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Sun, Jan. 29th, 2012, 11:16 pm
"The Artist"

Just been to see the new silent film The Artist and found it unique and very witty. From the opening credits, which use the same typeface and format as the old 20s and 30s films, you're drawn into the world of the silent film. After a few minutes you forget it's in black and white, and when they do use real sound it's startling and discordant after the music of the soundtrack which has been doing so much to tell the story.

There are lots of call-outs to old films, the star "George Valentin, played by Jean Dujardin, is a combination of John Gilbert, Rudolf Valentino and Douglas Fairbanks. You get a Keystone Kops moment, a bit of swash-buckling, an actor disappearing into quicksand, a call-out to the first sound scenes in "Singing in the Rain" with the fixed microphones, and a very clever dog, like the terrier in the 'Thin Man' films. There was also a cheerful dig at the historical inaccuracy of the old films, where after a sword fight with costumes reminiscent of the Three Musketeers, Napoleon suddenly stands up :-)

They have a lot of fun with the idea of talking in pictures - the opening scene shows the hero being filmed in a scene where he is fiendishly tortured, and the intertitle (a word I never knew before!) comes up with "I'll never talk". But he does, right at the end, and with just the right words.

Sat, Jan. 28th, 2012, 02:07 pm
Ad preferences

This is interesting to try out: Does Google Accurately Guess Your Age and Gender? And the answer is 'No' - brought to you by a 65+ male!

Tue, Jan. 17th, 2012, 08:10 am
Trevithick's Tunnel

Here's an fascinating article about attempts to build a tunnel under the Thames.
I would probably have found it of interest by itself, but it also sheds a bit more light on a local hero from my home town in Cornwall - Richard Trevithick. It strikes me that he was a bit like Charles Babbage who came up with the idea of a computer; the resources of the time were not enough to accomplish his ideas.
Makes you wonder if there are geniuses out there nowadays who look like failures because the facilities to implement their ideas just aren't available at the moment.

Fri, Jan. 6th, 2012, 10:28 pm
Genographic Project

I've just seen someone's post about the National Geographic's Genographic Project and it reminded me that several years ago I took part in this. IBM was providing support for the project which meant we could get the kit for a cheaper price than on the website.

So I took the cheek swab and sent if off, and found our maternal family is part of Haplogroup H, which is basically your bog-standard European. All our ancestors hung out around the Mediterranean during the last Ice Age and then spread back up when the temperatures rose. Since I'm female they can only test the maternal DNA, and I'd need a male relative tested to be able to find out if the paternal side is any different. I wonder if they're still doing the cheap kits ...

Wed, Jan. 4th, 2012, 07:14 pm
An easy New Year Resolution

If you've already failed to keep your New Year Resolutions then here's an easy one that you can do in 5 minutes: Join the Organ Donor Register and don't forget to tell your next-of-kin.

If you're not in the UK it should only take a few seconds Googling to find your donor register ... and you're never too old. They may not take all of you, but there's still bits of you they can use, if you die in your bed at the age of 102 :-)

Tue, Jan. 3rd, 2012, 07:56 pm
Great Expectations - comments

I used iPlayer to download and watch Great Expectations last night, and enjoyed the adaptation. There was some alteration to some of the secondary characters like Molly, and pruning of some plot details, but in ways that aided the story and didn't jar - for me, anyway.

I liked Gillian Anderson's performance as Miss Havisham, and found the choice they made about her costuming very interesting. It appears that the starting date for the book is about 1812, but they seemed to set it in mid-Victorian times. This meant that they could give Miss Havisham a Regency Style dress that produced more of an impression of a young bride. Her hairstyle was still fairly neat at her introduction but degenerated as the years passed, which made a clever shortcut for her mental state. There was also a different take on the 'fire' scene which worked very well with how they'd told the story.

I think it was the first version I'd seen where Pip was prettier than Estella!

Fri, Dec. 30th, 2011, 12:06 pm
Game Over

I usually end up playing some sort of game over Christmas like Farmville or Castle Age, but this year I bought one. Not that expensive since it's an old release, and I certainly got my money's worth since I spent about 20 hours playing it (off and on - not non-stop!) I finally finished it today and can now stop battering my keyboard :-)

It's called Portal and consists of the player moving about a maze by shooting portals in walls. For example if you had to get over toxic water, you'd shoot a portal either side on the walls either side of the water and just avoid it completely. It's not very violent since there is nothing alive in the maze so the only thing you destroy are robots, and there's a wonderfully villainous AI (artificial intelligence) called Glados that you get to destroy at the end. Since it's spent the whole game trying to mislead you, dropping things on you, trying to shoot you or drown you - the ending is very cathartic.

I had to cheat a couple of times in the beginning of the game to work out how to do things but you pick up all the techniques you need by the later more challenging levels. Although I did look up a couple of things towards the end to make sure I was using the right method. Without a mouse some of the manoeuvring can take a while, so I didn't want to spend a long time doing the wrong thing.

Still, great fun, and I have some challenges and advanced games I can come back to another time - perhaps next year.

Sat, Oct. 29th, 2011, 09:55 am
Library founder

I happened to be passing past Winchester Library (now the Discovery Centre) recently, which is a lovely building which used to be the Corn Exchange. I wondered if that was why there was no mention of John Passmore Edwards on the walls. Every library I went to in my youth (Camborne, Redruth - where I had a Saturday job, and Truro) all had the title of Passmore Edwards Free Library.

I looked him up when I came home and discovered he was a West Country worthy, which is why so many Cornish libraries bear his name. He was born the son of a carpenter in Blackwater, between Redruth and Truro. He went on to become a journalist and MP, and a practical and generous philanthropist.

He died 100 years ago this year, so this update is a small commemoration of his centenary, and a thank you to someone who was so important to my early life, and getting me where I am today!

Wed, Sep. 28th, 2011, 01:42 pm
They don't want my blood :-(

I've just rung the Blood Donation Helpline to see if I can resume giving blood. Unfortunately, with the potential of Scleroderma - or rather, the uncertainty about what it might be, I can't give again until there's a definite diagnosis. I'm not going for any more blood tests until next year, so the blood donation people have put an indefinite hold on the donor invitations.
It's a pity since I'm O Rhesus Negative which makes me a Universal Donor. Also I've given blood 48 times, so was only 2 away from getting my Gold Award.

Fri, Sep. 9th, 2011, 07:10 am

We're having a charity sweepstake for the rugby world cup in work. Just before picking out my piece of paper with the team name, I jokingly say, "I'll probably get Japan." Guess which team I ended up with? :-) Ah well, I've always enjoyed the spirit with which they play their games, and I'll be happy if they win one match this time.

Also, I was more tactful than our Danish graduate who pulled out his team and said, "Oh no, Wales!" only to find out he was sitting between two welsh people :-) (For anyone from abroad, I should point out the welsh love their rugby.) It's going to be an interesting world cup at work.

Sun, Aug. 21st, 2011, 05:18 pm
Buckingham Palace

At the end of last month, I went with sister J___ to visit the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace. She'd been before, having been invited to a Garden Party a few years ago. But at the garden parties, you enter through the main gates, then straight through the palace and into the grounds so you don't get much of a chance to look at the rest of the building.

When booking tickets you choose a particular time slot, so we chose 14:45 so we had plenty of time to get to London and have lunch first. After lunch we went to Green Park and walked down through the park, in front of the palace and round the back where there was a huge queue. Sister J___ joined the queue and I went off to the front with my booking receipt. Where you pick up your tickets, there's a quite fast moving queue since there are a couple of people holding boxes of tickets sorted by name so they find your tickets quite quickly.

Then back to the huge queue, which isn't quite as huge as it first appears since people are actually sorted out by time, so you find your time slot and mingle in. This meant that we started going in about 10 minutes after our time slot, once through the entrance you group stands around for a bit, while the previous one finishes going through security. There are x-ray machines and metal body scanners like at the airport. I had to hand over my Swiss penknife, and you get a label so you can pick up anything at the exit. You can have an audio headset which gives a running commentary on the rooms, or just admire them without description.

We spent a good 2 hours walking through the rooms and they were very interesting. Apart from the architecture and decorations there are masses of paintings around. I found it quite funny to see all the paintings of previous monarchs, since if you're ever reading a history book about a king or queen then the accompanying picture would be one of those on the wall. It made it all seem very familiar. There was also a picture gallery which had a wonderful collection of paintings from the Royal Collection, with all different ages and subjects together so it was like a microcosm of art history.

If I say there was a lot of uniformity about the rooms, that sounds like a criticism, but in my opinion it worked very well since it wasn't one of these stately homes where they showcased a different style in each room. There was a lot of gilding around, and mostly white, red and yellow walls, with chandeliers and some striking bits of furniture. During this summer there are two special exhibitions on. One was some pieces of Faberge work including a few of his Easter Eggs. These were well laid out in a row of display cases where the crowd was split either side, which meant you could have a good look at the pieces.

The other exhibition was about the dress that Kate wore at the Royal Wedding. They had a small video about the making and some detailed photographs, also a small case with her shoes and jewellery. The dress itself was on a podium with this kind of black net thing over it which looked like a giant beekeepers hat. It made the display look a bit discordant in the elegant surroundings, but once you were up close it let you have a very clear look at the dress. Some of the teachers we have on our Saturday embroidery classes worked on the dress doing the applique of the lace, so it was interesting to see close-ups of the work.

After we'd finished in the palace you walk out through the grounds, and pick up anything you had to leave behind at security. I did think that although it was very busy, it was also well organised with all the workers keeping remarkably good tempered. The timed entrances staggered the crowds enough that you could always see things and move about easily. For example, at the Faberge collection you could linger a bit at each case. It wasn't like some exhibitions I've been too where you all have to move along together shoulder to shoulder.

We both really enjoyed the visit, and since we had our tickets stamped on the way out we can use them again, and are thinking of going in September.

The back lawn of the Palace which is looking a bit battered since the marquees for a garden party have left their mark. Buckingham Palace

Mon, Aug. 1st, 2011, 07:51 pm
A Bird in the Hand

So there we were yesterday sitting silently in Quaker meeting, when there was a tremendous kerfuffle from somewhere in the bowels of the house. After a while this resolved itself into flutterings in the chimney, and we realised there was a bird stuck up there. One member quietly left and returned with dark towels to trap it in, if it came out of its own accord, and we continued sitting. In the chair next to the chimney sat the House Manager who is the Quaker with the main responsibility, along with the Warden, for running the house. When more feathery noises occurred, she kneeled down in front of the fireplace, removed the logs, stuck her hand up the chimney and with a flurry of flapping wings retrieved the pigeon who had caused all the problems. An experienced chicken handler, she quickly subdued it and took it outside to release it, where apart from losing a few feathers, it appeared in good shape and flew off.

She returned, we continued in silence and after a few minutes, she stood up and gave some inspired ministry, along the lines of "It is a good thing to remove a pigeon from a chimney, but the better thing is to discover how it got in the chimney in the first place. Which reminds me of the words Dom Helder Camara "When I feed the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist."

A House Manager of many talents!

Thu, Jul. 21st, 2011, 09:47 pm
Heart Echo

I had the interesting experience of an echocardiogram yesterday. Kudos again to the NHS since I arrived early to find the right department, and since they were ahead of themselves I went straight in to get the procedure done.

You take your top off and then lie on your left side with your arm above your head, so you end up looking like one of Ingres' Odalisque paintings - although the effect is rather spoilt by the pair of practical trousers.

The nurse uses some gel around the heart area and then a probe is run over the skin, to get different views of the heart. The only uncomfortable bit was when she pressed into the solar plexus to get a view from that angle, and that was mostly because it came as a surprise. Occasionally the nurse turned on the sound, I guess to get an idea of any abnormal noises. It all sounded a bit strange to me, either like a weaving machine from a cloth mill, or someone running through mud in wellingtons.

There was nothing obviously wrong, but she'll pass the results onto the specialist for a closer look.

Mon, Jul. 11th, 2011, 09:59 pm
The Eagle revisited

Just finished "The Eagle of the Ninth" by Rosemary Sutcliff, which was one of my favourite - if not the favourite - books when I was young. And it has stood the test of time very well. She mostly wrote for children, but didn't write down to them, and so I could read it now and enjoy the story, without it just being an exercise in nostalgia.

The characters were plausible: they were frightened, and inconsiderate, and content in a way that made for a fully-fleshed person. Even though I knew what happened in the story, the situations were still tense.

Something I may not have appreciated so much when I was young, were the wonderful descriptions. For the most part it's set in Scotland and she would often start a chapter with a sentence or two describing where they were. And, perhaps because I've visited Scotland, I could visualise exactly the scenery she sketched. Reading up about her, I find that she was an artist - specialising in miniatures - and her use of colour in the story was very evocative:
the distant lift of damson-dark uplands that showed through a break in the oak woods.
A little chill wind came soughing across the garden, silvering the long grass,
the short hill-turf that spread here and there like green runnels among the bell-heather

As a child I read every one of her books I could find, either in the library or bookshops, and I'm tempted to start searching for them again.

Fri, Jun. 24th, 2011, 09:49 pm
WAFA Show 2011 in Boston

Long view So I've just got back from Boston, and the World Association of Flower Arrangers show was great. There was a huge hall filled with demonstrations of floral art - this wide shot gives some idea of the scale, and that's just one corner. There were 30 sections with about 20 exhibits in each section, we looked at each exhibit, and they were all of an incredibly high standard. They came from all the continents, and we found that some countries had a wonderful tradition of flower arranging which we'd never suspected - like Pakistan, which hosted the last show. The originality of many designs was astonishing, which emerged even in the imposed classes where the contestants were all provided with the same sets of materials and then had to interpret the theme of the class. But in the more free form classes there were brilliant ideas and impressive craftmanship. The show was swarming with people on Thursday, the first day, but quieter on the Saturday. As you might expect the crowd was mostly women, but there were some men scattered around, as the picture shows. Including a couple of blokes who looked like they were part of a motorbike gang - floral arrangers come in all varieties!
More pictures of the displaysCollapse )

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