Thursday, June 28, 2007

"Watching The Lord Chamberlain's Men"

We sat on deckchairs today, a friend and I, beside the City Walls.
We sat in the shadow of the Cathedral on Cathedral Green.
And as we waited for our treat to begin, we heard a choir singing, an organ playing and birds swooped above us in heavy leafy oak trees.

And then our treat began; people passed by, stopped for a while, went on with their day.
A nun paused on the Walls, hugging her shopping as she watched and her eyes giggled.
A girl, beside her, clapped her hands in delight; her African bracelets rattled down her arm, gingery curls danced round her pretty face.
And a tall man with long yellow hair shrieked aloud with laughter.

The "Lord Chamberlain's Men" had come; they were our treat.
They're a travelling theatre company, all young men, who carry on traditions begun when the first LCM company formed in 1597. They present Shakespeare outdoors; their set is plain and effective and their costumes just right.They revise the ideals of the original plays, bringing them back to life with humour and drama and vibrant acting.
Today they chose " Romeo and Juliet" and their words rang through sultry June air, centuries after they were written..

There was the audience: a seriously-moustachioed student following the text ( rarely looking at the stage...such a waste!.)
There was an elderly couple mouthing romantic Shakespearian words...sipping wine and coffee and holding each other's slender, suntanned, gnarled old fingers..
There were thirty-somethings wrapped up in each other.
There was a longhaired mother in a scarlet dress, feeding her baby, her eyes bright beneath a battered sunhat as she stared at the stage...
And there were longlegged teenagers sprawling on the grass; open-mouthed, bewildered, thrilled at this newness, thrilled at the wonder of oldness...

Catch these Men if you can. Find them on

Monday, June 25, 2007

" The Repeating Of Family History"

Yesterday, to the Yorkshire Dales to hear the reading of the Banns for our son, R, and his partner, K, who marry at **Church of the Holy Epiphany, Austwick, later this year.

And just a handful of miles away, my folks were married in Marton, 61 years ago this past March.
My father, like me, was "Cheshire born,Cheshire bred" ( Don't they say: "Strong in th'arm, thick in th'head" ? or IS it t'other way round?) ...but my mother came from a village on the borders of Yorks/Lancs. Although she moved to Cheshire on her marriage, her heart was forever in the Dales or cycling near Downham or ambling to Blacko Tower or walking up Pendle Hill in search of The Lancashire Witches..
And I know it was THAT part of the world where my parent's love grew, where a pretty fantastic partnership was forged.

I am glad that their spirits will be with us when R marries K.
More glad than I can possibly say.
**Picture of the church: B.Chandler.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

" Jeffrey Jellico's In The Soup..."A Short Story.

* Soup Tin by Andy Warhol.

In the words of a certain TV programme, I've started ( this story) so I shall have to finish ( this story) ....
But seriously, this long-ago period fascinates me.
This story's a mix of make believe/memories/mine/friends/other folk's.
It's imagined stuff, but it's got characters half-known, characters half-created.
So here's the start of a story; you're probably FAR too young to read this, but it' here anyway....

At 23, Churchill Avenue, Mrs Potter (89) lost her only child Colin (59) to smallpox.
Brazil won the World Cup, Ursula Andress** emerged from the sea, and Jack Kennedy waged a Battle of Nerves with Nikita Khrushchev who wore a fluffy hat and made me think of Davy Crockett.
“And" said my mother at breakfast: “We’re teetering. We’re teetering on The Brink. The World could be gone by dinnertime”
So we ate a hearty breakfast ( just in case), picked up satchels and we teetered to school.

But at dinnertime in the canteen, things were as usual. We ate Spam fritters, baked beans, spotted dick and custard; we drank water in orange plastic beakers, which tasted of chlorine if you bit the rim by mistake.
And Roger Cooper (with lisp) swore every swear word he knew ( with lisp); 9, counting Blimey O’Riley, which Kevin O'Riley swore wasn't one.
And Carol Anne Bentley, a platinum blonde who always went home after dinner to have her hair ribbons done, said: "There’s a stink under the table, like m' Granddad’s lav”….
Then we stared through the windows, watched Susan Stout’s dad fall off his bike and a cabbage rolled out of his basket on his handlebars and two dogs had it off by a tree and everyone shouted: " Woa, they're Rudies!” until Sandra Biggs was sick in the water jug and Mr Hughes the Head threatened us from his Bible.
And all the time, we waited at last for The World To End.
But it didn’t.
At least ours didn’t.

But later that day, Jeffrey Jellico got murdered by his aunty.

Jeffrey Jellico lived across the road; he smelt of damp blankets and wore glasses with pink frames. His hair was the orange of carrots and he had a limp; he had all those things. He also had a huge black wart on his hand. He rubbed it regularly with his rubber at school. Then he licked it. He really did.

But out in the world, stuff happened. Andy Warhol painted soup tins in New York City; pictures of them, not ON them. I coloured labels on our tins, any old tins, but my mother said to get cracking, feed the dog, lay the flippin' table. ( Flippin' :my word..)

In our house, we had Heinz tomato soup every Saturday. We sat in the kitchen at the blue Formica table and my father read The Express and my mother fiddled with pin curls in her hair while she read “The Woman’s Weekly”.
On Saturdays, they went to the” King Alfred” public house with Jean and Bill from up the road. Sometimes they went for plaice and chips at The Rialto Café. There were waitresses in black dresses who had hair like filmstars.

Jean wore flowery pinafore dresses and pointy bras.
Once Jean farted, very delicately, as she arrived at our front door; Bill, Jean’s husband, took her home immediately because she was so embarrassed. It was a very quiet, small fart; the size our cat made while looking out of the window and it was nothing at all to worry about.
Bill, a chunky man in corduroy, was purple faced, with hair the colour of Golden Shred marmalade. It was wispy, thin; it had to be combed regularly to cover his pate. Bill was devoted to Jean and would do anything for her; this was made clear when she farted.
“ She’ll never get over this”” Bill said, so he revved up his Morris and they were gone.

Often when they came back from the “ King Alfred”, my parents giggled a lot and sometimes fell over on the stairs a lot and their bed often creaked a lot late into the night.
My father said they’d given squeaky mice a bed for the night and the mice wouldn’t pipe down; we were most impressed at their kindness.
And one Sunday morning, I found my mother’s corset hanging on the banisters. Its suspenders clanked as I past. Next morning my mother had violet shadows under her eyes and their room smelt sort of musky. It was different again by Monday after they’d had the windows open all day on Sunday.

And in Liverpool at the Cavern, the Beatles sang “ Love Me Do” and my father blocked our fireplace in with hardboard the day my brother spilt Lucozade on the kitchen lino so that our brown Clarks sandals stuck to it.
And one hot July Saturday, my mother bought me a salmon pink training bra in Marks and Spencer and the next Monday, I wore the bra beneath my white school shirt, felt myself occasionally, touched my nipples to assess their pertness and I peeped down my shirt at myself between lessons to see if the bra was working properly.
And it was.
And the World, teetering on its brink, never ended. And I knew the bra was working properly when my Uncle Stan inhaled his Senior Service and choked: “This lass needs watching! She’s Coming Up Womanly…”
And I was.
I was Teetering On Womanly.

But then...
Jeffrey Jellico got murdered by his aunty.

To Be Continued.
** See my previous Posting ( Archives. Friday Dec 15th: " Being Honey Ryder" )

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

"These Times We Live In.. Not Only, But Also.

My tea arrives in my bedroom.
( OK.....I AM very spoilt...)
A swift early morning glance at The Times:

2000 criminals to be released early to ease overcrowding.
Over a million children live in " severe poverty" ( that's households with less than £134 weekly )
Sir Salman Rushdie's "gong" has inflamed the Muslim world.
31 children taken into care after paedophile ring smashed by British police.
AND Claude Monet's "Waterloo Bridge" was sold at Christie's yesterday for £17.9 million..

BUT ALSO: A Dutch man was jailed yesterday for 8 weeks. When driving his car, he'd steered with his knees while eating spaghetti from a pan.

AND NOT ONLY that, but:
D'you remember Princess Diana's 17 Godchildren? (They were bequeathed 25% of her "goods and chattels" but merely inherited the odd prezy wrapped in newsprint??)
Well! NOW they've been invited to BUY ( yep, buy!) a ticket for the Diana Memorial Concert in July..

AND ALSO: Paul Potts, opera singer winner of TV's " Britain's Got Talent" , declares that the Judges ( Amanda Holden, Piers Morgan, Simon Cowell ) are: " some of the most feared judges on the PLANET.."
( Sweet Amanda, playful Piers, sexy Simon??!)
But he can be forgiven: he's spending part of his £100,000 winnings on much-needed cosmetic dentistry...

AND The world's oldest man Tomoji Tanabe 111 ( born 1895, in Japan) said: " I've been around too long. I'm sorry..."
( I can think of younger, more suitable candidates who should be saying this, can't you? )

ALSO yesterday, Barbra Striesand held her celebrated concert in Zurich....
BUT Oh dear, her voice, it's reported: " showed its age...a hoarse, rasping tone"..... although on hearing " Smile", " a wave of quiet rapture rippled through the hall..." ( WOW!)

AND another thing:
A moth....yes, a moth in California ( its ancestors came from Oz and developed a taste for Napa Valley's finest grapes)... this little creature is NOW said to be generating PANIC throughout the State..

AND ALSO, d'you know, a fossil found in a cave in SE China, reveals that 2 million years ago, the panda was a pygmy..( HAVE I read this right?)

And lastly, Bernard Manning, 76 year old controversial Northern Club comedian ( he died yesterday) is quoted in his Obituary as saying: " Mother was 95 when she died. And I used to carry her downstairs to make my breakfast" ...
Maybe my husband should carry ME downstairs to make the tea...

BUT : As I said, It's These Times We Live In.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

" Words And Biscuits....Some More Delicacies"

Yesterday in a pretty Edwardian house near the river, several women, collectively called " Words And Biscuits", met up for the afternoon...
And on the way home, we were remembering:
In the frosty first week of a new Millenium, I wrote nine letters to nine friends.
All were women, all very different ( their ages, interests, lives generally...) but all enjoyed writing.
In those days, I was computer illiterate:
I was SCARED stiff of my husband's mouse ( eek!)...
AND emails, I said, were for teenagers/tycoons only...
AND Windows were something you looked through and cleaned ( hmm....occassionally)
I had a gut feeling ( and my gut feelings are actually often right)
I had a gut feeling that these particular women would "bond", would ignite each other's creativity, would also appreciate a very good laugh together.
SO..... with my best black italic pen, I got busy writing those letters and THIS was my suggestion: that we meet up every month or so, at home, to share our work and also our friendship.
And seven years on, we go from strength to strength. We really do.
There are nine of us now ( one went to NZ) and some are poets, some write prose and some dabble in both. And our work is diverse and so, too, are our successes, aspirations, our experience...
We've been broadcast on BBC NW radio ( ten times) and we've done gigs for our LitFest Friends and for a varied selection of Cheshire W.I's. ( see Archives, Feb 7th: " Singing Jerusalem in Saughall Village)
We've had happy times and sad ones, we've occassionally shed tears, we've often been helpless with laughter...and we've written and read and sipped tea and gorged on biscuits.
We met yesterday, just six of us this time and yet again, shared a lovely few hours...

SO: Words And Biscuits! Long May We Scribble And Nibble!!
The print is by Privat Livemont.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

" Tasting Delicious Things"

I've had tastes of some interesting things this week:
Food, Plays, and a Book by a writer whose books I wish I'd met years ago.

First, the Food:
20 years ago, a lively French Restaurant opened in my city. We went often, sometimes alone, sometimes with family or friends; we always had a great time.
BUT our city bursts with excellent eating places and as we like trying what's new, I suppose we'd neglected Francs Restaurant ( ) recently.
THAT was a mistake.
Francs has had an expensive facelift and looks marvellous. And it's still its friendly happy self, the sort of place you relax in and laugh in and chatter in...
AND on Mondays at present ( from 5pm) Francs celebrates its 20 th anniversary with a menu offering delicious food at 1987 prices!
Certainly worth a taste, I promise!

Second, the Plays:
Last night, Chester Theatre Club directors introduced members to their plays for next season.
AND some fabulous, varied choices.
They include: John Godber's " Happy Families", " What the butler saw" by Joe Orton, Strindberg's " Miss Julie", "A month of Sundays" by Bob Larbie, Pinter's " The Lover", also " Relative Values" by Noel Coward and JB Priestley's " Dangerous Corner"
Each director gave a resume and it's clear that there's a great season on the way.
( )

Third, the Book:
I have never read Edith Wharton before.
(THERE, I've admitted it. ...)
But my Book Club chose the wonderful " The Age of Innocence".
AND I read it.
AND I am hooked.


Thursday, June 07, 2007

"A Fine Northern Lass"

When a wartime schoolgirl, this woman rode her bike down country lanes, thinking "great thoughts and spouting pieces of poetry".
When a student ( reading English at Liverpool in the 1940's) this woman dreamed of being a headmistress, of travelling each summer in Europe, of embarking upon passionate love affairs...
But this woman had dramatic flair, she had imagination and a fine perception of people.
She had dignity, bearing and gravitas..
She also had a talent for mimicry and this talent gradually led her onto the stage...
And this woman loved the stage.
Never did she feel so alive as when she performed on a stage!
SO, obviously, A Big Decision had to be made!
After University, she took a year off to decide which path her life should follow.
AND thankfully, the stage beckoned in the form of work at the Liverpool Playhouse and the rest, as they say, is theatrical history...
And now this woman is almost as old as The Queen ( and she works equally as hard as The Queen)
She's been Hyacinth, Hettie, Miss Ruddock. She's been numerous others...

Yesterday I watched Katherine Patricia Routledge ( born Merseyside, 1929) perform on stage at The Lowry, Manchester, in an acclaimed production of Alan Bennett's thirty year old " Office Suite". ** ( see end of post)
This is a production brimming with Bennett's droll ( one could say) dangerously accurate view of northern people, from his vantage at a certain time, in a certain place. It's also a tasty helping of Bennett's appreciation of the commonplace, his crisp observations on Life and Its ( I think) Wonderful Ordinariness...
It's a double bill, comprising two short plays; these are " A visit from Miss Prothero" and " Green Forms".
The first play involves a bumptious lady, Miss P, who visits the home of a retired office colleague, the recently widowed Mr Dodsworth ( Bennett's names are always EXACTLY right, aren't they?). And the purpose of Miss P's visit is to subtly inform Mr D how very well his successor is doing, thus shattering the quiet contentment of poor Mr D's gentle life..
The second play " Green Forms" is set in an office where two women bicker and giggle, plot and scheme. And gradually, we see again the shattering of lives, the abrupt ending of two women's illusions...
In his writing, Bennett delights in The Northern Woman; he has vast experience of them ( see, for example, " Untold Stories" Faber and Faber, 2005) beginning with his mother, the indefatigable Lillian, and a trio of aunts ( Kathleen, Lemira, Eveline) Many of his characters are drawn from these people who passed noiselessly ( or otherwise) through his Leeds childhood, his youth...
And yesterday we saw an actress who epitomises these people, who thrills her audience with them ( thrills Bennett with them too, I imagine) ..whose acting UNDERSTANDS them...
** AND yes, I'm wondering...
WHAT did Bennett make of Ricky Gervais's "take" on secretaries and bosses and files and 9-5 Life?
Bennett and Gervais: 2 vastly different views of office work: its characters, its dialogues, its settings......its routines, pettiness, jealousies, its laughter, its stifling comfiness, its sheer sexiness...
Both productions were special to their eras, both were of their own time.
BUT both, I think, were successful because they captured the same timeless glimpses which different generations recognised, which resonated with us all...
Patricia Routledge appears at The Lowry until the end of the week.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

"Myths And Legends At The Salt Museum"

Today I've been writing poetry in the Salt Museum.
And I've also now met another Cheshire Poet Laureate.
Jo Bell, the present one ( see my previous post) ran a superb poetry workshop at the museum basing her session on " Myths and Legends of Cheshire" .
This theme coincided with a current exhibition on that topic, which runs at the Salt Museum until September 2nd.

In Cheshire, salt has been produced for over 2,000 years; the museum, based in Northwich for over a century, tells this story and shows us people whose lives (in various ways) were involved with salt.
Originally, the museum was in the local library ( the Brunner) but this actually subsided due to salt extraction.
In the 1970's, Cheshire County Council bought Weaver Hall, where both the Museum and the library have been housed since. ( see photo above: the museum's original title remains above its doors) Weaver Hall was once a workhouse; there is no trace of this now, although an exhibition depicting it remains.
The atmosphere throughout the museum is bright and spacious, its displays, compelling; we can, too, fully appreciate this attractive Grade 11 listed building.
The Myths and Legends Exhibition is a lively one; we see vivid pictures, read resumes of stories ranging from spine-chilling to mystifying to ( frankly) hilarious ones, we see colourful puppets and wonderful old books ; Jo Bell built our workshop on all this, throwing in a handful of fabulous exercises too, so that we enjoyed ( hugely) a satisfyingly creative time..

Writing poetry is not something I do very often, neither is visiting the Salt Museum ( in fact, I'd never been there before...) but I've had a lovely day.