Spring shoots

Today is the May Day Bank Holiday in the UK and after a basking in some long overdue Spring sunshine yesterday, it’s time for me to keep my word and share my last two months of gadding about (which, with Mum’s 3-week visit smack-bang in the middle, pretty much disappeared before I knew it).

There have been a few highlights of the stage-and-screen variety since February starting with a ‘goosebumps all-over’ moment as Glenn Close filled the London Coliseum with her performance of Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard. The BBC ran a gripping six-part adaption of John le Carre’s The Night Manager that starred Hugh Laurie – in fine and menacing form – and Tom Hiddleston which had me transfixed on Sunday nights. (For those of you who don’t know Hugh, think House and Black Adder.)

And I saw a couple of really great movies – Spotlight and Eye in the Sky, the latter being a charity screening at my local cinema, The Phoenix. In his pre-film talk, director Gavin Hood explained that the technology featured in Eye in the Sky is real and out there as we speak. Mind-blowing stuff.

There were also some things I expected to love more than I did. The Maids at Trafalgar Studios was edgy and well-acted but a little too crazy for me and Immortal Tango contained patches of thrilling Argentine Tango but was brought low by too much tinkering with the quintessential drama and passion of the dance. Based on how much I loved The Night Manager, I had another stab at reading le Carre’s novel only to remember how convoluted and unwieldy I find his writing. And reading Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None was spoiled by knowing ‘who dunnit’, having seen it on TV earlier this year (another brilliant adaption from the Beeb).

There have been some firsts as well.

I attended my first political debate on the EU referendum at the London Palladium. It was chockers with people and points of view and while it didn’t really help me to make a more informed decision, I did leave with my view of politics and politicians intact – grandstanding and emotive argument just don’t do it for me.

However what did do it for me was Painting the Modern Garden, an exhibition featuring artists from Monet to Matisse (and many in between) on my first sortie to the Royal Academy.

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I also visited Poole, site of the second largest natural deep-water harbour in the world (after Sydney).

sunny poole

Dorset Quay, Poole

Last but not least, April alone has meant birthdays galore. It started with my two favourite little dudes turning 3 with Mum, Seattle-A celebrating a week later. And on the 30th, my good friend of more than 15 years, Swiss-S, finally turned 40 on the same day that high school friend, Aussie-J, marked her slightly more advanced passage through life (although she’s still younger than yours truly).

And the great Bard himself, Shakespeare celebrated his birthday on April 23rd, the same day as he popped his clogs 52 years later. There’s been much ado about this and for my part, this Bard-themed week has been book-ended by  Shakespeare Live! last weekend and a Shakespeare’s London walking tour on Saturday just gone with the Museum of London.

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Memorial to John Heminge and Henry Condell, the two actors who published Shakespeare’s First Folio in 1623 in St Mary Aldermanbury’s Garden.

In other news, I was very excited by the Monopoly-themed loos at Marylebone Station…

monopoly loos

I had to wait for everyone to leave the loos before taking these pics so no-one thought I was being weird or creepy (she says, posting them for all the world to see.)

…my fabulous new shoes…

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…and that fact that Spring finally ‘sprang’…

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Delicate Spring flowers  lined my street for about two weeks before they dropped to leave leafy green boughs behind them.

And I think that’ll do. Just as well that the month ended with a 3-day weekend…but the batteries are recharged and I’m ready to go again…

…come what May.

(Geddit? I just couldn’t resist a play on words.)

The Great British Boast Off

You might think that the British are a modest bunch. Not for them the brash competitiveness of the Americans, the super-styled ‘look at me’ of the Italians, the colourful flamboyance of the Brazilians or the voluble national pride of the Indians. No, Brits are self-effacing, stoic types who enjoy a moan through their stiff upper lip much more than a me-moment.

Or do they?

The proliferation of ‘Great British’ television shows might suggest otherwise and whilst singing contests for warbling amateurs demonstrating their vocal chops have long been a fixture of reality TV, a range of more everyday pursuits have found their way into our living rooms.

To my mind, this spate of TV DIY-ness began with The Great British Bake Off.

For the uninitiated, a group of home bakers compete in a flurry of flour, butter, eggs and sugar to win the title of Britain’s Best Amateur Baker. The series began on BBC2 in 2010, when Britain’s recession forced wallets closed and people indoors. Five series on, GBBO has reached both BBC1 and an average viewership of more than 10 million (up from 2.7 million in Series 1). It has spawned spin-offs such as Junior Bake Off, The Great Comic Relief/Sports Relief Bake Off (2 series of each so far – the Comic Relief version is running at the moment) and segued jauntily into 15 other countries – I’m thinking that Denmark’s The Great Baking Joust (Den Store Bagedyst) sounds like quite a competitive arena versus the British Bake Off tent that I know and love. Series 4 attracted more than 10,000 applicants and 2014’s Series 5 was accompanied by An Extra Slice where the latest departures could lament the justice of their elimination.

The series has been credited with reigniting the public’s love of baking and I count myself amongst this number. During said recession, finding a relatively low cost hobby to keep my hands busy and my mind off the financial challenges my circumstances had brought to bear provided many moments of simple and joyful accomplishment. And I find nothing more enjoyable (well, maybe a gutsy red wine with some great cheese) than curling up on the comfy couch after a hard day at the office for a little armchair judgement of a dozen spatula-wielding amateurs.

It would seem that success breeds….well copycats. And every time I turn on the telly, there appears to be yet another amateur home-challenge to be taken on.

2015 has already given us the third series of The Great British Sewing Bee. It’s a similar format to GBBO with ten sewers (yes that’s what they are called – an unfortunate homographic coincidence and should be pronounced so-er) judged by experts from The Women’s Institute and from Savile Row for their worthiness to the claim of Britain’s Best Home Sewer (now remember the pronunciation peeps). Contestants stitch their way through three challenges – Pattern, Alteration and Made-to-Measure – to produce, among other things, necklines, patch pockets, men’s shirts and evening dresses. It appears to be gathering momentum with the number of episodes doubling to eight for Series 3.

Then there’s The Big Allotment Challenge, again from the Beeb. Series 2 has just concluded with nine budding horticulturists taking on six weeks of Grow, Make and Eat challenges in the heart of the English countryside. This enterprise takes a bit more long term planning for the chosen green-fingers-and-thumbs (4 months) – even I know that it takes longer than a few episodes to grow a bounty – and as a bonus, throughout the series you could download each contestant’s plot layouts if you felt particularly inspired to ‘allot’ for yourself. In case you are wondering, I did not, despite my efforts to cultivate a little self-sufficiency with a Gidday HQ patch at a previous time and location.

And then The Big Painting Challenge starts tonight with week one’s theme – landscapes – to be painted at Hogwarts (aka Alnwick Castle, Northumberland). Ten amateurs will pit their paintbrushes against each other to be crowned Britain’s Best Amateur Painter where the glory of winning  the title seems to hold significant appeal. Consider this: the show attracted more than 6,000 applicants against the Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the Year (previously Portrait Artist of the Year)  which offered the winner a £10,000 commission (and which is added to the National Trust‘s permanent collection) and a previous show, BBC2’s defunct Show Me The Monet, giving the winning artist the chance to sell their works in a London gallery.

So despite the self-effacing stereotypes that abound, these shows suggest that the Brits do like a contest and that the glory of a title is enough to encourage them off their couches and into their kitchens, sewing rooms and the great outdoors. This may not be surprising when you consider that titles still ‘matter’ here and ‘lordship’ is bestowed on those not born to it on what seems to be a pretty regular basis.

Rumour has it that the next in the BBC’s arsenal of challenges is one for the angler – travelling around the world to prove themselves across a range of fishing locations and techniques. It just might be worth watching this – after all what could be more entertaining than to see who will be crowned…

…The Big Fish?