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2017-06-21 08:37 pm
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Travel Woes, and 'The Goat'

 I booked to see Edward Albee's 'The Goat: Or,Who is Sylvia' because I couldn't resist the chance to see Sophie Okonedo live on stage.

I booked a matinee, as that lets me travel up to London for the day without having to incur the cost of a hotel.

Things did not work out entirely to plan.

I arrived in Bath to catch my train to London, and discovered that it had been cancelled, apparently due to a fire on a train somewhere near Swindon. This necessitated  so careful calculations which led e to the conclusion that *if* the next train was on time, and assuming no delays on the tube, I ought to just be able to make it to the theatre on time, so I decided to wait and catch the next train. (I hate being late, so tend always to be early, which does at least mean that missing a train and being delayed for a time need not be a complete disaster)

It was, inevitably, a very crowded train, and very hot, but I did eventually get to London, and to the Theatre Royal, Haymarket. 

The play is... odd. Successful, award-winning architect Martin (Damian Lewis) has been happily married to his wife, Stevie (Sophie Okonedo) for 22 years, has a loving (and gay) son, Billy (Archie Madekwe) and is due to be interviewed by his oldest friend, Ross (Jason Hughes), about his 50th Birthday, his recent award, and the new, flattering commission he has received to design a new billion dollar city.  

Ross challenges Martin about his absent-mindedness and lack of engagement with the interview, and he confesses that his distraction is due to his having fallen in love and started an affair ... with a goat.

The play then follows the reactions to Martin's confession - Ross's disgust, Stevie's disbelief, then anger and despair (and a lot of smashing things) 

It's blackly comic in places - even while fighting over the disintegration of their marriage, Stevie and Martin can be sidetracked by semantics and word-play. And pretty dark, by the end.

Interesting, though. I'm glad I saw it.  And Sophie Okonedo is awesome.

It is on at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, until 24th June, so you don't have a lot of time if you want to go!.

It's just as well the play was worth seeing, as, as well as the fun delays on my journey in, I got delayed again coming home. My train got stuck on account of a train near Swindon having a small fire, which resulted in some of the passengers being evacuated onto the trackside, which (understandably)  means they have to stop all the trains.

We ended up sitting at Didcot for an hour, which meant I also missed the last but back to the Park and Ride. Somewhat to my surprise, when I asked, the rail company did give me a voucher for a taxi to the car park,which was a relief, as I *really* didn't fancy walking 3 miles uphill, at the end of a long, very hot day!

Fortunately, none of the people on the train were hurt, they just got delayed even more than we did, I think

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2017-06-18 01:04 pm

The Addams Family Musical

 I really wanted to like the Addams Family Musical. 

It seemed like a nice idea. The basic premise is that Wednesday Addams is now 18, and in love with a 'normal' boy, who she invites, with his parents, to meet her family.

And hilarity ensues. 

Or not.


It's good visually, the stage set is suitably spooky, and Morticia (Samantha Womack) and Gomez (Cameron Blakely) look the part, and Carrie Hope Fletcher looks just as you would expect an 18 year old Wednesday Addams to look.

But the plot is thin and clunky, and while a really good musical can get by with next to no plot, in the case, the musical numbers are...fine, but not enough to make up for the productions other shortcomings. 

It's a shame, because the cast are good, it's just that they don't have much to work with.

I think if you want 'normal' people meeting strangers in a spooky house then the Rocky Horror Picture Show has much better music and plot!

Its fair to say that I seemed to be in a minority in this view - the audience was, for the most part, highly enthusiastic and clearly enjoyed the show a good deal more than I did. 

But for me, I found the production distinctly underwhelming. 

2/5 Stars.

If you want to judge for yourself, the production is on tour around the UK until November. 

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2017-06-06 10:25 pm

The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui: Donmar Warehouse

 I've seen Lenny Henry on stage a couple of times - to see Othello in 2009, and Fences in 2013, and he was superb in both, so when I saw that he was going to be appearing at the Donmar Theatre I booked a ticket, despite being unfamiliar with the play, The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui.

The theatre is small, so performances there are always intimate, but this one is more than usually so. The whole of the stalls seating has been removed, and instead, there are cafe tables and chairs, on all 4 sides of the 'stage' (although there was no demarcation between stage and audience), and 'hooch' on sale - the whole effect being that of a 1920's speakeasy.

Cast members were moving around the space, greeting and chatting (in character) with the audience; I had not expected to have Lenny Henry personally greet me and shake my hand as I took my seat! 

For those who, like me, are not intimately familiar with Bertolt Brecht's oeuvre, the play was written in 1941, and is set in prohibition-era, Chicago, covering the rise of Arturo Ui from gangster to politician, in an extremely thinly disguised reference to the rise of Hitler, echoing events such as the Reichstag fire, the night of the long knives and the anschluss / annexation of Austria.


It's very, very good. Although written about the rise of the Nazis, the current production has been updated with some more contemporary references as well - Ui, as he begins his political careers, promises to build a wall, and to make his city great again...


The theatre foyer

The play has a lot of very funny moments, but also a lot of very troubling ones. Lucy Ellinson, was phenomenal, she was utterly convincing as Emmanuelle Giri (Herman Goring) - completely amoral, murderous, superficially charming, and more than slightly unhinged. Giles Terera as Ernesto Roma (Ernst Rohm) was equally good, tough, loyal to his boss, and not too bright (and, also, murdered slightly, early in Act 2)

The production draws heavily on the audience, with members of the audience co-opted to help move kerosene, and one audience member being hauled out to stand trial for setting the warehouse / Reichstag fire, and eventually we all have to stand (or sit) to be counted. 

Lenny Henry  (Ui) himself is excellent in his move from touchy, inarticulate gangster, to smooth (and terrifying) politician. In fact, he's rather too convincing.

The run ends on 17th June, so there isn't much time to see it, but if you are in London and can get a ticket, it is very definitely worth it. 

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2017-06-04 04:06 pm


 I was in London yesterday. 

It was a gloriously sunny day, everywhere was busy, the tubes were packed, the streets crowded. There were a few more police in evidence than usual, but mostly, everyone was getting on with life as normal.

I wasn't anywhere near London Bridge. And as I was only in London for the day, I'd left, and had been back at home for about 2 hours when the news broke about the attack at London Bridge.

And it is scary, particularly coming so soon after Manchester. Manchester felt personal to me; I used to live there, and although it's over 15 years since I left, it still holds a place in my heart, and I have family and friends still living there.

My heart breaks for the victims, and their families and friends.

(C) Chris Riddell

But you know, I have plans to be in London in 2 weeks time, and I will not be altering those plans. 

I have plans to be there 3 weeks after that, and I won't be changing those plans, either. 

Part of this is statistical - I know that there are, on any given day, literally millions of people in London, and only a tiny, tiny minority are fuckwitted murderers, so the risks are pretty low, but mostly it's because it seems to me that the best, and perhaps the only response most of us can make to this kind of thing is to carry on as normal.

So, mourn for the dead, support the injured and grieving, and keep visiting London, and other cities, keep living your life, and forget the names of the murderers, let them disappear into obscurity and ridicule. 

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2017-06-03 09:15 am

Neil Gaiman and Stephen Fry at Hay

 The last of the events I booked for was the glorious meeting of Neil Gaiman and Stephen Fry, which, as it turned out, had the additional, wonderful addition of Chris Riddell, illustrating the conversation.


Neil's most recent book is of course his Norse Mythology, retelling some of the stories of the Norse gods, and Stephen, it appears, is in the process of writing a book retelling some of the Greek Myths (out in November).

He explained that when he was told Neil had a book of Norse Myths out his first thought was not the normal joy which one usually feels on learning that Neil has a new book out, but rather 'oh sod, is he doing series?' ..

Neil Gaiman and Stephen Fry

He explained that once reassured that Neil wouldn't be publishing a retelling of Greek Myths any time soon, he relaxed and enjoyed the book!



Neil talked a little about when and how he first fell in love with the Norse myths (comics first, then Roger Lancelyn Green). They agreed that it's best to tell the stories and not try to make explain them "If you try and explain them, they get less. They don't get more". 

He also spoke about how different Norse myths are from Greek ones - how inhospitable the world in which the Norse gods live; 'No-one is hanging around wearning not very much and staring at their reflection in pools' 

Neil read an  extract of his story of Loki's children, about the binding of Fenrir.

Fenris Wolf

And Stephen talked about the Greek Myths, and how her grew up on Robert Graves. There was a little discussion about how the ancient greek myths explain the creation of the world, (and how the Norsemen would have known how unscientific the Greeks were, in thinking the world came from chaos, when everyone knew everything was really licked into being by a giant cow...)

They agreed that the ancient Greeks, like the Norse, didn't trust the gods, they are treacherous and unreliable, and as wicked and capricious and lustful as humans!

After a  slight delay (it would appear that  not having yet published your book, makes it harder to actually read from your book.) Stephen read about King Midas, , ('rather a nice King. He loved his roses') who had asses ears, as a result of criticising Apollo's musical ability..

King Midas has Asses Ears

They talked about mining myths, how you can dig down into older versions, (with specific reference to versions of the Orpheus and Euridyce story), and also spoke briefly about 'American Gods'

Chris Riddell illustrated both of them. (It should be mentioned that as Chris's art was being projected onto a large screen at the back of the stage, we the audience could see what he was drawing, but Neil and Stephen couldn't, without turning round, which meant that from time to time their (relatively) serious conversation was interrupted by laughter from the audience!

Is Neil going to be writing a book of Welsh Myths, he was asked

As, for instance, when a member of the audience asked about whether Neil had any plans to use the Welsh Myths.. (Stephen did point out that, out of mercy to his spell-checker he probably shouldn't go from Norse to Welsh myths!)

Questions included Stephen's views on insulting gods He takes the view you can't insult what you don't believe in, but that if it turned out there was an omnipotent god and he met it, he'd be 'a bit cross' .

Neil was asked which of the Norse gods he most identified with (Kvasir, because he didn't to anything to dreadful, and because of the mead of poetry) 


They were also asked about whether they felt like gods while writing. Neil admitted he did when he first got to write Doctor Who, and wrote 'TARDIS, Interior' and when he wrote Batman and realised that he could make Batman do anything!

Finally, Amanda Palmer came onstage to read Neil's poem, 'The Mushroom Hunters' which was new to me.

The BBC was recording the session and put the full thing online here. Watch and enjoy!

After the event, Neil did a signing, which was very generous of him. The tent in which the event was held seats around 1,700 and it seems as though most of us wanted to get stuff signed! 

About an hour and a half  into the queuing-for-the-signing  part of the evening, Amanda and Patrick came to entertain us, (and to let anyone who didn't know, know that they had a gig later) 

It was, as always, lovely to see Neil and say hello, but I can completely understand why he doesn't often do such big signings. 

I had a long drive back home afterwards, so couldn't stay for Amanda's gig, but it was a lovely day!

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2017-06-02 07:57 pm

The Hay Festival:The Christopher Hitchens Platform: A New Enlightenment

 The second Hay festival event I went to was in the big, 'Tata' tent (which seats around 1,700 people, so 'tent' feels like a bit of an understatement.


Such an awesome line up: Stephen Fry, theoretical physicist and cosmologist, Lawrence Krauss,  historian Bettany Hughes, and astrophysicist Martin Rees, (the Astronomer Royal). It made for a fascinating conversation to listen to.

The starting point of the discussions was whether we need (and whether we are likely to get) a new Enlightenment, with debate about whether we are seeing a beneficial democratisation of knowledge, or a dumbing down - Martin Rees pointed out that knowledge is more readily available but harder to distinguish from 'crap'.

The discussions also covered religion and science and stories "Science is a story. It's a story that makes predictions. But the arbiter of truth is not the story, it's observations.  It's a story you can test" [Lawrence Krauss]

There was also consideration of fanaticism, and whether the modern availability of knowledge and communication might mean that the current wave of fanaticism might pass faster than previous, historical incidences - perhaps the phase will pass faster than it did for, say, Christianity.. which is, I guess, a hopeful view.  

It was a very interesting and thought-provoking conversation, (although the tent did get very stuffy!)

The BBC was present and the whole talk is available online, although it may be region-locked.

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2017-05-31 09:06 pm

Hay Festival : Chris Riddell's Laureate's Goodbye

 I've never been to the Hay Festival before, but when I realised that Chris Riddell was there, for his  last official event as Children's Laureate, and that Neil Gaiman and Stephen Fry were doing an event together, and that both of those things were taking place on Bank Holiday Monday, I couldn't resit booking tickets.

Hay is about 2 1/2 hours drive from my home, so this meant getting up early for the drive (and realising, as I went, that it has been well over a decade since I last crossed the Severn bridge, and that I should perhaps make plans to visit Wales again)

The first event I had booked for was Chris Riddell's event: 'The Hay Literary Lecture: The Laureate's Goodbye' . Chris was appointed as Children's Laureate in June 2015, so will be stepping down on 7th June this year. 

The format of the event was that we were all given postcards as we queued, on which we could write down questions for Mr Riddell. He then selected cards at random, and answered the questions (with art and talking)


He started out by talking a little bit about being Laureate (or, as he explained he has been referred to, ' the Children's Lauderette'... The best part about being Children's Laureate is, apparently, that you are given a medal, which you can keep on the mantelpiece and creep downstairs to stroke, when you need reassurance! (although it does not, we learned, get you out of doing your share of the housework...)


Questions included asking about how to improve someone's confidence in their art (the answer, with reference to having had Raymond Briggs as a personal tutor at Art College, was 'encouragement') , whether tea or coffee is more effective when dealing with artist's block...

Chris also talked about the discussion he had with his publisher before the first Ottoline book was published, about the extras required..including foiled endpapers, miniature books in the back of the book and so forth..and the pain of being made to give away his first two copies to children of the Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer, because he happens to be at 10 Downing Street (and lets face it, who hasn't had that experience?) 

It was so much fun!

After the event, Chris did a signing. The queue was long. I was near the end, but he was still very smiley and friendly when I reached the front (and there are worse things than standing in a slowly moving queue, reading, in the sunshine)

Such a nice man, and so talented

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2017-05-28 03:46 pm
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Bank Holiday Weekend

 This weekend is a bank holiday weekend, which means 3 days off. It is also traditional for the weather to be terrible!

It's been very hot over the last couple of days (you know, the days we've been spending in the office) so of course at around 3 a.m. on Saturday morning there was a massive thunderstorm, with torrential rain, and lots of very loud thunder. 

I'm sure that the rain will be good for the garden and fields, but I could have done without being woken at that time of night!

The forecast suggested that we were likely to get more rain over the weekend, but other than a very brief shower, Saturday was dry (although very warm and muggy a lot of the time) so I was able to cut the grass both at the front and back.  

I had turf laid at the back, when I had the gravel removed last year. The front, where I had tarmac removed, was just replaced with topsoil, and I wasn't quick enough to plant it so have an awful lot of docks and nettles and other things I don't really want,but am gradually working on getting rid of the weeds, and getting grass to grow. 

I also planted some young hydrangeas (grown from cuttings from my parents' garden) earlier in the year, which seem to be doing reasonably well. I hope, eventually, that I will have a selection of bushes and flowers - and maybe even a vegetable patch.

The clematis I planted last year is thriving, and has just started to flower, and my tomato plants (in pots and grow bags) and peas (also in pots and grow bags) seem to be doing well; the tomatoes are starting to flower, and the peas have both flowers and little baby mange-tout pods. 

Given that my track record on growing things to eat hasn't been great, and mostly seems to consist of growing things to be eaten by slugs, or to die for no apparent reason, it is very gratifying! I'm really hoping that this year I will get a reasonable crop of tomatoes. The last few years I've grown them, the fruit has't had time to ripen before it gets too cold, but I started the seedlings off earlier this year, and I'm keeping some of them in pots indoors, so hopefully those will ripen, even if the outdoors ones don't!

So, I've been pottering around, doing a bit of weeding and pruning and re-potting, and I also did various bits of housework, because sometimes you run out of excuses not to! 

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2017-05-27 05:01 pm

'Ink' at Mr B's

 A little while back I saw this beautiful looking book in Mr B's  bookshop in Bath. I read the blurb, and like the sound of it, and the book became part of my holiday reading.

It's Alice Broadway's debut novel,  and it's an excellent read. (its also the first of a trilogy, which is nice, as it means that there's more to come) 


The protagonist, Leora, lives in Saintstone, a city, within a wider world, in which everyone's life story is, quite literally, written on their skin. When someone dies, their skin is preserved as a book and is judged, and weighed as worthy or not. Leora is waiting, confidently, to hear that her father has been judged worthy..........


I won't spoil the book by saying more, but urge you to read it for yourself.

Hearing Alice talk about the book was very interesting, addressing issues around faith, and questioning it, about tattoos, and the preservation of human skin, was very interesting.  She explained that she doesn't (yet) have any tattoos, due in part to the difficulty of choosing what to have permanently on one's skin.                        

She also revealed that  she knew from the beginning the 'A' and the 'Z' of the whole story, but not all of the other points on the way, and that she had started writing the book as part of NaNoWrMo, but never really dared to plan for parts 2 and 3 as it seemed so unlikely that the book would be published!

I am glad she turned out to be wrong about that one!   

Alice read a couple of extracts from the book, and also answered questions, before signing copies of the book. I hope that when the 2nd an 3rd parts of the trilogy are published, Mr B's can persuade her to return.

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2017-05-22 07:46 pm

Bath Festival : Dominic Dromgoole

 I was a little disappointed with the line up for the Bath Literary Festival this year, as I couldn't find very many events I wanted, and was able, to attend. However, one I did like the look of was an interview with Dominic Dromgoole, former Artistic Director of the Globe Theatre, talking about his book about the 'Hamlet: Globe to Globe' tour.

For those who don't know, the tour marked the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death by trying to take a production of 'Hamlet' to every country in the world.

Dominic Dromgoole, 20.05.17


It was very interesting. Dominic started by explaining that he is a local boy; he was brought up in Wedmore, so coming to Bath feels like coming home. He also pointed out that the parents of one of the Hamlet cast, another local boy, were in the audience!

He explained that the idea of the tour came about in a 'louche bar' where he and other members of the Globe team were drinking cocktails at the end of an away day (he commented that the Globe doesn't get any government support, and very little sponsorship, so the money comes from the box office and they felt, therefore, able to spend it on such things!). They were unsure, at first, whether it would even be possible, but (he claims) decided to go ahead anyway! It followed on from the season they had had at the Globe, where they performed all of Shakespeare's plays, with companies from around the world performing in a wide variety of languages, so they were able, to some extent, to build on the relationships built with various international theatres and companies.

He explained that they then had to decide which play to take on tour, and decided on Hamlet on the basis that it has iconic appeal, and unlike other plays (such as Romeo and Juliet) it is elusive; there is always more or the actors to discover, so they are less likely to get bored and stale over a long run.

He was asked about how well the play was understood, in non-English speaking countries, particularly as there were no sur-titles, and in some of the countries visited the play would not be (well) known.  He explained that, as at the Globe, they performed in natural light or with the audience, as well as the players, lit, which allows cast and audience to make eye contact with one another, and that key parts of the play 'read' clearly even of you don't understand the words -the opening scene, on the battlements, is a readily understandable scenario,  Claudius can be recognised as an authority figure, ghosts are well known in most cultures, and so on. 

Over all it was an interesting conversation, I was glad to have gone. And it left me really wanting to see a version of Hamlet at the Globe! 

After the event, I had a chance to buy a book (although I bought an older one rather than Globe to Globe, to start with!) and say hello. 

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2017-05-21 09:27 am

Don Juan in SoHo

 Watching David Tennant on stage is always a pleasure, and I really enjoyed '3 Days in the Country' which was written by Patrick Marber, so naturally, when I saw that Tennant  was going to be performing in Marber's play, 'Don Juan in SoHo'  I booked tickets!


The play is a re-working of Molière's 1665 play, set in contemporary SoHo, with David Tenant as Don Juan, Adrian Scarborough as his long-suffering servant, Stan.


I'm not familiar with the original play, so am unsure how much of the plot has been retained, but whatever liberties may have been taken, they seem to work! 


We meet the Don in a luxury hotel, where he is discovered by his brother in law, initially concerned for his safety, as he has not been seen for two days, although of course we quickly learn that it is simply that the amoral Don has abandoned his wife, to spend his nights with a supermodel in the penthouse suite... 

David Tennant as Don Juan. Production photo by Helen Maybanks


When we first meet him, he slumps into an armchair, apparently too exhausted even to reach the glass Stan has provided for him, and then proceeds to smoke a series of cigarettes, flirting outrageously with the hotel staff members who come to insist he puts it out..

Don Juan is sexy, charming, unscrupulous and almost entirely immoral. He shamelessly lies to his father (Gawn Gainger) to avoid being disinherited, but is cruelly, and ruthlessly, honest in admitting to his wronged wife that he married her as the only way of sleeping with her, and that he was cheating in her even on their wedding day.

As Stan says 'Please don't be charmed, he's not a lovable rogue' and he is absolutely right. He's not a lovable rogue. But he is very entertaining! 

Stan and Don Juan: Production photo by Helen Maybanks

And there are lots of little touches - the script includes contemporary references ("I'm not a rapist, I don't grab pussy") there are telling little vignettes - the woman in the hospital, filming Don Juan as he attempts to seduce a grieving bride while simultaneously enjoying fellatio from another woman, springs to mind - Don Juan is not the only member of this ensemble with dubious morals! 


The play is at Wyndham's Theatre until 10th June, and it definitely worth seeing, if you can!

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2017-05-20 10:51 am

Nell Gwynn

 I missed Nell Gwynn when it was originally on at the Globe Theatre, but heard many good things about it, so when I saw that it was coming to Bath I immediately booked a ticket. 

And then a little bit later I realised it was for the same night I would be getting back from Venice, but as that was the last night it was in Bath, there was no way of changing the ticket, so I decided to hope that the train would be on time and the traffic light, and that I'd get back in time.

It was, and I did. All the travel gods smiled on me, I was out of Gatwick within half an hour of the plane landing, and got to Bath with time to grab a snack before going into the theatre!


The play, written by Jessica Swale and starring Laura Pitt-Pulford as Nell and Ben Righton as Charles II, begins in 1660 as a young Nell Gwynn, selling oranges at Drury Lane theatre, draws the attention of actor Charles Hart (Sam Marks), and starts on her path towards being one of the first professional actresses in Britain, and, a little later, mistress of Charles II.

It was lot of fun. I particularly enjoyed the performance of Esh Alladi, as Edward Kynaston,an actor famed for his portrayal of female roles, outraged by the idea of women on stage!


Nell gets most of the best lines - there is a lovely sequence where she gives her unvarnished opinion of women characters as written by male playwrights, with particular reference to  Shakespeare's 'Juliet. (Spoiler Alert: She is not convinced by Juliet and her suicide) 

There was live music.  There was singing and dancing. There were ridiculous hats. there were political jokes.

It was all great fun.

Sadly the run is now over, so you can't see it, but if they revive it, go see it.

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2017-05-18 07:22 pm

Venice, More Art, Angels and Architecture

 As may have become clear, I do enjoy a good art gallery, and as well as the modern art galleries Venice also has the Galleria Accademia, where they keep all the renaissance art (and later - it covers the 14th to 18th Centuries) .

One of the first rooms you go into is in what used to be the refectory of the Scuola Grande della Carità, which is a 14th C building, and has an amazing wooden ceiling covered in cherubim. Apparently, no two faces are the same.. 

Angel Ceiling, Galleria Dell'Accademia


The gallery's collection is arranged broadly chronological, so you start with 14th and 15th Century religious art - lots of lovely Renaissance Angels and the occasional dragon.

Quite a lot of the rooms were closed when I visited, so I didn't get to see a lot of the later stuff, but I did very much enjoy the room with a series of paintings of 'The Miracles of the True Cross', by Carpaccio, Gentile Bellini,  and Mansueti.

'Miracolo della Croce caduta nel canale di San Lorenzo'- Gentile Bellini, 1500

They show meticulous pictures of Venice in the late 1400's. (Theoretically involving miracles attributable to a relic of the true cross, but really more about the people and the scenery!)



Detail from Carpaccio's 'Miracle of the Cross at the Ponte di Rialto' (1496)

There are gondolas and gondoliers and  posh Venetians, and pictures of the Rialto and on St Mark's


 'Processione in piazza San Marco' Gentile Bellin, 1496

 It's fascinating to see so many little details of Venice in 1500! 

After leaving the gallery, I found another relic of Renaissance Venice, the Scala Contarini del Bovolo, a beautiful, delicate, external spiral staircase.




It was built in around 1400, and is just lovely. 


You can climb the tower, and there are views out across Venice from the top.


The un-named (but sneaky) architect of the tower made the arches smaller on each level as the tower goes up, to make it look taller than it really is!

This was my last full day, so I then spent some time just wandering around and enjoying the sights.


..and the traghetto, and the canals.



I admired the beautifully decorated gondolas 'parked' outside the guesthouse I was staying at, and generally drank in the atmosphere.



It  was all rather nice.


The following morning I had a little time to wander around again before catching the boat back to the airport to fly home.



It was a lovely sunny morning, which made it harder to leave, but at least the trip across the lagoon was pleasant!


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2017-05-14 11:29 am

Treasures from the Wreck of the 'Unbelievable'

 A couple of weeks before I went to Venice, I saw a review for Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable' , the new exhibition of works by Damien Hirst.



It seemed intriguing, so having time, I went to see it.

The exhibition claims to be the items discovered that a wreck was discovered, in 2008, of a 2nd Century ship, full of treasures collected by a wealthy former slave. It is, of course, entirely untrue. But they have put a lot of effort into making it sound convincing.

I started in the Palazzo Grassi (the exhibition is in two locations, Palazzo Grassi and Dorgana) 

The Palazzo Grassi is a large, canalside mansion, with 3 stories surrounding a central atrium. 


Right now, the atrium is rather full of a 60' tall bronze demon (or, if you ignore the talons, a 60' tall naked headless man)

I'm not sure that it would be a decorating choice I'd make, if I ever happen to have a palace on the Grand Canal, but it's quite dramatic. And a little odd. 

As are most of the other exhibits.


I found a bust of Mazikeen. (or, 'The Skull beneath the Skin', as Mr Hirst calls her)



Then there was Andromeda and the monster, which gave more than a nod to Hirst's famous pickled sharks..

I particularly enjoyed the juxtaposition of Andromeda and the Sharks and Things with Tentacles with the lovely gilded and decorated ceiling.

There are some pieces which a cynical person might think are the tiniest bit inconsistent with an 1,800 year old shipwreck...

As you continue round the exhibition, it becomes clear that Hirst is riffing upon, a whole range of targets - the solemnity of museums and their careful speculation about artifacts, his own, and other artists' works, (I didn't realise it at the time, but even the giant naked demon is a take on William Blake's miniature painting, 'The Ghost of a Flea')


There are also takes on modern scientific research (dressed up as a claim that the mouse and the ear were parts of a giant statue of Zeus)


Some of the pieces are beautiful in their own right, such as this 'Sun Disk'


Others look more like props from a Indiana Jones film.

And some are just entertaining, like the Unicorn skulls...



I enjoyed the exhibition. I am not sure whether it is good art or not, but it is good fun, although I felt it perhaps takes itself a little too seriously. In commenting on how seriously art and museums take themselves, it seems to have fallen into the same trap. I got the impression that Hirst was having fun creating the exhibition, and I cannot help but think that the exhibition would have benefited from loosening up a little. I think adding a cocktail bar and some music would improve things.

(I think also that the exhibition is a little too big and repetitious - there are only so may fake artifacts you can see before they start looking the same..)

But over all, it is fun, and I'm glad I went.

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2017-05-10 08:35 pm

Torcello and More

 I was a little disappointed by the mosaics in St Marks, not because they are not impressive, because they are, but because it's hard to get to to see them, given how crowded the place is, so,largely for that reason, I decided to take a trip to the island of Torcello, which is, these days, very sparsely populated, but which has a cathedral which is famous for having the oldest mosaics in Venice, created in the 11th and 12th century.


My trip to the ferry stop took me via the fruit and fish markets at the Rialto, after which there was a somewhat grey ferry ride to Torcello. 


I got an early boat,and there were very few people around as I walked up from the landing stage to the cathedral. There is just one canal, which leads from the ferry quay to the village so you can't get lost, and while the landscape is not very inspiring, it it was good to be away from the city for a little while, and enjoy some peace and greenery.

 had not realised, but there are actually 2 churches, side by side. There is the 11thC church of St Fosca, which is starkly plain and understated inside. I liked it, but there are no mosaics!

St Fosca

Then there is the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, which was founded in the 7thC, although the current building was mostly built in the 11thC, with additions and repairs in the 14th 

It does have mosaics. And they are very impressive.  I was fortunate that when I arrived, there was no one else in the church, so I got to enjoy them in peace for a a short time, before others joined me!

There are images of Mary and of Christ in two of the Domes at the Eastern end of the church, but the really dramatic one is on the West wall, where there is a huge image of Judgement Day.

Cattedrale di Torcello (Basilica di Santa Maria Assunta)

I particularly enjoyed the section half way down the left hand side, showing the dead being resurrected from their graves and winding sheets,  and (for reasons which were not adequately explained) from various beasts. I liked the lions.

On the opposite side, are the damned, being cast into Hell, together with little vignettes illustrating the seven deadly sins, although I am embarrassed to admit that I am not certain which sin is which (Although I'd guess that the 3 people on the left, having a snack while standing in a fire, probably represent Gluttony...)

As well as the church, Torcello also has a tiny historical and archaeological museum, which I visited briefly.

At around this point,  a couple of school trips arrived, so I decided to leave.

Back in Venice, and after a rather tasty lunch, I found the Scuola Dalmata - also known as San Giorgio degli Schiavoni. It is one of Venice's mediaval confraternity houses (or Scuolas), and I wanted to go because, in 1502 the members arranged for the painter Carpaccio to paint a series of panels of the fraternity's patron saints, including a rather nice one of St George and the Dragon.

I should mention, perhaps, that I don't know much about medieval art, and next to nothing about Carpaccio, but I saw a picture of this panel and liked it, so I wanted to see the original.

Another panel shows George triumphantly leading the (now much smaller!) dragon into a town square.

Another of the Scuola's parton saints was St Jerome, who apparently struck up a friendship with a lion after removing a thorn from the lion's paw. 

The painting shows Jerome with the lion, together with some rather alarmed friars. I'm with the friars on this one. I am not sure that I would wish to rely , for my safety, on the gratitude of a lion...

But I did like the pictures. They have a certain charm to them which appeals to me. 

I spent the remainder of the afternoon looking at a different kind of art altogether, one which I think needs its own post.

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2017-05-08 10:11 am

Another post about Venice (Mostly San Marco)

 The day I flew to Venice, I checked on the weather forecast for Venice, and it told me that it was due to rain pretty much constantly while I was there. It didn't, but on Wednesday it decided to fulfil the prophecy.

It turns out that rain does discourage people a little, so St Mark's Square was a lot less crowded than usual.

I'd planned to visit St Mark's, and booked a 'skip the line' ticket so I didn't have to queue in the rain, although it simply means that you join the queue inside the basilica instead of outside! 

The sheer volume of people does mean that it's  bit of a conveyor belt; you shuffle along on little fenced paths through the basilica, and can't really stop and take in the atmosphere, and not all of the mosaics are lit, all of the time, but despite this it is still pretty impressive. After walking round the church itself, you get to go upstairs, where you can visit the museum. The original horses of St Mark's are there, now. 

Cavalli di San Marco


The horses have had a long and varied history. They were created (probably) in the 2nd or 3rd C AD, (originally pulling a chariot) and were displayed at the hippodrome in Constantinople for many years, before being looted by the Venetians in 1204 (when they also got their collars, as the heads of the sculptures were removed for transport, and the collars added to cover up the join, when they were reassembled)

They then took up their posts on the facade of St Marks, in 1254. They stayed there until 1797, when Napoleon had them removed, and they spent some time in Paris, before being returned after Napoleon's defeat, and reinstated on the Basilica in 1815. They were moved inside to prevent damage from pollution, in the 1980s, and the ones outside are now copies.



I hadn't appreciated how old they were, until I read about them in the museum! 

The museum also give you the chance to see some of the mosaics up close, and to look down into the church.

And of course there is also the chance to go out onto the loggia and look down into St Mark's Square, and out to the lagoon.

(That line of umbrellas are over all the people queuing to get into the basilica, an excellent reason to use the skip-the-line service!)

On the way out, are the best views of some of the mosaics, and they seem more relaxed about you taking photos of them, in the porch. They are very impressive!

I spent the afternoon mostly admiring modern art, as I visited both the Ca' Pesaro museum of modern art, and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection.

My favourite piece in the Ca' Pesaro museum was their Klimt, Salome, although I also enjoyed the Kandinskys and the Rodins.   Not to mention the views out over the Grand Canal.

The same building also houses the Oriental Art museum, which has some rather lovely netsuke, and Japanese screen, and also an amazing Chinese Ivory chess set, which reminded me of the one which Lord Peter Whimsey buys as a gift for Harriet Vane in Gaudy Night..


Then there's the Peggy Guggenheim Collection , with more Kandinskys, plus Man Ray, Jackson Pollock, Picasso and Dali, not to mention a sculpture garden with pieces from Moore, Hepworth, Anish Kapoor and others. Even in the rain it is well worth exploring! 

Despite being distinctly soggy by this point, I did stop off with some other rubber-neckers, on the Ponte d'Accademia to watch another piece of artwork being delivered or installed. I hadn't really thought much about how the lack of roads or trucks would affect that kind of thing - there must be a whole extra set of challenges when even your cranes need to be on barges...

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2017-05-07 03:15 pm

Venice, Or What I Did on My Holiday, Part 2

 One of the things many visitors to Venice do is to go up the Campanile of St Mark's, to see the views over the city. However, you have to queue, and the queues are long. I don't like to queue.

So, instead, I decided to get the ferry across to San Giorgio Maggiore, which *also* has a Campanile with great views, and which seems to be a little of the beaten track, so far as crowds are concerned. Plus, bonus boat ride!


There are nice views back across to St Mark's, from the boat.



When I got to San Giorgio, it was still closed (there does seem to be a certain unreliability about information places provided regarding opening hours, but there are worse things than pottering around a marina and looking at Venice in the sunshine!)



But being early did mean that when I went up the tower (there is the luxury of a lift) there were only 2 other people up there. And some bells. The views are pretty great.

It turns out also that 25th April is the feast day of St Mark, and St Mark is pretty popular in Venice.From the campanile I could hear the brass bands in St Mark's Square.

After leaving San Giorgio I decided, on a whim, to go to Murano, another of the islands, famous for its glass-making.



The Beast from the Lagoon

There is a glass museum, which has some interesting exhibits. I liked the sculpture garden, where I found the creature from the lagoon, and some glass cuttlefish (or maybe squid).



Glass Squid (or Cuttlefish) : Murano

The museum also has displays showing the history and development of glassmaking in Venice . I ave to admit that Murano glass doesn't actually do a whole lot for me, but the museum was interesting, and some of the exhibits are pretty impressive. I mean, I'm not entirely sure why anyone would want a glass trumpet or a glass celestial globe, but it's quite impressive that people are making them...

Mosaic peacocks, Chiesa dei Santi Maria e Donato, Murano

After the museum I visited the church of Saints Maria and Donato, which is one of the oldest churches in Venice. St Donato apparently killed a dragon, and brought the bones with him to this church, where they are displayed behind the alter. It would be churlish to suggest that they look a lot like whale bones..


The church also house some rather nice 12th Century mosaics on the floor, including  a very nice pair of peacocks.


Back in Venice itself, I spent some more time exploring the quieter streets, and came upon the Ponte del Chiodo, the bridge without parapets. Apparently, originally, none of the bridges in Venice had parapets, but this is the only one left in the city itself (there's another on Torcello) 


I ended up back at St. Mark's again. There was still a lot of celebrating going on. I'm not a big fan of crowds or crowded places, but it was all very good tempered and non-threatening. 



There were also nuns selling red roses - apparently it s a tradition, that Venetian men give roses to their wives or girlfriends, a rose on St Mark's day, so the nuns sell them on behalf of the Red Cross.

Museo Correr


 spent the evening visiting the Museo Correr, which is at the far end of St Mark's Square from the Basilica. It is, as you can see, another subtle and understated building!





It was originally built in the 1620s and then updated and extended under Napoleon, who wanted a suitable palace for his brother-in-law. 


The museum has a collection of Canova sculptures, and also some beautiful 17thC globes, with little painting of ships to decorate all the oceans.  The building also houses the city's archaeological museum, so there are some Roman sculptures and Egyptian sarcophagi, as well as the more modern stuff, and a whole suite of rules decorated in the 18th Century with images inspired by Pompeii.

I finished the evening with a stroll down to the Rialto to enjoy the views over the Grand Canal in the dark.

It was a good day.

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2017-05-05 06:21 pm

Venice, Or: What I did on my Holidays, part the first.

 I've always wanted to visit Venice, and decided that this would be the year I did so, so I have just returned after 6 days there. 

I loved it.  

I was staying in a convent guesthouse which was basic but very central, less than 5 minutes walk from St Mark's Square and less than 10 from the Rialto Bridge. I took the boat from the airport to Venice, rather than the bus, which meant approaching across the lagoon and along the Grand Canal, which is definitely an interesting way to arrive!  And I saw my first gondola within minutes! 

The first evening I had time to go out and explore a little, visiting St Mark's Square, as it gradually emptied, and walking along the quay, admiring the moored gondolas and the views across the Lagoon.

The following morning I made an early start and explored further on foot, to see the Ponte dei Sospiri (Bridge of Sighs), with an early morning gondola, then walked as far as the Arsenal (where they used to to build, and moor, warships, in the 12th to 16th Centuries.




 I didn't go in, I think some of the buildings are still military, and it was too early for the Navel Museum to be open.






 After walking back to St Mark's Square I decided to visit the Palazzo Ducale (Doge's Palace).

It's pretty impressive: Most of the current building was built in the 15th and 16th Centuries, (Apparently there has been a building there since the 9th Century, but the Palace had a habit of major fires so they have had to rebuild it quite a lot)

Giant's Staircase

In some respects it reminded me a little of Versailles, in that it is never knowingly underblinged. Still, I suppose if you have Tintoretto and Veronese and Palladio hanging around with nothing better to do you might as well get them to do a bit of home decor!

Sala del Senato 

 While I was visiting they were having a Hieronymus Bosch exhibition at the Doge's Palace, and I decided to go. I'm glad I did, because the exhibition includes some of the major rooms in the Palace which it would have been a shame to miss. 

There were only 3 actual Bosch's, the rest of the exhibition related to those who influenced or were influenced by him. 

Detail from 'The Hermit Saints', Bosch

But the details on the pictures they do have were very .... interesting.  The guy had a very odd imagination!



The visit to the Doge's Palace also includes the chance to cross the Bridge of Sighs (which is, as you might expect, much less attractive on the inside)

After visiting the palace, I spent the afternoon exploring, including crossing the Grand Canal by traghetto (the poor man's gondola - for just €2 you can be ferried across the Grand Canal by a pair of gondoliers, although admittedly there are no gilded or carved decorations on the boats, and the gondoliers don't wear their trademark straw hats!


 Having wandered far enough to reach the railway station and the Scalzi bridge, visiting several churches along the way, including Chiesa degli Scalzi, where there was an Easter display of Murano Glass, including these rather appealing wine goblets! 

After which I took  the advice of my guidebook and taking the vaperetto (water bus) line 1, which goes all the way down the Grand Canal to San Marco, giving you the chance to admire all the canal-side palaces. Which is nice.

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2017-04-30 10:16 pm

(no subject)

 My friend A has been singing the praises of  Hélène Darroze at the Connaught, and as we had tickets to see Jude Law and Halina Reijn in 'Obsessionat the Barbican for last Saturday night, decided to make a day of it, and have lunch at Hélène Darroze, followed by cocktails at The Alchemist  and then the play.

The food was sublime, and the service pretty awesome, too. Which, given that the restaurant has 2 Michelin stars is perhaps not surprising!

The menu comes accompanied by a solitaire board which you use to pick which dishes you want (you can chose 5, or 7, or the full experience. We went for the 7 courses, which meant a heartbreaking choice to discard 8 possible dishes...

While we struggled to decide, we were brought some amuse bouche,presumably to ensure we didn't starve while being indecisive.. There were fresh, raw peas, with pea shoots and creme fraiche on a savoury tuile, little teeny bites of gazpacho, and a little shot of mushroom consomme with a Parmesan foam.  Oh, and bread and 2 kinds of butter.

Gazpacho bites

Having made our selections, we sat back and let the food arrive. We ended up picking almost exactly the same things:

Salmon:-  this came two ways, another little straw with smoked salmon in, and a perfect disk of raw salmon, with tiny balls of apple and radish, ranging from white, to green, to pink, and a delicious apple and lime consomme.

Then there was foie gras, which came on a bed of ginger jelly, with slivers of rhubarb, after which there was possibly my favourite dish, the wild garlic and ricotta lasagna, with smoked eel, with a touch of lemon in there somewhere. And so pretty!

Wild Garlic and ricotta lasagna with smoked eel

After this we has the different dishes, mine was Scallop, which came with (mild but delicious) tandoori spices, and both purple and orange carrots. A had John Dory with white asparagus and samphire, which also looked delicious.

Then came duck - a little bit of duck breast crusted with herbs, and a chunk of duck-y sausage, with two sorts of potato. 

We then moved on to the dessert stage of the meal...

The first was rhubarb - there was some poached rhubarb underneath, with tiny pinkish meringues, and and the foam which involved rhubarb and ginger, with cashews on the top.

Second dessert was chocolate in a variety of forms, and with yuzu sorbet. It was delicious! 



That brought the meal as described on the menu to an end, but there were petit fours after that, and then, when we had paid, we were each brought a little box with a miniature savarin cake in, to take home! 

It was about 4.30 by this point  (because 3 hours is a totally reasonable  length of time for a meal), so by the time we had wandered through the park (spotting a heron en route, and also lots of TV vans prepping for the London Marathon the following day), and got the tube across to Aldgate, it was a civilized time for cocktails.

I've never been to The Alchemist before, but it was a lot of fun.  They go for 'molecular mixology', and it's all very theatrical, with bunsen burners, dry ice, and all sorts. And certainly the cocktails I had were very tasty! 


Lady Marmalade

Full food and drink album on Flickr.

We then walked down to the Barbican, to see 'Obsession'.  The play is created by Toneelgroep Amsterdam, based on the 1942 Luchino Visconti film, Ossessione (which in turn is based on the novel 'The Postman Always Rings Twice' . It features Jude Law as Gino and Halina Reijn as Hanna, the woman with whom he becomes obsessed, and is directed by Ivo van Hove.

I haven't seen the film, but I was not impressed with this stage play. It's fairly short (1 hour 45 minutes) but feels much longer, and not in a good way. The plot is fairly minimal - handsome drifter Gina meets Hanna, a bartender unhappily married to an older man. Hanna and Gino immediately start an impassioned affair, plan to run away together but split up when Hanna gets cold feet and returns to her husband. Her husband winds up dead an things end badly for everyone. 

The play seems a bit lost on the Barbican stage - it might work better in a much smaller space, and perhaps with a few more clues about the timescale, or indeed the location, of the action. (according to the programme notes, the original had lots of anti-fascist subtext, getting it banned by Mussolini, but none of that really comes through here.

The play also features Chukwudi Iwuji in a dual role as Hanna's Priest and a police Inspector, but the minimal costume changes (dog collar or not) mean it isn't always immediately obvious when he is playing which character.

There's also a lot of cliché; at one point, Law stands, in despair, against a backdrop of projected waves. At this point I thought it was supposed to be a clifftop, and that he was going to hurl himself off (which, frankly, would have come as a relief to everyone at that point). He even had to run on a treadmill to symbolise his attempts to escape his obsession... 

It's a shame, as the actors are all good, it's just that the play really isn't. I have to admit I left with the assumption that the reason there is no interval is because they were afraid no-one would come back afterwards, if there was any chance of escape, but I have to admit that a lot of the other audience members seemed rather more enthusiastic, so either they were all fans of 1940's Italian cinema or they just liked watching Jude Law take his shirt off a lot.

In the event that this hasn't put you off, the play is on at the Barbican until 20th May and is being broadcast by NTLive on 11th May.

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2017-04-30 12:11 pm

Where I've Been

 You may have noticed the lack of blogging for the last week. This is because I  was on holiday in Venice, with trips to the theatre at either end of the week.

I shall be blogging about all of those things over the next week or so as I have time - there was so much to see and enjoy!