Thursday, 23 January 2014

How to have a perfect weekend (if you're me)

Hello webby mates!

I am in such a wonderful mood. Every year my Very Excellent Mate Bon and I go to London for the third weekend in January to see Matthew Bourne's ballet. I go down early for a day to myself. It's my favourite weekend of the year - like a private Christmas with none of the hard work before it.

This year it was especially great. Somehow everything worked out Just So, with happy accidents, great artistry and people being lovely all conspiring to leave me glowing with happiness for 3 days.

 First I met up with my internet pal London Heather (as opposed to my friends Leeds Heather and Heather-In-New-Zealand) and as is so often the case with internet friends, we were Real Life friends right away. She took me to the British Museum exhibition on Columbian gold. If you do get a chance to visit it, I recommend it.  It was fascinating.

I spent more time in the British Museum after the exhibition. I just love the enclosed courtyard with its glass diamond roof. I have been a visitor long enough to remember it before the renovation and it still thrills me every time I enter.
I said hello to old friends in the Museum - those things I pop by to see whenever I'm there - and headed out into the rain.

My evening plan had been to spend time with my Very Excellent Mate Alison. However, we'd got our dates confused and decided to meet for breakfast on Saturday instead.  I wanted something great to do that evening on my own - ideally something other than a trip to my beloved Everyman cinema - but everything I wanted to see was so expensive.

I thought I'd wander down Shaftesbury Avenue and along to the Leicester Square ticket kiosk to see if I could find something affordable. Excellent decision, Jay!

The English National Ballet's production of Le Corsair had two of my favourite things - ballet and pirates. How could I go wrong? The £55 ticket was available for £30 and at that price it would be rude not to.

I walked up the side streets from Leicester Square to Carnaby Street and then into Liberty. I'd seen the most wonderful fabric there 10 weeks ago and hadn't bought any. I decided to splurge on 1/2 a metre. It's so lovely. I feel happy just looking at it.
From there I went back to the Covent Garden area to have dinner for one at Poplo. I don't know if you've ever been but I HIGHLY reccomend it. Each little plate of food was so delicious I decided it was my favourite - until I tasted the next one.  However, I think my Limoncello martini won on points.

The ballet was just lovely. 

It's been a while since I saw a ballet by a company other than Matthew Bourne's New Adventures. I love his ballets for the storytelling - they get right to the emotional heart of things and make me feel heartbroken, ecstatic, full of longing or so full of joy my heart hurts my chest. I can't help but give them my heart to play with for the evening. They aren't 'traditional' in choreography - not so much pointe work and lifts and leaps - but have a more muscular, expressive style.

In sharp contrast are the Russian ballet companies.  All of those that I've seen have been technically excellent but dead. The point of them seems to be exercises in athleticism and craft rather than emotion.  They manage astonishing feats of endurance - ballerinas posed on pointe for unimaginable lengths of time, lifts higher, backs arched deeper - but it demonstrates technique rather than soul.  After seeing about 8 of them I gave up.

English National Ballet are different again. The dances were astonishingly beautiful and difficult.  The only sane explanation for how the men could leap so high and so fast is that they have springs in their legs, while the two principle ballerinas seemed to hover in the air thanks to sky hooks or electromagnets.  But these were beautiful, graceful sights rather than Olympic standard exhibitions.  The story was silly (Lord Byron is a nut-bucket. "Look, they're finally safe. Oops, no, can't have that, let's drown everyone in the last 2 minutes") but it allowed for wonderful costumes and set pieces.  I wasn't emotionally engaged but I was entranced.

During the interval I got chatting with two lovely women seated near me.  We hit it off so well that we stood outside the theatre afterwards chatting for another 15 minutes. Hello Immi and Nicci! I wish I'd known them before Emma was about to head back to Australia by way of New York, but the internet makes all friendships possible.

Here comes the dumb luck. ENB perform at the Coliseum. Across the road is the Duke of York theatre, where Mark and I had seen Jeeves and Wooster: Perfect Nonsense a few days before.  It was utterly joyous and I urge everyone to see it.  It is perfectly cast with Stephen Mangan as Bertie and Matthew Macfadyen and his perfect diction as Jeeves. That man makes every word in the English language sound beautiful. He is immensely charming, was marvellous as Tom in Spooks and also my favourite Mr Darcy. (I love Colin Firth in many things but I hate that lake-jumping nonsense. Darcy never would.)  I carry such a torch for him.

Having lingered to chat with Immi and Nicci, I crossed the road to walk up to the cash machines a little further along. There was a tall bloke in a flat cap outside the Duke of York. Matthew Macfadyen. I managed not to actually swoon, but only by a hair's breadth. He was utterly lovely and friendly. I took the most dreadful photograph of us because I was still saying "I'm SO sorry about this" as I took it. But I don't care, I'm going to post it anyway. Matthew Macfadyen spoke to me in that beautiful voice and I was done for. Stupidly, ridiculously happy.

I must confess I have spent the last two evenings re-watching Pride and Prejudice. Told you, done for.

The next morning I met VEM Alison at Carluccios for breakfast and a massive chat. Then Bon arrived - cue more chat and hugging - and we talked and grinned until even my jaw was tired. Which takes a lot, believe me.

Alison and me
Bon and I spent the afternoon walking, chatting, browsing in shops, having cuppas and cake, chatting some more, and generally catching up on a whole year's news. I really miss her in the gaps between hanging out each January.
Ticket, and some stranger's shoes
The evening was our Main Event - ballet at Sadler's Wells. It was Swan Lake again - I think this was either my 9th or 11th time seeing it; I've rather lost count. I think it is about as perfect as art gets. Bon and I were both looking forward to it.

But it was different. The choreography had changed. Not massively, but enough to affect the whole ballet.  At the interval we were each trying to avoid saying it - "It's not as good."  Yikes.
The thing that sustains us as our hearts break for the poor prince, so isolated and alone, is scene of the tenderness between him and his Swan at the riverside. Saps that we are, we are so desperate for him to receive comfort that their time together is crucial to us. Too much unkindness and alienation is too hard to bear. (That's why Dumbo is such a horrible film)

This Swan was wilder. He physically struck the prince several times - through his untamedness rather than viciousness - and their dances together were more cautious. The chemistry was very different and the the prince's euphoria after made a little less sense.This continued with The Stranger - always cruel, now even more sadistic in his taunts and sexuality. Oh that poor, poor boy.

Some of the new aspects added much to the story, and the final section had us shuddering with suppressed sobs as we cried our mascara towards our chins. It hit us more powerfully than it ever done. We were both wrecked by it.

Bon said it's our old age. I think it was that tweaking of choreography - less relief of the prince's agony in the first act made the second even more tragic.  Just amazing. But why? Why take that little bit of joy from the audience?  He is Matthew Bourne's creation but after this many visits he feels like he belongs to us, the audience, too. The humour - and there is so, so much that is extremely funny - doesn't take away from our (well, my at least) need for respite for the prince.

So, utterly utterly wonderful by the end but the world's a little colder for a while.

After dinner at The Gate - delicious vegetarian food! Do go if you're ever in the area - and a restorative glass of wine to bring us back down to earth (and fix that mascara) we headed back to our hotel for another chat, then bed.

On Sunday we met Bon's niece Em for breakfast. She took us around The Stables market in Camden. So much of it looked just as markets did when we had student digs in the late 80s. Tie dye, sandalwood, old movie posters, geeky T shirts:  le plus ca change... Anyway, it was good fun. I took a picture of the crazy robots outside Cyberdog for my steampunk enthusiast son and managed to stop myself buying a My Neighbour Totoro back pack for Miss B.
After leaving Camden and Em behind, VEM Bon and I went to Islington to browse the little shops and cafes. We HAD to go into Loop. Bon couldn't get over the beautiful yarns there. It's a lovely shop, although they stock extremely expensive things I couldn't afford this time. Last year I bought two skeins of alpaca yarn and made myself a wonderful cable knit scarf. This year I resisted. It was hard, though - the staff are wonderful and the stock so tempting.
Bon having a browse
Bon left to catch her train. I walked on to Ray Stitch, where owner Rachel sells more beautiful fabric than I knew existed.  I mean, look at it. Doesn't it look lovely?
Temptation lies this way

There were fabrics from all over, although the Japanese printed cottons were particularly tempting.  All the restraint I'd shown at Loop and Camden market crumbled in the face of a fat quarter bundle. Oh dear.

After that, I remembered I'd not had lunch. I had a lovely coffee and peanut butter brownie on the way back to the tube, grabbed my bag and headed to the station. I was spent up (and then some), footsore, and riding high on the most wonderful, exciting and happy weekend.

Last of the sunlight lighting up St Pancras
I hope your weekend holds something just as lovely for you, full of whatever floats your boat - I know ballet, cake, fabric and chatting aren't for everyone. (Matthew Macfadyen is, of course)
Be happy,
J x

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