Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Bread heads

I can clearly remember the first time I ever encountered white bread: a momentous event that took place at another child’s birthday party when I was around 6 years old. Everything was rolling along nicely in the way that children’s parties - particularly in the pre-McDonalds era - tend to do: tears, tantrums, red jelly in paper cups and - ta-da! - lots of sandwiches. Except I - reared as I was on wholegrains, hummous and honey - could not identify the stack of thin, pale triangles bound together with putty-coloured paste to save my lentil-scoffing life. So I did what all budding food critics confronted by a challenging dish would have done: crawled under the table, quaking with food fear, until mum came to save me.

Now some people who have heard that story deduce that I must have been a very spoilt brat indeed. Others immediately define me as having enjoyed a ‘posh’ upbringing, and one particularly unbalanced individual even denounced my parents as child abusers from whom the social services should have saved me. All were totally wrong on all counts. But if such judgmental attitudes are rife even amongst apparently forward-thinking folk, then Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall must surely be the devil incarnate and Jamie Oliver his primary cohort; the Observer Food Monthly, meanwhile, must represent a shocking manifesto rather than a symbol of the lifestyle most foodies either subtly or blatantly aspire to. Okay, now I appear to be guilty of being harshly judgmental myself. But I can’t help wondering why, in an era when good food is supposedly a hot topic, the Great British ‘Them and Us’ divide still reigns supreme: at grass roots level, it seems, wholemeal bread is still ‘posh’, and only abusive parents encourage young tastebuds to flourish - that, to my mind, is as sad as a Shippams Paste sarnie (on white bread).

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Everyman - and all of 'us'

A fab friend of mine called Gerry Potter-Poet recently blogged about his experiences at The Everyman Youth Theatre. Those bygone halcyon days were, he recalls, a “genesis of empowerment; a template for the world”. Gerry’s thoughts and recollections inspired me to step back in time too. Thank you so much for the memories, Gerry. Thank you for being ‘us’.

(PLEASE NOTE: I really wanted to link this blog post to Gerry’s, but wasn’t sure which address he wanted me to use. I’ve sent G a little note asking him to make a comment here, and include the correct link; when he does this (if he can/will), I urge you to click through; Gerry is an amazingly talented individual, and I can’t recommend his work highly enough).

I estimate it was around 1976, in which case I would have been around 12 years old. I suppose that, somewhere beyond my immediate horizon, the Sex Pistols were stocking up on ammunition. And while I most definitely can’t remember why I first went to the Everyman Youth Theatre (I most certainly, categorically, did not want to be an actor), all I know for sure is that I did.

In those days, it was based in a draughty old warehouse in Fleet Street, behind Bold Street: a big, cold room with dusty concrete floors, just beyond a glass-fronted reception booth in which a woman - possibly called Maureen - used to sit. I think I might have paid 20p for my first session, but I’m not sure if I did. I remember walking in to a room full of young people standing in a circle, and Frank Clarke standing on a chair next to a red haired girl (also standing on a chair), either reading something about a tree or pretending to be one. I remember asking if it was okay to sit and watch from the sidelines rather than immediately join the group. I can’t remember who I asked but it must have been okay to do that, because that’s what I did. I don’t think I talked to anybody, but I know I went back again. I don’t remember when we made the move to the same site as the Everyman Theatre proper, but I know we did. But why was I - a plump, shy, awkward kid with few skills, either social or otherwise - there?

Like Gerry, I didn't like football (nor did I want to kiss girls and be a dad). Unlike him, I never dreamt of being a pop star, a dancer or a great actor. I used to draw a bit, but I didn’t want to be an artist either. I didn’t go to school, but I read a lot and I vaguely, I suppose, wanted to be a writer; I definitely, I know for sure, met characters who were in search of an author at the EYT.

I remember a life drawing class: the model had red hair, and his was the first penis I ever saw. I sketched him in charcoal, but only from behind. I remember a woman called Jan - a workshop leader, I suppose. She used liquorice papers to make her own rolled up cigarettes, wore dark purple nail varnish and lined her eyes with thick black kohl. She was very thin, and - to me - very glamorous. She smelt of patchouli oil. I remember her. I remember American Ben, another grown up; I sometimes see a reporter on the BBC news who looks just like I imagine AB would look today, talking about some new film or another, and I wonder if he’s the same Ben - but I don’t think he is.

I remember meeting Gerry - purple trousers, glossy hair (”a young Mick Jagger!”, my mum said, when she came to pick me up). I met Brian at the same time: softer around the edges than Gerry, he had a slight lisp, a fast wit and a puppet made from a black sock. I remember a girl who arrived at the EYT as Paula Beckley from Scottie Road and left as Rhoda Gold, a world-class original; where is she now? I remember David C: a ‘Macca’ for the ‘Donnas’ with his wedge haircut, Fruit of the Loom jeans and ‘continental sandals’. Am I suddenly talking in another language? Not if you were there. David C was most certainly there at my house on my 15th birthday - somewhere in the bottom of a suitcase, I have a blurry Polaroid image of the inaugural event that was my very first kiss.

To (sort of) quote Gerry’s blog post yet again, “the words here don't go near to how precious and pure those experiences were and are”. Ain’t that the truth! I know I’ve barely scratched the surface of those preposterous, informative, formative years, but I’m working on going deeper, and intend to keep myself - and you, if you’re interested - posted.