Saturday, 26 November 2011

Ceremonial Madness

Having made it past the ladybird and found the bar we spent an enjoyable hour catching up with friends (some of whom we hadn't seen in years) and watching the wedding cake being assembled. The cake was apparently a last minute surprise for both Rob and Rhona, as they hadn't intended to have one. Two of the guests (apologies for not being able to remember your names) decided that wasn't right and so set about baking. Rather than a traditional layered wedding cake, they had baked what seemed like hundreds of cupcakes, all decorated with hand painted sugar flowers. Apparently it took two days just to make the flowers! Now I'm not sure which of the cake stand, table or floor were uneven but there were a few nervous moments as everything was put together when it resembled the Leaning Tower of Pisa. fortunately it all got leveled out and survived quite a few knocks throughout the evening.

Unfortunately we didn't take any photos of the barn set out for the wedding. We were on one end of a row, away from the aisle and so not in the best place for taking photos as Rhona arrived, and then we were all asked not to take photos at any point during the service in order to not distract the professionals. This photo should give you a good idea as to how nicely the barn was decorated though.

Now I've been to a few civil services, and they usually consist of a couple of readings (strictly non-religious in content) and the playing of three pieces of classical music (arrival, signing, departure). This wedding was, however, quite a bit different.

Firstly the music was different. There wasn't a CD player pumping out classical music, but rather a choir and a keyboard player. During the service there were five pieces of music. Rhona arrived to the choir singing "If" by Bread which apparently is a favourite song of Rhona's. We then joined the choir to sing "It Must Be Love" by Madness. Topical and I know that Madness are one of Rob's favourite bands. the choir then sang Oscar Hammerstein's "Some Enchanted Evening". While the register was being signed we listened to a rendition of "Fields Of Gold" (this also made an appearance at our wedding as the music for our first dance). And then the ceremony concluded with "You've Got A friend In Me" taken from the Toy Story films. All together a distinctly different musical approach from any other wedding I've been to. Church weddings often include hymns that you are supposed to join in with, but hardly anyone knows the words/tune and they all sing quietly. You really needed to be there to see what a difference be asked to sing Madness makes!

Civil weddings usually include a reading or two. These are usually poems or something that any guest with a good grasp of English can recite. Rob and Rhona went for a completely different approach and asked two friends to talk rather than read. Firstly we had one of Rhona's friends who talked about Love. This was cleverly done and focused on the impact that love has on not just the couple but the people around them. Later in the ceremony one of Rob's old school friends then talked about Marriage. This talk included some funny tips on marriage from some antique books he had recently been given as a wedding present. Both talks were brilliant and I'm really glad I wasn't asked to give one of them!

All together it was a wonderful ceremony, that was so totally different to any I've ever been to, and one that I'm sure none of the guests will forget in a hurry.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

And The Words Became Flesh

For the last two years Bryony's birthday cake has involved bees in one form or another. Back in 2009 there were the bees that wouldn't set, and then last year I was actually in China on her birthday but left a tin full of baby beehives for her and my family to enjoy. This year we were away for her birthday at Rob and Rhona's wedding, so she had to wait until today for her birthday cake.

As you may remember, one of the presents I got for my birthday was a book on how to make sugarpaste characters for decorating cakes. Over a few weeks I had fun making pink elephants, pigs, and mice. So my plan was to put these new found skills to use in decorating Bryony's birthday cake.

Among the many cookery books we have in the house there are two on cake decorating written by Debbie Brown (Magical Cakes and Lovable Character Cakes). A quick flick through both books and the cake started to take shape in my head. The magical cakes book included a large dragon wrapped around a castle, and given Bryony's love of dragons I knew that would work well. I was, however, unsure if I could pull of both an elaborate shaped cake as well as a large sugarpaste dragon. Flicking through the other book, I came across a cake in the shape of an open book with Barney (yes, the purple dinosaur) sitting on it. The book appeared to be easy to make and ice and so my idea was to make a spell book from which a baby dragon had just been summoned.

So I set about buying the necessary ingredients and equipment. There was a cake box and board, orange, black and white sugarpaste, some edible glue, paint brushes and a pot of gum tragacanth to help the sugarpaste hold it's shape. As I had hoped, icing the cake was fairly straightforward although I'm sure it could have been neater. Making the dragon, however, was quite a challenge.

I hadn't realised quite how long the gum tragacanth would take to work and so I started to make the dragon's head while the sugarpaste was still too soft. In the end I gave up and scrunched it back into a ball and left it to harden for an hour before trying again. The wings were also tricky as I had to shape them and then leave them to harden overnight before I could glue them onto the dragons back. All told it probably took me somewhere between 4 and 5 hours to fully assemble the cake, but the look on Bryony's face when she saw it for the first time this morning made it all worthwhile. I just hope it tastes as good as it looks!

Friday, 18 November 2011

An Uninvited Guest

So, having explained why I'm going to blog about Rob and Rhona's wedding, let's go back to the start of the festivities.

The wedding invite suggested (brides are supposed to be fashionably late) that the ceremony was due to start at 1pm at Lains Barn. Lains Barn is in the middle of nowhere so we arrived by taxi. We actually asked the hotel to book the taxi for noon not knowing quite how long it would take to get there. The taxi was early and we arrived at Lains Barn just after noon. Other than the groom and his best man (Barry, who I also went to University with) I think we were only the second people to arrive. Being early did have the advantage of us being able to appreciate the place without it heaving with people.
The main room (where the wedding and reception were held) is on the left, the bar and a small seating area are in the middle, and the hog (for the evening celebration) was roasted in the open air section on the right. So who was the uninvited guest that we bumped into before entering the barn?

Okay, so it wasn't a guest as such but rather a non-native species of ladybird that I spotted crawling around on a potted evergreen by the main door. Specifically a harlequin ladybird, Harmonia Axyridis Spectabilis. I've seen harelquin ladybirds before (both in the garden and in Herefordshire) but they have both been red varieties that looked more like our native ladybird. Unfortunately, while harlequin ladybirds look interesting they pose a very real threat to the native species.

So having paused to take quite a few photos of a ladybird we eventually made it into the barn (and almost straight to the bar) but that will have to wait for a later post.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Doing As I'm Told

While I enjoying blogging about the things I do, I'm also aware that not everyone appreciates their life stories begin splashed across the Internet. For this reason I'm always wary about blogging all the details about events that I'm invited to. So, for example, while I blogged about the view from a hotel room in Brighton, I wouldn't have dreamed about blogging about the actual stag do itself (although apparently there were pictures on facebook before the night was even over).

Now as I mentioned in the previous post, we spent the weekend in Oxfordshire attending Rob and Rhona's wedding. I'm sure the details will run to at least a couple of posts, but I thought I'd start with the place-cards in an effort to explain the opening paragraph of this post.

At almost every wedding I've been to, I've had a set seat at the meal. This weekend was no different. There was a large board near the entrance which showed which table people were sat at and where they were in the room (details on the interesting table names will come in a later post). So we headed to the table to look for our seats. Instead of simple place-cards each setting had a photo of the person who's seat it was, with a message, from either the bride or the groom, on the back -- a truly inspired and personal touch. Now I don't usually include photographs of myself on this blog (I'm not a vampire, I do resolve on photographic paper, but I don't like having my photo taken) but I'll make an exception so that you can see both sides of my place-card.
So here I am (on the left) with the groom, 10 years ago at our graduation ceremony. We both did a four year Masters in Software Engineering at the University of Sheffield, which is how we originally met. And of course the message on the back explains the opening to this post. Clearly Rob is happy for me to tell you all about the wedding, so you can expect posts on (at least) marauders, table names and chef's hats!

Oh and before I forget, congratulations to Rob and Rhona!

Monday, 14 November 2011

Dead Pixels

As some of you may know, we were in Oxfordshire this weekend attend Rob and Rhona's wedding. There will be a number of posts about the wedding but while sorting through the photographs we took (all 321 of them) I noticed that there appeared to be a problem with the camera.

In nearly all the photos a little red dot was present and it was always in the same place. Fortunately it's only a tiny dot and so a small use of the clone tool will get rid of them. Having cleaned the lens and taken some test shots the problem was still there though and so I assume this is actually a dead pixel on the camera's sensor and the first sign that the camera is slowly dying.

After a quick hunt around the web I did find that some more modern cameras actually include a function for "pixel remapping". Essentially the camera runs a diagnostic routine to determine if any pixels are failing to respond and then ignores them (by doing some interpolation) when generating an image from the sensor.

Now as I said our camera, a Sony DSC-F828, doesn't list this function in the menus and so I thought I was stuck with a dying camera. In computer software/hardware diagnostic routines (such as checking hard disks for bad sectors) are often performed only when the system is fully restarted. So as I had nothing to lose I decided to do a full reset of the camera. Once I'd located a paper-clip (I don't work in a paperless environment but neither am I awash with stationary supplies) I pressed the reset button and turned on the camera. Once I'd reset the clock and some other basic settings I went to try and take a photo and... the red dot was gone! Now I'm hoping it will stay gone and that some pixel remapping did take place but even if it was just a coincidence it will allow me to hold off for a little longer before having to buy a new camera.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Another Room, Another View

As I recently mentioned, my job has changed slightly over the last few weeks as I've moved from working on LarKC to working on Khresmoi. Khresmoi has just finished it's first year and this week we are having a short meeting to discuss the feedback that was obtained at the review and to plan the work for the next year. The meeting is being held at Charles University in Prague and so I've had the pleasure of spending two nights in a city I've never visited before.

There will be a couple more posts about Prague once I get home (I fly back this afternoon), but I thought I'd show you the view from my hotel room: the west end of the Charles Bridge.