Archive for September, 2007

A huge leap ahead

September 20, 2007

Thursday, September 20th, 2007

Peggy was in the building! Yup. More flowers were delivered to each of us from the diminutive woman with the soft curly head. (Many thanks!)  Ms. Atwood came backstage after the show. And she was pleased. She felt her words had deepened and strengthened in the time since she saw us in Stratford-upon-Avon. Gratifying news. The show has matured so much. Even last night we took a huge leap ahead into the beautiful space of the NAC Theatre. What a gorgeous venue to play. It allows the play to expand. And what a generous audience we had tonight. There was a real meeting between us and them, and ya gotta love that feeling.

It’s hard to describe how plays mature, but I have come to believe the maturing process has to be a part of new play development. So many new plays are given one kick at the can, and if they fail, or even if they succeed with reservation, they are relegated to the heap, never to be seen again. Even plays that are considerable hits can find it hugely difficult to achieve a second run. But I know now from experience here, and from working on The Danish Play by Sonja Mills over a five year period, that plays need to breathe. And if they are allowed to breathe with the original cast they can attain a profound resonance in those actors, in their relationships to the words and to each other, which is ultimately conveyed to the listener. Daniel Brooks said it some years ago in a keynote speech: good theatre needs TIME. 

Sermon over. 

It was one of those days that was hard to remember from start to finish: so much happened. We had a half-hour call to get into costumes for a media call. Pauline is still very ill, and had to go back to the hotel and rest.  After the shoot, we were out of costumes and into the theatre for Rae’s excellent notes. (The fabulous NAC crew picked up all the notes from yesterday, and the show went very smoothly in the technical department.) Then some quick rehearsal of bits on stage, a supper break, and our second preview. 

Along with Ms. Atwood, and an extremely attentive and effusive audience, were Antoni Cimolino and Marti Maraden from The Stratford Shakespearean Festival. It was great of them to make the journey up to Ottawa, and they seemed genuinely pleased to be there.  So the first trickle of exposure to the Canadian theatre community begins. A little nerve making. But also a great opportunity to bring home our fantastic adventure.

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The magic of theatre

September 19, 2007

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A brutally long day today. We start at 9:30am. Pauline has been ill all night and is the colour of concrete. Pippa is also not well. Moj has bounced back and is in good form after a solid night’s sleep.

On we go. It is a relentless and tedious process, re-cueing a show.  The frustrating part is, we need music rehearsals, and if it was just lighting that needed adjustment, we could be working with Mike on music. But Mike is busy at every second because it is his work that is most effected. (Oh poor Mike! On top of everything, his keyboard re-configured itself on the flight, and his entire programming of the show was lost. This has meant painstakingly reprogramming for hours outside of rehearsals. So a big hats off to Mike!)  We get to the end of the play a few minutes before our scheduled meal break. Whew! Pippa has had to leave the rehearsal about halfway through the afternoon, and we worked around her. Hopefully she will rest up, and be alright for tonight.

Peter Hinton, the resident god of the theatre, has been with us through these two days of rehearsal. Rae has certainly been running the ship, but Peter has been there for guidance and support in the absence of Josette. (I forgot to tell you. Josette is rehearsing another play in Sweden, and although she had hoped the play would be in good enough shape to leave for a few days, it simply isn’t, and she has had to leave us in Rae’s capable hands.) Peter gives a little speech to the audience before we begin our preview. The production tables are still in the house, which gives the audience a good idea that things are not completely set and ready. But Peter tells them about the massive adjustments and that we haven’t had a run through yet in this space.

The house lights snap black. We set forth. And we stay afloat. Oh, there are a few glitches as one can only expect. The brains fart when faced with walls and doors in new places! It’s as simple as that. But we tell our story. And the crew is fantastic. Some difficulties with costumes as we knew there would be. It’s not easy in our regular circumstances, let alone with one less dresser. But we make it. And everyone gets on stage wearing some form of the right outfit.

We tell our story! Isn’t that great. And the audience gets it! There are some different responses that with our English audiences, which is a wonderful little cultural reminder. But they follow both Penelope and the Maids, and at the end… god bless them… they get to their feet. If you’ll recall our first preview at the Swan (July 27th!) they did the same thing, even through the melee that was our tech. God bless those first night troopers. The magic of the theatre.

Impressed with the Nation’s Capital

September 18, 2007

 

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

I told you so. Our European counterparts are all very impressed with the Nation’s Capital! How can you not be impressed when we’re having weather like this: this is the summer we missed! Yippee! Twenty-seven degrees, no humidity, and gloriously clear and sunny skies. And the leaves are definitely turning. Although it is still early in the autumn, one spies the occasional crimson maple, a golden bough exploding out of a sea of green, and a dry sense of change.

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Peace Tower in Fall

And in the theatre things are not much different. The Theatre at the NAC is a substantially different container than both the Swan and the Northern Stage. Where the Swan is like an atrium, and the Northern Stage is like an auditorium, the Theatre is a big bowl. Our actual playing space has been rounded by adding panels on the sides and the front. It is quite grand, and allows for much more sweeping movement and delivery. It is a different external dimension for the actor. And it’s as if our chorus of Dreamboats was choreographed to go into this space all along! Funny how things like that work out.

There are plenty of adjustments to make: steep steps to vomitories that exit under the audience on either downstage side, a vast, black, cavern backstage, one less dresser, and one less wigger on duty, an entirely new crew (who are fantastic, and really helpful). But the biggest adjustment is the music. Our band has been placed deep in the backstage behind the crossover. This means having the instruments on mics, and pumping the sound into the house. This is always a huge adjustment after having acoustic music onstage. Very difficult. And for our rehearsal day it means re-cueing the entire show. So apart from a detailed clean of the Dreamboats choreography with Veronica, and some great notes and adjustments from Rae, the day and night were entirely devoted to sound and lighting.

This was all very time consuming, and by the end of two five hour sessions we were not even half-way through the show. So tomorrow we will not have a dress rehearsal before we see our first audience! It’s hardest on the new crew. As a cast, we all have this play firmly in hand (though it has been wonderful to be reminded of some details as we work through), but the crew has NO IDEA how this madness fits together into a 100 minute marathon. We will keep slogging it out tomorrow and see where we land.

We end the day abruptly, and on a bad note: three of our actors have come down with severe nausea and… accompanying symptoms. We finish a little early to get them home and to bed. Jet lag, I assume. Or maybe they picked something up on the plane. Nasty, any way you look at it.

Ottawa!

September 17, 2007

Monday, September 17, 2007

I’m at my brother’s family home in Ottawa. It is absolutely stunning weather. The sun is shining in a cloudless blue sky; it’s warm, and feels like late summer rather than fall. I sit and have a glass of wine with my sister-in-law in the back garden. Perhaps we are getting payback for those relentlessly rainy days of July. They are calling for beautiful weather all week! I’m sure the NAC has organised this! They are on top of everything!

The drive up was so pleasant. Such an amazing country we live in. It’s so stunning when you break into the Shield around Kingston. And the hawks were out in plenitude: hawk is the messenger. I trust that they are all bringing us good news.

We have learned that Josette will not be joining us for rehearsals in Ottawa. This is a huge disappointment to me. I am ever the eager one, and was hoping for some notes from the director, and a really fresh perspective. Rae McKen, our assistant director, is fantastic, but she has been with the process and watched it grow incrementally. I will be interested to hear what Veronica and Warren have to say, as they have not see the show since it opened. They will provide the fresh eyes and ears, I hope.

Ottawa is already treating us like royalty: in our welcome packages we have invitations from both the British High Commission and from Rideau Hall. “Smart Casual” is the dress code. So I can’t wear the “dumb casual” clothes that are the usual wardrobe. This is a big deal for the NAC. I hope we’re up for it. I hope our European colleagues are as excited to be here as we were excited to be in their stomping grounds.

The thing is, while we have had a week off at home, four of them have been doing their closing week of Macbeth and Macbett at the Northern Stage in Newcastle. And then they have had the same nightmarish journey that we had a week ago. So they will be jet-lagged and pooped. We’ll have to do our best to pick them up. I’m sure that the idea of making theatre in another country will energise them.

I look forward to rehearsals tomorrow. I’m sure there will be a huge flutter of conversation and exchange of news and excitement. And we will find out more about our absent director, and how things will proceed here without her. Stay tuned.

Home now.

September 9, 2007

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Home now. A simple girl from St. Catharines. Eating brown-rice sushi, in a warm house, with a bit of mildew in the basement. That’s life. Real life.

The crazy thing is, I keep coming back to the wig. It has become a symbol for me. This journey is not about me working at the RSC. It’s not about being prodigious, or crowning my career, or doing something that others may envy or deem important. It’s about wearing a wig that was worn by Alan Howard in Peter Brook’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 1970. It’s about expanding my context: my sense of the whole. That’s what all theatre should be.

I’ll leave you for a short week, and catch you on the flipside, as the Ottawa door opens to reveal…?

On Our Way Home

September 8, 2007

Saturday, September 8, 2007

We’re on the plane. On our way home. Imagine. England begins to fade into the sunset. Literally. Plenty of melancholy accompanies this fading. The pain of closing one door, and opening another. Why is it that doors are vested with such complicated feelings?

I need to go back a bit. I haven’t told you about Friday. It was a good day. We had a media call to shoot some footage for Canadian television. It all went very smoothly. It was great to have a director and two cameras shooting, and to actually get coverage of certain angles and lines for editing. So often footage of stage work that is shot for television is unsatisfactory because you are trying to capture a large live medium on an intimate repeatable one. They are just not terribly compatible. But this situation was quite unique as media shoots go, so hopefully the product will be a little more watch-able than most of the two-minute clips you see on the news.

We had a good final show in Newcastle. So fast this little run. Oh, and I forgot to tell you that we had full houses for all four shows, which was great. They really liked our final kick at the can on these shores. Jim and Donna Wright, the High Commissioner and his wife, travelled all the way up from London just to see it! They were very supportive, and said they would tell all their friends in Ottawa to come out. So take note all you Ottawa diplomats.

We had a drink with most of the Macbeth/Macbett boys after the show, since they were doing a staged reading of the new Anthony Neilson piece that they are taking to London in November. It was good to have a little goodbye with them. Such great fellows. And as Kelly says, we have become very close even though we haven’t shared the stage with them. We are still somehow members of the same company. So that was nice.

And when it came time to say goodnight, and goodbye, I found myself inexplicably crying. I just let that happen, and ended up sobbing most of the way back to the hotel in the taxi. It’s all been so big.

Now here comes the nasty part of the story. I’m going to blame it all on Corrine (teasing! teasing!). Since her flight was at 15:30, and the drivers were concerned about roadworks, and traffic on the M25 (how many times have I heard what a parking lot that highway is, only to go through it like you know what through a goose?!), we were picked up by a small coach at 4 o’clock in the morning. That is cruel and unusual when you have just closed a show, and a run, and have suitcases the size of steamer trunks to drag down the stairs, and there is no breakfast, let alone NO COFFEE!!

Dear Katie Vine, our new Stage Manager was there to see us off, even though she has an old cat who is critically ill at home, and wanted nothing more to get back to her pet the night before. (A little thought for Katie’s cat. And an enormous thanks to Katie for being such an awesome addition to our merry band of wanderers.) But lest I get distracted by positive and happy thoughts, let me lead you back to the hell that is a people mover stuffed with six exhausted actors and their luggage, and two unwitting drivers who happened to be the messengers we wanted to shoot. We tried desperately to get back to sleep once we set off, but to little avail. The seats were impossibly uncomfortable, it was either sweltering or freezing, and the drivers would insist on talking loudly to each other to keep awake!

We stopped for a toilet and breakfast break at around 7:30. Hysterical. Blood shot eyes with last night’s stage make-up still in the corners, and hats covering the bed-head, we staggered into the service centre. As a side note, I need you to bear in mind that when we got on the bus it was dark, and that we picked Kelly up at a separate location, so there is some understanding the following sequence of events. We’re standing in a queue to pay for coffee (the Saturday morning breakfast rush was apparently on), and Kelly walks up to two men in the line-up that she assumes to be our drivers and says in a rather coy, Marilyn Monroe voice, “Excuse me gentlemen, but is this our half-hour break?” Corrine and Lisa and I are already laughing cuz we have seen the bus drivers and know that these are not them, and these poor men aren’t quite sure what to think of the crazed looking woman in a cloche who is beseeching them, but one of them gently replies, “We don’t have a clue who you are, dear”. Kelly nearly dropped apoplectically to the floor in horror, and began apologising profusely to the strangers she’d accosted, while the rest of us howled with laughter. All chalked up to no sleep.

We managed to get safely back to the bus. And arrived at Heathrow at 9:30. Yes. NINE-THIRTY. What was expected to be a seven-hour journey had become a 5 hour journey, and now we were six hours early for even the earliest flight. This left us all somewhat bewildered. At this juncture we had to say goodbye to Corrine because she was leaving from another terminal. And Pippa too was off to Gatwick to make a connection to Rome where she is heading for a week. So five of us gathered luggage carts and piled them high with bags that were likely over-weight. But we couldn’t check any of this luggage through until noon, so we were stuck wheeling it around the airport for a couple of hours.

Check-in and security at Heathrow Terminal 4 is a nightmare. When they tell you to be there three hours early they mean it. We came up from our second breakfast to stand in a one hour queue for baggage check-in. Then there was another 1/2 hour getting through security.

Very strict, too. Only one carry-on, shoes off through the metal detector, liquids in bags. No joking around. But once on the other side only another 3 1/2 hours to waste, without sleep or prospects of it! I think we all had tears at least once in that time. It’s just too much to ask- a five hour bus ride, an eight hour wait, and then an eight hour flight.

But now we are homeward bound, and excited about seeing friends and family (my friends David and Pam are picking me up! can’t wait), and not excited about having to catch up with banking and accountants what might be growing in my humid basement, and all the realities that have been existing at home for three months without us.

Reflective too. It’s so strange that it is suddenly done. And yet, not done. Too tired to be clear. And yet, clear in my gratitude for all this, regardless of the incomprehensible travel day. Clear that I will have these memories to cherish, and will hold the relationships that have been struck with so many wonderful people over the past three months.  Sleepy, but clear.

Two Good Shows Today

September 6, 2007

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Two good shows today. Had breakfast at a little diner with Michael Cryne, our musical director. What a great guy he is. Real salt of the earth, and extremely talented. At twenty-six he is going to be writing his PhD in composition starting next fall. And he’s a real lad from Manchester, which keeps me in stitches all the time. His grandfather was at the show this afternoon. And I’m sorry I missed chatting with him.

After the second show we had a Q & A. It was a bit calamitous, as there is an ongoing problem with the pool onstage, and the crew was bailing water the whole time we were up there chatting with the folks. Pretty funny. This particular discussion centred around the cross-gender work that we do in the play, and the instantaneous transitions that we all have to make. The audience was impressed with the skill involved in those things which seem quite second nature to an actor. Whenever people comment on aspects of technique and “how do you learn all those lines?”, and how they could never do that… I always retort that I am in awe of accountants. I could never look at a column of numbers and see how they work together. I find it extremely intimidating. And yet that is second nature to an accountant. It is just not something that I have become dextrous at doing.

There was a couple from Canada in the house (friends of Kelly’s I think) whose daughter is doing a PhD at U of T. So I made a proud speech about how important this whole experience, this adventure, has been for the Canadians: to work with such a distinguished group of international artists, for a highly regarded company, on a brand new piece of Canadian theatre! I like to remind myself of that perspective, and that the perks of travelling and views certainly take a back seat to this singular professional opportunity.

Back to the hotel… to pack… again. Our bus is going to leave the hotel at 4 a.m. on Saturday morning to get us to Heathrow in plenty of time. Yikes. So all money things must be sorted tomorrow morning before the media call, and we must be ready to hit the trail long before dawn.

So tomorrow night there will be goodbyes to the Mac/Mac men. To most of our crew. Sadness. Closure.

Off to work in Newcastle

September 5, 2007

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Off to work in Newcastle. What friendly people they are here! Everyone is helpful and cheerful.  And, okay, I have to say it, the accent is FANTASTIC!  It’s just a great town.

The dress rehearsal in the afternoon went relatively smoothly. There were a few little glitches, and we did have to stop once near the beginning, but after that we sailed on without a hitch. The crew is fantastic: young, (did I say friendly?) and extremely capable and that is key when you’re stepping in for only four shows.

There are small things that are different here: the down-stage entrances are farther away, and they have two sets of steps, off the stage and out of the house, so timing entrances and exits from the “voms” takes a bit of getting used to. Some of the flying elements are different simply because they have different access to space on the grid, so that has meant a little bit of re-spacing.

But the great thing about Northern Stage is the wings. I know I’m going on about the WINGS! It’s amazing what a difference it makes to the show. Since everyone is in the backstage area all the time, crew and all, and we must all be extremely quiet, the show gets focussed very tightly. What a treat. The Swan just didn’t hold that possibility.

The opening went really well. The audience seemed to really enjoy it.

A young woman that Corrine and I met on Hadrian’s Wall came for the opening, and found it so funny to see us on stage after seeing us out walking in the countryside. We had a little reception in the theatre bar afterwards. A chance to talk to two of the Friends of the RSC, Yvonne and David Richardson. They are really great people and wonderful supporters of the theatre. It is so great to meet people like this in other countries. It just shows you how people who are excited to be involved in the theatre exist all over the world.

It seems as if things are wrapping up so quickly here. There just doesn’t seem time to do any sight-seeing here in Newcastle, which is a little disappointing. But the practicalities are looming: getting our money home, not to mention trying to pack too many things into too little space. Both Jenny and Corrine have already bought new suitcases. And Marks and Spencers… what are we going to do without Marks and Spencers? Can we convince them to re-open shops in Canada? Perhaps a letter writing campaign is in order.

Anyway. The countdown is on. And the struggle of these feelings which seem in such contrast to each other: the sadness of leaving behind this country which has been such a thrill over the past few months, and the longing to return to my own bed, my cat, my friends and family. Hard to hold both these feelings in hand. And in heart.

The First Day at the Northern Stage

September 4, 2007

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

We had our first day at the Northern Stage today. It is a modern, recently renovated theatre on the campus of Newcastle University just across from the Civic Centre. It exists in such sharp contrast to the Swan in so many ways. The backstage is all brand new: bright clean hallways, a spacious well-equipped green room, and WINGS! Yippee!

There is actually room for props tables, quick changes, and a bit of milling about. This makes the process of teaching a new crew so much easier.

And the onstage space is completely different also. Well, the deck is the same, and they have constructed the set to duplicate exactly the upstage balconies and staircases at the Swan. But the house is completely different for playing. Whereas at the Swan the house is sharply vertical like the old European opera houses, the Northern Stage is long and deep, with only a small percentage of the seats at the sides of the thrust. So some alteration in the playing style is necessary to better serve the majority of the audience. This became pretty clear for us once we started staggering through. That was the job yesterday. The crew had been working overtime.

Macbeth had it’s technical rehearsal on Sunday, dress on Monday afternoon, and first show last night. All went well. But then there was a changeover from the Macbeth set to the Penelopiad set, and enormous alterations of lighting and backstage life that accompanies that changeover. So the crew were pooped.

It didn’t show. They all had their game faces on, and our technical rehearsal went very smoothly. We even finished an hour ahead of schedule! That meant a little extra time in the pub before heading back to our hotel in Jesmond.

A View of Bjornefjord (continued)

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Curled up in the chaise lounge

Apparently it rains 275 days of the year in Bergen. Considering these statistics we were oh so lucky. We had sun for two of the three days we were there. Most of these days were spent curled up in the chaise lounge chairs reading. I barely moved the first afternoon. Oh maybe I sat in the gazebo for a while when the Maritime men were on a coffee break and their laughter and conversation became a bit intrusive. The option was spending time in the spa, which we both did, with massage, a Finnish Sauna at 90 degrees Celsius, 0% humidity, a Sanarium at 55 degrees Celsius, 50% humidity, and a Steam Room at 70 degrees Celsius, 100% humidity, not to mention a swimming pool with the same extraordinary view of the fjord. Paradise.

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Solstrand View

Oh. And the food. If you like seafood… and I do… you’re lost. You can have fish three meals a day. There is a whole table of fish for breakfast! True! I passed on that. But I did eat fish at every other  meal. The chef was fantastic. The first night we had the chef’s selection, which was a fixed menu, and the second night we ordered a la carte. Both were fantastic, but I must say my monkfish on the a la carte night was a euphoric experience. Corrine’s plate of creme brulee looked pretty good too.

This is the kind of holiday I have never taken. Simply can’t afford to spend that kind of money on myself. But every second of this was worth it. It is a memory that I will cherish for a lifetime.

All the girls had their tales. Pippa spend two weeks on a yoga retreat in Crete. Pam spent time in London, Edinburgh, and Paris with family and friends. Jenny was on a canal boat with her family in Oxford, and then hiking in Scotland with her partner, Gord. Lisa spent time with her husband in Ireland, and then on her own in London seeing shows. Kelly went down to London and to Canterbury and relished the history, and then, unfortunately, spent some time sick in London in the care of friends. It was a great holiday, and a deserved break. And we are all so grateful, and ready to return to playing our play for the people of Newcastle.

Back: refreshed, excited and in Newcastle!

September 3, 2007

Monday, September 3, 2007

Hello loyal readers! Ah, it is good to be back: refreshed, excited, and in Newcastle! The land of the Geordie! Newcastle, the great city packed with imposing streets of Georgian stone architecture. And if that’s not impressive, the nightlife certainly is, complete with the babe parade in short, short mini-skirts or hot-pants, stilettos, and big blonde hair. And that’s only the men! Kidding.

But I’ve skipped the promised report on the two-week holiday. Wow. I don’t know where to begin. Oh yes, I do. I took a few days off. I went to my family in Essex and chilled. The weather was crap, so it was a perfect time to just visit and talk with some amazing people that I only see every five years or so. I did go to London for two days to have lunch with some old school mates, and to meet up with Corrine. But I don’t want to bore you with the endless details of an action packed two weeks. So I will tell you two short stories.

Rickshaw Anyone?
Corrine and I met at Waterloo Station to catch the noon train to Newcastle on the Sunday after we finished the show in Stratford. This is how the day began: we figured (crazy canucks) that since we had booked 1st class tickets as a treat, we would go to the 1st Class Lounge to use the WC. The woman at the desk laughed at us: our 1st class tickets were not 1st class enough to use the 1st class lounge.

Okay. I thought I’d use the facilities on the train, so we boarded a bit early… into the first class cabin. But when we looked a little closer at the itinerary, it showed that we would only be on this train for 18 minutes, to Hatfield, at which time we would be transferred to a bus (you read correctly… the old rail replacement bus, the part they don’t tell you about when you book for travel on a Sunday) that would take us to Peterborough. That’s what happened. But no time to use the loo! So as per itinerary we ended up in Peterborough just after 2pm… holding it. Finally a chance to use the highly disgusting, and ever so smelly railway platform toilet. Eeeyew. So much for 1st Class.

Okay. So. We’re supposed to be catching the train to Edinburgh at 2:20. Then comes the announcement that the train has been delayed. And they don’t know how long the delay will be. After 15 minutes the announcement is made: please schlep your heavy suitcases up over the bridge and down the other side to another platform and join all the other suckers already waiting for the train to Aberdeen. Oh. And no more seat assignments are valid, so those 1st class bookings you made? Well, see if you can beat the rugby team to whatever seats are left. Good luck. Oh no. I forgot. They never actually said good luck.

But on my team was the great bulldog Corrine Koslo! (The crowd goes wild.) Never underestimate the determination of this pint-sized woman on a mission. When the train arrived, she put her head down and zoomed past the rugby team, getting us seats in the first class car! Yippee. We were the lucky ones. There were a number of people that were left without any seats at all, left to sit on the floor in between carriages with the smell of the toilets and no air conditioning.

Through it all our comrades in the coach maintained a jocund sense of humour, and we all had quite a good time. But that was the end of any 1st class privileges. We got water. By the time they got the tea and coffee to us they were out of cups. And food? Forget it. Oh well. We were thankful to be on our way. For a few minutes.

We stopped suddenly and sat on the tracks going nowhere. Now what. A few different explanations came over the speaker system with dutiful apologies. Nothing that gave us any indication of when our journey might resume again. Ten minutes. Twenty minutes. A cup of tea would be brilliant right about now. The seven people in our section decided we could share from the one cup that had been left on our table by a previous passenger.

Then another dreaded announcement. The train could not carry on through to Aberdeen because of electrical issues, so we would be changing to a diesel train at York. Not a terribly happy group at that point. Have you ever noticed that suitcases somehow increase in weight in relation to the number of times you have to hoist them from the overhead bins. But the bulldog was ready. (The crowd goes wild again!) She dashed across the platform, suitcase bounding, securing us seats on the new diesel train. But this time we saw some of the real consequences of the railway foul-up.

An elderly woman was struggling. A group of young girls had come to her rescue and were carrying her case, but she looked frightened, and certainly not well. Corrine helped her settle herself in a seat in our foursome, and after a time she relaxed and felt better and started offering around items from her packed lunch. All the other members of our little enclave from the previous train had found seats. We finally got our tea. Amazing how a cup of tea can hit the spot. So all was well.

We braced ourselves for what might happen next. Rickshaw anyone? But the old diesel train got us safely into Newcastle station two hours later than our scheduled arrival. Safe and sound. And with a bit of a tale to tell, which is never a bad thing.

A View of Bjornefjord
We then spent two days travelling around Northumbria, first to the west and an amazing day walking Hadrian’s Wall. The history in this part of the world is awe inspiring, as is the scenery. Then a day trip to the south, to Durham, which is a charming, hilly town with narrow cobbled streets reminiscent of an Italian village, with a fantastic castle and cathedral at the top of a cliff looking over the river. Gorgeous.

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Hadrian’s Wall

And then we boarded our “big boat” to Norway. The weather, I must say, had been great for us. Not hot, and not completely sunny, but not raining. Magical skies that would hide and then reveal the sun in counterpoint. We sailed out of Newcastle on a smooth sea to watch the sun set over the piers full of cormorants and the ruins of the castle at North Shields.

The journey to Norway was smooth, though it is rather distressing to wake in the middle of the night and think about the fact that you’re stuck on a boat in the middle of the very black, very cold North Sea and have neglected to check thoroughly the emergency procedures. I had dreams about getting Corrine up to the seventh floor and the life-boats. Or was it the life-jackets that were on seven, and the boats on eight? Now I know why you pay extra for a cabin on the sixth floor. Oh dear.

We saw the shores of Norway at about 1pm the following day. Magical. Like travelling past hours and hours of Peggy’s Cove. And sometimes like the Sunshine Coast, Corrine said. It was brisk on deck, so we bundled and faced the wind. Two hardy Canadians standing on the top deck of the ship, completely alone, singing Northwest Passage at the tops of our lungs, warming ourselves on the cooking-vents from the kitchens two floors below. It was smelly, but it was the only thing that kept us up there. And the skies! Oh, the skies. Sun sparkling intermittently on the barren landscapes dotted with sea-houses.  And our “big boat” inching its way between rocks on this side, and islands on that. We made port at Stavanger, then Haugesund, and finally at Bergen. (There is a hilarious tale to tell about our night on the ship in Bergen, but in the interests of time for both you and I, that will have to wait until the published version of this blog!) The following morning at 6:30am we were in a taxi on our way to Solstrand. We had no idea what to expect, really. We’d seen a few pictures on the web. It looked grand. But doesn’t every advertising photo on the web look grand? And then you arrive to the mildew, and the tiny rooms of the average European hotel.

But Solstrand is a hotel that cannot be captured in photographs. OH MY! I don’t even know how to describe it to you. As you come over the hill from Osoyro you are greeted with the extraordinary beauty of Bjornefjord, with four tree covered islands in the foreground, and misty mountains rising in the distance. Nestled along the coast is a yellow gingerbread hotel that has been run by the Schau-Larsen family for four generations. Borrea Schau-Larsen was our hostess. She is hands on in this going concern. There are almost 300 rooms in this hotel. When we arrived there was a think-tank for the Maritime industries going on which Solstrand has played host to since the family has been running the hotel. So they all know each other, and it was almost like a family reunion. There was a banquet scheduled, which meant we had a private dining room for our lunch, and shared one of the small dining rooms with other guests for dinner.

More tomorrow.

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Solstrand Hotel