Thirsty

So when you were last at the doctors and you were asked the question how many units a week do you drink what did you say ?  were you truthful ?  This is not the first of several potentially tricky questions throughout the play Thirsty (performed by The Paper Birds theatre company) that I went to see last night in which our individual, societal, stereotypical and gender attitudes to alcohol are explored.

The stage is set up sparsely with 3 toilet cubicles on a checkerboard tiled floor edged by different sized glasses and as the lights dim droplets of water can be heard.  This quiet is then shattered as Kylie and Jemma erupt into a Hen party scene and dive straight into the audience with camera snapping.  You are immediately catapulted into numerous situations that you have either been in or seen and the discomfort that many will feel when confronted by drunken people.  Throughout the next hour or so Kylie and Jemma weave storylines and anecdotes both personal and those reported to them as they question and query the place of drink in Britain today.

In researching the back story to the play a blog, questionnaire and drunken hotline had been established to capture stories about drinking, effectively asking the question why do we drink ? why is it an important part in many of our lives ?  Snippets of these confessions bleep out and others are retold as graffiti on the toilet walls which get weaved in and out of Kylie and Jemma’s tales of their own lives and relationship to alcohol and the detailed telling of the story of “she” a young student who has moved from a small village to go to university in a new city.

A word here must go to Shane who appears in the 3rd cubicle and interacts with the story through music, photography and the odd one liner.  His interjections add to and break up the story in a humorous way and reminded me very much of a mate we all have who you want along on a night out.  I loved the scene where “she” enters a pub and buys her first drink and Shane tries to reflect the mood of what that first drink can make you feel like through music.  As music is the soundtrack to many of our experiences with alcohol I found this a clever and poignant moment.

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Kylie and Jemma’s physicality on the stage is also captivating, they absolutely fill the stage with their movement and personality as the weaving stories continue.  The story of “she” was questioning and uncompromising and as it developed I really felt a sense of dread and foreboding developing however this was not necessarily shared by the rest of the audience, there was much laughter at the behaviour of “she” at which I found myself thinking is this nervous laughter, is it funny, is it tragic, were people being reminded of their own behaviour and finding it funny.  The performance was at stage@leeds at the university and the majority of the audience appeared to be students – could they see the reflections of their own behaviour in the the exploits of “she” and how did this make them feel?

The play very much focuses on female attitudes to drinking but of course by doing so it cannot help to explore men’s reactions to women who drink and ask us serious questions of our own attitudes and behaviour.  This might sound as though the play is preachy or lecturing and one of the many clever things about the performance is that it never strays into this territory it simply asks questions and there is much genuine humour throughout the performance.

Throughout the play a camera is used to snap various pictures which at the end are projected up onto the cubicle doors, a slick method of again questioning the change that has taken place in society in recent years of the apparent need to document all aspects of everything that happens and post it somewhere as though we are all living in the Truman show.  The nature of what is personal and what is shared loomed large.

I firmly believe that the best art should hold up a mirror to yourself and your attitudes and should ask difficult questions.  Thirsty does this brilliantly.  The Paper Birds return to perform this at The Carriageworks on the 20th and 21st of March and I would urge you to go along, it will after all cost less than a round of drinks.

Avebury

One of the advantages of my job is that I get to see things along the way. Yesterday was a long road trip to see a client in Swindon but the trade off for me was a visit to one of my favourite places in the UK – Avebury.

One of my many obsessions are megalithic stone circles. For the uninitiated, these start with Stonehenge and cover everything in between. Basically these are stone circles built by our ancestors for reasons we can only guess. Either way, Avebury in my opinion is the most impressive stone circle site in the UK and one that can be enjoyed up close as there are no fences stopping you touching or even hugging the stones – more on that later.

Stonehenge is often cited as the role model for stone circles but compared to Avebury, Stonehenge is the newcomer bristling with innovation. The stones at Avebury predate Stonehenge not by hundreds of years but thousands. Astonishing. Avebury is a dynamic prehistoric landscape that has been developed over thousands of years, never standing still, never actually finished.

Walking amongst the stones in 2012 then is a deeply spiritual experience where we can touch our distant past and feel connected in some unknown way with our long lost forbears. The oldest part of the site itself has been dated at 3000 BC with developments and additions to the site until the site was forsaken in Early Bronze Age in favour, no doubt for something new.

The stones are scattered across a strange location with a village built around and within them and a main road weaving through. It’s quite tidy these days (well kept by The National Trust) and with a decent pair of boots can be navigated quite easily. Not all of the stones have survived the ravages of time with early Christians destroying or burying them and early scientists blowing them up to see what was inside them.

The first thing that strikes is the scale. The stones themselves are enormous and dwarf the sarsen stones of Stonehenge. With at least two thirds buried in the ground the sheer engineering feat of planting these giants is awe inspiring. But I think for me it’s the mystery of the place that endures.

I’ve visited in the rain, sun, mist and snow and every time it never fails to excite. Theories abound of course about the purpose of Avebury and in Aubrey Burl‘s superlative The Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany he goes into incredible archeological detail, painting a detailed picture of prehistoric man and his life. This offers up lots of clues as to the use of the site and perhaps why it fell into disuse. It seems ultimately that the bright lights and innovation of Stonehenge overtook the ancient and mysterious traditions of Avebury.

Today these ghosts play amongst the stones and if you can find a quiet morning or early evening just before dusk when you can have the stones to yourself, you can almost hear them whispering. There’s no denying the stones tap into an ancient relationship we have with our environment that we have lost through the millennia. The cycle of life – and worship of it – is at the heart of all megalithic sites, hard wired into the landscape reminding us that we owe everything to the Earth.

I realise it’s all very hippy this – but if you’re interested to read more on Avebury and other sites, then a brilliant place to start is Julian Cope‘s comprehensive The Modern Antiquarian. This wonderful book turned me on to stone circles and has been my companion on many trips.

In the meantime, if you’ve never properly visited a stone circle, then Avebury is an awesome place to start but be warned, they don’t get much better than this and it’ll blow you away.

Book and Covers #2

Photo credit: Amy Baxter / The Guardian

In the book club the old adage of can you judge a book by it’s cover often crops up and perhaps unsurprisingly you can indeed often judge the book by the cover.  I’ve no idea how the publishing industry works, do book companies recognise the inherent quality in certain books and make sure that the cover reflects this whereas for others they don’t put in the same budget or effort ?   There are also of course wider questions about the relevance of cover art in this age of ebooks.

Recently Faber and Faber in conjunction with The Guardian Children’s Books ran a competition to design a new cover for the iconic book Lord of the Flies.  A brief was produced and the competition was open to children between 13-16.  The overall winning cover (see illustration above) by Amy Baxter aged 15 has just been announced entitled ‘Into The Mouth of the Beast’ which Amy described as follows:

I tried to encapsulate all the feelings of the book in one picture, the primitive nature of the boys and their fear, all rooting in the form of the beast.

As well as Amy’s striking cover there are some incredibly vivid, skilfull and imaginative ideas in the winners gallery which you can view here

Looks like all you highly paid and charging designers need to look over your shoulders.

 

Art and Bikes

Sunday was one of those glorious bright crisp winter days so the plan was to head up to Nidderdale for some riding.  The previous night a cracking curry had been made (even if I do say so myself) and discussion turned to bikes and art both separately and together which was a theme that reoccurred to me throughout the Sunday ride.  My route with PB, taking a lead from the art side of things, was going to wind up to Brimham Rocks which were the inspiration for Clare Woods’ recent exhibition at the Hepworth gallery in Wakefield.  Clare’s interpretation of the rocks in huge (up to 30m) vivid canvases are brooding and almost ghostlike and although on a bright day like Sunday the spookiness was not apparent I can imagine that on a different early dank evening they would indeed be pretty spooky.  But before we could get up to the rocks we had a long climb up through some pretty tricky terrain.

On the previous night there had been talk of Richard Long and his land art and how apparently uses his bike to transport various bits of mud about from the banks of the River Avon, well I’m sure he’d have liked a bit of this Yorkshire mud.  It proved leg sapping to get through and as the temperature was only a couple of degrees above freezing you had to watch carefully as where the sun had not got through it was still icy, rutted and very tough to ride and then you would suddenly plunge down into the deep stuff where a thaw had taken place.

The final approach to the rocks was through this beautiful gap which very much reminded me of some of the recent Hockney paintings from his latest exhibition and I could easily imagine David happily with sketchbook or ipad that he now uses capturing this view and it’s changes through the seasons.

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Finally we got up to the stunning Brimham rocks, lungs hurting from the gulps of freezing air that I was forcing in but all worth it.  What an amazing place.

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An incredible flowing descent followed along an old pack horse track before arriving back in the car park as the sun started to dip and we rested some tired limbs.  Feet especially were bitingly cold but once warmed up all was ready for a nice couple of beers.  The talk of bike and art on the Saturday culminated with a hatched plan to see, if using photos of places where we bike, whether a piece of art work could be created that would do our experiences justice on canvas.  Watch this space for progress on the art and bike project.

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Five Truths

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Constantin Stanislavski,  Antonin Artaud, Bertolt Brecht, Jerzy Grotowski and Peter Brook ? Nope me neither and I’m not too hot on my Shakey either so what was I doing after work at Howard Assembly Rooms looking at the Five Truths video / art installation – Getting my head warped that’s what.  On entering the cube where the works are displayed you are assaulted by a dizzying array of images and sounds.  Wrapped around the walls are 10 video screens of differing sizes and I think density of image.  All the screens are showing Ophelia’s mad scene from Hamlet with 2 screens showing an interpretation of the scene for each of Stanislavski, Artaud etc and it took me a while to get my bearings to be honest.  Each film runs for around 10 minutes so you can view the different interpretations of the scene however the way that the screens are orientated meant that for me it was simply impossible to just focus on 2 screens as your eyes or ears would be drawn to an adjoining screen which all added to the feelings of disorientation.

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The adaptations are all striking similar but different at the same time, so while there is dialogue across them the words are often slightly out of sync and in 1 of the screenings a sort of maudlin folk a la PJ Harvey comes warbling out and while the films all start and end at the same time telling the same story they all move at a different paces.

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The same actress wearing the same dress appears in each adaptation and it appears at first glance as though she has been given exactly the same set of objects contained in a clear plastic bag and sat at the same desk.  However as you watch the films small subtle differences emerge so the purse is different, one is holding a phone, one a pebble, one a watch, one has a goldfish bowl but not the others so your sense of similarity and symmetry again gets entangled across the screens.  The whole thing adds up to a striking visual statement, is it art, theatre, cinema, some strange new pop promo video – all are  possibilities.  I drifted into this after work not knowing what to expect and 40 odd minutes of dizzying disorientation later I was left musing again on what art is or can be and how we deal with death and unrequited love.  Stunning stuff.

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The best restaurant in Leeds

The following post is an updated version of a post that first appeared on Globetroffers – a foodie site I used to contribute to. I was minded to re-post it here after a particularly good meal at the weekend.

It’s interesting to read this again after a couple of years has passed and what’s significant for me is that I don’t think the restaurant scene in the city has changed much. That could be a result of these straightened times with people naturally cautious with their hard earned cash or it could be a lack of investment in the city holding people back…anyway, I’ve only had to update a few of the ‘Best Ofs’ – see if you agree.

So – which is the best restaurant in Leeds?

Now I have to say that I found answering the question definitively very difficult. It’s not that we’re overly blessed with amazing restaurants on every street corner. Far from it. It’s just that depending what mood your in dictates which restaurant is number one at any given point.

I started thinking aloud and it kicked off a huge discussion, as you’d expect. I’ve given it further thought and for what it’s worth started to put together a sort of ‘best of’ in the city, depending upon what you want and how you’re feeling.

I’d be interested to know what other people think as it’s by no means definitive and I’ve probably omitted some of the best places, but I’m sure you’ll let me know.

  • The best for impressing a lover, partner, foodie or out of towner that thinks Leeds is full of ignorant yokels — Anthony’s Boar Lane
  • The best wow factor in a dining room, where a cool and glamorous experience is desired — Anthony’s Piazza
  • The best for consistently excellent service, food quality, conspicuous consumption with fashionista appeal and verve — Harvey Nichols
  • The best steaks (albeit at eye watering prices) – Gaucho
  • The best indian food in Leeds — Aagrah
  • The best bustling dining room, for the noisy and boisterous, fur coat and no knickers crowd — City Bar and Grill
  • The best fish restaurant — Livebait
  • The best breakfast in Leeds — Harvey Nichols (this has been scientifically proven by me)
  • The best italian food in Leeds — San Carlo (Leeds City Centre branch)
  • The best local ‘neighbourhood’ restaurant — Diva Italiana, Pudsey

See what I mean? I could go on. All of the above restaurants are the best at any given point in time, and I think the best restaurant in some ways has to be an amalgamation of all of the above.

Now I’m going to stick my neck out. There’s a restaurant in Leeds that sticks to what it does best and concentrates on doing it incredibly well.

They’ve been beavering away, quietly serving in-the-know foodsters lovingly created food for the past few years, building a reputation as one of the best places to eat in the city. I’ll get to the point, and here it is:

The best all round restaurant in Leeds — (is still) Kendell’s Bistro.


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It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Steve Kendell’s cooking and his passion and determination to create stylish, unpretentious, authentic bistro food that in some ways flies in the face of fashion. This is a real feel-good restaurant. I’ve never come out of there feeling bad about anything. Like anything or anybody, it’s not perfect. When I think back to when we dined at Angela Hartnett’s in Mayfair last year, it was a glorious thing of perfection to behold. The closest to restaurant perfection I’ve ever experienced.

But we’re a funny lot aren’t we? I’ve noticed with brands we love, we’re prepared to let them get things wrong now and again – and I think it’s the same with restaurants. We become loyal and align ourselves with what they are trying to do and it actually becomes part of our own personal brand and we in turn become evangelists. This has been the case with Kendell’s – I’m forever recommending the place to all and sundry, safe in the knowledge that whoever I tell will be safe in the hands of Steve’s team.

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Note – This review was written two years ago and it’s all still true and that in itself is testament to the quality and passion of the team at Kendell’s. On Saturday we enjoyed a superb meal, the service was excellent, the food delicious and the whole experience was simply the best we could have had. This is a restaurant with heart and it cares about it’s customers and it’s food. Get those right and you’re well on the way to being the best restaurant in Leeds.

Once Upon A Time Up The Road

Theatre, it’s fair, to say is not my normal habitat.  I think that when I have gone previously I have always sort of felt that it’s not for the likes of me and as a result my theatrical knowledge is somewhat limited.  However of course this attitude is rubbish as theatre is for anyone and certainly when I do go I almost always end up enjoying myself and this afternoon was no exception as I went along to see Once Upon A Time Up The Road, a one man performance by Lawrence Speck at The Carriageworks

In the show Lawrence explores through storytelling what is luck and right from the start as he interacts with the audience it is clear that the children in the audience have a clear idea of what is good luck and what is bad, however where do these ideas come from?  Lawrence spins two captivating Yorkshire tales, myths in fact that were told in distant times past.  One tale looks at an unlucky man and the other someone who believes that they are lucky but of course things are never that simply – do you create your own luck, does luck catch up with you or can it simply run out?

Lawrence himself spins these tales in a truly captivating manner as he uses a combination of his own movement, expression and characterisation (underpinned by matching music and sound effects) together with a series of puppets, cleverly interacting with the audience along the way.  During one scene he asks the children what they can do to capture the boggle (the creature that is causing havoc for a farmer) and then weaves all the answers given into the advice that the villagers later provide.  It was a simple but clever technique beautifully executed that had my kids hanging on every word and drawing them into the narrative of the story.

There were plenty of laughs in up the road but like the best children’s entertainment it works on different levels so while the children were captivated by the characters and Lawrence’s delivery it made me think of  luck and whether I consider myself lucky or unlucky, explored where I come from and the stories that were passed down, the nature of aural storytelling and it’s relevance in today’s digital media age, the relationship between generations and how much we now pay attention to the advice that is handed down and indeed how much our children will listen to our advice, which is not too shabby for children’s theatre.  Most of all however it was a pleasure to sit and watch genuine creativity in action and it really made me want to discover a bit more of this theatre lark.

The show is on till 21 Feb so make your own luck and go along for a slice of one man creativity.