67: the book is always better?

Regular visitors to my little corner of cyberspace will have spotted that I am a big fan of books and reading in general. I love fantasy, and magic, and supernatural thrillers; different worlds, sideways views of our own world, the idea that there are things we can’t see (and, in the case of Stephen King, that we don’t want to see). I don’t love it when some bright spark decides to take one of these books and turn it into a film or a TV series, unless they are people who can be trusted to do it properly. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, I think, can be trusted with Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London books, but the teams responsible for The Seeker: The Dark is Rising (from the novel by Susan Cooper) and Midwinter of the Spirit (from Phil Rickman’s Merrily Watkins series) should never have been allowed near the productions.

I can almost imagine the conversation in The Seeker‘s production meeting: “Yeah, so we’ve got Eccleston as the bad guy and McShane as the wizard, right, but we gotta make it relevant to American kids, we can’t have another magic English kid, Harry Potter and all that, let’s make the kid and his family American, let’s transplant them to England, fish outta water stuff…”. Just, no. You killed the story. Suffice to say they didn’t get the go-ahead to film the rest of the novels.

Midwinter of the Spirit suffered from some of the same problems: the brilliant Anna Maxwell Martin cast in the main role was a great choice, but they hammered a long novel into a short series in a very heavy-handed way, losing a lot of the suspense and also – by choosing not to start the series with the first novel – a lot of the context. Shame, because these are brilliantly written, unputdownable books.

The one notable exception is William Goldman’s The Princess Bride, possibly because by 1973 when the novel was published he was already an Academy Award-winning screen writer for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (Best Original Screenplay) and he also adapted the novel for the screen. It’s still one of my favourite films and books, and finding another fan almost always means finding a new friend. Not that having the original author on board is always a good thing, of course, because then you run the risk of making, say, eight long films from seven long books (I’m looking at you, J.K.Rowling, you and your ‘direct assistance’ in the screenwriting).

(As an aside, Twilight and The Vampire Diaries were actually better than the books but only because they could not have been worse. So it does work both ways. Sometimes).

It was with some trepidation. therefore, that I headed to BBC iPlayer this week to check out The Watch, ‘inspired by’ characters from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. BBC2 has the tagline “In a world where crime is legal, a group of chaotic misfit cops rise up to save their city from catastrophe. A punk rock comedy thriller inspired by Terry Pratchett’s Discworld.” The buzz on the Pratchett fan pages has been almost entirely negative. Outrage around the casting has been prominent: a woman as Lord Vetinari (Anna Chancellor)? A short person (Marama Corlett) as Angua? A tall person (Jo Eaton-Kent) as Cheery? A black woman (Lara Rossi) as Sybil Ramkin? Other than Carrot, who remains true to Pratchett’s vision, the casting producer has created a hugely diverse and entertaining ensemble. Richard Dormer, cast as Vimes, is guilty of gurning too much and perhaps too much comedy has been written in for him, but he was a good choice. Matt Berry and Paul Kaye are always good value, too.

Image © Radio Times

Part of the outrage has also come from a fierce loyalty to Terry Pratchett and, latterly, to his daughter Rhianna. She very diplomatically tweeted that “It’s fairly obvious that The Watch shares no DNA with my father’s Watch. This is neither criticism nor support. It is what it is.” Den of Geek has more on the controversy here. Funnily enough, Good Omens wasn’t criticised in the same way, perhaps because Neil Gaiman is Pratchett-adjacent and David Tennant is similarly adored for his time as the Tenth Doctor. The news this week on hearing that a second series of Good Omens in in the works should probably have provoked outrage as there isn’t a book, but once you’re in the Pratchett family, you’re in and you can pretty much do no wrong.

Previous big-budget adaptations of the Discworld novels have tended to be by Sky, who filmed the first two novels as The Colour of Magic, then did Hogfather and Going Postal. These weren’t perfect in terms of casting, either, but also weren’t terribly revolutionary. Charles Dance was perfectly cast as Vetinari, Tim Curry made an excellent wizard. Sean Astin was OK as Twoflower but David Jason was utterly wrong for Rincewind (he did make a great Albert in Hogfather, to give him his dues). The problem with filming such beloved novels is that readers have a very clear vision of who they think would be the best actor for the role, and are vociferous on the subject. The constant ‘casting posts’ on the various fan pages are annoying in the extreme, so one learns the art of scrolling.

Suffice to say that none of the actors in The Watch have featured in any of these posts. Was this possibly a deliberate decision, in the sense of ‘we’ll never get it right, so let’s have some fun’?

So, I went into the series knowing that the production company had played merry hell with the storylines, the characters and the sacred Discworld canon. And, you know what? I really enjoyed it. I left my Discworld expectations back on Roundworld and went along for the ride. The writers have picked bits from any number of the novels, not just the Watch series: Soul Music, Guards Guards, Night Watch, The Light Fantastic, Thud! to name a few, and they really have had fun with them. Many of the puns have been lost, and the addition of a gloriously camp dance routine came a bit out of leftfield, but it’s still thoroughly bonkers, funny and sweet in places. It does look as if most of the filming took place in the Elephant and Castle shopping centre, but you don’t get much more dystopian than that. The soundtrack is great, Cheery is an absolute delight, and the ending leaves it open for more….though as yet series 2 hasn’t been commissioned, sadly.

We’ve also watched Katla this week – gloomy, spooky and Nordic – and a 2018 series called Requiem, chosen because we like most things Joel Fry does.

What is there in this world that makes living worthwhile?

A surprise birthday present arrived this week from my lovely work colleagues, combining Pratchett, cross stitch and cats – three of my favourite things! I love getting handmade gifts and, believe it or not, it’s quite a rarity. I don’t know who made it but I LOVE it.

I also packed off the gift I couldn’t share last week: I could not get it straight in the hoop, so I gave up in the end. The pattern is by Climbing Goat Designs on Etsy.

This week I have been working on another gift, and another Totoro baby lovey – this time a commission. My cross stitch is on 18 count fabric and it’s getting to the point where I can’t see the holes in the fabric any more so may need to invest in one of those magnifying lights! Old age is creeping up fast…

This week I am looking forward to doing some delivery in schools, which I have really missed, and hopefully the sun will come out at some point!

See you next week

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

The Museum of Broken Promises – Elizabeth Buchan

The Wisdom of Sally Red Shoes – Ruth Hogan

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock – Imogen Hermes Gowar

Guards, Guards – Terry Pratchett

Lundy, Rockall, Dogger, Fairisle – Matthew Clayton and Anthony Atkinson

66: happy birthday to me!

Yesterday was my 48th birthday, and among the presents I requested from the various people who asked was an Ordnance Survey map of Chelmsford and the Rodings, and one of their Pathfinder books of circular walks. I bought another map (Chelmsford, Harlow and Bishops Stortford) with one of the Amazon vouchers I was given as well. Those of you who have ever been anywhere with me and experienced my sense of direction might wonder a bit at this, of course, as I am the adult who once got so hopelessly lost in Sainsburys in Whitechapel that I handed myself in at Customer Services and waited to be collected. I am also regularly flummoxed by Google maps on my phone: it’s all very well showing me where I am, but it still takes a few false starts, watching the direction the arrows are moving when I walk, to work out the direction of travel.

Still, you all know I love a good walk, so my thinking is that with the aid of these maps I can explore a bit more of my local area. North Weald sits on the border of both these maps, rather than conveniently in the middle, hence needing two of them.

I have a vague plan that for my 50th birthday I will walk the whole of the Essex Way over a series of weekends, in the company of whoever I can persuade to do various stretches with me. I have a couple of years to plan this adventure, fortunately! I have done some of the local stretches on training walks, and I am keen to do the rest. If I was the sort of hardy hiking person who could be bothered to carry lots of equipment on my back I might do it all at once, but that’s never going to happen!

I like marking big birthdays. I haven’t worried about my age since I was 27 and I cried all day as I was so old. Back when I was still in infant school in Cardiff our class teacher, Mrs Price, asked us to work out how old we would in the year 2000, and 27 was the answer: it felt such a long way away, and such a vast age to a six year old, that I never forgot it. No other birthday has ever felt so traumatic!

My 30th was a mad evening out in London with friends, where we did the Jack the Ripper walk after a few drinks in All Bar One at Tower Hill (chosen as it was formerly the Mark Lane underground station, and I am nothing if not a nerd). My 40th was a barbecue in the back garden, with a ball pool for the kids and surrounded by friends. So I am planning an adventure for my 50th: it’s a big birthday, so I ought to celebrate it by doing something interesting with people I like. Volunteers for future weekends on the Essex Way welcome!

Other gifts included yarn, rhubarb and ginger gin and books: you all know me so well!

There has, of course, been other things in my week: my second Covid vaccine, so I am now fully 5G enabled or something (I don’t care if it causes me to pick up Radio Caroline, quite honestly, as long as it means I can see my parents and sisters). It was the monthly sunset/full moon swim, and this month the moon was up but covered in clouds so I still didn’t see it from the lake. There has been lots of making, but nothing I can share yet!

There has also been a lot of reading: a book that had me grabbed from the first page, and which would have kept me awake into the early hours to finish it if the battery on my Kindle hadn’t died. Once Upon a River, by Diane Setterfield, was one of those 99p Kindle deals that’s been lurking on the virtual shelf of shame since then. I finally got round to it this week. It’s one of the best books I have read for a very long time – if you haven’t run across it already, go and grab it. History, magic, mystery, the Thames: what else do you need?

And now I must head for Tesco, as the cupboard is mostly bare and the Horde need feeding! Same time next week?

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Once Upon a River – Diane Setterfield

Madame Burova/The Keeper of Lost Things/Queenie Malone’s Paradise Hotel – Ruth Hogan

Cider with Rosie – Laurie Lee (Audible)

65: how to ruin a good book

This week’s ramblings have been brought to you because I have been listening to the audiobook of Cider with Rosie, read by Laurie Lee himself: lush, sunshine-drenched prose, set in countryside not so very far from where I grew up in Monmouthshire. There are some books which, if you mention them to people of a certain age, elicit an instant response of eye-rolling and and ‘urgh, I hate that book, we had to read it in school, it’s so boring.’ It’s true, a terrible English teacher can ruin a wonderful book (equally, a good one can bring it to life: I’m looking at you, Mr Bradley, you and your passion for Jane Austen).

Prime candidates for this, at least for people of my generation, seem to be:

  • Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
  • Cider with Rosie – Laurie Lee
  • The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
  • Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger

All of which are classics, of course, and I love them all, but ‘studying literature’ as opposed to just reading a book can really ruin it for people. Second-guessing what the author meant, analysing their intent in using this word or that, deconstructing poetry often means that you can’t see the story for the words, to paraphrase that famous saying about forests and trees.

My own GCSE texts included a story or two from Leslie Norris’s Sliding, which I still love, Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and probably some other ones but, amazingly, none of those listed above featured – probably because of the move from O-level to GCSE the previous year.

A badly-chosen text can have the same negative impact: for me this was Graham Swift’s Waterland, set in the Fens and with content so far out of my sphere of experience as an A-level student that I couldn’t engage. Mr Mills tried his best, bless him, but it was hard going. Ten years later, I found myself spending a lot of time in the Fens around March and Ely, so I went back and read the book as an adult: it’s brilliant, frankly, but it took an understanding of the area and the concerns of an adult to understand it. My youngest sister had The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro as one of her A-level texts: my mum and I loved it, she didn’t – presumably for the same reasons I couldn’t get to grips with Waterland. It doesn’t matter how much you love books and reading, if you can’t engage with the content then you’re unlikely to enjoy it.

I suppose the point of teaching literature is to inspire a love of reading in children, but I do wonder occasionally who chooses the texts. Thing 1 is in her first year of GCSEs and is doing Macbeth and A Christmas Carol and doesn’t like either of them: she loves analysing text but hasn’t engaged with either of those. She’s just said that she likes book she can relate to: she read William Goldings Lord of the Flies before being given it at school and loved it.

I love reading, I don’t understand why they can’t just let us read it, they keep stopping us every five seconds to make us analyse why Lady Macbeth is a symbol of patriarchal society. What if he just liked Lady Macbeth? If they just gave me ‘The Outsiders’ or ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ I could analyse them in about five minutes cos I can relate to them.’

Thing 1

The school Things One and Two attend practise DEAR (Drop Everything and Read) so they are expected to have a book of their choice to hand at all times, and the teachers have door signs saying what their current book is as well. I love this idea, and it’ll probably go further to instilling a love of literature in children who aren’t growing up surrounded by books than if their first encounter with great books is stripping them into their component parts without ever getting to enjoy the stories first.

The year of the handmade gift

Back to a bit of crochet for the latest gifts: I made the ladybird a leaf sleeping bag, and also made this Totoro baby comforter. Both will be going off to a colleague whose wife is expecting. The ladybird is for his older daughter, as big sisters need a present too! It’s back to the cross stitch now, while I carry on listening to Cider with Rosie even though the sun has gone away again.

Another gift is with its new owner today – I have just this minute had a text message to say thank you, so happy birthday Gina! We have always had a resident fox at the Museum, with cubs most years, so this seemed like an apt present. The pattern is from MaxStitch.

I am off now to get on with things….see you next week!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

The Glamourist/The Conjurer – Luanne G. Smith

Moonshine – Jasmine Gower

Attention All Shipping – Charlie Connelly

Cider with Rosie – Laurie Lee (Audible)

64: short and sweet

64: Short and sweet

A very quick post this week as a) I forgot it was Sunday and b) it’s hot and I’m in the garden with the family using the wonders of mobile technology! The summer seems to have finally arrived without even a sheepish look to excuse its lateness, the pool is up and the place is filled with the timeshare teenagers, the horde and the grandchild as well as the usual added extras.

Yesterday was another hot one and we dragged the kids plus one up to Audley End. Thing 1 was going to a barbecue with her boyfriend (if you want to see the absolute definition of embarrassment, look for a teenager whose parents might bump into the boyfriend’s parents…) near Saffron Walden so it was a good excuse to revisit the gorgeous gardens.

The house is partially closed for Covid reasons, of course, but we could see the main rooms. I’d love a private library and one that the rest of the family could use! You’d never see me in public again.

The formal gardens were alive with bees on some sort of minty stuff (that’s the technical name) and we watched a pair of crows chasing off a red kite in the field behind.

The organic kitchen garden, on the other hand, was being brought to life by a historical interpreter in role as Mr Vert the gardener, who chatted to the kids about the difficulty of keeping apart the housemaids and the garden apprentices. Mr Vert is known to me more often as my friend Chris, a hugely talented interpreter who has delivered Vikings, Victorians and engineers for me in the past as well as many others for Historic Royal Palaces pre-pandemic. We met him in the cut flower garden, surrounded by irises and peonies, before indulging in an ice cream.

Audley End is run by English Heritage and is well worth a visit, if you haven’t been. We have visited before but discovered new areas this time like the lily pond and rockery, where we saw the swan and cygnet above.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

Not much cross stitching has occurred but I did start on a gift for an impending big sister – by LauLovesCrochet who designed the cow and calf I made a few weeks ago. This time it’s a ladybird with an aphid friend, who will have a leaf sleeping bag.

There will be a gift for the baby as well, which I got my colleagues to vote on the pattern for.

So that’s week 64. Short and sweet… like me! Normal service will resume next week.

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading

Pel and the Prowler/Pel and the Paris Mob – Mark Hebden

The Vine Witch – Luanne G Smith

Attention All Shipping – Charlie Connelly

63: we have the technology

Is it me or has it been the longest four day week ever? It’s been half term, and as we have now vacated the museum in order to hand it over to the people who will transform it I have been working from home. I must confess that Things 2 and 3 have spent a large part of the week building new worlds in Minecraft (or whatever it is they do) and I have not done much with them. With the help of a colleague I have, however, managed to mark 1600 objects as ‘NONE’ in the content management system, and a further 150 or so as ‘NIP’ (or ‘not in place’ for those objects that have gone into temporary storage for the next couple of years. That’s felt like a pretty big achievement! Now – the last part of the task – I just need to find anything that the system still thinks is in a cupboard at the museum and mark those as NONE or NIP as well.

Things 1 and 2 have managed to spend some time with their friends, which has been good for them, and their older sister came over in the week with her boyfriend for a barbecue. Apart from torrrential rain all day on Friday we have been pretty lucky with the weather. Their oldest sister and her little boy will be joining us today and I have promised lasagne for tea, which meant I left the village (gasp!) yesterday to have a sneaky mooch around the charity shops before a Tesco trip. Perhaps that’s why this week has felt so long: it hasn’t been broken up by being on site. Teams meetings just aren’t the same.

The next couple of years will see many of us continuing to work from home, however, as the way we work changes post-pandemic. It’s been hard for some companies to grasp that you don’t need the physical presence of your staff five days a week; we aren’t, in many cases, producing physical outputs as in the days of the factory. Increased connectivity, through applications like Teams and Zoom, mean that we can have ‘cross-site’ meetings effectively without being in a physical space. For those of us who were expected to be the ones travelling to the other sites it means we can meet with our colleagues without adding 40 minutes travel time each way to the meeting which was the pre-Teams reality. Over the last months we have been making use of apps like Google’s JamBoard and Miro, which have allowed us all to contribute to brainstorm sessions with virtual post-it notes (who doesn’t love a post-it thinking session?) and to collaborate on documents. I know this technology has been around for a while, but it’s taken a pandemic for us to catch up with it! You do lose some of the energy that comes from being in a physical space together, of course, but hopefully we can manage some of those too.

There are, of course, fewer people taking up desks in the museum sector at the moment – as well as many others, of course. The Museums Association redundancy tracker is showing 4,126 redundancies that have been “directly or indirectly attributed to the pandemic”. There will be more as recovery progresses. The appetite for indoor activities is, perhaps not surprisingly, lower than expected, especially in areas where virus mutations are high and there are questions around the efficacy of vaccines against these variants.

One outcome I have seen from the slashing of the workforce is a growing culture of toxic positivity. People are so worried that their jobs will be on the line in the next restructure/recovery/redesign programme that they are afraid to say no to anything. The result of this, of course, is an overload of work without the usual team back up: no successful event is delivered single-handedly, yet that’s exactly what’s being expected now as ‘business as usual’ is restarting while other teams settle down into their new structures. For any public event to work you need social media and marketing support, design support, bookings team support, on-the-ground support, support from within your own team, increasing technical support if your event is online – just for starters.

When one of these things isn’t in place – or when teams have been so decimated that they can no longer work responsively but need several months lead-in – then you have a problem. This is especially the case when everyone is competing for the same severely shrunken audience demographic: the one with the dinosaurs is going to win as dinosaurs don’t need marketing. So you have people trying to maintain pre-pandemic levels of engagement, with post-pandemic levels of support: a recipe for failure if ever I saw one. But what can you do when you worry that any sign you’re not coping will be either ignored or seen as lack of competence? So, toxic positivity reigns – and with it rising levels of anxiety, depression and other mental health problems.

Sunshine superwoman

My stress relief, as always, is making stuff: I have been turning off the laptop at the end of the day and sitting in the garden for an hour or so before making tea, enjoying the sunshine and decompressing with some crochet or cross stitch. I am still working on the Hobbit piece in between making gifts, and as May is out of the way I updated the Temperature Tree. Like April, the month hovered in the mid-teens so there’s a lot of the same greens until we get to the last few days. Hopefully this month I can add a new colour as we hit the dizzy heights of 24 and 25 degrees in half term.

I have also been playing with some micro-crochet to create tiny toadstool jars, using this pattern found on Ravelry. I do love these tiny pieces – fiddly but so pretty. The first toadstool image is the original one I made – the others are the second version, where I added a tiny bit of stuffing to the toadstool cap and stitched the stalk to the ‘grass’ to make it stand up better. I also used a smaller bottle for the second version.

Swimming is another destressing activity: yesterday’s circuit of the lake was probably my slowest ever, as I stopped to look at the coot family with four tiny balls of fluff cheeping away, the mamma duck with her five stripy ducklings, another coot family and and a reed warbler. I had an hour while my friend was in a coaching session, so had no reason to race about, and I felt very serene when I came out at the other end. The water temperature was 18 degrees, so my skins dip at the end was quite long too.

So that’s been my week! How was yours?

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Pel and the Bombers/Pel and the Pirates – Mark Hebden

Attention All Shipping – Charlie Connelly

The Strawberry Thief – Joanne Harris (Audible)