Inside the mind of a writer www.scskillman.co.uk

Archive for June, 2013

The Royal Albert Hall, London – A Place of Wonder and Inspiration

The Royal Albert Hall is one of my favourite London venues.

Royal Albert Hall, London (photo credit: Abigail Robinson)

Royal Albert Hall, London (photo credit: Abigail Robinson)

I was there on Saturday, with my daughter Abigail, watching a performance of Swan Lake in the round, by the English National Ballet. Sixty swans danced in the arena below us, transformed into a lake by skilful lighting effects; and the audience delighted in the performances of Dmitri Gruzdyev as Prince Siegfried and Fernanda Oliveira as Odette and Odile.

The earliest memory I have of the Royal Albert Hall is when, as a child, I sang in the Chorus of Younger Angels  in a performance of Mahler’s 8th Symphony.

I stood close to the organ; and I’ve never forgotten that tremendous experience as trumpets, drums and organ, under Leonard Bernstein’s  flambuoyant direction, brought Mahler’s ‘Symphony of a Thousand’ to its thunderous conclusion.

Programme for Swan Lake performance 23 June 2013

Programme for Swan Lake performance 23 June 2013

During my sixth form days in Orpington, Kent, I often took the train to London with my schoolfriends so we could sit on the pavement outside the Royal Albert Hall in a queue for promenaders tickets for the BBC Proms;  and then, once inside the door, sprint to the arena, to find the best place at the front, near the conductor’s rostrum.

One summer, I spent several hours walking up and down the queue with spare tickets to sell, having bought Gallery tickets for a half season.

Later, when I lived in Bayswater, London W2, the Royal Albert Hall was just a stroll across Kensington Gardens, to go to the rehearsals and concerts of another choir I sang in – the London Choral Society.

Whenever I now enter the Royal Albert Hall, I feel a deep sense of affection and euphoria.

This  great circular space is to me, and to many even without such memories, both grand  and intimate.

It’s also wonderfully flexible,with its central arena, for many great occasions.

The Hall was originally supposed to have been called The Central Hall of Arts and Sciences, but the name was changed by Queen Victoria to Royal Albert Hall of Arts and Sciences when laying the foundation stone, as a dedication to her deceased husband and consort Prince Albert. It forms the practical part of a national memorial to the Prince Consort – the decorative part is the Albert Memorial directly to the north in Kensington Gardens, now separated from the Hall by the road Kensington Gore.

Thank you to Queen Victoria for deciding to commemorate Albert  in this, among many other ways!

Sheil in the Royal Albert Hall auditorium (photo credit: Abigail Robinson)

Sheila in the Royal Albert Hall auditorium (photo credit: Abigail Robinson)

Gazing Out to Sea: The Beauty of the English Coastline

I recently visited Beachy Head, East Sussex, with a friend and  my two teenage children.

Shining cliff (photo  credit: Abigail Robinson)

Shining cliff (photo credit: Abigail Robinson)

As we walked along the cliftop, we all agreed: Where in the world could we go that’s more beautiful than this?

Beachy Head, together with the Seven Sisters Country Park and Birling Gap are all protected by The National Trust and they are  a short drive  out of Eastbourne on the south coast.

on Birling Gap Beach (photo credit: Abigail Robinson)

on Birling Gap Beach (photo credit: Abigail Robinson)

 

Bright path (photo credit: Abigail Robinson)

Bright path (photo credit: Abigail Robinson)

I was born and brought up in Kent, and it was only thirty five minutes drive from where we lived to the south coast. Camber Sands was a particular favourite, and we regularly visited and ran over the open dunes, usually going on afterwards to the lovely old fishing town Rye, with its evocative fifteenth century Mermaid Inn.

On every trip, I felt the excitement of that first view of the sea.

And now, I say to my own children, just as my father said to us: “who’ll be the first to catch a glimpse of the sea?”

Everything depends upon our own inner state, as we contemplate such landscapes, which can then become sacred spaces.

gazing out to sea (photo credit: Abigail Robinson)

gazing out to sea (photo credit: Abigail Robinson)

For me, standing on a cliff gazing out to sea is a thing of beauty, a joy for ever. 

Sheila & Abigail on Birling  Gap Beach (photo credit; Jamie Robinson)

Sheila & Abigail on Birling Gap Beach (photo credit; Jamie Robinson)

A Golden Field, a Short Life That Touched Many Hearts, and a Poignant Moment in a Country Churchyard

Milverton Hill  Fri 7 June 2013 (photo credit: Abigail Robinson)

Milverton Hill Fri 7 June 2013 (photo credit: Abigail Robinson)

This photo was taken on Milverton Hill, Leamington Spa  between St James’s Church Old Milverton and the Saxon Mill, Warwick.

At about 4.30pm on Friday 7 June I walked with my two teenage  children through the churchyard to  reach this field.

A late summer afternoon in the English countryside is such a quiet, luminous, poignant time.

And it’s one of the loveliest times to be on Milverton Hill. You breathe in a green woody scent, a fragrance of light and sunshine. 

Old Milverton Church 7 June 2013 (photo credit: Abigail Robinson)

Old Milverton Church 7 June 2013 (photo credit: Abigail Robinson)

As we walked through the churchyard to reach the field, we found a plaque in the grass:

Ruby Lee Johnson 

8th June 1995-23rd April 2009

aged 13 years

sweet, rare, exquisite

Ruby’s mother Sarah was tending the flowers, and Ruby’s father Richard was mowing the grass.

Ruby was in my daughter Abigail’s year at school, and Abigail knew Ruby and her story,  as many others in our area do, whose hearts were touched by Ruby’s three year struggle with cancer, and her death in 2009.

Sarah, cheerful and pleasant, said to Abigail, “You’re the age Ruby would have been. Tomorrow is her 18th birthday.”

Ruby Johnson 18th birthday memorial (photo credit: Abigail Robinson)

Ruby Johnson 18th birthday memorial (photo credit: Abigail Robinson)

Ruby’s dog Gracie was with them too. Propped against the flower containers by the plaque is a photo which shows this family pet with Ruby 5 years ago.

rapeseed & shepherd's-purse flowers(photo credit: Abigail Robinson)

rapeseed & shepherd’s-purse flowers(photo credit: Abigail Robinson)

As we walked out through the gate onto Milverton Hill, beyond the church, I couldn’t help comparing the shortness of Ruby’s life to the transience of golden fields in the English countryside.

In this lovely field, popular with walkers, the cobweb tracery of Shepherd’s-Purse flowers, too, appear between the golden rapeseed flowers.  Each petal is silk to the touch, and you feel the cool breeze as you face towards the church. Turning back again to face down towards the Guy’s Cliffe House ruin and the Saxon Mill, the trees seem sculpted against a radiant horizon of intense clarity, each golden flower backlit.

Golden fields don’t last long. But they do reappear each summer. And so will this little memorial to Ruby touch many hearts through future generations.

People of Inspiration Part 7: The Horrible Histories Cast

The Horrible Histories phenomenon will soon celebrate its 20th anniversary.Horrible Histories

Scholastic will commemorate 20 years since Terry Deary published the first Horrible Histories books, Awesome Egyptians and Terrible Tudors.

Horrible Histories has continued through the British children’s television series, first screened on CBBC in 2009, and now in its 5th series.

In our house we have followed each series with ever-increasing hilarity and delight.

I love Rattus Rattus, “your host, the talking rat”; and I love every single member of the cast.

I think the pleasure lies in seeing a vast gallery of different historical characters from all social levels and periods and cultures, represented by the same small cast of recognizable, engaging actors.

Often when a team of people is involved in a creative project like  this, fans will select a favourite.

And yet I cannot pick out any single one of this team as my favourite. Each of them is equally funny as a brutish thug, a tyrannical leader, a downtrodden peasant or an effete moony type circle dancing round a tree.

Jim Howick

Jim Howick

There’s Jim Howick, who has on different occasions taken the parts of Napoleon, Blackbeard, Richard III, George  IV, Pope Alexander VI, and Prince Albert.

Matt Baynton

Matt Baynton

There’s Matt Baynton who is perfect as Mozart, Charles Darwin, Charles Dickens, Charles II, Shakespeare and Dick Turpin.

Simon Farnaby

Simon Farnaby

There’s Simon Farnaby, hilarious as The GrimReaper in “Stupid Deaths”, and entertaining as Caligula, St Augustine the first Archbishop of Canterbury, George III and numerous crazy or slightly dopey characters.

Laurence Rickard

Laurence Rickard

There’s Laurence Rickard who does a perfect high-speed round-up of the religious scene in Tudor times, via HH TV News.

Ben Willbond

Ben Willbond

There’s Ben Willbond whose Henry VIII is beguiling, and who also numbers among his roles such characters as George I, Alexander the Great, Adolf Hitler, Sir Francis Drake and Pythagorus.

Martha Howe-Douglas

Martha Howe-Douglas

And there’s Martha Howe-Douglas who’s utterly convincing as Elizabeth I, Cleopatra, Queen Victoria, Joan of Arc, or any one of a number of women in history, whether they be aristocrats or underdogs. 

So few actors and so many historical characters… they do  the highest and the lowest in the land with equal skill. Posh and rough; they inhabit every character perfectly. And the songs are pure inspiration, written and composed by Richie Webb, a genius in the background.

Of course there are many others too who ensure this TV programme is such a success – and that so many of us love Horrible Histories.

Other posts you might like to check out in my “People of Inspiration” series:

Part 1 – Paul McCartney

Part 2 – Rabbi Lionel Blue

Part 3 – Susan Boyle

Part 4 – Rob Parsons

Part 5 – Frankie Howerd

Part 6 – Gareth Malone

I’m on Instagram!

I have just joined Instagram:  www.instagram.com/scskillmanSheila signing Mystical Circles at book launch in Kenilworth Books

I’ll be posting pictures relating to my books and anything else that takes my fancy.

I’ll also be posting individual character pictures, and pictures relating to the themes of Mystical Circles.

Many of the pictures and photos will be created by my talented  media student daughter Abigail Robinson.

If you’re on Instagram I’d love it if you followed me!

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