31 March 2011

Head in a cloud of darlings

After hot home-made quiche, rhubarb crumble with cream poured from a stolen half-pint glass, and two top-ups of red wine, we took cabs to the theatre.

Set in WWII, with vintage costumes, upholstered armchairs, and a screen above the scenes for when aircrafts fly right at the audience, we watched a real Hollywood actor play an oldschool Hollywood actor. James Purefoy plus a whole tub of brylcreem*. And a Pole attempting English, a battleaxe hottelier, and a Katherine Hepburn outfit to die for. So many 'darling's and 'duck's and rationed breakfasts, and lashings of pink gin. Though red wine for us in the interval. It ended in a good old sing song, rallying up to face the war together. Flare Path, written by Rattigan when he himself was off fighting, and first performed whilst the war was still on. Repressed fear, trauma, sound of not-so-far-away bombs. Yet so much jolly hockey sticks enthusiasm.

We all piled through the stage door after curtain down. Invited for champagne with a cast member backstage. A 'Darling' the spit of Joyce Grenfell. On the way up we passed Jeremy Irons. On the way out we passed the paparazzi waiting for Sienna Miller. And I wore my vintage Dior jacket the whole night. High life.

* I have been in love with James Purefoy forever. Mansfield Park, A Knight's Tale, Vanity Fair, and, best of all, Marc Antony in ROME. I prefer him with less brylcreem, if I'm honest.

28 March 2011

Away to a Domus Aurea

Away for a weekend in Brighton, so I walked from Hackney Wick to Liverpool Street Station on Saturday morning. I saw a skinny man, more-than-middle-aged and denim-clad, dancing in the street between Broadway Market and Columbia Road. He was outside his open front door and Cyndi Lauper-esque music (80's pop, girlish voice, catchy as hell) was blaring, and he had some moves. Wholeheartedly in his own shape-pulling world as the sun shone.

In Brighton on Sunday we saw a little girl dancing to a rock band playing outdoors. She was on her own cobbled stage, swinging her arms, folding her spine, making her own rules of motion. I would so much like to be like her. Then in The Lanes we watched four long haired and/or dreadlocked music-makers who had a double bass, banjo, snare drum and guitar. The percussionist had a tambourine around her foot so as she stomped the beat jangled. They even played The Belle of Belfast City. Brighton seems to be always sunny, and is offbeat with singalong rhythms. I became twelve again and bought beads to make necklaces. We sat in a patch of park as some teenagers lit up a spliff nearby, and I spelled out words on yellow string.




Then later, after a time of board games and educational DVDs that were originally VHS on the history and art of Rome and rounds of tea and pleasantly scratchy blankets, we played Octodad on a laptop. Octodad is an octopus who disguises himself as a dad in order to spy. It's not entirely clear what he's spying on. He wears a suit, writes in his journal using his moustache tentacle, and has got himself a human wife and two human children, whose suspicions he has to keep at bay. He looks like this:

He needs a banana to form the moustache on the mannequin he's trying to make. He will use the mannequin to distract the wife while she's having a romantic dinner with him so he can escape to the basement to get her a 'gift'. We didn't find out what the gift is. He can only get the banana (and also escape from the sushi chef who is hunting him down) if he carries out a series of tasks, which seem to mostly consist of clearing/throwing objects onto the floor with his leg and arm tentacles, and protecting his 'daughter' from spiders. When he 'walks' he looks like he's dancing. Dancing like the man in the East London street. Like he just doesn't care. Octodad is pretty cool.

21 March 2011


I spent Saturday afternoon at The Geffrye Museum, and it was charming.

Despite this beautiful Museum of the Home standing slapbang in Hoxton, there were groups of visitors that reminded me of the National Heritage lot from home. As I walked through the entrance garden I saw these folk all huddled on benches, drinking from their thermoses and eating homemade sandwiches made from wholemeal bread. It was a gloriously sunny day, yet I definitely spied some anoraks. In contrast, once I made my way inside the permanent exhibition I came across a few archetypal Shoreditch hipsters. Achingly cool. Asymmetric haircuts - check. Patterned wool jumpers - check. Cut off denim shorts - check. Oversize clumpy 'workman's' boots - check. A charming place can appeal to all sorts, especially when it's a stone's throw from Hoxton station.

The walk through the rooms from the 1600s to the 1900s is a time-travel treat. It follows 'the middling sort' through all domesticity. Information boards on 'The Middling Sort and Gardening', 'The Middling Sort and Politeness', and so on. And there are pretty little watercolour paintings of gardens and rooms by women with names like Beatrice and Matilda. Most of the furniture pieces are authentic, and therefore cannot be touched. However, there is a wooden replica of one from the 17th century, which the public can sit on. It has a sign above it saying 'You might find that sitting in the chair makes you feel important, and no doubt this was the intention'. I felt important. I was also introduced to a curious fellow called Gervase Markham. He was a writer in the early 1600s, his main subject being 'the mystery and science of huswiferie'. One pearl of wisdom from this evident campaigner for women's rights was that women's clothes should be comely and not cut with toyish garnishes. Oh, and that they should always be pleasant to their menfolk, suppressing rage and frustration, and forever smiling sweetly.

The garden reading room smells of flowers. It looks over the herb garden and topiaried hedges, is lined with wicker chairs, is fringed with pot plants and gardening books, and has a blue-green mural on one wall, which looks like a scene from The Wind in the Willows but with added peacocks. This room is right behind the chapel. A whole chapel inside a house. Along with cherubs, there are skulls up above.

In the sun-shot tea room I drank hot chocolate and listened to a terribly 'proper' English dame (she looked and sounded like a loud-voiced dame, though I can't definitively claim she was) speaking impeccable French to her Gallic guest, pressing the fish cakes upon him. 'I can't recommend the fishcakes enough, they are awfully good fishcakes' etc etc. The Frenchman ordered chicken.

It turns out I visited this museum when I was three. I don't remember it. And I can safely say that I didn't learn much from Gervaise Markham, as I used a broken hoover rather ineffectively over at the beau's, and didn't leave the house at all except for tinned rice pudding and a jar of jam. Lovely Sunday.

16 March 2011

A sad tale's best for winter: I have one / Of sprites and goblins.

The most recent tale from my Mondays is the Shakespearean tale of Winter. In this case, Oxford undergraduates putting on the play in the late seventies. Our storyteller was in love with a woman who was playing Hermione. He couldn't bare to be separated from his young lover so joined the cast to 'keep an eye'. Or rather 'be with her', as he later edited. The role that does not require actorly talent in much measure is that of the bear. He took it. Hot and blind in his costume. The bear famously knows when to exit, but it isn't clear when it enters. He'd loitered for some time, then his cue came and off he went, sweaty and unseeing. He stumbled and tripped into the wings. And lo, his first review resulted. 'Andrew Motion as the bear was languid.'

It is not Winter now. Thank goodness. Blossom-heavy branches are scraping the upper deck as I go about my week. And everything seems less languid, more liquid. I found myself looking at a photograph of Fanny Brawne's engagement ring, given to her by Keats. I found myself thinking that I should like to have a ring cut exactly like that, a precise replica made, for when I get engaged. Then I remembered that I am never going to get engaged. That I find marriage absurd. That the notion is ridiculous, and that I'm merely a sucker for pretty jewellery. And a wholehearted sucker for Keats. It's OK, I can drink cold beer later and later now it's lighter.

And I have to write and write, for deadlines and for finger-strain. So 'I shall begin by setting myself magic objects to write on: sea-bearded bodies...'

10 March 2011

Be what you would seem to be, or if you'd like it put more simply: Never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise.
[The Duchess]

Curious that I bought cider, not lager, before the ballet. But no matter. Flushed rosy velvet whatever.

Special effect screens in the theatre often irritate me, but spiralling alphabets, falling down rabbit holes, growing/shrinking doors, and scattering playing cards work well for SPECTACLE in an opera house.

Home Sweet Home was stitched on a backdrop, words as tall as me and over an embroidered cottage. The needlepoint rose to reveal butchery. Pigs in copper pots: carved up rumps, severed heads, ears and snou
ts as kitchen clutter. A tiny fireball woman wearing aprons, wielding an enormous butchers' knife choreographed into recklessness. All pig pink and oven hot. Then a Victoria sponge trampoline and teapots like wheelbarrows. Tutus shaped like playing card suits: diamonds, hearts, clubs, spades. Voluptuous flamingos (as busty as ballerinas can ever be), roses reluctant to be painted red, and raging Tamara Rojo, an ever-striking carmine caricature. Alice in lavender, kicking out fouette after fouette. The axe swung down to signal the interval with a droplet of blood like an upside down heart on the blade.

Jack and Alice danced a pas de deux, all long lean limbs, their muscles forming a heart. HEART MOTIF.

Bit of a wonde
rland week. I saw a man have a fit on the bus so I summoned sirens. I had bad dreams that made my body hurt, as though my insides were being dragged out through my ribcage, the ghost of nightmare gripping my bones after I woke. I smelled of someone else for a day, wearing their jumper, wearing their skin. I ate pancakes with blue cheese and mushrooms late at night and saw a picture-book crescent moon over Mabley Green. And I watched a marvel of a ballet.

7 March 2011

Poetry is a form of autism. My tutor mentioned this today.

O Lord. I am her. I am cycling in Cambridge, I am cooking eggs in my Newnham room, I am writing strange, hot-worded letters to Richard Sassoon that I never send, I am at the party, knocking back brandy, biting Ted's cheek as he kisses my neck, making blood run down his face. I am waiting for this man-god to create and destroy.

All this on the bus. I must end this obsession. But I'm only half-way through. I think I'm reading in great chunks, hungrily, but I must actually be nibbling, going slow to stop stomach ache. It makes my head ache.

5 March 2011

Plath Heart

A dress of green velvet that to the touch is how I imagine an invisibility cloak to feel. A box made from embroidered roses, into which I can whisper worries through the gaps between petals. Presents hailing from a Hexham charity shop and The Biscuit Factory respectively. Two of my favourite places in all the world, not just Northumberland. Plus two women eating two croissants each across the table from one another. The elder let the younger finish her ice cream too.

I am reading the journals of Sylvia Plath and I am obsessed. I want to bite my lip and hug myself at the beautiful true prose and also die a little every time I turn a page. She writes of how she loves to pick her nose, of the smell of beer and cheese sandwiches, of men and women and writing writing writing. I know it's going to break my heart. More so because I think of the very real person sitting there (propped up by pillows in bed, listening to the night weather outside at times) writing of her very real feelings, her very real life. Though in Lady Lazarus she claims to be like a cat and have nine times to die, suggesting she has nine lives, she only had the one. The intelligent, fascinating, consuming one documented in the journals.

One of the epigraphs in her original notebook is a Yeats quote.
'We only begin to live when we conceive life as Tragedy...'