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Archive for the ‘About me’ Category


I’ve been absent from this blog for rather a long time. I last wrote back in May when Leicester was celebrating an unprecedented sporting success and everyone round here was bubbling over with joy and excitement. Since then a lot has changed.

 

I should have written about my trips to the theatre over the summer and believe me, there was a part of me that so wanted to tell you all about the stunning A Midsummer Night’s Dream at The Globe, a side-splittingly hilarious production of The Rover at the RSC (which I’m seeing again in January) and a brilliant version of The Importance of Being Earnest at Leicester’s Curve, but somehow I couldn’t bring myself to write anything so trivial in an enthused manner.

 

In June, I tried to write a blog post about why I was, despite everything, still proud to be British. And while I am very proud and always will be, the events of the summer have left my pride a little dented.

 

I went to see Doctor Strange at the cinema a few weeks ago and thought about writing a post asking “Where are our Super Heroes?” But, that didn’t seem quite serious enough.

 

Christmas is almost upon us once again, hurtling towards me like a freight train with promises of an appearance in the school panto, a children’s Christmas party and a trip to see Cinderella where I expect to be deafened by hundreds of screaming kids. And that’s just work!

 

The onset of the festive season reminds me that on 23rd December last year I wrote a small blog about hope. I still have hope. Because there has to be hope, even in the face of things I never believed would happen. I don’t particularly want to be political here but to quote the song I quoted back in December “How can things be better left unsaid?”

 

My Twitter bio states, amongst other things, that I am a “believer in multiculturalism, feminism and sharing our beautiful world.” I don’t know anyone close to me that doesn’t also believe in those things. And yet here we are living in a country that has become increasingly isolationist, where racial hatred incidences are on the increase, and where people would rather see child refugees die than reach out and help them. And that is bad enough, but then you look further afield and see the marching feet of fascism slowly creeping across the western world and I have to ask, “Have we learnt nothing?”

 

Fascism – extreme right-wing, authoritarian, or intolerant views or practices.
Synonyms: authoritarianism, totalitarianism, dictatorship, despotism, autocracy, absolute rule, nazism, rightism, militarism, nationalism, xenophobia, racism, anti-Semitism, chauvinism, jingoism, isolationism, neo-fascism, neo-Nazism, corporativism, corporatism, hitlerism, francoism, falangism.”

Oxford English Dictionary

My great-grandfather was a Labour Party pioneer. He was a member of the party from 1898 (the Labour Party as we recognise it today was founded in 1900) until his death in 1960. He was a Regional Labour Party Organiser, Election Agent and founder and editor of The Labour Organiser – “The only Labour Journal devoted to Organisation, Electioneering and Business Matters”. He is widely quoted in books about the party, most recently in The Collins Review into Labour Party Reform in 2014. He was asked by fellow Labour Party member Oswald Mosley (who had formerly been a member of the Conservative Party) to join the British Union of Fascists (BUF), which Mosley founded and whose supporters were known as “blackshirts”. My great-grandfather refused. I can’t help wondering what he’d make of politics today and the rise, once again, of political opinions we should all find abhorrent.

 

There’s been a lot of talk about accepting that people have voted against what I believe in and that we should all just “suck it and see”. I cannot do that. I cannot agree to accept the rise of hatred and intolerance. I cannot agree to accept that we should not care for our fellow man whatever their colour, religion, nationality or sexuality.

 

This world in which we live is a precious thing. All life on earth is precious. And so I still hope … and I hope I’m not the only one.

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When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past.”

William Shakespeare, Sonnet 30.

When I moved house a year ago one box mysteriously went missing. The removal company packed absolutely everything; I packed none of it. Nothing was left behind in the flat I vacated – I know because I cleaned it afterwards. There was nothing left in the removal company’s lorry either according to the person I spoke to on the phone. Nevertheless several months after moving I discovered a few things were missing. Initially I thought perhaps I’d mislaid them somewhere, then as I missed more things I began to realise exactly what I’d lost. I still don’t know everything that’s gone. Every so often I remember something else I’ve not seen.

 

The main thing I’ve lost is a box labelled “memorabilia” containing theatre programmes, tickets, flyers, souvenirs and various other bits and pieces I’ve collected over the years. I also lost a stack of theatre programmes that weren’t in the box.

 

I was devastated when I realised quite what I’d lost as those programmes missing include the only two signed ones I had: Much Ado About Nothing, signed by David Tennant and Catherine Tate, and The Crucible, signed by Richard Armitage.

 

Now I have wonderful friends and one of those lovely friends was kind enough to gift me the programme she had signed by Mr A when she was standing with me in the queue outside the stage door at The Old Vic. She had another signed programme she won in a competition so was happy to let me have the other one. Everything else is lost forever.

 

Of course none of the things I’ve lost are worth anything but every little scrap of paper was a memory, something to be cherished.

 

As this year ends I’ve decided to do something positive about all those distant and not so distant memories. I’ve been blessed by the places I’ve been and the things I’ve seen so I’ve started to put together a record.

 

It seems that even without my box of memories I have quite a talent for recalling things from as far back as when I was just 8 years old. The internet is a wonderful thing and it has enabled me to realise exactly how lucky I have been.

 

Aged just 8 years old I saw Alfred Molina (Chocolat, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Spider-man 2) on stage in a production of Oklahoma. When I was 12 I saw the definitive production of Me and My Girl before it transferred to the West End. It starred Robert Lindsay (Citizen Smith and My Family) and a largely unknown Emma Thompson. Two years later my parents took me to see High Society starring Trevor Eve (known for Waking the Dead, also Alice Eve’s father), Stephen Rea (The Crying Game and The Honourable Woman) and none other than Natasha Richardson of the Redgrave acting dynasty, sadly no longer with us.

 

Alfred Molina at the première for An Education, October 2009. Photographer: Justin Hoch. Source.

 

In my first year at university I had the privilege of attending the events to mark the 50th anniversary of the Coventry Blitz which included a performance by the wonderful Vera Lynn.

 

Thanks to the internet I found a wonderful review of the Blur concert I went to at Morecambe Dome in 1995. The best friend of my then boyfriend got us tickets through the record company and we got to see them at the height of the Britpop era in a tiny venue where we were close enough for me to see the crystalline blue of Damon Albarn’s eyes. I fell completely and utterly in love with him at that concert and to be honest, that’s never really changed.

 

Damon Albarn – Gorillaz – Roskilde Festival 2010. Source.

 

As part of my research I found set lists from all the Robbie Williams concerts I’ve been to – all three of them. I’ve been able to confirm that I did indeed see Jonathan Ollivier (who tragically died earlier this year) dance as part of Matthew Bourne’s company on two separate occasions, a fact I’d been unsure of without a programme to consult. And, I’ve established that everyone loved the U2 concert I went to at the City of Manchester stadium except me – we had really bad seats and couldn’t hear anything!

 

Jonathan Ollivier as The Swan in Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake.

 

Not everything is on the internet or easy to find. I did manage to work out the name of a play I saw in Coventry thanks to trawling through photos of actresses who appeared in Brookside to get a name and knowing that the play included full frontal male nudity. It was called Dead Funny – I don’t recall that it was.

 

I’ve typed everything into a chronological list including set lists, cast lists and anything else that seems important and so far it runs to 11 pages. I want to handwrite it all into a nice notebook and keep it updated but until I’m sure I’ve included everything I don’t want to start. I think this may take some time.

 
The important thing I’ve realised is that my memories are not as lost as I had first thought. There are things that I’ve lost that I can never replace no matter how much I might wish I could; however, all this research has brought to light things I might never have remembered or never actually knew in the first place. I’ve been incredibly lucky over the years and have seen some wonderful things. I had thought it was just in recent years I’d started seeing “Hollywood” actors on stage when in reality I saw some of them before they had even dreamt of reaching such heady heights and in many ways, that’s even better!

 

Here’s to the New Year and all the new memories it’s going to create.

 

Happy New Year to you all.

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Some of you will know that I can play the piano and that I’ve been banging on for years about how I have a piano but that it’s in Essex which is a long way from me in Leicestershire. Some of you will also know that I moved house in December to a house that has room for said piano. This is the story of me and my piano. Well, me and pianos in general really.

 

Me and my family gathered around the piano. Corny! Family archive.

 

I grew up in a house that had a piano: my mum plays and while my dad knows where all the notes are, he is unaccomplished at playing them in the right order due to a lack of application in his younger years! My mum played the piano whilst pregnant with me and then played with me sitting on her lap as I grew into a toddler. You could say I was born to it.

 

My maternal grandma had a piano. It was a very old piano – it had been her father’s – and probably not a particularly good one but it sounded gorgeous. You couldn’t play Beethoven on it and hope for any gravitas but all the old songs from the 20s and 30s and lighter classical pieces sounded magical to my untrained ear. She had a special way of playing. Her hands were unable to stretch to play chords so she played them as broken chords, and she had a lightness of touch that made the piano sing and tinkle in a beautifully old-fashioned way. I tried so many times to emulate the sound she teased out of that old instrument but never succeeded. One of the best things about visiting grandma, apart from the piano, was the huge and precarious pile of sheet music. Much of the music was tattered and torn but there were some real gems if you were prepared to delve into the middle of the pile and I regularly worked my way through it from top to bottom. By this time it was probably twice as big as it is in the photo below. I very proudly now own some of this sheet music including one piece published in 1898 that probably belonged to my great-grandfather.

 

My mum in her early teens sitting at the piano with THAT pile of music. Family archive.

 

My paternal granddad was a music teacher and accomplished musician. He could pick up most instruments and play them. Amongst other things he could play the piano, church organ, violin and guitar. He bought his second piano in 1976. It was very expensive and modern and, with a walnut veneer, looked beautiful. It still does. It’s now sitting in my living room.

 

When I was five years old my granddad taught me how to play the piano. And, I assume, taught me how to read music. I have no recollection of a time when I couldn’t read music. Even now, after years of neglect, it makes perfect – well perhaps not exactly perfect – sense to me. Musical notation is just another language. Granddad sat me down at my parents’ piano and with a very simple book of music taught me how to play.

 

At the age of eight I started to have proper piano lessons with a lady from the village in which we lived. I remember she had a cat that sat in her hallway and stared balefully at me while I waited for her to finish a lesson with another pupil. I am not a cat person and that cat knew it! Over several years, until I was fourteen, I had weekly lessons with her. I sat my Associated Board of the Royal College of Music piano exams, Grades 1, 2, 4 and 5 (I skipped Grade 3) and passed them all (at least one with merit). I didn’t enjoy practising for exams. In fact, I didn’t enjoy practising full stop. I hated scales and arpeggios and generally disliked the pieces I had to learn. I passed Grade 5 when I was thirteen. I took Grade 5 Theory which would enable me to advance to higher grades but as I started studying for my GCSEs when I was fourteen I decided that studying for piano exams as well was just too much. I found a new piano teacher and worked on learning to play pieces of music that I actually liked. I learnt to play up to at least Grade 6 standard and played pieces (that I liked) from a Grade 6 syllabus for my GCSE music exam.

 

Until I was fifteen I was always my granddad’s favourite grand-daughter. When he was blessed with a second I became one of his favourite grand-daughters! I have no idea what he thought about my piano playing but I know that he wanted me to have his piano, especially as I wanted it so very much. I hope he might have thought at the very least my playing was passable.

 

The best photo I have of my granddad. Sadly I have no photos of him playing the piano. Family archive.

 

Over the years I have lamented always living in flats and houses that had no room for a piano. I told myself that I couldn’t limit my choice of abode to only those that could house such a large, weighty and noisy piece of furniture. Last year, however, when I was looking for a new home, I found that I just couldn’t allow myself to consider anywhere that didn’t have somewhere to put the piano. I spent ages standing at the top of the stairs of this house trying to imagine if a piano could be manoeuvred up them and into the living room on the first floor. After consulting my dad, I decided that it could.

 

After having moved in, unpacked and settled I set my dad the task of arranging for the piano to be moved from my grandma’s house in Essex. In hindsight I should definitely have chosen a different house … this was to be far harder than anyone anticipated, including the company that moved it!

 

It was collected without any problems and taken to a storage facility, due to be delivered to my house the following week. For some unknown reason and with little apology (which all seems arbitrary now) the delivery was cancelled. This company is pretty much the only specialist piano mover in the UK and are recommended by Steinway. I was very cross. My parents went on holiday and because I couldn’t be at home to take delivery on a weekday the piano sat in storage and I waited.

 

A few weeks later it was finally delivered. I received a call from my dad during my lunch break to say there was a problem. They’d got it to the top of the stairs but it wouldn’t go around the corner at the top and into the living room. They’d had all the measurements prior to agreeing to take the job but apparently “these things happen”. I started to envisage having to go house-hunting again and my heart sank. “It’s OK,” my dad said, “They have a plan.” And boy, did they ever!

 

The piano lived in my kitchen for about a week. I was surprised to find that despite having not been tuned for years it still sounded great and I half-heartedly played it a little. But, I didn’t want a piano in my lovely big kitchen. There wasn’t any practical space for it long-term and it’s not a good environment for a musical instrument.

 

The piano movers returned the following week with extra manpower and machinery. They removed the Juliette balcony on the back of my house, took the piano into the garden and then with specialist equipment drove it up two ramps and in through the full length windows. I kid you not! Luckily I was at work and I’m so glad I didn’t have to watch them. If and when I move house again, they will have to come back and reverse the process. No-one else will be able to get it out again due to the layout of the house and the sheer weight of the piano – it’s as heavy as a baby grand.

 

 

As you can see it made it and is now safely in situ. Its journey from Essex was extremely expensive but it is a lovely piano and I love it and play it all the time.

 

My piano safely ensconced in my living room. My photo.

 

I’ve always loved piano music but in recent years have been rediscovering old favourites and joyfully discovering new music I hadn’t heard before thanks to my admiration and, let’s be honest, adoration of James Rhodes. James is a man who cites music as the thing that saved his life. He is an inspiration both musically and in life. To have gone through what he has gone through and to come out the other side an accomplished, passionate and talented musician is staggering. I will never play like he does – I’m average at best and I lack the necessary dedication – but he inspires me to sit down at my piano and just play, for no other reason than the great pleasure it brings me. He’s also a talented writer. His heart-wrenching memoirs recently published both broke my heart and made me jump for joy. His boundless enthusiasm for music education, routing out the elitism in classical music and telling stories about the less than salubrious lives of the great composers are what make him so easy to love. Plus, watching him play, a privilege I’ve only had once so far, is just an utter joy. The piece below is one of my favourites in his repertoire and one I’m determined to learn one day.

 

 

You could say that my life has been one long love affair with the piano. We were separated for a while but my piano and I are at last together and long shall we remain so.

 

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… that man being the Duke of Wellington of course!

 

The Battle of Waterloo. William Sadler II (1762-1839). Oil on canvas. Source.

 

I have an ancestor called Thomas James Drinkwater, sometime Assistant Surgeon in the 2nd Life Guards. His name appears on the Waterloo medal rolls. He was my great (x4) grandfather.

 

Thomas was born around 1787 in Farnham, Surrey. The youngest son of a surgeon and great great grandson of a Baptist Minister who was imprisoned for preaching in 1677. He joined the 2nd Life Guards on 22 September 1812 and served in Iberia and was at Vitória and Waterloo.  He served for a total of 6 years until 1818. He married and settled in Ledbury, Herefordshire, where he continued to work as a surgeon. He had 4 children but sadly died in 1823 aged just 36 years old.

 

I registered Thomas’ details some time ago on a website that was collecting information from descendants of men who had been at Waterloo. This year marks the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo and there have been all sorts of commemorations taking place both here in the United Kingdom and in Belgium.

 

Completely out of the blue I received a rather smart-looking letter in the post. Enclosed in the envelope was this:

Invitation. My image.

 

To say I was stunned would be an understatement. (Not sure why they think I’m married!) I was thrilled but concerned that I might be unable to attend because the service was on a weekday in term time and I would be working. Anyway, to cut a long story short I was given permission to take the day off work and I accepted the invitation.

 

On the 18th June 2015, exactly 200 years to the day since the battle, I travelled to London, wearing my interview suit (it would have to do) and arrived at St Paul’s Cathedral at about 9.10am. The security gates opened at 9.30am and I had to show my ticket, passport and have my bag searched by a very polite young soldier who appeared unperturbed by the Birkenstocks hiding in the bottom of my smart handbag – I can wear heels but I can’t walk in them!

 

I joined a queue waiting for the doors of the cathedral to open at 10.00am and had a bit of time to take in my surroundings. I was now in the environs of St Paul’s Cathedral having entered through a gateway in Paternoster Square. There were metal fences surrounding the area and people were gathering on the other side to watch. I’ve never been on the inside looking out before – it’s a bit weird! While we waited in the rather hot sunshine we were serenaded by a Scot’s Guards pipe band which sounded wonderful.

 

Upon entering St Paul’s Cathedral which is already an awe-inspiring sight I had to walk past this line up of Standards, Guidons and Colours of the regiments in succession to those that fought at Waterloo:

200th Anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo
At first glance they could easily have been mistaken for mannequins because they stood so still. And they seemed so tall! It truly was a memorable sight and one I wasn’t expecting which made it seem all the more surreal. It’s something I will probably never see again and I only wish I could have lingered but we were being ushered to our seats.

 

Because I had arrived so early I was very near the front of the queue entering St Paul’s. This meant that when I reached the area in which I was to be seated I found myself in the 2nd row. I was sitting just under the edge of the famous dome in the south transept. When I looked up this was my view:

Looking up into the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral. My photo.

 

The service was attended by a lot of very well-known people. I didn’t know a lot of them would be there so I failed to spot any of them except those mentioned in the Order of Service. In attendance were their Royal Highnesses the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall (Charles and Camilla to us plebs), the Earl of Wessex (Prince Edward), the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, the Prime Minister (David Cameron), the President of the European Parliament and the present Duke of Wellington. I saw the Royals arrive and spotted the Duke of Wellington but I saw no politicians or anyone else. I only glimpsed Charles and Camilla because when they came in and left it was in procession and we all had to stand. I could see the tops of their heads when we were all seated though! They were sitting just in front of the congregation on the right-hand side of the aisle as is traditional – royalty on the right, politicians on the left. They can be seen in this photo, as can I:

200th Anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo

 

Here is a print screen version to which I’ve added a handy little red circle so you can see where I was sitting (click to enlarge):

 

In addition to the above, amongst the congregation were senior representatives of the Armed Services, representatives and ambassadors of all combatant countries involved in the Battle, and descendants of men who fought in the Battle (including me!), 200 children and 200 teachers together with members of the public who entered a ballot for tickets.

 

To quote the order of service, “during the service an anthologicon is delivered, drawn from extracts from contemporary accounts of events before, during and after the Battle of Waterloo by British, French and German readers under-laid by the sound of the organ.” So, the story of the Battle of Waterloo was told through the voices of those who were actually there read by their descendants or current serving members of the armed forces. It was incredibly moving and very thought-provoking.

 

To have been a surgeon on such a battlefield is something I don’t think any of us can truly imagine and I feel immensely proud to be descended from someone who served his country in such a way.

 

The horror of battle was summed up by the Duke of Wellington in a conversation recalled by his friend Lady Shelley:

I hope to God that I have fought my last battle. It is a bad thing to be always fighting. While in the thick of it, I am much too occupied to feel anything; but it is wretched just after. It is quite impossible to think of glory. Both mind and feelings are exhausted. I am wretched even at the moment of victory, and I always say that next to a battle lost, the greatest misery is a battle gained. Not only do you lose those dear friends with whom you have been living, but you are forced to leave the wounded behind you. To be sure one tries to do the best for them, but how little that is! At such moments every feeling in your breast is deadened. I am now just beginning to regain my natural spirits, but I never wish for any more fighting.

 

The Bishop of London, the Right Reverend and Right Honourable Richard Chartres, KCVO, gave the address. The main thing I took away from what he said was this:

The past cannot be changed but we are responsible for how we remember it.

His address can be read in full here and I strongly recommend reading it.

 

The service was not a mourning of loss nor a glorification of war but a commemoration of all those who fought at Waterloo and a salute to their courage and resolution.

 

I am so honoured and privileged to have been there. I don’t imagine for one moment that my ancestor, Thomas James Drinkwater, ever dreamt that his great great great great grand-daughter would be thinking about him and honouring him in such a way so many years later.

 

After the service and once the great and the good had exited the building I made my way outside into the sunshine. As I walked down the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral I noticed that there were many more people watching from behind the barriers, undoubtedly come to see the Royals and other dignitaries. It is very bizarre to be watched by so many people waving cameras and phones – not that they were looking at me of course.

 
200th Anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo

 

As the bells of St Paul’s rang out across London I made my way back to Paternoster Square, removed my jacket, packed away my heels, replaced them with my trusty Birkenstocks whilst sighing in blissful relief and joined the crowds in London – just another tourist once more.

 

I still can’t quite believe I was there!

 


 

All photos that are not labelled as mine are embedded courtesy of St Paul’s Cathedral’s Flickr account.

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He was never Santa in our house, always Father Christmas and he came every year until I was eighteen and left for University.

When I was little, Father Christmas brought me a large sock filled with fruit and nuts, a sugar mouse, pencils, pens and other small things. He also brought me a big pillowcase full of presents. My brother and I left the pillowcase and sock at the end of our beds when we went to sleep on Christmas Eve.

When I woke up on Christmas morning, probably at some ridiculously early hour, I would usually lie in bed and savour the moment when I would move my feet under the covers and feel the heavy weight of the filled pillowcase and sock. I would listen to the delicious rustle of the paper-wrapped presents inside and think about opening them. There was no better feeling. I think sometimes I waited for my brother to come charging in wanting to know what I had before opening anything. The anticipation was the best bit!

Once the present opening began we would go back and forth between our rooms and our parents’ room making sure they knew exactly what Father Christmas had brought us.

For some people Santa leaves his sack under the tree or somewhere else but that always seems strange to me. The memory of that weight at the end of my bed is one of my most vivid and exciting childhood memories and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

May your Christmas be merry and bright. And wherever Santa leaves his sack in your house, may it be filled with joy.

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
xxxxxxxxx

[Unable to edit this to my satisfaction and add a pretty picture as my computer is still in a box after moving house a week ago and I’m writing this on my iPad.]

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Like madness is the glory of this life.”

William Shakespeare, Timon of Athens, Act 1, Scene 2

 

I don’t really know what to write at the moment and have been terribly lazy about writing. On reflection this has been an excellent year and I can only hope that the next one will be as good. I have spent plenty of times with my lovely friends having the best experiences. I have a good job that I really enjoy. And … finally … I’m moving house. You’ll forgive me if my brain is a little fried at the thought.

 

I am moving nearer to where I work to a much bigger house (3 storeys, 3 beds, garage) with a small garden and room for my piano (currently residing in Essex). It’s a lovely house, everything I wanted albeit with one small compromise: I’m moving to a small town and, if I’m honest, somewhere I didn’t really want to end up. Ideally I hoped to be in a more rural location, a village maybe. Somewhere attractive. The reality is that after much consideration it became apparent that only a modern house would do, preferably very modern, and one that is harder to find and harder to afford in more attractive places. To be fair I’ll be moving to a very nice estate.

 

Perversely, and much as I expected, it dawns on me that I am really going to miss the railway that has been my constant companion in my current abode. It has been the cause of much frustration throughout my time here, keeping me awake at night while new track is laid or interrupting my favourite television programmes at the most inopportune moments, but it has always been there. In many ways the railway is a living thing. Every train that passes is a reminder that there is life out there. When I’m all alone it’s a faithful friend, always there, breaking what can sometimes be an oppressive silence. I don’t mean that to sound like I’m a poor lonely soul without a friend in the world; that couldn’t be further from the truth. But it has been there … and I will miss the trains whizzing past my windows.

 

When I moved to this place it was under a heavy cloud. It wasn’t where I wanted to be but circumstances made it the best solution at the time. Seven and a half years later I love it here but I’ve outgrown it and it’s time to move on. I will miss the shops, the excellent transport links, the village feel whilst still being close to the city and the people. I will be sad.

 

Hopefully in another seven years I’ll be having similar thoughts about the place to which I’m moving. Or, better still, I’ll be hoping to stay there even longer.

 

Wish me luck for December. I’m moving in the week before Christmas!

 

 

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Apologies for the delay in writing this but I’m still struggling to put into words the wonderful weekend I recently spent in London. Two plays, four friends (plus me) and the big smoke … weekends don’t get much better. But throw Richard Armitage into the mix and you reach the heights of pretty damn perfect!

 

But I digress a little … after all, I started the weekend with a couple of doubts.

 

First things first; my friends and I got to meet Rachel. We’ve been chatting to her online for simply ages and I was dying to meet the person who I say fangirls “like a boss”: straight talking and with an honest appreciation of all things Armitage and Cumberbatch there was little to go wrong. No doubts here and definitely no disappointments.

 

We all met up on the South Bank at the BFI, watching the strange and eclectic mix of London life go by. Pantaloons anyone? All present and correct we made our way to The Globe to watch Julius Caesar. Doubt número uno!

 

I have been ill for some time now. I have endured an interminable wait to find out the results of a CT scan I had a few weeks ago; the good old NHS had a backlog and so I waited … and waited … and waited. I have unexplained pain in my back and elsewhere, which the doctor thought may be kidney stones. (It turns out it’s not, so back to square one for me). I’d also been laid low with a nasty virus for about four weeks – my third in six months thanks to me working in a school – which only started clearing up with the help of some antibiotics after this much anticipated culture weekend. Anyway, the upshot of this was that I knew there was no way I could stand for three hours in the yard at The Globe, hence my doubt. I planned to see if they had any returns of seated tickets but fully expected to be spending my afternoon mooching around St Paul’s Cathedral just across the river instead.

 

I went to the ticket desk and asked if they had any seated tickets. They didn’t. My lovely friend Julia pleaded my case and miraculously a ticket became available – pretty much the best seat in the house. Major doubt quickly dispelled.

 

I hired a cushion to soften the wooden bench I’d be perched on for the duration and grabbed a free cardboard hat to shield my face from the scorching sun and settled down. The players were in the courtyard outside the theatre before the play making lots of noise and revving up the audience.

 

Me in my free and very silly but much needed hat at The Globe. Source: Julia.

 

The play started well with a raucous opening with the players encouraging the audience to join in and chant “Caesar, Caesar, Caesar” over and over with much clapping of hands and stomping of feet. It was like being at a football match when a popular player is about to walk onto the pitch. At The Globe each and every member of the audience is a member of the cast.

 

Overall I enjoyed the play but I suspect that was mainly because of where I was. There were some great performances but sadly I felt Caesar wasn’t one of them. Julius Caesar isn’t the most compelling of Shakespeare’s works. After Caesar is killed the play just seems to be a succession of people convincing someone else to kill them rather than take their own lives.

 

If it seems like I may have missed something then blame the heat. My seat may have been very good but it was in full sunlight for the entire play. The hat helped shield my face but it felt like I was sitting in a furnace with little or no breeze to provide any relief. I resisted the urge to remove my thin cardigan in an effort not to get severely sunburnt. Several members of the audience had to be taken out in wheelchairs after succumbing to the heat.

 

Finally released from the furnace the real excitement of the day started. The Crucible! Out of the furnace and into the fire, so to speak.

 

O conspiracy!
Sham’st thou to show thy dangerous brow by night,
When evils are most free?”

William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act 2, Scene 1

But what of my doubts? I’m not too proud to admit that although I had a long-held interest in Richard Armitage and thought him to be a very good actor, an interesting and intelligent person and thought him not too shabby in the looks department, I was not of the opinion that he was a great actor. I was desperate to see him on stage because he fascinates me but I was prepared to be disappointed, or, at least, not blown away. I doubted him and I was so very wrong.

 

Richard Armitage, The Crucible at The Old Vic. Source: The Old Vic.

 

Our seats were in the second row back from the front and the first I knew of this was when I sat down. I don’t think I realised just how close the actors would be to us until the play started, from which moment on I was completely captivated.

 

I’m not going to go into any detail about the play because there’s nothing I can say that hasn’t been said before. There are not enough words in the world to describe how wonderful this particular production is, how moving, evocative and thought provoking it is, or how compelling and completely absorbing I found it.

 

From the moment he first appeared on the stage my eyes were drawn to John Proctor. It was not Richard Armitage that appeared on that stage, it was all Proctor. From his sore-looking feet to his bloodied fingers, from the roar of his voice to the tears in his eyes, every last inch of him was the embodiment of John Proctor. When it was all over, I stood, heartbroken and in awe, and applauded. As he took his final bow and looked upwards to take the applause from those sitting above us, the lights that shone down upon him showed us that Proctor’s tears still glistened in his eyes and my heart broke a little more.

 

Of course, one actor does not a play make, or at least not this play and it would be remiss of me not to mention that the whole cast was magnificent. There wasn’t a single performance that was unconvincing or lacking. The whole play was brilliant; beautifully staged and stunningly performed.

 

Despite being heartbroken and devastated I didn’t cry. I might have done were it not for the fact that I spent the entire play trying desperately not to cough thanks to my nasty virus. As I’m sure many of you will know a cough is always worse at night and mine was no exception. I had plenty of water but the constant dry ice did me no favours. This is not a criticism it’s just a shame that I spent so much time trying to remain silent instead of relaxing. The woman in front of me didn’t help. She turned round every time I had to give in and cough – and it wasn’t like I was the only person coughing! My friends were not amused with her.

 

A friend should bear his friend’s infirmities,
But Brutus makes mine greater than they are.”

William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act 4, Scene 3

Anyway, coughing aside, and apologies to anyone I annoyed (except “Brutus” in front who made me mildly paranoid – and yes I know the quote implies Brutus is a friend), when the play was over we gathered our wits and made our way to the stage door. I had been in two minds about whether or not to do it – another doubt – and having seen the tears still in Richard Armitage’s eyes when he took his bow, my doubts escalated. But this was probably going to be the only chance I’d ever have to meet him in the flesh. In the end only two of us joined the queue which eventually stretched all the way back to the front of the theatre. In hindsight we could have been better prepared but he came, he signed, he spoke, I took a photo and he moved on.

 

The photo was not my finest moment. We thought we’d be able to get a photo with both of us in but hadn’t thought through how we would take it and as Richard kindly pointed out, the security guys aren’t allowed to help. I took a photo of him with my friend, Nic, and then he was gone. She was concerned that I didn’t have a photo of me with him but all things considered: my cough, being a horrible sweaty mess thanks to London still being sauna-like even late at night, and the distinct possibility that I didn’t smell too sweet, I was happy to leave having spoken to him (about taking photos) and wielding a signed programme. I was not disappointed. The queue was enormous, he was the consummate gentleman, and quite frankly, having witnessed what he goes through on stage I was astounded he came out at all.

 

What of the photo? Well, he blinked and Nic looks decidedly shocked but we met him so I don’t think either of us really cares! I’m not posting it here because it’s not especially flattering of either subject. It’s a shame because the overall quality of the photo is actually quite good!

 

I left The Old Vic with the biggest grin on my face despite the hacking cough and unsightly sweatiness. I can’t help but say that in the flesh Richard Armitage is far more beautiful than he is in any photo or film. I was quite stunned. On stage he is a towering presence whereas at the stage door he was less tall and a lot slimmer than I imagined – although seeing him shirtless on stage (right in front of me) it seemed obvious to me that his apparent broad chest and shoulders are more about how he carries himself rather than his physicality.

 

Anyway, I did wonder why he comes out to greet people night after night when he must be exhausted and completely spent, especially after a day of two performances. In the interview he did with Richard Armitage US at the Into The Storm premiere, when asked why he goes out of his way to “connect with his fans on a personal level”, he said that he is “blown away” by the support he receives and for that reason alone I’m so glad I queued outside the stage door.

 

As to my doubts. I said before I was wrong and in a way I’m glad. Seeing just how great an actor he is blew my mind and took my breath away. To discover it this way was a real privilege.

 

So there you have it. It’s not a review but it’s what I want to say. Thank you to the lovely ladies who made the whole weekend simply wonderful – Julia, Nicola, Rachel & Carole. They deserve special thanks for putting up with my coughing and not making me feel like a leper although now I come to think of it no-one seemed keen to share a room with me!

 

Finally, I’ll let you into a little secret. I’m going to see The Crucible again in less than two weeks time! This time with no annoying cough … might need tissues!

 

 

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