Wednesday, 24 October 2012

What we take for granted, we could so easily lose.

Last Saturday I took part in an open forum to debate the future of our town's much-loved theatre, the Theatre Royal in Bury St Edmunds. If you've never heard of it before, you should look it up, as it's one of our country's real gems, not least because it's the only surviving Regency theatre in the UK.

Being a 'punter', you never really get to see what goes on behind the scenes, and by this I don't mean 'backstage'. The theatre actually offers many opportunities to take a tour and I'd encourage any visitor to give it a whirl.  On this occasion, I refer to the hard work that takes place to deliver a creative programme and the management of a venue to ensure that it stands up to the adversity of modern times. 

And on Saturday I caught a long glimpse of this, during the Open Space event that was attended by members of the theatre's Board, its staff and volunteers, as well as interested members of the public, offering an opportunity to debate issues that are crucial to ensuring a bold, exciting and sustainable future for the Theatre Royal.

It soon became clear that it's a future that faces a cold climate of continued funding cuts combined with a well-recognised credit-crunch that has already tightened the wallets of its audiences.  Against this, the theatre has to ensure quality programming to compete for attention in a society that suffers from information overload, busy schedules and a whole host of entertainment offerings on tap.  These are challenges that it has been able to overcome to a certain degree but I got the impression that the current situation is extremely fragile, economically, administratively and politically.

It also became clear that there is an enormous lack of confidence in the proposals from the borough council and the board of trustees, who are steering the theatre towards a management merger with the Apex, a relatively new arts venue, which is owned and managed by the council and which has generated a loss ever since it was up-and-running,

As events unfolded on Saturday, what began to emerge were definitive statements from the leaders of both organisations clearly wanting to work together strategically, but with strong feelings that they were being forced along a route that they consider to be detrimental to each venue.

Questions were raised over the board's leadership of the process and its transparency and with the final decision being made soon, I don't think Saturday's event will be the end of the debate.

However, whatever happens next, whether a merger is put in place or not, I am worried about the future of the Theatre Royal as well as the Apex.

It's not the on-site day-to-day management of the theatre that concerns me.  The innovation that I've seen under the leadership of the theatre's Chief Executive, Simon Daykin, already demonstrates that as an organisation it has a dedicated talent pool to meet tough times ahead.

Neither are my fears limited to the boardroom issues, council politics or funding challenges.

The threat to the theatre's success that is at the forefront of my mind right now actually comes from somewhere much closer to home.

And that threat comes from people like me!

Yes, little old me, who until now has taken our local theatre and all that it offers for granted.

It was only upon listening to the passionate views of board members, staff and volunteers about how they could increase audiences, that I recognised I was part of the problem.

I couldn't ignore the unpleasant irony that emerged.  While I enthusiastically shared my ideas about how to get more 'bums on seats',  I also confessed that my own attendance, outside of social-media events and the annual pantomime, is actually quite low.

Even though there are always lots of quality productions that I want to see, by the time I get my own act together, I often miss the occasion, forget about it and promise to myself that I'll be better organised next time.

Meanwhile another night sat in front of the TV goes by, another glass of wine, or curry, an evening on Twitter or browsing the web.

So you see, it's not even as if the theatre has any strong competition from the rest of my social life.

It really hasn't.

Neither is my issue one of apathy.

I absolutely love the Theatre Royal and I count myself as a strong supporter.

However, there is nothing like looking in the mirror and seeing the reflection of hypocrisy starring back at you.

So it is becoming clear that there is no time more urgent than now to offer greater support to the Theatre Royal and that individual actions really now need to speak louder than words.

What we have in our community is a real asset of local and national significance, which not only provides a place for performance but offers great educational and creative support to our younger generation.  Regardless of what is happening at a higher level, and despite the success of certain productions such as the recent Mansfield Park, the theatre still needs to generate more sales.

I would love to help protect the theatre's future, but like many, as an individual I don't really know what I can do.

Well, perhaps the best place to start is to physically put my money where my mouth is.

Like, actually taking the opportunity to go to the theatre.

More regularly!  Getting out there and enjoying a good dose of comedy and drama.

Now that's a bloody good idea, don't you think?

So, what do you reckon?

Do you want to join me?

I hope so.

For what we take for granted, I fear we could so easily lose.

If you are on Twitter, you can find out more about the issues that were raised at Saturday's event, and join the debate about the future of the Theatre Royal (@theatreroyalbse), using the hashtag #openspacebse.  A report, highlighting all the topics that were explored, can also be obtained directly from the theatre.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

The House of Burlesque: Shipwrecked in Bury St Edmunds

Well, here's a turnip for your cookbook!

Last night, things got a bit fruity on the South side of town, with Bury St Edmunds' prestigious Theatre Royal playing host to the House of Burlesque, performing their latest show, Shipwrecked, a tale of a group of young ladies stranded on an island.

It was billed as a slightly naughty, nautical and thoroughly unsinkable experience, and as a blushing Burlesque virgin, I really had no idea what to expect.

But I can certainly say that from the very outset it was an eye-watering experience, not least because a trapped eyelash made my eyes stream during the opening scene, which meant I couldn't see a damn thing for the first ten minutes and had to make a discreet exit to calm my own dramatic censorship.

Thankfully, with my eye-sight problems quickly resolved, I returned to my seat just in time for an experience that was filled with spectacular and cleverly choreographed performances featuring hula hoops, feathers and tassels.

The very animated audience responded with whoops and applause to the tasteful and delicately-performed striptease routines and raucous laughter filled the theatre during the more comedic moments, which were indeed plentiful.

My personal favourites were the glittering and majestic performance of burlesque comedienne Audacity Chutzpah, who was most definitely the queen of mime and could make you laugh with just a single expression. And the very talented Tempest Rose was not just a fabulous host but tantalised the audience beautifully with her performance as the Voodoo Queen of Burlesque.

Even though I recovered quite happily from my eyelash incident, my eyes didn't dry up during the entire performance. From the moment I was back at my seat, they streamed with tears of laughter and the audience participation scenes made my sides ache.

The show was so superb, I hope the House of Burlesque returns for another billing next year and it would be great to see it featured on the annual programme.

There are many who could describe it more eloquently, but for me, my introduction to Burlesque was a wonderful mixture of glamour and comedic entertainment, and could be deemed adult pantomime at its finest.

And judging by the reaction of the rest of the audience - which bonded most wonderfully during the imaginary tassel twirling tutorial - I have a sneaky feeling that I'm not the only one to think so!

So, to the directors of the Theatre Royal, I have just one word.... and that one word is...



Tuesday, 17 January 2012

A night-time blogpost

I'm about to do something quite frivolous.

I'm going to write a blogpost and it's going to be rather self-indulgent, well for me anyway.

It's going to be about nothing particular at all. 

It's such a long time that I've done such a thing.  In recent years I have dedicated most of my writing to championing campaigns, promoting the great and the good and sharing those proud moments that bloggers love to position carefully on the public mantlepiece that is the world wide web.

But this blogpost isn't about any of that.  It's about this precise moment in time, when I catch myself awake from my slumber and unable to fall back into the deep sleep that I desperately crave.

My mind is alert, buzzing heavily with creative ideas as well as worries and anticipation.  They feel so loud against the stillness of the night.

It's 3am.

The hour is late.

Yet some might say it's early.

Perspective is a wondrous thing,,.

as is having the space to write without barriers, expectations or pre-conceived ideas about self-expression.

Sentences begin to flow following the spirit of word association, with one stream of thought bubbling into the next.  Even if it doesn't make much sense, there is great satisfaction in just letting the words trickle out of the mind to fill the unlimited space that stares back at you.

If there are limits, they are only defined by time, point-of-view, or for whatever reason, the paths where you most fear to tread.

In the silence, it is easy to confront such limitations, or if more passively speaking, simply ignore.

And when the night sky is your only audience, your dreams can be set free, like fireworks that add sparkle to your imagination.

The night still lies silent and I can hear the clock tick..and tock.

I'm suddenly sleepy.

Maybe this blogpost about nothing particular at all has ultimately reached its destination.

And at its end, it now seems quite possible that it wasn't really about nothing at all. Instead it's made me very mindful of an imminent blogging challenge that's very important to me and at times feels quite daunting. Suddenly my tired words are beginning to make sense to my tired mind.

I think I'm ready to go back to sleep now.

In the morning this will most likely look like nonsense.

Such is the self-indulgence of blogging.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Call the Midwife: my own memories of a very important delivery

Just a day old. It's hard to believe he's now 10.
I am looking forward to tonight's new television series, Call the Midwife, with much anticipation. Ever since I saw the trailer, distant memories have been bubbling away, taking me back to one of the most significant events in my life and reliving the birth of my eldest son as well as the time I met Jennifer Worth, the midwife and writer who inspired the series.

But he wasn't born in the during the 1950s, which is the period setting of the TV drama - that would have been some miracle.  No, he entered the world half a century later, in the high-tech environment of Hemel Hempstead General Hospital, in 2001.

Born at just 34 weeks, it was a struggled labour, which spread across a whole weekend and four or possibly even five midwifery shifts. It started with the hospital's early decision to delay delivery due to his gestation. They told me that every opportunity to increase his lung capacity would help him, even at 34 weeks.  My labour was temporarily halted with the appropriate drugs, but when the contractions started again in earnest the following day, even though nature was taking its course, when push came to shove (excuse the pun) it became apparent that my baby's head was in the wrong position to enable a safe delivery.

After thirty-six hours in the delivery suite, he was finally born by emergency caesarian and than spent the first two weeks of his life in the Special Care Baby Unit.

Those first few weeks were some of my most traumatic ever and I was grateful for the care that we'd both received.  However, it was not until I met Jennifer Worth, several months later and I heard her tales of midwifery and births during the 1950s, did I really appreciate how lucky we were.

Jennifer Worth, the author of the books that inspired the new BBC drama, lived a couple of streets away from me in Boxmoor, an old Victorian suburb of Hemel Hempstead.  I first met her at the local bartering group, which I joined after my son was born.  She gave a talk one evening about her new book that had just been published, featuring her memoirs as a midwife in London's East End.  She painted scenes of a bygone era and I recall tales of her cycling through the streets from her nursing convent to over-crowded blocks of flats with poor sanitation and babies being born at home into situations that we would wince at today. Yet it was one where the human and community spirit thrived. It felt a different world to the one that I had experienced only months earlier.

Jennifer was passionate that the stories of life back then should be told to a modern audience and that the work of the midwife and what a mother went through during what may be many births, should be both acknowledged, recognised and celebrated.

I asked her about my son's birth and what would have happened if times were different.  It brought a distinct chill when she said he most likely would have died without the modern facilities and intervention that I had experienced.  It was a reminder of how much the midwifery profession had changed.

It was some time after that, I had the pleasure of talking to Jennifer Worth again, this time in the beautiful setting of her garden. I'd popped in to visit her husband's art studio, as part of the local Open Studios event.  She was sat at a table near a tree, writing her next manuscript and again we spoke of her memories and her ambitions to put the role of the midwife into the spotlight.  What was most distinct about her manner was that amidst her passion and love of her work, was a total air of gentle modesty.  I don't think she could have even guessed that a whole decade later her books, which were then printed by a small publisher, would become commissioned as a major TV series for the BBC.

Over Christmas, whilst reading the Radio Times, I was sad to discover that Jennifer Worth had died last year, just before filming had started.  In the meantime her work had become a best-selling trilogy.  Indeed, chatting to a trainee midwife friend of mine just the other night revealed how much her books are loved amongst those in the profession today.

I only have her first book, which I bought after her talk.  If that is anything to go by, the series, which starts tonight at 8pm on BBC1, will make viewers laugh as well as cry.

And dare I say, as well as reminding someone like me, how lucky my own birth experience was by comparison, in Jennifer Worth, I think the country has belatedly found itself an inspirational new role model.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Rehearsal Time: Dick Whittington at theTheatre Royal

Last night I had the wonderful privilege of attending the technical rehearsal of Dick Whittington before it opened tonight for the 2011-2012 panto season at Bury St Edmunds' Theatre Royal.

I've never seen a theatrical rehearsal before, unless you consider our Sixth Form school pantomime back in 1985, when I helped at our performance of Cinderella, so last night was indeed a unique opportunity to have a peek behind the scenes.  It was also the only time, as a member of the audience, that I've been allowed to keep my mobile phone on for tweeting and photos.

I soon spotted Colin Blumenau, the director. He was sat in the pit, playing very close attention to the script, while a couple of dozen people were dotted around the theatre, taking official photos, recording the performance or there simply to support the show.  I was in the delightful position of having a box in the dress circle entirely to myself, with one of the best seats in the house to watch the performance

Very soon the lights dimmed and the cast opened the show as they would normally to a packed house mid panto season. Without a houseful of children shouting in their high-pitched voices at the stage, staff and volunteers made up for it with plenty of boos and hisses and all the other traditional audience participation that becomes such festive slapstick.  It was very surreal without the kids but hilarious all the same, so-much-so that it would be such fun if they actually did switch the kids for grown-ups during the traditional sing-song set.

I always love the Theatre Royal pantomimes and the preview of this year's Dick Whittington didn't disappoint. The set and costumes were just fabulous and no-one will fail to be enchanted by the gorgeous twinkly stage during the finale.

The cast was utterly brilliant and I predict that adults and kids alike will particularly love Tommy the cat as well as Sarah the Cook, who made a very fine pantomime dame with her very elaborate bosom and equally elaborate delivery of a Winston Churchill speech.

Even though it was a technical rehearsal, it felt that it was definitely opening-ready and the highlights for me were in particular a very naughty Jamie Oliver joke, the beautiful rendition of Adele's "Someone like you" and the magical fluorescent set that accompanies "under the sea".

Last night was fun and it was great to see how the theatre is engaging with bloggers in this way and trusting users of social-media into the inner-sanctum of rehearsals, a space normally reserved for staff and volunteers.  Of course, it's great for raising awareness of the production and creates discussion on Twitter.  And so it should!  Even Sarah the Cook, aka @ does it during costume changes.

I really am in love with panto and think this production is as wonderful an addition to the theatre's repertoire as ever they have been!

"Oh, yes I do!"

And one day, when I am older, I would love to be a pantomime dame too, but only when I'm a big girl and all grown up!


Dick Whittington and his Cat will be at the Theatre Royal in Bury St Edmunds until Sunday 15 January.  More information can be found at

For regular updates on Twitter, follow @TheatreRoyalBSE, the Dame @
or the hashtag #dickwhittingtonbse.

Sunday, 11 September 2011


On 11th September 2001 I caught the train to London in a weary state.  I was pregnant with my first baby and at 32 weeks under the advice of my doctor, I had only a few more days to go before starting maternity leave.  I was excited and daunted at the same time.

The day started like any other, joining the busy commuter train at Hemel Hempstead and travelling to Euston in a carriage where people minded their own business, either reading books or newspapers, getting on with their work or simply peering out the window. There was no chatter, just independent stillness..

From Euston station I caught the tube to Waterloo, and took a five minute walk to my office. I don't recall what happened during the morning.  It was nondescript, just another morning of juggling the regular duties of the job, together with preparing to hand over my responsibilities as research manager in a digital rights management consultancy.

But everything changed that lunchtime.

I'd met an acquaintance for a farewell lunch at a Chinese restaurant behind Waterloo Station. Her name was Sarah and she was a librarian at Christian Aid.  I don't know where she is now, but I'll never forget that it was her who I was with, when we first saw the pictures of the plane striking the first tower on Sky News, while we were paying for our lunch.

We stopped in our tracks and stared,  lost for words, at the scene we'd just witnessed and full of disbelief at the disaster that was playing out on the screen.

When I returned to the office, there was panic. One of our consultants had been scheduled to fly to the States that morning, and another was flying home.  We couldn't reach them and it was only when the office manager confirmed that their flights weren't scheduled at that tragic time, did that personal tension start to lighten.  However, nothing could remove that image of the plane flying into the tower and the hope that people were being moved to safety. 

Nobody could work, we just refreshed our Internet browsers for more news.

It was then we discovered that a second plane had hit the second tower.

From the ashes of a perceived tragic accident rose a sudden fear that this was now a deliberate act of terror.

Time stopped. 

Then my phone beeped.  It was my friend Alexa, telling me the news and to get out of London there and then.  She was a good friend, who cared.

Our Chief Executive had pretty much the same idea.  The news that we'd heard was hard to comprehend.  Two planes, two towers.  If this has been a terrorist attack, would London be next? 

We were now living in a world where anything was possible.

I can't remember what time I left the building, but I recall an urge to avoid the underground and grab a cab instead.

A cabbie stopped, but said he was off home and was only able to drop en route.  Thankfully his route took him past Euston Station.  He too was getting out of town, along with tens of thousands of commuters.  He told me how he'd come from the City, where he'd seen droves of workers leaving early in reaction.

At Euston, I headed straight for the train, aiming to pick up an Evening Standard on the way to the platform.  The guy had sold out.  When I got to the train it was full.  I returned to the main concourse deciding to wait for the next train, and watched as a new batch of newspapers arrived.   I picked one up and boarded the next train.

Like the journey that had brought me into work that morning, there was no chatter, just again a carriage of independent stillness.  However, no one was reading books or getting on with their work.  Instead, arms were spread holding papers carrying photos of the disaster that had been unfolding thousands of miles away.

I arrived home feeling sick, but with an urge to know more, spending the evening glued to the TV.  The events that followed with the Pentagon incident and the plane that was brought down by its passenger compounded the shock even more.

That evening I wept.  Our world had changed and a terror now reigned, with invisible perpetrators.  I cried for all those who had been killed and injured, who looked fear in the eye, and for all the relatives and friends who had lost those that they loved. 

I also cried for the baby I could feel kicking inside me.  I couldn't bear the idea of he or she being born into this new world.

But he was born, less than three weeks later and in less than three weeks time, he will be ten year's old.  He's lived a life that so many people had lost.

That day on September 11, is going to be etched on my memory forever.  Along with millions of others around the world, I will always remember where I was and who I was with.  It was a horror that changed the world and it should never be forgotten.

There are other horrors that still continue to play out each day.  I can't tell you where I was for each and every one of those, because they go unreported, or are just another event that adds to those that have happened before and they become invisible to our conciousness.

As I remember those who lost their lives on that horrific day ten years ago, I also shed tears for all the other innocents too who've suffered around the world and pray that hope can one day overcome evil for one and all.

September 11 and all those who suffered.  You will never be forgotten.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Cybermummy 2011: thoughts on blogging...and hair

Yesterday I had the privilege of speaking at the latest Cybermummy conference, a key social-media event that attracted over 400 parent bloggers from the UK as well as some who flew in especially for the event from far flung corners around the world.

It was a great opportunity to catch up with old friends, many of whom I realise I have now known  for over four years.  It was also a chance to meet lots of new faces too, a treasured moment for someone like me, whose amount of personal time spent blogging has ironically diminished gradually year-on-year since I started in 1997.

When I began blogging, for me it was all about fun.  It was a hobby that combined a need for self-expression, sharing experiences, having a giggle about my family, my misadventures and reaching out to a community of new friends.  I certainly come from that quarter who considered blogging to be cheap therapy.

Then along came that rubbish challenge, and gawd knows how I got from there to here, but somehow blogging got repositioned.  Instead of daily updates it became a repository for heavily-edited highlights, while other activities took over elsewhere.

Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love all the other stuff I do and it's brought fantastic opportunities.
So as a blogger, I really, really, really can't complain!  However, yesterday highlighted just how much I miss the regular connections hat I used to have with my favourite blogs and the opportunity to be inspired by their stories. 

This is why it was so brilliant to be part of this year's Cybermummy.  The key highlight for me was to catch up with old friends and meet new bloggers. There were also so many people there whom I didn't get to meet but dearly wanted to, and am now waving from my little corner of Suffolk in hope that there will be another occasion to do so, even if I have to wait another year.

Moving onto more formal matters, I also really enjoyed listening to Sarah Brown, who helped launch the event with her keynote speech, giving credit to blogging as a means of helping to drive change.  This theme was reinforced later in the programme by activist bloggers, Sian To, Rosie Scribble and Josie George, who along with Save the Children's Liz Scarff, highlighted the vital role that bloggers have in raising awareness of life-changing campaigns, such as the successful Blogladesh and Pampers Unicef projects that were promoted last year.

When it comes to blogging, it really is an activity that can be life-changing in many ways, whether you're fighting passionately for an important issue, connecting with a community of new friends, developing your creativity or supporting your new business venture.

Bloggers can make you laugh as well as cry.  Some can inspire you to try something new.  Others help you think differently about something that you've always taken for granted.  Some bloggers touch a raw nerve, while others have the ability to help heal wounds. Delving into blogposts is like having a real-time library in your living room, that's full of drama, tragedy, comedy, practical tips and inspiration.

And this is why the closing section of Cybermummy is fast becoming a personal highlight of mine, packed with  crowdsourced blogposts that are read by the bloggers themselves, swinging the audience between tearjerking tales in one moment to stories that bring tears of laughter the next.  It's really hard to pick out specific blogposts from yesterday's session as they were all brilliant,  but the ones that moved me most were those that represented the extremes of emotion, including Nickie from Typecast's story of her baby daughter being diagnosed with cancer and the personal journey through her illness and remission. I really don't think there was a dry eye anywhere and even now as I recount the day, it's hard not to get emotional again.  Elsewhere, it was also great to hear Fi's (Childcare is fun) unusual story about her Twitter birth and the reaction from the press, who misreported the big event with a bucketload of wrong assumptions.  And as for Emily's (More than just a mother) dilemma of how to recycle a vibrator, that was hysterically funny on more than one occasion.

My own contribution to the event was sharing ideas during the Marketing your blog workshop, based on my experience of marketing my Rubbish Diet blog offline. Oh my word, doesn't that sound dry by comparison.  For anyone who may have missed that, it was about engaging with community magazines, promoting your work on local radio, pitching your ideas as a speaker for the WI and other local or national industry related events.   I just hope it made sense and that my nerves didn't get the better of me.  I must admit, not being able to find my presentation on the Cybermummy 1 laptop threw me off guard, as did the positioning of the lighting, which meant I couldn't see the audience. I'd never realised how disconcerting it would be talking to a dark room.

But what an incredible day.  Not even the technical hitch, or the train breaking down en route, could have spoiled it and I have such a long list of fantastic memories thanks to everyone I caught up with.

I'd just like to say a huge 'thank you' to the organisers of Cybermummy for having me, both as a blogger and speaker, and to everyone in the audience who listened as part of the 'marketing your blog' session.  I also want to shout 'hello' to all the bloggers who I caught up with through the day and 'sorry' to my pals whom I missed.
And finally, I would like to say a thank you to Kylie from "Not even a bag of sugar" who let me take a photo of her rather notable notebook, which I've used as the photo header of this post.  For me, of all the things you could say about the power of blogging, this captures it in one quick sentence.

As for now, I'm off to pinch myself that I really did share the stage with Sarah Brown, not at the same time of course, but even during the same morning is good enough for me.  And did I really have my hair ju-juued by Michael Douglas? That was unexpected too.  If I had the money, I'd hire that man as my hair stylist every day...yes it's this Michael Douglas, aka the One Show's very own Street Barber...he did wonders to the mop that I'd dragged all the way to London from Suffolk.  Just a shame I didn't get to him sooner.

(More updates about Cybermummy will be posted on my main blog The Rubbish Diet very soon and I promise to add some of the funnier photos I took to the Facebook page for 1000bins)