Your Money or Your Life!!

lal319090

I’ve been thinking about disappointment. As you do. I’ve been thinking about things that don’t go the way you want, about unsatisfactory endings.
It all started with The Goldfinch, which I’ve just finished and, before my dear reader mistakes me, I loved reading. Sure, I finished it as a blinking, listless wreck of nihilistic ennui… but I loved it.
There’s something melodic about Donna Tartt’s writing that is deployed in such a way as to almost succeed in masking quite how much Theodore Decker’s life is one multi-car pileup after another; a crushing, splintering onrush of disasters.
While the reader is distracted by the prose, by young Theo’s tendency toward romantic abstraction and his eye for beauty, off to one side and seen out of the corner of the eye; the whole world is burning. The book is the literary equivalent of a rainbow shining on the surface of an oil slick. As we follow Theo into adulthood, calmly believing he has survived the worst of what life has thrown at him, Tartt inserts the memories of his friends. They recount shared memories from their own point of view and bubbling up from the past like murderous lava through a crack in the earth comes the brutal truth. Slowly, by increments, we are cruelly disabused of our complacence.
What seemed at the time to be unfortunate but understandable binge drinking and regrettable but survivable experimentation with drugs – brought about by the exculpatory bad luck of poor adult supervision and the familiar excuse of “falling in with the wrong crowd” – was actually a vicious, spiraling cycle of suicide attempts and blackout drunkenness. What had seemed like survival was actually self-immolation.

All of which is actually beside the point: the point being the ending. The ending winds down into a limping series of moral epiphanies as a pseudo-redeemed Theo is seen trudging off into a life that the rest of us would actually recognize as a life, rather than a series of unfortunate events. This is fine, so far as moral lessons go, but what I really wish had been included is a fist-in-the-air moment of villain-thwarting. It is disappointingly off screen that shady art thief and Theo-blackmailer Lucius Reeve learns that the titular Goldfinch painting he so lusted after has been returned to the authorities. The Goldfinch ends up safe and sound, and Reeve’s chance to extort it out from under Theo evaporates in an anticlimactic puff of vanished leverage. Wouldn’t his face have been a picture?! (Pun guiltily intended.)

Similarly; the new tv drama I’ve been glued to – Critical. Again, dear reader, don’t mistake me: I love it. Sure, my heart feels like it’s going to explode for 45 minutes as the trauma patient of the week is wheeled in bleeding and on the brink of death to be tended to by a team of sawbones who wait poised on a knife-edge to save the threatened life. (Once more, pun guiltily intended.) But, I’ve detected a structural flaw. You watch from the edge of your seat as a knife-tip pulsates in a man’s heart and an unauthorized mini-surgery is conducted to snatch him from Hades’ clutches… and then you never hear about him again. He’s wheeled off to become someone else’s problem. What happens to Joe Blogs Stabbing Victim?!? Again, satisfaction is thwarted: the ignored middle sibling of pace and plot.

Funnily enough all these not-quite-complete endings reminded me of the time I was almost mugged. I feel quite privileged to have had this experience. After all, not everyone can pipe up at a cocktail party “I have a funny story about mugging actually.” But I do.

Picture the scene.

I am walking home along a shadowed canal path. The hour is late and the way is dark, but it is really the English winter that has rendered it so very black. I am quickening my pace, eyes fixed on the lights of the bridge and my mind already cast ahead to the warm glow of home and a cup of tea before bed. Quietly, in the shadows, a figure approaches me from behind. He draws level with me in the dark and says something.
I withdraw one earphone from my ear. I haven’t heard him. I look at him, my confused expression asking him to repeat his question. He pauses, and looks a little put out.
“Do you know the time?”
Now, this is where the Mugger’s evening started to go awry. I get approached in the street quite often by strange men awkwardly mumbling something to get my attention. Most women do. There are a few lousy syllables of pretense before they say something like “smile baby, when can I see you again?” and usually a stoney glare or a quickened pace will send them off in heel-draggin failure. And honestly that’s what I thought this was, so I stayed silent and relied on the old pattern of these encounters to send him wandering back into the darkness from whence he came. After all, I had never been mugged before! My first thought wasn’t “Oh, a highwayman. He’ll be wanting my valuables, better turn them over.”

Something tells me he had never mugged before either, because he seemed crestfallen that I had not interpreted his question about the time as an invitation to hand over my timepiece. And, looking back I actually think he hadn’t factored a watch into the equation at all, he was hoping I would get my phone out and check the time on that, whereupon he would snatch if from me and make off with a shiny new iPhone 5. First stop: The Black Market.
Alas for his personal wealth I wasn’t understanding him.
For my part, seeing he wasn’t sloping off like these characters usually do, my brain had started to click through the choices: check my watch and answer his question, stay silent and walk quicker, tell him I had a boyfriend who practiced mixed martial arts. But he’d already decided to try again.
“Can I see your phone.”
Now this, when you think about it from the warmth of your kitchen and far from the mugging crowd, really makes no sense at all. It definitely reads like a baby’s-first-mugging situation. And fair enough I suppose as, after all, there is no script for getting strangers to hand over their phones, no theft equivalent to “Hey, how’re you? I’m fine thanks, how are you?” No “Lovely weather we’re having and I’ll be taking everything you’re carrying, if you’d be so kind.” He was stumped by the simple linguistic problem of getting me to understand that he wanted to make my possessions his own.

By this time though I had begun to put 2 and 2 together and a murky figure 4 was forming in my mind. I knew there was a theft in the offing. I do have a relatively quick brain, not to mention my faculties weren’t muddled by a rush of adrenaline since I wasn’t the one committing a crime and, oddly now I think of it, I wasn’t actually afraid of this man. (Definitely a sign of a newly-fledged robber.)
So in the moments it took me to slide the strap of my bag down to my elbow, where I could open it, I’d been doing some thinking.
Thought 1). This was, bizarrely, a mugging. I was about to be stolen from.
Thought 2). I had, come to think of it, read about a rash of thefts following the release of the new iPhone 5.
Thought 3). The policeman that visited my secondary school a million years ago said to always hand over what muggers ask for, or they might try and kill you.
Thought 4). I was quite fond of being alive.
Thought 5). What the hell was he being so polite about? “Can I see your phone?”. I don’t think this is how muggings traditionally go.
Thought 6). What the hell is he going to do when he sees my chunky old iPhone 3?

This last thought actually came out of my mouth.
“Ok, you can see it. But you’re not going to want it.” Suddenly he was the one confused, thrown by my intellectual acrobatics: I had gone from being completely ignorant of what was happening to me and not taking my cues like a good little victim – causing him all sorts of inconvenience in having to try another tack, throwing off his practiced-in-the-bathroom-mirror ruse to get women to open their bags – to jumping a few steps ahead.
There followed an awkward silence while I rooted around in my bag: we were still standing in the pitch black and I had to hunt for the phone by feel. Finally I grasped it and withdrew it from my bag, saying as I did so “it’s pretty old.” He looked at it, looking even more crestfallen than at our communication failures, and shaking his head said “Nah, you can keep that.”
Then, lacking anything else to do and with no cues to the contrary from Mr Mugger, I put my phone back in my bag and walked off.
He didn’t follow me. He let me go.

The situation, whenever I look back on it, takes on a hilarious tendency toward re-writing. I start to feel sorry for him and imagine myself clasping his shoulder and waving my free hand between us, saying
“Hey, this is your first time? It’s mine too. We’re both new to this mugging thing, lets hash this out. Would you like my cash? Can I interest you in this bracelet?”
See, where Donna Tartt and Jed Mercurio are insensitive to the poignant disappointment of endings not going how you’d hoped I, it seems, am not. Even if it costs me my watch.

xxx

Open Letter to Tea-Breakers

034

Dear Cake Enthusiasts,

My friend told me the other day, via the intercontinental conversational miracle that is social media, that he was sat in John Lewis eating the world’s biggest slice of Victoria Sponge and drinking a “crap latte.” I didn’t really comment at the time, but since then a few encounters with Americans have left me feeling very British so I thought I’d comment now. (Apparently being an English girl with a quiet voice just means Americans don’t even have to try to understand you, they’re allowed to just let their jaws hang low and say things like “huh, speak American won’t you?” Sigh.)

Back to my friend, and how he was doing it ALL WRONG.

a) Victoria sponge is the dowager aunt of English cake. Right under Battenburg in the line of succession, it is a dried up, ancient institution that really should be left behind in the march toward Progress (chocolate cake). Any cake that gave up on the idea of icing in exchange for anaemic dustings of sugar should be excommunicated anyway, but add to that the use of jam for a filling and I think it should have been these that The Sons of Liberty tossed in Boston harbor that day. If anything is worthy of protest its this wizened homage to crumbly flavorlessness. If you’re so into jam and cream, have a scone for goodness’ sake. Everyone will be much happier.

b) If you really must have a slice of disappointment… why would you have it with a latte?? Obviously Victoria sponge should be suffered with a cup of tea to redeem it! What kind of mongoloid Englishness is that… Victoria sponge and coffee? See what I mean? If you’re going to clag-up your coffee with a glug of milk then you’re going to need something to cut through it. At least go for something that has a little heft to it. I’d suggest a loaf cake, probably a jaunty lemon or a robust hazelnut-chocolate combo.

Trust me, I know how to eat sweets. ūüėČ

Yours, on the way to get a muffin,

xxx

Where You Lay Your Head.

jmbarclay

I was sat in a computer workshop yesterday about online citation softwares that was so boring I’m pretty sure it should have audition for a place as one of the circles of hell. The librarian is admirably excited about Knowledge. “Knowledge” said with a big, round O in the middle for the sake of reverence. I suspect he’s also a little bit of a conspiracy wing-nut. He kept digressing into sideways comments about “the man behind the curtain” who secretly controls the freedom of information on the internet. He talks about himself in the 3rd person, and uses phrases like “cruisin’ for a bruisin’.” Though not technically falling under the category of “paying attention” and yet gamefully in the spirit of the class, I was mining my WordPress dashboard for discarded drafts, unfinished works, half-completed thoughts. Karma caught me a cheeky uppercut to the emotional jaw though. I made myself homesick. I came across this:

The audience chitters, taking seats, spilling drinks from structurally defunct plastic cups, arranging cushions, fluffing blankets, patting pockets for half-rememebered tickets (just-in-case,) perusing seat numbers, checking out seat neighbours, assessing the view for the evening. I am trying not to snuffle like a hog with its head in the mud. I have a cold, but I am there. I am full of Boots’ finest cold medications and I have enough tissues to stem the nosebleeds of the entire New York Rangers’ fourth line. I. Am. There. And thank god I am. I could not have missed this for a bout of necrotising fasciitis, let alone a piddling little head-cold.

What seems like a plain old audience member jumps to her feet, a well-thumbed book in her hands, and begins to read. In that instant I am thrown bodily into the past, into my school days. As first one, then another ¬†and still another voice rises from among us to sound out the beginning of the tale, I remember the emotional maelstrom I rode out the first time I came across Harper Lee’s shattering, Pulitzer prize winning¬†To Kill a Mockingbird.

Ah, the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. Big, and green and inviting, with fairy lights and summer warmth and excited theatre-goers making magic out of thin air. Sat under fluorescent lighting listening to a little man wax lyrical about database search bars I was deeply heartsick for summer nights at Regent’s Park. Unfortunately for my diligent attention to truncating my search terms so as to better broaden the scope of my research, homesickness is a snowballing phenomenon.

From Regents Park its a short mental hop to Marylebone highstreet with its soft, round scones and tea with my mum after a shopping day. In that situation I’d most likely have been on a stressful last-minute hunt for something to wear for an event or party. I’d have insisted all along I didn’t need anything new, until at last, almost too late, I’d have cracked and dragged Mum out to hunt for The Perfect Dress. Poor Mum, she always come through though. Her special Mum alchemy means she always finds something that looks on the hanger like nothing I’d ever wear but after some gentle persuasion I try on and fall in love with.

Tea gets me thinking about Fortnum and Mason and Dean St Town House, all the places I go with Jane to splurge on afternoon tea, something I have yet to find in NYC. Afternoon tea, like marmite, seems to be an English phenomenon Americans have no interest in. British things that have no equal in New York leads me to thinking about Covent Garden, and even my documented hatred of cobblestones¬†¬†can’t dissuade me from romanticizing my memories of the Royal Opera House or boiled eggs at Le Pain Quotidien. ¬†I miss English pubs, and never having to talk to anyone in an elevator or on the tube (I miss calling it the tube!). These days, as I splash gracelessly up to my ankles in New York’s winter speciality: the curb-side slush puddle, I miss England’s lack of snow. Who’d have thought I’d come to miss English weather?!

I miss my sofa at home, the broad brown sofa where I nest into one corner until my parents make fun of the hole I’ve made in the cushion, the exact shape of myself. What my apartment optimistically designates a sofa wouldn’t be out of place in a hospital waiting room, and the only way to make a comfy little hole in it would be to take a chainsaw to it and carve one out.

I feel a little silly being 24 years old, living in an apartment on Broadway, and yet still getting homesick. Guess I should have listened when they told me home was where the heart is.

xxx

Cheeky! This one’s for the girls.

jp_mayerling_edward_watson_iohna_loots_scary_love_500

I want so desperately to give up on today’s post. It’s making me sluggish and fractious. I’m trying to write about Mayerling. There is so much to talk about! It’s one of the darkest ballets. It pushes boundaries. It’s outright the sexiest thing I’ve ever seen involving men in tights. It was another opportunity to hang out in the Royal Opera House, and in Covent Garden – both places I love and places I will miss when I exchange them for Central Park and Butler Library. But, for some reason I just can’t concentrate. It might be waking up at 5am this morning. It might be the hour or so I just spent trying (limply) to plan a lesson on the present perfect (a tense I see very little point in, since all we really use it for is boasting.) It could be the guilt of having failed to complete said lesson plan. It could well be all the sugar in my Arizona tea.

It might, however, be the girl strolling around the library with her bum hanging out. Literally, her shorts are so short that the only thing preserving her modesty is the tacit agreement of most onlookers not to look too closely. Lets face it people, these are not even hot pants. These are just pants. I wouldn’t really mind if it were a nice arse. Hey, I’m as liberal and open-minded as the next girl. (Mostly because I’m still praying for the day when They say it’s alright to completely give up wearing shoes.) But to be honest this is a pretty average derriere. If this were meandering around the stacks

article-1087910-028732E1000005DC-141_468x245

I could probably get over it. But we’re talking about a totally airbrush-free zone here. It’s gnarly.

It’s also the exact opposite of what I want to be thinking about: the passion, eroticism and seduction of Mayerling. Twiglets in micro-shorts think they look hot and I don’t really have any right to argue. The sweaty 50-something security guard is absentmindedly stroking his beer gut in appreciation, so I’m guessing he agrees with them. I wonder though… if they had noticed the security guard… if they wouldn’t go running for the nearest pair of trousers? I would.

I mean, Edward Watson recently turned his boots inside out and had leather patches sewn into the soles because he had worn right through them in the throes of Mayerling’s amorous torment. The women in this story might have been wild, impassioned spirits with a penchant for adulterous crown princes… but they still got a ticking off for showing too much ankle in public. So here I am trying to cast my mind back… to that night when the champagne hum of happy culture vultures whispered into to silence, the lights went down, curtains drew back, lust and love, frenzy, joy, misery, rage and devotion owned the stage and I forgot to breathe for three hours of my life that I would give almost anything to live over again exactly the same… and there’s a girl waving her whale tail in my face. Ain’t the 21st Century grand?

Then again maybe that’s the great draw of theatrical eroticism: a chance to escape the everyday pincer movement of cards in phone boxes and Xtube.¬† Not to mention advertising. Ridiculous advertsthat have flipped the bird at decency as they screech past on their way to use sex as a sales pitch. In the theatre though, perched on a red velvet seat (maybe even in the company of a dashing young man, if you happen to know one) with the taste of Sauvignon Blanc still fresh on your tongue, rolling the edge of your program in anticipation and alert for the fading of the house lights, then all the pedestrian awkwardness of 21st century randiness falls away. It’s a chance to take back a little mystery, a little classiness. The chance to sip a cocktail through a diamond encrusted straw instead of a cherry flavour VK. I’m kidding, of course, about the diamonds. But the feeling is very real. Like silk against your skin instead of lycra.

Maylering has pulse, make no mistake. It’s not all demurely posed emotions and blushing at holding hands. Elaborate dresses covering every inch of the leading ladies quite quickly give way to translucent nighties. Decorously sculpted hair soon tumbles into luscious, slutty, morning-after disorder. The choreography deftly turns its focus to the many, many ways one human body can entwine itself with another. But, even including a scene in which Prince Rudolph literally tears¬† his lover’s clothes off, the spectacle is never seedy. This, as far as I can see, is because it is never just about sex. It’s about pleasure, yes, but also passion. Huge sweeping feelings careen about the stage, swamping the protagonists. It leaves them undone, shaking and collapsed in the spotlight… but desperate for more.

There is nothing passionate about a teeny-bopper forgetting 80% of her clothes and pretending it was intentional. It’s a little desperate, surely? I don’t care if your legs go on forever and your behind is the exact shape of a peach (not sure why a peach, but that is the comparison de rigueur, it was probably Shakespeare’s idea) there is no value whatever in everyone being able to admire it for the price of a turn of their head. Come on girly, leave a little mystery for the rest of us. And while you’re at it, go and see Mayerling and take a few pointers because I have never seen anything sexier in all my theatrical meanderings (yes, I am including Game of Thrones) and there was not a single naked bum in sight. I am not afraid to admit it, I MISS PASSION. Sex is everywhere, but passion seems to be hiding behind the safety curtain and I am tired of its exile.

I hope a friend of mine will forgive me mentioning her personal life, but she recently chewed over a problem with me and she isn’t the only girl I know who’s facing it. How to tell the man you’re seeing that you want him all to yourself without making a fool of said self?? Conclusion: you can’t. If he wants to trade you in for a less monogamous model you have two choices. Go with it; tie your self-respect to the bumper of your car and drag it behind you as you drive into the sunset. Or take the hit, get dumped on your a*se. Unceremonious is not even the word. If he’s on the same page then what was all the worry about, you’re a ninny for giving yourself frown lines?! The main thing that weights my spirits down in all this is where the nerves come from in the first place. Why do us girls all get so embarrassed about what we feel? I know I have been completely humiliated by revealing the merest corner of a feeling. And later I’ve been so disappointed with myself for being embarrassed. I’ve frequently gone the other way too, pretending interest where really there’s just a tumbleweed of bungling apathy rolling through a desert of absolutely no fondness whatever. Still it is not embarrassing! It’s chemistry. Brain chemicals going haywire is no more embarrassing than burning your morning toast. Mildly irritating, yes. Embarrassing. Hell no! Rudolph and Mary (utterly unsexy names not holding them back for an instant) threw themselves into love. Mary may even have been the first lady to boldly go with the totally-naked-under-a-big-coat-sudden-appearance-on-her-lover’s-doorstep move. And she didn’t spend the carriage ride over chewing her fingernails and thinking “oooh, but what if he says we should just be friends?”

Before you climb up on your honor and point out “but it’s just a ballet, calm down you crazy bint, and anyway in the end they both shot themselves” let me tell you this…. it’s based on actual events. Boom. Yes, you can have the bloody violent death, good point: no one is claiming passion is easy! But what is so wrong with owning how you feel? It’s not over-thinking, in fact it isn’t thinking at all. It’s feeling. I’ll say it once more, with feeling… feeling. This is what happens when we let boys run the world: mass emotional constipation. A world where girls are more willing to risk life-long bouts of herpes rather than ask a guy not to sleep with anyone else, because she’s so afraid she might be accused of feeling something and end up a laughing stock. How about we try staking a claim on what we want? If we get the knockback, flip two fingers at them in the rearview and keep a weather eye on the horizon for the next likely lad. Horrific collision of nautical and automotive metaphors aside, what is really the worse that can happen? A little blushing… pfft.

So this is my conclusion. Put your butt cleavage away. Pry a little mystery from the sweaty fist of the porn industry and stand up for what you want. Come on people, show a girl some passion.

Big love.

xxx

P.s. I looked up pictures of Angelina Jolie’s bum in a public place for this, so I really do appreciate it if you made it all the way to the end. Have some more love for your efforts. ūüôā

Sailors beware. Here there be women.

3

A lone bowman slinks deftly onto the boards from a stage-right box. His body is crouched, his movements slow and feline. He pauses, taught muscles fighting the urge to flee. He waits.

His white coat has caught my eye in the half-light, tearing my thoughts and eyes away from the conductor’s bobbing hairdo. I can sense the rest of the audience noticing him, their attention flickering from the music to the man. An invisible door has opened in the safety curtain. Blue light and wisps of smoke ooze through. The audience waits with the bowman, almost gleeful in anticipation and the rustle of fancy fabric as we slide in our evening wear to the edge of our seats. Should he go through? The music builds suddenly, pulling my gaze toward the pit for a fleeting moment and when it flickers back to him…¬† he is gone.

In an instant the curtain is raised and there, center stage, its massive jaws gaping, fangs bared, glistening tongue lolling, writhes a huge emerald snake. The Magic Flute has begun. A whole evening flows by, filled to the trilling brim with shining costumes, freakish hair, the Queen of the Night, Priests, flying contraptions, Masonic allegory, bizarre dancing animals, a bright white moon that fills the stage, a fat golden sun that blinds my dimmed eyes, love at first sight, devotion, danger, laughter and music. Obviously music… it’s the opera. What is really hysterical about it, though, is that it is a deeply, avowedly sexist opera and I say hysterical because I am here to confess something to my beloved reader today. I often find sexism funny. I can’t help it. I try to be offended, but I cannot for the life of me feel the appropriate feelings, or think what it is doubtless appropriate to think.

Die Zauberfl√∂te is riddled with lines about how we women say a great deal but do very little. The leading men are enjoined, again and again and once more with feeling, to beware the frightful wiles of women. So many men have fallen to our crafty ways, led astray by our myriad attractions, we are to be wary of. We are sylphs, sphinxes, living breathing traps for honest, ingenuous man. I’m pretty sure I should have been annoyed or at least a little piqued. I can just about raise a mock-outraged gasp, nearly as theatrical as the Queen of Night herself. Mostly, however, I just laughed my wily head off and brushed imaginary lint from my shoulder: damn straight be afraid of women. Who runs the world? Girls. These boots are gonna walk all over you. R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Girls just wanna have fun… are you getting the gist? Because I can keep going…

A shrill giggle cuts through the power ballads and brings us back to sexism, or more specifically it’s focal point in the opera: Papagena. Papageno, the male comic foil of the piece, has lamented at length that he doesn’t have a girlfriend. He doesn’t want to go through the trials of the temple to attain wisdom, he doesn’t want to accompany Tamino to face danger and rescue Pamina (standard fainting damsel.) Nope, Papageno would much rather have a glass of wine and a pretty girl to come and sit on his lap. That seems fair enough to me, but the priests of the temple disagree and change tack. Rather than wisdom, they tempt Papageno into facing his fears with the promise of a girlfriend he can call his own, a woman just like him. Cue Papagena.

The set and costume design for the show are striking. The temple has these soaring black walls and the priests are often clad in pale colours, grey and cream and white. Together, the pale priests against their dark backdrop, these evoke intense learning. They are white chalk anatomical drawings on slate tablets. They are living knowledge, the embodiment of studious endeavor and chronicled genius. Papagena, however, is more like neon pink nail polish spilled on the pages of a dusty old book. She comes skittering and chattering from the wings to throw herself astride Papageno… and she’s in a very, very short skirt. She is boobs and pink stilettos. And she stands for the attractions of women. Yet again I feel the tug of responsibility, a modern woman’s responsibility to bridle at the sexual objectification of women. But I can’t do it. I can’t summon an ounce of disapproval for the bubbly concoction of curls and lipgloss. I understand that she’s essentially a walking womb, there only to bring a little brood of Papageni into the world. But I don’t care. I love her, and with a very intense sisterly affection.

Nor do I get annoyed when the brotherhood of man completely trounces the Queen of the Night and her court of ladies. Triumph of male Sense over female Emotion, the total inability of women to hold it together for longer than it takes to shed a single glistening tear. Etc. Yawn. Come on Fellas, hit us with something new! Work that grey matter boys: if the overly emotional shtick was around in Mozart’s time then why in the name of all that is genuinely funny am I still hearing it today? But angry? Nope, not even a quiver.

I’ve read so many articles lately by angry girls, sniping at other members of the sisterhood, declaring we not waste ourselves, piling on the pressure to turn away from motherhood, stay in the workplace, not demean ourselves by dressing up for men. This last one nearly got me when I saw a girl prepping for a date in the street, she was switching from comfy looking flats into spiky heels. Watching her, my brain threw out a little stink bomb thought. It went as follows: “Sweety, if he’s looking at your feet, you’re doing something wrong.” Ouch! What a bitch the back of my mind is?! Whoever you were, girl in the burgundy skirt, I take it back. My own fear of achy feet is not your problem. Dress up for your bloke if it makes you feel good. I reminded myself that lengthy hypnotherapy treatments couldn’t get a guy to remember what shoes we wore, and that that isn’t the point anyway. We strap our blister-beleaguered toes into black leather stacked-heel shoes because they make us feel like Beyonce. If anything, we’re the ones using men… as an excuse to buy shoes.

So we may well be bumping like helium balloons against the glass ceiling, pulling a Bridget Jones on the greasy pole or having our Louboutin’s ruined by the sticky floor but check this out: Papageno spends 2 hours and 40 minutes, not including interval, moaning about not having one of us to himself… only to be terrified by the flesh and blood woman he finally gets his paws on. Call me childish, but that not only makes me snicker, it also makes me just a tiny bit proud of us girls. Emotional? Sure. Fragile? No doubt. F*cking awesome hurricanes of passionate, sexy energy, in great shoes, capable of melting a man’s brain at 100 paces. Absolutely!

I’m off to listen to Shania Twain.

See you next time.

xxx

P.s. sorry about the f-word at the end. It’s my rampant female emotions. ūüôā

Wonderland.

530193_10152157797977814_234331299_n

!Public Service Announcement!

This post contains instances of pride…

…because I’m about to have a little boast.

I got a place at University of Chicago!!!!!! (Ok, so that many exclamation marks probably qualifies as a medium-sized boast. My bad – false advertising.)

The only diptera in the soup is… I am waaaaaay out of practice. The place is for a Master’s in Humanities with an option in Creative Writing, and the last time I set fingers to keys in an academic setting was close on two years ago, while the only creative writing I do is this somewhat sporadic blog. So, in the name of training, I have taken the phrase “write what you know” as my own personal motto. Voila, here, for your perusing pleasure, shall I rhapsodise,¬†proselytise and otherwise soliloquise… about my life.

And, right now, about my week of Alice in Wonderland.

I feel a (now, not so) secret glee when it comes to Alice in Wonderland for the following shameful reason: throughout my three years at Oxford, Alice in Wonderland was the only set text I actually read every syllable of. ALL others were either skimmed, selectively thumbed, listened to on audiobook or used to prop up my terminally wonky desk. Thinking about Alice, I feel smug. I KNOW her. Biblically.

So imagine the surge of excitement I felt at the news of new interpretations!

Enter Alice 1.

Peter and Alice.¬†John Logan’s intense¬†play sees the boy who inspired Peter Pan meeting the girl who inspired Alice in Wonderland… and indulging in a heavy session of good old fashioned English complaining. The play is 90 interval-free minutes of philosophical exploration of the nature of a child’s innocence: its power to both enrapture and enslave the adult mind, its potency in inspiration, its darker side since it will and does one day desert us. I am not one for mincing my words. The play is genius.

The script is wound tight, moving from plainly spoken to abstracted and back again as the grey-matter of everyday life collides with party-coloured fantasy. The sets are a gorgeous blend of the two central stories, dodos, pirates, the infamous crocodile, mad hatter, tinkerbell, the whole crew present and correct in toy-town colours. The costumes, when fictional Peter and Alice take to the stage, are beautifully simple renderings instantly recognisable and evocative as hell. The two authors also appear and though very different characters they nonetheless share a deep sadness in their confounded fantasies, welched by age and responsibility. They are pennies in the fountain, blown out birthday candles and the evening star: the very symbols of wishes, whose grey hairs attest to those prayers remailing unfulfilled. They are bewitchingly human.

Before the lights are even fully down there is truth coalescing on the stage. Something fragile in which¬†we have all at some point believed is dancing in the shadows of the follow-spot, just beyond the reach of our grownup eyes. Flight of fancy, imagination, innocence, callowness and guilelessness are past, but gathered in our velvet seats in the warm darkness we arrive – deftly marshalled by the show – at one simple, excruciating truth. That dream we waved goodbye to: it was the only worthwhile thing we could have done. All else is compromise. In relinquishing our child-fisted grip we lost what the Hatter would have called our “muchness.” We could have been more, burned brighter, capered further, shed more light as we passed. We could have been muchier. We were¬†not. And now we are adults, and adulthood is compromise, damp, grey compromise. Adulthood eschews the rabbit-hole and the open nursery window.

Peter tells us as much, his glimpse of Neverland pursued him through life, seeded his being with dissatisfaction: an all-too-accute sense of what might have been, what was in halcyon days, what is gone and can never be real again. He is uneasy in his own skin, in his own life. We are told at the end that he threw himself under a train.

Alice is far more practical. Yes, the golden hew of yester-year has faded to brass but what has been was nonetheless a gift, a fanciful gift to generations of children. She may well have grown boring, as perhaps we must, and died closer to lonely than cheery but she basically tells Peter to get a grip, and good on her I say! All is not lost. We can still dream as much as we like and if in doubt a hookah-smoking caterpillar will always be there for our delectation. What could be more fun than that?!

But I am wrong.

Apparently I did not drink the Koolaid. The critics have told me so in no uncertain terms. Quentin Letts has no praise for the play. Although he does his best to make calling Ben Wishaw “so irredeemably moist, that he could do with sponging” sound like a compliment, he ultimately leaps to the conclusion that the show is “not exactly a ray of hope.” The independent calls it a dud. The Standard uses the word “flabby” (Ouch!). The Guardian’s Michael Billington denounces what he sees as an “elegant literary conceit offering surprisingly few revelations.” The FT throws in the word “paedophilic” like a shock-and-awe firecracker, all flash-bang and no actual point.

While Lett’s abuses¬†the play for lacking lightheartedness, it’s the FT’s Ian Shuttleworth who represents to me the true dreariness of some criticism, unable to resist his urge to drag everything through the muck. Although he does a u-turn on previously being “unimpressed” with Logan’s work, namely his last play Red, he ruins it with this: “I am delighted and chastened and get to eat my words.” Eugh. That’s just self congratulation. It sounds like he thinks his own words a rare delicacy only to be enjoyed at special occasions such as¬†Christmas, or the demise of someone’s literary reputation. Remember the last time someone said to you “I’m sorry, we were both wrong,” and you had to practically bite your tongue off not to yell with all your might¬†that that was not an apology! That’s how Mr Shuttleworth leaves me feeling. Thank god for the Telegraph’s “beautiful and searching” or I’d have run mad.

I’m aware, having just abused Shuttleworth for similar crimes against content, that my point is floundering in my emotions, but I refuse to believe art has to be chirpy to be worth it. When did everyone else get this memo?! The sadness of the play was practically the whole reason I came away glowing and buzzing from head to foot. It reminded me that, even when sad, I am not without magic. Despite a few people in my life who’ve devoted far too much of their energy to making me believe my feelings are¬†small and silly, Peter and Alice had me burning to look those people¬†in the eye, smile and whisper “I believe in faeries.” Then poke my tongue out at them.

Too much? Maybe a little too much. But COME ON PEOPLE. Life is so much fun. I mean talking flowers! Painting the roses red! An alligator that ticks! You know how I know this? Because Alice Liddell Hargreaves is absolutely right in the play: she talks about the joy she sees in people when they remember Alice in Wonderland. Even though the story’s true beginnings are shrouded in sadness, the demise of innocence, the renunciation of fancy and the temporal happiness of childhood… you still get things like this springing from it:

Alice 2.

As red and yellow confetti rained down on us and anthropomorphic flowers cavorted down the aisles I was overcome with visions of a plump, plummy Artistic Director flicking his aging ballerina’s hand and proclaiming “Pfft! Fourth wall!? What fourth wall?” But before I get all am-dram-English-grad smug on you I should actually ask if the fourth wall even exists in ballet, or if it’s just something ye olde English boffins dreamed up to annoy¬†Brecht?

This is Alice, ballet style. It was totally, life-alteringly, eye-bogglingly fabulous! (In fact, picture the scene. My touch-activated bedside lamp has seasonal affective disorder and is not responding to my caresses, plus I’m blinder than a glaucoma-stricken mole without my contact lenses so I am hunched over with my nose to my keyboard in the pitch dark to write this… oh and it’s 1am. THAT is how much I want to tell you about Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland at the Royal Opera House.)

I love audiences. Coughing, farting, whispering, snoring, fidgeting and often hailing from Planet Offensively Tall. The woman in front of me, for example, wasn’t just doing the usual audience bob-and-weave to get a better view; there were full-throttle tactical maneuvers going on. I could have super-glued her to her seat with pleasure. And¬†the little girl behind me, who overheard me enthusing with my friend about how this production had included the pepper-fogged¬†kitchen scene complete with cleaver-wielding cook, a pig rammed halfway into a meat grinder, the convulsively sneezing mother (played by a man) and baby, and lashings of blood. Tarantino would be so proud. Said earwigging little girl immediately turned to Daddy and said “was the butcher scene in the book, Daddy, because it isn’t in any of the movies I’ve seen.” Shoot me. Shoot me on the spot because culture is dead. An eight year old in kitten heels has heralded the end of my belief in the education system.

But even she couldn’t dampen my enjoyment of the evening. The show was gorgeous. Festooned with microjokes – the caterpillar’s offering to Alice when she asks to be her old size again is, rather¬†unapologetically… shrooms. (Do kids say “shrooms” anymore? Or am I just adorably retro?) – Christopher Wheeldon imbues the story with endless humour. His gurning Red Queen is bust-a-gut funny, not least when she gets a little hot under the collar over the Caterpillar. The Mad Hatter, the lone tapster in a sea of ballet shoes, dancing like… well, a madman… on top of a cupcake, was always going to bring a smile. Yet these touches are not just for the chucks. They are intricate and intelligent flourishes, with definitive purpose. Wheeldon doesn’t bring Alice back to the rivebank and the picnic with her sisters, but rather plays on a love connection he has added between Alice and the tart-burgling Knave of Hearts. He brings her full circle back to our own time where she’s fallen asleep on a bench over the eponymous book, while her boyfriend listens to reggae at her feet. This modernising flick gives the choreographer the chance to bring on a pseudo-stranger. His little pink wire-rimmed glasses clue the audience in: we’ve come to know the White Rabbit wears them. When all others¬†have left the stage, when Alice has forgotten her copy of the book and the White Rabbit has picked it up to return it, only to succumb to curiosity and flip it open… then, against the backdrop of a cheeky, bouncing score, Wheeldon gives the man a little rabbit-like scratch of the leg. A proffered secret handshake, between artist and audience, that the story has not ended, that in fact it never ends but simply begins anew each time the book is opened. And the hand is taken. The message is received, the audience emits a warm shimmer of laughter at the scratch. “Yes” we say, “we see him. We understand. We will open the book again. One day.”

Although that would have made such a juicy ending… I just can’t shut up. I want to tell you about my favourite moment in the show. Despite being a pedant on occasion, I don’t mind that it’s not a moment that exists in the book. Well, not really, not in the way it’s done here. It’s the scene where Alice testifies, or tries to, at the trial of the Knave of Hearts. All others have condemned him. He has testified (of course, in a ballet this means he danced) in his own defense. To no avail. All seems lost. Enter the very symbol of innocence and truth: Alice. She dances of her love for the Knave of Hearts. He, pulled like a magnet by her beauty and courage, joins her, and together they dance the familiar dance of love. If you’ve been to the ballet before you’ll have seen it. Odette and her prince. Clara and the Nutcracker. But this one was more potent than I was prepared for. (Disclaimer: I am a hopeless romantic. Feel free to go to the ballet and not feel any of what I felt.) The key was in the way the rest of the dancers (do you call them a cast in ballet? God, I’m such a pleb) are slowly overcome by the lovers, won round, until even the Knave’s most strident¬†accusers have fallen in love with the young couple. Then, the moment, the cast waits en pointe, the audience on the edge¬†of their seats. Has the Red Queen fallen under their spell?

No. Of course not, she’s a villain. Get with the programme, Audience. The scene dissolves into a gidly¬†slapstick of misdirection while the motley collection of characters, as smitten with the lovers as are we, trick and trip the queen until Alice and the Knave escape. Yet, even as¬†I giggled at their mad-cap antics, the spell of the two lovers stayed with me. For a moment I had been perfectly, completely enthralled.

(Just, f.y.i, I got all that… without any dialog. And people say there’s no such thing as magic!?)

For the love of everything good and lighthearted in life GOANDSEETHISSHOW! It will restore your faith in human talent, creativity, in love, in joy and passion and childish giddiness. Everything that is vital. Go. NOW.

xx

500mg Cocodamol. Use As Needed.

images

I suffer from migraines.

And no, I do not mean headaches. I do not mean a little pounding in the temples after a 10 hour Call of Duty marathon or a whole day of shopping for jeans in the Primark sale. I mean migraines. I mean feeling like your brain is actually swelling, breathing very carefully through waves of pain, blurry vision, fleeing from bright lights, got to lie down before I fall down kind of migraines. When they come on I am good for absolutely nothing whatever. Harems of zombies could climb through my window and I would not get up. It could start raining champagne and I would not get up. Michael Fassbender could walk through the front door of my house demanding to woo me…. and I might get up.

I have tried in the past to battle through them but as the nausea grows and my eyesight gives way to a charming ballet of multi-coloured bubbles I will eventually give in. Then comes The Game, the lying-absolutely-still-and-praying-for-it-to-be-over game. The rules are simple, don’t make any sudden moves, don’t turn your head to the left or the right, don’t watch any screens or even think about trying to read a book, in fact don’t focus on anything at all. And whatever you do, no matter what monster drags itself on gnarled limbs from under your bed to drool bloody saliva on your face or however much you suddenly need to pee…. DO NOT STAND UP. Should you stand up every single drop of blood in your entire body will fall into your feet, your temperature will rocket to hotter than a pizza oven at the center of the sun, your head will spin, you will feel a sudden and violent urge to puke, you will get pins and needles in your face and the pain will get so bad you feel like your brain is trying to escape your body through your nasal cavity and you will have lost The Game. Thinking thoughts longer than a single syllable is completely impossible and therefore need not be against the rules of The Game. Answering your mother’s questions when she flutters around asking about pain on a scale of one to 10 and muttering the word ambulance is not strictly against the rules of The Game but it is frowned upon in circumstances other than those necessary to convince her you haven’t died.

So you see, I do not get headaches. I get migraines.

As a result I read about migraines a lot. My David-Cameron-lookalike GP loves to imply that if he can’t tell you what it is then it isn’t really an illness. However, despite his protests, medicine is an evolving science and theories on the causes and cures for migraines are evolving too. The current theory in vogue is that of the devil screen. People with migraines are instructed to blame their television and computer. There are bylaws about posture and sedentary living, but the general gist is, abandon retina display all ye who enter here.

I have a different theory. My theory is that migraines are caused… by other human beings.

Handy topical example: the waitress at the cafe I am parked in at the moment just bought me a pot of tea… without a tea bag in it.

Other people related migraine phenomena include, but are by no means at all limited to, jokes that are not even close to being remotely within spitting distance of the merest hint of a snigger… let alone actually funny.

Long anecdotal example:

Picture the scene, I am minding my own business on the tube. An elderly couple from out of town are discussing the possibility that they are currently on the wrong train. They seem admirably blithe about the prospect of heading away from their destination at high speed and maybe I pause to mentally applaud them for the zen. Cue irritating, smug, apparently helpful bystander.

“Oh, I remember the days when the circle line was actually a circle. Then there would have been no chance of getting on the wrong train really.”

I should probably mention at this point that I mentally berated this foolish man for the blatant idiocy of thinking that taking the long way on the circle line and circumnavigation the ENTIRETY OF CENTRAL LONDON in order to arrive at the exact same spot on which the right train headed in the right direction could have landed you in as little as one stop… was not wrong in the most traditional sense of the word. (“not correct in action, judgment, opinion, method etc. as a person, in error. Not in accordance with requirements or recommended practice. Out of order. Awry. Amiss.“) But I did not have long to dwell on Interpolator’s wry “wit” before this happened…

“Ah, no. Now it is more of a lasso.” Um. WHAT? What are you talking about you geographically challenged old coot? But the hilarity continues, if you can believe it.

“Ha! A lasso, exactly.” No! Do not encourage him.

“Only it doesn’t catch anything.”

Behold! Uproarious chuckling. And BAM. Migraine, right there in the midst of awkward toothy laughter, the birth of a migraine. I hereby retract my mental applause at the aplomb with which the elderly couple had handled realizing they’d managed to navigate in the exact opposite direction to that intended. All along¬† what had appeared to be healthy English forbearance was actually just their being a few prawns short of a cocktail. I can only assume that the old man had aimed, somewhat myopically, for a ribald critique of the London Underground system and its famed whimsical ways: the¬† closing of long stretches of line for weekends at a time, how the lights go out on the northern line when it stops in a tunnel because it’s cute to freak out commuters after a long day of flicking paperclips into office trash cans, the token guy who thinks its a hoot to run for the closing doors and for total strangers to have to save his fearless a*se from getting trapped and losing an extremity, the people who smell so bad it almost counts as a war crime and who’s armpits are invariably at the exact height of my nose, the way no one ever knows if they need the train that goes via bank or the other one, the long standing practical joke that is the rail replacement bus service. Bit rich to joke at the expense of a system you can’t even use correctly, no? Or maybe it’s just that, after 23 years as a Londoner, I have grown fond of my trusty rail network and will staunchly defend it against abuse from the peanut gallery.

Bye for now.

xx