November 7, 2015

Shadows is here!

Good news? Remind me what that is again?


Peter had a second stroke on the 7th of September.

I’ve got that far writing you a catch-up blog, and stalled, several times over the last two months*. Life-changing events of the negative sort perhaps often have that effect:  This is what’s happened. Noooooo. And your mind goes blank again.  As mine keeps doing.**

He was in hospital for not quite a fortnight*** and then went straight into a care home which is where he still is and where I wearily and dejectedly hope he stays. We’ll call it Rivendell:  that’s the sort of name care homes have, and its real one is almost as silly.†  He’s still Peter and he can still open one eye where he’s snoozing on his bed and put you right about a Shakespeare/Bible/Kipling/Housman/Hardy quote without fully waking up, but he is terrifyingly frail. Terrifyingly. Through Admetus’ kindness we’ve inherited Alcestis’ folding, fits-in-the-boot-of-your-car wheelchair, three-wheelie walker thing†† and flashy red-leather disabled badge holder.  We use all of them regularly.

This was not the plan. But the plan went south twelve years ago when Peter and I left the old house back in Warm Upford, because he was beginning to feel his age.  Plans change.  I don’t really know what the plan is now.  Get through today.  Get through tomorrow.  Get through next week. . . . †††

As you can imagine morale is not high. And there’s a lot of sheer business detail that someone has to attend to.  The brunt of it falls on me of course but all four of Peter’s kids are pitching in enormously.  This isn’t helping my staring into the endless dark at 3 am but it does mean that my mental and physical leaky-sieve qualities are not a disaster.  It also means that the three relatively local kids take him for proper outings.  He’s in Rivendell because it has by far the best reputation in the area, but it’s pretty much at the stretch of my ME-oppressed daily commuting distance.  I can take him to tea in Mauncester‡ and we’ve reinstated our lovely weekly library visits which involve books AND tea than which it does not get better‡‡ but that’s about it.  But Peter is presently having a comprehensive tour of all the local hot spots we never got around to visiting because we live here, compliments his indefatigable children.

My life is on hold‡‡‡; no bell ringing, no voice lessons, no Sams, no Street Pastors, no . . . whatever I used to do.  Some of it with Peter.  I may be forgetting.§  Except for Peter.  I remember Peter.§§

Ask me about my life in, oh, say six months.  Although I’ll try not to leave it that long before I post again.

* * *

* And started this one a week ago. It originally said ‘almost two months’.

** I suppose I could try blaming the ME. It does have its uses.  I’d rather not have it as a scapegoat and dustbin but as long as I do have it I might as well make it work for its keep.

*** And was about ready to steal a cardboard box and live on the street to get out. This seems to me a healthy, sensible attitude toward being in hospital.  If you need it you have to lump it but it’s not a fun time for anyone.  AND. THE.  FOOD.  Dear frelling subgod of food. You’d think that with a lot of sick people under your roof you would be deeply concerned with getting the best possible nutrition into them, wouldn’t you?  Instead so far as I can tell hospitals go to Central Nutritional Casting and order someone who can fill out a balance sheet and lives on Snickers bars.  And our local hospital, at whose table Peter has failed to feast on occasions previously, is far from the worst in this regard.^

^ Very slightly in their defense—very very slightly—he was on soft food for about the first week which limited the initial range.  But, you know, after that?  Um, say, SALAD?  What would that be again?  Something with mayo and macaroni perhaps?  A serving of broccoli consists of one finger-sized floret cooked just short of disintegration point.  If they could harness the precision skill needed for this feat they could probably send that settlement party to Mars.+  How do they expect anyone to get WELL on this stuff?  It’s not like they need to fill beds.  They need to unfill beds.

+ We liked THE MARTIAN. Just by the way.  Our local cinema had a refit just in time to make Peter comfortable in the admirable new sofas at the back.  I will, however, indulge in a rant about disabled access some other time.

† Or maybe sillier.

†† I think these are dead cool. There are a gazillion different styles—Admetus says Alcestis really enjoyed trolling catalogues and the internet for precisely the right make and model.  But they’re all like a kind of souped-up shopping trolley.  This one has a basket, a bag and a tray.^  And brakes, for when you’ve got your shopping trolley a trifle overloaded with all the fresh stuff you’ve been MISSING while you’ve been in hospital^^ and there’s a slope.  I realise it wouldn’t be cost effective but I wish ordinary shopping trolleys had brakes.  My most memorable wheeled and brakeless moment was probably one afternoon chasing a trolley full of champagne^^^ down a long car park toward Wolfgang and flinging myself sideways against the handlebar to get the thing to turn in at the appropriate bay.^^^^

^ Pav would fit in the basket. I don’t suppose she’d stay there.

^^ Lettuce doesn’t weigh much but almost everything else does. And even lettuce weighs a surprising amount when it’s on its own core and isn’t just loose leaves.

^^^ Well. Cheap fizz.  On sale.

^^^^ That experience may be the source of one of Wolfgang’s dents. But it’s a small, delicate, charming dent.  And none of the bottles of fizz exploded.

††† I am so not thinking about Christmas. We’re going to a lavish high tea^ at one of these country house nobody-ever-lived-like-this fantasy places for my birthday with several of the family.^^  If this is fun we may do it again for Peter’s birthday.  Peter, as you may imagine, is not feeling enthusiastic about birthday celebrations.

^ It makes me a little cranky that now that gluten-free has become a fashion accessory almost everyone curls their lip when you ask about availability. On the other hand for those of us who discovered years before it became cutting edge style that gluten-free is a very good idea when we’re under stress it’s nice that there now is availability.  What it is to be ahead of the frelling curve.  Like the ME:  as I’ve snarled here many times before, I’d had it eight years or so before the NHS decided it existed.  Thanks.  Now get away from me with those drugs.

^^ If I can convince someone else to do the Rivendell-tea-Rivendell drive I will have a glass of champagne. At Rivendell I can hit the cranberry juice and sober up before I have to drive home.

‡ Bright spots include finding a fabulous new tea shop with good tea and gluten-free.^

^ Although . . . guaranteed weight-loss diet? Go vegetarian+ a month or six weeks before your husband has a second stroke, while you’re still learning what you can and can’t eat and of what you can what does and does not taste good or sit well in your stomach++, and if you’re dairy free also (yes) most of your new options are lower-cal than your old, and you may absent-mindedly find yourself with a plate of something you don’t eat any more and then can’t be bothered replacing it with anything, because who feels like eating when your husband has just had a stroke?

+ It’s a long story. Tell you some other time.#

# It’s game-bird season and I’m feeling a little wistful. Also.  Christmas without turkey.  Golly.

++ Which in my case is possessed by demons so this is always an interesting gauntlet to renegotiate. <mixed metaphor alert>  If you had a gut like mine you too would indulge in mixed metaphors when attempting to describe it.  Not too graphically.

‡‡ Yes, okay, champagne. But not when I’m driving.

‡‡‡ Barring the hellmob of course. They’re all yo, we want our hurtles, we want our food,^ we want our hanging out, we want our lying in heaps together.  They are of course aware that Something is Wrong—if for no other reason than that the majority of our hanging-out time no longer occurs at Third House—but critters are admirably single-minded and this does provide valuable grounding when you’re pretty much off your face.  Also the advantages of warm fur during the 3 am bleak-staring phases cannot be overstated.

One of Rivendell’s not-so-minor advantages is that they’re critter-friendly. There are a lot of dogs that visit, now including the hellhounds.^^  There are a couple of bull terrier fanciers however who are waiting for me to have a good moment to bring the hellterror in.  She takes more advance planning and my advance-planning function is a little unreliable at the moment.

^ All right, the hellterror wants her food.  But I think the hellhounds would miss the lively and interesting interactions with the hellgoddess if she didn’t regularly produce food for them to despise.

^^ I’m so used to the staff liking dogs that when the hellhounds rushed one of the carers who came to check on Peter the other night it didn’t occur to me that she would do anything but greet them in the manner to which they have become accustomed and the poor woman had palpitations. Oops.

§ My poor garden. . . . ^

^ I suppose I should say ‘my poor floors’ and ‘my poor dusty and grimy shelves’ and ‘my poor heaps of unsorted gubbins in all the corners and against all the walls’ but housework has never been a major centre to my existence. Although it’s true that when the gubbins start extruding long tentacles and chasing you from room to room, um . . .

§§ Story writing? No. Which may also be why I feel so, I don’t know, hollow?

YESTERDAY’S POST. Hurrah Grrrrrr etc.



This would be the apple tree (I only have one: it’s a very small garden) that grows—or anyway grew, I am still hoping still restorably grows*—against the flapdoodling wall that fell down with an almighty roar at 2 am two? three? years ago.   And in the former instance, even when I went out to have a look around I didn’t see anything amiss . . . it was dark and there was an apple tree between the faint kitchen-door light and the fallen-down wall. The apple tree, so far as I am aware, made no sound at all in the falling. It was still standing this morning at (mumble mumble mumble) when I let the hellmob out for the last time and when dawn was (ahem) beginning to make her presence felt (ahem) and I would have SEEN if there was an apple tree lying across the courtyard. There was not.

When I staggered downstairs again some time later I was vaguely aware that there seemed to be less courtyard than usual and more sky . . . but I was busy tying off a vein and getting ready to shoot up my first hit of caffeine** and it wasn’t till a little later (after the caffeine had gone around poking my neurons with a small but pointy stick) that it finally registered THERE IS LESS COURTYARD AND MORE SKY OUT THERE. WAIT. WHAT.

So I went out and looked. In the pouring rain. Just by the way. Briefly accompanied by Chaos, who was equally offended by the rain and the encroaching foliage, both of which of course he expected me to make go away.


I’d stopped worrying about my tree’s roots when it had produced not one but two good harvests of lovely apples after The Year of the Wall (okay so it must be coming up three years). It’s even got a nice sturdy prop as cut and fitted by the inestimable Atlas to hold it up because it does get rather splendidly carried away by the whole Apple Production thing. I can still see the prop . . . it came down with the tree. Siiiiiigh. And I had noticed that the branches were hanging pretty low . . . but they do, this time of year. The gazillion apples still on it now were due to start getting ripe in less than a month, and for six weeks or two months if I was lucky, I’d be eating two or four or for maybe a mad week mid-season six apples off my tree nearly every day. ***



And this is only the beginning. I can’t actually ascertain the extent of the damage because this suddenly-gigantic† tree is blocking all access. It has subsided gently, face forward, into the courtyard . . . and I can’t get around it. The garden generally is a trifle . . . erm . . . jungly, and the path round the back of it is now obliterated by Tree. The obvious way to get behind the tree ought to be through the greenhouse. Except that the top bolt on the greenhouse only opens from the inside. Which I can’t get to because there is this tree now occupying the space.†† Generously. Comprehensively. I don’t want to think about what’s been crushed to oblivion underneath it in that corner. Several painstakingly staked and trussed-up dahlias, for example. And possibly several roses. The irony is that I’d just about got that corner sorted out and was bracing myself to venture past the apple tree to the back path where the triffids lurk. The shrub roses I can replace if I have to but the tree also has a fabulous Dreaming Spires climbing up through it which I do not want to lose. Dreaming Spires is a classic but getting hard to find and the rumour is she’s losing her vigour. Mine took a few years to get going but she was MAGNIFICENT this year and hearty as anything with thumb-circumference stems . . . one of which I noticed, trailing in the courtyard as she now is, was coming into a fabulous second flush of flowers. WAAAAAAAAAH.

At least I got the 1,000,000,000 microscopic pansy seedlings potted into a tray yesterday (potting up requires greenhouse access) mere minutes after they arrived in the post. This is not the way things usually go around here. Better yet they are sitting in their tray beyond crash circumference.

Meanwhile it’s still raining. No doubt washing away what remained of the ground holding the tree up. I’m not going to try to do anything till it STOPS RAINING.†††

Note that it is still raining today. –ed.

* * *

Well clearly I had to tell the not-quite-ex blog about my apple tree. I still don’t mean to let it—the blog or the tree—become entirely ex but I admit both are looking a little buffeted by fate at the minute.

The problem with getting enmeshed in volunteering for charitable organisations is that they are by definition short-staffed and perhaps especially when God Told You To it can be difficult to differentiate between default guilt‡ and the Voice of God. ‡‡ So there’s that.  Also Niall’s answer to all matters of low morale is More Bell Ringing. I still haven’t been back to Forza but he and I are now regulars at Crabbiton‡‡‡ and lately Niall, whom we all know is relentless and furthermore can smell weakness, suggested brightly that we add the tower at Tir nan Og to the list so most weeks we do. And then there are handbells. Do you remember Titus, our one-handed handbell ringer? He is CHALLENGING to ring with because handbells go such a lick and your poor overheating brain has to try to decipher a whole new set of signals from two bells in one hand. I got pressed into service this month because all his regular regulars are away on holiday, except Niall, and Titus has now apparently decided I’m fun to watch—I’m not a good handbell ringer, okay? And there aren’t many mediocre ringers who are willing to make fools of themselves ringing with him—and so Pressure Is Being Brought To Bear that I should continue amusing him on a weekly basis. Niall, of course, always has diary space to squeeze in more handbells.

If I agree it will be because Titus’ wife Andromache makes fabulous cakes for the tea break, and when I’m not in gluten-free purgatory, tucking into one of hers is almost worth looking like a twit with bells in my hands. Also, it’s nice to see Haro again. I think he frelling REMEMBERS me as a dog nutter. Maybe it’s just the way my jeans smell of the hellmob. He’s all grown up but he still wants to play tug-of-war and have his belly rubbed.

And with Admetus still mysteriously willing to do the driving, Peter’s and my cultural event calendar is revolutionised. I told you about EVERYMAN. We saw two live-streaming Glyndebourne operas AT A TOTALLY UNFINDABLE BY RATIONAL THIS-WORLD MEANS LIKE MAPS AND STREET SIGNS cinema, which labyrinthine adventure(s) could have been a blog post in themselves:  Mozart’s ABDUCTION FROM THE SERAGLIO and Britten’s THE RAPE OF LUCRETIA.

I will pretty much watch/listen to anything that has anything to do with Mozart although a LOT of his operas make me eat the scenery not in a good way—MAGIC PATRIARCHAL THUG FLUTE? COSI MISOGYNIST FAN TUTTE? Yes I know the blokes don’t come off well either but I think the women are portrayed more meanly. DON EWWWWW ANNA EWWWWWW ELVIRA EWWWWWW GIOVANNI? Also EWWWW OTTAVIO. But, you know, the music . . .

I think I’ve only seen SERAGLIO staged once and . . . was not impressed. There are a plentiful sufficiency of major plot problems:   the comedy and the non-comedy collide rather than mesh; and Constanze is supposed to have some difficulty resisting the pasha’s beguilements and—this is the cranky modern feminist thing of course, but still—I’m all Hello? Twelve wives already? He may want you today but next week he’ll be on to number fourteen. Think about it. It’s not like you have friends at court. —Also one minute he’s saying, darling I will wait for you forever and the next minute he’s having a tantrum and saying DO ME NOW OR DIE. Poor impulse control. Not surprising in a man who can add wives at whim.

However. In the first place this one was beautifully sung—from Glyndebourne, better had be—but the acting was of a, er, surprisingly high calibre as well. If you suspended your disbelief with adequate earnestness you could find the comic bits funny. But the revelation was the pasha. It’s a non-singing role. I hate non-singing roles in opera. There are operas where falling into spoken dialogue works pretty well—CARMEN comes to mind§—but non-speaking roles even if whoever isn’t on stage that much bring the whole show to a crashing, sucking-black-hole stop for this opera fanatic. And the pasha is one of the worst. So when Mr Pasha came on stage and he’s a blatant piece of beefcake I’m trying not to spit and throw things at the screen§§ but SPARE. ME. ARRRRRRGH.

But . . . this particular fellow is a, you know, real actor. He has presence. He has authority. Even without his shirt. I still don’t see the attraction of someone with twelve wives already even if he does strip well, but as a fulfilment of that role, Mr Beefcake is ace.§§§ And in the last act when Konstanza and her dull stick of a boyfriend and their two servants are trying to escape and the pasha catches them and there’s the awkward discovery that the dull stick of a boyfriend’s dad is the pasha’s worst enemy . . . The pasha pretty much has to do the ‘miser leans against wall and becomes generous’ cliché to let them go because the libretto says he lets them go. But Mr Beefcake brings it off. He brings it off. He does say that he isn’t going to be the disgusting creep that his worst enemy is, but he invests that declaration so you believe it. And when he says to Konstanze, I hope you will never regret your choice . . . I know his dad, my back hair stood up and briefly and for the first time I thought so, maybe twelve wives isn’t an insurmountable obstacle.

I’ve heard THE RAPE OF LUCRETIA before, but I’ve never seen it staged. It’s a powerful, and very rough experience; Britten and his librettist pull no punches about what’s happening, and about the emotional reality of his characters, so that you are helplessly right there with them as heavy, inexorable fate crunches over them. Especially over Lucretia, who kills herself, because she cannot bear the shame of what has happened to her. In my careless modern-feminist way the story has always made me sad and angry: she was raped. It’s not her shame. Only in a society where women only matter for their genitalia is suicide the victim’s inevitable outcome, blah blah blah. It’s not that simple here however. I should have had more faith in Britten even if I know zip about his librettist#—although I’m curious about the British zeitgeist Britten was writing for, just-post-WWII, when there was still not enough of anything—including money for the staging of new operas—and the men were coming home and throwing women out of the jobs they had been doing in many cases very competently thank you while all the men were out blowing up other men, and during which Britten had mostly been in America which was not looked on charitably by many of the British. Also he was gay in an era that didn’t readily accept gays. All kinds of tensions in the local atmosphere to build a difficult, morally ambiguous opera out of.

It was again beautifully sung; also the role of Lucretia was written for Kathleen Ferrier so there are some thrilling low notes. Not enough contraltos in opera. Say I. I thought this staging sucked, however; I don’t care that it was Fiona Shaw and everyone speaks in hushed reverent tones about her taking the drama back to the bare bones or whatever the frell. It was dark and ugly and stupid and I’m tired of fake stage dirt.## But the singing was not just superb but convincing### —convincing in that holding on despairingly with both hands way of people at, and over, the edge. We came out of the cinema shaken~ which is what you want from this piece. If you don’t want to be shaken, don’t see this opera.

And this Thursday we’re going to see . . . Prokofiev’s WAR AND PEACE? Berlioz’ LES TROYENS?

No. Pixar’s INSIDE OUT.

* * *

* It produces VERY GOOD APPLES

** Ahhhhhhh. Mmmmmmmm.

*** I am not kidding that I am an apple junkie.

† Apple trees can be pretty huge. This one isn’t, till it falls over in a little garden. I don’t know if it is naturally not huge or if it’s on ‘dwarfing rootstock’ as they say, but it’s still a good ten feet tall. And ten feet wide. And bushy. And covered in apples.

†† When I told Peter this he laughed. I am going to hide his favourite mug and steal the fuse out of the toaster plug^ before I leave tonight. Oh, and back at the cottage bury my landline mobile in the pile of (CLEAN) hellmob-bed blankets^^ and turn Pooka off.^^^

Okay, I forgot to do this.  Opportunity wasted.  Sigh. –ed.

^ Reminder to Americans: Britain has vicious, bloodthirsty, megastrength electricity. Therefore all your appliances have GIGANTIC plugs with individual fuses in them.

^^ You can’t TURN OFF the freaking ring on my landline phone. YOU. CAN’T. TURN. IT. OFF. WHAT THE WHAT THE WHAT THE. I believe I did some blog screaming about this when I first bought the thing. But the ring emerges from the mobile, for some reason, so the idiotic recourse is to BURY the mobile. And since I never USE the mobile—I couldn’t get the message machine I wanted WITHOUT a mobile—I have to remember to unbury it occasionally because if it runs out of juice the phone dies. IN SPITE OF THE FACT THAT THE MAIN UNIT IS PLUGGED INTO THE MAINS. Technology. Feh. The wheel was a good idea. Why couldn’t we have stopped there?

^^^ Which doesn’t work as well as it might since even turned off an iPhone will burrrrrrr at you mercilessly. I take it to bed with me just in case Peter needs me at an inopportune hour+ and the way I sleep I hear it anyway. So if Pooka goes off and the caller is identified as Peter Dickinson I guess I have to answer it . . . oh well it will be worth it. I can be too sleepy to remember what mug. And the toaster doesn’t work? Gee. That’s odd.

+ You know, like 9 or 10 am.

††† The ladder lives in the garage. I could prop it against the outside of the greenhouse . . . but I’m not at all sure the gutters are cleared for full-grown human weight, even scrawny-hag weight. I could ask my neighbour if I could put my ladder on their side of the wall . . . but I’d need frelling rappelling gear to get down the other side. Heights are not my thing.

‡ Whatever It Is It Is My Fault Because I Am Stupid and Useless and I Must Pay.


‡‡‡ Where Wild Robert is MAKING ME LEARN TO CALL ANOTHER TOUCH OF GRANDSIRE DOUBLES AAAAAAAAAAAAAUGH. I’m sure I told you about learning the first, baby touch where all you really have to do is count your leads because the method work you do keeps repeating in a nice limited keep-trackable-of manner^. That was YEARS ago. I’m now being compelled, hot pincers at the ready, to learn a REAL touch where you have to make your way through the standard mazes of the wretched method yourself WHILE you’re trying to remember what to call and when to call it.

^ Although I wouldn’t think it was keep-trackable if I weren’t a handbell ringer, where slicing your brain up in pieces is de rigueur.

§ The version with recitative is later

§§ Peter is used to me. Admetus is not, and I want to keep him driving.

§§§ The one other time I’ve seen it the pasha was played for laughs which did not work at all.

# Ronald Duncan, who, according to Wiki, is also responsible for the film script of Girl on a Motorcycle, which even when I was young, horny, heavily into leather and motorcycles and moderately into mood-altering substances, I thought was one of the silliest movies ever. Mostly LUCRETIA’s libretto is a big plus—it’s intelligent, evocative and poetic. But there are a few big WHAT? moments: the whole drawn-galloping-out metaphor of Tarquinius and his, ahem, stallion^, goes on way too long in a piece this short and even as a metaphor it’s a little too off the wall about the reality of horses. Also, ‘the oatmeal slippers of sleep’? OATMEAL? As in PORRIDGE? What does oatmeal have to do with footgear or sleep?

^ Tarquinius is the rapist. You guessed that.

## See: GUILLAUME TELL. Which also had way too much metaphor-laden stage dirt.

### Okay, I had some reservations about the drama. I didn’t think the sexual tension between Lucretia and Tarquinius worked, for example, but then I also suspect Lucretia may be an impossible role. Also I was busy hating the staging. But in a moment not totally unlike the pasha saying ‘I knew his dad’ when the game suddenly changes, during the final confrontation between Lucretia and her husband when she is saying she can’t deal with it and he is saying there is no shame in her, the shame is in the lust and the taking, in Tarquinius . . .  there’s a word usage that really caught my ear.   Her husband says ‘what Lucretia has given can be forgiven’. Given? Forgiven? What? Anyone who can write about oatmeal slippers can’t be trusted, but I did wonder if that’s the moment when she knows she has to go through with it, kill herself.

~ Although the prospect of finding our way home from Cinema in Another Universe might have contributed to the emotional vertigo.



I hate technology.  I really, really, really really hate technology.  I have a 3000-word semi-catch-up post for you . . . which I can’t copy and paste into the blog admin window because the fancy pizzazzy ultrabook had a meltdown about a fortnight ago, ate its mouse and left me with somewhat rudimentary pad and pointer effects which . . . oh, never mind.  I can’t copy and paste, okay?  And I’m still waiting for the replacement mouse because the frelling mouse-replacement site keeps changing its mind about whether it’s in stock and when it can send me one.*

So I’ll email the ratbagging post to myself, pick it up on one of my OLD computers and post it from there.  But not tonight.  ARRRRRRRGH.

  • * * *

*Okay it’s not any old mouse.  It’s pink.



Admetus, Peter and I went to the live cinema screening of the National Theatre’s EVERYMAN tonight—yes, the medieval morality play*, yanked into the present day and adorned with bad language and cocaine by Carol Ann Duffy, of whom I am a besotted and drooling fan**, and when I saw this play existed and that, furthermore, the National Theatre was going to live-screen it I WANTED TO GO.***

IT IS WONDERFUL AND AMAZING AND POWERFUL AND TERRIFIC.  GO IF YOU HAVE THE CHANCE.  They do rescreenings for these live things some times . . . check your local listings.

* * *

* Which I read in college.  Hey, it’s shorter than Bunyan’s frelling PILGRIM’S PROGRESS.  Even us English majors have our limits.  Although I read most of Bunyan too.^

^ And I like Spenser, who usually appears on the same class syllabus.  Sue me.

* I admire both her poetry and her politics.  Generally speaking I remember a pressing engagement on the other side of the planet as soon as some arty type starts coming out in political activism like a rash, but there are a few who do it with aplomb, Duffy being one of them.  The fact that she’s hot on women’s and sexual and gender rights AND HAS A SENSE OF HUMOUR WITH IT might have something to do with this.^

^ Also my wet-liberal tendencies are getting larger and meaner and shorter-tempered+ as my Street Pastor and Samaritan duty hours rack up.

+ Frightening.  Yes.

*** There followed several months of frustration.  I cannot BELIEVE the level of meatloafhood in many and possibly most arts and entertainment web sites.  ARRRRRRGH.  I think I only found out about either the play or the live screening because I’m on the NT’s STREET MAIL CATALOGUE LIST.  But you have to buy your tickets from your local cinema, supposing you can find the right local cinema, since the cinema list on the NT site will not match the local cinema’s information when, the NT link being dead or missing, you try your local cinema’s own web site.  This tarantella of frustration is further enhanced by the original performance site—in this case the National Theatre, but it is by no means the only perpetrator of this variety of on line crime—whining continuously in obtrusive pop-up boxes for your location so it can give you a personally tailored web site experience, and, when you cave and give it to them, and it is, let’s say, Hampshire, immediately offering you 1,000,000 cinemas in London.  THANKS EVER SO.  I KNOW IT SOMETIMES LOOKS LIKE THE ENTIRE SOUTH OF ENGLAND IS A LARGE BEDROOM COMMUNITY FOR LONDON BUT SOME OF US REALLY LIVE HERE.^

Meanwhile . . . I could not persuade my local cinema to take my money and give me some seats for EVERYMAN, and since it’s a flapdoodling cinema chain, you can’t get a local human being on the phone—nor is the on-the-ground ticket office open during ordinary town-errand-running day hours—to tell you if it’s coming to your particular local.  The chain’s theatre local to a town 300 miles away is not really what you are after.  ARRRRRRGH.  So the NT web site went on saying it was here, and here went on saying Page Not Found.  So I finally threw up my hands^^ and bought tickets at a theatre in Greater Footling, which isn’t impossibly far from here.^^^  I didn’t find out that yes, indeed, EVERYMAN is coming to the local scion of national cinema glory until we walked in to see the Royal Opera House live screening of GUILLAME TELL~ there a fortnight ago, and saw large flashy posters for EVERYMAN on the walls.  AAAAAARRRRRRRRGH.

BUT THE STORY DOES NOT END HERE.  In the first place, there are two theatres belonging to this other incompetently head-officed and web-sited cinema chain, AND with nearly the same name, ie the Toadstool and the Toadstool Phoenix, both of them not merely in Greater Footling but the same end of Greater Footling and Greater Footling is not exactly a gazillion-citizen megalopolis AND BOTH OF THEM WERE SCREENING EVERYMAN.  Go figure.  Admetus had looked up how to find the Toadstool Phoenix and I had looked up the Toadstool, and there was a certain amount of frantic cross-checking yesterday.

Well we got that sorted and we even successfully arrived at the Toadstool~~.  Now my on line booking was, according to what I printed out to take with me, only a booking and we had to get there HALF AN HOUR EARLY to pick up the tickets.  Fortunately, having wasted time going in several wrong directions, we got there only about a quarter hour early . . . fortunately because the box office was not open.  The ticket machine did not show EVERYMAN.  The androids behind the snacks counter were only programmed to provide snacks.  The whole dranglefabbing complex was pretty comprehensively deserted and since there are 1,000,000 screens at the Toadstool Stepford we might still be there wandering hopelessly down identical corridors except the screen number was on my booking page.  We went there.  We decided we didn’t like the seats I’d booked—who can tell anything from a web schematic—and sat somewhere else.  Since there were only about ten of us perched randomly in a theatre that would probably seat 200 it didn’t matter too astonishingly.  And no one ever checked our booking, or asked for our tickets, or offered us a wet fish or a glass of Prosecco, or anything else.  But there must have been a Stepford minion pressing the button for the show to run, because it did run.  Yaaaaaay.

^ The worst offender in the web site visitor location category however is the frelling New York Metropolitan Opera.  I don’t know what the frelling doodah is going on with the Met Live this year—tickets should be on sale by now—and I can’t find a cinema anywhere around here that admits to screening it, including the one I’ve always used in the past.  But if you click through all the dazzle to the Met Live page on the Met Opera site, and ask it to find you your local cinema, it will ask you for your country and then for your city.  I clicked hopefully on Mauncester, which is even on the Met Live drop down menu of Hampshire cities . . . AND THE CINEMA LIST STARTS OFF IN AUSTRIA.  THEN GERMANY.  THEN . . . Belgium, I think.  I forget.  But you’ve scrolled down several pages before you ever get to the UK at all.  If they’re trying to impress me favourably with the number of cinemas worldwide that screen the Met Live this is not having the desired effect.

^^ There may have been language.

^^^ Especially when Admetus is driving.  Ahem.

~ The now nationally if not internationally notorious new ROH production of GUILLAUME TELL.  Yes, yes, William Tell, but Rossini was an Italian writing for the French opera, okay?  Whatever you call it it’s supposed to be Rossini’s unknown masterpiece, never put on because it’s five hours long and you’re only allowed to write operas longer than four hours if you’re Wagner.+  I was THRILLED when I heard that the ROH was going to do it, and QUADRUPLY THRILLED that they were going to live stream it and live stream it at a cinema close enough for me to drive to.  YAAAAAAAAAAY.  I bought tickets more or less the moment they went on sale and was enormously looking forward to it.  ENORMOUSLY.

The beginning of that week I got a text from Admetus saying, erm, have you seen the reviews for the opening night of GUILLAUME TELL?  I hadn’t.  The hot young director++ in his creative capacity as an enormous flaming asshole had decided that the bad guys’ bad-guy-ness—whatever else you do with it, the story is still basically about a bunch of locals being stomped by an invading army—needed to be heightened, and never mind that Rossini and his text provider actually took quite good care of making the bad guys bad in the libretto—and so staged an extremely graphic rape scene during the chirpy ballet+++ at the beginning of the third act.  A local woman is harassed and molested by a gang of the bad-guy officers . . . and then stripped naked, thrown on the banqueting table and gang raped.  BECAUSE THE AUDIENCE NEEDS TO UNDERSTAND ABOUT THE BRUTALITY OF WAR.

Opening night was booed so thoroughly that (according to reports) you couldn’t hear the music.  Quite a lot of ink, newspaper and virtual, was spilled subsequently (most of which you can still find on line if you’re interested) and I spent rather too much of that week reading reviews and feeling ill.  I almost didn’t go.  I don’t need to understand about the brutality of war, or about the gross inhumanity of man to man or men to woman# and I don’t think the first night reaction was anything about British parochialism, which is one of the things that was elitistly suggested.

They’d toned it down some## by the day of the cinema broadcast . . . but I did go, and that scene still made me feel physically sick and I almost walked out.  The only reason I finally went at all was because the reviews were also universal that it was exquisitely sung AND I WANTED TO FRELLING HEAR IT which is where we came in.  And it was exquisitely sung, and I in fact came home and ordered the CD with the same cast and conductor which gets about twelve stars in the Penguin Guide as well.  But for gratuitous, inappropriate, stupid, pretentious shock value, the rape scene takes some kind of gigantic toxic biscuit.  I’m also happy to say that the controversy did not put bums on seats around here:  I’d never seen the cinema so empty for an opera screening.###

+ I will probably never see Parsifal, partly because I’d be throwing rubbery carrots and small dead animals at the stage by the end of act two, but also because, supposing I hadn’t been ejected yet, I’d have pressure sores by the end of act twelve, or whenever it finally stops.

++ On whose head let there be a positive avalanche of small dead animals in an advanced state of decomposition

+++ French operas of that period apparently HAD to have ballets.  There are a lot of standard rep grand operas that seem suddenly and startlingly to come to a thundering [sic] halt for the ballet.  Good time to sneak out for another glass of Prosecco.  Especially if it’s GUILLAUME TELL under this director.

# Oh, and?  The actress does not—or at any rate did not—get a mention in the credits.  Several of us saw some further symbolism in this.

## After both director and ROH head did the blustery bit about artistic integrity and said they weren’t going to change a thing

### There was a lot of raging stupidity elsewhere in this production.  Why the freedom fighters took their shirts off—rarely a performance plus in a large group of opera singers—to smear themselves in blood and dirt before they went into battle was not clear, and went CLANG in a production that had more or less updated the story to the 20th century.  And there is a scene at the end that I’m surprised was even allowed, when the villagers’ children are stripped down to their underwear and bathed in a series of small tubs dotted across the stage.  Presumably it was to indicate Fresh Young New Beginnings, the bad guys having been against the odds seen off, but it was creepy in the extreme.

~~ Some of our wrong turnings tonight looked very familiar since Fiona and I had made them a while back when we tried to find the Toadstool.  We had of course complicated the issue by stopping at a yarn store first which for some reason Peter and Admetus were not interested in.  Men.  Sigh.


The HandleBards. No, really


If you have a chance to see these dangerous lunatics*, I mean, this exceptionally talented and engaging AND ENERGETIC troupe of young men, do climb into or onto your internal combustion engine vehicle of choice, bring along a large picnic hamper of high-calorie comestibles and, if you’re sensible, a bottle of fizz, and several blankets because this is England after all**, and possibly folding chairs, if you’re ancient and decrepit***, and GO.  The HandleBards are a hoot.

Admetus and I went last night.  I admit I was not instantly overwhelmed with desire to see four men doing the stripped-down bicycle [sic] version of Shakespeare, since it sounds like a dumb-ass idea and I am not a Shakespeare fan, but I watched a few clips on YouTube, as above, and . . . well, I am rather drawn to insanity.  I still can’t get my head around the 2000 miles on a bicycle thing, carrying all your kit, from show to show, plus setting up, doing your play at a hundred million miles an hour of adrenaline-cranked frenzy, striking it all down again, getting some food and sleep and then doing it all over again tomorrow, but then I am ancient and decrepit.†

What we saw last night was Midsummer Night’s Dream††.  Now you go knowing that there are only four of them and they play ALL the parts.  But I still spent the first scene with fathers, lovers, Theseuses and other riffraff milling about not having a clue what was going on, except that some of the people who were supposed to be on stage were being indicated by empty coats on poles which the four, you know, live actors would swirl into and back out of in a hurly-burly of something or other AND AFTER THEY’D CYCLED HALF A GAZILLION MILES EARLIER THAT DAY?  Beulah, peel me a grape.

You do tune in pretty quickly to the mayhem.  They also pad out a few scenes by shanghaiing members of the audience†††  The two additional blokes cavorting in rainbow wings as Peaseblossom and Mustardseed deserve special mention and will probably never live it down.  Since all I had was a blanket to keep me warm I was particularly taken with the armful of borrowed dog, bewildered but good-natured.  The tallest and the shortest of the four principals were also the two with the facial hair . . . and who played Hermia and Helena, so they can get off the dwarf and painted maypole‡ lines.

You also start laughing before the show even starts.  The ‘stage’ is mostly pegged-out bunting, but they do have a proscenium with arch equivalent, which must be their heaviest piece of kit.  From audience-eye view it looks like a lot of long spidery legs with joints for folding up bicycle-pannier-sized‡‡ and a kind of mobile circular rail suspended above the not-much-bigger-than-handkerchief-sized curtain that gives them somewhere to hide not-that-scene’s bits, and behind which some of the split-second costume and character changes occur.  They hang some of the scene-specific background bits on the rail—heraldic looking banners for Theseus, village-amateur props for the rude mechanicals.  Someone pins or drapes that scene’s background to the stretch of rail at that moment behind the curtain . . . but the rail is connected to one of the long-suffering bicycles, and one of the longer-suffering bicyclists pedals the rail around, so the new scene background comes whizzing out from behind the curtain.‡‡‡  Snork.

It may take you a little while, somewhat stunned by the energy level as you will be, also to tune into the fact that these guys are not merely corybantic fruit loops but good at what they do.§  When they decide that 2000 miles on a bicycle carrying the complete works of Shakespeare is a bit excessive§§ I hope they’ll go on to be famous actors. §§§  They’ll deserve it in several more than the usual hard graft and working up from the Bottom ways.  May their tyres never puncture and the weather maintain a little fair patch hovering over them wherever they go.  It was perfect last night.  Only one blanket required.

* * *

* Wrong country?  The UK is a great place for a holiday!  We have Stonehenge!  We have the British Museum!  We have skylarks!  We have lots and lots of rosebushes!  And we have more method ringing bell towers than in the entire rest of the world combined!^

^ Although you’ll probably need to take a rather long holiday to learn how to ring while you’re here.

** And, speaking of England, an umbrella, or possibly a tent

*** Or perhaps might be distracted by wondering what you’re sitting on.  You know, ON.  Even before I lived in town with three dogs I used to be a trifle wary about sitting on bare ground . . . although pre-three-dogs-in-town this was mainly because it was likely to be damp.  A few weeks ago the hellterror and I rounded the corner from the main street into the churchyard and found a large number of serious walkers^ bestrewn about the grassy triangle you come to first.  The same grassy triangle that every dog within miles rushes to with little whimpers of joy on sight—including mine.^^  Not all of whose owners are as pathologically over-supplied with plastic bags and paranoia as I am.  And damp may come from a variety of sources.  I hope when the walkers arose from their respite no one was too . . . unhappy.

^ Not a pair of All Stars in sight and I’m sure denim jeans and cotton socks are anathema.  Proper hiking boots with proper hiking socks turned down at the tops and Nordic walking sticks and proper breathable sport clothing and the whole ninety-seven yards.+  Scary.

+ Or 88.69 metres.

^^ The hellterror on this occasion was bemused.   She was willing to be generous, however, since people usually mean petting+ and furthermore, full length upon the sward they are at her level.

+ There is always someone(s) who goes ewwwww bull terrier VICIOUS FIGHTING DOG it’s in the GENES don’t tell me they can EVER BE TRUSTED they’ll RIP YOUR THROAT OUT in your sleep  but there are fewer of these than I feared when I took delivery of my little shovel-headed# badger-faced bedspring-legged bundle of mania## getting on for three years ago.

# While shovel-headed is the term of endearment I’m accustomed to, the unique bullie profile is more, I feel, trowel-headed:  those wide trowels for planting rather than the narrow ones for weeding.  Or possibly pooper-scooper headed.

##Maybe the HandleBards should get their own bull terrier.

† Even if I do hurtle many miles every day in pursuit of the members of the hellmob.  I have tough, case-hardened feet. But 2000 miles on a BICYCLE SEAT?

†† From our CHAIRS.  Admetus has FOLDING CHAIRS.  Folding chair technology has come a long way since my last attempt, specially imported from Maine with the eighty cartons of books when I arrived on these shores, and which I think died in the shrubbery somewhere at the old house.

††† If you go I recommend you do not go too early nor sit in the front row.

‡ I have always been fond of the painted maypole.  I’d forgotten that the canker-blossom, always a good sound Shakespearean insult, had come from this scene.

‡‡ I’m assuming the spider legs fold, and the bicyclists don’t also have to bolt them together every night.

‡‡‡ If you’re hopelessly confused, watch the proscenium set up in the YouTube clips.  I don’t think you see the rail moving, but you can see the hitched-up bicycle

§ And while the four on show are the only ones who climb on the bicycles the directors and adaptors and whoever else back at base are brilliant at what they do too. The cut down, ridiculousnessed-up version really works.  I was surprised at the amount of physical slapstick and roughhousing:  given the whole bicycle thing I would have thought—even allowing for the fact that this is a young man’s^ game—that they’d need to be a little careful of the bruises.  Nobody is so flawlessly accurate about at-speed contact work that there won’t be any.  But they freely grapple and throw each other around and fall melodramatically to the ground.  I hope they’re taking their vitamins.   And arnica for bruises.

^ I can’t help but hope that one of the personnel changes some day will include an insane young woman willing to engage with the imprudence and balderdash and 2000 miles on a bicycle seat.

§§ There have already been some personnel changes as you will see if you work through all the clips.

§§§ Peter and I went to a very beautiful, very grand garden today—one of the private-gardens-open-to-the-public-for-charity that are so popular over here. It was huge, with wild bits and orchards and meadow and views of the surrounding, and then nearer the (grand) house, clipped-hedge-differentiated ‘rooms’ of glorious flower borders, professionally designed and meticulously kept.^ And it really was beautiful . . . but it was also rather too gorgeous and definitely too relentlessly primped and weeded, although this may just be my guilty conscience about my tiny nettle-infested patch.^^   But . . . the HandleBards are better value.^^^

^ And tea with cake.

^^ Although my roses are fabulous.

^^^ And I don’t know if it’s a venue by venue thing or a head office thing but they could be a lot better advertised.  So look them up and go if they’re anywhere near you, okay?  And pass it on.


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