A stodgy parent is no fun at all. What a child wants and deserves is a parent who is SPARKY.

After seeing two musicals last year inspired by Roald Dahl books (Matilda and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), I was reminded just how awesome his stories were, and I resolved to read my way through his books this year.

I then promptly forgot, but luckily my boyfriend didn’t – and he bought me the full set of books for my birthday.

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Image taken from Amazon.

 I started with Danny the Champion of the World – the first one in the boxset. First published in 1975, it’s the story of how Danny and his father use their pheasant poaching skills to teach the greedy Mr Hazell a lesson.

The original book cover from 1975.

It’s a fun read, even at my age – and I was surprised by the clearly liberal moral of the story – something I don’t know whether I would have been conscious of at the time. And basically, the story is proposing thievery as a legitimate response to capitalism. Nowt wrong with that, I say (in the context of the story), but I wonder whether any books written these days would have the same approach.

And how’s this for meta – one of the bedtime stories Danny’s father tells him is the story of the Big Friendly Giant, or BFG (published later as a full novel in 1982). Mind. Blown.

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A pheasant, yesterday. (Image from RSPB).

As I was reading, I was intrigued as to whether the poaching techniques described in the book would actually work in real life – only a quick Google later, and turns out they do! Both the Sticky Hat and the Horse Hair Stopper work (see here for more details). Pheasants love raisins, apparently. Strange creatures.

I’m planning to read roughly a book each week – next on the list is James and the Giant Peach.

Today’s quote comes from the beginning of the book. Something to remember for when I become a parent!

Take this sinking boat and point it home, we’ve still got time.

Last night,  I went to see Once – the musical based on the 2007 film starring (and with songs by) Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. Having been initially reluctant when I first heard that this bittersweet love story was being made into a stage musical, I had resisted going to see it – but then my friend waved some free tickets in front of my face and I couldn’t resist! (I am a northerner, after all…)

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And I’m glad I went. The musical is pretty faithful to the original film, telling the story of Guy and Girl – a broken-hearted Dublin busker, and a young Czech woman who hears something in his music – but with the addition of some “zany”  characters, like the music shop owner and Girl’s flatmates, who were included presumably to add some laughs to what could be quite a morose night at the theatre – but funny as their antics were, I don’t they were really needed, and they seemed to just pad out what could have been a more tightly woven tale.

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Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova in the film

This is the most stripped back musical I have ever seen, and really captures the essence of the original film – which was ever so effective in its simplicity. (See the Wikipedia page for more details about the budget and how they shot it!) There is one set – a multi-mirrored bar – and all the actors remain on stage throughout the performance, staying at the side when they’re not part of the action. And the actors don’t just act and sing – they play all the instruments too.

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Blurry pic of the performers on stage before the show!

When sung on stage, the beautiful melodies and songs from the film were just as effective as in the film, and they had the power to raise the hair on the back of my neck. When the pre-show folk songs – sung by the cast on stage as the audience is seated – fade away to let Guy start the show by singing the heartrending “Leave”, it gave me goosebumps. I wasn’t sure anything would affect me so deeply as the Glen Hansard’s guttural cry of heartbreak from that song – but Arthur Darvill gives a similarly affecting performance. Falling Slowly – the song that won an Oscar – has the power to really transport you elsewhere with its words of love on the brink, and as soon as the chords started I began to wonder why I had ever taken the song off repeat on my iPod. Why listen to any other love song?

If you get the chance, do go see this show. It’s unlike any other West End musical, and it will stay with you (and be part of your playlist) long after the lights come up.

Oh, and be sure to head on to the stage for a drink in the interval. Best located bar in the West End.

Today’s quote is from Falling Slowly.

Why shouldn’t truth be stranger than fiction? Fiction, after all, has to make sense.

When wandering around the internet recently, as I am wont to do, I stumbled across this story about the New York Times publishing a correction to their 1853 article, in which misspelled Solomon Northup’s name  – the man at the centre of the story told in the Oscar-winning film “12 Years a Slave”. It fascinated me that I could go into their archives and read the original article. If you’re interested – the full article is here. Obviously, spoilers abound – so wait until you’ve seen the film if you don’t want to find out what happens. (That goes for the rest of the blog entry too, by the way!)

Given the number of films in this year’s best picture nominations at the Oscars which are based on a true story (five films out of nine nominated), I then started to wonder what other articles and stories would be available from the time of the original act that inspired the film. Not stories that had been written as puff-pieces to promote the movie, but ones that were produced before the film was even a twinkle in the screenwriter’s (or producer’s) eye.

The one with the most articles was Captain Phillips – given how recently events took place (2009), and the global nature of the story, this is hardly surprising. There were several news stories that broke, following the story as it all unfolded. You can read an LA Times article here and a full story, including quotes and interviews with the crew, is available at the Wall Street Journal.

After seeing Philomena, I received the book by Martin Sixsmith – on which the film is based – from my parents for Christmas, so I was already filled in on the background. The original tale wouldn’t have hit the headlines, but the Independent interviewd the author on the book’s release, and you can read that here 

I was only dimly aware of Wolf of Wall Street being based on the memoirs of a real life person, having assumed it was a generic tale of excess and debauchery, much like Oliver Stone’s Wall Street. So I was extremely surprised to find, after only a little digging, this take-down of Jordan Belfont in Forbes from 1991. This profile was from before any dodgy dealings were proven, or any charges were brought, or , but interestingly the writer described Belfont as a “twisted Robin Hood who takes from the rich and gives it to himself and his marry band of brokers.”

And finally, onto the only Oscar nominee I’ve actually seen (blame wanting to spend my evenings playing with the kitten!) – Dallas Buyers Club. This profile of Ron Woodroof appeared in Dallas Life Magazine in August 1992, shortly before he succumbed to his illness in September of that year.

If you want more information about what is fact and what is fiction in each of these films, Slate run a series which breaks down the accuracy of each of the Oscar-nominated films. The article on Dallas Buyers Club is here.

Today’s quote is from Mark Twain.

In ancient times cats were worshipped as gods; they have not forgotten this.

Before we brought her home, we brought our kitten a lovely new bed from the pet shop. Since then, the number of beds she has available to her has tripled, and that’s before you start counting Actual Human Beds. One of these beds came about because we had an empty basket sitting on a bookshelf in our bedroom, which Maeby couldn’t resist exploring. And, because she fit, she sit sat. And sat. And slept. Then slept some more. This girl likes to nap.

And then we felt bad that she was basically sleeping on twigs.

I found an old cushion that I no longer used, and luckily – with a bit of a squeeze – it perfectly fit the basket. I wasn’t a fan of the existing cover, and given that it was going to be placed in our bedroom, I decided to get some new fabric and make a new cushion cover. I decided to make an envelope cushion cover, as I thought anything with a zip or buttons, or any other type of fastening, would just get chewed by the little madam.

Now, I’ve sewn a few things in my time. Cushion covers – how hard can they be? I thought. I took a cursory glance at some tutorials online (try this one here on channel4.com, or this ikea (!) one – which downloads as a .pdf) and then decided Pah! Who needs instructions?

Turns out I do.

Well, the cushion cover won’t win any awards but it does its job. I basically cut out one piece of fabric the width and length of the cushion, plus seam allowance all around. Then in the other contrasting fabric I cut a piece the width then two times the length (plus seam allowance).

I sewed them together at one short end then up one cushion length on each side, so that when you turn it the right way around, you have a pocket for the cushion. Then, to neaten the flap, I folded it in half (right sides together) then sewed up the sides, then flipped it the right way round. This you can then just tuck in the end, once the cushion is inside! Easy! However, this is not the right way to do it, and I highly recommend actually following some proper instructions. It does the job though, and Maeby seems to be a fan!

Do you know how hard it is to make a kitten pose for a photo? The outtakes are many.

Do you know how hard it is to make a kitten pose for a photo? The outtakes are many.

Part of the reason I messed up took a unique approach to the envelope cushion, was that my boyfriend and I were watching The Shining. And then I started to freak out, and imagine that the pattern on the cushion cover totally has a look of the infamous Shining carpet about it.

Right?

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And look at my sofa cushions.

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Wait. Am I in The Shining? Am I in Room 237? AM I DANNY?

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 But I could totally go one step further. Check out this vase from Oliver Bonas.

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That has to be intentional right? A Room 237 vase. For those who want a sense of the mass-murder in their interior décor.

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I seem to have got a little off-topic. Here’s another attempt at getting a picture of Maeby in her new bed.

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Kittens don’t stay still.

Today’s quote is from Terry Pratchett.

To-do list 6: I like to hear a storm at night. It is so cosy to snuggle down among the blankets and feel that it can’t get at you.

So, getting on for 6 months after moving into our flat, I finally finished the cable-throw-of-a-thousand-deadlines (“I’ll get it done before we move home”, I said, “I’ll finish it for Christmas”, I vowed…)

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This was my first attempt at cabling, and I was very surprised at how straightforward it was. To cable, all you need is a cable needle, which is a small knitting needle with a bend in it. When you get to the point in your pattern where the cable starts, simply slip the required number of stitches onto the cable needle. Then either move them to the front of your needles when you carry on knitting the rest of your stitches (a left cross cable), or move them to the back of the needles (a right cross cable) – the direction will be clear in the pattern.

The two different directions of cable.

The pattern I used was the Lion Brand cable comfort throw pattern – available free from their website, all you need to do is register. The throw is knit on 9mm needles in five long panels, then sewn together – which means you don’t have to worry about lugging around a huge throw every time you want to get out your knitting. It’s a great pattern for people who are new to cabling as it’s knit on big chunky wool, so you can see what your doing. I don’t think you can get Lion Brand yarn easily in the UK, so instead I used Hayfield Super Chunky yarn, which is so easy to work with and feels really cosy in the finished throw. It’s 80% acrylic and 20% wool, so it’s machine-washable too.

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So here it is!

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It seems to be a big hit with Maeby too – as soon as it was finished and on the back of the sofa she lept up and tried to get her claws into it, before finally settling down to sleep. Sorry Maeby, you’re going to have to share this with me…

Proof of cosiness.

Proof of cosiness.

Today’s quote is from L. M. Montgomery

Five people that win… February

1. Eleonore Pourriat

You may not agree with everything in this video, but it’s certainly an interesting way to look at sexism in society.

2. Davina McCall

She’s superhuman. In fact, if it turned out this lady was actually WonderWoman, I would not bat an eyelid. I am so in awe of this woman.

3. Channel 4

4. Samuel L. Jackson

5. The guys in FuerzaBruta

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I went to this show at the weekend. I have no idea what was going on, but man it was spectacular. And I was pulled out of the crowd to dance on stage before they smashed a cardboard box full of glitter over my head. Pretty standard stuff for this show.