Monday, 19 November 2018

First Time Visit With Plenty Of Memories. 18th November

Blenheim Palace

P1430287smToday with the sun shining we ventured forth and caught the S3 bus from the station. This bus normally goes all the way to Chippy, but that was not our destination today. We hopped off the bus a few miles short of Chippy at the gates of Blenheim Palace. Today was going to be an expensive one, Blenheim isn’t a National Trust House and costs quite a lot to get in. However a thorough look at the website meant that we knew about their Good Journey Offer. If you travel by bus or train to the house and present your ticket at the entrance kiosk when you buy your ticket then you will receive 30% off. If you also make this payment as a donation you will then be given a donation receipt to be able to convert your day ticket into a yearly pass. This we hope will be worth the queue to get such photo passes. I think this is a way for them to claim gift aid on your entrance, except we don’t pay tax so couldn’t tick the box, we still got our passes.

We’ve tried to time our visit before the house and garden get revamped for Christmas so that we could see the house rather than the Christmas displays. Yet everywhere was filled with Christmas trees, most groaning at the weight of all the decorations. Masses of Poinsettias crammed into dishes on tables would have made my father rush for numerous black plastic bags to give them the correct amount of sunlight a day that these Mexican weeds require (this once dominated one Christmas for him, trying to keep the red leaves attached to the stems for as long as possible by lowering a black plastic bag over the poor plant each night, he’d even rigged the bag up on a piece of string so it could be lowered and raised at the correct times).

P1430306smAn audio guide gave us information of key parts of the ground floor and on various paintings that adorn the houses walls. All we can say is, the Churchills were rich buggers!

Blenheim Palace was built as a gift to John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, from Queen Anne in thanks for his victory at the Battle of Blenheim on 13th August 1704. It is the only non-royal house in the country to hold the title of Palace and was built between 1705 and 1722. The house became the subject of political infighting leading to Marlborough’s exile and damaging the reputation of it’s architect Sir John Vanbrugh. Funding for the building was never fully agreed upon, Marlborough put in £60,000, the government and Queen picked up much of the rest, but in 1712 after an argument between the Queen and Duchess funds were halted, £220,000 already spent, £45,000 still owed to workmen. The Marlboroughs were exiled to the continent until after the Queens death in 1714, when they took it upon themselves to finance the reminder of the build. Magnificence of such buildings was far more important than comfort or convenience.

P1430292smDesigned in the English Baroque style it became home to the Churchill family which has now spanned some 300 years. An act of parliament was passed when there were no sons to inherit the estate, so the amassed wealth could be passed down the female line. It’s most famous claim is that it was the birth place of Sir Winston Churchill. The generation that decided to open up the house to the public (helping to pay for it’s upkeep and almost certainly avoiding inheritance tax) were most probably very grateful that Winston was a premature baby. At the end of the 19th Century the palace was saved from ruin by the 9th Duke marrying the American railroad heiress Consuelo Vanderbilt.

P1430300smP1430310smToday you enter the building from the Great Court where colonnades flank either side of the house, each opening currently filled with a Christmas tree. The large hall follows with impressive Corinthian columns and vast amounts of carved stone. 20m above you is the ceiling painted by James Thornhill, where Marlborough kneels in front of Britannia with a map of the battle of Blenheim. This gives you just a small taste of the opulence that is to come in the State rooms.

P1430313smP1430331smWeaving around the hall, family portraits cover the wall. The most pleasing of 20th Century women.

P1430321smP1430333smA large cabinet is filled with model soldiers all standing in line and huge collections of china are displayed in all their grandeur along the hallways. Where ever there is space for a Christmas tree there is one, struggling hard to stay upright with their coverings of bows, baubles and the occasional pumpkin!

P1430338smP1430343smDrawing Rooms and Writing Rooms of various colours follow one after the other. Silk covered walls with matching upholstery. Furniture of every size and type. Courting couches where a couple could sit on a long stretch with space for a chaperone to sit at the end making sure nothing untoward occurred. Large lounging sofas, sprawling out as wide as Oleanna to narrow bolt upright sofas which were never intended to be comfortable.

P1430347smP1430349smP1430352smAfter several such rooms we arrived at the first with the walls covered in tapestries. This was one of the main reasons I wanted to visit the house. Back in 1991 at the end of my second year at Croydon College (where I studied Theatre Design) we had to realise part of a theoretical design.

croydon college workshow3I chose to realise the masking from my design for the Benjamin Britten Opera Owen Wingrave based at the old Glyndebourne along with a large globe. The masking was based on the Marlborough tapestries which surrounded a large revolving skeletal house. Thanks to my old tutor Rob Muller for the photos of my work. I had given the tapestries a bluer hue than the originals and had painted into the more dramatic scenes with red highlights. These I planned would loom out of the tapestries when the lighting changed, a specific blue lighting gel did this for me, to add to Owen’s torturous nightmares of warfare.

croydon college workshow2croydon college workshow4Today was the first time I’d seen these tapestries in the flesh, the detailed border still very familiar to me (even though I’d simplified it somewhat). My painted versions must only have been a touch smaller than the originals and those on display in the state rooms are far calmer than those I’d chosen for the opera, these must be elsewhere in the Palace. Memories of hours drawing followed by painting them came back to me, along with the complaints from the computer department further along the corridor due to the aroma the blue pigments create once painted onto flameproof canvas. I was stood in front of old friends, the recorded guide burbling along in my ears about something or other.

P1430354smP1430356smThe Saloon sits behind the Hall and is where guests would have been directed on their arrival. The tapestries had kept me for sometime but now the incredible painting by Louis Laguerre filled the walls and ceiling around us. Originally Thornhill was to paint this room giving a quote which in todays terms would have been around £84,000. Laguerre halved the quote, but certainly didn’t scrimp on the expertise. My photos do not do his trompe l’oeil justice. The painted balcony front is painted in such away you almost have to touch it to realise it is not three dimensional, putting my panto trompe l’oeil to shame. The mouldings on the walls and ceiling are wonderful, filled with portraits of people looking into the room (one of the artist himself). What a room to have your Christmas Dinner in, the Churchill family still do.

P1430386smP1430396smP1430401smOn through a few more rooms to the Library. Originally conceived as one long room it was divided up  into five sections, suggesting different rooms. Like a long gallery it takes over one side of the house, filled with books and plenty of space to enjoy their words whilst maybe listening to a tune played on the organ! Queen Anne (a svelte version of her majesty) stands looking towards the far end of the library where the organ dominates. In WW1 the library was used as a hospital for returning injured service men and in WW2 it became a home for evacuated boys. Some of these stole three of the smaller pipes form the organ, which wasn’t noticed for some years. A few years ago a parcel arrived containing a note and the three pipes. The note was anonymous and was from the wife of one of the lads who’d stolen the pipes, saying that it was one of his last requests that they should be returned.

P1430406smP1430407smFrom here you can weave your way around a display all about Winston Churchill. This we did quite quickly, the crowds in the small rooms making it hard to read all the panels. Quotes and interesting facts had been put in larger print on panels around each room so we still got to learn a few details. One of Winston’s Siren Suits stands in a cabinet, velvet with matching monogrammed slippers. The bed he was born in and a small cotton top which had to borrowed from a local solicitors wife for him to wear as his arrival was unexpected.

P1430410smAnother look around the Library was needed and as we did so I spotted two very familiar people sat taking a well earned rest. Pearl and Rodney are the parents of my best friend from my college days, they became my other Mum and Dad whilst at Croydon and the following years. We’d last seen them at Kathy’s wedding in Lanzarote seven years ago. What a wonderful surprise and lovely to have a good catch up with them. Despite some health issues over the last four years they both looked great. As we sat chatting the organ started up with a very capable chap at the keys and stops, so we all stayed put for a while longer to listen.

Bigs hugs all round and we headed off ahead of them to visit the colonnade and chapel where a subordinate organ sat in the corner.

P1430430smP1430431smPast lunchtime we got ourselves a sausage roll and sandwich with a slice of cake each (good GF options even if nobody can make a GF sandwich look all that exciting!) at the Pantry before checking out the stalls in the Christmas craft fayre that surrounded the entrance. Here there were all sorts of yummy things to eat, some really good looking pies (from East Yorkshire, no wonder) and plenty of well made not standard craft fayre tat. One stall did nearly see me part with cash, but with Christmas coming up I just gave a very big hint to Mick.

P1430418smAs the sun started to set we rode the bus back into Oxford, knowing that there is so much more for us to see at Blenheim, we’ll just have to go again.

0 locks, 0 miles, S3 bus, 7 bus, 1 very rich family, 1 car park almost full, 2000ish visitors, 30%off, 2 annual passes, 1 amazing house, 27 years later, 2nd parents, 7 years later, 2 slices cake, 1 sausage roll, 1 sandwich, 2 much to see, 0 tat bought, 1 lovely day out, 1 tension square and pattern done for the next pair of socks.

Sunday, 18 November 2018

Something’s Fishy Round Here! 17th November

Jericho Wharf

Another slow day today.

We needed to get our Saturday newspaper and stock up on some food supplies so decided to head to Waitrose to get a free paper.

The route to Waitrose takes you along the side of the Thames for a short while and today I suggested we follow the river a bit further on a small detour I’d discovered last weekend.

P1430255smSo we crossed the river at Osney Bridge and walked down the bank at East Street. A goose made a bee line for us in what could have been an aggressive manner, so we veered back onto the road and left it to have a problem with a couple and their dog instead of us.

P1430259smThe road leads  to Osney Lock and Weir, we came up this lock on Lillian in 2016.

P1430264smP1430265smToday a wooden boat was heading towards the lock, two ladies standing with an oar each. They waved and a Lock Keeper appeared from the little hut. He set the lock for them and opened the gates all just by pushing the buttons, no windlass required for the Thames locks here.

P1430266smP1430272smThe ladies made their way into the lock, no need for them to turn the engine off, but they did cling on to the chains on the side as the water was let out. Once level they both stood back up and rowed themselves out and down stream. What a lot of water for one small boat.

We carried on and crossed the river and then veered off towards Osney Mead. Dave, a blog reader a few weeks ago had pointed us in the direction of various places for food and drink, one of these places I’d spotted last weekend, hence our detour.

P1430273smThe Fishmarket/Osney Food shed sits part way along the Industrial Estate. Last week I’d refrained from looking inside, but today we just had to. From outside I’d imagined it to be much bigger, but the small shop did not leave you wanting. Crammed with fish, frozen and fresh, three chaps filleted and sliced up fish on request. So many different fish to choose from. What a treat.

P1430275smWe walked round the display for sometime trying to make our minds up what to have for dinner this evening. In the end we chose some Sea Bass, bought a large bag of fish pie mix and some smoked mackerel. As we left I checked the recipes on the wall to see if anything took our fancy. Sadly it didn’t but a quick look on the internet and I knew what we needed to buy to make a fishy feast.

Waitrose provided us with the extra ingredients and our newspaper.

The afternoon was spent watching an episode of Inspector Morse whilst I finished knitting a pair of gloves. Only two pairs of socks and some wrist warmers to knit before the end of the month.

P1430281smOur Sea Bass was very tasty indeed, roasted with waxy potatoes, red pepper, olives and some basil at the end. Thank you Dave.

0 locks, 0 miles, 1 boat watched through 1 lock, 1 park, 2 sea bass, 1kg pie mix, 4 GF mince pies (yummy), 1 Morse, 6th pair knitted, 4 pairs to weave ends on, 1 pair of socks started, 1 quiet evening.

Saturday, 17 November 2018

Illuminating Oxford. 16th November

Jericho Wharf

Living on a boat means that I couldn’t put off unpacking the four bags I’d returned from Chippy with for long. Any spare space on the boat had been taken up by them last night, so after a slow start to the day I started to unpack. Returning things to where they’d come from meant taking out the back steps and dismantling the dinette to return my sewing machine, steel toe cap boots and paint brush bag back to the depths they normally live in. Mick had managed to empty the washing drawer earlier in the week, but I filled in again! My dungarees, that had been gradually getting duller have now had a brightening up with primary colours, hope it clings on in the washing machine.

An afternoon of watching Lego Masters and knitting was followed with a walk into the city. My landlady in Chippy had mentioned that she would be singing this evening at the Ashmolean Museum, this was to be a small part of a light festival. Looking it up I discovered that the light festival was right across the city, lantern parades, street markets, food markets, installations and performances. A quick look through the website and we decided to head to Broad Street where there would be a market and several other things going on as it got dark.

P1430136smBroad Street was cut off to traffic and filled with a market, both foody things and craft bits and bobs. Chippy panto seems to have set a trend with various camel themed items for sale throughout the market.

P1430152smP1430180smP1430193smWhat we’d actually come here for was to watch the Heliosphere. Up ahead a large white balloon sat tethered to a heavy truck. A lady climbed inside a harness and strapped herself in. The lights were turned on in the balloon as it was unclipped and allowed to rise from the ground taking with it the lady. In a spangley catsuit, similar to that of Queenie the Genie (Chippy Panto) the lady rose up above the crowds suspended below the balloon. Two chaps also with harnesses had guide ropes, as they moved close to each other the balloon went higher, further apart the lower it came above the crowd. The lady span round, twisting and turning in her harness floating along the street, pausing to touch hands with the crowd before rising high up between the University buildings all the time a follow spot doing it’s job (making it hard to get good photos of her) and the balloon changing colour.

P1430201smFurther along is the Shimmer Tree by Dan Fox. A 6m high sculpture with twelve branches which suspend a cymbal on each. Lights shine up to the cymbals and sounds are created. The cymbals act as directional speakers and resonate as the lights chase round. From a distance this didn’t seem like much, but stood below it was quite mesmerising.

P1430224smWe decided to hunt out the other installations around the city. Down by the Castle people took turns to sit in an ice throne lit from below.

A food market, only a few stalls, is hoping to grow in time and become a regular thing. Round the corner, after following oddly positioned signs we got to the Voice Park.

P1430237smP1430228smP1430232smLast Sunday I’d come across people who looked like they were poor imitators of the Ghost Busters. Apparatus on their backs with empty water containers, surely to collect any stray ghosts. But no, they were collecting voices from people. Here pods not unsimilar to growing Chrysalids are joined by pipes and cables. Speakers with lights embeded inside their red pods. If you make a suitable noise next to them they respond by playing human sounds back. I got one to work by saying hello, but Mick struggled as his voice was too low for it to react. One for the kids.

P1430243smWe then set out to find projections on museums. These were further afield, north out of the centre. The Radcliffe Humanities Building had a large projection to do with Diseases of modern life. This was amusing in it’s animation of Victorian illustrations.

P1430248smWeaving our way further east we reached the Natural History Museum where vast projections created by Luxmuralis covered the front of the building. There are to be more of these over the weekend, moving around the city and projecting onto other buildings. Torchlit tours of museums were also being held, but we were a touch pooped by now so we’ll return in day light. So we wove our way through the streets back in the direction of the canal for a quiet evening in front of the stove with some nice food.

0 locks, 0 miles, 2 poached eggs, 2 slices toast, mushrooms, 4 bags unpacked, 1 homeless bag, 0.5 glove knitted, 1 large balloon, 12 cymbals, 5 uninspired cubes, 2 SILENT signs, 1 noisy man, 3 illuminated buildings, 4 soggy bums, 1 bench a touch too close to the boat, 1 tree, 1 cat, 1 squirrel, 1 ft away, 1 unfair advantage.

Friday, 16 November 2018

Panto Postcard 4

42 hours

Another hard week, but there was time for a bit of socialising.

P1430127After spending several hours on Sunday hunting around Oxford for various bits and bobs, then printing off lettering, it didn’t really feel like I’d had a day off. In fact since rehearsals started I think I may have only managed one day off, however I finished work at 2.30am on that day and most probably did some knitting too for the show!

IMG_20181112_083342870_HDRsmI was first on the bus in Oxford and last off when it reached Chippy and as soon as I was back in the theatre there were things to be getting on with. The crew were meant to be rehearsing the scene changes before the actors arrived to work various bits, but they seemed to have found other things to do instead which didn’t bode well for the dress rehearsal in the evening. More things were finished off, parts of the show were worked on by the cast and all looked pretty good in time for the dress which was to be photographed.

IMG_20181112_174619164smYou would think that dress rehearsals should improve each time you do one, in an ideal world they should. But there is also a chance that things can go wrong, better in a dress than a performance. This dress was one of the latter! When going from a restaurant scene to the interior of a pyramid and only having 3 mins 45 to do it, everything needs to be just so backstage and everyone ready. On Saturday the crew had laid off parts of the set for me to work on, Monday morning these should have been reset for the dress, but two large flats  had ended up being the wrong way round. With an audience of ushers in watching we had to wait several minutes before the curtain opened and things did not look quite right on stage.

The next scene had to be stopped as a part of the scenery hadn’t been tied off correctly and later on another scene change needed attention to avoid a possible incident. On scene had to be reset so that photos could be taken again. Quick changes had been missed too. So by the end of the day everyone was relieved that there was still another day before a paying audience were in.

IMG_20181113_172558392smIMG_20181113_184835668smTuesday and the scene changes were talked through, tried, reworked, things moved around in the wings, alterations to costumes were made, scenes worked on and all the time Jo the prop maker was still working through her huge list of makes. In the evening everyone crossed their fingers for a more successful dress. The hard work by all during the day paid off. Every change of set and costume worked to time and nobody was put at risk in the process. Just about everyone made it to the pub for a drink followed by a few of us heading for a curry.

IMG_20181114_210445282smWednesday, preview day. I was in early to paint a few bits, hoping the paint would be dry before anyone got close to it in floating costumes. Jo still worked away in the garden shed producing more and more props for the auditorium scene and making us a less phallic lamp!

The previews were full of the older population of Chippy. A lot of grey hair meant the Dame found it hard to single out a dark stranger to take a fancy to. Only a few small things didn’t go quite according to plan, but that’s what previews are for. A couple of quick notes were done on stage before we headed to the pub for a well earned drink.

IMG_20181115_092902352smIMG_20181115_130213395_HDRsmThursday. My list had only a few items left on it. So I treated myself to a lie in followed by a bath, my first in possibly four years. I only managed to get slightly wrinkly before I packed away all my possessions at my digs and headed to the theatre. The morning I spent putting a few finishing touches to things and helping Jo out. Rehearsals had been called during the afternoon so that a few cuts could be made. One of the cast has been feeling not so good for the last week and had been doing her best to avert becoming ill. On Wednesday you could tell she was holding back her singing as much as possible to preserve it for Press Night. So once the cuts had been gone through, rehearsals proceeded so that one of the understudies could take some of the pressure off her. Fazil the snake would be voiced by the understudy and lyrics in songs were spread to other cast members. This was done  very well, if you didn’t know I suspect you’d not have noticed.

Mick got the bus over to Chippy and we met up in Checkers the pub next door for something to eat before the show. The last few jobs had been completed with a couple of hours to go and Jo was busy sorting out her petty cash. Unfortunately just after we’d finished our pie and stew the sight of Susie the Company Stage Manager walking quickly past the window  meant someone was needed. There were other people in the pub she might have needed but she turned straight towards us. Before she could say a word I knew what the problem was likely to be and had already stood up to leave Mick to finish his pint on his own. One piece of scenery gets pushed off stage very close to a smoke machine which has sharp corners, I’d already patched up the canvas a couple of times, so went straight to the labelled pot of paint that was needed. It only took a couple of minutes to sort and show Susie the labelled paints waiting for any such occasion.

The show went very well, apart from one flown piece of scenery not quite reaching it’s dead! Hopefully someone will take the time to check that out. Lots of laughter, singing, shouting, sweet catching. Mick, even though he always says he won’t join in, did and found the demise of the badie very amusing. Drinks in the bar followed the show along with pizzas delivered from one of the many fast food outlets in Chippy. After a couple of hours celebrating we got a lift back into Oxford with the director who managed to get his car as close to our mooring as possible, his car boot full of my possessions.

A lot of hard work, over months, but a very enjoyable experience.

IMG_20181116_092513964smI’m now looking forward to having cups of tea in bed, knitting in front of the stove and gradually making our way back up the Oxford Canal (when stoppages allow). 3mph calls again with a purring cat on my knee and sharing a box or two of wine with my boy Mick.

Normal blog writing will resume, as soon as I’ve had a kip.

0 locks, 2 buses, 3 dress rehearsals, 1 axe, 3 mummies, 2 planes, 1 very loud dame, 1 curry, 6 moonlit leeks, 1 emergency repair, 1 very jolly, bright and loud panto, 1 happy cat, 2 boaters back on board.