Wednesday 25 April 2012
Just another Wednesday sandwiched between Monday’s historic Sherley and Deisher legal hearing in the US (which may well end up challenging Roe vs. Wade in the Supreme Court) and Friday’s 44th anniversary of the implementation of the Abortion Act 1967 (which marked the 7 million-plus abortions performed in the UK).
But for us this Wednesday was to be a very different and notable day. It came in three parts. Part one started in the pouring rain as we set off at 07.00 to drive to Birmingham. I was to give a talk entitled, What about Abortion and Euthanasia? to the 'Women on Wednesdays' meeting at the City Evangelical Church, where Anne, our daughter-in-law, is a member. It started well, but the traffic build-up, the continuing rain and a crazy satellite navigation route meant that our regular 2½-hour journey began to grow and slow. We were lost and late. In all the scores of talks I have ever given, I have been late only once before. That was a memorable occasion when I drove from Birmingham to a church in Wimbledon and got snarled up in the Friday afternoon traffic and I had to change into my suit trousers while driving through the outskirts of north-west London.
We eventually arrived, in bucketing rain, quickly unloaded our stuff and hurriedly set up the church's computer and projector kit only to find that the PowerPoint presentation stubbornly and repeatedly failed – another first for me. I spoke for some 30 minutes, mostly ad lib. The women were very forbearing and kind, and asked some searching questions during and after my talk. It was my worst experience ever. My consolation is that, in the providence of God, He can make good come from our feeble efforts.
My aim and hope is that from this gathering of talented, young, evangelical women, a LIFE Group will emerge. There is no such pro-life group in the UK’s second city, where LIFE’s education and caring inputs are so desperately needed – there are 120 abortion every week in Birmingham.
Part two. It had gone noon and we were due to meet Simeon for lunch at Purnell’s, one of Birmingham’s Michelin star restaurants. We arrived there also late, amid the continuing rain, of course. The set lunch was superb. I was still traumatised by the events of the morning, but the fascinating food and the company of family helped me relax a little. We started with an amuse-bouche of a velouté of feta, parsnip and black rice. Then:
Ham hock with poached organic egg yolk, watercress, black pepper oil
Wreck fish & Red Indian lentils with toffee carrots, coriander, pickled carrots
Market fish with an emulsion of basil, cucumber, quinoa, fennel
Slow cooked lamb with English greens, leek purée, toasted pine nuts
Passion-fruit & vanilla panacotta with compressed pineapple, pineapple sorbet
Poached English rhubarb, custard & meringues
Glynn Purnell, the head chef and star of TV foodie programmes, is a creative kitchen genius. The presentation and, above all, the flavours of these commonplace ingredients were fabulous. At £27 per head, it may seem expensive, but why cannot a man sometimes treat his family? At the end of our 2-hour meal, I was still a little gaga because I entirely forgot the pin number of my credit card, twice – Wendy had to pay!
Part three. Late that afternoon, we drove to Stratford on Avon, birthplace of the greatest writer of the English language, William Shakespeare. Apparently he is now read by half the population of the world. This month saw the launch of the World Shakespeare Festival, with productions, tickets, events and exhibitions around the globe.
We had booked tickets to see the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Twelfth Night – a comedy we had both studied for O-level and had largely forgotten in the intervening 50 years. But we had done our homework – I had previously sent off for the RSC’s theatre programme and Wendy had read half the original play in the preceding days.
Our seats, A50 and A51, were on the very front row of the stalls – the place my father always insisted on booking to ensure an uninterrupted view and to be close to the action. And were we! Less than 1 metre in front of us was a huge aquarium, under half of the stage, full of warm water, about 1.5 metres deep. Rolled up on each of our seats was a towel. An usher appeared and quickly explained that 50 minutes into the play one of the actors would fall into the water and he might splash us. Everyone around us was very amused. The usher further explained that on the first night the actor was a little over-enthusiastic and the front row got soaked, but they had since calmed it down.
The lights went down, the audience hushed and two men appeared on stage. They began to sing. Twelfth Night begins with that well-known line, ‘If music be the food of love, play on.’ We were confused. Was this theatrical licence, after all, the play was in modern dress? No, it was an unscheduled demo protesting against BP, giant sponsors of the RSC, and it seems also corporate defacers of the Arctic icecap. A man in the audience muttered, 'I bet they came here by car.' And an RSC staff member came on stage and apologized for the interruption.
The play proper started. We waited, and waited. Then suddenly, like a porpoise, with a rush of water from under the stage, up came a figure with a mini-tidal wave and gasping for air – it was Viola, the heroine and shipwrecked twin sister of Sebastian. Were we surprised? No. We were shocked. She hauled herself onto the stage and lay there, soaked and mostly motionless, for 20 minutes, within our touching distance. Half an hour later, Sebastian arrived in a similar manner. Extraordinary.
Meanwhile the convoluted plot unfolded, yet with such wonderful acting, it was all so much easier to grasp than that stilted reading around the class we had previously experienced at our schools. Sir Toby Belch and his sidekick, Andrew Aguecheek, kept the house in uproarious laughter, only capped by Malvolio appearing wearing his infamous yellow stockings and cross garters. It was he who delivered the play’s other most renowned line, ‘Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.’
The storyline continuously bobbed and weaved with all the scenes acted out on a single stage with no curtain. The rebuilt RSC theatre is now more like the Globe in London, all-tiered and wrapped around the stage. Then on cue, about 50 minutes in, Aguecheek dancing, singing and generally making a fool of himself, promptly overbalanced and fell into the water. We were dampened, not soaked – the audience went wild!
Throughout there were the inevitable Shakespearean underlying themes – knocking Puritanism, disguised identities, separation and marriage, the virtues of drunkenness, some ribald humour and action – nothing much has changed in 400 years. As traditionalists, we were hesitant about this modern dress production, set in a shabby, art-deco hotel lobby, but it detracted not a whit. The costumes and set were so imaginative and exceptionally high-end, as were the actors, though Orsino was a little miscast, and the twins, though dressed similarly and both with Irish accents, were physically too different. The text was true, but there were some attention-grabbing anachronistic additions, such as a mobile phone (eventually thrown into the water just by us, of course) and the mention of a 750cc Kawasaki. And it all ended happily-ever-after, except for the publically-tricked Malvolio’s disturbing last line, ‘I’ll be reveng’d on the whole pack of you.’
Overall, it was a captivating and enjoyable evening. Our hotel was less than 10 minutes walking distance away, in the rain, of course. Hot chocolate drinks all round and some sound sleep ended a busy and very unusual day. Wednesday 25 April 2012 will long be remembered for all sorts of reasons! Ah yes, did I mention that Wendy forget to pack my raincoat?