Saturday, 31 December 2011

Tinker tailor soldier ... WHAT?!

The title probably says all it needs to. I went to see the new Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

Result? I have precisely no clue what happened. Don't get me wrong. I enjoyed it. It was well-made and the acting was great. But could I tell you the plot? Not a hope.

Hmmm, given that I drafted this post months ago, I now have even less idea what happened than I did before. I think I read the book about 25 years ago. I don't remember being quite as baffled but maybe I was and I just finished it because I hate to give up on a book.

So if anyone can actually explain the plot to me, go for it!

Shopaholics baffle me

In October, I went clothes shopping twice. Anyone who knows me will know that that pretty much doubles the total number of clothes shopping trips I've ever made.

Put simply, I hate every miserable, depressing, pointless, expensive, soul-destroying minute of it.

I don't do clothes. OK, I wear them! Let's face it, the alternative doesn't bear thinking about but I can't and don't get excited about them.

They're a necessity, like food or having a shower.

At the end of October, I went clothes shopping with someone else, for them. She was looking for a dress for her wedding - not a wedding dress, you understand, just something nice to wear. I have no idea why I was asked to go along but more to the point, no idea why I said yes. I could have predicted how it would go. And go it did. Within twenty minutes, I was bored stiff. We'd been to precisely one departement store so far and picked up loads of dresses, skirt suits etc etc. A couple of things had even been tried on and dismissed. I had a sinking feeling.

To be fair, I don't think anyone's heart was in it. The bride had already said that if she didn't find anything, she had something already in the wardrobe which would do the job so I guess there wasn't really much impetus.

Because I don't go clothes shopping, I really didn't know what a baffling array of styles, colours, sizes there were. Shops didn't seem to be laid out in any discernible logical order. Why not put all the dresses together? All the trousers? Etc. Oh no, they're all mixed up into party, formal, office, informal, casual, blah blah blah. All the other people in the shops seemed to be genuinely enjoying themselves despite the fact that as far as I could tell, their trip would involve several hours of traipsing, trying on and then some serious damage to their bank accounts.

It is absolutely no fault of the bride in question that I hated the entire experience and I'm sure she knows that.

It just confirmed my long-held belief that shopping and I were just never destined to be friends.

PS - I feel obliged to point out that she didn't buy anything in the end!!!

Sunday, 28 August 2011

No, I haven't found Jesus...

...I didn't know he was lost.

So while I was in Nottingham, at Wollaton Hall café (see previous blog post), I got chatting. There I was, minding my own business, polishing off my jacket potato and veggie chilli, alone, when a voice from the next table said "Was that good?" "Absolutely delicious", I said, looking up at an elderly man in a beige suit, white socks, pale slip-on shoes and with very few teeth. "And what was it?" he asked. "Veggie chilli and a jacket potato" I replied, in a way that I hoped made it clear that I wasn't really in the mood for idle chit-chat (I had a blog to draft, after all).

Undeterred, he went on with the small talk and within a few minutes of perfectly pleasant chat, I'd discovered that he lives locally, comes to the park every day, has a niece who lives in Hove, thought I was either Australian or from Cambridgeshire (?!), had been a mathematician, retired at 52, and had written three books since retiring. Innocently, I asked "Oh, what were the books?" "Funnily enough, I have one here", he said, pulling a small white book from his equally white jacket pocket. I glanced at the cover, couldn't work out what it was, so I flicked through a few pages and was none the wiser. I saw poems, personal memories, fables and a random list of chapter titles with no discernible connection. I made a few suitable noises of appreciation and handed it back. He started to talk about chaos theory and how mathematicians try to make sense of everything around them, trying to make order out of chaos, he mentioned the butterfly effect and various other concepts I'm relatively familiar with.

And then it came - "You see, as a mathematician, I see life as a journey, a logical progression, from questions to the final answer, from ignorance to knowledge and that only comes when we understand God and Jesus and the real love which follows." My heart sank. Don't get me wrong, I have no problem with religion - when it's kept private but I could see where this was going. He continued for a good four or five minutes while I shuffled my feet and nodded politely, until he reached "Don't you see? You'll finally be complete and free when you love Jesus." I couldn't take any more so I was quite diplomatic (for me!) and said "Well, of course, everyone's entitled to their own opinion and no-one actually knows who, if anyone, is right. But I'm an atheist, I feel perfectly complete and free already thank you, and I personally disagree with your views on the subject." Unsurprisingly, he ploughed on, not aggressively and not exactly preaching, but not letting the subject go either. I picked up my bag, put on my jacket and received a rather convenient text which gave me the perfect excuse to leave.

It was a shame - he'd seemed like an interesting person to talk to at the beginning but once the topic had headed to where he clearly wanted it to go, it was pointless. The subject wasn't going to change and he clearly wasn't prepared to listen to my views even though he thought it was perfectly acceptable to foist his on me. I really don't understand it - most religions preach tolerance and yet seem to be entirely intolerant of anyone who doesn't share their views. Personally, I'll never understand why anyone would want to live their life being told what to do by an invisible entity, a big book or some bloke claiming to be speaking for the invisible entity. Personal responsibility, people! Do what YOU believe is right and take the consequences if there are any! OK, I'm getting down off my soapbox now before I'm accused of foisting my views on anyone! ;-)

So, a potentially nice chat spoiled! What a shame.

What I did on my day out...

...near Nottingham.

Last Tuesday, having dropped Dade in central Nottingham for another photography training course, the day was my own. On the net, I'd seen a hall and deer park - Wollaton Hall - to the west of the city that looked pretty interesting. Having no map and a SatNav that failed to recognise the name of the park I was reduced to just heading west and hoping. Fifteen minutes later, I was there! I drove in to the park and immediately saw some deer but no sign of the huge house! It was free entry but you had to pay to park and being a disorganised soul, I had no change. I was about to head off in search of a cafe to get some, when a very nice man knocked on the car window and handed me his all day parking ticket. He'd only used it for half an hour!

The hall didn't open for another half an hour so I set off (in the rain) to find more deer. I spotted a big group and carefully circled them, keeping my distance, wary of the big males and their rather impressive antlers. I'd seen a sign saying it was calving season so I knew to be on my guard. Just as I'd almost completed my circuit, two more appeared from behind a clump of trees about twenty yards away from me. The only thing between them and the rest of the group was the patch of open ground I currently occupied! My brain said "Just keep walking" but my legs were yelling something very different. When they broke into a run, so did I (the most exercise I've had in a while!) Once the adrenaline kick had worn off, I at least managed to take a couple of pictures.

By then, the cafe was open so I hid from the rain with a cup of tea and let my heartrate return to normal. It's a cute cafe with the expected clientele - elderly couples, middle -aged people with their elderly parents and thankfully few kids, despite it still being the school holidays.

Finally it was time to hit the hall, which was rather odd. The house itself is very impressive - a slightly less Gothic version of Gormenghast. Inside was a "natural history museum". Hmm - I found myself rather bothered by the exhibits. The Tudor entrance hall was beautiful and from there I entered "The Bird Room" which contained stuffed birds of all sizes and descriptions, none of them very nice. Undeterred, I carried on into The Insect Room - not quite as disturbing but the trays of butterflies made me sad and the tarantula gave me the creeps! Then came The Wildlife Room. It was about as far from "life" as you can get. Stuffed with every mammal you can imagine, mostly big game and obviously hunted. I know it was a different time, blah blah blah, but the sight of zebra, lions, buffalo, giraffes and gorillas which had clearly been shot, stuffed and then bequeathed by some colonial old fart who thought there was nothing better in life than killing defenceless animals got the better of me in the end. It improved after that with the mineral, gemstone and fossil collection which was, as Stephen Fry would say, Quite Interesting. And that was that for the house. It's a huge property but the museum part only takes up a small part of two floors.

The very wet morning had given way to a sunny afternoon so I wandered out in search of the gardens, camelia lawn and greenhouse, all of which were very pretty as well as nice and quiet. The greenhouse was a little odd - I can only assume that it had been used to grow something which had already flowered as it simply held a couple of dozen huge green bushes! The camelias smelt gorgeous though.

My tum told me it was time for lunch so I went back to the cafe and treated myself to a jacket potato with veggie chilli. It was absolutely delicious, huge and a bargain at £4.50.

As I finished eating, I started chatting to an elderly guy at the next table but soon regretted it when it turned into an attempt at religious conversion, but I think that's for another blog post. After lunch, I went for a long walk through the deer park, ending up at the lake where I watched a very amusing duck-feeding display by three seemingly "hard as nails" blokes who were all reduced to gibbering wrecks when the ducks came at them en masse having spotted the bread they were carrying! I found a comfy bench and read my book by a secluded bit of the lake until the sun went in and my bum went numb. By then, Dade had finished his training and it was time to pick him up, find some dinner and start the drive home.

All in all, it was a lovely place to spend a day, great value with only paying £4 for parking (if you have to pay at all of course), a tasty reasonably-priced cafe and plenty to do. If you're in the Nottingham area at any point, I can highly recommend it.

All my pictures of the day are HERE. Apologies for the quality - all taken on my iPhone.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Please do not feed the animal

I am fat. Oh yes, fat. I know it's true. You know it's true. My entire life I've had a propensity to carrying extra weight (a family trait) and for years I've yo-yoed between 9 stone and 13 stone. Breaking point for me came in April 2007 when I looked at a photo of myself and just thought "Yuk". It was vile. Horrendous. Humongous.

A switch in my brain activated and I successfully lost nearly two stone in the next six months. I did it slowly and sensibly, with the help of nothing more than a free website ( and a daily one-hour walk along the seafront (and a lot of support from Andy). No stupid "you can't have this, you can't have that, potatoes are bad" diets, no pills, no quick fixes and no expensive gym membership!

So when I headed off to Spain I was a healthy 11st 2lbs and I managed (somehow!) to keep it off until I came back. Given the obscene amounts of alcohol and fried food I ate in Madrid, that's a miracle but nonetheless, it's true.

But now a lot of it has crept back on. That really shouldn't have come as a surprise to me. I know exactly how it's happened. Far too much food, definitely far too much alcohol and pretty much no activity that could really come close to being considered exercise. I have excuse after excuse - my back/leg don't allow me to exercise properly; I like socialising; I really want a couple of glasses of wine every day when I get in from work. Blah blah blah. And it's all bollocks. I like food, I'm greedy and I have very little willpower. That's the upshot.

But this morning when I strained to see past my jiggly tummy to see what the scales said, that switch in brain was flicked again. I promised myself back in 2007 that I would never go back over a certain weight and I have. So it's back to the website, back to sensible portions of healthier food (whilst not actually cutting anything out altogether because I believe self-deprivation always backfires) and a determination to go for a walk every day, rain or shine, knackered from work or not. If it means I have to turn down a few drinks/meal invites for a little while while I retrain my brain, then so be it.

My friends and family are, as always, lovely and say "No, you're not fat, you're fine" etc etc. I'm not suggesting that they're lying or that they're just being nice but I know when I'm comfortable and happy and it's not now. Time for action.

Blue skies and the blues

After nearly three years, I finally made it back to lovely Magnac-Laval and Cathy's gorgeous holiday home (l'Etoile de Mer).

We set off from Hove at 7pm Friday evening, got the 9pm shuttle and commenced the long drive down to the Limousin. Despite my best efforts to stay awake, I'm ashamed to say I nodded off rather a lot and Cathy did the vast majority of the 7hr 45 min drive. I think I only took over for about the last 2 hours! Being the last weekend in July, the big holiday getaway had started for the French so what is normally a practically deserted overnight drive, was more like mid-afternoon on the M25!

But just as dawn broke at shortly before 6am we pulled up outside the little house in the silence of the village. We unpacked as quietly as we could and then hit the sack for about 5 hours. We couldn't bear to waste any more of the holiday asleep though and were up and about by midday.

We headed to the local supermarket to stock up on the essentials for the weekend - wine, beer, cheese, vegetables etc and then wandered back to grab croissants and a baguette for later.  Imagine our surprise to find the little boulangerie shut on a Saturday afternoon for the first time we'd ever known. Fortunately, when it's shut, the other one about ten yards away and with bread from the same baker is open and they were happy to fulfil our brunch order! We spent the afternoon wandering around the village, catching up on events. Cathy had been there in May but because I'd been away for so long, I was interested to see what had changed. Some of the streets have been newly cobbled - well, cobbled down each edge and tarmac in the middle. A couple of roads have been blocked to traffic giving the tabac the opportunity to put tables and chairs outside for the first time. The council have also put up lots of wooden structures full of beautiful flowers so the place is looking very pretty (or rather, prettier than it already did). There's definitely more of a buzz in the village than there used to be - a combination of the influx of holiday-home owners (mostly Brits) and the fact that the bars now organise more events in the evenings to pull in customers.

Saturday evening brought the main event of the weekend - music by blues guitarist/singer Dave Thomas at L'Escapade bar in the village square. He's been playing for over 40 years and is a very well-respected musician in the UK and the USA but I'm guessing barely heard of in France. A good friend of his, Collette, a South African lady who Cathy knows well, had organised an 8-date tour around the Limousin for him and Saturday was only the second night. A good crowd had turned out on a beautiful balmy evening. Food and wine were flowing and once Dave got started, there was no stopping him. He's a fantastic musician and whilst I won't pretend that blues is my favourite genre, he put on a great show with a mixture of his own songs and covers, interspersed with little stories from his years as an entertainer. Collette and her husband Ron came to join us at our table, along with Bonnie, Dave's partner, an absolutely lovely lady. The evening flew by in a whirlwind of chat, drinks and a lot of laughing (not at the music, I hasten to add). At about half past midnight, most people headed off but we went into the bar just to settle our bill, only to start chatting to two girls we'd never seen before, Mel from Dubai and Joanne who lives just round the corner from the bar! Mel had to head home but Joanne invited us back to hers where we met her disturbingly silent French ex-husband who was babysitting and we drank some Pineau. We finally rolled home at 2.20am, knackered!!!

Sunday started as all Sunday should - with croissants beurres from the correct boulangerie on the corner! Then we hit the road. First was a splendid plant nursery/teashop in a tiny village where we drank beautifully presented teas and coffees and heard all about the incredibly early crop of soft fruits in France and were presented with a gigantic bag of cooking pears for free, because the owner had a glut of them and couldn't bear to see them go to waste! Then we moved on to the Lac de Mondon, a regular haunt. It's either a reservoir or a man-made lake (I can never remember which) near Cromac. It has a large grassy area, perfect for lazing in the sun and eating a picnic of baguette and Emmenthal, with lashings of greasy foreign crisps (as they are always referred to). From there we headed to Jouac, where Dave Thomas was playing again during the afternoon. We arrived at about 4 and he'd been on for about 3 hours already but he didn't quit til 6pm! He was very well received again. Despite our over-indulgence the night before, I somehow managed to down a large beer at about 5pm (thanks for driving, Cathy!) We dragged ourselves away from the fun to head home to make chick pea stew and get ready for a firework display we'd seen advertised, due to start at 11pm in a nearby village. Dinner duly scoffed, off we went to Dompierre les Eglises where we've been many times before and have even seen fireworks there in the past. We arrived about 10.45pm to a completely deserted village, not a soul to be seen, the huge number of cars that usually accompanies such an event conspicuous in their absence. Baffled, we drove from one end of the village to the other but nothing. Somewhat confused, we thought that just maybe we'd got the wrong village as there's another with a rather similar name. We shot off to the other village and arrived just a few minutes before 11pm but if anything it was quieter than the first. Bum! There was nothing left to do but head home. We were, however, quite determined to find out if we'd imagined the whole thing and we could remember where we'd seen the poster advertising it - on the outdoor noticeboard of the local supermarket. So at 11.30pm there we were, in a deserted supermarket carpark, headlights on full, staring at the poster which did indeed say "Fireworks - 23h - Sunday - Dompierre les Eglises". So at least we hadn't made it up. Just as we were about to pull away, headlights appeared behind us. Uh-oh, THE FUZZ! Or rather, the young gendarmes. Oops. Cathy looked like a rabbit caught in, well, caught in the headlights and I got out of the car to face the music. They didn't actually say anything, just looked expectantly at me. "Alors, je peux expliquer" I began. But could I? In French which, I hasten to add, I hadn't really spoken for the best part of three years! About seven minutes later, they seemed slightly confused but placated - further confused no doubt by my having said "Nous avons cherché le, um, le poster pour les feu d'artifices y esta aqui". Yeah, great, Em. Bad French followed by pointless Spanish. Suffice to say, they probably couldn't face the paperwork of booking in two rather tired foreigners and let us go. Rather relieved but very amused, we drove home for a well-deserved cuppa and a sleep.

Monday morning dawned, yet again, bright and warm. We'd heard that the previous two weeks had been miserable and wet yet so far we'd been blessed with blazing sun and cloudless skies. A quick trip to the décheterie (the tip} to dump a few things but also to pick up a bit of free wood, was followed by a drive to Bellac, the nearest main town where we had a slow but tasty lunch at the Café Le Pont de la Pierre, a cute little bar/restaurant by the 13th century stone bridge at the bottom of the city. The British owners had taken on some new staff - a couple of French teenagers and one British girl. We got the impression that it was the first day for all of them as they were having serious teething problems. No-one came to our table for about 15 minutes and when the waitress did, we asked for a menu and she headed off never to be seen again! Still, all was well in the end and we commenced the very steep climb to the top of the town to deliver a large bag of cat food to the cat sanctuary. That makes it sound more formal than it is. It's a small piece of land with some handmade cat houses with bedding etc. There are no staff, no office, just a shed for the food. Having delivered the food, we descended again and finally managed a game of Poohsticks (which I won - hurrah)! We spent another lazy afternoon on the shores of a lake - this time it was Lac Freadour, part of the Lac St Pardoux area. We did some murder mystery plotting, a bit of snoozing and watched some people take a very refreshing dip in the lake. It made me wish I'd remembered my swimming costume! 

We headed back to the house late afternoon and attempted to have a little cycle round the village. Sadly, our attempts were scuppered by the fact that the one of the two bikes at the house is a men's bike. Not that I have a problem with a crossbar (!) but the saddle turned out to be jammed at a height that made it absolutely impossible for me to sit on the bike and reach the ground, even with only one leg. Cycling not being one of my best talents, we decided it was safer to walk! Our evening perambulate was followed by a trip over to Chez Chaumet, a tiny hamlet just past Dompierre Les Eglises where we visited the beautiful holiday home of Mel, the girl from Dubai we'd met on Saturday evening. She has the most amazing house with a glorious view - it's almost illegal that it's only used for 2 months every summer when she and her 3 kids come over to stay there from Dubai! We had a lovely evening chatting on the verandah (Cathy to Mel about owning property abroad and me to her 10 year old son about Star Wars Lego - go figure!) We headed home to a late dinner to use up the contents of the fridge and took a last look up at the stars from the roof terrace.

Tuesday had rolled around far too fast and it was time to pack up and leave. We met up one final time with Bonnie for a quick coffee in the local tabac while Dave was being interviewed for Radio Magnac Laval but the interview hadn't finished before it was time for us to leave so we didn't get a chance to say goodbye to Dave (or to Colette who was interpreting for him!) The seven-hour drive back to Calais was uneventful, though we did realise that on the way here we'd actually been on the inner peripherique instead of the outer (the equivalent of having been on the North Circular instead of the M25) which explains why we had actually driven through a part of Paris city centre on the way down! Still, after a ridiculous detour in the final stage of the journey, which added about 12 miles and nearly half an hour to our arrival at the Shuttle, we grabbed a case of ridiculously cheap wine each at Cité Europe and boarded the train.

As usual, I had a glorious time in a beautiful part of the world and with lovely company. Thanks Cathy and a la prochaine, l'Etoile de Mer.

The photos of our little trip can be found HERE

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

The return of a charming prince

After a 15-year absence, Adam Ant returned to the UK stage last night at the Concorde 2, Brighton, a relatively intimate venue holding about 500 people.

The evening got off to a fairly dismal start to be honest. The first support act, whose name was conspicuous in its absence, were so dreadful we barely made it to the end of the first song before returning to the bar. The trio, two scantily-clad female guitarist/singers and a male drummer, could well have come to the stage direct from their first ever music lesson. They had little stage presence, the lead guitarist couldn't take her eyes off her fingers for her chord changes, the singer hit as many bum notes as true, and the look of concentration on the drummer's face was worthy of someone sitting an astrophysics exam.

The second support, Krakatoa, a five-piece guitar band were refreshingly competent and they managed to hold the attention of the burgeoning crowd.

Finally, after a teasing half-hour wait, Adam Ant and his new band The Good, The Mad and the Lovely Posse, appeared. Ant, doing a passable impression of Jack Sparrow, resplendent in pirate hat, highwayman jacket and, presumably as a nod to his advancing years, a pair of spectacles, delivered a surprisingly polished performance. There was plenty of solo material, both recognisable and new, but he didn't let down the majority of the crowd who were looking for a nostalgic return to the late 70s and early 80s. We were treated to Ant Music, Kings of the Wild Frontier, Prince Charming and Goody Two Shoes, one of which was introduced with the words "Oh, OK, here's another f*cking hit!" It's surely one of the downsides to making a comeback after such a long time away - the vast majority of your crowd will be there because they liked you the first time round and will expect to hear the songs that made them fans in the first place. A personalised and reworked version of YMCA - called AATA - went down well, as did their rendition of Get It On during the encore.

He certainly appeared to be enjoying himself and wasn't above a bit of self-deprecation. Having complimented one of his backing singers on her new and improved cleavage, he said "Good way to spend my money - what's left of it!", bringing a giggle from the diverse crowd.

He's had his problems and his glory days remain a good two decades behind him, but Adam Ant can still put on a damn good show.

We stood. He delivered.

Friday, 13 May 2011

Sad sign of the times?

Yesterday I did something I've never done before, and which made me surprised at myself.

I was on the bus home from work when, about four stops before mine, three guys got on. I'll get this out the way straight away - they were of what I would call Middle Eastern appearance (I have no idea if that's what they were, or if there's a PC way of saying that isn't going to upset someone but there you go). I had glanced out of the bus window while people were getting on and noticed the men talking to each other in the queue so I assumed, not unreasonably, that they knew each other.

Having bought their tickets, they then did something which I found rather odd - they separated, one went to almost the back row, one sat two rows in front of me and the third sat near the door on the folding-down, sideways seats. They were all carrying either a rucksack or a courier bag. Having sat down, they didn't speak or interact with each other again in any way, nor did they make eye contact. The guy nearest the door got a huge pair of headphones out of his bag, then some kind of smartphone, donned the headphones and seconds later, his lips were moving though no sound was coming out.

I don't know quite how long it took me to start feeling somewhat nervous but by the time we'd reached the stop two before my own, I'd decided to get off the bus and walk the rest of the way.

It's not like I actually sat there thinking "OK, these guys have to be terrorists because they look of Middle Eastern origin and have bags" but more "That is very weird behaviour"! Needless to say, having got off the bus, I watched it disappear on its way with no disasters and it's now no surprise that today's news wasn't full of "Suicide bombers hit Brighton bus".

It has, however, made me wonder a few things. Would I have had the same feelings if the three guys had been white? Or black? Or women? Or if I hadn't noticed them seemingly talking to each other in the bus queue?

Thinking back on it, my reaction seems extreme and unwarranted but I know that I was certainly feeling very uncomfortable during that short part of the journey - enough to make me get off (and walk uphill to get home!)

Is this a sad reflection on the times we live in? I like to think of myself as fairly unjudgemental - certainly at least on the basis of someone's appearance (like everyone else, I'm as judgemental as the next person once I've experienced someone's behaviour or attitudes) and I've always been very anti people being tarred with the same brush purely because of historical events. And yet that was, at least partly, what I did. I'm still mildly disappointed with myself but I can't guarantee that I wouldn't do exactly the same thing again.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Chocolate heaven?

This weekend sees the Brighton Chocolate Festival, part of the Brighton and Hove Food and Drink Festival come to New Road, behind the Pavilion.

I imagine the exhibitors today were quite relieved that it's not as hot as it was last weekend - I'm guessing 23 degrees would have led to some rather alarming meltage!

Conditions were perfect - light cloud, about 15 degrees, no chance of rain. The combination of that and the idea of free chocolate served to bring rather a lot of people to the event - it was rammed!

It's crammed into a fairly small space meaning that each stand can have a rather offputting crowd to fight your way through. However, if you can be bothered to wait (or elbow your way in) you're rewarded with some delicious goodies. Most of the stands are from local, small companies although there was one from a London company who currently supply Selfridges. There were delights on offer from Chocoholly, Artisan du Chocolat, Cocoapod, Philip Maes and many others.

There was a huge variety of types of chocolate on display - milk, plain, white, raw, 99% cocoa, flavoured, as well as some interesting shapes: fish, bunnies, owls, chickens, pods, lollipops, sausage rolls and Yorkshire puddings (!) as well as the classic bars, discs and eggs.

Almost every stand had plates of tasters out - I thought the ones that chose not to had missed a real marketing opportunity. A lot of the products weren't cheap and I certainly wouldn't spend upwards of a fiver on a bar of chocolate without tasting it first. It was clear that the stalls with tasters were more popular too. That surely serves to prove the value of freebies and the insatiable appetite of the general public for chocolate!

If you're now salivating, then pop down to Brighton tomorrow between 10am and 6pm for day 2.

For info, there's also the Made in Brighton Festival out at the Marina.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

It's all over bar the shooting!


Peril in the Park - when Cathy and I first discussed doing a live murder mystery production at a local café back at the beginning of the year, Saturday April 9th seemed a very long way off. But then it crept up on us, as things like this inexorably do.

And last Saturday was D-Day. Or rather, it was MM-Day.

The last couple of weeks have been a whirlwind of plot details, prop organisation, printing, laminating, script writing, rehearsing, last-minute amendments and general panicking. When the day finally came, I was seriously wondering what on earth we'd let ourselves in for.

We knew that the food was going to be great, we'd been in the café and seen and smelt what they have to offer. The guests had paid £40 a head for this event, a not inconsiderable sum for an evening out in the throes of a recession, so we really had to give them their money's worth. Not to mention this was our reputation at stake. Being our first live production, we really needed to make a bit of a name for ourselves.

I arrived at the café at 5pm along with the rest of the cast - Cathy, Dade, Sid, Carol and Andrea, clutching our huge bags of props and paperwork. Cathy had managed to make it there without being arrested for carrying five guns, two knives, a bloodstained sheet and some handcuffs. We'd originally thought that we'd have two straight hours (between the café closing and the performance beginning) to set up and run-through, but we didn't bank on the fact that although the café theoretically closes at 5pm, they quite understandably leave the doors open and people can pop in to buy a quick ice-cream etc. The staff were also very busy setting up the tables for the performance. So they were trying to negotiate their way to the tables with cutlery, glasses etc, while we were throwing ourselves round the only open space in the room, rehearsing our various scenes. I really hope we weren't in their way too much!

Before we knew it, it was 6.45, T-minus 15 minutes. We were all in our costumes, sipping a nerve-steadying beer, and keeping our fingers tightly crossed.

At 7pm on the nose, the first guests arrived and the rest gradually trickled in for the next half an hour. Initially, it was a case of getting people to mingle - no mean feat with a room full of strangers. But Sid (as event hostess, Greeta Client), Cathy (as her temporary assistant, Tallulah) and Dade (as Ed Lines, local journalist and photographer) did a great job of entertaining them and keeping them on track. Until 7.30, I was pretending to be a guest but once everyone had arrived, I performed a quick change outside the café and hurtled in in my very fetching police uniform, clutching a blue flashing light and to the slightly dodgy recording of a police siren. And that was it - we were off. The next three hours passed by in a whirl of scenes, audio clues, visual clues, heckling from the crowd, some quite fantastic off-the-cuff performances by a couple of the guests and a sense of mounting confusion as the combination of clues and copious amounts of alcohol combined to baffle the budding sleuths.

In what felt like the blink of an eye, the guests were finishing up their desserts and it was time for us to conclude the limerick competion, mark the solution forms, arrest the wrong man and then have the obligatory (but surprising for the guests) dénouement.

To our great relief, a round of applause ensued, giving us the opportunity to thank everyone for coming and introduce ourselves. Once it was all over, we managed to chat to quite a lot of the guests as our real personas, as opposed to our characters, which is always nice to do. They were a great bunch and all seemed genuinely impressed with the evening. Hopefully word of mouth will do the trick. Natalie and Juliet who run the café are really keen to get another one going so we'll be meeting with them to discuss how we move forward.

All in all, it went really well and I, for one, had a fantastic evening. Cue huge sigh of relief!

The photos of the evening, courtesy of Krysalis Photography, can be found HERE.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Dying to get started

It's official. Write Me A Murder's first proper, paid, public murder mystery dinner is actually going to happen. Well, as long as the minimum number of tickets are sold, that is!

Thanks to the lovely girls at The Garden Café, St Ann's Well Gardens in Hove, we've now started work on the plot for a murder mystery dinner there on April 9th.

Details will be posted on our website and our Facebook page or, if you're in the Hove area, you can find posters about it around the park in the next couple of days.

Keep everything crossed for us!

Real life Fast Show pushy dad

On a recent bus journey to work, I witnessed a hilarious (though quite sad) exchange between a father and his son, who I would put at about 10. They were sitting on the 2 front seats and I was standing just behind them so could easily eavesdrop on them!

The first thing I heard was the child ask "Dad, which would help you live longer? 3 bananas or a bottle of water?" Dad then launched into a very long explanation of fat cells and calories and kilojoules but tied himself up in spectacular knots in the end when he said "You know what a calorie is, don't you? It's the amount of energy required to heat, um, some, well, an amount of water".

He then went on to try to get out of it by saying that he wanted the child to wait and enjoy learning all about it in physics, the "most interesting subject at school"! In order to prove how exciting physics was going to be, he then started explaining the periodic table. Well, I say explaining. He said "it's a table of all the elements and they all have an abbreviation and a number". Hmm, very helpful.

At this point, the child was still nibbling on his banana and staring out of the window. I figured he was just very, very bored and hoping his dad would shut up.

However, I think he was actually simply thinking about what he was going to say next. Which turned out to be "I was 7 when I got into music and Michael Jackson was 8. So that means I'm only a year behind Michael Jackson talent- and experience-wise". To be fair to his dad, all he did was say "Hmmm. Oh look, here's our stop".

I'm pretty certain that Daddy wasn't exactly proud of his son's apparent desire to take after a somewhat eccentric pop star instead of becoming the next Stephen Hawking.

We got off at the same stop and I followed them for a few yards. I managed to resist the temptation to pat the poor kid on the shoulder and say "Go out. Climb a tree. Eat worms. Talk about random shit with friends"

Ah, the stuff you see and hear on public transport!

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Humanism in Education

Having been an atheist pretty much from the day I read the last page of the Bible (something I was made to do at Girl's Brigade), I certainly identify pretty strongly with the Humanist organisation (British Humanist Association). In the last few years, I've attended three humanist funerals - two of my grandparents and my aunt. In each case, a humanist celebration had been requested by the deceased as they all felt that the religious overtones of a "normal" funeral would be completely inappropriate for a person who has lived their life without religion. Each and every one of those services (if that's the right word) were lovely - personal, friendly, amusing (on purpose in some cases, not so much in others!) but above all, very fitting. I'm a huge supporter of the BHA and will certainly be requesting a humanist celebrant for my funeral.

So I was interested to see a recent press release which appeared via my Facebook feed from them. There is apparently a review coming up of the national curriculum and the BHA has called for RE to be added to the national curriculum. Two things sprang to my mind: 1) I assumed it was already on the national curriculum and 2) why on earth would the humanist association be in favour of religion being taught in schools?

The article can be found HERE and having read it, I can understand their thinking. I have long believed that if RE is to be taught at all in schools, it should cover each and every religion and should include agnosticism, atheism and, of course, humanism. No school should be allowed to concentrate on any one religion any more than another - the basics of each world religion should be taught so that kids have a basic understanding of all of them and can then, should they so choose, decide which one they will follow (or none, of course).

I was also unaware that it is still the law that state schools must have "compulsory collective worship" on a daily basis (yes, that would be "assembly" to most of us). How antiquated! Surely, I thought, in this day and age, where most schools have pupils belonging to a multitude of cultures and religions, it would be almost impossible to have "collective worship". The logical thing would be for assembly to be precisely that - one opportunity for everyone in the school to be together in a large hall, there could be some kind of motivational talk or an excerpt from a book or a poem read out, followed by the obligatory announcements (what time choir practice starts, whether the school won the footie match against its biggest rival yesterday, etc) and that would be that.

Anyway, back to the national curriculum. Having read it, agreed with it but then thought about it again, I started to wonder if in fact the BHA might not have shot itself in the foot. I have a sneaking suspicion that they might partially get their way - RE might become part of the national curriculum but be limited to the kids actually being taught about religion - not about non-religion. To my mind, that would almost be worse than the current system. If you give kids an overview of all the many religions that exist, but fail to equally cover the non-religious aspects, some kids might believe that it's almost obligatory to have a religion - that there is no other option. That belief would sadly be reinforced if their parents were religious - those children certainly wouldn't be receiving the message at home that you don't have to have a religion - it should be incumbent upon schools to ensure that that choice is made clear.

The other thing that struck me was the likelihood that in these overly PC days, the government would probably still feel obliged to allow parents to refuse to let their kids take part in the RE lessons, national curriculum or not. I remember that in my school class between the ages of 5 and 12, there was a boy whose family were Jehovah's Witnesses (note that I did not say that he was one as I don't believe that at the age of 5 he can possibly have decided what, if any, religion he wanted to follow). He was not allowed to come to assembly, did not attend RE classes and was not allowed to join in the annual decorating of the classroom with paper chains and snowflakes for Christmas. Yes, I understand that none of those things were part of his family's religion but they made the poor boy a complete outcast, especially at certain times of the year.

So I agree in principle with the idea of RE becoming part of the national curriculum but with conditions - it should teach every religion along with non-religion, and attendance at the classes should be obligatory no matter what religion the child (or their family) follow.