Limit time children spend with computer games and TV
Equip youngsters with wellies and a raincoat
Let them roam further from home by themselves or with friends – such as going to school, a local shop or a park
Lead by example and show them it is okay to get dirty
Make the most of what you’ve got around you – put up bird feeders, create vegetable plots, grow windowsill boxes, go on bug hunts in the garden, build a den, make mud pies, play outdoor games
Emphasise that outdoor play doesn’t need to be structured to be beneficial
Give them more free time
Go on excursions to the beach, countryside, reservoirs, woods and parks
Take big family picnics
Share wildlife films and books
Use interests such as music, art, photography or sport to get children outdoors
Take it in turns with other parents to take children and their friends outdoors
If you come across someone who is unconscious and not breathing:
Check breathing by tilting their head backwards and looking and feeling for breaths.
Call 999 as soon as possible, or get someone else to.
Push firmly downwards in the middle of the chest and then release.
Push at a regular rate until help arrives.
Hunter Thomas Olsson found himself being chased by an angry brown bear when his trainee hound picked up the front scent. He hoped Aquila had smelled an elk but instead she led him to the 2.4m (8ft) mother. He hid with his dog up a shooting post until help arrived.
Fresh out of ferrets
“Hello, is that room service? Would you send up a ferret, please?” That’s among the list of bizarre requests by guests at Best Western hotels. The ferretless visitor was attending a small-animals show and didn’t want to go empty-handed. Another guest asked for a ghost to be sent to his room, while another demanded a sea view in Birmingham – which about 80 miles from the coast.
Marek Bablewska texted his wife to say he’d be home soon – and seconds later ploughed the family car through the front door. “I wanted to give Monicka a surprise but I lost control of the steering wheel and shot up the garden,” he told police in Nowy Sqcz.
A cartoon wedding
And the bride wore white, er, rags – when she and her partner tied the knot dressed as the stone age cartoon stars, The Flintstones. David and Linda Alves wore Fred and Wilma costumes for their day in King’s Lynn, Norfolk – five years after they met. Batman and Robin were also there.
House proud Mike Dalmonico, 42, spent £10,000 doing up his new flat in Augburg only to be told he’d moved into the wrong apartment and must leave.
Drunk Michael Huber was trapped inside a clothes recycling bin after mistaking the flap for his front door. The 23-year-old was found after a passer-by raised the alarm in Ober-Ramstadt.
Hapless robbers armed with a handgun held up a burger bar – and fled with a charity piggy bank containing £12. The pair ran way when they set off an alarm as they tried to open a till. “We don’t believe we’re looking for professionals but nevertheless it was a serious offence,” said police in Dusseldorf.
Better to have loved and loft
A woman who heard noises in her attic discovered an ex-boyfriend living there, 12 years after they had separated. The nurse and mother of five was alerted by what she thought were animal noises. She called a nephew, who went up and found the man, 44, curled up inside a heating duct. “He had packed all the old coats and was jackets into the heating unit and was sleeping in it,” said the woman, of Rock Hill, South Carolina. Her ex, believed to have been living in the attic for several weeks, simply smiled and left the house.
Buy nine, get a quick one free
Police in Malaysia uncovered a car-wash promotion that offered free sex after 10 visits. Officers raided a message parlour in Kuala Lumpur and found customers had been using reward cards. Police said: “To get the extra offer, customers had to send their cars for washing nine times within a certain period. The 10th car wash entitled them to free sex.”
Ranjan Dash is coining it in… by wowing audiences as a human slot machine. The 32-year-old can swallow cash and regurgitate it minutes later. He can trap items as big as a fish in an enlarged epiglottis before they disappear into his stomach, doctors in Bhubaneswar think.
They're called contrails, short for condensation trails, or vapour trails, and their visibility reveals what conditions are like up at 30,000 feet or so. They're caused by water vapour, ejected by jet engines: as it cools, the water vapour condenses into droplets or ice crystals. That requires just the right humidity and temperature - the drier and colder, the better. So, when you see a high contrail, it means the air up there is dry and below -50C.
Reports continue to come through at the time of writing on planned changes to the West End production of The Phantom of the Opera, in terms of modernising the set and reducing the size of its orchestra, from twenty-seven to fourteen members, increasing the amount of pre-recorded music in the show. The production’s staff, including cast, backstage crews and musicians, have apparently been let go, not that they were earning money in any event since the shutdown back in March 2020, and as I understand it, they are for all intents and purposes classed as self-employed, so would not have been covered by the Government’s furlough scheme (formally called the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme), and not all are necessarily covered by the grants paid out under the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme.
Such changes have been, I think, in discussion for some time, and have probably only been accelerated as a result of theatres being closed due to the coronavirus. There are fans of the show who are inevitably very upset by the news, further exacerbated by the apparent gagging orders placed on those (previously) involved in the production. The show was profitable as it was (if it wasn’t, changes would have been made years ago), and various stock phrases come to mind, such as ‘reinventing the wheel’, and ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’.
The problem is that the production’s set is rather dated, and the production is indeed in need of modernisation. My acknowledgement of this will not be music to the ears of the ‘phans’ who are keen for the original production to be retained in its full glory and majesty. But (spoiler alert) there have been occasions when the chandelier doesn’t fall as it is supposed to just before the interval, ostensibly for safety reasons.
There are also those who have seen the show at various points over the years who think the production has lost its passion somewhat compared to how it was when it was a new show in 1986. I simply haven’t seen it enough times over the years to comment extensively on that, though it is concerning that the work of Gillian Lynne and Harold Prince on the show is unlikely to be carried forward now that they have passed on. The reasons for the changes are undoubtedly connected to reducing the cost base (irrespective of the ‘new normal’ in the ‘post-Covid world’) of the show and therefore squeezing yet more profit margin out of theatregoers who are subjected to high ticket prices enough as it is. And, as John Barrowman put it on Twitter, “this closing… will allow producers to renegotiate everything while still keeping the huge profits for themselves. Using this pandemic as an excuse to do it is a bit shameless.”
The harsh reality is that it has always been thus – the production was born when Margaret Thatcher was in Downing Street, and private enterprise of this nature, even in the arts, was applauded (well, ‘hear-heared’), in Parliament, and used as an example of how the arts can flourish without Government funding. I have yet to see the touring production of Phantom – the ‘new’ production in the West End will, allegedly, be largely if not entirely the same scaled-down version. Fortunately or unfortunately, at the end of the day, I’m not going to slate a set I haven’t yet seen. From what I can tell it was well received when it opened at the Curve Theatre in Leicester. Take this from the ‘Not Exactly Billington’ blog: “The production is spectacular in the truest sense, and even the most curmudgeonly of spectators will find something to enthuse over.”
It was also interesting to read on social media about someone who did work experience backstage some years ago. Phantom had, she was told, considerably more stagehands than any other West End production – the staircase in ‘Masquerade’ takes a team of approximately twenty people to set up. And in all of this, I remain conscious that people have more important things to concern themselves with at the moment – the daily statistics still coming through of people passing as a result of this deadly virus are a reminder that there are too many people that will never see Phantom or any other theatre show in any capacity ever again. Finally, I couldn’t help but smile at a remark on social media that it naturally follows that The Phantom of the Opera would be among the first big musicals to reopen on the London stage. After all, the central character already wears a mask.
I was asked to answer the following: Why theatre? What is it that you love the most about it? What do you miss the most about it? Why do you want to see it come back stronger than ever?
I began attending the theatre years ago as an occasional treat, the way most people do in the general population – every so often, go and see something amusing, entertaining, or inspiring, a special treat. In the last few years that has changed dramatically thanks to the amount of review requests that have been thrown my way: in May 2019, for instance, I was out to some live show or other on every single one of the thirty-one days in that month. Later that year, in August, I wrote forty-nine reviews at the Edinburgh Fringe in twelve days. So, in one sense I’m enjoying lockdown – a chance to recharge my batteries: I think I’ve been running on adrenaline ever since Fringe 2019. It’s also an opportunity to take a step back and reflect on the world of theatre.
Why theatre? Well, I review shows at least partly because I just don’t have the creativity to make shows myself – I hope anyone who has been on the receiving end of a negative review from me can, I hope, take some comfort from the fact that ultimately I couldn’t have done any better myself. Would I have seen nearly as much theatre over the years if I didn’t live in London (or otherwise New York)? Unlikely. Having the West End less than an hour away from my front door is not a privilege I take lightly, particularly when I meet other theatregoers who come from other parts of the country or even overseas to take in a selection of shows during their time in London.
But geographical convenience is only one factor – after all, there are many people in London who weren’t, in more normal times, sat in a different theatre at least four or five times a week, or even four of five times a month. The capital has so much to offer in terms of concerts, gigs, evening courses, social activities, wining and dining – so what it is it about theatre that has kept me obsessed with it for so long? Variety is the spice of life, and I relish the opportunity, as I did back in December, to see a pantomime at New Wimbledon Theatre one night and then a production of The Duchess of Malfi, a seventeenth-century Jacobean tragedy, at the Almeida Theatre in north London the next.
Of course, such pleasure comes at a price. Many theatre regulars will have stories galore about other patrons eating smelly food in the theatre or talking at full conversational volume during a poignant scene in a show. The seats can sometimes be uncomfortable, and the auditorium sometimes too hot. Those small tubs of ice cream are absurdly expensive. And try making notes about a show you’re seeing in a dark room. It doesn’t get any easier, at least not for me, with the passage of time and the wealth of experience.
I find theatre intellectually challenging – and I don’t just mean those overly long plays at the National Theatre. Take, for instance, The Book of Mormon musical. As many of its characters were sticking their middle fingers up at the sky in lament at their impoverished state in ‘Hasa Diga Eebowai’, I found myself briefly evaluating whether I was valuing the ‘right’ things in life, or whether I was really spending too much time, energy and effort dealing with what are essentially ‘first world problems’.
In February 2020, I found myself in Southampton with about a dozen other musical theatre lovers who had gathered from across Europe to see, in a touring production, a couple of actors who we have come to appreciate. Many of us ended up appreciating many other members of that particular cast as they were genuinely all very good. We (the theatregoers, that is) had dinner together, we stage doored together – the works. We have all kept in contact ever since (I’ve even hosted a Zoom meeting for a few of us), and when there is more clarity as to when theatres can reopen, we will almost certainly make plans to meet again. So, there’s a social aspect of attending the theatre, and exchanging views on our likes and preferences, and what we all enjoy (as well as what we don’t), that all adds to the theatrical experience.
There is also an immediacy about live theatre that isn’t always achievable in, say, a movie. If someone messes up a line during filming, a director will say, ‘Cut!’ and it’s not a problem – the production team will discard that take, and the line can be done again to perfection. Not so in the theatre. David Suchet likes to tell a story about when he made his Shakespearean debut. In a production of Romeo & Juliet, he had to start a sword fight as soon as he went on stage. But he tripped and in doing so broke his sword. Somewhat panicking, he said, “A sword, a sword!”, at which point someone in the audience heckled, “His kingdom for a sword!” It’s the sort of thing that wouldn’t happen on film or on television – unless, of course, it was scripted, and even then, the effect would be quite different.
Then there’s stagecraft. Anything is possible these days in the movies with the technology available. It’s not uncommon in a theatre review to write about costume design, props, the set, the lighting, and so on. And while a theatrical performance is a group experience, there is also something deeply personal about it: for a couple of hours, you are seeing something unfold in front of you that will never happen in exactly the same way ever again. Almost any actor will tell you that audience reactions, for instance, are different every night. The same set, the same script, the same cast, the same director, the same band, and so on – and yet so very different every night. There’s also a certain amount of creativity that goes into a theatrical production. There is only so much space to work with, even in the largest of theatres. The story must unfold within those parameters.
I feel myself joining the ranks of those who are already saying that theatre is not going to be the same again. This is not a universally negative thing – theatre has evolved ever since the dramas of Ancient Greece – and will undoubtedly continue to do so. It will therefore be very interesting to see quite how theatre will rise again. And as it does so, there’s an opportunity to address some of the prevailing issues in the theatre world, such as the prevalence of premium pricing and – as Musical Theatre Lives In Me has so faithfully and repeatedly pointed out – the relative lack of recognition for understudies and covers.
It is vital that the theatre industry bounces back. For those who work within it, their livelihoods depend on it, and there is much evidence to suggest that other businesses such as hotels and restaurants gain massively from the spending power of theatre audiences. Some shows may not reopen, and I for one need to be careful not to react as though shows didn’t close before Covid-19 came along. But there will be other shows, new shows, different shows, because theatre is a living organism that at its worst does no harm whatsoever and at best brings people together and even makes us think about how we can make the world a better place.
Too many requests for this thing – so here you go. The whole sodding lot. Now stop asking.
A good night for you too long and I don’t have a good night to go in and out and then go back and then I
B to the best of us who are you gonna was a great night of my birthday party and then the night I went and had my
C to the best of us to get a refund for it haha was a great night and I have a lot to say and it was
D to be honest I would like it if I had to do a refund and I would go to a different store but if they
E to the best of us who are you gonna was a great day to see you and your friends in a great way and a
F to be fair to a refund or refund the price and I don’t know if I can refund it but I gotta is
G to the best of us to get a refund for it and I don’t know what it happens but it doesn’t matter to us who I can
H to the best of us to get a refund for it haha was a great day for me and my dad to get a drink with us tonight
I have no no problem at least you know what that is about to me haha was a great night I had to go get back with
J to the best of us to get a refund for it haha was the best way for me haha is to be an excellent day of our week
K to the best of us to get a refund for it haha was the best way for me haha is to be an excellent day of our week
L to the best of us to get a refund for it haha was a good night and a good day for me a lot to come to get
M to the best of us to get a refund for it haha was a good night and a good day for me a couple weeks later and then
N to the best of us to get a refund for it haha was a great night performance and a performance in a review and the best of all
O I have no no problem at least not the same thing I have to say I have a lot to say to you I know
P to be a fair bit to a good job and I have no idea how much I would like it but it is a great
Q to the point where they were the only person who was sent a message to me a refund for the money I paid to do
R to the best of us to get a refund for it haha was a great night and a good night for a good day and I enjoyed the
S was a great night and a great day for me a bit of it haha is to be an excellent night of the year in a
T to the point where they were the first floor of a restaurant and I had to get to a restaurant The Watermill is a great
U to be an excellent day to the day of my day today so I’m going on in the day job for the day and then
V to be a good airline for a great day of work for the best way of the business and a good job it was the
W was a great night and I had to go back and then go back and try a little more to it and I don’t
X to the best of us who are the only person in this the group who knows how about you haha was a great night performance and
Y to be an excellent day to work with a good day and night out and then I will get to see it again soon I have
Z to the best of us to get a refund for it haha was a great night and I was gonna was the night of a good day and
Always wash hands thoroughly before and after handling raw food, including vegetables.
Keep raw foods, including vegetables, separate from ready-to-eat foods.
Use different chopping boards, knives and utensils for raw and ready-to-eat foods, or wash them thoroughly in between preparing different foods.
Unless packaging around vegetables says ‘ready to eat’ you must wash, peel or cook them before consuming.
To wash vegetables, immerse them in cold water.
The majority (well, at least it feels that way) of musical theatre performers seem to be doing something or other online. It is quite impossible to keep up with the sheer amount of content being pumped up at the time of writing (three weeks after a UK-wide lockdown began because of Covid-19) – arguably, the singer James Blunt said it best when he tweeted on 25 March 2020, “During lockdown, while many other artists are doing mini-concerts from their homes, I thought I’d you all a favour and not.” Stories abound, too, of streamed shows that people have paid for which then fail to stream or whose connection is severed part-way through due to sheer volume of web traffic.
Sharon Sexton and Rob Fowler seem to be more than aware of all this, and though they may be a little late to the party (of online content), it is with good reason. They have, in their own way and in their own time, spliced together over an hour of high-quality video footage. There are a few bits from the archives but most of it is fresh, with plenty of shots of them singing away in their front room, or otherwise outdoor images of the English countryside (Lincolnshire, to be more precise).
I counted fifteen numbers, which range from the emotionally charged to the utterly exuberant – variety, after all, is the spice of life, and in this broad selection, itself a combination of self-penned words and music and cover versions of songs written by others, lies something for almost everyone. There’s some nifty camera work to be enjoyed, too, in amongst the singing, as well as some interesting commentary – admittedly this will become somewhat less interesting on second (and subsequent) viewing, but the context in which the songs are placed is good to hear about, and is the sort of thing that one might expect if we’d been sat in The Crazy Coqs in London or some other suitable venue hearing these tunes in concert.
For instance, if the first few songs seem very laid back, it is because a good number of them were written whilst the pair were on holiday! I suppose songs are better written, if they are to be written at all, during a bit of downtime rather than when one is performing eight shows a week. I rather liked the mix of tunes regulars like yours truly have heard several times before with ones that perhaps haven’t had quite so much exposure, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll get to about the sixth song in and realise that while these songs are wonderful to hear, they aren’t exactly showtunes. I won’t give everything away here but let’s just say that if it’s showtunes that you are after, your patience shall be rewarded.
The harmonies are quite brilliant, with the tunes perfectly pitched, with verve and strength when needed (and subtlety in other places), but never overpowering. Some choices of expression in the lyrics made me smile – it’s an interesting idea, for instance, in ‘Delight’, to drink until one is sober (as opposed to drinking to get drunk). The art of storytelling through song is very much abound in this charming 67 minutes of musical and lyrical excellence.
‘Grounded – The Living Room Concert’ is available for £10 via PayPal to firstname.lastname@example.org, or otherwise use that email address to request alternative payment methods.
London lad, loving life and all that it has to offer.