Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Hansel & Gretel with Scottish Ballet

This post has been a long time coming, every time I’ve tried to write it I’ve just kept writing and ended up with over two thousand words (I wish essays came that easily)

Glasgow is home to the incredibly talented company Scottish Ballet and last week I dolled myself up (any excuse) and skipped along to the Theatre Royal to see their newest production Hansel & Gretel. Inspired by the traditional Brothers Grimm fairy tale and set to German composer Humperdinck’s operatic score, Christopher Hampson, Scottish Ballet's artistic director, has updated the message and created something wonderful. 
Gretel, Hansel & Teddy
When you’ve got adults playing children there’s always a risk of it all going a bit twee and ballet’s designed with children in mind run the risk of be more about the tutus and pirouettes than plot. When I first saw the slightly oversized table and chairs that Hansel and Gretel were sat at so their feet didn’t touch the floor I was hesitant is that it? Are they just going to make everything else look bigger? But of course they weren’t! You don’t spend two years putting together a show without going beyond “Let’s make the furniture bigger, so the ones playing children look smaller!” With her hair hanging down in two plaits and the fact half the ten year olds were taller than her it was easy to see Gretel as a child. Hansel had a slightly harder time, but the addition of a teddy bear to accompany him throughout helped. 

Last time I checked H&G were abandoned in the woods by a wicked stepmother and spineless father, neither of which are particularly relevant today so they changed it. H&G ran away into the woods to explore and search for their friends who'd gone missing. The walk through the town was I think my favourite part, there's a 1950s style to the costumes and set, H&G run into a local greaser gang- The Ravens according to the studs on their leather jackets. All of the dances are stylish and modern, very entertaining and very good, it was around here I realised no one had gone en pointe yet. Scottish Ballet always seem to tell stories in a very up to date way that really works.

The woods had a very Tim Burton feel to them (and The Sandman having more than a passing resemblance to Johnny Depp didn't hurt) which was fun and spooky and fitted really well with the sense we were moving away from reality. The appearance of the beautiful woman in the moon who's feet hardly touched the floor, instead she was carried aloft by her feathery ravens, moved us gently into a more traditional ballet as H&G were led through the woods to a spectacular feast that only existed in their dreams.

The first act blew me away, but it might not have done when I was eight and all I wanted from ballet was tutus, pirouettes and dancers on their toes. The second act had all of these, it started to nod towards The Nutcracker with toys coming to life and dancing and rather than being about a cohesive storyline was more brief episodes of different styles. The beautiful woman from the moon took off her wig and transformed into a hunched up old witch who started feeding H&G all they could eat while in the corner and oven glowed menacingly. I don't want to spoil the ending but it's Christmas so you don't need to pack tissues.
See, fun!
I don’t know a lot about dance, I took ballet lessons when I was younger but was never what you might call any good but in my (very limited) opinion, the stand out performance of the night was Bethany Kingsley-Garner as Gretel. Bethany’s performance really went beyond dancing, all the way through I was impressed with her acting the role of a lost little girl who had to look after her brother with such clarity and sympathy I started to wonder if Scottish Ballet had brought a child psychologist in to brief the cast. 

Forget Panto if you're looking for a night out go and see this. It's in Glasgow at The Theatre Royal until the 28th December and then it goes on tour.

You can find out more HERE

PS under 26 or a full time student? You can get tickets for £10 find out how HERE

All images from Hansel and Gretel gallery on Scottish Ballet website HERE no copyright infringement intended.

Joy Harpy xx

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Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Packing Problems!

I just love the sounds of alliteration in the afternoon, don't you?

I'm going home tomorrow, back to Liverpool and family and pets and all the rest. I'll be gone for some time, I'm planning on staying at home for Christmas and then spending some time with my boyfriend before next semester starts (side note: arghhh! Final semester of university, oh god can it really be so close to over already? Aren't I meant to have a clue about a career path by now?) So all in all I think I'm going to be gone for about a month.

Four weeks is a long time, especially when I don't know what I'll be up to, how many parties or nights out I'll be going on, what the ever changing weather will be doing, what sort of clothes I left behind last time I was home. I don't want to look like that crazy person either, the one with too much stuff who in the end just lives in PJs and hoodies. So I'm trying to limit what I take but it's so hard!

For the most part though I'm just trying to remember to pack things I'll regret forgetting. (I am that person who goes on holiday without her camera charger or puts her laptop in it's bag and leaves it somewhere really obvious so she can't walk out without it, but does anyway.)

It's an affliction I'm telling you.

I like the idea of capsule wardrobes and minimalist holiday packing but I'm not very good at living up to them. Also, I'll still have to do uni work while I'm there, which means taking books home and books take up space that could otherwise be occupied by shoes. Is it acceptable then to take a bigger suitcase? And it's winter and wintery things are bulkier than summery things, one wooly jumper takes up the same amount of space as like sixteen dresses. And I don't want to wear the same jumper the whole time, do I?

And, if I take a variety of party dresses for possible multiple parties, should I take the plain (dare I say, boring) shoes that go with everything but I'll get sick of, or a variety of shoes that will garner Oooos and Ahhhs? And I'll need day shoes as well, obviously I'll take my winter boots, but what about other flat shoes? Will it be too cold for ballet pumps, do I care so long as they go with my outfit?

Coats! Heavy coat? Waterproof? Coat with hood? Smart coat? I have a vast selection of coats here to accommodate all types of weather and dress code, but I can't pack all of them.

Mostly, this is just procrastination, I'm talking about how hard packing is rather than getting on with it. So I should stop.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

An Update

Hello Blog,

So this week was my final week of classes for the year (calendar, not academic- still got one semester left) which is always a strange mix of relief and anxiety (hurrah it's nearly over, arghhh deadlines!) but now it is done.

It's one of those times that always feels busy and rushed but when someone asks what I've been up to I start umming and ahhing. I haven't really done anything, just tried to run around and tie up loose ends before heading home.

I leave next Thursday and before that I have the Classics society Christmas dinner, the final Brownies meeting and a trip to the ballet (Scottish Ballet's Hansel and Gretel- expect a review!)

Something that's surprised me is the weather, I'm not sure if I've adjusted to it or it really is not as bad this year as previous years, other people seem to be complaining but it hasn't really bothered me that much. It did snow today (for all of ten minutes) and there was a big storm last night, but compared to other Christmases I'm far less anxious about not making it home by train and ending up stranded in Penrith desperately putting up Gumtree adverts asking someone to come and rescue me. (Don't laugh, one year it took me 14 hours and another time I ended up having to phone around friends and find someone to put me up in Birmingham overnight, the route between Glasgow and Liverpool does not normally take one to Birmingham but they changed the destination when I was already on it)

Anyway, that's about it, I'm just trying to get myself into the habit of writing here more often (even if I have nothing to say it seems)

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Frankenstein with NTLive

You know how wonderful Benedict Cumberbatch is?

And you know how wonderful Johnny Lee Miller is in Elementary?

And you remember how fantastic the 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony, directed by Danny Boyle, was?

Wouldn't it be fantastic if there was some way to combine all those wonderful things?

As usual NTLive are way ahead of the curve and found a way to combine all these beauties way back when in 2011 (so before the Olympic opening ceremony or Elementary or the second series of Sherlock, that's how good NTLive are at spotting a good thing (Because obviously none of them had done anything before these things, certainly not won Oscars or been in culturally iconic masterpieces or series one of Sherlock))

This is not the first time I've blogged about NTLive and I highly doubt it will be the last, if you've never heard of it before the short version of the story is in 2009 the National Theatre in London filmed a play while it was being performed and broadcast in live to cinema's around the country. It was a massive success and now broadcasts globally, not only live performances but "Encore" screenings of particularly popular shows.

Frankenstein was one of these. My parents went to see it when it first screened in March 2011 and raved about it, I missed out due to that being the same time as my exams. Since then it has shown multiple times and every time I have missed out, boo! So when I heard rumours of a special screening on All Hallow's Eve at the GFT I was on it faster than the screaming hordes when Harry Styles tweets he's lonely and looking for love. (Yes, we are all going to just quietly ignore the fact that Hallowe'en was a month ago and I waited until now to post this, I've been very busy not doing my dissertation)

The Glasgow Film Theatre is an independent cinema that opened in 1939 it screens a wide variety of international cinema, classic films and documentaries alongside locally made work and material aimed at a range of community groups. In total, it shows over 600 different films every year, of which 60% are foreign-language. [x]

As usual they showed some behind the scenes rehearsals and had a quick chat with director and leading men. One of things Danny Boyle said this version of Frankenstein was trying to do was give the Creature back his voice, so much has been built off the 1939 film version were the Creature is a lumbering, groaning monster which isn't at all true to the book and frankly makes the entire story far duller than it ought to be. Mary Shelley's book is a brilliantly intelligent exploration in the nature of humanity and reducing the Creature the amount the film did is almost offensive.

The book is told mostly from Frankenstein's perspective (or at least his perspective as recorded by Captain Walton, if you want to be pedantic about it) whereas this production really did focus on the Creature (Cumberbatch) and his journey. I'd say Frankenstein (Miller) was onstage for about 20minutes all together. It worked, it told a very convincing and dramatic story without getting too bogged down, I don't think that it really skipped any of the "action" but at the same time we didn't really get to explore Frankenstein's psyche as much as we could have. (I suppose that kept it from being five hours long, but still)

One of the most interesting parts of it, I found, was the use of silence and lack of dialogue. It wasn't over done and didn't stray too far into artsy-fartsy pretentiousness but it did help the audience to come to terms with the Creature's development. Perfect example of how to show don't tell for any budding story writers out there. The first scene, ten minutes or so, featured Cumberbatch in a loin cloth and a lot of stage make up falling out of the replica womb and coming to terms with his body. He goes from grand mal seizure to writhing to standing and then running. In the pre show chat one of the things Cumberbatch had said was he'd educated his performance by watching videos of how  stroke victims recover and relearn how to use their muscles. It could have gone very badly, but he pulled it off and it really drew the audience in.

I can't think of anything else I want to say that needs to be said, it was spectacular, I was gripped from the start and everyone should go and see it. There are encore screenings playing all over place throughout December, find out more HERE.

(P.S. One of the best bits is Benedict Cumberbatch and Johnny Lee Miller swapped roles every night throughout the original stage run and NTLive recorded both versions so you can see it both ways. I'll post a review when I get round to watching JLM as the Creature.)

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

November greys

I hate the winter.
I hate the cold.
I hate the dark.

That is not in any way conducive to living a happy life in Glasgow, where in November there are on average only eight hours of daylight. Not even the good hours of daylight, where it’s all sunshine and blue skies and crispy leaves underfoot, November in Glasgow involves a lot of grey.

It’s very easy to want to hibernate, but of course that is a Catch-22, if you stay inside all the time the world grows smaller, until it seems as though the walls of your own bedroom are as far away as South America. Every year the same thing happens, it starts getting dark- staying dark- my alarm goes off in the morning I think it’s malfunctioning. I can’t admit to myself it’s that dark outside and in time to get up.

So I don’t. I pull the covers up I roll over and the stay in bed where it is warm, where I can dream about sunny days. It is the easiest thing in the world for me to stay in bed. I know that’s no way to live and a tumbler is not a replacement for friendship. I know that doing things is infinitely more enjoyable than not doing anything. I know toast is not a meal when it is all you eat for five days. I know I could be happier, but I don’t care.

I know this will pass. I know that in a few short months the days will be longer, the skies will be blue again and I will be happy. Every year it myself at the next one will be different, that this is the last November I will waste drowning in depression.

Who knows, maybe next year will be the year it comes true.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Choices, decisions and being bad at them.

I'm not an active kind of person, exercise makes me hot, sweaty and aware that I wouldn't survive to the end of a zombie movie.

But if it did? I could eat nothing but chocolate fudge brownie frosting and still fit into my skinny day skinny jeans.
Right now I don't have a gym membership, I got one last year and went a couple of times, I know that when I do exercise semi regularly I feel better, I sleep better and I look better. So I should probably renew my membership, right?

But money! And my lack of it! 

Exercise is one of those easy things that you should be able to do for free, right? Throw on a pair of trainers and get out there. I unfortunately have a skeleton that doesn't quite work properly and joints that are inclined to inflammation so high impact things like jogging are a no go. Swimming and cycling are where it's at for me.

So if I get a gym membership I can use the pool and occasionally when the 'Cardio Suite' (who comes with these names?) isn't too full I might even squeeze in a session on a stationary bike. Alternatively I could use that money to buy a bike, not a fancy one and not an expensive one but one that I could use to maneuver myself around the city, on days out and y'know in places that aren't the gym.

Swimming is one of those activities I enjoy but it ends up being a bit of a faff. There's the communal showers, the wearing of skin tight lycra, the fact that you're sharing a bath with god only knows how many dirty people. Plus you have to add in all that extra time to redo hair and make up unless you go first thing in the morning and I'm not an early morning kinda gal. The thought of rising early with the express intent of immersing myself in a large body of water brings to mind stories of people falling asleep in the tub and accidentally drowning. The life guards would probably get sick of fishing me out and just leave me to die after a week.

But if I get a bike I have to find somewhere to store it and if it's raining and icy I'll tell myself it's too dangerous to go out, that I'll just fall off and cause a ten car pile up. 

Last year I took trapeze lessons and loved it, but then my carpal tunnel started playing up and my hands would go numb when I was trying to support myself whilst 9 foot in the air. Also I became unable to type which is a major disadvantage in a student with lots of overdue essays. (Seriously, everything about me is broken, if I was a horse they'd have shot me by now)

So the result is? I don't do anything, I don't buy a bike or a gym membership and just sit at home eating biscuits and telling myself I wouldn't want to live in a post apocalyptic zombie infested world anyway.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Cheer Up Already

For me the worst thing about depression is when it sneaks up on, when you honestly do believe that you're in a great place and doing really well and anxiety is the furthest thing from your mind. Then you realise that you've not left the flat in three days, the thought of doing work rather then watch YouTube videos fills you with a cold dread and you can't imagine being happy again for some time. Which means you are not happy right now and actually you haven't been for over a week, oh sure you've laughed at things and been glad there's ice cream in the freezer, but not being actively miserable is not the same as being happy.

Sometimes we need more introspection, I have been told there are people capable of recognising when they're beginning a downward spiral in the first instances of it happening. I've been told that I need to be "more mindful" and to check in with myself throughout the day and ask myself how I'm really feeling. The problem is I am really good at lying, especially to myself. 


I spent years (lots of them) not so much avoiding asking for help but resolutely denying that anything was wrong. Depression was a thing that happened, it happened to lots of people and there was no shame in it, my school did lots of work teaching us about why there shouldn't be any stigmas attached to mental health issues. Theoretically, I agreed whole heartedly that there is no shame in asking for help or receiving it, there nothing more to be embarrassed about having depression as there is epilepsy. But I also understand, on a cognitive level, that chocolate fudge brownies aren't a good breakfast (who am I kidding, they're the BEST breakfast) it's better to wash dishes after a meal so they're ready when you next want to use them than to have to wash up before you start cooking. 

Depression became then a thing that happened to other people, they had nothing to be ashamed of and they should be helped, but my problems weren't as bad as theirs and my life was pretty great, what right did I have to complain when there were people with real problems struggling every day. The thing is illness doesn't care, like the actress who gets a chest infection and loses her voice on opening night depression makes very few allowances for your feelings and instead crushes over them. 

Just because you know something doesn't mean you accept it and just because you think something is true when it applies to other people doesn't mean you extend yourself the same respect. The worst thing about depression is when you realise that in order to nip it in the bud you should have acted three days ago.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Commitment Issues

So I read blogs most days, probably everyday that I'm online I'll find myself clicking onto blogger and seeing what new posts have gone up. I'm a terrible participant in the blogging online community though, I hardly ever comment or respond, I don't interact with issues, I'm very much a long term 'lurker' (that's still what the cool kids say, right?) I don't retweet, or tweet at all really, videos go un-liked and questions are left un-responded to. 

I think it's a case of since I'm sitting alone, in my room with my laptop I don't feel like I'm required to do anything, I read/listen/watch/etc what I came for, maybe a click a few more links, maybe I subscribe and then I leave and go off somewhere else. I get that is rude, I know I wouldn't walk into a restaurant and act like a panda (convoluted literary jokes FTW) but the internet makes it so easy. I don't use my online anonymity as an excuse to be aggressive, bullying, belittling or behave illegally but I do treat it as an excuse to forget my manners.

I also get annoyed with the people who write my favourite blogs when they haven't posted in a few weeks, days, hours, oh-my-god-just-tell-me-where-you-live-already (restraining order, what restraining order?I mean really, how hard can it be to just log on and type up a couple of paragraphs about whatever you've been up to, through in a couple of vaguely related pictures to break up the wall of text and publish it? The pictures don't even have to be original, copy+paste from your instagram feed or just grab something pretty off Pinterest.

Taking my own advice.
But then, I started my own blog and I've posted like 15 times or something stupid in the past six months. 

Bad Joy! *slaps self on wrist* *remembers violence is never the answer* Let's just hug it out and agree to try harder?

Anyway, I'm back in Glasgow now, I have university and dissertations and late night drinking sessions and walks home because I accidently spent the taxi fare on shots on sambuca and so many books that should have read by now and so little time until graduation and oh god what am I going to do next?

If that sounded like the beginnings of a mental break down, it wasn't (the breakdown has been well underway for some time) but who knows what will happen next! So hopefully I'll do this more and hopefully I'll have more interesting things to write about next time.

I'm also going to try and put myself out there more, leave comments and respond to questions. Socialise is, I think, the word.

Friday, 23 August 2013

I can't be trusted in bookshops alone

I love to read, give me books and cups of tea and leave me alone, I won't complain.


Books are something you can take outside and sit reading while you enjoy the sunshine, or you can curl up with one under blankets at the fireside.

Oh goody! If it's raining I can spend all day inside with my books
Most of the books, and many of the clothes, I own are second hand (at least) charity shops are my supplier of choice.

They have clothes that come in a variety of styles and qualities, Hobbs and Jaeger often sharing a rail with Primark, all at prices I can totally afford. Some days you're going to want to buy everything, some days you won't see a thing. You learn to be decisive as well, that dress might be exactly the perfect thing for that event and just the right colour to match your shoes and only £3.99- but it's four sizes too big and those sweat stains under the arms probably aren't coming out so don't bother. On the other hand you would never have picked up a lilac silk blouse with yellow and turquoise swirls when it was full price, but at only £2.50 it's worth a chance.

Books are the same, you get to see everything all lined up together, occasionally there are attempts to separate them into sections of "Crime" "Romance" and "General Fiction" but generally only in the bigger shops, or ones entirely devoted to books. I prefer the ones where everything is just piled in, no attempt to order alphabetically or by size or anything, just put it where ever it fits and let the covers fight it out. This way you don't start looking with any preconceived ideas, it's just a gamble of whatever you pick up.

Admittedly it can still be as hit and miss as the clothing section, that book so many people have raved about but which seems to missing the first chapter? A Christmas Carol? You have always told yourself you'll read it one day, and for only 50p...

Sometimes the books you buy in charity shops aren't the prettiest editions, but it really is what's on the inside that counts and for less than two quid are you really going to be picky? Books that spend a couple of weeks in the bestsellers charts will generally always be found in charity shops, I picked up a copy of Caitlin Moran's How To Be A Woman about a fortnight after it had been released in paperback. That was one which went straight back almost immediately but it had only cost me £1 and that money went to a cause so I don't feel in the slightest bit miffed that I didn't enjoy the book. If however I'd have shelled out the RRP of £7.99 for a paperback with a boring cover, well... On the other hand I picked up Arabella by Georgette Heyer a while ago and every day is a struggle not to order her complete works.

I do buy full priced books, sometimes I even buy ones that I end up hating, but not often, I buy books upon their release when they're from an author I adore and if I see a special edition of a book I love (the Penguin clothbound editions for example...

Beautiful books are a luxury but books and stories aren't, second hand clothes might give you the squicks so walk past them, support charities and fill your houses with literature.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

In the event of a zombie apocalypse...

Today I filled out a job application, for a job I'd really like to get, not only to help pay for things like rent and food but because it's an awesome job and something I'd really like to do.

The application was so difficult though, it launched me into one of those pesky existential crises that so dramatically effect French philosophers and teenagers, or people approaching new phases of their life. Anything that starts with "Outline a time when you..." or "Describe an occasion when you..." demands of you looking back and evaluating your actions. You start trying to analyse everything you've ever done so you can distill the experience down to 250 words and use it to convince a stranger that they should offer you employment.

I read Max Brooks World War Z recently and there is a portion of it set in post-armageddon LA where there are a whole bunch of big TV producers and stars being retrained in how to effectively clean a toilet. We also meet characters, a film director is one that stands out, who as society tries to rebuild itself are told they are unskilled useless people, essentially. They can move rubble and help dig graves but really aren't good for anything.

This led to the inevitable pondering of "What would I do if there was a zombie apocalypse/civilisation destroying event of your choosing?" Assuming I found a way to survive the initial onslaught by what could I do next? What skills could I add to the mix of humanity to make sure that we rebuilt ourselves?

That then led me to the inevitable epiphany of "Shit, never mind a zombie apocalypse, what can I do now? What assets do I have that I can use to benefit society or at least my bank balance?"

I've done a lot, I've lived abroad, I'm an ace public speaker, tell me to get something done and come hell or high water it will be done. But I lack direction and motivation to make my own decisions, I struggle when somebody asks me what I want to do because my own ambitions seem dreamy and unattainable. Also, you know the old thing of You can be ANYTHING you want, but you can't be EVERYTHING yeah, that shit pisses me off. Choosing to do something, I find, makes all the difference but without an end game in mind I flounder and when you can be anything you want, how can you possibly choose?

Well, that turned out heavier than I expected it to when I started...

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Lazy lifetimes slip away.

So I'm a student and at the minute there is no uni, it comes back in a few weeks and next summer I graduate which means this summer is possible my last summer holiday that will last long enough for me to wish it could hurry up a bit.

How am I spending it then, you cry? Watching TV, a lot of television and films and books and occasionally leaving the house but I'm on a strict budget of zero and that interferes somewhat with what can be achieved. This isn't entirely voluntary, when I was away on my epic trek round Greece and Turkey I hurt my hip, nothing to serious, but it needs rest and walking more than about two miles or cycling more than five or standing up for too long becomes quite painful.

C'est la vie.

I've been trying to think about the future in a kind of "Oh christ I graduate soon what am I going to do" sort of way. It hasn't gone well, I get all confused and stressed and have to go away and read or cuddle puppies for an hour to regain some equilibrium.

So on the future front, I've given up. I have never had that knack some people do of knowing where I want to be past a couple of years anyway, I don't have a defined life goal or career objective, I know that if I knew what I wanted to do then I could just work on getting there but I don't so I can't. Instead I'm just trying to focus on the present, what do I want to be doing right now, pick an activity goal for the week and work towards that. This blog is one of those sort of goals, I want to write more and I want to write things people actually read so I'm starting small, I'm putting it on the internet in a quiet personal sort of way and just seeing what happens.

I've been out on the bike a fair bit, getting fresh air and exercise and hoping I'll keep it up. I've been making things, dying silk scarves in the hopes of making some money off them, so far though I've only made a few and I haven't got around to doing anything but looking at them and thinking "They're quite pretty, someone would probably think they were worth something" but I haven't taken photographs to advertise them with or anything yet.

Blergh. Here's to progress, let's hope we make some.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

The Harpy Reads: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

So one of the things I did when I was on my epic odyssey round Greece and Turkey (and if you saw what I did there you get extra Classics geek points) was read a lot. I read a fair bit anyway, but I knew that this was going to be a long trip that involved a lot of bus rides, ferry boats and generally waiting around in between doing the amazing things I had planned.

I know that when I left I took a selection of books, unfortunately I can’t find the photo of them that I’m certain I took nor can I remember them all. 

The one I really do remember though was this:


Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is a book I’ve tried to read so many times before, when it first came out (nearly ten years ago!) it got all sorts of rave reviews and stayed on the New York Time’s bestseller list for eleven weeks. I’ve bought at least three copies (from charity shops, my love of books does not exceed my love of being able to afford food) and they have sat there looking at me, willing me to read them before being sent back for taking up too much space. When I tried to read it I’ve always encountered the same problems.

It’s a very big book. Huge. 1024 pages according to Amazon. This means it’s heavy to carry around with you and it’s difficult to hold, especially if you’re like me and you have hands that cramp up easily.

It’s a slow burner. This is not a book that grabs you from the word go, I know people who are of the opinion that life is to short and if you have to stick with a book for more than 20 pages to get into it then it’s just not worth it. Stick with it for 50.

By the time you get to page 50 you will, I promise, be invested. It took a little while for it to fall into place for me just how clever Susanna Clarke had been, not only has she written a beautiful world, delightful characters and a charming story, she’s done it with style! This book is written in a way which echos a historical tome, it’s a little dry in places and there were passages that could have been cut to give it more zip and speed but that would have spoilt the overall effect.

Half fairy tale and half historic accounting.

The story centres around a single idea: it is 1806 and magic has left England, the great magicians of old have all faded away and are now remembered as “practical magicians” by the new breed of “theoretical magicians” who meet to discuss and analyse the idea of magic. The book opens at one such meeting where the young gentleman Mr Segundus is prompted to ask why magic has left England, where has it gone and will it ever return? These are not the sort of questions, it turns out, you ask at a meeting of English Magicians who cannot do magic. Something though is changing and through two men, see title, magic is being returned to England.

Can you guess how that goes? They both come at the same problem from essentially opposite directions and much chaos ensues.

Jonathan Strange, a young man who falls into magic almost accidentally as a means to impress a girl, is far closer to what I think most of us would expect a magician to approach magic, there’s a lot of airy fairy hippy imagination and creativity goes into his magic.

Mr Norrell is older and more curmudgeonly and set in his ways, he views magic as an academic undertaking, treating it almost scientifically as something limited and volatile.

There are so many other characters woven in, with so many wonderful stories of their own, the man with the thistle down hair, the King of England, the magnificent Stephen and the dreadful Drawlight, to name but a few. We follow these characters all over Europe, on a far more detailed tour of England and into the other realms that Clarke has created.

One of the things I most enjoyed was how Clarke had built her world in a parallel to our own and there were historical details sprinkled throughout to show how she’d done her homework. These ranged from the kinds of drinks and fashions her characters enjoyed to discussing how real Napoleonic battles might have gone differently had magic been a consideration.

I really enjoyed this book, once I got into it but like I said that took a few goes. This is perfect as a holiday read, if you’re going somewhere and you’ll have a lot of time to sit around and read and enjoy a good story unfolding then get this. 

Julian Fellows, of Downton Abbey fame, is currently adapting it into a feature length screenplay and the BBC are filming a seven part adaptation for television so give it a go and see what all the fuss is about.

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Happiness is...

Riding bicycles very quickly through quiet roads, trying to make it home before the rain (and failing!)

Her name is Rosie and she's perfect. Also, technically, my mother's bicycle.

Puppies falling asleep on you.
I call these my "sexy pajamas"

Reading books in the evening sunshine while the breeze carries scents of jasmine and gardenia.

I would pay exceptional amounts of money for a perfume that smelt like this flower in the evening sun.
Delicious, delicious, summer.

Children in fountains on hot summer days.
Williamson Square, Liverpool.

I really love the way the sun peeks through them.
Thanks to Alice for the inspiration for this post, I'm not sure I'll have her commitment to writing one every week, but it is good for the soul to look back now and again.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013


Pour the Pimms, dig out the bunting (bunting manufactures must be enjoying the greatest boom of all time, a Royal wedding, a jubilee, the Olympics and now a Royal baby. At least we're getting our money's worth) and set off the canons. If you've been living under an isolated rock with no internet connection you probably still heard that on Monday Prince Harry was ousted as third in line to the throne by his brand new nephew. 

Happy Family.

HRH Baby Cambridge still doesn't have a proper name (maybe they only planned for a girl?) but if they're open to suggestions I think HRH Tarquin Rupert Merryweather Cambridge has a good ring to it. My dad wants them to have a bit of fun and go with Austin.

The bonny blue might match his eyes.
I love babies, especially all the fun of naming them. This speculation over what Baby Cambridge will be called is my bread and butter. Now I'm not a Katie Hopkins but I do think names are important, that you want a name that's just as comfortable scrubbing floors as wearing a diadem and can kick ass in its spare time. Pretty sure I ripped that line from a Terry Pratchett book.

I only have the one name, Joy, which is a lovely name. It suits me in its own way. People generally remember it and I'm often told how 'nice' it is when filling in forms or introducing myself to new people. It has its flaws though, there's not much I can do with it, I am just Joy to everyone (or occasionally 'Harpy' but only to a certain someone) I never suited nicknames, Joyful and Joyous were as close as they came. I've never had much choice about my name, I don't even have a middle name I can fall back on to use and I've never been able to buy stuff with my name on. Except at Christmas and that doesn't really count. There aren't many ways you can personalise a single syllable really. I am Joy to my family, to my friends, to colleagues, employers and enemies. 

My children will not have this issue.

They will have many (many, many, many) other issues, but they will have plenty of names with which to disguise their identities. Three names has always felt like a reasonable number to give someone, that way I can give them a name, an epic name and something to fall back on in case it all goes wrong and they become accountants.

The current list is not set in stone, the fact that I haven't found some of the right names yet means there are gaps and I am, of course, open to the fact that all those crazy pregnancy hormones might come into it and in my befuddled post natal state let the father express an opinion. That seems unlikely however.

  1. Esmeralda Rose ????
  2. Anastasia Temperance Mayhem
  3. Guinevera Hero ????
  1. Lawrence Horatio Quantum
  2. Dylan Sebastian ????
  3. Oliver Danger Gwion

But like I said, this list isn't set in stone and I'm opening to new suggestions.

Monday, 22 July 2013


(The Titantic sinks, Romeo and Juliet die, the plot line of Macbeth is another one of those that can be talked about without needing a spoiler warning, right? If not, SPOILERS)

Nine minutes. 

Nine minutes is all it took for the tickets to see Macbeth at the Manchester International Festival (MIF) sell out. I’m not sure if it was an honest mistake that they all went on sale at the same time instead of being slowly made available, the way festival and music concert tickets are, or if the organisers perhaps did not thinks the citizens of Manchester would be terribly interested in seeing five time Oscar nominated Kenneth Branagh prance about in a skirt while his wife went mad. 

This was never meant to be a production seen by thousands, Branagh and co-director Rob Ashford chose a de-consecrated Anglican church with a capacity of 281 as their stage.  Very quickly though MIF saw an opportunity to take the magic further and announced a “Big Screen Relay” a live broadcast of the play onto a giant open air screen in Manchester City centre. I snaffled two of those tickets up for a very reasonable £8 each and took my dearly beloved to celebrate our third anniversary. It didn’t take long for the organisers to realise though that they had again underestimated just how excited the Great British public were for this. NT Live to the rescue.

National Theatre Live have been broadcasting plays from the National Theatre to cinemas all over the UK, and eventually the world, since 2009. In that time it has beamed out 25 different productions of everything from an adaptation of Terry Pratchett’s Nation to Shakespeare’s Macbeth and has reached audiences of over 1.3 million people all over the world [x]. It was one of the bravest and most magnificent leaps of faith that any business, never mind one in an industry as faltering as The Arts, has made in the past decade. Can you imagine the pitch? “Well, plays are just like films, right? Expect you watch them all at once and just pretend not to see the scene changes. What if we filmed a play, like onstage with an audience watching, and put it on at the cinema and people could watch it like a film.” I’m so glad they took the gamble, when they broadcast This House earlier this year 45,000 people got to see it in one night. I don’t know how many people were watching it in cinemas, but there were a few thousand of us sat on the tarmac of the Bridgewater Hall car park.

Macbeth is not easy role; the reluctance to accept his own desires, making a devil’s pact with his wife, the haunting of knowing what he has done and the slow descent into a paranoid madness. Branagh captured it. You could see the cogs turning as his character made decisions, his whole body changed as he portrayed the aging man who took himself from Thane to uneasy King. Mac Bethad was a real king of Scotland after all who reigned for about 17 years, in films there are many tricks to age actors portraying a large chunk of time but it takes a real crafts man to show it happening by himself. This was Branagh’s first turn as Macbeth but he brought twenty-nine years of Shakespearean love and experience with him. He was not afraid of the language or of experimenting with it, he avoided just waxing lyrically in iambic pentameter but brought out the deep feelings in the poetry. It was a joy to watch a master at work.

I first studied Macbeth in school when I was 12, I went to an all girls school with more than its fair share of ambitious potential tyrants, so when we read it there was a lot of focus on Lady Macbeth. (Sidenote: I’ve just realised when I was twelve was ten years ago. Aging, urgh, it sneaks up on you.) Alex Kingston played Lady M, I know her best as River Song in the re-booted Dr Who. I had high expectations, I always do for that role because it’s one that I’ve gone back to over the years, she’s the person in the play I find most interesting, and it’s a role I would love to perform one day. I was not blown away by Ms Kingston’s portrayal.

Lady Macbeth convinces her husband of what must be done, she is the one with ruthless ambitions for him; and they are for him, she wants Macbeth to be all that he can be- King of Scotland- the fact that she would be his Queen is not her motivation. She holds him together and tries to cover up the cracks appearing in his psyche but she is consumed with her own guilt, guilt that is heavily repressed until it is clear her marriage is a broken thing. Lady Macbeth starts as the calculating and rational woman commanding her husband for his own sake, she ticks slowly towards madness. For me Kingston’s performance was a little to manic from the start, she was passionate and feisty and all good things in River Song but I didn’t quite see the strong metal I was looking for.

The other standout performance was Ray Fearon as Macduff. His heart wrenching howls of pain as he received the news of his own personal tragedy, the charged dialogue as he slowly crumpled down to lie huddled on the floor took my breath away. It was a vivid contrast to Branagh and his slow disconnection from everything that happened to him. The pace of the whole show kept you on the edge of your picnic blanket, there were moments I wished they'd allowed an extra second of pause between scenes but it brought a sense of the political chaos that was unfolding to the forefront.

The staging taking place in a church worked well, the audience was seated on both sides of a wide, mud filled aisle that served as the only set. They were very much in the thick of it with deaths taking place what sometimes appeared to close for comfort as audience members could be seen leaning back and recoiling. It was also very hot, the constant fanning of programmes made certain that this was a live show and a real audience, not one that had been prepped to stay static and think about the film cameras all around them. I’m glad I saw it in the open air though, there was something about the sky naturally darkening, the daylight and city noises fading that added to the magic.

There was love, treachery, swords fights, great choreography, impeccable acting and all in all 4.5 stars. Go and see it.

NTLive will be bringing Macbeth back, find out more HERE

Sunday, 14 July 2013

So... Writing about things

I've done a first blog, an introductory one and I've written a few "Argh! What do I put here, have a sentence and another one and oh god can we all agree that this is a real topic? Yes? Good."

I like the idea of blogging, I read lots of them and quite often they aren't about anything as such just the musings of women with internet access and a need for creative outlet or something. There seems to be a lot of quarter life crises going round as well.

Oh! And weddings, why do weddings prompt such a massive outpouring of previously undiscovered blogger talent? Is it because when you've spent so long obsessing over a certain day that ultimately comes down to you standing around and declaring your undying love for someone, bearing your soul in the open to a room full of close friends and people you barely know, suddenly the idea of sharing things with anonymous strangers on the internet seems less of a big deal?

There are lots of people who seem to start them because they know other people who blog, either through their blog or in real life. I don't any of the people who's blogs I follow, nor do I think I know anyone who blogs. I don't even know what I want to do with this.

Should I do outfit posts and talk about beauty tips? No, I can't see that happening, I my idea of a make up tip is "if you sharpen your eyeliner, you can get a finer line" and "Make sure you rub your foundation in properly so you don't have a tide mark around your hairline." Pro tips there, I imagine they'll be in all the magazines next month while I do a cover shoot for Vogue.

I'm not getting married anytime soon and I don't have a baby, so that's two major sources of "stuff to write about that people care about" crossed off.

I do like to read, I could do book reviews, but generally I think they'd turn into "Yeah, good book that, if you like detective mysteries give it a go" after a while.

So why limit myself? I can post posts about whatever I like and probably will. If I pair a particularly fetching coat with some expertly applied eyeliner you might get to see it, if I can think of something witty to say about a gripping book I'll probably say it. I might even bake a cake.

For at least the foreseeable future though this blog will probably mostly consist of pictures of my mother's adorable dogs and, while it lasts, the glory of the British summertime.