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Angel’s Carol by John Rutter

It’s getting very Christmassy at work.  I put up the office decorations on Monday.  They are white paper snowflakes like this

except the picture doesn’t really illustrate how big they are.  People keep coming in and going “Aaaagh” because they are so surprised to see them.

We’ve also been listening to Christmas songs almost non-stop at work since 1st Dec.  It was really exciting putting them on on the first day, but the trouble is, taking the Christmas songs off again seems a retrograde step.  So we’ve taken to bringing in lots of different Christmas songs.

The only ones I could find were my John Rutter collection.  I do feel that John Rutter verges a bit on the cheesy/easy listening side of classical, but there’s something really clever about his soaring melodies that’s difficult to resist.  I used to enjoy singing and while I don’t usually miss it, there’s something about a really beautiful Christmas song that makes me want to join in and be part of it.

So I found these on YouTube and cheered myself up this evening singing along:

Even if you don’t sing, the Cambridge Singers’ renditions are utterly beautiful.

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Film review: in directed by Céline Sciamma

The Picturehouse chain, which is where I see these weird and wonderful films I keep reviewing, gives you a tear sheet when you go in.  It has stars from 1 to 5, and you have to make a little tear on the one you think matches your movie. I gave Wild Tales a 5 without hesitation.

The following day I went to the cinema again, to see Girlhood, a coming of age film about a girl called Marième, set in les banlieues, or suburbs, of Paris.

Not much happens.  There are fights.  There is sex.  There is domestic violence.  Dreams die.  I was indignant at the lack of narrative structure.  Where was the goal, the conflict, the disaster?  What motivation did these characters have, other than to effect minor temporary escapes from their otherwise hopeless lives?  And then it ended.

“I didn’t get it,” I said to my friend Kate.

Kate, who has watched many more films than I have, explained that the film was subverting existing genres.  She saw it from a point of view of sexuality: you wanted more to happen, but it didn’t, until the protagonist’s realisation right at the end of what she wanted her future to be. I saw it as being more about class, the eternal problem of how art, which has a tradition and structure essentially dominated by middle class values, depicts the lives of the less privileged.  Sometimes lives are hopeless and dreary; is it artificial to pretend that they are not?

Anyway, I understood it then, but that still only gave it an extra star for me, up one from 2 to 3.  The issue I have is that if I am watching a “drama” as opposed to an action or comedy type film, I want it to tell me something more complex than the basics.  So, for example, I know that some men are violent towards the women in their lives, I know that when people are stranded without an education, they can be abandoned in a system without hope, I know that people form gangs to try to belong.  The film didn’t really tell me much more about these issues.

I am glad I watched it though, and it is a bit weird giving films a star rating.  It might not be the best film I’ve ever watched, but it still shows important things as they are, beyond the stereotypes, which are not often aired.

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Film Review: Wild Tales written and directed by Damián Szifrón

I told my daughter I was going to the cinema and she asked me what I was going to see.

“It’s Argentinian,” I said.

“Why do you want to see an Argentinian film?” she asked.  “We already saw a Saudi Arabian film.”

Clearly watching a foreign film, while being a nice experience, is not something she feels the need to repeat, which is a shame, because Wild Tales was fantastic.  It had everything: it was funny, it was surprising, it was tense, it was scary, it was uplifting.

The film comprises of 6 short films, all exploring the theme of conflict and revenge.  Conceptually, it is very thought provoking.  We see a range of conflicts and motives: one on one, individual vs system, long burning, spur of the moment, and also internal conflicts, where characters were made to question their own motivations.  I even felt that I was being invited to question my own reactions by some provocative scenarios.

Technially, it was beautifully shot, involving everything from mountain scenery, to complex fight choreography in the smallest space you can imagine, to scenes where you wondered whether they were real or special effects.

There was only one film out of the six that I was disappointed with, because it didn’t end as cleverly as the others.  There were some great twists, where a different point of view was revealed, and everything up until that point was revealed as being a different thing from what I thought it was.

I’ll take many things from this film, among them an appreciation that even the dullest of tasks, such as changing a car tyre, can be made into the tensest of scenes in the right hands.  And there was an amazing love scene.  I’m not so much into hetero stuff these days, and often find portrayals of male-female relationships in books and films rather ho-hum, as if the creator hasn’t really bothered, but just thought that the mere being of a male and female character is enough reason to pair them up.  But this one smouldered!  Sparks, explosions, and animal instinct, it was all there.


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Review: The Humans by Matt Haig

humansThe Humans by Matt Haig is one of those books that gets bracketed in with The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time and The Rosie Project, all being told from the point of view of an outsider who doesn’t quite “get” society.  In The Curious Incident and The Rosie Project, outsider status is bestowed by Asperger’s.

The Humans, follows an alien who has journeyed to Earth from a far off, mathematically advanced world, who has been sent to Earth on a mission.  His first task is to killing and impersonate Cambridge Professor of Mathematics, Andrew Martin.  But by becoming “Andrew”, our alien (the book is told from the first person, so he has no name) becomes gradually more and more affected by his life on earth among humans, especially now that he he has acquired a sweet wife and a troubled but well intentioned son, causing him to question the emotional detachment he has been brought up with.

I had a similar reaction to this book as I did with the Rosie project – I found the alien/autistic viewpoint a little slow to get into, as it’s necessarily distancing, but I subsequently found the gradual acclimatisation of the protagonist to his new life both amusing and touching.

It’s not a deep or a serious read in either a mathematical or a literary sense, but is very enjoyable in both.  I was very taken by the mathematical jokes and had to read them out to the other two mathematicians in our data crunching office.  And I was going to offer it round, but one of our exam invigilators got there first – we all stick pictures of the cover and the blurb from the book we are reading on our doors, and this has a very appealing cover and blurb.

As well as enjoying the maths, I have to say that I also identify with the idea of being an alien, of not understanding what people desire from life.   Although it makes for a funny read, I also felt for “Andrew” as he went around saying and doing the wrong thing and unintentionally hurting people :-/

Thanks to Eva for the recommendation!

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Review: Made in India, Cooked in Britain by Meera Sodha

Much as I love exercise, one time when I really don’t fancy is the cold air rasping against my windpipe and into my lungs when I’m not feeling well.

I’ve been nursing one of those colds that hovers just below the surface, not quite coming out into the open.  Last week, the week just before half term, was phenomenally busy, with a Full Governors, meeting, two Meet the Parents evenings, and a County Governors get together.  So you can imagine how ill-disposed towards the world it made me feel that my sister had organised a “let’s go to Mum and Dad’s cook for all the family” on Saturday.

To be fair, it was a nice idea, as it was my parents’ fortieth wedding anniversary.  It is just neither of us have ever cooked for 12 people with varying dietary tastes before, so we had to work out what to do.

Luckily, I had heard about this book


on the radio a few months ago, Meera Sodha’s Made in India, Cooked in Britain.  It contains recipes for a whole variety of Gujarati dishes, which are all eminently cookable, healthy and tasty.  In particular, it covers starters, mains, desserts and drinks.

I have to say that I was too tired to learn how to make samosas for starters, but I figured that spring rolls were similar enough:


I’ve never made this many spring rolls before!  LD#2 helped by rolling them all up for me, otherwise I don’t think I could have done it.

One of the amazing things that the book has taught me is how to make rice!  Chinese people use a rice cooker, so it’s automatic… there’s also a bit of a Chinese attitude that plain white rice is the “carrier” for the food, and any sort of fancy rice is to make it a bit more palatable to Westerners.  Whereas I’ve realised that there are lots of different spices you can add to rice to make it more interesting, and the key to getting the softness/wetness right is a pot with a clear lid.



Everyone I’ve given Meera Sodha’s fennel seed shortbread says it’s the best they’ve ever tasted.  Also there’s a recipe for spiced chai which is very special to me now – it calls for one tea bag between two mugs.  And when you have a daughter like mine who often says No to what’s on offer, it’s really nice to say, “I’m making a chai… do you want one too?” and be able to give her something without making her worry that I am going out of my way for her.

The only thing that didn’t work out with the meal was my sister’s lamb curry, the recipe for which didn’t transfer well between her slow cooker and my parents’.  (Why she didn’t turn it up to “High” when it was clear that it wasn’t softening, I don’t know.)  Anyway, after she’d gone home on Sunday morning, we ended up with a lot of undercooked lamb leftovers for lunch.  “All it needs is more cooking,” I said.  So my dad said he would sort it out.  Now, my dad is a good cook, but he is not that experienced with a microwave.  Still, I assumed that he knew what he was doing when he put it in on low heat for 60 minutes and then went out to buy a paper.

About 45 minutes later, I smelled something strange, and went into the kitchen, where there were a lot of fumes and something on fire inside the microwave!!  I turned the power off and watched the flames dying down while we decided what to do.  We all found it quite funny, apart from my mum, who rushed around berating everyone.  In the end, when the flames were at a minimum, my dad threw the stew and cracked pyrex out into the garden.  The stew must have dried out and overheated, melting the plastic cover my dad had placed over the top of it.

I have to admit, it was a pretty good weekend, despite all my grumblings in the run up.

When I got home I downloaded St Vincent’s current album.  The tracks available on Soundcloud make it seem like it’s going to be a lot more hyperactive than it actually is.  It ranges from the beautiful:

all about the powerlessness of standing by and watching someone go into self destruct,

through to this kind of intensely searing commentary

on our emotional reliance on social and other media.

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Falling in love all over again…

This morning I woke up and I was so reluctant to get up that my body hurt.

One of the reasons for my increased busy-ness and lack of blogging recently is that I have really got into exercise.  I feel quite cheated and frustrated now if I don’t do yoga, gym, run or dance each day.  This summer I lost a lot of hair :-( It’s just a natural part of getting older, but it has got me thinking that I might not always be young, but I can be strong.

Or as Lana Del Rey puts it:

(Totally perfect song to accompany The Great Gatsby.  I always think that if she has to ask the question, then she knows that the answer’s “No”.)

My favourite exercise is the dance class that I do is every Friday, which is my friend Sophia’s 5RHYTHMs® class.  I always feel a bit self conscious when I walk in, thinking “Am I comfortable identifying as a free-dancing hippy?” but after about 5 minutes, I’m totally into it.  The music is fantastic, and leads you into the movements.  The only thing I find difficult is partner dancing, which is an interesting revelation.  We don’t have to dance together in any formal sense, just respond to the other person’s movement.  The problem is that I am painfully conscious of the question of “what would my partner like me to do?”  It mirrors the fact that I am always conscious of the way I have given way too easily to other people in the past; the only way I have of dealing with this is by turning away and saying No.  Or sometimes I give way anyway and feel bad afterwards, although this is much rarer now.  I haven’t got many ways of responding openly and easily other people’s needs.

It’s a work in progress.

The second reason for being away from my blog is that sometimes the LD#1 and I sit together, share a Malibu and coke (occasionally), and talk!  I love this.  We talk about ways she can cope with situations at school that she doesn’t like.  I’m a firm believer in dealing with these situations by working out what it’s feasible, and not feasible to ask for, and then going for it.  I really think that in most cases, people want to help, and people will respond if you ask for things in a reasonable way.  Our most recent thing is a request for teachers not to ask her to talk in class.  She finds talking so stressful.  Or as I put it in my email to the school:

“Talking should come from being engaged with a subject, not for the sake of making a noise, or to fit in with what someone else wants.”

I got back the most lovely supportive email from R’s English teacher, agreeing that it was best to work around Rhiannon’s reluctance to speak, and describing how she does it.  Apparently, she doesn’t even ask Rhiannon to answer during the register, recognising that it’s not necessary, and that Rhiannon will get there in her own time, when she is ready.

There’s a lot of talk about differentiation in schools these days, of tailoring each lesson to the different needs of your students.  But as Rhiannon put it, differentiation is not about giving people the same work and expecting them to do it differently.  I felt really moved that Rhiannon has teachers who take the time to treat her as a complete person.

The last reason for being busy is only very minor, timewise.  And no, it’s not falling in love in that way, (sometimes I wonder if I ever will again, if I can be bothered) but last Thursday we battled through 45 minutes of accident-stopped traffic to view a three bedroomed flat above a shop on Lewes High Street. Since I can’t sell my house for what the estate agent said I would easily achieve, it doesn’t make sense for us to go ahead with the house we originally wanted to buy, much as we loved its Farrow and Ball colours.  We all really loved that one, so the girls weren’t at all convinced by the idea of a different, cheaper place.  But it had real charm!  Unlike the other one, it has large windows and is full of light.  By the end of the visit, they had started choosing their bedrooms.  Me, I love the big rooms, and the idea that I’ll still have some money left over to do the bathroom and kitchen exactly the way I want them.

I am also changing estate agents, since the one I am currently with hasn’t sent anyway round to view my house for a few weeks.  I phoned them up to cancel my contract (yes, I’m locked into a horrific 20 week contract, which runs out in 3 weeks, and I have to give 28 days’ notice to quit) and the day afterwards they left a message on my phone saying, “Could you phone us back because we’d like to know whether we can still sell you a mortgage?”

The cheek of it!!!

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Review: In a time Lapse by Ludovico Einaudi


Once upon a time, I used to play the piano, before I realised that my life was better served doing things that I was a) good at and b) enjoyed.

One of the pieces I used to play was this:

I am not really into classical music, but I do like very spare piano music that is based on chords, and is powerful in its simplicity.

Like this Arvo Part:

There’s an arrangement for piano only, which I’ve also played.  Although to be honest, I never had the nerve to string it out to its full 10 mins 36 seconds, and mine would be over in about 2 minutes flat.

Anyway, at work, I have decided that we need a new office soundtrack having played both War of the Worlds and Dire Straits almost to death.  Unlike War of the Worlds and Dire Straits, it was unlikely that we’d be having an office hum along to whichever of the Part and Einaudi I chose.  However, Einaudi is much more dynamic and exciting, and I can’t be doing with anything too soporific while I work.

Next decision was whether I should get 2011’s The Islands, with Le Onde on it, or Einaudi’s most recent, In a Time Lapse.  Much as I love Le Onde, when I heard the track Run from Time Lapse, I knew it was the one.

Of course, it helps that Run has more than an echo of Pachelbel’s Canon about its chord structure.

The more I listen, the more I marvel that this album can go to each extreme of stillness and drama, and be so moving without being sentimental.