25 April, 2017

Their Finest

We went to see new film "Their Finest" at the weekend and thoroughly enjoyed it.

The action takes place in 1940 London during the Blitz. The central character is a young Welsh woman (played by Gemma Arterton) who, as a result of all the young men being called up, is given the opportunity to write the script for a film aimed at lifting the British public out of the doldrums and persuading the Americans to join the war.

The film is a great success. Along the way, Gemma Arterton's character falls in love with a fellow scriptwriter (played by Sam Claflin). Predictably, this does not end well. Light relief is provided by Bill Nighy in his role as an ageing and eccentric actor.

"Their Finest" touches on some interesting themes, such as the rise of women in the workplace and the lack of meaning in life and death. It is moving and well acted. I would recommend it.

23 April, 2017

Lost in Translation

On the plane journey back from our trip to India, I watched one of my favourite movies -- Lost in Translation. I have seen this several times over the years, but never seem to tire of it. It is by turns funny, moving and rather sad.

The film focuses on two apparently very different types of people who are trapped in a hotel in Japan. The first is a disillusioned, middle-aged actor (played by Bill Murray) who is there to film a commercial for whisky. The second is a young, recently and unhappily married woman (played by Scarlett Johansson) who is accompanying her photographer husband on a shoot.

The humour in the film focuses on what it is like to be lost in an utterly foreign environment -- in this case jetlagged and lonely in a country where everything is just so different. Japanese showers seem to be made only for short people; the running machine in the gym unaccountably speeds up with no warning and it's impossible to get off; the hotel curtains open automatically at a pre-set time, no matter whether you are asleep or awake; why does it take twice as long to say something in a foreign language as it does to say the same thing in English.

Murray and Johansson, both lost and lonely, strike up an unlikely relationship and find that they have more in common than appearances might lead one to expect. They are both in failing marriages, they are both questioning the direction of their lives, and, of course, they are both trapped in Japan.

This film does a fantastic job of communicating feelings and experiences rather than objects and events. It's a hard thing to do, but this film excels at it. That's why I love it, I think.

Not Forgetting the Whale

I recently finished reading a novel that I really enjoyed -- Not Forgetting the Whale by John Ironmonger.

It starts off rather oddly with a young, naked man being washed up on the beach in a remote Cornish village. But the story soon unfolds and covers some very interesting issues including how the financial markets operate, how we are disturbingly reliant on global supply chains for our food, what the effects of a global pandemic such as flu might be, and more. There's also a passing reference to the story of Jonah and the Whale...

If you're looking for a book that is an enjoyable and uplifting read but deals with issues that make you think and from which you learn something, this one may be for you.

Cream tea at Rosie's Tea Room

Yesterday we had a real treat -- a cream tea at Rosie's Tea Room in Abingdon. This was actually my Valentines present to my husband, but this was the first weekend that we were free to enjoy the present.

It was very good indeed. We had a classic cream tea comprising two scones (one plain and one fruit) each plus a pot of Oxford Breakfast tea for me and a cafetiere of coffee for my husband. The scones were homemade and delicious and the tea was lovely -- a far cry from the usual watery cuppa that you get in a cafe.

The atmosphere is also very relaxing in Rosie's Tea Room, so we were able to stay a while and chat after we had finished our tea, rather than feeling the need to rush out.

Before tea we popped into Belinda's Jewellery Box next door. This little shop is full of cards and pretty things that would make very good gifts -- jewellery (of course), handbags and purses, scarves, ornaments, etc. -- at very reasonable prices.

We are very lucky to live in Abingdon with all its lovely and useful local businesses!

22 April, 2017

India celebrating twenty years

We have recently come back from an amazing holiday in India. We don't normally visit such exotic locations, but this was in celebration of our twentieth wedding anniversary, so was something rather special.

We flew out to Delhi and spent the first half of the holiday full-on sightseeing in Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. Particular highlights for me were:

  • In Delhi: visiting the spice market (a beautiful ancient building with an overpowering scent of spices that made us all sneeze!), a rickshaw ride through old Delhi (exhilarating!), visiting the Sikh temple (the kitchens where they prepared enormous cauldrons of daal over huge open flames to feed scores of homeless people every day were incredible).
  • In Agra: the Taj Mahal at dawn was lovely -- such beautiful light and far fewer crowds than in the middle of the day.
  • In Jaipur: sitting at the elephant pool watching the elephants commune with their keepers.

We then flew down to Cochin in the south. This was the relaxing part of the holiday and we spent quite a bit of time swimming in the hotel pool. We did some sightseeing, however, and the thing I particularly enjoyed was the day cruise that we took on a houseboat along the Kerelan backwaters. We had the boat to ourselves and were looked after by the captain and by the on-board chef who cooked us a delicious lunch in the boat's galley kitchen. We spent the day drifting along and watching the world go by, including women washing clothes, dishes and their hair in the river.

All of us found India an incredible experience -- it is just so different from life in the West. The traffic is crazy, the colours are vibrant, the poverty is on a different scale altogether. It simply feels like a different world.

The trouble is that we are now hooked and wondering when we can next afford to visit somewhere truly different!

27 March, 2017

The Essex Serpent

I recently received Sarah Perry's novel, "The Essex Serpent", as a birthday gift. I have just finished reading it and very much enjoyed it.

The novel is set in 1893 in London and Essex. The central character is a highly intelligent and wealthy widow called Cora Seaborne. The story, very broadly speaking, is about Cora's relationship with, and growing love for, Essex vicar William Ransome, whose wife Stella is dying of TB.

However, the book is so much more than a love story; it is an education. It touches on numerous topics including domestic violence, society's view of women at the end of the nineteenth century, the developing field of surgery, the growth in natural history and palaeontology (and the contribution of women to these fields), and the appalling living conditions that the poor had to endure at this time as well as the efforts that individuals were making to highlight and improve the plight of the poor.

I found this novel extremely interesting and I learnt a lot from it. The prose was also very well written and expressive.

If you are looking for a book that is a pleasure to read but also challenging and though provoking, I would recommend this one.

14 March, 2017

Yoga in Kennington

I recently had to look for a new yoga class to join because the teacher whose classes I had attended for the past ten years or so was taking a break from teaching. I was rather disappointed because I thought that it might be difficult to find a good replacement for my old teacher.

It took me a few tries to find a new teacher who is (a) local, (b) good, and (c) runs sufficiently challenging classes, but I've managed to find someone who is great. She is called Elli and runs regular classes in Kennington near Oxford.

Elli teaches hatha yoga. The classes are very well structured and quite demanding -- focussing on increasing core strength as well as maintaining flexibility -- but they are also fun and easygoing. Elli herself is lovely -- very friendly and relaxed. The classes take place in a large school hall, so there is plenty of space.

If you're looking to join a yoga class in or near Oxford, I would recommend this one. You can find out more about Elli's classes on her website.