October 31, 2011

Photo Safari I – guest post by CathyR


Well, what would you think if you received a phone call out of the blue saying “Congratulations, you’ve won a safari to South Africa”? Probably the same as Paul thought – it’s a con, what’s the catch?

Fortunately he didn’t (as I am wont to do) hang up!

“Did you stay at the Crowne Plaza hotel in Birmingham in May”?

Mmm – yes …

“Do you remember completing a competition entry, when you checked out of the hotel”?

Mmmm – no not really ….

“Well, you’ve won first prize in the random draw – a five day safari trip to Kruger Park in South Africa. We’ll be sending you an email”.

Wow, ok!

And then came the email:

Which finally convinced him.

We’d won!

He then had the job of convincing me – and ten months later, we went on our safari!

We left it as late as possible, and chose the end of August. This is the end of the SA winter, the end of the dry season. With water supplies concentrated around fewer waterholes, and almost no foliage on the trees, conditions would be optimum for spotting wildlife.

Hardened cynic that I am, I thought that this was going to be “safari for the masses”. I envisaged being packed in a safari jeep with loads of others, going out in convoys, and generally being herded around and not seeing very much. How pleasantly surprised I was to be proved so wrong!

Our prize itinerary included time at Elephant Whispers (a sanctuary with six tamed and trained elephants rescued from culling)


This was a really interesting morning. One of the guides gave a fascinating talk, with one of the elephants lying down so we could feel his ears and his skin, and look under his feet …

After the “Interaction”, we went on a short elephant ride (no dignity here, for us tourists, when it comes to being helped off the back of a very tall elephant)! Elephant Whispers was just on the other side of the Sabie River from our accommodation, the Hippo Hollow estate. We returned to Hippo Hollow and then, from their side of the river, came the elephants to have a good old wallow and scratch and play around in the mud and the dust and the grass and the water. What a treat that was, to sit in the sun and watch them for an hour and a half.

Tembo, the largest of the six elephants, wanting to come out of the river onto the hotel-side river bank, and having to be dissuaded!

Our safari “proper” with an early morning game drive. We also had as part of the prize a full day safari and two sundowner safaris, which left us with two mornings/early afternoons free. Concerned about the potential hordes of tourists, we booked ourselves on private early morning safari, to guarantee at least one trip with just us two and the guide. As it turned out, we were the only ones on the full day safari and one of the evening drives as well, so we had three private trips in all, which was just fantastic! ^^

For our second free morning, on our last day, Paul persuaded me to have a go on the Skyway Trail, Africa’s longest aerial cable trail comprising nine separate cable slides over – and through – 1.2km of forest. http://www.skywaytrails.com. To say I took a bit of persuading is putting it mildly. But the alternative was quadbiking, and I’d tried that before. Never again!! *

And it was fantastic!!  I loved it!! As soon as we’d finished, I wanted to do it all again.

Paul said smugly, “I knew you’d enjoy it”!

At the top of the first, high slide. This is SO not a good idea. There is NO WAY …



Through the woods

Fantastic! I want to do it all again!

* I do not do adrenalin at all. I don’t like fear! If you’d seen me having a go at quadbiking in Namibia three years ago, you’d have laughed! I was absolutely pathetic!  Two – very slow – circuits of the practice track and that was it – I was in the jeep with the driver following the others on their quadbikes over the dunes! Much more fun – and I could take pictures.

^^ Photos to follow in part 2.

Return of the Knitting Lady


Which is to say I went to see the Met Live DON GIOVANNI this evening.*

            This is a good one.  If you have a chance to see it—and have some idea what you’re getting into**—by all means go.  There’ll be a repeat some time soon so check your bowling alley’s special events schedule.***  The sets are a bit lame but not, I feel, obtrusively so, and the singing—and acting!—are excellent.†  I have some niggles—Luca Pisaroni as Leporello, for example, while he clearly inhabits the role, might be told that sometimes less is more.  Yes, good comic timing, got it, now lighten up.  And while I don’t think there’s anything much that can be done with Donna Anna, who is written as a wet, Marina Rebeka, while she has a lovely voice, is really very wet indeed.

            Although that brings us to the usual Mozartian conundrum, which is that so many of his characters are appallingThere isn’t a single person to like in DON GIOVANNI although some of them are very repellent and some of them only tending that way.  One of the things I really liked about this staging and performance however is that there was no nonsense about the Don being a lovable rogue:  he’s not, he’s a total prick.  I’ve always had trouble with the he’s-just-a-bit-of-a-lad-nudge-nudge-wink-wink standard characterisations I’ve seen previously;  and to my eye and ear, Kwiecien has the voice and the charisma to bring the character off as toxic pond scum and not lose the plot of the Don as the great seducer. 

           There were nonetheless at least two surprises in the characterisation.  I wouldn’t have said it was possible to make Don Ottavio, who matches his sweetheart Anna for wetness, sympathetic, but Ramon Vargas brings it off, by just, somehow, playing it straight.  He has two†† big famous arias about how much he loves Anna and how his happiness is dependent on hers, blah blah blah blah blah.  And he turns to the audience and sings this awful drivel with this simple sweet openness††† that makes you—plus, that is, the ravishingness of his voice—go ‘awwwwww’ and get all melty and think that really she doesn’t appreciate him.‡

            The other surprise is how appealing Zerlina is.  Come on, girl, you don’t really think the Don is going to marry you, do you?  Get a grip.  But you see her being dazzled half against her will—and she’d like to believe it, and with that nasty piece of work she is marrying I can’t blame her.  Aside from the near-slapstick of Leporello, and the bad-joke mania of Elvira‡‡, there is surprisingly little real humour in GIOVANNI—not surprising when you think what it’s about‡‡‡, but the lovable-rogue nonsense confuses the issue.  Zerlina, here, has a pretty lightness and brightness to her, in a story that can really use some.§

            Oh, and the Commendatore is painted an impressively creepy blue-grey when he comes on at the end to dispatch the Don.  This scene was also done very well:  in the lovable-rogue versions, much is made of the Don’s courage in the face of what he knows perfectly well is death and damnation.  Here, it’s less about courage than that he is mean, petty, and self-absorbed to the bitter end.  Outta here, Don.  Elvira is still manic and Anna is still rebuffing Ottavio, but that’s a Mozart opera for you.  But you go for the music.

            Go for the music. 

* * *

* For anyone who’s counting, yes, I missed ANNA BOLENA a fortnight or so ago.   I’m getting more and more mail asking about how I cope with ME, so here’s a little tangent on that.  Even going to a cinema opera—far less threatening (and expensive) than the live variety—and sitting slumped in your chair for a few hours is surprisingly tiring.^  Attention is tiring, and there’s also the superfluous nonsense of getting there and home again.  One of my bottom lines, which I’ve mentioned here many times, is that driving a car is very draining because of that constant, hyper-aware attention that you have to expend every microsecond you’re behind the wheel.  There are buses^^—Peter uses the buses a lot—but they aren’t much use for evening things.^^^  So my going to the relatively local Met Live requires factoring in driving both ways.  This means having the physical energy and a low enough level of brain-fog to drive and to sit through several hours of opera.  The two categories are related, but they can be perversely divided and divisive and must be monitored independently.  And then there’s pain.  Generally speaking the level of pain I deal with is pretty minimal, especially in comparison to other people with ME and, especially, fibromyalgia—but I’m not too good at sitting still.  It’s one of the little ironies of ME that the tireder and more ME-slugged you are, the more you ache—so the days when you really cannot move . . . you have to.  Gah.  Severity is again related to energy and brain-fog but is its own self-determining little ratbag.  A fortnight ago the physical energy was borderline, the brain-fog not too bad . . . but I was pretty sure the sitting still would do me in, and I wasn’t expiring of longing to see Anna Netrebko as Anna Bolena, so I gave it a miss.  Now I was at least half expiring of longing to see Mariusz Kwiecien# as the wicked Don, so I was going to go today barring bubonic measles, boiling tigers or the unwelcome re-emergence of R’lyeh from the bottom of the briny.  As it happens today is the first day since Darkness fell spectacularly ill the end of last week## that I’ve felt relatively okay myself, although I knew this okayness was pretty frelling shallow.

            I thought tonight was worth the risk.  And it was.  But the sitting-still was a near frangledabbing thing.  Good job I had an aisle seat.### 

^ This is assuming you like opera, that going is something you want to do. 

^^ Fewer and fewer buses, but that’s another issue. 

^^^ They’re also no use for going to my voice lesson.  It would be an all-day epic by bus. 

# GAH . . . Who does not seem to have his own web site and is not all over YouTube.  But here’s a clip from the DON PASQUALE last year that he was such a cutie in.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hd8s265bpGo&feature=related

                There are one or two clips of this DON GIOVANNI already up, but they’re really dark, which is one of the drawbacks of this staging, it is dark. 

## He has clearly forgotten all about it.  Which makes one of us. 

### Self-medication with the complimentary glass of fizz is good too.

** The wicked Don is not my idea of a good first opera, non-stop fabulous Mozart tunes or no.^ 

^ The fabulous Mozart opera for beginners is MARRIAGE OF FIGARO.  

*** The one with the screen in the back room 

† I also want Donna Elvira’s dress. 

†† I think it’s two.  It’s late, and I’m falling asleep. 

††† The fact that you’re aware that every hemidemisemiquaver is calculated is beside the point, when it’s calculated this well. 

‡ Everybody in this opera is a raving dysfunctional of one sort or another.  There’s the sex-addict titular character, who brags about doing ten peasant girls in a single night.  There’s the co-dependent self-victimising servant Leporello.  There’s the vindictive harpy ex-girlfriend whose life has been reduced to a single burning desire either to get Giovanni back or to tear his heart out.  And there’s the wet, who is going to claim rape if anyone pursues the question too closely, but who is peculiarly fixated on the man who, having ravished her (or not), killed her dad;  and whose somewhat equivocal grief is nonetheless extremely useful for putting off her fiancé.  There is also the peasant bride who is rather too eager to listen to the Don’s clearly bullfeathers blandishments, and her peasant husband, who is stupid and a thug.  Those two are going to have a really happy life together. 

‡‡ Feminists beware.  I can just about cope with Elvira, however.  The poor old Queen of the Night, not so much.  And don’t even talk to me about Cosi Fan Tutte.  

‡‡‡ Rapist-murderer who has got away with it for so long because he’s a wealthy nobleman finally sent to hell by the ghost of the man said good citizen killed for daring to come after him for ravishing his daughter.  Nice. 

§ After Leporello, disguised as Giovanni, beats Masetto up, and Zerlina has found him and is saying there, there, sweetie, where does it hurt, he says my head, my hand and my foot^.  She flicks a little look and smile at the audience and says, well, if the rest is healthy . . .

 ^ . . . or something like that.  Nothing, ahem, central.

Rain, Books, Maths, Bell Fund, etc


The latest item to be left in the pouring rain was the authors’ copies of the new trade paper edition of FIRE.  In this carrier’s defence, the space under the little roof by the dustbins is not large, and the box was an awkward shape.  Still.  Feh.  However, the knight in her shining raincoat* arrived before the damsel drowned.  I’d forgotten the trade-ed FIRE was due—I mean, I assume it was due.  Publishers have been known to be delayed or to push things back to a later list, but they rarely produce books at random.**

            It can now stop raining till my final box of auction-ordered backlist is scheduled to arrive***, and then it might want to get a head start on the ankle-deep puddles†.   The ankle-deep puddles are doing really well at the moment:  one of our standard hurtling routes is navigable only by wellies†† and I made an effort to be back at the cottage yesterday on time so that my handbellers did not have to stand around in the rain waiting for me.†††

            Speaking of handbells . . . tonight at tower practise we had a progress report on the bell fund, and gobsmackedness was generally expressed‡ at the amount the Days in the Life auction/sale has raised.‡‡  At the moment the bell fund is not only on track, it’s ahead of the game.  Yaaaaaaaay.  Of course we’re also busy finding out that just as the original £10,000 quote was low, the £12,000 it was raised to probably isn’t going to cover it either, so we may not be as ahead as all that.  However I’ve already said that I don’t mind where our—that is yours and my—bell money goes as long as it goes to bells.  There are at least two bell-restoration charities that work within the central council—I know this because we’re eligible for grants from them—so if we end up with money left over when all is said and done I’ll simply plough the Days in the Life money back into someone else’s bell restoration.‡‡‡

            Meanwhile Vicky said that we might consider making up a wish list§ for what might be done if we can afford it.  And Niall’s eyes went to a certain plain wooden cabinet that hangs on the wall of our ringing chamber.  We could get those old handbells repaired and retuned, he said.§§


* * *

* Actually it’s an extremely old, hard-used and beat-up raincoat and the zip doesn’t work any more.  I’m still wearing it.  I’m fond of it.  As soon as it starts getting cold as well as wet I will shift over to my fabulous raspberry pink Goretex coat bought in that dazzling crescendo of serendipity at the end of the season last year.^ 

^ I blogged about it, but I think I’d be sorry to hear you remembered. 

** I have this sudden vision of the entire sales, editorial and marketing departments of this or that megapublisher at one of those epic twice-yearly meetings crouched around a table with two dice on it.^  Or possibly a roulette wheel.^^ 

^ Did you know that slot machines—the one-armed bandits of yore—are now digital?  You don’t get to pull anything?  Hey, what’s the fun of that? 

^^ And the devil plays the croupier. 

*** This one, for once, is not my fault.  The hardback BLUE SWORD was between printings and out of stock when I ordered it back in August or so—which of course explains why it was our biggest bell-fund-sale title.  I had a few copies but nothing like enough.  But they reprinted about a fortnight ago so, barring further postal malfeasance, all is well. 

† I was thinking comfortably that the book depository  http://www.bookdepository.co.uk/ always sends books individually, so they fit through the mail slot in my door.  If it’s going to keep raining, however, perhaps they would like to make an exception.  I am sure there’s an amusing equation to be had out of the penetrability of cardboard to rain depending on the cube root of the hypotenuse of the contents.^ 

^ Because moderation is not my best trick and because the end of January is very soon and because I don’t, in fact, know what I’m looking for+, and because I have been a math phobic for thirteen months short of sixty years++ and I’m waiting somewhat nervously for it to kick in now and would like to get this over with+++, I picked up a book I’d given Peter last Christmas:  PROFESSOR STEWART’S HOARD OF MATHEMATHICAL TREASURES.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2010/mar/18/ian-stewart-curiosities-treasures ++++

Which is a hoot.  Not all of it is puzzles and equations.  The third snippet is about Bhaskara, a twelfth-century Indian mathematician.  After he screwed up his daughter’s marriage prospects, he wrote one of his most famous brain-bending treatises and named it after her:  Lilavati.+++++  As Stewart puts it:  Hey, thanks, Dad. 

+ And thanks to you generous maths-and-hard-sciences folk out there who have offered assistance.  I am compiling a list.  Meanwhile, or in the very very short term, like between now and the end of January, I suppose my generic question is, if you had an elderly hellgoddess, not awfully bright but given to enthusiasms and capable of considerable stubbornness, who wanted to know something about how mathematicians and physicists grapple with numbers and theorems and things (and possibly each other) to Define the Universe, what would you tell her?  

++ Yes, since you ask, I do remember lying in my bassinette and thinking, inchoately, because words were still some months off yet, ewwww.  Maths.  Ewwwwww.  

+++ Arnica at the ready.  Phobias can kick very hard.  I am really going to have to register a protest with the Story Council on this one~.  Which they will no doubt file in the ‘no action’ bin with all my other protests.~~ 

~ But not till after the end of January 

~~ If pressed, some harassed flunkey will probably snarl at me, You said you wanted something in a hurry.  You got it.  So stop complaining. 

++++ I’ve now got the first one on my book depository wish list.  The other book of Stewart’s that, by its description, I really want is WHAT DOES A MARTIAN LOOK LIKE? which is out of print.  Like I need more stuff to read.   

+++++ Nice name.  Hmmmm.   I’m sure, after having the standard life path closed to her~, an intelligent~~, well-educated young woman would want some adventures.  Hmmmm. 

~ Indeed she may have engineered this.  

~~ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lilavati 

†† No I am not going to carry you.  You can jump.   

†††  The little roof beside the dustbins is definitely too small for two people and a bag of handbells.  Not to mention that it’s only about shoulder high. 

‡ I believe ‘gibble gibble gibble’ might be a rough translation of Vicky’s reaction—as tower secretary and all-purposes dominatrix she’s been pretty much single-handedly responsible for the running of the bell fund:  organisation, keeping track of money coming in and money promised, follow ups, resulting reporting to the church and various councils and so on and so on and so on.  She must have a flow chart the size of Balmoral.  

‡‡ I gave a ‘not less than’ figure since I haven’t even booked my appointment with the Tax Man yet. 

‡‡‡ There are at least two local towers I’d be delighted to contribute to the rehabilitation of, so if it comes to that I’ll keep you posted.  It being my name on the cheque I’d be able to assign where it goes.

§ New ropes cost a fortune for example, and there are a lot of really grotty hateful old ropes out there still in service because the tower in question can’t afford to buy new ones.  And no tower puts up a new rope till the old one is at least somewhat grotty and hateful. 

§§ You know he hadn’t even NOTICED that yesterday was the first time I’d got through to the end of Cambridge on frelling handbells without resort to reading it off a piece of paper with the lines on?  Lksdjfhgkjdsfjkliowerunvn&^%$£”!!!!!!!

Cambridge. My doom.


No, the bell method, not the city.* 

            When you are unceremoniously and repeatedly dumped off the air, and the blog you post to every night with, lately, increasing difficulty as it flickers from life to death like Schrodinger’s cat, takes six minutes to load and then crashes when you ask to see the forum, and when two emails in a row are eaten by demons** when Outlook freezes and then refuses to crash but just hangs there in suspended animation while you press the same surreally cyclical set of buttons*** and scream, you have several options, following the nervous breakdown caused by trying to get an emergency email to Blogmom, asking her to post an Out of Service notice on the blog because enough is enough is enough and you’re TIRED of being bent into a pretzel by your technology†: 

  1. Go to bed early.  HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.††
  2. Disgorge an additional 65,000 words of the novel you’re two months into your five months to write. 
  3. Practise your Cambridge.

I practised my Cambridge.

            There is of course history to this decision.†††  I was a trifle indiscernible this weekend due to hellhound pressure‡ but Niall told me Monday night that we weren’t going to have Gemma today for handbells, which meant just the three of us, Colin, Niall and me, like in the bad old days.  Only the three of us.  Oh blood, gods and death‡‡ that means Cambridge.  I had said feebly that I would look at my Cambridge.  Last night Niall did his Buddha-smile thing about handbells and I did not bash him with a blunt instrument and run away because we were in his car at the time, speeding through the Hampshire dark toward one of Wild Robert’s occasional special practises, last night at Sagging Dormouse, which is another of these back-of-beyond villages that only exist in the natives’ imaginations.‡‡‡

            However these are very imaginative villagers because there is a church with six bells in it as well as the other standard quaint appurtenances.  And we rang frelling Cambridge pretty much all night because almost everyone who came wanted practise treble bobbing—the problem being that Wild Robert had to weld who was left into a Cambridge band.  Erm.  The only people who knew what they were doing were Wild Robert himself and Niall.  It was not a pretty sight.  And I never did get through a plain course—I was dragged, harried, chivvied and belaboured through portions of plain courses, and granted I had lots of help going off the rails, but I was still going off the rails harder than anyone else.§  Cambridge.  My doom.  Whiiiiiiiine.

            Access to the Sagging Dormouse church tower has been less well imagined than other aspects and involves some very interesting twists through hyperspace, and as a result I was one of the last out and Niall had gone on ahead of me.  I half expected to find that he had shot off and left me so I wouldn’t contaminate his car.  Don’t be gloomy, he said.  —xlkashdgfggg!!!!!!!!!!

            So today I was going to have to face the beastly thing §§ on handbells.  I do not want to think about how many novel-writing and doodle-drawing hours I have spent on Pooka, last night and this morning, bashing at Cambridge:   dingdingdingCRASHding, dingCRASHCRASHdingding, CRASHdingCRASHdingCRASHFRELLding, etc.  You get, when you’re trying to learn something that is basically beyond you, into a peculiar sort of light-headed haze, where the world all seems sort of soft and infinitely malleable §§§ —and the world of course includes the thing you’re trying to learn.  Ding.  Crash.

            Well I’m not going to say that this afternoon was a Scintillating Victory, because it wasn’t.  Weeell . . . I’m not sure it wasn’t, but it depends on where you’re coming from.  I was getting through to the end of a plain course of the freller for the first time on handbells.  HANDBELLS.  WHERE YOU HAVE TO RING TWO WRETCHED BELLS THAT ARE PURSUING TWO DIFFERENT FRELLING LINES THROUGH A FRELLING PATTERN THAT HAS TOO MANY ZIGGY BITS IN IT ANYWAY.#

            Okay, I take it back.  It was a scintillating victory.  It will of course be more of a scintillating victory when we get to the end oftener than about one attempt in three, but after last night I’ll take what I can get.## 

            . . . And now, I can hardly wait to find out what kind of nonsense I have to go through to get this posted.### 

* * *

* I’ve been to the city twice.  The first time as a deranged, Anglophile ohmigods-I’m-in-England tourist, and the second time with my Kings-College-graduate husband.  There was no way I wasn’t going to like it, barring zombie hordes.  We didn’t see any zombie hordes. 

** Or possibly zombies.  I wonder if Schrodinger considered the zombie possibilities of his cat? 

*** Windows Task Manager only works when it works.  

† Clearly the email was eventually successful.  But I was getting on toward thinking I was going to have to write my emergency dispatch on Pooka and then go outside and stand in the pouring rain to inspire my 3G—do I mean 3G?—to send it.  The whatever-it-is that’s supposed to pick up when you’re not within a WiFi zone that your gizmo can climb into.  Although it’s hard to tell exactly what the hell is and is not working.  There seem to be levels of turmoil.  Sometimes Astarte goes on serenely beeping the arrivals of emails when the laptop has swallowed its own tail and is rolling around on the floor choking and flailing madly.  If the laptop falls off the cliff excitingly enough, and lands with a loud enough crash, however, Astarte usually withdraws into self-contained silence.   I still haven’t got her 3G option sorted partly because I object to paying for a package which I’m only going to use rarely—well I hope rarely—and partly because Pooka’s 3G is a little moody and I even more object to paying for a monthly service I’m not going to use and doesn’t work anyway.^

            There’s also the perhaps not insubstantial thought that if you’re going to be standing in the pouring rain with your flashy device, smaller is easier to protect from the elements. 

^ There was the to-me-infamous occasion of sitting in a gone-phut train outside Bristol for an hour on my way to visit Diana+ about this time last year, I think, with everyone around me having whipped out their phones and rung their friends and colleagues to say they’d be late and . . . I couldn’t get a signal. 

+ Siiiiiigh  

†† It’s not like I would sleep, you know? 

††† After all I could have read a good book.  I’d better finish THESE OLD SHADES for the eleventy-mmlmph time, because these are on their way:




‡ Hellhound appears to be fine.  I continue to have palpitations every time he squats. 

‡‡ And zombies, no doubt.  Me ringing Cambridge involves lots of lurches and moaning.  And I’m pretty sure my skin goes a funny colour. 

‡‡‡ Note that we went through Broceliande to get there. 

§ The villagers may have had serious second thoughts about the church-with-bells feature last night. 

§§ Cambridge, I mean, not Niall. 

§§§ Although that could be SHADOWS.  Either whacking the crap out of myself writing it in too much of a hurry, or the weird spaces my heroine gets herself into. 

# During our tea break Niall was saying, we should have had you learn Oxford treble bob first.  NOW YOU *&^%%$£!!!! TELL ME??!?  Niall blinked at me mildly.  You could learn it now, he said.  You’d find it really useful.

            . . . Words fail.  Which is just as well. 

## As I was moaning to Niall last night, I know the ratbagging line.  I know it, among other things, from struggling to ring it on handbells.  I pretty much know the line like I know how to make a cup of tea or put a harness on a hellhound.^  But you can practise handbells pretty efficiently on a computer, or an iPhone.  There’s nothing like pulling on a rope with hundreds of pounds of bell on the end of it except pulling on a rope with hundreds of pounds of bell on the end of it.  Sigh. 

^ Although I not infrequently get the harness on inside out and then don’t have anywhere to clip the lead. 

### We’re back to square one about what’s causing it.  I’ll tell you about the wonderful fun I’m having pursuing knotted lines of wireless iniquity, I mean inquiry, no I mean iniquity . . . some other night.^


technology 1, robin 0

No blog post tonight due to technical difficulties.  — Blogmom

Here’s a gratuitous foo dog to cheer you up.

Mama foo and her pup.


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