Delirious Days: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland @ Royal Opera House

This weekend Lillie and I were lucky enough to be given the opportunity to see the Royal Ballet’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in rehearsal at the Royal Opera House.  It was one of the most exciting days possible for Lil, who wants to be a ballerina and loved Christopher Wheeldon’s new take on the surreal tale when it was broadcast on television late last year (in fact it was almost too exciting and she was several times threatened with not going at all ‘if you can’t calm the hell down’).  It was equally exciting for me, an Alice aficionado (and so, admittedly, the threat was idle).

I looked a lot like this in the hours pre-theatre actually…

The performance has been adapted somewhat from the Alice of 2011 the better to suit families with fidgety children, meaning two intervals and no more than 45 minutes sitting still.  While I can’t speak for other people I’m not sure it’s entirely necessary, the middle portion of just 26 minutes finishing when it did was somewhat unexpected and Lil was quite keen to get on with the story (‘I only just HAD a wee!’), being quite used to visiting the cinema to see films of 90 minutes, plus 3.7 weeks of adverts beforehand.  And yet despite these changes, and the fact of Alice’s status as a children’s classic, Lillie was among only a handful of kids in the audience – all girls between the ages of five and ten, all quite patently middle class.  

It’s a shame that still now the ‘high arts’ can be so prohibitive.  Through no fault of the Opera House or the Royal Ballet and, in fact, in spite of their best efforts, an experience like this is still beyond the grasp of most families on middle and lower incomes.  Not only that but it’s still often an uncomfortable experience to take children to the theatre or galleries, not because of the staff but other visitors, who can be very tut-and-stare.  Conversely staff at London attractions, and some outside of the capital (though less so), are charming with children, here at the ROH Lillie was handed the tickets by the door staff, asked directly if she wanted a booster cushion – rendered useless by the tallest man in London two rows ahead – and served her drink in a grown up glass; all things that make Mums melt.  

Another interval?  Le sigh…

I don’t know exactly what the prices are or whether the Royal Opera House has schemes in place to put ballet and opera within the reach of lower income visitors or those with children, and their somewhat difficult to use website appears not to know either, but it is cheering to find it so comfortable a place to be with a child while not being subjected to more churned out kid-friendly dross.  The bold, bright fun of Wheeldon’s Alice is engaging for even the youngest audiences and the fact that most children will be aware of Lewis Carroll’s tale, or it’s Disney offshoots, negates the difficulty of understanding a story told through dance, while the the splashy vignettes as Alice moves through Wonderland work well as independent stories.

Choreographer Wheeldon has come under criticism for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, with dance critics complaining at the lack of complex ballet on show.  What those critics fail to realise (or perhaps what they bitterly do) is that Alice isn’t for them.  While Lillie, a wannabe ballerina, would undoubtedly have loved to see a chain of perfectly executed fouettes, she could see those at a dance showcase – here a story was told not just with dance – tap, much to Lil’s delight, included – but with a stunning set (based, I think, on how my house would look if my husband let me do whatever I wanted), impressively simple special effects (the oversized puppet Cheshire Cat was greeted with gasps and chuckles) and clever costumes (I require a copy of the Queen of Hearts ‘dress’ to be pushed around town in please).  More importantly, with effortless ballet and great expression, the cast brought one of my childhood’s and now Lil’s most loved stories to life.  And I like to think that the opinions of Lillie and her compatriots might be just ever so slightly more important to the people behind Alice than those po-faced old hacks requiring MORE JETTES.


Actually, I Don’t Want to Be An Extrovert

This morning a friend posted an article from today’s Guardian.  With the title ‘Why The World Needs Introverts’ it immediately caught my attention.

This is the first and only time I’ve seen those of us who are shy, who prefer not to be asked to speak up, portrayed positively.  Usually the shy are freaks; they’re the weirdoes and moody loners in movies and TV series, the ones first collared for a murder before the good guys realise that their only evidence against them was ‘we thought he looked a bit shifty’.

Rather pleasingly Susan Cain eloquently describes the difficulty and pain faced by those of us who have gone through life being shy, and therefore wrong, noting that – as I remember my parents doing and as I now do with my own children (my daughter, Lillie, is only six but showing signs of being extremely shy) – we are scolded and apologised for because we’re being ‘rude’, as if being quiet and thoughtful and taking time to weigh up a stranger is a negative personality trait.  Cain talks as well about something she calls the Extrovert Ideal, put simply the belief that everybody should be an extrovert no matter their nature, hence that scolding and disappointment, the belief of the general public that shy = weird.  You know, I’ve never thought about it, I’ve always assumed that my being shy was a defect and that I’d simply drawn the short straw when it came to personalities.

JK Rowling, Steven Spielberg, Charles Darwin, this guy...introverts aren't totally useless

That said, I’m a bit of an anomaly amongst the shy, having been diagnosed with social phobia and therefore having a tendency to use crutches to support me through social situations – large quantities of wine at parties, the accompaniment of my husband, a friend or even my kids, and strong anti-anxiety drugs – but nonetheless I have been shy throughout my life and much of Cain’s superb article rings true and feels wonderfully reassuring because chronic shyness is isolating and affects every aspect of one’s life and career.

It’s a small thing but by publishing this article The Guardian has addressed something that really should be considered an awful lot more than it is.  I recently posted about how many prejudices remain in our society, generally accepted terms and behaviour that, well, shouldn’t be generally accepted.  The idea of shyness as a negative personality trait is a prejudice all of its own and we should be tackling the belief that introverts should be forced out of their shells and seeking to better recognise the positive contributions to society that the quiet people plugging away in the background, the thinkers and the understated make.

I’m going to start by accepting my children’s personalities as they, introversion and all, and giving up trying to coax them out of their shells.

It’s Harder To Crack A Prejudice Than An Atom

For a long time I’ve been of the belief that racism and sexism and other such ignorant attitudes were in some sort of cretaceous period and that the dinosaurs that held them were on their way out, claiming all the pensions ready to lay down in the mud and become fossils for future generations to find and be confused by (‘this bone definitely suggests that Mailus Readerum thought all Muslims were terrorists’) while we, the younger generation, forged ahead with our togetherness and understanding, to live in a happy world of rainbows and unicorns.

Well, ok, maybe I’m not that naive but, apparently I’m much more gullible than I thought I was.  I thought that ignorance and prejudice was a once in a blue moon thing and that our generation – the one currently producing world leaders and great thinkers and billions of people with useless degrees – had got over, you know, the being massive twats bit.

Earlier this year, Unilad, a site aimed at young men attending universities (ie: boys with an ounce of brain) put ‘banter’ under the spotlight with its statement ‘85% of rape cases go unreported.  That seems to be fairly good odds.’  It was, shockingly, supported by a stream of braniacs claiming ‘nobody minds a bit of rape banter’.

The whole thing made me somewhat furious and ranty.  But (naive, remember?) I assumed it to be a one off, the product of silly little boys making silly little jokes then skulking away with their limp little peepees between their legs when they were found out and told off.

Then this happened:


I shan’t give too much space to this story as I’ve no doubt you’ve heard more than enough about it already.  But suffice to say I was most definitely like WTF when I saw it.

The more I think about it, the more this ‘banter’ culture is spreading like a particularly virulent VD.  Topman, for example, have come under fire for their wholly inappropriate tshirts bearing slogans such as ‘nice new girlfriend, what breed is she?’  while my own personal nemesis (he doesn’t know about our feud but it most certainly exists) Jeremy Flamin’ Clarkson continues to be paid the big license payer bucks to behave as the Lord and Master of the Banter Crew, chortling his way through jokes about women, suicide and 1.2 litre engines.  It’s infuriating when women, having worked so hard for something approaching equality and now bearing the strain of not only working the same jobs as men but (more often than not) running homes and raising children too, are still belittled by men under the guise of this so-called ‘banter’.

The problem is, perhaps, that we become de-sensitised too easily.  Take for example my favourite topic, good ol’ mental health.  As I’ve mentioned several times before I’ve lost a job because of a lack of understanding of my condition.  My husband has been forced out of his workplace by people using my condition as a stick to beat him with.  It’s fast become something that I just accept.

This morning for example, a fellow blogger Tweeted ‘this weather is bipolar’.  I thought nothing of it, in fact it’s the sort of thing I might well pipe up with myself having become quite used to making lame jokes about my illness to make it easier for myself and other people to deal with (it’s much simpler to make a face and tell someone ‘I’m basically completely insane’ than to be serious and say ‘some days I can’t face my life and I generally assume that you hate me’), I’ve reached the point at which I don’t even see these comments as inappropriate.  But my pal, uber-blogger and one woman crusade, Sian was as fuming as one can be in 140 characters and what she said made sense:

@hoola well you shouldn’t have to get used to it. Just the same as my children shouldn’t have to get used to being called chinky. It’s wrong  

She’s absolutely right of course, all those times that people have said to me ‘oh isn’t everybody bipolar these days?’ (you’d be surprised how many times I’ve heard that) or laughed at my inability to do everyday things and my bizarre phobias I shouldn’t have just ignored it, I should have stood up for myself and for the thousands of other people like me who are being treated as the butt of another inappropriate joke.

And..woah there Lesleymy mate’s kids have been called chinky?  This was a new one on me.  And the more I thought about it the more I realised that kind of casual racism still exists. Not just in the older generations but amongst people of my own age and now, as Betty – for the record, a kid who one would never imagine starting a fight or inciting someone’s fury but a gorgeous, friendly and caring girl who my own four year old son is in love with – has experienced amongst folk who’ve not even reached double digits yet.

Betty’s dad, Yan, wrote a post too.  Tears people, actual tears.

The fact that people younger than me; impressionable teenage boys,  primary school age girls, are casually tossing around racist and sexist terms, that they’re being raised by people who have no more sympathy or understanding of mental illness than your average 40s-born retiree…well, it’s just hugely depressing isn’t it?  I wonder if we’ll ever be at a stage at which the colour of your skin doesn’t matter, the reproductive organs you’re rocking isn’t an issue and depressive illnesses aren’t casually joked about or considered made up excuses for the lazy or bywords for ‘different’.

Somehow the fact that these isms are now dressed up as comedy or hidden behind ‘I’m not racist but…’ lines or cloaked in common sense political statements (I’m sure we’ve all heard rants about the influx of Polish workers, as if we, the British, have more claim to this particular few acres just because we were born on them or we hold a piece of paper that says we’re citizens*) makes them all the more poisonous.

Maybe we need to do more of this. Without the police brutality obvs.

I don’t think I’m the only one who can be called naive.  I think a lot of us have been merrily focusing on ourselves ignoring what’s right there under our noses.  Really, didn’t we all believe we were more open minded than our parents?  Perhaps we ought to be more aware.  Perhaps we should put up more of a fight against prejudice.  Perhaps we’ve all been too busy thinking about ourselves, worrying about getting a great degree, finding a fantastic job, getting on the property ladder, meeting ‘the one’, having a baby.  Perhaps we need to spend more time thinking about what’s important.  Perhaps we should remember what the people before us – Emmeline Pankhurst, Martin Luther King, Kate Fraser – did and continue their work in our own small ways, wherever we can.

Or perhaps I’m just naive in thinking that things will ever change.

*yes, I know it’s more complex than that.

What I Wore Wednesday: Favourite Tee

I don’t normally get involved in these blogging traditions, I mean I struggle to manage a follow friday over on Twitter (@hoola but don’t expect a #ff).  But since shifting four stone – did I mention that?  Four stone. You may not have heard because I’ve not really said a lot about it – I’ve found it necessary to be a smidge more creative with the ol’ wardrobe.  So I thought doing a What I Wore Wednesday might encourage me to change it up a little, experiment and maybe even get out of my joggers occasionally.  No promises.

I don’t know who started WIWW, although I think it may be something to do with Transatlantic Blonde, so feel free to point me in the direction of anything I might need to know.  I’d hate to make some horrific blog faux pas. 

Anyway.  Look, here’s me posing in my mirror.  I’ve got some clothes on (whole world breathes sigh of relief).

Cardigan: F&F at Tesco
Skirt: Moto at Topshop
T-shirt: Urban Outfitters
Socks: Sockshop
Bracelet: some shop in France (it was a gift)

Though it’s wonderful to lose weight it’s been kind of difficult in the wardrobe department, especially since the whole not being a heifer thing has coincided with the whole being skint thing.  I’ve even had to give up on the dress I promised myself if I made it.  This one. 

So that stuff I’m wearing there is too big, like FAR too big.  But I love the UO t-shirt, for it proclaims my very real love of top lip fuzz.  And it looks kind of ok baggy because it’s all lovely and worn and thin.  Also the denim skirt, which I hacked to bits a while ago has been with me for about twelve years.  It was among my first impulse internet purchases.  Heady days.  And the socks, well, knee socks are becoming a bit of a La-trademark.  Because somehow long socks help keep tights from falling down which is useful when you only own tights three sizes too big.  Fact.  You’re welcome. 

Oh and YES, I did buy a cardi from Tesco.  It’s cashmere (the luxury!) and I’m a compulsive shopper.  I go in for Warburtons and milk and I buy a top and a bike seat and a butter dish.  It’s a disease.

Losing Weight While Losing Your Mind

This evening I reached my target weight. It’s been just a little over a year since I started paying weekly visits to my local Slimming World group and I’ve lost a smidge less that four stone.

Anybody who says that their eating patterns aren’t affected by their moods is lying… or just weird. We’re almost all known to comfort eat, to eat less in times of stress or to conform to expected seasonal eating patterns. It’s a combination of this and our tendency to use food as a reward that means diet clubs like SW and Weightwatchers are doing a roaring trade and bookshops have increasingly huge sections given over to both cookery books and diet books.

A major symptom of bipolar is, I find, compulsive behaviour – the inability to consider the negative impact of my actions or at least to give it the attention it perhaps deserves. It’s that, combined with two pregnancies in quick succession that led to my steady creep from a size 12 to a 16 and, on occasion (horror of horrors!) an 18.

So it was I bit the bullet and did the very thing I always said I’d never do in a million years. I joined the throngs of middle aged women clad in ‘flattering’ leggings to pay my hard earned cash just so I could be weighed. In public.



In the beginning Slimming World was hard. The recipes I tried relied on substitutions (forget cream – use quark!) and didn’t suit my foodie approach to cookery. By the end of the first week I was starving, dissatisfied with every meal and ready to give up. I’m not saying the SW recipes aren’t good, in fact the rest of the group seem to positively evangelize about them, they just didn’t suit me.

Anyway, I slogged away and it became easier and easier once I realised that I’d be happier giving up carbonara entirely rather than using substitutes and eating a salad nicoise instead. The weight started to fall off. Hurrah.

But the closer I’ve got to reaching that magical target the more I’ve wondered whether this journey might have been more difficult for me than for some of the other SW converts. I mean, not only am I a compulsive eater par excellence, I’m equally unrestrained with alcohol, finding a bottle of wine the perfect antidote to social anxiety.

And comfort eating. For those who have had a hard day at work, been dumped or are suffering from a nasty case of PMT, a family size Dairy Milk can be the cure. But for me there doesn’t have to be a trigger to kick off a deep, chocolate scoffing depression and that depression can last for days, weeks or even months.

Previously I wrote about an incident at my husband’s workplace. You can imagine how tempting it was to plunge straight in to the biscuit barrel and never leave. Not to mention that the person Mr H was in a dispute with also happened to be the same person who first introduced me to SW and who, needless to say, I wasn’t merrily sipping tea in the circle of support with any longer. If I hadn’t been so close to reaching my goal I would’ve given up.

It wasn’t just the food side of things that caused a problem for me (and as a food writer spending every day poring over the menus of fabulous restaurants it really was a problem in more ways than one). More difficult was dragging myself out in to public for what I call (unfairly really) Public Humiliation. That social anxiety? That makes it pretty bloody difficult to walk in to a room full of people, much less sit in a circle and chat about my diminishing rolls of flab.

While this seems to be something to look forward to for most SW members, it involved a real effort to drag myself out of my solo stupor here at home and put in an appearance in a room full of jolly people who want to <em>talk</em>. I’ve never mentioned my bipolar to anybody there, including the group leader, so I probably just appear to be a grumpy eccentric to most but I’m loathe to have my illness given as an excuse for my inability to stick to a simple diet, or to be treated as a special case, even if I am one. Much less do I want to be talked about – one thing I’ve become acutely aware of living in a small town is how easily you can get labelled and how little understood mental illness is by the majority. And then of course there are the drugs. Most recently I’ve been prescribed lithium, the main side effect of which is, of course…of course…severe weight gain.

Regardless of bipolar, of comfort eating and anxieties and regardless of outside difficulties I’ve been able to reach a point at which I’m happy with my weight again. It’s a huge boost to any woman. Now I just have to resist the shopaholic demon rearing it’s ugly head now that most of my wardrobe is too big for me…

if mental illness effects your eating habits, if you’ve struggled with your weight or if you have any great diet tips I’d be really interested to hear from you…comment below!