Theatre review – You Give Me Fever

You Give Me fever – review for Essential Surrey website.

5 STARS, May 23-27. “What an intelligent antidote to the Jukebox Musical gravy train Jack Lynch has written”, says Andrew Morris

Was the huge success of Mamma Mia! responsible for the deluge of so-called “Jukebox Musicals” invading our theatres over the last 20 years, do you think? We Will Rock You, Our House, Jersey Boys, Thriller… the list of musicals with contrived plots woven loosely around artists’ songbooks goes on and on.

I guess it’s all about the Money, Money, Money, so how refreshing to see a more thought-provoking, entertaining and intellectually challenging work from that over-extended genre, performed on a much more intimate stage.

Head down to The Back Room of the Star Inn, Guildford to see You Give Me Fever – “the Phaedra Cabaret”, an innovative production from LynchPin for the Guildford Fringe. I bet you didn’t know that the tragic heroine of Greek mythology loved the jazz and blues classics, did you? Or that she mixed a mean Aegean Fizz cocktail?

Sultry siren Pippa Winslow is Phaedra (“Fey”), luring us into her tangled mythological web of Greek gods, bull-headed Minotaurs and doomed love affairs as she mixes drinks and sings us jazzy standards. Mad About The Boy, Let’s Face the Music and Dance, One For My Baby, Crazy…. Fey seduces her enthralled cabaret audience in perfect harmony with the sad narrative of her life story.

Thwarting her sister Ariadne in pursuit of Theseus, falling in love with Hippolytus – son of Theseus by another woman – Fey warns us from the outset that her story will not have a happy ending. But along the way, thanks to brilliantly synchronised song choices and some crazy cocktails, the mythological minx serves up a whole lot of fun.

Pippa delivers a seductive performance as Fey in this one-woman show, equally adept at singing, acting and mixology. No wonder Theseus and Hippolytus fell for her significant charms.

Also on stage throughout is James Shannon, a jazz guitarist recently graduated from Guildford’s very own ACM, and whose moody finger-style arrangements breathe even more life into Fey’s songs. Watch out for James’s brief – but perfectly pitched – acting cameo….

You Give Me Fever – “the Phaedra Cabaret” – is written and directed by Jack Lynch, co-founder of LynchPin Productions Theatre Company. What an intelligent antidote to the Jukebox Musical gravy train Jack has written.

And thank you to the Guildford Fringe for another 5* piece of stimulating and entertaining theatre.

The Big 60th birthday marathon

I wrote recently about some memorable big birthday celebrations I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy over the years. A 29-and-holding party in Bermuda, a surprise 40th party at home whilst working in Germany, a wild weekend in Soho for my 50th after an earlier fund-raising trek for World Vision up Kilimanjaro….

Well, I’ve come through the other side of my 60th and I reckon it may just have been the best yet. It all ended up being completely over the top, more like the so-called world series of baseball. Or the Queen. I’m exhausted, grateful, blessed….and officially old.

Round 1: Gill, my lovely missus, had said she was whisking me away somewhere for a long pre-birthday weekend. It turned out to be Cheltenham. For the last jump meeting of the season at the beautiful racecourse on Friday, and a spectacular Indian meal at Prithvi on Saturday….with old friends of various vintages arriving throughout a glorious weekend of surprises.

Round 2: 10th May, 60 years after my arrival in this often troubled but always amazing world. A low-key Italian-themed evening at home with family, friends and neighbours. Why Italian? Because I’m learning the language, because we love the country, people and food…and because I cracked open a few bottles of the rather special Sassicaia given to me as a leaving present from ex-colleagues.

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Well, it started off low-key, but escalated into something dangerously resembling a party. I definitely felt 60 on the morning of 11th May…

Round 3: on 12th May, a group of 14 headed over to Greece for 5 days, as a belated celebration but also to show the natural beauty of hidden Zagori to family and friends.

(images below courtesy of Mark Melling, with the obviously less professional ones from my humble Samsung)

Collaborator and friend Mark and I have made the villages and people of Zagori the first project for our travel publishing venture Great Escapations. I had discovered it last July, Mark and I had researched and interviewed people there last October.

I hope old age hasn’t addled my senses, but I think everyone else fell in love with this magical area too, with its friendly people, healthy food…and tsipouro.

Too many adventures to list fully, but here are a few selected highlights:

  • the Papaevangelou Hotel in Papigo…..Giorgos and his family have created a very special place to stay. If the natural surroundings don’t astound you, the level of service and quality of the breakfast surely will. Read about Giorgos’s story and meet him here 
  • a memorable evening at Anemi with lovely Lila and Pavlos serving up a feast for the senses, using food foraged from the landscape near Kato Pedina and cooked with love. The wine and tsipouro flowed, we shuffled around to Leonard Cohen’s Dance Me To The End Of Love, Pavlos whipped out his bouzouki and nephew Steve sampled Pavlos’s pipe collection. Read about Anemi, Lila & Pavlos and meet them here  
  • a walk down into the majestic Vikos Gorge on a glorious spring day. It’s a measure of how beautiful, calm and cooling the Voidomatis spring is that I was almost forgiven for underestimating how far it was from Papigo. Almost….
  • the 3 hour hike up from Papigo to the 2,000 metre high Astraka refuge, sitting below the jagged peaks of Astraka and Gamila. Some went back to the village after this ascent, others ventured on, through a flower-strewn high Alpine valley to the mythical Drakolimni – Dragon Lake – still edged by snow and a mere appetiser for the even more breathtaking and expletive-inducing (thanks, Genovefa) main course….the yawning chasm towards Konitsa. Words really are not enough to describe the views that made our legs wobble and our hearts pound 
  • 5 brave souls swapped the luxury of cosy hotel rooms for a night in the mountain refuge. Nephews Steve & Dave, Dave’s girlfriend Lissy, Gill and I hunkered down in a dormitory – with a Bulgarian couple – after hearty bowls of spaghetti bolognese, tin jugs of local wine and a couple of games of cards, warmed by the stove as a hailstorm raged outside 
  • while others loved the rafting trip through the icy water of the Voidomatis river, Gill and I dropped in to see Lena at the agritourism venture Rokka. Despite being very busy running the Guest House and organising the first Wool Festival in Greece, Lena dropped everything to share some tsipouro and home-made meze with us, and to show Gill her 3 weaving looms. Such warmth and hospitality is an integral part of life in Zagori. Read about Lena, Kostas, Rokka and meet them here 

And that was my hyper-extended 60th birthday. Well, almost….

Gill and I swapped the mountains for coast, and spent a glorious couple of days chilling in Lefkada, one of the Ionian islands, off the west coast of mainland Greece. The others were unable to catch a ferry back from Igoumenitsa to Corfu, because of national strike action…and ended up chartering a boat to get them across the Ionian, under cover of darkness and in fear of being found by the coastguard or striking ferrymen.

A fitting finale…..just sorry we weren’t there to share the refugees’ fun.

 

Review of Neruda – a cinematic trip to Chile

Here is my published review of the film Neruda, on TripFiction:

Neruda (a cinematic trip to Chile), in cinemas 7 April 2017 #nerudafilm

If truth be told, I don’t get quite as excited by poetry as I do by a good novel, or by a film. Or by travel, for that matter.

But Pablo Neruda somehow transcends poetry, and a special screening by the BFI of a film by celebrated Chilean director Pablo Larrain about an intriguing episode in Naruda’s life was too good an opportunity to miss. And I have always been interested by Chile since watching Missing, a 1982 film about the coup of 1973, launched almost on the exact same day that Neruda died.

a cinematic trip to chile

Why special? An introduction by Adam Feinstein, author of the first English language biography of Neruda, provided perfect context for when and where the film slotted into the complex life of the Nobel prize-winning poet. And animated recitals of several of Neruda’s poems by actors – in Spanish by Jorge de Juan, with English translations performed by Nickolas Grace – offered a glimpse into the prodigious creative output of the poet.

The film covers a 13-month period from 1948-49. At the outset, Neruda is a Communist party senator in the country’s riven government, speaking out loudly against the right-wing President’s increasing oppression of workers and unions. Neruda and his Argentinian wife Delia enjoy a somewhat elitist and sybaritic lifestyle, but that all changes when the poet is forced underground to avoid arrest and potential assassination.

Moving from house to house, thanks to support from Communist party supporters, Neruda’s reputation as The People’s Poet is cemented through his increasingly radical social poems, mocking the government and rallying workers.

But this is far from being a biopic. In fact the director himself calls Neruda an anti-biopic. Larrain intentionally blurs fact with fiction, creating a cat-and-mouse story between the poet and his police pursuer, Oscar Pelucchonneau. Pablo somehow always manages to stay just one verse ahead of Oscar, leaving poems for the hapless policeman to ponder.

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But what is real and what is imagined?

Beautifully filmed, Neruda is an intoxicatingly original concoction of genres….film noir, road movie, thriller, love story, parable. Take your pick.

In a cinematically epic finale, the policeman finally closes in on the poet in the snowy landscape of the Lilpela Pass, high in the Andes, as Neruda has been forced to flee from his home country to Argentina. But who is really the hero?

Luis Gnecco perfectly captures the flawed Neruda. A poetic genius? Definitely. Hero of the people? Probably. Arrogant, debauched and selfish? Maybe.

Gael Garcia Bernal almost steals the film as the nuanced Pelucchonneau, in many ways purer of spirit than his quarry, fedora tilted over his lean, noirish face. If only he were real…..

But there is one certainty: this luscious and thought-provoking film has cemented my desire to travel to Chile. And to read more poetry.

Andrew for the TripFiction Team

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Winter adventure in Romania

My article on a fascinating Winter Adventure in Romania with ExploreThe Adventure Travel Experts – published on Silver Travel Advisor:

So what do you know about Romania?

That it’s somewhere in Eastern Europe? The home of Dracula? Ruled with an iron fist by the Communist despot Nicolae Ceausescu in the 1970s and 1980s? Gypsies? Orphanages? Nadia Comaneci?

I’m ashamed to say that I knew little of this fascinating – and endlessly surprising – country until experiencing Explore’s Winter Adventure in Romania tour early in March.

This revealing trip provides the perfect introduction to the country – its rich history; diverse wildlife; spectacular landscapes; fun activities – and will almost certainly whet the appetite to discover more.

Bucharest

The packed itinerary is book-ended by stays in the capital city of Bucharest. Far from being a utilitarian metropolis with a Communist hangover, the city earned the nickname of Little Paris in the early 1900s, thanks to its tree-lined boulevards, imposing Belle Epoque buildings and a reputation for good living. Today, it still has its own Arcul de Triumf – in honour of Romanian soldiers who fought in World War I – and Gare du Nord.

The Bucharest balcony where Ceausescu made his last speech in December 1989The crazed vanity of Ceausescu meant parts of the city were destroyed to make way for his mad projects, including the obscene Palace of Parliament. Started in 1984 – and still unfinished – it is the second largest administrative building in the world (after Washington DC’s Pentagon), has 12 storeys (including 4 underground), more than 3,000 rooms, 4,500 chandeliers and covers a scarcely believable 330,000 square metres.

Visit Revolution Square and see the balcony where the dictator made his final speech in December 1989, before people power forced him to escape by helicopter from the roof. He was found shortly afterwards and, after a brief show trial, executed by firing squad.

Lipscani Street, Bucharest by Carpathianland via Commons WikimediaThe atmospheric old town Centru Vechi, also known as Lipscani after its main artery, survived both World War II bombings and Ceausescu’s bulldozers. Wander its labyrinthine streets to discover monasteries, small churches, old inns for travelling traders and a vibrant modern collection of bars, cafes, restaurants and coffee shops pulsing from its otherwise jaded buildings.

An insightful walking tour with your knowledgeable guide will also pass The Old Court, built in the 15th century as the residence of mediaeval princes, including infamous Vlad the Impaler. Vlad is a national hero, battling to defend the city from the powerful Ottomans as they advanced from the east. His methods to deter traitors were perhaps a little extreme though: a successful impaling would take 5 days to kill the victim, the hot instrument of torture entering the, erm, backside before finding its exit point somewhere near the collar bone, if the impalee were not to die prematurely. Ouch.

Geography

Modern Romania is dominated by the three separate principalities of Wallachia (in the south, including Bucharest and bordered by Bulgaria and Serbia), Transylvania (in the heart of the country, with Hungary and Ukraine across the border) and Moldova (east, bordered by the independent state of Moldova).

The country and these provinces are delineated by the mighty Carpathian mountains, swooping south-east all the way from Poland and Slovakia, before jagging west in central Romania, near beautiful Brasov.

Activities

Bear tracks in the foothills of the Carpathian mountainsLeaving Bucharest, the tour soon introduces you to the first natural wonders of this ever surprising country. Join a wildlife expert for a walk in the snowy, forested foothills of the mountains to track deer, wolves, lynx and bears, which all thrive in the Carpathians. We saw fresh deer and bear tracks, and the guide explained the tactics adopted by herbivores and carnivores respectively, to survive or to kill. There are an estimated 6,000 bears in the country. The best time to see them is either in autumn, when they’re stocking up for the winter, or in spring, when they hunt for food after the long, hard winter. We came within 200 metres of a known bears’ den, but if you want to ensure you see one of these magnificent creatures in the wild, take a look at this separate tour with Explore.

Another highlight of this winter adventure is time spent frolicking in the snow. Take a cable car up to Balea Lac, a glacial lake 2,034 metres high in the Fagaras mountains of Transylvania, strap on some snow-shoes and trek out into the deep powder, like Bond hunting down his nemesis in a wintry lair. Don’t worry, it’s easy, just remember not to try and walk backwards, Mister Bond. Later, jump into a rubber ring, after taking off the snow-shoes and be pulled up a gentle slope for a spot of ice-tubing. Really.

Towns and villages

During the tour you will visit some beautiful towns and villages, which help to tell the story of the country’s rich history and cultural heritage.

Council Square in BrasovBrasov lies in Transylvania and is surrounded by the southern Carpathians. The town was our first introduction to the Saxon influences in this area, German colonists having first arrived in the middle of the 12th century – at the behest of Hungarian kings – to develop Transylvania’s towns, build mines and cultivate the land at this strategically important point, on the trading route linking Western Europe and the Ottomans in the east. Brasov is still also know by its Saxon name, Kronstadt. Visit the town’s old city walls and its famous and imposing Black Church, built in 1477 and one of the largest Gothic churches in south-east Europe. Then enjoy lunch in the charming Council Square – Piata Sfatului – where the town’s young population eat pizza and drink beer, surrounded by red-roofed history

Bran is a short drive from Brasov and is famous for its eponymous castle. The small town epitomises the constant struggle for power in this part of Europe, across the centuries: Hungary’s King Sigismund ordered a stone castle to be constructed in 1377, while the settlement developed nearby, and on a steep hilltop from where it could levy taxes on wealthy traders travelling between Transylvania and Wallachia; in 1498 Bran fell under the jurisdiction of Brasov; in the 16th century Bran became part of Transylvania, following defeat of the Kingdom of Hungary by the Ottoman Empire; the Austrian Habsburg Empire had their time in control before the town became part of the Austrian Empire in 1804, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1866. Only after WWI did Bran join the Kingdom of Romania. See, I told you it was a complex history!

Bran Castle - the inspiration for Bram Stoker's DraculaBran Castle is one of the country’s most visited sites today. It might resemble the home of Dracula in Bram Stoker’s entirely fictional novel – and was once besieged by our old friend Vlad the Impaler, who also provided inspiration to the author – but calling it Dracula’s Castle was a cynical marketing ploy conjured up by the Communist regime in the 1950s, to increase visitor numbers. The castle is open to the public and well worth a visit, if only to see how Queen Marie restored it after the castle was bequeathed to her in the 1920s

Biertan is a quiet village in Transylvania, near Sibiu, and is renowned for its impressive fortified church, one of the best examples of Saxon heritage in this part of Romania, and a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1993. The Saxon population thrived here in the middle ages, but many people decamped to Germany as a result of WWII and the collapse of Communism in 1990. However, it remains historically important for the annual reunion of Transylvanian Saxons, many returning from Germany to their roots. I will remember Biertan fondly for another less prosaic reason though – drinking a generous glass of rum schnapps with locals at 11 o’clock one sunny morning, on the street outside a bar. It cost the distinctly historic sum of 2 Lei, approximately £0.40

Sighisoara, also a UNESCO World Heritage site, has even older origins, from the Roman Empire in the 1st century AD. Now, it is one of the best preserved and most attractive mediaeval towns in Europe. Admire the 14th century clock tower, nine separate towers of the citadel, cobbled streets, burgher houses and ornate churches, including the striking Church on the Hill. And the house where our old friend Vlad the Impaler was born, around 1428

But the small, remote village of Viscri captured my heart more than anywhere else. Bump along an uneven 8 km track off the main road between Sighisoara and Brasov, and you will find life here much as it was 100 years ago. Viscri is another traditional Saxon village in Transylvania, but it has cherished its ancient traditions more than any other. The busy main street in teh Saxon village of ViscriTake a horse and cart ride along its main dirt-tracked street, towards the restored walled citadel. Inside, you’ll find a 12th century Lutheran church at which the remaining Saxon community of just 17 souls still worship, and a charming small museum depicting Saxon customs. Visit the local baker, making huge rye and spelt loaves by hand every day, blackened in the oven before tapping off the charcoal layer. We watched the animated Gypsy brothers Istvan and Matei Gabor fire up the blacksmiths’ furnace with the ancient bellows, and make horseshoes and nails on the anvil exactly as their grandfather had done many years ago. And just cherish the way large wooden gates of each house open up in the morning and evening, to allow their small herds of cattle to wander across the main street and guzzle from the long water troughs, hewn from the trunk of a single tree. Watch a video of gypsy blacksmiths in Viscri courtesy of Sam Laurie.

Food and wine

Another admission – I was expecting Romanian food to be typically eastern European, heavy and a little unimaginative. Another surprise. We enjoyed some excellent meals, including a pork dish with pickled cucumbers in Bucharest; a delicate herby potato and tarragon soup at Casa Zada in Moieciu, near Bran; and a stellar duck dish, with prune sauce and star anise, pickled gherkins and potato puree at the imaginatively restored Viscri 125 Guest House.

And did you know anything about Romanian wines? Its viticulture dates back more than 6,000 years, the country’s climate, geology and soil providing an attractive canvas for winegrowers. After a phylloxera crisis in the late 20th century and the Communist regime’s destructive presence until 1990, the industry is fighting back. Supported by foreign expertise and investment, its vineyards are flourishing again, growing enough to make it the 6th largest producer in Europe and 13th largest in the world.

The Rosu de Ceptura red is the perfect soul-mate for duck, and we tried quite a few decent white wines too.

Accommodation

Explore include accommodation that fits perfectly with the tour’s location and activities. A comfortable tourist hotel in Bucharest allows you to wander the city’s safe streets and easily explore its history and vibrant nightlife.

Moieciu - by fusion-of-horizon via Commons WikimediaNorth of the Carpathians you’ll stay in a friendly Alpine-style chalet guest house in Moieciu, with lovely home-cooked food after drinking home-brewed apple brandy poured from a teapot, as you stand in the garden and get warm by a blazing log fire; the faithfully restored Viscri 125, with traditionally furnished bedrooms and a spectacular converted barn where you eat, drink and play table football; and the Ice Hotel at Balea Lac, constructed every December with a different theme – this year’s is the movies: stay in the Harry Potter suite, or Star Wars, or Gladiator. You get the drift, and with polar sleeping bags the experience is not as cold as you’d imagine and the mulled wine before laying down on the ice bed certainly helps.

All in all, this trip to Romania was a revelation. Historically interesting, charming towns and villages, beautiful natural landscapes, friendly people, great food and wine – and not an impaler or vampire in sight.

Movie review – The Sense of an Ending

Thanks to my Times+ membership, we’ve just seen a pre-release screening of The Sense of an Ending, based on the Julian Barnes novel of the same name.

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Tony Webster is the divorced, almost reclusive and somewhat curmudgeonly owner of a second-hand Leica camera shop in London. He is in close contact with his ex-wife and heavily pregnant daughter, and yet he is emotionally aloof from them.

He is forced to reconsider his view of family, friends and life though, when he receives a strange legacy. The mother of his old girlfriend Veronica from university days, 40 years ago, has died and has bequeathed him a diary. Unexpectedly, the diary belonged to Tony’s old school friend Adrian, who dated the enigmatic Veronica after she and Tony ended their brief and unconsummated relationship.

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But Veronica refuses to give the diary back to Tony, for some reason, and the film delicately unravels the mystery of why, spanning the generations and uncovering uncomfortable truths for Tony.

This is a very English production, filmed mostly on location in Bristol and London, and featuring a stellar cast delivering beautifully understated acting. In the current timeline, Jim Broadbent is the essentially good Tony Webster; Harriet Walter his slightly acerbic wife Margaret;  Charlotte Rampling the older but still mysterious Veronica; Michelle Dockery is the mature daughter Susie facing motherhood alone.

The lesser known actors playing the main characters in their younger years capture perfectly the period and the zeitgeist of youth.

Out in cinemas on general release on April 14th, I’d urge you to see this slow-burning emotional film, whether you’ve read the book or not.

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Books – why do you read them?

Why do you read novels?

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To escape? Emotionally? Physically? Do you enjoy being transported to another destination, to a magical locale, whether real or imagined?

Or is a devious, head-scratching plot more important for you? Or perhaps you’re driven more by a story’s characters, who need to be more layered than a one-dimensional thug, or an untarnished saint?

I wrote a while ago about TripFiction, an intriguing and inspiring website recognising that books set in a location offer great holiday reading. They help us get under the skin of a place in a way that is quite different to a conventional travel guide.

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(image courtesy of TripFiction)

I am honoured and excited to be helping the lovely people at TripFiction with their new #TFBookClub. The first selection has been The Little Theatre by the Sea. Written by Rosanna Ley, it transports the reader from Dorset to Sardinia.

The Little Theatre by the Sea by [Ley, Rosanna]

Rosanna has clearly carried out a huge amount of research into Sardinia, and I loved the evocative descriptions of local sights, smells and tastes, with Italian words picked out and italicised for added authenticity.  Buonissimo! It certainly brought back happy memories of our own trip there a few years ago, and I was close to booking a flight to Olbia before turning the final page.

But – and I hope Rosanna forgives me for this personal observation – I found the locations of the story more inspiring than either the plot, or the characters populating this otherwise enjoyably escapist novel.

But that’s fine. I was entertained for many hours and given a vicarious holiday, all for the price of a book. And I will really enjoy hearing the thoughts of other TF readers, and finding out what their priorities are in any book they read.

Why do you read a novel? How perfect does it have to be, to give you enjoyment on some level…..?

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Movie review – A United Kingdom

Based on a remarkable true story, A United Kingdom opens in post-war London.

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Young black African Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo) is coming to the end of his education, and about to be recalled to his home country – Bechuanaland, later Botswana – to rule the British Protectorate as hereditary King of nation and tribe.

But he falls in love with Ruth Williams (Rosamund  Pike), who is from a very humble background and who is most definitely the wrong colour, alienating many in Bechuanaland and in Whitehall.

If the story told in the film is remotely close to the truth, it is yet another episode in British colonial history of which we should be ashamed. Driven by the burgeoning cold war, the new policy of apartheid in neighbouring South Africa, and the possibility of finding valuable minerals in Bechaunaland, Seretse is banished by the British government from his own land, initially for 5 years and then for life.

But Ruth has remained in Africa, where she gives birth to a daughter and where she slowly wins round the local people.

The only British politician or diplomat to emerge from this shameful overbearing behaviour is a young Tony Benn, who fights Parliament for the right of Seretse to return. Newly elected Prime Minister Winston Churchill reneges on an earlier promise to overturn the exile, and Jack Davenport deserves credit for his reptilian portrayal of Sir Alistair Canning, a devious – though fictitious – career diplomat who thrives on wielding colonial power over subjugated nations.

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The film moved me to tears. It is a powerful tale rooted in reality, and told with vivid cinematography, particularly of the African landscapes. But it is related somewhat in stark black and white tones – the evil colonial masters against the wholly good Seretse and his pale skinned wife – when I suspect there were many shades of grey in the truth of history.

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No matter. Good wins out, Seretse returns to his homeland and facilitates a new democratically independent country.

And Ruth is even finally reconciled with her own family.

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Partnerships – beer & cheese

I wrote a while ago about the satisfying culinary union of a ripe avocado and a few slices of salty bacon, shoved between a couple of slices of soft wholemeal bread and smeared with spicy brown sauce.

Hungry?

Like cheese? Its usual bedfellows are crackers, grapes and a decent glass of plonk, right?

Well, thanks to good friends Barry & Alex we tried out the slightly off-beat marriage between beer and cheese last Friday, in a cracking collaboration between The Hungry Guest in Petworth and the Arundel Brewery.

(image courtesy of The Hungry Guest website)

Arundel Brewery

(image courtesy of the Arundel Brewery website)

We were served 5 separate combinations of beer and cheese, with some very informative tasting notes on each pairing, and these general characteristics.

  • cut – the bitterness of hops and the carbonation in some beers will “cut through” the richer flavours and textures of cheese
  • complement – two similarly toned pairings merge together, for example poached chicken with a delicate beer, or chargrilled meat with a similarly robust ale
  • contrast – food paired with beer, whose taste notes have an opposing nature – a tart fruit beer with a rich chocolate pudding, for example

So which liaisons worked best?

My own favourite was the Smokehouse Porter (6% ABV) guzzled alongside a complementary Gruyere de Jura. Strong flavours all round – “a wonderfully rich smooth beer with subtle smokey overtones. Our friends at Besmoke (based opposite the brewery) smoked our malt over Sussex Apple Wood using their PureSmoke technology”. The smokiness of the ale definitely worked with the nuttiness of the gruyere. YUM!

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Sounds a bit poncey? It could have been, but the whole evening was informative in a quietly understated way. No quaffing and chortling here, just some hard-working people who are clearly passionate about good, local ingredients.

Another successful combo was Big Love and Stichelton Blue Cheese. In this contrasting affair (well, they do say opposites attract) the 5.0% ABV beer, with 40 kg of fresh raspberries in the 1,800 litre brew), conjured up “a slightly tart aftertaste to the fruity ale”, and which offset the creamy full-on flavour of the exceptional blue cheese.

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Cheese & wine parties are so 1970s, darling. I’m off to Arundel to shove a load of the brewery’s interesting beers into the boot, and swinging by the temperature-controlled cheese room at The Hungry Guest in Petworth on the way back, to provide a very contemporary and artisanal beer & cheese party.

Now, shall I invite some contrasting friends…or some cutting ones?

 

Movie review – Moonlight

Did Moonlight really win this year’s Oscar for Best Picture?

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I’m sorry, but I really can’t understand why. I’m glad feel-good La La Land didn’t – despite the almighty cock-up that briefly put that movie’s hands on the gilded trophy – but I thought Manchester by the Sea was a more worthy winner. Or even Lion.

Moonlight tells the story of a young black boy growing up in a rough Miami ‘hood, with a crack-head mother, being bullied at school and slowly realising he’s gay. That’s an awful lot of politically correct boxes duly ticked, especially after the previous year’s Oscar furore at the lack of recognition for Black American and other non-white actors.

The film tracks the hard early life of Chiron in three stages: at school, as “Little”, as teenager Chiron; and – 10 years later, after imprisonment – as fully-fledged drug-dealer “Black”, relocated to Atlanta.

The boy’s mother is well played by Naomie Harris, who finally cleans up her act and asks Chiron for forgiveness.

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The only person who really recognises how Little is suffering in his early life is Juan, brilliantly acted by Mahershala Ali, and ironically the dealer who is supplying Little’s mother.

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The potential for some sort of happiness out of this troubled early life comes in the shape of Kevin, an old school friend of Chiron’s, but who also played a part in him being sent to juvenile prison.

The story is sensitively told, but for me the film was too slow, the language of the street too hard to understand, and – call me superficial – but this was a couple of hours of endurance, rather than entertainment.

 

 

 

Exhibition review – Michelangelo & Sebastiano

A confession: my favoured art forms are books, theatre, films….and occasionally dance.

Not that I don’t appreciate art in its purest and most literal form, but I’m more likely to read a book to immerse myself in a cultural landscape, than rush to a city’s art gallery.

Nevertheless, I was very grateful to the lovely folks at TripFiction for passing over their invitation to the new Michelangelo & Sebastiano exhibition at the National Gallery.

Detail from Sebastiano del Piombo, 'The Visitation', 1518-1519. Paris, Musée du Louvre, Département des Peintures (Inv. 357) © RMN-Grand Palais (musée du Louvre) / Hervé Lewandowski

It was a real privilege to attend the press launch, a day after Prince Charles had a private viewing but the day before the doors open to the public (March 15 to June 25, 2017). And the exhibition’s curator, Matthias Wivel, was on hand to give a level of insight not even achievable from the excellent audio guide.

The NG provides the first ever exhibition devoted to the creative partnership between Michelangelo (1475-1564) and Sebastiano del Piombo (1485-1547). Some of the works on show have not previously left their own collections for centuries, so this really is a rather special display.

Sebastiano, a talented young Venetian painter, arrived in Renaissance Rome in 1511. He met the older Michelangelo, who was working on the Sistine Chapel ceiling, and the two artists became friends…and tactical allies against rival Raphael.

Sebastiano was the only oil painter in the Eternal City who could challenge Raphael, and was therefore the ideal collaborator for Michelangelo, who didn’t care for the medium of oil.

Sebastiano profited from his friend’s ideas, and together they created several works of great originality and rare beauty. Away from the canvass, their friendship flourished and a real bonus is the display of original letters between the two artists.

But after 25 years of artistic collaboration and personal friendship, the relationship soured so badly that arrogant Michelangelo rubbished Sebastiano’s legacy in the years following the younger man’s death.

The exhibition deftly charts their stories in 6 separate rooms, from early hope to eventual acrimony. But they left a remarkable joint legacy, and the NG has presented a dazzling portrait of both artists.

The Raising of Lazarus by Sebastiano del Piombo, incorporating designs by Michelangelo. Photograph: National Gallery:

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