What I really like…

Recently seen and heard

Close the Coal House Door

If you can get to this fabulous revival of the 1968 play by Alan Plater based on Sid Chaplin’s stoties, with songs by Alex Glasgow, get yourself along as it’s the best thing I’ve seen in ages. Like Pitman Painters and Billy Eliot, it is a product of Newcastle’s Live Theatre (this time jointly  with Northern Stage) and is very funny, thought-provoking  and moving. We are going again! I first saw the play soon after its first production.

Fri, 13th April 2012 to Tue, 8th May 2012
Close the Coalhouse Door at Northern Stage (previously known as Newcastle Haymarket Playhouse), Newcastle upon Tyne

Wed, 9th May 2012 to Sat, 12th May 2012
Close the Coalhouse Door at Richmond Theatre, Outer London»
Tue, 15th May 2012 to Sat, 19th May 2012
Close the Coalhouse Door at The Lowry, Salford

Wed, 23rd May 2012 to Sat, 26th May 2012
Close the Coalhouse Door at Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield

Tue, 29th May 2012 to Sat, 2nd June 2012
Close the Coalhouse Door at Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford

Tue, 12th June 2012 to Sat, 16th June 2012
Close the Coalhouse Door at Gala Theatre, Durham

Tue, 19th June 2012 to Sat, 23rd June 2012
Close the Coalhouse Door at The Playhouse, Oxford

Tue, 26th June 2012 to Sat, 30th June 2012
Close the Coalhouse Door at Theatre Royal, York


David Hockney at the Royal Academy

We went with really high expectations as I love his earlier work and were nevertheless knocked out because it was so brilliant.  The colours really appeal to my over-the-top sensibilities and the scale of the work was breathtaking.


Northern Symphonia  conducted by  a very frail looking Franz Bruggen at the Sage Gateshead 13 April Strauss Metamorphosen, Beethoven, Piano Concerto no 4 in G and symphony number 41 in C ‘Jupiter’. Right up Phil’s street and I enjoyed it too!

Food has always been  important to me and my family. I enjoy making jam with fruit from my own garden (or fruit I’ve been given), baking cakes, (especially with my granddaughter Poppy with whom we celebrate random birthdays off the calendar almost every week as she likes blowing out the candles), cooking large Sunday lunches for lots of people and making big batches of Christmas puddings in October for all my family and friends (22 this year made, distributed and eaten around Britain and Ireland). I love making (and giving away) jams and chutney and I’m looking forward to lots of fruit this year from our garden. 
Eating out is a great pleasure too. In Brighton (Hove actually) we really like l’Eglise on Church street and the Ginger Pig. In Newcastle we enjoy the early evening menu at Cafe 21 near the Quayside and Six, the posh restaurant at the top of the Baltic.  At Tynemouth we often enjoy lunch at Hugos. Phil especially likes the fish and chips. If you are ever in Woburn Sands, the Wavedon Arms is worth a visit.

And if you go to Northern Stage in newcastle, the pre-dinner meal in the Bistro is great value.

Performance Arts and Art galleries

The Turner Prize exhibition at the Baltic Galleries was astonishing. Phil and I were lucky enough to win a Guardian private view where the curator talked us through the exhibits in a very helpful manner. It made my next visit even more enjoyable as I was able to look at the whole exhibition with  greater insights and also enjoy the other exhibitions in the gallery.  The Baltic normally has at least one exhibition that drives me up the wall, at least one that really makes me think, and many that I enjoy a lot. Great to have it on our doorstep: always worth a visit.


Recently seen

Phil and I watched Nativities at Live Theatre  on 18th February, a play about people working in a call centre. It’s always great going to live theatre on Newcastle’s Quayside, especially if you sit in the cabaret seats even though we didn’t find the play as gripping as some others we have seen there  (notably The Pitman Painters!)

In Waterford I caught a performance of  The All Star Wars, a musical about Hurling in the delightful Georgian Waterford Theatre Royal. Though I know nothing of the sport and missed quite a few of the political and TV in-jokes it was a great night out and the performances were tremendous, particularly the singing. It was a bit like a John Godber play mixed with Berwick Kaler in pantomime! I was so lucky to get a ticket!

We saw the play that was back for a second season in Newcastle, Michael Chaplin’s adaptation of Chris Mullen’s diaries A Walk-on Part; it was brilliant theatre, seen on its last night here before transferring to the Soho Theatre. It was made all the more fascinating to have Chris Mullen and Michael Chaplin sitting just behind us  in the cabaret-style theatre.

 I love going to the theatre and am very catholic in my theatrical tastes. I enjoy dance performances, particularly modern dance, but when based in Leeds I was woken up and challenged in my perceptions by Northern Dance. Phil and I regularly go to classical concerts at the Sage Gateshead.

I seek out art galleries in every town I visit and particularly enjoy late Victorian and early 20th century art and architecture: my grand father was an Arts and Crafts cabinet maker and I enjoy finding Art Nouveau places around the world where I can eat, stay and shop, as well as galleries of all kinds. We loved the Hermitage in St Petersburg in the summer of 2011 and regularly visit the Baltic in Gateshead for more challenges. I was over-excited in Huesca when I briefly managed to gatecrash a very stylish wedding in the casino so I could catch a glimpse of the fantastic interior of the Casino (which looks like a wedding cake from the outside).

We are lucky enough to visit lots of countries for work and pleasure and we make the most of these trips to see places and have fun exploring our various interests.

In 2011, I visited:
January: Tallaght, Dublin and Athlone in Ireland , Utrecht in the Netherlands.
February: Dundalk in Ireland, Singapore.
March: Aalborg in Denmark.
April/ May: Singapore and Australia (Cairns, Townsville, Brisbane, Rockhampton, Mooloolaba).
July: Cartagena in Spain.
August: Russia (St Petersburg, Moscow and lovely places in between – Hoiday).
September: Wexford, Waterford and Tallaght in Ireland, Huesca in Spain
October: Odense, Esbjerg and Aalborg in Denmark, and Dundalk, Ireland.

When studying for my MA in the 1980s I focused on women’s literature between the first and second World War, specifically Winifred Holtby’s novels, short stories and political prose, so in have a real affection for novels of that period. My favourite writes include A.S. Byatt, Helen Dunmore and Kate Atkinson.

Recently read:

Why be happy when you could be normal Jeanette Winterson. Having read Oranges are not the only fruit when it first came out and having heard bits of it on the radio, I was really looking forward to reading this. I was gripped for a whole long train journey from Plymouth (and on the Metro, and once I got home until I finished it). Knowing much of what is going to happen in the first half didn’t prepare me for the real cliff hanger in the last part of the book, which resolved itself, like much in real life, with several uncertainties.

Nemesis Philip Roth I read this with mixed feelings, as I haven’t enjoyed Philip Roth’s work much before and I didn’t enjoy his writing style this time much either. But I got completely drawn in as it is set in a polio epidemic in the US in 1944 (and my father contracted polio in the same year).

My Antonia Willa Cather A rural setting in the US prior to the first world war underpinned this gentle and sad novel, where the characters engaged me even though not a great deal happened. I really liked it, having read a lot of UK books from this period years ago.

Various pets alive and dead by Marina Lewycka is the fourth book of hers I have read and really enjoyed.  A particular frisson comes from having met her when she received an Honorary degree at Leeds Met (and knowing quite well one of her friends who is name checked in the acknowledgements for the advice her gave her of what it was like to live in a commune).

I read Death comes to Pemberley by P.D. James, which is a crime thriller that involves the characters of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Although it’s very clever, I found it quite hard work reading it on my Kindle as I kept wanting to check back on what  had happened to various characters.

I also readThe Spirit Level : why equality is better for everyone by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, also on  my Kindle, which makes reviewing some of the tables jolly hard work in tiny sizes.

I read The Help By Kathryn Stockett for Book Club (but didn’t get to discuss it because of travel problems  on 10th November, see the post ‘A Hard Day’s Night!). I found it a moving , disturbing and funny book about maids and the families they work with in Jackson Mississippi, so I can’t wait now to see the film.

Having heard Andrea Levy  talk in Newcastle on 25th October I could hear her voice throughout my subsequent reading of the novel set in 19th Century Jamaica. As Jackie Kay suggested in the conversation at Northern Stage, the meta-narrative within the novel, where the narrator adds personal notes and commentary to the tale she tells  helped to sweeten the tough tale of tough times.

Petina Gappah: An elegy for Easterly: short stories set in Zimbabwe.
Edmund de Waal: The Hare with Amber Eyes: moving family memoir set in pre-2nd world war Europe and Japan.
Lilian Henry: Three Little ships, light romance around the Dunkirk evacuation

While in Australia
Joy Dettman, Pearl in a cage: Australian novel family novel of abusive relationships and lost children.
Marlo Morgan: Mutant march Down Under: frankly silly controversial book claimed variously to be fact or fiction about an American woman’s walk with indigenous people in Australia.
Betty Collins: the Copper crucible: harrowing novel set in the mines of N. Queensland depicting the story of the beginnings of unionised labour.
Larissa Behrendt: Home: multi-generational novel set in Australia of family of indigenous and German heritage, written by an Australian professor of Law.
Tim Winton: Dirt Music, low key novel of failed relationships in fishing settlement in Australia.
Rachel Sieffert: Afterwards: moving account of an ex soldier who has served in N Ireland and his relationship with his partner’s father who had served as a bomber in Africa against the Mau Mau uprisings.
Kate Grenville: The Lieutenant: An early settler in Australia learns about language and life

Sebastian Faulks: Engleby, Disturbing and ambiguous story of a killer in Cambridge and his cruel childhood.
Lucinda Riley: Hothouse flower Unconvincing family saga set in the UK and Singapore.
Maggie o’Farrell: The hand that first held mine: Two interlinked stories set in the 50s and current times.
Sophie Dahl: Playing with grown ups, coming of age novel of daughter and disturbed/ disturbing mother.
Margaret Cezair-Thompson: The Pirates daughter, uninspiring Caribbean novel about a putative love child of Errol Flynn.
Rosie Alison: The very thought of you, tale set in wartime Yorkshire around loss, polio and disappointment.
Chimichanda Ngozie: Purple Hibiscus, a brutal family story of great cruelty, and love.
Sarah Blake: The postmistress, set in 1940s US and London, love and loss and survival.