Saturday, November 26, 2005

November in Rome

Rome in November and you can expect rain - even hailstones!! But it is still a magical city with something to see around every corner. You could try the 'Angels and Demons' tour for something different. This takes you all over the city as well as into St Peters Square.
The food is fabulous, whether you eat at one of the corner cafés or a local restaurant. Then wander back to your lodgings along brightly lit streets with floodlit monuments to wonder at, from beneath your umbrella!

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Fireworks! Posted by Hello

Aled Jones, Operababes and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at RHS Wisley

A Special Evening at RHS Wisley

In June, the Royal Horticultural Society Garden at Wisley holds its Music Festival. It was founded three years ago and has rapidly become the thing to do at the beginning of June. Last year it was a sell out, so this year RHS decided to extend it to four nights. These four nights have a distinct character – the first is a light classical evening in the company of the Welsh tenor and broadcaster Aled Jones, who is joined by Operababes, the glamorous singers from Covent Garden; Victoria Goldsmith, the sensational thirteen year old violinist; and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Then comes the Jazz Night with Georgie Fame and young British jazz stars; The Rat Pack evening; and finally the Sixties Night with the sound of The Sound of the Supremes and the Drifters.
All the evenings looked good, and with a firework finish each night the choice wasn’t easy. Finally we opted for the first night, mainly as that when friends were free to make up our picnic party. We gathered at 17.30; queuing outside for a while before we made our way in and set up our picnic area. We weren’t early enough to be in front of the stage, but we were central to it with a great view of the proceedings. We spread out our rugs, unfolded the chairs and prepared to enjoy ourselves. First it was time to celebrate with some champagne and nibbles. People were still coming in, so when we started we were in a relatively spacious area, but before long, plenty of people had joined us and corks were popping all round. There was champagne to buy from the Hardy’s Wine tent, where they were selling bottles including plastic flutes to drink from – such a good idea. We moved on to our picnic – salads and stuff, all very similar to the folk around us. But there were plenty of people ‘doing dinner’ in the Wisley Restaurant and Cafeteria , which look out towards the stage set against Wisley’s lovely grass border.

At 19.30 our concert began with Gershwin then Aled Jones, who is hugely popular from his presenting on Classic FM and Songs of Praise, entered to great applause. He chatted and sang two Welsh songs, then introduced Operababes, which made the men all sit up! These very glamorous young women singers sang opera duets from Madame Butterfly and La Traviata; and were followed by Victoria Goldsmith. Born in 1991 in St. Petersburg, Victoria has already performed in the USA after attending the Yehudi Menuhin School, Surrey for two and a half years. This evening she performed a lively Carmen Fantasy in an exceedingly professional manner. Back came Aled and Operbabes to round off the first half of the concert.
Unbeknown to most of the audience, a wedding was taking place in a marquee to the side of the stage. Only when Aled alluded to the ceremony going on in this white tent, did we realize what was happening. Apparently, there is this possibility as well as corporate entertainment opportunities for the evenings of the Music Festival. We paid £30 for our tickets, which included the usual free parking at the Garden. Corporate deals range from £150 -£250 plus VAT to include concert tickets and dinner. The organisers stress the availability of one free parking space per 4 persons. It seems quite a mark up unless Sodexho improve on their usual mediocre (in my opinion) catering. But, what a setting for a wedding and all that wonderful music laid on. I wonder if there were further weddings on the other three nights - plenty of dancing to be done later in the week – not to mention fireworks.

The second half of the concert was just as good as the first, and all too soon we were nearing the end of our night out. But, we were to get some of our own singing in before the end. Led by Aled, we launched into a mini ‘last night of the proms’ with Sea songs, Rule Britannia, and Pomp and Circumstance with many participants waving Union Flags! To end it all we had an encore of Jerusalem, which was quickly followed by a wonderful firework display as our stars disappeared into the night. What a great time we all had.
Then we had all to get out of the Gardens and the car park! But, contrary to what you may think, we were well on our way within 20 minutes of the end. RHS must be congratulated on the superb organisation, which managed a swift and safe end to a great evening.
If you think you would enjoy this event in future, I advise you to book early, as I’m sure it will continue to be a success and a sell out as it becomes a ‘must do’ annually in June.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Minerva at Chichester Theatres Posted by Hello

Chichester Cathedral Posted by Hello

Chichester and its Festival of Theatre!

We went on a visit to Chichester. Now, this is one of England’s really old places with archaeological sites dating way back into pre-history at Boxgrove; and the spectacular palace of Togidubnus at Fishbourne dating from Roman times, not to mention the distinctly Roman lay out of Chichester’s present day street plan. Chichester also boasts an almost 1000 year old Cathedral, completed under Bishop Luffa in time for its consecration to the Holy Trinity in 1108. It is also famous for its modern art which was commissioned mainly during the late 20th century; including a window by Marc Chagall, a tapestry by John Piper and a painting by Graham Sutherland. Another, older monument is the fourteenth century table tomb on which lie the effigies of Richard Fitzalan Earl of Arundel, and his second wife Eleanor holding hands. This is the tomb which inspired the poet Philip Larkin to write his poem, ‘An Arundel Tomb’. Just as you enter the Cathedral and to the right is the Font. I particular like this piece from 1983, which is made from polished polyphant stone and beaten copper by John Skelton. On the wall beside it is a candle sconce, which was made as the model for the font.
After our visit to the town, we walked back up the bustling pedestrian shopping street towards the Festival Theatre. Here we were heading for an early dinner before attending the evening performance at the theatre. The Chichester Festival has become a world renowned Summer Festival running from April to September, which includes a themed season of plays from the classical to the contemporary, performed in the Festival and Minerva Theatres. There are also out-of-theatre events such as comedy and cabaret nights, open air performances, family days, talks and more. This year their theme is ‘Con Art’ and includes - well, why not visit their website to find out for yourself –
We took our seats in the Chic Café; and alongside us were several famous actors. We guessed they were there to see David Warner in King Lear, which was to be performed in the Minerva Theatre that evening. We also glimpsed Dame Judy Dench on her way into the theatre – an actor whom we admire greatly. After a delicious buffet dinner and a glass or two of wine, we walked across the courtyard to the Festival Theatre, the larger of the two, to find our seats for the performance of ‘How to Succeed in Business. . . .’. Every seat in this theatre is a good seat, as the architect, Philip Powell, has created a wonderful place in which to perform. Chichester Festival Theatre was founded by Leslie Evershed-Martin CBE, a local man who was inspired by Canada's Stratford Ontario Shakespeare Memorial Theatre. The Festival Theatre opened to great acclaim in 1962. In that year, Sir Laurence Olivier was named director of the new National Theatre at the Old Vic, and until 1965 Chichester effectively provided the nucleus of his National Theatre Company. Subsequently the smaller and more intimate Minerva Theatre was built in 1989.
The performance began at 19.30, and from the outset we knew we were in for something special. The set was amazing – just a minimum of structure, which moved around to frame the various locations. It was set in the early sixties, with the girls in cute pastel dresses and the men in suits. Our star is Joe McFadden, whom we remember from his role in the BBC’s ‘The Crow Road’. The Big Boss is played by James Bolam, whose list of credits is endless. But the whole cast needs to be congratulated for making the evening such a pleasure. The show was exceedingly enjoyable in every respect.
All too soon it was time for us to drive home – about an hour and a half. We had had a great day out and are looking forward to subsequent visits to Chichester and its famous festival in the near future.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Gold Medal Garden - Fleming's Float Posted by Hello

A day at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show

CHELSEA FLOWER SHOW - a volunteer’s story.
5.30 – the alarm goes off and I switch it off hurriedly so as not to disturb Alan. I scramble out of bed and stagger bleary eyed to the bathroom. Showered, hair washed and made up; I don the summery clothes I have decided to wear today. It’s a special day, as I am volunteering for the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) at the first day of the Chelsea Flower Show. As my duty starts at 8am, I am due to catch the 6.30am train and am hoping there will be no delays. I should report in fifteen minutes before the gates open to the visitors at 8am and as I would like to get a peaceful look at some of the gardens before the crowds arrive, I am aiming to get to Chelsea Hospital early.
It’s 7.25am when I walk through the Exhibitors entrance ahead of the already queuing visitors, having been through security. I report in to the RHS stand on Northern Road and then I have about twenty minutes to see some of the show. This is a wonderful time as there is a quiet anticipation all around the show. The stewards from the RHS are walking round with the medal certificates – what has been awarded to which gardens; will the garden designers be ecstatic or desolate; will the plant nurseries have their year’s work rewarded. I just happen to be looking at ‘Fleming’s Float’, one of the show gardens, when Jenny Bond arrives with a BBC cameraman in tow. The two RHS stewards are walking down the path and the garden designer is just arriving at the garden. Jenny Bond thrusts the microphone into his face asking what medal does he think he has won – and then the stewards are handing over the certificate and it’s a Gold. He hugs Ms Bond and its all captured for the viewers.
All too soon I have to be back at the RHS stand to start ‘work’. The volunteers do stints of two hours. But, you may be wondering, what are we doing? The RHS is the UK’s leading gardening charity, believing that horticulture and gardening enrich people’s lives. It aims to enhance understanding and appreciation of cultivated plants and to provide contact with the natural world. The support of its members is vital to its fulfilling its charitable work and this is why the volunteers are on duty at all the shows and the RHS gardens, to encourage visitors who are not members to join up. It’s great fun and as a volunteer you get to talk to lots of different people from all over the UK and also from overseas.
Earlier in the year all the volunteers have spent a morning at Vincent Square (RHS headquarters) learning what it’s all about. We hope people will join by direct debit which saves the charity lots of time and money in administration, so we have to understand how to fill in the form and all the pitfalls concerning different types of bank cards. There is usually an incentive to join in this way and we learn how to present this to potential customers. It is also a great opportunity to meet other volunteers with whom you may be working. And its not only Chelsea Flower Show (the world’s greatest) that needs membership volunteers; there are also the monthly London Flower Shows at the Horticultural Halls from September to April; Hampton Court Palace Flower Show (the world’s largest); and the RHS Flower Show at Tatton Park. You can volunteer for half a day or several days over the time of each show, and your reward is a pair of free tickets to the show.
I really enjoyed my day, and I was so pleased to hear that we had all but signed up our target number of new members. It was fun explaining the benefits of membership of the RHS to many people, who don’t always realize that there is free entry to the four RHS gardens for members and one guest; free entry to over 120 other gardens; free access to advice, plant selector, libraries, a monthly magazine; not to mention free entry to the London Shows and reduced entry fees for the other shows. Living in the London area means you have easy access to Wisley Gardens which are beautifully presented with special interest areas through out the year. RHS is presently building a new glasshouse which will incorporate not only various climate zones, but also an education centre in keeping with its aim to bring understanding and appreciation of cultivated plants to a diverse audience of all ages. This is being built with funds from major donors and members, as RHS receives no government funding. The membership fees bring in less than half the funds necessary for the RHS’s charitable work.
I arrived home at 8.30pm – tired, but I had had a lovely day. I did some hard work – standing most of the time; but in the breaks I got to see most of the show as well as visiting the exhibitor’s marquee for coffee and sandwiches. Some volunteers even take breakfast and a hot lunch there, avoiding the crowded restaurants and cafes around the show. I was tempted to buy a few small things, and larger stuff can be stored at the show plant crèche for a small fee. It was great day out.
If you would be interested in joining the RHS contact: Development Office, Royal Horticultural Society, Freepost LON 10725, London SW1P 2BR or log on to To volunteer, contact Ms Elysa Rule, Marketing Dept., 80 Vincent Square, London SW1P 2PE.