August 2012 archive

Bank Holiday Books

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Make the most of the last Bank Holiday weekend of summer, and the year, and grab yourself a good book.

For intellectual posing by the pool or in the park: 

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller.

Forget Fifty Shades of Grey, the Orange Prize winner Madeline Miller will raise your temperature with this story about the love between Achilles and Patroclus (yes, they’re both men).  A tenderly written, beautifully described re-telling of a tale that appeared in Homer’s The Illiad.  The story runs in a golden blur across the sand like it’s eponymous hero; and despite knowing what ultimately happens, the book never loses its pace or tension.  I became so entwined and invested in Patroclus’ and Achilles’ destiny I couldn’t put this down.  I kept reading till the early hours of the morning before snivelling into a pack of tissues.  Stunning.

For making you appreciate holidaying with your family isn’t so bad: 

Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson

First, let me assure you Jeanette Winterson’s autobiographical Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal? isn’t the depressing tear-fest you might fear.  Then let me tell you that it is, at times, harrowing.  You cannot read the life story of a girl who was abandoned at birth, adopted by a borderline poverty-stricken family, abused by her religious zealot adoptive Mother and rejected for being a lesbian, without expecting a few tears.  But there is more than misery in this memoir.  There is survival and hope.  Winterson is a strong woman, a strong writer and this is a book to make you value your life.

For the day after murder on the dance floor:

The Fall by Claire McGowan

This is a murder mystery with a difference.  It’s not just the victim who meets a sticky demise; the middle class dream is butchered too.  McGowan joyfully destroys every spoil and sparkle of Charlotte, her spoilt protagonist, when a week before her £40K wedding her banker boyfriend is accused of murder.  Charlotte must seek help from unlikely sources: Keisha, an angry woman with a potentially deadly secret, and Hegarty, the police officer who arrested her fiancé.  I didn’t know crime could be this funny.

For reading on your Kindle, if you’re over the age of 21:

Diary of a Chav: Trainers v Tiaras by Grace Dent

Technically this is a young adult novel, but don’t let that put you off.  Dent nails the language, life and dreams of her Chav protagonist Shiraz Bailey Wood, from Goodmayes Estate, Essex with her trademark humour.  But far from ending up the joke of the book, Shiraz is a hilarious, intelligent young woman you really root for.  This is a stealthily clever read, which made me re-examine my own prejudices as well as laugh so much my organic herbal tea came out my nostrils.  But be warned: there are six books in this series, and once I started I had to read them all.  Worth a cheeky download, innit.

Have a happy bank holiday weekend x

 

 

 

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Perspiration As Inspiration.

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Feeling the Olympic love (with thanks to London 2012 official site for photo).

I’ve never been a fan of sport.  It started at school.  P.E. and I stared warily at each other across mouldy changing rooms and frozen playing fields, before I decamped to the library with a period that lasted four years.  Recently I’ve taken up swimming and Pilates as part of managing the inherited connective tissue disorder I suffer from (EDS III).  Were it not for the threat of immobility I’d happily avoid all Lycra-related pursuits for the rest of my life.  I regard people who compete in triathlons, marathons and fun runs with suspicion.  Watching sports doesn’t interest me: all that shouting at the telly looks insane.  Give me a good book and glass of wine any day, I thought.  Then the Olympics came to London.

It started with the tears.  The bit just after someone won a medal.  The bit where they scream, cry and run into the arms of their loved ones.  I sniffed and I snivelled.  I’m not fussed about sport, but I understand human emotion.  I can relate to that.  But London 2012 sucked me in further.  It whirled me into the excitement that spread from Stratford throughout the country, until I found myself shouting “Go Mo!  Go!” at the television.  I am one of the mad people now.

I love the swimming, the fencing, the jumping, the throwing, the boxing, the horses: all of it.  I loved Mo Farrah running into the Olympic mascot’s arms.  I loved Usain Bolt stealing the photographer’s camera and taking photos of the crowd.  I loved Andy Murray climbing into the stands to kiss his girlfriend.  I loved Jessica Ennis and the rest of the heptathlon competitors taking a lap of honour together.  I loved Tom Daley jumping up and cheering when the USA’s David Boudia scored higher than him and secured gold for diving.  So much laughter, so much joy, so much sportsmanship, so much humanity: I loved the whole thing.

Once you start watching sport you appreciate how hard these people train.  How much they sacrifice.  How many friends, family, coaches, sponsors, and supporters they have to thank.  How inspirational they are.  Look what sweat and tears and determination gets you!  There is hope.  Good people with pregnant partners, good people who’ve lost love ones, good people who’ve suffered tragedies like us do get rewarded for their hard work.  How many spectators will take up cycling, boxing, or even just speed walking to the shops since watching the Olympics?  My muscles have tingled with the genetic memory of speed and fitness: I want to run.

I can’t run, my condition won’t allow it.  But it doesn’t matter.  The perspiration these Olympians have shown is my inspiration.  A wave of positivity has washed over the UK.  I feel cheered, renewed.  I can do whatever I want if I work hard enough.  Write another book?  No problem.  Land another column?  Sure.  Increase my swimming from 20 to 25 minutes?  Go, Ange, go!  Whatever your own personal goal, whatever it is you want to do, the athletes have shown us the way.  The Olympics have made me come over all ‘self-help’: we can make dreams come true.  Take your positions, on your marks, get set, go.

 

Golden moments of London 2012 courtesy of a BBC montage: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/olympics/19232019

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Review of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre.

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Spoiler alert: this review is written on the assumption the reader is already familiar with the plot.

The stage of Regent’s Park fairy light drenched open-air theatre has been concreted over.  There are caravans, the hustle and bustle of tracksuit-wearing men and body-con, body-baring neon clad girls with big hair.  There’s even a crane.  Workmen shout and jeer through the audience.  This is Shakespeare meets My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding.

It is an inspired contemporary setting.  The hierarchies of the traveller world, the marriages at a young age, the oxymoron of swaggering, foul mouthed underdressed girls who value their virginity, who won’t have sex before marriage, as documented in the channel 4 TV show, fit nicely into Shakespeare’s Athenian society.  Leaving aside questions over the TV show’s fair portrayal of a race of people, this is what the wider audience now recognises as Gypsy life: huge wedding dresses, massive diamante studded tiered cakes and a bumping and grinding dance routine to LMFAO’s, I’m Sexy And I Know It.  Puck rides through them, a hoodie on a BMX, his face covered with a bandana; as if he’s arrived straight from the London riots or a Banksy artwork.

The Director Matthew Dunster’s Big Fat Shakespeare world is funny.  Very funny.  I particularly enjoyed Rebecca Oldfield’s tottering performance of Helena, clicking after her Demetrius in a fine example of both comic timing and slapstick.  It was wet and cold on the night I went and I was wrapped in a ski jacket and a bin bag.  Each time Oldfield and her fellow actors plunged about the sodden and concrete floor I winced.  They didn’t even flinch.

George Bukhari excels as Bottom.  His performance was a delight from start to finish.  So much so that the darker side of the play took a while to sink in.  Referencing the case where a group of travellers were arrested for imprisoning migrant workers, homeless and other vulnerable men as ‘slaves’, Bottom and his cohort of disparate voiced workmates are kept locked in a white transit van.  They are prisoners.  When they speak of being hanged there is a genuine fission of fear.  This is a clever and bold move by Dunster.  Again it fits nicely into the original tensions and motives explored by the play.  But it does cast the traveller world in an archaic light, how easily their ways and community sit with a play written in the 1590s.

Or does it?  Oberon and Titania appear in magical, if somewhat Mad Max style, guises.  The unreality to balance the reality.  Peer closely at the advertising hoarding that dominates the stage backdrop and you will see something familiar about the glossy couple advertising Athenian Developments.  Puck famously reminds us to think of what we have seen as a dream at the end of the play.  Has Dunster created a nightmare where the audience finds itself laughing at an oppressed people?  When we giggle at the nylon tracksuits and gaudy jewellery, a ‘Chav’ uniform, we laugh at the lower class.  When we laugh at Bottom and his captive clowns, we stand shoulder to shoulder with Theseus, the man who has imprisoned them for entertainment.  An uncomfortable feeling settled like a layer of rain on my laughter.  This is a production that questions more than what is on the stage.  Go, watch, laugh, enjoy, but think about it afterwards.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is showing until 5th September at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre.  Further details here: http://openairtheatre.org/production/a-midsummer-nights-dream

Photo from Evening Standard website.

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