A Date with Macbeth

My mission: To go on 60 dates with friends & family to celebrate my 60th birthday.


I admit it. I’m passionate about William Shakespeare’s Macbeth – in fact I would go as far to say I am a complete anorak when it comes to this play. Definition: A person obsessively interested in a thing or topic that doesn’t seem to warrant such attention.

Oh, but this beautiful text does warrant such attention! And, I’m so lucky to have a friend who, like me, loves to pursue this story around the country.

It all started back in 2000 when I decided to write a Masters dissertation on ‘Convergent Media and its Impact on the Theatre’.

How, I wrote, do we interest young people in the world’s greatest story-teller when they can play videogames? The solution dawned on me one evening. Why not make a computer game out of a Shakespeare play? I chose Macbeth – its theme of ambition – something I understood. And because I was once a witch – in my school days, the distant past, when studying for English O-level.

And so, a love of the text began.

It was only natural to want to see it performed on stage. Again, and again, and again – or rather – tomorrow, and tomorrow and tomorrow. As I’ve seen over fifty versions of Macbeth on stage and screen, naturally, I had to make at least one of my 60 dates a Macbeth Production. I would invite my friend, my fellow anorak.

We decided on two new productions, the National Theatre starring Rory Kinnear in the title role and Anne-Marie Duff as his Lady but, first, a dance production from the Mark Bruce Company.

Macbeth by the Mark Bruce Company @Wilton’s Music Hall, Whitechapel, London

Apart from the fact the front row at the stunning Wilton Music Hall, Whitechapel, was too close to the stage and necessitated looking up for 90 minutes, this was an inventive production. The witches took me by surprise and that’s saying something after so many sightings. They danced on stage in silver feathery masks and I was just thinking ‘here we go again – sugary, almost divine, witches – where’s the evil?’ when, in an instant, the trio transformed into writhing nasty creatures. Stocking pulled over faces, clever make-up, violent sound and writhing bodies, gruesome and shocking. I was transfixed.

A Date with Macbeth
To Dance a Macbeth

During the interval the woman next to me plied me with questions, she was so confused she thought Lady Macbeth was married to Duncan!

Rule 1: It’s always a good idea to gen-up on the play story before you go and doubly important if there are no words.

To the credit of the director and choreographer, I had no difficulty following the play, scene by scene. I could actually hear myself quote text during sexy duets, tormented steps and hints of Highland dance. This in turn led to some disappointments. The major soliloquies of ‘come you spirits…’, ‘Is this a dagger…’ and ‘Out damned spot…’ were all skimmed too much for my liking. This resulted in a ‘lack of journey’ of the Macbeths. The cauldron scene was cut – a shame – it could have been riveting with such talent.

But I loved the invented scenes, Lady M giving wine to Duncan’s guards, her moment in his room, the wooden hill-fort set – the use of the poles transposed into Birnam Wood – and weapons in the final battle.

This is a Macbeth that will stick in my mind when many have blurred into insignificance but if parents or teachers think it will help young people with GCSE…it’s going to disappoint.

The Mark Bruce Company Macbeth On tour until Friday 18th May 2018.

A Date with Macbeth
With my friend, Lloyd

Macbeth at the National Theatre, London

Directed by Rufus Norris, the artistic director, this production has garnered scathing reviews, so I went with low expectations. In my opinion, Macbeth performs better in smaller venues where the audience almost feel part of the action, so I could understand the decision to carve up the Olivier’s stage with a huge ramp. I rather liked it. Very Norse Mythology. It reminded me of the bridge between Asgard (the world of the Aesir tribe of gods), with Midgard, the world of humanity. Asgard was where Odin lived with his son Thor and his adopted son, Loki.

Shakespeare set his Macbeth in the time period of the real King Macbeth, 11th century Scotland.  A time of great cultures, the Norse, the Celts and the Anglo-Saxons. We know Macbeth defeated the Norse in Fife when Ross tells Duncan, ‘…where the Norwegian banners flout the sky and fan our people cold. Norway himself with terrible numbers…’(1.2.49).

I liked the set even if it wasn’t exactly a ‘rainbow bridge’ – but perhaps it’s where the problems start for the performers. We should see why Macbeth wants to be king. This great warrior hero risks everything, ‘the vessel of my peace,’ (3.1.68) and his soul, ‘mine eternal jewel,’ (3.1.69) to be king of a land which looks desperately unappealing. We don’t see the change from his wooden hillfort of Inverness to the magnificent fortress of Dunsinane. We don’t see his ambition. I wondered if the set had hindered Rory Kinnear in his performance which lacked the subtleties of a great Macbeth. From the cast in general there was too much shouting for my liking.

There are a number of things I look at when judging a production.

The Witches – the supernatural in this play is crucial but so many productions fail to nail it. This was no exception. Three young women, reminiscent of African voodoo, shimmied up poles or ran around the stage like frightened mice. So irritating it took my attention away from the text. The weird sisters should be fantastical creatures, even in a modern setting, recognisable in some human understanding. They should make every young person in the audience sit forward in their seats. Of course, live theatre doesn’t have the luxury of CGI as I did in my short film Macbeth’s Disciple but the director can use sound and light. I thought it a pity he didn’t use different coloured lighting for each witch, perhaps honouring their familiar animal (Graymalkin, Paddock and Harpier).

A date with Macbeth
The Third Witch as seen in Macbeth’s Disciple

As seems to be the norm of late, the witches’ scenes were heavily cut. I haven’t seen ‘double double, toil and trouble,’ for over two years but the NT production did manage a creepy apparitions scene. Actors moved across the stage and up the bridge with distorted bodies and sightless face masks, peering out towards the audience.

The England Scene: So often cut and yet this scene is crucial to the unfolding plot. When Malcolm runs away to England after the murder of his father, Duncan, he recognises he is no match for the other possible claimants to the throne. We know this from the way he introduces the bloody sergeant, ‘like a good and hearty soldier fought ‘gainst my captivity.’(1.2.5) He would be no match for Macbeth who ‘disdaining fortune, with his brandished steel, which smoked with bloody execution,…’ (1.2.17) unseamed the rebel Macdonald from the navel to the chin. What chance would the young Malcolm have? When we get to the England scene we should see how he’s changed from his time at the English king’s court. We should see finery, in this production Malcolm still wore combats. We should see a warrior, able to defend himself should Macduff be a terrorist, intent on harm. And we should see something of the king to come. Malcolm III reigned for 35 years with great success. He was the first king of Scotland to unite the highlands and the lowlands into a multicultural Scottish kingdom because he could speak both languages (Gaelic and a form of old English). He forged new trade links with England, Norway, Flanders and Normandy* and his children became kings of Scotland and a Queen of England. This scene should show us all this but can’t if it’s heavily cut.

(*Further reading The Lords of Alba by Ian W. Walker)

A Date with Macbeth
My well-thumbed copy

Lady Macbeth – ‘Come you spirits’ speech. It has become something of a sport for me to watch how the actor portrays this pivotal Lady Macbeth speech. Will she walk centre stage and raise her hands in the air towards heaven as she calls on the dark spirits? Will she do some form of this? I’ve seen lying on the ground, still with raised arms, I’ve seen kneeling and I’ve seen the lines delivered while squelching in peat. And now I’ve seen in delivered in a concrete bunker. I have rarely seen anything of depth. In the ‘dagger’ scene (2.1.40) we hear Macbeth utter, ‘…I see the yet, in form as palpable as this which now I draw…’ and then he produces a dagger but when Lady Macbeth says, ‘…that my keen knife see not the wound it makes…’ (1.5.50) we don’t see a knife. How come?

I think Anne-Marie Duff is a talented actor but I was underwhelmed by her performance as Lady Macbeth. I wish I could have been a fly on the wall when Rufus Norris discussed this soliloquy with her. This scene links to her sleepwalking scene if thoroughly explored.

For any aspiring actor about to play Lady Macbeth do look at my extensive discussion on her in Lady Macbeth and the Witches.

A Date with Macbeth
My view of Lady Macbeth

Overall, I don’t mind Macbeth set in a modern era but I do get concerned that we fail to get to the moral message of the text because the director panders to spectacle.

As far as a date is concerned, it wouldn’t matter if I didn’t much rate the production, being able to discuss it with my friend is all that matters. Well, that and a good glass of wine after the show.**

Moral of the date: If you chose theatre for a date make sure your friend is interested in the play too. If they don’t like Shakespeare there’s no point dragging them along to one of his plays.


With many thanks to Lloyd who accompanied me on these dates.

22/60 dates completed


Next: A date at a garlic farm

Follow me to see what happened.

**These are my views and not necessarily those of my friend.


©spearean 2018 The Jasmin Vine



A Date with Oscar Night

My mission: To go on 60 dates with friends & family to celebrate my 60th birthday.


Having seen all nine nominated best pictures I was ready with my verdict. MY choice was THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI.

A Date with Oscar Night
My choice for best picture

All that was left to do was to glam up, pour the champagne, make sure my date for the evening was ready for the marathon night ahead and sit back and watch.

I asked my friends who had watched the nominated films with me, if they wanted to complete the process – stay up all night to see the live Oscar ceremony. One by one they dipped out. I didn’t blame them; the whole of the country was in turmoil from the snowfall.

It had been a tough few days for me, too, as my expensive-eco-green-heating, otherwise known as Ground Source Heat Pumps decided not to work. ‘It’s too cold for them,’ said the engineer. A suitable retort to this bizarre excuse stretched the creative juices. In the end we spent five days in a house at ten degrees and only coped because of the wood-burning stove in the kitchen. Camping was fun for one day and night but when cramp hit my shins, I decided I had to risk my freezer-like bedroom. Still, the kitchen was warm and even though there was no TV – it was a good opportunity to catch up on some reading. Then to my horror I discovered we were out of red wine. What was I thinking when I stocked up for the snow!

I was worried about Oscar night.

The sitting room thermostat was depressing reading. Nine degrees. It was warmer in Svalbard (1,000km from the North Pole) when I visited. Was I going to miss the Oscars? Was it possible to watch the ceremony live on my laptop in the kitchen? And how on earth was I going to wear my slinky, Swarovski-crystal-covered dress when getting changed in the bedroom was a hazard in its own right?

A Date with Oscar Night
My sparkling Oscar night dress

The cold bedroom took me back to my childhood. I can remember it well. With no central heating in those days, going to bed involved a tight procedure. A rapid change from day to night clothes in front of the living-room stove, teeth brushing at the Belfast sink – my dad always washed up straight after dinner – and then a mad dash up the stairs, breathing out clouds of air, to dive into a bed heated only by a hot water bottle.

I began to make plans for an arctic Oscar ceremony. I dug out mum’s old fur coat (vintage) – being real fur it was the warmest thing I owned but it weighed a ton. A snuggle blanket, an electric heater, cashmere socks and a real log fire. That ought to do it. With copious amounts of alcohol too.

My evening was saved by an upturn in the outside temperature. The heat pumps started working, the house began to warm, I lit an open fire full of big logs and glammed up. By now, the only person willing to join me on this jaunt was my husband. Well, it’s not too shabby to go with your husband to the Oscars, even if he did insist on wearing pyjamas.

Was it worth it?

It was the least entertaining ceremony I’ve watched in recent years. It was also one of the most predictable. No surprises. On one hand that was good – it should be easy to see who deserves the Oscar – but on the other hand with so many ‘experts’ predicting the eventual outcome it felt more like an exercise in rubber-stamping.

Highlights for me were:

  1. Eva Marie-Saint the 93-year-old Oscar winning actress presenting the award for Costume Design. She won her academy award for her portrayal of Edie Doyle in the film On the Waterfront starring Marlon Brando. It was her debut feature acting. She was greeted with a standing ovation by her industry peers, heart-warming to watch, and she treated us to a charming address. She told us she was older than the Academy. I laughed alongside the theatre audience. She gave us movie history, telling us she wore a navy-blue coat throughout the film as her character falls for Marlon Brando. In North by Northwest, to look glamorous while falling in love with Cary Grant, the director Fred Hitchcock took her to Bergdorf Goodman’s to choose her wardrobe – including a favourite black dress with red roses. Finally, an anecdotal story of working with the legendary costume designer Edith Head (8 Oscar wins, 35 nominations) before presenting the award. Best Costume design was awarded to Mark Bridges for Phantom Thread. Well deserved. The dresses were beautiful, original designs that gave credence to the couturier world of the film.
  2. Lupita Nyong’o in the best dress of the evening. She was literally dripping in gold and I couldn’t take my eyes off her. She looked stunning in the Versace gown with its split to the thigh and black accents in a draped band across the bodice.

    A Date with Oscar Night
    Lupita Nyong’o and Kumail Nanjiani
  3. The moment when JK said there’s ‘another group that deserves our thanks even more because none of us would be here’. Who? The people who go to see the movies they make. ‘Tonight, we thank the movie going public.’

It made me wonder how much influence we have on the vote. How well did those Oscar nominated best pictures do at the box office?  (Source: Box Office Mojo)

As of 11th March 2017, (in rounded up figures).

  1. Dunkirk – $526m on a budget of $100m
  2. Three Billboards… –  $143m on a budget of $12m
  3. Phantom Thread –     $41m on a budget of $35m
  4. Lady Bird –                  $65m on a budget of $10m
  5. Darkest Hour –           $143m on a budget of $30m
  6. Get Out –                      $255m on a budget of $4.5m
  7. Shape of Water –        $150m on a budget of $19.5m
  8. Call me by your Name – $35m on a budget of $3.5m
  9. The Post –                    $155m on a budget of $50m

Of course, these films have been released at different times, with varied premieres across the world but by using a simple calculation of box office receipts as a percentage of budget then Get Out would be way ahead.

If none of those industry professionals would be there if we didn’t go to watch the films, then surely the time has come for the public to have a say in which films win Oscars? I’m sure PWC could work out a mathematical formula which would add a bit of objective voting into the system based on return of budget. This would take away the full-on wooing of the Oscar voters. Is Hollywood brave enough? Is the Academy brave enough? And while we’re on the subject of changes, how about letting us watch these movies at home, streamed onto our big TV screens one week after release? I’ve a feeling that far from cannibalising sales this would increase sales.

When the ceremony finished around 5am – I’d stopped looking at the clock – I went to bed and slept for five hours. I’d planned nothing for the rest of Monday but if I’m honest I didn’t recover until the end of the week.

As a date night, I was somewhat stood up by my husband as he slept through the ceremony only to wake for the last three awards!  And the Best Picture Oscar went to ‘The Shape of Water’.


Moral of the Date: A Sixty-date watching the live film-event-of-the-year allows you to be a film know-it-all with endless social media opportunities. But beware the racing heart and the dark circles as you try to function for the rest of the week.  


With thanks to Brian for sort of being with me on this date

Dates completed: 19/60


Next: Out and about near home

Follow me to see what happened.


©spearean 2018 The Jasmin Vine


A Date with Oscar

My mission: To go on 60 dates with friends & family to celebrate my 60th birthday.


In the dim and distant past one of my favourite dreams was to win an Oscar. Not as an actor but as a film director. I was lucky enough to make a film once. A short film called Macbeth’s Disciple.

A Date with Oscar
Theatrical release poster

It was incredibly hard work and, as an inexperienced female director, there was sneering to endure; that aside, directing a film was the most exciting moment of my professional life. And I’ve had a few. My film was shown at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, not an Oscar contender though. At 60, I know a career as a film director has passed me by but that doesn’t stop me being interested in the latest releases and enjoying the pizazz of the Oscar ceremony.

It’s only natural then that the Oscars should feature in my milestone celebrations. I planned to see all nine nominees in the ‘Best Film’ category, with as many friends as possible, then cast my vote, dress up and drink champagne all night. As the ceremony doesn’t start until 2am, UK time, it was also an endurance test. Could I possibly stay awake?

Last year, I decided my favourite film from those nominated was Hidden Figures. My criteria for choosing best film are; would I watch it again? – yes. Was it well acted? – yes. Was it a good story? – yes. Did I learn from it? – yes. Was there a moral/social issue highlighted? – yes. Racism, as a side-story, was all the more impactful. Was there a prominent role for a woman? – Yes – three women actually. Who knew a bunch of African-American women had been responsible for the maths calculations behind the John Glenn space mission? Responsible for his safety in fact. It was a story I’d never heard before and the US space exploration was very much a part of my childhood. I loved it.

Last year’s Oscar for Best Picture did not go to my choice but to Moonlight – oops or was that La La LandMoonlight won. A hilarious and unforgettable moment, just when we were thinking of switching off the TV, the drama happens.

Will something equally dramatic happen at the 90th Academy Awards 2018?  First, though, I have to go on nine dates to see the nominated films.

Spoiler alert: Please don’t read if you still plan to go and see any of the films listed below.

The nominees for Best Picture are:

  4. GET OUT

Squeezing in nine trips to the cinema between the nominations day and the ceremony is quite demanding because some of the films will not have been released in the UK until a few days before. This year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences didn’t want to clash with the Winter Olympics so there’s an extra week in which to see the films.  Yippee.

RULE 1: Keep early February clear so you have time to see all the nominated Best Pictures.

The Oscar ceremony in Los Angeles is the culmination of many other festivals which take place throughout the year. For feature length films, entry requirements include a 7-day Los Angeles theatre release in the qualifying year. There are over 6000 voting members of the Academy, all of whom would have “achieved a distinction in motion picture, arts and sciences” and have multiple credits to their name. They can only join one group, for example, even if the person is both actor and director he/she can only join one of those groups – not both.

As a live action short filmmaker, I discovered I had to get my film shown and win a prize at two qualifying competitive festivals to be considered for Oscar entry. Whilst my film didn’t win any prizes, I did discover the fun of the film festival and the opportunity to see a film in advance of its UK general release.

In October, I went with Lynne to the International London Film Festival (LFF) gala screening of THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI.

A Date with Oscar
A night at the LFF with the cast

Although not in evening wear we dressed up as best we could for an unseasonably cold October evening. Walking the red carpet is one helluva exciting thing to do and worth the effort of the re-dial-sore-fingers to get tickets.

A Date with Oscar
Jasmin & Lynne on the red carpet

I wasn’t expecting to like the film; murder, antihero police, racist overtones, violence but as the credits rolled I turned to my friend and said ‘Wow’ at the same time she did. It says a lot for the film-maker, Martin McDonagh, and the cast performances, particularly Frances McDormand, to have made me say, ‘I really enjoyed that.’

Rule 2: Learn how to pose on the red carpet (I still haven’t got it right)

Another genre of film I wouldn’t normally go for is ‘Horror’ and that’s exactly what GET OUT turned out to be. A young black man meets his white girlfriend’s parents and all is not what it seems. Luckily, I watched it on TV download and only my husband noticed when I hid my face behind a cushion during a scary scene. When I looked up again, he’d run from the room. It was a surprise then, to feel I’d watched an original story with outstanding acting by the male lead, Daniel Kaluuya. A pacey, suspense filled exposé of liberal racism.

Another form of horror is war. I avoid films that feature war. My father, when he was alive, refused to discuss his six years in the army during WW2, ‘why should I inflict those horrors on you.’ However, when two are nominated in the Best Picture category I don’t have much of a choice and so I went to see Dunkirk and Darkest Hour with husband in tow.

DUNKIRK was first, and although we know the story – the rescue of 300,000 servicemen from the French coast by an armada of small boats – it was good to see it from different points of view and not just from the soldiers on the beach. I found it particularly poignant to follow the journey of one fishing boat owner and an aircraft pilot. I felt there were too many ‘water’ scenes where we witnessed the desperation of men wanting to escape a watery grave. I got the message with the first and it made my heart ache to see the suffering of those young men – even if it was film.

DARKEST HOUR certainly stirred the patriotic juices and I wanted to clap as the credits rolled, such was the power of the last scene. I wasn’t convinced by the tube train conversation. It felt fake, with the longest stop at an Underground station ever, but I was happy to accept it as an illustration of what might have transpired. I was particularly impressed with the inclusion of a meaty role for Churchill’s wife, Clementine – as they say, ‘behind every great man….’ I was unaware Churchill was disliked by his peers and the role of the King was new to me. Gary Oldman’s performance brought this new information to glorious light.

Rule 3: Be prepared to see films out of your comfort zone.

The Governors Ball is the official after-ceremony-party where the big names in entertainment get to let their hair down. Over 12,000 glasses of champagne will be drunk, 10,000 glasses of wine, 6000 Kobe beef burgers and, not forgetting, 7000 edible chocolate Oscar statuettes, covered in gold dust, the stars get to take home.

I’d really like to go to that ball.

A Date with Oscar
If only I could go to the Ball

One woman who does get to go, and often, is Meryl Streep. She holds the record for number of nominations as actor and has won the coveted statue three times.

And, in 2018, she’s been nominated again, this time for her portrayal of another real woman (her last Oscar win was for Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady). Katharine Graham was the first female publisher/owner of a major American newspaper, the Washington Post. A woman I’d not heard of before; who exhibited real courage at a time of male dominance, against an all-powerful antagonist, Nixon’s US Government.

It was a no-brainer, I just had to see THE POST.

The film didn’t disappoint. A thrilling suspense. A drama with high stakes. An edge of the seat story with a link to that other Nixon exposé. The only downside; Streep’s performance, for me, had too many echoes of her Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada. Not that that’s a bad thing. Both films are rainy day, easy re-watchers.

The first Oscar ceremony was on the 16th May 1929. King George V was on the throne in the UK and Herbert Hoover was president of the United States. The Wall Street crash happened in October and the great depression started.

And homosexuality was illegal. Decriminalisation wasn’t until 1967 in the UK, and It’s almost hard to imagine that only 50 years ago it was illegal for a man to love another man. A situation that forced secrecy and hiding your real self. The first gay-related film to win and Oscar was Midnight Cowboy (1969). Probably one of the break-through male love stories was Brokeback Mountain which won for Best director but not best picture. It wasn’t until 2017 that a LGBT film won the best picture category – Moonlight.

So, in some ways its early days for LGBT films and still many are acted by heterosexual actors.

I really enjoyed Moonlight and I was expecting to see a beautiful coming of age gay-love-story in CALL ME BY YOUR NAME. However, whilst the setting was stunning, the lifestyle amorous and the acting impressive, I came away from the film feeling slightly alarmed that I had watched something sleazy. Instead of a sensual love story, I saw a young boy (aged 17 in the film, 22 in real life but looked to me about 14) being seduced by a much older looking man (24 in the film, 31 in real life and looked 35). This age gap was emphasised by the very slim frame of Timothée Chalamet compared to the buff Armie Hammer. I also disliked the excessively long last-shot, showing Elio’s pain after a distressing phone call, while life went on around him. The director wanted us to see Elio’s anguish but I couldn’t help thinking how odd it was of the parents not to realise their son was upset. We were told, during the father’s soliloquy, they knew of the gay relationship. I did not like this film but I’m glad I saw it.

And I couldn’t help wondering if a film showing a male actor who looked 35 in a love affair with a 14-year-old looking girl would get an Oscar nomination for best picture.

A Date with Oscar
Find the places where the films are being shown

Oh, wait a minute, there’s PHANTOM THREAD. A romance story between a middle-aged man (a famous couturier) and a woman of about 25 (possibly a refugee). This film had an unexpected twist which shook me. I couldn’t quite believe what I was watching. ‘Did she just…’ I said to my friend. ‘Not sure,’ she replied. It would be too much of a spoiler to say what happened but it was unexpected. In the end this dark tale, with it’s strange comedic twists, was less of a love story and more of a woman taking control of her life and deciding she was not going to let the man ruin it for her.

Clever but not sure I’d watch it again.

Another woman who takes control of her life is Eliza in THE SHAPE OF WATER. She falls in love with a sea-creature found in the Amazon who is worshiped as a god. Set in the height of the cold-war this film has a lot going for it as a period piece and a reminder of the espionage/space race between the US and Russia. Although I enjoyed watching the sublime Sally Hawkins I didn’t love the film as much as I expected to – the film does not live up to the hype. For starters the opening scene had a feel of Titanic and much of the story echoed past films. Was that the intention? A sort-of-ode to Hollywood – with a huge dose of ET for adults. There’s a dance scene reminiscent of La La Land and the ending for me was Splash. But my real problem with this film was its believability. We see evidence of a violent sea creature with the blood dripping hand the bitten off hands of the bully Head of Security. A short while later we see our mute heroine, who has had only one brief glimpse of the creature, sit on the edge of an open pool and peel an egg for the creature. Wasn’t she scared he would bite off her fingers too? And why was ‘the asset’ not being guarded anyway? How come the scientists weren’t watching him, assessing him, caring for him? Tooooo contrived for me. And, how come Elisa, a cleaner, knew the security code for the room anyway? Surely not! Further into the film, when the creature has been rescued from the evil security head he helps himself to a cat, having been left alone in a flat. A few scenes later he is sitting nicely at a table eating with Elisa. Sorry, but I stopped believing in this story very early on and at one point looked at my watch to see if it was nearly over. Some friends have loved this film. Not one that would get my vote.

Rule 4: Don’t listen to the hype or reviews – make up your own mind

On the other hand, a film I did enjoy watching was LADY BIRD. This mother-daughter relationship delivers two outstanding performances. Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird) and Laurie Metcalf (the mother and a nurse) interact with such ferocious interchanges that we begin to see when an argument is brewing. In this beautifully directed story, the 17-year-old Lady Bird, Christine to her parents, flips between loving and hating her mother, her family’s low financial situation and her friends. She doesn’t see her mother’s ‘behind the scenes’ protection – she’s asleep when a dress is altered to fit. This coming-of-age story had parallels in my own life so perhaps I was happy to let the story flow without a dramatic climax, although I did wonder if some serious harm was going to happen to our young heroine towards the end. There was humour that had me laughing out loud and I came away feeling Greta Gerwig deserved her best film and best director dominations. Token Woman she is not.

I’ve had so much fun seeing all these best picture nominated films I’m going to make it an annual event.

And, having seen all nine Oscar nominated films my vote for Best Picture would go to THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI

A Date with Oscar
My Best Picture Oscar choice

The Moral of the Date: Even if you don’t go to the cinema often use the Oscars as an excuse. It makes you feel current.


Many thanks to Lynne, Lyndsey, Maya-Jane, Pam & Brian for coming on these dates with me.


Dates completed: 18/60

Next: Oscar night

Follow me to see what happened.

Learn about Macbeth at www.spearean.co.uk








A date with a Religious Icon of a Place

My mission was to go on 60 dates with friends & family to celebrate my 60th birthday.


When you come to celebrate a milestone birthday it’s inevitable that you think back over the years and to the friends who have been with you on a large part of your life’s journey. These are the friends who’ve become sacred to you, so what better than to organise a date to a holy place.

Anne and I first met as students in 1972, on a train from Sweden to the UK. When we went through Cologne later that night we shared the wonder of the illuminated-green cathedral, glowing in mythic splendour, with its two gothic towers looming high over the city. We made a promise to come back to visit the cathedral.

Forty-two years later, as one of my 60 dates, we managed it.

A date with a Religious Icon of a Place (or two)
A magical view of Gothic Splendor Photocredit: Jason Mrachina

Rule 1: See if there is something you shared years before as young people you could revisit as a celebratory date.


Cologne Cathedral, Germany

Cologne Cathedral (Kölner Dom) did not disappoint. Overlooking the Rhine, its construction began in 1248 but was not completed until 1880, due to a break of 400 years when building work stopped. One of the facts we were told on the English guided tour.

Advance research had pre-warned us that tourists are not allowed past a certain point during services of worship. As it turned out, the guided tour allowed us special access to the resting place of the remains of the three Magi, the three wise men of the Christmas nativity story. I felt a bit sorry for the other tourists as the gate to the inner choir, behind the medieval high altar, was unlocked and our little group filed in to gaze in awe at the golden shrine while they were kept out.

A date with a Religious Icon of a Place (or two)
The Shrine of the Three Magi

We were told that because of these relics, Cologne Cathedral was considered an important place of pilgrimage.

Twenty thousand visitors a day!

It was difficult not to be impressed and to enjoy thinking the bones of Melchior, Balthazar, and Jasper are resting in such glorious splendour. Gold filigree panels set with precious stones, gold and silver embossed figures, cameos and enamels. A masterpiece of adoration.

It made me wonder which one of the magi brought which of the three gifts of gold, frankincense and Myrrh. I made a mental note to look it up. *

Rule 2: Before you go, research the best way to see the religious site and book tickets if need be.

After such an intense educating couple of hours it became essential to sit and stare at the outside of the gothic masterpiece, drinking a glass of German wine (or beer) while doing so.

A date with a Religious Icon of a Place (or two)
With Anne at a café in the Cathedral Square

Rule 3: Don’t rush away from such a sacred history. Enjoy the outside as much as the inner magical bliss.

 *Jasper brings myrrh, Melchior frankincense, and Balthazar gold.


Mont St-Michel, France 

My next Religious icon date was again with two friends who’d been on the long journey with me, my school friend Pam and our university friend Swati. Despite knowing them for 50 and 40 years respectively the three of us had never been away together. That was about to change as we set off by car, travelling through the tunnel and along the French coast on our date to Mont St-Michel in Northern France.

A date with a Religious Icon of a Place (or two)
The first view of the Abbey

The first sight of the Benedictine Abbey sitting high on a rock in the distance turned us into seven-year-olds with cries of ‘look, look’ and ‘are we nearly there?’

Up close it’s even more impressive. How did they build the Abbey on the top of that high rock?

We had decided to stay in a small auberge on the island itself which meant lugging cases from the car park, via shuttle bus across the causeway, up the sloping street to our rooms. It was worth it to be able to walk around at night when most of the tourists had gone.

A date with a Religious Icon of a Place (or two)
A breathtaking view at night

The next morning we climbed the 350 steps to the top of the rock and the 11th century Abbey entrance, stopping frequently to take in the views across the bay, and for me to get my breath back. A determination had taken hold – I was not going to miss out just because I wasn’t very fit. Even if it meant being lectured by my two friends on the need to exercise more.

Rule 4: If access is difficult, take it slowly so you don’t miss out.

We decided to take the audio tour of the Abbey, timing it so we could attend the service by the ‘Brothers and Sisters of the Jerusalem Community’.

The three of us, one a church-going Christian C of E, one agnostic and one who says ‘science is her religion’ bagged seats in the front row. Worth the twenty-minute wait to hear the harmonising voices chant the opening of the service. Such was the beauty of the angelic voices it was easy to forget it was a time of worship and not a concert.

Our naughty schoolgirl moment came when, as we listened to the Holy Communion service in French, I realised we had got to the ‘Peace’ and ‘let us offer one another the sign of peace’. As I placed a hand on each of my friends with the words forming on my lips, Swati the doctor, jumped into action ready to resuscitate me, thinking I was having a heart attack (after all those steps) and Pam spun round to catch me, sure I was passing out.

‘I was just saying peace be with you,’ I said before the three of us collapsed into giggles, earning disapproving looks from others in the congregation.

A date with a Religious Icon of a Place (or two)
Pam, Me and Swati on our way to the Abbey

We celebrated later with a Kir Royale in true French tradition.

As we drove away, after two days together, we had covered such topics as feeling old, looking old, knee supports, insomnia and whether it would have been better to have caught the ferry instead of the long drive. Such a change from decades earlier when the conversations had been of parties, boys and forging ahead in our careers.

But we did take one last look at the Mont and the Abbey which, from a distance, seemed to be floating on the sea and we agreed we’d had a great time together. And that we should do it again.

On the way home, I decided I should start ‘collecting cathedrals’.

The Moral of the Date: Even if you are not religious these UNESCO sacred sites are like special friends. See them before it’s too late.


With many thanks to Anne, Pam and Swati for coming on these dates with me.


9/60 dates completed

Next: A date near and about at home

Follow me to see what happened.





Dating with a Chocoholic (for my 60 dates)

My mission was to go on 60 dates with friends & family to celebrate my 60th birthday.

When I was fourteen I remember wanting a McVities chocolate digestive so badly I formulated a plan to sneak downstairs when everyone was asleep and steal one from the packet my dad had bought earlier in the day. Each of us four kids had been given two biscuits after tea but I just couldn’t get that sweet, creamy flavour of chocolate out of my mouth. I wanted more. And there were at least six left in the packet. All I had to do was wait until everyone was asleep.

I got caught. By mum. Just as I bit into that delicious yumminess.

Whilst my teenage night raid was unsuccessful, the feeling that a McVities chocolate digestive was the best biscuit in the world has never left me. (Full story in my book Wonderful Things)

Fast forward another 46 years and I’m formulating a plan to celebrate my 60th birthday by going on 60 ‘dates’ with loved ones doing things we enjoy – so chocolate had to be in there somewhere.

One date? Well – maybe two or three.

I considered the options.


1. The obvious – eat lots

But where? It didn’t take me long to find the Hotel Chocolat restaurant in London called Rabot 1745.

In 2010, two British guys decided to open a hotel and restaurant on a cacao plantation in St Lucia and ethically produce high quality chocolate. Their menu was all about cacao, dishing up exquisite delights like cacao-nib encrusted fillet of pork and white chocolate mash.

They then thought, wouldn’t it be a good idea to bring such flavours to London (and Leeds)? Who said men don’t like chocolate as much as women?

So where better for a chocoholic date?

Date with a Chocoholic
The Praline Soother at Rabot 1745

How can a girl resist a restaurant that makes chocolate its gooey centre? How could I fight against my senses clamouring to taste a Praline Soother, a vodka and coconut milk, white chocolate and praline blend? (My mouth waters just typing the ingredients).

I invited two cousins, June and Lorraine. We hadn’t seen each other for over a year, so once we started talking we didn’t stop – well only to savour the gourmet chocolate treats.

We started with the cocktail and decided it was far too yummy to stick with just one.

I wanted to move straight to dessert. The Rabot mousse selection, a trio made with cacao from the Rabot estate, 65% Supermilk, 70% dark and 90% dark chocolate. (Such a terrible habit to look at the dessert menu before choosing the main course).

But chocolate isn’t all about the sweet. I decided to try the seared cod with coconut milk and cacao butter and very tasty it was too.

The mousse didn’t disappoint and by the time we rolled out of the restaurant we had well and truly boosted our serotonin levels, improved our mood and reduced fatigue. So much so, we just had to explore Borough Market – looking for more food to buy.

Date with a Chocoholic
Borough Market

Although they say it was established in 1756, I was amazed to discover the market has existed, in one form or another since 1014, the time of the Anglo-Saxons and the Viking invaders and my favourite time in history. Our English king then was Ethelred the Unready. The markets position at one end of the bridge was the same then as it is today, although the bridge then would probably have been wooden, possibly constructed as a defence parapet to prevent attacks from those pesky Vikings sailing up the Thames.

When we finally said our goodbyes later that evening, we all agreed the date had been a huge success and had definite health benefits.


2. Walk it off

What better way to ease the conscience – to stick the nagging, sweet genie back in his box. Eat Chocolate and walk at the same time. Guilty conscience gone.

I find Chocolate Ecstasy Tours. They guarantee a tour full of chocolate. Not just any chocolate but fine chocolate.

Date with a Chocoholic
A real find for the Chocoholic

We meet in Ebury Street at the chocolate shop of William Curley* (not the inventor of the Curly Wurly), a four times winner of the ‘Best British Chocolatier’ by the Academy of Chocolate. He has even won a gold medal at the Culinary Olympics.

Who knew such things existed?

I decided to invite Pam, a friend of fifty years who likes chocolate and whose hobby is rambling.

It was a cold day and the molten hot chocolate was a welcome start. As we drank the rich liquid we were given a lesson on making of fine chocolates and then offered a sample. My taste buds positively sang from the flavour of fresh velvety ganache. Not content with just one, I just had to buy an orange marzipan to take with me. A decision I would regret by the end of the tour. I ate it on the walk to the next stop.

Date with a Chocoholic
Tasting Chocolate on the Chelsea Tour

The morning melts into one long gooey ramble through the streets of Chelsea where we learn more about the chocolate process, eat 100% nibs, pass The Royal Court Theatre and the statue of a young Mozart, who apparently stayed in London in 1764 where he composed his first two symphonies.

The tour lives up to its promise – we are chocced out by the end. Something I thought not possible.

Date with a Chocoholic
A Wow of a Chocolate

3. Add it to your beauty regime

When I was in my teens I was warned not to binge on chocolate because it could cause acne. It never worried me as I rarely, if ever, got spots. Thanks mum. Still I remember chocolate took the rap for bad skin. Thankfully that myth has been scotched. The cocoa bean is full of antitoxins and can be anti-ageing especially when applied to the skin.

So a chocolate massage was a definite opportunity for a date. A luxury massage designed to make me and a friend feel refreshed and rejuvenated.

I invited Monique, who spends her days working for a charity, feeling she deserved being wrapped up in chocolate for a couple of hours.

First it was a cocoa butter scrub, both moisturising and nourishing. Then I was massaged with an indulgent ganache of cocoa, blended with essential oils. My nostrils flared with the added bonus whiff of chocolaty smell. Monique says she drifted off into a chocolate cloud, full of sweet dreams.

Date with a Chocoholic
Monique and Jasmin ready for their chocolate massage

The only downside; having to wash it all off later but that’s nothing compared to the unforgettable assault on the senses.

4. Need an excuse?

No true chocoholic needs an excuse to indulge but if you’re looking for cacao ways to create, there are many courses including a Chocolate and Macaroons Masterclass.

There is also the delightfully indulgent Chocolate Hotel in Bournemouth.

And then there is always a chocolate Easter egg hunt which could involve young children in the family.


Moral of the date: Chocolate is good for your health and wellbeing. Eating it is both fun and educational

With many thanks to June, Lorraine, Pam and Monique who endured these dates with me.


Dates completed = 6/60

Next – a date with history.

Follow me to find out what happened.


*William Curely shop has changed hands and is R. Chocolate now.















How to Date with your Favourite TIPPLE

My mission is to go on 60 dates with friends & family to celebrate my 60th birthday.

I’ve always subscribed to the view that lifting a glass of wine to my lips time and time again is exercise enough. Hitting 60 not only reinforces this belief, it also gives me an idea for a date.

I can’t remember when I decided Puligny Montrachet was my favourite of all favourite wines but somewhere along the timeline I did. So what better way to celebrate my 60th than to dedicate a date to this delicious, fruity, marizpanny, wine? To go to where it’s made and taste it hot of the vine, so to speak.

How to date with your favourite tipple
A bottle of my favourite wine

I ask three girl-friends to come with me and find them, despite the costs, to be surprisingly willing. It’s not until we get there that one confesses she doesn’t like white wine. Oops!

Rule 1: Check your friends like your favourite tipple.

The four of us are giggly, like runaway schoolgirls as we catch a flight to Lyon and train/taxi to our hotel. The 17th Century building is a converted Maison de Maître in the village of Puligny Montrachet, owned by respected winemaker Olivier LEFLAIVE. The first thing we do is order a bottle. Yes – before we’ve unpacked. We get some odd looks until we realise we shouldn’t pronounce the ‘t’ in Montrachet.

Rule 2: Check how to pronounce your favourite wine.

We choose the cheapest bottle at 42 euros. With it comes bread, cheese and cold meats. It doesn’t take us long to order a second by which time we are a merry bunch of ladies.

The next morning I’ve booked us on a tour of the vineyard and a wine tasting lunch. We are escorted by Charles (pronounced Sharl), a young Frenchman with a-come-to-bed accent. He tells us how they grow and harvest their vines. How their micro-climate makes a difference between producing a basic Bourgogne or a Grand Cru. How they prune differently, 8-10 branches are left on the Bourgogne but only 6 on the Grand Cru, helping to improve the vegetation when the vine fruits again. He tells us their wine is best drunk after 5 years as the acidity is reduced and the flavour developed.

I’m feeling thirsty.

In the winery Olivier Leflaive himself shows us how they make their special wines. The fermentation tanks, the piles of oak barrels, the expert taster know-how.

I’m listening, learning but yearning for the tasting lunch. I can’t help thinking my friends might feel the same.

Rule 3: Book a wine tasting lunch. It’s cheaper.

We opt for the 9 wine tasting menu. Yes – NINE different glasses of wine. My arm muscles are going to get a serious workout. I think about my bedroom on the first floor and wonder if I will make it up the stairs later.

The list comprises of a basic Bourgogne to prepare the palate, three young white wines, three grand cru white wines and two reds which pleases my friend who doesn’t drink white. I notice, however, she joins in the tasting with as much gusto as the rest of us. I’m thinking we might have a convert in our midst.

We are instructed to taste the wine and tip away the rest. We all do that with the basic Bourgogne before someone says, ‘isn’t that a bit of a waste?’ We all agree. We are eating lunch with it after all.

Rule 4: Never tip any wine away during a tasting, think of the exercise.

At the end of four courses, we order double portions of dessert, a pear in red wine with a crumble topping. Nobody really wants coffee but we sit in the courtyard and tell favourite jokes. Laughing has a hysterical, high-pitched quality to it. For a while we become serious and talk of regrets. There are tears before we all decide to rest. I fall asleep in minutes.

Rule 5: Make sure you book accommodation where it’s easy to go and lie down after the wine tasting.

The next day we are greeted by a cloudless blue sky and taxi it to Beaune, the centre of the Burgundy wine region. We tour the Hôtel-Dieu Museum, a former hospital and stand in homage before the Altarpiece. The Jugement Dernier by Rogier van der Weyden is 9 large oak panels painted in oil, with stunning imagery brought to life. The feeling of awe lasts as we board the Disney-esque Visiotrain for a tour of the city. Then it’s find a restaurant, for lunch, and more wine.

Rule 6: Do something cultural if only to prove you’re not total philistines.

By the time we get to day 3 we have worked our way up the wine menu, ordering a bottle of Puligny Montrachet Premier Cru costing 140 euros. We feel obliged to taste the greeny-gold wine with its luxurious fragrant flavour to complete our education.

The hotel offers us four bikes. I haven’t ridden in years but manage to get on it (just) but my feet don’t reach the ground so I yell for the others to follow. I’m too scared to stop so my legs peddle furiously all the way to Meursault, where I find a high curb, allowing me to park. After the 4km charge, it’s necessary to find a café to rest.

‘As we’re here we should try a Meursault wine,’ I say.

Everyone agrees and we savour the nutty-butteriness of the wine. Much less fragrant than the Puligny-Montrachet I say, but very enjoyable.

It’s a jolly cycle ride back and we all arrive safely at the hotel front door. I feel thinner. Colour roses my cheeks and my eyes are bright with laughter.

Moral of the date: Drinking wine is good exercise.

On our 9th glass at the end of the wine tasting lunch

How to date with your favourite tipple
Jasmin, Paddy, Gillian & Raquel


With many thanks to Gillian, Paddy and Raquel who generously gave their time and money to join me on this wonderful date. And guess what? We’re going to do it again – to a red wine region of France.

Cote du Rhone here we come.


Dates completed = 3/60

Next – a food date.

Follow me to find out what happened.

Please always drink responsibly.




How to plan an Awesome 60th Birthday

Everyone knows you have to celebrate a milestone birthday with great panache but creating an adventure with lasting memories can be a bit daunting, not to mention expensive.


So it’s good to think outside the birthday box and plan something different. My style, my idea was to go on 60 dates with time as the only present.


It’s hard not to laugh when using the word date. Having been married for over 30 years it’s a long time since I ‘dated’. Of course these are not dates in the accepted sense but time spent with a loved person to celebrate my 60th birthday.

But I want to do things well so I look up the rules for dating.


What are my expectations for these dates?

Easy – A day out and a good old chinwag.


How to date?

Good question. Should I aim for the date to be free? That means either I pay all costs or we find something to do that doesn’t involve more than a few pounds or a half tank of petrol.


Should it be overseas? Who can afford to commit such funds to me? Or time? Everyone is so busy these days. An overseas date is really a big ask.

So maybe the best idea is to make a list of places and costs and match friends to them.

IPad to the rescue.


Look your best?

Not easy.

My most recent run in with the ‘ill-heath Beelzebub’ was breast cancer. Whilst it was dealt with successfully, part of the legacy is dark circles under my eyes and weight gain. If I’m being honest, I’ve always battled with my weight so maybe preparing for the 60 dates is a good excuse to diet again.

Note to self: Book a facial. Invest in new make-up. Change my hair style. Buy a new dress that fits. Am I the only woman who buys a dress with the self-promise to fit into it soon – only for it to languish in the wardrobe?


Be prepared for rejection

Some friends won’t be able to make it but I’ve never let the fear of rejection stop me doing things.

I was once a senior woman in Glaxo (now GSK) when it was still very much a boys club.

Doctors told my chances of having a baby were almost nil: my son is now 24.

Yes, I can cope with rejection.


So with the rules of dating firmly established I bundle the 60 dates into ten groups.


  1. Food and drink – of course!

What are your favourites? Ever thought of visiting the places where they originated? Or doing something to celebrate its value in your life.


  1. Ancient Britain – with an interest in eleventh century history it’s a must.

I love the stories of the Anglo-Saxons, the Celts and the Norse. I wonder if there are places I could visit?

How to plan an Awesome 60th Birthday
A sample of my bookshelf – I have another 12 like it. Obsessed or what?



  1. Out and about near home – it’s so easy to forget what’s on your doorstep.


  1. Exhibitions and learning – you’re never too old to learn.

When I was working I never had time for art, never had the energy to walk round an exhibition. I was always worried about deadlines and the next product launch. Then it was raising a child, renovating an old house. Perhaps I could correct that with my dates.

Do I have a favourite painting? Not yet.


  1. Fake or Fortune – have I got something valuable, has my friend?

I watch Antiques Roadshow every week but I’ve never been – so if I had something to take? What about a car boot sale? I’ve certainly got enough junk, if I can be bothered to get up that early.


  1. Films and the Oscars – I love all the glitz and glamour.

Wouldn’t it be fun to see all the films nominated for best film in one year? Debate which film would get your Oscar vote. To stay up, watch the ceremony live on TV, glamming up first and not forgetting a bottle of pink Moet (or two). Which of my friends would be able to stay awake?


  1. Theatre – the excitement of live theatre from Shakespeare to modern.

Ok – I confess – I’m a Macbeth anorak. I’ve seen over fifty productions and I’m a self-proclaimed expert. It got me hooked on 11th century history. But apart from Macbeth, there are many other plays I’ve yet to see.


  1. Natural Britain – I’m a useless gardener but I like looking.


  1. Wonders of the World.

I have two books. One given to me in 1978, at which time I vowed to visit all 70 wonders. Then in recent years a new book was published with only a 50% overlap. Yippee – more UNESCO World Heritage places. I yearn to see Pompeii, Cologne Cathedral, the Winter Palace in St Petersburg, Ephesus – and more.


  1. Something different – there has to be one really fluid category.


Will my friends and family be game for this?

Only one way to find out.


Follow me to see what happened.




How to Celebrate a Milestone Birthday

What is awesome?

A word so bandied about it’s become a casual reference to something meaning ‘more than good’. I’ve long deplored its use as descriptive shorthand for a World Wonder but getting to the age of 60 really is awesome. Or it should be.

Sixty is very much ‘Me Time’ or is it?

Some of my friends retired. Others, having paid off their mortgages and with children settled, decided to travel to far-flung destinations. One friend enrolled on a degree course. Another joined ramblers.

So how should I celebrate this momentous moment? A Grand Party? Did that at FORTY. Lots of friends dressed up and drank champagne. It was jolly but the average length of my conversation with each guest was about five minutes. Considering, talking with friends is one of my greatest joys, the party was inevitably a bit of a let-down. It was over in a flash with the credit card having gained a few more zeros on the debt line.

A party for my 60th would just be a repeat: Where new friends would mingle with those I had known for twenty, thirty, forty years or more.