Unexpected Day

I’ve been taking some time off from work for the last few days. There were lots of plans in place most of which had to be postponed because I wasn’t feeling that great, I was particularly devastated to have to pass on my ticket for the diving at the Aquatic Centre, but the friend who went in my stead had a really good time.

But I did get one, unexpected, trip to the seaside, as I ended up going on a short road trip,  driving a friend to Hastings yesterday afternoon. It was a lovely day and, as she wasn’t in a hurry, we meandered our way down – also known as going via the scenic route – talking the whole way, debating such world shattering issues as why road signs omit the ‘Royal’ from Royal Tunbridge Wells?

We drove through beautifully neat villages, their approaches heralded by hedgerows lined with convex mirrors and illuminated speed warnings.  Every so often we’d pass signposts for farm shops offering local cheeses and produce, and the occasional ‘hatching duck eggs’ or ‘puppies’, for sale.  But, everywhere seemed empty, as if only those driving through existed.

One of the things I really love about driving to the coast is sense of joy I feel when I know I’m close by the sea.  I don’t know if its the change in the light, the ozone in the air, but I always know when the sea is around the next turn in the road.  I’ve always assumed that this a hangover from the excited anticipation of sandcastles to build and rock pools to explore from childhood holidays and day trips to the coast and that this a something shared by those of us not lucky enough to grow up by the sea. Apparently not. As the azure sea came into view, sparkling in the sunlight, I yipped in excitement but my friend, born and bred in Balham, exclaimed ‘For God’s sake grow up, it only looks nice because the sun’s shining, its bloody bleak when it rains’ and slumped into her seat.

She’s right of course. As a child we used to go to Hayling Island a lot – sometimes we’d stay for the weekend, but we also lived close enough to be able to make the occasional day trip. I’m told its lovely, I wouldn’t know, as Hayling Island didn’t play nicely with my family.  It would start off really well, we’d leave on a beautiful summer’s day – blazing sun, blue sky and a gentle breeze – but by the time we’d arrived the sun would’ve sulked away to be replaced by a gun metal grey sky, a gale force wind would be blowing in from the Solent and the rain would be staccatoing on the car roof.  My only memories of Hayling Island all involve me  singing ‘rain rain go away, come again another day’, while gazing longingly at the beach through a steamed-up window, trying to work out where the grey water ended and the grey sky began. Eventually even my determined Dad gave up on Hayling Island as a destination, and we tried other resorts with more luck,  so I got to play on and swim from most of the other beaches on the south coast between Southsea and Weymouth.

My friend had cheered up by the time we got to her parents’ house and decided to stay overnight.  Her lovely mother plied me with tea and cake before the long, potentially lonely trek back to London, but really I was delighted as this meant that, rather than getting caught in the rush hour traffic, I could go to the beach.  I headed to the sea front hoping to find somewhere to park, but sadly the traffic was too heavy and the parking too difficult so, after thirty minutes of moving slowly past seaside B&Bs each with the obligatory pastel paintwork and yucca, I headed inland driving through the high-hedged country roads and eventually arrived at Pevensey Bay around 5.30pm. This was the perfect time, as, with only the hardy families still in residence, I was able to park, turn off my phone and find a suitably empty patch of shingle on which to sit.

The beach at this time is lovely, families walked their dogs, runners jogged across the shingle and little brothers dared older sisters to go for a swim and skipped away before their  sisters could exact their revenge.  I paddled at the water’s edge and then sat and stared out to sea for a couple of hours without being too disturbed.

If heaven exists, it could just this.

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Theatre

So its been a while since I last blogged – I’ve been busy with an English MA, which I passed! I’ve also moved from Blogger to WordPress, as my small protest about the Google policies.

It was my birthday yesterday and I’ve been feeling poorly – nothing serious, just one of the various bugs that’s doing the rounds – and I’m feeling quite sorry for myself as birthday plans have had to be cancelled or postponed. So I’ve been trying to cheer myself up by thinking about some of the good things that I’ve done so far this year and thinking about the great plays I’ve seen so far, and the great plays that I’m going to see as the year progresses. As one of the things that really turns me on is really great live performance be it music or theatre and one of the blessings that came from my years with the OU is a great theatre buddy, which means, as long as she’s not on call and can bribe her eldest daughters into babysitting, I generally have a theatre date.

So far, since completing the MA in January, I’ve seen

The Importance of Being Earnest – The Theatre Royal, Haymark
She Stoops to Conquer – Olivier, National Theatre
Waiting for Godot – Talawa Theatre Production, Albany Theatre, Deptford
Collaborators – Cottesloe, National Theatre
Bingo – Young Vic
Duchess of Malfi – Old Vic
Antigone – Olivier, National Theatre
Love, Love, Love – The Royal Court
Betrayal – The Crucible, Sheffield
Crow – National Theatre at The Borough Hall at Greenwich Dance
Dr Dee – The Coliseum
Ragtime – The Open Air Theatre, Regents Park
Noises Off – The Novello Theatre
A Doll’s House – Young Vic

There are a couple of interesting things about this list, there are only two productions in a West End Theatre, one, Noises Off, was a transfer from The Old Vic and both are revivals.  In fact there are only two new plays on the list, Collaborators and Love, Love, Love.

There also are three music/dance pieces, Crow, Ragtime and Dr Dee. I’ve never really been a fan of music with my theatre. I remember being forced to see Annie while I was at school and my Mum had a thing for Howard Keel, so I was exposed to Kiss Me Kate, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers etc., from a young age – I may have been scarred for life, sorry Mum. In any event I’m not a fan of opera, ballet, or modern dance.  I’m afraid that Crow confirmed my prejudices, I love the poem, loved the puppets, but the interpretative dance left me cold. In contrast I quite liked Ragtime.

I think the thing that people find most shocking is that I loved, and I mean, I LOVED Dr Dee. I was drawn to the performanced I’m interested in the period and interested in Dee, and friend of mine had seen Damon Albarn’s previous opera Monkey: Journey to the West and raved about it.  I loved Dr Dee so much that I saw it twice – no mean feat bearing in mind the short London run and the ticket prices. Having looked at the theatre critics, one of the main criticisms of the piece seem to be that its not really an opera, which is probably why I loved it.  But it pushed all my buttons, falling in love with the wit of the staging from the opening parade of the English, through the hoisting of Elizabeth I to the rafters during the the Coronation – using her elaborate train to frame the action, the use of front and back projection, to Dee’s death and the appearance of the three ravens at the end. There also wasn’t a weak performance on either night.

So what were my favourite performances?

Dr Dee is definitely my top piece of music and theatre.

Noises Off is the best comedy, my sides ached from laughing for days afterwards, and I still laugh whenever anyone says ‘sardines’.

As for the others, there are three revivals that top my list, Betrayal, A Doll’s House and Waiting for Godot, these are probably my three favourite plays of all time,  and I can’t separate the performances and staging. Although Antigone and She Stoops to Conquer should merit a special mention.

Of the new plays, Collaborators just tops Love, Love, Love but only just, and that may be down to Simon Russell Beale’s entrance that anything.

I’ve now stopped sulking as I’ve got a warm glow just thinking about these performances and looking at the list of things already booked for the remainder of the year.

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Ennui

I didn’t mean to be away for so long, but over the summer I’ve been suffering from ennui. Not sure what bought it on, except that I seemed that I’ve spent most of this year dealing with the same old problems and, well, its frustratingly annoyingly boring.

The good news is that as the first leaves began to plummet from the trees the ennui lifted as otherwise I could have been forced into the usual literary cure of an entanglement with an unsuitable, but dashing, man … hmmm …

But I digress.

As you’ll see from the updated reading list, I’ve still been reading, but with the ennui and all that, my reading pace has slowed. So I thought I would share the following review, and yes I did really read the new Dan Brown – it was presented to me by a friend, who loved it, as a pre-MA treat (did I mention that in an attempt to lift the ennui I signed up for an English MA?). When I pointed out that I’d hated the Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons my objections were swept aside on the basis that I’d read The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail and was bought up Catholic, although my view of the Roman Catholic Church is very jaundiced and not improving – did you see this from the Pope? A new form of colonialism? They need to cast off the old ones first – James Joyce wrote, ‘the tyranny of Rome still holds the dwelling place of the soul’ which still holds true today, Rome needs to embrace the twenty first century rather than hanging desperately onto pointless tradition, especially in Africa – but yes I was incensed by Angels and Demons and I thought his writing was a little clunky. And who says that I don’t have an opinion on the masons? But I digress.

I am a fast reader, my reading average is around 3½ books per week for fun (this doesn’t include books and texts I have to read) and I can usually read a 500 page or so book in a couple of days. This took me over 3 days to read, not quite my slowest record, but even so, rather than being a ‘page turner’ it was a ‘putter downer’. I persevered to try understand just what it is that makes these books so popular.

The first page reads ‘Fact: In 1991, a document was locked in the safe of the director if the CIA. The document is still there today…The document also contains the phrase “It’s buried out there somewhere”. My first reaction was ‘here we go again’ so I put the book down and went for a very long walk. The thought of my friend, who only reads a book a month, and read this in a day, spurred me on so I picked up the book again.

It’s definitely a book that needs some serious editing and most of these have been detailed already by other reviewers so I won’t bore you, apart to add that my particular annoyances are how he leads the reader by the hand, using full names throughout the text, often tacking on job descriptions, ‘Security Chief Trent Anderson’, we are repeatedly told of a character’s ethnicity or size, he reminds us three or four times in the space of a couple of pages that Bellamy is ‘African American’. But my particular favourite is ‘Their father had succumbed to cancer when Katherine was only seven, and she had little memory of him. Her brother, eight years Katherine’s senior and only fifteen when her father died’ – does he assume that his readers can’t add or subtract?

As for the plot, as you can see from the side bar, I read a lot of mysteries and thrillers, and the key to these is to keep the reader guessing almost to the end of the book – sadly I guessed one of the major plot twists in the first third of the book, and spent the rest of the time reading the book hoping that Brown would come up with a different solution. Additionally a couple of ‘deus ex machina’ plot twists, which I won’t spoil for anyone yet to read the book – one of which involves a miraculous escape worthy of The Perils of Pauline, which left me screaming and beating the floor in frustration – also made me put the book down and go for very long walks.

As for the characters, I really didn’t care if any of them, including Robert Langdon lived or died.

Eventually, and believe me I’ve never been so pleased to see the end of a book, I made it through and I still don’t get it. I loved the first two instalments in the Millennium series by the late Stieg Larsson both of which kept me reading far too late into the night – I’m currently reading the third and am finding it hard to put down. I understand why people love the Harry Potter books and I kind of understand why the Twilight series is so popular. But this reads like the bad third instalment in the National Treasure series of films – you know the one that should never be made but everyone is cashing in while they can – don’t take this as a criticism of the films I loved them.

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It’s official

apparently cats exploit us – duh!

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Superpod

No its not the name of some new pop band, although give it time… did you see this film of a superpod of dolphins off the coast of Wales on the BBC website? This bought back memories of the superpod of dolphins I saw whale watching off Kaikoura back in 2004 – its scary its been so long since I last travelled properly and I have very very itchy feet but a combination of study and freelancing (lack of cashflow) has stopped me and unless more work comes travelling to any of the places I want to see is a very far horizon.

I finally got to meet the whales and dolphins on my fourth attempt on that trip – I’d tried off Auckland and in the Bay of Islands but no one was home, and on my first visit to Kaikoura the weather was abysmal so the boats stayed in port and the helicopter was grounded, not that I was going anywhere near a helicopter in that weather. The second time I went through Kaikoura the weather was perfect and this is an extract from my diary:

We sailed a little way from shore, where the continental shelf drops away very steeply and the warm tropical waters meet the cooler waters from the Antarctic (I think). Then the captain started the hunt, I guess, as in the Bay of Islands, the earlier boat and the other boats all keep in touch so that they all know what is going on, so the captain knew that there were whales around. He kept dropping the sonar over the side of the boat to listen for their calls.

He did have good news, there was a sperm whale about and he sounded as if he was going to surface – so we sailed around a bit and there he was (they are all males in this area). Amazing. It sounds so new agey, but it did feel very spiritual as the whole experience was so peaceful despite everyone else on the boat and the helicopters overhead. We could see him and hear him spouting water regularly from his blow hole. It was very humbling experience, he was so unconcerned that we were watching him, he just got on with the business of re-oxygenating his body, just so calm, magnificent, wonderful.

Took lots of photos, of course, they told us when we was ready to dive and hopefully I got one of his tail. (I did).

Then we were off again. … We found another whale again, once again it was just so calm and so peaceful and gentle (although not if you are a squid apparently). Whales are like icebergs, the majority of the whale stays underwater. Amazing that it was so calm as there was another boat and the helicopter there – a third boat had already had several encounters so they backed off – the NZ authorities insist that only three craft (including helicopters) can get close to the whales in the water (you can just see one of the other boats here).

We sailed around some more and the lookout found some dusky dolphins. Amazing, but so different to the whales. There were some 50 – 100 so they were hard to see as they splashed around and dove and looped. Where the whales don’t seem to care or notice that we are around, the dolphins seemed genuinely delighted to see us – they swam over to us and started playing around and under us – such a feeling of joy and fun (these photos give just a very small idea of the size and closeness of the pod).

Then back to the whale hunting and the first whale we encountered had resurfaced, apparently they come up for air every couple of hours or so. They turned off the engines and stopped the commentary and we had some quiet time with him (despite the other boat and the helicopter). Such peace and a feeling of timelessness, agelessness even though he is a relatively young male (around Kaikoura they are under 40, when they get that old they are finally large enough to mate and so leave for warmer waters where they get to meet girls!) just amazing.

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Feeling like Alice…

I’m sitting here typing with a fidgety cat by my shoulder, which is very distracting to say the least.

I’ve just finished reading Inkheart by Cornelia Funke, its a wonderfully imaginative children’s book so may not be on every ones radar, although it was made into a film which starring Brendan Fraser. I haven’t seen the film, but as it has the fantastic Paul Bettany playing Dustfingerwho is my favourite character in the book, plus Helen Mirren and Andy Serkis playing the evil villian Capricorn, it is now on my ‘to watch’ list. The central conceit of Inkheart is that when he reads a book aloud Meggie’s father, Mo, can conjour characters from the book into our world which is how Dustfinger, Capricorn and various of Capricorn’s associates all got here. I would have absolutely adored this book when I was a child.

I’ve also read a couple of books by Neil Gaiman, who writes the most wonderful contemporary fairy stories, Neverwhere probably being my favourite – travel on the tube will never be the same after reading this. The Graveyard Book, his most recent release reworks The Jungle Book into a darkly beautiful, fairy story. While Coraline has just been made into a deliciously scary film – one day Coraline finds a strange door which leads to an alternative version of her home with Other Mother and Other Father which initially looks more fun.

I loved these books as an adult and would have absolutely adored these books as a child as they sit alongside Antonia Barber’s The Ghosts (aka The Amazing Mr Blunden) Penelope Farmer’s Charlotte Sometimes and Philippa Pearce’s Tom’s Midnight Garden, three of my favourite childhood books.

I don’t remember being a particularly unhappy child, but these three books all share the central conceit of an escape to another world which does make me wonder – OK I’m not sure I’d want to be living in a girls boarding school during WWI. I also have a vivid memory of me aged around seven wobbling on my mother’s precious sideboard and staring intently into the big sitting room mirror, trying to recreate the opening of Alice Through the Looking Glass – only a seven year old would want to meet some of those characters, its been a while since I read the Alice books but I am sure that the Red Queen is in the second book as well – so let’s chalk this up to childhood imagination and a desire to learn about places other than the small cathedral city in Southern England I grew up in. A desire I still have as an adult, especially after a very bad day at work.

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Small Beginnings

1,032 words written. Not an enormous amount I know, but they look like good words and in the right order…

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