Friday, 29 June 2012


I went to the theatre last night. Another super deal in the Metro tempted me to the Wyndham Theatre in Charing Cross Road to see Abigail's Party. So I headed on in after work and had a quick bite to eat before making my way around the corner, into the theatre and up the stairs to my seat in the Royal Circle.

The scene below brought back memories of growing up in the 70s: bold patterned wallpaper (we had the most...ahem, extraordinary black and white geometric pattern on our kitchen walls when I was a kid), shag pile carpet and orange, orange, orange...

The play follows its five protagonists who gather to while away the hours as Sue's 15 year old daughter hosts her own party down the street. Laurence and Beverly host, complete with nuts, cheesy pineapple sticks and copious amounts of alcohol, and give the audience a sense of their toxic relationship right from the outset.

Before long, the new neighbours arrive. Tony, handsome and morose, sparks a predatory gleam in Beverly's eye, and Ange, gauche and outspoken, seems to say all the wrong things at the most inopportune times. Long-time resident Sue arrives last, conservative and mousey. And so this freakish five are left to careen slowly towards the play's shocking climax.

Mike Leigh has the ability to cut to the very heart of our human foibles.

Selfish, opinionated Essex girl Beverly is hell-bent on her gin-fuelled binge while Ange faux-pas her way through several G&Ts herself as she tries valiantly to fill the uncomfortable silences. And the men? Well Tony stays stoic under Beverly's lascivious eye and Laurence flaps about, swinging between conciliatory concern for his guests and violent fury at his wife. And Sue tries, politely yet unsuccessfully, to stay aloof from them all. The whole evening is just awkward.

And absolutely hilarious.

I am told that no-one does Beverly like Alison Steadman, but for the rest of my life, I don't think I will ever forget Jill Halfpenny, gyrating on the cream shag rug in her mint green maxi Demis Roussos

The end is not all happy-happy and tied up with a bow and I did leave the theatre thinking it was all over with a whimper rather suddenly. But that certainly didn't detract from a very entertaining and laugh-out-loud kind of evening.

Even if it was all a little bit...aaaaawkward.

Bookings are open up to 1st September but if you are anything like me - marking something mentally that I'd like to see, then never getting around to booking until it's finished that is - you should google theatre deals and Abigail's Party and get yourself along...

...or before you know it, it'll be curtains.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

A Happy Little (expat) Vegemite...

There is some exciting news at Gidday HQ today.

My fellow expat afficionados over at The Displaced Nation asked me to write a bit of a travel yarn about my recent trip to The Eternal City and it's now live over there for your enjoyment.

If you can possibly bear to read one more thing about my Roman Holiday, you can meander over by clicking here.

While you are there, you might also like to have a little fossick around. I can confess to a particular addiction to the It's Fiction series, Libby's Life....

I am one chuffed expat!

ps...if you haven't been keeping up with my travels of late (and shame on you if this is the case), here's the Rome series for you:

The Gods of Rock...
A Holy Trinity...
All Roads...

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Nailed...The Truth About Beauty

Today we are going to be talking about nails.

Not the hammering kind but the ones attached to the ends of your fingers and toes.

I suspect you fellas are wondering whether this is a post you are going to be remotely interested in. Well I'll leave that for you to discuss with your machismo.

In these recessionary times, it appears that we will still pay silly money for anything from a lipstick (£20) to potions and lotions that hide the effects of treating our bodies/skin/hair in such a cavalier fashion for so long.

Note: A 30ml pot of Creme de la Mer will set you back £95 - that's over £300 per 100ml - and if you are really looking for a bargain, buying it in the 500ml bulk size will set you back £1,150 but is 'super' value at just £230/100ml.

But I read in yesterday's Times newspaper supplement, The Beauty Economy, that the new boom in the world of cosmetics is nail polish. According to Mintel, sales have increased 123% since 2005 and nail varnish now represents 14% of all colour cosmetics sales.

While first appearing around 3000BC in China, the birth of modern nail polish occurred in the 1920s under the auspices of two seemingly unrelated innovations.

The invention of high gloss car paint led makeup artist Michelle Maynard to wonder whether it could be applied elsewhere and with the invention of technicolour, bringing colour and fashion-forwardness to the movies, at about the same time, Maynard had a hit on her hands (pardon the pun!)

From its invention by the Chinese - of the 'lacquer' that is as opposed to henna staining which had been in evidence in India a little earlier - right through to today's crackle, glitter and pop, the stuff is everywhere.
Even the blokes are getting in on the act
Nail bars dot the high streets, cosmetics counters offer a kaleidescope of colour and nail art is emerging as a must-have in one's primping toolkit with this week's LOOK magazine offering a how-to in Tribal-Print Nails.

The industry today is worth £152million to the likes of Revlon, Nails Inc, Chanel and Barry M (just to name a few).

And as a marketer/woman of means/vainglorious beast, here's my contribution from Gidday HQ...

I know - it looks a bit lacklustre after all of that fancy stuff. But this effort takes a good couple of hours of my Sunday afternoon. In addition, I need to save myself from boredom so I snaffle the weekend paper/a few of the latest mags from the ever-growing pile near the comfy couch and faff about with those, waiting for everything to dry so that life can go on. 

To be honest all that tribal stuff just looks like hard work and quite frankly is beyond the limits of my unsteady hands - those who've seen me carry a full cup and saucer (or a mug in each hand) will know what I'm talking about.

So the truth about beauty here at Gidday HQ - the real story if you will - is a delicate balance between vanity and pragmatism....and a little faith that it's all worth the effort.

Friday, 22 June 2012

All Roads...

Rome has long been the centre of Christianity and art and as such, has attracted many pilgrims, artists and travellers - with myself falling into the latter category. The saying goes all roads lead to Rome and it is with this in mind that I thought we'd take a little walking tour around the Eternal City.

Founded as a small village of mud huts in the 8th century BC, Rome rose to be all-powerful by the 1st century BC as it expanded beyond Italy into Spain, Greece and North Africa. After a decline during the Middle Ages the city rallied, bringing some of the greatest Renaissance and Baroque artists to the world's attention before becoming capital of the unified Italy in 1870.

So let's start at the Porte del Popolo, the point where the main route from the Adriatic Coast, the Via Flaminia, enters Rome...
View of the Porte del Popolo from the Metro exit (and my pizza-eating perspective) on the other side of the Via Flaminia
Three main thoroughfares lead from the other side of the Piazza - the Via Ripetta meaning small pier, the Via Del Corso in the centre and the Via Del Babuino which goes straight to the Piazza di Spagna. These were instrumental in managing the flow of pilgrims through the city so let's have little wander down each one.

The Via Ripetta takes us to the banks of the Tiber River and crossing at the Ponte Sant'Angelo follows the same route to St Peter's Basilica that the original pilgims took. But today the magnificent Castel Sant'Angelo dominates our view.

A guardian on the Porte Sant'Angelo with the fortress (and mausoleum of the Emperor Hadrian) in the background
The Castel Sant'Angelo has been a safe house for Popes for centuries with the Passetto (or Vatican Corridor) providing an escape route to the nearby fortress. In fact, it proved rather handy for Clement VII who used it to flee from the Vatican in 1527 to evade capture during the Sack of Rome.
View from the terrace of the Castel Sant'Angelo over St Mark's Bastion and the Vatican Corridor with the dome of St Peter's in the background.
 Let's walk back across the river and wander a little further.

Smart cars, smart parking on the Lungotevere.
After 15 minutes or so we reach the Isola Tiberina, an island in the middle of the Tiber  River which separates the Angelo and Trastavere areas of Rome. The Ponte Fabricio provides pedestrian access to the island from the Angelo side (where we are) and the Ponte Cestia provides access from/to the other side of the river.

The Ponte Fabricio onto the Isola Tiberina
It's now just a hop, step and jump to the Forum, an amazing complex of temples, government buildings, houses and monuments - or what's left of them anyway. The Via Sacra was one of the most important roads in Rome leading from the Arch of Titus in the east down to the Arch of Septimius Severus in the west.

The view from the west end of the Forum down the Via Sacra (the Sacred Way)
A short walk along the Via dei Fori Imperiali later, we are back at the Piazza Venezia and the bottom of the Via Del Corso. The Piazza lies next to Trajan's market and column but is dominated by the national monument to Vittorio Emanuele II.

The monument to Vittorio Emanuele II, the first king of unified Italy...
...overlooks a rather patriotic floral arrangement in the Piazza.
Setting off north west along the Via Del Corso, we're heading back towards the Piazza del Popolo but we've got a detour to make before we get there. Turning right into the Via Condotti, the Trinite dei Monti looms at the end of the narrow street, overlooking the Piazza di Spagna and the famous Spanish Steps.

Named for the conduit that carried water to the Baths of Agrippa near the Pantheon, the Via Condotti is THE shopping street in Rome and great for a spot of wistful browsing (although we might need to save a few pennies if we want to make a purchase)...

... before stopping to rest our weary legs in the Piazza di Spagna itself.

The Spanish Steps, a popular spot to laze in the sunshine. But there is to be no shouting, squalling or singing - there's a sign that says so. That's Amore!
Rested, we now continue from the north west corner of the Piazza along the Via del Babuino until we arrive back at the Piazza del Popolo and the route out to the Via Flaminia, the Porte del Popolo.

The obelisk in the Piazza del Popolo is over 3,000 years old and was brought to Rome by Augustus to adorn the Circus Maximus. It was erected here in 1589 by Pope Sixtus V.
The Piazza has a chequered past with all manner of gruesome events having come to pass in this neat and ordered space. Like public executions, with some of the condemned being hammered to death by repeated blows to the temples (the last criminal was executed in this way in 1826) and riderless horse races where stimulants, nail-studded belts and fireworks were employed to 'encourage' a faster pace from the participants.

But enough of all this barbaric talk. Up to the right of the Piazza lies the Pincio Gardens, a place of green tranquility...and more great views over the roof tops of Rome. We'll need to pace ourselves though - the walk is steep.

The view from the bottom...
...and from the top...
Turning around we face the Pincio Gardens and a short stroll through the trees brings us to the old and the new sitting comfortably side by side.

The Viale del Muro Torto, the 'injured wall'.
Our final wander takes us through the lush woodland around the Villa Borghese...

Rome's second heart perhaps?
If we go down to the woods today...
...a boating we may go.
...a peaceful place for us to stop a while.

Take a deep breath in and feel the rain-fresh air fill your lungs. Breathe out and listen to the sound of the water running into the fountain.

Before we leave the park, let's pause for a few minutes and admire the Villa itself...

Built in 1605 for Cardinal Sciopone Borghese, favourite nephew of Pope Paul V, the villa now houses the private Borghese collection of sculptures and paintings but you need to book to see it.
...before heading back to the hotel.

And so, dear Gidday-ers, here endeth today's tour.

Have you booked your ticket yet?

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

A Holy Trinity...

Rome is chock full of churches. Every corner you turn there's another one, beckoning you into its cool, placid interior. So a trip to the Eternal City would be incomplete without a few worshipful visits - and, given the number of 'working' churches - more than 900 according to wikipedia - probably unavoidable. And as they say, when in Rome...

Firstly let me say that I did the Vatican Museums and St Peter's all those years ago on my first visit so I had already deemed a visit there unnecessary. And while I visited more, the three featured here sum up the impact of my religious experiences during the 4 days.

I'll start with the Pantheon which stands proudly facing the Piazza della Rotunda. From the outside, it looked like all the pictures I'd seen in books and while not top of my 'must cross Rome to see' list, I was there, the day was warm and its shaded portico beckoned.

Nothing prepared me for the interior.

The domed ceiling is absolutely huge with the central ocular being the only source of light in the church 

The decorative friezes, ceilings and alcoves are fantastically well-preserved and I could only stare (mouth slightly open) at the awe-inspiring surroundings that Hadrian's Romans built to worship their gods.
This is the tomb of Raphael (Sanzio), the Renaissance architect and artist who was a younger contemporary of Michelangelo and created many great works throughout Rome during his life.

I emerged again into the bright sunlight, feeling the heat on my skin after the cool under the Pantheon's great dome. After a quick peek at Tazza D'Oro (famed for its coffee but lacking appeal for little ol' moi with a line of customers extending out the door) and a watering stop at the fountain (you can drink the water from the majority of Rome's fountains so my water bottle had a real workout), I continued my south-bound meander towards Gesu (more on this further on).

My next stop was completely unplanned and brought on largely by a desire to get out of the heat. (A girl has to pace herself you know - I'm not used to all this 30C plus weather any more and I had a whole 4 days of it to look forward to.) Santa Maria sopra Minerva dates from the 13th century and was built over the ruins of the Temple of Minerva. The piazza is marked by an unusual inhabitant...

This elephant and obelisk sculpture was originally created to grace the Piazza Barberini. The elephant, an ancient symbol of intelligence and piety, was sculpted onto Bernini's obelisk by Ercole Ferrata

Once inside, the mix of Gothic architecture and Renaissance and Baroque styles is stunning. The cornflower blue of the vaulted ceilings didn't come out so well in my photos but I've includes some other faves here for you.

I loved the simplicity of this stained glass after the intricacy of the painted walls and domes...
...and that it reflected on the walls in all sorts of places.
This is carved in stone, While I get a bit bored looking at a lot of sculpture, I am always fascinated by the movement that can be created from something so inordinately inanimate.

I left to brave the heat again, quietly delighted at my unexpected moment of enchantment here. I set off southwards again, my destination this time being Gesu. Unfortunately, I arrived during closing hours so I returned the next day after re-checking with my trusty Eyewitness Travel Guide that this was worth making the diversion to the same area again.

It was. Just check out the photos below.
Just so you know what to look for on the outside...

I was completely overwhelmed. This really is a beautiful church and anyone coming to Rome must visit (but make sure you don't turn up between 1.30-4.00pm). I could have taken many more photos but actually spent time sitting, moved, by what I felt around me. It was a poignant and quite spiritual experience just being there.

I remember feeling overwhelmed by the detailed magnificence of the Sistine Chapel when I visited in 2000 but for me, there was a spirituality, albeit different, in all three of these beautiful churches that the Sistine Chapel didn't have.

The Pantheon for its glorious space and simplicity.

Santa Maria sopra Minerva for the sense of discovery and enchantment.

And Gesu for its breathtaking colour and artistry - and for touching my soul.