Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Meeting a space legend in Norwich

Helen Sharman at the Norwich Science Festival, Norwich Cathedral. October 2017.

Having had a hint of what a great speaker Helen Sharman is at the recent New Scientist Live event I was very excited about this event, and it was heart warming to see that the people of Norwich, Norfolk and far beyond also felt the same.  Norwich Cathedral's main space was full the on the afternoon of Dr Sharman's talk.

Dr Sharman spoke for 45 minutes about her career as a scientist and her time as an astronaut, and this was a brilliant talk taking a different tack than many of the other space talks that I've heard - this one was very much about the science involved.

This wasn't just about the science Dr Sharman undertook in space (more of this later) but about the importance of science in getting to space, in surviving in space and also how science will let us explore further in space.  Linking everything back in this was really inspiring and gave a real insight into how earth based science really does have implications for space.

The parts I found most interesting however was when Dr Sharman talked about the experiments she undertook on MIR regarding plants and seeds. Although she was only there for 8 days it was enough time to see how roots grow and seeds germinate. All well and good and at this point it looked like growing food in space would be possible. Indeed I thought that this was the case as we've seen astronauts on ISS grow lettuce and flowers.  I didn't know that as yet it hasn't proved possibly to actually grow fruit or vegetables, and that as yet no one is actually sure why, although there are theories.  This inability to produce food has great implications for long duration missions to other planets where regular resupply deliveries won't be possible.

After a great question and answer session, Mr Norfolkbookworm and I were lucky enough to have the chance to meet Dr Sharman and talk with her for a few minutes.  I had another question about the science she undertook on MIR as I was interested if she'd seen practical applications of any of her experiments back here on earth. I wasn't aware that due to the nature of her mission (and the lack of money) she wasn't able to take her 'own' experiments and was just helping the Russians with theirs.

This was a wonderful afternoon, and although the cathedral was packed and we were very much in the middle of the audience the great PA system and large screens relaying the talk meant that we didn't miss a thing. Here's hoping Norwich starts to get the same reputation as Pontefract for welcoming astronauts and we become a regular stopping off place for space travellers!

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Theatre 2017: Review Thirty-one - Fantasia Live

Fantasia Live in Concert, The Royal Albert Hall, London. October 2017.

Delayed gratification appears to be a thing in our family as this was actually my nephew's birthday present and he's waited patiently since June for this to come around!

My sister and I saw a previous version of this back in 2012 and so knew we were in for a treat and it didn't disappoint.  Wonderful music and scenes from these beautiful films - what more can you ask for.

Once more the responses from the audience added to the magic and I think pretty much the whole Albert Hall jumped at the volcano in the scene set to Stravinsky's Firebird Suite.  It wasn't until afterwards that we realised how different to before this show was - with over half the programme coming from the newer Fantasia 2000 film.

My personal favourites were all included and so I was very happy, and from the applause I think that my nephew, sister & husband felt the same!  For me there really is something special about live music and live music in the splendour of the Royal Albert Hall is even more special!

Our only small quibble with the experience is that there was no programme and we do all really like one of these as a souvenir.

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Hanging out with Mickey

It has been a busy month here in the Norfolkbookworm burrow - as well as lots of exciting things happening at work I also took a short break with my sister where we embraced our inner children (never far from the surface if I am honest) and had two nights and three days in Disneyland Paris.

I've been lucky enough to visit a few of the Disney parks in Orlando for day trips but I've not stayed in a Disney hotel or seen the fireworks at the end of the night - we decided to rectify this in my 40th birthday year!

I can say that we had a wonderful time - we got to meet favourite characters - especially thanks to my surprise late present which included a wonderful breakfast and the opportunity to meet Tigger, Eeyore, Mickey, Daisy and Scrooge McDuck.

Huge rides aren't our thing but we had fun on those we went on (mostly - sorry about *that* one Emma!) and I can say that there really isn't anything quite like a Disney firework display, or a the parade or even the decorations.  I was also really impressed with the food we had in the parks - from the fancy restaurants to the snacks everything tasted lovely.

Oh - and yes we did try the ridiculous cocktails - and they were very nice :)

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Unexpected astronaut encounters

New Scientist Live, ExCeL Centre, London. September 2017.

Through being in the right place at the right time I made an unexpected trip to the Thursday of the 2017 New Scientist Live (sorry Natalie - hope you had a productive day in the office!)

The highlight of going on this day was that astronauts Tim Peake, Helen Sharman and Al Worden were headline speakers and giving an hour long session.  Even getting to the theatre 30 minutes early for this I wasn't too near the front but this didn't matter as the stage was also shown on two large screens raised above the stage so you didn't miss anything.

The astronauts didn't give talks as such but were asked questions by various people - the host, Stephen Hawking, school children and each other - and this lead to some wonderfully relaxed chat that was nicely balanced between all three speakers (and kudos to the host who let the chat flow!).

The three talked a little of their missions and then a lot about the future of space flight and the debate whether we should go back to the moon or on to mars was fascinating as was the chat on who should go on whichever mission happens.

All three speakers had great stories to tell and also displayed a lot of humour, as ever I was very pleased to hear from a female astronaut and am very excited that Helen Sharman will be in Norwich in October so that I can hear more from her, and hopefully get to meet her in person.

After this talk I spent a lot of time walking around the show, talking to people from all sorts of science and technology backgrounds as well as listening to talks on a variety of topics. I was lucky enough to get to meet Al Worden later in the day and get him to sign a copy of his autobiography for me. I also met (and got a signed book) from Libby Jackson who is head of education at the UK Space Agency, played with robots, learned about gene manipulation and played on the science fun fair.

I've looked at the programme for New Scientist Live before and debated whether it is worth it and now I can categorically say yes and that I'm already looking for details of next year's show so that I can go again - and this time with more people, especially my nephew!

Friday, 6 October 2017

Theatre 2017: Review Thirty - La Boheme

La Boheme, The Royal Opera House, London. September 2017

After our wonderful outing to see Madama Butterfly in the spring Mum and I have been looking at the ROH brochure often for other things to try and so when booking opened for this we were pleased to see that another lunch time matinee had been scheduled.

This time I didn't know the music at all, and only had a vague idea of the story but like all good theatre that didn't matter and from curtain up to last bows I was captivated.

For such a tragic story there were a lot of laugh out loud moments, although mum (who knows the story) says these came from the liberties taken with the libretto. I think that they were needed to balance the story for it showed how much Mimi's tale changed the group.

This was a new staging of the show and I for one loved it, it was deceptively simple and absolutely designed with every seat in the house thought of and the street scene was incredible, it really looked like you could walk down those arcades.

As this is a winter tale snow was falling on the stage a lot of the time and I did feel cold along with the characters and when they lit the stove I swear I did warm up.

I wasn't sure that I was as swept up in the story this time as when we saw Madama Butterfly but as I was crying by the end I guess I was as involved!

Another great trip the Opera House, we recommend the seats up in the amphitheatre - great views and easy viewing of the surtitles - and we are already looking through the brochure for what to see next!

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

September Reading Round Up

Our trip to Yellowstone and the other American National Parks has a big effect on me - I don't think that I've ever fallen in love with a place so deeply before.  My day (and night) dreams seem to be full of mountains and wildlife and so has my September reading as I worked my way through numerous memoirs of Rangers who live and work in the National Parks.

Apart from these books I've had an interesting month - many of my books had a space theme and as I blogged earlier this week these were of mixed quality. Unsurprisingly the two books I was complaining about haven't made my best of the month...

Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornack

This book isn't actually published until the 19th of October but thanks to Netgalley I got to read this early after hearing lots of good things. This is (sort of) a Christmas book - a family are forced into quarantine over Christmas as one of the family has just returned from Africa where she has been nursing in an Ebola style emergency.  Forced proximity with family is always stressful and this family all have secrets...
The book is a little cheesy and I did guess one of the twists but this didn't matter overall as it was just a really good book - it is also set in Norfolk and trying to guess the 'real' locations was an added level of fun to the read.

The Rise of the Rocket Girls - Nathalia Holt

After the success of Hidden Figures earlier in the year I was pleased to find another book about women working in the early days of the American space program. These women worked more with the unmanned programs and were based at JPL in Pasadena, CA.  It was great to hear more about the human computers and as I've been lucky enough to visit JPL this book really came alive for me.

A Galaxy of Her Own - Libby Jackson

Another book focusing on women in space, this is supposedly for children but wouldn't look out of place in any human spaceflight book collection. Jackson goes right back to the nineteenth century to look at women in history who have influenced the space program and features women from all over the world.  We get to 'meet' women from all walks of life - astronauts to computers to the people making the spacesuits. Each woman gets a page to herself and is illustrated by different up and coming artists.
The book isn't officially published until November but I got my copy at New Scientist Live and was lucky enough to get it signed by Jackson too.

A River Runs Through It - Norman Maclean

After reading so many books set in National Parks, Wyoming and Montana it was hard to pick just one as a book of the month.  Finally I settled on this one as it was just so different. On first glance it seems to be just about fly fishing but it was so much more - it is about families, nature, love and duty. I loved it! I wasn't quite so enamoured of the other short stories but this one really spoke to me.

Monday, 2 October 2017

The Grumpy Norfolkbookworm

A week which has left the Norfolkbookworm grumpy and bewildered.

I think that regular readers of this blog (waves at all three of you!) know that I love books from all genres and that as long as people read I have no snobbery as to what it is being read, however this past week has really challenged me three times.

Irritation number one – poorly edited books

This week I have picked up two new space books from the library with a view to buying them for my nephew later. However both of them have had major errors within the first 60 pages making me doubt the content of the rest of the book.

The first book (Apollo by Zack Scott) lists the wrong Apollo astronaut as part of a mission.
The second book (Beyond the Sky by Dara O’Briain) describes in really easy to understand terms how a solar eclipse occurs but then in big, bold, fancy text calls it a lunar eclipse. #facepalm

To be fair the publishers of Apollo have come back to me an apologised and assured me that this will be corrected in subsequent reprints and Dara O'Briain has tweeted me to say that he'll get his book corrected in reprints too.

Irritation number two – World Book Day 2018

The titles that children can swap their £1 vouchers for next March were announced this week and at first I was really pleased as there are 10 titles to pick from this time – surely this will mean there is something for everyone…

However of these 10 books
·         4 are by celebrities who are supposedly writing these books themselves
·         1 book is all about the Avengers and so not necessarily by any particular author
·         2 books feature well established characters (Paddington and the Mr Men)

This leaves just three books by ‘real’ authors.  Now I know that any book in the hands of a child is better than no book *but* why aren’t publishers using this opportunity to promote new authors to readers?  There are hundreds of great authors out there who go undiscovered because all of the press coverage goes to celebrity writers – why not use this promotion to widen reader experience rather than celebrity profile?

Before people call me out on this I’m not particularly questioning the quality of the books or the promotion as a whole. Free books give people the chance to try something new and I think a big opportunity is being missed here. Infrequent book buyers recognise celebrity names and brands and are more likely to buy these familiar books whereas they are less likely to try unknown authors and potentially ‘waste’ their money – WBD gives people the chance to try new things without spending anything…

Irritation number three – book reviews in the press

We’ve recently started buying a Saturday paper on a regular basis and I am enjoying the review section a lot as a rule. However this week I was just left fuming.

In the book section this week 20 books were reviewed. Of these just two were written by women and even these didn’t get full reviews, just short paragraphs.  A further two books were featured in more chatty articles – these were also by men. One book was about a woman but this too was written (and reviewed) by a man.  Three of the reviewers were female which is slightly better…

My rant on Twitter lead to some interesting chat with other readers, one said that she wasn’t bothered by the gender of the writer just the quality of the book which was a fair point but it goes back to my thoughts on World Book Day – if books/authors  don’t get the coverage how do casual readers (who don’t go in bookshops and libraries to browse) find them?

I confess that I was tired and grumpy as I read the paper yesterday and so to be fair I dug through the recycling to find last week’s paper to do the same counting exercise…

21 books were reviewed last week and 8 of these books were by women. There were also another four featured authors – 2 of whom were female. 

It is possible that I just overreacted this week but I will be watching this closely – and don’t get me started on the lack of children’s books or those in translation…