Sunday, September 20, 2009

Cupcakes, culture & clotted cream

Whoops, it's been an age since I last wrote. Perhaps an indication of the boring woes of being a PhD student in that interminable "finishing" stage. Nonetheless the past couple of months have certainly not been unenjoyable. On the whole it was a better summer than I think we have had for a few years, the sun shining beatifically upon this normally grey little isle for weeks on end (although it also rained with a vengeance in July, just to balance things out a bit -- had two exceedingly sodden bike rides back from the wilds of southern Cambridge). So despite being rather full speed ahead with work most of August, it was pleasant interspersing this with the occasional hour or so sitting on the Trinity backs reading and watching the punts go by.

I had a couple of crazily fantastic weekends in August. First off I flew to New York for less than 48 hours to help my second sister to choose a wedding dress! Great fun although it did mean that I spent most of Saturday and Monday afternoons feeling a bit like a grumpy bump on a log despite copious caffeination to get me through wedding dress fitting and work respectively. It was so much fun being served cupcakes whilst critiqueing white satin confections of another sort. She must have tried on 50 dresses, but I think it was worth it. As they say you only do it once. Managed to fit in some New York favourites too, lunching at Chelsea Market, having dinner in the East Village, and having a big bowl of savoury ramen for Sunday brunch at Ippudo on St Mark's. Whilst at lunch we were having a slightly confused conversation about the wine of the night before, when our water waiter interrupted to give us a gentle masterclass on the grape under discussion. Only in New York. Still haven't found a city to beat it.

The next weekend, after some truly insane days at work and on email with the dance company trying to leave things in order before a big stint away, I headed up to Edinburgh for the last weekend of the Festival. Certainly lived up to expectations, but perhaps that's because we crammed 10 shows into two days. There is such an amazing buzz about the place. Highlights were the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre (one Scotsman, a cardboard stand, two socks, lots of costumes and a falsetto voice is all you need for an hour of side splitting hilarity), Baba Brinkman's Rap Guide to Evolution, and Jason Byrne. He reminds me a bit of an Irish Catholic Jack Black, a ball of manic hilarious energy with a show variously about being brought up in Ireland, raising kids himself, misadventures with various skeletal joints, and cutting up men in cardboard boxes... Absolutely fantastic.

From Edinburgh I flew straight to Cornwall to spend three weeks in its darkest western depths choreographing Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado for performance at the Minack Theatre on the cliffs of Porthcurno. This is the society's 48th year doing this stint at the Minack, so it is a very venerable tradition and one that I'd heard lots about from my theatrical friends so I thought it was time to give it a go! The theatre is a truly remarkable thing, built right into the cliffs near Land's End, with the sea as a backdrop for the stage. In fact the entire experience is also pretty remarkable as the entire cast, production team, and orchestra all sleep on airbeds on the floor in a village hall in lovely Paul (just up the road from better known fishing village Mousehole, near Penzance) for the three weeks: two weeks of rehearsal from scratch and one week of performance. (Although I cheated and moved out to a cottage in Mousehole for the last week, so I only really had the share the floor and the single shower with 50 other people for a couple of weeks...) Despite being pretty hard work for the first week or so when we were rehearsing flat out in the hall, the church, the carpark etc. (and choreographing in between), it was a great experience to spend time with such a lovely bunch of people and also get my teeth into some good old cheesy G&S choreography, although my allergy to cheese was helped by the fact that I got to make pretty geisha dances as well as pirate ships (what else for "Yeo ho, heave ho," etc?).

Cornwall itself was absolutely beautiful, at least in the second half of the trip when the weather cleared (I arrived to find Paul quite literally in a cloud). By show week I was freed from the rehearsal room to enjoy myself and think managed to get in a good varied holiday in between endlessly watching the show. One lovely thing was the chance to experience a little of the local culture as we sang in the Paul church service one Sunday we were there (as a token of our gratitude for being allowed to noisily invade their village for three weeks!), and also experienced a grand old singalong in the pub with the members of the Mousehole Male Voice Choir. I did a little Cornish sightseeing, visiting the almost tropical gardens of St Michael's Mount at Marazion, pottering about Penzance and Mousehole, walking from Sennen Cove to Land's End where I sent the obligatory postcard. And of course there were all the endless beautiful beaches and the sea, the glorious sea. Between a matinee and an evening we all trooped down to the beach (also built into the cliff, so there is actually a cliff path straight from dressing rooms to beach -- where else?!) and leaped into the freezing sea and got well buffeted by the waves and then froze for a bit trying to soak up the last rays of sun. Ah, very English. I even managed to fit in a couple of dives at Lamorna Cove in probably the best UK diving conditions ever (15 degrees and 8 m vis!). It was pleasant to be underwater again, and the kelp beds were quite pretty, and I found a lovely little cuttlefish, plus lots of bass and wrasse and shrimp and limpets and anemones, but to be honest I did it mainly so that I could say that I had actually dived in the UK and I'm not sure if I can be persuaded to do it again ;) And of course, I consumed a glut of pasties and clotted cream. That's Cornwall done I think! A really lovely part of the country.

Back in Cambridge and wading back into the dual jobs of PhD and dance company. Thankfully I arrived with the weekend to get myself up to date with the latter, but it's back on the former tomorrow morning at work, and then it will be the usual juggling act I love to complain about but that I know makes me happy really. I've also moved back out to Burrell's Field (being a 4th year PhD student - gasp - means all my privileges have been roughly removed, perhaps as a sort of incentive to actually finish); I have yet to see if all my belongings will fit into my dinky little bedsit after several years of gradual expansion into a couple of enormous Trinity 'mansionettes'!