Saturday, 23 April 2016

Just My Bill


The top picture is of one of my top happy places – Top Withins on the moors above Haworth where I was on Thursday. Inside my imagination I have a top happy place and his work is my BBF. I’ve been aware of today’s date approaching (23.04.16) for many years. Cervantes died 400 years ago. Every year it’s St George’s Day. Every year I celebrate it as Shakespeare’s probably birthday (we know he was baptized on 26th April and that was traditionally 3 days after the birth.) What we DO know for a fact, though, is that Shakespeare died on this day in 1616, probably dying without ever realising how globally recognised his work and ideas would come to be 400 years later.

The James Plays by Rona Munro

Weirdly, but somehow aptly, I’m spending a marathon day at the Lowry Theatre in Manchester watching three modern history plays about James I, James II and James III, three medieval kings of Scotland. I’ll be catching up on the radio and TV recordings of the Shakespeare celebrations in the coming weeks. Later in the year I’m looking forward to the RSC’s Cymbeline, Hamlet, King Lear, The Two Noble Kinsmen and The Tempest. And Lily James, Richard Madden, Meera Syal and Derek Jacobi in Romeo and Juliet.  But that’s later in the year.
Lily James, Richard Madden, Meera Syal and Derek Jacobi in Romeo and Juliet and images from The James Plays by Rona Munro
For today I’ll blog my favourite sonnet and a guilty secret. My favourite sonnet speaks for itself – and I’ve recited it internally and externally on many occasions. My guilty secret is that whenever I see or hear a particular song from the ground-breaking musical Showboat, a profound piece of theatre, in my opinion, I don’t think of vulnerable Julie’s lost heterosexual lover, Bill (click here for Ava Gardner singing it brilliantly), I’m thinking of My Bill, Mr Billy Wobbledagger (William Shakespeare – thanks for being in my life, Bill.)

Sonnet 29

When, in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself, and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featur'd like him, like him with friends possess'd,
Desiring this man's art and that man's scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet, in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate;
        For thy sweet love remember'd such wealth brings
        That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

Ava Gardner as Julie in Showboat

Bill – music by Jerome Kern, original lyrics by PG Wodehouse, revised lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II

I used to dream that I would discover
The perfect lover someday
I knew I'd recognize him if ever
He came 'round my way
I always used to fancy then
He'd be one of the god-like kind of men
With a giant brain and a noble head
Like the heroes bold in the books I've read

But along came Bill
Who's not the type at all
You'd meet him on the street
And never notice him
His form and face
His manly grace
Are not the kind that you
Would find in a statue
And I can't explain
It's surely not his brain
That makes me thrill
I love him because he's wonderful
Because he's just my Bill

He can't play golf or tennis or polo
Or sing a solo or row
He isn't half as handsome
As dozens of men that I know
He isn't tall or straight or slim
And he dresses far worse than Ted or Jim
And I can't explain why he should be
Just the one, one man in the world for me

He's just my Bill
An ordinary man
He hasn't got a thing that I can brag about
And yet to be
Upon his knee
So comfy and roomy seems natural to me
Oh, I can't explain
It's surely not his brain
That makes me thrill
I love him because he's, I don't know
Because he's just my Bill

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Clothe yourself with love

Bride Lisa, dad Terry, groom Dan

Mr and Mrs Senior

I was proud on Saturday 16th April 2016 (16.4.16 – a neat date!) to attend the wedding of my god-daughter, Lisa Marie Billington. She married Daniel James Senior at Trinity Church in Ossett. The church is a lovely building dating from 1806 and was completed in its present form in 1865. Apart from the fabulous windows, the church has famous bells and three pieces of Robert Thompon's Mouseman furniture.
Trinity Church, Ossett

Wedding sounds

Music included The Flower Duet from Delibe’s Lakmé, Handel’s The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba (!), Gwendoline Nimmo singing Psalm 23, The Lord is My Shepherd, Daniel Beaumont playing Debussy’s Clair de Lune and hymns Love Divine All Loves Excelling and Blake's and Parry's mighty Jerusalem. I cannot be cynical about marriage and have blissfully blogged about it more than once.
Dan, Lisa, cousin Ann and Terry, me, Sally, sister Teresa and her family, Mick and Jessica, super-stylish Logan and Eliana stealing the show and the Reverend Clive Hicks

One feast, one house, one mutual happiness

Lisa and Dan: two joyful people, two delicious grins, two beating hearts filled with infectious optimism as they embark on their voyage together. They have, like many people, had bruising times in the past so the day’s happiness was all the sweeter. The aptly-named Valentine ends Shakespeare’s Two Gentlemen of Verona with the words in the sub-heading – “One feast, one house, one mutual happiness” – and Juliet’s words from Romeo and Juliet are always worth quoting when love is in the air (especially in the week I’m celebrating the quadricentenary of Shakespeare’s passing):
My bounty is as boundless as the sea
My love as deep. The more I give to thee
The more I have, for both are infinite.

Whenever I look up, there will be you

Shakespeare had a lot to say about love but I also enjoyed Dan’s mum reading an Irish blessing and the words adapted from the dialogue of Gabriel Oak, that steadfast rock of a character (a character that amateur performer Dan could certainly play), in Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd:
We are all on our own paths, all on our own journeys. Sometimes the paths cross, and people arrive at the crossing points at the same time and meet each other. There are greetings, pleasantries are exchanged, and then they move on. But then once in a while the pleasantries become more, friendship grows, deeper links are made, hands are joined and love flies. The friendship has turned into love….
Terry, Logan and Ann
At home by the fire, whenever you look up, there I shall be. And whenever I look up, there will be you.

May the road rise to meet you (Irish blessing)

May the road rise to meet you
May the wind be always at your back
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
The rains fall soft upon your fields
And, until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of his hand.
Reading from Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians
God loves you so your new life should be like this: clothe yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults and forgive each other. If you feel someone has wronged you, forgive them. Forgive others because the Lord forgave you.

Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. Always be thankful. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom Christ gives. Sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts.
Reception at Hotel St Pierre
From Shakespeare’s King John:
He is the half part of a blessed man,
Left to be finished by such as she;
And she a fair divided excellence,
Whose fulness of perfection lies in him.
Lisa's grandparents, two halves of one whole, and my Mum, ever present at family events

Friday, 15 April 2016

What employment have we here?

At the top of the Keep, Conisbrough Castle

Fit for great employment

In Shakespeare’s Two Gentlemen of Verona a group of banished (outlaw) citizens (living in the forest – where else?) redeem themselves by helping shelter the protagonists. The “hero” in the final scene asks the Duke to pardon them:
These banish'd men that I have kept withal
Are men endued with worthy qualities:
Forgive them what they have committed here
And let them be recall'd from their exile:
They are reformed, civil, full of good
And fit for great employment, worthy lord.

Royal Shakespeare Company Two Gentlemen of Verona outlaws

Adaptation and Change

The outlaws in Two Gentlemen of Verona get a second chance. They start again. They’ve suffered. They’ve adapted. They’ve changed. They are now “full of good/And fit for great employment.”
Flowers from Angela Tuffnell to celebrate changing times....

Conisbrough Castle

Conisbrough Castle in South Yorkshire is a great example of a building that adapts to changing fortunes:
  • built in the 11th Century by William de Warenne, the Earl of Surrey
  • remodelled by the wonderfully-named Hamelin Plantagenet, bastard son of Henry II
  • left to ruin in the Civil War
  • scene for three powerful women to exert their influence over their lives and times: Isabel de Warenne, Isabella of Castile and Countess Maud Clifford
  • setting for the inspiration of Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe 
  • modern tourist attraction.

European Union money and UK renovations

The castle was in terrible disrepair until a series of careful renovations, funded and managed by a partnership between English Heritage, the local (Doncaster) council, the charitable Ivanhoe Trust and the European Union. Yes, the European Union. I wonder how many roads, renovations and infrastructure projects have been funded in the UK by EU money? (Vote Remain, I say.)

Confederation of British Industry graphic - who's got the biggest market?

The Downton Abbey syndrome

Conisbrough Castle's extraordinary Keep and Chapel
Great houses and castles in the UK are fantastic places to visit (in my opinion) because they tell us much about where we’ve been and why we’ve been what we’ve been. And how, as a country, we can adapt and employ our resources for the maximum enjoyment of the maximum number of citizens. It’s all about Adaptation and Changing with the times. Market forces will take care of the rest, as long as the Market is honest….

Friday, 8 April 2016

Nature and Fortune thy birth, dear boy,Nature and Fortune join'd to make thee great*
(*Constance in King John)
I know I’m not the only one becoming irrepressibly excited about the approaching 400th anniversary of a certain fellow’s death. In 1616 on April 23rd Mr William Shakespeare, gentleman, died in Warwickshire. The date of his death is recorded in two separate places, so the place and time of his death is undisputed. 52 years before that, in 1564, on April 26th he was baptised in Holy Trinity Church, in the same town where he died, Stratford-upon-Avon. Practice in Elizabethan and Jacobean Stratford was to baptise children three days after birth, so the conclusion is that Shakespeare died on his birthday. (Some recent scholars – see The Shakespeare Circle edited by Edmondson and Wells – have argued that a more likely birthdate was April 22nd but tradition is probably going to smother the scholarship for a few more decades, and, in any case, we’ll probably never know.)  So, let’s hear it for April 23rd – Shakespeare’s death date and, as near as dammit, his probable birthday.

St George and Cervantes
It’s a neat coincidence that April 23rd also happens to be the celebration day of England’s patron St George, dragon-slayer and rescuer of maidens. (Never mind that the historical equivalent of St George probably never set foot in England – he’s still a great symbol of manliness. I especially like his “voice” in the third stanza of Ursula Fanthorpe’s poem Not My Best Side which you can hear if you click this link to a youtube performance.) April 23rd is also the anniversary of the death of one of Spain’s greatest writers, Cervantes, whose character, Don Qixote, famously thought that the arms of a windmill were dragons that needed fighting. The Royal Shakespeare Company is currently staging Don Quixote in Stratford-upon-Avon and I’m looking forward to seeing it with the great David Threlfall later this year.
Main pic: David Threlfall and Roger Rees in the RSC's Nicholas Nickleby

The most prolific imdb credits in history
The Internet Movie Database (today 8th April 2016) credits Shakespeare as a writer 1,148 times, a record that will probably never be beaten and with a script-writing tally that will no doubt keep rising. It’s especially remarkable that the movie industry began 300 years after Shakespeare died. (I suppose the cynic in me can say that his work is used so often because there are no writer’s fees to pay….) He has also inspired many other artists to create ballets, operas and musicals.
Giving the Royal Family a run for their money….
In 2013 the English Tourist Board calculated that Shakespere tourism accounted for upwards of £600,000,000 per year. Shakespeare-related merchandise and branding is (laughably) everywhere in Warwickshire – with coffee shops, bookshops, restaurants, bed and breakfast accommodation, photographs, paintings, sculptures, posters, pens, fridge magnets, lunch boxes, mugs, t-shirts, soft toys and diverse other “unconsidered trifles”, great and small. Thousands have made tidy profits from Shakespeare without ever producing one of his plays or reading aloud one of his poems. The impact of Shakespeare’s work on the economy of the country is definitely worth celebrating so I, for one, am looking forward to the anniversary events.

Friday, 1 April 2016

Wasted time....

Ben Whishaw as Richard II in the BBC's Hollow Crown series.

I wasted time, and now doth time waste me….

Richard II’s words (above) are poignant reminders to Seize the Day. Minutes pass, as do hours, days, weeks, months and years. I am approaching my second anniversary of being retired from full-time teaching and Easter (for me) has always been a good time of year to reflect on the past, present and future. What has happened since retiring? Have I wasted the time?

Five a month
Five a month? Tick!

In my first blog, I recklessly stated that I hoped to be achieving five posts a month by August 2016. I have been doing that now since August 2015 so today (no April Fool, this, or maybe I’m an April Fool for writing it in a public space….) I’m turning to my next medium-term retirement goal which is to work more systematically on longer pieces of writing, in addition to the blog. Therefore from today onwards (April 1st 2016) every Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from waking to 1pm I’ll be in the study calling myself a “writer.” As in,
Hello, I used to be a teacher but I retired from that and now I’m a “writer”.
I hope by April 2018 I won't feel the need to put "writer" in inverted commas. Two years from now. April 2018. I'm giving myself two years. In my life I've always measured Real Change by the span of two years passing before you can think of a change as embedded.

Why not be a “writer” every Tuesday too?

Tuesday is going to be Domestic Day. “Big shop” at the supermarket for the week, hoovering, mopping and ironing – my weekly chores…. And of course the Tuesday visit to Slimming World, as announced in a January blog. I’ve got my “You’ve lost a stone and a half” certificate now. And I am still enjoying (a lot of) food, wine and plenty of treats. So something has clicked for me after three decades of ignoring the pounds piling on – thanks, Slimming World!

So doth time waste me in retirement?

Not if you count:
  • better quality time spent with family and friends 
  • decluttering over thirty years of teaching resources
  • learning to sleep better, eat better and get more exercise
  • fragments of the glimpses of the inklings of feeling a little bit like a “writer” (in inverted commas for now.) 
I have a (treasured gift of a) bowl with a message painted into the pattern. It sums up this blog entry, an answer to Richard II’s self-pity: The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.