Butterfly

She had only just woken

Her legs, unsteady

Her wings, torn.

*

Glass sliding below

Silk rising above

With Crimson billowing sails,

It lessened the pain.

Her limbs light once more,

She lifted her body again

Into what she believed was freedom.

*

Winded, she dropped.

Blocking her flight

Walls of a bottle,

Holding her tight.

Smears of her hues,

Marks of her pain,

Her many attempts

To escape in vain.

Her power in flight,

The colour in air

The joy of it all, lost.

Kate Terence

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God of Smells

Today is the first day in a week that I have not had to lie down on the sofa and fall into a brain clogged stupor for four hours just after breakfast. The Captain and I have had COVID. Of the variety that one catches after three vaccinations, so I’m guessing it was in its latest strain. We were COVID virgins and both of us experienced it in very similar ways. We both had one night within the six days of it in which we thought we were in “the eye of the storm”. That experience alone was a test.

I sat upright the entire night in order to manage the mucus in both nose and throat, so that I might be able to continue breathing. My head spun like a washing machine and my dreams were made of dark materials. My throat was so raw that swallowing was a challenge that had to be planned in advance, alongside gargling aspirin and gasps. I would not wish this disease on my worst enemy and this one was the sanitised post vax version. It took me back to childhood illness when the sore throat and temperature felt like a death knell and in moments you would wish just to be struck down so that the hell could end.

Yes, alright, I admit it. I am a hopeless patient. Thank goodness the Captain and I went through it together because we practically crawled around letting out long groans like animals preparing for their own slaughter. It would have been unbearable for any other person to tolerate.

The worst of it was that it completely removed my sense of smell and taste. I had not realised how dependent my entire psychological well-being was on smell, to the point that its temporary disappearance left me in a depression. Smell marks the beginning and end of my day. It begins, when not suffering from COVID, with waking up to a toasty smelling pillow and the sense that the Captain’s warm body, clothed in a soft, musky T-shirt is close by. I get up and open the window, and the air carrying scents of bluebells, daffodils, tulips, primroses, grape hyacinths make themselves known to my nostrils. I go downstairs and put on the kettle. I squeeze the teabag into the boiling water, so that the amber liquid exudes the strong, quality unique to the dried leaves from the Camelia family. I add milk, a comforting sniff of that before it goes in, just to check its freshness.

Showering follows, in which hot water is combined with a range of gels containing jasmine, rose, lavender, rosemary and geranium foaming all over my body and once again its perfumes float up my nostrils. This set of rituals gives me the firm indication that the beginning of the day has taken place. Without it, I do not know where I am, if I am awake or indeed the walking dead. Imagine, once the mucus has cleared, breathing in through the nose and no sensation enters your brain. It makes you feel like a ghost, a shadow in your own life.

The next smells are of the breakfast type, which might entail coffee or toast, all of which produce a party of smells to enjoy. They also, in turn, message my body to feel hunger and the need to satisfy itself, as my system goes into full preparation for eating. Need I go on? Can you see what I am saying? Having no sense of smell removes all of this experience, and that’s just in the morning. A complete lack of sense of time and life pervades me when deprived of my sense of smell. So you can imagine how overjoyed I was yesterday when it came back. So, Gods of Smells, I worship you, I praise you, Oooooo you are so good, Amen. Please never leave my body again.

In other news, my second novel continues, while I restructure it from an old novella and rethink its narrative. I’ve entered a few competitions with my one act play I wrote a while back, but it always seems to be other people who manage to get the literary agent or a deal at a theatre or a role in a film.

My acting “career”, if I dare still call it that, continues with self-tapes and the odd audition, in fact I have to complete an advert self tape by lunchtime tomorrow, but sometimes the experience, metaphorically, of writing a message which you put into a bottle, placing a cork in it and throwing it out to sea can become very, very, very unsatisfying. Especially when you notice other people’s bottles being picked up by enthusiastic agents and publishers and directors and plastering their messages all over Twitter, as if entirely to annoy me. It does make one feel like one is living on an island, understood only by the plants.

I embark on an oil painting course in June and for some reason I am scared. About the amount of materials I need and about how crap I will actually be. But, some might say that I am lucky to have the chance. That I am lucky to not be a refugee. That I am lucky to have a loving family and to have love in my life from husband and friends. That I am lucky to have access to my talents and to be able to mark the minutes of the fast flowing days by using them. And they’d be right.

But right now, like the weather, my heart is raining. And until it stops, I will be miserable. But it will stop. Eventually. And when my heart sees its own sun again. I will agree with some, that indeed, I am lucky.

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Leuca

Just thought I would share the latest endeavour. Painting this watercolour has sustained me through this month and reminded me of our time in Italy. I plan to enrol on an oils course soon.

It has been dry January for the Captain and myself. We have lost weight, and in addition perhaps some of the great joy in life. It ends tomorrow, since we began on 28th December. I’ll drink to that.

Italy, Cats, Crises & Lessons

I find it hard to believe that it has been that long since I last wrote for my blog. When life opened up, I got over the endless lack of stimulus and ran head first into it. We finally had our holiday in Italy. It was in Puglia again, but I am not going to say exactly where, as it is a secret. Suffice to say, if Italy is the boot, we were down the middle of the heel and later on we were at the bottom of the heel.

The first week, our villa was amongst olive groves, which sounds idyllic, and indeed it was, but there are a few facts that I need to explain. The disease that was introduced to Italy a decade ago has penetrated many olive groves and it has become a crisis. As a result, the olive grove surrounding our villa was dead. It was extremely peaceful, but a little eerie as a result, as no other life was able to exist in the surroundings. No crickets or glow worms, no sounds at all. However, there was a positive strand to the tale.

A starving female cat came to the door looking quite desperate. The Captain and I agreed that it was not comfortable to sit and eat whilst a creature who was fur and bone watched in agony. So, true to character despite his general dislike of cats, the Captain went out and brought back sack loads of cat food. We placed the dish at a distance, because rabies still exists in Italy, but we watched as she enjoyed her food. About a couple of hours later, she brought a kitten to be fed. We fished out another dish, and two dishes were placed at a distance for them. The next day, she returned with the first kitten and a second one, and we repeated our behaviour. This pattern continued until we had reached five kittens. By the day before we left, they were able to have milk from their mother and she was able to teach them how to hunt. The next morning they never returned, and my hope is that it was because they could sense that we were leaving and found other houses to visit. We left the food in the back kitchen in the hope that future guests would take the hint. Usually, in villas of this sort, there will be visiting cats. They should be treated with a welcome, because the bucolic surroundings also possess rats and mice which cats are brilliant at keeping away. My guess is that with the dead olives, there was not enough nourishment for the smaller animals that cats chase, hence their hunger. Any way, that’s my David Attenborough moment over.

The next villa was so beautiful, that I spent each day in a different section of it. The owners had managed to create something wonderful to look at or experience where ever you stopped. Even on the odd evening when a cloud or two came into the sky, the moon would create patterns through the trees, throwing shadows on to the walls of the house, so that I would lie outside watching the shapes for entertainment. We went to the rocky beaches on some mornings and to the sandy beaches on other mornings and swam in the crystalline waters as if our life depended on it, culminating in eating lobster on the last day in a cafe by the waterside. Our Italian was almost intelligible this time, which felt as if we had made progress. We agreed that next year we should go for a longer time, if at all possible.

Covid, Brexit and Petrol crises aside, it has become a strange business, living in London. I still love it and I particularly love seeing friends, going to exhibitions, trying on clothes, visiting charity shops, walking up and down the Thames, swimming at the Oasis and in the Serpentine, going to the theatre and many other things. But it is easy to feel how difficult everyone is finding it to adjust to the current way of being. No one knows if they should or should not wear a mask. No one knows if there will or will not be any acting work in the future. No one believes that Christmas will take place this year. It is a world of great uncertainty, in which money is scarce, which is eventually going to affect the economy and the working world in a way that we are all dreading.

It has been a testing year because my mother had a stroke, which meant that getting her to be seen by experts entailed waiting over a period of two days in the emergency ward of Worthing Hospital. My father also had a health crisis involving his circulation and also his knee. My brother and I managed to help them over this period as well as guide them when it became apparent that all future prescriptions had to be done via a verified account on the NHS APP. I may one day write a play about it, because looking back on trying to organise this, it was actually funny. If anyone actually sees the footage of the videos that my parents underwent to verify their accounts, the viewer would see a middle aged woman in a bra and shorts (because she was that hot and bothered) trying not to shout instructions at her parents. In addition to these trials, my brother had an accident in London on his bicycle in which he broke several bones. Grateful as we are that these can mend, life has been threatening enough with Covid. These were issues that we all could have done without. But I am happy to say we are all here to tell the tale, and so life goes on.

I had a #metoo experience with a male hairdresser whom I had visited for four years without any knowledge that he was going to do what he did. I managed to get away, but I worry for young women in the same situation as I had been. I would advise them to always go to a hairdressers where there are numerous practitioners, which should prevent them from being the subject of sexual misconduct, since there would be witnesses. I will never attend a sole practice hairdresser again.

I have rewritten my play, Cleo and Tone, bringing it into the 21st Century, addressing issues of love and sexual politics, rethinking gender assumptions and addressing what love really is in that context. I have entered it in for a competition so cross your fingers for me. My second novel continues apace, although I am looking forward to hooking up with my writing buddy, as it is likely that I have written a lot of crap. Or that is how it feels at the moment. I am also contemplating adapting my sitcom about my office job into a play, perhaps even a radio play.

As for acting, I have had few self tapes for TV dramas and some self tapes for adverts, and I am grateful for the opportunity I get in all of them. I do hope, very much, however, possibly unrealistically, that meetings will come back into fashion. I think it is only fair that the interview goes both ways, for the director and the actor. Meeting each other is the only nuanced way of discovering if you can work with that person. I think it would be to a casting director’s benefit to promote this idea, since if self-tapes continue to be the sole source of casting, it soon will become evident that this can be done between the agent and the actor, without using a casting director’s experienced insights. Only time will tell.

Now, back to that novel. Hmmmmm. Must try and fill that empty page…….

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Irises

Miss Audrey James had lived in Huggly Gate all her long life.  It was a quaint suburb of London which had rows of terraced houses filled with people who minded their own business.  Each house had a front and back garden, but when neighbours peered into Audrey’s slice of paradise, it was always a rhapsody in violet blue petals with dashes of yellow flames, even during the less seasonal months.  Audrey had an unshakeable passion for Irises.

She had grown up in the loving warmth of her parents, an only child who was blessed with a kind, selfless nature.  She had become a teacher in primary school which suited her perfectly because the children were drawn to her.  She had a face that some might describe as quirky, with a tiny, very round nose and sparkling eyes framed by laughter lines that had emerged at an early age.  Marriage had passed her by, but it did not seem relevant to Miss James.  She had her young students, and she had her irises.

Her interest in the blue rhizomes had blossomed when her father had shown her how to plant them in the greenhouse.  She had learnt how to grow them in a temperate atmosphere, and as she had become more experienced, she had learnt which areas of the garden the Irises flourished most. 

Her holidays, when she had saved enough money, were mostly on the theme of Irises.  One spring, she went to Kyoto in Japan to see Ogata Korin’s famous folding screens of Irises, enjoying the exotic flavours of Sashimi suppers and other mysterious rituals.   During a long rainy summer in England, she flew to America, staying in Santa Monica and visiting the J. Paul Getty museum in Los Angeles to see Van Gogh’s Irises.  She was unphased by the cold, robotic attitudes that flowed through the City of Strangers.  She visited France on a regular basis, to see the dramatic displays of Irises in famous gardens at Chateau d’Amboise, Maizicourt, Villa Ephrussi and Giverny.  All these visits were splendid opportunities, she thought, to delight in her obsession while brushing up on her French and tasting some superb wines and food.

She gave regularly to all charities, directly out of her bank account, having inherited a favourable amount of money from her parents.  It was the least she could do, she thought, given how much she was enjoying the gift of life.  At Christmas, she served in a soup kitchen for the homeless and every Saturday she volunteered at her local Oxfam shop.  On Friday night, she spent her evening answering calls for the Samaritans, attending to the callers, since they needed comfort, which Miss James was well known to be excellent at supplying.  Her neighbours always invited her to any parties they were having, because her heart was always ready to be open to anyone who needed it.

Audrey James never watched the news.  She found her time better spent in the garden or reading if she ever had any remaining spare time.  It therefore passed her by when it was announced that a Minister of Horticulture had assumed her new post in the House of Commons.

Concerns regarding the environment had produced a growing awareness towards all plants and trees.  The brand, new government had wanted the public to see how seriously they were taking it by choosing Ms Josephine Buddy for the role.  She was the owner of a very pointy nose and a mouth that resembled a post-box.  She knew absolutely nothing about the environment or nature, but as she emphasised to her colleagues, that was irrelevant.  Her Public Relations Manager had published stories of how obvious it was to everyone that Ms Buddy was of extraordinary, searing intelligence.  It was well accepted by the public, that whoever she was, she did not lack confidence.

Ms Buddy was concerned to develop her image as a person who took history into account.  She wanted to be seen as someone who would ensure justice would prevail at any cost, because she thought that it might be the best path to her dream role as Prime Minister.  She engaged with what she believed to be her huge brain to think up how she could make being the Minister of Horticulture relevant to all people.  She began to read about all aspects of the history of gardens and the treatment of people and found something that she thought might be incredibly powerful. 

She discovered that a few centuries previously, there had been an incident with Irises.  Due to an unknown reason, members of the public with round noses were the only people who had been allowed to grow Irises.  It had originated, apparently, due to a tradition of certain families whose specialty were Irises, all of whom, it transpired, had round noses.  People with pointed noses were forbidden to have anything to do with Irises, a fact which inspired Ms Josephine Buddy to stand up triumphantly with her fist in the air.  Ms Josephine Buddy decided that by publishing this historical fact, she could expose her intentions to right the wrongs of the past.  She felt certain that this would bring their attention to her and her alone, so that she could then focus on her other brilliant ideas of leading Great Britain into a successful 21st Century.  Within a few months, journalists were commissioned to write outraged articles about how unfair the distribution of Irises had been among the people of Great Britain.  After 12 months, the public signed petitions requesting for all round nosed people to be banned from any association with Irises. 

Delighted with the response that Ms Buddy was achieving, she acted on what the people requested, as Minister of Horticulture.  She outlawed all round nosed people from growing Irises.  Miss James had heard very little about these developments but had noticed a bizarre change of atmosphere in her street.  Walking home from work, she had noticed people pointing from behind their net curtains.  The neighbours had ceased to invite her but had smiled and looked away when they came across each other.  One day, when she reached her home, red spray paint had been daubed across the walls of her house, with “Round-Nosed Bitch I F P”.  She called the police, who were sorry regarding the graffiti, but explained IFP stood for Irises For Pointies, and that it would be in her interest to rid herself of all her flowers, unless she wanted this to carry on.

For the first time in her life, Miss Audrey James was furious.  She had not cared about much, but Irises were her life.  She could not see who she was harming in continuing her passion.  So, she continued her life as it had been.  This time, however, she was breaking the law on a daily basis.  The issue was discussed on chat shows on television, with hoards of angry people with pointed noses, as well as plenty of round nosed people, who were shocked that anyone who had a round nose did not feel inherently guilty for associating with the flowers.  It was now an accepted part of natural protocol that Irises were for pointy nosed people only, and it was widely regarded that those who did not accept that should be punished.

One day, a fine and sunny spring morning, Audrey was in her front garden.  She heard the sound of wheels being dragged along the road and a mounting cacophony of voices.  She could hear some people chanting something.  By the time they reached her, she could see about two hundred people shouting I F P whilst they looked angrily at her.  The cart they were pushing had vertical bars surrounding it, so it looked like the type of cage an animal might be put in for transportation.  She saw six or seven young men and women lunge towards her, some whose faces she was sure she recognised from primary school.  They grabbed her limbs and carried her over to the cage, the neighbours watching from their windows.  She was pushed into the cage, which they locked.  The crowd moved it along until they got to Huggly Gate Bridge.  They tipped the cage over into the Thames, but before Miss James met her watery grave, she had already died of a heart attack.  The last thing she saw were angry young faces shouting a meaningless term at her.

A twelve-year old girl stood with her mother at a distance from the bridge.  She turned to her mother, frightened by the crowd and saddened by what she saw.

“Mum, that looked like my primary school teacher, Miss James.  Why are they doing that to her?  What has she done?  She was lovely at school.”

That year, Ms Josephine Buddy stood for Prime Minister. It was a landslide victory for her. The story of Miss James’ death was hushed by the press, at the request of the new PM. As far as she was concerned, there were more important things to do now than worry about flowers.

New Year Resolutions 2021

1/ I will never use the word UNPRECEDENTED again.

2/ I will take history seriously including all nursery rhymes that end with ” A-tissue, a-tissue we all fall down.”

3/ I will never think that the worst experiences are in the past, including boarding school, since I was at least allowed to socialise there, even if it was like a prison.

4/ I will believe, unlike most journalists, that Post-Covid will indeed be Post-Covid ie people will be going out, enjoying themselves leading a normal life. They will not be fulfilling the journalists’ marketing dream of creating scenes of an unendurable dystopia. Let’s keep the drama on the fictional page and stage.

5/ I will be going swimming in the Serpentine, visiting museums, going to the theatre, cinema, trying and buying clothes and most of all, socialising, with or without alcohol and food, but hopefully in a delightful place where there are luxuries like lavatories.

6/ Zoom and Skype will no longer be part of my vocabulary except for a role in a film and even then, I might try to push to meet the interested party. To meet has become the holy grail of humanity.

7/ I will complete my second novel, having completed my first in 2020.

8/ I will do a course in playwriting as I plan to write my second play and could do with some professional guidance.

9/ The Captain and I will be leaving this country many many many times and going to sunny places where guilt is not part of the price you pay for pleasure.

10/ I will never trust or believe a politician again.

11/ I will never trust a doctor without a second opinion.

12/ I will work on being pozzy and not neggy. (positive and negative)

13/ Amazon will be replaced by real shops with real people in them.

14/ I will stop watching television.

15/ I will free myself from my mobile in terms of checking the health of the nation every hour.

16/ I will hold more parties and dinners.

17/ I will drink more champagne.

NEW RULES REGARDING FULL LOCKDOWN: WHAT IS PERMITTED:

a/ Polishing all your silver jewellery and wearing it all at the same time.

b/ Spending time with the Captain imitating everyone you both know.

c/ Trying out different accents, whether culturally appropriate or not.

d/ Trying on every item of clothing you possess and rethinking your personal style

e/ Singing inanely around the house to the point that the Captain has to leave for a walk

f/ Listening to the Captain whistling until you decide to go for a walk

g/ Eating Heinz Spaghetti Hoops on toast.

h/ Drinking Champagne

i/ Bouncing around the sitting room to aerobics that you have found on You Tube

j/ Cooking

k/ Cooking

l/ Cooking

m/ Loading the dishwasher and unloading it after you have imitated the sound of the machine’s cycle ending.

n/ Cooking

o/ And of course the highlight of our neighbourhood’s week, BINS. The most hated morning, Wednesday has become the most beloved, as everybody gathers around the smelly bags that they have just deposited at the pick-up site and has a natter.

p/ time for some more champagne, I reckon.

A Disengaged Iconoclast, that just about sums me up

If there is anyone out there suffering from the eternal noise and clutter of Twitter, such as possibly the passive-aggressive virtue signalling from followers who do not know you but feel it is their right to take a moral, worthy tone with you even though all you did was say that you loved Joan Rivers, RIP, then do what I did. LEAVE it. Abandon that form of social media. Embrace the possibility that you will not have a crowd of strangers following you around negatively commenting on your input, as if you were the leading character in a Monty Python movie.

I have begun contentiously, so I may as well continue, by saying that I am late to the party in terms of Lionel Shriver’s keynote speech that she made in 2016, regarding cultural appropriation, but the link is below, and I agree with every single statement she makes.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/sep/13/lionel-shrivers-full-speech-i-hope-the-concept-of-cultural-appropriation-is-a-passing-fad

Let me be abundantly clear. I will not compromise my possibility of invention and creation by being told how to write my characters and which characters I must choose to write, based on my background and ethnicity. They will, by necessity, be written about someone other than myself, since I do not wish to write about a middle-class, white actress in Chiswick, there are plenty of us and I have spent more than a healthy amount of time analysing myself, so as a result, my current story as an actress in the year of Covid is not of interest to me.

My life as a child living all over South-East Asia proves to be rich in its source of memories, however. So if I choose to write about a half German, half British woman (which I happen to be), set in the mid 1970s in Kuala Lumpur, my research is based on my memories of living out there as a child at that time. I was pretty observant, and so if I choose to have the woman fall in love with a man who is half Vietnamese and half Colonial French, does that mean that I am culturally appropriating when I write about his character?

Well, please, read Lionel’s excellent piece on this. If as writers, or artists of any kind we are not allowed to put across our interpretation of what we perceive due to someone believing that we are culturally appropriating, then I suggest the people who read me stop immediately. I believe it is my right to create my world and invite people to read about it: it is currently still a free world, and if it is not comfortable reading it, discard it and read something else. That is the beauty of our western world, which, as yet, has not returned to the principles of a Stalinist or Fascist regime, during which eras, artists tried hard to escape the infringements made on their personal expression. These impositions have certainly taken place in China, with the artist Ai Weiwei.

May I add, that Bill Maher, the wonderful stand-up comedian from New York who must be a little happier now that his nemesis Trump has finally been dragged kicking and screaming off his throne, has written an excellent piece about the irony of Hollywood. Artists are being asked to follow a checklist for the Oscars, when large amounts of those very artists, writers and actors come from a background of people who were fleeing from regimes that were murdering their families. They ran into the land of the free, America, where they would enjoy casting and writing about whoever they liked without any major censorship. McCarthyism soon took a stranglehold of their freedoms, messing up some of our greatest artists’ lives.

Now, at the point we have reached on the clock of artistic progress, we have entered a more Covid-like era. By that, I am implying that the new regime, as it is, is in disguise, as a liberal, free thinking elite. But if you look at it closely, it is very clearly an absolutely restrictive, prohibitive form of censorship. The worst result of that sort of suppression, is that it will produce a violent swing to the right, which will do no one any favours, particularly the very people who created the new protocol. So, hold on tight, because, in my opinion, as a self-declared iconoclast, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Volare, Cantare, Amore, La Mare Oh..o..o…oooohhh

So, this was the view out of our window on the last stop in Polignano a Mare, Italy, before we returned to Blighty, to find that we were not on the quarantine list.  What a win!  It was our third visit to Puglia and we seem not to be able to get enough of it.  The first week was in a bucolic trullo on the top of a hill, not far from Ostuni.  Despite the weather being mixed and windy with too many wasps visiting our mealtimes, we found ourselves able to forgive all of it and forgot about the negatives.

I used a good mate’s technique of lighting up ground coffee in silver foil which successfully put off the wasps.  I swam despite the odd cold day, and the Captain and I decompressed from the last six months of heightened tension.  I fed the resident cat, Mimi, who was a pure little tortoiseshell and I doubt had chased a mouse in its life.  I was bewitched by the Guarabutterfly” plant that bounced about in the breeze, looking like a group of pink fairies swinging back and forth as they made children’s wishes come true.

By now, we had been using the Italian that we had been teaching ourselves once a week for the last three to four years, and mostly we were understood: wearing a mask did not help anybody, neither the speaker nor the listener.

The Puglians and the Italians in general, seemed to have a good handle on Covid, in comparison to the media-spun hysteria of us Brits.  They wore the masks inside and whenever they went into a restaurant, removed them when they sat.  They wore them in all the historical parts of their cities, due to the narrow pavements and possible proximity to others.  None of them know or understand why they have to wear them and I empathise.

There is yet to be any major scientific evidence for or against masks and I believe (and I am sure I am not alone) there should be a rethink universally about the nature of this easily spread virus.  A rethink would only work, though, if those doing the thinking were intelligent and brave enough to make some seismic changes to their strategy, but I am afraid that is where we have all drawn the short straw.  It is, after all, our fault.  We voted for them to lead us and this is the result.  The choice of who we were able to pick was obviously not a brilliant one, I know, but I live in hope that one day a clever, effective, honest and basically not idiotic politician may emerge.  But then, I am a dreamer, an actress, artist, writer, what do I know?  On the positive side, no one mentioned Brexit in Italy.  No one mentions Brexit anywhere.  We are all too busy chanting about Covid to notice that particular change in our lives.

I digress.  We moved on to the next villa, which was in the vicinity of Spongano (pronounced with a hard g, if you were wondering).  A large double sided air-conditioned mansion awaited surrounded by olive trees while its interior gardens were vibrant with lilac-blue plumbago ( I know it sounds like a back complaint, but it is very beautful), rosemary, lavender, chilli plants, herbs, a swimming pool and an expansive roof terrace,  From there we reinitiated our sundowner tradition, watching as the red globe sunk behind the canopy, while the moon lifted from the left.  It was as if both globes were joined by an invisible string, hanging on either side of a hook, so that when the weight of the sun pulled downwards the little white moon lifted.  I wore kaftans, the Captain wore his pyjamas, we drank Nocino, ice and soda with lemons cut from the garden’s surplus.

We steadily got browner and fitter, but on one of a couple of less glowing days, we visited a vinyard, Le Veli which the Captain had found.  I had not realised until I arrived that it was the Winery attached to a restaurant where my consultancy city job team had celebrated a Christmas Dinner, in Covent Garden.  Despite the lack of help from the receptionist, we knew the wine to be superb and since it came at such a good deal, the Captain ordered a case of red and white which arrived on the same day that we did in the UK.  We are treating ourselves to a bottle on our first Italian lesson this friday. The other grey day took us to Matera, where they filmed parts of the latest Bond film and also a new Italian series that we are already hooked on called Imma Tartaranni.  We visited completely free rocky public beaches with crystalline waters, watching as the older generation met for their morning swims, all standing and chatting, up to their waists in the turquoise Adriatic, seemingly celebrating their lives on a daily basis.

We finally left to go to Polignano a Mare.  We sat in one of the squares on Sunday morning, watching as the locals tried to exercise their bodies due to the sumptuous food on offer.  A group of old, fit gentlemen arrived and parked their shiny engines, obviously on a motorbike tour of their country.  Families ate gelati greedily.  From there we took a walk around the outskirts of the old town into the modern part and found a secret bay that only the locals were using.  The water was like blue, liquid silk.

On our last night, we stopped in a cocktail bar called Moonshine.  The sky filled with clouds and buckets of water poured from the skies.  More customers came into the little bar.  We sat, drinking Chartreuse, giggling at the rain splashing on the marble pavements, shining against the street lights, spontaneously buying umbrellas from a tout passing by, and we strangers, all of us, shared a glorious, speak-easy-like, unmasked, non-social-media-aided sense of the joy of being human.

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#Sketchpack on Amazon Prime

Just a little post script surprise. In the process of creating a new showreel regarding my acting on screen, a new credit appeared on IMDB.

A couple of years ago I had the joy of working with a young diverse troop of bright, creative improvisational people called Wolfpack, who invited me, having seen me at Co-Lab at The Hospital Club in a few sketches of my own, to film one of their ideas about the boredom of working in an office. You can catch this on Amazon Prime, #Sketchpack, Series 2, Episode 4.

I am so pleased for Wolfpack, they are an inspiration on how to achieve without losing the fun in life. Congratulations to them, they deserve lots of success.

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A Material Girl: memories in clothes

So hasn’t it been hot lately?  I mean, SOOOOOOOOOOOOO HOOOOOOOOT.  Sweat in the night hot.  Wake up in a pool of sweat hot.  I have been strongly reminded of living in the tropics during this bizarre weather and have dressed accordingly.

Recently, my mother gave me all her kaftans, dating from the time when we lived in Malaysia during the mid to late 1970s.  I hung them up together the other day, and with time on my hands I looked at them carefully.  I ran my hand over the thin, cotton material and reflected that the kaftan was as good an invention as the toga.  The Romans clearly knew what they were doing when they wrapped thin, airy sheets across their bodies.  If you have ever been in Rome during the summer in 40 degrees Celsius, you will realise that it really is the only option.

The kaftan is not so different.  Imagine a sheet, doubled with a hole for the head where it is folded.  A little stitching holds it down on either side so that no one is being shocked when the wind blows.  It allows all the humidity and perspiration to be absorbed in the material while keeping the body temperature as low as possible due to the delicacy of the cotton.

There are five of them, one in a cerulean blue, with a white and red inner design.  The next is jet black with a crimson detail.  There is one in bottle green with yellow detail, one in dark and light taupe and one in burgundy and scarlet.  To me, they look and feel like Kuala Lumpur. They remind me of nights as a child when my parents played bridge with their friends, the mosquito coils lit, their insect killing smoke mixing with the cigarette smoke on the veranda.  I used to occupy myself by wandering about on the grass with the boxer dogs as my pals and looking at things inquisitively, thinking about them, a little like I am doing now.

The kaftans also remind me of evening soirees that my parents held .  The heat would often still be in the mid thirties with a humidity that is very similar to what we have had over the last few days.  My mother would often wear her kaftans, some large pearls on her ears from our time in Japan smelling of Guy Laroche’s Fidgi perfume and looking stunning.  My father, having worn hand made safari suits for work and looking like a film star, would be in a batik short sleeved shirt and light cotton trousers.

Handed down from my father, the Captain handsomely sported a red and black batik shirt only the other day to a delightful supper at a good friend’s house.  We shall call the good friend The Leopard, because he is in every way a large, beautiful cat who is probably one of the best dinner party hosts in London. The Leopard opened the door to greet us sporting an emerald green safari suit that a tailor had made in India when he was on location for a film.  Despite it being made when he was in his twenties, he could still fit in his fifties.  We laughed for about fifteen minutes while drinking cocktails and then he changed, as Mel Brooks would say, into something more comfortable.

Another memory-prompting item was a dress made from an eye-catching cotton in a blue and violet flower print.  The material was given to me alongside an entire set of spools of thread in differing colours.  The person who handed these down to me will be known as The Wren.  She lived on the top floor, three stairwells above me in Pimlico, at least twenty years ago.

On our first meeting, she proudly announced to me that she was “living in sin” with  The Colonel, who had been married but had not been happy within it and had made the decision to run away with her.  She had been a WREN in the second world war and had also been a journalist as well as a seamstress.  As a young drama student in my early twenties, I adored them and often took a cup of tea or coffee with them.  In private, she told me that the Colonel had difficulty resolving the fact that his son had left his heterosexual marriage in order to “live in sin” with another man.  She had added that as a WREN, she had found that the army was “full of homosexuals whom she loved” and she was trying very hard to move the Colonel’s mindset.  She was repaid for her beautiful spirit, because when the Colonel eventually died, The Wren was approached by the Colonel’s son and his male partner.  They insisted on her coming to live nearby to them in a lovely apartment they had found, so that they could look after her.  So when I take that heavenly blue wrap dress out of the wardrobe, I think about her and their consequent actions and feel happy.

One more clothing tale: the friend of my parents,The Walrus.  He was of Anglo-Irish descent and stood at about six foot four in height.  Huge white moustache across his upper lip, white hair Brylcreemed back.  A huge Roman nose.  He had in his youth dressed up for many occasions, fox hunting and other elitist pursuits.  As he had entered late middle age, he was always smart if he needed to dress, but as he had been a member of the aforementioned nudist club, he preferred generally not to wear much.

My parents were members of the Oriental Club, where both the Captain and I, and my brother and my sister-in-law held wedding receptions.  Like most of these clubs, there was a strict tie and jacket, long trousers rule.  The Walrus turned up, the trousers coming to an end just above his ankles, an open necked shirt and loosely worn cravat round his neck.  Instead of an expected response from the staff, which would entail not permitting his entry until appropriate clothing had been found, my father was summoned to him in order to properly celebrate and welcome the arrival of this great man.  He arrived to find them bowing repeatedly at the Walrus.  The lesson?  When you have charisma and presence oozing out of every pore, it doesn’t matter what sartorial choices you make.

However, if my obsession with clothes is ever misunderstood in terms of there being a tendency to shallowness, I urge any person with that incorrect assumption to read this blog.  I am a material girl, yes, but I am deep and full of memories.

 

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Renaissance

This is the watercolour I painted last week.  It’s title, much to my singular amusement, is Covid 19 2020.  I only ever paint water colours on holiday, away from my home.  The title is a reference to my sentiments regarding its creation.  I resent my sacred moments of relaxation being squeezed in to my every day life.  However these are unprecedented times, with a limit to what one can do within the radius of home.

Painting is what I associate with a time of rest, where one stops forcing the brain to produce something which may either be lucrative or beneficial to one’s vocation.  Would I have created it without the circumstances of being forced to be trapped at home?  What indeed is leisure as opposed to work in the mind and soul of an artist?  The painting is the first rendition of a part of my home that I have ever decided to paint because until now, I have preferred to keep my and the Captain’s space private.

Privacy, however, appears to have become something that existed before this virus took over.  Now, while we are all isolated at home, our need to share and connect has meant that to some extent we are risking exposing our privacy by, for example, speaking on Skype or the equivalent.  Immediately, people see where you live, how you live in terms of your surroundings and how you look when you have not put on your suit of armour to face the outside world.  We are falling into the trap of washing our dirty laundry in public.  In reaction, I left Twitter a month ago and have no regrets as a result.

Shopping for food is no longer a private pleasure, wandering down the aisle to think what to cook.  It involves standing in front of and behind another person two metres apart, close enough for them to look at you with resentment (if you are in front).  Most of it is spent not being able to obtain the ingredients that you needed.  Every sort of dish has been cooked based on what is in the cupboards, with lists being written daily to scavenge shops at a later date.

Any movement from or to your home is observed by other people within your vicinity, mainly due to boredom, but also based on curiosity since all movement from home is actively discouraged.  Therefore any form of anonymity in terms of ones’ actions which may be as innocent as going for a jog are permanently observed, therefore the experience loses any element of privacy that each person used to enjoy.  As a result I have turned into Fletcher Christian on a weekly basis.  I wonder how much longer I can do this for without becoming someone that is dragged screaming into the cells.

Other unusual activities have included being covered in flour for periods of this imprisonment, baking copious loaves of bread, which I know has become a regular habit for many Londoners, all in a wish to try and produce something positive from the instructions given by the Four Knights of the Apocolypse who in turn are guided by the World Health Organisation.

Benefits have included that I have also completed my novel, the one that I have been writing for the last 20 years.  It is having its final edit before it is ready for the world, but I guess the homebound circumstances have expedited its completion.  The clear out of both the Captain’s and my wardrobes has taken place with a vengeance, bags filled and ready to give to charity shops, if they exist after this lousy war is over.  The garden has been dug up, watered and pruned within an inch of its life, while each of our neighbours have acted similarly while obviously maintaining a two metre distance.  Our community have learnt to conduct conversations at full volume, reducing the possibility that we will ever return to the quietly spoken Brit.  Some choose to play their music for hours at a time.  The Captain has given me his sound cancelling headphones and bought his own, and we are often seen wandering the house wearing them permanently.

We had not been away for six months and felt it was time, around the beginning of the year to take ourselves off for a short break.  As it was, we arrived on a Thursday night and were back in the UK by the Saturday night because Covid had managed from two people in Wuhan to become a global outbreak.  Athens, with no warning, on the evening of the inauguration of the first female president in a couple of hundred years, closed down on Friday night.  We had a nasty suspicion that something like that may happen, because on the first day of arrival, the pool and spa, which was one of the reasons we went, had been closed.  We booked the first flight out of there but not without seeing the Parthenon in the company of a cat and one lyre player and perhaps three other tourists.  I thought it was the most glorious city and will return in order to see it in full as well as visit the nearby beach clubs which are said to be wonderful.

Personal grooming aside, it was not welcome to discover that my tooth at the back of my mouth had been building into a crescendo of pain over the last week.  It became clear to me that I would need to have it removed whether that was by me with a hammer or by a dentist.  How, living in London, you ask?  I am grateful that we use the same dentist as my parents based in W Sussex.  He is kind and brilliant and he arranged to see me over the easter weekend, with all the COVID clothing and all safety measures in place as well as disclaimers being signed.  He removed the tooth.  Such an easy sentence.  Such a horrific experience.  The Captain had heroically driven me from London to West Sussex for this emergency along clear motorways.  It did not start well, as the car, having been idle for a month of shutdown, was dead.  Neighbours kindly stepped in, of course, at a two metre distance, and jump-leaded it back to life.

Possibly boarding school has created an allergy to having my personal freedoms removed.  Everyone has understood the seriousness of this virus.  But it is time now for life to return to action, before the whole country melts from psychological and economical depression.  A balance must be drawn between health of the nation in shutdown in comparison to the dire economic and emotional consequences of current precautions.

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The Dark Days of 1978 to 1984

I have been dreading this part of the blog, questioning why I am so bothered about writing it, because it is the part of my life that makes me feel a heaving sort of pain in my stomach.  It is the point in my life when I had to go to boarding school.  Before any reader decides that my parents are cruel and all that malarkey, please be aware that the only option in Malaysia after Alice Smith was a dodgy American International school where all the graduates, if they could be called that, emerged on drugs and with few qualifications, so there was no choice for them. Or stop reading.  Or read.  Your choice.  Just don’t make judgements that are ill informed.

We left Malaysia to go around Germany and Switzerland to see my mother’s family over the summer, but I was unable to concentrate on any of it’s loveliness because my imagination was already taking me to the terrors that lay before me, the ones that my dear brother already knew only too well.

The first place was a little convent called Notre Dame in Lingfield, where most of the nuns were strange little Canadians, (I have nothing against Canadians, but Nuns? Not so keen) some with distinctly furry faces.  The headmistress was a German lunatic, who shall be known in the blog as Sister Blister (it rhymes with her real name) who wore a bright orange wig under her habit.  I hated her because within a month of setting foot on the damp earth of cold, miserable Great Britain, she approached me, at the time aged 11 years.

“Caaaatreeeeen.  Come here raaaiiiiggght avay.”

“Yes, Sister Blister?

“You owe us £80.  Das ist achtzig pfunds.”

“How so, Sister Blister?  My parents are the people to turn to, if money is owed.”

“It is for your games skirt.  It has not been paid.  You owe it.  I wish to receive it.”

“I don’t have the money, Sister.  And I do not know how to obtain it other than writing to my parents.  There is currently a postal strike, electricity strike and other things going on that I don’t understand.  So how am I possibly going to reach them before Christmas.  It can wait until then, can it not?” (It is possible my language was not as mature as I am pretending, but you get the general idea.  I felt positively Dickensian)

Her answer, was of course, “No” or “Nein” (for dramatic effect).

This confrontation was a month after the worst four weeks I had experienced in my little life.  I had found myself in a dormitory of about eight girls, all of whom struck me as weird and sad.  I had cried myself to sleep every night having watched my parents who were also crying, walk down the corridor to the front door and leave me.  I had been unable to eat any food, and had a sense of wanting to kill myself, if this was what life was to be for the next endless amount of years.  My parents had taken me out for the weekend before they left the country and I had been in shock.  I kept thinking how this could be resolved but with no answer, as getting a proper education appeared to paramount for anyone’s life to be good.

The bill, in the end got paid by friends of my parents, who were duly notified by snail post and repaid their friend gratefully.  No one knew how the mix up had come about, but I continued to sit at the back of the sitting room in my dressing gown every night, trying to get a view of the small television above the heads of the bigger girls, so that Abba or the Dukes of Hazard could be enjoyed.  I have never enjoyed them since.

Two years followed in which there were some nice memories and some terrible ones.  The nice ones included becoming friends with a few of the day girls.  One, who was a sweet, latch-key kid, took me to see Grease and Star Wars.  I was a little concerned how her mother was never there, and she had to cook supper and clean the house (not very well but who would when they were 11years old with homework).  Another girl, of Afro Carribean origin, who had a scholarship there took me to her home and I was very warmly received by her family.  I also stayed with the prettiest and most popular girl in the class,( which at our age was obviously a bit of a coup), whose home was in Forest Row, very near the Rudolf Steiner school, so we hung out a bit with the BOYS and girls there.  I was introduced to luxury as it was recognised in the 1980s which included shag pile carpets and Vidal Sassoon shampoo that smelt of sweet almonds.

She pierced my ears, which was against my mother’s agreement so what happened after that sent me into a somewhat religious phase.  Another friend, now my oldest friend, known in this blog as the Italian, became livid with me going off and having these good times as she felt it was a rejection of her.  So she, (she regrets all this by the way and apologised a billions times, so we have left it in the past), and the rest of the class sent me to Coventry at least six times in two years.  This is no joke when you are with these people 24 hours per day, seven days a week.  No one spoke to me no matter what I asked them.  I can only describe it by memory as hell.  But hey ho, I survived. But I became certain it was God’s punishment for piercing my ears, so I let them grow back together and wrote copious apologies to God for going against my mother’s wishes.

Another happy memory was when my Uncle took me out in his Jaguar and when I stayed he introduced me to my cousin and also did not force me to go to church.  In the convent, we were only allowed a bath once a week, so for the rest of the time we had to strip-wash at basins.  However, I, having been used to the nudist club, took all my clothes off when washing and was immediately yelled at by the nuns for lacking any modesty.  Ludicrous people, I hope they are rotting in their own little hells, the ignorant, daft, twits.

Life became much better when I was moved to the Convent of the Sacred Heart in Woldingham or Wolditz as we liked to call it.  I will describe that later in another blog but below is a passage that I wrote in my last year there, knowing that freedom was round the corner.

Summer evening, at school (Catie Walsh, maiden name, 1984)

The summer evening glowed. Birds were chirping and chatting playfully, and the sound of a clarinet filled the sweet, balmy air.

Tranquility reigned amongst the trees whilst people excitedly sang and clapped. Bats were having a ball, flipping against the

windows and then down to the ground, swooping like swallows, flapping like crows and squeaking like new shoes.

A light glowed at the lodge where someone was silently swotting. The picturesque building that was surrounding it had

shadows and nooks from which I expected living statues to poke their faces and glower oddly. The night seemed so quiet, yet so

very noisy, that the air was charged with unspent energy, and yet with mystery. It was almost unnerving, yet wonderfully

thrilling. I wish I knew exactly what the ingredients were for such a splendid feast for the senses, but such a situation, like

my mother’s Irish Stew, is unrepeatable and different every time.

 

Arriving in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

So you would think from this photo that I was miserable arriving in Kuala Lumpur having had to say good bye forever to some close friends including my Israeli mate, Daphna, in Japan. But in fact I was in my element in this photo because I was playing my first professional acting role.

Well, that’s stretching it, but basically, we had two dogs. One, from Japan, Wong, the brother to Suzy, who after plastic surgery to his leg and a flight with quarantine was turning out to be the most expensive but beloved mongrel on the planet. In addition, we had agreed once we had arrived in K.L. (Kuala Lumpur) to take on a good friend’s boxer, Fang. We adored both, but Fang did have quite a personality, being a boxer with amber velvet fur and black flicks, silky dark brown ears and bouncy paws. On the odd occasion when he was unmonitored in our house, it was necessary to attach him by a lengthy lead to something, so that he wouldn’t run riot with house guests.

On one of these events, his lead was attached to a thick, arm chair that weighed ten stone which he dragged round the garden because he thought there was something interesting in the distance. So, one unfortunate day, he went off on one of those chases, having not been attached to anything in the house and despite all searches, he never returned. The photograph (see, there was a point to all this story about our dogs) is an advert in the local press saying “Can you help this girl find her dog?” The newspaper photographer wanted a particularly upset expression and I think we can all agree that I delivered. Obviously, some of it was genuine, I was upset about losing Fang, but I was actually leading quite a nice life despite what the picture implies.

The moment we arrived, I fell in love with Kuala Lumpur. It was much more like Thailand, for a start, so hot, humid and utterly tropical, with all the smells and sensations that go along with that. While my mother began house hunting and my father began his new role, we had the luxury of staying in the Regent Hotel. My mother tells me that the roof-top swimming pool use to give her heart palpitations because there was no safety barrier, just surrounding plants beyond which a long, long drop to the street below. The now lucrative sector of health and safety had not entered anyone’s lives yet. As a child, that of course did not bother me. What delighted me was that I had their fruit punch every day, which had watermelon, kiwi, guava, papaya, banana and mango in it and was earth-shatteringly delicious. EVERY DAY. Need I say more. Yes. There was more. I would regularly have their beef burger which had cheese, pickle and lettuce and mayonnaise, which if you had been swimming all day, was a joy.

We moved into our house in Damansara Heights, which was the kind you might see in parts of Los Angeles, a Spanish build and roof, mezzanine balcony, white marble floors, all very pretty if a little exposed. I accompanied my mother on her first experience driving a car to work colleagues of my father, both of us nervous: my mother because it was the first time she had driven in years in a completely unfamiliar country with unfamiliar traffic customs, me because my mother was literally trembling for the whole journey.

I was registered at a British school called Alice Smith, very different from the American school in Japan. In the first place, they had all learnt about fractions and I hadn’t a clue what they were, so my parents appointed a governess to tutor me in that side of maths. Mrs Ryan had home schooled her own children and was nothing short of a genius in terms of making learning pleasurable. Firstly, she encouraged me to cover my books in paper with my own designs on them, so that I could enjoy them. Oh, I loved that. Also she wore pretty yellow skirts and make-up and I was generally very impressed with her sartorial choices. Why this had become so important, I will never know. But she got the thumbs-up from me, as a tutor.

At Alice Smith itself, the uniform was not unappealing. Green gingham… (gingham is in fact derivative of a Malaysian word and the cloth comes from Malaysia)….cotton with little wings around the shoulders. I found it very becoming with my hair plaited, I genuinely approved. We were instructed on personal hygiene in terms of deodorant as one of our first lessons, due to it having a post colonial reputation in terms of its teaching and air conditioning only being provided to the older students.

To my surprise, I began to excel there, to my own detriment, because on one of the too frequent occasions of winning some competition in writing or something like that, the rest of the class decided that they were not too happy with this favouritism, so a ring leader organised for the fellow pupils to stand around me in a circle and chant “we hate you, we hate you” repeatedly. I begged them to stop, to tell me why they were doing this to me, but they wouldn’t, so I fainted. Ahhhh, happy days. My mother, distraught, came to collect me and luckily I was eventually put into a different stream, where I seemed to fit in and “we hate you” soon came to an end.

A post script to this story was that after the chanting hate thing, I asked the ring leader why she did this to me. The prize for the competition that I won was some kind of chocolate trophy. The girl replied that “That chocolate makes me fuzzy.” This became a catch phrase in our household, allowing the event to sink into the past as a laughable mis-hap. This particular person, the one who found chocolate so fuzzy-making, chose, having put me through the particular hell that only a child can do, to write to me years later at boarding school saying how much she wanted to stay friends with me, like in the good old days at Alice Smith. BLEW MY MIND. Some people.

We moved a little later on to a part of KL called Kenny Hill. There was a shop down the street that I used to walk to, often bare foot, to buy Jackie magazine or something like that. And some assams. Sour plums with salt on them. Delicious. Since you ask. I would chat with the locals, who punctuated all their statements with “lah”. So an example would be: “How are you, lah? “I’m ok, lah.” I loved joining in with all that, accommodating my language with them, it had a gorgeous easy going sound to it.

Christmas was often spent in Port Dickson with my father’s boss from work and his close male friend. It was a relationship between two men that never raised eyebrows in that part of the world. Somerset Maugham seemed to have broached that territory in his writing and many western men followed suit to live freely without any judgement.

I was enchanted by both of them, the boss because his aesthetics were of Dutch colonial heritage so everything around him, curated by him, was beautiful. He gave my parents a rosewood card table which I ogle enough to know that I am staking my claim on it, in case my parents are reading this. His friend, from Indonesia had a wicked sense of humour and was child-like and fun. One of the funniest times was when he insisted on taking my brother and me to see the new film, Jaws. We made our way to Port Dickson beach literally the next day. Every two seconds as we began to plunge in the water, he would simulate an attack from the creatures below, sending my brother and I running screaming out of the aqua-marine paradise. It took a while to get over it, but we did, eventually.

Half way through this joy, I had to face the horror of going to boarding school. I will go into more details about that another time. Up to that point, my brother joined for all the holidays, telling me stories of Breakfast Rabbit, a character he created who I adored hearing about. He and I would record ourselves on tape cassettes, doing various characters usually involving flight attendants we had come to know on our lengthy twenty hour crossings.

One incident upset my mother and indeed upset me, which was around 1978. I had started boarding school, and for some reason to do with timing, my brother and I could not travel together. So I was escorted to Heathrow airport and once there, I went to the Qantas airlines desk to check-in. They announced that the system of unaccompanied minors had finished from the age of twelve, so, they were sorry to tell me, I was on my own. The flight involved changing in Singapore and I was terrified and burst into tears. They were still sorry but unable to actively help, so I went to the British Airways desk, who considered minors to be minors until they were sixteen. They organised for a stewardess to accompany as far as the plane. The stewardess told the staff on the Qantas flight what the situation was but the staff were legally obliged to repeat that they were unable to help me from there. I asked an old lady (probably my age now) if she was going to Singapore and changing for Kuala Lumpur. She answered that she was, so I asked her if she minded if I could tag along. She answered that she was not comfortable with that. So I asked her if at a distance I could follow her. She answered that she could not stop me. This is how I made my way to Kuala Lumpur, aged twelve. Thanks Qantas. My mother raised hell with them when I landed.

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Next stop Kobe and Osaka, Japan via Switzerland and Lancashire circa early 1970s

The clue is in the title.  Our family got posted to Japan.  A starker contrast to Thailand could not be found.  We arrived in the hotel and I had been informed that we were going to be looking for a house to live in near Kobe, where my father would be working.  A few days had elapsed and as a six or seven year old, it was all tremendous fun.  I had not become particularly attached to anyone in Thailand in either of my schools, although the food and the culture would come racing back to me in my later life, calling me like the voices that called Moley in Wind in the Willows.

One morning at breakfast in the hotel restaurant, I decided it was time I met all the people who were eating their breakfast.  I found sitting and eating the most boring thing to do in life, so I left my parents to it, my father somewhat distracted by the onset of his work.  I greeted most people with, “Hello, I’m Catie” and that seemed to serve my purposes well.  As it happened, I ended up chatting with a Dutch family.  We got talking, as you do when you are seven, and it became clear that this Dutch family were leaving their beloved house to go to another country.  I asked who was going to live in their house.  They replied that they did not know of anyone yet.  I reported back to head office (my parents) who both came to greet the Dutch family.  At this point I would drop the microphone in the way modern comediennes do when they have completed their set.  Yes, reader, we moved into their house.  So it turns out I should have been an estate agent. Go figure.

Anyway, the house with a lovely garden with all sorts of exotic looking Japanese trees and rocks was in Ashiya.  I started going to an American Catholic school called Sacred Heart (known as Kai Sei in Japanese).  We did this by my father and I travelling to his work, which both of us enjoyed thoroughly because we would listen to the Seekers on those enormous tapes (that resembled VHS tapes from the 1980s).  If the work car that took the daughters and sons to school was not ready yet, I would go into the office with my father.  He once took me into a huge couple of rooms that held all the computer technology of its time.  I was in awe.  It was a bit like a James Bond film.  The capacity of those two rooms’ computers, it now transpires, were able to do what our mobile phones can do now.  That thought still flummoxes me.

One of our Christmas times was a very miserable one because as the money that my father worked for was on the modest side and since the company did not make any contribution towards flights, we were in the middle of the fuel crisis apparently so my brother stayed with our grandmother in England.  I blotted it out of my memory, it was just miserable and uneventful.  I do recall coming down to the boiler in the house to warm my feet when I put my tights on before school, so cold and dry were Kobe’s winters.  I also recall my father going through a stage of making home made yoghurt and cottage cheese. At some point my mother’s father died, and there was no way that they could afford flying back for the funeral.  I recall her pacing up and down in the sitting room as she came to terms with her feelings.

The first housekeeper my parents employed was a charming, warm liability.  They, of course, did not know that she was a liability, but that was soon to revealed.  One night, she took me out (blonde, tiny and seven) and sat me in a cafe whilst she serviced one or two of her male clients in the rooms above and then told me that it was our little secret.  My parents had been out at a function, and they returned, my mother looked in to my bedroom.  I was sitting up in the dark with wide staring eyes so my mother asked me whether everything was alright.  I replied that I could not tell her as it was a secret and that I always kept secrets.  She replied that it was a good thing to keep secrets, but that little boys and girls were allowed to tell their mothers the secret.  So I told her everything.  How I had been taken out of bed, dressed and been in a situation that would have parents in our current times freaking out.  Suffice to say, Yurisan was sacked but admitted that she was a bad person and that she was sorry, and that the way she could make up for this was by recommending a good person to them.  The lady who replaced her was an angel personified called Miyakosan, who was only slightly taller than me and we all adored her.

By this sort of time I had settled into my school, with a long red haired teacher who was very anti-Vietnam and used to play gorgeous guitar songs to us.  She taught us all about how bad smoking was by making us light a cigarette and blowing it through a white handkerchief to show what it did to the lungs.  Sad to say I still became a smoker from 16 to 45 years of age, but I loved her controversial ways.  By this time, my brother had joined us for Easter, I think. Planes were getting hi-jacked regularly, so there were some hair raising moments, but on one occasion, when the flights went wrong, my brother, who was all of about 10 at this point managed to get himself upgraded to first class on a long haul flight, so the whole family knew he was a bit of genius.

Ballet lessons were a great memory because my mother and I would go afterwards and find some brilliant food places, and on one occasion we found a Chinese Noodle shop. It was their opening day, and it turned out we were their first customers, so they served us the most exquisite noodle soup I have ever eaten.  They hid behind a curtain, their faces poking round the sides to watch the little blonde girl and the blonde blue eyed woman mastering chop sticks and slurping with satisfaction.  They refused to charge us because we apparently would bring them good luck.

A break in all of this emerged when the company my father was working for wanted to offer him a chance to progress by getting a University degree in Business Studies from one of the famous colleges in Lausanne.  He had not had the luxury as a child, as there were three sons, so his father chose the middle brother to fund through his studies in law, meaning that my father had to find his own way from the age of seventeen.  It was a chance not to be missed, so my mother agreed, leaving our angel housekeeper, Miyakosan, to hold the fort in our absence.

My father went to Switzerland, my mother and I  went via visiting her relatives in Germany to the UK.  My paternal grandfather had also died recently, so my British grandmother appreciated my mother and I staying with her.  I was enroled at the local St Annes day school, which I ran away from on my first day, because one of the nuns started rapping my knuckles during a maths test.  I stood outside the gates, my mother was called, a little disagreement arose between my grandmother and my mother, because the former was concerned about my Catholic education.  My mother explained that she was not going to let me stay where I felt uncomfortable as she believed that I was not lying about the knuckle rapping techniques so I was put into Ansdell Comprehensive where I made a friend or two.  They all thought I was lying when I said that my real school was American and I lived in Thailand and Japan, but hey ho, nobody hit anybody, so that was good.

My father had entered a strange phase in his life because he was having his brain awakened on an educational level, but also dealing with the death of his father, with whom he had a difficult relationship.  My mother was navigating this complicated ship, so that it became a practical choice to spend summer at the aforementioned Naturist club, inviting my Grandmother along.  The latter in true extraordinary spirit surprised us all with her cosmopolitan sense of humour regarding everyone “taking their togs off” and all the core characters adored her, corrupting her with sherries and cigarettes.  It removed her from the pain of mourning and was a joy to have her around.  My brother and I started our days if it was miserable weather, watching Laurel and Hardy on the television.

Six months went by and we returned to Japan and our home, my brother joining us at Christmas.  I made a best friend, an Israeli girl called Daphna Ilan, who when she followed me around the playground I accused of killing Jesus.  She put me straight in a measured way, perhaps the way Kissinger dealt with the media around Nixon at the time.  I also forced a chap called Charles to kiss me like James Bond.  We apparently stood there, our lips closed but pressed together and moved our heads from side to side, because that was what we thought French kissing was all about. It was only later I learnt that tongues were used, and at the time I learnt it I was appalled.  I also narrowly missed playing Robin Hood, even though I was the only British person in the school.  It was played by a portly American creature whose name I will not reveal for her own protection.  Suffice to say, she said the opening lines “Upon my heart, ha ha ha” completely incorrectly.  Still hurts.

I began to learn the way to get to school by public transport.  My mother came with me for the first few weeks and slowly I gained the confidence to do it myself.  One day, I was approached by a bunch of Japanese girls who were about twice my age but only about one or two inches taller than me.  They smiled and said, ” Ahhhmeddicaahhhneh?  Hi? (American, yes)”  I replied  “Eeeeyehh.  (No). Bulitishu. (British).  They jumped up and down, working themselves into fan-like shrieks. They replied.  “Bulitishu?  AHhhhh! Beeetulusu.  Beeetulusu.  (Beatles).  This was my first introduction to Beatle-mania.  Not long after that we all watched a documentary aired on Japanese television which my mother, visionary that she is, insisted we watched because it was about the genius of the Beatles.

I cried when it came time to leave Kobe.  We were at Osaka airport and little did I know that the port town of Kobe was going to have the worst natural disaster coming its way that they had ever seen in the form of the earthquake of 1995.  I loved my daily sushi and my vinegar glass noodles and my Yakult.  I loved Miyako and my friend Daphna, who I would never see again because we were going to a country that did not welcome Jews.  I had by law learnt some Japanese and had become so attached to things.  It was a miracle that we managed to bring Wong, our dog with us, leaving Suzy, his sister behind with friends who loved her.  Wong was a mongriel and had attempts at his life as a puppy, a car accident as an adult, so some surgery and was now being brought across to Kuala Lumpur, after three months quarantine.  My father’s career was on the rise, with his degree behind him.  My German mother had taught English to Japanese students, had worked in the German embassy in Thailand and was about to face more challenges in Malaysia.

The photograph is of the blonde seven year old me, during the summer before returning to Japan for the second time.

 

Memories of Bangkok in the early 1970s

I remember my first lie very distinctly. I was four years old and our family unit, consisting of my parents, my big brother and myself, had only recently been posted to Bangkok, Thailand. The bikini clad expatriates were a far cry from the nudist club that my parents had joined in Surrey when I was two. Not only was the temperature considerably warmer, but these strange people wore clothes to swim, which seemed ludicrous to me. I had been introduced to water by being thrown in naked and had taken to it like the tadpole that I was.

I was dressed and fed, spoon to mouth for the two years that I lived there, but if ever I took it upon myself to venture out of this tropical cocoon, I was confronted by the more exotic, sometimes sinister elements pertaining to that country.

I attended an English school for the first year in Thailand and an American for the second. I had just begun to become accustomed to my second school, despite the knuckle-rapping techniques of one of the teachers, who, on reflection, resembled a villainess from one of the popular Bond movies of the time.

I was developing instincts to be strong but adaptable. For instance, when I had my first memorable haircut, the Thai hairdresser discussed with my mother as to what sort of style would suit me. With understandably little reference to what my five-year-old opinion may have been, it was agreed that it would suit me to have a very short haircut, in an attempt to strengthen my very fine hair.

The result was not favourable to me. Perhaps in our current culture, in which our sex is perceived to be of a less binary, gender fluid sort, my reaction may have been different, but in all honesty, I doubt it. To the very best of my memory, I always perceived myself to be utterly female, with no variants within that. My new haircut, however, appeared to dictate otherwise. The children at school, who all thought that I had become male over night, mocked me relentlessly. I considered being presented to anyone as a male as being a fate worse than death. That week I declared to my mother that it was “my body” and that in future “I would choose what style I wanted myself”. It already felt important to me, that boys should recognise me as an attractive girl.  Plus ça change.

Weekends were often filled with visits to regions outside Bangkok, of the yet-to-be Americanised Thailand. I had drunk milk from coconuts that were hand-picked by the local residents on beaches with white powdery sand and a turquoise sea. Life was beautiful. Occasionally, if my ego was yearning for attention, probably due to my brother becoming more conversant with my parents, I would seek ways to distract them.

I once packed a little pink case, declaring that I was leaving home and “going into the big, wide world”. I had jealously tolerated the friendship my brother had with a neighbouring boy on whom I had an enormous crush. Blair was quite beautiful, and occasionally took to dressing up as a girl. It was unclear whether he did it to amuse us or himself. He would often bring us snakes, otters and other examples from the range of animals that he was rearing at his liberal home.

My parents meanwhile would have adult conversations about the ongoing Vietnam war, Nixon, hippies and the American G.I.s who often came to Bangkok for R &R. At one point, we attended a close friend’s Buddhist blessing of his new house during which we all knelt in a circle and chanted. The monks took to blowing their noses without handkerchiefs which I found weird. My father was spotted crawling out of the ceremony behind the monks in order to join the host, who was watching us from the outside whilst enjoying his pint of beer.

Under our house, we discovered a huge snake, which our Buddhist housekeeper would not kill because the soul of his grandfather might be inside. On days when I went for little walks, I was often approached by Thai gentlemen, who had a varied list of items for sale. I recall a particular stranger, who used to spring from foot to foot, holding a hand out, crying “You give me one Baat, I show you Thai boxing.” Following the negative reply from the tiny pink girl, he would dangle sticks of brown stuff to sell, telling me that it was a good price for “ganja”. I had no idea what these words meant but having a wise mother who gave me sets of sensible rules to follow, I knew that my best course of action was to turn around and head for home. Very useful rules they were too, when I chose to obey them, which was most of the time.

It was on one of my less sensible days that I chose to ignore my mother’s rules, and thus, it was on that day that I chose to tell my first lie. My mother had a very precious tree outside our house, which flowered very rarely and when it deigned to do so, the flowers themselves were one-night- stands with no strings attached. This had been emphasised clearly on numerous occasions.

However, drawn like Eve to the forbidden fruit, I could put up no resistance to the idea of placing one of those short-lived flowers in my hair. At that point in time, I did not realise that my mother was just coming out of the house. What seemed like an hour passed between our two wills before my mother asked me where I had got the flower that was in my hair. I looked at her as innocently as was possible under the circumstances. I replied that I was not sure, but that I thought it was on the ground below the tree. My mother knew I was lying. I knew that she knew that I was lying and yet the matter was laid to rest, both knowing that the truth was omnipresent, despite its apparent disguise.

Returning to England for homeleave after two years in Thailand felt like a betrayal. I had left the country at three years of age and had no major memories of the place. The only fact that I knew, was that we would be returning to our beloved club. I had remembered most points about it. It was a unique little paradise in the middle of Surrey where people stayed, swam, played tennis, badminton, volley ball, table tennis and where parties and barbecues were held to complete the summer evenings. People, adults and children, labourers and lawyers alike would call each other by their first names only, to promote both privacy and equality.

I felt therefore terribly shocked to discover that my memory had not stored the most crucial fact about this club. Our family arrived at Heathrow after an interminable flight, to be greeted by our faithful friend Julian, whose every move brought a touch of glamour and mystery into our lives. On that very first home leave, Julian began a tradition of wearing different hats, ranging from French berets to African Safari hats. He would always pick an extraordinary route back to the club, so that he could introduce us to parts of Southern England that we had not seen, and to pubs we had yet to experience.

On arrival, I was excited at entering the club through its secret door and anticipating a welcome from all my little friends. In front of us stood a sun-baked, wrinkled old man, sweeping the terrace steps. He was naked. Suitcases were being carried through to the house. My mother, whose hand I was tugging frantically, was conducting a completely normal conversation with this unclothed ancient lunatic. Under my breath, I tried to enlighten my mother, but she was too absorbed. Finally, I managed to attract her attention, and she leant down to me.

“What, Catie, what is it?”

“That man, Mummy, he’s not got any clothes on.”

“Don’t you remember? We can do that here. It’s a naturist club.” My mother crouched down and looked me in the face, smiling warmly.

Horrified, I ran up the stairs of the club’s huge old house, ranting about rude people, and refusing to ever take off my clothes. Half way up the stairs, I ran into my fellow six year old friend, Jeremy, who greeted me with suggestions of playing in the sunshine, so that by the time I had reached the top of the stairs all my clothes were off. I ran all the way back downstairs with my friend and was in the swimming pool before anyone blinked.

It was towards the end of our time in Thailand that the difficult decision was made to send my big brother to boarding school. It still hurts to remember sitting with my mother, both of us crying, missing him, and counting the days till his return, as if we were crossing the days on a prison cell calendar. During the ensuing years, I was raised as an only child, except during the school holidays, the beginnings of which were always ecstatic, because my brother was back with us. As the precious days drew to their end, it was my early introduction to the sheer hell of separation. I will always hate saying goodbye.

 

Offie Finalist and Caribbean Adventurer

Happy New Year to Everyone. I hope it all went well. Our family pulled off a corker, beginning obviously with watching The Muppet Christmas in London, over a few glasses of Champagne with the Captain. We had just celebrated my birthday, doing so by also having the tree ready and inviting the neighbours in the area round for cocktails to mark the beginning of the festive period.

In advance the Captain had ordered a beef to be hung and dried at our Chiswick butchers, which he was going to roast in my parents’ kitchen in Sussex with the help of my brother as sous-chef alongside the helpful ministrations of my sister-in-law. We all agreed it was the best beef we have ever tasted.

Magnums of wine were served, dish washing and clearing duties were managed by yours-truly and my sister-in-law, gifts were opened and appreciated, and not a cross word entered the house for the whole two days. This, given that the event included six adults with no children over what can often be a particularly child-centric season, was a monumental accomplishment.

In hindsight, it felt utterly achievable because the Captain and I knew that we were heading off to the Caribbean for early January, breaking up the winter gloom. We had friends, who will be known as Mr and Mrs Cayman, who lived in Grand Cayman, with whom the Captain had arranged to stay at the beginning and end of the two weeks. He had also met some delightful friends through them, who were happy to let out their condo in the Little Cayman, which entailed a tiny flight across. When I say tiny, I mean it, the aeroplane had nine seats within and a ribbon like landing strip on the little island itself. There are about 150 inhabitants on this island, so the peace and quiet was glorious.

It was my first experience of the Caribbean, and I now know what the fuss is all about. Winter time in the UK is clearly the ideal time to go, because the weather appears to be taylor-made for everyone’s pleasure. There is a mild warm breeze which plays around the twenty-five to thirty degree mark, which lowers a little for the evenings. The water is the temperature of a bath, with a clear azure colour, so that when we kayaked across to an even smaller island, called Owen Island, you could do handstands in the water and feel that you were in a huge, clear, salty swimming pool. We cycled around the whole island and saw birds, some of whom are called Boobies….which made me laugh continuously every time we passed by them, simply because of the name. I know, I’m a child.

Back in Grand Cayman, Mr and Mrs Cayman hosted us royally, the former taking us out on his boat, to swim in the middle of the vast ocean, among starfish and others, once again the waters feeling warm and silky and transparent, aquamarine all the way to the bottom. I actually could have stayed in it for ages. But having already had my first pina colada and a few other rum punches over the week, it was time for me to try a mud-slide at Kaibo, so that’s what we did. We ate at Morgans, we ate Jerk Chicken another time, we visited East End, which we thought massively beautiful.

Just to add to the delight, on the 7th January, I discovered on Twitter that I, having been nominated for an Offie, for my performance of Calantha in The Sword of Alex written by Rib Davis at the White Bear Theatre, have made it to the top three as a finalist, so I will be attending the ceremony on 3rd February at the Battersea Arts Centre in case it is turns out that I win. A great honour indeed, and as you can imagine, no one is getting away with just chatting to me without hearing about this latest achievement. I am trying to calm down about it and grow up, but I can’t help myself.

So I think it would be fair to say that 2019 has begun very well indeed. Long may it continue.

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The Concept of Time

I have been putting much thought into the idea of time and how we humans have arranged it for our convenience.  One of the reasons that it came to a head was when I went to see Christian Marclay’s The Clock at Tate Modern.

 https://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/christian-marclay-clock

I do not think I am wrong if I were to say that I think it is a masterpiece.  It plays with the mind in the way that one’s own dream sequences do.  It brings meaning that maybe only the beholder can see and it works, while being instantly more interesting, as a timepiece.  In other words, if you watch this 24 hour film, which turn out to be many, many edited pieces of film from around the world of varying actors and actresses from all eras, at each point that there is a visual reference to a watch or a clock, it will be showing the exact time.  This is not using Computer Generated Graphics but from three painstaking years of researching as many moments in film as there are minutes in the day.  It is enthralling.  I am going back for more, as it is absolutely free and so refreshing to see great, great work in the contemporary art genre.  I happen to know it is Contemporary Art as opposed to Modern Art, because the lovely, clever daughter of The Italian Friend (she knows who she is) explained that these were two different genres.  She is studying to be a lawyer and much smarter than I am, so I am taking her word for it.  Now I know.

I came away reflecting about the construct of time.  How the Chinese Calender is made up of thirteen months, how Westerners have twelve.  How seasons imply eras ending and new eras starting.  How age and its number affects us so severely once we are over thirty years of it.  How childhood makes one long to have at least ten years added so that we can be free and be naughty but how we are desperate to grab those years back when we notice lines across our forehead.  How losing those close to you mean that we feel our time will also come.  Time.  It passes.  It cannot be recalled.  It creates memories if you fill it properly.  It is the ultimate enigma.  The sun and the moon and the seasons tell us where we are, or we can refer to a clock of some sort or a calendar or diary to have an idea of where we are placed within it.

As it passes, it becomes clear what value we place on it, how we are going to spend it, in the knowledge that every second ticking is lessening the remaining experience of it.  So, it is no surprise that as we get older, we become a little angrier when we watch people wasting our precious time.  Journalists waste it with writing complete nonsense in the hope that some of the outrageous sentiments generated from their crap produce a type of addiction to their news.  Politicians waste it with their insignificant attempts to navigate their elective power to systematically enrich their own lives, forgetting their obligations to serve the people who elected them.  Meanwhile, every November we are reminded of how many many young men and some young women lost their lives in battles of wars that no one particularly wanted, so that some poor souls have only ever lived within a time of war, even to the point, if they survived, of having to leave their own country.  Irrespective of their qualifications, most countries do not welcome these refugees, who then have to spend their precious time merely trying to survive.

Pub landlords or landladies will ring a bell, shouting “TIme.” Almost as a reminder that there is a limit to what pleasure or amusement can be had.  That there is an end.  Do you see how thought provoking this piece was for me?  It is absolutely superb, go and see it.

It has spurred me back into the world of writing, and I am now on Chapter Eleven of the seventh draft of my literary novel.  The Captain has created a newly floored beautifully convenient kitchen, so that our house is complete.  He works on our property company while spending his weekends filming for a television project located in Lancashire.  I think I plan to see The Inheritance if I can find someone to accompany me to both nights as it is a two night commitment.  I enjoyed the press night of a Greek Canadian Norwegian Actor friend (he’ll know who he is) who was outstanding amongst a very talented cast in ear for eye (the title is purposefully without capitals) at the Royal Court.  We are very entertained by the second series of Get Shorty on Sky having finished and loved Ozark on Netflix.  I also got angry but ended up liking The Bisexual on Channel Four.

We have obviously called TIME on the fireworks, and TIME on Halloween and Guy Fawkes, TIME on Remembrance Day as we now hurtle towards Christmas with my birthday blocking it a couple of weeks before.  Christmas parties are already being arranged.  Mutterings of New Year are another reference to TIME here. A dinner party with my two witchy friends next week.  A dinner party with two wonderfully bonkers couples the week after that.  Then the craziness really begins.  I’m not calling TIME on any of that.

Did I mention my Nomination…?

I have come to the end of another great chapter in my life.  At the beginning of August, I received a direct message on Twitter from a superb actor and friend (currently performing in Stratford for the RSC) Andrew French.  He asked if I was interested in being recommended for an interesting piece of new writing with a very suitable role for me.  I gave my permission with interest, was seen, receiving an offer half an hour later for the role of Calantha in a new play called The Sword of Alex, written by Rib Davis and directed by Brian Woolland, for Rib’s theatre company, Beyond the Pale https://www.beyondthepaletheatrecompany.com/about-us/   in association with Michael Kingsbury’s White Bear Theatre in Kennington  https://www.whitebeartheatre.co.uk/about

I began to learn my role from the moment I got the job in the second week of August, so I feel I have been working on it since then.  The preparation stood me in good stead, as with such a dense, modern/classical text, it was necessary and prevented stage nerves from kicking in too deeply, aside from the first couple of nights. The cast including myself were made up of a talented friend, Patrick Regis and new gifted friends DK Ugonna and the wonderful, glorious Georgia Winters.  We produced the best of our interpretations using Rib’s brilliant words and as a result, I was the lucky one that got a nomination for an OFFIE for Best Supporting Female in a Play: http://www.offwestend.com/index.php/pages/the_offies

I have managed to slip this nomination into all subject areas.  At the dentist, in a taxi, passing a neighbour buying food.  It’s amazing how often you can find an opportunity to drop the fact that you have been nominated casually into conversation.  But seriously, I am SOOOOOO delighted about the great honour the Offie judges have given me.  I was very surprised when it was announced.  So I am chuffed and ever so slightly unbearable to those who love me.  But it’ll pass.

As I sit in our neighbours’ house (they have kindly lent it to us in their absence as we are having new floors and a kitchen installed) I know that the Polish gentlemen who are building my domestic palace will not react in the way I would like, if I go and tell them about my nomination.  They may smile politely, after looking at each other, with the tacit agreement that I am a raving lunatic.  I have yet to purchase a red, bejewelled turban for my head, I am not surrounded by potential scripts that I have casually tossed aside, the Captain is not fielding calls from prospective casting directors enquiring about me,  and I am not muttering that I am ready for my close-up, so I do still just about have my feet on the ground.

I have just returned from the luxury of a break at Grayshott with my lovely mother, while also getting to see my great father, for the past few days, by visiting their home and the spa itself.  I had a two full body massages and luxury facial, a glass of Champagne every night, and managed to keep my dignity while playing my mother at Scrabble (she will on the whole win every game even though English is not her first language).  We enjoyed swimming in a warm temperature pool and Jacuzzi while also watching a sweet film with Bill Murray and Melissa McCarthy called St Vincent.  We mostly ate raw vegetables and while we were sick of the sight of them by the end, our faces and bodies did show the benefit of such fresh produce.

Those few days of the break began as if we were still in an Indian Summer, but we have without doubt entered the murky, slushy- leaved, soggy-aired depths of a British Autumn.  I will be seeing my brother tomorrow and will accompany him to our Italian hairdresser while grabbing lunch on the way.  Massimo double-booked us, I think because he likes families getting together.  I suspect we will be doing a lot of laughing.

I begin my city consultancy job again this week and I am looking forward to seeing my stimulating colleagues who are usually much younger and therefore more vibrant than me.  One of them came to see me in the show and has already told the whole office about my now world renowned nomination.  So I will have to keep quiet about it.  Hmmmm.  The Captain heads up to the North of England to film a new series.  We will be having our first weekend together for a long time, so we will be starting our home-made Italian classes again with Friday night treats of an Italian dinner and perhaps even an Italian film.  I wonder how you say “I have been nominated” in Italian….

 

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Trollo, Monopoli, Corfu and Theatre, Darling

As I sit here and write, while not complaining, I am perplexed at just how balmy and warm it still is as we move towards the end of August here in the UK.  Following my adventures in Rome, after a small stint back at my office in the city, the Captain and I went off in June to Puglia, where we stayed in one of their famous trollos.  We were surrounded by trees, so swam naked in their lengthy pool and slept and read and ate to our hearts’ delights.

The two guard-cats were mother and son.  He, the son, was a bit of a muscle bound lad, who went out for late nights and fought off any other cat imposters.  His mother who was half his size would pace the terrace in the morning looking anxious about her son so that when he returned at each midday she would nuzzle up to him in a way that clearly embarrassed him but he would nuzzle her back briefly just to keep her happy.  She showed her talents one night when we had lit all the insect coils and were drinking cool wine to candle light when she heard the rustle of a mouse and caught it while it attempted to flee at such a pace that we were awe struck.  She did not bring it to us, but subtly lifted it away from us.  We really grew to love those cats.

The owner, a beautiful artist had introduced us on the night of our arrival, and asked if I had minded feeding them.  She was the daughter of the man who had originally bought the trollo, who had been rendered unable to walk from a terrible accident: his doctor had advised him to leave the north of Italy and live in the south, where he believed it had healing powers.  He oversaw the building whilst developing a company in olive oil and preserved luxury foods, having been originally a furniture designer and seller.  The accident had been when on business to Moscow on a train in 2009, when it was bombed killing all his fellow passengers except himself.  Traumatised and injured badly, the trollo and its terrain brought him back to life, so that eventually he was able to get up from his wheel-chair and move freely.  The Captain and I were moved by the background history and found ourselves in full agreement, that it was the most secluded and restorative place we had come across.

Both the Captain and I had done the shopping, cooking and cleaning, so he had also booked three days in the best hotel in Monopoli.  I was completely bewitched.  This elegant town felt the way that Capri must have felt when all those film stars discovered it in the fifties.  Elegant, unpretentious and completely beautiful, the food and wine was all divine.  The castle opposite the hotel had an exhibition of Jean Miro so that even between swims in the clear Aegean ocean, we could take in culture as well.  The hotel suite had an added perk of its own roof terrace with a waterfall shower as well as its own steam room in the shower cabin, which we tried out at least three times.  It was possible to rig up the stereo and have special lighting, after which your skin felt like silk.  The beds were the most comfortable I had ever slept in.

A few more weeks after returning to the office, I then began my annual month off in August, during which I usually continue to write my book, paint and catch up with friends.  However, on this occasion two interesting auditions came up, one through a friend who had personally recommended me, and I got it.  It begins rehearsal on the 30th August and we open 18th September at the White Bear Theatre in Kennington.  It is called The Sword of Alex by Rib Davies, and Brian Woolland directs.  It is a very good role and a unique play.  I am already mentally and physically getting myself prepared for it.

In the meantime, a few months previously, I had bought return tickets for about four days (two of which were travelling days) to visit dear friends in Corfu who had a spare studio at their villa and had been keen for the Captain and me to join them.  The Captain had promised other good mates to house sit their dog in their absence in Warwickshire, so it was just little old me, but I had a great time.  The people in Corfu are so very warm and welcoming, it would be difficult to not fall in love with them and their scenery.  I walked and swam in the clearest of Ionian seas, the colour of turquoise but completely clear and devoid of any nasties like jelly-fish.  The little picture below is the card I painted to thank my hosts.  It was the view outside my studio window.

I very nearly also went to the south of France on the invitation of other lovely mates, but I felt the preparation for the play and my money had to be saved, so I drew the line.  I was invited to read for a pilot sit-com on my return from Corfu by one of the very talented members of the Wolfpack Productions team, which was a really fun role, so I do hope the commissioning editors recognise its full potential.

So here we are.  TV to watch: the next series of Better Call Saul and Osark on Netflix.  I’m Dying Up Here on Sky.  Other than that, I am now signing off the radar until October 6th when the play ends.  We plan to have our kitchen and floors done at that point so I might still be off the radar until November, who knows?  Life is full of surprises.

 

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Nuancing the Rome

Last night in bed I wrote the greatest blog…in my head.  This morning none of the words or ideas are springing into my brain with the force of my night-time insomnia.  It went a little like this.

I had been ruminating on how, on my visit to Rome, (glorious, wonderful, more on that later) the sculpted head of the Emperor Nero (the one who took it upon himself to have his mother murdered) was very similar to Emperor Trump’s visage.  Take a look on Google.  Others have made the same comparison.  It’s uncanny.

We have reality television to blame for everything.  If we had not been so madly addicted to watching people psychologically destroy each other, Emperor Trump would never have been elected.  Most of America would not have known the famous reality TV star whose catch-phrase “You’re fired” has since echoed down the corridors of the White House.  Mr Trump, and his complete lack of nuance had become a celebrity, and that is all you need to become a world leader in America.

Since then, we have all been watching the slow demise of anything possessing nuance.  Mr Putin and Mr Trump and like minded individuals puff their chests out as far as they can, beat them with their large, forceful fists and make loud noises.  Nuance is dead.  The days of Kissinger speaking in hushed tones guiding or manipulating are over. Of course this rubs off on how society behaves.  The days of job interviews in which both parties treat each other with intelligence are over.  The days when a person decides to set up a business because he or she loved the product they were making are over.

In our current climate, it is more likely you will find two or three individuals who will set up a company, let’s say an insurance company.  They will brand it, market it and then sell the whole thing a year later having made a mint.  They will not keep the company, nurturing it and ensuring that its integrity, values and philosophy remain in tact through the years.  No, they will MAKE MONEY out of it by selling it.  Then they will make another one.  Let’s say an online house-swapping agency.  Which will be marketed and branded and sold.  They will make money out of that.  This story will carry on until they are lying in their death bed.  Their children, if they have any, will sit around the bed.  Tell us your life story, they will say.  Well, I made a company, sold it, made money, made another company, sold it, made money and then made another….. REALLY?  Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist, a play first performed in 1610 was utterly visionary.  As far as I can see, these individuals are not even making fake gold, they are selling hot air and we, yes I am talking about you and me, we are buying it.  Just like we are buying Trump.  As I said, on the whole, nuance is dead.  It will be a word that will not have it’s definition given in future dictionaries.

However, since the ability to sense nuance appears to be part of an ancient of civilisation, one in which people value kindness, love, culture, art, design, morals and integrity it came as no surprise to find it in Rome.  I can hear you gasp because obviously Berlusconi is hardly the personification of any of the values I have listed, but remember, his endless presence has been something that the Romans have chosen to ignore as much as possible.  Maybe this Five Star Movement had had some sort of positive effect.  Maybe the anger at Brexit had created a flush of pride in their own nation for still being a part of Europe. I really could not say.  Maybe it was the weather.  Maybe the happiness of my dear friend who I stayed with rubbed off on me.  I do not know, but it was my umpteenth visit and I fell in love with it all over again.

On my arrival on a Thursday evening, she, let’s call her the Italian, picked me up in her beautifully designed Alfa Romeo.  The seats were the colour of red wine and immediately put me in a good mood.  After parking somewhere near (parking like London is an issue) she took me to her new home.  Just off from the Coliseum up a cobble road, it’s shuttered windows greeted us with crimson bougainvillea surrounding the frames.  Inside was parquet flooring, comfortable rooms, her collections of necklaces and rings displayed on sculptured trees crafted in far-away-places, house plants dangled from shelves, it was all glorious.  We ambled off to one of her favourite venues round the corner, drank red wine, ate their home made gnocchi and talked until the early hours.

In the morning, she bravely sat me on the back of her scooter and we breezed through the golden air of Rome passing the ancient monuments which took on a cinematic quality from where I was sitting.  We had breakfast at another favourite cafe, where they served me pistachio croissant and cappuccino with a little Zabaglione in the top part.  Sumptuous.  A little clothes and window shopping followed, salad lunch and a cold glass of wine on her terrace that overlooked Rome and its trees and architecture, then a trip to a Hammam, designed exactly like the original Roman ones were, with a massage to complete it.  We floated off to a small afternoon doze, then supper with her daughter, more white wine and a gorgeous pasta with Pecorino called Cacio e Pepe: divine, in case you hadn’t guessed.  Saturday, within an hour’s drive, we were at the beach, where large charismatic, deep-voiced men with dark eyebrows looked after us, feeding us with more white wine and their latest catch of all the seafood they could find, followed by a doze on the beach.  We had drinks and a late supper that night in town, all gorgeous but we had both begun to loose our voices with our jaw-aching talks (she is my oldest friend from boarding school, we have known each other since we were eleven), so we retired at a reasonable hour, ready for Sunday morning, where the Italian had booked a viewing of le Domus Romane di Palazzo Valentini, which had been worked on over the last twenty years.  It combined real archaeological artefacts and CGI / Virtual Reality assisted graphics so that you could imagine and also actually see what this home of someone in 400 AD was like.  Red marble staircase, a hammam, a  huge pillar with a long story engraved on it all the way to the top of the wars between Trajan and Dajan.  It blew my mind.  Walks in a rose-filled park followed and a farmers market, lunch on the terrace and then packing to return.

The Italian brought me luck because I had a very exciting casting that week, back in London, for a telly film that would be shot in a warm, far-away place.  For a delightful change, it was enjoyable and filled to the brim with nuance so we won’t be attending its funeral yet.  Nuance, that is.

Weekends with the May weather, have been filled with gardening, Italian lessons, which are always accompanied with Italian food and Mediterranean walks at night along the river Thames.  The Captain and I are now really excited about our summer holiday in Puglia in June.  I have added more excitement by booking three days to Corfu in August, on the invitation of other good mates, so I have been prepping by watching The Durrells on TV.  Very enjoyable, to the point that I think I want to read the books again.

I am on my seventh draft of my novel, about to amend Chapter Seven, having restructured it on the advice of my writing pal.  I am not a natural novel writer, with a burning need to write every day.  I do it if I cannot find any laundry, cooking, ANYTHING else to do.  So the progress is slow.  My reading it limited at the moment, to an enormous, tiny printed account of what happened to the cotton industry between this country and America, in terms of the termination of slavery.  It’s a toughie and as I am not a good reader, again, progress is slow.

In terms of what I am watching, in addition to previous blogs, I am enjoying the new series Barry and also Brockmire on Sky.  We loved Mindhunter and the documentary Wild Wild Country on Netflix.  I am afraid that I was disappointed by Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri as I felt it to be too violent without enough dark humour that Martin McDonagh did so well in his previous In Bruges.  Armando Ianucci’s Death of Stalin is very well worth watching.

So I think that’s it.  You will probably conclude that I am enjoying my life despite my sense that nuance is an elusive quality that we no longer see.  The key is, I find, that I will live my life with as much of it as I can, in the knowledge that many will not pick up or recognise it.  That’s fine with me.  If others wish to live their lives without it, go ahead.  Just remember, how you live now will rear its head in those last moments.  Just saying.  Peace and love to y’all.

 

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Welcome 2018, if I smile, will you give me everything I want please?

So here we are.  The end of an epic year. I am only referring to my own little microcosm, not global affairs such as the T word regarding America or the B word regarding Europe.  I honestly cannot be bothered to spend any more time on them.  It achieves nothing.

Having shared the Captain’s hell of losing his mother at the beginning of this year through to mid-April, and also hearing of his two old friends who were both his age and were also snatched away by the C-word, having also supported the incredibly busy schedule that followed his work life, it has been a year of mixed emotions.

I have been lucky enough to still have my parents both alive and happily married to each other, a brother who has been through much hell this year, but is stoically forging ahead, so I have no real right to complain.  I was in a one-woman show in the early part of the year at Theatre 503, called Safe to Shoot by the brilliant Polly Churchill, which tested my boundaries, but artistically was beneficial to me.  I was also in a short film, which was a total joy, which has been accepted to show at many festivals.  It is called Two Strangers Who Meet Five Times written and directed by the wonderful Marcus Markou of Double M films.  In addition,  I have recently had several opportunities that were from film makers and theatre makers who had stumbled across my Spotlight page and invited me to meet them, so I am feeling confident that my page with its show-reel and headshots is doing its job well, seemingly for all mediums, although I should really like to see more television castings.

Having tinkered with my TV sit-com that I have written, I am going to be submitting it to literary agents, alongside additional comedy sketches and a one act play, and see if anyone bites.  The literary novel that I am also penning has been coming together, with the mutual aid of an old chum.  We are both writing novels, and our skills are very different so that our meetings to criticise constructively are helping us both progress in a far more motivated way than if we were still going it alone.  We have both agreed that it is very handy and I recommend a writing chum to all, if they are having a go at it.  So I am at the stage now where I am editing and re-writing, creating much more structure and meaning, and we shall see.  I have been working on it for an awfully long time, and I almost do not care if it never gets finished, just as long as I can keep working on it.  I mean, what on earth will I do when it is finished?  The chum has helped me see what the story might actually be about, and what genre it is.  It’s  a psychological thriller, in case you wanted to know.

This year, to celebrate bringing in the 2018, a core group of neighbours were invited to the new neighbour’s house.  The Captain and I lined the stomachs with Spaghetti Carbonara, which the former has always cooked to perfection, and then wandered round the corner to the new neighbours’ large Chiswick house, in which we drank Champagne, drank Expresso Martinis, played darts and watched the fireworks as midnight struck.  It was one of the sweetest parties that we have attended in a long time and I believe it is boding well for what is lined up for me this year.

I was lucky enough to visit Prague for my birthday this December where the Captain was filming a new series for Amazon.  I was presented with a beautifully designed huge aqua-marine and diamond ring, made by the Captain’s close friend, who will be known in this blog as The Jeweller.  So having gone to Paris the month before, I did feel like a very spoilt lucky wife.  The lead up to Christmas is always fun, but the actual day was difficult for the Captain due to it being his first one without his mother.  We had been obliged to attend a wedding in Yorkshire on the 22nd, so we only managed to get back home by the evening of the 23rd, had a few quiet days including a charming local pub drink with our neighbours, boxing day involved travelling to Warwickshire to the Jeweller’s family for a clay pigeon shoot which was fun, but I am untalented with my aim, sadly.  The 29th was presents and Christmas with my parents and brother, which was low-key and by then, everyone seemed to have caught the lurgy that had been around for the last two weeks.

Meanwhile, we have a visiting mouse, who has now avoided all traps and the pest control man, Matthew Mouse-Man, has assured us that there is currently only one, but he is not touching any of the traps laid out for him.  He seems very casual in his stance, ambling past us to his favourite nook under the cupboard on most nights, to the point that I was sure he did the V sign to us the other night.  Or was he lighting a cigarette?  Either way, he has got to go.  So I am thinking that when we have won this war, and it is a war, I may get a cat or a small yappetty dog who likes killing mice.

So, what does 2018 hold for me then?  Well, if I get an advert, (dagnabbit, I MUST, I MUST) I am going to spend at least half of that dosh on a hot holiday during these dreary winter months.  I also plan to visit my mate in Rome, (if she is reading this, this is the first she hears of it, so I hope she likes the news).  I also plan to get loads of acting work, in particular on TELEVISION, so do send out great vibes for me on that one.  Hot middle aged woman who is great at comedy.  Yes, I know, self plugging.  Disgusting habit.  Too bad.  If you don’t like it, nobody is forcing you to read it.  So there.  I also plan to buy some more thermals from M & S.  Yes, that’s the exciting life I lead.  And some clothes and toiletries, of course.  I want to go to more galleries. Incidentally I watched a brilliant documentary on David Hockney on Sky Arts, which has inspired me to do more painting.  So there it is, success, love, money and holidays await me.  Just you wait.  What’s your 2018 got in store?

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All Work and No Play Makes Kate a Dull Soul, All Play and No Work Makes Kate a Sad Mole

This morning I was recalling the brilliant scene in Stanley Kubrik’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Shining, when Jack Nicholson starts to type phrases repeatedly. I have adapted the idea for the title of this blog. It is very likely to be the sentiment of many people, whose lives have now been stopped for a year and a quarter, and may continue to be disrupted for longer.

I do wonder what the point of the vaccine has been if the government are not going to use it for its purpose, i.e. to rehabilitate the nation back into the workplace and into life again. I know that the Delta mutation has caused these actions, and I agree that it was idiotic not to keep the borders closed at the time, but despite its dangers, the vaccine has proved in the main to work against the Delta variant. I have now been walking up and down the Thames daily and heard the most inane comments. My favourite has been, “For me, it’s been a great COVID. Our family have bonded and we’ve bought a car and a dog.”

Well, how marvellous. Has it been nice, I wonder, living off the furlow money, buying new cars and redecorating your house? I, as a self-employed artist have not been entitled to any further money this year, and what I was given last year was minimal, but, like the rest of the nation, when and if I ever work again, I will be taxed for over the next ten years or however long it is going to take to pay off the debts.

Yet, we are still not being allowed to actually work in a realistic way. Theatres are still mainly staying closed because social distancing makes it pointless despite the double vaccines of the potential audience. Filming projects stop and start, due to members of the crew and cast having had contact with someone who might have had contact with someone else who has COVID, and despite testing negative and having had two vaccines, they have to isolate, thus causing the entire machine to stop. Mask-touting health and safety obsessives within the industry are observing every new little law with the zeal of a new religion, in order to tick all the boxes that the insurance companies present, despite there being no proof that masks prevent the microbial virus spreading. The vaccine’s success has meant that less people are dying from our pandemic than from normal flu on a daily basis, but the new way forward, it seems, is to remain locked-down forever.

Those in charge are laughable. Our P.M. is busy writing an autobiography on Shakespeare, while I would have thought he might have a few more important subjects to focus on, such as how to run this country efficiently, given that he has alienated most people from Europe, our neighbours. At least our ex-health minister has finally had his true, foul colours revealed, which I suspect was leaked at an opportune moment that suited the rest of those in power. Maybe the new one will do as he promises, and get us creaking back into normal life, but I am not holding my breath.

In the meantime, quite apart from my non-existent professional life, the Captain has had more self-tape castings than is humanly possible. I am happy to help direct and read in the other roles for him, because it would be nice if at least one of us had something good happening, but deep inside me, it hurts somewhat that I can’t be thrown a scrap from the banqueting table.

Just to rub salt into the wound, the neighbourhood voted to have our road as a filming location for Danny Boyle’s Pistols, so there are lots of industry folks dashing about preparing for their work. It feels ironic that only a little while before COVID kicked in, I had been a finalist for an OFFIE award, which at the time lead me to the misdirected belief that finally my career was veering into a new groove. All the ill health that I had experienced for a decade of my life, which had stood in the way of my progress, could be put behind me, I thought. Nope.

There of course would be a way to avoid all this. Go on holiday. Oh yes. I’ve just remembered. We aren’t allowed. This is where my patience completely runs out. I went to an utterly dogmatic boarding school that did not really even let me wash when I wanted to. I did not sign up to live in a totalitarian state as an adult. Never mind, perhaps I could solve this by just enjoying my own garden and sunshine. Oh, I forgot. It’s raining.

A sad distraction was that our dear neighbour and friend’s cat, Jeremy Clawbyn, who we all adored because he visited all of our houses each day was found dead without a scar on him and his collar removed, in a rubbish heap near the A4. He did not deserve that end, and was too young and healthy to die. We all miss him, although the birds seem understandably relieved. The same neighbours, with whom we shared an evening of celebrating Jeremy Clawbyn’s life by testing a variety of alcohols, have been enjoying an invented, secret game with a gnome. He is one foot tall and made of pottery-clay and enjoys sporting a yellow hat and carrying a little axe. He was a family gift to them which they received with trepidation. We have consequently taunted each other with said gnome at surprising intervals. The Captain and I came back from this weekend to find he had a little, cardboard spade and had dug himself a hole next to one of my plant pots. The Captain and I are planning our childish revenge. We’ll see.

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