Sunday, 30 November 2008

Station House Opera Mind Out

Can you die from eating too many cashew nuts? If so, I think this is goodbye.

It turns out that being a vegan is quite difficult. The first two weeks were straightforward enough. I was carried along on a tide of sanctimonious cruelty-free protein consumption and felt neither hungry nor particularly disposed to give up. I have begun many projects - novels, scripts, tiling the bathroom - and there always comes a point where I think 'this seems quite straightforward.' And as soon as I hear myself say it, I know things are about to take a turn for the worse. Consequently*, I have spent the weekend bingeing on cheese, rice pudding and loaves of tiger bread (obviously no tigers were harmed in the making of it, I gather it's a reference to the stripey appearance of the crust).

Last night I went to see Station House Opera's Mind Out at the BAC. It was fantastic - intelligent, skillful and thought-provoking, with plenty of physical comedy, some beautiful speeches, disciplined ensemble playing and a jazz band. Also, it was only 70 minutes long. Can't go wrong, really. Their work is almost balletic in the way that it requires the performers to synchronise their movements very carefully. I loved the poetry of the repetition and the subtle shifts as the performers diverge from, defy and then recreate the patterns required by the performance. Very clever.

Last night was the end of the run but I think it will come back as it has been well-reviewed here, here and here.

* because of course it's a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Thursday, 27 November 2008


Dave Howard at Shed of Delights has found a site called Dreamlines that will create pictures of your dreams if you input relevant key words. The site has been made by artist Leonardo Solaas who has plenty to say on the subject, pondering whether it is you who is doing the dreaming, or whether it is the internet. Marvellous.

Bread Heap and a Dreamer - Radio Four

A friend, Hassan Bahri, has a reading of his work on Radio Four tomorrow (Friday 28th) at 3.30 pm. It's called Bread Heap and a Dreamer and it's about a man's strategies to survive his time as Prisoner No. 14 in an underground prison. Hassan was a political prisoner for eight years in Syria. He now lives in the UK and is a member of Write to Life, a writing group set up by the Medical Foundation for the Victims of Torture (I'm one of the mentors for the group).

Hassan's stories have been published by Exiled Writers Ink and Write to Life and he has given readings around the country but this is the first time his work has been broadcast on Radio Four, so it's very exciting. The story's very good so please listen to it, if you can.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Dream Lamma, Yoga and Jessica Alba

I'm waiting for three pieces of good news (well, I never wait for bad news, obviously, I try to outrun it or outdrink it).

As Potdoll's yoga teacher explains, you can usually find answers inside yourself. Hence, I have been analysing my dreams, trying to find clues about whether the good news will come.

Three nights ago I had a dream about an old boyfriend of mine who I'm still rather fond of. He gave me a hug. He was wearing a very soft jumper. I couldn't tell whether it was a good sign news-wise, although the encounter was comforting and gave me a feeling of serenity all day.

Then, two nights ago, I dreamt about a place called Lamma Island where a lot of friends of mine live in real life. I often visit in my dreams but the dream Lamma has a completely different landscape to the real place. The ferries are bigger, like cross-Channel ferries, there are chalky cliffs, there's a row of wooden Japanese-style houses in Main Street. When I visited this week, I spent the best part of the dream struggling to erect an enormous cream coloured wind break decorated with tiny rosebuds in the garden of a dream house where my friends lived, which seemed inauspicious.

But last night I was a superhero played by Jessica Alba. I love Jessica Alba. Did you ever see Dark Angel? So I'm hopeful. No news yet though.

Alternative Ending

I had a lovely birthday, thanks very much. A stream of visitors from foreign lands passed through my doors, from Hong Kong, Italy and Margate.

On Sunday afternoon I lay on the sofa to watch Sweet Charity, which is one of my favourite films of all time. I think I had only seen it once before, about 25 years ago, but there is a scene in it which has stuck with me. I won't spoil it if you haven't seen it but Charity (played by Shirley MacLaine) calls her friends on what is supposed to be her wedding night and ends up lying to them about her situation. That little scene is one of the defining stories of my life (the other is something I read in a 1930s Children's compendium of Greek and Roman legends about a Spartan boy who stole a fox and hid it under his shirt and let it gnaw him to death rather than cry out and give himself away).

I sniffled through most of the second half of the film, knowing it wasn't going to end well. And it was very odd because it did end well. And the scene where Charity called her friends had somehow got missed out. It seemed inconceivable that there should be two different versions of the film and Lauren suggested that I had misremembered and conflated two different films (obviously she didn't say 'conflated').

But sure enough, it turns out Bob Fosse made an alternative happy ending for the film. It appears as an extra on the DVD; the superior, truer, sadder version was released in cinemas and was the version I saw on TV 25 years ago. But apparently now British TV shows the lame happy ending. Very odd.

I can't help feeling that TV is more craven, less libertarian than it was all those years ago when I was young. Also, I can't help feeling that it's odd that the television would allow me to watch the sadder version when I was twelve years old and would want to protect me now, even though that's illogical because the television doesn't know how old I am. (Actually no-one does, although complaining about declining standards in broadcasting is, of course, a clue to one's advancing age.)

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

The Next One

I have descaled the kettle, cleaned the dog's ears, cleaned the kitchen floor, visited B&Q and Homebase in a failed quest to buy storage boxes, swapped bedrooms with my daughter, hoovered everywhere, trimmed the dog's fur, tidied my office, washed the dog's blankets.

I don't know. What are you supposed to do all day if you're not writing a novel? I have started on the next one.

Monday, 10 November 2008

The Other Helen Smith

Are you friends with me on Facebook? Lots of you are. I use the same profile photo I use on here, of a Helen Smith who is three years younger than me and a couple of stone lighter, just back from a holiday in Hong Kong, smiling away.

I have been concentrating on writing so much recently that I've scarcely left the house. I have neglected my friends, told lies about my whereabouts ("I'm caught up in the chip shop fire in Stockwell, won't be able to make it, sorry") and failed to turn up for almost every event I have accepted on Facebook. Sure, I could have just said I won't be able to come because I'm writing but it always seems that I will be there because every event is just the sort of thing I'm interested in, an event that, quite frankly, I consider myself flattered and very fortunate to be invited to, an event hosted by friends.

I'm not sure if you're familiar with the workings of Facebook but when you accept an invitation to an event, after it has taken place a little note comes up for all your friends to see, saying 'Helen Smith attended Emmy the Great's gig at the ICA' or 'Helen Smith attended her best friend's party on Saturday night' and so on. Facebook is not yet sophisticated enough to check attendance so, if you've said you'll be there, it assumes you were. (Or perhaps it was designed by people who are worthier and more reliable friends than I am, who would never say they'd go to something and then just not show up and so there's no mechanism for reporting that 'Helen Smith told a lie about going to the party last night'.)

And on Facebook, each little note about what you've been up to the night before is accompanied by your profile picture. It's a slightly surreal experience to look at my Facebook page and see chatty little updates about things I have not done, accompanied by a photo of someone who does not look like me.

Anyway, sorry. I was not there. I never go anywhere. It was not me. It was the other Helen Smith.

Monday, 3 November 2008

Procrastination, Swimming, Shân, Sian, Justin, Bryn, Barry

Elinor tagged me in the procrastination meme. I do procrastinate, of course I do. But I have been so busy writing recently that I haven't had the chance.

So instead, I was going to list the things that I haven't been able to do because I have been writing. But I couldn't think of anything I'd like to do and don't, except go swimming. And actually, it isn't writing that keeps me from going swimming every day, it's the sorry state of the local pool, which is a filth-ridden shit pit twitching with verrucas, with unkempt staff who wear soiled clothes and muddy boots and wheel their bicycles up and down the sides of the pool. It's probably for the best anyway as I do that 'keeping your fag dry' breaststroke, head up, shoulders hunched, which exacerbates the shoulder-ache I get from writing.

Other than not swimming and not procrastinating, I have unwittingly been propagating the idea that parallel worlds exist. For example, my friend Shân Cothi recently recorded a single to raise money for a charity called Amser Justin Time, set up in memory of her husband who died a year ago. I sent her a text to say I couldn't be at the launch party in Cardiff and to wish her all the best with it. Unfortunately, I sent the text to a friend called Sian Cothi (I know, what are the odds?) who lives in Hong Kong. She got it at around 3.30 am but was very nice about it saying it was a 'lovely surprise' to hear from me. Indeed.

Then, last week, Lauren needed the password for my computer so she could edit a video she's been making. I sent her a text saying 'the password is...' but she never received it. Let's hope that whoever received it found the message mysterious and exciting, and thought it hinted at a portal to another world.

Anyway, here's Shân's video. It's called I Believe, an old Tigertailz song which her husband Justin co-wrote and which Shân performs with Bryn Terfel and the remaining members of Tigertailz. There are some nice shots of Lauren's Grandad in it. His name's Barry.