Sunday, 20 November 2016

THE BOX OF DELIGHTS!!!!!

I don't  advertise things but this is one for books............



As I walked out one midsummer morning
The Little match girl huddled nearby and lit another match.
I Wandered lonely as a cloud
into
Waterstones
Wimbledon
On the road,
Past the
animal farm.
I had no
Sense or sensibility.
Matilda stood there browsing.
The tenant of wildfell hall hid her face.
Emma controlled everything with a look.
It was all set
For whom the bell tolls.
Ted's hawk roosted above.
A tempest blew through
the Old curiosity shop.
after
a comedy of errors
what a brave new world
presented itself.
The book  seller
Pronounced
As you like it,sir.
little women giggled in the corner with jack
 and
the Three pigs
scurried away
AND 
THE JOLLY CHRISTMAS POSTMAN LAUGHED.


Choosing a book is an adventure. Try it this Christmas.










Saturday, 5 November 2016

THE AMERICAN ELECTION RESULT!!!!!!!!!!!


Donald and Hillary. 

Tuesday 9th November 2016….. is so very nearly here.
The World awaits. Who will it be, Donald or Hillary?

It’s so close, we here in Britain can feel the heat from 3000miles away across a choppy Atlantic. Friction, that’s what it is. Anything that close and so abrasive causes a lot of heat.
There is the misogynist, abuser of women, bankrupt, litigiously incontinent, egomaniac,  and total nincompoop, ( that’s an English word for idiot.) Donald the Trump. I can’t bear to look at his face on the TV and  I can’t  bear to listen to the sound of his voice. What I will do if he wins, I haven’t decided yet.
Then there is Hillary, duplicitous, sneaky, a rather untrustworthy type who wants a national health service and wants to ban the carrying and ownership of guns. She must be a pinky left wing socialist sort. 

So what if……………?

Trump WINS!! IT'S President Trump.

So we have a President Trump. His own party, the Republicans can’t believe it. Nobody wants to be a part of his administration. He has decided to have a new series of the Apprentice whereby candidates for high political office in his administration compete for government roles. He is recruiting candidates from amongst the great American beer drinkers, golfing types and bar loafers who voted for him. Wolf whistling at women will be of high priority
 As America doesn’t own any shipping companies to deport immigrants  an upsurge in the inflatable airbed industry is underway. Airbed stock market rates have gone through the roof. Thousands and thousands of inflatable Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse air beds are to be seen off the East Coast and West Coast of the USA as desperate illegal immigrants paddle for the safety of the high seas. American citizens have been given the right to shoot on sight anybody they think are undesirable sorts. There are summary executions in the streets right across America. A few mother inlaws and ex wives have been mistakenly shot. This has of course preempted Trump’s  passing a bill through  Congress banning all mother inlaws and ex wives anyway.
 Illegal Mexican immigrants in the USA having been sent back across the boarder the day after the election result  are now working for building companies right across Mexico. They are part of a desperate race  to build a high brick and concrete wall to keep out the undesirable Americans fleeing across their borders  from the USA in disgust at the Presidential result. Building companies, cement factories, brickyards, construction machinery companies,  and  yellow hard hat companies are flourishing. The Mexican economy has had a gigantic boost. 
President Putin has been invited to  the Golden Gilt House , formerly The White House, after a quick renovation to suit President Trump’s tastes. President Trump has announced a ,”special relationship,” once attributed to Britain, with Russia. After all it was Russia who financed his Presidential campaign, got him out of two bankruptcies and provided him with a  docile, servile, wife who will do anything for her man.
The BBC was seen as insulting Donald in the run up to the election. Rumours that the British people were making fun of him also riled the bloated red faced one, so all political ties with Britain have been severed and the USA is now at war with its old ally. Trump is reserving a large section of the American nuclear arsenal  for the bombing and total eradication of Britain.  “Who wants those National Health Service, free education,  lefty bastards anyway? They don’t even carry guns.”, he has been reported as saying.
Also Europe is a little concerned that Trump wants to drop nuclear bombs on all major European cities.
Donald is suing all Hollywood and music industry stars for not liking him.
A new bright era of world dominance , let’s forget the Chinese, for the wonderful U. S. of A is dawning under this Donald Trump regime.
As for Hillary Clinton, the Clintons have been seen escaping to Britain,. They now live in a Liverpool, council house in the  suburbs of LIverpool near Paul McCartneys childhood home. Hillary always expressed admiration for the Fab Four in her student days. The Clintons have been made penniless after the hard fought election and are seeking housing benefits and work seekers allowances from Liverpool City Council.

ALTERNATIVELY:

Hillary is President. President Clinton the second.

The first woman President of the United States, Hillary Clinton. The world sighed a long sigh of relief after election night. She is the normal conniving, back stabbing politician we all know and love. The status quo will be kept. Americans might not get the jobs and rejuvenated industries they want but they might, unless Hillary does a U turn, get a National Health service and guns might just be banned. Which will be a good thing, won’t it? It will be best for Hillary to act quickly on these things of course while the Gun Lobby, the Ku Klux Klan, and the Drugs Industry have been incapacitated by the shock of Donald’s defeat. Best to get in there before they recover their composure.
The close relationship with Britain has been made closer. Hillary loved the sarcasm, and the denigrating commentary of Donald Trump by the BBC.
Relationships with Russia have soured even further and Putin is rather upset because the Russian economy is shrinking and he can’t finance his military ambitions of invading and nuking Europe. Donald had promised him support in that area.
Mexico are feeling ambivalent. There is not going to be a wall between them and the USA but they had already decided they hate the USA and were looking forward to keeping Americans out of their wonderful country. They no longer have an excuse.
Donald Trump meanwhile has been spotted rowing a converted golf buggy towing suit cases full of his and Melania’s belongings, out to sea heading for Colombia. He is wondering if he can do a deal with the drugs barons there. He is bankrupt again after this Presidential campaign and he would like them to bail him out and set him up in ,"business," again. It has been discovered that Donald had mortgaged Trump Tower for every last brick to pay for the election campaign.



Election campaign badge.




Monday, 17 October 2016

VALDEMOSSA, MALLORCA. ( a Summer holiday trip)




The mountainous scenery around Valldemossa

During the second week of August this year, the 7th until the 14th, Marilyn, Emily, Abigail and myself stayed on Mallorca, the main island amongst the Ballearic group of islands. We had a hotel just a short distance along the coast from Palma, the capital city of the Ballearics. From Palma we could take bus trips all over the island. In planning our holiday, we researched Gaia, the little village on the north side of the island near the coast set amongst the craggy outcrops and peaks of La Serra de Tramuntana. Gaia was the small mountain village that Robert Graves made his home and we wanted to visit his house and find his grave in the little cemetery in the village. La Serra de Tramuntana is a range of craggy limestone hills and mountains, some over 1000 m high, that stretch from East to West across the whole northern part of the island. The steep sided valleys and ravines make a spectacular drive through this rugged landscape. One town we passed through was Valldemossa, set on the side of a steep mountain with a long beautiful valley extending south from it with views almost to the sea at Palma. When we got back to our hotel that evening, I found some brochures in the hotel foyer that described  Valldemossa. We discovered it had been a retreat for George Sand and her lover Frederik Chopin in the winter of 1838. They had stayed in rooms in the abandoned Carthusian Monastery of Valldemossa. When Marilyn and I read this we immediately thought we must go there. The next day the four of us got the same bus we had got to Gaia from the central bus station in Palma, except this time we alighted on the edge of Valldemossa town.


Valldemossa is well signposted.

Valldemossa is well sign posted. We started walking up the crowded thoroughfare, that comprised the main street, making our way towards the Chopin and Sand museum. It was crowded with visitors from the cruise ships we had seen in the harbor at Palma. They wore their cruise ship badges so we could even pick out which ship they had come from. They looked like and sounded like, a bored crowd of tourists. You could see and hear the fractious children with their worn out parents sighing and complaining back at their children in strained and reprimanding tones.Some just sat on low walls waiting to be herded back to their ship. Valldemossa is beautiful. The streets are lined with tamarisk and holm oaks. These trees create deep shade in the streets during the hot bright summer. The town is built from the honey coloured stones quarried from the surrounding mountains. Olive green shutters are placed over every window. Stone archways encompass heavy wooden doors. The streets are paved with worn irregular slabs of the same stone. The town is rustic, mellow and creates a warm comfortable feeling of human scale. It is the sort of place you need to walk around, stop, contemplate life  and speak to people. The atmosphere of Valldemossa seeps into you and makes you feel human again, if you give it time, away from the hurly burly of your everyday lives. Marilyn, Emily, Abigail and I made our way through the crowd and gradually the crowd. It became easier to stop and experience Valldemossa properly.

Shaded streets of Valldemossa

Valdemossa is a mountain town,  reliant on tourism as is the whole of Mallorca in the 21st century but it is still home, to hillside farmers growing olives, almonds and grapes. Marilyn, Emily, Abigail and myself walked into some of the shops on the main street. There were the usual Spanish holiday mementos. We found, a variety of straw sombreros of different circumferences. There were stuffed leather donkeys with colourful rainbow tassels for manes and tails. There was a choice of brightly painted castanets.There were garishly coloured clothing and artisan wooden carvings of fish and other animals for sale. There were traditional sangria drinking bottles with a long thin sharp spout. By holding the drinking bottle at arm’s length and above your head height you can send a long thin stream of wine arching through the air to your open mouth and straight down your throat. Watching it done is quite a skillful business. There were traditional Spanish costumes for children. There were local carved wooden statues of The Virgin Mary and Barcelona Football Team shirts side by side. Various other paraphernalia, dishes, plates and bottled oils were on sale too. We walked on. Interspersed with the tourist shops there were local shops selling bread and groceries. Bars and restaurants, with tables spilling out on to the streets and into the square at the top of the town were everywhere. We saw red banners all over Valldemossa advertising the, “Festival Chopin.” 

A banner informing about the Chopin Festival.

We eventually reached the great monastic church belonging to the Carthusian Monastery at the top of the town. An old lady with a weather beaten faced  was selling entry tickets. She sat at a rickety wooden table. We asked about tickets to see around the old monastery and its church. She explained that the ticket allowed us to see the monastery. I asked where the rooms Chopin and Sand had stayed in were. She waved her arm in the air and grumbled at us with some guttural Spanish phrase gesturing to her right and then she had a go at English and said in a vague comment, “On thee urther side.”
The Carthusian Monastery of Valldemossa, dates back to 1399. It was secularised in 1835 under the Ecclesiastical Confiscations of Mendizabel. At the time there were anti clerical liberal movements in Spain and the government wanted to use the land to help the middle classes expand. The land and buildings of the monastery at Valldemossa were sold to a number of people.  The towns people,however, felt that it was wrong to use the old Carthusian property for their own benefit so the new owners would merely rent out the rooms to visitors.


Inside the Carthusian church.


Entering the vast monastic church from the sun drenched courtyard in front of the entrance it took a moment to adjust our vision. The inside of the church was cool with its white washed walls reflecting any light that entered from the large roundel window positioned high in the barrel vaulted roof at one end. It was strange in the sense that were no other windows, none of the elaborate gothic arched stained glass windows of a cathedral or local church. Carthusian spirituality is about solitude and living in silence. This is one of the Carthusian statutes.
 The primary application of our vocation is to give ourselves to the silence and solitude of the cell. It is holy ground, the area where God and his servant hold frequent conversations, as between friends. There, the soul often unites itself to the Word of God, bride to the groom, the earth to the sky, man to the divine. “
The church seemed to cut us off from the outside world. The interior was virtually empty. At one end there was an elaborate altar with a gilt painted baroque framed painting of The Virgin Mary hanging above it and a life size statue of St Bruno, the founding father of the Carthusians to one side. The walls were lined to about half height by intricately carved wooden stalls and friezes where I presume the monks had once sat during mass. There was no seating for a congregation. The body of the church was an empty space floored with stone tiles.  As we walked from the church into dimly lit whitewashed corridors this sense of the Carthusian contemplative life seemed palpable in the structure of the buildings. We came to a small verdant, cloistered square. To one side, appearing almost cartoonish, were two giants, two statues, at least twice life size, one representing Frederik Chopin and the other George Sand. They seemed totally incongruous. I can only suggest they had something to do with the Chopin Festival. I guess, either that they must stand in pride of place as the festival of Chopin piano concertos proceeds, or perhaps they are the outer costumes and masked heads of stilt walkers and the two creative, “giants,” walk amongst festival goers creating a sense of circus and fun.  

Frederik Chopin, myself and George Sand!!!!!

At the far side of the cloisters there was a long corridor also with a high barrel roof. Every place throughout the monastery was whitewashed and this was a plain white thoroughfare too, dimly lit like the rest of the interiors. We could see  to one side, set within the the wall opposite the  courtyard,  a row of evenly interspersed wooden doors. They were each numbered. There were thirteen doors we discovered, each being the entrance to the cell of a past monastic occupant. Cell number four was the reputed abode of Frederik Chopin and George Sand and Sand’s two children during their stay in Valldemossa.


The balcony garden outside of the cells where Sand and Chopin stayed.

The rooms are interconnected nowadays and Chopin and Sand occupied at least two of them. There are two pianos within these rooms. One is the Pleyel piano that Chopin had shipped to Mallorca and eventually brought to Valldemossa for his use.  Pleyel was the company of piano makers that Chopin preferred above all others. His last concert was played on a Pleyel. There is another piano there that Chopin also used while he was waiting for the arrival of the Pleyel. The rooms have  a number of Chopin and Sand artefacts and manuscripts.There are receipts for the sea voyage they made to Palma from Barcelona. There are letters to friends and a first edition of Sand’s book ,"Un Hiver en Majorque,"(A Winter in Mallorca.)  


"Un Hiver en Majorque."

There are sketch books that belonged to Sand's two children, Maurice, born in 1823 who was fifteen years old at the time they visited Valldemossa and her daughter Solange, born in 1828, who was ten years old at the time. Their father was George Sand’s estranged husband, Casimir Dudevant. One particular artefact is a cartoon drawing that George Sand herself made depicting Chopin and her two children meeting the local priest. She is a true cartoonist, using caricature, depicting her nose and Chopin's nose far larger that real life. Sand has handwritten a legend stating that the priest was lecturing them about snow. He thought they might never have seen it before and Valldemossa experienced snow falls in the Winter. The facial expressions are very good. The two children are depicted sitting  politely showing quiet interest as she is but Chopin is grimacing in almost a snarl. 

George Sand,Frederik Chopin with children, being lectured about snow.

Chopin composed most of the preludes, opus 28.  while here. He had a prolific creative period during that winter in Valldemossa which is remarkable since he was suffering from pneumonia. Chopin wrote to his friend, Julian Fontan in December from Valldemossa.
“To Julian Fontana in Paris
Palma 28 December 1838
………………….or rather Valldemosa, a few miles away; between cliffs and the sea a huge deserted Carthusian monastery where in a cell with doors larger than any carriageway in Paris you may imagine me with my hair unkempt, without white gloves and pale as evert. The cell is shaped like a tall coffin, the enormous vaulting covered with dust, the window small. In front of the window are orange trees, plams, cypresses;opposite the window is my camp bed under a Moorish filigree rose window. Close to the bed is an old square grubby box which I can scarcely use for writing on, with a leaden candlestick( a great luxury here) and a little candle. Bach, my scrawlsand someone elses old papers…silence…you can yell….still silence. In short, I am writing to you from a queer place. I received two days ago your letter of the 2nd of this month…….”



Chopin at Valldemossa.


Chopin’s prelude in A minor  was undoubtedly composed at Valldemossa. It has a melancholy air. The weather during the winter of 1838 was cold and misty. The mood of the abbey at Valldemossa during that winter seems to have permeated this piece

A doll that belonged to Solange.


George Sand wrote, “Un Huiver a Mallorca,”during this stay in Valledemossa. Sand’s book is a curious, mixed sort of affair. It provides a history of Mallorca. It lambasts the Spanish Inquisition. It is part travel book and part autobiography using a dark gothic style first begun by Horace Walpole in his  “Castle de Otranto.”At times it also employs a Romantic element in the style of Wordsworth. It  criticizes the people of Mallorca to quite some extent. In January Sand wrote to her friend, Mariliani
  “I write to You from my hermitage in Valldemossa […] In this no quarter is given me by the warbling piano of Chopin working in his normal, beautiful, way, to the astonishment of the eavesdropping walls of the cell’. In a later recollection, inHistoire de ma vie: ‘He could not curb his restless imagination. Even when he felt good, the monastery seemed to him to be full of phantoms and frights […] I found him at ten in the evening sitting pale at the piano, with a vague look in his eyes, with his hair on end…’ Chopin (to Fontana): ‘I send You the Preludes. Transcribe them, You and [Edward] Wolff; I think there are no errors. You will give the transcriptions to Probst and the manuscript to Pleyel. […[ In a couple of weeks’ time You will get a ballade [F major], polonaises [A majorand C minor] and a scherzo [C sharp minor]. Tell Pleyel to agree on the timing of the publication of the preludes with Probst. I still have not yet received any letter from my parents!’ To Pleyel: ‘At last I send You my preludes, completed on Your piano. […] I advised Fontana to hand You my manuscript. For France and England I want for it one thousand five hundred francs. Probst, as You know, purchased the German rights for Härtel for one thousand francs’.
Sand’s book ““Un Huiver a Mallorca,”(A Winter in Mallorca) begins with an assessment of a book she  read about Mallorca written by  J B Laurens who had visited Mallorca a couple of years before Sand and Chopin. She enjoyed reading about the vegetation and the history and reading Lauren’s view of the island. George Sand took great interest in facts such as population numbers and the number of square miles the island consisted of. Sand uses the facts from Laurens book and goes into great detail about the temperatures at different times of the year and the differences between sheltered and unsheltered areas. An unfortunate overtone of the book though is that Sand complains about the |Mallorcan people at almost every moment. She starts complaining from the beginning. They get to Mallorca by way of the ferry,” El Mallorqn,” a ship the Mallorcans had bought to help their trade with Barcelona and the rest of Spain. 

"El Mallorqn,"the ship Sand and Chopin sailed from Barcelona to Palma in.

There is a humerous description in her book that describes how she and Chopin got to Mallorca because of pigs. The Mallorcan sailors on board treated the 200 or more pigs they took aboard with far more care and respect than the human passengers. If it hadn’t been that the pigs were going to Mallorca Chopin and Sand would not have got there themselves. Sand’s was seasick, so that probably didn’t help matters. According to Sand, an apartment in Palma was merely a white washed box. Washing and cooking facilities were non existent. There were no windows in the rooms. According to Sand the people were lazy and stuck in their ways. They, after a short time, moved outside of Palma to a friends furnished house at Establiments, a rural area beyond Palma. She describes the cultivation and surrounding mountains in some detail. This was a silent place and she could hear babies crying at night and the slightest sound but the final straw was when winds the rains started. The deluge went on day after day. The book is worth reading because although it is a jaundiced and somewhat partisan view of Mallorca and does the people of Mallorca no favours, it is a wonder that Valldemossa actually celebrates the two of them, it is entertaining at times in its exaggerations and  ridiculous  negative descriptions of Mallorca. The book goes into all sorts of incongruous descriptions of buildings. There is a whole section on the three most important buildings in Palma for instance, The Cathedral, The Exchange and The Royal Palace. There are some dark gothic parts to it. Apart from the monastery at Valldemossa Sand’s also comes across another ruined monastery in Palma itself, one where the Inquisition had held sway. She goes into  detail about the beliefs and methods of the Inquisition. She had visited an Inquisition site before on mainland Spain and been into the caves used as prisons beneath the site, caves with walls hundreds of feet thick in places. She describes in chilling detail how the Spanish Inquisitors would imprison, Jews, reformers and anybody who didn’t toe the Catholic line. The worst offenders to the Inquisition were obliterated from existence, their names removed from any documents, their bodies burned to ashes, no record kept of their very existence. This persecution would go as far as their families too, mothers and fathers and siblings so there was no living memory of them either. Sand’s seems to take a prurient interest in this cruelty expressing her horror at the same time. Valldemossa, gets much description and similar negativity, especially about the local people, who she thought uneducated and coarse, a description she applied to all the inhabitants of Mallorca. 


A portrait of George Sand on a wall of their cell at Valledemossa.

The rooms that Chopin and Sand occupied , although cramped and cell like, had doors that opened out on to balcony spaces. These small enclosures to this day,contain pots of flowers, palm trees, shrubs and plants of all types. They were and are, small, luxurious gardens. A low stone wall ,at the furthest extreme, creates  the extent of each space and from that wall, looking south from the monastery,  down the v shaped valley created by the surrounding mountains you can see Palma and the sea in the far distance. The garden, its rustic stone surrounds and the mountains and the magnificent view affects all the senses and creates an uplifting experience. Sand and Chopin, for all their travails, were both inspired by Valldemossa and you can see why. The surroundings and the views are spectacular.

As well as commemorating Chopin and Sands the various cells in the Carthusian monastery also recall the life and works of the Carthusian monks who had originally lived there. There is an extensive library that the Abbot of the monastery possessed. There is also a pharmacy. The monks were great herbalists and chemists. They also had a printing press.


A monks cell.

The abbots library.


The monks chemist shop.
 Valldemossa was also home to the local saint, Saint Catalina Thomas. She was born on the 1st May 1533 in Valldemossa. Her house, next to the towns church, is now a chapel and a shrine and they celebrate her on the 27th and 28th July every year. While we were there in the second week of August, the white raffia streamers still crisscrossed an area of the town square and her portrait remained hanging amongst the fluttering decorations.

A statue of Saint Catalina Thomas.

She lived a life of prayer experiencing visions from an early age. She was visited by angels and devils and was reported to have experienced a sort of ecstasy for the last years of her life.  Walking along the narrow streets and alleyways of Valldemossa, making our way to the church and the home of St Catalina Thomas, we saw glazed porcelain plaques on many walls depicting scenes from her life showing her experiencing some of her visions in the countryside around Valldemossa. It is easy to explain her experiences as an overactive imagination. Her life, though, has encouraged people to prayer and devotion. 

A plaque on a house wall in Valldemossa depicting one of Saint Catalina Thomas's visions.

We can talk about all sorts of secular and religious techniques for harnessing the mind to create well being and improvements in our lives. Meditation techniques, mindfulness, forms of self reflection are helpful in both our own relationships and in our work place. Mentally rehearsing actions we are going to take, is another way to harness the power of the mind. Sports people use mental rehearsal in many situations. Maybe that is all Catalina Thomas experienced, some or all of those type of things and we can dismiss her for that. However she means something very powerful to many Mallorcans to this day and that is what really counts. She left Valldemossa and  went to Palma where she worked as a servant in a household before joining a religious order, the Canonnesses of St Augustine at the convent of St Mary Magdelene in Palma.

A shaded bar.

Valldemossa and the surrounding area is good walking country. The landscape is spectacular. It is worth exploring for the wildlife, the vegetation and the breath taking views. The town itself is very photogenic. There are lots of wonderful restaurants and a few rustic hotels and guest houses.

References:



Chopin’s prelude in A minor  :
Played by Martha Argerich: 

https://youtu.be/8wegyayhHcU

"A Winter in Mallorca," by George Sand (translated by Shirley Kirby James)
pub: Classic Collection Carolina 















Monday, 26 September 2016

GOOD CANARY A play written by Zach Helm and directed by John Malkovich at the Rose Theatre, Kingston upon Thames




Good Canary, is a play about drug addiction, its consequences on people’s lives and livelihoods. It is about mental deterioration, driving ambition, the precariousness of literary talent, the consequences of sexual abuse and the dubious amoral world of publishing. A powerfully toxic, dark brew that is destined to take us into the dark side of human nature and help us explore our own motivations and perhaps darker side too.
Zach Helm, is known in France , Spain and Mexico for his acclaimed productions of Good Canary directed in each case by John Malkovich. The play has been translated into French and Spanish although first written in English. It is now appearing in Britain for the first time and being produced for the first time in English  at the Rose Theater Kingston. Zach Helm is also known for the film, Mr Magoriums Wonder Emporium. He is renowned as a teacher of drama. He has created a technique called ,”open input drama,” which encourages actors to use experiences from the real world.

Zach Helms with his wife, Kiele Sanchez
John Malkovich is famous for starring in Dangerous Liaisons, Being John Malkovich and starring and performing in over seventy films. He has two Academy Award nominations. He speaks both French and Spanish.
I must warn any reader of this before they start reading that this is not a review but my analysis of what I saw the other day at The Rose Theatre. There will be plenty of,” plot alerts,” whatever that means? So many people write that phrase when reviewing things. I thought I would have a go at using it too.
The two main characters are Annie, played by Freya Mavor and Jack, played by Harry Lloyd.
Good Canary, begins with Annie and Jack in their New York apartment. Jack has just had his first novel published and has received a good review by a highly regarded New York Times reviewer. Jack reads the review to Annie who is cynical about it and analyses every phrase for its real meaning not believing it could be good. Annie is pacing about frenetically. The discussion changes.There is a lot of arguing and the free use of the F word being shouted. Jack is asks Annie how many pills she has taken. Annie is a drug addict and uses amphetamines to function. References to drugs and the world of drugs underpin this whole play. Annie cleans the apartment continually. The computerized scenery allows the windows she cleans at one stage to shrink or enlarge at will and move about on the wall almost trying to avoid Annie’s manic cleaning attempts. “How many times have you cleaned the apartment today?” Jack asks. “Oh three or four times maybe,” Annie replies as though its normal. There is a scene where her drug dealer,Jeff, played energetically and with an element of nervous energy by Ilan Goodman, comes around. He seems to be a friend of the family. Annie buys two enormous bags of pills. He says he has had to search Manhattan to obtain so much in one go. She pays him $2000 for them. The drug dealer is very nervous about letting her have the drugs. A drug dealer with a heart. A dealer with a conscience. His addiction however is money and he can’t resist selling all these drugs to Annie. He wines about her being careful. He pleads with her to not take them all in one go. This is a joke of course. Annie is not good at rationing her drugs and drugs bought to last a fortnight last four or five days. She says she wants to buy in bulk so she doesn’t have to worry the drug dealer so often and to have easy access to drugs whenever she wants. As well as the bulk buying of drugs Annie also, randomly it seems, buys a large steal red box. The audience is immediately drawn into this dark crazy world that Annie and Jack inhabit.
Its not just drugs that are the problem. We assume that Annie has been sexually abused as a child. At a dinner party with a publishing executive and his wife she even hints that sexual abuse for women is the norm.”So when did you first get raped?” She asked Sylvia the executives wife. She goes on to say that she was nine years old when it first happened to her. We begin to discover the root causes of Annies drug addiction. At one time Jack tells Charlie how Annie pleaded with her to fuck her in the arse and forced him to try. He could see the pain he was causing her and stopped. She seemed to crave the abusive behavior she had experienced as a child.

Annie ( Freya Mavor) searching for the drugs that Jack has hidden.

Jack, also randomly it seems, buys a small yellow canary in a cage for Annie to look after during the day. He thinks this might give her a focus to help take her mind of drugs. Annie is completely taken by this beautiful little piece of life. She loves it. The canary hangs from a stand on the stage throughout the performance. A computerized text appears on a wall that explains the use of canaries down mines to warn of gas. A canary will visibly weaken and die with the onset of gas in the tunnels. We as the audience think this must be of great significance. Being aware of Annie’s fragility this must be the warning  for Annie’s later precariousness or even demise. However, although the canary is there on the stage virtually throughout the performance its actual significance is forgotten and references to it are no longer made. I think this is a weakness by this nonuse of a supposedly important piece of imagery.
In many plays that deal with dark subjects there is dark humour. Zach Helms has put humour into this play but it is intermittent. A more adept playwright would keep an underlying sense of the absurd as a continuous thread throughout a play like this. The scene  where Annie is cleaning the apartment whilst on speed is funny and strange. The scene where she is buying drugs from ,Jeff.her dealer has its light moments. Annie ends up in hospital at one stage because of her attempts to vomit. Jack eventually finds that she has stuffed a hair curler deep down her throat and nearly choked to death. The ridiculousness of it is evident.
Zach helms has tried very hard to use all the playwright’s techniques and strategies. However, they are so obvious it makes much of the play clunky. There are the dramatic pauses, too long at times. I thought the actors had forgotten their lines. We have the theater critic, who every writer is afraid off, because their review can make or break them. The publisher who doesn’t read the books he publishes. He may as well be selling potatoes as far as he cares. The wife of the wealthy publisher who sits in her expensive high rise Manhattan penthouse and who is lonely and is bored with life. These are so obvious techniques it makes me think that I have seen parts of this play before. Now where did that scene come from? Where have I seen that before?
There is also the matter of computerized text displayed on screens. They provide us with background information at times, for instance explaining the use of canaries in mines. I think modern technology is fine in a play, and I absolutely loved the way projectors and lighting were used to create the scenery in this play but I am not convinced about its use to provide dialogue. This is more appropriate for texts displaying information in museums and galleries perhaps but I am not convinced about its use in a play. The actors spoken dialogue should provide all. There was one other use of computerized text which worried me. There is a tender scene between Jack and Annie. They are holding each other expressing their love. They lie on stage in silence. Their inner thoughts are displayed on screens above their entwined bodies. Fist Jack’s words appear and then Annie’s. This scene is a prolonged moment. Anybody with poor eyesight might think the play had ended or come to some frozen standstill. Shakespeare would have used a soliloquy. Other playwrights might have used a voice to the audience.Probably voice overs from the actors themselves would have worked much better. It detracted from the dramatic moment.

Jack and Annie with the canary of the title.
The  Good Canary suddenly becomes something of worth at the point when Jack reveals  that he is not the author of the new acclaimed novel but it is Annie who is the writer. There is an awareness that the center of this play, where all strands lead, is Annie.This is the crux of the play. Everybody, whether they know it or not is reliant on Annie. Jeff the drug dealer needs Annie to buy his drugs so he has an income. Jacks publisher, Charlie,  the large publishing firm wanting to buy Charlie out run by Stuart, the New York Times reviewer, Mullholland , who seems to hold all the power and Stuart’s, bored, lonely, sophisticated wife Sylvia, they need her for their very existence. They need Annie’s creative talent to provide for their livelihoods and eventually all the characters realise this.
Jack was aware of his reliance on Annie from the start of the play. There are moments when we think, why is Jack so dedicated to Annie, he loves her yes, but love can be eroded by a partner living a drug addled existence. Charlie tries to get Jack away from Annie. He sees her as a liability. A party is to be held at Stuarts apartment. Charlie tries to persuade Jack to leave Annie at home because the party is about signing a publishing deal and he doesn’t want Annie to mess things up. Jack knows that Annie must be there. She is the real author. The audience thinks he is just being admirably loyal to his wife and I am sure he is being that but there are obviously other forces making him bring Annie along. Annie behaves in a self destructive way at the party.She ruins the party.Everybody is shocked and her behaviour appears to have destroyed any chance of a book deal. Charlie, Stuart and Mullholand display  blatant misogyny . Stuart has treated his wife badly. We see their marriage self destructing. Mullholland tells Jack that after Stuarts wife leaves him that Stuart won’t even remember her after a while. He will get another to replace her. The men, apart from Jack, all dismiss Annie’s cries for help. They want to discard her. Jack is forced to reveal that Annie is the real author to Mullhollnad. Charlie is informed. The realization that their own existence relies on Annie’s talent , creativity and writing, changes all their outlooks towards her. Charlie wants Jack to get Annie to write a second book. Jack can see that Annies drug habit is getting out of control. The publishers need a follow up novel to the first successful novel. Jack pays off Jeff to stay away from Annie and not sell her any more drugs. Jack gets rid of the drugs in the apartment. Annie can’t function. She becomes desperate. We realise that Annie needs her drugs to function and to  write. We can think of Dylan Thomas and his drinking or Earnest Hemmingway and his reliance on drink too. The beat poets and writers all took drugs. Ken Keysey and One flew Over The Cookoos nest comes to mind.Annie commits suicide in the apartment when Jack is away. She poors bottle after bottle of  bleach, chrome cleaner, anything she can get her hands on, down her throat. She dies in agonizing convulsions on the floor. It seems that with Annie’s death everybody else’s existence has come to an end too.
Jack is disconsolate sitting in the apartment alone. He sees the red steal box that Annie bought, what seems ages ago. He manages to get the padlock open. Inside he finds numerous brown paper parcels. As he sits there opening them, we the audience, realise along with Jack that each parcel contains a manuscript. Annie, her days spent high on amphetamines has not only been cleaning the apartment she has been writing prolifically. Screens appear all around the stage displaying the novels, and books of poetry in Annie’s name that all become national best sellers.

John Malkovich

Here Zach Helms tries to attempt dark humour again. Jack and Charlie appear amongst grave stones in a cemetery at Annies funeral and Charlie says, “ For Christs sakes , she died of kitchen cleaning products, goddam.” I didn’t laugh.
Zach Helms is not an Edward Albee, or an Arthur Miller. His writing makes the  themes, of drug abuse, misogyny, the affects of sexual abuse, hidden talent, appear to be derivative and hence contrived. There is something powerful in this play however. Its strength and importance is the realisation that our existence, our world can be founded on the weakest of things. Sometimes the greatest things can come from something weak and insignificant and damaged that we all want to ignore or want to discard. John Malkovich has made a creditable attempt at producing the play. There are weaknesses in the use of projected text instead of the spoken word. Some of  the dramatic silences lose their drama after a length of time. This is probably to do with pace.The actors do their very best with lots of energy and some truly moving and emotional parts, especially from Freya Mavor as Annie. John Malkovich however,needs to get a better play script for the world to work out whether or not he can be a good stage directer. It seems he has only produced this one play, admittedly in various countries and in two other languages. Perhaps he should try an Edward Albee or an Arthur Miller, or even Shakespeare. If Malkovich is over here dipping his toes into the world of British theater to test the waters, he needs something better. If he is here trying to emulate Kevin Spacey at The Old Vic then he has some way to go.

Reference: https://www.rosetheatrekingston.org/






Friday, 16 September 2016

THE TRIAL OF QUEEN CAROLINE IN 1820



Recently Marilyn and I went in to the center of London, initially to attend a lunchtime free concert at St Martins in The Fields. We heard Emma Stannard, a Mezzo Soprano, singing Grieg, Schumann, De Falla and Copeland accompanied by Keval Shah on the piano. They were superb displaying so much personality. The lunchtime concerts begin a 1pm and last for about one hour. When we came out onto a sunny Trafalgar Square we thought we would like to have a look in the National Portrait Gallery and see if any exhibitions were on.
There is a photographic portrait exhibition on at the moment. We first looked around  pictures  created by the Bloomsbury group and portraits of artists,writers and the famous from the 20th century. We looked at the Tudor and Stuart galleries populated by portraits of the ,”God ordained”,  and eventually wandered into the Georgian period sauntering past that little sketch of Jane Austen created by her sister Cassandra and some of the great writers and poets of the late 18th and early 19th century, Sir Walter Scott, Shelley, Byron and so forth. There are very few women represented in the older periods. Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots appears in the Tudor period. Some of Charles II’s mistresses are hung in the Stuart galleries but the Georgian period is when women become ,”really serious.”
The great majority of paintings in the Georgian Galleries are still of men but  there are a substantial number of women, Jane Austen, Mary Wollstonecraft, Hannah More, Fanny Burney, Hester Lynch (Mrs Thrale) and Dorothy Jordan, writers, artists, actors, philosophers, playwrights, society hosts and emancipationists. These women began to push the boundaries of society showing what women could do in the world and they were brave, revolutionary and they were intellectuals and thinkers of the highest order.They all suffered one way or the other for their causes in a very strongly male orientated world. They were courageous pioneers. 

  The Trial of Queen Caroline 1820 by Sir George Hayter oil on canvas, 1820-1823 (National Portrait gallery)

But there is one painting, with a woman in it, which could be described as even more inspirational and in some ways is more powerful than the rest and gets to the heart of what it was to be a woman in the early 19th century. This woman had courage, determination and a will to live her life the way she wanted. She was prepared to break the law, courted approbation from everybody, even her friends and supporters, those who might be on her side to a degree of sensure regarding her morals and choices in life. In acting in such a liberating way was perhaps even stronger than all the rest. “The trial of Queen Caroline in 1820,” is vast. It consists of hundreds of miniature portraits of men. The great men of the early 19th century. There is William Adams, lawyer and diplomat, Shute Barrington,the Bishop of Durham, William Cavendish the Lord Chancellor,  William Wyndham Greville the Prime Minister, the Duke of York, George IV’s brother, William Howley, The Archbishop of Canterbury, William Nelson, 1st Earl Nelson, Lord Nelson’s brother, Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington. There are lawyers, landowners, statesmen, the Governor General of India and various other governor generals. There are Field Marshalls, bishops and archbishops. Thomas Barnes, the editor of The Times newspaper is there, politicians of every hue, agriculturalists, bankers, sportsmen, Lords, Earls and Dukes. The world was run by these men and women were second class citizens and had to do what they were told. Almost unnoticed, in the midst of this mass of manhood, sitting calmly and still and looking unmoved is Queen Caroline of Brunswick, the estranged wife of George IV. The painting portrays the trial brought about when George wanted to divorce her. Things did not go his way. For one the public disliked him intensely.

Caroline of Brunswick.by Sir Thomas Lawrence oil on canvas, 1804. (National Portrait Gallery)
Caroline was born on the 17th May 1768, a Princess of Brunswick. Her father was Charles William, Duke of Brunswick and her mother was Princess Augusta of Great Britain and eldest sister of George III. Her father and mother had a difficult relationship. Her father had a mistress, who lived with them, called Louise Hertefeld. Caroline was put in a difficult situation. If she was civil to one the other reprimanded her. She was also unable to lead the life she would have liked to live while she was within the same household as her parents. She was forbidden to attend grand balls except on very rare occasions. She strictly chaperoned everywhere by her governess and some elderly ladies of the court. She was refused any contact with the opposite sex. She was even forbidden to dine with her own brother. This caused her great anguish and torment. Caroline was not averse to trying some extreme tricks. She feigned being pregnant on one occasion to challenge her parents. There were rumours about her from an early age that she had given birth at the age of fifteen. She often visited the cottages of the peasantry and it was claimed that on one of these occasions she had got pregnant.
Her mother and father considered many suitors for her from1782 onwards. Prince of Orange, Prince George of Hesse and Charles Duke of Mecklenberg were all suggested but nothing came of this. Her mother had always hope for a marriage to one of her English cousins. In 1794 Caroline became engaged to the Prince of Wales, her cousin. The reason for this were mostly political. Britain was at war with France and an Alliance with Brunswick would help Britain’s  cause. Also George was heavily in debt and if he married an eligible princess, parliament would increase his allowance. So Caroline was a political pawn, something the daughters of the aristocracy and monarchies had always been.
 John Stanley saw Caroline in 1781 and thought she was an attractive girl. In 1784 she was described as a beauty and she was also described as amiable, lively witty and handsome by others. On the.20th November 1794 Lord Malmesbury arrived in Brunswick to escort her to Britain. He wrote in his diary that, she lacked judgement, decorum and tact, spoke her mind, acted indiscreetly and often neglected to wash or change her dirty clothes. She appeared to have no innate notions of morality or the need for it. Malmesbury gives a damning account of her. It appears to be a subjective account. Caroline would not have been past, not washing, on purpose to deliberately repel Malmesbury. She was noted. for taking baths at other times, notoriously with her lover Bergami
It was a strange arrangement from the start. When Caroline arrived in Greenwich with Malmesbury on Easter Sunday 5th April 1795 she was met by Frances Villiers, Countess of Jersey and Georges mistress. Frances Villiers had been appointed as Caroline’s Lady of the Bedchamber. Caroline and George were married in the chapel Royal in St James’s Palace on the 8th April 1795. George was drunk and had to be assisted throughout the ceremony. He thought Caroline unattractive and unhygienic. He himself had already married Maria Fitzherbert. It was an illegal marriage because Maria Fitzherbert was a Roman Catholic and through the Marriages act of 1772 was not legally valid. George, in a letter to a friend claimed that he had sexual intercourse with his new wife only three times, twice the first night and once on the second night. He said that he had to make a great effort to overcome his aversion to her. Caroline later claimed that on their wedding night George was so drunk he spent the night in the fireplace where he fell. They must have had sexual intercourse on at least one occasion because they had a daughter together, Princess Charlotte, George’s only legitimate child, born at Carlton House on the 7th January 1796.
George’s abuse of Caroline began almost immediately. Three days after Charlotte’s birth George made  out a new will in which he left all his property to “Maria Fitzherbert, my wife.” But Caroline could give as good as she got. Caroline was feisty and fought for her rights from the start. Caroline told Malmesbury that she was disappointed with George because he  was,”very fat and he’s nothing like as handsome as his portrait.” George, didn’t like Caroline’s jibes and jokes about Lady Jersey. But of course, as well as expressing his dislike and aversion to Caroline, George was having an affair with Lady Jersey. The relationship with Caroline was becoming a disaster.  George also had to contend with public opinion. The press vilified him for his extravagant tastes especially at a time of war. The public also took sides with Caroline and portrayed her as the wronged wife and public opinion only grew in support of her. People liked her because of her ,”winning familiartity and easy open nature.” We begin to draw parallels with the marriage of Prince Charles and Lady Diane. The similarities of the two relationships are evident. George became dismayed at her popularity and his own unpopularity.

In April 1796, George wrote to Caroline, “ We have unfortunately been obliged to acknowledge to each other that we cannot find happiness in our union. Let me therefore beg you to make the best of a situation unfortunate for us both.”
In August 1797 Caroline moved to the Vicarage in Charlton, London. She then moved  to Montagu House in Blackheath. Caroline felt free from the constraints of her marriage. She had liaisons with Admiral Sir Sidney Smith and Captain George Manby. She may also have had a fling with the politician George Canning. Her daughter was put into the care of a governess and lived in a mansion near  Montague House. IT appears that Caroline had strong maternal instincts and she adopted a number of poor children who had been fostered out in the Blackheath area. In 1802 she adopted a three month old boy, William Austin. Caroline fell out with her neighbours Sir John and Lady Douglas. They claimed that Caroline had sent them obscene letters. Lady Douglas accused Caroline of infidelity and said that William Austen was Carolines illegitimate son. In 1806 a secret commission was set up to investigate the accusations. Lady Douglas testified to the commission that Caroline had admitted to her that William Austin was her son.She also told the commission that Caroline had been rude about the Royal Family and she alleged that Caroline had also touched her in an inappropriate sexual manner. The accounts of Caroline’s behaviour could not have been more lurid and frank. More lovers were added to the list, Sir Thomas Lawrence , the artist who had painted Carolines portrait and also Henry Hood the son of Lord Hood were implicated.  Carolines own servants, it’s always the servants who know everything, could not or would not confirm any of these allegations. As for William Austin, his real mother, Sophia Austin came forward to testify that she had given birth to William. The evidence that was being stacked up against Caroline appeared more and more fictional and fabricated.The commission set up to investigate the initial claims by Lady Dougals announced that there was no foundation for them.
By the end of 1811, George III was declared permanently insane and the Prince of Wales was made Regent. George restricted Caroline’s access to Charlotte  further. Caroline became more socially isolated. She moved to Connaught House in Bayswater. In league with Henry Broughton, an ambitious Whig politician who wanted reform she began a propaganda campaign against George. George leeked the testimony of Lady Douglas to the Commission that had investigated Caroline but Broughton counteracted these allegations by releasing the testimony of the servants and Mrs Austin. Their daughter sided with her mother as did the public.
Jane Austen, who was an avid reader of news journals, wrote of Caroline, “ Poor woman, I shall support her as long as I can, because she is a woman and because I hate her husband.” After the defeat of Napoleon in 1814 George tried to restrict his daughter’s visits to her mother even more. Charlotte ran away to be with her mother. She was eventually persuaded to return to her father. There was a risk of public disorder which would make it more difficult for Charlotte in the long run.
Caroline now negotiated a deal with the Foreign Secretary, Lord Castlereagh. She agreed to leave the country for an annual allowance of £35,000.  On 8th August 1814 Caroline left Britain. She travelled to Brunswick and then to Italy through Switzerland. Probably in Milan she hired Bartolomeo Pergami as a servant. He soon became the head of Caroline’s household.. In 1815 Caroline bought a house on the shores of Lake Como. From early 1816, she and Pergami cruised the Mediterranean. Their relationship became closer and closer. By now gossip about Caroline was rife and even Lord Byron wrote to his publisher that Caroline and Pergami were lovers. By 1817, Carolines debts were growing and she moved from the Villa d’Este to the smaller Villa Caprile near Pesaro. Meanwhile Carolines daughter, Princess Charlotte had married Prince Leopold of Saxe Coburg. In November 1817 Charlotte gave birth to a stillborn son and then unfortunately died soon after. George refused to inform Caroline of her daughter’s death. Caroline heard the devastating news from an official sent by George to inform the Pope. This was a cruel way to discover the news.

A salacious cartoon depicting Caroline bathing with her lover Bartolomeo Pergami.

The Vice Chancellor John Leach was asked to set up a commission to gather evidence of Carolines adultery. This was the only way George could obtain a divorce from Caroline. Leach sent three commissioners to Milan to interview Caroline’s servants.. He sent his own brother James to the Villa Caprile. He reported back that Pergami and Caroline were living as husband and wife. The Milan commission was gathering more and more evidence. Caroline informed James Broughton that she would agree to a divorce in exchange for money. Divorce by mutual consent was illegal however. On the 29th January 1820 King George III died. George became King and as such she was the Queen. George demanded that his ministers get rid of her. George now was determined to divorce Caroline. The best and least painful way to divorce Caroline  was through an act of Parliament which would make their marriage annulled. Her name was removed from the liturgy of the Church. but he had to be very careful. His own infidelities and excesses did not deem him an innocent party in the affair. He could only divorce Caroline if it was proved she had been unfaithful and he certainly was not an innocent party in this respect. He had mistresses and an illegal wife after all.Divorce proceedings would only bring to light his own misdemeanors. Rather than run the risk Caroline was offered an increase in her annuity to £50,000 if she stayed abroad. Caroline rejected the governemenst offer. She returned to England on the 5th June. Riots broke out in support of her. She became the figurehead of a growing radical reform group who demanded change. The new King still wanted a divorce and submitted the evidence collected by his commission to Parliamnet in two green bags. They were opend on the 27th June. Fifteen peers examined the contents and regarded the contents as scandalous. The government introduced a bill in Parliament, the Pains and Penalties Bill 1820 intended to take the title of Queen away from Caroline and to dissolve the marriage. It claimed that Caroline had committed adultery with a low born man, Bartolomeo Pergami. Various witnesses, including Theodore Majocchi,one of Caroline’s servants were brought to be questioned.All sorts of salacious  details were revealed. Caroline came to the reading of the Bill which although not a trail was virtually a trial and sat there in the middle of this maelstrom. This is the scene portrayed Sir George Hayters painting, “The Trial of Queen Caroline.” There she sits, calmly, impassively while Broughton, arm outstretched, gesturing, argues vehemently her case , lawyers discuss and Carolines detractors thump their fists on oaken tables. They seem to be dissecting what womanhood is all from a male point of view of course.
As an addenda, All the witnesses for the prsecution were countered and their evidence shown to be untrue in many cases and eventually there was little prospect that the bill could be passed. During the trial Caroline remained immensely popular.
Caroline stated,
“All classes will ever find in me a sincere friend to their liberties, and a zealous advocate of their rights.”

She tried to attend the coronation on the 19th July 1821 but was barred from entering Westminster Abbey. Caroline became ill soon after. She died three weeks later on the 7th August 1821 at the age of 53. She may have had cancer.
Caroline of Brunswick broke ordinary moral standards, she challenged the laws of the land, she broke through the barriers between different social strata. She lived the way she wanted and not the way society or the church or the monarchy would want her to. She was a true radical, almost not taking any side but just being herself, come what may. She has an element of Elizabeth Bennet in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice,
 “ 'There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises at every attempt to intimidate me.' 
  She was her own person and did what she wanted.
She also connects with Mary Wollstonecraft’s ideas about women.

“I do not wish them [women] to have power over men; but over themselves.” 

and

“It is vain to expect virtue from women till they are in some degree independent of men.” 

A lot of what she was charged with was hearsay. A lot of what she was charged with was highly emotive, salacious and at the extremes of what could be imagined by her contemporaries and truly shocking to many. Her attackers were out to destroy her and stop her breaking social codes and beliefs. She was very much a woman alone. In her private life she seemed to be highly sexual, full of fun and a very warm motherly type who showed her emotions. They make her a real person. Recalling her upbringing where she was restrained from interacting with people in any meaningful way and seeing how vivacious and social she obviously was she must have had a lot of pent up feelings and emotions ready to come out. She did let them out and challenged the world. I think she was a very brave person. She challenged society to the utmost.
“There is only one happiness in this life, to love and be loved,” George Sand.
I hope Caroline found this.

References: 
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caroline_of_Brunswick

http://www.royalhistorian.com/the-trial-of-queen-caroline-in-1820-and-the-birth-of-british-tabloid-coverage-of-royalty/

http://www.npg.org.uk/