Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Back to Norman

Well, after the giddy excitement of seeing the play performed so brilliantly at the weekend, it's back to norman* as we sometimes say in our house. I have mentioned before that we go out so rarely that we have developed a secret language (of which of course the above is a rather mild example and possibly something we haven't developed but have copied from elsewhere, but I dare not repeat most of the nonsense we talk when we're alone together) and we have instituted a series of checks and measures before venturing out into society to protect ourselves from ridicule. Still, sometimes the odd word and phrase slips out. Lauren studies with quite a lot of foreign students who sometimes query what she says - is this English? She always confirms that it is. Whereas I generally pretend that I'm speaking French.

Other ongoing worries that I have to attend to include a regular high-pitched beeping sound at the back of our house. Are we being watched? Are we under surveillance from higher beings wanting to learn from us? Please don't say that it's next door's sky satellite dish needing attention because that would be too prosaic and also it would mean that I would have to have some sort of meaningful conversation with our neighbours and I just don't feel up to it.

Regular readers will recall that we were troubled with a llems about eighteen months ago and this beeping is just as upsetting. Must we suffer assaults on all our senses? First smell, now sound. Next... what? Sight? Touch? Telepathy? I can't bear to think what might be in store for us but I promise you, whatever it is, we're equal to it and I'll be sure to update you as we go into battle against it. Remember the drains? We cleared them and you were a witness to that and when we vanquish the beeping you'll be a witness to that, too.

* apparently it's from Rugrats. Also, Lauren said they pioneered the idea that dust bunnies are living things but I'm not sure I believe in that. I don't even believe in dinosaurs, only dragons.

Lovely Review

Thanks to everyone who came along to The Miniaturists on Sunday, and to The West End Whingers for this lovely review. The wonderful thing about writing a play is that if the production is a success, the writer is credited with being clever and funny and all the rest of it - but of course it's the director and the actors who do all the hard work. So thanks to Gordon Murray for directing it and to Hilary Hamilton, Stephen Billington and Mark Gallagher for being in it. Hooray.

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Miniaturists in The Guardian

It's fantastic to see Lyn Gardner recommend The Miniaturists this weekend in The Guardian blog. If you are anywhere near the Arcola on Sunday, it would be lovely to see you. There's an excellent line-up of writers, actors and directors. Shows are at 5pm and 8pm and I'll be there for both.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Grocery Poem

I don't know if you yawn and scroll past the bits where I talk about writing on here - probably you do if you're one of those who have found this site with the search terms 'classroom wanking knickers', 'shit poetry' or (a personal favourite) 'do pangolins bite?' But if you've been keeping up with this, you'll know that editing is my favourite part of writing.

I'm working on a new novel at the moment - not even working on it, thinking about it - and consequently it's all rather frustrating. But I have recently come across a way of satisfying my urge to edit and I thought I would share it with you: internet grocery shopping.

The other day, when there was ice on the roads and we were all confined to our homes in London, I decided to order my groceries online. It was a first for me, and very exciting, although the snow has long since melted (to reveal heaps of dog shit ice cream on the grass in my garden, an experience that probably deserves a blog post all of its own) and unfortunately the supermarket in question isn't able to deliver until next Tuesday.

The necessity of surviving until then on the contents of the tins in the cupboard in the kitchen - ranging from the esoteric to the mundane, from bamboo shoots to custard powder, none of the flavours going together particularly well - has been enlivened by constant editing of the contents of my virtual shopping basket. It transpires that I can edit it as often as I like up until 5.00pm the night before delivery, just so long as I 'check out' (i.e. supply my credit card details) every time.

Now, I can't say for sure that I won't get 18 similar yet subtly different deliveries some time between 10.00 am and 12.00 pm on Tuesday, my 'delivery slot'. Certainly, I have had 18 confirmations of my order, each with a different reference number, each one a testament to a different mood or state of mind over the last few days: the cigarettes ordered when drunk one night, their removal from the subsequent order when I was sober again next day, the addition of the maple syrup when in frivolous mood, the sunflower seeds when feeling healthy, the chips and breaded onion rings when feeling less so; the goat's cheese, the tripe treats, the potato cakes, the fresh scallops.

Despite the awful expense it would entail, there is something in me that hopes to look out of the window on Tuesday some time after 10.00 am to see a noble procession of 18 white wagons bearing 18 variations of my order, its endless repetitions telling the story of my life like a grocery poem.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

An Award? For Me?

It was a thrill to wake up this morning to discover that Potdoll has given me an award for this blog.

Why, only yesterday I was saying to Lauren that I ought to take more care over what I wear around the house in case I should ever win the Nobel Prize for Literature - one thinks of Doris Lessing, ambushed by journalists on her return from the shops, and having to give an impromptu speech in an old coat and cardigan, with a Sainsbury's bag in each hand.

While it's true that it may be some time before I could be considered for quite such a high honour, I wanted to get into the habit of looking a bit smarter around the house so I'd be ready when the time comes. Yesterday, for example, I was wearing a blue/green paisley dress that I once saw a pregnant woman wearing in Clapham High Street (I don't mean I took it off her, I mean that it was the same design), a long purple cardigan, a pink paisley shawl that clashes with the dress, a pair of oatmeal slippers of the type popularised by the character Wallace in the Wallace and Gromit animation, and a white cashmere scarf given to me by my friend Kate for my last birthday.

My tights and underwear were all matching and in good order as they usually are, so if they should kill me before giving me an award, or if I should die of excitement on hearing the news, at least those elements of my dress would be present and correct if they laid me out on the slab and presented the award posthumously.

Anyway, today I'm wearing exactly the same clothes as I was wearing yesterday, as Lauren and I concluded that to dress every day for the next 30 years as if I'm expecting an award might tempt fate in some way. However, last night I dreamt about Kate Winslet - we were going somewhere in a car together. I have met her in real life and she's lovely, a beautiful-looking, very sweet woman. We met at a cricket match and she tickled my Goddaughter (not a euphemism).

So, the auspices were there: Doris, Kate. It's an honour and a thrill to win this award but in all honesty, I can't say it's a complete surprise, given the dreams and conversations of yesterday.

As part of the conditions of accepting Potdoll's award, I'm supposed to display the image on my blog and tell you ten things about myself, some of which may be true:

* I'm not fat, I'm pregnant.
* I've been to paradise but I've never been to me.
* About ten years ago, all my dreams came true.
* My favourite film is Kung Fu Hustle.
* I'd like to live in Australia.
* I'd like to live in Paris.
* I'd like to live in New York.
* I believe you can't go wrong with dogs.
* I'm not so sure about cats.
* I hate zoos.

I'm also supposed to supply a memorable quote. Here it is: 'Only when it was funny.' It's from Who Framed Roger Rabbit, which is one of my favourite films. In one scene, Roger Rabbit is handcuffed to Bob Hoskins while they're hiding from the cops, and physical comedy ensues. But then RR slips free of the handcuffs - he's a cartoon, after all - and BH is furious and perplexed. 'You mean you could have done that at any time?' he asks. And Roger Rabbit says, 'Only when it was funny.'

Finally, I'm supposed to pass on the award to five other blogs. My favourites at the moment are Found magazine, The Wooster Collective, Cabaret Mechanical Theatre, My Forehead is Bleeding, Nearby and The West End Whingers. I don't know the people who run the first three sites. Pots and Nearby have already been given the award. The Whingers are busy reviewing theatre.

Still, the Whingers might be prepared to accept the award if exempted from the rules - they have, after all, revealed a good deal more than ten truths about themselves over the past couple of years in the course of the reviewing. I hereby give them the award and exempt them from the rules. Ooh, the internet! It's like the Wild West out here, the way we play fast and loose.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Snow Poodle


Everyone in London is out taking photos of their pets and their children in the snow, and building snowmen. We made a snow poodle.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

The Suspicions of Miss Jessie

Culturally, my life is zinging along - hope yours is likewise.

Yesterday I bought the The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale at Paddington station so I could read it on the train to Bath. It's fantastic, very well-written and gripping. It's a real-life murder mystery set in 1860 and begins with Mr Whicher taking a Great Western train from Paddington so it felt like quite a site specific reading experience. I was heartened to see that, according to the calculations used by KS, train fares are not relatively much more expensive than they were in those days. It cost Mr Whicher 9s.4d (about £30) to get to Trowbridge from London in July 1860 whereas yesterday Lauren and I got to Bath and back for £53 for the two of us.

I love books. Reading is my favourite of all cultural/artistic/literary forms. I often think about it so I will have my answer ready in case some mischievous genie or sprite should swoop down and ask me to choose one to keep on behalf of all mankind, forever.

Currently, I'm helping a friend who has written a novel in Farsi and is translating it into English, one page at a time. She does the literal translation and then we look at ways to improve the text to make it more idiomatic. She writes well and it's an interesting (and very sad), mostly autobiographical story. It's intriguing to read what she has written in short bites like this. Normally I gorge on a book, staying up all night to read it if I possibly can. I used to travel to New York quite a bit. My favourite length of book is one that can be comfortably read from start to finish on a New York plane ride - about 65,000 words or so, which allows time for settling in to one's seat, watching the safety demonstration, dining, visiting the toilet, reflecting on what one has read, etc. Anyway, I'm waiting impatiently for the next instalment of my friend's novel. The last page she sent me ended with the almighty cliff-hanger, 'I was...'

The reason I went to Bath was to see Tom Sapsford in Regina, a fantastic dance performance about Elizabeth I, incorporating poetry and text from the period. I know it's the fashion these days to include a bit of video in a stage performance but in the shows I have seen, this mostly involves projecting a moving image on to a back wall and leaving it at that. Tom (working with KMA) found a number of innovative ways of incorporating the video into the performance and I have never seen anything like it. The show was extraordinary, clever, muscular and beautiful. I hope it will come to London but Tom is busy with other things and says the next performance will probably not be until the autumn, in Glasgow.

I have known Tom for about 12 or 13 years and I've seen most of the pieces he has choreographed and many of the shows he has performed in, including his last performance with the Royal Ballet, which was in Swan Lake. Apparently it's traditional to mark the farewell performance by doing something wacky like wearing a false mustache but he snuck in among the female corps de ballet in a tutu and danced en pointe. Still, that's nothing compared to some of the shows he's been in for Michael Clark. I have seen Michael Clark's mother on stage in her underwear and MC performing with a toilet seat around his neck.

Finally - and notwithstanding my introduction to the ballet avant-garde through my friendship with Tom - last weekend I realised I had reached that point in my life when I would like to take part in the RSPB's birdwatch. This involves looking into the garden for an hour and counting the number and species of birds seen there, and then sending the results off to the RSPB for a census.

Naturally, the only reason I wanted to take part is because we have had lots of lovely birds in the garden recently (if the same blue tit comes back to your garden ten times, that doesn't count as ten blue tits, the RSPB admonishes gently). Yes, yes. I know. But we put out delicious nuts and seeds in dispensers and we freshen up the water in the bird bath every day and we get jays and bluetits and starlings as well as robins, wrens, sparrows, blackbirds and pigeons. I wouldn't be surprised if we didn't also get chiffchaffs and rare goldcrests and rarer snow finches, although I can't be sure about that as we didn't do the bird watch - there was no point.

You see, when the time came to participate, we found that someone had tipped the sunflower seeds out of the squirrel-proof seed cylinder and unhooked the squirrel-proof nut dispenser from the washing line (we no longer hang it from the apple tree, that doesn't last five minutes) and chased the metal ball up and down the garden and prized the top off it, and then eaten or buried all the nuts. The garden was now remarkably bird free, although I could hear that the pigeons were still up on the roof and the robins and the sparrows still visited occasionally to use the bird bath.

I sent Jessie out to investigate and she did a bit of digging and sniffed up and down the garden and then came in and wrote up her notes in a series of muddy paw prints on the kitchen floor. I think she had her suspicions. But I'm afraid I didn't do the birdwatch. Why enter something, even an RSPB birdwatch, knowing you are not going to get very good results? Don't answer that.