Monthly Archives: December 2011

Wrapping up 2011

My 2011 started on February 14 when my daughter was born. It sounds soppy, cliched and trite. I know. I don’t mean for it to be so bleugh emo but it’s true. Up until that point, 2011 had been a nasty little year. The last two weeks before I gave birth were particularly dreadful and I mainly remember cuddling up with my teddy bear to fall asleep.

Childbirth was a nice distraction from all of that. It’s hard to think of being unhappy when you’re in a lot of pain and then when the pain goes away the happiness is overwhelming. It’s amazing how much attention pain takes.

I went into labour on Sunday February 13 after having sporadic contractions from the Friday before that. The pain was incredible and then it got a lot worse. The hours between 2am and 5.30am just disappeared in a foggy haze. I have no idea where I was.

The epidural kicked in at just before sunrise and I was pain free as the night turned into a morning twilight. It was beautiful. I could see the lights over south Bristol. I could see the sun rise.

Everything was beautiful. There was absolutely nothing wrong with the world.

It was a feeling almost as amazing as when I found out I was pregnant. I don’t know if you’ve read Marian Keyes the Brightest Star but part of its narration is done by a little soul trying to find a couple to which it can belong. That’s what being pregnant felt like. As if there was a little bright light inside me and it was love. It’s hard to believe that things won’t turn out ok once you have that in your life.

So the day for lovers was the day for love in my year.

The rest of 2011 seems a bit foggy. There were a few excursions, restaurants, meetings with friends, a trip to Greece, one to Hertfordshire, and some reviews along the way.

I am a little stuck on our last two trips so I won’t venture too far from those. I’ll save the extreme nostalgia post for February 13/14 and leave you with memories from December.

Mersina loved my mum’s cat Ginger (aka psipsi) and would keen and croon whenever she spotted her. Ginger was terrified of M and spent the first few days running away and hiding.

The view of Athens from the Acropolis Museum.

My mum audaciously bypassed a queue of at least 50 people at the Tax Office and successfully used the baby as an excuse to be served next. M’s most anti-English moment.

We had a lovely second Christmas at M’s grandparents’ house in Hertfordshire. The whole family spent hours and hours playing and keeping her entertained. Her best buddy was Uncle James who I think got the most cuddles of all until disaster struck. We were in the living room and Mersina was sitting on the floor near the door, with her daddy on one side of her and me on the other. Uncle James came into the room and I watched the door open quite slowly until it made contact with the baby. It didn’t hurt her but she sat looking up at him in shock. It wasn’t funny but I still find it fascinating that neither of us reached out to stop the door. Her shock was one of the most touching things to see and all the apologies from Uncle James didn’t seem to make any impact. She just stared at him open mouthed.

My favourite memory from a couple of days ago was sitting at Cinnamon Square, in Rickmansworth, one of M’s daddy’s favourite places. Lots of little children were running around and there was a room off the main part where cooking and baking parties could take place. Mersina’s eyes were huge as she watched all the activity. She loves people and especially children and she was so fascinated she had almost glazed over in rapture. Really.

Martin and I had flat whites (which were not flat whites) and I had the nicest cinnamon square. The moment was sweet but the best part was thinking that in a few years she would be visiting here on her own with daddy and the rest of the family and living out her own memories. It was like a glimpse of another reality.

Za Za Bazaar, Harbourside

If you love Pizza Hut and Iceland then your luck is in. Za Za Bazaar opened about a month ago now and serves 997 people at a sitting. It is the place you can go to enjoy a family meal, a casual treat before going out or something else which puts an emphasis on ‘casual’. There is one exception which is the Indian selection of dishes which are excellent.

There are meant to be cuisines from around the world but there are only about eight main sections:

Indian: Excellent; butter chicken; lamb roganjosh, dhal, pilau rice with a hint of safron, chicken tikka, fresh, handmade naan, popadoms.

Chinese: Poor; noodles, rice and a few meat based dishes; steamed dumplings which didn’t quite taste right; spring rolls and other fried dumplings.

Tex-Mex: Mediocre; nachos; chicken wings.
American: Mediocre; burgers cooked on the grill; toppings; corn on the cob.

Piri Piri chicken: unknown; I am not sure why this dish gets its own section but it is cooked to order apparently.

Sushi: Mediocre;

Italian: Mediocre; garlic bread, risotto (freshly made), pasta, pizza;

Salad: Poor; Broccoli, chick peas, olives and a few more individual items. Dinner offers a greater selection but they’re still not brilliant. There are individual miniscule prawn cocktails which are bland at best.

Dessert: Poor; three / four types of mini cakes; profiteroles; soft serve ice cream, chocolate fondue. For dinner there is also a serving of mini creme brulee which were actually quite tasty; melon and grapefruit. Cupcakes – atrocious.

The dishes I’ve mentioned are only a selection and there are a few more available. Note that there are fewer dishes at lunch time than at dinner.

Lunch is £6.99 each from Monday to Thursday; £9.99 the rest of the days. Dinner is £12.99 each from Monday to Thursday; £15.99 the rest. Under 5s eat free; 5s to 11s half price.. The drinks are a bit pricey with the cheapest red wine at £4 for a small glass (175ml).

The service was excellent. My daughter made an incredible mess under her high chair but the staff laughed it off and said that cleaning was just part of their job.

The curiousity of such a large and colourful place is probably more exciting than the food. I thought it was ok if you’re looking for a cheap solution that accommodates a lot of people. I would be mortified if I was taken there on purpose and along with La Riva, it is on my list of places to never propose marriage.

Try it or don’t try it. It won’t make much difference to your life either way.

Favourite shows of the year

Treasure Island, Bristol Old Vic
The crew swing on to the stage on ropes and they climb on and off the levels of the pirate ship built against the front of the Bristol Old Vic. It was an audacious idea to perform the most Bristolian of plays, Treasure Island, outside, and facing the Llandoger Trow, where Robert Louis Stevenson purportedly got the idea for the play but it turned out to be a spectacular triumph. Sally Cookson as director and Tristan Sturrock as Long John Silver were a triumphant duo for the theatre. I can’t imagine a better summer production.

The House of Bernarda Alba
Federico Garcia Lorca’s last play was acted out in a cold church in a grey and urban part of Bristol, to a handful of people who sat surrounding a small space at the front of St Thomas the Martyr. The small and intimate production of austerity, repression and passion was poignant, emotional and intense. Easily one of the best shows in Bristol this year.

The Barber of Seville at Bristol Hippodrome
The Welsh National Opera presented a set of full-length productions at the Hippodrome over a week in November 2011. Rossini’s Barber of Seville ran over three hours but it was time that flew by in wonder and astonishment. The orchestra, led for the first time on their tour by Simon Phillippo, were sublime and precise. Da iawn to the Welsh ensemble for the triumph of effort, imagination and sheer energy. Come again soon.

The House of Bernarda Alba, St Thomas the Martyr

A cold church in central Bristol plays host to Federico Garcia Lorca’s last play, finished 75 years ago and two months before his death. The handful of audience members crowd in to the first couple of pews and the free standing chairs at the front near the altar. A small marquee is the only scenery but it is enhanced with animation shown on the white backdrop. The five actors interchange the roles; five women that play all the female characters.

The House of Bernarda Alba is set in an Andalusian village, in a house where the man of the household has died and the mother pronounces the beginning of eight years of mourning to her five daughters. Like the beginning of an austerity package, the proclamation comes with no hope of an alternative but then a suitor appears to ignite passions that are meant to be hidden away.

Lorca’s play examines themes of repression, confinement and patterns which make no sense but offer no alternative but to follow them. Faced with years of austerity there are explosions of anger and jealousy, but the mother in her cruelty stamps down even harder. Avenues to passion are decimated. Marriage becomes political and only for money while love and emotions have to be hidden away. Add a claustrophobic setting where everyone is in the same house and the story becomes gripping.

The Red Dog theatre company’s production takes Kate Littlewood’s adaptation of Lorca’s play and, with Sue Colverd’s direction, creates a little horrific microcosm of repression and control. Kim Hicks plays the all-pervasive maid Poncia who becomes the voice of the people as she has access to both the world of the village and the house of restraint. Her constant eating of chorizo and bread make for one or two light moments as the real life eating gets in the way of some lines.

Kate Abraham is the poignant and desperate Martirio while the cruel Bernarda is the indomitable Jude Emmet. It’s difficult to say which actor stood out because the energy and passion of the youngest daughter Adela (Amy Enticknap) was offset by the quivering but strong Saskia Portway as Angustias.

The high-ceilinged interior of St Thomas the Martyr was a touching and almost haunting setting for this play. Animations on the white background of the marquee show fields of wheat and the mad grandmother who is no longer restrained by reason. In her madness she can now ask for what she wants; a man by the sea shore, a wedding, freedom. The grandmother could be a hallowed out body just there to project the voices and thoughts of the daughters that we hear.

Can they speak out and act on their desires or will the tyrannical head of the household destroy all their dreams? In our present time of austerity and joblessness and the beginnings of an occupation movement which spans the world, Lorca’s work still has something to say about the effects of repression and control. When family and state become more important than human rights then the people must find a different outlet.

Touching, beautiful and still very relevant, this play is a treat in a hidden away part of town that will probably be seen by only a small number of people. That would be the biggest shame because it’s a superb production.

Runs until 5th November 2011

Written for the Public Review

Unemployed Hack, a favourite blog

The Unemployed Hack calls himself a downwardly mobile journalist and his blog recounts memories of times as a tabloid journalist to day to day recallings of signing on and dealing with a very low income.

He has been unemployed for almost six months now. He was previously a reporter, a feature writer, a travel writer, a critic. He has even designed pages and also been a lecturer. Oh, and a bingo operative but that was a long time ago.

In his own words:

I used to be a tabloid hack. I’ve knocked on the doors of the bereaved, had doors slammed in my face, been chased by dogs up driveways. I’ve blagged my way into hotels to chase celebs, asked footballers who they are “intimate” with and attended strip shows all in the name of journalism.

As the nation turns on the “dark” activities of tabloid journalism I can’t share your moral outrage. I could point out that the police hack the phones of political activists all the time, and they do, but really I miss the camaraderie, the gang mentality that comes from being as hated as estate agents.

More importantly, he is a very good read.

Top books of 2011

A glance at the books of 2011 isn’t as easy it seems because while there have been some amazing, in fact, thousands of amazing, books out this year; I’ve been busy and have really only been able to read on the Kindle and ebook reader apps on my phone.

Despite this I have picked my top five books for 2011.

The rest of the book choices have come from unread books and from lists around the world.


  • Library Journal:Best Books 2011: The Top Ten
  • School Library Journal: Best Books 2011: Fiction
  • Kansas City Star:Top 10 Books of 2011
  • Seattle Times: 32 of the Year’s Best Books
  • Washington Post:Notable Fiction of 2011
  • Library Journal:Best Books 2011: More of the Best
  • Publishers Weekly:Best Books of 2011
  • BookPage:Best Books of 2011: More
  • Kansas City Star:Top 10 Books of 2011
  • St. Louis Post-Dispatch:Favorite Books of 2011
  • Happy Reading.

    Posting again, every day?

    Last year this time I said I would post every day but I didn’t manage it. The thought of trying again has been gently prodding and poking at me for the last few weeks. There is something comforting about having to write. Having to find something to post and not needing to perfect an idea in order to publish it. The smaller and slightly more ordinary find a way to make it on the page in times when they would receive nothing more than a cursory glance.

    Let’s see how it goes. Happy posting to me!

    My top five books of 2011

    Top five books of 2011

    I have only read a few books this year but thought I would share my top five anyway.

    I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett

    This is the 38th Discworld novel and the latest in the range featuring the Wee Free Men and the young Tiffany who needs to face growing up and some of the toughest lessons in being a witch. As usual with Pratchett’s fantastic stories, there is humour, wit, adventures and some important lessons about the human condition.

    A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life by Donald Miller

    I first heard about this book in a blog post from Enjoying the Small Things about her newborn daughter with Downs Syndrome. I bought it straight away.

    Miller writes about reconsidering his life as he was adapting his memoir into a movie. The hero’s journey, as literary adventures are meant to depict, are formulaic because they represent something archetypal in our lives. Miller writes about his own life but in effect it’s a statement about everyone.

    Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

    Infinite Jest is my favourite book of the year and I haven’t finished it yet. The truth is I don’t want it to end. There are weeks where I would read one or two pages and then close the book so I won’t go too far. Part of it is because Wallace committed suicide in September 2008 and there will be no further new books. Mostly, however, there is a feeling of being able to read his work for the first time that I just don’t want to lose. [New Yorker: The Unfinished]

    Blood, Sweat and Tea: Real Life Adventures in an Inner-city Ambulance Tom Reynolds

    When my 10 month old daughter was just a newborn I spent many nights lying awake nursing her or just being up. Blood Sweat and Tea was available for free on Kindle and downloading it was one of the best things I did. It was funny and serious and read so easily that it helped pass the time pleasantly even when I was exhausted and I was exhausted a lot.

    The book was created from the blog of real life ambulance driver Tom Reynolds and there are posts about different nights on his shift. There are some additional points of explanation but it’s mainly the original posts.

    Possum Magic – Mem Fox

    Lamingtons, possums and vegemite sandwiches are all as Australian as a BBQ Christmas dinner on the beach although I’ve never seen the latter. Possum Magic was sent to me and Mersina by our friends the Keramas family and when I read it to my daughter I often get a bit teary. It’s beautiful.

    Peter Pan, Bristol Hippodrome

    David Hasselhoff, the Hoff, has been in Knight Rider, Baywatch and now Peter Pan at the Bristol Hippodrome. Any further productions he does may not need to use the South West appearance as an enticement but this extravaganza made the most of the Hoff’s past, including the appearance of KITT outside the theatre for some pre-show celebrity action.

    The Hoff certainly made an impact as Hook and entered the stage from the auditorium while singing. He sounded good. He looked tired. He still managed to get everyone excited, as if they needed an excuse. That wasn’t how the story started, however.

    David Hasselhoff has top billing at the Bristol Hippodrome’s annual Christmas pantomime but it was Andy Ford who stole and carried the show. His camp one-liners and cheerful but cheeky smile were a consistent treat throughout the story that stayed pretty true to James Matthew Barrie’s classic tale. The ageless boy, Peter Pan, (Robert Rees) gets acquainted with Wendy (Janine Esther Cowell) while searching for his shadow and accompanied by his fairy Tinkerbell.

    The soulful singing of the Three Divas (Donna Hines, Lakesha Cammock and Linda John-Pierre) was a groovy and fun addition. They sparkled the whole way through the show, whether in glittery silver numbers or dangling off stage as mermaids. Dangling in the air, or flying, was a popular effect and it was done beautifully in the scene of Peter Pan leading Wendy, Michael and John through the streets, or rather the skies, of London before landing in Neverland.

    There’s a real poignancy to a story about orphaned boys ending up in a land where they get to play make believe all the time. Wendy steps in as mother but Peter Pan can’t handle the responsibility of being father and would rather end up alone than stop having fun. Parenting is a big responsibility, even in the land of make believe and this show is firmly sold under the patronage of one of the biggest stars of the last three decades. His cadaver like paleness was a little strange and indeed a little stiff, however, in contrast to the lively and energetic rest of the cast. He was at his best while singing, even his rendition of Jump in my Car from an earlier singing career was fun and impressive; very popular in Germany, apparently.

    If you go just for the Hoff you will be disappointed. If you stay for the swashbuckling thrills of the Lost Boys, the Indians, the pirates, the dazzling dancing, the soul music and the tick-tocking crocodile, you will be in for a wonderful treat. After all, there aren’t many shows that end with fire and the actual smell of gunpowder, right?

    Runs until 8th January, 2012.

    Written for Public Reviews

    Coram Boy, Bristol Old Vic

    Coram Boy, adapted from Jamila Gavin’s Whitbread Award Winning novel, is intense and dark and it dredges up the underbelly of wealth and luxury in the 18th century South West. The story follows Alexander, a young boy with a passion for music who must choose between his family’s wishes and what he loves.

    This tale mixes in with that of cruelty to children and the more horrific choices faced by young women who have to deal with their unwanted pregnancies and babies. Some, having no alternative, give them to a man, Otis (Triston Sturrock), who claims to take them to the Coram institute but the truth is much more sinister.
    The two worlds collide with the help of Otis’s helper, Meshack, (Fionn Gill) a young man who isn’t quite as in touch with reality as the rest. He sees angels and after falling in love with Melissa, Alexander’s love interest, he becomes instrumental in the fate of the two lovers.

    It’s quite fitting that this Old Vic production which touches upon slavery should be shown a few hundred metres from its normal home, in Colston Hall, named after Edward Colston known for his wealth acquired through the trade and exploitation of slaves. It brings with it a powerful message from a strong and varied cast which includes a full choir, an orchestra and some well known actors and various Bristolian children.

    A strong and familiar, but dare I say predictable, performance from Tristan Sturrock, who retains some of his menacing act from his brilliant Long John Silver in Treasure Island over summer. A young Thomas proves delightful right from the start and stands out as a vivacious actor with great presence. Both actresses that played Melissa, Alexander’s love interest, were a treat to watch with Emily Head from the Inbetweeners adding a touch of elegance.

    The stage direction and creative embellishments were superbly done by the Old Vic production team. Ropes and plastic sheeting were all that was needed to create a ship and the sea on stage. In a familiar touch from past plays, the characters used most of the stage and auditorium to bring the story to life.

    This may take a little more emotional reserve than last year’s Swallows and Amazons but it will be one of the more memorable performances that you will see this year and there are only 15 of them. Do your best to see it. It is a production that won’t easily be forgotten.

    Runs until December 30