November 28, 2011

Layee odl, layee odl layee-oo

I have written about the life of our friends Lukey and Julie before, including at length for SwindonWeb, and today we made a long overdue trip up to Worcestershire to see how they and their not so lonely goatherd and chickens are getting on.

I suppose what they have done with their lives is a bit like The Good Life, although I always hesitate to call it that in case it gives the impression that they aren't doing it for real. In fact, two years into their project, it's obvious that not only is their self-sufficient, back-to-the-land call-it-whatever-you-will plan working for them, but actually it is a good life. It probably wouldn't work for us, but if anybody had the same foresight, dedication, will, hard work and brains to give it a go, it could work for them too.

We had to delay our arrival as they had a bit of an emergency on. One of their goats was suddenly on heat and needed a quick visit to the local billy goat so he could do his business (which he did) and provide Lukey and Julie with the prospect of some kids arriving in the spring.

In the meantime they had to make do with us, who were fed with and impressed by a meal mostly made up with things out of their freezer, which is stuffed full of food grown or reared by themselves.

Fortunately, although they showed us a picture of the pigs we were eating, we never met the poor porkers before they were despatched. Luckily, they didn't have names, either, unlike all their other animals. Being an incurable townie, I wouldn't have liked to have broken the habit of a lifetime and discovered the name of any of the animals I was eating.

After a tour of the 'estate', including meetings with the goats (Bubble and Squeak) and the chickens, we had a stroll around the lovely little nearby town of Stourport and had probably the nicest cups of hot chocolate ever tasted in a little cafe by the canal before driving back home with the gifts of home-grown chillies and legs of pork.

The good life for a day.

November 19, 2011

Anarchy in the UK

St Philip's Church, Upper Stratton is not the kind of place you would usually expect to come across total anarchy, but that's probaby the word that best describes The Face of the Company, a pantomime we watched in the church tonight.

It was the work of a friend (and a former teacher of Sean and Holly) called Martin Avery, who has written three comedies (but this is the first we've seen). This one was based on On The Buses and included suitable (and very well chosen) music from the era, with songs either surviving in their original form or with lyrics adapted to Swindon or the plot.

It's fair to say that The St Philip's Players are not The Royal Shakespeare Company, and the play was not Hamlet, but it was a lot of fun, made all the more fun for us for knowing the Averys - not just Martin but his wife and two daughters, who were all in it - and our long-time friend James Greenslade, who played the piano, got a speaking part and mimed in a style that only James can when armed with a blow-up guitar.

James also brought the house down - or at least our row - by getting what was simultaneously the best line in The Kinks' Dedicated Follower of Fashion and the one that sounded most incongruous coming out of his mouth, which was: "And when he pulls his frilly nylon panties right up tight/He feels a dedicated follower of fashion."

Forgotten lines, dodgy props and jokes that the scriptwriters of On The Buses probably rejected for being too corny, even for their taste, added to a unique and memorable night.

November 18, 2011

This could be the last time

We paid what could be our last ever visit to Kingsdown School today, as the second and last of our kids, Holly, made her final visit there.

Now at college, she was back tonight to receive her GCSE certificates - and a commendation for her artwork - in the annual awards ceremony. She didn't want to go, of course, seeing this (through her 17-year-old eyes) as unnecessary fuss rather than marking a milestone in her life.

She also wanted to avoid a certain girl in her year who had developed a liking for - let's not beat around the bush - bitching on Facebook, rather than heeding the main thrust of the headmistress's speech tonight, which was: value your friends.

Not only did Holly do very well in her exams, but she also worked extremely hard to pass them. I get really annoyed when people believe the impression of pupils and students that the media portrays these days by focusing only on those who get top marks when the exam results come out. It gives the impression that it's easy to pass exams, and the people who didn't pass many exams themselves seem to be the ones most readily able and willing to fall for this. But then so many people are determined to see only bad in young people anyway.

To get her A grade in art, Holly had to put in an incredible amount of hard work and creativity, and this has continued in her A Level studies. This is going to sound like a frivilous claim, but I believe she literally put in more hard slog in the first month of her A Level art studies than I did in the whole of the two years of my art A Level.

Anyway, we had loads of reasons to be proud of her tonight.

It is still possible, actually, that I will be back at the school sooner than expected, as the headmistress pointed out that it will be the school's 75th anniversary next year, hinting that there would be some kind of event to mark this, which will probably amount to a reunion. Holly isn't yet impressed with the opportunity of going to this with her dad and his friends, or that we could make it a family affair as all my brothers and my sister went there. My dad even went there, being one of the school's first pupils. Our mum and dad actually met at a dance at Kingsdown School, introduced by our dad's cousins (who also knew our mum), Eunice and Iris Hawkes.

You don't get rid of the Carters that easily.

November 12-17, 2011

It's about time

This really is defeating the object a bit, don't you think? - just doing weekly updates to this blog. I mean - whatever happened to the internet being instant and all that?

The trouble is, with not much work at the moment, my life has descended into a vicious cycle of loading and unloading the dishwasher, taking my mushy peas rations - my diet is not so much a diet any more as a way of life - and catching up with various odd jobs. Most of the odd jobs are connected in some way to history of the general, local and family kind.

The two pies that I have my historical fingers in accounted for most of my weekend. On Saturday (12th) I manned the Alfred Williams Heritage Society stand at the STEAM Museum in Swindon, where the TUC were holding a World of Work Day, featuring various unions, art groups and local history enthusiasts. My opening gambit to anybody passing the stand and showing any interest is: "Have you heard of Alfred Williams?" - to which most people say "No", although the instances of "Yes" this time were above average.

However, the number of yesses was much lower than I expected, considering Alfred was a working class hero (even if he didn't realise or accept it himself) and his book, Life in a Railway Factory, is a rare and precious record of what it was really like to work in British industry a century ago. I thought we would be preaching to the converted, but there is clearly an untapped market for us as we continue our quest to draw attention to this local hero.

The event was exactly a year after our own ambitious but ultimately successful festival at STEAM, so helped to put the stress of accosting strangers in perspective. We made some good contacts, including meeting up with a couple of interesting people I used to work with.

Another thing that is keeping me busy is The Friends of Radnor Street Cemetery website, so it was wholly appropriate that I, along with Julie, attended the Remembrance Day service there on Sunday afternoon (13th).

Being an atheist, I am always uneasy about attending any kind of service, but this one is short and, apart from a couple of hymns, is perfectly suitable for heathens. I went to last year's service, which was very busy, but noticed a significant increase in the attendance this time. I think the little chapel holds about 60, plus two well-represented troops of Cubs/Scouts, but it was standing room only at the back and some people had to listen from outside, which was nice to see. Everybody got a good view of the second half of the service, which was the wreath-laying outside. The pictures I took are here.

It was a beautiful sunny autumn afternoon, so also good for following the guided walk around some of the 104 Commonwealth War Graves there. Despite taking part in various events at the cemetery this year, this was the first time I'd actually got to go on one of the walks, run by the massively knowledgeable Mark Sutton, talking about the soldiers, and Frances Bevan, who came up with the great idea of researching some of the wives and other family members that the soldiers never came home to. So, if we hadn't already, we really got a sense of the sacrifices of everybody concerned and what the service had been all about.

In complete contrast, Thursday night (18th) saw our last trip of the year to the Watermill at Newbury, our favourite theatre, where a cast of only four were doing Some Like It Hotter. It's a comedy about the stars of the film Some Like It Hot - Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe - and quite quirky, and although we were both unsure of it to begin with, it eventually turned out to be good fun. It was also an entertaining concept about a guy who dies and ends up living out his fantasy of appearing in the film before going on to Heaven.

The whole things stands and falls on the performance of the actress playing Marilyn Monroe, and thankfully Sarah Appleford is impressive - in more ways than one - having perfected every mannerism and, crucially, a little Minnie Mouse-like laugh that seemed to be one of Marilyn's trademarks. I don't think I've ever watched a whole Marilyn Monroe film, including Some Like It Hot, which spoilt my enjoyment of the play a bit, and I can't say I've ever felt that inclined to put that right, but I could have watched Sarah Appleford all night.

November 8, 2011

Paralympic gold

It's fair to say that 2011 has not exactly gone to plan and been a bit of an ordeal at times. But we have plenty to look forward to in 2012.

We decided back in 2005 that we would make the most of Olympic year when it came, and were rewarded for our enthusiasm with tickets for athletics (the 100m final, no less) and rowing, which take place next August. Now, after applying for a whole lot of tickets for the Paralympics, which will be in September, we've been told what we're getting.

We decided to make more of a family thing of it, so have four tickets for three different athletics sessions in the Olympic Stadium. Then we have two tickets each for swimming, road cycling (at Brands Hatch) and wheelchair basketball (Greenwich).

I always maintain that basketball is the world's worst spectator sport, because it's so predictable, but the wheelchair version is completely different, and it has extra appeal for me as I have actually played it. It was while I was working on the sports desk for the Swindon Advertiser and I wrote a feature about the local team. They got me to have a go, but I only did it for a few minutes because it was terrifying.

Somebody warned me to make sure I didn't tip backwards and bang my head, so I spent the whole time gingerly moving around in constant fear of my life. I think Paralympic basketball wheelchairs probably have some kind of device to stop them tipping backwards, but even so it seems remarkably easy to end up flat on your face on the floor.

As well as all this, we are also going to make an effort to see the Olympic marathon and the cycle road race, and we will also be there on May 23 when - as announced this week - the Olympic Torch comes through Swindon.

We have a great summer to look forward to.

November 7, 2011

November so far

Entries in this blog seem to be getting further apart, so this is a bit of an round-up of recent news to try to keep it up to date.

I seem to be busy, but not with much that puts food on the table, although it is interesting. All I have to do now is find something that is interesting and lucrative - and we're laughing.

Nearly all the projects I've been doing lately are to do with local history. I'm helping my nephew James put together a 3-D model of an historic building (ie, in computer graphics) using Google Sketchup, an amazingly impressive but surprisingly little-known piece of free software. When I say I am helping him with it, I should point out that he is doing the clever stuff, but I have liaised with the person who has sourced the plans and drawings that he is basing it on. Once it is complete I will reveal more, but I don't want to steal anybody's thunder just yet.

Neither can I reveal, just yet, the nature of a little project I am probably going to be involved in, which involves making a film about a well known local figure for a well known broadcasting organisation. Again, my role will be more in a back-room, researching capacity if the project comes to fruition, which now looks very likely.

Thirdly, I have revamped the website I designed and have partly written for The Friends of Radnor Street Cemetery. Graveyards don't seem a very promising or exciting thing to get involved with, but this Swindon one is full of historical interest, and the website should be the beginning of something much bigger and worthwhile.

While I am here, I suppose I should mention how our band, The Misfits, are getting on. We are trying to get a few more gigs and have been helping out The Cricketers Arms in Swindon's Railway Village by performing there, which is good experience. And we are generally working hard on getting some new songs together, including some brand new styles.

It's hard to say whether my limited abilities will ultimately stand up to the pressure as I regularly go through a terrible crisis of confidence about it all - sometimes with justification. In our last gig I managed to play completely the wrong rhythm to one song because my mind went blank and I panicked, and although I had the excuse that we'd only played it once before (in rehearsal), it was still pretty scary to get it so wrong.

The worst thing about it all is: otherwise I played pretty well in the gig. When we did Go Your Own Way (by Fleetwood Mac), which is a song at the furthest outer reaches of my ability, I played it better than I'd ever done before. I also totted up the number of different songs I have played in the band, and it comes to about 50 - all of which have to be played from memory. Yet the only thing on my mind the next day is how badly I goofed on one song.

I am trying desperately hard to enjoy drumming and not just see it as a challenge, but I guess it is always going to be about how much better it would sound if played by a natural drummer.

At least it is not as frustrating as running, which is now completely governed by my ageing body's ability - or rather inability - to stand the pace. I currently have a sore heel that won't heal, which has left my good intentions counting for nothing for about a month... and counting.