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My Holiday Reading

If anyone cares:

Wise Children – Angela Carter

Love and Fame – Susie Boyt

A Treachery of Spies – Manda Scott

The Accordion – Fred Vargas

Congratulations to all the authors who  have made it.

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Two sets of recommendations from Waterstones here.  I shall be informing readers of my Summer reading list in due course.  Too thrilling.

1. “Summer Essential Reading” – which can be named more appropriately “Summer Reading Books”.

Of which selection the books I like the look of are:

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine – Home Fire – The Beautiful Summer – Spitfire – The Unfinished Palazzo – Calypso

2. And the Man Booker Longlist 2018

Of which Sabrina and The Mars Room are on my radar…..

Another Ending

And so goodbye to another show.  I’ve had a short-term covering position and graduated from Board Op to stage duties – hence all my windy tweets.  I’ve done a lot of vacuuming.  I’m telling you, hoovering a West End theatre stage puts cleaning your own abode into context.  I’ve excelled at flying in a curtain, moving props between actors, and operating sound effects (usually on cue hem-hem).  Much as I love lighting, I love being in the wings with the actors even more. The company on this show (“it’ll run and run”) have been one of the funniest set of people I have worked with.  Many a performance I have been reduced to gasping for breath (silently) laughing in the wings.  I have to say that now I have left teaching and gone into the theatre, I find I am laughing more.  It’s as if I have lost a burden of stress I was carrying around as a teacher.  Well let’s face it – I was under huge pressure and sad to say, although I miss being with the children, I don’t miss teaching one jot.  I rarely think about it.  And anyway, actors are grown-ups who still have the playfulness of children in them, so the theatre is not much different to the classroom.

I’ve only been on the show a couple of months but I have really felt at home and had a great time playing a little part in its history.  I am writing this at home an hour into the show, and I am feeling a little lost.

Now I’ve three weeks of no work/pay and then I hope to have something at the beginning of September. Fingers crossed. I’ll have a break in between.  I want to concentrate on my creative writing so I am going to get off social media temporarily.

So I say goodbye feeling sad and happy; I like the transient nature of theatre.  I like it’s nightly routine and I like moving on to a fresh start.  Farewell to another production that will remain locked in my heart.

 

The Hens

I am no novice at looking after hens.  I have two sets of friends who own them and I have looked after them (the chickens, not the friends) whilst they (the friends, not the chickens) have been away on holiday.

Note to self:  what is difference between a chicken and a hen?

So I already knew they were cunning, tricky characters;  not as evil as our monstrous pet cat but nevertheless are out to get me at any available opportunity.

It was going to be an easy task: just a couple of days and they should have had enough food and water that I would not have to go in their coop.  However as the hot weather was continuing I thought it best to change the water as it was looking low.

Needless to say the water holder is a complex fangled thing which always takes me longer to faff around with than I anticipate.  So I went in the coop which is human height, and so not a squeeze.  Hens were restless and making a fuss around me.  I had some difficulty getting the water thing off its hook. As I was doing so I did not notice that a deathly silence had befallen my surroundings.  It was only as I turned to open the door that I saw the door was open. And four chickens in the garden.

I have to say that I did stay calm and did not panic.  What I could have done without, though, was the audience of neighbours in the garden next door,  trying and failing to be pretending not to watch me.  I chased three little blighters (the hens, not the neighbours) around the garden. They don’t move that fast but are quite good a dodging you and their beady little eyes are fixed on you at all times.  Fortunately  they let me pick them up without fuss and I got three back in with less problem than I imagined.  I went to get the last one…..NO CHICKEN.  ANYWHERE.  TO BE SEEN.

Now dear Reader it was my time to panic.  Inwardly panic, admittedly, due to the neighbouring spectators. I looked everywhere.  Do I swallow my pride and ask for help? Why wasn’t it in their garden? It was never going to come back and be eaten by foxes and the parents would have to tell the children and it would ruin their lives and it was all my fault.  And it was really hot and I was now sweating like the proverbial other farmyard animal. I texted my friends saying I had lost a hen and was having a breakdown and with a heavy heart I plodded back to the house.

 

I went into the kitchen, only to find an unhappy cat watching a hen eating all the food out of the cat bowl.  The little bugger had eaten the wet cat food and scattered the dry biscuits everywhere over the kitchen floor.  I texted my friends quickly, getting replies from them along the lines of  “that is pretty much our life”, “that’s one of the reasons the cat is such a bag of nerves” and “I love your messages: it’s like watching someone else live exactly my life.”

So what I find out, when they get back, is that they do let the chickens out periodically, and I needn’t have worried about that.  I don’t know why it has never occurred to me that they wouldn’t. And also that every time they let them out, the hens make a run for the kitchen.  I had been in the unusual situation of them not all doing this the second they were out, and that only one of them eventually bothered to get to  the kitchen.

It was all made worth it by my friends presenting me with a packet of biscuits from their holiday as a thank you accompanied by the words, “they aren’t very nice when you first eat them, but they get better.”

If you are reading this, my dear friends: it’s the thought that counts.

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There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.

Alfred Hitchcock

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The world is changed not by the self-regarding, but by men and women prepared to make fools of themselves.

P.D.James

Notes From My Life

10th July

Talked to Dad on the phone. He said how pleased he was to hear I was writing a play.  Who’d have thought my elderly engineer father would be pleased I’d left teaching to write a play.

Listened to the hatmaker and designer Philip Treacy on Desert Island Discs. When he was 6 in a small Irish school he had asked his teacher if he could sew, which only the girls did. The teacher not only said yes but taught all the boys sewing, and the girls the boys’ work.  His Dad took him shopping to buy a doll when he was 9.  He heard a neighbour say to his father, didn’t he think it a bit odd a young boy was dressing a doll, to which his father replied: whatever makes him happy.  His father died just a few years later.

11th July

World Cup Semi-final.  As I write this England 1 – Croatia 0.  Journey into work appalling and nearly couldn’t get off the tube at Leicester Square.  As curtain came down at end of Act 1 I saw on monitor [camera in auditorium focused on the stage]  someone crashing into it.  I looked down from my perch to see one of the ASM’s lying on his back looking up at me.  Apparently he had dashed on to do the scene change so quickly he had tangled himself up in the curtain.  The show report read that he hadn’t hurt anything except his ego.

12th July

Kate from yoga saying her next door neighbour had died at the age of 95 from a heart attack. Long story but in the process she learned that if you don’t have the actual DNR paperwork with you, it has to go ahead – dreadful in this case as it probably achieved nothing but breaking her neighbour’s ribs. Her daughter had come over but had left the DNR paperwork at home not realising she had to have it in hand. Also if you die at home the police have to be called to rule out foul play, and the undertakers have to come to the house as hospital morgues are only for patients who die in hospital.  Not jolly facts but useful to know to help dealing with grim situations.

14 July

Went for my “annual” MOT at the doctors. First had an interface to deal with confirming my age, address and other things. Once I had negotiated that, I was given a form to fill in by hand all the same information plus answer a few questions on how much alcohol I drink.    Then I saw the doctor who squinted at their computer screen form about 4inches away and typed laboriously with two fingers (or so it seemed).  Then I got put on a machine which automatically weighed me and recorded my height.  Put my arm in an opening where it took my blood pressure.  The future is here.

16 July

Guess who saw the play last night.  Singularly unimpressed and failed to notice the majority of my hard work.  (I have been renamed “God” by the DSM as I control light, dark, wind, fire, snow and air conditioning).   Barely noticed my “flicker to black”.  More interested in the good amount of legroom the seat had, and the interval’s cup of tea and ice-cream in  the “lovely” theatre bar.  Conclusion was something along the lines of “two and a half hours I won’t get back but glad I saw it”.   Nice to feel appreciated.

Translations

I hate to start a review by praising the set, as this gives the impression that design is better than the content. However the set for the National Theatre’s production of Translations is genuinely one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen in a theatre.  The photo above doesn’t do it justice.  It’s an Irish landscape, a moor where the peat is being cut.  This surrounds a man-made space which is a hedge-school.  These were local and locally-run schools in Irish villages, common all over Ireland at this time – the play is set in the early 1830’s – to educate Catholic children and which would eventually be replaced by state-run schools in which English will be the official language.  The children were taught in houses or barns.   In this design it was a house and it took me a while to realise the design for it was to have no (i.e. imaginary) walls.  It was dominated by the most extraordinary visualisation of an Irish sky, beginning with the setting sun in the first half, and rainstorm in the second.  The effect was achieved with lighting and controlled haze (goodness knows how they achieved that but I presume using large fans) to create clouds. It was stunning.  I was with an Irish acquaintance from Dublin who said she felt she was looking at a real Irish sky. The house  was an intimate area for the actors, whilst the moor and sky drew the action onto an almost epic scale, and let you remember how much landscape shapes people’s lives.

Just like the trick of the house’s invisible walls, so the play text plays tricks with language. The father and son teachers in he school teach Latin and Greek as well as their native Gaelic.  When the other brother returns having been away for some years, he comes back with English soldiers who are making a map of Ireland and in so doing translating the place names into English.  The whole play is  in spoken English but when the soldiers turn up, the audience comes to realise that they don’t understand the (Gaelic-speaking) Irish and vice versa.  Only the teachers can speak both languages and so are left to translate. It’s a brilliant device used by Brian Friel in this play which many people consider his masterpiece. The landscape an language are inexorably tied together.

Irish history is complex and I am too ignorant of it to write much here, but whereas the play could be a simple attack on colonialism, it is in fact a beautiful, nuanced examination of the beauty and dangers of  differing and common languages.  In one scene, an English soldier and a Irish woman express their attraction to each other without having a common language.  It is a beautiful, romantic scene but one which is undercut with dangerous currents.  The play has a tragic conclusion, but the horrors are left unseen and  the impact is all the stronger.  We know the future for these people; we are watching it being made.  The final stage picture converts 19th century Ireland into a stark, silent, menacing image of barbed wire and guns, which I felt was unnecessary.  In today’s tumultuous world of immigration, broken and newly created borders, individualism, and closed and open communities, the play quietly spoke for itself.  It was therefore with some surprise that I saw it was written in 1979.

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Every student needs someone who says, simply, “You mean something. You count.”

Tony Kushner

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It’s hard to be religious when certain people are never incinerated by bolts of lightning.

Bill Watterson