Thursday, 10 May 2018

A worthwhile pride

I'm just back from a long weekend in Madrid. After the initial metro journey from the airport to the hotel, we resorted to Shanks's Pony for the rest of the trip, even walking back from the concert that finished at 11.45pm. (It was warm, it would only take 40 minutes, why not?)

Madrid is not the largest of cities, but it is a capital, and it does attract tourists. Standing in line for the free entry to the Thyssen Museum, several languages and accents could be heard. So it is perhaps not surprising that they want to keep the city looking good.

How does one achieve that? Sunshine certainly helped, but there were other measures taken by the city council and planners.

Several of the buildings that were undergoing renovation had scaffolding on, but a wraparound facade was then attached so that from a distance, the building looked unaffected. Immediately the city looked neater and less like a building site.

But also, on many of our café stops, we watched council employees in hi-vis jackets working at keeping the city clean and free of litter.

I know that employing such people costs money, but they perform a greater service than simply sweeping the road and/or pavement. They are highly visible, thus providing a deterrent to petty crime, and they know the area, so that tourists can - and do - ask for directions. They are also in a position to report on damage to street signs etc.

I do acknowledge that there are other things councils could be spending money on - filling in the potholes so that the road surfaces are less hazardous for cars and cyclists would be high on the list - but demonstrating a little pride in our surroundings, and making the urban environment better for its users, in addition to provide work for unskilled labourers, has to be worth considering.

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

A Flash from the past!

I've been attempting to take part in a poetry-writing marathon this month, in which prompts have been given every day and in theory a poem is written every day and then posted for comment. I've managed a couple of posts, and a handful more poems, but finding the time to write seems to be getting increasingly difficult.

The good news there is that I am finding time to read (thank you, Stephen King!). I'm flitting between physical books and e-books, and am enjoying a wide variety of genres that way. But, with everything else that I'm trying to accomplish, it has made it harder to write anything new.

So, since 'update blog' has been on my to-do list for a while now, here is one of my early attempts at flash fiction. I was looking for something on an old laptop (which I eventually found, date last modified 2012...) and found this in the process. Not very charming, perhaps, but then flash fiction frequently isn't. And I have been reading a lot of psychological thriller stuff lately. ;-)

The Message

The writing was still clear, even thought the tide had since come in and was already on its way out again. Slightly eroded, but legible. I wondered how deep the original lines had been drawn, the affirmative long stroke of the I, the symmetric halves of the heart and then the capital lettering of SUE with its even larger S.

Beyond the writing, shifting a little now at the persistent tug of the waves, was a small pile of clothes,  the shoes with his watch in the left one, and the lighter I'd given him for his sixteenth birthday, once he was old enough to smoke openly, just before the law changed again, in the right one, and his favourite hoodie sprawled loosely on top, as if to protect their contents from the ravages of the sea. Of him, there was as yet no sign.

"Silly bugger," Sue giggled. "What did he want to do that for? Just because I wouldn't go on a date with him!"

"I can't believe he even asked you! I mean, his best mate's girl!" and I held her tight and kissed her while the waves and the seaweed lapped around our ankles and tangled themselves in Sean's last message.

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

This too shall pass...

Those who know me well know that I have struggled regularly with depression and severe anxiety. Last November, in another bout of major panic, I adopted a newly-suggested strategy of writing down all the things I was worrying about so that I could set aside some daily 'worry time' for them and try to get on with real life the rest of the time. The list was lengthy - nearly a side of A4 - and although I tried to follow the strategy, I was not entirely successful.

But last week, finally addressing the chaos that my office had become, I found the list. My initial thought on reading it was 'why was I worrying about *that*?' Many of the concerns were Christmas-related so their dates had passed, but even so, I now feel that only a couple were worth fretting over. I know I should have realised that back in November, but as the saying goes, better late than never.

Is this a sign that my anxiety is lessening? Only time will tell, but perhaps this November I will remember the things that didn't matter last year after all and factor that into my level of anxiety....

Saturday, 11 November 2017

A Poem for Armistice Day

Faulty Remembrance

No room for kindness anymore, 
You’re looking after number one;
That’s what they were fighting for.

You’ve satisfied your needs, for sure -
No need to stay and raise your son.
He won’t get kindness anymore.

Foreign doctors shown the door,
With patient growth and nursing none;
Must be what they were fighting for.

Elected liars know the score,
Prioritise before they run,
Don’t promise kindness anymore.

Will rampant nationalism lead to war
When wealthy oligarchs have won?
Was that what they were fighting for?

The rich get richer, but the poor stay poor, 
We have no concept what we’ve done.
There is no kindness anymore.
Is this what they were fighting for?

Monday, 25 September 2017

Not talking about depression

There are a number of "just to show someone's always listening" things doing the rounds on Facebook - you know the sort of thing, I'll put the kettle on, my door is always open, you can always talk to me.

As a means of trying to suggest that it's ok to talk about mental health, I suppose it's a good thing.

But the idea that a depressed person could talk to just anyone who has a kettle and a packet of chocolate digestives is ridiculous. I know I certainly couldn't, and I've seen a blog about how talking to an untrained listener could in fact be counter-productive, to the point of dangerous.

Even if you want to help a friend who is depressed, you may not have the appropriate skills. By all means, ask them if there's anything you can do to help - but be prepared for it *not* to be making a cup of tea and lending an ear. Like many people, I suspect, it's taken me years (literally) to talk to a doctor: don't ask me if I want to talk about it to you.

A depressed person may just want to hang out with you, doing normal stuff, forgetting if possible, for a short time at least, that they're depressed. And that's probably the best thing for them.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

The Power of the Pause

Last night I was lucky enough to see Sir Ian McKellen up close and almost personal; he is currently hosting a week of evenings at the Park Theatre in Finsbury Park as part of their fundraising, and spends a couple of hours doing readings, reciting monologues and poetry, and talking about himself and his experiences in the theatre. It was funny, moving, brilliant - and thought-provoking.

Obviously, given the nature of the evening, some of the thoughts were on funding (or lack of it) for the arts in the UK and the wider world. But his ability to recite a familiar poem or speech but influence the understanding of it through what he did *not* say as much as by what he did, was striking.

I should perhaps not be surprised. At the beginning of the last school play I directed, the first character, as part of a rehearsal, stands alone on the stage, waiting for a prompt. The young actress was nervous about standing in silence on the stage for too long; "What if people think I've forgotten the line?" she asked. By remaining calm in her pause on stage, she was able to convince the audience that she was completely in control, even though her character had forgotten the line. The actress was able to make the pause longer and longer as we rehearsed, until by the time of performance, she had the audience in fits of giggles without even speaking a word.

Silence is not always amusing. In the poems and monologues Sir Ian recited last night, the narrator/character was often confronting an unpleasant realisation, and the pause emphasised just how hard a realisation it was. The expression 'a dramatic pause' is well-known for a reason. It also enabled the audience to consider the implications of what they had just heard, before moving on to the next part of the idea.

Pausing in poetry should be readily apparent. A new stanza brings about a pause, quite apart from the caesurae that seem so beloved by the GCSE boards. In a Shakespearean soliloquy, there is more opportunity for the actor to bring their own interpretation via their delivery - the intonation, the pace of each phrase, and the pause. Each emphasises the speech in a different way, and combined, can influence what the audience hears and understands.

As a director, you never want the action on stage to drag, and it is tempting sometimes to stop actors from pausing in case the flow is lost. But it is worth remembering, particularly having seen such a master of the art demonstrate it last night, that a pause can be worth a thousand words.

Friday, 16 June 2017

Full-on orchestral accompaniment

I recently went to a concert of Sondheim music in Cadogan Hall in London. I knew nothing else about it but had had a particularly tough week beforehand and needed to sit back and be entertained, and I knew some Sondheim would be a good vehicle for that.

There were twenty-eight songs altogether, some familiar, others less so. There were some big name singers (including Janie Dee, whom I will be seeing again later in the year, it turns out) and some others less so. It was a beautifully crafted and presented evening.

But one of the most beautiful soul-aching things about it was the accompaniment. The producer, Alex Parker, had decided to use (on the whole) Sondheim's original orchestrations from the shows and consequently had put together a thirty-three piece orchestra. Most of the shows/concerts I go to, either professional or amateur, keep the band size to a minimum, doubtless for financial reasons, and while that is perfectly adequate as an accompaniment, there is something very wonderful about the sound of a larger orchestra working with the singers in a space in which its qualities can reverberate.

I know I could go to other concerts with full orchestras that would probably be equally moving, though that is unlikely to happen for a variety of reasons. But it is a shame, for both audiences and the professional musicians themselves, that hearing a larger group of musicians playing is not a more affordable pleasure for more people.