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August 29, 2006

Dropping in quickly

We won a Hugo for Plokta! Which is very nice. Many thanks to those of you who read the fanzine and thought we were worth voting for. Please read other fanzines too, particularly our fellow nominees Banana Wings and Chunga, both of which are among my very favourite fanzines.

How I found out; I checked my phone, rather bleary-eyed, mid-morning on Monday, in between Kerry Fletcher's deceptively exhausting European couples dances workshop and Twm Twp's rousing Welsh music and dance workshop, somewhere in a field in Oxfordshire. There was a message from Pat McMurray. Help! I thought. Is there something wrong with the house? Pat lives just round the corner, after all. It said 'Congratulations, Hugo winner.' I stared at it for some time, wondering why Pat would joke about something like that, before my brain finally remembered that we had sent Pat off to Anaheim (a) as our acceptor for an award we had no chance of winning and (b) without a speech, on account of the whole no chance of winning thing. I'm still not entirely convinced.

Towersey was fabulous, though I saw very few of the headliners on account of a discrepancy between demand from ticket holders and venue size. I am told this is a feature of Sidmouth-style multi-ring circus folk festivals, and we had a fine old time anyway, including three ceilidhs and four dance workshops, three session workshops and four sessions, tons of small concerts, weird impromptu happenings, and general podding about. The one thing that seemed really mismatched was the children's festival; there was very little unstructured for children, and the structured events were mostly oversubscribed. Given that the kids' tickets were a tooth-crunching £32 each, we'd expected at least, say, Trowbridge's level of kids' ents. But Jim May taught me how to make a talking banana, so I can die happy.

Posted by Alison Scott at 11:33 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 18, 2006

Friday Roundup

The last few summer festivals wind out. We're planning to go to Towersey over the August Bank Holiday, which will leave us, I suppose, having done more festivals in one year than ever before, or than we're ever likely to again. We're becoming connoisseurs of the subtle differences between different festivals, each with their own unique features. And on the whole, we've had a lovely time. For the first time, Marianne's been showing signs of being both interested in the music and choosy about it. And I lost count of the number of times some random mother came up to me and said 'Are you Jonathan's mummy... because he's playing with my kids on the other side of the field.'

Next year, the bootstrapped convention Year of the Teledu sits neatly in the middle of the festival season, on the same weekend as Trowbridge. So we have a choice to make, and quickly, because Teledu is bound to reach its membership cap long before the summer.

All those festivals have limited our bike-riding, though we have embarked on our new, two-tandem lifestyle. We're hoping to get some rides in this weekend, weather permitting, when we'll be off in zone 7 seeing a variety of friends and relatives. I'm hoping we can persuade some relative to take a nice photo of all four of us on the two tandems. Watch this space.

The 101 Things project is coming along reasonably well, although I concluded that even if all I do is sort my teeth out it will have been worth the time. I'm still looking for a last three things that inspire me though.

Flick convinced me to have another go at Kingdom of Loathing, and this time Marianne has come too. But I'm the only Accordion Thief in the family.

Meanwhile, Make: magazine has spawned a spin-off, Craft:. It would probably be churlish of me to describe this as Make: for girls, or to note that none of the things in the accompanying blog have been anything like the wild, delightful stuff that the Make blog drops into my aggregator every day. But let's give it time.

Posted by Alison Scott at 09:53 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 13, 2006


I felt curiously detached from the real world at Cropredy, especially when Austin passed me a copy of the Guardian with a massive, five-column photo that must have been taken from just outside my front door. It appears they'd simply printed a huge picture of a mosque that none of the alleged terrorists worship at. I have no idea why; perhaps it was a nicer photo than any they had of the Queens Road mosque?

Cropredy itself was middling. The weather was cold and windy, but it didn't rain properly until just after Meet on the Ledge. The normal mix of old rockers, upcoming bands, and the generally offbeat seemed weighted towards the old farts this year. As well as Fairport themselves, we had Steeleye Span, Glenn Tilbrook (of Squeeze), a band bearing detectable traces of 10CC, John Martyn, Dave Swarbrick's new band, Ashley Hutchings' new band, and a Status Quo tribute band. Much of the music was great, though the Fairport set seemed tailor-made for a balmy sunny evening rather than the rather sour wind we had. I've seen lots of complaints that Fairport have lost touch with their rockier side; they did some harder numbers with Glen Tilbrook and Maartin Allcock, and a nice Tam Lin at the end just before Matty, but there is certainly a preponderance of ballads in their set at the moment.

Steeleye -- currently comprising Maddy Prior, Rick Kemp, Peter Knight, Ken Nicol and Liam Genocky -- were just great. I've seen them a few times (3?) since Rick Kemp rejoined the band and I think they're the best I've ever seen them. In particular, they're being careful not to overuse Maddy's voice now, with the result that she can sing some of the harder songs without straining. Musically they're tight, they've got that great back catalogue to plunder, plus Ken Nicol is writing some excellent new songs. And they're still doing new interpretations of folk standards -- eg a new Bonny Black Hare on Thursday.

"10CC" headlined Friday night. This band includes only Graham Gouldman from the original lineup, though it does also have someone who played with the band for a bit in the 70s, and someone who worked with the original lineup as a session musician. I mean, clearly this is more authentic than Shameless Quo. But still. They did sound excellent, rattling out the hits one after another. But is there some statute of limitations on homeopathic reformed bands?

The Wadworth's bar, which famously sells more beer than the GBBF, was donating 10p from the sale of each pint this year in memory of Neil Cutts, the long-time Cropredy bar manager who died earlier this year.

Otherwise, Cropredy was much as it's always been, except with more chairs. And despite the prohibition on fishing tents after 7pm, there were more of those than ever, and few people took them down. All the ironmongery made the field very, very full on Saturday.

I arrived home to discover that eMusic has launched eMusic UK and eMusic Europe, with consequent price rises. Booster packs, in particular, have gone up from $14.99 for 50 tracks to £13.99. Still cheaper than many other online sources, for proper mp3s. And if we get Topic records, I won't mind so much. But still.

Posted by Alison Scott at 04:42 PM | Comments (0)

August 03, 2006

The novels of Ruth Elwin Harris

At the time I read the first three of Ruth Elwin Harris's novels, the fourth hadn't been published, and the friend who pressed the others on me expressed doubts that it ever would be. I was reminded of the books a few weeks ago because my daughter was given a set of three children's books by three authors all set in the same house at different historical periods. They weren't particularly good, feeling more like a repackaging exercise for low-grade historical information; but they reminded me of The Sisters of the Quantock Hills.

The first three books each tell the same story from the point of view of one of the four Purcell sisters, orphaned in 1910. Although each book extends the story, the main elements of the tale are the same.

Sarah's story comes first. She's the youngest of the sisters, and through the book she observes the changing relationships of those around her, missing much, and growing up through the Great War. You learn much in this about the romance between the eldest sister, Frances, and the son of the girls' guardian; but you don't fully understand the motivations and behaviours of either because you are seeing them through the eyes of a small child. The second book tells Frances' story; in this case the lack of comprehension is because Frances is depicted as an outstanding artist; determined and obsessed, but also petulant and unreasonable.

The third of the quartet felt in many ways the cleverest for me as the story filled out. Julia, the second sister, works as a nurse during the war. You know, of course, by now, the fate of several of the characters, clear from the first two books. But these books are not primarily driven by their plots but by the surprises inherent in learning more about the relationships from other angles. And Julia, who neither Sarah nor Frances really describe in detail, turns out to have all manner of hidden depths.

My friend's fear about the fourth book -- that Harris had run out of new things to tell us about the same time period -- was largely correct; most of the action of the fourth book takes place just before the start of WWII; and although the characters from the earlier books cast their shadows over the story, much the same tale could have been told without the earlier books. Gwen, the third sister, has spent much of her life working the garden of their home under the tutelage of the head gardener at the local manorhouse. On his deathbed, he gives her his orchid collection. It's a flower she has never liked, thinking them showy and troublesome, but she doesn't feel she can refuse. Caring for the orchids, however, leads her to enrich her life in many other ways.

Harris's determination to tell a different story this time leads her to cut some unacceptable corners; most notably when sixteen years of history for one sister is dismissed in one line. The first three books set up an expectation that you will learn more of the story that has already been told; but that is only a minor part of the fourth book.

These books tackle some very big themes; the impact of war and the differing reactions to it, aging and loss, the role of women and the expectations of people about that role. They do it deftly for the most part (the exception is probably some of the politics, where the definitions are unsubtle). Theyre a joy to read.

These books are aimed at teenagers but could be managed by ambitious readers before then.

Posted by Alison Scott at 01:31 PM | Comments (0)