19 December 2010

What a miserable week. Not just for me but for everyone around me, I suspect.

I started displaying the symptoms of the season’s first cold on Sunday which deteriorated steadily throughout the week. Sore throat followed by a few aches and pains, a nose so congested that not the slightest oxygen molecule could penetrate which alternated with alarming alacrity with a runny nose of Niagara Falls proportions, coughing fits capable of causing earthquake tremors and episodes of sneezing so vigorous that the windows rattled in their frames.

So, as you can imagine (being a guy) I spent the whole week whining and moaning and groaning and coughing and sneezing and complaining and bleating and whimpering and whinging and generally feeling utterly sorry for myself. Now that I am more or less on the mend I can only sympathise with the kind, benevolent, generous and compassionate Ms Playchute who suffered my gripes and grouses with the demeanour and disposition of an angel.

She walked the dog while I lay on the sofa groaning with discomfort, she cooked all the meals (actually, she does that most of the time anyway) while I wailed about the injustice of it all and the incompetence of the medical profession in failing, so far, to find a fool-proof cure for the common cold, she cleaned and hoovered the house while I contemplated making my funeral arrangements and never, not once, did she bellow at me or give me a good slap, which is probably what I needed. I only hope that when she next has a similar episode I can demonstrate half the compassion.

Perhaps I should have taken the advice of, allegedly, Pearl Williams:

You have a cough?  Go home tonight, eat a whole box of Ex-Lax – tomorrow you’ll be afraid to cough.

So, a pretty miserable week until yesterday (Saturday) when we enjoyed one of the best and certainly one of the most exciting adventures we’ve experienced in quite some time. Saturday was our annual pre-Christmas trip up to London for a visit to the theatre and a meal with friends. Saturday was also the day the weather gods decided to bring our region the delights of the arctic conditions which the other parts of the country have been enjoying for the past couple of days.

This outing had been organised months ago and it was a trip we were particularly looking forward to. We were off to the big city to see the National Theatre’s production of War Horse which has had great reviews. Given the gloomy weather forecasts we decided to make an early start and, in fact, made our way into Banbury and on to the train with little distraction – it seems that most of the rest of the local population were heeding the advice not to travel anywhere unless the journey was absolutely essential. There were plenty of spaces in the car park, the trains were running on time and our journey up to London was very pleasant and comfortable. Then the weather arrived.

Our early phone conversations with Sue & Stuart and Dave & Sue (who hadn’t the foresight to set off as early as we had done) were not promising. Stuart was convinced they would never get out of their driveway, let alone make it to their local railway station and Dave & Sue similarly felt the inability to see anything other than white was an indication that perhaps they shouldn’t be venturing out.

The fact that we were already in London might have influenced their decision to make the effort but I suspect it was my disowning them all as “wimps.” So, they struggled to their respective railway stations and made their way to town and finally, we all collected at the theatre for the matinee performance.

War Horse is about the relationship between a young farmhand and his horse during the First World War. At the outbreak of the war, the horse is sold to the cavalry and shipped to France where it participates in cavalry charges against the German machine guns. The horse’s officer is killed and it is “captured” by the Germans and made to pull an ambulance cart and artillery. The young farmhand, although underage, joins up and ends up in the trenches hoping that he might find and save his horse.

So, how does one present a stage show where the main character is a horse? With life-sized puppets, naturally. Each horse is operated by three puppeteers; one operates the hind legs, one the fore legs and one the head. At first glance it’s a bit disconcerting to see the people inside the belly of the horse operating its legs; the puppeteer operating the head appears as if he/she is simply holding the horse’s lead. However, within about thirty seconds the horses are alive. The movements and sounds they make are utterly realistic and clearly the result of detailed studying. In short, the show was outstanding and certainly one of the best we’ve ever seen.

War Horse

Normally on these outings we then make our way to a suitably convenient restaurant and enjoy a sumptuous meal. On this occasion, however, we all decided the better part of valour, in view of the weather conditions, was to initiate our respective journeys home. And so, to the real adventure of the day.

I have written before how the UK (well, southern England at any rate) is utterly incapable of coping with the slightest ice and/or snow. The entire transport infrastructure shuts down and drivers take the view that what they should be doing in the snow is driving into trees and ditches or abandoning their vehicles in the middle of the road preventing anyone else from getting past.

The first challenge was to get from the theatre back to the mainline station where we, hopefully, would get a train back to Banbury. However, because of the weather much of the underground was “disrupted” and, in fact, the underground line we needed to use to get to the station was not running at all. So, by a circuitous route we eventually made our way to Baker Street which is only about a ten minute walk from Marylebone station.

Luckily, there was a train heading for Banbury and that leg of the journey was accomplished with little difficulty. The next challenge we faced was getting the car out of the car park. Fortunately, there was another car attempting to leave the car park at the same time – a husband, wife and teenage daughter who had been up to town to see a play themselves – and so we were able to be of mutual benefit in pushing each other out of our respective parking bays and towards the feeble track which one or two previous cars had created. Unfortunately, the guy driving the other car which, from our prospective, was ahead of us on the track leaving the car park, was utterly incapable of driving on snow and/or ice. Now, I readily concede that I am no expert at driving in these conditions but I do know that what one does not do is to rev one’s engine and start off in first gear with a lot of acceleration. Spin, spin, spin. He also had no understanding about “rocking” the car forwards and backwards to get up a bit of momentum in spite of my demonstrating the technique myself (quite effectively, if I do say so myself) and attempting to explain it to him.

Finally, after about forty minutes, we all (Penny, me, the wife and daughter) managed to push him so that he eventually made it to the main road. Once he was out of the way we got into our car and drove straight out. No pushing, no spinning of tyres, just a little care and caution. Don’t know whether they ever made it all the way home; fortunately for us, the main roads were just passable and we made it home with no further incidents. An absolutely fantastic day out, in spite of the additional weather-related adventures.

Today, we are hunkering down and have no intention of venturing anywhere!

Much love to you all,