Saturday, 30 May 2009

What is it about Watford?

I'm down in Watford at the moment, having driven down with my parents to visit my brother, David, who is in hospital in London.

We're staying at the Watford Hilton - it's about the third or fourth time we've stayed here, but not for many years. What has been notable about our last few stays in hotels in Watford, is that there seems to be a prerequisite for the fire alarm to go off when we're in town.

When the claxons sounded at 7.20 this morning, it just didn't come as a surprise. Between my parents and me, it's the 4th time it has happened and I suppose we'd have been a tad disappointed if the tradition hadn't been upheld. Fortunately, the leisure club in the hotel doesn't open until eight at the weekend, otherwise my Dad and I would have been in the swimming pool and my mother would have had to have fended for herself. And what set the alarms shrieking? Burnt toast!

The hotel is very comfortable, but they certainly know how to charge. £2.50 or £3.95 if you elect to consume the bottles of water they thoughtfully leave in the room for you, £13 for a Margherita pizza and, if like me you need to get wireless access for your laptop, £6 for 45 minutes or £10 for access for 24 hours. Why did I assume that it would be provided without charge, as it is in many hotels here and abroad?

Monday, 25 May 2009

The Man with the Golden Voice

Almost everyone who has provided input for We Could Possibly Comment has commented about Ian's voice.

He was a master at conveying menace.

Let's face it, he was a master of conveying anything with that wonderful instrument.

The comment about Ian's voice from the contributors to the book that left the biggest impression upon me came during an interview I conducted with Alex Jennings, in his dressing room at the National Theatre in August 2007. Alex was telling me about Ian taking part in a charity Carol Concert in St Paul's Cathedral the December before he died.

Alex recalled, 'He read the lesson and opened the proceedings. My partner said that it was like there was suddenly a Rolls Royce driving down the centre aisles of St Paul’s Cathedral and it was the voice of God. '

It was always such a delight to listen to Ian speaking. It didn't really matter what he was saying - his eloquent enunciation of even the most mundane of phrases was a treat to hear. And his voice was so utterly distinctive that you often knew he was in the vicinity long before he strode into a room.

And he wasn't averse to correcting my pronounciation. I recall going to Malvern with my parents where Ian was appearing in the stage play The Creeper. Ian and Maroussia had just celebrated their 45th Wedding Anniversary there and we'd popped down to visit them. Since there was every likelihood that we'd be having a drink or two afterwards, we'd taken a taxi to the theatre from our hotel, which was a few miles outside the town.

We'd sat in the hotel foyer for a while, having a couple of drinks and catching up, and it was time for us to head back to our hotel - and let Ian and Maroussia get back to where they were staying so that he wasn't getting to bed too late, with two performances to get through the next day.

Ian went over to the bar to ask them to order a taxi for us, and asked me where we were staying. 'We're staying at the Malvern Hills Hotel', I said - with my best Glaswegian diction pronouncing the 'a' in 'Malvern' as in 'apple'. The barman seemed a little puzzled. Ian looked somewhat disdainfully at me and turned to the barman and said, 'Can you please order a taxi to go to the 'Malvern Hills Hotel' - of course he pronounced the 'a' beautifully and correctly as in 'all'.

Here is another example of that top of the range Rolls Royce of voices - with grateful thanks to Toddyfins for making these clips from Six Centuries of Verse available on YouTube.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

The nearest I got to seeing Ian Richardson play King Lear

In his 15 highly distinguished years with the Royal Shakespeare Company, Ian Richardson played a variety of roles, including Coriolanus, Richard II (alternating as Bolingbroke with Richard Pasco), Richard III, Prospero in The Tempest, Cassius in Julius Caesar, Iachimo in Cymbeline, Angelo in Measure for Measure, Proteus in Two Gentlemen of Verona, Berowne in Love's Labour's Lost and what is considered to be the funniest ever Frank Ford in The Merry Wives of Windsor.

In the celebrated King Lear production that starred Paul Scofield, he played Edmund when the Company took the play on tour in 1964. But, he never actually got to play Lear and we can only imagine the power, depth of feeling and physical presence he would have brought to the role.

In 1999, I was privileged to see Ian perform the one-man show, The Seven Ages of Man, which ran for just under a week at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre in Guildford.

I'd missed his glorious years at the RSC and seeing him performing Shakespeare on stage, including a couple of Lear's speeches, was a joyful experience. For me, as well as gorging on the fabulous feast of Shakespeare he provided, the evening was memorable for another reason. When we popped in (I was there with Shirley Jacobs who, for many years, has had a webpage on Ian) to see him before the performance, he invited us out to the pub afterwards. Till that point I'd enjoyed visits to dressing rooms and this was the first of very many occasions on which I subsequently had the pleasure of spending time in Ian and his wife Maroussia's company outwith a theatre.

Sadly, Seven Ages was the nearest he got to playing the epic role. In later years he said that he no longer had the physical capacity to perform it.

But, and it was actually around the time he performed in Guildford, he did play a role - Lord Groan in the BBC production of Gormenghast - in which there was a scene in which he gave a very Lear-like and moving depiction of the Earl's descent into madness.

Monday, 18 May 2009

My Cup Runneth Over

Tomorrow afternoon I've got a special outing to look forward to. Yes, it's three years since I had my last mammogram and my call-up papers arrived a couple of weeks ago.
How to train for a mammogram
Well actually, it's probably a bit under three years, because I was one of the lucky ones who had to go back and get it done again because of some technical flaw.
To get me in 'fun' mode, I received a 'call up' for my smear test at the same time and enjoyed that alternative medieval pleasure last week (and the nurse very sweetly told me that my cervix had started to bleed - I don't blame it in the least - so not to be surprised if I had to go back and get it done again because there might not have been a sufficient scraping of cells).
I wonder who I'll see when I arrive in the waiting room (the screening centre is on a floor of a building in Nelson Mandela Place in Glasgow's city centre) tomorrow. Like many friends, relatives and acquaintances, I go to a largish medical practice on the southside of Glasgow and we all seem to get our call-up round about the same time. So, I really should look upon it as a potential social outing.
A friend of mine refers to the process as 'tits in the mangle', but I think the following pretty much describes the experience.
Get Your Mammies Grammed!
For years and years they told me,
Be careful of your breasts.
Don't ever squeeze or bruise them.
And give them monthly tests.
So I heeded all their warnings,
And protected them by law.
Guarded them very carefully,
And I always wore my bra.
After 30 years of astute care,
My gyno, Dr Pruitt,
Said I should get a Mammogram
"OK," I said, "let's do it."
"Stand up here real close" she said,
(She got my breast in line),
"And tell me when it hurts," she said,
"Ah yes! Right there, that's fine."
She stepped upon a pedal,
I could not believe my eyes!
A plastic plate came slamming down,
My hooter's in a vise!
My skin was stretched and mangled,
From underneath my chin.
My poor breast was being squashed,
To Swedish Pancake thin.
Excruciating pain I felt,
Within its vise-like grip.
A prisoner in this vicious thing,
My poor defenseless tit!
"Take a deep breath" she said to me,
Who does she think she's kidding?!?
My chest is mashed in her machine,
And woozy I am getting
"There, that's good," I heard her say,
(The room was slowly swaying.)
"Now, let's have a go at the other one."
Have mercy, I was praying.
It squeezed me from both up and down,
It squeezed me from both sides.
I'll bet SHE'S never had this done,
To HER tender hide.
Next time that they make me do this,
I will request a blindfold.
I have no wish to see again,
My knockers getting steam rolled.
If I had no problem when I came in,
I surely have one now.
If there had been a cyst in there,
It would have gone "ker-pow!"
This machine was created by a man,
Of this, I have no doubt.
I'd like to stick his balls in there,
And see how THEY come out!
I'm afraid I don't know the name of the person who penned it - if anyone does, please let me know and I'll add in the well-deserved credit.
Mammograms, smear tests and giving birth are all part of the joy of womanhood - something that us women folk just have to go through - and it's very important that we don't miss these check-ups - even if the instruments of torture have quite obviously been designed by sadistic mysoginists.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Where would we be without friends

It's tremendous when you find a friend who happens to be a very talented writer, broadcaster and produces wonderful Blogs Brian Sibley that have become addictive to many readers, myself included. Indeed, his readership are living in dread of the day, in the not too distant future, when Brian reaches a remarkable 1,000 Blogs, as he is threatening to stop or drastically reduce his output. I don't think we could cope without our daily fix.
I'm particularly indebted to Brian for today's blog, You Might Very Well Think... in which he has provided some marvellous publicity for the book We Could Possibly Comment .
Brian has been a tower of strength in providing me with editorial assistance and advice and has been an absolute rock, particularly over the past few months during which the book has really taken shape.
His choice of video clips for today's blog include one from House of Cards, which is described thus by one of the contributors to the book, Susannah Harkerwho superbly played Mattie Storin:-
'I was just astonished watching him in the studio in particular, when we did all his office stuff.
I recall watching a scene where Urquhart was taking a pee and he had to address the camera whilst obviously appearing to be having a pee and doing several other things and it was just amazing.'
Another clip Brian chose, is from the 1972 film Man of La Mancha , which starred Peter O'Toole, Sophia Loren, James Coco,Harry Andrews and Brian Blessed.
Brian Blessed who worked with Ian several times, and provided the most memorable of interviews I conducted, said of his performance in the film:
'I only had to look at Ian and he went into hysterics. I was always very naughty with him and it would have him in fits of laughter. Basically, he was a Peter Pan character and he had a wonderful sense of humour.
Ian played the priest wonderfully and with great sensitivity – and he had a lovely singing voice, which I think should have been used much more in musicals. His priest is so moving and it was a gem of a performance.'

Monday, 11 May 2009

Happy Birthday, Big Brother!

David Mail
Today, it's my brother David's 59th Birthday.

I'm sure it's a birthday David won't forget, though not necessarily for the right reasons. A few days ago he was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer and he will be spending most of his birthday in hospital in London. Hopefully this evening he'll be able to get out for a couple of hours to have a meal with the family.
Unfortunately, since speaking to David earlier, he was told that he needs an emergency op. this afternoon and so his 'birthday meal' ended up being breakfast, and he probably won't be able to eat again for a few days.

Jonathan, Lesley, David and Simon

I couldn't ask for a kinder, more generous or supportive brother and consider myself very lucky. As brother and sister, we did have a few 'moments' as youngsters when there'd be the odd dispute, but generally, we've always got along very well. As kids we often played together. We both had brown bear glove puppets, Binge and Twinge and we spent many hours together playing Subbuteo. Once into our teens, we attended the same youth movement and had lots of friends in common. It was particularly beneficial for me having a brother three years older, as some of his friends ended up as boyfriends.

After graduating from Strathclyde University in 1971 with a BA Hons in Economics & Marketing, David moved down south to his first job, working for United Biscuits (our Russian grandmother couldn't understand why he spent all those years studying just to go and make biscuits) in Liverpool. He's been an ardent Liverpool supporter ever since. After a brief spell back in Glasgow, David moved down to London, working in IT and then in project management. He married Lesley in 1978 and they now live in Watford and have sons Jonathan, 28 and Simon, 25.

David took early retirement from his job as a management consultant partner a few years ago. A lot of his time nowadays is taken up with bridge and he currently plays in three leagues, Southgate & District, Hertfordshire and Middlesex and is building up a collection of trophies. He also plays guitar, does voluntary work and with Lesley, likes to travel.

Hopefully I'll get down to Watford soon, but in the meantime I wish my big brother

Many Happy and Healthier returns and a Speedy Recovery!

Friday, 8 May 2009

Time to cap footballers' earnings and get them to behave better?

I enjoy watching most sports, but one thing which I find increasingly irksome, is the behaviour of some footballers.
In Scotland not that long ago, two footballers on International duty, Barry Ferguson and Allan McGregor, were first barred from the team and then demoted to the bench for the next Scotland match, following a drinking session that lasted until lunchtime after a late night return from a game. To compound the felony they both sat, like a couple of silly schoolkids, making 'v' signs at the cameramen from their places on the bench. As a result, they were told they'd never play for Scotland, nor their club team Rangers again. Now that the outcry has died down, the suggestion is that they were harshly treated.
Personally I believe that Ferguson especially, as both captain of Scotland and Rangers, received what he deserved for setting such a bad example. And before anyone asks, yes, I am a Celtic (armchair) supporter but my view is that Celtic should equally have taken action long ago against their own player, keeper Artur Boruc, who is another very poor role model.
In the past week, we've had Joey Barton reverting to his thuggish behaviour and Didier Drogba losing the plot - not for the first time.
Should it all be excused and put down to the 'pressure of work'? I don't think so. After all, these men are earning five or six-figure wages every week. Surely it's not too much to ask for a little self-restraint and responsibility in return?
Perhaps it's time that some kind of financial restraints were placed upon clubs and players - after all, to be paying vast transfer fees and several million pounds a year to players doesn't somehow seem right in these times of economic hardship for so many people. And it wouldn't go amiss to introduce much stricter codes of conduct for players either.
But then what do I know - I'm only a woman, after all.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Chicken Soup and Junior/Senior Moments

What should you do when your mother has been taken into hospital? Well, that's obvious - make some chicken soup for her! At least that was my plan, on the expectation that she would only be in for one night, possibly two. However, she's going to be in (in a much more convivial ward, thank goodness than was reported in my previous Blog) until Tuesday at least.

Which means that there's an excess of chicken soup in the neighbourhood as I decided to make one large potful for my parents and one for my own home. I don't know if the 'Jewish penicillin' idea holds much water (or soup), but it certainly doesn't do any harm and in fact last time Mum wasn't feeling well, it was about the only thing she was able to consume for a couple of days. Fortunately, there's a container-full in the freezer with her name on it for when she is released.

The ward she is in now is very bright, fresh and clean - which wasn't always the case for a while in what is a Victorian hospital, due to close next decade. Even more condusive to recovery, is the fact that the staff are very kind and helpful and the patients seem to be good company for each other. Having been in hospital on many occasions myself, I know what a difference that can make.

On the way out from visiting her one evening, I passed a former colleague with whom I'd worked a few years ago in Abbey National's IT division. He'd just been visiting a relative and I stopped to have a quick chat. Once I caught up with my father and daughter, Suzanne, she asked me who I'd been speaking to and I told her it was someone I'd worked with. 'What was his name?' she asked.

'I'll tell you, hopefully before we get back home.' She couldn't quite grasp the concept of knowing who someone was and yet not knowing. I knew exactly who I'd been talking to - just not his name, but I was very confident that it would soon come back to me.

It's just one of those junior/senior moments that mark the passing into middle age (though at 55, by today's standards I'm still a kid). It's incredibly frustrating - and embarrassing at times, but hopefully many of the people whose names temporarily escape me, are having similar moments themselves.

It seems like the filing cabinet drawers are getting a bit stuck and information retrieval (was that the department Sam Lowry worked in in Brazil?) is taking a bit longer than it used to. I don't mind these little lapses as much as I do when it's a case of seeing someone I definitely know, but can't for the life of me work out where from.

The first name of my former colleague did pop out about ten minutes later, by the way, followed by his surname a couple of minutes after that.