Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Damon Albarn's Dr Dee at the ENO (Review)

On Monday night, I had a night off being a mum. My friend Miss L and I went to the opera. More specifically, we went to the opening night of Dr Dee, Damon Albarn's modern opera about John Dee. It was one of those nights which just worked. My husband organised for us to have cocktails beforehand at L'Atelier De Joel Robuchon which is a Michelin starred restaurant (and hearing the words "there is no bill ladies, it's been taken care of" is surely the nicest phrase to hear upon requesting the bill) and then we were upgraded to the second row of the stalls (one row back from the orchestra pit) rather than the tickets we had paid for up in the gods when we arrived at the theatre.

Such great seats surely enhanced our appreciation of Albarn's work, as, no doubt, did the fact that it was opening night and therefore our seats were among the press and invited seats, so we were mingling with the likes of Alex James and the other one from Blur, as well as a panoply of minor actors and other celebs (identified in the press pictures afterwards as random fashion designers, bit part actors and Professor Brian Cox).

I would go so far as to state that I highly suspect that had we been seated in the gods, we would have struggled to follow what was going on, given that the vocals were extremely difficult to hear, aside from the repeated "John Dee". And that, I have to say, was obvious, given that was the title of the thing. Aside from that, there were occasional helpful hints and motifs in the form of text beamed onto the screen, but a careful studying of the programme was required to keep abreast of the action (and we were close enough to see the expressions on their faces).

That said, Dr Dee was visually stunning. I particularly enjoyed the way time was portrayed, both in the opening sequence where English history was rolled back through the decades and centuries to Elizabethan times, and during the performance where there was a repeated motif using shadows and paper to reflect the passing of years of various characters. I also thought the use of the musicians as part of the set was intriguing, particularly Albarn himself who moved in and out of the narrative, suspended above the action in his jeans, trainers and leather jacket, with his guitar. (See him top left in the image above) I was more mystified by the use of helium balloons tied to or held by the actors and have struggled to consider what they may have represented and the scene where Dee must share his wife was disturbingly haunting. I may not have followed what the actors were signing, but the acting left little to the imagination.

Dr Dee is at the ENO London Coliseum now.

(photo borrowed from the Telegraph - although I don't think their reviewer actually went to the performance, not unless two rooks are a flock and a handful of empty seats can be described as a swathe)

Friday, 8 June 2012

The Weekly

All weeks should include two bank holidays. Wednesday felt like Monday and then it was the weekend. As a bonus, this weekend was also half term, which meant that my teaching friends were around to hang out with. In other exciting news, I went on a bus on my own with Pip in her pram, and bought an amazing vintage dress (post coming soon once I've taken some photos in better light - if you follow me on twitter you may already have seen some rather poorly light snaps taken in the shop). The shop itself is a newly opened vintage shop just down the road, which pleased me no end, as I do like living close to a well edited vintage shop.

This weekend, the baby meets her third great-grandmother (and second great-grandfather). This time, it is my maternal grandmother and I look forward to having a photo of 4 generations of daughters. It also happens to my grandmother's birthday. On one of my excursions pottering around my local shops, I came across these cards by Anna Wright. I fell in love with her drawings, and could have happily bought the whole series and framed them for my wall. Which if we did not live in a rented flat where we have yet to even hang the paintings and prints we already own, I would have done. Thankfully, I am starting to learn my limits. Instead, I bought a couple. A Prickle of Hedgehogs for my sister; the Chinoise Ladies for my grandmother. 

Her present? Jubilee Lines. A book of poetry commissioned by Carol Ann Duffy for the diamond jubilee. 60 poems, one for every year of the Queen's reign, written about that year, by contemporary poets. My birth year is by Simon Armitage, about the Falklands. I do hope that Grannie hasn't already got it, or read it. It was she and my grandfather who introduced me to poetry as a young child (literally, about 3 or 4, and we had books of poems for 4 year olds and so on) and with whom I have shared years of poetry books and discussions. Carol Ann Duffy is a particular favourite of mine. I have written, I'm sure (although I cannot find it) of stumbling across a collaboration at Glastonbury between Duffy and jazz musician Eliana Tomkins called Rapture, where first Duffy recited the poem, then Tomkins played/sang her version, accompanied by a guitarist. I had left my husband and friends doing their own "thing"and had wondered off on my own, and it was the perfect thing to come across. I remember being particularly taken with the juxtaposition of poety, dried mud, wellies and waterproofs, listening to words of text messages being sent like bullets, the phone as a gun in a holster, words able to wound. 


There the great gathered with gallant allies, 
massing on the foreshore, fitted out marvellously. 
Dukes and statesmen, some strutting on their steeds, 
Earls of England, armies of archers, 
stout sheriffs shouting sharp instructions 
to the troops who rallied before the Round Table, 
assigning soldiers to certain lords 
on the seafront, in the south, at their sovereign's say so. 
The barges being ready they rowed to the beach 
to ferry aboard horses and fine battle-helmets, 
loading the livestock in their livery and tack, 
then the tents, the tough shields, tools to lay siege, 
canopies, kit bags, exquisite coffers, 
ponies, hackneys, horses-of-armour . . . 
thus the stuff of stern knights was safely stored. 
And when all stock was stowed they stalled no longer, 
timing their untying with the turn of the tide; 
ships of all sizes ran up their sails, 
all unfurling at the moment of their monarch's command, 
and hands at the gunwales hauled up the great anchors, 
watermen wise to the ways of the waves. 
The crew at the bow began coiling in the cables 
of the carriers and cutters and Flemish crafts; 
they drew sails to the top, they tended the tiller, 
they stood along the starboard singing their shanties.

So the port's proudest ships found plentiful depth 
and surged at full sail into changeable seas. 
Without anyone being hurt they hauled in the skiffs: 
shipmates looked sharp to shutter the portholes 
and tested depth by lowering lead from the luff. 
They looked to the lodestar as daylight lessened, 
reckoned a good route when mist rose around them, 
used their knowing with the needle-and-stone through the night, 
when for dread of the dark they dropped their speed, 
all the seadogs striking the sails at a stroke.

Task Force
Simon Armitage

Chinoise Ladies
Strike a Pose
The Crew
A Prickle of Hedgehogs
Speed Dating

By Anna Wright via here and here

Sponsored Post: Dishwashing Expert

An unlikely post, perhaps, but our dishwasher is broken. We came back from the hospital after Pip was born and the first time we tried to use it, it refused to start, flashed some lights and started beeping ominously. After a while we identified that it needed salt. I wish I'd known about this website which can help identify your dishwasher problems (without having to try and locate the manual). Not only can it assist with dishwasher troubleshooting but it actually answers questions that the manuals probably don't, such as why there may be traces of rust on some items which should be rust free.

Turns out adding salt didn't help. The repair man was called by our landlord. Whatever he did didn't fix it. He was called again. That still didn't work. Apparently the landlord has decided to replace it. We are still waiting for them to decide which dishwasher and come to install it. It needs to be a slimline one, as that is what they will be replacing. I think we could have chosen one and installed it quicker than them. Six weeks on and still no dishwasher.

Thankfully, until then, I have a husband.

This is a sponsored post (but our dishwasher really is broken)

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Diamond Jubilee

We are a divided household on all matters royal. Personally, I love history and tradition and celebrations and was keen to revel in the excitement of being in London for the Diamond Jubilee. Marto on the other hand is not so much an anti-fan as decidedly negative about the monarchy as a whole. Still, I wasn't about to let such a weekend pass without some kind of celebration. 

We reached a compromise. A lunch billed as a celebration of the first anniversary of Delilah living with us. Marto used the first two courses as an opportunity to open a bunch of old wines he and a friend bought a while ago. I used the pudding course as an opportunity to be jubilee themed, making a patriotic pavlova and serving it on jubilee plates and napkins. The cheese course was neutral.

I haven't had as much time as normal, I can't think why, to read about the weekend, to watch programmes about it and look at photographs. I'm not even sure exactly what events are planned, aside from a flotilla tomorrow which I will try and watch, because it appeals to something in me. The romantic perhaps? Plus, I love boats. It reminds me a little of the call for small boats to sail to Dunkirk and the procession of them gathering in the Thames and sailing in company for the meeting in Ramsgate before navigating the channel and helping rescue troops from the beaches of Normandy in a heroic act which helped raise the morale of the nation. {One of my favourite books is a children's book by Hester Burton, In Spite of All Terror. The description of Ben joining his grandfather in the 'little ships of Dunkirk' resonated far beyond my reading of the book. So much so, in fact, that I wrote my university dissertation on children's literature and the Second World War, with In Spite of All Terror as one of my key texts. But that's another story, for another time.}

Perhaps what appeals to me the most about the jubilee is the opportunity to reminisce, to celebrate the past as the present. It's not about the monarchy, per se, but British history, of the passing of time but also continuity. Much like marriage and our own families, the monarchy represents the same to me but on a national scale. This jubilee ties me to the jubilee of my parents' generation (they were graduating from university and were married the year after). To street parties and beacons and what feels like the definition of  British *history* and *celebration*. For no other reason than any other wedding or anniversary, and the buzz of excitement, because at the very least, everyone likes a party and a bonus day off work.

And this photo, to me, represents all of this. An ordinary couple, a lifetime of commitment. To each other, as well as to the nation. Perhaps that's why I find the Queen so reassuring. I'm not sure whether this photo was taken to celebrate their own personal anniversary, or whether it was released to commemorate the jubilee. Hell, I couldn't even find a photo credit. It doesn't show a queen, there is no glamour or glitz to it, just a (well taken) snap shot. And, in the first photo, an amazing jacket being worn by Princess Elizabeth (I assume it was taken prior to her coronation based on her outfit as it appears more 1940s than 1950s to me, although I am very willing to stand corrected). 

Anyway, happy jubilee weekend, whether you are celebrating or not.

{I found this photo on google images with no photo credit. If anyone knows of one, please email and I will add it. I can't imagine the shopping website's facebook page where it was posted was the original photographer, but if it was, I will gladly update this to include a link}