Friday, 29 September 2017

Pride and Prejudice - Nottingham Playhouse

I've always found Jane Austen's work funny  -  but with a wry, satirical humour, a commentary, if you will, on the society of her times  - so I was surprised to find myself laughing out loud last night at Nottingham Playhouse's production of Pride and Prejudice. I probably shouldn't really have been that taken aback as this new adaptation comes from comedian Sara Pascoe, who has taken the well-known story of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy, and given it a shake up, exploiting the comedy elements, and downplaying the romantic side.
Mr Bennet's dry wit, Mary's bizarre posturing, Mr Collins' self-importance, are all things I'd found funny before ... but Mr Darcy himself? He's surely too serious and stuffy? Take that first demand for Elizabeth's hand while she's staying with the newly-wed Collins - it's arrogant and rude, and my reaction is normally anger on behalf of Elizabeth and her family, but Bethan Mary-James (Elizabeth) and Matt Whitchurch (Darcy), reading sections from it alternately, turned it into something so preposterous that all the audience could do was laugh (Mr D also struggled to keep a straight-face,which set the audience off again!).

Maybe purists won't approve, because the characters' words are not solely those written by Austen (the proposal letter is though), because some minor plot points are skipped, or they didn't like the present day scenes, but it still holds true to the original 'feel'. Adding the modern characters - a teacher, teenagers, a TED lecturer, actors - gives Sara Pascoe the chance to share a bit of historical background to the story, especially the hard economic truth that lies behind the romance; that on their father's death the Bennet sisters will find themselves penniless and homeless. What makes the story of five sisters desperately seeking husbands still work today, is that the Bennet sisters, despite their probable impoverished future, are looking for love first, a financially comfortable husband second - unlike pragmatic Charlotte Lucas who knows her 'sell-by date' is fast approaching and will grab any potential man on offer.

Consider it a 're-imagining', in the way the film Bride and Prejudice, or Curtis Sittenfeld's recent novel Eligible are, rather than an attempt to re-create the book on stage, and it's brilliant; fab, funny and thought-provoking by turn, it's one of the best adaptations I've seen. Oh, and by the way, there are NO zombies, and Mr Darcy doesn't walk dripping out of the lake!

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

When children decide they're old enough to holiday alone ...

Our youngest has been gradually flexing her wings and travelling further afield, as you can tell from my expanding postcard collection. Her first trips alone took her to London or Manchester, but this last year she's started heading abroad - at first with others but then she announced that she was going to Italy ON HER OWN! This wasn't even going to be a 'met by a rep, stay in hotel' trip, but involved travelling from place to place, and staying in AirBnBs. At least it wasn't a week in Ibiza's hottest nightspots ...
OK, I admit, my first thought was to panic. Then I tried to reason myself out of it. After all she's grown up now, out of her teens, older than I was when I got married(!), but it's so hard to accept that our children have somehow become adults. She's used to organising trains and busses, so aeroplanes can't be harder. She surely knows how to look after herself when out and about in a strange city  -  she was away at uni for a year and has spent enough time away in British cities alone. Even my qualms about AirBnBs didn't really hold up -  she'd done this, although not alone, and (see above) she's stayed in hotels alone. Also, our eldest has travelled abroad alone quite a lot, but as that's always been work related it somehow didn't seem to carry the same risks (illogical, but what can you expect from a mother?)
Ticking off my individual fears, I came to the conclusion that my worries stemmed merely from the fact that she was going somewhere I didn't know, somewhere I couldn't get to if things went wrong because I don't have a passport, and basically doing something I haven't!
So, coping strategies were needed. Firstly the wonders of social media. I couldn't be expecting her to phone every five minutes and tell us what she was doing, but the availability of free wifi in airports, restaurants and BnBs meant she could chat to us if needed, or maybe just do a 'check in' at a railway station or tourist attraction, which would let me know she was ok.
Secondly, sharing the holiday vicariously.  Instead of making lists of everything that could go wrong, I tried to anticipate all the fun she'd have. Beforehand, this involved looking at the places she'd be staying, making sure I knew her itinerary, taking 'tours' round cities on goggle maps. I asked her to share more photos than usual on social media - this way I could see where she'd been, what the weather was like and such. Seeing the photos led me to another way of 'joining in' - finding her on Google maps. A lot of landmarks are instantly recognisable - the wonky tower in Pisa, for instance - or visible on Goggle's satellite view, so by switching to 'street view' I could pretend I was there. I even managed to find the spot she stood to take photos of Vesuvius. Yes, I know, some of this is a little like stalking, but being able in the evening to share in what she'd seen that day, made things easier.
Thirdly, distractions. From following my plans for a staycation to binge-watching all of Better Call Saul, having something to fill my time helped.
Fourth, major distractions. I'd been expecting all manner of things to go wrong during this trip, and they did - but here at home. My mother fell ill, though it turned out to be one of those 'not a problem unless you're in your 90s' things that both my parents suffer from occasionally. Then, from somewhere, I caught a stomach bug. Three days with hardly any food left me weak, half a stone lighter and barely able to think straight. By the time I'd begun to recover, it was almost time for the return of our intrepid traveller from her wonderful holiday.

Now my only worry is, when will she decide to do it all again?

Friday, 22 September 2017

Calke Abbey - #3 - decay, decoration, details

When the National Trust took over Calke Abbey thirty years ago, the estate had been neglected for years. Buildings were in desperate need of repair, but beyond making them safe for visitors, the Trust have done very little to them, instead preserving the house, stables and garden buildings pretty mush as they were. Decay has its own strange beauty though ...

In the gardeners' store rooms and potting sheds it looks like someone will be back any minute to pick up their tools and carry on work...

... while the stables house a collection of old machinery and other 'junk'. After all, who thought a broken window needed to be kept?

On the other hand there's the most wonderful attention to detail - these ornamented brackets, with flowers, birds and strange water creatures, were part of the guttering and drainpipe system, not just on the main house but also on the stable block and boiler rooms in the gardens.

So many little details like this are so easy to miss. Who would ever have actually looked up and noticed the decoration at the top of this drainpipe?

Caught, Sleeping Beauty like, in a time warp, Calke is definitely a strange and fascinating place.

Other posts from this visit to Calke Abbey - #1 - flower gardens
                                                                       #2 - fruit and veg

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Calke Abbey - #2 - fruit and veg

Now a trip to visit a fruit and vegetable garden may not be high on everybody's list of interesting things to do, but as a keen veg grower, I like to see what others are up to, maybe pick up some new ideas, and the walled gardens at Calke proved fascinating. 

I think the first thing you notice is the size of the vegetable garden - large enough for a variety of vegetable beds, and an orchard too! A bit larger than an average garden, and even bigger than our allotments.
Red pears

I've been to Calke many times before but this is the first time I've seen the vegetable 'patch' late in summer, when it's at its best with pumpkins swelling on their vines, apple, pear and even medlar trees laden with fruit, and weird and wonderful tomatoes ripening in the greenhouses. 


In fact a lot of the produce was a little out of the ordinary, so I assume that,like other National Trust gardens I've visited, Calke are growing 'heritage' varieties, no longer grown commercially and therefore rarely seen. Take for instance red pears - somehow I expect pears to be green or yellow - or medlars - a really unusual crop which I've seen at another NT property, Belton Hall, but never in shops, and I've no idea what they taste like (they look like they'd be full of pips, to be honest!)

More medlars

Fully laden apple branches

Gardens I visit always seem so orderly in comparison to my own. I've tried this idea of mixing flowers and veg, to encourage pollination and distract pests from the vegetables, plus of course it looks prettier in a small back garden, but my efforts generally end up messy and tangled, with something over-running the other plants and more of a neglected, weedy look to the space.

During one of the (many) showers of rain, we took shelter in a greenhouse, and were surprised at how many unusual types of tomatoes were being grown...

Here's nice 'normal' round red tomato that you might buy at any supermarket

but how about a striped one?

or yellow?

It's not as obvious in the photo but these black cherry tomatoes are a strange burgundy/plum shade when ripe.

And these are definitely the largest tomatoes I've seen - they're called Andine Cornue and are easily four inches in length, maybe more!

Another oddity was this tomatillo plant with nightshade style flowers and chinese-lantern style husks hiding the fruit - something I've only previously heard of in gardening catalogues.

And yet another first for me - a purple pepper! The plant is small in habit, the fruits about the size of a marble and it's something I'd definitely like to grow on my kitchen windowsill.

Back outside in the sunshine, we investigated this archway with squashes, gourds and small pumpkins growing up and over it.

Again, I was amazed at the variety of shapes, sizes and colours. Most, but not all, are edible,and the others were harvested in the past for use as water containers and even musical instruments!

It's not all exotic produce though. This scarecrow was keeping watch over a bed of cabbages and brussels sprouts.

For me at least, it was a fascinating place, and maybe children of an inquisitive nature would find it interesting. Some of the produce is for sale, so maybe if we'd been earlier in the day, I could have tried some of the 'exotics'. Another time maybe ...

Other posts from this visit to Calke - #1 - flower gardens
                                                           #3 - decay, decoration, details

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Calke Abbey - #1 - flower gardens

Lured out by a forecast of sunny weather we headed off to Calke Abbey last weekend for a potter round the gardens. As usual I took masses of photos, so I've split them into three posts - flowers/ornamental gardens(this one) fruit and vegetables, and buildings.

We weren't up and out very early so decided to stop in the parkland for a picnic lunch - and look at that beautiful sunshine! By the time we'd moved on, parked the car and reached the visitor centre, the rain was pouring down!

We patiently waited it out, assuming that would be the only rain shower that afternoon ...  fortunately I had my umbrella along.

The gardens at Calke are set at a distance from the house, hidden by shrubbery, on the top of a slight rise but angled to catch the warmth of the sun on the south-facing walls.
Following the winding path, we first made our way first to the walled flower garden. It's sheltered enough here for palm trees to grow, encircled at the moment by annual bedding plants.

Japanese Anemones

Around the walls, roses and herbaceous borders were still in flower, and in one corner the auricula theatre is now filled with geraniums of every shade of pink. Lack of autumn colour is one of the gripes I have about my garden, so I was hoping to go home with some ideas to liven it up - maybe some bright yellow heleniums, or tall pink japanese anemones would look good.

Geraniums on the staging of the auricula theatre

Passing through a gateway, we came to another, but much larger, walled area. Now it's mainly grassed over but with fruit trees both in the centre and along the walls, it was presumably an orchard at some point. Along one edge is a wonderful bed of mixed flowers - I spotted cosmos, rudbeckias, and cornflowers among them but couldn't name them all.

As we left this area it was time to get that umbrella out while we wandered round the vegetable garden till even heavier rain forced us to take cover in a greenhouse!

Even this area has its share of flowers with borders of  shorter plants - michaelmas daisies, heleniums, kaffir lilies - backed by sweetpeas and, tallest of all, sunflowers.

Waiting for the
rain to stop

At this point we took a long break in a potting shed while the rain came down again.

Eventually the clouds cleared away and sunshine returned, and our walk continued via this magnificent dahlia border. I can't grow these easily at home - the general 'overgrown' aspect of my garden leads to too many slugs and snails which just destroy dahlias' tender stems - but I was so taken by the variety of shape and colour on show here, that I feel tempted to try.

I was just about to head off through this gateway, assuming I'd found another bit of garden to explore, when I realised we'd now come full circle and were back at the first garden with the palm trees.

Time as well for us to be heading back home.

These two pictures, taken within a minute of each other, sum the day up - heavy showers with sunny intervals. add in the rainbow which appeared on the way back to the car, and you've almost a bit of everything.
It's lucky really that there are so many glasshouses, sheds and store rooms to explore in the gardens at Calke,as without them we would have been totally soaked!

Other posts from this visit to Calke - #2 fruit and veg
                                                            #3 decay, decoration, details