Archive for the ‘ NaBloPoMo 2010 ’ Category

Tree of life

I don’t often speak very directly of my faith on this blog, nor of what I get up to at church.  On some Sunday mornings, I sing with the worship band.  Sometimes I am ‘merely’ a member of the congregation.  And on other weeks, I am involved with the children, either helping with or teaching one of our Sunday school classes.  At the moment, the group I am involved with is (with the exception of me as a leader) entirely female.  Quite how the members of my church manage it, I do not know, but children seem to come in gender waves – a year or two of boys, followed by a year or two of girls.  We’re currently in the ‘girls’ part of the cycle in the crèche as well as in my group.  But that isn’t really relevant.

For the last few weeks, my group has been looking at bits of the book of Revelation.  Not my idea, and not something that happens very often in Sunday school, really.  We (or rather they, as I haven’t been there every week) haven’t been examining tribulations or battles, but some of the images from the last few chapters, which have been getting both the kids and the leaders thinking.  My task this week, one of my rare weeks of leading rather than helping, was to look at the last chapter (number 22).  As we also have preparations for the inevitable nativity play under way, I didn’t have very long, so the focus was essentially on verse 2 of the chapter.  In the King James Version (which I love for literary reasons but don’t use for my own devotions, normally, and definitely not for Sunday school), this reads :

In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.

I was struck by how awesome an image this is.  A tree that is in fruit all year round.  In the context of eternity, this means a tree which never stops bearing fruit.  Whether this is different types of fruit or not, this is a beautiful picture of heaven – never-ending provision and abundance, a constant knowledge of God’s presence, care and love.  And leaves for the healing of nations – an end to every ill and wrong, whether that be physical, mental, emotional or physical.  And for everyone – the nations means the whole world, with no barrier of race or gender.   In this world, I can doubt God’s love so easily, but in the world to come, there will be no doubt.  Not ever.  What a mind-blowing thought.

The godfather

Today, I hosted my godson’s 1st birthday party.  Or rather, his party was held at my house, with most of the actual party arrangements being made by his parents.  I contributed some cheese straws and currant cakes to the food table and did plenty of hoovering both before and after the event.  The trail of destruction left by 12-month-old children and their relatives is quite something!

I have a biased perspective, but I think my godson is an absolutely delightful child, full of smiles and with a very cheeky face.  One current idiosyncrasy which I particularly like it that he will bounce up and down when something takes his fancy – a quite charming way of expressing excitement.  The last time I saw him before the party, he bounced up and down with glee every time I started a Newton’s cradle going – who would have thought that a few metal balls on wires could provide more than a moment’s interest for someone so small?

At the moment, being a godfather is a particularly strange thing, and until the young man is, well, a little closer to being a young man, I am not entirely sure what it means.  I pray for him regularly, but as I already prayed for his parents regularly (and indeed used to pray regularly *with* his father when we lived a little closer to one another), this is not exactly surprising.  Even when he’s older, I believe that his faith is his own choice.  I will talk to him about Christianity, as I’m sure his parents will, and I will do my best to model my beliefs in my speech and behaviour, but even if it were possible to force him to make God a part of his life, I wouldn’t want to do so.  For now, I can offer cuddles and the occasional random present.  Later, I can offer a listening ear (as his mother puts it, I can be ‘Switzerland’, neutral territory for him in all matters) along with the occasional random present.  I hope to be able to share my love of theatre with him as well as my love of God.  But ultimately, my role is to love him and to support both him and his parents in whatever ways become relevant as the years go by.

In defence of Footloose

As one of the 1980s film ‘musicals’ which have been steadily appearing in stage adaptations in recent years (Dirty Dancing, Fame and Flashdance being others), Footloose has come in for a lot of criticism, being for some people an example of all that is wrong with contemporary musical theatre.  I have both seen and performed in Footloose, and although it won’t top my list of favourite musicals (though my role in it will rank as one of the performances I’m most proud of, I think) any time soon, I like the show a lot.  I hadn’t really thought about why until I read some comments on the blog Everything I Know I Learned From Musicals which spurred me to examine why I liked the show – is it actually good?  Or does it match my reaction to Starlight Express – awful, but very entertaining?

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Chip shop etiquette

The British do not like to complain.  There seems to be something in our national psyche which makes us prefer to put up with things than to lodge any form of complaint.  If we do speak up, we tend to apologise, no matter how little blame can really be attached to us in any given circumstance – “I’m terribly sorry, but my vegetarian soup has chicken drumsticks in it.”  We love to grumble, whinge, whine and moan amongst ourselves, but actually complaining, engaging with the source of our frustration in any way, well that seems to be beyond us.

I found myself in two situations in fish and chip shops recently which made me think about this strange national characteristic.  On the first occasion, I asked for a plain sausage and a portion of chips.  Come to think of it, I almost always ask for a plain sausage and chips, being a creature of habit.  I was therefore vaguely surprised when a battered sausage appeared, but I chose not to say anything.  My mind merrily started justifying this – I don’t actually dislike battered sausages, they only cost marginally more, and I probably ought to be less predictable.  Any reason not to say anything about it – why complain?  More recently, in a different establishment, I had the usual exchange.  The sausage (plain, this time) and the chips appeared, and the man behind the counter asked “salt and vinegar?”  “Just salt, please,” I replied, as I loathe even the smell of vinegar.  “Just salt?  OK, boss.”  The salt was shaken, but then as fast as lightning, the vinegar came out and the vile acid started to spread across my chips.  Alarmed, I cried “no, just salt!” but the damage was already done.  The man stopped in his tracks, murmured an apology and started to wrap the chips up.  I think I must have gone into full-on panic mode at that moment, and was unable to keep my horror from registering on my face and a further squeak from escaping my lips.  The man looked up at me, and our eyes locked for a while, before he eventually asked whether I wanted a new portion.  I was deeply relieved, and assented.  Of course, in true British fashion, I also proceeded to stammer some sort of apology and found myself nervously laughing about how much I hate vinegar.  I thought it best not to comment on the fact that my new portion was somewhat smaller than the original one had been.  And I couldn’t get out of the shop fast enough.

Isn’t it strange?  I truly cannot stand vinegar at all, but if he hadn’t asked if I wanted a replacement portion, I would probably not have challenged it, and would have walked out of there with a portion of chips which I wouldn’t want to smell, let alone eat.  We really are deeply programmed to avoid confrontation.  And yes, I did feel guilty over the wasted chips, even though it was not my mistake.  I really am exceptionally good at feeling guilty.

Work ethic

I’m feeling rather guilty today, as I am not at work.  For the first time since 2006, I have taken a sick day, only the third since I started at the old Library of Doom back in September 2000.  Generally, I think “I’m not ill enough to miss work” and carry on regardless, which probably makes me a mucus trooper, one of those people who ensures that everyone else gets sick, which probably isn’t all that admirable really.  I did make an effort to get in today, despite feeling terribly achy all over.  It was the moment when I stepped into the shower and thought “ooh, I feel dizzy” that convinced me otherwise.  I still feel bad about missing a day of work, as I have a very strong work ethic, but hopefully a day off will mean that I can be more productive tomorrow.  I have a horrible feeling that I was on the rota for our equivalent to the issue desk quite a bit today – I can hopefully repay anyone who had to step in for me when I return.

Autumn ends

The summer growth, uniformly verdant, gave way.
Many-hued warmth crept in, creating vibrant variety.
But this too passed, one by one the colours faded.
They leave behind the skeletal remains, a delicate filigree of empty branches.
Suddenly sunlight can fall on ground that was alien territory
And the world takes on a sad beauty as autumn ends.

Why won’t the sheep cross that land?

Sometimes people should stop and ask themselves “is this really a good idea?”  If they did, I would have been spared my worst theatrical memory, which is still vivid nearly fifteen years later.  By far the worst thing I have ever witnessed on the stage was The Roswell Incident, in a touring production by Music Theatre Wales.  I was studying A Level Theatre Studies at the time, and we had to immerse ourselves in as much theatre as possible, so we would dutifully travel to the nearest towns and cities which were blessed with theatres, and saw many wonderful productions, including Blood Brothers and a Georges Feydeau farce, which made me laugh until I cried.  The Roswell Incident just left me numb, partly because what we did not know until we arrived was that this was a chamber opera (we really hadn’t done our research, for all we knew really was the title and the venue).  The main thought that passed repeatedly through our heads as we watched it unfold was ‘why?’  Why did anyone decide this was a good idea?  Why didn’t anyone stop them?  And why are we watching this?  To be fair, the year was 1997, the 50th anniversary of the famous potential alien crash landing, but that really was no excuse.

The opera opened with lots of flashing lights and exciting sci-fi-type noises in a sequence designed to evoke the flight, and more importantly the crash landing, of an alien vessel.  After this visceral, exciting and engaging beginning, we met our first character, a farmer, and we were treated to an aria (I think that would be the right term) from him.  Even now, I have flashbacks to this moment, as he maintained a straight face as he asked “why won’t the sheep cross that land?”  A fair question, but opera of course tends to stretch most questions and statements out for a very long time indeed.  Sometimes this can be beautiful, but in this case it was almost funny, but not in a good way.  I remember distinctly that “sheep”, on at least one occasion during this song/aria/section of recitative/whatever, lasted for more syllables than it should be allowed to.  “Shee-hee-hee-hee-heep” a relatively accurate rendering of it.  And the word “land” was set on a very low note indeed, right at the bottom of the singer’s range.  Basses can sound glorious, but there is something extraordinarily comical about a man hitting the lowest notes in his register (hitting the highest notes, on the other hand, is often painful rather than funny).  Perhaps time has been unkind, exaggerating these features which struck me on first (and, thank goodness, last) hearing, but there was worse to come.

The alien or aliens (it wasn’t entirely clear) was or were portrayed by four children in platinum blond(e) wigs.  At one point in the proceedings, these four little cherubs sang a song about…  well, about something.  Possibly about being a lovely peace-loving alien or aliens, travelling through space and spreading alien happiness.  I don’t recall.  What I do recall is that the choreography largely involved tipping their heads to one side, straightening them and then tipping them to the other side.  The reason I remember this is because one alien (or one aspect of the alien’s mind) had a loose wig, so that when its head tilted one way, the wig would flop off, then would land neatly back on the child’s head a few bars later, only to come loose again.  Over and over again.  I doubt anyone in the audience would have noticed if the rest of the cast ran around naked at the back of the stage, as the flip-flopping wig had a hypnotic power which held our attention in a truly powerful way.  Which would explain why I can’t remember what the alien or aliens was or were singing about.

To make matters worse, to illustrate the crash of the ship and the terribly sad death of its crew of one or four, the children climbed into body bags.  Except one of them couldn’t get the body bag open, so we were treated to the sight of a poor child struggling with a sheet of black plastic, desperately trying to create an opening to crawl into.  I want to be able to say that he or she just gave up and threw the unopened body bag over their body, but I think that is just wishful thinking.  By this point, anything could have happened and I really wouldn’t have been surprised.

After the wigs and body bags section, the opera went on to examine other perspectives on the incident, including the yearly Roswell UFO Festival and other ways in which the event has made an impact on society.  It may have had some interesting points to make, but by this point it had lost me.  I truly could not believe what I was seeing and hearing.  Now, so many years later, I sometimes have to get the programme out to reassure myself that the whole thing was not a fever dream.  A truly surreal experience, I can’t imagine I will ever see anything like it again.

Too much convenience

Watching television last night, I saw several adverts which disturbed me for different reasons, often because they didn’t seem to do a very good job of explaining what it was they were actually advertising.  The worst offender, though, was one where the product was very clearly identified.  I was just perturbed that the product existed.

The product in question is a Prepared Ingredients pack from Waitrose for Delia Smith’s Christmas cake recipe.  Now, Delia’s recipes are greatly loved in this nation, and many Christmas tables will include at least one Delia offering (I remember the year when there was a national cranberry shortage just because she had championed them, meaning everyone rushed out to get a supply).  And almost without exception, a home celebrating Christmas will have a Christmas cake, whether home-made or shop-bought.  Either is fine.  Home-made takes longer, of course, but ultimately tends to taste better.  Shop-bought is ideal for those with limited cooking facilities or very little time on their hands.  But the idea of a packet mix for Christmas cake (they even pre-soak the fruits in brandy) really unsettled me.  When the people I was with found this amusing, I realised I needed to work out why I didn’t like the idea.

I should perhaps say up front that I have never made Christmas cake, as I have never been the person responsible for Christmas in any household (if you see what I mean).  I have made many other cakes of all shapes and sizes, but have never invested that extra time which Christmas cakes require in preparing the ingredients and then topping up the alcohol levels over the weeks running up to the big day.  So maybe I have no business commenting on this mix.  But if I may be permitted to have an opinion, it seems that a packet mix for this particular cake misses the point somewhat.  It is *supposed* to be an effort, a big production and an ongoing process.  Pre-weighed ingredients I don’t mind too much, though part of the joy of cake-making is in deviating from the recipe, in substituting one ingredient for another or deciding that adding a particular flavouring or a bit more flour would improve things this time around.  A packet mix would seem to discourage the personal touch.  The thing that really tipped me over the edge was the pre-soaked fruit, a truly strange thing.  If you don’t have time to do the things like pre-soaking the fruit, you probably don’t have the time to mix and bake the cake either.  And everyone will understand if you have to buy a cake.  It may be strange (in fact, I’m fairly certain it is strange), but this half-way house does not seem like the best of both worlds, it seems like a strange compromise.  I wouldn’t look down on anyone that chooses this option, but I’d have thought that anyone pre-disposed to make their Christmas cake would have no problem preparing, weighing and measuring their ingredients.  Perhaps not.  But it seems I need to avoid ad breaks on ITV for the next six weeks, as repeated exposure to the advert may cause me to go into permanent rant mode.  And nobody would want that.

A moment of silence

Yesterday, Reed posted about observing Armistice Day at work, about how she has to go and find a quiet spot in order to observe the 2 minute silence at 11 o’clock.  Once upon a time in the Library of Doom, we would observe this mark of remembrance and respect.  Notices would be posted on the doors advising students that there would be the 2 minutes of silence, and at 11 o’clock, everything would stop.  We would step back from the issue desk if necessary, we would leave the phone unanswered and we, along with the rest of the university and many millions of people beyond, would cease our chatter and activity for 120 seconds.  To say thank you.  To mourn.  To hope for a better future.

Now, in our shiny new building, there is no official observance, so anyone who chooses to remember must do so with some difficulty.  This year, I left my desk and stood on one of the walkways connecting our two wings together.  Last year, I had gone somewhere private, but surely part of the point of the act of remembrance is that it is public, corporate, shared?  Standing there, head bowed, I could not help but be aware of life in the building carrying on regardless.  Movement, conversation, telephones.  At the end of the 2 minutes, as I turned to go back to the office, I caught sight of someone on the ground floor putting his hat back on, making a comment to a friend and moving off.  It seemed he was surprised that the building had not come to a halt.  For my part, I was not surprised, but I did still find it sad.  Sad that we cannot put our important business on hold for just a brief moment to pay our respects.  I may not support every war that our nation has entered in to, but I am deeply thankful for those many men and women who have risked and given their lives over the years, and I long for a world where wars never need be fought again.  If we can’t spare 2 minutes to turn our thoughts to these things, I think it says something very sad about our society.

You Know How To Love Me

One year ago today, I auditioned for When Midnight Strikes. This was not what most people would have done on their birthday, but most people aren’t quite as excited about performing as I am! I was not really expecting anything to come of it, but readers of this blog will know that as well as ensuring that I met some wonderful people, the show was a great learning experience for me, which I wouldn’t have missed for anything. I am so proud of what we achieved as a company and what I achieved as an individual in that show. I loved the music from the first time I heard it (why else would I have travelled to Folkestone to audition for a group of people who mostly didn’t know me?), and so I was both surprised and pleased to see that Brenda Edwards (a former X Factor contestant and a popular Mama Morton in the London production of Chicago) is releasing one of its songs as her debut single.

The song is ‘You Know How To Love Me’ and the track appears to be taken from an album featuring various theatre people singing songs by Charles Miller and Kevin Hammonds (also about to be released) called It’s Just the Beginning. In the show, this song is extraordinarily emotional, as one of the women sings to the man who has, essentially, used her. She felt that he completed her, made her whole and understood her needs. The ways in which she misses him are endless. But he is having none of it. The number absolutely blew the audience away, both because of who was singing it (and who to) and because of the hard work of the incredible lead vocalist, the musical director and the off-stage backing singers. The fact that I could not be one of those backing singers was about the only regret I had about my role. For me, due to my emotional investment in it, no rendition of the song will ever compare to what Carrie did so brilliantly in that production. But for those who do not know the song, here is Brenda Edwards’ music video for ‘You Know How To Love Me’. A little more “pop” than the theatrical version, but still an amazing song.

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