Theatrical doings and Fizz

The Easter holidays are upon us. Thank the lord.

It was a short term, that last one, but it was one in which we seemed to fit in the exact same number of things as we do in any other, reasonable length term, and we are all exhausted. We are washed up on the beach of academia, with sand in our bum cracks and a mild sense of confusion being all we have to show for it.

Last week was particularly ‘at the coal face’, hence the break down in blogging come Friday, when I found myself scrubbing the kitchen floor at half past eight at night, doing a fine impression of the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland.

So here are some things:

Last week I got to see Maxine Peake in Hamlet as part of the NTLive season. It was filmed at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester, which is a fantastic theatre. It’s in the round, in the middle of the old stock exchange building, and is entirely made of glass. It is a wonderful venue to see live theatre in, less of a wonderful venue to film live theatre in. Camera angles were a bit tight, due to the fact that if they pull too far back you are surrounded by a sea of audience and reflective glass surfaces. It gave the whole thing a rather claustrophobic feel, which, to be fair, is OK with a play like Hamlet, but did break down at times, particularly during the scenes with the ghost.

Maxine Peake however, was a terrific Hamlet. I collect Hamlets, so I know of what I speak. She was very different to the last few I’ve seen, the tightly wound but very controlled John Simm, who exuded an edge of menace, the laconic and witty David Tennant and the quietly anarchic Rory Kinnear. Peake was angry and shaken up. She played it so that you could see her balanced eternally on a knife edge of real madness and a desperate clinging to sanity that was under pressure the whole time as she tried to outwit the forces against her. She was loud and distressed and terrified of what was happening to her and her country. She was really a tour de force. If they encore it, you should definitely try to see it.

I was also lucky enough to see Mark Strong in the NTLive View from a Bridge by Arthur Miller. It totally blew me away. The cast were tight and the whole piece seemed almost choreographed they were so in sync with each other. The play was done straight through with no interval so that the tension could build and build until by the end of it everyone was just a mass of nerves.  Strong was superb as the lead, simply mesmerising, and the finale, which I won’t spoil for you, was a real kick in the guts. It was visceral, raw theatre at its absolute best.

In real life, Tilly had her interview for the college she wants to go to. It seemed to go very well and she is relieved it’s over. We should get a letter by the end of the month. I’m pretty confident, going on what she told me, and her predicted grades, that she will get an offer. Here’s hoping.

The children seem to have minimal homework this holidays, apart from poor Tilly, obviously, who is right into GCSE’s when she gets back to school, and is up to her eyes in exam revision. There isn’t much I can do to help her with it, except keep in a good supply of biscuits and offer the occasional comforting pat. Oscar has to draw a picture of his favourite meal, which is entirely achievable (pointless, but achievable). We have not done it yet, but this is mainly because he keeps changing his mind about what his favourite meal is, rather than through any lack of ability. Tallulah has ‘some’ homework. She is playing her cards close to her chest, which I am fine with, unless she wants me to help her with quadratic equations, when I am not.

We have a sparklingly clean house thanks to the fact that my friend Claire came to stay for the weekend and we thought it would not be the done thing to subject her to crunchy floors and the EU laundry mountain, hence me scrubbing things on Friday night. It is still sparklingly clean in parts, since her departure, due to the fact that Jason broke one of my champagne flutes yesterday and it shattered into a thousand pieces all over the kitchen floor, which necessitated cleaning on a forensic scale. Why is it that no matter how many bits of glass you sweep up, there is always some you miss? Which then means you have to mop up blood.

Tsk.

Before Jason broke the champagne flute, Claire and I celebrated finally getting to see each other after several abortive attempts, by drinking a bottle of Veuve Cliquot, which seems entirely fitting. We then moved onto the raspberry Stoli and spent the evening listening to 90’s Indie music and reminiscing about the bad old days. Happy times, and even happier that I woke up with a clear head on Sunday. Clearly what is needed to ward off hangovers are decent fizz and ear drum bursting levels of guitar based pop music.

Other things may have happened. They surely did. They will have to wait, however, as the children and I are going on a hot date with granny and uncle Robber, who have found a dessert cafe not far from their house, and need help testing it out. It’s a hard life.

That funny little space where you hang the tea towels

Here’s a little problem for you:

If Ed has two kitchens but David has only one kitchen, and Sarah’s husband Michael has two kitchens but they’re in two separate houses and he can’t quite remember which one of the houses he lives in, please answer the following:

a) How many thousands of pounds of tax payers’ money will be spent buying MP’s of all parties Nigella Lawson branded cookware?

b) How will this affect your voting choices in the upcoming election?

c) If Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls held a gun to your head in the kitchen department at Ikea, would you buy one of their kitchens or choose instant death because your loyalty remains firmly with John Lewis?

d) What are the Green party’s views on laminate in relation to sustainability and will this affect their taxation policy on home improvements?

e) Write a paragraph in which you imagine the state of Nigel Farage’s kitchen. Please indicate if you think his household staff will be of foreign extraction.

f) How do you feel about kale, and will this affect your voting choice in the upcoming election?

N.B. Please write on both sides of the paper.

It matters enormously to the electorate apparently, how many kitchens an MP has and how much money they spend on fixtures and fittings. The Daily Mail, that shining beacon of fair reporting and champion of the people, has posted stills from a recent piece of footage showing David Cameron being interviewed in his kitchen. These stills have been annotated with a key to show exactly how much everything in the kitchen cost, and where it comes from, in case you’re thinking of re-modelling your kitchen with Osborne and Little this season in the style of Tory Tosspot.

It is, of course a dig at Ed Miliband, who was recently interviewed in his kitchen, which was reported, much like the baby Jesus’ stable (if Ikea were doing stables that year), as being mean and lowly and a kitchen of the humble man. All very well until it transpired that this was Miliband’s second kitchen, the kitchen for his nanny. Details of his first kitchen are hazy, but is reputed to be swathed in Swarovski crystals with a hot pink colour scheme. Think Katie Price meets Made in Chelsea.

His nanny is not allowed in there.

All this has been cheerfully chewed over in the press, and this week caused yet another kitchen based spat between journalists Sarah Vine and Jay Rayner. Vine, who writes for the Mail wrote a damning article about Ed’s choice of kitchen, all the while reporting that her own kitchen was so antiquated that it was infested by rodents and lit by the sole light of an Ikea angle poise lamp.  Cue the teeny, weeny violins.

Rayner, who writes for the Observer, took Vine to task about her article and reminded her that she really was in no position to cast the first stone.

It transpires that Vine is the wife of Tory MP and ex Secretary for Education, Michael Gove, who was discovered to have spent £66,000 of tax payer’s money during the MPs’ expenses scandal having his kitchens remodelled.  I say kitchens because Gove and Vine are lucky enough to have two residences and claimed for both of them.

That’s a lot of Ikea angle poise lamps. It must look like Hong Kong at night in that house.

In an extended Twitter spat between the two journalists, Vine said that she could indeed claim the moral high ground because Michael had made a mistake in claiming for both of his residences (both of which he said were his second home. Poor bloke. Can’t count, or figure out where he lives. Glad he’s no longer education secretary), and had paid the money back.

As Rayner so succinctly put it, only because he got caught out.

Strangely Vine then had to leave the conversation to do the school run.

Which is what I’m about to do.

It drives me mad

When you go and visit a health professional, there are certain things you look for in your interactions with that person.

You want them to be demonstrably more intelligent than you, to prove that the seven plus years they have spent in training have not just been spent down the Union Bar floating formaldehyde soaked eyeballs in pints of lager for ‘a laugh’.

That said, it would be nice if they could explain stuff to you in layman’s terms, so that you don’t leave the surgery more confused than when you went in.

It would also help if they didn’t patronise you by dismissing any information about yourself as not relevant, or telling you not to Google things, as if you were a naughty toddler caught with your hand in the sweetie jar.

You want them to have a certain gravitas, so that when you tell them about your suspected piles, they do not hoot with laughter and make Finbar Saunders style double entendres, or put your photo on Twitter.

You want them to be sympathetic so that when you burst into tears at their desk because you haven’t had a decent night’s sleep in three years and you are exhausted beyond reason and suffering from mild PTSD, they don’t just tell you to pull yourself together and stop snivelling: ‘You volunteered for childbirth, after all.’

You want them to help you by coming up with some kind of diagnosis, or solution or test that will help you find a diagnosis or solution, rather than shrugging, waving their hands in the air in the international language of cluelessness and telling you it’s probably ‘viral’.

This list might seem long, but it isn’t very difficult to achieve and it is eminently practical. If you’re like me, you go to the Dr. only when forced, and only when you feel you really have no other option.  This means you are generally reasonably ill and/or upset when you are there, and the last thing you want is someone who terrifies the life out of you, either because they seem very stupid in charge of a prescription pad, or utterly uninterested in you and in charge of a prescription pad.

I would say that my experience with health professionals of all types has been patchy at best. I have had some stupendously good health care, in the interests of fairness. I have had some abysmally bad health care. One of the reasons I find going to see a health worker of any kind so very stressful is that I can never predict what sort of treatment I’m going to get, so I can never entirely relax my guard.

I was reminded of this yesterday when a dear friend of mine posted her experience on Facebook.

She has been through the wringer in recent years, and has finally been diagnosed with Bipolar after suffering a nervous breakdown in 2007 and having gone through some extremely dark times since then. She is incredibly brave in that she speaks out about her condition, she actively works at getting well, both with health professionals and by doing what she can for herself in terms of diet, lifestyle, exercise etc.

Mental health recovery is not a straight line on a graph. Some days are better than others, some weeks are better than others. The difficult bit is accepting where it isn’t working, and being brave enough to speak out, tweak meds, adjust your life style, pick yourself up and start again, even though you sometimes feel that it is the hardest thing in the world.

This is what my friend does. She has my entire admiration for her persistence in the face of something so dark that she has, at times, wanted to end her own life.

If anyone deserves support from the health system it is her.

Yesterday she had to go and see someone about her health, not her GP, not a psychiatrist or counsellor, but still a senior health care professional. A senior health care professional who suggested to her in all seriousness, that the fact that she does not shave her legs means that she ‘has let herself go’, that ‘she has no dignity’, and that somehow that the hairiness or otherwise of her legs has an impact on her mental health.

This would be funny if it were not so very, very sad.

This would be funny if it weren’t for the fact that 25 years ago when I had my breakdown my health care professional suggested to me that to get myself well I really needed to; ‘get out there and play rugby and drink more beer.’

Have we really come no further than this in people’s ability to understand mental health?

I suppose I should be grateful that my Dr. did not suggest netball, a small glass of sweet sherry and embroidery classes.

I need not point out the outrageous sexism in the leg hair comment, or ask whether a health care professional would ever utter anything so deluded to a man in a similar situation:

‘Do you think the fact that your beard resembles that of Mr. Twit, means that you are letting yourself go, and not helping yourself in terms of achieving full mental health?’

How can we trust people like this to take care of our sanity? How?

Richard, Richard, Richard

Regular readers will know that the Boo family are denizens of that there Leicester. Leicester with its invention of bright orange cheese that we persist in calling ‘Red’. Leicester with its stolen pork pies that really belong to Melton Mowbray. Leicester with its enormous array of Walkers crisps to suit every mood and waistline. Leicester with a brave history of knitting socks for the masses, and a clock tower which smells of wee and usually has fundamentalist Christians brandishing tambourines strewn about its base, shouting at you as you attempt to nip to TK Maxx.

My friend and I were discussing the fact that Leicester is pretty poorly represented on the famous people front. We struggled to come up with anyone other than Gary Lineker  (who Tilly persists in believing is a tennis player. She cannot ‘imagine’ him playing football. It’s just ‘wrong’, apparently), Sue Townsend and that chap who played Selwyn Froggett in that dreadful comedy show that wasn’t funny, and then went about double parking his car and trying to sell people windows. Also Willie Thorne the ex snooker player more famous for gambling everything away except his underpants and looking like a mournful Bassett Hound.

Ooh, and then there’s that Joe Orton, who defaced library books, wrote rude plays and got hacked to death by his lover. He lived just down from my mum when she was little. She doesn’t remember him. My granny did though: ‘A filthy little bleeder who grew up to be a filthy big bleeder.’

I didn’t tell her I liked his plays.

In an effort to try to redeem the reputation of our home town, my friend and I then Googled: ‘Famous people Wot Came From Leicester’, and were pleasantly surprised:

Kasabian – even I have heard of them. Rock ‘n’ Roll

Engelbert Humperdinck – Immortalised by the great Eddie Izzard.

Attenborough x 2 – Richard and David

David Icke – the ex goal keeper who saw Aristotle in his fridge and who persists in believing the Royal family are a master race of alien based lizards keeping us proles suppressed with their endless supplies of novelty tea towels.

Gok Wan – Gok! Gok! How could I have forgotten you, and your relentless grappling of lady bangers?

Actually there are squillions more famousers, most of whom are famous for having left Leicester at the earliest opportunity and never having darkened its doors again.

I suspect the most famous of all the famousers at the moment, is, of course Richard III, although to be fair, he tried to leave, but we wouldn’t let him.

For those of you who live in a cave and who didn’t turn the telly on at all this weekend, you might not know that Richard was re-interred with much pomp and ceremony in Leicester Cathedral this last weekend.

The whole thing was a bit of a historical hot potato, because even though we bumped him off six hundred odd years ago, and then unceremoniously buried his body in what was to later become a car park, other people felt they had more right to what was left of him than we did.  I have to say this seems feeble, given the commitment we had made to making sure he stayed in Leicester.  What did you do? Eh?

We won that particular fight, which is good for Leicester, because even though it turns out we have millions of famousers, all the others have gorn, gorn, never to return, and one smelly clock tower does not a city of excitement make. We need the tourist moolah that going to stare at Dick’s flagstone will generate.

Did I go and see the whole reburying palaver?

Of course I ruddy didn’t.

I am interested in history. I do prefer dead kings and queens to live ones (less chance of them cropping up on tea towels), but I do not endorse spending four hours on a cold Sunday queuing down a road so that I can glimpse a wooden box for thirty seconds before it is either a) whipped by me at the speed of sound or b) obscured by the back of someone else’s head.

I also hate waving flags, which puts me in a minority amongst royal gazers, frankly.

And, I live in Leicester. Given that we successfully buried the bugger for the last six hundred years, I think we can hold onto him for at least another six hundred and I’m sure I can fit in a trip to ogle his mortal remains at some point. He’s not going anywhere is he?

Spring is a big old liar

Crikey O’ Reilley’s trousers, the days are going nowhere aren’t they? I cannot keep up.

In an effort to pin things down. Here is some stuff:

A large gang of mums and kids went to the pub after school on Friday, including me and mine. It was supposed to be a glorious celebration of spring in the style of Fotherington Thomas, but with more beer and crisps.

The weather had been beautiful earlier on, but as we processed in a messy gaggle to the pub, it got steadily colder and colder.  When we arrived, the grass in the garden was off limits due to the fact that it was mostly mud with grass seed on it.  Things went down hill from there.

Instead of a lazy late afternoon of warmth and relaxation we had about fifteen children crammed on two benches covered in bird shit, coats wrapped around themselves, moaning because they were cold. We corralled ourselves from the stalwart outside smokers and sat shivering with lemonades in a truly British fashion. Any European worth their salt would have sodded off home by this point and cracked open a bottle of Merlot, but no. We persevered.

By the time we left, I literally had no feeling left in my fingers, which was terrific.

Jason cheered us all up by taking us out for dinner, which was good, as I probably would have sliced my own fingers off had I been required to cook at that point.

The weather was quite nice again on Sunday and we took the children out for a walk. Luckily, Jason finds walking about as appealing as I do, which meant that our walk was enlivened by a side trip to Tesco, where we bought lots of picnic food which we took home and ate at the kitchen table because we were utterly bored of nature and half frozen by then.

Did we marvel at the bird on the wing, tra la? Did we spot the precious shoots of new life in the hedgerows? Did we let our hearts soar in exultation of the bird song, etc?

No, we had a huge family argument about the nutritional value of dry roasted peanuts.

Ray Mears would be very disappointed in us.

In other news:

We spent the weekend watching series one and two of Moone Boy, on the recommendation of our friends Ann and Claire. We loved it. If you like Father Ted and The Mighty Boosh, I’d go for it.

In an attempt to be down with the kids, I’m reading Lena Dunham’s: ‘Not that Kind of Girl.’  It’s o.k. I don’t think I’m the right demographic. It makes me feel rather old, and like reaching for a bar of soap and scrubbing stuff. I’m not that kind of girl, clearly.

I made Jamie Oliver’s Chinese pork ribs from his Comfort Food recipe book yesterday. Apart from the fact that it took three and a half hours to make, it was a great hit, which is good, given the proportion of my life I’ll never get back after having stared at ribs for three hours.

It is the last week of term. It has been an incredibly short, incredibly busy term, and this week is going to be even busier than usual. I am trying to take it one, tiny chunk at a time, with the end goal being a large glass of wine on Friday night when I can turn the alarm clock off for a fortnight.

A Waste of a good Cornflake Packet

Here in the UK we are gripped, transfixed and amazed as we experience a solar eclipse.

Or something.

It is, it has to be said, turning out to be a bit of a damp squib in these parts.

We had a heated debate about eclipses over dinner earlier in the week which pretty much summed up the fact that collectively we know three fifths of fuck all about doings in the heavens.  Where’s Brian Cox when you need him? Not at our house eating chilli and gesticulating wildly with a tortilla, that’s for sure.

Oscar wanted to know if because the moon was going in front of the sun here, it would mean that everyone in Australia would wake up to dazzling sunshine? Australian people, did this happen? Have you been blinded by the sun as you sleep?

Tilly wanted to know where the sun went while it was behind the moon?

Shopping?

Tallulah wanted to know if the eclipse meant that the Hell Mouth would open. I diagnose too much Buffy.

‘It turns out I suddenly find myself needing to know the plural of apocalypse’.

I’d have been quite excited if Tallulah’s theory came true. It would have added a certain frisson to proceedings, being chased around the garden in the half dark by the Mayor of Leicester who just happens to be a fire dragon of the apocalypse. I don’t think the Hell Mouth is in Leicester though.

Swindon gets my vote.

I’m not saying it would have been a great outcome if the Hell Mouth had opened, but it would certainly have been more interesting than what did happen.

Which was basically that it looked rather overcast for a while, and then it didn’t. Even the birds didn’t really stop singing this time around (not like during the vastly superior solar eclipse of 1999 where I was standing like a gorm outside the Whittington Hospital in Archway until I got bored of standing like a gorm and went for a cup of tea and a biscuit instead. Never let it be said that eclipses get in the way of a healthy appetite.)

This time I wandered in and out of the garden hoping to be amazed. The cat sat half in, half out of the French windows and looked totally unimpressed by the whole thing. I thought she might get a bit twitchy, or start puffing up in alarm, but no, she desultorily washed her paw and then closed her eyes to it all. I think she was embarrassed by it.

At least we started off with a beautifully sunny morning. It is ironic that this is the first day for a week we’ve had sun, and even while the eclipse was happening it was still marginally brighter than it has been for the rest of the week.

My conclusion?

The eclipse was resolutely British in its utter failure to be impressive. I love the fact that my time line is full of disillusioned English people taking the piss out of the total lack of drama the eclipse offered. Oscar was already bored on the way to school this morning because it didn’t all happen at a million miles per hour with lightning bolts and a pulsing rock sound track. Tallulah will be devastated about the no show Hell Mouth situation. Only Tilly stands the remotest chance of holding on to her dreams here. Ever the optimist.

Me? I can’t get this out of my head.

Curses

Election Fever

There will be a general election very soon, here in the UK.

Because of this, there is increasing discourse, and posts on social media about people voting, or not voting, and how they vote, and how right and wrong people think they are to either vote or not vote, or vote but not the way other people think they should.

As you know from previous posts on this blog, I do not vote.

This is anathema to many people. For some it clearly sits along the same spectrum morally as child abuse and cheating old grannies out of their life savings.

My failure is particularly compounded by the fact that I am a woman and I do not vote. As women did not get the vote in this country until 1922 it apparently behoves me to support the sisterhood by voting. If I were also in a minority due to the colour of my skin I would probably be even more in someone else’s debt and even more obliged to exercise my right to vote by those people who believe I have a ‘responsibility’ of some kind.

I have been thinking about whether I should vote in this election. The political landscape is changing enormously in this country (surprisingly, yes, I am interested in politics, and reasonably well informed about what is going on). The upcoming election will be fascinating as it will, for the first time in my memory, really be all to play for.

The sticking point for me though, is who do I vote for? If I look at the parties I cannot find any party that represents my views. If I look at policies I cannot find any party that makes policies I want to get behind. I distrust politicians as a breed, and with good reason, it is fair to say. I do not see any of them standing up for the things that matter to me.

I do see them spending our money wastefully. I take particular exception to them spending that money on themselves.  I do see them barracking their opponents and time wasting over bills they do not want to pass. I do see them failing to turn up for electoral debates and votes that are not fashionable or in the public eye, which means that many worthwhile issues never get proper air time or policies passed because of political apathy on the part of MPs who are supposed to take an interest in all the ways the country is run, not just the big ticket issues. I do see them supporting the banks who continue to rob us all blind.  I do see them running our health service into the ground before selling it off privately and trying to keep that news off the front pages of the papers.  I do see them them smashing the educational life of our children to pieces.  I do see them shutting down the libraries. I do see them failing to address the imbalances in our justice system. I  do see them taking and taking from those of us who are poorest (and not just in monetary terms) and least able to protest.

I do see them tearing apart everything that I think is important and I do not see any party talking about rebuilding those things, or replacing them with any positive things. I see them lying, cheating, squandering, bickering and behaving like over privileged children who have never been taught to share and never been taught what no means when it comes to other people’s properties or lives.  That is what I see.

Are these the people I should vote for?

Tell me. Are those things going to change if I cast my vote? If you can prove to me that by casting my vote, my beliefs, my interests, the issues I care passionately about, will be represented by the MPs and parties in power, then I will step up and cast my vote. I am not naive enough to believe that one party will get behind every policy I care about, by the way, but it would be nice if I could support a party that had more than one or two policies I agree with.

You will no doubt tell me, that if I do not vote, I will never be able to see the change that I want, because I must be in it to win it so to speak. I know that this is not true. My experience in life shows me that the change I want to see is the change that I make for myself. The change I want to see is happening at a grass roots level and that change comes from passionate and informed people who come together to address issues that matter to them.

I do not subscribe to the malaise of believing that just because I have voted I have done my bit for Queen and country. It is not enough that every four years people shift off their arse to vote and then sit on the sofa and moan for the next four years about how the country is going to rack and ruin, and how corrupt the politicians are.

You tell me I haven’t the right to moan about politics because I don’t participate in the way you mandate I should. I say what right have you to moan when you gave them the power and the means in the first place? If I don’t want someone to shoot me, I don’t train them in combat and give them a gun and then stand amazed when they put me up against a wall.

When you are being the change you want to see, come back and talk to me about moral responsibility.

I live in a democracy. I am lucky to live in a democracy, I know that. I am lucky that I am not being imprisoned for what I write on my blog and what I stand for.

People who vote, and who tell me off for not voting often tell me I am somehow undermining the democratic process and by extension, potentially causing the demise of democracy.

I say. Listen to yourselves for a moment. Surely I am exercising the very spirit of what democracy is about? I am not doing as I am told, because I do not have to. I am not following the herd. I am not blindly voting for something because of the fear of some stick that you are threatening to beat me with (in this case, my moral responsibility to others). If you are forcing me to participate in a process I don’t believe in and don’t endorse I might as well be living in a fascist state. Democracy exists so that everyone can have their opinion, whether it sits comfortably with you or not.

I was listening to a debate on Radio Four on Saturday night, about the upcoming election and the issue of dwindling voter numbers. There were a great many people who stood up to point the finger of blame at the apathy of the young and berate them for not voting.  Then we heard some counter opinions.

A young lady stood up and said (I paraphrase): ‘It is so easy to attack the public for their failure to vote. It deflects attention away from the government and their shortcomings.  Why are we not looking to the government and the political system and asking why they are failing to represent the people they are asking to vote for them?’

It’s a good point.