Monday, 12 February 2018

Cruise! Conquer! Crunch! Dance! WIN!

A week of freebies that almost became perfectly alliterate but I couldn't think of a suitable synonym for dance. But did you notice that important word in capitals? Yes, you can WIN the copy of Caesar's footprints that I received from Goodreads. It's hardback, dust-jacketed and retails for £20. It could be yours by entering via the widget at the end. Until then read about all 4 freebies I enjoyed this week, total value should have been about £35.

Gingerella (RockaFela) at HOME, Manchester.

Freebies have taken me places I would never have gone if I was paying. I've been to HOME before but an arty improvised film about improvisation? That's a new one for me and a chance to expand my cultural horizons.

Written and directed by Alex Reuben the film is an exploration of "the meaning of dance and synchronisation" resulting from a collaboration with leading neuroscientist Prof, Chris Frith.

Reuben took 10 years to make the film which stitches together scenes from vsarious locations with Eleanor Sikorski the dancer who literally improvises her role in each scene. At the heart of the film are 13 interpretations of the Cinderella story. I know this because I read it on the HOME website because, to be honest, I hadn't got a clue what was going on. It was the weird arty film I expected and I thoroughly enjoyed it, not because I was moved by the yadda yadda but because I work in an uncreative profession so seeing the results of so much inner creativity being appreciated by similar types was a night out in itself.

As a bonus Reuben was at this showing and sat for a Q&A session after, expertly hosted by a director of HOME. This session showed the real desire to translate something into art and the trials of producing something like this which will never be a commercial venture. Tip for the audience though - asking a question doesn't need to be that long. Once you've reached the bit with the question mark stop and let the chap answer it, don't carry on into the next sentence and answer it yourself. It's not about you! I'm becoming a fan of HOME, a marvellous venue.

British beef and Suffolk ale crisps from Tyrrell's

A small but delicious win from Tyrrell's. If I were on a desert island and could only have one
foodstuff for the rest of eternity then I hope I am shipwrecked alongside a container full of crisps. Hand cooked crisps like these have that extra crunch and these hold a lovely meaty flavour. There's real beef in them, vegetarian readers.

World of cruising magazine

This just appeared so I'm assuming I'm thanking the publishers
themselves for this free sample. I do enter a lot of competitions for holidays and have yet to post my first holiday blog. The magazine is glossy and full of beautiful pictures. The articles are surprisingly interesting too - there's more to cruising than just big luxury liners. This magazine also has articles on 12 room cruisers plying their trade in Scandinavia, river cruises and of course those huge cities of the sea. You'd need to be a cruising fanatic to want to subscribe to this and at just under a fiver it's a big ask as a one off. For me, it was a pleasant hour dreaming of a win that might be, or a time when I can actually afford to pay for one!

Caesar's Footprints: Journeys to Roman Gaul by Bijan Omrani

The review below is from my Goodreads  profile. Thanks again for yet another Goodreads win. I've stopped entering giveaways for a while as I really need to catch up on a few wins. Fancy this expensive work of history? Enter the competition below. 

Roman culture was well established around the Mediterranean before Caesar set his sites on further conquest. This book describes how Caesar conquered Gaul with cruelty, military skill and a little diplomacy. Bijan Omrani is a historian and classicist with several books to his name and a fine learning pedigree. Such a clever chap is obviously going to produce a well researched and scholarly work and at the outset I found myself wondering about 2 points - would it be dry or readable; would I find myself engaged in the history of a place I have never been (I'm thinking of the southern parts of France, not the North which I have visited many times) where I find it easier to identify with British history?
The answer to both questions was positive. It IS readable and not overly wordy, but does not patronise with everyman language. This is a reference work that can be read from cover to cover as I did. Roman history does impact on britain too, of course. We have our own Roman ruins and a chapter of the book is given to the Roman conquest of Britain.

Of course the biggest reason we Brits should understand about the Roman conquering of Gaul is that it led to a change in our own history and the history of Europe as a whole. It moved Roman influence away from the Mediterranean and towards Northern Europe - a legacy which remains with the latin based language of French and the eventual passage of Christianity into the region.

Caesar's rising through the political system is like a mini-series or soap opera. His ambition and actions are scary and parallels can be drawn with every age though history including the present. Someone with ambition can get to a powerful position and abuse that power most cruelly, however scary that sounds. Early in his career Caesar is captured by pirates and held to ransom. When he reasons the sum being asked he is incensed and insists that the sum is higher. He also promises to return and crucify his captors - which is exactly what happened when the ransom was paid and he was released. Money wasn't as important as power to Caesar. The average annual salary of a soldier was 900 sesterces; Caesar's debts ran to 31 million sesterces.

From the conquest the book moves everyday life in Gaul and how Roman culture was assimilated into Gaulish life. Many high born Gauls were keen to adopt the Roman way as it was more luxurious than the harsh tribal ways they were used to. It is much easier to retain an empire when the natives are shown a better way of life and can receive protection from raiders of other Northern tribes.

Throughout the book the author intersperses the narrative with snapshots of the sites in modern times. He gives us a first person, present tense stroll through ancient sites and modern towns. These moments are the highlight of the book for me, to not just read about history but to also understand it is still all around us. Omrani's enthusiastic research is infectious.

Further interest is gained in the description of life under the Romans and how Gaulish religion was absorbed into Roman. Gaulish gods were worshiped alongside the Roman gods as equals and rituals retained. this continued into the Christianity era as the Roman Empire started to adopt the new faith. Pagan rituals were retained in the guise of Christianity and the timing of certain festivals could be fluid so that the old and new worlds could merge - much as happened in Britain.

Caesar used bloodshed to conquer Gaul but later leaders showed the benefits of membership of the Roman Empire by increasing trade, protecting Gaul from other invaders and building large towns and civic buildings. High born Gaulish leaders embraced this and Roman and Gaulish influence came together in the beginnings of modern France.

An interesting read. I wasn't hooked by any means and what I have learned has filled a small gap that I may or may not return to, but I'm grateful I had the chance to enjoy it thanks to the Goodreads giveaway.

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 Caesar's footprints book giveaway Listed On Loquax

Saturday, 27 January 2018

"Need to know" by Karen Cleveland

I was lucky to get access to this book for free courtesy of Pigeonhole. Pigeonhole is new to me and different way to read books. In this case a section (usually 2 chapters) was released each day which both heightens the tension (there are some real cliffhanger chapter endings) but also stems the flow. My full review below is taken from my Goodreads account.

The real novelty of Pigeonhole is that it's an online book club. As you read you can comment alongside the text and reply to the comments of others. In fact, you are encouraged to comment - that's the point of doing it this way. In this instance we were informed the author was reading along with us and not to hold back - a great new development.

Joining doesn't give you free access to all the books you want, this was a draw to be one of many people, but the chances of getting involved seem good. Definitely worth a try.

Need to KnowNeed to Know by Karen Cleveland
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I received an e-copy of this book free of charge from The Pigeonhole.

Viv Miller is a CIA agent working on Russian counter intelligence. She's a spy, but drives a desk rather than an Aston Martin. When she finally decrypts a laptop known to belong to a Russian spy she uncovers evidence that tests her loyalties and emotions beyond the limit.

The Pigeonhole released this book in daily sections which does work well with cliffhangers. I do think, though, that those that say they have sat and read it in one sitting are the best judges. It is a relatively short book for a thriller of this type and flows freely. The style isn't challenging and there are multiple twists and turns. It's quite a clean book, not too graphic in language, violence or sexuality.

The core theme of the book is really about love and trust, not politics or espionage. Written in the first person we hear how Viv's trust of colleagues and her husband change throughout the book, and the deep love she feels for her children.

In plot alone, it's a great read. A single day of a holiday or a long train journey would be all the better for this. For the more discerning thriller fan I would suggest it lacks depth. Viv's feelings change quickly and her actions are unnatural - often we wonder why she took a turn when we should be either with her, or at least understanding her rationale. During the central part of the book we really would have benefited from a deeper understanding of the relationship with her children and how they are affected by events.

The story also lacks a killer turning scene towards the end - a big action piece that grips. There is a scene which could fill this plot but it seems too brief and too easily cleared up. I wouldn't expect lots of actions pieces - this is a psychological work and not an action one, but I would have enjoyed a few more key big moments rather than lots of little ones.

But I'm being picky. 3 stars is good and there is enough here to fill a very pleasant gap in your reading time. You may not remember it all months later but that just leaves space for more doesn't it?

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Sunday, 7 January 2018

A saunter around The Roaches, Tameside

Many councils have free walking guides on their pages and Tameside have a great variety. This short walk of 2 miles is one I've done several times in different directions.

There's a good reason why I've done this walk more times than others on the list - it's got 2 good pubs at the start/end. The Roaches Lock is well known for great food and beer and it is this pub's car park where the walk starts. Further up the canal is the Tollemache Arms which is a proper boozer. Lovely bar and today the scene of a blazing fire. It's a quiet pub and full of old men, which is how I like it. The landlord won't spoil you with smiles but when he can get a pint of Robinson's Unicorn tasting good then who cares?

The walk is in a figure of eight style so you can do one of 2 circular walks of just a mile, both of which have the Huddersfield canal as a decent stretch. As well as a bit of hill farming fields, the river Tame roaring away (with an old millhouse next to it, minus a wheel but lovely nonetheless) and plenty of birdsong in the woods, there's also heaps of industrial heritage too. Perhaps the mills aren't the prettiest things you'll see and their time for being spruced up and given a new lease of life hasn't arrived yet, but it's a fine way to spend an hour. I even had a  kingfisher dart alongside me, a small bolt of electric blue skimming the water and then disappearing up the river.

Monday, 1 January 2018

"Militia" by Michael Hill

Another win from the marvellous Goodreads site. The review below is taken from my Goodreads page.

MilitiaMilitia by Michael Hill
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

William Mitchell is an apple farmer in rural Massachusetts when tensions rise between the local Patriots and the British-supporting Tories. Joining his local militia William finds himself going into battle against the well trained British and struggling with balancing his ordinary home life with life as s soldier, trying to protect that very life. His time in service sees him take part in several battles of the Revolutionary War before becoming a representative of his community and being a part of the development of the US Constitution.

Whilst William is a fictional character the novel is based on actual events and features some real names - several of whom are the ancestors of author Michael Hill.

The novel is short at under 200 pages and doesn't delve into the depths of the War of Independence, the catalysts and aims of the Revolution. It does, however, give a neat overview of the period through the eyes of one ordinary man. Many brave men (and women, as the book acknowledges) did take up arms to protect their communities and their fears and trials are recognised in William's experiences.

The brevity of the story means that things are explained quickly. There is little time for background descriptions of William's home or time to develop the personalities and characters of him and his wife, Doll. Conversations and speech is unnatural and somewhat wooden and I admit that the first chapter didn't excite me into looking forward to the rest of the book. That soon changed as the conflict started and I did start to get right into William's motives and fears. Here is a quite real hero - an ordinary man thrown into something that he doesn't really want to be part of. His experiences in battle are as confused as battle itself is (I imagine) and his post-traumatic stresses are genuinely moving. The human condition is skillfully understood even if the overall depiction lacks a true novelist's touch.

Criticising the quality of writing isn't the point here. Michael Hill is rightly proud of his ancestry and their achievements and getting their story into a wider audience is the point. Hill has done that and the story is entertaining and educational.

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"Broken by Messines" by Mark Wardlaw

Broken by Messines in WW1 - The Grandparents I Never KnewBroken by Messines in WW1 - The Grandparents I Never Knew by Mark Wardlaw
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Peter Wardlaw met and fell in love with Catherine (Kate) Hay in the heady days before the Great War. The world was open for them to explore and neither forewent the opportunity to squeeze the most out of life. Peter worked hard for an engineering company and set up his own business while Kate sailed to work as a teacher in New Zealand - both remarkable adventures for such young people. Throughout the few years they were apart they wrote to each other, getting engaged by correspondence and keeping each other informed of daily life.

And yet a massive cloud covered the World. Europe plunged into war and soon other nations followed, including many New Zealanders and Australians who sailed to the other side of the world to protect the Old Country. Peter enlisted too and found himself fighting in the same theatre as these Antipodeans at Gallipoli, one of the most famous and most tragic battles of the War. From Turkey to Egypt and then on to France, Peter wrote to Kate often. Would they and their love survive the war?

We know the outcome of this because Peter and Kate are the author's grandparents. Many of the pieces of correspondence (from other family members and acquaintances as well as Peter) received by Kate survive and have been curated and pieced together with commentary by Dr Wardlaw.

This isn't a book about war and doesn't contain great detail about the events of War experienced by Peter; the letters would be censored so details would have been edited anyway. This book is a picture into Edwardian courtship and everyday life in Britain before the war. The interest isn't in the content, it is in the context. This is an unadulterated view of how people faced the time of great change and their feelings during this time. Much is hidden and in the final chapters we feel the emotion ourselves as their destiny reveals itself.

In my view the book would have benefited with more historical detail of the events that impacted upon Peter and Kay. The battles, U-boat peril and some social history are introduced but not built upon and with that background it would have been more interesting but to make too much of that would be unfair. Dr Wardlaw isn't trying to tell the story of the war, he is telling the story of his family. Ordinary people in an extraordinary time - would our own lives turn out the same if we faced the same challenges?

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Saturday, 16 December 2017

Kings of America by R.J. Ellory

Kings of AmericaKings of America by R.J. Ellory
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This Goodreads win is my first experience of Ellory's writing. As a piece of crime fiction it's more of a linear story rather than whodunnit. We know whodunnit in graphic fashion, it's the web of crime that slowly gets more tangled that is the glue in this thriller.

Danny McCabe flees Ireland for New York after becoming a wanted IRA fighter. Landing Stateside he meets Nicky and Lucia Marioni and together they start their life together in the land of dreams. At first Danny's boxing skills and Nicky's management looks to be their way to riches and the method of bankrolling Lucia's desires to get into the movies. Another bad turn sees them leave New York quicker than planned and the remainder of the story sees their lives move on in Hollywood as Danny changes identity to avoid the authorities and Nicky sinks into the underworld.

Now, I'm wondering if the publication of this book has been rushed. I'm happy for someone to point out to me that I've missed something but there are huge issues with the scope of the story and it's development. The blurb of the book states that it is set over 3 decades and the Goodreads description states it is an 'epic that spans the 1930s to the 1960s' (which is actually 4 decades) and yet it doesn't reach the 1950s. This wouldn't be an issue of the descriptions weren't read, I wouldn't have picked up on it otherwise, but it does also pick up on another nagging problem I had with the plot.

The second world war is pretty much mentioned in passing and the real action jumps from America's entry into the war in the early 40s to the end of the war. With a deeper plot this could be explained but for no reason we skip a few years. If Danny doesn't go back to Ireland and Nicky back to Corsica to fight then the same plot could be continued during the war but for some reason it is important that the war ends. Here comes the other hole that bugs me..

Louis Hayes is a detective determined to bring down the whole mob running Los Angeles. He's got his eyes on Nicky and doesn't let go in bringing him to book. So why take so long? 6 or so years after a crime is committed Hayes is still trying to resolve it. I'm wondering if there is a much more epic story here and an entire section set in the Second World war back in Europe so that the action in LA is put on hold for a while. Has this been cut? There may well be a finale that has been ditched that covers the later years - or maybe a sequel that hasn't been alluded to.

Given my criticisms above it could be a surprise that I gave as high as five stars. Well, the book is with it's high points. A bit of mob culture is always a good piece of escapism and this helps with that escape. The main characters are believable (although Hayes is clumsily brought into the story) and the lesser characters have their parts to play and play it well.

The biggest seller of all is the era. The glamour of Hollywood in the years either side of the war is fascinating and this story tells not of those that made it big in the pictures but who made a living around the edges - legally and illegally; easily and desperately. Real life people such as Lucille Ball and F Scott Fitzgerald appear at differing ends of careers and many, many references are made to classic movies. Film buffs might like the setting and it's a fair novel, but crime purists are going to be disappointed.

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Sunday, 5 November 2017

A fortnight of freebies

Another few weeks of varied freebies, all gained in different ways. You don't need much to have a good time.

A(nother) walk around Lyme Park ... and beyond

I'm starting to post a lot about Lyme Park aren't I? I have gone for years without visiting and now I seem to be there every other week. I do enjoy scouting walking sites for guided walks and trying them out and Lyme park crops up a lot, with the added bonus that it's not far from home. And having told you my little parking spot that saves me £7 each visit, you'll know it's a freebie. Sorry National Trust.

This walk was spotted at Countryfile and suggested another parking spot outside the grounds so I thought I'd have a pop at that. After 40 minutes of being sat in roadworks I sacked off the idea of waiting more to get to Poynton and parked up in my usual place, walking the extra couple of miles to join this walk half way round but still complete the full circuit. It was chucking it down too and the roar of the stags rutting was eerie through the thick mist. By the time I reached the view across the lake to the house I was wetter than Colin Firth after his dip but slightly less sexy. Slightly.

The walk took me out through the West gates of the park and onto a narrow lane where the first house, an AirBnB gaff with the wonderful moniker of Windgather, was selling homemade chutney and apple sauce. I dropped a couple of quid in the honesty box and it was money well spent I can tell you. Not a freebie though, unlike the windfall apples that the farmer at Haresteads Farm had left out with a note to help oneself. I picked through the spotted fruits and found a perfect one which crunched most satisfyingly as I carried on along the path to the Macclesfield Canal. This should have been the start point but today was my sandwich stop, interrupted by 4 different dogs not under the control of 3 different owners. All had their nose in my trough but got short shrift, I can tell you. nothing comes between me and a jam butty. 

 Higher Poynton marina has a lovely little shop and some madly named boats moored up - some seem to be there for good and have their own little gardens. About a mile along I left the canal alongside this fantastic little corner that the owner kindly let me photograph. From here it was along a track and through a small but enchanting wood before making my way back towards the main park entrance for Lyme. At the top of the ridge, near the Cage, the stags still honked their horny song. The mists had cleared and this Mr Darcy was drier as he reached the car half an hour later.

Healthy & not so healthy foodstuffs

Belvita were giving away free breakfast soft bakes at Piccadilly station. I grabbed a choco hazelnut filled one, not expecting much. It was alright, actually. Normally these things are quite bland, punishment for healthy eaters. These weren't too bad and the inside was just like Nutella. It probably isn't as healthy as we are supposed to think but that's probably why it tasted OK.

Something that never pretends to be healthy is pizza and Chicago Town gave away vouchers to exchange for a freebie from their Pizza kitchen range. Crisp base and decent veg that tasted quite fresh, definitely one to go back for.

Buy Art Fair & The Manchester Contemporary.

 Thanks to Manchester Confidential for free tickets to this fair, "the North's favourite art fair", held at Manchester Central. This country is marvellous for free access to art and art galleries are something I should feature more on this blog. It seems odd to pay to see artwork for sale but I think the regular entrance was only a fiver and that includes access to interesting talks and the chance to talk to dealers about art.

There is art you like and art you don't like, I reckon. I can't be doing with 'modern art is crap' as that dismisses an entire form based on it's point in time. I do think that the greatest creativity in a lot of art these days is the hype, the explanation or the concept rather than the piece itself but if someone's daft enough to spend £50k on anything that has only aesthetic function then that's up to Mr Saatchi himself. I'm content to spend £10 on a print if it gives me pleasure top look at and your rich collector is the same, it's all dependent on what you can afford. £50k would be better spent feeding the homeless wouldn't it? But then so would my tenner, so we're even.

Looking at something created by someone else that has no functional value and being moved in different ways is an odd thing. How can I spend 20 minutes at one stall, looking closely at every piece and then walk past another with a mere 'meh'? Some abstract pieces stopped me in my tracks, others barely raised a second glance. If I had the money, would I buy an original Lowry for £13k? Possibly. Would I buy the pieces described as a 'posthumous Warhol' for the same? No. The Banksy piece for sale ('Price On Application') was superb but would fit nowhere in my pokey terrace. 

My absolute favourite painting (actually, there were 2 side by side, both by Mark Demsteader) was beyond my means financially and spatially. They are in front of me in the picture to the left and I spent ages waiting for the right moment to get the photo as it was a view that captured everything about the fair - there are about 4 different styles on display along the sides with my favourite works at the end. It was reasonably busy though (a good thing) so this was the clearest view I got and is terribly focused. I didn't have the £18k to buy either of the paintings so this pic will have to do me.

Other stalls that made me stop and stare were by Sydney Clare Checkland and the Salvage Gallery. the latter does go beyond art into having some functional value (and at reasonable prices too) and I loved the rusty drainpipe made into a wonderful blue backlight. This could be affordable and next year I'll save up before I go. 

Some galleries showed works for sale by students (including 6th form students) and the quality was exceptional. I got so engrossed in looking at the art I completely forgot about the talks and was too late to catch Paul Stephenson's screening and Q&A on Warhol, which I regret. With the art cafe in the corner and practical hands on stands for adults and kids this was a great afternoon and I'll look forward to next year. 

Weekend i

This paper had their own stall at the art fair and gave away copies of that weekend's paper. It's only 80p anyway which is why it's my paper of choice anyway on the odd occasion I do buy a paper. The Guardian is my preferred read but like so many things the price puts it out of reach of being a regular buy, plus i is about the right length for a train journey. To be honest, these are about the only national papers I can stomach. I look forward to winning something from the Mail or Express (they do have good prizes) just so I can lambast them both for their preaching of hate. There, now you know where my morals lie - I'm happy to take the freebie and enter their comps but won't say a good word about the paper. I understand if you think that's hypocritical.
Anyway, I find i to be informative and well researched. I would say 'balanced' but it's left leaning so probably reports the world as I see it anyway. Good puzzle pages too.

Dangerous Lady by Martina Cole on the app

Two things to review here thanks to who included a link to a free download on their newsletter. Let's do the app first - it's free to download and you then pay for most of the books. There are quite a few freebies, usually read by amateurs and to be honest I struggled to listen in depth to many of them. Keep trying though, you'll find something free that suits you. If you are a regular audiobook listener then I'm not sure how useful the app will be. It's a subscription service - £7.99 per month gets you one download per month. That's a lot and is one book per month enough? More credits can be purchased but it seems like an expensive source of reading if you want to listen in the car on long journeys - I'd stick with CDs from the library. Those with visual impairments will find the service useful but again there must be a more reasonable way to meet the needs of those people? I'm sure they must get subsidised  services - Derbyshire Libraries gives you free, time-limited downloads of e-books, e-zines and audiobooks, for example. 
The app is excellent though - easy to use and navigate through chapters, plus you can pick up quite easily where you left and if you use it to fall asleep to you can set it to turn of in 10, 20, 30 etc. minutes. Quite useful when the book you are listening to is over 17 hours long...

I've never read a Martina Cole before and I'm not sure I've ever seen a TV adaptation of one of her books. I've been missing out - this was a great listen. Imagine the Godfather set in the west End of London. Instead of Italian ancestry imagine Irish ancestry. Instead of a godfather, imagine a godmother. 

The story starts with the birth of Maura Ryan in 1950, the youngest of a large family and the only daughter. dad is a drunken waster and the boys are a bad lot from an early age. Michael moves up from being a ne'er do well teen to becoming London's top geezer, feared by all. Maura, on the other hand, wants nothing more than to meet a nice chap and become a housewife and mum. She does meet a nice chap, but he's a copper innee?

No spoilers in my reviews - suffice it to say that Maura ends up as the top dog in Landun, dealing with the IRA, Yardies, other gangs, blaggers, construction bosses and her own employees in the clip joints she controls in Soho. It's an epic story that runs until the 1980s (the novel was first published in the early 90s) and sees Maura's rise amid the social history of post-war Britain. We see the rise of the IRA, the conversion of London's dockland to becoming the property capital of Thatcher's Britain, the changes from swinging London to yuppie London. It's an absolute belter with a sexy, strong and sensual lead character. If you don't want to download this version, get the printed one. if you saw the TV series in in the 1990s (which passed me by) then try it again, I think the plot was changed for that. I'll be seeking out more Martina Cole after this.

A word about the reading. Annie Aldington is the perfect choice - a Londoner herself (Sarf, I think, whereas Cole is Essex) she has the perfect voice for Maura Ryan and does credible differences for all the other characters. No mean feat considering the majority are all brothers from the same family. Aldington has a smoky voice, a London fog of a voice, that epitomises the atmosphere of the book. She can't do Irish, mind.

There's a lovely extra after the book has finished, a chat between Aldington and Martina Cole. If you thought Aldington's voice was smoky wait until you hear Cole's - you can almost chew it! 

Hound of the Baskervilles - a farce by northern Rep. 

And the best came last. Over the River Irwell to Salford I walked, and into the Victorian interior of the King's Arms. Great beer, great bar staff and a supporter of the arts - after a few pints I made my way upstairs (with another pint) to the tiny studio along with 16 other souls (this is pretty much a sellout, it really is that small). Inside the studio I'm greeted by the great Mr Holmes himself, together with his ever present companion Dr Jane Watson. After a brief game of charades whilst we waited for others to arrive (play and a book, 5 words, first word 'the') the telling of the great mystery was upon us. Holmes and Watson romped through this most singular tale, regaling us with accurate depictions of all the characters armed with nothing more than false moustaches and 2D pipes and pistols. How they capture the mystery of the moors, how they impart the terror of the hound - how we howled. We howled because we were the voice of the great dog (yes, it's a spoiler but come on, you knew that, right?), but we howled because every other line was hilarious. A real farce of theatre - cheeky, laden with double and triple entendres, corpsing, script and off-script, audience participation, the lot. I truly haven't laughed out loud for so long in many years. It's pure daftness, creativity that was probably born in a pub as well as performed above one. Christopher Brown roars his way through as the greatest ever sleuth (and others) whilst Angela Hazeldine encourages, discourages and sets 'em up as the ever faithful Dr Watson (and others). She absolutely nails a South African accent too. Pffft.

With a brief interval of 20 mins for another pint (we all came back, no danger of doing otherwise!) they kept up this pace for almost 2 hours. For £12 that's incredible value and you don't have to be a genius to work out that with a capacity of about 18 they ain't gonna make a killing. I don't know how many others had free tickets but I hope they also put a fair amount into the jar on their way out. I may love a freebie but I'm not out to put real entertainment like this out of business. Honestly, if ever you get the chance, free or otherwise, see this show. Now to look up other Northern Rep stuff.

Thanks for reading this huge blog (if you made it this far). It's a hobby, nothing more. I like to write but lack the talent to make money from it. I like new experiences but lack the money to pay for all I want to see. This blog lets me pretend I;m doing both and with the money I do have I can still support the peripheries - a drink in the bar before the show, a coffee in the cafe, a small souvenir or programme. I really don't aim to take take take all the time,  I do have fully paid for experiences I don't write about! Peace.