Weighing Anchor At Last

I do find the transition from winter to summer, back to spring down to winter , back to summer and back to spring ever so bloody difficult, don’t you?  I have seriously believed that my sartorial choices have catered for all seasons but even I have been utterly foxed by the ridiculous weather we have been experiencing.  Zara has of course come to the rescue with a pair of pastel pink jumpers, one close fitting to go with some flared jeans and high block heels, and one loose and flowing to go over pencil skirts and skinny jeans.  A beige cape covers the needs for the dry days, a Maxmara trench coat for the rainy ones.  But when the Siberian winds creep in, I am stumped I’m afraid.  Any ideas?

Two castings await me next week, one for a reputable fringe venue in London covering August doing a lesser known play of a well- known, but no longer living, contemporary playwright.  The other one is for a very well-known venue in London for which I would, if I were younger, strap myself to its gates, until they cast me.  So wish me plenty of “Merde”.  Or Chookas, as the Aussies say.

An eight minute chunk of the pilot episode of a sitcom I have written will be read by me and other brilliant actresses at the Hospital Club on June 1st, so I am trying to prepare material for additional episodes and be generally ready, in case, for some haphazard reason, somebody important shows interest.

The consultancy job has resumed it’s delightful atmosphere, as I have been given a different client on one of my two days, which has proven to me that my personal feelings of inadequacy were unfounded and that my abilities are as good, if not better, than they always were.  My colleagues and I work pretty well together, maintaining a sense of humour throughout, so that the day passes fairly painlessly.  At least they did this week.

Weekends have been spent at alternate parents, the one which took us to Lancashire with the Captain’s mother saw us at The Cartford Inn in Little Ecclestone.  It had a bewitching view, with a wonderfully informal atmosphere, marrying extraordinary regional artists’ eclectic work hanging on the walls with food sourced from the local area cooked to perfection and an outstanding wine menu, privately run by French husband and artistic wife from the area.  If you are up there, make it your first port of call.

My parents have fed me both at home and at The Angel at Petworth.  The latter remains a personal favourite because of its hosts and animated choice of art, garden and clientele, but they really must keep their usual chef, as he or she was definitely not overseeing our food that day.  Hey ho.

One night after work the other day, I was so stressed by my consultancy job that I drank far too much.  I did luckily end up home, but with the various projects that lie in front of me, and the physical effect it had on me, I ruled out my remaining social life, until those events are over.  My last social events were a dinner party near the parents in West Sussex with gorgeous friends, where I was served with possibly the best dry martini I had in my life.  The secret is to make it pink, with Angostura bitters.  I hope my friend forgives my telling a family recipe to my readers.  I also went to the Schenkman bar at the Royal Academy and put the world to rights with another dear friend, and it really is the place to do this, the waiters could not have been more helpful and kind.  But that is it, for social engagements.

The Captain and I were going to flit away unplanned to Dieppe on a ferry for this bank holiday weekend but when we read the weather reports we thought again.  So instead we have stuffed ourselves with both food and culture, having been on diets.  I hadn’t realised how starving I was but  Thursday night proved otherwise, as the Captain prepared hamburger and chips with all the relishes and gherkins and I polished off the lot.  Friday I prepared pate on brioche, followed by Pork Normandy (Delia’s recipe) , plum tart and two types of French cheeses with French red wine.  I think we wanted to make up for not going.  We sure did.  Hell, yeah, to use Millibandian idiolect.

Saturday we had the full fry up including black pudding although admittedly all grilled and the eggs were poached. That evening we watched Birdman and A Serious Man.  Birdman reminded me why I feel so betrayed by the Catholic religion.  As a child, the nuns tried to tell me that the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit were all the same being, that when communion was taken, it literally was the body of the aforementioned Son, and that after dying on a cross over 48 hours, he came alive again.  Oh, and his mother was a virgin.  Well, if any of that makes you feel betrayed or lied to, that is the same sensation for Birdman, notwithstanding Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts and Edward Norton’s fine performances.  It is fine to suspend disbelief for one person’s individual delusions , I do so comfortably watching James Stewart in Harvey, but when those delusions are seen and believed by another significant member of the cast, the belief becomes fantastical, a type of hyper – reality that simply makes me irritable.  I loved most of the film until it’s end.  But that is where the love stopped.  Do not get me wrong,  I love fantasy, but it is important to choose a genre and stick to it.  Ditto Lars von Trier with Breaking the Waves.  Regarding the Cohen Brothers A Serious Man, like Birdman, it was brilliantly acted,  but went down the Old Testament route, with a story that seemed to be a modernised version of Job.  At my Convent Boarding School, my most memorable read was  Job as it sealed my mission to dissuade as many nuns as possible from perusing their faith.  My prognosis at the ripe old age of eleven was that if the reward for continuing to be good and kind indiscriminately,  holding one’s temper and generally praying a lot was to get shat on from a great height, then the lesson was to abandon this method of living, and adopt one with more guaranteed possibilities of happiness.  So whether I like them or not, these two films have certainly provoked thought.

Here are a few thoughts to add.  I don’t know much about happiness but I think I achieve some of it, some of the time, and here’s how not to be a Job or Birdman. 1/ If you want something passionately in life, try to go for it with all your might.  You only live once. 2/ If someone tries to shit on you, find a way to get out of the way, or shit right back.  Do not sit there saying, ” Oh dear, I wish you’d stop doing that. 3/  Never try to pre-empt someone shitting on you, always be well mannered and kind, unless they prove otherwise. 4/ if you are angry about something eg a good friend dying, death, life, find a way that is tolerable to your other half or your loved ones, to let it out, without causing harm to them.  There we go.  Sorted.

I am sorry if the language has been a bit scatological, but the Captain and I went to the Tate Modern today, which was not on that theme at all.  On the contrary, we enjoyed many of the works but we were reminded, as we enjoyed the view of London from the wonderful restaurant, of our visit, fifteen years previously.  The works were in the main based on themes such as elephant dung, naked men trying to do strange things with boxing gloves and their genitalia and other strange delights.  It prompted an incredibly satirical short film by the Captain of a character depicting a genuinely mad artist who purposefully ate fruit in order to produce the necessary art materials into his especially rubberised nappy trousers.  Thank Zeus, the Tate Modern is no longer the laughing stock it once was.

Our evenings are being completed by watching the last series of Mad Men, the last series of Justified and we now know we will have to download the third series of Nashville, to keep the great television addiction fed.  W1A makes us laugh as does Modern Family, Better Call Saul’s second series is anticipated sorely.  BBC Radio 4’s Dead Ringers should not be missed.

The title of this blog is at the heart of my current energy.  It is to do with a couple of decisions the Captain and I have made.  But certain restrictions do not permit me to make this public yet, but suffice to say exciting times are ahead.  I really did not mean to leave you on a cliff hanger.  But I have, haven’t I?



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Goats, donkeys, camels, humming birds and tortoises. Is this the Garden of Eden?

We came back from the High Atlas Mountains about a week ago and it feels like a year has gone by since then.  We made it a short holiday in order to afford all the luxuries of the best form of travel, since quality has always been more important than quantity in the Captain and my books.  We secured Business Class deals on British Airways to Marrakech and we were picked up by the hotel’s car.  An hour later through the sunset, and acres of argan and olive trees, we wound through the mountains with a stream below us into the paradise of the hotel.  This was land originally owned by an Italian designer called Luciano Tempo who was behind the Marco Polo brand.  He was based in California and Morocco, and had collected global treasures, which were placed throughout the gardens and buildings.  Metallic male torsos, Sanskrit/Thai carvings in teak, modern curved figures in repose in bronze;  there were fireplaces for the cool nights, an infinity pool that permitted a view of the terracotta villages and mountains opposite .

There was an indoor pool with spa that was the temperature of a bath, in which I wallowed on my first early morning.  I shot out of bed at dawn, walking from our luxury Berber tent through the rosemary and lavender to come across my second humming bird in my life.  The last one was in Ojai in California.  This one was just a bit larger than a hornet, with a similar pattern on its back, but a tiny little head and pointy beak.  It was drinking as much of the rosemary nectar as it possibly could and seeing it felt massively spiritual to me.

I also had the pleasure of greeting tortoises who were ambling around the tennis pavilion, which was a large carpeted Berber tent layered with rugs, jugs of iced water, tennis rackets and balls in good supply.  I introduced myself to the camels, goats and donkeys belonging to the hotel later in the stay, so you can imagine it did feel momentarily very biblical.  The hotel and its extraordinary Berber staff had been trained and educated by Eve Branson, who had created an entire foundation for the Berbers, so that they benefitted from the hotel, in terms of their own personal industries and growth.  That is all I will say about the hotel, because it was the best experience I have to date, and therefore, if you want to stay there, there are enough hints in the blog for your discerning abilities to discover which one it is.

As a result of the holiday, the rude shock of returning to wintry conditions has not gone unnoticed by me.  I have been toying with the concept of stopping writing.  I have written a few things, over the years.  All unfinished and unpublished.  Some, in my opinion are finished, but I see no way of improving them.  My recent play, for instance, will, even at best, be something audience members may receive with a few comments such as, ” I love a short play.” or, ” She’s definitely drawn on Shakespeare for some of that.”. But they probably will not say, ” Oh, my God, this is extraordinary.  I think we’ve found the female version of Harold Pinter.”. Regarding the little sitcom pilot I’ve written, people will say, “Oh, that’s quite funny. “. In other words, while I think I have some talent at it, I find the experience of putting it out there really unrewarding.  It particularly plagues me since like all of the arts, any attempt I make will only be superseded by a more connected individual who is likely to have more practice and talent in that direction.

I therefore return always to my first love and the discipline in which I believe I shine, and wonder, that despite my self-belief, I cannot seem to conquer all the battles in this field either.  I refer of course to acting, and all the ensuing paranoia.  It strikes me that I have been trying to convert auditions for twenty-five years.  Despite that, I continue to see, with exceptions of course, many mediocre talents strutting on stages and prancing across our screens and my patience is ebbing.  I feel it might just be a much more fun life for me, if I abandon all dreams, and just enjoy the earth and the world.  I even wonder why I bother to write this blog.  I don’t get paid for it.  While my parents and some good friends love it, what on earth is the point in it, seriously?

I now realise that perhaps after a year of the Captain and my trying to further our professional status without taking any breaks, that we should have taken a longer holiday.  Because the holiday was beautiful.  I wish we had taken 10 days but we took five days because both he and I had pending dates for jobs we were shortlisted on, so we thought it safe to be back in time for them.  Need I say we did not get either of the jobs?  Oh, I know that you must think I am sounding bitter.  That is because I am.  I know that makes for unpleasant reading.  Don’t bother to read it.  It makes absolutely no difference to me.  That, I suppose, is my point.  That whatever my artistic endeavour, it makes no difference to you, the reader, the audience, and to me.

Maybe this is yet another mid-life crisis.  I will be turning fifty in December.  But I think it is a more than reasonable disappointment.  I was under the impression that after a decade in acting, it would be too early to assume there would be anything to show for it.  After two decades, I thought it was going to be evident that I would have some power to wield.  After nearly three decades, my assumption was that those who had stuck at it that long would merit success merely through the sticking power.  It is the latter point where I now stand corrected. It may be sometime before you next hear from me.  But since it makes no difference anyway, who cares?


What do we want? March! When do we want it? Now!

I have been holding off writing because I have been in such a diabolical mood.  I am not alone in finding February an horrendous month.  It ends our winter, all of us depleted of our summer reserves.  All the usual boring aspects of life are multiplied in their treadmill nature, and when few good incidents happen, it becomes almost impossible to rise out of bed. 
The year began with a casting as a result of doing Gertrude in Hamlet, (you can read a review here, it was an interesting perspective: http://www.lampandowl.co.uk/tag/hamlet/ ) .  The casting for a new comedy in a central Off-West-End theatre went well and was one of those types of castings which for one reason or another gave me the impression that I would get the job.  Suffice to say, I did not get it.  Dagnabbit.
The plod of the commute for my consultancy job has become more pronounced over this last month.  The relentless weather determining the lack of variety compounded with the rush hour arm-pits, the long list of cold, unresponding leads that I have to try to engage for the business consultancy and the lack of castings (middle aged women are not in demand, in case you didn’t know) all adds to a general feeling of malaise and futility. Life, all by itself can be hard enough, without some parts of it going the way we want.
Anyway, I will stop moaning.  We spent a fun weekend in Warwickshire with the Captain’s old friends, going to a glorious restaurant called The Townhouse in Stratford.  Everything from the atmosphere, food, cocktails and setting was fun and delicious.  We enjoyed muchly.  The same can be said of The Lickfold Inn in West Sussex, which is run by Michelin starred chefs.  My brother treated our whole family to a sumptuous feast there to celebrate his and my mother’s birthday.  My father organised a large cab for all of us to get there and back, so that we could drink with no fear.  We all kept it a secret from my mother until the day itself, which provided plenty of amusement for us all.  Nothing amuses our family more than, cartoon like tiptoe-ing around with secret plans: in reference to my father, he channels a black and white Sylvester Cat, sneaking around Tweetie-Bird (my blue eyed mother). 
Another venue other than Le Beaujolais, my favourite wine bar, The Keeper’s House at the Royal Academy of Arts is turning out to be a discreet, delightful, secret place for a cocktail.  Oh dear.  Not secret any more. Hmmm.
Television will continue to please us if we watch Nashville (obtainable from Amazon), and for my money, Togetherness, Girls and Cucumber.  In the film world, Boyhood was so good in its epic nature that I did not notice how long it was.  I loved the fact that director Linklater made the mundane the subject to observe, converting the miraculous nature of being alive into something to actually try to capture.  Maps to the Stars, I thought, was worth a watch, if merely to glean exactly what living in L.A. can actually be like.  I was so glad that my viewpoint on it seemed utterly vindicated by David Cronenberg, the director.
On my writing front, my director friend is very tied up with work right now, but our aim is to get together with a mutual actress friend who actually introduced us, and talk about my sit-com pilot.  One of the roles is ideal for her, and she has read it and loves it, so that is very positive indeed.  I have also printed out the notes of the play I wrote, that my novelist friend annotated patiently with constructive thoughts, and will be going through it over the next few weeks.  She is due to give birth any day now and I have been honoured with being asked to be one of her son-to-be’s three godmothers.  I think I am hoping to be both fairy and fun, in Godmother-speak.
Both the Captain and I are a bit tired of our current treadmill, so we may be off to Morocco in the imminent future.  Essaouira for a couple of days to visit a friend of his.  Followed by the Atlas mountains.  We cannot go on a long haul as we are unable to take longer than a week off, because of pending projects.  The Captain’s screening of a film takes place next week in a very chic Soho venue, so I am looking forward to that.  He is absolutely brilliant in it, so I am hoping that it reminds everyone of how superb he is.
Last night I saw a mate, Andrew Venning, who played Horatio in the Hamlet job, play Macbeth at the Lost Theatre.  The theatre itself is as dubious as it’s name, but Andrew was staggeringly good in the role.  I enjoyed the director’s ideas and had a clear idea of the story, but many of the cast excluding Andrew need to learn how to speak Shakespeare’s language properly, standing and moving in a grounded way, and to use the words he provides to show the emotions.  It is as simple as that.
Just as I was about to finish the blog, my brilliant agent called me.  I have an audition.  I’m in a very good mood now.  Welcome to my life. Cue the elastic music.  To quote Warner Bros, That’s All Folks!
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And into the new year we go, hey ho, tiddly-pom

The build up to Christmas was tremendous fun with the Hamlet experience thrown in.  Christmas itself, I still believe, is really for children.  So I do get a tiny bit bah-humbug regarding who has to be visited and seen, what presents have to be received and given, and somehow, I am pretty sure there are a few who read this blog who would concur.

It is not aided by the fact that the Captain has to drive us down to West Sussex for the Christmas eve time, and up to Lancashire for Christmas day, which we have found works by getting up at 6 a.m and leaving at 7 a.m at the latest to arrive in Lancashire by 1pm at the latest.  I find it odd that now that I am in my middle age, there seems to be no fight against the inevitable.  I, personally, would like to just draw the curtains and sleep this whole period out.  But certain people would sulk in such a way that life would become intolerable.  I shan’t specify who.  So, that was done and dusted, we celebrated new year quietly and on new year’s day itself found ourselves having a ball at some old friends of mine, who happen to live locally to us.

We then left the country to sort out some family business, which was too stressful to describe.  Suffice to say, we were happy to return a few days later.  It had only been the first working week of the year, and a wonderful casting director, who had seen me in Hamlet, had made an enquiry to book me for a casting for a new play.  Another director friend whom I knew, but did not know very well, also suggested a meeting to discuss my writing (outside the blog) and our general philosophy re theatre and the like.  And I have a  few pending appointments with other marvels in the business, who have either read the blog or seen my Gertrude in Hamlet.  So, I cannot complain, really, about how this year has begun.

The return to the city, and the corporate world, for my other career has also been fun.  The other consultants with whom I have the pleasure of working are also in my line of work, so the creative atmosphere and humour is fantastically distracting from the bus strikes, the glacial winds, the undecided rain and general horrors that only January can produce.  Even my experience of paying off my credit card last monday was improved by general good humour.  All the computers were down in Fulham’s branch of Barclays Bank.  The advisor who was looking after the growing queue turned to me and I looked blankly at him.  I noted his first name was the same as our current Prime Minister’s surname, so I made a joke about how it would be difficult to forget his name.  Pokerplayer-like, he dealt brilliantly with me, sorting out all my fiscal and administrative needs, to the point that I left the bank feeling glad that I banked with it.  Seriously, when does that happen?

There is something in the air in London.  It is optimistic.  The consultancy job brings me in contact with the city on a regular basis, and people are hoping to progress, steadily.  In comparison to the beginning of the year last January, the difference is marked. Add to this a new Korean cafe that has opened up near the office, in Aldgate East, called Bari Bari.

On my second day back at work, I entered loudly announcing “Anyang Haseo!”  which means “Hello” in Korean.  At least, I hope it does.  Blimey, it could mean, “I need sex now!” How embarrassing that would be.  Well, they were very pleased, the chefs and the attendants.  They spoke many things back to me in Korean, none of which I understood, but I did that British thing of laughing and nodding.  Who knows what they said.  It might have been, “Well, we don’t serve sex here, just good food.”  Indeed it was, if a little plentiful on the rice side.  I had the classic Bimbimbap with beef and miso soup and a citrus tea which they insisted was complimentary.  Next time, I will have the glass noodle dumplings with beef tucked up inside.  And of course a side order of kimchi.

In case you do not know about kimchi, it is the reason the Koreans live as long as they do.  Each family has their own recipe and they have it with every meal, like we have salt and pepper.  Essentially it is cabbage, chilli and garlic fermented to whichever level the family prefers.  Nutritionists have already proven that any fermented vegetables are amazing for the health, Sauerkraut being the glorious German version of this.  It is an acquired taste but once you are hooked, it is difficult to stop loving the stuff.  As I left, I said,” Kamsa-hamnida” which means “Thank you!”  Let’s hope it does, any way.

Truth is I know those two Korean words because my parents lived in Seoul for about six years around my mid to late teens, so I learnt a few words when I visited them during school holidays.  So, reader, you needn’t get anxious that I am going mad and spouting rude sexual things to strangers.

A decent and underused venue for drink, snack and unlimited chat is the National Theatre.  My new director friend suggested it, and it is a slice of genius.  All that space is there, while the audience are in watching their shows in the theatres.  The bars are delightful, we particularly enjoyed the Temperanillo they served and I enjoyed a salmon and dark brown bread sandwich.  Nobody came to hassle us to leave our table, on the contrary, a member of one of the casts, who was known to the director, came and chatted with us before he headed off to get ready.  It’s our resource to use, we should all use it.  Our taxes pay for it, after all.

The Captain and I have begun the original series of Twin Peaks, which is so surreal and comical that I know I am only old enough now to actually appreciate it.  Nashville is turning out to be a very enjoyable series.  I have just begun HBO’s Togetherness, which I like very much.  All this is to fill the profound gap of having finished Justified a little while back.  Count Arthur Strong on the BBC is even funnier in its second series, but it is a bit Marmite, we find.  Some love it, some do not.  We adore it.

Gift buying tomorrow.  My dear writer friend’s baby shower, my brother’s birthday, a friend’s fortieth, a close friend’s birthday and my mother’s birthday are all within the next month.  I may treat myself to a new computer, the one I am typing on is nearly nine year’s old and fading fast.  My brother and parents treated me to my favourite gift for Christmas, which is, drum roll, MONEY.  A new capital expenditure of a lap top it may be.  If it is, it will be the Surface Pro.  Because it is really fabulous.  Both the Captain and my brother cannot believe that I have not bought it already.  I am cautious with these things.

Late lunch with another friend tomorrow at Busaba, my favourite Thai on the King’s Road.  Lunch with another great mate on Monday at the V & A.  Eeeeeeeee, chuck, I’m a bit coooltured, me. Kamsa-hamnida for reading my blog.

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Toodle-Pip, Gertie, it’s been a blast, but Sayonara, Ciao.

I can hear the sigh of relief, for any regular readers, that the vacuum my lack of blog writing has provided is over.  I can reveal all the mysteries of the past two months, within reason.  In my last blog, I mentioned that Hamlet at the Park Theatre, in which I played Gertrude, was being set in a particular period, which I declined to expose.  Most of you know by now, that it was set, in this particular production in the Victorian period of the 1870s.

As a result, I set myself the task of reading AN Wilson’s The Victorians, particularly the chapter on the 1870s.  I added Wilkie Collins’ two novels, Man and Wife and The Law and the Lady, because I felt that I had covered enough Dickens in the past.  I was enthralled with how Collins’ perspective on women differed so strongly from Dickens.  The former seems to value and celebrate the strong woman as a type, whereas, with the greatest respect to Dickens, he has always struck me as a bit of a mysogynist.  His women are always unattainably willowy and icy or grotesque caricatures.  With the exception of a few, this can be quite tiresome, after a while.  Not the case with Collins.

All in all, the research has been interesting.  In addition to that for the first month and a half of rehearsals it was mooted that I should be a Gertrude who administered laudanum, which would have been a reasonable enough assumption for the period, had I not had a variety of other issues to manage, such as the relationships that I had with my second husband the King, my son, my role at court, whether we were in Denmark or Victorian England, what the set, props and costumes were actually going to be and of course, lest we forget, the language, poetry, philosophy, meaning and story-telling that William Shakespeare actually intended.  So, I’m afraid due to those aspects, I admitted defeat to the idea, and abandoned the laudanum concept completely.  If anything, it had hindered my progress.

Sadly, once the costumes were in place, I realise that not many women, unless they were “loose” or courtesans, were allowed to look attractive in the terms that we understand nowadays.  For example, there was no colouring of hair, for a Queen, so I had my hair coloured to the closest tone of my natural colour, which in the winter, is a light muddy hue.  The parting is in the centre, and polished tightly along the skull, with it up at the back.  If you have strong features, it can have a harsh effect on the face.  It makes sense of all those grim pictures of Victorian ladies with their hairstyles that I researched on the internet.

In addition, there are corsets, and a bustle at the back, with metal, so that sitting down is no real pleasure, requiring a manipulation of the metal frame of rings to the back or side, before you do so. Might as well not bother to sit at all, I felt.  Just stand and stand.  While the bustle’s weight pulls into the stomach from behind.  Giving one a feeling of inhibited breathing and therefore a nervous type of indigestion.  I suspect that is why they all spent so much time passing out.  I looked not dissimilar to Queen Victoria, who was not famed for her beauty, and neither, in this role, was I.

It is with huge gratitude that I thank my random luck that I was born in a time when I can wear what I want and be what I wish.  No wonder Gertrude was unhappy.  She spent her whole life doing what she was told.  She married very young to whoever was forced upon her, the first time she cared about anyone in her life, it was with the joy of looking into her baby son’s eyes.  In being made a widow, she marries, for the sake of Denmark, the brother, her son’s uncle, who turns out to have murdered his brother to achieve his position.  None of this has been her choice.  Her beloved son then goes violently mad, accusing her of being part of the conspiracy.  All this, and she has one real scene to demonstrate this agony.  The rest of the scenes, she stands there and stands there, in silent anger and confusion.  Do you understand why I am glad to be rid of her now?  I hope so.

However, the cast were made up of some particularly talented actors who managed to pull the production into being a swift, one and three quarter hour production of the Hamlet  “highlights”. The Park Theatre were hugely welcoming, giving us each a named water bottle to be filled up from their water filter, so that no actor should go thirsty.  I felt that I stretched my acting muscles in an interesting way, in particular, I got over any major stage fright that I had suffered over the last few years.  I thank Shakespeare for that.  He writes so well, that the words and their poetry become part of your own substance, so that even if you were to walk on stage not knowing what you were going to say, the words come out of your mouth as if he has made you his muse, his conduit.  I have had the honour to get to know some very talented and lovely people with whom I plan to remain connected.

So it is with a light heart that I join in the celebrations of the year end.  My marvellous agents managed to make enough industry people cover the show to aid my future progress.  The brilliant Captain was supportive and cooked late suppers and listened to my moans.  My brother brought wonderful friends to the press night and continually bought everyone drinks.  My friends, those who could make the short run, also came in their droves, to support my Queenly dame.  So, I have no complaints.  I have painted my nails.  I go blonde tomorrow.  Life, in this modern dame’s world, is good.


Gertruding My Way Through the Park

I am not even sure I can give this blog a title.  I just know I had a few more things to say before I tumble into Hamlet at the Park Theatre, http://www.parktheatre.co.uk   It opens 2nd of December playing briefly until the 14th.  My nerves have settled a little, as I feel my way towards Gertrude, who strikes me as harder to access than a stone.  She is so much trickier for me to grasp than Cleopatra (in Antony and Cleopatra), for instance.  It amazes me when people immediately state how suited they feel I am for Gertrude, when I feel she is cold, easily manipulated and while she thinks she knows her own mind, she does not at all.  She has never really been allowed to know herself.  My hunch is that at the point when the play occurs, it is the point when Gertrude is experiencing some form of an awakening to herself and her wishes, and she is not sure she likes what she finds.

When I state these ideas to the Captain, he responds with the fact that there are many, many women who only come to realise who they might be in their middle years.  Their life has been propelled by other people, beginning with their parents, then their husbands (usually), followed by the arrival of their offspring.  When their children reach an adult age, the woman of middle years has a chance to look at what happened and what will happen.

On this assessment, I realise that I am not a usual woman.  I never felt that I did what I was told, and if I did, it was made known by me to the oppressor that I was not pleased about it.  When I did eventually choose to marry as a heterosexual woman, it was in my thirties and the choice was mine and the Captain’s.  Due to a long and by now tedious history of my own personal biology which can be read in my archived blogs, the Captain and I did not manage to have children, so being a mother has not been part of my life experience.  Gertrude, in all these aspects, is new territory to me.  Not to mention that it is Shakespeare’s language and it has been set in a time which will remain a secret to the reader.  You will have to come and see it to know that.  In addition, I do not think Gertrude is actually very honest, to herself or to others, which makes her a polarised opposite to me.  So, I am being challenged massively.  I think I like it.

Now, you may have noticed that Dylan Thomas is being much celebrated.  The Captain and I went to stay in a cottage run by the Landmark Trust near Carmarthen in a village called Llanarthney.  It overlooked Paxton’s Tower and the Botanical Gardens of Wales with a dome designed by Norman Foster.  The sitting room window offered a panoramic view of green hills that took my breath away.  We walked in the rain and sun, took hot baths and sat by the fire.  We ate one night at Y Polyn in Capei Dewi, and I would venture that it falls into my top ten restaurants in the whole of the UK.  We visited Laugharne, the town where Dylan Thomas lived with his writing shed still in tact and on which Under Milk Wood was based.  It recharged our batteries in an inspirational way.

Television recommendations include BBC Four’s The Detectorists written and directed and acted by Mackenzie Crook with Toby Jones co-starring.  It is delicate and sweet and I am convinced will be commissioned again, since while the story is about a group of metal detector enthusiasts, it actually, cleverly is about being human and wanting to make one’s mark in life.  Channel Four’s Scrotal Recall is the opposite, but delightfully funny and written with insight by Tom Edge for  Clerkenwell Films (of The Misfits fame).

As we are now in November, I am looking forward to eating cheese fondues with the Captain.  We recently adored our baked potatoes with the richest fromage frais and chives that money could buy.  I know, it is hard to cope with the glare of our wild and wicked lifestyle choices we make, is it not?  Well, my only remaining vice is alchohol, and while I am rehearsing for Hamlet, I cannot cope with the 24 hour hangovers that I get nowadays.  Shame, but true.  It did not stop me from enjoying a Negroni the other day. (Campari, Red Vermouth, Gin, equally measured and I like to add a boiled cherry after it has been through the ice and shaker).  Manhattans also continue to be a favourite.  But ONLY one. ONLY one.  No more than ONE.

On the transfer from Summer to Autumn, which has been hilarious with it’s 25 degrees temperatures in the last days of October, I have found both my hair (which is growing out from short) and my skin unmanageable.  Here’s the science bit, to quote Jennifer Anniston: For the face, Biore Deep Pore Charcoal Cleanser  and use a Clarisonic face brush.  LIFECHANGING, certainly for blackheads, at least.  For the hair, Klorane Almond Milk shampoo, smells the way Vidal Sassoon’s smelt in the seventies, of marzipan, and gives the hair body.  Elvive  Extraordinary Oil Mist for hair that smells beautiful and behaves itself.

That’s it.  No more to be said.  I will just get on with the play now.  See you all there.



Apples, Blackberries, Gertrude and Wilkie Collins

The Oud and Saffron candle that I treated myself to is now lit.  The lysantheums that I bought with it stand in their vase, looking like fragile purple folds of crepe tissue.  Peace reigns before the storm that will be my first read-through of Hamlet tomorrow.  I have prepared my script.  My diet has been strict and is starting to pay dividends, clothes fitting more loosely and my eyes are showing more emphatically in my face.  The eating thing includes making muesli the night before so that it has time to soak.  It is easier to digest.  The Captain and I have been doing that regularly.  Yup. Rock’n’ roll, folks.  We’re wild like that.   I feel ready.  So I thought I ought to write my blog for the last time for a while, as there simply will not be the time over the next few months.  I will be maintaining the consultancy job I do for a little while whilst also attending rehearsals, so my social life will have to be put on ice.

Autumn appears to have finally made itself known to us, while the harvests of apples from my parents’ tree, in addition to the blackberries from my brother’s estate, alongside his annual collection of sloes have all been made.  We have profited from my father’s pie-making expertise, enjoying both steak pie for lunch and apple and blackberry pie for pudding.  My brother’s sloes will be soaking in sugar and alcohol as we speak, in readiness for the darker nights of Christmas.

Before summer completely dissappeared, I had one of the loveliest walks after work into the west-end.  I left the city by making my way to Tower Bridge, which was enveloped by hazy evening sunshine, while the Thames glittered below.  I walked along the river, watching everyone’s slower movements as they enjoyed the night’s sumptous air, until I crossed another bridge back, so that I went passed St Paul’s and into Fleet Street, followed by the Strand.  By the time I reached a bench near to Jo Allens where I was due to meet my two friends, I changed my shoes from sneakers to stilletos, let myself cool down for a bit, and then made my way to the restaurant, by which time I had stomped out any office tension and built up an appetite.  I recommend this tactic to anyone who suffers from the office.  Try walking some of it off.  Take a spare pair of shoes and march.  You’ll be amazed at what you get to see at that speed, which you wouldn’t catch on the tube or in a bus.

I have really been enjoying Wilkie Collins, the first being The Law and the Lady and now I am in the middle of Man and Wife.  Since he was Dicken’s best mate, one would presume that his women would be similar ie charicatures, the strong ones being grotesque, the delicate ones being, well, delicate.  Not so with Mr Collins, who seems to love women and is not threatened by intelligent ones.  It is time they were written for television.  While his thoughts are not as socio-politically epic as Dickens, he has interesting and quite visionary ideas.  For instance, one of his characters suggests that having been a young man in the 1820s, he finds now in the 1870s that culture and intelligence have been relegated, while the cultivation of sporting acheivement, he claims, is excessive.  Since our Olympic madness and the cycling mania pervades any rational discussion in contemporay culture, I would venture that Mr Collins, who is clearly speaking through the character, has got a very good point.  Read him, he’s underrated.  In fact, I have decided to read AN Wilson’s The Victorians as a result, so fascinated am I by what is emerging as a very interesting time in history.

On the box, I have been very taken with Educating the East End, having enjoyed some of Educating Yorkshire, on Channel Four.  I cry during every single episode, because the personal dramas of each child and the dilemmas the teachers face are very moving indeed.  It is beautifully edited and both amusing and touching.  It teaches me, I hope, humility, when I watch what those teachers have to do on a daily basis.  They are quite exceptional, some of them.  Heroic, in fact.  If I had been taught by them, I would have adored them, and most of the kids seem to do so.  I also watched a Culture Show special on Yayoi Kusama the Japanese abstract artist and was very taken by her story.  Since she returned from her successes and failures in New York in the sixties, she has only ever lived in a mental hospital.  Her permanent nihilistic anguish is not reflected in her paintings, which are filled with vibrance and colour.  As she paints, she almost grunts with her own pain, so that by the end of the documentary, I was inconsolable.  I know, I’m like that.  For some fabulous escapism, Elmore Leonard’s Justified boxset is now on Sky, enjoy.  We are about to embark on the fifth series, recommended by my brother, so thanks to him one night a week will actually be box-set bliss.  And some deep fried chicken and coleslaw.  And Coors Light.

My transitional wardrobe is seeing me in a black jacket, pencil skirts and a large grey hat.  The large grey hat is being worn with dresses, jeans, whatever.  It was given to me twenty-five years ago by a good old mate, and every two years or so, it comes out to play. In fact it came out last week at a dinner for four in Soho House.   There were nice comments about it all night.  Since it feels like an old friend, the hat, I was pleased.  It would be really insulted if it wasn’t loved. Good old grey hat.

Shows I have recently enjoyed were Breeders at the St James Theatre and Crystal Springs at the Park Theatre (where Hamlet will be.)  Films that I have liked for differing reasons, were Frank, Fading Gigolo, The Lunchbox and Bad Neighbours.  The latter is utterly outrageous, but somehow, you forgive it.  Fading Gigolo, I enjoyed because it was actually portraying human vulnerability in a very sweet way.  The Lunchbox, set in Mumbai, is a must see.  Frank was simply mad and as a result I adored it.

I attended a Bristol University Players reunion, which was its first.  Having been to my school one, and also to a drama school gathering, it was a first for the university drama lot.  I was persuaded by a good old mate who drove us down, which was joyous, as we caught up over the course of four hours.  It took place in Porlock, which takes about two minutes to walk in its entirety,but I still got lost about four times, when left on my own.  All the team decided that I had to be escorted everywhere.  It is a wonder that I actually get out at all, really.

Next weekend, the Captain and I go to Wales, staying in a Landmark Trust house.  It has a bath and a fireplace and is surrounded by green hills.  There is not a motorway or building site anywhere within our proximity and I am so excited about it.  Wishing you an wonderful Autumn.  I’ll be back in mid December.  After my birthday, but before Christmas.




Hamlet’s Mum, Park Theatre, Cleo and Tone

Where to start? As you probably recall from the last blog, I took August off, ostensibly to complete the fourth draft of a play that I have been writing called Cleo and Tone.  I also needed a rest from my office job, which entails new business development.  It can be quite draining, but only takes up two days of my week and keeps the wolf from the door when the god of actors is not looking kindly at me. I have been doing it on and off, in between acting jobs, for about seventeen years now, and my fellow actors provide me with the energy and general interaction which we artists often lack, when out of work.  Painters, writers, sculptors all have their metaphorical canvases so are able to create immediately.  Actors need words given to them, other actors with whom to mix and usually a director.  This can be difficult, if not impossible to recreate in one’s own little home.  The Actor’s Centre serves some of that purpose, but nothing beats getting a genuine acting role in a brilliant play.

Some of you may already have been bombarded by my trumpetting the news on Twitter and Linked In, for which I apologise.  But this is my blog, and if you do not like it, change the channel. The bunting is up, the brass band has started playing because I have news to announce.  I have been offered and after a good think, I have accepted the role of Gertrude in Hamlet, showing in the first two weeks of December at the Park Theatre, London.  I am delighted.  In the auditions, I worked with some very talented people and was thrilled to see several of them in the cast list.  So the bar has been raised.  The rehearsals begin in October interspersed with everybody’s differing schedules and culminate in a concentrated time during November.  The director has already shown us a glimpse of where he is setting it, and what sort of research it may involve, and while I am not going to spoil it by telling you, I think it could be very interesting indeed.  From my angle, the role of Gertrude, whom we know to be Hamlet‘s mother, has been played by the greats, Glen Close, Julie Christie and so forth.  I am terrified but thrilled.

My next announcement, is that, as per the first paragraph, I did finish the fourth draft of my play, Cleo and Tone, and intend to put it on as a rehearsed reading somewhere, perhaps at the RADA, perhaps somewhere else.  If there are directors/producers reading this who would like to have a look and know where they could put it on for a rehearsed reading, please get in touch with my agents, Sharkey and Trigg who are on the web if you google them.  Bear in mind, that I wrote it with the role of Cleo being played by my good self.  So, if you are a director and producer and do not know my work, firstly look at my showreel, which is also on the Sharkey and Trigg website, or come and see me be Gertrude at the Park Theatre.

Reading back, this blog is one load of shameless self plugging after the next, but since my contacts do not extend to publicists, the lady must strum her own guitar.  Besides, as I have said, it’s my blog, my rules and in this little Queendom, I rule.  If you don’t like it, stop reading it and irritating yourself over it.  Find something else to read.  You have plenty of choice and this still is a free country, just about.

This summer’s delicious weather that we were treated to over July brought about such an enjoyable sensation of going with the flow.  Both the Captain and I have been establishing our masterplans regarding our living circumstances, in addition to our schedules of self employment, his in the property empire that he is building, mine in the writing and business development side.  The train drew to a unexpected halt in August regarding any acting roles for either of us, which went hand in hand with the weather’s summer groove turning swiftly to an early Autumn.

The Captain did however have a thoroughly enjoyable long weekend in Portugal and I had the joy of spending a long weekend with my parents.  The first and last nights included evenings spent with my father, with whom I chewed the fat (and guzzled his wine), but the middle nights were at the luxury of Grayshott Hall with my mother.  This is the sometimes bi-annual treat that I receive as a gift from my mother, which we have always enjoyed, especially as we are in each other’s company in relaxed circumstances.  This time we did have some minor reservations.

The highlights were that we swam in the outdoor pool first thing in the morning, steam sweeping off the surface of the water revealing the well tended orchard nearby.  The apples seemed close enough to touch, with the promise of their tastiness later on in the year.  Every night, I had the joy of a glass of Champagne to accompany our scrabble game before supper.  Together we relished watching Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, which I had seen but enjoyed again, on our last night, in their private cinema.

Our quibble was that it used to be a place where health was emphasized, but you could choose to obey or not, with open possibilities on the menu of ordering a steak if you fancied it.  This is no longer the case.  The food was mainly vegetarian, and almost entirely carbohydrate free.  We were pretty sure a type of laxative was in the water, so that while we left the place clear skinned and cleansed entirely, we both could have done without the restless digestion that we suffered during the stay.  We have decided that next time we will go somewhere that is a spa hotel that bears a non-dietting customer, who likes food, in mind.

Before I sign off, in referring to The Grand Budapest Hotel, my mother observed that it was inspired by Stefan Zweig.  She had been made to read him in high school about sixty-five years ago.  He was loved in Germany and Austria apparently.  As popular as Kafka, I’m told.  I had never heard of him, and neither had Wes Anderson.  An article in the Telegraph reveals that Mr Anderson combined Zweig’s own life with his dream-like tales he had written to create this surreal gem of a film.  Having never heard of him, his name then cropped up again, when watching Dr James Fox’s superb first episode of Bright Lights, Brilliant Minds in which he focusses the first part on Austria in the year 1908.  This is wonderful viewing, with Stefan Zweig, Freud, Kokoschka and others being included in this exceptional time of creativity.  I cannot wait to see his take on 1920’s Paris.  It’s on BBC Four.  Watch it if you are as mad about anthropological culture as I am.  Hotel India on BBC 2 is also worth watching as it examines the workings of the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel.  While it is gorgeous, even if I were the richest person in the world, surely I would draw a line at paying £9000 per night.  I would, wouldn’t I?  Wouldn’t I?

Eddie Grant, The Eagles and a Mighty Eighties Vibe

I am a refugee in our top bedroom.  The Captain has set up the sitting room for his six weeks fitness regime.  He has borrowed my yoga mat, some weights and while an American female voice pipes out through closed doors from the television, I hear the grunts of over-exertion.  Meanwhile menus have been planned and bought by him in advance, so that if we are not careful, we shall both be growing long, furry ears and bucked teeth.  Visits to the loo are a frequent occurence, thanks to the Wholefoods Organic green tea and Badoit that we are consuming.  Because he does not consider my regime too seriously, I am allowed my glass of Pouilly Fume with my supper on most nights.  And so the amusement continues.  This, ladies and gentelmen, is often the pattern of middle-aged actors who are either preparing for a job, or setting about to be ready for if a job emerges.  It is a reaction to a personal boredom with stuffing one’s face and being, in the main, horizontal, for large amounts of time.(This last sentence can be spoken in the tones of David Attenborough, when observing the behaviour of the rare species, Actorus Boredoutofhisbrainus)

Meanwhile, our rented flat is now next door to a building site, ranging from shouting scaffolders who like to overstay their welcome until 7pm, even at weekends, and concrete mixing on an epic, grandiose scale.  It has shaken the delicate, peaceful harmony that the area usually has, so that even the wildlife in our neighbouring graveyard has hidden or fled.

So, since I committed on Twitter to write my blog today, I am so doing, despite not particularly feeling like it.  That is not to say that I am in a bad mood.  On the contrary, I am in a summer-slumber mood, dozy with heat and laziness.  It is a particular frame of mind that I quite enjoy, since my usual febrile state renders me into a state of exhaustion.  I am actually too hot to care, right now.  I will, however, endeavour to share a few thoughts and moments that have passed recently.

A particularly enjoyable evening which seemed to spark off something of an eightees vibe for me was the event of the Eagles concert.  My brother, who, like me, is generally not a fan of crowds or concerts, decided to take the plunge and bought some brilliant seats at the O2 Arena to see the Eagles.  He kindly invited both the Captain and me, with an extra ticket that went to our lucky neighbour on the day itself.  On the brother’s suggestion we met in the city, taking the Thames Clipper to the O2 which began the night in a supremely elegant fashion.  As we began to glide along, drinking ice cold gin and tonics from the bar and looking at the Thames as it opened its arms to us, we were all spellbound.  The landscape of mixed architecture silkily moved in and out of our vision and the sun began to set.  Arriving at the impeccably well organised O2, we moved among a swift crowd of folk to the first class lounge and enjoyed some Southern Fried Chicken, the gentlemen opting for lagers and Bourbon, the ladies with their wine.  We ran into a friend of the Captain’s, nattered, ate, drank and then were ushered into our seats.  How a band like the Eagles can actually be even better than their own impeccable recordings is beyond me, in particular because they are not spring chickens, but they were.  I was partilarly blown away by Joe Walsh with his ability to play such brilliant guitar riffs but also with his playfulness.  They were a testament to  reuniting all bands who have broken up, and living proof that getting older can actually make you stronger and better, if you work at it.  An inspiration all round, I think.  (I hope my brother is pleased with this review, he complained that he has been waiting for it for some time).

The other event that has taken up large amounts of my energy was playing The Shard in http://www.sceneandheard.org ‘s production of children’s plays.  I have mentioned this organisation before, but I will do so again.  It supports and helps the children of an inner city area in London called Somerstown.  With their help, the kids learn to write little ten minute plays that are often hilarious and moving at the same time.  Professional adult actors (often well established and sometimes well known) act in them, in the spirit of acting in an adult play.  This is as far from Theatre In Education as it can get.  It is more like watching plays written by Spike Milligan and Morecombe and Wise.  So it is a delight all round.  We had GALA night, and Damian Lewis, Tom Goodman Hill, Simon Russell Beale and Ron Cooke were in as well as Her Royal Highness the Countess of Wessex, to name but a few.  Do, if you can, support and spread the word, it is one of the few grassroots charities that actually actively helps it cause.  And yes, I did very much enjoy playing the Shard, written by playwright Tommy.  My name was Glasshoop and the chararcter I played was rather aggravated by a black fox called Woodenpink.  Tommy’s play was chosen to open the evening, which was obviously dangerous because after my costume was off, I was able to have a glass of wine (or two).  I have kept up my new business development job in the interim and wonder if I am getting too old for all this, but now that I have seen the Eagles, I think not.  The Eightees vibe has also been playing in my i-pod, as I have now downloaded Eddie Grant’s Walking on Sunshine.  If you have not listened to this album by now, get on with it and do.  It’s perfect for this weather.

Lastly, I am not sure that I mentioned that I went to the Royal Academy with my dear writer friend for the Summer Exhibition.  We had a wonderful time because she had great news, and the colour and vibrancy of the work acted as a catalyst for all sorts of thoughts.  Likeminded people were hovering about, one of whom sported a dress so brilliantly that I had to tell her so.  She proudly announced that she had bought it in a thrift shop. This the way forward, ladies and gents, THRIFT SHOPS.  The best possible way to find original clothes that do not cripple the bank account.

Meanwhile, I have made up for my thrifty ways in the sartorial department by allowing my one and only disproportionate addiction to be fed: I think in an earlier blog, I have mentioned my toiletries addiction.  Well, I foolishly drifted into Peter Jones with the aim of buying one treat, a shower/bath tonic from Clarins.  I left having had an entire make-over at the Clinique counter with two products from my new friend, Phil, as well as some bath goodies from Clarins.  Phil, at the Clinique counter in Peter Jones, has to be the best make-up, facial consultant I have ever come across and if I had not extricated myself from him, I might have bought the whole counter.  All I did was ask him one question: “Could  you tell me about the new Clinique Smart Serum?”  Well, ladies ( I am sure you gents have stopped reading at this point and are watching football or something), I have bought the whole caboodle.  And apparently, I will be the youngest looking 48 year old on this planet.  You better believe it, buddy.



Salve, mates. The Bliss of Sicily.

Before we left for a slice of bliss in Sicily, both the Captain and I were reaching a point of such exhaustion.  The type of fatigue that once you have risen from bed in the morning and consumed your breakfast, your body is hit with an ache to stop and sleep: at ten in the morning.  We knew that the holiday was due.  We had allowed ourselves a four day break in Marrakech in January, but essentially we had been ploughing away at life for a very long time.  The Captain and I had both moved theatrical agents at the end of last year, while he managed to increase his property portfolio as well as oversee the preparation and sale of our primary residence in Harringay.  He also got a lucrative ad, and will embark on a television pilot for a US company, with the hope that it is picked up for series.

I meanwhile have continued my business development job, which has phases of depleting all my energy and this last few months has been one of those phases.  I have written a theatrical play and will be embarking on it’s fourth draft imminently.  I have also written a sitcom pilot featuring a nearly all female multicultural cast.  My acting career has been slow in its procedure, through no fault of my superb agents, but more due to the fact that being female and over forty limits the opportunities somewhat.  They simply do not write the roles for us old bags and on the rare occasions when they do, they choose from a handful of known, but very talented actresses, so we see Olivia Coleman, Sarah Lancashire, Tamsin Grieg and others more frequently than the likes of me.  Perhaps this will be the year that Commissioning Editors take the terrifying plunge and try to cast from the vast pool of talented unknown middle aged actress that this lovely island possesses.

Talking of islands, (I hope you appreciate my smooth side-step into this), I have just been to Sicity.  Leading up to our holiday, I took in a bit more of the culture that London has to offer, seeing This May Hurt A Bit at the St James Theatre, which took a satirical bite out of our lack of appreciation for our beloved National Health.  In particular, I was moved to tears by Stephanie Cole, who without question, should be treasured, written for and cast all the time.  The Captain and I went to see an exhibition at the Tate called Ruin Lust, which he loved more than I did.  Not everything struck me, but I will concede that I always get something out of any exhibition curated by the Tate, because they find a way of drawing your attention to elements that would not have occured to you.  One particular example was the brilliance of Patrick Caulfield, since they used his painting called Greece Expiring on the Ruins of Missolonghi.  I love his stuff anyway, but the point he was making was about war, which will never seem to lose its poignance to me.  We also went to see the architecture and glass at the V & A.  I go very child-like amongst the shiny, transparent, round and oval objects, hypnotised even.  The Captain was more inspired by the architecture which demonstrated the stages of development in a varying range of projects.  We also took in a photographic exhibiiton there, on the ground floor, called Consumption which took photographers across the world and looked at their take on consumerism.  I loved a particularly dark artist from Japan called Motoyuki Daifu who seemed determined to reveal the less than perfect life she had experienced, thus peircing one or two myths about the perfection of the island of Nippon.

But, back to the island of Sicily, (yes, that was a slick link across, wasn’t it?).  The Captain arranged business class flights as we had successfully made good enough profits from the sale of our house to enjoy a little of it.  This way the holiday actually began at Gatwick airport, where I consumed Champagne and salt beef on rye sandwiches (yes, the combination does actually work).  The flight to Catania went very well, although slightly delayed so that our journey in the hire car was tricky in the dark.  We arrived after a two hour drive across the west of the island in a spot between Ragusa and Santa Croce, in a family owned hotel called Eremo Della Guibiliana.  Situated in the Iblean highlands, dry stone walls divide the land in a way that you might see in parts of Yorkshire.  Carob, olive, orange all grow around there.  We stayed our first night in one of their cottages, in the middle of grassland and trees, with a view of the sea, but decided the next night to take a room in the main house, inhabited by monks in 1272.  Vincenza Iolanda Nifosi owns the place, her family having acquired it over three hundred years previously.  The Knights of Malta were had all been there with watch towers to ward off barbaric pirates.  The people who work there love the place as much as their owner, so that as a result there is a peaceful, sensitive and caring air about the place.  Rosemary hangs and grows over the little waterfall that fills the swimming pool, so that the scent of it mixed with the roses that line the walls is intoxicating in its beauty.  On our third day we made our pilgrimage to Punta Secca, where the series Inspector Montalbano is filmed and were not surprised to notice that the various locations had the advantage of a brilliant lighting camera crew, who had depicted it in a much rosier version than its real cousin.  We took ourselves off to the hotel’s recommended beach, which was called Margarita Beach run by a photographer and art director called Salvatore Cappello.  He could not have been helpful enough.  Lunch there remains one of my favourites, a cold glass of Sicilian white wine with the Cataratto grape and Spaghetti Vongole.  In an ideal world, I would still be there continuing to taste the lemony joy of that nectar, and popping yet another forkfull of the garlic mussel pasta into my greedy mouth.  It’s biggest problem is that it is too good.  As we paid our bill, which was a very small one, to our amazement, I decided I must tell anyone I could about Salvatore’s place.  That night we went to Ragusa Ibla, the old town, set on sloping cobblestones, with delicious smells everywhere.  We opted for Il Barocco, enjoying some veal and grilled vegetables.And yes, a Tartufo ice cream desert that added to my downfall (on the subject of body fat).

The next morning we left the Ragusa side and drove north east towards Taormina, through lush green valleys.  Out of the blue, we came across a side road, which led us to Dirupo Rosso in the Valle Dell Irmino overlooking the Laga Santa Rosalia.  A sweet man insisted we had coffee, while we took in the breath-taking view.  We carried on the journey, a few towns, one of which was called Lentini.  Hungry at that point, I suggested we opened the windows and followed the smell.  The entire town seemed to be sleeping but for this one place, La Rosticceria, where a crowd of villagers stood waiting for their food to take away.  Mamas and Nonnas were glancing over their shoulder as if to check that no one knew their secret.  Family lunches were a gloriously cooked rotisseried chicken, vegetables and chips.  We were sold.  We bought it, had it wrapped in foil and headed for the nearest orange grove that we could find, where we sat peacefully noshing on arguably the most delicious meal of our holiday.  The spices and ingredients the chef used would make him a millionaire, if he patented it and shared it with America.  But, thankfully, he was keeping it just for that village.  And us.

We drove on to Taormina, to the Villa Sant’Andrea where the glassiest, clearest green ocean beckoned.  Some hiccups were involved. The Captain had asked if there were any groups of corporate guests, or weddings.  There was a wedding on the first night, and the American group of corporate guests, about forty of them whooped and high-fived their ways through the days, hiring the tackiest of pianists to take over the bar.  The Captain, who is like David Niven, when it comes to anger, exposed a cold, British disappointment to the concierge, who immediately upgraded us to a double terraced suite, with a bottle of Veuve Cliquot on ice, expressing the joy of pleasing a film star like The Captain. We asked what particular film being referenced.  Pride and Prejudice was the answer. When the Captain mentioned that his wife, my good self, was also an actress, he seemed profoundly uninterested.  To the point that it was funny.  From that point on, I was merciless about my famouso husbando.  Although I will add, that if any hotel owners are reading this, do not mislead your potential guests when charging them enormous amounts of money, it does not have brilliant consequences.  Do not sell off your glorious secret boutique hotels to large organisations like Belmond and Orient Express who will only be interested in the short term bottom line, even if it means that the resulting decline in the hotels’ profits happen in the long term.

We investigated the Greek Theatr,e just by the sister hotel at the top of the hill, which showed Etna in relief.  Magnificent to behold.  We took the cable car’s three minute journey to investigate the rest of Taormina, including Baronessa, a restaurant with a high terrace showing a panoramic view of the surrounding terraces, Etna and the sea.  The food was exquisite, as was the wine.  I am now brown, but on a diet.  But it was all worth it.  So, arrivederla. Or may I say ciao to you all?


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