Friday, 27 April 2012

Tales from Elsewhere - The Spanish Villa - (3 of 3)

Dad’s opium was the television.  When they first arrived in Spain someone gave them an old portable black and white set, and in due course they purchased a large colour one.  Dad kept the old black and white one going on the lower shelf of a small trolley he kept by his armchair, out of sight of my mother.  This enabled him to  scan the Spanish channels and look at the pretty Spanish presenters, or see snatches of a spicy film – all on mute of course.  Mum pretended she never noticed what he was doing while they watched the main television, but I’m sure she was aware – she knew him too well.
The two televisions - the main one is switched on, and
by the armchair is the little trolley with the portable
b+w one underneath, and on top the radio to listen to

Then Sky television came along, and he loved it.  At last he could watch sports to his heart’s content.  He overcame the trifle of it being in Spanish when he preferred English, by illegally subscribing to the British service giving my address in the UK.  Sky never checked up on this, though they must have been puzzled that if he had a problem I would ring for him and never pass the telephone through to him because he was ‘out’ or ‘too old to come to the phone’. 
It became embarrassing when he decided to subscribe to the Adult Channel and there were teething problems at first.  I had to lie to the sceptical engineer on the phone that my father couldn’t receive any signal but that they couldn’t talk to him personally because he was too ‘old’ and ‘confused’.  I’m sure he wondered about the customer who wanted adult TV but was too confused to come to the phone...  In the end it was more trouble than it was worth.  Dad said that it didn’t start till midnight, and what with the time difference in Spain they were an hour ahead, and he just couldn’t stay awake till 1 a.m…
John and Dad, lying on his bed, with Vicky on his knee.
Listening to cricket on the radio.
(Please note the wallpaper was the taste of
the previous owners of the house!)

Mum had inherited a magnificent light oak grandfather clock which her mother remembered being in the house where she had grown up in the village of Bell Ville, province of Córdoba, Argentina, in the late 1800’s, all that was left now of a former dining-room suite with table, chairs and dresser.  It had – or has – a rich booming chime on the hour and the half hour, two notes per chime (G and B), the second being the louder:  G B, G B…. it reminded me of the first two notes of the old song in the round -
“London’s burning,
 London’s burning,
Draw nearer, draw nearer,
Fire fire! … Fire fire!
And we have no water…”

My mother grew up to this sound, and then my sister and myself – always gonging it’s way into our ears to tell us we were late for something or other. 
While they lived in Spain the clock had pride of place in the reception area which was used as a sitting room and dining-room… and was therefore near the television. 

My father claimed he was so used to it that he no longer heard it, but it seemed to me that we watched television during the times when it would chime the most – 7 o’clock, 8’clock… and up to midnight.  Bang-BONG! Bang-BONG! Bang-BONG!  This was of course always when the punch line was being delivered by a comedian, Poirot would be about to reveal the murderer, the lovers had finally, FINALLY overcome all the impossible obstacles and were alone about to tell each other something..., or the quizmaster would be telling you the answer to the question which you thought you knew and the contestant plainly didn’t.  It drove me insane.  And yet I love that old clock; it's in the family still.

At heart Mum disapproved strongly not only of the television but of my father’s computer too, I suspect because they took him into another world where intrusion was not welcome.  After he died she neatly covered both with washed and freshly ironed teacloths, and they were never looked at again.
Just as dogs follow their owners, cats purr when you scratch them behind their ears and birds have no consideration or interest whatsoever as to where their droppings will  fall, it is an immutable fact of nature and stamped in our DNA that daughters will find their fathers embarrassing as from teenage years and forever after.  No matter how their fathers look, what they do or how hard said progenitors’ efforts are to gain pride and acceptance from their female children, it is written that the blood vessels around the facial area and neck of said offspring will be doomed to regular outings when they are in public together, no matter how fond they are of him.

So it was – sigh – with Dad.  He was a warm, charming man liked by all, with a twinkle in his eye and a well of jokes of all colours and all tastes, and God help us, not a self-conscious bone in his body (or he kept it well hidden - and paradoxically he would probably have been embarrassed reading this).   We knew some of his tricks of old, yet neither my sister nor myself ever managed to stop ourselves from shifting uncomfortably in our chairs when he trotted them out. 
At dinner parties for example he had two expressions he adored – goodness knows where he got them from, but the hostesses loved them.  At the end of the meal he would say to her, bowing low -

“Madam, your culinary efforts are only excelled by your charm” -

which would be received with a coy giggle and a flutter of eyelashes from her, and a despairing glance skywards from my sister and me. 

The other expression was inevitably produced when he was asked if he wanted a second helping -

“I have had an elegant sufficiency; any more would be a superfluity and render obnoxious that of which I have already partaken.”
But this was standard stuff compared to the occasions when we ate out at restaurants, from my teenage years and all over Argentina right up to his eighties when my parents were living in Spain and we would all go out for a meal at a Spanish fonda.  This man with the impeccable manners at dinner parties saw no conflict in employing the same hastening tactics with waiters as he had used in transport cafés in Buenos Aires way back when he was eating in a hurry before going back to work.  If they took too long to bring his meal Dad would wave his arms at them and tap his watch, then spread his hands with a winning smile and – in an atmosphere where other diners were eating quietly - call out the equivalent of “Hey chief, what’s the problem?”  (Che Jefe, qué pasa?”).  I admit my embarrassment would manifest itself as anger towards him, and I regret that now, but I just could not cope with it. 
The worst times were when he had worked out that the waitresses were Italian – a common occurrence in both Argentina and Spain – and he would do his non-linguist versions of the two phrases he knew well.  The astonished pretty Italian girls didn’t know what to make of these pronouncements, uttered as they were placing food before us –
“I peccati d'amore sono tutti perdonati”
(the sins of love are all forgiven),
“Il matrimonio è una battaglia nella quale si dorme col nemico”
(marriage is a battle where you sleep with the enemy)
– both of which came from fancy ashtrays we had at home.  By this stage my sister or I would have our heads in our hands.
Spending a couple of weeks with Mum and Dad in summer or winter generally involved a very pleasant evening with the Nobles next door, who were generous to a fault and charmingly hospitable.  While Noli prepared wonderful paellas in her metre-wide paella dish, Nico particularly liked to ply us with the well known wines of his native town of Requena, and bring out some rare liqueurs which he kept in his drinks cupboard.  Dad and my partner John never said no, but John held his drink better.  It didn’t take much for my parents to become quite squiffy and start to sing, and I would watch with dread as I recognised the signs. 
Egged on by Noli who enjoyed their singing as much as my reaction, they would work their way through the dozen or so well-known Argentine patriotic songs very familiar to all schoolchildren, who would have had to sing them during music lessons, practice them in the school breaks and sing them formally in assembly when the national flag was raised, or on celebration days when there were ceremonies in honour of anniversaries of historical events or the birth of a national hero.  They usually had a marching rhythm, which my parents would helpfully demonstrate by shaping their hands into fists and moving their elbows backwards and forwards in unison, like the connecting rods on a steam locomotive.  Noli and Nico would look at them, then look at me, and scream with laughter.  The singing would continue as we said goodnight and staggered back next door in the cool, otherwise silent night.

Dad was no great cook, confining himself to toast and fried peanuts (when we were little you could only buy shelled peanuts), and I hasten to add not both at the same time.  Later in life he mastered the microwave for simple things, and his mother's ancient marmalade recipe, which he and Mum made together.  The Marmalade Marathon would take place in the new year, when they would drive to a village nearby which had bitter Seville orange trees growing on the sidewalk and were free to all. 

Once home, the fruit would be subjected to a medieval instrument of torture, a prized possession of my grandmother's dating from the twenties which was black and threatening looking, like a cross between a mincer and thumbscrews.  It tore the flesh and skin to pieces in a most aggressive manner when you turned the handle, but turned out very satisfactory lumps which as marmalade you later spread on your toast.  Following arguments about weighing in imperial or metric and the use of copious quantities of paper with scribbled sums involving volume, weight and time required for the soaking of the pips for the pectin, the first cooking of the fruit and the second cooking with the sugar, the stuff bubbled away in cauldrons hovered over by the two anxious cooks. 

"It's ready."

"No it's not, the pectin hasn't had time to work yet."

"But it's going to burn and go all dark - remember you did that last year."

"That was because you should have been watching it, I wasn't well."

The secret was to have small plates cooling in the fridge, which would be brought out when the time was judged to be right, and samples of the boiling marmalade dripped on to a fresh one every few minutes, to see if 'a skin had formed'.

"It's not a skin I tell you."

"Yes it is, look how I can trail it with the spoon".

"I think it should carry on boiling for a bit."

"It's already been on twenty minutes".

"OK have it your way, but it'll be your fault if it's like soup."

"And your fault if it tastes like soup."

The good times became few and far between after a winter’s day when during an unusually fierce downpour sections of the roof all round the house caved in and the house was flooded.  They were on their own at the time, but six wonderfully kind neighbours came to their help with squeegees and floor mops; over several hours they cleared away the swirling muddy water and set up plastic tubs to catch the rain falling through the various holes in the ceiling.  Eventually it was all repaired, but to save money they had not insured the property or the contents, so it was also a financial blow to them.
The real damage however was to their morale, particularly my father’s, who was terribly distressed by it all and it is possible that it may have triggered the Parkinsons disease to which he succumbed the following year.  Mum just got on with things in her practical way, carefully segregating the books which had been damaged and propping them up (open) all over the house, and once a day doing the rounds turning all the pages to help in the drying process – a bizarre sight when you visited.
Dad had enjoyed sorting out his papers and his books in a particular sequence of his choosing years before, and up until that point had known where everything was.  Now he had to start from scratch, and everything was water stained.  It was heartbreaking to see.
After he died, every time my sister or I visited my mother we would take advantage of our stay there to help her sort through her things, decide what to give or throw away and so on.  One hot afternoon I tackled the paellero, the humbler version of what the Nobles had in their back garden for cooking paellas al fresco, but with the difference that this one was properly enclosed and had only ever been used as a store room.  Both my parents had been the sort of people who had lived through lean times when you recycled what you could and kept any unlikely object just in case you could use it somewhere.  In a corner of the paellero Dad had made columns of drawers from some long gone dressing table, inside which were neatly stacked and labelled old plugs, sockets, wires, cables and an amazing large assortment of taps of every shape and description.
I was both stunned and moved to see it all, fresh as I was from sorting out his home-made lean-to open shed the day before, which I had found choc full of jars of every shape and size, filled to the brims with carefully sorted nails, screws and bolts.  Thus he had brought order to his life years before he had become too infirm to be able to do so, or indeed to care, and it was painful to have to classify it as junk and throw it away.
When my mother eventually moved to Britain to live with us my sister took care of the disposal of the house and the contents which were no longer required, an enormous job.  The house was sold to two men who were designers, and over the next year or so they transformed the house from the unlovely concrete building that it was into a futuristic concrete building with minimalist décor and plenty of white walls and aluminium surfaces.  It appeared in decorating magazines and was runner up in a local television competition for makeovers.  Noli has suggested many times that I might like to see how it looks now, but I am not brave enough to do so.
There were both happy and sad times, but overall they have left me with a better knowledge of and an enormous affection for Spanish people and their culture.  I will never forget those bittersweet years.


Photo Finish
- from Lonicera's non-digital archive

Requena, Nico Noble's home town


Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Tales from Elsewhere - The Spanish Villa - (2 of 3)

On the urbanización where my parents spent their retire-ment near Valencia in Spain (above), there were no sewage pipes so each house had its own cesspit (pozo negro, or black hole), the cause of regular dramas.  About once a year these would have to be emptied, and a tanker with huge hoses would lumber up to the gate.  For the next hour or two we became pariahs as the air turned thick with the stench of human waste, and all friends and neighbours kept well clear of us. 
Some days it seemed my father thought of little else.
“You women, always washing and flushing...” he would mutter as he paced up and down the corridor.  “The pozo negro is getting full, you don’t need to run so much water...  why do you need to wash your hair every single day?”
When friends and relations came to stay his neurosis would increase.  The lid of the hellhole was unfortunately positioned outside quite near to the window of the guest bathroom and no doubt they could hear the clank of the cover and his ominous muttering as with wrinkled nose he lifted the lid and peered anxiously within.  To our great embarrassment he would then warn disconcerted guests who thought they were safe in the toilet by calling through the locked door that they shouldn’t use too much water because the pozo negro might overflow. 
The anxiety was catching and as we contemplated the prospect of this awful occurrence, our imaginations would go into overdrive.  It took years of this routine before I learned to ignore it.
But in July when the fig tree was full of ripe fruit and they were so sweet and juicy that you couldn’t help but stand there gorging yourself, you inevitably found yourself spending more time in that particular room of the house than you might have wished, and if you were a first time guest, you would have been curious to note the old post-it notes stuck to the mirror and maybe were too polite to ask why they were there, putting it down to the family’s eccentricities.
They remained clinging to the mirror for almost the whole of their 15 year sojourn in Spain.  My mother was anxious that guests should be aware that the tap water was not for drinking. She had therefore put up a notice on a yellow post-it note, helpfully advising us in both English and Spanish large capital letters –
The Spanish version said – and it translates well:

To which someone had added underneath
 “...  wait for it to stand still”...                 (esperar hasta que se pare...)
... and another guest had added later
 “... or sit down.”                                       (...o se siente)

The English post-it note originally said:
Someone had added a comma and a few words at the end, which made the sign now read –
Childish stuff perhaps, but it amused my parents no end, and they left the two post-its there for the duration.  The ink gradually faded as did the yellow paper, which curled at the edges and the glue became ineffective as it acquired more dust – but they would not take them down.   Remembering an entry in the ‘Humor in Uniform’ section of a sixties’ copy of Reader’s Digest which my father quoted for years, where a senior army man had put a sign on the recruits’ bathroom mirror which said “THINK!”, to which a new soldier responded by putting another sign further down with an arrow pointing down and to the right, on which he wrote “THOAP!”, I should not have been surprised that he enjoyed this little exchange.
From time to time there was further entertainment to be found in the bathroom.  Reminiscent of elephants remembering their ancient route across the savannah, when recently erected villages in its way were merely an obstacle to be trampled through, the ants in the house had a collective memory relayed in their genes down the generations, and every year or two you could watch an impressive procession of ants making their way determinedly across the china in the kitchen cupboard, through an infinitesimal hole in the wall and into the bathroom, proceeding from right to left along the edge of the bathtub, climbing perilously to the window, and disappearing to the exterior of the building through some further invisible hole.  No attempts to deal with them had the slightest effect, and as they marched across the bathtub they probably regarded people having a shower as a mere annoyance. 

Another cohort had more suicidal tendencies, as they proceeded single file from one end of the swimming pool to the other, under the rim.  My partner John, easily entertained, could be found hour after hour hunched over them trying to follow where they went…
For us of course the swimming pool was a blessed relief in the scorching summer months, and it enabled my mother to have regular exercise in comfort.  The job of keeping it properly chlorinated fell to my father, who enjoyed scooping up samples, testing them, calculating how much chlorine was required and mixing it in afterwards.  The local feral cats didn’t seem to mind drinking this powerful cocktail, and we made sure we never got in during this procedure. 

As the years went by however and Dad became increasingly unsteady on his feet, he lost interest in the endless demands of a sparkling swimming pool, and Mum wasn’t too bothered – as a young girl in rural Argentina she had been quite used to swimming in Australian tanks where water for cattle troughs was stored and you could find yourself sweeping the slime aside as you swam, making sure you kept your mouth well closed.  So what if the water was slightly less than jewel turquoise?  But Noli observed this with horror through the hedge next door, and took action without their knowledge.  I don’t think they ever knew that she would lob chlorine tablets over the fence – quite a feat for a five foot little lady and a 12 foot pine tree hedge followed by a distance of some 15 ft (5 metres) to the pool's edge.
There were many feral cats in the area, with no attempt at neutering them, and I inevitably fell in love with a succession of adorable kittens over the years.  Mum always had a scientific curiosity about animals, but except for certain special dogs which had entered and exited her life at various points, she never allowed herself to get sentimental about them, particularly cats.  She refused to feed any of them, and it had to be recognised that it would have been an all day job, for there were so many beautiful felines struggling to survive.  

Dad was different though, and one feral young cat which was braver than most and ventured into the house when my mother was out, won his heart, and he started sneaking food to her whenever he could.  He called her Vicky, and she was indeed a gorgeous creature.  By the time Mum realised what was going on it was too late, and Dad got stubborn about it; so it was that Vicky achieved the unheard of luxury of being accepted into the household. 


She knew who her friends were though – Dad was the only person to whom she would go and by whom she allowed herself to be stroked, and whose lap was in constant demand.  I consider myself to be as irresistible to cats as humans are ever likely to be.  I know the gentleness and quiet voice they like, not looking them in the eye, and about being generally soothing and non-threatening – but with Vicky I got absolutely nowhere.  She only had eyes for Dad.
It was a sad fact of life however that getting her to a far off vet was just not possible, and a conjunctivitis she picked up when no one in the family was around except them, meant that she went virtually blind, and we heard later that she picked up another infection that caused Dad to ask a neighbour to take her away and  have her put down.  He grieved for a long time and thereafter left the feral cats well alone.

(To be continued. 
Next time - why daughters feel embarrassed by their fathers...)

Photo Finish
- from Lonicera's non-digital archive

Fuerteventura, Canary Islands


Saturday, 21 April 2012

Tales from Elsewhere - The Spanish Villa - (1 of 3)

My parents retired to Spain from Argentina in the late 1980s and lived in a garden suburb near Chiva, a village ten miles from Valencia on the Mediterranean, towards Madrid, until my father died some fifteen years later.  Eighteen months after that my mother moved to England and died in early 2007.  

It brought to an end what had been for the most part a very pleasant sojourn in Spain and I retain pleasant memories of visiting them twice a year with my partner John – for my birthday in mid June and at Christmas.  I therefore regularly saw that region of Spain during the tourist season and in the cooler winter when the citrus trees, heavy with fruit, awaited harvest in the brilliant winter sunshine...  

 ...and Spaniards would return to their families for the most important religious festival of the year.

As a bilingual family we were fortunate to communicate easily with neighbours, friends and shopkeepers; we all made many friends there, and seven years later we are still in close contact with the Noble family, my parents’ kindly former next door neighbours.  Noli and Nico Noble are in their fifties now and their daughter Blanca in her early thirties.
They were a young couple when my parents first went to live there.   One evening Mum and Dad were having dinner with my visiting sister, brother-in-law and niece, and they heard screaming coming from next door.  One of them immediately got up and went to see what was the matter, and found a little girl of six or seven hanging onto the bars of the locked gates which led through the front garden to the darkened house.  She was crying in distress. 
When they were able to make sense of what she was saying between hiccoughs they learned that her name was Blanca, that her parents were at the club and she had been at a friend’s house nearby.  When she decided she wanted to go home by herself she had expected them to be home when she got there but when she saw the house with no lights and locked, didn’t recognise her way back to her friend’s in the dark and didn’t know what to do.   She knew my parents by sight, so let herself be persuaded to go next door to await the return of the Nobles.  My niece was two years older and took her under her wing, chatting to her to calm her down, until twenty minutes later they heard Noli and Nico’s car pull into the drive.  The child had been told to await collection at her friend’s, which Blanca had forgotten, and all was resolved.
This was the start of a firm friendship with the Nobles, and they were to become essential in my parents’ lives as they aged. 

Despite the small age difference the girls naturally gravitated towards each other when my niece visited from London.  There was a memorable occasion when the club was hosting a fancy dress competition for the younger members, and they both presented themselves done up to the nines with as much makeup on as they could get away with.
Noli and Nico referred to their house as the ‘chalet’, or weekend home, for they had a flat – and jobs - in the city of Valencia.  It was in typical modern Spanish style with pretty red roof tiles and wooden shutters, a large garage on the ground floor, terracotta steps lined with ornamental tiles which led up to a large cool and airy verandah where we enjoyed many an al fresco meal.  There was a carved wooden front door which opened into a large house with gleaming tiled floors, ample rooms and a light, minimalist décor. 
At the front the garden had been mainly laid to gravel, with some hardy shrubs which could withstand the intense summer heat, helped along by a more modest version of the irrigation system used in the citrus plantations – half-buried, black hoses with minute holes in them which ‘leaked’ drops of water.  This was switched on during the week when the property was empty.  At the back they had the paellero, an ornamental tiled shelter with a fireplace large enough to accommodate Noli’s paella dish measuring almost a metre in diameter, next to a tiled table and benches protected by an awning – another superb setting for balmy evening meals soaked in sangría.

By contrast, my parents’ bungalow was an uninviting square, concrete structure, (picture above) whose stolid appearance was relieved slightly by the swimming pool at the end. 
(Photo by Shane)

From the pool you could climb onto the flat roof via a large, ugly metal fire escape.  Once up there, you would have been surprised to notice that it had lamps on metal stems positioned at regular intervals round the perimeter, crowned as they were with football shaped glass globes because, we were told, the previous owners had used the area for parties.  They looked odd when you were looking up at them from street level, and the social use they had once enabled did no good at all to the roof, which always had to be patched up so it wouldn’t cause leaks below.
Some of the globes had been removed by the time this picture
was taken.  John in the foreground looking, as he would call it
"fonzed and brit".  (He loves spoonerisms...)

The garden area was a testament to my father’s determination to recreate his childhood memories of humid Buenos Aires, in the dry desert conditions of Valencia.  Blue hydrangeas turned pink despite the acid soil mulches, then withered and died anyway; thanks to the use of the Nobles’ watering method of hoses with small holes partly buried under the soil, the rose bushes survived, producing small blooms with little scent and small leaves.  At Dad’s request I brought over plenty of daffodil bulbs one winter, and carefully dug them in around the mud patch outside their kitchen, where they would see them and remember to water them regularly, but the hot sun was too much for them, and I only saw them once, the flowers hanging limply on their stems. 
Worse still were the sweet peas, which made me wince with foreboding even as I carefully planted them and put up sticks, held together with string.  He longed for the delicate petals and the sweet perfume to remind him of his mother’s garden, but no amount of watering could do it – they shrivelled as soon as the hot air swept past them in the summer months... as did even the sticks.

But the fig, orange, tangerine and lemon trees thrived, as did the succulents in the heavy shade, and the bougainvillea rioted all over the fence.  In the evenings the sprinkler would pick up the aromatic scent of the geraniums – but Dad was always disappointed that he couldn’t bring back the bygone days.

Further afield the citrus groves surrounded the cluster of garden suburbs or urbanizaciones, as they are called.  The owners had long since yielded to the inevitable in establishing the rule that if you wanted to walk through his groves you were allowed to carry away with you any fruit that you could fit in your pockets, but bags were not permitted.  Noli would laugh at this, and evening walks with her usually involved a shopping trolley, as I would glance nervously around, imagining armies of angry fruit growers bearing down upon us wielding big sticks.

Back at the urbanizaciones, the (mostly) pretty houses still do not have mains gas or sewerage today, as residents fear the expense of such major installations.  The very heavy gas cylinders – bombonas  - were delivered by the bombonero on certain days of the week, and he would leave them at the front gate, with 12 steps still to climb to the front door.  While he could, my father valiantly struggled with them unless we were around, but in the end they had to depend on neighbours or the goodwill of the delivery man.  The cooking was done using these cylinders, and there were many times when the preparation of meals – a Christmas lunch once – was brought to an abrupt halt, and recriminations liberally sprinkled with dramatic exclamation marks would follow –
“The bombona’s finished! The turkey isn’t ready!”
“Well put another bombona in then!”
“There isn’t one!”
“Well you order them, don’t you?”
“Why is it always my fault?”
“When is the next delivery?”
“After new year!”
“Oh my God!”
(Later, after Dad had gone next door...) “Noli says we can finish it off on the paellero – we can’t use their oven because they’re cooking stuff for their family party tonight!”
“The paellero?  Are you MAD?  How can we cook a turkey on a paellero?”
“I don’t know!  It’s your fault anyway, if you had ordered a new bombona...”
...and so on.
(To be continued.  Next time - the cesspit...)


Photo Finish
- from Lonicera's non-digital archive


Sunday, 8 April 2012

"Iolanthe" production - the pictures

It's been such a busy few weeks that I haven't had time to do what makes me happiest - write a story.  Health issues, busy shows, happy weddings, sad funerals - and not enough time to look at the screen and think.  So for this week I'll show you my dress rehearsal photos of this year's production of the Bristol Gilbert & Sullivan Operatic Society - Iolanthe - with comments.

John as one of the lords, looking pensive
(and very hot under that crown, apparently)

Another lord, with as it happens, his father (in real life)
in similar role standing behind him. 

Two of the fairies - they claimed the wigs they wore were even hotter!

The Queen of the Fairies

This fairy had disobeyed a fairy law and had been sentenced to
live at the bottom of a river for 25 years,
hence the green hair...

This fairy was going to find it difficult to walk about the stage so they arranged a wheelchair for her, suitably covered in foliage.  In her right hand she holds an ear trumpet (all the better to hear with) and in her left is Philip the corgi, normally carried around by the Queen of the Fairies (an innovation this year which went down very well with the audience).  Philip was a glove puppet, and was therefore able to react wonderfully to what was being said.  He almost upstaged the Queen...

The love interest - singing how they feel about each other.

End of Act One

The "very susceptible Chancellor". 
(He makes all his own costumes - isn't it beautiful?)

A close-up of the Queen which shows off her adorable "crown".

In all Gilbert's plots there are simpering 'young ladies' being coy with the men before trapping them into marriage.  In this case the women were fairies who never aged, and the men were lords in Parliament.  He was clearly trying to tell us something about the times - or how he saw women...

The sentry outside the Houses of Parliament

The Finale


 Photo Finish
- from Lonicera's non-digital archive

An outing to Wells Cathedral with a visiting school friend

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