“This royal throne of kings, this sceptered isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea.”
― William Shakespeare
I think of countries in terms of colour.
There is South Africa in it’s vivid yellow, almost orange. Denmark has a cerulean blue to it. Spain owns a fiery red. And ‘England, my England’ possesses an intense lustre of brilliant green.
Some people may disagree about England’s colour. They think of it in terms of grey, saying that it is cloudy and rains all the time. I tend to think of the stretching parks, lofty oak and silver birch trees thrusting into the air, the almost secret passageways of vivid green through which your car passes on country lanes. I am sounding a little over the top about England, I know, but…I arrive in England mid-August.
My joy is enormous!
‘B’ is meeting me at Heathrow. I always thought the term ‘soulmate’ was an over the top way of referring to your best friend. Then I met ‘B’ and realised that the term precisely applied to her. My soulmate and I will then head for our first port of call – the Cotswolds. There we have been loaned this quite beautiful ‘cottage’ belonging to a friend of mine Cassie Bassett (nee Holliday).
I first met Cassie when she was in her final year of school. Her mother, Shelagh Holliday and I were performing together in a production. One Sunday, Shelagh invited the cast to her home for a beautiful lunch. We ate outside under the trees. It was a golden day full of camaraderie, laughter and good food! Cass would transport the food and condiments to us in this old fashioned mini car. I had never seen anything so inordinately trendy! Cassie and I struck up a friendship which has endured for thirty-two years.
Cassie is now living in Oxford with her gorgeous family. This Cotswolds cottage is their get away home. Every year the Bassett’s are kind enough to lend it to me for a couple of days. This year, ‘B’ and I plan to stay there for three days. How I love that place. The house is enchanting, looking out over the most beautiful garden. On the second day, all of our friends arrive. I have known Tammy Bonell Garner for thirty six years! She is just one of the many that will be visiting for lunch. It will be so wonderful catching up with them all once more.
We leave there and head for London. We will be staying with a friend who I have known for thirty years exactly. She came out to South Africa in 1987 to direct Othello. We put it on at the Market Theatre during the apartheid era with a black man, John Kani, playing the lead. Such an Othello had never been performed before in our country. It is an experience that will always be significant to me. We made a film of our production and a portion of me playing Bianca was recently used in an Absa advertisement. Frustratingly, because of my fall, I am unable to remember playing any part onstage before my accident. Recently though, I have been thinking that I am now remembering bits of my Bianca performance. Is this merely me seeing myself playing Bianca in the advertisement and on film and wondering if I am remembering? Or is Bianca returning to me with a sensual sway of her hips and that lovely ululating entrance of mine?
While we are in London we are going to the Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition. Almost 250 years ago, the Royal Academy’s founding members agreed to hold an “Annual Exhibition of Paintings, Sculptures and Designs, open to all Artists”. This was to help finance the training of young artists in the Royal Academy Schools. Today the Keeper of the Royal Academy, Eileen Cooper, is the Academician. She investigates and examines the themes of discovery and new talent. It is her responsibility to coordinate the largest open submission exhibition in the world. There are over 1,200 works of art which are on display from June 13th to August 20th. I love photography and I have already looked at some of the photographs online. They are mind-blowing and I long to see them close up. I haven’t investigated the paintings yet. You need to see the real thing, to literally feel the creator behind them. How I long to be there and stand in ‘a room with a view’!
‘B’ has booked us tickets to see the theatre production of Mama Mia in London. The film begins with the song.
“I have a dream, a song to sing
To help me cope with anything
If you see the wonder of a fairy tale
You can take the future even if you fail
I believe in angels……”
I so love those words!
I have a dream, a fantasy
To help me through reality
And my destination makes it worth the while
Pushing through the darkness still another mile
I believe in angels
Something good in everything I see
I believe in angels
When I know the time is right for me
I’ll cross the stream, I have a dream……
That song in Mama Mia speaks to me in a strange and mysterious way. I have pushed through my own individual darkness. My ‘angels’ have helped me cross the stream. It has been a different stream to the one I anticipated. And I still have so many dreams. I pray my angels keep up their work and help me cross the many steams ahead.
When I became deaf, that was the end of watching theatre for me. I was unable to hear a thing. Then ten years ago, I had my first Cochlear Implant and seven years later I had my second. The wonderful gift of hearing was given back to me! Just recently I saw the incredible production of Funny Girl at The Fugard in Cape Town. What a joyous experience that was! To sit there watching a musical again, feeling ones feet tapping in time and hearing those gorgeous voices soaring effortlessly to fill the theatre with glorious musical harmony.
I have the DVD of Mama Mia and I know and love the music. And yet I still get this old niggle from way back of ‘What if I don’t hear this theatre production?’
But I know that is all it is: an old niggle! Yes, there were the odd lines I missed in Funny Girl. But that is all they were – the odd lines! I haven’t seen a show in London since I was twenty-one. What an unbelievable treat it will be to watch Mama Mia.
‘B’ and I can have a gorgeous fresh fruit juices in Neals Yard. When I was twenty-one, I au paired for a family in Kensington. Saturday was my day off and with a nimble click of my heels, I would head to Neals Yard. There I would meet members of my weekly mime class. We would laugh and chat together about which shows we had managed to get tickets for in Leicester Square. I remember getting a ticket to Glenda Jackson in a three hour show. I remember a friend, Rory, saying: “Three hours! No, you must be mad. No one can hold my attention for three hours!”
Not only did Ms Jackson hold my attention for each one of those 180 minutes, she was totally riveting!
We are going for lunch in Covent Garden. How I love the hustle and bustle of Covent Garden. B and I usually spend some time there, browsing through the various stalls and laughing at the different buskers. Then we will head towards a gorgeous Italian restaurant, Carluccio’s, in Garrick Street.
When I go overseas, I love seeing the buildings and architecture of the individual towns I visit. They make me gasp in awe at their sheer creative magnitude. I must admit though, that it is the people that are the bigger draw card. When I had my accident, I remember thinking: ‘I have a mass of friends now. But in five years time, I will be lucky to have a handful. Who is going to want to be friends with a deaf, spastic person who can’t walk and talk?’
Oh ye of little faith! I learned that people don’t value you for what you can and can’t do. They value the person ‘inside’. I learned that I needed to trust and to give of myself. Stop hiding behind my ‘fall!’ The more you give out, the more you get back. And I have been fortunate enough to maintain all my old friends.
And make new ones!
“Friendship between women is different than friendship between men. …It’s my women friends that keep starch in my spine and without them, I don’t know where I would be.”
So many friends will be there at Carluccio’s. There will be friends from long ago and more recent ones. All people that I love dearly. Recently, I read something about a woman who was getting married and moving to a new country. Her mother said to her: “Angel, my advice to you is, make women friends, lots of women friends!”
“You are giving me that advice on my wedding day? Surely you should be speaking about the husband/wife relationship?” her daughter replied startled.
“That is a relationship between the two of you. I have no say in that. What I am saying is that it is your women friends who will be vitally necessary to you. Cultivate them!”
I am so fortunate in that I have cultivated a large amount of female friends. There will be one male present who makes me laugh. I have a smile dancing on my face at the thought of seeing him again. Indeed at that luncheon, I will have to continually swop places so that I can catch up with each one in turn.
It will be a looooong lunch!!!
After London, ‘B’ and I head up to Nottingham where we will spend two days with her parents, generous, loving people. Then it’s back home to Sheringham and seeing ‘B’s husband, John. I have missed him over the past four months.
At long last, I will be able to unpack and settle into English life!!!
I have been treated to this trip to England. I have been provided with a gift to: Westminster Abbey, St Paul’s, Covent Garden and the Changing of the Guard! Most of all though, I have been treated to…friends! It is friends that highlight places. Many people would love to go travelling but they do not have the finance. But everyone can have friends.
Green, my land of green – England, here I come!
I pulled out my case and began to pack. The words of the old Vera Lynn classic tumbled out of me:
There’ always be an England
And England will be free
If England means as much to you
As England means to me……….