Crime Scene
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This weekend (October 11th-12th), I will be a guest at Crime Scene WA, talking about writing when I can tear myself away from the fascinating presentations on forensic science by experts including Professor Simon Lewis, Associate Professor Hadyn Green and Associate Professor Guy Hall, as well as presentations on writing and publishing by GoHs Michael Robotham and Livia Day (aka Tansy Rayner Roberts), as well as Lee Battersby, Lyn Battersby, Tony Cavanaugh and Alisa Krasnostein. among others.

If you're willing to drag yourself out of bed early on a weekend morning, I'll be at the opening ceremony at 8.45 am on Saturday, and a panel on The Writing Process and What You Should be Doing Once You Are Published with Lee and Alisa at 9.00 am on Sunday. I'll also be giving a presentation, Red Herring, Blue Herring: Look, a clue!, and appearing at the Sundowner, 6pm to 8pm on Saturday night. Hope I see you there!

Good news!
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I'll be back at the University of Western Australia on Monday, once again teaching first year creative writing. Not picking up any work at Murdoch this semester has had an unexpected bright side, because it's freed me up to teach ten tutes rather than the five I was offered before I went overseas.

The only downside to having work this semester (and work that I greatly enjoy) is that I won't be at Loncon 3; despite this, I have been interviewed for the pre-Loncon Australian Spec Fic Snapshot.

(2nd semester at UWA does usually finish just in time for me to go to the WFC, and while I'm not planning on going this year, next year is a possibility...)

As promised, more pictures of PragueCollapse )

"Well, I'm back," he said.
Bathrobe, by chaosmanor
(as they say in the classics). More photos to follow, plus TripAdvisor reviews.

"And I realise... I'm going home."
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Walked around Prague today, making sure I'd seen everything I wanted to see (apart from the Golem, which is supposedly hidden in the attic of the Old New Synagogue), then back to the hotel to pack.

Parting shotsCollapse )

"You Are Now Leaving West Berlin", or, "Short Trips: Destination Prague"
groove, by martinlivings
I arrived in Prague yesterday after spending four days in Berlin. The first two coincided with German victories in the World Cup, and the celebrations continued for the next two and may well still be going on. These celebrations occasionally blocked traffic, but as far as I could see, were entirely civilized, and it was good to see so many people happy in a city with such a grim recent history.

I took a guided walking tour on Sunday, which started at the Brandenburg Gate and went via the Holocaust Memorial, Hannah Arendt Street, the site of the Fuhrerbunker (now a carpark, and apparently scheduled to be redeveloped into a shopping mall), a section of the Berlin Wall (between the site of the SS and Gestapo headquarters and the one surviving Nazi office building - formerly the Air Ministry, later used by the East German government, and now the tax office), Checkpoint Charlie, and the French and German cathedrals built after the 30 Years War. I followed this up by visiting the "Topography of Terror", a museum built on the site of the SS and Gestapo HQ and detailing the evolution of the death camps, more of the Berlin Wall (including the memorial to those who died trying to escape), the museum under the holocaust memorial, the Stasi museum, and the memorial to the gays murdered by the Nazis. I skipped the Berlin Dungeon, as it seemed rather redundant.

Berlin also has an amazing display of other people's rather older history, mostly gathered on Museum Island. If I'd been better organized, I might have managed to see all of them; as it was, I skipped the Altes Museum, which houses the more recent (Greek and Roman) collections, in favour of the older stuff at the Neues Museum (Neanderthal to Bronze Age). I'm not sure whether this nomenclature is also a Berliner idea of a joke, but there were still posters around making fun of JFK's having said "Ich bin ein Berliner!" more than 50 years ago. ("Ich bin Berliner" means you live in Berlin; "ein Berliner" is a pastry.) And its Natural History Museum famously has the best-preserved Archaeopteryx fossil and the tallest dinosaur skeleton on display, but I was even more impressed by the beautiful Pterodactylus pictured below.

The stand-out exhibit at any of Berlin's museums, though, is the Ishtar Gate at the Pergamon, which no photo I could display here could possibly do justice to. See it if you can. Even the British Museum can't beat it - or the Pergamon's other two huge reconstructions, the Pergamon Altar and the market gate at Miletus. By the time I reached their Babylonian display, I was half-expecting a full-size reconstruction of the ziggarut rather than a couple of scale models (the fact that no-one knows exactly what it looked like may have hampered them slightly).

My high school German sometimes came in useful for asking directions and understanding them - though most Berliners I encountered spoke English at least as well as I speak German, and the only one who admitted to no English at all was the attendant at the information booth at one of the railway stations.

I liked Berlin, but even with its museums, I can't say I loved it. Prague, however, may be the most beautiful city I've ever seen. More of that later.

Berlin and PragueCollapse )

Goodbye, Picadilly; farewell, Leicester Square...
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On Tuesday, we went to the Bond in Motion exhibition at the London Film Museum, a collection of vehicles, storyboards, and a few other props from James Bond movies. Rowan was somewhat disappointed by the gift shop, because none of the pens exploded (a la the one in GoldenEye), so we went to Covent Garden markets in search of a suitable present for his father. From there, we went to Fortnum & Mason's for ice cream, then to the Covent Garden market, then to a gigantic Waterstones where I nearly lost Rowan, then back to the British Museum.

On Wednesday morning, we returned to Forbidden Planet, where I resisted the temptation to buy an autographed copy of Lost Girls (I already have the box set), and then to Fopp.

While it isn't listed in The World's Most Dangerous Places, Fopp does a disturbingly good job of turning money in your wallet into DVDs in your luggage. It's not just that most of the DVDs are much cheaper than they would be in Australia (though they are), it's that they have such excellent taste in slightly obscure titles. I knew I was going to like the place once I saw the display of Atom Egoyan Blu-rays right inside the door (cheap enough that I considered replacing my DVD of Exotica). Finding movies such as Blow Up, if... and Big Trouble in Little China for between 3 and 5 pounds without having to pay any freight charges was irresistible, and I'm already faintly regretting not buying Downfall and Bonnie and Clyde and Trance as well, but I had to draw the line somewhere. Perhaps fortunately, they don't do overseas mail order. We then visited Baker Street with the intention of seeing Madame Tussaud's, but the queue was an hour long.

On Wednesday afternoon, we went to the Globe to see Titus Andronicus performed in a style somewhere between Elizabethan and Grand Guignol. The cast did an excellent job of dealing with material that is so outrageously vicious and violent that it constantly threatens to broad-jump over the line between horror and black comedy all the way into Pythonesque farce, and Laura Rees's performance as the traumatized mute Lavinia was absolutely amazing. After the show, we attended a Q&A with Richard Riddell and Sam Alexander, who'd played Chiron and Demetrius.

Richard III, starring Martin Freeman, was almost as gory: audience members sitting in the front three rows were offered protective clothing because of the risk of being sprayed with fake blood. It was done in post-WWII dress, and while remaining mostly faithful to the original text, made the last act more exciting by having the ghosts of Richard's adult male victims appear not before the battle but as combatants who Richard must defeat. Freeman did a fine job of playing Richard as a villain with no redeeming features except courage and intelligence, but none of the other male characters, including Philip Cumbus's Richmond, are significantly more admirable. Well worth seeing.

It seemed only appropriate to follow this bloodbath with a Jack the Ripper walking tour. I was somewhat disappointed that our guide wasn't famed ripperologist Donald Rumbelow but an actor, until Rowan recognized him as Shaughan Seymour, who had played Jane's boss in an episode of Coupling. The tour was interesting enough, but so much of Whitechapel has been gentrified since I took a similar tour in 1987 that the only landmark that was instantly recognizable was the (now very expensive) Ten Bells pub habituated by at least some of the victims.

I tried to get tickets for the Friday matinee of The Importance of Being Earnest with Sian Phillips as Lady Bracknell, but the show was booked out (*sigh*), so we headed back to Madame Tussaud's to find that the queue stretched around the block. So I took Rowan to the Tower of London but they let him escape, where we were entertained by a guided tour, a display of medieval weapons and torture implements, conversation with a Lovecraft-loving attendant who claimed to have lost some sanity looking at our Cthulhu t-shirts, and a somewhat condensed dramatization of Chaucer's The Knight's Tale. Then, after one last visit to Fortnum and Mason's ice cream parlour, I took Rowan to the post office airport and sent him home.

Samuel Johnson once said that ""Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford." While I devoutly wish that London was rather more affordable, I am not tired of it, and I hope I don't have to wait too many years before returning.

LondonCollapse )

The Turn of a Friendly Cardiff
groove, by martinlivings
I've visited Cardiff on nearly every trip I've made to the UK, and was happy that the Doctor Who Experience gave me an excuse to do so again. We had an entirely hassle-free trip and arrived at the YHA late in the afternoon, to find that all of the dorms had been named after actors who played the Doctor (we stayed in #3, Pertwee) and the luggage storeroom had a TARDIS motif. We enjoyed dinner at an Indian restaurant nearby, which had been used as a location in the show, and returned to the kitchen to use the wifi and met a group of very friendly young women who were watching Doctor Who episodes on a laptop.
The Doctor Who Experience is fun, and worth seeing at least once if you're as avid a fan of the show as I am. They have an impressive collection of original costumes, as well as props and reconstructions of TARDIS interiors. The gift shop is even scarier than the 3D movie of weeping angels, and I was lucky to escape with the shirt on my back plus the extra two I purchased from this very boutique. We then returned to the bus station via Forbidden Planet.
It would have been a nearly perfect day if I hadn't checked my email when we arrived back in London, to discover that I don't have any work at Murdoch next semester. So it goes.

Doctor Who picspamCollapse )

I had trouble in getting to Stratford-On-Avon
Godot by coffeem
On Thursday night, I received an email from the manager of the B&B we'd booked asking me what time I'd be arriving in Stratford. I asked whether the bus or the train was more convenient to the B&B, and he recommended the bus, so I told him we'd be there after 5.15.
In one of the many possible universes, I may have ignored his advice and caught the train. As it was, though, Rowan and I returned to the British Museum and, en route, once again encountered Dave Luckett, this time accompanied by Sally and Evan Beasley. We continued en masse towards the museum, with occasional stops at bookshops and at one cafe opposite the museum where Pedantic Boy tried to persuade a waitress to correct the spelling of a sign in the window. Rowan ancoad I then headed for Forbidden Planet, where I was delighted to discover that Kim Newman's The Quorum is back in print. I resisted the urge to buy any signed copies (I'll be heading back there on Tuesday) while Rowan helped support independent bookshops. We then collected our suitcases and caught a coach to Stratford-on-Avon.
The coach was running a little late even before we encountered the accident, but that's when things really started turning sour. We arrived in Stratford 90 minutes late, barely half an hour before curtain up, and tried to get a taxi to take us to the B&B. Sorry, taxis can't get to Stratford because of the traffic jams caused by the accident. So we headed for the theatre, where the cloakroom attendant was wonderfully helpful: they were out of maps of the area (we hadn't realized, when we'd booked, that the reason the YHA was full was because of a music festival that weekend), so she looked up the address and drew a map by hand. No time left to go to the B&B before the show, so we had a cup of tea in the cafe and I emailed the B&B from my iPad to say what had happened.
Henry IV Part I was magnificent, with Anthony Sher &particularly hilarious as Falstaff. We were still unable to find a taxi, so we used the map and made our way to the B&B. When we finally found the place, no-one answered the bell, but two guests arrived and let us in. The irate manager emerged, and informed us because we were late, he'd given the room to someone else. (The email hadn't reached him, because the wifi at the RSC didn't recognize iinet,e and the explanation that the delay had been caused by a major traffic accident didn't sway him at all. He's also trying to bill us for both nights despite this.)
Every B&B we passed on our way back into town had a 'No Vacancy' sign, but we found a hotel that had a twin room at slightly double the cost of the B&B - but no vacancies on Saturday night. A web search found no vacancies in Stratford on Saturday night - the nearest were in Coventry. We hadn't pre-booked theatre tickets for Part II on Saturday, and I considered going to Oxford or back to London until I remembered, and tried that. Wonder of wonders, there was a place listed, in Stratford, with a room and two beds - and the host was a Shakespearean scholar. I reserved the room, and waited for the reply.
And waited.
And waited.
We checked out of the hotel and headed for the house, a few blocks from Shakespeare's birthplace, to be informed by the man 's neighbours that he was in the US and hadn't left them the key. They were, however, incredibly helpful, emailing and calling B&Bs and hotels and finally driving us to the nearest hotel with a vacant room - in Warwick, 8 miles away as the crow flies. Unfortunately, British motorways are more like locked room mysteries. There are exits, but they're so widely dispersed and so far from where you actually want to get off that you will be forced to use the bypasses. These, unfortunately, seem to be more like the labyrinthine inner workings of mitochondria, designed to squeeze the longest and most convoluted stretch of road between any two points. When we arrived at the hotel, we were warned to budget 45-50 minutes for the 8-mile trip. Three taxi fares to and from the hotel came to slightly over L100.
On the bright side, while all this time-consuming faffing around prevented us seeing much of Stratford, we were able to get tickets for the backstage tour and the second part of Henry II. And while I could definitely have done without the hassle of trying to find accommodation, I'm awed to have met three such wonderfully kind people.

Book benches in BloomsburyCollapse )

London, Day 3
groove, by martinlivings
We spent most of today at the V&A. Once again, we were enthralled by the netsuke (which I've decided will appear in the next short story I write), other Asian artworks including my old favourite, Tipu's Tiger, an array of protest posters, their exhibition of theatrical props and costumes, and an entirely unplanned encounter with that good and noble friend, author and gentleman Dave Luckett. Rowan opted to go back to International Hall rather than accompany me to the Natural History Museum (we'd previously agreed that I was to subject him to no more than one day of dinosaurs), so I hastened through that and the neighbouring Science Museum before heading back to the British Library to hear Melinda Gebbie speak about Lost Girls and her other work (some of which is still banned in the UK). Two highlighrnedts of the (adults only) talk were the revelation that much of her courage comes from having learned to stand up her truly terrifying mother, and the fact that she and Alan Moore (who I think I saw in the audience, but who remained silent and vanished during the intermission) had decided to describe Lost Girls as pornographic rather than erotic, so that reviewers might disagree and say that it was erotic or art, whereas if they'd called it erotic, it was much more likely to have been labelled pornographic. Shne also opined that one of the few benefits of being female in the comics industry is the perception that women are better at drawing genuinely erotic art.

Returned to the hall to find Rowan already asleep, so I checked my email and learned that Neil Gaiman was performing at the Barbican on the nights we had planned to be in Stratford - and only on those nights, and the Saturday show was already sold out. If I hadn't already booked tickets for the RSC on Friday night, we would have stayed in London and the weekend as a whole would have been much less stressful...

Museum marvelsCollapse )

London, Day 2
groove, by martinlivings
Headed back to the British Museum this morning to see the Assyrian galleries and an excellent guided tour of their Japanese collection, which included some beautiful modern artwork as well as a fascinating array of netsuke. Rowan pleaded exhaustion after lunch (he slept yesterday afternoon and woke at about 4 am), so after I booked our tickets to see Martin Freeman in Richard III next week, I walked to the British Library to see some of their treasures - sketches by da Vinci and Michelangelo; letters from Galileo and Darwin; the oldest complete New Testament (the Vatican has the second-oldest) and oldest Beowulf (plus the first page of Seamus Heaney's first draft of his translation); original scores by Chopin, Handel and others; Scott's diary; Olivier's unfilmed script for Macbeth; Jane Austen's writing desk; early drafts of Beatles songs... Sadly, neither the handwritten original of Alice's Adventures Underground nor their copy of The Necronomicon were on display... but they're having an exhibition on the history of British comics and Melinda Gebbie is talking there tomorrow night, so I expect to return. Tomorrow, though, we'll probably go to see something less serious, such as the James Bond exhibit at the London Film Museum.

Speaking of matters less serious, tonight we went to the O2 to see Monty Python Live (Mostly), a reunion of the surviving Pythons ("One Down and Five to Go", to quote one of the T-shirts on sale). It was enormous fun, being mostly re-enactments of famous skits from the Four Yorkshiremen to the Parrot sketch, with some elaborately choreographed routines to famous Python songs - including "Sit on My Face and Tell Me That You Love Me". You'll be able to see it at the cinema, but that won't match the experience of being among 6,000 people singing the choruses of "The Philosophers' Drinking Song" and "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" along with the original cast.

NetsukeCollapse )

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