29 July 2005


What to report.

I went to Soho with Rachael to see Rebecca Lenkiewicz's play, Shoreditch Madonna. It was very entertaining, she writes like a dream, beautiful turns of phrase. Some lovely performances, too. Leigh Lawson especially, playing a devious old soak of an artist. The character reminded me a little of Nick Nolte's in New York Stories.

I lost my mobile on the way back from Devon.

Am devouring news and comment programmes, like a frightened child listening to the storm at night.

One of the bombers arrested today was living in the road opposite Spike's playgroup.

On Sunday I braved the tube to go to Southwark for a reading, The Body Snatcher by RL Stevenson, adapted by Ellen Hughes and her friend Sally. Lovely to hear that 19thC lingo. It's a promising project, though as Ellen says, the density of RLS's writing is tough to adapt.

On telly, Peter Taylor's three-part series for the BBC, The New Al Qaeda, is scaring the crap out of me. But there's another view here.

Really really enjoyed and admired the adaptation of William Golding's 'Sea Trilogy'. Fantasised about having that job for years, but of course they did it brilliantly. Very saddening that one of the key writers, Leigh Jackson, died before the project was completed.

I didn't read a word of the books I took on holiday - Conan Doyle, Proust vol.3, John Burgess's book on classical drama (though I've read most of the latter, brilliant). Took the plunge and did several sudoku puzzles, and even got two of them right, but the rest imploded near completion, leaving me with the horrible sinking feeling of self-reproach I remembered from my teenage failures with the rubik's cube.

The day before the IRA's statement on dumping arms, B was at a day conference on terrorism and political engagement at the Royal Court, and heard paramilitary-turned-politician David Ervine give a fine speech. Ervine leads the Progressive Unionist Party and is absolutely key in persuading unionists to embrace change. B got to go as she's currently working for an NGO called Conciliation Resources. She's doing admin for her cousin's husband, who's the director of CR, and is making sure she gets to see how the place works. I'm trying to persuade her to guest-blog about all this, but she's shy.

On the play front, I'm happy to report that Micheline Steinberg Associates are helping me and encouraging me, though I haven't signed anything formal to say they're representing me. Which is fine, in fact. I've been tinkering with scene 10 of The May Queen, and I think it's done now. I've sent an incomplete version of the play to the Liverpool Everyman, emboldened by v positive response from its first (apart from the missus) reader, a respected writer.

Talking of those, my friend (and girlf once upon a time) Elizabeth Kuti has sent me a book and a cd - her plays The Sugar Wife and The May Child respectively. Excellent.

So there we are. Sort of up-to-date, but in London these days, you have to keep checking the news every five minutes to see if things are still standing.

25 July 2005

Back To The Old Broken House

It's good to be back.
The weather forecast I took away to Devon in my head - overcast, drizzly - was laughably wide of the mark. The jumpers, socks etc stayed in the suitcase, and the sun glittered on the River Dart all week. Eating was alfresco, much paddling and boating and riding on steam trains was undertaken.
Dartmouth is extremely pretty, and historically interesting. Pilgrims set out from there for Plymouth and thence to the New World. Centuries later the New Worlders set off from Dartmouth and ports surrounding for the Normandy landings, and there are moving memorials to those that did not return. The castle at the harbour mouth is a doozy. There's a variety of follies and houses that lean to one side. Downside, it's cheaper to eat out in London. But in all we had a good week.
News of the attempted bombings in London came to us on the 21st as from another world. The unbearably shocking shooting of poor Mr De Menezes was relayed to us by a friend of B's just as we set off in a launch for a waterside lunch. She was speaking to that friend, incidentally, to make sure her former employers sent a condolence card to the family of Giles Hart, a human rights activist she'd known through work, who was killed on 7/7.
Now we're back, we're edgy and restless, hoping the bombers are caught before they regroup.

I'm told that when S arrived at our well-appointed three-storey holiday house in Dartmouth (I came on later), he apparently burst into tears, crying out, "I want to go back to our old broken house!"
Well, yes, it usually is fairly untidy, Spike, but it isn't actually broken...

18 July 2005


Off on me 'olidees this morning. To somewhere near Dartmouth in Devon. Joining up with my homeys for some r 'n r. The weather's set to cool off just as I hit the coast but I don't mind too much. Jumpers and jackets on the beach has always been my style.

Before I go could I just say, I'm so very glad to be part of this blogospherical entity. The people on my blogroll, and beyond, have given me unlooked for entertainment, food for thought, and so on. If Jeeves were with us still, I feel sure after a day unravelling Wooster's tangled webs he'd settle down, not to an improving book, but to post his latest insights on his 'manfridaytoadunce.blogspot.com'.
Though doubtless he'd return to his Spinoza or his Dante after logging off.

See you at the weekend.

16 July 2005

My twenty four hour trip to Liverpool went very well, considering. I travelled up on Thursday afternoon, and am afraid I was in a haze of lastminuteness during the two-minute silence. I'd had to frogmarch S over to his playgroup in punishing heat and was quite discombobulated after, so much so I forgot my glasses on departure and had to get off the bus and come back for them...

On the train from Euston, I had to absorb the fact that I'd had dealings with one of the victims of the bus bomb. There she was on the front of the Guardian, Shahara Islam, 20 years old, bank worker at the Co-op in the Angel. When a few months ago I had to make a rare request of the bank it was she who spoke for them. It was one of those short and disorienting discussions, Ms Islam listened to me attentively, non-committal, polite. Then in that manoeuvre so brilliantly satirised by Matt Lucas and David Walliams in Little Britain, she asked the computer for an answer, and The Computer Said No.
It's hard to know how to settle such a memory. There are plenty of commentators telling me how to process the events of 7/7, and I'm grateful to them, on the whole. There needs to be a communal debate about what it means for a British city to be attacked in that way. But Shahara Islam was a real person in front of me, memorable to me for the ordinariness of her occupation, the deadpan execution of 'customer service' that it trained her to practise, and, crucially, how this studied courteousness contrasted with the fact of her immoderate personal beauty. Because she was beautiful in that way that can provoke a gasp, a double-take, a shake of the head. Immaculately groomed, easy with herself, confident almost to a fault, she exuded the benign arrogance that is the rightful preserve of youth. And she was a Muslim woman. The point bears repeating, she was a confident, competent, ordinarily extraordinary Muslim woman, representative of thousands of such women riding the transport systems of Britain to work each morning.
And she was killed by a Muslim man, barely a man, 18 years old.

There's a page on the Guardian site listing the dead and missing.

11 July 2005

Interesting times. Three days after the attacks, we find ourselves in King's Cross, the 3 of us. Not rubbernecking the extraordinary variety of emergency vehicles - tho' Spike certainly did fill his boots in that department, and he was thrilled by the non-stop sirens, too. Nor did we go to lay flowers, but I did get a chance to walk around the designated spot, reading the sympathy messages from all over the world, under the jaded gaze of the tv cameras. One that stood out made reference to one of the 'claims of responsibility': 'Burning With Fear? Not Bloody Likely'.
Speaking for myself, 'Smouldering With A Mix Of Resentment and Anxiety' would be quite near the mark.
No, we were in the blighted zone as we'd been sent to StPancras' Hospital to have S's chest checked out, after he had an allergic reaction earlier in the day, probably to the high pollen count, that rendered him breathless and wheezy.
As it was Sunday, 85 degrees and the hospital couldn't dispense the stuff we needed, yours truly endured a stinky bus journey from King's Cross to Marble Arch to fetch medicines, not before drinking in the atmosphere of dread and defiance at the former. By the time I got home at 8.30 I was thoroughly pissed off with the NHS, the weather and Al Qaeda, in that order.

My sister's father-in-law died Saturday night, after a short but devastating illness. So I'll be heading to Liverpool this week for the funeral. I could stay with my other sister, but I'd have to kip on the couch. Otherwise, it'll be a case of booking a room. I'm already a confirmed exile - I left Liverpool to go to college 20 years ago this autumn - but the idea of not having a family base there anymore is quite unsettling.

09 July 2005

07 July 2005

A quick word

Me and immediate family all fine, if a little shaken up. We knew this could happen; black daydreams while travelling on the tube, about explosions and their aftermath, have become part of a Londoner's mental landscape. What to say, except we're relieved to have dodged this one. As was always statistically likely to be the case, but one never knows. As for friends, we'll just have to sit tight and hope they're all okay too. Mobile networks are shaky.
Chris from the Playhouse called: as expected, there'll be no walkabout theatre in the Borough tonight.

Wikinews on the attacks. Harriet has some invaluable links.

First-hand account.

04 July 2005

Thanks to Rebecca's diligence in getting the tickets, I was privileged to see one of Africa's modern masterpieces on Saturday night, Ola Rotimi's adaptation of Oedipus the King. The play is relocated to 15th century Nigeria, but Rotimi was writing in 1968 to highlight the madnesses of internecine conflict erupting in his country at that time. The Gods Are Not To Blame is a stunning adaptation, closer to a play like Hamlet in its use of broad comedy to create lightning changes of mood, allowing the tragic heart of the drama to reveal itself as even more blighted and cursed. The Sophoclean model is very present though, its immense power as a parable of hubris brought low is thrumming in the background all the while, as if there were a sphinx in the corner of the room. Well, I say corner, but the play was in the round, using the main space at the Arcola to the full.

In the interval R and I were blabbing away about how great it was, play and production, and where could we get hold of the text? Then it dawned that the director was sitting at our table, talking to pals. His name is Femi Elufowoju jr, and his company are Tiata Fahodzi. So we asked Femi, and he said it's not published here, despite being a classic over there. He offered to email us the text, we gave him our addresses, but it was the last night, he had a lot on his mind, and we'll forgive him if he forgets. He took a richly deserved bow at the end of the show.

It only struck me later, catching up with Live8 on the news, how appropriate a day it was to be watching a gem of modern African arts.
Was very moved watching Pink Floyd - B taped it for me.

The dinner I gave for the rejection went very well. Samantha, Rachael, Glyn, Bettina and Beverly were full of ideas for the short play evenings I'm proposing. It's a little perverse of me to be thinking about 15 minute theatre when the play I'm writing is as big as a bastard. And I can hardly be taken seriously as a follower of the Monsterists if I carry on like this. But there we are. I'm determined to get something on stage this year! Even at the cost of accidentally founding the Miniaturists.

The Canterbury Tales wends its merry way. Nattering in the courtyard of The George with Juliet. Rolling a wooden beer barrel across cobblestones. Watching the skies. Spying the locals, spying us from high-rises, penthouses. Fielding questions: What's this then. What's the Canterbury Tales then. What're you doing. And from audience members: Where can I go to the loo. Where's the next play. What happens now.
The Wife of Bath's Tale is at the end of the evening, when limbs and brains are weariest. But it's the best of the playlets - sharp, humane, funny. And clear as a bell in the majestic setting, under the eaves of Southwark Cathedral, in its Millennium Courtyard. The production as a whole is a miracle of organisation. The technical crew, stewards and security, added to the seven principal actors, added to the twenty supporting cast, added to the 150 audience people, all go a-wandering through a very busy part of Central London. Hats off to Gareth Machin, who adapted the Tales with Ian Hastings, and also directs. And well done to Tom and Juliet for backing him all the way.