War and Peace and Giving Thanks

You can get £12 tickets to shows at the National Theatre on the day of performance. They start selling at 9:30 in the morning, so you have to get there first thing and line up. So I got up early on Saturday and headed to town and got a ticket for the matinee of “The Kitchen” by Arnold Wesker.

Ticket in hand, I had a lot of time before the show. I decided I would head over to the Imperial War Museum, a 15-minute walk from the National Theatre. But as soon as I stepped out of the theatre, I was approached by a couple of earnest young men asking me if I would take part in the Aviva Insurance “You are the Big Picture” campaign.

I am a fan of Aviva. They sponsor the National Theatre Live broadcasts that have allowed me to see great NT performances while in Ottawa. For “You Are the Big Picture”, Aviva is photographing thousands of people and for every picture they use they are donating £2 to Save the Children. I was asked if I wanted to take part. Aviva had set up a tent outside the theatre, and everything would take place right there. A makeup artist would “Just give me a little Jeuge” (have no idea how to spell this but everyone said it – keep the g soft when you say it), and a “world famous photographer” would take my picture. I would be given an 8 x 10 glossy – all free of charge. Well I said yes, of course!

The Aviva tent outside the National Theatre. My 15 seconds of celebrity.

Inside the tent, all shapes and sizes of people were getting “jeugged” and treated like celebrities. We told that our pictures would be projected on the wall of the National Theatre that night. Appropriately “jeugged”, I went into the photo shoot, had a bit of chit chat (click, click), smiled affably (click, click), was told I was very photographic (click, click) and thanked. My photo is being sent to me in the mail.

My 15 seconds of fame being over, I headed to the Imperial War Museum for a dose of reality. The War Museum was opened by King George V in 1920 and is a “museum of social history, concentrating on people’s experiences of war, the way they behave in war and the impact of war on society.”

Inside the Imperial War Museum

I wanted to go to the museum to see a special exhibit called The Children’s War. Focusing on the child evacuees during the Second World War, the exhibit gives a poignant view into war through the eyes of children. There are diary excerpts, toys, photos, evacuee kits and a recreation of a house from the 1940s to give you a direct and tangible sense of life at the time.

The British evacuation during the Second World War was the largest evacuation in history. By the end of the war 3.5 million people, mostly children, had been evacuated from their homes. They were primarily evacuated to the countryside in England but thousands were sent to Canada, the United States, South Africa, Australia and the Caribbean. Posters of the time exhorted mothers not to be tempted to bring their children back to the city:”Children are safer in the country: Leave them there.” It was an incredible exhibit and left me thinking a lot about Tim’s mother raising her 3 daughters in Gloucestershire during the war, while his father was in service. She always described their evacuation to the countryside as somewhat idyllic. For others, it was clearly a nightmare from which they never recovered.

On my way back toward the National Theatre, I came upon a market with just a dozen or so stalls behind the Royal Festival Hall.

The Market behind Royal Festival Hall

I bought a wonderful Moroccan Falafel with spicy Harissa sauce for lunch. Seems every weekend that I am out and about in London I come across a different market. This one was a perfect transition from the exhibit at the museum to the play at the National.

“The Kitchen”, by Arnold Wesker, takes place in a kitchen of a large restaurant circa 1950.

"The Kitchen" at The National Theatre

It is a director’s tour de force where 30 actors portray chefs, waitresses, cleaning staff, proprietors all in a balletic harmony and disharmony of action. Very few theatres in the world could produce something on this scale. It is a restaurant that apparently serves 1500 for lunch, and you believe it as the orders pour in and chefs chop and cook in a flurry of activity, flirting and fighting. It is a United Nations of workers “backstage” in the kitchen, all of whom are struggling to find their place in post-war England. A mammoth study of character and movement, there is also an element of allegory. A huge and fascinating piece of theatre, it would take at least 5 viewings to see all of the action.

I treated myself to a quick “Autumn Cocktail” at the market as I headed back to the train to Surbiton to begin Thanksgiving preparations for the next day.

Thanksgiving is not celebrated in England, or anywhere outside of North America I realize. But I am pretty hardwired for a harvest celebration at this time of year. Maddy hasn’t had a chance to celebrate Thanksgiving for years, and Amanda Lunberg is American and was definitely up for celebrating, even if it was not exactly the right time of year for her. So we all decided to do a big Thanksgiving dinner with Peta. Bryan, Penny & Eric.

The Brits are fascinated by the details of the holiday, trying to figure out if there is anything special that we do other than cooking and eating. “We are thankful. That’s all. Thankful for the harvest. Thankful to be with family and friends. Thankful for a holiday.” To which Tim adds, “Thankful that it has nothing to do with presents”.

Peta helped us to set up the harvest table. Jo made fresh salsa from the French tomato harvest for our hors d’oeuvres. We cooked a large, free-range turkey and made all of the “trimmings” – stuffing, mashed potatoes, roast potatoes, roast onions, gravy, squash casserole and Tim’s fabulous red cabbage.

Maddy's Pecan Pie

Maddy made broccoli casserole and her famous pecan pie (Bryan says she is not allowed in the house without one). Amanda Lunberg made delicious pumpkin pie and Penny made apple crumble from her apple harvest. Mid-meal we took a break and were entertained by Eric with photos of their recent trip to Turkey and Greece.

Bryan opened Cremant and we all got very noisy and thankful, together.

Author: Amanda West Lewis

AMANDA WEST LEWIS has built a life filled with words on the page and on the stage, combining careers as a writer, theatre director and calligrapher. Her new book, The Pact, (Red Deer Press) was released in the fall of 2016. It has been listed on the 2017 USBBY OUTSTANDING INTERNATIONAL BOOKS LIST; selected for the 2017 ILA YOUNG ADULTS’ READERS CHOICES LIST; Nominated for 2017 SNOW WILLOW AWARD; and listed in the CANADIAN CHILDREN’S BOOK CENTRE BEST BOOKS FOR KIDS & TEENS, Spring 2017. SEPTEMBER 17: A NOVEL was nominated for the Silver Birch Award, the Red Cedar Award, and the Violet Downie IODE Award. Amanda has an MFA in Creative Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. In her theatre career, Amanda is the founder of The Ottawa Children’s Theatre, where she teaches and directs children. She has developed specialized drama and literacy programs for youth at risk, and for children with autism spectrum disorder. She has a Certificate in Theatre for Young Audiences with Complex Difficulties from Rose Bruford College, England. In 2015, Amanda co-produced the hit play “Up to Low” is based on the book by Brian Doyle. As a professional calligrapher and book artist, Amanda is passionate about the history of writing and has taught calligraphy courses to students of all ages. She studied with Hermann Zapf, Mark Van Stone and Nancy Culmone among many others. Amanda lives with her husband, writer Tim Wynne-Jones, in the woods in Eastern Ontario. They have three wonderful grown children. Find out more on her website at http://www.amandawestlewis.com/

6 thoughts on “War and Peace and Giving Thanks”

  1. Oh Amanda! I see your life has been very busy! I hope you are having a wonderful time in London! I miss you and and I have so much to tell you… but I won’t say it all here. I am actually hooked to your blogs, waiting anxiously for a new one to be posted every day. You sound as if you are enjoying your year off immensely. Sending love your way from Ottawa.

    1. Lovely to hear from you Sarah and delighted that you are reading the blog. Yes, it is a very exciting time. Please feel free to drop me an email and let me know about all that is happening in your world. It is always good to hear news from home. xo Amanda

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