Saturday, May 13, 2006

At the Drop of a Hippopotamus ...

I had an evening of Flanders and Swann last night, and a rattling good one it was too. It was performed by two young men called Tim FitzHigham (Flanders) and Duncan Walsh Atkins (Swann), and the show was presented in the Maltings Arts Theatre, a tiny place embedded in one of the shopping centres in St Albans. They managed to look uncommonly like the originals, except of course that there was no wheelchair, which allowed for a great deal more movement and comic business.

They have been touring with this aptly named show every year since 2002, and have produced their own CD of the show. Not surprisingly the audience was heavily loaded with older people, although a good number of children had been brought along too, and nobody had any difficulty in entering into the spirit of the thing - lovely familiar stuff that is part of our cultural fabric for many of us. The programme of 20 songs contained old favourites such as The Gasman Cometh, Misalliance (The Honeysuckle and the Bindweed), Have some Madeira M'dear, and many of the animal songs.

They have bookings around the country until mid July, and more to come, and I would thoroughly recommend them for lovers of 'The Hat'. Go to and click on Tour to see the dates.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Dance Fever

I watched Strictly Dance Fever last night. I think the dance competition knockout format has been pretty much done to death, but I still find myself watching, because I just love to watch dancing. I cheat though: I give the first few programmes a miss and start watching when the poorest dancers have been voted off. And I don’t watch the vote count and elimination any more either – I am so heartily sick of the way the presenters drag out the pause before the final decision in order to create tension. I don’t pay my licence fee for nothing to happen on screen.

I have dancing in my blood: my mother and father used to win dance competitions before they were married. But I was very shy about dancing as a child. I remember one particular children’s party where we sat in a circle on the floor, and were expected to get up one at a time and dance. I was hideously embarrassed, and so envious of a tall leggy girl who threw her limbs about all over the place to great effect.

I really found my dancing legs at my co-ed boarding school during the war. We danced to records on Wednesdays and Saturdays after tea. Glen Miller was one of our great standbys. My popularity (not great) increased on those nights, because I had a fully circular skirt which showed off to great effect in a Viennese waltz, and lots of the girls wanted to borrow it. There was one big strong senior boy who could whirl us round the floor as though we were feathers, and we all yearned for him to partner us.

At home in the holidays I used to dance at the youth club which my parents ran in the village. Mostly I danced with a girlfriend, taking the lead, which was not good for my subsequent style. Occasionally my Dad would dance with me, which was wonderful, though I had to stretch my legs like crazy to match his 6-foot-plus stride. But that didn’t happen often because Dad was the pianist – self-taught and playing only in the key of C!

When I left school and went to work in London, my life just didn’t seem to include dancing on a regular basis. I didn’t have the sort of friend I could go to dance halls with, so the occasional night out was all I got. My husband was no great ballroom dancer, but we did do Scottish Country Dancing together, both in the UK, and in Bombay, where we danced in shorts with a towel at the ready to mop up with – then off for a curry supper.

But it wasn’t until I was turned 50 that I took it into my head to SIGN UP FOR DANCING LESSONS!! I attended classes in Ballroom, Latin and Disco – that was around the time that John Travolta burst upon the dancing world in Saturday Night Fever - and I managed to make my way through Bronze, Silver and Gold medal exams. But I went alone as my husband wouldn’t join me, and had to dance with the instructors, so I gave up after that. Now I only watch, except for an occasional gentle circle dance. But I will watch dancing in absolutely any form at all.

[The picture shows my mother and father winning a dance competition in the 1920s. The piece of paper in my mother's hand is the £5 note which they won as a prize.]

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Realisation of a long-term plan

Somewhere between 20 and 25 years ago Schwartz were offering these plastic (simulated wood) spice racks for screwing to the wall to hold their spice jars. Note the price of 39p! When I saw them I thought immediately that they would be just the thing to hang my necklaces on. How much nicer to enjoy them all the time, instead of only when I wore them. So I promptly bought a couple of racks. And my necklaces continued to live in boxes, and the spice racks were put away in the gargage.

Now, all those years and a house move later, I have at last arranged for someone to fix them to the wall for me. My collection is considerably larger by now. My eldest granddaughter will be particularly pleased, as she always enjoys seeing my different necklaces.

Monday, May 01, 2006


This is a very rare picture, of me laughing, and I am indebted to my friend Keith Donovan for capturing it, on the occasion of our first meeting three years ago.

It is sad to have to say that one does not laugh often enough, but for many of us it is the case, particularly if we live alone.

I am fortunate that I can be sure of a really rollicking good laugh at least once a year, when I join my friends of the Growing Old Disgracefully Network for our four-day spring frolic at the end of April. We get together at a residential college and run our own workshops and activities, and in the evenings we round the day off with fun and games, dancing and laughter.

There is one game in particular which has us all hooting and rolling in our chairs. Someone starts by miming an activity, and her neighbour must ask her "Whatever are you doing?" But she doesn't reply by saying what she is actually miming, but invents some other activity, which her neighbour then has to mime.... and so on round the circle. As we all relax with this nonsense, our acting ability gets better and better, and the activities suggested for miming get more and more daring and difficult. Anyone giving a particularly brilliant performance is liable to be left to carry on for an unbearably long time, before her neighbour takes pity on her, and puts her out of her misery by asking the question that releases her. Try it some time with a group you know well.

Remembering my mother...

Walking in the early evening sunshine just now I was reminded of one of the nicest things my mother used to do for me. When I was living and working in London as a young woman, she would pick primroses and snowdrops from the banks of the hill on top of which we lived in the country, pack them in wet moss in a tin, wrap them securely and send them to me through the post. The arrival of these moist and sweetly smelling cullings from my home ground restored me in heart and spirit and gave me courage for another year.

At the beginning of the war, when I was 11, we had moved from Birmingham to a small village seven miles from Worcester. From that time on the countryside seemed an essential part of my being, although the search for interesting jobs took me to London, where the stimulation and resources of a capital city became equally important to me. But at times of stress and unhappiness I would often take flight to the country again to recover my equilibrium.