Wednesday, 2 January 2019

A Place of our own at last! (well, partly)

When we moved into Marine Gate Mansions we thought it might take us a year or  so to find something that suited our budget. Our palatial residence  in the old Southport hospital, converted into luxury flats, was meant to last a year. Then we'd be sensible and find something more sustainable.

Perusing the Rightmove site, I discovered Housing Associations. Not that we didn't know about them before, but assumed they'd been disbanded, as with  the one where we lived in SE London,  in the eighties. They offer joint ownership deals, so we could afford to buy in one of their properties for the over-60s, only a block away from Marine Gate Mansions.

Two previous attempts to buy fell through, but success at last! Almost two years from when we came to Southport, I collected the keys to a flat in Sunnyside Court last Monday. All set for some renovations, and measuring up is under way.

Flash Forward to Jan 2019 

Writing now, from Playablanca, Lanzarote,  at the start of 2019, it all seems to have flashed by, of course. My New Year Resolution is to keep up my blog. See how I go. Only 9 days to go before our return to Car Park View. Looking forward to our next year in Southport, which I hope will be less about settling in. 

Friday, 17 June 2016

Southport Skies

There's very little not to like about Southport, but the sky is one of its  best features. Perhaps that's not so  surprising in a town that faces westwards over  a flat coastline. This photo was taken at the end of the pier on a misty Winter's day. It's well known, I think, that the sea rarely comes in at Southport, so it  always has a feeling of  tranquillity.

No wonder the highlight of the year's events is the Air Show, something that took place just after we arrived in September. The planes do their flypast over the beach, where visitors pay to be within earshot of a commentary. But they can be seen from any point along the Promenade, and from  Lord Street as they circle back over the town.


Even inland skies are impressive,  as in the photo below, showing  the war memorial  in Lord Street at dusk. The setting sun lights the edge of a massive  cumulus  cloud, so it looks like a bolt of lightning and  reflections in  wet pavements  add a touch of glamour to the atmosphere. 

When we came last September we were lucky enough to find a flat that overlooked the Marine Lake , on the Promenade. The rent's too high  for us to live in such a splendid building for long, but for a while it's a chance to view amazing sunsets.

Built around 1860 as a  hospital and convalescent home for workers affected by the cotton famine created by the American Civil War, the building  became an NHS hospital and was converted into flats in the 1990s.  The  photo below was taken from the opposite side of the Promenade, when the clouds rolling in from the North West created a light that deepened the redness of the Victorian brickwork.

On the same  Winter evening, clouds that mostly turn pink and gold at sunset  float high above the glow in dark,  ghostly shapes.  The photo below looks over the Marine Lake from the carpark of the Lakeside Inn, which claims to be the smallest pub in England.  An old pleasure steamer is permantly  moored there, which always makes  think of the Hollywood film Showboat, set on the Mississippi.

Sunday, 28 February 2016

As You Like It by William Shakespeare at The Atkinson

I thoroughly understand why 'As you Like It' has not been staged at the National Theatre for 30 years. It has too many characters and a confusing  plot. However, it includes one of the playwright's most oft-quoted passages, the so-called 'Seven Ages of  Man' speech, beginning 'All the world's the stage' , as well as some familiar gems such as Touchstone's (Mark Benton)  description of his rustic girl-friend: 'An ill-favoured thing, but mine own'.

It was a real treat to see an RSC production streamed live on Thursday at the Atkinson in Southport, not least because it's only a fifteen minute walk from where I live.

This wasn't a production to change my view of the play,  but it was very entertaining - maybe not for the right reasons.

Set in the Forest of Arden, the action consists  of the interactions of  a number of  lovelorn and mistreated characters as they drift in and out of a 'clearing' , narrowly missing one another, much like the 'another part of the battlefield' convention of 'Macbeth' and 'Henry V'. The twist here is that they emerge from between the  'branches' of  dangling furniture.

It takes a stage with the capabilities of the Olivier to transform a 'Pyjama Game'-style  workshop into a forest. It was like watching  a slow-motion  explosion in an IKEA warehouse. Hinged chairs, tables and and desk-lamps remain suspended at different levels, spotlights piercing the gloom in a permanent winter twilight. Rehearsals must have been a nightmare.

The forest , like the air of Prospero's island, is full of strange sounds - made by actors concealed in the misty branches, who  hoot and howl and act as backing for the songs . The cast list describes them as 'Choir'. When all the charactes are rightfully matched and the mood change from the chill of man's cruelty to the celebration of love, they come into their own. It's  hard to imagine a more distracting and at the same time a more coherent setting for such a fragmented play.

All the lead performances were good, from the breathless Rosalind(Rosalie Craig)  dressed as a man and a quirky Amelie-riff Celia (Patsy Ferran) to Paul Chahidi's Oscar Wilde-inspired Jaques.

Comic relief was provided by hero Orlando's contest  with Charles, the Duke's wrestling champion,  given the huge disparity of size between the contestants, and a very funny later scene with various  members  dressed in Aran sweaters  on all fours, proving that even sheep can be imbued with  individual characters.

Monday, 8 February 2016

A Dragon Dance in Manchester

I thought I’d do less gadding about in Southport, but with three cities nearby, the opposite seems to be  true.

When Radio Lancashire announced Chinese New Year Celebrations in Manchester would  take place at  the weekend, I decided to head to  Albert Square on Sunday afternoon. Roy, who seems to like walking about in northern  rain after all, was happy to accompany me.

I love a good dragon dance – as colourful as Chinese opera,  but shorter and more exciting. The technique’s similar to the that demonstrated  in the stage version of War Horse: well-managed poles  and precise  team work are of the essence.

 Still images do little justice to the spectacle of the rippling, glittery  huge-headed dragon  as it advances and recoils. It nearly  doubles back on itself as it wends its way behind the fan-waving women . Almost as important is loud accompaniment of  drums and clashing cymbals.

There’ll be plenty more gadding about -  this was an auspicious  start to the year of the monkey

Thursday, 4 February 2016

A Trip to Wigan

For years I've written  occasional play reviews for a website called Remotegoat (don't ask me about the name - I must find out sometime). I don't get paid, but there's two free tickets and a programme in it for me, with drinks and snacks  if I review on a press night.

On average it take me about three hours to research and write about the performance next morning. I look up the play if I don't know it, (the Samuel French website is useful), plus background  on the  company and the actors.

'Curtain up on Murder' last night was the first play I've reviewed for over a year - another writing activity that moving to Southport interfered with.

It was on in Wigan, a town I haven't been to before but which is only half an hour on the train from Southport.

I'd heard of Wigan Pier as some kind of tourist attraction, and  I persuaded my partner to go early so we could visit. Sadly, although we went down to the canal-side site,  it was derelict . Even the nearby mill called Trencherfield only opens to vistors on Sunday.

Wigan has a pleasant market square but it was too cold to linger. We went into a shopping centre where we read in the Costa until it was time to eat in a local restaurant, picked from TripAdvisor on Google. It was a good choice, called Thai Corner, and our only regret was we didn't have more time to linger over the excellent food.

Thanks to Google maps we found the venue , St Michaels Hall, in a back street. The show was a most enjoyable spoof murder mystery. I posted my review to the  Remotegoat website this morning.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Victorian Dreamers

This small but almost perfectly formed exhibition draws on the Atkinson's own stock of beautifully restored Victorian art.  Mostly 'escapist' in an age of social anxiety, it  looks at the themes of travel,  storytelling, the antique past and nature to show a Victorian love for an idealised past that probably never existed. 

Ceramic  figurines, familiar from  antique shops and stately homes and the paintings of Highland cattle in natural landscapes depict areas of desirable retreat for the wealthy, then as now.

Working people are depicted as respectful , contentedly labouring in picturesque rural landscapes or praying in simple domestic interiors: comforting images in  an increasingly mechanised age. 

My favourite piece is this Wedgewood depiction of a classical scene by Camillo Pacetti, first made in Rome in 1790 : after the fall of Troy, Priam appeals to Achilles for  the return of  his son Hector's Body .

Victorian artists were restricted to  classical or biblical themes in their depiction of nude figures,  as in Ernest Normand's striking 1986 portrait of Pygmalion and Galatea at the moment when the statue comes to life and  John Collier's 1892  painting of a snake-entwined Lilith  as she plots to depose her rival, Eve,  in the Garden of Eden.

If the gilt frames and chocolate-box images have an air of unreality,  they had a lasting effect on  the national sensibility. Present-day politicians who retreat to  country mansions  after advocating hard work and thrift to  the working population,  our daily dose of The Archers on BBC radio and the justifying  of social inequality are all  part of the Victorian legacy,  as this exhibition reminds us.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Where there's muck...


'Remember what Quentin Crisp said about house dust'  - it doesn't get any worse after the first five years!'   Appropriate  as it was in 'Pride' week to be reminded of a splendid  1970s gay icon,  here in Lewisham we  seem to have had five years dust in as many months. So my husband's words didn't bring much comfort.

It's not just ordinary dust, either -it's a brownish gritty coating that sticks to  sills and furniture and irritates eyes and throats.

I'm a bit slow to connect things at times but it didn't take a genius to work out that all the extra air pollution is connected to the extensive construction work that's turned  the area into one vast building site. For months we've woken to the sound of pile-drivers gouging pits for the foundations of 22-storey blocks of flats and offices, diverting rivers  and delivering 'retail outlets' .

There's been plenty of building at the High Street end of the road since we arrived in 1994: a home for the elderly (left in the photo) instead of a coal yard;  a small-scale municipal estate on the other side,  an Adult Education College so ugly that the council tenants got up a petition, and, most recently, a Premier Inn where the  carwash used to be. It's the sort of development that, spread over a few years, is relatively harmless.

It was clear the grandly-named 'Domus' was unfit for purpose - dementia isn't improved by the rattle of trains passing every five minutes, so now it's an admin building. The Premier Inn project  has been stalled for weeks,  probably for the same reason.

The bottom of the hill hints at the disruption - the removal of a roundabout and the  re-routing of an urban stream, to build a town centre fit for heroes.
In place of   a roundabout  now there's a complicated rerouting that brings hold-ups and traffic mayhem .

The pavement has becomes  a bridle path where the hoarding round the  Premier Inn  sticks out;  even the police horses seems confused. Towering above it all is a an abandoned branch of Citibank. Here  I admit to a personal grudge -it stands between y TV aerial and the transmission tower at Crystal Palace. For us, it meant, 'Hello, Sky TV' 

The centre's relatively unscathed, although they moved the clock tower several feet a few years ago.

There's been some benefits, including the new Glass Mills Leisure Centre, which opened last year. Free swimming for under-sixteens and over-60s. I take full advantage, despite the problems due to bad management.

But nearby  is the villain of the piece - or the saviour, depending on your point of view,  and the state of your lungs. In the early 1990s the Docklands  Light Railway (DLR) connected Lewisham to Canary Wharf and Bank  stations. Understandably, the council is keen to make a profit from new residents and services. Hence the frenzy of construction work to provide homes and facilities for our modern financial heroes.

The whole regeneration scheme won't be complete until 2018, when
Lewisham will in effect become a dormitory  for commuters.

It'll be interesting to see the results of it all -if the drawings on the hoardings are any indication, it will confound the critics. My neighbour says he's waiting to profit from the sale of his flat when the Bakerloo Line extension adds to the chaos.  I hope by then to be breathing clean air at the seaside and testing out Quentin's theory.