Singing alonga in the shire

I think there’s just one cinema context in which it’s perfectly acceptable to break several elements of The Code of Conduct – where singing along isn’t frowned upon, it’s actively encouraged; where phone action in the form of photography is positively essential; and the audience’s noise levels rise, instead of falling, as the film progresses.

On Thursday night my sister and I spent the evening participating in Singalonga Grease back in the Shire, courtesy of our former neighbour and a long awaited Christmas gift. This friend had previously made several trips to Singalonga Sound of Music and I’d experienced Singalonga Joseph at a Greenbelt yonks ago, so it seemed logical that the Grease version would be something we’d appreciate. Not least, in fact, because it has a long-standing history with us. I babysat J’s children while she and her husband watched a 20th anniversary re-release; and we took their eldest girls to see it for the first time.

Sure, the year before last Greenbelt put on a sing along Grease screening which we entered into with aplomb. But it wasn’t the official ‘Singalonga’ experience – that’s something quite exceptional. It includes goodie bags with props for various points during the film, so for Grease we had a balloon, tissue, chequered flag and a party popper (I’ll leave you to use your imagination as to which got used when). Plus a host who kicks off proceedings with a bit of a singing warm-up and choreography advice. (I am now proficient in the hand-jive. I am immensely proud of this.)

But the most essential element of any Singlonga screening has to be the costumes. Years ago, when first experiencing Singalonga Sound of Music, J arrived at the venue to discover a sea of nuns and felt foolish that her family were not appropriately dressed. At two further screenings they went to town, on one occasion even creating a set of outfits out of curtains – that, my friends, is dedication to the cause. The key to these things is to choose something a little niche, like the people who went as brown paper packages tied up with string, or my sister’s cardboard guitar. Willing audience members are always invited up on stage for a costume contest, and it can get rather competitive.

For Grease, we were a little flummoxed. Pink Ladies jackets are two a penny, and 1950’s prom dresses can be hard to come by, but what else could we do? In the end all three of us simply went for ‘generic 1950s girl’, which was fine. However, on the morning of the show I was seized with an idea that, had I had been inspired days earlier, could have been a roaring success – all I needed was a Victorian style nightgown, a sheet of pink note-paper and an inflatable paddling pool.

[Don’t understand? That would be Olivia Newton-John’s outfit and props for Hopelessly Devoted To You.]

Arriving at the venue, we found many similarly generic 50’s ladies; a multitude of Pink Ladies; a plethora of Frenchies with unfortunate pink hair; and a smattering of T Birds. The competitors for best costumes included few truly creative numbers – although the bright spark who decided to go as Eugene had my vote. However, there was one group of women who were definite exceptions. It took me ages to get a photo of them, and this was the best I could do:

That, my friends, is the costume from Beauty School Dropout and is, what we like to call, genius.

And this is what we looked like:

The effect of all of this is a night out best described as a hen night on acid. Men were very much in the minority, and there seemed to be an awful lot of wine purchased from the cinema’s bar (we had Diet Pepsi and Jelly Babies – classy). In fact, when I finally get to the point of having a hen night, a night out like that wouldn’t actually be a bad way to go – normally I decry dressing up on hen nights, but I’d make an exception for this. No one seemed to mind when we shouted out the lines, and the subtitles were a joy to watch – not just simple words with a bouncing ball, no, this was full-on animation. An especially favourite moment was during Stranded at the Drive-In with the addition of dancing hot dogs and ice lollies.

I’ll accept that such an evening out might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I do highly recommend it. In addition to the films mentioned above, there’s also the obligatory Singalong Rocky Horror and Abba. Honestly, what’s not to enjoy about that?

Treasures in Tewks

It’s great having siblings that know you well. Over half-term (how great is it to have half-terms again?!) I paid a flying visit to the shire, [well, I say ‘flying’, First Great Western got my there fairly speedily by train] and as a special treat, my sister had saved an exciting activity for us to do while I was there…

Tewkesbury, on the surface, is a fairly sleepy town. You can walk round it in 20 minutes. It doesn’t have a wide range of shops (its M&S closed down over a year ago), it does have an ancient abbey. The most dramatic thing to have happened there was the Battle of Tewkesbury in 1471 (part of the War of the Roses) – until 2007, when the town was over-run with water:

Thus, the thought of a exciting activity based in the town was rather intriguing – even more so when I discovered it was part of a fundraising activity from church (which in her case is the aforementioned abbey) – but my interest was truly awakened when I realised it was a competitive quiz:

That’s the quiz sheet – a collection of 30 images involving parts of the town (in a defined geographical area) and the abbey. Our mission was to locate them all and we only had a morning. Joyful. I love a good mission and a random adventure!

Luckily, she’d already identified a few of them (like number 25 – the West Window of the abbey photographed from below) so the task was slightly less daunting. Off we headed to the abbey, where we certainly did not use Verger contacts in order to get a head start… We foolishly assumed that #16 was part of a stained glass window – more fool us, how did we not realise it was a roof boss? [Who knew ‘roof boss’ was the official term for those things on the ceilings of abbeys/cathedrals?] However, it was once we left the abbey that things got really exciting.

In addition to the super-exciting quiz, Mim also took the opportunity to show me hidden nooks and crannies of the town. As we ventured up one alley, we unexpectedly found #11, quickly followed by #5 and #23. The next alley yielded even more – and our shouts of excitement with each new discovery were getting louder. As we paused for a breather (and to write down further answers using a bin as a desk) we spotted another three. Within an hour and a half of starting, we’d crossed off the majority – leaving just a few for Mim to finish off with some younger friends.

But the treasures of Tewkesbury did not end there. In the summer, I had an unexpected phone call from my mother, asking me questions about Chalet School hardbacks thanks to a discovery in the town’s second hand bookshop – it yielded me a copy of The Chalet School Goes To It. Clearly, I needed to make my own visit, though there were serious money implications. Within seconds of stepping over the threshold, I spied a shelf of familiar spines. My sister likes to help other people spend their money and she soon had me convinced that the two first editions and fully dust-jacketted hardbacks I held in my hand were veritable bargains (they really were, but it still came to quite a lot of money). Then, I glimpsed the cabinet…

…I think most Chalet School fans covet a few particular titles owing to their dust-jackets (it isn’t just me, is it?) and I would suspect that a highly sought after one would be The Chalet School Reunion, as its jacket features a collection of characters, with a key as to who’s who. As I approached the till to pay for my discoveries, I spotted three CS books in the cabinet – and there was an immaculate Reunion. (Plus two immaculate Coming of Age of the Chalet School. All three were first editions.) One of the books cost the same as the three I held in my hand, but I was tempted. At least I have now held those books, and that’s something.

Joey Goes to the Oberland, A Genius at the Chalet School & Shocks for the Chalet School

Go, visit Tewks! (Just don’t buy the Chalet School books I left behind.) Or, if you can’t be bothered, devise your own photographic treasure hunt and invite your friends along for a competitive afternoon of random object hunting. Fun for everyone.

Sibling shopping

I’m looking for a new sibling…
I jest of course. How could I possibly want to replace my unique (and utterly irreplaceable) little sister?

Easter weekend has been spent back in the shire in the company of sibling and sibling-in-law. Picking me up from the station in ‘nam (that would be a nam of the Cheltenham variety) we went straight into town for lunch at its ‘similar to but legally distinct from’ Wagamamas and some shopping.

The ‘nam has excellent, if somewhat expensive, shopping and we were on a mission to buy a soon to be 13 year old boy’s birthday present. (How is he that old? Teenage boys are so hard to shop for.) In addition to presents, we also managed to purchase identical shirt dresses (on my recommendation, already owning the same dress in black) and I acquired a skirt in Fat Face that my sister had bought only the week before. It seems there is sororal telepathy and there is simply liking and recommending the same clothes…

Owning identical clothes is fine as most of the time we live miles away from each other and spend approximately 2 weeks (if that) a year together. However, I should have realised that her new dress was likely to appear yesterday morning – after all, isn’t Easter Sunday the traditional day for donning new outfits?

She left for choir practice whilst I was in the shower, so I hadn’t even glimpsed what she was wearing; it also wasn’t visible during the service owing to her cassock/surplice. Not until I met her after the service did I discover we matched, albeit in different colours. [I suppose I should be thankful that the identical dress I’d bought didn’t quite fit – despite being the same size as my original black one – such is the way with Primark…] We may have got away with though. My rather purple jacket seems to distract attention away from any other item of clothing, and it was too cold to be without layers. Plus, even her husband didn’t notice till late in the evening.

I’ve just put on the grey skirt we both now own. (How could I resist a £13.50 Fat Face bargain that’s perfect for work?) I suppose I’d better pop into the lounge and check what she’s wearing. Identical clothing two days running would be too, too much.

Before I do, I have one more issue to mention. Because of our similar taste, I’ve often had a habit of passing cast-off’s onto her – especially ones that no longer fitted. Now that I’m back down to her size again, there were one or two things I’d rather like back. Specifically, an Abercrombie & Fitch t-shirt I bought years ago in Hong Kong. I’d bought her one too (different colour), so if I got mine back it’s not as though she’d be left with nothing. However, she is immovable. I ‘gave’ it to her and thus it is hers. Apparently it also fits better than her original. I find this grossly unfair, especially as she has a very full wardrobe and I’m struggling to rebuild mine.

Hmph. Maybe I should look for a new sibling after all.

Home is where…?

This is a question I’ve long pondered, as someone who was moved from place to place thanks to my parents’ vocations. The simple question: “where do you come from?” never had a simple answer.
Home used to be where my parents lived. Even after I’d officially ‘left home’ and headed to university, they lived in a house I’d lived in full-time for four years. But these days I object strongly to anyone who refers to my trips to Belfast (where they now live) as trips ‘home’. It is not my home. I have never lived there.
Whenever I dream about ‘home’ it’s my bedroom back in the Shire that I see – even though it hasn’t been mine for 5 years. Obviously my subconscious hasn’t quite caught-up with my geographical moves yet.

But today, as I walked around the city where I spent most of my teenage years (and one of my 20’s), I realised I couldn’t call it ‘home’ anymore. Few friends are left. Few shops are left that were there when I lived there. I don’t have the accent (though, if you ask very nicely, I could possibly do it for you). When I left this afternoon, I came home.

My family might not live here, I might not have been born here, but London’s been my home for over 2 decades. My flat is my home – it’s filled with my junk and it’s the place I retreat to when life becomes a bit much.
Is ‘home’ a word we use too casually? Do we fully understand what it means to feel ‘at home’? And, most importantly, how do we recapture the feeling of ‘home’ we once had – wherever and whenever that might have been – when its absence in our lives is so acute?

Appreciating a local reference

One of my favourite lazy Saturday past-times is watching the Gilmore Girls omnibus on E4. I love it, in all its cheesy, chick-flick glory.

Today I was happy ensconsed in pjs and hoodie, painting my nails and eating breakfast (always the multi-tasker), when my ears pricked up at a reference to Gloucestershire (my favourite kind of shire).

Rory’s boyfriend Logan was just back from a summer tour of Europe and had broken his finger whilst participating in the ‘Gloucestershire Cheese Rolling Festival’.

Of course, Gloucestershire was pronounced “Gla-owcestershire” and the cheese-rolling actually takes place in May, not August…but still, not often the shire gets referenced in popular culture.