Wednesday, 31 August 2016

The readiness is all

Alex T with Paapa Essiedu after another stunning performance as Hamlet. 2016 RSC Summer School memories: Cymbeline, Dr Faustus, Hamlet and The Alchemist and, in the Birthplace, a Chinese musical version of Coriolanus....

The readiness is all

It’s time to account for the title of my blog – The readiness is all. The internet address is actually “the readiness is all – let be” – without gaps and without the dash. Yes, it’s a quotation from Hamlet. Yes, Hamlet himself says it. Sometimes the “let be” is cut from productions (it’s only in the Second Quarto) but I’m convinced it’s a crucial line. I’ve always thought his “let be” was his hard-won answer to his earlier anxiety over “To be or not to be,” despite that notion not being favoured by scholars. The idea is simple – que sera sera – what will be will be – if he is going to die he will die. The time is ripe – or will be soon – or maybe tomorrow or another day. You could say it is a fatalistic and pessimistic world-view; or adopt my view and believe he means that he is going to live for the moment, live in the present, live for now, be mindful of existence and smell the roses. A similar sentiment occurs in King Lear (which I’ll see in a couple of weeks) when Edgar persuades his father, Gloucester, to struggle on for a few more minutes (despite being blinded and betrayed) – Edgar says Ripeness is all.
"The readiness is all" says Hamlet to Horatio in Hamlet - a school production I directed and Hamlet and Horatio in the RSC Simon Godwin production. "Ripeness is all" says Edgar to Gloucester in King Lear in the RSC Greg Doran production.

There is a tide in the affairs of men

I quoted Ripeness is all in my first blog (I will survive) and the blog before this one (To every thing there is a season) reminded me of the whole Readiness is all concept. Every year since about 1976 I’ve seen most Royal Shakespeare Company productions, increasingly so since 1986 when I started attending the RSC Summer School, the year the Swan Theatre opened (and the year I married Sally.) Every year the RSC re-inspires me to delve again into the work and context of the Elizabethan and Jacobean theatre and find comfort in the ideas and themes that exploded into English Literature throughout those years (about 40 years from around 1585 to 1625.) At the most recent summer school I was lucky to see Christopher Marlowe’s Dr Faustus and Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist alongside Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Cymbeline, the former in a stunning production starring Paapa Essiedu and the latter in a production that contained many fine moments and performances though, like the play (one of my favourites incidentally), was sometimes a bit weird.
Surviving RSC Summer School programmes from past 30 years and gadding about in Badby and round Stratford-upon-Avon

From Hamlet Act Five Scene Two

If your mind dislike anything, obey it. I will forestall their repair hither and say you are not fit.
Not a whit, we defy augury. There is a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, 'tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come. The readiness is all, since no man has aught of what he leaves, what is't to leave betimes? Let be.

From King Lear Act Five Scene Two

Away, old man, give me thy hand, away!
King Lear hath lost, he and his daughter taken.
Give me thy hand. Come on.
No further, sir, a man may rot even here.
What, in ill thoughts again?
Men must endure
Their going hence, even as their coming hither.
Ripeness is all. Come on.
And that’s true too.

Friday, 26 August 2016

To every thing there is a season

The author choosing between champagne and water and dreaming of the new and the old in his imaginary landscape.
Two years into Retirement
It’s coming up to two years since I retired from teaching and since April I’ve been increasingly getting into writing as my prime retirement hobby. I’ve written dialogue and many shorter prose exercises, some for competitions and some for my eyes only, and I’ve also kept this public blog going for two years as a way of disciplining myself to meet deadlines (I now try to publish blog entries five times a month!) Since August 1st 2016, though, one particular writing project has been dominant such that my “domestic Tuesdays” (see Wasted time….) are becoming writing Tuesdays, as are all other working days. Sally is becoming Domestic Goddess to give me the luxury of trying to commit an idea I’ve had to paper. The germs of the idea were planted a long long time ago. But it’ll be a long journey before any of it is seen outside the immediate family….
Skipton Castle: inspiration for one of the locations in my magnum opus
Cul de sacs, red herrings and acres of detritus
I think it was Thomas Edison who first coined the notion that worthwhile inventions come from 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. I’m beginning to understand that at first hand now. The experience of writing is a turbulent glide over a meadow where you suddenly slip in mud, feel like you’ve twisted your brain’s sense-muscles but set off again, determined and eager before getting knocked over by cannonballs of embarrassment, picking yourself up and immediately becoming the Gold-Medal-Winning Olympic Champion of the Sport of Writing before falling down a pothole made of marshmallow and liquid treacle toffee. Wings on your heels and a stink bomb up your nose. And woe betide you stop and read what you’ve written with anything like objectivity. Painful. But then the main idea, the spark – the flash – the concept that got you started niggles at you, pleads with you, begs you and you return to the whole mystifying shebang with cockeyed optimism. Fun. Weird fun. Keeps me from causing mischief in the streets.
Life Advice

From The Bible’s Ecclesiastes Chapter Three
To every thing there is a season
and a time for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build up,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to lose,
a time to keep and a time to cast away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
Time to get on
with telling the story of Raydan’s Rhenium Tales which has plot(s), characters, themes, settings (maps), and needs a coherent style. Question: where will that come from I wonder? Answer: more perspiration…. 

Friday, 19 August 2016

Bastille Day 2016

St Pierre Livron in France

After Margaret and Pascal’s wedding (It’s all I have to bring today) and exploring Bessines-sur-Gartemps (There goes the baker) Sally and I took the train further south to Caussade near Toulouse. Maggie Lancelot met us there and drove us through small towns snuggled in verdant countryside to her stunning house in St Pierre Livron. On four levels the structure of Maggie’s house is a slate-topped, rock-hewn tree-house, surrounded as it is by miles of forest, forest, and more forest. The sound of birds and crickets was a perpetual background to our amiable chats about the past, the present, the future, politics, family, friends, literature, cinema, holidays, hobbies and all topics between.

Maggie's house in St Pierre Livron

French Food and Drink

Being in France and staying with a fellow foody, it was heaven to enjoy:
  • lush wine
  • scrummy food including local cheeses, fresh fruit, prosciutto, chicken, mushroom risotto, salmon in sorrel sauce, chickpea salad, burgers that melted in your mouth, potatoes, roasted peppers, asparagus, green beans, salads galore

Through the rain....

The first morning we woke to the tropical sound of rain pattering through the trees, rain soaking the forest floor, rain softening the valley, but through the rain the calls of birds continued – magical. It dried quickly and it was fascinating to visit the bustling town of Caylus, the nearest place to shop, and visit the fresh food market – fruit, vegetables, cheese, fish – all pleasingly displayed. Caylus is a medieval be-shuttered hamlet with boulangerie and boucherie.

Zadkine's Christ

The sturdy Church of St John the Baptist houses an extraordinary crucified Christ by sculptor Zadkine, gruesome but awesome. Notice in the collage below how it dwarves Sally.
St John the Baptist church in Caylus with Zadkine's Chris

Shabby romance

Why are peeling walls, coloured shutters and deserted medieval streets so glamorous? Even the dark and murky public pissoir in nearby St Antonin seemed functionally quaint. In Britain these things would seem grotty but in Europe they have the gloss of utilitarian shabby romance.
St Antonin

Journey to Albi

The journey to a day out in Albi wound through fertile countryside, along roads and boulevards, up hills, alongside rivers, over bridges, through forests, past limestone cliffs and fields of sunflowers. Towns like Cordes-sur-Ciel are perched on impossibly high outcrops.

Echoes of the Great Sept of Baelor

Albi was like a set from Game of Thrones. Saint Cecilia’s cathedral (Cathédrale Sainte-Cécile d'Albi) is the largest brick-built cathedral in the world with many highlights:
  • the massive organ case
  • the painted vaults with azure blue background
  • the sky, earth and hell images on the Last Judgement painting
  • the side chapels with their differently-patterned muted-in-colour geometric designs
  • the elaborately delicate rood screen
  • and the soaring ambulatory
– all combine to take away your breath.
Inside St Cecilia's cathedral

Spectacular view

Walking round the outside of the building, up and down monumental steps, in between corridors of brick that make you feel inconsequential, you reach a viewpoint looking over the formal gardens of Berbi Palace (Palais de la Berbie) and a great place from which to see the city’s spectacular bridges. Our final stop in Albi was to the Saint-Salvi collegiate church with its odd statuary and peaceful cloister.
Saint-Salvi, the view of Albi's bridges and one of the many wrought-iron Sacred Heart crosses in towns throughout the region

Volatile times and dignified ceremony

During this trip, back in the UK the Prime Minister changed (David Cameron to Theresa May) and Boris Johnson became Foreign Secretary. It felt like we were living in a strange bubble of unreality. More so when on our final day we learned of the attack on a Bastille Day fireworks party in Nice that killed at least 85 people and injured many more. On July 14th morning (the morning before the attack happened) Maggie took Sally and I to the Bastille Day commemoration in Caylus, a respectful ceremony attended by many: soldiers with bayonets, fire marshalls wrapped in rope, be-medalled veterans, the Mayor and his family – and many townspeople and us – assembled in the square with a portable amplifier to play La Marseillaise, raise and lower flags, march, salute, parade and lay flowers. French patriotism at its most solemn, a ceremony performed twice, once at a general memorial and once at a memorial for the dead of the First World War. Lots to wonder about, lots to contemplate – at the time and, after the news of the Nice attack, regularly since.
Bastille Day in Caylus 2016


What else do I remember about the last stage of our trip to France? We watched Truly Madly Deeply as a tribute to the glorious (late) Alan Rickman and, in a bit of a drunken stupor, the eccentric French film Bienvenu chez les Ch’tis. I loved re-reading Charlotte Brontë’s bonkers tale of a very complicated woman, Lucy Snowe, Villette and I began compiling a written glossary of the ideas I have for the fictional fantasy world I have been inventing since April (Wasted time….) An abiding memory, though, will be playing Bananagrams and being mightily impressed with Maggie’s speed at forming words and switching tiles to form new words…. Bananagrams – an Olympic sport one day? Many thanks to our gracious and generous host for a tranquil break deep in the heart of Europe.

Sunday, 14 August 2016

There goes the baker

Little white VW Polo

Whilst visiting Razès for the wedding of Margaret and Pascal, we had time to zip around the area in a little hired car. Zipping is probably not the right word, since everything we did was done in a lazy summery haze.


We stayed in the little town of Bessines-sur-Gartemps which had a lovely square and an interesting church, the Église Saint-Léger.

Chateau Constant

We slept in the ‘Blue Room’ of the eccentric but atmospheric Chateau Constant run by Ana Marie Rivera and Gerard van Hooft. Is anything more holiday-like than the smell and taste of French breakfast? Freshly-baked croissants, café au lait, luscious plums and apricots…. The cool of Chateau Constant was a respite from the heat but we could not help but venture forth into the highways and byways of the rural idyll.

Viaduct, Rock and Bridge

The Office de Tourism were welcoming and drew our attention to some out-of-the-ordinary man-made structures (a viaduct (Viaduc Rocherolles) and a medieval bridge) as well as a more mysterious attraction, the Pierre Belle, a mysterious, primitive, road-side rock basin whose origin and purpose have been forgotten down the ages.

I paint with the stubbornness I need for living

Bessines-sur-Gartemps was also the birthplace of artist Suzanne Valadon (1865 – 1938), an extraordinary woman who, apart from being the mother of Maurice Utrillo, was a pioneer in her time.

Striking things I learned about her:
  • she painted women who look like real women
  • she behaved as she wanted and wouldn’t follow society’s conventions
  • she smoked, drank, took drugs and had a number of affairs
  • she joined a circus as a teenager but fell off a trapeze
  • she modeled for Toulouse-Lautrec and Renoir
  • she kept a goat who ate all her discarded artwork
  • she has memorable works in galleries across the world
  • in her time she was notorious and rebellious and greatly loved by all who knew her
  • these days she is a feminist icon for many who discover her work and learn about her life

There must be more than this provincial life....

Shallow, I know, but it was very hard to avoid humming and whistling Alan Menken/Howard Ashman’s Belle from Beauty and the Beast as we wandered round Bessines-sur-Gartemps. I wonder what the locals truly make of Suzanne Valadon as they go about their daily business. I swear there was one trip out when every single person I saw was carrying a fresh baguette….
Little town it's a quiet village.
Every day like the one before.
Little town full of little people, waking up to say.
There goes the baker with his tray like always.
The same old bread and rolls to sell.
Every morning just the same since the morning that we came,
To this poor provincial town….
Au revoir Chateau Constant

Onwards from Limoges railway station

An elegant coffee at the city railway station was the prelude to the next stage of our French adventure – travelling by train to an even more remote town further south…. To be continued….

Friday, 5 August 2016

It's all I have to bring today

Anna, Andrea, Margaret, Sally, Elizabeth and me with Sally wedding-ready....

An EU wedding

Deep in the French Limousin region in the Haute-Vienne department, the town of Razès hosted the marriage of Margaret and Pascal. It was my first meeting with Pascal and he made it very easy to instantly warm to his reassuring and welcoming presence. Sally and I know Margaret from “olden days” at the University of Manchester and it was a privilege and pleasure to attend their ceremony on 9th July 2016.

At the town hall

Margaret arrived by horse-drawn carriage and her brother played a wedding march as she entered the local mairie (town hall.) The mayor of Razès, Monsieur JM Legay, welcomed guests from round the world with inspirational words about “peace, friendship, cooperation, openness towards others and the capacity to create a place where we are free, transcending national borders.” The Brexit vote was a million miles away from the spirit generated by the different people gathered to celebrate aimer sans frontières.

Like two trees....

A series of readings and performances decorated the legal ceremony:
Tibie Paiom by Dmitri Bortniansky
Lovers on Aran by Seamus Heaney
Ombra Mai Fu by GF Handel
Shetland Wedding Music played by Margaret’s Brother, Peter
Later in the beautiful bee-busy garden at Chesnevielh further performances ornamented the exchange of rings, moving words from Margaret’s daughters, Elizabeth and Anna, and the sharing of hopes between Margaret and Pascal:
Come with me my love sung by the Toolan family
Ma Solitude by Georges Duhamel
Tout Passe by medieval Persian poet, Hafez
Le reste du temps by Francis Cabrel
What a wonderful world by Thiele and Weiss

Lovers on Aran by Seamus Heaney (read in the mairi by Owen Cant)

The timeless waves, bright, sifting, broken glass,
Came dazzling around, into the rocks,
Came glinting, sifting from the Americas

To posess Aran. Or did Aran rush
to throw wide arms of rock around a tide
That yielded with an ebb, with a soft crash?

Did sea define the land or land the sea?
Each drew new meaning from the waves' collision.
Sea broke on land to full identity.

Ma Solitude

(translated from Georges Duhamel 1884-1966 by Margaret Cant and read at the garden ceremony by Sylvain Le Bihanic and Sebastian Brun)
Like two trees, much alike
And facing the same horizon
We share our source of nourishment
And bend to the same winds.

Will I still be alone on this earth
Now that I have named you?
Have I rejected solitude in order to
Have you in my arms?

Like two trees, side by side
We mingle our leaves and roots
And the breeze which passes through us
Has but one force and one fragrance.

I take you into my solitude!
So deep and calm
That even the noise of our breathing
Is unable to disturb.

Like two strong trees, standing together
Reaching towards a cloudless sky
Their sap rising in parallel
Eternally apart

And yet, as soon as the wind rises,
From their entangled branches
Comes a harmonious music
Which betrays their one ardour.

Emily Dickinson

Friends Bob and Andrea included in their speech at the wedding dinner the following exquisite minature poem by Emily Dickinson, a fitting text to end memories of an idyllic setting for a remarkable occasion:
It’s all I have to bring today—
This, and my heart beside—
This, and my heart, and all the fields—
And all the meadows wide—
Be sure you count—should I forget
Some one the sum could tell—
This, and my heart, and all the Bees
Which in the Clover dwell.
Lac de Saint Pardoux