Romeo and Juliet – Another Birthday Treat

As regular readers will know we as a family love a bit of Shakespeare and time at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. So, a little birthday treat was to see my second-favourite (I think – although top spot will always be ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ – I seem to constantly change the other rankings) play, ‘Romeo and Juliet’.

I always try to avoid finding out the staging and setting of productions before we go, as I love the element of surprise. However, I had a not totally managed it before this production, so I knew it was modern and that it hoped to raise awareness of knife crime in the 21st century, especially amongst the young.

The stage was wonderfully plain, only starting with a box on stage. I am always impressed how little staging the RSC productions need for some of their adaptations. I was intrigued to see how we would experience the story on this simple stage.

As the lights dim those famous opening lines begin – ‘Two households, both alike in dignity, In fair Verona were we lay our scene…’ I was excited. The production is certainly a young one; the real focus, for me, was on the relationships between the young characters. The risks of being quick to anger and the lack of empathy and understanding that big rival groups can have for each other. The damage that the actions of others can have even on positive situations. And, how extreme tragedy can sometimes be the only thing that causes people to stop and think – unfortunately, something that we witness almost everyday in the world that we live in.

I enjoyed the production, especially the performances of Karen Fishwick as Juliet, Baily Gill as Romeo ad Andrew French as Friar Laurence. (That moment at the end – if you know the story, you’ll know what I mean – was emotional and beautifully done). However, there was a little bit of a feel that it was inspired by the Baz Luhrmann film and, as huge fan of the film, I totally understand what an inspiration it could be. Yet, I do not think that this production needed it, as it was relatable as it was.

This production is still a must see, and certainly one that I think younger generations should see and really think about. It always surprises me how much Shakespeare plays are relevant today and certainly cements why he is still so much part of our British culture.

Do you have a favourite Shakespeare play? Or an adaptation that really strikes you?

Bath, Bristol and Birthdays

I am a huge fan of the art trails (if that is the correct name for them) that pop up in our cities in the Summer. When I spotted that both Bath and Bristol had them going on this year (as well as a number of other cities), I knew the destination of a little adventure.

Bath – The Owl Trail

The joy of Bath is that it is so close to Bristol so both cities can be visited easily. After a good night’s sleep at the IBIS Hotel at Temple Meads we set off early to beat some of the tourist crowd.

Immediately on leaving the station you can spot owls. So, of course, the photos started straight away. We began our tour just randomly spotting owls and owlets as we found them. There were two reasons for this: one, it was early and we like a stroll and, two, we wanted to find breakfast. (Cafe Rouge became the destination of choice.)

Once we had refueled, we grabbed ourselves a map (you offer a donation) and carried on. Mr Bookwormandtheatremouse took control of the route we took. The best thing about these events is you see so much of the city without realising. It also introduces you to parts of the city that you would not normally visit. Bath is so beautiful that there is always something to catch your eye.

We also took the chance to visit Bath Abbey, as we have never been before. You do have to pay an entry fee, which I know divides opinion – some say a donation would be better. But the important thing is that it supports the upkeep of important cultural sites. Bath Abbey is a beauty and oozes history, which is where my interest in such buildings lie.

This was a brilliant day; my only disappointment was that you would have had to enter the Roman Baths to spot all the city centre owls. However, we managed over 50 of the city centre owls. A great day!

Bristol – Gromit Unleashed 2

Day two was all about Bristol and my birthday (woohoo!).

Aardman Studios has its home in Bristol, so therefore it is also home to Wallace and Gromit. This is the second ‘Gromit Unleashed’ and it is in aid of Bristol Children’s Hospital.

Our first stop was an amazing bakery, ‘Hart’s Bakery’, which is among the arches at Temple Meads Station. I do not think I have ever seen such a huge Almond Croissant. A croissant connoisseur Mr Bookwormandtheatremouse was in his element. Coffee was amazing too.

Energised and ready to go, we started off on the harbourside trail, taking in the sites such as the SS Great Britain. What was lovely about this is not only were there statues to spot, but you have Wallace, Gromit and Feathers McGraw to look out for. Wallace is also always on a bench, which is great for photos and avoids the temptation for some to climb.

Lunch break was a delicious birthday meal at Loch Fyne. The fish your way on the menu is perfect: pick your fish, sauce and sides – yummy!

In the afternoon, we focused on the city trail. Again, you see parts of the city you would normally miss.

By the end of the day, we had found all the Gromit Unleashed 2 statues in Bristol itself (minus the one in the M Shed exhibition hall).

These trails were both brilliant fun and we can’t wait to see what next year brings.

Have you completed any of the city trails this year?

Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell

Hayley always seems to pass on the most fabulous books and this was no exception.

I had not heard of this title (clearly my head had been in the sand) but I was intrigued when I read the blurb on the back. I love a mystery novel, so was more than happy to give this book a go.

From the moment I started this book I was hooked. In my first sitting I read 125 pages; I just could not put the book down (pretty sure I should have been doing something else but clearly that was forgotten). I loved how the novel was structured, the narrative came from a variety of characters, which kept my interest in the novel even more. Jewell smoothly transitions between the viewpoints of different characters, bringing depth to the story.

I always find it difficult to blog about mystery novels as I never want to spoil any part of the plot. The twists and turns in this plot are not always a surprise, but this does not take away from the novel as the story is rich enough.

After having finished this novel, I would be keen to read other titles by Lisa Jewell. This was, after all, the perfect summer mystery read.

Have you discovered any new authors this summer? Any recommendations?

Adventures in Antwerp

When Miss W suggested we had a girly city break to Antwerp I jumped at the chance. I absolutely love adventures with friends, and with Mr Bookwormandtheatremouse at work he was not going to miss me. Hehe!

So, at the end of July we jumped on the ever so speedy Eurostar to Brussels, then changed onto a local train to Antwerp so our adventure could begin.

We arrived on a beautiful sunny Tuesday afternoon to be greeted by the amazing Antwerp central station. It is absolutely stunning, fabulous architecture and a truly amazing atmosphere. The camera was straight out to try and snap the magnificence of the building. As you leave the station you realise how much it dominates the skyline and oozes stories of arrivals and departures.

Miss W had found a great hotel, Hotel Rubens – Grote Markt, it was central but slightly off the tourist trail (only by metres) so was peaceful. It was gorgeous and we were lucky enough to have a courtyard view. At the corner of the courtyard was the oldest tower in Antwerp, which had carefully been incorporated into the architecture of the hotel.

Afternoon one was all about taking in the beauty of the city and adopting the continental culture of eating and drinking al fresco. We enjoyed delicious open sandwiches (once we deciphered the menu), pizza and wine (not all at the same time I hasten to add). The simple joy of socialising in Antwerp was lovely to see and the slower pace of life was perfect for a chilled out city break.

Wednesday

The real adventure began. After a delicious breakfast we walked to the Antwerp Zoo. This was a trip we thought would just fill a few hours but instead lasted all day.

The zoo is set in wonderful gardens (which means you can’t walk on the grass) with benches placed all around to allow you to take in the views. The zoo is also bordered by Central Station which means you can appreciate it from another angle to the one you see on arrival.

There is a great collections of animals and we enjoyed seeing them all, especially the rather elegant flamingos who greet you as you enter the zoo.

We took a break for lunch at the zoo’s cafe. We each had a great Salmon and Courgette Quiche, made using puff pastry. It was packed full of flavour (and really put the British tourist food to shame).

There were talks and so much great information signs – not in English – but we liked picking out the words we could understand and having a good guess at others (the pictures helped).

Our evening consisted of amazing Belgian Waffles and crisp cold white wine at a fabulous Belgian bar with tables in the shadow of the Cathedral (all after a bit of a cultural stroll of the city).

Thursday

After a second epic breakfast (I promise that Miss W and I do not totally judge our trips on food) we decided to explore the city.

Miss W took the lead and guided us, after a walk along the river, to the most stunning museum. ‘MAS’ is a beautiful, modern museum which tells the story of Antwerp but from the point of view of all the diverse cultures which make the city what it is. It shows how the rich tapestry of Antwerp has been and continues to be formed.

The current promoted exhibition is ‘Celebration! Colourful rituals’ a wonderful guide to celebrations and festivals that mark life’s moments, not just in Antwerp but around the world. It is fascinating and you will come away having learnt something and realising how small the world is as we embrace all the different celebrations from the diverse cultures of all our countries.

When you reach the top there are the most stunning views of the city and the surronding area. You can really appreciate what makes Antwerp what it is.

After a delightful al fresco lunch of burgers, fries and pancakes (again – not all at the same time) we walked the zig-zag narrow streets back to the centre and visited the Cathedral. It makes a statement as all such buildings do. Towering over the two main squares, you can not avoid all its majestic glory. Inside it is beautiful, with stained glass windows and brilliant stone and wood work. There are currently some pieces of art on loan, with a religious theme, but they can be appreciated on all sorts of levels (the History Teacher in me was fascinated by the social commentary the paintings offered).

After out very cultural and educational day, we spent our final evening very much like the one before: waffles and wine (although ice cream and wine for Miss W).

So, if you fancy a great city break, Antwerp is a wonderful place to visit. We didn’t even cover all that the city had to offer and would happily go back.

This summer, have you been on any adventures?

 

Geeky Stitching Company and the love of Harry Potter

Social media can be a wonderful thing. I know it feels like it is regularly getting a battering but, for me, it is one of the best ways to discover some lovely independent businesses. It is, in fact, how I discovered the fabulous ‘The Geeky Stitching Company‘: a truly brilliant, independent cross stitch pattern designer based in the South of England – Devon to be precise.

My eye was caught initially by those wonderful words ‘Harry Potter’. I spotted a brilliant bundle of two Harry Potter-inspired designs that looked a lot of fun to stitch. So I placed an order.

The kits are beautifully presented, although being a bit of an amateur at this blogging malarkey, I forgot to take a photo. However, I promise they are pretty. A lovely pastel, branded presentation box with everything inside wrapped perfectly in tissue. The kit contains everything you need to complete the design – a needle (essential), the threads (ready sorted), aida, a hoop, the pattern and an instruction sheet. There is also an awesome pom pom trim.

Now, for some stitchers, I commit a bit of a sin: I do not sew with a hoop. I never have – I am sorry. I used them for the finished presentation only – again, I am sorry.

Anyway, now I have confessed, back to the post. The instruction and the patterns are easy to follow – just remember to start at the centre and always count your stitches.

These kits are great for all abilities and are so satisfying to complete. They are just so fun and colourful and will basically make you happy at every stage.

Also, I have really appreciated the support of Jess of ‘The Geeky Stitching Company’. She will always recognise your efforts if you share them on social media and happily replies to DMs. In fact, I was so happy when she shared one of my photos to her Instagram – felt like a real achievement on all sorts of levels.

I have since stitched four Harry Potter inspired designs and absolutely love them. They make me smile every time they catch my eye because, let’s be honest, who would not rather be at Hogwarts?

So, if you are a fan of cross stitch or want to give something new a go, pop over to ‘The Geeky Stitching Company‘ and pick yourself a little kit.

P.S This is not an ad or something that I was asked to write – I just wanted to share my thoughts on a great independent business and something that has made me smile this summer.

Origin by Dan Brown

So, I know that the novels of Dan Brown are not especially classic pieces of literature, but they are a little guilty pleasure of mine. They always seem to grab my attention, as they are set in cities with fascinating histories and mysteries.

‘Origin’ follows just this formula that I adore, and I was hooked from the word go. As the title suggests, Dan Brown tackles the difficult questions about the start and the end of the human race. Our setting is Spain, Bilbao and Barcelona, our adventure is fast paced and our enemy and ally would not be who we expect. Brown has clearly researched the ideas and the worlds that he places Langdon in to. Now, I do not claim to be an expert in the ideas that Brown shares in his novels, but he does create questions for you to ponder, either along with Professor Langdon or in your own time.

The references to Spain’s difficult past under Franco have reminded me that this is something I should really learn more about. Sometimes we forget about the history of our neighbouring nations and how that shapes them. And, I would certainly like to visit La Sagrada Familia again, not having been since a hen do many years ago. However, this novel, as much as I enjoyed it, has not replaced ‘Angels and Demons’ in my affections as Langdon’s greatest adventure.

Do you have a favourite Dan Brown novel?

Murder is Easy by Agatha Christie

This month ‘Maidens of Murder’ book club choice is ‘Murder is Easy’. This is one of Agatha Christie’s novels which does not include one of out literary national treasures Poirot or Miss Marple. This does have Superintendent Battle pop up, but he has very little to do with story as a whole.

I was pretty hooked at the beginning as a mysterious encounter between Luke Fitzwilliam and Lavinia Pinkerton, on the train to London, means he becomes aware of strange goings-on in Wychwood Under Ashe. When Mr Fitzwilliam realises that Miss Pinkerton’s suspicions will never be followed up, he takes himself to the seemingly sleepy village to carry out his own investigations.

I am sure it is not a spoiler to share that a series of suspicious murders take place. However, the investigations into the mystery slow the pace a little. Despite, of course, there being quite a collection of colourful characters, and even some suggestions of witchcraft, these chapters seem a little drawn out.

However, the conclusion of the tale picks up the pace again. There is quite some excitement as the culprit is revealed. It is very well engineered in Christie’s usual style.

I enjoyed this book – although I do not think it is one I would return to, as I feel that now I know the outcome it would not offer the same drama to read it again.

Have you read any of the Christie stand alone tales? What did you think?

Spectacles – A Memoir by Sue Perkins

A good memoir is one you can relate to. Where you read some of the tales and they trigger some of your own memories. Now, don’t get me wrong, I do not expect to have the life of a celebrity or a historical figure, but when they talk about the real world you realise that everyone’s paths are not so different.

Sue Perkins is probably most recently recognisable for hosting the real ‘Great British Bake Off’ (oooh yes I went there), and her memoir is just as real as she appears on TV. I was laughing from page one and reading snippets out to my poor holiday companion Miss W (who has read the book, so probably didn’t need to hear it at 10 o’clock at night). I could hear Sue’s voice telling the every tale and there was a really natural flow to the words. And, again, the tales told were honest and relateable. One anecdote about Granny Smith really struck a chord with me – reminding me of my very own family.

However, Sue Perkins does not shy away from the darker side of life and some struggles, but it is all told so naturally and with no sugar coating, and no over-dramatic adjectives, that you simply quietly empathise and have a little think.

Another reason I found reading this a joy is that this is the same copy read by ‘Hayley From Home‘ and ‘Adventures with One of Each‘, as we love to pass books along. So, thank you Sue for bringing us joy on TV (often with Mel) and sharing that little bit more with us too.

Murder at The Brightwell by Ashley Weaver

This was another title that I received through one of ‘The Reading Residence‘ bookswaps. It has been on the ‘To Be Read’ pile for a while because, simply, I have no discipline when it comes to the order I read books. I am rather magpie-ish and flittish when I pick reads and go with what I fancy.

‘Murder at The Brightwell’ appealed to me as a summer holiday read. It has a fabulous cover which oozes Art Deco galmour – especially Summer beach Art Deco glamour.

This is a wonderful classic-style crime. If you are a fan of Agatha Christie then you will be a fan of Ashley Weaver’s novel. From the moment you start reading you are immersed in the world of the glamourous Amory Ames. As this novel is told from her point of view, you really do feel you are on her sleuthing adventure. It is nice in this style of classic crime to have a slightly younger amateur sleuth – meaning it is not just about that but also the complex relationship she has with her dashing playboy husband, Milo and her former fiance Gil Trent. Especially as it is Gil who is the reason that Amory is at The Brightwell on the day of the murder.

The story unfolds as you would expect; secrets are revealed (not always happily), suspects are numerous and there are red herrings galore. You simply can not stop yourself from wanting to know the solution to the puzzle. And I, for one, was a little surprised by the resolution.

This is the sort of novel that makes reading feel like a luxurious pursuit: you should be reading it in the Sun, with a glass of your favourite tipple and wearing a lovely summer dress and hat – just as Amory Ames would be if she could avoid the drama.

Paper Butterflies by Lisa Heathfield

A bold statement, but this could be one of my books of the year. Although, not a new book, Lisa Heathfield is a new author to me, this year, and – my word – she has struck a chord with me.

Just like ‘Seed’, ‘Paper Butterflies’ was a real surprise! This book does not tackle an easy subject, and I actually found the first few pages difficult to read, but once the context is in place, you can not leave June’s journey. You become a real part of June’s story as she grows up on each page. You root for her relationship with the unusually named ‘Blister’. We all learn that difference is good and happiness can be there for everyone to find and enjoy. However, the absolutely traumatic twist to the tale will break your heart. I struggled to put the book down before we reached the twist but, once we were at ‘After’, for every chapter I just had to know the outcome.

I can not spoil this book for anyone who wants to read it because it really is an experience not just a story. However, my biggest life lesson (and what really hit a nerve as a teacher) is you know the battles people are fighting or what really happens behind closed doors. My heart broke continuously for the beautiful June but I hope her story will educate all those who read this novel to become so much more aware of the world around them. After all, not everyone is brave enough to ask for help. And, that sometimes we are truly surprised by those around us!