Friday, 30 October 2015

Think well, love well, sleep well

Curry capital

Bradford has been named curry capital of the year for the fifth year in a row and the Autumn nights and approaching winter means that going for a curry is a great way of celebrating. Zaara’s remains my favourite place to have a curry in Saltaire for two very good reasons: I can walk there; and, more importantly, the dishes we choose are always cooked to perfection. Recent research has shown that curry may be actually good for you, easing arthritis and even affording some possible protection from Alzheimer’s. What’s not to like?
The glory of Zaara's in Saltaire

Tolkien’s wisdom

Hobbits famously had two breakfasts during their morning routines and, since I’ve blogged about the joys and dangers of drink, it feels that the time is ripe for talking about the wonders and glories of tasty food. Tolkien wrote: “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world." Too true. And Virginia Woolf, a writer very different from Tolkien, concurred: "One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well." 

Luxury Carriage

In an episode of 3rd Rock from the Sun Dick Solomon expressed one of my default justifications of why I enjoy eating so much: “Why should I be concerned about gaining weight? My body is just a carriage that carries my brain around. And my brain deserves a smooth luxurious ride.”  There is Shakespearean precedent too, to celebrate plump people.  In Julius Caesar, Caesar himself says:
Let me have men about me that are fat,
Sleek-headed men and such as sleep o' nights:    
Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look;    
He thinks too much: such men are dangerous.

Joys of Food and Drink

Retirement Pleasure

Eating cheaply but well, shopping carefully and trying new recipes – these are all retirement activities that are new to me. But after all these years of over-eating, I wonder whether or not I could become healthier by losing some of my luxury carriage that is surplus to requirements. I’ve been doing some research into men’s attitude to weight loss, made notes, devised a spreadsheet and bought some cheap dumbbells. (Typical man, I think, reminiscent of Mr Toad's hobbies.) I’m hopeful I won’t become a bore about it because I am a foodie through and through – but I’ll try and keep a track of my progress – or lack of it – and let you know how it goes….
Mr Toad from The Wind in the Willows who enjoys new hobbies....

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Autumn Orgies

Seasons of mist and mellow fruitfulness

Autumn is my favourite season and the orgy of sensations brings me profound pleasure: soft golden light, cooling breezes, falling leaves, burning tints, shades of red, yellow, orange, brown and darkening green. Why is Autumn my favourite season? (“The teeming autumn, big with rich increase” from Shakespeare's Sonnet 97) Is it because, as an ex-teacher, Autumn heralded the new academic year, the fresh start, the new beginning (supplanting Spring as the metaphorical dawn of the year)? Is it because Autumn brings the last blaze of colour before “Winter is Coming”? Or is it because I was born in October? October is the source of my nativity and maybe Autumn imprinted its seasonal DNA in my own DNA.
Odd Autumnal goings-on at Bolton Abbey

An Autumn twas/That grew the more by reaping*

(*from Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra)
As well as the Autumn orgy of sensory delight, I also had an orgy of Shakespeare last week. On Tuesday I saw the new film of Macbeth at the cinema. A difficult play to get right and with notoriously tricky bits of staging, I think Justin Kurzel did an excellent job and certainly created a film that holds up well against Polanski’s, Kurosawa’s and Welles’s cinematic versions. Fassbender was solid, though became a bit one-note, I think, from about half way through (apart from his brilliant delivery of the scene after the death of his wife.) The photography, design and music were, I thought, fantastic, capturing the play’s brooding, violent and disturbing imagery. I also admired the performances of David Thewlis as Duncan, Sean Harris as Macduff, Paddy Considine as Banquo and Jack Reynor as Malcolm. But the bits that jump into my brain four days later were the decisions around the women of the play – the way the Weird Sisters were filmed, the fate of Lady Macduff and the portrayal (and interpretative decisions) focused on Marion Cotillard’s heartbreakingly disintegrating Lady Macbeth.

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers

On Wednesday I attended the RSC Live screening of Henry V, a production I’d seen with daughter Emily in Stratford with the understudy cast. I partly wanted to see it because I’m a huge fan of Oliver Ford Davies and his delivery of the play’s Chorus lines were wonderful, I think. The production is the end of the sequence of four histories directed by the assured and talented Greg Doran, ex-actor and current Artistic Director of the RSC. The staging, design, music and performances were all compelling and I look forward to the completion of the history Octology in the near future.
The cast of the RSC Greg Doran production of Henry V

The beauty of the world! The paragon of animals!

And so to my third Shakespeare production of the week: the NT Live screening of Lyndsey Turner’s Barbican production of Hamlet. I had managed to avoid reading most of the commentary about the production so went in with Sally feeling open-minded but not especially fired up. Reader, I loved it. I thought the production was a magnificent version of the play (a play that I have directed and seen many times and hope to see many more times.)
My production of Hamlet

My enthusiasm for Lyndsey Turner's production could have been because I think (and have always thought that) Ciarán Hinds is a tremendous actor and his Claudius was at first magisterially plausible and finally cowardly and evil. Anastasia Hille’s Gertrude and Sian Brooke’s Ophelia were two of the best portrayals of those roles I’ve ever seen and the way Turner directed them both in the lead-up to Ophelia’s death I thought was very moving. “There is a willow grows…” was as good as I’ve ever heard. Cucumberpatch hooked me from the start and I thought the editing of the text(s) was absolutely legitimate in revealing new aspects of the play. The disintegration of the production’s world through the blowing in of the war detritus at the end of the first half was vivid and admirably utilised by the actors. Most of all, though, I think I enjoyed it because I could see the close-ups of the actors’ faces. Would I have enjoyed it as much live on the vast Barbican stage? I’ll never know, but as a cinematic experience, it gripped me from haunting start to brutal finish.
Lyndsey Turner's stimulating production of Hamlet

Thursday, 15 October 2015

A ball of matter: a happy birthday blog

A cyst. I had a cyst.

Right in the middle of my lower neck.... so I never saw it. Except in photographs. And I lived with the little marble-sized fellah for years. I am sure it was male. It was stubborn. But I lived with it. Patiently. A small ball of matter.

Then it became infected.

And hurt. And grew. And stung. And grew. I felt invaded and diseased. The little blighter started stinging in the night. And when I lay back in the bath, it was like being pricked with a thousand tiny elvish daggers. And we all know what THAT'S like. No-one wants a stingy ball of infected matter in the middle of their back, do they?

The Op

So a skilful surgeon (and his team) decided to excise it in a mini-operation. I admit to being a bit frightened, stripped down to my pants in a sterile operating room hemmed in by four masked medics.  So I breathed.
"I'm going in," said the surgeon. 
"Eeewwww," they all moaned when it was scalpeled. I heard a series of small splashes. 
I asked "Can you keep it for me to see?" 
"NO!!!!" they exclaimed in unison. 
"It's very pus-y and granulated," said the surgeon. "And rather big." 
A kindly male nurse who had the job of holding my gaze to reassure me said "You really DON'T want to see it. Even WE don't want to see it."
If YOU want to see the recovery photos - if you have your own cyst that you are thinking of having removed - or if you have ambitions to work in the NHS - or if you adore Hammer Horror Films or The Walking Dead, then by all means click below to read more.

18 Certificate pictures of my naked neck and more cyst thoughts....

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Summer Days

Peace Artistes in Bradford

Last Saturday

A big treat to see the Peace Artistes in Bradford City Centre entertaining the local crowds with their unique style of musical fun. They make a big sound and present a positive image of joyful culture. I love their cheeky musical jokes and the fact that every musician gets a turn in the “limelight.”
Walk from Ilkley to Addingham and bushes in our garden

Yorkshire countryside

Following on from my last blog, I will miss summer days as much as summer nights. One of the greatest things about stopping full-time work is the opportunity to spend time discovering walks right on the doorstep, walking along the Rivers Aire and Wharfe.
Walk to Barden Bridge from Bolton Abbey
Walk to Barden Bridge from Bolton

City dwellers or country dwellers....

In As You Like It, one of the Shakespeare plays consistently in my "top ten", the father of Rosalind, Duke Senior, asks whether the life of the countryside is not
                                                                more sweet 
Than that of painted pomp? Are not these woods
More free from peril than the envious court?     
I love walking in the countryside, but I am always happier when the path is clear. Woodchip is my favourite path-material! And I stay calm when animals are not so close! And the tracks are poo-free! Our friends in Badby are definitely rural and countrified but I am undoubtedly a city boy. Concrete and neon help me feel secure - I want easy access to a trainline, a cinema and a theatre.
Walk to Top Withins, the moors above Haworth

Sweet are the uses of adversity

And yet.... and yet.... walking on the moors above Haworth to Top Withins - with a picnic - must rank in the top five things to do in life for me. Apart from following in the footsteps of Charlotte, Branwell, Emily and Anne, the walk and the purple of the moors have regularly provided comfort and solace. Later in the speech of Duke Senior he speaks about how the countryside - even when it bites and blows upon my body, then it can still feelingly persuade me what I am. Although this blog is titled Summer Days, I will still find myself visiting the Haworth Moors, Bolton Abbey and the Dales and Moors of West Yorkshire in the Autumn and Winter. Even a city boy needs some country in him....
Goodbye summer, welcome new neighbours, take care, Mrs Tiggywinkle and Emily in Harriet in Paris, photo by Harriet

And this our life exempt from public haunts
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones and good in every thing.

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Summer Nights

Summer days drifting away to – oh – those summer nights

As the Autumn draws in (and my birthday approaches) I look back on the Summer Nights of June, July and August and think how lucky I am to live in a country with seasons.
Kirkstall Abbey

Sneaky Experience

At Kirkstall Abbey towards the end of July the company Sneaky Experience (a pop-up cinema company that operate throughout the UK) showed Grease on a summer’s evening, complete with live performers, themed entertainment and a fun atmosphere appealing to all ages and types of people.
Why has Grease endured?

There are undoubtedly better musicals than Grease. Grease doesn’t come anywhere close to the script and lyrics of West Side Story, the music of My Fair Lady, the choreography of Chicago, the themes of Cabaret, or the big set-pieces of any of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musicals. But it links with everyone who has ever experienced a holiday romance, rival school gangs, a first car, a girls’ night in – and summer nights that seem to last forever. And as the leaves turn golden, we can take comfort from the fact that summer will return.