Wednesday, 30 May 2012

#ArtIHeart: Whistler's Mother - 'a hideous old bat?'

Whistler's Mother in Musee d'Orsay, Paris.
Its proper title is Arrangement in Grey and Black No 1 which doesn't do a lot to inspire, does it? Painted by James McNeill Whistler in 1871, it is more commonly known as Whistler's Mother.

This painting has a special place in my heart because, whenever I look at it, despite its rather dull appearance, it never fails to make me smile.

My son Rory, aged 11 at the time, took this photo of Whistler's masterpiece, at the Musée d'Orsay in Paris. He stood in front of this revered piece of art and laughed his head off. Why? Because at the time Rory was a huge fan of Mr Bean and, in particular, the film, Bean, where Rowan Atkinson's character, whilst in charge of guarding this priceless artwork, proceeded to deface it.

For those who haven't seen the film, Mr Bean sneezes on the painting and tries to wipe it clean with a hankie which, unfortunately, is covered in blue ink. The ink causes blue smudges to appear, which Bean then tries to remove with lacquer thinner, resulting in the face of Whistler's poor old ma being completely dissolved.

Bean does make an attempt to rectify the damage by drawing on a new face:

In the end, the cartoon mother is replaced by a poster of the painting from the museum's gift shop and no-one is any the wiser.

Rory was quite delighted to see the original painting, though I'm sure he preferred the one above. It made me realise how much fun children can experience in art galleries and museums. He saw lots of art on that holiday: Van Gogh, Picasso, Degas, Monet, Rodin....and snapped away quite happily with his trusty camera. He wasn't at all bored. We made up names for paintings and looked for celebrity looky-likeys such as  'Tiger Woods playing the banjo'.

 I remember the Bean film very well as the DVD has been played numerous times over the years. In particular I loved the ending, when Mr Bean actually strings a few sentences together and makes a bizarre but, ultimately, quite moving tribute to Whistler's Mother.
 Hello, I'm Dr. Bean. Apparently. And my job is to sit and look at paintings. So, what have I learned that I can say about this painting? Well, firstly, it's quite big, which is excellent. If it were very small, microscopic, then hardly anyone would be able to see it. Which would be a shame. Secondly, and I'm getting quite near the end of this... analysis, secondly, why was it worth this man spending fifty million of your American dollars? And the answer to that is, that it's a picture of Whistler's mother. And as I've learned, staying with my best friend David Langley and his family, families are very important. Even though Mr. Whistler was obviously aware that his mother was a hideous old bat who looked like she'd had a cactus lodged up her backside, he stuck with her, and even took the time to paint this amazing picture of her. And that's marvellous. It's not just a painting. It's a picture of a mad old cow who he thought the world of. Well that's what I think. 


I have been reading the #ArtIHeart series of posts on the blog of Midlife SingleMum and decided to join in this week. 


Saturday, 26 May 2012

Fiddler on the Roof brings the house down in Spalding

Spalding Amateur Dramatic Society (SADOS) brought Tsarist Russia to life this week when they staged an exceptionally good production of Fiddler on the Roof at the South Holland Centre.

The show, one of the most successful musicals in the history of theatre, tells the story of milkman Tevye, struggling to maintain his Jewish traditions while the world around him is changing. He is weary, his horse is lame, his wife Golde gently nags him and his five strong-willed daughters exasperate him. No wonder, then, he questions why God should test him and so dreams of a life without poverty (If I were a Rich Man). 

Tevye was played quite superbly by Alasdair Baker, whose powerful warm-toned voice filled the theatre. His accent was excellent and his facial expressions mesmerising, with eyes which twinkled with humour. He was partnered by Beverley Moore, playing his brisk, no-nonsense wife, Golde, whose guard eventually dropped a little in the achingly beautiful duet, Do you love me?

Three delightful young actresses, Amy Perkins (Tzeitel), Abigail Bourne (Hodel) and Beth Whitelam (Chava) showed off their sparkling voices in the fun song, Matchmaker. Matchmaker and they were well-matched with their equally talented partners, Robin Myers (Motel), Ben Norris (Perchik) and James de Silva (Fyedka).

I have to say, hats off to a fabulous ensemble. Yes, some of the accents were a little more Lincolnshire than Leningrad, but the group numbers for Tradition and To Life were fizzing with energy. Congratulations to the choreographer Charlotte Smith (assisted by Nicky Lavis) who succeeded in creating very effective, sharp moves to bring out the best in the cast. And well done to the chaps on Friday night who all managed to keep the bottles on their heads throughout the whole of The Bottle Dance.

Some great cameo parts were evident in the production, namely Jane Fulford, Debbie Richards and Peter Breach. Scene-stealer of the night has to be Mandie Collier, fresh from her success as 'Mother' in SADOS' production of Sandcastles: her garrulous, gossipy matchmaker, Yente, was a joy.

The orchestra, conducted by musical director, Lynne Baker, played exquisitely throughout the show; costumes were spot on and the set, based on the latest Broadway revival, was deceptively simple and a credit to the team.

If I have one gripe it was that the first half was too long. If they could have lopped off twenty minutes by shortening a song, a scene, or quickening up the dialogue a little, that would have been appreciated. Nonetheless, the director, Martin Tyrrell and producer, Elaine Deathridge, should be justly proud of their production.

As Tevye might have said, "On the one hand, this was up there with the best of all SADOS musicals. On the other hand...............there is no other hand."


Wednesday, 23 May 2012

The Gallery: Picture Postcard: Niagara Falls

American Falls, Niagara Falls

For the 100th edition of Tara Cain's online 'Gallery' the theme this week is Picture Postcard. Oh what to choose! I dithered for some time before I selected this shot of Niagara Falls. It can be quite difficult to get a decent photograph and I'm rather pleased with this one - some foliage in the foreground, the American Falls visible behind and, bang in the centre, the Maid of the Mist boat which takes passengers on a very wet trip to see the falls close-up.

Niagara Falls is very commercialised so this photo gives no clue as to the mass of amusement arcades and all manner of gaudy, tacky establishments behind me. But, ignoring the tat, the falls are impressive and the boat ride was certainly the best way to experience the sheer power of them. When the trip is finished, you'll look something like this:


Sunday, 20 May 2012

Music was my first love...

I'd always wanted an acoustic guitar. As a teenager I played my dad's classical guitar for a few years, mainly strumming some chords and singing along to myself. I never really progressed beyond Streets of London, Leaving on a Jet Plane, Vincent (the starry, starry night song), Barbra Streisand's Evergreen and the straightforward ones from the Beatles Songbook.

I chose songs with easy chords: Ds and As were good, E minor and D7 a joy. Anything involving holding down all the strings with one finger (there's probably a word for that...googles it....barring, that's it) I found really difficult. Classical guitars have a wide neck; an acoustic guitar would be slimmer but, with all metal strings, tougher on my fingers. I never did buy my own one. In the end I gave up on learning to play and persevered with my singing instead.

As parents, Dougie and I were keen to encourage Rory to learn a musical instrument but he was having none of it. I didn't want to force it, though wistfully suggested that he had such lovely long fingers he would be marvellous playing the piano or the guitar. Nothing, Nada. That is, until he got the chance to own an old drum kit from my niece. Drums? That wasn't what I had in mind at all.

That was a few years ago and, every Wednesday since then, Rory has religiously gone for lessons. He sees a wonderful old chap called Bernie who used to play in showbands. Rory says he's a legend. I ask if he would like to have lessons at school where he could take exams in drumming. No way, says my son, I want to play for fun, for myself. So I shut up and let him learn the old-fashioned beats, the rhythms, the paradiddles and rolls. I can't sing along. I suspect Rory is pleased about that.

Recently I walked past a music shop when I was shopping in Boston (Lincolnshire) and decided there and then to do something I should have done years ago. I bought myself a brand new, very shiny, acoustic guitar. I brought it home. I lovingly picked at the strings, found my old sheet music and began to play. Rory came into the room and said the new guitar was awesome. Could he have a try?

I haven't seen it much since. In between revising for his GCSEs Rory picks up the guitar and experiments with the notes and chords. He skypes his friends who play guitar and they have started to teach him; pals are popping round to have a go, sometimes with the drum being played to accompany them. He has found instruction videos on the internet from which he is learning new tunes: Wonderwall by Oasis, Ivy and Gold by Bombay Bicycle Club, Seven Nation Army by The White Stripes.

I think my new guitar has found a new owner. But I don't mind. Not one little bit.


Wednesday, 16 May 2012

The Gallery: Morning in Copenhagen

Nyhavn, Copenhagen, Denmark

During the Easter weekend of 2011, this was the beautiful sight which greeted us on our first morning in the city of Copenhagen. We were about to go on a canal boat trip, which would take in attractions including the Opera House and the Little Mermaid. The tours began from this harbour, Nyhavn, which is a colourful, lively meeting place. It was quiet mid-morning but when we returned from our tour a few hours later, the same spot was full of people: workers were sitting on the harbour wall having a liquid lunch whilst taking in the sun which had begun to peep through.

I've chosen this photo for The Gallery, as the theme is 'morning'. I'd also like to sneak in a very short but incredibly uplifting video I saw a few days ago. An unusual flash mob took place in April on the Copenhagen Metro featuring the Copenhagen Phil (Sjaellands Symfoniorkester) who surprised passengers by playing 'Morning Mood' from Grieg's Peer Gynt.

If you have time, do have a look at the clip. I guarantee it will move you, from the glorious music to the sheer delight and wonderment on the faces of the commuters. It will start your day with a smile although, if you're like me, maybe a tear.

To look at other examples of 'morning', visit The Gallery.


Monday, 14 May 2012

Blogging awards are like buses.... wait for ages and then two come along together.

Last week was quite something for me and my blog. First I discovered I had reached the final eight in the 'Go!' travel category of the Brilliance in Blogging Awards organised by BritMums. Then, blow me, I heard I was in the final five in the travel category of The MAD Awards.

I started blogging, would you believe it, in 2007, writing a blog called 'Dramatic Licence' to publicise the productions for my am-dram society. It was part of a community of blogs linked to the online sites for local newspapers. In between shows I added posts about my own life and, in the summer of that year, wrote a series of travel diaries, 'Mum's Gone to Iceland'. When the newspaper blogging group closed down I decided to start again and began this blog in 2009, uploading my travel diaries so they wouldn't be lost.

For two years I had been writing for just a few people, very rarely receiving any comments. It was only when I came across British Mummy Bloggers (now BritMums) that I found a parenting blogging community doing the same thing that I was doing. What a revelation: I found other bloggers whose work I admired and they found me. Over the last few years I have continued to write about our family travels, my am-dram activities and living with a teenage boy. And now, in 2012, I've been nominated for two awards. That feels bloody marvellous. 

I want to thank everyone, both fellow bloggers and friends who read my posts via Facebook, for taking the time to vote to get me this far. Truth be told, this feels like I've won already, regardless of the final result. The fact that I'm on readers' radars and they feel I'm a worthy candidate makes me very honoured. I'm also extremely pleased that this year there are travel categories as, I'm not kidding myself, I can well imagine that when people were filling out the nomination forms and came to the family travel section, me having a blog name of 'Mum's Gone To' might just have helped jog a few memories.

What happens now? The winners of the BiBs are decided by judges, so the public have no further input. For the MAD awards, readers are invited to vote again to decide who should win in each category. If you would like to vote, click here.

Thank you again for your support: it's much appreciated. 


Thursday, 10 May 2012

The Greatest Journey Meme

I'm usually pretty hopeless at tackling memes. I'm always delighted to be tagged but then I procrastinate at length by which time the momentum has passed. So when Liz from The Mum Blog started a new travel based meme and tagged me, I gave myself a good talking to, put it on my 'to do' list and am now about to put a big fat tick next to it.

My greatest journey has to be our trip to Iceland. It was the inspiration for this blog and was a trip that took me so far out of my comfort zone that at times I howled to be transported to a quiet sunny beach where I could wear flip-flops and a bikini rather than waterproof trousers and a thermal vest.  Up until then I had never been on an adventure holiday. I don't 'do' cold as a rule. I certainly don't do activities. So why I paid Discover the World good money for a two-week family adventure fly-drive I will never know.

dressed for horse-riding in Iceland
They broke us in gently with a dip in the bubbling hot springs of the Blue Lagoon.  I couldn't even get that right, getting too much salt scrub in my hair so I looked like Wurzel Gummidge attached to a Van der Graaf generator.

On the second day they introduced our first activity which was an afternoon of horse-riding, straddling Iceland's famous 'volcano' horses. It was pouring with rain, we were dressed as the Tango family and we made the mistake of tucking trousers into boots so all the water poured into our socks. Dougie's nether regions took days to recover.

snow-mobiling in Iceland

One way to scare a woman witless is to allow her to ride solo across a glacier on a snow-mobile: they'd obviously not seen how I drive. With warnings to avoid the yellow poles as we would be in danger of falling down crevasses, I took up last position in the pack, whimpering as I watched my 11 year old son, on the back of his dad's beast of a machine, roaring into the distance.

The punishment continued with an unexpected white-water rafting trip on a glacial river. I say unexpected as the booking had been for a leisurely trip on Class 1 river, suitable for families. They didn't have enough people for that so we were bumped onto the "adventurous" Class 3 session. I'm not a good swimmer so genuinely believed I would die. I didn't and, though I'm loathe to admit it, the adrenalin rush was so great I started...just a teeny enjoy myself.

We had a few days off to appreciate the stunning scenery of Iceland before they despatched us in a boat on the bleak waters of the Arctic Ocean to look for whales. Whales? All I saw were the contents of my stomach as I heaved over the side. Three hours of abject misery.

One more treat: a hike on a glacier. Quite liked this, truth be told. Natty boots, walking sticks, good-looking guide. It came a close second to the Penis Museum in terms of enjoyment.

It was only two weeks, there was only one road around the island to drive on (though we did manage to go the wrong way on one occasion) and it was a trip designed for families but it was still the most exciting fortnight I had ever had.  We saw hot springs, geysers, waterfalls, ate a lot of fish and extortionately priced wine, we walked, talked, took photos and laughed...a lot. Best family holiday ever.

Ok,  I want to tag a few others to find out about their greatest journey. Over to you.

A Bavarian Sojourn

Asia Vu

Expat Mum


Very Bored in Catalunya


Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Book Review: The Secret Life of William Shakespeare by Jude Morgan

The Bard is everywhere at the moment thanks to the World Shakespeare Festival which began on the date of his supposed birthday and definite demise, 23 April. Perfect timing for a new book from an excellent storyteller, Jude Morgan, who has written several historical novels including the critically acclaimed A Taste of Sorrow about the Bronte sisters.

In this intelligent and very readable novel, Morgan takes advantage of the fact that little is really known about the man behind the prolific playwright, so he is able to fill in the blanks with his own interpretation of the sparse facts.

Possibly going against the commonly held belief that Shakespeare may have been in a loveless marriage with Anne Hathaway, Morgan creates a much more affectionate bond between the two, with plausible explanations for why Shakespeare would have left his wife and young family to find his fortune within the theatrical community in London. Interestingly, although the story speculates on the relationships Shakespeare has with colleagues such as Christopher Marlowe and Ben Jonson, the most compelling parts of the novel, to me, are those when Anne is involved in the narrative. Morgan pours much warmth and likeability into her character, so much so that I became a firm supporter of her and found myself wishing her errant husband would just get himself back home.

Morgan cleverly speculates on the events which might have been the inspiration for his plays but the novel doesn't become muddled with too much of Shakespeare's actual writing. It is not a heavy tome; rather, a simple story of a man who is torn between being a dutiful husband on one hand, and desperate to find an outlet for his talent on the other. Jude Morgan manages to tell this tale with exceptional attention to detail using that very same talent for lifting the English language into something quite beautiful.

The Secret Life of William Shakespeare is available from Headline publishers. Trade Paperback, £12.99


Monday, 7 May 2012

Travel round-up for BritMums - the Easter Edition

I Write for Brit Mums

If you'd like to see the travel posts I've highlighted this month, pop over to BritMums where you can read about trips to Bath, Warwick Castle, Disneyland Paris, London and Verona.


Saturday, 5 May 2012

Following the Roy Hodgson Tourist Trail

Ok, I'd better come clean. I've been somewhat disingenuous when I said the inspiration for our trip to Sweden is a desire to see more of the Scandinavia we glimpsed on our visit to Copenhagen last year, coupled with a hankering to follow the Scandi detectives. I couldn't say anything before the recent announcement, but now it's public knowledge that Roy Hodgson is to be the new England football manager, I can finally admit that our fly-drive is a homage to the man himself.

I'm surprised you didn't realise when I mentioned our itinerary (Mum's definitely going to Sweden). Surely it was obvious we had picked our route to visit the towns where Roy had been football manager? Did you think, when I told you we will be travelling West from Stockholm, that our plan is to see the beauty of Lake Malaren? Ah, my apologies, we are, in fact, travelling to Orebro where Roy took the reins between 1983-84. I think I also teased you with the idea that we wanted to see the canal at Trollhattan when, in truth, we are heading for the town of Uddevalla where Roy was head honcho for the Oddevold team in 1982.

You were taken in by my assertion that I needed some time to chill on the beach near Angelholm. Of course not: we couldn't come this far and not see where Roy began his managerial career, from 1976-80, in Halmstad where he took the team from near relegation to league champions. And I'm sure I put you off the scent when I explained we were flying back from Malmo when in fact it was the ideal way to soak up the atmosphere of his splendid term in office there from 1985-89. I'm hoping we can stand at the Oresund Bridge and look across the waters to Copenhagen, reminiscing about our little jaunt there last year to see the location of Roy's 2000-01 victories.

As a family we do think we should continue in this vein, using revered football managers to help plan our holidays. Rory, a keen Newcastle United supporter, has suggested we try the Bobby Robson Tour, taking in Porto, Barcelona and Eindhoven: we could even fit in a trip to see my mother at the same time. I'm rather partial to the Jose Mourinho Expedition, aka 'The Special One', where the delights of Italy, Spain and Portugal can become part of a new version of The Grand Tour.

Although it's rather sad that Harry Redknapp didn't get the England job, I have to admit I'm rather relieved because, truth be told, spending the summer months trudging up and down the M3 corridor wasn't my idea of a fun holiday.


Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Dr McGregor-Robertson's Guide to Spa Resorts

I know some of you (Kelloggsville?) have been wondering what has happened to the expert advice gleaned from The Household Physician 1874 (updated 1907). You may recall I shared the good doctor's wisdom in the following posts:  Have you got the Painters in?, Hysterical Women and Guide to Exercise. 

For those of you considering your summer vacation, rather than make decisions based on whether there is a decent Kids' Club or how far the hotel is from the beach, let Dr McGregor-Robertson guide you to a more healthy holiday. I normally have a little fun with Dr McG's old-fashioned advice but actually the section about health resorts was quite enlightening and there were many pages devoted to it. Maybe the tourist industry is missing a trick here? Let's bring back the traditional spa resorts and return to the days of 'taking the waters'. Who needs a hot stone massage when you can try out The Grape Cure in the Tyrol and the Bitter Waters of Bohemia?

The health benefits of the spas including Bath, Matlock, Buxton ("not for the very enfeebled or delicate owing to the risk of catching cold") Harrogate ("a favourite for overworked businessmen"), Leamington and  Woodhall are highlighted in the chapter on mineral baths: excellent for symptoms including chronic gout, skin diseases and rheumatism.

However other spas caught my eye and I had to share these little gems:

Leukerbad: "The baths are employed chiefly in chronic skin disease, the duration of the bath extending from half an hour to eight hours. The bathers are attired in woollen mantles and capes, and pass the time in the bath playing dominoes and chess, taking luncheon on boards floated to them.  Both sexes bathe together, chiefly Swiss and French."

Schlangenbad: "The baths are beautifully arranged and have a great reputation for quieting and strengthening the nervous system, and are resorted to very much by hysterical ladies"

Teplitz: "have a special reputation for old gunshot wounds"

Homburg: "The Elizabeth spring has an opening effect on the bowels after three glasses and the waters are employed in congestions of abdominal organs, and are especially useful in gout, rheumatism and to those indisposed after a winter's round of gaieties"

Carlsbad: "The chief spring is the Sprudel, situated in the centre of the town, over which has been erected a glass-domed building.  It rises with a throbbing movement 4 or 5 feet in the air, falling back into an ornamental basin, round which stand girls who fix the glasses of the visitors on to the end of long rods and dip them into the cauldron"

Ems: "The waters here are specially employed for chronic catarrh of the air passages, specially in gouty persons. A spring - Bubenquelle - used for bathing purposes, and particularly in the form of an ascending douche, used to be famous for disorders of the womb"

Eaux Bonnes: "It is said to produce excellent results in clergyman's sore throat"

Porgues: "At one time enjoyed great popularity for dyspepsia and bladder irritability and catarrh."

Bad-Nauheim: One spring is named Friedrich-Wilhelm's, the other, Great Sprudel, and a third, No.14."