The arts can lift your spirits

I’m just realizing that right now I am blogging daily, I am on a seven-day-streak today! I am surprised at myself but don’t get used to it, I fully expect that any day now I’ll be going down some rabbit hole again and will be disappearing off the face of the blogging-earth again for days on end… Oh, and a little fun fact: yesterday’s post was number 666 on this blog. ūüėą666Anyway, those were just little points of order, now on to what I actually came on here to blog about.

All this Corona news can be overwhelming: the rapid rise in cases, the people dying, hospitals that can’t cope with the amount of sick people needing care and then there’s all the information thrown out there to keep track of. We have limited our news intake to 2-3 times a day instead of 24/7 because we also need to keep our sanity and we don’t believe any “tips” on Twitter or Instagram – if I want to know something I go to our National Institute for Public Health for information. We stay informed, we do what we can and then we try to keep sane as well by doing nice things.

In addition to the pressures of corona, I have also been working a lot, it has become almost stressful. So, I’m taking a little breather today, just doing the absolutely necessary stuff, blogging in between, and taking the afternoon off. Luckily there are lovely things happening to keep spirits up. Yesterday, for instance, The National Theatre in the UK announced they will be streaming plays on YouTube. It’s free but I will be making a donation because the arts really are so important and I’m so pleased that they’re doing this. I am especially excited that from April 9th they’ll be showing Jane Eyre. I saw that play a few years ago in Leeds and loved it. It will be a different cast from when I saw it but I’m already excited to watch it again!

Jane Eyre (12a)

Patrick Stewart is reading a Shakespeare sonnet a day over on his Twitter account. The one he read on day two was especially heartwarming, maybe because of the twinkling in his eyes. He’s up to 5 or 6 now as I type this, scroll through his account for a look-see.

Sam Neill’s Twitter is heartwarming during the best of times and even more so now. I saw this today and it made me smile from ear to ear. Not just the delivery, I love the gentleness in his face too.

And it looks like my plans for the weekend are taking shape as well. Drunk Austen is doing a Jane Austen con online this weekend. There are some great events scheduled, I think I just may pop in! ūüôā


And to end it all on a smile, here’s Lin-Manuel Miranda doing a David Bowie from Labyrinth bit.

This makes me think that I’d love to see¬†Hamilton on live streaming theatre somewhere, I always hear it’s amazing.

BBC’s Pride & Prejudice – 20 years!

I was celebrating Colin Firth’s birthday here two weeks ago and now it’s time to celebrate the BBC’s 1995 adaptation of Pride & Prejudice!

20 years ago today, on September 24th 1995, I eagerly tuned in to BBC One to see what they had made of the latest adaptation of one of my favourite novels: Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen. I had at that time only ever seen one screen adaptation of the novel, the Laurence Olivier one, and I didn’t much care for it. So, I sat down to watch on that Sunday evening and the first episode opened with Lizzie Bennet walking outside and watching two horsemen ride in the distance: Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy…

I immediately took to Lizzie and her sisters, Mrs. Bennet was a hoot and Mr. Bennet was her tormentor, oh what a joy to watch!


And¬† then… Mr. Darcy appeared in all his brooding glory!


Lizzie took an instant dislike to him and I was sold. We saw the introduction of Mr. Bingley…


…and his acerbic sister Caroline who forever was seeking the attention of Mr. Darcy (like here when he is admiring Lizzie Bennet’s ‘fine eyes’ from afar)…


And the episode ended with Lizzie staying over at Netherfield and her head-on verbal collision with Mr. Darcy. Better than any action movie out there! That first hour was over all too soon! I fevered towards the next episode, counting the days, hours and minutes.

The second episode brought the ridiculous Mr. Collins…


… the charming but not so nice Mr. Wicked… er… Wickham…


… and the ball at Netherfield where Lizzie was obliged to dance with Mr. Darcy despite having vowed never to do so! That dance scene…. ah!


This scene is a word-duel between Lizzie and Darcy with advances and parries and jabs, all wrapped nicely into a dance. The timing is so perfect, the tension building higher and higher between them… I was breathless and in awe (still am to this day) of how good this is!

The third episode ended with Darcy proposing to Lizzie. “In vain I have struggled,” he said, “it will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you!”…


And the episode ended with her refusal to marry him. Understandably so, but heartbreaking nonethess…

And then something awful happened: I had to travel to Germany for two weeks! I had a temp job working in the library of the international organization my dad was the general secretary of and I had work to do there! I needed the money and it paid well, which was nice, but there was a huge downside: there was no BBC in Germany! I programmed the VCR at home (these were the times before DVD, let alone recordable DVD…) and kept my fingers crossed that it would tape properly (I had had mishaps before). The two weeks were loooong, I was so desperate to see what happened next. It was just awful to be left with a refused-proposal-cliffhanger! Finally, after two weeks, I came home again and I immediately binge-watched episodes four and five.

Episode four had Darcy explaining himself in a letter to Lizzie and yes, it also had that wet shirt scene with the nipples!


At the end of this episode, Lizzie and Darcy were finally starting to find to each other…


Then came episode five, with the beautiful long looks of love exchanged by Darcy and Lizzie as Georgiana Darcy played the piano…. sigh…



But evil Mr Wickham just had to spoil it all…


“I’m afraid you’ve long been desiring my absence,” Mr Darcy said as he took his leave from Lizzie, and my heart broke…

The last (sixth) episode I was again able to watch “live” and because I had binge watched episodes four and five only a day before; the wait for the last episode hadn’t been long… I was on tenterhooks and even though I know how the story ends, I still wondered, ‘how will¬†this end?’

After all the trouble with Wickham and Lydia was solved and after Lizzie found out that Mr. Darcy was the rescuer, he and Bingley came to the visit the Bennets again…


And Lizzie and Darcy couldn’t help themselves, they had to sneak looks at each other…

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But before the happy end could happen, first Darcy’s aunt, Lady Catherine DeBourgh came for a visit. Lady Catherine demanded from Lizzie a promise that she would never marry Darcy. Lizzie, however, refused to make such a promise…


“Are the shades of Pemberley to be thus polluted?” Lady Catherine asked in desperation. Classic! And well, yes they are! Lizzie’s refusal to promise anything finally gave Darcy the courage to propose to her again…

“You are too generous to trifle with me,” he said, “If your feelings are what they were last April, tell me so at once. My affections and wishes are unchanged… but one word from you will silence me on this subject forever.”


“My feelings are so different,” she replied, “in fact, they are quite the opposite!”

And, to boot, after a heart to heart talk, he called her his “Dearest. loveliest Elizabeth…” with such a look of love that I melted… vlcsnap-2015-09-23-23h25m02s624

So, in the end, Jane and Lizzie married the men of their dreams…


And after the wedding there was finally a Darcy and Lizzie kiss…





Ahhh…. Ok, admittedly, that kiss lacked the passion this one had (9 years later)…


… but I think nothing can beat the North & South kiss of Richard Armitage and Daniela Denby-Ashe! In my humble opinion it’s the best on screen kiss ever. But I digress… Lizzie and Darcy kissed! And that is more than they ever did in the book.

I already loved the book but after seeing the adaptation I became obsessed with it and with the BBC series, and yes, like so very many women who had seen this, I fell head over heels in love with Colin Firth! He and Jennifer Ehle had perfectly portrayed Darcy and Lizzie (Jennifer Ehle won a BAFTA for it and I still haven’t forgiven BAFTA for not giving Colin Firth one for this role…)

Today, 20 years on, Colin Firth is still a great favorite of mine and I still adore this version of Pride & Prejudice; for me it remains the best version ever. The 2005 Pride & Prejudice fiilm with Keira Knightley and Matthew McFadyen was alright but for me McFadyen could not hold a candle to Colin Firth’s Darcy. And the rest of the characters were fine but just not as good…

If you love Pride & Prejudice as well, you may enjoy a YouTube webseries called “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries” which places the story of Pride & Prejudice in this century, this decade even! Lizzie Bennet is a grad student and one day meets a Mr. Bing Lee and a Mr. William Darcy at a friend’s wedding…It’s 100 hundred episodes that average about 3 to 4 minutes each. For me, the second best Pride & Prejudice adaptation out there…

Yes, I love Pride & Prejudice and the 1995 adaptation was key to it all… Thank you BBC and Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle and everyone who was involved in making it!

Favourite Christmas movies….

So, Christmas is upon us and as a lover of movies, I like to indulge in an occasional Christmas(sy) movie. Here is a totally biased list of the ones I like best:

10. When Harry Met Sally (1989)

Romantic comedy with Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan about Harry and Sally knowing each other for years, finally becoming good friends but being confronted with the question whether men and women can be good friends without sex getting in the way… Not really a Christmas film but there are a few Christmas time scenes and it ends on New Year’s Eve, so it’s on my list. Includes funny and to the point observations of how men and women see things differently when it comes to love and sex.

9. About a Boy (2002)

With Hugh Grant, Nicholas Hoult and Toni Colette. Heartwarming story of an unlikely friendship between an immature man who once scored a one-time hit and a nerdy boy who is afraid to end up alone if his depressive mother should commit suicide. The definition of family becomes broader than just blood ties, nicely shown at the end of the film set at Christmas.

8. The Shop Around the Corner (1940)

A beautiful old film with James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan. From IMDB: “Two employees at a gift shop can barely stand one another without realizing they’re falling in love though the post as each other’s anonymous pen pal.” Lovely sweet film, almost all set at the shop, the latter part set during the Christmas season, with nice supporting characters as well. This was the inspiration for “You’ve Got Mail” (1998) with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan which is a lovely romantic movie too.

7. The Apartment (1960)

With Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine. Another ‘small’ movie about a man hoping to rise on the career ladder and loaning his apartment to his boss for flings but the man falls for the boss’s vulnerable girlfriend and saves her life at Christmas time when she tries to commit suicide. Underplayed and beautfiul scenes when Lemmon and MacLaine are alone together in the apartment and get to know each other.

6. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

THE classic Christmas movie, I guess, and it’s good. Set at Christmas, with James Stewart and Donna Reed, about a man depressed about all of his financial troubles. An angel shows him what life would have been like had he not been around… and he learns a thing or two about what really matters in life.

5. While You Were Sleeping (1995)

A lonely young woman through circumstances pretends to be enaged to a slick rich businessman that she has been in love with from afar but she doesn’t fool his brother. I’m a sucker for a good romantic comedy and this is a good one set around Christmas, about the yearning for love and the warmth of a family.

4. Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001)

Renee Zellweger and Colin Firth. A romantic comedy and retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, one of my favourite books! And have I already mentioned that I love Colin Firth? Beginning and end of the movie set during Christmas, so that makes it a Christmas movie for me. ūüôā And really, how can you miss with an embarrassing moment like this…

 Colin Firth Christmas jumper2Colin Firth Christmas jumper1

3. The Vicar of Dibley – The Handsome Stranger and The Vicar in White episodes (2006)

OK, so not a movie but a two part TV series finale, also set around Christmas. One of my favourite comedy series about a woman village vicar and then Richard Armitage ends up being the love interest in the finale! Especially the first episode of this finale, “The Handsome Stranger”, is spectacularly funny! From the meeting to the misunderstanding and Geraldine’s fantasy of Harry marrying someone else to one of the absolutely best proposals ever put on film. And: there are references to another Jane Austen novel (Sense & Sensibilty) included! This can not be missed…


2. Love Actually (2003)

The ultimate feel-good film set in the weeks leading up to Christmas about love in all it’s forms. It is so cleverly done, interweaving the characters and stories and with the creme de la creme of British actors! I love all the stories, it’s hard to pick a favourite. Of course, we have Colin Firth falling in love with someone he can’t talk to because of the language difference, and Hugh Grant as PM, Emma Thompson rallying to maintain her marriage to Alan Rickman, Liam Neeson finding a connection to his stepson and encouraging him to get the girl he likes in school, Bill Nighy as the washed up popstar making a comeback, Marin Freeman as stand-in for a porn movie…. need I go on? So brilliant and hugely funny and very touching and warm. Here’s a 10th anniversary picture of some of the cast…


1. The Life of Brian (1979)

So, maybe not generally regarded as a Christmas movie but for me it is. And an Easter movie. To me this is the best comedy of all time and as a parallel to the life of Jesus this is just undeniably brilliant. Best thing Monty Python has ever done. Such classic scenes, from the mix up at the crib in Bethlehem, to the political commentary (“What have the Romans ever done for us?”) and poking fun at Roman leaders and centurions, to making fun of revolutionary groups (The People’s Front of Judea or the Judean People’s Front), poking fun at organised religion and Brian accidentally turning into a leader and telling the people he doesn’t want to be followed and ending with the crucifixion scene.¬† That scene contains one of the best pieces of advice you will ever receive: “Always look on the bright side of life”! Maybe a controversial choice but I don’t care – this movie is laugh-out-loud funny and brilliant in every way.


So, it turns out, Christmas for me isn’t about Santa Claus at all. While I do enjoy a Christmassy movie that adresses the magic of Christmas and believing in the wonder of Santa, those are not the movies I enjoy most. So, what does this top 10 list tell you about me? I guess it says that for me Christmas is about love and family (in the broadest sense of the word) and (dare I say it as a non-religious humanist daughter of a clergyman) it’s about Jesus as well and not taking life too seriously.

Dear John Green,

I am not a teenager (I am a happily married 43 year old mom of two children aged 11 and 9), I do not have cancer or really know anyone closely with that awful disease and I do not particularly want to read sad and emotionally draining books when I have enough other stuff going on in my life. So, what made me pick up your book ‚ÄúThe Fault in our Stars‚ÄĚ? It really all started with Jane Austen.
I am a lover of Jane Austen, have been since my late teens when I finally decided to pick up ‚ÄúPride and Prejudice‚ÄĚ.¬†I fell in love with P&P and subsequently read all of Austen‚Äôs work, loving¬†P&P and Persuasion most (apparently I am a sucker for second chances). Last year around the end of April my love for Jane Austen lead me to a new adaptation of P&P: The Lizzie Bennet Diaries which I totally fell in love with. You can guess where this is going, right? The LBD in time lead me to Hank Green but I did not follow the Hank Green lead for a long¬†while. Then at the beginning of this year, the LBD lead me to a YouTube video of Ashley Clements (Lizzie¬†from The¬†LBD) and Daniel Vincent Gordh (Darcy¬†from The¬†LBD) reading from a book on stage. It was a scene about a teenage couple walking through the Anne Frank House and kissing each other. That¬†held my attention¬†for reasons other than Ashley and Daniel. I‚Äôll come to why that was the case later. The Anne Frank House¬†scene reading lead me to the Vlogbrothers and in getting to know more about the Vlogbrothers I finally discovered you, John Green,¬†and your book “The Fault in our Stars”. I find that the¬†scene in the Anne Frank House is¬†a scene from¬†your book!¬†Over the years I have found many treasures following serendipitous trails like these and this really is my latest treasure find…
As I mentioned at the beginning of my letter I resisted reading the book. I have had a difficult past year and wasn’t looking to add to my sadness by reading a sad book. But the book was beckoning for many reasons: from what I have seen of the Vlogbrothers, I¬†really like¬†you; I also really like Anne Frank; I wonder how the couple in the book¬†ended up kissing in the Anne Frank House;¬†I’m intrigued to see how an American sees Amsterdam; I like a really good love story. My cursor hovered over the Amazon¬†shopping basket¬†button several times but I chickened out each time because I did not want sadness. Then last week I walked into a book store and the book was lying there, right in front of me, begging to be bought. It was like the universe¬†conspired against me and made¬†me pick up that book. And so I did. And I bought it. And I went to our little holiday cottage (where we were staying) to read it. And I could not stop reading as¬†I was sucked in from the first chapter.
What was it that resonated so for me? First of all it was the character of Hazel. She doesn’t want pity and she doesn’t want to leave a mess once she departs this world, she just wants to be.¬†She believes that a life well-lived outside of the spotlight is just as worthy as the life of a well known hero. Everyone counts! It made me identify with a struggle within myself. I remember distinctly that when I was 15 I was crying in the arms of my eldest sister, lamenting the fact that I would never be famous, I would never do great deeds, I would never be a grand hero because I am just not that kind of person. I am not someone who is “out there”, I am not someone with exceptional talents,¬†and now as I grow older I realize I do not have to be. I can make a small difference in the world around me, be good for others, care for others like I do and always have done, and that is enough. It is freeing to find¬†a heroine of a book not seeing herself as¬†a heroine, genuinely not wanting to be a¬†heroine,¬†not even¬†being described in heroic terms, yet she is one.¬†Deep down we all¬†are heroes and maybe, just maybe, in a small way, so am I.
What also really¬†resonated was¬†witnessing the deterioration of a loved one. I am going through that now with my old¬†father who has Parkinson’s disease and is suffering from an onset of dementia. Last year he collapsed at home and since then he has been in a nursing home. He can not live at home anymore and never will again. Of course, this is very different from cancer, but the feeling of helplessness; the pain of seeing someone you love being able to do less and less; the stripping away of everything in their being until they will only become the shadow of what they once were; the fear and pain of losing them;¬†the inevitability of it all: I could identify with that.
Then there was the Anne Frank connection. I read the Anne Frank diary in my early teens, it inspired me to keep my own diary. I have read many many books about her and have been to the Anne Frank House several times. I loved how this book reminds us of the fact that she was just a normal teenager. The kissing scene reiterated the parallels between Hazel, suffering in silence, and Anne, suffering in silence, yet both trying their best to be happy. Anne was a girl and not a monument to be pitied and stared at, just like Hazel.
I was intrigued by the way you describe Amsterdam. While yes, the canals are beautiful, I have never thought of Amsterdam in the romantic way you do and it warms me, makes me think I need to walk through Amsterdam again and try to see it the way you do.
And on top of all of this, I loved the humor in the book, I loved the layers of meaning, the symbolism, the way it is very sad sometimes (yes, I cried several times) but never asks for pity. We learn to live with whatever fate throws at us and make the best of it. And yes, I am also a sucker for a good love story, so that helped too. It is easy to fall in love with Augustus, and with Hazel.
So, thank you. Thank you for this book. I will definitely go back and read it again. Not because of the sadness and because it could make me cry, but because of the no nonsense approach, the idea that we all are heroes, the humor, the warmth, and, gosh, I really do need to get to the bottom of all those layers in the book!
So¬†now, just like 25 years ago when I discovered Jane Austen, I find I have discovered another author I want to read more of! I will go on a new quest to discover¬†your other writings. I think I may start with “Looking for Alaska”…
Yours sincerely and with gratitude,