19 January 2018

Brunch

This is a shout out to British and British-based bloggers and commenters. Our lovely son Ian will be on Channel 4 TV this coming Sunday. He will be on a chatty magazine programme called "Sunday Brunch" with his Bosh! accomplice Henry. The programme is set in a kitchen environment and they will be preparing at least one vegan dessert for the hosts and perhaps the other guests to enjoy.

It is a live show and  it commences at 9.30am on Sunday morning.

This TV appearance is all part of  Ian and Henry's drive to bolster forthcoming book sales. All being well, their Bosh! cookbook will hit the bookshops and Amazon's online store in mid-April of this year.

If you have the opportunity to do so, please watch "Sunday Brunch" on January 21st. And remember you don't have to be a vegan to enjoy vegan dishes.

18 January 2018

Billboards

Frances McDormand as Mildred
One of the films of the moment is the oddly titled "Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri" written and directed by Martin McDonagh. Shirley and I went to see it on Tuesday afternoon.

Starring Frances McDormand as Mildred, the film is set in small town America where everybody knows everyone else. Long before the film opens, Mildred's teenage daughter  Angela was raped and murdered. Mildred is filled with both grief and anger for she feels that the local police department have neglected their duties, failing to pursue the killer with due diligence.

She rents  three disused billboards on the outskirts of town and uses them to embarrass the police into action.

It is a quirky film that has been described as a "dark comedy". McDonagh also directed "In Bruges" and seems to have a gift for embroidering seemingly tragic plots with strands of humour.

There's a clownish police officer called Dixon - played brilliantly by Sam Rockwell - in "Three Billboards".  He lives with his mother. Near the end of the film he prepares to head out of the house while she is snoozing on the sofa. Bizarrely, there's also a tortoise on the sofa and he crawls into the old lady's lap. There is no other reference to this tortoise. It's just an unremarked and quirky moment that stayed with me after we left the cinema.

Pictorially, it is an eye-catching film. By the end you feel that you know Ebbing and its environs quite intimately. By the way, Ebbing is actually a fictional town. The real location was Sylva in the Plott Balsam Mountains of north western North Carolina.

There was another assured performance by Woody Harrelson as Police Chief Willoughby and Lucas Hedges - who I first saw in the excellent  "Manchester By the Sea" played the part of Robbie - Mildred's son - in an appropriately restrained manner.

It's a good film and well worth seeing in my view but be warned - if you are of a delicate disposition - that Mildred is quite foul-mouthed and in her "cussing" shows little restraint.
Woody Harrelson as Chief Willoughby

17 January 2018

Sequoia

Continuing the story of our 2005 family holiday in America...
Joshua tree by the road to Boron
With many miles to go, we headed out of Las Vegas straight after breakfast.

Instead of driving all the way back to L.A. , we took Highway 58 near Barstow. It cuts across the desert landscape to Bakersfield. On the way over, we stopped at Boron, a dusty godforsaken small town in the middle of nowhere. It is named after the mineral boron or borax which is still extensively mined in that area. I blogged effusively about Boron before. Go here. 

After a hearty lunch in The Corral Diner, we carried on to Bakersfield where I filled up with petrol (American: gas) and then we motored northwards along The Central Valley. I thought of the Joad family in "The Grapes of Wrath" and their onerous journey from Oklahoma. The Central Valley was to be their salvation - their Canaan - but all they found was more hardship.

When I was twelve, our geography teacher set us a homework task - to draw a detailed map of California but that weekend I did something else. Instead of drawing a map in my book I made a huge  papier-mâché  model of The Golden State  and painted the mountains and deserts, before labelling the major cities. In the middle was the green swathe of  The Central Valley which I imagined to be a land of plenty with rich soils spawning all manner of vegetables and apple orchards and orange groves.

My relief map was almost as tall as me and I struggled to transport it on the school bus. In my mind's eye I can still see the face of my geography teacher when I presented that crazy labour of love and geographical enthusiasm. His jaw dropped visibly and he didn't know what to say.

And now I was riding along through the same valley all the way to Visalia where we took a right and headed east towards the southern Sierra Nevada Mountains. I had booked a hotel at Three Rivers, planning to drive into The Sequoia National Park the following morning.

The road up to the sequoia forest had only opened up the previous week after the annual winter snowdrifts. We saw a deer edging nervously from the trees and noticed that the snowy sides of the mountain road were banked up. A week before the park had been closed.

Finally, we arrived in the land of the giant trees and the greatest of them all was The General Sherman Tree - the biggest living organism on the planet. The ground circumference of the trunk is 102 feet and it is calculated that the entire mass of the tree  would weigh over 2000 tons . Furthermore, it is believed that the tree is about 2500 years old. It really is an awesome sight and I use that word deliberately. Awesome!
My family in the sequoia woods and below
Frances in front of  The General Sherman Tree

A couple of hours later we descended from the Sierra Nevada Mountains and headed for Fresno on our way to San Francisco where of course people wear flowers in their hair.

15 January 2018

Terry

It's nice to see Terry blogging again. Do you know Terry over at Treey's Blog? Back in 2013 he suffered a major stroke. Thankfully, he  survived it but the unexpected event has utterly changed his life. Now he lives in a special stroke unit in Leicestershire, is wheelchair bound and has significant communication problems. But he's still with us and essentially the man within has not changed. He's still there. 
Whereas able-bodied bloggers like me find the business of typing a new blogpost very easy, for Terry it is a massive physical effort.  That is worth remembering when you read his blog.
However, the reason I decided to write a blog titled "Terry" today was not to tell you the story of the challenges he has faced since the stroke but to share with you some of his photographs. Prior to the stroke he was a talented semi-professional photographer and the images that accompany this post are all his.
I guess that people will sometimes see him in his special bed or sitting in his special wheelchair and not appreciate that he was capable of capturing such pictures. Things are not always as they might at first seem.

14 January 2018

Bragging

Boastful people are so annoying - I am sure you will agree.  Consequently, it is with some trepidation that in this post I have decided to join the ranks of braggers and boasters, displaying the self-satisfaction of an old windbag. After all, I don't want to put people off visiting Yorkshire Pudding.

Anyway. As some of you will recall, I regularly contribute pictures to the geograph website, It is a British mapping project in which contributors submit photographs taken within Ordnance Survey 1km squares. 

Each week there is a photo of the week competition which begins with the top fifty nominated pictures from the week before. In some weeks over 5,000 images are submitted so to even make the weekly shortlist of fifty is a great honour.

At the end of last year, one of the website's administrators counted up how many nominations each contributor had received in the course of 2017. Then he drew up a kind of league table. I was elated to discover that my name was top of the pile! In fifty two weeks I had had seventy five nominations - way out in front of my closest geograph rival. Here's the proof:-
Top section of the nominations list for 2017
Hip hip hooray! I think of all photo walks I undertook last year and the way my roving eye was constantly on the look out for great images. It's  very gratifying to have this year long enthusiasm recognised in this way. I guess that with every picture I take I learn a little more about what makes a good image.

More bragging from Mr Boasty McBoastface... On Saturday, our son Ian was interviewed in the business section of BBC TV World News with his Bosh! chum Henry. The interviewer was a jumpy Australian fellow called Aaron Heslehurst,  The interview lasted for over five minutes and a member of the production team told our son that it would be seen worldwide by at least 100 million people!
In other Bosh! news, the cover of the recipe book has been revealed. It is due out in April but it is possible to pre-order a copy via Amazon. I am keeping my fingers crossed that nothing unpredictable interrupts the momentum of Bosh! Ian has been working so hard to make it successful...

13 January 2018

Vegas

Continuing my account of our American west coast holiday in 2005...
The Bellagio Hotel, Las Vegas
It is almost three hundred miles from Santa Monica to Las Vegas. You traverse greater Los Angeles on wide concrete highways till you reach Route 15 and then at last you are out in the countryside. But it's not like Derbyshire. No green fields, quaint cottages or grazing sheep. Instead you are in a dusty desert landscape where cacti thrive and occasional joshua trees suggest you might have arrived on a different planet.

Across the Mojave Desert to the Nevada border. The traffic is light and there are sun baked mountains in the colourless distance.  Our black jeep is in cruise control and the road is as straight as an arrow. 

Then shimmering in the distance we see a city where no city should exist. Is it perhaps Oxford with its dreaming spires or the new Jerusalem? Palmyra or possibly The Emerald City itself? No. It's Las Vegas which in English means "The Meadows" but as we get closer we see no meadows - only a sprawling concrete settlement that owes its existence to gambling and entertainment.

Imagine that! Not a city built on steel or fishing or ship-building or banking but a city built on card games and sequins! Incredible. In 1905 the population of Las Vegas was just 25. Now it's home to 600,000 souls and always a temporary home for thousands of visitors. It is to the western world what Mecca is to Islam.

Vegas has its famous neon strip and north of that there's the old downtown area. Our budget hotel was between the two - the tastefully named Econolodge. We had two large connecting rooms and a kitchenette. Cheap and perfect for our needs. 
Though I was happy enough to accompany Shirley and the kids as we wandered around Sin City, our prime reason for going there  was to use it as a base for visiting the nearby Grand Canyon.

There are lots of different ways in which tourists can experience The Grand Canyon. We had chosen to fly to it, landing on a remote airstrip near the Bar Ten Ranch. There I met a real life cowboy called, I kid you not, Hank - a lovely man in his eighties who had worked cattle all his life in the rugged hills of Arizona. He was now part of the Bar Ten furniture and enjoyed chatting with visitors from all across the world.
After a rustic cowboy lunch, we climbed aboard a rough terrain vehicle and headed down to the canyon along a dusty desert track. Then we wandered around the rim of it, high above the Colorado River and marvelled at one of the planet's greatest natural wonders. 

I would have liked to wander longer but after an hour we had to get back in the ranch's open-sided vehicle ahead of our flight back to Vegas over Boulder Dam. Before flying back, we were invited to engage in some skeet shooting or what we English folk refer to as clay pigeon shooting. I have a built-in antipathy towards guns but it would have appeared churlish not to join in. The recoil on my weapon just about dislocated my shoulder and of course I missed all of my skeets by a mile. Even so it had been a magical excursion. It was early evening when we got back to the city where its seductive neon lights were already dancing.
Boulder Dam seen on our flight to The Bar Ten Ranch
That night Ian put a couple of quarters in a one armed bandit and won twenty bucks but I don't like casinos. They seem like alien places to me. Places I don't really understand and I would never waste money in them. After all, it is so startlingly obvious that in the end the casinos always win. Where's the fun in that?

Las Vegas is a vulgar place. I had the same feeling there that I had in Lourdes near the Pyrenees. A feeling of detachment - as if I didn't entirely belong to the race of humans I saw around me. Three nights were enough. I was happy to leave that crazy place and head out of the desert - back to California...
Will you take me as I am? 
Will you?

12 January 2018

OZ

Somewhere over the rainbow way up high
There's a land that I heard of once in a lullaby
Somewhere over the rainbow skies are blue
And the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true...

To tell you the truth, if I had been left to my own devices, I probably wouldn't have bothered going to see "The Wizard of Oz" at The Crucible Theatre last night. However, I had my ticket bought for me by some friends from the local pub. We also shared a taxi there and back and ordered interval drinks. This was all paid for through last year's pub quiz winnings.

The show was as enthralling as it was stunning. Everything knitted together so well - from the live music to the stagecraft to the vibrant dancing of the chorus. It was a bouillabaisse of frolicking fantasy with excellent performances from all of the lead players as they took us on a journey to L.Frank Baum's famous 1900 wonderland that would later became the iconic 1939 musical film that starred Judy Garland as Dorothy.

Regarding the current Crucible production I agree with Clare Brennan who said in her "Guardian" review - "The heart of the show is Gabrielle Brooks as Dorothy, expressing the perfect combination of innocence and wonder to carry us off into the shared dream of Oz". 

There's something vaguely perplexing about "The Wizard of Oz" story. I couldn't help wondering what it all really meant. Who do these figures represent? It all feels so allegorical and indeed many commentators have proposed various theories about what L.Frank Baum was really up to when he wrote it.

It certainly contains autobiographical, spiritual and political elements though Baum himself may not have been fully conscious of these forces as the tale emerged from his typewriter. He once said that the story was simply a burst of inspiration that came out of nowhere, inspired by looking at the second drawer of his filing cabinet which read “O–Z.”

Bravo to everybody involved in the Crucible production. Superb... and haunting too!