Working wardrobe

One of the things I like about my new job is that I can wear proper clothes.

For the last few years my working wardrobe consisted of nylon pyjamas that didn’t fit, usually had pen stains from broken biros around the pockets, and often smelled of curry. (We weren’t allowed to take them home and wash them, but had to hand them over at the end of every shift to be boiled. Which kills nasties, but doesn’t really get them clean.) When I started as a ward doctor I tried nice clothes for about five minutes, realised I valued sleep over ironing and that machine washable was essential, and started buying my cardies from Tesco’s. (They look quite nice for a week or so, but if you put them through their paces like I did, they end up resembling pan scourers. At the time I was too busy and too miserable to care.)  For the last few years, I bought nothing but a new coat and my wedding dress and shoes.

Now I work in an open-plan office, with strip lights and hundreds of computers, and my own twirly chair.  I can drink tea out of a mug, and not worry that it will be stolen or broken by the time I come back for my next shift.  No-one shouts.  I can wear long sleeves and things on my wrists, and dangly earrings aren’t downright dangerous.  The chances of getting sprayed with urine or spilling someone’s blood are vanishingly small.  My colleagues wear everything from denim miniskirts, flat knee-high boots and handknits, to wrap dresses, pointy sling-backs and heaps of gold jewellery.

But with so much possibility, how to choose?

The day I found out I’d been offered this job, I went shopping.  I came home with two secondhand books.

Things changed while I wasn’t buying clothes.  More polyester, more expensive.  (I love this top, for example.  But £70 for something made of plastic?  No, thank you).  The garments I’d imagined wearing to this job didn’t exist.  Or not in the UK and not at my price point, anyway.  Plus, I got older.  My inner thigh gap disappeared.  The clothes I like are designed for whippets, while I’m doing my bit for the British tourist board, peddling the national physique, a classic pear with bingo wings.

I bought a few things to fill the worst gaps, and have cobbled together a wardrobe I can mix and match to wear to work without feeling too frumpy or untidy.  But something – many things – are missing.  I’m starting to get an idea of what they are, but I’d like your advice, too.

So without further ado, here are some pictures of what I’ve been wearing to work.  All were taken on my ’phone, at the end of the day to give you an idea of what these outfits really look like, by friends, my very patient husband, and the occasional kind and bemused stranger.

All clothes with links were bought specially, clothes without links are old.  Bag throughout is Mulberry (style unknown), bought from the factory shop in Somerset five years ago, bright pink iPhone case is Smythson, from Bicester Village.

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ShirtInes/Uniqlo Trousers: Zara Shoes: Jaeger JacketComptoir des Cotonniers

I love capri pants, but I couldn’t find any to fit me anywhere.  These were cheap and are machine washable. They’re not very flattering, but as you’ll see I wear them a lot.  When I find nicer ones they’re going straight to Oxfam … although at this rate they will have fallen apart by then.  (I bought two pairs.  One already has a huge hole in the pocket.)

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Jumper: Uniqlo Scarf: Lyle & Scott Trousers: Theory Shoes: French Sole India Coat: Whistles

When I found these trousers I got that click of recognition.  ‘Oh, there you are.’  They make me feel smart, competent and cool.  Theory no longer sell them in Europe, and they have changed the fabric, adding polyester to the wool and elastane, so I am once again on the hunt for my perfect trousers.  These will have to retire before too long because they are starting to fray a little at the hems and pockets.

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JumperUniqlo Trousers: Zara Shoes: French Sole India Coat: Whistles

One day I walked into Uniqlo looking for silk shirts, and found they were having one of their flash sales on cashmere.  I bought quite a few of these jumpers.  Brora they certainly aren’t, but they are warm and light, don’t need ironing, and seem to be bearing up quite well.  I wash them in the machine on the wool programme, in net bags with a little bit of cheap, plant-based shampoo, on the lowest spin.  When they’ve finished I spin them again on a much higher setting, then pat them out flat on towels to dry.  To felt wool you need heat and friction at once, and this method means I can have a sweater clean and dry in 24 hours with minimum fuss (and no dry cleaning!).

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Shirt: Uniqlo Trousers: Boden Shoes: French Sole Henrietta Coat: Whistles

I love the look of Boden clothes, but they don’t often suit me.  These trousers were on sale the week I was looking for clothes for work, and were an attempt to replace the black Theory trousers.  I don’t like the cut nearly as much,  but they are pure wool and I can put them on and (mostly) forget about them.

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Jumper: J. Crew Skirt: Primark Shoes: Jaeger Denim jacket: Helmut Lang Umbrella: Cath Kidston

When I was going to Cuba for my elective, I didn’t know what I’d be doing in the hospital or how I’d be able to wash my clothes.  All I knew was that I’d need a white coat.  (We don’t wear them in most UK hospitals because they’ve been deemed hygiene hazards.)  So I went to Primark to stock up on disposable clothes – and found this skirt, which my mum picked out.  I didn’t take it to Havana, but it’s been a faithful wardrobe workhorse ever since, paired with heels at work, or to stomp about in in knee-high boots in winter.  Needless to say I still have most of the clothes I took to Cuba.  Liti washed them by hand, in cold water at the sink outside the kitchen door.  Even our jeans.

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Shirt: Ines/Uniqlo Trousers: Theory Shoes: L. K. Bennett Denim jacket: Helmut Lang

I bought this jacket from Liberty the year before I went to university.  I was supposed to be saving money from my temping job to go travelling, but I was much more interested in clothes.  It was the most expensive thing I’d ever bought, and in my tiny room in halls I hung it on the side of my wardrobe so I could look at it, because I loved it so much.  The turn back cuffs have long ago gone out of fashion, but I wouldn’t change them for the world. This jacket has magical powers.

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Shirt: Uniqlo Trousers: Zara Shoes: Roger Vivier Coat: Whistles 

Nothing to say here, really.  I love chambray shirts.  These shoes are very comfy.

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 Shirt: Laura Ashley Trousers: Boden Shoes: Zara Coat: Barbour 

Another of those unexpected purchases, chosen by my mum.  We were in Kendal looking for clothes for her, the Easter holiday before my medical finals.  I would never have chosen it for myself, but I like wearing it and it always garners compliments – particularly from nurses.  I have no idea why that is.

The Liberty print Barbour is one of those things that swept around my cohort of junior doctors like wildfire.  Ruby bought one, then Angela (or was it Angela then Ruby?), then me, and suddenly everyone had one.  The other thing that did the rounds like that was some diamante owl earrings from Accessorize, which I’ll show you another time.  They started with Naomi, then Maham, then Marwa, then everyone, and finally, me.  Yes, it was just like high school.

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Shirt: APC Skirt: Whistles Shoes: Emmy Denim jacket: Helmut Lang

I bought this shirt while studying French in Paris the summer before I went to medical school.  The sleeves are now too tight (they shrunk a bit in the wash, and I have got fatter), but I love it fiercely.

These were my wedding shoes, my something blue.  I wanted these, but Emmy shoes are astonishingly comfortable, and very easy to walk in.  I wanted to dye them cobalt, but I was working crazy hours at the time, so I thought I’d do it afterwards.  I wore them a bit on our honeymoon, then boxed them up waiting to get them dyed, but a few weeks ago I broke them out impatiently, and lots of people have since admired the colour, so now I’m not sure.  What do you think?

This was my first and last attempt at a midi skirt.

 

So, gentle reader, please dig in.  Let me know what you like, what you don’t like, and what might be better.

Thank you very very much.

Posted in outfit | 19 Comments

Tasting notes

If you find yourself in Oxford wondering what to do on a Sunday morning, there is one very good answer.  A Coffee Concert!  I was visiting my parents this weekend and had planned to meet S for brunch, but we ended up at the Holywell Music Room listening to the Aronowitz Ensemble playing Mozart and Schumann (although we missed coffee).

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The Holywell Music Room was the first purpose-built concert hall in Europe, unattached to a church or a palace.  Handel is said to have liked it very much.  A beautiful Georgian building (built 1742 1748), it is horseshoe-shaped inside, with white walls and golden-brown wood as perfectly balanced as its acoustics.  (And some madly ornate gold chandeliers thrown in for good measure.)

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Coffee Concerts are held there nearly every Sunday morning, so if you’re in Oxford you can roll up, listen to some first-rate musicians playing in this jewel of a music box, and go home for lunch.  (It’s usually chamber music but last time I visited  a few years ago  we heard Poulenc’s Flute Sonata and Debussy’s Syrinx.)  £12 will buy you a ticket to the concert and a hot drink beforehand, either at the King’s Arms on the corner, or the wonderful Vaults Café, which serves better coffee and is much more handsome.

The Aronowitz Ensemble were great.  I’ve rarely seen such expressive players, and towards the end of the third movement of the Mozart (Piano Quartet in E Flat Major, K493), I felt that cold feeling creep over me I sometimes get when something is suddenly perfect.  Do you ever have that?

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Schumann’s Piano Quintet in E Flat Major op. 44

I don’t usually like Schumann, but watching the musicians putting so much into it  they had to retune halfway through!  and an elderly lady sitting opposite us almost dancing in her seat throughout, I understood why people do.  S, who works in the art departments of big budget films and, currently, a popular BBC costume drama (so proud!) and is way more artistic than me, loved it.

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As did everyone else.  Most of the audience looked like they’d stepped out of an early episode of Morse, but at the end of each piece, as applause filled the air, the floor shook with people stamping their feet in appreciation.

I love Oxford. The likelihood of us moving there now that I’ve got this brilliant job has almost vanished, but I feel so lucky to be able to visit.

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S, I’ll be back for tea and cake  or coffee and a concert  soon!

Posted in concerts, Oxford | 19 Comments

Spinach and feta filo pie

You might have noticed I love spinach.  I eat so much of the stuff I worry occasionally that I’ll give myself a kidney stone, and have to remember to drink plenty of water.  (I put it in green smoothies as well in savoury dishes … although I prefer kale which, as well as being delicious, is lower in oxalic acid.)

This is a recipe my mum often makes for a weekend lunch, based on a Sophie Grigson recipe passed on by a friend.  It pleases everyone (except vegans, coeliacs, the ovo- or lacto-intolerant, and probably those on a diet.  For these poor people we will have to find something else) and is a good way of sneaking vegetables into kids.  It’s also quite easy to keep the ingredients in your fridge/freezer, if you are a teensy bit organised (and don’t live with a cottage cheese monster, like I do).

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Ingredients

5 large sheets of filo pastry (this is about half a packet)
400 g (14 oz) frozen spinach, defrosted
4 spring onions (scallions), chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
200 g (7 oz) feta cheese, crumbled
175 g (6 oz) cottage cheese
30 g (1 oz) parmesan cheese, grated
4 eggs, beaten
1 – 2 tsp mixed dried herbs, or 1 – 2 tbs fresh (original recipe calls for parsley; dill is also really nice in this)
olive oil
salt and pepper

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Method

Preheat your oven to 190°C (375°F, gas mark 5). Cover the filo pastry with a damp cloth to keep it from drying out.  Brush your pie dish with olive oil.  If you haven’t had time to defrost your spinach, pop it in a pan over medium heat and stir constantly until cooked/defrosted, then leave to drain in a colander until cool.  

  1. Sauté the spring onions for a few minutes, stir and add the chopped garlic, cook until the garlic smell rises from the pan.  Remove from heat.
  2. Squeeze as much water out of spinach as possible.  (Don’t use your best tea towel: it will be stained green.)
  3. Mix the spinach, spring onions and garlic in a large bowl.  Add all three cheeses, the herbs, salt and pepper to taste and the beaten eggs.  Mix thoroughly.
  4. Cover the bottom of the oiled pie dish with your first sheet of filo, leaving the edges hanging over the sides, and brush with olive oil (or melted butter).  Place the next sheet on top, oil again, and repeat with all remaining sheets, brushing olive oil between each layer.
  5. Tip in the filling and spread out to fill the dish.
  6. Cover with the overhanging filo sheets, overlapping them and brushing olive oil between each layer as before.
  7. Bake for 35 – 45 minutes until the top is golden brown and crispy.  Keep an eye on it as you may want to cover it with foil if those crinkly edges are browning too quickly.

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Serve with a green salad (my favourite: lettuce and avocado with my mum’s magic vinaigrette)  add some boiled new potatoes with butter and green herbs if you want something more substantial  and feel very happy.  Then take the leftovers to work, and feel happy all over again.

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Yum.

Posted in cooking | 9 Comments

Dating again

I have been wearing bootcut or wide leg jeans fairly faithfully for more than a decade.  I had one pair of Diesel straight legs that I loved and lost, and have never been able to replace.  I have neither the thighs nor the confidence for skinny jeans.  But I am getting bored and frustrated with the old retainers, and seeing myself in them.  So I visited match.com.

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I tried on all the boyfriends in the shop (apart from the perennially popular J Brand Aidan, which was sold out in my size) and finally plumped for these, the MiH Phoebe Slim, which made me feel like a teenaged boy.  (They remind me of my first pair of ‘grown-up’ jeans, men’s 501s I bought with my mum from a dedicated denim shop when I was twelve.  Before them I wore jeans from the children’s sections of department stores, with fake floral patches and half-elasticated waists.  And leggings.  And shell-suits.  Good times.)

The other pair I toyed with was the Current/Elliott The Boyfriend, in a darker wash.  They reminded me too much of the low-slung heavily whiskered flares I wore in my early teens, had some polyester in them as well as more elastane, and were more expensive.  But when I put these on my husband’s reaction was ‘They’re no different from your other jeans!  Apart from maybe the turn-ups,’ and looking at these photos they do look fairly ordinary.

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Jumper: Uniqlo JeansMiH Phoebe Slim Shoes: Manolo Blahnik BB Pump Necklace: white coral beads from a French-themed London street market 

So, friendly readers, what do you think?  I know they would look better with a sweatshirt.  I’m working up to it!  (Eventually I’d like to look like Lisa, only wearing heels.  I’d feel too frumpy in trainers … or maybe I just haven’t found the right trainers yet.  I am partial to a good pair of Air Maxes, but then I’d have to straighten my hair, invest in some giant gold hoops and learn to blow bubbles with my gum.  Or maybe that’s just me.)

Would you take these to meet your friends, or hold out for something wider and looser?

Posted in outfit | 13 Comments

Food for thought

Research from my alma mater suggests we could improve our health by eating more fruit and vegetables than current guidelines advise.  5 a Day has long been the message in many European countries, the USA and New Zealand, while in Ireland they recommend four, in Denmark it’s six portions, in France they aim for ten, and the Japanese are apparently advised to eat seventeen helpings of planty goodness a day.  Meanwhile in Australia the sensible suggestion is 2 & 5 (not to be confused with the 5 : 2 diet).  If you ask me, the best advice – as summed up pithily by my favourite health journalist Michael Mosley – is ‘eat more plants!’ 

I don’t preach anything (interestingly, not one of my patients has ever asked for dietary advice.  Make of that what you will) but here is a little of what I try to practise.  I’ve never been very good at denial, so not eating deep-fried yumyums or lardy cake has never worked for me, whereas celebrating vegetables and making them the centre of my meal, does.

Here are links to some of the plant-based meals we have cooked over the past week.  All of them are delicious, inexpensive, and not too difficult to prepare – if you have the right tools.  Which brings me back to one of the very thorny issues surrounding health in this country, which is that it’s more accessible to the rich than the poor.  A lot of the media storm surrounding the publication of the study analysing the link between fruit and vegetable consumption and mortality focused on the horror of already ‘having to’ ‘force down’ the recommended five.  I drink a green smoothie most mornings made of handfuls of kale, spinach or lettuce, apples, pears, bananas, lemons, nuts (sometimes even broccoli!), so that’s about four before I’ve even left the house.  I am not exaggerating when I say my life was revolutionised by a Vitamix.  It cost £400.  (I have tried other, less powerful, blenders.  They didn’t cut it.)  You can make most of these recipes without a blender or food-processer, but at the end of a long day at work, I probably wouldn’t.  I don’t have the answers.  If you do, please let me know.

You might notice that a lot of these recipes are by vegan bloggers.  I am an omnivore, to say the least.  If we eat breakfast together and you leave bacon rinds on the side of your plate, I will pick them up and eat them.  (I’m sorry if you find that disgusting.  They are crispy and salty and delicious, and I really hate food waste.)  I can think of fewer things finer to eat than marrow bone on toast.  I love perfectly pink lamb’s liver, melty pork knuckle, and unctuous oxtail stew.  At Christmas time we have a tongue, which I cook from scratch.  If you have ever peeled a tongue, you will know how much I like it to make that worthwhile.  But if you want to know how to incorporate vegetables into your everyday meals and make them tasty and filling and rewarding, these are the people who know how.

All photos are copied from the authors of these recipes.  I can cook and eat fairly well, but food styling is not one of my strong points, and the idea here is to make you want to eat these dishes, not wonder why someone so cack-handed puts their photographs on the internet.

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Vegan veggie falafels in lettuce wraps with apple & cabbage slaw, by Josephine of A Tasty Love Story (possibly my favourite food blog ever)

The best tasting falafels I have ever eaten, or, in the words of him indoors, ‘The business!’  The ‘dough’ was quite wet so they didn’t stay crisply round, and in fact this ended up more like a fried spread than falafel (much like refried beans!).  We ate them in flatbreads with grated raw carrot and cabbage and the dressing drizzled over.  The dressing is amazing.  I thought I might give up on falafeling them and just whizz these ingredients into a dip, but the coconut oil rounded off the flavour perfectly.  Whichever way you do it, make these!  They are yumtious.

ETA: Josephine suggests mixing in flour or psyllium husk to soak up any extra liquid, and letting the dough rest afterwards for 30 mins before cooking.  We had some left over, and by the next day it had hardened up quite a lot in the fridge, so if you have time, chilling the mix before frying might be a good idea.

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 Mushroom and green pea curry (khumbh or dhingri mutter curry) by Kanan Patel of Spice Up the Curry

I found Kanan’s blog by Googling for this recipe (‘mushroom curry blog’.  Original, eh?) and am really looking forward to trying more of her recipes.  This curry was bright and clean and creamy, packed with flavour, immensely satisfying but not heavy.  I made a few substitutions (fenugreek powder as I couldn’t find fenugreek leaves, fresh coriander stirred in at the end instead of powdered because we had some wilting in the fridge) and used very little chilli in deference to requests.  It stood up to my hatchet job well, but I can’t wait to make a more authentic version once I’ve found some methi leaves!

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Cauliflower curry with chard and coconut milk, from The Clean Plates Cookbook by Jared Koch and Jill Silverman, via Tess Masters, The Blender Girl 

I used chopped dried apricots instead of raisins because I don’t like raisins in savoury food, and didn’t top it with dried coconut because we didn’t have any.  This is warming, bright and tasty – and a lot healthier than my beloved cauliflower cheese.  It’s even nicer the next day, when the flavours have had time to meld.

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Pesto brown rice with sautéed greens by Amanda of Pickles & Honey

I always cook too much rice, and then am slightly at a loss for what to do with it.  Well, now I know!  I can’t think why I’ve never done this before, since adding pesto to risotto is one of my favourite things.  Maybe because for some reason I don’t really like cheese with brown rice.  (I know, specific huh?)  This was my first attempt at vegan pesto and it went well with this meal, leaving the rice and greens bright and clean, but for coating pasta or stirring through risotto I might stick to parmesan.  The lemon juice is a really nice addition making for a zingy vibrant pesto which I will definitely use again.

Lentil-Loaf-1-3Glazed lentil walnut apple loaf, adapted by Angela Liddon of Oh She Glows from a recipe by Terry Walters

This recipe reminded me of an amazing nut strudel I ate at Fellini’s (before watching The Grand Budapest Hotel), and I was looking forward to trying it all week.  I skipped the glaze, and replaced the pesky raisins with chopped dried apricots.  It wasn’t quite as good as the strudel, but is definitely a new favourite recipe. Wholesome, tasty, savoury and satisfying, it makes for plenty of great leftovers.  Oh, and it didn’t fall apart!

I was out two nights this week (eating a halloumi and portobello mushroom burger in the pub for a colleague’s birthday drinks, and some yummy Egyptian food at a friend’s wedding).  The Bank Holiday weekend left time for some slightly more elaborate food preparation than usual, and because I was thinking about this post I looked up new recipes instead of recycling old faithfuls, but otherwise this was a fairly typical week in our house.

I don’t often get on my soapbox on this blog.  If this sparked any thoughts, comments or complaints, let me know.  And please pass on the good word.

Eat more plants!

Posted in breakfast, cooking, life, soapbox | 9 Comments

And, breathe

The first things we do when we get here are to unpack the car, turn on the water, note the metre readings, switch on the storage heaters, make the bed, have a drink.  Depending on the time of year and time of day we might light a fire.

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After that I like spending a few minutes out here.  Listening to the sheep crop the grass and call to their lambs, and the answering bleat which changes pitch throughout the year, the rustling leaves and the burbling brook if it’s been raining a lot, the occasional curlew, maybe a startled pheasant.  Smelling the cool sweetness and earthy damp or sundried grass.  Feeling the sharpness of the wind or the sun on my skin.  Often, the rain in my hair.

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Tomorrow I will look for the lake which might have formed in the hollow at the bottom of that hill, or see if it’s been and gone, leaving field mushrooms in fairy rings.  We’ll find snowdrops or daffodils along the bottoms of stone walls, bluebells or badger sets in the wood.  I might pick nettles for soup or wild garlic in the lane, apples from the old tree or maybe those mushrooms if I’m feeling brave enough.

But for now I’ll just stand here a moment, feeling something unfurl.

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Posted in life, noticing | 4 Comments

Box clever

Stuff vs experience is always hotly debated.

I am the first person to connect stuff with happiness.  (OK, maybe the second).  But there is evidence to suggest that buying activities rather than objects – and ideally choosing pastimes which involve sharing and being with others – is the route to happiness.  Being out of full-time work for a while made me reassess some of my spending priorities, and I’ve started to think less of a treat as something to be carried home wrapped in tissue paper than as time spent with people you love.  If that person is yourself, that’s no less wonderful.  One of the nicest things I did last year was to treat myself to breakfast for one at The Wolseley on the way home from a particularly brutal set of night shifts.  I may have been less well kempt than my fellow breakfasters, but that haggis with fried duck egg was glorious.

Reading Duchesse’s recent post about the cost of culture Stateside, and Pierre Foglia’s point about the replacement of art with armchair columnists and consumerism, hit home.  It also made me realise was how lucky we are to be living in London, with its wealth of possibilities on our doorstep.  Knowing I was about to embark on a job working normal hours, able to make plans in advance (and actually stick to them! Amazing) I resolved to get myself to the theatre toot sweet.

So obviously, when I received a text from Will inviting me to the opera, my first thought was ‘Why is he texting me in the third person?’

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… quickly followed by ‘A box!  Crumbs.’

Will is a muscian.  He thinks sitting so close to the stage gives you the best balance between the singers and the orchestra.  Marginally restricted viewing means that the tickets are cheaper, too.  This box between four of us worked out at £46 each.

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This was Die Frau ohne Schatten, The Woman without a Shadow.  I’d never seen a Strauss opera before.  I first discovered Strauss watching The Hours (Meryl Streep in her New York kitchen cooking lobster with Jessye Norman singing Four Last Songs turned up loud.  I fell for the kitchen and the music in one fell swoop), but his operas aren’t put on very often.  This one, staged at the Royal Opera House to coincide with the 150th anniversary of Richard Strauss’s birth, is long and the story didn’t sound promising.  Turn it into a nightmare, with lots of people wearing animal heads, and it looked odder still.

It was wonderful, though.  The animals, doubles of their spirit/human counterparts and omens, were beautiful to watch.

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As was the orchestra.  The only downside of being able to see so much was getting swept away and forgetting to read the subtitles.  (My German extends to ‘Guten tag’ and ‘Zum wohl’).

IMG_1606The Royal Opera House is of course beautiful.

IMG_1630Looking out of the Paul Hamlyn bar

The ROH house white is pretty nice, too.  Reserve yours in advance for the interval and avoid the ravening crowds.

IMG_1639IMG_1628People more organised than us who had booked supper for the interval

The best thing about Die Frau ohne Schatten (and the orchestra and singing were wonderful, and the set design was pretty snazzy so it’s a tough contest) was the conductor, Semyon Bychkov.  I am not a music critic, so have searched  for someone who summed up better than I can what I felt.  In the words of Stephen Pollard, ‘you will never hear a finer performance of a Strauss opera than the blazing, incandescent, tender and opulent reading of the glorious score that Semyon Bychkov secures from the Royal Opera House orchestra … we have the Vienna and Berlin philharmonics rolled into one in the Covent Garden pit.’  I would travel far to listen to Bychkov conduct again.  Apparently he’s a Strauss specialist.

IMG_1616I can’t recommend it to you because that was the last night.  But if you get a chance to see Bychkov conducting Strauss, grab it with both hands.

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The best £46 I’ve spent in ages.  Absolutely no question.

Posted in adventures, concerts, London | 11 Comments