Tag Archives: ballet

A Night at the Opera

It’s a big year of milestones in our family this year, with my Mum’s 70th and G’s 16th birthdays as well as our 20th wedding anniversary. You may remember that in September we spent a family weekend at the Bluestone resort in Wales for my Mum’s birthday, but her celebrations haven’t stopped there and last weekend we headed to London for a weekend of stylish fun. The main reason for the trip was to fill a long-held ambition of my Mum’s, to go to the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. As the only members of the family lucky enough to have been there before are M and me, thanks to his 2 lengthy December admissions at GOSH, I wanted to find something to see that I thought we all would enjoy and, spotting the performance of “Sleeping Beauty” by the Royal Ballet in their calendar, knew that this was the winning choice.

Our weekend started with the train journey to London and then across London to our hotel near Borough Market. We had agreed on an early dinner to give us plenty of time to get to the Royal Opera House, so after a short walk from the hotel to St Paul’s Cathedral and back for Mike, M and me, we dressed in our finest and headed across the road to the nearby Wagamama restaurant for what we knew would be an easy and safe dinner for both G and M. From there, it was a case of hailing a black cab to whisk us to Covent Garden and we found ourselves there with plenty of time to soak up the atmosphere of this incredible building before the performance started.

For anyone wondering what to wear to the ROH, the rule really is anything goes, just as their website suggests. From jeans to evening dresses and just about everything in-between, we spotted our fellow theatre-goers wearing it all. We had opted to dress up with G remarkably, and not too reluctantly, in a black skater-style lace dress, whilst M was suited and booted in a burgundy shirt, grey tie and black waistcoat. My Mum and I had talked beforehand about what to wear and both regretted not having dressed up just a little more. Mike had told me to take one of my long dresses to wear, but I chickened out at the last moment taking a knee-length dress instead and really wish I hadn’t. Similarly, Mum had opted for smart trousers, heels and a long top, but wished she had brought a dress. Obviously, we’ve reached the sensible conclusion that we will just have to go again and wear our finest!

Coats safely deposited in the cloakroom, we wandered about the gorgeous Christmas tree to spend some time in the bar area on the first floor, sipping our glasses of champagne and people-watching before finding our seats in the side stalls. I wasn’t sure how good the view from our seats would be, but I needn’t have worried as we had a great view of the stage and only missed a few bits happening on the very side of it at times. I was also nervous about whether the children, especially M, would survive the lengthy performance – 3 hours including 2 20 minutes intervals – but again, I didn’t need to. Both children were enthralled, even if M did drift off a little towards the end and they were excited to spot different dance steps that they have been learning in their own dance classes. The performance was absolutely incredible and the whole family enjoyed our night at the opera.

Pizza and Ballet

One of the Christmas presents we were treated to this year was family tickets to go and see Matthew Bourne’s “Swan Lake” at the Bristol Hippodrome. We have only been to a couple of ballets with the children over the years despite our love of the theatre and my Mum was keen for us to experience this unconventional retelling of this classic ballet. Of course, no family evening out can start without dinner out too and this time round, partly as we were later arriving in Bristol than we’d originally planned and partly because, well, why not, we decided to veer away from our known safe restaurants and look for somewhere new to try.

It’s always a challenge when eating out with G and M because of their dietary needs, but our decision over the last 18 months or so to relax M’s restrictions on high days and holidays in order to find a better quality of life and balance for him means that on occasions like this, we’re able to eat in places where we’re confident he can choose safe ingredients to make a tasty meal. We know that there are a number of restaurants near to Bristol Hippodrome from Pizza Express to Wagamama, so I made the suggestion that we wandered up Park Street to see what else might be available, with our end target being Pizza Express if nothing else seemed to suit.

About halfway up the hill, we stumbled across the marvellous Molto Buono restaurant and, spotting gluten-free pizza bases on the menu, decided to stop there and see how their food measured up to the children’s somewhat exacting standards. It didn’t take too long for G and M to decide what they wanted to eat and were delighted to discover that as well as gluten-free pizza bases, the restaurant also had vegan mozzarella available as a topping. Much to my surprise, G opted for the GF Marinara pizza – tomato sauce, olive oil and oregano – and M chose the GF Diavola – tomato, salami and vegan mozzarella. Mike joined them in trying one of handmade pizzas, whilst I settled on a pesto pasta. The dishes that arrived looked amazing and tasted even better with portion sizes that satisfied even the voracious appetite of the youngest member of our family. I wouldn’t hesitate recommending this restaurant – excellent food, prepared simply, served quickly and all at a great price.

Fully satisfied by our meal and with more than enough time to meander our way back towards the theatre, our evening had started in fine fashion. We all then sat enthralled for the next couple of hours as the story of Swan Lake unfolded before us. Matthew Bourne’s interpretation brings a more modern-day twist to the tale and replaces the well-known Dance of the Cygnets with an incredible male troupe of swans instead. The dancing was incredible and brought real inspiration to both G and M as they watched it in absolute awe, something that should never be under-estimated as M had expressed his concerns about watching a ballet – “…there are no words to explain what’s going on, so how do you know the story-line..?” before it even began.

I think we would all heartily recommend seeing this production, though it turns out that I’m something of a traditionalist when it comes to the setting, much preferring the classic portrayal of the Swan Lake tragic love story. It was fascinating to talk to G and M about their thoughts on the production, with M uncertain as to whether the second half was a dream or not and both expressing the view that the role of the Swan/Stranger represented the 2 sides oft he Prince’s psyche. This was a performance that really challenged everything we knew and expected of a ballet and was a truly amazing experience. Despite my hesitations about some parts of this version, I am fascinated to see how Matthew Bourne has adapted and updated other ballets and hope to be able to see another of his productions soon.

Getting into the Christmas spirit

Now, you might have guessed that our recent sojourn at GOSH wasn’t the perfect lead-up to Christmas I would have planned, with more highs and lows than those promised by a seasonal episode of Corrie, but please don’t imagine that our extended stay was completely devoid of any festive inspiration. Despite the noticeable lack of anything more than a mere nod to Christmas on the decoration front and the unseasonably mild weather that meant my trusty raincoat was relegated to the tiny locker provided for all the worldly belongings we might need during our 20-day incarceration, M and I did enjoy our fair share of festive activities, which helped infuse a little Christmas spirit into our otherwise grey days.

The Nutcracker – The Royal Ballet, Royal Opera House Covent Garden:

11202603_10153139468196123_6743350134362470955_nOur first treat was the chance to see the final dress rehearsal of Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker” danced by The Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. It came as a complete surprise on that first Monday morning and was one that M and I just couldn’t turn down. Last year, M had been given tickets to see “Alice in Wonderland” at what was the first visit ever to the Royal Opera House for us both and I never even imagined that this year’s admission would see a repeat opportunity. M didn’t have to be asked twice and almost immediately started the countdown to when we could leave the ward and head off in a black cab to reach our destination. Timings were such that we were only able to watch the first half as we had to be back at GOSH for M’s lunch and the first of his food challenges, but he was delighted that we got to see the battle between the tin soldiers and the rats, his favourite part of the entire ballet, and we had the best view of it from our seats in the Royal box!

Christmas decorations & crafts – Play-workers and School: 

M had the opportunity to decorate, make and create a plethora of decorations and Christmas-themed crafts thanks to both the Hospital school and the tireless team of play-workers linked to Rainforest ward. Christmas-decorations9Since this time last year, the school has introduced a family session on a Friday morning, which allowed parents or carers to join their child in the schoolroom for an hour to enjoy an activity together. M and I spent the first week working with Fimo to create some tree decorations, a real blast from my past as this was a craft I loved doing as a child, and the second making what I think was called a “Spanish star” from paper. The latter was beautiful and I even managed to get it back home in one piece, where it was much admired by my Mum, who asked if we’d bought it from John Lewis! When not at school, M spent a lot of his time colouring-in a huge number of ceramic decorations provided by the play-workers on ward. Armed with a technicolour array of ceramic pens, M decorated sleighs, bells, gingerbread men and chinese dragons as well as a gnome and an owl pot, all of which formed the greater part of his gift to friends and family for Christmas. Not only did these activities help us feel a smidgen of festive spirit, they also provided a great distraction for an active 9-year old confined to the hospital buildings.

Carols by Candlelight, St George’s Holborn:

23567358210_2327dd548d_mAfter one particularly long day on ward and a much-needed break from it all, I wandered back to the hospital to be greeted by the sound of carol-singing from outside the main entrance. I had been missing my weekly choir sessions at home and stopped to listen to the strains of carols that filled the air. This group had come from nearby church, St George’s Holborn to spread a little festive cheer and 23104290053_5ffd34741a_zoffer mince pies to anxious parents, extended families and harried medical staff as they rushed through the doors of the hospital. As I chatted to some of the members, I was invited to their Carols by Candlelight service on the evening of G’s birthday and was delighted to be able to attend, although sadly M wasn’t allowed to come with me. The service was beautiful – lit by candlelight, with smiling, welcoming faces all around me and filled with a peace that I really needed that evening. I sang every carol, grateful to be able to take part in this simple act of worship that proved to be invaluable therapy to me and which brought healing to my troubled heart.

Hospital school’s Christmas activities:

As well as the wonderful crafts mentioned above, the hospital school had a series of wonderful activities planned for the last 2 weeks of term. Sadly, due to the unforeseen hiccups that arose during his admission, M wasn’t able to take part in as many as he would have liked, but those he did do, he really enjoyed. From experiencing a Victorian Christmas with the V&A museum to themed artwork with the National Portrait Gallery and the beautiful Christmas service held in the hospital chapel and which we enjoyed so much last year, there was just so much on offer. M was particularly disappointed to miss the service as he had been asked to 20151215_121720read at it, but the necessity of Klean prep made it impossible for him to attend. However, the one activity I put my foot down about and insisted he do was the chance to once again do some cookery with one of London’s head chefs. M loved every minute of that session and came out proudly bearing a box full of goodies from chocolate cupcakes to gingerbread angels and even 2 items he could safely eat – spun sugar and an apple swan!

The Snow Ball – GOSH’s Christmas parties: 

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Martha from #GBBO

Every year GOSH put on a series of Christmas parties for patients and their families at nearby hotel, The Royal Britannia. M and I attended our first Snow Ball last year after learning about it during his admission and had such a good time that I vowed to make sure we repeated the experience this year and to take some extra-special guests with us if at all possible. Despite initial fears that the unexpected need for Klean prep part-way through his admission might get in the way, I managed to negotiate with his doctors and won him an afternoon’s reprieve from the stuff so we could attend. Once again we enjoyed all that was on offer – free food and drink for those who can eat, a soft toy for every child attending and a whole host of attractions including a Formula 1 racing car to sit in and sign, cupcake decorating, various photo opportunities, face-painting, science experiments and entertainment galore. M was particularly excited to meet both Iron Man and Martha from 2014’s GBBO and I would be hard-pressed to say who he was more impressed to meet! Thanks to the understanding and support of G’s amazing secondary school, Mike was able to bring her to visit M on that day too and so she was also able to come along and enjoy the party. Both children left with an amazing goodie bag each and wonderful memories of a great day in the midst of a difficult time.

Carol singing around the hospital:

This has to be one of my favourite Christmas events of our whole admission at GOSH. On our final Sunday there, Mike, M and I headed down to the hospital chapel for their Carols by Candlelight service. The chapel was packed out with patients, their families, staff and members of the local community who had come together to celebrate this service. As it drew to a close, and we disappeared back to the ward, I spotted that later that evening a group would be singing carols at various locations throughout the hospital. Having missed the carol services at both school and our home church, M had expressed several times that it didn’t feel like Christmas as we hadn’t enjoyed the usual buzz from all the preparations at home. This seemed like an ideal opportunity to find that missing Christmas spirit and given that all 3 of us love to sing, we determined to join this choir if we could. IMG_0069I later discovered that this group was from All Souls church, Langham Place and the members had travelled from various locations across the greater London area to spend an hour singing carols around GOSH. We were welcomed with open arms and it was wonderful to see M take part with real gusto as he was finally free of the Klean prep drip and starting to feel a little more like himself. The choir and musicians started in the main reception area before heading to The Lagoon and then on to 2 floors of the Octav Botnar wing to serenade patients and staff alike. It was a truly magical evening and a fitting end to the tension-filed admission we had experienced so far.