Wednesday, 30 September 2009

The Power of Yes

To The National to see David Hare's fascinating new piece The Power of Yes subtitled - A playwright seeks to understand the financial crisis. It's a another development in verbatim theatre with Hare himself (played by Anthony Calf) never leaving the stage. From the wings come wave after wave of bankers, politicians and financial experts all with a point of view and a story to tell. Each interview is punctuated with exchanges between Hares and Masa, a Bosnian, twenty three year old former refugee appointed by the Theatre to give the writer a crash course in capitalist economics. An everyman meets an angel encounter, part device to help us keep up and part relief from the front foot assertions of the adversarial money men.

On paper, as Hare pre-empitvely suggests in the initial scenes, the material seems too dry and abstract for a good night out but the enjoyment of the evening comes as the author moves from anger at the reckless greed of the financial sector to, if not sympathy, then some understanding of the importance of self -belief in any profession be it as a playwright or a stock broker and a culpable realisation that although we shouldn't live on faith and optimism alone -many of us try.

On the way are some wonderful lines and insights. John Cruddas explaining that Tony Blair's great strength and weakness is his lack of belief in history borne from a knowledge that only the moment matters. A young financier angry that Hare's generation had had it so good and passed on so little and a Financial Times journalist explaining that bankers believe that money equals intelligence - making them immune to intellectual rigour.

Behind the investigation lies the recurring theme of accountability, touched on in Hare's previous work The Permanent Way and Stuff Happens. A sense that devolved structures and privatised agencies not only lead to complication and confusion, but ultimately bring self- destruction. As one Industrialist pertinently points out If you breakdown responsibility into a thousand pieces it's human nature to believe that the gaps are being created by other people.

The question that remains hanging over the final scene, as Hare sits down to discuss the limits of the free market over dinner with an unruffled George Soros, the lights of Manhattan twinkling beyond sound proofed glass, is where was the spine that might have held the body upright? And have we, now that the worst has happened, got the courage to reassess regulation and insist it's there to give the civilisation shape, borders and a compass for the future?

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

The Student Drama Society.

There's been a plethora of student led work springing up - which is great to see. Rowan, Danny and Sam reprised their Pinter shorts over lunch to a Studio 1 crowd of 78 and although they didn't quite recapture the stillness and composure of their weekend performance it was clear that they'd worked the text hard enough in rehearsals to bring in another very good show. It's perfect lunchtime work, half an hour long, simple, minimal technology, well played and coherent.

This evening I went to see the first half of Ben Elton's Popcorn which had been hatched by another group of 2nd years over the summer. They'd worked hard and sold out for three nights in studio 3. The downside was that the overall running time of two and a half hours meant that the work felt slightly unrehearsed and off the pace - still some good work in places, especially from Kadeem as unhinged mall murderer Wayne Hudson. It's very encouraging to see some independent ambition beginning to surface in the department. Getting a show up is hard work and now it's been done once hopefully the quality of performance will improve.

For the first time there's also genuine hope that a newly formed Drama Society might support students get into the habit of putting on work beyond the curriculum. Presidents John Rogers and Sam Hampson have put a lot of thought into writing a workable constitution and they've been smart in negotiations with the department to find a complementary role for the society within Drama St Marys. I'm a big advocate of this kind of be brave and have a go approach - you learn so much by having a crack. The society will also, I'm sure, have a terrific broadening knock on effect academically as it's hard not to read a play closely if you're either performing in it or deciding whether to direct it. There's a buzz about the place just now.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Pinter & SMarts

Really good work from 2nd years Danny, Sam and Rowan who put up four Pinter shorts as part of the SMarts festival, which rolled across campus this weekend. The boys mined right into the texts and by keeping it simple managed to bring some hideous moments of menace and malevolence to the surface. It was very sophisticated work, a formal study of rhythm, tempo and presence, carefully nuanced moment to moment. I knew Victoria Station and The New World Order, but hadn't read or seen Precisely, which was chilling or That's Your Trouble, which was wonderfully good fun.

Unfortunately, as with the rest of the festival, the show was poorly attended. It's more timing than anything and I've yet to hear a really good argument for not running SMarts alongside induction week, adding to the vibrancy and craziness of the start of term. Squeezed in at the end attendance and enthusiasm suffers from freshers exhaustion and the fact that many of the students go home at weekends.

We're going to re run the bill on Tuesday lunchtime. It's work the rest of the cohort should see.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Funny Friday.

A great evening to end the week. We had a drinks party for the freshers after classes during which Ian ran a quiz, which revealed some fairly ugly competitive traits amongst most of the lecturers (fancy getting upset for failing to name the nine countries that border Germany!)

In the end, in a desperate bid to maintain control, but to the delight of the students, Ian had to disqualify both staff teams for over aggressive appealing and suggesting that the external examiner should be called in to decide whether it could be agreed that Chekhov wrote a play spelt 'The Three Sitters' !!!!

We rolled on to the theatre for Freshen Up! The first stand up night hosted by the Uni. It was a great success, very funny and a nearly full house. Eighteen year old wunderkind Ahir Shah compered and did a great job setting the crowd up for Andi Osho, Jo Ogden, Rob Grant and headliner Alex Maple (see pic). The comedians seemed to really enjoy themselves and all of them overran. As an event it's definitely got legs and I hope we'll start to see some independent work develop from amongst the students. It's dead easy to scratch a five minute set over a lunch break and the work gives us a completely new flavour.

Many of the students disappeared off to the SU's foam party, but a few stayed behind to talk to the acts and celebrate Rob's birthday with beer and a cake. Although Rob has had phenomenal success as the creator of Red Dwarf, he's fairly new to stand up and was very happy to have played the gig.

'That was great' , he said 'I think I'm ready now for a small global tour... of Herefordshire!'

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Freshen Up!

It's busy and quite exciting as the year kicks off in earnest. We've a big Stand Up gig in the theatre on Friday, which we're co-producing with The Comedy School and featuring some brilliant acts Andi Osho (see pic), Alex Maple, Ahir Shah and Red Dwarf creator Rob Grant. It's a brand new adventure for the department and I hope it'll be a forerunner for developing some courses and encouraging some students to try out this circuits. For now the ambition is just to sell out for the gig!

On Tuesday we met the first year in the theatre. It all seemed to go very well until Trevor tried to remember Al's mantra on punctuality that he suggested all of us have tattooed on our hearts, and got into a bit of a mess.

'To be early is to be be good is fired... ummm. How does it go Al?'

Unfortunately Al was lost in a bit a of an induction talk daydream and as summer had got in between him and the last time he used it he also struggled...

'No. it's to be late is on time... no to be on time is good, but not as good as being early... no that's not it...'

There was then the unedifying spectacle of eight drama lecturers all chipping in to try and save this potentially inspirational start to term, as the confidence visibly drained from the poor students cheeks.

'Early is it's more than that'

'Later... don't be on time!... no that can't be it!'

'No I've got it... be earlier than good!' etc. etc.

Eventually we managed to move on, but it was a genuinely excruciating moment.

Back in the comfort and security of the Drama corridor we were all quick to remember and quite smug in telling each other. So for the record the mantra is

To be early is on time.
To be on time is late.
To be late is FIRED!

Thankfully at no point is incompetent mentioned.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

The Fastest Clock in the Universe.

After work up to Hampstead with Carol and Vix to see a revival of Philip Ridley's The Fastest Clock in the Universe. It's a strange play dabbling in metaphor and metaphysics.

Thirty year old Cougar is preparing once again to celebrate his nineteenth birthday. His present to himself is, as every year, denial and a teenage boy to seduce, all aided and abetted by his long suffering sugar daddy Captain Tock.

When Foxtrot, the young victim of the plan arrives, he has a surprise all of his own, pregnant girlfriend Sherbet, who brings a stultifying effect to the party slowly outing each stage of Cougar's deception, whilst carefully nursing 'the future one'. Things end very badly, but not before we're thoroughly reminded of the transitory nature of youth and the difficult importance of growing up and making way for the next generation.

I'm amazed to discover the play was first produced in 1992, several years before Cool Britannia and the the In-Yer-Face plays of Anthony Nielsen and Sarah Kane. It's gruesome, slightly off kilter and frequently, for all it's cruelty, rather poetic and brilliant. It was ahead of its moment and seems to have retained shape over the interim seventeen years.

Particularly impressive is Jamie Winstone, who gets right under the skin of Sherbet. Cajoling, toying and provoking she angles each line and response with a fabulous mixture of innocence and menace. She's ably supported by Finbar Lynch as Tock, a man who realises the game is up, but rather enjoys the unravelling. Fastest Clock is part thriller, part black comedy and part morality tale, which in this well acted production makes for a very good cocktail.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Prick Up Your Ears into the Weekend.

Caught up with Vix on Friday night. She's been on Prick Up Your Ears which has come into town after a summer regional touring. Simon Bent's new stage adaptation of the biography of Joe Orton's last years is still being fine tuned, but even a week away from opening at The Comedy Theatre, there's not much wrong with it. Vix has been working for Peter Mumford the lighting designer, which meant we were able to sneak into the closed off circle, so she could take some pictures of the different states. It gave us a very exclusive view

In many ways it's the ideal West End play, well cast, tightly directed and about the relationship between theatrical success and failure. Layered with a tantalising sense of swinging sixties London just a twitch beyond the curtains of the cramped flat in Noel Road that Joe shared with Kenneth Halliwell. The opportunity to watch in close up detail a symbiotic celebrity relationship is a voyeur's dream.

Matt Lucas plays Halliwell and after a tentative beginning really began to hit his stride in the second act, when he allowed the demons to be released. For Matt it's a casting to try and shift perception of him as a brilliant sketch show comedian and prove that he can sensitively inhabit a role. If anything his efforts are more compromised by the inevitable audience sense of him as a personality rather than his own ability - ironically Halliwell longed for exactly the kind of public acclaim that for Matt, post-Little Britain, has become a little personal. The reality is, whatever parallels you want to hint at, he plays the role well and as long as he keeps his nerve and self-belief he'll get the good notices that I suspect he needs.

The support from Chris New and Gwen Taylor as Orton and Mrs Corden, the lovers' innuendo ridden landlady is spot on. The play doesn't really reveal anything new to us or leave us enlightened as to why Orton stayed with Halliwell - the fatal flaws are in place from the word go - but it does offer that essential component of biography, a view of our heroes in the bloody tragedy of their private lives.

On Saturday I had a surprise visit from Carol, who'd been up in Derbyshire trying to negotiate a Spiral project with Junction Arts. Unfortunately for them it had fallen through, which fortunately for me meant she had a few days to come and visit and allow me to repay a little of the hospitality I received in Spain a couple of weeks ago. We meant to do some work on the Cantabria project, but in the end went roaming around Richmond Park, Petersham Nurseries, Eel Pie Island and back down to Teddington lock. It's wonderful that Summer seems reluctant to disappear quite yet.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Turtle Key link up!

Had an excellent meeting yesterday evening with Tina and Allie from Turtle Key Arts, who look after a number of exciting London based companies like Ockham's Razor and Amici. Allie's really supportive of Drama St Mary's students going on placement with these companies working as ASM's, sitting in on rehearsals, supporting techs etc. which offers us a great opportunity to provide students with a genuine in road to professional experience. We've got close to 300 students in the department now and although we're completely geared up to teach great classes and deliver exciting modules, increasingly the emphasis needs to be on how you translate the learning into experience and eventually employment. Partnerships like this really help.

Allie also talked through some of our plans for the Strawberry Hill House show scheduled for Winter 2010. She didn't feel it was really an Arts Council project, but might work well as a local consortium, providing we can gain some support from Richmond Council and even The Orange Tree and Richmond Theatre. The other key player might be the V & A, who are hosting a Walpole exhibition to celebrate the re-opening of the house and maybe (even further afield) Yale University, where the Walpole archive is currently situated? Time to get on the phones and talk.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Punk Rock

To the Lyric to see Punk Rock, the new Simon Stephens play. Simon's one of my favourite contemporary writers On the Shore of the Wide World and Motortown are two of the most insightful plays about our times. There is always a light touch of domesticity in his work, a natural understanding of the tentative ways in which families and friendship groups manoeuvre. Nobody, it feels, is observing quite as closely.

This latest work didn't disappoint. Set in a sixth form library of Stockport grammar school, a group of high achieving A-level students prepare for their finals. They have everything the best of parenting and education can offer, they're bright, articulate, aware and on the surface sharp and self-assured, but as the personal relationships unravel Stephens reveals a world of fear and ultimate chaos just a casual disappointment below the surface.

The play works brilliantly in its suggestion that the aspiration we've encouraged in the young, needs a humanistic down scale in line with the temper of our post-crash times. In one particularly moving speech school newcomer Lily movingly suggests that most teenagers are OK, well meaning, looking forward to the normality of work, family and being part of something. Set against this is an adult world of teachers and parents who only take notice of their charges when they are either overtly ambitious or anti-social.
Punk Rock is smart about this simplification and in the privacy of the library each student demonstrates their chameleon skill at playing the many roles open to them as they negotiate their own sociological and psychological identities. It's like watching a brilliant orchestra regularly hitting the right notes, but never quite able to put them together in the right order.

There's great direction from Simon's regular collaborator Sarah Frankcom, who once again finds the perfect pace and rhythm for the immaculately crafted dialogue and brilliant performances from all of the young cast. As with On the Shore, a shocking moment of schism in the plot takes your breath away. It's right on the money.

Monday, 14 September 2009

The Pitman Painters.

A busy weekend starting on Friday with a meeting at Richmond Theatre to listen to the Creative Learning department's plans for the next year. It's a time of change for our local partners. Molly is off to New Zealand next month to start new adventures and Katie Henry has left The Orange Tree to pursue her freelance career. We've had excellent working relationships with the two theatre's over the past three years and I'm really determined that the changes to personnel doesn't disrupt the work we've done together.

Then onto the National to finally the catch The Pitmen Painters, now in its third run. It's a wonderful and inspiring play written by Lee Hall, who wrote the screenplay for Billy Elliot. In many ways the plays explores similar themes - set in the thirties, a group of Ashington miners organise art appreciation classes, with the help of a professor from Newcastle University. Soon the pitmen are creating their own art breaking down the cultural barriers both from within and without the village and finding ways to pictorially represent their lives with pride, the act of creation enhancing their own political, emotional and intellectual understanding of their world.

The play lacks any sense of cynicism and celebrates the participatory and inclusive nature of art. In our age of drip fed, dumbed downed culture - the work is also a fantastic, unashamed attack on ignorance.

The final scene takes place at the end of the second world war and the election of Attlee's Labour government. The Pitmen are heartbreaking optimistic about a future of National Health, comprehensive education, Universities for all and nationalisation. They have a beer and talk about how to turn the concept of Utopia into a work of art. It reminded me that many things are worth fighting for.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Eight Foot Laura.

It doesn't take much to find yourself back in the swing. Last year was for the most part a successful beginning to the new degree programmes and now we're trying to find the thin line between consolidation and expansion to make sure we build on what we've got.

The game is still to find ways to equip students with the skills to make them independent theatre makers and practitioners and one of the key components of that is to create a department that feels both energised and proud of itself.

There's also a growing sense that Drama St Mary's, for all it's good work, isn't as visible on campus as it could be and that the time has come to broaden out a bit and attract new audience and support for our work from the wider University community. We need to hit the ground running. It's only just over a week until the freshers arrive.

Next to the theatre is a big unused white door, perfect for an eight foot high billboard. So we called in second year Laura for a photo shoot and with the help of our friends in marketing managed by the end of the day to mock up a big, bold design, visible from reception, which will dominate the piazza in front of the chapel. I hope it's a sign of our growing self confidence.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Back to London.

I'm back in London now... but I hear Sunday's show went really well. On Saturday night we all trooped into the plaza with the lanterns, the children threw hundreds of invites to every corner and Carol stood on a bench to retell the myth of Icarus to the promenaders and diners in the alfresco cafe bars. Finally in a cliff hanger ending she announced that the next day another dramatic story would unfold itself on Piedrahita, no less than the very history of flight! She's a natural performer and charming storyteller, who improvised her script from beginning to end, never missing a beat.

The intervention was magical and drummed up a huge crowd of all ages who whooped and applauded. I really admire the way this moment of disturbance was understood as enrichment by the village, rather than an anti-social or irritating threat to an evening out. There is room for a little chaos and an occasional demon in Spanish life; an acknowledgement of our right to address each other publicly in a big unifying playful game. A mini carnival of mischief.

...and that is where I had to leave it. Sunday morning gave me an hour to help hang para gliders in the trees before I was driven back to Avila to start the long journey home and a new academic year!

Once again Spiral gave me a week of fun, learning, great conversation and laughter, whilst never knowingly underfeeding me!!! All the important things in life packed into one too short week! I hope I'll be back in Spain very, very soon.

Friday, 4 September 2009

Last Workshops.

Last day of workshops and Jose Antonio, a local sculptor came to make Goya's huge hands that we hope will engulf the audience as they enter the park. He told us that the painter often worked late into the night wearing a huge top hat with candles waxed to the brim. No wonder his images are filled with flickering shadows.

Meanwhile a brave band of volunteers were kitted out in what remained of the anti-contamination suits and were choreographed into a rough and wild bat ballet inspired by The Sleep of Reason.

And so slowly something emerges. The lanterns are wired, the tunnel is built and lies drying in the sun, the stuffed para gliders wait to be positioned in the trees and the paper aeroplane invitations with messages from the children written on their wings sit in boxes waiting to be unleashed in the square tomorrow night.

My sad problem now is that I have to come back to England on Sunday, ready for the new term and so I won't get to see the show, which will take place after mass.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Moments Before and After.

The work is definitely taking shape now. It'll take place on three sites. First we'll gather in the plaza and remind the audience of the Icarus myth. Then we'll lead the audience in a procession of stellar lanterns through the narrow streets and into the Park, where they'll be greeted by Goya, who'll beckon them with huge disembodied arms through a tunnel into his imagination. When they reappear they'll be greeted by flying bats, mannequins suspended in the trees and some form of sound scaped mechanism depicting the surreal whirring of the artist's brain.

Eventually they'll be chased out of this space by demons, around the fish pond to the platform above the fountain from where the youngest members of the village will launch hundreds of paper planes and plastic parachutes. If we time it all perfectly, mass doesn't overrun and the weather is on our side we'll then look up and see a swarm of para gliders, coming over the mountain as a grand finale.

With less than 72 hours to build, script and rehearse their was added purpose to this evening's workshop. I worked with a group of teenagers stuffing white anti -contamination suits with newspapers to create figures to hang from the trees. We pretended we were making the Real Madrid team and gave each puppet an identity... Kaka, Xavi Alonso, Sergio Ramos etc. At then end we posed for a team photo - everybody wanted to be next to Ronaldo.

By the time we'd packed up and gone to the bar it was close to midnight. Outside in the street local cider was being served. In its natural state it's pretty undrinkable but poured from great height to give it some air and swigged immediately it's very nice. Speed and precision are everything and the quarter glass that can't be drunk in the first second gets chucked up the street with a flourish.

The bar is where the para gliders hang out, tell stories and try to persuade hard as nails barmaid Silvie to set up a rolling tab. We ended up in conversation with an Estonian flyer, who through the cider goggles of a man who refuses to throw any dregs away at all, he explained why flying was such a buzz.

As he spoke he began to act out the moment of launch, checking the wind, the cloud formation, the flocks of birds, the lay of the land. For a moment he saw everything, was aware of everything. A second of total control before the jump. If, for children, the second after take off seems the most interesting, maybe, for adults, it's the second before. Could it be to do with the way we learn fear as we get older and have to find ever more sophisticated ways to conquer it?

Silvie brought the Estonian's bill, which brought him crashing down to earth.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Freedom and Escape.

So why do we want to fly?

It's an impossible act of defiance. We talked a lot today about the difference between escape and freedom and realised that to even stay airborne for a few seconds takes a lot of physical restraint. We've noticed that the para gliders are positively forensic when packing and checking their kit. Astronauts strap themselves tightly down into the tiniest space before propelling themselves into orbit. The more precise Carlos is with each scored fold of his magnificent flying machines, the more impressive they are in flight. The rules are always fixed and without them nobody is able to leave the ground.

Perhaps it isn't to do with freedom at all, but rather a desire to face up to oblivion? Once you've left the surface - control is gone and although skill and technique play a huge role in successful flights, the sky is not something to command. You're on your own and you may not return.

We moved onto Goya, whose dark imagination seemed free to explore the most disturbing recesses. We began by looking at his images of flying creatures, owls, bats, demons and then discovered remarkably that he'd conceived his own method of flying! Half bat, half para glider!

We had enough now to start work and at six we began. Marta, Carlos and I taught the children how to make planes and soon we had hundreds. Carol and Chris meanwhile started work on large illuminated processional objects, frames made of withy reeds, coated in papier mache and colourful tissue paper. Bright blue moons, stunning pink suns and pointed yellow stars.

At nine we took the aeroplanes to the highest point in the park to have a test. There is a moment after the plane is launched that the children seemed to leave their body and travel with their creation into the unknown. It's a moment of complete release, delight and wonder. The commitment to freedom is absolute, even if it is only transitory.

Flights of Fancy.

Tuesday 1st September: Piedrahita has two great claims to fame. Firstly it was one of the homes of Maria, thirteenth Duchess of Alba, a wayward eighteenth century aristocrat who occasionally dressed as a gypsy to have more fun than her respectable position would allow and counted Goya and many bullfighters amongst her lovers. She lived in a beautiful baroque palace - now the primary school - at the top of the village, where she invited the cream of bohemian Spanish society, and the odd rough neck, to come, paint and play.

The beautiful, but slightly run down, park at the back featured in many of Goya's cartoons and it's even thought by many in the village that Maria was the model for his controversial La Maja Desnuda. His pugnacious bust scowls up at the palace from the centre of the garden. It's here, under the shade of the trees, that Spiral will run workshops each evening.

Unrepentant Maria died at 40, officially from fever, although the village suspect she was murdered by Prime Minister Godoy, another intimate, on the demands of her jealous rival, Queen Maria Luisa.

Nowadays the jousting takes place in the air as Piedrahita is a world class centre for Paragliding. The 2011 World championships will take place here and a perpetual swarm of canopies fills the sky above the village as brave men and women, throw themselves off the mountains looming to the South.

We haven't sorted out a structure for the show yet, but Spiral performed a shadow puppet version of the Icarus myth in the church of Santa Maria Maggorie last Saturday and it seems this week's story may well begin where that original para glider crashed and burned.

The first workshops are due and in preparation Marta, Carlos and me spent the afternoon experimenting with creating paper planes. Carlos was superbly imaginative, quickly engineering loop the loopers, helicopters, stealth jets. Marta and I were more impatient and cack handed, realising that a scrunched ball of paper can travel a long way if you chuck it hard enough in frustration!!!! Undeterred by our petulance Carlos had found a way of turning a stone, some thread and a plastic bag into a lunar landing craft.

The day ended with a raucous meal back at home. Chris arriving with a bucket of fresh mussels and pints of creamy white wine sauce to drown them in.

Hide and Seek in Avila

Monday 31st August: I set off early from Madrid, bound for the old walled city of Avila, were I was due to meet up with Spiral. Some of the planning in the build up had been confused and so I caught the train not entirely sure of how and when the rendezvous would take place, but confident that in the age of modern communications news would arrive from somewhere, at sometime. The winding journey north took me past El Escorial and the intimidating 150 metre crucifix that Franco had built, using slave labour to guard his tomb in the Valle de los Caidos. Avila, I hoped would be more welcoming.

The last email I'd had from Carol on Saturday had suggested I make my way to the town for around midday so we could eat together; but they weren't there on arrival so after a slow coffee I headed into town and grabbed a sandwich in the most public looking plaza I could find, hoping they'd come by. After another couple of hours and no sign I went in search of an Internet cafe. Carol had written and would meet me off the 2.40pm train - unfortunately it was now 3pm! I tried to run to the station (but seconds later had to run back to the cafe to appease the angry owner who I'd forgotten to pay!) and somehow got lost.

So I looked for some Roman ruins, knowing that if any existed in Avila, Marta would find them - but ended up on the steps of the Cathedral. At five I got restless and wondered whether my tactic of sitting still and waiting to be found was backfiring. Perhaps Spiral were playing the same game? I tried to get onto the City walls to see if I could spot them from on high, but the ticket office would neither let me take my rucksack up nor leave it in the box office!

I ended up at Saint Teresa's monastery, but not even this miracle worker seemed to have the answer!... so back to the Internet cafe and a pleaded promise that I wouldn't try another runner allowed me to discover that Spiral were waiting back at the station for the last arrival form Madrid, after which they'd leave and resume the search in the morning. Once again timing was out. The train had left ten minutes earlier!

I wrote a quick response saying I'd be fine, spend the evening watching the sunset over the beautiful sandstone walls and catch a bus to Piedrahita (where we're based for the week) tomorrow.

...and with that I used the only tactic that was sure to work. I booked a room, dumped my by now very heavy bag and headed off to find a drink .... and there they were Marta, Carol and Carlos... visions in lime and white !!!

To the surprise of the receptionist, who'd never had a ten minute guest before, I checked out in world record time, without pinching so much as a bar of soap, and as the moon rose over the mountains happily fell into Marta's truck and headed off for a new adventure.