Sunday, August 21, 2011

Foot Pets and Theatre

Sunday morning has just ebbed into Sunday afternoon and I have a picture of a cat on my foot. Last night, as we were eating dinner before going out, Ben asked me a question.

"Um, what shoes are you going to wear tonight?"

It's not like he is usually disinterested in my sartorial choices, but I'll admit the query took me back.

"I... I don't know. Why?"

"Well, I was wondering whether you're going to wear open ones or closed ones?"


"It's just that I quite want to draw a cat on your foot with this permanent marker."

"Oh. Right. Well, I don't know what shoes I am going to wear, but I definitely want you to draw a cat on my foot. Make it good, though, because I was actually planning to wear 'open' shoes."

So, giggling like a sweet but possibly not intellectually over-burdened child, he began to draw.

"Those" he explained after a while "are the ears."

I wore boots.


I am having a cup of tea, and considering cleaning the flat. In a few hours Lowri will pull up on her bike (cue screeching tyres and burning rubber) and I will leap upon Glinda, and together we will go and get Fergus and go to a housewarming/babyshower. I am almost resigned to the fact that I will sit considering cleaning until the point when it's really too late to start anything now and I will shrug my shoulders and go and get ready. Later on Fergus and I are planning on going to a life-drawing class. I am hoping for an interesting naked person. Somebody with some good topography to test our pencils properly. Basically, I want a morass of a subject, preferably with an evil glint in their eye and weird hair. I will be very disappointed if we get there and there is someone average, or even worse, someone who clearly likes gyms and soya products. I might take a marker pen in case I have to make the subject more interesting by drawing cats on their feet.


On Friday night we went to see some street theatre in Castlefield, an area of Manchester underneath the railway arches where the canal threads through. It is all red brick and cavernous spaces: dark and brooding. Castlefield is an area that could be really interesting and weird were it not for all the identikit wannabe-fancy, not-a-hair-out-of-place bars that have slithered up there, all moody outdoor lighting and Dyson airblades. The sort of place where you slide off the shiny sofas whilst desperately trying not to spill a drop of your pint because it cost £4.10.

Anyway, that aside, the theatre was amazing. It was part of the xtrax Platform 4 festival, and, as usual with these things I didn't really know what it was or even where we were going, I just trailed behind Ben whining vaguely about food until something amazing happened. As The World Tipped was stunning. About 1,500 people sat on the steps and watched as actors came onto the stage dressed in office clothes, and... well this is what it says on the website:

"At the Secretariat of the Copenhagen Climate Change conference, harassed staff fail to notice as the world around them, literally and metaphorically, slides toward disaster. Suspended above the audience in the night sky, the performers struggle to control their increasingly precarious world as they do battle with the effects of drastic environmental catastrophe."

Which is all true. What the website doesn't point out is the whole OHMYGODWOWDIDYOUSEETHATNODON'TTALKTOMEIAMWATCHINGWOWOWOWOWOWOWOW of the whole thing. It was impressive, sure, but more than that it was so moving and poignant. I just loved it. I don't want to bang on about the details because I am not a theatre reviewer, but I will just say that I totally forgot about needing a wee for about an hour. It's that good.

Also: free. I don't know how many people would have been there even if they had had to pay, probably quite a few, but not as many. It was a really strong reminder of why arts subsidies are so very important.


We are going to Edinburgh tomorrow! To the festival, just for a couple of days. I plan on spending a millionsquillion pounds and getting a cold, which is usually what happens in Edinburgh at festival time. I strongly believe we can be there for just two days and come back as broken and penniless as if we had been there for the whole month.

(Brief interjection to say that the impatient buzzing coming from the window area and what I assumed to be a fly is, in fact, A WASP. My arch nemesis. (Please insert dramatic "dun dun DUN" music here.) I am going to have to go and get in a cupboard until one of us dies.)

I am looking forward to Edinburgh, the hectic, street-pounding existence of it all where time moves in strange ways and everyone is cocking joyously on about THEIR SHOW and how hungover they are all the time. It's fun and brilliant and deeply exhausting.

(Now I have noticed the wasp I am finding it very, very distracting. I might phone Ben and get him to come back from town where he is doing street theatre and tell him FUCK ART THERE IS A WASP and hope he comes back to rescue me. Even Foot Cat is beginning to look nervous.)


I have to stop droning on now. I have successfully wasted most of the time I should have been tidying up, so my mission has been accomplished. Well done, me. I am going to see exactly how permanent this marker actually is, because if Foot Cat doesn't come off I will be forced to draw a matching one on my other foot. Or maybe a Foot Dog and make them chase each other by doing some kind of dance.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Tantrums and Triumphs

What I am currently supposed to be doing is research for my new job, which starts in a month, as music coordinator in a special needs secondary school. I will be there for a day and a half a week, leaving the rest of the week wide open for massive excellence in other areas. I worked in this particular school on a project for a term earlier this year, and as serendipity would have it they were looking for someone to take over the music position, and offered it to me. I leapt at the chance. It is a lovely school and the kids and teachers I worked with were brilliant. Despite having worked there before, however, I am anxious to prove my worth quickly, so I am researching and planning like a mad dog (a very diligent and surprisingly literate mad dog who is easily distracted by their much-neglected weblog).

Well, that's what, as I said before, I am currently supposed to be doing.

What I want to be doing is going over and over the last few days until it all settles down in my brain and I can move on to the next thing. I know I should allow time for this, but it's a tricky thing to achieve. As a result, everything I am doing is half-hearted and woeful, every minute that ticks by without significant achievement is mourned. This, I know with every fibre of my drippy little being, is not useful or productive. I am sitting staring forlornly at my computer like I am a chocolate bunny and it is a radiator, knowing that if I continue to sit here I will just become more and more melty, hoping that someone will come along and pop me in the fridge of fun for a bit until I feel better.

That analogy got away from me a bit.

Last week was a shitstorm, wasn't it? All the rioting and the ensuing callous bigotry made everyone I know feel exhausted and appalled. I started to write a post about it all, about how hideously Tory loads of people on my Facebook feed seemed to suddenly get, but there has been so much written, so much said, that I'm not sure I can contribute in any meaningful way. Instead I will write about my weekend.

Ben had been commissioned by Phrased&Confused to write a twenty minute piece around the word "protest", to be performed first at Summer Sundae Festival in Leicester, then Devon in September then Manchester in November. He asked Dan and I to work on it with him, and it ended up as a piece called This Poem Is On Strike, about what Poetry would say if it could protest. We ended up adding Music into the mix as an advisor to Poetry (sort of) and the whole thing ended up being kind of absurd and comedic with a Serious Message. We were booked to do a performance of it on Friday, one on Saturday and then a Geddes Loom set on the Sunday.

Last week we rehearsed every evening, having hired out the theatre space in our building. We live about a mile from central Manchester, and so things felt tense. Rumours were zipping around and nobody knew what to think. I was staring off into the distance, scouring the cityscape for clues as to how the riots were happening up here. I felt obsessed by it, like I wanted to be checking what was going on every five seconds. It felt like London after the 7th July bombings (which I wrote about on this blog) in that everyone felt weird and shaken, but different, because this time there was nobody to turn to. In my naivety in 2005 I felt that we could stand together and help each other. Last week it felt like such a painful inevitability that the reaction was going to be the (further) abandonment of a whole group of people and the effect would be even greater societal division. I felt heartbroken. I'm sure you did, too. We rehearsed into the night and wound down, went to bed and woke up. Gathering props and costumes, cycling into the rain to find last minute festival necessities, I felt like I was just about holding it together. I felt like if I stopped for breath that breath would come out as tears.

(I suppose I couldn't not talk about it, really, could I?)

On Thursday I was sewing a cape to a t-shirt (of course), and I bit the thread. My front tooth chipped (or, more specifically, a bit came off my tooth that they had put on when it chipped last time).

I burst into tears. I mean burst. Burst like a water main bursts. I went from sewing serenely, imagining myself to be much like a Jane Austen heroine, to wailing and gnashing of broken teeth, with Ben looking at me, stricken and confused. I couldn't explain why I was crying so very, very much.

"You can hardly see it" he pointed out.

But that, unfortunately for him, was not why I was crying. I didn't really know, it was just all the stress and panic and loss of faith pouring out in great rivers. At one point I wondered how my ears had become covered in tears. I couldn't explain, but nor could I stop.

We rehearsed that night in the theatre. The following morning I got up, resolving to be cheerful through tiredness. Not something I am normally very good at, but I tried really, really hard and went like this: Shower! Hairdryer! Clothing! Look at the cheerfulness dripping from me! Right, I'll just find my handbag and then... hang on... Ben, have you seen my bag? The blue one?... Oh shit... I had it last night... don'tpanicdon'tpanicdon'tpanic...


Panic, which had been following me about all week like a heavily-shod stalker with no sense of personal space, chose that moment to leap out with a triumphant cackle and land on my head.

In my bag was my wallet, with my cash card and one of Ben's cash cards. Other stuff, too, but mainly that stuff. I rushed around the flat, picking things up and putting them back down, opening drawers uselessly and at random, then closing them and opening them again. I rushed down to the theatre space and rushed around it, picking up chairs and muttering to myself as panic chuckled and stuck its fingers into my eyes.

My bag wasn't there. I went back up to the flat and got Ben (Panic took the opportunity to give him a swift kick in the ear), who came down and looked again.

No bag. Tears. More tears. We had to leave, so we left and I felt like I was in disgrace. I couldn't stop crying all the way to the festival. Sitting on the train opposite Dan and Ben, Panic had metamorphosed into Despair and poured from me. We played Scrabble on Ben's phone but I kept getting things wrong, I felt too tired and sick and hopeless. Paranoid and paralysed.

It was not a good train ride.

At some point someone phoned Ben and told him they'd found my bag and would keep it safe, but by then it was too late. I had embraced Despair and it was not letting go. Trees waved their leaves at me and I loathed them quietly. Every sheep in every field felt like a little woolly stab in the heart.

We got there, and I trailed in, selfish in my sadness. I felt awful for being so quiet, I knew it was making the boys feel worried, but I couldn't bring myself to cheer up. We were showed to the backstage area and we got ready, and I tried to focus on my words and my cello bits, I got changed and applied more make up than was necessary to my swollen eyes. On stage we went, and we did it. It was kind of OK, not great. I fluffed some lines, but it was alright.

Afterwards, we had beer and food. Then, suddenly! I realized! Food makes things better. I sat slouched over a something-and-chips in the Special Artists' Marquee of Nourishment (or something) and as I ate, I was like Alice eating the cake, growing and growing. Oh, I thought. It's probably all OK. Colour returned to the world and my cheeks and stuff was funny again.

The rest of the festival was lovely. We performed the piece again on Saturday and it was much, much better, possibly due to the fact that we had, instead of being stressed and tearful on public transport, had coffee and bacon sandwiches and a free massage that morning. After the set we wandered and saw some music, had some beer and watched the millions of teenagers at the festival float around in straw hats and posh wellies, flirting self-consciously with each other and screaming at wasps. As a mature twenty-nine year old I, of course, did not scream at any wasps, merely wafted them away with a sigh of contempt.

On Sunday we were on the LastFM rising stage at three, and so we went over before to check it out. It was one of those big, circus tents. They had asked us whether we'd prefer to be on a smaller stage and we had replied that no, we wanted to be on a massive stage! Any smaller than Wembley, we said, and we will not play! Well, it was pretty big. There was a barrier a few metres in front of the stage to keep back any audience members who might want to fondle/kill us.

I had looked up the band before us online before the festival and seen Guardian write-ups and EP launches. Trying not to be intimidated, I gave myself some brazen-ness pep talks, but backstage it kind of faded a bit. Standing around in the worst denim shorts in history and some badly-applied lipstick (amongst other things) I spotted the lead singer from the band before us. A tiny, immaculately backcombed, sultry-looking blonde girl with smokey make-up and perfect glitter, surrounded by her band of twenty-year old, instrument-wielding male models. They were announced and on they rushed, managing to run and swagger at the same time. Hundreds of teenagers whooped and camera-clicked as the band launched into their first song with booming insouciance.

"Shall we find somewhere to go over our songs?" one of us suggested.

In the corner of the field we huddled together as far from the looming circus tent as we could get. Dan played and I leaned in to hear the notes over the Topshop-rock* hurtling from the stage.

*Bitchy, I know. I'm sorry, I couldn't resist.

We got through the song, then did some stretches and tried to shake off the nerves. I applied more lipstick. Ben gazed at me with what I chose to interpret as loving confusion.

"I... I'm not sure you need to put any more on..."

"It's a nerves thing. Shut up."

Eventually they finished and bounded off stage, the male models drenched in sporty, youthful sweat and the lead singer looking exactly how she looked when she went on.

The crowd went wild then left.

On we went, and, as we sound checked, another crowd drifted in. Yusra was there, at the front, smiling. A group of teenagers nodded their heads at Ben's beatboxing and sat down. A man stood by the barrier clutching a can of Strongbow.

We began, and they stayed. More drifted in, not the marauding teens but an older crowd full of people who laughed and listened and smiled. I said something about how trying to be edgy whilst holding a cello was a bit like trying to be edgy in Waitrose, and people laughed. The sound was great, the atmosphere was lovely and I totally and utterly loved it.

I realized that as much as I would quite like to be tiny and blonde and not be wearing terrible shorts, I quite love what we do. Dan and Ben are better than any twenty-year olds with thin arms and asymmetrical hair. I like telling jokes on stage, and I like it when people are kind enough to sit through them.

I am going to publish this post now before I start getting even more sentimental and gushy, and before it becomes even more apparent that I am bitter about not being a blonde waif who can apply make-up properly. Bring on Shambala, our next festival, which will definitely be more wild, with dressing up and mud, and hopefully with fewer tears. I can't wait.