Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween Treats

In the spirit of Halloween, a little costume change for The Middle Ages (okay, not really for Halloween, but it’s good timing, so humour us!). We’ve decided we’re going to chat with you every weekday from now on (or try to, bear with us). We thought we’d do our 3-times-a-week dialogue as usual, but on Tuesdays and Thursdays, we’ll share something, maybe a funny or interesting photo or story or video. Maybe we’ll feature our (promised but sadly waylaid) deco tips and recipes here and then move them over to their own pages afterward. Maybe we’ll … okay, we’ll see how it goes. Anyway, we’re going to try and rock the 5-day blog-week!

Tomorrow, out of schedule, Barbara will start a conversation (that might have something to do with minor miracles), but we should hit our new stride soon enough.

In the meantime, we wanted to share this awesome news with you: we got featured in this month’s More Magazine, which is a Canadian-based mag aimed at women over 40!! We had no idea they would do this and so it was a completely unexpected and exciting surprise. Here is a photo of the page.

Oh, and PS, for those of you who’ve been asking, here’s a pic of Colin on set.

We can’t do a Halloween post without scaring you a little, so we’ve posted this video that shocked and provoked hysterical laughter courtesy of our friend, Tannis (okay, she didn’t actually produce it herself, but shared it on Facebook. Still, credit where credit is due.). This is the posted preamble: This is a car advertisement from Great Britain. When they finished filming the ad, the film editor noticed something moving along the side of the car, like a ghostly white mist. They found out that a person had been killed a year earlier in that exact same spot. The ad was never put on TV because of the unexplained ghostly phenomenon. Watch the front end of the car as it clears the trees in the middle of the screen and you'll see the white mist crossing in front of the car then following it along the road.....Spooky! Is it a ghost, or is it simply mist? You decide. If you listen closely to the ad, you'll even hear the cameraman whispering in the background about it near the end of the commercial.

Beware, it’s not for the faint of heart (wink, wink).
So now a question: 1) Do you get a kick out of getting scared? In any way?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

London Left in the Lurch

Deb: I am sorry, everyone, that I disappeared from the blog in the middle of my bloggie tour of London. I had an emergency at home and had to rush back. I intended to explain in my next post, but things became whirlwind with booking flights and packing and getting updates from family and friends at home. So here is what happened in a very tiny nutshell. My Mom ended up in the hospital with gangrene in her foot, facing possible amputation. No one at home told me this was happening for three days as they didn’t want to “bother me”. That did not go down too well with me, as you can imagine, although I know their intentions were good. There are many nasty details to the story that led my Mom to this awful circumstance, but I feel that it is her private business and do not want to lay it out here. She is fine with what I am telling you. Yesterday, her wonderful doctor––who is doing everything to save her foot––did an angioplasty procedure, and some warmth instantly returned to her foot. The pulse is weak in the foot, but it is there.  Now it is a waiting game. We hope that as a result of the procedure, the foot heals itself. Time will tell. One day at a time at this point. I would love to ask everyone to keep a good thought for my Mom as we navigate this frightening set of circumstances. The good news is, her care is first rate and the doctor is wonderful. She asked him at one point, “Doctor, what would you do if you were me?” He said, “That is the wrong question. You should be asking me, ‘What would I do if it were my Mother?’” This is the doctor we all want, is it not?

As for me and London, it was like cutting the umbilical cord, I don’t mind telling you. There was no question in my mind or heart that I wanted to come home. But I was not finished with London. I knew it and London knew it. As I discarded my list of things yet to do, I had a little moment between my hand and the garbage can vowing that I would be back. And I will. I had one day between booking the flight and actually taking the flight so I packed as much as I could into that one day. I went into the All Souls Church where I had planned to attend a service on my last day in London––the 31st. This visit however served as a quiet place to meditate and say a prayer for my Mom. The All Souls Church is the last standing church of the great architect John Nash. A stunning if very simple structure, it was intended to bookend his great design of Regent Street, although that dream was never realized.
All Souls Church
We then met Colin’s aunt and uncle at Paddington Station where they arrived to spend the day with us from Swinden (yes, that’s right, British Office fans!). I bought my Mom a little Paddington bear to cheer her up. We had a lovely day showing them Little Venice and had a fabulous lunch at a stunning old pub. What makes this pub unique is the fact that it is the only pub in London that still has the little “private rooms” where the rich could enjoy themselves without being forced to sit next to the great unwashed. The really unique thing about these little rooms is that the doors leading into them are only three feet high and you are forced to duck under them to get to your private areas. I felt like Alice. Even all five-foot of me had to duck. My six-foot-two husband almost had to crawl!  The picture below might not show the proportions, but picture that door as three-feet tall, because it is!!! Maybe the pints of beer should have had little tags that said “drink me” in order to shrink me to size.  Once into the room, it is quite normal with very high ceilings.

After a fab lunch and a great visit (interrupted by texts, calls and emails from home regarding Mom) we headed back to the hotel where I packed up my suitcase, after which we headed out to Convent Garden for a great Italian dinner. Then Colin and I spent a wonderful night in the theatre––at a play called Jerusalem. During the two intermissions, my cousin and I would text back and forth regards my mom and her condition. To say my focus was split in this last day would be an understatement. Even the music as we entered the theatre made me weep. Colin was, as always, my solid right arm.
Flag photo of the curtain design for Jerusalem.
The next morning we set the alarm for an early morning wake. Although I would not make it to numerous things like the V&A and the British Museum among many others, I wanted to make sure I got to the installation at Kensington Palace, which I had been dreaming of for months. We set off. Me with a spring in my step and my husband with obligation in his shoes. To my glee, he loved it, as did I! It was absolutely magical. While Kensington Palace is being restored, they decided to let artist Chris Levine do an installation called “The Enchanted Palace” based in fact but presented like a dream with hidden princesses for the visitor to find and artistic displays that leapt out at us and drew us in. A little about that...

A palace transformed

Kensington Palace is being transformed. As the walls of the palace are being shaken by a £12 million renovation project the rubble and the dust is unleashing powerful and secret stories about the lives of Kensington's princesses. 

At the heart of the Enchanted Palace journey is a quest for the seven princesses who once lived here. Their lives have been re-imagined as installations offering a fascinating interpretation of the palace’s hidden stories. The rebellious princess who ran from an arranged marriage into the arms of love. Sad queens who bore the pain and sadness of lost babies. The young heir to the throne who escaped the controlling grasp of her overprotective mother.

Visitors must use their eyes and ears to find clues that reveal the identity of the elusive royal residents. Guided by an enchanted map, the advice of obliging palace guardians and a few helping hands, their search will take them to all the hidden corners of the State Apartments and lead them to a glittering finale where they will at last meet the princesses face to face.   

Bringing the Enchanted Palace to life are the palace guardians, our expert front of house team and professional actors, who provide a personal insight into the strange world of the palace. 

Would not have missed it for the world!!! Each room has a theme of the princesses, from tragic, to childless, to loved, and ending with “The Dancing Princesses”, Margaret and Diana. The final room had shadows dancing on the ceiling to Fred Astair singing “Dancing Cheek to Cheek”. I took a video for the blog and did not press the right button so sadly I do not have that. But we both have the lovely memory of it and we will hold on to it for you until you can go and see it for yourself.

Finally, we walked into the Kensington Gardens, as I was a gal on a mission. When my Mom was a little girl, she was given a Christmas present from the Girl Guides that she treasured. My Mom’s family was quite poor so the Guides, along with the Toronto Star Christmas Fund, were their only source and hope of gifts. This gift was a lovely colour rendition of Peter Pan in Kensington Garden. She gave me the framed photo last year knowing my deep love for all things Pan. For those of you who have been reading the London blog you will know that I purchased the Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens prints for the powder room and planned to put her print in a place of honour across from it. My plan was to surprise her with a photo of me at the statue looking up at Pan like the children in her painting did. So I did. And she loved it.  And here it is.

Anne McGrath. Keep her in your thoughts please.

Barbara: Deb, as sad as I am to have you have to come home under these circumstances, I am so relieved that you are safe and sound and that your mom is rallying. You know she is in my thoughts, as you are.

Thanks for a brilliant, evocative and sweet “guided couch tour” of London (wink). I’ve loved every single moment of it! Somehow, despite everything, you managed to end your trip on just the right perfect note. Much love xo

Monday, October 24, 2011

London Diary, Day Eight: London Walks, Royal Weddings

Deb: Started this fine day in London with our good friends, Anna and Steve. They are friends we see very infrequently but with whom we have a substantial bond. We had a lovely lunch at a beautiful and very old London restaurant called The Wolseley, which used to be a luxury car showroom in the early 1920’s. They treated. That should be noted!

We then set off on our Royal Wedding walkabout. The men came in support of their own marriages and for no other reason. Although I did ask my husband if he enjoyed it and he said, “You know ... I was outside ... and it was a nice day.” Stellar reviews indeed!

The first piece of info we got was that the Will and Kate’s first dance was to “Your Song.” They then did a little dance to “You’re the One That I Want” from Grease, which I thought was great fun.

We started off heading down the Queen’s Walk in Green Park where our guide told us the most interesting story of how Green Park got its name. It turns out that Charles II was picking flowers in the park for his mistress and was caught doing so by his Queen who became so irate that she banished flowers from the park. From that day on they have not planted one single flower––hence the name, Green Park. Hell hath no fury like a Queen scorned. Actually, flowers do appear there but only of the “wild” variety.

One of my fave fun facts on today’s tour was that the guests of the royal wedding each received a 22-page instruction manual to prepare them for the whole royal affair. Kate herself was allowed only 100 personal guests from the almost 2000 in attendance. The other interesting fact was that William has earned the highest university degree in history for a future monarch. Kate, of course, earned as high a degree, but clearly does not count at this point as she will not be a crowned Queen. Although I still feel it deserves a “Well Done, Kate!”

Here was one of my favourite facts on today’s tour. King Henry VIII had it written into the wedding vows of all his brides (with or without heads) that they must pledge to “be buxom and bawdy in bed”. Ahhh, how I long for the good old days when women were held in the highest esteem!

We also learned that the origin of the wedding veil came about as a trick of the father of the maybe not so attractive bride, ensuring that the wedding would be made legal before a royal groom would have the chance to see his bride and possibly say, “What the?”

We also learned that Queen Victoria invented the white wedding gown. Up until then, the general public would get married in their Sunday best and the royals in silver. But she was so much in love with her groom that she wanted to use some wonderful white lace she had, and the modern wedding dress was born. Sadly she spent more time of her life in her mourning blacks, so distraught was she over the early death of her beloved Albert.

The day embodied the true love and tragic love of the royals and their marriages. But the prevailing message was and is that no good ever came of the arranged marriage idea. Any time a royal was forced to marry, as in Charles and Diana, it came to a tragic end. We must follow our hearts and hopefully this marriage will send that new message, along with the change in succession. Soon it will be law that the first born of any gender will be the next monarch. This is the wish of the royal family to move with the times and the queen has pushed hard for this change to come about.

We ended the day with our dear friend Steve and his lovely son Ian who we met for the first time tonight. We went together to the BBC and saw a radio taping for BBC Four. The taping was the third in a four part series of the stand up comedian Richard Herring and it was first rate. Tired. Going to bed to dream of Peter and Wendy. I may leave the window open tonight. xo

Sunday, October 23, 2011

London Diary, Day Seven: This Time It's Personal

Deb: I have a dear friend whom I have known since 1990 when I started with the Second City in Toronto. She was the producer of the theatre and therefore my boss, but we have over the years developed a wonderful friendship of love and trust. It was a road fraught with construction signs and detours given the status issues we needed to overcome, but we came to it, as humans often do, through adversity and the bond of something more.

The “more” was our struggle to become mothers. We wanted it so badly and we were united in the fact that we knew that neither of us could be truly happy until that happened. And it did. For her twice, and for me, once. We celebrated the birth of our babies knowing all too well that it could easily not have happened for either of us.

Today in London I was lucky enough to spend a full day with her eldest, the lovely Kaitlyn. Just a few years older than the boy, she works here doing a fabulous job that will help make her resume sing! The best part is, she loves both the job and London. We certainly share that view and we yakked about our London Love all the way in the cab like we were mooning over the latest boy band.

Our time together today was as the English say––brilliant. She came to a taping of Colin’s show  “Our Life In Your Hands” and said what any dutiful young woman would say, “Colin is the best.” Bless her wise little heart. I will not question Kaitlyn’s taste as she has clearly developed into a sage young woman!!!!

After the taping, she and I were off to a wonderful Indian restaurant for dinner. Colin had a second show to do but we blew it off in the name of hunger and thirst. We arrived at the restaurant. Let’s just say we talked. And talked. And laughed. And talked.

I remember her as a tot, toddler, young girl and lady, but tonight I had dinner with the woman. She is poised, charming, warm and is  perched on the brink of her very exciting life. Living it and dreaming it, all at the same time. I am happy and proud for her and I am so proud of my friend for what she and her husband have wrought.

I did not know what to expect. I wondered if we would be awkward given our history. I worried that it would be all question and answer by rote given the difference in our ages. But it was fun and I learned about her and from her. I hope she felt the same. I did not dare think it would be this lovely.

In the end it reminded me that each generation is exactly the same. We are thankful to our parents and the gifts that they give, and then we move on to make our own mark, our own mistakes. Afterwards we must stand alone to cheer our own triumphs. She and I talked about the fact that, although we all know we will turn into our parents, as we get older we lament it less and less. In fact sometimes we want it!  Wise words from a twenty-something. She has the world at her feet, this girl. And it reminded me that we all do. No matter our age or station or stage in life, we all do.
Kaitlyn and I wanted a photo before saying goodnight. We stopped a passerby who not only offered to take it, but moved us to a better light to try and make it nice for us. As he walked away, Kaitlyn said, "That's London!" Yep, it is!
This was a special night for me. Kaitlyn said to me as we hugged goodbye, “I needed to be Mothered tonight”. I am glad I could give her an eye-drop of mothering on behalf of my dear friend Sally who loves and misses her girl from across the pond. I will never forget this sweet little night. I hope Kaitlyn doesn’t either. 

Saturday, October 22, 2011

London Diary, Day Six: Harry Potter’s London

Deb: Today I took one of the tours I had been waiting for with bated breath. Harry Potter’s London! Okay, let me start with the disclaimer. It is impossible to do a single Harry Potter walk given the fact that the “real” locations are spread all over the very large city. So our walk was concentrated on a two-hour tour (a two-hour tour ...) of walking and, as such, they had to do some stretching. But as I am the type of character who cannot be daunted when I am interested in something, I was tickled with even the most mundane of facts.
Deb and Big Ben can’t wait for Potter tour!
We started by the Thames at the Parliament buildings for our first Potter locale. My picture is waaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyyyyyyyy far off as I am using my iphone for this trip in an effort to keep it simple. This farrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrry offffffffffffyyyyyyyyyyy photo shows the bridge from Prisoner of Azkaban where the triple-decker bus had to squeeze for its life between two other buses. Next stop was the tube turnstiles at Westminster where Ron couldn’t get his ticket through. Next stop was my back is killing me and I have pins and needles down my left leg. Try to figure out what film that was from!
Triple-decker bus escape!
Ron can’t get through the turnstiles.
Moving on with the real Potter tour, we went to 10 Downing Street, which as you know is the residence of the Prime Minister. Our guide recalled for us a scene in the Half Blood Prince where the Prime Minister heard a cough from a painting that ended up being a message from the Ministry of Magic appearing in the fireplace.
 Scotland Yard. Harry, Hermione and Ron try to sneak in to M of M!
Death Eaters would not dare show their faces on such a fine day!
He Who Must Not Be Named has found another gig, clearly!
Guy in green is standing where Ron peeked around looking for danger. 
Scotland Yard supplied our next Potter location with Ron peeking around looking out for enemies and the phone box appearing under the stone overpass as they dialed the number 62442, which our guide pointed out translates to MAGIC. Next stop: Trafalgar Square where the Death Eaters flew menacingly, threatening London and the world. 
10 Downing Street-Ministry of Magic needed more than ever!

The phone booth magically appears
The last spot we visited was a wonderful little alley of bookshops, which was actually suggested to me by Barb’s friend. This was the alley that inspired Diagon Alley! So wonderful, I browsed for an hour after the tour. 
J.K.'s model for Diagon Alley
Our guide finished the tour with a fact that you may well know but I did not. When J.K. Rowling finished the first book she submitted it by her name which is Joanne Rowling. Her publisher told her that her book could be a big hit with boys but it would not be if she published it under a woman’s name and suggested she do initials. So she kept the J, and took her Grandmother’s name of Katherine. Wow, never changes for women, does it?

After the tour I had a bite and went to the National Portrait Gallery, which was amazing. They had an exhibit featuring the “first actresses” which was as fine an exhibit as I have ever seen. The main feature for me was the actress “Sarah Siddons” who was one of the few actresses at the time who did not rise to her status from the brothel. I also had no idea she was a real person as I had figured they made up the name “The Sarah Siddons Society” in the movie “All About Eve”.  Exquisite portraits in this gallery. 
The Early Actress series 
 Stunning oil portrait of two loving brothers who happen to be princes.
I could have spent days but my back and the time would not allow. Damn White Rabbit reminding me that I had to get to my husband’s show. Which I did and which was great. I think it is going to be a big hit, so stay tuned. That’s it from London for tonight. I’m your correspondent Deb McGrath signing off. 
Trust Us With Your Life

London Diary: Solitary London Day Five

Deb: Rough night. My back kept waking me up asking me to get help. Finally I capitulated and booked a massage for tonight. I love the concept of the night massage as you can just fall into chill mode into sleep mode into dream mode afterwards. I am getting a soothing pressure point massage that I pray helps me. Being on pins and needles is never best, be it literally or figuratively.

Today was stellar. Woke up late––almost 10, which was reflective of the fitful back sore sleep. I feel I need to state where the responsibility lay lest the bed should feel guilty. If ever a bed should be off the hook, it’s this bed. This bed of comfort, this bed of cosy, this bed of sink. So bed is exonerated. Thank you, bed.

I headed out around noon leaving husband to his bath and very very full day of rehearsals, wardrobe and live audience shoot.

I set off to explore the area around our hotel, the old and grand Langham. The hotel supplied me with an audiotape and earbuds for my sojourn. The tape lasted exactly ten minutes before it conked out, but here is what I gleaned about the Langham. The site of the hotel was originally the private country home (yes, country) of the third Lord Foley in 1797. He secured an undertaking in perpetuity from the landowner, the Duke of Portland, that no future building would block his view northbound from his home of Regent Park. This resulted in Portland Place being the widest street in London today. It is home to many embassies and upscale law offices and businesses of the schmansy ilk. In 1814, the architect John Nash bought the entire kit and caboodle when bossy Lord Foley (no relation to Dave) went bankrupt. The hotel had its original opening on Saturday June 10th, 1865. The Langham was now London’s biggest and finest hotel and its claims include the very first “rising room” (lift-elevators) in the world. It would take me fifty blogs to describe all the firsts, ups, downs, fires, renos that took place in the Langham, but it is wonderful to stay here and be a part of her grand history. Better than a swank white boutique hotel any old day. Some of the noted guests and residents of this hotel have included Marie Louise De La Ramee, Oscar Wilde, Sir Richard Burton (the explorer––not of Liz), Algernon Swinburne the poet, Robert Browning, Sir John MIllais the artist, Lord Lytton the politician, Wilkie Collins the author, William Allingham the poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Mark Twain the author, Colin Mochrie the improvisor and Deb McGrath the blogger. The last two were left out of both the book and the audiotape due to a horrendous error in judgment. I mean, Mark Twain??? COME ON!
The bookstore I went into to buy The Little Princess. Who's this guy?????
So this ends my tasting sampler of the Langham and the blog continues from this point with my day.

I did the area of Marylebone, which is very near the hotel, very posh and very charm charm charming! What isn’t here? I did some shopping, I won’t lie to you. I bought two pairs of shoe/booties and a pair of slippers. A casual dress, a blouse, a wallet and a scarf. But the area is so wonderful that I could have just window-shopped. LIES. Good one. Almost bought that myself. Then I was off to Regent’s Park for a long stroll. The last shop I was in offered to keep my packages for me so I did not have to return to the hotel before exploring the park, so that was awesome. The park was dressed for fall but still clinging to its summer finery. I could have walked for days but my stiff and aching back was a constant reminder of each step I trod.
R.P. Merman and mermaids––look at the algae!

Late October. Are you kidding me?
Regent's Park
But the best better bestest part of my day was wrapped up in conquering a hate/fear/discomfort of mine. I was determined that I was going to face it and I did. I ATE ALONE––twice. Lunch and dinner. Lunch was soooooooooooo good. It was at a bistro called La Fromagerie and it was stupendous. It combines meats and or cheeses and fruits with wine pairings. Going back with my husband to this one! Charm personified. And I did not rush. I lingered. I did not bury my face in a book. I owned it. I looked around. I drank in the ambiance, hoisting a nice Barolo in my paw and I smiled at people, unashamed of the fact that I was at a “one top”. 
La Fromagerie

Lunch––gorgonzola, pear, salad perfect wine.
Chairs you can rent by the hour, day or season. Wow!

A delightful little shop. The owners pup sleeping in a window that says:
Music, Japanese tea and Sweets. Dogs are very welcome.

Queen Mary's Gates leading to the inner circle of her gardens.
The best moment of this Deb-in-progress occurred tonight for dinner when I went to a very charming tiny Italian restaurant near the hotel that Colin and I had been eyeing. When I walked in, the owner was crestfallen to see that I was on my own––translation: girl meal. Bad tip. He attempted to sit me in the corner by the drafty door and I went there, as is my wont. Suddenly I turned to him and said, “Excuse me, is that table by the window taken?” YES I PEED A LITTLE. He said, “No, but we are booked up later for the entire night.” I said (A DRIBBLE MORE), “I will only be about an hour and I would love to have that table to people-watch, as I am alone.”  Yes, it’s true, I said “as I am alone.” Working the Jane Eyre vibe and might have even affected an accent, can’t be sure. Seemingly in a trance, he lead me to the good table by the window. And I sat there, tickled pink with myself, if not a tad damp.

Left the restaurant and headed to the hotel where I got an amazing massage to help my injured back. Sadly (did not think of this) that I am so badly bruised from my chiro and massage therapists attempts that he could not work on the exact area. But. Or I should say BUTT, he worked around it. And I feel wonderful. Waiting for my husband to come home from the first taping! I chose to give him one taping for free, as it were, but I will be back here tomorrow with a full report of “Trust Us With Your Life”. A great day. Solitary, it’s true. But I get on so splendidly with me so ... it’s good.