Architectural Bad Manners

By all accounts, Edward I was not a monarch to cross.

So when Llwelyn ap Gruffydd and his brother did just that in the late 13th Century, the result was a chain of stonking great fortifications around North Wales that would leave the locals, in case somehow they weren't sure, in no doubt what-so-ever just exactly who was in charge here.

Harlech sits lonely and windswept on its promontory, forsaken by the sea that used to crash against its mighty foundations. Its towers are no longer home to the thirty men charged with local security, only the gulls and crows that nestle amongst the broken stones in the teeth of the winds rolling in from the great arc of the bay below.

And then there is Conwy, crouched at the entrance of another bay, its sturdy walls encircling a tiny town, its lofty towers full of chattering students and exhausted tourists bemoaning "Not another one!". The almost delicate foot suspension bridge echoes the military might of its watchful master, as does that of the twin tunnel rail bridge next door, its faux facade a Victorian sop to the impressive surroundings.

Finally there is Beaumaris, unfinished and forgotten, brooding in its beautiful marsh, but somehow managing to show the beginnings of the structural ideal brought to fruition at Deal Castle, Henry VIII's anti-artillery marvel on the South East coast of England, some 250 years later.

Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, father of Portmeirion, talked of the architectural good manners he hoped to instill in his secluded valley. Although these three statements of stone intent are not the only castles rebuilt, remodeled or required by Edward in the area, they are a most profound declaration of his enduring architectural bad manners, softened only by time and the trample of weary feet.

Architectural Good Manners

Portmeirion is a magical place. Clinging desperately to the side of a steep Welsh valley, the sugary colours of the stucco stand in counterpoint to the dark, lustrous greens of the surrounding woodland. The sweeping vista of the bay carries your eye to the brooding hills  above Harlech and out beyond the lighthouse you can see infinity on a clear day.

Born of the imagination of Sir Clough Willaims-Ellis (and I say born because it has an organic feel to it that discounts words like built and designed), it shows that architecture can be approachable, entertaining and gentle on the eye despite a riot of colour. A true eccentric, Williams-Ellis became something of a masonry magpie, accepting donations of bits of building that no-one wanted anymore leaving Portmeirion, in his own words, as a bit of a "home for fallen buildings".

We had the good fortune, after an off the cuff remark by a good friend, to spend a few days there this last week. Of course, you can't visit the Village without some reference to the Prisoner, the show which made it nationally and internationally famous. I'd never actually seen the Prisoner before we booked to go, so I had dutifully sat and watched the entire series on video (yes, video) once we had. The authorities at Portmeirion do kindly show an episode of the Prisoner on their private guest channel at 6 every day, which made us smile in the way that these gentle, knowing touches always do.

There are places where you instantly feel that you belong and I certainly believe in genius loci, the spirit of place. Like certain other locations we have visited over the years, you can feel that this one has been, and still is, greatly loved. The chance to stay in one of the Village houses and have the run of the place after closing time was very special. To sit on top of the Colonnade and watch the sun go down over the Piazza in perfect stillness was only one highlight of an amazing few days; to see sights that normal visitors can't because they cannot pass the "residents only" signs was even more so. The entire Village became our playground and we small children again, climbing, exploring, discovering, laughing at each new find, each glorious new perspective.

So while Portmeirion is most definitely worth visiting, it is even more worth while discovering by becoming your own miniature version of the Prisoner. But as someone else once said, once you've seen the place, you really have to wonder why he ever wanted to leave.

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

Well, there we go, the last episode of "Ashes to Ashes". Nice ending (which I will not be spoiling).

Only probelm being, BBC, it would have been sooooooo much better if you hadn't announced the next series before you showed tonight's episode. So whilst it was still a nicely done piece of work, it lacks some of the "OMG" factor that it should have had.

Someone really needs to sit down and teach the BBC's publicity department something about um, well, publicity...

Mixed Emotions at the (almost) End of the Academic Year

Its not been an easy year, either at work or personally.

One issue at work is in the process of being resolved, there being no evidence of me ever having bullied a student. Well, I knew that and so did all the people I work closely with; if anyone was being bullied, it wasn't the student. I have wrestled professionally with one group of difficult students and been pushed to the limits of tolerance for lazy, ignorant and manipulative people across most classes.

And yet I have also taught two of the best groups I have ever had the pleasure to bring into a lab. They are effectively polar opposites: a group of 17/18 year olds fresh out of sixth-form and a group of mid- to late-20s who have (on the whole) a very poor prior experience of education (some were proper bad lads by their own admission when they were at school). Both groups have an enormous sense of humour, to such an extent that we frequently have visits from the lecturer in the room next door to find out what all the laughter is about. To be honest, those two groups are the only reason I went back to teaching this year. I am immensely proud of both groups, where (apart from one or two exceptions) they have worked hard and done all that has been asked of them.

At the end of the day, give me a determined, honest, hard-working student over a bright but lazy one any day. As I tell them all when they start, work with me and I'll go to the ends of the earth for you, mess me about and you're on your own. That's probably desperately old-fashioned, but do you know what? I don't care.

So whilst part of me can't wait to see that back of this academic year, there are some people I will miss very much indeed.

Indulgence


I have scenarios to write. I have laundry to do. These are important things that need my attention. They are things that require some thought .(Yes, laundry requires thought or you end up with pink knickers. Or worse).

But most of all, what I want to do is go for a long soak in a nice hot bath, with lots of bubbles. I don't have to think in the bath, I can just be...

Sometimes its nice not to have to think.

Body Parts Deserving of Admiration

Having watched Australia, Wolverine and Coraline over the last few days, I started to muse about Hugh Jackman and physical attributes. Yes, its a quiet evening (Ashes to Ashes isn't starting for another half an hour) and yes, Coraline doesn't exactly fit into that pattern but I thought I'd mention it for it was a damn fine movie and the 3D on it was glorious in its lack of gratuity.

But back to Hugh Jackman: Having caught bits of X2 on the telly on Saturday night, it was obvious how much more buff he was in Wolverine; a quick rewatch of the original X-Men movie confirmed it (and how young he looked; but heck, that was nine years ago and we all looked a lot younger then). Whatever it is that makes grown, intelligent women go all giggly and wobbly-kneed, that man has it in spades.

There's a lot to be said for a lovely set of shoulders, sturdy arms and a mighty fine looking back (ladies, watch the utterly gratuitous bucket of water scene in Australia if you need further proof). Patrick Swayze never did much for me, except for the bit in Dirty Dancing where he's got his shirt off and they're practising the dance and you can see his shoulder and back muscles rippling. Mr Jackman's rather engaging physique stirs similar sentiments (you know, the hot under the collar, ever so slightly flushed feeling), albeit with a much prettier face on top. Still, all that aside, in the grand tradition of my family, its the sparkly eyes and cheeky grin that nails it. It also helps if they have a nice pert bottom. He's doing well on all counts so far...

Of course, we're merely talking window shopping here. Nothing could persuade me to swap my lovely hubbie for Mr Jackman, even if he was available. For a start, I'd have to be constantly beating pretty much every other female on the planet off with a big stick. But the whole point is that a little bit of fantasy is quite a nice thing. Especially if its shaped like Hugh Jackman.

Phases

Several years ago (4 or five, I think) a tutor suggested I should join a local exhibiting embroidery group. I was a bit surprised, as I'd never really thought about it, but was thrilled (seeing as she was the person who created the group in the first place).

As it does, life got in the way; the thought was there, but the opportunity didn't seem to arise. I was invited twice to their yearly residential workshop; I struggled with the tasks in the first one but was made to feel very welcome and thought "Hey, yeah, maybe this is something I can contribute to". I am partly ashamed to admit that having been to a few of their exhibitions I thought some of my work a lot better than some of the members, but kicked myself mentally for being uncharitable.

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Plus, I've gone back to writing, something I still enjoy and have missed, seeing as its been a while. For now, I don't have the time or the passion required to be part of a group that has one large and several small (selling) exhibitions a year. Let someone who can devote the time have it; maybe another year I will care and there will be a place for me. If not, well, that's life.

Moving On, Slowly but Surely


I've been back at work for a fortnight now and things are slowly moving on. Many of my students were genuinely pleased to see me, which was a much needed boost and the students who knew what had happened made things so much easier, despite a few tears. I have two really wonderful groups this year, for which I am constantly grateful (I started with five and am now down to four in total).

My youngest remaining group are willing participants in film, TV and gaming nerdery; I sat there invigilating an exam for them wearing bright pink pixie wings this week (don't ask) and they've asked if they can have their last lesson in full costume. If anyone ever needs their faith in young people renewing, I'll let you borrow them for a bit, as long as you promise faithfully to let me have them back again.

Fallen is very nearly complete, at least in terms of a recognisable game with bells and whistles. Friends and students have been roped in to play-testing it (so we have the experienced hands and the complete newcomers making sure I haven't written utter tosh). I'm very interested to see what the gaming noobs (as they labeled themselves) are going to make of it. They were really excited to do some table-top gaming, as they've only ever done the computer variety before. Let's hope I don't scare them off...

And "Fields of Silver", my travel guide come murder mystery for the Dying Earth RPG game has been hanging around the top ten on RPG Now's pdf sales (as high as 6 at one point, apparently), so I was interviewed for a podcast on RPG Countdown last night. Now all it has to do is stay there until Tuesday Wednesday and I'm in the programme ;)

http://www.rpgnow.com/product_info.php?products_id=61301

There you go, shameless plug for it; its only $4.98, that's half price, you know. No-one can resist a bargain ;)

Marking Time

This is just a short post to let those of you who read this know where I've been hiding, and to say thank you to our good friends on here for their love and support.

This has possibly been the longest four weeks of my life. Some of you already know that I had a miscarriage earlier this month; the pregnancy had not long been confirmed when we found out that the twins had died and that we had to wait for nature to take its course. Its been difficult to talk about it, but those we did tell have all been very supportive and helped us both greatly. Thank you.

Pleasant Surprises

For a very long time, a good friend has recommended Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody books to me as a rollicking good read. At Christmas I decided to treat myself to the first one and also picked up a book about an Edwardian railway detective (Necropolis Railway, I think).

I read the railway one first; it was a bit slow, with a fairly unsympathetic lead character, Conan Doyle's trick of not telling you all the information you need to sort it out yourself and, worst of all, it didn't actually end. You have to buy the next one to find out what happens, yet nowhere did it mention this was on ongoing story. Sadly, it wasn't really interesting enough to warrant buying the next one.

Then I moved on to "Crocodile on the Sandbank"; well, what a difference! I read virtually all of it yesterday as we watched the snow falling, then we forayed out and I treated myself to the next two. Val was right, it was a good old pulp Victorian romp, with lots of dashing gallantness and derring-do, which after the fortnight I've had was exactly the sort of escapism I needed.

Its rare these days that I find a book I truly enjoy; I've either pretty much read it before (i.e. virtual carbon copies of stories tackled by different authors), the story is dull and fails to engage me or I get so annoyed at the characters being complete idiots that I couldn't care less what happens to them (I've tried Memoirs of a Geisha twice because of this, and still can't finish it).
 
It was also a tremendous luxury to just sit and read for the pleasure of reading, something many of us no longer have the time to do. Most of my reading is work related. I have to admit to feeling a little guilty for indulging myself in this way, but it was worth it.