21 November 2012

Backward Britain (I'm a little angry)

A glooming peace this morning with it brings;
The sun for sorrow will not show his head.
Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things. 
Romeo and Juliet

What a bleak morning. Cold, dark, wet. Most appropriate for my mood. I should probably wait until I am in a calmer frame of mind before I attempt to craft some sort of response to the appalling result of the Church of England's General Synod vote on women bishops. 

But, really, what is there to say that hasn't already been said, and said betimes? I've offered my views on the matter in a number of occasions, most notably here: "Girl Power". And although my tone is largely flippant, there is a great deal of seriousness there.

The most shocking points are that the motion was defeated by a narrow margin, a mere 6 votes, and the dissenting constituency was the Laity. Not Bishops (both the current and in-coming Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams and Justin Welby voted in favour of women bishops), not Clergy, but the Laity. Those representing common, every day folk.

As sit here, a Churchwarden and key-holder of my local parish church, I cannot understand how anyone could possibly need to grapple with this issue! Our tiny village congregation is overwhelmingly female, and I am sure we are the rule and not the exception. Of our two Churchwardens, both of us are women; of our Readers, one is male, one female; of Clergy, one male, one female. An absence of women in roles of leadership and authority would bring our little parish to a halt. And, I have no doubt, in this day and age, that we are not unique. In our Benefice of 6 small parishes, half of the Churchwardens are women.

Of course, I am not equating being a Churchwarden with being a Bishop, but my points are that leadership, whether on a day-to-day parish level or diocesan level, is leadership; and that the face, heart and soul of the CofE -- on a day to day level -- is largely female.  

At a time when the Church is asking itself how it can reach out, be relevant and meet the needs of an ever-changing contemporary world, we take a step that appears positively Medieval! "Transform communities, make new disciplines," and etc. How can we do this when the message is quite clear: the contributions of women in the Church are valued - up to a point.

Today's news hurts, and it hurts us all. The Traditionalists and the Evangelicals - a rather odd marriage if ever there was one! - may have won, but at what cost?  

There is one Traditionalist group who call themselves Together 4ward. (Yeah, right.) How can we move forward together on this? As someone who has seriously contemplated -- and continues to contemplate quite seriously -- the possibility of pursuing a vocation within the Church of England, what am I meant to make of this result? Should it give me pause? 

Of course, one does not or should not pursue a vocation with an eye to achieving top tier status, one pursues a vocation to serve. It is a calling to humble action, not an aspirational career move. That being said, how can the Church counsel its women novitiates, mentor or encourage them with a stained glass ceiling above their heads?

And perhaps, this is what the Traditionalists and the Evangelicals wish for most. That women novitiates will be put off, give up, give over and move on. "Why bother", I saw one woman had written on a news comments page, "I'll just become a Methodist." Alas, no! Do not retreat! This needs to be a call to arms! "Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more!"   

This is a time to demonstrate that women within the Church of England are here to stay, a force with which to reckoned, and we'll not give up the fight! 

08 November 2012

Finding treasure close to home

“Give me the map.” – King Lear

Along with Her Majesty The Queen, Sebastian Coe, and Britain’s Olympic and Paralympic athletes, Shakespeare is having a great year. As the headlining act of the London 2012 “Cultural Olympiad”, Shakespeare’s life and works have featured in heavy rotation across a range of media (stage, screen, television, radio &etc). One of the most outstanding offerings of this landmark ‘Bardfest’ is a stunning exhibition at the British Museum mounted in collaboration with the RSC.
“Shakespeare: Staging the World” focuses on the playwright's world, both real and imagined. It takes us on a journey from medieval England and the forest of Arden, to Venice, Rome and finally to Prospero's magical isle.
Flying in the face of conspiracy theories, such as those espoused by the recent film “Anonymous”, the British Museum’s exhibition confirms William Shakespeare as the author of the greatest works of English literature, and posits Warwickshire firmly as the undisputed site of his inspiration and imagination.
Without doubt, Shakespeare’s Warwickshire origins were extremely important to him, and his works are steeped in references to local places, wisdom, tradition and folklore. His plays reveal a country dweller’s knowledge and appreciation of the romance and reality of rural life. This was delightfully realised in the exemplary British Museum show.
At the heart of the exhibition is the magnificent Sheldon Tapestry Map of Warwickshire. This map was one of a set of four tapestry maps made in the 1580s. They were commissioned by Ralph Sheldon (1537-1613) to hang in his new home at Weston in Warwickshire. The maps were made at the Sheldon tapestry works at Barcheston, Warwickshire. The tapestry works were set up by Ralph's father, William, with the aim of creating a tapestry-making industry in Britain by training locals to become weavers.
This extraordinary work of art – hand-woven in Warwickshire – is a pictorial record of the county in Elizabethan times, showing the River Avon, the Forest of Arden, the hills of Brailles and Burton Dassett, as well as fields, towns, villages and great houses of the gentry. It allowed me to see my world as Shakespeare saw it.
With delight, I surveyed the territory I call home, familiar to me even with archaic, 16th century spellings: Warwicke, Lemmington, Kenelmworth, Coventrie, Stretford, Wasbvrton, Welsborn, Charlcot and Sherborn. Although rendered as Bearfoote, my beloved Barford was indeniably present - immediately distinguishable by its lovely bridge crossing the Avon.
I was surprised to find that this precious artifact, previously unknown to me, is held in the collection of the Warwickshire Museum Service. It can usually be seen in all its glory at the Market Hall Museum in Warwick. As is often the case, it is only in traveling great distances that we are lead to discover and appreciate the rare treasures that lie close to home.
More information
                           “Shakespeare: Staging the World” - Continues until 25 November 2012                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 www.britishmuseum.org

19 October 2012

Typing 'The End'

Received news recently that we're soon to have a new editor at Warwickshire Life magazine. Although I adore our current editor immensely, I understand that change is inevitable.
Nothing, however, could have prepared me for the news that the new editor wants to cut my monthly column.
So, I have just now today submitted my final column to Warwickshire Life.
I've been (relatively) okay about it all. But now, after pressing SEND, I am heartbroken.

Woe is me. - Hamlet

05 October 2012

Warning: This recipe may blow up in your face, or, How Not to Make Lancashire Hotpot

Quick & Easy Lancashire Hotpot
  1. Slice the potatoes to about the thickness of a magazine (half a cm). Cook in boiling water for 8-10 mins until tender. Meanwhile, heat an ovenproof frying pan or shallow casserole on a high heat. Dry-fry the lamb for 5 mins until browned, letting the meat release itself from the base before you turn it. Heat the grill to medium.
  2. Tip the onion and most of the rosemary into the pan and fry for 3 mins until the onion is slightly softened and takes on some of the colour from the lamb. Stir in the gravy, then season with black pepper.
  3. Drain the potato slices and lay over the meat, each one overlapping slightly, then grill for about 5 mins, until the potatoes are golden.

This recipe promised me ease and convenience. Just what I needed on a day when I was feeling less than brilliant. The two-day-a-week commute to London, teaching keen American undergraduates, had finally taken its toll. Venturing out in the world, unprotected without my annual flu jab, I had succumb to the first cold of the season.

Things always (and always) seem worse when you have a cold. Damp weather seems wetter, the wind, windier, and melancholy moods, moodier. Feeling sorry for myself -- and wanting to prove to myself that at least my domestic prowess had not waned -- I drag myself from off the settee, and shuffled to the kitchen with the goal of preparing a Lancashire Hotpot for my Darling English Boy. 

Truth be told, I was feeling guilty. The poor DEB has done double duty in the kitchen these days, what with my traveling back and forth to London, and now being poorly/ill. I needed to reclaim my territory. So, armed with my favourite pyrex casserole dish, I set about this simple three-step recipe. How hard could it be? A cheat, really. A doddle, really, even with feeling under the weather. 

Famous last words... 

I got half way through Step #2, added the onion, began to stir, and BAM! And explosion of seared lamb, roasted onion and blackened glass. I stood there for a moment in shock. What had just happened? I stepped back and realised, to my surprise, that I was okay. There was glass everywhere. 

Clearing up the mess, I thought: How could something so simple have gone so wrong. As I stared at the shattered bits and pieces, I realised that the same may be said of my new life in Britain. How could something so seemingly simple have gone so wrong? Or, at least, not quite as well as it should have?

The past four years have been full of great joy and a great deal of struggle. And I know I am not alone in feeling that I am not exactly living to my fullest potential. I know that these are hard times, all round. Millions are struggling to secure and stay in full time work in Britain, not just me. Redundancies are common place. Why should it not happen to me? Receiving my 'walking papers' this week from the popular, regional magazine that has hosted my monthly column for over 2 years was a real blow. The new editor was kind and gracious, she acknowledged the popularity my column has enjoyed, and her reasons were the buzzwords of the day: cuts, budgets and costs. I, of course, understood. But not without feelings of hurt and resentment.

The hardest part about this is that my column, although it never paid me much, gave me joy and real sense of purpose, drive, hope, direction and definition. It was a monthly challenge, that gave me a real sense of achievement. An identity (beyond that of Wife) that I could cling to and amble about in socially. In essence, it gave me everything that had seemed all but lost for me. In the midst of a sea of (endless) rejection letters from colleges and universities up and down this country, my column was my anchor. It held me fast whenever I felt I just might drift away in a wave of depression or anxiety. And now that anchor is gone. I'll have to start again.

What are you meant to do when you have tried every trick you can think of, every thing that you know how to do to succeed? How do you 'give up' when giving up isn't really an option? Am I discovering that there is only a superficial openness here, and the Britain is in fact a deeply closed society? 

This was the first moment in four years when I seriously doubted my decision to move here. And, the first time I ever seriously considered wanting to leave. (Taking the DEB with me, of course!) But where we would be go? What would we do? Who would we be?

And how much would we be leaving behind? I know I wax lyrical about our beloved Barford, but it truly is a special place. We have family near by, and good friends now, who feel as close as family. 

Just as I begun to doubt this place and this choice, this place once again revealed itself to be 'right'. Over the past four sick days I have been shown such loving tenderness. Friends and neighbours stopping by to drop off 'sick day supplies' (boxes of tissues, magazines and chocolate); or home remedies ("My mother picked these elderflowers this summer, make two cups of tea and drink it daily. I swear by it with my boys."). My sweet friend, Kate, who insisted on foregoing her well-deserved day off lay-in to drive me to the doctor's, sat with me in the surgery (doctor's office) and treating me to a hot chocolate after; cheering phone calls from my brother-in-law; and a warming plate of dinner delivered straight from the Harvest Supper in the Village Hall.

These are the things that matter, these are the things that round out our lives. The rest are merely incidentals. That is what I have to remember, whenever I feel the urge to weep, to wail, to give up, or just plain run away.

Few things in life that are truly worthwhile are hardly ever "quick" and are certainly rarely "easy". Next time I attempt Lancashire Hotpot, I shall opt for a different recipe. One that may require a bit more effort and more time, but one that will hopefully give better results. I've learned one thing though: when, even after all your very best efforts, things blow up in your face, all you can do is clear it up and start again.

12 September 2012

In Jane Austen's Footsteps

“In Warwickshire, I have true-hearted friends.” – Henry VI, Part III

“You should write a novel,” a friend suggested casually over a cup of tea. “Your life,” she added,  “has been so ‘Austen-esque’.” The comparison of my ‘romantic narrative’ with the stories of Jane Austen does seem apt in some small ways. After re-establishing our acquaintance in 2007, my Darling English Boy and I pursued a long-distance relationship built firmly on correspondence. Beyond emails and text messages, in true Austenian fashion, we actually wrote letters – and sent them in the post!
On one occasion, the Darling English Boy signed his missive: “Your Mr Darcy or Colonel Brandon - which ever you prefer.” What a deliciously romantic choice! And, what a boon: a man who knows his Austen from his elbow. (I was completely hooked.)
One thing about Jane Austen neither of us knew was her affection for Warwickshire. The City of Bath may well lay claim to being Austen’s place of residence. However, in her novels she decries the “insincerity, smoke, confusion, and horrid gatherings” that were unavoidable features of city living. Without doubt, Jane Austen was a country girl at heart, and Stoneleigh Abbey, here in the heart of Warwickshire left a lasting impression on her.

In 1806, Jane Austen arrived at Stoneleigh Abbey with her mother and beloved sister, Cassandra. This trio was enrapt by the beauty of their cousin’s newly inherited stately home and its bucolic setting. Nestled on the banks of the River Avon, Stoneleigh Abbey sits on 690 acres of parkland and is surrounded by a lush, verdant landscape. Austen found here the “life and liberty” she so missed in hustle, bustle and din of Bath.
Taking in the view from the house, one can see the woodland grove that gave Austen such pleasure on those late summer days. She called Stoneleigh’s woodland grove a “pretty wilderness.” This phrase resurfaces famously during the iconic encounter between Elizabeth Bennett and Lady Catherine de Bourgh in her masterpiece Pride & Prejudice.
Stoneleigh Abbey and family figures associated with it provided Austen with ample fodder for her renowned novels. It is referenced at length in the description of Sotherton Court in Mansfield Park, and as one takes a turn about the estate, thoughts of Pemberley immediately spring to mind.
By far my favourite feature – after the breathtaking Georgian plasterwork in the Grand Hall – was taking a stroll along Jane’s favourite path. On a (surprisingly) sunny summer day, I found myself following in Jane Austen’s footsteps. What better inspiration could there be for a would-be novelist or avid Austen fan?
Every September, hundreds of “Janeites” (as Jane Austen fans are known) flock to Bath for that city’s annual “Jane Austen Festival”. I have yet to persuade the Darling English Boy that we should don Regency costumes and join them. Lucky for him, I have found a touch of Jane Austen much closer to home.

More details
Stoneleigh Abbey – “Warwickshire’s hidden jewel”                                                                                       Jane Austen tours Sundays (1pm) and Wednesdays (12pm). Special Jane Austen evening tours with wine and canap├ęs, throughout the year. See website for details: www.stoneleighabbey.org

Glorious Twelfth (August Column)

Is that lead slow which is fir’d from a gun? – Love’s Labour’s Lost

Hunter green wellies, touches of cashmere, Lamb’s wool and tweed - the hallmarks of country apparel. To me, country apparel has always been the apex of British fashion - and a style of which I have long been enamoured. 
I regularly sported wellies and short, tweed skirts through the sunny streets of Manhattan - only to have a chorus of taxi drivers bellowing at me at every turn: “You expectin’ rain, sweetheart?”
Thankfully, my lifestyle has finally caught up with my wardrobe. But what about the pursuits for which country clothing was actually intended? One of the joys of my newfound rural life is having opportunities to experience country sports.
Shooting has always held a certain fascination, with “the Glorious Twelfth” being the centre of shooting lore. The start of the grouse season is indeed the stuff of legend - and luxury. Grouse shooting enthusiasts pay high prices in pursuit of their passion. A 200-brace day on one of the more prestigious moors, for eight or nine guns, would cost more than £38,000; and that’s before adding in agents’ commissions, ammunition, keepers, loaders or beaters tips, insurance, food, travel and accommodation. That’s a costly bit of tweed!

Before biting such a choice bullet, I set my sights on a shooting experience closer to home. My brother-in-law is a retired Warwickshire Police Inspector and former team manager of the GB Police Clay Shooting Team. His shooting career was inspired at the age of 10, after hearing news of Bob Braithwaite’s remarkable clay shooting victory at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics and this marked the birth of a lifelong passion, which has seen him win numerous national Police and inter-service titles including the Services Clay Classic in 2007.
For the past two years he has coached the Warwickshire College shooting team, and he has led them to achieve back to back victories in the 2011/2012 Schools Challenge events at Bredon School in Gloucestershire, winning two £1500 shotguns. This year, Warwickshire College were also awarded “School of the Year” by The Clay Pigeon Shooting Association.  On the back of this success and in line with their ‘Enterprise College’ status, (Shooting being worth an estimated £2 billion to the UK economy) Warwickshire College are now exploring opportunities to offer their shooting coaching facilities to a wider public.
One mild, summer’s day, I donned my wellies and met him at Edge Hill Shooting Ground, where he introduced me to the joys of clay shooting. The experience was nothing short of exhilarating and empowering: the feel of firepower, the joy of precision and success and hitting the targets.
I had expected that I would be utterly useless at shooting a swiftly moving object out of the sky, but I surprised myself! I have no doubt this was much more than a mere case of beginner’s luck. More than being just a sure and able shot, my brother-in-law is also an excellent teacher. And - he looks great in tweed!

Love it or leave it

Tolerance is a funny thing.
I've been inundated recently to offer some comment on the upcoming US Presidential election. I have resisted for much same reason that I shall not be voting this time around: I don't have to live with the result. 
Of course, in a global sense, yes, we all have to live with the result, but my point is that the result will have not any immediate or intimate impact on my life, so my input into the result should likewise be limited. (A stoical stance worthy of Julius Caesar's Marcus Brutus!)
What I can offer, however, is an observation - drawn out by a recent query as to my views on Mitt Romney's faith/religion.
Last year, the DEB and I hosted two friends of his to dinner - a British-American couple from Texas. Many of you, dear Readers, will be stunned in amazement to learn that I broke bread with not one, but two, staunchly evangelical, Tea Party supporting Republicans. (Or perhaps more shocked by the fact that two Republicans dared to sup at my "liberal" table?) 
Our affable dinner took a sombre turn when Carla began to bemoan the current state of affairs in the USA. I surprised myself with my own detachment and ability to listen calmly as she shared her grievances over President Obama's "betrayal"of the American people. 
I did not pitch a fit or throw a wobbly -  but I took pleasure and smug satisfaction in the thought that in the upcoming election my one Democratic vote would surely cancel out hers. 
Of course, this is a ridiculous thought, this is not at all how it works! And so, it was in that single moment that I realised I shouldn't and mustn't vote. I would be doing so for the wrong reasons - to vote against someone else's opinion, in attempt to counteract the influence of their vote. Voting is privilege, and many gave their lives to achieve this right for us all. To undertake it out of spite or anger is to my mind, wrong. 
Sadly, I feel that this is precisely what politics in America has become: "spite voting". Perhaps, this is what it has always been, and I just didn't realise it until now.
And so, to Mitt. 
After Carla finished her tirade, expecting me to take the bait and bite back, in some sort of pro-Obama litany, I responded instead with what I thought was a fair and balanced remark: "Well, Mitt Romney is your best chance against Obama."
Carla fell silent.
It was as if I had just suddenly declared a belief that the moon was made of cheese.
I explained that I was living in Massachusetts when Mitt Romney was elected Governor. And, a very decent Governor he was. Mitt's faith/religion was not at all a stumbling block for me, or the notoriously 'liberal' electorate of Massachusetts - but it clearly was for Carla! She could barely speak the word 'Mormon' -  her pastor had just preached a sermon recently about the 'Mormon cult', and warned his flock against being deceived by the "closet liberal" Romney.
"Oh, dear, " I said, allowing my smugness to finally take hold. "You're going to be in a bit of a bind, then, aren't you? What on earth will you do?"
Fast-forward to now, and within the blink of an eye, Tea Party voters like Carla have swiftly shifted their song sheet, and soundly changed their tune. The "M-word" is no longer the bugbear it once was. The greatest (and saddest) irony in all of this is the bare-faced fact that if Mitt Romney were the Democrat or Independent candidate, and a Mormon, the Religious Right - who are embracing him now - would be grilling him and having him from breakfast! 

31 July 2012

Olympic fever (and darling English boys abound!)

Well, of course, Mitt Romney and Barbara Walters were wrong!
(What a most unlikely couple, very deserving though, after their recent anti-Brit comments!)
The Olympics are going swimmingly (pun intended), and London has more than lived up to its reputation as a world class, capital city. (And, the Queen is wonderful. Full stop/Period.)
The opening ceremony (directed by Oscar-winner Danny Boyle) was the stuff of legend.
The real stars of the ceremony for me, after Her Majesty, The Queen, herself, of course, were HM Queen's adorable corgies, Holly and Monty!
BBC has released stunning excerpt for YouTube...

Britain always manages to rise to the occasion in grand style, elegance and grace.
A more than a few Darling English Boys thrown in for good measure...

Team GB Heartthrob Divers, Tom Daley and Peter Waterfield 

(Well, if the guys have Beach Volleyball, Men's Synchronised Diving is one for us gals, for sure!)

Rule Britannia!

24 July 2012

Feeling better

"Sweet are the uses of adversity, which like the toad, ugly and venomous, wears yet a precious jewel in his head; and this our life, exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in running brooks, sermons in stone, and good in everything." - As You Like It

Shakespeare always gets it right. These words from As You Like It found me today, reminding me that there is good in every situation and circumstance. It is always worth taking a moment and remembering that one has much to be thankful for.
Spent much of yesterday, outside on the deck, in the sunshine shaping my course schedules for the Autumn term. I'll be teaching for two very wonderful university programmes in London. Both have great students, incredible support and terrific colleagues. The work itself is freelance and contract-based, which means it's not permanent, but also mean that I have the freedom and flexibility to be mistress of my own time. 
Sure, I'll never make a fortune, and I do tire sometimes of being a "roaming Shakespeare scholar", it would be nice to have a permanent place to pitch my academic tent. But - at the end of the day, I get to do what I love. And, that is worth everything.
Throughout my time here in Britain, I have sadly felt "lead up the garden path" on a fairly regular basis. From early in 2009, I was invited in for a number of meetings with the BBC about the then forthcoming "Shakespeare Season" for 2012. I met with seemingly countless development people and producers, who seemed keen and interested in my ideas and thoughts. 
After a series of personnel changes in the BBC's development area, I was, along with my ideas, lost in the shuffle. I have since had a very kind apology from a chap wasn't involved this fiasco, that was in fact much appreciated. That was balm to my troubled soul. At the very least there was an acknowledgement that I had been taking for a ride. It did not, however, make it any easier for me to sit and watch as the current BBC Shakespeare Season has carried on and passed me by. A great cultural moment. I have not be able to stomach it.
The next great cultural moment will of course be the big Shakespeare anniversary in 2016. I am determined to contribute to that in some way. And, perhaps, it will be a way that I create for myself.
In the meantime, I must find peace, solace and comfort in what the wonderful opportunities that I have had and have. Shakespeare has led me on some truly incredible adventures: from Alaska to Romania. I have this very morning received confirmation for a Shakespeare lecture I'll be giving at the British Council in Hong Kong next month, and am currently discussing the possibility of a Shakespeare lecture tour of India in October.
As Shakespeare suggests, one should always be on the look out for the good in everything.

18 July 2012

The Life I imagined?

"New heaven, new earth...past the size of dreaming." - Antony & Cleopatra
"Is it all that you imagined?" Thus began the letter I received recently from a Reader keen to embark on her own journey of a new life in brave new world. It has taken me weeks to respond. Busyness and an overly lengthy "To Do" list aside, I have struggled to place my feelings in the right frame, the right words.
I started my response to her many times, but then ditched the effort each time, finally today, I feel I have found the word or words, and hope she will excuse this public reply to her queries...

That is how all of this began, and love is what keeps me and this story going. Next month will be four years since I left my high-flying life in Manhattan for the bucolic British setting that is now my home - a story book English village that charms and delights me daily; where I feel safe, secure and valued. I risked everything, all I had and all that I was. 
Was it worth it? Without a doubt.
Is this life all that you imagined? 
And, no.
I don't have words to describe fully the frustration and isolation I have felt as I have struggled to rebuild my career here in Britain. Incredible high and gut-wrenching lows. 
I have had to fight for every little corner I have achieved. I have had to find reserves of shameless self promotion that I never knew I had. I've had to be fearless, brave and resilient. Creative and persistent. And, thick-skinned. Or - at least attempt to be thick-skinned. 
A journey such as this is not for the faint-hearted.
Depression, disappointment, anxiety and anger have all been present in full measure alongside joy, passion, laughter and love.

Love is the only thing that has got me through each and every rejection - and there have been too many to count. Every time a door has slammed firmly shut, I've retreated into the warm and open arms of my DEB.    
For this, I am thankful. For this, I live and find the strength to keep going.
There are so many things here that give me joy: family (the best in-laws in the world!), friends, community, etc. & etc. 
But, I would be lying to say that it has been easy, and not without struggle. It requires living on ones wits, straining the nerves, and surviving. The lows can be incredibly low, and hope a very distant thing. I have come to believe, quite honestly, that I have more chance of winning the National Lottery than I do of ever finding sustained and fulfilling employment in my field in this country. Seriously.
Would you do it all again? Absolutely. But, I would do it differently.
"What an amazing life you have! How can I be you?" - The young schoolteacher smiled at me broadly  at the end of a very enjoyable Shakespeare workshop I'd led with her students. Her words left me speechless. All I could do was smile back at her weakly.  If she only knew what it meant "to be me"... 
Four years on: Love is the only thing that keeps me going. 

08 July 2012

Star-studded times

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of activity, and joyous time of creativity.
The RSC are on peak form, and I've fortunate to have work (lots for a pleasant change!) surrounding the current season of productions.
The new production of Richard III is simply brilliant, with Jonjo O'Neill doing an hilarious and amazing job of playing Shakespeare's most daringly crafted villains. Paola Dionisotti returns to the RSC stage, after a 17 year hiatus, as Queen Margaret. She gracious offered her time for a hugely enjoyable post-performance discussion session with my HF Holidays group.   

Paola Dionisotti shares her journey to playing Queen Margaret

Group photo at Harrington House

The other production that seems to be featuring heavily in my life these days is Greg Doran's stunning rendering of Julius Caesar. Paterson Joseph, a chum of mine from "the good old days", is making a triumphant return to the RSC as Brutus. Caught up with him after the show to wish him a "Happy Birthday", and had to get a photo of him in the tshirt his wife sent him from France, appropriately bearing the words: "Et tu, Brute?" Which, in French, apparently means "Stupid." Fascinating.

Paterson Joseph in his "Caesar" shirt

When not running round lecturing over the past few weeks, I have been doing the legwork producing a reading of "Song of Songs" at/for Barford Church. The experience, though exhausting, has been sheer joy. And has reminded me of "my old self". The director/producer me. The "mover and shaker" me in NYC.  The production was a sheer delight and gave me the opportunity work with two of Britain's brightest and dearly loved stars: Timothy West and Prunella Scales, who kindly lent their talent to our fundraising efforts.

Rehearsal for Song of Songs

Tim and Pru were both so lovely. The only way I can describe is adorable! Truly. So kind, gracious and generous. And, of course incredibly talented. Every director's dream!
During rehearsal, I got dewy-eyed and nearly wept with joy at the sound of these two legendary actors reading the luscious language of "Song of Songs". Sometimes, when you are in midst of things, there's very little time to reflect on just how significant the moment truly is. This time, I stopped, pinched myself, and whispered, "Hey, look at you, you're doing this!" It was truly amazing.
Hearing that I'd produced and directed this production, one of my former students emailed me and asked, rather cheekily whether I'd "made Prunella Scales and Timothy West do the 'Vowel Wheel'" -- one of the dreaded warm-up exercises I used to put my students through on a regular basis. We didn't do the Vowel Wheel, but we did do a brief warm-up!
I can't wait to do something like this again. It is always good to have a reminder of what you can do, when given half a chance. In the end, we raised over £2000 for church funds, a real relief in these difficult times.

Timothy West and Prunella Scales

09 June 2012

Joyous Jubilee Hangover

Relaxing with a cup of tea, and the last marzipan and ginger corgi biscuit, and going through a few pikkies of our fabulous village Jubilee celebrations...

On Jubilee Monday, the celebrations kicked off with the DEB and I hosting a few guests for an early morning champagne toast.

Our front door
My beautiful anniversary roses served as the perfect centerpiece for my Jubilee display, including a few pieces of my 'Coronation' china collection.

Our early morning merriment -- which included the arrival of several surprise, though thoroughly welcome -- guests caused us to be late for the ceremonial raising of the new flagpole on the village green!

But, we arrived just in time to take part in the guided walk to Riverside for the dedication of the Jubilee Oak Tree in the Village Orchard.

After the planting and dedication, we walked back to the Village, stopping off for a look at the Jubilee-decorated Telephone Box!


From 1PM there was a massive Village Picnic on the Village Green. Everyone brought oodles of food and drink, picnic tables, blankets and chairs. And, thankfully the sun actually came out and did its part! 

We're a quite musical village, so entertainment was plentiful!

Even the DEB took a turn...

...for  his most adoring  fans!

The WI baked a cake in honour of Her Majesty...

And it was yummy!

Then, it was time for a good ol' sing-along! Rule Brittania!


And, just enjoying being together on the sunshine!

After the picnic -- and a long, late afternoon nap! -- we all gathered at the Church at half past 9 for a procession to the hill by Middle Watchbury Farm to light the Barford Jubilee Beacon. We hurdled together and waited, synchronising our lighting with Her Majesty lighting the Jubilee Beacon in London. Standing on the hill, we could see other Jubilee Beacons blazing across the County...

Happy and glorious, indeed!

04 June 2012

Let's get this party started!

Yesterday, I was so very proud to be so very nearly-British! Although, I'll have to wait another several months before I can put forward my application to become a Naturalised British citizen, my chest swelled with pride watching the City of London, the nation, and my own tiny corner of England turning out to celebrate and honour its beloved Queen, and her 60 years of service to us all.

An early burst of summer throughout the month May, meant of course that the 'British inevitable' would happen: It rained. All day. As I sprinted across the road to open St. Peter's Church and prepare the altar for the 8AM service, heavy, grey clouds loomed overheard. The church, however, looked resplendent!

The DEB and I sent a precarious afternoon 'dressing' the church with flags and bunting, including the Church tower. A few pics below - can you spot the DEB?


The Sunday 8AM Eurcharist was lovely, as usual, but, of course, and an early start. After the service, we journeyed off to that great cathedral of commerce, Sainsbury's and did our Jubilee shop. Unfortunately, it seems everyone else had the same idea! As we arrived at Sainsbury's, it started to rain. "Poor Queenie," said the DEB as we dashed through the doors of the shop.

We made it back in time to catch the preliminary reports and build-up to the Thames Pagaent. We wouldn't have a chance to watch it in "real time" as we had a little 'pageant' of our own to attend. But I did get a glimpse of The Queen's arrival, and The Duchess of Cambridge's gorgeous red ensemble, and that hat!

Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge in Alexander McQueen ensemble

She's just so lovely! And, what a striking pair she and William are!

Harry, Kate and William

To be sure, the entire royal party looked amazing! I've always carried a torch for Prince Charles, and yesterday, he certainly did not disappoint! And, Camilla looked lovely on his arm.

HRH Prince Charles in full regalia
But, of course, the day belonged to Her Majesty, The Queen, who was a vision herself in diamond white:

Her Majesty, The Queen, arrives for Thames River Pagaent

No one puts on 'pomp and circumstance' like the British, and London did not fail to be magnificent in the background. The organisers of the Thames Pageant did an incredible job, and it truly was the 'show of the century'!

The DEB graciously bought and set up a new digital recorder so that we wouldn't miss a moment of the  pageant proceedings. The Pageant started around 2:00 PM, and at 3:00 PM, all the church bells across the land were set to ring out. Our lovely bells here in Barford joined in the refrain. We dashed to the church just in time to catch their start, just before our "Diamond Jubilee Service of Celebration".

With all this talk of fashion, I must add that I, too, did my part in a lovely lime green vintage-inspired dress, with matching jacket (Thank you, Debenham's for making gorgeous petites!) -

Finished off with a sassy pair of Uptown Heels from Boden -

Topped off with my favourite navy and white floppy hat by Suzanne Bettley!

The service was inspired by the Order of Service created for the Queen's Coronation. The choir performed that infamous (and incredibly difficult) motif from 'Zadek the Priest' ("God Save the King!"), and did an amazing job! There was a selection of readings, notably a passage from Joshua which includes these powerful words:

As I was with Moses, so I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.
Be strong and of a good courage: for unto this people shalt thou divide for an inheritance the land, which I sware unto their fathers to give them.
Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper withersoever thou goest.
This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.
Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.

After the service, we were supposed to have Strawberries and Cream in the churchyard. Needless to say that became an indoor event!  Following the service, we came home and crashed in front of the telly and watched the Pageant.

And, what an stunning Pageant it was! From the Jubillee bells, and the incredible rowing boat Gloriana -- linking the two golden Elizabethan ages -- to the fireworks off London Bridge, the river show was spectacular!

Today, already looking a bit drier (!), the festivities continue! Must sign off now, as we have a gaggle of people coming round to our house for a champagne toast before we walk down to the Village Green for the ceremonial raising of the new village flag and flagpole. Then off to the planting of a new Jubilee Oak Tree down by the river. Picnic on the Green (hopefully) around 1:00PM. Another long day of joy and celebration!

God Save the Queen!