The Other Tudor Princess; Margaret Douglas, Henry VIII’s niece – Mary McGrigor

An interesting character from a turbulent period in Scotland’s history, Margaret Douglas was daughter to one Queen of Scotland and grandmother to the King who would unite the crowns of Scotland and England.

Margaret was the daughter of warring parents and her life appears to have been a constant wheel of rags to riches to rags etc.  She was close to the thrones of both England and Scotland, close friend of Mary I and regarded with suspicion by both Scotland and England.

She was one of Henry VIII pawns in the marriage mart but ultimately had a long and happy marriage to Matthew Stuart, Earl of Lennox.

She died in poverty, in London and is now buried in Westminster Abbey; brought there by her grandson James VII or Scotland and I of England.

I found the book interesting.  I know a bit about the history of the period from other reading so it was good to add a different perspective to what I already knew. I particularly enjoyed learning more about Mary Tudor/Queen Mary I, who was a close friend of Margaret. I think it helped me see past the image of “the woman who wanted to restore Catholicism”.

And it is always interesting to read about people who have had eventful lives.

What was really annoying about the book was the terrible proof reading!  There were so many errors – spelling mistakes, incorrect names etc – that I started questioning whether the author really knew her subject.  I know, and understand, that mistakes slip in but when they become noticeable enough to intrude on the narrative someone isn’t doing their job properly!

Would I recommend this book?  Yes, if you’re interested in getting a different perspective on the Tudor court and know a little about the situation in Scotland and between Scotland and England at the time.  I think it would be confusing if you didn’t have some background knowledge.  And if you can lock your inner proof reader away for the duration!

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The Tempest – Greg Doran for RSC

Perhaps it’s that I’m mentally tired, having just started a new job, perhaps it’s because I enjoyed the York pantomime so much earlier in the week or perhaps it was just the weight of expectation but I didn’t particularly engage with this production.

I loved the stage set with the skeleton of a ship enclosing the stage.  It created a dramatic impact and immediately shipwrecked you on a mysterious island.  And it kept the set simple so attention was focused on the actors.

The problem with the focus being entirely on the actors is that they then have to shine in their roles and I’m not sure they did.  I think, for me, what was lacking was a belief in the relationships between the characters; I didn’t feel either Prospero or Alonso had any sort of paternal bond with their child, that Prospero felt anything more than mild fondness for Ariel or that Miranda and Ferdinand were at all interested in each other.

I thought Ariel was suitably ethereal and liked some of the technology used to make him more so – particularly showing him imprisoned in the tree and as a harpy – but found it a bit distracting when he was visible moving at the side of the stage and could see the time delay from movement to screen.

I really liked the bright colours that flooded the stage when Iris, Juno and Ceres are performing their betrothal masque for Miranda and Ferdinand.  Even though it was probably old-tech creating the effects it still felt a bit magical.

I really wanted to love this production.  It has a great director, fabulous actors and an impressive set.  But, for some reason I can’t quite pinpoint, it didn’t really float my boat!


Cinderella – York Theatre Royal

I have been going to the York Theatre Royal pantomime with the same group of friends since 2009, which makes us mere babbies and bairns compared to most of the audience and pretty well all of the cast.

The Theatre Royal panto is one of the few in a provincial theatre that gets reviewed by the national press and is usually described as a must see.

Berwick Kaler, writer, co-director and nonpareil Dame, tends to describe it as “our annual rubbish” but for me York’s panto is the best tonic to combat the mid-January blues.

This year was loosely based on Cinderella although generally it’s the same panto, with the same cast just different character names, different costumes and some topical issues introduced.  It is always funny.

This was my first visit to Theatre Royal since its refurbishment and the new, banked stalls seats are great.  We had a much better view of the stage without having to look around people and, unless you are a small child, it doesn’t matter if someone tall sits in front of you because you can now see over their head.  The team who designed  and delivered the refurb should be congratulated.

I’m not going to single out any of the cast members.  I think they all did a cracking job and at one point I got the giggles at the sheer number of cast members who also had the giggles.  The costumes were colourful and those for Baroness Von Naff, Priscilla and Hernia in”Got to Get a Gimmick” were inspired.

I liked having 2 films in the show this year too.  It keeps us, as an experienced audience, on our toes when the film arrives in a different place and doesn’t feature the person you expect to see.  Congratulations to Suzi Quatro for agreeing to send herself up and, as always, to Harry Gration, who must sometimes think “why do I let myself get talked into doing this?”  The second film also allowed Martin Barras, the Dame’s regular sidekick, to appear in the panto even though he couldn’t be on stage.  Martin, I hope your recovery continues apace and we hope you’ll be back next year.

In summary, I think everyone should treat themselves to a panto trip in mid-January and if you’re lucky enough to live close enough to visit the one in York booking your tickets should be a no-brainer!  I’ll be there, in April, queuing for my 2018 tickets!

Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter – Simone de Beauvoir

I’ve been meaning to read this book for ages but somehow never quite got round to it until the end of last year.  It has taken me about 5 weeks to read it, which is an unusually long time for me, because I didn’t find it relaxing evening reading.  I found myself reading part of it and then putting it down and picking up something a bit easier for the rest of the evening.

It isn’t a difficult book and nor does it cover any difficult subject matter.  I think two things made it difficult to digest in larger chunks; partly de Beauvoir’s view of herself in her early life and partly the adolescent angst of her late teenage/early 20s.

De Beauvoir’s view of herself as a child is as someone special.  Her father encouraged this through his interest in her intellect and her mother through her interest in Simone’s piety.  I think all children whose parents take an interest in them feel like this.  Parents should be there to make you feel special and in this respect I feel de Beauvoir is making a big “look at me and how odd I was as a child” fuss about nothing.  I found the early part of the book about her childhood dull.  This is possibly because I expected a childhood out of the ordinary.  Perhaps also because Le Grand Meaulnes is one of her favourite books at this time and I detest it!

Once de Beauvoir reached college age however the book became more interesting.  This is about a person who is challenging herself intellectually and pushing against the boundaries imposed on her by convention and her family. I enjoyed finding out about the Sorbonne and the eclectic mix of friends she made there.  What makes this section more difficult to read is that the translator challenges my vocabulary.  I think I have a pretty good grasp of the English language and I understood most of the now arcaic words but I had to reach for my dictionary  a couple of times!  It is probably good for me to stretch myself a bit but not something I particularly want to do at 9.30 on an evening after a busy day at work.

To summarise, I’m pleased I finally got round to reading this book although I suspect it may be a few years before I read another of Simone de Beauvoir’s works.  I generally find Jean-Paul Sartre more digestible.

The World of Cycling According to G – Geraint Thomas (with Tom Fordyce)

I like cycling, or to be more specific I like watching cycling; after a nasty accident being on a bicycle scares me!  I love watching the Tour de France and the Vuelta so I was pleased to receive Geraint Thomas’ book for Christmas so I could find out more.

This is the first cycling book I’ve read from the perspective of a professional cyclist and I wasn’t sure what to expect.

What I got was a fun and interesting dip-in-and-out of book.  It’s the kind of book you pick up when you have a spare 5 minutes rather than a book you settle down to read in an afternoon.

Geraint is part of the elite of British cycling and knows the set up and other riders well so you get a good insight into the amount of hard work they put into achieving the seemingly effortless victories both on the track and on the road.  I particularly liked the insight into how supportive they are of each other and the fact that, in a race like the Tour, victory for the leader is regarded as a victory for all.  Nice to know that the essential support isn’t taken for granted.

I also liked finding out more about the back room staff who keep a cycle team racing; mechanics, nutritionists , soigneurs, directeur sportifs etc. I heard the terms bandied around on TV and in David Walsh’s newspaper articles and book without completely understanding what some of them do.

It was interesting to find out about the training regimes; to me it sounds like you’re either killing yourself with effort or lying/sitting recovering doing as little as possible.  It seems like a weird way to live to a non-sporting person.  It also come across as a lonely life for the partners of elite cyclists, and I suspect any other elite sportsperson; your other half is living a fairly selfish life with everything geared towards their goals and dreams whilst you have to fit in and around them. It must be difficult and I take my hat off to the people who do it.  I think I would want to scream “What about me? What about doing some of the things I want to do? When are you going to put me first for once?”

There are some laugh out loud moments in the book so it probably isn’t a good idea to read it when your other half is trying to watch something on TV – he got a bit grumpy after a while – or when you’re out in public. I would definitely recommend it as a good read.

Other good cycling books I’d recommend are Ned Boulting’s How I won The Yellow Jumper and 101 Damnations, both about the Tour de France.  Also, if you want an amateurs viewpoint about long cycle rides Tim Moore’s French Revolutions and Gironimo, both laugh out loud funny.