Sunday, 30 July 2017

Tom Burke in William Goldman's Marathon Man and Brothers - BBC Radio 4

Scylla the killer. What a romantic and dangerous figure he cuts, especially when he’s voiced by the incredibly versatile actor Tom Burke! (Am I right or am I right?!)

BBC Radio 4 dramatised both Marathon Man and Brothers by William Goldman for their Saturday afternoon play slot. Back in the annals of time I’d read the books, so I had an idea of the complexities of the story surrounding Babe and Doc, but I still found a few areas of the plays a bit difficult to comprehend whilst listening. You can only fit so much into a 1 hour play, and stripping down both books to their bare bones makes what you're listening to a little confused. It is the back story, those missing series of events, that make you understand the characters, which gives them reasoning, even one as ruthless as Scylla. With this in mind, I set to rummaging in the loft to see if I still had the books and thankfully I did. I decided to read the books again and then listen to the plays...any excuse to listen to Tom again eh?! 

Run, run, as fast as you can. You can’t catch me I’m the Marathon Man.

Babe is an intellectual, an aspiring historian. He is an ordinary bloke, trying to live his ordinary life, studying for a PhD in history, surrounded by the shadows of his legendary father. Perhaps it’s this shadow that makes Babe lack self-confidence. He knows the answers in class, but he won’t offer the answer, he might, just by the slimmest chance be wrong; so it’s better to be silent.

In his dreams, Babe is going to be a legend of the track, a marathon runner. When he runs, he imagines his hero Nurmi running beside him, and then he takes over, he passes Nurmi and the crowds go wild! He’s a naïve, kind, romantic guy with dreams in his head, and this makes him such a relatable character. And it’s his love of running which will ultimately save him.

Babe’s PhD paper examines tyranny in American politics; Roosevelt, McCarthy, Coolidge, all come under the spotlight. Their different methods are scrutinised by Babe, to be somehow pulled together, the disparate acts all tied together neatly to make a unified point about tyranny in American history. 

Babe’s thesis mirrors the disparate events that happen in the book. Seemingly unrelated characters and events all weave together in a masterly piece of literature. Two elderly men weave through the streets in a fit of road rage with calamitous results. Scylla heads to Paris on a clandestine mission, narrowly surviving death but now putting himself in the firing line. An old pal in Edinburgh must suddenly say goodbye to his friend forever. A man in Uruguay shaves his head, concealing his identity before walking out of his dental practice and flying out on a mission. And a beautiful woman snares Babe’s heart and attention.

"Babe and Szell" - photo courtesy of BBC Radio 4 website

Doc loves his little brother, has taken care of him since their father committed suicide, and Babe adores his big brother, despite thinking him a pretentious pillock at times! Babe and Doc, their own secret names for each other, but their private names are not the only secret. Babe thinks his brother is a hot shot in the oil business, but Doc is not the only anonym he keeps, he is Scylla, the rock; Divisions lethal killer, and this is going to cause his brother a lot of pain and anguish.

It takes a while to understand what is going on, but the constant toing and froing between Babe and Doc/Scylla’s characters guide you along a path where you know Babe will get mixed up in his brother’s dangerous affairs, and it is this which keeps you spellbound, makes you unable to put the book down. But it’s not all terror, there is some deftly woven humour in the dialogue, especially between Doc and Babe, the type only brothers could get away with, and you can’t help but chuckle as Doc tells Babe that something has to be wrong, no beautiful woman would ever want him.

Need a filling Sir?

You know things are about to change when Doc pays Babe an unexpected but fateful visit. Babe is plunged into a nightmare, the chain of events drop into place, and things start to make sense. Betrayal and conspiracies link hands with historical crimes and make Babe, the marathon man run for his life, all the time with him getting close to answering that painful question…"Is it safe?"

Scylla is a fascinating character, and you feel a bit cheated when a mad dentist steals him away from you, just when you thought you were getting to know him! William Goldman obviously had the same thoughts, and so more than ten years after he wrote Marathon Man, he penned Brothers. The book starts on a remote island with only one inhabitant. A strong muscular man, building up his strength for when/if he receives the call. He was Scylla, Divisions greatest killer, until he died in Babe’s arms one night, but what if when he was whisked away from Babe’s apartment he didn’t die…what if he was somehow saved? Wouldn’t this make him Divisions greatest asset, the perfect spy? Scylla is dead, so nothing to fear there…

I’d kill for some chocolate

Now under normal circumstances, you would scoff at such delusions, but Goldman is a fantastic storyteller. I’m not going to say perfect, because like Marathon Man, the book starts with a number of disparate events…but really all you want to know is…what happened to Scylla? What happened to Babe? This is a book called Brothers, so why are we reading about two children buying sweets and being caught up in an explosion where their bodies are not found? A nubile young woman and her burly boyfriend succumbing to the perverted demands of an effeminate stranger? A teenage couple, both on the brink of a wonderful life taking part in a suicide pact? Kneeing a bloke in the testicles just to check out his integrity?

"Babe and Scylla" - photo courtesy of BBC Radio 4 website
(Surprising how much Scylla looks like Dolokhov in War & Peace!!!!) 

This is a thriller that will take you on a surreal, disturbing, and sneaky journey. In the hands of a lesser writer you’d probably toss this nonsense aside, but Goldman is as manipulative as his characters. You are forced into entering this depravity and you come out the other side at least shocked, if not heartbroken. Whilst you know that Goldman knows what he’s doing, and that it is important to lay the foundations, it does get frustrating that you don’t hear about Babe until you’re nearly a third of the way through the book. It’s frustrating but actually rather clever. The reader is in the dark about all the events that have happened and so is Scylla. He has been stuck on an island, and it’s pretty scary arriving back in mainland USA where there is AIDs, and VHS and other acronyms he’s never heard of… time has moved on and Scylla must get up to speed or he’s never going to survive a second time around.

Brotherly love at its strongest

Goldman wrote Marathon Man with such understanding of brotherly love it probably couldn’t be upheld for a second time, and so Brother’s is really Scylla’s story, and that is fine. As a psychological study, Scylla is up there. He was an intellectual like his younger brother, but he gave up studying for killing. In his world though, you don’t kill for fun. He is a killer with a conscience, each killing should be done properly…with respect. The first time you meet him you are intrigued. Why did he start working for Division and more importantly why does he stay? It is rather poignant that in Marathon Man he say’s “I want to die with someone who loves me.” Is that why he made such a determined effort to see Babe for one last time? What does this say about the man?

Scylla’s dislike of the childish antics of Division resurfaces in this novel. He still hates the cloak and dagger password nonsense, the tests, the games. But his time away has served him well. Again, as in the first book, Goldman manages to keep the light and shade in the novel to keep the reader engaged, Perkins’ note "Go with this cretin.  If you think Kilgore is limited, wait until you meet Givens. The calibre of our employees has not been exactly skyrocketing of late” leads the reader to assume that all has not been going well at Division since Scylla left.

It wasn’t paint Babe

Throughout the text there are clear markers that Babe still misses Scylla, and Scylla misses Babe. Scylla is warned off trying to find Babe; he's told that the only thing keeping Babe alive is the fact that Scylla is “dead.” As we go through the ups and downs of both brother’s lives, it is only in the final pages of the book that the title takes on a real poignancy, and four short words can become so heart wrenching.

Book to radio

The radio adaptations were exquisite. I enjoyed sitting down for an hour to listen to each one. The music complimented the tension of the books and gave that deep sense of foreboding that you got from reading Goldman's text. But Goldman created all these missing characters and subtexts for a reason, so you really only got a sense of the story. I have to thank Radio 4 for reminding me what a great novelist Goldman was (and for casting Tom Burke who was just superb as Scylla.) I recommend that anyone who heard and enjoyed the play for its content, and not just for Tom’s mellifluous voice, to get the books, read them and then listen to the plays again. You will get so much more out of the story and the characters, believe me. And the books are so gripping that it only took me two days to read them both (and yes I did leave the house on both days!)

As at the time of writing, the plays are still available to listen to on the BBC Radio 4 iplayer. Marathon Man has 14 days left to listen, and Brothers 21 days.                 (Marathon Man)                 (Brothers)

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Black Dragon Pearls Organic Tea

I guess it's expected that a girl who lives in Wales will be bought dragon tea as a pressie. Well I'm hoping that that is the reason and not because my friend thinks I'm a dragon! [Although at times she'd be bite is definitely worse than my bark ;-) ]

This tea is almost too cute to drink, it looks fabulous when stored in a glass jar. The tea is a black tea and originates in China. Organically grown in Yunnan Province, the leaves and young buds are rolled into large pearl shapes.

Black Dragon Pearls
2-3 pearls per 200ml water - heat water to 95C, steep for 2-3 mins

Pop two-three pearls in a cup and watch them slowly unfurl. They produce an amber looking tea which doesn't look that strong, but it smells and tastes rich and earthy. There is a hint of dark chocolate and it has a very smooth taste so is easily drinkable and surprisingly refreshing on a hot day. I made the tea in a glass jug so I could see the pearls unfurl better, it is a beautiful tea with added fun factor, a tea which is a great talking point among friends and one for those who love their black tea. 

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Doke Black Fusion Hand Made Organic Tea

Not for the first time have people pointed out that my blog is subtitled TEA, Tom and Time for a Good Book, and that whilst I write and post pictures about drinking tea, other than a few items I wrote for the Tom Burke On Line Magazine, I don’t actually write about the tea I’m drinking. So for those of you who have collared me, I have listened; so as I sit reading or writing, I’ll make a few notes and tell you a little bit about the tea I was drinking at the time.

So, let’s start with what I drank today, Sunday 9th July, whilst writing about the theatre production Common, and reading Perfect Remains by Helen Field.  

Doke Black Fusion Hand Made Organic Tea

1tsp of tea per 200ml water – heat water to 95C, steep for 2-3 mins.

This was a Christmas present a few years ago from a good friend in Canada. She sent me various teas and I promised I would let her know what I thought of each one…via my blog. Better late than never is what I say, so today’s tea is from Bihar, India.

The tea when dry has thin, wiry, twisted leaves with a sweet, floral fragrance. When you add water, it takes on a beautiful orangey/red colour and you can smell the various depths of flavour. The tea is not harsh, but it is strong bodied, and whilst it is slightly dry, it doesn’t leave an astringent feel in the mouth. It has a soft earthy taste, slightly sweet and buttery, with elements of dark fruits such as plum/damson and a touch of malty spiciness.

It is a high quality tea which can be steeped up to three times and is very drinkable. Doke Black Fusion is hand-made black tea from the family owned Doke Estate in Kishanganj, Bihar State, India. It’s a lovely tea and one I would highly recommend. It was an inspired choice as a present.

The leaves after infusion

Decanted into the pot for drinking

Common – Olivier @ National Theatre, London

I was rather intrigued when I saw the promotional picture for Common; Anne-Marie Duff in period costume, surrounded by crows. I immediately thought there was potential for some take on the Gothic Noir and so I looked into what the story was about.

“An epic tale of England’s lost land.” “Mary’s the best liar, rogue, thief and faker in this whole septic isle. And now she’s back.” “As the factory smoke of the industrial revolution belches out from the cities, Mary is swept up in the battle for her former home. The common land, belonging to all, is disappearing.”

It seemed promising, a trip back in time to a darker England, a bit of history about the ownership of land, possibly how the Enclosures Act and Feudalism had an impact on those working the land. (I’m not going to give a history lesson here, but if you’re interested I’ve attached a couple of interesting articles from The Land Magazine.) It had enormous potential, and a strong willed heroine at the centre of things. I used a voucher I had to book a ticket.

The play is set in the early 19th century. Anne-Marie Duff (Shameless, Parades end) plays Mary, a strong willed woman with a traumatic upbringing. She was an orphan, found and brought up as a sister to two siblings, Laura and King. She is believed to have drowned, but, having been left for dead, she has lived as a whore in London. She has now returned home to be reunited with the woman with she loves.

In order to exist, Mary has quickly learnt that humans, especially men, will believe anything if they really want to. She has the gift of the gab, and is particularly skilful at lying. At the start of the play she meets with a boy, who only has the skills to scare crows from the fields of wheat. He has an animatronic crow on his arm which he claims contains the soul of his departed father. He can’t speak crow, so he doesn’t know what his father says. Mary, quick off the mark claims she can speak crow, and with this bond, gets the boy to do her bidding. She also claims that she has psychic gifts, some of which we can see are blatant lies, others, it’s possible she is telling the truth.

The play begins with a large cast wearing pagan head-dress doing a ritualistic dance armed with scythes. There is a fence across the land which they ceremonially burn down. There is dark lighting, and the shadows thrown across the walls give an ominous but exciting start to the play. That coupled with live music drumming across the stage set the atmosphere for a dark and compelling play.

We are set in a world where folk still believe in the power of magic. Harvest has been poor, and in order to set things right a sacrificial sheep will appease the Gods, hence the pagan ritual dancing at the start. This storyline is intriguing, especially when you try to understand how Mary might weave her storyline into it. As the tale moves on, we realise Mary is in love with her “sister” and that there is no love lost with her “brother.” Mary meets a wealthy, but heir-less landowner, played by Tim McMullan (Foyle’s War, Fearless) and he witlessly falls into her trap. Whatever the trap maybe, by this time I’ve completely lost the plot, if indeed there was actually a plot to start with. It became increasingly difficult to tell and by the interval a number of people left the theatre and didn’t return. Part of me couldn’t blame them; however, there was something that compelled me to watch the second half.

Common is not an easy play to follow, and I can understand why the critics have panned it. I think some of the views are a bit harsh, but I can understand them. The play would be easier to follow if it wasn’t so pretentiously and self-indulgently written; “from such acorn-coins I stand here – a cityforest rogue-woman oak.”  ??????WHAT????

Moore has used very “wordy” language and in his desire to shock, used a lot of unnecessary expletives, “If my language some offends, fist-fuck you all.” I have read a lot of Howard Barker plays, and his use of language is not for the faint hearted, however, his lines flow; the profanities feel well placed in his text giving life and dimension to his work, but here, in Common they don’t flow. The text tries to be rustic, of the age, of the uneducated, a miss-match of clunky double and triple concatenated words that don’t trip off the tongue easily, add to this as many expletives as possible, and the English formative of “un” into every sentence, I was pleased that I had gone to a hearing impaired screening and that there were monitors showing what the cast were saying for the following two and half hours!

This probably sounds like I had a terrible time and it was a wasted trip for me, but it was not. Despite its many faults I enjoyed watching Common. Marie-Anne Duff was amazing in the role of Mary. Both actor and character was aware there was an audience and I loved the connection between stage and audience as Mary spoke directly to the audience, welcoming them into her world, her story.

The stage and costume creatives must have had a ball designing for Common. Dead sheep, dead dogs, a mechanical crow, John Barleycorn, people’s entrails…they had a lot to play with. The play also gave me the opportunity to see the Olivier's drum revolve showing its capabilities. I was rather entranced watching it go round, and it was nice to hear live orchestration throughout the piece. There is, however, something missing from the play, which is a great shame when you consider the enormous effort cast and creatives have put into it.

For me, the play had too much ambition and therefore it had a tendency to go off-piste making it rather dull and unforgiving in places. I think I would give it a ‘C’, could do better, visually stunning, linguistically appalling. It needed to be less self-indulgent, more focused, there was a fantastic main character at the plays heart but the script let her down, and most importantly, greater precision was needed in the use of language. This “dark and funny new play” was a more of a muddy, confused playing field at times! was a lovely sunny day in London and I had a fabulous lunch at The National, plus I hadn't realised that it was gay pride weekend, so there was a very upbeat feel around the Thames as I wandered around the Southbank.  Not a bad way to spend a Saturday really :-)

So, have you watched Common? What did you think? Share your comments with me if you have. 

Friday, 7 July 2017

Stuff I’ve Seen, Places I’ve Been.

“Where have you been? 'Cause I never see you out. Are you hiding from me, yeah? Somewhere in the crowd” – Rihanna – Where have you been?

Well this is probably the biggest hiatus I’ve had from blogging. Not because I’ve had nothing to write about, but because I’m too busy doing things! A time consuming commute, busy days at work coupled with sheer laziness of an evening after I’ve cooked tea and done whatever chores are required, has led to me not sharing my usual goings on with everyone! But is that such a bad thing? Well yes if you have a blog. A blog without entries is a pretty boring and pointless thing! But can I attribute part of my laziness in not keeping up to date with my writing because I find sharing every intimate part of your day with a world full of strangers rather a bizarre act? Is it my subconscious that is telling me I can’t be bothered? Maybe that ability I have of being able to keep my mouth shut (yes me, the woman with perhaps the loudest mouth on the planet, can keep secrets very well. Even those people whose paths have now led us in different directions, I’ve still held onto those private words, never to be discussed with anyone) leads me to the path of “I can’t be bothered…I’ll write it tomorrow!”

I originally was going to write about the events below in great detail…but as time has gone on, and the silence has got longer, it seems more appropriate to just do a general sweep of some recent postings I find interesting instead. Plus, I’d need to sort out all of my photographs to go with all of the possible entries…and there lies another bout of laziness. There are soooo many photo’s which need sorting out on my phone, laptop, tablet, and camera. Discipline is required, I must get the photo’s sorted out so I know what I have and where they are, but somehow, when I see the big job ahead of me, I seem to prefer to slope off, to ignore it all, a cup of tea and a book in hand!

“Just walking in the rain, Getting soaking wet” – Johnnie Ray – Just Walking in the Rain

I used to love walking, but him indoors became increasingly competitive. I became impossible to walk with. I was too slow (although my friends complain I walk too fast…go figure!) Walking on the flat and downhill is a cinch. Uphill, that’s the killer. My lungs collapse, my left knee screams in pain and it doesn’t take too long for my right knee to catch up and emit conspiratorial screams of its own. I also have that really annoying habit of stopping and taking a look at my surroundings. Yes, I like to see where I have been walking and, yes, maybe take a photograph or two for prosperity. (Or the blog!) So he goes walking/climbing with his friend in hilly Snowdonia or the Lake District, and when I can con someone to go out with me, I will go on a short 7 or 8 mile ramble taking in the sights and sound of the flatter countryside!

I arranged a day out around Cheshire with my friend Kate, the weather had been nice up until the day we had agreed upon; the day we selected was grey and mizzerly! We parked at Marbury Country Park, where the ticket machine promptly ate my money and didn’t give me a ticket…there were no contact numbers, so I emailed the council directly stating I would be very grumpy if they gave me a parking ticket, and then I marched off towards the park and the start of the walk.

After turning the map book around several times and walking around in circles, Kate and I finally fathomed the correct direction we needed to head off in. Thankfully we had decided to wear wellie boots, it became apparent we were going to need them. It’s a lovely walk around Marbury, taking in the canal, the Anderton Boat Lift and the picture postcard village of Great Budworth. I say picture postcard, if it hadn’t been raining so heavily I might have actually seen my surroundings. That’ll teach us to stop off en route for a pub lunch (fish, chips and a pint of real ale). The sun was trying to break out at lunch time, by the time I had finished stuffing my face (I was starving) and we had started the second half of the walk the rain was heading our way again. The last twenty minutes was torrential, I told you the wellie boots were a god send, but still, it was nice to get out, nice to see Kate again, and as a Brucie bonus, I gathered a carrier bag of elderflowers; that was my Sunday sorted…making several pints of elderflower cordial for the summer. (It’s lovely when mixed with a glass of prosecco!)

Elderflower Cordial.
1.5kg caster sugar
2 lemons
30 heads elderflowers
50g citric acid

Put the sugar and 1.5 litres water into a large pan. Bring to the boil, then simmer until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
Thinly slice the lemons and place in a large glass or plastic bowl. Strip the elderflowers from the stalks and add to the bowl. Pour over the cooled syrup mixture and stir in the citric acid.
Cover and leave overnight. After 24 hours sieve and then strain the mixture through a piece of muslin into sterilised bottles. Store in a fridge. Dilute to taste with still or sparkling water, (or prosecco!)

“Return to that fair lake, return, On whose green heathlands grows the fern; And mountain heights of dark gray stone, Are bright with lichens overgrown.” - Letitia Elizabeth Landon - Derwentwater

Time to head off to Keswick on holiday. My friends rent this wonderful cottage in Applethwaite, and it is not for the first time that I wandered around the grounds stating “this is where I’d have my veg patch, this is where I would grow grape vines, this is where I would have my pony...” The Ghyll stream runs through the garden, which is probably how the cottage acquired its name. The sound of running water brings a peace and tranquility to sitting outside with a glass of wine watching the sun go down over the distant hills. I say the sun, it was proper Lake District mixed weather so there were a fair few cloud banks rolling in that we witnessed. When you saw them, you knew you had about 15 minutes to clear the chairs away before torrential rain hit!

There’s a nice walk from the cottage down into Keswick and to Derwentwater. I can’t count the amount of times I have been down to the water’s edge, but it never loses its appeal. I still take far too many photographs, most of which should be consigned to the waste bin, but in this digital age it seems easier to keep them. No wonder I have a problem sorting out and keeping my photo files in some semblance of order, I really need to be brutal and cull some of them.

Now despite visiting Derwentwater a million times, and also being a theatre lover, I have never, until now, bothered to try the Theatre By The Lake. This time was different. I booked tickets to see Handbagged by Moria Buffini. My friend was thrilled, “The Queen and Margaret Thatcher…my favourite two people” she glowered. As we took our seats (on the front row) I could feel the murderess looks slowly giving way to a smile. Result! Both of us loved it. The theatre and the production could not be faulted! When we got home she even told her husband it had been a good night. That’s what I love about the theatre, it can throw up some unexpected delights.

Handbagged – Theatre By The Lake – Moira Buffini

“See the sleeping figures holding up the clock in Prague's old town square” – Killing Joke – Judas Goat

Back to work for a few days and then off I went to Prague on my own for a week of quiet, solitary tea drinking. It’d been October 2015 when I had last visited the city. I got off the plane and headed to buy my bus ticket off the gumpy ticket man in his booth; I realised that things had changed. No ticket booth. No grumpy man. A big shiny self-serve ticket machine stood in the arrivals hall instead. Thank God I’ve been here before I thought. I was also thankful that I never bothered changing my currency when I arrived home last time. I had plenty of change for the machine, and I knew which ticket I required, and more importantly the number of my bus and which stop it departed from. I strode off, pleased with myself and confidently feeling very much like a local!

I left the bus exchange and headed down to the Metro for the second part of the journey and got the train to Staroměstská. From there it was a short walk past the Old Jewish Cemetery to my flat just off Pařížská street where all the posh shops (Prada, Gucci…) are! It was early, but my flat was ready for me…warm and welcoming, with a new sofa and curtains. Other than that it was just as I remembered it. The owners handed over the key and left me to it, saying “you know where we are if you need us.” Comforted by the familiarity of the place, I got changed into cooler clothing (it was boiling out there) plonked on my shades and headed up to Dobrá Čajovna for my first pot of tea of the week, and some pitta and goats cheese for lunch. I got my book of Howard Barker plays out and I tuned into the murmur of foreign voices as I sat and read and chilled out. After about three hours I headed up the road to M&S and stocked up on the essentials. I know! Typical tourist! But, I was on holiday, and using M&S is a treat for me, so there we go. M&S for essentials, local shops for naughty cake type treats!

That evening I ate in the flat, I was too tired to sit in a restaurant, but afterwards I decided I would go for a stroll around Letna Park. I had looked at Twitter when I was eating my tea and someone warned me that a thunder storm was brewing…hmmm. I took a chance and walked around the park. Half an hour later, I could see huge thunderous clouds starting to roll in. As I headed out of the park and back across the river, the first claps of thunder could be heard and the sky was lit up in a hue of pinks and purples. I made it back to the flat with 10 mins to spare before the heavens opened. I can’t remember the last time I witnessed a storm that was so compelling to watch. I even recorded it! It lasted hours. I fell asleep but it had gained momentum and woke me up at 3am, it was like the world was ending. I recorded some more footage and then headed back to bed and put my audio book on to lull me back to sleep.

The storm had taken away the oppressiveness but not the heat! The next day I caught up with my friend who lives in the city and she took me to the National Café for lunch. The building was built about 1843-45, and it became the Imperial Café in 1896. Now known as the National Café, it was infamous between 1923-1928 and anyone synonymous with Czech culture was a frequent visitor to it. Having strolled around town and the botanical gardens, we went our separate ways home, and as I headed back towards the Old Town, I thought Čajovna U zlatého kohouta should be open. I actually fought back a tear as I heard myself saying to the waitress that I had been there many times before, that I enjoyed the surroundings and their tea, and that my last visit had been back in October 2015 and I had really missed the place. I drained a pot or four of Golden Tippy Pu Erh, read some more Barker and then headed home…via Bakeshop! Bakeshop does the most amazing cakes, salads and sandwiches. I treated myself to Strawberry Mascarpone cake. (That’s one reason why I chose the flat…Bakeshop is only round the corner!)

And that was my week really…ambling around in the sun, buying nice things to eat, drinking lots of tea in my favourite tea houses and finding new tea houses to add to my growing collection! I did a few sketches and caught up on some reading. I took my camera, but I couldn’t be bothered getting up really early to take those quintessential shots of an empty, atmospheric Charles Bridge. I didn’t feel I needed to fall into the tourist trap of visiting the popular, busy haunts, in fact I kept out of the way during peak times…tourists can be blummin annoying, and I, of course, was now a local!

(Although I did stand with other tourists watching everyone having fun with the bubble man!)

For the first time ever, I felt brave enough to return to the airport the same way I arrived, by public transport. Every visit I have made in the past has had me panicking that I’d not make it to the airport in time. Ridiculous I know, so I bit the bullet, and the journey back was just as effortless as the journey there. I just wished that I hadn’t bought another teapot, or copious quantities of tea to bring back. I hadn’t thought that it was going to mean an extra display of physical strength to get my case into that overhead locker! Oh well, it was worth it, and I know I will do exactly the same thing next time I visit!

“I'm gonna need you to raise your glass, I don't care what you put in it. Here's to nights that you can't take back. We live hard but we love to laugh” – Andy Grammer – Back Home

Back home and back to work, it’s done nothing but rain…in some respects that’s good. Fortunately the weekend had better prospects in store and so I’ve been able to potter about in the garden and finish listening to my Cormoron Strike audible books. I haven’t really bothered with audio books before, I did buy Dantes Inferno and Pamela because a certain Tom Burke recorded them, but I’m a lover of the smell and tactility of paper. Even in Prague I love going round the bookstores, there’s a great one on Valentinská which has a small English section, and it has that lovely old book smell about the place! So it was with some surprise that I found I actually enjoyed listening to the Strike series.

I read the books rather quickly last year and my imagination placed Tom firmly in the role, however, when listening to the books I got more of a sense of how the character had been written, I couldn’t help but smirk every time Strike was described as variations of a big, fat, ugly brute. Hmm, I’m sure Tom will bring a great deal to the role, but a big, fat, ugly brute? He’s a great actor, but even he can’t achieve that!!! Anyway, I digress, the audible versions really brought a different element to the books, and it meant that I didn’t have to put time aside to re-read them. I was able to listen whilst driving to and from the airport, whilst in the air to Prague, and then back at home whilst weeding the garden etc. Plus the other bonus was I managed to get all three books for a tenner and when you see the cost of audible books normally, I was pleased I seemed to have bagged a bargain.

So now that I’m back home, I have given myself a new project…redesigning the spare bedroom. So all clothes have been removed, and the ugly L-shaped fitted wardrobe has been taken apart and my lovely neighbour packed his van with all the bits of wood and took them to the tip for me. So now it’s time to watch this space and see what I can come up with!

Although now I think about it…I’m heading back to London tomorrow... to the theatre. I guess normal service is about to be resumed again!

Handbagged - Moira Buffini - The Theatre by the Lake, Keswick

Handbagged is the witty imaginings of what went on behind closed doors, when Margaret Thatcher and Queen Elizabeth II had their weekly meetings at Buckingham Palace.

I had been checking out the listings for a Terence Rattigan play at Theatre by the Lake, but realised it didn't coincide with when I was on holiday. (FYI - I'm making a special trip later in the year to see Rattigan!) I read the blurb about Handbagged and didn't think it would be something that either my friend or I would be interested in seeing, but then I remembered how much I had enjoyed watching Gabriel, another play penned by Buffini. I decided to take the risk and book tickets anyway, and I am thrilled that I gave the play a chance.

Handbagged was first performed in 2010, three years before Margaret Thatcher died. An elderly Margaret Thatcher walks onto this empty stage and makes an announcement. As she falls into silence, an elderly Queen walks on and speaks; from then on, there is a hint of the sharp wit that is to follow. The two exchange their memories of the past as they view their younger selves taking part in the weekly meetings they held at Buckingham Palace from 1979 to 1990.

The older Queen sits in judgement of herself whilst the older Margaret Thatcher wistfully reflects on her years in office, and how things finally ended for her. The play is not a boring history lesson on her years in office though. As we march through each of the years she held in office, the other actors on stage allow themselves to pass comment on events that seem to be swept under the carpet. A prime example is when we reach 1981, all of the newspapers were full of Charles and Diana's marriage, it was as though nothing else happened that year. But the footman brought to our attention issues with Northern Ireland, migrants and high unemployment...things we forgot about because reports were focused on the happy couple. It is only with the Queens speech at the end of the year that these things were highlighted, she mentioned events which the government wished to forget. It is a poignant reminder that back then Murdoch was king of the media, and today it is just as relevant. He is still the king of the media, and there are still issues with migrants, unemployment etc so rather than looking at what the media is reporting, as in 1981, perhaps as a nation we should sit and think about all those stories which quickly disappear...what is it that the media isn't telling us?

It is a simple play, but very cleverly written. There is great verbal sparring from both sides, and the four parts bounce off each other with great comic timing. I especially enjoyed the young Queen stating what was on her mind and then the elder Queen butting in to say to the audience "I never actually said that." It made you wonder what the Queen would say to her Prime Ministers if only protocol would allow!

Handbagged is a roller coaster of emotions. There are some poignant moments when you feel sorry for Margaret Thatcher, other moments when your hate can't be stemmed. Moments when you think we're lucky to have a monarchy, others when you think, what is the point of the Queen? All of this held neatly together by some brilliant comic performances of supporting cast members, Murdoch, Kinnock, The Reagans. This is not just a trip down memory lane, but also highlights similarities from today's political climate, but just as then, so long as we don't get sucked into what the media throws at us...if we sit back and think for ourselves and all work together, we can pull through the hard times.

Handbagged is played in rep until November 3rd at The Theatre by the Lake in Keswick. A great play and a great cast in a beautiful location.