Friday, 29 February 2008

Forgoing a Blind Date at the Theatre for a Ticket to Paris on the Eurostar

I'm having a hard time giving up going to the theatre. Despite my best efforts, last night I boarded the no. 59 bus to Waterloo Bridge to see Major Barbara at The National on the strength of this review. I know, I know. But it was only ten pounds and for that you get Nicholas Hytner, Simon Russell Beale, Claire Higgins, a wonderful set by Tom Pye and a fantastic cast. Oddly enough, although it was very good, I'm not sure that I liked it that much.

The trouble with deciding what to see at the theatre is that it is less a question of whether the show will be any good than trying to work out whether it might mean something to you - going to the theatre is a bit like going on a blind date. No matter how highly recommended the production, if you don't feel that spark, you're going to come away disappointed. By the same token, it's no surprise that you can fall in love with a rough, ugly, flawed old thing because of a look, a joke, a bit of theatrical magic that dazzles or uplifts you. It definitely helps to go with low expectations. But isn't that true of everything in life?

I keep trying to come up with rules that will help me decide what to see: Only go to fringe productions because of the intimate setting, the rough and ready authenticity, the as-yet undiscovered future knights and dames etc. But then you see something so arse-bendingly awful that you think why not stick to the big West End shows with their amazing sets, top-notch casts and tried-and-tested playwrights? After all if something has survived a hundred years, it can't be so bad. But, alas, it can get awfully tired.

I have tried being prescriptive - avoiding domestic dramas, anything that tackles race issues, anything that portrays or mentions rape. I have tried being adventurous and all-embracing - I have seen two Forced Entertainment shows, for chrissakes, both of which feature in my list of top five worst shows I have seen ever. The second was effectively a very polite form of theatrical mugging (by which I mean stealing, not making funny faces). You handed over your money (£14, as I recall) turned up at the theatre and then sat in bemused silence for 90 minutes while two actors took it in turns to read from a book. They hadn't even learnt their lines! It was like watching the recording of a radio show but without the silent in-jokes and hilarious mimed joshing that you imagine might go on behind the scenes at such events. The book was written by Sophie Calle, a fascinating woman whose solipsitic artistic exploits were the inspiration for a character in Paul Auster's Leviathan. Imagine that - Paul Auster. If I had wanted to read Sophie Calle's book - and I do, actually - I would rather have used the money to buy myself a copy and read it silently in my own head. I have been reading books in that way since I was three years old and I am always very satisfied with the results.

Anyway... the theatre. I tried seeing anything with Simon Russell Beale in it while avoiding Felicity Kendall. But then they were in something together. I tried avoiding musicals but then I saw Hairspray and it was wonderful.

I haven't exactly got a list of my favourite shows ever but off the top of my head, some of the things I liked best that I have seen in recent years were:
  • Aurelia's Oratorio - not a play, more like mime, creating images that were elusive and beautiful; the only thing I have ever seen that I wanted to go and see again the next day.
  • Vanishing Point's Subway - silly story but wonderful performances, funny lines, and a band of seven Kosovan musicians fully integrated into the show
  • A thing on the South Bank about fifteen years ago that took place in total darkness - in an underground car park, if I remember rightly, which maybe I don't. It was supposed to give you an insight into being blind. You had to try to cross a road and buy a drink at a bar, guided by a blind person. Nowadays you might call it immersive theatre although it wasn't theatre, but some kind of public information initiative. It affected me profoundly.
  • Johnny Vegas at some crappy club in London years and years ago bringing his show to a rousing and rather moving finale in which we all joined hands. And then he just kept on going - on and on and on - as people left to catch their last trains home, until the crowded club was less than half full. Not theatre exactly (well, not a play, anyway) but a heart-breaking performance.
  • Tim Crouch's An Oak Tree - something 'real' seemed to be happening on stage, as if I was getting a privileged glimpse into a rehearsal room.
  • Speed the Plow - Spacey and Goldblum live on stage for my entertainment. Extraordinary.
And then of course I like any sort of acting, whether it's Penelope Wilton staring out across the lake in The Seagull at The Barbican or hanging on to the pauses in that Lorca thing at The National, Simon Russell Beale in Hamlet or The Alchemist or pretty much anything, Rafe Spall in Alaska at The Royal Court... and so on, and so on.

Now, you might not have liked any of these things. But it hardly matters as you can make up your own mind about what you go to see*. The point is that I loved them for a variety of mostly 'non-theatrical' reasons, unrelated to the question of whether they were actually any good. And looking at the list, it's impossible to distill any set of rules about what I should see next.

I think what I'm going to do is decide what I'd like to see, then put the money in a jar, imagine what the show might be like - and do something else instead.

First up is Press at The Gate. It looks fantastic (I'm thinking maybe a little bit Aurelia's Oratorio, a little bit Metamorphosis at The Lyric) and comes highly recommended by Lyn Gardner. It's only a 50 minute show but if I don't go, that's three hours (factoring in travelling time and collecting the ticket from the box office etc) I could spend writing or learning Arabic or having dinner with friends. Three hours of living. Plus £16 in the jar. Three or four more contributions like that and I could buy a ticket to Paris on the Eurostar.

Wonderful. I'll let you know how it goes.


* Although I would like to point out that Story of a Rabbit is on at The Barbican in June and Speed the Plow continues at The Old Vic until 26 April.

Thursday, 28 February 2008

Calon Lân

I was in Somserset last weekend with a lot of Welsh people. Yeah, I know. Long story.

Anyway, having mastered two* Welsh words (ceffyl and draenog meaning horse and hedgehog) the last time we were all together, I set myself the not particularly ambitious target of learning two more. In the event, what with the Marlboro Lights and the wine and the vodka and the ever-encroaching countryside we only had time for one - lolfa, meaning lounge or sitting room. Very useful. Ceffyl, draenog, lolfa. I can't tell you the number of times I have needed to use that particular combination of words in a hurry.

If I was going to be a Superhero, I'd like to be Cypher, the one in the Marvel comics who could speak any language. But the only power I have is the power to change other people's moods when I talk to them - and not just by shouting horse, hedgehog, lounge at random, either.

I can't reveal too much about this power but I can reveal that I have stumbled upon two mood-changing words that work only on Welsh people - and I'm going to teach them to you. I ought to mention that for best effect these two words should be used together, in the correct order. Also, you'll find that their power is greatly enhanced after everyone has had a few drinks.

You simply turn to your chosen target, look them in the eye and say, very calmly and gently, Calon Lân. This means 'pure heart', so I'm told. But it's also the name of a hymn that they are all inordinately fond of. You say Calon Lân to a Welsh-speaking person and they will look at you for a few seconds in bewilderment and then their face will soften and they will start to sing the hymn. They can't help themselves. They are programmed to respond the way a new mother is programmed to respond to a baby's cry - or so it is with my friends and family, anyway.

Like any gift, you mustn't abuse it. Any more than three times in one hour on the same person, and they will start to think you're taking the piss. But it's the perfect distraction from the kind of personal questions that people feel must be pressingly addressed after any more than half an hour in the pub. How's the novel going, Helen? Weren't you writing a play? Are you seeing anyone at the moment? Yes I... Calon Lân... [Ha! Gotcha!] Nid wy'n gofyn bywyd moethus... hmmm hmmm hmmm hm hmmm hm hmm hm. Yes, that's it! Altogether now. Calon lân yn llawn daioni...

* I just looked up the relevant post and it turns out I actually learned three Welsh words last time we were all together. But I had already forgotten one of them. Tsk.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Look At Me

Regular readers will know that I have been pretending to be in Orkney as a way of avoiding social engagements, in the hope of getting more writing done. I'm not sure how it happened but it seems that the island has slipped its moorings and we are even now floating up The Thames towards Wardour Street to rendez-vous with friend of the blog Jason Arnopp whose first produced film Look At Me is being screened tonight in an atmosphere of giddy excitement.

If you lean out of your windows, those of you living or working in the Tower Hill /London Bridge area should be able to see me about... NOW! Hello! Yes, that's me, waving. Yes, Look at Me! Isn't that funny? That's the title of the film and also...

Anyway, put the canapes out, Jason, we'll be docking shortly.

Monday, 25 February 2008

Boneless Chicken

I had an early draft of my new play read by professional actors last week. I always make a great point of saying they were professional actors, as if there had been a genuine risk of getting stuck with some unprofessional ones, who might have turned up late and drunk, for example, and giggled helplessly all the way through the reading. But you know what I mean. They were proper actors with that magical gift of turning written words into something alive and involving.

I thought the writing worked quite well. At any rate, I didn’t feel that I was working in the wrong medium and should give up and start work on something else entirely. But (this being an early draft) the play doesn’t yet work as a play. I started out with quite big ambitions (as everyone does) and I was amazed at how easily I had let go of some of them, in some cases without even noticing. In other cases, I had hoped I would get away with it and could simply address some of them ‘next time.’ But, as any Primary School teacher will tell you, you are only cheating yourself.

In its current state, the play is like a boneless chicken. It looks OK – there it is with its feathers and beak, sitting in the dust, blinking prettily and making chicken noises. But until I do a bit more work on it, no amount of prodding will get it off the ground. (Yes, I know that chickens don’t usually fly. But it doesn’t stop me hoping that mine will.) I need to go through a few more drafts, shoring up the structure, honing the logic, putting the bones in. It’s all there in my head, I just haven’t yet transferred it to the page (or, um, the ‘chicken’.)

Still, that’s what the next few drafts are for. I’m happy so long as I can see the way forward. The bit I hate is the thinking part, right at the start. You meet people who cheerily say ‘I have so many ideas...’ Well I don’t. It’s the writing I like. Or, if I’m honest, the typing. If fees, reviews, royalties, professional and personal satisfaction and all the rest of it weren’t an issue to some extent or another, I would happily sit here all day typing whatever comes into my head – or ‘blogging’, as we tend to call it.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

How to Preserve Your Artistic Integrity

Sorry, I wasn't trying to tease in my previous post. I'm not going to say which play got me so riled up when I went to see it because I don't want to attack the writer involved; a talented person who unfortunately seems to have been flattered into being satisfied with having work produced that is not up to their usual standard. The result really is unbelievably condescending and clueless. I imagine the reviews will be scathing and the writer will look back on the script with horrified embarrassment in years to come.

You know how exposing it is when you finally air your work in public - a part of you always imagines that everyone who sees it will roll their eyes and say 'that was a piece of shit'. It's a nightmare that has come true for this particular writer and I don't want to add to their discomfort by naming them.

Besides, I was once credited as the writer in a project that was so monumentally awful and embarrassing that I didn't sleep for days waiting for the reviews to come in. When they did, I was surprised and pitfully grateful at how kind everyone was about it. I'd never want to be anything less than kind to anyone else in the same position.

Finally, I can't help thinking that the people who should have been protecting the writer (by saying that play's shit don't put it on) didn't say anything because they were too keen to profit from the writer's recent success with other projects. It makes me reflect on my own commercial success as a writer, which registers on the scale somewhere between 'v. modest' and 'total lack of'. But as a result, no-one is hassling me in the hope of staging my underripe scripts. And believe it or not, I'm quite grateful for that. There's nothing that protects your artistic integrity so much as a total lack of commercial success. So hooray for poverty and obscurity! Er. Don't you think?

Friday, 22 February 2008

Do Not Sell Theatre Tickets to This Woman

I often come out of the theatre wondering why I went inside in the first place. But over the last few years, I have come up with a good answer. I go to the theatre for the acting. My favourite kind of show is one where everyone involved makes a tremendous effort and the acting is superb.

But last night I sat through such a pompous, facile, unenlightening, preachy, dull play that no amount of acting or theatrical goodwill could save it. I don't want to give a clue to the identity of the play or the writer. This person got their play on - and good for them. Writers tend to have terribly mixed feelings about anything they write - simultaneously believing it is quite possibly a work of genuis, and not nearly good enough. One of the few measures of whether your work is really any good is whether someone is prepared to publish or produce it. And any writer, unless they are very rich, insane or blessed/cursed with the soul of a tortured poet, is highly unlikely to turn down a commission, whatever their misgivings about the work.

I just wish, as a courtesy to people with better things to do, last night's play had been re-titled 'Don't Come and See This.' Alternatively, members of staff could have stood outside the theatre telling people about to go in 'actually, don't bother.' I wouldn't have wanted a refund but at least I could have skipped the play, come home, had dinner and watched The Sopranos.

I wonder whether this play might have been resurrected from sixth form days to fulfil current demand for the writer's talents. I have seen something else by the same person and it was stylishly written, intelligent and witty. The difference between the two plays was so profound that if you had told me that last night's effort had been written by my dog Jessie with a pencil up her arse rather than by the credited playwright, I would have been less surprised than I was by how awful the play was.

But perhaps the fault lies with me. Perhaps I simply shouldn't go to the theatre since it upsets me so much when it's not very good. I could save myself a good deal of time, money and trouble by having a tattoo on my forehead that reads Do Not Sell Theatre Tickets to This Woman.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Jessie, God, Alcohol and Show Tunes


It's Jessie's birthday tomorrow. If you're prepared to accept that each dog year is equivalent to seven of ours, then she's going to be 105. Me? I tend to think that a year's a year - it's a slightly artificial way of measuring time anyway and you don't need to add to the confusion by measuring things differently for animals.

I prefer the explanation that we are all allocated a certain number of heart beats and when we have reached our limit (assuming no fatal car accidents, shootings, terminal illnesses etc) we die. So smaller creatures like birds with their faster beating hearts will die before we bigger creatures do. It's a good argument for remaining calm so you don't reach your final heart beat before your time.

I have extended the theory to explain how I feel about alcohol. We all have a certain number of drinks we can tolerate in one life time. Those of us who drank most of our allocation when we were young have to give up sooner than French people and others who are not binge drinkers, who can keep going until they die.

Anyway, Jessie's new tilted head means I've been singing I am what I am to her in our quiet moments alone, purely for the line about seeing things 'from a different angle.' She likes show tunes, being originally from a gay household before she fetched up in Brixton with me just over three years ago.

If I still believed in God - or at least the gods - I would be amused by the idea that in response to my fervent wish to lose 20kg as quickly as possible some lackadaisical creature on high had a quick look at an inventory of my household and decided to get rid of Jessie - who weighs exactly 20kg - instead of attending to my thighs and buttocks, as I had hoped. And it would amuse me even more to think that my desperate prayers to save her had been answered, with just the quizzical angle of her head a kind of evidence that she had had a glimpse through the gates of heaven and was even now thinking 'What was that?'

That's the worst thing about being an unbeliever - it plays havoc with your repertoire of jokes.

Kung Hay Fat Choi

I earned some money a couple of weeks ago - a rare enough occurrence that it seems worth mentioning here - and no sooner had that happened, than lots of expensive things started going wrong. My washing machine broke down and had to be replaced, the dog was pulled back from the brink of death with four visits to the vet, two steroid injections and a month's supply of cutting-edge heart pills, and then yesterday my computer packed in and is in the Sony shop for repairs.

You can look at it that whenever money comes into my hands, it just runs back out again. That's quite a Chinese way of looking at things, actually (Kung Hay Fat Choi*, by the way, for those of you celebrating the year of the rat) and with further investigation my problem could probably be cured with some simple fung shui such as leaving the toilet lid closed when it is not in use.

Ordinarily I would prefer to look at it that some kind of beneficent celestial being merely forestalled all the expensive bad luck until I could afford to pay for it. But reading Richard Dawkins when Justin was dying put paid to all those kinds of fantasies. I didn't even finish the book but I got far enough into it to see that believing that some higher force has been keeping their finger in a financial dyke on my behalf would be both irrational and immature. Shame.

* Despite having studied Cantonese for months, I can only remember a couple of phrases. One is Happy New Year. The other is fuck your mother. Apologies if I have recalled the wrong one for this particular post.

Monday, 11 February 2008

Death of Margaret Thatcher, Courtyard Theatre

Remember when we all used to hate Margaret Thatcher? It seemed so simple then. I do think that a lot of the loathing for her was bound up in the fact that she was a woman and lower middle class. Every Prime Minister who has come after her has been just as bad, or worse. The ghastly John Major blamed all of society's ills on single mothers and teenage pregnancies - the likes of me, in other words. Tony Blair actually bombed civilians in three separate countries, which Margaret Thatcher never did. And Gordon Brown is unelected. While the American election shenanigans seem preposterous to us, most of us would still like the chance to vote on who is to be our Prime Minister. Sure, I know, you vote for the party not the person (tell that to Neil Kinnock). But Gordon Brown sidling into office without checking with the populace first is an embarrassment, particularly as we have recently been to so much trouble to 'encourage' the people of Afghanistan and Iraq to see the benefits of democracy. Apparently over here you can get to be Prime Minister just by being friends with the current incumbent and asking if you can have a go if ever he gets sick of it.

Anyway, friend of the blog Tom Green has written a play called The Death of Margaret Thatcher imagining the reaction to her death and reminding us of key points from her time as Prime Minister which will have an emotional resonance for anyone who grew up when she was in charge. You can get a taste of the play and see Tom talking about it here. It's on at the Courtyard Theatre until 2nd March. It's well-written and the cast are excellent.

I heard a sad story the other day that Margaret Thatcher has Alzheimer's and has to be reminded over and over again that her husband Denis is dead. Whenever she hears the news, she is distressed by it all over again. I don't know if it is true - the person who told me can just about see her back garden from his office window, which doesn't necessarily make him privy to such information. But she will certainly be re-evaluated when she dies.

I used to give money to the striking miners back in the 80s. I'm not sure why - I was 'let go' from my minimum wage part-time job for being pregnant and didn't have any cash to spare. Still, in those straightened times the miners were worse off than I was. Nobody thought that dropping a pound coin into a tin would keep the mines open but you did at least want to help them feed their families. Actually, part of what was so awful about it was that no-one who wasn't desperate would actually fight for the right to work down a mine, as it was a grimy, unpleasant sentence to a long, slow death from lung disease. You couldn't say it at the time, as it would have been considered an affront to the dignity of the working man. But more than twenty years later, Mark Ravenhill made the point very well in his Shoot, Get Treasure, Repeat series that was on in Edinburgh and Hampstead last year and will be on again in various locations around London this year.

Time, and the horrors of what have come since - various killings all over the world and the continued dismantling of the Welfare State, with council housing still being sold off, even after ten years of Labour Government - will no doubt mean that we will be kinder about Margaret Thatcher now than we were then, purely because every other Prime Minister has been as bad or worse and because it has proved to be impossible (of course) to turn back or hold back time. But feelings still run high, particularly in the north of England, and maybe there will be a march, gathering in numbers as it advances on London to protest at her funeral, as Tom imagines in his play. Maybe!

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Speed The Plow

I just saw Speed The Plow at The Old Vic with Kevin Spacey, Jeff Goldblum and Laura Michelle Kelly. It was wonderful. I actually left the theatre feeling euphoric.

I saw Kevin Spacey in The Iceman Cometh, also at The Old Vic, many years ago. He seemed to light up the stage every time he came on - it wasn't until fairly recently that I realised that the stage must have been deliberately lit so as to create that illusion. But still. He's a charismatic actor and I admire him for taking on The Old Vic and fundraising for it. It's such a creaky old crock, if I think about it I get the same slight tinge of embarrassment I feel whenever I hear that tiresome story about the American who bought London Bridge thinking it was Tower Bridge. Whatever. Did you see him on The South Bank Show? He seems to be a lovely man who believes in what he's doing. I was really looking forward to seeing him in this.

So. You've got David Mamet, two Hollywood stars and Laura Michelle - all for twenty-five pounds (we paid the group rate). I wondered aloud what could possibly go wrong. My companions for the evening retorted that I might be surprised at how often they begin a bad review with those words.

I was a bit wary at first because the theatre was full of American students who actually burst into applause when Kevin Spacey appeared on stage, as if they thought they were part of the live audience for an episode of Friends. But they settled down. Then there was an American woman behind us who did a special loud nasal honk whenever there was a funny line, to show that she was particularly attuned to David Mamet's cerebral style of wit. But she could honk all she liked; it was an audience-proof production. It had a cracking script with some brilliant lines in it. Rob Howells' set was wonderful. Spacey and Goldblum were amazing. The audience didn't cough much, except in the middle. Hooray for the theatre.

The seats in The Old Vic are absolutely awful, of course. It's very, very difficult to see anything - you have to bend forward and keep ducking your head to either side of the person in front of you to have any hope of following the action. The problem is not so much that there is very little rake in the auditorium - it actually seems to subside slightly in Rows D E and F of the stalls. I know it would be expensive to rip them all out but couldn't they build the stage up a couple of feet or something? At least Jeff Goldblum is very tall. That's a blessing.

But honestly, no kidding, Speed The Plow was wonderful. Go and see it if you like that sort of thing.

Brief Encounter On The 159

I went to see Kneehigh's Brief Encounter on Sunday and it was wonderful. I have been in love with the company since I saw Tristan & Iseult at the Cottesloe and Brief Encounter has many of the touches that I first saw them use there - they seem to be imploring you to enjoy the show even before you take your seat, by having actors and musicians on hand to entertain in the auditorium. There is even a large bunch of red roses in the ladies' loo - and plenty of time to admire them since there aren't many cubicles.

The Cinema Haymarket has been specially converted from a cinema to a theatre for the event. Unfortunately the Cineworld staff haven't quite got into the spirit of the thing. They charge you three pounds more than the advertised value of the ticket if you buy it online. Why not just say it costs 32.60 (rising to 42.60 after previews)? The usher who checked my ticket said 'please take a programme.' I did think good old Kneehigh, at least the programme is included. But when I picked it up the usher said "that will be two pounds" (actually, they were selling them for 2.50 in the auditorium so he couldn't even get that right). Then when I asked him if there was a cloakroom he tittered at me in disbelief as if I had asked him if he wanted a blowjob. I actually blushed. I kept my coat on.

But I'm grumbling. The sneaky pricing policy (standard West End bollocks, I know, I know) and the usher couldn't spoil my enjoyment of the show. Even the two old codgers sitting behind me couldn't spoil it with their loud, banal comments on every aspect of the performance - 'It's the actress with the big nose again,' 'Two and six!' 'He's wringing out the cloth, look' ' 'That's the last line in the film' etc, etc, etc.

It was a lovely, lovely afternoon. Amanda Lawrence is one of my favourite actors because she can combine heartbreaking vulnerability and comedy - it was genuinely upsetting to see her getting beaten up in Nights at The Circus - and all the cast were brilliant.

The performance was almost eclipsed for me by what I can only describe as a piece of site specific theatre on the 159 bus on the way home to Brixton from The Haymarket. A smartly dressed man (collar and tie with an anorak zipped up over it) boarded a couple of stops after me and began to take charge of the passengers. The driver had let too many on and there were about half a dozen of us standing on the top deck. It's dangerous and I know it's wrong! It felt like being in the Wild West, clinging on up there as we went over Westminster Bridge.

The man was having none of it. He commanded us to get down and reserved special fury for me - 'You're European, you can read the signs'. I felt very sheepish. I don't think I have ever stood on the top deck of a bus before. I almost defended myself - Lauren studied Sociology for GSCE and she says it's well documented that people submit very easily to authority - but instead stared at him sullenly from my place on the overcrowded lower deck.

As our journey continued past the Imperial War Museum (formerly Bedlam) and past The Oval, he continued to take control, opening windows and closing them again, allocating seats ('four on top, come on now') and clearing people from the stairs and gangways. I remembered how nice it used to be to have a conductor on board - you felt safer, travelling at night, knowing that the driver had to keep his or her eyes on the road but the conductor was there for the passengers.

The great mystery was who this man was. He wasn't an inspector or wearing any kind of London Transport uniform. Perhaps he was an off duty driver (he seemed to know a lot about the sightlines - 'The driver can't see the rearview mirror if you stand there!') or an unemployed conductor who had been made redundant when they converted all the buses to driver-only.

People on the bus were smiling, catching each others' eyes - all wondering. Some rebelled against his authority. By now I was sitting in my designated seat upstairs and I heard him below saying over and over again 'I'm only trying to help people.' He seemed agitated. Some kid had his music on loud and the man started to shout at him, adopting an exaggerated Jamaican accent. I think he was threatening to 'come round to your yard.' The kid responded by choosing a reggae track and turning it up very VERY loud before getting off.

I don't know if it's a Brixton thing but people do like standing on the stairs on the buses on the routes I travel, so that it is very difficult for anyone else to get by. The man kept trying to clear them off ('I'm only trying to help'). He paced up and down the upper deck, sitting for half a minute in one seat, then in another, then getting up and going down to the lower deck, then returning to the upper, increasingly agitated. Even I could see there was something wrong. The confrontation with the music-lover downstairs had been a tipping point. He had seemed the only sane person aboard. Now he seemed like a madman.

The woman sitting next to me turned to have a chat about it. She thought the man was drunk. I wasn't so sure. We spoke in whispers. Others discussed the situation, also in whispers. Teenagers simply giggled. We were all highly entertained, each with our own theories. It was like a Marple on a bus.

It really was a joyful bus ride. I made eye contact with half a dozen people and exchanged smiles. We were united in a spirit of amusement. And all for 90p.

When I got off at my stop on Brixton Hill, the man had already gone. Who was he? Will we ever see him again?

One thing this episode has taught me is to be less respectful of authority. While I love the view from the top deck of the bus at the front, and always try to sit there, I think I will try riding on the stairs once in a while, Brixton style, to remind myself that I need submit to no man's authority, even if he's wearing a tie.

But anyway, go and see Brief Encounter. You'll love it. I expect the reviews will say it is a return to form. No guarantees on the entertainment on the transport home, though. Sorry.

Saturday, 2 February 2008

Still Not Right

I've started work on another play. I'm going to try and make each one 15 minutes longer than the last until, when I am very, very old, I can get the things to stretch to 24 hrs.

On the subject of very old ladies, my dog Jessie is still not right. I have found a way to feed her snacks with my left hand so that she doesn't keel over every time she has a gravy bone. She can now pretty much walk in a straight line but still collapses from time to time - I'll be in the next room and hear her get up, and the skittering and clattering of claws. And then I'll hear a heart-breaking thump.

It's no way to live and if she doesn't get better, I'm going to have her dispatched. Of course, she may yet improve and I've decided to give her three weeks to look as though she's enjoying her life (just wag your tail, baby. Wag your tail. Wag your tail). She doesn't know it, of course, and it's her innocence of my plan as well as her bewildered belief that what is happening is being done to her - on Thursday she tried to outrun it several times, as if something was just behind her, pushing her over - that has had me in tears on and off all weekend.

Normally, I am stoic. Once I lost Lauren on Bondi Beach on Christmas Day for about 25 minutes when she was four years old. Of course you think - is this how it's going to end? But I remained tight-lipped and calm and searched for her until I found her (pretending to be Supergirl among a group of rowdy but harmless drunks). When she was about two and a half I lost sight of her in a supermarket in the East End of London. Mind you, that was in the old days, when you could reasonably expect any middle-aged lady to find your child and stand by the check-outs holding it by the hand in order to reunite it with you - instead of contacting the national press to express their disapproval.

So anyway, despite my stoicism during my own travails, including any and all medically-related rummaging that most women of my age will likely have endured, and my rough and ready approach to child-rearing, I am soggy with grief at my dog's distress. Actually, she isn't even my dog, I'm looking after her for a friend. But that's a long story. When she was young, she used to be able to leap into the air to catch a frisbee in mid-flight. These days, food is her main motivator and she acts like little more than a fluffy dustbin. But I do love her.

Lauren has been in Berlin but she's back tonight. She'll know what to do. That's another good thing about having children - they're a bit pointless up until three years old but after that, they will laugh at your jokes and you can ask their advice. (You'd be crazy to take it when they're that young, of course. But it helps to have a sounding board.) Oh yeah. That's what I'll do. I mean I definitely, definitely don't want a puppy when Jessie dies. But maybe I should have another child?

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Update: Jessie has perked up considerably since I wrote this. Who says dogs can't access the internet?