Archive for ‘Travel: Hotels, places, activities, challenges and events.’

January 25, 2014

The Weekend Pages #2

Welcome to week two of The Weekend Pages, in which I share my online searches.

Recently, I’ve been gazing at perfect table settings and thinking about creating my own. Making time for friends is an important goal for me this year. I’d like to have small but regular gatherings of our closest family and friends in our home. So I need to think about how to make this happen. I’ve been using my renewed interest in Pinterest  to map out my plans for this year and beyond…

In January last year, we were busy making marmalade at home. This year, I’m planning to leave the marmalade making to other folk, but make some marmalade puddings! This Nigella recipe looks fabulous. Or perhaps, this one from The Three Chimneys. Failing that, there are lots of marmalade puddings here!

Regardless of anything else in our home,  one of the things you’ll always find is great coffee and we’re big fans of the AeroPress; here’s why…

The AeroPress, with Huw from Kinfolk (kinfolk.com) on Vimeo.

Further afield, I’ve been thinking about travel, inspired by the beautiful maps at Herb Lester. I bought this Paris one, not because I have any particular plans for a solo trip to Paris, but just because maps are awesome and I love to dream of travel…

Herb Lester Paris map

Map: Herb Lester

 

Have you found anything great online this week?

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October 18, 2013

Apple Day and Countryside Live.

Apple Day is one of my favourite annual events, first launched by Common Ground back in 1990. Celebrating the rich variety of apples we have in this country, ‘local distinctiveness’, landscape, ecology and the importance of provenance and traceability in food, this is a day that I absolutely love. Apple Day itself is on 21st October, but you’re likely to find events over most of October up and down the country, including cookery demonstrations, apple identification for those of you with unknown varieties in your garden, games for children to have fun with, growing tips and orchard tours. Common Ground no longer manage an Apple Day calendar, because their original intent was always that it took on a life of its own and became part of the seasonal calendar as much as any Harvest Festival might; a naturally occuring part of every October.  I, for one, will always celebrate Apple Day in some way or another.

I quite often go to RHS Harlow Carr on Apple Day. They don’t seem to have an Apple Day event this year, but they’re doing  a week of ‘Sensational Autumn’ activities for half term which look great fun. Other Apple Day events across the country include those run at several National Trust properties, such as apple pressing and other activities at Beningbrough Hall in Yorkshire.

This weekend is also Countryside Live, at the Harrogate Show Ground on Sunday. As well as  a display of apples and apple variety identification, there will be lots of other seasonal goodness, show-jumping and other equine classes for me to reminisce over, a myriad of other activities from sheepdog trials to chainsaw carving and the addition of tractors and animals will ensure that my kids have a great day out, so we’re going to spend Sunday there. Do come and say hello if you’re visiting too!

Many apple varieties remain unfamiliar to most of us because we’re presented with a pitiful selection in the supermarkets. Apple Day is a chance for us to redress that balance, find a bit about our local area, and the amazing heritage of fruit growing that we have. Do have a look to see if there’s an event near you!

Apple Varieties

October 14, 2013

The Bear and Ragged Staff, Oxfordshire.

On Sunday night, I had the great fortune to stay at The Bear and Ragged Staff, in Oxfordshire.

Last weekend was another ‘Micra Adventure‘. We’d had a great weekend and on Sunday night, at about 6pm, we found ourselves with nowhere to stay. We’d planned to camp, but the weather forecast for the start of our time away was awful, so we’d abandoned that idea and stayed with relatives on the journey out. But the journey home was by a completely different route and so we decided to book somewhere to stay at the very last minute  (using Booking.com) and take the risk that we’d find somewhere nice that we could afford.

And, oh, how that risk paid off. We managed to find an amazing late deal on the one remaining room at The Bear and Ragged Staff, a country inn in Cumnor, Oxfordshire. Our room was the family room, in the Landlord’s Wing, which apparently dates back hundreds of years. Judging by the ancient beams in our room, I can well believe that! The room was actually a suite, designed to accommodate two adults and three children so we had a huge amount of space, as well as no less than three flat screen TVs at our disposal. On entering the first room, ducking to avoid the low door frames, we came to a sitting room, with a sofa bed and little nook off to one side that would have been a perfect child’s bed, had we needed it. Tea and coffee making things were in this room too, with some lovely flapjacks and a tub of mixed nuts, seeds and dried fruit for snacking on.

Bear and Ragged Staff

Then, after this room, there was a little lobby area, with the bathroom in front of us, and our bedroom to the right. The bathroom, with underfloor heating, a deep double-ended bath and giant rainfall shower, felt incredibly luxurious (especially for us, who’d originally planned on camping!) and had pleasant, full sized toiletries, bright white and fluffy towels and a dressing gown. Our bedroom had a king sized bed (one of the comfiest beds I’ve ever slept on) with crisp white bed linen and giant pillows. We were also blessed with a large flat screen tv, but we never felt the need to turn it on!  Looking up into the old rafters was a total treat and peering out of the mullioned windows into the misty morning after our night’s stay, I felt very, very fortunate indeed.

Bear and Ragged Staff

As the hotel is in a rural area, and we’d arrived quite late, we decided to eat on the premises and thoroughly enjoyed everything we had. We’d been told that a couple of items had sold out due to a really busy lunch period, but that didn’t really affect our choices, and I thought it was a good sign that the place was so popular!  I opted for an old favourite, crab and leek risotto, and Stephen had a steak burger which was cooked to medium-rare pink perfection. Having gone for a slightly lighter meal, I felt like I could just about make space for dessert – honey and lavender cheesecake with honeycomb – and I’m so glad I did! The flavour combination was heavenly. I enjoyed a glass of prosecco to celebrate our good fortune and I also rather liked Noble, a lager from Greene King, that was being served on tap. I’ll definitely look for that again. Breakfast was included in the price of our room, and again, it was lovely, with plenty of local produce. I had a full cooked breakfast – I couldn’t not! – and Stephen had Eggs Benedict. It was the perfect way to start the day, setting us up well for the journey home.

We had such a wonderful stay at the Bear and Ragged Staff. Our entire time there was pretty much faultless, and as well as great facilities, the customer service was friendly and helpful throughout, which I always finds makes such a difference, no matter where I’m staying.  I’d love to make a return visit one day…

September 2, 2013

Take your holiday back home…

This post was originally titled ‘how to steal things from your holiday’ but I thought you might worry I had criminal tendencies…

Do you ever come back from holiday determined to bring something home with you? I don’t mean literally stealing the towels from your hotel room, although I do admit to taking those little bottles of toiletries if they’re nice enough. We all do that though, right?

What I mean by ‘stealing’ is taking ideas, behaviours, attitudes, styles, away from our ‘holiday’ selves and recreating them in our ‘real’ selves and real, everyday lives. I’ve often tried to do exactly that. Sadly, though the idea of breakfast on the terrace every day is perfection in sunny Europe, it doesn’t translate terribly well to a wintery Yorkshire.  However, this year, I have a very good chance of recreating some elements of my holidays in my everyday life, from my city break in Paris, camping trips to Scotland and The Lake District and, last week, in a yurt in the Yorkshire Dales.

So – first up are some lovely Duralex glasses that you see everywhere in Paris. Although they’re incredibly chic, they’re also cheap, and so I can buy these and pretend that I’m drinking in some little Left Bank bistro. Perhaps I’ll insist on a return trip to Paris to buy them from Merci though?

Secondly, I can recreate the  lanterns that are used everywhere at Bivouac, adding wire to old jars and glasses, with some lace or jute string to decorate and a tea light dropped inside. I found this tutorial video, which makes them look easy! Cheap enough to amass a huge collection, these will be a glittering backdrop to the Bonfire Night supper that I’m planning. And bunting! I need more bunting in my life. I think I shall make some. It’s not hard, is it?

Tea lights, bunting and mismatched furniture...

Tea lights, bunting and mismatched furniture…

I can also recreate the style of Bivouac in other ways, using mis-matched furniture (which, with my budget, is going to happen anyway!) to give my home a lived-in, unique feel. Removing the distractions of TV, and allowing the evenings to be focussed on people, conversations around dinner and a bottle of beer sounds good too. That lack of wifi, 3G or even a phone signal at Bivouac was good for making me slow down a bit and read more. I’d like to bring reading back into my normal life too, I’ve not found the time for that recently.

Often, when I’m on holiday, I find myself eating differently. This is more noticeable, I think, when abroad, as I adopt a Mediterranean style diet, or eat more unusual food. I often choose to potter around a local market to shop for food. This is something that I’d like to bring back home to my everyday life. More fresh food, more cooking, more greens! Fewer scones, sadly, which seemed to be a staple of my last holiday…

I also tend to exercise more – swimming in a pool or the sea perhaps. Walking, cycling, even wandering around a city can be physically demanding. I’ve started swimming every week, although it’s not terribly glamorous at my local pool, it is doing me good. I’ve added hill walking to my weekends whenever I can fit it in, so it’s not just something I do when I’m away camping.

I’m sure there are other things I can add to that list, given enough time! But for now, those are the things I’m stealing from my holidays. I’m hoping that they will add a bit of healthiness and happiness, as well as making me feel a tiny bit more like I’m on holiday everyday…

What would you steal from your holiday? 

August 30, 2013

The Bivouac

I promised a review of The Bivouac, and finally, here it is!

The Bivouac is a selection of yurts, log cabins and a bunk barn, just outside Masham in the beautiful Yorkshire Dales, with a cafe and small shop. Just along from the site is a folly known as Druid’s Temple and it’s also along a long-distance walk route, so attracts plenty of day visitors as well as overnight guests.

We stayed for four nights in ‘Foxglove’, one of the yurts. All the yurts are situated together in a field close to the cafe, toilets and lovely shower block, which is handy when you’ve got small children. Despite it being the height of the summer holidays, some of the yurts were empty and so it was relatively peaceful – even though they’re not exactly soundproof! We had decent weather most of the time which was a bonus too, as it meant we were able to sit outside once the kids were finally in bed, and enjoy the stars, and on one night, watch the lightening flash across the sky in the distance, which was fascinating to watch – until the rain arrived in the middle of the night and woke us up!

Inside the yurt was lovely and welcoming, from the chalkboard with our name on, to the cosily made up beds, rustic-chic furniture and giant beanbag. I loved all the tea light lanterns dotted around the place ( it was off-grid, so we needed them!) and wood burning stove, complete with enough logs to last our stay. It has to be said that one yurt with four people in can get a bit overwhelming. Anyone with small children knows what it’s like to try and get them to bed, and when there are no doors to shut and bedrooms to creep away from whilst crossing your fingers that they’ll go to sleep, it can be tough. But they did love sharing a room!

Our time at Bivouac

Our time at Bivouac

Walking to Druid’s Temple was an easy, short walk, and the thunderstorm we’d had overnight provided sufficient mud for my obsessed son, with the ‘hedgehog hunt’ map keeping my six year old daughter entertained. Druid’s Temple itself is a fascinating, eccentric folly, and we enjoyed looking around it and playing at monsters!

We also paid extra for them both to attend a drumming workshop one day, which they both enjoyed. If there was one problem, it was the sole tyre swing. Which my kids both loved. And you know what one swing between two kids leads to? Yes, endless arguing over taking turns. A few more pieces of wooden, sympathetically integrated play equipment would have been great, although I did appreciate the low-key feel of the place and they did find friends to play with, which helped enormously. I was very happy to see them go off and play in the field and use their imaginations instead of relying on being entertained. That feeling I had of being comfortable with letting them wander a bit was lovely and refreshing too – no ‘cotton wool’ parenting for me!

Once they’d found friends, the kids did settle down from the first day’s over-excitement, which meant, joy of joys, that I was able to go for a shower on my own! The shower blocks in Bivouac are far removed from many camping shower blocks, with warm flooring, interesting slate tiles, hairdryers and wooden doors and luxurious smelling handwash and lotion. There was evidence of lots of environmentally friendly practices being used as well, which was impressive. I’m planning to adopt some of their ideas at home.

We mainly cooked for ourselves, using the gas stove provided in the yurt, but we did eat in the cafe one evening and the food, from superfood salad to burger and chips, was all really great; obviously fresh, interesting to eat, but not too expensive. They have a weekly ‘community supper’ which sounds like a lovely idea. I was happy to see that they had ‘plain pasta with parmesan’ on the kids’ menu too, proof that it’s not just my girl who loves that! Someone who works there clearly understands what many young children will and won’t eat.

The Bivouac is a wonderful place to stay. I’d happily go back for a return visit, though next time I might make it a romantic yurt stay for two, instead of a holiday for four! I think it would make for a lovely, relaxing adult-only holiday, as well as being a great place for kids to leave a bit of the modern world behind and play. I’d also love to stay in one of the wooden cabins, as they looked interesting, with eclectic furniture, more cooking and washing facilities and hidden somewhere nearby is a hot tub! Something for my next visit, perhaps…

August 23, 2013

Microadventure: a few lessons learnt.

I posted recently about Alistair Humphrey’s inspiring microadventures, and how I was planning to have ‘Micra’ Adventures. That plan was recently put into action with the first of what I hope will be many (tiny but nonetheless brilliant) adventures around our fair Isle.

We set off on our journey with a borrowed tent, not much specialist kit and little in the way of a plan. Which, naturally made  the whole thing far more exciting. Happily, the campsite we kind of thought we would end up in had a space for us, and so we spent the first night in the lovely Lake District before a morning spent walking up Castle Crag and then, after admiring the stunning lakeland scenery from the top, walking back down and eating giant cream teas. Splendid.

After a spot of shopping (for the amazing new jacket in the photo, which was in an equally amazing sale!), we then set off for Scotland, with a meandering drive through beautiful scenery. We pitched up somewhere outside Edinburgh – after a tiny worry about finding somewhere to stay, but happily it seems that wild camping is far less of a problem in Scotland, so we’d have been fine. Then we went onwards again to Aberdeen for a couple of days before coming home, via a walk up Clachnaben.

Climbing Clachnaben

At Clachnaben.

So, what did I learn?

Above and beyond, that I need to spend time outdoors. I need fresh air, exercise and a bit of freedom – I know, I’m making myself sound like a zoo animal or something, but it’s true. A few days away from the stresses of everyday life have given me a bit of spirit again.

I also learnt the following truths:

1: Adventure doesn’t have to happen in places far away, nor take up long periods of time. Adventure is waiting for me, to fill the tiny gaps in my life whenever I want it to happen.

2: Waiting for everything to be perfect means waiting too long. Thanks for my lovely family and friends, we were able to beg and borrow some kit, but for a larger part, we just made do with what we had, and hacked it to make it work.

3: Planning ahead means that I can be spontaneous later. So, knowing what I really need beforehand, what I can do without (see number 2 above) and, crucially, where it all is means I can pack up at the last minute and go!

Do you have micro adventures? Is there anywhere that you’d recommend for camping, walking, adventuring? I’d love to hear from you…

August 16, 2013

Tim Walker: Dreamscapes

I recently had the pleasure of visiting The Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle, specifically to see a temporary exhibition ‘Tim Walker: Dreamscapes’, a collection of images by the legendary photographer.

The museum has a fascinating history as it’s never been a home – it was purpose built by John and Josephine Bowes in the 19th Century as a museum with the aim of introducing the arts to the people of the North East. The building is based on a French chateau and is an utterly magnificent creation, which sadly neither Josephine or John lived long enough to see finished.

My initial impression, on arriving at the room hosting the exhibition was one of understatement, as the room was darkened, with the images shown in front of light boxes. From the outside, it’s not terribly impressive. However, once we went inside and really looked at the photographs, that impression was completely reversed and I was transfixed by the photographs on display.

Walker is best known for his flamboyant fashion and lifestyle photography, which has long graced the pages of the most famous glossy magazines. The collection of photographs on display included works featuring well known models, such as Lily Cole, Stella Tennant and Kristen McMenamy. However, even they, in their beauty, are somehow secondary to the incredible sets, props and landscapes used in each image.  The surrealist and eccentric feel to the photos reminded me of Alice in Wonderland on more than one occasion and the colours and detail in each one is just stunning.

Self-portrait with eighty cakes

Self-Portrait with Eighty Cakes (leaflet from the exhibition)

What’s remarkable about the photographs is that Tim Walker doesn’t use digital media to manipulate what you see. So, if the photograph features a bed in a tree, then there really was a bed in a tree. Likewise, a bathroom transported to a woodland stream, balloons billowing from the windows of a country house, eighty cakes in a bedroom or (in a collaboration with Tim Burton) a giant, crying skeleton. Many of the images were taken at close-by Eglingham Hall, in Nortumberland, so it seems quite fitting that they’re on display here.

We didn’t get much chance to look around the rest of the Bowes Museum, as we decided that tea and cake in the Bowes cafe on site was more urgent (sorry!), but it feels safe to say that admirers of silver, porcelain and textiles would find much to please them in the permanent and internationally-renowned collection.

Tim Walker: Dreamscapes is exhibiting until 1st September.

July 10, 2013

How to have a ‘Micra’ Adventure

Last week, I was surprised with a night away staying in a tipi. Or, more correctly, a Tentipi, which is a Norwegian designed tipi that has completely revolutionised my understanding of camping, due to the bloody incredible wood burning stove inside. Which means that, despite the wind and rain we faced on Sunday, we were toasty warm and making mugs of tea inside. I loved it. Loved it.

Not that I don’t like camping, I do. I just don’t like getting cold. But I do love camping –  I just need layers and layers of clothing! I love the sense of adventure and of having a bit of freedom. Of having life’s issues reduced to working out how to keep a roof up over our heads, cook dinner and spend time with our loved ones. The important stuff.

IMG_6731

One of the things that I really loved about the time in the tipi – even more than the stove – was re-aquainting myself with the truth that adventures don’t have to be far-flung, lengthy, or cost a fortune. Adventure is on our doorsteps; we just have to look for it. It’s all a question of attitude. So, with that attitude in mind, I’m getting a ‘Micra Adventure’ kit together so we can jump in the car and set off for places unknown. The utterly inspiring Alistair Humphreys calls them Microadventures, but given that Silvertrim (ancient Micra) is likely to be our vehicle, unless we walk or cycle, I’ve changed the name to suit. Micra Adventures are hidden in all the places in the UK that I don’t know, from secret woods to city centres, coastal paths to open moorland.

Even though my wish-list of places to visit across the globe will never diminish, there are so many places I’ve not been to in the UK and it seems a shame not to take the opportunity to see them, as most of them are so much more accessible over a short period of time than anywhere abroad. We have some of the most wonderful habitats, natural places, heritage, cities and landscape of anywhere in the world and it’s short sighted not to appreciate them because they’re more ‘known’ to us than places further away. It also means that we can escape the 9-5 much more readily than if we had to make complicated plans and save up lots of money.

So, tipi shopping is the next point of order, and getting the Micra Adventure kit ready so that we can leave at the drop of a hat, off to make our next discovery.

Is there a place to camp in the UK that you recommend? Let me know!

March 5, 2013

Yinka Shinobare MBE: FABRIC-ATION

Last week I had the great fortune to be invited to a special preview evening at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park in advance of the opening of a major new exhibition, FABRIC-ATION, from Yinka Shinobare MBE.

I have to admit that I’d not heard of London born, Nigerian raised Shinobare before, but I did know one piece of his work – Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle – because it was on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square, and is now on permanent display in Greenwich. It’s his movement towards the creation of works both for public spaces and for the open air that makes it a perfect time for this exhibition at YSP, and the commissioning of two new pieces of sculpture, which are part of this exhibition and titled Wind Sculptures, underlines this. I loved the fact that he asked the general public what they’d like to see on the Fourth Plinth, and that Nelson now is a recurring theme through his work.

In the hours spent at YSP viewing this exhibition, and listening to the curator, I’ve gone from knowing nothing of Shinobare to being a firm fan. The entire collection is suffused with a sense of playfulness and yet the subjects chosen are those of the most serious, from climate change to class inequalities and the historic pursuits of the aristocracy. Revolution Kids, half-human, half-animal sculptures carrying replicas of Gaddafi’s golden gun and Blackberry phones, are Shinobare’s response to the London riots, and convey perfectly the way in which he manages to mix the serious with the playful to create work that is really engaging, and almost comical, yet with a serious underbelly that occasionally has a rather more sinister feeling to it.  Food Faeries (about the globalisation of the food market)  is a pair of headless sculptures of winged children carrying fruit that really made me shudder a little.

Revolution Kid (Fox Boy) Copyright: Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

Revolution Kid (Fox Boy) Copyright: Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

Colonialism, race, globalisation and identity are also recurring themes, and Shinobare uses ‘authentic African’ batik fabric – which was first mass produced in Holland and sold into West Africa in the 19th Century – as a way of confounding expectations.

Alongside the thoughts of identity come those of ‘aliens’ – which made me think of refugees and human ‘aliens’, and here Shinobare again turns the idea of alien life on its head, with the inclusion of flying machines more akin to Leonardo’s inventions than what we expect from science fiction.

Alien Man on Flying Machine (2011) Copyright: Yorkshire Sculpture Park

Alien Man on Flying Machine (2011)
Copyright: Yorkshire Sculpture Park

A really diverse range of work is on display from the period 2002 to 2013,  including film, photography, painting and collage as well as sculpture, which demonstrates Shinobare’s desire to be impossible to categorise. It feels like a wonderful opportunity to really learn a great deal about his work over the past decade.

I truly loved this exhibition and I think that everyone would find something about it to enjoy, whether that is the boldness of the satire, the contrast between the seriousness of the subjects and the fun of the interpretation, or even just the bright colourful nature of each piece of art.

The exhibition is at the beautiful Yorkshire Sculpture Park until 1st September 2013 and I will definitely be returning for another viewing of this remarkable artist’s work.

February 4, 2013

A visit to Opera North

Last week, I was given the opportunity to visit the opera by The Culture Vulture and Opera North. I hadn’t really thought of opera as being for people like me so I hesitated at first, but it seemed a good opportunity to challenge my assumptions and so, encouraged by my friend and ‘culture date’ for the evening, Jo, I accepted the ticket.

Otello, based on the Shakespeare play, was performed by Opera North at The Grand Theatre in Leeds. There’s plenty of room on the internet for reviews about the performance but, for us, the opera trip was a catalyst for debate about what assumptions we had about opera, what the barriers to engaging with it as an art form were, and why people might think it’s not for them.

Me: I’ve always thought opera was for posh people, who dressed in fancy clothes so they could see other posh people, who were also dressed in fancy clothes, singing in another language. I know I’m not the only person who feels this way, and, having sat through my first opera, I now know that my assumptions were wrong.

Jo: I love listening to opera but wasn’t that bothered about seeing it performed until I saw Opera North’s production of Don Giovanni last autumn. Now I’m hooked! Opera is definitely greater than the sum of its parts: melodramatic theatre, caricatured personalities and awkward scripting, all brought together to provide a stage for some really exquisite music. It shouldn’t work but it does.

Me: When I mentioned on Twitter that I was going to the opera, I got lots of questions about what I was going to wear.  When I looked around the audience, there was a distinct lack of evening dress. Everyone was just in smart-ish clothes – just the kind of thing you’d wear for any night out in town. I’m wondering we get a lot of our perceptions about opera from seeing it on period dramas or something!

Jo: I can understand why people think there is snobbery around opera. There was a ‘shushing’ incident during Otello. I don’t think the sush-ers meant to be rude, more that people get passionately involved in the performance. Powerful music needs powerful silence to let it breathe and be fully appreciated.  Most every situation has a kind of etiquette or ritual attached to it.

Me: Another thing much of the audience had in common was grey hair, but actually, because opera deals with dramatic emotion, it’s perfect fodder for younger people. I wonder if it’s because opera seems to have a feeling of being ‘classical’ – most people could name something like ‘Madame Butterfly’ but not a contemporary opera. Is there even such a thing?

Jo: Popular music is full of songs about love, jealousy, defiance and betrayal. Our greatest hits aren’t about having a nap or walking your dog. Music that grabs your heart doesn’t deal with the in-between moments of life. That’s true of all kind of music and opera is no different.  ‘No good opera plot can be sensible, for people do not sing when they are feeling sensible.’ WH Auden.

Me: As Otello is sung in Italian, I was afraid it would be difficult to follow but the English sur-titles made it easy to understand what was going on. The language wasn’t at all complicated—the story and dialogue are stripped down to the bare bones. However, although the sur-titles were useful, they often reduced the emotional breadth of the music to just a couple of lines of dodgy dialogue.

Jo: As I got into the performance, I found the sur-titles really distracting. Next time I’d like to research ahead of time so I won’t have to read them. I think it’s like Saint-Saëns Danse Macabre—once you know the story, you can’t help but hear the instrumental characters in the piece.

Me: Although the production was impeccable, the opera itself wasn’t for me. There were some stand-out moments—the love duet between Otello and Desdemona—but for someone visiting the opera for the first time, Otello might not be the best choice. I think it’s a mistake to assume that because people know the Shakespeare play, they will find this particular opera accessible or appealing – even though the music was stunnin. They feel like two very separate entities.

Jo: I can’t fault the production, it’s just not an opera I’d choose to see again or recommend. The story didn’t satisfy me. I felt no investment in the characters: Desdemona was too wet; Otello wasn’t solid enough for his status; Iago’s strength was in the music; and Emilia just made me cross! Musically, my highlight was the love duet, ‘Gia Nella Notte Densa’.

Me: For me, the most impressive parts of Otello were when more than one character was singing at once and all their emotions and perspectives are woven together.  After eight years of living in Leeds, and countless visits to the theatre and ballet, I’m so glad I’ve finally seen an opera; I’m definitely a convert and a new fan of Opera North.

Jo: It was a huge privilege to stand on that stage; I now feel a personal connection to the theatre. I’m looking forward to booking my next Opera North performance, Dido and Aeneas. It’s only an hour and it’s sung in English and the cheapest seats are going for £15—it’d be a great place for anyone tempted to try opera out for themselves.

So, opera is for me, after all. Which, I’ll admit is something of a surprise. Now, I really do think that opera is for anyone and everyone  – so, if you get the chance, do try it out. And if you’re lucky enough to live somewhere where you can see Opera North, then grab that opportunity. Overwhelmingly, again, it seems that the only way to decide if you like something is to try it. Otherwise you’ll never know…