Thursday, 31 December 2015

Practise won't Make Perfect, but do it Anyway!




  I challenged myself to write my blog today about the first New Year's Eve related Facebook status that came up on my feed.   This turned out to be PumpinShark's, quoting people who tell him that he was clearly born with an ideal genetic make-up for bodybuilding.  He refutes this, saying that it was work that got him his physique. 

  PumpinShark's Page

                         
                                           @zAKPIX



  'Work is the panacea for all ills,' said Dr Johnson. 
  Tell that to the shoulda, woulda, coulda brigade. 
  There were always a number of the brigade's members working front of house at Covent Garden. 
  Michael, for example, the Central School trained actor.  He never did his gatherings in and givings out on the breath; or his "Owst, Owkt, Owthd" on the lips; or his rib-cage spread fricatives on the floor.  He was beyond all that. He was courting the muse these days - the muse, baby! He had a night off foyer duty to be a halberdier in Henry the Fifth on wasteland in Tooting Bec.  He said he didn't expect to be coming back to ushering for very long afterward. This was going to be it. The muse would bring him the big break.  
  As it turned out he didn't come back to ushering for very long. The muse hadn't come through with the big break. Michael started drinking on duty and reciting Shakespeare's Prologues.  One night the house manager asked him not to wear white socks with his black uniform shoes. Michael went up to the offices and made a mess of the house manager's desk. He got sacked. 

  David Beckham was first on the park and last off it practising corner kicks. 
  Jane Austen wrote and rewrote Pride and Prejudice over sixteen years, turning the kaleidoscope with each reworking until the pattern was as she wanted it. 
  Ermintrude the Cow in the Magic Roundabout obsessively rehearsed being a number twelve bus going down the Strand; commandeering boats, Dougal and mechanical diggers as and when she needed them. 
  True, there are exceptions to the long slog rule.
  Rosa Ponselle. In 1918 She made her debut at the Met aged twenty-one in The Force of Destiny.  It was her first ever role in opera, she hadn't had formal singing lessons; the first night press said that she was a vocal goldmine. Caruso's poker-buddy, William Thornton, had heard her as a nineteen year old singing light classics in a Meriden cinema while the projectionist changed the film reels. Thornton introduced her to Caruso himself, who arranged for her to audition for the Met, saying that he could guarantee that within a year she would be singing opposite him there. At the time she had patted him gently on the head, smiling nicely, afraid of making any sudden movements.
  Joyce Grenfell. As yet unknown, she was at a dinner party in 1939 and imitated a visiting Woman's Institute lecturer's talk on "How to Make a Boutonniere out of Empty Beach Nut Husk Clusters". Fellow dinner guest, West End impresario Herbert Farjeon, put her in The Little Revue to perform the talk just as she had recreated it at the dinner table.
  Pace these two exceptions to the rule, the rest of us have to put in the long, hard work to get things done. 
  People often tell me that I must have done ballet as a child, and that I have a natural facility for turning thirty-two fouettes.  
  No, I tell them, I first saw ballet aged twenty and became obsessed with dancing the role of the Swan Queen. Madame Galina Ballet Star Galactica led on from there. I worked for months and months on the thirty-two fouettes - and can still remember that night in the Royal Opera House foyer when I first got through them. 
  I had done my usual practise and conked out at fourteen. Dr Ismene Garrett, infamous ballet regular, wasn't in watching Sleeping Beauty, she was in washing her tights in the stalls circle ladies toilet. She stood in front of me, damp tights clutched in her left hand, tapped her forehead and told me to do the fouettes again, spotting on her, and I would get through them.  She would help me - as she had been helping Royal Ballet dancers with performances since the spirit of Romantic Ballerina Marie Taglioni had possessed of her one July day in nineteen seventy six. 
  Taglioni could never forgive herself for Wendy Ellis's fall in The Two Pigeons - both wrists broken - and would weep lakes of ectoplasmic tears in Dr Garrett's aura, apparently. That night in the Royal Opera House foyer I fared better. In spite of my all-but-dead left leg I spotted on Dr Garrett's forehead and - oh my stars - I did them. Thirty two fouettes. 
  Make of that what you will. 


    


  I disagree with PumpinShark that you have to love something to work successfully on it. I dislike dancing the Sugar Plum Fairy (pictured above) because it always feels as though my legs are on back to front. But still had the pas de deux encored recently in Copenhagen, partnered by a classic press ganged volunteer from the audience: Elias, the Roskilden gas fitter!
  As I was signalling to the sound technician to restart the track Elias asked me what was happening. He was ruddy, blonde, steaming but happily drunk, with my lipstick smeared forensics knew where by now.
  'We're doing our dance again,' I told him.  
  He was philosophical, nodding. 'It is always best to double check, yes. At my day work I could be having someone worryingly off his flattened bottom, or be mounting him wrongly as we mate new rubber outlet with old taking-in ring. Or such.'
  
  In which there is a lesson for us all. 

  Happy New Year! 
  
  
  
    
  
  
  

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Showing Mr Yong my Tongue



  Xiuying, chinese herbalist, was so taken aback by the ridges appearing in my tongue when I was performing Giselle's "Mad Scene", she felt she must send for Mr Yong and get a second opinion. 
  
  'What is it your job, please?'  she had asked, once I was lying still and not rustling the paper sheet on the cot. 'And give me your wrist fully.'
  I told her, 'I'm a character actor with ballet skills.'
  'And what are you performing just now?  Sad, distressed character?'
  ‘Yes, in my comedy show Ballet Star Galactica I play Giselle.  A peasant girl who is jilted, goes insane and kills herself.’
  Xiuying clicked her tongue a number of times, then asked, 
  ‘Do you like having kidney function, even kidney function that's not very good, as yours is? Then you must stop performing this thing.'
  ‘Can’t I just have herbs?’ 
  I'd had them before.  Tasting like melon, christmas pudding and fox shit. 
  ‘Everyone can have herbs,' Xiuying said. 'But, you see, the psyche cannot tell the difference between what is real or not and every night you play this terrible sad life out. It is affecting your kidneys quite drastically. Even if we give you the herbs, you must stop performing for at least a week.  And now, I am fetching Mr Yong. I don't think he will be pleased to see such a tongue as yours.' 
  Actually, Mr Yong was philosophical seeing such a tongue as mine. 

  I had been told before that using even my most traumatic experiences as comedy fodder was no way to bring up my inner child. 

  What happened with the last man I had a fling with, for example: Bill. 
  He waited tables at one of the Aldeburgh restaurants one summer, staying in a caravan in Sizewell. Known as Posh Bill, on the run from his Lincolnshire stately home-life. Tall, dark and a little chunky. After a few nights at the Cross Keyes, on the beach drinking take-outs and at the Sizewell caravan, I realised Bill was showing off to me. You know what peacocks are like: 
  ‘Whoops, my rather splendid turquoise and gold tail has just fanned up?’
  And they always make it look unintentional? 
  Like that.
  ‘Whoops, my t-shirt just rolled right up onto my shoulder and my head's itchy.’
  ‘Whoops, my wetsuit has just shucked itself down to my waist and I’m just having to strum my left pectoral muscle.’
  ‘Whoops, it’s another beach party and I’m just having to go swimming; and this towel I’m getting changed underneath is no bigger than a doll’s blanket – whoops! – and after my swim I’m just having to get out of the water fifty yards down the beach and jog back, wet and muscles humping.’
  And not suffering from North Sea shrinkage either, apparently…

  Love Is: when the dodgiest Baywatch scenario works for you.

  Then there was Bill’s sensitive literature campaign. His Boys’ Own stuff - the Clancys, Grishams and Cusslers disappeared, along with Loaded Magazine, FHM and Nuts; and instead on the shelves was Woolf, the wrong Murakami, Isherwood and back copies of the National Trust Magazine. When I caught sight of the Proust and the Wallis Collection catalogue on his bedside table, I planned to sneak out to the chemist for the morning after pill. 
  Seriously, folks, I knew this was the day. There was the crackle in the air. Heathcliff was finally going to grab his Cathy by the sprouting heather.
  Bill had bought steaks for lunch. Dead give-away. And a bottle of red wine, that he’d had chambréeing since ten because it wasn’t expensive and would need time to breathe. He let me taste it. It could have done with mouth to mouth. 
  And after lunch, he said, ‘Er…’
  When he was nervous, this ‘er’ was on six tones going up the E flat major scale.
  ‘I’m erm…curious…’
  And he was looking over at his bed. Which in the way beds do in these situations had stopped being a normal size double and was about twice the size of Antarctica and getting bigger by the second.
  And, then, on the gentle waft of Lynx Arabia Bill got curiouser…and curiouser…and curiouser.

  Our ways parted after the summer holidays. Bill was killed the following spring. Oliver, Maitre D’ where he worked, saw me putting up a poster for Turtle Soup in the window of Baggots and came over to make sure that I knew about Bill's death.
  I hadn't known.
  ‘Car accident,' Oliver explained. 'He was driving.’
  It was the period when organist Andrew Campbell sometimes asked me to sing with his chamber choir at services around Suffolk. Harvest Festivals, weddings and Taisès. The choir was penciled to sing at Luke’s memorial in Aldeburgh, in fact - and I might very well have turned up to sing not knowing that he was dead. As it turned out his memorial service was held in Lincolnshire.
  But when I stopped crying out on the marshes, I thanked the gods for the plot.  

  I performed the play Along Came Bill for two years around small theatres and studio spaces, won a prize, got a lovely review in The Times; then shelved it. 
  And now some ten years later I've been having workshops on revising the play from screenwriter Ken Levison; all because I sat next to him on a bench by Brighton Pier, having no clue who he was, and he asked what I was scribbling away at there?
  'Dear boy, don't mind my saying so, but turning up to the funeral of a past lover can't be the premise of your play, it's a mere plot device. And you can't begin with that clowning scene of you warming up your singing voice. The play is about betrayal, dear boy, not about singing. Nor dog sitting, neither, so you can cut all that about having to feed the dog with its Emily Bronte souvenir spoon and so on. Or leave it all in, of course, it's up to you. I'm only making suggestions. But then you'll just have the feedback direct from your audience - which, I strongly suspect, would take the form of wave upon wave from the stalls of indifference, and that's never pleasant. Oh, and you must capsize Bill's boat to set off the discovery of the betrayal in Act One - where you talk about licking the carbon raw off your grandmother's coal straight from the scuttle to deal with the family flatulence. Act Two is too late for this material. You know, actually, I wonder if ultimately you've bitten off more than you can chew, and your comic persona will prove a danger colliding with such bleakly sad material?'
  Oh, not to worry, I said. 'I've got my fall back safety net. I started this when I was convalescing from a run of Giselle's "Mad Scene". I have a periodic knock on the window of the chinese herbalist and show Mr Yong my tongue, keeping him up to speed with the physical manifestations of my psyche. He'll either wave me along or beckon me in, depending.' 
  

Monday, 28 December 2015

Sally Gallops On...Working the System

 



  It's always the same this time of the year. We've overspent and need to retrench. Government bodies along with the rest of us. 
  The tears were hardly dry from the annual sob-along to "Feed the Birds" and a local council was seeking to cut its benefit payments to Sally Kerridge.
  Sally had two part-time jobs. She was an usherette at the Royal Opera House and a TV extra. I once saw her lurch down a corridor in Holby City with the papers about to fall out of the patient's file she was not quite holding. During takes in the Eastenders greasy spoon she would actually eat the fry-up. 
  'Have to reset, everyone, sorry - the girl behind Letitia has eaten her egg and her beans again!'
  Sally clarified, 'I was leaving my bacon til last as it's my favourite.'
  She took a case to Equity. She was jostled getting out of carriage, wide shot in the first series of Downtown Abbey. She insisted that Dame Maggie Smith had made bustle to bustle contact with her, which constituted 'Reacting with Principal Actor' so the fee ought to have been higher. Equity automatically diverts Sally's calls to the Fossils for Children department at the Natural History Museum; Sally has never been any the wiser. 
  Where Sally is wise is in ensuring that the amount she earns from being an usherette and an extra is just low enough always to keep her eligible for benefit payments.
  She part-owns a horse, by the way. He's called Meadows and is stabled in a field beside the M25. Meadows is so docile we've nicknamed him Ravaged Wasteland. When she mentions Meadows, Sally gallops on the spot until we nod to indicate that we know she means the horse she part-owns. Sometimes we don't nod for quite a time. Sally just gallops on.
  She inherited sixty thousand pounds when her mother died, opened a new bank account with it and used half of it for a face lift, the other for holidays and some other nice, little treats. She said she didn't need to declare the amount to the benefits office as the money had come to her not from earnings but through mourning. 
  I suspect that someone other than Sally thought of that.
  The local council decided that jointly being an usherette and an extra weren't earning Sally enough and sent her on a course to make her more universally employable. 
  The course was decoupage. 
  Sally decoupaged the front of her recently dead mother's wardrobe with pages from Psychologies Magazine; and in the 'anything to add' box on her benefits' claim form wrote: 
  £16.50 travel for taxi required to take my decoupage project into the evening class at Kingsway Princeton College and show the tutor to be marked. As you people sent me on the course in the first place, I should not be out of pocket on account of it.

  She (and we) are still waiting for the council's response. 

  
  

Saturday, 26 December 2015

Thing I learned on Boxing Day




  Just joining in with this survey...
  
  By accidentally playing my 45 RPM of Pinky and Perky singing "The Holly and the Ivy" at 331/3 RPM I learned how their voices were done. 


   

Friday, 25 December 2015

Before I Raise that First Christmas Bumper

 Oscar Wilde said, 'Every woman becomes their mother.  That's their tragedy.  And no man becomes his.  That's his tragedy.'

  I went through a stage of being my mother around the age of thirteen.  My French teacher, Noel Picarda-Kemp, would often remind me that conjugating irregular verbs really didn't require me to low like a menopausal cow.  
  By now I've turned into Terry Allen, who worked in the Royal Opera House box office and then, when he was sacked for one curmudgeonly queeny outburst too many, in the china department in Harrods. I was lucky that he liked me and did nothing worse than send me up generally and nickname me Mrs Tiggy-Winkle. 


  'It was how you came down the main staircase carrying that box of programmes, dear.' Bifocals tilted above his receding hairline, rheumy suspicious gaze, beige spiv-suit.  'All lopsided intent, little face screwed up, sleeves past your elbows, hips swinging like an elderly washerwoman.  Mrs Tiggy-Winkle to a tee.' 
  Terry could turn apoplectic when he was working on the high turnover foyer box office kiosk in the hour before curtain up. Face empurpled, spitting down his cigarette, eyes boggling. 
  'Madame, your efforts at annoying me are clearly employing all the available neurons from your brain.'
  'SIr, a pillow is what rests against your bed's headboard; what will restrict your view of tonight's performance of Nutcracker is a 'pillar'.  No, sir, not as in 'box'.  That is what one would put letters in addressed to sir. In all likelihood postmarked in Streatham, expressing unkind sentiments and with letters cut from copies of the Mencap Magazine.'
  'Trevor, there has been a serious bomb threat made.'  Trevor Jones, house manager, was a favourite target for Terry.  'The opera house, with us all in it, is not your ship from your navy days for you to go down with in all your glory, standing on the poop deck singing "Nearer My God to Thee". So, not pooh-poohing an IRA threat, dear, but making that tannoy announcement. Remember, we don't want me making the tannoy announcement, as I can never resist signing off with Brunhilde's Battle Cry; which screams - literally - a lack of decorum.' 

  Terry, perhaps not quite unknowingly, described to me c1986 what my Christmases would be like today. 
  'Oh, why is there all this pressure and hysteria over a family Christmas? All these films about being desperate to get home to the nearest and dearest; mountaineering himalayan glaciers, mining hell frozen oven, fording tsunamis. And that's just the labrador, the bull terrier and the Siamese. Oh, I knew you'd get that reference to The Incredible Journey straight away - you and your sensitive streak.That's why it says in the house manager's book that you're forbidden to watch the last act of La Boheme - there's no mascara ever going to be made adequately waterproof. So, no, not Christmas with my family, Mrs T. Jane Austen said it perfectly about family gatherings in Emma. DInner and dessert passed away, the children brought in to be talked about in front of them - "Dull repetitions, old news, heavy jokes".  What? No, we've never played a parlour game in our lives. Except my uncle James seems to think that farting in secret is a parlour game. I don't have a television, dear, no.  Nothing I ever want to watch. Once every blue moon I buy myself a copy of the Radio Times and I sit down with it for a thorough go-through; and I tell myself that if there were just five things that I would want to watch, then I would buy myself a television.  Never are, Mrs T. I shall be in my most comfortable armchair with a dish of beef and a dish of greens on the table within easy reach; one piece of fiction, one piece of nonfiction. And I shall lift a bumper or five. Lonely?  I don't get lonely. It's the same with why I never go on holiday. If I didn't like where I was all the year round, I wouldn't stay there. I might just ring Lal, my friend Lal, at a push. He has Christmas alone. We have an on and off tradition of ringing each other and getting reduced to the giggles changing the end of A Christmas Carol. "And Tiny Tim, who had a long, lingering and agonising death, the insufferable little bastard!" See?  What else do you need of a Christmas?'

 

  
  

Thursday, 24 December 2015

The Pop-Up Vegan Bistro of Christmas Past

                          

  The Simpson's annual pop up Christmas bistro went vegan the year Francis Quentin-Curnow was six.   
  Francis had apparently been born gluten and lactose intolerant and with IBS. His wasn't cradle cap so much as Intensive Care Baby Incubator cap. By the time he was four he was asthmatic, eczmatic, diabetic and rivalled pure violet light for taking up space on the spectrum. Aged five he asked to go in the carnival procession as Anne Frank. The following year he announced that he was now vegan, please. 
  On the QT that winter Gerard (remember Gerard?) encouraged Francis to adopt a yak. Daphne, Gerard's mother, was Francis's godmother. It was Gerard's year for getting village girls to adopt yaks; and to sponsor water purifiers in Somalia, or Zimbabwean rebels who were plotting to overthrow Mugabe. The BACS  details given for all the various donations were Gerard's, of course. 
  The game was up with Francis when he (Francis) read aloud a letter that had, apparently, come from Yannik the Yak in Guatemala. 
  Dear Francis, 
  I skip around coffee plantation clippy-cloppy today and sit now under tree to writing at you. I have yesterday before some days collect from post office your lovely present which I have eated. Would you like some of it sent back over at you as dried droppings, keeping-sakety? As for photo you been asking for, I need to know that you are genuine because many yaks adopted here have sent photo of themself to a person and then get letter again from this person saying they lie down with letter and dirty-touch theyselves. 
  Up the Red Cross.
  Love (but not in dirty-touching youself way, okay?!) Yannik Yak.
  P.S. You must send more money immediately for yak-butted injury orphans.  I have made quite many of those. 
  Gerard's granny, Lady Simpson, made Gerard return all Francis's payments and then spell: extortion, despicable and overembellishment
  Gerard was briefly back in favour when he get all the posters and flyers advertising the pop-up vegan Christmas bistro printed for free. As he drunkenly confided to me: 
  'I got Forbes Solicitors to do them.  I knew what happened just required me to bide my good time, sweets. When I was fourteen I'd just got out of the showers in the Yacht Club and Christian Forbes himself, pissed, had come into the changing room.  He said that I would have been - and I quote - "the most rampantly florid little morsel were my balls still up".'
  Gerard's mother, Daphne, said as he had been shown such initiative over the posters and flyers she would allow him to name something to go on that year's bistro menu.
  'It was a vegan version of pigs in blankets, sweets,' said Gerard.  'And she made me taste it. It was vile.  And as I couldn't say anything nice, I tried to say nothing at all. But she was on and on at me. Everybody else was chipping in. And then my uncle Miles actually, actually called me a whippersnapper. Who am I? Oliver cocking Twist? So I told them they should call the dish Putrifying Penis in Leprous Clitoral Flange - in Helvetica font.'
  He was grounded till Twelfth Night.



  

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

The Perils of Giving "The Lonely Goatherd" the Method Treatment...





  Yesterday I watched - and loved - the live broadcast of The Sound and Music. 
  'Finally!' Rukan al Daher commented when I told her. 'I've been waiting to chew it over with you. Surely you didn't love the simplified performance of "The Lonely Goatherd"? You were so strict with us studying that song at Guildford.'
  I remember...

  'Your yodeling isn't nearly specific enough, Rukan,' I had begun by saying, sometime in the summer term, nineteen ninety-three. 'The goatherd is lonely. You just sound poised. Beautifully poised, but not lonely.'
  Rukan was a friend of the Saudi Arabian royal family and these days can be seen introducing the Jordanian Eurovision entry. She had another go at sounding lonely in her yodeling. 
  'Excellent.  Real sense of isolation,' I said, vamping along on the damp-ridden piano in the Founder's Studio. 'Er... why are you sounding upper-class now?'
  'Prince on the bridge, love; I was trying for regal.'
  'But the prince isn't yodeling on the bridge, he's just bystanding on it, overhearing.'
  'Good point.'
  She sang on. 
  'Okay, okay...yup. But listen: now, our goatherd is directly addressing - as opposed to being overheard by - the one little girl in the pale pink coat. She yodels back and but one yodeling chorus later, has a child by him. So, let's please have our goatherd sounding ball-quiveringly randy.'  
  Her glance fell on the dictaphone with which she recorded all her tutorials at Guildford.
  'Iestyn, I have to transcribe this tape, and give my notes to the official sponsors back home, showing that I've been using state money wisely and that I've not been disregarding let alone offending religious law. So, my goatherd's yodeling will just have to sound like his family and the mama with the gleaming gloat have got together previously and drawn up a mutually beneficial betrothal contract, acceptable in the sight of God.'  She pointed a forefinger at me. 'I like the soles of my feet unwhipped, thanks.'
  
  

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Dougy Edwards - Leaving the Glitter Spray in the Tin




  Jane Farquharson was asking me about the acrobat who did the Christmas show with me at the Hurlingham Club in 2012.
  'Munchie's never recovered from his dance with you, by the way,' she said. 'But the hyper-muscled chap who didn't shave his chest - well done him - and could balance on his forefingers?  Who might he be? Sue Thompson thinks he might be right for Henley. You're also being put up for Henley.' But more for the cabaret tent indoors with fairy lights than outdoors framed by the flotilla on a plinth. 'The chap from the Hurlingham with you would be more for the outdoorsy display, wouldn't he? If he was insistent on colour and shine he could put glitter spray paint on or something?'
  Ah, Dougy Edwards, she meant. And he would be right for outdoors and for the display. But as for the glitter spray aspect...



  
  ...I don't think so.

  Doug has been away from the variety circuit for a while. So on Jane's behalf I facebooked him to ask where he'd gone. 
  'I've been in Guernsey retraining,' he explained.
  'But you were doing bloody well. And Guernsey's a bit of an obscure choice, isn't it?'
  'Not when you were born there. I came back to get a bit of a new perspective; a stable view of things. I've been retraining as a PT. I've found I genuinely love training people. And as for the performing side of things: unlike in England itself you can be a big fish in a small pond here. I needed to regroup. To be a solo performer you have to plug yourself and your image, the whole time. The narcissism was getting to me. Sports performance, which I've been doing a lot around exhibitions, is a bit less about the 'look at me'.'





  Hm!

  'My background was in pure sports. Top level football, athletics. And alongside that I've always been into classical sculpture, Rodin being a hero.  I'm fascinated by the human form and the response it can evoke. And I can get masochistic about training to achieve the look I want.'
  He does, I've seen him warm up.  it was like a tank doing St Vitus's Dance.  

See for yourself here...

  'I was self-taught before I got into circus space, going off on natural ability. Ragged look. Feet not finished. But I had the right mix of contacts.  Pixie [his partner in a doubles act] was a lucky person to meet. Top girl, and I respect her as a performer and a marketer. I'm going back to the mainland with a different attitude.  I knew there was more to the industry.  I've got sponsorship through performing for the fitness exhibitions. There's a difference between that and the glitz and glamour of the variety circuit.  I'm in the middle of those two things, I'd say. It would be cool to combine both those worlds. I'm going to talk to one of the Forbidden Nights boys, for example.  I don't want to be put in the Magic Mike category, but am all for jumping into that show and seeing where it goes.'
  And when he does get back, what happens?
  'Coming back from Guernsey I'll need to choose a gym to work at; personal training is now a solid profession for me. And I'll be focussed on my own bodyweight training. Though some of the boys who do hand balancing will just look at my work and say they're already incorporating the bodyweight training aspect, the difference is mine is that it's going to me more powerful - like you've just thrown me on the rugby field, or the track. I'm going to kick off at it! And there's an element of sculpture I'll be working at bringing to my stage routine - the emotive element.'
  How will you do that?
  'Well, by getting my kit off.'
  Hooray...sorry...listening...
  'I'll have a office man answering the phone in a single handstand comic routine as my go-to cabaret act.  Then for more wow factor, there'll be a war-god element.'



  'For this act I'll be doing rotating hand-balance. HIgh up, away, really sculpted. An audience is more into the visuals than the aesthetic in a big arena. You can hear the conversations in cabaret. The bigger act will be distanced and more about the beast look. USP being the more hugeness. Sincere. No way I'm going to cheat being an ex-dancer or gymnast, trying to kid on I'm all about the beautiful line. What I like most about something is the rawness, the realness. When you fall in love, you don't think do I really like this person, you just know it. I want to create that reality in an act.'
  I ran past him that Jane thought he might want some...er...shiny, colourful enhancement?
  'No, bab. You'll never get me covered in glitter-spray!' 

  


Link to Doug's Personal Training page

Doug's Twitter

Doug's Instagram








  

Monday, 21 December 2015

Dolphins Misbehaving



 54a Cragpath, the house I used to rent in Aldeburgh, looked onto the kitchen window of Tuckaway, Ethel Keane's cottage. Ethel moved to Aldeburgh after she was widowed at the end of the second world war and died there in 2012. I sang "On Wings of Song" at her funeral. 
  When I arrived in Aldeburgh on around the sixth or seventh of December each year Ethel would be pinning string across the kitchen window to hang her Christmas cards. She would have four or five cards to go up then. Half way through the month cards would cover half the window; and by Christmas Eve, a pottering Ethel could be barely glimpsed.
  After the Christmas corporate this week for the Four Front Group at the Cafe de Paris, I talked to Tom, my warrior of choice, about Ethel. Posing for photos taken by his boss and mine, a pair of Keiths, we were chatting about Christmas coming, and specifically the religious as opposed to commercial aspect of the season. Tom said he was an atheist. 
  'How can the earth have possibly been created by an intelligent being when rain falls out of the sky?  Surely if there was an intelligent being God he would have caused it to bubble up solely from below ground? Cafe de Paris needs a smokers' awning, by the way.' 
  A few more photos - the bristle around Tom's shoulders gave me some nice traction when I held on for ballet poses.  Cafe de Paris Keith brought us some shots. Tom was now referring to the YouTube clips of Stephen Fry demolishing one or other of Anne Widdecombe's arguments during the Is the Catholic Faith a Force for Good? debate. 
  'I watched that debate, Tom - chin up to camera, please, we are not a camel - and I notice how people tend not to mention how Anne Widdecombe demolished a number his arguments. But she has far fewer Twitter followers, doesn't she?'
  And then I talked about Ethel. How Aldeburgh's parish priest would send for Ethel when an ill person needed to be sat with overnight. How he rang her one Christmas to ask who could most do with the "superflous turkey" some second-homers had given him. 
  'True, Tom,' I added, 'there was my mate Magnus's granny. When she got into a depression, she would hide in the garden if she caught sight of Ethel coming down the High Street, not wanting another bracing up. Being told to at least run a comb through her hair. And to make her family put the walls of the sitting room back the colour they had been before the unfortunate new red made it look like a blessed curry house. But overall not, not to let herself go any more or it would all end it her needing that ghastly local health visitor woman. Yes, the one who was so drunk coming to giving Jimmy Coombes his insulin injection she toppled him over beneath her and dislocated his hip...' 
  The Keiths had finished taking photos and Tom was putting his shirt back on. 
  'But my point is, Tom, that Ethel in cahoots with the local priest doing good works wouldn't have happened if the church didn't exist.' 
  'It would,' Tom said, fastening buttons. 'Because we're closely related in the animal kingdom to dolphins; and dolphins can't be indoctrinated with any of the world's religions, but they're still totally altruistic by instinct.'
  'What, totally, Thomas?'  He looked at me. 'Even when, as they're often recorded doing in the wild, they're committing revenge gang-rape on each other?'
  
  
                           

                                             Parental guidance advised 

  

Sunday, 20 December 2015

"Eat the Bloody Grass!" The Saga of my Other Tutu





  Talking of Regimental Sergeant Major 'Tina' Turner, at the end of the Iraq tour he said, 'That tutu of yours is beyond the help even of a lick and a promise with an antiseptic wet wipe. Maybe for the next tour you should bring two?'
  I said, 'Actually, my other tutu's a classic and hardly fits in its IKEA bag! Let alone that it wasn't quite finished to bring out here this time. The delivery of the beading was delayed by Sorrel and Sage.'
  'Parcel delivery company?'
  'Nanny goats.'

  Katy Lonsdale made the other tutu, in a three feet square workroom on her family's farm in Yorkshire. I went up there for the final fittings and stayed on the farm with Katy, her parents Dilys and Tom, five Aberdeen Angus cows, two mares, four cats, a sheep, a sheepdog, Sorrel and Sage. 
  The Lonsdales hate Sorrel and Sage.
  'Even more so now they've bloody delayed the finishing of your tutu,' Dilys told me. Under greying hair swept back Dilys had the features of Elizabeth the First. 'They always do the opposite of what they're told.  All I ever would need the pair of them to do is go outside and eat the grass, then come indoors again to be milked and bed down. But if you open their gate for them to go out, they trot away from it and stand right at the back of the stall and won't come. I tell them to bugger it and leave them. Not gone two feet and I'll hear the frantic trot across the stall and the clang as they've butted the gate to get out after all. So back you go and it's now impossible to open their gate as they've wedged themselves against it heads stuck through. "Get off that bloody gate, Sorrel!" - or Sage or both, whichever, you're shouting - as you try and push their heads back. And of course they're leaning more heavily on it now, thinking this is the usual fun game of the day with Dilys. A good right hook comes into play. They're off the gate, you open it, and blow me if they don't do their trot to the back wall again. You feel like you've slid down the biggest bugger of a snake to the start square. Eighteen times - eighteen - I've gone through this routine with Sorrel before. 
  'And then when you've finally got them into the field, meanwhile missing phone calls galore - delivery men with some urgent beading for instance! - they stand in the same two foot square area and stare over the stone wall at you. "Eat the bloody grass!" you shout at them. No reaction. And whoever's passing by during the day will shout the same thing at them. "Eat the bloody grass!" No reaction. But when you go to get them in when it turns cold, they're off up to the far wall boundary and heads down to chopse at the grass like they've been starved for weeks, keeping one eye on you dancing to the devil piping and screaming at them to come back. I've often ended up getting the shotgun out at this juncture. Shooting warning shots in the air usually gets them seeing the error of the ways and they'll trot back in the dark. You can just about make out their white shapes. And you shoo them across to the barn. 
  ' "Don't you even think of..." but too late, they've diverted around the back to trample among the ducks who should have been locked up this good while but for the time you've been wasting. Luckily Sage in particular takes her precious time taking aim to butt the poor little things and you've usually got time to grab her beard and get her inside out of the way of harming them.  Bloody aggressive billy goat we had before the two nannies got to one too quick for me one night. We had roast duck that weekend with a ready made dent for the orange sauce. 
  'Anyway, your beading was brought by a delivery company, and their driver went round to the front of the house to ring the doorbell. He must have been southern. No offence. Our normal postman knows to come round to the back and have a look over the wall at the goaticide going on daily and get my attention. So this one delivering for the baubles, bangles and beads fancy goods emporium leaves a card saying he's devastated we were out - where does he expect us to be: farming indoors? - and that we must ring the depot for a redelivery. You'd be more successful table-tipping than raising the dead to answer the phone at those delivery companies, more delays to your beading, sorry, and then when you finally do get through they're offish with you, practically accusing you of living up Wuthering bloody Heights, for them to try and negotiate getting up here with their van. They've done it once, they tell you, remember, or you wouldn't have the card to be ringing them off. And you can't go down and get the parcel because there's no where to get it from. It's in a black hole somewhere just beyond Huddersfield. So it has to be delivered. And talking to me like I'm descended from the black Irish - learned that in my book club that the Brontes were probably descended from black Irish. We're not doing book club down the centre this term it's Just Fitness and the receptionist there, Karen, is an ex-policewoman.  I'm only telling you that because the delivery company agreed to deliver the parcel down there under her auspices. Because for love nor money they won't deliver where they think there might be a shared letter box, or there's been an outbreak of scabies or the landlady's a recently defrocked nun or whatever. So, finally, I could go do and get the beading when I was doing Bikram Yoga. 
  'Anyway, sorry your tutu got delayed.'

  
  

Saturday, 19 December 2015

How not to...Give Magazine Interviews



   

 Regimental Sergeant Major 'Tina' Turner emailed me when I was just back from performing in Iraq.

  Iestyn my mate, you are truly barking as a turn and I don’t know how you do it, particularly where you’ve just been.  I was surprised to say the least when I heard what you were to be about in the wilds of Iraq.  But I suppose you have little choice but to carry on with it because of the scarcity of Rest Homes for Retired Sugar Plums.  Perhaps you could find one, however, and have a little lie down over Christmas?

  Thank you for your kind information that I have been mentioned in interviews you’ve given to the Mail on Sunday, The Times and whatever Full House Magazine may be.  I would, however…

RATHER  READ THE FUCKING BEANO!!!
Take care, kid.  Best...Tina.


 '...whatever Full House Magazine may be...' 

  Therein lies a tail...

  My article came out in Full House when I was performing in Afghanistan; and when the chief executive of Combined Services Entertainment, Nicky Ness, rang Camp Soutar, Kabul, for a progress report on the tour she asked to speak to me about it.  
  'The phone's in Flynn’s office,' Stacks, Royal Marine told me.  'Down here. One of the posh ones.’
  With a handle to its door.
  ‘Nicky?’
  ‘Hon, your interview came out in that Full House Magazine.  Why did you think it was a trade theatre rag, first question?’
  ‘Its name.  And when I referred to it being a trade theatre rag, Ranjit, who interviewed me, went along with that.  Why?’
  ‘It isn’t a theatre rag.  It’s like Take a Break.’
  Oh, terrific - my interview alongside I Used Burning Sage Leaves Shamanism to Commit Date Rape and Have your bust reduced by four sizes or get slashed!!!” raves jealous, pimple-chested sister.  
  ‘But I told Ranjit all sorts of things about aspects of creativity,' I said.
  ‘That’s obvious, hon – we’re firmly in Cloud Cuckoo Land with the copy you've given them.’
  ‘But I’ve so tried to be careful since the Mail on Sunday invented that I quoted the Duke of Wellington before I went onstage in Iraq.’  I only ever quote Judge Judy, Margot Fonteyn and Ermintrude the Cow, of Magic Roundabout fame, you see.  ‘Will there be official fallout?’ 
  ‘Only thing that pulled me up a bit short was that they also made our PR here think it was a theatre rag, which is how they got sent a photo of you in Iraq dancing with Colonel Curtis. This article’s going to be majorly seen by officers’ wives in waiting rooms up and down the country - the mag being exactly the kind of thing they read.  But we’re covered.  The editors of the mag clearly misled us. And, anyway, the photo wouldn’t necessarily have had to come here: I warned Colonel Curtis after the gig that when you’d got him on his own up onstage there was a sea of red lights in the room as the phones and the cameras went up.' 
  I asked Nicky to read some of the article. 
  ‘You sure, hon?’
  ‘I’ll only imagine it as being worse than it is.’
  She asked if I was I sitting comfortably, and began.  

‘ “I was a different child.  My mother remembers me sitting for hours as a chubby toddler listening to Pinky and Perky sing “I Love Little Pussy” -  turned out it was the same tune as a folk-song that Tchaikovsky used in Swan Lake. And I would stand sideways on to the full-length mirror in the hall wearing just my nappy and say, very sadly, that I had lost my figure…”  “…Foxes have always been a symbol for me of breaking out of something.  Of going forward towards dreams.  A fox was leaping through the marsh fields when I first performed at the Aldeburgh Festival.  I nearly walked into one coming round the corner of the Black Prince Road after closing the first half of Topping and Butch’s show at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern.  And after my gig when Madonna was out front at Klub Kabaret a fox was using the crossing on Camden Road by the Tesco garage where the skate park is nowadays…” “…But what was my character’s name?  Suddenly, one day: ‘My name is Madame Galina,' I said to myself in a high-pitched foreign accent. Then I froze. I'd never heard the name before and had no idea why it had come into my head, unbidden like that.  Or in that accent.  Little did I know that my alter ego had just been born”.’  

  'Genius, hon!' Nicky commented. 'We were all wanting to know in the office - what could have been in the press release you sent them after Iraq?'

  * Note to self from January 2004:  Look at all the obsession around with psychic stuff.  And all the weirdness I’ve been having with lights fusing at however many theatres right at the point where Giselle stabs herself in the “Mad Scene”.  Which, remember, Jan, the travelling stage psychic, told the techie in Luton that I was doing because I channeled the spirit of Madame Galina from beyond the grave. Not to mention that I’m the son of a psychic (de-barred, but still…) Think on; put this all into a press-release to send out.  Take a run up and…there: nice comfy seat on the band-wagon...

 Yes, and end up with an article like the one quoted from above.  

  RSM Tina Turner would certainly choose the fucking Beano over that! 

Friday, 18 December 2015

Some Favourite Books - But Please don't Lesbify Dame Agatha's Denouements



  I'm too tired to read anything new so have been round the libraries taking out my default-setting books to read over Christmas. These include: 
  The Pursuit of Love, Nancy Mitford. The blood-stained entrenching tool displayed above the fireplace, child-hunting over Shenley Common, Jassy traumatising the local children telling them the facts of life.  The scene at the Gare du Nord where Linda sits on her luggage to cry and meets Fabrice always takes me back to the first reading of the novel, sitting wrapped in my Welsh Tweed shawl, in a tiny bedroom on the eighteenth floor of a high-rise in Kennington.  The Pursuit of Love is romantic, hilarious and bleakly eccentric. 





  Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady, Florence King. When I entertained troops on the American base in Kandahar, four South Carolina army captains made me an Honorary Southern Belle. Madame Galina, they said, in all her unreasonable, high-blooded, simpering flounce reminded them of the girls back home. Florence King never became a Southern Lady, let alone a Belle, but her grandmother's failed efforts to make her one (she never convinced her to become so delicate in her nether regions that her womb might potentially fall out, like the sky on Chicken-Licken's head) are tremendously funny. 




  Mansfield Park, Jane Austen. I'm always beguiled by the exactitude of this novel. I see it as a fairy story - Cinderella and The Fisherman and his Wife - find the Crawfords deeply erotic, Mrs Norris horrifying.  In my more recent re-readings I've stopped heckling Fanny Price. She's not well in her head.  





  A Murder is Announced, Agatha Christie. The clues in this one always have me grinning. Watch for the gender of names, use of diminutives and alternate spellings of a word. The most obvious clue to the murderer's identity is presented again and again but I've yet to hear from anyone that has grasped its significance at first reading.
  Incidentally, the lesbian couple, Miss Hinchcliffe and Miss Murgatroyd, are described with neither prejudice nor special pleading. In a complaint email to ITV I cited them, along with Mr Pye (The Moving Finger), Clotilde Bradbury-Scott (Nemesis) and 'my queer house-sitter' (A Caribbean Mystery) as evidence that Christie does not need ITV's LGBT character transplants... 
  'Reworking the plot of The Body in the Library as you did recently, you managed to jettison one of the great joys of a Miss Marple: that moment when she gasps, says she's been so terribly, terribly stupid and sends Gladys/Cherry/Edith, or whichever maid is working for her at the time, to fetch Inch, the local taxi driver. We know she's going to London, to Somerset House, and are now on the lookout for someone in the novel being secretly married to someone else, or being their parent, child or sibling. As I say, it's one of the joys of a Miss Marple. And you ruined it.'
  Lesbifying Dame Agatha's denouements indeed!  
  
  


  
  
  
  
  

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Call the Vatican...the Soprano's had Satay!



  I was thinking of applying to be on First Dates. I've never been on a date. I met the one (married) man I had an affair with at work and since we split up I've been single. I like to imagine that's because I'm not quite emotionally crippled enough to need to be in a relationship. 
  I also like to imagine I'm ripped, that my hair's all still with us and I own more than three pairs of shoes. 
  There was Barney, I suppose. I turned his head one summer in Aldeburgh singing my floaty Fs. Once he started asking me to sing I was dredging up all the old songs my dad used to sing to me. "Fly Home Little Heart", "Kathleen", "The Last Rose of Summer". All first heard as lullabies. And sometimes I was singing them to Barney as lullabies; though he would have first heard "Kathleen" full of Fuller's Reserve Oak Stout and Reecheenvi Extra Kesling, whereas I first heard it full of Farley's reduced sugar rusks and recently expressed breast milk.
  I first met Barney at Lady Carter's house in Aldeburgh. I had recently performed my one-man show at the Jubilee Hall and given the box office takings to the Britten Pears School bursary fund. Barney's family, shipping, donated a bursary annually. I noticed the suit first. Prince of Wales check, he told me. Hair like black thatch. Eyes the blue of the horizon. He looked at me too steadily while we were talking and I was reminded of my farmer mate Nathaniel's reworking of an old adage. Dogs think humans are wonderful because they feed them.  Cats think humans are a load of shit. But a black bellied pig will look you right in the eye.
  After dinner all the classical singers on the advanced musical courses managed to get themselves asked to sing. The Kentish coloratura soprano, Irish mezzo and inevitable Greek bass. Then Lady Carter asked me to sing "Miss Otis Regrets".  
  'It's in my will that he's to sing this at my funeral!'
  After I'd sung Barney clarified that I couldn't be given his family's bursary, right?
  'No, I'm just a looker-on, Barney. Not officially taking part in the advanced vocal courses.'
  'Pity. I would have thrown in some extra to cover your bar tab at the Cross Keyes, naturally.  I noticed during dinner that you enjoyed your wine.  Definitely enjoyed your wine. And you ate dinner. You didn't sit like that girl singer refusing just about everything at table, talking about the damage whatever it was would do to your gut, or your bowel or cystic duct. How the fuck can you have satay by accident and end up in anaphylactic shock while everyone runs round in a panic looking for a defibrillator, then a bic biro for a tracheotomy and, when all else fails, phones the Vatican for an exorcist?'
  'By being a soprano.'
  'And while you were singing you didn't seem to have a point to make. Or wave your arms around like you were putting sheep through the dip. And you weren't too loud.  I overheard some of the knowledgeable people here saying that sometimes you had to really listen for your voice.'
  I said, 'God preserve us from the knowledgeable.Wearing patchouli and sweaty linen In the front row of concerts, with the music score open in front of them following your line with a special pen-pointery thing. And full of those helpful anecdotes for when you're a bit under par. About how Maria Malibran tried to bring herself round from an afternoon fainting fit with smelling salts, missed her nose, gave herself third degree burns on her upper lip. And then cut the blisters off with her embroidery scissors because they were impeding her jaw opening fully for top notes. Or Kathleen Ferrier carrying on singing when cancer fractured her femur onstage. Or the time the knife didn't retract in Tosca and the Scarpia carried on with a lung puncture. And the knowledgeable never say anything about your own performance other than that you had quite a nice little stab at whatever it was you were singing.'
  An elderly man in a tweed jacket and red sailing trousers, with a recent shaving cut on his bald head, had been weaving about smiling just in my peripheral vision.  He came and stood next to Barney and said what a clear voice I had.
  And excellent diction. 'Do you sing any Benjamin Britten?' He didn't give me a chance to reply. 'Because you see I have quite the connection with Benjamin Britten. My mama rather discovered him. She would sit on the sea wall outside his house on Cragpath - and listen - and tell anyone who cared to hear that they should take note. It may have all been sounding like the metallic wheezing and rush of air you get opening the door of a smoke house but one day that music was going to be played elsewhere, not just in Aldeburgh. Oh, yes!'
  'But Britten moved to Crag Path in the late forties,' I said. 
  'Yes, that's right. That's when my mama would have been down there listening...'
  'But by then he'd already written the Ceremony of Carols, Peter Grimes, the Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings, the Sinfonia da Requiem.  He was already well into the stage of being played elsewhere.'
  'Oh, no, I really don't think you have that right. Mama was one of the very first on to what a real talent he was. Anyway...'
  He was off.
  Barney was smirking. 'You do realise he dines out on that story? And...er...what was that about God preserving us from the knowledgeable?'