Friday, 27 February 2009

The following Friday...

Well, another week at work winds along to its weary end (excuse the alliteration, coming upon me unawares…). I managed to drop out of the clinical trail before the official end – hurrah! – & over the course of the week my insides have slowly calmed down. I am now almost back to normal, digestively speaking. The search for new digs has not yet been fruitful, but I will go on and try not to get depressed about it.

Last night I saw “Das Leben der Anderen” (I hope I’ve spelled that right) and “Defiance” at the Riverside Studios. Both were excellent, and complementary to one another as Riverside’s film couplings usually are: A tense and intelligent thriller, brilliantly cast, moving, and deeply scary in places – but psychologically scary, not blood-&-guts scary; and an exciting action movie about a group of Jewish partisans in WW2, edge of the seat stuff with the wonderful Liev Schreiber stealing every scene he is in – by damn, he is a good actor!

Very, very tired, though, as I wasn’t in bed till nearly one a.m. Typing appallingly; if you could see the number of times I’ve gone back and corrected this... I’ll go home tonight and do some more appalling typing, I think. I’m about halfway through the revising and typing-up of “Ramundi’s Sisters”. Slowly slowly, as my dear Christian Scientist paternal grandmother used to say… The new piece has hit a sticky spot and I am scratching at it in my head, but getting nowhere as yet. While I wait for it to come unstuck, it’s good to have another project on the boil. I can wait - it’ll come. Slowly, slowly…

Sadly, I'm not sure how, I seem to have alienated the one official "Follower" of this blog. What did I do? Where did you go? & Will ye no come back again?

Friday, 20 February 2009

Friday evening

Whoof, Friday already, thank goodness…

I’m on a list of volunteers for a clinical trial at the moment and am drinking a pot of sickly-sweet orange-flavouring-flavoured liquid each morning before breakfast – it’s a new health drink, supposedly intended to reduce hunger pangs and cravings between meals. Which it does, for me, by dint of giving me vile indigestion. I’m having trouble stomaching food at all, I feel so dreadful; I’m blown up with gas, am unable to help periodically belching like a marine, and am permanently uncomfortable with heartburn. If I’m in the control group, gods help me…

But I get two days off at the weekend. Thank goodness.

Let’s talk about something else.

Last night I was at the Royal Ballet; a triple bill, and a mixed bag. I’m a big fan of Zenaida Yanowsky, and “Seven Deadly Sins” was made on her; she’s just come back to work after a few months off, post-baby, and I was glad to see her in action again, but frankly I’m not that impressed with the ballet. It looked an awful lot to me like one deadly sin (guess which) in seven semi-differentiated forms. A very good cast, but basically uninvolving, and less-than-inspired choreography with far too many splayed legs.

The second piece was Mats Ek’s “Carmen” which was weird. Effective, but weird. A completely, deeply bizarre piece of work, a very peculiar set, thoroughly strange costumes, and very in-your-face, I-have-to-be-different choreography; but, in the end, powerful and convincing. Tamara Rojo was born to play Carmen, Lauren Cuthbertson was severe, snakily sinuous and creepy in the Micaëla role, and the blokes were all good. Oddly enough, though, the highlight of the piece was a terrific solo for a woman mourning the officer murdered by José, danced with riveting passion by a young lass called (I think) Melissa Hamilton.

Finally, and fabulously, Christopher Wheeldon’s “DGV - Dance à Grande Vitesse”. This was a real wow, a knockout, glorious piece of beautiful, exciting, almost totally non-narrative dancing, with a dazzling score by Michael Nyman. The corps were on the top of their game, and the octet of soloists I saw was to die for. Eric Underwood and Sergei Polunin are two bright young up-and-comings with great futures ahead of them. Leanne Benjamin was as wonderful as ever; Edward Watson was athletic and intense as usual and a joy to watch. Mara Galeazzi and Lauren Cuthbertson were also both excellent. For me the cream of the crop was young Ms Hamilton again, breathtakingly good in a big rôle full of twisting stretches and difficult balances, originally made for Darcey Bussell, and the marvellous Gary Avis partnering her with his usual excellent and attentive care. I’ve never understood why he isn’t a huge star; he’s tall and powerful but possessed of tremendous natural grace, has both strength and tenderness as a partner, can act, and is, in a quirky sort of way, very good looking, with strong facial bones and large eyes, and a sudden broad smile full of delight – a smile which came out rather a lot last night. This particular duet he and Melissa Hamilton danced was simply gorgeous. “DGV” lifted the evening from hit-and-miss to solid hit, and Mr Avis and Ms Hamilton lifted “DGV” from hit into absolute stunner.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Tuesday afternoon.

Everyone at work wants to know why I’m moving; after all, I suppose when I first moved into this office I was hymning the praises of where I’m living at present, so it must seem a bit odd.

When I first moved there, about eighteen months ago, it felt like a real haven at what was a very stressful time in my life. But over the last six months or so my landlady Sandra has been getting more and more stressed, moody and generally volatile. I’ve been worried for her, but I was hoping that her upcoming holiday (to New Zealand for four and a half weeks) would give her the chance to relax and get her head together. She went away a week ago; a couple of days later I was remaking my bed and decided to turn my mattress, which I do about every six months. Underneath the mattress I found a large chunk of rose quartz crystal, which certainly was not there last time I turned the mattress and certainly was not put there by me; Sandra is the only person in the house who would have put it there.

For those who aren’t into alternative medicine, energy healing, etc, I’d better explain. Rose quartz is supposed to have a healing, heart-opening energy, highly beneficial to the fourth (heart) chakra. Wearing it or putting it in your pocket or under your pillow is meant to help in your relationships and make you a more loving and happy person. I don’t have any problem with the idea of being a more loving and happy person, and I’m pretty open-minded about alternative stuff generally – after all, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamed of in your philosophy”. But to put crystals under someone’s bed without telling them is, in alternative therapy terms, the equivalent of giving someone psychotropic drugs in their food without telling them. It is absolutely unethical and you just don’t do it. Ever. Full stop.

Adding this to the other problems and issues, like the fact that Sandra thinks it is okay to sleep in her lodgers’ room when they’re away (I find this totally unacceptable, but she thinks it’s totally normal), I suddenly thought “No more. I need to move on now.” And that is all there was to it.

Not that I’m enjoying looking for digs. I’ve already had several email-cons in reply to my adverts, which is really depressing… And the kind of place I can afford is not great. I'm off to look at somewhere tonight; keeping my fingers crossed. When I get home, whether or not it has been any good, at least I can get back to my writing for the rest of the evening.

It’s odd; when I first set up this blog, six months ago, I imagined (correctly) that I'd ramble a good deal about my life in general, but that the main creative thing I’d write about would be painting and drawing, my visual art work. Yet in fact at present I seem to be chronicling an extended and energetic phase of writing, and an increasing feeling of happiness with the fact that I am writing. I know I have my moods, just as I have phases in the kind of music I listen to, but I am feeling more and more that this is more than a mood; that it's a real rebirth. To be a writer was my earliest childhood dream (before even the dream of being a ballerina), and I cannot deny that it feels euphorically good to be reconnecting with it.

Monday, 16 February 2009


...and a bad dose of that Monday-feeling.

I've decided to bite the bullet - I need to move away from the place I'm living at the moment - and I've started looking for somewhere new. I hate house-hunting, and the bizarre experiences I had eighteen months ago when I had to move at short notice were fairly traumatic, which only adds to the sense of doom and dread. If anyone reading this is thinking of letting their spare room or knows someone who is renting out a room in the Ealing, Acton, or Turnham Green areas, or in Richmond upon Thames or Mortlake, please let me know!

On the good side, saw the wonderful ENO production of "The Magic Flute" at the weekend, and was totally knocked out and blown away by it. It's perfect, everything a "Zauberflöte" should be - and since it is one of my all-time favourite operas that is saying something! Their only problem is a rather dodgy, swoopy Queen of Night; but to compensate they have a truly marvellous Papageno (better than Keenlyside, believe it or not) in Roderick Williams. I could burble for ages about how wonderful he was, and about the whole production, which is magical and fairy-tale-like and yet profoundly moving. The trials by fire and water are really believable for once - I think every other production I've seen (including the first, at my elder brother's school!) has come a cropper with staging this bit. The sets and costumes are lovely. It's extremely funny in all the right places, yet brings up goosebumps of real awe in all the right places, too. The Tamino and Pamina (Robert Murray and Sarah-Jane Davis) are both excellent. I cried with joy at the end. And Roderick Williams is, I repeat, wonderful. And decidedly gorgeous!

How incredible it must be, to have talent like that; a voice like warm dark honey and that kind of acting ability, plus good looks, and then on top of all that to possess the strength of character to realise your abilities and make full use of them... Lucky, happy Mr Williams...

On a more creativity-inclined note, I'm startled and rather proud to announce that I have I think finished the last revision of GY; and promptly got stuck in to typing up something else, an older piece of writing that is in need of some serious revision itself but stands up well to the re-examination. Title, "Ramundi's Sisters". Watch this space.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Thursday ...

Thursday lunchtime; reheated vegetarian haggis. My appetite is improving, which is good – today I looked at my plate and thought “That looks alright” whereas yesterday my feeling was more “Oh dear, I suppose I’d better eat something…” But I’ve had a nasty gippy stomach since Sunday afternoon, and it’s good just to be more like myself after the I-am-a-rung-out-dishcloth feeling that gastric trouble tends to leave me with.

I spent yesterday evening quietly sitting down and getting on with some revision. Not exam revision (wake up at the back there); I’m revising GY for the third and, I am beginning to allow myself to hope, last time. Revising your own writing is such a tricky, tricky game; I cringe away from it in dread and look for procrastination opportunities almost anywhere (bar the ironing). It's necessary to be in a frame of mind that is both critical and detached; but, at least if you are me, the critical tends to leap to the front, waving her rifle like Delacroix’ Liberty, ready to shoot everything that moves. One has to be both able to be completely ruthless about the excision of every bit of weak prose or flannelly excess, while simultaneously being quietly kind to oneself in order to counteract the tendency to decry everything one has ever done as total BullS**t. It’s a strange juggling act.

I was brought up not to praise myself, and to assume I had done things wrong, or at least a lot less well than I ought to have done them, and I guess this is the characteristic that kicks in. I start re-reading a piece of my own writing, and a whole Euripidean chorus of criticism begins shouting in my mind. At times it is almost literally like stichomythia, every sentence the subject of a smart retort (invariably negative) from the interior textual demolition team. A few months ago, working on the second revision, I was frequently completely convinced that GY was the proverbial pile of pants. I battled on as much out of sheer bloody-minded stubbornness as any conviction that anyone would ever find anything to enjoy in this witless heap of self-indulgent tosh…

Oddly, feeling slightly under-par seems to have helped. The revision has reached the stage where one finally has to say “It’s no good, I don’t need two adjectives there”, and “It doesn’t need another reference to Simon’s hair!”, and “This paragraph is floppy, I must tighten it up”. To my surprise and pleasure my brain last night seemed to be up to this task, and settled to it with a discipline and a calm I cannot always count upon.

One thing I’m aware of is that, funnily enough, my background in visual art helps me here. Compared with trying to “revise” a painting or a drawing, where at any moment any single stroke may ruin the whole completely irreparably, tweaking a piece of writing is much less alarming. I revise a lot as I write, at first draft level, simply because it is so easy to – try it this way, then try it that way, then try turning the whole thing around, then go back to the first way and see if that reads better now… It’s rather like running through one’s lines when one is in a play, thinking through how to stress things, how much one can lift or lower a particular word, how much (to be blunt) one can milk something touching without overdoing it. The actor can revise repeatedly at rehearsal; the writer can do draft after draft, cover every page of the manuscript with notes... The artist wielding a stick of charcoal can simply get it right, hold their balance and ride the wave, or cock it up. Excuse the mixed metaphors there.

Thinking of actors, I just learned something peculiarly pleasing. Going back through GY again reminded me of the actor who I’d love to see playing Simon Cenarth, a red-haired bloke from Ulster called William Houston. A girl can dream! That's him at the top, looking appropriately grim as Coriolanus at the RSC. I looked him up online to see if he is likely to be reappearing on the London stage or on tele in the near future, and found an old interview with him, in which he said that one of his ambitions is to appear in “Duck Variations”, one of my favourite plays (it’s a delightful piece, a quirky, technically rather difficult and quietly moving comedy). The last piece of art I had exhibited was actually called “Duck Variations” in its honour. I felt extraordinarily pleased by this. He also said his favourite holiday destination was the Greek Islands, which I can relate to, goodness knows… He sounded like a nice fellow, all in all; intelligent and articulate, if perhaps a trifle intense. And he’s a bloody good actor; he’d be perfect as Simon.

Friday, 6 February 2009

Friday morning.

More blooming snow last night – already turning to slush, but lying on top of the remains of the previous lot of snow, which is now semi-freddo slush, so at every step you don’t know whether you will come down on firm pavement or on slimey sludgey skiddy stuff. I’ve moved up to using my hiking boots, which is as far along the scale of solidity and grip as I can go, and I am still worried by coming down the slope of Connaught Road.

Last night I was revising some writing, and then watching “The Victorian Farm” on BBC2. For anyone who hasn’t yet caught this lovely series, do! For anyone not in the UK, watch out for it in case a channel in your country buys it in from the Beeb. It’s fascinating.

There have been previous tele programmes based on the same idea of recreating historical living conditions. I remember “The 1940s House”, which was one of the first, here in Britain at least, as fascinating, though my mother was constantly fretting that you couldn’t really recreate the 1940s without the air raids… Some of them have skidded perilously close to the Big Brother model, offering schadenfreude with vaguely educational overtones, and I have shied away in horror the moment I detected this. I gave up on the series a year or two back that was set on a reconstructed Jacobean farm after half an episode because it seemed to be primarily an exercise in watching other folks get cold and wet and miserable. But I gave this new series a try, and was hooked, instantly. I’m rather regretting not having stuck with the Jacobean version, now, because that was presented by the same people.

I think part of the charm is the fact that I can relate so clearly to what they are doing. A lot of my nineteenth century forebears on my mother’s side were farmers and farm labourers; I’ve seen pictures of them and have visited the places where they lived (Eyke in Suffolk, Highworth in Wiltshire) and I can imagine them using this equipment, experiencing these changes and innovations, and so forth. A lot of the skills that are shown have been passed down in my family, particularly those classified as “women’s work”. Alan is always saying I’m the last Victorian, and this feels like proof!

The three historians living on the farm are a nice bunch, intelligent and articulate and willing to muck in – quite literally a lot of the time – and not whinging, even when confronted by the bizarre or the maggot-ridden, or by simple bloody hard work. I’d like to meet them; they seem like people one would enjoy being friends with, and I do rather envy them the experience, bloody hard work and all.

Alright, okay, I’ll confess - there is one further reason to watch. One of the presenters, a dark-eyed fellow by the name of Peter Ginn, is one of the most attractive men on television at present; he could brew me a ginger beer any day… In the most recent episode he just happened to take off his hat for the first time, revealing a mass of tumbling black Byronic curls and completing my downfall. I am now officially a fan. >sigh<>

I think they were filming last summer. It pours with rain a lot of the time and most of the last episode was about the failure of the hay harvest; in fact the fact that PG has only just taken his hat off, in midsummer, is indicative too, now I think of it. Please, you weather gods, send us a decent summer this year!

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Out into the dark, over the snow...

... but luckily there are no fallow fawns in the Gardens.

Just quickly to say I'm back in London after getting stranded at my mother's down in Kent by the weather for the last two days. My journey back from Canterbury to Ealing yesterday afternoon took over 5 hours instead of the more normal 2 1/2... And we're having power cuts at work. At the risk of sounding like a tabloid newspaper reader, what is it about this country and snow?!

Everyone I met as I made my stately onward way was friendly and in many cases astoundingly patient, pretty much without exceptions, despite total chaos and a breakdown in communications across the rail network that made Kew look efficient and communicative. The modern mythology of the Dunkirk Spirit stands us all in good stead, I think, in times like these. We stood our ground, we hung on there, we weren't defeated; just cold, tired, confused and hassled.

Going home to the laziest supper I can make, a stiff drink and a bar of chocolate.