Rosemary for Remembrance

I realised last week when I was in Stratford that it was exactly 50 years since my father died, and 25 (almost to the day) since I lost my mum.

Because Dad was in the RAF, the grave is at Henlow Camp in Bedfordshire, in a very beautiful churchyard. There isn’t much you’re allowed to do with it because it’s an RAF grave, but back in 2001 I went down with the kids and my DH and had a memorial tablet dedicated to my mother added (her ashes were interred there in 1983).

From where we live it’s not a very straightforward journey so I don’t go back there often. I thought, given the anniversary, I would make the effort. This involved renting a car for the first time in my life, because the only way you can get from Stratford to Henlow on public transport is a complicated journey involving London. I’m sure most of my flisties rent cars all the time and think nothing of it, but my determination to make the trip only just outweighed my anxiety – would I get lost? Would the M1 be involved (it was, but I’m still here)? Would I crash and have horrendous insurance issues to unravel?

Ah well, I felt I owed it to my parents so I went ahead and in fact everything went pretty smoothly. I probably didn’t find the most straightforward route but I got there. On the way I bought a rosemary bush from the National Herb Centre near Banbury. I reached Henlow around 2.35pm on a glorious sunny afternoon. I found the grave and cleaned off Mum’s tablet, which had disappeared beneath grass and weeds. Then I planted the rosemary bush and left a photograph and a card with a line from "Hamlet" – "There’s rosemary for remembrance, pray you,  love, remember."

And that was it. The whole thing had taken about fifteen minutes and there I was standing at my parents’ grave wondering what to do next. Three hours there, much the same back, but I felt better for having done it. Not only because of the anniversary but because I’m contemplating one of the biggest life changes for years, no less than starting a further degree and dividing my time between Manchester and Stratford.

I made another decision. My first name, which I’ve never used, is in fact Miranda. It was given to me in memory of my father, who loved Miranda’s intelligence and wanted her qualities in his daughter, the child he never knew he’d fathered. None of my fairly solidly lower middle class Lancashire family could handle the name, and my mother backed down and I was known by my middle name instead. It’s hardly practical to change everything now with the family and friends I have here. But in Stratford, why not claim the name given to me by both my father and, less directly, the Bard himself?

So in Stratford I shall be Miranda Waterton, which is a very Shakespearian name since there’s a Lord Waterton mentioned among Bolingbroke’s followers in Richard II.


Don’t you think he looks tired?

Just in case anyone was wondering, there is a good reason why Berowne is in blue in LLL. The RSC stage is black and very reflective. If you can just imagine the effect on the average impressionable female of very sexy young men in Elizabethan pantaloons and tights on said surface…well, you’ll understand why the other three noble Lords are attired in white and Berowne….isn’t.

The RSC just don’t have the staff to cope with a mass fangasm safely. There are some nice posters of Hamlet up in the Circle Bar now. I wish they’d had the new LLL poster in the shop – I’d have picked up one or two, I think.

To be honest I’m still amazed by how lucky I was to get a ticket. I hadn’t booked. I literally walked in off the street on Friday at around 5 pm and asked what was available. I ended up in the gallery but that’s okay – I saw it, that’s the main thing.

I’ve seen the play before at the Globe and it’s not the most accessible of Shakespeare’s. There’s not much story to it but Berowne gets a couple of glorious speeches about love. It’s theme, if there is one, is the contrast between the dance of courtship and the reality of having a relationship with somebody, and there’s a shock ending which throws this into stark relief. Berowne has an answer for everything all the way through, but ultimately he’s wrong footed and has to adjust to not always getting what he wants – at least, not right away. As you can imagine, Tennant plays this to perfection.

Everything the RSC does is very much an ensemble and it seemed to me that Tennant took a while to blend in with a company again, but he’s got there now in a way he hadn’t when I saw Hamlet.. Admittedly that was two months ago, and also LLL is more of an ensemble piece. I also thought he looked a good bit older and more tired than he does on TV. It must be quite a punishing schedule, particularly when it’s two performances a day. I know it’s the same for everyone but they’re big parts and he has the fans at the stage door as well.

It’s nice that he gets to use the Scottish accent. And there’s a lot of climbing and jumping out of trees, and somehow his clothes always end up a little rumpled, not that I’m complaining, of course…

Hey Nonny Nonny!

In two days’ time, I’ll be on my way back to Stratford! I’m just recovering from a horrible chesty cold, and it’s a relief to have that out of the way. Also, for those aware of the situation, my son seems better at last. Partly due to the change in the weather. The rest of us may hate rainy days, but crisp dry autumn weather does awful things to his dry skin. He’s actually got himself into school on time every day for the last week or so, and for Tom that’s pretty amazing.

Anyway, back to Stratford. I arrive at lunchtime on Thursday and go straight to the Shakespeare Institute weekly seminar, which is about Hamlet, for a general meet and greet. I’ve been doing my homework and finding out what all the research students are into – it’s a small set-up and I might actually get to meet one or two, and there’s no better way to hit things off than to ask an intelligent question about a postgrad’s work. But mainly I hope to research the different ways modules are delivered and have an informed talk about ways forward.

The big question is whether to go for a part-time, DL type course, or to wait until John’s semi-retired, the kids are a bit  more independent, and I can move to Stratford for a few days a week at least, and do it properly. I would much rather go for the total cultural immersion than try to run it in tandem with my family life here, but the down side of that is if you plan too far ahead life has a way of biting you in the ass and the mythical perfect moment to do these things might never come. A  mother can always come up  with plausible reasons why the family needs her.

Certainly, as far as my son goes I’d like to see him over his health problems and settled at a reasonable university before I leave for pastures new, even part-time. To some extent that’s out of my control  but I don’t think I could apply myself to such a major lifestyle challenge if worries about his future were still at the back of my mind.

Anyway, back to the coming trip. After Thursday my diary’s clear – I won’t come home because I’m going to the Cheltenham Literature Festival on the Sunday, where I’ll be seeing RTD and John Barrowman. So I’ll have two wonderful days at leisure in SoA and at the moment the only definite plan is to hang around the Courtyard Theatre until they get sick of me and let me buy a ticket to Love’s Labour’s Lost. Since my trip spans four performances I think I’d have to be very unlucky not to get in at all.

Woot! I’ll let y’all know how things go.

If You Can Dream, and not make dreams your master…

I mentioned a few days ago that I was off to the Cheltenham Lit Fest to hear RTD and John Barrowman. In fact, there’s rather more to the trip than a bit of fangirling.

I’ve been thinking of returning to some kind of postgraduate study for a good few years now. It’s a bit of a daunting prospect since I graduated back in 1981 and haven’t done much in the way of formal learning since. I’m the kind of person who gets wild notions and then they tend to wear themselves out and I move on. However, there is something seriously like a plan coalescing now in my mind.

I’m an English grad, and like many Eng Lit grads I was overexposed to Shakespeare in my teens and twenties, and eventually reacted against it. That began to shift after I saw “The Shakespeare Code” and it led to visiting the Globe last summer for a performance of Love’s Labour’s Lost. I found it thrilling to see a Shakespeare play in its contemporary staging and it fired me up to start reading about The Bard again. James Shapiro’s book “1599” riveted me with its lively portrait of that particular year of Shakespeare’s life (the one where he probably wrote “Hamlet” in fact) in its political context.

Then, around 4 weeks ago, came Stratford and “Hamlet”. I was indeed riveted by DT’s performance, that’s why I went. More surprisingly, I felt I’d come back to my spiritual and intellectual home. I realised how much of my life and my creativity has been shaped by an abiding love of Shakespeare’s work and it was very, very hard to leave. I’d gone because I love an actor. I left loving a town.

And suddenly the penny dropped. I want to study Shakespeare. So I looked at courses and discovered The Shakespeare Institute, affiliated to the University of Birmingham, and their wonderful collection of MA courses. They offer part-time and full-time options and they are based in Stratford.

This is what I want to do. Since then, I’ve enrolled on a course in Restoration Drama at Manchester Uni, where I’ll be studying “Hamlet” and three contemporary plays in depth, plus a day school in “Macbeth and Richard II – the Politics of Power”. I’ve been out of study for so long, I need to build up to it again.

When I booked the Cheltenham Lit Fest gig, I realised I’d be geographically close to Stratford so it would be fun to see if I can pick up a return ticket for Love’s Labour’s Lost. What took rather more courage was to approach the Institute and ask if I might visit. Anyway, it now looks as though I’ll be dropping in on one of their seminars and talking informally to them on 10th October.

I feel like a new chapter in my life is beginning and I can’t deny I’m rather excited. And in some ways, I have David Tennant to thank for it, because it started with “TSC”.

I’ll let you all know how I get on.