Friday, 23 December 2016

Christmas Time

Are you ready? We are... just about. Just a bit more cooking and cleaning to go.

Today, staggering down the main street in Penzance, bags stuffed with sprouts, peppers, tomatoes and potatoes, I did break for The Edge of The World  bookshop, a place of comfort. I need some fantasy, I think. No more crime reading just at the moment ... the world is rather dark, ain't it? So I may as well tackle witches and spirits this Christmas time. And the good bookshop do not let me down. I browse the shelves and come out with a collection of  Neil Gaiman tales -"Trigger Warning".

The Old Man and me do wish you a restful, enjoyable and well-fed time ... with a little bit of peace and joy as well. Why not?

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Better Viewing For Mrs D

Remember I posted about the squashed delights of watching The Opera via  streaming it from the internet? On Mrs D's laptop?

Well The Old Man has stepped forward with an early birthday present for us ... me... er... Mrs D. He has stumped up for an extra monitor screen for the laptop... a nice 24inch little fella.

So now Mrs D can graphic away to her heart's content with her graphics tablet, laptop and monitor.... And we shall be able to sit in extra comfort to watch the opera... or the films... or whatever.
We is all happy.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

William Kentridge: No It Is!

Continuing my ongoing obsession with the work of South African artist William Kentridge.

Here is an Institut fur Kunstdokumentation video from his exhibition at the Walter-Gropius-Bau, Berlin  earlier this year.

.... Everything in a sweetie jar as far as I'm concerned. Animation, drawing, film, machines, theatre... what's not to like.

Monday, 21 November 2016

A Night-In: Streaming "The Nose" by Shostakovich

... in which a pair of seniors do experiment with the Internet.

There are new ways to "go to the opera", I decide. We can try watching it via broadband. The Royal Opera House was streaming a live performance of "The Nose" by Shostakovich the other week (my word that do sound funny, put together like that) and The Old Man says: "Let's do it." ... Much to my surprise.

Rural, granite cottages are not very amenable to house-wide wi-fi. So it do mean that we have to watch the opera in the same room as the router... which is Mrs D's workroom (and feels like the coldest room in the house, except for the downstairs bathroom).... And on her laptop. Fortunately the laptop has a pair of additional speakers so we can listen quite nicely thank you... but sitting closely, side by side, peering at a laptop enthroned on an animating table, do make me long for ... opera glasses.

Never you mind, it was an enjoyable and, dare I say it, "exciting" if cramped experience in our sheltered life. We do only "buffer" twice!!
And the opera itself was a theatrical delight full of wonderful performances... though I would have liked it to have explored if possible even more of the plot's surreal absurdities caused by the flight of a civil servant's nose to live a life of high prospects and social success.

In fact our cramped viewing, despite its nature, proved so successful ... we have come up with an achievable technical solution ..... More of that later.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

William Kentridge: A Film About His Process

I only found out about South African artist William Kentridge a short time ago (clutch hand to forehead and roll eyes) and then, only in the context of animation. Now I find out he is also a theatre and opera director. And I wish I could see his upcoming Metropolitan Opera production of Berg's "Lulu" at English National Opera. I will in some manner.

Meanwhile I start by sharing this short video from San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in which he explains and demonstrates his extraordinary animation technique based on making a drawing in charcoal.

Saturday, 5 November 2016

A Bit Of A Family Do

The other day we are visited by niece, hubby and their border terrier. Everything very jolly, much hugging, talking and eating of buns... By the end of visit we is all quite tired... even little dog is found standing... with eyes shut.... like a sleeping horse.

Mrs D do keep up the family theme this morning by dragging out her Mum's sewing machine to do some repairs. This fine, black and gold, knee-operated machine must be all of eighty years old and probably clothed and curtained and covered Mrs D all of her life.

Having forgotten how to thread it properly, Mrs D gets out the instruction manual and finds a piece of paper inside with notes written in her Mum's hand. These turn out not to be instructions for the machine but for assembling a 1970s chair which must have been passed on to Mrs D. It finishes with a cartoon of Mrs D sleeping in the chair.

..... Cartooning must truly be a family thing.....

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Animated Goings On : More Sample Frames

Mrs D is working hard (well ... kind of) practicing drawing again and making frame after frame for her cartoon. She is contemplating making a series called "A Few Short Pieces About Love". (Pause to raise eyebrows.)

But let it be known that, quite cheerfully for her, she spends hours making images then bins the lot and starts again ... which do keep her quiet.

Here are a couple of the latest. I have no idea what is going on here.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

A Night at the Opera and a Morning Walk: Cosi Fan Tutte and Goldfinches

Autumn now. Nights getting cold. I grab a quick walk this morning, puff up the hill to look out over the bay where all kinds of weather are laid out: cloud, sun, squalls. I try to work out if the squalls will get me and decide to walk on a bit further then turn back for home. Rooks call. Goldfinches still chatter and sing. I get a bit wet.

Last night we go to the local cinema for a night at the opera. Covent Garden's new production of Mozart's "Cosi Fan Tutte" being broadcast live - a modern setting tricked out with false moustaches and theatre flats and games. The Old Man do overhear a woman complaining (as he lurches for the ice-creams at the interval) that she just hates it. Not me.
There is nothing wrong with the singing... all's very well there ... though The Old Man doesn't quite agree. And of course I do like the acting and the production which smacks of pantomime and trickery and what else could you have for such a plot. (Let's just strike a wager with the boys that their girlfriends may or may not be unfaithful... and then do everything we can to make them so.) And if I may exercise my muscles and stretch a point ... I am thinking that all this playing around with people's loves and desires may prove a contemporary theme. How about "Les Liasons Dangereuses" by Laclos... published in the same decade as the premiere of Mozart's  "Cosi"? Yeah. Yeah. Mischief makers. And the production did its best to make some bitter-sweet sense of the ending of this crazy plot. All in all a happy night out for me.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Animated Goings On: Mrs D 's Latest Rushes

 Latest version of Mrs D's trial run at 2D drawn animation for her "Syb & Me" project. No sound yet, mind.

Friday, 7 October 2016

Animated Discussions: Lea Vidakovic: Trailer for "Porcelain Stories"

A trailer for an award-winning film "Porcelain Stories" by Serbian born artist, installation artist and animator Lea Vidakovic. I found it thanks to a post on the Dragonframe blog. (Dragonframe is a stopmotion animation software.)

There is a flavour of the Quay Brothers ... in its slow pace and intricate, detailed shots of tiny objects. Perhaps that's an Eastern European thing? It's got a "breathing pace" which I don't mind but may not be for impatient caffeine-freaks.

Saturday, 1 October 2016


When my own Inner Child gets fed up with my "boring" blog ... What can I do?
I must have drifted away from what excited me. After all, time was, I used to snigger and think of ideas and take Doll-selfies on a regular basis - each would feed the next, with room in between for incident and outbursts. Bits of Grey Doll dropped off through metal or plastic fatigue and there would have to be a body remake or two. But that was all part of the excitement.
No ... I must have oughted and shoulded too much. The Inner Nag told me to "grow up and focus".  And I did try.
Books and Film?

Opinion and politics?

Look! I lost myself whilst focusing! I am just not a grown-up Blogger. And so this will have to be a Ragtag and Muddle of a Doll Blog. Something has to occur to me to make me want to post ... and usually that's something that makes me feel good. There is enough going on in the world at the moment not to feel good. I am only too aware of it. And I can't be eloquent about it. 
So bear with me. I'm doing a default reset. Welcome back to The Doll's House and Playroom.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Explanation of Absence: Mrs D Tries To Animate..Again

Well, has your heart grown fonder during my absence? Perhaps not. I don't blame you. First rule of blogging. Post something.

But I can't drag Mrs D away from her latest obsession in order to help post something here. And her latest obsession involves drawing away on that graphics tablet. More to the point - trying to find a way to make hand-drawn animation. Yes. You have read me right. Having gone on for years about filming stop motion animation ... like what I be made for ... now she wants to draw it.

Do not hold your breath. There won't be a feature-length film anytime soon for it has been a saga. First it was a question of software. She tried downloading various software testers. The first would not run at all and her computer skills were not up to curing that problem. Then she tried  a second program - which was bit temperamental. She started to make it work but couldn't transfer the end product into a watchable media file! Others? Well, one look at the interface was enough to leave her jaw slack and her eyes glazing. And they are so varied as to how they operate. Bless her she is a simple old-fashioned girl and she did want to just "draw" the thing... like bitmap stuff. She cannot yet do this vector stuff, nor Flash, nor 3D rendering....

Anyhoo. She is currently practicing a very complicated work around involving using layered images in her ancient graphics package and turning each layer into a separate image file and importing the sequence into her current (rapidly aging version) of Stopmotion Pro package... which (bless it ) do allow you to import image files. So far... enough is happening to keep her glued to a stylus most afternoons. I'll show you a sequence of images. They are based on her Syb & Me project. What do you think?

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Opera At The Picture Palace: Beatrice et Benedict

Last week The Old Man put on his best pony tail and braces ... well, OK, it is now my daily duty to do his hair as the mystery of constructing such a style is beyond him. Anyhoo... last week we both donned our Sunday Best and set off for the opera at Glyndebourne ( Berlioz's "Beatrice et Benedict") ... courtesy of a live broadcast at a local cinema, so sadly we did have no champagne on the grass.
Now I wasn't too sure I wanted to see this. Frankly, I was frightened by the lengthiness of his "Les Troyens"  and so ... assumed that serious, lengthy works was what Berlioz did. But The Old Man wanted to go, so I gave a Gallic shrug and booked the tickets.
And I am glad that I did. With a story recounting the tricks practiced by friends and family in order to get verbal sparring partners and anti-lovers, Beatrice  and Benedict, to recognise their love and to marry (based on Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing"), it turned out - in this production - to be a witty two-acter full of lovely tunes and not frightening at all.

There has been some critical grumbling about the production: a set composed of stacked boxes and monochrome 50's style costume and makeup. But what do you know? I loved it, for sometimes I like a bit of a "stripped-down" production. Done well and consistently, such a thing can focus my attention on the music and performances. And I very much enjoyed Stephanie d'Oustrac with her fine singing and a performance full of suppressed fury as Beatrice. Paul Appleby, as her anti-beau Benedict, is also very good. And I loved the funny (satirical?) musical director Somarone, played with full farce and pointy-toed splendour by Belgian baritone Lionel Lhote.

A surprising and jolly evening. An extra surprise when the screen went blank ten minutes or so before the end of the opera. Apparently this was something to do with satellite time booked.. or not. The tiny audience was duly recompensed. (Yes... down here these things seem to be attended by few... and we is usually all... quite old.)

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Mrs D Takes A Tablet

No. She has not succumbed to one of them iPad thingies. Instead she has got above her station and has purchased a Wacom graphics tablet.

I do not know what this means for The Doll that is me. I must say that I do feel a little flat here.

And ... there has been much shouting and hair pulling by Madam. And much random opening and closing of software packages, images and losing of toolbars as she practices dabbing and scratching with her "pen" and swiping her fingers around the tablet.

... Don't expect another post very soon at this rate.

Friday, 5 August 2016

The Man Engine Puppet At King Edward Mining Museum, Cornwall

We have finally caught sight of The Man Engine Puppet.
Sadly, we haven't managed to see his transformation to his full 10 metre or so standing height, he has proved so popular ... 16,000 people in Camborne by all accounts, we just haven't got anywhere near seeing this marvelous trick of theatre.
We thought we would try to do so at a venue nearby. But we did a reccy and found that the roads around would be closed from 3 - 8 pm. A rural venue, we just couldn't be doing the miles of walking required and the potential crowds in a small space. So we opted to watch his procession and "crouching" performance at The King Edward Mining Museum near Troon... on Wednesday afternoon.

Oh, I do likes a bit of theatre. And this is a jolly fine thing. Lots of work. Made in Camborne, dreamed up by Will Coleman of Golden Tree Productions.
It would appear there are hoped-for plans take His Mechanical Marvelousness  across the seas ... to follow the diaspora of the Cornish miners in the 19th century... Mexico, America, Australia? Where they be going I do wonder?

Some of The Old Man's ancestors were Cornish miners. One of his great grandmothers was born in Brazil. But you wouldn't know to look at him, would you. Me? Sorry my dears... I am not Cornish, so I shall just hush up now.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Hoping To Catch Sight Of "The Man Engine"

sometime soon ...cos who can resist the prospect of being in the presence of a 40 foot high mechanical puppet?

Well. Not I.

This marvelous, powered, puppet of a Cornish miner started its tour of heritage mining sites and towns, from West Devon to Cornwall, earlier on this week and the tour finishes at Geevor on Sat 6th August. Unfortunately it won't be "transforming" to full height at all of its stopping places precisely because of the mining history it celebrates ... some sites won't bear its weight because of the underlying tunnels and workings. But plenty of celebrations are planned for its route ... with Penzance throwing in a Steam Punk fancy dress theme for spectators. Find out more about its progress at The Man Engine site.

The Old Man and me wish it well and hope to clap eyes on its noisy, fumy glory.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

The Cherry On The Top...

Well. Not on the top exactly. Quite low down on the tree in fact. And all alone. 

This is the first ripe cherry borne by the cherry tree at the bottom of the garden... a tree already planted and growing when we moved in. So let me add that in more than a decade I have not seen another on its branches.

Is the start of things to come? Or a cherry moment? Do I savour it? Or not? Answer quickly, do.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

The Old Man's Hair: The Official Tail

A staging post has been reached. 
The Old Man has refused to get his hair cut for so long ... now, it can be pony-tailed. Of course, he can't actually do the essential styling himself. That job falls to me ... along with explanations as to the tools necessary for the job - suitable hairbrush, them little elasticky things to twist round it, and so on. 
But it stops him complaining about eating his hair for lunch. And it do fool some people, who think it is important that he do so, that he has cut his hair. And it do give him and me some kind of retro joy. And at our age and in these times we need all the joy we can get.

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Greydoll's Criminal Reading: "The Catalyst Killing" by Hans Olav Lahlum

Back in 1970, I was a student. It was a time of revolution, rebellion and sitting-in. This didn't happen much in my own college... which was a great source of disappointment to some of our tutors who, I think, fancied themselves as being at the heart of change. But then teaching (yeah, right) at an art college in a West Country town more conformist than my own native suburbia was perhaps not the anarchist hub they might have tried for if their hearts were in it. (OK - I didn't enjoy my stay there.) I do remember that some student union meetings where quite vocal... but these never really resulted in any kind of decision because the various student factions were challenging Each Other more than The Authorities.... usually about agenda structure and points of order.

So it is that my ancient bones remember the political flavour of the late 1960s and early 1970s setting for "The Catalyst Killing" by Hans Olav Lahlum. (Translated from the Norwegian by Kari Dickson. Paperback, Pan Macmillan, 2016) and another find from my local bookshop.

The story begins one evening when Inspector Kolbjorn Kristiansen is mesmerised by the expression of fear on the face of a young woman desperately running to catch his train. The doors close on her. And later her murdered body is found on the train tracks. It is Kristiansen (known as K2) who must find her killer and who soon discovers that her boyfriend, the charismatic leader of a small, radically left-wing, political group, had disappeared two years before. Political rivalry? Or was his death linked to his research into possible current links between a group of Norwegian Nazis from the war years. And was his girlfriend's death connected to his disappearance?

Set in Norway in 1970 this murder mystery conjures the era of Mao's Little Red Book and its effect upon world politics and the fashionably radical young. Starting from the base of the student political group, K2 is presented with a tight list of possible witness interviews. We follow the progress of his interviews and crime-scene visits, punctuated by his lunches and suppers with his gifted and mysteriously accurate detection-muse, the young Patricia. Meanwhile the crimes themselves escalate.

I will own up that I am not a particular fan of Agatha Christie-style whodunits. So, when I realised how much I was in classic "whodunit land" with this book - the third in Lahlum's series featuring K2 and his young helper - I didn't think I would enjoy it. But I did.
It reads smoothly and coolly in this English translation by Kari Dickson. Instead of a boring traipse through clues, I found a calm narrative pace which surprised me with a great buildup of suspense as it ran to its conclusion. And Lahlum's writing gives us individualised characters, irony, humanity... and a slightly surreal world conjured by a combination of investigation, coincidence and the truly prodigious gifts of Patricia.

If you are a little tired of the relentless grit of much Nordic Noir .... and if the notion of 1960s Nordic retro-whodunits whets your appetite ... try this series of books by Hans Olav Lahlum.

Friday, 8 July 2016

Settling The Bill At The Post Referendum Café

"Service? We'd like to settle up. What are you paying us?


What do you mean we have to pay you? You said there would be lots of spare money and you would feed us wonderfully after we Brexited."


Really? Well I don't think we'll be coming back here in a hurry, then.

(Comments Off...)

What do you mean you are the only café in town now?

Monday, 4 July 2016

Last Orders At The Post Referendum Café


"Hallo. Today for starters we have a choice of....
Dithers with a side order of Confusion; a warm salad of Backstabbers; or a small plate of Cold Regrets.

For Mains we have ... Roulette Aux Crabb; Brexit of Leadsom; Blanquette du Fox au Sri Lankan Hobnobbing; Gove a la Murdoch; Theresa with a side order of Relief aux Chagrin ... or
Corbyn Ostracised and Served in a Vacuum.

And if you wish to choose your dessert now, we can offer you ... Eton Mess, Westminster Mess, UK Mess or Europe Mess (the difference is in the size of the portions)... Oh ... and we do have a very small portion of Hope on a Bed of  Dual Citizenship.

May I take your order now?"

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Events In The Post Referendum Café

"Can I get you any more *pork pies, Sir and Madam?"

"No, thank you. We couldn't eat another crumb."

* Pork Pies - rhyming slang for lies. 
   Hence ... "telling porkies".

Bet you can guess how this household feels about the Referendum result. And the absence of any leadership in Parliament. And the self-destructive nature of the Opposition. And whatever is to come now.

But one thing has started already.
As we drove out of Penzance this morning we followed a car with a shattered rear window. It looked as though someone had put a brick through it, frankly. The car's license plate was Lithuanian.

Welcome to The Post Referendum Café.

Monday, 20 June 2016

Greydoll's Criminal Reading: "Wolf Winter" by Cecilia Ekbäck

I've been catching up on my foreign crime fiction; books I missed when they first came out, or simply didn't know about.
I came across this one on the shelves of my local bookshop - The Edge Of The World Bookshop - for which I should truly thank them.

"Wolf Winter" by Cecilia Ekbäck (Paperback, 2015, Hodder). 
Imagine you are a woman come to a remote new country with two daughters, a few goats, a cow - and crops to grow and harvest. Imagine mountains where you have known only marshland and lakes; new neighbours whose ways you don't know... and a husband who has to leave for a job on the coast many miles away. It is 1717 in Northern Sweden, territory newly claimed from the native, nomadic, Sami reindeer-herders. It is a bitterly harsh winter; one the local settlers call a "wolf winter".
One day your young daughters find the body of man in a forest glade. Everyone says wolves killed him. But you don't think so. You are stubborn and curious and you want to know the answer to the mystery. But it is so cold that you don't know where to begin to feed yourself and your daughters. One day the wolves start to howl and move closer. And then the dead man begins to appear to your adolescent daughter Frederika. Welcome to the story of Finnish settler Maija and her family.

Historical Nordic Noir? I have never tried that one before. I couldn't resist this blend of crime, historical fiction and the tingle of the supernatural.This is not only a gripping and beautifully written story but a first novel, a very impressive one. Swedish-born Ekbäck currently lives in Canada. But her family roots lie in the country where she sets this novel. Her writing and prose plunged me straight into the bitter cold of the "Wolf Winter" of the title; spelling out rules for survival in this harsh land in all their necessary detail. She also gives us insight into the life of a settler community in 18th century Swedish Lapland where the Church not only records and educates individuals but makes and enforces the law. Mutual distrust between the new settlers and the Sami (Lapp) reindeer-herders gives more room for suspense as the stubborn Maija sets out to find out who killed the man in the forest - and why. Against the background of poverty and hardship during a time of perpetual war, Ekbäck has created a blend of frontier-Western and Nordic-noir; a tense whodunit which combines the dangers of the spirit world with the privations and threats of frontier life. It is peopled by characters well-realised if not always likeable and I think it is an exciting, beautifully written and impressive first novel.

Ekbäck has said that she decided against creating a series based on Maija but came to wonder about the country itself through the passage of time, the Blackasen Mountains. I shall certainly be on the look-out for her second novel - In the Month of the Midnight Sun - to be published later this year and set in the same area of the far north of Sweden, this time in 1856 and during the heat and daylight of the Northern summer.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Avian Murder: Survivor

I told you, in the previous post, the brutal story of infanticide carried out by a house sparrow upon a great tit nestling. And that we were left not knowing if any siblings had survived.

Well. The parent birds did not leave the area. They were still feeding something, somewhere. We became convinced that at least one chick was out of the nest-hole and somewhere in the yard. We began to hear the piping sounds of a tit chick. Thought perhaps - two, but to this day still do not know for sure.
A day or so after the killing of the first great tit nestling, I was watering the garden when I became aware that I was staring at a very young tit-chick, gape-beaked, unkempt, staring back at me from the concrete surround of a drain hole near the bushy undergrowth of a partly collapsed clematis. (That kind of garden). One survivor. I kept telling it to get under cover but it didn't listen.

Next day. And a strikingly similar baby bird was some five metres away in the herbage bordering our broken down decking. (That kind of garden.) Always the great tit adults were hunting food, dropping down to feed it and keeping close watch. Later that day there was no baby on the decking but I think I heard tit-piping from the hawthorn trees above.

So. We think at least one baby bird survived and flew. Not the nest exactly... but life on the streets so to speak. I am marveling at the vigilance and tough determination of its parents who must have got the nestling out of the nesting-hole somehow and, across several days, got it to travel some seven metres or so, still feeding, defending and moving it whenever they knew it had been spotted (by us.) And let me say, that chick must have had some stubborn, brave streak too.

But what seemed very odd to me, in retrospect, was that the sparrows gave up interest once the nest was emptied. They didn't pursue the survivor (or possibly - survivors) even though they were still hiding in the same yard. The sparrows wanted them out of that nest-hole in "their" territory at all costs. Finito.

Does this story ring a bell? Seems like it's a cruel, natural urge.
Survival tale.

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Avian Murder In The Courtyard

It was a mystery. And the culprit was someone whom I least expected. The victim was a great tit chick. Almost fledged but found - by me - on the yard floor below the hole in the wall that is a great tit's nest. The crown of its head was bald of feathers and skin, clearly this was not a natural death.
I removed the little corpse and buried it, feeling sad because we had been watching the progress of the great tit family as much as we could and were waiting the fledging of the chicks. I tried to work out if the culprit could have been a rat. But if so, why not carry away and eat its catch? As well, I knew the entrance hole was too small for the usual suspects... poor old magpie or various members of the crow family. Whoever it was had either been disturbed or left its victim as a cruel display.

And deep in my heart I knew the unbelievable truth. For I had seen the head of a male sparrow protruding from this nest hole shortly before I found the corpse. There are sparrows nesting, as well, in the house corners on both sides of the yard. After the death I spotted other sparrows taking great interest, one standing on the edge of the hole. I chased them off from the wall.

At least one of the parent great tits is still around. We are not sure if there are still two on duty. The Old Man reported seeing a great tit doing some kind of aggression display-dance at the sparrows in the yard but I do not know if there are surviving chicks in the nest. Whatever happened and whether any of the brood have survived, I am very sad to witness this cold-blooded murder perpetrated by a neighbour - one about whom I can never feel quite the same.

Sunday, 29 May 2016

The Doll Is Listening To - The Flames Of Hell

... her retro technology find of the vinyl kind.

The Old Man is hard at work washing the old 33s that I do find in Truro ... in the record shop in Pannier Market quite rightly called "Music Nostalgia".
I found some culture from Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau singing Schubert but, setting my feet thumping and my own voice howling along, perhaps even more joyful is the find of Swamp Music Vol 1 - Les Flemmes d'Enfer aka Flames of Hell. Being a collection of Cajun - Zydeco music from Louisiana released on a German label around 1989.
You can get a flavour with this video over on YouTube.

Bang those feet on the floor...

Sunday, 22 May 2016

My Retro Photography: Drawing A Veil Over It

Last week I got the strong urge to have an "instant" picture camera again... after seeing one being used on the telly recently.
I used to love my/Mrs D's Polaroid camera and I have had my share of modelling for its pictures, way back in the 1990s. But supplies of Polaroid instant film disappeared alongside Polaroid's final bankruptcy in 2008. I knew that plans had been afoot to resurrect the concept and technology but at that time it didn't include my particular camera model.

And of course I have a digital camera and do like it very much... including the camera in my ancient Nokia phone. (I specialise in out-of-date technology.) Where would this blog be without such a thing? But most of my digital photos remain on my pc or camera, I just never get round to printing them off and I do not think I am alone in this.

And so my little hands did quiver with desire to get themselves wrapped around a new equivalent, analogue instant camera. Perhaps a Lomo'Instant or a Fuji. There is something very special about the one-off, one-time-only magic of the Polaroid snap; not just an instant result, but an object in its own right. I love them. I just had to buy another camera. And that was when The Old Man did stay my hand and got me to check to see if I could now get film for my old Polaroid Image Spectra. And I can.

Impossible Project, the outfit that have spent some years resurrecting what they could of the Polaroid process, cameras and do a film pack for my old camera. Times have changed, as have rules for Health & Safety, etc., so the chemicals are not the same nor the construction of each print module. Now, you only get 8 prints to a pack, they take longer to develop and they are more expensive. I ordered up a pack right away. But very stupidly... not from Impossible themselves. Daft girl.

When the pack arrived the very next day, it was stamped with a 2014 manufacture date. Well past its sell-by-date. Impossible recommends a 12month life for their films. And this is the explanation (I do hope) for my atmospheric results. Such as this image of an old man, looking very pleased, clutching a pot of iris.

Next time I shall buy from Impossible. And fervently hope that the image will develop properly and that any atmospheric veils are under my control. Because otherwise ... it is my beloved 25 year old camera that is in trouble.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Women With Knives Part 2: Lucia di Lammermoor

The Old Man and me sat ourselves down in our local cinema last week for the Royal Opera House broadcast of its new production of Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor".

I'm quite happy to see new interpretations of operas and this production has certainly caused controversy and do give a melodramatic deal of blood and savagery albeit perhaps not in the form anticipated. Director Katie Mitchell relocates it from Donizetti's Scotland of the 1700s to the mid-1800s by way of bringing the action closer to Donizetti's own era (she says in an interview on the ROH site) and because she views Lucia not as a young "victim" but as a mature, cultured woman... and the mid-1800s was a period filled with "brilliant [unmarried] women artists".
OK. But perhaps "pax" to earlier feminists such as Mary Wollstonecroft (1757-1797). Not to forget Wollstonecroft's daughter, Mary Shelley, who happened to beat the boys (Byron and husband Percy) at late-night horror stories by creating Frankenstein in 1816 and succeeded in publishing it, albeit anonymously, the year before Sir Walter Scott's own publication of his original "Bride of Lammermoor".

Mitchell's production has a split stage to enable a continuous line of action for Lucia. We see her dressing, reading letters, waking up in the morning, etc, regardless of whether she is part of the musical scenario, which takes place on the other half of the stage. Cinema-goers watching the live broadcast version with its close-ups and different points of view may not have been exposed to the full effect of this device. I do wonder if it proved distracting for the theatre audience, certainly in the case of the silent masque murder-scene which traditionally takes place off-stage. And what also troubled me about this scene was that it seemed to depart so much from the traditional view of poor innocent Lucia that I couldn't really make it lie down with the notion that she then proceeds to go mad... tout suite. Though I did enjoy the addition of Donizetti's originally scored glass harp accompaniment to Lucia's hallucinatory insanity. Certainly Diana Damrau as Lucia earns her keep and sings pretty lovely as well and we were both impressed by the acting and singing of Charles Castronova as Edgardo.

I enjoyed my night out at the opera thoroughly. In retrospect the production is device-heavy and overthought in its details... which don't always hang together. (But then Donizetti's own scenario doesn't leave much room to "explain" the sudden descent of madness onto poor Lucia's head). But I enjoyed the performances and if the director enabled some of these, then so be it. Ultimately, me and The Old Man were still arguing and discussing the whole thing a couple of days later which many would say was a mark of a good, meaty show. Or is it? Dunno ... but I'm glad I went.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Springtime: The Bird That Wants To Make A Phone Call

It's definitely spring. The Old Man and I get in the car to go walking .. as you do. A short drive to Penrose Estate and cars are decanting children, dogs, and walkers with sticks. The car park is packed and The Old Man do attract some attention trying to park in the last slot. His frustration at the current car do infuriate and defeat him, causing some outraged stares at an accidental horn beep. We give up and turn round to leave for another car park in Helston, at the lower end of the "trail". That's when I realise that quite some of the sniggering walkers are marshaling their sticks, children and dogs to walk out onto the road again and not into the wooded estate. So it dawns on me that they are parking up here to walk down to Porthleven for the Food Festival (sorry folks, last day today) which by all accounts has been packed out this year

But we manage our walk along the Cober and the woods of Penrose Estate. The first thing I see when I get out of the car ...  are swallows flying above the river. In the woods themselves birds are singing fit to bust: robins, wrens, blackbirds, chiffchaffs. Something more melodious. Blackcap? And then a song I don't know, probably some kind of warbler. I heard once that if you are trying to remember a bird's song then concentrate on catching the rhythmn and make up a phrase that echoes the rhythmn. So I do.
Definitely it's: "I gotta make a phone call, brrrr, brrrr."

I rushed (or hobbled) home and do try out the thing on the internet, starting with warbler songs. Maybe a reed warbler? But I am not convinced. So if anyone knows which bird sings "I gotta make a phone call, brrrr, brrrr." - I'd like help with the answer.

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Such Stuff As Dreams Are Made Of

I dream I am with The Old Man in this place where everyone, including the staff, is old. We sit at a dining table and the lady what takes our order is determined that I will eat ham... and I keep telling her that I don't eat ham. Suddenly a man of same sort of age, addressing us as if he is a security man, wheels on some hi-fi equipment. Truly 'orrible looking speakers with fake marble and stuff. He do play Rossini to us... and I do not like Rossini. Then the elderly waitress comes back with a colleague. She is still insisting that I ordered ham. Her colleague, of same age, do join in the discussion. Suddenly The Old Man do tell them how grateful we are for how well they did look after my mother and everybody starts crying. I wake up.

When I come down for breakfast in the morning... in real, daily life this is ... I do tell The Old Man my dream. And he answers that he too has had a dream. He dreams that he has tickets for the cinema and so he drives to the town and parks the car, apparently having left me behind at home. Then he realises that he has forgotten the tickets (and me). So he goes back to the car park but cannot remember where he left the car....

See the nightmares of Old Age? I am stuck in a home where I am fed stuff I don't want and made to listen to stuff I don't want to hear whilst The Old Man do go round and round forgetting everyone, everything, and every place. Mind you, it could all be a comment on the state of the nation.

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Women With Knives: Iphigenie en Tauride at Hall for Cornwall

No... I don't mean cutlery when I write "women with knives"... but a long lost phrase in my head to do with plots in opera. The English Touring Opera production of "Iphigenie en Tauride" provides "women with knives" in spades ... and axes... with its opening scene of human sacrifice on the shores of Tauride. The orchestra plays an overture whilst ladies dressed in impressive butcher aprons of bloodied white subdue their struggling but unseen captive and wield knives and axes, draining blood into bowls and through grills and chopping up various bits (again unseen but inferred) and thrusting them into sacks. Members of the Truro audience were heard complaining about the gore in the ice cream queue during the interval. But... naturally... I thought they did it rather well.

I think if I had any complaints about the violence it would be the inaccuracy of the torture of Orestes's friend Pylades, whose suffering as mimed by his tormentors would have deprived him of enough body parts to prevent his participation in the rest of the opera. In the spirit of crime review I must say... "If you are gonna show violence... make it relevant. You went a little over the top there, boys." And in the main the violence of this production is relevant I think. Gluck based his opera on the play by Euripedes in which the saved sacrificial victim, Iphigenie, is made a priestess by her saviour Diana and as such doomed to sacrifice any foreigner who steps on to the shores of the tyrant king Thoas. What follows is a catalogue of family disaster, culminating in Iphigenie finding herself about to sacrifice her own brother, Orestes. Labelled a tragedy and a melodrama, the company's own programme notes point to the Euripedes work as an anti-war drama. And my word, seen from that point of view it do fit in with the spirit and geography of the times.

I can't praise English Touring Opera highly enough. This is the third year we have managed to see one of their productions. Their sets and designs are necessarily stripped down but work well  given that, with us, they manage just two consecutive night in the theatre with a different performance each evening. Well that's a triumph of packing if nothing else. But above all the performances are smooth, the productions brave and the singing and orchestral work are good. I have to single out Catherine Carby as Iphigenie in this one: warm and singing beautifully. If you live far from metropolitan delights and miss an evening at the opera... you must look out for ETO.
I just wish we got a sample from their autumn tour as well ... but we never do.

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

A Night At The Opera: English Touring Opera "Iphigenie en Tauride"

It's time for me to creep out of my wintry shell and kick a best foot forward into the night. I've booked tickets for the opera, the opera what visits Truro's Hall for Cornwall that is. So thank heavens for the English Touring Opera and its annual visit to the HFC. Two nights only, a different production each night, bless them.

Seats are popular for their Mozart's "Don Giovanni" on March 15th  but we have opted for the considerably less well known "Iphigenie En Tauride" by Gluck... on the basis we don't know it and we might never get the chance to see it again. A risky policy this one... but when the walking frame looms... why not give it a whirl. So we are off in a few weeks time to sample the fleshpots of Truro. Erm...

I'd have liked to share a sample video with you but there isn't one. So let me just quote the blurb/plot: "Vampire-like villains and human sacrifice form a bloodthirsty backdrop to this timeless tale from Greek myth. A brother and sister are thrown together at the end of the Trojan War, and find their path to redemption. One of the most refined and perfect of operas, from a composer who influenced future
generations from Mozart to Wagner..."
Oh la-di-da says I. Better put my best frock on.

Friday, 12 February 2016

The Old Man Loses His "Independent"

The Old Man is bereft. The days are counting down (end of March) to the loss of his beloved "Independent" print-copy newspaper. The thing he adores most in his life. The thing that puts structure into his days. The thing he drives a six-mile round trip each morning to collect. The thing that accompanies him on shopping trips, into doctor's and dentist's waiting rooms, on long drives and the occasional forays into pastures new. The thing that dictates where he lives and stays... "Where can I get my paper?"

The answer my dear, I'm afraid, will be ... on the internet. And the Internet be a place that The Old Man do rarely visit. Hard-wired as it is into a cold and cheerless room in our granite cottage in the Far West whose reluctant wi-fi do not penetrate its interior granite walls.... whose mobile phone reception be limited to whatever inconvenient spot within the house or the garden a bar of signal can be obtained....

It is no good telling him that he will still have the i - albeit under new ownership. He has only ever bought this paper as a "completist" gesture. (See previous post). He cannot read any other newspaper... they are all dross as far as he is concerned or else owned by unspeakables.The man is genuinely bereft. He do feel he will be deprived of news of the modern world: politics, economics, the arts, society ... and I do feel for him. I too do worry that we are slipping away from an informed view of the wider world (by the time the Govt will have done for the BBC and flogged off Channel Four, us traditional, Murdoch Empire-avoiding couple be scuppered....)

And of course I do wonder what else I can use to mop up the gales of rainwater what do sweep under the back door on a regular basis.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Goodbye And Farewell: Dan Hicks 1941-2016

Another of my musical heroes has packed his guitar and left the stage.

I have listened to the one and only West Coast man Dan Hicks for some decades... my first purchase being a cassette of his 1972 album "Striking It Rich". Like many others I listened to the track "I scare myself" until my head whirled. I don't know about you but I frequently did scare myself also. The Old Man became a convert and, cos that's what he does, he set about buying up all the Dan Hicks vinyl he could find. And when Hicks started recording again as Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks, signing with Surfdog Records and releasing "Beatin' the Heat" in 1998... The Old man scooped up a couple of CDs also.

Actually... The Old Man's habit of buying up everything he can find of a favourite (a man's thing perhaps) has in the past annoyed me to the point of putting me off my own faves cos he do play everything day and night until I do scream and leave the room. Is he obsessive? Well, the thought do never cross my mind, officer. But the splendid consequence, this time, is that we have quite a few recordings of the man himself - Dan Hicks and his scat-singing, swing-playing, off-the-wall Hot Licking ensemble.

I'm embedding this YouTube video ... which was a trailer for Dan Hicks' 2009 album "Tangled Tales" .. cos to me it serves as a good tribute to the man and his music as well.

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Criminal Travels: Poland - Miloszewski & "A Grain Of Truth"

I am just back from immersing myself in the late arrival of spring to the picturesque town of Sandomierz, Poland - which I visited courtesy of "A Grain Of Truth" by Zygmunt Miloszewski, his second crime fiction novel featuring State Prosecutor Teodor Szacki. [Bitter Lemon Press, 2012.]
I read the first "Szacki" book - "Entanglement"- late last year and posted my thoughts on that one here. I certainly enjoyed it enough to want to read this second installment and I am glad I did....

"Like a china doll floating in the mist, thought Myszynski as he gazed at the dead body lying below the synagogue. It was unnaturally, unsettlingly white, shining with lack of colour."

April 2009: Nighttime, and from a high window in the Sandomierz State Archives, housed in a converted synagogue, a soon-to-be traumatised genealogist spots the pale, naked corpse of a woman lying below. The death summons Sandomierz's new State Prosecutor, Teodor Szacki, to the scene. But what is Warsaw-man Szacki doing here, living and working in provincial Sandomierz? Answer: mid-life crisis.
Visiting the area during an investigation of the murder of a prostitute in a Warsaw brothel, Szacki's solving of the case brought him fame in Sandomierz. The weather and surrounding countryside is beautiful. He thinks, why not start a new life here? Had they a post vacant? Well, in fact, yes. And so Teodor leaves his stranded marriage, his wife and child, his big-city ennui, for a fresh start and a new life in the bosom of a beautiful, historic town.
Except it hasn't turned out that way. Teodor finds himself to be, not the big, prosecutorial fish from Warsaw, central to the town and his own life, but an outsider in a provincial city, mistrusted, isolated and lonely. He misses night-life, good wine and the bouts of bracing sparring with his old police partner Oleg Kuzniecow.

The death of the woman in Sandomierz suggests ritual slaughter. Szacki soon suspects her husband, a respected Councillor, until he himself is found dead in an even more gruesome and bizarre ritualistic setting. Does the town harbour a serial killer whose pattern of murder has its roots in the town's difficult anti-Semitic past and myths? Jewish revenge or the misleading twists of an anti-Semitic nationalist? In order to find the killer before they kill again, Szacki must investigate both the past and the present of his country and community - a community whose inhabitants know their combined history like the backs of their hands.

Beautifully translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones, "A Grain Of Truth" is a meticulously considered and well written book that builds a convincing portrait of Teodor Szacki. It also examines Polish history and Jewish relations from all angles whilst still managing to remain a gripping crime story which had me reading into the small hours, hanging onto its pages with clenched hands, despite my internal reader struggling with an imagined pronunciation of all those Polish names; that's a nothing... a small problem compared to the crime story told. I do hope there will be a third Teodor Szacki ... or rather a third Teodor Szacki translated into English. Miloszewski has a permanent place on my bookshelf.