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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
The struggle to improve my mood has been as challenging as ever. One of the ways I do so, is to remind myself of the nice bits in my life. The Captain has always been so good to me, not many wives can say that about their other halves. I will offer you an example. I must apologise if any of the following subject matter is a bit darker than you are used to from the likes of me, but the ability to clown around and be witty tends to be nurtured from a foundation of sadness and the generally hard knocks in life.
When I had my first ectopic pregnancy, with emergency surgery, the Captain was flawlessly supportive while bearing his own heartache through it. My likelihood of a second ectopic was high and did in the event, happen, followed again by more emergency surgery. We paused briefly before a foiled attempt at IVF (I was one of 2% of women whose body rejected the foreign tubes in the body). It was only a matter of time before I developed major fibroids which caused endless hell for two years, resulting, after much heartache, in my third major operation, a hysterectomy. Any chance of having children diminished through our first ten years of marriage, which caused serious, dramatic pain to both of us.
And yet, the Captain, at the beginning of this decade of nightmares, bought me membership of the ever-so-chic Hospital Club (I know, ironic, after all the real hospitals I had inhabited) because he felt that some glamour and sophistication would help lift me. He organised a two week holiday in Goa at the impossibly luxurious Leela Palace so that we could recover some love of life. On anniversaries, he has always taken me somewhere delicious and exciting to remind me how he feels about us. On the tenth anniversary,we went to L.A. for three months, archived in this very blog back in 2012 (Kate Terence’s Letters from Hollywood). How lucky I am to have this wonderful romantic man whose kindness is often superimposed by his hilarious imitations of Frank Spencer and Chris Ewbank.
Right, I have actually managed to cheer myself up with the first paragraph, so I will continue on a cheerier note. I actually think that I have been very lucky with my friends. I could mention them all in this blog, but it may embarrass them, so I won’t. But,dear mates, you all know who you are, and I thank you for all the nice things you have done for me. One particular act of a dear friend came to mind from many years ago during the terrible times aforementioned. My confidence, as a result of that era, was so low, that on nights at the theatre with the Captain, I would hide rather than talk to anyone, so certain was I that their interest in me would be non-existent. The way I saw it was that I was a failed actress, failed mother and therefore a failed wife. A particular friend from Wales insisted that I joined him in the pub (The Lamb and Flag, as it happens, in Covent Garden) to help chair his “Welsh Whingers Society”. He insisted that everyone called me Dame Kate and he allowed himself the handle of Captain Robert. Over a couple of months of these events, my self confidence was back on the right road, due to those lovely, warm-hearted, talented Welsh actors. I have to say, I have had a soft spot for Welsh people ever since. It felt as if people came first, in Wales. It must be a Celtic thing. I hope Captain Robert reads this and knows how grateful I will always be to him for his selfless act.
I have not mentioned that we went to Warwickshire to stay with an old friend of my particular Captain. He and his wife, who kindly drove while we intoxicated ourselves, took us to the RSC bar in Stratford, what a snazzy place it has become! A far cry from my days when the Dirty Duck was the only option. They also took us for an amazing meal at The Townhouse, a fashionable, buzzing place with impeccable service and fabulous food. I will not tell of the little village they inhabit, it’s a secret. But you do see what Shakespeare was on about:
“I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips, and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses, and with eglantine:”
Oberon, A Midsummer-Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare
The Captain will be attending the Froch/Groves boxing match at Wembley with this old friend, and I believe fun will be had. The anticipation over the match is quite overwhelming the Captain, as it is practically “all he’s ever wanted”. I shall be attending another good friend’s fortieth. She knows who she is. I shall be dressing up, as it is in Soho, and I know she would like that. Apart from which I damn well feel like it.
So if anyone has been watching Monkey Planet (and if you have not, why not? NB * this does not include my dear writer friend who suffers from monkeyphobia…it’s a long story), did you see the Episode where one of the furry tribes of monkeys awaited the arrival of the toxic centipede? They bit the centipede to irritate it, so it would release its toxins, which the furry monkeys spread all over their fur after which frantic activity they sunk into an opiated stupour. They are, infact, Junky-Monkeys It was as ludicrous as people tapping out white powder and snorting it up their noses, or boiling brown powder to inject it. We are no different to monkeys. Except we have politicians who have the power to bomb countries; which makes us very dangerous monkeys indeed.
My latest tax rant is as follows: Picture a scene, for arguments sake, let’s make it Jesus’s birth, and as Mary manages to produce the holy babe, as one of the wise men is giving him a smack to give him the breath of life, a tax man approaches. He has dandruff and a comb-over hairstyle and is wearing a cheap suit. He looks into the face of the bellowing infant and says, ” I’m sorry to disturb you, Baby Lord Jesus, but I’m afraid that’ll be be £1000 please. Birth tax.” He steps towards the mother Mary, who is just having her brow mopped, “Sorry about the timing, but I’m afraid that’ll be £1000 to you as well. Giving birth tax.” He moves towards Joseph, and Joseph says, ” Don’t tell me, Sperm tax? You’ve come to the wrong guy.”
Picture another scenario, a happy family laughing as they watch television. The doorbell rings. Comb-over has arrived. “Sorry to disturb you on this happy occasion but that’ll be £1000 each. Pleasure tax. PAT for short. ” You heard it here first. Don’t say I did not warn you.
Films that I would recommend : Nebraska, Grand Budapest Hotel and Saving Mr Banks. Recent plays that were brilliant: Invincible by Torben Betts at the Orange Tree and Pests at the Royal Court. Television has served us well with the new series of Mad Men and Fargo and the UK’s good offering of Endeavour and of course, Monkey Planet. Retail joy can be found in M & S, H & M and in Ecco shoes. Relaxation can be found at Moroccon Beauty in Fulham for Hammam bliss. The Captain and I go to Sicily in the first week in June. So who on earth am I to complain, eh? I’m a lucky Monkey. That’s what I am.
It is a mystery to me as to why I am writing this particular blog today, as what I actually should be doing is editing the play that I have written. I have an uncanny knack for finding alternative employment. Yesterday I cleaned the entire maisonette from top to bottom. I even moved furniture about, dusting and hoovering , leaving no stone unturned, rendering our home into a fresh smelling, clean-sheeted paradise. My play, however, was left, untouched.
The day before, I moved all my winter clothes up to the top wardrobe, which given the temperature today, I am much regretting. I brought out all the spring/summer outfits and worked out new combinations. I even managed to select items that either needed careful repair or disposal. I practically made spring cleaning into an Olympic sport. Dear little play was bereft on my desk.
The day before that, I felt the need to create a three course meal for the Captain. Prawn cocktail sumptuously displayed on a bowl lined with iceberg lettuce. Hungarian goulash comprised of prime beef with paprika and sour cream followed. Strained poached raspberries formed into a deep claret jelly with red vermouth, topped with double cream completed my little project. Yes, that’s right. My little play sat, it’s pages devoid of any scribblings, a creation in search of an author.
I even painted my nails a wonderful spring pink, on the tenuous premise of trying to hide a nasty bruise under a thumbnail that had formed when the tube strikes had made me angrily bash a door against my hand, due to my lateness for work. It became an unlikely priority to hide that bruise. It was unsightly, and as I very much wanted people to look at my face when they were speaking to me and not at the bruise, it was a necessary action. By now, I almost thought I heard my play telling me that I was an uncaring friend, a nasty, neglectful fly-by-night. (It said it in a cockney accent, if you are wondering. I have no idea why.)
Moving on, I have discovered a guilty pleasure that I felt like sharing. I have no car and I have never possessed one. I passed my driving test back in 1988 and have driven about three or four times since then. It is not really one of my favourite pastimes, yet I have recently been enjoying watching Top Gear like someone possessed. The cars they feature have a shiny, almost gooey texture so that I feel like a child in a sweetie shop. The photography and editing is so expertly mastered that watching it provides me with a sensation of such abject escapism that for the length of the programme, I forget who I am. What converted it from a cosy sunday night programme to such an opiate was aided by the appearance of Aaron Paul as one of Jeremy Clarkson’s guests. There are now few people who will not know the name, but a few years ago, when I was one of the first to view Breaking Bad, he swiftly became one of my favourite actors. His downward inflecting husky Californian drawl and self-effacing chuckle rendered me into a state of worship as he spoke to Clarkson. During our time in L.A., we frequented a bar called The Misfits, where Aaron (oh, yes, I will call him by his first name) turned up, in a little black hoody. As he patiently posed for several fans’ mobile phone cameras, with a casual “You’re welcome” here and a “Thanks for watching” there, he was about a two metres away, and would have reached my chest in height. Some of these gorgeous Hollywood stars do come in tiny packages.
A second guilty pleasure is The Waltons. If Top Gear is my Heroin, then The Waltons is my Crystal Meth. Not that I have or will try or even condone the use of either. But I am trying, rather clumsily, to demonstrate my awareness of the times in which we live, and our points of reference. Top Gear’s Mr Clarkson, when referring to Breaking Bad, mentioned that crystal meth is not really a problem in the UK but a huge problem in the States. He should do a little more research before making statements like that. Crystal meth is reaching epidemic proportions in London with separate organisations from Narcotics Anonymous to Crystal Meth Anonymous having to cater for the growing number of addicts. The fictional tale of Breaking Bad does use real research to indicate that it is sold and trafficked around the world, and unlike most other drugs is almost impossible to stop using, once it has been tried. ‘Nuff said. Back to The Waltons. Since it has been on for thirty years or so, I don’t feel it will be a spoiler alert if I tell you that I have got to the bit where Grandpa has died. Suffice to say that I was inconsolable.
The Captain and my property business continues in a positive manner. The films that are on my list now are The Great Beauty, Her, Nebraska and Saving Mr Banks. I enjoyed Captain Phillips very much and think Tom Hanks continues to be another one of my favourites. Gravity, saving for the special effects, was a perfectly good film, but I am not sure I understand quite what all the fuss is about. I remain an ardent fan of Mark Kemode’s awards in place of the actual Oscars and agree with most of his choices.
I have, thanks to my wonderful writer friend, been introduced to L M Montgomery’s Emily books, which are wonderful. She has also lent me Lottie Moggach’s Kiss Me First. The title implies it is a romantic book, but it is a very unusual and troubling book, worth a read for several reasons. It is a superb first novel, and while there are flaws it is provocative and imaginative. One of the novels that stays with you after you have finished it. A last minute addition to my recommendations is an old classic that everyone should read: The Chequer Board by Nevil Shute. My mother lent it to me, my paternal grandmother lent it to her. Read it.
So, off to Wahaca in Wardour Street to see some good mates. Seeing a film with another good mate on friday at the Curzon Soho. Off to Warwickshire on Saturday to see some more friends. Spring really must keep springing. A post script: on my father’s recommendation I have been watching Sky Arts’ documentary Great West End Theatres. It is very enjoyable being taken to the venues by Donald Sinden telling amusing anecdotes along the way. But I want to say, that I agree with Sam West’s point. He felt that theatre should not be an elitist experience, somewhat like ballet and opera. It should be accessible and affordable to the public. The reason I agree is that while I do believe many things in life should pay for themselves, theatre like all the arts, is a way of maintaining our pursuit of civilisation as human beings. It is a way of publicly encouraging philosophy, emotions and thought, all of which defines us from animals. If we lose that ability and facility, we may well lose ourselves. I have now stepped off my soapbox. Relax. Enjoy your week.