Category Archives: Art

I write therefore I am…….

 

I sit in front of a nude page, stark and scary with no place to hide. I realise I have nothing to say but I type anyway, words falling like snowflakes

Down

To

The

 

Bottom

 

 

Of the

Page

 

Where They

 

 

Form

SludgeAndSedimentAndCongealDirtily

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Hay Festival 2014

The Hay Festival couldn’t be more middle class if it changed its name to Pippa and married its cousin. And I love it. And if it becomes more Hay Market than Hay Festival at times, with the clear purpose of shifting tomes, then who cares? It delivers what it promises: a literary festival, a celebration, putting the word above all else and giving us all permission to sink into a proper vocabulary and literally indulge in wordplay.

 

I have spent most of this week sloshing around in mud listening to and talking with people who love words, people with something to say but who reached that point by listening to others and by reflecting and not by following dogma.  Joyfully reaching for the right words and finding them, hearing new ways of using them, turning context on its head and finding a new way to slip the surprisingly appropriate word prolepsis into general conversation – thank you Margaret Drabble! – has been a genuine inspiration.  Rustling about happily under the trestle tables in the Oxfam bookshop in the boxes filled with rummageable delights waiting in the dark to be found was the best time I have had in weeks. Possibly months. WarHorse and Michael Morpurgo  thrilled everyone, watching Marcus Brigstocke casually overtake a bunch of feathered aliens without a second glance on the path outside the Friends coffee shop was a little surreal, noticing the fact that we probably all had a proper education under our belts and were using it to good effect was a significant pleasure, and hearing children pronounce their words properly and insert the letter “t” in the right place was phenomenal! No extraneous or dropped aitches either, bliss! Not a baggy trousered foul mouthed rap artist in sight or hearing, and there were times when I was one of the youngest in the queue, and it is a long time since that happened………

Listening to a group of academics with serious life experiences attempt to shed light on prison life and its consequences – dear to my heart – it occurred to me that even in a room full of Telegraph readers, and I am one, the Grauniad Effect (my husbands media drug of choice)  was apparent. Most of us gave a damn, giving the lie to political drubmongers who like to insist on the differences rather than the similarities between groups of people.  That was also apparent in other conversations, and one that focussed on corporate greed was particularly pertinent. The workshops around Social Enterprise were a real pleasure and welcome at the heart of the Festival as a demonstration of how things can be done  ethically and well.

Downsides? Well……..I was unprepared for the ill mannered stampede of middle aged middle class audiences as they clambered over and around people to find their favourite seats! The wonderfully patient and charming stewards allowed those of us with mobility issues into the tents first to avoid catastophe – no-one wants Hay Headlines about mangled elders or the dissed disabled – but as soon as the hordes, or to use their title Friends of Hay (and I am also one) were released into the tents all Hell broke loose with disabled feet trodden into the dirt and bags ground into the floor as they shouldered and elbowed their way to “their” seats. Clashes were inevitable and there was,  I am sorry to say, a degree of braying involved at times. And although the lavatories maintained their dignity against all odds I did occasionally wonder, as I took my ease,  on  the number of buttocks that had been pressed against those seats during the week……..I was also a little alarmed to find I shared Jonathan Millers haircut and colour so startlingly that I wondered who had put the mirror on the table as I entered the bookshop……..

Being a seasoned Hay Friend I staggered my meals so that I ate between the usual meal times and avoided the crowds and it was very pleasant with all tastes catered for, although I did wonder if vegan and gluten free also meant salt and pepper free a couple of times as I searched for seasoning – but once I had found it the food perked up. In fact, the food even for us fussies was indecently good and I enjoyed it very much. Good choices, well prepared, charmingly served. The people running the show, from box office to stewards to food hall and more, deserve a medal!

The B&B, The Old Vicarage in Prestiegne, where I always stay was, as usual, perfect and this year they even have alpacas as well so I woke to the sound of sheep, alpacas and chickens and a real symphony of birdsong, and breakfasted brilliantly with a view over the fields and with the sound of a stream in the background. It couldn’t have been better. Best start to a Hay Day ever.

 

And now my Hay Days are over for 2014, but the mud is still on the car and my boots – and my jeans and my skirt and my jacket! And I have a fresh stash of books, images and memories and the certainty that words matter, that we can use them better, and that we should.  And I will plan for next year when I hope that we will make Hay in the sunshine and not the rain and I can rummage and read and rest and draw comfort from more wordsmiths. Hay Ho.

 

 

 

 

Coriolanus at The Donmar. A little closer to Heaven.

Shakespeare reveals us to ourselves relentlessly. Prepare for some pain and some joy: your Mothering will be exposed and scrutinised, your integrity questioned and your capacity for denial cruelly interrogated. Hear the words and witness the actors tears, smell the sweat, live the life. And exit powerfully uplifted and enriched.

Tom  Hiddleston is Coriolanus at the Donmar. He actually is Coriolanus. There was nothing he could have done differently or more that would have enhanced the role or created a more vivid or wounded picture.  From the moment he stepped onto the stage – a sparse stage managed with skill and infinite wisdom – he owned us. He was also surrounded by actors who almost without exception  understood the context not just of the words but of the building and the stage. His performance was breathtaking and mesmerising, his body entirely used up in offering us the internally broken son inhabiting the Warriors body, struggling with the effect of the power-ebb-and-flow and the political flexing of the ruthlessly under-educated and under-prepared.  Deborah Findlay touched chord after chord as the Mother. Josie Rourke has nurtured and created a piece of history.

A difficult play to stage, in  many ways, and more challenges at the Donmar than in some other venues because of the proximity. Startlingly efficient use of the space, staggering beauty delivered through blood and light, and a fearless viciousness allowed inside the audience space  created a wonderful Shakespearean intimacy that made it impossible not to engage. Apart from the eejit sitting next to my husband who fidgeted and looked at his watch throughout the performance and should therefore, of course, be slapped many times. He even managed to chew the lid of his cup and flap his programme about irritatingly while the play was on. I needed to ask him why he had bothered coming at all but didn’t trust myself not to administer the required slapping if  I spoke to him afterwards.  Regretting the missed opportunity even now – I suspect he still doesn’t know how close he came to off stage violence. The only jarring note on stage in the entire event was the first speaker, an actor trying a little too hard inside the context of this theatre, out-acting herself and creating a slightly discordant sound next to the exceptionally engaging and variegated performances of her colleagues, who managed to maintain their performances even when not centre stage without drawing attention to themselves or causing dislocation – one of the most difficult jobs on the stage. And a word in recognition of how very uncomfortable Tom must have been during some of the bloodier scenes, particularly the final scene – but worth it, Tom! Very very worth it.

If you haven’t yet been, just go if you can. I can’t say more than that.

Beauty often stems from a degree of breakage…….

Life and Business and a Major Thank You……

Going into the New Year I need to offer a Huge Thank You. A Thank You so huge it has its own postcode, so warm you will need to wear sunscreen to carry on reading. I want to thank all the people who have been so marvellous, so warm, and so caring while I was unwell in the last few weeks. Life and Business, eh? Always something to learn……..

My Old Man took me to see the new Bennett at The National on Saturday as a celebration of the fact that I am now able to both go up and down the stairs, and cough without passing a kidney and half a lung. A measure of how ill I was is that we had tickets to see Fiona Shaw at The National in December and I couldn’t go. A measure of my wonderful Old Man is that he chose also not to go. He also chided me very gently, reminding me that it isn’t worth it, for continuing to work as much as I could, doing all the things I was able to do without being seen in public – it was not a good look. I found having a head the size, shape and texture of a football was surprisingly repellant and I found a good use for that spare hooded jacket we have lying around. (It had fallen into dis-use as we were all too scared to use it in case a Tory MP started to hug us.) Given that I also lost my voice and most of my hearing the work I could do was reduced to that which could be done remotely, and that I was glad to do. Those who know me will know that I will be working until I peg out and belong to that merciless club formed for  the Workaholics among us. He was, of course right, but please don’t tell him that!

So, I am now able to get up the stairs to bed – comfortable as the wonderful recliner is, there is no substitute for a bed – and able to speak and hear again. Hurrah! And the most wonderful thing to emerge from the last few weeks is the certain knowledge of who my friends are and who I can trust, who has warmth and humanity within them and who has not. Not a bad lesson to be learned! I am grateful to all of you – you know who you are! – who were kind. I cannot believe, incidentally, that my eldest daughter spontaneously did the huge pile of ironing that had mounted up and which she knew would be bothering me. Ironing!!! Blimey! Thank you!

Given the lessons learned I should fess up and say that the lessons I have learned have not surprised me, they have simply confirmed for me what I really already knew and shone a light on those people I am so lucky to know and lucky to have met. I am a reasonably tough and ruthless woman with a sound and hard business head, but I know that underpinning all the ruthlessness, all the toughness, all the business decisions, there has to be a purpose and a warmth. Without that scaffolding the rest is worthless, its value is brittle and cold. Those of you who follow my posts, and those of you who know me,  will know how much I value the heart of a business, the beating heart that informs the purpose and the ethos of an organisation. You will also know that I view success from a sideways perspective, not solely in terms of P&L (only one of the tangible range of measures of success) as much as in the balance of achievements, the path that is developing, and the ability to survive. Life and Business are not too different (for me they happen to be the same thing….): they both need purpose, a raison d’etre; they both need  planning and effort but also the ability to take an unexpected turn, to field a curve ball, to take a punt; they both need some tough decisions to be taken sometimes; they both benefit from a firm but loving touch. They both need the interactions of the people inside them in order to survive. It is not good enough for a business to exist, it also has to have a reason to exist and a benefit to the communities it touches – that includes the workforce as well as those who use its services and the wider environment. No namby pamby soft centred rubbish here – those who don’t pull their weight need to be managed – but rather a holistic view of business as a force for good and for change. The Big Issue is successful for that reason – Richard Branson is  a man I admire for that reason!

Life is packed with lessons to be learned, adventures to be had, and achievements to be made. Even the hardest, most punishing of experiences is an adventure and an opportunity to learn – often those are the very best opportunities to learn. So, Thank You kind people for re-affirming my already warm and appreciative view of you. And thank you, too, to the others outside of that circle for, well, for the same! A lesson learned is always worth learning!

Happy New Year to all of you. Here’s to more adventures, more lessons, more warmth and more achievements.   Here’s to 2013!

Alan Bennetts People

I saw People by Alan Bennett last night at The National. I need to start  by saying how much I like Bennett – I have never previously read anything or seen anything by Alan Bennett that I haven’t enjoyed and was glad to have read or to have seen. And Frances de la Tour was the lead – how perfect! But……

There are times when I want a rant. I usually then go on  to have one, sometimes via blog, sometimes in person. I can’t remember ever writing a play in order to scratch that itch, but it is something I may well now consider. This play was a good old fashioned rant but not Bennetts Best Play. I felt, as I left the Lyttleton, as if I had just read a tetchy letter in the Telegraph – or perhaps more likely in the Guardian. And that would have been cheaper and shorter, and probably better lit. I am passionate about the National, about Bennett, and probably about Frances de la Tour – probably even about Peter Egan who I have admired for years – so I am not being critical of any of those as individuals, just about the entity that was the play. But I am not complaining, Bennett at his not-best is still relatively enjoyable, and the rant was worth having as the points made were good points, well delivered by Frances de la Tour and it was good to hear them being aired with such sharp skill, however patchy and at times blunted by the production that was.

Now I expect I will  be castigated for criticising a National Treasure, much as I am sure some will castigate Bennett for doing the same, albeit in a much more structured way than me.

The Accidental Buddhist

How are you doing? Do you sleep well? Do you manage to hold all the boxes in your life inside the one container that is you? It isn’t easy. We all have to find our own pathway to peace.

A few months ago I was casually clicking about, as you do, on the laptop in between doing more meaningful stuff (I bore easily!) and I started to read a blog about Buddhism. To my astonishment I recognised myself. Raised a Catholic, and now a Buddhist. I was a little surprised……….

For a few years I have been doing what I discovered to be meditating – spending time focussing on nothingness and depth, breathing, and looking straight ahead reasonably fearlessly. Re-aligning myself, if you like, every day. I fell into doing this after a turbulent period, a time when I was not sure if I knew who I was or what I wanted to be, if I had any meaning. Very selfish! It took me years to realise that in fact being centred and sorted was the best thing I could do for my family, friends and colleagues.  I accidentally started to meditate while taking a break from paid work some years ago to re-evaluate things. I had come to a full stop and needed to do some real things like painting pictures, writing poems, playing some music. During those activities I found myself lifted into a new place and a new way of thinking and it was apparently and very naturally simply because I was deliberately creating things – I began to think around corners a bit, think not harder but better, with more colours and less white noise. I had to let the colours and words in my head out of their boxes in order to create the things I wanted to – needed to – create. There was no option – it was a simple need. It was accidental. I now make time to do this, often just before sleeping, but sometimes at work, or I pull the car over into a parking space and tap out, and it happens anyway when I am painting or playing music. I make the time. That isn’t always easy either: washing piling up, letters to answer, work to be done, people to see. But the best way for me to manage all that is to make the time for the tapping-out-thing.

Accidents are such a huge part of what we do – the incidental or accidental conversation, the inadvertent over-hearing of a radio programme that chimes with you, meeting someone at a conference or dinner. The excitement of knowing that most of what happens is by virtue of accident is truly liberating! And this from a woman notoriously wedded to GANTTs and action plans, who examines all the What Ifs with a fine toothcomb. Who knew!?

A large part – the largest part –  of my drive at work, before and after my break, has been around respect, dignity, Human Rights, giving a damn. When I began reading – accidentally – about Buddhism I realised that I had been practising the basics of Buddhism for years. Accidentally. I don’t think the diagnosis of Buddhism made a difference to what I was doing, but stumbling across the name for how I live was extraordinary. And I don’t want a cure!

What works for you? How do you re-arrange the shelves in your head so that they fit?

Disabled or Liberated?

This is a first:I stopped myself talking this morning. What was I doing? I was about to say that my disability was “only caused by age”.

I am no Spring Chicken – in my fifties and with a grandchild I think I can claim to be comfortably middle aged. I became disabled a couple of years ago with severe joint pains and deteriorating ligaments and have struggled with my mobility and the pain since, using my walking stick and relying on my car much more.  It has been a challenge at times, but as I blogged a while back it has also brought blessings. It forced me to re-evaluate what I do and how I do it – from a bouncy and energetic boss (probably rather irritating in hindsight…!) to a more paced and interactive leader, I think my style of management improved. I know the quality of my relationships improved as I had no choice but to take time to listen and engage with people rather than hop around being dynamic! I see people doing that whole energetic-crazy-lookatme-letsgetitdone crap now and frankly it simply annoys me and I can see it annoying others. It fails to engage, fails to create the right relationships. So I am grateful for my disability, however weird that sounds. It liberated me and gave me better relationships and much better insight into how people, organisations and relationships work. It also, incidentally, showed me who my friends were………

So, I am middle-aged but only in my fifties, not ancient (although I suspect my children might disagree). And I was about to say this morning  that my disability was “only” about age; to reduce and trivialise it and degrade it as unimportant because I am older. Well,  sod that for a decade of the rosary. Age, disability, even simply being a woman, are too often trivialised. We are expected, as we get older, to put up with more and more crap, to recede into the background and fade away, to sit at home, be grateful, and wait to die. Either that or lose our dignity in the rush to appease the Gods of Youth and have ever more flesh tweaked and sliced and be more and more uncomfortable in our own skins. But whatever we do we are trivialised – my own Mothers experience of hospital care as she was dying, in her eighties, was cruel, undignified and inhumane beyond belief. The recent outcry about the Liverpool Pathway is entirely justified, and certainly from what I witnessed during that time nursing as an overall profession has lost much of its claim to moral high ground and to “caring”,  notwithstanding the few – very few – nurses who still seemed to give a damn. The elders on the ward my Mother was on – a Stroke ward which was bizarrely touted as excellent by inspectors who mercifully never had to actually use the service – were stripped of any dignity, denied care and compassion, and hardly viewed as human beings by the people with the word “care” in their job descriptions. If it had been a childrens ward there would have been a justified public outcry. Why should age reduce that need for dignity and care? Our expectations should not be lowered incrementally with our increasing years.

And that, my friend, is why I stopped myself saying that my disability was “only” age related. That does no favours to either elders or the disabled. Whatever age we are, whatever the disability, wherever we come from, we should never be expected to tolerate less than humane treatment and compassion. Whether we are ex-offenders or inmates, elders or children, Christian, Atheist, Muslim or Jewish, living in poverty or comfortably off – whether we live in an affluent state or a developing nation – we deserve the benefit of humanity. It is never “only” age, colour, status.

There are many organisations who deserve our support in order to protect our humanity and dignity. Please check out, for that reason, the following organisations, as well as your own, more local, ones and others:

PACT http://www.prisonadvice.org.uk/

NACRO http://www.nacro.org.uk/

Spark Inside http://www.sparkinside.org/

AGE Uk http://www.ageuk.org.uk/

The National Autistic Society http://www.autism.org.uk/

Hft http://www.hft.org.uk/

St Martins Emmaus http://www.emmaus.org.uk/

Porchlight http://www.porchlight.org.uk/

Demelza House http://www.demelza.org.uk/

The Big Issue http://www.bigissue.org.uk/

UNICEF http://www.unicef.org.uk/

Tea – the cup that cheers….or WMD?

Ah, the whistle of the kettle, the soothing plop of milk into cup, perhaps the possibility of a nice dunking biscuit on the side. We have a wealth of paraphernalia that goes with brewing up – special pots, cups, saucers with shelves for the bickie, special spoons for precise amounts of sugar, special sugar, sugar spoons – yes, spoons made of sugar! – special biscuits made to dunk and not break off, special biscuits made to dunk and break off……..tea cosies, trivets, pot stands, kettles to boil on the hob, with a plug, over the fire, on the Aga. Northern tea is strong, Southern tea is weak. British tea is milky, Irish tea is something you can stand a spoon up in. Rooibosh or camomile? Earl Grey or Lady Grey? Breakfast or Darjeeling? Every aspect of tea making has been thought through, catered to and created.

But beneath that benign and flavoursome surface, brown and scented, there is a backstory to make the Borgias tremble.

Do you make tea in your office? Do you make tea for everyone in your office? Do you visit each office on your floor, each room in your office, each desk in each room, and ask if anyone wants a brew? Or are you selective? Do you notice who asks whom? Do you spot that Hilda in the HR department always asks the chaps in Business Development if they want a brew, but never ventures as far as Finance? Do you notice that the PA to the CEO makes his tea and tea for the Ops Director but not for the MD? Do you feel offended that Sue takes her tray around to three of the five offices but misses yours, even though you always buy her a drink at the Christmas do? Do you deliberately whip past Jacks office door with the tray so he won’t notice that you are missing him out in your disapproval of his office romance? Or do you make sure he does see you with your tray so that he clocks your disapproval? Do you preen a little when the Finance Director offers you a (rare) cup when he is trying to get a favour from your team? Do you recognise that the woman with the gammy arm never makes tea not because she hates you all, but because she can’t manage the tray, or do you hold firm to your tea-induced prejudice that tells you that anyone making, or not making, tea has an ulterior motive?

The teacup has become a Weapon of Mild Distraction in offices across the country, where staff wait, with bated breath and an offence poised to be taken, to see who pours for whom and who gets the Jaffa Cake and who gets the HobNob. And as for the cakes………..

Tea, the cup that could cheer.  I have an idea: let’s use the teacup in the friendly way it was intended – I will if you will! Pop the kettle on, rattle the tea caddy, rustle that biscuit packet, and let’s raise a cup to friendship (or if not friendship, at least human warmth and a commitment to get along  ) and promise to work together in harmony and peace.  That ritual of preparation has been developed for a reason – to allow us to connect, show affection and warmth, and keep our hands busy. Let’s get brewing! Mine’s a Rooibosh!

Once your toothbrush dries……..

How many of you are married? In a long term relationship? Remember when you decided to marry/move in/take your toothbrush round? You knew, in that small dark cupboard in the back of your head, that it could all go horribly wrong if you weren’t careful, but it could all go so very right if you were doing the right  thing. It felt right, it smelled right – it felt and smelled damn good if you are honest! Despite a little voice saying “take care”, you were happy, skipping down that path, toothbrush in hand, towards that open door and that embrace.

Ok – your toothbrush was hardly dry when you realised that there were some things you didn’t realise about your other half. Love was in the air, you knew you had made the right choice, but you were becoming aware that some of the things you had been told were less than truthful – some were lies of omission, and some were downright porkies.  But hey, that’s what we do sometimes when we want to impress so you forgive. But as time goes on you discover bigger porkies, more major gaps. You start to get angry and you have rows, shout a bit, let it out a bit. You begin to regret committing.

STOP!

Think about it. Think about the reasons you had for committing – the rush of excitement, the feeling of rightness, the opportunities to do stuff you enjoy (shhh….!!!!). Take  time to reflect on the  face you fell for, the reasons you felt the excitement, the rush of affection. Step away from the disappointment of finding out the flaws, look at the love.

Ok, you will know by now that I am also talking about taking that new job. You were wooed by an organisation who needed you and fell for you too. They put their most attractive side forward to attract you and perhaps were less than honest about the flaws. Weren’t you also a little eager? You fell for the job as well as the organisation, you felt that lurch in your heart for the role, became excited by the opportunities, perhaps you overlooked the clues that might have been there because you wanted it so much……….you have had jobs before, you know the score, you will have noticed the clues, you chose to ignore them in that heady rush towards commitment!

If you care deeply about what you do, if you have high expectations of your professional colleagues, if you buy into the carefully crafted appearance of the organisation, you will feel disappointment when those flaws surface. The extent of your disappointment will depend on two things: the extent of the flaws and whether they are more important than the rewards and the opportunities to achieve. But before you bale, reflect on whether the organisation also cares as much as you do about what you do. If it does, if there is a shared drive, put that anger away, reach out your hand of friendship and support, and walk forwards together towards that shared goal. The flaws  may or may not be repaired, you may or may not regain that first flush of love, but perhaps you may both be stronger for the honesty and the clearer vision.

Feel the love, look with clarity on that face, and try again.

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