Thursday, November 29, 2007
I haven't been to Ireland for over a decade, which is a pretty silly thing to admit considering it's a bargain-priced ticket and a 30-minute flight away from Bristol airport. Moreover, I haven't been on holiday with my fab sister and her equally fab spouse since - gosh, a caravan site holiday in Filey way back at the end of the 80s, when my nieces were still at the prams'n'nappies stage. But you know how it goes; we rarely take advantage of the gifts on our doorstep.
As well as giving my B-i-L the celebratory weekend he deserves, I was also hoping to take the Dublin opportunity to hook up with a friend of mine who I haven't seen for 25 years. 25 years! My goodness, the friend in question (let's call him Joe, for the purposes of this post) and I were just kids when we initially hooked up against a backdrop of o-levels (we met at what used to be called a 'Further Education' college), domestic dramas (for me, at least) and New Romantic haircuts (both of us). The year was 1980; I was 16 when I met him, and around 18 when I last saw him. Then suddenly, all these years later, another mutual friend reunited us (by email and telephone at least). But although Joe now lives in Dublin for part of the year, the time is still not yet right for him and I to pick up where we left off a quarter of a century ago. Christmas is on the near horizon, though, at which time both him and I will be in Liverpool visiting our families. Now there's a diary entry I'm already relishing putting together! But before all that, I'm booked on a flight at 7am tomorrow morning, and a whole new raft of experiences and memories-to-be are just waiting to be claimed.
So forgive me for temporarily swapping my regular spot at the turntables at The Animal Disco for a seat at the bar in one of Dublin's legendary watering holes, but rest assured that I'll be back soon with plenty of Tales of the (fair) City. Until then, beagán agus a rá go maith (if that was the dictum I really lived by, I wouldn't be blogging at all ...).
Sulky, unemployed musician Stanley Webber lives in a seaside boarding house run by Meg - an archetypal 1950s housewife - and Petey, her mild-mannered, deck chair attendant husband (think, Jim in Raymond Briggs’ ‘When The Wind Blows’). When two sinister characters - the gangsterish Goldberg and his Irish sidekick McCann - take residence in the house on Stanley’s birthday, the already tense domestic dynamics within Meg’s strange little universe are turned upside down.
‘The Birthday Party’ was Harold Pinter’s first full-length play - initially a critical failure, now considered by many to be one of the classics of the modern stage. Indeed, it remains to be his most frequently produced drama, often tackled by ambitious community theatre groups aware of the play’s enduring appeal. In this instance, Bath’s Next Stage Players rose to the challenge admirably.
Staged in the round (thereby bringing the audience right into the heart of the psychodrama), none of the five-strong cast would have been out of place at a certain Theatre Royal, just down the road. Tim Evans’ interpretation of Goldberg - charismatic, with a psychotic edge - thrummed with nervous energy throughout; the perfect foil for Bridget Cassé’s emotionally fraught Meg. Meanwhile, Richard Matthews’ Stanley trod the fine line between pitiable waster and passive-agressive bully with aplomb. After that, everybody did the very best with what they had: a typically Pinteresque farce - all stop.start dialogue, simmering misogyny and heavy-handed attempts at edginess - lacking clarity or conclusion; in contemporary terms, a typical episode of EastEnders, but with real actors who deserve a much better vehicle for their craft.
(First published in Venue 794)
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
If you're not already familiar with comic/actor/author/playwright Scott Capurro, I urge you to pay his site a visit. His work is not for the faint-hearted, or those obsessed with some kind of sinister, fusty notion of 'morality': he's a gay man who tells it like it is. Having said that, don't expect to find yet another collection of Graham Norton/Julian Clary style rambles; Scott's observations on life, human nature, sexuality, social ritual and the state of the world are about as 'real' as you can get - you read one of his posts and, whatever experience he's chosen to share with us, you live it with him.
Go to the 'blog posts' section of his site and read the piece posted in September of this year, about his mother - bold, brave and incredibly moving. Or check out the piece he wrote about his experiences in Prague - you'll never find this level of detail in 'Lonely Planet'. Want more traveller's tales? Ottawa, August 23rd 2007. Oh heck, just spend some time browsing around the site - if it all becomes too much for you, the emergency exit is a mere click away.
I saw Scott perform live in Bath a couple of months ago. The review was published in Venue magazine ... and dear Scott, having read what I'd written, dropped me a line and asked me for permission to publish it on his site. HE asked ME for permission! Flattered? I had such a grand attack of the vapors I had to take to my bed for 48 hours. So, if you want to know what I think of Scott's live show, find the post dated October 15th (or simply put the word 'Venue' into the search thingie) - the lead-in paragraph in itself is a great story, and every single word of it is true. Because that's Scott Capurro for you - honest to the max, sharp as a Bearded Dragon's scales .... and a wonderful, wonderful writer.
Scott, if I could fit one over my hair, I'd take my hat off to you. Come back to Bath (or even Bristol) soon, and we'll live it up like there's no tomorrow.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Carl and I pretty much grew up in and around Eric's, the legendary club/music venue that made rock'n'roll dreams come true. I have many memories of this cosy den of iniquity: a huge ragbag of contemporary 'Tales from the Crypt' made up of golden moments, teenage dreams and starry-eyed meanderings. As you might expect, I also have a great deal to mouth off about on the subject of the whole 'cultural city' shebang. I'm storing all that up for a later date because right now, I'm exhausted and Gordon Ramsay is set to enthrall me with a 'Kitchen Nightmare'. But I had to drop by to tell you that Carl and I couldn't help but indulge ourselves in a text flurry that's gone on over the last few days, rewriting our own memories in 'Capital of Culture' bandwagon style (well, in title form at least). Here are some of the highlights (apologies in advance if some are a little too subtle for those outside the 'in joke' circle):
'A Nightmare on Hope Street', 'Cheltenham Avenue - The Psychodrama',
'A River Runs Past It', 'Casablanca 2', 'Hell's Bistro' ... oh, how we laughed!
More in the pipeline, suggestions welcome - and okay Gordon, I'm ready for your close up ...
I have to admit that, back when I started this blog, I didn't actually intend to do the 'diary' thang; for a start, I didn't think anybody would be interested, and I certainly didn't expect anything of this nature to flow. But interested you seem to be (which amazes me, so thank you) and flow, it does (which shouldn't surprise me really, seeing as writing has been an obsession since the moment I could hold a crayon). So here we are. And where am I up to? Read on ...
Saturday evening was spent adoring Bella (who's already had a mention here), after a fabulous afternoon spent encouraging a group of budding young creative types at the Bath Theatre Royal (Young People's Theatre: The Hub) to develop imaginative characters for a project we're working on. I love working with teenagers. This wasn't a 'career path' that I ever intended to follow, but three years into bolstering my freelance life with such fulfilling employment, I'm absolutely lovin' it. Contrary to popular opinion, teenagers - in my experience - are bright, eccentric, thoughtful, sensitive, talented and downright hilarious. I don't envy them their youth (why should I? I enjoyed a superb one of my own, and haven't quite grown up yet), but I find my merry little band of 13-17 year olds incredibly inspiring in terms of my own creative development. The girls are pretty good on dress sense tips, too ...
Anyway, Sunday - and that La Flamenca Fiesta.
Now this was a funny one - possibly the most surreal reviewing job I've had. Not that there was anything sinister or uncomfortable about the experience; to the contrary, it was a lovely way to spend a Sunday afternoon. It wasn't an outdoor event after all - the whole thing (bowls of proper paella, jugs of extremely strong sangria, a 'Gypsy Kings' style band playing live) took place in La Flamenca's barrel-vaulted tapas bar and restaurant, which positively thrummed to the 'good times' vibe all afternoon (and, I'd guess, long into the evening, way after we'd handed our castanets back). To briefly summarise, it was like being at a Spanish family party hosted by Pedro Almodovar. I'll be putting a review together soon, and after it's been published in Venue, I'll share it here for the sake of those Discoites who don't live within a 20 mile radius of my home. Afterwards I spent the evening on the sofa watching a lengthy documentary about Kylie Minogue, thereby ensuring that my Camp/Glamometer was fully charged up for the week ahead.
Talking of which: we'll move swiftly on now to Monday (at the time of writing, that'd be yesterday) - and wow, the week got off to a flying start!
I can't really go into too much detail about exactly which 'staff do' I went on yesterday because I feel it's a bit unfair to publicly diarise somebody else's life without their permission. Not that I've asked for their permission and they've said no; more ... oh, I'm sure you understand. Anyway, I - and three other lucky winners - were treated to a day out in Bristol by the head honchos in charge of our favourite Bath watering hole. Oh lucky, lucky us! We started off with a spectacular lunch at Bordeaux Quay (do check out the link I've supplied; this place has to be explored to be fully understood) which we followed with a little wander around Bristol's St Nicholas Market, where we visited a friendly cheese maker (and friend of ours) who just set up shop there (Trethowan's Dairy Shop in the Glass Arcade). Trust me when I tell you that the Gorwydd Caerphilly is fabulous; if you're local to St Nicks, do yourself a favour and stock up on a whole wheel of it for Christmas (remember to tell 'em that the Animal Disco sent you!).
After that, we headed up Park Street and lounged around in the comfy armchairs in the first floor bar at Goldbrick House before heading back to Bath and a nightcap at Opa.
Oh, what a perfect day! Good food, great wine, lovely company. Who can ask for anything more? Later, Discoites! Keeeep dancin' ...
They’re loud, expensive and full of poo. They wreak havoc on your social life, shatter all prospects of domestic bliss and turn your body into a battle-scarred wasteland. As the years roll by, they wear you out, run you ragged and “treat this house like a bloody hotel!”, before leaving you for good and breaking your heart. Is this an anti-baby rant you see forming before you? To the contrary: the words you’ve just read aren’t mine; they’re quotes from well-meaning friends who, when trying to placate me during my darkest hours, bombard me with edited lowlights from their lifelong journey on the baby bus.
According to contemporary soothsayers, one should only regret the things that one did not do; by and large, I live by that dictum. As a result, I’ve been to paradise – perhaps not quite the same kind of paradise that 1976 chart topper Charlene visited in her cautionary manifesto on this very subject (no subtle whoring for me!), but hey, I’ve lived. Still, I was never brave enough to embark on life’s greatest adventure of all. Now, when the broody blues kick in, the overwhelming feelings of emptiness, disappointment, regret and sorrow that the realisation that I’m probably never, ever going to know how it feels to be a mother brings are as emotionally painful and traumatic to bear as the physical act of actually giving birth is sometimes reported to be. To quote another tragi-comic camp icon, sometimes it’s hard to be a woman; until I hit my broody years, I didn’t have a clue what Tammy was wailing about.
But unlike our anti-feminist superstars, I refuse to give in and blame my woes – any woes at all – on some poor, commitment-phobic man. Blame is a bore, a chore, and an unnecessary evil that gives an otherwise sweet life a bitter, acidic edge. Anyway, my pro-choice sensibilities embrace equal rights for the men who don’t want to be fathers, too. Although I fully sympathise with their motives, I have little time for the ‘baby bullies’ – women and men, but usually women – who demand to fulfil what they perceive to be their right to parenthood by using emotionally sordid, passive-aggressive techniques to metaphorically twist the arm of the partner who disagrees with them (I include the deliberate sabotaging of condoms and the “whoops, I ‘forgot’ to take my pill!” brigade in this category). I agree with my gay friend who, when asked to consider to ‘donate to the cause’, eventually declined my request for a number of incredibly well-considered ethical, sociological, emotional and intellectual reasons. I’m not one of those women that the media love to hate for attempting to ‘have it all’ (the ‘it’ in this instance referring to the patronising, judgemental admonishment of successful childless women); I simply never reached the ‘Baby’/‘No Baby’ crossroad on the map of my life. But the fact that I can’t play the blame game doesn’t make my ‘situation’ any easier to live with: I'm clearly not destined to be any kind of Madonna.
So on I go, with the well-meaning but ultimately futile advice offered by those who claim to make practical sense of my seemingly illogical desires ringing in my ears, when all I long to hear is the yell that heralds the 4am feed. Apparently, I’m pre-programmed by mysterious forces – sort of, beer goggles for women - and therefore controlled by the biological impulse to reproduce. While I’m busy learning to ignore the ticking of that darned clock, perhaps the medical profession will find a way to mend a broken heart. In theory, broodiness and heartbreak are nebulous, conjectural conditions; in reality, one feeds off the other in a constant frenzy – and I'm powerless to disconnect either from the source. Unless, that is, a benevolent stork happens to drop a baby into my, erm, lap tomorrow – that, for me, would be my equivalent of paradise found.
Sunday, November 25, 2007
I got up at 5.30am this morning to finish off a long feature all about chef 'Signature Dishes' (for Folio magazine, January edition) which I wanted to get all done and dusted by 9am, partly so a particular sub-editor could do her magic on it before Press Day, but mainly because we had a lovely dog staying with us overnight (ah, Bella! We love you) and I wanted to make the most of my time with her before she went home again. Home, for Bella, is currently Luxembourg, but she was born in the USA, has enjoyed a long spate in Saudi Arabia and now lives in a pretty little European town. Is Bella, I wonder, the world's best-travelled dog? She's certainly one of the loveliest, that's for sure. I sooo much want a dog of my own! But even if I get one, Thumper will always, always retain pole position as (lizard) King of the Animal Disco household.
This afternoon, I'm reviewing a Spanish Fiesta courtesy of what I believe to be the West Country's most authentic tapas restaurant, La Flamenca in Bath. It's pretty chilly out, but fortunately, the sun is shining - I'm sure a plate of paella and a drop or two of sangria will warm us up nicely. I will of course duly report back at an appropriate time (and catch us all up on some other events that have taken place over the last couple of days, as detailed in my reply to some of the very nice comments I've received). I'm not quite sure how energetic I'll be feeling this evening (what with that early start this morning!), but whatever happens between now and when I next drop by here, one thing's certain: I'm not going to waste any more time being obsessed with sorting laundry.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
This evening, England are playing ... somebody (football really isn't my strong point). The match is live on TV, so Mike has invited his buddy round to watch it with him. While they're doing that, I'll once again set up camp at the kitchen table - though this time, without the wine or the accompanying disco - and attempt to put an outstanding (in terms of lateness, if not quality) feature together, seeing as the deadline passed yesterday. Praise be for understanding editors! But let's not tell her that actually, I'm about to spend the afternoon cooking - it's as though the oven is calling me.
While I'm in no way obliged to do so, I'm going to slow-roast a beef casserole (beef, shallots, thyme, red wine, carrots, real stock), adding a handful of homemade suet dumplings to the pot 30 minutes before completion. I've never made dumplings before, but this morning, my local friendly butcher spent 25 minutes telling me exactly how to go about it, and now I'm fascinated. If they don't work, I'll just scrape them off the casserole and make a pile of steaming mashed potatoes instead. While the oven is on, I might as well pop a treacle tart onto the top shelf, as well as tomorrow's sausage casserole, wherever I can find the space. The comfort food season is upon us and I'm already making the very most of it. Mulled wine in the pipeline ...
Cheers, discoites! Come back soon.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
I'm not (nor have I ever been) a Status Quo fan. But I sort of appreciate them for what they are - or rather, what I thought they were: a good times, singalong band with more than a handful of okay-ish hits under their belts, capable of putting on a good show. I saw them open the Live Aid show at Wembley years ago, and ever since then 'Rocking All Over the World' has had a special place on my sentimental chart (regular visitors to the Animal Disco will know that I have charts for pretty much everything). After seeing them in Portsmouth, though, I think I'll have to give even that chart a serious rethink.
Status Quo have been rockin' around the block for almost 40 years. They're survivors of both changing trends and unfortunate personal experience. They have a massive loyal fan base and as a result, they're massively rich. In other words, they're in a very privileged position. Why, then, did they appear on stage looking as tired and bored as as a group of mechanics after a long day in the garage? With not an ounce of charisma between them, the two frontmen Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt lumbered their way through a weary collection of past hits, barely making eye contact with the audience and chatting amongst themselves the whole time (possibly about whether they wanted mashed potatoes or chips with their steak pie and mushy peas after the show). There were no surprises - the new songs sounded exactly like the old songs, and the old songs sounded clunky and laboured.
"Our new CD is just out", Rossi told the audience at one point. "You can buy a copy in the foyer".
Oh for goodness sake! Does Rossi really need to squeeze another few bob out of the good folk who have kept him in pies for almost four decades? Where's the spark, the life, the joy the ... I don't know, the bloody gratitude? I'm probably not doing a very good job of putting all the anger that I feel about Status Quo into words right now as I'm a bit hungover from last night (details of that little get together to follow tomorrow-ish), but a couple of you have asked me what I thought about the gig. So to summarise as best I can, here we go-o:
Anybody who makes a living doing what they love is extremely lucky. If that living is largely wrought from strangers who appreciate your work and support you in what you do, you have a duty to thank them. In my opinion, Status Quo have turned into a bunch of ungrateful old pub singers way past their prime who take their fans and their position in life for granted. Humble? They don't know the meaning of the word. Thud, thud, thud, clunk, clunk, clunk ... the sound of cynicism personified.
There! I've got that off my chest - thanks for bearing with me! I'm off to feed this hangover with comforting mushroom risotto and an evening in front of the TV now ('Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares' - wa-hey!). Then it's an early night for me, as tomorrow I have some serious deadline-busting to deal with. But before all that, I just want to say thank you to the kind folk who have left comments here - it really makes my day to hear from you! I promise I'm not always this grumbly - we'll be dancing again tomorrow.
Happy Monday! M x
Sunday, November 18, 2007
Yesterday was wonderful - a trot around town (including a spectacular lunch at Gascoyne Place - thank you so much, Marty!) and some shopping. In the evening, we sat around my kitchen table for the second night running, eating and drinking and generally making merry (or, in the case of my sister and I, making childish mischief). I decorated the table with tealights and battery powered glowing things, and we ate canapes of rye bread, cream cheese and smoked salmon, and blinis with dill-marinated herring. Salmon en croute followed, and chocolate brownies should have followed that, but by that stage, my hostess batteries were severely running down and I forgot all about them, so Mike and his brother ended up munching them straight from their crumpled foil wrapper (did they taste good, boys?).
At one point, I accidentally set my hand on fire (honestly, I did! I have the blisters to prove it). My dad talked about his ex-lovers (women who, by the way, were current lovers while he was married to my mum). My sister impersonated Debbie Harry, and encouraged me to impersonate Adam Ant. My mum - all pink and giggly and very, very funny - looked at old pictures of herself and loved us all, in her own special way. Stephen joined us and made extremely crude jokes and references at every turn. The other Steve arrived in his action man outfit. Mike drank spiced rum with ginger beer and exercised a great deal of patience. We listened to Kenny Rogers, Bananarama and Phil Spector's Christmas album, and later on we had a YouTube party, and relived yet more memories. Memories? The day was full of them, both recycled and freshly created. Which led me to thinking ...
My family are pretty much all scattered about these days. Mum and dad divorced years ago, and mum remarried the day before my sister embarked on her route to long-standing wedded bliss. It's a long story - not always a good one - but seeing as someone's got to tell it, I do, frequently. But last night - well, how many families do you know can sit around a table being absolutely ridiculous until well into the wee small hours, with no blips on the emotional horizon whatsoever and a great deal of joy to feast on? That was us, last night - the original Blease family, plus two newish and very welcome additions (Mike and his brother Steve).
I'll spend the afternoon with the Observer Food Monthly, chicken pie and mashed potatoes (Mike's at football as I write - he'll need such sustenance) and later, in the bath. After that, Status Quo in Portsmouth, with a visit to a new baby on the way, in Winchester. Live the dream? Sometimes, I feel as though that's exactly what I do.
Have a super Sunday, wherever you are. And if you're in the mood for an uplifting tune, go here, download a track called 'Do You Realize?" and let me know how it makes you feel.
Later, animals! x
Friday, November 16, 2007
Mike's gone to work, all cosy and snuggled up in his big rugged jacket, the one with the fur-lined hood. Thumper (the lizard baby) has been out for a good runaround - he's looking at his very best right now, having just shed his old coat and donned a green-tinged, golden-flecked suit of armour. Rufus Wainwright is puttering away on the CD player in the corner, and I feel like the luckiest woman in the world, on so many levels. But honestly, I'm not gloating - I just wanted to remind myself how warm and gentle life can be, whatever the weather.
Thank you for reading this. May your day, too, be merry and bright!
Saturday, November 3, 2007
Friday, November 2, 2007
I’ll have a couple of rashers of nitrosamines, preservatives, anti-bacterial agents and colour fixative followed by a high possibility of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and a bit of bladder cancer, please. That’ll be the good old bacon butty, then: all-round hysteria in one indigestible bite, wrapped in a couple of slices of high GI-rated starch. Yum!
Yup, food that kills is back in the headlines again – this time, the evils of bacon are in the spotlight. The news has brought about much wailing and gnashing of teeth from those who apparently live on bacon sarnies, an outraged army fuelled by the Sun newspaper who inevitably ran the front page headline: ‘Save our Bacon!’. Antony Worrall Thompson – himself the very picture of the British version of good health (ie, an overweight diabetic with terrible skin) waddled onto the bandwagon, dismissing the latest news as ‘just another scare’: “If ‘they’ have ‘their’ way, we’ll all turn into vegetarians!”, he raged, as he sank his teeth into his usual breakfast of deep fried, sugar coated pigs innards. Indeed! How dare ‘they’ tell us that the great British breakfast is bad for us? What right have ‘they’ got to pick on bacon? What’s the point in putting in all that hard work getting a hangover if there isn’t a bacon buttie to reward us for our efforts? The scientists, researchers and nutritionists who are busy condemning the BB are nothing but anti-British killjoys, out to stop our fun. If we want to eat our way into an early grave via industrially produced, genetically modified salt and additive laden low-grade meat that’s literally not fit for a pig to eat, that’s our national right! Next thing we know, we’ll be told to stop binge drinking! Crikey, pass me a fag …