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12 November 2018 @ 09:42 pm
This is genuinely touching: Macron and Merkel meeting an elderly woman at the WWI memorial ceremony - the Guardian article says she is 100, so I assume she was born on Armistice Day or before it. So born in WW1, lived through WW2, and then to meet the French President and German Chancellor together for the centenary of the end of the war - and for things to be so changed that the woman with Macron is not his wife, as she initially assumes, but the German Chancellor. Some things do change.

Guardian article and the video:

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09 November 2018 @ 06:46 pm
I spent today working from home. This was partly because I was expecting a delivery, which considerately arrived in time to allow me to go for a walk at lunchtime. It was also because I needed to start work on a report. I worked all day, but I did not start the report. This is partly my fault - I should have accepted that one thing I wanted to do quickly could wait until Monday - but also the fault that some things can't wait and there is just no bloody time. Oh well, the key thing was done, and I shall just have to rejig the start of next week. It is now the weekend, and after attempting to get to bed earlier tonight (expected result: failure), I am off to Nottingham tomorrow night to see Opera North's The Merry Widow. Cheerful operetta is what I need - I might rather have seen their Tosca, which has had stonking reviews, but it was not on a convenient date.

Anyway, in the absence of a brain for more interesting content, I invite you to gaze at the Strid and Strid Wood - from a safe distance, obviously.*

Now, does anyone know how I can correct the over-exposure of the sky with zero photo editing skills?

The Strid in autumn

*There are some brilliant batshit "most dangerous river** in the world" pieces on the Strid on the internet. People have drowned in it, you couldn't pay me enough to try to jump it, and falling in will indeed almost certainly kill you, but not falling in is extremely easy, by dint of the method of staying a couple of feet back from the edge in accordance with the big signs. In recent years there have been more deaths in the Wharfe in the parts that people swim in voluntarily - it's quite cold, there are slippery rocks, can be quite strong currents and with a lot of visitors, some are careless or have accidents.

**Which is also incorrect, because the river is the Wharfe.

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28 October 2018 @ 06:41 pm
I meant to accompany this post with a photograph of a large painting that I did aged 12 of a crimson sunset over towering mountains. Alas, though it must be in this house somewhere I cannot at this moment lay my hands on it* so you will have to take my word for it that from the age for about 11 until GCSE Art at 16 an awful lot of what I drew and painted had a Middle Earth-y landscape element to it, albeit of the kind drawn by younger teenager who liked dramatic scenery and Caspar David Friedrich.**

Living in Oxford I ought really to have made it to the Bodleian's Tolkien exhibition before the final afternoon, but made it I did in the end. The most interesting elements to me were the illustrations for The Hobbit, which seeing in their original watercolours did make me think were as good as anything I've seen by professional children's book illustrators of the day, and possess a distinct style that really works even if Tolkien did copy the eagle straight out of a reference book. I was also rather charmed by his drawing the Middle Earth maps on squared paper to make sure that the scale was right.

But mostly it reminded me of why re-watching the LotR films last week had me thinking, 'I must re-read the books because I want to draw the scenery.'

Oh yes, and there was a letter from Arthur Ransome describing himself as a 'humble hobbit-fancier' that made me think I must re-read the Very Secret Diaries.

*Or am not prepared to take apart the picture frame I think it is probably lurking in.

**I still do.

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25 October 2018 @ 06:49 pm
My Facebook is full of Brexit. The news is full of Brexit. Work is full of busy-ness and I really need to kick this bug completely before a 7 hour meeting next Tuesday. And when I seek for escapism no-one on the internet has written Frasier Crane/Alistair Burke*, and the best reading of How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix on YouTube is by Cecil Day-Lewis who alone seems to grasp, as much one can in his tones, that this is an onomatopoeic poem about galloping horses.

But some things retain the power to entertain, and today the cupboard turned up a print-out of a long-ago meme, and a poetic parody that I don't imagine will ever cease to charm me. At ninety I shall be there complaining that the memes these days are nothing to when I were a lass...

LOLcat for the Makers
John Dunbar (c. 1500)

I that in heill wes and gladnes
Am trublit now with great sicknes
My sicklie stait is no surprise:

Death sovran is of all the tubez,
Of rich, of poor, of l33t, of n00bz;
No mortal shal escaip his eyis:

Al flesh is dust; we are but bones;
Baith knight and maid he freely pwns;
Against his glanse brooks no disguyse;

He draws al to his dark bucket;
Whoe'er ye be, ye're surely f***kit;
The Walrus wil not sympathise;

Our base are al belong to Death
And have done since our natal breath
(This point I'd like to emphasise):

(First posted here. Original here.)

*The opera producer played by Patrick Stewart who Frasier doesn't realise he is dating. Best line to describe his genius, courtesy of Niles, "He staged a Philip Glass opera last year and no-one left!"

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21 October 2018 @ 02:18 pm
I'm not sure that I've ever actually done that before, unless some crackfic in days of yore (i.e. Usenet). It was inspired by turning to check a couple of things in the novels having watched Fellowship and TTT* (RotK to follow shortly). I am definitely re-reading the books this winter.

The Air of Númenor by [personal profile] nineveh_uk
Fandom: The Lord of the Rings - J.R.R.Tolkien
Rating: G, CNTW
Chapters: 1
Summary: A missing scene in Minas Tirith. After Faramir tells Gandalf and Denethor of Frodo's path, Gandalf and Faramir discuss Boromir's fall and Faramir's choice.

That summary is dreadful, I admit.

*You know what? I don't like the choice that was made for Faramir. But within the decisions that were made overall for the films I'd argue that it works on those narrative terms. And anyway I don't care because I love The Two Towers for what it got right**, the Rohirrim at Helm's Deep, and above all for including Where is the horse and the rider? because I am a sucker for a doomed last stand, and for ubi sunt poetry.

**Even despite the random warg attack.

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Found while googling for random Good Omens-related things: Crowley Young Chartered Accountants. Address, 10 Berkeley Street.

As a general comment from one who has been whiling away some of her sick leave this week having a look at GO fanfic for the first time in ages, I have to admit that I am not entirely looking forward to the increase in fandom activity that next year's TV series will doubtless bring... On the one hand, increased volume and discussion is great. On the other, people might be Wrong on the Internet! Though I had to admit that as someone who enjoys a bit of good old-fashioned smarm for this one, Sheen and Tennant's recent Comic Con interview is very encouraging: It makes it so much easier as an actor to go ‘my objective in this scene is to not show you how much I love you,' and just gaze longingly at you all the time'. (3 mins in)

TL:DR I like the trailer. For me, the biggest problems hitherto with Pratchett adaptations has been that they've tended to be stodgy, and this looks like they might have avoided that.

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17 October 2018 @ 09:28 pm
Freshers' Flu arrived on schedule, having the consideration to first manifest as a little tiredness on my journey home from a family weekend in North Berwick (pouring rain on Saturday meant the Museum of Flight rather than the beach, but it was fun and we got to go on a Concorde*), and then full blast at bedtime on Sunday. I have spent the past three days off work. Today I discovered sufficient concentration to rewatch The Fellowship of the Ring** for the first time in years.***

It really is very good indeed.

I was massively disappointed with The Hobbit, a bloated theme park ride rather than a film, even though I enjoyed the additional material from Unfinished Tales, the Hunt for the Ring always being a favourite of mine. But part of that disappointment stems from how well Jackson had started off. Fellowship is tremendous. The landscape of Middle Earth is utterly convincing, the acting good, the pace strong, it works to bring to the screen a book that might have seemed to defy filming. I found myself thinking over and again that I wanted to see it on a big screen again, to marvel at the mines of Moria towering above me. I love the sense of scale it brings to Middle Earth as a place vast in both space and time. It is also a long since I heard the radio play (which must also be remedied), allowing me to hear the film dialogue without it constantly running over it in my head****. Quibbles I have (let's not 'hunt some orc') but I can live with them.

I was struck on this viewing how much Ian McKellen brings weight to it in the first third, when it is otherwise Hobbits and backstory. It's a really terrific performance of Gandalf as character(person) as well as wizard and noble mentor. We take him seriously, and thus we take the rest of it seriously. And on reflection, Viggo Mortensen is fine, but I wish that Sean Bean had been Aragorn! Mostly for Sean Bean, though I can't deny the memes would have been good, too.

I see the pervy Hobbit fancier Very Secret Diaries are still on LJ. I may need to re-read.

*There is something sad about the demise of Concorde. They're the ultimate symbol of excess, and I felt that the exhibition missed a trick when talking about their end by not mentioning the rise of the internet and increased options for not-in-person meetings if you were both rich and lacking time.

**Extended edition. That's quite a lot of concentration even when you know the plot backwards in high heels.

*** Gosh, VHS is really terrible, isn't it? Possibly the resolution of the video was designed for a smaller TV screen, but mine isn't huge. I'm going to have to watch something else to see if it is as bad.

****An annoying side-effect of a good memory, really quite distracting in my recent Pride and Prejudice re-read.

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11 October 2018 @ 08:16 am
The annual Welsh National Opera sojourn in Oxford moves about a bit. From last year's end of November, which I didn't make it to due to the Joy of Labyrinthitis, it moved forward to this week. To which I can't make it to Saturday's War and Peace due to being in Scotland, but did get myself a ticket last night to La Traviata, which I haven't seen in years.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening - I was going to say 'enjoyable rather than exhillerating', which sounds like I'm damning with faint praise, which wouldn't be fair. It's just that the last thing I was Siegfried and I think that Wagner might have spoiled me. It was a good production (David McVicar) of a classic piece, which I had never actually seen done lavishly before. Well-sung, well-acted*, and a fab matador dance, I would have liked a little more sharpness of dramatic tone at times, whereas it went for the more purely romantic drama. Also, I like my Germonts terribly anguished from Act 2, not just the end. What made the evening for me was Act 3, which really concentrated the emotional and dramatic weight to portray a character in the process of dying, not just waiting to sing her last line.

Though to be honest one of the best moments was my realisation towards the end of Act 2 that I was at the theatre and still fully awake despite having come straight to the theatre from work. I had deliberately held off buying my ticket until the preceding day in order to only go if I didn't have freshers' flu, and the no-congestion evening was great. It is so much easier to appreciate the performance when you're not rubbing your eyes every five minutes.

Have Angela Gheorghiu and Leo Nucci as broadcast on TV in my formative years.

*The internet tells me that tenor Kang Wang is about 30 and he looked significantly younger, which is a great help to characterization by having Alfredo be a callow youth overwhelmed by emotion and not dealing with it well, rather than suddenly being unpleasant in the second half of act 2.

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I am rubbish at writing reviews.

The answer to the poll was (4) Svetlana is also a KGB agent. Svetlana was not a KGB agent, though I'd like to see a production of the London version in which she is, because I think it could work in interesting ways, and at the end we would see her and Molokov shake hands before going off-stage.

As for the other options:

(1) One Night in Bangkok is not sung in Bangkok, but is a karaoke number. Sung by Freddie in a Merano bar. This was the moment when I knew that this was definitely not the Chess I was expecting, and it turned out that the whole action was set over four days in Merano. Apparently one Australian production set the entire thing in Bangkok

(2) Molokov has a solo about his manpain. Replacing, due to the significantly changed plot, The Soviet Machine. The title means Forget me if you can even though quite how much is true is also a question, and if it is he actually singing a song about how sad he is for having his wife sent to Siberia?

(3) Anatoly/the Russian deliberately throws the final chess match. Though the internet tells me this also happened in the Broadway version (one of the ones with Walter. Why is Walter necessary in any version, I ask myself. As far as I can see he only adds even more, and unhelpful, complexity to the plot). From the position of having seen them, I think I like the London and Swedish versions as the two extremes - in London, in which he will give in on everything else, but not on that, and in the Swedish one, when it symbolises how completely he is defeated by Soviet Oppression(TM) that despite his agony he has no choice. Doing it for a bargain for Florence's maybe-alive-Dad just feels sentimental.

(5) There is a comic play-within-a-play version of Romeo and Juliet, during which a swozzle can be heard. This opened the second act, as a "touristy thing happening in Merano, with irony". The swozzle wielder was a minstrel/fool of some sort. This does not appear to be in the original Swedish production, so might be an invention. It was bizarre (understatement), but entertaining, and served to set up a public embarrassing confrontation with Freddie.

I have sort of written a review, or at least I will have when I add that it was excellently staged, well acted, and had terrific singers. The women were much better than in London, where Florence was too much of a belter and not always quite on pitch, and Alexandra Burke had a good voice that was not well-matched with the rest of the production. They also made the Arbiter female, which worked well. The singer playing the Russian undoubtedly had the most difficult job of needing to be not Tommy Körberg*, which he achieved by being a very difficult physical type as well as direction choices. TL:DR should you be in Helsinki, I recommend it; if you don't know the musical at all, have a listen. As ever, much of it is on YouTube.

*Whereas Michael Ball was free to channel Tommy Körberg, and did.

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23 September 2018 @ 04:17 pm
[personal profile] antisoppist and I spent Friday evening watching* Chess på svenska - the Swedish version of Chess first performed in 2002 and which we knew to make some alterations to the songs and running order. I knew it was going to be different to the ENO production I saw in May. I didn't know that it was going to be THAT different... It was great, and there will be a proper review in due course, but in the meantime, a poll:

*In my case almost entirely through opera glasses, which I had remembered to take while leaving my actual glasses on the hotel table. Actually, my eyes are not so bad that I can't see what's happening on the stage without them, as you'd expect given that I got to the theatre without them, but I always wear them for cinema and theatre to enjoy the detail fully and I want to be able to see people's facial expressions properly!

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