Sandybrook Country Park (and a few bits and bobs).

What a truly excellent long weekend! Just what the doctor ordered.

I drove out of work on Thursday afternoon full of the joys of Spring (when the weather was still behaving appropriately for a season beginning with S) knowing that I had three days of rest and relaxation ahead of me.

My long weekend started with a trip to the theatre with hubby. I’d forgotten until a couple of weeks ago that in the deep, dark midst of the January blues I’d booked tickets to see Thriller Live at the Alexandra theatre in Birmingham so we’d have something to look forward to.

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For those who lived under a rock in the 80s, Thriller is an album by Michael Jackson. Now I realise that he’s somewhat of a controversial figure these days (I guess he always was, but for different reasons) but from where I stand, whatever he may or may not have done, (and I guess we’ll never know for sure now) his music is still iconic and I grew up with it. The first album I ever bought (on cassette tape from Woolworths!) was Bad and I loved it.

Anyway, the show was brilliant and really took us back to our school days. I didn’t know if they’d turned his music into a story like they have with We will Rock you did for Queen, or if it was going to be just like a concert. It was somewhere in between. There wasn’t a story but it wasn’t like a normal tribute act either. There are five lead singers, one of whom is a woman, and lots of backing singers/dancers. If you can get past the controversy, I’d highly recommend seeing it for a bit of escapism.

Anyway, on to the main event of the weekend – I was going on a mini break with five girl friends that I’ve known forever. We were heading for a return trip to Sandybrook Country Park near Ashbourne in Derbyshire. It’s a complex of fifty two lodges, ranging from one to four bedrooms, some with hot tub, set on a hill just a short walk away from the Tissington trail. We requested the same lodge, number sixty five, that we had last year. It’s at the top of the hill, one of the furthest away from the entrance so it has lovely views and is relatively quiet with little to disturb you when you’re sat in the hot tub or on the decking.

Last year we went over the early May bank holiday weekend and the weather was glorious. This year, not so much. I took the photos above on Sunday just as we were leaving which was, typically, the nicest day, weather-wise. The rest of the time it was pretty rainy, but there were breaks in the drizzle so we did all get to use the hot tub without being rained on (although some of us are such hardcore hot tub devotees that a bit of rain didn’t stop us!)

We headed into Ashbourne on Saturday for our pre-booked afternoon tea at Betty’s Sewing Box. Last year we walked along the Tissington trail to get there, but this year it was definitely a car kind of trip!

This place is like some kind of heaven mixed with cake! Not only does it serve a great afternoon tea for only £12.50 …

but it also has various crafts hanging around for you to have a go at …

and it’s attached to a craft shop…

This year we got to eat, drink and craft to a background soundtrack of the likes of Glen Campbell, Patsy Cline and Johnny Cash. Honestly, I’m amazed I ever managed to drag myself away! I did leave a little piece of myself in the form of a granny square that I knocked up over lunch!

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After we’d consumed our fill of sandwiches, scones and cake and drunk enough tea (or Diet Coke in my case) to keep the whole of Derbyshire hydrated we moseyed on into Ashbourne to have a mooch. We all have a bit of a penchant for charity shops (of which there are lots), and there’s a fabulous bear shop that I was very excited about returning to.

I came away with this gorgeous Charlie Bear called Shelby (a la Peaky Blinders) …

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and these books from a couple of charity shops.

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I’ll let you draw your own conclusions as to which cost me lots of money! He did have ten percent off though (hope that doesn’t mean they’re closing down.

We didn’t let the rain dampen our spirits. When we got back from Ashbourne with our spoils and full tummies, we managed to fit in a hot tub session before we knocked up a buffet tea and then set about the important business of chatting, laughing and reminiscing over a glass of Prosecco or three ….

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and in my case a couple of Bric Royales.

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This is a cocktail that I discovered when hubby and I went to Malta in January. It’s rosé wine with a shot or two of passionfruit liqueur added. Can you count a drink as a cocktail if it only has two ingredients? Not sure.

I signed up for Slimming World a couple of weeks ago, which probably wasn’t the best move given that I had my girlie weekend coming up. I followed the plan for the first week and managed to start a downwards trajectory …

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… but I wasn’t going to be beholden to it while I was away. I didn’t want to be awkward for communal catering, and I also wanted to be able to tuck into my afternoon tea and enjoy a tipple in the evenings, but I did try not to go mad.

I started each day, as I have been at home, with overnight oats that I made and took with me.

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This is the first batch I made. It’s just oats, fat free Greek yoghurt and frozen fruit layered up – free on Slimming World. Doesn’t it look like cheesecake? I was really hoping it would taste like it, but no such luck. It’s quite nice but cheesecake, it’s not!

I certainly indulged a little, as well as the afternoon tea and the booze, we had buffet teas with pizza, quiche, crisps and hummus (not all at the same time) and that’s my favourite kind of meal so I could have gone crazy, but I managed to reign myself in a little, at least more than I would have if I hadn’t just started Slimming World.

Anyway, wonderful weekend though it was, I think it’s left me a little sleep deprived – you never sleep as well in a strange place do you – so I can hear my bed calling. Only two more days to get through though – I have another four day week because I’m off to Gardeners’ World Live at the NEC on Friday. Whoop! Excited muchly!

 

A couple of trips to the theatre

Gosh, isn’t January taking its time? I saw a meme on Facebook this morning that said  ‘it literally feels like 74th January!’ Now, I’ll ignore my internal linguistic Juliet Bravo who wants to remove the incorrect use of ‘literally’ because it feels so true that it almost is literally! At least it was pay day yesterday and I was finally able to order the jumper I’ve been drooling over on the Oasis website for the last fortnight!

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Shopping makes me happy, and when I don’t even need to leave the house to do it …. even better! Aren’t these lovely summery colours? I have something of a long love affair with stars. I had one tattooed on my shoulder at the age of nineteen. You can imagine my delight when this month’s Little Box of Crochet arrived this week covered in beautiful stars.

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The contents make something starrily gorgeous too, but I’ll show you that once it’s done (which will be some time away since I still have November and December’s boxes to finish, plus I’m halfway through a baby blanket for my new niece, Emmeline, and am fully ensconced in the Attic24 CAL – here’s a quick sneak peak of my progress as modelled by my lovely Tink).

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Anyway, on to today’s topic, theatre trips, and controversially I’m going to tell you about the second (most recent one) first.

He’s behind you! Oh no he’s not! Pantomime! One of my favourite people got tickets for her Mum, my Dad, her friend and I to go and see Peter Pan at the Birmingham Hippodrome. We’ve been looking forward to this for months, and it finally came around this week.

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I obviously don’t have many photos because it’s generally frowned on to take pics at the theatre, but I managed to snap this one at the beginning. I just love the whole, well, pantomime of it. All the booing, the campness and the innuendo that all the kids laugh at but have no idea why!

Peter Pan was played by Jaymi Hensley who was on the X Factor back when it was still worth watching and he had a cracking voice. Meera Syal played a mermaid. I don’t remember a mermaid in Peter Pan, but it’s an awfully long time since I read it. Queue lots of fishy jokes and Goodness Gracious Me references. Captain Hook was originally Jimmy Osmond, but sadly he was taken ill early in the run (get well soon Jimmy) and was replaced by Darren Day. I didn’t have a particularly high opinion of Darren Day (possibly owing to the media reporting his various infidelities at length during my youth) but good on him for stepping in and, actually, he was fab! Very funny. Finally, there was Matt Slack as Smee. He is the glue that holds the whole thing together. He’s a regular having been in the Birmingham Hippodrome pantomime for the last six years (and confirmed for Christmas 2019 too).

I saw the panto last year too, and I noticed that some of the scenes are rewritten and updated each year, but they’re so funny that it still works. There’s a scene where several of the characters sing in a round including actions which result in Smee being bashed over the head with a frying pan or poked in the derrière with a poker and another where a tongue twister gets added to and embellished until it’s practically impossible to get through without accidentally slipping out a rude word. Hilarious, and actually very difficult for the actors. There’s also always someone that ends up falling through a trap door!

The script is obviously updated regularly to reflect current affairs. There were references to Brexit (obviously!) and the Duke of Edinburgh’s driving exploits and Theresa May (Theresa may what?) Without having seen it twice, it’s hard to tell whether some of it is ad-libbed or not. If it is, then it’s even more clever. We all spent a significant amount of the time belly laughing, and personally, given the trials of work at the moment, and the political uncertainty, and, let’s face it, January, I really appreciated the diversion. A good laugh is good for the soul.

Something that is also good for the soul is this ……

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….. Practically Perfect in Every Way!

I adore Mary Poppins! Always have, always will. If I’m poorly, one of my go to ‘feeling sorry for myself’ indulgences is watching Julie Andrews fly in with with her umbrella to sort out the Banks family. Given my alliegence to the 1964 original, my initial reaction to the news that a new Mary Poppins film was being made was abject horror (I still can’t bring myself to watch the remake of Pete’s Dragon!) but once I’d breathed in and out of a paper bag a few times and googled it, I realised it wasn’t a remake, but a sequel. Hmmmm, thought I, that, I think, is ok! From thence onwards I let out a little squeal of excitement whenever I saw a trailer for it. Emily Blunt, on initial viewing, seemed practically perfect in every way for the part of Mary Poppins.

On Christmas Eve, I excitedly rushed away from work once I was allowed to escape, and met my sister-in-law and our lovely friend to go and see the new film. I had learnt several weeks earlier than said lovely friend had never seen the original, and once in the cinema, it also transpired that my sister-in-law hadn’t seen much beyond supercallifragilisticexpialidocious either! Honestly, if I hadn’t been concerned about missing the start this may have had me reaching for that paper bag again.

The premise of the story is that Jane and Michael are all grown up. Jane is single and has rather inherited her mother’s activist tendencies. Michael has been recently widowed leaving him to care for his three children. He still lives at 17 Cherry Tree Lane with the children but, as a struggling artist, has received notification that the house will be repossessed if he can’t make the next payment on a loan by the deadline. Jane realises that their father left them shares in the Fidelity Fiduciary Bank where he worked. All they need to do is find the share certificate and present it to the bank in time to save the day.

Obviously, it transpires that it is not as easy as it sounds, so enter Mary Poppins to save the day! My initial feelings about Emily Blunt were bang on! I can’t think of anyone who could have emulated the great Ms Andrews any better. She had the mannerisms and quirks spot on. Jane was also exactly as I would have imagined her to grow up. Michael, not so much, he just didn’t look quite right and he had lost the cheeky zest he had in the original (although I guess that comes from being widowed and having bailiffs pound on your door).

 

The film has completely its own story, but there are nods and references to the original scattered throughout it. Upon seeing Mary Poppins for the first time, Michael’s mouth falls open to which, those of us who are in the thousands of views of the original, could easily predict that Mary Poppins’ response would have to be ‘close your mouth Michael, we are still not a codfish’ (she doesn’t disappoint). It’s done very cleverly though so you won’t miss out if you haven’t seen the original (how, how, how?) rather your viewing is simply enhanced if you have. I think I probably smiled with nostalgic glee the whole way through, so incredibly happy that they’d managed to capture the original magic and rework it.

I won’t say too much and ruin the surprise for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet, but integral to the story is a Bert-like character who helps to keep the story moving (in doing some research I’ve just discovered a theory that Mary Poppins was Bert’s nanny – mind officially blown), there’s a scene which is the partner to the chalk drawing scene in the original, an updated version of the part where they have a tea party on the ceiling with Uncle Albert, an alternative to the rooftop chim chiminey dance, and these fellas are still hopping around.

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Dick Van Dyke even makes a cameo appearance towards the end!

It essentially follows the same format as the original. For devotees such as myself who could be in the original if only they could learn to fly, you can almost predict roughly what kind of scene is coming. This may sound like a bad thing, after all, who wants a predictable film, but the storyline keeps you guessing, it’s just the format that’s familiar which just adds to the magic and the nostalgia.

I don’t think I’m giving too much away by saying that all’s well that ends well. The ending is brilliantly tied up with something that happens in the original. I won’t tell you what, but it has to do with this!

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Well, I must finish, there’s some housework that won’t do itself, however, continuing the theme, ‘for every job that must be done, there is an element of fun, you find the fun, and, snap, the job’s a game!’

Goodbye Mary Poppins. Don’t stay away too long.

 

WarHorse

I’m a big fan of Michael Morpurgo, as it would seem are a huge number of people. His Facebook page has forty one thousand likes and the film version of WarHorse grossed almost one hundred and eighty million dollars at the box office.

Like lots of people, I think, it wasn’t until WarHorse came to prominence that Michael Morpurgo came to the forefront of my mind. You may have noticed the slightly strange turn of phrase there ‘came to the forefront of my mind’. This is because he had been in my mind for a long time, but I had completely forgotten until I did some browsing of Amazon that I did actually read a Michael Morpurgo book when I was twelve. This one.

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I know I was definitely twelve because the book was a gift from my Dad and C when I broke my leg. I always remembered the book but didn’t remember who wrote it. I read it in one day while I was stranded on the sofa, up to my hip in plaster.

I read WarHorse on my Kindle a few years ago and loved it so when I saw that the stage show was touring and coming to the Hippodrome in Birmingham I headed straight on line to book tickets, and last Saturday we headed into town for the matinee showing.

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It was a packed house, not an empty seat anywhere as we waited for the show to start.

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The puppetry was amazing. The two main horses, Joey and Topthorn had three people operating them, two inside the body representing the hind and the heart and one alongside representing the head. Somehow the knowledge that the horses hearts were being represented made the depiction all the more poignant. I obviously couldn’t take photos during the performance but I’ve found a good pic online.

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On the left is Joey and Topthorn is on the right. You can see the three puppeteers. This is when they were first introduced to each other behind the lines of the battlefield in France. There were also supporting horses, but these were differentiated by being less formed, their bodies ended at their tail with no hind legs, and they were operated by just one person.

As well as the horses, there was a puppet goose. It was operated by one person using a handle attached to it, and it waddled around the stage on a wheel. The goose provided a very necessary touch of light relief.

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The title of the show is fairly self explanatory, but until I read the book, it had never occurred to me that animals were involved in the First World War. We all know of the enormous human suffering and loss of life, but less is known of the plight of the million horses that were sent to France. Only sixty two thousand returned. That’s approximately ninety five percent that perished.

The book is written from Joey’s point of view but I guess it would be hard to portray this on the stage so in this case you watch the events unfold in front of you. You see Joey bought at auction by Ted Narracott and then see his relationship grow with Albert, Ted’s son. He has to learn to become a farm horse, ploughing the land, and it is this which ultimately saves his life out on the battlefields of France.

I don’t want to ruin the story, just in case anyone hasn’t read it/watched it, so I won’t delve any more into the plot. The portrayal of the fighting, the torture of uncertainty and no news back home and the agonising choices having to be made at the front line is incredibly moving. In fact, at times I found myself squirming in my seat because I actually found it quite uncomfortable viewing. The thought that this is real, people and horses actually went through this. Millions of lives were lost, millions more changed forever. So much bravery and valour, but oh so much pain and suffering.

For me, as an animal lover, and someone who’s had to go through the pain of losing a beloved pet, seeing the First World War portrayed in this way, using animals, drove home to me how absolutely devastating the war was, to the world, to our country, to families, to individuals. It made me incredibly grateful to the men, women and animals who bravely suffered the atrocities of war, whether it be on the front line or away from the action keeping the country ticking over, and so so relieved that this isn’t our reality today.

The show has a happy ending, but put against the backdrop of such horrors, this just serves to heighten the emotion. I never normally get upset at shows or films, but I just couldn’t help it and the tears were rolling down my cheeks at the end. It was harrowing. I felt utterly emotionally exhausted, but then guilty for not being able to hold it together when real people endured the reality of the war with stoicism and resolve. The actors got a standing ovation as they came on to take their bows, which was absolutely deserved. I’m glad we went to see the show, but I don’t think I would put myself through it again.