Category Archives: Books

Comets and comics

‘Is that really him?’ asked the Resident IT Consultant, when Neil Gaiman appeared on the screen in Big Bang Theory (yes, I know. We’re a few weeks behind in our viewing). I’m glad I’m our Resident Neil Gaiman Consultant. And he’s probably the only cameo celebrity on BBT that I ‘know.’

Big Bang Theory, The Comet Polarization, with Neil Gaiman

Is it me, or have they had a lot more famous [for other things] people on the show recently? Maybe it’s just that they are inviting ones I’ve heard of and recognise, without having to Google them after.

With Bill Gates the other week I was shocked to discover I was old, and so was he. When Leonard started babbling about having met Gates as a child – Leonard, not Gates – I did a mental double-take and worked out that it was indeed both possible and probable. And that I too could have met the young Leonard and been an adult at the time…

Back to Neil. It made a lot of sense to have him, with the comic connection. And poor Stuart could really do with some success and attention. I know the Gaiman effect from personal experience. If he links to your whatever-it-is, your hits shoot up dramatically. It happened to me, and when Daughter put a photo of Neil on her photo blog, I said to send Neil the link and sit back and wait. Don’t think she believed me, but the old witch was right, yet again. When Neil says ‘click’ to his fans, they click. And there’s a lot of them, as Stuart discovered.

And speaking of discoveries, ten years ago Penny wouldn’t have cared about having her name on a comet discovery. She’s gone geek over time. But she’s right, we should all have our names on what we find, be it comets or planets, or anything else.

Photo © Chuck Lorre Productions, Warner Brothers

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An English afternoon tea

I appreciated the way we were able to sit for a few hours talking, even if the chairs were on the uncomfortable side. But if you charge the going rate for a hotel afternoon tea outside London – around £30 since you ask – you need to do more than call it afternoon tea. The taste and quality of what you offer should be at least passable, and the way you serve it, and when, is worth considering.

Or was the fact that we weren’t turfed out after a couple of hours a sign that not too many people were clamouring for our table? I mean, they knew what we didn’t.

Tea corner at the Randolph

I don’t know whether to feel embarrassed admitting to having gone twice, in two days. The first tea was sufficiently acceptable, and I enjoyed chatting to my friends in an unhurried way, which is why I booked a table for my next meeting, the following day.

And yes, I did get – partly – what I was looking for and again, I loved seeing people and talking for hours. But that was down to me having nice friends to meet up with, more than the tea or the service.

Day one the non-English head waiter was polite and pleasant, if not good at getting a tea order together. I forget the number of times we had to ask for milk. Meanwhile the tea stewed and got blacker and blacker, and the sandwiches dried. That’s what I thought, anyway. Until…

Day two the same non-English head waiter needed to have his sleeve pulled after a search to find him, when the placing of an order for tea got quite urgent. There is only so long you want to wait. Tried the Earl Grey in the hopes of less black tea, but that didn’t work. I.e. the tea was as strong as the previous day, and lukewarm. Later on when we asked for more hot water we were rather alarmed to discover the waiter wanted to simply pour it into the teapot.

The sandwiches were dry. It’s the only description for them. And the fillings had been sparingly applied. For £30 they could afford a bit more egg, say. And clingfilm to cover sandwiches so obviously made well in advance.

Would I go back to the Randolph in Oxford?

Maybe. The hotel is well placed for meetings. The room is pleasant enough. In fact, if you consider the cost of the tea more as a fee for a corner of the room we sat in, then yes, it’s OK. Just about. And I have no problem with non-English waiting staff, as long as they know how to serve an English afternoon tea in a vaguely English way. With milk.

(It can’t have been the wheelchair, can it? The second day? The first day they even wanted to hang our coats for us, while the second day we had all that time alone, putting the wheels away, and waiting for service. Surely not?)

Who dunnit?

Really?

Almost fifty years on, I didn’t remember either the plot or who the murderer was. For that reason, I quite enjoyed the latest BBC version of Ordeal by Innocence. I feel as long as you don’t expect much, these period Agatha Christie rewrites are fun enough. Just not very ‘real.’

It used to be that screen scripts weren’t very true to the book, but since when do you have to change who the killer is? If you have so much better an idea, why not write your own?

I did wonder whether Bill Nighy was going to be the usual nice guy or if they were going outside their comfort zone and have him bludgeon his wife to death. And son Jack seemed quite unpleasant to begin with.

Considering what the theme for some of the reasons behind this dysfunctional family’s problems were [supposed to be], I’m not surprised they felt the need to reshoot all the scenes where the original actor might have an unpalatable sexual past. Or not.

But I felt the changeover worked well. Yes, you could see how cold it was in January, when it should have been summer, but that was all. The car radio scenes were more inaccurate, but I suppose people are too young to know.

So, yes, I enjoyed it. Even Matthew Goode being a bit bad. He’s a disturbingly good kind of bad.

But the satisfying television ending rings a bit hollow, when you consider how it was meant to be.

The Stone of Destiny

The Resident IT Consultant rather surprised me. Back in the summer we wanted to have a few films to watch, and I asked him if there was anything he fancied getting. The response was immediate, and surprising. He wanted The Stone of Destiny.

For reasons I can’t easily explain here, he sees many more film trailers than I do. I assumed he’d come across it in the cinema during the last year or so. And then it turned out the film was almost ten years old. I was amazed he even remembered.

But of course he would, as it’s about Scottish history. We could see a trailer on YouTube, but then we hit a stone wall. In the end he sourced a Polish version online, with subtitles and everything. (If you’re really clever you can turn the subtitles off, but it was harder than it usually is.)

Ian Hamilton, Stone of Destiny

This is the true story of a group of young people from Scotland who go to London in 1950 to steal the Stone of Destiny from Westminster Abbey. They do it on Christmas Eve (because that’s such a good time to commit a crime…). And they succeed.

Naturally.

It’s not an outstanding film or anything, but it’s fun and informative for rookie Scots. It’s got Robert Carlyle in it, and a group of relatively unknown actors (to me, anyway). I enjoyed it, and I could really feel the cold in that unheated B&B somewhere in London. The capital at Christmas looks very fine, if chilly, and then they drive north with the stone and it looks like summer near the Scottish border. That drive either took a long time, or the weather’s so much better up here. Or continuity forgot to lose the leaves on the trees.)

Stone of Destiny - film

It was not a forever triumph over the English, but it was good enough.

The film is worth seeing, especially without the subtitles. And the Resident IT Consultant got so fired up he [re]read Ian Hamilton’s book about his exploits as a young man, which we had on our Scottish shelves.

Naturally.

(Co-published with Bookwitch.)

Advent Roger

I have a crazy friend. Crazy is generally the best. But even so, I didn’t expect this.

This year for Advent, my friend is giving away gifts to her Facebook friends. You know, if money was no object, kind of thing. So after a safe start of a holiday in Florida and a £2,000,000 house in Devon, this morning it was my turn.

I had had my doubts. I am a notoriously difficult person, and I was mainly settling down to see what inappropriate gift ‘her money’ would provide. I take it all back! This is what I woke up to:

‘If I had money, I would offer so much of it to Roger Whittaker that he would agree to come and sing one last time, especially for you. As one of his signature songs is The Last Farewell, I would hire a tall ship and crew from Topsail to bring Roger over from the nearest port in France, where he now lives, to Leith. You and Roger would have a fine meal on board in the harbour, and Roger would sing The Last Farewell to you, before sailing away into the sunset.’

Roger Whittaker and CultureWitch

What a lucky witch I am, to have a friend like that!

She’s right. It is what I’d want. Well, maybe I’d whisper into Roger’s ear that he could pick a different song, if he felt up to it, but my goodness, what a spectacular gift!

(And for anyone who wants to help my friend get rich, do buy her books. I thoroughly recommend her Belgian trilogy for a good scare. It’s so scary I have recently learned that her husband couldn’t quite finish the last one… Here is a list of all Helen Grant’s books. They are very good. And very scary.)

75 years of Sir Billy

What can I say? There is a lot of stuff about Billy Connolly wherever you look. I started reading his Wikipedia page and it seemed to go on, if not forever, then for quite some time.

There’s obviously even more in his wife Pamela’s book about him. It’s one of the best biographies I’ve read. It would have been interesting even if I’d never heard of Billy.

Although, it’s difficult not to have heard of Billy. He’s done so much and for so long. And what’s amazing is that he turned out so decent, after all that happened to him during his childhood.

Since his health problems in recent years, there’s been fewer opportunities to see Billy. I reckon my last ‘encounter’ was in the film What We Did On Our Holiday, where he died in the most dignified manner.

What we did on our holidays

What to say?

Happy 75th Birthday, Sir William!

Afternoon tea

I’ve been craving some ‘posh’ afternoon tea for a while. Contrary to what people might believe about me, I don’t tend to do the touristy and extravagant stuff when on home ground, so not only do I not do afternoon teas, but I don’t know where to go.

When Pippi came to Edinburgh this week, she needed a tea companion, and she’d heard of Colonnades at the Signet Library, and wanted to try it. And while pretty expensive, it was about the lowest price of all the places I found online.

Colonnades at the Signet Library

The library is just off the Royal Mile, next to St Giles Cathedral, and they have two-hour sittings throughout the afternoon, so you can treat it as lunch if you start early enough. And you need the two hours. I reckon they couldn’t serve all that food faster if they tried.

Colonnades at the Signet Library

Soup in a coffee cup to begin with. Then silver cake stands with around six savoury things plus a couple of sandwiches. A second stand for the cake, meaning six sweet things and two scones with jam and clotted cream. As your arteries begin to clot I recommend a discreet doggy bag if you feel you can’t manage it all. All this can be washed down with tea, or coffee, and the optional champagne, which I’ve never understood how it goes with afternoon tea.

Once you’ve reached the end, you are rescued by a cleansing sorbet.

And I recommend a trip down the many stairs to see the toilets.