Bristol Vintage Fair

This weekend I visited the glorious Bristol Vintage Fair, dragging my poor boyfriend along with me for the ride. The fair is one of many run by Lou Lou’s Vintage Fairs across the UK – a deliciously colourful feast of all things old and cool.

In honour of the occasion, I wore the new Hearts & Bows Izzi dress I was kindly sent by Ark Clothing. I picked it mainly for the Peter Pan collar (big fan of those), but also for the frisky polka dots that bring a sense of fun to a classic LBD. I teamed it with my trusty ‘I’m an evacuee’ duffle coat and brogues to vintage it up a tad.

Like all hodge-podge fairs, it took a couple of laps to find my bearings. I fell in love with a display of upcycled sweatshirts and almost got my hands on a particularly tasty cardigan before I remembered how poor I was. In the end, however, this did not prevent me from buying the most amazing coffee-pot set from the 1960s. It was called ‘tangerine’ and featured a milk jug, sugar bowl, coffee pot, three cups and four saucers, all painted in a rich orangey red with burnt black edges. I’m a great lover of serving tea out of teapots and that sort of thing, so to find this beautiful, earthy set was just fabulous.

I bought it for £30 and felt guilty for about 20 minutes before I was distracted by a Pieminister pie.

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Review: Jane Eyre at Bristol Old Vic

When I heard that this production was split into two separate plays, a matinée and an evening show, I wondered how it would keep the audience interested. To spend an entire afternoon at the theatre would be extremely pleasant, but the play would have to be spectacular for the audience to justify such a display of hedonism. Luckily, this production is entirely worth it.

With staging constructed using wooden planks and metal bars, the audience felt like they were peering into the private confines of a domestic space. The different leveled platforms encouraged an array of perspectives, with Jane herself ascending from the bottom levels at the beginning of the play up to the higher levels by the end. Another deliciously dark element to this leveling was the use of the trapdoor, from which drunken socialites ascended and through which the dead passed into the next world…

Brimming with sharp and often comical physical theatre, the play was complimented by the music of a small and beautiful orchestra nestled in the centre of the stage. Accompanying the eerie folk music was the chilling voice of a lady in red, who floated across the stage as if in a trance. It slowly dawned on the audience that this figure was in fact Bertha, Rochester’s mad wife who lives in the attic, and it was extremely satisfying to realise that she had been present for the entire duration of the play, just as Jane and Rochester are unable to escape her presence in the story.

The cast played their parts superbly, particularly Madeleine Worrall’s Jane and Felix Hayes’ Rochester. All the Northern accents were wonderful, and Laura Elphinstone’s Geordie twang really brightened up the dialogue. Perhaps the most wonderful character, however, was that of Pilot the dog played by Craig Edwards. A fully grown man pretending to be a dog in a serious play sounds rather odd, but it was literally the best thing ever.

A fabulous production and a must-see!

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80s Film Night: Return to Oz

My boyfriend and I have accidentally started re-watching children’s films from the 1980s. It started with the whirlwind of emotions that is The NeverEnding Storyfollowed swiftly by the David Bowie masterpiece that is Labyrinth. The most recent of our surreal and terribly-animated screenings was Return to Oz, released in 1985 and based on some of the lesser known books in L. Frank Baum’s Oz series.

Six months after the ‘twister’ incident, Dorothy Gale has become an insomniac obsessed with her memories of Oz. Aunt Em and Uncle Henry decide to take her to a creepy Cuckoos-Nest-esque psychiatric hospital, and she is prescribed a few doses of  electroshock therapy. Before the therapy begins however, there is a power cut and she manages to escape with the help of a random girl who brings her pumpkins. They get lost in the storm outside, and she wakes up with her pet chicken Billina in the merry old land of Oz.

In a scene reminiscent of the second Narnia novel Prince Caspian: Return to Narnia, Dorothy discovers that the once glorious kingdom of Oz is a wasteland. The Yellow Brick Road has crumbled into pieces, and the Emerald City is nothing more than ruins. The grounds are littered with stone statues of unlucky citizens of Oz, and the old king the Scarecrow has been overthrown by the Nome King.

She soon endeavors to find the Scarecrow and restore Oz to its full glory, together with her new friends: Tik-Tok, a clockwork brass robot, Jack Pumpkinhead, who keeps calling Dorothy his mother, and the Gump, a disturbing creature made by sticking a dead moose head onto a sofa and then sprinkling it with powder to bring it to life. Dr Moreau springs to mind…

They battle the evil Princess Mombi, who steals people’s heads and keeps them in cabinets. Then they find the King Nome and battle him. He is actually made of rocks and is bitterly angry because the people who first built the Emerald City ripped all the emeralds from under his mountain. He makes a fair point, and also reminds me of the Gorillaz song Fire Coming Out of the Monkey’s Head. In the end the random girl who brought her pumpkins is actually the Princess Ozma, and everything is well again.

This is an extremely dark, un-rose-tinted sequel to The Wizard of Oz, but it’s really rather cool in an eerie, disturbing way. The Nome King villain is not just greedy or malicious for the sake of it; he actually just wants his emeralds back. When the citizens of Oz are celebrating and the Scarecrow is re-coronated at the end, one can’t help looking at the sparkling walls of the city and wondering if perhaps its a gleaming reflection of environmental exploitation and capitalism…

But let’s not think of it like that! Dorothy returns to Kansas safe in the knowledge that she may return to Oz whenever she pleases. She is blissfully reunited with Toto, and the house that was blown away in 1939 has been rebuilt and restored.

Hooray!

Blurred Rinds: An Alex James Cheese Review

Cheese is my favourite food genre. I have it on good authority that heaven will be made of cheese: a golden olfactory party with mouse kings and moulds like sapphires. 

It came as a great delight, therefore, when I was invited to try the famous range of cheeses produced by Alex James, the bassist from Blur who skipped merrily off to the Cotswolds to live the dairy dream. I arrived home from work to find an enticing package of four cheeses in the porch, and proceeded to eat them all without shame:

No.1 – Little Wallop Goat Cheese
No.2 – Farleigh Wallop Goat Cheese
No.5 – Goddess
No.7 – Blue Monday

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I love Blur and I love Alex James. He reminds me of Brian Cox (without the face of a child) and judging by those stories about his champagne-fuelled groupie days, I just think he sounds like a fun guy to be around..

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I’m going to state now that the cheeses I ate were delicious and divine, but they’re not for the faint of heart. If you’re the type who eats Tesco Value Extra Mild ‘Cheddar’, this blog post is of no use to you and I suggest you seriously think about broadening your culinary horizons.

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Little Wallop

This one won Best Soft Cheese at the British Cheese Awards, and for good reason. It’s a goat cheese washed in Somerset cider brandy and then wrapped in vine leaves to keep the flavour in. I found it to be a rich, yeasty forest of flavours, with a sensationally smooth centre and a citrusy, crumbly mould.

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Farleigh Wallop

OK. If you can sort of imagine eating soil that tastes delicious and has the consistency of goat cheese, that is what this is. There really is no better word to describe it than ‘earthy’, and this is because the mould is flecked with sprigs of thyme with a mushroomy tang. The creaminess inside contrasts beautifully, giving this is a delicate and interesting taste.

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Goddess

Easily my favourite cheese of the party. With a pink exterior and golden creamy middle, this is my ideal indulgence. It’s buttery and sweet, and you can smell it from about three miles away. I swear it smells of the countryside. I hereby give this the Tiffany award (very prestigious).

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Blue Monday

This is a lovely cheese if you’re not so fond of the outrageously pungent blues like Roquefort or Saint Agur. I think it tastes cheddary, much like a Shropshire Blue, and it’s smooth without being too mild. It’s also named after a New Order song, which makes it extra enjoyable.

Thanks to Pong Cheese for feeding me so well, and thanks to Alex James for being fabulous. You can buy any of the ‘Alex James Presents’ cheeses on the Pong website here!

Two Reviews: The Elephant Keeper & Winter

The reason I picked up a copy of Christopher Nicholson’s The Elephant Keeper in an odd Bristolian bookshop one afternoon is because it had a pretty elephant on the front.  I had never heard of the author, but I’d just finished my degree and hungered for a good novel that I could just read without having to write a bloody essay about it.

I was so pleased with my purchase that a week later, I contacted the author to inform him. To my great delight, he kindly sent me a deliciously fresh press copy of his latest novel Winter for me to read and review. I thought it would be pleasant to review them together – and here we are!

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My favourite works of literature, film and television are usually those set in the past, when tea was served properly and the candwich had not yet been invented. The Elephant Keeper, shortlisted for the Costa Best Novel award in 2009, begins in eighteenth century Bristol and follows the story of Tom Page, a stable boy entrusted with the task of caring for two young elephants bought from cargo traders. As one might imagine in imperial England, tragedy awaits due to the cruel insensitivity of those around them and Tom must dedicate himself to their protection. The story is one of love, sexuality and violence, and is a heartwarming portrayal of the connection between animal and human.

It certainly isn’t a gloomy book, but after reading I was left with a sense of mourning for all those who suffered at the hands of ignorance during the British Empire. I have a strange fascination with this era simply because we achieved such an astonishing amount as a country, but in doing so we recklessly exploited, abused and corrupted anything that we could use to our advantage. The journey of Tom and his elephant explores the dark corners of Enlightened England, and the ease with which society can cast away something it once found remotely valuable.

The story of Winter is a fictional portrayal of the last living years of Thomas Hardy, and a psychological study of his strained relationship with his wife Florence. It also examines Hardy’s questionable feelings towards Gertrude Bugler, who played Tess in the first theatrical production of Tess of the D’Urbervilles in 1924. Gertrude was a local beauty living in Beaminster, Dorset, and after a quick Google I have discovered that not only did she live to the rather ripe age of 95,  but we were also both alive at the same time for 7 months in 1992! That sounds a bit weird, but I like these things.

The novel presents a beautiful exploration of the themes of death, the afterlife and the fragility of human relationships. The perspective change in each chapter means that the reader does not have the chance to side with either character, but allows us to identify with both. It’s also a very appropriate novel to read at this time of year, especially with the irrationally tyrannical weather we’ve been exposed to in Britain recently. The cold hostility of Max Gate cottage, Hardy’s beloved home in Dorchester, is bleak and miserable, and the gloom of the looming trees outside brings a sense of claustrophobia to the story and the relationships within it.

The Elephant Keeper and Winter are both out now and are published by Fourth Estate.

Travels in Norway: What does the fox say?

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Last weekend I went with my sisters to Bergen in Norway, a mesmerising city encircled by seven mountains. We went to visit my sister’s boyfriend and his friends, and it was the jolliest, most drunken weekend I’ve had in quite a while.

I was also rather excited to discover that the play I am currently directing, Henrik Ibsen’s The Wild Duck, was first performed at Bergen’s Den Nationale Scene theatre in 1885! I managed to scuttle off with one of my sisters and take a photo of this somewhat quirky Ibsen statue outside the theatre…

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Aside from that one cultural excursion, we actually spent most of our time hanging out with real Norwegians rather than being tourists. Due to the inevitably chilly weather, frisky wind and snow, I chose to walk around Bergen in a huge sheepskin jacket which certainly kept me toasty. According to my sister it also made me look like a Russian dictator, so that was nice.

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On the Saturday we were invited to sit in on a jamming session with my sister’s boyfriend’s band, which was fabulous. My sister had been drinking rum and coke since breakfast so she was particularly excited, and consequently spent most of the time ‘dancing’ around the microphone and treading on important equipment.

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In the evening the band joined us for dins, and then we all went out to a house party until about 6am. My sisters and I asserted our spotify dominance fairly early on, and filled the night with Craig David, Miley Cyrus and numerous repetitions of ‘What does the Fox Say?’ 

In Norway, they are super healthy and all the shops stop selling alcohol after 6pm. We obviously forgot this rule, so our supply of alcohol was questionable to say the least. We started the evening on banana and rum cocktails and finished all the wine. We then spent the rest of the night drinking Cointreau and Fanta lemon twist (just awful) and a bottle of port we found lurking ominously in a cupboard somewhere. Wow, much merry.

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I always like to learn some native words when I visit funky countries, so in Norway I learnt:

Hei hei! – Hello!
Takk - Thank you
Beklager - Sorry

I was also recommended some classic Norwegian literature by the drummer in the band (his name was Oddbjørn but we just heard Oddball. By the time we reached the port stage he was simply Ballbags). I’ve been told to read the Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy by Sigrid Undset and The Growth of the Soil by Knut Hamsun. It will be fab to read something exotic and obscure, particularly when I’m embarking on a career in academia and will need to find something new and interesting to research…

It was a superb weekend in Scandinavia and we were all sad to depart. LUCKILY we can go back whenever we please, especially as my sister plans to move there permanently in Autumn 2014. Hoozah!

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80s Film Night: The NeverEnding Story

I recently re-watched Wolfgang Petersen’s epic fantasy The NeverEnding Story, a bizarre and wonderful film that features prominently in my happy childhood memories. I never read the original novel, but the film is just as fabulous as I remember, despite the atrocious ‘special effects’ that once seemed so wondrous to my tiny infant mind. Modern technology seems to have spoilt my imagination in that regard.

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Memories came hurtling back as I watched Falkor flying across the green screen, rescuing Atreyu from the greedy clutches of Gmork and bringing salvation to the Empress and Fantasia! What a whirlwind.

I only remember two things from my younger days:
1) Atreyu was the love of my life and we would be wed come the morn.
2) It was quite important for me to obtain a luckdragon.

Aside from this, it was another lovely escapist film for rainy afternoons along with my other favourites: the old BBC adaptations of Narnia, a Worzel Gummidge video and the animated series of Where’s Wally?

Watching The NeverEnding Story again at the age of 22, when one has been through university and learnt about the dark places in the world, is an eerie experience.

I refer mainly to the idea of ‘the Nothing’, the void of darkness that is slowly consuming Fantasia. When I was small, the essence of the Nothing must have gone straight over my head: it was simply an obstacle to be overcome. I was more interested in the giant turtle and traumatic death of Artax (oh god). To hear that the Nothing is the embodiment of all human apathy, cynicism and the denial of dreams was quite a shocker.

Gmork, the strange werewolf thing that is the bastard child of animatronics, then pipes up with some philosophical gold about what the Nothing represents.

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Gmork: Foolish boy. Don’t you know anything about Fantasia? It’s the world of human fantasy. Every part, every creature of it, is a piece of the dreams and hopes of mankind. Therefore, it has no boundaries.
Atreyu: But why is Fantasia dying, then?
Gmork: Because people have begun to lose their hopes and forget their dreams. So the Nothing grows stronger.
Atreyu: What is the Nothing?
Gmork: It’s the emptiness that’s left. It’s like a despair, destroying this world. And I have been trying to help it.
Atreyu: But why?
Gmork: Because people who have no hopes are easy to control; and whoever has the control… has the power!

Deep, yes? Gmork has described modern politics in just a few lines!

I might start watching all my childhood favourites again and look for the dark adult themes that are inevitably buried beneath the sparkles. The NeverEnding Story is still superb however, and I recommend that all the 80s/90s kids re-watch it. 

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Birthday buns and lovely chums..

Yesterday was my birthday and because it was such a fabulous day, I thought I’d share a few little snippets!

I woke up to a huge box of cupcakes, which my boyfriend had brought home from work in the night. He works in a cool hotel and there were loads left after an event, so he reserved a box for me! He is very thoughtful and handsome.

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We then proceeded to have a glorious day in Bath, where for the first time in about a month the weather was beautiful! We had a cream tea in Sally Lunn’s Eating House, famous for its delicious buns made with a secret recipe that is passed on with the deeds of the building. Sally Lunn was a French refugee who arrived in Bath 1680, and her buns were extremely popular in Georgian society. My bun was so delicious, I bough another one to take home for a super treat.

We also visited the Royal Crescent and the Jane Austen House Museum, and we had a look inside Bath Abbey which is magnificent.

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A lovely day in Bath was followed by a lovely evening in Bristol. I had all my friends over and we got drunk, which is the best way to spend a birthday! I think I danced in the kitchen for about four solid hours.

I was also treated to some fab presents. I got sausage-dog earrings and an Arctic hare brooch from my sister, and a funky knitting book from my mama. My exotic Lithuanian friend Amber got me a cool book about James Joyce, and Kirsty and Elliot (who I’m moving to London with) baked me a tea cake loaf! I was also grateful to Hannah for my bottle of ‘bubbles’, which certainly did not last long.

Thanks to all my pals who came and celebrated with me! It was a super weekend.

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