Friday, June 24, 2005

A Midsummer Memory

So, today is Midsummer. The very word sounds magical, teeming with enchantment. No wonder it is the stuff of myth and magic. Shakespeare certainly thought so and he was right. Not many miles from the Lincolnshire town where P and I lived for over twelve years before moving over here, is an outdoor theatre where, for three months every summer, come hell or high water*, two or three Shakespeare plays were performed ‘al fresco.’ Every year, a group of us would book seats, take a picnic and laze in the evening sun waiting for the performance to begin.

We had, over the years seen some wonderful performances, but none more so than when we went to see a performance of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ on 24th June 1992** the memory of which is still with me now. The evening was clear and warm, a perfect night for an outdoor performance. There was magic in the air as the play began and we, the audience were swept into it from the very first line. I was taken completely by surprise by the animatronics or special effects used not only for Bottom’s ass’s head but by those used for the fairies’ wings. The costumes of both Oberon and Titania were splendidly dynamic and alive, their wings waved in their anger and vexation and quivered in pleasure; they suddenly became more than mere mortals, having an almost dream like quality in the now dimming evening light. I can say, without a doubt that this was the most stunning performance of this play that I have every seen, and I have seen several.

* Luckily the audience are seated under a canopy (or they were then) but the actors had to perform no matter what the weather was doing. I remember one year, it absolutely poured with rain during the performance. The actresses’ dresses were darkening around the hems as the water soaked in and seeped upwards. At one point the scene was a balcony and the actor involved had to speak lovelorn lines about the beautiful night and the moon and etc and the audience, I’m ashamed to say, just dissolved into laughter, he waited for us to subside and then carried on delivering his lines and had us believe that we too could see that glorious full moon. Well played.

** I know, but I don’t apologise for the fact that I keep all my theatre programmes and usually put the tickets inside, so I know exactly what I saw and when I saw it.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Farewell to Woodies

On Saturday we drove over to the health food shop at Market Drayton to get the Shipton Mill Flour that P likes to use in his bread making. We love the journey over there as the countryside on that part of the Staffordshire/Shropshire border is just wonderful. When we first moved over to this part of the country we rented a property out that way for a couple of years before moving into the city to be closer to our work. I used to love the bus journey into Hanley through Ashley, Blackbrook, by Maer, into Baldwin’s Gate and Whitmore before getting to Newcastle and then up to the city. Today we were behind two very slow farm vehicles but this didn’t seem to matter as slower was preferable to the speed with which a lorry had hurtled past us on the Trentham road swerving to avoid us as we slowed down at the amber light and he cut across on red. Luckily the car coming across the junction stopped god knows how the driver of the lorry missed hitting one or the other of us. Bad driving, mate!

We had decided to also have a walk along the canal and have a mid morning cuppa at Woodies but when we got there it had closed. The old mill building had been stripped and emptied of all the glorious things that used to be there including the little train that ran around a track just under the ceiling. We used to enjoy watching it going round and round as we drank our coffee. What a shame. I’m guessing that there wasn’t enough trade, although it always seemed busy whenever we went last year. The walk from Betton Mill to Tyrley locks and back is a lovely one and quite easy to do at any time of the year. We did the walk about three times last year on our own and then with friends who will all be sad to hear that Woodies no longer exists.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Evening Classes

I’ve just been reading an excellent article, written by Sue Arnold, in today’s Guardian. In this article she was discussing the news that this Government (who should know better)* are cutting down on funding Adult Education which in turn will affect that beloved national institution, evening classes. This would be such a shame. I know that, over the years, I, for one, have benefited greatly from evening classes. I left school at fifteen, not because I was thick, I had passed my eleven plus and got to grammar school and was an avid reader, almost like a chain smoker, I always had one book on the go and the next one waiting to be picked up as soon as the current read was finished. The reason was that because I was quiet, shy and not the prettiest flower in the vase I was picked on and bullied so as soon as I could I removed myself from the situation and went out into the world of work.

When I got to eighteen I decided I wanted to learn so over the next ten years ( at my own expense) I studied for and passed three O levels, did LAMDA courses in speech and drama, joined a Am Dram group attached to the local art college, and passed three A levels in English, History and History of Art. I then took a couple of years out when I got married but by 1980 both P and I had enrolled for Open University, he studying sciences and me studying Arts. It took us six years of hard work to get our degrees. P went on to do teaching qualifications whilst I studied for the Museums Association diploma, and various courses relating to tourism. In the last few years I have done various courses at the local colleges for Creative Writing.

I think it would be such a shame if this type of class were to disappear completely as they are of great benefit to the many people, who, for one reason or another can’t complete their education at school or get to University at the time and age they are supposed to.

* unless my history is at fault, weren’t the Labour party or at least members** of it instigators and founders of the Open University?
**The names of Harold Wilson and Jennie Lee spring to mind.

Thursday, June 09, 2005


Tuesday evening the rather smart dark green balloon from Trentham Gardens passed slowly overhead. It took ages for it to get close enough for us to be able to read the word Trentham on its side but as it got closer to us we could hear the gas boost and see the flames shooting up from the basket into the balloon, the people were like little dots. I guess if they are going to make balloon rides part of their ‘things to do’ itinerary then we may see it more often. It was a beautiful night for floating along in a balloon though I did wonder where they would land as they were headed over towards the city.

Talking of Trentham so many lovely things have happened there over the last year or two. We go, usually once a week, to walk around the lake and watch the grebes and herons and lately the geese with their fluffy goslings. We are still waiting for the access path up to the Duke of Sutherland’s statue to open though because I long to walk up to the top and view the lake and Italian garden from there. We have to wait though, presumably for the access road to the new monkey forest to be completed, as the monkey house is due to open in July then we may not have to wait for much longer. I really like the new garden centre (not so much a garden centre as a lifestyle statement) and the retail village but I’m not sure about the monkeys (well Barbary Macaques). I dare say it will be a huge tourist attraction and bring in bus loads from all over but the tranquility will be lost. Given the monkeys and the new passenger boat and the proposed new boat house restaurant then the tranquility will definitely be lost but I suppose things can’t stay the same forever.