Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Sharing the stars

One of my favourite Facebook groups is Norfolk Countryside Photos - a public group for the sharing of (naturally) images of the beautiful county in which I am fortunate to live.

Members of the group cover a wide range. Some simply enjoy viewing the work of other people; some contribute snaps from their smart phones; some are 'point-and-shoot' users, some enthusiastic amateur SLR users, and some are professionals. The joy of the group is that wonderful images - and discussions - can come from any of those people.

A recent thread has touched me very deeply, and with the permission of those who have participated, I'd like to share it here. None of the photographs are mine; they are all contributions from other members.

On the afternoon of 3 July, a member called Sonya posted the following request.

I met a lil old lady in hospital last night when I was visiting my little girl
The lady has been there for 9 weeks, is not mobile at all and can't see very far either and she was lovely 
When I left I asked if I could bring her in anything the next day, biscuits, fruit, drink... she said there was nothing she wanted except for me to say "night to the stars for her"
I tried to take a photo last night but my iPhone is not good at night so was wondering if anyone had any recent local star photos....googling it feels like cheating but I'd like to take some photos in to show her of our night sky 
Thank you
I meant to add please to this 

A member called Tracy summed up the feeling of the group:

I came over all emotional reading this, bless her heart and bless yours for doing this for her, I'm sure some of the wonderful photographers can help you out here xx

Tracy was right. Over the next 24 hours, the contributions poured in from around the group. Here's one of them (from Russell Waite):

Now click here to view a further selection. The photographers are attributed in each caption. This isn't all of them, either. There were at least as many of these again.

Sonya thanked the group for all their contributions:

Oh wow!! Thank guys
She'll love them
She looks so poorly but she remembers my name and just sits smiling and waving all day 
Such a happy lady... makes you think 
But thank you for the pics, I will show her later xxxx

Member Kirsty replied on behalf of us all:

This is what this group is all about! What an amazing bunch of people you all are, first Sonya for thinking of doing such a lovely thing for this lady, then all you wonderful people for jumping to her need. Your all amazing, each and every one of you, my heart leapt reading this and all the comments and pictures this morning. xxxx

Late on the evening of 4 July - just 36 hours after her original posting - Sonya told us what had happened:

I took photos in today on my phone and she couldn't see them so I transferred them to my iPad and showed her on that tonight instead
She took a deep breath in, drew the cross over her chest, closed her eyes for a bit and when she opened them she had tears in her eyes
She was so happy and asked me to thank you all 
So, thank you, you made a lovely lady very very happy

In response to several comments saying how glad we were that Sonya had taken the trouble to do this, Sonya replied:

It's strange because I don't feel right taking credit for anything because I would hope most people would do the same (def most of the people on here would anyway) and I'd do it for anyone ️

Lots of people might think it was a nice thing to do... the difference is that Sonya went and did it, and that the photographers took the trouble to find and share appropriate photographs.

I was overwhelmed by the response, and you all made a lady very happy 
I told her how many people had liked the status or sent their love 
She was so happy... she kept saying 'to me?'

Yes. To you, anonymous lady in hospital. Even though most of those who have read or contributed to this story will never meet you or know your identity, we send our love to a 'happy lady' who 'sits smiling and waving all day', and who wants nothing more than to say goodnight to the stars.

The little things mean a lot.

Friday, 12 June 2015


So, if you're already a friend of mine, you'll know this. If you don't, here's the deal: there is a small theatre venue in Norwich, just to the north of the city centre, housed in a converted barn, in the grounds of the Sewell College. It seats a maximum of 100 people on three sides of a stage which is viewed from above the performers. It has a unique and intimate atmosphere, and is ideal for many kinds of theatre, but is especially appropriate for plays where we, the audience, feel that we are eavesdropping - sneaking a peek through the 'fourth wall' - at what goes on 'behind closed doors'.

The current production - Mint, by Clare Lizzimore - is perfectly suited to this venue. Focusing on the effects of imprisonment, not only on the convicted criminal but also on his family, it brings an extraordinary intensity of insight into the ebb and flow of emotion as the clock ticks relentlessly on. As Alan lives through his sentence, moved between prisons, working out in the gym, walking around his reduced space, reflecting on his life, we are reminded of the happenings in the world (for real) during the late 1990s and into the new century, and kept in touch with the lives of his sisters and his parents. Most importantly, we also see and experience the emotional and practical difficulties of life 'outside' once he has served his time.

Without wanting to give away any spoilers - you need to see this show for yourself - the cast, crew and director do a truly magnificent job of conveying the frustrations, the fears and the anger that arise from this situation. The evening is also full of humour - some of it dark, some shocking, some simply glorious comic timing. Jen Dewsbury's direction is neat, precise and elegant, unafraid to use silence and the unspoken visual message, and the members of her stellar cast respond beautifully on all levels.

The family dynamic, with all its flaws and fears, is accurate to the point of pain. Each of the six members of the cast - across a wider-than-usual age range - display a professionalism, maturity and skill that is frankly staggering.

Glenda and Roger Gardiner - married in real life - head up this dysfunctional family unit in a way that sometimes has us squirming in recognition. Steve Dunn, as the prisoner Alan, maintains an awesome focus and stamina as his character is dragged through many more emotional mills than feels just, and as he paces the floor of his cell, we follow him through the circles of regret, cheerful resignation, despair and explosion. Rebecca Wass, as Alan's sister, shows extraordinary skill in conveying the changes in her own life across the six years of the action of the play (including the birth of her own child). Rachel Godfrey-Bennett, as Alan's younger sister, displays a maturity of performance way beyond her own teenage years, with a development of character and focused stagecraft that I have seen lacking in performers three times her age. And last, but definitely not least, the extraordinary Connie Reid likewise brings conviction, clarity and an innate sense of timing that is normally only achieved after many years on stage. It is especially impressive that the director has worked so beautifully with a wide age range - across something like five decades - to create such a satisfying whole.

I'd also mention that Jonathan Adkins' superb set and David Nicholas Green's original music contribute in no small measure to an immensely satisfying package.

This is not a play to watch if you're after light-hearted, frothy escapism. (You can easily find that on the television.) This is a production that gives food for thought and discussion, that moves and shakes, that provokes and intrigues. It demonstrates that there is room on our local stages for every age. It is worthy of attention and appreciation and a great deal of praise.

Photograph: Sean Owen of Reflective Arts

Mint plays until Saturday 13 June, and then again from Wednesday 17 to Saturday 20 June, 7.30 pm each night plus a 2.30 pm matinee on the final Saturday. Tickets are available from Prelude Records in St Giles, Norwich, or via the Sewell Barn website.