Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Stanley Spencer Gallery

Probably the most famous person to come out of Cookham is Stanley Spencer. Stanley Spencer was a painter in the first half of the 20th century. He was very attached to Cookham, spending more or less his whole life here. Lots of his art features scenes of Cookham and the house he was born and grew up in is just a stone's throw from ours. He is very much a local boy, so it's fitting that a gallery devoted exclusively to him is here. The Stanley Spencer Gallery is about to reopen, after an extensive modernisation of the premises.

To be honest, the date of reopening is still a bit vague, but they are pushing for Saturday, September 8th, 2007. I will update that date if I hear differently. In the meantime, plan on that.

I'm looking forward to seeing some of his work first-hand, rather than the small images I've seen on other websites so far. He has an interesting and fairly unique style and it'll be nice to see something of this nature that doesn't involve a trek into London. I hope this post reaches lots of people, and piques enough interest for others to check out the gallery too.

Friday, August 24, 2007

August Long weekend

This is the start of the August long weekend here in England. Notice I say England, because it's not a UK holiday, Scotland had their August bank holiday at the beginning of the month. We aren't going away mainly because we are looking after the neighbours' pets for a couple of weeks and I don't think they'd travel well. Anyways, we had our summer holiday back in July.

So to celebrate 3 days in the comfort of our home, here's a little video of Lena and I reading, taken today. She's become really interested in books recently, getting quite excited when you read to her. This is a quicker version than our normal sessions, but I kept it moving quick to hold your interest. Still, unless you really like babies or are closely related to her, you still might find it a rather long minute.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

England vs Germany - Tonight!

Germany is playing England in football today. It's taking place at the new Wembley Stadium, which opened just this year. It's a friendly game, meaning it doesn't count towards a tournament or anything. Which is just as well, as both teams are missing several of their best players.

What I find interesting is that this is the first time I'll be watching a game from the English side. In big soccer competitions, I've always cheered for Germany. I would cheer for Canada, but sadly we're pretty crap at the international men's level. Anyways, I cheered for Germany because I lived there and that was a good enough reason. But now, the shoe is on the other foot. Now I live in England. But I'm not really ready for the idea of cheering for England yet. I don't mind cheering them on when they are playing a neutral country, but Germany (along with Canada and Australia, obviously) still wins favour over them for me.

So, I'm sorry England. I know you are hoping history will repeat itself in the form of your 1-5 win over Germany in Munich a few years ago. Personally, I'll be hoping for a different repeat of history. The last game played in the old Wembley Stadium was also England vs. Germany and Germany won that 0 - 1.

Actually, I'm not that wrapped up in worrying about the result. Since it's a friendly, I'd rather just see a good game. Nice and clean with lots of skill on show. We'll see if I get my wish.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Separated by a common language

I had a couple of amusing examples of differences in the local English and my version on the weekend. I've talked about it before, but this wasn't so baby related.

We were watching a movie on the weekend, Robots. One of the female characters in the movie has rather large buttocks. In the American version, this character's name is Aunt Fanny. But as we were watching this in the UK, the name was Aunt Fan. Why the difference? Because in North American English, the word "fanny" is very mild slang for your posterior. Your sweet little grandmother would use the word. But in the UK, "fanny" is a very strong slang word for female genitals. Right up there with the "c-word", if you get my drift. So for a kid's movie, obviously they didn't want to leave in such a strong swear, but it was funny to notice it.

The other one I had recently wasn't necessarily a difference in the languages, it may have just been my lack of knowledge. None the less, I'll share it with you and my faithful readers can let me know.

I read an email from someone who was giving away some "Hardcore". This, it turns out, is what I would call "clean fill". Hardcore is broken bricks and stones that are used in laying foundations. I know this now, but at first, my mind jumped first to the conclusion that someone was giving away a rather personal collection of magazines or videos...

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

General Update

I've been a bit slow posting this past month because we are trying to buy a house. I would love to post about it, but it feels unlucky to post anything before we actually have the house. In Canada, when buyer and seller agree on the price, the buyer puts down a deposit and the deal is done. In England, until the day you are actually given the keys to the house, the thing could fall apart at any time. Ours doesn't look likely to fall apart, but who knows. Since buying a house has been occupying so much of my thoughts, it's been tough to think on other topics to post about. My apologies for appearing to be slacking.

So I challenged a bunch of other allotmenteers I know online to update their gardening blogs, saying I would do the same. My big change on my allotment is I finally got around to making a compost heap. I could have gone and got a bin, but I was too impatient to wait the possible month for it to be delivered, so I decided to try the simple heap method. To give the heap a bit of shape, I started with one of our moving boxes. It's fairly large, not the 1 cubic metre that's recommended, but hey, you have to start somewhere. As it's made of cardboard, it's nice and biodegradable too, so it'll eventually lose its shape and become part of the heap as well. Anything that's biodegradable will eventually break down, but if you want to make compost fast, you can optimise the process. I've done a fair amount of reading about composting and here are some of the general tips I've pulled out.

  • Keep an even mix of brown stuff (twigs, paper, manure) to green stuff (grass cuttings, vegetable peelings).
  • If your mixture is too dry, add more green stuff. If it's too wet, add more brown stuff. It should be just slightly damp. Which yes, does seem to mean that you have to touch it with your bare hand. Gross, I agree.
  • Compost has to get to a certain level of heat to be effective in breaking things down. The smallest size this works well at is the aforementioned one cubic metre. I think 3 cubic meters is even better, but I don't think I'm likely to acheive that on my plot. If it's smaller than 1m3, it will still work but it'll take much longer.
  • If the stuff you add to your compost pile is in small bits, it'll be easier to break down. I'm tempted to use my food processor on the veggie peelings and stuff I have, but not sure I can deal with the idea of the mangy bits that weren't good enough for dinner being in my chopper.
  • You can add manure, but don't add fresh manure; it should be aged like a cheap wine. 6 months or so. Manure from vegetarian animals is recommended, not that of omnivores or carnivores.
  • Once your pile is producing heat, turn it every 3-5 days to keep giving the bacteria that produce the heat (and break down the stuff) fresh food.
  • When it no longer looks like anything you put into it and is brown and crumbly, it's ready for use.

So I'm hoping that even though my pile is relatively small, it's starting to get the right bacteria in it to give off heat. I haven't been down there since Saturday morning, so tomorrow is a big day. Compost checking, adding kitchen waste to it, picking peas, pulling up blighted potato plants and weeding are on the cards. Assuming it's not bucketing down with rain. It hasn't rained in a couple of weeks, so a good drenching like today is okay. But I'm not keen on trying to take Lena down there in the rain and also to get some work done.

Speaking of it not raining, on Saturday morning, after a week of no rain, I was talking to one of my fellow allotmenteers (I love that word by the way, it's like a non-gun-toting musketeer). He said to me in his lovely accent, "I hope you don't mind m'dear, but I took the liberty of watering your plot for you a couple of times this week". It turns out he was doing that for my neighbour's plot while she was away and so he just turned the hose onto mine too. I had only been down in the evenings that week and he's always there in the mornings, so I had no idea. I did think that the plot was holding up remarkably well for no rain. I plan on bringing him some raspberry jam to thank him. He said he didn't need any thanks, but I'd like to thank him anyways. I thought it was awfully nice of him.

Lena is getting amazingly mobile for someone who cannot yet crawl. I'll upload a video of her in the next couple of days, so stay tuned for that.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

In the Know

One interesting thing about living in Germany was how easy it was to not know what was happening in the entertainment world. Not to be wrapped up in celebrity gossip, not to know the latest funny saying from a TV show, not to even know the TV show. It wasn't a perfect vacuum of course; I knew about OJ Simpson's trials and had heard of Paris Hilton even before she came to Oktoberfest to promote her prosecco in a can. But it wasn't constant, day-in, day-out coverage of the stars.

Since German TV often didn't have the most current television shows or weren't worth watching in German (comedies are a pain to watch in German due to the fast nature of the humour and the untranslatable puns), I didn't watch many shows. In fact, I often feel that a decade of pop culture is missing from my life. I left Canada after the 3 seasons of Seinfeld. I missed the entire run of Friends. I don't regret missing them or anything, but I do feel that in ways, I've lost touch with people my own age for not being able to know and reference things like this.

Now living in the UK, I'm back in the thick of things. I knew about Britany Spears shaving her head and Paris Hilton going to jail (and leaving, and then going back again) within hours of the events happening. I know what the cool shows are and can watch them if I so choose, very easily. I'm horrified to know anything about Big Brother, but I have learnt from the radio that there are twins in the house for this season.

This new source of information isn't very useful, but it does in a way make me feel connected to the world around me. It's good to have cultural references in common, so that you can feel part of the culture. Whether I like the culture is perhaps another question...