Monday, 8 February 2016

Blood and Farce

On Friday evening I went to give blood. I nearly didn't, as I had forgotten the appointment (which was later than I normally go), but I did make it.

They were very busy, so the wait was longer than usual, too (Apparently Management has decided that you can fit more appointments into an hour, with predictable results)

All of which meant that it was about 6.45 before I started my donation. All went smoothly until right at the end, when (probably because it was about an hour and a half later than I usually donate, and I hadn't yet had supper) I felt very slightly woozy just as they took the needle out.

So, I mentioned this, and they tilted the chair down so my feet were up and my head down..t which point the farcial element began. You see, the chairs evidently have some kind of catch or clip to hold them in place when they are moved to sit you with your feet up and head down, but mine was either faulty, or (more likely) the nurse couldn't quite reach the catch while simultaneously keeping pressure on my arm where she's just taken the needle out. And, as it turned out, the chairs must be designed to default to an upright-ish position, as it kept swinging back up... The nurse kept pushing it back down, it swung up.

At this stage I was (a) feeling entirely non-woozy (b) starting to get the giggles and (c) beginning to wonder whether sea-sickness was going to set in and (d) protesting that actually, I feel absolutely fine now, and would like to get up and have my free chocolate biscuit, please.

Which they let me do, in the end.

Anyway, all's well that ends well - they got my blood, I got my chocolate biscuit.

And, all joking aside, if you're eligible, do consider registering as a donor, or donating. Wonky chairs aside, it's pretty quick, and painless, and there can't be many easier ways to help save a life. 

If you're in the UK, you can sign up, or find more information  here.

Sunday, 31 January 2016

Reader, She Married Him.

On Saturday evening, I went to Bristol, to visit the Old Vic Theatre to see their production of 'Jane Eyre', which is now back in Bristol (where it began) after a season in London.

It's a long time since I have been to the Old Vic. I used, with a friend, to go fairly regularly, and saw my first Hamlet (Iain Glen) there in 1991. 

It is a lovely little theatre, and has the distinction of being the longest continuously-running theatre in the country, having first opened in 1766 (and thus celebrating it's 250th anniversary this year), and has recently been renovated.

Although the theatre is old, this production of Jane Eyre is new - and very good.

It has a small cast, so everyone, except Madeleine Worrall (Jane) and Melanie Marshall (Bertha Rochester) plays multiple roles - this does lead to one or two distracting moments (Lowood Institute turns out to have several remarkably hirsute and deep-voiced orphan girls, for instance)

I thought it was a really imaginative adaptation. I had some reservations about the number of ladders involved in the set, and would have liked the sub-plot about Jane's inheritance to have been left in,as that does emphasise that Jane has a real choice, between returning to Mr Rochester, marrying St John, or remaining unmarried and financially independent, but of course there is a limit to how much you can squeeze in to a 3 hour play!

I shall be looking out for more work from Sally Cookson, the director,and from the cast. 

Saturday, 30 January 2016

A visit to Wells, and a glimpse of the past

Although I am not a churchgoer, I love the buildings, and the music, and the poetry of the book of  common prayer. I often pop into the Cathedral when I go to Wells, and last weekend was no different.

In January each year, the cathedral removes all the seats from the Nave, to allow it to be seen in all its uncluttered glory, and to give an idea of what it may have felt like when it was new, back in 1348 when the Scissor Arches were built.

Although of course it would have been much less austere in those days, before the reformation and then the Roundheads whitewashed over or removed all of the frescos and gilding and other decoration.

I was lucky that it was also nearly empty when I went in, so I got the full effect. It's beautiful. 

I'm also looking forward to seeing it soon, on screen, when the BBC screens the second 'Hollow Crown' plays - some parts of Richard III, which stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Judi Dench, among other,  were filmed at Wells, and the cathedral appears (very recognisably) in the trailer which has just been released.

It's an amazing building.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Oranges, and things

I was supposed to have guests this weekend but sadly they had to cancel, but I have been keeping busy, never the less.

It is marmalade season once again, so I have been shopping, and bought about 6lbs of Seville oranges with a view to making an initial batch or two of marmalade.

It's a couple of years since I have made any - two years ago I was preparing to move house, and had people viewing the house a lot (and I decided that it wasn't really practical to also move loads of jars of marmalade). 

Last year I didn't organise myself to do the thing properly and ended up making a small batch using a tin  of pre-prepared orange pulp and peel (which, it has to be admitted, works pretty well, but isn't quite the same, and doesn't, at least if you are me, give quite the same sense of achievement!

So this year I am back to doing it the old-fashioned way. 

The problem with the old-fashioned way, of course,  is that it does take a long time. Particularly the part where you have to chop orange peel into tiny pieces. (I'm limited, in the size of the batch I can make,  by the size of my largest pan, so I'm only using 2lbs of oranges at a time. However, juicing and chopping 9 oranges (and one lemon) takes time!

However, once that's done, you get to spend the next two hours with the lovely scent of simmering oranges pervading the house!

Then comes the exciting bit of adding lots of sugar, and finding out whether you have misjudged the size of your pan and the extent to which boiling sugar expands... 

And a little after that you get to put the marmalade into jars and to admire that beautiful orange-gold colour.

This original batch has yielded about 5.5lbs of marmalade, and I still have about 4lbs of oranges, so should be able to make a couple more batches, when I get time. Meanwhile, my toast-covering needs for the next few months are sorted, and I should be able to share the orangey goodness with my friends.

Monday, 18 January 2016

Less Exciting Times

I know that if you only know me through this blog, you might think I lead a very exciting life, constantly out at the theatre etc.

I am fortunate that I get to see a lot of good stuff, but it isn't like that all the time, it's just that I tend to assume that people don't really want to hear about the every day stuff, so I normally only blog when something exciting happens!

This past week, and  weekend, for instance, I have been at home, and at work, with nothing of great moment happening. I have seen clients, been to meetings, done laundry and housework.

On Saturday I  met up with the neighbour who lives 1/4 of a mile down the road, and who has agreed that I can keep bees on her land (she owns a big piece of land behind her house, and bordering a couple of fields, which, unlike my garden, is large enough that the bees will be well away from her house, from the main bit of her garden, and from any neighbours) 

Following on from that, I have taken the plunge and have ordered a flat pack hive (which no doubt I will be putting together over the next couple of weekends) and paid a deposit for a nucleus of bees, which I should be able to collect when they are ready, in April of May. 

I've been reading - mostly re-reading some of my favourite Georgette Heyer books, as I have recently unpacked the box they have been in for the past 2 years, and as they are relaxing and require little effort. (although I have discovered that, inexplicably, my copy of 'the Convenient Marriage' seems to be missing, and that my copy of 'Cotillion' has died, and is no longer a book, but simply a collection of individual pages )

I'm also part way through Philippa Gregory's 'The White Queen' which I suspect I bought with the intention of giving it to someone for Christmas, but then forgot about, so now I'm keeping (and reading) it.

I've also been doing a  little bit of non-fiction, around the Plantagenets, and the Wars of the Roses. I do wish that Royal and Aristocratic houses of medieval England had been more considerate of future historians, and used a little more variety in naming their eldest sons, so that it was easier to keep track of *which* Richard, Duke of York is being talked about, for example. . .

Having just seen Richard II I was moved to look up Aumerle, to see whether he was a real, historical character, and whether there was any / much truth in how he was presented by Shakespeare. I was  surprised to learn that not only was he a real person, but he is the same real person who, as the Duke of York, was killed at Agincourt (both in real life and in Shakespeare's play). 

And as well as reading and housework, I've done some cooking (braised beef. Marinaded for 24 hours, then cooked slowly for about 4 hours. It was very nice) and a little tiny bit of gardening, planting out some bulbs between rain showers.

And, following the very sad news of Alan RIckman's death, I also spent some time watching some of his work, and listening to that amazing voice.

Not a thrilling weekend, but restful, and quietly satisfying.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Another Good Weekend - Part 2 : Friends and Food and Fun Stuff

After spending last Saturday at the Barbican, (and having a longer-than-usual journey back, as the train I caught home was allowed to leave Paddington despite being faulty, and only limped as far as Reading, where we all had to wait on a cold platform and then catch another, later train to complete the journey) I was a little knackered, but not too much to enjoy seeing my friend A, who came to send the day and to take me out to see Henry Rollins in Bristol on Sunday evening.

We spent most of the day and evening talking and catching up, some of that time spent at the Pony and Trap in Chew Magna, which is a a gastro-pub with a Michelin star, and which provided us with a  delicious 3-course meal.(consisting, for me, of mussels,followed by a glorious piece of beef, and finally a 'Sticky Ale Pudding with salted caramel sauce and Stout Ice Cream'  which was a deliciously grown-up version of parkin, and just the thing for a damp and chilly Sunday afternoon.

Then in the evening we headed into Bristol, to see Henry Rollins at St George's. 

A had booked the tickets, and invited me to come, ages ago, and I have to admit that I hadn't previously heard of Henry Rollins, and had very little idea what to expect.

In the event, I had a really good time, really enjoyed Rollins' performance (and I was very impressed that he spoke for about 2 and a half hours without so much as a glass of water!

He covered topics as wide ranging as conservation and penguin shit, (he has recently returned from a trip to Antarctica), the late Lemmy (of Motörhead) who was a friend of his, politics, music and finding other people who share your particular brand of weirdness.

He's very, very good.

All in all, a very enjoyable day!

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Another good weekend - Part 1 - Cabbages and Kings

Last week was the first full week back to work after the Christmas Break. The downside of New Year's Eve being on Friday is of course that you then have a full week as the first week back - no gentle easing into back into work!

The week went reasonably well, and then I had a busy and fun weekend.

On Saturday (9th) I  had another day trip to London for another matinee, at the Barbican, to see David Tennant as Richard II. This is showing as part of the RSC's 'Great Cycle of Kings', comprising Richard II, Henry IV Parts I and II, and Henry V. They were originally produces by the RSC in Stratford in 2013 (which was when I originally saw Richard II (blogged about it here), then in late 2014 I saw Henry IV Part I when it was broadcast live to cinemas, and Part II when it came to Bath on tour (blogged here). The RSC have now repeated the productions, with many of the same key cast members.

I booked myself a ticket on impulse, as I rather liked the idea of seeing the play, and Mr Tennant, again. And needing just a single ticket was able to get one in the stalls, so was hopeful that  I would have a better view than the first time round!

It's a good production - David Tennant is, as expected, excellent. Unlikeable, during much of the play, of course:  Richard, at least as as painted by Shakespeare, is not a terribly attractive or likeable character, and  this production emphasises his basic unsuitability to be a medieval king. Despite that, he evokes a good deal of sympathy as he is, quite clearly, his own worst enemy (despite the stiff competition). 

There were some changes to the cast from last time I saw the production - Bolingbroke, John of Gaunt and Aumerle have all changed, as has the Queen, which made it all the more interesting.

I particularly enjoyed Jasper Britton's Bolingbroke. I think he is my new favourite usurper. (Even if he did break the Barbican stage a little bit)

I was a little underwhelmed by John of Gaunt (Julian Glover) in the 'Scepter'd Isle' speech: it came across as querulous,  which for me meant it lost much of its power, although Gaunt's other scenes were very strong.

And the set and lighting are excellent -the backdrops are projected onto metal curtains which is very effective (and there's a small section, in the foyer, so you can see how it works, and, if you are a small child, run through the curtains creating ghosts on the wall behind!)

There are trumpeters, and a small chorus singing Latin anthems where appropriate (And dressed in blue, a la Wilton Diptych, for the abdication scene, which I don't recall from the Stratford production, although it may simply be that they were not visible from our seats)

Oh, and Mr Britton's damage to the Barbican? During Bolingbroke's conversation with his father, following his banishment, (wherein John of Gaunt encourages him to think of it as a 6-year holiday, and to make lemonade out of the lemons life has given him, and Bolingbroke points out that that's all very well, but that he doesn't like Abroad, as it's full of foreigners and you can't get a decent cup of tea anywhere  (I'm paraphrasing slightly) 

Bolingbroke is, understandably, feeling a little miffed, and stompy, and in stomping upon the stage dislodged a long strip of edging which fell off entirely. Those on stage impressively refrained from laughing.. it was serendipitous that Bolingbroke's next line was ;"Where'er I wander, boast of this I can..."  which Britton made the most of! (and Tennant, behind him on stage, as he exited slipped in a quick 'I'm watching you' mime...)

So, the final verdict ? An excellent production. Well worth seeing.  

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

New Year, and a Winter's Tale

Happy New Year - a little late, perhaps, as we are 10 days into the  year, but it's my first post this year, so why not!

My parents visited for Christmas, but went home for New Year, so I had a quiet evening in, but then made a day trip to London on 2nd January, so see a matinee of 'The Winter's Tale'  at the Garrick Theatre.

It was a real treat, with Judi Dench (as Paulina) being particularly good. I was a little less enthused at Branagh's Leontes   - I have not seen the play before,so I am not entirely sure whether this is down to the play or the actor - Leontes' behaviour is irrational even for a Shakespearean character, and if you are looking for crazy jealousy I think he (Shakespeare) did it better in Othello!

Hadley Fraser made a convincing Polixenes, particularly during the scenes in which  he learns   that his best and oldest friend is prepared to have him murdered on a mere suspicion. I would have liked to see him in a bigger role however - it might be fun to see him and Branagh switch roles, for instance.

But Judi Dench undoubtedly had the meatiest role, as the older woman prepared to speak out on behalf of the wrongfully accused Queen, even at the risk of her own life. She's great!

Well worth seeing. (And it has been broadcast live to cinemas, so will probably be repeated in future, if you want to see it and don't have the opportunity to get to London)

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

The Season of Goodwill

The house is feeling surprisingly quiet and empty this afternoon, as my Christmas guests have departed, and so after a week, it's back to being just me and the cats!

But it has been lovely! 

My parents arrived on Wednesday, after I finished work, and so were here to help me put the tree and other decorations up on Christmas Eve.

We had a very civilised, relaxed day on Christmas Day itself, with lots of nice gifts (including several books I wanted! Which was delightful!

Then a couple of days after Christmas we went to see my younger sister and her partner, and our brother and his girlfriend, and one of my aunts, and my uncle,and one of their sons, all also came, so we enjoyed a pub lunch (albeit with somewhat hit-and-miss service) and lots of catching up.And some more gifts. 

Then yesterday, my sister and brother-in-law, her in-laws and step-daughter (and dog) all came over for lunch, so all in all, I got to see my entire immediate family over the holidays.

I have a couple more days off work, and am going to London to the theatre at the weekend, before heading back to work on Monday.

I am planning, therefore, to be extremely lazy for the next day or two, in the hope of being well-rested before returning to work.

I'm lucky that, at least so far, we have escaped the worst of the storms and floods. It's been very wet and windy, and my back fence has collapsed,which is annoying, but the house remains warm and dry. (The fence was already in a bad way, but I was hoping it would last another few months until I could get it replaced at the same time as the other work I want to have done in the garden.) However, a fallen fence is nothing compared with what people in York and other parts of the country have been suffering!

Sunday, 20 December 2015

In Which there is a lot of theatre!

At the end of November I had a further trip to London, to see the RSC Henry V at the Barbican, and the Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company All on her own' / Harliquinade double-bill at the Garrick theatre.

Both were very good. 

The Henry V is part of the 'Great Cycle of Kings', directed by Gregory Doran, - Richard II, Henry IV parts I and II, and Henry V.

I saw Richard II (with David Tennant) in Stratford, in November 2013,and then saw Henry IV Pt. I as a live broadcast, and Henry IV Pt. II at Bath, last November, so when I saw that the RSC was reuniting the same cast and performing the pays at the Barbican in London I decided that I would go and fill in the gap, and see the last of the 4. 

Alex Hassell as Henry V - Photo (c) RSC
I enjoyed it a lot. It's pretty much uncut, and Hassell was a convincingly tough and aggressive Henry, and while I am not a fan of Shakespeare's 'comic' Scots / Welsh / Irish Captains, their scenes were done well.

I also found it interesting to be back at the Barbican and to see the contrast between the huge and ornate 'Hamlet' set, and the sparse Henry V one!

I then had the pleasure of meeting up with a friend for a meal and catch up, before heading to the Garrick theatre to see the first of the plays in Kenneth Branagh's company's run (I have ticket for a couple of the others, for next year)

It was a Terence Rattigan double bill - 'All on her Own', a monologue, performed by Zoë Wanamaker, as a widow returning home after a party, a  little the worse for wear, and starting a conversation with her late husband. Poignant and superbly performed. 

The second half of the double bill was 'Harlquinade', which is utterly hilarious. I never realised what a talent for comedy Branagh had! 

The play is set during a dress rehearsal of 'Romeo and Juliet' in 1946, and features Branagh as Arthur Gosport, an ageing actor-manager who, with his wife is touring the provinces as part of a government scheme to bring culture to the masses.

Both he and his wife, (Miranda Raison) are both utterly absorbed in the play, oblivious to their stage manager's attempts to tell them he will to be continuing the tour, and  the implications of the arrival of young Mrs Palmer and her baby... not to mention issues of bigamy, and farcical misunderstandings.

Hadley Fraser has a slight slight as the First Halberdier, and the whole thing is laugh-out-loud funny. There's something highly entertaining about watching very good actors pretending to be not-so-good actors.

It was a lot of fun.

And then on Sunday, before I went home, I got to meet up with a relative I haven't seen for ages which was great.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Dr Franklin and Photograph 51

After seeing Henry V's bit of bling at the Guildhall, I had time for a pub lunch in a rather consciously Dickensian pub, before heading to the Noel Coward Theatre to see Photograph 51, about Dr Rosalind Franklin and her role in the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA.

The play ought to be very good, but I found it a little disappointing - so much of it seems to consist of characters explaining the plot to each other, and it felt as though almost all of them, other than Franklin herself were a little 2 dimensional. 

Which was a shame. I wanted to like the play a lot more than I actually liked it, and felt thatthe cast, which were all very good, were let down rather by the script.

The set was interesting; based on the blitz-damaged cellar labs of Kings College.

Monday, 9 November 2015

Henry V

I was in London for the day on Saturday. I had booked to see 'Photograph 51', a play about Dr Rosalind Franklin and her role in the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA, but I arrived early enough to have time to go first to the Guildhall Gallery where there is a temporary display commemorating the 600th Anniversary of the battle of Agincourt.

There is the Great Chronicle of London, displaying an account of Henry V's entry into London following his victory. 

The centrepiece of the exhibition is the Crystal Sceptre (also known as the Crystal Mace) which was a gift from Henry V to the City of London, in thanks for their having loaned him the money (around £4M in modern terms) to finance his campaign.

Crystal Sceptre - head showing Henry V's coat of Arms

The sceptre is made of rock crystal and gold, and apparently (and with a touch of irony) the crystal parts were, almost certainly made in France! 

The whole thing is beautiful, and I found it amazing that it has, apparently, never been put on display before (it is used each time a new Lord Mayor is installed, but apparently they only hold the box, and it does get an airing when it is carried by the Lord Mayor during coronations, so I suppose people may have caught a glimpse of it in 1953)

Hedon Mace

The second item on display is the Hedon Mace - it belongs to the town council of Hedon, in East Yorkshire, and is believed to be a mace used at the battle of Agincourt, which was then coated in silver gilt, and was given to the town by Henry V when he granted a charter to the town in 1415. 

It is believed to be the oldest surviving ceremonial mace in the country, and looking at it, one of the things which stands out is that despite the gilding and engraving it is still, very obviously, a weapon. You can imagine a medieval Brian Blessed wielding it to lethal effect!

Its on display until 3rd December.

Entirely gratuitous picture of Tom Hiddleston as Henry V, because
 when am I likely to get a better excuse?