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Wanting to get some relief from the hell that is surviving Christmas, we thought it might be an idea to head to the Nottingham Winter Wonderland, have a few drinks and a bite to eat etc, experience one of those magical Christmas moments together. So we ended up going ice skating on the mini ice rink. Turned out to be more like suffered in pain together.

Strapping on a pair uncomfortable boots, we take to the ice with a series of involuntary jerking movements that could easily be mistaken for an avant-garde dance troupe. Each step jarring an unknown muscle as we twitch and twist introducing another level of pain. An attempt to recreate Nottingham’s famous ice skating duo of Torvill and Dean does not go to well. Let’s just say that they’re not in danger of handing in their medals back any time soon.

Turns out ice skating is the hardest thing on the planet, Bambi on ice is an understatement. Went down harder on that ice than a Tonya Harding hammer party on Nancy Kerrigan’s knee (yes one of the falls is on the YouTube video). The whole of Nottingham heard the thud and a collective “oooohh are ye allright duck” echoed as as they looked to the crater hole from where I landed. I’d like to say it gets easier but the only thing I learned was how to smash into the barriers to stop.

This is how old people die, you hear about old people dying from falls all the time. That’s us, but at 47 (47 isn’t old yeah?). Bodies don’t age gracefully and we fall with as much grace as a brick through glass, my body nearly shatters as 16 stones of awesomeness hits the ice with such magnitude that a nuclear winter is nearly brought upon us.

We’ve since learned that this Friday we are in town has come to be known as Black Eye Friday on account of the number of injuries that take place on this day and fill up A&E. We’ve got scrapes and bruises of such beautiful colouring it could mistaken for modern art. I’m surprised we haven’t filled up A&E with not just our own injuries, but those of others we took out on our falls, in some case nearly wiping out whole families, not always deliberately. Except those kids who thought it was smart to skate 1mm away from my splayed out fingers. Then it probably was.

It is described as “60 seconds of fun” which would seem quite appropriate as this experience is to celebrate our wedding anniversary. Mrs Cook states that most experiences with me only last 60 seconds anyway. If you hadn’t guessed by now, we’ve gone Zorbing in Nottingham, and Aquazorbing, because that’s just how we roll.

Zorbing

After signing our lives away and being shuttled to our sphere, we’re now stood on the top of lush green steep hill in Nottinghamshire waiting to enter something inflatable and moist for some rough and tumble on our anniversary…. not a metaphor for any bumpy or perceived turbulent nature of our relationship. Zorbing really is like this. Quite how it ends up that some crazy New Zealander decides to build a big inflatable beach ball, throw in some optional water and push it down a hill, god only knows.

We’re advised to do the Zorbing first, and after being strapped into a harness, we’re stood waiting and wondering if the contents of breakfast are ready to make a reappearance. To enter the sphere, or zorb, we are instructed to Superman launch through a 2 foot wide opening on the side. This was not a move I was confident of achieving without specialist equipment or lubrication. Being a gentleman, I decided to let Mrs C go in first. There she is, Supergirl pose all lined up for a running jump into the sphere only to get semi-stuck, half-in, half-out, legs flailing about. We’re both finally in and strapped in the zorb in a semi-seated position.

Fifty revolutions of topsy turvy tumbling. One of us screamed like a biatch all the way down. And people wonder why my ears bleed. Remember when that Mars rover bounced its way onto the surface using giant airbags? This is how that felt.

Aquazorbing

After recovery, we go for our final ride of the day, this time Aquazorbing. To start, they chuck a bucket of cold water over us. Not in the slightest bit heated and it’s quite a shock. After the same ungodly superhero manoeuvre into the zorb, we’re sat waiting in some slightly warmer water in a sealed giant inflatable beach ball. We’re not strapped in this time, but instructed to link arms, raise legs and lie on our backs and wait for the drowning.

Spinning, slipping and sloshing our way down the hill, the water does its best to drown us, it’s like being waterboarded as the water hurls into our faces, unable to catch a breath although Mrs C again manages to catch enough air to scream for the entire ride. It’s like being trapped in a giant washing machine, we should have worn dirty clothes and chucked in some washing powder, they’d have come out a treat. We’re super soaked and we’ve had a super time Zorbing in Nottingham at Spheremania!

Being a bit of an old fossil myself, I find nothing more interesting than looking at other old fossils so I’m at Wollaton Hall (yes, Bruce Wayne’s house in Batman) to see some of the most important fossil specimens in the world showing preserved fossil feathers at the Dinosaurs of China Exhibition, from Ground Shakers to Feathered Flyers. These fossil discoveries from China significantly changed the way we looked at dinosaurs.

The stars of of the show are the preserved fossil remains that show soft tissue preservation with the very obvious feathers, and the upstairs at Wollaton Hall is dedicated to this.

Sinosauropteryx

Sinosauropteryx was the first feathered dinosaur to be described and had downy feathers.

Yanornis

Yanorniss from the late Cretaceous, 120 million years ago, was around 40cm long, the size of a chicken and covered with feathers.

Microraptor

Mircoraptor was a small feathered flying dinosaur from the early Cretaceous and a close relative of the Velociraptor.

Protopteryx

Protopteryx was an early bird with teeth and three-fingered hands showing that the earliest birds retained dinosaur like features.

 

Downstairs, we are greeted by the towering display of a huge long necked Mamenchisaurus.  23 metres long from head to tail, it’s taller than the big bloke who stands in front of you wherever you go, its actually taller than 3 double-decker buses on top of each other. Too big to display, it has been mounted in a rearing posture to fit inside the building and at 13 metres high is the tallest mounted dinosaur skeleton in the UK. This long necked, leaf eating, sauropod from the late Jurassic (160 million years ago) would have weighed an estimated 45 tonnes. Truly a ground shaker, you wouldn’t have wanted this stepping on your toes.

Sinraptor

Sinraptor led a violent life.

The one that really catches they eye though is the Sinraptor from the late Jurassic period of 160 million years ago. It looks a fearsome beast and this predator was at the top of the food chain. Over 7 metres long, it was the size of a minibus and not fully grown. Its skull is 90cm long with a set of sharp teeth and has sharp curved claws on its fingers and toes for catching and killing prey.

Guanlong

Guanlong had a delicate ornamental head crest and was an earlier cousin of the the Tyrannosaurus

 

Christmas dinner will never be the same again knowing that I’ve ate the evolved remains of a dinosaur for dinner. Whether that means they tasted like chicken remains unknown, even though we do know that birds are the modern day descendants of dinosaurs. I don’t know about you, but T-Rex doesn’t seem so terrifying now that we know his relatives had feathers, especially when you consider that Velociraptor had feathers and was only around 1/2 metre high. Clearly, Jurassic Park got it wrong.

Dinosaurs of China is not a large exhibition but it is well worth your time. When this exhibition is over, these fossils will be returning back to China.

Leonardo da Vinci, polymath, sculptor, engineer, scientist, inventor, painter and artist.  The epitome of renaissance man and on display at Nottingham Castle, 10 of the finest drawings by Leonardo Da Vinci from the Royal Collection.

The Leonardo da Vinci drawings at Nottingham Castle were never meant to be artwork, or shown, a bit like my fag packet plans, most were used to record and help understand the world around him. These are selected works to show the scope and talent of his interests which include sculpture, engineering and anatomy and we have booked ourselves in on the first day of Leonardo Da Vinci: Ten Drawings from the Royal Collection for a gallery tour with the exhibition curator, Martin Clayton, who explains a little about the selected drawings.

Leonardo was born in 1452 and primarily known as a painter with his famous works of The Last Supper and of course, Mona Lisa, probably the most famous painting in the world and subject of much merriment in the queue up to the exhibition with parodied portraits. But he was both an artist and a scientist expressed through art, his surviving drawings of the human body and its organs are testament to this, dissecting copses to better understand anatomy. His eclectic inquisitiveness helped him to plan his sculptures and castings. employ him as an engineer, design many inventions and machines that were ahead of his time.

A poor and parodied portrait but still my best yet
A poor and parodied portrait but still my best yet

Leonardo died in 1519 and bequeathed all his drawings to his favourite pupil, Francesco Melzi, who took them to Milan and upon his death were sold them to Pompeo Leoni who bound them into a single album which was then acquired the Earl of Arundel and then by Charles II. They have been in private royal ownership since then with limited exposure which explains their condition. These extraordinary works have been in the Royal Collection for over 300 years and normally housed at The Print Room at Windsor Castle since 1835. They are as fresh as you could hope for which helps to interpret the drawings, can see what Leonardo intended to draw, some extensively annotated, contributing to our understanding of Leonardo da Vinci and his many activities.

Cats, lions, and a dragon c.1513-18. Pen and ink with wash over black chalk.

Quite possibly, Leonard da Vinci would have melted Twitter and broken the internet, who doesn’t love cat pics? Leonardo clearly did with a sheet full of medieval mousers playing, prowling, sleeping, sitting, fighting and fooling around.

Cats, lions, and a dragon c.1513-18
Cats, lions, and a dragon c.1513-18

A male nude  c.1504-5. Red chalk.

A study of a nude man standing with his legs apart, seen from behind. Not many of my blog posts will have a naked male, not even one with a magnificent model such as this fine fellow where he spreads his weight equally. It was important to know how to draw muscles in tension and equally important to know how to draw them when relaxed as in this case. Looks like me from the back.

A male nude c.15.04-5
A male nude c.15.04-5

Studies for casting an equestrian monument c.1492-3. Pen and ink with some notes in red chalk.

Designs for the casting of a huge 7 metre tall bronze equestrian monument to Francesco Sforza and the rears and pulleys to lift the bronze casting from the ground. The work was never completed as the bronze was re-purposed to the army for cannon and defence against the French. When the French sis invade Milan, Leonardo’s clay model was used as target practice by the French and destroyed.

Studies for casting an equestrian monument (recto); Further casting studies, and lines of poetry (verso) c.1492-3
Studies for casting an equestrian monument (recto); Further casting studies, and lines of poetry (verso) c.1492-3

The head of St Anne  c.1510-15. Black chalk, wetted in places.

A study of the head of St Anne for the painting of the Madonna and Child with St Anne and a lamb, now in the Louvre, Paris. The head in the painting is different in character with several features more rounded.

The-head-of-St-Anne

Expressions of fury in horses, a lion and a man c.1503-4. Pen and ink.

A comparative study of the expressions of fury in horses, a lion and a man in background preparation for his mural of the Battle of Anghiari. Leonardo is not suggesting that the faces of different species are similar in appearance, he is comparing. Fantastic.

Expressions of fury in horses, a lion and a man c.1503-4
Expressions of fury in horses, a lion and a man c.1503-4

Recto: The heart compared to a seed. Verso: The vessels of liver, spleen and kidneys  c.1508. Pen and ink over black chalk. Leonardo witnessed the death of an elderly man where he later conducted an autopsy ‘to see the cause of so sweet a death’. Many of the notes mention the constriction of vessels to the heart and a thickening that prevents movement of the blood. Sound familiar?

Blackberry and bird’s-foot trefoil  c.1505-10. Red chalk on pale red prepared paper. A delicate drawing of a branch of blackberry that curves under the weight of the berries.

A deluge c.1517-18. Black chalk. Completed late in life showing a turbulent landscape enveloped by a tempest. Dark and brooding.

A map of the Arno east of Florence 1504. Pen and ink with brown and blue wash. A coloured plan of a weir to show damage to the embankment cased by the flow of water through the weir. This piece is the only one displayed that was intended for someone else to see, in this case, probably a government official.

Studies of an infant  c.1490. Metalpoint with pen and ink. Studies of a plump naked baby showing mainly limbs and torso.

Clearly. these photos are never going to do justice, it’s a fantastic opportunity to view The Leonardo da Vinci drawings at Nottingham Castle and a series of talks. On display from the 30 July to 9 October 2016, see them while you can. You will not regret #tenleonardos

leonardo-banner-Nottingham-castle

Richard Wagner was a man with too much time on his hands.  Der Ring des Nibelungen or better known as Wagner’s Ring Cycle took him 26 years to complete, the very definition of procrastination in action.  It’s 15 hours over 4 nights of operatic indulgence linking 4 operas together for one story. Being the knuckle dragging, cave dwelling, semi-evolved, cultured troglodytes that we are, we have decided to have another stab at sophistication and offed ourselves off to the opera for the first time. We’re watching The Ride of the Valkyries, part of the Ring Cycle by Wagner presented by Opera North.

 

busty-opera
Nothing like the real Opera

 

The last time we were at the Theatre Royal in Nottingham, and our first stab at sophistication, we were watching Swan Lake. Taylor Swift types in tutus twirling about was a tad too long and after 2 1/2 hours of ballet, I had a blank space across my face from the boredom. So it might come as a surprise then that our first night at the Opera, or more precisely 5 hours and 30 minutes at the opera for our first segment of the The Ring Cycle, means I have had to book half a day off work.

As this is our first time at opera, we’ve decided to jump straight into Richard Wagner’s mammoth musical masterpiece, skipping the prelude of Rheingold and opting to jump in at Die WalkureThe Valkyrie, or The Ride of the Valkyries. Go hard or go home und gute nacht, we’re doing this properly. Now that I’m feeling slightly smug and culturally classy, for those wretched souls of the plebeian class who may not understand the basics of this opera based loosely on Norse saga, I’ll give a summary.

The plot, which sounds ludicrous, revolves around a magic ring stolen from a dwarf (who comes from beneath the earth) that grants the power to rule the world involving giants, dragons and other winged wonders. This sounds like Lord Of the Rings doesn’t it?  Bear with me, it’s also got a disobedient daughter and incestuous twins, like Game of Thrones but with singing and some familiar classical music.

You’ll recognise some of the music and depending on your film of choice, you can play the ‘soundtrack’ in your chopper which is great if you’re sending G.I.’s into a peasant village where “Charlie don’t surf” in Apocalypse Now or you need to stab, slash and slice your way with your sword in Excalibur.  If that’s not enough for you, then please find my helpful guide to the opera and Wagner’s Ring Cycle as follows.

 

Ride of the Valkyries
Ride of the Valkyries

 

As a member of the public, it’s not compulsory to dress like a penguin in tuxedo, top hat, tails and tiaras. Me, I’ve come as a 44 year old man dressed in a shirt that reeks of semi mid-life crisis and tries too hard to disguise a rapidly expanding waist line that the very fabric of space-time has started to warp around. Besides, you need to get comfy, you’ll be here quite some time, don’t worry though, you get a dinner break in between acts but you will be expected to buy your own. You will not be expected to sing for your supper. Disappointingly, it’s not compulsory for the artists to wear horns with helmets and I can’t help but feel that this might give their performance an added edge.

Beginners opera this is not, you are not expected to join in with the singing.  You are not comparing insurance, you are not on X-Factor and it’s not a competition, your efforts will not be appreciated. Sit back, relax and enjoy the story which is performed in German.  You don’t have to learn any, unless you want to engage in a bit of Freundschaftsbezeigungen with our European cousins.  There are subtitles, good job really, because I wear a hearing aid. Not that one makes much of a difference which language they subtitle it in. Now steady yourselves for a slightly extended summary below.

 

Wagner's Valkyries
Wagner’s Valkyries

 

In a dark and stormy forest, Siegmund, an exhausted chap on the run, comes to a house made around the trunk of a tree and takes shelter inside. Sieglinde is at home and hosts Siegmund till her husband Hunding arrives. The story unfolds and we find that Hunding was actually hunting Siegmund and due to the law of hospitality allows him to stay overnight but in the morning will kill him. Siegmund finds a magic sword in the house that’s promised to him in his hour of need. Also turns out the Siegmund is the twin brother of Hunding’s wife, Sieglinde, and they decide to run off together. Saucy shenanigans indeed.

Later on, Fricka, Wotan’s wife but not the mother of the Valkyries, demands that wedlock before love must be honoured and that failure to do so humiliates her, demanding that Seigmund must die to which Wotan reluctantly agrees. The Valkyrie Brunnhilde (favourite daughter of Wotan) appears before Siegmund to announce his death, where he asks about Valhalla and what will happen to Sieglinde and states he’d rather not go to Valhalla if she cannot be with him.  Touched by this romantic notion, Brunnhilde tries to defend Siegmund against Hunding until Wotan shows up killing Siegmund and shattering his magic sword. Brunnhilde gathers up the shards of the shattered sword and Sieglinde, who is now pregnant by her brother and lover Siegmund, and ride off.

The nine Valkyries, all daughters by Wotan, meet on the Rock of the Valkyries where they have collected the souls of dead warriors and defend Brunnhilde from Wotan. When Wotan arrives, he is furious with Burnnhilde, denies her immortality and puts her into a deep sleep on top a mountain surrounded by a ring of magic fire where only a hero can awaken her.  That hero will be Siegfried, the love child of Sieglinde and Siegmund.  Siegfried and Brunnhilde die, the magic ring is destroyed and Valhalla is consumed in flames with the age of the gods over.

 

OperaNorth

There we have it: magic, madness, heaven, sin. Sorry, that’s Taylor Swift’s Blank Space again, which some of you might have after reading that, maybe she already knew the story.  OK, it might look a bit long winded but that’s really a very basic summary of 15 hours worth of story packed into a few paragraphs with some very glaring omissions.  This is a beginner’s helpful guide to the opera and Wagner’s Ring Cycle, mainly Die Valkyrie after all, not a dissertation.

It’s a tubular triumph of trumpets, tubas, trombones, spine tingling strings, sensual sopranos and orchestral orgasmic opera from Opera North. Brunnhilde belts it and Sieglinde is sublime. It is magnificent and moving with music thumping through my chest. I’m not an emotional man but in Act 3 I could have punched the air with pride as I felt the force of the Valkyries ride. Anyone not feeling a little sorry for Sieglinde & Brunnhilde and woeful for the Walsungs and Wotan must be dead inside. Sopranos have been stunning and on stage for hours, they deserve some rest.  A huge ovation for all with a Brava! for her, a Bravo! for him and Bravi! for everyone, the Ride of the Valkyries has been a blast.

If you only go the opera once in your life, make it this. I suspect I’ll be back. Imagine how fantastic Siegfried’s funeral music will sound. Stunning.

Links:

If you liked this post, you might like our first time at the ballet…. Swan Lake ballet no less

Wagner The Ring Cycle by Opera North

Nottingham Theatre Royal and Concert Hall

 

For my birthday treat, I have dragged Sam to Nottingham Castle and Mortimer’s Hole. Well, it used to be a castle, its now a ducal mansion, although fragments remain of the old castle. I suppose that’s what you get for being the place where the English Civil War started. Charles I raised his royal standard near here on August 22 1642. Of course, the castle may also be known for its clashes with Robin Hood and The Sheriff of Nottingham. The present day ducal mansion now has a museum and art gallery and the regimental museum of the Sherwood Foresters. Very nicely presented.

Then there’s Mortimer’s Hole. A 98 metre tunnel, a secret passage, from the foot of the castle rock to the upper bailey in the castle grounds. Reputedly the place where King Edward III stormed through up to the castle to seize Roger Mortimer, the lover of King Edward’s mother Queen Isabella, where he was later hanged at Tyburn. Roger and Isabella were widely believed to have arranged the murder of Edward II. Medieval propaganda would have us believe he was killed by having a red hot poker shoved up his bum. Must have stung a bit. More likely he would have had a sword stuck through him. That must also have stung a bit.

OK, so this may be my county town but it does have some historical significance and things to see. In 1067, William he Conqueror built the first castle here. In 1194 Richard The Lionheart (who only spent 6 years in this country) returned from the crusades to reclaim the castle from his brother Prince John, during the Robin Hood era. In 1330, King Edward the 3rd captured Roger Mortimer, the lover of Edward’s mother Isabella, for assuming royal powers and disposing of Edward’s father, Edward the 2nd, by supposedly shoving a red hot poker up his jacksie. He was hanged at Tyburn. No fair pity on gentle Mortimer their then. In 1485, Richard the 3rd rode off to Bosworth to be the last King of England killed in battle. King Charles I raised his royal standard here (on Standard Hill) marking the start of the Civil War in 1642. It all happens round here you know…

Nottingham Castle is always a good starting point, has commanding views of the south of Nottingham showing Trent Bridge Cricket ground, Nottingham Forest and Notts County football grounds as well as the setting for various films and novels including Alan Silitoe’s Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. Robin Hood, Mortimer’s Hole, the caves, the oldest pubs…..

Nottingham’s most famous resident, Robin Hood.

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