Friday 27 March 2009

Ordeal by swan

‘If we’re the only ones there, we’re getting right out. OK?’
Rachel was worried. We’d decided, a few weeks ago, that we needed some ‘culture’. So, having had a successful night at the village ‘cinema’ watching Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (rather charming) we thought we’d up the ante and go for a bit of theatre.
‘Are we stuck right at the back?’
‘No. That’s what’s worrying. We’re right in the middle. Prime seats.’
I took her point. When you book last minute and get the best seats in the house, it does rather point to a stinker.
Our doubts were confirmed when we got to the theatre and were greeted by, not the usual polite hum, tinkle of laughter and the clank of long beads, but a raucous wall of noise. The theatre bar had turned into a student union with hoards of sixteen year olds shrieking and squawking.
‘School outing?’ Rachel said hopefully.
‘Nah. Dressing the house. It’s desperate.’
Sure enough, when we walked in, the audience was, shall we say, sparse. Every new entrance was greeted by a collective spinning of heads, along with a frequent checking of watches (in the dim hope maybe that we’d all got the time wrong and everybody was suddenly going to pile in, laughing and waving programmes). Indeed, the cavalry did appear – fifty or so of the aforementioned students, clearly not a ticket amongst them, wooshed in and at least gave the appearance of a half-full house.
‘What’s it about?’ I asked.
Rachel had the grace to look abashed.
‘Er, well. It’s about a woman who falls in love with a swan.’
‘Ooh. Greek myth type thing?’ My hopes rose.
‘Hmm. Not really. There are puppets.’
‘Puppets could be good.’
‘You’re so bloody optimistic. Puppets are never good.’ Rachel looked glum.’

The actors came on and were deeply thespy. My heart sank. There was a lot of gesturing towards what looked like a white piñata but was, apparently, an egg. ‘It’s a bloody balloon with papier mache,’ hissed Rachel and started to giggle.
The ‘egg’ was then taken down and whooshed around the stage while two other people added wings and a long neck. Rachel stuffed her head in her handbag and made muffled snorting noises. I bit my cheek so hard I nearly yelped but still my shoulders were shaking with helpless laughter.

It got worse and worse. There was a girl whose mother had died (and came back to visit her in dreams) who liked swans. There was a rather unpleasant man from the library who fancied her (the girl, not the dead mother). There was another girl who tossed her father’s ashes into the river, only to have them eaten by the swan. The swan then started to talk to the first girl. The swan was the second girl’s father (presumably ashes hold the ‘spirit’ of the person which can be transferred to anything passing by – makes you think twice about where you scatter really – you don’t really want your parents cropping up as talking fish, or ducks, or slugs, do you?). Are you still with me? Ten to one you wish you weren’t.
The canny bastards didn’t chance an interval – they must have known darn well that we’d have collectively made a run for the doors.
So we endured.
The girl fell in love with the swan, even though the swan crapped on her floors. They made plans to buy a house-boat ‘to lead a normal life’. Which begs the question, what kind of normal life are you going to live with a swan? The other girl never found out that her father had turned into a swan (which was a blessing as she was feeling guilty enough about dumping his ashes in the river without telling her mother). Then some drunken oik tried to rape the other girl and the swan, being her father, intervened and got himself bashed in. Girl cries. Swan dies. Lights go down. Sigh of relief all round and rapturous applause to the players’ evident bemusement. We’re grateful, you nutters. Grateful as puck that the darn thing is over and that it only lasted 90 minutes or so.

We limped home in Rachel’s on-its-last-legs car (cracked windscreen, two bald tyres, smashed headlight and a tendency to stall on slowing down) and decided we were both too tired and depressed to go for a drink.
‘Next one might be better,’ I said hopefully.
Rachel just gave me a look and drove off, bald tyres spinning into the night.
What was the play? Sorry. Cobbo by Theatre Alibi at the Brewhouse Theatre.....

Thursday 12 March 2009

Cait's questionnaire

I love questionnaires. I am one of those peculiar (probably sad) people who will fill in pretty well anything. Multiple choice questions, ticking boxes, giving opinions – a totally underrated sport. Possibly they’re so appealing because they give me the feeling that I’m doing something important or necessary (while patently Not Working). Normally I am pretty honest although, every so often I have the urge (and give in to it) to answer with brazen-faced lies. Presumably the people who send out these things allow for this? Anyone in marketing? Would love to know what the ‘puck it’ ratio is amongst people who fill in these things. What percentage of answers do you wipe out as being unrepresentative – or is it just me that can’t resist the odd untruth?
Usually I adopt a persona – the rich, lazy man; the self-obsessed businesswoman; the harried mother of six. I think it started out of embarrassment at questions like income and number of homes (being a rabid people pleaser I hated to disappoint the upmarket magazines and so added a few noughts and a couple of holiday properties to reassure them their readers were indeed all top-notch).
Have been musing about this today as Cait (a long time back, this has been pending for months) has asked five questions and I am aware that this is one occasion on which I must not fib. Cait is one of those people (even though we have never met in person) that I could no more lie to than I could dance naked on YouTube.

So, here we have it. Honest answers. Honestly.

If you had your life to live over again, what, if anything, would you do differently?
Very very little. I count myself as incredibly lucky. I had an absolute ball at university (Manchester) – learned very little about English Literature (though a surprising amount about Early English) but could have taken a First in partying. I then lived a wild and reckless life in London in my twenties, being paid to go to gigs and films, interview rock stars and generally be Exceedingly Bad. Just as I was getting scared that I’d never find Someone to Love I met Adrian (at a Paul McKenna video promo at a hotel on Park Lane) and we discovered that we’d both burnt out the bright lights and wanted to move. Relocated to Somerset, got married, had James. I wanted to be a journalist and I did it. Wanted to write books – and have totted up over twenty. Fancied being on TV and did that too. Wanted the big rectory – had that. Craved the Good Life on a farm – did that. So really I have absolutely no complaints. At certain times I do wonder how it would have been to have had a daughter or another son but then I figure I’m so darn lucky to have one gorgeous child that I need to shut up. No, no regrets.

Who, or what has been the greatest influence on your life?
The Pelican Centre. A therapy and retreat centre on the Somerset Levels (now sadly no more). It was where I learned about Jung, practiced art therapy, learned to bake bread and discovered the healing powers of nature and silence. It taught me to look at dreams, to listen for the small voice of the subconscious, to celebrate mythology. It was a place where, above all, I could be truly and wholly myself. It saved my soul. I miss it like fury and simply can’t find anywhere to take its place which is a huge sadness. If anyone knows of a fabulous (and reasonable) place that does art therapy please let me know.

What is your greatest accomplishment?
My son. So stunningly gorgeous, smart, sensitive yet rugged – I have no idea how I created someone so darn fabulous. Or someone that is good at maths and sport. One of life’s deep and wonderful mysteries.

If you could have dinner with someone famous who would it be?
Jung. I’d bore him rigid with my dreams, asking for interpretations.

List your passions.
My family. Books. Early music. Wild places. Old houses. Egypt. India. Greece. Ireland. Ghost stories. Art therapy. Mythology. Ancient gods and goddesses. Shoes. Hearty hand-thrown pots. Labyrinths. Food, wine and rhubarb bellinis.

Phew. That’s that done.

Ghost town London

Sometimes this whole recession thing seems a bit unreal. I say recession but the language changes all the time, as we venture deeper into debt like Dante plodding down further and further into Hades. For a long while it was an itty-bitty credit crunch (sounding like a new variety of chocolate bar). Now it’s a recession (hissy and spitty like a snake) tottering towards a depression (heavy and hopeless). Way down the bottom, in Satan’s pit, the spectre of bankruptcy is rattling its chains.

Cocooned here on Exmoor though it’s hard to see the reality in any certain terms: people are carrying on much as usual. But London is a different story.
I went up to London for work (yup the nice kind of work that entails being pampered for free – and even being paid for it – sometimes, just sometimes I DO love my job). Pootled over to Knightsbridge and thought I’d amuse myself by looking in the smart shops and cackling bitterly at the ridiculous women who think nothing of spending ten grand on a handbag. But the ridiculous women weren’t there. Knightsbridge was empty. Harvey Nichols was a ghost shop. I wandered, lonely as a lumpen little frowsy cloud, around the fashion floors and wondered for a moment if the fire alarms had gone off. All the nice new frocks were hanging on their plump little hangers but not a soul was plucking or stroking or trying on. Not a lollipop-head woman in sight. Not even a lone burqa, let alone the usual flotillas. It was eerie and weird.
However up on the fourth floor the medi-spa was buzzing. It seems that no matter how deep a recession/depression we’re in the one thing that can’t be abandoned is Botox. Probably a good thing as it really would be depressing (or amusing, depending on your point of view) if all those taut blank faces suddenly collapsed en masse.
Anyhow, I wasn’t there for Botox, I was having the all-singing, all-dancing bespoke facial. This started off with ritual humiliation by some super-duper camera which takes photos of your face and shows up every single spot and wrinkle, every tiny bit of sun damage, every enlarged pore and can even sneak on you if you have untoward bacteria lurking around. Surely every face has bacteria? I thought we were liberally coated in billions of the things? Ah well. It also compares you to the other women your age on its database (in other words Botox Knightsbridge woman) – the results weren’t going to be pretty. But, get this, I have less spots than 87 percent of BK women. I have no bacteria (well, no horrid ones anyhow) and I have less open pores than a whopping 91 percent of the lollipop brigade. How gratifying is that? Now just whistle quietly amongst yourselves while I mutter that I didn’t do so well on the wrinkle map and the poor therapist tried to sit on the picture of my sun damage to save me the pain. She also tried to gloss over the texture and the, er, red areas (yes, yes, on the nose and under the eyes, typical Exmoor face – too much wind and booze).
Anyhow, my skin was then peeled (it stung) and lymphatically drained (the machine sounded as if it were heavy breathing). State-of-the-art unguents were pushed into it via a machine that did a great imitation of a drunken bloke with thick stubble nuzzling you in the corner at a party. It was all impressively high tech but did it do the business? The therapist thought so, but then she would. I wasn’t quite so convinced and when I fetched up at my mate the barrister’s flat, she was equally unimpressed.
‘You look as though you’ve been up on the moor, trying to find the dog.’ ‘What, fresh and dewy, and romantically windswept?’
‘No. Red-faced, blotchy and cross.’
Ho hum. Never mind. We sank three bottles of wine and agreed there were better ways to spend your money and decent burgundy was probably one of them.
Next day I wandered off down to Chiswick to see Margot Gordon who had given me one of the most amazing treatments I’ve ever had (about ten years ago). Margot’s been living in Australia but had come back to London for a few months and offered me a belated top-up. She didn’t look much different to be honest and, whatever she’s up to in Australia, it’s obviously doing her more good than a £200 facial. It’s really hard to explain her work in a few sentences – it’s called Seiki and it has a touch of Shiatsu in it (but it works more on the energetic than the physical level). She’s trained with a Japanese master and has also been learning aboriginal healing in Australia. She knew I’d been having a tough time and that the last year had been foul beyond all measure but, when she sat down opposite me, I was a bit shocked to find her welling up with tears.

‘I didn’t realise it was that bad,’ she said. ‘I can feel it, here..’ and she gestured to her chest. Goose pimples ran all over my body and I swear it felt as if she had reached into my chest and pulled out a huge wad of grief. After that she had me lie down on a large padded mat in front of the fire and she gently moved and stretched me. Time becomes elastic with Seiki and I went off into dream worlds, floating on a cloud of wellbeing. When she brought me back to earth, it felt as if my whole world had shifted. I felt lighter, younger, innocent somehow (I know that sounds weird and flaky, but that’s how it was). We hugged and I had to run off to catch my train and it was only as I was jogging down the road that I realised something else. I was jogging. My back wasn’t hurting and the aches in my feet and shoulders (I have this weird condition called palindromic rheumatism) simply weren’t there. When I caught sight of myself in the mirror I looked totally different, about five years younger – less stressed, less mean and grouchy. So, all the results I should have had from the fancy facial – but at a fraction of the price. If you get the chance, go have a treatment with Margot before she vanishes back to the outback in May….and send her my love.