Sunday, 15 October 2017

Artistic ingenuity - WIN some!

My freebies are usually posted to Instagram first, when I'm in the moment. I then follow up with a full post of observations, reviews or anything else I fancy writing after I have had time to reflect.

During these past 2 weeks I've posted 6 free things but the highlights are around art and performance. Read through and at the end you'll find a chance to win a DVD copy of 'Fences', the Oscar nominated film starring Denzel Washington. In fact, let's start with that film...

Fences DVD. A competition win from Fabulous magazine.

Troy Maxson (our Denzel) is a former Negro-league baseball player who know works on the bins (I think it would be called a refuse collector) in 1950s Pittsburgh. His friend Bono (Stephen Henderson) has been alongside him for many years and they work hard to provide for their families. It is this sense of provision that is core to the story.

Troy sees providing for his family as his duty, and the duty of every man. We (or certainly I) see that Troy has other values that he may not even know he has himself. He does want to provide, but he also wants others to provide for themselves. He demands recognition for what he provides (maybe harking back to the adulation of being a revered sportsman) but fails to recognise the journey others wish to take. He loves and respects his wife, Rose Lee, but shows an incredible lack of empathy at a crucial point and his attempts to keep people near gradually seem to drive them away.

The film is adapted from August Wilson's 1985 play and the title reflects these values. Building a new fence is a sideline activity in the film that symbolises the fences Troy (and all of us) build in our lives. Some keep people out, some keep people in. Some come down, some need strengthening. The screenplay (by Wilson, just before his death) is astonishing and skilfully directed by our Denzel himself. With just seven characters and fewer locations it is the conversation that held me spellbound for two hours. A film can be judged on special effects, action, thrills and many other things. This relies on script and performances.

Oh my, what performances. Viola Davis won a 'Best supporting actress' Oscar as Rose Lee Maxson, the wife of Troy Maxson. Jovan Adepo excels as Troy and Rose Lee's son Cory and Mykelti Williamson is convincing as Troy's brother who suffers mental difficulties from a war injury. But for me Denzel Washington gave the best performance I have seen in a film for many years. Absolutely spellbinding in his portrayal of fun and humour, anger, arrogance and fight. Washington so easily shows that there aren't just many types of man, there are many sides to each individual.

One of you lucky readers is going to find this out for yourselves - there's chance to win this copy at the end of this post. I've redeemed the download code so this might not work twice, but you get the DVD so that'll do you.

Perkulatte Colombian Inza coffee. 


My thanks to Perkulatte for sending a free sample of their artisan coffee. They source unusual, quality coffees from around the world and then send them to your door in post-friendly parcels. Coffee orders can be for whole bean or ground and there are a range of subscriptions but all seem to work out at less than 40p per cup. The sample I received suggested it had ' juicy cherry notes with a candy sweetness' and that was bob on. A really unusual coffee and very enjoyable.

Gardenscapes


Looking for freebies isn't difficult really. There are tens of thousands of free games for mobile phones and I'm sure much better bloggers than me dedicate their blog to them. I can no longer call myself a gamer as the two boys in my house have full control over the Xbox and I only snatch the odd game of Fifa or COD. The heavily used iPhone can only really cope with one installed game at a time otherwise the memory and battery disappears too quickly.

This game has stayed as that sole game for well over a year now. Quite why a simple match-3 game has gripped me I'm not sure but I think it's the  progression and development of the garden that is the key other than the usual working your way through the levels that you get with games like Candy Crush. Completing a level wins a star and you swap stars for things for your garden. Austin the Butler is your trusty sidekick who guides you through the main storyline and odd sub-story. There are other little side projects every week and I'm fully lost in it. The pictures here show you how a small piece of my garden has developed in a week, and this is about 10% of my garden. I'm on level 1383 and there are at least 2000 levels I reckon with more added each week. Looks like me and Austin are going to be friends for a long time.

Gardenscapes is free to download and play. There are in-app purchases available to get you through quicker but just be patient, you don't need them.

A walk up Mill Hill to see a Second World War aircraft wreck. 


Every blog post sees me talking about the best freebie of them all - walking in our beautiful country. Accessible to most of us, free and beneficial to body and mind, walking for pleasure is my favouritest thing in the world. I do like eating and drinking though - that's why I'm portly.


 The High Peak area of Derbyshire is littered with aircraft wrecks. The remoteness of the sites means that little other the bodies and valuables were removed and in some cases a lot of wreckage remains. This Liberator crashed on the 11th October 1944 flying from the USAAF base at Burtonwood to USAAF Hardwick in Suffolk. The crew of just 2 were delivering the plane to its new home on this autumn morning through the usual clouds that gather over this part of the Peak District. Through a gap in the clouds the pilot noticed just how close they were to the ground and tried to power up higher but it was too late and the plane crashed into the hillside. Luckily, the crew survived with a broken jaw being the worst and managed to get themselves out of the wreckage and limp a couple of miles down to the nearest road. The call from the Grouse pub to their base must have been an awkward one.
This is an easy wreck to find. Over the stile opposite the junction with Monks Road and keep going for about 2 miles towards the summit of Mill Hill and it's next to the path. An engine and a couple of bits of wing are here. Leaving the path (only do it on a foggy day if you have your compass with you) and exploring a bit soon brings you to more fuselage, two more engines and a bit of wheel strut. The plane remains were burned or buried but the shifting peat has uncovered this. This is a bleak location with lovely views on a clear day but unforgiving on damper days. I love it, it's the wilderness on my doorstep. After viewing the wreck it's the 2 miles back down to the road or carry on for a more ambitious walk to Mill Hill summit and over towards Kinder, cutting back through William Clough and Middle Moor.

Mattessons black pudding.

Freebies come in many ways - a competition win, a sample, a free item in return for a review or simply finding something.
I'm not going to say where this freebie came from as someone will get into trouble. A high street supermarket is all I'm prepared to say. I always take a peek at the sections that sell things off cheap at the end of the day and on this particular day these black pudding rings were reduced to 19p and still in date - that's important to know. Now, I love a bit of congealed pigs' blood and happily eat it straight off the shelf, fried for breakfast or on a sandwich with mustard. It's a healthy food, delicious and good for keeping my iron levels up which is important to a platelet donor. I grabbed 2 of them, each in a bag with a printed barcode sticker on and headed to the till.
Well, the sticker wasn't having any of it. Beeping on the scanner, zapping it with the handheld scanner and then me reading the code out to have it typed in manually was all to no avail so the checkout assistant put them in my bag and said "oh, just have them." Sorted - £3.78 of black pudding for nowt. Blog alert.

Later that night I cracked one open and had a nibble with mustard and it wasn't too good. Dry and crumbly, I was disappointed but not surprised. Mass produced cheap food is never as good as the properly produced stuff. The next morning I fried a few slices for a breakfast sandwich and this was even worse. Not even brown sauce could save it and I am surprising myself, dear reader, to tell you that I didn't finish it and threw the other away. Powdery, tasteless and clagging up my mouth it's not an experience I'll repeat and will stick to Bury black puddings from supermarkets from now on.

Ballet at the Palace Theatre, Manchester - "The Song of the Earth" and "La Sylphide".


Going to see a ballet has been on my bucket list for a while and thanks to Showfilmfirst I managed to to tick it off as a freebie. I do like classical music (it's not all rock in my head) and have been to lots of classical concerts and a few operas so I was sure that it would be pleasant experience and I wasn't disappointed.

The Palace has been refurbished, I think, since I last visited some 10 years ago. Tidy, smart and filled with the most pleasant staff you can imagine, it's a fine theatre venue. It originally opened in 1897 but has probably changed over the years thanks to refurbs and the Luftwaffe who scored a direct hit. It still retains a traditional feel and charm and is a comfortable place to have a pre-show drink in, which is what I did so that I could peruse the programme and make sure I knew the plot of what I was going to see.
Song of the Earth is a spartan piece set to Mahler's music. No stage set or extravagant costumes, the choreography by Kenneth MacMillan interprets the music rather than gives a literal performance. As a first taste of ballet it was interesting if slightly strange. Musically, the orchestra seemed on song and the contralto and tenor performances of Rhonda Browne and Samuel Sakker were my personal highlight.
During the first interval the stage was set for La Sylphide set to music by Lovenskiold and with choreography by August Bournonville. This was more my sort of thing with a lore literal presentation of the plot and a storyline that I found it easier to follow. It's one of the oldest surviving ballets which made it a bit more special for me. Set in Scotland the costumes were traditional with kilts a-flying, witches a-plotting and booze a-flowing. My kind of party and I would have enjoyed the pre-nuptial celebrations of the story as James prepares for his marriage to Effy before being seduced by the Sylphide and the subsequent troubles this causes, aided by Madge the witch and Gurn (who fancies Effy himself).
This was pure pleasure and made all the better by having a great stage set. Stage sets fascinate me, they are my favourite part of any theatre visit - to see how the entrances and exits are managed and the Scottish farmhouse of Act 1 was one of the best. Follow the link for the dancers as this bit is important but I don't know enough to comment on how good each was. I do know that I had a top evening. That's why I started doing this blog - to get new experiences even though I don't have spare money. One day I will have disposable income and then I can pick and choose.
More ballets! More walks! More Denzel Washington! More artisan coffee! More discerning choices of black pudding! And I'll still be working through the levels of Gardenscapes....


'Fences' DVD giveaway

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Slasher to safety via Bush - my week of freebies


A walk around Lyme Park (with free parking tips). 

You know the place - it's where Mr Darcy swam in the lake. Lyme Park is about 25 minutes drive from me and a place I love spending time wandering around. I've been in the house and gardens a couple of times but not for ages now, yet the surrounding park is full of adventure from remote, mysterious buildings to wild moorland and woodlands. There are deer too, lots of them. The herd at Lyme Park descends from the original medieval herd and are fairly easy to spot if you know where.
You know the place, it's where
A good, short, walking route is freely available at site the National Trust's - as are plenty of other walks where you can see the annual rut each autumn. This is the one I followed and took me just under an hour, including the walk from my chosen parking spot where I picked up the walk at point 8 rather than the main car park.
National Trust won't appreciate this but I find £8 just to parking unaffordable. If the whole family are going for a day then fair enough and I'm happy to pay for that but I like the odd walk and I ain't paying that each time. Yes, I know that I can take out membership but that is also expensive and to be honest, Lyme Park is the only place I go to regularly. Here's my legitimate freebie tip for other walkers - on Mudhurst Lane there's a large layby right next to an old track that leads to the East Lodge. The track is no longer used for access as the old bridge halfway along is dangerous and it's a lovely quite walk that can form part of a longer perimeter walk. Walking though the East gate you enter the park alongside the deer sanctuary and the herd are usually easy to spot here. Fine views past the cage to Manchester and the Cheshire plain too - it's odd seeing planes flying lower than you as they approach Manchester Airport.

The walk takes you in a circular route past the old cottage gardens and up the edge of moorland into Lantern Wood with it's eponymous tower. Romantic but not much to see in the tower really, it's primary use is to be seen from the house and not the other way round. The walk brings you back down to the sanctuary. It's not a big walk out of your way to the Cage or the house, and there's a marvellous adventure playground for the kids too.

Prevenge on DVD

My blog overview states that I'll tell you how I got each freebie. This is so that you can decide
whether I'm biased in my reviews if I've been given stuff for free. There are 2 things you need to know about this review of Prevenge. The first is that I don't know where it came from, it just turned up in the post with no covering letter. It's most likely a comp win but I remember entering a few comps for this so I'm not sure which one I won.
The second potential point of bias is that I have a ridiculous crush on Alice Lowe that has lasted some 13 years since I first saw Garth Marenghi's Darkplace. This talented person wrote, directed and plays the lead in this film described as a 'comedy slasher' film.

This isn't a dark comedy, it's darker than that. 

Ruth is in the latter stages of pregnancy and her unborn baby is talking to her. "Ah, sweet," I hear you say. No. This baby is urging Ruth to avenge the death of baby's dad who was killed in a rock climbing accident by tracking down the others involved and, well, you can guess why this is in the slasher genre.

The greatest part of this film are the characters. Most are quite horrible with the exception of Ruth's midwife (played by Jo Hartley) who is just irritating and Mike Wozniak's Josh who is lovely.  In the first scene we are introduced to Dan Skinner playing a pet shop owner who is creepy, slimy and by the end of the scene, late. You think he's a horrible character? Wait until you meet DJ Dan (Tom Davis) who is the most marvellously grotesque creation I've seen for a long time. His scenes are wonderful, viewed through fingers, and you can feel good about sheering his demise.

Lowe herself is as you would expect - straight faced, casually delivering lines of comedic beauty and leaving the viewer unable to work out whether this is scripted or improvised. What isn't improvised is the pregnancy, Lowe herself being pregnant at the time of filming. I'd be a bit scared of Lowe if I met her, I think, if she creates stuff like this with a baby inside her. What if we end up reading some horrific story in the papers and we all realise she was trying to tell us something?

There are negatives to the film. I found the plot confusing at times. I'm trying to avoid spoilers but there were several unanswered questions at the end and even some of the things I thought were clear and talked about to my wife ended with her saying "really, I thought that she did that because...." and we were way apart. My wife thought long and hard about the film and the next day told me that she didn't think she enjoyed it. For her, the comedy wasn't enough to outweigh the horror in the way it would in, say, the Cornetto Trilogy. For me, I enjoyed it more than that but not as much as the aforementioned Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright films.

Bush at the Ritz O2, Manchester.


A fellow blogger was given 2 tickets for this show and shared the wealth. My first visit to the Ritz since seeing the Chameleons about 20 years ago although I was a regular at the student nights there in the mid-nineties. It didn't seem to have changed much - tiny lobby with box office then straight into the ballroom with a bar either side. The balcony was off limits for this gig which probably reflected the size of the crowd. Nice and compact it is - the bars are next to the floor so you miss nothing, there are no seats - we're all in it together. £5.40 for a pint of San Miguel kept the pre-show drinks to a minimum, mind. I like this venue - easy in, easy out and straight into the city.

It was my first experience of Bush. Straight face. None of my friends are really into Bush and I was surprised how little I knew of the band. I reminded myself of their back catalogue on YouTube before the gig but only 'Swallowed' was familiar - their only UK top ten hit. Yet, this London band are HUGE over the pond and the reason is probably why few people over here have taken to them. Their style is very American and a pretty straight up Nirvana clone years after grunge first appeared. They also launched themselves in the mid-nineties at the height of Britpop so most Brit guitar music fans seemed to have let them pass by.

This is also reflected in the crowd. The stadium selling band over there didn't sell out the Ritz over here and of those present I suspect many were on freebies too. The atmosphere was polite, intent and supportive but for a loud rock gig's opening salvo of chords not to be met with a bouncing mosh pit was telling.

And yet by the end this crowd was pretty much won over. At one point the still buff Gavin Rossdale went walkabout in the crowd and while the going was relatively easy the camaraderie was genuine. Corey Britz kept the arms aloft and engaged with the crowd while Chris Traynor and robin Goodrige maintained the pace on lead and drums.

Rossdale (did I mention his incredible figure - the man's 51!) bounced around with guitar, without guitar and stuck pretty much to working his way through 15 songs over 90 minutes. With each song more arms took to the air and there was a decent singalong to Swallowed and, during the encore, a cover of REM's 'The one I love'. My personal highlights was 'This is War' - tight, loud and heartfelt. The atmosphere got progressively rockier and I think a fair bit of respect was won from previously dismissive musos. Certainly the case for me.

I can't let the gig pass without mentioning the support, Raveneye. These boys rocked. Blistering rock 'n' roll from a British three piece that really looked like they were enjoying themselves. Laughter, high jinks and a wall of joyful noise. I posted at the time that I've never seen a support act win a crowd over as quickly as Raveneye. I really wanted to point you in the direction of the live Facebook feed they broadcast but the sound is awful. Have some YouTube stuff instead.

Rail safety week stuff - pen, ticket wallet and a bottle of water.

I'm a daily rail commuter and have been for several decades. I'm sensible but maybe take my safety for granted. I definitely take the safety of others for granted - there a some harrowing statistics on the website for this. One death, even one accident, is one too many and anything that raises awareness of this is a good thing. Rail Safety Week is an industry led initiative but focuses on all those involved with railways from the rail maintainers to the operators to users like me. Please do take time to visit the site.