Saturday, 31 December 2016

2016 Resolutions - how did they go?

Way back when at the beginning of the year, like a lot of folk, I set myself a variety of resolutions - from the everyday (tidying the spare room) to the wider sweeping (get a new life now my teen had left for uni) and, looking back on them, I'm pleased to say that I've gone at least a little way to achieving my goals.

a huge success - spare room re-discovered!
I particularly wanted to achieve some order in my surroundings and life - through de-cluttering, streamlining some things, taking time out to appreciate things,

So, taking them in the order of the original post  ... we cleared out the spare room - and it now looks like somewhere a visitor can, and did, stay; not a junk store.

... I've cut down the amount of day-time I spend on social media - maybe not quite as much as I would have liked but I've tried to limit it to a few hours at a time.

... cutting down on the competitions I enter was maybe an odd resolution but I'd been merrily pressing the 'RT to win' button and winning things I didn't want. This year I've been a model of restraint but did win an electric guitar (for my Teen) and some books.

... reducing the number of books I read for review, and including more reading for pleasure - yes, this one worked too. I've read less overall - about 90 books rather than last year's 150 - and feel less pressure to struggle through something I'm not enjoying. I've also cut the number of book blog posts per week - I used (with my husband's help) to try to post every day. I now do most of the reviewing myself and aim for 2, maybe 3, posts a week, which fits the speed at which I read.

I started getting up early - though this was really down to my teen being at home for this academic year and working!

Get a life of my own - well, there's been a lot of this, mainly in the form of going out to hear music in pubs and clubs, with some proper gigs towards the end of the year, and it deserves its own blog post

Spend more time pottering aimlessly in the garden - this is probably the one I've made least advance on, but I have tried to take those few minutes to look at the garden, the sunset, the birds chattering, take a few photos of anything interesting, though being a sort of non-activity it's hard to quantify.

Blogged more - definitely, because of everything I've been up to, and a new found attitude about not taking my middle years quietly. Sometimes I feel I'm only talking to myself, but if it's only a diary, so what? It gives me a way to keep track of what I've done, where I've been, what I've thought - and whether it's called a diary or a blog really doesn't matter.

Does making resolutions make any difference? Well, I think it has. It's certainly enabled me to look back over the year and see which things I've changed, and which things I'd have liked to do more of. I'll definitely be making a list for next year ...

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Christmas at Haddon Hall

 Continuing my attempts to ease into the whole Christmas vibe gently, this weekend we went back out into Derbyshire to see another country house decorated for the season.

Although it's called a 'hall', as you approach Haddon it has the appearance of a proper castle with towers and battlements. Inside it's changed very little since Tudor times - the walls are thick, the floors uneven, the kitchens preserved as they would have been 500 years ago - and it's easy to imagine the inhabitants in seventeenth century clothing walking along the corridors or sitting by fire and candlelight in the evenings.

It was already dropping dark as we arrived but the lights from within gave a welcoming glow and from the Great Hall came the sounds of music played by Doncaster Waites, costumed performers bringing a 'Renaissance Christmas' to life

lights in the Great Hall

A member of Doncaster Waites with
 replica 16th century hurdy gurdy


decorations in the Great Hall

The Christmas trees may not have been totally authentic for the period but for the most part the decorations were, with wreaths and swags of greenery, and flickering candle-light adding to the atmosphere.

The most lavishly decorated room was the Long Gallery where the theme appeared to be one of a Venetian masked ball ... with windows along three walls this is definitely one of the lighter rooms at Haddon.

 What Haddon does so well is recreating the feel of when the hall was at it's most splendid - whether that comes from imagining lords and ladies dancing while hidden behind jewelled and gilded masks, or from the recollection of quieter times sat by the fireside with shadows creeping up the walls. For me, it's a very atmospheric place, where the past is almost touchable.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Big Gig - Frank Turner at Rock City

Way back in January when my teen heard about my resolution of 'getting a new life' she thought my ideas would be a bit too tame. It was all very well to head off to the pub and listen to new music, but she thought I should stretch my boundaries a little further to include a 'big gig' - with a well-known performer who I couldn't casually approach and chat to afterwards, and at a venue large enough that I'd be lost in the crowd. 

Well, last Friday I got my chance, as Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls were headlining at Nottingham's Rock City. Now among the bands and musicians that I'd consider going along to see, Frank Turner is the biggest, the most popular, the star. He's huge! Next week he'll be playing another show in Nottingham, an anniversary party as it's his 2000th gig. But he's a bit of a 'marmite' performer - if you don't know who he is, I could talk all night and you'd still never know; if you do, well I don't need to say more!
So I was delighted when the teen agreed that I could go along with her - on the usual proviso that I could be left somewhere safely at the back while she had fun.
In the event, the 'challenge' proved a little more tasking, as she didn't feel well enough to come along, so I ended up taking my other half instead. Now, bear in mind that neither of us has ever been to an event like this before, I didn't even know where the venue was, that I've had doubts before about feeling too old for such events and was fully expecting to stick out like a sore thumb, and you'll see how daunting it seemed.

As it turned out, everything went like clockwork, and it was the most fun EVER!
Timings for the evening were early so we had no hope of getting there to catch the earlier acts, and the place was jammed full when we arrived ... but, by luck rather than judgement, I found a gap just behind the sound booth with a clear view of the stage over the heads of the youngsters in the mosh pit. Staying further back put us in with a slightly older crowd and when Frank came out on stage, started singing 'I Knew Prufrock Before He got Famous' and I joined in, I almost wished I'd been down in the noisy pit!

I'm not quite the die-hard fan that some are but I knew the words to most of the songs, and sang, clapped and jigged my way through the two hour set. It was great to hear Frank give a shout out to the Safe Gigs For Women initiative part way through his set, and not even having beer spilled down me by an overenthusiastic dancer could put a dampener (lol) on my mood.
Even hubby had a good time, though he's less enthusiastic that I am to repeat the experience. 

Through social media I know someone who is going to four concerts of this tour. It seemed a strange, unnecessary thing when I first heard about it - after all, it's going to be more or less the same each night, surely? But now I understand. 
Something that can't be appreciated on cd or vinyl, is just how great a showman Frank Turner is, whether dancing and jumping about the stage, talking to the crowd, or encouraging them to outperform other audiences. There's the most incredible buzz, a feeling that everyone in the audience is not just watching, but actively taking part in the show. It turns out I'm not too old for this at all, so I'll be back, on my own if necessary - and if anyone reading this has tickets they don't want for Frank's special 2000th gig back at Rock City next week, well, you know where to find me.

Just going to add an edit, that my teen would never forgive me if I went along next week. She has tickets to go with her mates, and mum being along, even far away in the crowd, would cramp her style.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Chatsworth Christmas - The Nutcracker

I'm always slow at starting the build up to Christmas. I don't stock up on presents in the January sales, or buy cards the minute they hit the shops in September. I like to ease myself into it all - and this year, as usual, the first step is a visit to Chatsworth House for its wonderful seasonal decorations.

This year the theme is The Nutcracker - with plenty of opportunities for snowy outdoors scenes and snug interiors, toys from Herr Drosselmeyer's workshop, backstage ballet settings and sugar plums.

Of course, there are Christmas trees - real pine ones, decorated with sparkling baubles. wooden toys or traditional sweets, and two unusual trees made of ballet shoes and tutus.

Flower fairies dance on the tree, while a real live ballerina performs

I loved these twirling snowflakes hanging in the chapel - and even wondered if I could try a smaller-scale display at home

and this dancing fairy who looks like she may have eaten too many sugar plums

A Sugar Plum Fairy could only live in The Land of Sweets!

There's a castle on the hill, houses and candy trees ....

....and even a train made of sweets!

These shadow dancers projected on to the walls of the Marble Hall made a lovely finale to the display

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Armchair Travelling with Google Streetview

Old Town, Edinburgh
Last weekend I was out and about in real life - to Cromford for a short walk along the canal - but the rest of the week I've sat in my armchair (well, technically, at my pc) and travelled much further with the help of Google Streetview.

To my mind, Streetview is one of the most exciting things on the web - far better than cute cats! I've always found maps fascinating but actually being able to see that map come to life, to walk down a street, climb a mountain or stroll by the sea is wonderful.

St Davids
When Streetview first launched in the UK, I used it to look at our house and road, have a peep at friends' houses maybe, or check out directions, but I soon expanded my horizons to include places I'd been, or was thinking of going, on holiday (It's excellent for checking if your hotel really does have a sea-view). So I spent a lot of time wandering round, say Edinburgh or St David's, places I'd already visited. At first it was only possible to move around on actual roads but now in some areas, you can follow footpaths, catch a boat trip or maybe just check out an out-of-the-way viewpoint through a 360 degree 'photo-sphere' image. Through a combination of these I've dropped in on the summits of Ben Nevis and Snowdon, not quite managed to climb Everest but did walk up a Himalayan valley to a glacier, ambled along a coastal path carved into the cliffs in Italy's Cinque Terre region, taken a gondola trip through Venice, a boat up Loch Ness ... as you can tell, I spend quite a lot of time 'travelling' in the virtual world.
North Norfolk marshes

My most recent 'adventures' have been inspired by books I've read.
I've explored the North Norfolk coast, setting for Elly Griffiths's forensic crime series 'starring' Ruth Galloway, and then, while reading Anne Enright's The Green Road, explored the Burren National Park, Eire, with a slight side-track when I discovered the 'Father Ted Parochial House' marked on the map.

My most exciting 'trip' though was trying to follow the journey described in Dan Simmon's The Terror following an ill-fated expedition searching for the North-West passage through the Canadian Arctic. - so I had to go and investigate! The weather was a lot sunnier than I expected with hardly any snow and ice (Google does seem to send photographers out only in summer, though) and the landscape far more varied - I found deep river gorges, waterfalls, chains of islands forming lagoons along the coast, as well as the flatter ice-worn aspect I'd expected. I took a boat trip round Pingo National Park (find it at Pingo Canadian Landmark) and, as some photo-spheres are taken inside buildings, I ended up inside an airport reception area, and a store selling everything from bananas and Cadbury's chocolate to bikes and guitars! I then headed back to Greenland, a stopping off point for Arctic exploration ships, and a boat trip round Disko Bay, followed by a walk near Ilulissat to see a glacier breaking off into the sea. There's no way I'd do any of this in real life!

Now I'm wondering where to travel to next ... I've been watching Planet Earth 2 so I might try and track down some of the locations...

All the photos here are my own but Google will take you to almost the exact location

Monday, 14 November 2016

Late Autumn Walk by Cromford Canal

With a comparatively warm day (for the time of year) we decided to head out to Derbyshire for a short walk - flat, undemanding and dry underfoot. There's a variety to choose from with various old railway lines but alongside Cromford Canal is one of our favourites.

Despite the flaming orange leaves of a few beech trees, the overall feel was monochrome. It's a time of year to admire the texture of tree bark, and gaze at reflections in the still water.