Saturday, 11 November 2017

A Poem for Armistice Day

Faulty Remembrance

No room for kindness anymore, 
You’re looking after number one;
That’s what they were fighting for.

You’ve satisfied your needs, for sure -
No need to stay and raise your son.
He won’t get kindness anymore.

Foreign doctors shown the door,
With patient growth and nursing none;
Must be what they were fighting for.

Elected liars know the score,
Prioritise before they run,
Don’t promise kindness anymore.

Will rampant nationalism lead to war
When wealthy oligarchs have won?
Was that what they were fighting for?

The rich get richer, but the poor stay poor, 
We have no concept what we’ve done.
There is no kindness anymore.
Is this what they were fighting for?

Monday, 25 September 2017

Not talking about depression

There are a number of "just to show someone's always listening" things doing the rounds on Facebook - you know the sort of thing, I'll put the kettle on, my door is always open, you can always talk to me.

As a means of trying to suggest that it's ok to talk about mental health, I suppose it's a good thing.

But the idea that a depressed person could talk to just anyone who has a kettle and a packet of chocolate digestives is ridiculous. I know I certainly couldn't, and I've seen a blog about how talking to an untrained listener could in fact be counter-productive, to the point of dangerous.

Even if you want to help a friend who is depressed, you may not have the appropriate skills. By all means, ask them if there's anything you can do to help - but be prepared for it *not* to be making a cup of tea and lending an ear. Like many people, I suspect, it's taken me years (literally) to talk to a doctor: don't ask me if I want to talk about it to you.

A depressed person may just want to hang out with you, doing normal stuff, forgetting if possible, for a short time at least, that they're depressed. And that's probably the best thing for them.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

The Power of the Pause

Last night I was lucky enough to see Sir Ian McKellen up close and almost personal; he is currently hosting a week of evenings at the Park Theatre in Finsbury Park as part of their fundraising, and spends a couple of hours doing readings, reciting monologues and poetry, and talking about himself and his experiences in the theatre. It was funny, moving, brilliant - and thought-provoking.

Obviously, given the nature of the evening, some of the thoughts were on funding (or lack of it) for the arts in the UK and the wider world. But his ability to recite a familiar poem or speech but influence the understanding of it through what he did *not* say as much as by what he did, was striking.

I should perhaps not be surprised. At the beginning of the last school play I directed, the first character, as part of a rehearsal, stands alone on the stage, waiting for a prompt. The young actress was nervous about standing in silence on the stage for too long; "What if people think I've forgotten the line?" she asked. By remaining calm in her pause on stage, she was able to convince the audience that she was completely in control, even though her character had forgotten the line. The actress was able to make the pause longer and longer as we rehearsed, until by the time of performance, she had the audience in fits of giggles without even speaking a word.

Silence is not always amusing. In the poems and monologues Sir Ian recited last night, the narrator/character was often confronting an unpleasant realisation, and the pause emphasised just how hard a realisation it was. The expression 'a dramatic pause' is well-known for a reason. It also enabled the audience to consider the implications of what they had just heard, before moving on to the next part of the idea.

Pausing in poetry should be readily apparent. A new stanza brings about a pause, quite apart from the caesurae that seem so beloved by the GCSE boards. In a Shakespearean soliloquy, there is more opportunity for the actor to bring their own interpretation via their delivery - the intonation, the pace of each phrase, and the pause. Each emphasises the speech in a different way, and combined, can influence what the audience hears and understands.

As a director, you never want the action on stage to drag, and it is tempting sometimes to stop actors from pausing in case the flow is lost. But it is worth remembering, particularly having seen such a master of the art demonstrate it last night, that a pause can be worth a thousand words.

Friday, 16 June 2017

Full-on orchestral accompaniment

I recently went to a concert of Sondheim music in Cadogan Hall in London. I knew nothing else about it but had had a particularly tough week beforehand and needed to sit back and be entertained, and I knew some Sondheim would be a good vehicle for that.

There were twenty-eight songs altogether, some familiar, others less so. There were some big name singers (including Janie Dee, whom I will be seeing again later in the year, it turns out) and some others less so. It was a beautifully crafted and presented evening.

But one of the most beautiful soul-aching things about it was the accompaniment. The producer, Alex Parker, had decided to use (on the whole) Sondheim's original orchestrations from the shows and consequently had put together a thirty-three piece orchestra. Most of the shows/concerts I go to, either professional or amateur, keep the band size to a minimum, doubtless for financial reasons, and while that is perfectly adequate as an accompaniment, there is something very wonderful about the sound of a larger orchestra working with the singers in a space in which its qualities can reverberate.

I know I could go to other concerts with full orchestras that would probably be equally moving, though that is unlikely to happen for a variety of reasons. But it is a shame, for both audiences and the professional musicians themselves, that hearing a larger group of musicians playing is not a more affordable pleasure for more people.

Friday, 31 March 2017

Poetry on its Competitive setting

I bit the bullet and submitted. For all my apparent uncertainty, I must have known that ultimately I would submit, as I hadn't deleted the emails reminding me of the closing date. And no-one responded to my Facebook post wondering if I should with any sort of active discouragement (I don't count appalling verse or terrible puns as active discouragement), so I did. Now to forget about it.

I would share the poems here that I submitted, but that would automatically disqualify them. So instead, here is a poem that I am unlikely to enter in a competition or to a journal (it's far too silly for anything as august as that!), but that you might find accessible. It needs to be read aloud in your most pompous voice possible.

Eulogy to My Tea

Oh noble wrap!
Full of lettuce and avocado,
except the bits that keep dropping out of the end,
and with enough smoked salmon in to challenge my sodium levels
and just enough mayonnaise to make it interesting
and probably to keep the lettuce from falling out 
along with the avocado.

Oh noble wrap,
just one of you is enough for a meal.
I tell myself that each evening
and each evening I mostly fall for it,
supplementing only with
a glass of something interesting
like a gin and tonic
(though never just *any* gin
and always that particular brand of tonic).

You were a good wrap!
Filled and filling,
made (and in the making
taunting to the cats who would always rather something different,
whatever is in their food bowl)
so quickly that you could have qualified as fast food
except your fat content is probably too low
and your fibre content too high
and let’s be honest, the basic quality of all your ingredients
is higher than most burger bars’ de luxe.

And now you are gone, 
lingering only as an aftertaste and a smudge of mayo on the cheek,
the plate barely in need of a wash,
the fingers definitely in need of a lick.
All that remains for us now
is to ensure that there are enough wraps defrosted for tomorrow

and that we haven’t run out of gin.

Monday, 27 February 2017

Giving Up or Taking Up for Lent?

Our Personal Trainer has insisted that we give something up for Lent.

She's blonde with a well-developed pout when necessary, plus she's the one who determines how many squats get done, so if she insists on something, we tend to comply.

I haven't smoked for decades, don't have sugar in tea or coffee, don't generally eat crisps, cake or biscuits - none of the obvious options. And before you suggest alcohol, we have a very fancy dinner coming up, all prepaid, which includes alcohol, so, no. I could - I gave it up for two months a couple of years ago for a blood test, long story, so I know I could - but I'm not going to.

Eventually we settled on takeaway food. We have Chinese or fish and chips probably once or twice a fortnight, so it's not a massive sacrifice, but it will mean I need to be more organised on the shopping list and ensure that there is something suitable in the freezer for my null days when I don't have the energy for cooking.

But it got me thinking about developing habits. Apparently it takes about four weeks of repeating a behaviour before it becomes a habit, so part of the modern take on Lent, especially for us non-religious people, is developing new habits. In theory we could develop any habit over the six weeks of Lent if we have the discipline to start them.

This may mean not going without something, but instead introducing something. For example, I know I don't always drink enough water every day, so I'm going to try drinking a litre of water by lunchtime each day during Lent (in addition to the large quantity of coffee). If I can get another litre in during the afternoon, that's a bonus. But perhaps by the end of Lent I will have developed a healthy habit that doesn't need thinking about.

And can celebrate it by having a huge glass of water with my Chinese takeaway.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

A Love Poem, of sorts

For Rod, on Valentine's Day (despite the fact he didn't even get me a card....). xx

Personal Physics, Up Close

Matter is not continuous,
cannot all be subdivided - 

and such is my love for you,
brimming overwhelming heartrush

itself a physical response
to chemicals I can’t control

launched by organs, glands and neurons,
themselves composed of DNA,

magnified to fundamental
building blocks, the base of matter - 

misnomer extraordinaire,
because it doesn’t matter much

except to scientific folk
who cannot see that what I need - 

eternal continuity
no subdivision of our lives - 

surfaces each time you touch me,
my chance heart, my quantum banquet. 

Monday, 23 January 2017

Another right thing to do

Along with all the inspiring, empowering things going on this last weekend, there has also been mockery of a child because a number of us despise his father. Children are especially vulnerable to words and mockery, despite the old 'sticks and stones' baloney we spin them. The bigger picture, for more than just Barron, is that you never know what someone else's journey is, you cannot know their thoughts or feelings, sometimes until it's too late; and so in line with my current mantra of 'Be Kind', here is a poem that I wrote last year when feeling particularly low. Please don't bring that child, or anyone else, to that point. Just be kind.


The final straw can be so very thin,
Can be so slight, perceptible as air,
That final thing that really does you in.

The pile of To Be Read books to your chin
Collapses heaplike, adding pamphlets where
The final straw can be so very thin.

A box of chocolates finished - not a sin,
At least at first, though afterwards you swear
The final toffee must have done you in.

A vodka shot, another glass of gin,
You feel okay till puking without care - 
The final straw can be so very thin.

A missing smile, anticipated grin
That could have saved the day, instead impairs,
Could be the thing that really does you in.

The spirit strives to bolster from within,
Struggles alone as friends stay unaware
Of final straws that are so very thin,

Those final things that really do you in.

Friday, 13 January 2017

Little resolved, resolving nothing...

Now that the New Year has sunk its teeth into us and shaken us all about a little, it seemed appropriate to review how I did on my not-resolutions last year.

I only set myself four real challenges (not including the 'run 5k in under 30 minutes', which I managed, thank you Claire!) so it's a little embarrassing to realise that I can only consider two of them even partially met.

I started to work on my fear of dogs. There is one dog I can generally cope with (though I panicked somewhat when a wet nose met my hand the other night!) and a couple of others I have gone for walks with (on their leads, with their owner), plus a couple more I have coped being in the same room with. I was less happy about the one that bounded up joyfully in Keele Woods, practically nose to nose, but my companions quickly distracted it and with a few deep breaths I recovered. This is all progress. A way to go still, but progress. I shall continue to work on it.

I completely forgot I was supposed to be submitting more poetry, to address my fear of rejection. I've been editing some, and even written a few new ones, but never got round to sending any off. I did post one on the blog, which the village newsletter subsequently included in the next issue - does that count? I thought not. Must try harder.

Company news. Again, kind of forgot about this one. I have had a conversation with the accountant about a possible way forward, but it's more a step back really, just a way of reducing my tax liability. I have tried to get the current novel edited to the point where it's ready to publish, but there's just been too much else going on. I know, if I really wanted to do it, I'd find the time. Must find the time.

Fear of public humiliation - this has been addressed a little, as I did some 'proper' singing in public and people said nice things about it afterwards. The terror involved did generate a fair amount of cold sweat and trembling, but I did it. Would I do it again? If I don't, have I really confronted my fear properly? Once is just once - it could be a freak occurrence. I need to develop it into a habit to be able to say I've conquered the fear. And habits are tricky things to develop.

So what about 2017 - do I need new challenges or should I just continue to work, rather less half-heartedly perhaps, on the 2016 ones? I've already agreed to do a 10k Race for Life in July, and I hope to finish in under an hour. Five challenges is enough, isn't it? But then there's all the writing I should be doing, and.... Perhaps my biggest challenge is to set myself realistic targets.