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Jerusalem!

What a lovely time we have been having! (Don’t worry, life isn’t all jolly excitements and things will be back to normal on Monday but it’s fun while it lasts…)

On Friday we had the cricket lunch reunion of a successful Trinity College Dublin 1st X1 cricket team, in a wine bar near Russell Square. About 30 met, mostly cricketers but also a number of their wives – all friends of many years, sharing a lot of fun memories. Lunch and chat lingered until early evening.

Then a quick cab to son Nick, who had cooked a delicious supper for his sister, two of his cousins (our nephews) and their wife/girlfriend, John and me: a lovely family occasion. Then only a few hours to wait before the much-anticipated but up until then unrevealed Saturday theatre engagement…Jerusalem, at the Apollo.

Shaftesbury Avenue was seething with theatre goers and Halloween revellers, the latter all with whitened faces, ghoulish fangs and weird outfits which helped add to the sense of unreality and confusion which faced us as we sat in the Apollo Theatre and watched Jerusalem. Even the name Jerusalem is confusing. Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem is not the holy one, the ancient focus for so many conflicting claims and hopes; his is apparently the Jerusalem of William Blake, the WI and many a rousing funeral, but actually it isn’t…

Right at the beginning we realise the play is far from a comforting take on the rural idyll of England’s green and pleasant land. Phaedra, a shy young ‘maiden’, appears in front and sings Jerusalem the Golden rather uncertainly. Behind her, unbeknownst to her, through the curtain (a rather tattered and tired St. George’s cross) one can see a red light flickering. Before she has finished there is an enormous explosion, the curtain goes up to ear- splitting music as a motley group dance in a wonderfully frenzied fashion in front of a battered old motor van in a leafy glade, and we are away.

Scene of 'Jerusalem' by Jez ButterworthThe shocks and surprises continue, in a wonderfully intriguing and entertaining description of what has been called ‘the modern Battle of Britain’ to decide the kind of England we are going to be living in in the future. The central character in this battle, Byron, is played with unbelievable panache by Mark Rylance (if anyone deserves an Oscar I am sure he does). To the ‘haves’ he is a disreputable and amoral gypsy, a threat to be obliterated from their more comfortable lives and plans for a new housing estate which happens to be where his caravan inconveniently is; to the ‘have nots’ – as we in the audience (tickets £50 a time) miraculously have become – he is the champion, the charismatic and almost entirely convincing ‘have not’ fighting authority in all its forms (angry fathers, bitter partners, the council…).

On his side are hangers on and potential misfits all, from unconfident students to an unhappy Morris dancer to a muddled professor; they all, usually but not always intentionally, enjoy his supply of drugs and wonderfully entertaining ‘true’ stories all of which help them escape from the reality of their dreary and depressing lives.

But the play itself is far from dreary and depressing, and Mark Rylance as Byron is quite upliftingly impressive as he entertains and transports the audience for nearly three hours. It is not for the faint-hearted (no one can utter a sentence without swearing copiously). It is not poetic although I suppose someone could argue that this is the stuff of future myths and legends: the haves and the have nots, the Davids and Goliath… All strangely prophetic (or maybe, worryingly, more factual than prophetic) as was Alan Ayckbourn’e Neighbourhood Watch which we saw in Scarborough last month, anticipating later events which do little to confirm the comfortable myth of ‘Jerusalem the Golden’. But as we picked our way through the Halloween revellers we all returned home glowing with the sense of having witnessed something very special in the theatre.

Thank you, Nick and Ruthie, for your birthday treat for your papa, which we all were able to enjoy so much!

Autumn Berries, Flowers and Fruit

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After a truly wonderful spell in North Yorkshire it is still lovely to get home again. Autumn is creeping up, but the grass is still growing and there is still plenty colour in the garden. John had taken lots of photos recently, and a small selection can be seen in our gallery ORCHARD FARM GARDEN: Autumn 2011.

Isn’t this red acer beautiful (although I must confess since John took the photo heavy winds almost stripped it bare…).

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Lots more colourful pictures to be seen… Meanwhile, this is pretty short and sweet as we are off to London first thing tomorrow morning for what should be a fun weekend, starting off with a cricket club reunion lunch for John and eight other members of a successful Trinity College Dublin cricket 1st X1 side. In case you’re wondering, two can’t come…

Fortunately wives are included and as most of us have known each other a very long time now it will be a fun occasion, with much nostalgic reminiscing and no doubt leg-pulling if any of the team start dwelling too long on their own particular contribution to the team’s success.

DamsonsThen tomorrow evening Nick has arranged a supper party for ‘sisters, cousins and aunts’ and has tickets for something on Saturday. We have yet to discover what!

BramleysWhich all points to a roundabout way of preparing for perhaps another delay before the next blog post, when I hope to write briefly about the pleasures of being on the other side of the holiday cottage fence, as guests rather than owners… Watch this space!

A Message from Yorkshire

From our holiday cottage in North Yorkshire…! No excuse for the long silence apart from the fact we are away, revisiting old haunts and having a wonderful time catching up with many old – as in longstanding – friends.
Starting and ending our jaunt staying with friends, we are spending a few days on a real busman’s holiday, as guests in a holiday cottage! We are loving the experience, too but with mobile phones and wi-fi are still almost completely in touch (and incidentally, taken four bookings – isn’t modern technology wonderful when it works?!). It has been very salutary being on the other side of the fence and we have picked up one or two hints.
We have done some touristy things: a service and a private tour in York Minster with a friend who is a guide and an extremely knowledgeable one, who had John up a ladder photographing details in the stained glass windows for a talk he is giving next month! The same friends took us to see King Lear, in Leeds, which was terrific (Tim Piggot-Smith as against Ian Mckellen last time we saw Lear).
We also spent a fascinating time at Fountains Abbey, being shown round by a most inspiring guide called Janet. Everything else we have done has been purely social, catching up with lots of friends and eating too much but very delicious food. There are some excellent pubs in the Ripon/Harrogate area as we have learnt!
Check out for us at 10 (hope we’re ready in good time) then a few miles further into N.Yorkshire for our final stint staying with some old friends from Parwich; then home… As things turn out, rather embarrassingly, we are off again at the weekend this time for a cricket reunion lunch for John in London, with wives included I’m glad to say! Meanwhile, thanks to the wonderful Janet and wi-fi all being well all continues perfectly well and normally back at the Orchard Farm ranch in our absence.

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Tom Chambers and Top Hat

We were very excited about seeing `Top Hat’, for all sorts of reasons. It is always such a treat going to the theatre anyway; we both love musicals and we are both great longterm fans of Tom Chambers whose plays we watched (and hockey matches) throughout his time at school and the former ever since. We know that Tom has always admired Fred Astaire and and that he just loves loves – and is very good at – tap dancing.

Negotiating the rugby league crowds and heavy rain along a busy route unknown to us had its stressful moments but we got to the Lowry in one piece, and managed eventually to park, way up above the crowds on the 6th floor… Apart from the journey from our delighteful B&B in Wilsmlow it was indulgence through and through, this trip! Having made our way down from the 6th floor clouds of the car park we had time for a quick chat with Tom at the stage door at the end of the matinee, a quick look at the current TS Lowry exhibition (what a talented but sad and solitary man) and then sat back to enjoy in a leisurely fashion our pre-booked pre theatre dinner at the Terrace Restaurant. All the food – although delicious – came shaped in little rounds which seems to be a current fashion and a not very subtle form of portion control (although i must admit we had more than enough).

Well dined we made our way to our very comfortable seats in row G – beautifully close to the action. Don’t you love that moment before the curtain opens, and when the orchestra begins… and so lively was the music that the conductor was almost tap dancing himself.

And at last it started. We loved the show. The storyline is thin, with the age-old theme of mistaken identities/dreadful misunderstandings but this hardly matters. The actors were good, the dancing magnificent and the familiar tunes so well-loved. I must admit there was a spell towards the end of the first act when John and I both found the show had begun to flag slightly; fortunately it regained its magic throughout the second half half and how disappointing it always is when a show really does come to an end with no more chances of an encore.

Marvelling how Tom, Summer Strallen and all the actors can do two shows in one day and still dance with such vigour and apparent enthusiasm we rose from our seats and virtually tap-danced our way back to the car park, passing all the rugby league singers whose endlessly repeated dirge-like refrains failed to drown the lively 1930s numbers echoing in our own heads. And now we are hoping to see the show again when it comes to Leeds (via Plymouth, Norwich, Canterbury and Edinburgh). Will it come to London?

Jane Eyre and Tom Chambers!

What a fun day we had yesterday, and a full one!

We set off fairly early for a Saturday morning to the Jane Eyre Behind the Scenes event at Haddon Hall. (This event was so over-subscribed that they are holding another on 23rd October – for more info go to Haddon Special Events or ring 01629 810 912 to book.)

This was totally fascinating, even to John and several others who have not yet seen the latest film… Janet and Jo most entertainingly took us through the whole process from their point of view first and foremost as custodians of a priceless mediaeval building with its contents but also as intrigued bystanders impressed by so much they had witnessed including the ingenuity and skills of the film crew and actors; also the boredom for the actors and onlookers as the same line would have to be repeated dozens of time over. One saw they had picked up some considerable acting skills themselves as they re-played various amusing episodes with great aplomb, having heard them so often repeated.

We shall be away, or i’d be tempted to go back for more on the 23rd. The main impressions, as they come to me at random…the expense (£24,000 on recreating a tree, that eventually wasn’t used) the ingenuity – when the Haddon dovecote becomes from the outside the church where Mr R and Jane are nearly married and the service which takes place of course in the Haddon chapel. We were let into secrets and taken into private parts of Haddon normally kept by Lord Edward for his own personal use when entertaining house-guests, we learnt about a little hitch in the continuity when the book Rochester as/isn’t reading is left on the bridge, were saw the actual costumes worn by the cast, we heard of many amusing incidents but probably above all we were aware  of the anxieties for the Haddon staff who had to be present all the time, to ensure that no damage was done unwittingly by the crew – like one who who genuinely had thought a priceless 16C chest was a prop and attached some curtaining with drawing pins or when the Thornfield fire was horribly convincingly staged (fortunately they had warned the local fire service, who – rather reassuringly – received over 100 calls that Haddon was aflame…) and so on.

So entertaining was it all that we just had to go and have a delicious bowl of homemade soup in the Haddon Hall restaurant to debrief and gather our wits before setting forth for Manchester, and the Lyric Theatre at the Lowry where we had booked tickets for the last night (there) of Tom Chambers in Top Hat.

I had been going to write of the full day in one post but I’ve spent too long at Haddon, so you’ll just have to wait a wee while to hear how we got on in Manchester along with tens of thousands of rather over-exuberant rugby league supporters, not that they were going to see Tom Chambers…

DRCS Shopping Fair 2011

Pear Tree ClothingWell, we have held our third DRCS Shopping Fair on Wednesday and Thursday this week (5th and 6th October) and come out victorious…! It’s a lot of hard work, much of it sheer physical slog, but we all reckon it was a very happy and successful one-and-a-bit day event. Customers flocked in, full of smiling anticipation and the buzz was non-stop. Whether the buzz meant less actual shopping was done we do not quite yet know, but the excitement and anticipation was  infectious and judging by the number of colourful shopping bags that left the hotel at least a bit of serious shopping was done.Johlind Ties

The Friends’ Committee, helped admirably by their husbands/wives coped wonderfully. Running an event like this is a lot of work, particularly beforehand, so that the actual occasion runs smoothly and apparently effortlessly – in fact, appears miraculously to “run itself’ as one of my  chairmen informed me when I was managing the service and  resisting his suggestions that similar events should ‘run themselves’  monthly and more or less fund the entire organisation without any external effort.

Mimu: bagsOur treasurer thinks we will have made approximately £5,000 which is wonderful. we are very grateful to the lovely stall holders who filled the Maynard in Grindleford with their colourful wares and tempted money out of many a pocket. Click here to view some of the many stalls, photographed by John.

YummaGummaWhat a happy event, and a happily tiring two days. The next excitement for us (watch these pages) is the Haddon Hall ‘Jane Eyre: Behind the Scenes’  tomorrow morning, and Top Hat tomorrow evening, at the Lowry in Manchester.

Baking Hot – Catching up with all the news

Delicious Bakewell Tarts from Orchard FarmWhat a wonderful spell of weather we have been enjoying!

As luck would have it I spent much of today in our kitchen churning out Bakewell tarts and also the coconut ‘Lincoln Tarts’ (guests may recognise!) for the Derwent Rural Counselling Service  (DRCS) Shopping Fair tomorrow. The apparently burnt offering at the back does not look so bad in real life, I promise!

2011 DRCS Shopping Fair, at  the Maynard, Grindleford, S32 2HE Tues 5th Oct 6pm-8pmThurs 6th Oct 10am-4pm

Then we had spent the previous two days indoors too, escaping outside to enjoy the balmy October sunshine whenever we had a break – we’ll be writing about snow next…! We had been attending the Premier Cottages AGM, which rather conveniently for all of us us in the Peak District is usually held just outside Stafford, so a much easier drive for us than those poor Premier Cottage owners who come from the far north or Cornwall.

It is always a very pleasant affair, with lots of stimulating discussions both formal and informal and interesting presentations. These included one by the CEO of VisitEngland, and another about  star gradings and inspections for holiday cottages by Pam Foden, the VisitEngland Quality Controller, who warned that inspections would become (even more) robust.  We all had a nervous turn about this when John and I reported back to Janet this evening:  we take the cleanliness so seriously anyway and already it often takes every single minute of the five hours we have between visits to tackle everything, however clean and tidy the previous guests have (almost invariably) left it.

In our experience the ‘robustness’ of inspectors has never been in question – it is more the puzzling   inconsistencies…

Finally, to end on a more positive note, here is  another happy photo, of umbrellas: the Peak District Premier Cottages (PDPC) group has commissioned an umbrella with PDPC Logo for a bit of cheerful and useful PR.


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