Me Old China

E talks ceramics…

Is there a special word for the love of ceramics? If there isn’t, I think there should be. I take great pleasure in the beauty of everyday objects. I enjoy fine art too, but unless I win big on the National Lottery – which would be highly unlikely even if I did buy a ticket regularly – or I come into a sizeable inheritance – probably more unlikely than that Lottery win – I’m only going to be able to enjoy fine art in a gallery or museum. Everyday art, with its functional beauty, really appeals to me and I think that’s why I love ceramics.

In the interests of full disclosure, although I am a card-carrying member of the V&A, I am no expert on ceramics, nor am I anything as committed or organised as a collector. I don’t know my earthenware, from my stoneware or porcelain, and I suspect bone china is a category all of its own, and does it contain real bone? What I do know is that I enjoy looking at, handling and owning affordable and beautiful pieces of china and ceramics; crockery (“flatware”), a few vases, trinkets and jugs tend to catch my eye most often, jugs especially (as my Mum announced on Saturday, with an absolutely straight face: “our Em’s got a thing about jugs”).

I can date my interest in ceramics to 1986 and the half a dozen years that followed. For my 19th birthday, a university friend bought me a tiny ceramic piggy-bank in a silk pouch made by a local ceramicist in Bath. I adored this little curiosity and, although the silk pouch is long gone, I still have the piggy.

As a gift to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary, my maternal grandparents (the ones of Mr and Mrs fame) asked for a new dinner service. The design they chose – which was very en vogue in the late 1980s – was the Johnson Brothers Eternal Beau originally designed by Sarina Mascheroni, a pretty ribbon and bow motif on octagonal-shaped pieces. At the tender age of 20, I was quite taken with it and thought it very stylish. I don’t recall having thought about plates and cups and saucers before Eternal Beau. I wonder where my grandparents’ dinner service ended up? A couple of years later, moving into our first home as a young family, I was smitten with Portmeiron’s Botanic Garden range and enjoyed using it every day. I’ve held on to a few pieces: a side plate decorated with a lily and one decorated with Sweet Williams (of course); a formidably heavy bowl which I use as a mixing bowl and a vase (also decorated with lilies). My lovely Mum also gave me a large jug from her Botanic Garden collection last year which is in near-permanent use as a vase.

In the late 1980s, my paternal grandmother died and I was asked if there was anything of hers I’d like as a momento. I asked if I could have the pink ceramic coffee pot which had sat in a cabinet in the corridor of her flat. I must have walked passed this small cabinet displaying her bits of china dozens of times over the years and the pink coffee pot always caught my eye. I still adore it and today it sits on a table, at the head of my stairs, and I get to enjoy it every time I cross the landing. I researched it a few years ago and discovered that it is, in fact, a tea pot from the Arthur Wood Pottery in Stoke-on-Trent. To me it’ll always be the pink coffee pot.

My tastes have changed over the years and I much prefer unpatterned, or certainly minimally patterned, crockery these days. I’ve also come to learn that I don’t particularly desire matching crockery – I think there’s something wonderfully pleasing about mismatched plates and bowls. I also don’t hold with the notion of keeping things for “best”: I like to see, touch and use my best china and ceramics every day. I still enjoy buying pieces that appeal to me and current favourites include Van Verre cabbage bowls, Lene Bjerre pink crackle-glazed dishes, a cute Bombay Duck jug and a gorgeous pot handmade by Studio Arhoj which Lily bought as a gift for me when she visited Copenhagen last year (and which she massively covets and, I think, rather wishes she’d kept for herself).

So if you stumble across a word for a love of ceramics, do let me know. And if you find pretty pieces you fall in love with, share and tag us in. ~E.

My Secret Theatre

L spills the tea at work.

Those of you that know me and my Mum know that we love to write a list. We also love a glass of prosecco or three and chatting until the early hours, swapping stories and laughing until our cheeks ache. Put these components together and the result is E challenging me to write a list about theatre secrets. I’ve been an actress for the last eight years, working in film, television and on stage, and feeling incredibly lucky to do what I do, so I felt well placed to accept the challenge.

From the middle of this often misunderstood business of mine, here are some secrets about a life in the theatre…

  • Most actors/directors/stage managers are pretty superstitious. Maybe it’s the nature of what we do, using our overactive imaginations every day or the fact that we tend to work at night, or in the dark, but either way, most people who work in the theatrical industry support some form of superstition. Whether it’s a backstage ritual of passing the same actor each evening or getting your post show drink from the same bar each night, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who isn’t! I for one certainly never whistle in a theatre or speak the name of the “Scottish play”. I also get jittery if I don’t complete certain tasks by a set time, like getting my pin curls done before the warm up or finishing my dinner before certain members of the cast arrive at the theatre
  • We all get nervous. Every so often, I’ll get chatting to someone who’ll congratulate me on my career, claiming: “oh I’d be too scared to go on stage each night.” Here’s the thing, we are scared. Not all the time but certainly if I’m feeling under-prepared or I haven’t had a good warm up backstage I am riddled with nerves – there’s that superstitious side of me again! Auditions are a big part of your life as an actor and they are like attending a super intense job interview after downing a cold brew coffee on an empty stomach. A job interview you have to attend numerous times a week, for a position that will only last a few months until you have to start the process again. Oh, the glamourous life!
  • Getting to “stage kiss” a colleague is really not steamy in the slightest. Well, I suppose it could be if you’re both single and you fancy each other but nine times out of ten, this just isn’t the case. The art of choreographing a love scene is so technical, it stripes the smooch of any actual romance and after the thirteenth or fourteenth run through, the whole thing will feel as routine as a handshake. It is much the same on a film or television set except instead of sharing that intimate moment with an audience of 150, you get to share it with an entire crew instead. Mmm, sexy, right?
  • We can see you! Yep, I myself have settled into my plush seat as an audience member and relaxed into that state of anonymity that a dark auditorium can bring, but I promise you, if you can see us, chances are that we on-stage folk can see you too, especially if you are seated in the front few rows. I’ve seen some bizarre behaviour in the audience over the years, my favourites being: drunk people who attempt to interact with the on-stage performers mid-scene; people falling asleep (although even I have done this on one occasion); and one memorable moment when a patron decided to order and then eat an entire pizza mid-show. Seriously, at least offer me a slice if I’m working so hard for you
  • So many of the magical transformations you see on stage are done the old fashioned way. Quick changes in and out of costume are exactly that, a quick change. There is one change I had to make in Act One of the Phantom of the Opera for which I had 55 seconds. Six members of our hair and wardrobe department would silently gather in the wings, just off-stage, and use their many, super-talented hands to strip me of one set of costumes and wig and fasten me into another, while I tried to take quick sips of water before I was back onstage. All of this in near silence, in the darkness and with military precision. Everyone had an objective and would focus solely on completeing it. When I was appearing in the musical Cats, I was fortunate to play the role of Grizabella a number of times. Poor Griz had to effect a wig, costume and make up change all within the first thirty minutes of the show. This involved me slinking off stage (well, Grizabella is the glamour cat), then, once out of sight of the audience, running from the wings to my dressing room, taking parts of my costume off as I went. Once my wig was off, in a flurry of baby wipes, I had to clean my face and then reapply the character’s iconic bedraggled look. So long as I remained a cool cat, I always managed it.

God, I miss my job. Due to the pandemic it’s unlikely that my industry will be able to return to anything approaching normality before the New Year and even then, forgive the pun, I wonder about state of play. So many freelancers have been out of work for almost six months; our landscape has completely transformed. What I do know is that once we return, those first few weeks of performances are going to be a once in a lifetime experience. Keep your ghost lights burning and I
promise I will see you back in a theatre just as soon as we are permitted. ~L

Ask Me Another

Round two of our interviews. This time Lily is in the hot seat.

Regulars will remember that a couple of weeks ago we published Lily’s interview of Emma and promised that we’d turn the tables in a future post. That day has arrived, and in what follows you have Emma interviewing Lily, covering some of the same questions, but with a few new ones thrown in for variety. Having spent the best part of 30 years together, it shouldn’t surprise us that we have so much in common and share similar tastes in many areas; what’s most intriguing is where our preferences and opinion differ…

E: Your turn in the hot seat, Lily! What did you want to be growing up and why?

L: Originally, I wanted to be a dentist but only because I watched the film “Toothless”, starring Kirstie Alley, who [spoiler alert] plays a dentist who gets hit by a car, dies, goes to Limbo and has to earn her way into Heaven by becoming the tooth fairy. Next, I wanted to be an Egyptologist because I watched the film “The Mummy”, starring Rachel Weisz. I thought that being an archaeologist would involve riding through the desert on a camel with Brendan Fraser, wearing beautiful 1930s clothing, fighting mummies who’d come back from the dead. I think it was you, Mum, who explained to me what being an archaeologist actually involves. Then I thought that perhaps the running theme was that I like films, and I like pretending, so maybe I should just be an actress. That way I can be a dentist one week and an egyptologist the next.

E: Characterful female leads in both those films. And sorry for inadvertently crushing your archaeology dreams! List five things that make you happy and cause you to smile.

L: True crime trivia…

E: That can’t possibly make you smile! What sort of freakish person are you?

Tyler curled up on the grass.

L: Alright, things that make me smile… Cats: I love cats and have a magical familiar called Tyler. There are three cats who live on my road, and they jump through a hole in the fence to see me when I pass. I’ve named them all.

Music makes me happy and having grown up in a household where music was always playing, I enjoy all genres. My Dad is obsessed with music and has his own man-cave – though truly it’s more like a palace – dedicated to his vinyl, cassette and CD collections. Cooking also makes me smile. I learned from you that there are few things more relaxing than pottering around in the kitchen.

Being organised makes me happy: lists, getting all of my thoughts out on to paper and logged, being prepared for the day. And finally, travelling makes me happy. I like the preparation for travel, getting my passport and documents ready and deciding what I’m going to pack. My Nanny Val likes to do a “practice pack” and so do I. I get happiness from planning my outfits, making Pinterest boards of the sights I want to see, collages of photographs I’d like to capture when I get there. It’s all part of adventure. Anything can happen when you step outside your front door.

E: Given the choice, which time period – past, present or future – would you like to live in, and why?

L: I’m trying hard to be more present but, if I had a choice, I don’t think 2020 would be top of my list. I think the time period I’d most like to experience, because of the music I love to listen to and the excitement of being somewhere that felt like the centre of the universe, is London in the 1960s.

E: List three films that have had a profound impact on you and explain why.

L: I love horror films – they are a guilty pleasure, like junk food! I always know I’m going to be entertained and enjoy them. The best of these, for me, is “The Shining” because it is such an unnerving watch and I come back to it again and again. I have to select an animated film as that’s what led me into singing; I’d put one on and I’d sing along and learn all the words. My favourite was “Anastasia”. I recently re-watched “Fairytale”, about the case of the Cottingley Fairies, and was struck by how beautifully it is shot and how well it stood up to being watched as an adult. I first watched “Fairytale” shortly after we moved house from the outskirts of South East London to a village in the Surrey countryside. The film helped me settle into my new, rural lifestyle and showed me the magic of gardens and playing outside.

E: It is a wonderful film and a story that intrigues people all these years later. Next one? Where in the world do you long to travel, and why?

L: The answer to this one changes all the time. I have a list on my phone and I’m always updating it, swapping out places I have visited. India is a prime destination: I have never been and I’m desperate to go for the colours, the cuisine, the hustle and bustle, the downward-facing dogs, the spirituality, the heat. Closer to home, a visit to Berlin and a driving tour of Italy are high on my list. For 2020 though, it’ll be a week in Cornwall.

E: How about this one: assuming your life is a story and you are the author, what does your happy ending look like?

L: It would be the ending of the film “Titanic”: I’d be an old lady…

E: …on your own?

L: An old lady, with a big diamond necklace, who dies in her sleep! Like her, I would have lived a full life, having achieved everything I wanted to. And when she died her soul went back to the Titanic to be with Jack, her true love. That sounds like a good ending to me.

E: Well, when you put it like that, it does sound rather appealing. And it is also the perfect happy ending for this little interview. You’ve got me thinking about the Cottingley Fairies and I’m off to find the book about the two cousins; it’s on the bookshelves somewhere. You did so love the story about having fairies at the bottom of the garden when you were young. You’ve conjured up for me some delightful memories of little you – thank you. ~E.