Sunday, 27 October 2013

Blue skies in Barcelona

Half term and we escaped the autumn wind and rain for a couple of days, taking a short break in Barcelona. In summer, Spain is too hot for us Celtic types with our fair skin;  however autumn sun and temperatures of 22-25 degrees suited us fine.  So we enjoyed exploring La Rambla, the Old Town and the Port area. Didn't really do museums - teenager not keen - or see any of the Gaudi buildings.  But lots of eating tapas, exploring the markets and people-watching.  And a guitar music concert in a building which was decorated like a wedding cake.  Will let the pictures do the talking today.

The Square near our hotel: slightly dodgy area.  Husband lagging behind us with bad ankle was approached by lady offering him a good time!

Walked to the beach.   Teenager soaked her sore feet in the sea.

Colourful market stalls.  So many varieties of mushrooms.

The ornate ceiling of the concert hall.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Rainey Endowed School 300th anniversary celebration: '50 Shillings and a New Suit of Clothes'

I returned to Northern Ireland at the weekend to attend a concert at the Grand Opera House in Belfast which celebrated 300 years of the Rainey, the school which I attended in
Magherafelt.   My sister, other members of my extended family; and some old acquaintances from my time there in the 70's were singing in the old pupils' choir.

It was a wonderful occasion.  The show was produced and directed by former pupil Ashley Fulton, a very talented young man: he also wrote four original songs for the production and came up with idea which provided a kind of story framework for what otherwise would have been a random collection of songs.   Other talented ex-pupils returned to take part: actress Laura Piper read Heaney's 'Station Island '; accomplished musician Rhoda Barfoot played the violin and Ian McLernon, who has been in West End shows, performed several of the solos.

The title for the performance comes from the will of Hugh Rainey who founded the school back at the beginning of the 18th century.  He wanted a school to be built to educate eight boys from the local community who would otherwise have few opportunities.  Their education was to be Christian its ethos but not linked to any particular creed.  (This has continued until the present day - the Rainey was an integrated school even in the 70's - there were many Catholic boys in my year, though few girls as they went to the local convent school).  When the 8 boys had completed their time at the school they would be given 50 shillings and a new suit of clothes before they were sent out into the world.  Ashley Fulton had seen a copy of the will displayed in the school and it gave him the ideas for the production. 

The songs he wrote and those he selected to be performed by current and old pupils' choirs shared the theme of love of home along with the desire to move on and make the most of the opportunities education offers.  There were a range of old favourites: 'Danny Boy', 'Bridge over Troubled Waters',  'To Feel the Rhythm of Life', 'Time to say Goodbye'.   And then that rather sentimental song from  Mamma Mia, 'Slipping Through my Fingers'.   I wasn't so sure about the bit where current pupils in uniform sat on stage with suitcases gazing wistfully into the distance while the choir sang.    Presumably they were meant to represent the boys leaving with their 50 shillings and new suit.   However, they looked a little uncomfortable and I am sure were suppressing giggles.

I gatecrashed the cast after-party so I could catch up with a few people I had not seen since I left school 35 years ago.  A very strange experience.  Those, like my sister,who were able to take part in the performance really enjoyed it, returning to the Johnson Hall for Saturday rehearsals and renewing old friendships.   A wonderful experience for all who took part and for the appreciative audience.  And a fitting tribute to a great school.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Chester Mystery Plays at Liverpool Cathedral

Saturday nights have been a touch dull recently.  Too much watching of 'Strictly' and 'X-Factor'.  'Strictly' just about tolerable, thought the formula is a little tired now, but 'X Factor' unbearable.  Especially with Nicole Schistherface.  So planned an outing this week - to Liverpool for a meal out and a bit of live theatre.

Other family members not terribly keen when I told them of my plans - a trip to the cathedral in Liverpool to see a revival of the Chester Mystery Plays which we missed in the summer.  It only comes round very five years and I was sorry to have missed it when it was on, because I wanted to support several of the amateur cast who I know, including the young actress who played Mary.  But atheist husband and wannabe cool teenager not desperately thrilled by idea of spending Saturday evening watching Bible stories, no matter how impressive the staging.  Bribed them by arranging a meal first.  Very good pre-theatre menu in Bistrot  Jaques. And so, full of Steak Chasseur, we headed for the cathedral.

I hadn't been in the cathedral for nearly 30 years when the grumpy one took me there when we were courting.  Perhaps his atheist views not so strong then.  Or was it just the architecture which impressed him? It is a beautiful building and provided a stunning backdrop for the production, with the steps and the upper level being used cleverly to show the route to heaven.  The audience were seated not in pews as I expected, but in rather uncomfortable folding chairs.  And I was sitting in close proximity to a man who had a rotten cold and kept sneezing revoltingly into his handkerchief. Yuck!

Despite this I enjoyed the performance.  There was a huge cast of local people from Chester, from children of about five or six, to pensioners.   All the musicians were amateurs too.  The whole thing was put together by Mr Chester Theatre, Matt Baker, who I think also wrote the score.  If I wasn't such a lazy blogger, I'd link to his Theatre in the Quarter Company and check this.  But I am lazy and  inept at such technicalities. He appeared on stage too on a couple of occasions, playing a piano accordion with gusto in the pub scene.  A very talented man who contributes hugely to cultural life in Chester.

My favourite scene was the arrival of the animals onto Noah's Ark, with the children in masks; the crocodile looked about 5 and snapped his jaws with great enthusiasm.  The children also made an excellent job of recreating the Garden of Eden, complete with bird song and animal noises.  I also liked  the scene where Mary, dressed as a waitress, admits to Joseph that she's in a bit of trouble.  Mary sang beautifully, but unfortunately the huge space meant that we didn't hear her so well.  I was surprised she didn't have an individual mic like the Angel Gabriel, dapper in white suit, who performed a Sinatra Style number when telling Mary of his plans for her. Another scene recreated the Chester Races effectively: children in racing silks riding on shoulders while hidden by the roaring crowd.  And lots of  girls in posh dresses rather worse for wear, just like in town after race day. No surprise then when quite a few of them end up heading for hell in the next Judgement Day scene.  I was a bit bothered that Eve was led off to hell while Adam makes it to heaven.  Is that what happens in the Bible?  Blame the woman then.

There were also some very moving scenes, such as the one pictured above where Herod kills all the children. The tiny bundles were unfurled to show flags: a message for a world where tyrants are still killing children.  I was also close to tears in the scene where Jesus's body is taken down off the cross.  The music was very powerful at this point and added to the poignancy of Mary's grief.

So what was the verdict from my companions?  Teenager quite impressed with the staging and she recognised a few of the cast from various drama productions she's been involved in so she was quite happy. Husband less so.  But then I haven't always been that keen to stand drinking lager from a plastic glass in venues which smell of stale beer and sick to watch some of the bands he likes to see.  So it's payback time.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

To Autumn - Seasons of mist....

Hasn't it been a glorious autumn?  Spent yesterday in the garden, raking leaves, doing a final pre-winter tidy up and enjoying the late sunshine.  And a long dog walk with a friend down a local road lined with old oak trees.  I've never seen so many acorns - and such large ones. And berries and glorious shiny conkers.  So instead of words (too weary) here are a few autumn images for the record.

This blog is turning into a kind of country diary - hard to believe I started writing about fashion in January. So it'd be Country Diary of a Poo Bag lady then as that's what I'm usually carrying on my walks.