A great and terrible King; Edward I and the forging of Britain – Marc Morris

A biography of King Edward I of England, a King I know a bit about having read the biography of his first Queen, Eleanor of Castile, last year.

It is interesting to read more than one account of the same events from different perspectives and by different authors so it was useful to have what I learned from the book about Eleanor in the back of my mind whilst reading this book.

I hadn’t realised before reading this and the book about Eleanor just what an impact Edward I had on the development of the UK.  It could have become a very different nation had different decisions been made during Edward’s reign.  A policy of inclusion, rather than a policy of seeking submission, in Wales, Ireland and Scotland would have seen the 4 nations develop along very different lines.

Also, the expensive war waged by Edward to regain his Duchy of Gascony had a significant impact on the development of England as a nation-state.  Edward used every possible means to raise the money for his war and left England, Wales and Ireland in poverty to do so.

On the plus side Edward tried to make England a more law-abiding country with fewer injustices and fewer less corruption than during his father’s reign.

Edward comes across as an interesting character, full of energy and very active up until the end of his life.  He certainly doesn’t come across as a modern man although a lot of what we would see as his bad qualities now were what was expected of Kings in the 13th century.

As always with a biography of a medieval character, chunks of the book seemed quite superficial and there are a lot of inferences made about where the King might have been and why.  I understand the practicalities and lack of evidence but it does make it difficult to piece together a cohesive picture of what a person was like and I find it a bit frustrating.

On the plus side I am building up a better understand of the Plantagenet dynasty and the Kings and Queens of England.

Jack and the Beanstalk – York Theatre Royal

Yes, it’s that time of year again; the Old Jokes Home outing to the pantomime. Hurrah!

I was really looking forward to this, especially since I had 2 exams to sit during the afternoon and was in need of some light relief.

It’s fair to say that with York Theatre Royal pantomime it doesn’t really matter what the title is; it is, essentially, the same panto with the same cast playing more or less the same parts they’ve played for the last millennium just with new music and different costumes.  This pantomime has a cult following; some people have been going to see Berwick Kaler as the Dame for 39 years so the Old Jokes Home at only 9 years are merely babbies and bairns.

Firstly, it was great to see Martin Barrass back in action after missing last year’s panto following a serious motorbike accident.

Secondly, it’s great to see Berwick Kaler looking hale and hearty after his heart bypass surgery.  It wouldn’t be the same without him.

The problem with this year’s panto though is that it was clearly suffering from lack of time to prepare it properly.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it very much.  The slapstick was silly, David Leonard’s evil Dr McCarb was a wonderful baddy and there were the usual pauses whilst cast members got their giggles under control.  It just felt as though there hadn’t been time to do a proper script – I assume there is one so people have a point of reference to riff from – and the time had to be filled up with a lot of singing and dancing.  I did like “Stand by your Mam” though.

York Theatre Royal pantomime is, without doubt, a must-see event, and will continue to be.  But I really hope Berwick Kaler has a more tranquil year in 2018 and more time to write another stonkingly good panto.


Bob Harris: Still whispering after all these years – Bob Harris

A fairly candid autobiography of Bob Harris the DJ and television broadcaster.  This book tells Bob’s story from his early life, his adult personal life and his life in and around music from the 1970s up to the present day.

I’m not really old enough to “get” Bob Harris.  By the time I was old enough to watch Old Grey Whistle Test it was Janice Long presenting and the programme was past its best.  I enjoyed listening to Bob’s Saturday late night programme when it was on Radio 2.  I didn’t like all the music but I did like how eclectic it was and how knowledgeable Bob was.  I think my response to the book reflects this; don’t really get the cultural references and some of it is interesting and thought-provoking.

I did enjoy learning more about the Old Grey Whistle Test.  I loved learning that the phrase emanated from the Brill Building and the way the song writers knew if they had written a hit or not.  It was also interesting to find out how the programme was made and just how involved everyone was in the planning and execution of each one.

I liked finding out more about the music business from a non-musician’s perspective.  It adds to what I’ve learned from the autobiographies of musicians like Springsteen, Keith Richards and John Lydon.

Harris himself doesn’t come out of the book particularly well.  I think he sums it up quite well when he says he was a married man living the life of a single man.  He comes across as quite selfish and self-centred in his private life.

The book seems to run out of steam towards the end – perhaps Harris had a deadline to meet – and I think the quality of the book deteriorates.  The later chapters are a bit of a “famous people I know” fest and the writing becomes trashy-novelesque, with all friendships being “deep and meaningful” relationships; what happened to just being good friends with someone and simply enjoying their company?

Another of those 2/3s good forget the last 1/3 books.

Twelfth Night – RSC

I’ve been looking forward to seeing this for ages – I bought the tickets  in the summer – and I really liked the idea of seeing Twelfth Night on twelfth night.  I enjoy the play, or most of it and I was intrigued at the idea of Vyvyan Basterd playing Malvolio, having not, at that stage, seen Ade Edmondson playing it straight in Bancroft.

The set and setting was what I’ve come to expect from a Christopher Luscombe directed play at RSC; lush Victorian/Edwardian country house.  It looked lovely but was a bit faffy when scenery needed changing and there was a pause every time Orsino’s decadent Turkish setting needed to slide backwards to make room for Olivia’s conservatory or drawing-room to swing forwards.  Good idea but didn’t quite work.

The cast were good, if not outstanding.  I never quite believed Kara Tointon’s Olivia was smitten by Cesario/Viola but it didn’t distract from the story. Antonio’s love for Sebastian was more believable.  Dinita Gohil and Esh Alladi were good as Viola and Sebastian.

I liked the fact that Sir Toby was portrayed with an edge of malice to both his duping of Sir Andrew and the revenge he exacts on Malvolio for trying to curb his excesses.  It made more sense of his and Maria’s treatment of Malvolio and the way they run off together.

I was disappointed by Vivien Parry as Maria.  I found her difficult to hear even when she was towards the front of the stage.  She was much better in A Christmas Carol.

Michael Cochrane acted Sir Andrew Aguecheek well but, without being too rude, he looked too old for the part.  A Sir Andrew of that age would have been duped out of his fortune well before Sir Toby got his hands on him.

So, I guess the question raised by my comment at the beginning of this article is how well did Adrian Edmondson do?  My answer would have to be pretty well!  He was stately and on his dignity at the beginning, believable when he is reading the letter purporting to come from Olivia and revengeful when he finds out about the trick that has been played on him.  He didn’t light up the stage in the same way John Lithgow did when he played the role (my favourite Malvolio to date); I think this was mainly down to the scene where he approaches Olivia cross-gartered and smiling, which wasn’t quite grotesque enough.  I would be interested to see him in other roles.

Who’d have thought in the early 1980s that Vyvyan and Theophilus P Wildebeeste would turn into serious actors!

Overall this was a fun, enjoyable evening at the theatre and I’d recommend you see it if you get the chance – there’s a live screening on 14/02, which broadens your choices.

Click to find out more about the live screening

Click to find out more about RSC


The cyclist who went out in the cold – Tim Moore

Happy New Year and I hope you all have a happy, healthy and successful 2018.

I’ve done a reasonable amount of reading over the holiday period but the book I’m reviewing today came about in rather odd circumstances.  I love Tim Moore’s travelogues and have had this one on my radar for sometime but not got round to reading it.  I have been reading a couple of rather heavy (both literally and figuratively) chewy books, both about Nazi Germany. I’ve also been catching up with the latest series of Peaky Blinders in quite big chunks.  The end result of this was a nightmare about armed gunmen bursting into the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and gunning everyone down!  I can vividly remember throwing myself under my seat in the dream and waking myself up before finding out whether my partner was safe or not!  A horrible dream that lingered with me all day…whilst going to Stratford to the theatre! The end result is that we went to Waterstones in Stratford to buy some happy books and “The cyclist who went out in the cold” was one of them.

Moore’s latest cycling adventure is to cycle the length of the Iron Curtain on a new(ish) cycle route, the Euro Velo 13.  This being Moore, he does it on a MIFA 900, the GDR equivalent of a Raleigh Twenty

I can’t imagine riding 10 miles on this sort of bike but to do 10400km on one strikes me as being utterly bonkers, even by Tim Moore standards.

The Iron Curtain Trail starts in Norway, continues into Finland, into Russia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Kaliningrad, Poland, Germany (zigzagging across what used to be the border between East and West), Czech Republic, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey and finishing at the Black Sea back in Bulgaria.  There is a mix of terrain, complete contrasts in weather and the usual Tim Moore mix of people he meets along the way.

The book varies between laugh out loud moments of sheer silliness, poignant moments and interesting diversions into bits of history related to the places Moore visits.

It was great to recognise descriptions of places I have also visited in the book although I do think that the author is a bit uncharitable about some of the places. Perhaps you see things differently coming to them cold and wet on a bicycle from how you see them coming in warm and dry on a coach.  Especially in the northern countries when it is still winter conditions.

My other slight niggle is that the later countries didn’t get quite the same level of detail as the countries up to and including Germany.

I really enjoyed this book.  It was exactly what I needed after my nightmare and, because I was enjoying it so much I read it in 2 afternoons.  This is a truly epic and interesting journey.  Tim Moore, I take my cycle helmet off to you!