Thursday, 25 September 2008

Gnome of the north....

Mr Gnome bids farewell to his readers for a wee while as he travels north to spend a few pilgrim days and nights on a remote Scottish island.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Mr G gets on bard - er, on board....

Mr Gnome muses that summer's lease (2008) has definitely had all too short a date.

In fact the stage seemed set for melancholy musings and a Winter's Tale of considerable discontent.

But, ever the optimist, Mr G has shaken off dull care and is enthused, energised and excited by the arrival of a bulky envelope from the Royal Shakespeare Company.


It contains a torrent of information about the 2009 season of plays to be staged in the 'rusty shed', aka The Courtyard Theatre, the RSC's temporary home during the three years of its massive transformation project.

Mr G is salivating at the prospect of:
  • As You Like It (currently his fave among the comedies)
  • The Winter's Tale (he apologises in advance for blubbing in the climactic 'statue scene')
  • Julius Caesar (which usually comes across as if written yesterday)
In addition, he's intrigued by the inclusion of three Russian-themed plays to be given alongside the Shakey shows.

What's more, the season will be performed by a single troupe of actors who will continue working together until 2011.

This means that they will be the first enesmble to perform in the renewed RST when it opens in 2010.

As an extra treat, the mailing included a spelndid DVD report on the amazing Transformation Project.

Canny people at Bard HQ.

So exciting was the DVD that Mr G is signing up to make a small (he's a Gnome, OK?) regular donation to the funds.

Of course, with the Appeal's poster boy and girl being Sir Patrick Stewart and Dame Judi Dench, how could a Gnome not respond....?

(Message to Appeal Central - looking for a poster gnome...?)

Monday, 22 September 2008

Austin. Austen. Bostin'!

'What can be more joyous than a juicy juxtaposition?' queries Mr G.

So many themes link the pocket-sized elegance of a classic Austin A30 with the small-in-number, but glorious, oeuvre of Jane Austen.

At the most obvious level one could mention bonnets: the A30's, neat and stylish; Mr G's, red and robust - and where would any muslin-draped Austenesque telly adaptation be without a bounteous abundance of bonnets?

Perhaps, too, there's a theme of empowerment - with the A30 opening up new horizons to the Britons of the otherwise staid 1950s.

And Jane Austen, with her sharpness of eye and depth of insight, offering counsel and consolation to a zillion readers as they negotiate the chances and choices of the hand that life has dealt them.

Steady on, murmurs Mr G. We're merely discussing a jolly good car and some splendid old books. E-nuff! Enjoy.

Whatever. I can certainly picture Jane Austen tootling , had it been possible, through the Hampshire lanes in an A30, occasionally cutting up rough with a too-slow farmer's cart.

What, one wonders, would Shakespeare have driven? Or Dickens? Or dreary old Goethe?

Drawing a line

Shopping in a small-ish town can remind one of Haydn's Farewell Symphony, in which, as his or her part ends, each player leaves the platform, until only one is left.

One by one, small independent shops are closing, their premises being filled by 'chain' shops or charity outlets.

Here in Leamington this month brought the demise of Blackie's, a well stocked art supplies shop. Hey ho.

On The Parade, our classy 'main drag', there remain just two independent shops - an upscale leather goods retailer and Harways, a traditional-looking (I've not ventured inside) purveyor of ladies' underwear - I have a feeling that the word corsetiere may be appropriate.

Friday, 19 September 2008

Small, stylish and speedy

Mr Gnome is to cars as Queen Victoria was to roller-skating - not particularly well acquainted.

If pressed, he will admit to a smouldering passion for the half-timbered pleasures afforded by the Morris Minor Traveller.

But he's prepared, every now and then, to be seduced by the shiny delights of more modern motors.

The 'new' Mini is a case in point.

Mr Gnome is unashamedly interested in that key question regarding any new car: 'What colour is it?'

He feels that red is the sine qua non tint for this particular set of wheels. For a vehicle so packed with 'va-va-voom' any other colour would be inadequate. Pale chartreuse? Please....

Ever alert to the vagaries of human psychology, Mr G enjoys noting links between the 'personality' of a car and the character of its owner.

So often the one expresses the other.

Definitely so in this case - see the title above....

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Stage by stage

I'm keeping a record of the massive building project that is transforming the Royal Shakespeare Theatre at Stratford-upon-Avon.

Most of the original Victorian building was destroyed by fire in the 1920s.

It was followed by Elisabeth Scott's Odeon-style building which butted on to what was left of the original fabric at the western end - you can see a fair chunk of the original building to the right of the top picture.

By the 1980s the building housed two auditoriums: the 'main house' seating roughly 1100 people - and the 450-seater Swan Theatre, housed in the horseshoe-shaped space at the back of the original building.

Last spring, the building closed for redevelopment.
  • October 2007 (top): The whole of the main auditorium is removed, but Scott's facade and foyer will be retained.
  • July 2008 (middle): Demolition complete - a huge cavity where stage and auditorium once were.
  • September 2008: Work is well under way on the galleries that will surround the new thrust-stage performing space.
On the Avon side, the building is being stripped bak to its original 1930s aspect - and there will be a new, accessible riverside promenade.

I've been relishing performances here since August 1967.

Sad about the changes? Not at all. I've a strong feeling that the renewed building is going to be a massive success when it opens in 2010.

Read more here: Theatre transformation.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Sneaky peek at Sneaky Pete

Ever eager to promote all that's peppy in the world of 'pop music', Mr Gnome is delighted to publicize a splendid 'band' from Somerset.

Sneaky Pete and the Vipers have been been 'gigging' for roughly three decades, enlivening a wide variety of social events with their distinctive blend of 'Louis Jordan, Cajun and R&B - never too purist, and always fun.'

Here's a wee sample, via a deliciously 'raw' video recording.

Hurrah for Sneaky Pete. Here's a link to their website.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Train of thought

There's a cocoon-like cosiness to a railway journey in optimum (clean, uncrowded) conditions.

No intriguing interruptions or overheard conversations on a recent journey to Oxford.

Instead, the luxury of 'blank space' between the connectedness of the rest of the day. Disengagement. Peace.

The sense of separation increased by the silvery sheen of flooded fields and the sudden uplift of a hundred gulls as the train rattles past.

Time to relish the new 'Scotland Street' novel from Alexander McCall Smith, the fifth of his witty commentaries on contemporary life in Edinburgh's well-heeled New Town.

Originally published in short daily instalments in The Scotsman, the books follow a diverse bunch of characters as they negotiate the chances and choices of city life.

Smith's eye is kindly, but gimlet sharp - the books are definitely 'comfort' reading, but not too comfortable.... Watch out for the barbs.

Readers vary in their nominations for 'most loved' and 'most loathed' characters.

I have to admit to a soft spot for poor Irene Pollock - the wildly misguided uber-mother whose gifted six-year-old son is the focus of what she terms the 'Bertie project' - 'advanced' child-rearing taken to gloriously ludicrous extremes. Poor Bertie.

But then there's Angus Lordie, Domenica, hapless Matthew, the egregious Bruce, Pat and, my favourite, self-educated, unlucky-in-love cafe proprietess Big Lou....

More info at Alexander McCall Smith.

Saturday, 6 September 2008


For one so definite in views, Mr Gnome is strangely tentative when it comes to discussions re that strange concept - 'cool'....

Too canny to attempt a definition (always a hostage ot fortune), he simply says: 'Well, I suppose I recognize it when I come across it.'

And he most definitely senses it here in this 1955 Richard Avedon shot of Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra on the set of Guys and Dolls.

The clothes, the pose, the monochrome - I guess they all add up and combine with the men's exuberance, insouciance - and cheek.

And then there's what the viewer brings to the image. In my case, the 'frozen in time' capture of two extraordinary performers at the peak of their ability, looks and success. Plus the poignancy of knowing what was to follow in the ensuing years....

A great picture. Cool squared.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Free Nelson Bundela

I so wanted her to shut up, the fair-haired, power-suited young woman opposite me on the train. Two phones. Too loud. Too much.

Over the course of several calls my fellow passengers and I piece together the sheer awfulness of her day - her second day in her first job after university, working for a big-name international firm of accountants.

In brief: I'm based in Edinburgh. I flew to Birmingham this morning for an appointment in Coventry. I was supposed to fly back to Edinburgh this evening. But I missed my train connection to the airport because of a taxi driver with a dodgy tom-tom.

(Er, tom-tom? Techno-savvy readers will have grasped, unlike moi, that a Tom-tom is a type of satellite navigation device.)

This is a bad thing because I have to join a bunch of new colleagues at Edinburgh Airport early tomorrow morning so that we can all fly down to London for a high-level conference at Windsor. It's an accountant thing.

But now I'm heading south, not north, to High Wycombe, where my kind grandfather will meet me so that I can stay the night with him and Granny, prior to one of them driving me to Windsor tomorrow.

This is good because I'll have a bed. But also bad because I'll be up half the night washing and drying my clothes. All I have is what I'm wearing right now.

Further bad thing: my boss has resigned and skidaddled without giving me names or conatct info of any of the people who'll be at the airport tomorrow morning wondering why I'm not there. Can things get worse? Oh, yes.

There's Nelson.

Nelson is in my flat in Edinburgh, awaiting my return tonight. Without me, he may die. So I have to phone a friend, and my letting agent. Friend will kindly collect flat key and go and check that Nelson is OK, ensuring that he is fed and watered.

I've enough stress in my life without having the death of a six-month-old rabbit on my conscience.

And it's not as if Nelson's short life has been angst-free.

Until four weeks ago Nelson was Tilly. My boyfriend returned from South Africa, took one look at the bunny and - whoosh - instant gender re-assignment, with a nod to the great Mandela in the re-naming.

I'm SO unlucky - and, yes, I really was born on Friday the thirteenth.


Unlucky? With kind grandparents on hand to ferry and accommodate? With a chum to rescue Nelson? With a flat in Edinburgh's New Town? With a boyfriend who can sex a rabbit at ten paces?


By this stage the train is nearing my destination and, to my surprise, irritation has long since morphed into rapt attention. I SO don't want her to stop.

Something to do with the power of story, perhaps?

What started as merely an irritating voice has become a real young woman who's in a bit of a pickle - and a bunny with gender issues.

Fellow-passengers are offering advice and suggestions. Could you call your head office? Call the airport to page your colleagues? Call the conference venue?

Leaving the train at LS, I murmur: 'Goodbye. I hope everything works out for you and Nelson.'

Later I find myself saying a wee prayer for them.

Monday, 1 September 2008

Greenbelt 2008

Mr Gnome, coffee and cake - a perfect threesome.

OK, possibly this scrummy trinity lacks something of the theological heft of the Big Three, but, all the same, they are very nearly all-sufficient, particularly when served up in the Greenbelt Festival's semi-legendary Tiny Tea Tent.

Mr Gnome and the HB relished every moment of their recent visit to this unique festival, frequently sallying forth from the TTT to be stimulated, charmed, challenged, moved and delighted.

The festival offers talks, seminars, panels, drama, music, dance, visual arts, film, loads of participation and fun.

And all within the context of an intelligent, questing, provocative relationship with the Christian faith.

Greenbelt is open and welcoming, offering a forum for a very wide spectrum of opinion and practice.

It's unique within the UK Christian set-up: nowhere else would you find so many varied views and opinions, co-existing in an atmosphere of respect and willingness to listen.

Consequently the festival is both challenging and a remarkably 'safe space' for those who feel themselves, for whatever reason, to be on the edge of the orthodox church scene.

So, hurrah for Greenbelt.

Both Mr G and the HB intend to return in 2009.