Thursday, 24 April 2014

In photos: A day at Keukenhof Spring Gardens

“People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us.” 
Iris Murdoch

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Laughter is my Medicine at Altitude Festival

“Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning to do afterward.” 
Kurt Vonnegut

When you spend all day on your feet, on the snow, slip-sliding your way from a great height to a lower level, bending knees and stretching muscles, you start to feel things burn. 

These muscles you use but once or twice a year - if you're lucky - are shocked into a slow burning ache as you push yourself, because the speed, the whoosh of the wind, the passing heaven-like views are all worth it.

That and the fact you're racing someone else to get to the bottom.

And so on the first evening of Altitude Festival, with rosy red sunburnt cheeks and hot, sore legs, NewMan and I made our exhausted way through the village of Mayrhofen to watch the first Gala show of Altitude Comedy Festival begin. The Gala show is highlight of each evening with four different comics taking to the stage on each of the five nights that Altitude runs for. Not sure what to expect we walked into a large space full of long tables, each proudly boasting flower centrepieces and circled by chairs, all of which were occupied. Because we were a little late and the show had already begun, we kept to the back wall and found a corner to lean in, realising we were going to have to push our tired bodies just that bit further by standing all evening.

"We must get here earlier tomorrow!" NewMan berated me before I got the chance to blame him.

A moment later the tall and broad bouncer who had opened the auditorium door to us appeared with two chairs.

"Here you go," he said with a kind smile. By the end of the week we were calling him "The Nicest Bouncer in the World."

Even before this I knew that it was a different kind of festival as in our hands we carried two drinks held in receptacles made of glass. Actual glass. I've been to big comedy nights in London and music festivals on the snow before, and neither one offered me a drink in an actual glass. It was a complete treat!

With bruised bottoms - an occupational hazard as a snowboarder - we sat down on our chairs that night and watched the show continue. It played out like a sea of laughter; I got swept away in a rolling rhythm of crescendos as chuckles exploded before teetering out into gentle bubbles of amusement only to rise up again into another wild wave of shared sheer delight.

The following four days played out in the same way. We pushed our bodies to exhaustion by day and we soothed all our aches floating on that sea of laughter by night.

And what a long night of comedy it was beginning with the Apres Ski show at the bottom of the ski lift from 5 o'clock and continuing into the Late Show in a smaller, darker, more intimate venue until it was last comedian standing (normally in the early hours of the morning).

The people who made us laugh came in many different shapes and sizes though most hailed from the British Isles and Ireland. This not only gave me the warmest sense of homesickness, but it also made me awkwardly proud; we really are a comedy-obsessed and comedy-masterful race.

Each evening I sat down at one of those tables, with one of their glass glasses in my hand and with more pain in my tired snowboarding limbs and each night I went to sleep smiling. The pain in my legs was replaced by a happy ache in my stomach and in my cheeks caused by the mightiest of physical activities; laughing. Just before we left Mayrhofen I glanced in the mirror and saw a new collection of wrinkles break out from the corner of my eyes. I cursed them before realising what they were; laughter lines.

In no particular order my favourite acts were Nina Conti, Rainer Hersch (seriously - go see this man!), Daniel Sloss, Rob Beckett, Zoe Lyons, Benny Boot, Joel Dommett and Andrew Maxwell who is also co-founder of the festival. Oh, and many of those links are NSFW!

The two headliners were Al Murray and John Bishop, two acts I find funny but wouldn't go out of my way to see. Both charmed me into possibly changing that opinion after not only seeing their shows but enjoying how they interacted with everyone on the snow and in the village. Yes, Altitude Festival is that kind of festival, where the acts intermingle with the ticket buying public and do so in a way that is a credit to them. (And let me just add I'm the first person to diss a celebrity if I can!)

The act of sharing laughter with someone is a special thing.

The sensation of sharing laughter with hundreds of strangers is just as special, but arguably much more powerful albeit, of course, in a completely different way. The latter was certainly the best possible medicine for my legs and Altitude Comedy Festival should be applauded for combining two things so many people love with so much passion and success. Early Bird tickets for next year are available now.

Additional photos by Anthony Upton.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

52 Books in 2014: March's Books

After an impressive start to the year (see January and February's long list of books) I have slowed to what I think is a much more realistic pace, six books in one month. One was read as a paperback,  the other five on my Kindle. One was by a self-published author and there was one work of non-fiction.
Hover over the circles or go to my Goodreads profile to read the reviews. (You'll see I didn't get a photo of We Are All Made Of Glue, which I read in paperback far too quickly and left in Gatwick Airport for someone to enjoy before I could snap a photo, so instead I stole a photo from last year's book photos!)
Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup
(As a side note I watched the film shortly after reading the book and I think the novel is significantly better!)

We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

We Are All Made of Glue by Marina Lewycka
  Please note that links are connected to my Amazon affiliate account and I will earn a tiny bit of money if you purchase something after clicking through. Thank you for your support of As the Bird flies!