A month in three days

Walking across Hungerford Bridge to Southbank

Walking across Hungerford Bridge to Southbank

We’ve been fans of John Simm ever since first seeing him in The Lakes. He has an amazing intensity and edginess that makes watching him a joy. We equally enjoyed him in Life on Mars and as a wonderfully evil Master in Dr Who. But we’d never seen him on stage. Until tonight.

In 1869, Turgenev wrote A Month in the Country, a story of love, society and ennui, peppered with some delightful laughs. This year, Patrick Marber took a new translation and created Three Days in the Country. We saw it tonight at the National.

I don’t know why he changed the name. While the action of the play does take place on three distinct days, the time overall is a month and highlights the boredom and desperation experienced by Natalya as she endures her life as the rich landowner’s wife. Still, name aside, it was a wonderful version. Not that I’ve seen any others to compare it with.

While we originally booked in order to see John Simm (and Mark Gatiss if truth be told) the performance by Amanda Drew as Natalya was flawless. She was utterly believable and you could feel her pain and frustration by the end of the play. It’s a pity the curtain call was an ensemble because she deserved a massive dose of adoration of her own. She was, quite simply, perfect.

Speaking of Mark Gatiss, he was terrific as the useless doctor, Shpigelsky. His cack-handed and physical proposal was a delight. It did occur to me that it was ironic that he was at the National while Benedict Cumberbatch is playing Hamlet across the river at the Barbican, given they play brothers in Sherlock.

The rest of the cast was very good and supported the leads beautifully.

My only critical observation is, oddly enough, about John Simm. He played Rakitin, an old friend of the family. He was excellent in the first half, believable, comfortable, funny but, come the second half, his attempts at showing Rakitin’s pain seemed a bit hysterical and over egged. I put this down to him being an alpha actor asked to play a beta charater. Don’t get me wrong, he was still wonderful to watch but I’d much prefer to see him in a stronger role.

Still, that aside, it was a lovely night out at the theatre and, as usual, we wondered why we don’t go to the National more often, given it’s very easy to get to from Waterloo.

The Free Hugs man at Southbank

The Free Hugs man at Southbank

It’s also very handy for Ping Pong, where we had a delicious meal served by some very odd waiting staff. It was like they existed in a slightly askew dimensional boundary and were atttempting to communicate across the metaphorical garden fence. It was not just weird it also annoyed Mirinda quite a lot.

What did cheer Mirinda up happened after the play. She was on her way back from the loo when suddenly her face lit up and her steps quickened towards me.

“It’s Joyce,” she exclaimed excitedly, pointing vaguely behind her. “In the yellow jacket! Look!”

And so it was. Joyce, our favourite character from the old Midsomer Murders…well, it wasn’t actually Joyce, it was really Jane Wymark who played Joyce. But she’ll always be Joyce to us. Mirinda was annoyed, all the way home, that she didn’t go up and get a selfie with her. Here’s how she felt about leaving Midsomer Murders.

Waiting for a platform

Waiting for a platform

Torta di mele

Hooray! Blue sky and sunshine. A fantastic day. And I didn’t want to waste it.

After last year’s drop, it was essential that I remade the leaf trap. So, using the remains of the wildflower patch fence, I added one to the end of the big compost bin. I then swept up the leaves on the terrace and started the whole thing off.


Given the continued good weather I finished moving the second compost bin. This involved shovelling then sieving the lovely compost before distributing it about the garden for the nourishment of all. This was then repeated a fair few times before I was in a position to move the actual bin.

By the end of the day it was done.


To finish off the day perfectly, I made an Italian Apple cake, the recipe for which I found quite fortuitously on Twitter. Someone had tweeted a photo of one they’d made then a link to the recipe. Naturally I did the same.


It tasted very nice.


Today, while grey, did stay dry enough for me to take the girls to the park. They were delighted.

These days, I get told off if I forget the Flika-stik so, duly armed, we headed for the mostly grassy bits, avoiding the mud of which there was surely much.

The rules for the Flika-stik game are simple as far as Emma is concerned. I throw a tennis ball as far as the yellow plastic arm extender allows, she runs after it and, mostly, brings it back.

The rules for Freya are a bit more complicated. It’s her job to watch Emma and attack her on the return run. This isn’t always easy because Emma is very good at dodging. While Freya is very good at latching her teeth onto Emma’s ears, she hasn’t quite learnt to hang on and tends to fall in a heap.

Here’s a sequence of Freya trying to catch Emma.


Emma has managed to dodge around Freya and seems to have a clear run to me.


But Freya isn’t giving up as she gains ground with the help of her omni-directional ears.


Almost there, Freya is aiming for the tail.


Emma straightens up but this only gives Freya something bigger to aim for.


And CHOMP Freya attaches herself.

Actually, the sequence above isn’t from one run. There’s no way Freya could catch Emma. Still she tries, time and time again.

All and all, it’s great fun and I’m amazed that Emma isn’t more worn out when we get home. Instead of a hard earned rest, Emma will always bring me a ball to throw as soon as we walk back into the house.

Of course, Day-z just watches and remembers when she could be bothered running for no real reason.

Wet and dull…and that’s just this post

After what feels like a month of sunshine (probably a week) we’ve had torrential rain. Yesterday was awful and today was worse.

Actually, I’m being a bit unfair because today started off sort of dry. In fact I managed to remain dry, walking to and from town unlike yesterday when I was drenched and my new hat had its waterproof properties sorely tested*. It was while I was Skyping mum that the rain really started making itself known.

It came in waves, big drenching waves that just cried out for a vertical surfboard. Drenching waves that ensured we would be staying in the office until they had washed themselves out.

And so the day continued. Again, the poor puppies didn’t get a walk and, again I had to put up with their constant complaints. I mean, really, if they’re happy enough to walk in the torrential rain, they should be happy enough to have a bath. I did tell them as much but they never listen. They just keep moaning.

While I didn’t get to do anything outside, I did manage a lot of admin, which is always a good rainy day occupation.

My day was full of swatches, Sliderobes and Sainsbury’s shopping. I also sourced a possible new cooker for the flat – I just had to ask a couple of questions before I commit us to actually ordering it.

And, sadly, that was it. Not the most interesting of days, I fear.

* My new hat, bought at the Country Fair at Loseley a few weeks ago to replace the one I left in the taxi in Beijing, passed the waterproof test with flying colours.

Panic and chaos

When I was in Ireland ten years ago (with my sister, Denise) I was surprised when told I’d have to pay for a plastic bag at the supermarket. This had never happened to me before. I thought it was a splendid idea.

It started there in 2002 and has just become part of the whole shopping experience that you either take your own bags or you pay for the alternative.

Bangladesh banned them in 2002 because of huge floods in the late 20th century directly caused by discarded plastic bags. Two thirds of the country was submerged! That’s an excellent reason for banning plastic bags.

In typical French fashion, in 2007, they were completely banned in Paris.

Many other countries have seen the light and have since either banned or now charges for them.

Here, in the UK, things have sort of dribbled along with Wales (2011), Northern Ireland (2013) and Scotland (2014) all, eventually adopting charges. In fact, in Scotland, plastic bag use quickly dropped by 90% as a result.

The reason I’m writing at length about plastic bag charges is because today England finally fell in line with the rest of the UK and started charging for them. The papers and the radio each proclaimed there would be chaos and millions of shoppers would be left confused and angry, bald patches left from violent hair pulling and throats hoarse from complaining.

I don’t know about the rest of the country but here in Farnham we’ve had signs up everywhere telling us it was happening today. When I asked the woman who served me today how much chaos there’d been she told me there’d been no more than usual.

I think most of the chaos would have come from the exceptions. Apparently if you buy a load of meat or fish or loose fruit and veg, you can have a plastic bag for free but, as soon as you include something with packaging, you pay for the plastic bag. Now that is going to cause some chaos as well as making no sense.

It did occur to me the other day that I don’t know why people with cars even need plastic bags. Surely they could pack the boot directly from the shopping trolley then unload at home with or without bags. I think the whole plastic bag thing has made people incredibly lazy and has now forced us to make these insanely chaotic changes.

Meanwhile, in NSW, Queensland, Victoria and WA, climate change doesn’t exist and no-one seems to care about giant turtles swallowing discarded shopping bags…

Good swimming

Last Friday, at work, I was researching a family of London engineers called Smith. It was a tough call but I managed to locate them and, in particular, Warren B Smith who was quite an inventive chap. I’ll write a post about him some other time but it was while I was searching the Times online archive that I came across this wonderful report printed in 1883.

A GOOD SWIMMER – Captain Smith, of the schooner Sheppard A. Mount, of Brookhaven, Long Island, which arrived in this port a few days since from St. Barts, with a cargo of pine apples, reports that on the 20th of May, when one day out from that port, he came on deck at half-past 8 o’clock, a.m., and found that his son, Warren Smith, a lad 14 years of age, was missing.

He immediately ordered the vessel to be searched, but he was not to be found. There was a heavy sea running at the time, and it was blowing a 9 knot breeze. The captain naturally inferred that the boy was overboard. He immediately hauled his vessel on the wind and beat back on the same track over which he had sailed.

Nothing could be seen of the boy for some time, but at 12 o’clock he was discovered swimming manfully against the billows. At 10 minutes past 12 o’clock he was picked up, and the vessel resumed her course for this port.

The lad had divested himself of most of his clothing, and alleged that he could have kept himself up for two or three hours longer.

This is what we call good swimming.

This report is amazing for a number of reasons. Naturally there’s the remarkable swimming skills of the young Warren Smith but also the sailing skills of his father. It is very difficult, even today, to sail a straight line given any vessel on water is combating the movement of the water as well as the vessel over it but to not only return along a previous course for what appears to have been a couple of hours is well nigh impossible.

Think about it. The schooner sets off, back the way she’s come, and she is knocked half a degree off her course by the heavy swell. This is hardly noticeable by anyone on board and she just sails on happily. A few hours later, she’s a fair few miles off course trying to spot a 14 year old boy splashing about. An extraordinary feat.

PS: Sorry, mum, I did mean to include a Youtube video of Megson. Here it is:

We all joined in the chorus of this one.

Bidding, burgers and a banjo

Ever since we went to our first auction, the auction house had been sending us a catalogue every time a new one comes along. This seems to happen every fortnight. Mostly they take place during the week but the latest one is on a Saturday so we decided to go. And that Saturday was today.

The auction was for furniture, glass, fine porcelain, statuary and a quite wonderfully bizarre church steeple that I was rather keen on. I thought it would look perfect in the Crazy Bed. I didn’t like my chances though because the estimate started at £500 but you never know.

So, we bought tea and boiled fruit cake and took our seats. There was a lot of seats, as opposed to the last time we came when we had to stand up. Funnily enough, two of the occupied chairs were actually auctioned. The auctioneer said he was glad to see some humans in the room because he’d recently held an auction with only phone and Internet bidding which he said was quite lonely. Even so, there wasn’t a lot of us.

So the auction progressed with bids flying everywhere on pieces of furniture which went from attractive to downright ugly at prices which defied explanation.

Then came the glass which also sold for weird prices. Weirdest of all was the pair of glasses one of which had no stem because it had been broken off. So, basically, completely useless. They sold for a decent price.

We quite fancied an enamel picture of Yum Yum from The Mikado. The estimate started at £2,000 so we knew we wouldn’t be going home with it. And not to be disappointed, we didn’t. There were also some lovely little Meissen figurines that Mirinda quite liked. We did manage to bid on one of them but quickly withdrew when the price quickly passed our limit.

As it turned out, we did manage to win the bidding on some lovely crockery pieces (mainly small bowls) which I’ll use for finger food. Apparently I was quite sneaky with my paddle because Mirinda missed my bidding expertise.


Sadly we didn’t stay long enough to see what the church steeple went for (or the odd little Biggles clock) because the arrow of time insisted we go somewhere for lunch. Somewhere turned out to the Holly Bush in Frensham where we had a delicious burger each before heading home to the insane puppies.

I was still recovering (a bit) from last night so had a bit of a snooze on the lounge while Mirinda did some DBA work.

At about 6 we headed up to the castle to give the dogs a chance to stretch their legs and to wake me up in time to go into town to see a folk duo called Megson.

I’d seen Megson advertised on Twitter (I follow someone who follows them). They are on a ‘Churches and Chapels’ tour which includes the United Reform Church in Farnham. At first I was a bit concerned it might be some weird cult band who indoctrinates with their lyrics before sending you out into the world as some brainwashed automaton. This was clearly not the case.

Megson is a husband and wife duo (Debs and Stu Hannah) who hale from Teesside. They perform original and traditional folk songs and they are superb. Debs has the loveliest voice which Stu blends in with perfectly. And Stu’s enthusiasm on his stringed instruments (guitar, mandola and banjo) is fantastic. To say we thoroughly enjoyed them would be an understatement.

As well as the music and songs, they were very good at the between-song chat, something much appreciated by the audience.

Megson in Farnham

Megson in Farnham

We left the gig wondering when they’ll be coming back. In the meanwhilst, here’s a link to their website.