Sunday, 27 January 2013

A diploma, a watch and a medal

It sounds like the start of one of those dreadful jokes. You know which ones I mean. A diploma, a watch and a medal walk into a bar…

Thankfully this is not where that is going. Do you recall, oh best beloved, when I write about the wonderful weekend and we saw the Hollywood Costume exhibit at the V&A? The two souvenirs I bought were the replica heart shaped watch given to the Tin Man and the medal of courage given to the Cowardly Lion. They did not sell a diploma or certificate for the Scarecrow--they has fake plastic straw to tie around your wrists and ankles instead.

I will be honest--there is no way on earth that these are really designed for children. They are plastic. They are cheap. In no more than two minutes (and 30 seconds for some more rowdy children) these would be crushed and destroyed. End of story.  Which is a shame because as a child I would have loved to play with them--I spent great portions of my youth writing Oz adventure scripts and making up dialogue and assigning roles to unwilling children (I often played the duel roles of Dorothy and the Wicked Witch ) and ready made props would have come in handy. I could never understand why no one else seemed to be as obsessed with Oz as I was. Perhaps this was because they often made snide remarks about my silver slippers and I hit them over the head with a script whilst explaining for the millionth time that the shoes were only RED in the film. You see, it was perfectly alright for ME to pick and choose which elements of the film and book I wanted to use, but not for anyone else. It is a wonder I had any friends at all.

But anyway. Whilst they may not be for playing with--they look really good and so I knocked up a diploma using a printer and some parchment paper and red ribbon I had and  using a discarded frame and some fabric made this:

Now the interesting thing is whilst I preferred the silver slippers to the ruby, I always preferred the items given by the Wizard to the Scarecrow, Tin Man (real name Nick Chopper) and Lion from the film They are very different in the book.

The scarecrow: 
FILM: a diploma that made him a doctor of thinkology
BOOK: his head was filled with bran (to give him a bran-new brain) and then was filled with pins and needles to prove that he is sharp.

The Tin Man:
FILM: a heart shaped watch on a chain that ticked like a heartbeat
BOOK: The wizard used tin snips to cut a small square shaped hole in his chest and inserted a small red silk heart stuffed with sawdust and the soldered the tin square back in place

The Cowardly Lion:
FILM: He was given a medal for bravery
BOOK: he was given some “liquid courage” from a square green bottle. After he drank it he felt brave. It is interesting that even back in 1900 the term liquid courage was used as a reference to alcohol.

I still love the film and the book in equal measures and therefore collect both film and book memorabilia. Spiderman will hang it on the wall up high so no one (and by no one I mean me, obviously) is tempted to fiddle with it and break it.

There’s no place like home.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013


Someone call the Doctor

On Saturday we woke up early and had a big breakfast at our hotel and then called a cab to come and take us to the other hotel where the convention was taking place. It was actually cheaper to stay elsewhere and take a cab than to stay at the event venue--plus the hotel where the convention was only had a “continental breakfast” which pretty much rules everything out for someone like me who can’t eat wheat. We could have probably walked it but with the snow (which was still coming down) and the freezing temperatures, the pavement (sidewalks) were like an ice rink and so it was easier to pay £6 for a taxi then to fall and break a bone.

We got there and when we registered we were quite early so we were assigned the numbers 32 and 33. I really wanted 33 because 3 is my favourite number but Spiderman had already stuck the number 33 wristband around his wrist with that glue that never comes undone and you have to cut the wristband off at the end of the day so I settled for the 32 which I consoled myself with the knowledge that it was 10 less than 42 (which is the meaning of Life, the Universe and Everything according to Douglas Adams.) Spiderman says I just over think these things too much. It’s just a bloody number. Humph.

This was a special sort of convention in that it was for charity and was organised by Peter Davison for dear friend and former travelling companion on the TARDIS Tegan played by Janet Fielding. Janet has had a rough bout with cancer (we suspect bowel cancer from all the bum jokes they were throwing around) and she’s still not out of the woods yet so Davison helped to organise a charity fundraiser to keep her spirits up and to raise cash for her pet project Project Motor House. This is in Ramsgate--the very first town we lived in when we first moved to the UK. Project Motor House aims to save a derelict building (the old Motor Museum) and turn it into venue where local youth can develop the confidence to start their own business. It will be renovated and then feature things like a cinema and theatre with the work being done by youth training to be apprentices and then staffed by them as well to teach them how to run a business. We lived there for eight months and saw our share of disaffected youth and know how important this is. If you want to know more or to donate check this out:

But then the fun started! We were asked to line up in number order and we queued to have our photos made with some of the Doctors! Squeal! We got into the photo room and there they were:

Organiser of the event--Doctor Number 5 Peter Davison
His son-in-law --Doctor Number 10 David Tennant
Living cartoon character--Doctor Number 7 Sylvester McCoy
Deep, melodious voice--Doctor Number 8 Paul McGann
We each stepped up and had our photo made. David Tennant said a cheery Scottish good morning to me which caused me to grin like the Cheshire Cat and then FLASH! It was Spiderman’s turn. As he walked up we saw Peter Davison gawk at his spider belt buckle which made me laugh and then when the FLASH went off for his photo I was so excited over at the side that I did a bit of a leap in the air which all the Doctors smiled at and pointed my way as if to say, “Isn’t it adorable how excited she is?” Or Spiderman’s version, “Who let that mad woman out of the attic?”

While we were waiting for the other 277 people to have their photo made  we went over and met actor Simon Fisher-Becker an actor from the latest Doctor Who series. He was larger than life in the theatrical sense and we had a nice chat about the fact that every time he has to play Dorium Moldova (known in this house as “big blue guy from space.” ) they make him shave his head. It takes six months for it to grow back. “That’s dedication to the craft, luvvy. One has to suffer for one’s art,” he purred. 

Then it was off to a Q&A with the four Doctors and they were joined by Tegan (Janet Fielding) who looked pretty good since as she said had been turned into “crispy fried Fielding” from the radiation treatments. It was great to just hear the Doctors reflecting on the impact the show has had on them as well as talking about their stage and radio work.

After that was an auction for things we desired greatly but had no money for. Clearly other people did--bids went up to £1000 for some things. There was an auction for a very 80’s looking skirt and blouse that Tegan wore quite a lot in the show.

We would have LOVED a signed copy of the script for Blink as it is one of our favourite episodes.  But went for over £1000 in the end I think. So here’s a picture of me hamming it up with one of the Weeping Angels from Blink. 
Don't blink. Blink and you're dead.
Then we sat down for our packed lunch. I had baked some gluten free seeded rolls before we left and so we brought some with us and at the hotel we spread on some peanut butter, chopped banana and a drizzle of golden syrup and voila! Lovely sammiches. We also had some pop chips (which are potato crisps that are low fat because they are popped not fried--they are all the rage here) plus a chocolate mint Nak’d bar made from nuts and dates as well as an apple. It was a cheap lunch but a reasonably healthy one. After lunch we took some more pictures of me messing about. Here’s one of me with a Cyberman circa Peter Davison
Delete! Delete!
Then it was on to the best bit--the autographs! They were really strict--one autograph per person. They had people who ticked off your programme after you had seen a Doctor so you couldn’t sneak back in and get some more. Spiderman has been collecting Doctor Who autographs in his copy of the book The Five Doctors for about 30 years. He saw several Doctors at a convention in New Orleans back in the day (sadly Doctor Number 2 Patrick Troughton died en route to the New Orleans convention) but now, with the exception of the current Doctor Matt Smith we have every living Doctor in the book. Sadly, the first three Doctors are dead. It has been going on for nearly 50 years after all!

Anyway, we picked up our photos and then did what British people do best--queue. Every Doctor was incredibly nice and friendly and made excellent small talk. I got my photo signed by all of them --Spiderman did as well but opted to have Tennant sign the book to complete the collection so he only got 3 Doctors on the photo since they really were watching like hawks to make sure you didn’t get 2 autographs. We also had a nice chat with self-described “mouth on legs” Janet Fielding and got her picture autographed (we were each given an 8x10 publicity photo of her in our information pack)  Here’s my photo with the Doctors. Could I look any happier?

It is interesting that my photo had a lot more “flair” to it--love and xx for kisses and Sylvester McCoy drew a silly arrow pointing to himself. I think this is because I am adorable and Spiderman is a weirdy-beardy bloke.

Afterwards we went to get the autograph of Doctor Number 6 Colin Baker who had been rehearsing for a play in Lincoln and had come after rehearsals despite the weather for a signing.
I should also like to note all the people who came fully dressed up in costume. There were loads of people dressed in cricket whites with a stalk of celery attached to their lapel (Peter Davison) and sport coat with sweater vest covered in ?????? and an umbrella (Sylvester McCoy) and a blue suit with brown pin stripes and a long floor length camel coat (David Tennant) and a few tweed jacket with bow tie and either fez or cowboy hat (Matt Smith)--there was even a Colin Baker in his mixed-up-bit-of-everything clown outfit. Oh! And there was even this big bloke who came dressed as Tegan in a replica of the famous top that was auctioned and a black leather mini skirt! It was a sight to see!

All too soon it was time to go back to the hotel. Our friendly taxi man who had dropped us off arrived just in time to pick us up and we were whizzed back to the hotel where we took a quick detour next door to Sainsburys where we bought some hummus and some marinated tofu. That coupled with some oatcakes we brought and the leftover fruit and chocolate bar were enough to get us through the night.

Sunday morning (still snowing) we got up, had another fab breakfast and then walked to the nearby train station on the icy pavement being too cheap to pay for another taxi. Then back to Paddington, back to King’s Cross and then back to Hitchin after the wonderful weekend. Which turned into the long wonderful weekend as we didn’t have school on Monday due to adverse weather. Hoorah!

Clothes maketh the man (and woman)

This is part one of the saga of the wonderful weekend. It was meant to be two separate trips on Friday night and Saturday morning but due to inclement weather (It was -7 degrees and we’ve had heavy snow) we decided to just stay over in a hotel in case trains weren’t running and boy am I glad we did because it snowed/sleeted non-stop all weekend and several trains (including the one we needed on Saturday) were called off or had severe delays. Staying overnight meant we missed most of the closures.

 First, on Friday afternoon we went to the V&A museum to see an exhibit about Hollywood costumes. Despite being one of those timed ticket things where you could only go in at a certain time to prevent overcrowding--it was mega crowded. But we didn’t care.

The first costume we saw was the green velvet dress made from curtains worn by Vivian Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind. 

Spiderman and I both thought you should have also had the costume worn by Carol Burnett in the parody where she leaves the curtain rod in


We also saw a costume worn by Charlie Chaplin in The Little Tramp.  Each of the costume displays had this interactive computer screen with information about the costume or a quote from the actor or designer. This was sometimes informative but mostly annoying. What happened to placards that you read? Anyway, the interesting fact here was that Chaplin wore shoes several sizes too big for him for this character.


We then saw the costumes from Brokeback Mountain (or “cowboys eating pudding” if you are Cartman) . I found these very interesting because whilst they both wore cowboy hats there were subtle differences between a Texas hat and a Wyoming hat. Who knew? Also the designer talked about the cowboys would have worn tighter wranglers  and  the ranchers levis because of the way that they fit. Again who knew? This was the first costumes to talk about one of my favourite jobs in the world of costume making--distressing. This is where you make something new look old. I can recall having to run a pair of overalls over with my car in a mud puddle to get the desired worn effect for a play I was costuming at Uni.


The next bit of distressing was described in the costume worn by Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones. To distress his hat they rubbed it with mineral oil and fullers earth and then stepped on it, sat on it and generally squashed it. Even Harrison Ford got to sit on it for a bit. His leather jacket was distressed by using acid of some sort and dirt and steel wool which the designer said ruined her hands.


We also saw the costume for Darth Vader which was massively tall (David Prowse who wore it was 6 foot 7 inches tall) but was made in pieces so it could take apart easily so he could be comfortable between shots.  Also the control panel on the front looked a bit crap. It really looked better on film--in person it was like something you knocked up in your bedroom for Halloween out of a cereal box that you painted black and some plastic lids from a milk carton.


There were several superhero costumes on display--Batman, Spiderman and Catwoman. Sadly, they were all placed really high up and could hardly be seen. Batman was on a ledge, Spidey was climbing up a wall and Catwoman was up on top of  a canopy near the ceiling.  I really wanted to see Catwoman as  I wanted to see how the stitching that was decorative was different from the stitching that held it together.  But you couldn’t see it at all. Crumbs.


There were several other interesting costumes--too many to name. But the real reason we went was to see this:

The dress worn by Judy Garland as Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. It was the last costume on show and by now the crowds had died down and so I was able to have a good long look at it without feeling like I was holding everyone up.  It was gorgeous to see up close--the detailed rick-rack around the neck and sleeves. There are actually 2 styles of the dress worn in the film. When she leaves Munchkin land the dress is plainer and more boxy. When they get cleaned up in the Emerald City it is the same dress, but the cut is slightly fuller, the sleeves ever so puffier. Subtle but enough to somehow make her look more beautiful in it. It was impossible to tell on the mannequin which dress this was--but I suspect the first one as the skirt seemed to be cut more straight rather than more A-line. There were also ruby slippers, but clearly just replicas as they were just sequined not done with swarovski crystals like the real shoes were. Plus they were huge so they may have belonged to Bobbie Koshay (Dorothy’s stand in who had bigger feet) Still it was wonderful to see it up close.


Every trip need souvenirs, right? There were several Ruby Slipper items available--earrings and broach for £25--but none seemed right. Especially as those of us in the know about Oz know that the slippers were actually SILVER and only made RUBY for Technicolor. But then back in the children’s souvenir section we found something. There were (rather cheaply made but good looking) plastic replicas of the medal of courage given to the Lion and the heart pocket watch given to the Tin Man and so we bought these. I can easily make a diploma for the Scarecrow and make some sort of display. They also had a Dorothy costume which excited me greatly but the label said for ages 5-7 so I was really disappointed.


They also seemed to have lots of imported American sweets. There was Laffy Taffy (God--I used to love that--but looking at the ingredient list was like reading the back of a tin of pesticide) and Tootsie Rolls but there was our old favourite--Junior Mints. Spiderman and I used to love to eat these when we pulled an “all nighter” at Uni and then follow it on with Dr Pepper as it made your burps taste hot and cold at the same time. Spiderman denies all knowledge of this but he is the one who taught me so I know it’s true.


I was sure Junior Mints weren’t vegan. I think at one time they had gelatine and or shellac as a glaze. But we scoured the ingredients and discussed them and could see nothing suspect (well, nothing not vegan--it was fairly suspect on the health front) but we spent £2 on a small box for old time’s sake(“Excuse me, I bought a box of Junior Mints and now I have no money”) Sadly there was no Dr Pepper, but I had forgotten the strength of the peppermint and the deepness of the chocolate. Bliss. But at £2 and all sorts of hydrogenated this and corn syrup that, I doubt we will ever eat them again. But it was a treat.


Then we tubed to Paddington Station and took the train out to Slough for the next leg of the wonderful weekend. We were going to a Doctor Who Convention!!!!!!!  We booked a hotel near the event that was right next to a Sainsburys so we could buy food to save money instead of having to pay for a restaurant. Plus our hotel had a rocking breakfast--cereal (soya milk on request), fresh fruit, hash browns, cowboy beans and grilled mushrooms. Enough to fill us up so we didn’t have to just pack a suitcase full of food to get through Saturday. 


Stay tuned for part two of the wonderful weekend--Doctor Who Day!




Monday, 21 January 2013

He left it dead and with its head he went galumphing back

I was asked to recite the poem Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll.  to year six as part of their unit on the Victorians. I was thrilled because I loved this poem as a child--especially the way the words were completely made up as if you could make up a whole new language yourself. There was a time where I was obsessed with portmanteau words (words made up of more than one word. An example from the poem would be chortled--a mixture of chuckled and snort and a more modern example from the fabulous book Room by Emma Donaghue--scave--scared is what you feel but brave is what you’re going to be.)

Do you know this poem? If not then here’s your chance.


'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

'Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!'

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought --
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood a while in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One two! One two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

'And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
Oh frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!'
He chortled in his joy.

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

Lewis Carroll

 Anyway, I was all set to just recite it dramatically when I thought would add a sword to it for the bit about the vorpal blade went snicker snack. But then I went to sleep and the IDEA FAIRY came to me and gave me a wonderful idea. What if I could make a decapitated head of the Jabberwock to pull up on the line He left it dead and with its head he went galumphing back. Was it possible?

I started to look at various illustrated versions of the poem and then quickly made some sketches. I did a quick mock up to be sure if my idea about the head shape would work and it did. The next day I went to the market and spoke to the Fabric Man and said “I need to make a dragon-like creature. What have you got that’s cheap?” He rummaged around and found me this fabulous silver and black offcut for £1. It was a scrappy remnant but just the right size plus it looked like dragon scales.

Then I went to the Haberdashery Stall to buy some red ribbon for a tongue. I also had an idea of using buttons for eyes --the line is the Jabberwock with eyes of flame and so I was thinking yellow, orange and red buttons stacked on each other would give a nice 3D effect as well as looking fiery. Rose helped me pick out the perfect buttons and then I was set to go.

 I went home and using what I’d bought plus bits and bobs from my scrap bin managed to put together this magnificent creature.

Isn’t gorgeous?

I love him so much I just might have to kiss him on his scaly, dragon-y mouth.

I decided as he had been decapitated he needed some bloody sinews to hang down so I tore some red cloth and sewed it on. It looks gory but not scary which is what I like.

I know some people have queried why a person would spend several hours making something for a one second appearance in a one minute poem, but that’s not the point. It was FUN. It gave me a chance to use my IMAGINATION and the kids (especially the boys) will dig it. Plus, I am ready for when someone asks me to do it again next year.

I got so excited about the idea that I thought of making the head of Medusa for year three’s Ancient Greek topic but Spiderman pointed out I did not want to become a “one trick pony” and become known as the lady who pulls decapitated heads out of bags whilst telling a story. He has a point. I was still slightly annoyed by his comment so I thought about making a decapitated horse head to leave on his side of the bed like a message from the Mafia. But that really would be pushing it. 

So I’ll just stick with my Jabberwock, thank you very much.  I’m really looking forward to telling this one. It will be a frabjous day.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Life on Mars

Billionaire entrepreneur wants vegetarian-only colony on Mars
Highlights from this article include:
Elon Musk, the billionaire co-founder of PayPal and the one in charge of creating SpaceX, wants a colony on Mars for 80,000 people. Only one problem, they must all be vegetarians.
Presumably it would be easier to set up a colony of vegetarians on Mars, as then it would only be necessary to grow vegetables in some form; whatever the case, this is what Musk is insisting and planning on.

He is now setting his sights on a city on Mars, with 80,000 vegetarian inhabitants. While this might sound far-fetched, scientists are predicting that human settlements could happen on Mars and elsewhere in space in the very near future.

Musk just wishes to take the plans a little further by building the city on Mars, using sustainable technology. He plans to send people into space on a "huge reusable rocket powered by liquid oxygen and methane." However, when he says sustainable, he also means the inhabitants' diets, and that means vegetarianism or more accurately veganism, meaning no animal products at all.

Musk plans that people could travel to the settlement on the red planet at a cost of $500,000.

“The ticket price needs to be low enough that most people in advanced countries, in their mid-forties or something like that, could put together enough money to make the trip,” Musk said.

Musk further said that the first adventurers heading to Mars would have the necessary machines to produce oxygen, methane and fertilizer from the atmosphere of the red planet and would have access to subsurface water ice, as well as construction materials for large transparent domes in which to grow Earth crops for food.

No way am I doing that. I’ve seen the Doctor Who episode The Waters of Mars. I know what happens when you have access to subsurface water ice. One minute you’re growing carrots in a bio-dome and the next you look like this:

Your face has gone all cracked and water pours endlessly from your mouth and you become EVIL and try to take over the world.

While I think veganism the best diet for a healthy happy planet, no way is that planet going to be Mars.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Give it away, give it away, give it away now

Last year I set myself a challenge to get rid if 365 unwanted items from our household. To be honest, we are much better at hoarding (or rather--not hoarding) than we used to be. One reason is we are more careful about what we buy--some things are only worth pointing them out to the other person in a shop rather than bringing home. We have a clearer set of criteria to help us make purchases. This means things like the voice changer that makes you sound like a Dalek  can be played with at Forbidden Planet but does NOT need to actually come home with us.

Also space is limited as we have changed our lifestyle to have a smaller carbon footprint. Two people simply do NOT need a massive 3 bedroom house--a small 2 bedroom flat is plenty for us. So we often make choices on what to buy based on what will fit in the space we have.

But I was sure we could do better. And we did. As of Christmas day we have successfully given away or thrown away more than 365 items. I was particular about the rules for myself about the throwing away part. It could only go on the list if it was something I had been hoarding and not using, something long out of date that was taking up space, something so old and worn out (like shoes with holes) that you couldn’t give it away. I’m telling you this so you don’t think we got to 365 items by going through the bins and writing down all our rubbish. Plus things like shoes count as one item as they are a pair (lest you think we were trying to cheat to boost our numbers.)

So what did we give away? Here’s just a few from the list:

29 kitchen items ranging from a panini press to a spiralizer that cut raw vegetables into the shape of pasta.  

11 CDs culled from the collection. Some we had because of one particular song and so we saved the song to the computer and got rid of the disc. Genius.

21 pieces of jewellery I had several necklaces and earrings and bracelets that I hadn’t worn in several years. I kept anything that I could use as part of a costume, but everything else--gone.

8 pieces of exercise equipment Over the years I have amassed a collection of exercise gear. As I work out more I decide what I like and don’t like. I notices some stuff lay gathering dust whilst other stuff got used every time. So I gave stuff away. Plus I invested in some heavier weights and therefore didn’t need my set of lighter weights  so I gave them away to a friend.

23 DVDs many of these were fitness DVDs. Again, like equipment I found myself using some more than others so I got rid of the ones that seemed too easy for me now to the lollipop lady who helps kids cross the road at my school who was new to fitness.

41 articles of clothing we tend to wear clothes until they are falling apart at the seams. Those were thrown away and then I was able to cull some clothes that I hardly wear. I don’t need 6 black t-shirts when I wear the same 2 over and over, right? Plus my mum has promised me a t-shirt with a spider on it. I am sure it will arrive eventually and then I can get rid of another one.

42 expired or sample items I think I am pretty good at getting rid of stuff like this but the number 42 proves me wrong. I cleaned out our medicine chest and my cosmetic making cupboard and found several items that had expired as far back as 2007. Sad. Plus I had all these sample shampoos hoarded for use on holidays when we stayed in a hotel. They were all funky flavours with more chemicals that I prefer to use and so they went. I don’t even know how long they had been in that box. Too long.

92 books We got rid of some books because our church was having a bring and buy book sale to raise money for our peace worker we sponsor in Burundi. But then we got to really looking and decided we could get rid of some of our monographs of children’s authors. We ended up donating  them to the children’s literature archive and museum Seven Stories in Newcastle. They paid for shipping and now we are lighter and their collection is richer.

That’s just a taster of stuff we got rid of this year. Could we do it again? Maybe. I think, with the way we live, it is highly unlikely that we could reach 365 items again. Will it help me to be even more careful what we bring into the house? Definitely. Will it help me to think do we need it, do we love it, where can it go before we buy something? Yes, even more. Will I be able to throw stuff away and not discover it languishing somewhere in a cupboard 4 year later? Hopefully. 

Spiderman and I were talking this morning about how it feels to be happy with who you are and what you have instead of always feeling cross about what you don’t have. We are truly blessed. Nine years ago today we left the United States to try our luck living far, far away. It was a huge leap of faith, but here we are--starting our 10th year in England--as happy as Larry. I have way less stuff, but I have more of a life.

Here’s to living with less and a wonderful 2013.