Monday, August 07, 2017

FILM REVIEW ~ Tale of Tales

This film is based on three tales from the Pentamerone, a 17th Century collection of folk tales, from which we also get our earliest versions of Rapunzel, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. The Director Matteo Garone, successfully blends these three stories into one flowing narrative, and what a delightful entrancing result it is.

Retaining a lot of the original qualities of this source material, the stories are unhinged, bizarre, surreal creations that startle, entrance, are both beautiful and repulsive, whilst all the while retaining that curious logic that folk tales possess, that is all their own.  The buildings, sets, locations, costumes and effects possess  a baroque twist of exoticism, and provide the movie with both a familiarity and an other-worldliness.  There is an excellent cast of Selma Hayek, John C Reilly, Toby Jones and Vincent Cassell who bring these odd tales close to the edge of being believable.

Most of the tales involve a decision or action that has an unintended consequences for a character, usually requiring a sacrifice. They are often told half truths, where aspects of what will happen are being withheld.  A king wants to cheer up his morose queen, so he obtains the beating heart of a sea monster so a virgin can throw it into a pot of boiling liquid, all so his wife can eat it and then conceive a son in an instant, and be happy. Unfortunately the king dies in obtaining the heart, and both the queen and the virgin conceive a son, who turn out to be identical albino twins, who become inseparable and can both breath under water.

Like many folk tales they are not for the squeamish, and often have a very dark shadowy side to them. One woman who wants to appear young has her flesh cut, stretched and stuck down, whilst another has her skin flayed off.  Whilst this is to my mind not shown in a gratuitous manner it nevertheless gives the film an unnerving, yet intriguing edge, you never know quite where these stories will take you.  They remind you how life, and not just folk tales, will often punish you for your ignorance, vanity and folly.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

BOOK REVIEW ~ John M Hull ~ Touching The Rock

After many years of diminishing eyesight, John Hull, despite all the medical help he was receiving gradually lost any vision in the one remaining eye that had been functioning. The book Touching The Rock is an edited transcript of tapes he started recording shortly after he became blind and continued to do on a regular basis for a number of years subsequent to that.  In them he records his observations on how being blind feels, the changes to his sense of self, how his relationship to himself and others changes, the way sighted people misguidedly try to help a blind person, having to deal with well meaning spiritual healers who are sure they can restore his sight.

The book, and the dramatised documentary Notes on Blindness which is based on it, are truly beautiful things to read and to see. Personal and intimate, whilst also observing his predicament with some detachment and insight, his words often tinged with an underlying spiritual impulse. His religious views are a bit too Christian to move or inspire me. However, as a Buddhist, it was his observations about how his blindness changed the relationship and understanding of his own self that I found the most exciting and revelatory. For these revelations alone, this book is worth reading, and it is very readable.  Here's a taster just to wet your appetite.

" I find I'm trying to recall old photographs of myself, just to remember what I look like. I discover with a shock that I cannot remember.......To what extent is the loss of the image of the face connected with the loss of the image of the Self|? Is this one of the reasons why I often feel I am a mere spirit, a ghost, a memory. Other people have become disembodied voices, speaking out of nowhere, going into nowhere. Am I not like this too, now that I have lost my body?" 

"On one of my walks, I pass beside a five-foot-high fence made of vertical metal bars. this gives way, at a certain point, to a solid brick wall. I find that if I pay attention I can tell when I have left the fence and am going along the wall. There is, somehow, a sense of a more massive presence. I gather from conversations that this experience is essentially acoustic and is based upon awareness of echoes....but at the same time it is important to emphasise that one is not aware of listening. One is simply aware of becoming aware." 

Sunday, July 30, 2017

SHERINGHAM DIARY 4 ~ Storms and Vicissitudes

So, July has come and gone with a seamless flow of heatwaves interspersed with torrential storms. Its as though we are being given a fore taste of what may come in the winter months. My own mood has to an extent mirrored this change in the weather, between a moderately sunny contentment and the nagging clouds of unease.

The Laundry where I work ~ spacious eh!

The source of this 'unsettling' arises from my work, which I could describe as a repeated exercise in running extremely fast in order to staying exactly where you are. Now, if I were on a running machine in a gym, this might hold potential health benefits, but this job feels like it should come with a health warning?

Well, we are now in high holiday season and most of the guests stay only one or two nights. This means we clean and replenish the rooms as well as change wash, dry and iron bedding and towels for between 3 - 6 rooms daily. My work is supposed to be part-time, four hours, five days a week, three days housekeeping and two washing up in the kitchen. At the moment the housekeeping stretches to five, five and a half, and frequently six, and I struggle to keep on top of the workload and ensure I don't leave the next days housekeeper too huge an overflow - usually of towels. Towels! oh but lets not allow my gripe engine to go into over rev.

Housekeeping itself is straightforward work, however, the thoroughness with which I can execute it is restricted by the size and processing of this laundry workload. The only way to make this combination of Mrs Mop and Widow Twankey work is to throw time at it. So I'm having to draw boundaries around how much extra I do, otherwise this job will eat me up for breakfast, dinner and tea. I have also to take my physical limits into account, anything over five hours and my physical stamina declines, as my aches and pains start a rapid ascent into heightened awareness.

So, yes, the job is not good, I earn enough, but at some cost to energy and interest in doing anything else. Finding another job before the summer finishes is not looking a hopeful prospect, which can knock my confidence and positive approach if I let it.  The job market in North Norfolk appears largely comprised of minimum wage work, predominantly cleaning and care work. Poor jobs on poor money, is the reality of employment not just for me, but a growing percentage of pre-Brexit Britain. God knows what will happen after.

On a more optimistic note, just when we thought our selling via Etsy had completely dried up, this week we've had three sales, two from folk in Hampshire (we don't know if they are connected) and one from France. This surprised me as we've put almost no effort into it for over six months.  So The Cottonwood Workshop flag keeps flying even when there's not a following wind from us.  My struggles with work have arisen in what could be characterised as a bardo period in our future plans, and a consequent lack of creative direction. When work isn't creatively satisfying, I tend to cope better with that if I'm doing or working towards something else that is.

The ideal site for our cafe, as I said last month has now opened as a coffee shop, and it is a very odd set up. Painted outside in a Farrow & Ball Dark Grey, rather roughly I might add, as if the painter ran out of paint and the owners said, oh to hell with this lets open anyway. Inside its not quite plain and simple, more sparse and spartan with plain plywood faced counter, tables and similar cheap looking chairs. It has the air of a place not quite sure of its style, and certainly not there yet. We are beginning to suspect they might be on a short 6 month lease. Either that or they intend to finish off the paintwork in the autumn. They are the Grey Seal Coffee company who have been selling their own roasted coffee online, and appear to be opening new cafes on the North Norfolk coast at a rapid rate. They have one in Blackeney, Wells next the Sea, now Sheringham, and another is planned for Burnham Market. I hope we can do better.

Jnansalin has started his new job, and two weeks in is getting to grips with how things really are with Priscilla Bacon Hospice's three shops. As ever, the job and the reality are slightly different to how they seemed at interview. Some of the interview questions have started to reveal part of their backstory. There's a lot for him to do, and I mean a lot of things to do, so once he's settled in, much to be sorted out. But, he's more than capable of what needs doing, some very small changes he's made have already shown signs of turning things for the better.  He didn't pass his first driving test, but has his second next week . So currently he travels to work just outside Norwich by bus, which makes a long day that bit longer.

My projects for the house, are moving forward, slowly. I finished the repaint/waxing of a display cabinet we originally bought for a tenner. Quite a lot of sanding was required to remove the black gloss top coat, and several coats of paint then waxing. I'm quite pleased with the way its come out. Lately, I've been working on three frames for some Delft tiles we bought from an Amsterdam Flea Market a few years ago. These are now finished, I just have to decide where and how to hang them on our lounge wall, and that's all the jobs for the lounge done

I've already moved on to things for the bedroom, with making a frame to stretch a Belgian Tree of Life tapestry we bought in Bruge on our honeymoon. This is now in pride of place over our beds. Next up are two second hand side tables that need sanding and varnishing to match. I've hit my first obstacle in that it appears you can't remove any of the fixings, so my idea of taking them apart sanding down and reassembling them will have to be rethought.

I'm getting quite good at this sort of thing, now I've done so much of it. I've been wondering lately whether I should turn it into a business, to work to my strengths more, which isn't what I'm currently doing. Apparently, according to the internet, its what people of my age do, when faced with a poor or disinterested job market ~ pause for further reflection.

For a while now I've been testing out Carrot Cakes, trying to get an idea for what a really good carrot cake is. I consider it as research for our future cafe. In order to be a bit clearer in my analysis, to pin the necessary qualities down better, I've started writing a new blog called Perfect Carrot Cake where I review and score the carrot cakes I eat in North Norfolk. Give it a look.

This weeks major weekend event in Sheringham was the Harley Davidson Ride Through, where hundreds of Harley Davidsons and their owners rumble into town, park for a few hours then rumble out of town. I've never seen so many badges, chains and leather in one place, plus an assortment of shaven heads, pigtails and bear beards, both male and female. 

Friday, July 21, 2017

FEATURE 134 - Arcade Fire - Creature Comfort

Of late, Arcade Fire's albums have shown signs of them wanting to move away from the grand and triumphal signatures of their first two albums. The Suburbs, was more carefully themed and though had its moments, somehow failed to touch me, there was something about it that was emotionally removed. I rarely listen to it, and even then not all the way through. So when it came to Reflektor I gave it a miss, the videos released not convincing me to give them another go. The new album, Everything Now, looks like they have to some extent recovered their sense of direction, at least rebooted their mojo. This track Creature Comfort, being a great pumping moment of joy, even though the subject matter is about personal pain.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

FEATURE 133 - Sparks ~ What The Hell Is It This Time

Back with a new album and tour in the Autumn, Sparks are releasing singles to give you a flavour for what's to come. As with all Ron Mael songs, the basic premise of this one is simple, that god is getting fed up with the number of requests he's getting to intervene. All done with the usual level of wit and musical invention we come to expect from this seemingly eternal duo.

SHERINGHAM DIARY 3 - Changing Work

Well, we've been here for three months now, and you might have thought we would have sorted everything out by now.  Living in Upper Sheringham is lovely, our house is lovely, we are doing lovely. However, our relationship towards the world of work  is still in some state of flux.

Jnanasalin has found himself a new job, which he will be starting in about 2 weeks time. He's being employed as the Retail Manager for a charity, The Priscilla Bacon Hospice, which has three outlets selling good quality second hand items. sometimes they are shops, or in two converted containers painted in a bright pink. The interior decor is well thought out and designed, so they don't look like your usual charity shop. Jnanasalin has been brought in to look after these, and to expand the chain across Norfolk, and develop a support network.

He's both excited and a little nervous about this change in work, but knows he has a huge amount of expertise he can offer them. He is also a couple of weeks away from his driving test, which he is well on track with. But heightened anxiety can always be summoned up, as you'd expect with two such major life events happening within days of each other.

Myself, well I decided to leave Byfords in Holt and get a housekeeping job closer to home. Which I achieved quite quickly, I now work for The Two Lifeboats Pub in Sheringham, 20 hrs a week.

However, it turns out that the 4 hrs a day 5 days a week, certainly at this time of year, is the exception rather than the norm. The housekeeping also includes the laundering/drying and ironing of the bed linen. So things can be pretty full on, and doing all that in 4 hrs on most days is impossible. So last week in the middle of the heatwave, I did more like 32 hrs. What can be a just about physically manageable 4 hrs can become a bit of a strain when its 5-6 hrs. In short, this is not what I want to be doing in the long term. It defeats the whole point of my working part-time if I have insufficient energy left to do much creative/craft work before or after a work shift.

It has made me realise that I really need to get myself out of the world of cleaning work. What was a good thing that kept the wolf from the door in Cambridge, is turning out to be not quite the same thing here. My body finds the intense level of physical work entailed in these B & B's I've been working for really draining, as it starts to creep beyond the stamina and physical capacity of my ageing body. Finding housekeeping work has been relatively easy, though I think finding something less physically strenuous, let alone something I want to do, isn't going to turn up just as readily. Anyway, watch this space.

Inside Crofters restaurant

This June, on the 26th, it was my sixtieth birthday. A significant milestone, and one that was marked well on the day.  Later in the week we had a meal out at our favourite restaurant Crofters in Sheringham. Like many places in Sheringham, entering it is like taking a step back in time. The interior of Crofters is decked in dark carved wood, blue checked curtains and has the ambiance of an Austrian Ski Chalet. The menu is good, with an exceptionally varied Vegetarian/Vegan part of their menu.  On top of these delights is the ever resplendent and supremely helpful Fay, who has worked in Crofters for quite some time. She has a unique dress sense and choice in jewellery, complete with boldly matching statement necklaces/earrings/rings and arms full of bangles. Each time we go in its a different colour combination, she goes where even much younger women would fear to tread and always achieves success.

A new exhibition has opened at The Mo, Sheringham's Museum. Its an exhibition of Gansey, which are fisherman's jumpers originally knitted by their wives so if their husbands were drowned at sea they would recognise them by their distinctive jumpers. Gansey are knit in fine wool yarn in very tight patterns and are worn on top of everything because they are hard wearing items of clothing. Jnansalin has bought me a book for my 60th on the history of them, which also includes some patterns. They were originally knitted in a circular fashion with no joins or seams. I'm thinking to adapt some gansey patterns to make cushions,stool covers etc.

The shop premises I mentioned last month that we thought would make an ideal future cafe. Guess what, its opening as .... a cafe. We are beginning to think that perhaps Sheringham may be reaching, or have already reached 'peak cafe' with well over 12 , and now this new one. We've heard on the grapevine ie. via the Mulberry Tea Rooms local gossip, that one of the cafes that opened barely a year ago is struggling to get sufficient business. So we are thinking we may have to consider basing our cafe further afield, maybe in another place, or an out of town craft complex, or if we do open in Sheringham, perhaps look to take over and transform an existing cafe. Who knows at this point in time which we will do, it may come down to rising to meet an opportunity rather than carrying out a fully worked out strategy.

This first weekend in July was The Lobster Potties Morris Dancing Festival, a weekend of crazy morris dancing. This is something I always enjoy, having been part of a Morris side many years ago. This years festival felt a bit quieter and low key than in previous years, with less folk around town. Perhaps the unpredictable weather of the week before deterred some people from coming. I got to see a few sides, but Jnansalin's sister , husband and two kids came down so we only partly saw the morris dancing, between playing the machines in the amusement arcades, eating chips, eating ice creams and looking out to sea. That said we did get to see The Witchmen from Kettering, who are like a huge boost to your testosterone.

Monday, May 29, 2017

SHERINGHAM DIARY 2 - Restoring Equilibrium

Our new life here is taking on an easily recognisable stride. We have a few things we routinely do, such as having our Sunday breakfast at a favourite cafe of ours,The Mulberry Tea Rooms, We often walk into town, rather than cycle or drive, for, yes, we have now bought a car, about which more later. I make a fresh loaf every week and Jnanasalin is working his way through baking all of the recipes in The Hummingbird Cookbook.

Its a great delight at the end of the day being able to go down into town, buy chips or an ice cream and sit on the promenade or by the boating pond and just stare out to sea. Taking pleasure in these small aspects of life here and even domesticity, each as they have presented themselves.

I'm still a Housekeeper for Byfords B and B in Holt, though how much longer could be called to question. They're very nice people to work for, and the people I've worked with so far are all really easy to get on with. But the work itself I find hard physically and somewhat unrelenting, Last Bank Holiday Saturday for instance I started work at 8.30 am and finished at 4.30 pm. Starting by cleaning public toilets, then it was stripping beds, cleaning bathrooms, making beds and setting up for the next guests, one room after another all day.  On Saturday, as we had a large number of early book ins, three of us had to do this process in fifteen minutes  per room. Even in cool weather this can be taxing, but in the middle of a heatwave it became a form of torture. I'm not good with humidity or heat, I find myself getting easily mentally befuddled. I've twice forgotten to put towels out in a bathroom this week.  I'm also finding I've become disconnected from what I'm doing, its as if I'm working on a conveyor belt where I'm thrown off it at the end of the day exhausted.

I have another job as a Caretaker for National Trust Holiday Cottages in the pipeline, but getting this set up appears to be taking ages. Even then its just a day or two a week, and the pay is as poor as at Byfords. Ideally I'd prefer a job with no travelling to work involved. I've applied for a Caretaker job at Sheringham Community Centre, but have not heard back and its now two weeks after the closing application date.  I recently gave a good presentation of myself for a Retail Assistant at Felbrigg Hall, and for a moment entertained the possibility of holding down two jobs with the National Trust, but I didn't get it.  That was disheartening, as the National Trust is more the sort of ethos I could happily work for.  Financially its better if my employment is nearer home, and hope I can find a little bit more of a heart connection for it too. Otherwise I'm going to find maintaining interest in work hard in the longer term.

With only a couple of months til Jnansalin's work for Windhorse Trading ceases to be full time. he's also started looking for work. I went with him recently to give my impressions of one place he had an interview at. It was a Farm Shop near Felbrigg, that we found somewhat in need of a revamp, quite worse for wear and had an air of being un-cared for. Jnansalin thought he might be able to bring some refreshing creativity and retail experience to bear on the situation, however, the owner seemed to think nothing was wrong with the place, and the job appeared less a managerial one and more a PA for her. So he came away feeling a tad disheartened, but there are other jobs in the pipeline, so lets see what surfaces over the next couple of months.

So, yes, we've bought a car, a black Vauxhall Corsa, ten years old, which we've christened Nigella, because its black with broad hips.  Jnanasalin is taking driving lessons which are going well. We now we have a car he can practice in, as long as I'm in the passenger seat with him.  I'm supposed to be the experienced driver, but that's really written on very thin paper. I haven't driven for ten years since a severe car crash that totaled my last car. That car was called Arthur, because of its many dents. Even getting back into a passenger seat has provoked nervous jittery tension. I would like to overcome this and get back driving, but gradually in my own time. However the National Trust job if it comes through, will require me to drive, so this could make my being confident to drive a more time critical issue, and probably much sooner than my emotional readiness. The very thought of this, at the moment, petrifies me and I can feel myself inwardly getting into a panic,
The inside of my new workshop

My workshop is now set up and has had electric installed so I have light and power.  So in my spare time I've a list as long as my arm of furniture for the house that need painting or re-varnishing to work through. I've recently painted and waxed a mirror frame  that we picked up for a tenner from a local car boot, It now coordinates with our lounge colour scheme.

I finished this week, restoring a large coffee table, that we got for free off Gumtree. It was being given away because some obviously delightfilled child had gouged and scrawled in biro all over the oak veneer table top. After some cautious sanding down and filling in of those gouges, I've re-varnished the top and painted the under carriage in Farrow and Ball - Purbeck Stone No 275. It now looks rather splendid, you'd not know unless the shadowy remnants of lines in its grain were pointed out.

Neither of us has much creative capacity for Cottonwood Workshop at the moment, so we have to just hang loose with its under performing and our subsequent lack of engagement. We saw a potentially ideal site for our cafe last week, but its far too early to be even thinking about it. We'll just have to hope its still available to rent in six months time. No one appears to have snapped it up for this summer season, so if anyone else has there eye on it, they too are waiting till the turn of the year, before making their move.

As our countryside coastal life develops, we are also engaging with things we've not had the opportunity to do before, like deciding how we want our garden to be. Now I say 'garden' but it really consists of two squares of shale surrounded by herbaceous plants at the front, and two stepped strips of shale and red stone at the back, with a rather bedraggled bamboo in a collapsing wooden tub on our minute patio. Lots of potential there is, but of the most minimal kind. Nonetheless, we started developing ideas for our back garden, planting sweet peas, and buying a number of different types of lavender to plant across the strip of grey shale fragments. The latter already looks good, as it gets bedded in further I expect they will bulk out and fill the space more.

As a consequence of living here I'm doing more walking. But if I do too much my left hip gets quite sore, inflamed and painful, so I've actually had to swallow my pride and buy myself a walking stick.  This helps to some extent, though I think its really time I talked to a Doctor about it, which reminds me I need to register with one.  In the meantime I've been working on developing my country casuals look.

Monday, May 01, 2017

SHERINGHAM DIARY 1 ~ The First Month

It's been a long time since I've posted anything on this blog.  Life has been quite full with rather important stuff. Jnanasalin and I have launched our web craft business Cottonwood Workshop and started selling things we've handmade or upcycled on the craft selling site Etsy, and recently we've moved to North Norfolk.

We now live in a very pretty little village Upper Sheringham, which is a mile outside the seaside town of Sheringham. It's a village of only 210 people, and we feel a bit like Miss Marple living in St Mary Mead, constantly on the look out for odd behaviour. Our neighbours are lovely and have made us feel very welcome. Some have even written to our letting agent to thank him for finding such good people, which is rather nice to know.

So, after two years of saving and planning to move here, here we are. I came back home from a fortnights solitary retreat mid February and one of the first things Jnanasalin said was, we're going to look at a house in Sheringham next Tuesday   That house is the one we now live in, which is as near our ideal as we could possibly find.  We began packing early, which meant we'd be ready to move as soon as we signed.  But it did mean we were living in a room stacked ever higher with packed boxes for six weeks. We had to plan our move in two phases, household stuff first and business/workshop stuff second, each time we were fortunate to have friends willing to drive a van up for us. The leaving of Cambridge, after fifteen years of living there, was relatively swift, we even had to plan our leaving party for two weeks after we'd moved, when we knew we'd be returning to pick up the business and workshop.

Our house is the 3rd Cottage down this terrace

Once here we spent a few weeks constantly unpacking boxes and finding homes for items, never sure where stuff might be stored, receiving deliveries of white goods, IKEA and furniture etc. We have now passed our IKEA furniture assembly exams Level 3, with a day bed that took 3 hours to put together, and our wardrobe that took 4.  How we want the house to be is still gradually taking shape, with further refinements to do.  We have not put many pictures up yet, as we need to get a feel for the rooms and to be certain where furniture will finally end up. Plus I've got a large list of furniture I'm going to sand down, paint and varnish to match, at some point.

I've got my first job within a week of applying for it, eighteen hours cleaning a week for Byfords B & B in Holt.  Its only minimum wage so it falls substantially short of what I need to earn. Finding better paid part time work here is not going to be easy. Whatever I do in additional work is most likely not going to be cleaning, as most cleaning here will revolve around a holiday turn around on Friday/Saturday. The Holt job I'm so far finding is really intense hard work, I'm not sure how physically sustainable I'll find it longer term, but for now its a start, and gets some money coming in. Who knows what I'll be doing by the summer.

We are both feeling quite settled, but this still has an air of like being on an extended holiday here. Both of us are sleeping so much better and are consequently more relaxed.  Though our future employment issues are a concern, Jnanasalin's work for Windhorse Trading will most likely cease being full time from mid July, so he'll need to find something else by then.  Plus he's learning to drive, and I also will of necessity have to get back into a driving seat after ten years or so out of one. So, I can see it could be some months yet before either of us can give the further development of Cottonwood Workshop, and the future cafe project much thought or time.