Thursday, 31 May 2007

Being in a Musical

Following a minor operation, Jessie has returned home from the vet's with her ear painted silver. While she lies around the house looking like she's recovering from a brush (ha ha) with a mischievous surrealist, I'm taking a moment to reflect on the good things about having a dog.

The best thing of all, I think, is that it gives me an opportunity to indulge in the harmless fantasy that we are all taking part in a nightmarish musical in which the correct response to everything Jessie does is to burst into a screeching version of a popular song. Thus, Jessie being carried by the vet to my car this afternoon was a cue to sing a version of Westlife's'You Raise me Up' during the privacy of our ride home together. And not a day goes by without a member of the family singing a version of Gwen Guthrie's Ain't Nuthin Goin on But the Rent ('no romance without finance, you gotta have a D O G if you wanna be with me...')

Yes, I know. I half promised myself I wouldn't write anything else on here about the dog. But what can you do? I've got a dog who looks like Woody Allen disguised as the robot in Sleeper. Hysterical. It's a gift to a writer Actually, anyone who has ever cleared up after a dog can tell you that dog shit is truly the gift that goes on giving. There's only one response as your fingers close around the latest warm little parcel your pet has left for you. You're familiar with the songs of Ella Fitzgerald? Come one then, all together now, sing it with me: 'Danke schoen, darling, danke schoen...'

Saturday, 26 May 2007

Kneehigh Theatre

I went to see the Kneehigh Theatre platform (talk) at the National yesterday - Emma Rice and Tom Morris were interviewed by critic Mark Shenton about their co-adaptation of A Matter of Life and Death, which Emma Rice also directed.

The last talk they did was when Tom Morris interviewed Emma Rice about Tristan & Yseult, a Kneehigh show which was a huge success. These platforms attract a mixture of theatre students and old people. As we filed out of the auditorium afterwards, the place was buzzing - although the older people were mostly talking about the daring Tom Morris had shown by wearing a pair of shorts which revealed his very white legs.

Last night's talk was a more subdued affair. Tom Morris was fully clothed and both he and Emma Rice seemed conscious of the less than enthusiastic reviews for the show, which have provoked a bit of a theatrical spat. (You can read about the spat here on West End Whingers blog and here on David Eldridge's blog)

If you haven't seen a Kneehigh show before, it's worth going to see A Matter of Life and Death. I disagree with the line of reasoning that says that if you're unfamiliar with physical theatre then you won't 'get' Kneehigh. I'd put it the other way - that if you've seen all their work, then you begin to see some of the same tricks crop up. An old boyfriend of mine used to say to me, rather pointedly, 'familiarity breeds contempt'. I wouldn't put it nearly so harshly in this case although I must admit I have never quite recaptured that rush of joy in watching subsequent shows that I felt when I saw Tristan & Yseult.

Even so, I'm always knocked out by the inventiveness and enthusiasm of their productions. I'll be going to see whatever they do next.

Friday, 25 May 2007


A number of experts have called at the house to investigate the smell. No, silly! Not because they read this blog. I called them up and asked them to come round. Let's face it, there is something not quite right about asking a decent working man of a certain age to come round and smell your smell. You stand together awkwardly, forced into an intimacy that makes both of you rather uncomfortable. There, outside my office, do you notice it? No, well come outside then, stand next to the barbecue, bend forward at a 90 degree angle. Do you catch something now? No? Perhaps it's gone again. It does that.

Awkwardness-wise, it's probably slightly more awkward than getting a male acquaintance to feel your baby kicking in your stomach when you're pregnant, but not as bad as having the baby delivered on a bus by the driver.

But back to the smell. If you ever have to explain to someone about an elusive thing that is troubling you, that you alone have witnessed, you should watch their face carefully. You will be able to tell the exact moment when they begin to wonder about you. It's a look they get. Not suspicion, exactly. Not quite sympathy. It's more like a brief absence as they mentally retreat to audit potential dangers or threats. But since I don't open the door in my nightie looking lonely, and since they are nice people used to meeting all sorts, they generally emerge cheerily enough from this moment and we part on good terms.

For now, the house smells only of toast and marmalade mixed with the faint trace of the aftershave of the men who have been round to investigate. Last night the house was full of my daughter's friends, who came round and laughed and told stories, smoked fags, drank booze and then went away again. After they had gone, so had the smell. Perhaps, after all, it was an unquiet spirit, a llems that had been troubling us and it was their laughter that has exorcised it.

Is it a Dragon?

The strange smell (the llems, as we prefer to call it) outside my office now has a smoky quality to it - like a dragon's breath, except that it's not powerful but very faint. An old, weak dragon, perhaps? [Oh God please don't let this be about Jessie's impending death, she's only 14, she's got a few more years yet] Not old, then. A baby? A small, invisible, infant dragon floating at head height outside my office. But why? Does it need help or does it want to help me? Is this potentially one of those mutually rewarding situations whereby if only it wasn't imaginary and if only I was more practical by nature, we would team up together and save the world?

If it could speak, what would it say? Speak, lemms... Silence. Nothing. I'm going to stop blogging now and get on with my work.

Thursday, 24 May 2007

Strange Portent

I came home from Scotland, where a pigeon had provided a kind of an allegory for what went on during the week, to discover that our house had a strange smell. It was not drains or dogs or stale food or cigarette smoke or spilled alcohol or anything obviously identifiable. It was organic and it lingered (lingers - I don't know how to get rid of it) outside my office, at about head height. No-one wants to think that their house has a smell. We call it the llems when we discuss it among ourselves, so no-one outside the family will know what we're talking about.

I can't help wondering, what does it portend, this llems? Why has it taken up position just outside my office, where I spend all day writing? I feel cowed by it. I feel haunted. Perhaps it isn't a portent but a poltergeist and it needs to be exorcised? But how?

The kids say don't worry, perhaps it will just go away by itself, like last time. Last time? It was here before and I never even noticed?

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

Theatre Allegory

I was in Scotland last week, working on a play I'm writing. I'm just going to reproduce here what I posted on the production's website yesterday:

The Pigeon
We had another development meeting last week, which encompassed various production meetings as well as discussions about the script, how the show will be staged and so on. It was exciting, challenging, useful and sometimes fraught, as these kinds of meetings always are.

At the beginning of the week, a pigeon got trapped in the chimney of one of the meeting spaces we were using. It couldn't go up or down. We (I say 'we' in the loosest sense - actually it was someone else) contacted the SSPCA who said they couldn't come and get it but that it would be dead within 48 hours. It didn't die, it clung on to life in its dark little prison. Mostly it stayed silent but at a certain time each day it would squawk and claw and flap its wings, trying to get free. Whatever you think of pigeons, you don't want to be a witness to the slow and miserable death of one that is trapped nearby.

We (that's 'we' again in a loose sense) called a chimney sweep for help. On the last day of our development week, two sweeps came and retrieved the bird. They pronounced it the biggest, fiercest pigeon they had ever seen, wrapped it in a blanket, took it downstairs and set it free. It flew up into the sky, alive and apparently unharmed. Before it flew off, it brushed against a cream-coloured wall and left a perfect sooty imprint of its chest and feathery wings - the sort of image that could have been used to prove to credulous Victorians that angels exist.

It was a real pigeon but it also seemed to provide an allegory for what is involved in a development week.

Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Dictionary Additions

Predictive test - a method of gauging the tolerance of an individual to perverse and irritating suggestions by switching their mobile phone to 'predictive text' mode.

Tuesday, 15 May 2007

Jessie's Myspace

Just before I go to Scotland, I feel I should say a few words about the dog's MySpace.

My daughter set it up, posting photos of Jessie wearing a variety of wigs. Soon Jessie was 'friends' with other pets on MySpace, including some frolicsome chiuauas, a dog whose fur had been dyed pink to match its bedroom and a budgie who appears in the guise of figures from history, including Queen Cleopatra and Mona Lisa. Lots of messages appeared on Jessie's MySpace, commenting favourably on her appearance. So far so good.

My daughter's computer slowed noticeably under the strain of downloading the animated sparkly message files left by other pet owners and her interest in the MySpace began to wane.

I stepped in, feeling guilty about the messages, the way you do when your child is small and doesn't say thank you properly at a birthday party. I began to leave messages for the other pets. It's time consuming - on MySpace there is no 'send to all' button (or none that I have found, anyway - if you know differently, pls advise). You have to craft personalised messages on every glittery page that has been set up to honour a family pet. Mostly I just wrote 'woof'. Big mistake - a deluge of messages came back.

Next thing you know, there are bulletins about such and such a dog who is sick or dying and needs your prayers. Composing a message of encouragement, you can't help thinking there is something very odd about some of these people. I mean, they spend their days posting messages on the internet that purport to come from their pets...


It's almost a month since I started this blog. My daughter also has a blog. My dog has joined Facebook. We are all on MySpace. We spend all day posting messages for each other. These activities leave very little time for us to do any work (although in any case the dog's rather cagey about what kind of work she actually does).

Fortunately I'm going to Scotland for a week to work on the play I've been writing for Benchtours, so I'll get a break from all this. It's been fun, though. So far.

Monday, 14 May 2007

Gardening Haiku

Spring chill; marrows grow
in pots on the window ledge,
fairytale beanstalks

Sunday, 13 May 2007

The Unicorn Song

Following a query from a reader (er - hello Richard) I ought to clarify that the earlier Noah's Ark Personal Ad posting was inspired by The Unicorn Song, which tells how the unicorns were too busy larking around to get on the boat, hence no unicorns these days. There are 'cats and rats and elephants but sure as you're born you ain't gonna see no unicorns.'

Here's a YouTube link to the Irish Rovers singing the song. The version I remember (was it Ralph McTell or someone?) was much more 'easy listening' and until I found this version about two minutes ago, I always thought there was a line in it about green alligators and long neckees (i.e. giraffes). But the Irish Rovers are quite clearly singing about long-necked geese. Shame.

Saturday, 12 May 2007

Literary Conflations

Save time by reading a conflated version of two literary classics

e.g. Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca and Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past

The conflated version begins – Last night I dreamt I ate a madeleine again.

Friday, 11 May 2007


Noah’s Ark Personal Ad

Unicorn seeks same
for mischief and myth-making;
don’t get on that boat

Thursday, 10 May 2007


I don't know the person at another little disappointment but some of his posts are very funny. Just follow the link to this one about The Crow.


Tony Blair's Legacy

Even Margaret
Thatcher, that ogre, never
bombed civilians

Note to Tony Blair and others: When reading this, it's helpful to pronounce 'Margaret' with three syllables, to maintain the 5-7-5 integrity of the piece. Thanks.

Wednesday, 9 May 2007

Dictionary Misappropriations

Usurper = someone who makes make a horrible noise when eating.
As in 'in my opinion Gordon Brown is a usurper.'

Dictionary Misappropriations

Preamble = something to brace you for a walk in the country.

As in ‘Do you fancy a quick preamble before we put our wellies on – I’ve got some jolly nice lardy* cake we could have with a pot of Earl Grey?’

*made with lard, currants, sugar and bread dough. I'm not kidding about the lard; I used to make lardy cake all the time and it tastes very nice.

Monday, 7 May 2007

Dictionary Misappropriations

Snooze = When you laugh so much that snot comes out of your nose. Also when crying*.
As in 'don't bother him now, he's snoozing.'

*See Juliet Stevenson in Truly, Madly, Deeply for the definitive performance.

Sunday, 6 May 2007

Useful Pets

Continuing an occasional series* on useful pets:

For the sexually adventurous

*see also 22nd April

Dictionary Misappropriations

Parsnip = to dish out vegetables angrily and meanly, esp. after a family row over the Sunday roast.
As in ' I'm sorry I slept with Sally, darling, but please don't parsnip with the roast potatoes.'

Friday, 4 May 2007

Dictionary Misappropriations

Gnomic = small
‘A gnomic professor’ i.e. a learned personage of small stature
Also ‘gnomic pronouncements’ i.e. not saying much

Thursday, 3 May 2007

3.8 Mile/Julian Fellowes

I read today that Oscar-winning screenwriter Julian Fellowes is to attend the grand re-opening of Dorchester Borough Gardens on May 7th.

I used to go to school in Dorchester. At the weekends, I’d cycle from my home to the Borough Gardens where my friends and I spent long hours sitting in a little hut (‘the black hut’) smoking John Player Special cigarettes, biting our nails and complaining of our addition to nicotine. That’s it, that’s all we did – there was nothing else to do. From what I knew of London, I suspected I might have a better life here.

How does a shy, unsporty, skinny white kid get from Dorchester to London? Why, with words, of course. When I saw the film 8 Mile I felt as everyone does when they see a good film - that, essentially, it was my story (except that my family didn’t live in a trailer park but in an old vicarage). I’d like to write my own version of it. It will be entitled 3.8 Mile - the distance I used to cycle between my home and Dorchester, over a very steep hill, just to sit in the black hut when I was 14.

And now Julian Fellowes has turned up in Dorchester, demonstrating that I need never have left after all, since Hollywood would eventually come to the Borough Gardens.

TV Mashup

As a reward for Heartbeat’s consistently high ratings on ITV, Aidensfield’s popular local constable is sent on secondment to Miami to learn from the CSI team there.

The cross-cultural relationship sours when the Aidensfield bobby insists on following a hunch about who's responsible for the crimes the CSI team is called on to investigate. Although, in life, we know that the simplest answer is often the correct one, it seems the CSI Miami team just cannot accept that every crime committed on their patch must be the work of a roguish but loveable local poacher.

In a rather downbeat end to the episode, Aidensfield’s finest is sent home in disgrace by CSI Miami's normally irascible Horatio.

Wednesday, 2 May 2007

Screen South & BBC writersroom

Monday 14th May in Brighton FREE event organised by Screen South:
Information day with Rachael Duke, Film Fund Manager at Skillset and Paul Ashton, Development Manager at BBC writersroom.

For more information or to claim your place, email or contact the Screen South office on 01303 259777.


Mermaid/Sailor Personal Ads
Siren seeks sailor
at risk of drowning; hopes he
will let her save him

Sailor seeks siren
for night of fun before she
dissolves in the foam

Wild Cat Personal Ad
Tiger seeks lion:
Strong, wild, brave, free. Good hunter,
full mane. No cheetahs.

They follow the 5-7-5 syllable format of haiku but there is no reference to the season. So perhaps better described as senryu. But it doesn't matter too much. It is, after all, only a joke.

Tuesday, 1 May 2007

Dictionary Misappropriations

Farce = arse-related
Usually (in theatre) ‘an old-fashioned farce’ i.e. featuring a pretty actress who is called upon to show her arse, esp. in a pair of lacy underpants
Also (of a badly organised event) ‘the whole thing's a farce’ i.e. the person responsible is an arse

Dream Analysis

Two rival tea shops in tall narrow buildings in different parts of town. Both selling delicious home-made cakes.

One owner was friendly, one unfriendly, although I bought from neither, being on the run from the police. I had stolen petrol by siphoning it through a small straw. I threw the straw away but the distinctively sweet, artificial smell of the petrol on my hands - like washing up liquid - threatened to give me away. I drove into the car park of the unfriendly tea shop, where I did a reckless three-point turn and parked unnoticed among lawless teenagers.

I offered advice to the unfriendly tea shop owner – that she should bake her cakes on the premises to increase custom. She had the facilities to cook onsite but refused to do so. I don’t know whether it was my advice that made her unfriendly, or whether she had seen me do the reckless three-point turn.

OK, it's not The Sopranos. But do dreams have meanings? If so, what could this one mean?