Friday, 29 May 2009

Oh, to be in England!

Oh, to be in England
Now that April's there,
And whoever wakes in England
Sees, some morning, unaware,
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
In England - now!

And after April, when May follows,
And the whitethroat builds, and all the swallows
Hark! where my blossomed pear-tree in the hedge
Leans to the field and scatters on the clover
Blossoms and dewdrops - at the bent spray's edge
That's the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,
Lest you should think he never could recapture
The first fine careless rapture!

And though the fields look rough with hoary dew,
All will be gay when noontide wakes anew
The buttercups, the little children's dower, -
Far brighter than this gaudy melon-flower!

Robert Browning (1812-1889)

I was never really a fan of Robert Browning in my youth. I thought him weary and trite and too fond of the Romantic poets for his own good. Now, as I approach my own 'season of mists and mellow fruitfulness', I find I'm starting to rather like him. Is this a natural consequence of ageing, I wonder?

Also, I know that he was from down south and so probably writing about the Home Counties' countryside, but I can't help connecting his words with the Lake District. I get my fix of this beautiful place through Tony Richards' Lakeland Cam website. Every day the erstwhile postman takes photos of the region on his daily walks and posts them to his site.

I love to look and them and sigh, and although they fill me with homesickness, I wouldn't miss them for the world. Because my parents have a house there, the pictures often show their road; their village; their pub; even their house.

I've walked and run over those hills; I've eaten in those tea-shops and I've drunk (and been drunk) in those pubs. Looking at these pictures every day is the most exquisite form of nostalgia.

I love the lambs and the flowers and the trees and the grass and the little grey villages surrounded by hills. And at this time of year, when we in the southern hemisphere are cold and wet and windy, everything looks so green. It's very hard to take spring pictures (as I've discovered) - cameras don't seem to be able to cope well with the dappled light effect through the whispering leaves. Tony Richards manages to capture it effortlessly.
Green is my favourite colour and it bursts out of these pictures with a glad welcome. Oh, to be in England indeed...

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Poles apart but on the same wavelength

In the last week I saw an Australian and a Scottish comedian. Although from different hemispheres and as far away from each other as it is geographically possible to be, they were both very funny. I'm taking this as proof that humour is universal.

I like a good laugh, and I really don't care where it comes from. Of course, we are more likely to laugh at things we recognise and can identify with. Perhaps we are not so different after-all. Perhaps there is a shared comedy gene buried in our history and culture? Perhaps it's just because they both have a love/hate relationship with the English?

Mickey D: Too Mickey, Bro!
San Francisco Bath House, 19-23 May

The premise of Mickey D’s act is that we should be able to laugh at anything and everything – I bet he doesn’t go down well in Afghanistan. Or Germany for that matter. Some of his material even seemed a little close to the bone for politically-correct-sensitive-souls-we-all-work-for-the-Government Wellington and there were some sharp intakes of breath at the Bathhouse.

Fortunately, these were matched by the splutterings of laughter that can’t be held back because it’s just funny. Laughing may be a sign of weakness in his native Australia, but it’s good for the heart and soul. He’s good at mocking Australians and their characteristics – partly pigeon but mostly lizard – which works well with his audience.

Aussie men and women are equally ridiculed, and his heckling father and extended family are not above being sacrificed for the sake of a good laugh. The differences between Aussies and Kiwis are illuminated through a few set scenes such as parties and tourism activities. As he says, Australians are just too Lleyton Hewitt for their own good.

Once he has the audience on side, he throws in a few more risqué gags; what not to say during sex, and some material about children with disabilities that has a few people looking anxious. He promises us that it’ll get funny in a minute and it does. There is a serious side to his comedy but then comedy and tragedy are the two-faced gods of drama and Mickey D is far too bright not to know this.

Danny Bhoy
The Opera House, 21-23 May

I may be ever so slightly in love with Danny Bhoy – there, I’ve said it. He’s charming, intelligent, funny, good-looking, self-deprecating, and master of a fabulously lilting accent. ‘Bastard’ said my husband, but then he was laughing too. Danny Bhoy is simply impossible not to like.

His material is not exactly cutting edge. He talks about staying in hotels, trying to chat up girls (I refuse to believe he has any problem with that), making woefully bad first impressions, and trying to enunciate when drunk. It’s stuff we could all talk about, although nowhere near so well.

He holds his audience in the palm of his hand, knowing exactly when to press on and when to back off. He’s observational and conversational, and you could listen to him talk all night. Even though he’s been touring for the past four moths, I reckon he could do it too. Even the ‘hit and run hecklers’ couldn’t phase him, although I can only imagine what he will say about New Zealand when he gets back home.

He’s a bit hard on the Kiwi accent which isn’t entirely fair – we can’t all sound Scottish – but he’s aware that his imitation is poor. He’s not a mimic but he is a raconteur in the old classic style. He’ll be telling a story when he just shoots off on a tangent before coming back to the place he started and spinning us up in his intricate web. I’ll bet the long winter nights just fly by.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Burnley are back!

Congratulations to Burnley who have clawed their way back into the top flight of football after 30 years of trying.

Him Outdoors is delighted and wearing his colours to work (hat and scarf knitted by his grandmother almost 40 years ago) and a grin on his face. If he had any nails to bite, they would all be gone after sitting up this morning watching the play-off final and shouting at the TV - this helps apparently.

His dad first took him to the games in the '70s when they were still a force to be reckoned with. He has watched his team plummet all the way down through the divisions and he was there when they nearly slid out of the football league altogether. He has anxiously watched them rise back to the top and he and his town deserve a little footballing happiness.

They may indeed be Turf Morons but it will be good to welcome them to the top grounds around the country next season. I've seen Liverpool play at Turf Moor at many a cup game and it's a fine addition to the North West venue circuit. Just stay out of the pubs - some of them are less than desirable and full of 80s 'fashion' throwbacks. People will be going to Burnley and leaving in stunned amazement - they won't know what has hit them. There are still pockets of the North West with fanatics (in the true sense) supporting (again, in the true sense) teams you never knew existed. Good luck to the town.

They are under no illusions and know that the toughest job will be just hanging in there. They will receive a much-needed cash injection but with a squad of a mere 23 players, it will be hard going against the glamour boys. Less than an hour after they won promotion, bookies have already released odds on them going straight back down, as has happened to 10 of the last 17 teams to reach the Premier League through the play-off final.

This may all come to pass. I don't know why I've gone all biblical there, except there is something stirring about one of the founding teams of the best football league in the world finally making it back. This is their moment. Let them enjoy it.