Saturday 23 October 2021

Shows, Concerts and Exhibitions


Attending events again after the restrictions of the lockdown with all the variations and shades was so enthralling, almost mesmerising. Taking the train to London, walking in busy streets, dressing up for the event and having new experiences and stimuli was refreshing. I managed to attend Cinderella by Andrew Lloyd Weber at the Gillian Lynne Theatre after two failed attempts due to cancellations because of Covid-19 rules. For the first time in my life, I attended the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall and a spectacular performance of My Fair Lady at The Grange Festival in their fabulous venue in Hampshire. I also attended Yay! The Search for Happiness with Robert Garnham whose collection I reviewed here for Write Out Loud  It was part of Guildford Fringe Festival; a cracking show Robert took around the UK during the summer and beyond. At Guilford I also attended the concert of Guildford Youth Symphony Orchestra at the Holy Trinity Church featuring Britten, Puccini, Strauss and Tchaikovsky. The age range of the players went from 13 to 26 years old; their performance was impressive. We
also booked for a concert that celebrated Gershwin at the Royal Festival Hall at Southbank with the London Concert Orchestra on 12
th September but unfortunately, we missed it as on that day the M4 was shut for roadworks. We were completely unaware of this disruption or we would have taken a train and were trapped in the traffic for more than two hours without being able to reach London. My husband is so passionate about Gershwin that he even did some research before the concert and printed handouts. The show included some of the most famous pieces by Gershwin such as The Man I Love, Somebody Loves Me, Lady Be Good, Rhapsody in Blue, Summertime, and many other famous songs. Tap dancing and ballroom dancing were included in the program too. It was disappointing but there was no way to change it.

The Proms were a revealing experience not just because the Royal Albert Hall is a beautiful venue and the concerts were fabulous, but also because of the way the orchestra and the conductors engage the audience with introductions and comments on the pieces of music they are going to play. They make the audience feel part of the show and you enjoy it much more than a traditional concert. We attended Dvorak’s New World Symphony which is intermingled with American songs and spirituals. In the program of the day there were also Charles Ives’s Three Places in New England and Augusta Reed Thomas’s contemporary piece of music that took inspiration from the effects of the proteins that a vaccine activates in the body. We also attended the concert that featured Stravinsky’s The Firebird but played from memory along with Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. At Cadogan Hall we had the opportunity to listen to The Sound of Argentina, a colourful concert with music by Astor Piazzolla with fabulous tango music and songs that he first played in bordellos and then in cafes and nightclubs in Buenos Aires. After such a long silence due to the pandemic, music was a reinvigorating means to communicate our renovated contact with people and the world around us. They were life-enhancing moments that though temporary are nevertheless meaningful.

Another fabulous music event I attended during the summer was at The Grange Festival ( It was not easy to reach the venue as the Satnav was guiding me to an HGV parking place, but I spotted the entrance gate of the festival at the last minute and got into it. The edifice was in the middle of a large estate and it took us about ten minutes to reach it following a winding path. The parking place was in a meadow and finally we walked to the place in our uncomfortable high heels. But it was worth it. My Fair Lady was beautifully sung and played, fabulously entertaining. Everybody knows the story with all the issues related to language and correct pronunciation that shape identity and assigns people a place in society. Eventually Eliza can choose her destiny but only after going through a series of tortures of sorts such as speaking with pebbles in her mouth, staying awake the whole night repeating sentences and even starvation. As soon as she manages to pronounce words correctly according to the rules of standard English, she goes up in the social ladder, which emphasises the importance of language but also its ephemeral implications. From today’s perspective, some songs sound sexist, but the music is so involving and the singers were so good that I forgot all those issues. We had an hour and a half interval between the first and second part of the program, so we had plenty of time to visit the venue and the park and to have our dinner. People were having their picnic sitting on benches, around tables or on grass. Men were dressed in impeccable suits and bow ties and women in evening outfits. The weather was gorgeous and the whole experience was remarkable and extremely enjoyable.

The musical Cinderella was the other event I couldn’t miss. The rags-to-riches tale is so famous and re-invented in different versions throughout time that I was curious to see what they could make of it today. Apparently, the story dates back to ancient Greece and was published for the first time by Charles Perrault in 1697. In centuries the tale has had different interpretations and is present all over the world. The day I attended the show, Georgina Onuorah played ‘bad’ Cinderella. She is characterised as an outcast but people around her seem to admire her defiant and alternative attitude, especially Prince Sebastian, who is second in line to the throne to Prince Charming (who apparently disappeared but turns up at the end). Misunderstandings, funny scenes, witty remarks and above all
marvellous songs and spectacular dancing make the show a real hit. Needless to say, Cinderella is not a submissive character and the world of fairy tales is reversed but also affirmed in the final happy endings though they are open to an adventurous future. Ethnic and gender diversity are present and recent events and movements are alluded to, such as Black Lives Matter (Cinderella says ‘I can’t breathe’ at a certain point) and MeToo in the picture of Leda and the Swan above the fireplace. Everything fits in in this new and updated version of the timeless story.

At The Lightbox in Woking I attended an exceptional event organised by the Exhibition Circle; it was a dinner with a special guest, Dr Tristram Hunt, director of the V&A. It was an elegant happening with good food and good drinks. What I was looking forward to was Hunt’s speech which focused on the importance of supporting art and on the V&A collection. He especially mentioned the Raphael cartoons which I had visited in one of my recent trips to London and which can be viewed online too. They are remarkable pieces where the figures are dynamic and in constant movement. The stories from the Gospel are told in a sort of cinematic way, emphasising the central characters. They are so lively that they seem to speak to us. 

I also visited the exhibition of Turner at Tate Britain and revisited the Turner collection and Henry Moore’s works as well. Turner always surprises me especially his sketchy later works which are so inventive, original and artistically innovative that I believe he is one of the best painters ever. I am planning to study more of his work, the pictorial techniques he used and his career. The connection with Rothko (who is another painter I am discovering) they make at the Tate is also interesting and is inspiring me in new ways of painting. Visiting exhibitions and learning from the masters is crucial to develop ideas and painting techniques. It is similar to the importance of reading and attending poetry readings for a poet. Unexpected words and images from other poets inspire further explorations and there is always something to learn.

Friday 8 October 2021

Negotiating with my body: a fabulous yoga retreat

During the summer, I had a few health issues. My blood pressure increased so I had to contact the GP several times to adjust my medication. The tablets I used to take weren’t enough and gave me side effects such as ankle swelling, dizziness, heartburns and bruises on arms and legs.  The other strange thing was that the blood pressure went up and down, sometimes too low other times too high. So, I decided to spread the four tablets during the day and split one of them in two. Now my situation has normalised though I realised I must slow down a bit or organise my life according to my body’s needs. I have short breaks during the day alternating rest to physical activities, such as cycling, swimming and yoga routines. I also regularly attend yoga classes once a week, go swimming and go to the gym. I have just taken part in a yoga retreat in the Isle of Wight with my yoga group, a fabulous experience I will talk about below in detail.

Now I am aware that I cannot walk more than one hour, or my knee joints start to ache. After some exercise and a balanced meal, which usually includes vegetables, brown bread, egg or cheese as well as fruit, I feel better. Having the loo on hand is also useful as the high blood pressure tablets are diuretic. If I follow this routine I can concentrate better on my work and enjoy the day. I gained weight during the lockdown but I have managed to lose two kilos recently, though it is hard to keep it off as I bake a lot and like tasting my homemade cakes and cookies. In my dreams I am slimmer but when I look in the mirror in the morning I go back to reality and I’m aware that there is no going back. But ageing is not so bad. Though my body is not as efficient as it was before, I have more experience and I understand things that I didn’t use to notice in the past. I wear loose outfits that look nice and alternate neutral colours to brighter ones. As Donatella Versace (aged 66) remarks, growing old is growing up. I have recently read in The Times that the average woman in the UK is 5ft 3in and wears size 14-16. So, there is nothing to worry about, I’m in the average and I can wear everything I like.

The yoga retreat was a real ‘treat’. Somebody named it ‘yoga party’, and it was. We had two yoga sessions a day, but we mainly enjoyed spending time together exploring the Isle of Wight, socialising, cooking, chatting, eating and drinking. We had a game night and a disco night with 1980s music plus cocktails, Möet & Chandon was my favourite but I also tasted piña colada and Campari Spritz. Then I decided to stop drinking or I would have collapsed. We had two BBQ nights organised by super Maggie, our official cook and step-grandmother who also brought delicious homemade lemon drizzle, banana cake and carrot cake. It was amazing. Our yoga instructor, Shena Grigor, was professional and funny. She proposed a range of different postures from challenging binding positions, headstands and acroyoga to soft routines and meditation poses. It was engaging and great fun at the same time. She asked me to read a poem at the end of the sessions when we usually have five minutes of relaxation. I had some poetry magazines with me as I like to read new poetry and chose a few poems. Here is an example from Acumen 101:


If the universe had not be born of love,

an unimaginable explosion of energy and light – 

                                        we would not exist.

If the Milky Way and the dust of dying stars

did not scatter in space, reincarnated in love – 

                                        we would not exist.

If the sun and moon did not send their rays to earth,

awakening us to worlds beyond our imagination – 

                                        we would not exist.

If our atmosphere did not protect us from radiation

and space debris, gifting us with the gods of weather – 

                                        we would not exist.

If our planet did not resolve round its axis,

inner and outer cores locked in embrace like lovers – 

                                         we would not exist.

If day and night did not daily renew their vows,

blessing us with warm days and wild nights – 

                                            we would not exist.

If water did not enthral us with the miracle

of creation, the birth of life and evolution – 

                                             we would not exist.

If plants did not produce oxygen for no reason

except the inalienable joy of breathing in carbon – 

                                              we would not exist.

If every species did not have a purpose for being

here, their survival worthy of celebration – 

                                              we would not exist.

If greed and ignorance, pride and power

stand in the path of enlightenment and compassion – 

                                               we will cease to exist.

Shanta Acharya

The weather was gorgeous, sort of Mediterranean climate, blue sky, warm sun and starry nights. I visited the Needles, chalk rocks not far from the coast with an old and new Battery which were used during the first and second world wars, and the site was still in use until the 1950s. I also visited Newport and bought presents for my family. It was a special time I mainly spent with my yoga friends and I hope to repeat the experience next year.

Some national and international events haunted me in the past weeks. Sarah Everard’s murder and the report that has followed were shocking. The way Wayne Couzens planned and executed her abduction, rape and murder and how he disposed of her body are appalling. The police reconstructed his movements in detail using CCTV cameras and tracking his mobile phone number. It must have been a long and painful investigation that eventually made the events of the crime clear. I wonder if this kind of investigations could be done for all the cases of rape and murder as it often happens, for example, to Indigenous women in America and in Canada and to Mexican girls. Besides, there seems to be no end to the killings as 79 women have been killed since Sarah Everard’s murder (see The Sunday Times’ article: ). 


The other dramatic event was the withdrawal of the US and European troops from Afghanistan after they occupied the country for nearly twenty years. The evacuation was sudden and chaotic leaving thousands of desperate citizens at the mercy of the Taliban who quickly regained control. The Afghan Army trained by the Americans melted away in a few days, which was maybe unexpected but predictable. I wonder why they didn’t organise the evacuation of people before the withdrawal of the troops. Now the Taliban are in power and women will pay the highest price. Apparently, most of the population don’t accept concepts such as democracy and the western way of life and consequently support the Taliban. On the other hand, they probably expect humanitarian aid from western rich countries who need to find a way to deal with the Taliban at the end of the day.

The extreme weather worried me too. We had a colder summer in the UK compared to the past few years with less sunny days and lower temperatures especially in August, when at a certain point it seemed that summer was over. Drizzle alternated to downpours and the language to describe the weather was slightly threatening, such as heatbomb, thundersnow, the Beast from the East, queltring (humid weather) or clunch (muggy weather). The Met Office issued an amber extreme heat warning in July but then there were floods in Germany and northern Italy in August. What can we wear during a heat wave and then how to change dramatically when the weather turns back to thundery showers and ‘gentle breeze’? – which is a kind way to name easterly winds. Sunny intervals and light clouds were the best we could hope for most of the summer. Then September arrived with surprisingly warm, windless days, a relief before autumn officially entered in the calendar with chilly starts and wet days. People who had holidays in the UK not only experienced this extreme weather conditions but also realised there was an increase in prices. We did too when we visited our sons in the north and booked the hotel rooms, the prices had almost doubled compared to one or two years ago. Nevertheless, my flowers bloomed, I had plenty of courgettes, herbs and even two sweet corns, and enjoyed time with my family throughout the summer.