Do You Know About The Royle Family?

The BAFTA award winning Royle Family is more Seinfeld than Seinfeld – it really is a show about nothing. And it’s a scream. All of the episodes take place in the Royle’s middle class Manchester home, usually in the shabby and hardly chic living room. As each episode opens, you’ll find Jim and Barbara on the sofa in front of the telly, Jim having lots of time for telly watching, as he’s on the dole. His wife, the scatter brained and chain smoking Barb occasionally works in a bakery. Speaking of smoking, the ashtray on the coffee table is almost a character in itself, as close shots of it appear regularly, showing it fill with the butts produced by Barb and her lazy, self indulgent daughter, Denise. Who is married to henpecked Dave. Poor Dave. Each night, Dave and Denise make an appearance at the Royle home, plopping themselves down on the couch in order to report to Barbara on what they had for tea. Or what Denise did that day (typically nothing). Details are exchanged as all eyes are glued to the telly in the Royle living room.

And then there’s the family’s teenaged son, Antony, who is by turns amused and disgusted by his kin and who is regularly dispatched either to the kitchen to make tea or to the store for “sweeties.” Next door neighbors, the Carrolls, occasionally drop by, or Barb will call Mary on the phone, prompting a tirade from Jim on the waste of using the phone when she could speak to her just as well through the window. But perhaps the best loved character is Barb’s mother, Norma, or Nana, as the Royle’s call her.

Episodes center on the mundane – Antony starting a band, Dave working as a DJ, Denise thinking that the never seen, but often maligned, Beverly has again been coming on to Dave, Nana’s cataract surgery, Denise’s pregnancy . . . I promise you, there’s not a bit of high drama or action to be found but somehow spending a half hour every now and then with the Royles manages to endear them to you, warts and all. And there are lot’s of warts. And farts and bad attitude and impatience and all the other foibles involved in family life. But through it all, even at their individual worst, the Royle’s become as dear and endearing as our very own family members.

There’s no laugh track and the show was shot on 16mm film, the resulting grain adding to the real life atmosphere. Not only that, but the show seems to take place in real time. The series ran from 1998 to 2000, with periodic holiday specials having been made thereafter. Loyal fans can’t get enough of the show and regularly write in to the powers that be urging them to bring the show back. The most recent special, ‘The Golden Eggcup’, was aired on 25 December 2009 at 9pm on BBC One and was the most watched show on TV on Christmas Day and for the entire week ending December 26, 2009, attracting an audience of 11.74 million viewers to become the highest rated episode of The Royle Family ever.

You can watch clips from episodes here, here and here. This last link will bring you to the Royle Family YouTube page, where you can watch to your heart’s content – pass the fags and someone put the kettle on!

P.S. Actress Sue Johnston received an OBE from Queen Elizabeth in 2009 – could Her Majesty be a fan of The Royle Family?!

Bon Voyage!

From Kristine: As you read this, Victoria will have arrived in London and I’ll be heading for New York in order to rendezvous with my daughter before our flight out to Heathrow late tomorrow night. There will be just a few changes to the blog while we’re away, one being that the blog may look a bit different since we won’t be able to shorten up the previous day’s posts as consistently as we do now. Also, while we’re away we’ve scheduled posts to run every other day, instead of every day as usual. Of course, we’ll also be randomly logging in via internet cafes to report on our progress and doings during our trip. Really, I don’t know what I’ll do without blogging everyday . . . . . .

We’ve made a few adjustments to our itinerary. For instance, we are now having dinner at the Grenadier Pub on Sunday evening and are going to be joined by Carrie Bebris, author of the Mr. and Mrs. Darcy mystery series.  Carrie is doing some last minute research on her next book, which will be based on the characters from Jane Austen’s Persuasion, and we are eager to hear about her visit to Lyme Regis, below.

From Victoria: Carrie now lives in Ohio, but we are long-time friends from her days in Wisconsin where we collaborated on projects for the Wisconsin Romance Writers and the Jane Austen Society Wisconsin branch.  We were roommates last October in Philadelphia at the JASNA-AGM.

Above is the French translation of Carrie’s book Intrigue at Highbury.  After her dalliance in France, Kristine might try to read this version.  How about it, Kristine????  
Our dinner will be at the Grenadier Pub. We hope we get in a lot of chatting before the ghosts arrive to divert us.  You can read Kristine’s account of her previous visit to the Pub here
We’ll also be meeting author/actor Ian Kelly at the London Library, where he’s been working on his next  project, the bio of, as Ian told us, “another Georgian bad boy.” We’ll then be going on to tea together, so you can bet we’ll be trying to pin Ian down on the subject of his next book. If we’re not sworn to secrecy, we’ll tell you all about it.
If all goes according to Plan, I will have completed two days in London by now, the first spent at the British Library and the second spent at the Hertfordshire Archives in Hertford, a short train ride north of the City. I have reserved materials at both places and at the National Art Library at the Victoria and Albert Museum, left.
Among the other wonderful places Kristine and I intend to drop by is Hatchards Bookstore, in place at 187 Piccadilly since 1797.  Just breathing the air here is a delight. Not to mention the many antiquarian book shops and print sellers we will haunt. We promise to share all the details with you eventually.
Here’s a picture I took of a display window in Fortnum and Mason, nearby on Piccadilly in May 2009 when my husband and I were staying just half a block away at the Cavendish Hotel, corner of Jermyn and Duke Streets.  Though the Cavendish is a high rise hotel, it sits on the site of the 19th Century hotel run by Rosa Lewis. She is famous as the fictionalized Louisa Trotter (played by Gemma Jones) in the BBC-PBS series The Duchess of Duke Street, one of my favorites from Masterpiece Theatre. Below is the statue of Beau Brummell, fashion arbiter, which stands near the Cavendish on Jermyn Street, home of many gentleman’s haberdasheries.
Below, another sculpture on the pavement, this one of FDR and Sir Winston Churchill having a conversation on Bond Street. It was unveiled in 1995 by Princess Margaret; the sculptor is Lawrence Holofcener. The statue commemorates 50 years of peace since WWII ended. (Well, shall we say, relative peace?)  Note the shiny arms and knees on the inside halves of the figures — the result of so many people sitting between the two leaders to have their picture taken. This was one of the intentions of the sculpture and it has worked a treat.
  
 
Both Kristine and I are eager to find all sorts of new experiences as well as to savor again some of our old favorites. Bon Voyage indeed!

Parlez-Vous Français?

Well, I don’t speak French. Or I didn’t until a few months ago when I realized I’d better learn the fundamentals, at least, if I were going to Paris. Being extremely lazy, I went to the library and got “Learn French” cd’s, which I’ve been listening to in the car. I can now say écouter et répéter in my sleep (listen and repeat), although as a tourist in Paris, I can’t see how that phrase is going to be of much use to me.

I do believe that I now know the fundamentals of French, at least. Or un peu = a little.  I find that the biggest obstacle to learning French is the fact that I know some Spanish, which tends to get in the way as far as grammar and numbers are concerned. And it took me the longest time to substitute pas for no or not. Another problem is that I’m learning French by listening and not actually reading the language. In the past, whenever I ran across French phrases in period diaries and letters, I’d ask my pal Jo Manning to translate them for me. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll now be able to suss out enough words to be able to make heads or tails of them on my own. Maybe.

Being practical, in addition to lazy, I made sure to learn the most important phrases first, beginning with
Je voudrais boire = I want a drink. Lazy I may be, stupid I’m not. I can now tell someone that, in addition to myself, my son, daughter, husband and wife would also like a drink. And I can order a specific drink – Un rhum et coke avec de la glace, s’il vous plaît.


The next phrase I learned was Avez-vous quelque chose en rapport avec le duc de Wellington? = Do you have anything related to the Duke of Wellington? It was only when I had this phrase down pat that it dawned on me this might not be the most politic question to ask a Frenchman. But, what the hell? = Mais, qu’est-ce l’enfer? If I get deported, so be it.

The last of the phrases I made sure to learn was Je veux aller au boulevard Saint-Germain, à côté du Café Lipp = I want to go to the Boulevard St. Germain, next to the Cafe Lipp. I figured it would behoove me to be able to get to my hotel, a portion of which is visible in the photo above, just to the right of the Cafe Lipp. It’s directly on the Boulevard, just facing three other famous Parisian landmarks, Aux Deux Magots café, Café de Flore and the church of Saint Germain des Prés. The Boulevard is tres chic and embodies Hemingway’s Paris with its galleries, antique shops and high end designer boutiques. Ralph Lauren just opened a 23,000 square foot mega-boutique, complete with his first restaurant, Ralph, just steps from our hotel (hamburger 36 euros). I point these prestigious landmarks out to you in order to keep you from gazing too hard at the prominent toilettes sign smack dab in the center of the photo above. At least I won’t have far to go for a rum and coke. Or a pee.

Here’s a link to a video tour of the St. Germain area.

As Jo Manning has wisely warned me, I might not want to show off my French language skills in Paris, as people might think that I actually speak, and understand, the languange and may therefore launch into a spate of conversational French, for which I am not prepared, mon ami. I promise to report back here after my trip to let you in on the success or failure of my attempts to parler français. And on the state of the toilettes at the Cafe Lipp.

P.S. In addition to offering charming rooms, the Hotel has an authentic sedan chair in the lobby. How could I have stayed anywhere else?

The Young Victoria – My two Cents Worth

And here I thought that spending an inordinate amount of time researching the Duke of Wellington and Queen Victoria was a good thing . . . it seems not, since all that I’ve learned gets in the way of my enjoying films like Young Victoria. It was a visual delight – the sets, the costumes, the interiors – but I felt that the story itself was disjointed. I followed it with no problem, but I can see that anyone who doesn’t know the full story of Victoria’s early life would be lost. Here are just a few points that grated on my nerves:

We see Victoria with her doll collection, it’s referenced in a conversation between Princes Albert and Ernst, but there’s no explanation of what it means. Why insert it into the film if you’re not going to make a point?

Why show King Leopold getting all pissy over Albert’s neglecting to correspond with him if you’re not going tell the film goer the importance of this?

We see a somber, dark clad woman in attendance on Victoria in a few scenes – then we see her being sent away in a carriage and Victoria telling Albert, “I needed her so much at one time.” Needed who? Do you think the average viewer would have cottoned on to the fact that this Lehzen, Victoria’s nurse and rock through most of her life?

Albert takes a bullet . . . . . I won’t comment.

As I said, these are just a few points. Imagine how my head was spinning while I actually watched the film. I’m surprised it wasn’t more historically accurate, or cohesive, what with Sarah Ferguson being one of the producers. As she is quick to remind us, she’s an authority on Queen Victoria.

I thought the casting was spot on in some places and way off the mark in others. Baron Stockmar, Prince Leopold and Sir John Conroy were excellently cast, as were the Duchess of Kent and Queen Adelaide. Rupert Friend could have been the young Albert reincarnated. On the downside, Emily Blunt did a fine acting job but was too dark, IMHO, to play Victoria. And where was the slight Germanic accent? And Julian Glover as the Duke of Wellington? The fake hookey nose was good, but his body type was miles away from that of the real Duke and I just wanted to scream every time he was on screen.
So, after venting I shall now put my money where my mouth is. Were I to cast the part of the Duke of Wellington in a film, I would choose either Adrian Brody, Daniel Day Lewis or Pierce Brosnan (with prosthetic nose) to play the Duke. Do you agree? Which would be your choice? Or do you have another suggestion? I’m looking forward to your comments . . . . .

Beatrix Potter Rose Unveiled!

You may not know that actress Patricia Routledge, better known to us all as Hyacinth Bucket, is the Patroness of the Beatrix Potter Society and as such she was on hand at the Chelsea Flower Show to unveil the new Beatrix Potter™ rose, or Beatrix Potter a, seen below and grown by Peter Beales Roses in Norfolk. The rose was named in honour of the Society’s 30th anniversary.

The rose is a delicate creamy pink coloured shrub rose with a subtle fragrance, reflecting a rose which Beatrix Potter herself painted. “This highly perfumed rose is a truly beautiful tribute for such a merit worthy name” says the breeder, Amanda Beales. The flowers are of the softest pink shade, shapely, with many petals. The rose continues to flower well into the autumn. Growth is upright and tidy to approximately 1.2m and the shrub is well endowed with dark glossy foliage.

You can watch a video of opening day at the Show here.  
               And here’s a video of the Queen Mum at the 1952 Show. 
Victoria here, chiming in to talk about Beatrix Potter. Since I live on the 26th floor and the wind blows the petals off any flowers I try to grow on my balcony, I don’t know much about roses except that I love every single one of them!!  So my comments refer to the inspiration of this lovely new rose variety, the wonderful author of children’s stories, artist, and dedicated conservationist, Beatrix Potter herself. My grandchildren adore the DVDs of all her stories and they even let me read the books to them — sometimes.
Here is a link to a wonderful site with lots of material on Beatrix Potter and her work. And here is a link to the Beatrix Potter Society.
As an avid traveler in the Lake District of England, I especially appreciate Potter’s efforts to preserve forever as public land the beautiful region in which she lived. In her will, she left about 4,000 acres to the National Trust. Beatrix Potter lived from 1866 to 1943, bringing happiness to millions. A film, Miss Potter, was made in 2006, staring Renee Zellweger and Ewan McGregor, about her early life. Here’s the trailer.
I can’t say that it was the best film I’ve ever seen, but for fans of Potter, Zellweger, or Victorian England,

 what could be more perfect?
It is entirely fitting that a beautiful rose be named in 
 honor of Beatrix Potter.