Romanos graviter

Today was the second Weasel outing to the Globe for 2014. We saw Julius Caesar which I’ve been looking forward to seeing.

It’s possibly the one Shakespeare play I know really well, the reason being that our English teacher thought our class was too dumb to study any other Shakespeare. And so we had to study Julius Caesar every year (perhaps until we got it right). I think the director should have done the same.

This is, without a doubt, the dullest play I’ve seen at the Globe. The main problem was the depth of the characterisations. I say ‘depth’ like there was some. It was as deep as a hill. This lack of any depth in the characters doesn’t give the audience a reason to care about any of them.

And it’s not like there isn’t lots of fodder for character work.

Julius Caesar – a very powerful man, he’s just returned from a victory in battle. He returns to Rome amid tumultuous celebration. From the off we should see his greatness and command of the people. Then the director has a choice: is Caesar in it for the glory of himself or of Rome? Either way, the actor has some lovely character work.

Cassius – he of the mean and hungry look. He thinks he knows what’s best for Rome. He thinks Caesar is only interested in become King and thinks little of Rome. His character would be so much better if he was a creepy, slithering toad of a man. Ignoring whether he’s right or wrong, this would at least create a last impression.

Brutus – Caesar named Brutus his son and was quite dismayed when Brutus stabbed him during the assassination. Brutus needs to be undecided and in great pain. He needs to overcome his great love for Caesar in order to decide for his great love for Rome. It is a constant internal struggle. I guess the actor playing Brutus (Tom McKay) did display a bit of this internal dichotomy.

Mark Antony – The rough, tough, all round soldier who would follow Caesar into Hades if he had to. A man with great passion for life if not the smartest in the bunch. This is what makes him such an interesting character, surely. Here’s this simply soldier who delivers a resounding bit of oration, turning the Roman crowd against the plotters. Sadly, the Antony I saw today was all about shouting. The passion wasn’t really there.

The crowd scenes, however, were excellent. Actors were placed in among the groundlings, on the floor as well as on boxes, creating a feeling of mass. For both Caesar’s return and the speeches, this was very, very effective.

So, all in all, not the most exciting performance I’ve seen at the Globe. Still, it was a lot better than Macbeth!

Curtain call – the most exciting bit of Julius Caesar

Of course, the Weasels had a lovely time, wandering the back streets of London Bridge trying to find a pub with some modicum of ventilation. Eventually we settled into the Bunch of Grapes and luxuriated upstairs by the windows overlooking St Thomas Street.

The eye of the storm

Today was all about the water butts.

Firstly I had to build a little stand (out of bricks) for the New Water Butt (NWB) and make sure it was sitting flat (as opposed to level). This took me quite a while because the plastic stand that is now sitting on the brick stand, had to be filled with water first. Of course, I’d emptied the NWB yesterday by giving it to the plants so I needed a fresh supply. I used the water in the Already Fixed Water Butt (AFWB).

So, armed with my trusty watering can, I took water from the AFWB and filled the plastic base of the NWB. This took a while but, eventually it was completed and I managed to set the NWB in place, ready for the connection to the downpipe.

Do you know what really irritates me? When you know exactly where something is, in fact that thing has been in the same place for as long as you can remember (because you put it there specifically to remember for when the time came) but, when you finally need it, it’s vanished. Normally the reasons are somewhat prosaic but, today, it was because Tim the electrical engineer had to get into the under stair cupboard ages ago and he emptied the contents onto the long lounge.

The long lounge is inaccessible because various tradesmen have decided to use the doorway to the lounge as a storage depot. This made it impossible to get the connector. So that will have to wait for…who knows.

Anyway, the NWB was now nicely in position and I decided to fix the AFWB. There’s been a problem since I originally set the AFWB up. I put the connector a bit too high so that the AFWB fills up beyond the proper level and ends up pushing the lid off as the water gushes over the side. All that was needed was a couple of the big grey blocks left over from building the extension being slipped beneath the plastic base beneath the AFWB. The trouble was that the AFWB was full of water.

So, armed with my trusty watering can I emptied the water from the AFWB into the NWB. This took a long while as the AFWB was pretty much full.

That’s enough about water butts except to say that shortly after I’d finished working on the water butts, we had a horrendous storm with thunder, lightning and torrential rain. I’m pleased to say that meant a bit of a top up for the AFWB.

Speaking of the rain…Clive and Robbie were just about to lay a new batch of cement when they had to abandon their tools and dash inside (I dashed inside the office as it was closer). The stood at the big glass doors looking mournful. To be honest, Clive looks pretty mournful most of the time but Robbie is usually quite chipper (though he does rather look like a hapless boxer).

When the rain finally eased off, Clive couldn’t help himself. He just had to rush out and finish off the bit he’d started. Lacking any sort of covering, he was forced to resort to a cardboard box for shelter.

Working through the storm

I guess the biggest event today was Mirinda seeing the house for the first time this week – a week that included the kitchen being installed, among other things. She thought it all looked absolutely stunning.

I was so glad.

Is Bob a jinx?

It seems that the saga of the fridge freezer has yet to finish happily. Poor Bob stayed at the flat from 11 – 1:30 today, waiting patiently for its arrival. At 1:30 he texted to say it had yet to arrive. I rang the company and spoke to the very helpful guy who answers the phone. (What a difference it makes to speak to the same person every time rather than a random selection of robots.)

He was just about to call me. Everyone is in a bit of a flap because the truck carrying the fridge freezer had had an accident. The driver swerved to avoid an accident, ran off the road and almost toppled over. Fortunately, no one was hurt. I can only assume they were a bit shook up though.

I expected him to say that, because of this, the delivery would be a bit late. I was sort of right in this assumption.

When I say that no one was hurt, there was one fatality: the fridge freezer. It fell over with all the grace that a sudden burst of gravity doesn’t allow. While the packaging was of the usual white goods standard, it wasn’t very good against the elemental forces of nature.

The fridge freezer had a massive great dent in it, making it point in a direction it was never intended to. The engineer who was going to install it gave it a thorough examination and deemed it unfit for purpose. Actually he said it now wouldn’t fit in the space for which it was intended. And who knows whether it would actually work.

And so, our poor fridge freezer was taken back to the warehouse and full funeral rites were conducted.

This meant that Bob could go and have some lunch and have the afternoon to himself. It also meant that we wouldn’t have a fridge freezer until next week. I quickly did some calculations and went for Tuesday, thinking I could book Day-z in somewhere and go up to the flat to receive it.

A little later, when I explained to Mirinda what had happened (she thought it was a joke, at first) she suggested making it Wednesday so she could be there. This was a superb plan and was immediately put into effect.

I am not, however, drawing any sort of line under the fridge freezer acquisition story. There could be more twists in the tail yet…though I seriously hope not.

Mirinda and Bob reckon he might be a jinx since there seems to have been a lot of strange things happening since his arrival, and they generally involve him. He returns to Oz tomorrow, so we shall see if he is a common denominator of misfortune.

Meanwhile, at the house, I was once more busy in the garden while the work progressed steadily. Lee finished Stage One of the kitchen and laundry, Jem fitted the bath and made the laundry sink emit water and Clive and Robbie laid some more cement.

Upstairs, the bedrooms now have complete new oak floors and the hallway is almost finished – they were interrupted by the bath installation. The decorators continued their hard work, stripping, sanding and painting.

In the garden, Day-z and I worked hard, preparing the space for the water butt that has been sitting idle for about 12 months. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been that idle because it was full of water. In order to move it, I had to empty it first.

This took a long time, given I was doing it by the watering can load and drenching the plants with it. Still, it was complete before I went home and tomorrow I’ll set it up properly.

I mentioned to Mirinda that I was rather enjoying being the boss of the site this week while Dave’s been away. She said that I am the boss all the time. I guess she has a point.

Freedom for granted

It was another long, hot day in the garden for me with a very pleasant interlude spent in the park. I managed to weed and clean up the ex-nettle bed and made a big start on the beds outside the office.

Meanwhile, Clive and Robbie (and a young guy who made the cement too wet) started pouring the cement base for the tiles on the terrace. By the end of the day, it looked like this.

Lee the kitchen fitter had most of the kitchen in and the painters had started stripping the walls in the stairwell. It looked pretty dire by the end of the day. I have no idea why the underneath is red – probably the ancient plaster from the bygone age from when the building was originally constructed.

The outside of the house received another coat of paint but the floor guys didn’t turn up. I don’t know why. Hopefully they’ll be back tomorrow to finish off.

The big event today was having a chat with Lee the kitchen fitter. He’s originally from Zimbabwe and was one of the poor farmers who were thrown off their farms by Mugabe’s thugs. He told me a terrible tale of one day running a very successful tobacco farm, employing over 2,000 people and the next barely escaping with his life.

As he said, we have no idea what it’s like here in the ‘civilised’ west. He told me that two people came to his farm one day and told him to leave with only their personal possessions. They even had to leave their furniture.

He came to Britain with his wife and small children – she is British and he has British grandparents. He only just made it. Shortly before he left Zimbabwe, he was chatting to a couple of guys and, as he walked away from them, they attacked him with an axe. He had something like 40 stitches and only just survived.

The farm had been set up by his father and carried on by Lee. It was to be his father’s retirement but, sadly, they were both left with nothing and had to start life again. His father is working in Brisbane at the moment, finding it difficult.

Other members of Lee’s family also live in Australia and he, naturally, wants to join them but the Australian Government won’t give him a work visa. This is in spite of the fact that he is a stonemason with heaps of work to his name (in London churches and elsewhere) and having a five year contract to start work immediately in Brisbane. Apparently, while he has all the points needed, he doesn’t have a qualification. Unfortunately, there is no trade certificate for stone masonry. Which makes it impossible. And, quite frankly, absolutely ridiculous.

And, it seems, Australia is crying out for experienced stonemasons (they are on the National Skills Needs List) who have experience with the newest machine techniques, something that Lee has in abundance.

I hope he keeps trying because it seems an awful waste for him to be fitting kitchens when he has far greater skills. It’s also a shame he can’t be with his father.

Anyway, that was my day.

Gardening at last

I should mention that Dave the Builder has gone away to France for a couple of weeks. For that reason, I’m going over to the house every day. Just to keep an eye on things and be on hand for any questions…or problems. So, this morning I had an early Skype call with mum and dad before heading over on the 9:30 bus.

At the moment, my office is a bit depressing. It’s being used as a store room for various bits of left luggage. Given there’s no shelving or cupboard space, everything is, basically, on the floor. I can just manage to get to my desk but, once there and settled, I quickly get discouraged by the surrounding mess. Needless to say, I don’t like spending much time in there. Once the rooms are finished upstairs, I can start tidying up but until then, I’m stuck with it.

This morning, after checking in with Lee the kitchen fitter and Clive and Robbie, I sat at my desk for a bit to write up the last blog posts before heading out into the garden. Actually, calling it a garden at the moment is a stretching the point somewhat: a wild, untamed thing, would be closer and more accurate. I figured out a good way to occupy myself at the house.

And so I spent most of the day clearing out weeds and grass from around bushes and gazebo legs, making it start to look the way it’s supposed to. It was very hot work, given the day was very hot and the sky completely free from clouds. Fortunately I had plenty of water, my crumpled Panama/Ecuadorian hat and some isolated pockets of shade. As long as the weather holds, this will be my task for the week – to rediscover the hidden treasures of our overgrown garden.

While I toiled gently away, Clive and Robbie were working steadily on the terrace, finishing the brick work and, finally laying the first section of hard core prior to stamping it down. They ran out by 3:30 so Robbie was sent off to buy more while Clive packed up for the day.

Lee the kitchen fitter made very good progress with the kitchen. It’s really starting to take shape. My two new cookers have been installed and the fridge in place, minus the doors. The worktops will not go on until they’ve been measured up then formed. This happens once the kitchen is complete.

The biggest surprise, however, was out the front of the house where the decorator had been extremely busy. After the back of the house was rendered, Mirinda decided the front should also be spruced up. We decided on masonry paint rather than the very expensive option of rendering the pebble dash away. In order to paint it effectively, our beautiful wisteria had to be chopped right down to the brick level of the house. While a bit sad, it does give us the chance to train it properly rather than have it going mad all over the house. As the decorator said, we’ll suddenly have quite a light lounge room.

As I said, he’d been very busy on his own, wielding ladder, roller and chopper. By the end of the day, the house almost glowed in the afternoon sun.

As for me and Day-z…we went for a walk, we spent some time reading under the gazebo, we ate lunch, we went back to Frensham. Oh, and we stopped off in a pub on the way for a lovely, cold pint of Peroni. Needless to say it wasn’t the Farnham House Hotel.

PS: The fridge freezer arrived safely at the suppliers in the afternoon…thanks, Al the Courier.

Kitchen installation

Mirinda and Bob dropped me off at the house at 8am this morning in time to meet the kitchen installer (Lee) as they headed into town. Mirinda was going to work while Bob was heading back to Greenwich.

I met Lee and showed him where everything was. We went over the plans and he set to work. Meanwhile the flooring guys arrived and laid a few more boards upstairs. Tim the electrical engineer, finished up a few bits and pieces (including earthing the cables to the pipes in the laundry, unlike the previous cowboy builders who decided this just wasn’t necessary) and Clive and Robbie continued working on the terrace.

We even had a flying visit from Paul the Brickie, who is presently working on another job but needed to pick something up. It was like meeting up with an old friend. He looked well and very tanned. He’s clearly run out of work shirts.

I spent most of the rest of the day working in the garden, answering questions from various tradesmen and typing up blog posts. Day-z spent most of it asleep though she quickly woke up when I suggested a walk in the park.

And what a grand idea that was. I haven’t been in the park for yonks and it all looked delightfully verdant in the summer heat. Dappled sunlight, full leafed trees, a tractor mowing the playing fields…it was all happening.

Summer

As I walked along the Avenue of Trees towards the castle, I noticed that one of the squeeze gates had been replaced with one of the hinged jobs that swing both ways, with a little section to stand in. They are an excellent form of cow control as well as providing an excellent automatic method of closing which some humans struggle with. A little further along the Avenue there was a crew of men pulling out another squeeze gate ahead of, I assume, installing another new one.

Brand spanking new

The park must have received some sort of funding for gate improvements. However it’s being funded, it’s a welcome change, particularly given the way the young cows managed to squeeze through the old ones earlier in the year.

On Sunday, I ordered another fridge freezer (from a different company, I hasten to add) but the order didn’t appear on my account. I noticed this halfway through the day but only had my phone to check, the Internet being long dead at the house. I was concerned that it hadn’t gone through, though the payment certainly had. I decided to head off to Frensham a bit earlier than I’d planned in order to call them about it.

It had also occurred to me that in order to get some supplies in the Orangery, I’d need to get to the village shop before closing time.

The funniest thing was how suddenly happy Day-z was when we left the bus at Frensham. Her tail was up and she pranced along in her jauntiest of manner. When we reached the cottage, she knew exactly where to go and happily stood waiting at the door as I found the key and let us in. She walked through all the rooms as if she’d come home after a long absence.

When we walked to the village shop, she happily led the way, knowing where to walk on the footpath and where to cross for the park. Extraordinary. It also highlighted how much she hadn’t liked Bishops Waltham. I think it mostly the lack of interesting smells. The field we walked around was fallow and, therefore, probably free from dog appeal.

So, we bought what we needed then headed back. Once the laptop was happily humming away, I logged on, brought up my order and rang them. No problem, the guy said, it would be delivered and installed on Thursday. What a pleasure to deal with someone who could think for himself rather than the awful robots they have at Appliances Direct. He even took me through the order to make sure it was correct.

The rest of the prevening was spent updating the blog and loading some photos onto Flickr.

When I took Day-z along the Bluebell Walk a little later, she was once more happy and contented, sniffing new scents and checking out the old haunts of rabbits and squirrels. I think she’s going to really miss Frensham when we finally leave. I’ve decided not to tell her.

Coffee beans

It’s beyond me why some people think it’s reasonable behaviour to listen to a downloaded Radio 4 programme on Fairtrade chocolate production without the aid of earplugs. Two chaps sitting in front of me on my unexpected train trip into London seemed obsessed with the minutiae of cocoa bean distribution from Kenyan farmers to Britain for use by such companies as Cadbury’s.

It seems there’s a fixed price for Fairtrade crops so the farmers will only trade with them. On the surface, this seems to defeat the name ‘fair trade’ but, as one of the chaps, loudly explained, it means the farmers get al the money rather than the government taking a big slice of it.

It’s important to note that I didn’t want to know any of this (as interesting as it possibly is) but had little choice given the volume of the smartphone it was running on. It was loud enough to give a Fairtrade chocolate education to everyone in the carriage (of which there were lots). When the pair, eventually, decided to move to a carriage nearer a toilet, my fellow sufferers breathed an almost audible sigh of relief.

The reason I was on a train to London was in order to wrap the damned fridge freezer from last week in an adequate covering of cardboard. After the fiasco that was my dealings with the awful Appliances Direct, it came to pass that they wouldn’t pick up an item for return if it didn’t have it’s original packaging. Never mind that it was their guys who unpacked it and took the original packing away.

I managed to find a courier who would take it up north for a reasonable price but I needed to wrap it in order to ensure it’s safe journey and arrival. I had also ordered some corrugated cardboard, ‘fragile’ tape and some protective felt from a reliable company who said they’d deliver it to the concierge at the flats yesterday. Bob wasn’t convinced that it would arrive but I was in little doubt.

And Bob’s fears were totally unfounded. Sitting in the flat was a little white slip telling me there was a parcel for me and it was just a matter of collecting it. Which I did. I then spent a couple of hours, drenched in sweat, cutting and shaping and generally turning the fridge freezer into a big cardboard box with fragile taped all over it.

I stood back, admired me work with pleasure then had a shower. It was a long trip with a hot and bothered job to perform but it was rather nice to have the shackles of Day-z removed for a day. It was also pleasant visiting London for the first time in ages.

The visit, however, was all too soon over and I was quickly on the train back to Farnham where Mirinda, Bob and Day-z met me at the station. They had been over to see Waverley Abbey (our wonderful Cistercian ruin) and the chapel at Compton. And it seems that Bob really doesn’t like abbeys very much. (Perhaps one bit him as a small child.) Even ruined ones. He didn’t mind the chapel.

Back at the hotel we had a short ‘quiet time’ in which I snoozed on the bed, before meeting in the bar for an evening drink. It was here that we were served by one of the worst hotel staff members I think I’ve ever come across (I’m ignoring the guy in Marrakech because he was in a league of his own).

The bar at the Farnham House Hotel specialises in tasteless beer. It’s all lager (apart from a lone John Smith’s pump which I won’t have because of an ongoing spat I have with them) of the worst kind.

When it comes to having a cold beer on a hot day, I rather enjoy a Peroni. It’s Italian, refreshing and has a pleasant flavour. Though, to be fair, I like most European lagers as long as they’re cold. The beers I don’t like much (mainly because they’re tasteless, making them pointless) are Becks, Heineken, Budweiser and Fosters. These are four of the most successful breweries in the world. It goes to show what a big advertising budget can achieve.

As I said to Mirinda, it’s amazing how human beings can be so easily duped. Tasteless food like Macdonalds and equally tasteless beer are the most successful. Talk about selling rubbish to idiots. We sometimes look at the Chinese and think they’re slaves to the state, doing whatever they’re told while we, in the free west, are convinced tasteless food and drink are the best thing since tastebuds evolved. Very odd.

Anyway, Mirinda mistakenly asked the barman for a Peroni. He suddenly went off on one saying they had never sold Peroni and never would sell Peroni. This was very odd behaviour. All that was required was a simple “I’m sorry, we don’t have any.” And while I wondered why he had such a problem with Italian beer when he sold German, Dutch Australian and American, I really didn’t want him to go off again. I had a Budweiser.

He then listened in to our conversation, interjecting unwanted information along the way. I mean he was on the other side of the room! Even so, he decided to tell us that the Farnborough Airshow was on this weekend, that we could catch a train into London tomorrow morning at 8:58 and how to get to Greenwich (“I’m a Brixton Boy,” he proudly told us).

His inappropriateness resumed as he bought our food out to the garden with stupid observations and suggestions. He even made a snide comment about the three pots needed for coffee, herbal tea and normal tea we ordered. While the hotel was very comfortable and the food was good, this guy has definitely put me off ever staying there again. Mind you, it was very handy for Day-z.

We didn’t let him put us off our last night, though and we sank back on the bed, for our final night.