Friday, 29 May 2009

Music and Ice-Cream

We had a fantastic concert last night with the Longwell Green Orchestra - we were playing as the opening event in a music festival organised by one of our members. The venue was a glorious church, which had the best accoustics of any place I've played in. We had quite a 'serious' classical first half, with pieces like Borodin's Polovtsian Dances (with a lovely oboe solo in the intro and first piece played by yours truely), Bizet's L'Arlesienne, the overture to Peter Schmoll... These pieces all had Grand Pauses (i.e. where the whole orchestra shuts up for a few beats), and the echoes of the notes we had been playing soared up to the rafters. I discovered that it is very difficult to play the oboe and grin at the same time! The second half of the concert was much lighter (including medleys from Duke Ellington and Leroy Anderson; the theme from Jurassic Park), and ended with the Can-Can - such a fun piece to play, particularly when you don't announce what it is (it was our encore piece, so we didn't have it in the programme), and you can hear the audience catching on during the introductory ten bars or so... All in all, a wonderful evening, and I really hope that we get to go back and play in that venue again.

My other success has been in making icecream - I always thought that an ice-cream maker was fairly mandatory, but a couple of recipes have convinced me otherwise. I played around with a very basic banana one from the BBC Good Food website, and came up with this:

For every banana used (I used 3)
100ml whipping cream
100ml double cream
30g dark chocolate, broken into chips
30g sugar
Splash of lemon juice (about 5ml but I didn't measure)
Splash of Irish cream / Baileys (optional!) (about 10ml but I didn't measure)

Mash up the bananas, add lemon juice.
Pour on the creams
Mix well (I used my blender)
Add the chocolate, sugar and Irish cream
Mix again
Taste - add more lemon / Irish cream if needed.

Pour into a tub; 3 bananas three quarters filled a 2 litre icecream tub.

Put in freezer - every hour or so stir to break up the ice crystals.

It doesn't come out soft scoop (there was a lot of hacking!), but it is very nice :-) As the weather gets warmer, I suspect that I will be making more...

Friday, 22 May 2009


Well, May has been a very busy month - I turn round twice and it is nearly over!

More sport - I can now run over 4 miles without stopping (we've done it twice) - I have discovered that my legs have a magical ability to speed up if I'm going uphill - I think that they know that it is going to hurt, so if they go faster, it will be over sooner! We're off to the in-laws on Saturday, and I'm hoping to get a run along the beach-front in if the weather is nice (it should be a 4 1/2 mile run if I don't get lost!)

Work has been a bit tricky - I've had a PQQ to get in. For the uninitiated, a Pre-Qualification Questionnaire is the first (major) stage of applying for work to a local authority / government body. Normally they concern themselves with fairly basic questions (which is why I get them all to myself...) looking at company financial and legal standing and whether, at a high level, you can do the work required. Usually they are the work of about half a day to get complete. This one, however, has been a bit of a pig - there are a number of essay style questions, which normally wouldn't cause me trouble (I have framework answers which I then adapt to the tender). Unfortunately, these answers are length limited, which means that I've had to cut down my normal verbosity and actually stick to the point! I'm currently struggling to get an answer down from 416 words to the 400 needed for the answer (it was originally over 600 words, so I think I'm actually doing quite well!). The deadline is approaching fast, though - I've got Verdi's Requiem on rather loud which is helping me to concentrate.

We've headed out to the cinema once more since my last post, this time to see Coraline, the Neil Gaiman film, which was great fun. It was definitely a children's film (though for its creepiness deserved the PG rating), and as we went to see it on a Sunday afternoon, there were a lot of children around (including a babe in arms!). However the film was able to hold their attention - there was considerably less disturbance than I had anticipated (and felt incredibly gratified that so many of them commented on how scary it had been as they walked out - it's Neil Gaiman - it's *meant* to be scary!), and I was able to concentrate on the film. The animation work was beautiful - there were loads of hidden gems that mean that I know I want this on DVD so I can watch it with my finger over the pause button! The music was gorgeous, too - another sound track to add to my Amazon wish list! Definitely one to see, though it doesn't top Star Trek :-)

Right - back to the grindstone...

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Film review - no spoilers (hopefully!)

Ok, a non-sport related post this time...

Over the last couple of weeks, we've been to see two films; both of them prequels to a successful film series, filling in back stories on much loved characters.

Wolverine was a fun romp - purely a popcorn film, where you disengage the brain during the opening sequence, and re-engage it to find your way out of the cinema without treading on too many sticky sweets. The plot was used as a device to get the viewer from one explosion to the next, with the occasional good one-liner to make us smile. One that definitely needed to be seen on the big screen to get the full effects of the CGI (though I do wonder whether some of the final tweaks were a bit rushed following the leak - in particular the de-aging of Patrick Stewart made him look like he was wearing a plastic mask), but not one that I would watch again.

Star Trek on the other hand, was an amazing film. It fills in the back stories of the original crew of the Enterprise, with younger versions of Kirk, Spock, Uhura, Chekov, McCoy, Scotty and Sulu all making appearances. I will state here that I am not a Trekkie, though I did very much enjoy both the original Star Trek and Next Generation (I got thoroughly muddled with DS9 and Bab 5, which were playing at the same time, and gave up on them both originally, and never got into Voyager or Enterprise). By this, I mean that I would sit and watch and enjoy when I was able to watch TV, but I wouldn't dash home specifically to watch it, nor do I know all the names of all of the episodes ;-) (but, hey, I don't know the names of most of the Dr Who eps that I have watched far more recently...) However, a detailed knowledge of Star Trek or the universe that it inhabits was not needed to enjoy the film enormously - there were a number of nods to the series for devoted Trekkies, including a number of the cliches which everyone knows and expects from ST. However, if you had no sci-fi exposure at all, there was nothing in the film which would become incomprehensible should you not understand the in-jokes. The story was enthralling, and, even though you knew that the main players would have to be safe (in order for them to make the next film...), I still found myself holding my breath and willing the characters on. There was a lot of humour, and some excellent one-liners, as well as some real tear-jerker situations (not enough to make me wish I'd brought a hankie, but I did well up on a number of occasions...). If there is one film that you go to see this year, make sure that this is it!

The Onion has given its own, special take on the subject here.

Friday, 8 May 2009

More Sport...

It does seem that all that I blog about at the moment is sport... This does seem very surreal to me when I think about it; I never really enjoyed sport at school, indeed two of the three sports I'm participating in at the moment were triggers for me to "play sick" at my first secondary school. Yet, now that I'm older, and these sports are not compulsory, I am really enjoying the challenges that they set me. I no longer feel that I am being judged by my classmates or teachers (even for TKD, which does have a class/teacher/pupil setting).

Even within a team setting (both for hockey and the TKD demo team), there are no recriminations when mistakes are made, just a knowledge that as we are human, mistakes are inevitable, but that we do our best not to make them.

A good example of this was our first hockey match of the summer league on Tuesday night. We were playing an excellent team (it turned out that they were in division one of their winter league, whereas we are division four of ours), and the ball was constantly down near our goal. Our defence and mid field played superbly; everything hung together, and, even though the attackers did their best, they were constantly being frustrated by our defence. Despite that, we lost 3-0, with all the goals happening in the second half of the match. Mistakes happened, though I feel that there was very little we could have done to stop any of the goals (we were purely outplayed), and there were no recriminations at any point from anyone on the team. So different from playing at school, where even the slightest error, particularly on the part of the goalkeeper (which tends to have major consequences for the match!) would be dissected and pulled apart.

Our Tae Kwon Do demo team had our first demo down in Bournemouth on the Bank Holiday Monday; again, we were not perfect as a team - mistakes were made, but there was a recognition throughout that we were trying our best (after a little pep talk (lecture) before we went on, mainly for the benefit of the younger members of the team :-) ), and that we impressed the crowd.
And, I'm rather proud of this shot of me breaking my first ever board (I've broken a plastic 'joined' piece before, but "on the day" was the first time I'd ever actually tried to break wood) I don't honestly remember whether I had my eyes shut for the strike or whether I happened to blink at exactly the point that the photo was taken!

EDIT I just had to add this photo in, too - pinched off our TKD website...

And my final sporting joy for this week was going out for a run last night, mainly to get rid of some frustrations that had been building up through the working day. I have a nice on-road circuit to run round John's office which is just under a mile from start to finish. With one minor break of about 30 secs to give a colleague directions, I managed to do 3.13 miles in 34 minutes without stopping running - this is my 5K target for the Race for Life in June. Now all I have to do is improve the time and persuade my legs that they don't need to shake once I stop running!