Tuesday, September 01, 2015

In the Box

I guess this is one way to see Edinburgh!

Well, that's now September 1, and the city begins to return to normality after the various festivals. My 'let's have a day out and see a couple of Fringe shows' turned into rather more than that - some seven days were spent on outings to the big city last month. I had great fun, and quite different from the rather sedate existence I usually have in my retirement here at Skip.

Wandering the streets with my camera was interesting. I might well have gone to this show being promoted on the Royal Mile, but it clashed with a slot in my day that was already taken!

And that's the problem, of course. There's just so much going on.
The variety of shows on offer is huge. It's all very well to be selective, but if one only goes to things that one likes, then there's no opportunity for different experiences. For most of my days, I picked one show that I was pretty sure I would enjoy. Then I would look for something a bit different, and then another, picked pretty much at random. Three shows a day was just about right for me, with often a gallery or exhibition added as well.

I've mentioned the flyers already (see here), and this 'notice board' for leaflets had become more of a modern artwork by the time I found it with my camera!

Of course, everyone likes a free show.

Be-dom (Drums + Interactive + Fun) were very persuasive in their free fifteen minutes of so, but for me, nothing beats the drums of Japan. And the four taiko performances I saw were all first class (here).

Now, I'm not really in the business of doing reviews. On Skip Cottage, as you know, I usually just blog about things that I like. But, after paying to attend some 22 performances, how would I rate my Edinburgh days?

Well, some experiences were not very good. One such was being unable to attend an exhibition (Photography: A Victorian Sensation) put on by the National Museums of Scotland, cancelled because of 'industrial action', see here. What a great advert for Scotland. (Calm down, Bob, watch that blood pressure!)

I saw a couple of musical theatre productions that were pretty poor - I'll not say which ones they were as those involved did try hard.

In the International Festival, I saw the Zurich Ballet at the Playhouse. Very good, glad I went. I've been a big dance fan over the years, but it takes something a bit special for me to rave about it these days, and the production didn't quite get my top marks. Enthusiastic audience though on the final night.

Took the car up for that, otherwise the First TransPennine Express did the hard work - the only downside is that the last train for Lockerbie leaves Waverley at 20.15. Still, at my age, early nights are probably a good thing.

I enjoyed a couple of a cappella performances.

In the 'really enjoyed' category were Siro-A, a Japanese group 'exploding the barriers between dance, technology and music'. ZIK'R was flamenco with a big twist, just fabulous. 'Itara' by Danza del Caribe, Cuba's top modern dance company, was quite different, and a great finish to my various perambulations around the town.

In the category of 'unexpectedly brilliant', I would have to put Gandini Juggling's '4x4 Ephemeral Architectures' as my surprise of the month. Four ballet dancers, four jugglers and a string quintet. My initial thoughts when I bought my ticket was that this would be just a bit of fun, but I found myself in a full theatre. I should have read the reviews! You can get a taster here. Wonderful, wonderful.

So good, this show even pushed Dolly into third place on my list. 'Towards Dolly: A Century of Animal Genetics in Edinburgh' was a free exhibition in the University Library. Not for everyone, I admit.

So what's in first place on my list?

The Assembly Box was an 'interesting' venue. Simple, intimate. I've already explained why I went to see 'One Day When We Were Young', see here, and how much I enjoyed the experience. Nothing topped this show in the days that followed.

I thought it would be fun to go and see the final performance yesterday. And indeed it was. They do say some things are even better second time around!

So 'One Day When We Were Young' gets the Skip Cottage award for providing old Bob with a life-enhancing experience. Top of the list.

Well done to those involved. L-R Louisa Proske (Director), Jamie Sims (Technical Director), Stacy Lynn Gould (Assistant Director), Valorie Curry (Best Actress in a Leading Role), Sam Underwood (Best Actor in a Leading Role). Lovely people. Talented all, for sure. I wish them well in their future careers.

(PS If you liked Valorie and Sam in 'One Day When We Were Young', check them out in a short film by Jamie Sims, who's in the photo above, called 'Bus Stop', here.)  

Haven't had a caption competition for some time. How about:
"Spot the actors."
"Are you happy 'One Day' has come to the end of its run?"
Other captions are available.

I have a feeling that September is going to be somewhat mundane after all my Fringe adventures.

Still, I see the curling season is already underway!

Photos © Skip Cottage

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

One Day When We Were Young

I was not intending to blog any more about my various 'adventures' at the Edinburgh festivals. But, with Skip garden now an embarrassment from lack of attention because of the summer we've had, my steam cravings satisfied for now, and more walks awaiting a dry day or so, perhaps another Edinburgh story might be in order.

It began as I was heading to see one of my taiko performances. As Fringe regulars will know, when heading anywhere around the centre of the city, one 'collects' leaflets promoting a variety of shows. One accumulates a pile of flyers, unfortunately most destined for the bin at the end of the day.

I noticed a young couple dancing in the street up by the George Square venues. A flyer duly appeared as I made to take a photo or two.

The leaflet described 'One Day When We Were Young', a play by Nick Payne: "The story of two people as their paths cross throughout the years, changing both their lives irrevocably. In this heartbreaking time-shifting journey of would-be romance, we track the meetings of Violet and Leonard in three parts, from the hope of youth at the height of WW2, to the loneliness and hindsight of old age."

Now, call me a hopeless romantic, but that sounded like something I would go and see. For one thing, I wondered how the two young actors would meet the challenge of the 'old age' bit!

I couldn't go that day, but I kept hold of the performance details.

More visits to Edinburgh, and I went to a number of performances of various things that my life is none the better for. However, I did see Dolly the sheep, suitably stuffed, in an small exhibition in the University Library, and aside from the drums, that had been on the top of the list of enjoyable experiences.

The flyer for 'One Day When We Were Young' was still in my bag, albeit a bit battered. That's it above! It kept reminding me that, if I went up to Edinburgh again, I should go and see this play. So, yesterday, I found myself with a ticket, and was first in the queue at the Box, one of the Assembly George Square, venues.

I then saw a theatre performance that dug a knife through my own life's emotional memories, and left me with a lump in my throat. You know you've had an 'experience' when you have to go on a bit of a walk afterwards to get yourself together. It's what theatre should be, I do believe. I haven't been as affected by a play since 'I Saw the Swede' (about Raul Wallenberg) many years ago.

Nick Payne has written a good script for 'One Day When We Were Young', but it is the two actors which made the play special. Valorie Curry and Sam Underwood are extremely talented, and totally committed to their parts. Enthusiastic and passionate. They were good. No, they were brilliant!

Watching the play from the perspective of an 'older person' - and having just celebrated another birthday, I'm feeling every year that has passed - there were too many reminders of my own life woven into the narrative. I smiled at the mention of the first Wimpy Bar, the Bournville chocolate, and the short clip of Cliff Richard singing 'The Young Ones' - you see, Cliff and the Shadows was the first live 'gig' I ever attended. I was all of fourteen. I remember when my mum got her first washing machine too.

I'd better not say more about the play, or I'll have to give a 'spoiler alert'. Needless to say, Valorie and Sam met the challenge of playing Violet and Leonard in their later years just brilliantly. Clever stuff - I was so impressed.

And there's a twist ... and I don't mean the sparklers.

Great theatre. Well staged. Wonderful actors. Ten out of ten!

Read about the Fundamental Theater Project here.

If you can get a ticket, in the few days this show has left to run, do go. Like me, your life will be enriched for the experience. Assembly George Square, 13.45, until August 31.

And just in case any younger friends are reading this and don't get the Cliff Richard reference, here's a reminder. Innocent times!

Thought for today, 'Life is not a rehearsal'.

Photos © Skip Cottage

Friday, August 21, 2015

Fringe Days

I recall the years when I would spend a week or more in Edinburgh at various performances around the Festival and Fringe. These days I like to think I'm a bit more selective in what I spend my money on. And, of course, Skip Cottage is not as close to the big city as, sometimes, I would like.

This year, I've treated myself to a few days of 'culture'. Some of that has been searching out various taiko performances, see here. But I've also had a taste of theatre, recitals, dance, and musical theatre too, mostly picked at random. Some performances have been good, others ... well, let's just say that there are times when you come out and say to yourself, "That's an hour of my life I'll never get back." But that's the Fringe, of course.

In contrast, ALL my Japanese drum experiences this year have been exceptional. It's probably my scientific genes that have encouraged me to compare and contrast. I have enjoyed four different groups. All good, in different ways.

First of all, there was Terindaiko Seed's 'Advancement', at C, Venue 34, on Chambers Street, until Tuesday 25th, at 14.00. Full of enthusiasm and excitement.

Samurai Drum IKKI are at the space©Symposium Hall, Hill Square, Venue 43, at 17.10, but only until this Sunday (the 23rd). Technical brilliance. I went to see them twice, as I couldn't really believe what I'd seen and heard first time around!

Japan Marvellous Drummers are at the Assembly George Square Theatre, Venue 8, at 13.00 every day until the end of the month. A well travelled and accomplished company. Great drumming, and much more. There's humour, and if you would like to hear 'Scotland the Brave' played on a Japanese flute, this performance will make you smile.

The fourth group I saw was Japanese Drum Hibiki with 'Messages from Japan / Super-cussion'. Just four performers, with something really different. They are also at the space©Symposium Hall, Hill Square, Venue 43, at 18.20, until the 29th. If you have 50 minutes or so to spare next week, then this performance would be my recommendation. Hibiki are first timers at the Fringe and haven't, as yet, been getting big audiences. But they are great. The emphasis is on the traditional. They perform a new work, a Requiem for the 2011 disaster in Eastern Japan.

So, how much does it cost to bring the big drum - the Odaiko - all the way to Edinburgh? Sometimes this is played with a drumstick that looks more like a baseball bat, by the most muscular member of a taiko group. But in this modern world of equality, Edinburgh can now see a small Japanese lass pounding the 'big drum'. Impressive! You have to see it.

Fifty minutes you won't regret. Hai. Saiko desu!

PS Added later. Yes, I did go and see Hibiki again. Somewhat to my embarrassment, I discovered that they had found the review above, but I was recognised and warmly received, both before, and after, the show.

Here is everyone involved, relaxing after another great performance. What lovely people!

Pic © Skip Cottage

Saturday, August 15, 2015

In search of drums

I've been a fan of taiko, Japanese drumming, since I first encountered it in Karuizawa in 1997 at the World Junior Curling Championships. Since then I've seen many performances, with the great Tao my favourite, see here.

I thought it might be fun to seek out the drums of Japan at this year's Fringe, and see if the magic was still alive.

First stop was Venue 34, in the basement theatre of Adam House in Chambers Street, where the University of Edinburgh has a number of examination halls.

I thought it quite kind of one of the venue staff to warn me that the performance was going to be pretty loud. And of course these days, it's nice (?) to be sold a concession ticket without even being asked one's age!

The sign above is probably the understatement of the month!

I had come to see a performance by Tenrindaiko Seed, a young company, average age just 17, from Kasugai City, on their first visit to Edinburgh. You can read about them here.

The performance was called 'Advancement'. Good? Absolutely - five stars from me. How might I describe it. Accomplished, entertaining, energetic, fun, physical, .... taiko at its most powerful. These are the best young drummers in Japan. LOUD. And if you don't like sweat, then don't sit in the front row! At full blast, this is powerful stuff. I loved it.

Standing ovation. The performers came into the aisles at the end to thank the audience for coming along. Nice touch.

And this time, I DID buy the tee shirt!

Now, other Japanese drum performances are available. I did wonder if it was hazardous to health to take in two taiko shows in one day! But I had seen the next group before, and I knew how good they would be. 

So it was to the rather posh Venue 43, the Space©Symposium Hall, a converted church in Hill Square. Samurai Drum IKKI have been in Edinburgh before. Formed in 2002 by Ikki Hino, the group comprises just four performers, the master himself and three female acolytes. But what quality!

The programme included 'Makoto', a solo by Ikki Hino on three Shime Taiko drums. Unbelievable. How does he DO that?

The website is here. You can find YouTube clips of Samurai Drum IKKI here, and here. But watching and listening to taiko on a laptop or computer hardly compares to hearing and experiencing the drums live. 

Which performance did I enjoy more? Impossible to decide. Both excellent in different ways. I would go back and see both again. But there is more taiko to seek out this month in Edinburgh. And I look forward to that.

Photos © Skip Cottage except that of Tenrindaiko Seed on stage, which is from the group's website.

Saturday, August 01, 2015

The Duchess

It is a privilege to be able to get up close to Princess Coronation Class 46233 Duchess of Sutherland.

The locomotive was hauling the Railway Touring Company's 'Cumbrian Mountain Express' today from Liverpool to Carlisle via Settle, and return via Shap. Here it is on arrival at Carlisle.

First class is the way to travel on these railtours, for those who can afford it. Here is Pullman coach 'Sapphire' looking good in a rake of West Coast Railways' and SRPS coaches.

Class 47 No 47760 was on the rear of the train. Here, the Duchess is heading off round the Upperby loop, in readiness for the return journey, while the passengers enjoy a couple of hours in Carlisle.

And here we are facing south on Platform One, brewing up for the departure down the West Coast Main over Shap.

The locomotive would have travelled this route often in its working life. It was built in 1938 by Crewe Works for the London Midland and Scottish Railway. It regularly hauled express passenger services such as ‘The Royal Scot’ between Glasgow Central and London Euston.

The Duchess was retired in 1964, and sold to Butlins. Now, I remember clearly there being a big locomotive outside the Butlins camp at the Heads of Ayr. I wondered if that was Duchess of Sutherland, and if there was a photo of her there.

And an image search pointed me to this site, where I found the photo above, much as I remembered it, although I'm not sure that clear blue skies were ever much in evidence when I travelled that way in the late 1960s! The Duchess remained at Ayr until 1971. Go here to read about all the locomotives save by Billy Butlin.

In 1996, the locomotive was acquired by The Princess Royal Class Locomotive Trust, and, by 2001, was back in operation!

We're off! The sight, the sound, and the smell, were all part of today's 'steam fix'!

Photos © Skip Cottage

Sunday, July 19, 2015


This is an advert from The Graphic of November 18, 1899. It goes on to say, "SUNLIGHT SOAP is undoubtedly THE BEST SOAP in the World for all-round use." It was the product that set William Lever, the son of a Bolton wholesale grocer, on his way to amassing a personal fortune. His first purchase of paintings which could be used to market his bars of soap led to him becoming a great collector. Read about him here.

The Lady Lever Art Gallery in Port Sunlight is a wonderful place. Lever built it to house his extensive collection of art and other items, and named it after his wife, Elizabeth. It was opened in 1922, see here.

It was one of these places that had been on my 'must visit' list for a while, and it was duly ticked off yesterday. But not entirely. So interesting and enjoyable was my day, that I hope I will be able to return, particularly to see the South Galleries which are currently under restoration.

The main hall.

I took advantage of an introductory tour, and I'm so glad I did. This was our 'visitor host' Cliff, who was just brilliant. Full marks to him. He's standing beside 'The Scapegoat' painted by William Holman Hunt in 1854. This painting was purchased by Lever in 1923.

The gallery's paintings can be seen here.

I'm not usually a big fan of old furniture, but Cliff changed that with his explanations of many of the items on show.

Port Sunlight village is a fascinating place, and it was interesting to walk through it. Lever built it as a place for his workers to live. More info here.

Formal gardens are a rarity these days. I enjoyed seeing the large blocks of roses of one variety, with a name label, once a common feature in public parks. I just wanted to get my secateurs out and start dead heading!

One of the most impressive, and moving, war memorials in the UK is this one on Port Sunlight. The full story is here.

I had just one other stop to make on my way home from Port Sunlight ...

When I was last in Birkenhead I visited the transport museum, see here, but on that day no trams were running on the short stretch of track from the museum to the Pier Head. I had better success yesterday. What a sight!

Dating from 1931-2, the history of this tram is here.

Photos © Skip Cottage

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Manchester's MOSI

I had a splendid visit to the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester yesterday.

Manchester is of course 'Cottonopolis' and I enjoyed learning the various stages by which raw cotton is turned into finished cloth. Many of the machines were shown working by a talented guide, or an 'Explainer', as the museum calls these members of staff.

A special exhibition that I wanted to see was the Wellcome Image Awards 2015.

This was just one of twenty award-winning images 'that show the world's biomedical wonders in minute detail'. The explanation is here. As a sometime biochemist, I was blown away by what this represents. The image was created using a technique called computational molecular phenotyping and shows how metabolism can vary between cells in the same organ at a given point in time. Gets my vote!

The Wellcome exhibition was in a room in this building. The Liverpool Road Station was the Manchester terminus of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, the world's first purpose-built passenger and goods railway. The original coach offices (passenger station, above), warehouse and intervening viaduct survive, making this the oldest station in the world! See here.

My favourite part of the museum though, as you will not be surprised, was the Power Hall. This locomotive was built in 1911 for the North Western Railway of India. It pulled express mail trains until 1947. It was then used by Pakistan Railways and latterly converted to be oil-fired. Why is it at MOSI? It was made locally by Vulcan Foundries, Newton-le-Willows.

This is 'Ariadne', an EM2 (Class 77) locomotive, built around 1954 by the British Rail locomotive works at Gorton, Manchester, to haul passenger trains between Manchester and Sheffield in the late 1950s and 60s. It was sold to the Netherlands Railway where it saw use until 1986.

Star exhibit for me was this 'Beyer-Garratt' locomotive, built by Beyer, Peacock and Co, in 1930, at Gorton. No 2352 hauled South African passenger trains out of Durban from 1931 to 1938, and then coal up until 1972. All about Garratts here.

In the cab of the Garratt.

The old and the new, the Beetham Tower in the background. Manchester is quite a city, and I hope to explore more of it another day.

I got stopped in my tracks when I stumbled over this exhibit in the Connecting Manchester gallery, on the second floor of the 1830 Warehouse. It's a 1970s HiFi system, built up from a variety of separate components, as one did back then if you were something of a HiFi snob. That's a Pioneer turntable, and a pair of Wharfedale speakers. Now I owned these (with a Technics amplifier) as my music machine, in the days when one listened to LP vinyl records. The system lasted me well into the 1990s. Antiques now, perhaps, but seeing these items as a museum exhibit made me feel very, very old! Still, in searching for some HiFi nostalgia, I did find the Vintage Knob website, here.

Photos © Skip Cottage