Top Things to Make Us Sing this Spring

L and E share a list of little things they are looking forward to this Spring.

“Here comes the sun, and I say, it’s all right” – The Beatles.

Is it just us or is there a sense of optimism in the air? Now we finally have a roadmap out of this lockdown and with various family members being called up for vaccines, everything is starting to feel lighter and certainly brighter. As you know, we de-la-Haye Girls love a list, so we thought we’d share one all about the little things we’re very much looking forward to this Spring. And, as we have been ever so busy with our respective jobs this week, we decided to indulge in a little thought experiment: we agreed to prepare our lists without discussing them with each other to see how many items we’d have in common. We estimated that our individual lists would share a couple of items. Have a read below; we were SHOOK by the similarities, not just in content, but in how we express those desires too. What is it they say? Great minds think alike, or perhaps that fools never differ… We simply say: “is there an echo in here?”

Flower puns always make my daisy

Lily’s list

  • Those extra hours of daylight. By the end of the month, it won’t be getting dark until 7.30pm making the evenings feel long and generous. I’ve certainly enjoyed getting out for a daily walk in time for the sunset and playing spot the daffodils. Have you noticed the bird song increasing too? It is just wonderful.
  • From next week, we can safely meet up with one other person outdoors and not just to walk! We can have a coffee and chat – what sweet bliss. I’m already planning my picnic menu once the government, but more importantly the weather, permits!
  • Creating garden mood boards on Pinterest. Long time readers will know that I recently moved house and finally have a garden of my own. I’m sure E won’t mind being roped in to help out. Your Garden Made Perfect on the BBC is providing us both with a mountain of inspo and ideas. Is anyone else hooked?
  • Digging out our summer clothes and the welcome return of Birkenstock season. Packing away your winter wardrobe in anticipation of the warmer season is honestly such a life hack. It frees up your closet space and you get the thrill of new pieces without the financial sting.
  • At the minute, any and all holidays feel so needed. What better way to appreciate getting safely through the last 12 months than celebrating and spoiling our lovely mothers next weekend. I feel incredibly lucky that les grands-mères in the family have now been fully vaccinated and I can’t wait to show them, and E, of course, how much I’ve missed them. Oh, and if Mother’s Day isn’t for you, it’s St Patrick’s Day on the 17th of this month. Race you to the Guinnesses!
Duck, in dappled light.

Emma’s list

  • The easing of Lockdown 3.0 restrictions, hopefully from mid-April. This will mean Lily and I can meet for a socially-distanced walk and, critically, I can have my hair coloured and cut! I am doing the “double long” at the moment: the overall length of my hair is too long and the length of my roots is ridiculously long. I’ve made contact with the wonderful Kelly, who looks after my tresses – my currently stressed tresses (try saying that quickly) – and am on the waiting list for an early appointment.
  • Getting my COVID vaccinations. On current projections, I should be called by the end of April/beginning of May and getting my jabs should pave the way for me to see my beloved Mamacita, who I’ve not been able to see since Christmas. Mum had her second dose today and we are all looking forward to spending time together again.
  • The clocks going forward and lighter evenings. Like thousands of other people in the UK, I’ve been struggling with this latest lockdown as it coincided with the darker days of winter. I’m very fortunate as I’ve been busy with work throughout the pandemic – genuinely, I recognise just how fortunate I have been – though that has meant that since November on week days I have tended to start work while it is still dark, and by the time I finish work it is dark again. I’ve had weeks where I’ve been so busy I haven’t been outside the house all week and I don’t like how that makes me feel, what it does to my fitness and wellbeing levels and what it does to my skin. Sure, I’ve been popping my Vitamin D supplement each day and trying to take a quick walk at lunchtime, but working with clients all over the world, who themselves are trying to deal with the consequences of COVID on their businesses, adhering to a strict lunchtime break hasn’t been possible. But, lighter evenings mean I can get in a walk after work, indeed, Steve and I managed this thorough the first lockdown and we loved it. I have also ordered myself a new bicycle and as soon as it is ready for collection, I’m going to make a concerted effort to “get on my bike” more regularly. I am not a natural cyclist, but know how good it is for me and if I can make it a habit, I reckon I should be capable of getting to enjoy it, at least once in a while.
  • Spending time in my garden, one of my great pleasures in life. Daffodils are out, tulip leaves are through, the lawns have had their first cut, sweet pea plug plants are on order and I can’t wait to get my fingers in that soil. Fear not, I will try and ration posting of photos of my flowers to TdlHG website and Insta feed (note the careful phrasing here: “I will TRY and ration…” – no promises).
  • Dressing up, a bit. I have spent most of the past year in gym and walking gear. The joy of my home office set up is that Zoom, Teams, WebEx, Blue Jeans, FaceTime and any other video conferencing platform you care to mention, only broadcast the top half of my body. A bright lip, reasonably styled hair and a scarf artfully arranged around my neck or shoulders permits me to commit all sorts of Sweaty Betty leggings and wicking top atrocities out of range of camera. With spring, I am going to start rotating in some of my “proper” work clothes; I have a a yen for wearing a crisp, white shirt, some tailored culottes and a pretty cardigan. I’m going to ease myself back, perhaps dressing up two days a week in March, ramping up to three or four in April, so I’m ready and match-fit for actual face-to-face meetings again, hopefully from early summer. Just don’t ask my to include heels in this mix. I am unsure I will ever be able to wear heels for a full day again; I am sure this pandemic has altered the shape of my feet. Hey, colourful Adidas Gazelles are good for professional meeting attire, right?
And Easter Eggs, of course. Who could forget that great joy?

We know, we know. It’s spooky just how much of a mirror image our lists are. Or is it? Perhaps if you ask anyone at the moment, we would all echo these sentiments? We’ve all been so constrained by the pandemic it not really surprising we are hankering after the modest, but near-universal, hearts’ desires included in our lists. Whatever the reason, we have chosen to celebrate our symbiotic freakiness in all its glory!

What are you most looking forward to this Spring? Does your heart desire things very different to us, or do you share what we are looking forward to?~ The de-la-Haye Girls.

Hoping for days as happy as this one, in August of last year

A Love Letter to Newport

For our final post of February 2021, and with St David’s day imminent, E writes a billet-doux to her home town

Dear Newport,

This is the longest period I have ever been away from you. It is 14 months since my last visit and it is fair to say I am missing you very much. You are not the prettiest town – sorry, city – in Wales, but your are my home town and you will always be very special to me.

I moved away from you for the first time for university, to beautiful Bath. That Somerset sojourn was pretty brief though and within six months I returned to you for a further year before leaving again, this time for London. And though I’ve now lived in London and the South East far longer than I lived in Newport, you will always have a huge place in my heart. Much of my family is still in Newport and I have memory upon memory of my noisy, often tatty, home town on the river.

I am a driver. I will drive myself anywhere in the UK and much prefer it to travelling by train or coach. As a Newport returnee, there is something very special about barrelling along the M4, topping the hill near Almondsbury and catching a first glimpse of the Severn Bridge and what I’ve known since its opening in 1996 as The Second Severn Crossing (not a very pretty title, but functional, I think). I know now, of course, that the second crossing acquired a royal title in July 2018: The Prince of Wales Bridge. Getting the correct money together for the bridges’ tolls was long an essential element of the journey to Newport, though the tolls and toll plazas were dismantled a couple of years ago. (I always thought the use of the word plaza in this almost-no man’s land between England and Wales sounded so exotic.)

A little further along the motorway, just before the Magor junction, comes the moment of delight for any proud Welshie: the big Croeso I Gymru signs, a little weather-beaten but resplendent with Y Ddraig Goch. For me, it’s not the enormously imposing Celtic Manor, with its phenomenally large flagpole and Welsh flag, nor the new international conference centre which, last time I was back, seemed to have cantilevered across the inside lane of the M4 like a Gesner Boat House across the Cahuenga Pass, that heralds Newport, but the sweep of the motorway from St Julians to the Brynglas Tunnels. I can’t tell you why exactly, but I’ve always loved driving down this motorway hill, seeing Caerleon to the right with the hills around Llandegveth behind, the dirty old Usk meandering around to split Shaftesbury and Glebelands Parks and then the tunnels with their orange lights heralding “my” junction, for Malpas Road, Bettws and the first proper look at Twmbarlwm. There’s nothing like it and even though I leave the motorway at the Coldra these days because that’s the closest to where my Mum now lives and it’s to my Mum that I invariably head first (naturally), I always try and fit in a trip down the “St Julians” M4 hill at some point in my visit.

Newport, in a photo taken by E in 2003, looking North West, across Bellevue Park and the Royal Gwent Hospital to Twmbarlwm

Newport city centre has changed so much since I left in the late 1980s and I enjoy exploring what’s new and what’s still the same. I like to see whether the dragons – green ones this time – have been returned to their alcoves under the railway bridge near Shaftesbury and whether anything has changed at the castle. Before Covid, I enjoyed looking around Friars Walk and the area around Newport market. I hear that it is to be renovated this year and I look forward to seeing how that looks in 2022. I love Bellevue Park and the area around Friars Walk, Stow Hill and St Woolos. My lovely Auntie, Uncle and cousins lived on Dewsland Park Road – indeed my Aunt still does – and I defy any child not to be thrilled as their Dad drives them down the road, from top to bottom, whizzing through all the twists and turns. It was much harder work walking up from Clytha Square when I’d been out playing with my cousins. The view from the top of the “Transp”, lit up at night, has always been a treat. I have always loved crossing the Usk via the Transporter Bridge. Dad driving us on to the cradle – properly, the gondola, which has always struck me as another very exotic word for this industrial city in South East Wales – for the short trip from Pill to Coronation Park. I have also walked across the top a few times. What has always excited me the most about the bridge though are the huge steel cables that seem to tether the structure to the ground though I suspect they have far more to do with keeping the boom suspended between the towers (as you can tell, I am no engineer). One of my best friends from school lived on Alexandra Road and the North-Western suspension cables made ground in a stocky, stone-clad building, just behind her house. These imposing steel ropes, slanting across the sky to the bridge, have long intrigued me.

Transporter Bridge gondola crossing the Usk, 2003. The suspension cables, travelling down to their grey stone housing on Brunel Street, are visible between the legs of the tower

There are too many other areas of Newport I love to do justice to in a single blog, but I can’t finish this letter to you without a quick mention of a few other favourites. Bettws – how could I not mention Bettws? It’s big, it’s busy, it’s sometimes messy and often gets criticised. I loved growing up on Bettws: I had lots of friends there and we had a brilliant time in and out of each other’s houses and exploring the estate, including the brook, once we were considered old enough. I love Tredegar House and its grounds and have the fondest memories of being permitted to visit them at lunchtime and in free lessons once we got to Sixth Form.

Tredegar House from across the boating lake, 2018

I love the old art college building and the streets that run between it and Corpa Road; I spent a fair bit of time in my formative teenage years hanging out with friends who lived near Clarence Place, Maindee and the top end of Corporation Road, and worked as a barmaid for about six months at the Vic pub which was, as I recall, located between Corpa and Rugby Roads. When I visit these days I like to have a mooch around this area and see what’s changed; a heck of a lot of houses between Rodney Parade and the river is one of the biggest changes.

E and L, at the top of the Transporter Bridge, nearly 20 years ago

Ahh, Newport, I hope to be back to you this summer. A long overdue trip up to “Twmbar-lwmbwm” and the scenic drive, and a wander through Allt-yr-yn nature reserve to the canal are high on my to-do list. Until then, Dydd Gwyl Dewi Hapus for Monday. ~ E

Dirty, but much loved, old town. A black and white photo taken by E in 1990 on her camera she had for Christmas that year

Has Covid kept you away from your favourite places this year? What have you been missing about them?

A Love Letter To Theatre

Dear Theatre…

We do hope you read that title in a Welsh accent so that it rhymes…a la Emily in Paris in a French accent. The next post in our love letter series, inspired by Valentine’s Day, is L’s love letter to theatre. We hope you enjoy reading it.

The last time L stepped into a theatre, almost a year ago

Dear Theatre,

Where do I begin? What a year we’ve had. I suppose, rather than dwell on the present too much, I’ll think of fonder times. It began, as most of my best stories do, at my Nan’s house.

Growing up, I’d spend endless summers and half terms at my grandparent’s home in Wales. My favourite pastime was to watch Disney films in the conservatory while I doodled drawings and did my colouring-in. Once I’d grown out of princesses and talking animals (as if I ever have), Nanny Val pointed me in the direction of the great movie musicals. I devoured The Wizard of Oz, Calamity Jane and Seven Brides For Seven Brothers, but then came the real lightbulb moment: Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music. The version we had was taped from the telly by my lovely and much-missed grandfather, known to his grandchildren as Lloydie, which resulted in a lack of crispness in quality, wonky alignment in the credit sequences and the entire film having a slightly brown hue, but I didn’t mind in the slightest. Once I had the bug, that was it.

One of the more unusual venues I’ve worked in; a converted chapel in Merthyr Tydfil. My Land’s Shore, Theatr Soar, 2018

I became obsessed with cast recordings, thanks mainly to the musical, Annie. It was a childhood favourite and we played the cassette of the original Broadway cast recording every morning, literally every morning of Year 4, on the hour’s journey from home to my school in South London. It was around this time that I also started the heavy lobbying of my parents to send me to a performing arts boarding school. I also have a vague memory of announcing to my mother that I wanted to “become an orphan” (well, Annie, Anastasia and Harry Potter were, so why couldn’t I be?). The response from E? “Lily, do you know what an orphan is?” I remember replying along the lines that of course I did: orphans were children who lived in a house with all their friends and got to sing and dance and have adventures all day long.

E relented and off to a part-time stage school I went. This progressed to full-time performing arts education from the age of 14, and although I never wangled the boarding school bit, it was heaven. At the end of each term we got to perform in a theatre; my entire reason for being at this point. I remember walking through the rows of seats in the dark auditorium. Theatres were dangerous, our teachers warned, things could go wrong. For me though, theatres were exciting, terrifying, huge and beautiful. We were always chaperoned backstage, but once you were out in the warmth of the footlights, that was it – you were on your own. That sense of independence and control was palpable, and exhilarating, and wonderful!

The Opal Theatre, on board The Oasis of the Seas, where L performed in Cats 2017

Oh, my theatre. How I love your traditions. The opening night cards and flowers lining the corridor to the dressing rooms. The hunt for the “best spot” in the dressing room. Ideally this is at the end of the row, near the window, next to the coffee machine and as far away as humanly possibly from the door and showers. I love: the hushed whispers backstage when an understudy gets to step into the spotlight; the onstage physical and vocal warm-up, everyone bare-faced and wig-capped like an alien army; signing in and out at the stage door; getting post (and Amazon Prime) deliveries to the theatre because it is quite honestly our second home and where you’ll always find us; the rush to get on the road and home on the final night in a regional venue; the tiredness-induced delirium of a panto three-show Boxing day schedule; Facetime calls with other theatrical friends who are working as you prepare for “the half”; grabbing a “medicinal” wine – just the one – after the show; travelling home on the Tube with a full face of stage make-up; the bows and panto’s celebratory “walk down”; and the overture – oh how I love the overture!

Cats – can you spot Lily?

My love of the theatre doesn’t just exist as an actor, I am a passionate audience member too. Settling into those plush seats or having to lean forward in the Gods as the lights go dark. There is nothing like that feeling. Grabbing a drink at the interval and swapping thoughts, being moved to tears in Act 2 and trying to stifle a whimper (thank you Hamilton; as impressive on the small screen at home as it was on stage). I enjoy the moments of leaving the theatre after final curtain, having stayed to listen to the outro in full and having applauded the orchestra, obviously, and rejoining the real world in the frosty London air. The memorable moments of quickly orientating myself to whichever street the theatre exit has landed me on and from there finding my way to stage door to wait for the departure of the cast, crew and musicians, to cheer them and thank them for their work. A late evening train snack, while reading the production programme from cover to cover is a critical part of the routine, as is thinking and talking about the production over the following days and, ultimately, falling more in love with the show as you re-listen to and compare and contrast a variety of cast recordings. More magical than all of this though, is getting to share that experience with someone for the first time, whether it’s a little one’s first pantomime or seeing my Dad’s reaction to Billy Elliott; there is nothing quite like it.

The phenomenal Phantom of the Opera, at the Leicester Curve. Photography by Pamela Raith.

I’ve always known that this world is fragile. As an actor, your career is precarious. Growing older changes the roles you’re suitable to play and one injury, including vocal injuries for those of us who sing, can prematurely end that once-in-a-lifetime role. Jobs are lost, shows are closed and reviews can sting. I knew this age-old truth when I entered this industry. What I – what none of us – could have anticipated is what has happened in the last 12 months, and exactly how devastating it would feel.

The cast getting to meet their boss, Lord Lloyd Webber

In June of 2019, I booked a job in the new Cameron Mackintosh UK tour of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera. It was a job I had dreamed of doing since I was a little girl. I had been auditioning for it since I graduated drama school in 2012. Finally, finally, I had done it! On 16 March 2020, the day my Nan had travelled to Leicester to watch the show, we were called on stage about an hour before curtain-up for the evening’s performance and advised to go home for the rest of the day. The pandemic was progressing at such a rate that the theatre and production company had no option but to suspend the show until further guidance could be obtained from the Government. That was it: despite exhaustive and, I’ve no doubt, exhausting work by the production company to try and save our show, we didn’t manage to reopen. The pandemic has been devastating for many thousands of people and this is no “woe is me” story, but the day our beloved show closed and the weeks following, I shared that sense of devastation. Actors are nothing if not resilient and in the year since Phantom had to close in Leicester, I’ve appeared in online concerts. I’ve also felt the security and excitement of having booked three more acting jobs – a commercial, an international tour and a pantomime – only to have all three delayed or cancelled entirely as Covid 19 has continued its rampage. But I’m not giving up and I have hope and optimism: I know theatre will return eventually and I promise to be there as an actor and, more importantly, as an member of the audience when it does. How could I not? It is at my very core and simply my favourite way to spend an evening.

Theatre, I’ve not forgotten you. I miss you. I can’t wait to see you soon. You have my heart ~L.

L in her most recent role: Sybil the Enchantress, in Godalming’s Pantomime, December 2020. Photography courtesy of The Guildford Fringe Theatrical Company.

Please, please do return to theatres once it is safe to do so; it will be curtains without you. In the meantime, here are some helpful ways you can support the arts industry: