Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Ramblings: The Lonely Blogger

OK, I'm going to be a bit demanding here. I love writing my blog, find it therapeutic and fun, love the feedback I get from friends and people I know but I'm mystified by who else reads it. Have they stumbled on it by accident and are reading through gritted teeth with rising nausea? Does it amuse people or infuriate them?Is it something people identify with? I'm getting about 1,000 hits a month from Europe, Australasia, Asia, North and South America and even Africa, which is fantastic. I'm really pleased so many people seem to read it and didn't expect that. I'm hoping they read it becasue they like it but I doubt myself as ever. Not unhealthy, I think.

It's unashamedly needy but I'd love a few comments or even an email. I'm just nosey I suppose. I want to know who you are and waht you think? There's no obligation though, anonymity is good if that suits you but if you want to leave a comment on here or (less publicly) send me an email to then please do.

If you do like it too, then please share it, if you don't then please don't!

Ramblings: Accidents Will Happen

Maybe my career as a nurse was predestined. I don’t remember ever wanting to be one but I definitely had a childhood fascination with accidents. In fact my earliest memory is off an accident. I was a grisly child, as most are.
I was three years old, at nursery school and we were forced to drink horrible sour milk every day. It was always warm and slightly stale and was utterly hateful. Margaret Thatcher stopped free school milk, whilst still a minister, which to my mind was the only good thing she ever did. I loathed it and used to gag. It came in tiny little bottles which I imagine only held a quarter of a pint but it felt like a gallon when you had to glug the lukewarm stuff down and put up with it coating your mouth for hours afterwards. I’m an inveterate milk sniffer now and do a sniff test every time to test for freshness. My tolerance of the slightest whiff of being on the turn is very low.
I vividly recall a little girl called Mandy deciding to help the teacher by picking up the crate of empty milk bottles and walking with them up the two steps. You can imagine the rest. I was utterly fascinated by the drama created by one such small event. There was blood and glass everywhere and nursery nurses running around frantically. My goodness, this was far from the usual routine. Incidentally, Mandy wasn’t badly scarred. She soon recovered. I suppose I enjoyed the livening up of the day and secretly envied the attention she got as iodine and bandages were tenderly applied.
A few weeks later it happened again. Another accident! Our nursery school consisted of two rooms in a Victorian school which in memory seemed immense and dark but were probably tiny. There was a playhouse which I loved, a climbing frame which I hated and was fearful of and the obligatory tanks of stick insects which schools seemed to have in the 1970s. They just bored me. School bored me. Other children were weird and a bit scary and they made us sleep in the afternoons. Every afternoon they’d pull out these horrible little canvas and metal beds with scratchy red blankets. We were each assigned a symbol (mine was a beach ball. I wanted the doll or the teddy but was unlucky) and our peg and blanket had these painted or sewn on them. I hated being made to sleep in the afternoon. Ironic, as now I crave a daily nap. I’d lie there, fidgety and restless, singing little songs to myself and making up stories till the teachers came along and told me off and ordered me to sleep. Not easy for an excitable child with a nervous disposition.
The second accident was when a boy fell off the climbing frame, proving my timidity in climbing things justified all along. He landed with a terrible crack, fracturing a bone in his arm. This time it was really exciting. The nursery nurses were stricken and pale, running around, ringing for ambulances and the little boy, Mark, was brave but shaken. I was enthralled. I was also extremely excited by the concept of him having to stay in hospital. It seemed so alien and exciting that you were able to go and spend time away from your parents and eat jelly. I thought this sounded like Utopia and decided to have an accident of my own.
I remember deciding to fall down stairs. My resolve soon weakened when I realised that the actual process by which I needed to break a bone involved falling which was very worrying. The velocity needed was actually beyond the level of courage I had to do it.
Ironically, I actually went on to have a genuine accident a couple of years later and fell down the stairs with aplomb, from top to bottom, cracking my head. I also managed to slip on a discarded copy of “Milly Molly Mandy” once and bang my head on the TV, roll onto a discarded fly fishing hook which my father had dropped and get it embedded in my head and swallow a string of rosary beads. The rosary beads incident was scary. I was about 5 years old and the doctor they called out to me was quite stern, telling me I might need to have my belly cut open. Understandably, I wasn’t keen on this option but once the x-rays excluded a need for this I thoroughly enjoyed an afternoon in the casualty department and reflected back on what fun the hospital was. There was so much to see. It was one of many visits. I suspect that if I were a child nowadays my clumsiness would land me with a file from a concerned Social Worker.
I remember my grandmother rubbing butter on the huge lump on my head after the fall onto the TV (I also cracked the screen) and I loved the day in Casualty when they had to dig the fishing hook out of my scalp. It didn’t hurt at all and the smiley nurse was a vision of loveliness and kindness. I remember an antiseptic spray which smelled of oranges and was quite heavenly.
As mentioned on a post before about my Hitler look-a-like cat, Whiskey, we often had altercations. I was never more proud than when I was bandaged from wrist to armpit and reeking of Savlon. It made me feel very superior to the other children at nursery school. I also loved Witch Hazel and the smell still sends me into ecstasy. I’d get wheezy and snotty in the summer and come out in hives which I’d scratch relentlessly till they bled. The Calamine Lotion was cool and sticky and smelt beautiful and the Witch Hazel dabbed on the bleeding bits was stingy but divine smelling.
My favourite toy at that age was a toy hospital made by Playmobil. It had two storeys. Each ward had 3 beds with little mountainous temperature charts and sickly little Plamobil patients. There was a Playmobil doctor (who was black) and two smiley blonde nurses. I loved that toy but wasn’t especially nurturing. My favourite game was to affect an earthquake and watch them all cope with the calamity as the walls fell apart, sending patients skittering around the floor as they tumbled off their beds. Don’t worry, I’ve never had this yet whilst at work.  
I think there’s sometimes an inevitability to things. Maybe hypochondria added to a love of high drama is what inspired me to enter nursing. Maybe it was just an abiding love of the smell of antiseptic. Who knows? I love it still, anyway.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Ramblings: Tim Burton

I recently re-discovered Tim Burton’s book, “The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy and other Stories”. I love Tim’s films and this little book of grisly stories with fantastic illustrations is a must for any twisted child who’s now old enough to experience this gothic joy.  

Here’s an example, especially for the festive season. It’s not the best one but it’s short to type (give me a break, already!) and is topical.

The Boy with Nails in His Eyes

The Boy with Nails in His eyes

put up his aluminium tree.

It looked pretty strange

Because he couldn’t really see

Poems: A Christmas Poem

I’ve held back so far but after battling my way into the city centre on a steamy over crowded bus on Friday I need to let it all out. It’s getting all festive which for me is not good. The queues to collect parcels are becoming horrendous, there’s nasty tasteless everywhere and the drunken works’ parties are starting to invade the dining venues. I thought a few poems as an antidote to the rubbish might help. Enjoy them, they’re more interesting than the queues for Satan (is that how you spell Saint Nick?). I especially relate to the second poem. Seeing people who’s grief and pain is magnified by the expectation that they should be happy because it’s December is a common sight for me at work.

A Christmas Poem

By Wendy Cope
At Christmas little children sing and merry bells jingle,
The cold winter air makes our hands and faces tingle
And happy families go to church and cheerily they mingle
And the whole business is unbelievably dreadful, if you're single.

A Christmas Song

By Wendy Cope

Why is the baby crying
On this, his special day,

When we have brought him lovely gifts

And laid them on the hay?

He’s crying for the people

Who greet this day with dread

Because somebody dear to them

Is far away or dead,

For all the men and women

Whose love affairs went wrong,

Who try their best at merriment

When Christmas comes along

For separated parents

Whose turn it is to grieve

While children hang their stockings up

Elsewhere on Christmas Eve,

For everyone whose burden,

Carried throughout the year,

Is heavier at Christmastime,

The season of good cheer.

That’s why the baby’s crying

There in the cattle stall:

He’s crying for those people.

He’s crying for them all.

Poems: Flowers

As ever I love the poems of Wendy Cope. She conveys so much in such succinct verse. I like the sentiment here. I’m not at all fussed about getting the flowers either. I much prefer a man who knows me well enough to agonise over whether the flowers were right for someone as particular as me than one who expects me to accept what he thinks I want. The thought of the flowers linger longer for me too.


By Wendy Cope

Some men never think of it.
You did. You’d come along
And say you’d nearly brought me flowers
But something had gone wrong.

The shop was closed. Or you had doubts —
The sort that minds like ours
Dream up incessantly. You thought
I might not want your flowers.

It made me smile and hug you then.
Now I can only smile.
But, look, the flowers you nearly brought
Have lasted all this while.

Ramblings: Big Daddy

One of my favourite lines ever from a film is uttered by Blanche DuBois as she’s genteelly carted off to the lunatic asylum at the end of “A Streetcar Named Desire”: “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers” Let’s face it, who hasn’t at some time or other. Depended on strangers being kind, I mean, not been escorted to a sanatorium for the insane.

The reason I mention this is to talk about one of my favourite authors and playwrights, Tennessee Williams. I’d urge anyone who isn’t familiar with his work to look it out. There are so many fantastic film versions of his works as well as volumes of his short stories, his novella “The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone” and various autobiographies about his life. His plays still appear regularly on the stage almost 30 years after his death and his films attracted actors and directors from the highest echelons.

This man was addicted to amphetamine injections and sedatives, had tempestuous homosexual relationships, nervous breakdowns, issues with alcohol, a rampant wit and died not from the pills he took so many of, but from accidentally choking on the top of a bottle of eye drops. What would make you not want to read about a life like that? It’s not hard to see why this writer would understand and be able to reflect the life of the damaged so well.

His female characters have such strength and depth. It’s hard not be charmed by Blanche DuBois and her real and assumed frailties in a world that’s left her behind. She postures and witters but ultimately is sympathetic and real. I’m sure many of us can identify with her fear of ageing and being left to wither away, losing all we once held as so important. We almost all dislike being under a naked light at a certain age. The desperately shy and crippled Laura and her overbearing mother, Amanda, in “The Glass Menagerie” provide high drama in small domesticities. Maggie the Cat in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” oozes sensuality and speaks of what it is to be a woman willing to use all she’s got to keep her position. Her seductive tangos around her drunken and damaged husband and bombastic father-in-law are a sight to behold (as is the young Paul Newman in the film, but that’s just me being a bit lecherous).

Tennessee Williams wrote about the kind of people that fascinate me: gigolos and drifters, faded Southern Belles, washed up film stars and drunkards. He depicted the shy, the lonely and the damaged and the ruthless and depraved too, with an eye for human frailty and an understanding of their flaws.
I could wax lyrical for hours about what I love about his plays and prose but my suggestion would be to see some of his films. You honestly won’t regret it. They’re pure quality

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Ramblings: French Fancy

What is it with the whole British/ French thing? Stereotypes are generally based on something, I know, but that something is usually from ancient history and was so banal that it wasn’t worth noting in the first place (writes the gay male nurse). There’s nothing duller than a well worn cliché of a comment or a long held national or regional rivalry. Especially when repeated as a truism ad nauseum. It’s like laughing about people having red hair being inevitably ugly or women being bad drivers or men being childlike when they’re ill. It’s boring and uninspired, as is stating that the French are rude.
Let’s face it, if you passionately think that you’re local town/city/country is superior to the neighbouring town/city/country, then good on you. It’s good to have the black and white views of a child and good to have a child-like passion to get worked up over, especially if you’ve managed to uncover that whole Tooth Fairy/Santa myth yet. (If these views are based on some kind of football based rivalry, I retract that, you’re pathetic and feeble.) Let’s have a reality check though. Most things aren’t black and white. The town down the road does have a few unfriendly people and a smaller weekday market but maybe yours has a less classy pub and a poorer cinema. Life’s rarely just as simple as A+B=C and the population of France are not rude and malodorous.
I love France, love Paris and would say without doubt that I actually have tended to like most French people I’ve ever met. My first visit in the late 1980s was to Northern France, Mulhouse to be precise. It’s a fair city, pretty in parts, industrial in others and nestled in nice countryside if you travel a short distance. That could almost describe my home region, although we have less impressive mountains and it takes a lot longer to get to Switzerland.
The visit began hellishly. I was 20 years old and with my alcoholic older boyfriend, Barry, at the time and we were there to visit his brother and his French girlfriend, Annie who was a dental nurse. Barry’s brother, Sam, had forgotten to take any time off work to take us out as he’d planned and also, unsurprisingly, drank as much as Barry did and was equally as nasty a drunk. Queue a string of listless days wandering round a small French city with a grumpy alcoholic in tow who was getting progressively more drunk, followed by evenings in a small French flat with a French girl who spoke little English and a the equally drunk and obnoxious other English alcoholic. Barry and his brother seemed to be having a competition called “who can be rudest their partner whilst drinking spirits then pass out”.
Annie was a lovely hostess, taking her nightly humiliations and her angst at having not the usual one alcoholic twat to deal with but two. She cooked beautiful meals, delicately spiced and flavoured local dishes, and provided delicacies and treats. She asked me if it was acceptable if she spoke solely English to me as she was keen to improve her faltering language and accent. I gladly agreed and said to make her feel better I’d speak purely French. Her English was better than my French but we both got by and smiled a lot and encouraged each other. If only we’d both been bilingual enough to confront each other with the phrase: “What’s a nice English/French boy/girl doing tied to an obnoxious miserable old twat like this?” then we may both have enriched each other’s life even more.
Annie tried hard to speak English well but was met with derision by the brothers grim. “Sam is a good cooker!” was one phrase met by laughter direct to her face by the pair. Being French, she maintained poise. She kept me stocked up with linen, made suggestions of where to go in the town and what to see and repeatedly apologised for Sam’s rudeness and for his failure to look after us as guests. She was mortified that they weren’t treating us in a way that she thought appropriate and ashamed that she also had no time off work. To be honest we were a bit stranded where they lived. The public transport was poor and we were just too far to walk anywhere decent.
By day 4 I was desperate: loving the French food and the company of Annie but hating being stuck with in a reunion between two brothers that was essentially a prolonged drinking and spite competition. I don’t always hide my feelings well and knowing we had another ten days to go I felt pretty grim. I retreated into my pile of hefty novels, moping on the balcony and smoking cheap French cigarettes. The one occasion Sam managed to try to show us some hospitality he took us out to lunch to a flea bitten cafe where he and Barry drank several bottles of cheap red wine and he then drove us back to the flat, perilously drunk and they both lapsed into loud snoring sleep leaving me alone with my books again.
With the prospect of another ten days of two very rude Englishmen in a French city, the French came to the rescue with their natural flair for hospitality. Annie took us out with a group of her friends who insisted on taking us to a stylish restaurant. They insisted on paying, insisted on trying out their faltering English on us and insisted that we needed to see more of the region. They pooled their diaries and formulated a plan: a rota of who could take care of the poor English boy. Over the next week, we had a fantastic experience.
Every day people would arrive and collect us before lunch, taking us on trips to the mountains with meals in traditional Alsace rural cafes, trips to the countryside with lazy lunches, a day in Strasbourg, visits to the cathedral and art museums in Mulhouse and meals out in the evenings. The younger French women took me under their wings and insisted on taking me for shopping trips where I marvelled at the level of service the French got, the courtesy, the free gift wrapping, the range of products on sale. I learnt lots about the local culture, saw the range of scenery of the area and felt like they were genuinely taking pleasure in trying to make me welcome. My constant attempts to try to spend money were repeatedly met with refusals and I returned each day with a full stomach, a full wallet and often, small gifts.
Barry and Sam carried on drinking but it was bearable. The rude English had been well and truly outclassed by the delightful French. One family even welcomed us to their Sunday lunch on their farm and set up a huge trestle table of food for us and waited on us hand and foot all afternoon. It was like an impressionist painting come to life. I admired a grotesque carnival mask (they had a collection from numerous years of the local autumn festival) and they insisted I left with it. When I left, I left a pile of gifts for Annie as a surprise in our room and naturally, she wrote and thanked me. Being French and polite, they tend to behave like that. I heard that she had left Sam a short while afterwards and I was glad for her but not brave enough to take her lead and follow suit.
I know this is one example and you may say that your experience of the French is that they’re rude and inhospitable, but personally I found it a very different matter. This also wasn’t the only time. The barn I once rented in Brittany was owned by people who went to extreme lengths to make my stay comfortable and easy. They provided anything I asked for, presented me with bunches of flowers and gifts of cheeses and cakes and even offered me the use of their over-sized dog who had taken a distinct shine to me. I took them up on this and having a huge black shaggy dog only added to my pleasure on coastal walks. People wherever we went enquired about our origin, painstakingly tried to translate menus we were struggling to decipher, even fetching some ingredients from the kitchens to show us if we failed in our comprehension.
Well, French haters, I’m guessing your argument here: this is rural France I’m discussing. What about those terribly rude Parisians? My answer is, have you ever visiting a city in England? Any city, since maybe the 19th Century? Are city workers in shops and cafes always so polite in England?
My experiences in Paris (detailed here on this blog in other posts) were that the service people and locals were amazingly charming. The poor lady in the chemist who I tried so hard to buy a personal item from, was coy charm epitomised. This showed extreme good manners as I was trying to buy condoms and lubricant with no words and a rather poor mime. The staff in the smaller bars would try to engage in conversation and were only too glad to revert to English when I struggled with my schoolboy French. I was bought drinks, invited to join in a sing song of Piaf numbers in a basement gay bar and shop staff were always helpful. I don’t recall a single person being openly rude. I don’t recall bad body odour, halitosis or arrogant behaviour. Maybe I’ve been to a different Paris from you.
I know you’re going to tell me you tried to speak French and they looked on at you struggling with a sneer and then answered back in perfect English. I don’t perceive that as a fault. They’re trying to help, humiliation is a good teacher. It’s good they let you try and who can blame them their faint sneer, it’s a feature of their inimitable style. I expect many of us sound quite absurd too. They could always just ignore you and leave you to it too. Now that would be rude.
Now, anything else you want me to sort out? Women drivers, all young people have no manners, things aren’t what they used to be? I’ll take you on gladly.

Poems: At Eighty Three She Lives Alone

The poet, Ruth Stone, died this week aged 96. I’ve only recently discovered her. Apologies to those who hate the word “cunt” but I think it fits well and her work shouldn’t be censored. This is such a poignant poem about ageing and our invisibility in society, in spite of our often unchanged inner world.

At Eighty-three She Lives Alone

By Ruth Stone

Enclosure, steam-heated; a trial casket.
You are here; your name on a postal box;
entrance into another place like vapour.
No one knows you. No one speaks to you.
All of their cocks stare down their pant legs
at the ground. Their cunts are blind. They
barely let you through the check-out line.
Have a nice day. Plastic or paper

Are you origami? A paper folded swan,
like the ones you made when you were ten?
When you saw the constellations, lying
on your back in the wet grass,
the soapy pear blossoms drifting
and wasting, and those starts, the burned out ones
whose light was still coming in waves;
your body was too slight.
How could it hold such mass?
Still on your lips the taste of something

All night you waited for morning, all morning
for afternoon, all afternoon for night;
and still the longing sings.
Oh, paper bird with folded wings

Ramblings: Fancy That

If someone had said to me a few years ago that I’d have grown to love getting myself decked out in fancy dress then I’d have laughed in their face. The thought horrified me. I’d only once been to a fancy dress party and that was age 12 where I made an unsuccessful attempt to dress as a hippy and actually looked a bit like a young Barbra Streisand. It was 1984 and I felt horribly underdressed amongst a room full of teenage Boy George’s and as teenagers are wont to do, died a little inside.
My downfall began in early 2009 when I was invited to a friend’s 40th birthday party and me and my best friend came to the decision that we’d willingly go but wouldn’t be donning any sort of ridiculous costume as we couldn’t face it. We’d be the ones dressed in moderately flattering clothes, sitting in the corner, smiling politely and marvelling at all the effort everyone had made, whilst retaining dignity. Days before the party we heard that the hostess was making a huge effort (an Edward Scissorhands outfit) and that a couple we knew had even hired elaborate suits (an Orville and Cat in the Hat costume) and the guilt kicked in. We vowed we’d make the effort for once and my friend got herself an Amy Winehouse wig and a set of fake tattoos. She looked great but sadly had upped the ante.
On an aside, since her tragic, but not unexpected death, I wonder how many warehouses full of Winehouse costumes are now gathering dust. If I was a trader in Amy wigs I’d be re-marketing them for Halloween as the Winehouse zombie get-up, but then maybe I’m just a little bit twisted. I suppose you’d have needed some guts to brave the bereaved fans as a vomit splattered Winehouse corpse just yet, but then fans who leave empty vodka bottles and cigarettes as a tribute to a woman killed by excess maybe deserve all they get? Just a thought; maybe next Halloween I’ll be tottering around with a beehive hairstyle and a few nicotine stains.
I set about hunting for my outfit and decided I needed to drag up. I know this is normally the domain of the straight man but as at the age of 38 I’d never donned heels and a skirt, I felt it was my duty to do so. I knew straight away that glamour was out. I’m too tall and my features are too coarse to make a good drag queen. Also, my budget was low. Why spend a fortune on an outfit for one party? I came up with my plan; the 70s and 80s icon Barbara Woodhouse. Incidentally, Paul has met her at various dog shows when his parents bred Afghan Hounds; he never fails to startle me with his breadth of life experience.
If you don’t recall her, are not from these parts or are sickeningly young then I’ll explain. Barbara was a rather tweedy lady who taught us all how to train dogs on national TV. Her main methods were to almost garrotte them with a sharp and fierce lead tug and to speak in an authoritative tone which would have stopped Hitler in his tracks and made him reconsider invading Poland. Google her, she was hilarious.
Barbara was a natural choice. Charity shops are full of elasticated tweed skirts. I wouldn’t need heels (she wore a man’s brogue) or a good wig and for added comedy value I could have a stuffed dog toy on a lead and chuck it about whenever conversation lulled. The secret of good fancy dress is a comedy feature to endlessly bore everyone with.
I set off on a tour of charity shops and found gold: a twin-set and a sturdy tweed skirt in my waist size. Being sensible, I decided I needed to try the skirt on. I patiently explained to the elderly lady behind the counter that I wasn’t a pervert and was attending a party as Ms Woodhouse and could I try the skirt on. She smiled and chuckled and bellowed down the shop to her colleague:
“Maureen! This man needs to try this on. He’s going to a party as a transvestite. Will you fetch me the fitting room key?” I blushed a little but was undeterred.
I changed my plan in the end and went as someone a little less glamorous: Susan Boyle. A nasty old dress, baggy cardigan, cheap court shoes, a badly styled wig and a pair of huge stick on bushy eyebrows and it was complete. I was a dead ringer for that annoying woman with the learning difficulties that they reluctantly wheel out on stage like a performing monkey after she won “Britain’s Got Talent” It worked well. It was topical and amused people and I recreated the name badges they wore on the execrable show to banish doubt as to who I was. The court shoes were under £5 and amazingly, I danced all night in them without a single fall.
The lady whose party it was had a number of gay friends and in a drunken state we decided it would be fun to nip to the nearest gay bar two minutes round the corner. It was indeed fun as we skidded along on the January ice, our number including a big furry Wookie and Adam Ant. We caused much amusement. It would have been distinctly less fun had I timed it a little less well. After the party, I changed back to normal clothes and decided to pop for a quick snifter on the way home and ran into my recent ex, the lying policeman. I was still feeling very hurt, it being 3 weeks since he’d ended the relationship. You naturally fantasise about the first time you run into the man who abandoned you with his new boyfriend. In your head you’ll look care-free and stunning and have a fixed expression of unbridled joy. In none of these scenarios are you ever dressed as Susan Boyle. Phew. It was a close one.
My next attempt was over a year later when I dressed as a zombie for a (failed) record breaking attempt for the number of people simultaneously dancing to “Thriller” by creepy dead odd ball and drug fiend Michael Jackson. I loved that one. My dancing was a bit ropey in places, albeit funny but the costume was more fun. I dressed as a rotting nurse complete with gunshot wounds and won a prize for Best Dressed Zombie and felt inordinately (and probably inappropriately) proud. I’d spent days dragging those scrubs through mud, applying bullet holes and fake blood and the greenish makeup which I was head to toe in took a lot of Flash to wash off the light switches but it was great. It’s quite liberating to have a go at being un-dead. I recommend it. I also posed for a few photos of myself round the house completing domestic chores, such as drinking tea and dusting. It amused me, anyway.
The next attempt, I got braver. December 2010 I was invited to a 70s or 80’s themed charity party. I thought to myself that as I knew most of the people there (my colleagues mostly) I could really go for it and drag up properly. I decided to go as my idol, Debbie Harry from Blondie. My motivation was meanness. I spotted a suitable peroxide wig with black roots, found a pair of cheap dangerously high heels and bought a couple of pounds worth of cheap makeup to apply heavily. The dress was easy. For those who recall, Debbie wore a bin bag as a dress as an ultimate punk statement for her video appearance in “Atomic” (an all time favourite of mine). I donned my torn fishnets, plastered on the smeary make-up and eased on my bin bag. The shoes were a chore to walk in, having a good 3 inch heels but I valiantly tried and I must admit that my legs were a sight to behold. My calves had never looked as fine as in those plastic snakeskin travesties. The dress was a bit unexpectedly short. I’d forgotten that bin bags aren’t too long and with a requisite belt, barely covered my pants.
It was snowing heavily and the steep path to my friend’s house was like a luge track. It was touch and go whether we emulated the film “Cool Running” and my friends who were with me were keen to climb aboard and use me as a sled to slide down on, but we managed without. We must have looked a little alarming. More alarming was the party. In my planning I’d thought “Well, we’re all friends. People will think it’s just C having a laugh.” I’d forgotten that there were a lot of husbands and friends who didn’t know me and were there also. I’d also forgotten that as a novice dragger-upper I had no concept that I needed to keep my knees together. My Calvin Klein pants got a lot of viewing that night and I made a lot of small talk with some slightly edgy straight men. The quartet of Smurfs who attended distracted us all though. Apparently it’s still politically correct to “blue-up”.
Since then I’ve been Marcel Marceau, a gypsy wedding guest and a decomposed vicar, all fantastic fun. Seeing my best friend and her family (my second family as I see them) done up in the tackiest wedding finery imaginable for her 40th was great fun and Paul and I made great bruisers. I became quite attached to my quite convincing temporary neck tattoos. My rotted vicar made me realise I’d have made a scarily good vicar: I have the bone structure. Marcel was a joy too; no better way to amuse and annoy than to spend an evening doing very bad mime.
I must add one final warning though. It can be risky. It’s not just the risk of running into the ex, scaring straight men with your legs or falling off the heels. Fancy dress does have one more peril, the serious conversation. Dressed as Su-Bo wasn’t perhaps the best outfit to have on to be engaged in a lengthy discussion a friend wanted about a relative’s terminal illness. Maybe the drafty bin bag makes listening for an hour while a friend talks through her family issues was less than conducive and it is hard to make the right facial expressions in mime artist make-up whilst a friend spills out her recent battles with alcoholism. Oh what the hell, go for it anyway. If they want to talk to a zombie about their sexual dysfunction then it’s definitely their prerogative. Maybe they find it easier, like talking to a stranger on a bus or ringing a late night phone in and who am I to deny some comfort. I can do listening when needed whatever I’m wearing.

Poems: November

I posted this poem on Facebook last year and my cousin pointed out that unless you lived in a cave it couldn’t possibly be true. It’s certainly not true in any literal sense in November 2011, as we’ve had some pretty freakishly good weather, but I like this poem nonetheless as it captures that feeling of winter blues which so often marks the onset of the season.
by Thomas Hood
No sun - no moon!

No morn - no noon -

No dawn - no dusk - no proper time of day.

No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,

No comfortable feel in any member -

No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,

No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds!


Friday, 25 November 2011

Ramblings: Small Talk

There was a gentleman talking on the BBC news this morning about manners and courtesy. I’m all for it. I love good manners and agreed with all his points that the demise of correct address is a sad thing. There isn’t a replacement for a simple “thank you” and the casually muttered “my pleasure”, “have a good day” or “call again” aren’t an adequate substitute. There’s nothing like being treated with a little respect. I won’t go on to expound on this issue as I’ll probably end up sounding like an elderly lady reminiscing about the past when things were so “good” (like a life expectancy of 50, smog, Spam, bigotry and rife T.B.) as I think in many ways this is often nostalgic nonsense. I want to address over friendliness.
People talk about the South of England as being unfriendly, bemoan the lack of cheerful chitchat in the streets of our English towns and complain about surly foreigners when they travel abroad. Personally, I’m all for it. As long as you’re polite and respectful then I’d rather you weren’t too friendly. I really don’t have the time or the energy. Frankly, quite a large percentage of the general public bore me too. Why would I want to talk to them?
A common mantra of mine when shopping with Paul is: “Don’t engage!” I hiss this discretely at regular intervals. It saves a lot of time. Thirty minutes spent talking to a mothball scented old lady selling tat on an “antiques” stall often gleans little but an aching back and a dull headache. They’re like assassins, pouncing like ninjas on the slightest of eye contact or the merest lingering glance at a piece of chipped china. Anyone who has attended antiques fairs will understand what I mean and will have left wilting and parched, wondering where the last two hours went; then shuddering in recall as they remember the monologues they endured.
I once had an over friendly neighbour. She was lonely I imagine, being elderly and living alone. I wasn’t lonely, lived with a hard to manage alcoholic and had a wayward dog, a full time job and house to keep. She appeared to me initially as an eye. I was smoking on the back door step, recovering from the bleach fumes after a tiresome morning mopping and trying to put some order into the house we’d recently moved into and enjoying the peace. I’d spent two hours on my hands and knees trying to restore some lovely but battered red quarry tiles. I was streaked red with Cardinal polish.
I heard a disembodied voice and looked around in alarm. I finally spotted an eye staring at me through a knot hole in the fence about 4 feet from the ground. Thus my relationship with the spritely 96 year old neighbour began. I shall call her Mabel. Mabel was very fit and apart from slightly bowed legs and a stoop, had all her faculties. She would stand on a rickety stool and clean her own windows, trail to the shops to fetch tinned salmon and peaches, or whatever it is old ladies eat, and spend hours at the front gate chatting to all and sundry.
My house was a small 3 bed room detached with original art deco features under all the 1970s cover-ups. I was charmed to have found it and was working hard to try and restore some style to it. I was charmed to have a genuine art deco neighbour too; not quite an ex- flapper or a war bride, but I had high hopes. Maybe there’d be interesting stories about intriguing jazz clubs, gramophones and using gravy browning to make ingenious fake stockings during the war. I longed to know about rationing and about the bleak 40s and more hopeful 50s.
Mabel launched into a long monologue and two hours later I had her life story and some hard to remove polish stains. I’ll summarise and pick out the interesting bits. She went to Monte Carlo once. That was it. No war stories, no one was bombed nearby. It wasn’t too tough for her. She stayed at home and cooked and cleaned, her husband went to work and her daughter grew up. That was it. She had something to say about Monte Carlo. She had gone into a casino there with her husband and the croupier was a Jewish woman. This was regaled with a gasp, followed by a pause for me to express my shock that a croupier could be a) female and b) non-gentile. I always struggled with this bit. I wasn’t shocked.
It was about 2 months before I actually saw Mabel in the flesh. Until then she was a mere ocular vision; a disembodied rheumy eye peeking through the fence. I’d heard her a lot more. I had hours of tedious anecdotes swimming round my brain and an equal amount of time lost in which I could have been buffing floors or going over grimed up stained glass windows with cotton buds and vinegar. I was averaging two hours a week of Mabel talk. She mentioned the Jewish woman every time too. I failed to gasp every time too, which is maybe why she continued to repeat it. Her charm soon faded.
I’m sure I provided a service and she definitely had no malice. I’d have helped her out too if there’d been a need. She was still going strong when I left years later. By this time I’d perfected a kind of limbo dance out of the back door which often proved Mabel-proof. It’s hard to get past a 5 foot tall woman with a range of eye holes in a fence when you’re six feet tall and clumsy but I managed it.
I talk to my neighbours now. I bemoan the bad service of the bin-men, berate the weather and bad mouth the woman two doors down who’s certainly a little bit wayward. What’s the beauty of all this though? It takes two minutes. I’m happy with this.
I was startled once whilst shopping in a city in the North of England. I’d never been alone in a city in the North but knew the reputation was that they were friendly places. I’d picked up a jacket and was admiring it when a woman stopped and said “Nice jacket, love, but it’s not you.” She then kindly pointed out a hideous thing she thought was me and I backed away blushing a little to myself, mumbling my thanks. It then happened again in another shop and another. Then a shop assistant tried to engage me in a conversation about a particular style of garment. Everywhere I went they all chatted to me. I was stunned. Surely a bit of friendliness is ok but I don’t need a personal shopper. O.K. I do, but I’d pay a professional. Amatuers don’t cut it for me. I hot footed it back Southwards sharpish.
I was admitted to hospital in Merseyside, briefly almost two years ago. Like most hospitals there was a hidden area where people went to smoke. I was a little battered and wobbly and my social skills were poor but I certainly needed nicotine. I was an in-patient for a mere three days but in that time I had enough depressing life stories from the fellow smokers to write an equally dreary novel. My expectation was maybe a brief nod, at best a smile. Instead I got asked “Where are you from?” “What’s wrong with you?” “What are you doing here?” All perfunctory measures designed with the purpose of then pouring about a tragic story about addictions, still births and abuse. Friendliness was definitely not required on this occasion unless it was from a medical professional bearing something sharp. I was feeling withdrawn, wonky and frail. I hadn’t got the capacity.
Finally, I experienced the worst in the ranking of “over-friendly” incident this last weekend; the train bore. I sat down at a table, opened my book and donned my specs. I had 40 pages left and the ending was uncertain and definitely compelling. A man in Lycra sat opposite me. Lycra is rarely a good look, especially if you’re a little...well...lumpy. He had a haircut which could have meant one of two things 1) I have an abusive mother who I am powerless over who cuts my hair with a bowl 2) I’m a bit wrong.
Luckily the train journey was only 20 minutes long and once we’d established that my blatant hints that I didn’t want to talk were being ignored I was forced to sit back and learn a lot about cycling, football, the TV program “Top Gear” and War films of the 1970s. Oh joy. I pondered to myself: “Is this what it must be like to be a straight woman?” If it is, thank you to whichever force of nature or alteration of gene structure made me gay.
My revulsion at invasive small talk is not about privacy. If you’ve read this blog before you’ll know I have very little sense of that. I’ll tell anyone anything (almost) provided they ask nicely. I think it’s my boredom threshold. There may be a day when I’m old and doddery or lonely and sad and I want to chat too. In that case, I’ll demand my due in return. Be warned. I have a hell of a lot of anecdotes. It could take some time.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Ramblings: Crazy in Love

A couple of years ago I read a book by a psychologist called Frank Tallis, called “Love Sick” I went through a phase of reading pop psychology books during a turbulent phase in my love life and had just recently discovered that I was indeed a “Woman Who Loved Too Much” (albeit the wrong gender) and that it was also “Called a Break-Up Because it’s Broken” I was also using a special lamp for self diagnosed seasonal affective disorder (interesting diagnosis as I’ve always been depressed in the summer) and reading lots of cognitive behavioural therapy books about anxiety and depression. I soon got bored of it all, of course. The lamp helped a bit I think but only in that it meant I had to sit still for 30 minutes each day.
Frank Tallis spoke to me in my state of disillusionment at the time and answered the doubts about love harboured by poorly concealed inner cynic. He proposed the theory that love is actually a name for a quite debilitating mental illness which afflicts many with transient madness and in some cases is even terminal. How many murders and suicides are motivated by love that has gone awry? Here’s a quotation from his website:
“The symptoms of love are many and varied. What’s intriguing is that if we list them- for example, preoccupation with the loved one, tearfulness, euphoria- and check them against accepted diagnostic criteria for mental illness, we find that most ‘lovers’ qualify for diagnoses of obsessional illness, depression or manic depression. And this is no superficial relationship. Neurochemical and brain scanning investigations have shown a considerable overlap between ‘the brain in love’ and ‘the brain in the throes of mental illness’ Why should this be? Why is love experienced as a kind of madness?”

Scary stuff, yet at the time of reading the book I was still actively seeking it out. I wanted more madness. I’ve always hated that horrible cliché that the time you stop looking is when you find a partner. Statistically this has got to be untrue and makes no sense. It’s just a perception we have. It’s hard to stop hoping for something that you really want.

My first experience of love, aged 16 was pure infatuation. I had a bet going on with a friend who was 9 months older than me that I could lose my virginity before she did. She’d managed it at 16 and 9 months and I needed to catch up quickly. If I wasn’t to lose face I needed to lose my big V. This is probably not the best reason for losing your virginity, by the way.

I won the bet and gained an infatuation of startling intensity within days. The boy, a 17 year old from my school, was equally infatuated and we were archetypal love sick teenagers. I mooned about, didn’t sleep, didn’t eat. I was nauseated and restless and whole heartedly obsessed. I adored everything about him for about 14 days then I suddenly snapped out of it and realised that he was a bit of a knob with a very dull Doctor Who fixation and mild body odour issues. I then spent weeks trying to get rid of him and he took a (thankfully small) drug overdose complete with dramatic note addressed to me. I found it all very exhausting.

My subsequent experiences of love were at times, equally exhausting. I’d love to get back the hours I’ve spent thinking obsessively with a churning stomach. I’d love to take back the psychopathic text messages brimful of meanness and a fine vocabulary of inventive swearwords. I’d like to have not experienced the drunken stupors and crying fits and the bleakness of spirit. I’d like to have not experienced the misdirected self hatred after rejections and infidelities. I suspect many of my long suffering friends also wished they'd not gone through this with me too. I think Frank Tallis had a point in many ways and as I mooned about swamped with fatigue and full of pain after another bad experience I’d hold him up as an icon.

However, I still sought it out sporadically, lurching from relationships to relationships with minimal intervals in between. Along with the lows there were highs. The exhilarating feeling of experiencing someone’s passion for you is one not to be missed, even if that passion does turn out, ultimately, to be rather weak and transient. It’s a fine sensation to feel excitement when he calls, to tremble when you see him and have a head full of dreams. Mental disturbance isn’t all bad. I saw it as a risk worth taking, a pay off worth paying for.
I’m not overtly romantic in a traditional sense and like to think of myself as a cynic. I once told a friend who’s wedding I couldn’t attend that I’d go to the next one (it turned out I was right and I did indeed attend number two). I also once said to an annoying taxi driver, who was boasting about spending thousands on his daughter’s wedding, that it was important to make it special as getting married was something you experience only 3 or 4 times in your life. I was moderately contented on my own and met Paul entirely by accident in an improbable place after a long period of single life. I wasn’t seeking a new partner but equally wasn’t not seeking one.

I still think Frank Tallis is right. Love is a strange biochemical process based on neuro-transmitters with a lot of societal pressures and psychological foundations. You know what though? Mental illness never felt so fine. Maybe I’ve got wiser as I’ve got older. Miracles do sometimes happen even to the cynical non-believers.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Ramblings: Freak Like Me

Last week I saw a tiny little man who was wearing a floral shower cap on top of his turban. He was all of 5 feet three tall, wizened and elderly and his immaculate dark suit was topped off exquisitely by a lurid 1970s shower cap. I think he was a very sensible man, it was raining after all and no one wants a damp turban all day.
I often see a man who works at the hospital who dresses as an Edwardian gentleman. He must be in his 50s and is tall and rotund. He sports a series of fetching waistcoats stretched over his ample belly and he has a huge waxed moustache which sprawls over his face. I saw him walking through the city centre one evening and he was also wearing a cape that night and carrying a sliver topped cane. I admire him and often smile at his outfits, commenting on a particular natty cravat or a dashing checked trouser. Naturally, he works in psychiatry. Where else could you get away with that look? I asked him once if he lived in a re-created Edwardian house and I was gladdened when he affirmed that indeed he did.
There used to be an elderly woman who walked around the streets with a small white poodle in a huge Silver Cross pram. He was harnessed in by his lead and would sit quite happily, yapping at passersby as he was wheeled around in style. She would merrily chatter away to him as they strolled.
I always admired a tall thin elderly lady who lived nearby. She would set out from her house with a very purposeful gait, striding briskly, head down, sending people scurrying out of her way in terror. She always wore a blue rain coat and a matching hairnet and had a full beard. She would often smile at people, revealing a lot of missing teeth, and give a jaunty wave with her hand held high. She’d shout “Hello!” at deafening volume. Occasionally she’d appear with a huge brown dog on a lead which would drag her around and she’d trot along breathlessly behind with a happy expression on her whiskery face.
I could write all night about these people. There are scores more of them in my mental bank of people I regularly see. To me, these people are rational and normal. No one wants a wet turban. They must become so heavy. Why not arrive in style in a shower cap if it keeps you dry? The Edwardian style suits a large man and if you can get away with sauntering around at work in full costume then why not? It’s fun. Poodles are unwieldy things to carry around. They wriggle so. If you have a spare pram to hand going to waste then why not convert it into a poodle carriage? I’m sure he was a good listener to as she talked away. If you struggle with messy hair and don’t have time to shave your beard then why not be proud of it? Walk along with a tooth deficient grin and shout greetings at full volume. The depilatory process can be wearing to maintain. Brazen it out.
My point I suppose, is that “normal” is all about perception. Maybe we’re the mad ones for spending time plucking stray hairs or walking around with wet hair when we have perfectly nifty shower caps to hand?
I asked on Facebook last year for people I knew to come out of the closet and admit their inner freakiness. The response was quite phenomenal. People admitted bizarre rituals, filthy habits and strange beliefs. They collected nail clippings, believed that their identical twin was better looking and were scared of sponges or wet wood. They ate inappropriate foods, had attachments to unusual items and perceived things in peculiar ways. All perfectly normal to me. It doesn’t take much chipping away at the surface to reveal a great big scary freak underneath. As for my odd habits, well, I describe them enough on here.
My definition of strange is a teenage boy in canvas shoes on a wintery day, walking along with trousers halfway down his thighs and buttocks showing. Wearing jeans with elasticated ankles and a baggy gusset which makes it look like you’re wearing a nappy, suits no practical purpose and looks pretty odd. Surely we should stop stare and point.
I think madness is to spend thousands of pounds on a huge white wedding party, inviting people you barely know to attend the protracted rituals and wasting money on a frock you’ll wear once and then look back on with blushes as the fashions change. I’m puzzled by people who watch TV constantly, celebrate Christmas with gusto, believe in holy spirits or find clowns endearing. Now that is very weird.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Ramblings: Send Out the Clowns

I hope no one reading this is a clown or mime artist as the following may cause offence: I think you’d look better dead. I believe that shooting a clown should be a legitimate pastime and like crimes of passion were in France, should be exempt from prosecution.
Mime artists were unavoidable this year at the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh. Every time you turned a corner there was another buffoon dressed in a stripy top and beret pulling on an invisible rope or pulling him or herself up on a nonexistent wall. Their hideous whited out faces would be forming “comedy” expressions and jauntily raising eyebrows whilst I’d be twitching for the Kalashnikov I wished I was carrying. I had strange urges to pop their balloons with my cigarette.
Bizarrely, people crowd around and watch them and even give them money when they pass around their battered hats complete with “funny” wilted flower. This is also known as the “You’re blocking the pavement. Get out of my way!” situation. The words “Nothing to see here, move along!” were sorely needed and I was gagging to shout it out. I didn’t. I try to behave.
I went to see a version of “Uncle Vanya” by Chekov which was performed by a theatrical troop from Los Angeles. It had won an award and garnered rave reviews and was described as physical theatre at its finest. Stupidly I ignored this and thought it sounded fun. It wasn’t. I forgot that physical theatre actually means tomfoolery that wouldn’t keep a child of three entertained for long. I was trapped in a small theatre whilst a group of five grown men wreaked havoc on a Chekov play by turning it into slap stick comedy with a series of clowning moves and weird mimes. That’s an hour I won’t get back. I couldn’t even have a sneaky sleep as the sound of the actors repeatedly falling over kept me awake. It’s just what Chekov intended, I’m sure, when he wrote his witty plays full of angst. I bet he thought to himself: “This play lacks a man slipping on a banana skin, that’s always funny.” Actually a friend of mine slipped on a banana skin once and ended up with a fracture. He didn’t laugh.
I got back to the apartment and posted a review on the Fringe website warning everyone it was dire. The next night I went to see an amazingly good play (with no comedy falls) and the man sitting next to me looked familiar. We started chatting and lo and behold, he was one of the Chekov vandal clowns from L.A. Naturally, I told him it was a great performance. I squirmed a little at my own insincerity but what can you do when you’re trapped in a theatre.
Clowns are horribly scary. Clown phobia even has a name: coulrophobia. If it has a name it must be scary. It’s not just “It” by Stephen King or Ronald MacDonald, purveyor of dead cows and saturated fat, which gives them a bad name. Google John Wayne Gacy and you’ll soon share my phobia. A gay serial killer who dressed as a clown and lured more than 33 teenage boys into his house and stashed their corpses in the cellar? It’s bad enough without the clowning, but with the outfit, that’s just sick. I bet the blood was a bugger to wash off his nylon dungarees and the size 24 shoe prints must have been a dead giveaway for forensics.
Clowns just aren’t funny. I loathe slapstick. I get hives watching Laurel and Hardy. They were fine for silent films but we have these devices now which can broadcast words and dropping a piano downstairs has been superseded in the funny stakes by verbal badinage.
I remember as a child going to someone’s house and they had a series of oil paintings of clowns crying. It was the 1970s. People collected this sort of rubbish. I was horrified and shook a little in my Clarkes’ sandals. I suspect the tears were like crocodiles’ tears, a trick to make children feel sorry for them so they’d come near enough to be dismembered. My mother has a collection of porcelain clowns which are thankfully in a glass fronted cabinet to stop them escaping and killing people in the night. I think she bought them to keep me away, a bit like an evil eye.
It is however safe to get into a clowns car. They always fall apart a bit when they start the engine with the big handle and you can leg it quick before they try and put one on you with their sweaty white gloved hands and big upside down smiley mouths. Don’t be fooled by the innocuous flowers on their lapels though. One step too close and they’ll squirt in your face which is always a bad thing.
Speaking of which, clown porn does exist. I haven’t Googled it, that would be too frightening, but I once accidentally (honestly Officer) stumbled on a program on late night TV about people with sexual fetishes involving clowns. That gave me nightmares: so wrong on every single level. Sex can be messy at the best of times without a custard pie in your pubic hair.
A cautionary tale here also: I was once having a very serious conversation with a tearful woman at work and her mobile phone kept going off, signifying text messages received. Her ring tone was a clown car horn. Always think about you’re alert tones. They can be inappropriate and cause embarrassment in situations of a delicate nature.
So, I advocate burning all the clowns. If you see one, approach him carefully. Sneak up and pop his balloons as a distraction, step on his oversized foot, snap the elastic on his sinister nose and go for his jugular. Always carry a banana skin too in case a clown runs at you. You’ll be doing all of us coulrophobics a massive favour if you fracture a clown somewhere.
I personally am carrying the torch for clown haters and in a couple of weeks I’m going to a fancy dress party as Marcel Marceau. Well, a dead Marcel Marceau, the finishing touch will be a knife in the back and a lot of fake blood. Mime artists and clowns only look better that way. They’re less scary once maimed or injured. You can’t say fairer than that.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Ramblings: You Should Be Dancing

I love dancing. It’s just a shame that I have very little style and elegance but I do try hard. Since I have given up drinking I haven’t been out to a club. It’s actually almost two years since I went to a nightclub, unbelievably. I’m not sure what dancing sober would be like. I can’t quite imagine it. Maybe I’d have more grace but an unfortunate increase in self awareness. I’ll perhaps try it one day.
I dance all the time at home and when I’m out in public, I just keep it very secret. I dance when I’m cooking. Well, I say cooking, microwaving or heating things would be a more appropriate term. There’s nothing like a quick two step to Roxy Music or a shimmy round to Soft Cell to make the chores go so much more quickly. I dance in secret when I’m on the bus and I suspect I’m not the only one.
It amuses me when my I-Pod plays something improbable and wholeheartedly embarrassing. I love the fact that it segues seamlessly from The Zutons to Noel Coward and Florence and the Machine to the hits of Shirley Bassey. I like the fact that I’m sitting in a smart wool coat and a suit and really wouldn’t be expected to be belting out early Madonna or the soundtrack of Bugsy Malone.
I defy anyone to listen to Shirley Bassey on their headphones and not do some sort of secret dance. Whether it’s a brief blink, a surreptitious head turn in time to a rising crescendo or a well timed leg crossing, it’s perfectly possible to dance without anyone knowing on public transport. Kate Bush needs a brief interpretative dance and the more ingenious the better. It’s hard to do a “Wuthering Heights” move without being spotted but I think I’ve carried it off well. I can even cross a road in time to Duran Duran if I put my mind to it. I often saunter into an empty lift at work and as the door closes launch into a quick box step only to resume normality as the lift doors open again. I do hope those security cameras are fakes.
I first got involved in a flash mob in August 2009. For those unfamiliar with the term I’ll give you the definition from that ever reliable tome, Wikipedia: A flash mob is where a group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place perform an unusual and sometimes seemingly pointless act for a brief time, then disperse, often for the purposes of entertainment, satire or artistic expression.
Dancing is often involved, there’s been flash mobs were everyone freezes in a public place for several minutes, singing ones, ones where everyone lies down etc. Google it, there’s been loads of really good ones. They used the concept for a few TV ads in the UK too.
 I was down in Oxford attending a residential course and had been my usual manic self and spent what spare time I had frantically pacing the city trying to cram in as much as possible. I hadn’t been there before and found it particularly enchanting. It was hot and sticky and after a very lengthy walk, a tour round the botanical gardens and a quick scan of the bookshops, I crashed out on the steps of the Bodleian Library for a crafty smoke.
I find percussion quite annoying. I hate Piccadilly Circus when there’s a grubby man there banging pointlessly on a bongo. It grates my nerves somewhat and tends to make me feel a bit frenetic.  Next to where I had slumped down on the steps was a teenage boy banging a repetitive rhythm on some railing with a pen. It was fairly constant and I lit a cigarette and decided to try to ignore it. There was a girl sitting next to me yawning repeatedly and an older woman walking up and down talking loudly on a mobile phone. There were a couple rustling a bag of sweets, a man tapping a water bottle and a girl repeatedly coughing.
It dawned on me then that this was an organised event. It didn’t take much tuning in to realise that half of the people on the steps were in on it and were all playing a tuneful little symphony without instruments. The woman on her phone was repeating the same noises over and over again in time to the rhythm; the coughing was perfectly spaced as was the yawning, rustling, tapping, shaking out of newspapers and multiple other noises. It was actually quite amazing. No one acknowledged what was going on and the facial expressions were pure bored nonchalance. A couple of American tourists nearby realised what was going on and joined in with a crisp packet and gradually various people began to tentatively join in too with whatever was to hand, all pretending they were just sitting or walking about doing nothing. I hesitated for a moment then decided to give it a go and gave a sturdy performance on the glasses case. It was very amusing, lasted for ten minutes, then we all started to tune out and stop and gradually everyone all walked away as if nothing had occurred. I never did find out what it was all about or who organised it.
Deda, the dance centre, put out flyers in summer 2010 asking for people to come and join in a flash mob with a disco theme which was to be part of Derby Feste, the big annual street theatre, dance and arts weekend in Derby. I convinced my friend David to take part.
David is  slightly more sensible than me (but not much) and he turned up to fetch me for the first rehearsal wearing appropriate clothes, carrying a litre of bottled water and having spent the previous two weeks learning the steps from the instructional videos on YouTube. I was in jeans, waterless and had briefly glanced at the videos. How hard could dancing be? I do it all the time.
The rehearsal felt hideous. I couldn’t get my head round the steps, was petrified that I was in a professional dance studio with mirrors and all that and I was very much out of step with the rest of the room as I lurched about, often finding myself facing the wrong way or bumping into people. Clearly the majority of people were as sensible as David and had prepared. He let me swig his water as I sweated half my body weight away in unsuitable clothing and reassured me as I got a little teary and had a minor crisis of nerves. I set off home resolving to practice. I put in an hour a night in front of the laptop with the teaching videos and within a few days had it all down to pat. The instructors and organisers were lovely too and that helped and I attended the next rehearsal feeling like I was John Travolta. I wasn’t, of course.
The routine began spontaneously in the crowded market place, started off by the scarily good small group of professional dancers doing an elaborate routine to “Disco Inferno” and then the rest of us filtered in from the surrounding crowd where we’d been watching and pretending we didn’t know what was happening. The routine was disco based with every tacky 70s move incorporated and we danced a hilarious routine to The Bee Gees and Dizzee Rascal. It was fantastic and great fun.
Anyway, to get to my point the lovely Helen from Deda is recreating the flash mob as part of the protests about cuts to local arts funding. If a clumsy beast like me can do it then you can. It’ll be great fun. I’ll see you there. If you’re interested look on the Deda page or the Save Derby Arts page on Facebook or email the lovely Helen at:  The flash mob is on the 23rd of November 530pm till 6pm. There will be tutorials on-line plus rehearsals at Deda too on Sunday the 13th and Sunday the 20th. It’ll be great. Honestly.

Reviews: November 2011

I’ve been seeing a fair bit of stuff, reading a lot and generally enjoying stuff this month so thought I’d share a few of my experiences in the hope that you can enjoy it too.

This a fantastic film which I could really relate to and it left me reflecting on weekends I’ve had in the past much like the one depicted here (only without the drugs, Mr Officer) and about missed opportunities. I absolutely loved this film. It was quietly intense, moving and funny. It worked on different levels for me, both as an entertaining examination of a series of interactions between two very different men and as a meditation on some aspects of modern life for gay people. I’d defy anyone, gay or straight, not to enjoy this gem of a film which is winning awards and acclaim left right and centre. It’s definitely worth catching. I loved the writer/director’s previous film “Greek Pete” too but this one definitely blew me away. I was thinking about it for days afterwards which has got to be good. Oh, the boys are quite cute too, which is nice.
Yes. You’ve read it right. C, the arch anti-tv snob is talking about TV programs he likes.
The Slap

I loved the original novel this was based on and watched the Australian TV adaptation with trepidation, expecting it to be a bit glossy and crass as TV adaptations often can be. It’s actually really well executed, capturing the brutality and raw edges of the novel. Any TV program which makes your hand twitch whilst watching it as your desire to slap vile people and children mounts, is working for me. It’s on now on BBC4 and available on the catch up service for the next month.

I only know one other person who’s privy to the sublime joys of Madmen. It seemed to go under the radar here in England. I’ve been working my way through the DVDs and loving it just as much as the first time I watched it. The show is set in the early 1960s in a New York advertising agency and is very perceptive and wryly amusing. The interiors, clothing and period detail are beautiful and the characterisation is acutely observed. You feel like you should be wearing a lounge suit and sipping a cocktail whilst watching it. I’m also in love with the main character, Don Draper, in spite of his philandering ways. I’d forgive him.
Nottingham Contemporary

I don’t always get contemporary art, finding some of it baffling and inaccessible. It can excite me but also can leave me cold and I know a lot of my friends and acquaintances wouldn’t conceive of going to an art gallery, seeing it as pretentious tosh. Paul, my partner, is an artist and since meeting him, I’ve seen a lot more art and am still having occasional mixed feelings. The current exhibition at Nottingham Contemporary is amazing. I loved it. The work of Klaus Weber is visually stunning, easy to grasp the concept and as ever in this awe inspiring space, presented well. It contains strange gadgets, a museum of random oddness and pictures made by bees. I’d definitely recommend this, it’s free to see and there’s also a really nice cafe bar. What have you got to lose?

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

I’ve mentioned before that I have a morbid fascination with asylums and the history of mental illness and psychiatric treatments. As such, I’ve always loved the film of “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest”. The production of the play at Leicester’s Curve Theatre was pure genius. It’s hard to perform such an iconic classic of a piece and do it justice but they more than achieved this. The stage set was dazzling, a huge temple of a brilliant white hospital ward which captured its stark beauty. Nurse Rached was suitably frightening and lit to perfection. The whole production was polished and worthy of a West End theatre or Broadway production.
The Curve is a great theatre which puts on loads of innovative and eclectic plays and is well worth a visit. It’s a stylish place too with a breath taking foyer area and the stages are perfect for creating inspiring stage sets and scenery worthy of the shows.
They’ve just released the new season of plays for Spring and Summer and there are some corking productions coming. I’d recommend checking it out.