Friday, October 27, 2006

Tales of Slovenia..

I've been absent. I've walked under wide skies in an alpine valley; I've walked in golden woods to a magical waterfall hidden in a grotto; I've stared down from a hill on the colours and shapes and patterns of vine yards, as they stretched and yawned in autumn sunlight...I've crossed bridges over gorges, watched trout swim in a river
....AND I've been eating and talking and drinking and laughing.

I returned home on Wednesday from Slovenia; it was the happiest of times, with good friends in a fascinating land of contrasts. There were mountains and lakes, waterfalls, alpine valleys; the trees, stunning in colours of autumn....
And then, like magic, there was the fairytale city of Ljubliana. More to come..

Monday, October 16, 2006

Four Out Of Five Fifteen Minute Stories Left To Enjoy

Tomorrow afternoon at 3:30pm, I'll make sure that I'm sitting in the kitchen ready to listen to the Radio 4 short story.
Each afternoon this week, Radio 4 runs a programme "Manchester: Original Modern Stories" in conjunction with Manchester Literature Festival 2006.
They're producing five fifteen minute stories about places Mancunians may walk past each day and never actually see, never actually think about... These include Chethams Library, M/Chester Police Museum, the Godlee Observatory, Sangam Restaurant in Rusholme and The Gaskell House. The places chosen have all been important in various ways; life-changing decisions may have been taken within their walls, or private dramas acted out inside them.
Five writers from the city wrote the stories; they are Jackie Kay, Sophie Hannah ( daughter of Adele Geras ) Nicholas Royle , Rajeev Balasubramanyam and tomorrow is the turn of Amanda Dalton.
There is a website for the Festival on:

The Delicious Company Of Joan Bakewell ( without mentioning Frank Muir's famous quote...)

Chester LitFest is still very much ON.
Still to come, amongst others, are George Galloway, George Alagiah, George Monbiot.
And looking at the numbers of folk attending events and listening to their comments, it's been a highly successful Festival. See

We've discovered some fascinating things. Here are some of them.
Whose greatest fear is to be on a train....bookless? Who thinks school reunions console us, because by being there, we know we' ve survived? Who knows the words of countless Carols and sings them lustily? And who saved her Biba boots for her daughter?
Here's a clue: On Friday, Joan Bakewell visited us at The Grosvenor Museum. She's been one of the UK's most respected commentators, presenters and journalists for forty years. She's beguiled us with her intellect, her humour and her natural ease with people. And of course, we've envied her that style, that unquestionable beauty.
YES, we discovered fascinating things about Joan. She's lived in the same house in Primrose Hill for over forty years. She loves Schubert, Dylan and Peggy Lee. She's read " Great Expectations" over and over again. And, she says, she grows wistful at the sight of an Austin 7, chuckles at antimacassars, relishes cream teas and scones...
But on to the basic facts of Joan's history. Folk will particularly remember " Late Night Lineup" when Joan was the first female TV presenter and also " Reports Action" which was a pioneering interactive audience programme. Also memorable are Radio 4's "PM" programme and other series, such as " Heart of the Matter". More recently there was " Belief" and Joan's own series called "My Generation" .
Our evening with Joan was fun and informative, always a great combination; the smiling exiting audience said they'd enjoyed themselves hugely. And I was lucky enough to meet Joan beforehand as I introduced her to the audience; I discovered that she knows Chester, having lived as a child in Stockport, attending Stockport High, before Newnham College, Cambridge, in the era of Michael Frayne, Peter Hall and Jonathan Miller.
Joan's latest book is " The View from here" published earlier this year. It's inspired by her Guardian column " Just 70" ( named tongue-in-cheek after the teen mag " Just 17")
The book is, in many ways, Joan's personal history, interlaced with vivid cultural comments. It discusses such diverse topics as the nature of Faith, what it means to be British, how older people engage with the world, how, indeed, how hard it is, to put eye makeup on, when our eyesight is not what it was. And there's more in the book, too, of those fascinating facts.....
Joan, she says, has a fondness for many of the old ways...including the wearing of aprons. ( You'll have to read the book for more on that...) She prefers swinging in a hammock to too much gardening, she hoards letters in shoeboxes, decorous ones between her parents, along with her own throbbing love letters. And as we all discover (with the arrival of those Museums of Childhood ) Joan has this growing awareness that much of her life is turning up in Museums...
" The view from here" is a treat of a book. It's a positive ( but also gently honest book) about ageing. And it's worthwhile taking a good long view.

The event was sponsored by the Friends of Chester Literature Festival. They're a group of folk who support the Festival in many ways, eg by stewarding, collecting tickets, helping with refreshments and at the Festival Book Swap. They also arrange priority bookings and trips out. Recently they watched Shakespeare at Stratford and "The History Boys" ( Alan Bennett ) at M/Chester's Lowry Theatre. They can be reached on the Festival website as quoted above.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Sunday Afternoon With Queen Helen....

We've just been to see Helen Mirren's wonderful portrait of " The Queen" in Stephen Frears film released a couple of weeks ago. It's a treat; we enjoyed every second.
The film tells what happened in the days after Princess Diana's death at the end of August 1997.

I imagine for many folk it's the same scenario, ie you clearly remember exactly WHERE you were when you heard the news. I was with my brother and family in Warwick; we were woken early by Tom, aged eleven, ( apparently he'd been watching TV since dawn, becoming desparate to pass on the news ) We then sat for an hour in our nighties ( some, I hasten to add, in pyjamas ) glued to TV, with no thought of breakfast, despite the fact my sister-in-law is one of the best cooks we know...

AND WHY is this film so special? Well, there's a stunning cast for a start. And Mirren is superb as Elizabeth . In fact, Peter Travers, in "Rolling Stone", calls her: " Acting Royalty". Too right she is; and she certainly warrants an Oscar for this.

The film opens at a portrait painting session; Mirren's mouth, eyes, her bearing, is pure Queen Elizabeth. She has Elizabeth's walk, her mannerisms, her reactions.

And as the film progresses, you see a strong lady with a vulnerable streak.
You see a woman steeped in traditions, who suddenly discovers (through the death of her erstwhile daughter-in-law) that her country has moved on.
You see a woman who is torn, uncertain how to approach this change ( she's told that 1 in 4 of her subjects think she should go).
You see a woman whose family is watched by the world, a family whose emotions and relationships are studied in detail.......but if it's stripped to its bones, its a family like any other, full of love, loyalty, conflict, difficulties.

One of the most striking scenes occurs a day or so after Diana's death.
The Queen is in turmoil at Balmoral, unsure whether to remain in Scotland or to take Blair's advice and return to London.
She drives alone into the Highlands, but is forced eventually to a halt after her car becomes stuck in a river. ( IF this sort of behaviour IS true of the Queen, the daredevil driving etc, then it really IS an eyeopener. )
However, in the mountains, Elizabeth meets a stag, probably one Philip stalked earlier, and she's mesmerised by its beauty. Once rescued, Elizabeth hears that a stag ( this one?) has been killed by the guest of a neighbouring lord. She is mortified and drives round to his Estate where she sees the dead animal , realising that it must have been wounded before its eventual death. And she's profoundly moved. But Elizabeth, being Elizabeth, remembers her place; on speaking to the lord's helpful gillie, she sends "congratulations " to the delighted Investment Banker who fired the shot.. And all this as she desparately questions her role in the monarchy, and the death of her daughter-in-law, who as so many were saying, was hunted, then wounded and driven to her own death..

The supporting cast were exceptional;Helen McCrory was a brilliant Cherie Blair. Her relationship with Tony was well drawn, both her strengths and personal ambition for Tony was obvious. Sylvia Simms played an excellent Queen Mother, with her grimaces, her asides, giving a believable portrait of her relationship with her daughter. Michael Sheen as Blair was stunning, from his first nervous meeting after his Election, when Elizabeth declared he was merely one of ten PM's she'd known (from Mrs T to Churchill, in tophat and frock coat) to the rise in his status, the gaining of his confidence...

A superb film. I particularly enjoyed too the music by the composer Andre Desplat; each piece seemed exactly right with its scene. Also the camera Diana and Dodie, driven from the Ritz to their deaths in the tunnel, were accompanied by a dramatic sequence of flashbacks of Diana's life....
I cant help but feel that Stephen Frears and his team deserve all the accolades going.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006


Along with the usual post yesterday morning, I received a postcard from an old friend called Lavinia. Lavinia was a neighbour who left to live in the wilds of Wales several years ago. She's a painter; a friend has one of her lovely lilly paintings on her wall.

Later last night, I watched "Death of a President", the new film about a sniper killing George W. Bush. It is directed by Gabriel Range. And there's been much talk about this film.
Should it, they say, have been made in the first place? Is it tasteless, as countless Americans, who have already viewed the film are saying? Was it outrageous to predict something that could so easily happen? Does the beauty of its photography, its excellent characterisation, the way it portrays George Bush ( as a dignified statesman who works crowds admirably, who has a charisma we may never have credited ) make it particularly valuable?? Are the critical voices the right ones ( those who see it as an outrage) or are those others who see it as a very clever film ( real footage, imagined dialogue, gripping production ) viewing it as it was intended?

Why, you wonder, did I mention the postcard from Lavinia? What's its connection with that notorious film? ......It was a publicity card for "Death of a President"; on the front of it is the same horrifying Still that was featured on a whole page of The Times Culture supplement this w/end. And Lavinia is the mother of Gabriel, the film's director and she's proud ( as is natural ) of her son's artistic achievments.

I haven't seen Gabriel for years; he was at school with my sons and I have photos of them all playing rounders, eating ice cream in the garden. I wonder if Lavinia remembers the evening years ago, when she came to collect Gabriel at 6pm and we were still sitting in the garden at midnight, drinking wine and talking, while the children sat lazily around us??

Time passes fast. How corny, how naff that sounds. But it really does. And our children (who, ten minutes ago, were charging round the garden on bikes, who were kissing first girlfriends when they thought we weren't looking..) go off to lead their own lives , some in distant parts of the world, some just around the corner, some at the other end of the country.
But wherever they are, they have their own lives, with their own experiments, decisions and dreams, their own risks, challenges, choices to make.
Just as Lavinia's son has gone on to do. Just as all our children go on to do.

" You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which
you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make
them like you,
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living
arrows are sent forth..."

Kahil Gibran. "The Prophet" ( 1923 )

Monday, October 09, 2006

ABOVE US ONLY SKY: Music at L'pool John Lennon

Yesterday we made a trip to John Lennon airport to collect my brother and sisterinlaw enroute from Pisa.

While there we heard about a happening taking place there last week.
The New York musicians "Bang on a Can Allstars" performed their "Music for Airports" in the departure lounge! The piece was composed by Brian Eno in 1978 and until last week, this live version ( created by Bang on a Can Allstars ) had never been heard before in a UK airport....

" Bang on a Can" are a brilliant mix of rock band, classical ensemble and part jazz band. They performed at the Philharmonic , L'pool last week ( as well as in the departure lounge! ) and soon they return to L'pool with their modern opera" The Carbon Copy Building".

The airport recital was the initial event in the Autumn Season of the Liverpool Performs 2006 artistic programme. It's presented by the Liverpool Culture Company.

I just wish our pickup duty had been earlier in the week!

Saturday, October 07, 2006

I still haven't mentioned Willy Russell's appearence on Wednesday evening; this was a major part of the LitFest. 2 or 3 years ago he came to the Gateway Theatre where he entertained a packed house with his readings; this week he entertained around 300 in the University's Binks Lecture theatre. He was made very welcome and will hopefully return to Chester before long.

Willy read, of course, from several of his ( and the audiences) favourites...bits from " Shirley Valentine" ( where, as Shirley, he talked to a kitchen wall, then to a rock on a Greek beach) and we were once again both amused and moved by her/his(!) words. I imagine this was one of the first "one woman" shows. He also told us how when the play was produced in Liverpool, "Shirl" was taken ill ( the actress Noreen Kershaw had peritonitis) and for several weeks, Willly himself stepped into the breech( or was it the dress?) saving the day ( or was it the night?) by playing her part. He must've been successful as later he was awardedThe Best Supporting Actress!

We also heard bits from Willy's novel " The Wrong Boy" published in 2000.
It's written in the voice of "a normal boy from a normal town" ; this is Failsworth, Lancashire where I've never been but feel as though I have. Once again, you laugh and you (almost) cry, as you read about the fly catching incident, meet the sexy grandad who falls off the roof and best of all ( I think! ) the Transvestite Nativity Play. This stars the delectable Twinky ( really Terry ) McDevitt as the Virgin Mary. He's picked to star because he skips in the playground, links arms with girls, gives brilliant impressions of Petula Clark and Lulu. On stage, Twinky, looking like a cross between Shirley Bassey and The Pope,upstages everyone, until the disaster at the end of the performance. Willy Russell's first novel and it's fabulous!

Yesterday when talking about the Little Theatre, I forgot to include WillyR's " Educating Rita" in the list of future productions". Margorie Alexander ( who played "Shirley Valentine" several years ago ) directs Fiona Wheatcroft as Rita and Malcolm Gledhill as her Professor. This takes place at Chester Theatre Club in the Spring.
And last Wednesday, during Willy Russell's visit to the University, Margorie and Fiona met Willy and he kindly signed their Rita scripts. ..

Friday, October 06, 2006


Last night I visited the Little Theatre in Gloucester St ( also known as Chester Theatre Club) Ray's been an acting member for several years; whether he's acting or not, I see all their productions.
The current play is Keith Waterhouse's " Jeffrey Barnard is unwell".It's brilliantly directed by Lisa Miller; this was her first full production. Tony O'Byrne plays a superb Jeffrey, assisted by a talented cast of four, Louise Gornall, Alison Knott, Chris Bradley and Anthony Wheatcroft ( who has, incredibly, 22 changes of character and mood! )
The set too was excellent , in fact the whole of the production team left us with a first class play.

The company was formed in 1944 and their present building, aVictorian school in the midst of an area of terraced streets, was bought by the club in 1962.
Much of its original character remains;it's a fascinating atmospheric place, with a friendly bar area, a raked auditorium seating 126 people and a large clubroom used for club evenings, meetings, interval refreshments.
Wandering round, I've peeped into the Wardrobe, crammed with every conceivable prop ( really! ) the Green Room with its lights, mirrors, rails of clothes and at the stage itself. It's a happy well organized place and well worth a visit!

The plays this season are: "Arcadia" ( Tom Stoppard ) "Gaslight" (Patrick Hamilton) "Theft" ( Eric Chappell) and " Love on the dole" ( Ronald Gow/Walter Greenwood)
The Box Office is at 01244 322674. Do go!

Thursday, October 05, 2006


I'd envisaged writing daily but somehow I don't think that will be...
Two contrasting CHester LitFest events the past evenings:I've been sitting at the door collecting tickets. I'll write about one of the evenings now.

On Tuesday the poet UA Fanthorpe came to the University, along with her partner, Rosie Bailey. It was a superb session;UA writes her poetry and Rosie reads some of it ( "performs" it, in fact) in a voice that resonates, has its own special timbre..
The poetry is moving, yet there's humour, and amazing observations about people/life in her "extrovert dog of a father ...ragtime blazerand swimming a swiss roll under his arm" and her mother"who couldn't quite relax into the joke", who was " best at friendships with chars...or very far-off foreigners" and who had stategies "for making happiness keep its distance"... .
Together the two women painted pictures, evoked memories, made us wistful, made us smile. And their pauses...their quietnessbetween poems was wonderful; a companionable, womanly silence.

One of UA's pieces described the now almost extinct experience of WASHING UP. Weird, because I've recently decided that dishwashers have a lot to answer for.
As a child, I spent countless Sunday afternoons, Easter afternoons, Christmas Day afternoons, hiding in the kitchen (under the table usually) while my mother and my aunts washed up; their conversation was always nothing less than riveting! I learned more family history in those sessions than was probably good for me...Now we merely stack ( probably " throw" ) stuff in the dishwasher, and the chat amongst the soapsuds and Irish linen tea towels, the gossip over the carcass, the juicy gasps over the trifle, are gone into the dishwasherfor ever, along with the gravy, the Birds custard( "startling" yellow, my mother called it) and the sherry ( what else?) glasses.
The very 1st story I wrote( on starting Gladys Mary Coles writing classes several years ago ) was based on all this...I think it started with a few images, like my mother's blue flowered tea cups ( Bells china; I have them now! ) bobbing up and down in a bowl of soapy water, the memory of one aunt who was " difficult",another who told mouthwatering tales of her wartime lover ...Family stuff so often produces the best stimulus for a spot of Creative Writing!
Think I'll revisit this story one day soon!!

Sunday, October 01, 2006


A new experience, this blogging! Hopefully it will be a good one. Suitable day too, the first of the month and today seems like the first day of autumn. It's bright but chill, a time of year I've always found a little intoxicating. Promises abound ( just as much as those Spring ones..)