Monthly Archives: October 2013

The Terminal: Favourite Poems

Oslo, 21 

With the last of our kroner

We buy milk and biscuits

To eat cross-legged on the floor,

Like children.

Swigging from the carton

Because we have no cups.

Giggling in the half-light

Worried someone will catch us.

Because don’t you know?

Children aren’t allowed

To drink straight from the carton

To have milk AND biscuits

For dinner AND breakfast.

Children aren’t allowed

To be alone in airports

At 3m on a Tuesday:

They have school the next day

And should be in bed.

Tromsø, 18

It is already night

And an unearthly glow

Shoots skywards from

The buildings.

Capitalism

And Electricity

Have replaced The Sun,

Lighting the Heavens the

Wrong Way Round.

Tromsø, 28

Early morning light

At midday

Turns the snowy mountains

Into soft pastel piles of

Ice-cream.

The peaks and troughs

No more menacing

Or impressive

Than the gouged-out buckets

Of Haagen-Daaz

In Leicester Square.

Buoyed by artificial warmth

And a barrier of glass

I know I could

‘Tame the Ancient Mountain Trolls!’

“Bend the Northern Wind to My Will!’

And

‘STEAL THOR’S THUNDER!’

But the Quiet Norwegians

In their sensible wool

Pay no attention.

Calling me instead

To my gate

and Home.

Heathrow, 21

On our first big trip

Together

As Adults

Chocolate bars were more important

Than a night’s accommodation.

We fold ourselves

Into plastic chairs

Make our bodies tight envelopes

For our valuables.

All Around us,

Human-luggage-bundles

Do the same.

Sighing and snoring and shuffling

Objects and people

Breathing as one.

Guards pace slowly,

Stare with red eyes

Stopping occasionally

Where clothes look like rags

Skin looks like coffee

Or heads are covered.

‘Oi. You.

Where’s your ticket?’

Santiago, 24

The British Man

Thinks Steve is:

‘An Old Soul’.
I think:

The British Man is

‘An Old Twit.’

But Steve is

Good and Kind

To Everyone.

The Canadian Girl

And I

Plot together

At the back of the pack.

Shoot death stares at Britain.

Talk telepathically

About his short-shorts

And his stretches

(And the combination of the two).

‘Who stretches in an Airport?’

We scream silently

Eyes tearing up with the effort.

Cork, 29 

There is nothing

More beautiful

Than my friend’s children,

Running through

Cork Airport together.
They give me

Sticky chocolate kisses

Press flushed round cheeks

Into my cool, pale hands

Throw their voices

Carelessly in the air.

Mathematically,

They are less than 0.05%

Of the space

Of this airport.

But when they leave

The building is suddenly

Empty.

Stansted, 27

I am uncertain

How cold I am.

I start

Wrapped in layers,

Each piece of skin

Coyly concealed

Each limb restrained,

Neatly tucked

Into each other

Like complex origami.

Hour by hour

I strip silently, sleepily

Releasing colour and cloth

To gently fall

In haphazard patterns

Beneath my flopping limbs.

I wake to curious stares

Not for my skin,

Suddenly exposed,

But because I’ve built

A Nest

In a place people are

In a Hurry to Leave.

Hobart, 23

The summer air is cleaner here

Cooler here

Emptier here

Here you breathe oxygen

Not smoke

Or smog

Or sweat

Or stress

Here you breathe air,

Actual air,

Which is light,

Just like the people always said.

‘As light as air.’

Florence, 27

The airport is white-hot

Concrete

And the air-conditioning is

Broken.

I am hung-over

(Friend’s wedding the night before)

I buy a bottle of water

As tall as my chest.

I see

An old man doubled up

On a plastic chair

And then notice more and more

A field of people

Wilting in the heat.

Cairns, 20

I think:

‘I have never felt humidity before,’

Which is silly,

Because I am 20

And live in Australia

And of course I have.

But I am 20

And prone to flights of fancy

And dramatic statements.

So, ‘I have never felt humidity before.’

The heat here is different.

Is heavy.

Is pushing against the glass that surrounds us

Using its terrible weight

To crack

And warp

And menace.

It is thick

Filling all available space

Outside you see it

Settling on people’s foreheads,

Their cheeks

Their armpits

The back of their knees

That soft spot just behind their ear lobe

And turning to moisture.

Inside,

It is a temperate climate,

And I think again,

‘I have never felt humidity before.’

Minneapolis, 29

I always forget

When the Customs Officials

Ask Questions.

They are not genuinely interested

In the answers.

No.

That’s not right.

They ARE genuinely interested

In ‘The Answers’

As Answers.

They are not genuinely interested

In Me.

As a person.

A person made up of ‘The Answers’.

Separate to ‘The Answers’.

For whom ‘The Answers’

Are not statistics,

Clues,

Warning Signs,

But History,

Memory

Identity,

And Life.

I can’t help feeling

In Another Time

In Another Place

This blonde boy would offer

Tea and Biscuits

A floral seat on his mother’s couch

And Some Answers of his own.

Newcastle, 14

We are a gaggle of girls

My cousin and aunts and I.

Newcastle Airport

Is one large room

And we fill it with chatter

With girly plans

Of shopping

And swimming

And more shopping

And eating

And even more shopping

And lying in the sun.

I have grown up with boys

And I’m worried.

Will I be girly enough?

Am I somehow defective?

Maybe

In one store

I will choose something

And they will know instantly:

‘She’s not a real girl.’

Seattle, 28

I am hiding from people

I know

But don’t know

Around corners

Behind columns

Under books

And in music

Call my flight!

Please!

I’m no good at invisibility.

Albuquerque, 12

My Dad likes deserts.

We have come to stare at

Deserts.

To drive through

Endless plains of Red and Gold

Flat and unchanging.

I like the thrust of Mountain Ranges

The crispness of snow

The colour blue.

‘Dad why did we come

To stare at Deserts?

We have deserts at home.

All of home is a desert.’

‘There are deserts

And there are Deserts,’

Dad replies

His eyes bluer

Than I have ever seen them.

LA, 21

I am so thin

I am L.A. thin

I am Kate Moss thin

I am pants falling off thin

I am ‘turn to the side and I disappear’ thin

I am ‘breathe too hard and I blow away’ thin

I am ‘oh God how did you lose all that weight???!!’ thin

I am ‘didn’t have enough money to eat 3 meals a day’ thin

I have never been so thin

I have never been so happy

I have never been so worried

About putting it all back on again.

Adelaide, 14

When they last saw me,

I was 8

And my mother had died.

I am scared because Lisa is crying.
Then she explains

She isn’t really crying

Her tear duct is fault

And sometimes it fills with water

For no reason at all.

And I realise,

I wasn’t scared.

I was touched.

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The Terminal Revisited

I was involved in an amazing live art project on the weekend, which was both challenging and incredibly rewarding.

Me at 'The Terminal'  http://the-terminal.org/

Me at ‘The Terminal’
http://the-terminal.org/

The theme of the weekend was to explore an idea of ‘non-space’ and places in the modern world that can conceivably described as ‘non-space’. This would tend to be in-between places, places of transition, places of borders, border crossings etc. Hence the project’s name, ‘The Terminal’.

10 international artists were chosen to participate, all responding to the stimulus in different ways. Some political and historical: Abu Ghraib prison; Irish women travelling to the UK for abortions; the position of the immigrant in UK society; the transportation of cows for food. Some were more abstract: deconstructing an object and using it for something entirely different to its original purpose; attempting to become invisible; bringing one’s awareness to the objective physicality of the space around and inside one’s body and the connections between them.

My proposal was quite literal: I proposed to write a poem about every airport terminal I had ever been in my life. Furthermore, I would use the poems to build a visual representation of my life in airport terminals, mapping my life in a very different chronology then the ones commonly used. I would also invite the audience to share their memories of airport terminals in an attempt to create an alternate map of the world through memory, rather than through longitude and latitude.

My idea was looking at ‘non-space’ and ‘borders’ on several levels. Obviously it was looking specifically at borders and trying to represent what happens in those points of the world where there are borders and we are trying to cross them. However, it was also about attempting to represent temporal ‘in-betweeness’, as memory exists/is created in the past, but is remembered/recreated in the present, so sits in a half-way place between the two (in my opinion). Finally, it was also about a state of creative ‘in-betweeness’, in that I was displaying these poems before I had the opportunity to properly polish them. Mostly I was doing only 2 drafts and then inviting people to read them. They were also being invited in to watch me (as a writer) work. Not that watching someone write is necessarily that thrilling, but they were able to sit in this creative in-between space with me and see what that was like.

Those things all sounds very well-thought out, but the truth is most of my justifications were discovered through the course of the work. I told the curators I wanted to write poetry about airport terminals, they said ‘sure thing’ and then as I was working through it I realised all sorts of (more) interesting ways that my work was related to the theme of borders and border crossings and terminals.

When I went into the space on Friday, I was terrified. Reading all the other artists’ bios, they seemed to have much more abstract, well-thought out, political ideas than me and they were all much more experienced. But at that point there wasn’t much I could do.

Waiting to head in and make more art. Me and some of the other artists.

Waiting to head in and make more art. Me and some of the other artists.

I had made a list of airports ahead of time, which clocked in at about 47 separate airports that I had been at. Many of those airports I had been at multiple times, but the main aim was to get just one poem about each terminal up and if I managed to get some more out that would be an awesome bonus.

The first problem, once I had put the map on the wall and set up my writing lamp, was that I did not know where to start. To be honest, I don’t really write poetry all that much. I mean, I write poetic plays, which is related. But I wouldn’t call myself a poet. How does one even start with a poem?

I began with my first ever memory of an airport, of travelling overseas at 3 years old and decided that was as good a place as any. I scribbled down some lines. They seemed ok. So, I put them on the wall. And that’s how I started.

Friday was difficult. I constantly struggled with the fact that me sitting in the space and writing was very dull. Without many poems up and attached to the map, the space didn’t look that interesting either. I had deliberately chosen to do something very insular, very non-performative as I think my performances often suffer from a desire to be constantly entertaining, constantly physically and emotionally active. I wanted to do something that was very much taking place in the brain. That was quiet and still and see how that felt.

Well, it felt goddamn weird. Every pore of my body was revolting against it. My brain was screaming, ‘Be interesting! Be interesting! Put your pen in your mouth! Make a face of concentration! Look like a wise writer! More wise! Don’t worry about actually writing! Just look good!’ The fact that people would come in and stare at me (which was the idea, which was what I signed up for) was also very disconcerting. I like to write in cafes. I like to write around people. However, I’m usually the one staring at them. I’m usually on the edges, not in the middle. They usually ignore me. And I like that. It was strange to be so ‘on display’ for what is usually such a private act.

By the end of the night (11pm) I felt I was finally getting somewhere and easing into the work. I was starting to draft pieces before attaching them to the wall and it felt like they were getting better because of it. My perfectionist side was still not very happy about what I was deciding to display (‘This is shit, its not even poetry. This is shit, its not even poetry.’ Was a fairly constant refrain throughout that first night), but because of the need to create this alternate map and visual representation, as well as the need to write down at least 47 ‘poems’, I had to kind of get on with it.

I got a good start on writing on Saturday morning before a lot of the audience came in. But this then started me on another issue. Whilst I was not getting naked like some of the other artists (another worry from the night before – ‘I’m not being edgy enough! I’m not being provoking enough!’) the poems that I was writing were ridiculously personal. Because what I realised early on Saturday was that the memories I have of airport terminals are not of the places, the buildings themselves, of course they’re not. They are memories of what I was leaving behind and what I thought I was going to. They are, on the whole, about relationships, about hopes and dreams. And my relationships, like everyone’s, have been complex, tough, beautiful, heart-warming and heart-breaking depending on the person, the day, the context, the ending, the beginning.

What I essentially ended up doing was opening up my diary, prettying up the words a bit, sticking them on the wall and then inviting people to take a stickybeak. Whilst I sat on the floor next to them. I know that I have a blog, but I don’t sit next to you watching your faces as you read each line. You can hate it in private and then tell me later you loved it, even if you didn’t, if that’s what you’re into. In this space, we didn’t have that luxury of space and time and privacy. People were murmuring to each other about the things I’d written behind me and I was fluctuating between wanting to hear every word (in case they were good words) and blocking them all out (in case they were bad words).

At the hostel, me and some of the other artists.

At the hostel, being ‘checked-in’ for the day by our curator. Me and some of the other artists.

In some ways it was easier to expose myself to strangers than friends. I found myself justifying to my friends why some of the poems weren’t that polished. The worst people, however, were probably the ones who I only knew a little, or I had just been introduced to. The ones who don’t know me well enough to love me anyway and who might decide that I’m crazy and then decide not to be friends with me anymore (and I’d care when they decided not to be friends anymore). Those ones. Those ones were the worst. I did have to warn one new friend that he might think I was crazy when he asked if he could read the poems. I told him he could read them and also reassured him I was not crazy. Just in case (He was perfectly lovely about them all, really and said probably the nicest and wisest thing anyone has ever said in regards to my writing and theatre-stuff: ‘Make sure you keep a little bit of you for you.’)

I took a break Saturday afternoon to listen to one of the talks downstairs (we were allowed one talk a day) and that’s when I noticed how done in I was. My head was pounding from so much writing and thinking and remembering and stressing and emoting. I listened to half the talk. The other half I stared at the blinds with my mouth open. I was shocked by how much energy I was using up.

One of the wonderful things about the project was that we were essentially in a lock-down. So, were not allowed computers, phones, internet. We were also not allowed money of our own and we were looked after by the curators. They shuttled us from venue to hostel (we all slept together in the same hostel room) and fed us. This was meant to be constricting and in some ways it was. But it was also incredibly freeing. I hardly ever get given the opportunity to be free of responsibility. To be cared for so that I can just make art. (I mean, how wonderful is that??? That is WONDERFUL) The lack of phones and internet and being in a strange place made me incredibly productive – the only way I could take a break was to make a cup of tea. And whilst I did make full use of the tea-making facilities, there are only so many cups of tea you can have in a day (7 cups. Its 7. That’s how many cups of tea you can have in a day). With the other performers all working and with no need to shop for food, cook food, clean up etc. there was really only once choice: write.

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Close to the end.

Which explains why I got so much written. It was wonderful. I’m considering how I can recreate these circumstances on a regular basis. I think it most importantly hinges on getting rid of the bloody computer/internet and phone. Just giving them to someone else (that you trust. That will give them back to you again). Writing by hand in a place that is not your house. And then just getting on with it.

On Sunday night we sat around drinking together and it was wonderful. There was much discussion of what I should do with the poetry I’d written (and the memories I’d collected) now, which was very exciting and I think there are some great possibilities of where it can go. It was kind of amazing to be given this space to try out some ideas and see if they had legs (They had legs. Many useful legs. Many interesting, colourful, misshapen legs. Oh, the legs my ideas had). To make art whilst also trying out ideas is pretty special and I was darn happy with where I ended up.

I’ll also share with you some of my favourite poems. Not all, because the internet is permanent and live art is transient (even durational live art is transient) and I don’t know that I want everything I wrote over the weekend up here. But some.

Over and out.

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Low-Level Frustration

I heard life was a Low-Level Panic.

It’s not.

Life is an endless trickling stream of frustration.

Life is a chinese water-torture.

Life is the quiet rumblings of an oncoming earthquake that never hits (but never ends).

Life is a long list of things you can’t do and you can’t change and you will always regret.

 

You’re lucky though.

The modern world has developed ways to cope.

Fake remedies (the beauty industry)

Mindless distractions (the internet, social media)

False hopes (self-help books)

Pretend power (democracy, petitions, peaceful protest)

 

The culture that hurts you pretends it can heal you.

The world that separates you thinks it can connect you.

 

They’ll tell you:

The most useful emotion in this life is not bravery or love or anger. 

It is nothing so noble or romantic.

The most useful emotion is acceptance.

A cool, suburban, comfortable acceptance.

Dull, utilitarian acceptance.

 

Don’t ask too many questions.

Don’t try and find out how the world really works.

Don’t ask to see the man behind the screen.

This only leads to revulsion.

And revulsion leads to anger.

And anger can be terrifying.

 

Low-level frustration is easy to accept.

To ignore.

For you.

And for them.

 

 

 

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My Awesome Spinsterhood

I’ve been talking to a few people about starting this sub-section of my blog for a while now and just haven’t done anything about it. But, the ‘joy’ of relative unemployment means that this is the sort of thing I can spend my days on now.

As someone who is obsessed with stories and narrative, I’ve noticed that a default ending of Western stories is some kind of romantic relationship. Doesn’t matter what the story is *actually* about, the end will usually involve a tying up of knots, at least one of which will be a heterosexually romantic knot. Its weird. Its unnerving. It is especially the case for female characters, who don’t ever seem to be able to find peace, happiness or closure without the addition of some kind of romantic relationship. The story ends when there is either a relationship established, or, at the very least, the possibility of one. Because, falling in love is the end of the story, apparently.

Now, as a person who has spent a long time in the single state, who has come to terms with her sole use of the ‘I’ pronoun and is pretty definite about her conscious, ongoing and probably eternal independence, I find this is a massive gap in the cultural stories we tell about each other. Plenty of people wind up spending their life on their own and my guess is that more and more people will be doing that in the years to come as more and more people chose an alternative, independent, ‘unique’ lifestyle that more accurately reflects their needs and desires, separate to that of society’s. And, at the moment, there is a default mode to pity these people, to think that they have missed out, that they must be lonely, that they are not capable of maintaining a relationship, either through their failings as a human being or through some early trauma that has made them unable to commit to one person blah blah blah insert pop-psychology platitude here. So, my solution is to fill this gap all on my own, with my little blog.

So, I’m not putting any limits or goals on it, I don’t have to write something ‘every day’, but every time I think of a little story that provides an alternative present or future for (in particular) women, I’ll be posting it up in this little sub-section of the blog. If I find stories in the news or online, I’ll be posting them too. If people want to tell me their own stories, or about their lives, I’ll post them too. It’s gonna be fun!

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A Date with the Shard

Have I shared with you my love for the Shard? It’s a slightly embarrassed and confused love. I feel as uncomfortable telling you of my love for the Shard as I would introducing my family to a new boyfriend, who happened to be a  Liberal-voting, asylum-seeker hating, red-meat guzzling, gun-toting, Ayn Rand-reading, climate-change denying mining magnate. That is, I feel a little sheepish. A little misguided. Part of me thinks that this love is wrong and will never work out in the long-term. I mean, how would we raise the children? They’re not going to private school! But, the truth is, I can’t help it. For whatever reason, I love the Shard, even if it is wrong, even if we do have completely different values and lifestyles and morals and… completely incompatible and conflicting amounts of consciousness.

Just like a true love, I can’t quite explain my affection for the Shard. Part of it is certainly that it was completed whilst I lived here and I have a strange sense of ownership over the building. But I also have a long-standing love of tall buildings of all varieties, sky-scrapers, apartment buildings et al. I know they are not usually something that people like. I guess I have an honest love of heights of all varieties, which is only slightly confused by an honest terror of heights of all varieties. So, I love being up high until something snaps in my brain and I’ll suddenly realise how FREAKIN’ HIGH UP I am and that my life is CLEARLY IN MORTAL DANGER and then I will collapse in a snivelling, shivering mess somewhere as far away from the cliff-face as possible. So, I guess I like apartment buildings for being so high up, but tricking me into feeling relatively safe. I love derelict, abandoned council housing (yes, this is weird); I love ugly 1960s government developments (East Berlin fascinates me). I can only assume this is because of my stereotypical, genetic ‘Aussie’ affection for the underdog and the abandoned (yeah, I don’t really think Australians these days can claim to be the champions of the underdog, but anyway…). But I also have a real affection for novelty-shaped skyscrapers (yes, I love The Gherkin). Perhaps it is because they are meant to be such serious office buildings and yet, they also kind of look just a little bit silly and not-quite-real. Like something a kid might design as buildings for a future city. Like something from a parallel world. Like a sly architect’s slightly whimsical joke on the mega-rich and powerful (‘I’m going to make them spend their days in a pickle! And they’re going to have to be serious in it!’)

Anyway, whatever the origins of my love, on Saturday, I finally got to meet the object of my affection up close.

The approach:

The Shard, from Borough area

The Shard, from Borough area

The Northern line was down, so I decided to walk from Clapham Common. It had also (as you can see from the picture) turned into a glorious afternoon and we in the UK are not used to turning our backs (or closing our public transport doors) on unexpectedly nice afternoons. Especially not when they occur after a morning of torrential October rain.

The Shard is around 76 storeys high, so it was quite easy to navigate my way towards it. You can see it from pretty much everywhere. That is, it was pretty easy to navigate my way towards it until I was right underneath it and then it became strangely elusive. It disappeared from sight. It started playing cheeky games with me, hiding behind other buildings, train stations and trees. It acted like the creepy psychotic man with a knife in horror films – I could see broken pieces of its steely reflection in the glass of other buildings, but when I turned around, it wasn’t there.

Eventually, despite the Shard’s best efforts and the best of efforts of the Southwark Council road works and road workers, I managed to find my way to the entrance. I picked up my tickets (which were stupidly expensive, especially considering one of my arguments against the stupid, dull and over-hyped London Eye is that it is WAY too expensive. Well, the Shard is even more expensive than the Eye), met my companion, had our photos taken (it’s like a rollercoaster, apparently) and then headed up in the elevator. In fact, the building is so high, we had to get out at the 30-something floor and get a second elevator further up afterwards (actually, I don’t know if the reason we had to get a second elevator is because its so high or for some other obscure reason. They didn’t tell us why. I like the idea that it’s so high you have to take 2 elevators. It feels like there’s some amount of effort required to get up that high. I mean, not like, actual proper effort, like climbing stairs, or climbing up the side of the building, but… Just a little bit more effort than your average skyscraper…)

You get out at the 68th floor and then climb stairs up to the 69th floor. And then you see this:

From the Shard

From the Shard

Didn’t I tell you we were lucky with the weather? Didn’t I tell you the Shard is a magical place? Didn’t I tell you its like another world up there?

Greasy marks had been left behind where people had smushed their faces and hands into the glass, trying to get closer to the outside. I went around rubbing it all off with my hand, muttering about how the marks were ruining the beautiful view. My companion thought this was taking my love and dedication to the Shard slightly too far (surely this was unhygienic to say the least). But I couldn’t help myself. I am dedicated to my love.

There were some pretty freaky cool telescopes scattered around. Not only did the zoom in, like a normal telescope, but they pointed out places of interest, gave you information on the places of interest and also had 4 viewing options: current time, sunrise, afternoon and nighttime. They were all perfectly matched up, so you could look at the same barge in the Thames over the 4 different time periods. To you know… see how much a barge changes at night-time (it doesn’t change much). Of course, I didn’t know any of this to start with because I got to the telescope and saw that you could choose what language to use and I decided that Mandarin was absolutely the language that I was going to use the telescope in. Which was amusing for about 3 seconds until I realised I couldn’t understand the instructions to go back to the front screen and choose another language. Awesome. Don’t worry, we abandoned the ruined Chinese telescope and started again with another one.

View towards my house, with the weird Elephant & Castle skyscraper in the middle of the photo. I do not love this skyscraper. My theory is that someone had some leftover airplane propellers lying around & decided to shove 3 into the top 'cause they couldn't think of any other way to decorate it.

View towards my house, with the weird Elephant & Castle skyscraper in the middle of the photo. I do not love this skyscraper. My theory is that someone had some leftover airplane propellers lying around & decided to shove 3 into the top ’cause they couldn’t think of any other way to decorate it.

So, the 69th floor is the indoor viewing platform and then you can take the stairs up to the 72nd floor to the outside viewing platform. I don’t know why, but I did expect there to be no glass on the ‘outside viewing platform’. I kind of expected there just to be a little railing and I could then put my arms out into the sky at 72 storeys high and see if it felt any different to the ground air. Of course, this was not the case. There were still large panes of glass, making it impossible for people to fall (accidentally or deliberately) to their death way, way below.

More views.

More views. More clouds. More sky. 

We stood around trying to map important parts of our London lives on to the slightly strange and surreal view: ‘That must be about where my house is. Near that patch of green, past the skyscraper and the Oval’, ‘That’s the O2 there, the yellow spike,’ ‘Those two white blobs look like the University of Greenwich’, ‘That hill must be Hamsptead Heath’, ‘Maybe that giant barn thing is that palace I always pass on the train on the way to Cambridge….’ etc. It was quite a pleasant way to spend an hour.

Oh, the more views.

Oh, the more views.

However, after an hour or so of trying to figure out which tiny blobs are actually buildings you use in your everyday life and after you’ve attempted to use the telescope in Chinese, there’s not a lot more you can do up there. You can go down a few levels and pay even more money to sit at one of the restaurants, which might have been quite pleasant, but we really were at the end of our budgets. You could buy all sorts of Shard branded merchandise, often helpfully gender-divided in pink and blue for the kiddies (I told you there were serious moral/political issues standing between the Shard and me’s relationship), but my love for the Shard is pure and does not need to be broadcast to strangers via branded T-Shirts and pens and notebooks in order to be validated and feel real. I would have happily sat down and watched the view for much longer, but I guess (from the lack of chairs) they really didn’t encourage you to stick around that long.

London, from the Shard.

London, from the Shard.

Nevertheless, it was a really lovely way to spend some time and I did love the opportunity to seeing this beloved city from a different perspective.

London, you are problematic, Shard, you are also problematic, but I love you both so very much in spite of your flaws.

Sky from the Shard

Sky from the Shard

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Filed under London

Everything I Learnt in Edinburgh (Without Really Trying)

I meant to write this post when I was in Edinburgh, but I kind of got swept up in Edinburgh, so I didn’t. And then I meant to write it in September, but then I got lots of work and so I didn’t. And then I thought I wasn’t going to write it at all, but I’ve now been unemployed for a very long time and I’ve decided that instead of sitting around in a state of low-level frustration at my lack of employment, I will combine my writerly forces with my completely empty days and use them for good! For the writing of blog posts!

So, without further ado, things that I learnt in Edinburgh (and haven’t forgotten in the months afterwards).

THINGS I LEARNT ABOUT AUDIENCES

1) Audiences can sit through your show not laughing, not smiling and come up to you afterwards and slip a 10 pound note into your bucket and tell all their friends to come and see it. Audiences will laugh all the way through, congratulate you afterwards, say they thought it was great and then say, ‘oh! Sorry, I don’t have any cash,’ and slip away out the back.

2) Audiences like to have other audience members with them. They don’t like to be on their own. Audiences are pack animals. They like to shelter together. Especially when it comes to laughter. They like to shelter together in each other’s laughter. Just so they know that laughter is the right thing to do at this point in time. That said, different audiences will decide that different things are funny. As far as I know, they don’t confer beforehand, or during. But, somehow they all manage to agree that some things are funny and other things are not. And they seem to do it more or less as a unit on the same day. And the next day, the audience will decide something else.

An audience in its natural habitat: an empty room. Found at: http://www.agemanagementmi.com/services/iv-therapy/

An audience in its natural state. Found at: http://www.agemanagementmi.com/services/iv-therapy/

3) Audiences do not always know how to behave in a show. Especially in a show that seems like it is pretending not to be a show – one that is not in a theatre, that does not have tickets, that does not have lights. They will happily walk in and out, correct you if they don’t like what you’ve said, answer a phone call during your show (as long as, you know, they go to the side of the room, I mean that is perfectly ok, right?) Part of me thinks, ‘hells yeah! If you’re not keeping their attention, then they SHOULD walk out!’ And part of me just thinks, ‘Yes, but could you just be quiet and pay attention please just for a little whiles because I have worked so very very hard and it means so very very much to me and if you could just PRETEND to like me for a little while, that might make me feel better.’

4) When audiences are aware that the performer can see them, they will sometimes be unnecessarily encouraging with their faces. It makes you think that they are, I don’t know, just PRETENDING to like you and you really honestly just wish they would quit it. Except that occasionally, occasionally, audiences will HATE YOU WITH THE FIRE OF ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND SUNS FOR NO KNOWN REASON and because they HATE YOU WITH THE FIRE OF ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND SUNS they will have no problem with glaring at you the whole way through and then you kind of wish again that they could just pretend a little bit that they liked you just a tiny tiny bit. Not as much as your mum, maybe, but as much as… your pet gerbil.

I hate you with the fire of Ten Thousand Suns. Found at: http://dashburst.com/10-cats-grumpier-than-grumpy-cat/

I hate you with the fire of One Hundred Thousand Suns. Found at: http://dashburst.com/10-cats-grumpier-than-grumpy-cat/

5) No matter what happens, you generally only have to deal with any given audience for a specific set amount of time. No matter how bad it gets, you know that, eventually, they are going to leave and they will (hopefully) forget all about you (as you will them). This is the case except in a few, rare instances when you happen to flyer them again, or run into them at a food fair, or sit next to them in another, completely unrelated show in one of those weird, uncomfortable coincidences that life sometimes likes to throw at you. This is especially the case if they are your friends. Or you are performing in Edinburgh at fringe time.

THINGS I LEARNT ABOUT PERFORMING

1) Sometimes there are bad shows. Sometimes there are good shows. Sometimes you will trick yourself into thinking you can see a pattern in the shows and that you will therefore be able to predict what kind of show is coming next (though, often this is said in hindsight: ‘Oh, well, I SHOULD HAVE KNOWN it would be a bad show today, I had TWO GOOD SHOWS in a row! I was DUE for a bad one’). This is never actually true. Sometimes the bad shows are your fault. Sometimes the bad shows are the audience’s fault. Sometimes the bad shows are the venue’s fault. Sometimes the bad shows are the fault of a butterfly flapping it’s wings too hard off the coast of Argentina. (No, seriously) No matter what, you have to keep on going thinking that the next one is going to be better.

This bastard ruined my second Wednesday show! Found at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viceroy_(butterfly)

This bastard ruined my second Wednesday show! Found at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viceroy_(butterfly)

2) You are more likely to forget your words at the end of the run, when you’re on auto-pilot, then at the beginning when you are so freaking focused on the words that you are aware if a single ‘and’ or ‘that’ has gotten away from you. At some point during auto-pilot you’ll realise you’re on auto-pilot and then panic because you don’t remember the next lines and you’re not sure if your auto-pilot knows the next lines and then the panic will cause the whole system to shut down and leave you opening and closing your mouth on stage as uselessly as a goldfish gulping for air whilst lying upside down on the breakfast table. This will seem to you like it is happening FOREVER. In reality, it will be a few seconds.

3) Sometimes it is fun to perform and that’s when it goes quickly. Other times it like you are performing whilst your entire body is encased in wet cement and your brain is made of wet wool and your eyes are stuck shut. These are the performances that take the rest of your life to complete.

4) Stage fright is a thing that will pop up at unexpected times for unknown reasons. Also, stage embarrassment, which involves your entire body getting really really hot and your face getting flushed and you stuttering a lot. Stage Fright happens when you cannot face the thought of standing in front of another crowd, in an empty space and making them listen to you for an hour. Stage Embarrassment happens when you’re in the midst of a performance and you’ve just made a joke about Boris Johnson and a woman from the audience yells out that he is her friend and then you want the world to swallow you whole, or at least, you want to bow and walk off stage, except that that would be even more embarrassing.

THINGS I LEARNT ABOUT FLYERING

1) There are many different types of flyering. There is the ‘easy’ flyer, which is where you stand in a place lots of people are walking past and you hold out your hand with a flyer and a big smile on your face until someone takes one. There is the slightly more energetic flyer, where you stand in a place lots of people are walking past and you attempt to sell your show in one sentence, with a big smile as those people walk past, as well as hand them a flyer. There is the even more energetic flyer, where you do all the above, but follow along beside them for a while, trying to give them further, (hopefully) tantalising details of your show. There is the ‘hard sell’ flyering, where you go to where a bunch of (presumably) interested fringe-goers are milling and you attempt to convince them, through a small conversation, that you are very charming, that you have a very charming show (for a very charming price) and it would be utterly charming if they could, perhaps, come by and see it sometime. Then there is the ‘gimmick’ flyering, where you flyer in costume; or flyer in drag; or flyer silently; or lie down in the ground in front of people; or you talk loudly and obviously (and HILARIOUSLY) to your co-flyerers about how amazing this particular show is and then hand people flyers as they go past; or give people sweets with their flyer; or give people free tickets with their flyer; or give people discounts with their flyer; or threaten people; or propose to people; or act out your play for people; or become a live artwork with your flyers attached to you etc. etc. etc. etc.

'Hello there friends. Could I interest you in a flyer for my show? Its an all-female production of 'Lord of the Flies' and was very favourably reviewed in the Woolloomoolloo Gazette' Found at: http://www.lolbrary.com/post/9074/planking-level-9999/

‘Hello there friends. Could I interest you in a flyer for my show? Its an all-female production of ‘Lord of the Flies’ and was very favourably reviewed in the Woolloomoolloo Gazette. We’re also doing a 2 for 1 Tuesday deal. Thanks ever so much.’ Found at: http://www.lolbrary.com/post/9074/planking-level-9999/

2) I am good at the slightly energetic flyering and the hard sell flyering. Nothing else. Unless I am hung-over. And then I am only good for easy flyering

3) It is very hard to sum up your play in one sentence. In may take you a week. Or possibly two. Or the whole Edinburgh Fringe run.

4) People like to see stars on your flyer. If they don’t know who you are, they like to see stars. Preferably lots of them. In groups of 4 and 5.

'Oh, I do like to see stars on a flyer.' 'That's the night sky.' 'Is it? Sorry, I get confused at festival time.' Found at: http://spaceinfo.com.au/2011/11/06/what%E2%80%99s-up-night-sky-for-november-2011/

‘Oh, I do like to see stars on a flyer.’ ‘That’s the night sky.’ ‘Is it? Sorry, I get confused at festival time.’ Found at: http://spaceinfo.com.au/2011/11/06/what%E2%80%99s-up-night-sky-for-november-2011/

5) Occasionally you get given a flyer and realise an artist you really want to see is here at the fringe and you had no idea. Occasionally, you pick up a flyer from the ground and its such a good image and such a good blurb that you instantly think, ‘Oh, yes! I will SEE that show! I will PAY MONEY to see that show!’

6) However, most audiences hardly notice your flyers, they hardly even look at your flyers. They will scrunch them up after they’ve gotten two steps away from you. Throw them in the bin. Throw them on the ground. Place them in their back pockets. They will take your flyer from you, glance at it and say, ‘Oh! Yes, I read about this one!’ And you’ll say, ‘Really?’ And they’ll say, ‘Yes! The one about Julie Andrews!’ And you’ll say, ‘No, no my show is about love and romance and…’ And they’ll cut you off impatiently and say, ‘Yes, yes, I know, I read about it. Its about Julie Andrews. It sounds very good.’ And harrumph off, thinking that you’ve insulted them by suggesting that they are too stupid to realise that your show about Julie Andrews (that is in no way related to Julie Andrews) is actually about Julie Andrews. Yeah? Yeah. Audiences hardly look at your flyers.

'I'm telling you, my show is in no way about... Wait, would you see a show about  Julie Andrews? You would? Then, yes, you're correct. My show is about Julie Andrews.' Found at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-543058/The-nun-switchblade-How-Julie-Andrews-bleak-childhood-ruthless--truth-lesbian-clinch.html

‘I’m telling you, my show is in no way about… Wait, would you see a show about Julie Andrews? You would? Then, actually, yes, you’re correct. My show IS about Julie Andrews.’ Found at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-543058/The-nun-switchblade-How-Julie-Andrews-bleak-childhood-ruthless–truth-lesbian-clinch.html

THINGS I LEARNT ABOUT OTHER ARTISTS

1) People will solemnly swear to you that they will come to your show. They won’t.

2) You will solemnly swear to people that you will come to their show. You won’t.

'I swear on my unborn child's life that I will come to see your one-woman live art pieces inspired by the comedy of Laurel & Hardy' Found at: http://www.themarriagecoaches.net/2012/01/18/praying-for-your-marriage/

‘I swear on my unborn child’s life that I will come to see your one-woman live art piece inspired by the comedy of Laurel & Hardy’ Found at: http://www.themarriagecoaches.net/2012/01/18/praying-for-your-marriage/

3) It is possible to live in a tiny little bubble at the Edinburgh Fringe, hearing only about certain artists and shows. Then, some day near the end of the festival one of your friends will mention a whole bunch of other shows that existed in their bubble and your world will explode because they haven’t heard about any of your artists and you haven’t heard about any of theirs. Its like your living in parallel universes.

4) ‘EVERYONE’S SHOW IS DOING FABULOUSLY! EVERYONE’S SHOW IS JUST FANTASTIC! EVERYONE’S SHOW HAS JUST HAD THE MOST AMAZING REVIEW! EVERYONE’S SHOW HAS JUST HAD THE MOST AMAZING PRODUCER COME AND SEE IT! EVERYONE’S SHOW HAS JUST BEEN BOOKED FOR ANOTHER SEASON! EVERYONE’S SHOW HAS JUST BEEN NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD! EVERYONE’S SHOW MAY NOT BE SELLING OUT, BUT EVERYONE IS VERY VERY VERY HAPPY TO BE HERE AND ALL THE AUDIENCES ARE WONDERFUL AND PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE COME SEE MY SHOW, IT WILL NOT IN ANYWAY BE A WASTE OF MONEY!’

'I HAVE NEVER IN MY LIFE BEING HAPPIER WITH A DECISION THAN I AM WITH THE DECISION TO BE RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW WITH YOU AT THE EDINBURGH FRINGE FESTIVAL' Found at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/pinksherbet/6982747619/

‘I HAVE NEVER IN MY LIFE BEING HAPPIER WITH A DECISION THAN I AM WITH THE DECISION TO BE RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW WITH YOU AT THE EDINBURGH FRINGE FESTIVAL’ Found at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/pinksherbet/6982747619/

THINGS I LEARNT ABOUT REVIEWS

1) Somewhere out there is the person who is going to be totally on board with your show, love every minute, get every subtle message and give your show a great review. Somewhere out there is the person who will think your idea is stupid from the start, hate every tiny little miniscule second, accidentally-on-purpose miss the final point and write a damning review.

2) Once a review is out in the world, there is little you can do to change it. This is frustrating. Reviewers like to say they are ‘starting a conversation’. Except that the artist as no right of reply. I don’t mean to criticise reviewers (I know a lot of lovely reviewers). But an artist who writes back to their bad review is just ridiculous. You’re just going to have to suck it up, good or bad and keep on keeping on (though anonymously commenting on a review and ‘correcting’ a ‘misinterpretation’… well, I mean, that might be something worth considering…)

3) Though it is hard to believe, shows that you think are terrible are going to get better reviews than you. Those lines of 4 & 5 stars are going to trick you into paying money for something crappy. It will enrage you. You will scream to the gods, ‘Why? WHY? WHY DO YOU SO HATE ME AND SO LOVE THEM? WHAT HAVE I DONE TO DESERVE THIS? AND ON TOP OF ALL THAT, WHY DID YOU TRICK ME INTO WASTING 10 POUNDS ON THAT PIECE OF CRAP THAT I COULD HAVE MORE HAPPILY USED FOR THE NEXT 3 MORNINGS’ WORTH OF CHEESE TWISTS??’ All you can do is remember point 1 and a) suck it up and b) realise that someone is going to be similarly tricked into seeing your show at some point by a row of 4 stars and they’re going to feel pretty much exactly the same as you do now about this show.

God loves them and hates you evidenced by his giving of your cheese twist money to them via good reviews. Stupid God. Found at: http://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/flaky-cheese-twists-recipe

God loves them and hates you evidenced by his giving of your cheese twist money to them through (inexplicably) good reviews. Stupid God. Found at: http://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/flaky-cheese-twists-recipe

THINGS I LEARNT ABOUT HEALTH 

1) It is possible to live for a very long time on cheese and bread and not put on weight. As long as you are power-walking across a city several times a day whilst doing so.

2) It is possible to live on only 4 – 5 hours of sleep a night for 4 out of 7 nights a week. It is not nice, but it is possible.

3) Alcohol is not actually very good at the lifting of the spirits and the creation of energy.

4) Depression, anxiety and ‘wanting-to-give-upedness’ is best avoided by enough food, enough sleep and enough friends with whom to have a hot chocolate, a hug and a cry with (when necessary).

THINGS I LEARNT ABOUT EDINBURGH

1) It is beautiful.

2) I want to live there.

3) I’m not allowed to live there and it breaks my heart.

4) Even if I was allowed to live there, apparently the festival doesn’t go on all year round and at Christmas time there is a thing they call ‘winter’. Everyone assures me I wouldn’t like it.

5) Please will someone marry me so that I can live there (I’ll give this winter thing a go).

6) Jacket potatoes are awesome. Vegetarian haggis is awesome. Deep-fried Mars Bars not so much.

7) I’m serious about the marriage thing.

8) Get in touch via the comments.

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Filed under 29, Edinburgh, Theatre

All the News that’s Fit to Print

Here are some of the things that I have been up to recently in Ol’ London Town:

1. Had the most amazing piece of Red Velvet Cake ever ever ever at King’s Cross’ ‘Drink, Shop & Do.’ Incidentally, this place has somehow been taken out of my day-dreams and fantasies to become concrete reality in North London. I am forever grateful to the fairy (or fairies) that did this.

2. Ate dumplings for the first time ever ever ever and wondered where they had been all my life. Apparently right in front of me, if other people’s reactions are to be believed. ‘YOU’VE NEVER EATEN DUMPLINGS? HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE? YOU’RE 29 YEARS OLD AND YOU HAVE NEVER LIVED’. Topped it off with super-indulgent Haagen-Daaz ice-cream, which I’m sure I’ve had before, but I don’t rightly remember it. Salted caramel and banoffee pie goodness, oh my god.

3. Got a run-down on English political history of the 1980s, curtesy of the Tricycle Theatre and Moira Buffini’s ‘Handbagged’. Quite enjoyable. Message I have taken away from it: Thatcher was a tyrant. So, not much new there. However, it did introduce me to Neil Kinnock, who I had never heard of before, and this wonderful speech which was delivered by him on the eve of another election (that Thatcher won):

‘If Margaret Thatcher is re-elected as prime minister on Thursday, I warn you. I warn you that you will have pain – when healing and relief depend upon payment. I warn you that you will have ignorance – when talents are untended and wits are wasted, when learning is a privilege and not a right. I warn you that you will have poverty – when pensions slip and benefits are whittled away by a government that won’t pay in an economy that can’t pay. I warn you that you will be cold – when fuel charges are used as a tax system that the rich don’t notice and the poor can’t afford.

I warn you that you must not expect work – when many cannot spend, more will not be able to earn. When they don’t earn, they don’t spend. When they don’t spend, work dies. I warn you not to go into the streets alone after dark or into the streets in large crowds of protest in the light. I warn you that you will be quiet – when the curfew of fear and the gibbet of unemployment make you obedient. I warn you that you will have defence of a sort – with a risk and at a price that passes all understanding. I warn you that you will be home-bound – when fares and transport bills kill leisure and lock you up. I warn you that you will borrow less – when credit, loans, mortgages and easy payments are refused to people on your melting income.

If Margaret Thatcher wins on Thursday, I warn you not to be ordinary. I warn you not to be young. I warn you not to fall ill. I warn you not to get old.’ 

Found at: http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Neil_Kinnock

It gives me goosebumps.

4. I saw my first production of ‘Ghosts’ at the Almeida Theatre, after studying it at acting school. Its rare that I will talk more about the design of a production than the production itself (or if I do, then that’s a bad thing), but the design of this show was so subtle and so stunning, that I couldn’t stop talking about its wonderful, layered symbolism. I wrote a review for City Road Online, which you can read here.

5. Had a cheeky bottle of red during the day with a kiwi mate, because the bar girl practically forced us to. No, seriously, we walked in and we said, ‘hmmm… what are we drinking?’ And she said, ‘Bottle of wine?’ And we laughed, and she said, ‘There’s only 3 large glasses in one bottle of wine.’ And we went, ‘Oh. Fair point. Better be a bottle of wine, then.’ Also, I decided that if the Tory government insists on characterising the unemployed as drunken layabouts (or similar), I may as well get involved. After drunkeness, we then went shopping (DRUNKEN UNEMPLOYED WASTES MONEY ON FASHION). Drunk shopping is quite fun. If you don’t mind spending a lot of money and then looking at your purchases the next morning to find they are a) the wrong colour b) the wrong size c) the wrong shape d) just wrong.

6. Walked from Clapham Common to Earl’s Court, because, why not? Stumbled across: a charity store in Chelsea (MOST TERRIFYING STORE I HAVE EVER BEEN IN); Emmeline’s Pankhurst’s grave (Brompton Cemetery); a Buddhist Peace Pagoda in Battersea Park; a sign that said: ‘Warning. These walls have been treated with anti-climb paint’; a community garden that used to be a church graveyard where Roundheads were buried during the Civil War’s battle for the Battersea Marshes.

Battersea Park Pagoda. Found at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battersea_Park

Battersea Park Pagoda. Found at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battersea_Park

7. Attempted to walk around Oxford Circus on a dry October Saturday afternoon. Which was probably the most horrible experience of my life, topped only by the experience of attempting to go into Hamley’s on a dry October Saturday afternoon. OH THE HORROR THE HORROR. Can I just say something stereotypically grumpy and old-lady-ish for a second? Kids these days? SPOILT BRATS. I saw one mother load up her daughter’s stroller with one of ever different brightly coloured stuffed pony the store had, then turned to her daughter and said, ‘Happy? Every one.’ The kid didn’t look that happy. To be honest, neither did the mother. The lesson? CHEAP TAT DOES NOT MAKE YOU HAPPY, SO STOP BUYING IT. Ahem. Apologies. I will attempt to get off my (hypocritical) anti-capitalist soap-box now. But, oh wait, up it comes again – SO MUCH CHEAP CRAP AND TAT. EW EW EW. Look, if we could all just stop buying the kids cheap tat, maybe the world wouldn’t end in a horrible blaze of global warming? That might be a place to start. Give the kid a stick, a patch of dirt, a bit of water and let them explore for hours. They’ll soon get used to the ‘outdoors’ and ‘sunlight’ and ‘fresh air’. And, yes, ok, I did buy something for some kids in my life, but they were very carefully chosen gifts, not cheap, not tat and will hopefully be treasured for a long time (THEY BETTER BE). The only thing that cleansed the whole experience from my soul was a panel discussion on feminist theatre and the pornification of popular culture held at the Soho Theatre. Joy. More people to hang around with that think the world is going to hell in a handbasket.

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Filed under 29, London, Theatre