Sunday, 26 February 2017

Random Chairs in a Darkened Room V

Two dogs sitting up in the shade looking out at the patio and pool in the sun
Spain, November 2016
Lola II and Mr M staged the fifth annual Gulloebl film festival (subtitled 'Random Chairs in a Darkened Room) last weekend. Invited guests had the opportunity to watch up to eight films over the weekend, and this time there was a theme: all of the films featured Alan Rickman, who died last year. I watched seven of the eight films, and it reaffirmed for me what a talented actor and a delight to watch he was.

Due to the number of visitors like myself travelling to attend the festival and needing accommodation, I was allocated to sleep in the annexe. This took the form of a tent in the garden, which was pretty snug with duvet, blanket, hot water bottle and socks. I like camping but this was probably the first time I have camped in February.

My favourite of the seven films I watched was Dogma (1999), the most mainstream of director Kevin Smith's films. I've seen most of this director's previous work, starting with Clerks, and enjoyed most of them. Dogma features Ben Affleck and Matt Damon as well as Alan Rickman, and the Catholic Church is the cast member referenced by the title. I was expecting this to be my favourite film of the weekend, and it didn't disappoint.

Second best was Snow Cake (2006) which starred Sigourney Weaver and Carrie-Anne Moss. I'd seen it before and I knew I'd liked it, although I couldn't remember any details. A man gives a lift to a young woman who is killed in a terrible road accident. The man (played by Alan Rickman) feels compelled to make his way to the young woman's mother, who turns out to have autism, and the story covers just the few days he spends with her. It's touching, poignant, thought-provoking and occasionally funny.

Galaxy Quest (1999) has appeared in a previous film festival, but I could watch it every year. At the end my cheeks hurt from grinning, and the rich source of quotations from the film is a boon in many situations (Never give up, never surrender!) Sigourney Weaver is in this one too, along with Tim Allen, (You are our laaaast hooope). And, of course, Alan Rickman (Give him a hand, he's British!)

My next favourite was Truly Madly Deeply (1990). I hadn't realised that it was written and directed by Anthony Minghella with Juliet Stevenson in mind (if IMDb is to be believed). The writing was beautiful, sad and funny in turn, even though Alan's moustache and Juliet's wardrobe were dreadful. Tissues were available at the screening, and there were plenty of muffled sniffles at the end.

I also love Sense and Sensibility (1995), not only for the wonderful Alan but also for the other quality performances from Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet. Hugh Grant was there too, but he was just playing himself as usual. Terrific writing, which won Oscars for Emma Thompson as the writer as well as Best Actress. Hugh Laurie deserves a notable mention for his delivery of some wonderful lines. Mrs Palmer: "No, I cannot believe it is that far, for you can see the place from the top of our hill. Is it really five and a half? No. I cannot believe it." Mr Palmer: "Try."

So five of the seven films receive my full approval; the remaining two that I watched were Die Hard (1988) with Bruce Willis, and Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (2001) with every British actor ever. I hadn't seen Die Hard before but it is said to be a classic - I can see that it's quite good, but it's just not my kind of thing. I've read all the Harry Potter books and seen all the films, but the books are better and this first film spends a lot of its time setting up the series. The film I didn't watch in the festival line-up was Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves (1991) - I actually started watching it on DVD a few years ago, but stopped after about half an hour. So I wasn't keen to try again.

If it had been up to me to choose films featuring Alan Rickman I would have included A Little Chaos (2014) - Kate Winslet again, but also the incomparable Matthias Schoenaerts as well as the always reliable Stanley Tucci. Love Actually (2003) is another obvious choice with Emma and Hugh again, and I thought the recent Eye in the Sky (2015) with Helen Mirren was also very good indeed. But there are so many choices.

My ultimate plan is to be awarded the first Gulloebl Film Festival franchise and to stage my own version when my house is ready. Of course I'm already thinking of what I might include, and the selection this year has sparked many ideas - Matthias Schoenaerts leads me to Rust and Bone and Suite Francaise as well as A Little Chaos, there's Kevin Smith's Clerks, and perhaps more of Ben Affleck (maybe Argo?) and Matt Damon (maybe Invictus?) Favourite female actors who might feature include Toni Collette (Muriel's Wedding and I would say Little Miss Sunshine but that's been shown at the Gulloebl Film Festival before, then there are The Sixth Sense and About A Boy which are a bit too mainstream). I love watching Melissa McCarthy as well, who was lovely in The Heat with Sandra Bullock, Spy with Jude Law and St Vincent with Bill Murray. Lastly for the women, I'd watch anything with Alison Janney (Juno and American Beauty spring to mind). There are so many wonderful films in the world. I don't know how Lola II and Mr M manage to whittle their choices down to just eight a year.

As a form of apprenticeship in preparation for the franchise, I undertook several roles backstage including making popcorn and ice cream vendor, I received full and frank feedback when I neglected the popcorn due to being distracted by guests, and I was given short shrift and sent off to buy some proper cream when I tried to substitute Elmlea on the basis that Waitrose was closed and this was all the newsagent stocked. But I think with a bit more effort I might be trusted with the valued Gulloebl brand in a year or two.

The Gulloebl Chinema management team carried out my appraisal a week later, and I received the following feedback. Luckily for me they seem to have overlooked the popcorn and cream issues.

Year One Probation Appraisal

Trainee: Lola I
Role: Canine Corpus
Employment Status: Hopeful
Supervision Date: 23 rd February 2017

Duties and Comments

Popcorn making: Corn popped as required
Dishwasher loading: Dishwasher loaded
Ice cream vending: Needed supervision at first, but threw herself (and the ice creams) into delivery. However, forgot to collect any money. Losses to be taken from her wages. We are not Robin Hood (which Lola would know if she had watched the film)
Height: Adequate but not quite up to Lola II
Dietary knowledge: Generally excellent though struggles to identify portions of fruit if they are in jars
Prospects: Lola showed real potential and in a few years’ time, we fully expect her to be allowed to sleep in the house. We also envisage her being welcomed into heaven, when her time comes.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Tedious parking issues

Garden view with spiky pink flowers
Krakow Botanic Garden, July 2016
I'm still spending many spare minutes engaged in eBay trading, and my Canadian buyer is still keeping the boat afloat. Meanwhile other members of the family are busying themselves with other aspects of dad's collected material, with limited success. The past weekend contained a trip to The North West, where the weather was cold but the welcome was warm. Part of the reason behind the trip was to stay with old friends I hadn't seen for more than five years, but on the way there and back I offered to assist with the further clearing and emptying of goods currently stored in basement rooms. Just the threat of my presence was enough to prompt the requisite activity - I hardly had to do anything, and even acquired a certain proportion of said goods, some of which I have passed on to Ilf.

Yes, Ilf has paid another visit, and the upstairs spare room is looking even better with its final coat of paint. Next it will need curtains, a bedside table, the clothes rail that returned with me from The North West, and I'm thinking of sanding and painting a wooden chair that is currently in the garage looking very sad. That will complete the bedroom half of the spare room; I haven't thought too much about the office half yet. I made the follow up trip to the kitchen design shop to talk through some changes, and the plan is nearly finished. I'm still feeling good about the progress of the LTRP.

At work the talk has been of parking for a very long time, and is becoming extremely tedious. The Trust has two hospital sites; the one where I don't work (Hospital A) has insufficient parking for both staff and patients, leading to much stress. When I used to do a clinic there, patients occasionally phoned the reception desk from the car park, and more than once it was to say they were not coming to their appointment simply because there was nowhere to park. The hospital where I do work (Hospital B) has plenty of parking space.

Parking passes used to be allocated to staff at Hospital A on some arcane basis that probably had a lot to do with historical precedent and seniority. When I worked there, I used to park on a nearby housing estate that is 20 minutes' walk away from the hospital site. Since I stopped working there, the housing estate has introduced residents-only parking, so staff would park in the Tesco car park, which is 25 minutes away. Tesco is now limiting its free parking to exclude such visitors, and I really don't know what staff do any more.

It was decided that a fairer system needed to be introduced, so all staff are being invited to re-apply for parking passes which will be awarded on the basis of need, taking account of the requirements of the job role and public transport options. These are not free passes, but they cost less than the daily parking charges that patients pay. They used to be charged at different rates depending on pay grade and hours worked, so part-timers and those on low pay grades paid less. The new system is a flat rate for all from part-time cleaner to Chief Executive.

Throughout the extended period of time when details were slowly being made available to staff, it was never made clear whether these changes would apply at Hospital B, where there is no parking problem. The main grouse in my department was the unfairness of changing from proportional pricing to a flat rate, but parking raises such high emotion that barely a day went by without someone complaining afresh about the unfairness, which usually set someone else off, sometimes on an unrelated course, usually about the changes to the retirement pension entitlement. Parking, pensions, more parking - most lunchtimes descended into dissatisfied whingeing.

At last the day came when we could finally apply for a new pass under the new, 'fairer' guidelines. My goodness, the complaining escalated to unimaginable heights when it was discovered that anyone living nearer than two miles from Hospital B was going to be denied a parking pass on principle. Emails were fired off like cannonades - secure bicycle parking was going to be needed, husbands were going to set up lift sharing services, people couldn't be expected to walk all that way at their age, and what if it snowed? I felt like saying that I would love to work within walking distance of my home and not have to pay for parking or petrol at all.

Things calmed down when one member of staff was informed that there had been a mistake, and the two mile limit was supposed to apply to Hospital A only, given that parking capacity at Hospital B was adequate for all who wanted passes. But the price increase would still apply at Hospital B. And this is where we stand at present, and I hope they will all stop moaning about it soon.

Small flower and bud at base of aspidistra stalks
In other news, my aspidistra is flowering!

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Mostly philately

Paper hat printed with 'Use the Postcode'
Listed on eBay January 2017
If you're one of my thirty-or-so regular readers, you will have noticed a hiatus. Despite having a week off work, it has been a bad time for blogging. When I last wrote I was full of beans, all positive and bouncy and heavy on the anecdotes. Now I feel anti-social, tired and altogether out of sorts, which has resulted in a lot of early nights in between social and work commitments. So no writing. Never mind, the weekend improved things a little.

My week off transferred from Leamington to London, where we'd arranged to see a man in an auction house in case we could interest him in one box of dad's postal ephemera that had the greatest potential to be worth something. Our man was not optimistic about either the uniqueness of the material or the existence of any buyers. He made a couple of suggestions which I have since followed up and which took me to London again on Sunday. An old friend of dad's is still in the philately business despite being 90 years old. He seems more optimistic about our selling options, and may be able to arrange a meeting with an interested party. It feels very much like we're trying to do a drug deal, except a legal one with someone who is 90 years old.

Meanwhile, mum met a local philatelist who is mildly excited about another load of dad's boxes of envelopes. Her chap used to be a carpenter and has even taken away one of her kitchen chairs to be mended, so it's win-win for mum. Another piece of the jigsaw is a contact at the Anglo-Israel Archaeological Society, but nobody seems to be taking that one forward at the moment. My ebay work stalled for a while, but I managed to start listing again on Friday. Unfortunately I hadn't realised that we haven't been billed for ebay commission, so our 'nearly-a-hundred-pounds' has turned into 'just-over-eighty-pounds' and I'm taking my train fare on Sunday out of our earnings. I persevere, however.

Two plastic carrier bags with postcode slogans on them
Sold on eBay, January 2017
Not all my London holiday was stamp-related. I met some old friends, and Lola II and I visited the Hunterian Museum which is located within the Royal College of Surgeons. I would recommend it, although poor Lola II had to hang around a bit waiting for me to just look at the next case of bits of human or animal suspended in a glass jar demonstrating the effects of rickets, or faulty regrowth of a lizard tail, or a spine severely affected by scoliosis. Even I moved a bit quick past the facial reconstruction exhibit, and Lola II had a bit of trouble with the gory videos of live surgery.

We ate out a few times, we watched a couple of films, we journeyed forth to see mum and dad and I can remember nothing more; it was more than a week ago, and a week is a long time. The subsequent week contains a similar void, although I went to work as usual. Last Tuesday contained the dental hygienist and meditation and more LTRP, including a return to the kitchen design people. They have provided me with lots of ideas for the kitchen, and I have commented on their ideas and provided some of my own. The follow up visit is in a couple of weeks.

My LTRP multi-tasking is paying off with quotes from a builder and a carpenter and a possible date for Ilf to come back for another session on the spare room. However, more mundane tasks are not reaching the top of the list, so the cleaning and ironing are still waiting. The last few days have also been occupied with trying to untangle mum's email access after a change of ISP, I also have to renew buildings insurance, holiday insurance and find a new utility package - what with this blog and the ongoing ebay activity I will be tied to the PC for the rest of the day.

Publicity leaflet for Royal Mail 'Safeglide' mail handling system
Failed to sell on eBay, January 2017
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