early 1930s and has done since then, with the exception of a couple of years during the last war (Sir Henry Wood, as he was by then known, still managed to keep the concerts going even without the BBC).

The seasons, which run from mid July to mid-September with at least one concert every single evening, now cover a remarkable range of music and with a huge range of internationally known orchestras, soloists and composers. Many new works are premiered at the Proms each year. The last few years have seen the Proms season being developed with Proms in the Park, Proms Chamber Music, Proms Lectures and Proms celebrating music from the worlds of jazz (there was a wonderful late night one last year with Wynton Marsalis hading up an excellent jazz orchestra last year), film and stage musicals. Plus Poetry Proms at the Serpentine Gallery and 'Composer Portraits' at the Royal College of Music alongside the ever-expanding series of Pre-Prom talks at the Royal Albert Hall. The wonderful thing, for those like the Husband and I who just cannot afford to travel to London to go to the Proms many, many times each season is that every single Proms concert is broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and a fair number of concerts are televised as well.

There you are, and I haven’t even mentioned yet the Last Night of the Proms a splendiferous mixture of music and celebration, when everyone lets their hair down and when, in addition to other pieces of music, there are musical regulars like the Elgar Pomp and Circumstance March No 1 and Jerusalem and the audience sings like mad and flags are waved. The Last Night is televised all over the world and many in other countries may have seen it.

For more about the Proms you can go here and here.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Three Days

I’ve just had three days when I’ve been too busy to get anywhere near this blog, or anywhere else on the web. Life has taken the forefront and as blogging must always take second place to living I have no guilt in saying so.

Saturday was the Husband’s birthday and so for lunch we got together with the Stepson and Stepdaughter and went to a local Chinese restaurant. The restaurant is somewhat upmarket compared to most Chinese restaurants and the food and the service were both excellent. Afterwards the Stepdaughter went off for the rest of the day to revise for some examinations while we all set off for London and the Proms. It always takes quite a while to get to the Royal Albert Hall when all the trains are working properly and with so many underground lines out of action or seriously disrupted at the moment it took ages to get there. However we arrived eventually and because we set out early we were in good time for the concert.

It was quite a popular programme with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Gerard Schwartz. The first half was Mendelssohn’s “Hebrides” Overture followed by the Bruch Violin Concerto No 1 in G minor. Both were played well and enjoyable, although I think I would have preferred them to be played with a bit more verve. All the “oomph” however was reserved for Vaughan Williams “A Sea Symphony” which the second half of the programme and wonderful. In addition to the orchestra there were two choirs totalling more than 200 people singing and giving all that they could give as well as a soprano (Janice Watson), a baritone (Dwayne Croft) and the newly refurbished organ which managed the not easy task of being heard and taking a significant role in the symphony without drowning out everybody else. Altogether it was an excellent concert and well worth all the trouble of getting there.

It is strange that no other member of my birth family has the same love for music as I do. When I was young I used to commandeer the radio to listen to broadcast concerts and as soon as I was 16 years old and at work I started to go up to London for concerts, especially the Proms, although I also used to go frequently to the Royal Festival Hal (I was living in Surrey at the time and so it was easy to get to the RFH). I am afraid that I do not necessarily agree with the frequently observed comment that the atmosphere at the Proms is unlike any other. With the exception of the Last Night of the Proms the feeling of anticipation in any concert is the same, absolutely magic. (Having said that at normal concerts you don’t get members of the audience bellowing out to the rest of the audience of collections they are making for charity.)

When the Husband and I both took early retirement last year we realised that we would have to pull our horns in over some expenditure and we decided that we would have to severely reduce the number of concerts that we go to. This is not the sacrifice it might seem because we can listen to the radio through the (excellent) Hi-Fi and the Husband is a collector of CDs (over 3,000 of classical music plus about a thousand of rock/film soundtracks and popular music). Still it is nice to go to a good concert occasionally.

Sunday was a family day. Both the Stepson and Stepdaughter came around for the day and a good time was had by all. I am very lucky that I get on so well with then. You hear horrible stories about second wives not getting on with the children of the first marriage but I have been very, very lucky in that way.

Monday morning I spent trying to work out why none of my e-mails were being downloaded to my computer from the Inbox at my ISP’s website. By the time I sorted that out it was time to go out with the Stepdaughter to the cinema. We saw “The War of the Worlds” which was, to be frank, better than I expected. As I read the book at quite an early age (H G Wells based it all around where I was brought up and so I enjoyed finding all the landmarks I knew in the book) I was a bit concerned that I would not enjoy the film. I find that if I watch a TV or film adaptation of a book I’ve read I often find that the interpretation just does not match up to the pictures I have in my mind of the characters or what happens. In this case, however, I was able to disassociate my mind from the book entirely and enjoy the film quite a lot. (Tom Cruse was all right, although I thought both of the kids in the film were terrible.) It was daft but enjoyable.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Thought of the Day

If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.

by Marcus Aurelius (AD 121 - 180)

Not a good day today. Nothing to do with the London bombs, just things to do with members of the family. People really have the power to hurt you, if you let them. So I dug out my copy of the Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, the Empoeror of Rome at the zenth of its power and expansion. His words help me.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

ICE is NOT a Hoax!

Last Wednesday I mentioned a suggestion that I had seen on the Net that the letters ICE, which stands for "In Case of Emergency", should be added to the list of contacts in your mobile phone address book together with the phone number of the person we would like to be called if necessary. I mentioned at the time that I thought it a very good idea and subsequently added ICE to my own mobile phone with the Husband's mobile phone number.

Today I have seen on the Net a mention that the ICE campaign is a hoax and a suggestion that by adding ICE to your mobile phone you are opening up your mobile to a new phone-based virus which will be sent to everyone in your mobile phone's address book. However, this suggestion that it is a hoax is a hoax in its own right. The whole concept of ICE is real and is of value.

To see the whole subject set out in detail see Snopes which, of course, is the place to go whenever you want to check whether a story is real or not.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

If I had my life to live over

I would have gone to bed when I was sick instead of pretending the earth would go into a holding pattern if I weren't there for the day.

I would have burned the pink candle sculpted like a rose before it melted in storage.

I would have talked less and listened more.

I would have invited friends over to dinner even if the carpet was stained, or the sofa faded.

I would have eaten the popcorn in the 'good' living room and worried much less about the dirt when someone wanted to light a fire in the fireplace.

I would have taken the time to listen to my grandfather ramble about his youth.

I would have shared more of the responsibility carried by my husband.

I would never have insisted the car windows be rolled up on a summer day because my hair had just been teased and sprayed.

I would have sat on the lawn with my grass stains.

I would have cried and laughed less while watching television and more while watching life.

I would never have bought anything just because it was practical, wouldn't show soil, or was guaranteed to last a lifetime.

Instead of wishing away nine months of pregnancy, I'd have cherished every moment and realized that the wonderment growing inside me was the only chance in life to assist God in a miracle.

When my kids kissed me impetuously, I would never have said, "Later. Now go get washed up for dinner." There would have been more "I love you's." More "I'm sorry's."

But mostly, given another shot at life, I would seize every minute...look at it and really see it… live it…and never give it back

by Erma Bombeck
(Written after she found out she was dying from cancer).

Friday, July 15, 2005

Impressionism Abroad, Boston and French Painting

It was, perhaps, a little unwise to go to an art exhibition when the pupils of my eyes were distended and so that I could not see everything as normal. But I had a routine hospital check-up in the morning (to check my glaucoma hadn’t changed at all – it had not) and before the day it had made sense to me to combine the hospital visit with something pleasant, like a visit to an exhibition in the afternoon. So I chose to go to the exhibition “Impressionism Abroad, Boston and French Painting” in the Jillian and Arthur M Sackler Wing of the Royal Academy of Arts in Piccadilly, which the Husband and I visited yesterday afternoon. In actual fact I was able to see all the pictures without any difficulty at all. It was just the small plaques beside the pictures with the names of who had donated them that I had difficulty in reading.

Until yesterday I was unaware of the relationship between French and American art during the 19th Century. Many Bostonians developed an enthusiasm for collecting modern art from French and American painters. From the 1840s Bostonians were collecting works from the Barbizon school of painters who were interested in trying to capture everyday rural scenes, together with Impressionist paintings which shared several similarities of subject matter and approach. The Bostonians' fascination in this type of art eventually acted as a catalyst for the setting up of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts in about 1870. I believe that virtually all the paintings on display had been leant by the Museum.

I have to admit that I was very impressed (no pun intended) by this exhibition. In just three rooms it had some of the most lovely landscapes and rural scenes that I had seen for a long time. The French paintings were incredible – I was staggered to see twelve Monets (most of them, like the waterlillies and a picture of his wife sewing with a child at her feet, very famous and often seen in reproduction), plus paintings by Degas, Manet and some wonderful Corots. These French paintings were counterpointed by paintings by American artists from the same period. Many of their names and work I had not come across before but many of their paintings gave me real pleasure to look at.

Interestingly I can remember, about a year ago going to an exhibition of works by Raphael at the National Gallery, where everyone was clustering close to the actual pictures to see every small detail. However, with this exhibition yesterday everyone was standing back from each painting, to get the best overall view of the work.

When I had finished looking around I looked in the gallery shop at a book published to go with the exhibition. It had reproductions of all the paintings on show. However, having looked at the vibrancy of the originals the reproductions just looked dead and uninteresting.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005


I have seen the following several times on the Net and think it could be a sensible thing to do. Just doing my bit to disseminate the information:
East Anglian Ambulance Service have launched a national "In case of Emergency ( ICE ) " campaign withthe support of Falklands war hero Simon Weston.The idea is that you store the word " I C E " in your mobile phone address book, and against it enter the number of the person you would want to be contacted"In Case of Emergency". In an emergency situation ambulance and hospital staff will then be able to quickly find out who your next of kin are and be able to contact them. It's so simple that everyone can do it. Please do.
For more than one contact name ICE1, ICE2, ICE3 etc.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

A Meme

I'm not sure what a Meme is but I've stolen this from Buffy's blog who in turn copied it from Cop Car’s blog, who got it from BogieBlog, who got it from Jim at Parkway Rest Stop.

What I was doing fifty years ago: 4 years old and being passed from relative to relative for some months while my mother was having an extended stay in hospital and my father..., well at that time men just didn't look after young children.

What I was doing twenty-five years ago: Commuting from Woking to London to work in an office outside Waterloo Station. Living with my parents. Knitting, crocheting, embroidering reading and sewing for relaxation.

What I was doing twenty years ago: Still working for the same employer in London. Moved into my own flat in a village the next station to Woking. Lots more craftwork, including my knitting machine.

What I was doing fifteen years ago: Moved to another employer in London in the same line of business. Still in the same flat and doing the same craftwork. Going to Dorset regularly to visit parents.

What I was doing ten years ago: Married and moved to Essex, having acquired two wonderful stepkids in the process (aged 6 and 10 when I married their Dad 12 years ago). In same job but commute to London is more complicated. Still going to Dorset to see parents. Craftwork in the cracks, although the knitting machine got packed up and put away.

5 years ago: More of the same. Father has cancer so more visits to Dorset.
Working towards MCIPS.

1 year ago: I've achieved my MCIPS, can't say it's made much difference to the work I was doing, just gave me more status. Just told I could have Early Retirement from work. Highly delighted as I couldn't stand the commute to London any more. Joy tempered by the asthma I'd developed in the February which is causing a lot of problems. Much support from Husband and Stepkids. Father has died and mother has gone into a nursing home. Now I am visiting Wales to see her.

Yesterday: Took a 10 minute walk into town to buy a few groceries we needed, plus 2 x 100grm balls baby yarn to crochet more baby blankets for charity. Got very puffed indeed and felt real chest pains when I breathed. Got home (slowly) and took it very, very easy the rest of the day (the asthma feels better after a good nights sleep and lots of Ventolin).

5 locations I would like to run away to: the English countryside, the seaside, Tuscany, a big and peaceful park, a lake or pond where I can sit in peace and watch the plants and insects

5 bad habits I have: Untidiness, procrastination, too many nibbles (especially when I am not really hungry), putting off writing to my friends and family, reading or on the computer when I should be doing the housework.

5 things I like doing: Knitting, crochet, cooking, reading, going to the cinema.

5 things I would never wear: Animal fur, fake leopardskin anything, a tattoo, culottes, fluffy mules.

5 TV shows I like: Doctor Who (the new series), New Tricks, X-Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Northern Exposure

6 Biggest joys of the moment: The Husband, both Stepkids, the cats, my craftwork, the English countryside, my friends online.

3 Favorite toys: My computer, my books, my crafting equipment.

Rather than send this to five people I offer it to anyone who wishes to copy and run with it. My thanks to Buffy, Cop Car, Bogie and Jim from Parkway Rest Stop for sharing it.

Pesto Alla Genovese

3-4 large handfuls fresh basil (at least 100g)
1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped
sea salt
1 tablespoon pine nuts
2 tablespoons Parmigiano Reggiano, freshly grated
3 tblsps Pecorino Romano, freshly grated
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Pick the basil leaves from the stalks, discarding any leaves that are bruised or damaged.
Put the garlic, a pinch of salt and some of the torn up basil leaves in a mortar (the rough salt provides some friction needed to grind up the leaves). Use the pestle, adding more leaves to the mortar until they are all ground down.
Add the pine nuts and the two cheeses. Lastly add enough oil to make a thick consistency. Adjust the seasoning if necessary.
Wonderful with drained and hot cooked pasta, just toss well with a fork and spoon.

To Do Lists

I have just been listening to an amusing and entertaining BBC Radio 3 programme about To Do lists (available here, until next Saturday) and now find myself musing about the whole subject of To Do lists. I have found over the years that while theoretically I am very much in favour of the idea of To Do lists, however, I find that in real life I can never keep one of the damn things going for more than a few days. I cannot make my mind up if that is because I lack in self-discipline or whether I just have difficulty finding an efficient way of managing them once created. I work on the principle that there is no value in including those things I have to do every day (get up, meditate, feed the cats, do my morning inhaler, see what e-mails have arrived overnight, have breakfast, wash, get dressed and so on and so forth as the day progresses) as I just do them all by habit. If it is something I definitely know has to be done within the next day or two or life will become difficult (i.e. remembering to wash clothes, etc) I just find myself remembering it and doing on a relevant day. Everything else, which may or may not need doing just pops up in my mind and I just get on with it when it seems appropriate to do so. I have tried to keep a To Do list of such things and I find that after a couple of days it just gets buried and forgotten and when I finally look at it, some months ago it is either completely out of date or I can see that I managed to do everything essential on the page. Then there is the point that if the list is on paper it gets very untidy when a few items have been crossed out but the rest remain there, still to be done and rewriting the list just takes valuable time when I could have been doing something on my To Do list. When I was commuting to work every day I had my PDA (a Palm), an absolutely invaluable piece of equipment which enabled me to download and to read my e-mails while on the train, to read e-books and also various other facilities, including a To Do list. I tried using that electronic To Do list many times but rarely remembered even to open it daily and to check what was to be done (work things were, of course, on my work computer where I could see them and remember them). Now I have retired I find that I rarely even look at my PDA – everything is either on my p.c. or somewhere in the house.

I do have a list of things I’d like to do sometime in the future. These include: start sewing again, learn Italian, finish some of the many knitting projects half done and unfinished buried in a cupboard, find some volunteer work to do, etc, etc….. Perhaps I should start a special To Do list, just for these.

Friday, July 08, 2005

How to cheer yourself up

After something distressing or disturbing, or both, it helps to get yourself back on an emotional even keel. Everyone will have their own way of doing it but I can only describe my own way.

The first thing I did was to get back to my usual routines of the day. Then as the evening wore on I chose a film to watch, to take my mind completely off the subject. Something not challenging, lighthearted and also something I knew well so no surprises. So, I chose a Carry On film, which I always like - totally daft, made on a shoestring and very enjoyable. I chose "Carry on Screaming", one of the best of the bunch and a wonderful send-up of the Hammer Horror films. Then I went to bed with Terry Pratchett, or more precisely one of his books which I have read many times before. I love his writing and have virtually all of his books (he is one of very few writers whose books I buy in hardabck, rather than waiting for the paperback to come out). I chose "Guards, Guards", absolutely excellent on several levels and the first to feature my favourite Pratchett character, Sam Vimes.

Then I went to sleep in the knowledge that tomorrow would be a better day. [It would have been an undisturbed night if it was not for Nimrod the Mighty Hunter who in the early hours of the morning bellowed outside the bedroom door until I woke up and came out to congratulate him on the bird he had caught and to dispose of the body (unusual - he normally does not kill them, perhaps it died of fright). Oh well, life goes on ~grin~]

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Today - a personal view

At about 9.15 this morning the telephone rang. It was the Stepdaughter who said that she had managed to get to work but that something major had clearly happened at Liverpool Street Station, although she did not know what. The Husband and I turned on Sky News and sat transfixed for most of the day. Very little news at first but as time went by it became clear that it was bomb explosions. Exactly what had happened slowly filtered through. At the time of writing there are 37 dead and hundreds injured, some of whom are very seriously hurt. As the day wore on exactly it also became clear that there was no Underground service at all, no buses in Zone 1 and all the main line stations closed. So we began to be worried exactly how people would be able to get home: millions commute to London for work every day. About 3.00 the Stepdaughter rang to say that her office had turned everyone out at about 11.00 this morning (as it is an insurance company situated close to both Lloyds of London and the Gherkin it could be a real target for terrorists) and she was having real difficulty getting home. She had managed to get the last train out of Fenchurch Street to Barking but had no way of getting from there to home. We told her to get a taxi to Gants Hill and we drove up the A12 and managed to pick her up and bring her home.

For us this might be described as a minor thing, we were not immediately affected at all and just watching everything on TV. Nevertheless I found the whole thing very disquieting. I recognised every scene of devastation shown on television as they all took place in parts of London I knew very well indeed. Then there was the fact that until I took early retirement last September I travelled on one of the tube trains out of Liverpool St station that was bombed today. Also Thursday of next week I have to go up to London (a hospital appointment followed by a visit to an exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts) and will probably be getting that tube train.

The worse thing, however, is how it took me back to London 30 years ago when the IRA was doing its best to bomb parts of England and its people and to disrupt everything. I can well remember all the train and tube journeys which were severely disrupted – there was one tube journey when we were turfed off into a part of London I didn’t know at all and I found myself walking down deserted streets desperately trying to find a landmark I recognised while aware that I may be walking into real danger. I’ve never forgotten what that felt like, nor will the many, many people who have been doing the same today, desperately trying to find shelter or the way home. I also learnt then an unconscious skill that has never yet left me, to look out for potential hazards that may be bombs – even today if I see an unattended package a thought comes to mind that it could be dangerous. Many people were killed by the IRA then and even more injured or otherwise affected. One woman who used to work for me was in Victoria Railway Station when the IRA bomb went off there. She wasn’t physically injured but was never ever the same either emotionally or mentally – just a middle aged clerical worker who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Still, we will get over this and get on with life. Anything less would be to give into the terrorists.

Oh Yes!

Cheese - milk's leap toward immortality
By Clifton Fadiman

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Weird News Day

I don't know why but all sorts of odd things are going on today and it's not April 1st. These include the news that the film Snow White which is to be remade and transformed by Disney into a martial arts epic with Shaolin monks replacing the seven dwarves. Then there is the insurance company going to insure swimmers against attacks by the Loch Ness Monster. Then there is the poor woman desperately looking for her 70 year old turtle which attacks drainpipes.

About the only ordinary thing going on is that our relationship with our nearest neighbour France is at its usual level .

Thought of the Day

My philosophy is that not only are you responsible for your life, but doing the best at this moment puts you in the best place for the next moment.

from Oprah Winfrey

From Motivational Quotes of the Day

Friday, July 01, 2005

We spend HOW much on lawns

I see from today's edition of the Telegraph that the British spent £392 million last year on their lawns. This sum flabbergasts me. But then I have no idea just how much we spend altogether on our gardens and indoor houseplants. I suspect that it is much more than this.

Looking after a lawn so that it is a pristine piece of greensward tends to be a bloke thing. There does tend to be a certain type of man who works on his lawn but does not have anything to do with any other part of his garden, leaving that to his wife. I well remember the character in "Blott on the Landscape" who was an absolute bore about caring for his lawn and had no other subject of conversation.

I have to admit that our own lawn is a bit of a disgrace, full of clover and with quite a few bumps in it. The Husband and I prefer working on the flower beds to obsessing on our lawn.