Thursday, February 23, 2017

'The rain, it raineth every day'

What a change in the weather! From almost spring-like to howling winds and pouring rain. Typically British I suppose. It's what makes this country the way it is, green, rolling hills and dales. Lushness. Verdant. There is a warning from the Met Office that we're in for severe storms. They've named the storm Doris. So, it's a Doris Day. Nothing to do with the sweet and sugary American actress and songstress of the 1950's and 60's. Snow in Scotland and whirling winds across the rest of England and Wales. Batten down the hatches and settle in for the worst of it.

I've entitled this post using a quote from William Shakespeare. That's from one of Feste's songs from "Twelfth Night" which is one of my favourite plays. There are many more references to weather throughout the Canon. Look at 'King Lear.' 'Blow winds and crack your cheeks.' We are obsessed by weather in this country, probably because the weather is so central to our lives. My father was a farmer and was always going on about the weather, because it was so important to how the farm was run. No good trying to get in the grain harvest if it was pouring with rain. There was one of those old fashioned barometer in the passageway at the rear of the house where we lived. He would go out and tap it and then you'd hear him mumble something on the lines of 'ruddy weather!' or 'Better weather.' Or whatever. I never understood what that was about as a child, but he could be extremely moody and I think now that this was down to the weather. I think I'm similar in some ways. I'm better when it's sunny and bright but become somewhat more moody when it's rainy and wet. Well, if it means you can't get out and about when it's grey, wet and gloomy, it's bound to effect your mood. Also, I think I'm effected by seasonal variations, particularly when the clocks change in October (usually around the time of my birthday) when the clocks go back an hour. It's generally darker and colder which has something to do with it.

As I write this the sun has come out. It's bright and streaming in through the window. I've had to draw the curtains to stop it shining in my eyes. It's shining through the trees along the Redway behind the house and as the branches move it's making the light flicker somewhat annoyingly. Which is why I drew the curtains. It was pouring with rain as I took Carol to work at Milton Keynes Academy earlier but, as I say, it's bright sunshine now. I think the wind has dropped. It just shows how quickly the weather changes.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Hair Cut

I went to get my hair cut yesterday. My hair was beginning to get untidy and as the weather was a good deal milder and sunnier it seemed a good excuse to get mine cut.  I have been going to Essential Barbers in Monkston for a couple of years now. I used to go the the Central Barbers in the Food Centre, the shopping centre near the main Milton Keynes Shopping Centre. But then we found ourselves in Monkston a couple of years ago, I don't remember how or even exactly when and we came across a Budgen's and I think did some shopping for essentials there (the unit is now a Cooperative store.) We found that there was also a fish and chip shop along from Budgen's which we tried (but decided that it wasn't anywhere near as good as the Brother's fish and chip shop in Eaglestone and haven't returned since. Also, between all these, Essential Barbers. I found that they were far easier to get to than the barber's in the Food Centre, gave a better service and above all were cheaper. The other one kept putting their prices up which wasn't a particularly good selling point in my opinion. I know these companies have to cover their running costs, and in particular things such as Business Rates, rent, electricity etc. but if you keep putting your prices up then you risk loosing customers. As I'm now retired I get a reduction in the price which is a good enough reason to go to Essential Barbers. I can park the car immediately outside and, if I arrive at 9.30 I can usually get my hair cut immediately. I'm all for being punctual and in this case, it pays off, because yesterday, even though quite a gathering of customers arrived well before they opened up at 9.30 and was in the chair having my hair trimmed almost as soon as I walked through the door. My hair usually needs cutting between every 4-6 weeks. It hadn't been trimmed for much longer than that so I was in a serious need of a cut. If I keep it short it's easier to dry when we go swimming so I did need it done particularly for that reason. I'm probably more fortunate than a lot of men my age in that I have kept my hair, although it's gone grey, I haven't had to suffer baldness, thankfully. I think I owe that to good genetic material, passed on I think from my maternal grandfather who had plenty of hair on his head. Although I think through him I probably inherited my heart problems. Carol has her hair done at Arcana which is at Shenley Brook End. She last had it done a couple of weeks ago. They have started doing men's hair their, and I had considered going to get my hair there, but I think it's a question of what you know and trust, as Essential do what I like with my hair as I'm a bit fussy about that sort of thing. No point changing just for the sake of it.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Half-Term

Carol has been on Half-Term this week. After the awful day we had last Saturday (not going to mention it any more. Just read the previous blog post.) it's as well we could go out to find something nice to take our mind of things. On Saturday we went to Stowe Landscape Garden to have something to eat in the restaurant. It was quite a pleasant day, so that made things better. We didn't walk to the actual gardens as it's quite a way. It seemed quite busy there, no doubt because it was the beginning of the holiday period. We had soup and some really nice crusty bread. It's good that we have our National Trust membership so we could get in without paying. You can always rely on there to be decent food in their restaurants and we haven't been in this restaurant since it opened a couple of years ago. A vast improvement on the temporary building which used to house the café when it was on the opposite side of the gardens. There's a new carpark and visitor centre at Stowe.  On Monday Morning we went swimming at Nuffield. The place wasn't busy which makes a change, no surprise I suppose as most other members would be at work. One of the advantages of being either on holiday or retired. On Tuesday we went to Whipsnade and our efforts were rewarded as we saw the red pandas which don't generally come out of hiding. Very rare to see them. Walked a long way so we did at least get some exercise. We visited the central shopping centre in Milton Keynes on Wednesday and I wanted to show Carol the DAB radio/CD player I wanted to buy her as a birthday present in John Lewis. Not sure whether to buy it, but on Friday we went to Kettering as Carol wanted to visit a shop which specialises in dolls houses. Not the sort of place you'd choose to visit. It's very run down with many empty shop units. Seems the fate of so many towns and cities currently. We drove back to Milton Keynes and went to Sainsbury's. We had a look at DAB radio/CD players in the electronics section of the store and found a rather nice Blaupunkt model which suited our purposes. Cost £100 which was cheaper than the Pure model we saw in John Lewis and decided to buy it and used up the Nectar points we've been saving for a long time. This model has more functions than the Pure model, and once we got it functioning in the bedroom found it to be more than adequate. Not only does it have DAD radio and FM stations and the CD function, but you can charge your mobile from it and it connects with other devices which have the added facility of Bluetooth so you can play music from your tablet device or smart phone which makes things even more flexible. Went to Nuffield again on Friday. Certainly getting our money's worth from our membership. I did over 20 lengths of the pool which is great. I have to say it's having a real benefit towards my health and well-being. It's a far deeper pool than D.W. as well as having a sauna as well as a steamroom  and spa.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Sad Week

I have attempted to avoid writing this blog post. I've mentioned Poppy, one of our dogs. Her health began to deteriorate a few months ago. Infact, thinking back, I think it began when we went for the week's holiday to the South Downs, and which ended abruptly because of the awful weather we experienced and the fact that the electricity was cut off which forced us to leave after only a few days. Poor Poppy (as well as Alfie, our Yorkshire Terrier.) did not react well to not only the awful weather, but the fact that she wasn't supposed to follow us upstairs to the bedroom at night. The cottage we rented wasn't really dog-friendly, as it was advertised. It was a quite difficult experience for not only ourselves, but the dogs.

Poppy died on Saturday. As I say, her health deteriorated gradually over the last few months. Her weight came off very dramatically, so much so that she became just thin, she looked as if we didn't look after her. Very far from the case. Her eyesight went. It was clear that she could no longer see. Her eyes looked as if they had cataracts. I have known Carol for a little over 10 years, and in all that time Poppy had been around. She would have been around 3 years old when we first met. She'd always been an active little dog, gone on walks with us, gone with us on holidays. She could be incredibly stubborn when she wanted to. Also, very loving and great fun to have around. We got Alfie around a few months after we got married in 2007. We wondered, when we bought him home as a puppy, how Poppy would react, having a young pup in the house. We needn't have worried. There were a few issues during the first year or so, some quite scary particularly incidents when they had fights. I imagine it was something to do with the fact that he was a male and she a female and she was older and sort of 'top dog.' That behaviour disappeared after a while. 

We knew it was clear that Poppy's health was going to deteriorate further. Well, she was 14 years old. Her eyesight was going to get worse. She began to bark relentlessly, no doubt to try to find out where we were. She managed to find her way around the house, she knew where the garden door was, her food bowl (always had a good appetite and managed to eat plenty, although, at the end of her life she never put on any weight, considering the amount she could put away.) She kept on wandering around the house, rarely settled anywhere, although she would sleep for very long periods. She used to know more or less when Carol was coming home, would wait for her at around the time she would come in from work. It's strange how dogs know this sort of thing, although no doubt it's because they get used to our routine.

We would have wanted Poppy to have had a natural death, but it wasn't to be. Knowing her, she might have gone on for a few months more, but for us it was heartbreaking to see her deteriorating so dramatically. So, it was Carol's decision to have her put to sleep. It was by no means a decision that was made lightly. We went to our vets and arranged for this to happen last Saturday. Not a day that was easy, infact, very difficult for both of us. It was very emotional and sad. There, I'v managed to writ about it on this blog. 

We're not sure whether Alfie has missed Poppy. It's difficult to tell whether he has actually noticed her absence. I expect he has, because she's always been around, they've been together around 11 years. I expect he must have wondered where she is, why she's not coming back. Does he think, maybe they''ll go out and bring her home? He's now centre of attention. How do dogs show emotion? They always seem to know when we're not well, or there's something emotional going on. What do they sense? Is it a smell we give off? I know that dogs have  an exceptionally good sense of smell, so what is it? 

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Reading and Writing

I'm currently reading a book by Andrew Marr, "A History of Modern Britain." It's about the period from the end of the Second World War right up to the present. I'm not exactly sure how far forward it ends, as it was last published in 2009, so I presume it closes with the financial crash of 2008. I read his other book, "The Making of Modern Britain,"which covers the period from the death of Queen Victoria in 1901 right up until V.E. Day. Apparently they were written and published in reverse order, which doesn't make sense, but I suppose if you'd had a success with one book it would make complete sense to do a history of the 20th Century. I read them in chronological order. I'm around one-third of the way through the book. As I'm interested in history, I was fascinated to read something which put things into perspective, makes some sort of sense of how we got to where we are now. The book covers the Atlee government which came in in 1946 and ushered in the N.H.S., the Welfare State, and other things we now take completely for granted. Particularly interesting to find out about such things as the Profumo Affair, The Bay of Pigs, the Harold Wilson government and the foundation of the E.U., with particular reference to that with relation to the recent E.U. referendum and Brexit. I have the first four volumes of Peter Ackroyd's History of England, the first being 'Foundation', second 'Tudors', third 'Civil War' and the latest, which Carol got me as a birthday present this year, 'Revolution' covering the Glorious Revolution. He seems to bring these books out every two years, so I expect the next will come out in 2018, and the final one (not too sure whether it will reach the 20th Century) in around 2020. Good to read these as it gives a sort of general history of England from about the time of the Romans up until modern times, and, like the Andrew Marr books, puts things into perspective.

I'm still watching 'The Man in The High Castle' and I've two more episodes of the second season to watch. Just as captivating as the first season. It's very subtle and clever. The period detail is quite brilliant. I can't imagine that either the BBC or ITV would produce this series. It's co-produced by Ridley Scott . Meanwhile, on BBC1 on Saturdays there's another series 'Taboo,' which is also a Ridley Scott co-produced series and stars Tom Hardy, who not only acts in it but co-produces the series. It's interesting to see so many film stars and directors moving into television. It must say something about the poor state of the Hollywood film industry when creatives return to television to tell stories, probably because most movies are just so thin plot-wise. Far too many superhero franchises, aimed at the 18-30 age group. Mindless stuff in my opinion. Television can tell far more complex stories, when they can have longer playing times, 10 hour-long episodes. If these shows are then shown on Amazon or Netflix, with all episodes available at the same time, not shown weekly as they would be on traditional television, the audience can binge on as many episodes as they like over a long period, and it saves having to wait a week before the next episode is shown.

I'm busily writing again. I've been spending a lot of time developing storylines and it means that by the time I've tweeted things sufficiently I can use these plot lines to help write stories and keep things ticking over.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Swimming, Shopping and Eating

I haven't posted anything for the past few days, as you will have noticed if you are a regular reader of my blog. Well, there isn't a great deal for me to write about. I know I can write about the most trivial of things, which actually makes a blog interesting, because life is made up of the most mundane of things. It's not actually the big things that are so interesting, it's the minor incidents, those things that we all recognise, that makes a blog interesting. It's what they say about drama, 'life with the boring bits taken out.' Unlike a soap opera on television, 'life with the boring bits put back.' In the future people will be looking at such things as blogs, diary entries, journals and so on, when they are researching material to attempt to understand how we lived in the early 21st Century. Attempting to understand why we spend so much of our time looking at social media, texting endlessly on mobile devices, working out how we managed our lives, so a blog like this is likely to be used in that research. One wonders how it will be preserved, how will digital material, most of it archived on computers, hard drives and serves. Will it actually survive? Unlike all those documents which were written on such material as vellum, parchment and paper, stored in the archives of countries, great estates etc etc. which have survived for hundreds of years.

Well, we are continuing to go swimming at Nuffield at Kent's Hill. It's a nice place as there's little noise, no loud music and no noisy children (no under 16's allowed.) Also, there is a sauna, spa (Jacuzzi) and steam room as well as a far deeper swimming pool which is better for me to swim in. You get a towel when you arrive, which means you always get one which is dry, although we take our own towels. We have also now bought our own pad locks, which have combination locks, so no having to have a key on a wristband, you just have to remember the combination lock, and, because mine is red it's far easier to find when you return to the changing room as you can see it clearly. I had to remember the number of my locker when I swam at the other gym, D.W. which could be a problem as you couldn't get your clothes out if you couldn't open your locker.

We went shopping at Morrison's on Saturday morning. We like to chop and change where we shop for our groceries. Usually we go to Sainsbury's in Witan Gate in Milton Keynes. It's not too big as supermarkets go. If you compare it to Asda near the stadium, it's about the right size, or there again the big Tesco at Kingston. Those two supermarkets sell a wide range of non-food items, which include clothing, which takes up a fair amount of space at Asda and Tesco, as well as stationary, newspapers and magazines, homewares, besides the general groceries that you'd expect to find in a supermarket. It means when they are so big, that you can spend forever walking up and down the aisles. You can become totally distracted by all the non-food items. When we go to Sainsbury's we do tend to spend a lot of time browsing, particularly the clothing. Also, we have our repeat prescriptions made up in the pharmacy in Sainsbury's. The staff in there know us well. You just have to ring up and they take the repeat prescription order which is sent through to the doctor's surgery at Ashfield Medical Centre and the doctor signs the prescription (which is electronic, which saves on paperwork) and they send it back to the pharmacy and they make up the prescription. This takes around a week and we just have to go into Sainsbury's to pick up the medication. The pharmacy in Sainsbury's was recently taken over by Lloyd's. I'm not sure why, because it was always, up until then, a Sainsbury's pharmacy. Something to do with being taken over as part of being a monopoly or something, and giving it to Lloyd's makes it less of a monopoly of ownership or something. No, it doesn't make sense to me either, as there are a few other Lloyd's chemists around Milton Keynes already.

As I have mentioned already, we decided to go to Morrison's to do our weekly shop last Saturday. We like their meat and cheese, infact, most of their range of such things as meat, cheese, pies and particularly fruit and veg. In Milton Keynes we're spoilt for choice when it comes to grocery shopping. There's not only Morrison's and Sainsbury's, who both have two supermarkets in the Milton Keynes area, but Tesco at Kingston (as well as at Bletchley and Wolverton, as well as the smaller convenience stores dotted around the city at such places as Oldbrook. Then we have Waitrose at Oakgrove, as well as the cheaper end of the market with Lidl (having a store near Tesco in Oldbrook, as well as Aldi, with stores at Bradwell Common and a newer store at Westcroft, we we occasionally use.

When we arrived at Morrison's Carol suggested we go into the café and have something to eat. As she's diabetic, sometimes she needs to eat something to prevent her blood sugar level dropping too far.  Having got a trolley for our shopping, we needed to put it in one of the lockable cupboards they have so that nobody can run off with your shopping without paying. It took some while to work out how the locks worked on the doors. It needs a £1 coin in the slot inside which releases the key which you then use to lock the door with the trolley inside. On arriving at the café we then found that there was a long queue at the counter. It wasn't moving, or if it was, it was incredibly slow. I suggested we just wait a while as it would soon move. It didn't, after five minutes. The staff in the café were either incredibly  disorganised or the café was understaffed. As it was a Saturday, would you not think the management of the café would have put on more staff to deal with the amount of customers? Or else the girl on the till had no idea how to cope with the pressure of numbers. Or something else. Whatever it was, we didn't find out, as we left to get on with our shopping. At that rate Morrison's will have lost a great deal of custom.

On Sunday morning we went to Nuffield at Kent's Hill. It was reasonably empty, but there's always someone or other who insists on hogging most of the pool for themselves, forgetting that they take up some much of the space as they swim up and down. The last time we went the steam room wasn't working properly. For some reason it wasn't making a great deal of steam which meant it wasn't as efficient as it might have been. But on Sunday it was back up to temperature. Certainly good for my back and shoulder injury. Still manage to swim around 15-20 lengths of the pool. But I must remember to take and use my G.T.N. spray before I get in the pool to prevent having an angina attack.

From Nuffield, we decided we needed something to eat, so we went to Frost's Garden Centre at Woburn Sands. We haven't been for a while, and were struck by the improvements that have been going on there. The restaurant has had a complete revamp. They've always had a good restaurant with a great selection of food, not just snacks, but the lunch menu looked good. I had a toasted sandwich with bacon and cheese and Carol had a baked potato and tuna and we both had lattes. Good and hot and a treat after our time at Nuffield.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Peter Capaldi Leaves 'Doctor Who'

So, Peter Capaldi is to leave 'Doctor Who.' I'm not actually very surprised. I reckon he had to endure some of the worst scripts ever during his tenure. And it all down to the show runner, Stephen Moffat. I have been a fan of Doctor Who since the very first episode was aired in 1963. I would imagine that I was the right age to fit the demographic of the audience they were attempting to attract when it was originally broadcast. I was about 13. I loved it from the very first. I recall distinctly the first appearance of the Daleks. They were mysterious. We gradually got to know them over many later stories. Infact, in some ways, they were used far too much, probably because the BBC knew that with them in an episode they could help boost the ratings. What made 'Doctor Who' so distinctive was the fact that it was made up of so many episodes, and around every four to six weeks, when the Doctor and his companions got in the Tardis and took off at the end of a serial, you never knew exactly where they would land in the next episode, the doors of the Tardis would open and you would be in a completely different world, or time, be it past or future, a historic story, say, set in ancient Rome, Ghengis Khan, or to a future with robots, megalomaniac semi-human robots such as the Cybermen or Daleks, the Sea Devils or whatever. Infact, some of the best stories I remember were those during the tenure of Jon Pertwee, when the Doctor was forced to remain on Earth and deal with aliens during the 20th Century. The fact that the Doctor could be regenerated every couple of years was a stroke of genius, a device cleverly introduced when the original Doctor, William Hartnell, decided to leave the series. As a result, every time a new Doctor is introduced, the show could be reinvented, given a make over. This is how the show has managed to survive for more than 50 years. In 1989 the BBC cancelled 'Doctor Who.' It was no surprise, really. It seemed they didn't want it to survive, giving it a really poor place in the schedules, shown twice mid-week, and opposite ITV's soap 'Coronation Street.' Also, not helped by two actors taking over the lead who were, frankly, totally mis-cast, Colin Baker and then Sylvester McCoy. No fault of theirs, they were just not provided with very good storylines or scripts and the budget for those episodes most likely got reduced as the special effects were very poor, to say the least and the sets generally of a very poor standard unfortunately. It is no wonder the ratings plummeted. Why show the programme mid-week, and opposite such a ratings juggernaut as 'Coronation Street'? There was always talk that 'Doctor Who' would be rebooted. There was even a one-off film with Paul McGann in the lead role. I never saw it. I didn't want to. By then I'd lost interest in the who 'Who' thing. But then, in 2005, the BBC decided it was time to revive the series. It was given a complete make-over, the show had what was termed a 'Showrunner' a job which came from American television. This time Russell T. Davies was in charge, writing many of the episodes and the actor who was cast as The Doctor was Christopher Eccleston. The show was given a new format, each story running for 45-50 minutes. I think this was the first mistake they made. The original 30-minute running time is far better, with stories running over 4-6 weekly instalments. In it's original form, Doctor Who ran more or less continuously throughout the year. In it's rebooted form  it ran for 13 weeks. Also, they began it in May, which means that the evenings are getting lighter (by then the clocks have moved back to Summertime.) It was still scheduled on a Saturday, as the original show was scheduled. By now it wasn't really a children's show as originally intended, but more what you'd class a 'family' show, meaning they could make the stories and characters far more scary. But did they heck! No, it became far more aimed at an older audience, and many of the stories became far too frightening for a younger audience and as a result the good old BBC decided in it's infinite wisdom to put it out later and later on a Saturday evening. In the old days Doctor Who would be on at around 5-6 p.m. on a Saturday, after such things as Grandstand were finished (the long-defunct sports magazine.) The 30-minute format was far better than telling a story in a 45-minute slot because you had cliff-hangers at the end of each episode and so built up the excitement of what was going to happen next in the following week's episode. You can hardly do any such thing in a one-episode story, although they have done the occasional two-episode story. But even then the 45-minute stories do seem incredibly rushed, there's hardly time to develop a story sufficiently to make it an engaging  or worthwhile viewing experience. They may have had more money to spend on these episodes compared to the classic episodes, but even then it was all crash, bang, wallop, big and brash, lots of running around, chasing monsters as usual, but it became very jokey and a lot of the time hardly any character development or subtleties that would make a story interesting. Too clever and pretentious for a children's audience or even an adult audience. It was made for an hour slot, following the American model, with the idea that it would sell overseas. If it's made for a 45-50 minute running time, the hour is made up on a commercial channel with around 10-15 minutes of commercials.  A lot of C.G.I. was used, but my one complaint is that that is cheating. The best monsters are those that are 'in the flesh,' are real in the sense they are there in the studio or on location. The C.G.I. monsters did tend to look as if they'd be sort of Photoshopped on during the editing process. Almost as if they'd been cut out and stuck on afterwards. One of my big complaints was what they did to the Daleks. They had always had the problem of not being able to go up stairs. Probably because they were designed to run on castors, a sort of built-in problem probably due to budget restraints. You came to accept that the Daleks couldn't go up stairs, but in the new Doctor Who, when they appeared in the newly-rebooted show, suddenly they could fly. It just looked absolutely ridiculous. And done by C.G.I.! As  result, the Daleks are little more than a laughing stock and as a result don't seem anywhere as menacing as they did when I remember them as a boy of about 15. And in one episode at about the time of the 2010 Election they even had to make some of the Daleks have what would appear to be the colours of the major political parties. In one episode they came across as being, well, frankly, camp, the way they moved and spoke. More like dancers in the chorus of a really awful musical! Well, definitely not menacing.

Christopher Eccleston only lasted one series as The Doctor and then was replaced by David Tennant. A totally different interpretation. That's what makes Doctor Who so different to other drama series. If you re-cast your central character you'd expect them to be the same sort of age, height, etc and they'd be played in more or less the same sort of way. Even down to their costume, hair etc. Not with The Doctor. He can be played by an older actor as with William Hartnell, who played him as a doddery old gent with a Grand Daughter. Or, he can then be played as a sort of space hobo, which is how Patrick Troughton played him, or as a rather cheeky comic character, which is how Tom Baker played him. From Tennant we had Matt Smith, who played him as a combination of Tom Baker's Doctor and Patrick Troughton's version. Then, when Matt Smith took over we got Peter Capaldi, who was the same sort of age as William Hartnell when he first played the part. He certainly gave the part a sort of gravitas, but, unfortunately, the scripts just didn't cut the mustard in my view. Stephen Moffat took over at the time Russell T. Davis left as show runner and things just went from bad to worse. He made the stories very 'clever-clever.' The Christmas episodes became more and more predictable and not up to much. I didn't watch many of the later episodes. I haven't see the 2016 Christmas episode nor many of the last series in 2015. The 2016 episodes got scheduled later and later, probably because some of them were deemed to frightening for younger audiences. It seems it has lost it's way and, to be frank, it would be better if they killed the show off completely, although I can't imagine the BBC doing that because it's quite a good earner and is shown all over the world, as well as generating a good income for them through their commercial arm, BBC Worldwide, what with merchandising deals with such companies as Lego.




860th Blog Post: New Specs!

At last, I have been in to Centre MK and collected my reading glasses from SpecSavers. No problems, they are a good deal better than the old off-the-shelf pair. Even have a scratch resistant surface, without any extra cost involved. And they stay on my face and don't slip down my nose annoyingly as they were adjusted properly at the time I was fitted with them. It certainly makes reading easier, not just a printed book but when working on my laptop, for example, writing this.

I've mentioned on this blog the writing project I've been working on for the past couple of years. I was working on a plot line for a new sequence over the Christmas period. I find, if I have a well-constructed plot line planned in advance and I develop it well, then the actual writing is fairly straightforward. It's something like having a blueprint for something, such as a building, or the scaffolding which is put up beforehand when a building is being built. If you have firm foundations then the house you are building will stand firm. I can make little adjustments to this 'plan' as I go along, adding or subtracting, which makes the story work better and the writing easier.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

A Few More Niggles

Who's idea was it at Marks and Spencer to put stupid stickers on the soles of their slippers which are very difficult to remove? And, after some real effort, there is a really nasty sticky residue left which is even more difficult to remove. This seems to be a problem with quite a few items we've bought. You get similar stickers in books, for example, in Waterstone's when they have their 'Buy one get one half price' or 'buy one and get one free' offers. They insist on having stickers on the covers of the books which are difficult enough to remove and once removed, leave a nasty sticky residue which is even more difficult to remove. Why wants their books covered in the stickers in the first place? The same with books in The Works, the bargain book shop. Just as difficult to get the sticky goo off the cover of the books you have just purchased from them.

While I'm on the subject of labels, not particularly stickers, but those of a different type. Why does IKEA insist on having such ridiculously large labels on their products? I know they have to warn people of the dangers of the risk of fire (but, come on, who in their right mind is going to put a match to such items as curtains, carpets etc etc, or put them too close to an open flame or 'source of ignition.'? Although, thinking about it, I suppose there is always someone who would.) What I'm thinking about are the horrible long bits of material stuck to some items they sell, giving such details as materials and where the item is made, which just look ugly and out of place. We always cut them off, on some items, such as throws and soft toys we've bought for our dogs. I suppose it's to adhere to Health and Safety regulations or something. No doubt to do with the E.U. so something we won't have to contend with once Britain has left. Then, why, on hot drinks cups, for example, when you buy a coffee in Costa, Starbucks or any other outlet that sells take-away drinks, do they have to state the patently obvious on the cups, with the words 'Take care. Contents may be hot.' So, what do you expect with a hot drink? Are people do dumb they need to be reminded that the contents are hot? Doh! The same when you have a microwavable meal, they insist on telling you that the contents of the little plastic container you have which has a lasagne in it or other meal, will be very hot when it comes out of the microwave or oven? 'Open carefully because hot steam will escape.' There's a surprise. I have a real dislike of these cardboard cups anyway. How on earth are you expected to drink from them, with the lid on, out of such a tiny hole? You get such a tiny mouthful, it's hardly worth bothering. I don't know why anyone would want to buy these cups of coffee, usually from vending machines, and why do people have to walk around drinking hot coffee in the first place? A decent cup of coffee needs drinking from a proper china cup, not something made of nasty plastic or cardboard, which, incidentally, most likely not be recycled. It needs drinking fairly quickly before it gets cold and is totally unpleasant. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Library Job

I've mentioned the many and various jobs I've done over the years. Not always successful. Certainly not in any way related to my theatre experience, but one that does spring to mind was working for Bedford Library Service. I was employed to drive a library van, and as part of the job I was to visit local schools in and around  Bedfordshire, with a group of librarians, who would help stock the libraries of the schools we visited and, later on, do story time with the children. With my experience of working in theatre, as well as puppetry (having done schools touring with several puppet companies, which I have never discussed on this blog, but may do in the not-too distant future.) it seemed the perfect job for me. I would have been good as a story-teller with the children. It was this part of the job which appealed to me most when I first applied for the job.  However, there were one or two problems which didn't help. I had a perfectly clean driving licence. I had been driving for many years. No problem with that. It was the driving of the library van which was the problem. When I went for the initial interview I had to do a driving test in the vehicle. It was large and very cumbersome. As you would expect of a mobile library. I had to drive the thing around the carpark at Bedford County Hall. A great deal of crashing of gears and it was extremely difficult to see clearly when reversing. Also, I had to take it out on the roads of Bedford (with another person sitting beside me, it has to be noted.) Some of the one-way system in Bedford town centre (this was in the mid 1980's.) was extremely hazardous, particularly one junction from Caldwell Street into St John's Street. The traffic is supposed to merge, with no traffic lights to control the flow, so you took your life in your hands and judge when to move into the road. I had real problems putting the vehicle into gear. Not nice if you are standing still, waiting at a junction, craning your neck round to get a view of the road over your left shoulder and then attempting to put the thing into gear so the vehicle will move off safely. The thing was extremely large and heavy, so it took some time to gather speed so I could drive into the flow of traffic. I had real problems with all this. But, regardless of my driving test, I was taken on for the job. It wasn't just driving around the town in the one-way traffic which was the problem (actually, out in the countryside there wasn't a problem at all. It was the gears in the wretched vehicle and the size of it which caused the problems.) but getting the thing in and out of the garage at County Hall which caused the greatest problems. It was extremely narrow and you were expected to reverse this colossal vehicle in and out of an extremely narrow entrance. Also, without the help of any member of staff. Crazy, if you think about it. It would have made the process of reversing so much easier. But they wouldn't do this for me. It  might have been easier if they'd cleared out the boxes and other clutter which blocked the rear of the garage, because there was actually an exit, which, had it been cleared properly, would have meant you drove IN one end and drove OUT the other. But the staff would not do this, they were stubborn in their total refusal to make my life easier. I think there was one occasion when I probably scratched the side of the benighted library van, because of the very narrowness of the garage i was expected to reverse into. Probably merely inches to clear on either side. Also, as you reversed in from the carpark, you had to negotiate a loading bay, a large chunk of concrete, which was directly to one side as you reversed into this garage. An extremely difficult manoeuvre, to say the least. It probably would have been really easy if driving a car (which is what I had only ever driven, apart from vans and minibusses.) Which begs the question 'Why did they employ me to drive a vehicle so large, which actually required the driver to hold either a PSV or HGV licence, neither of which I held?' A really good question. It also didn't exactly help that, at the time all this was going on, the river bridge in Prebend Street was closed to heavy vehicles, which included the library van I was expected to drive. As the library service in County Hall, Bedford, is on Prebend Street, you can imagine the inconvenience if you were required to cross the River Ouse, you had to drive all the way round the town and use the main river bridge which leads into the centre of Bedford and then traverse the one-way system in order to avoid using the Prebend Street bridge and then the other way round if you were coming into the town from the north of Bedfordshire. Not exactly making my job any easier.

The rest of the job was really straightforward. Sorting books. Reshelving them. As I'm something of a reader, as you might have realised if you've read any of my earlier posts. Put me near a bookshop and I can spend hours browsing. Also, merely looking around this room you will see bookshelves simply heaving with books. So, the job was perfect for me. Also, repairing covers, using the special plastic material they use to give library books a clear, protective cover. Also, learning how to use the Dewey system of classification. Then, going out in the library vehicle and visiting all those Primary Schools in and around Bedfordshire. What could have been more perfect? Particularly in the summer months.

Needless to say you must have by now got some idea how this all ended. I got sacked. Which was a great shame, as I actually enjoyed the job. Certainly better than a great many jobs I've done. I think they probably realised that I wasn't suitable as a driver (yes, a driver with an HGV or PSV licence would have been ideal, but wouldn't probably have had my experience of working in schools or an interest in the story-time aspect of the job.) But the library staff's somewhat arrogant attitude as regarding helping with reversing into the garage as well as clearing out the garage so I could drive in one end and out the other. Also, they would sit inside the library van when out on the road and in particular when in school playgrounds, it could be difficult reversing, for safety as much as anything else. A total refusal to help was unnecessary and, quite frankly, quite unpleasant. I think they had a sort of 'we're librarians, and it's not our job to help the driver' attitude. Sorry, but to be honest they were rather stuck-up.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Better NOT go to SpecSavers, but Happy 50th Birthday Milton Keynes!

Yesterday was Milton Keynes 50th Birthday. Not sure exactly what actually happened on 23rd January 1967, but I think it was when the Milton Keynes Development Corporation was set up. It was decommissioned by the Government of the day 25 years later. I have been living in the City (is it a town or a city? It has never received City status. It is has always been the butt of many jokes, particularly over such things as the number of roundabouts and the famous or infamous 'Concrete Cows.' It's an easy place to find your way around, because the grid roads have so many roundabouts that if you loose your way you can always go to the next roundabout, which are at approximately every mile and merely turn round. It can be difficult to imagine that it has so many people living here because of all the trees and driving through the place you can never always see the houses as they are screened by trees which line the roads and then the banks that run along the grid roads are where most of the trees grow.

On Saturday morning we went into the City centre, specifically to visit the Central Shopping Centre. We were looking for flip-flop footwear. It probably sounds strange to learn that we wanted them because, at Nuffield, walking back and forth between the changing rooms and the swimming pool, it is quite slippery. It seems that most of the other people wear something on their feet, such as flip-flops. We walked the length of the shopping centre, stopping at several shops on the way to try and buy myself and Carol our own pair. No success. Probably because they are a seasonal item, which most people buy when they go on holiday, for use on the beach or at the pool-side. We eventually ended up in John Lewis, but no flip-flops of any kind could be discover. We went to their cafe to have lattes and cake, as by the time we'd arrived at John Lewis's we were exhausted. We eventually visited Sports Direct, which has a branch in Midsummer place and it was here that we discovered the flip-flops we wanted. On trying mine on at home, I found that I couldn't wear them as the central 'bar' that goes between my big toe and next toe was hurting my foot so decided that I really needed to purchase what are called 'Sliders.' These are made of a similar material as flip-flops, but are more like backless slippers, but made of water resistant material, a sort of plastic/rubber combination. I have since been to the Sports Direct branch at Bletchley, the retail park on perhaps the worst roundabout combination in the area and got a pair of 'sliders' there.

There is currently work going on in the Central Shopping Central. It's being renovated. The entrance we went into near Marks and Spencer has been given a real spruce-up. It has new flooring, and there are areas which are currently screened off, where the old flooring has been taken up, no doubt ready for new tiling to be laid. Along the malls at one end, there are new seating areas and it seems that a lot of the plants that used to be set into raised beds have been removed. Well, to be honest, some of the plants were beginning to look a bit tired. Quite a few died. They've been in position since the shopping centre was opened by H.M. The Queen, in 1979. It seems amazing that this is Grade II Listed and it can't be altered substantially. It would appear that the rest of the shopping centre (which must be one of the first covered shopping centres in Great Britain, probably after the Brent Cross shopping centre just outside London.) H.M.V.'s store is about to close. They have a sale on, due to 'relocation.' No doubt because they don't need such a big unit. Also W.H.Smith's did the same. They have now moved into a much smaller unit, I think it was where the Post Office was originally when the shopping centre opened. That then moved to a unit in one of the 'Walks' which link the two sides of the centre, but has since transferred to a new unit near the theatre, which has been open a few years now. It would make sense that, instead of closing a store to refurbish, the company moves to a new unit, which would allow the old unit to remain until the new unit was completed. B.H.S. has been closed down since the company ceased trading last year. Also, Woolworth's, the old unit they had opposite W.H.Smith's old shop is now a T.K.Maax.

This morning I went back into the City centre as I had an appointment at SpecSavers. If you've read my earlier blog post, you will know that I had my eyes tested in November. I had gone to Boot's opticians, but took the prescription to SpecSavers to have the glasses made up there. I wish I hadn't bothered. The staff in this place is either dumb or just plain stupid. Just being fair and reasonable, but speaking the truth. I wanted TWO pairs of glasses made up, under their 'Two pairs for £69.' Not too difficult to explain, surely. A week later I go back to collect the order and discover the stupid girl who took the order had got it wrong and given me TWO PAIRS of the same glasses, for distance. Doh! So I had to get them to get it right, and a few days later I get the correct order and then discover that the reading glasses are not suitable  for close reading as well as working on the computer (as now). I went back today to have a re-test. The optician did a good job, but the staff at reception or front's-house, or what ever, who take the prescription to have it made up into glasses, well, another really dump girl who couldn't get what I wanted and I had to explain I don't know how many time that I wanted reading glasses made up for more distant reading work. Dumb or what? Not particularly on-the-ball. I don't trust them to do exactly what I required and will not in future be going to SpecSavers. I think they ought to train their staff better. Just poor customer service in my opinion.


Friday, January 20, 2017

Trumpery, Brexit and A Bitterly Cold Morning

A really bitterly cold morning. The ice on the car really took some shifting. I almost used up an entire bottle of spray anti-freeze. I have to be really careful with cold that intense. I get a real pain in my chest. Not sure I want to induce another heart attack as a result. I think it's because your arteries close up or something. Stops blood pumping through. I'm not going to see what happens so I'd rather be in the warm. The central heating is on. I turned it up a notch yesterday.

So, today is Donald Trump's inauguration. I'm not so sure how I feel about the man. He's made some really nasty comments, he's divisive, what will his Presidency be like? How will we, in Great Britain, get on with the man? More or less the complete opposite ideologically, to Barak Obama. Sorry to see him go. Let's wait and see what happens. I think Trump's style of campaigning during the run-up to the U.S. Election was based on his experience of being on the reality television show "The Apprentice." These shows rely on 'sound bites.' They need them so that people make comments on social media, such as Facebook and Twitter. He has used these 'sound bites' to get a reaction, to get people talking, whether for good or bad. He just needs to temper his comments. He says something, and then sometimes regrets it. Something like "The Apprentice" has catch phrases such as 'Your Fired!" which everyone knows. The same with "Strictly Come Dancing" which is manipulated by the media to give it the best stories which can be reproduced in the Tabloid press. Whenever one of the judges says something nice or nasty, it gets a headline in 'The Sun' or 'The Mail.' (Other tabloid newspapers are available.) Do Americans realise that 'Trump' has a different meaning in this country? As George Bernard Shaw so succinctly said about American and British 'English' and the difference, 'two countries divided by one language.' 

As for Brexit (I'm sorry, but I hate the term.), why didn't our politicians make more effort to actually EXPLAIN what the E.U. was about, well in advance of the Referendum in June? How many voters in that vote actually know what they were voting for? So many people, particularly those in the youngest age-group, say from 18-30, don't appear to have any interest in politics. I know the scandal of M.P's expenses a few years ago tarnished the reputation of Parliament and it's members, which is understandable, but how many people really understand what we got out of the E.U.? If you don't understand the process of Parliament or the E.U. (which also has itself to blame.) how can anyone make an unbiased decision, to leave or remain, if they aren't given the facts? most young people seem more interested in celebrity culture, reality television, the latest football results, than politics and in particular, the E.U. How many people do you see walking about the streets with their mobile phones in their hands, and not actually interacting with the world around them?  When the result of the Referendum is going to have such far-reaching consequences, wouldn't it have been more important to vote in this important Referendum than keeping your face glued to a stupid mobile telephone? It was the tabloid press in Britain who were very much responsible for giving the E.U. a negative presentation, which would have swung there readers towards voting to leave. I also blame the government who drafted the legislation which allowed the Referendum. Why did they not have a clause in that which said that the vote either for or against, had to be of a certain percentage one way or another, to allow for a leave or remain decision? The fact that the 'Leave' vote was so low, I don't know the exact figure, but it was as low as 1-2% in favour of leaving the E.U.

Having done some research on the subject of the Referendum on the internet, I find that around 25,000 votes were invalid or blank. What are we to make of this? Why were they 'invalid'? Are some people so stupid that they spoilt their ballot papers so they became invalid? Didn't they think the vote was important enough to use this Referendum properly and actually vote one way or the other? If they had voted, perhaps the difference in the outcome would have been very different. It just shows the ignorance of some people knows no bounds.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

A Sunny and Cold Day

It wasn't quite as cold as it was yesterday morning. I was expecting there to be quite a hard frost, but only actually a light icing on the car so not as bad as it might have been. As I write this the sun is making a valiant attempt to shine. When it's sunny the lounge can become quite warm, and it is then that you don't need the central heating on.

I was supposed to have gone into the City centre this morning to get my eyes re-tested at Spec Savers. I got my eyes tested by Boot's Opticians a couple of months ago, but then I saw that Spec Savers had a good offer whereby you got two pairs of specs made up for £69. You just take your prescription from one company to another and they make up the specs accordingly. When I got the glasses back around a week later I found that the distance pair were fine, but when I got home and tried the reading glasses, they weren't correct for reading at a fairly close distance, such as a book or newspaper or when working on the laptop computer, as I am at this moment. The pair I am currently using are an 'off the shelf' pair bought from Boots. I managed to book a re-test appointment on line and it was going to be today, but they rang this morning to say it couldn't go ahead as the optician was unwell. It is re-booked for this Tuesday morning. I suppose if a member of staff is ill there isn't much I can do about it. I was offered an alternative appointment but I really didn't fancy driving in to the city centre this afternoon, so I chose to have the Tuesday alternative.

I'm currently watching "The Man In The High Castle," The Amazon series which is available on Amazon Fire Television.  It's one of those series which keeps you guessing, and it certainly has that 'I must see the next episode' feel to it, which I suppose is essential when you have all the episodes available to view 'on line.' You could 'binge' view this quite well, if you were that way inclined. This sort of thing has certainly change the way people watch television. Gone are the days when you had to wait a full week before you got the next episode of a series. I'm on series 2 which began just before Christmas. It is based on a Philip K. Dick novel and takes the 'what if' concept of what would have happened if the Nazis had won the Second World War. They have divided the U.S.A. in to 'zones' and are in charge of the country in partnership, although it's an uneasy partnership, with the Japanese. It is co-produced by Ridley Scott, who is also responsible, in part, for the new BBC 1 drama 'Taboo" which stars Tom Hardy. It makes a change to have some television drama with a bit of bite to it. Not for those of a nervous disposition as this one in particular is dark and grimy. Why on earth is it that the BBC can commission this sort of stuff, yet insist on going on with pap like "Holby City" and "Casualty" which are both well past their 'sell-by' dates? Well, I suppose it gives someone work, even if it's a few actors and writers.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Red Sky In The Morning

There was an intensely bright red sky this morning. You know what they always say, ' red sky at night, shepherd's delight. Red sky in the morning, shepherd's warning.' So, does that mean we are in for some severe weather? More snow? Really hard frosts? Snow drifts? Who knows. Just have to put up with it if it is really bad. 

 We drove to the Shell petrol station in Grafton Street early this morning to fill the car up with £30 worth of petrol. The sky was really beautiful and I would have gone back home and collected my Canon digital camera and gone out to take some photographs of it, but it was changing so rapidly, unfortunately, that it didn't seem worthwhile. A pity, because it would have made a great shot, or more than one shot, which I would have posted on here.

It was also cold and frosty. Not over-keen to get chilled to the bone, so sprayed the car's windscreen and windows before we drove out. Nothing worse, or for that matter, dangerous, than driving with partially misted or iced-up windows. My gloves and hat came in handy. 

Over the Christmas period I have been working on the plot line for another section of my writing project which I've been developing over the past couple of years. I had written this out in note-form several times and yesterday I transferred it to word processing. I have finished it off this morning and printed it out, two pages of it. It does seem to work and there's a fairly good story arc. Now I just have to sit down and write the piece, using the framework of the plot line as reference.

I shall revise this blog as the day goes on, so do come back to see what else I write.

11.30 a.m.

I've been into Milton Keynes Central Shopping Centre. It's turned out to be quite a bright and sunny day, so it's pleasant driving in and parking and then walking into the shopping centre. It was around 9.15 when I eventually got there. I wanted to buy new swimming shorts and I'd seen some in Marks and Spencer when I visited the other day. I thought £10 was a reasonable price to pay and they're a rather pleasant red-colour. Supposed to be quick drying. Not sure how they can be any different to any other swimwear. I suppose it's because they're made of polyester or something. We'll be going to Nuffield this evening once Carol gets in from work, so I'll wear them then. The old ones I have been wearing are beginning to get a bit tatty which is why I wanted new ones. We bought them from Very when we went to Chloe and Steve's wedding in August 2013 and we were staying at a holiday centre in Ilfracombe where there was a swimming pool. We then joined D.W. Health when we came back after the holiday.

I then walked along the shopping mall and went into Boots. I wanted to buy a G.T.N. spray because the one I have has more or less finished. I have one on order, through the repeat prescription, but, to avoid an angina attack when we go swimming I wanted one to put in my bag and use before going into the pool this evening. I was amazed by how much cheaper this one was compared to when I bought a spare a few months ago. It was a little over £3 compared to around £7 elsewhere. I shall be going back to buy this medication from Boots again in future.

On the way along the shopping centre I arrived at Middleton Hall, the large open space near John Lewis. This is where the annual Christmas display is held and also other events such as trade shows, exhibitions and so on. There is currently a really interesting exhibition to mark the 50th anniversary of the building of Milton Keynes. A number of large maps, one being of the area that became the city in around the middle of the 19th century and another which shows archaeological finds. Also, models of buildings, such as the Civic Centre and others to show how bridges would be constructed and fit into the landscape.

It's Carol's birthday in March, and as a treat we were planning to go and see the musical 'Funny Girl' which is on the week of her birthday. I had hoped to buy two tickets for the Saturday matinee. I walked all the way to the theatre (Milton Keynes Theatre. You would think they could have come up with a more exciting name, would you not? Even the new theatre in Aylesbury is called the 'Waterside Theatre.'), quite a good hike along the shopping centre and then over the road near Campbell Park. The theatre was dark, no sign of life. The box office wasn't open, but then I saw that it didn't open until 10.00 a.m. I only had ten minutes or so to wait. Once I got inside, I went to the next available ticket person. I asked for two tickets for the matinee I wanted to book for, but was told that that performance was fully booked. Then the girl looked and saw that they had two returns, right up in 'The Gods,' the top-most tier of seating. I was then shocked to learn that these tickets were £45 each. That meant that the two seats would be £90. Far more than I'd intended paying and also, being in that position in the auditorium, having a really poor view of the stage. When we've been to see shows before we've usually had seats in the middle tier of seating, where you get a relatively good view of the stage. We'd been to see 'Guys and Dolls' a few years ago and sat in the top-most tier of seats and it had really poor visibility of the stage, which is why I didn't want to pay so much for rather inferior seating. I'm afraid we'll have to find something else to do that week, as, frankly I don't want to pay over-the-top prices for an out-of-town touring production of a show. It's around the same price of a West End show, which is all well and good, but my opinion is it's just a way of making a profit out of provincial audiences.

I walked back towards Marks and Spencer's and went into Waterstones. Why is it they dropped the apostrophe off their name? It makes me laugh when you think that as they are a book shop, you'd think they'd attempt to have such things as spelling and punctuation, particularly of their company name, written correctly. Anyway, there was a book on offer for half price which I wanted to check out. I shalln't say any more, just in case Carol is reading this, as I got it as a birthday present. It means I will have to hide it away somewhere so she can't see it. My sock drawer for example. I was also looking for Alan Bennet's Diaries, not literally, I mean, published. The latest selection has gone on sale in hardback, called 'Getting On, Getting On,' I want the earlier selection. I want to read the latest selection, but not having read his earlier jottings, it would be a good idea to read the earlier one's before proceeding to the latest. I wasn't sure where to look. It wouldn't be in the fiction section, so I went upstairs. The more academic books. No staff around. Nobody up there to ask, so I went downstairs and asked at the central pay desk. The young girl had a look on the computer. I said I had seen 'The Lady In The Van' which is a film based on Alan Bennet's relationship with an elderly lady, called Miss Shepherd, who came to live in his driveway, in an ancient yellow van. If you haven't seen it, you should. It stars the amazing Dame Maggie Smith. In a portrayal of a character very far removed from the character she plays in "Downton Abbey." Anyway, I didn't seem to elicit any sort of anything from this Waterstones employee, except to tell me the biography section upstairs had any books by Mr Bennett. The newer book was on display on the tables downstairs, but, as I say, it wasn't the actual book I was after, and anyway, I would wait for it to be released in paperback before I purchased it. So, armed with the information I was given I returned upstairs and there, in the biography section (even though, in actual fact, the book is autobiography) was one of Alan Bennett's books entitled "Untold Stories." I returned downstairs with the book and went to pay at the cash desk. The young woman was as distant and far away as it was possible. I do attempt to converse with shop staff, but she wasn't going to respond, unfortunately. I do think Waterstones should at least employ people who have some sort of conversational ability, or is it just, what with social media such as Facebook and Twitter, people don't need to actual converse anymore. Pity, because usually when I go into Waterstones, I get some sort of response when I try to speak to their staff. Some sort of interest in what they are selling, which isn't a great deal to ask, surely. I know that times are hard, or so we keep being told, but why are there so few staff in that shop? They've given it a facelift and there are actually two branches in Milton Keynes. The shops are much more bright and modern, not so dark and dingy as they used to be. It's a pity that the branch in Midsummer Place got rid of the Costa coffee shop upstairs. It has been replaced by what would appear to be Waterstone's own coffee shop, but last time Carol went in there for coffee we weren't exactly over-impressed. It's on the ground floor, which is probably better. I think the idea is that you choose your books and then take them to the coffee shop to browse through as you sip your latte or cappuccino. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Even More Viewing

There's been quite a few television programmes about musical theatre over the past few weeks. Sky Arts have a programme called 'Backstage With Disney On Broadway'. It's 20 years since Disney produced 'Beauty and The Beast' as a stage musical. The show tells the background story to not only 'Beauty and The Beast' but the other Disney animated films which have since been bought to the stage, such as 'The Lion King,' 'Aladdin', 'Mary Poppins' and 'The Newsies.' This last show is new to me. I had never heard of it. If you don't manage to catch this show when it's broadcast,  then you might be able to see it because Sky Arts shows a lot of it's programmes in a sort of cycle, which means if you don't see it the first time round, it is very likely to be shown at a later date, and time, or, if you have Sky+ or, as we do, Sky Q, then you should be able to find it on catch-up, so you can download it. With our Sky Q box we can at least record around 300 hours of programmes (not that we're likely to store that many at any one time.) we can at least watch things which have been record, particularly when there's so much on, as there was over Christmas.

Then, over Christmas there was another treat. It was called 'West Side Stories: The Making of A Classic", and tells the story of how the Leonard Bernstein/Stephen Sondheim musical was conceived and bought to the stage in 1957. Loosely based on William Shakespeare's 'Romeo and Juliet,' but given a contemporary (well, 1950's) New York setting, the documentary concentrated more on the dance which was used in the show, which explains why Bruno Tonioli was one of the presenters (he is one of the judges on the popular BBC1 show, 'Strictly Come Dancing.') It has always been one of my favourite shows, basically because it has a very strong score, which has barely dated. I have the movie on DVD, which came out in 1961. As I say, the score hasn't dated, nor has the theme of tolerance and racial division, probably more relevant today than when it was first produced. The film looks as fresh as the first day it was released, although perhaps the costumes might look somewhat dated, but the style of the whole thing, the use of colour, graphics and the fact that it was filmed on the actual streets where it is set, makes it quite remarkable. It went on to win no less than 11 Oscars, including Best Picture, Director and Cinematography. 

Then, last Friday, BBC Four gave us the first of a three-part documentary series called "Sound of Musicals With Neil Brand." The first episode did a short history of the musical, from the early 20th Century. Neil Brand, who is someone I haven't heard of before, gave a very academic reading of some of the most iconic songs from musicals, how they were written as well as how they were constructed as well as the background study on several classic musicals. He touched briefly on 'West Side Story," "Annie Get Your Gun" which was being shown in rehearsal at the Sheffield Crucible Theatre. Another bit of history was the background to "My Fair Lady" and had rare footage of Julie Andrews, who was the original Eliza Doolittle in the Broadway production in 1956 and then came to London for the transfer when it played at the  Theatre Royal Theatre, Drury Lane.  The next two programmes are going to cover the story of more recent musicals and no doubt will cover those shows created and produced by Andrew Lloyd Webber, such as 'Phantom of The Opera."

I have mentioned this in an earlier post, but when I was at Rushmoor School we went to see the original London production of Oliver! It must have been my first experience of a West End musical. I can't think how the teacher, Mr Crutchley, managed to get tickets for such a top-rated show. It can't have been opened very long when we went. We didn't pay for the tickets, so, even to this day, I have no idea who paid for them. I suppose around 25 of us went, on a Saturday. Quite a challenge for one man to take a group like us to London. I think I would have been 10-11, because the show opened in 1960, and, as I say, we can't have gone to see it barely months after it opened. I remember quite vividly the set, designed by Sean Kenny. A year or so later we went to see another musical 'Pickwick' which was on at the Saville Theatre in Shaftsbury Avenue. Since converted into a cinema. The show starred Harry Secombe. 

I think I became interested in not just theatre, but also musicals, because my grandmother was a good pianist (something my elder brother, Robert seems to have inherited.) She had a piano in her sitting room at Mill Farm,  Cardington, where she lived. On the top of the piano were scores for a number of musicals which would have been running at the time (the late 1950's, early 1960's, which included "My Fair Lady" and "Salad Days.") The last I mention was a show which was produced when I was working as a Student A.S.M. at the Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham in 1969. It was an exceptionally hot summer that year, and, as part of the season of shows, the programmed show which was scheduled to be staged, "The Country Wife," a Restoration comedy by William Wycherley. Because of falling audiences, due to the heatwave, it was decided that it would be better to abandon the Wycherley play and instead do "Salad Days," which would have been cheaper to stage. The costumes and wigs for a Restoration Comedy would have been too great. It was therefore the first time I'd worked on a musical. It's probably a bit twee and simplistic for modern audiences, about a magical piano which makes people dance. It was originally staged in the early 1950's, and the music is pleasant but I don't think it would go down too well with a modern, early 21st century audience, more used to shows such as 'Les Miswerables' or even 'Wicked.' The Artistic Director of the Everyman Theatre at the time, Michael Ashton, who directed this production of "Salad Days," was responsible for writing a musical himself. It was called "The Young Visiters." It was based on a book written by a young girl called Daisy Ashford. The musical was given a West End run and starred Alfred Marks and an actress who was in the company at the Everyman, Vivienne Ross, was also in this show. She was the female lead in the production of "Salad Days" at Cheltenham. She was in  the ITV soap 'Coronation Street'  as Stella Rigby, a friend of Bet Lynch when she was landlady of the Rover's Return pub, as Stella Rigby, another landlady who ran The White Swan.            
(Incidentally, I have spelt 'Visiters' correctly. It is how Daisy Ashford spelt the word, as a child would, when the book was originally published.)

Further to what I mentioned about Oliver!, in around 1968, at about the time I was leaving school, I was attempting to get into theatre, stage management in particular. I had an interview at R.A.D.A. (Royal Academy of Dramatic Art) with the intention of doing a Stage Management course there. I went with my mother and aunt to London for this interview. I remember we went by train. We went from Sandy railway station, because my aunt lived near Sandy, so I suppose it was the best station to go to London from. When I'd had the interview (I didn't get into R.A.D.A. if you're interested. Read my earlier posts on my stage management experience working in 'rep.') After the interview, my mum and aunt went off somewhere in London on their own. No doubt they went to do some shopping. I want to see the film of 'Oliver!' which had then recently just opened at the Odeon, Leicester Square. It's a good transfer of a stage musical to the big screen, the dances are good and the production design is good, but it does seem a bit tame when you think how they did the movie version of 'Les Miserables.' Far too bright and well lit and clean to be convincing as Victorian London. I have since learnt that the young lad who played Oliver, Mark Lester, had his voice dubbed by a girl, which must have been a bit of an insult.