Wednesday, 30 November 2011

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

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

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!


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

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.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Poems: A Smile As Small As Mine

Sometimes I doubt my ability to do my job as well as I’d like to. I often feel helpless when confronted by seriously ill people who are experiencing suffering or distress and wonder how someone like me could be expected to be able to make a difference. I love this poem by Emily Dickinson. For a recluse she knew a lot about human nature and I think she's right, keeping your head just in sight can be a good policy. You never know when someone will need you, however faint your smile.
They might not need me; but they might.
I'll let my head be just in sight;
A smile as small as mine might be
Precisely their necessity
Emily Dickinson

Ramblings: Am Dram Dreams

You won’t be surprised to learn that as a young gayboy (before my first interruption), I had a hankering for the over dramatic: amateur dramatics, specifically. It’s obligatory when you’re a slightly effeminate homosexual to become involved in what I call “thesping”.
I was first hypnotised into the idea of acting when the Kids from Fame came on TV in the early 80s and remember distinctly telling the whole class at junior school that my intention was to become one of the aforementioned kids when I grew up. I absolutely knew that my future was going to involve a crotchety woman banging a stick and telling me that fame costs and that I’d have to pay in sweat. I also knew that I’d have some nasty fungal issues from leotard wearing and a sprain from leaping onto a cafeteria table or yellow taxi, by the age of 20.
I’d seen a few plays and found them bewitching and the sudden thought that I could be part of that world had instant appeal. I got a part in the school play as the prince in Rumpelstiltskin. I was very proud to get a lead role and took it very seriously. I was about 9. My father had a very twisted sense of humour which could be quite dark at times and he began a terrible campaign. He didn’t take my future stardom seriously and decided to try sabotage for comedy effect and general mischief. He decided it would be hilariously funny were I to accidentally say “Wrinkled-Foreskin” instead of “Rumpelstiltskin” during the play. Nowadays this would elicit a call from Social Services and a major enquiry but in the 1970s you could buy cans of beer with pictures of topless women on and people paid good money to see Bernard Manning perform.
I had to say the word “Rumpelstiltskin” about twenty times during the play and my dad began a war of indoctrination and brain washing. He constantly dropped the words “wrinkled foreskin” into every conversation he had with me. He’d leap out from behind doors shouting it over and over again and occupy long car journeys by chanting it. Eventually I began to think the words and found it a feat of strength not to shout it all the time. Luckily I showed a little star quality and managed to get through the performance with no genital mentioning moments and my mum was delighted. I still recall my dad’s excited face as he got in from work and said to my mum “Well? Did he say it?” He was disappointed.
I then went on to play a little Chinese boy in some crap about pandas and Hansel of Gretel fame. I lapped it up. I loved the make-up, the costumes and the pretending stuff and would write little scripts to perform with my gaggle of female friends. We’d set up little stages and pout through lengthy formless plays and dances. I was a pretty child with big blue eyes and a mop of blond hair which made me much fawned upon by adults which I found quite an addictive thing. No, not in that way, the local paedophiles never bothered me, perhaps I was too prim or too quick footed.
I read and re-read all the Noel Streatfeild books about junior thespians and dreamed of appearing on the stage to rapturous applause. I dreamily watched Bugsy Malone with a tear in my eye and lip synced to my Mary Poppins tape. My mum bought me a book all about being a junior thespian written by legendary stereotype enforcer, John Inman. My mum didn’t quite have the energy or time to be a pushy mother but did encourage me a little. She saw an advert for an audition of a national production of “Oliver” and decided it sounded ideal as I was blond and urchin like and quite star struck. What was to lose but my dignity? She applied on my behalf.
We attended an audition. I was 11. There were hundreds of boys there, all blond and urchin like and astoundingly (to me, but no one else) were all a little bit camp and lisping. Audition one was acting. We all had to file in one by one and recite a piece from a script. I minced in, spouted my lines and was met by a row of beaming faces from the panel of aging homos and severe woman with their hair in buns. Naturally, I was through. I knew the part was mine.
The next part was the dancing. Dancing? What did they mean dancing? I’d never danced before (well only to Shirley Bassey in the privacy of my own bedroom with a hairbrush and mirror) but decided to give it a go. They put on some dreamy classical music and asked us to “free-style”.  I pranced about moodily. Then we had to do a little group routine where we skipped about in a circle. We were down to about 50 boys now and the dance tutor hot footed amongst us on her tip toes smiling graciously as she tapped boys on the head and indicated they were through. I just made it through as I clumsily gave it my all.  I think she just liked my hair and emaciation.
Finally it was singing. I was horrified. Somewhere in my brain I’d managed to block out a slightly minor point. Oliver is a musical and I’m tone deaf. Suddenly the panel turned nasty and off I went, back to ordinary life as they shook their heads and drew sharp intakes of breath or bared teeth at my flat rendition of “I’ll Do Anything” To be frank, I would have done anything. They only had to ask: anything but sing. Show business is harsh. I went home, put on my dressing gown, had a Panda Pop and listened to my Nolan Sisters records feeling quite embarrassed.
I went on to join a junior amateur dramatics group and we put on exorable productions of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (I was Edmund, the naughty boy, naturally), The Moonstone and Annie. Damn them for not letting me have a crack at the red haired orphan. I could do mawkish sickly kid so well and knew the words to all the songs. I met some nice children there and made a few friends and actually found it quite fun. I even got to wear tights when I played a liquorice allsort in The Nutcracker. I had a tabard with a pink coconut sweet painted on, wore loads of pale makeup and white tights. Sadly they snagged on a nail during The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies and I was catapulted backwards slightly with my gusset askew, spoiling the routine momentarily, but I carried on regardless with a show business smile.
I went to some drama classes which were hateful. The class was full of obnoxious children preparing for stage school applications and I found them annoying and hateful. It wasn’t fun anymore. We did a lot of pretending to be trees or jellies and practising our enunciation. I soon jacked it in. The two teachers (a married couple) were beyond pretentious and spoke in booming voices which said “I am an actor (with a capital A)” They staged horrifically camp productions full of over acting and dramatic gestures. I did sit a few exams in English speaking and poetry reading though, which has been no use to me at all, ever.
I lost the acting bug in time at about the time puberty kicked in. Embarrassingly early for me, I was shaving daily at 13 and had a pelt of leg hair any man would be proud of. The onset of hormones also bought on an onset of utter shame and although I carried on for a while at Secondary School, I soon lost the urge and found no thrill in it, only horrible gut clenching stage fright and total shame. I played a mincing Saint George and struggled to master the battle scene choreography. It was such a heavy sword. I did a Victorian monologue of Albert and the Lion in a Music Hall production, marked in my mind by the fact that a trio of older girls decided to alter the lines they had as “crowd extras” from “Rhubarb rhubarb” to “Poofter poofter”. If you reach the top of your game there will always be detractors.
I’m thankful really that my dreams of leg warmers and grease paint fell flat. I’m not sure my fragile moods could have coped with the highs and lows of performing and the erratic lifestyle would have driven me insane. I imagine there would have been a lot of drugs and alcohol about too and that isn’t so good for me either.
I’d much rather be a spectator. Unless it’s amateur dramatics, I did enough of those to know that’s not for me as a participant or a viewer. Spare me from that, please. I’d rather stay home than watch failed thespians prance about with their middle aged disappointment so evident on their faces. Eurgh. In fact, I’d rather pretend to be a jelly.