A Year in Books 2018 – January to March

the-year-in-books

A new year means a new selection of books.

Thanks to Laura at Circle of Pine Trees for creating the challenge.

I started the new year finishing off a book from 2017.

A Parliament of Rooks – Karen Perkins

I did a short review of this book in my Sunday Sevens #40. Though the narrative brings clear visions of a modern day Howarth, the actual characters and tale fell rather flat. The modern day characters were rather annoying and two dimensional but if you like anything relating to the Brontë’s then you will enjoy this book.

The Raven – Edgar Allan Poe

I’ve read this poem a couple of times now. The first time I read it I was on a bus on a dark, cold January morning. I thought, ‘what on earth was all that about!’

Then on the second reading, I think I have understood a little more. The narrator is a man who mourns his lost love, Lenore. A raven visits him and in answer to the man’s questions the raven only says ‘nevermore.’ This perplexes the narrator who gets more and more exasperated. Others’ interpretations of the poem is that of the man slipping into madness.

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted—nevermore!

What do you think? Have you read this poem? What was your interpretation?

The Witchfinder’s Sister – Beth Underdown

Debut novel and one of Richard and Judy’s Book Club for spring 2018. The Witchfinder’s Sister is about Alice Hopkins who returns from London, widowed, to be reconciled with her brother Matthew (the self-proclaimed Witchfinder General) in the midst of the witch hunts of 1645-47. The English Civil War is waging, a time of religious, political upheaval, which the printing presses are at cost to publish. Reading what few facts on Matthew Hopkins there is online. I read that he and his accomplices were responsible for the deaths of up to 300 women in just three years. Legitimised serial killers is what I thought of them. Though men were not immune to being called ‘witch’ it was mainly females that were blamed for unnatural deaths of babies, droughts, famines and disease. When science and understanding was hundreds of years away, those without a voice (midwives, bewitching young women) were victimised. The author dips into that paranoia. Alice is at first an innocent bystander but is soon forced to be complicit in the torture and deaths of a number of women as she and Matthew travel through Anglia. Though a piece of fiction, it made me angry that this reign of terror was allowed to happened (an encouraged) in not just Britain but in Europe and the USA too.

The Crucible – Arthur Miller

After reading Beth Underdown’s novel, I just had to read Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. I found my old copy and re-read the play written at the height of the Korean War (1950-53). The play, written when Communism was seen as a threat to the western world, can also be read as criticism of the ‘witch-hunt’ McCarthy Trials. Miller cleverly links this contemporary fear to the paranoia of the witch trials in Salem (1692-3).

Unlike Beth Underdown’s novel, who writes from the viewpoint of a witness, The Crucible quickly draws you into the drama where accusations and blame are voiced by Abigail Williams and friends. A sense of heightened fear is present straight from the start where Betty Parris, one of Abigail’s friends is lying prone, mute, for no apparent reason. The girls have been accused themselves of dancing with the devil but Abigail turns the tables on the adults and begins to accuse members of the cast. They believe her, due to her ‘purity.’ One of the main characters John Proctor who has had a fling with Abigail and afterwards rejected her, tries to show Abigail as a telltale but the cast, some of high office, seem bewitched by the girls’ accusations that devilry is rife in Puritan Salem.

The play in some ways is a tragedy. The final act is seen as redemption for John Proctor who finally denounces Abigail, however this does not stop the executions. In little over a year, due to the hysteria created by girls who tapped into the bleaker side of human nature, of fear and jealousy, 20 people were tried and executed in Salem.

The Ice Queen – Alice Hoffman

This book wasn’t what I had expected. ‘A fairy tale for grownups’, it was advertised. The story however is so sad. I was choked with emotion reading the final chapters. Perhaps it was the butterfly migration that set me off? The whole story is well written, you meet many strange characters along the way. The tale is of loss, love and acceptance. The best message I got from this book was that to conquer death you have to live. Something I have been trying to achieve these past few years. Is this a book you would enjoy? Let me know!

Uncommon Type – Tom Hanks

I have to admit, I found it hard to get into Hanks’ writing. The choice of first short story to open this collection wasn’t the strongest. I found the unending list of commercial brands exhausting to read. Does it really matter what name of footwear a character wears or what brand of fridge freezer a man gets his chilled beer from? There are better ways of creating a time in history than listing company names. I found Hanks’ writing very like Dan Brown’s, perhaps it’s a style American’s default to? I did persevere and his style grew on me. There were a few stories I enjoyed, These are the Meditations of my Heart, Stay with Us (screenplay) and The Past is Important to Us. Have you read this collection? What were your thoughts?

The Waste Land – T.S. Eliot

Regarded as one of the most influential poems of the 20th Century. The Waste Land was written a few years after the devastation of WW1. The poem loosely follows the legend of the Grail, and is set in five parts which lack any cohesion. The fragmentation of structure and voice is a reflection of a post war world. I enjoyed the lyricism of the poem and the images it created. I wouldn’t say the poem was easily understandable. The many vignettes of peoples’ daily lives is intersected with lines taken from world mythologies, literature and languages. I think the poem needs further in-depth study. Have you read this poem? What was your interpretation?

Autumn – Ali Smith

I downloaded this book onto my Kindle before I decided to read 1 star ratings on Amazon. What I read worried me a little but once I started reading the stream of conscious type narrative, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Though the story doesn’t really go anywhere, it is a study of time, and poking fun at British life and society. I liked Smith’s style of writing. I look forward to seeing what her next novel Winter is about.

1st quarter books

A Gathering Light, The Secret Life of Bees, The Pier Falls and Pax

A Gathering Light – Jennifer Donnelly

I don’t remember who recommended this novel to me but I didn’t really enjoy it. I found the narrative very tedious. The secondary tale about a real life crime rarely featured. The writer could have done so much more with this idea but the result was a novel I would not recommend to anyone! How about you? If you have read this book and felt differently, then do let me know!

The Secret Life of Bees – Sue Monk Kidd

Set among the backdrop of racial tensions in 1960’s South Carolina, this coming of age tale is both entertaining and emotive. The protagonist, Lily goes on a journey that takes her away from her abusive father, to the protection of three bee keeping sisters, where she learns about her mother and herself. The novel has a strong cast of female characters. From the tormented May to the resilience of Rosaleen and the wisdom of August. It is a feel good book, one that I would recommend. Have you read this book? What were your thoughts?

The Pier Falls – Mark Haddon

Sadly Haddon’s collection of short stories left me feeling sad and morbid. Most of the tales centre around death which was rather difficult to read one after another. There were a few standout stories. I enjoyed the tale of the Wodwo or ‘wild man,’ it made me think of Ted Hughes’s book of the same title. Another was the claustrophobic atmosphere of the Woodpecker and the Wolf. The title does not bring to mind astronauts stranded on an desolate, unforgiving planet. However I enjoyed the characters and there is a happier ending!

Pax – Sara Pennypacker

I decided to get this book as other bloggers have read it and been enchanted with it. The illustrations by Jon Klassen are beautiful but I have to admit I struggled to get into the narrative. As the story progressed, however I soon warmed to the characters. I enjoyed the Pax chapters more so than the human story. The underlying sadness to the writing is that animals suffer during war, and there is a lot of animal suffering in the novel which was painful to read. I had expected the ending to be emotive but I just felt numb, it wasn’t very satisfying. It made the whole novel seem a bit of a waste of time to me. Have you read this novel? Did you enjoy it?

A Cold Case in Amsterdam Central – Anja de Jager

This copy was kindly gifted to me by a lady who I chat to whilst waiting for the bus to work. Anja de Jager draws inspiration from cases her father worked on as a policeman in the Netherlands. To date she has written three crime novels in the Lotte Meerman series. This was the second book. It was easy to read and could be read as a stand alone novel. I enjoyed the read and will probably look up the other novels in the series in future.

The Famished Road – Ben Okri

I’ll probably still be reading this book come April. It is such a word dense book, separated into eight books. I’ve read book one and the language and imagery is beautiful, almost psychedelic. The tale is of spirit-child Azaro, who turns his back on the land of spirits to experience the life and death of the living. Okri blends human hardships with fantastical beasts from the spirit realm and beyond. I am enjoying the telling so far. I will let you know how it goes.

Have you read any good books lately, any recommendations?

Thanks for dropping by,

Christine x

Advertisements

Exciting Times Ahead – 2018!

I did a similar post looking forward to the new year of 2017, so I thought I would follow the trend and do a 2018 one too! There’s so much I have already booked for the new year! If all goes to plan 2018 is measuring up to be one wonderful year!! Here’s what’s to come in the year ahead.

Of the many events already filling up the new calendar are two concerts to see the Liverpool Philharmonic in action.

mahler 5

Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra

Recently whilst in town, I walked past a billboard advertising the return of a short run of Khaled Hossieni’s The Kite Runner at the Liverpool Playhouse. After reading the book and missing the first run of this acclaimed play, I just had to book tickets this time around.

Another much anticipated event happening in Liverpool in 2018 is the ticketed China’s First Emperor exhibition. Highlighting artifacts from the emperor’s spectacular tomb.

Street Art:

2018 is measuring up to be a fantastic year for street art trails. Here are just some of the Wild in Art trails I hope to visit.

We have visited the lovely city of Norwich in the past, to see their gorillas and dragon trails. From the 24th June to the 8th September 2018, the city’s streets will be graced by colorful hares in their, GoGo Hares trail.

Nottingham have an imaginative trail called Hoodwinked, this year. The sculptures in the shape of robins are an inspiring take on the Robin Hood name! I can’t wait to see them!

Also, Manchester has a swarm of bees hitting the streets this summer in Bee in the City.

These are just a few Wild in Art trails happening in 2018. Will you be going see any of them?

And continuing:

This year I will carry on with initiatives such as:

2018 is the centenary of the end of WW1.

There will be forthcoming displays of Wave and Weeping Window by Paul Cummins and Tom Piper in the NW Region. The Weeping Window will be at Stoke on Trent’s Middleport Pottery in August/September and the Wave will be at Manchester’s Imperial War Museum September/November.

Follow this link for more destinations in 2018. Will you be visiting any of them?

As yet there are no holidays planned, but I do have some ideas. I just need to book time off work and to plan them!

What events/holidays are you looking forward to in 2018?

Thanks for reading,

Christine x

A Year in Photos – 2017

Phew! What a year!

I think 2017 has been a wonderful year for David and I! What an adventure 2017 has truly been! I will think back at all the wonderful places and sights we have seen and feel blessed we were able to share them together! Here’s my twelve pictures that sum up our 2017!

January:

2017 started with an eight mile walk around Coniston. We took a detour to visit Banishead Quarry.

20170101_104157-2

Banishead Quarry

February:

Not everything was plain sailing in 2017. We suffered five deaths in our aviary. Poor Tarn, a Blue Faced Parrot Finch was one of the hardest to bare.

Tarn

Tarn

March:

I treated mum to a special birthday afternoon tea at Liverpool’s Jam restaurant.

20170325_123118 (3)

April:

Riley enjoyed many walks with David and I in 2017. None more so than at the beach!

20170417_105931

Which way should we go?

May:

I embarked on my first wild swim of the season! Crummock Water, was choppy, chilly but exhilarating!

Dsc_0197

Swimming in Crummock Water

June:

June was all about The Wildlife Trust’s 30 Days Wild. Part of the month long celebration we took a trip to Claremont Farm on the Wirral to pick our own strawberries!

20170618_101836

Strawberry picking

July: 

July was a fun filled month. We went wildlife spotting at Mere Sand’s Wood, took a visit to Birmingham’s Big Sleuth and had a two nights stay in the Lakes. A ten mile walk around Beda Fell and Angle Tarn Pikes was exhausting!

20170714_133516 (2)

Angle Tarn

August:

Following in much the same vein as July, August seen many more days out. Partaking in my my first Welsh wild swim was simply outstanding!

swim1

Swimming in Llyn Cwellyn

September:

The dawn of autumn saw David and I head towards Morecambe and Leighton Moss RSPB Nature Reserve in search of more wildlife.

grey heron

Grey Heron

October:

I surprised myself by completing the #walk1000miles challenge some two months earlier than expected. I completed on the 8th October 2017. 1000 miles + has been walked to date!

DSC_0370

Walk 1000 miles medal!

November:

The only highlight of this dark, dreary month was a theatre visit to The Liverpool Empire to see the 10th Anniversary of War Horse.

6365-fitandcrop-890x500

December:

December is again undoubtedly all about Christmas. This year David and I played host to family for Christmas dinner. I have to admit it’s been a very tiring month! Here’s to a more relaxing start to 2018!

christmas1

Merry Christmas

I wish you all good health and happiness for the new year ahead! Let’s make 2018 a year to remember!

Thanks for your continued support,

Christine xx

War Horse – Liverpool Empire

I find it hard to write reviews as everyone’s experience is individual. However, I just wanted to share with you all what I thought of The National Theatre’s production of the 10th Anniversary UK tour of War Horse.

6365-fitandcrop-890x500

I booked our tickets some two years ago after reading the book by Michael Morpurgo and watching the acclaimed Steven Spielberg film. I found the book largely more emotive than the film. Though come the day of the stage production I had somehow forgotten the plot of both book and film! I recalled battles of World War One and the part horses took in the human struggle.

Our visit to the Liverpool Empire Theatre, was not without hiccup. I thought a good 40 minutes would be enough to get us through the busy streets of Liverpool and to parking at St. John’s shopping centre. Unfortunately I had not accounted for the popularity of the Christmas market and Saturday afternoon shoppers! By 2.15pm we were stuck in traffic by Lime Street Station. The matinee performance started at 2.30pm! I began to slowly panic!

‘If there’s no parking spaces here, we’ll have to go to Liverpool One.’

‘But that’s miles away!’ I said. ‘We’ll be late.’

‘You go ahead then. I’ll catch up with you once I’ve parked the car!’

‘But you’ll miss the beginning of the show!’

‘You’ve waited two years for this,’ David reasoned. ‘It’s better if you go; at least one of us will see the start. They may not let us in until the interval if we are both late!’ I sat with a heavy heart, as rain showered down upon the window screen.

‘You don’t mind?’ I asked. ‘I’d rather both of us see the show.’

‘You go ahead.’ David was rational but my heart lingered until I handed him his ticket and kissed him good luck. The cold wind buffeted me as I stumbled through a thickening crowd. My feet splashed through puddles. I noticed the traffic in Lime Street was at a stand still, car horns blaring (as if that would help!) The stench of roasted meat from the Christmas market on St Georges Plateau was heavy on the air and made me balk. As the clock ticked I worried for David. In my rush I turned an ankle, and cried out into the cold, grey afternoon. I made my hurried way towards the theatre where I showed my ticket and then in bewilderment looked for my seat.

The Empire Theatre is a bit of a maze, with automatic doors and signs that are not very helpful. I thankfully managed to find my seat before the show started and sat hoping David would be following soon after. The lights dimmed and a young horse puppet (Joey) pranced around the stage. I couldn’t settle. Every-time I saw someone enter the shaded theatre I thought maybe it was David. However some 15 minutes into the show, after the auction scene, I saw David walk past. We laughed afterwards that he could have entered the auditorium shouting ‘Christine, where are you?’ but in reality I wondered how to catch his attention while he found a seat at the front. We sat the first half of the show separately.

For War Horse itself, the show was amazing. I thought it much better than the Lion King a few years ago. Perhaps having no assumptions of the show helped? The puppetry was superb, the story emotive and the stage production highly visual. The acting from the company was top notch and though there were no tears there was a lump in my throat at the end.

What makes War Horse a successful stage production is the multi disciplinary team behind it. From stage design to lighting effects. The score by Adrian Sutton though subtle was effective to promote emotion. John Tams’ folk songs bring the essence of rural Devon to life, (though I wasn’t too enamored with the songs within the play.) I loved the artwork by Rae Smith evoking powerful symbols of World War One. The lighting by Paule Constable was breathtaking! A scene that stood out for me was when when Albert and co. ran in slow motion towards the enemy. From the mist they emerged to run into the bullets and the shells. When the men fell one by one, it was painful to watch. It felt realistic.

3

Talking about realism the puppetry by Handspring Puppet Company was outstanding. You connect instantly with Joey. Albert’s reaction to Joey is a reflection of our own. There are other puppets within the show, from swallows flying in the peaceful Devonshire sky to a cheeky goose who received a lot of laughter for his aggressive antics. But the horses is what many have come to see. The scenes of war are the most vivid and stay with you long after the show. I cried in dismay when Joey was caught among the barbed wire in No-Mans-Land. You forget that they are just puppets.

The play has the human condition at the very core. From the dogged determination of  Albert, to the sadness that drives Arthur Narracott and the despair of Friedrich Müller. Joey and Topthorn suffer in a man made situation.

If you have the opportunity to go see War Horse, then I would highly recommend it. As a spectacle it is a feast for the eyes! Don’t forget to take your handkerchief!

Have you seen the show? Read the book or seen the film? What were your impressions?

Thanks for reading,

Christine x

*Pictures taken from various productions of War Horse.

Sunday Sevens #27

It’s that time again! Time to join in with another Sunday Sevens, devised by Natalie.

Overall its not been a bad week!

A gift: At the beginning of the week David said there was a cosmetics sale on at his work’s shop. He then surprised me by handing me a large box with some gorgeous brushes, eye shadows and lipsticks. It shows he does think of me sometimes 🙂

Culture: The hump day saw David and I attend the Liverpool Playhouse for a production of Gabriel starring Liverpool born Paul McGann and Belinda Lang. Set in occupied Guernsey during WW2, the action takes place in a farmhouse where a family of women live. Their survival during the occupation is due to the mother’s fraternization with the Germans. While there are moments of humour, there is also some toe curling observations. The womens’ lives are thrown into jeopardy with the arrival of ‘Gabriel’ who is found washed ashore. He has no recollection of who he is but he can speak fluent German! Is he a messenger sent from God to smite the Germans, or an SS officer come to oversee the concentration camp at Alderney? His identity is left ambiguous, but the ending leaves you shocked and saddened.

No visit to the Liverpool Playhouse could be complete without Cheshire Farm Ice-cream at the interval. Mmmm gorgeous!!

Literature: The book I have started reading this week is the seminal piece by Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird. I’ve been reading it while on the bus going to work, stuck in traffic due to building works. While on the daily commute I have been clocking up the miles for #Walk1000 miles: My tally for the week has been 27 miles, which has taken me over the 300 miles mark! Also as I walked between bus stops I kept looking for signs of spring. One day I witnessed a buzzard soaring over the city being hounded by a brave pigeon who must have been protecting its young. Then as I passed a grassy verge I saw a flash of blue. A huddle of forget-me-nots crowded all around!

dressShopping: On Saturday I dragged poor David around Speke Retail Park looking for clothes for work. As I have been toning up with doing 30-40 minutes of treadmill, five times a week, I have dropped a dress size and as a result all my size 8’s are too big for me! Sick of wearing only a handful of clothes I went in search of spring dresses and trousers.

I managed to get two short dresses which will look ok over leggings or tights and a pair of linen trousers which will be a welcome change from Lycra!

Yarden: With the wonderful sunny and warm weather we had over the weekend, David, Artie and I managed to grab a few hours in the yarden. Its amazing just how much the plants have all flourished. I snapped a fine specimen of a snake’s head fritillary and also one plant I can’t ID. Can you?

Visitors: On arrival from work everyday this week, David and I have seen cheeky pigeons sitting on the window ledge, looking into the kitchen. They have been waiting for us to throw seed out for them! Do you have any feathered friends?

pigeon

Finally: David and I had a lovely Sunday walk with Riley. We visited my favourite Liverpool park, Festival Gardens. The air was filled with the trill of great tits, bees hummed about in the undergrowth and orange tips and speckled woods fluttered along the woodland pathways. What a perfect way to start a day.

festival gardens

That was my week, how was yours?

Thanks for stopping by,

Christine x

2017 – A Year of Possibilities!

So, here we are, into the third week of 2017 and I have already been filling up the diary like mad! There are birthdays and anniversaries and Bank Holidays, and then there are the days David and I have planned away.

It has been well over a year since we last took in a concert at the Philharmonic Hall. This year we have the opportunity to see The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra in their recital of Mahler’s 5th Symphony.

GABRIEL-Poster280-min.jpgWe shall also be visiting The Liverpool Playhouse to see Paul McGann in Gabriel, a powerful drama during the Nazi occupation of Guernsey.

I have an Afternoon Tea booked at Jam (courtesy of my friend Kelly) as a Valentines treat for David and I in February!

Thank you to Louise at Ramblings of a Roachling for suggesting the Circle of Pine Trees‘s initiative, The Year in Books. I thought I would participate this year even though I may not get to read many books. I aim to read 40, but we shall see! Reading seems to come in fits and starts for me.

At present the first book I have read in 2017 is, Max Porter’s Grief is the Thing with Feathers. I am currently half way through David Jones’s In Parenthesis.

walk 1000 miles.jpg

I may be crazy but I have signed up to the challenge to #walk1000miles, sponsored by Country Walking and Live for the Outdoors. I think 1000 miles is quite doable in a year. I am taking into account, the walking to and from work, the exercises I do at home and the numerous walks in the countryside. I hope all will aid the final total in December. For the past two weeks I have totaled 50 miles. Not bad for a city girl in administration!

Once again I look forward to participating in The Wildlife Trusts 30 Days Wild! I wonder what wild things I will get up to this year?!

In keeping with the theme, Wild in Art have more animal trails to follow this summer, among them there is a sleuth of Sun Bears in Birmingham!

1884b7ea77cb8ee4102acde836aa6554.jpg

War Horse

And finally, I booked tickets to see War Horse at the Liverpool Empire two years ago! This November we will finally get to see this emotional show! I hope it’s as good as the reviews!

So there you have it, a selection of all the things I am participating in and eagerly looking forward to this year. There will undoubtedly be many, many more!

Have you made any plans for 2017?

Thanks for reading,

Christine x

Sunday Sevens #15

Phew! These past seven days have felt like a long week! I was thankful for the weekend!

TroyDavid and I have been worrying about our owl finch, Troy. He became ill on Sunday last, sitting on the floor twisting his head. The phenomena is called twirling. It is very upsetting to witness. All week I have felt helpless. We have put him on a course of anti-fungal medication in the hope that it is an ear canal infection. Troy seems to rally of a morning but come nighttime he relapses again. We have isolated him, in the hospital cage and will try anti-mite treatment next week. His mate, Tux has joined him in his cage for company. The picture featured is of Troy in good health.

I think I’ll get all the sad news out of the way first! One of the main events on the world stage this week, has been the attack on Bastille Day revellers in Nice. In Liverpool, in a recurrent display, the iconic St Georges Hall was sadly lit up with the colours of the tricolour in solidarity.

20160715_222805

41dd4ZhCx5L._SX310_BO1,204,203,200_I finished the latest book I’ve been reading, Rachel Kelly’s Black Rainbow. I read it for an online book group. It was only 99p, which was a positive. The prose is about the author’s two bouts of depression and how ‘words healed’ her, though I think it was prescription drugs and support by health professionals and her family who contributed to her recovery. I was not enamored with the book. I drew nothing from the narration, indeed halfway through the book the author’s attitude really alienated me and I grew quite hostile! The many interjections of ‘supportive’ poems really didn’t call to me, highlighting that depression is an individual illness. My own mental state may have caused my severe reaction to the book, but on completion, I felt empty, devoid of any feelings, not even relief in finishing the book. Have you read the book? Perhaps you gained more insight than I did.

And now for the good stuff!

the-merchant-of-venice-at-shakespeares-globe-theatre-5e0447b96ab71c2145f4bdbf0c9f6eca

On Friday, David and I attended the Liverpool Playhouseto see the Globe Theatre’s touring production of The Merchant of Venice, starring Jonathan Pryce. I was amazed to have acquired tickets as the play was a sell out! It’s not a play that sits easy with me. I find the antisemitism hard to watch. The Globe’s production relies heavily on the play being classed as one of William Shakespeare’s comedies, as the comic scenes starkly juxtapose the heavy drama. From the outset the play is performed with gusto by the cast. The musicians and ensemble came onto the stage singing and dancing 10 minutes before the billed start. David and I had just found our seats when the music struck up! The actors encouraged audience participation, to the extent that Launcelot (Stefan Adegbola) even dragged up two willing members of the audience to grace the action on stage. It made me think of how very different Shakespeare’s audience was to that of our own modern audience who silently watch voyeuristically from the darkness.

At times I felt I had travelled back in time as the stage design, lighting and costumes all gave the stage a kind of authenticity. There was much gravitas to Jonathan Pryce’s Shylock. I liked the interchanges in Hebrew between his onstage (and off) daughter Jessica, (Phoebe Pryce.) Rachel Pickup’s Portia was another highlight for me, she graced the stage elegantly yet her diction commanded you take note of her character! She had many a wise word to say.

Overall it was an enjoyable two and a half hours. David even treated me to Cheshire Farm ice-cream during the interval, scrumptious!

Saturday, we arose early. I dragged a reluctant David to Sheffield, to tour the streets in search of their herd of colourful elephants. We visited the Crucible where I recited tales of when I visited in 2013 to see my favourite actor, Jonathan FirthWe took in sights such as the Winter Gardens, Cathedral and railway station. We saw 31 of the 58 elephants in the two hours we walked. Below we pose with our favourites!

Have you been to the theatre recently? Seen any interesting art installations?

I hope you have a joyous week ahead. See you next Sunday.

Christine x

Sunday Sevens was devised by Natalie at Threads and bobbins.

Shiverpool – Ghost Bus

This weekend we made use of the competition prize I had won during the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic‘s most recent prize draw on Facebook. So David and I wrapped up warmly and made our way to the Suitcase Monument in Hope Street to embark on the Shiverpool Ghost Bus.

Shiverpool bus tour

Shiverpool bus tour

It was a clear, yet windy night, perfect for haunting stories and ghostly apparitions.

When we got to the monument there were already lots of people waiting for the bus which arrived a little late, (typical of the buses in Liverpool!) :p However it was nice to listen to the harmonious bells of both cathedrals, at opposite ends of Hope Street ringing into the dark evening as we stood waiting.

In hindsight perhaps I should have booked a tour on a weekday as town on Saturday became busy with revellers and the roads chocked with traffic.

When the bus finally arrived it was a red double decker and looked impressive.

Shiverpool Ghost Bus

Shiverpool Ghost Bus

Our tour guides for the evening were a duo of ‘brother and ‘sister,’ both lightly joked with the passengers who were all asked to go upstairs on the bus. This was by no mean feat with heels and an ankle length dress which I wore. The staircase was narrow and the steps uneven and in darkness was a bit of a safety hazard! The deck below was commandeered for a hen party from Ireland who held the tour up by 10 minutes!

While the bus waited for the late comers, the tour guides bantered with the passengers, asking where everyone lived. David and I had been the last to go upstairs and ended up seated at the back! We were, on more than one occasion singled out as a couple on a date. Apparently ‘I had made an effort’ on my toilette. Why thank you! 🙂

David and I have been on many ghost tours while holidaying in Edinburgh so the Shiverpool Ghost Bus had a lot to live up to!

The tour took us around the beautiful Georgian Quarter of Liverpool, visiting Rodney and Huskisson Street. The guides spoke of George Huskisson who was the first person to be killed by a steam engine at the Edge Hill trials and unknown to me Huskisson Street was also the home of Florence Maybrick who was charged with the death of James Maybrick, A.K.A. of Jack the Ripper fame.

The 90 minutes or so of the tour flew by and unfortunately the stories the guides narrated were rattled out at such a lightening speed that come to recap the experience, I am finding it hard to recall some of the tales. One such story, as we pulled alongside the leafy Falkner Square was about child murders and witches.

The tour was punctuated by the appearance of ‘ghosts’ who seemingly had come to life as the stories were recounted. The first appeared while we were parked outside St Bride’s Church, off Catherine Street. It was of a young bride to be, who was buried alive in the grave yard. The actor was dressed in white with a veil covering her face. She silently walked around the bus before being scared away by the tour guides. The creepy part of these ‘apparitions’ was looking out of the back window to see them just standing on the pavement silently watching as the bus drove off!

There was however a downside to having other actors joining us along the journey. This was, that while they were terrorising the passengers, as in the case of an angry drunkard tearing through the bus, you didn’t get to hear the story. So I missed a lot of the narrative due to this.

One good thing that came from the tour was a greater appreciation of the city and it’s architecture. Liverpool is indeed beautiful! The bus drove past the Anglican Cathedral, the biggest in the UK, and took us along the waterfront to see the Albert Dock and the Three Graces all lit up!

At one point in the tour we had to get off the bus. We all stood huddled together outside the iconic Royal Liver Building whose clock face is bigger than the Elizabeth Tower clock, ‘Big Ben‘. Here, outside the old insurance building, the guides told us a tale of poison and fraud. The silliest part of the night was when one of the guides got a gentleman to re-enact the symptoms of arsenic poisoning! Chronic diarrhoea and all!!

However let’s not forget that the tour tickets were free and it was something different to do from the usual humdrum routine of a Saturday night. It’s just sad that the stories were really not that engaging, nor scary enough! We have been on better ghost tours!

A Celebration by the RLPO!

I had been excited about attending this concert for some time. The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and chief conductor Vasily Petrenko had earlier in the week been wowing the audience at the Royal Albert Hall, London in the biannual Classic FM Live. Friday’s programme borrowed heavily from their earlier London performance, though sadly Petrenko did not return to Liverpool with his glittering sequinned jacket which he wore in celebration of Classic FM’s Make Some Noise charity.

Vasily Petrenko

Vasily Petrenko Picture: Ian West/PA

David and I were in the cheap seats in the upper circle. The auditorium filled up nicely, but was not a full house as Thursday’s performance of the same programme was. I was thankful for this and we enjoyed a unobstructed view of the orchestra!

View from our seats

View from our seats

After the National Anthem, the orchestra started the evening as they meant to go on with a Celebration Overture composed by Nigel Hess and commissioned for the Philharmonic’s 175th anniversary! It was a fun opening to the concert though I was more interested in what came next.

Ji Liu who had also graced the stage of the Royal Albert Hall with Petrenko and co on Tuesday, came to Liverpool to perform Rachmaninov’s ultimately romantic second Piano Concerto!

Ju Liu

Ji Liu

It is undoubtedly my favourite piano concerto! I love the lyricism of the piece and the second movement (adagio sostenuto) is spine tingly good. Ji Liu cuts a very slender frame on the stage and at times during the performance the piano seemed too small for him, (if that make’s any sense)! He played the piece deftly and with skill.

During the opening movement (moderato), I found that the orchestra seemed to drown out the piano at times. I have noted this earlier in my review of Nobuyuki Tsujii‘s performance of Rachmaninov’s third piano concerto. Perhaps this was why the orchestra was surrounded by padding that adorned the walls? In part to rectify the change in acoustics due to the earlier renovations? Either way, the performance was exceptional.

While Ji Liu took the audience into the slow, second movement, made famous by David Lean’s Brief Encounter, I prepared myself to be swept away with romantic feeling. However the reality was that any sentimental musings were disrupted by some unfortunate, who coughed and retched about five minutes into this musical reverie. I imagined the poor stricken soul expiring in his chair. I gripped David’s arm hoping the gentleman would recover or graciously leave the auditorium. He thankfully recovered so we could all enjoy the remaining performance which culminated in Ji Liu coming onto the stage three times to raucous approval and then satisfying the appreciative crowd with his rendition of Skyfall.

After the interval, the Philharmonic continued their celebratory mood, with Glinka’s Overture to Ruslan and Ludmila, Vaughan William’s English Folk Song Suite and Verdi’s Aida march and ballet music. The concert was rounded off loudly with the much played 1812 Overture by Tchaikovsky. I would have loved this performance even more, if it were not for the recorded playback of cannons near the cymbal crashing culmination! To me it seemed a little forced. I was content with the wonderful playing of the percussion section whose bells sounded glorious!

Overall it was a fun concert to see and a great start to the Philharmonic’s new season. I look forward even more to Petrenko’s Mahler in November when the RLPO perform Mahler’s Sixth Symphony, a symphony very close to my heart!

© 2015 Christine Lucas

Fun and frolics!

Saturday, though not as epic a day as Good Friday, was in itself an eventful day.

After shopping, gardening and preparing dinner for the evening (more roasted carrot and garlic soup), David and I took the bus into town, to the Liverpool, Everyman Theatre. We went to see the matinee of their new production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. And what a dream it was, though in places rather nightmarish. I say nightmarish in a good way, as the just under three hour production did not have me reaching for the razor blades. I mean nightmarish in the fact that the woodland scenes were less bucolic, more atmospheric. If you have ever walked in a shaded wood you will be familiar with the tense, tingling feeling of supernatural nervousness. In this Liverpool Everyman production, the faeries are featureless, clad in a black stockinged garb, looking rather menacing in fact. The mischievous Puck was like a ringmaster and it made you think that all the heightened drama between the love sick couples of Hermia/Lysander and Helena/Demetrius was all for Puck’s amusement.

The last play David and I saw at the Everyman was their opening show, Twelfth Night. That was filled with music and laughter and this production was no different. The stage design, though rather austere was effective, as was the use of lighting. The forest scenes were sparse with a mirrored wall giving the impression of a ‘360 degree audience,’ with scrunched up paper littering the floor resembling the mass of leaves and their sound as they were stepped upon.

The backdrop however is irrelevant as the performance of the cast members was foremost. On leaving the theatre the name on many a tongue was Dean (a young Brian Blessed) Nolan’s Bottom, (in one scene he left the audience red with embarrassment and young children giggling with glee), however the entire cast was strong, both seasoned and young actors played their parts well.

For the spectator the three hours filled with much magic and humour flew by. I have not seen another production of this play to compare but I say if you have a ticket to this play, then you will not leave the theatre disappointed.

The Guardian’s Review.