No.27 – Dolly Parton

Place and Date – LG Arena, Birmingham, 2 September 2011
Who Else – me + S + K
Category – Culture

(Um, yes, this post is about 2 years late.  Has been in draft all that time, and was busy doing the rest of the list.  And turning 40.  There’s a lot of grey hairs to keep count of you know.  But thought I really ought to try and complete.  Don’t want the first task on a 50 in 50 list to be finish writing up the sodding 40 in 40 list!)

Dolly!!  A woman recognised just by her forename alone, high empress of country music, kitsch and camp and cool at the same time. And some belting songs. So when the chance came up to see this icon in concert, how could I turn it down?

My sister S is a particularly big fan, and so I have to thank her for being an enabler. Because without that prompt, I would never have been able to wail along to 9 to 5 or Jolene along with 15,000 other fans. Most of whom were wearing pink Stetsons. I had no idea such a thing existed before that night, and have never seen them since. Presumably the world supply of pink Stetsons just follows dolly on tour.

And she was glorious. An extraordinary performer – with sass and energy that belied her 65 years. Honestly, if I can shake my backside and strut my stuff like that at retirement age, there will have been significant advances in medical science because I don’t think my body is capable of that now!

And that voice – powerful, sweet and true and full of storytelling. And the humour (fabulously self deprecating) and crowd control and engagement. I guess you don’t stay at the top of your game for 50 years without being bloody good at what you do … But even so, I was bowled over by how terrific she was. So much so that even though I went out of curiousity and in the spirit of 40 in 40, I think I might even try and see her again. Top night out.


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No.26 – Girl Racer

Place and Date – MIRA in Nuneaton, 21 August 2011
Who Else – me + W watching
Category – thrill seeking

So the last post was short – this one needs to be speedy then I guess?

Another groupon offer (no, I am not sponsored by them) gave me the chance to try driving three different supercars as well as a couple of hot laps in an Ariel Atom. And a month ago, that sentence would have meant very little to me.  But I did read the marketing blurb and words like TVR, Ferrari, Porsche, Lamborghini, Aston Martin did mean a little more.

Well, if I’m going to have a mid-life crisis then it may as well be a cliche.

And so I pitched up at the supersecret MIRA test track with W – who had come along to take photos – only to find that no photos were allowed!  😦 – There were official photos available at a price, and W generously bought me the video footage as a gift.  And if I ever figure out how to load it up, I might even put it on here.

Anyway, let’s skip past the build up and get to the cars.  And which ones did I choose for my laps?  To which the answer was the TVR, the Aston Martin and the Ferrari.  Although there was an amusing exchange with one of the driving instructors when he was talking me through which cars I might like to try “do you prefer flappy gear paddles or stick-shift?  which ones understeer or oversteer?” and my muttered response about maybe choosing by the colour did seem cause a raise of the eyebrows and slightly hollow laugh.  I should also point out that I was the only girl driver that day.  Like I said, living a cliche.

So how was it?  Tremendous fun 🙂 – and I now know the following:

  1. The TVR is incredibly unforgiving and a hard drive and ride.  Also built for taller people than me, at one point I thought I would need a booster cushion but I managed it
  2. Aston Martins are much more my thing.  Comfortable, responsive, still a beast in terms of power but much easier to handle.  and so beautiful to look at.  If someone wanted to buy me one, I wouldn’t say no 😉
  3. Ferraris are brash, noisy and frickin fast.  But way too powerful for me because I really do drive like a girl and actually started to brake when I saw / approached the brake markers on the track.  i.e. my brain doesn’t accept it’s normal to be doing 90mph when you need to turn.

But like I said.  All tremendous fun and now I can say I have driven an Aston Martin and a Ferrari.  Not sure I could say I drove the TVR – my speed was so slow as I got used to the car and the track than I think I was lapped by everyone on the track!

Sadly the hot laps in the Ariel Atom didn’t happen.  It had developed a fauly the day before and the back up Ascari also went boom.  So I missed out on being driven by an ex-F1 driver and taking the bends at 120mph.  But I got a voucher and promise from the chaps there that I could come back and do the laps again.  and I can wear brown trousers in readiness.

Really really good day.  I knew I would enjoy the speed.  I don’t think I realised how different a driving experience it is.  It’s a good job I know I could never afford one of these cars, else I would be in serious fiscal trouble right about now 🙂


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No.25 – Gliding lesson

Place and Date – Gliding lesson, Long Marston Airfield, 19 August 2011
Who Else – me, with W watching
Category – random, thrill seeking

Just a quick note – else I’ll be spending longer writing this blog post than I did up in the air!

So – another groupon offer of a trial gliding lesson at £40 – normally about double the price.  It’s an indication of how little thought I had given to it when my response to a colleague’s comment that they wouldn’t like to go up in something without an engine was “What do you mean they don’t have an engine?!”


All I had thought was, well, that might be fun to try something different, and let’s see just how scared I am of heights.  So, unencumbered by actual knowledge or understanding of what I was taking on, I turned up at Long Marston Airfield at the allocated time.  My sister W was on the way to Birmingham anyway so she came to the field and help me take some photos.

It didn’t take long.  The pilot took me up, got to the right height etc and then switched off the engine.  And we didn’t plummet to our deaths.  Which is always a bonus in my book.  I did get to have a go at controlling it but to be honest, I was rubbish at it.  Just like at the canal boat, my brain couldn’t quite connect which direction to move the control stick, nor could I judge how sensitive the controls were.  Which meant a little bit of swinging around and a mild touch of nausea.


But the views were incredible – and reminded me of how much I like looking out of windows of aircraft when we take off or land to see how the land fits around us, rather than being confined to the narrow tiny perspective which I bumble along with mostly.


But they weren’t so wonderful that I was sad when the trial ended.  Nor was I desperate to get back for another go – especially when it’s at a cost of hundreds of pounds.  In my world, that’s a lot of holidays.


But I did enjoy having a go.  And you have to try these things once don’t you? Onwards and upwards 😉

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No.24 – Carlos Acosta at the Lowry

Place and Date – 24 July 2011, The Lowry, Manchester
Who Else – me + H + K
Category – Culture

Carlos who?  That was the question at the garden barbecue I was at that afternoon.  The chap hadn’t heard of Carlos Acosta – and my response that he was a Cuban ballet dancer, probably one of the greatest of his generation did little to light any fires of enthusiasm.  “So, he’s probably not going to do anything for me is he?” said the chap, to which one of the other blokes responded “To be fair, he’s probably hot enough to turn you …!”

Well, it made me laugh.

But I digress.  Because people who know me and my slighltly random ways would also wonder why I was choosing to leave one of the best barbecues I had ever been too (seriously – YSL’s blog posts give some idea, and my photos are here) to drive from Birmingham to Manchester.  Well, it’s certainly not because of any deep love or appreciation of ballet.  I have vague recollections of drifting off during some Northern Ballet production in Leeds years ago – I know, I’m a bloody philistine aren’t I? 

I suspect the hotness of Carlos Acosta may have had something to do with it.  As well as a desire to see if I could appreciate modern or contemporary dance after previously being left with a distinct sense of Emperor’s New Clothes at a Phoenix Dance Company performance at the WYP.  You see, I expect dance to be some form of expressive movement in time to music.  What we got on that occasion was someone in scary stage make up striding around on stilts, miming to a Bette Davis film clip about Baby Jane, followed by a bunch of people in matching reindeer jumpers and blonde bowl haircuts.  Completely weird, so much so that Helen actually abandoned me at the interval.

But, this was my year of trying different or notable stuff.  And a chance to see Carlos (yeah, first name terms now) at the Lowry Theatre in his new show Premieres Plus was a good chance to remedy the fact that despite it being open for over a decade now,  only living an hour away, I had never managed to go to the theatre there.  I’d been to the Lowry Collection before, and the Imperial War Museum – both of which are excellent.  I’d also previously acquainted myself with the outlet store there (where I bought the only pair of Prada shoes I own.  Strappy sandals, platform soles and 5 inch stacked heels.  I have worn them once.  On a cobbly pavement.  Since filed under ill-advised) but let’s not talk about that otherwise we will be here forever.

And so tickets were purchased for friends K, H and myself and off we went.

And we had a great time.  Most of the story telling went over my head, and I’ll admit that my attention did drift at times.  But the best parts (with the main man in a solo performance) were mesmerising – and for one brief moment at a time, I saw what people really meant about dance lines and extension and to see what the human body could do.  Absolutely stunning.

So, did I enjoy it and am I glad I went?  Yes, yes I am.  But have no desperate need to see such stuff again.  But very pleased to have finally made it to the Lowry, and with another show booked for December (the NT tour of Two Guvnors with James Corden), then hurrah for finally getting it onto my intermittent cultural radar.

And as a final sign off – here’s the Lowry’s youtube clip

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No.23 – Shakespeare’s Globe – Doctor Faustus

Place and Date – 17 July 2011, The Globe Theatre, London
Who Else – me + H
Category – Culture

So, part II of our cultural weekend was a visit to the Globe Theatre – after all, if it’s been going since 1997 then it’s probably nicely run in by now isn’t it?  and it was H who spotted and reminded us that it was Sam Wanamaker who was the driver behind this, a nice coincidence since we’d been watching his daughter the night before.


So – what to see.  Well, after some diary juggling to make the dates work, we came up with seeing the production of Marlowe‘s Doctor Faustus.  There were some good reviews (although clearly that hasn’t been a guarantee that I will enjoy or appreciate the performance) and we liked the idea of watching a Marlowe play – rather than a more obvious Shakespearean play.

Had a vague sense of the story beforehand – although I couldn’t pronouce Mephistopheles  to anyone who asked me – but did know the general idea of a man so driven by the need for knowledge that he sells his soul to the devil, and hence a story of morals, passion and the battle between good and evil for a man’s soul ensues.  Now that sounds much more exciting than a classic Russian story to me 😉

We’d sprung for covered seats and so glad we did because it absolutely bucketed it down at various points, and the poor souls in the open theatre were completely soaked.  Turns out ponchos aren’t much of a defence against the dampess of a British summer.


But it didn’t hold the company back – and they swept us along with their dramatic storytelling, magical staging and terrific performances.

Really really enjoyed it.  Enough to want to go back again next summer, hopefully with better seats so that we are in the centre and perhaps staying over again to spend more time on the South Bank.  Glad it’s now properly on my radar and that I made the effort.

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No. 22 – The Cherry Orchard

Place and Date – 16 July 2011, National Theatre, Londonxx
Who Else – me + H
Category – Culture

So, from the low-brow of pimping a jaffa cake and the laziness of a day on the canal to something more high-brow. Somehow I have managed to miss every single production of a Chekhov play ever, and with the National Theatre staging a production of The Cherry Orchard, adapted by Andrew Upton and starring Zoe Wanamaker, this seemed a good time to put that right.



The acting was good.  Impressive stage sets (benefits of being the National Theatre or so says the cynical provincial) but did I love it?  No.  It was very pleasant but didn’t capture me, or provoke much reaction or questions in me.

As H said – it was very Russian.  and if I had read or studied the play beforehand then maybe I would have got more out of it, and perhaps would have understood why there were so many rave reviews.  As it was, I found my mind wandering on more than one occasion (which is terrible I know).  Although to be fair, I didn’t think it was bad, just not for me, and I certainly didn’t leave with a burning urge to see more Chekhov (which has happened with other playwrights).

Still, you live and learn.



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No. 21 – Canal Barge

Place and Date – Skipton and Leeds-Liverpool Canal, 26th June 2011
Who Else – me + P + H + S + I + C + S
Category – random

You know what’s a really cracking day out?  You hire a canal barge for a day (from nice people like these), load it up with dearly beloved friends, a picnic enough for 20 people, luck out on the weather and spend all day drifting along on the Skipton canals.



Absolute bliss – and yes, I know the weather was a huge part of it (although it was so hot I think a couple of us got sunstroke!) and that not everyone would want to do it, but it was a lovely way to spend a Sunday.  It probably helped that S had spent many childhood holidays on the canals and knew what he was doing.  Turns out, just because you grow up in Birmingham where there are more canals than Venice – doesn’t mean you can steer a barge.  Unless doing mad zig-zags across the water counts.

I did bring stuff for bacon butties at 10am though.  and lots of cake. and we went to the pub for a drink.


And S was excellent at the bridges.  Little I was a superb captain of waving.  and everyone had a lovely time. Even the ducks



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