Thursday, 11 August 2022

Tiny Birthday No. 9


I went for lunch at Manchester Fort with my colleague Basil today, and he got me a slice of birthday cake (AND sang Happy Birthday)! And as if that wasn't enough cake, he also gave me an exceedingly good birthday present!


(This is how I'm celebrating my birthday this year - see here for the reasons why.)

Tiny Birthday No. 8


Another birthday cake! But things aren't what they seem...



It's a birthday cake bath bomb (specifically a Vintage & Co Fabric & Flowers Bath Bomb Cake from Heathcote & Ivory)! And another tiny birthday for me!

(This is how I'm celebrating my birthday this year - see here for the reasons why.)

Tuesday, 9 August 2022

Tiny Birthday No. 7


I was round at my mum and dad's for tea on Monday, and I had a tiny birthday cake!

(This is how I'm celebrating my birthday this year - see here for the reasons why.)

Monday, 8 August 2022

Tiny Birthday No. 6


My second (third?) cousins were over visiting my mum and dad on Saturday. I popped in for a cup of tea with them, and we had cake! Another tiny birthday for me!

(This is how I'm celebrating my birthday this year - see here for the reasons why.)

Tiny Birthday No. 5


A little tiny birthday on Saturday, courtesy of the Dam Head and Crosslee TRA when I was at their Summer Fun Day.

(This is how I'm celebrating my birthday this year - see here for the reasons why.)

My Year in Books 2022: July

Well, there's two books on this month's list, so I guess that's better than the last couple of months!

Here are my posts from previous months: January, February, March, April, May, June

And here are the books (twice as many as last time!) I read in July...

The Quick by Lauren Owen (2014)


I picked this one up at my local library. It looked very Gothic (and, indeed, it turned out to be very Gothic), but outside of that I didn’t know much about what to expect. The Quick begins in the late nineteenth century on a country estate in Yorkshire, which is home to siblings James and Charlotte Norbury. We follow them through their childhood and into young adulthood, before James heads off to Oxford as a young man. For those who are less blurb-averse, and therefore happy to have the minimal information before picking up a book, it’s not a spoiler to say… The Quick is a vampire novel! In some ways, the vampires in Owen’s novel are pretty standard – holy water and sunlight repels them; mind control and supernatural healing are amongst their powers. However, she introduces some original elements that I quite enjoyed. There are two groups of vampires – an upper-class bunch attached to a gentlemen’s club, and a lower-class group who hang around the seedier parts of the East End. ‘The Quick’ of the title are the humans, the living, and some of these humans are aware of vampires and the threat they pose. When James is attacked by a vampire from the club, he and Charlotte are drawn into the battle between the factions. There’s a lot to like about The Quick, but is a little bit long and the first third is quite slow-paced. It’s worth sticking with, though, as it really gets going after that.

Mother by S.E. Lynes (2017)


I don’t know why, as I have a million and one books on my to-read pile and I promised I wasn’t going to do this again, but I read another free eBook. And it was a domestic noir (something else I promised I wasn’t going to do again). This one is a quick and easy read, and it’s certainly enjoyable enough. Mother is the story of Christopher Harris, a young man who discovers by chance that he’s adopted. He seeks out his birth mother and discovers she has been looking for him as well, and the two of them begin to build a relationship. Of course, given the genre, it’s clear there’s more going on here than meets the eye, and interspersed chapters from other perspectives (which seem to be unrelated) hint at another story to be told. As I say, it’s an easy read, and there’s a lot to enjoy. However, it is a bit predictable. It’s not hard to guess who the unnamed narrator is or how the other (named) narrator – whose story seems so distant at first – intersects with Christopher’s story, and the surprise revelations at the book’s conclusion aren’t that much of a surprise really. I liked the character of Christopher, who was just creepily ‘off’ from the start. I wasn’t as keen on the character of the mother as the motivations for some of her actions aren’t always clear, and ‘I want to get to know my son’ doesn’t quite account for everything she does.

Sunday, 7 August 2022

Tiny Birthday No. 4


I got to share a tiny birthday with some of my favourite people on Friday. Me and the residents of Castlerea care home had some cake, poetry and a lovely chat about birthdays this afternoon (and then we had a dance to Stevie Wonder).

(This is how I'm celebrating my birthday this year - see here for the reasons why.)

Saturday, 6 August 2022

Tiny Birthday No. 3



A joint tiny birthday for me and my friend Colin on Thursday! We had Nell's Pizza at Common, and cupcakes from Liv's Cupcakes in Prestwich. It was a lovely evening!

(This is how I'm celebrating my birthday this year - see here for the reasons why.)

Tiny Birthday No. 2



Another tiny birthday for me! I went for cocktails in Flok in Manchester with my friend Irene on Tuesday.

(This is how I'm celebrating my birthday this year - see here for the reasons why.)

Friday, 5 August 2022

Review: Tree Confessions and A Little Drape of Heaven (This Is Not A Theatre Company, C Arts, GM Fringe)

July 2022
Digital Event

The Greater Manchester Fringe ran throughout July, with performances at various venues around Greater Manchester and online. I’ve been reviewing a selection of the productions on offer for this blog, and also for The Festival Show on North Manchester FM.

The next shows I experienced this year were digital productions, and they were part of the C ARTS strand on this year’s Fringe programme. C ARTS is a curated independent arts programme that delivers work for the Edinburgh Fringe, which is then made available online via streaming throughout the year. Although produced for the Edinburgh Fringe, C ARTS productions are now included on the programmes of other fringe festivals, including the Greater Manchester Fringe.

The productions I’m going to be reviewing were available to stream with a ticket purchase from the Greater Manchester Fringe website throughout the month of July. I’m reviewing Tree Confessions and A Little Drape of Heaven, immersive audio dramas by This Is Not A Theatre Company. The radio version of this review will be broadcast on The Festival Show on Friday 5th August, but here’s the blog version…


This Is Not A Theatre Company had three productions on this year’s Fringe programme. Because of space constraints, I’m only going to be talking about two of them today. But I’m pretty sure that my review of those two pieces will encourage you to not only check out Tree Confessions and A Little Drape of Heaven, but also any other work by this innovative company that you might get chance to experience.

So, I’ll start with Tree Confessions. Like the other pieces by This Is Not A Theatre Company, Tree Confessions is a site-specific performance. I’ve seen site-specific theatre at the Greater Manchester Fringe before – it’s always a nice addition to the festival programme, offering a new perspective on familiar places. However, Tree Confessions is a little different to the other site-specific pieces I’ve seen.

For one, it’s an audio drama. And for two, it’s you (the listener) who will choose the site in which the piece is performed. At the start of Tree Confessions, you’re given a simple instruction: find a tree that you like and sit underneath it. You’re going to listen to this audio drama underneath the tree and – at some points, perhaps – interact with your chosen tree. Fortunately, as we know, the weather’s been pretty good this July, giving us all plenty of opportunities to enjoy Tree Confessions as its meant to be enjoyed. (And, in case you’re interested, I chose my favourite old ash tree in Crumpsall Park as my venue for the performance.)

Written by Jenny Lyn Bader and directed by Erin B. Mee, Tree Confessions is a monologue told, as you might have guessed, by a tree.

Kathleen Chalfont is the performer here, and I must say she plays a tree beautifully! But I should also say it’s not quite the performance I expected.

Chalfont’s tree narrator is warm and sonorous (and this effect is heightened by the site-specific, immersive nature of the piece), inviting us to lose ourselves in the story that unfolds. The tree explains early on that a researcher called Cindy has been a frequent visitor to the woods, monitoring and recording the trees in an attempt to prove that they communicate with one another. Cindy has indeed recorded evidence that reveals that trees can speak to one another, but, as our narrator explains, she may not have been given the full story.

What follows is a beautifully meandering exploration of what it means to be a tree. At times humorous, the narration sometimes conjures up a very domestic picture of tree-life. She jokes about her great aunt, for instance, who ‘claimed to be 2,003’. But at other times, there is something more mythic in the storytelling. She recounts the legend of the ‘Great Tree’, a fable to explain why trees release oxygen during photosynthesis.

Elsewhere, the tree explains some scientific – and some not-so-scientific – principles that explain the life of trees and the ecosystem around them, drawing us (the listener) in and encouraging us to – physically, if we are indeed listening under a tree – feel that life and be part of the ecosystem. After all, as we’re reminded, ‘we’re on the same side’.

Tree Confessions is a short audio drama that feels so much longer than its half-hour running time. It certainly achieves its aims of being immersive, as the combination of the storytelling style and Chalfont’s performance makes this a very easy piece to get lost in. I think it’s a mark of how successful this piece is that I genuinely felt sad when it finished.


This is a double-bill review, as I’m going to talk about one of This Is Not A Theatre Company’s other productions now. In some ways, the two pieces I’m talking about in this review are very similar. But, in other ways, they are so very different.

A Little Drape of Heaven is written by Mahesh Dattani and performed by Swati Das. Like Tree Confessions it is an immersive audio monologue that encourages us to look and think differently about an everyday object.

In A Little Drape of Heaven, however, rather than finding our own venue to enjoy the performance, we’re asked to find an appropriate prop. At the beginning, we (the listener) are asked to go to a cupboard – not, I hasten to add, to sit inside to listen to the play! – and find an item of clothing to hold onto as we listen. We are particularly encouraged to find a piece of clothing that belongs to a gender other than our own, and then follow the exhortation to ‘Hold it close to your heart’.

Our narrator here is a sari, a glorious piece of fabric made as a wedding garment but passed through generations to be worn by others. At some point in its history, the sari was discovered by a young boy, whose fascination with the garment is almost a forbidden passion. It is not a piece of clothing intended for a young boy, and yet it draws him with its tactile finery.

Das’s performance is, itself, ‘a little drape of heaven’, lingering on descriptions of being worn with silken tones that speak of a sensuous – almost sexual at times – experience. Dattani’s writing is lyrical and evocative, meaning that, no matter what item of clothing we took from our cupboard to hold, we can picture the beauty and splendour of the sari as she speaks.

As I’ve said, this is quite a different piece to Tree Confessions, and this becomes apparent in the second half. There is a very definitive narrative being told here, though it is easy to lose sight of this as you lose yourself in the more luxurious poetry of the descriptions of the sari being handled and worn. I don’t want to give anything away, but the story that is being told in A Little Drape of Heaven is probably not the one you think is being told. What I will say is that the monologue’s conclusion is a remarkably satisfying ending, and, by revealing the ‘other’ story that lay behind the one we thought we were listening to, A Little Drape of Heaven encourages listeners to imagine that other narrative long after the piece has finished.

A Little Drape of Heaven is a captivating piece, with a compelling performance and an innovative storytelling style. As with Tree Confessions, this is really a piece to lose yourself in, and I thoroughly recommend you check it out at a future festival if you get the chance.

Tree Confessions and A Little Drape of Heaven were available to stream throughout the month of July, as part of the C ARTS strand on this year’s Greater Manchester Fringe programme. For the full programme of Greater Manchester Fringe shows that were on this year, please visit the festival website.

Review: After Shark (Lita Doolan Productions, GM Fringe)

July 2022
Digital Event

The Greater Manchester Fringe ran throughout July, with performances at various venues around Greater Manchester and online. I’ve been reviewing a selection of the productions on offer for this blog, and also for The Festival Show on North Manchester FM.

The next show I saw this year was a digital production, and it was part of the GMF Digital Events strand on this year’s Fringe programme.

The production I’m going to be reviewing was available to stream with a ticket purchase from the Greater Manchester Fringe website throughout the month of July. I’m reviewing After Shark, a play by Lita Doolan Productions. The radio version of this review will be broadcast on The Festival Show on Friday 5th August, but here’s the blog version…


After Shark is a short film, written by Lita Doolan and featuring Jo Phillips-Lane, Julie Broadbent, Sara Haggerty and Ian McShee, which is inspired by true events. Earlier this year, the body of a rare Greenland shark was discovered in Newlyn in Cornwall, and this event is the springboard for the story told in After Shark. One of the film’s characters, Meg (played by Julie Broadbent) discovers the shark in the harbour and attempts to return it to the ocean. Later, she sees the shark again and realizes it hasn’t survived.

That said, the shark storyline is only a very small part of After Shark. Despite the show’s title and blurb, the discovery of the Greenland shark is only a fragment of the overall story, and the film doesn’t linger for long on Meg’s discovery.

After Shark is actually a story – told through fragments and snippets, often floating free of context or exposition – of a group of people who are reacting, in one way or another, to changes in their lives and in their environment.

The piece is presented through a range of filmic techniques. The opening shots use an animated backdrop, which soon gives way to filmed scenes. However, the filmed scenes we see rarely show us characters or action. Instead, the majority of the film is a montage of recordings of bookshelves, streets, pavements, the harbour, filmed in a naturalistic style as though captured on a smartphone while a character is moving around their environment. Over the top of this footage, voiceovers narrate moments in the characters’ lives, usually as one half of a conversation with an unseen and unheard other. It’s an interesting technique, and one that is both disorienting and intriguing. It keeps us at a distance from the characters, denying a chance to ‘know’ them fully, but it also weaves together a series of fragments that promise to reveal a bigger picture.

The shark anecdote from Meg is – obviously – one that jumps out as significant. But elsewhere other characters share tiny stories of their own that hint at a similar significance. For instance, Shona – one of the characters who does appear on screen, recording her narrative via video calls – announces in her first short monologue that she has just received the keys to her first ever council house, but then explains that the previous tenant had kept pigeons. When the man died, the council didn’t know what to do with his pigeons and so left them closed into the property until they killed one another. It’s just a little snippet of Shona’s story, but it’s heavy with a sense of brutality and waste.

As I’ve said, the fragmentary effect of the short, contextless scenes of each character (coupled with the fact that we don’t generally see their faces on screen), along with the use of handheld camera footage that sometimes seems almost uncanny in its disembodiment, can often be disorienting. At times, the camera appears to follow the point-of-view of the person who is speaking, as when Meg walks down to the harbour, but at other times it offers a less coherent view. For instance, when one character (Chrissie) talks about being at an author event, the view we see is a canted shot of bookshelves in an apparently vacant bookshop.

There are hints here and there that the stories being told intersect with one another. Characters refer to one another, and it’s quite clear in some of her scenes that Meg is on the phone to Shona. Nevertheless, the connections are implicit, which also adds to the disorientation. There’s a boldness to the way After Shark denies its audience a comfortable narrative structure. We are never quite on solid ground with this one.

The overall effect of this is to focus audience attention on thematic, rather than narrative, connections. And there are a number of themes that come through quite strongly in the film.

Change is a key theme – almost all the characters are experiencing some sort of life change, to greater or lesser degree. Meg is looking for a new job, one that will allow her to continue her conservation and animal welfare volunteering. Chrissie is planning to sell her house in Newlyn and move to London to be closer to her daughter, whereas Shona has just moved into her first flat and is ‘starting from scratch again’. Roger and Zena (who, we learn part way through, is Chrissie’s daughter) are police officers who are facing conflicting pulls on their professional and personal identities. Some of these life changes are embraced willingly, others reluctantly, but all of them are redolent of an uncertain future.

Which brings me to another, perhaps more obvious, theme that is explored in After Shark: the environment. Environmental concerns are writ large across the film, in the visuals where most of the outdoor shots feature scattered litter and plastic bottles, and in the storyline where characters come together (in person and via Zoom) to take part in an environmental protest in London. Shona is a strident vegan who speaks of liberating farmed animals; Meg engages in low-key sabotage of the fishing industry by cutting nets at the harbour.

But ‘environment’ here doesn’t always just mean global concerns. Many of the characters speak of much more domestic anxieties. Whether it’s the council tenant filling his flat with pigeons, or Chrissie’s continuous (and possibly futile) battle against ragwort in the gardens along the coastal path, characters constantly gesture to an attempt at controlling their home environment and fashioning their own world in the way they want to see it. Chrissie speaks of a desire to let the younger generations see ‘pre-war Cornwall’ in Newlyn’s gardens, bringing together the film’s concern with change and with the environment.

Ultimately, none of the characters end up in the environment (in the broad sense) they expected to be in. Jobs are lost, protests go wrong, house moves fall through, family relationships are jeopardized. And, perhaps, it’s in this that we see the shark become more of an allegorical creature: like the poor lost fish doomed to die on Newlyn beach, the characters here all find themselves in unfamiliar, even dangerous, waters, facing an uncertain and unknown future.

Overall, After Shark is a thought-provoking short film. I’ll be honest and say that it suffers a little in terms of production quality – the video call sequences have poor quality audio, and some of the filmed footage is choppy and uneven – but the premise and the storytelling techniques are compelling. As I’ve said, the film resists a comfortable narrative structure, relying instead on a more fragmented approach, and this means that it also resists easy answers and trite exposition. After Shark emerges as a film to ponder on, and one which certainly bears multiple viewings.

After Shark was available to stream throughout the month of July, as part of the GMF Digital Events strand on this year’s Greater Manchester Fringe programme. For the full programme of Greater Manchester Fringe shows that were on this year, please visit the festival website.

Tuesday, 2 August 2022

Tiny Birthday No. 1


It's my birthday this month! I really like celebrating my birthday, but I feel like this year has been so difficult for everyone (everyone I know is just exhausted and stressed at the moment), so I don't feel like I want to ask people to do stuff just for me or to celebrate in a big way. So I've decided to do lots of tiny birthdays instead, enjoying little moments of fun with my friends and family (and by myself!) over the month.

First Tiny Birthday... as my brother is going to be away on my actual birthday, we shared some gorgeous cupcakes from Cake Box on Cheetham Hill tonight.

Lammas: Day 7


It's Lammas Day! However, due to the fact that we were both working today (and Rob was doing an overnight shift at that), we did all our big celebrations yesterday. So I just have one last seasonal thing to share...

Lammas Earrings



My final pair of Lammas earrings were these funky baguettes!

And so the wheel of the year turns... We'll be celebrating again at the Autumnal Equinox.

Lammas: Day 6


This post is a little delayed, but here's what we got up to on Lammas Eve! This was our 'big day', as we were both going to be at work all day on Lammas itself.

Lammas Earrings



Sunday's seasonal earrings might be my favourite ones yet... little bags of flour!

Stretton Watermill







We went out for a picnic on Sunday at Stretton Watermill this afternoon. We really enjoyed the tour of the mill, and I love that distinctive waterwheel smell so this was a great visit for us. We also took a moment to appreciate the season on the banks of the stream that powers the mill.

Lammas Dinner



Rob made us an amazing Lammas Eve dinner, a dish he called 'Lammas Surprise'. There was much bread, but also a very delicious filling.

Lammas Gifts



We swapped our traditional Lammas gifts and cards on Sunday, since we're both working on Monday. I say traditional, obviously we have just made all this up this year.