Plaques, goodness and cows

It's been a hard week, with lots going on at the day job and no musicking to balance things out. Whilst trying trying to stay true to the idea that 'today is the most important day' I'd be lying if I said I wasn't looking forward to a chance to spend all Saturday with J.

We haven't done too badly today. With housework off the list we started with breakfast in bed, then walked around the corner to watch A.N. Wilson and Pam Ayres unveiling a blue plaque to poet John Betjeman. He had lived in the village and still has family connections here. A surprising amount of people showed up to watch (including two on a horse and cart who talked all the way through the ceremony). After the plaque was unveiled there was morris dancing from some local school children. We strolled home then drove to nearby Faringdon to find out what 'Eco Day' was all about. It turned out to be a hall full of people with information on everything from solar panels to ethical holidays. I don't want this to sound sniffy because there was a very positive atmosphere in the room. J and I came away with an armful of leaflets and some good ideas.

After booking tickets for a gig in a newly non-smoking local pub, we went for a circular walk around the countryside. Either we weren't reading the directions correctly or they weren't written very accurately, but either way we got lost twice and got back to the car dry as bleached bones and seriously foot-sore.

Today's photos include Pam Ayres unveiling the plaque, the tree where we got lost (the second time) and an impressive bit of kit I saw on one of the many farms we walked through while trying to find our way home. Also included are some of the herd of cows we had to walk though before ducking under an electric fence to get to the road that really did lead home. Quite a day.



I was writing an exam question the other day. After the students took the test I had a chance to talk to some of them about the implications of our source text; in this case the famous 'to be or not to be' soliloquy from Hamlet. I'd been tempted not to touch it because, let's face it, everyone knows it and the opening lines (if not the whole thing) are almost pure cliche.

However, I stuck with it. After the initial confusion of taking arms against a sea of troubles (very Canute like) the writing become a reflection of someone thoughtful and academic. The grumpy, passionate and possibly mad young man of the rest of the play is replaced by this questioning, reasoning individual. He doesn't even mention his mother of father, let alone his murderous uncle. This speech is a lovely snapshot of how an educated young man of the day might talk about life and his problems with existence.

Yet more riches uncovered in one fragment of one play first drafted 407 years ago. With the Shakespeare coursework and exams complete I'm starting to read '1599' by James Shapiro, which hopes to expand on the idea that Shakespeare was a writer for all times and look at how the man and his work is more grounded in his times. That, for example, being an 'individual' was only starting to mean what it means now, that marrying for love was a novelty.

I'm particularly drawn to these social histories because they put the lie to ideas of a golden age and remind us (if we want to be reminded) that our age is as bad, or good as any other.


You're ill and you know you are.

If you've been wondering where I've been this last week the answer is "sick." The persistent cough was robbing me (and more importantly J) of too much sleep and was becoming debilitating. A day at work which shouldn't have been hard became almost intolerable and I had a very rough night. Straight to the doctor to find there was a fungal infect in my lung. I took the medicine and the day off work to rest. However, I coughed so hard through the night I didn't sleep at all and by dawn I was coughing up blood. Two more days off ensued but for most of this time I didn't have the energy or inclination to look at a computer screen (amazing) or even listen to music (it's never a passive listen these days). Today I feel a lot better in myself but will need to see the doctor again because (restrains shouty voice) the cough is still here!

OK. Enough self pity. Did anyone see the Channel Five (UK) series about a classical conductor trying to make a 40 piece choir from the Blackbird Leys estate in Oxford. Watch it, if not for the process of people learning to become singers then for a glimpse in to the very real side of Oxford that never, ever gets shown in television programmes and films. Until now, obviously.


Zappa on Stage

Zappa on Stage
Originally uploaded by Roostar.
The stage from last night's show.This was one of those rare nights that I got to hear the RAH's pipe organ being played.


I spent most of yesterday in London. Smelly dirty and overcrowded, I had a great time. The new Douglas Coupland novel, JPod, was out and I picked up a copy.

After a day of walking around and visiting the usual list of music shops I found my way to the Royal Albert Hall and took my seat for an evening of Frank Zappa's music, played by Dweezil Zappa and his band. The audience (myself included) had a loud and lively time enjoying these great songs played with skill and gusto. A surprising number of people walked out during the first half. Were they overwhelmed by the music, upset with Dweezil for not being his father, out of their depth? Who knows? I felt the evening to be much more emotional than I had expected. The footage of Frank playing had us all cheering as if he was really there. In a way, through his music, he really was there and for someone with a reputation as being so cynical, there was a huge amount of love being directed at his memory. It didn't hurt that the musical legacy version of his memory was so good it made you want to dance.


It's not the cough that carried him off (again)

It's been a frustrating week. A persistent cough has been robbing me (and J) of sleep in a week when I could have done with more energy. I did get to meet up with some students for an exam preparation night, which was enjoyable, but I talked too much of course, which didn't help the cough.

Two good sights today; a little girl giving me a smiley thumbs up after I let her family pass in front of the car (they were almost run down by someone coming from the other direction though) and the driver of a hearse smiling broadly as he shot along the road opposite.

Off to see the Tour de Frank (Zappa) tomorrow.