31 October, 2017

Half term in Shropshire

We spent a very happy half-term weekend in Shropshire. Some of our friends had been to the area a few years back and recommended it for a short break, so we decided to follow their advice.

We stayed in a cottage (a converted mill) -- in the hamlet of Vennington, about 30 minutes from Shrewsbury. It was lovely -- lots of wooden beams and floors, white walls and a wood burning stove, just perfect for cosy nights in.

As for sightseeing, we visited Ironbridge -- to admire the iron bridge, of course. It is quite hard to imagine that this now picturesque, steep valley was the heartland of the Industrial Revolution -- but it was.

There are several museums to visit in and around Ironbridge, but being on a short break, we visited just one -- Blists Hill. This is a living museum, which recreates a small Victorian town, complete with mine and working steam railway. The 'residents' (staff who are dressed in the clothing of the day) are very knowledgeable and eager to answer any questions that you might have. We really enjoyed our visit here, finding the museum both informative and entertaining. This is a really good way to engage young people with history.

We also visited Shrewsbury, which is a lovely medieval market town. We spent a long time wandering round the abbey, which is beautiful, and enjoyed lunch in one of the cafes on the market square.

Finally, we managed to fit in two National Trust properties -- one on the way there and one on the way back. Attingham Park is a Palladian mansion -- we particularly enjoyed the extensive and very interesting 'below stairs' area here. Wightwick Manor is a Victorian manor house, built and furnished in the style of the Arts and Crafts movement.

We thoroughly enjoyed our weekend in Shropshire and, if you are looking for a short break somewhere in the Midlands, would certainly recommend it.

09 October, 2017

Chinese State Circus

We had a great evening out at the Chinese State Circus in Oxford on Friday.

All the artists were very impressive, but we particularly enjoyed the foot juggling with parasols and the group cycling. You could really see how much skill and how much practice were involved in these two acts.

The Monkey King was the circus clown. He was amusing and extremely acrobatic in the way that he moved, so was good to watch on various fronts.

The circus welcomed one guest act -- Duo Extreme from Bulgaria. This act was excellent -- two aerial artists who incorporated both water and fire into their repertoire.

The only thing that surprised us was how empty the big top was -- only about a quarter full. Perhaps 7.30 on a  Friday evening isn't a good time for circus attendance (too late for the kids, and not yet the weekend when people have more time on their hands).

In any event, if you enjoy watching really good acrobats and gymnasts perform, I would highly recommend seeing the Chinese State Circus -- and at just £16 for reasonable seats, it's pretty good value too.

02 October, 2017

Things I Know to Be True

We went to see an excellent play at the Oxford Playhouse on Saturday night -- Things I Know to Be True by the theatre company Frantic Assembly.

This outing was at the instigation of our eldest, who is studying the play for GCSE Drama, and has in fact now seen it twice -- once with school and once with us.

The play tells the story of a family -- mother and father and their four grown-up children. It explores the dynamics of family relationships and examines how those relationships are affected when really significant events happen to members of the family.

The play is funny, moving and intensely sad, all at the same time. The style of delivery -- plenty of monologues and narration coupled with Frantic's physical style -- means that the watcher is drawn right it; it is as if you are there, a part of the action.

I loved this play and would recommend it highly. It deals with some very difficult issues, and the ending is shocking, but it really makes you think and provides excellent conversational material long after the curtain has fallen.