Monday, April 15, 2013

Slice Skating (or: The Perils of Being Extremely Sporty)

On my run this morning* I was going through plans. Working out what my next steps were, who to email, what to practice and where to perform. Striding along, face like a baked bean, concocting and scheming in the spring sunshine. I heard a male voice shouting from a car just behind me. Oh, wonderful, I thought, already internally penning the letter to Everyday Sexism. A woman can't even go for a run any more without...

As the car passed a smiling man leaned out of his window.

"Keep on going, girl! Keep on going!"

I smiled back, sweatily. Right, I thought. Thanks. I will.

*I enjoy saying that nonchalantly, like I go every morning after a conference call with the Paris office and an invigorating colonic.


I went ice skating on Saturday for my friend Ro's birthday. As Nicki, Sara, Ro and I pulled up to the glamourous haven that is Silver Blades Ice Rink (Altrincham) I began to feel nervous and started pining for a long afternoon in a pub with ale, Scrabble and endless dry roasted peanuts. Inside it smelt horrible.

"It smells horrible" I said, petulantly, too near the face of a man who was almost certainly not responsible for the smell.

We were, without any shadow of a doubt, the oldest people there without children. There were clutches of teenagers, all knees, braces and unnerving hormonal activity. There were parents looking on anxiously as their blade-footed progeny teetered around the rink. There were some confident older boys, slicing up the ice in great clouds of Lynx and acne.

The four of us clutched onto the sides as we ventured, extremely tentatively, onto the ice.

"Oh, God. What are we doing?"

I looked back at Sara, whose mute expression of fear and despair summed up my own.

(Being good children of the eighties we had our gloves on, familiar as we are with the horror stories of sliced, gloveless hands, rivalled only by those of the gory fate of PJ in Byker Grove when he took off his mask in paintball.)

Nicki and Ro detached themselves from the side. "It's just about confidence, really!" one of them sang from the middle of the rink. "I've been round once already!"

As I pulled myself wretchedly along the edge, I became aware of the music that was being played by the forty-something DJ in a booth at the side of the ice. Whoosh, I was taken back to listening to Chiltern Radio in the mid-nineties ("70s, 80s and today!") and I began to relax a bit.

Ro was guiding Sara carefully by the hand, making forays away from the sides in front of me. Right, I thought. Come on.

I unpeeled my be-gloved fingers from the rails. Terrified, I had to concentrate on the music, and sing along, loudly and completely out of tune.

"MAMA. JUST KILLED A MAN. PUT A GUN AGAINST HIS HEAD (I'm doing it, shit shit shit, I'm doing it) PULLED MY TRIGGER NOW HE'S DEAD..."

Soon we were all gliding (this is total exaggeration, I was not gliding) around the rink, singing along and trying not to be put off by the horrifyingly dangerous game of British Bulldog* played by the big kids on the other side of the ice.

*A game banned in all major UK primary schools since 1988.

After a brief break for some Slush Puppies (during which both Nicki and I got crippling Brain Freeze - agony for a bit but then fine, probably a bit like childbirth) we were back on the ice.

I hobbled round, watching the beautiful teenage girls with their insouciance and leg warmers, gazing into the middle distance while they slid effortlessly around, one white skate in front of the other, languid and delicate as hothouse flowers.

I spent a bit of time wishing I was a teenage girl again, before remembering that I wasn't like that when I was a teenage girl, and in fact was pretty much like I am now, struggling to stay upright whilst singing along to Bobby Brown's Two Can Play At That Game.

Then we went to the pub and had a pint and some dry roasted peanuts, and I realized how much nicer it is to be a nearly-thirty-one-year-old surrounded by good friends, good pubs and good beer than to be a teenage girl surrounded by insecurity, Sugar Magazine and frosted lipstick.


I turn thirty-one next week.



The sun is out.



I have to go and do some practice, now, as my cello is sitting forlornly in the corner, probably gathering warrens of dust bunnies. I have been a bit neglectful of practice recently, what with all the London adventures and teaching and majesty on the ice. I am glad I wore gloves to ice skate, as losing all my fingers in a freak skating accident would almost certainly have a negative effect on my playing. However, I could write an excellent autobiography called Slice Skating, which would no doubt render the whole experience totally worth it.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Total Babe Magnets


I am currently sitting in a trendy East London café, sipping from a trendy East London cup, surrounded by trendy East London people with neat beards and asymmetrical clothing. From where I am sitting I can see a woman in dungarees and a man in a cape.

As glamourous as it admittedly does feel to be tip tapping on an Apple product with the other wacky thirtysomethings, I feel it's important to keep my feet on the ground by reminding myself that I woke up this morning on a living room floor face down in a pile of Hula Hoops packets.

Last time Eggs Collective did London I was awoken by a sausage dog leaping on my face shortly after she'd been carefully carting her own excrement around between her teeth. This time Gertie the sausage dog was away, but we all still crowded into our friend Amy's tiny flat and draped ourselves on every available patch of floor, using all the hot water and generally behaving in a giddy, irresponsible manner.

Friday night

We had rehearsed every day that week, making new material for our weekend of performances.

"This is the hard bit" one of us said at some point on Monday evening. "The bit where not only do we not know if what we're doing is any good, but where we begin to seriously question our validity as human beings."

"Yes" the others agreed, weakly. "This is what it's always like. This is definitely, totally normal."

We all nodded.

"But what if it's all just... crap?"

By Friday we'd pushed through. We were pretty sure we'd worked out the point. We felt almost completely sure that we knew what we were saying and why we wanted to say it. Of course you can never properly know whether what you're doing works until you do it in front of an audience, so it's safe to say we all felt pretty on edge.

Lydia whipped a bottle of white wine from her bag and placed it and five glasses just out of arms reach.

"When we've done it four times, in costume, doing it properly, then we're allowed wine."


"We know the train station drill by now. Who's going to M&S to get the cocktails? Who needs to go to Boots for some weird beauty product they've forgotten? Who's going to pick up the tickets?"

Twenty minutes later we were happily ensconced on the train. Lydia sashayed off to first class to flick her hair at someone until they gave us ice. The rest of us began putting together fridge magnets to give out at our gigs and made future plans. The train eased south and we dreamed big with gin.

Lowri nipped off to the toilet to do a quick bikini wax ("I think that's the best thing I've ever done!") and we all got high on crisps and possibilities.

Three hours later and we were standing on stage in the dark. The Royal Vauxhall Tavern was empty apart from us, two stonyfaced DJs, Simon the nicest club owner in the world, and a leg of ham.

"I think I'm turning" whispered Lowri.

"We need food. We'll be alright after we've eaten. Won't we?" said someone else, falteringly.

"Yeah. It'll probably all be alright. We always feel like this in the tech. Don't we?"

Roxy smiled up at us from her chair, sending messages of strength and forbearance with her eyes. We gazed at her, hungrily, wondering whether sacrificing one of her limbs to feed the performers came under her remit as producer.

Another three hours and we were in the dressing room and ready. Gold sequin dresses underneath silk dressing gowns underneath black pencil skirts. The look was completed with sparkly jelly shoes, pink, winged glasses, and lids heavy with lashes.

"Right girls!" barked Amy, somehow channeling an army captain. "You can do this! You're brilliant, you're all brilliant. Go and do it! Good luck!"

"Break a leg!" said Ben, slightly more mildly. "You're all gorgeous and talented. Have fun."

They disappeared from the dressing room. The four of us looked at each other and hugged.

"Right, come on. Let's have it."

One hour, one performance and one meeting later ("Roxy, only you would make us have a meeting at nearly one in the morning") and we were still be-sequinned, dancing passionately to Kate Bush. A man was attempting to lick one of my boots. Every so often a stranger would hug one of us and tell us well done, that was great, and we grinned and laughed and danced and danced and danced.


I peeled off my eye mask to see Sara blinking awake. Ben stirred.

"What time is it?"

"Nearly one."

"Wow. What time to we have to be there?"

"Five, for the tech."

An explosion of laughter from the bedroom.

"The others are up."

"You drink coffee I take tea my dear" sang Lydia quietly in the kitchen, clattering about with cups. "I like my toast done on one side..."

Eighteen cups of tea and a year's supply of hot water later and we were speedwalking down Carnaby Street, all bags, heels and keyboard, glassy-eyed with hunger, nerves swilling around, ricocheting between us.

"I'm turning" said everyone, variously.

The dressing room in Madame Jojo's is a red velvet corridor jammed with the complex trappings of the burlesque performer. Feathers have settled in cracks on the faded velvet curtains and chairs, and the way to the stage is caked in dirty, multi-coloured glitter. As we crowded through the door three women in bras arched towards the mirrors doing elaborate manoeuvres with make up and curling tongs. Clouds of hairspray plumed into the air.

Four chairs were set on stage for our sound check, and we draped our feather boas over the back. The sound technician ambled over to set up microphones and the keyboard, asking questions slowly and then ignoring the answers. At one point I went into the sound booth to explain something clearly to the side of his head as he resolutely pretended I wasn't there, a curl of smoke from his cigarette snaking up by his ears.

Another silent tech rehearsal, cue to cue, peering out into the bright club with smatterings of concrete-faced strangers, everything out of context and in the wrong clothes.

Soon we were out again, onto the dusty, heavily-trod streets of Soho. All our costumes and coats dumped in a corner of the dressing room, behind the enormous purple feathered fans of one of the glittering, be-jeweled performers. Let's go, we all whispered to one another. Let's go and find somewhere quiet.

"I think I just want a big cup of tea" said Lowri, forlornly. "And perhaps some cake."

"Shall we go and find somewhere that will give us tea and cake and do our make up there?" I suggested. "Instead of fighting for an inch of mirror space? Then we can take our time, and there'll be cake."

Down Old Compton Street, into Patisserie Valerie, upstairs, right to the back. Tea ordered, cake ordered, five large glasses of water ordered, and we began to relax. We began to feel better. More than better, we began to feel happy, and excited, buoyed up by cake and the equally sweet feeling of being amongst friends.

After we'd performed we sat at the back and watched the rest of the show. I felt a tap on the shoulder and turned around to see Sara smiling and handing me a delightfully full glass of red wine.


We walked from Bermondsey to Waterloo, meandering along the Thames. The sun glinted on the water, a man played a cello in a tunnel under a bridge. We passed the Globe and the Tate Modern (stopping in to buy postcards from the shop) and the National Theatre, and stopped, eventually, at the BFI to sip wine in deckchairs.

Later on that evening Lowri and Sara and I were talking about the weekend we'd had.

"I think my favourite thing about it" I said through a mouthful of pizza "was that sometimes we felt horrible, but that nobody snapped at anybody. We just dealt with it and had cake, or wine, or a chat, and it was all alright. We came through the bad times together, and turned them into the amazingly good times."