So, I finally went to the ballet

Or rather, I went to see contemporary dance – strictly speaking what I saw wasn’t traditional ballet. Whatever, ballet’s one word, whereas contemporary dance is two…

When I wrote my original 2010 Firsts post, I included: ‘Watch live ballet (Matthew Bourne for preference)’. One of the comments that followed was from the lovely Jules, who is a dancer and therefore enjoys watching such things, who suggested I go with her. After 7 months, she took matters into her own hands and inside my birthday card I discovered a promise of a ticket to see Bourne’s Cinderella this Christmas.

You might be surprised that I’d managed to avoid ballet for over 29 years, given that I’m usually such a culture vulture. I’d wondered myself. True, I wasn’t shipped off to ballet lessons age 4 (the ballet teacher of classes in our church hall smoked cigars, my mother didn’t like her), but I did read ballet books voraciously – especially the Drina series by Jean Estoril. My sister somehow managed to rebel and finally got lessons aged 11, resulting in her taking both GCSE and A-level dance. [Yes, such qualifications exist and are not the dossy option they may sound. Like English you have set-texts; like Music you have to learn a whole new language of notation; and like Biology, you have to know a heck of a lot of anatomy.]

Anyway, I digress. The real reason why I never got to see ballet growing up was revealed when I was chatting to my mum en route to the theatre – apparently neither of my parents liked it, so they didn’t want to take us. Fair enough, and it may also explain why they never took us to musicals, instead finding willing friends who would.

So, Saturday was the day – exciting stuff, made all the more exciting with the frisson of danger provided by a mid-morning blizzard. Would I get to Sadler’s Wells? Would Jules? Would the cast be able to make it?  Would it snow more while we were in there? Would we get stranded in Islington? On reflection, walking to London Bridge was possibly an error, though certainly beautiful…

Reaching Islington (and with the snow no longer falling) we felt as though we were in a Richard Curtis film. One day, when I am married to a rich man and have children clad solely in Mini Boden, I will live on a street like this:

Apologies, I appear to have gone off on another tangent. Anyway, eventually we got to theatre, found our seats (and my GBF who’d taken up our spare ticket) and waited for the curtain to lift. I’m not going to lie, I was a little nervous that I wouldn’t like it or that I’d be bored – but by the time the first scene was over, I’d pretty much got the hang of it.

“Got the hang of it”?? I know, it sounds odd, but really, the concept of a story told solely by dance with no speech (or singing) was really rather alien! It took a while to get used to the fact that no one was going to speak or explain what was going on. Plus, the stage was so full (at some points) of dancers doing different things that at times it was tricky to work out who you ought to be watching to make sure you followed the story.

In typical Bourne fashion, although this was Cinderella, it was Cinderella with quirks. Set during the London blitz it incorporated the bombing of Café de Paris and used the classic venue for the ball. There were no ugly step-sisters, instead there were two glamorous step-sisters and three step-brothers. The fairy godmother was a male angel and the prince was an injured RAF pilot. [In fact, there were considerable similarities with A Matter of Life and Death with dream sequences and a heavenly figure only certain people could see.]

The biggest quirk, as far as I (and GBF) were concerned was that Cinderella jumped into bed with the pilot and it was from there that she disappeared, leaving behind her sparkly shoe. To quote GBF as we left, “that Cinderella was a bit of a whore, wasn’t she?” – and I’d always thought that she was such a nice girl…

What else to say? The costumes were stunning, with gorgeous long skirts and evening dresses (though GBF felt that Cinders’ ball gown wasn’t sparkly enough) and the set design impressive and true to life. How many ballets include a large motorbike and steam train? Not to mention a scene set on an underground platform? The music was Prokoviev, which meant that it didn’t match the swing style dancing of the era, but this didn’t really matter and it all fitted. Knowing little about choreography, I probably can’t comment further on that aspect.

A Christmas trip to the ballet is traditional, but I was surprised by quite how many children were there. Bourne is known for having his risqué moments (as I mentioned, Cinders was a bit of a floozy) and there was a sex scene (discreetly done) with a prostitute as well as a weird foot fetish on the part of one of the step-brothers. But perhaps when you’re 6 and entranced by the music and sparkling lights you don’t notice such things?

One final note on Sadler’s Wells itself. It’s a thoroughly sensible theatre with plenty of toilets. This may sound like an odd quality to note, but it’s highly important. Do you know how many ladies loos a typical West End theatre has? Approximately 6. At the Savoy (home of Legally Blonde) there were 3 for the entire stalls, meaning a queue for the whole interval that wasn’t worth bothering with. At Sadler’s Wells our level had 12 very nice ones meaning you could go to the toilet and the bar during the same interval and still have time for a good chat.

Project Redhead

There are six weeks left of 2010. I find that utterly staggering – where exactly has this year gone? [Not to mention that I have six weeks left to figure out my new years plans, which I hate doing with a passion…] This also means that I only have a matter of weeks to wrap up my 2010 Firsts ambitions.

Looking at the list I wrote back in January, there are still quite a few left undone. I won’t be going to Paris any time soon; my practical driving test won’t happen until spring (if at all) – though if I really pull my finger out and book it, I could take my theory test before the festivities commence. I’ve also not submitted any of my writing for publication, but to be honest, that was something of nebulous ambition and if we’re being petty, I’ve already been published – albeit in a variety of niche publications (BBC History Magazine and a book of book reviews being the most non-niche). But on the plus side, a lovely friend has promised me tickets to Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella – we just need to find a date we can both make during 2010.

That just leaves ‘become a redhead (temporarily)’.
I’ve long harboured a burning desire to transform my hair into flame-red locks, though I’ve no idea what began it. Three years ago I was banned by the bride for whom I was bridesmaid from going red before the big day – possibly because our dresses were red and there was a fear of clashing. (Can you wear red as a redhead? This may be an issue for me…) Such is my nature (and paranoia about anything that might change my hair too much) that I didn’t actually consider doing it until this year and the whole 2010 Firsts thing.

Even then, I was concerned. Red hair dye is quite difficult to get hold of in a non-permanent form, especially if you’re starting off from a blonde base, rather than brown. Given that it had potential to be a rather dramatic change I didn’t really want to launch into anything more than semi-permanent, so was relieved (after several weeks of searching) to discover a wash in-wash out variety in Superdrug for just 99p – bargain. In past experience, such products rarely worked, so I felt fairly secure that I wouldn’t cause any irrevocable damage.

In fact, even from the first application on Friday night, it looked promising:

It turned out that  it worked rather well (perhaps it’s just when you’re attempting to go blonder that such things are useless) and I immediately liked what I saw… It wasn’t quite strong enough, so early Saturday morning I re-applied it, confident that it wouldn’t look disastrous for the 1930’s gathering that evening.

Today’s day 3 of Project Redhead and as there was still some dye in the bottle, I’ve re-applied it again rather than beginning the process of washing it out. I like it – it’s not quite as natural looking or as deep as I’d like it to be, though the problem is that in my mind becoming a redhead means looking like this:

I’ve spent far too much time watching Mad Men recently.

I will never look like Christina Hendricks and I ought to just accept that and move on (though I’m enormously grateful to the person on Facebook who suggested that in the photo below I looked like Kate Winslet in Titanic). But the dilemma is, do I make the plunge and change hair colour on a more permanent basis? 
There are a few issues:
– As I’ve been blonde for ages, this is a big change and means darker hair for the first time in, well, forever. 
– What do I do about roots? I don’t want to look like some mid-90s henna haired teenager (see Claire Danes in My So Called Life), but what do I do when I want to grow it out and go blonde again? 
– What if it doesn’t look good when I do it properly? 
– When I cut my hair short and then even shorter (ok, the shortest it’s been since I was 6) lots of people said it looked great, but one vocal friend insisted it was awful – what if she was the only person telling the truth and what if everyone who’s said they like the red is actually lying too? 
– One friend’s already commented that in the photo below I look gothy. I’m attributing this mostly to the combination of bad lighting, vampy red lipstick and excessive eye make-up – i.e. not my usual appearance. But what if I do look gothy? 
– If I’m going to do it, should I do it professionally? (i.e. consult my hairdresser) Paying someone else to dye my hair for me would at least be another First… 
– It’s a change. I don’t like change… 
Yes, this is all rather self-centred and yes, I’ve been mocked before for sharing my trichological dilemmas on the blog, but was is a blog for if not the sharing of dilemmas? 
Of course, this post would be pointless without a suitable photo to go with it…

Ahhh, ‘doing a Liz’ with an iPhone is so much easier 
– although I’ve not quite worked out where to look yet. 
On the left – 1930’s/goth. On the right – ‘normal’ (again in a bathroom, hmmm.)

The other risk is of course the discrimination that redheads generally attract. On only day 2 of Project Redhead I had my first experience of this – a guy at the station yelled “Alright ginger!” at me as I got off the train yesterday afternoon. There’s a small chance this was a compliment, but the tone in which it was said didn’t suggest that it was. (Plus, I’m not even ginger – it’s more strong strawberry blonde if anything!) 
What to do…  

One soup…two soups…

…seventy soups.

This is soup for 70. Well, it’ll hopefully feed 70 – if it doesn’t there may well be some hungry people at tonight’s firework gathering who won’t have properly lined their stomachs before tucking into the mulled cider.

I can quite categorically state that I’ve never made soup for 70 before. Thankfully I wasn’t in charge – the fabulous Mills (of Corker and Mills fame) was, and it was up to me and my fellow soup making assistant to follow instructions.

It has to be said that I don’t have the most fabulous record when it comes to cooking savoury items. There was the accidental inclusion of half a jar of mixed herbs when I tapped it over-enthusiastically into a pasta sauce; not to mention the very recent setting fire to a saucepan after letting oil get too hot incident (not entirely my fault – it was a gas hob & I’m used to electric). I was therefore just a tad nervous that I’d do something hideously wrong.

Fortunately I didn’t – but the others had their fair share of mishaps…

What you need to make enough Tomato & Basil soup and Leek & Potato soup to feed 70

See that bottle of olive oil? That was shattered on the floor within 2 minutes of the photo being taken. Oops.

Then there was the saga of the hobs – not only tricky to light but nigh on impossible to turn down once functioning. Mills was in charge of this task and we left her to it – until I heard a loud rude word (not something to be said in a church building) and smelt an odd burning aroma. I turned round to spot a rather stunned Mills with slightly shorter eyelashes and a partially incinerated fringe – it seems that she got the burner lit but the flame that resulted was surprisingly high!

Finally, there was the loss of a colander handle. Almost the last thing you need to happen while draining soup of excess liquid is for one of the handles on the colander to come off in your hands – not only is there the risk of soup falling to the floor, but getting hot liquid on your hands is also rather painful. (Speaking from personal experience.)

Mills and one detached handle. 
(Those are my hands, which bore the brunt of the misplaced liquid.)

Otherwise, the cauldrons of soup were brewed with the accompaniment of girlie chat – the eternal problem was pondered and men-folk disparaged – it was incredibly cathartic. Plus, the results looked immensely appetising, don’t you think?

Of course, I may be blogging prematurely. It won’t be sampled until later, so who knows, perhaps it’ll be revolting?

One final note. If you don’t recognise the reference to soup in the title, then you need to watch this. I spent quite a lot of time last night chuckling at my memory of the classic Victoria Wood sketch – trust me, once watched, you’ll never be able to order soup in a restaurant with a straight face again.

The joy one gains from poking oneself in the eye…

The highlight of my Saturday a couple of weeks ago was spending 150 minutes in an opticians. In case you’re wondering how you could possibly spend that long having an eye test and choosing new glasses, it went something like this:
2.20 – Arrive for eye test
2.40 – Eye test takes place
3.00 – Investigate options for new glasses
3.25 – Discover non-existence of rounded frames (previous favourites)
3.30 – After ridiculous conversation with sales assistant who clearly knows nothing of the whims of women, head back upstairs to talk to someone about contacts.
3.40 – Another eye test
4.10 – Book follow-up appointments
4.15 – Look at glasses again
4.20 – Give up, pay for eye test and leave. Go to the Boots next door to look at more glasses.
4.25 – Find things to be even more dismal in Boots and return to Specsavers
4.40 – Finally have sensible female sales assistant who assists in choice of complimentary frames for face shape and skin tone.
4.50 – Leave opticians having ordered new glasses.
Phew. Even recounting it exhausts me!
It was something of a relief that when I returned the following Thursday I was able to pick up the new glasses as well as complete phase 1 of contact lens induction, saving me another visit on Saturday.
So, I’ve ticked another of the original 2010 Firsts off the list. I have successfully demonstrated that I am able to poke myself in both eyes twice – once to insert lens, once to remove it. I walked away with four days’ worth of daily disposables and was overjoyed that I could see perfectly without specs on.
In fact, such was my joy that I nearly wrote this post last week in the immediate euphoria. However, pride cometh before a fall…
The following day I spent half an hour in the office toilets trying to put the lenses in. It had clearly been a classic case of first time lucky the day before. Of course, while I stood poking myself repeatedly, three contacts-wearing colleagues appeared offering varying degrees of helpful advice. Eventually I reappeared at my desk looking as though I’d just suffered a traumatic emotional crisis.
It didn’t end there. Something wasn’t quite right with the right eye. Perhaps it was inside out, maybe it was dirty after so many failed attempts – whatever it was, it was highly irritating. It got to the point where I was holding my eye open in an effort not to blink and a friend who’d put up with a couple of hours sat opposite me over coffee doing strange things with my eyes suggested it might be time to take it out.
[Note: If one takes out one lens, one ought to take out both. One should not attempt to walk along a busy road with just a single lens in, it lends the world a rather bizarre quality.]
I’ve yet to return to the lenses. There are three pairs left and I’m a little apprehensive, but it’s important to jump back on the horse isn’t it?
And why do I want lenses in the first place? Because I am vain.
I like my eyes and don’t want them covered up by glasses.
I’m quite a fan of good eye-make up and the glasses get in the way.
It’s annoying when rain falls on them or I enter a warm room and they steam up.
Don’t worry, I’ll persist. I’ve not come this far to give up at the final hurdle. [Is that two horse-racing metaphors in three paragraphs? Oh dear.]  

Sherry & Schwartz

Sherry – as in the alcoholic beverage usually served pre-dinner. Never drunk it myself, being more of a Gin and Slim kind of girl.

Schwartz – the award-winning composer of fabulous musicals, most specifically Wicked.

Neither, if I’m honest, are things I’d expect to find at church on a Sunday morning.

This month, I’ve got to spend my Sundays visiting a church that’s somewhat different to my usual place of worship. The Church of England is a spectrum of worship styles and theological traditions – my church exists at one end of it. Therefore I’ve been tasked with exploring a church that’s towards the opposite end of the spectrum.

There was nothing particularly alien about the church – it was harvest festival, there were small children dressed up as vegetables (don’t get me started on the child wearing a pumpkin mask…), there were smells but no bells and lots of robes.

Browsing through the order of service while waiting for it to kick off, I made a surprising discovery. The anthem (during which the harvest gifts would be brought forward) was written by Stephen Schwartz. What on earth was a piece by a musical theatre legend doing in the middle of a High Church service?

Ok, so it was from Godspell and it was a version of the harvest classic ‘We Plough the Fields and Scatter’ – so it possibly was apt, but let’s just also say that it was perhaps indicative of the inclusive nature of the church.

The order of service also mentioned the post-service refreshments. Regular church attenders will be familiar with the standard of beverage usually available – over-brewed tea, coffee of a dubious nature and intensely strong squash. There’ll usually be some biscuits, but the zealous children of the parish will have swiped the plate as soon as it appears.

It’s not often that there’s booze on offer. Wine at the abbey last Easter – fair enough; post-evening service welcome drinks seem logical; and carol services wouldn’t be complete without mulled wine. But sherry, at 11am? That’s a new one on me – oh, and there were two varieties (sweet or dry) on offer.

Still, that’s notched up another 2010 First. Not sure that sherry will become a regular fixture on my alcoholic beverages list, but who knows – maybe I’ll grow accustomed to it over the next three Sundays?