Posts tagged ‘Leeds’

December 20, 2013

Becoming a cyclist.

Last Sunday, I did my first ‘proper’ bike ride on my new road bike. I’ve done shorter bits of riding around Leeds before, but nothing above about 20 miles. On Sunday, we did 35. And most of them seemed to be uphill. Leaving North Leeds towards Harewood, then onwards to Harrogate and RHS Harlow Carr, we made our way along little side roads where possible, keeping away from traffic. Not always possible, of course, and on a couple of occasions I got a little nervous about the closeness and speed of some vehicles passing us. It felt a bit like some of the people driving massive Range Rover type vehicles really didn’t seem to know how wide their car was.

Having said that, the main way I was likely to end up having an accident was from too much nosiness! Lots of terribly nice properties, gardens, allotments and field of ponies to be stared at. None of which I should have been looking at when on a bike, so I had to keep reminding myself to concentrate and look at the road. Whenever we started climbing, I had no difficulty in keeping my eyes firmly fixed ahead of me, as I concentrated on my breathing and making my slow and steady way up the hills. I even managed my first Category 4 climb and did so without stopping, thanks to the support from my fabulous boyfriend. I had a little cry at the top of one of the particularly gruelling hills; cycling uphill into a head wind is not a lot of fun.

But despite the tears, the pain and the jelly legs, I loved the ride. Not least because we had a halfway stop at the poshest cycle cafe in Yorkshire, the famous Betty’s tearoom at RHS Harlow Carr. Not a cycle cafe at all, obviously, but they were as gracious to us in our cycling gear as they were to everyone else in their rather smarter attire. And, despite a bit of stiffness getting going again after a stop, it certainly helped on the way back.

Looking back it seems such a long time ago that I was terrified of cycling. I’d not ridden since a childhood accident, until I was caught up in the idea of trying my hand at completing a Cycletta, which I did on a hired bike. Then came my beloved, but ultimately ill-judged Pashley and now, I’m committed to the idea of being a road cyclist. Not someone who rides for speed, togged up in logo-emblazoned lycra, but someone who rides for fun. Maybe for a bit of touring over longer distances with a pannier and a youth hostel to sleep in. I’m not sure yet, but I’m definitely well on my way towards losing that fear. I’m excited to see the Tour De France come to Yorkshire next year, planning to learn more bike maintenance, booking my ticket for the Festival of Cycling, and fingers crossed, entering the longer distanced Cycletta at Tatton Park.

I feel like a cyclist now. Really and truly. And to have faced my fear feels brilliant. I recommend it!

Female cyclist

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December 6, 2013

Hello road bike!

As you may remember, I recently sold my Pashley Princess, after a long, painful time deciding what to do. Rather wonderfully, I have been given a road bike on a long term loan and I love it.

Riding a road bike after a Pashley is such a different experience. To start with, it felt a bit as though I was constantly on the verge of tipping over the handlebars, despite everything being set up properly, purely because I was used to the ‘sit up and beg’ style of the Pashley. Getting used to the different handlebar style, the brakes, the gears, (and the tiny saddle!) took a bit of time, but now I feel as though I’m flying. I’m clearly not flying, but actually travelling at rather more sedate pace, but still compared to the Pashley, it’s seriously speedy!

Road bike

Walking down a very muddy bridlepath!

Sometimes, and I know this is weird, I develop a relationship of trust with a machine, even though I know it’s not sentient. I feel that way about my little car, and now I feel that way about this bike. I know that for some serious road cyclists this bike is considered a bit of a workhorse, a winter bike, rather than one that is built for speed. It’s not carbon fibre, for a start. But for me, as a novice, that’s what makes it so special. It’s the Welsh Cob of the road bike world! And, given my love for the Welsh Cob (for those of you who are not horse lovers, the Welsh Cob is a beautiful but study native pony) then this feels exactly the kind of bike I should be riding.

I’m so incredibly grateful for it and really looking forward to spending some time building up my fitness so I can ride for longer. At the moment, I can manage 25 -30 miles with a much-needed stop for cake. In my defence, it’s hilly round here! With the Tour de France coming to Leeds next year, I am hoping that the momentum around cycling that is building up in advance will be maintained beyond, and Leeds will become a place that’s great to cycle, for sport, for commuting, for families. And I’ll be there, on the Kona Honky Tonk (silly name, splendid bike) with a grin on my face…

November 14, 2013

Workspace: BEDN #14

I’m really fortunate to have a great employer, one who understands that life is complicated and flexibility is key to maintaining a happy workforce. I’m also lucky in that I really like my job. I’ve made many of my closest friends at work, who have seen me through highs and lows and been there through many of the really important moments in my life.

One of the ways in which my employment is flexible is that I’m allowed to work from home, which means that I get to stay tucked up in our cosy new flat instead of trudging into the office. On those days, though I miss the office chat, I do get to spend my day surrounded by the pretty views from the windows.

Autumnal trees

I find myself peering out the window staring at the trees on a daily basis. There are squirrels playing, little blue tits dancing along branches and magpies pinching insects. And that’s before I’ve even started looking at the little green over the road, with dog walkers, tai chi practitioners, wedding parties coming out of the church. It’s better than telly. Which is good, because we don’t have a telly…

November 12, 2013

A Month without Supermarkets Update: BEDN #12

So, we’re 12 days into November and I thought I’d give you a bit of an update about how we’re getting on without supermarkets. We’ve had some notable successes and failures over the past few days, which have provided us with much food for thought (no pun intended!) and set us on course for what comes next.

Here’s what I’ve learnt:

  • Organisation is key to living without supermarkets. On the couple of occasions that we’ve failed, it’s because of a lack of organisation.  Mostly discovering that we’ve run out of milk. Next plan – freeze some milk. Supermarkets are often the only place open on the occasions when you discover that you’ve run out of something vital, and sadly we don’t have a local corner shop that would fill the need for somewhere at short notice, or late at night.
  • Vegetable boxes are great; we’ve really enjoyed using ours. BUT – in order to make the most of them, we’ve needed to be pretty organised. Eating the vegetables in some kind of order of their longevity, rather than leaving the salad until it’s a wilting, soggy mess is important, and has helped us minimise waste.
  • To make sure that you can cook genuinely great food from a veg box, you need a decent stock of the other stuff – herbs, spices, carbohydrates, dairy, protein. In short, everything else. Otherwise you find yourself going “Oh, we’ve got a great squash in the veg box, we could make curry/risotto/soup”, only to discover that you lack everything but squash…
  • Also, getting a veg box rather turns food planning on its head a bit. Often, we might decide to cook something because we’ve seen a recipe or have a hunger for a particular thing. Getting a veg box means that you cook with what you’re sent, not with what you’ve decided to buy from the supermarket. With Abel and Cole, we’re able to see a few days in advance what we’re getting, which means the cookbooks come out, and I have a lovely time planning what to do with what we’re having delivered.

Cookbooks

  • Because part of our hope for this project was to reduce waste, we’re making a lot more use of the freezer too; we’ve made breadcrumbs from stale bread, cooked in bulk, and frozen bananas to make smoothies.
  • There’s a lot less packaging waste from this kind of shopping, simply because there’s a heck of a lot less plastic. It wasn’t part of the original plan, but it’s now something we’re actively seeking to do.
  • We will never be able to do a one-stop-shop at anywhere but a supermarket – not even the central market in Leeds, which is wonderful, stocks everything we’d like. I think we’ve pretty much accepted this, and decided that because the time spent on food shopping in local shops or markets is a joy, rather than a chore, that helps to make up for it taking more time.
  • Having said that, time is precious and short supply here. So, if you’re as busy as us, I recommend that once you’ve found your perfect butcher/baker/cheesemonger, it’s a good idea to stick with them and build some kind of routine, in order to reduce the amount of time you spend on food shopping, even though it is fun! A great case in point is the Leeds Bread Co-op . We’ve just signed up to a regular order, that we will collect every Wednesday, hopefully it will help us stay a bit more organised (see point one!) and the bread is splendid.

Overall, the whole project is going really well. It’s making us appreciate our food more, think about what we’re buying and how we’re cooking it. We’re wasting less food, using less plastic, and really enjoying ourselves in the process. We’ll be continuing with this beyond the month of November, that’s for sure. And even if we do end up buying last-minute milk from a supermarket, if the overwhelming majority of our food comes from elsewhere, then I think we’ll still consider this to be a great success…

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November 4, 2013

Food, Glorious Food: BEDN #4

I’m starting to type this post with a stomach full of fluffy oven-baked potato, lashings of butter, a spot of parmesan and cracked black pepper, and a glass of red wine. Simple food, cooked with love, and completely perfect for Autumn.

We moved home on Friday, and I thought I’d share a couple of photos of our new kitchen. It’s not huge, but it is very sunny and, not shown in the photos, it has a table and chairs too, so we can sit and eat at the table together. Eating at the table as a family is such a huge memory of my own childhood and one that I hope to pass on to my own children. Its a time to catch up with each other, share stories, make time. And as such, it’s more important than what is on the plate in front of you.

Yellow kitchen aid mixer

Sunny little kitchen…

Having said that, what I eat is important to me, and has been at the forefront of my mind since our decision to quit using the supermarkets for a month (at the least – the way things are going it might be a permanent decision!)  We’ve set up a regular vegetable box delivery with Abel and Cole, which I really like because of the flexibility they allow with making changes to what we have delivered. As I have an allotment, very often the food I am getting in a veg box is the same as that I have grown, so to be able to say ‘no’ to various things when I’ve got a home grown glut is very helpful!

Kitchen

Freestanding kitchen unit. Spot the ‘moving-in’ Nutella glasses of prosecco!

In addition to that, since moving here we’ve bought bread and delicious cakes from Crust & Crumb, a local cafe/delicatessen, and spied a great local fruit stall that we’ll be paying a return visit to. Hunting around our new local area of Chapel Allerton in search of non-supermarket food stockists is a great way to get acquainted with the area. It looks like we’ll be spoiled for places to go out for food too!  I’m feeling really lucky to live in a place with so much independent retail. Next on the list of places to buy food from in Leeds are Millie’s, a family run food store in central Leeds, the Leeds Bread Co-op and obviously the Leeds Market. I’m going to find out when all the farmers’ markets nearby take place too. There’s nothing quite as pleasing to eye or stomach as a wander round a good farmers’ market!

But, most of all, I’m looking forward to cooking for family and friends again, and inviting them to sit around the table with us, break bread, share stories and create new memories.

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October 25, 2013

A month without supermarkets.

Last month, I had a bit of a meltdown in the local supermarket. I’ve written before on the paradox of choice and how, sometimes, when faced with too many options, I go into some kind of paralysis. When forced into a supermarket, I often find myself wandering aimlessly round  as though drugged, then like the proverbial deer in the headlights, standing in front of an entire aisle of soup, unable to drag myself away, nor make a decision about which to buy.

And that’s precisely the reason that I’m quitting them. That, and the knowledge that half the world doesn’t have enough to eat and the other half, well, me at least, is deliberating over what seems like an endless variety of food.The balance is quite clearly off and it makes me uncomfortable. I want to have a better feeling about my food than I do now.

So. What to do? Well, I’m about to move to a new area of Leeds which has an array of small independent shops. I’ve just started getting a weekly veg box delivery again. And I’m determined to make the most of my allotment produce. All of these things add up to one answer. Stop going to the supermarket. See what other suppliers are out there; the Leeds Bread Co-op that delivers locally, the farmers’ market, Leeds City Markets, Handpicked Food Hall, and a myriad of other folk. I want to know where my meat comes from, try raw milk, eat seasonally, cook more, meet the people who produce the food that I’m buying and eating. I don’t want to be that person that I become when I’m in the supermarket, making choices like a zombie. This isn’t about me being a ‘foodie’. I don’t really understand that term anyway; surely everyone who eats is a foodie? This is about making more sustainable choices, being comfortable with what I’m eating and enjoying myself. Fewer, better options feel better for me than the vast warehouse-style supermarkets that just make me uncomfortable.

It’s also not an exercise in deprivation. I’m no Jamie Oliver with his unthinking ‘ buy ten mangetout from the market’ type comments. I appreciate that this is going to take more time and is likely to cost more money. I also know how completely fortunate I am. Believe me, if I worked awkward shifts or had a very tight budget, I would stay in the supermarket, without question. I am grateful that I can make this decision.  I’m also hopeful that perhaps I’ll waste less food, use less packaging and appreciate what I’m buying, cooking and eating a bit more.

So, my statement of intent: For the whole of November I  will make sure I don’t step foot in a supermarket. I’m very hopeful that my lovely boyfriend will join me in this challenge. I think he will. As long as we find a decent beer shop! Who am I kidding, I shall need that too. At this moment in time I can only think of one problem. I need fishfingers. So, I need a non-supermarket place to buy or a great recipe to make fish-fingers. Otherwise my lovely, incredibly fussy, four year old boy will starve. Any ideas on that?

During the month, I’m going to blog about the places I find along the way. I’m also doing the Blog Every Day in November Challenge with Rosalilium, so November is going to be a busy old month on Margot & Barbara. If this month works out well, then the plan is to keep going to the end of 2013. And then, who knows. Can we get through the whole of 2014 without Tesco? Sounds good to me…

 

Bloggers: Fancy joining in? Let me know, and we can link up. 

Readers in Leeds, are there any places I should try? I’m thinking of independent food growers, producers, shops, markets etc. Let me know! 

September 9, 2013

Leeds International Beer Festival

On Thursday, I went to the second Leeds International Beer Festival.

Now, I know nothing about beer. Other than knowing what tastes I prefer (light, hoppy, perhaps some raspberry) and what I really don’t like (heavy, ‘chewy’ and too much grapefruit) I’m a complete novice. If you want to know more about beer from people who know what they’re talking about then I recommend you visit Leigh Linley at The Good Stuff or Nick at The Beer Prole (especially as there’s a photo of me looking remarkably sober on his Beer Festival post!) I like light (or what Leigh called ‘introductory’) beer and I’m happy with that. Actually, my favourite beer of all time is ‘Matilda’ made by Goose Island, if you’re ever buying…

Despite my utter lack of knowledge about beer, this isn’t the first beer festival I’ve been to. I’ve attended, and enjoyed, many a traditional CAMRA festival, despite being female and beardless, which seemed to put me distinctly in the minority. Leeds International Beer Festival is a different thing altogether though, and because of those differences, it’s the best one I’ve ever been to.

Firstly, the location is a stunning one. Leeds Town Hall is an incredible building and a wonderful choice. Having it here makes the statement that it’s being taken very seriously as an addition to the calendar of events in Leeds and that can only be a good thing. Combining beer with some excellent street food and coffee from local companies was a brilliant idea, giving us a break from drinking to line our stomachs with tasty treats!

Leeds International Beer Festival

Lovely beer and equally lovely ceiling!

We had battered-three-ways fish and chips from Fish&, chickpea stew from Lafsaneh’s Kitchen and some freebies at the very end of the night from Bundobust who are soon to open in central Leeds. I’m really excited to see where and when this opens because it was gorgeous and I’ve yet to visit the renowned Prashad restaurant, who are collaborators in this venture. Everything we ate was really excellent quality and freshly made and I honestly could have tried something from every stall! Definitely an addition that should be made to all beer festivals in future. As well as food, there was also live music all night, which helped to create the vibrant and upbeat atmosphere.

The collection of beers was an interesting one, with many contemporary-looking craft breweries and companies from the US and Europe as well as local names. My favourite drink from the evening was ‘Wu Gang Chops the Tree‘ from a small brewery called Pressure Drop. Described by them as a foraged herb hefeweisse, to me it had a light gingery and clove aftertaste which was incredibly palatable. And who doesn’t want to try a beer with that name? I also really enjoyed Lux Borealis from Hardknott brewery and some favourites from more local Yorkshire breweries, such as Ilkey Brewery’s Mary Jane and Kirkstall Brewery’s Framboise.

Such a great event, and one I hope will return next year. If it does, I’ll be back and I recommend you visit too…

July 26, 2013

Colours May Vary, Leeds.

Those of you who know me well, in real life or through the pages of this blog, will know that I have something of a magazine addiction.

Over the past few years, my magazine preferences have shifted, moving away from women’s monthlies that make false promises like ‘A Perfect Life in 10 Easy Moves’ towards more nourishing, soulful reads like Kinfolk, Cereal, Hole & Corner,  Uppercase, Another Escape and Frankie. That’s not to say the lure of the glossy doesn’t catch me – it does every so often, but if I succumb to one of them, I’m invariably disappointed.

My love of paper and of print media, as opposed to e-books, means that I like to seek out places to find the unusual, the individual and the beautiful. I’m a big fan of Magpile, I did the Guardian Masterclass in independent magazine publishing last year (watch this space…) my Pinterest account has a special board just for magazines, and you might remember that my only Christmas blog post of last year was about Stack magazine subscriptions.

I used to spend many an hour in the now-closed Leeds branch of Borders, perusing the magazines there. I was that rare type who didn’t just spend my lunch-hour standing and reading magazines that I had no intention of buying. I was the one staggering to the cash desk under a teetering pile of unusual, often imported, magazines and journals. That they didn’t survive in Leeds is not because I didn’t spend…

Thankfully, there is now a wonderful place in Leeds where I can satiate my love of magazines and print. That place is Colours May Vary.

Located in Munro House, on the outskirts of the town centre, Colours May Vary is the kind of place that is almost impossible to find; an independent retailer with the kind of relaxed and inviting vibe that doesn’t leave you feeling that you are being watched like a hawk, or always expected to buy. And that, because you feel at ease to browse, and therefore discover all manner of awesome things, is precisely one of the reasons you do buy!

PicMonkey Collage

Some of my purchases from Colours May Vary – and coffees from Laynes!

Together with the aforementioned magazines, the stock includes a great selection of art, design and children’s books, cards, gift wrap, notebooks, and an array of other carefully chosen and ever-changing items that will basically form my entire Christmas shopping this year. I know, I know, I said ‘Christmas’ in July, but I’m on a budget, which means I’ve started my shopping already. Sorry about that.

Current stock includes books, tote bags and prints from the super talented and lovely Matt Sewell, who I was fortunate enough to meet at a recent book launch there. I am currently coveting one of his prints and hoping that if I wish for one hard enough, I might be lucky enough to get one for Christmas! There, I go, mentioning Christmas again…

The customer service is wonderful, and I’ve been able on many an occasion now, to ask for a copy of a particular magazine to be put to one side to enable me to get there and buy it. It feels incredibly responsive and makes me want to sing their praises from the highest of rooftops. The collaboration with Laynes Espresso (splendid independent coffee shop near Leeds Railway Station) means that I can get a coffee and have a quick look through new issues before buying, either from Laynes, or Colours May Vary.  As you can see from the photos, I do that quite a lot!

So, if you’re in Leeds, I highly recommend that you do go to Colours May Vary. It’s a really special store that deserves every success. I’ll probably see you in there…

As an aside, after reading Issue 17 of Uppercase, I have finally booked myself onto a Letterpress Course at the West Yorkshire Print Workshop! Very excited. I’ll let you know how I get on on…

June 6, 2013

It’s my birthday!

It’s my birthday today! By the time you read this, I shall hopefully be on my way for a day of glorious sunshine at one of my favourite places, the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

Usually, my birthday is a time of reflection for me, and this year proves no different. June feels like a good time to take stock of year so far, and to make plans for the rest of it. Having made a few resolutions in January, it’s now time to see how I’m getting on with them.

1 – Run as often and as far as possible

Hmm. Not a good resolution to start off with, this one. I’ve not been running at all in the past few months. On the upside, I’ve been cycling a lot more, which I’ve decided that I prefer at the moment. In fact, I have no plans to run at all in the near future, but lots of cycling plans. So, perhaps I shall change this to ‘cycle as often and as far as possible’ and see how I get on with that.

2 – Blog as I choose – in terms of subject and frequency

It’s not long since I wrote a post about my blogging frequency, and since I wrote it, I’ve felt a continued sense of relief and of being in a lot more control over my blog. I’m going to carry on with the Slow Blogging for the foreseeable future.

3 – Do my Walk Leader training.

This is something that I’d still like to do, but my priorities have changes a bit since I wrote this list of resolutions, so it might go by the wayside without regret.

4 – Say ‘yes’ to opportunities to learn

Learning is still my absolute favourite thing to do. Recently I’ve been enjoying listening to lots of podcasts and watching TED talks on loads of different, but always interesting, subjects. I’ve just taken up analogue photography again with a Canon EOS 30, and I’m learning so much already. What I’ve realised is that I’m getting better at learning through practice,  as opposed to my usual style of learning through reading theory. Photography seems to be a particularly good example of this, alongside the many craft, cookery and gardening activities that I have planned for the rest of the year. Very soon, I’m also going to put an Impossible Project film through my vintage Polaroid SX-70 and see what happens! I bought a book called ‘Instant Love’ the other day, and it’s inspired me to get playing with it and see what images I might end up with.

5 – Cook 52 new vegetarian dishes – one for every week of the year

I’m currently at 11 recipes. So, I’ve got a long way to go with this one, but I’m not going to beat myself up if I don’t get there. This resolution was partly about learning to be more creative and confident with cooking vegetarian food, and making the most of locally grown vegetables, including those I’m growing myself, rather than any hard-and-fast ‘goal’. One of the things I’m learning is how to adapt and create new recipes too, rather than following every rule, which is a pleasant feeling and something that I shall be trying to do more of and share through Sage and Thrift too.

I’m recording my recipes on Springpad, which has been a great visual tool in  aiding my resolutions this year. I absolutely love using this App, both on my Macbook and on my iPhone; it’s an invaluable way of keeping track, using lists, photos and uploads from websites.

6 – Go on mini-adventures

My first mini-adventure this year was a few days in Paris in the Spring, which was wonderful. I’ve got a short visit to Edinburgh (all food recommendations welcome!) soon, followed by a week in Bivouac, which I’m very giddy about and a few days in Oxford planned for the summer. Oh, and I’m possibly going to swim outdoors on the dawn of Summer Solstice too … good grief.

Further adventures will arise later in the year, no doubt. I’m not going to plan everything, but just say yes to things as the opportunity arises. I love the idea of packing a bag and setting off to destinations unknown, so hopefully that might happen too.

7 – Record all my spending

I’ve created a spreadsheet to track my budget every month and, rather than feeling restricted by it, I feel so much more in control, which is rather lovely. Overall, it seems that the amount I spend on frivolous fripperies and fancy stuff – trying saying that after a pint – is very little. Possibly something to rectify? We’ll see …

8 – Host one Sage & Thrift event every month

This project is something that I’m really proud of starting. We’re growing, generating plenty of interest and have lots of wonderful plans. Our next event is a cookbook swap on 23rd June in Leeds, so if you’re around, do come and say hello!

9 – Reduce my possessions

This resolution has definitely happened, for a variety of reasons, to the extent that I could now fit all my possessions –  with the exception of my bike –  into my small car.  I’m still working on my wardrobe and book collections. Although minimalism and I are slightly uncomfortable with each other (due to my messy nature!) I’m aiming to simplify my belongings, to make any new purchases really thoughtfully and to choose the best available options for me each time.

10 – Read one decent book a month

I’ve read eight novels this year so far,  as well as a number of non-fiction titles so it really does feel as though I’ve read very little this year. I love to lose myself in a good book, and have a reading list as long as my arm. The longer days of summer might be just the time to spend more time reading – the ultimate Slow activity. Again, I’m not going to beat myself up if I don’t meet this goal. If there’s one thing I learned from my enormous GoodReads Challenge of 2012 it’s that quality definitely beats quantity when it comes to fiction. I’ve been recording my books on Springpad too – and creating a reading wish-list, so I remember all the great books that are recommended to me!

11 – Attend one cultural event each month

I’ve included everything from cinema to art gallery exhibitions for this goal, and I’ve actually surprised myself with what I’ve managed to do in the first half of the year. I’ve seen live music from David Ford, visited the National Gallery in London and the Musee du Luxumbourg in Paris, seen a stunning production of The Great Gatsby from Northern Ballet, attended Bettakulture, watched a wonderful new Sherlock Holmes play at the West Yorkshire Playhouse and visited several art exhibitions around the country. Recording this (again, on Springpad) has been a great eye-opener, and is a good reminder to myself that actually, I do lots of things and am really very lucky.

12 – Be kind to myself. 

This one rather underpins everything else. So often, I’m so keen to improve myself and to meet goals, that I get cross if things don’t go as planned, or if I don’t manage to be quite as brilliant as I think I should be. My beloved friend and Sage & Thrift partner, Jo, always says that we must ensure that we don’t use our plans as  ‘a stick to beat ourselves with’, which I love. It’s something that I’ve been trying to keep at the forefront of my mind this year. Life is challenging, and often doesn’t quite go as you thought it might. Plans don’t always work out, and it’s important to be adaptable, shrug your shoulders once in a while, and not get so caught up in the desire to achieve that you forget to have fun along the way.

With that in mind, I’m spending today having fun and with no aims other than to eat cake, sit in the sunshine and enjoy turning 37. Wishing you all a lovely day today. Even if it’s not your birthday …

May 27, 2013

‘Sherlock Holmes: The Best Kept Secret’ at West Yorkshire Playhouse.

On Thursday, I had the great pleasure of a night at the West Yorkshire Playhouse for a performance of ‘The Best Kept Secret’, a new Sherlock Holmes play written by Mark Catley.

It was only when I started writing this review that I realised that, on the quiet, I’m a bit of a Sherlock Holmes fan. I haven’t really considered it before, but I’ve watched both of the new Robert Downey Jnr. film adaptations, the BBC series’ ‘Sherlock’ and even ‘Elementary’ with Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Lui. I’ve enjoyed them all, with special reference to Benedict Cumberbatch, for reasons I won’t elaborate on here! And, of course, before all of these and previous TV incarnations, there are the books, which I’ve read and enjoyed too.

So, it probably comes as no surprise to hear that I loved this play. Really loved it. Sometimes, I go to the theatre, opera, ballet, gallery, to be challenged. To come away with questions, and to feel as though I’ve learned something at the end of it, or at the very least to have tried!

But other times, I just want to be whisked away from my everyday life and be entertained. To laugh, engage with a story, and be surprised that hours have passed and it’s the end of the show already. In a nutshell, that’s what this play did.

Warning: The rest of the post contains spoilers!

Setting the play in the Victorian period, rather than updating to contemporary London, gave the brilliantly rotating sets a wonderful, slightly sinister, Steam-punkish quality, enhanced by ever-present swirling smoke. Without wanting to give too much away, the play is set in the period after the events at Reichenbach Falls, which Holmes fans will know as the final showdown between Holmes and his nemesis Moriarty. The opening scenes (after a  brilliant first moment in which a rowing boat moves through the darkness) see a retired and broken Sherlock selling stories of his cases to pay the rent.  Once Holmes’ brother Mycroft is falsely imprisoned for treason, it is down to Holmes, the ever-faithful Dr Watson and ‘The Woman’ Irene Adler, to clear his name before he is hanged. Complicating matters are Andrew Langtree as the low-level journalist seeking more sensational stories and, of course, Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard, played with a dry wit by Victor McGuire.

Sherlock Holmes (Jason Durr) Photo: Manuel Harlan.

Sherlock Holmes (Jason Durr)
Photo: Manuel Harlan.

I really enjoyed the whole cast, although I have to say that for me, Kerry Peers as the poverty-stricken Mrs Peasgoode was a fabulous scene-stealer even from beyond the grave during a splendidly surreal moment in which Holmes is suffering under the effects of his opiate addition.

Jason Durr is a wonderful Sherlock, struggling with his afflictions, being painfully aware of his shortcomings – at one point asking for lessons in smalltalk –  and ultimately triumphing over a foe who seems to know his every move. Adrian Lukas plays his brother Mycroft  as an even more socially inept character, despite, or more likely because of, his genius and it is left to us to realise the way in which Sherlock’s relationship with Dr Watson (excellently played by Andrew Hall) has humanised him and made him more able to cope in the world, despite everything.

I read an interview with the play’s writer, Mark Catley, and he’s a big fan of Joss Whedon (creator of Buffy, amongst other wonderful shows) and I see real similarities in their style evident in this play. The fusion of pithy one liners with action, the feeling of being ‘an insider’ with the jokes, and the occasionally uncomfortable combination of the funny with the macabre gave me a feeling that this play didn’t take itself too seriously; perhaps summed up with the line “no shit, Sherlock” being used to great effect by Tanya Franks as Irene Adler. I loved that, despite the obvious comedic elements, there was a huge amount of attention to detail, from the deerstalker and pipe to the 221B painted on the outside of the front door. This may be a brand-new Sherlock Holmes story but it’s one that devoted Holmes fans will appreciate, I’m sure, for these little touches as well as for the story that kept me in its thrall the entire time.

The audience reacted incredibly warmly to the performance, there was much affection for it at the end, and everyone I was with commented that they’d had lots of fun.  The play is on at the West Yorkshire Playhouse until 8th June and then begins a tour before moving to the West End. If you’re looking for an evening of pure entertainment and a wonderful new story based on well-loved characters, then this is it.