Thursday, 31 December 2015

Happy New Year!

Well now seems like a fun time to review the year that has passed me by in the blink of an eye! But before I do that, a little catch up on what I've been up to in the past few days.

Well of course we had Christmas Day! For the first time ever I went to a pub on Christmas Day. It was brilliant, no preparing food, cooking food, arguments on the lack of help being afforded to me, no washing up, no arguing about lack of help on the washing up front... no just plonk bum down, be sociable for a couple of hours, even I can do that, and then home to spend the rest of the day in my pyjama's...with my new pencil set...and a rather gorgeous photo from the new BBC epic War & Peace.

The next few days were interspersed with catching up on TV, the entire series of Jeckyll and Hyde, Harry Price Ghosthunter (very good - get it on catch up if you can) reading and catching up with friends. I was watching the recording of The Winter's Tale on Tuesday, so as I didn't have a clue what it was about (I hold my hands up I've not read everything by Shakespeare...yet) I thought I'd better read it! (My friend also thought I should read it so I could tell her what happens before we watched it!) Then for some reason I dug out my old copies of the Norton Anthology of English Literature and the first volume fell open at Christopher Marlowe who was writing just before Shakespeare. I had seen part of his life-story told in a lovely short film called Vadum Profundum, (a film about historical figures in Deptford) so I decided fate had intervened and I caught up with a couple of pieces that he had written, so now I'm slightly less ignorant of his work!

The cinematic version of Kenneth Branagh's version of the Winter's Tale was fantastic. I haven't watched Kenneth Branagh for quite some time and I had forgotten what an incredible actor he is. He doesn't need to over dramatise, and I appreciate that more. Shakespeare can be kept "real", it doesn't need unnecessary flouncing about the stage and overly enunciated words. Speak honestly and the text does all the hard work for the actor.

So quick rundown on the story for those who have not read it... King Leontes of Sicilia and King Polixenes of Bohemia have been life long friends. Leontes begs his friend to stay a while longer but Polixenes says he should go home. Hermione (Leontes' wife) begs Polixenes to stay, and he relents. Leontes however sees the camaraderie between the two and suspects that the child Hermione is carrying must belong to Polixenes rather then him! Rather than having a chat with them both, he orders a servant to poison Polixenes. This plan however is thwarted because the servant runs away to Bohemia with Polixenes instead! Leontes is furious and has his wife put in prison for her treachery, where she gives birth to a girl. Leontes requires the advice of the Oracle to decide whether his wife is guilty or not and when the Oracle declares that she is innocent and that the King will not have an heir, the King tears up the findings in disbelief as he has a son so the Oracle must be wrong.  A servant then advises the son has died due to being so distraught over his mother being in prison, and it is not long before Hermione also dies of grief! The baby is taken away and left for a shepherd to find and bring up as his own. Sixteen years suddenly fly by and the girl, Perdita, has grown up and fallen in love with Polixenes' son! Polixenes finds out and is non too happy and orders them apart. This being Shakespare they decide a better option is to take a boat to Sicilia, so they do that instead. Leontes soon realises Perdita is his daughter and decides to take her to see a statue of her mother which is very life like, so life like it indeed comes to life and everyone lives happy ever after!!!

It is a tragic fairy-tale, and the set lends itself well to the story. Branagh had set the play at Christmas, so the first few lines are not in the original play, it is the son choosing and opening a Christmas present which leads us into the tale, but this worked well and set the correct atmosphere of fun and friendship, before Leontes jealousy creeps in to ruin matters. The story shows a man who has everything, but throws it all away. Branagh is commanding in this tale, sometimes you are angry at his stupidity, other times sorry for him as he begins to realise his mistake and tries to seek atonement. It shows just how fragile time is, and how we should not throw time away, because you can never get that time back. Whilst this may sound rather gloomy, there were interludes of comic fun that just raised the spirits and gave the audience time to regather their thoughts and opinions of the main characters. A highly enjoyable evening and I'm so thankful that our local theatre plays these cinema streams from London, otherwise I would miss out on some spectacular performances.

In amongst all of this I kept adding a bit more to my sketch, so here it is, Fedor Dolokov...

(I may have to do a couple more drawings...I'm still not entirely sure that the new pencils work!!!!)

So there we go, the end to a very strange but enlightening year for me is a psychopathic Dolokov!

I started the year knowing that I was to be made redundant (what a lovely 2014 Christmas present RBS!) Most colleagues were upset by this but really this was probably the kick up the backside I needed in life. Whilst trying to close the office down I figured I would have to try and read War & Peace before it came on TV, and that as it was going to take forever to read I'd better start sooner rather than later. I researched what translation would be the closest to Tolstoy's original and started reading, three weeks later I had finished and realised that it was a wonderful story and nothing to be scared of. I also realised that this was only February and by the time it was on TV I would have forgotten what goes on...and I have!

During January, February and March the BBC kept messing about with The Musketeers scheduling. This made me a bit grumpy and so emails were sent to various loons who didn't seem to pay much attention, therefore I got the quill and ink out and sent very grumpy letters to the BBC which seemed to hit the mark! I had to take all of my holidays before I got kicked out of work in May, and so took the opportunity to start going back to the theatre. I took trips out to New Brighton on my own and realised how much fun you can have when you stop for a minute and start doing the things that you want to do, rather than the things that those around you expect you to do. Apparently it is weird to go to the theatre on your own, I dispute this now, and if no-one wants to watch what I want to, yes I go on my own and boy does that feel good!

2014 saw me say goodbye to my friends horse and riding in general. Back then it was easy, I was expected every Saturday whatever the weather and so I just turned up, threw a saddle on and disappeared across the mountains for a few hours. It also meant I adopted some bad habits, slouching and riding with both long reins and long stirrups, western stylie!!! As I had extra days away from work I was able to book into a riding school for some private lessons. Well let's just say I was pushed and pulled into the correct riding position and every part of my anatomy hurt. Fortunately however this was my only issue and so I was back cantering over poles within a couple of lessons which was a great boost to my self-esteem. (Although my style of riding is still more comfortable!)

April was the month of change...I visited the Burketeers of the North-East! What a fabulous day that was, finally meeting up with some faces I had tweeted to. I didn't realise then that these people would soon become such loyal and loving friends, nor the fun-filled adventures that lay ahead of me. We got new nicknames by mistake, and to Cheryl's husband, us Burketeers will always be his Tinkers! This was also the month that I said goodbye to a very dear friend. I started work with a girl named Vicky when I was 17, and this friendship remained throughout university, even though she was in Birmingham and I in Preston. She remained in Birmingham and so I would visit for drunken nights out until she got married and had children! I didn't even know she was ill, she was told she had cancer and had a few months to live, turned out it was more like a couple of weeks. It goes to show you don't know what is around the corner; she was only 41 and had the world at her feet and so that should be a salutary lesson to us all to not bother waiting for tomorrow, live for today.

It turned out that the move to the remaining office was not going well, what a surprise! The Bank in its infinite wisdom had decided to close the branch where the staff knew what they doing and what the various nuances of different types of Trusts were. They kept the office where they held one type of Trust and had a large turnover of staff, and therefore very little experience - really what could go wrong? Everything apparently, so just as I thought I would be leaving the Bank I was asked if I would mind staying on with a couple of other colleagues for a few weeks! Oh and would I mind going to the other office to sort it out? Yes I would I'm supposed to be heading out to Prague and starting a new life! In a huff I went to the other office, told a few home truths, got out whilst the going was good and flew out to Prague for a fun week on my own. There I made a new friend, and yes you guessed it she was a Burketeer! That was when I decided I should start writing a blog about my new forthcoming adventures! I came home, learnt how to set a blog up and the rest is history. As was the visits to the other office, for some reason they didn't want to see me again and they decided I was right; it was far easier to send work up to me rather having me sitting in their office telling them everything that they were doing wrong!

June ends, so does my role of being a disillusioned manager and I decide to tackle those things which I used to find fun but had somehow forgotten. I dusted off my sewing machine and started making clothes again, and because I had time, I spent a lot of it on Twitter! Far too much time really, still it got me talking to people, and boy I am good at talking...but not Tweeting it seemed. I found it difficult "talking" to anyone I'd not met.  Fortunately Tom rode to the rescue and announced he would be doing London Comic Con in July! Yay, the Burketeers I'd met in April got in touch and so we booked a hotel and we started on a new chapter in life which I shall call Burketeer Adventures! Somehow I arranged to meet a Burketeer who liked shoes...I like shoes so we went to the V&A to look at posh ones...although it was the grubby musketeer boots that made us squeal and nearly get kicked out. Here is a new friend for life I thought, and as it turned out Nikki's family lived down the road from me, so yes when she heads north she has to say "hi" to me now!

Summer continued with me wondering if I should look for a job but I was still "finding myself" - well that's my excuse - so went off on little jaunts instead, this brought me into October and another trip to Prague, because when I came back from Prague I was definitely going to look for a job. Desperate to see if Athos was at home I broke into Pinon, fortunately I didn't get arrested by the strange drunk man that was lurking in the shadows, nor did my Czech friend disown me, neither did I find any inspiration over there as to what career path I should follow.

I came home to find that I had to get my act together, we were doing a Christmas card for Tom and submissions were now due. I had two weeks to write a poem. So I did! It's not going to win awards but it was words on paper and slightly better than just writing "Happy Christmas love the deranged individual who just talked at you in London". So November dawns and so does the news that Tom is subjecting himself to another onslaught, but this time he's heading Newcastle. That's just as much travelling as going to London but fortunately Cheryl offered me a bed at her home and I took it before she could change her mind! Several of the old crew turned up to stay, and two new faces, I say new, we met in London but hadn't really talked there. Yet again I burbled on at poor Tom when I met him as though he were some long lost friend, it was only when I saw the pictures later that I realised how traumatised his poor face looked. Oh well, never mind Mr B, take heart this is where me and Angie became proper friends so some good came out of the day!

Then we hit December, another meeting with Tom, and more trauma on his poor face as I tell him off for advising me to read books with more than one syllable! There were more adventures with my Burketeer buddies which brought tears of mirth to our faces as we travelled from one escapade to another. Christmas Carols also meant meeting more new Burketeer faces and striking up some more wonderful friendships! And so endeth the year with a curry, a cuppa and a good book and not with an almighty drunken party! I hate New Year in that respect. Drunken eejits think it is acceptable to smother you in over-sized bear hugs and snog you! It's not New Year or anytime thank you very much. You think...if you think at all...that you are big and clever for invading someone's personal space. You're not, you're just rude, and you probably have beery, garlic breath too!

To the Burketeers, I raise a glass to you all, may we continue to have fun, and of course to Tom (Polly has told him to read this drivel, I doubt he will but just in case) thank you for your patience and bearing with me. And on that note, Happy New Year one and all, hope you have a prosperous and successful 2016, it has been a joy making such new friends.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

A Design For Living - Revisited! Victoria & Albert Museum 16th December 2015

I laughed when I read this play, the dialogue was very witty and it was an easy and enjoyable read, so given the opportunity to see a recording of the play in which Tom starred I was in seventh heaven. I was really looking forward to seeing this play, and I am pleased to say I did not leave disappointed. In fact I left in considerable pain as my sides and cheeks hurt from all the laughing I did!

The first thing to notice about the stage play is that the sets are beautiful, especially when they are in a stunning New York penthouse in the final act. The three lead cast members were terrific, but the connection between Tom and Andrew Scott was sublime. How they managed to keep, almost, straight faces throughout the performances is beyond me. They were hysterical! But we should not forget Ernest, Angus Wright should be commended for his portrayal of the forgotten man, as without it, the connection between the three leads would be lost.

The play starts with Ernest and Gilda talking in a Paris art studio, she lives in her own world, she is a restless individual who is obviously unhappy, but we're not sure why. I don't think she really knows why, but as we move through the play she becomes more of an independent woman, until the climax where she realises what it is that she needs to complete her life. The conversation between the two characters becomes more heated and animated, it is obvious that Ernest has feelings for her, but Gilda ignores this and just talks about life from her own confused point of view. At one point Ernest snaps at her about her untidy lifestyle and as the hysteria grows, in walks Gilda's partner, Otto (Tom). It is a brief moment with Otto before he leaves with Ernest to find their friend Leo who is apparently back in town. After they depart, in walks Leo. Leo and Gilda share animated conversations, and I liked the fact that Leo has some lines similar to those of Ernest, "strong as a horse". These idioms are reflected throughout the play, and they keep the sense of connection between all of the characters alight. Leo sums up the entire play with these lines "I love you. You love me. You love Otto. I love Otto. Otto loves you. Otto loves me."

After some glorious scenes between all four characters, we move on a few years and Gilda is now living with Leo, having previously told Otto that she has slept with Leo! She has moved from an artists flat to a beautiful looking London town house, success has come to Leo and Gilda, but Gilda is still not happy, she is still missing something. Lisa Dillon's portrayal of Gilda sometimes reminded me of Felicity Kendal in The Good Life, whilst she sometimes appeared to be in the shadow of the men in her life, she had a determined nature and a sharp tongue to keep her going in her determination to succeed in her own right.

My favourite scenes in the play are without any doubt the scenes between Otto and Leo. They are so happy when they realise that they are back together after years apart, but mournful that Gilda is now no longer in either of their lives. As they get steadily drunker and drunker, Tom and Andrew's speeches get funnier and funnier! Their facial expressions are priceless; Tom especially can say a thousand things just with his eyes, he doesn't need to say a word! It is a very physical performance by both actors, how I cried when Leo says "How astonished our insides must be - all that brandy hurtling down suddenly!" He does such a funny jiggle as he acts out brandy hitting the insides and the warm hit that takes over the body! They begin to talk like one does as alcohol takes over the brain and whatever rubbish is in your head suddenly becomes an important matter of discussion. In this case the scientific age they were living in! They also did that thing whereby you know you shouldn't drink anymore, but one look at each other and you can cajole each other to just one more drink, and more nonsensical conversation! At one point Leo says of the sherry they are drinking "It ought to be good; it's real old Armadildo." I laughed because I thought he'd got his lines wrong, and looking at Tom's face he was desperately trying to keep a straight face. As it turned out, it is the actual line from the play, but it was still hilarious, and just as I tried to recover my wits Leo pushes Otto across the sofa and the look of surprise on Tom's face once again had me roaring with laughter and holding my sides! It was a truly remarkable bit of acting by both parties.

I don't think anything could surpass that part of the play, although Edgar's outburst at the end is somewhat triumphant as he has obviously had more than enough of his three friends! The play was about three hours long, but it did not feel that long to me. I enjoyed every minute of it and I really did not want it to end. The actors should be thrilled with their performances, sometimes manic, sometimes soulful, they showed the difficulty of being in love with more than one person. The worst thing I can say about the play is that it is not available to buy; I could watch it again and again, it is the perfect antidote to watch if you have had a bad day!

The Doctor's Dilemma Revisited! National Theatre Archives 15th December 2015

A number of Tom Burke fans headed to London to attend a charity Christmas carol concert. One of the fans had found that this play had been recorded and was available to view at the National Theatre Archive and therefore whilst we were in the area it was thought we should see it. My review of the written play was a little on the disappointing side, so when the opportunity arose to actually view the play, I couldn't refuse.

The first thing that struck me about the play was that whereas the book seemed a slow moving affair, the play trips along at a decent pace and is filled with poignant moments of light and shade. There are subtle lines which only come alive when watching the actors perform and interact with one another; this was sadly lost in the reading of the book. The subject of the play is an emotive one, a doctor has found a cure to treat TB, eleven people need your help but you can only help ten. Who do you cure, who do you leave behind? Despite the serious nature of the topic of the play, when watching it you suddenly realise that it is actually a very funny play, full of laughs, especially when you consider how dubious the world of medicine was in that era and that these doctor's were taking on the role of God as to who should survive and who should die.

The first part of the play introduces us to the doctor's to whom the supreme decision will lie. Each doctor was brought to life magnificently, and each one had their own strong character traits which made their conversations much easier to follow. In the book they were verbose and you got a little bogged down in all the medical jargon, but here, it was much easier to follow and you concentrated more on who the characters were, rather than just what words were spoken. It was like watching a Victorian society boys club as each doctor congratulated Sir Colenso Ridgeon on his newly elevated status, pats on the back all round! This was interspersed with his servant who kept interrupting the "party" in a brusque manner to advise that there was a lady waiting for the doctor, and she would be waiting until Dr Ridgeon saw her. The wit of Shaw came beautifully to life and you noticed the subtle clever ways that he showed just how dangerous it was to let these sorts of men play with your lives. None of them really knew what was wrong with people, it was a matter of guesswork, if they used toxins on you and you survived all was well and good, if you died, you were probably too ill to be treated in any case!

After watching the self-congratulatory doctors discussing their achievements in the medical profession, the tone changes slightly as we meet Jennifer Dubedat, and we hear her beg for the life of her TB-afflicted husband, a young promising artist. (No the irony of Tom Burke - TB- playing a TB victim was not lost on me!) She has heard that the only person who could treat her young husband is Ridgeon, and he reluctantly agrees to look at her case, although one suspects it has nothing to do with the talents of her husband, but for his own interest. We then meet Dubedat and he is a complete charmer! It would be impossible to say no to him. His artwork is indeed promising, he is jolly and polite and knows just what to say to a person! He is invited to a dinner the doctor's are attending, he is a breath of fresh air, and once he has retired for the evening, the doctors start comparing notes confirming that he is indeed worthy of having his life saved. As the play continues, we soon realise that Dubedat is actually a bit of a rogue, he has borrowed money from everyone, even one of the poorest doctors, Blenkinsop, who can not even afford to pay his fare home. It was endearing hearing how he trusted Dubedat, he only lent him money because his wife had inadvertently taken his purse, Blenkinsop thought he would be paid back straightaway but Dubedat left, he must have forgotten! How naive! This naivety is quashed as we realise just how much Dubedat has borrowed, and then even worse, a servant enters to advise that she is Dubedat's wife, not the lady he was at dinner with! All of a sudden we look at Dubedat in a different light, he is a scoundrel, he is not deserving of the treatment anymore, especially as we now learn that the poor, naive Blenkinsop requires the same treatment.

Suddenly Ridgeon's disgust with Dubedat is apparent, and he leaves Dubedat to the clutches of his colleague, who will use toxins to 'cure' him. We all know how his treatments have fared in the past, therefore we know that Ridgeon has really offered Dubedat a death sentence. As we watch Dubedat's final emotional scenes, we know that the real reason Ridgeon did not want to help was because he thought that if Dubedat was dead, he would be able to secure a future with Jennifer Dubedat. It becomes clear that he was as morally corrupt as Dubedat, in fact he was worse. Dubedat was a loveable rogue who took people for their money, Ridgeon was a man in a position of trust and power and he used this to his own advantage. Even in these final scenes however, the drama has a light touch. It is physically draining sitting with a loved one as you watch them pass away. In my experience people have slipped away quietly, no strength left to talk. This is drama however, so Dubedat has a full death bed speech, and just as we think he has died, he suddenly sits up and announces "Not yet, dear. Very nearly, but not yet!"

This was a play filled with black humour, drama, strong characters and poignant moments. I left the NTA thrilled that I had had an opportunity to watch the play and see how Tom had managed to bring the role of Dubedat to life. The interaction between him and the character of Jennifer Dubedat showed that whilst she was a romantic fool and he was a bit of a rascal, they had more passion and self-worth than any of the doctor's who lorded about the stage. I also loved how watching the play, as opposed to reading it, made me question the motives of each character, the medical system in general, and most of all what gives someone the right to play God, questioning the morality of someone when their own scruples are equally corrupt. I laughed, I shed a tear, and left the NTA thinking, really, whatever happened to the Hippocratic oath?!

Sunday, 20 December 2015

The Conspiracy Against The Human Race - Thomas Ligotti (book)

When I was in London I was asked if I'd thought of putting some book reviews on my blog. Well the answer was no I hadn't. I wasn't really sure anybody would be that interested. I thought posting a list of the books I had read would be sufficient! I do know however that two books Burketeer's would be interested about would be the two books Tom suggested to me when I spoke to him in Newcastle. I have previously written about my thoughts on the book Sway, so now for my observations about Conspiracy!

Human's are a pointless and evil part of civilisation

The Conspiracy Against The Human Race centres around Ligotti's claims that the worst horrors we encounter are not those that are produced by our imaginations in the field of horror films or writings, but in actual fact they are here, all around us in reality. The human condition, according to Ligotti, is not a nice one, in fact it is quite dreadful to be a human. Essentially we exist, and that is where the good news starts and ends! I think perhaps I need to read Ligotti's fiction, and then re-read this book again. It certainly requires more than one reading! The themes might be too stark for those who have not read the horror genre of Lovecraft or Edgar Allen Poe. Life is a strange and unexplained universe which is full of hate, so just why are we born? Life is inflicted on us, we have no say in the matter, and therefore we need the anaesthetic of optimism to get us through life, just so that we can say that life is alright really! The basic notion in comparison to the rest of the animal kingdom is that humans have a consciousness and on that basis are alone in their awareness of mortality. An animal is born, it reproduces & survives, then it dies. The human being has streams of consciousness so is aware that there is more to life than that of a mere animal, or is there? There are those who will agree with Ligotti's arguments, and those who will forcibly deny them. Those who live in a state of denial, saying that to be human is the greatest thing on earth, have fallen into Ligotti's trap, they have just helped to perpetuate the title of the book!

There's an argument in here for everyone to take away and think about...

I really loved the book, and I'm not saying that because Tom said to read it. Now when I saw Tom at Carols I said I had a bone to pick with him (why do I feel I can speak to him like he's my brother, I really need to learn the art of being star struck and keeping my mouth shut.) Anyway having shouted at him for making me read a book that requires the use of a dictionary to get through it, I did say it was a most interesting read. He just looked quizzically at me and asked if I'd read both books, "even Conspiracy?" Yes, and it was brilliant! I think we both briefly confirmed we should both read some more Ligotti...or perhaps I dreamt that bit! (To be honest I still want to know why he sounded so astounded that I'd read it... answers on a postcard please - or should that now be answers on Twitter!)

The book is not an easy read by any stretch of the imagination, but I think that is why I found it so compelling, it really does require you to think long and hard about what you are reading. You can read the book in a variety of ways, you can skim it without much thought, if you do that I don't think you'll get much from it. You can read it as an optimist, a pessimist, a realist and dependent upon that, you will find yourself agreeing or arguing with the points raised in the book. The book is extremely dark and subversive, and I could reflect on my personal thoughts, but I feel that would be too revealing about my own psyche and I'm not that type of person. Despite my foray into social media, I am actually a private person, and I will choose what type of person I present to the world; remove the veneer and the deep and meaningful stuff is reserved purely for those closest to me who I can trust with my secrets, as I will always do with theirs.

Travel into the depths of a dark mind

If you want to reach the darkest corners of Ligotti's mind, please go ahead, it makes for interesting reading, and it was an enjoyable journey for me; although I have to say that many of the points raised were not new to me. I have had such thoughts even as a teenager, only I have never been able to make them so eloquently! So for some of you who read it, you will think it a voyage of disparaging nonsense, whilst others will find elements which strike a chord with them. What I don't intend to reveal is my personal thoughts, especially as if I do that, many may suppose that they are also the thoughts of Tom. What do I think Tom thinks? I have absolutely no idea. That is his business, just as my thoughts are my business! Suffice to say though, that this was my kind of reading material, but I can fully understand those who would truly hate it. I do believe that someone at Carols told Tom that since I had read the book, they were going to read it too. "Good luck with that" he said!

To be honest, if you can't be bothered reading the book, my mate has done a couple of graphs for me which kind of sums up the basis of the book.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Operation Smile's Christmas Carols - A Burketeer Special!

I read somewhere that writer's accomplish their best work when tired or drunk. Bearing in mind I've had 11 hours sleep in the last three days, today's entry should be a work of pure genius, although I suspect it's more likely to be delirious ramblings! Whilst I think on, I'm combining three days into one post, you may wish to make a nice cup of tea, or coffee if you have to, before you start reading. On second thoughts maybe a nice bottle of Russian vodka, or something else to take away the pain, might be better!

Monday 14th December

I'm all packed and ready to go to London, if I'm honest, I've been packed for several days. I have been given a lift to the railway station, however, the bonus of the lift is negated by having to sit for over an hour in the freezing cold as my train isn't due until 10:30. Still I buy something that vaguely passes as tea to the uninitiated and I sit with a spot of light reading until the train arrives. On the train someone has pinched my seat so they are politely ousted and my journey continues southwards. Pencil in hand I continued to read my book, The Conspiracy of the Human Race, content in the knowledge that there is at least one other person on the planet who thinks that the human condition is generally somewhat as grim as I think it is!

As I slipped deeper into my catatonic state of blissful dreariness, my 'phone buzzed and I entered into a conversation with a Burketeer about a play we would be seeing the next day, The Doctor's Dilemma. Now I didn't really enjoy reading it as much as I had hoped to, so it was interesting hearing the angle she was coming from and that she was enjoying it. My phone buzzed again and another Burketeer who I was meeting for lunch advised that she'd forgotten her ticket for the carol concert and would now be on a later train. Nikki and I  managed to meet up, only a little bit late, then realised that neither of us have any definable map reading skills, but as fortune favors the brave we head off and miraculously find The Sherlock Holmes Pub for our lunch. Beer and Gin is required, afterwards we head off to try to find the tube line which will take us to our flat, and hopefully more alcohol, it is required, it has been a rather stressful day so far, but not as stressful as it's about to become.

We manage to take the tube in the right direction, seriously the two of us should not really be allowed out together, and as we fall out of the tube station someone has thankfully marked our flat with a huge figurative arrow and we spot it immediately. As we drew closer, we saw our friend Angie patiently waiting for us outside the pub, and as it would be rude not to...we headed inside for another little drinky poo! On reflection, again this sustenance was required as we were about to embark on the Krypton Factor/Crystal Maze challenge. We get out the instructions to gain us entry to the flat. We manage to get into the building, make our way up to the flat, and then the fun begins. How many people does it take to get into a key safe? "OMG we've finally got the crystal" (key) and we open the door to find light switches "not as we know it Jim". There are panels in every room with eight buttons for every sodding combination of how you would like your room to be lit. What happened to on/off and maybe if you're posh a dimmer switch?

Fortunately my spidey senses kicked in immediately and the tea cupboard was located in a nano second and the kettle switched on. That was probably the only thing in the entire house that did not need to come with instructions...and probably the only thing any of us could use! Nikki and Angie needed milk for their tea (heathens) so they popped to the shop and left me in charge of the futuristic flat. I was having a disco (I'm from the 70's...shut up...I still say disco) with all those light switches and didn't notice flatmate number four was trying to ring me, tweet me, even desperately holding a seance, to be let in from off the street! Eventually I do let her in, and then I let her back out again so she could meet the final Burketeer to make up our happy home for the next couple of days.  Once we were all together, we thought we should entertain a few friends who had arrived in the city, and so we went to Tesco. Yes, all five of us in a Tesco Metro at rush hour, carrying a basket each, and hopeful that someone would take charge as to what should be put in each of our baskets. My basket was easy, plum tomatoes, a cucumber and some Prosecco. Not entirely sure what Freud would say about that. We amused (bewildered) the man at the cigarette counter, no we were not going to attempt self-service, we are Burketeers - calamity follows us wherever we go, the totting up of  several baskets required the skills of a professional! Then back to our easy to use flat.

Back at the flat we attempted to understand the instructions left for us under the heading of  "How to Use the Oven". Switch on and put on correct setting was not the most adequate of instructions, so we stood watching an oven stay resolutely cold until we had tried turning the knob to every setting imaginable. During the course of our escapades, we also realised that the flat was lacking in bedding, so emergency 'phone calls were made to the owners to bring duvets over. Still we finally ate, bedding was delivered, and as we are amazing hostesses, we proceeded to ensure our guests left "Enlightened"for the evening. Funny how once the film finished everyone grabbed their coats and left, still it meant we could change into our pyjama's and enjoy a nice bottle of Champagne as we sat around the table gushing over the photo's that had appeared on Twitter showing Tom at the War & Peace premier!

Tuesday 15th December

The big day has arrived, today we see Tom twice, once on film and once in the flesh; unless he has had the sense to grab his pack-a-mac and run for the hills. Our guide for the day arrived at the flat bright and early and we headed off to the tube to make our way over to the watch The Doctor's Dilemma by George Bernard Shaw. On our way to Waterloo (I bet Wellington never got lost) I disappeared into my infamous wormhole dragging, Angie, Cheryl and Lesley with me. Somehow we managed to get to Waterloo station without our guide, but trying to find the right exit from the station was becoming time consuming, and by now we were getting very late for the start of the play. We managed to confuse some station workers whilst trying to get directions from them, but eventually we started singing from the same hymn-sheet (at least that's one thing we'd get right on the night then) and we headed out of the building to find Nikki and Fiona patiently waiting for us. Like schoolchildren we were herded in to the National Theater Archives and we sit down to watch the play. Now, I have to be honest, I was a bit disappointed when I read the play, I found it a little tedious, not like Shaw at all, so I was hoping that the stage production would bring it to life. It was amazing! I will update my "Tom's Plays" part of the blog at a future date with the details, but suffice to say the actors brought great characterisation into each of the doctor's roles. Tom's character, Louis Dubedat, is rather unlikable in the play, I did not have too much empathy with him, however, Tom's performance turned him into a lovable rogue, and you realised that really the worst scoundrel of the lot was the Doctor (Ridgeon) who was in love with Jennifer Dubedat! In a heart wrenching scene towards the end of the play, Louis lies dying. Anyone who has had to sit at the side of a bed with a loved one waiting for their final breath will know how difficult it is, but as Walpole checks to see whether Louis is dead, Tom of course manages to turn this into a comic highlight of the play by suddenly sitting up and announcing "Not yet, dear. Very nearly, but not yet!" How I loved those shifts of light and shade throughout the play! It was an enjoyable way to start the day, leaving us with plenty of material to discuss as the Burketeers headed off to find a bus to take them to lunch at The Teahouse Theatre.

"The Burketeers on the bus go up and down..." yes, we practically took over an entire London bus, and then infiltrated the tea-house for sandwiches, tea and cake. Pots of Yunnan flowed all around me, however being of an exacting nature I had plumped for the Pu'erh, which turned out to be an awesome decision as it meant I had an entire huge pot to myself, and no I wasn't sharing because this is tea we are talking about. Tea and food finished the Burketeer quiz came out, and so did my bottom lip. All these questions that needed me to remember names, I've written about all (bar one) of Tom's plays, could I remember their titles...nope, the characters names...nope, now if the question had been describe what happens in Scenes From An Execution I would have had a fighting chance, just so long as names were not required and I could say "thingy" painted a big picture in Venice! One of my flatmates had a bad head, so we disappeared off a bit early so she could have a lie down and be ready for the evening. The taxi driver had other plans though and we sat for what seemed like years in his cab until we got fed up and walked back to the flat. Five ladies, one bathroom and sixty minutes to get ready; sod it, I got changed in the kitchen! We then walked to the church, obviously taking a couple of scenic detours, in the pouring rain and we sang an impromptu rendition of the 12 days of Xmas on the church steps. I'm surprised Simon Cowell didn't arrive and sign us up on the spot.

After standing in the rain for an hour and a half we were let into the church and force-fed whisky to warm us up. Tom and some other famous people were already sat at the front of the church and so we made our way in and sat down.  I didn't get thrown out of the church for crimes against singing, which was a shame for Tom really. As I trotted around the church filling myself with mince pies, I noticed Tom was surrounded by smiling Burketeer's, but as I said hello to a few new faces and asked if they'd spoken to Tom yet, I realised that the way things were going, they were unlikely to speak to him if they remained quiet and polite in the background. Surprisingly I do know what it is like to be a shrinking violet, I wished there had been people in my past to push me into the unknown, so I bellowed at Tom and as he caught my eye I said there's someone over there from France who would really like to speak to you. I then left and hoped for the best, I think she had a good time speaking to him, and I think it made her trip worthwhile. I did some more mingling and mince pie eating (well that was basically my dinner for the evening) and saw someone else I'd sat next to during the service hiding in the background hoping Tom would get left alone for two minutes, it wasn't going to happen, so I shouted at the poor man again and told him I had another European cousin wanting to see him! I said I'm doing this a lot, and as he said "yes you are" I refused to look too long into his eyes just in case I registered that he wanted to kill me! Ignorance as they say is bliss!

The rest of the evening started to become a bit of a blur, which is a shame as I'd only had two mulled wines, and if I'm going to forget things, I'd prefer for it to be after an entire bottle! I left Tom alone and started on Lesley instead - "Lesley take photo's" - she just looked at Tom and said "she's such a bully", I don't know what his response was, I disappeared again! I chatted to a few more bewildered people who were too polite to tell me to get lost and then I remembered I had a present for Tom. He had said something at Newcastle, and I'd thought of something he might find interesting, so I quickly handed it over and said, "Oh by the way I read those books you suggested, they were very good". Tom said "what both? Even Conspiracy?" to which I admitted I had ten pages left to read, but yes both read, both very good! In some respects it would have been better if the church had been quieter and I could have found out if it was the fact I had bought and read the books in a relatively short space of time, or just the fact that I can read something more formidable than Dr Seuss that surprised him! On that note though I did point out it's the first time in 20 years I've needed to sit with a pencil and a dictionary annotating a book as I read through it! I've not had to give my little grey cells a literary workout in a longtime and it's hard work trying to understand what the author is trying to tell me, (secretly I'm rather pleased to be challenged in this manner, Tom could have told me to read the Mr Men like he did with Luke!)  Anyway, rather than asking him for a photo I disappeared again which saved him suffering the ignominy of smiling in a photo when he may have preferred to throttle me instead! Note to self...when you meet famous people, don't tell them off, remain coy at all times!

The night drew to a close, and a few of us headed off to a rather nice pub where we had some fizz and more chatter. Then we grabbed a taxi homeward bound and sat around the table gossiping until 2am!

Wednesday 16th December

Oh dear God we need to pack, we need to clean the flat, we need to get to V&A to watch A Design for Living (and I can't miss it, it's one I read and loved and desperately needed to watch!)  So we sit in bed and tweet each other deciding what we shall have for breakfast instead! Our exit of the flat is just as complicated as our entering; that damnable key safe! But we head off and get to the tube where we meet up with a couple more Burketeers and head towards Kensington. We get to the V&A where we need to have our cases searched, I open mine and the security guard asks if there are any knives or sharp weapons in my case. I say no. He tells me it is a tidily packed case. I say thank you, then he tells me to go in, no rifling through my knickers required. Bemused, I go inside thinking I look either trustworthy or just too stupid to commit crime; probably the latter! Cases dumped in the cloakroom, we head towards where the play is on, obviously getting lost on the way, still we arrive, we watch, we laugh like hyenas all the way through, and all of us lament that we can't buy the play, which is a shame because it is brilliant. I was in physical pain from all of the laughter. How they could perform that play every night with straight faces is beyond me, although when you watch the recording you can see bits and pieces where the actors are desperately trying to hold it together. My favorite line must have been Andrew Scott talking about the Sherry "It ought to be good; it's real old Armadildo." I know that's how it is written in the play, but how they managed to continue their lines afterwards was beyond me. It was utterly brilliant watching the chemistry between the two actors as they got steadily drunker and drunker throughout the scene!

Play over, and we head down to the V&A cafe for lunch, I am starving and my stomach is on a mission for food so I didn't hear people shouting their goodbyes. We head for our tables and then grab some lunch (and of course tea and cake) and then I realise how many people have left and I feel bad for not saying goodbye. My train was not until 6:20, so there was plenty of time to kill, we stayed in the cafe and drank tea for the rest of the afternoon, chatting, laughing and reminiscing over what an unforgettable experience everything has been. As the numbers reduced, brief moments of despondency set in as we noted we had nothing planned for next year. How bizarre that a TV programme could be responsible for so many strangers coming together and having the time of their lives! Then we remembered that next year will be Box Clever Theatre's 20th birthday...I'm sure we may be able to organise some shenanigans based around that then!!!!

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Jane Eyre -Live Stream from National Theatre

I was lucky enough to secure the final ticket at my local theatre for the National Theatre's live streaming of Jane Eyre from the Lyttlelton theatre in London. Obviously it would be better to see these performances in the flesh, but I have found the live streaming to be an opening to a world of great performances that I would otherwise miss. A live stream will cost me about £15, whereas a trip to London to see a show, well we're talking about £300, at least!!!

I am so pleased that I got to see this production, it was a dramatically and energised contemporary twist on a classic novel, however, for some members of the audience it seemed that it was too contemporary "too much running around the stage in my opinion" said someone, "I don't know why they have to mess around with the original" said another! I found the performance refreshing. It was a piece of theatre, not a re-enactment of the book.

The stage is minimalistic and reminded me of school gym sessions, with its use of A-style climbing frames, wooden planks and ladders. The travelling up and down this apparatus gave the illusion of Jane's dramatic journey, and I thought it was a clever way of using the stage without a number of unnecessary set designs. In order to show the interminable coach journey's the actors did a group run on the spot; if you engaged your imagination, you were right there with Jane, in the coach, in the red room, in school, in Thornfield Hall, and even in the dramatic climax of the show you were transported to the burnt out shell of a former home with this simplistic design.

Whilst the set was stark, the use of costume was cleverly integrated into the performance. Rather than being a distraction, the costumes helped reflect the story, showing the change of Jane from babe in arms, to ten year old misfit and finally the young headstrong woman we venerate.

This isn't a lavish production, it is simple, reliant on the performances of the actors, they don't have props and sets to hide behind, it is the bare bones of theatre. Credit has to be given to the actors for conveying such raw feelings of isolation and childlike curiosity in the opening scenes of the play. You forgot at times that you were watching adults, you were drawn into the world of the ten year old, how scared they would be locked in a dark room as a punishment for what? For having an opinion, for being an orphan and forced to live with a family that never wanted you?

The show was originally produced at the Old Vic in Bristol, and was originally a production which was acted out over two nights When it moved to London, it had to be cut into a one night show but still retain the fundamental essence of the original. What I enjoyed was that this production told the story of Jane, it was like her autobiography, as opposed to just telling the love story of Jane falling in love with Mr Rochester. We lived Jane's life, we felt the anguish of her repressed cruel childhood, her hope that things would get better if she went away to school. The torment of realising that the bullying had followed her, that her solitude would continue, and even when finding solace in one friend, that relationship being cruelly terminated.

As adumbrated above, the play sounds like it could be three hours of misery and torture that you were about to endure, but you would be wrong. The play cleverly interspersed periods of deeply charged emotion with some uplifting pieces of humour. When Jane returns to Thornfield Hall and produces a present for her pupil Adèle Varens we see Adele open up a gingerbread man which she names Mr Rochester, and then casually bites his head off with a look of pure ecstasy on her face! Speaking of Mr Rochester, he is introduced to us writhing on the floor shouting "Oh Fuck!" Jane has startled his horse and he has fallen, and he is letting the world know that he is some considerable pain!!

Another element of Jane Eyre which worked well was the placement of the band on stage, and the use of a singer who arrived and departed from the stage at some of the most haunting parts of the play. The band became a part of the performance, the use of music as a highlighter rather than just a general requirement of the theatre. As Jane is wrestling with her feelings for Mr Rochester, Dinah Washington's "Mad About the Boy" is belted out, and as the play draws to a close and Jane is walking through the shell of Thornfield Hall, a slow operatic version of Gnarly Barkley's "Crazy" makes a spellbinding finale.

I enjoyed the evening immensely. I thought that I had watched a clever and innovative production that evoked memories of the book, but had not become a slave to it.

Monday, 7 December 2015

Sway - novel by Zachary Lazar

I have to be honest, if I had seen this on a bookshelf, I would have walked on by. I found nothing appealing to make me pick the book up, and even reading the blurb on the back, I thought, no! I wasn't a fan of the Rolling Stones, I've heard of Kenneth Anger but not seen any of his work, and Charles Manson? He was a complete "nut job", why would I want to read about him?

The book was a recommendation though, and quite frankly if you ask someone to recommend a book and you've told them you will read anything (especially if you put them on the spot and they're not expecting the question) the least you can do is give the book a chance and read it.

Sway entwines three symbolic stories charting the early years of the Rolling Stones, the life of the avant-garde film-maker Kenneth Anger, and Charles Manson and his followers during the decade of the 60's. It was a dark and disturbing novel, but for some reason it resonated with me. I loved it! Honestly I couldn't put it down, and it's made me want to have a look at some of Anger's films out of mere curiosity!

I had an idealistic impression the 60's, that it was a happy decade of peace, love and flower-power! It was the generation of the Swinging Sixties, social taboos were more relaxed, especially in terms of sexism or racism and there were peace loving communities.  We hear about sexual revolutions, the desire for more freedom for minorities and women, student uprisings over political events, people taking control of their beliefs, but as with all things, everything has to have an opposite perspective. This book reflects the darker side of the Sixties, perhaps the side of the era that people would want to forget.

Whilst the book focuses on the stories of the three parties mentioned above, the underlying narrative tackles the sociopathic, antisocial criminal activities which were fuelled by people succumbing to the mind numbing effects of both a drug induced party culture, and the solitary thoughts and feelings that can grip and take over the mind when you feel you don't fit into a society.

What was interesting about the book, is that from the start you think that Charles Manson will be the ringleader of the book, but in fact it's the film-maker Kenneth Anger that is the recurring party interweaving the stories of these disparate parties together. What Lazar has done with this book is thrown away the idealism of the love and peace movement, and dragged us kicking and screaming into the underbelly of the dark-side. The freedoms shown in the book are based on "outsider" characters, the people who have not fitted into society, the people always on the fringes trying to establish themselves with an identity; but as Lazar shows, trying to establish yourself as who you perceive yourself to be doesn't always come with a happy ending.

The Rolling Stones were a group of R&B musicians, living in squalor, unable to afford heating, and as they began to make their mark, all of their gigs ended up with mass fighting, often encouraged by the sound and performances of the band. People seemed to only want to go to gigs for the sheer enjoyment of being able to fight the band, people were not going because they were in awe of the music. In fact the band themselves had difficulties with trying to establish what sound they wanted as they all pulled in different directions, and became solitary individuals rather than a group of like-minded people. The music didn't bring them together, in fact it tore them apart. An interesting yet sad aside, is that as their popularity soared, their founding member Brian Jones' mental and physical self had started to deteriorate and he would be found dead in his swimming pool after a party, in which it wasn't made certain whether he drowned, or onlookers just let him drown, perhaps to put him out of his misery?

Kenneth Anger grew up as a lonely child, used to beatings by his dad. He knew he was different from an early age, making films from the age of ten, filming snippets of things that would evoke an emotional response from him, rather than a continuous storyline. He became preoccupied with men and thought it evil to give into the temptation where his body and soul wanted to take him, His soul became preoccupied with the occult, the symbols and diagrams of the zodiac and tarot an allure towards the darker recesses of his mind. Despite Anger's success in creating controversial films and becoming a talking point, the book still shows just how lonely he remained, still the solitary individual from childhood.

Bobby Beausoleil, an aspiring musician with devilish good looks, but not an overwhelming talent comes to LA looking for his ticket to fame and fortune. Instead he meets with Anger and gets cast in his films. and becomes his lover. He thought this would be stepping stone to a glamorous career, but instead the role had surprisingly appealed to him, however he left that world behind and moved to a commune run by Charles Manson. Beausoleil carries on Lazar's themes of solitude. Whilst the rest of Manson's followers hang on to his every word, Beausoleil keeps himself at a distance, he still has the power of his own thoughts, or so he thinks. Beausoleil would later be sentenced to death for the murder of Gary Hinman, an associate of Charles Manson, the sentence later being reduced to a life behind bars.

Despite the dark themes of the occult, drug addiction, sexual promiscuity, homosexuality and the pessimistic belief that life has no meaning (you're fated to die so if you have no purpose you can go on a voyage of self-destruction) this is a very sophisticated book. Whilst the three parties involved are real, it has to be remembered that this book is an interweaving of stories from Lazar's imagination combined with real life events. It's an interesting and imaginative book, viewing lost souls trying to find their way and one that I am really glad I took the time to read and digest.

Friday, 4 December 2015

Dolokov - dashing, destructive and deceiptful

Oh my oh my, some pictures of Tom playing Dolokov from Tolstoy's War and Peace were posted last night. I couldn't be bothered writing anything at the time, but they did make me want to watch the show. The costumes and set designs look so opulent and I'm looking forward to seeing the book reimagined and brought to the small screen.

I have never felt inclined to read the book, I thought it would be too daunting and a rather dry, austere read. When I heard that Tom was to portray Dolokov in the BBC adaptation I realised I would have to knuckle down and read it. Having heard that it would probably be on our screens in the Autumn and that it takes forever to read I started reading it in February, and I finished it in February! Now that is not some testament to me, it is a testament to Tolstoy for writing a book full of complex and enthralling characters. The tale he weaved could have been written this century, let alone when it was completed in 1869. As I read the book I literally covered its pages with post it notes; colourful reminders to go back to certain parts to re-read, or to find out more information about the themes which were written about.

I know that the principal reason for reading the book was to acquaint myself with the characters and storyline before watching the TV adaptation but instead I found myself marking all of the pages that Dolokov appeared in to see how much TV time Tom was likely to have! Yes I appear to be that shallow! When you look at all the markers once the book is finished you realise that Dolokov doesn't actually feature that much, but when he does he makes a startling impression on the reader. He is a multifaceted character and probably the most interesting in the book. The other characters become almost two dimensional when compared to him, and I can see why Tom was considered to portray the part, as he is adept at bringing these larger characters to life. I find it astonishing that when I see Tom in a role I don't see Tom I see the character. I'm sure I have probably written that before, but it is true, he can physically change his appearance like a chameleon so we forget the actor and concentrate on the part he is playing.

Dolokov is generally described as a psychopath. Is he? Absolutely! The definition of a psychopath is as follows:
a person with a psychopathic personality, which manifests as amoral and antisocial behavior, lack of ability to love or establish meaningful personal relationships, extreme egocentricity, failure to learn from experience, etc.

Dolokov enjoys hurting people physically and mentally. He will be the person on the front row of the battlefield, leading the charge, slaying anyone unfortunate enough to be in his path. He is also the one who can not establish a true loving relationship with society, he treats friends with disdain, and finds comfort in the arms of married women who fall by the wayside as he passes from one victim to the next. He doesn't care about consequences, I doubt he even understands what they are! And just when you are not sure whether you should admire or detest this man, Tolstoy throws in a curve ball halfway through the tome, a scene involving Dolokov with his mother. He is barely recognisable as the egotistical, antisocial individual who has been riling everyone he has come into contact with.

The scene with his mother is the polar opposite to the man we have known throughout the book. He cares about someone other than himself, so the question has to be asked, who is the real Dolokov; the caring son, or the extreme exuberant society man?

If we peel back the veneer of a person we can see into their true self, it is hard to wear a veneer 24/7, and therefore the people most likely to see the real person is the family, those who are always around. It's hard to fake a smile for days on end, but in front of friends, for a few hours, it is a easy pretence to carry out. Some people can wear their heart on their sleeve and are happy to pour their heart out to a complete stranger, the rest of us will put on that stiff upper lip, we can be the life and soul of a party when all we really want to do is curl up and cry. Often even we don't really know who we are! So maybe Dolokov is less of a psychopath, maybe he is being fraudulent with his audience and misinterpreted by his extreme behaviour in society.

Ask me about any of the other characters in the book and I struggle to remember them in their entirety, it was nine months ago when I read the book, and I've read countless others since then, so I'd have to skim read the book to remember the traits of the other characters, but Dolokov, he stands out, he is memorable, and that's before we see him on TV!

I imagine it would be such an intriguing part to play, and one that you could have so much fun with. Just writing this page on the blog has made me want to pick up the book again and explore many of the sides of Dolokov again, he's captivating. I think credit really does need to be given to Tolstoy for writing an exceptional piece and gaining an insight into so many different facets in different people's personalities. Hmm once I've got through my pile of outstanding books, I'm definitely going to have to go back to this one again!

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

If your Christmas tree droops, your balls are too heavy!

December the first, I'm travelling home! When I get in, I shall have a cup of tea, then get the Christmas tree out of the loft and start putting the 200 baubles I have on it! I don't do coloured themes, I like my tree to have baubles that mean something, and most do have a story attached to them! This year there are five new baubles from Prague, so I will always remember my holidays there when I put them on my tree.

Still, I had to make way home before festivities could begin, and I thought I little detour to Stroud would be good, because I believe that there is a gothic mansion that Marc Warren may have "lived in" as Dracula! I know the house is closed to the public at the moment, but I'm sure I will be able to get close enough to look around the grounds, and maybe go back again in the spring if it looks good.

Woodchester Mansion should have been one of the most glorious private houses in existence built in the Gothic Revival style. It was built by the Leigh family, but they mysteriously upped and left the property during its construction in 1873. Well a place that is gothic with both a mystery and a link to Tom Burke must be checked out! There is a National Trust car park near the property, so I parked up and took a walk down a long hill into a wooded valley.

Apparently bats roost in the property during the summer months, by now, they will have hibernate back into the caves that are dotted around the area. As I walked through the valley, I saw a glimpse though the trees of a turret. It was with relief that I turned a corner and could see a drive towards the house, I really didn't fancy sloshing through ankle deep mud on the forest paths if I could help it!

The house is enthralling, why would someone just mysteriously disappear and abandon such a glorious building? I think a bit of research is called for, and what I find out will be added to my piece about the Dracula sets in the TB Online Magazine!

It looks as though the local council is using the winter break to maintain the property. I'm not sure if it is just to keep it in repair, or whether they intend to finish construction. I really hope they don't; as it stands with its upstairs windows missing, and it's moss covered wonky roof, it is unique and mysterious, adding to its already strange charm. Why would anybody think that the bottom of a valley, hidden away from everything, was the perfect place to build a house? If you take a break from reality and let your mind wander through tranquillity to its lowest depths of fantasy, you can start to understand that this was indeed the perfect place for the mythology of a gothic mansion to be built.

Anyway, enough of rambling in strange woods, I have a home and a tree to get back to...I mean it is the 1st December and I need to start getting festive!