04 June, 2017

The Miser and Mexican food

We had a good bank holiday Saturday last week.

We travelled to London, parking as usual at North Ealing station (our favourite station!) and catching the tube into the centre. Our kids wanted to do some clothes shopping, so we spent a not-terribly-thrilling morning waiting outside the changing rooms in New Look and Forever 21 on Oxford Street.

The main event of the day was a matinee performance of "The Miser" at the Garrick Theatre, starring Lee Mack and Griff Rhys Jones. I had been given the tickets for this show for my birthday, back in February, and so was really looking forward to going. We thoroughly enjoyed the show -- it was farcical, but very amusing and great fun. The kids also really enjoyed it.

We finished up with an early supper at our favourite London Mexican restaurant -- Cantina Laredo. As usual, the food was tasty and the service very good. We were also early enough to take advantage of their pre-theatre menu, which is quite reasonably priced.

It was then back to North Ealing by train and onward home and to bed.

21 May, 2017

NGS in Headington

We had a lovely afternoon today visiting the gardens that were open in Old Headington for the National Garden Scheme.

Old Headington is a beautiful part of Oxford that used to be a village in its own right. It is full of very attractive stone-built houses and quiet, winding streets, and it is particularly appealing since it is just a stone's throw from the hugely busy and congested new Headington.

We saw several gardens -- some large and some small, but all very pretty. The NGS is a really great way of getting ideas for improving your own garden through looking at all the things that others have done.

We had tea at Ruskin College, which was very pleasant -- brownies, scones and cookies at just £1 a piece! We finished off by popping into St Andrew's Church in Old Headington, which has an interesting history and is very beautiful.

09 May, 2017

Different Class

I recently finished reading "Different Class" by Joanne Harris, which I really enjoyed.

This is  a dark novel that takes place in St Oswald's, a grammar school in North Yorkshire. The main protagonist is Roy Straitley, who has taught Latin at the school for his entire career, and is now nearing retirement. The book flips between 1981 and 2005 and centres on a disturbing set of events that took place at the school in 1981, exploring the way in which they impinge upon the present (2005). One boy, Johnny Harrington, is centre stage throughout -- first as a pupil at the school and then returning twenty years later as the new 'superhead' whose mission is to bring St Oswald's back from the brink.

The plot is tense and twists and turns throughout. It is only at the very end of the book that you fully understand what happened all those years ago -- and, more importantly, who was responsible.

Harris' prose is a pleasure to read -- tightly crafted, funny and very intelligent.

If you're looking for a book that is both gripping and thought-provoking, I would highly recommend this one.

Junk in the loft

At the weekend, we started on a task that we've been meaning to do for a while -- tidy the loft. Over the space of twelve years in this house, we've put things up there without thinking too hard (we may need them again at some point in the future, you never know...) and so the space has been getting fuller and fuller.

We did a first pass and removed quite a few things -- old baby clothes, cardboard boxes, broken lamps and lampshades, old rugs that had seen better days. But the funniest thing was that we brought down seven (yes, seven!) child car seats. These were for various ages -- full baby seat, toddler seats, booster cushions -- and were used in our two cars for our two children, but it still seemed like a ridiculous number. And, what's more, it's not the total number that we owned -- we got rid of one or two a few years ago!

Things are definitely looking clearer in the loft, but we still haven't finished the job -- we'll do a second pass next weekend. Hopefully we won't find any more car seats lurking up there, though!

30 April, 2017

A Cotswolds day out: Banbury, Farnborough Hall and Farnborough village

Yesterday, we had a good day out.

We started off by driving to the market town of Banbury and doing a bit of shopping there. We then stopped off at Cafe Veneto to get some lunch. I wouldn't particularly recommend this place. The staff were friendly enough, but the service was very slow and our paninis, when they finally arrived, were tiny -- half the size of those offered by other cafes and one-and-a-half times the price. We left rather disappointed and somewhat hungry.

We then drove on to Farnborough Hall, which was the main purpose of our day out. This is a National Trust property which is rarely open to the public, as it still has a tenant in situ. The house is very beautiful -- eighteenth century, with stunning plaster-work ceilings and many interesting pieces of furniture. Only three ground floor rooms plus the staircase are open to visitors, but we felt that they were well worth the trip. The (very friendly) tenant was manning the front desk and encouraged our youngest daughter to play the piano in the library, which was lovely. We also enjoyed wandering in the grounds and poking out noses into the various Palladian structures there -- hunting lodge, game store, etc. The views from both the house and grounds are spectacular.

We then made our way to Farnborough village and enjoyed delicious homemade cakes and tea in the village hall. We also visited the church, which was very pretty and peaceful, and spent some time admiring the Cotswold stone cottages in the village.

All-in-all, a very enjoyable day out.

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.