Thursday, 27 December 2012

Not another round of arthritic charades?

Eileen, Emily, Dougie, George and Rory
Loyal readers will know that arthritic charades appear in my Christmas blog post as regularly as night follows day or bad wind follows sprouts. You only need to type the game into the search box on the right to discover the delights of playing our unique version of this family favourite with the in-laws.  We call it 'arthritic' on account of the crooked fingers of my dear old father-in-law, George, which makes guessing the of number of words something of a challenge.

This year we were joined by my mother who had come down from Newcastle to stay with us for Christmas, so there was even more opportunity for some excellent blog fodder. Mum's texting prowess was the first thing to cause hilarity as she realised what she had written in a message to her niece on Christmas Eve, telling her all about her day and the bad weather:

...It's lovely to be here at Trish's. Been having gin and tonic. Peed all day....

Even dear old Emily, Dougie's mother, caused us to snort on Christmas Day whilst watching the Strictly Come Dancing Christmas Special:
"Sheila Hancock dances beautifully, doesn't she? Wasn't she married to that chap, Frost?"
"No, Emily, he was called Thaw!"

The Big Cracker!

During pre-dinner drinks on Christmas Day, I brought in a mega-cracker to be pulled. All the usual rubbish was inside, including silly disguises for everyone. Emily looked very strange in her goggly-eyed glasses but George seemed to suit his Groucho Marx face, don't you think? The cracker also contained some charade suggestions so this new batch of material avoided us using the old box where, it seems, we have been repeating the same book and TV titles for the last few years and still not working out what they are. Thank god we didn't have to see George do The Naked Civil Servant for the third year running, as he has a habit of taking things too literally and stripping off.

This year, unfortunately, was no different. George had forgotten what syllables were, confusing them with letters, and yet again, insisted on finding props. He disappeared into another room for one charade, gathered up a Davy Crockett style hat (a present from us), a bag for table tennis bats (another present) and a thin log from the fireplace then proceeded to charge into the living room, brandishing the piece of wood and using the bag as a shield,  for his quite spectacular version of Gladiator. As we had given up on believing how many words or syllables were in each title (who knew that the word 'desperate' has one syllable), George found it easier to mime 'the whole thing' and it took some time before his charade of walking around with his head held high whilst simultaneously pretending to paint the walls, was found to be The Talented Mr Ripley. "Why were you painting?" I asked afterwards. "I'm talented," was his reply. Fair enough.

But this year I think the prize for the best charade must go to my mum who started to mouth obscenities and pretend to throw things around like a demented Mrs Brown. We eventually worked out it was 'Gordon Ramsey'. She had insisted it was a TV programme but we said the drawing next to the clue was a spotlight, indicating it was a celebrity's name. "A spotlight?!" she queried, "I thought it was a ham shank."

Me and my lovely mum


Wednesday, 19 December 2012

A conversation I wish I'd never started: No. 7

These conversations usually occur between  my son or husband and me (see conversations 1 to 6 here). It's not usual to have one with someone outside the family. Not so today when I find myself in conversation with the bathroom fitter who is fixing us up with a new downstairs loo, prior to getting started on the main bathroom in the New Year.

Picture the scene. Fitter is attaching long door handle to cupboard underneath basin.

Fitter: Do you want it horizontal or vertical?
Me: Vertical, I think.
Tiler (joining in the debate) - will it hit your knees if it's vertical?
Me: Hmm. Horizontal matches the handles on the drawers in the utility room?
Fitter: Yeah but the cupboards have vertical handles.
Me: Vertical it is then.
Fitter: Ok, do you want it nearer the top, middle or bottom?
Me: Ha, sounds like that game show.
Fitter: Oh yeah, the one with the hot spots. What was it called?
Me: Play Your Cards Right?
Fitter: Nah, that's not it.
Me: No, you're right. That was a Bruce Forsyth one.
Fitter: The Price is Right?
Me: That was Leslie Crowther, wasn't it? Mind you, didn't Bruce do that one as well?
Fitter: I think he did. So who did the top, middle or bottom one?

Dougie (entering the utility room): It was a Michael Barrymore show.
Me: Yes, it was! Still don't know the name.
Dougie: Take Your Pick?
Me: No, that was Des O'Connor.
Dougie: Google it!
Tiler: I'm losing the will to live.
Me: (googling) Strike it Lucky!
Everybody: That's it! How could we forget that.

Fitter: So, where do you want the handle?
Me: Oh, I don't know. Wherever you think looks best.


Monday, 17 December 2012

Who remembers 'Acorn Antiques'?

There are so many things I should be doing this week in preparation for Christmas: food shopping, finding the tablecloth and ironing it, cleaning the house properly before my mother arrives on Sunday. All these things are being put on the back boiler because instead I have been sucked into the world of musicals yet again.

Although I've been part of the SADOS concert group for the last few months, it's a couple of years since I've been involved in a full-blown musical production. The last one was in 2010, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. Since then I have taken a couple of years off (resting, darling) and hadn't planned to return to it just yet. But then I heard that the committee had changed its mind regarding the 2013 musical and instead of Jack the Ripper, which didn't much float my boat, they have decided on the gloriously silly Acorn Antiques - The Musical. 

Some of you will have no idea what I'm talking about and why I'm excited about this but many of you who watched Victoria Wood's sketch shows in the mid 1980s will remember the spoof soap opera, with its wobbly sets, clunky dialogue and missed cues, and you'll be smiling as you read this. Not everyone realises that Victoria Wood turned Acorn Antiques into a stage musical in 2005 and although it had mixed reviews, it was a sell-out for its short duration. The production had its faults so was re-written for the touring production and it's this revised script which is now available for amateur groups to perform.

I have the script in front of me and it's so funny that all thoughts of dusting have gone clean out of my head. I now have to consider which part to audition for. Here are the main female characters:

Miss Babs
The voluptuous, overwrought and lovelorn owner of Acorn Antiques - haughty, affected and sexually repressed. Originally played by Celia Imrie.
Character requirements: Playing age 40/50+ but could be played by a younger actress. Large amount of dialogue. Excellent acting and comedy skills with a good strong singing voice. Good mover.
Vocal range: Alto to 2nd Sop.

Miss Berta
Miss Babs 'younger' twin sister. In love with Mr Clifford but pining for him as he has lost his memory and can't remember that they were engaged! Smilingly desperate! Originally played by Sally Ann Triplett.
Character requirements: Playing age 30/40+. Large amount of dialogue. Must have excellent singing voice and good comic timing/acting and dancing skills.
Vocal range: Alto to 2nd Sop.

 Miss Bonnie
The assertive, ruthless owner of The Guilty Bean chain of coffee shops. Finds out she is the long lost sister triplet of Miss Babs and Miss Berta. A "super bitch" who comes good! Originally played by Josie Lawrence.
Character requirements: Playing age 30/40+. Large amount of dialogue. Good acting and singing/moving ability needed.
Vocal range: Strong Alto, ability to do Sop (falsetto).

Mrs Overall
The cleaner of Acorn Antiques - revealed to be the mother of Miss Babs, Miss Berta and Miss Bonnie. Suffers from varicose veins and haemorrhoids but believes all problems can be solved by a nice cup of tea, a macaroon and an anecdote. Originally played by Julie Walters.
Character requirements: Playing age 60+ but can be cast using a much younger actress. Large amount of dialogue. A demanding but rewarding challenge for an actress who has great comic timing and a strong singing voice. Required to move well. Comic timing is paramount. Brummie accent.
Vocal range: Alto to 2nd Sop (plus some falsetto).

As in previous years, I tend to work quite hard before auditions and try out for a few roles. Sometimes I'm successful, sometimes not, but I like to put the work in beforehand. You can never tell who will turn up on the  day so I find it best not to get my heart set on a particular character. But, so far, I rather fancy Miss Berta as she has a couple of good songs to sing, including a beautiful ballad, 'Remind Him'. Miss Babs is a possible but I think there are others in the group who could do her better. But, funnily enough, I am really tempted by Mrs Overall. Wouldn't it be great to play a really comic role for a change? So I'm going to give that one a go too. Which means serious work on my Birmingham accent. Mrs Overall's lines are just magic but everyone associates them with the inimitable Julie Walters. I'm working on lines such as this:

"Ooh that coffee's bitter. Maybe I should give up on your dad's old pants and get a cafetiere."

Mrs Overall has a rather splendid solo to sing: 'Macaroons' is exhausting just to listen to and singing in a Brummie accent whilst dancing with a stoop is no mean feat. Auditions are in January so I will let you all know in due course how I get on. And if I don't get any of the main parts then I won't be too disappointed as the chorus have plenty to keep them occupied, not least a tap dancing number. 

In the meantime, to whet your appetite, here's Mrs Overall's song:


Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Mum's Gone To Sutton Hoo

Some months ago the National Trust launched a campaign to get children outdoors: '50 Things to do before you're 11 3/4.' It included suggestions such as 'No.7 Fly a kite', 'No.13 Make a mud slide' and 'No.44 Light a fire without matches'. My son is some years past 11 3/4 now but it was interesting to look at the list and see which ones he had actually completed. Abseiling? Check. Canoe down a river? Check? Get behind a waterfall? Check.

Number 12 on the list is 'hunt for treasure on the beach' and this came to mind when we visited Sutton Hoo, the National Trust property in Suffolk, home to an ancient Anglo-Saxon burial site. It might not be on a beach but it's very close to the coast, on the estuary of the river Debden, and has certainly provided Britain with one of its most significant finds of buried treasure. 

On the eve of the Second World War, archaeologist Basil Brown began excavating the large grassy mounds on the estate of landowner Mrs Edith Pretty. Although grave robbers had previously looted many artefacts from some of the mounds, Basil investigated some untouched graves and was successful in uncovering a ship burial of an Anglo-Saxon king accompanied by his treasured possessions. Mrs Pretty subsequently gave the treasure to the British Museum but replicas of the masks and artefacts remain at the original site, together with some genuine objects from later discoveries. 

Sutton Hoo resting stopSutton Hoo is a great choice for family days out as it provides something for people of all ages. With over 90 hectares of woodland to explore, striding out for a brisk walk to see the burial mounds, whilst kicking leaves and opening spiky chestnut husks, gets even indolent teenagers moving. There are two walks to choose from, the short one (one hour) and the long one (up to 2 hours 30 minutes). Guess which one we chose? Well, it was starting to rain and this was the beginning of November. 

Cheeks suitably ruddy after our woodland walk, we quickened our step and headed for the warmth of the small Exhibition Hall which was informative without being stuffy. Children can try on typical Anglo Saxon clothes, peep inside a full size replica of a burial chamber and listen to taster talks by the cheerful, enthusiastic Sutton Hoo Society guides. Most people come here to see the famous mask and although it is only a replica, there is something quite arresting about it. 

When the rain stopped, we headed back out again to have a look round Tranmer House which has been frozen in time in the 1930s to recreate Mrs Pretty's home at the time of the excavations. What an unexpected pleasure! A truly 'hands-on' approach to visitors exists in the house: children and adults are free to sit on the furniture, listen to the gramophone, flick through magazines and play the piano. "Touching is positively encouraged," so the warm and smiling guide informed me. She told me they would soon be decorating the house for Christmas and I thought that fact alone would be enough to tempt me back for another visit. 

Back in the visitor reception we popped into the bright, airy cafe for a cuppa and a scone but took note of the imaginative children's menu: a longboat baked potato in a sea of baked beans, anyone? I could have happily sat there for an hour or more, just looking out of the huge windows onto the river valley, but it was beginning to get dark and they would soon be closing for the day.

The National Trust has made sure that Sutton Hoo is accessible and interesting for families. You can pick up a family trail or a tracker pack, go wild in the adventure playground and zip-wire or become an archaeologist by having a dig around in the specially designed pit. There's also a small second-hand bookshop, run by an enthusiastic member of staff, just one of several during the day who made us feel so very welcome. 

"Do you think we can tick off 'No. 12 Hunt for treasure on the beach' after our visit to Sutton Hoo?" I asked my teenage son.
"I think it's pushing it, Mum, but we did do 'No.6 Run around in the rain.' and we possibly did 'No.28 Climb a huge hill' if you omit the word 'huge'."
"Here's one for you. How about you do 'No. 27. Watch the sun wake up' tomorrow morning?"
"After all this exercise and fresh air today? Not a chance!"

Sutton Hoo is in Woodbridge, Suffolk. Tickets are priced at £6.70 for adults and £3.40 for children. A family ticket is £17.10. However it is worth looking for MoneySupermarket Days Out discounts. They provided us with the family ticket to review this attraction, in association with Tots 100.

Sutton Hoo

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

The Gallery: Colour: On the street

When we were in Suffolk recently, we visited the pretty coastal town of Aldeburgh and my son, Rory, took a photograph of the terraced houses on the seafront. The properties were beautifully painted in pastel colours and I thought at the time how important it must be for neighbours to work together so their homes display a united, complementary image.

The theme for this week's Gallery is colour. The Aldeburgh street immediately came to my mind and then I remembered other streets where the use of colour has accentuated the beauty of the buildings. In Stockholm the properties in the main square, Stortorget, in the Old Town, are painted in warm tones and in Copenhagen the run-down harbour has been transformed into a vibrant meeting place, Nyhavn, helped by a judicious lick of paint.

Houses in Aldeburgh, Suffolk
Aldeburgh - Suffolk

Stortorget, Gamla Stan, Stockholm
Stockholm - Sweden
Copenhagen - Denmark

Monday, 3 December 2012

Happy Christmas Your Arse!

It's not often you get to sing these words on a Saturday afternoon in the centre of your local town, but it gave me a bit of a thrill to do just that this weekend.

Our singing group concluded its season of 'gigs' by performing some show tunes and Christmas songs as part of the Christmas light switch-on celebrations in Spalding. We entertained the shoppers in town that day with tunes from My Fair Lady, Les Miserables, The Sound of Music and Joseph, amongst others. To finish the set we sang 'Winter Wonderland' and 'Merry Christmas Everybody' and our MD, Craig, channelled Michael Buble with gorgeous renditions of 'It's the Most Wonderful Time' and 'Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas'.

And what did yours truly sing? 'Fairytale of New York' by The Pogues. I had a whale of a time singing the Kirsty MacColl part, with Martin in fine voice singing the Shane MacGowan lines. It was a complete contrast to the ballad, 'If I Loved You' from Carousel which I had performed earlier in the set. I was a little worried about singing it as the lyrics are a bit coarse and I was conscious that children from the local primary schools were already gathering by the stage (okay, the trailer) to follow us for a choir competition. I had visions of shocked parents complaining about that woman in the red coat (could I have stood out any more wearing that?!) and her potty mouth.

Unlike our last concert which we had recorded and you were able to enjoy here (probably not the right word, considering my Sister Act squawking)  there is no video of the performance this time. So instead you will have to make do with The Pogues themselves and just use your imagination....