Back to the ’80s part 2

The years have been kind...

Well, what a surreal night it was last night, as well as lots of fun!

Meeting people I hadn’t seen in over 22 years was a really weird experience. Drifting towards the Cross in Chichester in ones and twos, there were squeals of delight as we each recognised first one face and then another.

Our first stop was The Hole in the Wall, one of the old haunts of our college days.  Some of the crowd hadn’t been to Chichester in a long while and commented on the pubs that had been lost in the city since our college days – The Punch House in East Street, now a clothing shop; and The Hogs Head and The White Horse in South Street, now turned into bland gastropubs.

Once in The Hole in the Wall we settled down to deliver our monologues – potted histories of the last 20 or so years since leaving college – in true theatrical style, accompanied by raucous laughing and much applause after every act.

The tag cloud of our diverse conversations would look something like this:

22 years!     amdram   band    bar    Brighton    Chichester     coming out    Crawley    disabled    Discovery    drinking   dropped out    family trauma     gay    illness    India    job    kibbutz    kids    lesbian    Little Britain Live    MA    marriage     messed up    Mountview    police radio     Private Lives retail management     Romeo & Juliet separation    sex change     Sir Paul McCartney    smoking    social work     stage combat    stage management    Sweet Charity    sword fighting    Taj Mahal   theatre    twat hat    Veejay

We then continued this very lively exchange of shared memories at Pizza Express, which to us was the epitome of style in the late 80’s (and probably the only place we could afford, other than the café in A&N).

But as I’m standing here typing this (did I mention I do most of my writing standing in the kitchen whilst preparing gourmet feasts for The Family?), I’m thinking, yes, I was genuinely pleased to see all of them last night, as I hope they were to see me;  and to hear about the directions their lives have all taken.  But where does it go from here?  Yes, we have some great shared memories (although mine seem to be sketchier than most), but how will our good intentions of staying in touch stand up when we’re back in our separate lives with all the demands those lives place on us?

As one of the guys said to me, “I barely remember you – I mean, I don’t think we were best buddies – were we?”.  And that’s probably a fair comment.  We were on a performing arts course together, all of us seemed to enjoy it very much at the time, and when looking back on it last night.  But only one has actually made a living out of it – going to drama school to train as a stage manager and then having what seems to have been a fairly fulfilling career so far.  One thing this guy did say though that saddened me somewhat was that he no longer enjoyed going to the theatre, seeing it as a busman’s holiday and that he resented paying the going rate to effectively do something he did when he was “at work”.  I do understand this, but it has reinforced my belief that I made the right choice all those years ago to not follow the bright lights of theatreland with the vague hope of making it my living.  To not feel moved by the power of theatre would, for me, be a huge disappointment.

Another thing that surprised me was that very few of my peers had continued with acting in any way as a hobby.  Most had used elements of what they had learned in the course of their ‘normal’ jobs – presentation skills, confidence etc.; one had done some work with stage combat and fighting; another had recently started teaching at local stage school and was part of a developing band.  Most cited a lack of time, demanding jobs and working patterns as getting in the way of any creative leanings they still may have.  One said to me that it was really good to look through my Facebook pages and see show after show listed (of course that has the reverse effect on my non-theatrical friends who do think I’m a bit barmy and very single-minded).  Once again though I’m reminded of how lucky I am to be able to put as much time and effort into what I do as a hobby – The Family are very understanding and they know I know I take them for granted… and for that I’m sorry… but they also know I wouldn’t be ME if I stopped.

So will the class of ’87 meet up again? 

I have already mentally declined two opportunities – the first being the band Discovery’s next gig – the date clashes with the final performance of the next play I am in; and the second to the same person’s 40th birthday party – which is on the same day as The Family jets off on this year’s holiday to sunnier climes. (The fact that it is the same person whose invites I am declining means nothing, honestly!).

And the answer? 

Yes, I hope our paths cross again… and a lot sooner than 2032.

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Back to the ’80s

Friends were supposed to be coming round today for a meal and games, but Daughter of Mine is a bit under the weather at the moment.   Earlier in the week I made the decision to postpone to another date, when I can be sure that she’s able to join in and not whinge for the next week about being tired.

The timing of this cancellation though has enabled me to participate in a full-on ’80s revival happening in Chichester tonight.  Early evening, mind.  This gathering of 40-somethings probably has a self-limiting curfew.

On Thursday I got wind via Facebook of a reunion being organised for the group I was at college with in 1986-1988 studying performing arts.  I haven’t seen any of them, except one, since then, so this is going to be really wierd.  I’ve just been looking through some photos of us all, taken when we went on an exchange visit to India at Christmas 1987 to showcase our drama performances to students out there.  It seems like a lifetime ago; we all look so young!  Tonight will tell whether the years have been kind to us all…

Looking back over the photos, I can remember what an incredible experience this three-week trip to India was.  We performed excerpts from traditional English drama – from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and I think I did a piece from Private Lives by Noel Coward – I found the script at any rate when I was looking through some papers yesterday.

We stayed with host families often during our visit, only having to put up with dodgy domitories a couple of times.  Here’s one where I obviously couldn’t resist taking a photo of the none-too-pleasant facilities!

We did see some fantastic things though – as well as the sightseeing ‘musts’ like the Taj Mahal and the Ajanta Caves at Maharashtra – we were treated to cultural spectacles of Indian dance and music.

I remember disjointed bits about the trip – one of the music students nearly throwing up on a bus; fake snow with the Christmas decorations in the Taj Mahal hotel in Bombay (as it was still named then); staying with a family in Mangalore who took us out on their yacht on Boxing Day; being bundled out of a venue halfway through a performance due to a demonstration by the locals, shouting “English, go home!”; taking my anti-malaria tablets on an empty stomach one morning and feeling REALLY sick; and eating scrambled eggs with what I thought were chopped tomatoes stirred in for breakfast – they were extremely hot chillies!

Can’t wait to see what the others remember about the trip and our college days later tonight!

A creative ‘first’ in art…

I composed my first abstract painting for about 25 years yesterday. 

I was accompanying a group of students who were working with adults with learning disabilities at a day centre to create a large-scale abstract work in the style of the Russian painter and art theorist, Vassily Vassilyevich Kandinsky.  To my surprise, I was invited to “have a go”.  So I did.  This the result. 

Kandinsky’s paintings of purely abstract work followed a long period of development and maturation of intense theoretical thought.  I had two hours, give or take… not sure what an art critic would say about it –  probably that it doesn’t look a jot like it’s inspired by Kandinsky (I never did listen in class)  – but boy, did I have fun!  I’m seriously thinking about getting some canvasses and acrylics to experiment with over the Easter holidays. 

At least it would give me something to hang on my oh so bare walls…

Is creativity what makes us human?

“Art is often seen as additional, yet I believe the arts are at the core of what makes us human”                                              Felicity Harvest, Arts Council

I came across this quote at a recent meeting at work to do with creativity across the curriculum.

I so agree with it.  Being creative gives us a reason to be – something more to get out of bed for than just another pay packet and a management meeting where you just regurgitate a load of bollocks because you feel that’s what you ought to be saying.   I can’t actually believe I spent most of the last 20 years doing just that!  Although I also don’t mean any disrespect to ex-colleagues – someone has to do it, and most people that I worked with don’t think it’s all bollocks and therefore do it very well – I just often felt that I was merely playing a role – a sign perhaps, that my heart was never really in it.

My work colleagues that I now share an office with are an artist, masquerading as a Community Arts Manager and two professional trained performers who now teach drama and performing arts at secondary school level.   I’ve always had a creative streak, and I’m realising now in my conversations, particularly with the artist, that I want to do more creative things.  Lots more.  Yes, the common theme running through my life thus far is theatre; but there’s so much more untapped creativity in me – I just need an extra few days each week to let it out. 

I do regret that I don’t play any one musical instrument well – I learnt the organ as a child, and could play it fairly well, I think, back then, but then dropped it when I got to my teens.  I have a piano, yet although I learnt  to read music in my organ playing days, and continue to do so when singing, I can’t really play more than basic tunes.  I dabbled with the recorder at school, both descant and treble, and still have both instruments.  Again, my playing here is restricted to the odd session with Children of Mine, oh and one outing on stage, when playing Sister Robert Anne in Nuncrackers, in lieu of a trumpet (which I really had no cause to think I could attempt).  I did learn to play Wipeout on the clarinet for a production of Return to the Forbidden Planet, but that did take some doing, and is, alas, unlikely to be repeated for the good of the world at large.  I also remember trying the ‘cello, but probably for not longer than a term when I was about 8. 

My next mission is to learn to play the guitar.  Husband of Mine has achieved this, very successfully, during the last four years, culminating in his first public performance last Friday with the Renegade Dogs at the Priory Playhouse in Arundel.  If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em – so I badgered him into showing me 3 chords on the wussy nylon stringed guitar belonging to Daughter of Mine.  (It hurts, really hurts on his grown-up steel strung guitar.)   I can now play – very slowly – A, F and D – allowing me to express myself through such masterpieces as Mull of Kintyre, Kum ba yah and Blowin’ in the Wind.

I used to love art and craft as a child – just a few of the projects I remember are:

  • Spending hours copying birds out of a bird book
  • Going through a phase of drawing cartoon characters
  • Making a model town with a friend to our own design
  • Creating paper maché Easter bonnets for a village fete competition with Mother of Mine (and winning!)

I still get a big buzz when I get brand new pens, pencils, or paper.  A stationery fetish? 

But drama is my big thing.  I first got into drama in my last year at Junior School, because of my teacher, Mr Noon. He led music in the school, and always played in assemblies. I can still remember many of the songs he used to teach us. I remember being brave enough in one singing lesson to stand up and sing the song he had taught us the previous week:

Within the woodlands, flow’ry gladed,
By the oak tree’s mossy moot
The shining grass-blades, timber-shaded
Now do quiver underfoot
The brown-leaved shoots are turning red
With clouded sunshine overhead
And there for me, the apple tree
Doth lean down low in Linden Lea.

I may well have got bits of this wrong, so do forgive me if the words have been mixed up in my head – I know there were more verses but this is how I remember it without resorting to research.

Mr Noon used to write the school pantomime every year, and when I was in my last year at the school, he cast me as the Wicked Stepmother in his version of Cinderella. I’ve still got the script somewhere. Anyway, this was the start of it all really, and led on to me joining a local drama group at the age of 11. They encouraged me greatly, to the point of adding me into their production of Terence Rattigan’s Separate Tables as an ‘extra’, sitting at the back in a couple of scenes, eating cold sponge pudding in the hotel restaurant with my ‘grandmother’.

This then led to various small parts in adult productions, with the first grown-up role of my own – Adrienne in Noel Coward’s The Marquise – at the age of 14.  This production also gave me my first taste of an on-stage snog – the director didn’t let on my real age to my fellow actor until the dress rehearsal!

For the last 20 or so years,  I have mainly been involved with two local societies and am guessing that I’ve been in around 100 productions.  Eventually I’ll list them all on this site, but as that involves going up in the loft to get boxes full of scrapbooks, programmes and newspaper cuttings  that needs a whole series of rainy days and free time.  Even in this country I don’t think it rains for that long!

And blogging?  It’s my modern take on the scrapbook – and means I’m being creative.  Yes?

I’m thinking… blue sky?

Blue sky.  That’s what we all need a bit of isn’t it?  And I’m referring to the weather, not that horrendous management bollocks that is the phrase ‘blue sky thinking’ (voted the most unpopular business phrase in the UK last year by the Internet Advertising Bureau). 

I was back to work today after a very rainy and cold half term, so here’s my short and sweet photographic contribution today –  the stunning ruins of Fountains Abbey in North Yorkshire.  The family had a superb day out here, imagining life as a monk of the Cistercian Order – don’t be fooled by the blue sky though, it was another chilly day in the North of England despite it being mid-August.

The Stuff of Nightmares

Hey there, visitor number 0004 – bet you missed reading about my scintillating life yesterday. You see, I had that day off that I had promised myself on Friday.

Actually, I couldn’t think of anything yesterday that I felt compelled to write about. It was a pretty ordinary day really; the Family popped into Chichester, and left me to amuse myself in town while they went swimming.

I have to be really, really hot before I have even the faintest desire to get in a swimming pool, and even then, can think of nothing worse than going to the leisure centre with the masses for a public swim. Not that I have a problem with taking my clothes off in front of people (just refer to my earlier posts) but I just can’t bear the whole indoor water thing. Water, for me, is designed to be dipped into outdoors, when it is very, very hot – and just enough to cool off and nothing more.

Anyway, the pretty ordinary day ended with a Family screening of The Monolith Monsters, and what a film! All the elements I remembered were there; the small American town; the gigantic black columns towering over the terrified population, and even the dam, which played a vital role in saving the town from the alien rock which had spewed from the fallen meteorite. I had completely forgotten the impact on the human population – the falling monoliths turned people in their path to stone by gradually extracting the liquid from their bodies. It was quite selective as to who it acted upon though, as the hero of the film suffered no ill effects (as heroes do) despite being in close contact with the rock several times.

The Monolith Monsters

Children of Mine gave it 3½ stars out of 5.  Interestingly Son of Mine didn’t find it scary at all; Daughter of Mine found it only marginally scary (she was the one who let out the odd whimper last night as she was watching it).  Both thought it would have been better in colour, rather than black and white and this sparked some deep discussion as to the actual colour of the monoliths themselves – they settled on deep purple.

We all picked up on how sci-fi films of this era seemed to give no thought to what would happen after the film’s conclusion. In this case, the monoliths were stopped in their tracks by a simple water and salt solution; the afore-mentioned dam was blown up to release the water down the mountain and across a salt mine, creating a salt water barrier across the route to the town.  As Husband of Mine commented wryly, some poor sod would have to traipse over hill and down dale in search of every piece of shiny black meteor, and all before next rainfall. Maybe there was a sequel?  Revenge of the Mighty Monolith Monsters?  Perhaps I wasn’t so far off after all with the Revenge of the Killer Icicle Candles.

However,  Husband of Mine has earned a significant number of brownie points with this very personal gift.  Awww.

Having re-read this post I must now apologise for waffling on so.  This was never intended to be a review of a 53-year old sci-fi movie.

As I’ve already said, I didn’t really have any inspiration yesterday. And then it came to me in the middle of the night. Or rather, Son of Mine did, actually, having had a nightmare.  “About The Monolith Monsters?” I can hear you exclaim! “Why on earth were you letting him watch a scary movie, made before film classifications made parental decisions for you?”  And before you ask, it wasn’t about the Minotaur or the multiple-headed Hydra from Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief either.

My point is that his nightmares don’t follow the pattern of the nightmares of my own childhood. He doesn’t wake screaming hysterically, demanding the light be left on, or one of us to sit with him until he falls asleep again. Instead he just wanders into our room, mutters matter-of-factly that he has had a scary dream and quite often is happy to just go back to bed on his own. He couldn’t even say what last night’s dream was about.

I had two recurring nightmares as a child. The first was about diggers – the big, yellow JCB kind. I think that is why I have a lot of empathy with Arthur Dent. These colossal diggers would chase me relentlessly along pavements, paths and roads, with nothing stopping them, not even hedges and walls – they were able to travel along them with ease.

The second, perhaps more sinister dream, involved my family who were living in an unusual round house. We would be busy doing something normal that a ’70s family would probably be doing, say, watching the Generation Game or painting our wall bright orange.  Suddenly, there would be a grinding noise, like a series of giant cogs starting up, and the whole house would slowly start to spin and sink into the ground with us all trapped inside.  Sometimes one or more of us would make it out into the garden or street, and stand there, transfixed, as our circular house disappeared into the soil.  Rather like The Monolith Monsters in reverse. Or that giant drill in Journey to the Centre of the Earth.

I’m not sure what today’s psychologists would make of this – probably write me off as a disturbed youngster and give me a fancy label.  My own theory, with the circular house at any rate, is that I read too many books in Enid Blyton’s Faraway Tree series. Re-reading this with Daughter of Mine recently, I think I was obviously negatively influenced by Moon Face’s circular house with its curious Slippery-Slip – a slide which allowed the characters in the story to descend to the bottom of the tree.  At the top of the tree, reached by a ladder through a hole in a cloud, were a series of enchanted lands, not all of them nice, which ‘move on’ from the top of the tree at an alarming rate, getting the poor children and their magical friends into all sorts of scrapes if they happened to be left behind.

I have no understanding of why I had nightmares about diggers, but do sometimes shudder when walking past one even now.

So are children today desensitised to fear, by the images that bombard them throughout their early childhood?  Or are some, like me, just predisposed to more vivid dreams?

Perhaps I just watched too much sci-fi in my formative years…

Cinema – past and ‘present’

The Family are fortunate enough to have been to the cinema three times this wet and windy half term.

Fantastic Mr Fox was the first offering. This classic Roald Dahl book was one of my favourites as a child, and the modern adaptation didn’t disappoint me – I thought it was rather quirky with the more traditional animation making a welcome change to the CGI animations that currently flood the market for children’s films.

Film number two was Astro Boy. I’d heard, and read, mixed reviews about this – one parent at school said it was okay, if you happened to be a seven-year old boy. I really enjoyed it, so not sure what that says about me!?

Today, we saw Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief; a Harry-Potter-esque fantasy, complete with superb special effects and a great story based on Greek mythology. It’s certainly the one that’s had the most impact on Children of Mine – they have been running around the house since we got in from the cinema with sheets for cloaks, pretending to be demi-gods!

But personally, I am most chuffed about the film I received as a present from Husband of Mine this morning. He has read, digested and acted upon my blog and discovered that the film we both saw as children, and that I wrote about in Revenge of the Killer Icicle Candles is, in fact, called The Monolith Monsters! I am now the proud owner of a DVD of this 1957 classic sci-fi movie, starring Grant Williams and Lola Albright, and am looking forward to watching it this Saturday afternoon. Particularly if it is raining.

I can’t yet tell you if the plot is as I remember it. The DVD blurb is in Spanish (apparently the 1950s sci-fi genre is very big in Spain – Husband of Mine bought it from a Spanish e-bay seller); the film, thankfully, is still in English with Spanish or French subtitles.

Until tomorrow then, when “un meteorito gigante cae en la Tierra.”