Let’s make it a good one

Here we are at New Year’s Eve again. The year’s gone by so quickly and it doesn’t seem that long ago that I was trying to stay cool last New Year’s Eve Down Under. Time flies doesn’t it? And speaking of fun, I’ve managed quite a bit of it over the last 12 months.

After returning from my bi-annual pilgrimage to Melbourne (and a fab top-up visit from Lil Chicky) in January, travelling-for-work was much less frequent this year but I managed to find some cash and conquer some new frontiers. Ten days in Seattle with Seattle-A heralded my first trip to Canada, I spent four fabulous days in Stockholm at the start of August and then jetted off for a week of sun, sand and a whole swag of reading in Mauritius in November.

Speaking of reading, I smashed my book-a-week target by 25% (I read 65) and 8 of them got a Gidday 5-star rating (that’s 12.5%). I discovered Henning Mankell recently and will be reading more of his Kurt Wallander series next year. And while it doesn’t count in 2015’s quota, I am in the middle of my first Philip Kerr – March Violets with protagonist PI Bernard Gunther – and if things continue as they are, the new year looks set to start with another big fat 5 star rating. Awesome.

There have been many theatre outings over the year, Death of a Salesman being one that I studied at high school yet hadn’t seen and the most recent being Hangmen which featured a cracking ‘noir’ plot and really great characterisation. I’ve also been back to Sadlers Wells to be swept away by the Rambert Dance Company and transported to Spain at the opening of the London Flamenco Festival.

I’ve upped my Live Screening ante enjoying some new (well new to me) Shakespeare – Love’s Labors Lost, Othello and The Winters Tale – and several operas including my first Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, The Mikado. Live Screening also delivered a theatre highlight – Man and Superman – and a new crush, Ralph Fiennes. When seeing his face alight with joy in taking the final bows, well I may have had a little weak-at-the-knees moment…okay maybe not so little.

I’m finishing the year with a two week staycation. Christmas was spent with friends in SE London and aside from an outing to Borough Market and Southwark Cathedral with another friend yesterday, I have just enjoyed being at home. I’ve still got five days off before I go back to work so plenty of time of time to complete my Christmas jigsaw puzzle, finish March Violets and catch up with friends for a little Star Wars, drinks and dinner.

It’s almost midnight here, Bryan Adams is rockin’ it out on the telly and before long, the crackle of fireworks will be heard overhead as those locally organised start the new year with a bang. All that remains is for me to wish you the very best for 2016…

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Let’s make it a good one.

Summer’s Lease…

It’s the first of June so that must mean it’s time for another Calendar Challenge and this month, Simon Drew offers a pictorial take on the words of the immortal Bard to kickstart our days of Summer…


To my mind, I think ‘not to be’ sounds rather drastic so I’m voting for the former. But in any case, this quote (from Hamlet in case you were wondering) does make me think about William Shakespeare’s influence in our language

I took literature both at High School and then as my minor at Uni, and I remember how surprised I was at the proliferation of quotes that were already familiar to me. Just sticking with Hamlet, I had heard of both to thine own self be true and neither a borrower nor a lender be despite never actually studying the play itself. 

And while I’ve never gotten around to seeing As You Like It, my theatre forays here on Gidday from the UK are tagged with all the world’s a stage. Imitation is, after all, the sincerest form of flattery.

What I did study was Macbeth – three times. Not for me the dark romance of Romeo and Juliet (who was the sun) nor the comic delights of a Midsummer Night’s Dream, where the course of true love never did run smooth

No, after wading through this tragedy as our compulsory Shakespeare in Year 11 English, taking English Literature in Year 12 found me double double toil and trouble-ing again with the teacher thinking it would be better to do something we already knew. And then I went to Uni to broaden my horizons and such-like only to find that rather than bear[ing] a charmed life, fair was foul and I was in the hurly burly…again.

Thanks goodness we did The Merchant of Venice in second semester and I got to learn all about pound[s] of flesh. And I did finagle a spate of Twelfth Night. With wonderful lines like ‘Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them‘ it is little wonder that this remains one of my favourite plays.

I have since seen quite a few of the Bard’s back catalogue here in London, most recently Measure for Measure, King Lear and Much Ado About Nothing. And I love them but I’ve noticed a peculiar pattern emerging. The norm is that I struggle to keep pace with the language in the first half, then google the story again in the interval to see whether I have managed to gain any sense of what’s going on. The answer is almost always yes and I invariably return and just relax into the language, trusting that I will get all of the points that must be made and having a much more enjoyable time as a result. 

And speaking of enjoyment, today is the first day of Summer here in the UK. It has been sunshine-y and warm and the roses are out in force at Gidday HQ – who needs all the perfumes of Arabia [to] sweeten this little hand?

And with that, it seems to me that the only fitting end to this post lies in Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18:

“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

Thou art more lovely and more temperate:

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,

And summer’s lease hath all too short a date”.

Here’s to a fabulous Summer!

ps…and just in case you are struggling with the translation of the pictogram

To be or not to be – that is the question:

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them. To die, to sleep–
No more

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Calendar Challenge 2014 – Back Catalogue
Keep Calm And Carry On
Sour Grapes
Water Water Everywhere

On The Shore

What Lies Before Me

Having Reservations…

Yesterday I went out with some friends of mine to see a show followed by some drinks and dinner. 

We had a great time. Handbagged was witty, topical and a lot of fun and with a few drinks under our belts (there may have been three grapefruit Cosmopolitans involved…for me), we expected that dinner at American-eatery-in-Soho, Jackson and Rye, would contribute some worthy state-side vittels to finish off our evening. 

And the verdict? My inaugural grits (a kind of polenta porridge) were weird, pleasant-ish but not right with shrimps, my sea bass with apple and fennel slaw was light and lovely and the pecan pie was mmm…mmm scrumptious!

But I digress. You see, Jackson and Rye don’t take reservations which is a pet peeve of mine. And I am coming across this situation in London with greater and greater frequency. 

A catch-up dinner with a friend at no-bookings Italian ‘tapas’ joint Polpo last year was planned around being there just before 7pm to ensure we got a table rather than when we were actually hungry or what was convenient for us. And looking for somewhere to eat after the theatre with Lil Chicky last October was fraught with queue after queue.


(We eventually found a table at Tuttons right on Covent Garden which was lovely…and for future reference, book-able.)

I remember when Jamie Oliver opened his sans booking restaurant chain Jamie’s Italian in 2008 and we thought we’d head down to the one in Kingston to give it a try. We queued outside – no room inside for waiting – for a barely acceptable 15 minutes. I’ve been to Jamie’s Italian once since when we were lucky to have only a five minute wait. 

To say I was put off is putting it mildly. I accept that if I haven’t booked then I have to take what I can get but this we-don’t-take-bookings nonsense is all getting a bit much for me. I don’t want to have to trawl Soho post-show because of this growing ‘no booking’ policy. What ever happened to looking after the customer? Couldn’t they at least allow some tables to be booked, leaving some free for these apparently all-important walk-ins?

Polpo’s website offers an explanation of sorts, saying that their casual Venetian ‘bacaros‘ are designed to encourage the locals to pop in for a bite to eat and to build a sense of community amongst their regulars. There are 3 Polpos and 1 Polpetto in Central London, none of which take bookings. Who are these ‘locals’ I wonder?

In any case it would appear these places are doing rather well and that the standing in line has become a badge of honour – after all, if you’ve queued (or waited in the bar) for at least an hour, the food had better be rave-worthy, or at least good enough for you to tell everyone about. I don’t know about you but after an hour, my palate becomes a little less discerning, swamped by a-drink-(or two)-while-I-waited or the sounds of my stomach growling with hunger…or both.

Luckily last night’s drinks were at one of our favourite drinking holes, the Freedom Bar, just two doors down from Jackson and Rye so The Umpire kindly did a recce before we gave up our pre-dinner perch. And the meal was delicious.

But if I’m really honest, I have my reservations as to how long I really would have waited for it.

Bourne again

I’ve been enjoying a little staycation for this ‘week between’ Christmas and the start of the New Year. It’s been a week of pottering about at Gidday HQ: literary lie-ins (aka indulgent reading in bed until somewhere around 10am), comfy couch sessions and bouts of cleaning with a few dips into some local delights – a trip to the Phoenix Cinema to see Gone With The Wind (all 4 hours of it – at last) and a fab girly catch up over cocktails & lunch at Skylon – in between.

After a couple of brisk, blue-sky days, the weather is wet and a bit dismal today so amid continued bursts of cleaning up, I’m aiming to tick a few more movies off the I-haven’t-seen-it-yet list with Gentlemen Prefer Blondes already under my belt this morning.

Speaking of ticking things off my list, I want to tell you about my Boxing Day. You see, I went to Sadler’s Wells to see Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake as a Christmas present to myself. Yes peeps, Happy Christmas to me.

I first saw Matthew Bourne‘s work in July last year. Play Without Words left me thrilled and awestruck and his take on Sleeping Beauty was clever and fun and brilliant. His Swan Lake, which premiered in 1995 with an all-male ‘swan ensemble’, has something of a reputation. So even though my previous experiences of Swan Lake had left me bored and wondering what the point was, I took my seat just before 2.30pm feeling quite excited.

The first familiar notes of Tchaikovsky’s score swelled from the orchestra pit soon after, the curtain rose and I was riveted.

It was theatrical and dramatic and witty, filled with light and shadow and the most extraordinary dancing I’ve ever seen. And for the first time I really felt the story. It was visceral – I could feel the fear and liberation in the prince, the reined-in majesty of his mother and the sycophantic expectation of his subjects. But most of all I felt the magnetism and menace of the swans. Their flapping fury, their drooping necks and piercing eyes, the muscular ebb and flow of sweeping, swooping limbs that were, it seemed, inseparable from the music.

Images sourced from http://www.sadlerswells.com

It was an amazing show and for me, it was if Tchaikovsky’s powerful score had finally met its match in the powerful movement on the stage. I felt incredibly emotional and as the cast took their final curtain call, I was on my feet applauding furiously.

Thinking back, I can still feel the moment that the final note evaporated into the air and the curtain fell. The slight prickling of my skin, the full feeling welling in my chest and the profound sense of being touched by something extraordinary.

 

In Shardlake’s Shoes…

It’s Sunday again (where does the time go?) and I’ve been out and about today enjoying the lovely Autumn weather and indulging my passion for history and books in one fell swoop.

The City of London proved itself an excellent stage for Shardlake’s City, a walking tour based on the novels of C.J. Sansom and his protagonist, Matthew Shardlake, a lawyer living in Tudor London. Blue Badge guide Paula met us this morning at the glorious Royal Courts of Justice and took us on a 2 hour odyssey back into 16th century London…


The Royal Courts of Justice, Fleet Street London

We visited Shardlake’s ‘home’ at 124 Chancery Lane, the Inns of Courts where he plied his trade, the public houses frequented by his able assistant Barak and a whole range of locations pertinent to the five novels in the Shardlake series so far. Here are just a few pics…

Shardlake’s offices were located at Lincoln’s Inn in Chancery Lane, just a short walk from his front door….

…but he also petitioned at Gray’s Inn and Clifford’s Inn. The Prudential building actually housed one of the ‘feeder’ inns for London’s legal profession.

The Old Mitre is representative of the back alley pubs where Barak, Shardlake’s assistant, would have visited.

Shardlake’s investigations took him all over the City of London, from Cromwell’s corridors to the seedier parts of the city…

Clockwise from top left: Smithfields Market, site of public executions in the 16th century; getting our bearings coming out of St Bartholomew’s; peering over the ‘back fence’ at St Bartholomew’s Monastery and Chapel

Clockwise from top left: St Bartholomew’s Hospital (with Henry VIII over the door), the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral, the site of the infamous Newgate Prison (demolished in 1777) opposite the Old Bailey (right)


Near the end of the two hours, we approached one of our final stops on the tour, the Guildhall, to find that rather than a quiet square, the Pearly Kings and Queens Harvest Festival was in full swing…


As the tour drew to a close in Poultry (which ended at the site of…ahem…Grope C*nt Lane – did what it says on the tin really) it was time for a well-earned coffee and chinwag. The conversation started with giving our guide Paula a bit of a grilling about the whys and wherefores of being a guide before weaving through subjects like architecture, book clubs and history just to name a few. It was a very pleasant way to cap off our shared walk through Shardlake’s City together.

Finally, I headed for home, foot-sore and mind buzzing with all of the interesting tidbits that I’d learned about London over the course of the tour. As I sat on the tube going back to Finchley, I flicked through all of the photos I’d taken, reliving a fantastic three hours (including the post-tour coffee). And I marvelled at how a little girl from the other side of the world grew up to live in one of the most fascinating cities in the world.

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If you like the sound of this tour, check out crossingthecity.co.uk and find out when the next Shardlake City tour – or any of the other tours in Paula’s repertoire for that matter – is scheduled. You might just fall a little bit more in love with London yourself.


L Is For…

Here I am four days into year 45 on the planet. Birthday number 44 seemed to whizz by in a blur despite having a day-off-morphing-into-a-long-weekend, albeit 24 hours after my big day. For a Leo birthday, I have to admit that it has been little less lush and a little more laid-back than usual.


But I’ve managed to capture myself a few luscious moments along the way.

The night of said big day, after a frantically busy day at work, I logged off and headed into town. It was a hot and humid tube trip in and after picking up my theatre ticket, I decided to pop in to Cote for a quick bite to eat and, in a moment of too-bloody-hot-for-wine, a refreshing glass of cloudy lemonade


Replete with a delicious vichyssoise and ratatouille vegetables in puff pastry, I was soon ensconced in my seat at the Duchess Theatre. Courtesy of lastminute.com, I had scored a cheap ticket to see the play Fences starring Lenny Henry. In short, the play was fantastic and Henry was awesome.

It was late by the time I got home but fave flick Top Gun had just started (who could ever lose their Lovin’ Feelin’ with that volleyball scene on the box *sigh*) and there was still an hour left of the birthday Day to open some presents. 

I got some lambswool

…and something with which to further my baking exploits (I’ve always loved licking the bowl).


As with all birthdays, it is a requirement that one brings cakes into the office for others to scoff and I decided that my new mixer would best be christened by whipping up a batch of great Aussie favourite, lamingtons. These are squares of light fluffy sponge cake dipped in chocolate and rolled in coconut. So after a lie-in and a morning frappe at local café La Barista yesterday, I embarked on step one – baking the sponge . 

They turned out less light and fluffy…


…and more like sponges of the dish-washing kind. Clearly I need to master the new mixer.

So instead I’ve made Lemon Drizzle Cake


…and some white chocolate brownies for the Great Office Scoff.

There’s been some lazing about in the sun in between times – reading the paper and excellent magazine, Intelligent Life which always deserves some time to peruse at a leisurely pace. And finally I’ll be topping off my big birthday bonanza tonight with my regular Sunday night dip into the lives of the Lancastrians and Yorkists with the BBC’s The White Queen.

So that peeps was my lusciously long and lazy-ish birthday weekend…only 361 sleeps until the next one.

A Pinter…Pause

Last night I went to see Old Times with a couple of friends. The play follows a particular evening in the lives of married couple Kate and Deeley, an evening when Kate’s old friend Anna comes to visit. It’s 80 minutes long and stars Kristin Scott-Thomas, Rufus Sewell and Lia Williams so I was ready for enoyable evening.

I did not factor in that it was a Harold Pinter play.

As we walked back across Leicester Square to the tube station and puzzled over what we’d seen, all I could say was ‘I just don’t get it’.

We debated what we thought it might mean – I had read somewhere that the two female characters actually represent two facets of the same woman’s personality and the play explores Deeley’s interactions with each. We compared notes on restlessness and boredom – both our own and of those around us throughout. We all agreed that it was well-acted but enjoyable? It was thought-provoking – definitely – but I was left feeling a bit ‘so what’ about it all – but not so much that I was sorry I had gone.

It wasn’t until this sharing afterwards that it occurred to me that this had happened before.

I saw my first Pinter – Betrayal – back when I was living in Melbourne. And then it was Old Times last night. A Pinter pas-de-deux so to speak.

And I realised that both times I’d felt the same…incomplete-ness. A kind of bereft-ness, like I’d been on the outskirts of a conversation that I didn’t quite understand and had then been cut loose and left to drift away.

I’m not averse to a challenge but after a couple of similar experiences, I’m starting to think that perhaps Pinter’s just not for me.

Or maybe it’s just that I need another Pinter Pause

A Litany On London Largesse

Since coming back from holidays just over five weeks ago, I have been struck by how many great things there are to do in London, particularly when it comes to activities of the stage variety. And I have to admit that I’ve been a little lax in sharing this largesse with my lovely Gidday-ers so I thought I’d make this post a litany of my recent cultural adventures.

I’d been back not much more than a week when I popped down to Sadlers Wells to see Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty. Regular readers might remember my first Matthew Bourne experience last year and I was really looking forward to his take on this traditional tale.

And I was not disappointed. A combination of modern irreverance and gothic spirit cast their magic over the story and I found myself enchanted by Bourne’s mastery all over again. There were moments of laughter and darkness and beauty throughout and I left the auditorium wondering whether I’d get an opportunity to see the balance of Bourne’s Tchaikovsky triumvirate – Swan Lake and The Nutcracker – anytime soon. Sleeping Beauty has left Sadler’s Wells and is touring so you may have the chance to see it somewhere near you.

Sunday before last I went to see Argentinian company Tango Fire’s show, Flames of Desire. This had been inspired by a half price ticket deal in The Metro on my morning commute earlier the same week. 

For two hours the auditorium thrummed with passionate pas de deux, fleet feet and erotic attitude as the five couples, musicians and a rather smooth crooner brought the milonga (late night dance hall of Buenos Aires) to life. It was heart-stoppingly, breath-takingly brilliant. And when the cast – musicians, singer and dancers – took their curtain calls at the end, their absolute delight in the thunderous applause from the audience was as wonderful to see as the performance they had just given us.

And most recently, it was dinner and a show last Friday night with a friend. Again a deal dropped into my lap a couple of weeks ago and after a fabulous feed at Italian restaurant  Polpo near Carnaby Street, we took our seats for the greatest of musicals, A Chorus Line.

While I’d seen the 1985 movie starring Michael Douglas, I’d never seen the show. I am thrilled to report that this oversight has been corrected.

Because thrilled I was.

Every foot-tapping, fractious moment held me in thrall. The individual stories laid bare on the stage before the darkened auditorium: the pert, the cynical, the world-weary and the hopeful. The rediscovery of tunes I knew but had buried themselves in my memory. The cleverness of the choreography, entwining itself around the differences in shape, size, style and attitude of each dancer to create a whole truly greater than the sum of its parts.

And the culmination of all of this in the finale, ‘One’. One moment in the presence of an amazing cast and the most quintessential show tune of all time – a ‘singular sensation’ of glamour and celebration and synergy. Which took A Chorus Line to my all-time top 3, sharing my trinity of musical favourites with Les Miserables and Chicago.

Such is London’s largesse that I’ve managed to see all of these in the space of a month. Life may not always arrange itself so supportively – and cost-effectively – around my cultural interests, but let me assure you that I intend to grab every ‘moment’.

Another Spotlit Stage…

It all started in Seville in 2002. It was an additional excursion, added on top of an already busy trip. Tourist-y it may have been but it was spell-binding.

In the deepening twilight, we’d driven down from our dinner in the hillside village of Mijas Pueblo to join the throngs at a tablaos flamencos in Seville. It was crowded and we had to push our way through to our reserved seating in the front rows (one of the perks of much-maligned organised tours). 

Before long the show began: the pounding feet, arched poses and haughty profiles holding my attention, challenging me to avert my gaze elsewhere if I dared. Women danced, men danced, women and men danced together. Skirts and shawls swirled and swayed, fingers flicked and clicked and the cantaores (singers) wailed and clapped. It was powerful and passionate and provocative.

Then a small man took the stage. He was not handsome or well-built. He had a hard, weathered face and a small wiry frame.  But he exuded a raw magnetism and as his heels started their gentle tempo against the floor, he looked out into the darkened audience over his hooked nose, turned swiftly, sharply and raised his arms.

From my seat in the front row, I could feel the heat of his body, see the beads of sweat rising on his face as he pounded the floor. I held my breath, my heart thumping in my chest and my eyes glued to this stomping, whirling, arrogant dervish in front of me. It seemed to last forever and be over in a minute. As he remained still for that last time, it was a few seconds before I could leap to my feet and applaud, so mesmerised was I by his performance.

Ten years later, my pulse still races when I remember the man on that small stage in Seville, dancing with such arrogance and magnetism. And it fuelled an ongoing desire to immerse myself in that wonderful Flamenco spirit at every opportunity.

This weekend I went to see Paco Pena and his Flamenco Dance Company at Sadler’s Wells. It’s the third time I have been to see this unassuming master of plucking, picking and strumming since I’ve lived in London and he has lost none of his musical magic.

This latest show, Quimeras, is a fusion of Spain and Africa. It is filled with foot stamping, arm waving movement that spends two hours weaving in and out of haunting wails and tempestuous rhythms. It was unbelievably good. So good that I was on my feet at the end, cheering and clapping until my arms hurt.


Yet for all its wonderful-ness, as I walked back to Angel tube station, my mind wandered and I was taken back to another small man on another spotlit stage.

My heart skipped a beat and my soul soared again.

Musical Memories…

This month has been a busy one but over the last fortnight, I’ve managed to squeeze in a few musical meanders down memory lane.

Inspired by my recent dip into Krakow’s musical smorgasbord, the opportunity to experience a little more of the same at the end of a quick tube ride into London seemed too good to be true. But there’s nothing to lose so my first foray was a visit to the King’s Place Festival on September 15th to see Sacconi Quartet.

The four members of this string quartet met at The Royal College of Music and discovered a shared vision for bringing chamber music alive for a new generation. Their first program at the festival, Sacconi Sound Bites, featured five of their favourites, each introduced by one of the four, while the second – Bartok’s Third Quartet: What’s Under The Bonnet? – was led by violinist Ben Hancox, who explained the musical language behind this ‘contemporary piece’ before the quartet played it from start to finish. Sacconi Quartet’s passion oozed from every pore whether they were playing or speaking about the pieces and it was a thoroughly enjoyable few hours. I reviewed it on Weekend Notes so if you want to know more, click here.

A few days later I took a trip down a very particular musical memory lane.

26 years ago I sat in a darkened Dress Circle on the other side of the world and fell in love. And as I sat in London’s Queen’s Theatre and the first notes began, I knew. Les Miserables, without a doubt, remains the best musical ever.

Waiting for the show to start

I love the complexity and grit in the story, the intricacy of characterisation, particularly beyond the leads (just when you think you’ve seen the last of characters like Gavroche and the Thernadiers, they appear again) and the music. Oh how I love the music: On My Own, One Day More, Lovely Ladies, Bring Him Home, Master Of The House, Do You Hear The People Sing. Every note made my skin bristle and my heart fill. I left the theatre uplifted…and sang the songs in my head all the way home (and for many days after).

And then last weekend I ventured to Hackney Picturehouse to see The Eye Of The Storm, part of FilmFest Australia’s final weekend. There’s a tone and cadence that I think is unique to Australian films – understated, almost everyday, with an intense undercurrent. This story follows brother (Geoffrey Rush), sister (Judy Davis) and mother (Charlotte Rampling) as they engage in a fierce and often unspoken battle with their past.

Geoffrey Rush plays Basil in The Eye Of The Storm Image Source: IMDb
There’s a scene of aftermath in the movie which I found really poignant, the swirling music and windswept scene taking me back to my childhood. (I lived in Far North Queensland for 18 months as a child). Long story short – it’s a brilliant film and if you get the opportunity to see it, don’t miss it.

So that’s three fantastic outings and three opportunities for me to do a little nostalgic wandering.

I love living in London!