Monday, August 30, 2010

Perfect Frock

Many brides just haven't a clue what suits them when it comes to wedding dresses. So sometimes you get huge meringues worn by those who dream of Fairytale Weddings, like the one poor Princess Diana wore, which was clearly designed to find out just howmany frills could be fitted around just one woman. It had a train about a mile long. And lo, when she stepped out of the car, the nation saw the Fairytale Frock and exclaimed in chorus,


Sadly I wasn't able to blog about it at the time for various reasons, such as there not being an internet, and also because at the time I was at Blarney Castle in Ireland, kissing the Blarney Stone (you guessed).

There's always something a bit dodgy about the Fairytale Frills Frock if you ask me. It suggests that there's a bit of clutching-at-daydreams going on because the reality has at least one big flaw in it - - which in Princess Di's case went by the name of Camilla Parker-Bowles.

Other brides decide that it's a novel and exciting idea to get the traditional dress and try to make it sexy with the addition of a plunging neckline, mini-skirt, satin shorts, revealing holes - - and it's never, ever a good idea. When she looks back at the photos - if she ever does - she will find she has to hide behind the sofa and peep at them from between her fingers and even then she''ll find herself sobbing at the horror of it all as well as at the fact that the bloke in question has gone off with her best friend Julie.

On Saturday I was at the wedding of Gareth's delightful sister Jo and her excellent fiance Ian.

Now I've known Jo since Olli met her when they were both fourteen, six years ago, and hence I knew that she'd manage to choose a perfect wedding dress. It does help that she's extraordinarily pretty with superb cheekbones, perfect skin and an hourglass figure. (Jo will hate me for saying all this but she's in the Maldives now and there's not a thing she can do about it, so there!)

So here it is: classy, elegant and it suited her perfectly. To her right is her now-husband Ian (looking rather good himself, as a matter of fact) and to her left are Gareth and then Olli, with Gareth and Jo's parents Les and Val on the outsides of the group.

I knew that Jo had made the right choice of frock when I saw Ian's expression when he saw her as she walked down the aisle: and the same expression also told me that Jo has made the right choice of husband.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Swimming and Shoes

I wanted some more practice in swimming in cold water. If the water temperature drops below - I think - 15 degrees in Windermere, then they insist that you wear a wetsuit for the Great North Swim.

But I have swum a lot in cold seas without a wetsuit. So today I thought I'd try in the cold Ilkley Lido in just my swimsuit, and see how it went.

Silverback kindly agreed to accompany me to keep an eye on me. I am always slightly nervous about the cold as when my right leg, which once had a deep-vein thrombosis, gets cramp it is absolute agony and hard to uncramp!

So in I went and it didn't seem too bad - I was told it was 16 degrees.

I loved it. I just swam up and down, didn't feel cold or anything, felt as though I could swim for ever. Though I stopped at a mile because it was lunchtime and I was aware of my blood sugar beginning to drop - I revived it with firstly three toffees in quick succession and then Silverback and I had an excellent pub lunch.

So this has decided me: if they don't insist that I wear a wetsuit, then I won't wear one.

On the way home I had a welcome cuppa at Silverback's house and then realised that I might just have time to call in at the shoe shop.

Because - - fanfare of trumpets - on Saturday Gareth's lovely sister Jo and her excellent fiance Ian are getting married in Gloucestershire. We'll be travelling down tomorrow, and I really haven't got any suitable shoes.

So I got to the shoe shop, which said on the door that it closed at half-past five. There were some suitable Shoes-For-a-Wedding in the window. It was twenty-five past, so I went in. Five minutes is plenty for me when buying shoes. I hate shopping and so am a very fast shopper. Those! Size six! Done!

The assistant was sitting on a stool looking gloomy. I've known the owners, and some of the assistants, for years, but this woman was new to me.

"We close in five minutes" she said in a "go-away" kind of voice.

"I'm looking for some shoes for a wedding," I said, in the hope that she'd think and they might be expensive and so spring into life.

"We close in five minutes," she repeated, gloomily.

"Yes, but you're open now, aren't you?" I said brightly.

"We close in five minutes," she said in tones of utter weariness.

"So do you really want me to come back in the morning?" I enquired.

"We close in five minutes," she repeated.

"Well, I might come back tomorrow, or I might not," I said sweetly, "but I think we both know it's not your shoe shop, is it, so you don't really care." And I left.

I might go back in the morning - it's a good shoe shop and all the assistants there have always been helpful. But this one's not going to serve me, I promise you that.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Hooks in Amsterdam

Here's the street where my brother and his family live in Amsterdam, as seen from the front bedroom window:

When they bought the flat nearly twenty years ago it was in quite a poor area of the city but has now become much gentrified.

But one thing has stayed the same and if you look on the left of the photo (click to enlarge if you wish) you will see them.

Hooks. High up. Big ones.

Here's a close-up.

The thing is, if you live in one of these tall old houses, which have twisty, narrow stairs, and you buy, say, a new fridge - - well, often it won't go up the stairs.

So you hire a block and tackle, take the window out and haul it up using the hook.

But what if it all goes wrong and your fridge crashes down on somebody's head? Don't you need massive insurance in case?

Apparently not. Apparently they don't bother with such things. They just do it, as they've always done it.

Now then, I'm not scared of heights - actually you may be able to tell that from how I leaned out to take the photo - but I don't like edges of things where I might fall. So I don't like the idea of removing the windows so high up.

That's the first thing. The second thing is the hooks.

I don't know why, but I just hate them. Why? It's hard to explain - - something to do with my eyes. They make me want to shut my eyes, and cover them until the nasty hooks have gone away. Anyone else? Anyone able to explain?

Anyway, just to let you know, that if you live in the top flat in Amsterdam, and you buy a grand piano, and you need to haul it up - - well, please don't ask me to help, okay?

To anyone who misread my title, and who came here hoping for something juicy about the Red Light District, I apologise, and you can just take your filthy thoughts elsewhere. We did happen to have a good look round the Red Light District, mind, but it doesn't count, because we are pure of mind. Or I am, anyway.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Turning to Face the Rain

It's been a long, hard day in the office. It'ss been difficult trying to catch up after my two weeks away.

One of the actors pointed out - quite reasonably - that she can't afford a holiday and therefore gets fed up when people go on holiday and then grumble about going back to work.

Well, generally I love my work and am perfectly happy to get back to it. But just not today. I don't like it when I can't do everything fast enough. I'm aware that, whilst Ive been gadding about on the Continong, a lot of money has come in and the actors need it: so I've been trying to pay it out as fast as possible whilst being aware that there are invoices that need doing too, or the next lot of money won't come in on time.

And there have been lots of other things going on too, and - again quite reasonably - lots of people needing to speak to me, including a man who has made a video with many of our actors and who rang to say how great they all were.

Excellent - - and, again and again, I thought - - now where was I up to with that sum? It's really hard to do lots of other things - all necessary - as well as payments and invoices and receipts.

So, to be blunt, I'm feeling sorry for myself and I don't like it. So here's something I do like, to cheer myself up:

It's a French sunflower, or "tourne-sol" as they call them, because they always turn to face the sun. Hmmm, yes, well if they tried THAT in Leeds today they'd have problems: it's all rain and greyness.

Two bumblebees on the sunflower, I notice. It's very nearly covered in bees.

Okay, here's something else I hope will cheer me up: the splendid Eddie Izzard.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Lido Creature Swims Again

I watched some narwhals swim up a channel in the Arctic ice in Nature's Great Events, narrated by My Hero David Attenborough.

Narwhals are the ones that look a bit like dolphins but on the front they have a long, single tusk, like a kind of dolphiny unicorn, in fact.

As they swam, close together, up the channel I wondered what they were saying to each other and concluded that, in my opinion, all they would ever have to say to each other is "Oy! Watch what you're doing with your tusk - - I said Oy! Watch what you're - - " etc.

Anyway, talking of the Arctic Ocean, here is somewhere slightly colder: Ilkley Lido.

Yes, that's me, this morning. A lovely sunny morning and everything but it's been three weeks since I've swum in the wetsuit and I found it really hard going. Also I think I'm still tired from the long journey back from holiday and the 283 loads of washing I've done since. Okay, perhaps my statistics aren't quite as accurate as Silverback's but I think you get the picture.

Forty lengths is what I did. A mile is 36 lengths of this pool. The first ten were hell. I was out of breath, nervous, hating the fact that the wetsuit has too much air in it for ages and then makes me too hot. Stephen, standing on the poolside, listened patiently to my grumblings.

So after the first ten I felt really defeated and I nearly gave up and got out but I thought I'd just try another couple - - and then suddenly I'd done eighteen and that's nearly twenty - - so I thought I'd get to thirty - - and that's nearly thirty-six - - and when I'd done thirty-six I felt fine suddenly so thought I'd do another four and make it forty.

I've never been so tired before, though, probably because I'm rather out of practice. Although I did swim on holiday - in heated pools with gorgeous views of France - I never did the full mile. and I didn't swim in the wetsuit of course.

But one good thing was that I didn't get low blood sugar - a huge bowl of porridge and two slices of toast beforehand seemed to do the trick.

And then, after I'd had lunch in the cafe, a lady came up to me.

"Excuse me," she said, "but are you training for something?"

I told her about the Great North Swim in Windermere, which is on September 4th (and that's two weeks yesterday AAAAAAAAAAARGH!)

"My grandma lived by Windermere and I used to swim in it a lot," she said, "and I can tell you that Ilkley Lido is colder. Anyway, I wish you all the best - I was watching you swimming up and down and I was impressed by how many lengths you did."

I was so cheered by this! Suddenly I felt a lot better. I must keep believing that I can do this.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Finding the Words

It's always good to carry a dictionary when you're in Foreign Parts. For many years, my mother's dictionary of choice when visiting France was the one on the left.

My mother's French used to be pretty good but there are always words you don't know, aren't there? She trundled on with this dictionary all through the Sixties and Seventies until finally I persuaded her that it was helping her only to address surprised French people with something along the lines of "Prithee, sirrah, couldst thou direct me to the nearest establishment where I can exchange my groats for French coinage?"

Actually, the one on the left was published in 1944 so it's quite hot on words such as bomb, bomber, bombardment, soldier, resistance - - - but, strangely, not "Nazi".

It just wasn't helping, so eventually we gave up on it and lashed out £3.99 on a new one.

That one, dear reader, is the one on the right.

And it's useless. Again and again it lets me down. My French vocabulary is actually not bad - - - so when I'm looking for a word it's usually something specific to a particular thing - - usually food - - or to a region. Or a word that my French teacher when I was at school stupidly forgot to teach me, such as the word for mobile phone, or the word for computer. Pah.

Finally, halfway through the holiday, I gave up on carrying this wretched dictionary around since any word I wanted to know wasn't in it.

And thus it was that I ended up eating a plate of calf's kidneys which weren't as bad as I thought they might be, though I would never have ordered them. ("Rognons de veau" in case you ever need to know). And yes, "rognons" was the only word that I might have looked up that actually was in this dictionary.

In the Dordogne everything edible involves bits of duck apart for the things that involve the liver of geese that have been force-fed, which is of course pate de foie gras. Oh yes, and there were frogs' legs too, just to keep up the stereotype but luckily I know what a grenouille is. And I did know enough to avoid andouilettes - which are sausages made of chitterlings which are perfectly edible but I don't want to eat them! Oh, and it's gizzards, gizzards all the way too, but "gesier" is a word I learned years ago so know not to go near them.

Not that there's anything wrong with eating gizzards, or chitterlings, or calf's head - - in my book, if you're a carnivore - and I am - then you shouldn't go "ewwwww" over one bit of animal whilst happily eating another bit.

But it's just a question of personal taste and there are some things I just don't want to eat, okay? And it would be good if my dictionary helped me out a bit.

It's not so long - well, it didn't seem that long - since I bought this dictionary so I wondered why it was so generally useless.

Upon closer investigation, I learned that although I bought the dictionary in the early years of this century, it was actually a reprint, done in 1999. But - aha! - wait a moment! It was first published in 1979!!! I was a postgrad student at the Sherman Theatre in Cardiff then, wandering round clad mostly in leotards and wrap-round Indian-print skirts.

It was a long time ago. We were still well impressed with non-stick pans back then and thought a smartphone was one that came in any colour other than black.

I'm going to buy another dictionary for when I next go back to France. And I'll be checking the publication date.


Our house didn't look too bad when I got home - - it's too big and has too much junk in it and I never have time to clear it properly because I'm too busy working and so is Stephen.

Some of the actors have been staying it whilst we've been away, manning the office and they haven't made a mess and Olli and Gareth have done the washing up and hoovered and so on. But I just don't have time to look after this big house properly and when people come round and comment on an untidy room etc I just can't bear it. Because it's not - it's REALLY not - that I'm lazy - it's just that I work too many hours at other things.

I was doing okay, looking at the junk, much of which dates from the time when my parents live here, and thinking hey, it's got to go, I'm going to get a skip - - - and then, when I was about to go to bed I found that two of the pillows off our bed have disappeared and I can't find them anywhere.

Okay, I've had a long journey and I'm very tired - - but this apparently small thing immediately makes me want to sell the house, move out, move somewhere smaller with great big secure locks and not give anyone any keys so that nobody, NOBODY can come and take the pillows off my bed whilst I'm away.


We woke up this morning here, at La Ferme de Wolphus, between Calais and St Omer.

It was a beautiful morning in French Flanders. In the blueish light of early morning I could see the horses swishing their tails in the field outside the cottage.

Jean-Jacques Behagel brought us a breakfast of croissants, fresh baguette and various honeys and jams. It was an unpretentious and pleasant place and he was very friendly.

We drove to Dunkerque through the flat fields, many of them with round bales of hay and all bathed in golden light. There were pretty villages and flowers everywhere.

The boat trip was enjoyable: we spent quite a lot of it on deck in the sunshine, taking photos as the White Cliffs of Dover approached.

The M20 from Dover was pretty crowded, and then we got to the M25 which was like a slowly-moving car park. As we approached the M1, again there was near-gridlock.

It took us hours to get home. We did something like 2,400 miles in the two and a half weeks and didn't come across a bad traffic jam anywhere in Belgium, Holland or France.

We stopped at Toddington Services where I found a whole set of car keys and house keys hanging up in a cubicle in the Ladies.

Firstly, I shouted to see if the owner was still about

I showed them to one of the attendants and asked where I should hand them in. His response was to open his mouth and keep it that way, saying nothing. Apparently low-life characters in mediaeval paintings were always painted with their mouth open and, feeling rather snobbish, I felt I was getting a live demonstration of the grim truth on which this was based.

I showed them to another attendant who asked me if I'd found them in the Gents. This would seem somewhat unlikely, I pointed out, but his grasp of English was so limited that I finally gave up on talking to him.

Finally I handed them in to the Marks and Spencer supervisor who seemed to have a brain and to be prepared to use it: what ensued I know not because we went off to eat something.

I had a baked potato with baked beans and salad and some fruit salad and it was actually okay. But whilst we were eating the music system played the same song again, and again, and again. It was a whiny lament sung by a woman who was apparently having her fingernails pulled out, one by one, and who found the process painful, yet strangely boring too.

The song was on a loop. Again and again and again and AGAIN and finally I went and found the nearest assistant and asked WHY? and COULD IT BE TURNED OFF PLEASE?

"Hope so," he said, "it's doing my head in."

He suggested I should try the supervisor who was manning the other checkout. Except that she wasn't. Nobody was. We left the song to carry on its gloomy course. We finished our meals and went out into the grey British weather to continue our crawl up the M1. We landed in Dover at one o'clock British time and got home to Leeds at half past ten.

It's been a delightful couple of weeks in Belgium, the Netherlands and France, and Silverback and Stephen have been wonderful company.

But - - - - now then, Britain, I have a message for you. I love you. I still love you, in spite of everything. I love your countryside, your wildlife and quite a few of your people.

But by heck, Britain, you're making it difficult for me. I hate it when people complain about our country lazily, and without any thought. But if I'd been someone coming into Britain today from France, and if this was my first experience of the country, I would have thought that I'd dropped into Hell.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

La Belle France: Douze Points

For the past couple of nights we've been staying here, and very lovely it is too. It's in Nontron in the Dordogne (you are correct, Mr Pudding, it's not Nonton as I called it in my previous post!)

At the back of the house is a sheer drop so the balcony looks over a steep, wooded valley. It's a beautiful view.

Last night, after midnight, I looked out of the window and the valley was pitch dark. I could hear two owls calling to each other - one doing the "to whit" part and one answering with the "to whoo". I never saw them but I could track their movements across the valley by listening to their calls - and at the same time I was looking at all the stars and watching the occasional tiny flashing light of an aeroplane crossing the sky.

I love all the wildlife that we've seen in France. The places that we've visited have been predominantly rural and I've seen many animals that aren't that common in Britain these days, sadly.

As we drove through a village, I saw a red squirrel carrying some item of food or other.

On a boat trip in beautiful Brantome yesterday, dragonflies flew all round the boat and we saw two water voles swimming through the water.

There are swallows everywhere, swooping down and catching insects.

At the house in Burgundy where we stayed, bats were constantly flying in and out of the cellar. As we left the caves at Villars today, a really tiny bat was clinging to the roof in the doorway: I've never seen a bat at such close quarters before.

Of course, there are all of these in Britain too: it's just that the wildlife seems more plentiful here.

To me, one of the indicators of the niceness of a country is the plentifulness of its wildlife. And, of course, the beauty of its scenery and, crucially, the quality of its croissants.

I'm pretty impressed with France, I must say.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A Blass in Blois

We left Graham and Christine's delightful place in Burgundy, France - see previous post - and then stayed here, in the town of Mer, in the Loire Valley for a couple of nights. No wifi though, but a lovely, calm, elegant house. Well it was before we got there, anyway.

I loved the breakfast there - the best croissants we've had, brioches, baguette, some really delicious jams, yogurts and figs from the garden (which I like, but didn't eat, as they're too sweet for me).

We wandered round nearby Blois, including its chateau. This had clearly been rather run-down until some nineteenth-century bloke with delusions of grandeur and a lot of purplish wallpaper got his hands on it and "restored" almost everything in it until little of the original innards remains. So there was a lot of mediaeval-looking Victoriana, if you call it Victoriana when it's French, which you probably don't. But I am, anyway, so there.

Later, we drove past the enormous Chambord, the king of chateaux, all turrets like an elaborate Disney castle. I was glad we saw it but also glad we didn't go round it as it's just huge. Silverback did tell me how many rooms it has and I've forgotten but I know it was several hundred. We stood on a bit of grass and took photos of it whilst one of those Standard Issue French Old Ladies tutted at us and said in French that we shouldn't be doing this. Not sure why: presumably she's in the pay of the Chambord bosses who would prefer you to cough up the entrance fee. Fortunately we lost all ability to understand any French until we'd taken the pictures.

After a while it's possible to get Chateau Fatigue. You know this has set in when you find yourself muttering things like "yeah, yeah, another sodding tapestry and a bit more armour. Oh, look, a turret. Is it lunchtime yet?"

The Communist was once told by some family member who'd done some research that there was a pogrom in Blois in 1171 and the Jews were driven out, and that this was where the name Blass - which was my maiden name - came from.

It's possible, I suppose - and I was pleased to come across a street called Rue des Juifs (the Road of Jews) which has given me as much proof as I'm ever going to ask for.

Now we're in the Dordogne, at a place called Nonton, in a posh and rather pricy place - a hotel rather than a b and b - with wonderful views and a swimming pool.

We've taken a squillion or two photos between us and I expect some of mine will be on this blog when I get back to Blighty, but I haven't had a chance to look through them properly whilst I'm away.

As always, grateful thanks to my travelling companions: my husband Stephen and great friend Silverback who are looking after me so well. They do tend to tease me a bit though. Okay, a lot. No idea why.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Blissful Burgundy

We left Amsterdam and drove down through France, staying on the way in - well - the middle of nowhere, in the French countryside, at a bed and breakfast in an old house where we drank coffee from bowls in the morning, like real French people.

And now we're here, at my old friend Graham and his wife Christine's place in Montreal, Burgundy. It's wonderful, and most of it was built in or around the thirteenth century. They have two gites (holiday houses) and a bed and breakfast and are really rather full so have kindly given up their room for us. If you've never been to Burgundy in France, do have a look at their website and you may understand why they - and we - like it so much.

I swam in the pool this morning, early, and loved it of course. Swallows skimmed the water near me, catching insects. There is a wonderful view from the pool over rolling countryside with fields and forests.

Stephen and I were last here at Easter 2007 and since then I think we've been through the mill a bit, to put it mildly - the Communist's long illness from Summer 2007 until his death in December 2008, for a start, and a good number of other things too.

So it's bliss to be back here with Silverback who is also enjoying it - which is great, because when you introduce someone whose opinion you respect to a place you love it's always with a deep breath in case they say "So what's so special about it? I can't see it at all!"

Many thanks to all of you who left comments on my last post - they are much appreciated.

We have one more night here after tonight - - and then we're off to find some more lovely parts of France.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Of Bicycles and Dreaming

As is usual when I'm on holiday, as soon as I really begin to relax - which takes a few days - then I get the bad dreams.

They're always on the same theme: I am sure that I have written about them on this blog before. I have been given some small creature to look after and I have failed to do so and let it die.

Last night it was a tank of assorted fish and amphibians, especially newts. I had failed to feed them and they were all dead or dying. For good measure, I had also been given one of those fairground goldfish in a polythene bag. I had hung the bag on a hook and forgotten all about it and now the water was all dried up and the goldfish was dead.

So I woke with the usual feelings that I get from these dreams - feeling almost indescribably sad and terribly, terribly guilty.

I only ever have these dreams on holiday: it's as though they're a kind of self-punishment for enjoying myself too much during the day, and for not doing any work. I know that, at bottom, I think that all pleasure has to be paid for, and I don't know why I think that but I do!

So it took me a few minutes to adjust to being here in Amsterdam, in my brother Michael and sister-in-law Deborah's flat, on a bright sunny morning with nothing to do except enjoy ourselves.

And enjoy ourselves we did, with a kind of Day Rover public transport ticket for 24 hours for 7 euros, which meant we could hop on and off trams and buses and travel all over the place and see lots of different parts of Amsterdam.

They were all different and interesting, and they all had one thing in common and it is BICYCLES.

Okay, everyone knows that Amsterdam is very flat and hence is excellent for bicycles. When I was here about ten years ago there were lots of them, leaning against lamp-posts and railings and lining the roads by the canals. I remember cycling round Amsterdam one evening and very pleasant it was too.

But since then their numbers have increased, it seems, by a factor of about ten. The cyclists go at top speed and many people only consider one hand to be necessary for steering. The other one is often holding a sandwich, or a cigarette, or a mobile phone, or the hand of a child riding in front, or a girlfriend who's balanced on the back, or - in one case - another bike, which was riding along next to him, as a kind of spare.

The bikes have baskets on the front, often decorated with flowers and carrying all kinds of things, and varying in size from very small to the size of a wheelbarrow. Sometimes they have extra seats on the back, or trailers to pull.

What with looking out for trams, and buses, and cars, and scooters, and some strange little things that look like sawn-off cars but that live in cycle lanes, it can be very hard to look out for bikes as well, since they hurtle at you from all directions.

Oh, how charmingly picturesque, you may say, and indeed all this is extremely interesting to watch.

But if I lived here, I think it would only take a couple of weeks before I started leaning out of my high-up Amsterdam flat and firing at cyclists insanely with a water pistol. What's worse, I'd be secretly wanting to upgrade to a rifle.

Tomorrow we leave the Netherlands and head South into la belle France. I've had a lovely time so far. So good, in fact, that I'm confidently expecting more bad dreams.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Close Encounter

A lot can happen in a few days.

We (Silverback, Stephen and I) set off from Leeds on Wednesday, drove down to Dover - and, okay, by "drove" I mean that Stephen drove, Silverback navigated and I sat in the back eating sweets - and got the ferry to Dunkirk.

Then we drove - see above for definition of "drove" - to Bruges, and we were there in time for a meal on Wednesday evening.

Bruges is a place of mediaeval beauty and I'll show you some photos in a later post. Serene canals and lovely old buildings beside them - I think I can speak for us all when I say that we absolutely loved it.

Two nights there and then on to Amsterdam. My brother Michael and his wife Deborah and daughters Daisy and Flo live here - - but they're presently on holiday in Devon so have kindly let us have their flat, which is lovely!

It's the top two floors of one of those old, tall Amsterdam houses. We've left the car in a Park and Ride and have walked everywhere so far - - we have done a LOT of walking on this holiday and I've really enjoyed it - there have been so many interesting things and interesting people to look at.

Today was the Gay Pride boat parade in Amsterdam. Again, I will post some photos later on - it was a massive, fun event full of pink balloons and pink feather boas and lots and lots of leather, all to the music of Lady Gaga and Queen, amongst others.

There was dancing in the streets and a tremendous amount of good humour.

However, as I watched it all, I had a strange encounter. With a pickpocket.

I was standing in a mass of people watching the boats. My handbag has two zipped pouches on the outside - and because they're on the outside, I don't keep anything of financial value in them. I had the top of my bag zipped up and my arm across it because - luckily - I had already worked out that these crowds would be Pickpocket Heaven.

This handbag cost thirty pounds which is probably the most I've ever paid for a handbag. I bought it because I just took one look at it and thought it's perfect for all the things I carry about - lots of little compartments.

As I watched the boats firing confetti into the air, I was suddenly aware that something was not right with my handbag. I couldn't work out what.

I turned round and there was a man's hand on it, trying to undo one of the zips on the little pouches.

I know from my - luckily very limited - past experience that I usually react very strongly if I'm the victim of crime - years ago, I once unwisely chased some burglars out of our house, and I was yelling so aggressively that they dropped everything and fled!

What I did this time was to grab the man's hand and forcibly remove it from my bag, and then hurl it away from me as hard as I could, before even I'd fully grasped what was going on.

I didn't even see his face. But then a strange thing happened. He patted me on the shoulder, two quick pats, and then melted away into the crowd. I was sure that the pats meant "Okay, not this time, then."

If he'd got into that pocket he could have got away with a few British stamps and my Bodyline card for swimming in Leeds swimming pools. I think we'd both have been pretty cross about it.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Summer Holiday

Summer Holiday. It was the first film I ever saw in the cinema. I loved it. Cliff Richard and the Shadows and Una Stubbs. Fantastic.

Here's a clip, with the title song (I still love it) and a bit of hilarious - - oh well, not THAT hilarious - word-play on the words rue (road) and roue (wheel).

Appropriate too, because Silverback, Stephen and I are all going on a summer holiday tomorrow.

We're going to Bruges, and then to Amsterdam (and grateful thanks to my brother Michael and his family who live there, but are in England and letting us stay in their flat in Amsterdam). Then to my old friend Graham's delightful place in Burgundy and then on to see some more of France which may or may not involve the Loire and the Dordogne.

I hope to write at least a few blog posts whilst we're there!

Monday, August 02, 2010


"These two T-shirts, please."


"Sorry, I didn't quite hear what you said."


Because I know what they always ask, I could translate this, which was just as well. And what she thought she was saying was,

"Would you like to keep the hangers for the two T-shirts?"

I could tell it wasn't going to get any easier. And I knew what she was going to say next, because they always say the same thing, and it is this:

"Cunintressu unuh storca nyuhcn save tenpercen tdae?"

Which is, in English, "Could I interest you in one of our storecards? If you are prepared to spend the next hour filling in an interminable form then you could save a magnificent ten percent on today's purchases."

"No thank you", I replied politely and was rewarded with a shrug and


So I inserted my card in the machine and she said nothing further to me until I said a very polite "Thank you for your help". Actually it was tinged with heavy irony but I could have dropped a stone of heavy irony on her foot and she wouldn't have noticed.

"Uh" she concluded, presumably in order to demonstrate her direct line of descent from Prehistoric Man.

Well, hey, I've been known to grumble about overseas doctors who can't speak clear English. But perhaps I should be targeting my first-line grumbling closer to home. This girl was undoubtedly Leeds-born. And I'm not objecting to Yorkshire accents at all - - just to lazy speech and a total lack of effort.

Illyria's Pride and Prejudice at Nostell Priory

I've always loved the open-air touring theatre company Illyria.

I've always loved Jane Austen's novel Pride and Prejudice.

Moreover, two of our actors, Miriam Jay Allwright and Robert Took were in the cast and - and yes, I know I would say this, because I work with them, but they're both excellent.

So I had high hopes from this evening's performance of Pride and Prejudice at Nostell Priory, near Wakefield. And actually, it was even better than I thought it would be.

Illyria's productions are always good, for a variety of reasons: the adaptations are intelligent, the actors are superb hard-working professionals with masses of energy, the shows are fast-paced, very entertaining, well-directed and clear. There's always masses of doubling with each actor playing several roles and it's all done at top speed and very wittily.

There was a simple set: here it is with Gareth and Olli sitting in front of it:

We arrived at about six, although the performance didn't start until half-past seven. We know from previous experience that there'll be an audience of several hundred - indeed there was, all bearing picnics and garden chairs - and that if you want to get near the front, you have to be early.

It was quite chilly as there was a clear sky - but this, of course, is much better than rain. I'm a veteran of a lot of outdoor theatre and hence had taken my warm winter coat!

All Jane Austen's characters were vividly brought to life by a cast of five and here they all are:

One thing that I particularly liked was that this production captured all the original's comedy, wit, satire and emphasis on wealth. No "this is a classic so it must be treated with reverential dullness" approach.

It is a fact universally acknowledged (sorry, I had to get that line in somewhere I'm afraid and I'm writing this at half-past midnight so do please make allowances) that Illyria's actors never have an easy time. If you look at the tour schedule on the site you'll see that they spend the whole summer rushing about all over the country and often performing in the worst of the British weather.

Lots of them do it for several summers in a row. Because actors know when they're in a show they can be proud of, and this is just such a show. Hurrah for British theatre!