Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Sylvia Anderson and Lady Penelope

Half awake this morning and I think I heard someone on the radio saying that Lady Penelope was 88. That woke me up good and proper with outrage boiling out of my ears - how dare they! Lady Penelope is an undisclosed 'young' age, has always been that age and always will be!

And then I heard the sad news that Sylvia Anderson has died at the age of 88. Sylvia was the voice and style guru behind Lady Penelope in 'Thunderbirds'. How sad. Another part of my past goes. I grew up on 'Thunderbirds', with Scott and Virgil, Lady Penelope and Parker, all regularly saving the world as we know it. Which schoolboy in the 60s didn't have a small crush on the lovely Lady Penelope, so charming and calm but capable of beating any baddie that was stupid enough to cross her path.

I was and still am a big fan of the original 'Thunderbirds' and have the DVD box set of all the episodes. For a few months a few years ago it was a standard Sunday night tradition to watch a couple of episodes. I must reinstate that tradition.

It's a sign of age and time passing when the heroes and 'names' of your youth start passing and so many have passed already this year. She did so much more than be the voice and inspiration for Lady Penelope but that's who she is to me.  It's sad for her family and friends but also to many people like me who become a little boy again at the sound of her voice.

Goodnight M'Lady!

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Pomegranates and Spaghetti

I bought a tub of pomegranate seeds earlier and I had the strangest thought - when I was younger I couldn't have done this. Pomegranates weren't in season so how could I have bought them? It's a little bit odd that, when I was growing up, we were stuck with growing seasons and things like that and pomegranates were only available at the end of September and early October, maybe for about four weeks, and now we can have them whenever we want. When did the world change?

I remember my mother always buying us a pomegranate in September/October and I loved them. That's when they were imported into the country from the exotic lands where they grew on trees. Now, you can buy them all year round and I frequently buy little tubs of pomegranate seeds from local supermarkets. But I only buy a whole pomegranate in September/October. I know they're piled up in markets and supermarkets all year round now but I don't buy them. Some things are important. I saw my first pomegranate trees in Marrakech in Morocco in the mid '90s. That was really quite exciting.

Other foods we now consider everyday were once exotic a well. I didn't eat real pasta until the early '80s because it simply wasn't what ordinary working class people ate. Yes, I'd eaten 'Alpha-betty Spaghetti' out of a tin as a 'fun' food but that's that. I first ate real spaghetti in an 'as much as you can eat' Italian restaurant in Cardiff in the early '80s.  Pizzas became normal when I started living in London and that's when I discovered pulses and rices, chick peas and kidney beans.

I suspect, at least in part, it's an age thing as well as a technological thing, being able to transport foodstuffs still fresh from around the world whenever you want. My parents grew up with rationing from the Second World War and that continued into the '50s when my parents tastes were formed so that's what I inherited in the '60s and '70s. It was in the '80s when I experimented and found new things to eat - particularly as a vegetarian - that expanded my diet into more exotic foodstuffs that are now everyday foods.

I suppose it's odd to think of a time when pasta and rice weren't everyday foodstuffs in this country but they weren't when I grew up. The world moves on and things change but let's not forget the old days. Mind you, I have a tub of pomegranate seeds in the fridge destined for my tum shortly!

Saturday, 5 March 2016

'La Traviata' at the Royal Opera House

Last week I went to see the most gorgeous production of 'La Traviata', the version directed by Richard Eyre. You can rest assured that almost anything you see at the Royal Opera House will be gorgeous but this production dripped atmosphere from the marvellous sets and costumes, not to mention the astonishing singing. It was sung in Italian so I obviously had to read the surtitles above the stage but the story is easy to follow from the performances.

This was only my sixth ever opera and only my second 'classic' opera after 'The Barber of Seville' last year. So, I'm hardly a fan of the art form but I'm keen to learn. I just need to be careful which productions I choose to see and I definitely chose right with this one - this is the perfect opera to fall in love with.

It's the tale of Violetta, a Parisian socialite who flits from party to party seeking pleasure and distractions and she is the toast of Paris. She has tuberculosis and bouts of illness and, during one of these periods, a young man calls at her house daily to ask after her health. When she is fully recovered she finally meets Alfredo, the young man, at one of her lavish parties and she laughs off his protestations of love, callow youth that he is, since she loves the vibrancy of her life and Paris.

But she falls for him and his love and they move to a country house to enjoy their love. Alfredo has no idea about the world and doesn't realise that Violetta is slowly selling all her possessions to keep them in their love-nest and when he finds out, he's determined to pay her back and heads off to Paris. Very convenient, since that's when his father arrives to beg Violetta to let his son go since she is tarnishing his reputation and hopes for a life in society. After a very dramatic scene she agrees to leave him, although it will break both their hearts.

The scene shifts to a party in Paris with gypsies and matadors dancing on the table, living it large, when in walks Violetta with the Baron, a former lover, where she is confronted by Alfredo who throws his winnings at cards at her as her payment and she faints in shock. Alfredo's father has followed them both to Paris and appears just in time to shame his son for his ungentlemanly actions as poor, heartbroken Violetta is helped from the room.

The final scene shows Violetta on her death bed in penury after losing her money on the day of Carnival in Paris. She asks her loyal servant to give half of her remaining money to the poor since she hasn't long to live. Alfredo, who has been in exile after duelling with the Baron finally returns with his father, having learned the truth about Violetta and how she has always loved him but too late, and she dies in his arms. O wow! Cue massive applause!

It was a superb production and I loved it! A huge tale of love and sacrifice and Violetta is instantly one of my favourite stage heroines. I loved how she is the libertine, the sensuous one tamed by love rather than the man, a strong character destined for immortality. Alfredo is, of course, a fool.

As ever with these grand shows, there are several leads on different nights and my Violetta was Maria Agresta, Alfredo was Piero Pretti and his dad was Quinn Kelsey. That night was Piero's first in the role in this production since the advertised lead was off sick but he did himself proud. I loved Maria, not just a great singer but a great dramatic actress, and I didn't like the character of the dad at all but Quinn did a good job of making him not nice.

The costumes were stunning, the sets were great and the lighting was subtle. The orchestra was, obviously, excellent, and the music was fab!

I loved the gypsies and here they are, dancing on the enormous card table at the party... I'd dance with them any day!

'Poems That Make Grown Women Cry' at the National Theatre

On Friday afternoon the National Theatre hosted a small event in the Olivier Theatre before that evening's performance of 'As You Like It' (I still hate the ugly opening set). A new collection of poetry has just been published called 'Poems That Make Grown Women Cry' and, for 45 minutes, we'd hear some of the women who chose the poems in the book read them and talk for a few minutes about them.

The event was introduced by Kate Mosse and, after remarks from Anthony and Ben Holden (who edited the book), featured:

Edna O'Brien (first up and looking very glam and sparkly)
Jude Kelly
Maureen Lipman
Imtiaz Dharker (who has featured in 'Poems on the Underground' and I wrote about her poem 'Carving'  a few years ago)
Mariella Frostrup (reading a lovely Yeats poem)
Juliet Stevenson (looking very posh)
Elif Shafak
Vanessa Redgrave (reading Wilfred Owen)

The event was closed by Kate Allen, a director of Amnesty International that jointly published the book. She spoke about Chelsea Manning, an American soldier serving 35 years in prison for whistleblowing who wanted to contribute to the book but couldn't.

It was a lovely way to spend a Friday early evening, hearing the women who chose the poems read them aloud and explain what they meant to them. It was short and sweet and it was quite strange to be leaving the National just as most people were arriving for that evenings performances.

I got the book on the way out and was pleased see an array of other women who had contributed to the book, including Yoko Ono, Meera Syal, Olivia Coleman, Mary Beard, Julie Christie, Annie Lennox, Joanna Lumley and Bianca Jagger (who we saw in the foyer). Miriam Margolyes was also in the foyer but as a patron (it looked like she was going to see Ma Rainey's Black Bottom').

I shall enjoy exploring this book.