Local theatre is the best theatre

Last Saturday I went to see a production of Brief Encounter from my local theatre group (The Bishopstoke Players). This is one of my favourite films so I was interested to see how it would work on stage. And my neighbour Adrian was playing the part of an ‘unruly soldier’.

Unruly soldier

Unruly soldier

Amateur dramatics have always been of interest to me as my mother directs brilliant shows for her own theatre group in Tipperary. I have always thought that they should have her picture in the dictionary beside the phrase ‘iron fist in a velvet glove’. Last year I got the call that everyone who lives away from their family dreads, ‘you’d better catch a flight today, Mammy isn’t well’. My mother had become seriously ill and wasn’t expected to make it. But through sheer determination and bloodymindedness she came through. Twelve months later she is working on a new show with her drama group. So my trip to the local hall had an element of homage to my mother and her love of theatre.

Now, would the concept of the tea break be as important in English amateur dramatics as it is in rural Ireland? Well, I am delighted to report that the tea break was one of the first matters to be addressed on arrival at the hall. This father and son team were front of house and after checking my ticket directed me to a ‘waitress’ who took my order so that all the teas and coffees would be ready for the interval. Such efficiency. And such lovely jackets.

Fabulousness in a jacket

Fabulousness in a jacket

Having been a raffle ticket seller from the age of four, I cast a professional ticket seller’s eye over the raffle team. No disappointment here either. These courteous and kindly ladies took my proffered pound within seconds and issued me with a pink strip of tickets. The raffle prizes though did differ from an Irish show: Lambrini rather than whiskey, a handbag instead of the Tipperary leg of lamb and a copy of Michael Palin’s Himalaya instead of the dreaded box of USA biscuits. Michael Palin, as we all know, is the nicest man in the world and was a fitting patron saint for the evening.
Every good raffle should have Michael Palin

Every good raffle should have Michael Palin

I sat with my school run buddies Dawn and Helen and they filled me in on past productions (most notably the tea break). At previous productions you were served tea in your seats! What magic is this? While pondering the tea efficiency again I took a look around at the rest of the audience. Most of them were older than me, all nicely dressed and the men wore check shirts. It was at this point that a lady patted me on the shoulder, apologised profusely and told me that I was wearing my jacket inside out.
Bishopstoke Players experts

Bishopstoke Players experts

And the play itself? I really enjoyed it: the look, the set design, the music, the many scene changes effortlessly conducted. The acting was superb (Doctor Andrew Harvey was fantastic). I am guessing that the woman I was sitting behind was his mother as she giggled helplessly at the kissing bits. What I really enjoyed the most was the actors in the smaller parts who were totally themselves, who were so at home on the stage. The wooing station master, the boring husband and the unruly soldiers. I suppose I enjoyed the soldiers that bit more because I knew one of them. And it was this transformation on the stage of people who you know from everyday life that reminded me so forcefully of all the plays my mother had directed. Her plays have all been drawn on people from the local community and the play takes on an extra layer when an audience sees the local farmer/teacher/shopkeeper change into a character that they can believe in.

My personal highlight however was the interval. As if by magic everyone stood up and queued patiently for the cups of tea and coffee that had been allocated at the beginning of the evening. That, I have to say, would not happen in Ireland. It was fabulous.

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Five Good Things about Living in England (Forgive the Whimsy)

Life is full of doom and gloom at the moment. Let us all intone the word ‘austerity’. To counteract the economic gloom I got to thinking about the good things about living in England. So, in no particular order, I have selected my five good things about living in England. I’ve been living in England for three years now so I guess that makes me an expert. My choices are of course dictated by my own whimsy (and one is always the master of one’s own whims).

1. Cricket.

Now, you know how Ireland is supposed to be full of mad, whimsical japes? Pshaw, I say to that. Cricket is the most insane, whimsical game in the whole world. No one knows how to play it, it goes on for three days and tea and cake breaks are enshrined into the unknowable rules of play. To be fair, cricket is played in Ireland but not widely. I’ve only ever seen it played in the Mardyke in Cork and in Trinity College in Dublin. I  get all anthropological when I see cricket in Winchester. Here is a picture of the lads in Winchester College playing cricket. There is also a lot of fish in this picture. I am not a very good photographer.


Cricket and fish in Winchester

2. Apologising for Swearing

People don’t swear as much in England compared to Ireland. A little time ago I was walking up to a friend’s house and some electrical company was digging up the road. Two men were digging in fetching luminous yellow outfits and were retelling what appeared to be an epic. The words ‘f*ck’ and ‘sh*t’ were used. And when the dudes saw me coming up the street they covered their faces in shame and apologised profusely. I was so surprised. Swear words are just regular adjectives in Ireland. Feck, of course, is not a swear word as it is used by nice ladies. Here is Tommy Tiernan demonstrating the adjectival use of swear words.

tommy tiernan



3. Melvyn Bragg

When I say Melvyn Bragg, I am really referring to his radio programme In Our Time. It’s on a Thursday morning and it is completely crazy. ‘Today we are looking at the life of Aristophanes and his plays.’ And look at his little face, isn’t he lovely? He can get a bit bossy with the experts though.

Thank you Radio 4 website

Thank you Radio 4 website

4. Indian Food

There is not much Indian food in Ireland (historical reasons and all that). So moving to the UK has been a food revolution. And I have been very lucky in having food-loving Indian neighbours who have cooked the most amazing dishes for me. My neighbour Pinky is in India at the moment so I have been making fusion Indian. Yup, it a bit crap.

Lovely Pinky

Lovely Pinky

5. Red Slacks

I have never, ever, seen any man in Ireland wear red trousers who wasn’t a German tourist. Here though, the place is crawling with affluent fellows in scarlet, vermillion-hued trews. I think they are hilarious. And they add a touch of colour .

Lovely slacks

Lovely slacks

These five things are not the only good things about living in England. I think it is a brilliant place to live. I am surrounded by amazing people, beautiful countryside, immense social and cultural capital, a FREE  health service and the best television programmes in the world. And my nice husband of course.

Politics, bigotry and poetry on a Saturday

It’s all go here in Eastleigh. Normally this is a quiet town with a penchant for mobility scooters and cutting-edge dance (our local arts centre The Point does a fine line in the avant-garde). But what with our local MP having an affair (I presume it was torrid) and making his soon-to-be ex-wife lie about his speeding tickets we are all in the news. Chris Huhne announced his departure from politics and now we will have a by-election. We are hot stuff now. All the lads came down to visit us. David Cameron even used the facilities of the pub in Fair Oak. We are so blessed. Here’s a picture of Eastleigh taken this Saturday morning. We chatted to the lovely lady to the right of the picture. She was very sweet to our kids. She is also wearing her handbag around her neck.

Lib dems and handbags around necks. Must be a metaphor for something.

Lib Dems and handbags around necks. Must be a metaphor for something.

Myself and the Nice Family strolled on past the Lib Dems hastily avoiding eye-contact. They did look a little desperate truth be told. A little bit further was the Big Issue seller. He is a ‘gas man’ altogether and we always have a chat whenever we are in Eastleigh. And he often jokes around with Tara and George. George doesn’t scowl at him so that’s a good thing. George does tend to cast a malevolent eye over the general populace. Anyway, our local Big Issue seller comes from Romania. And guess who was standing beside him? A hairy UKIP lady. Why are UKIP members so misshapen? Is it part of the entry requirements? It was all a little awkward. There she was with her ‘Romanians are criminals’ literature and there he was, being uncriminal, standing beside her.

All this anti-Romanian propaganda got me to thinking about ethnicity. My husband and I have talked before about how being Irish is now an acceptable ethnicity. We are considered the twinkly-eyed feckless poets of the English-speaking world. I’m too tired to be twinkly-eyed (have a two-year-old insomniac) but am somewhat feckless and while I am not a poet I do like poetry. I felt like I needed some poems in my life to combat an excess of electioneering and bigotry. The local Sainsburys in Eastleigh sells The Irish Times which usually has a poetry section on Saturdays.  So off we went to the supermarket, stocked up on orange juice, real and imaginary butter and papers for Irish ladies.

And at the expense of sounding pretentious it worked. I found a great poem on page 12, When Will I Get to Be Called a Man. It’s written  by Liam O Muirthile and translated into English by Gabriel Rosenstock. It’s dedicated to the great Cork guitarist Rory Gallagher and this is how it starts:

I hear the Delta whistling up from the old marsh / Cloisim an Delta ag feadail anios on seanriasc

in the riff of blues, like a curlew’s call. / i riff na blues, mar a bheadh glao cuirliuin.

I think this poem grabbed me because it talks of the local and the universal: the music of the Delta in a poem in Gaelic, in honour of a Corkman who loved the Blues. Feck UKIP and their like. They can’t stop the music can they?

More Gin Please for 2013

Happy New Year! I celebrated the new year with Nice English Man. Instead of partying in Rio or swaying drunkenly to the Pogues in the Royal Hotel Tipperary (‘Where Nice People Meet Nice People’) we sat on the sofa and ate crisps. In fact, we did more than sit, we were ‘thrun down’ (Hibernio-English for sprawled) on the couch and drank Baileys while watching a DVD of Love/Hate. Have you seen Love/Hate? It is absolutely fecking brilliant. It is like a Sopranos version of the Dublin drugs scene written by Flann O’Brien. And Robert Sheehan from Misfits is in it. Isn’t he a lovely boy?

A lovely boy. Thank you Wikipedia.

A lovely boy.

While eating our crisps (Cheese and Onion for me, Salt and Vinegar for your man) we discussed our New Year Resolutions. So my first thoughts were of the more laudable type. I will drink more water. I will drink less coffee. I will do more yoga. I will go to bed early. Spend less time idling on Facebook. And so on. But then a friend of mine posted on Facebook (first resolution fail) that we should have some gin in 2013. I vehemently agreed and realised that this is a splendid resolution. And one that I could possibly keep. So, 2013 shall be my year of gin.  Now, might I add, this is not my year  to drink to excess. I am a decided lightweight (1 glass will do me forever). But I want more gin-type occasions in my life. A gin occasion can be used to celebrate a wedding, a new oven door or the purchase of a pair of nice tights.  Celebrate success I say to people I work with.  Which can also be translated as ‘when life gives you lemons just add them to gin’.

Lovely gin.

A lovely gin.

Have a lovely, gin-filled 2013!

Spiritual laundry baskets, charity shops and expat nostalgia

I haven’t done a post in a while.  I think I lost my blogging oomph. It may have temporally been mislaid in the laundry basket of the soul, a little grubby and crumpled and awaiting some revitalisation. I like the thought of a spiritual laundry basket, something which came to mind funnily enough while looking at a laundry basket in my local charity shop. I have a soft spot for charity shops as they are temples to both nostalgia and the obscure. Eastleigh, near where I live, could be described as a charity shop mecca as it has over 10 charity shops.

Charity shop wares from Eastleigh. This photo was taken by my talented photographer friend Katie Fuller.

It’s a nice, homely town which grew up around the railway industry. Many Irish people emigrated here and I often see older Irish emigrants in the cafes and charity shops. I hear lots of accents from the west of Ireland and there is a regular stock of Daniel O’Donnell music in some of the shops. And funnily enough, I keep finding lots of different items from Ireland in the charity shops. Take a look at this funky alarm clock which has a Made in Irelandmark.

Alarm clock

Hanson alarm clock. A design classic.

I initially bought the clock because I thought it would make my home a haven of coolness and shabby chic like one of the houses in the magazine bit of The Guardian. I know, yes, I am a complete fecking eejit. My house is just a haven of shabbiness.  And in any case  this clock makes the most horrendous noise, something between a Guantanamo white-noise effect and an air-raid siren. In short, it is the sound of the 70s. And the noise also made me feel vaguely guilty for buying it because someone, possibly an Irish person working on the railways, used this clock to wake up in the mornings, not just for an ill-conceived display of faked funkiness.

I have some other Irish items sourced from the Eastleigh charity shops. When I first moved to Hampshire in 2010, I found a small print entitled ‘Approaching Dingle Co.Kerry’. I thought it was a good omen and bought it on the spot. It’s a lovely little picture but sadly the only spot I could find to hang it was in the downstairs toilet (the one with the spiders).

Dingle. Always lovely.

In 2010/2011, I was working on Alison Ospina’s West Cork Inspiresa great book about the craft movement in West Cork. In the middle of second and third edits I came across a piece of Bandon Pottery by one of the potters mentioned in the book. Again, I thought this was a great omen and bought it.

Bandon Pottery

So who owed these piece before I did? I’m guessing they must have been part of the older generation who emigrated, those who did not have Skype, Facebook and online newspapers to keep in touch with Ireland. Instead, they had crap alarm clocks, small pictures of beautiful places and precious pieces of  pottery. I’m grateful for what these people have brought back from Ireland and slightly sad that their pieces of Ireland ended up with me and not with their families. Their families may have tidy houses that are chic not shabby but they’ve all got spiritual laundry baskets.

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