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To Sadler's Wells last week to see the above. It was a short revival after a well received run last year. I booked it months ago on the grounds that it might be interesting. It was astonishing.

Take Giselle, the romantic ballet par excellence. Lovely music, cod-medieval setting, beautiful peasant girl seduced and betrayed by an aristocrat, suicide, 2nd act with ghosts of betrayed maidens. Tutus.

Now destroy it. Set it in front of the concrete wall of a deserted garment factory where the dispossessed workers eke out a marginal existence performing for their ex-landlords. Swap the pointe shoes and the tutus for dingy body hugging clothes. Swap the music for ominous industrial noises, occasionally enlivened by the distorted echo of a tune from the original ballet. Swap the classical ballet steps for angular movements reminiscent of the factory machinery. Giselle herself is disturbingly reanimated inside the deserted factory, in a scene more like a zombie movie than a romantic ballet. The ghosts of the dead women, in blocked pointe shoes and striking the stage with bamboo rods, are genuinely scary.

Not what I was expecting. Highly recommended.
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Well this seems to have worked but it's very big!

Now edited after specialist consultation - thank you Mr Ducker!
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First attempt to post a picture on DW:

<img src='' alt='' title='' />

Hmm. That doesn't seem to have worked.

Right, now let's try again:


RIP Freddy

Apr. 10th, 2017 09:40 pm
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In case anyone didn't know, Freddy was diagnosed with kidney disease about 15 months ago.  Although he was stable for about a year he started going downhill last Christmas, and we've been keeping him alive with cat soup, drinking yoghurt, a ton of medication and weekly infusions of subcutaneous fluids. 

Anyway, I took him to the vet this morning and we decided to put him to sleep.  He still seemed quite chirpy but he had stopped eating very much (even the cat soups) and was getting thinner and thinner.  It seemed like the right time before he went downhill any further.  

 He had a nice weekend sitting out in the sunshine on the garden bench.

Free plants

Mar. 4th, 2017 12:57 pm
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I got out into the garden for the first time this year and have had to divide up the sedum spectabile.  If anyone would like some please let me know. 

It is a good filler plant, being unobtrusively green in summer, with flower heads that go red towards the autumn, and "adds sculptural interest" as they say, in winter.  Here is a link to more details - I'm not sure that mine is exactly the same variety but it looks pretty similar.  Description says grows in full sun on well-drained soil, but it seems perfectly happy on my clay soil, and in semi-shade.

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Another week, another studio theatre over a pub.  This time the Finborough Theatre in the wilds of Earl's Court.

I didn't see the original production of Trackers at the National in 1990, but I'm almost glad that I didn't as this production was excellent and I was very happy to see it with no preconceptions.  It's premise is...complex.  I was trying to explain it to my Italian class and wondering exactly how much of it was coming over in my halting Italian. 

In English, however, we start with two Oxford archaeologists, Bernard Grenfell and Arthur Hunt (these were real people) excavating papyri from the great rubbish tip of Oxyrhynchus, in Egypt.  They are looking for Greek tragedy (wouldn't you?) but all they find are petitions to the administrative authorities ("please don't let me be dispossessed, or thrown out of my house").  The local fellaheen are happy to be paid for the work, but are equally happy to burn papyri for fuel as to collect them up for their employers.  The archaeologists are sniffy about this.

Inspired by Apollo, Grenfell sets off in search of Sophocles's satyr play, the Trackers.  Satyr plays were gross farces, performed at the end of a playwright's three tragedies at the Athenian festival.  Satyrs were traditionally drunken, cowardly, priapic figures who followed the God Dionysus around, carousing and chasing maenads.  Here the workmen transform into hairy-legged, clog-dancing satyrs with huge phalluses, who track down the lost cattle of Apollo.  The effect of the clog dancing on the small stage is extraordinary, muscular and rhythmic, giving the satyrs an immediate physical presence and a gravity that belies their bouncing phalluses.

Unfortunately Apollo's cattle have been killed and flayed by the newborn Hermes, and their remains used to construct the lyre which he has just invented.  Apollo smoothly takes possession of they lyre, pays off the satyrs in gold, and wanders off to invent poetry.  Meanwhile the satyrs, excluded from high art, use the gold to buy drink and carry on carousing.

The final scene takes places in the present day, where the satyrs are now dispossessed working men sitting outside the National Theatre and drinking.  They burn the scenery for warmth (this was sheets with Greek characters written all over them, representing the papyri), turn on each other and beg the audience pathetically to send them back to Ancient Greece.  As we stare non-plussed, they decide that we can't help as we don't understand Ancient Greek, and resume drinking.

I just thought the play was so clever, eviscerating our pretensions to understand high art while ignoring the poor and the dispossessed, dramatising the exclusion of the working classes from art, turning the spotlight on our (all right, my) reverence for Ancient Greek texts and asking why we fetishise them.  The play itself  is written in rhyming verse, an astonishing choice for a modern playwright, but it works to bind the disparate parts of the text together.

Anyway, I thought it was terrific, comic and tragic in turn.  5 stars. 
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I haven't posted for so long that I feel slightly inhibited about it. Nevertheless, having set up a dreamwidth account, here's a go at cross-posting.

Total books read in 2016: 96 which is about 20% down on usual numbers

Best SFF

My Real Children Jo Walton
Dreams of Shreds and Tatters Amanda Downum
Voyage of the Basilisk - Marie Brennan
When We Wake - Karen Healey
Dark Matter - Michelle Paver
The Race - Nina Allen
Tender Morsels - Margo Lanagan
Nobody's Son - Sean Stewart
A Calculated Life - Anne Charnock
Uprooted - Naomi Novik
Team Human - Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan
At the Mouth of the River of Bees - Kij Johnson
Ancillary Mercy - Ann Leckie
The Raven Boys - Maggie Stiefvater
Rachel Bach - Fortune's Pawn (and sequels)

Best fiction

Last Night in Montreal - Emily St John Mandel
Nora Sakavic - the Fox court (and sequels)
Track of the Cat - Nevada Barr -(and sequels)
Enough Rope - Barbara Nadel

Best non-fiction

Shifting Sands - Raja Shehadeh and Penny Johnson
I leap over the Wall - Monica Baldwin

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"Acedia" Noun, from Greek akedia, apathetic listlessness, a moral failing.

Crammed into a hot and tiny studio theatre over a hipster pub in the wilds of Clapham, I wasn't sure what to expect from the play, having signed up for it at the behest of [ profile] tamaranth.  I was vaguely expecting something about pirates, but the piracy turns out to be a metaphor for war.

We are in a deliberately undefined place and time.  There are echoes of the Trojan War, echoes of the Balkans, echoes of the Middle East.  Our cast are all men, apart from the token woman, "Helen".  Token because she is what they are fighting about, and she has just been captured by "our" side, in a conflict that has been going on for a very long time.  The men range from the newest recruit, Jacob, through a number of older, more experienced soldiers, to their psychotic commander (Troy) who is clearly descended from Ajax, Agamemnon, Odysseus; the great heroes as described by Homer in their less exalted moments - looter, rapist, killer.

Is it saying anything new about war?  No.  These are the things that poets and playwrights (and journalists) have been saying about war for millennia.  But I thought the production was very strong.  In particular, being used to studio productions done by students, it was great to see a range of actors of all ages, who were fully committed to the drama. I thought the script was great, the dialogue clever and naturalistic, the scenario bleak but leavened by a lot of black humour.  It's the first play by Jay Taylor, and based on this I'll certainly look out for his work in the future

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In Lisbon Castle
the peacocks pose.  It's a long
way down to the sea.
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Michael and I were planning to go to a Baroque concert at Saffron Hall on Sunday evening. Unfortunately I have a cold and can't see myself getting through it without a coughing fit, which would not be a good thing.  If anyone would like to take the tickets I can send you the email - they need to be picked up at the concert hall.

Here are details of the concert:
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Eyes forced down by sun
See mica glint in the road
Also broken glass
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Have spent some weeks telling myself that I should start swimming again, as I am doing basically no energetic exercise at the moment.  Finally got my act together to cycle over to Parkside this morning.  It is now under the control of some sort of social enterprise, and has been revamped with a "changing village" (not sure what this is but probably full of children).  Seems OK though I couldn't find any showers where you could actually strip off - only the poolside ones.  Pootled up and down the slow lane for half an hour, and now feel glowing with health and virtue.  Still redolent of chlorine, though - need a proper shower.
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We arrived on Friday after a stressful train journey. Due to overhead line problems trains were late and crowded. Despite having booked seats we stood most of the way from Peterborough. Train was nearly an hour late, which meant that we turned up at La Garrigue to meet Michael's sister and her family with all our baggage, which was not the plan. However the staff efficently vanished the bags and more or less simultaneously provided aperitifs, which cheered us up.
anef: (anef2)
On a management course at Uni of Warwick. Slept badly and woke up at dawn. Below my window are raised beds of herbs and flowers. The sun is coming up. There are bees in the mullein and rabbits nibbling the sweet peas.

Gym haiku

Jun. 19th, 2015 02:20 pm
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Orchids in the gym –
How charming! Watered
by our gasps and sweat.
anef: (anef2)
To the Junction last night to see Fred's House, a local band. We came in while the support act were on, and I immediately felt grumpy, as there were no seats free, due to the venue having taken out all the central seating and shut the gallery, which left a two row fringe of balcony seating, all occupied. My over 50 year old frame doesn't cope well with standing up for two hours. However at the break Michael managed to grab us a couple of seats (my hero!) and the evening improved dramatically.

We've seen Fred's House a couple of times in smaller venues, and their sound seems to have morphed from folk-rock to more of a 70's US-influenced sound. They've still got good melodies and harmonies, but there are fewer of the twiddly bits. "No, not Fleetwood Mac", I kept thinking. "Who do they remind me of?" The answer came at the end when for their last encore they launched into a storming version of Somebody to Love. We walked home singing and it's still going round in my head, mingling occasionally with strains from White Rabbit. Ah well, as they say, feed your head.

Snow haiku

Jan. 30th, 2015 09:23 am
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Snow has danced all night
Golden in the lamplight. Now
Wind whips it to ice.
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In January
Night falls early. Through soft dusk
The snow continues
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My mother has been visiting for Christmas.  Yesterday the weather was beautiful - cloudless and clear.  We went to Anglesey Abbey to look at the winter garden.  There were many, many different dogwoods with bright stems, set against willows and ghost brambles.  A few early cyclamen and snowdrops were out as well.  We just made it to the mill in time to buy some fresh-ground flour.  As we drove back to Cambridge the sunset painted the sky in strips of pastels, pink and mauve.  The fens lay dark beside us.

Today it poured with rain, and we went to Kettle's Yard to see an exhibition of work by Ian Hamilton Findlay.  There was a film about his garden near Edinburgh, Little Sparta.  Then we went round the house which holds a collection of modern art - lots of Winifred Nicholson, Christoper Wood, Alfred Wallis and David Jones. I particularly liked the following picture, although the reproduction doesn't do it justice: .  It's a mysterious drawing, full of tiny pictures of temples, standing stones, animals (and I think a unicorn).  Very magical.

The main thing about the collection, though, is that the house is set up for domestic living with tables and chairs, beds and chests of drawers.  The walls are whitewashed and there are worn rugs on the wooden floors.  The collection just happens to be your host's personal taste, and items painted or sculpted by his friends.  It has an extraordinarily tranquil atmosphere, subtly calming and refreshing. 
anef: (anef2)
I read 125 books this year.   While this seems quite a lot, I'm not sure that I've seen any films in the cinema, so all my spare time was spent reading.  My favourite books in various categories were (in order of reading)

Best fiction

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - Americanah
Jenn Ashworth - The Friday Gospels
Elizabeth Wein - Codename Verity
Jane Smiley - Horse Heaven
Ellen Klages - White Sands Red Menace
Gillian Bradshaw - The Colour of Power
Hilary Mantel - Bring up the Bodies
Karen Joy Fowler - We are all Completely Beside Ourselves
Jodie Taylor - The Nothing Girl
Ernesto Mallo - Needle in a Haystack
Nicola Griffith - Hild
Sherwood Smith - Rondo Allegro

Best SFF

Jodie Taylor - Just one damned thing after another
Daniel Abraham - The Dragon's Path
S M Wheeler - Sea Change
Alan Garner - Boneland
Jess Richards - Cooking with Bones
Rachel Neumeier - Black Dog
Ann Leckie - Ancillary Justice
Sophia McDougall - Mars Evacuees
Helen Wecker - The Golem and the Djinni
Katherine Addison - The Goblin Emperor
Deborah Coates - Strange Country
Ann Leckie - Ancillary Sword
Naomi Novik - Crucible of Gold

Best non-fiction

Trevor Bryce - The Trojans and their Neighbours
Tracey Thorn - Bedsit Disco Queen
Nina Stibbe - Love, Nina
Judith Flanders - The Victorian House
Sarah Moss - Names for the Sea (Strangers in Iceland)
Nick Hunt - Walking the Woods and the Water


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