Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Review: One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, South Holland Centre, Spalding

I'd heard of the film and yet, I'm ashamed to admit, I've never watched it. I knew it starred Jack Nicholson but I had no clear knowledge of the plot, the characters or the denouement. So it was with a completely open mind I went along to see Spalding Amateur Dramatic and Operatic Society's production of Dale Wasserman's play, One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, based on the book by Ken Kasey.

SADOS were determined to engage the audience as soon as they entered the theatre. In the foyer members of the cast were acting out their roles as patients in a mental institution, watched by their aides and nurses. I approached one of the aides, a friend of mine, and asked him in a whisper whether I was allowed to talk to him. I was told in no uncertain terms to 'Move along, ma'am'. Buying a programme, when a disturbed inmate is repeatedly banging his head on the wall next to you, is quite a surreal transaction. Seated, patients were walking in the aisles, constantly dusting the handrail or muttering to themselves. It was quite uncomfortable. My husband, who spent six months in psychiatric wards as part of his medical training, commented that their portrayal of mental illness was uncannily accurate.

It can sometimes be hard to watch a play where you know many members of the cast: you have to work a little harder to dismiss the person you know and focus on the character they are playing. Not in this production. I was completely transfixed from the very beginning. It wasn't Martin, Kevin or Clive up there on the stage but Charles, Scanlon and Dale. And they were good: very good. That tingling feeling you get when within five minutes you are transported to a different world because of the talent shown by the actors. It's what makes live theatre such a joy.

Of course, the success of the play was inevitably going to depend on whether the the actor playing the central role of Randle McMurphy was up to the job, particularly when the part is synonymous with Jack Nicholson who won an Oscar for his performance in 1975. As soon as Nick Hallissey swaggered onto the stage in his leather jacket and beanie hat, I knew he was pretty damned perfect for the role. He commanded the stage with his big voice and infectious laugh, easily becoming the lynchpin of the cast and yet  never overwhelming it.

The director, Brett Moore is to be applauded for a) tackling this play in the first place when the group is more comfortable with comedy and b) matching the actors up so well with their respective parts. Who would have thought that mild-mannered Kevin Palmer could be transformed into the angry, shaven-headed psychopath Scanlon or that Zack Colam would be perfect as the hallucinating Italian, Martini? And did he persuade our current set constructor, Mark Hancocks, to nail himself to the scenery to play the very disturbed Ruckly who probably had the best lines of the play, exploding every so often with the words, "F**k 'em all!"?

I was impressed with Martin Tyrrell who played the excitable but frightened, child-like character of Charles Cheswisk and I thought Charles Long was achingly good as the stuttering, scared Billy Bibbit. Keeping the storyline going was the big voice and persona of Nick Fletcher as Chief Bromden; another excellent performance. All of the cast members who played mentally-ill patients had obviously done their research. Even when lines weren't being spoken the actors were always in character: the foot shuffle, the idle clapping, the involuntary hand-shaking.

Well done to the rest of the cast who were just as important in making this play such a success including Jane Moss as the cruel, controlling Nurse Ratched, Ollie Johnson as bullying Aide Warren and Daisy Ivatt as the beautiful and sexy Candy Starr.

The play also scored highly on an effective set design and clever use of lighting which captured the mood whether it was to spotlight Chief Bromden's narrative or to emphasise the clinical starkness of the ward. Appropriate costumes and props are vital to keep the audience believing the story which is being told. Well done to producer, Elaine Deathridge and her team for making sure these were authentic.

During the final scene, when the cuckoo eventually flies, I was choked with tears. That's usually a pretty good test of whether a production has moved me. I had an open mind when I arrived at the theatre but a stimulated, enlightened one when I left.

Huge congratulations to everyone involved in bringing this play to the stage in Spalding.


Thursday, 22 November 2012

GCHQ - Apprenticeships in British Intelligence

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

My son has been asked this question numerous times over the last few years and particularly since he sat his GCSEs in the summer and embarked on his A-levels this September. He has no clue what he wants to do (apart from knowing he definitely does NOT want to be a doctor like his dad) so I advised him to stick to the subjects he enjoys until he has a clearer vision of his future. He has chosen the following subjects at AS level: History, Geography, Latin and Government/Politics. He thinks he’d like to go to University but isn’t sure what he would like to study. I was just the same at his age: thought I might like to be a pharmacist then changed my mind, read Geography at University and ended up in retailing. So I’m a fine one to advise him.
If only his subjects had been more science based he could think about a fantastic opportunity working with GCHQ. They are offering  Apprenticeships in British Intelligence. How incredible would that be to learn how to make a real contribution in tackling cyber threats, terrorism, counter espionage and organised crime. 
Working with GCHQ, MI5 (Security Service) and MI6 (Secret Intelligence Service), the two-year Higher Apprenticeship programme is based in Cheltenham for the first year and will consist of university delivered education and technical training. At the end of the two years you will gain a Foundation Degree and a level 4 Diploma in IT Professional Competence. This is the real deal: the first step in a career in British Intelligence.
If you have a teenager who will have, or hope to have gained by September 2013, three A-levels (or equivalent), two of which must be Grade C or above in Science, Technology, Engineering or Maths related subjects, and they like the sound of this, then they will have to be quick. They need to register for open days in Manchester, London or Cheltenham at www.careersinbritishintelligence.co.uk. Applications close on 30 November 2012. Applicants must be British citizens. GCHQ values diversity and welcomes applicants from all sections of the community.
I'm thinking of passing this on to some of Rory's friends at school, particularly those in the year above him. They all loved the latest James Bond film so I'm sure this would be of real interest to many of them. 
Sponsored Post

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

When Rory met Ross Noble

Ross and Rory
It's very handy when the mother of your most favourite comedian just happens to be a good friend of your grandma. You get to sit with your parents, your grandma and your favourite comedian's mother at his gig at the City Hall in Newcastle. Plus backstage access is arranged so you can meet the man himself.

Saturday night was a dream come true for Rory. He has loved the offbeat, surreal humour of Geordie comic, Ross Noble, for many years. He has all of the DVDs and we have seen him perform live in King's Lynn and Cambridge. But seeing his new comedy show, Mindblenderin Ross' home town, was something very special.

My mum and Mrs Noble have been friends since their husbands both attended a hospice in Newcastle. My dad and Ross' dad both sadly died within a year of each other but the two wives have continued to meet up. They are both vibrant women, full of fun and both keen singers. Mrs Noble is a member of a number of choirs and keeps trying to persuade my mother to join her. Mum, whose past experience was more that of a soloist, finds the group singing a bit of a struggle, so prefers it when they shoot off in the car together and have afternoon tea and a gossip instead.

The gig itself was brilliant although we did worry we wouldn't get there in time as the taxi taking us was delayed. When we eventually piled into the cab the relief so was so great that my mother was more garrulous than usual, talking to the driver about where we were going:

"We're off to see Ross Noble!"
"Never heard of him."

Undeterred, Mum carried on:

"You must have done, he's often on QI and Have I Got News For You."
"He used to live in Australia, but his house burned down..."

At this point, Rory looked at me and rolled his eyes. We were both thinking the same thing. If the bloke didn't know him from his TV appearances, he was hardly likely to have a sudden clarity of thought with the mention of a conflagration Down Under.

Thankfully when we picked Mrs Noble up from her house, we discovered a woman who was a match for my mother, so the two of them talked all the way to town, giving the cabbie a well-deserved break.

The wonderfully effervescent Mrs N was obviously very proud of her boy and chuckled in her seat when he mentioned her during his set. After the gig she muscled her way through the crowd, waving her 'Access All Areas' pass, with us following meekly in her wake. She entered her son's dressing room and gave him a huge cuddle. We all trooped in and stood with big smiles on our faces, temporarily losing the power of speech. Photographs were taken, programmes were signed and then we watched as Ross, trying to locate a photograph on his mobile phone, was chastised by his mother for not listening to what she was saying.  Just like any mother and son.

I smiled at my boy and he grinned back.


Sunday, 18 November 2012

'Two's a king, three's another king...'

In the 1960s and 70s I remember my advent calendar was usually a piece of card featuring a snowy scene, lots of sparkly glitter and very tiny doors. The doors opened to a picture of a toy, an animal, maybe bells or an angel and, if you were lucky, double doors on 24th December revealing a little Nativity scene. There were no toys, no treats and definitely no chocolate: just a very small picture. Yet it was still the highlight of every day during Advent, to pick at the corner of the little paper door to see what was behind it.

Over the years Advent calendars have become much more sophisticated and the addition of chocolate has been an irreversible and irresistible trend. But why is it just the kids having fun with their chocolate treat before breakfast. Can't the adults indulge in some Advent appetisers too?

Hotel Chocolat have come up with some rather gorgeous Advent calendars featuring white, milk or dark chocolate. Would I like to try one? They didn't need to ask twice so the dark chocolate calendar was sent for the Burgess family to try. It felt very sinful testing them out in November but needs must.

Verdict? Beautiful, smooth, heavenly chocolates for a discerning palate. More expensive than the run-of-the-mill calendars which fill the supermarket shelves but worth considering as a special gift or if you'd rather have decent quality (70%) chocolate in the run up to Christmas. 

If you're wondering what the title of this post is all about, here's a very short video clip taken on Christmas morning, 1998, when Rory was aged two. He had just eaten the final chocolate from his Advent calendar and was completing his daily challenge of remembering, by the shapes remaining behind the doors, which chocolate he had eaten from 1 to 24. I'm only showing you the first few because, once he knew we were recording him, he became very silly and started talking in a strange voice which made no sense at all. Well, it was Christmas Day.

I might always remember the flimsy, glittery card with its miniature drawings but this video will help me remember my little lad, sitting up in our bed with a streaming cold and a bad cough, reciting his Advent Calendar - two's a king, three's another king, four's a penguin....

I was sent a complimentary Advent Calendar to taste and review. 


Thursday, 15 November 2012

Mum's gone to Suffolk: Conflict in Constable Country

Flatford Mill

The stand-off occurred in the middle of a meadow a few metres from Flatford Mill. I sensed it would come as the Constable Country circular walk was shown to be 3 miles in my guide book and yet the very nice National Trust lady at the car park had commented there was a lovely 5 mile walk to Dedham and back. I tried to shush her at this point but I think, via osmosis and flapping ears, the teen in the back of the car had got wind of this increased mileage.

Flatford Mill itself was a beautiful, tranquil place and you could imagine how John Constable found inspiration for his paintings. His most famous, The Hay Wain, painted in 1821, shows Willy Lott's house and the River Stour.

Constable's "The Hay Wain"

Here's my shot taken from the same place:

Burgess' "Where's the Hay Wain?"

Notice the blue sky and white fluffy clouds. Unfortunately they didn't last long. Ten minutes later, in the meadow, about to sally forth towards Dedham, the sky darkened, the wind blew fiercely, stinging our faces, and as we followed the meander of the river, we realised the grass was boggy.

Rory stood his ground and declared he wasn't going any further. He didn't mind having a walk but not in this weather and not when he could see no shelter between the sign saying "45 minutes walk to Dedham" and the church in the distance. Dougie, full of adventurous spirit at first, started to waver as his ears were numb and he was the only one without a hat. I felt some urge to continue as it had been my idea to begin with, but I didn't want to ruin my boots in the muddy puddles.

We turned back.

To be fair, all three of us walked about 20 minutes in the other direction, with the wind behind us, on a proper path, feeling quite chipper but the enthusiasm eventually waned so we shuffled back to the car and the bewildered National Trust lady.

It was a short drive to Dedham and there was a free car park just on the edge of the village. So much more civilised. We had soup and coffee at the Dedham Arts and Crafts Centre, mooched about looking at the shops and then, while photographing Dedham church, I stepped in a fresh pile of dog mess. I tried in vain to get rid of it on the grass verge but the tread in my boots was quite deep so the cack was wedged. Dougie, exasperated, led me to the churchyard and sat me on a tombstone while he lifted my leg up and gouged out the poop with a stick. Rory disowned us.

On the way back to the hotel we took a short diversion south of Ipswich to Shotley Gate, following a suggestion made by fellow blogger, Troy. Perfectly positioned  on a peninsula, at the estuaries of the rivers Stour and Orwell, Shotley Gate marina is a great spot to park up and look over the water to Felixstowe, the container port, and Harwich, the ferry port. Troy was right, it was well worth a trip: so different from the picture postcard locations around Flatford and Dedham but fascinating all the same.

I'm sure Constable would have agreed.


Sunday, 11 November 2012

Mum's Gone to Suffolk: Aldeburgh and Thorpeness

Beach at Aldeburgh, Suffolk
The beach at Aldeburgh
"The Royal Oak doesn't count. It hasn't got any legs."

That was my definitive answer on the subject. We were playing 'The Pub Game' on our journey to Suffolk and after only a couple of rounds we were already squabbling. Rory wasn't even playing. This was a front seat competition between husband and wife, taking it in turns to spot pub signs, gaining points by the number of legs indicated on each sign. Dougie was already in the lead, spotting The Brewers pub with a sign showing two beer-making blokes. This gave him a handy four points. My pub was next and was called something obscure and limbless: The Foldgate Inn. You can therefore understand how I was never going to let him have The Royal Oak which, for me, was a tree and not a king, even though there was a picture of a regal person in the middle of said tree. Thankfully he grudgingly accepted nul points and I was rewarded, a few miles later, by a sign showing a four-legged creature and the unequivocal, if somewhat uninspiring name of The Dog.

The hotel, Kesgrave Hall, was, as you will know from my previous post, an absolute joy. We spent a couple of hours relaxing, having long bubble baths and flicking through the TV channels. The boys, whilst getting changed for dinner, watched an interview with the new Ipswich Town football manager, Mick McCarthy. Dougie stated he was sure Mick would be staying at our hotel. "Bound to be, he's only just been appointed, won't have anywhere to stay yet". Rory and I raised our eyebrows but were quite amazed when, an hour later, Mr McCarthy did indeed saunter into the dining room of the hotel. Damn my husband for being right.

Next morning was cold but bright and sunny; ideal weather for a trip to the coast. Aldeburgh, birthplace of Benjamin Britten, was our first stop and I let Rory loose with my camera as my fingers were too cold. I think he did a grand job with the photos. Here's a selection which give you a much better feel for the town than my words probably could.

Aldeburgh, Suffolk

Rory was delighted to discover the town had a Jack Wills shop so we spent an inordinate amount of time standing outside the fitting room before he chose a shirt for himself. We found a busy and warm coffee shop called Munchies where we had lunch before wandering back to the car, passing the famous queues of people waiting outside the town's fish and chip shop.

A very short drive up the coast took us to Thorpeness, originally a small fishing hamlet before a Scottish barrister, Glencairn Stuart Ogilvie, who had made his name designing railways around the world, bought the land and turned the town into a private fantasy holiday village in 1910. He created a country club and golf course and many of the houses were designed in mock Jacobean or Tudor style. To disguise an ugly water tower, he covered it in wood and it became the famous House in the Clouds (See photo below left) served by the water-pumping windmill nearby. A huge boating lake, the 'meare', was also created with inspiration coming from a family friend, JM Barrie's work, 'Peter Pan'. It was a very pretty village and I can imagine it's a fantastic place to come in the summer. Even on a cold November day it was kooky and delightful.

A quick visit to Snape Maltings, home of the Aldeburgh Music Festival, on the way back to the hotel, before more lolling about was had before dinner. Rory wore his new shirt and looked lovely in it until his mother, whilst trying to stop husband and son being childish flicking bits of paper on the table, managed to elbow her full glass of gin and tonic which landed all over new shirt. Rory was surprisingly calm about it. Dougie, having helped mop up most of the spillage, turned to me and asked the stupidest question ever:

"Would you like another one?"


Thursday, 8 November 2012

Mum's gone to Kesgrave Hall, Suffolk

As I tore off the slip of paper from the pad on which we had written our food order, this message was revealed underneath: 'Help I'm stuck in a paper factory!'

Some wag having their meal at Kesgrave Hall on a previous occasion had written it on the pad hoping it would make someone laugh. It did. It was such a silly note but, oddly enough, it was very much in keeping with this hotel and its relaxed, informal but top quality restaurant.

We had chosen Kesgrave Hall, part of the Milsom group, mainly because it was a country house hotel which had the ever-elusive interconnecting rooms. We hadn't anticipated how superb the restaurant would be: a warm, friendly room with a show kitchen (the 'Engine Room' where you could watch the Head Chef manning the pass) and the novel idea of leaving diners with the menus, paper and a pencil, to write down their own order in their own time. What a great idea. No stress levels rising as you wait for someone to take your order; just appoint someone on the table 'chief scribbler' and have a race against the huge table of 12 who have just sat down: must get the slip in before they do.

I made sure Dougie didn't do the writing. All you have heard about doctors and their handwriting is completely true. Lord knows what we'd have ended up with if I'd left it to him. I took charge, made sure it was correct then handed the slip to son, Rory, who was the appointed runner. I was chastised by him one night for forgetting to write down our table number and neglecting to say how we wanted the steaks cooked,  but otherwise it worked like a dream.

And the food? Heavenly. Using fresh local ingredients the chefs created dishes such as scallops with bok choi, mango salsa and sweet potato; cauliflower and cumin risotto with red onion bhaji; beer-battered haddock with chunky chips. We had booked an all-inclusive room rate which included a three-course dinner so had to make room for pudding. I think my favourite of the week was strawberry arctic roll, elderflower and hibiscus jelly with toasted oat crumb: tiny wagon wheels of ice-cream taking me back to my favourite pud from the 1970s.

Our connecting rooms were just outside the main building, in the courtyard, and were huge. With the door open in between the two rooms you could run from one end to the other and build up a sweat. Both rooms had large squashy sofas at the foot of the bed, decent TVs with inbuilt DVD players, free Wi-Fi, cafetiere coffee available and the warmest, toastiest bathrooms, complete with underfloor heating. Only one thing I could have happily done without: a clock radio which noisily woke us with a loud beeping at silly o'clock in the morning. Cue much leaping out of bed and jabbing of buttons until we could turn the blasted thing off. We pulled the plug on it for the rest of our stay.

Breakfast the next morning was again relaxed yet attentive. Continental fare to start and then cooked breakfast to order including Lane Farm sausages which I may have to source and buy in bulk as they were so delicious. Before heading out for the day there was a chance to sit in the bright, airy lounge and read the papers. It's a wonder we actually did any sightseeing at all on this trip.

This was one of the best hotels we have stayed in and I would happily recommend it to other families. Children are made very welcome in the restaurant: there's a children's menu and, rather than colouring pencils, a loan of an etch-a-sketch is provided. How cool is that! Come in the summer and kids can run about on the lawn in front of the hotel, while parents can keep an eye on them from the outside patio area.

This was an upmarket hotel with a down-to-earth style. We absolutely loved it.

Kesgrave Hall, Ipswich, Suffolk


Tuesday, 6 November 2012

The video evidence!

I promised you a video of my performance in our latest charity concert and, not one to renege on a deal, I now have a  DVD in my possession from which I can show you a couple of excerpts.

The first one is the duet of 'Tonight', from West Side Story, which I sing with Craig. You will remember we had a problem with Craig's microphone having been switched off so there is a rather lovely moment in this romantic ballad, when someone sneaks forward to press the button on.

The second song is the Sister Act number, 'I Will Follow Him', which we had only just learned and I think it shows. My screechy Sister Mary Roberts bit at the end is quite painful in parts but occasionally I hit the right notes. Witness more microphone problems - this time mine being too low for me and me not having the wit to adjust it, preferring to bend at the knees.

Watching the whole video back is going to be great for all of us so we can improve on our performance and try to blend a little better as a choir, rather than as a group of individual singers. We had some brilliant solo songs - Adam singing 'Maria' and 'Empty Chairs and Empty Tables, Abi singing 'I Feel Pretty' and 'Hopelessly Devoted to you', Craig singing 'Bring Him Home', Jane with 'I Dreamed a Dream' and 'I Could Have Danced All Night', Martin with 'Beauty School Dropout' , plus Elaine, Bev, Gordon, Paul, Ollie, Daran, Kevin and Harry.

It's great to be part of it.


Monday, 5 November 2012

November Travel Round-up for BritMums

My latest travel round-up is published on the BritMums blog today.

There are posts about a fabulous family farm holiday in Cornwall, Sandy Balls camping complex in the New Forest (no sniggering at the back!) and how to have fun with a campervan called Betty.

Away from our shores there are posts about Copenhagen, Turkey and Lithuania.

If you're a bit of a foody there are two posts featuring an awful lot of eating in London and New York.

Finally, there's an interesting comment from someone who thinks holidays might be bad for your health as she feels so grumpy when she returns home and has to tackle real life again.