Thursday, 10 December 2015

Mother of the Bride On a Serious High!

The main reason I write my blog is not just for the joy of writing - which I do find quite joyous, incidentally - but for the ability to look back and recall the moments in my life that have made me so happy, and sometimes, so sad. And there have been quite a few of the latter over the last eighteen months. But for sheer bellybustingly, absolutely brilliant happiness, last weekend will definitely take some beating.

I can't give a blow-by-blow account of the whole weekend, nor can I view it from anyone else's perspective but my own or even attempt to be in the least bit objective. But I can tell you, and record it here so that I can look back on it in the months and years to come, some of the fabulous, incredibly special moments that made my daughter's wedding one of - if not The - happiest time in my life.

I now realise that watching your daughter get married is one of those things that you can't fully appreciate until it happens to you. And to have all my family all in the same place and all the people that I love most in the whole world right there, celebrating so something entirely wonderful - well, there are simply not enough superlatives in my vocabulary.

The months of preparation, spreadsheeting, collecting and delivering started to come to fruition on the Friday when we (the bride and I) arrived at Denton Hall. We had a meeting with the Box Tree team and the Denton team and I made a conscious decision not to interfere, intervene or interrupt - tough call for me! Afterwards, having more or less succeeded in not 'inter-ing', my daughter told me off for pulling faces - sometimes you just can't win.

After the rehearsal (oh my goodness, this is all getting a bit real now) during which the intrepid granny gave number 3 a tongue-lashing for slouching, not bowing at the altar and general lack of respectful behaviour in church, (see later...) we headed out for pizza/pasta 'en famille' as we would be for the very last time. Just us Barrs... and the intrepid granny. Then the three girls and I went back to Denton for our last night sleepover. All together in two double beds with chat and hugs, I loved it so much I suggested we should do this every Friday night. You can imagine the dull thud with which that landed but I didn't care.

The next day after an entire morning of titivating - hair, make up, getting the dresses on etc we were ready to walk the few yards to church. By now, the forecast had proved itself somewhat inaccurate - it was actually worse than predicted - horizontal rain and wind blowing across the valley with a venom. It didn't matter one bit. My lovely son (wearing an over-large suit because his father had insisted that his own waist and his son's were a similar size - duh!) walked me to church and down the aisle past the people who love the bride and groom and our families. We were in the choir stalls because although the mother of the bride i.e. me, has no official role in the service, number 3 was reading the lesson and it was perfect to be right next to my beloved when he gave his daughter away.

The whole wedding party looked breath-taking. My genetic masterplan for engineering beautiful daughters by marrying a man with a nose small enough to counteract my rather large conk seems to have paid off. And my friend Big T did point out that I had produced a neapolitan ice cream of daughters, blond, strawberry and chocolate - hair colour that is. My beloved sang his entirely own words to the hymns because he couldn't read the service sheet and number 3 absolutely rocked the lesson, proving that a tongue-lashing from the intrepid granny is sometimes well placed. He even bowed to the altar on the way to the lectern and on the way back, though on the return trip he bowed to the photographer instead as Giles was just moving out of the way at the time.

Despite having to dispense with the biodegradable confetti-throwing outside the church - weather getting worse now - we walked back to Denton Hall with only one or two umbrellas blown inside out and a few folks that sent for their cars to collect them.

The photographs by the fabulous Giles Rocholl (utterly brilliant and massively recommended) went past in a blur of relatives, groomsmen, hens, dog, and so on whilst the groomsmen - easy to spot in their blue suits - hoovered the canap├ęs before they made it down to the far end of the room. The waiting staff were encouraged to avoid them but I suspect it was like trying to touch down the ball against a New Zealand ruck. And then through to the wedding breakfast in what must be the most glamorous cafeteria in Yorkshire!

And the speeches... In typical fashion, no father of the bride speechwriting had occurred in our house until Thursday evening when number 1 took control of the situation and made it all happen. I don't know why I worry (well, I do actually) because he absolutely pulled it off and I'm going to paste the speech at the end in case I ever lose the copy I have here. Lots of family jokes and bits that made me want to cry. He nailed it. (This is my blog so I am allowed to express my views without apology!)

The groom did a similarly good job with more references to number 2's achilles heel - cycling and balance in general - and the best men managed not to embarrass the groom too much though I suspect they could have done. And then the formal part was over and dancing and drinking were the order of the day.

Having cut the cake with Dad's sword which I think my new son in law enjoyed brandishing, even momentarily, the first dance started with the bride and groom making us all dewy-eyed before the family made their pitch invasion. In fact, this is one of my absolute stand-out moments. When you've watched years of bickering (and worse), practical joking, competitive behaviour and all the other things that go into siblings growing up together, there is something entirely magic about them all dancing, enjoying the special moment of us being all together and celebrating. I may go dewy-eyed again...

I woke up the next morning thinking I had probably been the most rubbish hostess. If that's the case, then please accept my apologies but I was having the best time and somehow all my hostess duties seemed to go out of my head with the joy of the day and the celebration. It was simply the best.

So thank you to everyone who came along and helped us celebrate. To Ian and Jean (the new in-laws) who know how to rock the dance floor and have produced the most delightful son-in-law. To everyone who helped to make it happen at the church, at Denton and from the Box Tree. And finally a few special thank you's from me. Firstly to the singing, dancing doctors who got me over the line healthwise, especially when events the previous week might have derailed me. To Jo at Lights4Fun and Sarah at Parlane for making us all very twinkly. To David Robinson at The Story of O for persuading my hair to be viable and styled for the day (which took us nearly all year to achieve from nothing in January!), to Elaine Thomas for painting all our nails and making me feel confident about my appearance over the last twelve months, Jessica Robinson for designing and making my hat which I only decided to have at the very last minute and especially to Jillian Welch. Jillian made my ensemble from an idea and a sketch and made the process of having an outfit made an absolute joy from start to finish.

And do you know what the best thing is? We'll be doing it all again in April and I can't wait!!

Father of the Bride Speech

1 Smile
2 Don't add any extra words - trust me you don't need them
3 Take your time - enjoy all the laughter you're going to get!

In the words of 'My Best Friend's Wedding', one of Antonia's favourite films, "If you love someone you say it, you say it right then, out loud. Otherwise the moment just passes you by." (Turn to Antonia and say/mouth I love you.)

I thought I would get thought out of the way in case I'm in trouble with my daughter by the end of this.

Well we are here to celebrate the marriage of two accountants. So it is probably no surprise that this entire wedding has been planned around a spreadsheet. In fact, on July 12th 2014 at 14.55 the same afternoon that Jonathan had proposed, I received the following text:

"Popping the ring on Antonia has unleashed a beast. She is marching around with the iPad making lists and lists in relation to the wedding! Relentless!"

For those of you who haven't met me I am Robert, the proud father of Antonia or what she would refer to as 'the missing cell'. I hope that is only because this is the only unplanned part of their fabulous wedding, clearly the part she has had no control over. So, though Antonia has the plan, I say I am the unplanned. Chaos may yet reign.

In the words of pppppppppppp porky pig....

You may hear a few references to Antonia's favourite film, Mrs Doubtfire. So to Antonia, all I can say is "Brace yourself Effie!"

But first I must manage to do some parts of my duty as father of the bride, which is to say a big thank you from Caroline and me, Ian and Jean, Jonathan and Antonia to all of you for making the huge effort to come here to Yorkshire, God's Own Country, in the depths of winter. To celebrate their happiness and ours. To celebrate their joining today in holy matrimony in the presence of the holy spigot... I mean spirit.

Most of you here today have only known Antonia as a grown up. But for some of us, you might think that has been the case since she was born. Because she was born with a tooth.

But from the very moment she was born, we have always known what an extraordinary woman she was going to develop into. And today she has undoubtedly taken my breath away with her stunning and commanding beauty.

It has been said that she takes after her Great Grandmother - Millicent - who was often likened to Attila the Hun and even Genghis Khan. Some of you who have known Antonia more recently may recognise this version. However, it was not always thus; in fact, when she was very young her first nickname was 'The Baddie'.

At the age of two, she brought Harrods to a standstill having covered her entire face and head in chocolate whilst we were sitting quietly oblivious to the effect she was having as we enjoyed our afternoon tea. She also used to frequently climb into the coal bucket when we were watching television.

When she was four, she progressed to the name 'The Wizza' - because she insisted on putting her clothes on back to front and we had to swizzle them round. A duty I am very happy to pass on to Jonathan now, for when Antonia had had too much to drink. Removing clothes has been known  to become extraordinarily difficult as well as finding house keys and so on...

So the Wizza... although hugely intelligent, The Whizza is quite capable of putting her foot in it. When aged 9 years old and at a scholarship interview for Harrogate Ladies' College, the headmistress asked Antonia where she saw her future career prospects, to which she replied: "As the manager of Formula 1." This interest in racing progressed into annual visits to Silverstone for Antonia and me where she demonstrated a far superior knowledge of Grand Prix than the other 15 boys and fathers on the same trip - a quality of which I was immensely proud. Whilst this is a more subdued hobby these days (except for her rather eccentric driving) she did ring me a few years ago very upset having discovered that Ferrari didn't make cars for anybody under the height of 5'4".

Going back to pppppppppppp porky pig, as a young girl, Antonia's most cherished and loved soft toy was a wee pink beastie called Pig Pog. The only kind of love and devotion I can compare her love of Pig Pog to is the love she has for Jonathan and his gorgeous dog Milton. For a while I thought it could have been mainly for his dog but I am sure today that it is Jonathan who comes first and Milton is, perhaps (only for today) taking the back seat. Usually Milton likes to drive!

Another reason Antonia is said to have taken after her great grandmother is because of her red hair. In primary school, she was always getting into trouble - matching her earlier reputation as The Baddie. She conveniently passed off any blame as being entirely attributable to her red hair claiming it made her far more noticeable when fleeing the scene of the crime.

Whilst this disclaimer is no longer used, you will still find that nothing is ever her fault. As Jonathan and all of her siblings will testify.

Dressing up was a big part of Antonia's middle years. At Warwick University, there are over 1,000 photographs of Antonia dressed in different outfits including many different hats. Whilst unfortunately her flourishing career doesn't give her much dressing up time these days, when not in London she is usually at Eggborough Power Station where she has a special children's sized hard hat and overalls to wear at work.

Although Caroline might not have red hair, there is a fearsome likeness between mother and daughter. And so as I turn to Jonathan to wish him my very best, I could pass on 30 years of experience. Perhaps today that might be unfair. And possibly even inappropriate. 

Some of you might know that one of the more infamous skill gaps in Antonia's life is cycling. Something she neglected to mention when she first met Jonathan. However, on her first proper introduction to Ian and Jean, whilst on holiday, she revealed this terrible vulnerability in a classic moment of attempting to steer round a corner (without stabilisers) and crashing headlong into the fence in front of her. 

Antonia insisted it was a "run-by fruiting' that distracted her and caused it. But none of us believed her.

As a father, I can only hope in passing the reins of care to Jonathan, that he might be able to help Antonia to avoid such accidents in the future. 

But seriously, it has been an immense pleasure watching Antonia grow up and seeing her achieve, time and time again, what for most of us would simply be unachievable. She has set goals that most of us would not even dream of accomplishing and whooped them with ease on every occasion. Prize after prize and top marks in everything she has set out to tackle. This makes me unspeakably proud and hugely delighted to have had the privilege of being her father and to have seen her go on to achieve the highest levels in her profession. I now pass the responsibility for her lifelong care into Jonathan's capable hands. Somehow I think they will take care of each other in equal measure just as they have evolved in their relationship so far - bottle for bottle, glass for glass, dog walk for dog walk. But Jonathan, any time you feel like you might be suffering, let me know and I look forward to meeting you at The Old Bell to map out our future strategy as we are now not just in-laws but officially partners-in-crime. 

Please raise a toast for ... Jonathan and Antonia. 

Monday, 30 November 2015

Drama on drama or just a case of really bad timing?

As the seasons turn in this north Yorkshire village, so we move from celebrating May Day complete with choreographed pole dancing (!), Feast (without the preposition, just Feast!) in the summer, through to Halloween, Remembrance Sunday and then to the Pantomime.

Each year, it is a joyfully hilarious celebration of gutsy singing, terrible jokes, audience participation, amazing costumes - especially for the dame - and sums up a great deal of what village life is about. Otherwise perfectly normal people paint false moustaches, dress up as members of the opposite sex, slap thighs and take custard pies... well, on the chin. The effort that goes into this is truly phenomenal and if it runs to nearly the length of The Ring Cycle, then so be it.

Normally the final night of the Panto would have been this Saturday but because two cast members of Robinson Crusoe and the Pirates - namely Robinson Crusoe herself and one of the aforementioned Pirates - will be joining us at The Wedding, the Panto started a day early in order to release them for our own celebration. So it would have been churlish not to go along last Friday. Actually it would have taken several wild horses for us to miss it. Who can forget the multitude of nearly completed costume changes by the dame - great wiggle in the Beyonce dress, I thought! Or the orange starfish, or indeed the tightness of the trousers of one of the cricket team... Enough drama to sustain us until our own drama begins this weekend. Or so we thought...

Waking up with excruciating chest pains and an inability to breath at 1.00am that night was not in the plan. I eventually managed to sit up and call my beloved for help. If I said it was frightening I don't think fear actually entered my head. I was too busy trying to breathe against the tightening across my chest and upper arms. My beloved suggested he call the dancing doctor (married to the singing doctor who had been slapping her thigh as Robinson Crusoe earlier in the evening). I nodded, because it was hard enough to breathe, let alone speak. Within a very few minutes (he must sleep with his clothes on) he was there, taking my pulse - 'weak, thready' and taking in my obviously not-looking-my best appearance. Hospital, he pronounced. My beloved immediately said he would take me. I was breathing somewhere near normally by now but not taking much part in events. No, paramedics, now.

OK, I am now alert enough to be panicking myself and all I can see is my beautiful outfit for my beautiful daughter's beautiful wedding hanging on the front of the wardrobe. I might not get to wear this... (My number 1 daughter who read this in draft form would like me to point out here that it was not because I thought I was dying but more worried about how long I might be hospitalised for.) Don't let anyone tell you that the NHS is not brilliant in a crisis. Fifteen minutes later, my bedroom (not that big) is populated by me, my beloved, the dancing doctor, 3 paramedics and a machine rather larger than a microwave which has enough wires for broadband attached to various parts of me.

Now although nothing like this has ever happened to me before, I was feeling a bit of a fraud by now, but no amount of pleading was going to stop the paramedics taking me to hospital for what turned into a night of blood tests and chest x-rays. The long and short of it being that everything came back negative and although I've felt poorly for a few days I am now starting to feel better in time for the big day.

So thank you to the cast of thousands who made the panto so brilliant (see it if you can...) and to a similar sized cast who made sure that I am going to make it to the wedding - although it's only Thursday and so much could yet go wrong... The NHS is wonderful, everyone who looked after me here and at Harrogate Hospital was absolutely fantastic and worth every penny and more that we pay in tax.

So just a case of really bad timing? Oh no it isn't... Oh yes it is!

I wrote this last week before The Big Day which turned out to be the most wonderful, happiest weekend of my life so far. But you'll have to wait for the blog which may turn out to be of similar epic proportions to the aforementioned panto!! 

Monday, 9 November 2015

Wedding Fever - Getting a bit soppy here...

We are now rapidly counting down to the first of our children's weddings - number 2 marries the lovely JS in less than three weeks and it feels as though we have gone from serenely cruising towards the big day to rushing at it headlong. Nearly everything has been organised - most of it ages ago and nearly every detail micro-managed by the bride to be - as those of us who know her would expect!

But the significance of the day, the real meaning of all this dashing about with fabric swatches, lighting schemes, flower and hymn choices, has come home to roost now with me. For most importantly, their wedding day is just the first day of a life together of every days. Whilst we have had weeks and months planning the minutiae, now the greater significance of what lies ahead on November 28th is front and centre - a notion which perhaps one has to have been married for many years to truly understand.

A few weeks ago we were looking for suitable readings for the wedding of bride number 2, aka daughter number 1, who will be making her own way down the aisle at the end of April 2016. In our modern world, readings are not confined to the Bible or at best, the Bard. Now the bride and groom seek out passages and poems which mean a lot to them or reflect most closely their feelings for each other. In the course of looking out some readings for them, I found a number which resonated with me, and having taken out their choices - because it would be unfair to let the cat out of the bag at this point - I thought I would share some of them here.

It has to be said that perhaps they would not have been my choices thirty one and a half years ago. Shamefully, I cannot remember the reading we had on the day and my memories of the service are fleeting at best. Perhaps it takes the roller coaster of life together to shape one's thoughts and emotions on what it means to love and be loved, and to marry and be married. So here are a few which I thought were particularly beautiful. Not chosen by either of the current stock of brides but, you never know, by the end of April it will be two down and two to go so perhaps they will yet get an airing...

Once upon a time, there was a boy. He lived in a village that no longer exists, in a house that no longer exists, on the edge of a field that no longer exists, where everything was discovered, and everything was possible. A stick could be a sword, a pebble could be a diamond, a tree, a castle. Once upon a time, there was a boy who lived in a house across the field, from a girl who no longer exists. They made up a thousand games. She was queen and he was king. In the autumn light her hair shone like a crown. They collected the world in small handfuls, and when the sky grew dark, and they parted with leaves in their hair.
Once upon a time there was a boy who loved a girl, and her laughter was a question he wanted to spend his whole life answering.
"It doesn't interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for, and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart's longing.
It doesn't interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive.
It doesn't interest me what planets are squaring with your moon. I want to know if you have touched the center of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life's betrayals or have become shriveled and closed from fear of further pain. I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it or fade it or fix it.
I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own, if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, to be realistic, to remember the limitations of being human.
It doesn't interest me if the story you are telling me is true. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself; if you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul; if you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.
I want to know if you can see beauty, even when it's not pretty, every day, and if you can source your own life from its presence.
I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand on the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, ‘Yes!’
It doesn't interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up, after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone, and do what needs to be done to feed the children.
It doesn't interest me who you know or how you came to be here. I want to know if you will stand alone in the center of the fire with me and not shrink back....

I do not love you as if you were salt-rose, or topaz,
or the arrow of carnations the fire shoots off.
I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,
in secret, between the shadow and the soul.
I love you as the plant that never blooms
but carries in itself the light of hidden flowers;
thanks to your love a certain solid fragrance,
risen from the earth, lives darkly in my body.
I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where.
I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride;
so I love you because I know no other way
than this: where I does not exist, nor you,
so close that your hand on my chest is my hand,
so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep. 
Love. How to describe it? So that it endures - not gouged out like a scar on the all-too-visible soul but encrusted on the heart like a secret jewel. Sometimes only seen or felt by the two of you. And then at other times, it will shine like a beacon and other folks and fools will tell you how lucky you are. 
Don’t listen to people who tell you how lucky you are to find love. Perhaps your meeting was luck... or perhaps it was written in the stars. But what lies ahead has nothing to do with luck. Your commitment to each other - spoken here in front of those who love you more than you can ever know - is so much more than a moment of words. 
Love lies in the determination to face life’s challenges together. It lies in taking the bad with the good. On a sunny, happy day, you cannot imagine the mountains that will have to be climbed in unsuitable shoes.
You commit to each other a lifetime of making a home in your hearts - perhaps it will need to be big enough for a whole family. You commit to being the best you can be even when all you want to offer up is your worst. You commit to making decisions which are best for you both and not just for yourself. Harder than you might think. 
Love each other every day. Forgive each other for all your failings, however miserable. Share all the joy in equal measures for each other. Laugh together. Be the missing pieces in each other’s jigsaw. Not just for this blissful moment, but for always. 

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Rugby, Ball and Tough Mudders!

So now all the Northern Hemisphere nations are out of the Rugby World Cup, it's time to tot up the positives and negatives of the whole experience - at least from my point of view and accepting that others may disagree.

The first positive is that we didn't pay stupid amounts of money to go to Twickenham. We went to two great matches - one at Elland Road: Scotland v USA. Lots of running rugby, great atmosphere and ... happy men in kilts in quantity. For women of a certain age, this is perfection. The second match was at St James' Park in Newcastle and it was great to see the All Blacks play for the first time  (for me) and was part of a rather eventful evening of which more later.

Also no Stuart Barnes on the commentary team on ITV. Joy! He is surely the biggest killjoy of English rugby. Yes we were, and are, fabulous hosts but realistically we cannot cut the mustard in the world game anymore.

So the honest negatives: the pool of death - why did they do the draw three years before the event? Also being pragmatic, when the winner of the European player of the year for the last three years is English (one of those being Jonny obviously) why would you not get over yourself and pick Nick Abendenon and Steffon Armitage? Then there's the decision to let a player from another code cut his teeth on international rugby in the World Cup. Daft. And finally, what bright spark thought Paloma Faith should murder "The World in Yoooooooniyon" umpteen times a day? If I was Henry VIII I would have had her beheaded by now.

So on a more personal note, a week ago we managed to combine three of my most favourite things: seeing my gorgeous children (two out of four ain't bad), watching top class rugby and grooving round the dance floor with my beloved. A few weeks ago, the aforementioned told me we were going to a ball in Newcastle on a Friday night. No, I told him. I have an appointment with two hakas - All Blacks and Tonga - at St James' Park. So after a little toing and froing, we agreed that my beloved's partner for the ball would be number 4 child who would come down from Edinburgh and I would go on from the sub's bench after the rugby which I was attending with number 3 child.

But first we had to check in to our hotel which was - bonus for me! - full of Samoan rugby players. In fact, we conclusively proved that only 3 Samoan rugby players will fit in a standard hotel lift with no room for anyone else. And they were lovely, posing for photographs with the twins and generally being delightful. Alesana Tuilagi who plays for Newcastle Falcons and therefore a properly lovely chap, posed with both children.

So number 3 and I headed off to St James' Park, watched rugby and had a great time (another negative - see above - no Guinness! Rugby should always be accompanied by Guinness, surely everyone knows that!) and then returned to the hotel where number 3 was looking very gorgeous and had had dinner with my beloved and his delightful colleagues. It took less than an hour to walk from St James' Park, change out of my England rugby shirt and jeans and into my posh frock and be on the dance floor with my beloved. Not bad, eh?

And now a week on and I have today done my first Tough Mudder. This was one of Acorn's last events as we are winding up the charity next year so somehow I found myself not marshalling which was what I had intended to do, but running with Lady H. We started at the back (but that's not where we finished!) and headed off over fences and obstacles, struggling through ponds which had water shoulder-high for short folks like me and up hill and down dale over muddy terrain for a full 10k. So not last, but nearly - but more importantly, a year ago I could scarcely walk to the bottom of the garden and this week I have had my final cancer treatment (nurse with comedy-large syringe!) and now I can do a Tough Mudder! Happy me!

Friday, 2 October 2015

Barcelona... as Bookends.

So we've had three glorious days in Barcelona - one of our most favourite places  - and this time it has had a special significance.

This is our third visit to this eclectic, exhilarating city and each time we find new places to explore and old haunts to revisit. We have our 'must-do' restaurants and bars, shops and sights but this city of wide tree-lined boulevards and twisting narrow alleys always holds surprises. Why do we love it? Because it embraces the cosmopolitan (more later!) whilst remaining passionately Catalan. Because every museum, shop and bar packs a welcome to all whilst remaining sleek and stylish (can you imagine saying that about Leeds or York?) and the Catalan is very much on show as we arrive the day after the local elections. There are flags in the upstairs windows of every building declaring their allegiance to the independence of the red and yellow stripes. 

New things to us this this time included A Walk with Gaudi which having spent so much time at La Sagrada Familia on our last visit was the perfect way to try to understand Gaudi's use of light, colour and the shapes of nature. We also visited the underground Roman city and walked amongst its dye shops, wineries and laundries. But the highlight was certainly the Xavier Miserachs exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art. The Blanc i Negre exhibition of photographs from the early 1960s is an emotive tour of the faces and life of those times in Barcelona by the celebrated photographer

But as this is a short break with my beloved, it must also be a gastronomic tour. Included then is a return visit to Agua where the bustling city meets the beach culture and the superb food is accompanied by watching people learning to walk the high wire tied between two palm trees - just for fun! This is where we celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary in 2014. Returns too to two very contrasting tapas bars - Catalana on the Carrer de Mallorca where you fight for a seat at the bar amongst the suits and the tourists and the tapas and wine are delivered by expert and rapid bar staff. And to Irati, another tapas favourite which nestles in a narrow alley near Las Ramblas and could so easily be missed. Here you point to the tapas on the bar top and help yourself, waiting for the moment when the delicious hot tapas come from the kitchen and you hope that they make it far enough down the bar to reach you. Each succulent morsel has a cocktail stick in it and when you're done they just tot up the sticks and present you with a bill. 

And our new gastronomic discovery is an Argentinian restaurant where the steaks are sublime and the service quirky but very generous. And we have found indisputably the best best rooftop cocktail bar at The Majestic where I may have had one too many cosmopolitans...

So why is this visit of such significance? In April 2014 when we celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary in Barcelona I found the lump which was the start of my year of treatment, and by going back to Barcelona - perhaps not quite the same person as I was then - I feel I have put a full stop to that time. Enough... I may not be as brave or full of energy as I once was but I am here and looking at life in a new way. Even if I don't look the same (still getting used to that...)

Back in glorious Yorkshire walking across the fields of stubble with two dogs whilst the woodland shows the first glimpses of autumn colour I know that that chapter of my life is now complete with Barcelona as bookends. Fingers always crossed...

Saturday, 26 September 2015

The Canny Chanter

Sometimes you book something so far in advance that it feels like it will take an eternity to get there and then, blow me down, we're suddenly here and off! This was very much the case with my beloved's Christmas present - mine to him in this case - and having booked this a good ten months ago we found ourselves on Wednesday night at the Sage in Newcastle for an evening with Art Garfunkel.

Who doesn't have a Simon and Garfunkel song somewhere stored in their memories of good times, bad times, sad times? For me, this varies from America to Homeward Bound to Old Friends with so many more along the way - all wonderful and surprisingly, Art can still sing them all.

But I am getting ahead of myself. First we had to get there... How hard can this be? Number 3 is at university in Newcastle, we regularly go to the rugby there - what could possibly go wrong?

Now that my beloved works away from home during the week a plan was hatched that he would train up to Newcastle and I would get on the train (he with my ticket as well as his own) at Northallerton and join him. Yes, I got to Northallerton in plenty of time. The platform was quite busy and I checked my phone that I was due to join my beloved in Coach D in seats 17 and 18 - how's that for attention to detail?

A few moments before the train was due to arrive, a train drew into the platform with Coach D right in front of me and everyone on the platform made a dash for it. I followed suit and by the time I had established that I was not married to anyone in Coach D, the train was on its way to Middlesbrough via Yarm and Thornaby. So now I was going to places I've never been before with no idea how to change my route. It's surprising how enticing the communicating cord or emergency brake looks when you find yourself heading the wrong way on a train!

No guard in attendance so I sat next to a very nice lady who was going to Thornaby and told her my tale of incompetence. She was very helpful and supportive (thank you!) and told me to get off at Thornaby and get the Darlington train which I did. Of course, I had to confess my incompetence to my beloved and after all the years of getting children on to right trains I no longer have a leg to stand on in terms of public transport.

Thornaby to Darlington and a very cold wait on metal seats (why?) on the platform and then on a train from Darlington to Newcastle. All of which took £12.50 and nearly two hours.

But we made it to Art almost on time and heard his beautiful voice in the acoustically wonderful Sage. Worth every minute of the unnecessarily fraught journey and something I will never forget.

On the way back in the taxi to the station with my beloved, the driver referred to Art as a 'canny chanter' which just proves that in Newcastle there's music in everything - including their speech.

Art Garfunkel now and then.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

"Don't put your daughter on the stage, Mrs Worthington" Part 2.

When I came back from the Edinburgh Festival a couple of weeks ago, as soon as I got home, I knew that the buzz of the Fringe had got under my skin and I wanted to see more, do more and be a part of it for a bit longer. Also there is something so liberating being in a city of strangers. So some appointment-juggling later and I whizzed back up on the train with number 4 for another slice of Fringe cake!

This time there was a bit more forward-planning and two shows which had been sold out on my previous visit were booked and along with another chance to see The Solid Life of Sugar Water The first production we were going to see was on Wednesday morning, Shakespeare for Breakfast which apparently is on offer every year and takes place at... breakfast time. So early night required and snuggled up and fast asleep by 10.00pm. At 12.30 am my mobile rang. It was number 3 who was home alone with the dog.

Pause... If you are a child of any age ie anyone with parents who are alive and kicking, please note that if you telephone your parents between 10.00pm and 6.30am they will assume one (or all) of the following:

1  You've had a car accident.
2  You've burnt the house down.
3  You are in hospital/the police station.
4  A close family member is involved in 1, 2 or 3.
5  The dog is involved in 1, 2 or 3.
6  The dog is dead.

Actually number 3 needed my access code for my emails in order to track down his British Tennis Association membership number so he could book Davis Cup tickets. This activity is not covered by numbers 1 - 6 above and he was quite surprised by the ticking off he got from me. I, of course, was practically hyperventilating at this point with a) panic that it could be one of the above and b) rage that he had woken me up for none of those reasons.

Moving on...

Shakespeare for Breakfast with children 1 and 4 was Hamlet combined with Star Wars combined with a drama student's desire to make his first film. Very entertaining, and coffee and croissants were included. Then, leaving my children to get on with their busy lives, I headed off to see Austentatious. Now this is a belter! Standing in the queue, the cast, dressed in classic Darcy/Elizabeth Bennet garb, approach you asking you to write a title for a Jane Austen novel - no, to be clear, not one she actually wrote but one you think she should have written. Then once inside the large inflatable purple cow (venue for the event and I am talking very large!) the cast pick one title out of the hat and improvise the story as Miss Austen might have written it. It must have been improvised because the cast as well as the audience were cracking up.

Then it was another chance to see The Solid Life of Sugar Water and the production has moved up to even greater heights. It is so beautifully written and the acting is sublime (biased I know but at least the critics agree with me). I loved it. Then off to Dusit which is, in the opinion of this family at least, the best Thai restaurant in the UK. Family celebration with two of my girls and such special times. Full of great food we made our way back to number 4's flat and into bed by 10.00pm.

Then my mobile rang at about 10.30pm. It's number 3. No, it's not any of the above listed reasons to wake anxious parents but, to give number 3 his due, it is a legitimate reason. We had 60+ sheep in the garden. Given that I have been busting my a**e to make the garden lovely for number 1's wedding in April, this was not good news. I gave him the farmer's number (owner of the aforementioned livestock) who was less than pleased to be woken in the middle of the night when he has to get up an at ungodly hour to do the milking but at least the sheep issue has been sorted.

Pause... there is a seventh reason to wake your parents...

7  The garden is full of livestock.

Son-in-law-to-be, Alex with two of my beautiful girls post-production in Edinburgh.

Postscript: Number 4 child is doing The Great North Run for Cancer Research next week having watched me being treated over the last year. Please support her and Cancer Research if you can:

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

'Don't Put Your Daughter on the Stage, Mrs Worthington!'*

I sometimes get asked whether it is difficult to watch number 1 daughter when she is in an acting role. Given that her acting career has had and continues to have some moments that are not in the conventional mother-and-daughter spectrum of activity I guess that's a reasonable question.

The answer is normally, whether it is television or short film or stage, that there are a few moments at the beginning when I can only see her as my daughter and the thoughts that flash through my brain generally relate to having everything crossed that she will be wonderful, not forget her lines etc, etc - not that she ever has!  And then I become so absorbed in the drama that I almost (but never completely) forget that she is mine. Until the latest production...

When my beloved and I stepped into the theatre at the Pleasance Dome in Edinburgh last Thursday, as part of a packed house, she and Phil (Arthur really, who plays her husband) were already in bed - vertically at the back of the stage. It's a very clever piece of staging and although they hop in and out of bed during the 80-minute two-hander, there is no sense of adjusting mentally from the virtual vertical to the horizontal. So because essentially the action was waiting for the audience merely to sit down and the lights to dim, there was no time to go through the usual mother/daughter collective of thoughts. She just was Alice from start to finish.

The play is shocking, stunning and probably the most beautifully written piece she has ever done and because I am shameless (see later on...)  I absolutely agree with all the 4 and 5* reviews the play has had in the national press. It is a tour de force.

So last week for me was Edinburgh Fringe week with number 1, wedding dress shopping - also with number 1- and flat-moving with number 4, also in Edinburgh. A tight schedule of activity in which my beloved joined on the second afternoon. Some forward planning had occurred because there is just so, so much to see at the Fringe so I had booked a couple of things a few weeks ago - a Noel Coward review which was lovely but too much Ivor Novello and not enough Noel Coward for me - and a speed-dating 90s music musical which was very funny and involved modest audience participation. Those of us who have been to the theatre before with number 1 know that she needs to be at the front to hear and lipread so she brazenly walked to the front of the queue (there are no reserve seats) and explained and there we were to all intents and purposes sitting on the front of the stage with four Spice Girl-alikes singing and dancing just inches away.

We had also managed to pack in two wedding dress shops where number 1 demonstrated why she is so classically different from the other bride in the family. Number 2, whose dress is now having final alterations, stood like a bride at the altar for every one of her try-ons. Like a beautiful statue. Number 1 decided that each dress needed to be tried out for dancing so, as a consequence I not only have pictures but video too! No choices made yet but we have an idea what suits at least!

The next morning, having slept at number 4's very nice new flat and met her really lovely flatmates, she went off to do her shift in a care home where she works to supplement her student funds and I went to meet number 1 for a spot of flyering - or as I renamed it, shameless flyering. Every show in town is being promoted by bright young things thrusting leaflets in your hand about their productions. "Would you like a flyer?" is sometimes met with a weary "No". Number 1 is doing the polite thing and asking nicely whereas I am going into full-on embarrassing mother mode. It goes like this... "Can I tell you about this play? It got 4*s in The Times yesterday. It's by Jack Thorne..." (mention Harry Potter, Shameless, This is England, etc). "My daughter is in it and she's brilliant!" Cue number 1 slinking away. Having already got The Solid Life of Sugar Water mentioned on Chris Evans' Radio 2 show the day before, I am on a roll. Isn't it wonderful to be somewhere away from home where you can behave really embarrassingly and no one knows you!

Surprisingly (!) number 1 abandoned me and I went off to see Spectretown which was a fabulously well acted but not very well constructed play. Perhaps not a great choice, particularly as it barely gave me time to get back across town by taxi to meet my beloved outside number 4's flat where he had Bertha, the Land Rover, full of her stuff. And then I left my phone in the taxi... I can now never tell my children off for leaving mobiles in places where they shouldn't but the taxi driver very kindly brought it back to me. Thank you.

Which brings us to our visit as very proud parents to The Solid Life of Sugar Water which surpassed all our expectations by some considerable distance, after which some family-style celebrating was called for - need I say more?

So our final act before returning home was to move number 4's 'few bits' from her halls of residence into her new flat. Her 'few bits' turned out to be so much stuff that there was only room for my beloved in Bertha and she and I had to walk from her halls to the new flat before humping the stuff up two flights of Edinburgh-style stairs.

So we're back home now for a week's staycation and the only news at this end is the arrival of two new pets. Well, not ours actually but we have officially been adopted by two peacocks who are now named Richard and Henry which goes to prove that if you hang around here long enough you will either get a nickname or have something named after you!

*One of my favourite Noel Coward songs which was featured in the review and, under the circumstances, remarkably apropos!

 Barr girls and wine... like that never happens! 
Richard is on the left with his head in the Russian vine and Henry on the right. 

Monday, 27 July 2015

Firsts and Personal Bests

The last year or so has been like a sabbatical from my real world. Not a pleasant sabbatical, mind you, but one nonetheless. Doors in my life that I have previously stepped through without a second thought have been closed firmly in my face and my world has been a much smaller place. I described it once before as being the pooh stick stuck under the bridge whilst the rest of the pooh sticks sail on down the stream to the sea. That is the closest analogy I can think of.

So now I am less of that pooh stick and gradually I am reopening the doors which take me back into parts of my life lost and unvisited during my illness. These new experiences (though not really new - just long missed) are so special and important. And added to that, there are genuinely new things in my world, and I love breaking new ground, trying stuff for the first time. Not all experiences have been in the 'pleasant' category and not all those doors are yet open but each day I reach out a little further towards the horizon.

I am impatient, of course, because I want to be able to do everything I could do ... and more. Anything less would be out of character for me. But I am still  having treatment and some of the stuff that I am taking will be a part of my life for a long time to come, and some for always, and all these drugs have side-effects as well as keeping me (hopefully) on an even, healthy keel.

So what's new? The properly, properly new stuff is mostly wedding-related. We now have two lots of arrangements on the go. The November bride (number 2 child) seems to have everything in sight nailed down except for the bridesmaids' shoes (don't ask...) and her father's ensemble (ditto!) and the April bride is nearly there with the marquee and about a million ideas are floating round like wedding soup and some will make it to the final day and some will not. No ideas, however bohemian or unlikely, are discounted until all interested parties have considered them. Watch this space...

I had an absolutely joyous time deciding on my wedding ensemble for the November wedding. First a trip with Lady H (my wardrobe advisor for all major occasions) to the marvellous Jillian Welch who is making my outfit. Having seen the utterly heart-stopping outfits she has made for my friends, I know it will be fab. So I explained (badly) what I was looking for and she drew fantastic sketches and produced some amazing fabric. Meanwhile Lady H bought a stunning dress... Then the following day, the November bride came with me and gave her official seal of approval. I am so excited!

Whilst we are on the subject of appearance, I also had my hair cut for the first time by the oh-so-fabulous David at The Story of O. The last time I went to see him, a year ago, it was to cut my hair short a la Robyn Wright of House-of-Cards-fame so that the dispiriting falling out of my hair wouldn't seem so bad - there being less of it, as it were. And now I'm back! As David cut my hair I kept thinking: 'don't cut much off, it's taken all year to grow it!' but he did it brilliantly and I am now a little bit blond rather than gun-metal grey and I feel more like me at last. And the transformation from cue ball in November to someone who actually looks like she has a hairstyle (though short) is nearly complete. Thank you David. It's not just about the hair, you're good for my soul.

Less pleasant however, was my first mammogram since last June. Always uncomfortable and sometimes downright brutal, I know it must be done and it's important and I have never missed my session in the caravan in the car park at Morrisons in Boroughbridge. But this one was at York Hospital and my beloved very kindly came with me in case it was a 'results on the day' event. Now it's one thing having your boobs crushed by hard plastic plates when they haven't been traumatised by surgery but it's quite another when there's loads of hard scar tissue and train tracks of stitching. After a few attempts with the radiographer asking me if I was ok and me responding through closely gritted teeth, she announced that she had enough film but would I wait in the waiting room just in case. So I waited and back she came saying she needed to do more. Cue my heart completely in my boots. "There's nothing to worry about, I just need to get further under your armpit," she said. And more boob-clamping and crushing on the damaged side took place. Am I worried? Well, my heart is somewhere mid-thigh now as I figure that, although they say you won't get your results for four weeks, if there's something wrong it will be sooner and this was nearly two weeks ago.

On to more enjoyable matters. It was miserable not being able to play any sport for nearly a year. Not hitting a tennis ball, most specifically. Not running or cycling or going to the gym or doing pilates or learning to play golf badly. Just not. And gradually I have been picking these things up again though neither pilates nor golf have yet made it back into the schedule. Yet. Running hasn't been high up on the scale of activities for a few years other than in the gym on the running machine because road running made my knees cranky and endangered the all-important tennis. Though I do have a few 10ks and a couple of Great North Runs under my belt (just saying...) But whilst we were in Portugal, Little Norm encouraged me to 'jalk' ie jog and walk, with him on several mornings and more importantly, used his very persuasive powers to get to me try the Park Run on the Stray in Harrogate. Number 2 daughter is already a regular and number 4 does the same in Edinburgh and anything where I can have fun doing sport with my children is very near the absolute top of my favourite things to do.

So numbers 2, 4 and I went off to do the Park Run early on Saturday morning. The best thing about the first week is that you are definitely doing a Personal Best. Well, we had three PBs that morning with 2 and 4 lapping me (three circuits of the Stray to make up the 5k). Week 2 and another PB because I would not be lapped! But still I had to walk four times en route to get my breath back. Then week 3 and although I only walked once (and not very far either) no pb. So I will be back with renewed determination next Saturday. No walking at all (hopefully!)

And finally a first for number 3. Back in the winter when things were pretty bleak we (number 3, myself and Lady H) went to Kippax Bats. Peter Kippax was a fine cricketer, playing for Yorkshire and Durham. He is sadly very unwell now but before he became ill, he set up Kippax Bats which is a hand-made bat company which produces bats for the some of the finest international cricketers in the game today. Through Lady H, we arranged to visit Kippax Bats and purchase one of these amazing bats for number 3. We learnt so much that day about the craft of bat-making and the willow for number 3's bat came from willows planted in Tockwith. It was an unforgettable experience learning how the bats are made by hand and which of his cricket idols used their bats. And then this Saturday, number 3 hit his first century with his Kippax bat and was 107 not out. A great triumph for him and a really special achievement of which we are all so very proud.

Not the century last week but one innings last summer.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Jam Jar Moments in Portugal

The best thing about holidays is holding the moment when you know that it doesn't get much better than this. Every one of your senses is so perfectly attuned to the sights, sounds, smells, touches and tastes encapsulated in that instant that you want somehow to capture them in a jam jar. Then, in a dark dusk in chilly January, you could gently unscrew the lid and release the sound of distant wavelets edging tentatively back before joining together and crashing forwards on to the shell-sparkled beach. Or the scent of dry heat and sun cream or the taste of olive-oily and garlicked prawns. Or the tug of the damp sand as it drags your feet millimetres beneath its surface. It can't be done, of course but one day...maybe one day...

On my bucket list which consumed the blackboard wall of our downstairs loo through our very bleak winter, two sets of initials caused a number of enquiries from visitors - PDF and VDL. Both of these are special places for us and are located on the coast of Portugal. The first, Parque de Floresta is the 'half the year home' of Ebabe and Wheezy and this was our third visit to our lovely friends. The second, Val do Lobo has been a sneaky break for me for quite a few years thanks to the generosity of Lady H. From the hilarious and probably unrepeatable moments of the first two girls' tennis trips, to a fun but rather stressful family holiday to a perfect stress-busting week a couple of years ago - just Lady H and me. We have been the fortunate recipients of wonderful hospitality in Portugal and this two-centre jaunt - my first since last July - was to be no exception. 
In recent dark times, one of my sunny thoughts has been the view from the balcony at PDF, eating Special K Yoghurty and drinking freshly squeezed orange juice whilst looking across the golf course watching hapless players hack their way out of the bunker or skilful players drop the ball effortlessly into the hole. The usual fare of activity at PDF includes a lot of exercise - tennis, cycling and so on. We were stood down from the cycling on health grounds but no trip would be complete without a few sets of tennis. Day one and Maza and Caza made short work of the Bryan Brothers' incarnation of Bertie and Wheezy. But revenge was had on day two and included the traditional Bryan Brothers chest bump celebration. 

Ingrina prawns had to be done. Definitely a perfect jam jar moment. The other restaurant I wanted to go to was Agua na Boca in Salema. The last time we went there I picked up a postcard from the restaurant which has been my bookmark for at least the last four years. We showed the proprietor my bookmark which had brought us back all these years later and he shrugged "Postcard man went bust - never bought anymore." Not the romantic end to the story I had anticipated but the food was as delicious as I remembered and the company sublime.

Then all too soon it was off to Val Do Lobo but never fear, more treats awaited us. The second part of our holiday was with Little Norm and Lady H and Basil and Sybil of Low Graythwaite Hall (the finest b&b in the Lake District - Clearly there would never be a dull moment but there was a chance for me to slip off for some early morning tennis with Nuno, the Portuguese tennis coach, and some running with Little Norm. Multiple celebrations for the latter with his birthday (cue purchase of utterly tasteful t-shirt which was much admired), Father's Day and the H's wedding anniversary in quick succession. 

Lady H - always the most elegant and sober of my friends - morphed into a Bucks-Fizz-at-breakfast, pink-sangria-at-lunch and rose-at -dinner girl! Who are you and where is my friend? It's a long way from the early tennis holidays when we had to convince her that sangria was non-alcoholic fruit cup! Also some scandalously haphazard use of the factor 30 caused her to be temporarily renamed Apache Warhorse - you'll have work that one out. There was also the incident of her crashing through the insect screen between the house and the terrace. I awoke the next morning expecting to see a Lady H-shaped hole in the screen (think Tom and Jerry) but disappointingly that didn't happen and my beloved who had also morphed - this time into diy supremo - re-attached the screen with very little fuss and no long term damage. 

No trip to VDL would be complete without a visit to Maria's on the beach - scene of some of the most entertaining Portugal holiday moments including dancing with the Umpa Lumpas, the 'oh that's my favourite' saxophone player and other comedy moments. It used to have some of the most disgusting loos in the area which was surprising given how much they charged for the food but now it is super-smart but still the best view for beach dining. So a week of pancakes and pina coladas (and other cocktails), red wine, white wine, pink wine, non-alcohol beer for the grumpy golfer from Graythwaite and so much chat and laughter before we all returned to Blighty and the real world. But the jam jar is replenished and perhaps there may be another trip to Portugal this summer...?

A massive thank you to our hosts, Ebabe and Wheezy and Lady H and Little Norm - special times...

Postscript: In case you wondered, we left number 3 at home alone for the first time. He was fine and the house only looked as though we had had a dinner party in every room and half washed up so quite a result really. He did, however, have a few problems with the wildlife. Andy the painter (busy painting my office yellow - looks fab!) found a dead newt behind the skirting board, number 3 found a lot of maggots on a chicken in the oven which he had forgotten we had cooked for him before we went - you don't need any more information than that it will make your stomach turn! And finally, he texted us: "Two peacocks on the the dining table in the conservatory - scared the c**p our of me!" Strange but true. They were still hanging round the place when we got back! 

Monday, 8 June 2015

The wedding connoisseur

Over the weekend my number 3 child and only boy in the family was heard to mutter "please no more wedding and dress talk!" And, of course, we still have six months before the first wedding and eleven before the second. Methinks there will be more heartfelt and indignant requests from the only one of my children not wearing a posh frock before we get to the end of this road.

This is foreign territory for our family and the rules of wedding planning have certainly changed since we got hitched 31 years ago. As I explained to number 1 daughter who is the April bride, when we got married, the adults, ie our parents, made most of the decisions and invited most of the guests. Thirty one years later, the children make most of the decisions and invite most of the guests. Talking to my friends, I realise that we are the generation who will miss out. 

Not that our opinions are not be solicited and noted. Just that, no more - and then occasionally, after negotiations between bride and groom to which we are not party, our suggestion may be deemed appropriate and added to the plan - or spreadsheet in the case of number 2 daughter - the November bride.

In the last four weeks we have been lucky enough to have attended two weddings and, added to the one we attended in the autumn, I have amassed a critical - in the positive sense - range of ideas and possibilities. What strikes me most strongly is that there is now a genuine individual character to each wedding. When we and our friends were getting married, the only real difference was the best man's speech which ranged from very long (if my beloved was doing it which was on no less than three occasions in our early days) to mildly witty - if we were lucky. Everyone stuck to the rules and when we were 'weddinging' every other weekend thirty something years ago, the memories of those occasions are almost interchangeable. Not so now.

Every wedding seems to have a personality of its own - some in the form of quirky details... mojitos in jam jars, gambolling groomsmen and so on... and others where the whole day has adopted a theme. Now the theme thing seems to me a great idea. So when the November bride was in the early stages of spreadsheeting, we suggested Bollywood, bagpipes, video loops of pictures of her as a child, gospel choirs and so on. Strangely enough, the answer in its most definite tone was 'No'. So the November wedding will - we hope - be elegant and stylish. No quirkiness though there may be a few minor rebellions on the day...after all the father of the bride might yet decide to dress up for his big speech as Bishop Desmond Tutu - his favourite fancy dress persona! No, I promise, it will be as the November bride wants it - absolutely perfect. 

The April wedding is already developing an entirely different character. The bride, who is not known for conforming to the norms at the best of times, has already mentioned big tops, dodgems, wellies and touch rugby under the auspices of a wedding discussion. Not to mention food stalls on the lane, camping and some ideas regarding music and dancing which I can only describe as unique in my experience of weddings. We shall see. Like all parents of the bride the cost of letting her imagination run wild may well keep us up at night - especially when we are in post-recovery mode from the November wedding. 

As very fortunate attendees of two really beautiful weddings in May, we realise that the bar has been set very high indeed but now we feel we are in the advanced stages of wedding training and we hope very much that the two brides of the family and their respective fiances will have absolutely the perfect day. All available digits crossed!

Post script... On Saturday, I went to the first fitting of the wedding dress with the November bride and I can tell you nothing, absolutely nothing, prepares you for the transformation of the taggled-haired toddler into the most beautiful bride in the world. Utterly breath-taking!

Sam and Rachel - so romantic! 

Emily and Olly - absolutely beautiful

And we scrub up pretty well for weddings too! 

Friday, 22 May 2015

Sugar Water Rehearsal Diary: Week 2

Genevieve is currently in rehearsal for a play which kicks off in London before going up to Edinburgh for the Festival. Here's her guest blog...
By Genevieve Barr, cast member
Genevieve in rehearsals at Graeae. She sits cross legged on the floor of the rehearsal room with script and pencil laid out in front of her. She is wearing leggings and hoodie.
Genevieve in rehearsals at Graea
Exploding boxes, pyjamas, licking necks and lots and lots of baked beans.
After six months overseas, I returned to the UK last month to start rehearsals for a brand new play written by Jack Thorne, ‘The Solid Life of Sugar Water’. I play the part of ‘Alice’. My wonderful counterpart, Arthur, plays my husband ‘Phil’. And that’s it. There’s two of us. And sixty-six pages of script staring at us.
A tumultuous journey so far, we are finally reaching the end of the second week and gasping for a few days off – but there will be no resting on our laurels. Next week is the last week at Graeae before we take the production to Plymouth, and a dawning of dread is already starting to swirl around my ankles.
So let’s not talk about that.
I am fortunate to have some very supportive friends, whom this week, have kept me in reality check. For when asked about my day, the other day, I said:
“This morning I was experiencing the beginnings of foreplay in bed, this afternoon I went to the cinema, an art gallery and had a kiss on a bridge. I don’t know which one – the text doesn’t say.”
Bless them, because rather than get bogged down the details, they turned to me and said:
“Gen, what on earth are you talking about?”
And that’s the real struggle as you get more and more immersed in this beautiful play, you start to go slightly insane. Acting isn’t about playing the role, it’s about becoming the role. And so, every day ‘Alice’ becomes more Genevieve and Genevieve becomes more ‘Alice’. You might as well start calling us ‘Genalice’.
Thank goodness my character’s name is not ‘Tilda’.
(Try taking the first two syllables of my first name, and the first syllable of ‘Tilda’ and see if you get what I mean)…
Probably not that funny. Sorry.
When I first read the play, two things became immediately transparent to me:
1) This would be one of the toughest roles I’ve had the fortune to play.
2) My granny was definitely, firmly, assertively NOT allowed to come and see it. Our relationship would never recover.
To pinch some of Jack Thorne’s words when he was talking about the play the other day, it is a story about recovery. The couple are trying to deal with a very traumatic event – with the death of a newborn baby and through their grief, their relationship has deteriorated. They have to rediscover why they loved each other in the first place and deal with having sex for the first time since it happened. We will take you through a journey of our relationship – flashing back into the past, but also trying to have sex- an uncomfortable experience both textually and literally.
At least for me – I can’t speak for Arthur!
For while Phil and Alice have been married for a few years, Arthur and Genevieve have only known each other a couple of weeks. The trust and amount you have to give each other in a very short period of time is immense. It isn’t always easy – but we are getting there.
Amit, our director, does a great job of keeping me sane (ironically, for those who know him). He understands which buttons to push with me.
At the start of the week, I was really grappling with with the physical aspects of the play – the movement on the bed (for the bed is upright against the wall, so when we are lying down, we are standing up and when we are standing up, we are lying down)…the mind just boggles. There are a lot of technical aspects to figure out – for the play jumps back and forward, in fact it just hops all over the place. During all of this, I have been trying to understand who my character is and why she feeling the way she is – in every word, sentence, paragraph of the play.
We are getting there – and I am proud of the amount of progress we have made – though there is still a way to go. So it is with excitement, tremulation and slight trepidation that I look ahead to next week and what it brings.