Friday, 11 December 2009

Se Fendre La Pipe

In my final year at school, the dramatists made the journey to Sydney for a holiday course at NIDA (National Institute of Dramatic Arts). All thoroughly enjoyable, and enormously fun for us seventeen year-olds. Every evening we would see a play of sorts, some very good, others tedious to the point of soporific. By far the best evening was a Comedy Store, I know few of us had ever laughed so hard, nor probably will I do so again.

That was in 2005 and in the last four years I have wanted to see more comedy, but the opportunity never seemed to arise. Or possibly the lack of motivation! However, in the last week I have seen three comedy shows, almost evening out the mean to once per year.

The first was to see Dylan Moran, a favourite of mine since I was twelve and first came across Black Books. Thankfully those tickets were posted by a friend on Facebook, who had foolishly got her dates wrong. Within a week they were mine. The only problem then became finding somebody who had heard of him (an idea that is complete anathema to me), and was free on a Saturday evening. At the last minute, a friend's brother answered the call. And Moran was really very good. Essentially playing his character from Black Books, one wonders how much acting was required for the role. For me, half the hilarity is in his lovely Irish lilt, half lost in his half empty glass of wine. It was surprisingly thought-provoking, too, as he attempted to persuade us all to pursue more pleasure in life. I think he thought the journey becomes easier by escaping London, which could well be right. He advocates a life fallen into, stumbled across and as numbed as possible by alcohol. And why not?

The second was to see Frankie Boyle, the controversial Scot who makes sure the editors at the BBC have their work cut out for them. This was a properly intimate performance at the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith. Probably little more than fifty people in the audience to see him preview newer material. Foolishly I sat right in the light in the second row, in his direct eye line. Now I am hardly politically-correct, and I love the edited Boyle, but so much of his material was... Shocking! He kept referring to his typed notes, which gave him a very casual air, and then he came to his section on "Abuse for Hecklers". Nobody had really heckled thus far, so as I was directly in front of him, he pointed at me and told me to heckle! My father would have been perfect, but all I could manage was a rather flustered "Oh erm, get off!" I don't even remember what the abuse was, but I'm sure my cheeks were blushing permanently the rest of the night. He was quite ill-prepared and I'm sure he couldn't wait to leave. I was picked on later, and this time I do recall what he said, but modesty prevents me from repeating anything!

Unbeknownst to us, the following preview act was Russell Howard. I love Russell, his humour is so innocently schoolboy-ish, his use of voice and constant movement are just so endearing. To me at least. I always enjoy watching him on t' telly. I think possibly it's the whole West country thing, a place I hold very dearly in my heart. At any rate, him previewing material straight after Frankie Boyle - not an opportunity to be missed! Of course it was all sold out, but the same had been said of Boyle's show, and there were certainly empty seats. So we waited, sitting by the river, watching the traffic crossing the beautiful Hammersmith Bridge. Returning to the studio minutes before the show was scheduled to start, we did our very best puppy dog faces, and lo and behold! Two tickets for Russell Howard. What luck! I practically danced into the studio, though swiftly stopped as I felt the whole audience's eyes upon me. How embarrassing. I mean, not really, but nonetheless, after my verbal abusing by Boyle, I was quite keen for a lower profile this time. Oh he was fantastic though! After such bleak, black humour; the bright, energetic joy that Howard brought was just magical, and he has cemented himself as one of my favourites. I will certainly recommend people see his tour.

Heading home with a most uncomfortable jaw, but in a delirious, Cloud Nine-esque way, it was another reminder to me of the importance of spontaneity, of always asking, and of not giving up. Frightfully cliché I do realise, but I suppose they are called clichés for a reason!

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Listlessly Listing

Opening my diary at random, I came directly to an entry labelled "Week of Action". Recognising my pretentious jargon, I tried to re-familiarise with the person who was writing at the time, to remember the difficulties he faced.

At this point, my role as an Au Pair could no longer continue, courtesy mainly of the credit crunch. As mine was a live-in position, this meant drastic change was afoot. My home for a year was to be no more. In many ways I knew this was a good thing. A year is a long time at twenty, and for some time I had thought about moving on. I had seen, done, learned so much, but perhaps it was right to finish at that point, before too much monotony set in. So the action required involved finding a new job and somewhere to live. Difficult enough to find one of these in a short space of time, but two... I do remember finding this enormously hard to juggle. I think a year of living and partying had left me with little reserves and therefore little breathing space. Most claustrophobic.

However other actions where required that week, too. Things were very busy at Drama School, with lots of words to learn for an upcoming performance. Committing words to memory is obviously an essential part of acting, but each time I would leave it dangerously late, and wonder how on earth I managed it the previous time. I expect I would tell myself to not think about it, but to do. The precedents probably left me over-confident, and I have often been concerned about my hubristic tendencies. With best intentions, I was attempting to get "ahead of the game", by learning those lines as soon as possible. I think I must just enjoy writing lists, because there was absolutely no possibility I would be prioritising words over accommodation. The very idea is laughable, but there it is, in the list. Writing lists makes one feel pro-active, productive, professional - just pro! However it does not; at least not in my case, translate into action and achievement. But the intentions are always there. Can one get through life by good intentions?

The final item on the list of action related to a fellow nanny. A stunning but sporadic friend from home, who came by an ostensibly good position with an upper-class family. I say sporadic because for months we would speak all the time, then suddenly for almost a year I would hear nothing. It was at the end of one of these nothing periods that she contacted me, and naturally I felt rather a friend of convenience. However when in a new country, one must take advantage of as many friends and contacts as one can. And in the course of the year, she and I became good friends once again. However, her behaviour one evening left me utterly appalled.

It was in early December, but already very cold. Her sister and some friends were visiting, and we arranged to all go out. As it was a Thursday, we chose Punk, where we had had many fun evenings over the course of the year, and thought it would be nice to share this with the outsiders. The evening started ferociously badly, as I was kept waiting for ages outside the tube station. I utterly hate being made to wait, and think it most discourteous. Obviously five, ten minutes is absolutely fine and to be expected in a city like London. But almost half an hour? I think not. And I made no secret of the fact I was in a poor mood, which in retrospect was rather graceless. Of course I don't think I was actually rude, just colder than usual. Quite literally. Then one of the friends insisted on finding the appropriate cash-point, for only one would do. Exasperated, I said I would meet them inside the club. Rather low on funds, I didn't want to miss the free entry threshold! Eventually they did find me, and we made full use of the happy hour. Such fun!

Punk is, or was, one of those rather fun and frivolous places. That night there was the usual dress-up box and also a hair stylist. Naturally I wanted to take full advantage of this facility, enjoying several style changes. The friends found me - or so I assumed - terribly amusing, which probably spurred me on. It was also a good excuse to leave a circle of chatter focussed on small-town gossip over cheap white wine. Most dull. I am of course always keen to catch up on news, but London quickly makes anything else very insignificant. When I go out, one of the things I love to do is dance, good music allowing. It certainly was that night, and I tried to encourage people in my group to join me. No deal, apparently. Bored of them, I went by myself and made some new friends, hopefully in a less twee manner. After some time, I went looking for my friends. Absolutely no sign inside. Nor were they outside, amongst the smokers. Unbelievably, they had left me by myself without even saying "good night". I was furious, and appalled. I chose not to think about it then, and returned to the people I met dancing. Much more fun and the night carried on much, much later.

Weeks passed before I heard anything from my friend, and I was so cross I completely ignored any contact from her. The series of events that this incident began have been some of my most memorable. In a strange way I am grateful for her unfair behaviour. But I was not brought up to do such things, and find it very difficult to forgive others for this reason. Again the middle-class demon rears his well-washed head. However I included her in this list of action, because her departure from London was imminent. I very nearly decided not to meet with her, but felt this would be petty. It would not punish her, but myself. So I did, and I am glad I did. We had a lovely evening and I was able to put my grievances behind me. I don't think I will ever be able to see her or the others in the same light I once did, but I harbour no resentment.

And of that week of action, I can quite clearly see that I did manage to achieve things. Perhaps not all of those things on the list, but then lists are dull.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Somewhere In My Memory

December. The darkest (or lightest) month of the year. I am in the shadows, whilst my family basks in the sunshine. It's certainly how I feel at present. How is it possible to entertain two entirely contradictory ideas in one's head at the same time? It is, as the song says, "the most wonderful time of the year"...

The diminishing warmth in the atmosphere is replaced by one in the hearts of people of all ages. Togetherness, giving and sharing and of course over-eating, are hallmarks of Christmas. I have my health and I am not (yet) starving. But equally I feel very saddened, perhaps ungratefully so. It will be my third Christmas without my family and I feel suddenly very alone. It is all entirely my own doing and choice, and of course I could go back. Yet I cannot bring myself to, an inescapable internal conflict I have developed. Hurrah.

My last two Christmases, in France and England, have been spent with surrogate families, both of whom have made it clear I am welcome back this year. Both times were wonderful and I will cherish the memories. Perfect examples of the generosity of this season's spirit. However this year brings something new and exciting again - Sweden! As I wrote last month, another friend got there first by inviting me to Umea for Jul. Naturally I cannot wait, it will be my first white Christmas, but also the first time I will be celebrating on Christmas Eve, which is the custom in Sweden, and certainly with my friend's family. Which reminds me: must brush up on my non-existent Swedish...

So there is all that excitement, plus the joy of the season already overloading my increasingly feeble mind. Then something else looms up at me, and that is the absence I feel. It makes me sad to think that once I again I will not see my family for Christmas. In two years I have seen my Mother once, Father twice and my younger brothers not at all. It was my choice to leave, and that is after all what children are meant to do eventually, no? Perhaps I simply wasn't mature enough then. Or I am overly sentimental? Watching the Home Alone films isn't helping! At least he gets to see his Mummy again for Christmas.

Selflessly, I want a white Christmas, and all my family to join me. I hope Father Christmas is listening! I think I have been quite good this year.

On another note, just back from Istanbul. Sunny and warmer (ish), it was wonderful. Certainly as I was there for Eid, it was my first real exposure to a non-Christian holiday. It was marvellously exotic, but I have no plans to convert. Least of all because of the early morning call to prayer. Church at 11 is much more civilised. But I certainly recommend staying at the Kybele Hotel in Sultanahmet, part of the old city. A lovely boutique hotel with countless lamps decorating the ceilings and walls. Literally thousands of them. Equally good was their food. I'd also recommend the Galata Tower for it's magnificent views, though less so for the restaurant. Another gem, if you're game, is to reach the Western Districts of the city. They house the old Jewish quarter and some beautiful Orthodox churches. Few tourists make it. The other brilliant thing about the city is that, despite its vastness, most things are completely walk-able. The tram is good, but merely speeds up a relatively short walk.

Do try: A Hamam if you are comfortable in your own skin, and a Turkish barber if you are prone to beards and feel adventurous.
Don't try: Any food from a street vendor.

Hopefully I will come up with something equally comprehensive on Umeå.