Monday, 31 October 2011

The Grand Guingol.

The first of the Level 3 Theatre Arts shows at the Drama St Mary's theatre tonight. A turn of the century evening of chilling horror in homage of le infamous Theatre du Grand Guignol which opened as an intimate candle lit 200 seater in the Pigalle slum of Paris in 1897. A place of dark shadows and hidden corners.

The theatre spawned and specialised in a new gruesome genre employing naturalism to graphically reenact moments of murder, mayhem, insanity, tragedy and trauma in front of an insatiably voyeuristic audience. A typical bill of evening fare would include five or six short stories all ending horrifically. Victims were normally drawn from the lower class. Prostitutes, criminals and street urchins were all routinely slaughtered in ways designed to at once thrill and disgust the audience. The very fact that these characters are both powerless and dispensable produces a frisson of taboo breaking excitement.

It's a psycho-physical environment that the immersive theatre specialists Punchdrunk have in recent years seemed to be nostalgic for. A place where we're all complicit in the lust and gore whilst simultaneously harbouring the secret fear that we might be the next to feel the cold steel of the butcher's cleaver about our neck.

It was fascinating to see the students explore a form that has all but disappeared from the theatrical landscape and although at times it was tricky to understand whether they were attempting to accurately reproduce the style or merely parody it there was certainly enough in the four stories they offered to keep the audience engrossed for the entire evening. What better way to spend Halloween?


Sunday, 30 October 2011

Carlisle to Settle.

Last day of our break in the North. We walked the mile or so out of Kirby Stephen to the railway station which lies half way down the Carlisle to Settle line - often described as the most picturesque train journey in Britain. The station itself stands proud looking down on the Smardale valley. In recent years it's been lovingly restored and a small team of passionate volunteers and enthusiasts maintain it for the many tourists and locals who take huge pleasure travelling through the North of England.

Kirkby Stephen lies slightly up the line from the impressive glories of the Ribblehead Viaduct but there was still plenty to see. We kicked off our boots, warmed our hands on steaming mugs of tea and coffee and, faces pressed close to the window, headed up through the evocatively named villages and hamlets of the Eden Valley: Langwathby, Kikoswald, Armathwaite, to our arrival in Carlisle.

We changed here and took a short hop back down to the waiting car in Penrith; where after an impressive Sunday lunch we started the long drive back South. For all yesterday's battles with the elements we're almost half way to Robin Hood's Bay.


Saturday, 29 October 2011

Drenched in Westmorland.

The day started promisingly enough. We picked up supplies in the village shop and headed out across the fields to where a concrete footbridge crosses the furious M6 and onto the next stage of the walk. The path to Kirkby Stephen looks to be fairly straight forward on paper, but soon after we'd past the quiet hamlet of Oddendale the sky turned black.

For a few miles it was bearable. We made our way onto Ravensworth Fell, crossed an old roman road, waded through Lyvennet Beck, where Charles II rested his army en route to the Royalists final defeat at Gloucester and followed a dry stone wall round to an old cairn which reputedly marks the site of Robin Hood's Grave.

It would have been fantastically interesting but all the discovery and wonder was beginning to wear thin as the weather deteriorated and the cold winter rain lashed in, getting underneath our clothes and soaking us to the skin.

Eventually we made our way to the road and cadged a lift in a minibus full of Glaswegian young offenders, having a cracking lager infused jolly in the countryside; their harassed probation officer sulking at the wheel. They dropped us at The George in nearby Orton, where we had lunch thawing out by a roaring fire. Outside the weather seemed to be brightening so we wrung out our socks and set off again.

For the first few miles everything was more or less back on track we followed lanes, skipped stiles and made our way steadily across the peaty fields to Sunbiggin Tarn, a desolate spot, miles from anywhere. It was here, predictably, that the skies opened once more.

Shelter was a good two miles off in Newbiggin, so we gritted our teeth, put our heads down and ploughed onwards across Ravenstonedale Moor. By this stage the weather was so rough that we couldn't even refer to our sodden, pulped guide book and we quickly became lost amongst the sheep. Eleanor helpfully reminded me that Lear, made mad by the storm and the onset of hypothermia, began to take his clothes off in similar circumstances, a new threat that until that point I'd not considered.

Putting safety first we found some farm tracks and followed them over the hill and onto a lane leading down to a solitary farmhouse. The farmer, unfazed by our adventure, was kind enough and pointed us back towards the village, some two miles East of where we'd ended up.

Newbiggin, he promised, owned a public telephone box and with no reception to be had on the Moor there was no alternative but to continue. Wrinkled as prunes we squelched our way along the road, finally arriving just before eight o'clock. A call to a local taxi firm put us out of our misery and so drowned and defeated we arrived less than triumphantly in Kirkby.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Farewell to Lakeland.

Up early to carry on with our Coast to Coast walk. We caught the 108 bus from our lodging in Penrith and followed its picturesque route along the western edge of Ullswater down to Patterdale to recommence our walk with a steady climb heading south out of the village towards Angletarn Pikes.

The sky was clear and it wasn't long before we were high enough to enjoy commanding views back towards the Helvellyn and adventures past. Higher we climbed scouting around the tarn itself, following a dry stone wall past Satura Crag, through a peaty field to rest by a gate and share out some fruit pastilles in celebration at completing the first 50 miles of our journey from St Bees. Against every prediction we've had wonderful weather all the way

Another short climb took us around the Knott and onwards for a glorious view both of the old roman road leading up to High Street and down the Straights of Riggindale to Haweswater, a once gentle lake, now turned into a huge reservoir, capable of quenching Manchester. From here a short walk took us to Kidsty Pike - the last obstacle of Lakeland.

We lingered for a few moments taking stock of the brooding mountains to the West that somehow we'd found a way across before turning East to stare across the more gentle gradients of the Westmorland Plateau to come; the landscape rolling far away to the Pennines on the horizon.

We pressed on, descending through Kidsty Howes to Haweswater edge and followed the shoreline for several miles, noticing the fells fall away to be replaced by a gentler terrain before arriving at the village of Burbanks, built especially for the workers who helped flood Mardale some eighty years ago.

The light was fading now as we began to cross the fields towards our ambitious overnight stop in Shap. We made it to the charming Rosgill bridge which crosses the Lowther and here decided that rather than lose our way in the dark we should follow the road in, forsaking the ruins of the old Abbey. Beside hunger had begun to set in.

It didn't take long before we were offered a lift by pensioner Flo, who was concerned that Southerners might not be easily visible, and gratefully driven the final mile and a half to the comforting delight of a boots off, good dinner and a raging fire at the Greyhound Inn.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

The Lost City.

Partly inspired by an excellent BBC documentary on the history of ceramics Eleanor and I stopped off in the lost city of Stoke on Trent en route for another couple of days Coast to Coast walking. It's a fascinating place which, possibly because of the large number of service stations on the M6 between Birmingham and Manchester, few people turn off to visit.

And first impressions are of slow decline. Sentinel chimneys standing idle, a canal with no traffic and streaks of rust running down redundant iron pipes that have long since stopped carrying the water needed by the factories. We parked the car and walked across James Brindley's revolutionary canal interchange which links the Mersey to the Trent to the old Etruria works where a young entrepreneur Josiah Wedgewood based his burgeoning business and placed the potteries firmly on the map as the world renowned centre for ceramic production with endorsements from all the crowned heads of Europe and commissions across the globe. The canal was championed by Wedgewood to ensure his pots could be transported smoothly. Too many were broken on the bumpy eighteenth century roads. The site is chained and remarkably quiet now.

After lunch we went to search out signs of industry and took a advantage of a free tour around Emma Bridgewater's factory, half a mile south of the city centre. It was quite inspiring. Whatever you think of her stuff, and I find it a little twee and nouveau nostalgic, she has certainly done the town a great service by resurrecting a pottery works here. All of her stuff is produced in the factory and 200 local craftsmen and women are employed to turn out over 30,000 pieces a week. From small beginnings 25 years ago the turnover is several million pounds a year. Mood in the factory was good, the royal wedding and the diamond jubilee have provided a couple boom years, which everybody hopes will stay.

'Whatever else the recession makes us forfeit,' said our amiable guide, 'people will always needs cups and plates.'

Bridgewater's firm feels the right size. It's working at capacity, but there are no plans to expand and threaten the familial feel of the enterprise. It's a very British brand in a very British setting. Stoke though could do with one or two other returns. I was surprised to learn, given the morning stroll past derelict buildings, that more pottery is manufactured in the region than anywhere else in the world. Still the unemployment figures are dangerously high and the skills that have sustained Stoke for over two hundred years lie, for the main part, dormant, waiting for a renaissance.


Sunday, 23 October 2011

Early Returns.

Troubling article in The Sunday Times today about the fall in applicants for HE courses. Universities across the country have been bracing themselves for a reduction in the number of students seeking a place in 2012, but it's been a bit like staring into a dark cave, with nobody knowing for sure exactly how the rise in fees will effect school leavers. This week UCAS will publish figures up to October 15th - which was the deadline for Oxbridge (received wisdom suggests that 10% of all applications are made by this date.)

Early returns from some London institutions suggest a dramatic fall. Goldsmiths suggests a 34% decrease and City University are looking at a 40% drop. St Mary's own speculative figures, taken from open day visitors, suggested that we were holding up (but of course there's nothing to suggest the old ratios between visitors to applicants or offers to undergraduate take up will sustain in the new world.)

I still think that Drama St Mary's have got it right by focusing on creating degrees that take the best of the Drama School and merge it with courses which, for want of a better word, explore and analyse creativity, through active problem solving. Very few of our graduates go onto academic careers, but many do get work in the theatre industry and nearly all of them leave with an understanding of the need to create opportunities for themselves, rather than waiting around to be recognised and discovered. We hope this dynamic approach to promoting a new breed of resourceful, self motivated practitioner will help us to avoid the coming storm. Let's see.


Tuesday, 18 October 2011


A really difficult night at the National watching Mike Bartlett's new play 13 which is about to go to press at the Olivier.

Bartlett, who's yet to turn thirty, is often heralded as a new hope for British theatre. A playwright who can capture the drama of the new world, where communication is as likely to happen by tweet, text or skype as it is by prolonged face to face dialogue and where the technology exists for people to form intimate relationships even if they never actively share the same space. I very much wanted to like it; but unfortunately I found it patronising, complacent and trite.

As with last year's hit, Earthquakes in London, Bartlett's new work is big on ideas. Amongst many other things a messiah like figure, former philosophy student John reappears after six years in the wilderness and begins teaching a doctrine of belief in belief at Hyde Park Corner. Simultaneously a modernising Cameron-esque Tory prime minister, played with Thatcherite authority by Geraldine James, weighs up the moral responsibility of an invasion of Iran. Whilst her friend, John's former lecturer Dr Christopher Stockley, a tweeded atheist in the Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins mould, delivers public lectures on the pre-eminence of Western culture. The three character's are linked by Simon, the Prime Minster's son, John's best friend at Oxford, who tragically died jumping of Magdalen Bridge on May Day.

Slowly, and completely unbelievably given the obvious sentimental psycho-babble that he speaks, John begins attracting crowds of upwards of half a million people to his daily orations which have moved from abstract ideas to a more concrete anti-war stance. His evolving popularity eventually forces the Prime Minister to meet him in Downing Street for a reunion and private talks.

For all the intercut dialogue, flashing lights and the weird, hugely expensive set - a towerblock size black cube that performs all kinds of configurative tricks - it's this scene between a young idealist, his atheist former lecturer and the Prime Minister that is the most interesting allowing as it does an ideological and informed debate between received authority and naive idealism to take the stage. This for me was the kernel of a better more intimate and sensible play. It's lost in the vast swathes of the Olivier.

I'm always mindful when writing reviews of work that I don't like that I might just not be getting it. In the mid-nineties I remember critics almost unanimously blasting Blasted, partly because they failed to grasp the bold innovation in form that Sarah Kane was proposing. Some of them later apologised.

Perhaps I'm just too stuck in a concept of makes good theatre to be able to see the merit of the play, but I'm convinced that the A-level and undergraduate students who packed out tonight's preview deserve a greater intellectual challenge than this pseudo-profound attempt to provoke youthful rebellion. There are real causes, real problems and, I hope, real solutions for young people to take a lead in finding. A work like 13 gives the impression of being radical and uplifting, but ultimately it's earnestness does nothing but reinforce the consensual and compliant nature of early twenty first century politics. For all the imposing threat of the enormous black cube this show is, I suspect, as meaningless as a house of cards.

Saturday, 15 October 2011


With Eleanor to the Royal Court this evening to see April De Angelis' new play Jumpy which stars Tamsin Greig . It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening, a smart play and some wonderful acting.

Greig plays former Greenham protester Hilary, who's just turned fifty. She's on the verge of being made unemployed from her job working in an Education Support Unit, is struggling to maintain an active sex life with her calm but unambitious husband Mark and most pressing of all has lost the ability to communicate with her teenage daughter Tilly.

Whilst Tilly negotiates her own private path through her late teens, refusing parental intimacy; Hilary is left anxiously longing for new meanings and adventures to make herself feel attractive and needed as she heads towards senior status. What will she have left once her daughter flies the nest? Moment to moment Greig beautifully finds the edginess of a woman who feels the best is passing without a fanfare.

Elsewhere the acting is uniformly good but it's worth highlighting the wonderful cameo from Doon Mackickhan, as Hilary's old University friend Frances, who believes that performing your gender is the best way to feel valued and is retraining as a burlesque dancer in an effort to ironically deconstruct the male gaze. The results are, predictably, hysterical.

De Angelis writes with touching care, gentle parody and a great deal of humour, seaming brilliantly the intergenerational divide, to create a poignant portrait of both the achievements and disappointments of eighties feminism. This isn't theatre to shatter the world, but rather to remind us all of our touching ridiculousness as we struggle to deal gracefully with change and the passing of time.


Friday, 14 October 2011

Ian Redford Comes in for a Chat.

Ian Redford joined us for Making Theatre this afternoon full of stories and anecdotes from his long career, in particular working with Max Stafford Clark and Out of Joint. Once again the students were full of questions and the session flew by.

Two things re emerged from last week's session with Dennis. First of all the idea that you needed some kind of special key to enter the theatre profession - (Ian objects to the word industry) - a rich benefactor, an Oxbridge degree, a family member already in situ. Ian, like Dennis, was clear in his belief that theatre maintains a proud tradition of democratic and meritocratic involvement and that whilst theatre makers do require intelligence, it's not necessarily academic intelligence.

The second question was one about self-belief and confidence. Ian had revealed that particularly as a young actor he'd often felt inferior to his colleagues and fellow professionals. This seemed to strike a cord with a number of the year group. Izzy asked him how he'd overcome it. Ian stood in thought for a few seconds, screwing his face up before carefully answering :-

"Imagine you've got a little man on your shoulder who keeps whispering in your ear - 'You're no good, why are you even here? Why don't you just go home.' Now if that were really true wouldn't you try and get rid of him. Wouldn't you eventually just tell him very forcibly to 'fuck off!' ? Well that's what you've got to get good at doing."

After the session Trevor joined us and we went for a cup of tea. Half way through Ian got a text message letting him know that Michael Boyd is going to step down as artistic director of the RSC. Ian had been in line to play Belch in a forthcoming production of Twelfth Night for the company, but then had a call explaining they were taking the play in a different direction. He's curiously waiting to see who has been cast.

'Well, well, well,' he said.

We asked him who he thought would get the job. Scholarly Greg Doran, who missed out last time. Rupert Goold, boy wonder and scourge of the traditionalists. Marianne Elliott, who hasn't had a dud for many moons. Dominic Dromgoole, who's given The Globe a boisterous new lease of life?

Ian shook his head.

'David Farr. It'll keep everybody happy.'

I wonder if he's right.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Rural Rites in Midsummer Night's Dream.

We had our second screening in the Early Modern Drama season this evening with Adrian Noble's RSC version of A Midsummer Night's Dream, which mixes Jungian symbolism with images from Victorian and Edwardian children's literature to create a visually sumptuous and occasionally surreal child's eye view of the play. It's an urban vision beginning in a town house nursery before opening out into an imaginative forest where solid wooden front doors replace trees and electric light bulbs stand in for stars.

Surprisingly for all the modernising I found the production highlighted Shakespeare's descriptions of a rural England, lost deep inside his memory, where goblins and sprites are real and signs are taken for wonders. Behind the dandified fairy kingdom lies a simpler, less stylistic, truth where the benevolent sun and moon watch over us, keeping time and revealing change.

I don't know of a play that ends so beautifully. With the married couples safely tucked up in bed Puck, Oberon and Titania return with their train 'following darkness like a dream' to bless each corner of the house.

A new adventure is beginning, but we're not invited. As the fairies trip away to do their nocturnal deeds, Puck turns to us and politely begs our forgiveness and his own release. The mysteries of the night do not belong to us.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Milton's Tweets.

For over 400 years the Gresham Lectures have been part of the cultural life of the city of London, paid for by an endowment set up in 1597 by Sir Thomas Gresham. Every year over a 100 fascinating free talks on every subject imaginable are delivered by an impressive range of academics. It's a very civilised institution.

Tonight at the Museum of London Alice Beer gave a fascinating insight into the dissidence of two titans of the seventeenth century: Walter Raleigh and John Milton, attended by a cheerful and motley crew of Londoners, mostly on their way home from work.

Beer suggested that whilst Raleigh used his incarceration in the tower (he was there for most of the last fifteen years of his life) to carefully put together his history of the world, subtly using ancient stories from Babylon and Mesopotamia to draw critical parallels with the Jacobean regime; Milton found that the rapidly developing print culture of the mid seventeenth century provided him with the wonderful opportunity to fire off pamphlets with all the regularity of the tweet. A passionate advocate for the Commonwealth. Beer, a round head herself, compared Milton's role, after the overthrow of the monarchy, to that of the social net workers who helped galvanise the clean up operation after this summer's riots.

By the end of his life Milton was a somewhat discredited figure - although pardoned for his earlier tracts he was never reconciled to the restored Stuart family. He died blind, but still writing, dreaming and shaping of a new kind of religious toleration that would sow the seeds for both the glorious revolution of 1688 and in the longer term set in principal some of the philosophical tenants adopted by the nascent Whig party. A fore run of our own form of liberalism.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Dennis Kelly & Saved.

A very full day. Dennis Kelly came in this afternoon to talk to the Level 1 students about his work. It was a brilliant session full of wisdom, insight and candour. Over the last decade Dennis has, perhaps more than any other writer, been on the money. Osama the Hero - a play in which a vigilante group take revenge on a young man they believe has terrorist sympathies was produced at Hampstead just weeks before the 7/7 bombings in London and more recent work such as Love and Money and Orphans seemed to anticipate our loss of trust both in institutions and accepted moral authority. In many ways Dennis, although he'd probably strenuously deny it, is one of the writers fulfilling theatre's ancient and role: warning of things to come.

We ran class like a platform session at the National. I asked a couple of general things and then turned to the students who brilliantly and hungrily filled the next hour and a half with thoughtful and fascinating questions.

Dennis in turn responded with patience and great humour teasing out each comment and thinking fresh about each point raised.

He suggested that one of the reasons his plays worked was because he was an average guy, who thought average thoughts. He figures if something interests or concerns him, then it's likely to concern a fair few others.

'I'm not a moral person,' he said 'I don't really think I can teach anybody anything. I write good people, who I understand and then I put them into terrible situations and see how they react. I think the definition of a good writer is one who can write characters into impossible situations and then write them out the other side.'

After the lecture I hurried over to the Lyric, Hammersmith to see Sean Holmes' production of Edward Bond's groundbreaking sixties classic Saved. It's the first London revival of the play for 25 years. Drama St Mary's old girl Monsay plays the part of Liz, a small role, with one decent scene, but, having had some time of to have a baby, it's great to see her back on stage. The gal done good.

Steph O'D was also around and it was wonderful to catch up. She's stayed on at the theatre after assisting on Blasted last year and is currently in rehearsals with Filter for the production of A Midsummer Night's Dream which comes in in February.

Saved itself is a cracking play and the revival in post-riot London is a timely reminder of the social problems that creating a deficit culture provokes. There have been huge material gains for all of us since the 1960s, but the intellectual emptiness and moral vacuum at the heart of the story rings as true now as it did then. Consumerism has not enriched us and the outcome of allowing a culturally impoverished underclass to evolve, as both Bond and Kelly are quick to remind us, is invariably violent.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

A Dish of Tea with Doctor Johnson.

Out of Joint brought their successful show A Dish of Tea with Dr Johnson to Drama St Mary's tonight. The first play in our Autumn season with our old friend Ian Redford playing the title role.

The show itself is a fairly straight forward adaptation. Johnson is brought to full life through both his own writings and the observations made by his trusted younger companion James Boswell, played by Luke Griffin. Occasionally scenes are punctuated by Johnson's own dictionary definition of ideas and things, but in the main this is a biographical homage to one of the most bullish minds of the 1700s.

As well as playing Boswell Griffin trundles through a host of other supporting roles each one throwing into relief a different shade of Johnson's own personality. Flora MacDonald delights him, George III makes him servile, Goldsmith and Garrick bore him, Joshua Reynolds draws his scorn and Hester Thrale breaks his heart. Whilst these quick shifts do little to allow us to see the inner workings of these eighteenth century celebrities the device does make for good storytelling. I sensed again some of the students could have done with a guidebook to help them understand the historical importance of each of Johnson's encounters.

Ian himself was fairly magnificent finding real moments of charm and vulnerability to punctuate the bluster. I found myself becoming increasingly aware of Johnson's brilliant childishness and petulant refusal to deviate from his own carefully crafted view of the world. Each syllable of his argument drenched in the Lichfield burr, adding a tonal sense of melancholy to a man at the peak of his intellectual power but unsure of his value to posterity. It was a truly touching performance.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Robot Minds.

The second in the series of lectures organised by the Philosophy department this evening this time turning attention on ethical issues surrounding the creation of artificial intelligence. It was given by Murray Shanahan who is a Professor for Cognitive Robotics at Imperial College.

Murray's contention is that within the next few decades the technology will have advanced enough for us to accurately create a computer programme that can accurately reproduce the 4 million or so neurons that go up to make a mouse's brain. In effect, we could one by one replace those neurons in the brain with artificial electrical charges, the culminative effect of which would be to create a new brain. If we were to do this would the mouse still be a 'real' mouse?

At what point, as we develop these 'new' brains do we say it's immoral to 'test' or 'destroy' them. If we're capable of introducing the concept, or more realistically the sensation, of suffering or pain into an artificial intelligence then will we still have the right to control or dismantle it?

It seemed appropriate to having this Frankenstein-esque debate in the Waldegrave Drawing room, with Walpole's house, a major aesthetic influence for the early Gothic writers, visible through the window. Darkness fell as we began to contemplate a world where scientists had computer designed an intelligence with enough plasticity in it to be able to grow and learn beyond our control. The romantic imaginations of the eighteenth century are beginning to find a tangible shape.


Sunday, 2 October 2011

Indian Summer.

The last few days in South West London have been glorious. I always think St Mary's is at its best this time of year with the pale Autumn light, lengthening shadows and dry crisp piles of leaves building up in the piazza. Walpole's house, now fully restored to its bright white colouring, absorbs the pink sunsets beautifully. Cycling up to the campus - all feels well in the world. This is a marvellous place to study.

Beyond our little paradise Richmond and Kingston were both full to the brim this weekend with Londoners out on a final summer jaunt before the colder winds of Winter sweep in. The towpath was crowded with children, dogs and couples hand in hand, the parks covered in picnickers.

Late on Sunday, with all the work for the week ahead planned, Eleanor and I went on a long bike ride around Bushey Park, which lies just south of Teddington, about a mile from campus. We took a circular route coming in at the north entrance and heading down Christopher Wren's grand Chestnut Avenue before turning eastwards on the more rural Cobbler's Walk toward Hampton Wick Gate.

Cobbler's Walk is named after a local shoemaker Timothy Bennet, who in the mid 1700s managed, through the courts, to establish a public right of way through the Royal Park, much to the consternation of the local ranger Lord Halifax. When asked why he'd gone to the trouble and risk Bennet replied that he was 'unwilling to leave the world worse than he found it.' A memorial dedicated to him and all those who follow his creed lies by the gate.

We swept south past the Diana fountain and back up through the woodland gardens to our starting place. It's rutting season in the park and the stags, like prehistoric monsters, could be heard calling, braying and roaring from every corner of the park.

There have been stories of a particularly aggressive sixteen pronged 'beast' this year whose been terrorising the many photographers who come to take photographs - although the truth is probably that with the hot weather more people than usual have come to watch the rituals and a few have got too close. Keeping our distance, fully aware how much, to a shortsighted stag, a pair of handlebars might look like the antlers of a rival, we carefully made our way out of the park and headed for home.