Sunday, November 10, 2013

Book signing in Stereo Studio, Silkeborg, Denmark

Saturday the 9th of October Don and I did a book signing in Don's Danish "hometown" Silkeborg. It was the record store Stereo Studio that had invited us and when we arrived a quarter to one on that Saturday noon, the shop was already crowded with people who wanted to buy the book and have it signed by Don and me.
Some of the people had ordered their books in advance and that was a good thing, because within 20 minutes every single book in the shop was gone. As there weren't enough books, some people bought Slade CDs instead and had Don sign them. Others had brought their own old LPs and had them signed.
At the signing we met our old friend Jonas, the drummer of Danish band The Guv'nors with whom Don has worked in 2007. It was great seeing him again. We also met 4 guys from my hometown Odense who had travelled all the way to Silkeborg to have their books sign - because they hadn't been aware of the book signing in Odense on October 22! When Don had to leave for a birthday party straight after the book signing, these 4 guys invited me on a drink in a nearby pub, so that I wouldn't have to stand alone at the station for an hour, waiting for my train to arrive. Thanks guys! I hope to see them again in February 8th, 2014, where Slade will be playing in Naestved in Denmark - their first Danish gig in ages!

Monday, November 04, 2013

Behind the Candelabra

Based on Scott Thorson's autobiographical novel, Steven Soderbergh's film "Behind the Candelabra" tells the story of the 6-year relationship between Thorson and his much older lover, the flamboyant piano player Liberace. Originally an HBO TV film, "Behind the Candelabra" was received so well that HBO sold the theatrical rights for other countries and that was how I got to see it here in Denmark in October 2013.

In real life Thorson was 16 years old when he met the 57 years old Liberace in 1976, but the film makes him out to be a little older. Probably in order not to gross out the audience as you could argue that Liberace was a paedophile who seduced boys who hadn't reached the age of consent, yet. The film is not about paedophilia, though, but about a showbiz relationship.

The young animal trainer Scott Thorson and his older boyfriend Bob Black goes to Las Vegas to see a Liberace show and meet the artist afterwards. Young Scott, who has been raised by foster parents, immediately falls for the much older man and although he is being warned, Scott refuses to see the dark sides of Liberace. Scott and Lee, as Liberace is called, are living the fast life, but to Scott it means having to say goodbye to his freedom, career and identity and hello to drugs, plastic surgery and financial dependency.

To be honest, Liberace has always seemed a bit ridiculous to me, but seeing the film, I fully understood why Scott fell in love with him. The film is very clever that way, very manipulating and intelligent. When Scott gets charmed, we get charmed. When Scott is being manipulated, we are being manipulated. And when Scott is hurt, we hurt. It's brilliantly directed and very witty too.

And then of course the cast is amazing. Michael Douglas IS Liberace. Full stop. Creepy, charming, vulnerable and manipulative. And Matt Damon is funny and youthful and naive as Scott Thorson. Both of them deliver strong, stunning and spirited performances and are believable as a gay couple.

Worth noticing are also Scott Bakula as Scott's ex-boyfriend Bob Black, Rob Lowe as the plastic surgeon (and drug dealer) Dr. Jack Startz, Debbie Reynolds as Liberace's mother Frances Liberace and Dan Aykroyd as his manager Seymour Heller. I must admit thought, that Dan Aykroyd was so well disguised and Debbie Reynolds had aged so much that I didn't recognise any of them, so I had to read the credits before I realised who they were!

To sum up: "Behind the Candalabra" is one of the best films I have seen this year. It's a must see, even if you have never heard about Liberace before! Four out of five stars: ****

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

"Look Wot I Dun" promotion in Odense, Denmark

After a slow start in the Moby Disc Records shop in Odense yesterday afternoon where only a handful of people came to buy the book and have it signed, things improved in the evening where Odense Music Library hosted a talk/Q&A with Don and me. So many people turned up that the Music Library had to put up more chairs!
The event at the Music Library lasted for 1½ hours with me introducing myself and the book in Danish before Don joined in and we talked about his life for about 40 minutes. After a short intermission where people were able to buy beer and soft drinks, the audience asked Don questions and had their books and other stuff signed by Don and me. By the end of the day, most of the books from Moby Disc Records had been snapped up after all.
Don and I had a lovely day and it was fun saying hi to so many of you. A big thank you to all of you who turned up!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Harry Potter Festival 2013

The 11th Harry Potter Festival took place here in Odense, Denmark on October 17-19, 2013. Over the years the festival has grown larger, but not necessarily better. When it first started in 2002, it was just a magic day at the local library attended by 40 kids. Then it grew to become a regular festival that lasted for a week and had up to 4,000 visitors. Three hundred of the kids went to Hogwarts each year in our old town hall where they were sorted into the different houses and tried to win the House Cup. They also had lessons in Transfiguration, Defence Against the Dark Arts, Charms, Potions, History of Magic, Herbology and Care of Magical Creatures taught by McGonagall, Snape, Hagrid and the rest of the staff. They got their wands at Ollivander's and fought off dementors and inferi and all in all it was an amazing experience for the kids. The festival also included The Forbidden Forrest, The Hogwarts Express, Hagrids Hut, The Chamber of Secrets and a two day Diagon Alley/Hogsmeade market in the town hall square. For many a Harry Potter fan, it was indeed the highlight of the year!
Then in 2010 J. K. Rowling visited the festival and Hogwarts was closed, as she needed the building to have lunch with the local notabilities. Hogwarts never opened again and as the number of visitors had increased to 10,000 the market days in the town hall square were abandoned and replaced by other activities in different places in town. This year even more visitors attended the 15 different "activities", but to be honest, the magic was gone.
The thing is that Hogwarts was always the core of the festival and with Hogwarts gone the heart of the festival is gone. Maybe that's the reason why the festival has been cut down to only 3 days and the Harry Potter activities scattered all over town. The good thing about the "old" festival was that all of the activities were situated next to each other, so when you entered the festival, it felt as if you had stepped into a magic world. Now there is no core to the festival, so you are still just in the real world with only occasional pockets of magic popping up here and there.
Oh well… What about the activities, then? Three of them I didn't attend. One was the Hogwarts Express that was sold out in advance (and limited to kids 8-12), the other a Harry Potter role-play for kids aged 8-15 and finally the Harry Potter Concert with Odense Symphony Orchestra. These three events are the same year after year and they are pretty expensive too and at least the Hogwarts Express is - according to my daughter - one of the dullest rides ever!
What I did attend, though, was the new Chamber of Secrets in the museum Moentergaarden. Here you went through a guided tour of the Middle Age Exhibition of the museum and ended up in a library with potions and clues. Then you had to follow the spiders to a cellar where you had to crush some basilisk eggs and get a diploma. The very young kids found it funny, but the rest of the visitors did not. And this is one of the problems with this "new" festival. It aims at an audience aged 3-8, much younger than the average Harry Potter fan and much younger than the age limits at the Hogwarts Express and the Harry Potter role-play too.
Anyway, I went on to the next activity: School start at Hogwarts. Now that Hogwarts is no more, Odense City and Odense Library (the ones in charge of the festival) are using the Library of Local History as a "replacement Hogwarts" so that kids are able to experience the sorting ceremony and meet Dumbledore and Snape anyway. To get there, you have to go through The Forbidden Forrest and that was quite fun, as I was attacked by a dementor, but Hagrid came to my rescue.
In The Forbidden Forrest you had to find some letters and then when you went upstairs to the Library of Local History you had to find more. On your way you'd meet moving portraits and Argus Filch with Mrs. Norris.
The Library of Local History had been turned into a kind of Great Hall where you'd be sorted into either Gryffindor or Slytherin. For some reason Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw didn't exist anymore! As I'm Ravenclaw through and through, Dumbledore and Quirrell had to put me in Slytherin along with all the other intelligent people! Oh dear! Anyway, in order to get more letters I had to meet four different challenges like play music to Fluffy and make potions for Snape. This year the "usual" Snape had been replaced by a young lad, which was rather sad. The guy was probably okay, but I always used to have a chat with the old Snape, so I really missed him! In the end I got all my letters (which spelled "Alohomora") and I was rewarded a diploma and a wand.
From there I went to the nearby Eventyrhaven (Fairy Tale Garden) park where you'd find Quality Quidditch Supplies and be able to play Quidditch and fly a broom. Not much was happening when I was there, so I went on to find the other HP activities.
I had to walk down to Jernbanegade (Railway Street) and Graabroedre Plads (Grey Friars Square) to find what was called "The Magic Market Square". Here some of the shops and offices from Diagon Alley were situated such as Ollivander’s, Eeylops Owl Emporium, Madam Malkin's Robes for All Occasions, Gringotts Wizarding Bank and The Daily Prophet. You could also find St. Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies there as well as Professor Sprout teaching Herbology, a potion workshop and unicorns!
The street and square also included 3 other "activities": a toddler area with an enchanted forest, Cáfe Hogwarts where you had to stand in line for 40 minutes to buy a sandwich and then Hagrid telling stories in the local Abbey Church. In my opinion the church should leave Harry Potter alone, so I refused to take part in this activity.
In the Funen Art Museum a little further down the road you'd find what was probably the best of the festival activities. In order to finish your education as a witch or wizard you had to answer questions and riddles in a 4 pages booklet. While doing so, you went though Madam Puddifoot’s Tea Salon and Dumbledore's office and met Professor Trelawny telling fortunes. There were both an indoor and an outdoor tea salon where you could buy tea, coffee, soft drinks, cakes and sweets using Galleons. In Gringotts you get 500 Galleons for DKK 30/£3 and that is DKK 5/50p more than last year, as the exchange rate is always DKK 5/50p more than the previous year!
In the Museum I also met Professor McGonagall and I was quite surprised to see that she was actually an acquaintance of mine! So now I can say that I've been hugged by Professor McGonagall and she also signed my diploma, so now I'm a fully qualified witch!
Anyway, you had to walk up all the stairs to the upper floor to find Professor Trelawny in a very dark room where she was reading palms. From there you could go on to Dumbledore's office and that was really great. There were ghosts in the room and it was so well done. Bravo!
Only two "activities" were left now and one was Diagon Alley. This is situated in a street called Vintapperstraede, which means "Tapster Alley". But this Tapster Alley has NOTHING to do with Diagon Alley, mainly because most of the Diagon Alley shops are situated in the Magic Market Square. Only a branch of Gringotts was there. You could also find the Mirror of Erised, where you could have your face painted, or visit the "Care of Magical Creatures" people and say hello to real snakes, tarantulas and giant snails. That was actually quite interesting.
The other activities in Diagon Alley consisted of Viola's Workshop where you could make toy owls or carve pumpkins and then a Merlin's Workshop where you could make your own wand. I found George Weasley at the back of Merlin's Workshop and to my horror I realised that they had actually closed Weasley's Wizard Wheezes this year, so George was out of a shop! We never had a Fred at the festival, so seeing George all alone in the back of a workshop that had nothing to do with Harry Potter was heartbreaking. At least he seemed quite content with doing magic tricks and I noticed that he'd got his ear back!
The very last stop on my Harry Potter activity list was to visit The Leaky Cauldron that had been relocated to a street called Smedestraede (Blacksmith Alley). The small, rundown house was perfect for The Leaky Cauldron and their butterbeer tasted great, but it was expensive: 50 Galleons per glass. After that I was ready to call it a day.
Attending the "activities" that I did took about 4 hours, where at least 1½ of the hours were spent going to and from the different "activities" and another 40 minutes on standing in line at Café Hogwarts. I really liked The Leaky Cauldron and the activities in the Funen Art Gallery, but the rest of the activities were aimed at a very young audience. Because the activities are spread out though the city, you no longer get the feeling of stepping into a magic world and you are not likely to bump into as many Harry Potter characters as usual. Some are simply not there anymore like The Weird Sisters giving concert or my friend Madam Rosmerta serving in The Three Broomsticks, as there are no Broomsticks or concerts anymore. Other characters are probably still there, but you just don't see them, as they are not at the same activity at the same time as you. I really missed Luna Lovegood, Victor Krum, Mad-Eye Moody, Madam Hooch, Rita Skeeter, Lord Voldemort, Bellatrix Lestrange and all the inferi as these characters are usually great fun at the festival, but I didn't see any of them this year.
I also missed a lot of activities and places, such as Weird Sisters concerts, the annual lookalike contest, Hagrid's hut, The Three Broomsticks, Weasley's Wizard Wheezes, Flourish & Blotts, Scrivenshaft’s Quill Shop and Snape's dungeons. And I missed SNAPE!!! I hope that the "real" Snape will back next year, so although I think the festival has started catering to pre-school children instead of Harry Potter fans, I'll probably be back next year anyway in the hopes that Snape is back as well!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Halloween in TIVOLI, Copenhagen

 TIVOLI is the oldest amusement park in the world and probably the most beautiful, too. It is situated in the centre of Copenhagen in Denmark and usually my daughter and I visit it at least once a year. We have been there during summer where the TIVOLI gardens with all their flowers and coloured lights are particularly beautiful and we have been there during December where the amusement park is all dressed up for Christmas. Both have been breathtaking, so this year we decided to visit TIVOLI during its third annual opening season: Halloween.
 To be honest, TIVOLI's Halloween season is not on Halloween, but during week 42 (as this is a school holiday here in Denmark) and week 43. We brought along a friend of my daughter's and we were all so excited to go, but to be honest, for the first time ever, TIVOLI couldn't live up to our expectations.
The Halloween decorations were fine, of course. TIVOLI is famous for its beautiful decorations, no matter if it is summer or winter, and the Halloween season was just as beautiful with pumpkins and scarecrows everywhere. That was not the problem. The problem was that TIVOLI wasn't scary at all!
Browsing the TIVOLI's website, you'll see the Boys Guard marching band wearing pumpkin hats instead of their usual bearskin hats. In TIVOLI they didn't. On the website you'll see TIVOLI attendants dressed up as zombies and monsters. In TIVOLI they weren't. And on the website you are told that at 5 p.m. the area called "Smoegen" will turn into a scary alley with monsters lurking everywhere. In TIVOLI it didn't. Although signs were warning people to enter "Smoegen" (not after 5 p.m. as it says on the website, but after 6 p.m.), no matter what time we were there, there were no monsters whatsoever. We were VERY disappointed!
And then there's the new Halloween ride, "Hotel Scary", a haunted house that you have to walk though. At least they had an attendant who tried to look scary, but we never got inside the hotel, as according to the attendant, the floors inside were wobbly and had holes in them, so they were not suited for people with mobility disabilities like me. It didn't say so anywhere on the website, but I wish it had, as we wouldn't have been disappointed then, that we couldn't go.
All in all I was rather disappointed in TIVOLI and in how they treated their visitors. At least if the visitors were single. My daughter and her friend tried some rides on their own and I tried some as well. But because I was single, the attendants didn't respect my place in line, so when it was my turn, they always gave my (good) seat away to couples and found a lousier seat for me. When that had happened three times on the same ride, I got really angry and told the attendant off. It didn't help at all and I still had to sit on the lousy seat, but AFTER the ride was over, the attendant offered me a better seat, should I want to go again, which of course I didn't! By then I was sick and tired of being treated as a second rate person just because I have the guts to be single!
Oh well, it isn't all bad. In TIVOLI you'll find a maze of hay, funny and kind witches, colourful stage shows and other nice things suitable for families with small kids.
And if you pay an extra 5 Danish kroner (50p) in entrance fee, you'll get a "free" meal (how can it be free when you pay 50p?). The meal, of course, consists of a fat-dripping burger or hotdog, but at least it's so small that you probably won't put on much weight from eating it!
And of course you can enjoy the many inventive Halloween displays and the beautiful coloured lights in the evening. At least these are as magic as ever, so I'll leave you with some "TIVOLI after dark" photos for you to enjoy.
For more information:

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Library of Birmingham

On September 3rd 2013 the new Library of Birmingham was finally opened. To me it seemed as if the building of this library had lasted forever, but according to Wikipedia it didn't start until 2010, so I guess my forever is quite short! Oh, well. The architecture of this new library intrigued me from day one, so when I visited Birmingham earlier this month, of course the finished library was on my sight seeing list!
This public library in the city centre of Birmingham is supposed to be the largest public library in the United Kingdom, the largest public cultural space in Europe and the largest regional library in Europe. Not bad. The architect behind it is the Dutch Francine Houben. She is a founding partner and the creative director of Mecanoo Architecten in The Netherlands, the architecture firm behind this postmodern, high-tech building. Structural engineer is Buro Happold.
The architecture of this building is really something. It is 60 metres high and has 11 floors, 1 under ground and 10 over ground, the top floor being floor 9 that houses the Shakespeare Memorial Room. On the outside the building is made up of four rectangular volumes that are staggered to create various canopies and terraces. It has a sunken amphitheatre, rooftop gardens and a shimmering facade. As the exterior of the building is a reference to the city's jewellery quarter, a filigree pattern of interlocking metal rings has been added over the golden, silver and glass facades.
You enter the library from Centenary Square on Broad Street and on the ground floor you have access to The Rep (Birmingham Repertory Theatre), The Box (a booking office) and of course the library itself. On the ground floor you'll find the reception, the library shop, the studio theatre and the Library Café. The café is fairly pricey, so if you're really hungry, I'd recommend to eat elsewhere or bring your own food, as you're allowed to eat it in the library lounge areas. You'll also find a buggy park, a digital gallery and a book browsing area on the ground floor.
From the ground floor you'll be able to reach the lower floor where the children's library and the music library are situated. This level slopes out beneath Centenary Square, where a sunken circular courtyard that functions as an amphitheatre can be found.
Back on the ground floor you have access to the blue lifts (that didn't work when I was there), the stairs and the escalators to the first floor, which is called "Business, Learning and Health", because of its meeting rooms, brainbox, soundbox etc. The second floor is called "Knowledge", as this is where you'll find study rooms, a contemplation room and the impressive book rotunda. The library is said to contain 5 million items, but I'm not sure how many of them are books. I expect less than half. It's still an awful lot of books and Heaven to an author like myself!
The book rotunda goes all the way up to the third floor, called the "Discovery" floor, where there are study rooms, the BFI Mediatheque, the Discovery Gallery and a library café open in peak times only. Walking through the first, second and third floor, you realise that the metal rings on the building cast patterns of shadows onto the floors of the reading rooms, and as the seasons change, it is going to look different at different times of the year. Wifi is available throughout the building, by the way.
From the third floor you have access to the Discovery Terrace. This is an elevated garden where you can sit and read a book or just enjoy the view over Birmingham. The planting on the terrace includes herbs, fruit and vegetables and the beds are adorned with wooden animals and vegetables, making it fun for the kids too.
The fourth floor is called "Archives, Heritage & Photography" and here you'll find the Heritage Lounge and the Wolfson Centre for archival Research. It is also here that you'll find the glass lift to Floor 7. Both floor 5 and floor 6 are non-public, so you have to take the stairs or the glass lift to get to the seventh floor. At least when the blue lift isn't working… Anyway, suffering from height anxiety like I do, it is rather nerve-wracking to use the glass lift, but I did it anyway, as my health won't allow me to walk up three flights of stairs.
On the seventh floor, you'll find The Secret Garden. This garden terrace is more densely planted that the Discovery Terrace and it is supposed to be a secluded, quiet place, high above the city streets below. It was high up, alright, so I tried to keep close to the building as it was a bit too far up for me, but there were lovely views from there.
The eight floor is non-public, but the ninth floor (the golden oval thingy on top of the building) houses the Shakespeare Memorial Room. I love Shakespeare, so of course I had to see it, but with the blue lift not working, there was only one way to get there: using the stairs. There was a funny sign encouraging people to use the stairs, but it's not easy when you're disabled! Oh well, I couldn't just come back another day when the lift was working, so I walked the two flights of stairs up and I wasn't disappointed.
The Shakespeare Memorial Room was originally designed in 1882 by John Henry Chamberlain and has now been reconstructed on the top floor of the Library of Birmingham. The room is really beautiful with woodwork by noted woodcarver Mr. Barfield and brass and metal work most likely crafted by Hardmans.
The Shakespeare Memorial Room contains Britain’s most important Shakespeare collection, and one of the two most important Shakespeare collections in the world; the other being held by the Folger Shakespeare Library. The collection contains 43,000 books including rare items such as a copy of the First Folio 1623, copies of the four earliest Folio editions and over seventy editions of separate plays printed before 1709. There are also significant collections from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, a near complete collection of Collected Works, significant numbers of adaptations, anthologies and individual editions.
The Shakespeare collection is not the only collection in the Library of Birmingham. The library has a number of other nationally and internationally significant collections, including the Boulton and Watt archives, the Bournville Village Trust Archive, the Charles Parker Archive, the Parker collection of children's books, the Wingate Bett transport ticket collection, the Warwickshire photographic survey, the British Institute of Organ Studies archive and the Railway and Canal Historical Society Library. Apart from the Shakespeare Memorial Room, you'll also find a Skyline Viewpoint on the ninth floor, but to me it wasn't as interesting as the Shakespeare collection!
If you are visiting The Library of Birmingham, be sure to swing by during evenings as well. The library looks amazing with its flashing lights in white, yellow, green, blue, purple and red. Breathtaking! I'm sure I'll be back the next time I'm in Birmingham!
The address of the library is: Centenary Square, Broad Street, Birmingham B1 2ND, England.


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