Wednesday, 29 August 2007

All About My Mother

I saw All About My Mother with the West End Whingers at the Old Vic last night. It was fabulous; wonderful performances from the whole cast, an amazing set design by Hildegard Bechtler and lots of funny lines in Samuel Adamson's adaptation of Almodovar's film. It's very camp and everyone gets to do a turn. You know you can't go wrong with Diana Rigg, Eleanor Bron and Lesley Manville and they live up to expectations in their different ways. Mark Gatiss is extraordinary.

Tuesday, 28 August 2007


A friend spent three days sewing a mole costume by hand for the gangsters and molls party we went to at the weekend. I must admit, I find puns irresistibly funny. I definitely thought it was worth it.

Saturday, 25 August 2007

Son et Lumiere

We're about to drive to the country for a long weekend which will culminate in a fancy dress party.

Kyle is going in one car with his friend, nicknamed Mole (what are the chances of that? See earlier post) and the last of several car loads of sound equipment he has been ferrying there over recent weeks.

I'm taking my daughter, the dog, the dog's breath (which is an entity in its own right), my daughter's friend Dannah (who is allergic to dogs) and the numerous lights that have been hired for the party from a professional supplier. The invoice for the lights mentions, among other things, 'discotastic' lights and 'mushroom shite' lights. We tried out the discotastic lights in the kitchen last night and they were great.

Between us, in our convoy, we will have enough equipment to stage an impressive son et lumiere show at Stonehenge en route. Maybe we'd do it, too, if only Stonehenge wasn't the most dismal tourist attraction I have ever seen, second only to a caged bear in a zoo in a little town in Malaysia just across the border from Thailand. I hope that poor bear died quickly.

I'm not going to the Gangsters and Molls party dressed as a mole. That was a joke. Silly, I know.

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

The Countryside

I haven't posted anything for a while because I've been busy writing, drinking and preparing for a fancy dress party at the weekend.

The theme of the party is 'Gangsters and Moles', apparently. It's an unusual combination and I must admit that we made the hostess repeat herself several times over the phone the other night when she called during a particularly riotous party. She didn't think the theme odd at all and soon grew irritated at being asked to clarify, perhaps because she lives in the country and they think nothing of shooting at creatures that we in London only know from children's stories and tend to feel fondly about. Last time we were down there, we had rabbit pie.

I can't say that I like the idea of going to the party dressed - even in fun - as one who carries a gun. Fortunately John Lewis stocks a wide range of fun fur in most colours, including one that could be described as 'mole'. An artist friend of ours has volunteered to make the whiskers.

Thursday, 16 August 2007

Story of a Rabbit

There were a couple of things I saw in Edinburgh that I was going to recommend - one is Rebus McTaggart: Crime Warrior, cleverly written and brilliantly performed by Richard Thomson who is very funny and very talented.

The other is Story of a Rabbit by Hugh Hughes. I meant to go and see Floating at the Barbican by the same person when it was on and I was sorry to have missed it.

Although it's called Story of a Rabbit, the show is really about the death of Hugh Hughes's father. It uses some clever theatre techniques, is both funny and moving and is beautifully written and performed. There was a point, about half way through, when he talked about how his father had died and he imagined more fanciful circumstances for his death. My daughter and I pretty much lost it about then and cried all the way through from then on - when I tried to explain the significance of the two cups of tea in the show to someone on the train home to London the following day, I started crying all over again.

Now, Hugh Hughes is a very Welsh person and we have a Welsh friend who is currently dying, so we weren't really crying for Hugh Hughes's father, we were crying for our friend. Maybe Lauren was also crying about her Grandmother, who would have died around the same time as Hugh Hughes father. Maybe she was even crying for her father (who is Welsh but still very much alive).

We didn't have any tissues with us so I had to use the sleeve of my top to wipe the tears and snot from my face. I have never ever cried like that in the theatre before. I shed a few tears when I saw Someone Who'll Watch Over Me by Frank McGuinness a few years ago (which I thought was wonderful) but that's about it.

I have only just discovered that Hugh Hughes is not a real person and is in fact the creation of Shon Dale-Jones, and that therefore the death of his father that he talks about in Story of a Rabbit is only a story. This explains why everyone else in the audience was guffawing with laughter while my daughter and I sobbed into our sleeves.

If I had been to see Floating at the Barbican, I would have known from the writing and performance credits that Hugh Hughes was a fiction. I did know that Floating was a theatre show which imagined that Anglesea had broken off from Wales and floated away. In the same way, I knew that Story of a Rabbit was a theatre show and not a memoir. I could see that Hugh Hughes's Welshness and sweetness and meandering nature were being played up on stage for theatrical reasons and I did assume that his 'best friend' on stage was really an actor. But still, I believed that the death of the father was real and I thought that this show was an attempt to make sense of it.

Does it make a difference that it isn't real? Yes, because I was feeling sorry for an actor who was playing a character. It's the difference between giving money to a homeless person and giving money to a journalist who is pretending to be a homeless person in order to make a documentary about the charitable nature, or otherwise, of people in Britain. I always think Simon Russell Beale never seems to act but somehow 'is' whoever he plays on stage. It's a remarkable thing to see but if the character he is playing is facing difficult circumstances, I never feel sorry for Simon Russell Beale.

My recommendation still stands - Story of a Rabbit is very well-written and well-performed and well-worth seeing. But I'll have to down-grade it from one of the best things I've seen to one of the most upsetting things you can see if you know a Welsh person who is dying.

My daughter and I did wonder how Hugh Hughes managed to get through the performance each night without breaking down. Now we know. If it helps, I never did believe the bit about the rabbit...

Incidentally, I'm not suggesting that we were tricked in some way, only that I was rather naive (is there anything about the theatre that doesn't scream "it's not real, it's only a story") and that if I ever try to post any kind of theatre review in future, you should ignore it.

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

Push the button

Here's the soundtrack to my one woman show which had its world premiere on the 12.00 Edinburgh to King's Cross train yesterday. (See earlier post, below)

Edinburgh Festival - One Woman Show

A while ago I had an idea for a one woman show and briefly considered being in it. However I am not an actor - never mind trying to remember the lines and deliver them effectively, I get terrible stage fright and I know I would collapse with embarrassment even before I reached the stage every night.

As I travelled back from the Edinburgh Festival on the train yesterday, somewhere between Stevenage and King's Cross Station I had a brief taste of what it might be like to do a one woman show.

I was having a wee in one of those new wheelchair accessible toilets which are operated by the press of a button. I had pressed the 'lock door' button but apparently not with sufficient authority. So when the next person - a nice young man, highlights in his hair, possibly Australian - pressed the 'open door' button, it did indeed open, very slowly and theatrically, revealing my bare bottom to him and to the other people assembled outside. The enormous mirror in the toilet cubicle helped to ensure they had a good view of my predicament from all angles.

If you are in an old-fashioned public toilet with a dodgy lock and a person tries to open the door, the etiquette is generally to give a little cry of surprise so the other person can respond by letting go of the door with an apology or, if they do not, you can simply pull the door closed yourself.

But once an electric door starts to open in one of those cavernous disabled toilets, there is an inevitability to what will happen next. It is plain to see that crying out and pulling at the door handle won't work as you are dealing with something mechanical and inhuman that cannot respond to distress or reason. There is no alternative but to look out on the world with as much dignity as possible - even a smile, if you can muster it - as you are exposed to those waiting outside.

The young man who had opened the door turned away with an apology, too embarrassed to gather his wits and punch the external 'door close' button again. The inner 'door close' button is not within reach from the toilet unless you stand and shuffle over to it, which of course I did, still in full view, first pulling up my underpants, while also uttering the necessary apologies to my audience.

I pressed the 'door close' button and the door began to close again very, very slowly, leaving me to reflect that I should stick to writing and also not drink anything ever again before I get on a train.

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Book, Play, Film

For the first and only time in my life, about six weeks ago, I had an idea for a film. By which I mean an idea that was clever and original but so simple that I could explain it in a few sentences - ideas I've had for books have tended to be more picaresque, with multiple characters and lots of jokes, whereas the play I'm currently working on is at the other end of the scale as it essentially involves two people sitting in a room, talking.

At the Cheltenham Screenwriters Festival, Antony Horowitz described a breakfast meeting at Claridges at which the idea for a film took shape in his mind in its entirety (I'm quoting from memory but it sounded very good the way he said it) 'as if it had been poured there by the waiter from the coffee jug' . My film idea came to me like that - I had actually wanted an idea for a play, following an inspiring day at the Royal Court. I woke up the next morning and there was this film in my head, sitting there, fully formed. I knew the title, who was in it, what happened, how it ended.

It's such a beautiful thing - and it feels alright to say that because, like a sleek, healthy stray cat that has wandered in to my garden to be admired, it otherwise seems to have very little to do with me. I just need to take care of it.

For a while, I wondered what to do with it because when I went along to the Screenwriters' Festival two things struck me very forcefully 1) the experience of writing a film script and trying to get it made sounded universally awful 2) almost all big budget films (with the exception of the few written by Charlie Kaufman, Alex Garland etc) are adaptations of literary books or short stories.

Anyway, it's obvious, isn't it? I'm writing it as a book. Once it's finished, I can worry about trying to get it made as a film.

Monday, 6 August 2007

Dispensing Advice

Quite a lot of people find this blog using the search term 'Matthew Macfadyen naked' which is odd because - aside from being a very good actor - he is so quintessentially English that I find it impossible to imagine him ever taking his clothes off. Surely the whole point of him as an actor is that he can stand there on stage or on screen and, without saying anything, convey intense, conflicted emotion just by a look on his face or the way he holds his hands.

But I shouldn't judge - who knows why a person sits at a computer and types the words 'Matthew Macfadyen naked' into a search engine? Perhaps they, too, find such a thing hard to imagine and they are searching the internet for proof that he hasn't been cursed to wander the earth fully clothed, always acting, acting, acting and never removing his clothes, not even for a well-earned rest when he lies down at night to go to sleep.

Anyway, leaving aside the Macfadyen fans, many other people find this blog while looking for advice of some kind. This ranges from the fairly prosaic; 'how to grow marrows' to the rather disturbing 'I can't see' with all sorts of other things in between, much of it related to dog shit but some of it related to poetry.

Now, I love giving advice, so I'm planning a series of posts in which I will dispense real advice on this blog, which I hope will mollify anyone who has come here looking for it.

The best advice comes from those who have lived and learned. The best way to learn is to make mistakes. So before committing myself to writing anything, I'm going to go out and make some mistakes.

But I will just leave you with a tip: You shouldn't use wood filler on the floor boards a few hours before a party, especially if you have a dog with poor eyesight and long claws. And if the colour of the wood filler doesn't match the wood, I'm telling you, don't try to patch things up with gravy browning.

But that's a tip - that's not real advice. Mistakes first. Advice to follow.

Sunday, 5 August 2007

A real fairy

My daughter had her birthday party yesterday. It was a fairly low-key affair compared to last year, when we decorated the garden with yards and yards of pink material and hung ornaments in the trees.

I have a news section on my website which I update monthly and (being short of news that month as I am every month) I put up a picture of two little girls who came along to the party, one of them my goddaughter who was wearing a fairy outfit. I wrote something like 'yes, that's a real fairy you can see in the picture.' After a while, I realised that a significant number of people find that page every week by using the search term 'a real fairy'. I'm not sure what they expect to find but whatever it is, they are likely to be disappointed - there is only a blurry picture of two cute little kids and a sentimental poem I wrote for my daughter on her eighteenth birthday.

Friday, 3 August 2007

Edinburgh Festival - love what you did with the hobbits

I'm supposed to be writing a novel and cleaning the house ahead of my daughter's birthday party tomorrow so the most sensible use of my time seemed to be to spend the afternoon doing a special Edinburgh Festival planner, working out what's on when so I can book all the tickets before we go.

Yesterday, I fired off a jaunty note to Mark Ravenhill - who I don't know and have never met, and have never even looked upon except once, from a distance of about twelve feet - saying that I was going to see his show on 13th August and asking him if he'd consider coming to see mine (not really 'mine' - it's a collaborative medium and all that, but you know what I mean). Alas, my special planner now reveals that his show isn't even on that day. Sure, I can just go on the 12th but the letter has already gone out, first class, as if I was in such a rush to proclaim my foolishness that second class simply wouldn't do.

It serves me right for being such an arse in trying to befriend a more successful playwright than myself, as well as showing that I have no talent for PR. I once worked for a PR company for a few months, back in the eighties, shoulder pads and all, thinking I would have an opportunity to use my writing skills. That didn't last long. It turned out I wasn't suited to the role at all.

More recently, I tried to persuade my daughter to write to the Art Director on the Harry Potter films (a friend of a friend) asking for work experience. How we laughed as we imagined composing a friendly note to him full of misplaced compliments along the lines of 'I love what you did with the hobbits'. It has become something of a catch-phrase. I suspect I will hear it again tonight, when I tell her about the Ravenill letter.

Edinburgh Festival

I'm going to the Edinburgh Festival next weekend and I'm planning on seeing various things, in no particular order:

The Psychic Detective
Ravenhill for Breakfast
Fanny and Faggot
The Book Club
Josie Long
Goodbye - the (After) life of Cook and Moore
England by Tim Crouch
Rebus McTaggart Crimewarrior
Luke Wright's Poetry Party
Story of a Rabbit
Venus as a Boy

I'm only there for a few days and I'll have my daughter with me so I'm trying to avoid anything over an hour long or anything that seems too worthy.

There are some things I can see in London, like The Bacchae, which is on at the Lyric Hammersmith in September.

No doubt there will be other things once we get there. It's always the mad stuff you didn't realise you wanted to see that turns out being the most interesting, isn't it? We went to Port Eliot a few weeks ago and you think - How lovely, I'll see So&So talking about their latest book. But it was Daphne The Fairy Spotter, The One Minute Disco and The Poetry Juke Box that stuck in my mind.

Thursday, 2 August 2007

Four words that finally did for me

I hadn't seen Heroes until last week because we don't have whatever fancy channel it has been broadcast on up until now. I thoroughly enjoyed the first two episodes, which seemed full of promise. Sure, I thought they didn't need to have the two brothers say to each other 'you're my brother' and so on, but a certain amount of exposition is excusable when you're trying to set up a series.

It's so lovely to have a valid reason not to leave the house and I thought I'd got my Wednesday nights all planned out for the next few weeks. My favourite superhero type TV programme was for kids - The Secret World of Alex Mack, about a 13 year old girl. Did you ever see that? I seem to remember it was great.

But last night's episode of Heroes was such a pain in the arse with yet more exposition and all the hero characters matched with a friend of some sort so they could explain their inner thoughts to them. The young Indian man threw a precious lap-top to the floor. It was full of information he'd been seaching for over two continents and just as you're thinking 'that would never happen', guess what; the computer hit the floor and revealed there were useful documents and a key hidden inside it. You think, OK, maybe they were in a hurry or something when they were writing it and they couldn't find a better way... And then one of the brothers denounced the other, quite unnecessarily, at a press conference. And then the policeman left his wife without a fight when he 'heard' her thoughts, in which she wished he would go. How hard would it have been to have her wishing he would stay and he left anyway? I mean, honestly!

What finally did for me were four words; 'my son, your husband', spoken to a white woman with a mixed race son about the child's father, by a middle-aged black woman who had already been established as 'Grandma'. Yeah, we get it. We get it! You don't need to say it. Just as I was railing at the TV, the white woman, who had driven all the way to Grandma's house, said to Grandma - I want you out of my son's life. Well, love - don't go to her house, then.

What happened there? Whose idea was it to have all that crappy, clunky stuff in the script? The writer's, or someone else's? Anyway, what a shame. Heroes is such a nice idea for a TV show but I don't want to spend even 45 minutes of my time each week engaging with something that assumes I'm stupid. I don't mind suspending disbelief in what's happening on screen - hey, maybe people can fly - but I refuse to suspend disbelief in my own intelligence.

Atom's back on tonight, BBC4, 9.00 pm - it was very good last week. I never used to understand all those old people who said they preferred documentaries to drama on TV but I can't help thinking they might be right. Either TV drama is worse than it once was or I'm getting old... OK, see what you mean - maybe I'll give Heroes another go next week.