Friday, 11 January 2019

Toy Theatre Show and a Slap Up Tea

Oh, dear, I am not writing my blog much - I am feeling like Laocoon struggling with the snake (though I am not so muscular, I hope, or so male as he was).  I love putting together this book but it's becoming quite a project, with more to read than I ever thought and so many more interviews to do than I ever guessed.    

But we did get in a small group to attend the annual Pollock's Toy Theatre children's show with splendid tea.  This was my third time, and they are such fun.  The audience is divided between children between the ages of 3 and 7, and grown up toy theatre enthusiasts, and this year we watched "Aladdin."

The performance, as usual, took place in the Art Workers' Guild, a most fascinating building set in a 200 year old house in a quiet London square.   The house has several meeting rooms which various artistic and creative organisations like to hire - you can see the striking, portrait-lined main hall in the background of my pictures. The Art Workers Guild itself is a group of people working in the applied and fine arts. In the past, painters and sculptors were considered a social cut above the mere artisans who embroidered, made furniture, did metalwork, or created music, and the guild was begun with the aim of breaking down some of the barriers and respecting both types of artistic expression.   

The Guild is worth a post of its own, but if you are interested, go to the link, where you'll see some of the things they do. 

The toy theatre used in the performance is a large one, but even so it is not all that large, so is only suitable for playing to small groups who are able to gather round and see the stage.  
The brightly coloured traditional characters are fastened to sticks and pushed on and off the stage by the puppet-master, who also performs all the dialogue. 

Here is the puppet master, Joe - I mean the one with the beard.    

Although the theatre designs are completely traditional, some people now fit them with little electric lights, so coloured filters can create different atmosphere to suit the backgrounds which lift in and out to suit the story.

Here is Aladdin meeting the wicked wizard in town. 

And here he is stranded in the cave where the magic lamp, the magic ring and all the treasure is stored.

And here is Aladdin's wife planning the  magician's downfall. 

The children loved it. Some might think it is too low tech for these days of iPads and Imax theatres, and it is is certainly very different from what they would normally see. But it reminded me of the way that children play themselves - Joe did all the voices with great gusto, moving his little cut out characters around as if they were toys, cackling horribly for the wicked wizard and sounding suitably foreign and mysterious for the genies.   The kids completely related.  

Afterwards everyone wanted to see how it worked. The organisers had a stall selling  large printed sheets of backgrounds and characters for just £1 each, and they were going very well.  

One small member of our party bought a sheet, eager to create a model theatre out of a cardboard box, and I heard it turned out very well at home.

The tea afterwards, in an adjoining room, was truly fab, with homemade cakes, baguettes and marmite, chocolate stars, tangerines and other delicious things.  The outing was declared a huge success by everyone and I think we could well return next year.  

I've found a copy of a 1927 silent newsreel feature which shows Mr. Benjamin Pollock actually making and displaying one of his theatres. In those days he was considered to be a relic of the old Victorian London that many people still remembered.   Sorry for the poor quality - the original film has been transferred to digital pretty badly. It is nice that Pollocks' toy theatres are exactly the same as they were then. You can buy everything you need at their quaint shop in Scala Street, London, or at least you could the last time I popped in there a couple of years ago.  

Tuesday, 25 December 2018

Merry Christmas!

Yesterday we visited our older daughter and her family for Christmas Eve. We had a lovely meal and took a sunset walk up onto the hillside where an lluminated panorama of London spread below us. We gazed down at the mixture of old and new, from old fashioned Mary Poppins style roofscapes to huge modern buildings.

Afterwards we walked down the little old streets back to their house, admiring the Christmas trees and wreaths. When we got back home we found the cats had also been enjoying Christmas!

A Happy Christmas to you all!


Wednesday, 19 December 2018

South Seas, Trees and Happy Christmas!

We're having Christmas at home this year, so the twins helped me make a Christmas cake. This year I tried a "wholefoods" recipe from an old Cranks Cook Book which used 100 percent brown flour.  That's serious flour, so the cake weighs a ton, but it's delicious.

The twins also helped us to decorate our tree. It is not quite as good as their tree, (they solemnly informed me) firstly because it is black, and secondly because it is small. However, it does light up different colours with lots of little LED lights inside the plastic needles, which they thought very pretty, and they loved having two trees to decorate.

We went out with our friend Annette a few days ago to catch the last of the "Oceania" exhibition at the Royal Academy.   It covered art ancient and modern originating from the South Seas, and Annette loved it so much that was her third visit!   As soon as we got inside I heard the sound of Beethoven, and went through the exhibition till I saw this....

Messrs. Steinway might not thank me for the sound recording quality of that clip, but in fact their grand piano is an artwork from New Zealand, by Michael Parekowhai. It's called "He Korero Purakau mo Te Awanui o Te Motu"  and is carved and decorated in traditional style by Maori craftsmen.  An astonishing thing. Here's a detail complete with paua shell eyes. 

The other amazing NZ creation was a gigantic film installation, called "The Pursuit of Venus,(Infected)" It is based on a huge and costly hand painted wallpaper diorama of the South Seas that dates from 1806.

The NZ artist Lisa Reihana uses the wallpaper as a lifesize background and combines live action, green-screen and animation to tell the story of Western colonisation in the area - both the good and bad aspects.  

Here is a tiny clip...

...but it is impossible to give an idea of the scale of this and also to convey that in fact this life sized diorama is actually moving from right to left so the scenes constantly change.  I've never seen anything like it before, so if it ever shows near you, you might want to go and take a look. 

My favourite traditional object in the exhibition might have been this feather headdress. 

Here is some very different artwork here, which the twins made for their Auntie Aoife. I can tell you a lot of hard work went into these cards, which depict trees, windmills, suns, exciting battles and lots of stars, hearts and stickers.

So, what else? We went to the mini-pantomime at Kings Head Theatre Pub, in Islington, London.  The pub's usually busy, and the theatre is in a back room, although it's moving soon to bigger premises.   The company, Charles Court Opera usually does great performances with a cast of about 6 trained opera singers and one guy who's a magician on the piano - we once heard him play the entire orchestral score of "The Magic Flute" without a mistake. 

If you are not from these parts and haven't attended a British panto, I'll tell you it's generally some approximate adaptation of a traditional fairytale and has certain stock characters and phrases which the audience shouts in appropriate places. There is lots of cross dressing and anything can happen really. There's always a Dame, who is a man in over-the-top frocks.  Here s/he is with an audience member who has been pulled onto the stage to be the man s/he is in love with.  

 I loved the music, which was amusing covers for well known songs, including "Bohemian Rhapsody," "Single Ladies"  and "Thriller."  And the plot, such as it is, revolved mostly around Cinderella's teddy bear Buttons, with the handsome Prince posing as a #metoo "woke" male, but, perhaps predictably,  turning out to be anything but that....

I'm trying to take some exercise most days even if it is just a cycle ride up and down a few hills.  We passed Fenton House the other day and as I slogged past up the hill I thought it looked so pretty with the morning sunshine illuminating its front gate.  I blogged about it here, in 2013, but it hasn't changed much. 

We collected the twins from school yesterday.   Their school is about a mile and a half walk away up (and then down) a very very steep hill.  So we walked up, hung about in the cold and then picked them up and set off back.  The first thing that happened was that girl twin ran into a bollard.  It was the same height as her and bashed her forehead and under her eye, which was horribly painful. We did not continue home, but instead detoured to a nearby cafe to sit down and get her a drink to settle her down again - not to mention boy twin who was upset to see his sister in such a state. 

The cafe was VERY crowded and the only seats available were bar stools at a counter, and the seat of each stool was approximately at the eye level of the twins.  We somehow managed to get them on and staying on without falling off the stools, and they drank their drinks without anything getting spilt, and then we set off again, avoiding bollards. Halfway down a very long steep hill, boy twin suddenly realised he desperately needed the bathroom. Like, NOW.  And no, discreetly behind a tree was not possible.  Luckily T remembered an arts centre at the bottom of the hill so we raced down, telling boy twin to just hold on one moment longer...

However, the arts centre was shut.   

I then remembered a cultural centre just across the busy main road.  So we waited for the traffic lights, and reached the cultural centre. Unfortunately it is a centre for a group which is a bit sensitive about security so we had to wait till our backpacks were searched before they let us in.  So we got in and T and boy twin disappeared to the bathroom while girl twin and I sat down to watch the skating rink from a large picture window in the centre.   She was fascinated, (and so was boy twin when he returned). Neither wanted to leave, and to be honest, nor did we. It's a lovely place and so relaxing...  

When we finally got home, our mile and a half walk had taken two hours.  So they were quite glad to get their tea.  I thought that when I was a busy mum of young kids, that kind of thing would have driven me round the bend,but now it's great to be relaxed about it and see it as the way life goes. After all, we did enjoy a nice drink and some entertaining skating that we were not expecting!

 So that is what I've been up to, as well as working on the Durrell project, sorting out gifts and cards and getting on with the ordinary things of life. 

I hope that you will all find good things, hope and happiness at Christmas and in the coming year.  Have a lovely holiday!  

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

And soon it will be Christmas....

One thing about spending most of November in a hot climate, is that you seem to jump from summer to Christmas very fast!  I took this photo at the end of October...

and now we have this -  the chill and bitter wind, and the glamorous Christmas decoration of the central stairwell of Fortnum & Mason.... 

...  and The Snowman in Piccadilly!

So, to keep the warmth going, I'd like to show you some photos of a wonderful private garden that I visited in the South of Mauritius.  It was created from 15 acres of an old sugar cane plantation, and here below is the view from the terrace that overlooks the garden. You can walk down through the gardens and around the lake, or linger in a thatched summerhouse, and there are so many different plants and different views. It was a peaceful, somewhat cloudy day, so not too hot ...and it felt like paradise on earth. I spent a lot of time trying to photograph some maroon insects like large dragonflies on the lake, but they always eluded me. 

Many of the plants in the garden are tall and have huge flowers, and the garden's particularly well stocked with varieties from the Heliconia (Bird of Paradise Flower) genus. These flashy colours remind me of a parrot. 

This deep pink and purple bloom is slimmer and more elegant. 

  This is sometimes called the "cigar" heliconia.  It's supposed to look like a cigar, with the leaves wrapped round and round.  Not sure I agree that it does, but it is an imposing bloom that looks good in flower arrangements. 

And the purplish-blue and cream one shown below, grew about ten feet high - a very striking plant.  Sorry it's not a very good photo.   The flowers are slightly past their best, but I put it in because I could so easily imagine them turning into giant, crested, long-beaked birds at night. 

Then T and I went back home with our friends and had a snack of rotis, popular Mauritian street food.   Here is a typical roti stall - this one is in a market.

The rotis resemble tortillas and are freshly cooked, and often filled with either a mild fish, meat or octopus curry, plus some pumpkin curry, plus red beans and two or three chutneys, which might be very hot.  Really delicious! 
The markets were fun, with local people bringing in produce from their smallholdings.  I bought some bitter gourds, and although they were extremely decorative, with that fabulously intricate rind and big orange seeds inside, they looked better than they tasted.  The bitterness comes from quinine.  In order to make them edible, you must cut them open, remove the inner pith and the seeds, and soak them in brine for quite a while, then fry them. By that time, it seems to me they taste basically like salt, but they're supposed to be good for various illnesses.

This is where I bought them - it's a large market which we visited a couple of times, and it's at Mahebourg, on the south eastern coast of Mauritius.

These pineapples shown below reminded me of pineapples I've had in Hawaii, and might as well be a different species from the acid, under-ripe and fibrous things you so often get in our supermarkets. 

I might have mentioned that Mauritius is over 60 percent Hindu, so you might glimpse a brilliantly coloured Hindu religious building pretty well anywhere you go.     I snapped this view from the car.  If I lived in a Hindu area I would probably think it looked ordinary but since I'm unfamiliar with Hindu structures, their colour and variety surprised me every time. As the official language of Mauritius is English, you might be able to see that these gods are named and explained on their plinths in English and not in Hindi.

I mentioned in another post that Maurituis has some fun buses. Here's one I liked - I came across it after taking a wrong turning near Mahebourg.  Look underneath and you'll see a dog, apparently guarding it - or at least, it got up and barked at me as I took this photo, so I reckon it thought it was being a guard dog!  I am not really sure I'd want to ride on a Destroyer bus, but then, Mauritian bus drivers seem to have a reputation for being rather fiery characters. 

As well as the always-interesting buses, I liked that there were so many bright and, to me, unfamiliar plants growing outside houses or scrambling over wasteland. Does anyone know what the flower below is?  I'd love to try and grow it at home. It is like a cross between a convulvulus and a sweet pea. 

And below is one of the photos which I like the very best.   I like it because it shows just what I imagined I would see in Mauritius.  And when I took it, it felt amazing to be moving quietly through so much blue, knowing that the ocean stretched out there for hundreds of miles beyond the reef.  

Monday, 26 November 2018

Hurrah for the Prince of Love!

I'm now settled back at home in rainy old London, and quite glad to be, although I did love Mauritius.  We had two special birthday parties this week, both a lot of fun.   And we've been babysitting, because Littlest A was sick. Not very sick, but very proud of his snotty nose and other symptoms, pleased to be lolling in our house watching CBeebies and eating snacks, and having the drawing program all to himself.  T and I are always glad to spend time with our grandkids, but now we both wonder if we've picked up something from Littlest A.  I'm not as proud of my drippy nose as he was! 

I've been working hard transcribing some of the interviews from Mauritius. This is many hours of work and I'm not halfway through yet, but also preparing for another trip to Jersey sometimes after Christmas, to interview more people. 

And looking at the weather (above) I think I'll post some nice tropical island photos too, just to prove Mauritius and Rodrigues weren't just a delightful dream.   These pictures are all of Rodrigues.  

So, down at the beach at Pointe Cotton, someone is about to go fishing ...

There were only about a dozen people on the beach when I took the photo in late morning, and here are seven of them swimming. 

 This is the view from our first guesthouse which was on the hill outside Port Mathurin, the capital of Rodrigues.  You can see the waves breaking on the coral reef beyond the lagoon. 

And here's the extremely steep road down to Port Mathurin.

People are not wealthy, but it is a very close community, and religious (Catholic). It feels very safe in Rodrigues, which is perhaps not that common in an area where so many people are hard up. So it is nice to feel here that the people you meet will be friendly and honest.  You can see one of the typical brightly coloured small houses peeping from the trees on the right, and usually there are chickens and goats roaming about. 

Below is our second guesthouse which was near Point Cotton, on the east coast. 

The beach was round the corner from here, hidden in a forest of the casuarina trees that have been planted around many parts of the coast and provide welcome shade. Perhaps today native trees would have been planted, but I must admit I love the feathery, elegant casuarinas.  

There were a couple of tin shacks, one sold drinks and snacks, the other was a little restaurant which cooked whatever fish had been caught that day, at lunchtime. 

 Rodrigues has an excellent, frequent and cheap bus service, and I like the way the buses here (and in some parts of Mauritius) are elaborately painted up with motifs, ideas and mottoes of their owners' choice. The bus drivers are very confident - they have to be to get their vehicles around the narrow roads, many of which have hairpin bends. 

This was our favourite bus, "Prince of Love," painted and polished.  Who wouldn't want to give it a try?

 Inside, there were butterflies and flowers where most buses would have adverts. 

And just to make the point that it isn't always sunny in Rodrigues, here is another bus in the pouring tropical rain. 

There were many small family run restaurants serving home cooked food.  All that we visited were good. They usually had only one or two choices, but all were served with an extra helping of red beans which is a staple food in Rodrigues.  "Chez Madame Larose" was over the road from our guesthouse. You ate on the verandah.    


The garden was shaded by a breadfruit tree. 

People in Rodrigues and Mauritius mostly speak French Creole, which I'm told you can just about understand if you are a native French speaker. Fortunately they mostly spoke some English, and most of them could understand my rubbish attempts at French.  This advert for Phoenix Beer is written in Creole, and if I understand that it says: "Our country, our beer"

As I suggested in my last post, Rodrigues is almost a cliche dream desert island - it really is beautiful, peaceful and friendly, it has no poisonous snakes, reptiles or insects, and just the occasional stonefish or sea urchin in the sea (although we saw none). 

  As I said in my last post, the local people seem conscious that over-development could kill what makes their island so nice. Yet it's only fair to say that it is not that simple - it never is.   There is a lot of poverty and many of those colourful tin shacks are not much fun to live in and not remotely proof against the cyclones which sometimes wreak havoc. Nor indeed can they be much protection from that heavy tropical rain or baking sun. If I lived there I'd be pretty fed up with the dreadful quality of some of the local shops, too - I went to a supermarket in Port Mathurin that was a real hell hole - dark, dirty, cramped, disorganised, and smelling of mice. I can't imagine shopping there every day is much fun.   

Like everyone else, the people of Rodrigues want a better life for themselves and their children, and it's good that so many of the young also want to stay on the island. I do feel its prospects are more hopeful than in many other places, so I will be keeping my fingers crossed for them.   

We went for several evening walks along the coast and in the forest, but dusk comes quickly (at about 6.30 PM) in the tropics. So if you linger too long, you might be walking back by the light of the stars, and not even the Prince of Love will come to your aid, because the bus service stops at six p.m! 

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