Monday, 26 December 2011

Who's the man with a boil on his head?

I came to Catholicism long after I came to hagiography.  By the time it dawned on me that I had religious beliefs, I was already enamoured of saints and something of an expert. 

It was all my mother's fault.  A jaunt to Madame Tussauds was foiled by excessive queues and as an alternative, she took me to the National Gallery.  I think I was about 6 or 7, and suspect I must have been disappointed and said so.  She soothed me down with promises of French Impressionists - a group of artists she liked a lot.

For one reason or another, I lost her somewhere around the first couple of galleries.  She sailed on to the joys of Monet and Renoir and I got stuck in the Early Renaissance.  Remarkably, she didn't panic, but simply retraced her steps and came to find me.  By then I'd found the small group of paintings by Sassetta and was gazing entranced at the scene where St Francis politely shakes a wolf by the paw - to the astonishment of the people of Gubbio.

It was a revelatory moment for me.  The first time art had sung to me.  I felt absolutely familiar with the form and style without any explanation at all.  It was, in fact, how the seven year old me would have painted the scene, had I had the talent.  I greeted mum, showed her the wonderful picture and we moved on to look at others of the same ilk.

Which immediately begged the question posed as the heading of this post.  (The image below isn't the one I saw that day, but it is fairly close, and does illustrate the point).

As it turned out, he was Saint Stephen - protomartyr and deacon, stoned to death in the very early days of the church.  His emblem, naturally, is a rock.  I was in love.  The shorthand and the directness of early Renaissance art had me hooked from then on.  I spent hours searching for books about iconography and hagiography and joyfully tracked down obscure images of obscure saints.  As far as Stephen goes, Crivelli's is probably my favourite. 

Crivelli has been one of my favourite artists ever since I found out about him.  He's a glorious anachronism.  In a world heading rapidly for Baroque, he remained deeply in love with the mixed Byzantine and Gothic traditions.  He work is feverish, intense, sublimely coloured and often filled with inexplicable fruit.  I love the way his Stephen has beautifully balanced rocks placed symetrically on his shoulders.  I love the soup dish halo.  I love that it was painted in 1476 and is contemporary with Mantegna, Bellini, Botticelli and other giants of that era - and yet so resolutely belonging somewhere earlier.  In the same year, Mantegna was painting this in Mantua.

On the feast of St Stephen, it seems appropriate to dwell a little on the art that lit up my life when I was so young and has continued to light it up ever since. 

Proof that the internet is wonderful

A mere hour ago, I posted about the washing machine catastrophe which was both irritating and amusing me.  An abbreviated version of this same sad tale appeared as my Facebook status.

Within minutes, an old friend chipped in with solid advice - which I followed.

I now have wet knees and a working washing machine AND a healthier bank account due to not spending vast sums on finding an engineer to come out on St Stephen's day.

This is what I call a result.  And thank you, Kate.

Well . . . bum

Late night discoveries are not usually good and ours was no exception.

A wash was put on sometime on Christmas Eve - and typically for us was then forgotten about.  Nothing wrong with that.  Except for two things.

One, the wash in question contains most of my husband's wearable clothing.

Two, the machine has dropped dead and won't open its door.

Is it wrong that while this is plainly irritating and likely to be expensive, I also find it funny?

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Happy Christmas

The great family shut down is up and running.  Food is cooking, gifts are being crooned over and I, personally am about to spend a joyous afternoon rummaging through the collected lyrics of Stephen Sondheim. 

Hope all are enjoying themselves as much as we are.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

The reading pile - more brain mapping

As we settle in for the great family blob, I am looking forward to my reading pile.

By the bed and dotted strategically around the house are the following:

Printed versions of character creation rules for the RPG formerly known as Runequest and Elric of Melnibone.  This in anticipation of a Google+ game intended to enliven the festival.

The Popes - John Julius Norwich and Saints and Sinners by Eamon Duffy

Reader's Digest book of British folklore

High Spirits by Robertson Davis, because what is Christmas without a ghost?

How to be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson - because who knows when the bakery urge may strike?

A random selection of Chalet School stories.  I love these.  If anyone knows where I can find a copy of Redheads of the Chalet School - just tell me.

Heroes of Shadow - D&D 4e handbook to update my bard with

As many plays as I can lay hands on, because being prepared is good.

The Lord of the Rings - an annual re-read.

Dracula - another one.

Everything I can find by Diana Wynne Jones and Georgette Heyer.  Never failing delights the both of them.

This list is pure joy.

Mikelmerck - Noblebloods

Nobleblood.  Sensitive, fast and prone to breakdown.
In stark contrast to the Duchy pony, the Nobleblood is entirely the product of deliberate breeding for speed.  Among the nobles of Mikelmerck, horse racing has long been a popular sport.  Indeed for some it amounts to an obsession. Lands, power and people are good, but the honour of the race is what truly makes the heart beat faster.

There is some mystery about the origins of the Nobleblood.  Certainly it has little in common with the native ponies, being taller, lighter in build, very delicate and entirely lacking in the Duchy pony's ability to protect its rider.  Fairly solid rumour supports the notion that the progenitors of the Nobleblood are from fey lines. 

Noblebloods are, in short, a luxury item par excellence.  What they have in abundance is speed.  With that speed goes considerable fragility.  This fragilty seems to be the price to be paid for their blinding pace and their ability to pass on those genes to their offspring.

Most noble families have a studbook to their name.  In much the same way as Duchy ponies are used as high currency, so too are Noblebloods.  More than one marriage has been arranged to gain access to particularly treasured bloodlines.

Mikelmerck - Duchy ponies

Duchy pony.  Note the heavy feathering, long mane and tail and generally hardy demeanour.
Travel is difficult in Mikelmerck.  Without the incredibly tough Duchy pony, some places would be entirely inaccessible - a fact that sheep have been using to their advantage for centuries.  Luckily, the Duchy pony exists and thrives.  Outsiders often comment that they have much in common with mules - namely they are remarkably stubborn.  Mikelmerckians agree, but add that they are also incredibly sure-footed, very loyal and possess some kind of second sight.  All these attributes far outweigh an occasional refusal to move.

As transport goes, a Duchy pony is not fast.  They are great weight-carriers however, and in the high days of lead mining, trains of them were used to carry the lead out of the mines and down the dales.  Farmers have long relied on them as well.  It is said that a good pony can carry an entire family all day without tiring.  For many families, the ownership of such a pony is a major ambition.  Lucky the son or daughter who is gifted one as part of a dowry.

Nobody would dream of trying to stable a Duchy pony.  They can live on very little and ignore all but the most brutal weather entirely.  They also to have a strong connection to the Older.  Shifting land, unexpected changes in the weather and boundary breakages are all noticed by these beasts and their owners do well to heed their warnings.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Battening down the hatches

By long tradition, we celebrate Christmas by shutting up shop and turning into anti-social blobs for three days.

Once the meat is collected, that's it.  We'll go into "this is our holiday, we can do what we like even if nobody else in the world approves."  Essentially, it means we'll wander around the house, cook a lot of stuff, eat it vaguely whenever we like, keep the coffee pot and mulled cider running and turn ourselves loose on our various hobbies without any guilt.  It is quite wonderful.

For a family of Catholic Jews to achieve guilt free blobbing is a major accomplishment.  It is a tradition I hold very dear. 

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Books: if you can find it, it isn't disorganised

A lot of our house looks like this.  We love books.  The smell of them, the feel of them, the history of them.  All those bent corners and worn spines have a story to tell.  Kindle has no place in our lives as yet.

We have books.  Lots of them.  I can find most of them with some ease.  My memory works like that.  So is it disorganised?  If the aim of organisation is to allow someone else to find things with ease, then yes, clearly it is.  But for us, it works.  Very, very rarely have I been unable to find something I wanted at the time I wanted it.

Want volume two of the Belgariad?  It's on the top shelf in the library to the right above the radiator between a Spanish dictionary and a book about molecular biology.  Need that elusive Asterix book?  Downstairs bathroom corridor, three shelves down, in among the Tintin.  Have to look up the pedigree of the 1835 Oaks winner?  Be my guest, far left, fifth shelf down, propped up bookcase to the left of the lavatory.

I think this might be a kind of map of my entire brain.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Mikelmerck - a Monstrous update (or mini-bestiary)

A is for Algae - nasty stuff that is hard to detect.  Apart from being slippery, it has an additional hazard attached to it.  Any metal or organic substance it touches begins to turn to green slime (saving throw). It can be killed with fire or extreme cold, and the transformation process can be arrested by the use of a cure disease spell.

B is for Badger - highly territorial and believed to carry disease.  As a result, farmers hunt them relentlessly.  They fight back, but will retreat if they can.  It's true about the disease.

Armor Class: 4 [15]
Hit Dice: 1

Attacks: 2 claws (1d3), bite (1d6)
Saving Throw: 14
Special: None
Move: 6

is also for Wild Boars - again a hunted beast that fights back.  In this case, they do not die easily.

Armor Class: 7 [12]
Hit Dice: 3+3
Attacks: Gore (3d4)
Saving Throw: 14
Special: Continues attacking 2 rounds after death
Move: 15
Boars continue to attack for two rounds after they are actually killed before they drop dead.

C is for Changeling fey - like for example, the Shifty Gan.

D is for Dawners.  The dawners are what is left of the oldest humans.  Forced away from civilisation, they live a brutish life in isolated pockets.  Over the centuries, their culture (if it ever existed) has degenerated and they are only rarely seen.  They do not like strangers but sometimes hunt other humanoids for their own mysterious purposes.

Armor Class: 6 [14]
Hit Dice: 1
Attacks: Weapon, usually spear (1d6) or slings (1d4)
Saving Throw: 17
Special:  Dawners will always try to hide and ambush rather than confront directly.  In general they will aim to pick off the weak and retreat with their prey.  They are intelligent and canny hunters.
Move: 12

E is for Ettin - these dimwitted two-headed giants argue constantly and have no chance of setting up an ambush - nor it must be admitted, any desire to either.  Permanently greedy, they can be a great bane to livestock.  Canny villages have sometimes managed to frighten ettins away by threatening them with something nastier.

Armor Class: 4 [15]
Hit Dice: 8+2
Attacks: Weapon (2d8)
Saving Throw: 8
Special: Throw boulders
Move: 12
They throw rocks for 2d8 points of damage.

F is for Fey - the ever-present boundary crossers of Mikelmerck.  Warrior bands sometimes cross into the Duchy as part of their initiation rites. 

Armor Class: 5 [14]
Hit Dice: 1+1
Attacks: Sword (1d8) or 2 arrows (1d6)
Saving Throw: 17
Special: Immune to some magic, but vulnerable to cold iron
Move: 12

is for Guardian ghosts.

H is for Horse - or more usually the Duchy pony.  Jet black and hardy, these unflappable beasts have been used for centuries to carry lead down mountains and farmers up dales.  For nobles, horse-breeding is a permanent interest and the study of pedigrees is considered a proper subject for the aristocracy.

Horses are AC 7 [12], with Duchy ponies having 4 HD, movement 14 and Noblebloods having 3 HD, movement 21.  The phlegmatic Duchy pony is always gets a save v fear the first time it sees something new.

L is for Lycanthropes.  In Mikelmerck these are werewolves for the most part.  They are also rare, which is a great relief to anyone who has met one.

Armor Class: 5 [14]
Hit Dice: 4+4
Attacks: Bite (2d4)
Saving Throw: 13
Special: Lycanthropy
Move: 12

N is for Nixie.  Nixies are river spirits who infest the Roosh.  Endlessly curious, they are usually friendly, but can be capricious - as well as prone to forgetting that most species need air to breath.  Nixies do not live long away from water and they like new playthings.

Armor Class: 7 [12]
Hit Dice: 1d4 hit points
Attacks: Weapon (1d6)
Saving Throw: 18
Special: Charm
Move: 6/12 (when swimming)

One in ten of them has the power to cast a powerful Charm Person (-2 on saving throw) that causes the victim to walk into the water and join the nixies as their slave (1 year). Casting Dispel Magic against the curse has only a 75% chance of success, and once the victim is actually in the water the chance drops to 25%.

P is for Pheasants.

S is for Sheep.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Bakery revisted

The great baking projects are complete.  I have the stained fingers and bizarre facebook statuses to prove it.

Operation Gingerbread went surprisingly well.  Once baked, the slabs behaved reasonably and responded to the application of icing-as-glue.  Well, one of them did.  The other admittedly suffered a structural collapse at a crucial stage, but imagination came to the rescue.  We decided that building a gothic ruin was a perfectly acceptable adaptation of the gingerbread theme.  The swift addition of a fallen body, several Christmas trees, a dusting of snow and fake blood and lo - a seasonal ghost story was born in bakery.  The other dwelling looked rather dull in comparison and I think next year I shall focus on ruins from the outset.

Christmas cake (i.e. chocolate laced with plum brandy confection) assembled and ready to be consumed whenever seems like a good idea.

Birthday cake also assembled.  It looks vile - and I say this with true feeling.  I spent the afternoon attempting to coat tentacles in buttercream and moulding demon eyes out of royal icing.  Just for the record, neither task is easy.  I would have been better off going for royal icing, but it doesn't taste as good.  In honesty, I'm not quite sure that the finished product looks like, but it does verge on the nightmarish which is the point after all.  I've stabbed it in one grotesque eye with a symbolic candle and shall take another poke at it tomorrow when I've got the food dye off my hands.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Organisation - I have the skillz

Sometimes I have the skillz.

The list so far - and meagre though it is, it pleases me:

Festive meat ordered:  Traditionally we tend to hole up over Christmas and just blob about amiably for the duration, but on this occasion we're going to be in Cyprus over the New Year.  Therefore it seemed a little foolish to buy vast slabs of meat.  My mum would have been so proud of me for thinking ahead.  One turkey crown, one piece of outstandingly beautiful beef, one ham to be cooked at home.  No pre-order on chipolatas.  The very fine butcher assured me that they will have plenty and they can be purchased on pick up.  Down payment made.

Bake fest impending:  Today and tomorrow.  Dear friend (she is my usual partner in crime for cake construction) is descending later today and we have plans to make a gingerbread building of some kind.  Possibly several as between us we never knowingly undercater.  A wistful phone conversation earlier in the week suggested that we may try to build something capable of accommodating a tealight without the gingerbread catching fire.  We shall make the building blocks (so to speak) today and then get busy with the icing gun tomorrow.

I also intend to make a Christmas cake based closely on the uber-chocolate cake I made for the infamous wedding back in October.  Fruit cake is pointless in our family as nobody eats it.  Booze-infused chocolate cake is likely to go down well, however.

Additionally, there is the son's birthday cake.  By tradition, he chooses what he wants the thing to look like, and so far has had a bird-eating spider, Cthulhu devouring a boat and a flame spitting dragon.  This year he wants another Elder God and I shall attempt to craft Shub-Niggurath for him. 

Trees:   Will go up this weekend as well.  One in each front facing bay window just because.

Yet to be done:

Umm.  Some present buying would be good, I suppose.
My tax return.  I'm whispering this one as it's a black spot in any year for the self-employed.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Panto again - oh, yes it is ...

More panto button pushing tomorrow afternoon.  The show has had two great reviews so far and audiences are going away very happy.

It's been interesting.  Of my four stints so far, three have been inhabited almost entirely by primary schools.  The fourth had a much, much older audience.  While the enjoyment levels have stayed the same, it's noticeable that the laughs come in different places and the cast perform differently. 

That's absolutely normal, in my experience.  Part of the point of live theatre is that the audience are part of the process.  With a panto, it's crucial because so much of it is based on direct interaction.  No fourth wall here.  Seeing the same show several times does highlight the subtleties that go into a performance. 

Of the two types of audience, I'd say that the older ones were far more prepared to let themselves go and enjoy.  Among the children, while the youngest just fell for the magic, the year 5 and 6s (aged about 10-11) were a bit wary about making fools of themselves.  Dignity kicks in at that age.  With their confident mature audience, the cast clearly felt relaxed enough to expand a bit on what they would do for a school audience.

Don't know what we have tomorrow, but I know for sure it will be different again.  Speaking of which, the cast must be in bits.  They've done eight performances in three days, one of them to a lot of highly critical press and sponsors.

Mikelmerck - Markets and knitting

Markets are a regular feature of life in Strangmont.  While barter is the commonplace day to day currency, for anything more out of the way than sheep products, a market is the only sensible option.  Strangmont holds the marketing rights for Mikelmerck and makes full use of them.

Craftsmen gather each month to trade goods and information in equal measure.  Here one may purchase basic supplies as well, as other more exotic things.  Very occasionally, fey traders arrive and their stalls are regarded with a mixture of longing and deep suspicion.  There is, as everyone knows, no such thing as a good fey bargain.  Or at least none that is good for the recipient.

The Duchy crafters have their specialities.  Knitwear is a major source of income for many families.  Nor is it to be despised.  Due to the hardy nature of Mikelmerck sheep, clothing made from their wool has extraordinary durability.  Some say that it is better than armour.  It must be confessed, however, that wearing Mikelmerck wool next to the skin is not recommended for the weak.

Each garment is unique.  Families pass down their pattens and guard them jealously.  In some cases, those pattens have particular virtues.  Members of the Thwaith clan knit charms against the cold into their clothing, while those of the Culd family have a long history of knitting clear sight into their clothes.  Some knitters will make special clothing to order for favoured customers.

Water-warded scarf with additional fey protection.  From the private collection of Scrivener Wainwright

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Button pushing for beginners

So, I took my first turn on the lighting board for the panto yesterday. Got in early to learn the ropes and watched the cast doing their very thorough physical and vocal warmup.  As always, it looked and felt like a small arcane world - craftsmen going about their business.  Very understated, very calm.

The lighting box is a great place to be.  You get the best of all possible worlds - the backstage chat, the show going on in front of you and the audience going nuts as well.  Sitting above the stage, you don a headset and listen for cues - punching buttons when you're told to and generally trying not to stuff it up.

Lighting board.  The One Button not shown.

This is made pretty simple, because there is just the One Button.  Should be easy.  Sort of is easy.  Except ...

What you hear is something like this:

Stage Manager:   Standby LX10-13, drop and there's a monkey
                           coming up your ladder
Me:                     Standing by ...
On stage:             Oooh, you are awful but I like you!
Audience:            He's beeehiiinddddd you!
Stage Manager:   Stand by stage right trap
Stagehand:           Standing by, trap open.
Front of House:   The missing school's just arrived, I'm sending them in.
On stage:             song about how wonderful Sinbad is starts
Audience:            *clapping along with increasing vigour*
Stage Manager:   LX10 
Me:                     Sta ...
Stage Manager:   Go.
Me:                     Hitting the One Button - Gone.
Front of House:   They're on their way.
Stagehand:          Monkey on its way down.
Stagehand:          Trap secure.
On stage:             as latecomers file in:  And what's your excuse?  
                           I hope you brought a note?
Stage Manager:   LX11 go
Me:                     Gone
Stagehand:           Stage right trap secure

For two and a half hours.  The big problem is that panto audience are vociferous.  It's an even bigger problem if they're not.  But it's dashed difficult to tell one cue from another when 50 ten year olds are bellowing "Don't DO IT DAME DONNA" at the top of their lungs.

By the way, theatre isn't glamorous, but it is immense fun.

(Also by the way - I'd love to know how to make blogger understand tabs.  Not lists, tabs.)

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Panto and why it matters

Performing now!
The panto is up and running at our theatre.  Sinbad set sail last week and by all accounts is a roaring success so far.  This is truly wonderful because the panto here is a proper panto.  No big name stars, but a group of hilariously talented craftsmen bringing their skills to our tiny stage and enchanting a whole new generation. They're having a pretty profound effect on the older generation as well.

Panto as we know it has some very old roots indeed.  Go back far enough and you're looking at the oldest of old midwinter festivals to stave off the dark.  Comedy to keep the black at bay - what could possibly be more important?  The cross-dressing topsy-turviness comes perhaps from the old days of the Boy Bishop and Saturnalia and the mixing of identities so the badness got confused and ran away.

Getting a bit closer in time, and a lot of the panto traditions have their bones in some of the greatest comic geniuses ever to grace a stage - Grimaldi, Dan Leno, Max Wall and their ilk. 

For a lot of British children, panto is their first brush with live theatre.  It was for me and I remember being taken when I was very young indeed.  The joy of it has stuck with me forever - the excitement and the fun and the stomach-churning fear that the baddie might win if we didn't shout loud enough.  In some ways, I don't think anything I've seen since has really matched that immersion. 

An oddly serious post about something that is all about light and fun and the goodies winning.  But it's nearly midwinter and sometimes we need to remember our roots.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Mikelmerck - The Leap

A simple stone cairn on the edge of a cliff is known locally as the Leap.

Here a foolish noble did his best to prove his indestructability and all but succeeded.  Waylance Aske, scion of a noble house was determined to prove that the blood of the fey ran in his veins.  His chosen method was to ride his horse off the edge of the cliff - certain in his own mind that the fey would protect him.  In the event, gravity paid more attention than any passing fey and he landed with broken legs on his still more broken horse.  Rescued the following day, he claimed to the end of his life that his survival proved his fey blood.  He was not believed.

For all his foolishness, Waylance may have been right.  It is possible he simply misinterpreted an older and stranger story.  Long ago, it is said, poets and bards would take the Leap.  For the worthy, the fey would catch and hold them.  When they returned home, they would have the words of the fey in their ears ever after.  There was a price, of course.  Their ravings were couched in such terms that few could understand them.  If any leaped and survived, their names are unknown.  For those that did not, their bones still lie at the foot of the Leap.

Sometimes their spirits still walk.

"Dude, I'm a heavily scarred catman ..."

Son arrived in my office late last night.

"I've just spent the last three hours killing an icewraith to prove my manhood."

"Oh, OK.  Did it work?"

"Getting there killed me three times.  Some pretty tough bandits and a girl wearing furry anklets who survived me walloping her with duel longswords for 20 seconds.  Oh, and a dragon fell on my head.  Icewraith - looked at him and he dropped dead. "

"So you proved your manhood."

"What sort of test is that?  I mean, look at me.  I rock up to the Nord outpost and they take one look and say I don't have the balls to be one of them.  There's no option to say, "Dude, I'm a heavily scarred catman who used to be a werewolf.  I'm wearing the third best armour in the game and the insignia of the Companions and the Dark Brotherhood.  I've killed dragons, wiped out small villages, assassinated emperors, and the only way to prove myself to you is to take out an icewraith?"."

"Bet you weren't wearing furry anklets."

"No.  I was wearing kickass armour."

"Go get some furry anklets.  It's the rule.  The colder the place, the fewer the clothes."

"It's Tough Guide, isn't it?"


"You know what mum?  You're right."

For those not aware of this wonderful book, by the late and hugely lamented Diana Wynne Jones, may I warmly recommend.  May I also say this is one of the few times son has admitted I'm right in recent months.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Mikelmerck - the caves beneath Strangmont Castle

Top down view of the caves.

The above map shows some of the difficulties involved in finding the caves beneath the Castle.  It is not that they don't exist, but the entrances are many and most lead to nothing in particular.  Nor are those entrances easy to find. 

Seen from the ground, there is merely limestone cliff rising steeply.  Covered in trees and brambles, it is not inaccessible, but it is inhospitable.  None of the openings are visible either from the top of the cliffs or from ground level.  If one could fly, perhaps the chances would be greater - and indeed watching the nesting patterns of birds has so far offered the best clues to possible entrances.

If Walt Mukel ever fulfils his dreams of finding a useful entrance, he will be hard pressed to make any use of it.  He has neither the skills, nor, if the truth be told, the inclination to go burrowing among the rocks.  Such activity is far below his sense of self-worth.  Paying the intrepid is one option, but he would need to be very sure he could trust such a group.  After all, he has not spent the best part of his adult life looking for secrets to have them blabbed about by some random adventurer.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Last classes of 2011

Got my last set of classes today.

I always do a mental tally of what's been achieved over a term - nothing formal, just a kind of balance sheet to help me focus on what needs to be done next.  A priority roadmap, I suppose.

We have dates for all our productions and some of them are coming up very soon indeed.  Antigone needs to be ready in the first week of March - which essentially gives us 6 rehearsals (12 hours) plus a dress/tech to get it right.  Planning is on course for that.

The cast have the bones in the right place, but some are behind on the lines.  Among the principals, nice performances are emerging, but they need to find more variety.  With these heavy roles it's a great temptation to give each line the same weight in an attempt to convey all the ideas.  That leads to shouty, dull performances, so we'll be looking at finding ways to give some light and shade to the scenes.  Most of the story is basically a monster family row played out in public, but I think there needs to be a greater contrast in the rare moments when Chorus and principals are not on stage together.

Malfi is now fully blocked at last.  Spent Thursday working through the small bits we never managed to do before, worked through the fights and sent the cast home with instructions that lines must be learned for progress to be made.  Costuming on that is moving ahead as it's complex and a pain.  We can't do a "proper" period, so we'll be concocting a house-style.  If it is internally consistent with the world we're building, it will both work and look good.  Fabric and colour are the keys here.

Faustus has the longest rehearsal period.  It also has the widest spread of cast experience and the big issue here is to help them blend.  Everyone is talented and some are very promising, but for a lot of this large cast, this will be their first attempt at a major piece of classic storytelling.  I'm lucky enough to have been able to seed it through with some very good, very experienced senior members who are acting as mentors (whether they know it or not).  I am much further behind with costuming ideas on this one, but that isn't the priority here.  Not yet anyway.

As far as Bowes goes ... well now.  The nativity went well (I didn't see it, but my spies are everywhere).  We are now therefore back to Drama Club only.  What normally happens is that we get a lot of new members off the back of the nativity (which is partly the idea, after all).  They start again in January and by the end of the Spring term we should be working on whatever their summer show will be.  I'll write something for them.  The theme pretty much has to be the Olympics (2012, unavoidable).  Some kind of Greek myth I think. 

Cast will range in age from 6-11.  I will probably only have one or two boys at most.  Ability will also be varied.  Suggestions? 

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Mikelmerck - The Strangmont Seneschal (8th day of advent)

I have every intention of doing backdated posts for the 6th and 7th days as well, but this is what you get today.  

The position of Seneschal at Strangmont Castle is hereditary.  This is due to an error of wording in the original contract, but after 700 years it is a little late to be setting right a bureaucratic error.  In any case, to do so would be to bring down the wrath of the Mukel family.  Never a large clan, they are nonetheless important and have made themselves more so with their tenacious hold on the post of Seneschal.

As the years have gone by and the Castle's importance as a politcal seat has dwindled, so too have the duties declined.  In honesty, they are now mostly ceremonial and for most of the people of Strangmont, the Seneschal is a kind of local joke.  Naturally nobody says so outright, but the tolerant politeness shown to the current holder speaks for itself.

Walt Mukel - Hereditary Seneschal of Strangmont Castle
Walt Mukel is not happy about this and longs for the glory days.  Now in his early thirties and unmarried, he has a two great ambitions.  The first is to wed so the line can continue through him rather than some outlier cousin.  His second great ambition is to find the caves beneath the Castle.  To this end he spends much of his time searching the extensive records for clues.

Walt has been postponing the search for a wife mainly because he feels he simply cannot spare the time.  He is also uncertain quite how to broach the matter.  He is anxious to avoid marrying someone unable to appreciate the importance of his lineage.  Locally, Walt is reckoned a good catch - being a pompous bore is not a crime, after all. 

Walt is often to be found fulfilling his duty to walk the walls with obsessive interest.  He always takes a small hammer and a tape measure with him, but hides both when anyone comes into view.


Just to say, the great trestle collapse has rendered me a bit inoperative in the last couple of days, and I've been devoting myself to taking lots of pain killers and doing the things that really had to be done - like, for example, rehearsals.

All is now well bar some minor bruising and I'm nearly out of the teaching woods for the year.  We finish a week before the schools this time around.  A good thing as that give me time to make some vital lists to not-accomplish. 

Got behind on Mikelmerck as well, but I'll be catching up with that again later tonight. 

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Closing on opening night

... or to put it another way, they have their dress rehearsal tomorrow morning and performance in the evening.  It went much, much better today.  Followers will know that "much, much better" is not a high bar but there was sufficient improvement that the staff and I heaved a collective sigh of relief.

In the hope of energising everyone at 9.20 in snow-bound Bowes, I lead a warmup.  This went extremely well and included some high comedy for the masses.  I backed away from the cast as we went through some breathing and projection work and walked into a set of trestles I didn't know were there.  Collapse.  Also, it must be admitted some pain as them there trestles be sharp.  If it caused the resulting performance, I'll obviously need to find some way to publically cripple myself before every show I direct.

What worries me is that might actually be a good idea.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Mikelmerck - on weather (5th day of advent)

(Yes indeed, a slight sense of thematic need prompted this one, along with a semi-joke from Barry Blatt a few weeks ago.)

A bit parky,  frost, mist and breeze

Mikelmerckian weather has a charm of its own.  A charm hard to fathom for the outsider, but much appreciated by the natives.

Visitors say Mikelmerck weather comes in two flavours.  Cold and wet or the ever-popular foggy and wet.  This is an injustice as Srivener Wainwright demonstrates. He has conscientiously documented the various types of rain throughout the year.

  1. Drizzle
  2. Squally showers
  3. Downpour
  4. A good drench
  5. Precipitation
  6. Flurries
  7. Torrent
  8. Tempest
  9. Heavy condensation
  10. Heavy dew
  11. Sheets
  12. Freezing
  13. Deluge
  14. Sprinkling
  15. Misting
  16. Showers of mixed amphibians
  17. Showers 
  18. Thunderstorm
  19. Cloudburst
  20. Spitting
To these he adds the following seasonal options:
  1. High winds (any time of year)
  2. Dense fog (autumn and winter)
  3. Mist (autumn and winter)
  4. Early lying mist (spring and summer)
  5. Gusting winds (any time of year)
  6. Overcast (any time of year)
  7. Dank air (any time of year)
  8. Thick frost (autumn and winter)
  9. Sleet (winter)
  10. Snow flurries (winter)
  11. Snowstorm (winter)
  12. Mardy (when summer isn't what it should be)
  13. Hail (spring and summer)
  14. Blowy (any time of year, but notably in late spring)
  15. Bit parky (only if the temperature drops below zero)
  16. Sunshine (Progress time only)
  17. Breezes
  18. Gales
  19. Clarty (summer only)
  20. Sheepsky (a prelude to thunder)
Dense fog, overcast with spitting rain

Weather gods

The weather gods were clearly paying attention.

Not half an hour after the fruit trees were settled in yesterday, it started to snow.  Not settling snow by any means, but those big white flakes that look pretty.

I clearly do have some impact with the weather.  Usually inconveniently, I must admit.  Once the grass starts growing, I only have to think about mowing the lawn and clouds will gather to chuck rain all over it.  Anyone in possession of a lawn will know that mowing when wet leads to backache and ripped turf.  Hence the hayfield we often have instead of neatly cut grass.

This time, however, I can feel suitably smug.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Mikelmerck - Guardian ghosts and others (4th day of advent)

(Yes, I know yesterday's Mikelmerck post was on the 3rd day of advent, but the title was already absurdly long)

Due to the tendency of Mikelmerkians to remain in harness after death, ghosts are not so much feared as expected.  Held by contract to their households, ghosts are regarded as security.  They recognise members of the family perfectly well.  Selected friends may well be introduced to the ghost as well, so that they may visit in peace.  Strangers get a chillier welcome until vouched for.

All this is innocent and practical enough, but not all ghosts are so benignly tied.  Ghosts found in abandoned places may well be angry that they have not been formally released.  Over time, anger may turn to something worse and such ghosts may wander the Duchy seeking someone to put them to rest.  In general such ghosts will attempt to reach existing family members, but if that is not possible, anyone will do.  Some very long abandoned spirits may go entirely mad, believing any person they come across is a member of their former family.  Such a person will be relentlessly haunted until the ghost can be placated and released.

There are also stories of ghosts refusing to end their contracts.  These dangerous spirits hunt for a more profound unlife than the one granted to them and are drawn to sorcery of all kinds. 

Guardian ghosts
Armor Class: 6 [13]
Hit Dice: 2
Attacks: Chill gaze (1d3), Touch (1d4)
Saving Throw: 16
Special: Immune sleep spells and normal weapons, paralysing touch
Move: 9
Challenge Level/XP: 3/60

In the nick of time

Just, just got the fruit trees in on time.

Planted this morning as sleet fell.

A braeburn, a bramley and my longed-for humbug pear have all been bedded down in well dug soil, primed with the world's stinkiest manure.

Roses pruned.  Clothes changed (as it seems unfair to the Twelfth Night cast to have to be enthusiastic about a Maria sporting eau de manure).

Note to weather gods:  you may now snow.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Mikelmerck - pheasants (but not as you know them)

Mikelmerck Pheasant

Although extremely tasty and a prized delicacy, Mikelmerck pheasant is a rare dish.  There are good reasons for this.  At any time of year, the cock and hen pheasants represent a challenge.

Pheasants roam the moors of Mikelmerck almost entirely undisturbed.  Their peculiar defences mean that they breed untroubled.  Naturally this also means that their population must be culled if pheasants are not to take over the landscape and so hunting is a necessary, as well as a taxing sport.

During their breeding season, pheasants attract mates with their colourful plumage.  Males grow lengthy tail feathers which quite literally set fire to their surroundings.  Once a nest is built and eggs are laid, the females use their petrifying gaze as a defence.  Few creatures will live near a pheasant nest.  If the cocks are not setting fire to the landscape, the hens are creating sculpture gardens of unwary creatures.

The chicks do not develop their potent defences until the end of their first moult, and remain close to their home nest and parents until they do.  Anyone fortunate enough to come upon an unattended nest may capture the chicks without difficulty.  Pheasant feathers are highly prized as magical components as well.  A single pheasant chick can provide enough wealth to keep a family for many years. 

Almost their only natural enemy is the common weasel.  For some reason, weasels are immune to the gaze of the hen pheasant and they represent the prime enemy to the birds.  Humans too take advantage of the mustelids hunting ability and immunity.  Hunting parties arm themselves with weasels and ranged weapons and take to the hills in search of pheasant.  Such hunts are not for the faint hearted - and indeed the sport is mostly confined to the nobility.  Commoners prefer to find less exhausting ways to die.  Nonetheless, there are enough people brave or desperate enough to try to capture the birds.  Nobody knows how many worn stone cairns were once optimistic poachers.

Mikelmerck Pheasant
Armor Class: 6 [13]
Hit Dice: 3 during breeding season/2 during hunting season
Attacks: Gaze (1d3+ turn to stone (hens)/Fiery tail (1d4 + further 1d4 every turn until save) (cocks)
Saving Throw: 11
Special: Gaze turns to stone/Fiery tail
Move: 6/18 (when flying)
Challenge Level/XP: 4/600

Friday, 2 December 2011

Rehearsals on the brink

Today was not good for the nativity crew.

The plan - and one has to have them - was to run the whole thing and then sort out anything outstandingly dire.  This was their last run before they arrive at the village hall on Monday morning.  It was all dire, so staggering through was the best we managed.

There were multiple interruptions, some of them weather-related, but most of them to do with it being Friday at then end of a long week.  Attention spans were not so much short as non-existent. 

One of the angels still knows none of her lines, but is capable of quoting anyone else's and does so at the drop of a hat.  I can sympathise (it's so much easier to learn other people's lines), but irritating.  The competent shepherd was on holiday, leaving his less talented team-mates floundering.  One bodyguard went on strike and the other had to go to the dentist.

Tiddles the cat fell over in the playground, hurt her back and spend the rest of the afternoon sitting on an icepack.  I still don't know if we have a Joseph or not.  The child playing Mary has gamely learned his lines as well and will say them if necessary.  The Wise Men were so engrossed in being cool and funny that they forgot where the audience was and spent their whole scene looking in the wrong direction.

The songs ... oh, dear.  An awful lot of hopeful faces looking at the five who reliably knew the words.  Bad luck then, when all five were on stage and unable to sing.  Also a good deal of squirming around to see what the person behind them was doing, poking each other and wailing that so-and-so was supposed to sing that bit and why weren't they.  Floods of tears from so-and-so.

To cap it all, the weather started turning nasty and a couple of mums turned up to remove their offspring.  They live in very far flung spots and faced the real prospect of not being able to get home.  At this point I was wishing I hadn't been able to leave home.  The minor positive was that everyone knew when things had gone wrong, just not when it was them.

All will be well on Monday.  To be honest, I have seen worse.  But not very often.

Mikelmerck - Goffroi I, the Pactsinger (2nd day of advent)

The real foundation of Sarahame power lies in the Song of Binding composed by Goffroi I.  As a young man, arrogant and longing for power,  he hunted and caught a fey woman on his lands.  Outraged at his insolence, but intrigued by his courage, she offered a bargain.  If he could compose a song to please her, she would lie with him three nights.  

The song was sung and on the first night, the fey woman lay with him and bore a son.  Now she asked Goffroi to raise the boy in the mortal world.  He agreed.  The boy should hold all the land that he would walk in a day.  So was marked the boundary of Mikelmerck.

On the second night, the fey woman lay with him and bore a daughter.  She asked that the girl be raised among the fey.  Goffroi agreed, but insisted that the girl return each year for one day.  So was born the Veiled One.

On the third night, the fey woman waxed great but bore no child.  She offered Goffroi a choice.  The child she carried would be his downfall and the downfall of his family.  So long as he and his heirs walked the Progress with the Queen each year, they would prosper.  When the bargain was broken, she would birth the child.

In the morning, he found her gone, leaving nothing but a spring of broom in her place.  Taking it as his emblem and his name,  Goffroi heeded her words.  He wrote down the tale and the song.  The tale is told freely - if treated now as a myth.  The song has been long hidden.  Some parts can be found engraved into the family vault at Jervich, but the whole is unknown these days.  For seven centuries the Sarathames have walked the Progress, always accompanied by a veiled woman.  Some bargains are not to be broken.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Mickelmerck - Background to a borderland (1st day of advent)

Mikelmerck has always been borderland.

It borders the world of the fey and the mortal lands.
It borders the north and south of Albion, forming a barricade for both.
It borders fierce beauty and incredible danger.
Creativity and pragmatism.
Some say life and death.

Sleeping Older

For the followers of Cooshboth, the answers are simple.  Mikelmerck was created in the image of heaven and anyone who doesn't believe it can lump it.  Cooshboth is a latecomer however, and in the manner of latercomers, has simply appropriated what was already believed.

In reality, the Cooshboth answer is both the truth and not true enough.  Mikelmerck is the cauldron of the Older.  Here is where they made their first steps on the world and it contains the best and worst of their creation.  Here they marched on the land and made creatures.  Here they rest, waiting for the day when their creatures end their fumbling lives and they can start again.

The Older have no understanding of good and evil.  They simply are.  In mortal terms, the best you can say is that they have a sense of balance.  For now they rest, stirring only occasionally.  Such stirring is not a minor thing and their dreaming thoughts and shifts have profound effects on the landscape and the people. 

Straddling the mortal and fey worlds, the borders are thin.  Where the Olders sleep, the fey slip through.  Ever curious, they find Mikelmerck alluring.  It leads them to fresh places, new things.  Once, this was fey country, but they were driven back by the arrival of humans.

Stumbling into Mikelmerck, humans did what everyone who visits it has done.  They try to take it.  The history of Mikelmerck is a history of invasions.  None has succeeded.  The land lets them in and tames them, making each new arrival a part of itself.