Review: Wicked, Victoria Apollo, London – 24 September 2016

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Diane modelling one of the ladies’ fit official t-shirts.

At the weekend we headed off to London for a first for both of us: a live London musical. This is one Devon recommended to me a while ago and I’ve wanted to see it ever since.

We bought our train tickets well in advance, on 16 August. We were travelling from Birmingham as my dad was looking after the dog overnight for us, and return tickets to London are usually quite expensive.

However, I was able to secure 2 singles each way for £11 each (apx $14) – the returns started at sixty-odd pounds (apx $80 US) and reached as much as £143 (apx $185 US) – and the seat reservations were FREE. What a bonus those were. The 11-coach train going and the 10-coach train coming back were both rammed to the rafters.

Our train left on time and it arrived around 3 – 4 minutes ahead of schedule. Coming back it was bang on time. Well done Virgin Trains.

Our accommodation for the night was Travelodge Euston. It was reasonably priced for a central London hotel for less than £170 altogether (apx $220 US) and I don’t think we could have got much closer to our railway station, as it’s just across the road.

At the time of booking, we also booked an included breakfast, 24 hours of wi-fi and an early check-in, so we were able to go there first, dump our luggage, freshen up and get changed in good time for the matinee performance.

The hotel itself was quite warm and stuffy in the public areas, but the room was deliciously cool and not so cold that we needed an extra layer. The carpets were a little tired and grubby, but security was very good, the room was comfortable, and the food was great. You can choose from a light unlimited breakfast or a full unlimited breakfast. The poet had full-English followed by toast while I had a slightly smaller English followed by cereal. We didn’t eat in the restaurant on the evening as we had to eat mostly on the hoof in between events and places.

We could have done with some extra storage space in the room for clothes that don’t usually go on hangers. But there was a new television in there with plenty of channels to choose from, and we were high enough up, on the top floor, that the sounds of Euston didn’t reach us.

The Apollo Victoria theatre is only a few minutes away on the Victoria line tube. We weren’t sure how close to the main station it was, though, so we asked one of the tourist information officers. “Outside,” she said, pointing to one of the exits. Well, that narrowed it down, we said, but we’d already guessed it would be outside somewhere. Never mind, we’d ask someone else once we got outside

… but when we got outside, there indeed it was. Right opposite us! (We took it all back!)

What a lovely old theatre this is. It was designed in 1929 and opened in 1930, initially as a cinema, and the first thing we noticed was the wonderful art deco interior. The lighting was soft and there were fairytale-grotto-like features throughout, in the foyers and bars and inside the auditorium.

The drinks were a little expensive for us. It cost £19 (apx $25 US) for 2 glasses of pop and 2 small bottles of lager, but we did like the fact that we could order and pay for our interval drinks too (included in the £19! – we couldn’t afford much more). The theatre is a little tired-looking, needing paint touched up on the stairs, for example, with very small toilet cubicles, toilet doors that didn’t close properly let alone lock, and quite primitive plumbing. But it’s still a magical place.

The poet bought me a t-shirt, which cost £25 (apx $32 US), and I was mortified to have to buy a size XL, but they’re VERY small, and the t-shirt I chose was a “ladies’ fit” t-shirt. These usually come quite tight and quite short. I’m very happy with the fit and the length of this one, but XL? No wonder we get paranoid about our weight!

Our seats were right at the front of the dress circle. We’d noted the requirement to “dress” for the occasion, and had done our best. But when we got there we realised we could have gone in ordinary jeans if we’d wanted. That always disappoints me if I’ve dressed up for something and didn’t need to, even if “dressing up” does only constitute a button-up shirt instead of my usual t-shirt.

We had quite a good view and were delighted to see that we could take our refreshments to our seats or have further refreshments delivered to our seats. The poet did have to ask a hen party in front of us (at the rear of the front circle) to remove their witches’ hats for us, so we could see, and I had to ask a lady next to us to keep her 2 children under control – they chattered at the top of their voices for most of the performance (which is a VERY long performance) and when the said hen party ladies in front of us even started to turn around and glare at them halfway through the second part, I decided it was a reasonable point for me to remind the parent that the rest of us were trying to listen to a show we’d paid good money for (bah, humbug). But it was a terrific show.

The sets were great. The actors were great. The music was great. Once or twice I found the whole ensemble singing and playing at the top of their voices and notes to be a bit of a cacophony. But the poet loved every single second, clapping the loudest, whistling. I thought the costumes were brilliant, they looked very well made. And the special effects were perfect.

The performance started at 2:30pm and the interval was at 4pm. It restarted again at 4:20pm and finished about an hour later. That’s quite a long time for the performers to be working, and they do it 8 times a week.

We paid £68.75 each for our seats (apx $90 US), plus booking fee, and we thought it was worth every penny.

Wicked has been playing at the Victoria Apollo in London since 2006 and is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. This will probably explain the professionalism of the sets and the costumes, they all looked so permanent. The main cast changes every few months, but we saw Suzie Mathers as Glinda, Rachel Tucker as Elphaba, Anita Dobson as Madame Morrible, Mark Curry as the Wizard of Oz, and Oliver Saville as Fiyero. The book the story is based on was published in 1995 as Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, by Gregory Maguire, and was written while the author was living in London in 1990.

(This review also appears on Diane’s Gig List.)

Off to that thar big London …

wp_20160923_001-v1This weekend we’re off to that thar big London. We’re going to a “meet the authors” event with one of the clients I work for.

The company is based in Spain and the authors are based all over the world, so this is a nice opportunity to meet a few, at least, face to face.

We didn’t want to waste  a trip to London by just having one thing to go to. It’s a long way to go and we might not make it back again for a while. So we thought we’d maximise the visit and see a little more for our train fare.

I’ve never seen a show in London, and nor has the poet. So we decided quite early on that this was what we’d like to do. And as I’ve wanted to see Wicked for a good 5 years or more, we had a look to see if that was running anywhere.

It is, and it’s celebrating 10 years to boot. So we booked matinee tickets and found a train that would get us there on time.

We’re dropping the dog off at my parents and catching a train from Birmingham. We get to London around lunchtime, and we have around 2 hours to check in to our hotel, which is right next to the station, get changed, and make our way to the Victoria Apollo in time for the 2:30pm performance.

I’m not sure there will be many photographs, though, as they don’t officially allow photography in the auditorium, although I have seen friends share their pictures from the audience. I did ask the press office if it would be okay to borrow and use any official photographs or posters, but they thought I was after free tickets and I couldn’t be arsed to explain at the time as we were very, very busy just then.

After the show it’s back to Euston for tea, another quick change, and a walk to the “meet the authors” event. The event starts at 7:30pm with live streaming at 8pm, but we’re going to aim at getting there from around 6:30pm onwards.

Our train back to Brum leaves at around 11am, so we’ll collect the dog and come home again, via a visit, of course.

To say we’re both looking forward to it is an understatement. It’s a nice little break for us and we get to go on a big train anorl.

What are you up to this weekend?

It’s been a while …

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Picture: Ian Wordsworth

Yes, it’s been a while. The last time I posted was 22 August … the following day wasn’t a great one in our world. We’ve had a lot going on since then too, along with more shocks (more information can be found on Words Worth Writing, so I shan’t bore anyone over here with the details again), but hopefully, once again, perhaps things will finally settle for us now.

We’ve not really been out. We’ve not really done much in the kitchen. We’ve not really had chance to do anything substantial to the garden.

A few loaves of bread have been made, along with a few pots of jam. We have more foraging to do. Our garden is resplendent with apples, plums, rhubarb, but we want to go and get some blackberries, some sloe berries and some elderberries from our old lane. There are more jams to be made, and chutneys, and ketchups, and sauces … It is, after all, that time of year.

I’ve been very busy re-publishing books. (Again, more information can be found over on the writing blog.) I’ve picked up a couple of old writing courses to complete, on top of the fiction writing course I’m already studying. I have more books to write, along with a few short stories. And I have several client books to edit too.

So I am very, very busy. And if I disappear again, you’ll know why.

I was going to give Baggins Bottom a bit of a sabbatical, but I realised that as soon as I do that, I’ll suddenly have lots to write about again. Therefore, please forgive and excuse any randomness or unreliability meanwhile. Ta.🙂

Camping: Corfe Castle Day 6 – The Cerne Abbas Giant, July/August 2016

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The Cerne Abbas Giant (Picture: Ian Wordsworth)

Friday was our last full day in Dorset and we had a lot of packing to do. So the navigator (moi) selected a magical mystery drive to see one of Dorset’s oldest attractions. The Cerne Abbas Giant.

It took us a while to find him, we found the village first. But once we got our bearings, we found our way to the viewpoint that looks right at him.

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Ian & Diane at the Cerne Abbas Giant (Picture: Ian Wordsworth)

The Cerne giant is the biggest chalk hill figure in Britain. He’s managed by the National Trust and is thought to be one of the oldest.

However, as there is no record of him before Oliver Cromwell’s time, experts can’t be sure whether he’s an ancient fertility symbol or, in fact, a mockery of Cromwell.

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The Cerne Abbas Giant (Picture: Ian Wordsworth)

There is also an ancient “trendle” at the site, which is an earthwork just above the giant’s shoulder. This is believed to date back to the Iron Age and is still used today by Morris dancers.

The little car park that is used to view the giant is a lovely roadside place to take a picnic. There is another car park down the hill, though, that also serves the village.

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Corfe Castle village (Picture: Ian Wordsworth)

We had a lovely week in beautiful Dorset. The poet was quite surprised at how pretty and historic it really is. And when I’d suggested Swanage to him, he didn’t even know where it was.

We did end up a few miles away from Swanage at the village of Corfe Castle, which we also loved. And we had such a nice time on the Isle of Purbeck that we hope to come again soon, perhaps in the spring.

Then we might be able to visit all the places we weren’t able to this time: upstairs at Hardy’s Cottage; a walk to the Agglestone Rock; even Corfe Castle itself, if it isn’t so raving busy due to a programme of outdoor events that we can’t park anywhere.

We might also get onto a Camping & Caravan Club site too …

There are places we may go to again, such as RSPB Arne, the breathtaking Jurassic Coast, and Portland Bill. And there are places we don’t have to visit again.

I hope you enjoyed our little tour with us.

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Corfe Castle at dusk (Picture: Ian Wordsworth)

Camping: Corfe Castle Day 5 – Hardy’s Cottage & Portland Bill, July/August 2016

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Hardy’s Cottage (Picture: Ian Wordsworth)

When we were in the Lake District it was natural for us to visit properties relating to William Wordsworth. Sometimes several times.

And when we’re in Dorset, it’s only proper to then visit properties relating to Thomas Hardy. Or one of them at least – Hardy’s birthplace or Hardy’s Cottage.

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Hardy’s Cottage (Picture: Ian Wordsworth)

Again, it has been 30 years since the last time I was here and, again, it’s changed quite a lot.

Well, the house itself is pretty much the same, but it’s busier and the teeny tiny car park that used to be is much, much bigger.

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Hardy’s Cottage (Picture: Ian Wordsworth)

Something else that’s new is the possibility to help yourself to potatoes grown in the kitchen garden here. I wonder if the same applies to other produce.

There’s a birthplace visitor centre at the house too, and a woodland walk. Once again, dogs are allowed in the grounds so long as they are kept on leads, and there are water bowls for them too. But they’re not allowed in the house.

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Cottages on the walk back to the car park from Hardy’s Cottage (Picture: Ian Wordsworth)

This is usually fine as one of us waits outside with the dog while the other one goes around. But only 8 visitors are allowed upstairs at a time and this can mean long waits.

So we both only looked at the downstairs and enjoyed the lovely little cottage garden in the sunshine.

As we’d walked through the woodland to get to the house, we chose to walk back via the lane to the car park, where we saw this row of cottages (right).

Then we were back in the car and back on the road and heading south-west towards Weymouth and Portland.

We drove along Chesil Beach, something I didn’t do on any of the last 2 visits to the area. And we carried on to Portland and the home of Portland stone.

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Portland Bill – perspective (Picture: Ian Wordsworth)

We were headed towards something on the map called “Rufus” (in red), but we didn’t find it and we have no idea what it was/is.

And as I’d never been to Portland Bill (unless we came when I was a baby, and don’t remember it), and as the poet had asked for a visit to see the sea today, that’s where I navigated us to.

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Portland Bill Lighthouse (Picture: Ian Wordsworth)

We both loved it. It was fine and dry but windy, so the waves were crashing against the rocks.

One particular boulder has a carved sign on it saying visitors climb at their own risk as it’s liable to erosion … but of course, there’s always someone that has to have a go, and there are hand and foot holes up that flat face of rock.

The picture on the left, above, though, is for perspective. (We have no idea who those people are.)

We didn’t visit the lighthouse. It was already late in the day and it was quite windy. But we did take a few photographs.

The picture below shows the current lighthouse in the foreground and an older one in the background. There’s a third lighthouse here too, but we don’t know if they were ever in use.

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Portland Bill Lighthouse (Picture: Ian Wordsworth)

Camping: Corfe Castle Day 4 – RSPB Arne & The “Blue Pool”, July/August 2016

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RSPB Arne (Picture: Ian Wordsworth)

Our relatively brand new tent sprang a leak quite early on in our holiday, around one of the airbeams. This leak was closely followed by another and another and another.

Some of Tuesday was spent finding a camping shop and we were able to buy a temporary repair kit to seal the tent.

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RSPB Arne (Picture: Ian Wordsworth)

By Wednesday, the weather was warm and dry again, but still windy, and we needed a nice relaxing day to recover from the preceding trauma.

So we went to visit RSPB Arne near Swanage. We’re members of the RSPB and it’s another reserve that allows dogs.

Because it was a nice day, the poet was also able to have another play with his camera, playing with bokeh and bracketing again.

The picture of the pink blindweed to the right is an example of bokeh.

Surprisingly, we didn’t actually see much birdlife. But there is a diversity of landscape – woodland, heathland and, of course, coastland.

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Rufus & Diane, RSPB Arne (Picture: Ian Wordsworth)

There was a small information centre in the car park where recent sightings could be written on a whiteboard. (I think the poet added 2 sightings to the board, a chiffchaff and a curlew …)

They also have binoculars to borrow and, if found to be useful, for sale. We’re already members of the RSPB and we already have several pairs of binoculars!

Also very close by is a very nice café. It’s new and clean and with unisex toilets.

I walked in to see if there was any tap water available for the dog’s bottle, and they had a specially prepared bottle in the fridge for such occasions.

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RSPB Arne (Picture: Ian Wordsworth)

We were so impressed with the whole place that we decided to stay for lunch and let them have some more revenue.

I had a jacket potato – I’d been yearning for one for a few days – and the poet had another ploughman’s lunch. And we had cake for pudding. Mine was a lemon syrup Victoria sandwich-type cake, the poet’s was … chocolate, I think. And it was very yummy.

After RSPB Arne we headed back towards the campsite via Wareham, and on the outskirts we made a minor detour to see the so-called “Blue Pool” …

Well … When I visited the Blue Pool nearly 30 years ago I remember feeling somewhat … underwhelmed.

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Little Egret & (I think) Common Gull – I *love* the look on the seagull’s face! RSPB Arne (Picture: Ian Wordsworth)

It was quite a basic beauty spot in those days and I don’t remember paying an admission.

I remember standing on the shore and wondering why they called it blue. It was more a murky green.

That day the weather can’t have been so great.

This time, I was quite shocked to see that it would cost us £6 each (TWELVE POUNDS!) to get in, although the car park is, I think, still free. I hoped they’d done something to justify such a high admission fee, and they had – of a fashion.

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Ian, Diane & Rufus, The “Blue Pool” (Picture: Ian Wordsworth)

There’s a nice tea room there now that I don’t remember from before (but that doesn’t mean anything, I just might not have been able to afford it). There’s also a little souvenir shop and a museum, and the site is now home to the Wareham Bears … whoever they are.

BUT … the water is still a murky green … until the sun catches it just right. And you need to be above the water level to see the full benefit, although some of the paths are closed for safety, due to erosion.

So I’m afraid I still remain rather unimpressed, especially when we paid an extortionate amount to get in.

However … if you intend to spend the entire day there, then I think it’s more worth it. And, of course, dogs are welcome again if kept on leads (there were some there not on leads …). Take a picnic, go on one of the walks, visit the museum and the Wareham Bears (!), have a coffee in the tea rooms (just to be awkward). But I don’t think we’ll be going back again.

Saying that, the poet did have chance to practise his bracketing again, and as it was less windy by now, I think this one was quite successful.

What do you think?

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The “Blue Pool” (Picture: Ian Wordsworth)

Camping: Corfe Castle Day 3 – Cloud’s Hill & Mill House Cider & Clock Museums, July/August 2016

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Cloud’s HIll (Picture: Ian Wordsworth)

When T E Lawrence (aka Lawrence of Arabia) was stationed at Bovington Camp in Dorset, he first rented Cloud’s Hill as an “escape” and somewhere to write.

He didn’t need to sleep or take meals there, as he did that at the barracks. So the property didn’t need to act as a domestic residence.

I first visited Cloud’s Hill around 30 years ago and fell in love with the little place. It’s really no more than a glorified summer house, boasting 2 storeys and 4 rooms. There’s even a garage opposite that Lawrence had built to house his motorbike.

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Cloud’s Hill (Picture: Ian Wordsworth)

Since I was last there the National Trust have cleared much of the surrounding invasive rhododendrons and added a little walk. There’s a much larger car park than was there before (although it’s not that big now), and there’s a new visitor centre.

Dogs are welcome in the grounds but not in the house, so we took it in turns to have a look around.

Not long before he was killed in a motorbike accident, on the road between Bovington Camp and Cloud’s Hill, he bought the house with the intention of extending it. A tree with a plaque close to where he died commemorates the military leader – and, again, the tree was a LOT smaller the last time I was there.

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Mill House Garden Nursery ((Picture: Ian Wordsworth)

As were were fairly close to Dorchester, and Mill House Nurseries were on the way back to the campsite (-ish), we dropped into what I remembered as a cider museum

… however, it’s now a full-blown nursery (for plants), the cider museum seems to have grown smaller, and there’s a clock museum there that I don’t remember from before. This could just be my memory or maybe I just didn’t visit at the time.

Unfortunately, there are no dogs allowed here at all, so we didn’t intend to stay very long. fortunately the very hot weather had given way to cooler, windy weather, with cloud overhead, so he was okay in the car for a few minutes, with the windows open and parked in the shade.

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Mill House Cider Museum (Picture: Ian Wordsworth)

We visited the clock museum first – well, we visited the toilets first, and the poet snapped a rather unflattering picture of me emerging from the door that I won’t be sharing here. The custodian estimated that we might need around 20 minutes to visit the clock museum … but we had the dog in the car so we had a very quick whizz around instead.

There were some very old grandfather clocks here but also some mechanisms, one of which may be incorporated into the time machine for my NaNoWriMo novel MARDI GRAS. We had to share the picture below, though, as the mechanism was made in Leeds. We’d travelled all the way to Dorset to see a clock part made in Yorkshire! (The “time machine” might make it onto the cover of the book if we publish it ourselves.)

By the time we wandered into the cider museum, the custodian had started a film off for us, which documented the history of this particular method of making cider. The museum was particularly interesting as they have some fine specimens of cider presses and other equipment they use for their cider-making. My “Corliss Chronicles” series begins with (working title) CIDER & SYMPATHY, so again the photographs and the information might turn out to be very useful one day.

So, although we were actually on holiday, it’s true that a writer is always working, either subconsciously or consciously, by thinking or by actually writing or by researching stuff like this.

We bought our gifts here – cider for my sister for looking after the cats, fudge and shortcake for the parents – and we bought a gallon of cider for the tent. When we’d arrived, there was no one else there. By the time we left, the car park was full.

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Mill House Clock Museum – Made in Leeds (Picture: Ian Wordsworth)

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