Thursday, 16 July 2020

Walks in Mysterious Cheshire and Wirral by Tony Bowerman (Walk 11 - Whitegate)

Having spent the last three hundred thousand, thirty four, nine hundred and seventy four thousand days on home turf since lockdown started, it was with unbridled joy that I jumped into my car on Saturday, (1st weekend where Welsh residents were allowed more than 5 miles from home) drove 23 miles into England, met my friend Kate and we had a ramble in the sunshine.

It was wonderful to meet up in real life rather than on a Zoom meeting but our first walk of the year came with a few caveats. Firstly, it had to be a gentle breaking in walk, not one of my usual “oh it’s not very far,” cue 15 miles later getting very threatening looks off what is likely to be a soon ex-friend if I don’t find the car again very soon after proclaiming “don’t worry, I sort of know where we are!” Secondly, the walk would not consist of clambering up any large hills…something I wasn’t going to argue with….I’ve been sat on a sofa eating cake for four months. I can easily roll down a hill, getting up one without the aid of oxygen and a winch would be trickier. Thirdly, we’ve had a lot of rain, so the book of canal walks would probably be a no-go…also there’s not much room on a towpath to steer clear of folk whilst we’re still in the middle of a pandemic.

As I started to despair that none of the walks I had in my books were suitable, I stumbled across this book from 2006 – “Walks in Mysterious Cheshire and Wirral by Tony Bowerman.” The book contains fourteen easy to follow circular walks, mainly in Cheshire, covering a variety of landscapes.

The landscape of Cheshire is a land steeped in mystery and has been used as a backdrop for many works of literature. Alderley Edge is perhaps best known as the landscape for Alan Garner’s “The Wierdstone of Brisingamen,” a children’s fantasy novel influenced by the folklore of the area. In this walking book, Tony Bowerman has put together walks of interest, not just visually, but historically too, and each walk comes with it’s own unique stories from the past. The walker can follow lost Roman and medieval roads, ancient copper mines, a stone elephant, a gypsy king’s grave, a ghostly duck, and much more.

Walk 11 – Whitegate: Where Vale Royal Abbey stood.

I picked walk 11 as it was equidistant for us both to reach. (It was also flat, only 3 miles long, and covered a variety of landscapes…woodland, fields and a river.) I sent across all the details to Kate and we agreed on our rendezvous. We were onto a good start when I arrived and realised that there was very limited parking (about 5 spaces) so we had a quick look at the neighbourhood, found a road we could safely park on and finally we set off on our way to St Mary’s Church where the walk commenced.

Friday, 10 July 2020

The Diary of a Drug Fiend by Aleister Crowley

During lockdown, I’ve tried to make a concerted effort to go on a long walk once a week. I call it an effort, because I mean at least an 8-10 mile walk because there are only so many outings you can do in your immediate vicinity without getting bored. I concluded that the longer the walk, the more scope there was for finding new places. Up until 6th July, if you lived in Wales, you couldn’t travel by car to have a jolly day out, so the start and end of the walk from the house might be boring…but the rest of the route could open up new experiences.

As I tend to do the majority of my walking alone, I have started listening to my audible books en route. I used to listen to books in the car, but as it’s now mainly sitting on my drive there is a backlog of books to be listened to. A book that piqued my attention was Diary of a Drug Fiend by Aleister Crowley. I thoroughly enjoyed the book but was reticent to share my thoughts about it. Should I publicly admit to reading a book by such a villainised figure, someone the tabloids had branded “The Wickedest Man in the World.” You only have to look at Twitter to see how people enjoy misconstruing what someone has said…would it be safer to keep my head down about reading books by the world-renowned occultist?

The most celebrated occultist of the modern age.

Published in 1922 and dubbed a book for burning by the media at the time, The Diary of a Drug Fiend is written as a novel, but according to the author is a true story…a terrible story, but also one that offers hope and redemption. The book provides a unique insight into the mind of the author and his involvement with both drug addiction and the religion of Thelema.

The Diary of a Drug Fiend tells the story of Sir Peter Pendragon who is dealing with the aftermath of WW1; he is depressed and lacking in direction and has just acquired a large inheritance following the death of his uncle. He meets Louise Laleham one evening, a devotee of Basil King Lamus, an occultist. The two quickly fall in love and marry and set off on a bohemian adventure across Europe fuelled with an appetite for cocaine, which quickly moves onto the reliance of the more addictive drug heroin.

The reader follows the couple on their drug fuelled honeymoon to Italy where they have all of their belongings stolen and have to return to England where they find themselves desperate to score more drugs. As we delve deeper into Peter and Louise’s journey, the reader witnesses the power that the drugs have over the couple, both physically and psychologically.

Back in England the couple are forced to move from Peter’s country estate to a slum house. There are physical beatings, theft, an increase in stress levels as they lie to one another in order to obtain their next fix and the pleasurable sensations that the drugs can arouse. As their health and finances decline they attempt to quit heroin, but the drug has a power over them and there is graphic detail recorded about their cravings and addiction which show how easily a person can be drawn into a world of drugs and how the addiction of cocaine and heroin ensnares the user into an endless cycle of needing a drug to feel better.

Saturday, 30 May 2020

Perfect Addiction

May 2017 I downloaded a book for my Kindle. No big deal I hear you say, but I am the person who loves the scent of ink on paper, who likes the tactility of turning a paper page. I am not a lover of the Kindle…in fact it’s just an app I have on my phone and tablet. It’s a device on which to have emergency books for when you’re sat on a train and you’ve just finished your physical book and you need entertaining for the last hour of your journey. (And you can’t look out of the window because it’s dark!)

I had downloaded Perfect Remains by Helen Fields. I hadn’t heard of the author, or the book, but it was a free download so I wasn’t complaining. One journey back from London, this novel became my emergency book of choice to while away my journey. By the time the train had rattled into Chester station I was hooked…thank goodness for the quiet taxi driver, as that meant more reading time until I got home.

The protagonist of the story, Luc Callanach, was raised in France, however, his career at Interpol was brought to an untimely close following a false allegation made against him. In a bid to make a new start he returned to Scotland, the land of his birth, for a job as a Detective Inspector in Edinburgh. No sooner had he started in his role, then he was plunged head-first into a murder investigation and I was plunged into a perfectly addictive series of books.

Elaine Buxton is missing. On a remote Highland mountain her body is burning. Soon the body of the once respected lawyer will be a mound of ash and only her teeth and clothing will identify her. Callanach wants to prove himself, but the Frenchman of unquestionable beauty riles the other men in the team. Will his good looks be the undoing of him, or will his colleague DI Ava Turner realise that the man has intellect as well as an attractive physique and Gallic charm?

Tuesday, 19 May 2020

The Kite Runner – Theatr Clwyd – 5th March 2020

I’ve not read Khaled Hosseini’s novel, I’ve not watched the film and I missed the stage production when it arrived at Theatr Clwyd last year. I had heard rave reviews and so I was thankful that this time round I would be blessed enough to see the stage production…and I wasn’t to be disappointed. The reviews from friends and strangers were spot on. The production was spellbinding and a superior history lesson than either the media or the classroom could give you.

The Kite Runner commenced life as a novel by Khaled Hosseini and it tells the story of Amir and his best friend Hassan (who is also his servant). Kabul was a tranquil place, people lived in harmony experiencing a conventional way of life. Privileged families would attend lavish weddings, full of colour and splendour and take family picnics in the foothills of the Hindu Kush to escape the heat of the city.

Kite flying, which probably originated in China about 3000 years ago, was turned it into an art form in Afghanistan, by taking on a different competitive twist. Enjoyed by both men and boys, this was a competition that was less bloody than dog fighting and very cheap, so anyone had the opportunity to join in. A person would just need some bamboo to make a frame and some brightly coloured tissue paper to stretch across it. For those with money, they could visit the Kabul bazaar where professional kite makers would hand down their skills from father to son. Tiny pieces of crushed glass would be painstakingly glued to the kite string for competitors to slash their opponent’s kite string, bringing their kites crashing to the ground. The poorest boys, such as Hassan, would rush to collect the losing kite for their friend or master – these were the kite runners.

Matthew Spangler’s stage adaptation of the novel is told in the first-person narrative through the eyes of Amir (David Ahmad.)  His tale which starts in Afghanistan as a child, transitions through to adulthood where he is living in America and it transports us through a harrowing journey of life and intimate relationships: father/son, best friends, husband and wife.

Thursday, 7 May 2020

Living in a Lockdown

A very quiet yard on a beautiful sunny day.
I’m back at work. I say back…I’ve been working from home for the last 6 weeks and probably putting in more hours from my garden than I have from the office; but needs must. There’s only so much you can do from home and whilst all paper work is now up to date and all the “missed” emails have been dealt with accordingly – mostly in the bin - I can’t deal with someone’s knackered lorry from home, which is a shame as I’ve rather enjoyed being incarcerated.

I was watching BBC’s Saturday Kitchen a few weeks ago when Stacey Dooley was the guest. The host Matt Tebbutt asked her how she was feeling during the Covid-19 lockdown and she replied “I am spot on, it is a bit worrying about how OK I am with self-isolating, because I am quite anti-social, so I’m good.” I was a bit shocked, not because she was coping, but because she said she was anti-social. I guess I had the same look on my face, as others have when I say “I’m quite happy during lockdown because I’m pretty anti-social!”

People often don’t believe me when I say I am anti-social, but I do prefer the company of animals to the company of people and I even find my own company tolerable.  I do feel a tidal wave of guilt wash over me when I make the mistake of reading Twitter and seeing how many people are not coping with this situation, but then I have had a lifetime of practice of sitting in a garden entertaining myself (usually teddy bear picnics or reading, or dangling over the garden pond watching the frogs and fishes and whatever wildlife decided to turn up. I’m not lucky enough to have the large garden of childhood anymore, but my small back garden allows me to get fresh air and pootle about and sit and watch the abundance of birds and bees around me. I cannot imagine how it feels to be stuck in a flat, especially with young children for weeks on end, with no outdoor space to sit and reflect in.

But lockdown is still infuriating when you want a change of scene, a quick trip to the ocean, or a wander in the mountains. I have both available a short drive away…but I can’t do that, it’s the same rota of visiting the supermarket (once a fortnight) going on a rare walk (and I mean rare) working, reading, pottering in the greenhouse and vacuously watching TV.

“There is something majorly wrong with your work laptop…”

The day lockdown started I was sent home with my laptop and told to work from home. Easier said than done as I.T. couldn’t get my work laptop to work from my house. Hmmm….maybe I can spend the next few weeks sitting on my backside doing what I want…try and locate the photography course I bought three years ago and do it, or maybe learn some Photoshop so I can finish those designs I have in my head and get them on my Redbubble store which is sadly very neglected. Or… alternatively the I.T. department could get the software which wouldn’t work on my work laptop onto my personal laptop and get me up and running on that instead. Well of course, good ole I.T. got it to work on my laptop! In hindsight I’m thankful the antiquated piece of rubbish from work was a no go, as my laptop has a larger screen (and a touchscreen) so not only could I see more easily, tapping the screen instead of scroll and click was also quicker. Sadly, unlike MPs, I couldn’t convince my boss to give me an extra £10K for having to use my own laptop for work (or any other subsidies that MPs wangle for themselves.) Have I missed going into work? Yes and no. I miss seeing the friendly faces and the yard cats, especially Bob, but I haven’t missed the daily histrionics that used to occur.

Bob the yard cat.
At work if I make a brew, I stand around chatting to people (it is after all a portacabin with limited floor space.) At home, I’ll put the kettle on and put a load in the washing machine or put the dishwasher on. Next trip to the kettle I’ll empty the dishwasher and put the washing on the line. Next-time, maybe give the kitchen floor a quick clean. My house has never been cleaner and tidier, and the irony is not lost on me that for the first time in 20+ years, my house is always visitor ready…AND I CAN’T ALLOW ANYONE THROUGH THE FRONT DOOR!!!! So not only could I get more office work done – but I also kept on top of the daily house chores.

First day back in the office I realised that I had lost my daily 48 min lie-in. I normally leave the house at 7:48 to be in the office for 8.  In those 48 mins I shower, dress, have breakfast, throw lunch in a box and head out the door. For 6 weeks I’d been getting up at 7:48, ambling downstairs, making breakfast and sitting at my desk ready for an 8am start. I am not naturally one of God’s morning people and sitting at a desk in my pyjama’s was lovely…until the boss thought it a good idea to install Microsoft office instead of just phoning me with queries. Fortunately, there was the option to switch the camera off so I could see him and not vice versa! The argument for working at home was a win win for me.

I’ve slipped into some strange time vortex…

But it wasn’t all plain sailing working from home. I thought if I was cooped up in the house for several weeks, I would devote some time to blogging and my various other hobbies. It seems however that I slipped into some strange time vortex. My days have just been filled with work – especially at the beginning as I had to devise a whole new way of working. Everything that had previously been done physically – reams of paper printed off, physical signatures sought for work and costs to be agreed, all had to change, and quickly.  I’ve had to document everything and save it in electronic files – which has meant sorting and archiving the unused mass of files that were on the system. Spreadsheets had to be set up to track what went where and whether a reply had been received. Emails started to be filed as an audit trail to prove agreed costs so arguments about budgets couldn’t rear up in the future. All that time devoted to establishing brand new systems and disseminating the new system to other users takes time…and so once done the laptop was put to bed. No blogging. No playing around in Photoshop. No laptop. Instead the workspace closed and it was time to read a book or sink in front of the TV.

To be honest, it has been nice sitting around catching up on stuff and not feeling guilty about what I SHOULD be doing. I’m not sure WHO decides what I SHOULD or SHOULDN’T be doing, but it seems an unnecessary burden I put on myself, although I’m sure many others must do it to themselves too. I have caught up on several films and box sets on Netflix and Prime that I’ve had stored for ages and not got around to watching.

First on the Covid-19 watch list was The Man in the High Castle (all 4 series over a period of nights and nothing else in between.) I wasn’t sure whether I’d enjoy it, the only reason I put it on my watchlist was because it starred Rufus Sewell and he’s up there on the list of people I’m likely to start watching a programme because of who is in it. Fantastic show – must have been for me to have binge watched it as I did.

Unbelievable was an interesting watch – it was the true story of a rape victim who wasn’t believed, however, I read that the person the story was about had watched the program and thought it was well produced and reflected accurately the events which took place. On that basis, I watched it and it was a fascinating story of how a young woman accused of lying about a rape, gets discovered by two female detectives who are investigating a spate of eerily similar attacks across America.

2018 - BBC/Netflix Watership Down
Watership Down – the new version the BBC showed over Christmas 2018…yes it has been sat recorded on my Sky box that long and only just viewed. I was wary that it would be turned into a saccharine Disneyesque type film but no. I thoroughly enjoyed it (despite sobbing through half a box of tissues.) It certainly didn’t leave me traumatically scarred like the original 70’s version I watched as a child at school. In fact, thinking about it, I’m surprised I made it through childhood without needing to obtain some form of therapy…Watership Down, Tarka the Otter, Bambi, Black Beauty…no wonder I grew up preferring animals to people.

The New Pope. Disappointed. Really enjoyed The Young Pope – thought it a fresh and exciting programme. I found this sequel slow going and I kept getting distracted whilst watching it…although I still persevered to the end!

The Stranger. Based on Harlan Coben’s novel, a stranger tells someone who thinks he has the perfect family life a shocking secret. This secret exposes a dangerous set of lies as the truth starts to be uncovered. This was another binge watch series where once an episode finished, I just HAD to watch the next one. Bed just wasn’t an option.

Carnival Row. Hmm this was a peculiar one! A love story of sorts between a human detective and a refugee faerie. Following a war in which their homelands are invaded by man, an increasing number of mythological immigrant creatures try to co-exist with humans. The creatures however have no rights, they are forbidden to love or fly, and it is only when a series of gruesome murders take place that we see some change in the intolerant society. It was obviously a thought provoking watch as well as an entertainment series, the way in which immigrants are treated and of course why they are immigrants seeking refuge in the first place. (It was also nice to see some of the Czech Republic locations used again where The Musketeers had been filmed. It made me want to watch the three series again as I haven’t watched them since they finished on the BBC…but rewatching things are not a priority at the moment, I want to watch all the new productions I have waiting for me on my laptop first!)

I started to watch Picard however, other-half is a Star Trek “fan” and was surprised I’d want to view it seeing as I’ve paid no interest to any of the other incarnations he’s watched. Have had to break the news that it’s because Santiago Cabrera is in it (met him once at the theatre when I went to watch The Deep Blue Sea – what a lovely chap he is, we spent the interval talking about his son) so it’s become one of those shows we watch together and I can’t whizz through.

So when you add up the time spent on these, other productions I haven’t mentioned and perennial favourites such as The Great British Sewing Bee which has made a welcome return…it’s a wonder that I haven’t developed square eyes.

Madness takes it toll…

But then, in another dimension, there are the days when time stands still in lockdown. It refuses to budge. Melancholia sets in as the reality of not being allowed to jump in the car and drive to the beach or the RSPB reserve hits home. In England, recommendations were given about exercising. In Wales, a number of those recommendations were put into law. At the start of lockdown, I went for a walk. I did the same route down the old abandoned railway line I’ve done countless times before. 

Over the past few years, I have hardly ever met anyone out whilst walking – but for some reason, this knowledge didn’t put my mind at rest. I was sure I’d end up bumping into loads of people and getting arrested. An irrational fear, undoubtedly, but the Heddlu (police) were out in force – in cars, on foot, in the police chopper. Far less stressful to stay sat at home, which is why I have spent too much time watching TV or reading or working. I just don’t have the inclination to go out as much anymore in case I meet people on “my” routes; as routes which used to be quiet, are where people now congregate. 

Tidy, tidy shelves!!
One day, I felt I should do something productive with my time and for some hairbrained reason, it took the form of sorting one of my messy bookcases. THREE HOURS it took me to put the books in some semblance of order and then get them all to fit back in the cupboard. (Other half “helpfully” suggested a binbag. Other half has been told to keep his suggestions to himself.) I was going to tackle the other one under the stairs, but at twice the size, I’ve decided a better plan is to just keep opening the door to shove books in without looking until the door will no longer shut. When that happens, I will concede defeat and tidy it up.

I have gone through a spate of cleaning, even the tea cupboard has been tidied out. I’ve found some unopened teas I’d forgotten about, but alas also noticed how many of the tins are now empty. This is very depressing – I need to go visit some tea shops when all this is over and re-stock big time. 

Fortunately the drinks cabinet has fared a little better (although I did cheat and buy several bottles of gin in March) this was a good thing because most nights after work the wind down became a G&T rather than the drive home singing (screeching) out of tune to the radio. I suppose going back to the office is good news for my liver. Silver linings and all that!

In this rush to return to normal life, we should use this time to reflect what normal parts of life are worth rushing back to.

One thing I have been very blessed to do over these last few weeks is to spend an afternoon sitting on my drive with a brew, chatting to my neighbour who sits on her drive and does the same. No contact, just the opportunity to sit and have a natter. Before lockdown we started going to camera club each week; as well as a chance to learn about photography, it was an excuse for the pair of us to catch up with one another. With club activities on lockdown, it was nice to create a new sense of normal, and once we all go back to work, it’s something I’ll miss doing.

This weekly catch up has brought about a newfound enjoyment in baking. When I worked in a large office we would have “Bake Off competitions” for charity. Whilst I loved watching the programme, it never really inspired me to bake, it was just something I did when I needed to do it. My mum taught me to bake at a young age. I think we often reminisce with rose tinted spectacles and I had this grand vision my mother was a wonderful cook. It was only recently that my brother, who is several years older than me, told me she was a dreadful cook. She was good at baking, but dire at cooking.

I was reminded of her gastronomic repertoire…Sunday roast, Monday leftovers, Tuesday more leftovers and a fight over the bone, Weds/Thurs something from the freezer with homemade chips, Friday, yellow fish with mash, Saturday – sausage, egg and chips. Sunday the repertoire would begin again! I remember her stew and dumplings being very, very chewy, I had no recall ever of meat being tender enough to fall apart in the mouth. Wonder if that had something to do with me becoming a pescatarian?!

Garlic and Rosemary Foccacia 
She was, however, a good baker and I do remember standing on a stool next to her, pummelling bread dough and making mini cottage loaves. She would come into my infant school and teach us all how to make and ice fairy cakes, or make scones and shortbread. By the age of twelve, when she departed this earth, I had the ability to bake bread, cakes, even pies…however, despite a plethora of cookbooks in the house, baking has never become a regular activity. During lockdown however, I set myself the challenge that if I had done the fortnightly shop and I’d run out of bread…I would have to bake some until my next scheduled trip to the shop. If I fancied a pie, I would have to get off my backside and make some pastry…if I wanted to “meet” my neighbour for tea and cake…I’d have to get that mixing bowl out, and it has been an unexpected delight. The offerings, which may need a bit more practice, have been on the whole far tastier than the factory made stuff I buy and I hope that this baking malarkey remains a “normal” in my post lockdown life.

Our theatres, especially our smaller venues, are going to need people more than ever before…

I know a lot of people, including some of my friends, are suffering out there and finding this confinement hard to deal with. Sometimes it’s hard to connect, because however hard you try, a video chat with someone is never going to be the same as the real thing. On a video link you feel compelled to talk – but if you’re not going out or doing anything exciting, what do you talk about? TV? Life in lockdown? What is a comfortable silence when you’re at a friend’s house, suddenly becomes amplified and a bit unnatural.

Frankenstein performed @ Theatr Clwyd
One Thursday, a friend suggested that we went to the theatre together like we used to do. We were both supposed to be visiting Manchester to see a play in a few weeks. Instead we both sat down with a drink and watched NT at Home on YouTube - Frankenstein with Benedict Cumberbatch as the monster. We WA each other as the play progressed sharing our thoughts on it. We also had an interval at 8pm to clap essential workers, grab a choc ice and a comfort break and take our seats for the second act! I suspect the fact that we were on WA during the performance suggests that neither of us were grabbed by the production. 

For me, I don’t think it had anything to do with the fact I was watching a play with me feet up, my slippers on and a cup of tea in my hand, but more to do with the fact that I’d finally just finished writing up my blog notes for the production of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein which I had seen at Theatr Clwyd in January. In that play I was captivated from the very beginning; in this one I got fed up of watching the monster writhing about the stage for 20 minutes. There’s slow burn…and then there’s slow burn. I perhaps need to watch the second version where the role of the monster is played by Jonny Lee Miller before sharing any further thoughts, especially as I know so many people loved the production.

It was enjoyable to have the opportunity to be “back at the theatre” and to discuss, albeit briefly, what I was watching with a fellow friend and theatre lover. OK – so it wasn’t the same as leaving the theatre and heading to the bar (or the chippy) to unravel our thoughts, but it was better than nothing. Normally I only watch parts of a play on the laptop if I’ve been to see it and I need reminding of something I can’t remember fully before doing a write up. I don’t tend to watch the productions I have because I’m not getting that full theatre experience and so I’ve been wary of lying prostrate on the sofa, crisps and drink in hand as though I’m at the cinema. On reflection, this is a stupid reaction, I couldn’t travel to London every two minutes before Covid-19, so would visit the cinema to see a NT Live production…surely watching it on the small screen is the same as the big screen? Not exactly…in a cinema you still get an audience reaction from those sat around you, which is why it’s often nicer watching a film at the cinema than at home…if you don’t have an annoying chatterbox sat next to you!

TV theatre will never feel the same as being IN a theatre, watching a live show and seeing THAT production unfurl before your eyes – because with theatre, every performance is unique, the recorded version will always be the same however many times you watch it. It seems strange that it has become the norm for people to sit on the sofa watching a play (or opera or ballet) on the TV. It is heartening to see how many people are watching the various streams which have become available and the joy it is bringing to people who are finding times in lockdown hard. It is interesting how much the various art shows have brought the best out of people, I just hope that if this initiative has brought new audiences to the fore, that they will continue to support the arts long after lockdown. Our theatres, especially our smaller venues, are going to need people more than ever before, as can already be seen by the unfortunate announcement that Nuffield Southampton Theatres has gone into administration.

When lockdown was announced, I still had tickets for four shows at Theatr Clwyd…as each one was cancelled, I received an email offering me a refund, leaving it as a deposit towards future shows, or to give as a donation. The cost of all the tickets was donated. I wanted to help futureproof “my” theatre. I do hope those that were able, donated their ticket costs too, holding onto the same view of keeping the theatre alive. Theatre is not just about a bunch of actors entertaining you for a couple of hours; it is the heart of a community, it brings people together, it teaches them things through storytelling, it opens minds, it makes people question what goes on around them. If you love your theatre, you’ll look after it whatever way you can and I hope its use in helping people get through lockdown will be remembered and appreciated in the times to come.

Sunday, 3 May 2020

BANG BANG! Theatr Clwyd (19th Feb 2020)

John Cleese, best known for Monty Python and Fawlty Towers has decided to tackle a little-known play by George Feydeau as his stage writing debut. This vaudeville styled French farce is the perfect antidote to the long working week; based on a series of comic situations which get more and more ludicrous as the play continues, it is a feel good fun fest that will have you laughing down the aisles and putting all your stresses and worries behind you – or at least for the duration of the play.

George Feydeau was born 1862 in Paris. He was the son of a novelist and at the age of 20 wrote his first comedy, but it wasn’t until later, whilst in the army, that he wrote his first play The Dressmaker. It was a success, but it had George thinking about the farces that he had watched whilst growing up. He felt that the characters were mere puppets of themselves and that if you stood back and looked at the tedium of reality, it was often highly preposterous. He therefore started to look to real-life for inspiration, keeping the interesting personalities of those around him and then throwing them into burlesque situations.

Feydeau wrote some 60 plays, and they were often noted for their complex plots, full of wit and great vivacity, together with coincidences and misunderstandings. It is the type of entertainment that stands the test of time, and perhaps why more modern-day incarnations of the farce, such as Fawlty Towers, is fondly thought of by the masses. At the time, Feydeau’s work was just seen as light entertainment, however, he is now seen of one of France’s greatest playwrights. His works are perfect for revival and very popular with new audiences and he is the perfect choice for John Cleese to adapt for the British stage.

The Plot

Léontine is a respectable member of Parisienne society and the wife of Duchotel. Duchotel is a keen huntsman and will often disappear, packing his shotgun on the pretext of a hunting trip, and instead heads off for a long weekend with his mistress. The abandoned Léontine is left to be entertained by Duchotel’s friend Dr. Moricet. On one particular occasion, Léontine announced to Moricet her undying love for him. He tried to take advantage of the situation, but Léontine vowed that as long as her husband was faithful to her, she would remain faithful to him.

Oolong Formosa – T2

I know – it’s been a while since I’ve written about tea. To be fair, I’ve never stopped drinking the stuff, or indeed making notes about it, however, getting those notes and relevant photo’s onto a blog page seems to be my permanent downfall. (Actually, having started organising the files on my laptop during lockdown, I also realise there are a number of outstanding theatre posts I’ve semi-written which have never seen the light of day either.) So… whilst the sun is trying to shine [???!!!!???? - well it’s not raining for a change] I shall endeavour to catch up….and then we can start afresh on all the glorious productions I’m catching up with via Ye Olde Gogglebox.

Today, I am sitting in the garden editing my post about the play Bang Bang! I nearly made a pot of gunpowder tea to assist me, instead, this golden box of joy was shouting out for my attention.
T2 is an Australian tea company (Melbourne to be precise, the first store opened in 1996 in Fitzroy, Melbourne) and whilst I’ve seen their shops dotted about on various UK high streets, I confess I haven’t set foot inside one. Instead, the boxes of T2 tea that I own are both gifts.

Oolong Tea

Surprisingly, Oolong tea only accounts for about 2% of the world’s tea, but whilst many people may be unfamiliar with it, it is certainly something a tea lover should try consuming. Oolong tea contains various vitamins, minerals, polyphenol antioxidants and amino acids which are supposed to have many health benefits. It is a traditional form of Chinese tea made from the partially oxidized leaves of the Camellia Sinensis plant. Green tea has leaves which have not been oxidized a great deal, black tea leaves have been oxidised a lot. Oolong tea is somewhere in the middle of this oxidising process, and therefore depending upon the retailer, the tea you buy can vary from green to brown in colour.

Studies have shown that Oolong tea may reduce diabetes, help with heart health, improve brain functions, protect against various forms of cancer, and my favourite since being incarcerated at home…weight loss. [TV film + Oolong tea = not turning into Homer Simpson!] Well one can always dream.

T2 Oolong Formosa

“A green, balled Oolong”

Once hot water is added to the grey/green/brown pellets, the leaves unfurl to produce a tea which is a light golden green in colour. It has a light and subtle flavour which increases on the second and third brews. (I normally make a pot of tea which fills a cup, then I fill a flask with hot water and can make several brews from the one pot of tea leaves.)

Formosa Oolong is a darker type of Oolong tea from the Taiwan (formerly Formosa) province, giving the tea a slightly sweet dried fruit flavour. This particular product reminds me of an autumnal day, as it has a pleasant earthy/grassy/leafy scent which transfers onto the taste buds when drinking. It is a refreshing brew with a slight astringency to it, but it is moreish and makes for a nice dependable but not overwhelming brew.

Upon checking T2’s website – the Oolong Formosa no longer appears to be available – however, they have a similar style standard Oolong which has similar tasting notes.

Thursday, 30 April 2020

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein @ Theatr Clwyd, Mold

(Watched Tues 28th Jan. 2020)

I have a confession to make. I’ve never read Frankenstein. It was on the curriculum, but I couldn’t be bothered…I read the minimum amount of Gothic Horror I could in order to get me through the semester and then I spent the rest of the time horse-riding. I’ve never watched the films, so I have no idea if they’re any good or not, although I’ve heard that the book and the films have very little in common. 

I haven’t seen the National Theatre production starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Johnny Lee Miller as my preconceptions meant that I just didn’t find the tale that appealing.*  I did watch a version of Frankenstein by Box Clever Theatre Company once; it was a thought-provoking production and I thought that perhaps I should buy the book, but once again…before I could think about buying it, other tomes on the bookcase had vied for my attention and won.

Now there was something that intrigued me in the advertisement for Rona Munro’s adaptation which compelled me to go and watch it. Her version puts the novelist, Mary Shelley, right at the heart of the production. That idea aroused my curiosity…the idea of her, the creator of Frankenstein, being on stage with Frankenstein, the creator of the monster. What a spine-tingling thought!

“I do not wish them [women] to have power over men; but over themselves.” Mary Wollstonecraft

Before looking at the play, it is interesting to understand a little about Mary Shelley and novels in the era she lived. She was the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft, herself an English writer and advocate of women’s rights. Interestingly – in her book The Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792) - she argued that women should be given an education, further elaborating that it was because women educate their children and they could also be more than mere ornamental wives to their husbands. 

The book is one of the earliest known forms of feminist writing and Wollstonecraft argued that women deserved the same fundamental rights as men. What was interesting about her book, was that she argued that women were superficial because they lacked an education, and in it she launched a brutal attack on those women who had an obsession for reading sentimental novels. There were far better things women could be doing with their time than idly lying around filling their heads with saccharine tosh!

Sunday, 9 February 2020

The Violence Series @ Theatr Clwyd, Mold

The Violence Series is a set of three dystopian style drama’s, set Orwellian style in a world that is recognisably ours, but one which we have not quite attained. They are not physically frightening plays, more a bleak window into the future, which is often more disturbing than watching a fight break out when you begin to realise the future portrayed is not that far off.

The plays were commissioned by The Other Room, an award-winning pub-theatre in Cardiff. The Other Room is renowned for making drama that is both distinctive and visionary; drama that makes you think about the consequences long after you’ve gone home. Each of the three plays are profoundly different, but they all explore the divisions in society and look at the darker side of humanity.

American Nightmare by Matthew Bulgo

Ahhhh, the American Dream. The belief that everyone has the opportunity to pursue their own happiness. It doesn’t matter where you are born, what class of society you are in, or what religion you follow, you can achieve whatever level of success you want. Success is possible to anyone through hard work and sacrifice, taking risks rather than relying on luck to get you to your goal.

Sounds ideal…but what happens when the distance between the American reality and the American Dream becomes an enormous yawning cavern? What happens when the American Dream becomes an American Nightmare? Just how far are you willing to go to keep pursuing your Dream?

Sunday, 2 February 2020

How to Kill a Narcissist and Killing Narcissism by J H Simon

“The Penny Drops

The fact that you’re reading this book means you’re onto something. Maybe a particular event burst the bubble and a small gap opened up as a result. A gap in what, you’re not sure, but you felt it. It happened when a significant person in your life went that little bit too far, and you finally said to yourself: “This is not normal. Why am I tolerating this crap?””

What makes you start questioning the friendship/relationship you’re in?

Is it one-sided? When you try to express an opinion is it always side-lined as stupid or irrelevant? Does your friend twist things so that they are the focal point again? Are they able to manipulate you by putting up so many arguments or obstacles that it’s pointless carrying on? Do you get tired of walking on eggshells around the person because you know that one slip of the tongue will cause an unnecessary emotive reaction? Do they try to supress you from being yourself…to make you feel inferior? Does this person always have a drama unfolding around them that they just have to share with everybody around them? Do you actually get any real pleasure from the relationship, or are you just kidding yourself that it’s fun, fun, fun?

At the point you start asking yourselves these questions, you’re also probably trying to find an answer to them….just to make sure you haven’t actually gone insane. Google becomes your best friend as you start reading up on Narcissistic Personality Disorder and the various articles make you realise that you have been trapped in a world you didn’t believe you could ever be dragged into.

Phrases like “gaslighted” are used. I’ve seen the play Gaslight from which the term derives from…surely not? I’m savvy…aren’t I? I couldn’t be manipulated like that…or could I? And why would I befriend someone like that in the first place? You read more and more, and then suddenly you see an offer on a book and you buy it and as you read it you realise just how you managed to fall down the rabbit hole so easily.

The problem is trying to establish what is normal human behaviour and what is narcissistic behaviour. This book tries to unravel this question by looking at who narcissists are and to whom they are most likely to target and why. If you can understand the core of the problem, you are better equipped at dealing with it and ensuring you are not the target of other narcissists in the future.

Sunday, 26 January 2020

Murder on Mulholland Drive, Theatr Clwyd (Mold)

OK, let’s get this straight from the start, this is not a stage version of David Lynch’s strange neo-noir 2001 film starring Naomi Watts. 

Mulholland Drive is a road that stretches 21 miles in Southern California, USA, which takes in scenic views of the Hollywood sign, Los Angeles Basin and the San Fernando Valley. It has some of the most famous and expensive houses in the world and is home to several Hollywood celebrities; and it makes the perfect setting for an Agatha Christie style whodunnit!

Who Killed Houston Ziegfried McCoy?

Murder on Mulholland Drive is a murder mystery play written and starring Richard Jones of Pheonix Theatre Company, Mold, a familiar name to those who frequent Theatr Clwyd. Set in the 1950’s, it is a cautionary tale of what could happen to a sleazy, middle-aged man, who happens to be head of one of the most powerful film studios in Hollywood. Houston Ziegfried McCoy has helped many hopeful starlets achieve their ambitions, but his methods have made him many enemies along the way.

Monday, 20 January 2020

An Inspector Calls, The Lowry (Salford)

Well my 2020 theatre season has commenced with a splendid big bang! The English novelist and playwright J B Priestly, wrote what is probably regarded as his most well-known drama, An Inspector Calls, in 1945. Surprisingly, the play was first performed in that year in Moscow; the first performance in English took place in London the following year. It stood to reason that a cinematic version would follow and in 1954 Alastair Sim took on the role of the titular inspector. It is a contender for one of my favourite films of all time and whilst other film versions have been made, the original version remains the best in my humble opinion.

In 1992, Stephen Daldry decided that his directorial debut at The National Theatre, London, would be this old warhorse of a text. Was this to be a stroke of genius or professional suicide? Most productions of An Inspector Calls, which is set in 1912, would take place in a reconstructed, historically accurate Edwardian drawing room, complete with period furniture and heavy on the crystal decanters etc. Those productions subconsciously take you back to a past era, but the issues back then are still affecting modern audiences; probably more so now with the advent of technology and the inability to “get away from it all,” so how do you keep the feel of the original play, but make it relevant for a modern audience?

Instead of keeping with tradition, Daldry changed the setting to 1945, when the play was written. He had such a fresh, imaginative approach to the staging of An Inspector Calls, that the traditional boring drawing room drama seems to have died out. I’m thrilled that I can now say that I’ve experienced his visionary production, including Ian MacNeil’s house on stilts, first-hand.