30 January 2011

Dear Sophisticated Ladies

 Hmm procrastination your name is Ms Medley ~ today I fully intended to make (significant) progress drafting documents to comply with the (demanding) conditions attached to the funding the Magdalena Project has been given towards the festival we are running in August. But in my defence the sun came out! Of course I should have donned my gardening gloves and transferred the bulbs from their plastic trays to the pots but I didn’t do that either! But as I have to be up ready for the Gas man from 8 am tomorrow I have time to make up for the lost progress – promise!

I went out for a drive as with the chaos of the world around us I had a burning desire to go to the sea. A sense of perspective was needed and somehow the vastness of the ocean always soothes my soul. This last week has seen turbulence, predicted some months ago in the Economist, in the Middle East. Ever since the market trader set fire to himself in Tunisia the waves of unrest have rippled out gradually gaining momentum. One wonders where it will end but surely massive democratic change must follow.

 When I was a young teenager I went to Taize the ecumenical community  in France. I went  with  a group from the Chesterfield Parish Church, the Crooked Spire, I attended with my mother at the time. I may have previously mentioned I was an acolyte, a girl server in common parlance, who assisted the Priest at the altar. Whilst at Taize I met, and struck up a ‘friendship’ with an Algerian dentist. He was somewhat older than me and I was terribly flattered at the attention as any bespectacled 14(ish) year old girl would be!

I wrote to him for several years afterwards and (of course) he told me he loved me. Je t’aime never sounded so beautiful! I even sent him my gold (plated) christening bracelet as a sign of our troth! I was also subscribing to Soviet Weekly at the time so one might say I was a little confused as I explored my allegiances. As unrest spread to Algeria this week I wondered what had happened to Kamel Sermoun the dentist and his friend the cattle inseminator (I kid you not).

When at my parent’s house recently I found my old school briefcase, a metal painted affair and I had painted Kamel’s name on the handle in nail varnish. How much more serious can you get ladies! At University I had the nickname of ‘globe trotter’ as I had a tendency to ‘date’, for that read had ‘a brief fling’ with people who did not hold a British passport. I suppose that passed as humour in some circles!

This week I attended two events with a funeral theme: the first was indeed a funeral, that of a friend’s father; and the second the National Theatre Wales production Soul Exchange. The funeral was in a small village church in the Vale of Glamorgan and it was gentle, lovely and a perfect tribute to a man who had left his mark on his community. My friend delivered a carefully crafted eulogy that told the story of his life; she did it sensitively and with a steady voice until the very end. She concluded by saying she and her brother had lost a friend at which point her voice wavered. I was so very proud of her and she looked fantastic in her mother’s coat.

The morning of the funeral we had all gone swimming and in the changing room we discussed arrangements for later. She had told me earlier in the week that her brother, who is less sentimental than she is, had been going through their parents possessions deciding what to get rid of! People deal with grief differently and he lives in the parental home. I wonder if her husband will be sympathetic as she loads the car with things she’s not yet ready to say goodbye to!

 We got talking about winter coats when she commented that at the funeral she would be wearing her mother’s coat andher brother her fathers. In days gone by a winter coat was a lifetime’s investment; remember the camel coat? The full length ankle warming wool garment that completely engulfed you? I recalled the conversation later in the church when it was SO cold that I knew I would feel the bone chilling experience all day!

Between the funeral and the performance I found myself, for the fifth morning in a row, awake at 5.15 am. The Consultant has changed my drugs and as a consequence I haven’t slept as the nightly nerve pain has returned. I seem to be the Queen of unintended consequences. My mother thinks I am too forgiving; I take the warning that it will take two weeks to see a change too literally and am counting the days. Thursday is two weeks and I will review the situation then!

I am more amused that I was concerned that the side effect (one of) was feeling suicidal. I hadn’t anticipated not being able to sleep ~ as this could make me suicidal or at least very grumpy! You have been warned! However the point of saying I’d woken early was that I had come down to the kitchen, turned the light on and two bulbs went!

Instead of waiting until later in the day when I was more awake I decided to change the bulbs there and then. So I reached up to take them out. Yes I am that tall! So I carefully unscrewed the first one and popped it on the kitchen worktop. And then the second one; well this operation wasn’t quite as successful. I unscrewed it and as I brought it down the fluorescent fragile glass ball slipped out of my hand shattering on the ceramic floor!

It is amazing how much mess can be created from such a small thing. So there I am standing in my pyjamas and bed socks surrounded by broken glass! All I can think is how glad I am that I don’t have little kitty paws to worry about. The question is how to get the dust pan and brush without standing in the glass.  And it’s quite pretty as it twinkles in the half light; I am temporarily memorised by it.I do sweep it up without drawing blood but haven’t got any newspaper because its recycling day and it’s on the pavement already! Sensibly I leave the full dustpan on the side to deal with later as by now I’ve discovered I need to buy light bulbs. Household maintenance is never ending!

 So Friday night my friend and I are in the Wales Millennium Centre for Soul Exchange. We eat in Bar One beforehand where the French lady greets me like a long lost friend which for some reason always amuses me. She is so tiny next to me so I usually try to be seated for the encounter as I tend to feel I physically overwhelm her which is a tad embarrassing especially if my balance is less than perfect!

The ‘performance’ starts in the Foyer with a mock up of a Customs Office complete with a ferocious photographer (another curious French woman) and other actors ambushing unsuspecting punters. There are some priceless frozen grins as bemused audience members engage in conversation about the price of sea bass.

We are given time slots to embark the boat i.e. get into one of the taxis queued up in a circle in the Oval Basin. It is freezing cold as we wait. The company have hired 50 black cabs for the two evenings ~ nice earner for Cardiff cabbies so tick for economic impact. Our driver is from Eastern Europe (I deduce from his accent and items on the dashboard – I as disabled person get the front seat).

 The drive around the old Tiger Bay is accompanied by a radio play about a man looking for his father. He only has an address and a name. We are on a journey of discovery. The audio in effect points out places we are passing but of course this does depend on the speed of the traffic. One of our fellow passengers simultaneously gives us, a possibly, more interesting commentary. We’ve also been given a box to open once the drive starts. The box contains random photos and travel tickets that we pass around attempting to decipher them in the light of passing street lights.

 Along the way there are people in costume doing things appropriate to the story. It’s a while before we realise they are there as it hasn’t been pointed out. They are usefully lit by green tinged lights as it turns out. I see parts of Louden Square I haven’t seen before including the inside of some of the flats; were they part of the show or had people just left the curtains open? It feels a little intrusive on occasions.

 After half an hour, or £25 cab fare, we are delivered to the Coal Exchange surrounded as it is by scaffolding. It appears to be inside a cage somehow. I know that I have read in the paper that it requires millions to refurbish and is unsafe structurally. So hey lets go inside why not! The random experience continues as if someone has mixed up several jigsaw puzzles and then lost interest.

 On arrival we are all given copies of a letter from the father to his son. The audio in the cab concludes with him realising that the reason there is no one on the streets of the Bay that day is because they were all at his father’s funeral! Well there you go then. The letter is shockingly clichéd and at this point I begin to lose the will to live as quite frankly I can’t believe what I am reading.

It tells the story of his creation. At the age of 47 (or 43) his father sleeps with his mother who is 17! She is sent away to the nuns who put the baby, (the man whose journey we have been on), up for adoption and he ends up growing up in Hull. Brace yourself it gets better. Mother returns to the Bay, is rejected by her family, turns to drink/drugs and dies an alcoholic! Daddy on the other hand is a local legend loved by the Community!

Heaven help me please as we hang (standing) around in the Coal Exchange waiting for everyone else in the rest of the taxis to arrive.  And then we have speech, after badly written speech, from ‘family’ members about what a lovely man Daddy was. No he was a bastard who seduced and abandoned a teenage girl! The story could have been about any man anytime and anywhere. And there is music and ‘singing’ a la Britain’s Got (No) Talent finishing with the Butetown Electric Shuffle which 200 plus people get down to!

 Sorry I will stick to my mantra that we must consider the National Theatre Wales programme in its entirety but thank god for the high spots of Barmouth and even two hours in the driving rain on a firing range in Brecon! Good community art should never allow the community participants to look bad and this allowed people to hang themselves in public ~ I hope they got something out of being involved in the process because the show didn’t exactly show the Bay as the beacon of cultural richness and survival that it is.

I may be hated for this view but it really did offend me on so many levels as you may have guessed! Heavens I need a gin and tonic after getting that off my chest. And I will draw a veil over the Kings Speech that I felt underwhelmed by although Colin Firth rightly deserves all the accolades delivered upon his divine head!

Well ladies I hope you are keeping warm in this chilly weather; thermal undergarments are certainly a must against this bone chilling wind. On a high note I can report I have found my snowdrops, well some of them at least, so Auntie need not pack more bulbs in her vanity case when she visits on the train!

In sophistication and reminding you there are still places for the February Salon.

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