Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Sound of Thunder

Around about 8 this morning there was an almighty clap of thunder. Thankfully it's a good deal cooler today, after the scorching hot weather of the past few days. Alfie didn't know what to make of it. He charged off into the garden and began to bark madly. I don't think he had the least idea what for. If Poppy had been around she would have most likely hidden herself under our bed as she was terrified of thunder. Around Guy Fawkes Night she wasn't keen when fireworks were being let off. There was a downpour of rain which at least relieved the hot and clammy atmosphere. It's been quite difficult to sleep the last couple of nights because of the heat. Carol came home at 4 o'clock yesterday afternoon as it was far too hot in the Academy building. She had been in The Hub, the top-most area of the building which has large windows and she said the air conditioning broke down so it was like a green house. Amazing that when it's at it's hottest, and apparently yesterday was supposed to have been the hottest June day since 1976 when there was a drought, the machinery which is supposed to keep things cool has to malfunction. I went into Sainsbury's this morning and wanted to buy some ice-cream of some sort. I couldn't believe that a whole section of refrigerated display units which are supposed to be full of various ice cream delights were completely empty. I have no idea what was wrong with them or why they were empty. Presumably a technical fault but I think Sainsbury's will have lost a large amount of custom as a result of this problem.

No sooner had Carol returned home at around 4 yesterday afternoon we drove to Nuffield Health. It was really great to be able to cool down in the pool. Only problem was that everyone else had the same idea and the pool became very crowded. As usual, one individual was taking over things and swimming up and down making a lot of noise in the process. Just can't believe that some people have to behave in this selfish manner. 

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Possible Walk-On Job next week

I've just had an email from one of the many agencies I'm signed up to for television and film walk-on and extra work (actually 'extra' is not the word to use. I've never merely been an 'extra' or supernumerary on anything I've done. Whatever I've done I've almost always been directed by someone or other, even if it's an A.D. (Assistant Director) or even the actual director on a shoot.) It's to be a gardener in something shooting near Chipping Norton. I have a hunch if might well be for the BBC television series 'Father Brown' which is filmed in that area. We drive through that area regularly as we go to different National Trust properties out towards Cheltenham and Stratford-Upon-Avon, or towards Worcester which is where Chloe and Steve live. It shouldn't be much more than an hour's drive and not too difficult to find the location as we have a SatNav.

Television Comedy: Watching 'The Good Life'

I've just been watching the first episode of 'The Good Life.' One of the great advantages of having Sky for me is the fact that there is so much classic television available to watch on catch-up or download (will someone explain what the difference is? Surely they are one and the same.) This has to be one of the finest television sitcoms produced in this country. I know when polls are held to come up with a list of the top ten or even a hundred television comedies this one often comes close to the top of the list, alongside Blackadder, Fawlty Towers and Dad's Army. From my viewing today this particular one stands up particularly well. It has hardly dated, except perhaps for fashions in clothes and the car Gerry drives (a large yellow Volvo which must have been heavy on petrol consumption.)  I know very well how the show develops, I'm fully aware that Barbara and Tom Good set up their own smallholding in their garden in Surbiton, and all the problems they encounter, in least the fact that it's in suburbia and not in rural Sussex or somewhere else in the countryside. It's the fact that they're going against the grain that makes this comedy work so well. We can all identify with Tom, wanting to escape the rat race. He starts out at the beginning of the episode working as a draughtsman in a company which makes plastic toys which are put into breakfast cereal packets. When his boss tells him the next project is to design and create a giraffe Tom can hardly keep a straight face. And who can blame him. The style of production would be typical of the way sitcoms were made for television in the 1970's, with the bulk of the action recorded on multi-camera in a studio with a 'live' audience and the exteriors shot (in advance) on location with film cameras. One imagines if it was produced today (most unlikely) they would make it on video and all on location and the audience would watch a sort of 'playback' to give the laughter track. But, let's be honest, isn't television comedy of this sort best done when there isn't a studio audience? By comparison, I'm thinking of the Peter Kay's series 'Car Share' which has no studio audience. Also, it couldn't have been made 40 years ago, as 'The Good Life' was made, basically because there wouldn't have been the technical ability to shoot it within a moving car because there weren't the small-scale cameras available as there are today. My only complaint about that show is, why were so episodes made? Why only around 4 per series, and just two series? Again, it it because the commissioners didn't have the faith in this show to allow more episodes to be made? It surely can't be the cost because it can't have been particularly expensive to make as there are only two actors in it.

What I want to know is, why were there so many excellent sitcoms produced when this was first transmitted, in 1975? Dad's Army had been running since around 1967 and by the time this came out we also had Fawlty Towers. Perhaps it was the fact that there were only three television channels in the mid 1970's. Channel 4 didn't open until 1982 and multi-channel television didn't make an appearance until at least the mid 1980's or early '90's. Television companies were presumably more likely to take a risk on a new show such as this. A series would only have been around 6-8, so if it didn't succeed in the ratings it wasn't such a disaster. It starred to consummate professionals, Richard Briers and Felicity Kendal. I think I saw Richard Briars in one of Alan Ayckbourn's plays, possibly 'The Norman Conquests' or 'Absurd Person Singular.' 'The Good Life' does rather have the feel of an Ayckbourn play. It has similar middle class characters, it pokes a finger at life in a suburban setting and has a deeper message under the comedy exterior. Even the fact that there's a sitting room with French windows and a sofa makes it similar. I think today's television commissioners are far too concerned with ratings. Also, they don't allow a show enough time to build an audience. It takes at least two seasons (series in Britain) to allow the actors a chance to develop their characters and allow the writers time to develop not just the situations but their characters. ITV had a wealth of sitcoms of it's on. They've never quite had the success with this form of television as the BBC. Perhaps because with a commercial broadcaster you have to factor in the commercial break. For a thirty-minute slot you'll have to have a running time of no more than 23-25 minutes, to allow for the commercial break and then have a sort of 'act break' in the middle to take the commercials, so your writers will have to build up the situation to then have a sort of 'curtain' as you'd have in a stage play and the, after the break, keep the situation going and just hope the audience had remained and not changed channels. Although, it has to be said, having a commercial break can have it's advantages, for example, allowing viewers to go to the toilet or go for a snack or make a cup of tea. Of course, with modern technology you can always skip the adverts when you record the programme. ITV had such shows as 'Rising Damp' which starred Leonard Rossiter and ran for a couple of series. Based on a stage play called 'The Banana Box' and originally produced at the Phoenix Theatre in Leicester and starring Wilfred Brambell in the Rigsby role as played by Rossiter in the television sitcom. (this character was originally called Rooksby in the play. I have no idea why they changed his name to Rigsby for the television sitcom.) Rossiter was to go on to play the central character in another sitcom of this period 'The Rise and Fall of Reginald Perrin' written by David Hobbs and adapted from his novels. It was revived more recently with Martin Clunes in the title role, but for me it didn't quite have the same impact as the original. Not always a good idea to revive old sitcoms, although when ITV revived 'Birds of A Feather' it was a ratings success and has gone on to have several more series.

How many comedies have neighbours who add to the 'mix' of comedy situations? I remember 'Sykes' which starred the amazing Eric Sykes along with Hatty Jacques (as unlikely twins. How did they get away with it?) They had a neighbour, played by Richard Watts, who kept popping in and out and he represented the sort of interfering busy-body type, voice of the minority. Then, in 'The Good Life' we have Margo Leadbetter, middle-class, classic snob, married to Gerry, long-suffering husband who brings in enough money from his executive post to be able to allow Margo to have the sort of life she dreams of, plenty of gadgetry in the kitchen, decent car every couple of years and so on. This counter-points the life the Goods have created for themselves, digging up their garden to grow fruit and veg, even importing a goat and some pigs, much to Margo and Gerry's disgust. 

In 'Birds of A Feather' we also come across a neighbour who pops in and out in the shape of Dorien, played with absolute conviction by Lesley Josephs.


Friday, June 16, 2017

Grass-Cutting

I've put it off for as long as possible. I wasn't over-keen on attempting it, but I couldn't really avoid the job much longer. It has been very hot over the past few days. I'd even go as far as calling it a heatwave. The weather forecast has it that it's going to be even warmer over the next few days, so it wasn't such a good idea to put it off any longer. What do I refer to? As if you hadn't already guessed, getting out the lawnmower and using it to cut the grass at the front of the house. I cut the rear patch of grass a week ago today (which looks as if it will need doing within days. What with so much sun and the occasional rain, the grass is bound to grow at a faster rate, unfortunately.) When I eventually got on with cutting the grass, I found it a good deal more difficult than I'd imagined. It took a lot longer than anticipated, even though it's a not particularly large piece. It took a good deal longer than it would to do the grass at the rear of the house. Considering it's a lot flatter and would have been easier. How wrong could I be? A lot of weeds, more like hacking through the jungle with a machete, a lot of tough plants with thick stems. Having to unravel the cable and plug it into the socket within the hall of the house as well as having to bring the mower through the house, a lot of work to do a relatively simple task.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Some Like It Hot

We're currently having a bit of a heatwave. Although I like the weather to be bright and sunny, I'm not over-keen to have the temperature so high it make it difficult to manage your day-to-day things such as merely living, going shopping or whatever. Alfie hasn't been able to settle anywhere in the house and has wandered around in an attempt to find the coolest place to lie. He spent yesterday in and out of the house. The patio door has been open so he can get into the garden, then he was in his bed in the kitchen and then out in the hallway, at the foot of the stairs and eventually settled on the sofa, laying on his back. Poor little dog. He just doesn't know how to deal with extremes of temperature. Having had a heart attack I have to be careful myself when it comes to high temperatures. I was told that I could keep out of the sun and wear a hat when it was hot when I did a coronary rehab course after I had my heart attack in 2006 it was around this time of the year and it was probably just as hot. We did a lot of exercises in the heat and on one particular session I almost collapsed on the floor. The staff where very supportive and helped me recover. I think it was the shock of not only having such a traumatic 'event' (the original heart attack) but the fact that the heat had caused me to feel so unwell. It was then that I was advised to purchase a sun hat and, wherever possible, to keep out of the direct sun. Yesterday I had to drive to Waitrose to buy some things for our evening meal and the car, which had been standing in the sun all morning, was very hot.

We had planned to go to Nuffield Health for a swim yesterday evening. Someone who works with Carol at the Academy had a disaster. She came home to find her house had been burnt in a fire. I'm not entirely sure what happened but I think one of her children had set fire to the kitchen. A great deal of damage so they have to live in a hotel until the insurance company can come up with the cash to repair and replace things. Carol said to this lady, called Gladys, that she would give her some food to give her children (she has four children, apparently) and they are currently living in a hotel which is extremely expensive and she can barely afford food. So we went to Aldi at Westcroft after Carol finished work so we could buy them some basic items. When I think what we went through a few years ago, it only seems right that we do something to help. It was very hot when we got to Westcroft and parked the car. In Aldi I said I was thirsty, due mostly because of the heat, and then Carol said I should go and get some ice-cold drinks from Costa who have a branch near Morrison's. It sounded a good idea so I walked there and ordered iced coffee and caramel drinks. Really nice and cooling and something that I think I'll have again whenever the need arises. Probably not too long if the weather keeps up as it is at the moment.

Returning to the heatwave; when I worked as a Support Worker at the house in Everton, there was an elderly lady living there who, even when it was boiling hot outside, insisted on wearing her thickest, heaviest overcoat.  She was in her late 80's and she was extremely short sighted.We used to often take the residents out and about during the summer months. I think it's what made the job interesting and worth while. We went up to London (I think I might have mentioned this in an earlier blog post) when we visited Westminster Abbey and then London Zoo. We had to make sure the client group were well protected from the sun, and this lady whom I have just mentioned, must have sweltered in her thick winter coat. We not only had to make sure everyone wore hats but we had to provide sun cream. Not so easy when not everyone wanted it applied. You could never persuade  this lady that she would be more comfortable in something thinner or to dispense with the coat all together when it was so hot. Never mind. I suppose it was a sort of 'comfort blanket' which was why she didn't want to go out without it on. Actually persuading her to leave the house in the first place was a real problem, but just mention the magic words 'tea and cake' and she'd be out the door in a flash. I'm not saying she could move fast, because she couldn't poor old love, but any mention of a bun with icing and a cherry on top and she'd relent and go out for the afternoon.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

More Politically In-Correct Books and Films

Continuing on the theme begun in my last blog post, what about all those other works of literature, usually aimed at children, as well as films? Just think of a series of books that I read avidly as a child, beginning with "Swallows and Amazons" which were written by Arthur Ransome. They were about a group of children who seem to spend their lives perpetually on holiday in either the Lake District, Norfolk or Essex. The children are John, Susan, Titty and Roger Walker. I don't think, in all honesty, you could have a character called Titty in a book nowadays. Sorry, but the name just causes (sorry for the pun) a titter. You would have to re-name the character for a modern audience. I think it's the fact that they sail their boats on one of the Lake District lakes (I think it must be Windermere, but I'm not sure.) and there's no attempt to them wearing life jackets of any sort. When I was growing up, my father was an avid sailor, and had several yachts, some of which were sailed on the River Ouse near where we lived, mostly at Cardington Mill. We were never allowed in these boats unless we either wore a life jacket (generally a very bright orange or yellow) or we could swim proficiently (about the only decent thing I ever got from going to Rushmoor School was the fact that I learnt to swim). The stories of the Walker children continue in several other books, Pigeon Post, Swallowdale, Peter Duck, Winter Holiday, We Didn't Mean To Go To See. I think he later books might have been set in and around the Essex coast. As we used to go on holiday each year to Frinton-On-Sea, and the inlets in and around Walton-On-Naze, which was a little bit further up the coast from Frinton, this gave the stories a good deal more interest to me because I could picture the places in the books. But I think it's the fact that there's no hint of 'Health and Safety' and neither the fact that they wander around the Lakes and surrounding countryside free from any sort of adult interference. When you consider things like 'Child Protection' today, and the unfortunate stories that have come out recently about child abuse, it makes these stories, although written in the 1930's, even more intriguing. It's sad that today's children don't get the freedom to roam about as the children do in those books. Even when I was growing up in the 1960's there was no such thing as 'Health and Safety' or 'Child Protection.' Infact, when I consider the fact that living on a farm alone had many dangers and perils that would make the place a possible death-trap. We built hideouts in amongst the hay and straw bales, never once thinking that they might collapse on us and suffocate us or even catch fire. I used to make tree-houses, fairly high up in some oaks trees in the garden at Malting Farm. Thinking about it now, I could have easily fallen out of the tree and broken a leg, arm or whatever. You didn't think things like that were in the least bit dangerous in those days, but I suppose children never see the dangers in anything.

Returning to Swallows and Amazons. In the mid-1970's they made a cinema film of the book. It was, by coincidence, at the time I was an A.S.M., working at Century Theatre in Keswick. We did a series of four plays, running in repertoire, and changing every two days. Hard work, to say the least. When they began filming (no doubt on Derwent Water, on which Keswick is near). When we were out looking for props in the town for the plays we were staging, we often got asked whether we were from the film unit. It was also a coincidence that this film had a screenplay written by David Wood    who was in a play that I worked on at Greenwich Theatre called "A Voyage Round My Father" by John Mortimer. The director of the film was Claude Watham who also directed the Mortimer play, as he had done when it was originally done as a 'Play For Today' on BBC Television.

Back on books and films. Just think of Harry Potter. Why didn't the Dursleys, who had young Harry as a lodger (where they actually related? Were they really Harry's aunt and uncle?) Nevertheless, they had Harry under their care, so why did the poor boy end up living under the stairs? Why were they never prosecuted for child abuse? Expecting the child to live in such confined conditions is surely abuse of some sort? Why didn't the authorities intervene?

Then think of Oliver Twist, in particular the musical version, on stage and screen. What are they teaching children if they watch Oliver! That crime seems to pay, perhaps? Teaching youngsters to PICK POCKETS! Really terrible.

I seem to have veered off course about unsuitable or politically un-correct films for children, but never mind. I'll get back on the them in another blog post. It was good to reminisce on various things. The whole point of these blog posts I suppose.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Politically In-Correct Children's Books and Films and other matters

Has anyone thought how so many children's books and films have things in them that contravene all sorts of things like health and safety, child protection and a lot of other things society throws at us? Would you, in all honesty, employ a nanny who flies on an umbrella and carries things around in a hold-all that is bottomless and she keeps things like a lamp-stand and then takes the children she's in charge of to see a crazy uncle who eats his tea FLOATING ON THE CEILING? Also, encouraging those two children, Jane and Michael to slide up or down the bannisters in the Banks' home?  Did Mr and Mrs Banks do a Criminal Records Bureau check on Mary Poppins or even ask for any references from past employees? Then, she has a male friend called Bert who has a predilection for dancing all over the rooftops of London with a weird gang of chimney sweeps? And, how dangerous is it to be up on the roof in the first place? What health and safety concerns did either Bert or Mary have for those children? First, falling off the roof, then, climbing all the way up a STAIRCASE made out of SMOKE? Did they consider the health-hazards of breathing in all that smoke and soot? Then, when they go through the chalk drawings that Bert has scrawled all over the pavements (did he have a licence to do this? Was he allowed to do graffiti in such a callous and unseemly manner in Edwardian London? I think not.) When they get into the animated land, did they consider they were thrown into a world of fox-hunting (banned by law in Great Britain now. Tush! Not P.C. to do so.) Then, gallivanting all over the countryside and eventually getting involved in horse-racing and allowing, no doubt, for those minors to BET on the outcome of the race? No moral responsibility at all. 

Then, we go to other books and films. Who would trust a weird man who runs a chocolate factory with the care of your children (I refer to Willy Wonka. Don't go into the name which has all sorts of peculiar connotations which I won't go into on this post.) Also, ENCOURAGING CHILDREN TO EAT SWEETS!! it's definitely a no, no. Just get them to eat sensibly, five pieces of fruit and veg a day for a start.

Peter Pan. A bit of an odd-ball, to say the least. Flies in through the bedroom window. I don't expect he had a C.R.B. check. Left alone with those children. THEN he expected them to believe in Never-Never land (connotations with things like 'payments in instalments' for example, but that's another matter.) What about getting them to FLY? Well, all very clever, how ever it was done, but did Mr Pan have any health and safety procedures in place? I doubt it (come to that, did Mary Poppins, with her umbrella? What happened if she was to crash-land? How many attempts did she make before she got her flying licence?)

It's interesting, on a different subject, how many children's books and films feature a character or something that flies or at least has the ability to fly. Not just Mary Poppins and Peter Pan, but how about Dumbo (featured in the classic Disney animated cartoon) or Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. I seem to remember that Disney also made another film in the '60's about a mad professor who invents a substance which makes things gravity-free, called flubber I think, and is put on the tyres of a car which then flies. I think it might have been remade and called 'Flubber.' The original was called the 'Absent-Minded Professor, I think. Have to check it out on I.M.D.B.  Of course, there's Mary Poppins, who needs the aid of her umbrella to fly. I am wondering, though, how long she could stay aloft, with her hand holding onto the handle of that umbrella (which, if I remember correctly, is shaped like a parrot WHICH TALKS? does it actually LIVE, this parrot? Weird and wonderful.) I'm also reminded of what a teacher said when I was at school, at about the time Mary Poppins was released, regarding being able to see Mary's underwear as she flew. I won't make any further allusions to this, but I think you'll get what I mean about this if you think about it. Sorry to bring this up, but on reflection it's fairly obvious. 

I shall continue with this discussion as and when I have more to add, so keep an eye-out for further instalments.

Stating The Obvious- Take 2

So, I come across a couple more of those totally obvious signs or things that are written on the packaging of food products or other items on sale. We had barbecued chicken for our evening meal and within the cooking instructions, in the section on 'ingredients' it said 'may contain bones.' Well, there's a thing! Chicken-pieces that have bones in them! About as obvious as saying about eggs 'will break if dropped,' or on a cup of coffee, 'contains hot liquid,' or the one that makes me laugh when we go to Nuffield Health and go into the swimming pool, where they invariably have those yellow  cones when they're cleaning the floor but usually near the pool with the lovely message 'wet floor.' Well, if it's a swimming pool, there's every likelihood that there might possibly be water, so, with people walking around with wet feet, there's a chance of the floor being- well, wet.

Carol bought a packet of Radox bath salts the other day. (I didn't realise you could still get this product. I was surprised to find it in Morrisons. I thought that Radox was only available in liquid form.) The instructions on how to use was patronising. It tells you to be careful after you've put it in your bath-water, because you might slip getting in. Really? Can't we think for ourselves? As if an idiot wouldn't realise that a bath could be slippery when you stepped in? Who writes this stuff? Are they so obsessed with the idea that you'll sue them that they need to put this sort of stuff on a packet of bath salts? Crazy world we live in.

Another case of stating the obvious. We've bought a new armchair from IKEA. We get it home in a  very large cardboard box which barely fits in the back of the car. It's not too complicated to assemble. I wasn't actually expecting to have to assemble it. I assumed it would be already assembled, but never mind. On unpacking it, there is a very nice label attached to the seat. It reads: 'Carelessness causes fires.' Another case of being blatantly obvious. What percentage of fires are caused by carelessness? Possibility of dropping a lighted match on a piece of furniture must be quite high. Would be classed as carelessness? I'm not sure about that, but why do we need a nice label to inform us of that fact? Keeping someone or other printing these labels and someone else busy attaching them to the odd bit of furniture.

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Sunday Sunshine

We woke this morning to more news of a terrorist attack in London. Only a few weeks ago another similar attack happened at a concert in Manchester. It makes the heart sink. Our immediate response was to text our children to see whether they were alright. None of them were anywhere near London at the time of the incidents. Just needed reassurance that they were fine. It's getting to the point that you don't really want to switch on the television news as the BBC and other television companies seem to insist on blanket coverage of such incidents.

The day began bright and sunny. Then we had the merry sound of hammering next door. I can't imagine what on earth they're doing. Laying a patio or something and there's a large pile of tiles or bricks for the purpose of patio-laying. On Friday we came back from shopping in town and found a large flat-bed H.G.V. parked opposite the house next door with rolls of turf on the back. I'm not sure if it was intended for 'next door' or not. It's not just the hammering and banging we have to contend with, it's the added music which we have to endure. People can't seem to work without pop music blasting. Well, it's not exactly blasting. As Nöel Coward so succinctly put it 'strange how potent cheap music is.' From his brilliant play, "Private Lives," and actually about his own composition 'Some Day I'll Find You" which was supposed to be playing in the distance, so it was a sort of side-swipe at himself in a way. Irony. Never mind. I digress.

As the morning progressed, we had another load of banging and hammering. Not immediately from next door. Carol said that someone was dismantling a shed a few doors further down. Things can't get any worse, we thought to ourselves. Carol suggested packing things up, a few rugs, cushions, food, books and so on, and de-camping to a secluded spot, possibly in a field, away from the hustle and bustle of the town, in the country somewhere. In other words, somewhere as far from all this noise and annoyance. I suggested Campbell Park. Carol, not too keen. Then we decided to go to Nuffield Health. 

It was a great idea to just swim up and down the pool at Nuffield. Not too many people there, fortunately. I have to say it's a far more friendly environment than D.W. Fitness, which we used to be members of. No children are allowed to this branch at Kent's Hill. You get a towel as you enter. There's no loud booming pop music. The jacuzzi and other facilities are always in good order. Unfortunately, at D.W., the two jacuzzis (spa pools) were invariably out of order or at least one was closed off for some reason. The place was beginning to look tatty, even though it was a fairly new building. At Nuffield there's a spa pool, a steam room and a sauna (D.W. didn't have one).  Anyway, the outing to Nuffield was a good idea. At least we got away from the noise for a while. The shed-dismantling was complete but unfortunately the other sounds continue.

I attempted to read my book. I'm currently reading the fourth book in Peter Ackroyd's series "The History of England." It's called "Revolution" and covers what is called the 'Glorious Revolution' and covers such things as the foundation of the Bank Of England, the beginning os coffee houses, invention of the novel as a form of literature and many other things. But I found it quite difficult concentrating with the constant noise from next door.



Saturday, June 03, 2017

Blenheim Palace Outing

Thursday was a really hot day. We had planned to have at least one day out, visiting somewhere interesting. We have a lot of choice, as members of the National Trust and H.H.A. (Historic Houses Association.) Carol has said she wants to visit Chatsworth in Derbyshire, so we had a look at their website. This house isn't included in the H.H.A. handbook as having free entry to their members so it seemed that Blenheim Palace would be a better choice. Not only with free entry, but nowhere near as far to drive as it's just outside Oxford and perhaps around an hour's journey. We have been there before, but it was probably six-seven years ago. As H.H.A. members you are only supposed to visit a property once a year as I imagine it would reduce their income. A single entry to Blenheim is around £25 so that would be a £50 layout for the two of us.


Entrance to Blenheim Palace

We discovered on the Blenheim Palace website that there was going to be a triathlon in the park and that, as a result, some areas of the park and the Palace itself, would be restricted. No problem, we thought. On arrival we had to park in a somewhat inappropriate grass field, serving as temporary parking, but never mind. We then had to walk a considerable distance to the Palace, somewhere in the region of half a mile or more. Again, no problem as we needed the exercise. The last time we visited we did the guided tour of the house. I recall it was extremely well done, with a very knowledgeable guide who gave a lot of information about the Palace's history, which included the building of it and quite a bit on Sir Winston Churchill, who was born and raised there. Coincidentally, I am reading Peter Ackroyd's book, "Revolution," which is the fourth book in his series on the history of England and covers the 'Glorious Revolution' and the Battle of Blenheim which is where the Duke of Marlborough scored a mighty victory over the French and was then given Blenheim as a reward by Queen Anne. So, it was quite interesting to have the background so well recorded in this book and to then see the actual place in all it's magnificence. As we'd already seen the interior of Blenheim before, regardless of it's amazing scale, design and size, we decided against it. We didn't see much of the park, so this time we decided to discover what there was beyond the confines of the main building. We'd seen the Italianate gardens on our previous visit, but on this occasion we walked down towards the lake and began our tour of the grounds.


One of a number of classical-style statues in the Great 
Court at Blenheim

It was a really pleasant amble along the side of the lake. Looking back, you could just see the tower of the main palace building and a small boat house on the edge of the lake. It was quite a steep incline down and there was work going on to repair and restore the path. There was a warning sign set up warning those in wheelchairs or pushing children in buggies that it was dangerous to use this path. I can see why, because if you were pushing a child in a pram or buggy or someone was in a wheelchair there was a danger of it running away and landing up in the lake. We walked on, and at several places along the lake we stopped to take photographs of not only the view but a whole variety of flora. We eventually arrived at what is called the Grand Cascade. I knew there was a cascade at Blenheim, but I imagined it to be quite a gentle slope. This was more like a fairly active and fast-flowing torrent and amazingly there were a couple of ducks in the flowing water. It was a wonder they didn't get washed down into the river below.


The Grand Cascade, although from this shot you get no 
idea of it's size and scale


We continued on our walk, and eventually came to a small garden which was designed as a memorial to Winston Churchill, who was born at Blenheim Palace. In the centre there was a large and very impressive bust of the great man.


Bust of Winston Churchill

By this time we'd walked a considerable distance. A good two miles by my reckoning. We had a look around the shop, which was part of the new development along with the restaurant. I bought a guidebook, to add to my by now considerable collection of similar guidebooks, bought at other properties we've visited. We took a few more photographs as we walked to the exit and the amble back to the car in the field and to drive home towards Milton Keynes.

Friday, June 02, 2017

Morrison's Cafe, Terrible Service

Carol and I went swimming at Nuffield Health early this morning. Well, when I say 'early,' I mean just after 9 o'clock. Why make one's life too difficult when it's half-term? It wasn't too busy and I did around 30 lengths of the pool. Not in one session, I might add. I went in the sauna for ten minutes and then the steam room and returned to the pool for a further few lengths.  Why is there's always someone making things look harder than they really are by swimming up and down making a lot of noise and splashing around?  Also, those individuals who go running around the countryside, in the latest gear, shorts, trainers, etc etc. Usually with a miserable expression on their face. We came across a man on the road the other day, appeared from nowhere, off the grass verge, almost into our path in the car. It's a wonder he didn't get run over. Seemed to have no road sense whatsoever. Was he blind or something?  Anyway, back to swimmers:why do people do this? There's always someone out there that has to make more noise than they need to. A bit like people who have big, flashy cars with lots of lights on, rows and rows of things that flash and glow, bull-bars, chromium-plating etc etc. Those cars that are higher up than the average vehicle and probably have darkened windows so you can't see inside. They have to hog the road, take over the central lane on the motorway and come up behind you when you're driving just to make you drive faster. Or, more likely, just to get you to move out of the way so they can have the road to themselves. In the case of these swimmers, it's a real case of 'look at me!' Real narcissistic behaviour. No doubt he'd be the sort of person who has to post about it on Facebook and Twitter. Anyway, I digress.

From Nuffield we drove to Morrison's at Elder Gate. Their newer store. Bigger than the one they have at Westcroft. Before we started our actual shopping we decided we needed a bit of refreshment. Well, after all that splashing about in the pool, it was necessary to recharge and Carol's blood-sugar level was low. We went in the café in Morrison's. Thinking about it now, perhaps it wasn't such a good idea. We stood in the queue for several minutes as it moved exceedingly slowly along. People came to join us from behind, including a mother with a little girl who was deciding what she wanted to eat. We picked up a cereal bar and a chocolate-coated biscuit thing and we picked up to mugs as we wanted lattes which you serve yourself from a machine. Then I arrived at the till. The woman operator had no idea what she was doing, or so it seemed. It couldn't have been too hard to key in our items into the computerised till. She just couldn't do it, for whatever reason. Carol had gone to find a table and sit down and waited for me to pay. I stood patiently while the operator again attempted to operate the till. She just couldn't do it. I almost felt like doing it for her. It was obvious that she didn't know what she was going and I then almost said couldn't she find someone who could? My patience was at a low point but it seemed wrong to say anything and those who were queueing behind me were fidgeting and if it had been myself I think I would have given up and walked out. Anyway, after around ten minutes (!!!) she did managed to complete the transaction and I paid using my Debit card and left with the tray as Carol and already made us lattes on the self-service machine. Not impressed by the whole thing and I think next time we won't  bother with Morrison's café again when we shop there.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Lax Vax Max Cracks, Packs, Sacks!

I know it's a rather boring topic, but some boring things make interesting material for writers, surprisingly. A lot of what Alan Bennet writes about is just mundane. But it's brilliant mundane.  Drama is generally about life, but as Alfred Hitchock said about drama that it was life 'with the boring bits taken out.' And he knew one of two things about drama, considering he wrote and directed some of the best ever film thrillers. So, I'm going to mention that we've been having problems with our vacuum cleaner. But it doesn't mean I am going to now use it as the basis for a play or a short story. Although, on second thoughts, it could become the basis for something or other.

We were in the middle of Spring cleaning the house. Carol has been on Half Term this week and we wanted to vacuum the lounge. Over the past week or two I'd had problems with this Vax machine and couldn't get it to pick up even the smallest bits of fluff from the carpet. I'd cleaned out the various filters and emptied the dust compartment (it is one of those machines that doesn't have a separate bag. It has a clear plastic tube where the dust and rubbish collects.) Cleared everything, the brushes were working, the tubes were clear of fluff. Not a pleasant job, but it had to be done. I explained all this to Carol and she couldn't get it to work properly either. I wasn't sure how long ago we'd bought the thing. It was bought from Very, an on-line retailer and we've bought several things from them, so I decided to go on-line and look at the list of items and find out when it was bought. Important if you want to make a claim if the thing is still under guarantee. It turned out we'd bought it in July last year, so it would still be under guarantee. Then I decided to ring the helpline, whose telephone is conveniently displayed on a nice little sticker on the machine. I got a lovely female voice tell me that there was a 'technical fault' and that the phone lines wouldn't be available for at least another two hours. I decided that I wasn't going to wait until later to phone again. I'd give it another go in the morning. The label on the machine told me that the help line was open from '8.30 a.m. until 5.p.m.' So, this morning I rang at precisely 8.30- to THEN be told that they had changed the opening hours from '9 a.m to 5 p.m.' Really irritating me by now, as you can imagine. So, I attempted to ring a little after 9. I just got an endless menu of the what's and why for's and things this and that. I wasn't going to get to get through in a month of Sundays. So, I thought, it's obvious that Vax isn't interested in it's customers, and between us we eventually decided to buy a new machine. After all, if we'd had to send the thing back, even if it was still under guarantee, we'd have to pack it up and post it off and it would cost a fortune in postage, so it was probably going to be a good deal cheaper to buy a new one. You can spend good money buying an extended warranty or guarantee (I never knew what the difference was anyway and to be honest I don't think I'm too keen to find out, thanks all the same.) when it's probably a lot cheaper to just throw the old heap of rubbish in a skip and buy a new model which is, frankly, going to be a lot more efficient than the old model. These extended things are just a rip-off anyway and just a way of extracting more hard-earned cash out of your bank account. Some stores try and sell you these 'extras' when you buy certain things, for example, Curry's or Dixon's (which is all part of the same conglomerate, which also includes Carphone Warehouse). As I said earlier, it's just a way to make more profit and no doubt, extra commission for their staff.

So it was that, when we visited Sainsbury's a little later in the morning, we had a look in their electrical department and browsed the vacuum cleaners they had on display and decided to purchase a Russell Hobbs cyclinder vacuum cleaner, priced at a little over £50.  On  eventually getting it home and assembling it (not particularly complicated as it turned out.) it proved to be a good deal more efficient and easy to use than the Vax machine which it now replaces. A small machine which takes up far less space and probably far more efficient. I'm just annoyed that the Vax machine has barely lasted in a working state for less than a year and that it's so difficult to contact the manufacturer due to the incompetence of their telephone helpline or call centre or whatever you want to call it.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Swimming At Nuffield Health

We haven't been swimming at Nuffield Health at Kent's Hill for a while. Mostly down to one or two factors, ill-health, for both of us, but mostly just life in general. But this morning we went. It has been a rather strange morning, weather-wise. Somewhat undecided, raining one minute and then the next, bright sunshine. Because Carol is on Half Term this week we don't have to get up early. Generally we're up by 5.45, drinking tea and watching Breakfast on BBC1. I think at the moment we might actually skip the news, what with terrorist attacks in Manchester and General Election stuff. I don't like it when either party leaders start making personal attacks. I'm not going to get into politics on here. Always a good thing to steer well clear of at the best of times, but at least it will be over in around 9 days. Thankfully our electoral system doesn't drag on relentlessly as it does in America, for at least a year. Ours is over in a matter of weeks. Then, regarding the Manchester terrorist attack. Why do the television companies and mainly the BBC think it's necessary to carry hours and hours of discussion and analysis of the subject? Particularly when a lot of the pictures are repeated and we've had the same bits of film shown in a sort of loop. Is it supposed to help the families and friends of the unfortunate victims of this outrage? I know it was awful, but, please, stop harping on about it and why do they insist on planting their reporters in places in and around Manchester and just talking endlessly about the tragedy? Enough is enough. Actually playing into the hands of those who were responsible and giving them publicity.

It was quite busy when we arrived at Kent's Hill and parked the car. You have to be careful where you park, as it's on a slope. I know our car has good brakes, but I don't like leaving it on a slope. Just keep thinking it's going to run away. I know it won't, but it doesn't help that I get the feeling that it might. There were a few people swimming up and down the pool as I walked in. Still managed to do around 20 lengths of the pool. Then into the sauna and then the steam room. Back in the pool for a further couple of lengths. Then some of the centre's staff started setting up for what I presume is called aqua aerobics. We got to the pool at the wrong time a few weeks ago and had to get out of the pool when all these people started doing these water-based exercises, lead by this woman who waved her arms around to loud music. Today one woman swimmer took one of the plastic steps and placed it in the pool. I think she was one of those people who was very particular where she stood (or sat) and wanted to make sure nobody else got her place in the pool. There's always someone like this in every group of people who meet, for whatever reason. They insist on sitting in exactly the same place, on the same chair, on a bus, a train, in a church, theatre or wherever. They get really upset if they can't. If someone comes along and alters their little bit of space, or wants to sit or stand where they've stood or sat for the past 30 years or so. Come rain or shine. A sort of territorial trait of some sort. Wars have been started over lesser things. Sad, really. But we sat in the jacuzzi and could see this going on and this particular woman wasn't backing down and insisted on having her step-stool left where it was. Oh dear, what a fuss.

We left to get dressed and then went to Waitrose, which is only a short distance from Nuffield Health. As we both have My Waitrose cards we can have free tea or coffee although you have to buy something to eat as well if you use the café. Not unreasonable I suppose. It's generally a very nice place to sit and eat, but when I'd paid for our food and carried it to where Carol was sitting amidst some nice upholstered  armchairs and sofas, I had to shift a load of dirty cups and plates left from a previous customer. Unfortunately not up to Waitrose's generally good customer-care, as it's generally spick and span and then the pastry I had chosen seemed somewhat under baked. Oh dear, things are slipping, sad to report. 

From Waitrose we drove to IKEA because we're looking at the possibility of replacing our sofa and my armchair. The one I chose a couple of months ago isn't the most comfortable chair I've ever sat in (which I am as I write this blog post.) There are plenty to choose from and in the end we've decided to order on line because it would be easy to let IKEA deliver the chair as it would be difficult to carry it home in the car. The place is heaving. I don't think I've ever seen it so busy. Mostly in the restaurant. I can see why, because the food is good and very good value. I have a feeling people go in there to use the restaurant and not necessarily to just buy furniture and household items.


Sunday, May 28, 2017

Outing to Derngate Centre in Northampton

We've been to see several shows at the Derngate Centre in Northampton. We last went to see a production of "A Tale of Two Cities" in the Royal Theatre which is part of the complex. I have to admit to having something of an affection for that beautiful little theatre. I think it might be there that I got my interest in theatre when I was quite young and in the late 1960's I almost got a job as a Student A.S.M., but eventually ended up at the Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham. We have been to see larger-scale productions in the other theatre, The Derngate, which is next door. We have seen productions of "Cabaret" and "Cats" and in the past I've been to classical music concerts as well as a production of "Hamlet" which was utilising the uncut text and running for over four hours. It was a good production, but it was over two hours before there was an interval!

On this occasion we were here because we've just celebrated out 10th Wedding Anniversary. We had looked for something to see locally and had hoped the theatre in Milton Keynes might have had something we'd have liked. I'm afraid the seat prices in the Milton Keynes Theatre were somewhat too high. I had hoped we could go and see the touring production of "Funny Girl" but the only two seats I could get for a matinee performance and which were in the top-most tier of seating cost £45 each, and I'd no intention of paying £90 and then having to sit in such a poor seat with poor visibility of the stage.

So this is how I came to book us two reasonably-priced tickets for a show called "Running Wild" for a matinee performance yesterday (Saturday) at the Derngate Centre in Northampton.

On Arrival in Northampton we had to find a carpark. I knew we'd be able to park closer to the Derngate as there is a carpark virtually next door, but that is easier to get to if you come in from Bedford on the A428. But we came in on the A45 from the M1. When we'd come to see a production of 'A Tale of Two Cities' a couple of years ago we parked in a multi-storey carpark which contained a multi-screen cinema complex called The Vue. So this is where we managed to find a space this time. A lot of vacant spaces and not too far up the building.

Once we'd parked we walked towards the town centre. We had quite a lot of time to fill before we could collect our tickets from the Derngate box office and see the show. We visited a few shops to browse, including Debenhams. Carol said she needed to do a blood sugar test, so we stopped in Debenhams while she did this blood-prick test and discovered that her blood sugar level was low. Being a hot day didn't help.  The temperature outside was high and it seemed to be hotter because it was a town centre and the pavements and the enclosed nature of the streets seemed to increase the heat. It got to the point where we wanted to have some refreshment and decided we needed to find a Wetherspoon's pub.We have been to several across the country as they do reasonably priced meals. We weren't entirely sure where there was one in Northampton town centre and actually found the spot where one used to be but had been closed. There was a sign on the hoarding telling us where the nearest one was, called 'The Cordwainer' and in  street called The Ridings. There was a map on the hoardings which purported to show the route to this new pub, but we didn't manage to find it, even after we asked several people where it was. We even used Google maps on my iPhone. You'd think it would be an easy matter. After a while we did land up outside the pub and it was busy. Well, I suppose it would, seeing how it was a hot Saturday and it was lunch-time. We found a table in a corner and began to look at the menu so we could order food. Carol chose burger and I chose what was called the Three Chicken Feast, which looked perfect for what I needed because, by now I was hungry. I went to the bar to order the food as well as two sugar-free Pepsis. It didn't take long for the food to arrive at our table. The only problem we had was that unfortunately we had chosen to sit at a table near the disabled toilet. Not nice being to close at the best of times, but people kept coming and going. You had to have a special key in order to use this facility.  But never mind, the food was good and it gave us a chance to just sit and relax. Anyway, regardless of all that, the food was good and plentiful. A good enough reason to choose to eat in a Wetherspoon's pub. Also, at a very reasonable price. From The Cordwainer we walked towards the Derngate Centre. We still had plenty of time to waste and walked past the Guildhall and, in a rather  nice shady courtyard next door to this Northampton Council building we saw a statue sitting on a bench. This seems the way to present statues of famous people these days, rather than having them on plinths and too high to be able to observe properly. On inspection, the statue turned out to be of the local Northamptonshire poet, John Clare. This gave us an opportunity for rest and relaxation and to take a couple of selfies with the statue. By now it was approaching 2 o'clock so we decided to walk the short distance to the Derngate Centre where we collected our tickets from the box office. We managed to find some seating in what was the entrance to the Royal Theatre until it was time to go into the auditorium and find our seats for the play which was going to start at 2.30.

A large audience. I think the house must have been around 85%-90%. A lot of children and parents with those children. Actually good to see so many children being taken to see a live show. I was quite surprised by how many had mobile phones on. You couldn't but notice because the screens on smartphones light up. Fortunately these appeared to be turned off as the lights in the auditorium went down and the play began. Directly in front of of was the sound and lighting operator's desk and you could see the computers that the operator used for both lighting and sound control for the performance.

The show utilised clever staging, with minimal scenery which could be changed rapidly to get from one scene to the next. Actors performed alongside puppets which were operated in full view of the audience. One, in particular, was an elephant that moved very convincingly even though it was operated by around five puppeteers. The girl who played the central character of Lily had to ride on the elephant, so those puppeteers must have been strong to support her. The show was aimed at children, as already mentioned, but it wasn't in the least bit sentimental or morkish. As much as I like puppets, I don't prescribe to the idea that they should be mainly for children. It's a bit like animation, which up until a few years ago was aimed almost entirely at an audience of around 5-10. It wasn't until the appearance of the Muppets on British television in the mid 1970's that it became obvious that puppetry could be aimed at a far older audience.

As I said, we enjoyed the show and then left the Derngate to walk back to the car and home. No doubt we'll be visiting the Derngate again to see another show in the not-too distant future.

Friday, May 26, 2017

10th Wedding Anniversary

Today is Carol and my 10th Wedding Anniversary. Not sure what stone, piece of metal or other material represents this anniversary. Apparently, after doing a search on Google, it's supposed to be tin or aluminium. So, what are we supposed to be given? A tin of baked beans or some cutlery made of aluminium? A set of steak knives? Kitchen spoons? Well, at least it's warm and sunny. Carol finishes school this afternoon as it's Half Term next week. We're booked to go to see a show at the Derngate in Northampton tomorrow. 'Running Wild.' This is a play that uses puppets and is based on a novel written by Michael Morpurgo. 'War Horse,' another of his books, was adapted by the National Theatre and has been a highly successful play which is currently touring the U.K.

It's yet another very warm day. I have had to go into Sainsbury's as I needed to order Carol a repeat prescription. I didn't have much in my trolley and was queuing at one of the checkouts when one of the staff came up to me and asked me if I wanted to use the self-service checkouts. I don't always use them as I'm always in favour of having a human on the check-out. I'm not over-keen on the voice you get on these computerised check-outs which keep shouting at you to do this or that and tell you that you've got an 'unrecognised item in bagging area' when you've haven't. Anyway, I was wheeled around to the self-service checkout area and this lady whisked my shopping through at break-neck speed. I had little time to draw breath. I think she was keen to get me out of the store. Then I couldn't find my Nectar card, to swipe it to get my points. This is a problem, as most stores seem to have some sort of loyalty card. We have quite a collection and they're kept in my wallet, along with my bank debit cards. So, the problem is, when you arrive at the checkout, wherever it might be, Tesco, Waitrose, Sainsbury's or even Costa, Waterstone's, Pets At Home etc etc., you have to scramble for your wallet and then ferret within it's confines to look for the relevant card. My wallet has space for a couple, but then the rest that aren't used that often get buried in another compartment. I have managed to download the apps that are supposed to correspond with the various loyalty cards but not all of them can be used in the same way as their plastic counterparts.

I had to drive home a slightly different way because I knew that along Saxon Street they are resurfacing the road.