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A couple of summers a go I read Robert Macfarlane’s book Landmarks about how both our language and  a handful of writers he focuses on have shaped our relationship with the landscape of this country. The last chapter is about a project by Deb Wilenksi with Caroline Wending observing a class of Reception children (4-5 year olds). Over ten Monday mornings they went out into a local country park and were just left to do whatever they wished with the adults watching and listening to them.  Then in the subsequent afternoon they were given free play (no intervention from the adults other than to set up the classroom’s resources), out of which their various forms of creativity revealed their responses to and understanding of the landscape they had explored. They showed they were thinking imaginatively both scientifically and artistically.  Regarding the latter form of thought and expression, the educators noticed the children found imagined portals throughout the area, particularly in trees which led into zones of the children’s creation.  The researcher and/or Macfarlane note that many children’s books have portals: a rabbit hole, a railway platform wall, a wardrobe, a tollbooth, a door that needs its key – to name a few.

And so I got thinking about a portal I walk through most nights.  It has a secret code and it leads me from this world into many different worlds.  It is the door between the public area of the theatre and the backstage.   I leave one reality and enter another at the push of a few numbered buttons.  Sometimes there is no one around and I find myself alone in a strange, familiar, deserted space.  Everyday objects mix with electrical equipment, all shrouded in darkness around a lit central area the actors will later enter.


There is “the fourth wall” which is how the space between actors on the stage and  their watching audience is described.  The days of a heavy curtain separating those two spaces has gone in many theatres, and  the audience often enter the world of the actors, playwright, designer, director, stage crew immediately they show their ticket.  Has some magic been lost when that physical portal has been removed?

The actors themselves cross through an invisible portal as they leave the wings for the stage and linked to this is another portal they go through which I observe only, because it belongs to the actor alone.  Backstage they may be in costume, wig, make-up, but usually they are themselves; chatting and laughing, complaining and thinking –  in dressing rooms, in the shared Green Room, at the Stage Door or on the stairs.  Through this portal they change and become the reason the audience are watching.  It is like magic.  It still fills me with a little wonder and awe witnessing this change.  The same change night after night that is never the same.  Someone asked me how I can bear watching the same thing night after night, and yet for me the true beauty of what I do is to experience a work of art on continually changing levels.  There’s always surprises: unnoticed connections in the spoken script, a dropped prop, an unexpected audience reaction.  I usually read a novel once, see a film once, maybe look at a painting a few times.  Music is something I listen to over and over, but when I go to the theatre I may see the same play more than once in different productions but only in this work do I have the privilege of deepening my knowledge and experience of a play.  A performance is very different on first night as it is on last.  The actors trust each other more, become more comfortable with each other over time as they perform.  Or the opposite: maybe they rub each other up the wrong way.

We are all actors, we all play our parts.  Ok, no original thinking there  but it is worth remembering.  The little family, the little world of the theatre mirrors our own.  Functional.  Dysfunctional.  It’s why I love Ingmar Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander so much.  As Oscar Ekdahl, the father of his own family and his theatre family (both these families entwined) says in his speech after the Christams Eve Nativity performance they have given:

My dear friends. For 22 years in the capacity of theatre manager, I’ve stood here and made a speech without really having any talent for that sort of thing. Especially if you think of my father who was brilliant at speeches. My only talent, if you can call it that in my case, is that I love this little world inside the thick walls of this playhouse, and I’m fond of the people who work in this little world. Outside is the big world, and sometimes the little world succeeds in reflecting the big one so that we understand it better. Or perhaps, we give the people who come here a chance to forget for a while, for a few short moments, the harsh world outside. Our theatre is a little room of orderliness, routine, care and love. I don’t know why I feel so comically solemn this evening. I can’t explain how I feel, so I’d best be brief….

There you have it.  Why I love the theatre.


Never give people power over you until you know how to get rid of them.

Richard Holloway


Just realised I never wrote this post.

It was one of the happiest times of my life.

My 2010 Broken Ankle

I just came across this write-up from 2010 I’d sent to friends and I didn’t want to delete it, so posting it here.  It is slightly hysterical in tone:

How I Broke My Leg by Hopalong Bert

Due to popular demand, here is what happened:

My boots which I wear all day every day, have been through so many repairs I couldn’t justify another patch up.  (Comfortable boots are like old friends).  I had a small hole in one toe and the tread had worn down again and I was slipping a bit on them.  So I decided to go and buy a new pair in the West End – they originally came from Next.  Well I started in John Lewis buying a lightbulb (wrong type) and looking at digital radios as ours has bust, and pottering for Christmas present ideas.  Then I passed a Zara – one of my favourite shops – and nearly bought a jacket and dufflecoat but decided  I couldn’t afford or need either. Then I went down Regent Street to Next.  That’s right, there isn’t a Next on Regent Street.  So I ended up passing another Zara.  Hmmmmm…just pop in and look at them again.  Decided against jacket but thought I would treat myself to £90 dufflecoat, as I have just paid off my credit card (that would be the bill of the Nicole Farhi £hem-hem dufflecoat to add to my 2 other dufflecoats. You can never have too many dufflecoats.)  Credit card declined so I had to pay out of my current account, the whole point being not to pay for it from current account as it was a treat to pay off over 2 months on credit card.

As leaving shop slipped because worn boot treads, ankle bent outwards and I landed on ground knocking my head (not hard).  5 people came to my rescue, but of course I was so embarrassed I got to my feet saying I was OK and hobbled off.  My logic now was to get to Next and get more boots.  Got to Charing Cross Road very slowly and pain quite bad so stopped for a hot chocolate in favourite cafe.  Then got to Next by Charing Cross Station – line discontinued.

Hobbled up to Church’s in Covent Garden – changed to Jones the Bootmaker (when?) and no use.  Hobbled up to Floral Street and went in a few shops including Paul Smith (what was I thinking going in there?) determined to get a new pair before I fell again.  Snowing by this time.   Ended up on Long Acre and saw a Russell and Bromley.  Pain was getting quite bad now, but fortunately they had a fantastic pair of boots (£125 bargain).  Credit card declined again.

Staggered home, found ankle very swollen (see photo) and next morning bruised as well.  Rang neighbour who drove me to doctor.  Doctor said probably wasn’t broken but to go to hospital anyway.  Neighbour drove me and said to ring when finished if I didn’t want to go home on bus.

More or less got straight in for an x-ray.  Fracture is hairline so they had to check with a consultant, but he/she confirmed it was broken.  More or less got straight into A and E, but had quite a long wait (had got 2 books and a magazine with me).  Consultant told me I would have to have it put in plaster and all being well it would take 6 – 8 weeks to heal.

Well all this only took about 4 hours and I was out by 3pm (I thought I would be in till at least 6pm).  I had to sit with naked toes and crutches by opening-and-closing door at A and E entrance.  Note: it is FREEZING temperatures at the moment here.  Rang neighbour who was not home yet, rang everyone else I could think of – no one available so I rang for a taxi.  30 minute wait.  I explained I was by door of A and E with leg in plaster and you couldn’t miss me.  30 mins or so went by and Taxi man arrives asking for “Caroline” who is on crutches and going to same area as I live.  Well I thought there had been a mix-up and it was for me, so we had a laugh at me being Caroline and I got in taxi  – to realise it was a different taxi firm and Caroline’s address was not mine.  So I battled back out of taxi and waited few more mins, before realising it was now 45 mins since initial call – so rang back.  Told driver had turned up, couldn’t find me and gone away again.  Deep breath.  How long for another taxi?  60 mins.  I  know what happened – Hospital has a new big main entrance (probably where Caroline was) and A and E is a small entrance near to hospital’s original one.  Which is why  I had emphasised to taxi firm exactly where I was.  What’s the betting he went to main entrance?

Well by this time I was ready to cry.  It was snowing outside and no way I could get a bus.  School run had merged into rush hour as well,l hence no taxis.  As a last resort I contacted my brother in law who is a consultant in hospital (I know it seems stupid not to have done this before but I didn’t think he could drop everything unexpectedly for me, and at the time a 30 min taxi wait was bearable.)  So he came to my rescue and drove me home. And has since forwarded me my x-ray.

And I have a lovely pair of boots and 4 duffle coats (one brand new) which I can’t wear as I can’t leave the flat.

And a looming overdraft.

My card was declined as it had expired.  I so rarely use it  I had not noticed.  I’d been sent new one in May.  No idea where that is – under a pile of things somewhere no doubt.



or How To Put Off Going Into Work

Just to keep your all up to scratch with the thrills of my life, I have gainful employment after the show I am on closes this weekend, on a short run of a psychological thriller by Anthony Horowitz.  So temporarily I have no unemployment and a little more money coming in than I expected.

There’s another play booked after that but as yet my potential position on it is unknown.




If you want to understand what an expanded consciousness looks like, all you have to do is have tea with a four-year-old.

Alison Gopnik


WATERSTONES Books of the Month

There’s one called Time Travelling With A Hamster.  Just saying, J, just saying….


 When you slip on a banana peel people laugh at you. But when you tell people you slipped on a banana peel, it’s your laugh.

Nora Ephron

To My Aunt

And so another funeral.  This time my aunt.  I was very close to her when I was a child.  My family used to travel down to her house for Christmas every year, a long tortuous car journey.  There was my Uncle, cousins, brothers and grandparents, plus all the neighbours coming in for sherry on Christmas morning.  It was a big house built in the late 1960’s I guess, with a main bedroom which instead of having a fourth sold wall, was open onto the living room below.  They eventually

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I Need A New Job

Suddenly I find I am going to be needing work from 15 May.  That was rather unexpected.