June 29, 2015

Shadows is here!

The HandleBards. No, really


If you have a chance to see these dangerous lunatics*, I mean, this exceptionally talented and engaging AND ENERGETIC troupe of young men, do climb into or onto your internal combustion engine vehicle of choice, bring along a large picnic hamper of high-calorie comestibles and, if you’re sensible, a bottle of fizz, and several blankets because this is England after all**, and possibly folding chairs, if you’re ancient and decrepit***, and GO.  The HandleBards are a hoot.




Admetus and I went last night.  I admit I was not instantly overwhelmed with desire to see four men doing the stripped-down bicycle [sic] version of Shakespeare, since it sounds like a dumb-ass idea and I am not a Shakespeare fan, but I watched a few clips on YouTube, as above, and . . . well, I am rather drawn to insanity.  I still can’t get my head around the 2000 miles on a bicycle thing, carrying all your kit, from show to show, plus setting up, doing your play at a hundred million miles an hour of adrenaline-cranked frenzy, striking it all down again, getting some food and sleep and then doing it all over again tomorrow, but then I am ancient and decrepit.†

What we saw last night was Midsummer Night’s Dream††.  Now you go knowing that there are only four of them and they play ALL the parts.  But I still spent the first scene with fathers, lovers, Theseuses and other riffraff milling about not having a clue what was going on, except that some of the people who were supposed to be on stage were being indicated by empty coats on poles which the four, you know, live actors would swirl into and back out of in a hurly-burly of something or other AND AFTER THEY’D CYCLED HALF A GAZILLION MILES EARLIER THAT DAY?  Beulah, peel me a grape.

You do tune in pretty quickly to the mayhem.  They also pad out a few scenes by shanghaiing members of the audience†††  The two additional blokes cavorting in rainbow wings as Peaseblossom and Mustardseed deserve special mention and will probably never live it down.  Since all I had was a blanket to keep me warm I was particularly taken with the armful of borrowed dog, bewildered but good-natured.  The tallest and the shortest of the four principals were also the two with the facial hair . . . and who played Hermia and Helena, so they can get off the dwarf and painted maypole‡ lines.

You also start laughing before the show even starts.  The ‘stage’ is mostly pegged-out bunting, but they do have a proscenium with arch equivalent, which must be their heaviest piece of kit.  From audience-eye view it looks like a lot of long spidery legs with joints for folding up bicycle-pannier-sized‡‡ and a kind of mobile circular rail suspended above the not-much-bigger-than-handkerchief-sized curtain that gives them somewhere to hide not-that-scene’s bits, and behind which some of the split-second costume and character changes occur.  They hang some of the scene-specific background bits on the rail—heraldic looking banners for Theseus, village-amateur props for the rude mechanicals.  Someone pins or drapes that scene’s background to the stretch of rail at that moment behind the curtain . . . but the rail is connected to one of the long-suffering bicycles, and one of the longer-suffering bicyclists pedals the rail around, so the new scene background comes whizzing out from behind the curtain.‡‡‡  Snork.

It may take you a little while, somewhat stunned by the energy level as you will be, also to tune into the fact that these guys are not merely corybantic fruit loops but good at what they do.§  When they decide that 2000 miles on a bicycle carrying the complete works of Shakespeare is a bit excessive§§ I hope they’ll go on to be famous actors. §§§  They’ll deserve it in several more than the usual hard graft and working up from the Bottom ways.  May their tyres never puncture and the weather maintain a little fair patch hovering over them wherever they go.  It was perfect last night.  Only one blanket required.

* * *

* Wrong country?  The UK is a great place for a holiday!  We have Stonehenge!  We have the British Museum!  We have skylarks!  We have lots and lots of rosebushes!  And we have more method ringing bell towers than in the entire rest of the world combined!^

^ Although you’ll probably need to take a rather long holiday to learn how to ring while you’re here.

** And, speaking of England, an umbrella, or possibly a tent

*** Or perhaps might be distracted by wondering what you’re sitting on.  You know, ON.  Even before I lived in town with three dogs I used to be a trifle wary about sitting on bare ground . . . although pre-three-dogs-in-town this was mainly because it was likely to be damp.  A few weeks ago the hellterror and I rounded the corner from the main street into the churchyard and found a large number of serious walkers^ bestrewn about the grassy triangle you come to first.  The same grassy triangle that every dog within miles rushes to with little whimpers of joy on sight—including mine.^^  Not all of whose owners are as pathologically over-supplied with plastic bags and paranoia as I am.  And damp may come from a variety of sources.  I hope when the walkers arose from their respite no one was too . . . unhappy.

^ Not a pair of All Stars in sight and I’m sure denim jeans and cotton socks are anathema.  Proper hiking boots with proper hiking socks turned down at the tops and Nordic walking sticks and proper breathable sport clothing and the whole ninety-seven yards.+  Scary.

+ Or 88.69 metres.

^^ The hellterror on this occasion was bemused.   She was willing to be generous, however, since people usually mean petting+ and furthermore, full length upon the sward they are at her level.

+ There is always someone(s) who goes ewwwww bull terrier VICIOUS FIGHTING DOG it’s in the GENES don’t tell me they can EVER BE TRUSTED they’ll RIP YOUR THROAT OUT in your sleep  but there are fewer of these than I feared when I took delivery of my little shovel-headed# badger-faced bedspring-legged bundle of mania## getting on for three years ago.

# While shovel-headed is the term of endearment I’m accustomed to, the unique bullie profile is more, I feel, trowel-headed:  those wide trowels for planting rather than the narrow ones for weeding.  Or possibly pooper-scooper headed.

##Maybe the HandleBards should get their own bull terrier.

† Even if I do hurtle many miles every day in pursuit of the members of the hellmob.  I have tough, case-hardened feet. But 2000 miles on a BICYCLE SEAT?

†† From our CHAIRS.  Admetus has FOLDING CHAIRS.  Folding chair technology has come a long way since my last attempt, specially imported from Maine with the eighty cartons of books when I arrived on these shores, and which I think died in the shrubbery somewhere at the old house.

††† If you go I recommend you do not go too early nor sit in the front row.

‡ I have always been fond of the painted maypole.  I’d forgotten that the canker-blossom, always a good sound Shakespearean insult, had come from this scene.

‡‡ I’m assuming the spider legs fold, and the bicyclists don’t also have to bolt them together every night.

‡‡‡ If you’re hopelessly confused, watch the proscenium set up in the YouTube clips.  I don’t think you see the rail moving, but you can see the hitched-up bicycle

§ And while the four on show are the only ones who climb on the bicycles the directors and adaptors and whoever else back at base are brilliant at what they do too. The cut down, ridiculousnessed-up version really works.  I was surprised at the amount of physical slapstick and roughhousing:  given the whole bicycle thing I would have thought—even allowing for the fact that this is a young man’s^ game—that they’d need to be a little careful of the bruises.  Nobody is so flawlessly accurate about at-speed contact work that there won’t be any.  But they freely grapple and throw each other around and fall melodramatically to the ground.  I hope they’re taking their vitamins.   And arnica for bruises.

^ I can’t help but hope that one of the personnel changes some day will include an insane young woman willing to engage with the imprudence and balderdash and 2000 miles on a bicycle seat.

§§ There have already been some personnel changes as you will see if you work through all the clips.

§§§ Peter and I went to a very beautiful, very grand garden today—one of the private-gardens-open-to-the-public-for-charity that are so popular over here. It was huge, with wild bits and orchards and meadow and views of the surrounding, and then nearer the (grand) house, clipped-hedge-differentiated ‘rooms’ of glorious flower borders, professionally designed and meticulously kept.^ And it really was beautiful . . . but it was also rather too gorgeous and definitely too relentlessly primped and weeded, although this may just be my guilty conscience about my tiny nettle-infested patch.^^   But . . . the HandleBards are better value.^^^

^ And tea with cake.

^^ Although my roses are fabulous.

^^^ And I don’t know if it’s a venue by venue thing or a head office thing but they could be a lot better advertised.  So look them up and go if they’re anywhere near you, okay?  And pass it on.


Yurk. Also, from the ridiculous to the sublime


The yurk part:  experiments in raising my activity level to previous modest heights are proving unsuccessful, or at least inspiring undesirable repercussions.  Which is to say I have barely got the hellpack hurtled today, and possibly in slo-mo, I’m too whacked to be sure of what my legs have been doing, but Pav can create her own alternate realities, and hucklebutts rather well on her extending lead, given the absence of large inconveniently-placed trees.  And the hellhounds are, after all, well into middle age, and are happy to saunter along, looking elegant and fabulous, with a brief sprint when no one is looking but me.

The rest is a daze.*  And this one. Word. After. Another. doohickey, whatsit, blog is just beyond me tonight.**

But I don’t want to leave you entirely without frivolous reading material.  So here’s the ridiculous part:


B_twin, knowing my feelings about Peter Jackson***, sent this to me several weeks ago and I laughed and laughed and saved the address so I could hang it on the blog some day† and today is the day.  Some of you’ll have already seen it . . . but there are paragraphs definitely worth revisiting.

The sublime part:  http://www.diegrossestille.de/english/

Aloysius loaned me the DVD . . . oh, months ago.  Probably months and months.  I watched it once fairly quickly but really—even after you’ve watched all the extra bits and clips—it raises more questions than it answers so I wanted to watch it again before I gave it back . . . and that plan of a plan went on kind of a while.  Poor Aloysius finally asked for its return so I hastily rewatched it right around the time B_twin sent me the SMAUG review . . . and these two so clearly belong together.††  You know.  Ridiculous.  Sublime.

The SILENCE web site is a little obscure but keep clicking.  The film is a documentary about a ‘closed’ Carthusian monastery and it’s . . . well, it’s amazing.  I didn’t, myself, ever forget I was watching a film—I’m a trifle resistant to arty films and this one has AAAAAAAART stamped on every frame, and the suggested use of it as a meditation aid I’m like, what?—but the mixture as demonstrated in these monks’ lives of the spiritual and the practical, the outer and inner, the ordinary and extraordinary, was lovely and moving.  And the landscape is spectacular.  Although I’m glad I don’t live there, aside from the whole no-talking thing.

* * *

* There was a lot of lap time today.  This is now the second and third generation of critters to think that ME is a great invention.

** Also I need to claw myself together to go to my monks tomorrow night.

*** The brief polite version is that I thought THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING was a mostly honourable failure, I hated TWO TOWERS and never saw RETURN OF THE KING.  There was never any way in any universe similar or dissimilar to this one that I was going to see what smashed and broken melee he was going to make of THE HOBBIT.

† Preferably before the third film comes out, but greatness, in reviewing as in everything, is timeless.

†† I am sick.  Yes, I know.

Shortie Wednesday


For a woman who got about four hours of sleep last night I’m doing really well.  Luke and his family left this morning and I was conscious to see them off.  Morning.  Conscious.  Golly.*  I did not fall asleep during the silent-prayer sit this afternoon although there may have been a little more swaying than totally desirable.  As I keep saying, those Zen guys had some good ideas.  Cross-legged if you can fold up enough to get your knees on the floor—your zafu is totally your friend here—really is a stable posture and having to keep your back more or less straight requires a certain minimal attentiveness.  My brain, unfortunately, was even more of ricocheting disaster than usual but by the end of the second half the physical stillness was beginning to have some effect.  A bit like trapping your manic hellterror between your legs.  You are going to be quiet now.  Yes.  You are.  Quiet. I said quiet. 

I even made it through bell ringing at the abbey.  The good thing about summer holidays is that those of you who show up get to ring a lot.  This is a mixed blessing on four hours’ sleep in a muggy airless ringing chamber, but it was okay.  And when Albert called for bob minor I chose a middle bell so I could practise my ropesight on a method I should know backwards, forwards, upside down and in a frelling queue instead of a circle so you can only see some of the bells depending on which way you’re looking and end up with whiplash, snapping your head back and forth.  And even that was okay, in spite of the 7,341 Dreaded Three-Four Down Singles that my bell had to ring.

But today is OFFICIAL SHORT BLOG WEDNESDAY YAAAAAAAAY.  I was going to post this last week, and then that amazingly sensitive and perceptive blogger tweeted her review of SHADOWS and that, of course, took precedence.

Adele Geras retweeted this eight or nine days ago**, as it happens a few days after I had finished a KES ep in which Kes has a white-flapping-thing experience she does not enjoy.  And while I don’t think I’d call the original the best or my favourite M R James story*** it’s probably in my top ten.  This dramatization is also interesting, I think, for it being a classic example of the BBC of that era:  what it does really well and what it does badly.  But I did find this well worth forty minutes of my time.  If a few of you watch it and express an opinion/interest I’ll do a bit of a SPOILER post about what I thought of it.


* * *

* A significant part of the problem at the moment is that I own only one fan and . . . the hellcritters need it worse.  You only think about additional fans when you need one, by which time they’ve sold out.

** But because good record-keeping and tidy organization are not in my skill set I’ve managed to lose who tweeted it originally, and I can’t find it to check.  I merely emailed myself the link.

*** If I had to choose it might be Casting the Runes.  Maybe I should do some rereading. . . .

Various. Hey, I’ve been working, I have no brain or ability to make connections


So I finally made it to bell practise at the abbey again tonight and . . . the less said about it the better.


            I tell myself that it’s been a month since I was there last, that I already know I’m finding the learning curve with those particular bells steep*, and that tonight wasn’t as bad, say, as the first time I rang there.**  Or the first time I rang there after quitting New Arcadia, being intimidated out of my tiny mind, and wondering if I had a future as a ringer anywhere.

            But not very much better.


* * *

I wish to say that I am DELIGHTED at the forum comments about year round decorated not-just-for-Christmas trees.†  I’ve actually thought of trying to do this, de- and re-ornamenting a tree†† or a tree-like object, but in the first place I’ve never got round to it, partly because in the second place as soon as you start thinking, okay, this can be anything I want it to be the possibilities unfurl into infinity . . . beginning with the fact that it wouldn’t have to be exactly a tree, although, come Christmas again that might be easier.†††

           I am also delighted that several people have posted liking John Carter:  the critic-flayed film.  Excellent.  Now all it has to do is come to Zigguraton or Mauncester.  I admit I want the full theatre experience. ‡

            Meanwhile, Diane in MN posted a link to this excellent article about Burroughs and the original novels:

http://bnreview.barnesandnoble.com/t5/Library-Without-Walls/A-Dreamer-of-Mars-Edgar-Rice-Burroughs-and-John-Carter/ba-p/7187 ‡‡

             And last but not least, also carrying on from last night’s link-post, my favourite story so far about recent rampant sexism: 


Only a little over ten years ago, when I was an undergrad exchange student inFrance, I received a telemarketing-type call on the separate line that my host family nicely provided in their exchange student room. The woman on the other end asked to speak to the man of the house. As I was somewhat flummoxed by actually hearing this question out of the 1950s, the first phrase my still-shaky French brain offered up was: “I don’t have one.”  

* * *

* Not to mention the stairs.  Which have definitely got steeper in the last month. 

** I had a cup of tea with Penelope today at her house^ and was describing my difficulties at the abbey, including the business of not ringing in a circle, which is what most of us are used to and what our rather feeble ropesight can cope with, but a line.  Not a line, said Penelope, who has rung there herself, a banana.  She’s right.  Unfortunately I thought of this image tonight and it did not help my concentration. 

^ Not without difficulty.  Her entire street is up, with ‘road closed’ signs at both ends and mobs of yellow-jacketed persons rushing up and down waving uninterpretable instruments of destruction, flanked by diggers and dump trucks in a wide range of sizes and numbers of teeth.  Having tried both ends without success, I parked Wolfgang in a hedgerow and hiked in, leaping over abysses and bubbling pits, and fending off over-familiar bulldozers.  I believe they were air-lifting Penelope out when she had to go to work.  

*** Maybe I should focus on singing.  I pulled Che Faro Senza Eurydice off the shelf today for the first time in a while, to have a go at being tragic.^  Um.  I think I may have achieved whining.  Perhaps I’d better not focus on singing.^^ 

^ This may be as far as I can get into opera, but I want to sing this properly.    

^^ I did get Nadia to help me with the frelling Owl and frellinger Pussycat on Monday.  With her at my elbow being crisp it all seems terribly doable.  This has gone away again.  Yes, I can now sing the descant alone, possibly even without the one-finger-on-the-piano to hold me steady.  But as soon as the basses start up tomorrow evening I’ll be toast.  Pleeeeeeease let Griselda be there.  

† Goes nicely with ‘a dog is for life and not just for Christmas’


And this year, Marks and Spencer, not to be outdone in the responsible consumer and empathic small-footprint, we’re-all-just-visiting-this-planet stakes, brought out a holiday-red shopping bag that says ‘a bag is for life, not just for Christmas’.  I have a second-hand one—it arrived in this household bearing Christmas presents—and it amuses me every time I need a red plastic shopping bag to put something in. 

†† I am totally with the idea of a chocolate Easter egg decorated tree, for example. 

††† In the third place, I think Peter might not be entirely thrilled with the idea.  Hmm.  I could start experimenting by decorating the geraniums^ on the windowsills at the cottage perhaps.  But a year-round holiday tree would, in my dastardly hands, turn into another sort of shelving for little noodgy objects—I already have not only a full complement of the standard sorts of dustcatchers, but little dangly things on chains and ribbons suspended from curtain rails and the cottage’s gigantic overhead beams and so on. 

            The good part of a rolling-with-the-seasons decorated tree is that you do get the fun of decorating (as someone on the forum said is an important part of the tree thing) while the boringness of the taking-down part is somewhat ameliorated.  But what I foresee is that I’d just end up with the seasonal decorated not-a-tree plus a frelling Christmas tree all over again. 

^ I’ve been moving around the cottage garden the last three days muttering Empty space!  Look at all this empty space! and frantically trying to remind myself that this happens every year, I’ve got stuff ordered, CALM DOWN.  Today in my inbox I have about sixty-two ‘your order has been shipped’ from plant nurseries all over England.  And Scotland.  Wheeeee.  There goes my plan to repot everything on the windowsills before Spring Frenzy starts however.+

            + ::says in a very small voice::  But I do need a climbing rose . . . 

‡ Opera and cheezy SF&F:  McKinley’s theatre-going priorities.  Which reminds me.  Last-month’s-but-I-missed-it big story was:  http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2012/feb/02/van-halen-different-truth-review

Remember I told you that I finally got around to having my adolescence in my thirties?  Yeah.  Well, the David Lee Roth Van Halen was a major feature in this enterprise^ and I was totally with Bloom County when Michael J Binkley declared that the whole world has gone to hell in a handbasket since David Lee Roth left Van Halen.^^

            Now . . . want to know how I finally found out about the new album?  By following an opera singer on Twitter.

            And am I going to buy the first David Lee Roth Van Halen album in almost thirty years?  Hmmm. . . . 

^ Although a friend who was there used to say that I didn’t have a disturbing and unhealthy crush on Roth, I wanted to be him.  Well, yes.  The wardrobe, you know, although I’ve kept more of my hair. 

^^ I had the original cartoon taped to my wall in Maine, but I didn’t get it laminated fast enough and it disintegrated when I peeled it off to take to England.  This may have been an omen, of course. 

‡‡ Michael Dirda is fabulous.  He is fabulous not least—as I was saying of Michael Chabon last night—because he takes genre seriously.

Three (or four) links


Read this:  http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/mar/12/twitters-tales-of-sexism 

I’ve wasted some time trying to annotate it a bit from my own life.  Linda Grant is only a year older than I am;  the world she’s talking about is the world I grew up in too.  But this kind of thing is—still—one of my hot buttons, and I’m tired, having had my head down for a protracted period over SHADOWS* today, and not feeling 100% after the friendly weekend visit from the ME either.  So I keep getting to the gibbergibbergibber *&^%$£”!!!!!! point, hitting ‘delete’, and starting again.  I would do more political stuff in the blog if I didn’t have such a short fuse—but I arguably don’t have a fuse, I just go from jolly la-la-la to global meltdown in the wink of an eye.  And I don’t have the time or the strength to support that kind of blog.

            So, if you haven’t already read what Linda Grant says, read it now, and assume that I’ve got stories to go with most of these.  Arrrrrgh.

 * * *

And then, speaking of How the World Changes, Sometimes in Ways That Don’t Make You Entirely Happy even if You’ve Known It Was Coming: 



This has been all over the place—I had like six tweets with links to six different articles in the space of half an hour.  I’m interested that they’re saying that Wikipedia is generally considered reliable;  I use it, but if and when they have to start charging for it, I’ll stop using it, because their hands-off policy on editorial bias is not okay with me, on the subject, for example, of homeopathy, which article is pretty blatant about saying it’s bulltwaddle.  It isn’t.  But any alteration toward the positive is smacked down at once.**

            But I grew up worshipping the Britannica and—I’ve told you this story—with my tiny advance for BEAUTY, my very first published novel, I bought . . . two bookcases and a Britannica.***  And I’ve been buying the yearbooks ever since.  That’s a lot of yearbooks.  Peter will be delighted if these stop, which I assume they will too.  But . . . the passing of an era, oh. . . .  I am less nostalgic for the paper encyclopaedia than I might be because the instant-update online thing is completely persuasive.  But the fact that this is the way world now is—pretty well incredibly different than thirty-four years ago when I bought my Britannica—is a little vertiginous.   And I still want a copy of the—eleventh edition, is it?—for what I suppose amounts to nostalgia.  But I have an old two-fat-volume eighteen-sixty-something Pears Cyclopedia which I love to bits†.  You’re not going to get the same picture of the contemporary world thirty-four years from now from a daily updated on line encyclopaedia, even if it keeps chronological records—although perhaps the world will have changed incredibly again by then.††  

 * * *

Third link, and returning at last to the frivolous, where I am (perhaps) less likely to get myself in trouble: 


Um.  I kind of liked the first trailer, although I was seeing it on a laptop screen and not in a theatre.  It wasn’t totally in my face trying to bully me with how clever it was and how much money it had spent on its special effects—even if how our hero woke up on Mars was a little obscure to me.  Has anyone actually seen this epic-disaster-epic?  I’ve seen three or four reviews, each one breathless to outdo the last in bludgeoning this film-like object into paste.  But then I’m one of these old people who has read Burroughs’ John Carter books and hasn’t seen every science fiction and fantasy movie since STAR WARS.  I might be the deluded director’s target audience.†††  I wanted to like this film.  Didn’t Michael Chabon write the screenplay?!?  The Pulitzer-Prize-winning novelist who takes comics and SF&F seriously?‡  I still do want to like it, although it begins to look like one of those feats painfully accomplished for inclusion in GUINESS WORLD RECORDS:  I ate 1,000,000,000 chocolate chip cookies at one sitting!  I LIKED Andrew Stanton’s John Carter of Mars!

            My problem, from looking at the trailers, however, is that the hero looks like a git.  Sigh.  So I’m not the target audience after all. . . . 

* * *

* Yes.  It and I are running late.  Now shut up and go away.  I’m busy. 

** Note that the Britannica online is pretty negative too . . . and also just wrong.  However.  This is another of those political swamps I stay out of to maintain my fragile mental health. 

*** Which was as far as the tiny advance would reach. 

† Although it was already pretty much in bits when I bought it for $1 at a garage sale twenty years or so ago 

†† But if ‘incredibly’ is going to involve plugs in the back of my neck, I’ll pass. 

††† It is possibly relevant that I hated THOR.  If I stick to the minority opinion, then I have quite a good chance of liking JOHN CARTER. 

‡ And wrote The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, which is better than Kavalier and Clay



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