31 December 2009
30 December 2009
“I have very poor and unhappy brains for drinking.” – Othello
Please forgive my absence and silence over this holiday season. It has been a time of much merriment, joy and glee -- all of which I promise to share with you soon. In the meantime, I offer - a cry for help.
“The English drink brandy and strong ale like water…[and] their daily feasts argue a savage vigor of body.”
How right Mr. Emerson was!
“The best beer is where priests go to drink. For a quart of Ale is a dish for a King.” - The Winter’s Tale
Like Emerson, I have observed that the English are in fact made of much sterner stuff that we frail, Yankee-doodles are when it comes to merriment, mirth and carousing.
“The pub” is of course the bedrock of British society, the thread in the social fabric. And as a result, the English are able to survive successfully on a steady diet of liquid carbs and conversation! (With an occasional packet of crisps.)
Thankfully, Christmas is a once a year binge fest. As Shane Watson advised in The Sunday Times a few weeks back: “The calories you intake between Christmas and New Year do not count.”
22 December 2009
20 December 2009
"Music Hall" is a big event in Barford. Tickets are hard to come by, we were unable to get tickets for love nor money last year, as we were too slow on the jump.
The day tickets go on sale there is a mad rush, and punters form an early morning queue outside Jane and Rod's house -- as early as 7 a.m.! You would have thought it was tickets for the Rolling Stones, or the like.
The DEB and I are flirting with the idea of joining the Drama Group in 2010. I stress we are only flirting with the idea. It could be fun, though.
The week following the Music Hall was the Church Christmas Dinner, another fun-filled occasion with the requisite annual Christmas pantomime featuring more stage acts but a number of different performers than those in the Music Hall. Talent, upon talent in these parts.
The highlight of the Christmas Dinner is the the featured entertainment provided by the highly musical Williams family, Barford's answer to the Von Trapps. They are simply amazing.
I failed to mention earlier the annual Harvest Supper that happens in early autumn, another Barfordian excuse for wine, good food and merriment.
Wine, Food and Merriment seem to be common themes, and another wonderfully recurring element is our resident Magician and Man of Mystery: "The Great Barloni".
(Surely every English village has its own Magician?)
Speaking of magic, a couple of enchanting events that are now fixtures in the DEB household Christmas traditions: "The Nutcracker". This year, we saw the Vienna Festival Ballet perform The Nutcracker in Leamington Spa. Fabulous.
There is something about "The Nutcracker," that always takes me back to the golden days of my childhood.
I first saw "The Nutcracker" at the age of 7, at Ballet Arkansas. My sister performed in it as one of the Flower Maidens in "Waltz of the Flowers."
That was back when people knew how to dress for the theatre, and my memory of it is coloured with little girls with satin bows in their hair, wearing lush velvet dresses in dark, jewel tones; shepherded by lean, elegant women in furs, pearls, and diamonds, smelling of Chanel No. 5.
Whenever I see "The Nutcracker", I am there again, 7 years old; and I cannot help but cry.
Laughter is also part of our Christmas tradition, and the past two weeks have been utterly hilarious. We saw Marcus Brigstocke in Warwick, and got to meet him after the show. He is a very tall man.
This week it was a road trip with the DEN (Darling English Nephew) to Birmingham to see Russell Howard live at the NIA. Russell Howard defies description. I think he is a tremendous comedian, but also a brilliant social observer/commentator. And, he's just plain funny.
The weekend was capped off last night by a wonderful Christmas concert at the Warwick Arts Centre by Kate Rusby. She's a doll, and the show was a real treat. She performed a series of old English carols, and was accompanied by her band and members of the Coldstream Guards.
It was a magical evening, that really got us in the Christmas spirit. And as we came out of the Arts Centre, we discovered a smattering of snow!! Holly Jolly Joy!
Festivities continue today with an afternoon Carol Service at St. Peter's. (The DEB is doing a reading, I shall be there as the proud, beaming Wifey!)
Handel's Messiah, a few remaining Christmas cards, tree decorating, and baking still to done!!! Holly, jolly indeed!
14 December 2009
"We must be patient." - Ophelia, Hamlet
Yesterday was the Third Sunday of Advent, which is also called Gaudete Sunday.
On Gaudete Sunday, there is a brief hiatus from the violet or blue coloured vestments (cloths covering the altar and the robes that the priests wear), and everything shifts, for this one Sunday to rose or pink coloured vestments.
(There has to be a word for people who love liturgy and liturgical practices; I think I should invent that word: Liturgiaphilia.)
Also, in the wreath of Advent candles there is one pink candle amid the three, dark purple ones, and it gets lit on this day. It stands out, in all its wonderful pinkness to symbolize joyful and exuberant expectation. Gaude meaning “rejoice” in Latin.
I always loved Gaudete Sunday at St. Luke’s: the altar bedecked with giant vases full of pink roses, and heavenly smell of the incense, rose mingled with frankincense…
The message of Gaudete Sunday, using very venacular language, is: “Calm down. Relax. It’s all good.”
I have never been a patient person, and I hate to wait for anything. Period. I want things to happen when I want them to happen.
“Not now,” is a message I have never received with ease. And lately, that message seems to dog my every step. Most trying of which has been the probable miscarriage that occurred last month, which I am only now able to put into words. Clearly the message from the universe is: “Not yet.”
I have always been a firm believer in a God much bigger and better than myself, and One who loves and cares for us completely. It’s just God’s sense of narrative and pacing that have often given me cause for concern.
I find myself thinking – often aloud – “You know, God, if this particular thing (job opportunity, baby, house, agent, book deal, &etc…) could just happen at such-and-such time, that would be truly poetic, and would have such a lovely sense of narrative.”
(That’s me, talking to God, one writer to another.)
But does God listen? Well, yes, I’m sure God does listen. But God, ever the divine, independent, creative (and creating) Thinker, has God’s own sense of narrative and timing.
Our job is one of watching and waiting, but we are meant watch and wait without a sense of anxiety, but in a spirit of hopeful expectation. That’s the part I need to work on. Anxiety? I’ve got that down like a pro!
Oddly, pop culture seems to have offered some timely and topical suggestions in this regard. I’m not proud of the fact that the DEB and I recently succumbed to watching the final two episodes of “The X-Factor” – Cheryl Cole gives me hives – but last night the lyrics of the Joe McElderry’s victory tune had an appropriate resonance:
I can almost see it
That dream I’m dreaming but
There’s a voice inside my head sayin,
You’ll never reach it,
Every step I’m taking,
Every move I make feels
Lost with no direction
My faith is shaking but I
Got to keep trying
Got to keep my head held high
There’s always going to be another mountain
I’m always going to want to make it move
Always going to be an uphill battle,
Sometimes I'm going to have to lose,
Ain’t about how fast I get there,
Ain’t about what’s waiting on the other side
It’s about the climb
Shortly after the glittery confetti settled on Joe McElderry, ITV featured a programme chronicling the improbable and meteoric rise of the incredible Susan Boyle.
What a story!
For over 23 years, Boyle dreamed of being a singer. She defied the odds and every expectation the world could possibly throw at her. How wonderfully refreshing to see someone achieving greatness through sheer force of will, determination and talent.
Forgive my cynicism, but frankly, there is not much talent about these days. There is a great deal of “notoriety” on offer these days, if you have the right boobs, the right face and the right publicist. As such, Susan Boyle is a much-needed tonic in this day and age.
Amanda Holden – who also gives me hives – mused, “Americans love Susan Boyle, because it’s a land where they still believe in dreams.” I much as I hate the thought of giving Amanda Holden credit for anything, I must say that she had a point there. America is a nation of dreamers. The American narrative itself is/was an impossible dream.
The message of Gaudete Sunday seems to be, from both the religious and secular realms: “Never stop dreaming.”
The other piece of advice in the Gaudete Sunday message is: "Rejoice." Rejoicing in the now. Learning to be content with what you have, while at the same time being hopeful for the future.
I refuse to let anxiety win and turn this joyous, holiday season into a “winter of discontent.”
Not now? Fine. Rejoice now, instead.
06 December 2009
I arrived at 10:00 AM to be greeted by Annie’s adorable assistant, Rosie, who made me a coffee, and introduced me to my fellow “Coffee Clubbers” for the day.
Today’s Coffee Club featured writers, and I had the good fortune to joined by the legendary “Mills and Boon” authoress, Sara Craven, author of over 80 (!!) romance novels for the juggernaut enterprise; and Mez Packer, the force of nature behind the award-winning debut novel, Among Thieves.
Annie Othen was a fabulous host, she was bubbly as a glass of champers, and kept the conversation going by giving us a range of topics into which we could really sink our teeth.
Annie Othen at the helm!
I am indebted to my friend Ella Myles, a Coffee Club regular, who suggesting me to Annie & Co.
Yesterday, the DEB and I volunteered on the bookstall at the Church Christmas Fayre. And, we did rather well. We made £45.00 ($75.00) for the church fund, selling second-hand books at 50p for paperbacks, £1.00 for hardbacks.
As a closet Rare Book Librarian, and an avid book collector, I’m fascinated by the book-buying obsession. “I really shouldn’t…” or “I really don’t have room for any more books…” and often repeated, famous last words.
The Barford Christmas Fayre is a truly merry event, with everyone pitching in to make it happen, to make it a success, and to make it enjoyable for those who attend. There are always good bargains to be had, an addictive tombola station, raffle prizes, a guest appearance from Father Christmas and fabulous food to sample (delicious home-made mince pies, spicy mulled wine, and always chocolate in infinite variety).
News travels fast in these parts, and even though the offer on our house has just been accepted, and the FOR SALE sign is still up, news has swarmed about the village that the DEB and I are putting down roots.
“We’re your new neighours!” a striking and gregarious couple beamed at us brightly, from the other side of the bookstall. The DEB and I beamed back, him with his foolscap on, bells jangling, and me, rather unfortunately, with a mouthful of mince pie.
This nicest part of the fayre is the wonderful sense of community and coming-together that one feels.
After clearing up, the DEB and I attended our first Christmas “do” -- a Christmas party meal at a pub called The Napton Bridge – with family and friends.
I love the DEB’s family. They are so, well, normal. We laugh and enjoy each other company. This means a lot to a girl like me, who is used to face Christmas with a deep and abiding sense of dread, which often started as early as July. Christmas with my relatives was more often than not a time of tension and routinely hurt feelings. I avoided it at all costs, with whatever excuses would suffice: work, illness, lack of funds, etc, & etc.
Now, I look forward to the holidays with glee and abandon! Tonight, the DEB and I are off to see one of our favourite comedians, Marcus Brigstocke at the Warwick Arts Centre.
Next week, we’re off to see comedian Russell Howard in Birmingham; Handel’s Messiah in Kenilworth; and Kate Rusby at Warwick Arts Centre.
I suppose this is all I have ever really wanted for Christmas: peace, harmony, joy, laughter, love, friends and family.
03 December 2009
Things are looking up!
A call from RSC head of education for a mid-December coffee and chat; a request from 'The Annie Othen Show' to be a guest on “The Coffee Club” - a late morning chat show on BBC Radio Coventry; and an job offer for position as a freelance GSCE and A-level Drama Examiner (…welcome to the dark side…), and an evening out tonight with my precious DEB for The Vienna Festival Ballet’s production of “The Nutcracker” in Leamington Spa.
The start of Advent brings much-needed joy!!!
02 December 2009
"O Lord that lends me life,
lend me a heart replete with thankfulness." – Henry VI
Thanksgiving took me almost completely by surprise this year. Even though I had stockpiled my tins Libby Pumpkin and Carnation condensed milk quite dutifully, I was caught unaware.
A rare and funny thing considering that Thanksgiving is an all-time favourite holiday of mine. The food, the colours, less hype than Christmas…
This year something changed. A change that was not due to my new location. An internal change.
I am not proud to say it, but I think it is hard to be thankful when life doesn’t seem to be going your way. And I realize it is always so much easier to see things from a “half empty” perspective.
Things just feel so sad right now, with Lucy being injured; and me still slowly, slowly recovering from my bout with flu. (Side note: I was fine before I had the Flu jab; and fell ill precisely seven days after having the job.)
Lucy’s surgery was a success, and she seems to be getting back to her old self. It’s awful to see her in pain, and it is going to be a long road to recovery for her. They say that pets are a good preparation for having children, as the level of responsibility can be just as high. Well, I can see how that works.
Lucy is going to need full-on care for the next 6 weeks. She will be unable to walk unassisted for that time period. That means for us, our holiday plans will need to abridged or augmented. Still, it’s a commitment we are happy and willing to make.
Along with this very traumatic situation has been my own nearly month-long battle with the flu. I’m not one for just lying around at the best of times, and prolonged idleness makes me quite maudlin.
I find myself thinking far to deeply about things, and brooding about them: “Why are struggling so to find an agent for the cookbook?”, “Why am I even bothering trying to be a writer?”, “Maybe I should just give up and get a proper job?”
In my former life, I was an avid workaholic. Taking leave of that rat race was a joy, and I finally feel like I can breathe. But, it is so difficult when we live in a world that places value on what we do, as opposed to who we are.
I have applied for several teaching positions over the past several months, and have been rejected by every single one. Add those letters to the ones I have recently received from agents and publishers and the pile becomes quite considerable, indeed!
I was even turned down for a job in a local library for having “too much experience.” Is that possible?
Repeated rejection, flu symptoms, a poorly pooch, and rainy November days can really conspire against a girl.
The DEB tells me all the time that he is proud of me. I daren’t say “Proud of what?” He says he’s proud of me for “having a go,” daring to dream a dream, and pursue it with my whole heart.
Some days, I admire me, too. On others, I wonder why I bother getting out of bed. I feel like I am just drifting along, a boat without paddles or a sail.
Even my latest attempts at “doing good” have failed. I organized a charity sale here in Barford, and it was a huge, lamentable flop. If we had had a sale in downtown Manhattan like the one here in Barford, there would have a feeding frenzy. There would not have been a stitch of clothing left after the first half hour.
We had two pairs of Vera Wang shoes, brand new, never worn, each selling for less than $300.00. As a gal who likes a bargain, I thought the idea was heavenly. And apparently, according to The Sunday Times, the “Weekend Bargainista” hitting the second-hand sales is all the rage. In London. It takes a while for trendy to reach the countryside, apparently. Lesson learned.
And that is what this time feels like most of all. A time for lessons. Figuring out who I am, and what I want with and from this life. Pupils are rarely thankful for lessons.
Still, a week late, here I am giving thanks. I am mindful that in the midst of this inertia and seeming inactivity, I have much for which I am thankful. Not least the love that surrounds me on every side.
Our menu for Thanksgiving dinner last week: Southern fried chicken, succotash, sweet potatoes, stuffing and gravy. Pumpkin pie and ice cream.
24 November 2009
Home after a restful holiday in Wales.
Flu has lingered over two weeks, finally starting to subside. Still feel lousy. Lousy feeling compounded by the fact that Lucy, The Princess Puppy is at the vets today. She was fine while we were away, and seemed to enjoy herself.
Our first day back, and she seems to have injured her right back leg in some way. She's not putting any weight on it. So, today she was in for x-rays. Going to collect her in a few minutes with the DEB and have a word with the vet.
She torn her ACL ligament on her left leg two years ago, so I am beside myself with panic as she may have done the same to her "good" leg now.
I feel incredibly small and afraid. I don't want to be a grown up. I want to go back in time, and be 8 years old and have my mom/mum to step in make this all better. :(
Well, as Britain is a nation of dog lovers, I am sure Lucy will have the very best of care here.
When I think about it, Lucy has had a rather amazing life. Unlike quite a few humans I know, Lucy actually has a passport, and has used it well.
She has danced in the Irish Sea, and sniffed the fresh, brisk air in the land of her Welsh ancestors.Not bad.
Just returned from an idyllic holiday in Wales. The weather was bleak, but beautiful. We were spared the heavy rains that deluged Cumbria, and just had heavy, howling winds and grey skies. Perfect weather for those of us with “Wednesday Addams” sensibilities.
The DEB and I had a restful time, cozying up in our little, rented cottage near the tiny village of Trelech. We cuddled up by the fire, read books and watched movies. Some days not even bothering to get dressed, and reveling in our “naughty kids” status by staying in our pajamas all day! Heaven.
I cannot say how long it has been since I have actually just sat and read a book, for pleasure. Since reading has always been such a vital part of my job as “professor” and “scholar,” I have developed a habit of reading that is in indicative of my trade. I read for speed, I read for facts, answers, information; and for some reason, I find this part of brain hard to switch off. I often find it hard to sit and just relax, and lose myself in the written page.
Nowadays, this situation is compounded by my writerly ambitions, that impend my progress through a book by means of a non-stop internal monologue of directives: “I should be writing!” “Why didn’t I write this book?” or, more simply (and jealously) “This sucks!”
Magically, away from home, away from email and text messages, in the rolling, green valleys of Carmarthenshire, I found peace and quiet. Time seemed to stand still, and angst subsided.
My book of choice was Hilary Mantel’s incredible tome, Wolf Hall.
The sheer heft of this volume is enough to impress. It’s smaller than a single volume edition of the complete works of Shakespeare, but bigger than the Oxford New English Study edition of The Bible -- by a third!
To say that it is an “epic” doesn’t even come close. Size, as they say, is not everything, and indeed that is the case with Wolf Hall. There is more here to admire than the fact that it is “a huge heap of words.” The writing, my God, her writing is extraordinary.
“A fictionalized account of the life of Thomas Cromwell.” To some, that would sound like a snooze fest looking for a place to happen, but Mantel has done an incredible job of doing quite the opposite.
While I lost myself peering lovingly through Wolf Hall, the DEB uncovered Dan Brown’s latest effort, The Lost Symbol and Robert Lacey’s History of Britain. The DEB is a much faster reader than I am, and so he is now waiting for me to finish Wolf Hall so he can dive into it.
(Can I just say, what a joy it is to share ones life with a man who loves to read!)
Reading and writing became the twin themes of our time in Wales. One windy night, we watched a dramatization of the life of novelist, Enid Blyton. Good grief, what a story. Helena Bonham Carter, one of my all time fave actresses, did an amazing job as the troubled and troubling children’s author.
Blyton’s story was grim to be sure, but I must say, from a writer’s point of view, she was pretty remarkable. She managed (by sheer force of will, neglect of her children, and the help of a few servants) to meet her target of writing no less than 6,000 words per day. Like her or hate her, that’s pretty impressive.
On the two sunny days we had, we ventured out to Laugharne and St. David’s. Set on a cliff, overlooking the Taf Estuary of Carmarthen Bay, Laugharne was the principal home of legendary Welsh bard, Dylan Thomas. Thomas’ Boathouse has been maintained for visitors to see, as well as his writing shed, where he drafted such works as Under Milk Wood.
Thomas’ writing shed had the most incredible views of sea and sky. I turned to the DEB and said, “Who couldn’t write with a view like this for daily inspiration?” Seeking to inspire me further, the DEB drove us to St. David’s on the next sunny day.
On the southern tip of Wales, reaching out toward Ireland in St. Bride’s Bay sits St. David’s. A tiny town, with a populace of 1800, St. David’s is home to one of the oldest and most glorious cathedrals in Britain. St. David’s Cathedral has attracted millions of pilgrims to this remote spot in Wales since the Middle Ages.
In medieval times, Pope Clement I declared that two pilgrimages to St. David’s was worth one to Rome. The ruins of the Bishop’s Palace, across from the church, attests to the great wealth and powerful this cathedral once held.
This place is an absolute haven for ecclesiophiles! I am not certain, but I think I may have just invented this term, meaning “lover of churches, church buildings and architecture”.
To my knowledge this word is not in general usage, but it absolutely should be, as its opposite term, ecclesiophobe –one who fears churches/church buildings—does exist. At any rate, St. David’s is an ecclesiophile’s paradise!!
In addition to the breath-taking architecture, there are several reliquaries throughout, and opposite the choir stall lie the remains of none other than Edmund Tudor – grandfather of Henry VIII. Bibliophiles will swoon at the vast and exceedingly rare holdings of the Cathedral Library.
The Canon, a sweet faced man, with a beautiful, sing-songy Welsh accent chatted with us for a bit, before hurrying off to prepare the church for Evensong. Just as we left the cathedral, a bright, full moon was rising over the ruins of the Bishop’s Palace. Magic. The perfect location for a murder mystery!
The DEB and I made our way through the dark, quiet, narrow streets of St. David’s, and found ourselves two very nice pints of ale, and a bowl of water for Lucy, at “The Farmer’s Market” pub. We enjoyed the pints so much we stayed for a meal.
The topic of writing filled our dinner conversation. “You just need to trust yourself, and go for it,” The DEB advised. (How remarkable to have someone in my life with such blind and dedicated faith in my abilities.)
While driving to St. David’s, I had phoned the DEB’s sweet rellies in Cumbria to see how they were faring in the wake of flooding there. They were fine, and my conversation with the DEB’s beloved aunt swiftly turned to writing.
She, too, is an avid reader, and knows good writing when she sees it. She was full of good advice, and now that we have returned home I find an email from her, picking up from where she’d left off in our telephone conversation.
It is so nice to have such encouragement and support abound. Just wished I could something about my indisputable scritturaphobia…