Wednesday, June 29, 2005

A Writers' Masterclass

A Writers' Masterclass

"Paddy's three story thing is rubbish".

"That's because Paddy's not a stalker. When you stalk there are lots of stories".

"Paddy should stalk".

"Yes; Paddy - if I could give you one piece of writing advice stalking would be it".

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Where I Talk At Length About Tennis. Again.

Where I Talk At Length About Tennis. Again.

I'm all for the girl-power stuff, but, as a tennis fan, women's tennis? It's undoubtedly more glamourous than the male equivalent and has far more 'names' in there but for a fist pumping, arm waving, vocal-chord damaging viewing experience? No. Equal pay and all that but it remains that i)in the grand slams men play best of five [much more tension and, anyway, Henman would have been out in the first round otherwise] and ii)the depth in the men's game is much greater. On the right day number 100 may beat someone in the top ten [or maybe that's just my experience of supporting the Brits], you can't say that about the women's game.

But, despite my reservations, this year I've seen a couple of really cracking women's matches. I've also seen some walkovers and more than my fair share of pretty-crap serving from some of the women, but hey I'll forgive that for the moments when I'm on the edge of my seat. Plus I've sat through Federer walkovers. These things happen. I was a little dissapointed that today's quater finals all were over in straight sets but, within them, there was some quality tennis. The second set tiebreak of the Williams/ Pierce match would have (almost) been worth the ticket price itself. That the first set of that match (6-0 to Williams) definitely wasn't was something of a blip it must be said. But I like the women's tournament this year, largely because having watched all of the semi-finalits play at some point this week there's not a clear favourite. Yesterday I'd have said a Davenport/Sharapova final but, after Venus's almost total lack of errors today, Sharapova's golden shoes may take a battering. I like the uncertainty.

With the mens however, there's been an abundance of absolutely cracking matches (I wouldn't profess myself an out-and-out Hewitt fan* but his match against Taylor Dent yesterday was the best match I've seen this tournament) but it's impossible to see beyond Federer. And that annoys me. Because I like intrigue and possibility. Maybe Federer will crack, maybe Roddick will sneak in there (I'd like that), maybe Lopez will pull of even more of an upset (I'd like that even more, not because I'm expecting it given that he'd have to get past Hewitt and Federer before he got to the final, but because he's rather sweet and has claimed some pretty big scalps on his way to the quaters). But, in all likelihood, it'll be Federer for the third year running. Which,if this happens will mean that I will officially have to place Federer on my list of tennis players who wind me up, unassuming Swiss guy that he is. It took Sampras several years, one rather humilating Wimbledon defeat and some tears to get himself removed from that list. So, Federer, be warned.

For anyone wondering what-the-heck-has-happened-and-why-I'm-talking-about -tennis-all-of the-time it should be noted that this is a temporary and seasonal blip. Normal service will be resumed when it is no longer physically possible to watch eight hours of tennis (plus highlights) a day on the BBC and I will go back to nursing my tennis addiction in secret and watching snatched moments of indoor tennis on channel 765 where they run commercial breaks between the change of ends** and you will never again have to hear about it. Until the US Open, of course.

*I don't know the ins and outs of his split with Kim Clijsters but I took Kim's side. Kim's such a lovely person and, anyway, Hewitt has such bad hair.

**This is my personal pet peeve. Especially when they play the same advert for the entirity of a five set match. No, I do not want to buy anything that is advertised by what appears to be Manday Moore singing.

Monday, June 27, 2005

The Death of the Hoarder

The Death of the Hoarder

After two days of concerted cleaning and unpacking (ok, one afternoon of concerted cleaning/binning and a day and a half of one-eye-on-the-tennis cleaning/unpacking) I have discovered numerous things. That it pains me to donate perfectly good shoes to charity shops just because of the nagging feeling in my head that I should keep them, because there's nothing wrong with them even though I know that I will never wear them again. In the case of my black knee boots because though they now fasten they also dig into my legs and I have to face it that I am never going to be thinner than I am at this point of my life, however many jaffa cakes I turn down. That I keep lots of crap for no clear reason [drama society minutes and play accounts from three years ago, anyone?]. That the most recurrent things in the bottom of old handbags were (in order): train tickets, tissues and empty packs of tablets. Excluding all of the copper, however, I did make one pound. And found several pens, which, in my world, is almost better than the money.

But, because I know I have to be tough on myself or there is no way that all of my belongings are going to fit back in here, I have to hold my hoarding instinct firmly and reach for the bin bag. Such was my grasp on this instinct I even momentarily considered selling some of my books. Because if I'm honest I am never again going to look at the pile of critical theory textbooks. Looking at their condition I doubt whether I looked at them when I was supposed to. But that would be a step too far. If I've learnt, under certain circumstances, to part with shoes this lesson has not been heeded in relation to books, even dubiously named textbooks. So I'm keeping them. Everyone needs a bit of Barthes every now and then, after all.

At some point in the next week or so, when I finished wading through the rest of my belongings I have to sort through my clothes. And, as someone who once happily proclaimed aged 21 that I was wearing a dress that I'd bought when I was 17 and who is currently wearing a pair of wedges I bought circa the Spice Girls being cool, this is something of an issue. What if I donate something to a charity shop which I will desperately want in a years time? Fashion is circular. One day I will even be able to wear my poncho again. Probably not for the next decade in the case of that one such was the prevalence of that item in stores around the country and on the back of Mrs Beckham but one day. And I look forward to that day. Who knows when I'll need other items of clothing? It's going to be painful I suspect.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Location, Location, Location

Location, Location, Location

At the bottom of my street there used to be two car showrooms. Not particularly large ones, but two car showrooms nonetheless. At some point when I was in Oxford the occupants of the car showrooms moved to a new, bigger location. A location that was undoutedly better for not being on the end of my street. This movement, however, has left two empty buildings, progressively decaying over the months. It's the type of thing that has the neigbours worrying about houseprices even more than the current state of our drive. So, everyone is agreed, that something needs to be done about the empty building before the asbestos roof blows off and kills us all, or the graffiti artists get bored of the local commuter station and move to displaying their art form there. When a fridge was dumped there a few weeks ago the collective roar managed to reach me in Oxford. Admittedly with the aid of a telephone but, if I'd listened carefully enough, I suspect that I could have heard it without the help of Orange.

But, it would appear, there is one thing worse than an empty car showroom. For a planning application has been put in for something that probably rivals dumped-fridge in the house-price deminishing stakes.

Pizza Hut.

I don't think that the nearby residents have a problem against food eateries entirely. There's a chinese restaurant opposite would be Pizza Hut. Crucially, however, this is compact, low-key and not a chain with neon screaming lights. However comical the adverts may be Pizza Hut would seem to be a no-no. Pizza Hut which opens until 11:30pm is an even bigger no-no.

So, with speed that had me applauding their initiative [if mocking it slightly at the same time because hey, middle class arm chair activists are funny. I'm allowed to laugh at them. One day I will wind up in their ranks], the official Crossgates Miltants were formed and had their first meeting last week. I didn't go, due in part because I'm well out of their target demographic, though if I'm honest it had more to do with the fact that it clashsed heavily with the tennis but, in retrospect I rather wish I had. If only for the fact that I missed out on enough comedy material to fuel several radio plays as well as, more importantly, numerous blog entries. In a swelting hall, with little ventilation and even fewer chairs one woman spoke for 25 minutes on trees. Trees. I like trees. I'm sure you like trees. But 25 minutes on trees when you're supposed to be discussing the expanding empire of Pizza Hut is probably a bit much. If that wasn't enough, the chairman was moderately deaf, there was a rather loud woman who persisted in speaking in-the-same-tone-whatever-she-was-speaking-about and, best of all, was a true Militant. His idea that will cause him to go down with those great revolutionary leaders?

That six people should walk across the crossing outside the local shopping centre repeatedly, snarling up the road and causing disruption to the commercial sector of Crossgates.

I don't know why Lenin didn't think of that one.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Procrastination Regained

Procrastination Regained

Unless you're some right-wing freak or browse the papers in your local newsagents you probably haven't seen the headline on the back of the Daily Mail this morning. With a large picture of Murray is the words: [small typeface] "The king is dead..." [big typeface] Long live the king". Now I'm not sure whether to bask in the predictability of this, claim that in calling yesterday's entry by that title that I've got my finger on the pulse or despair for the fact that I have something in common with the Daily Mail. I'm claiming that my use was the more ironic/knowing of the two. And I'll be writing them a strongly worded letter if I find out that they've been stealing my headlines again.

Today didn't see a total end to the procrastination which is enveloping me [there were three cracking tennis matches on for starters*] I did make some attempt to organise my life back in Leeds into some shape or form. This translates as I started some of my unpacking. Which automatically meant that I wanted to stop unpacking because it is a boring and mildly depressing job when you realise that there is no space in my room anyway, let alone to fit in all of the things which have been living in Oxford. I do now, though, have matching marks just underneath my knees where I've been kneeling on the floor, sifting through things. When I noticed them it made me think of all of those wink-wink nudge-nudge photos that appear in heat. So next time Cristina Very-Bad-Dress-Sense appears with grazed knees you know exactly what she's been doing - unpacking her book collection.

*I confess that I'm writing this now because the tennis is rained off and the BBC, in their wisdom, are showing Henman's last match. Given that I'm not made of stone I can't cope with that.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

The King Is Dead, Long Live The King

The King is Dead, Long Live the King

I had been intending to do something useful over the past couple of days but the heat combined with the tennis has just made that if not impossible then unlikely. I know that's a pretty useless excuse but I'm a recovering student, tennis + heat = nothing is going to get done. So don't ask.

As it was I felt that, by my standards at least I was pretty well behaved when the Henman exit occurred. I screamed only a little bit. I didn't cry. Not even over-enthusiastic blinking going on. But I did feel sad. Not least because of how Henman will get lambasted in the papers tomorrow. People forget he's been a top ten player pretty much consistently for the last five years. That takes a lot of doing. And the pressure he's under here - that's something he could never live up to. So maybe I was resigned to his exit and what may well be the passing of an era. I cheered Andy Murray to his victory a couple of hours later but it didn't quite feel the same. Murray and me don't yet have the history. He's something in the future, Henman's part of numerous years past. And unlike those flag wavers on Henman Hill who changed its name to Murrayfield/Mount without the blink of an eyelid, I'll still be cheering Henman. Realistically, this year's US Open - barring some major squiffy twist of fate* - is his last chance. And he's going to have to play a lot better than he has been in the past few weeks. But I didn't give the last ten years to give up when it got a little rough. So Henman - I dock my summer hat to you.

*Any tennis fan will know these happen - Sampras winning the US Open for the last time [oh, how I cried and I didn't even like Sampras but it was so right], Ivanisevic winning Wimbledon [I didn't cry at that as that year was also fated to be Henman's year and BBC scheduling and bad light apart it probably would have been] - but you can't bank on them.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Supporting British Sportsmen Can Damage Your Health

Supporting British Sportsmen Can Damage Your Health

It's two days into my post-Oxford life. Possibly more importantly it's also two days into Wimbledon. So, whilst my life remains packed up in bags and boxes around me, I'm more preoccupied with events on court.

No, let me get this right, I'm not preoccupied - I'm bloody terrified. About ten years ago, undoubtedly when watching Wimbledon, I chanced upon seeing a particular player. And from that moment, through his ups and downs, through tournament victories, grand slam semi-finals, first round exits and more stress than is good for any one person I've supported him. This would be a good thing were it not for the identity of the player concerned. Tim Henman does not make for an easy summer. In fact Henman does not make for an easy year all round. But Wimbledon is even worse. There's the weight of expectation, on both of our parts.

I know the drill though. He'll struggle with players he ought to beat with his eyes closed, but get into the second week where, after some heroic display on his part and lots of 'COME ON TIM!!!' on mine he'll bow out. I'll probably cry. Not as much as I used to because I've reconciled myself to the fact that Henman winning is not going to happen now. But it'll be the England-losing-on-penalties kind of upset. You know it's going to happen but it doesn't make it any easier.

At 4.00 this afternoon I thought that the yearly exit was going to happen long before I'd expected it. It didn't. But only just. Which doesn't fill me with confidence. More pertinently, I seem to have screamed my vocal chords away. This is very bad indeed on day two. There is no hope for me. I've been sucked in again.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Movin' Out

Movin' Out

"Sing, sing, sing, sing, sing, sing"

Three guesses for what song I'm currently listening to*.

The reason for this entry? I've had my last ever battle with the shower in 48 and I'm just about to pack up my computer.

Bye, bye Oxford.

*Though I'd imagine that the artist who's singing it wouldn't be your first thought. Or, if you know me or him, then it might.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Not with a bang but a jaffa cake

Not with a bang but a jaffa cake

I was ok during yesterday's mini tour of Oxford until I hit Jericho. Well, I'd felt a bit nostalgic at Christ Church, remembering sitting in the quad there two summers ago just because...well it's a lot nicer than St Anne's and then remembering one drunken evening when two friends and I decided to go and kidnap a particular Christ Church student who hadn't shown up for dinner. Not being able to find him - which impeded the kidnapping somewhat - we settled for writing a mildly abusive message on the back of a pizza box which we'd found and pinning it to his door. So I'd remembered that but books in Blackwells had pushed all such thoughts out of my mind. Posing for a final picture outside of the OFS, the theatre where my Oxford drama adventures both started and finished, created a little blip of hopeless retrospection but, oddly, I don't feel it's the end there. In my head at least, if I make enough money at the writing lark to have some spare change I think I'd want to buy the building and then give it to the University, removing it from the clutches of a company that only runs it so that the council will continue to do some deal with it over its club next door. This isn't the place for an OFS rant, but it's a fantastic little theatre and, with the right amount of funding, could be brilliant. I hate to think it will carry on being neglected as it has been until one day it ceases to be a theatre at all.

So the OFS wasn't really a goodbye but Jericho. Jericho was different. We weren't even going to walk back to college that way. I suggested it since it wasn't too late and the weather was still nice. So we did. And suddenly I got hit by a whole lot of memories that I hadn't expected. Maybe because Jericho hasn't really featured in my time in Oxford this year. I've been for Sunday lunch at the Radcliffe Arms a couple of times, I went for a meal with lots of red wine (after the review) at Freuvds and I've ambled along into the housing estate behind several times in order to visit the St Peter's contingent. But I haven't spent much time there. So, in walking up the main street seeing the pubs and restaurants that I frequented in my second year I got hit with a whole new bunch of memories that I hadn't thought about. That I hadn't calculated on dealing with. As I walked up St Bernard's Road, past the Gardener's Arms, a trip I used to make at least two or three times a week, I couldn't help remembering. Remembering a time in Oxford that was very different to my Oxford of the past year. I've added new haunts, new routines, new people to the merry go round. Oxford is no longer a bubble, my life has not centred around it in the way that it used to. But Jericho is already a memory. A memory of the bubble. And one I never really said goodbye to. So, for the second time in a week, I felt a little saddness for something I'd missed creep up on me.

It was, however, only a temporary feeling. For all that is the past. I'm in the odd position of being someone who's 'left' Oxford twice. The first time was hard because it meant leaving people behind, leaving a way of life that I knew I would never quite be able to grasp again. My final day in Oxford then was a whirl of people and, perhaps even more so, food. I managed two lunches, one afternoon tea and an evening meal and I suspect that I might have had icecream at one point too. But I learnt that time that just because I left Oxford didn't mean I would lose those I left behind. Our relationships are different, we've all had new experiences that seperate us and make us distinct from when we were living in each others pockets. People change. I know I've changed. But moving away, heading off in a different direction from the people I've known at Oxford doesn't scare me any more. Now, leaving means saying goodbye to Oxford itself. The city has loomed in my life since I was 17. And after tomorrow...I may never live in Oxford again. And that does sadden me. Because Oxford is beautiful. Staggeringly so at times. When the sun shines there really are few places that can match it. And I've been part of that, a little piece of it has belonged to me. Will I always feel that some part of it belongs to me? I honestly don't know. Maybe I'll have to come back in a decade and see.

What I have learnt today, covered as I am in bites from wandering around Woodstock and Whitney (two towns slightly further north than Oxford) this morning and with a red nose from being in the park this afternoon, is that even when you dunk a jaffa cake in Baileys it is not a good thing.

NB: Apologies to TS Eliot for the title.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Hello, Goodbye.

Hello, Goodbye.

Today I did: the Sheldonian, the Bod, the Botanic Gardens, [Starbucks pitstop for a frappacino], Christ Church, Blackwells, [home pitstop for a shower because it was a million degrees and I'd been in the green houses at the Botanic Gardens anyway], dinner at the Eagle and Child, walk down to the castle, up to the OFS and then through Jericho before reaching St Anne's where, in my absence, the lodge had been moved into the new building.

I guess I had to say goodbye.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Coza's Oxford (Part Two): The People

Coza's Oxford (Part Two): The People

This one suffers even more than Part One to the vagaries of which pictures remain on my computer. And, it would seem, the fact that I'm most likely to take photos in Trinity term. Must be the sun. So there are some notable exclusions whose photos are residing in albums back in Leeds rather than existing for eternity on my computer: several of my casts, the 2002-3 OUDS committee, some of the St Anne's Englishists, even, it would seem, The Graduate has not managed to secure himself a place on my hardrive. Well, I found a picture with his arm in but that doesn't count. Ah, how things come to pass. This, of course, does not mean that I don't love these people [ok, that I don't love most of these people] but that I'm lazy about sorting my photos. So maybe this should be re-entitled 'Some of the People'. But that's not as good is it? I should probably stop there.

Halloween (Michaelmas 2001):

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See those wonderfully hideous curtains? I had to live with them for an entire year. You really don't want to have a hangover when the first thing that you see on a morning is them. For fact fans the top I'm wearing - yes that's me with the long black hair - was purchased for that party. Little did I know that two years later I'd wear it to a gig and end up with 'Alistair Griffin xx'* written across my breasts because of it.

Charity (Trinity 2002):

Girls...

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Boys...

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More Girls (and Boy):

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Now the Charity contingent were my babies during what fights to be my favourite term at Oxford. And again I feel the need to comment on my chosen attire - I really didn't realise how low cut that top was. Until it was far, far too late. The top two pictures were taken in the dressing rooms at the OFS [prior to them being painted beige] and the bottom one was at St Cross Bar which we took over for our cast party. About ten minutes after the photo was taken I ended up becoming intimately aquainted with the toilet floor. Don't worry though, an hour later I was dancing again and rolled back into college at 5.30am.

Trinity 2003

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Picnic in the University Parks. No, let me get this right - Teddy Bear Picnic in the University Parks.

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My tute partner. I loved drama, he loved poetry. It worked surprisingly well. Picture taken in an Indian Restaurant that I can no longer visit because one of the workers scared Nik and myself on the Oxford Tube one night.

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Some of the cast and crew of To Those Who Haven't Stopped Thinking. I ended up sound opping the show. I'd never been in a sound booth in my life. I only managed to get every cue and mix right during the final performance. But the satisfaction. Immense. Taken at our pre-final show meal. Hence we were all sober. Which couldn't be said later in the evening.

To all those whose image I've ruthlessly stolen and slapped on here - thank you. To all those who I should have put on here - thank you too. I've learnt a lot from all of you, had times when I could barely breathe from laughing, undoubtedly ranted at you, and even cried with a few of you. There are those who I suspect that I'll know for the rest of my life [yep, you're stuck with me] and those of you who have already slipped out, or I suspect may do during the following years. But, in some respects, it hardly seems to matter. You've all made my time at Oxford incredibly special. What more could I ask?

[To K & S: extra special thanks - SSoB will forever be in honour of our own Scottish summer]

*For those who haven't seen the pictures - and no I will never put them up here - the 'xx' was Griffin's attempt at, erm, aesthetic symmetry.

Yes.

Yes.

Happy Bloomsday!

Of all the riddles and puzzles in Ulysses, y'know the thing that intrigues me most?

What happens on the 17th June 1904.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Coza's Oxford (Part One): The Places

Coza's Oxford (Part One): The Places

To start at the beginning...

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My blue plaqued House this year. Contains football pitch sized rooms [and servants' stairs] but also: windows that won't open/shut, heating that breaks down, intermittent internet access and a kitchen which currently seems to have a dubious policy towards washing up*.

The view from my window:

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The buildings you can see make up Green College, and the towering building in the background is the Radcliffe Observatory. I'd like the pretend that I've always been this good at identifying this building but it wasn't until Hilary this year when I'd had numerous guests ask me its identity (and I'd looked foolish) that I actually looked up what its name was.

The Duck Pond in the University Parks:

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I, officially, love this place. Not just for the incredibly cute ducklings who are so trusting that their mother will bring them to sleep right next to you, but because..well...it's beautiful.

The Cherwell:

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Taken whilst punting and not falling in. Ok, I wasn't doing the actual punting but still - I didn't fall in!

The Rad Cam:

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Yes, I know you're wondering what's going on there and why there's a stuffed dog on the plinth. Long story. But needless to say this is the only picture of the Rad Cam [my library, home of the scary porters who check your bags and scowl at you if you hold your Bod card upside down] I seem to have taken. Ok, for a better view without the Dan B Dogg:

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More normal, but much less interesting I think we can agree.

C. S. Lewis's Pub**:

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Home to the ridiculously difficult Tuesday Night Pub Quiz. And some of the nicest steaks in Oxford. And, er, my twisted dreams about Griffin.

Home of the Stanners:

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That would be Hartland House, the closest thing that we have to a nice building.

Honourable mentions go to the following which I couldn't find pictures of***: the Old Fire Station Theatre [where I lived for a large chunk of my first and second years and forever the home of SSoB], the BT [incredibly cute 50 seater studio theatre], The O'Reilly [The brand spanking new theatre that I got to see built and worked on the first production in. Should you want to know, new theatres smell lovely], The Oxford Playhouse [for giving me lots of free tickets this year and allowing me to see some fantastic shows at very cheap prices during the rest of my time here. Oh and Jude Law was at one of the benefits there about six months ago. I may have sat in his seat. I may not have. But that wouldn't make a good story], the English Faculty [horrible grey sixties building that it is], Blackwells [funded 2001-5 by myself], Maxwells [you try shouting 'can I have an orgasm' to the barman], Far From The Madding Crowd [thesp and hack pub. Normal people do not enter], The Goose [For post show drinks in my first year prior to Madding Crowd taking over the mantle and, worryingly, for Fox stalking], The Cock and Camel [more Fox stalking], Beat Cafe [even though they closed it down when I was on my year out; it had the best cocktail happy hour - and the most expensive chips - in Oxford] and, it goes without saying, Ali's Kebab Van.

*Ok, this has more to do with the occupants than the house.

**And J.R.Tolkein but, to quote Paddy Marber, "I wouldn't read LOTR if you paid me a thousand pounds a page". The Chronicles of Narnia on the other hand...

***Read, didn't have any on my computer and couldn't be bothered to google for them.


Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Magic Carpets

Magic Carpets*

Now I have to confess that I'm not entirely a stranger to meeting people via the internet, the whole Griffin experience leading to the meeting of well over a hundred people, I'd imagine, who I first encountered on a website. A group of these have become people I communicate with in some form or another every single day and for whom the whole Griffin thing of the friendship's origins has become effectively non-existant in our relationships with one another. So the internet meeting malarky is rather old hat.

But, if I'd met people via a forum today provided a new experience in that I met someone via a blog. JP to be exact. In a search for new blogs to help feed my spiraling addiction I ended up looking for Oxford blogs* over on technorati, and happened to stumble into JP's. I left a comment and JP read just enough of over here to get an idea of me without reading so much that he got scared by the stalking, or the literary crap, or the drunken camping in whitby, or, did I mention it, the stalking. In the course of exchanging emails it was decided that meeting someone via a blog is something that everyone should do once in their life and thus we ended up having coffee in Blackwells this morning. And it was a very pleasant way to spend an hour as we exchanged housing crises and scout stories in the manner that only Oxford students can. It also dawned on me that, given JP's mindblowing workload, I really shouldn't be moaning about English here at St Anne's. I'm also insanely jealous that he's seen plays at the Watermill theatre.

After coffee I ended up perusing the realms of Blackwells, which is always going to be fatal. I ended up with a secondhand edition of Zadie Smith's Autograph Man and, rather momentously, the Writers' and Artists' Yearbook 2005. Does that make me officially a writer now that I've purchased it with with funds from my not-so-hard-earned overdraft? It certainly helps create the mindset. A little step towards properly taking the leap, maybe. Suddenly, as well as being incredibly scary, it all seems rather exciting.

*Even for me I confess this is an obscure title. It's a bit of publicity blurb from...well...something mentioned in this entry.

**Undoubtedly the most famous Oxford blog at the moment is this one. How long before its media coverage goes beyond the student press and into the world at large?

Monday, June 13, 2005

Sunday Afternoon State of Mind

Sunday Afternoon State of Mind

Yesterday afternoon I went to see Riccardi play at the Marylebone Festival. Think Glastonbury without the mud. And the crowds. And the smelly toilets. Ok, so it was nothing like Glastonbury but I sat on the grass and had to use a chemical toilet at one point so we're heading in that direction.

Given that I left my house at 10:30am in order to meet Katherine and Sam (former stanners) prior to catching the Oxford Tube I made a slight mistake in the clothing department. Mainly due to the fact that it was reasonably warm in Oxford and hence I wore a skirt that doesn't cover my knees and didn't take a coat. When I arrived at Marble Arch at 3:30pm it turned out that a coat would have been beneficial. When I had to sit on the grass it turned out that a skirt where it was possible to sit down without people on stage seeing my knickers might have been a good thing. So I ended up becoming slightly cold and sitting in such a position that I twice got dead leg, just so that I wasn't flashing my knickers. Let's face it, I'd die at Glastonbury.

But, if I've discovered anything over the last 18 months or so, it's that I love listening to live music. And because Tony, of The Bedford fame, had organised the musical lineup there were a number of acts that I knew. The more I hear of Posh Young Farmer Boy (who, sadly, is looking much less like a posh young farmer boy than he did this time last year when I coined the name) the more I like him. And, God, he feels what he's singing. And taps his feet in a rather sweet manner. He's performing at Glastonbury proper, too. If he gets properly famous - and of everyone I've seen over the past year he's the one I think might do it - I'll be able to be incredibly smug as Nik and I had what I suspect to be one of the first - if not the first - 'fan' photo taken with him. See how good our radars are?

Riccardi were as fab as ever and I realised just how much I love 'Friday State of Mind'. I'm still mildly scared by some of the faces that Billy Bass pulls during it (not helped by the fact that his mic was a lot louder than it should have been) but I've been able to move beyond that. Afterwards, as we continued to listen to the acts, Simon Guitar came over to sit with Nik and I, demonstrating both his rather dodgy footwear (I love flip flops, and a nice pair on a man can really work, but five pound bargain bin ones are not the way forward) and his capacity for whooping ("I always whoop. Even when I'm on my own"). Both he and Billy Bass got extra bonus points for remembering about my finals and pulling the required faces when I informed them how they'd gone. It was Billy Bass who triumphed, though, when he sat down and split his cookie into three so that Nik and I could share it with him. After the jaffa cake incident, I'm starting to think that conversations with Billy have an odd theme.

By 7:00pm I was back on the Oxford Tube, hiding the remnants of my McDonalds as you're not allowed to take hot food onboard, and realising that this may be the final ever time I take the Oxford Tube journey which, for something that has become a regular occurence seems odd. For me the Oxford Tube will always mean Riccardi gigs. I've used it for other things, shopping, museums, theatre, even a Fox gig, but it's wound up in my head with the boys. When I see it on the road in central Oxford it immediately fills me with that pre-gig excitement. It's maybe become a little bit of a symbol. I suspect that from this point in, as I move back to Leeds and out of reach of the ever friendly five pound return ticket, I'll see much less of Riccardi than I have over the past six months. I'll miss them. I think I may even miss the Oxford Tube.

NB: The Festival, Marylebone rather than Glastonbury, was raising money for the Teenage Cancer Trust and I can't overstate how vital I think what they do is. They're raising money to build units for teenage cancer sufferers so that at a point in their life which is pretty horrendous anyway they don't find themselves on a ward with either babies or pensioners. Six teenagers a day will be told that they have cancer and yet there isn't the provision as it stands to deal with their needs (which are undeniably distinct from young children or adults). Aged 20, as I waited for that make or break lymphnode biopsy, I was on a ward where I was the youngest by a clear four decades. I'm not sure how I'd have coped had the situation been prolonged.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Conversations Not To Have In The Library

Conversations Not To Have In The Library

"The Kebab Van outside [...] sells coke".

"Really?"

"So I've been told".

"Of course you don't go there".

"No, I don't like kebabs".

You know that I'm going to have to use that somewhere.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Slowly Walking Down The Hall

Slowly Walking Down The Hall

Number of times asked what my plans are for next year: six.

Number of times I had to mentally remind myself to call Paddy Marber Patrick: four.

Number of chocolates (with St Anne's crest on) eaten: four.

Number of glasses of alcohol consumed: I don't remember.

And so my final ever St Anne's commitment has passed. It began with champagne and brightly coloured fish-based aperitifs in one of the gardens, moved on to mountains of food and wine in the new Ruth Deech building and finished in the college bar with a former tutor here (who is genuinely called Paddy) buying everyone drinks whilst "Champagne Supernova" played in the background. There was also a bit of a car-crash Foo Fighters moment during the 'Party Piece section' which proved that party pieces, tutors and alcohol soaked finalists to not a good combination make.

It was, though, slightly worrying to hear from my personal tutor [PT] that she's spent the last fortnight marking 150 Shakespeare papers. I didn't dare ask if she'd got the low or the high numbers, since my candidate number is very much on the low side. I'd drunk enough wine by this point, however, to voice my dissatisfaction with the paper and its stupid-changing-format-all-critical-quotes approach. I was somewhat pleased, and a little unsurprised since I'm aware that we have a similar take on literary criticism, that she thought that it was a bad paper too. And even felt the need to apologise, giving me the name of the person who set it. I hope he's feeling my bad vibes tonight.

I was quietly pleased that over the course of the evening no one thought that I was ridiculously insane to be pushing the writing thing next year. PT was particularly encouraging which, given that I respect her opinion enormously, was rather brilliant. But then I have her to thank that my record that will forever remain here at St Anne's has the phrase "Corinne has the very rare gift of writing beautifully" in it to balance out the "Corinne is intellectually arrogant" phrase. The writer of the latter comment was also present, as he'd been invited back having taught the rest of the English finalists in their first and second years. I was mildly surprised when, in the midst of discussing the acting aspirations of one of the Englishists, I was tapped on the back and greeted with a "hello you" from him. I was even more surprised when he commented that he'd heard about SSoB and asked how it had gone. Maybe he's mellowed, maybe the fact that he hasn't had to teach me for the last three years has softened his memory. I'm not sure. But it was nice that it ended on a positive note. I also got to inform the somewhat overdressed and slightly sloshed Rhodri that I didn't expect that he'd be buying me a bottle of champagne any time soon.

But the evening had, for all the questioning of the future, a rather wistful quality to it. In the first speech of the night we were informed that "You don't know it yet, but you're never allowed to leave St Anne's; you're simply moving on to a higher plain of connection". As touching as that was, and as true as I know it'll be given the fact that the development office want your money when you get rich, we are leaving, we are saying goodbye. So there was talk of those who'd gone before, of the fact that PT taught Helen Fielding but can't remember her despite the fact that Fielding tells a particularly amusing story about her, of the cycle of St Anne's students and their futures. And the oddity of all those female writers that have popped up throughout the college's history. In the end, finishing the wine, it fell to myself and Sara, an English/Spanish student who matriculated the same year as me given her four year course, to wistfully talk about those we considered to be 'our year'. I think we were both rather glad that there was someone from the 2001 contingent there to share the memory. For, as lovely as the rest of the Englishists are, they're not the ones we plundered through fresher's week and mods with. Who we got drunk with, had tutes and classes with, argued and partied with in second year. I've come to see that taking the year out was the best thing I could ever have done but last night did make me a little sad that I didn't get to experience this final bit with the people I started the journey.

But, as PT said in the overiding metaphor of her speech [for she'd broken a tooth on a Werther's Original earlier in the day], life may be a bag of sweets but you'll still get the odd tooth fragment thrown in with them.

You know you're at Oxford...

You know you're at Oxford...

When you have to consult a seating plan at a dinner with less than 25 people present.

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And someone turns up wearing a tux.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Here's a little song...

Here's a little song...

Tonight I'll be dressing up [dress code: formal or flamboyant]* for English Schools Dinner. Which basically means it's an evening of free wine and free food for the 15 or so English/joint school finalists at St Anne's. Along with our tutors. So far, so civilised. Or at least until I received the following email from one of my tutors:

Just to say that if any of you feel like doing your party piece towards the end of tomorrow's dinner do feel free, and bring guitar, ventriloquist's dummy or whatever...

Now this brings us into a whole other area that I hadn't expected. Indeed the appearance of a ventriloquist's dummy was pretty much near the bottom of my list of possible manifestations of the evening**. Plus the whole nature of 'party pieces' is not, I'm quietly sure, an area that I necessarily want to go into with my tutors present. Especially when one of them has Paddy Marber round for tea on a regular basis.

Having given some serious thought to the issue it became apparent to me that my party pieces largely consist of the ability to play Griffin songs on the recorder, being able to quote entire episodes of Friends at will*** and knowing all of the words - and the dance - to 'Semi Charmed Life'. I feel the first one would be lost on the English Schoolers [not to mention that I don't have a recorder], the second one has pretty limited comedy value for anyone who wasn't equally obsessed with the show and I'm in the bind of knowing those at the dinner too well to unabashedly perform the third without shame but not knowing them well enough to revel in the brilliance of such an action. So, on balance, no party piece from me.

Having said all of this, it wouldn't be St Anne's if the evening didn't have a little hiccough, namely that the college kitchen had a gas leak during the night and the college is thus swarming with transco vans. As of lunch time there was no hot food as they couldn't use the kitchen. Consequently the possibility of us being given wine and salad is still very real.

*I suspect that I may be in the no man's land of not being formal enough but at the same time only verging on the edge of flamboyant.

**Ever since I stayed in Manchester after Griffin's single signing and my host produced a ventriloquist's dummy I haven't been able to label this as being the last thing that I'd expect.

***Sadly, this is also interchangeable for quoting Griffin's pond dip/subsequent conversation about glasses between him and Fox in the tortuous-reality-television-show. But I like to keep that quiet.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Breaking Theatrical Boundaries?: The Fence

Breaking Theatrical Boundaries?: The Fence

I'm actually a couple of reviews behind, you may or may not be glad to hear. I've missed out The Reduced Shakespeare Company on the basis that I'd seen it before and really knew what I was expecting and would have struggled to motivate myself on reviewing what is essentially the same production as I saw in January 2004 [only with different actors]. Ok, I'll be honest - I had cocktail/fountain stories to tell instead and I never got round to writing a review. Equally Cristina's play, Etrangere, missed out on a review as I saw it on the evening after my fifth exam, hence I only just had time to see the play, never mind write a review. But now, with free time a plenty, The Fence was screaming out to be reviewed. Usual rules and, if you're wondering, I absolutely adore Jacobean drama...

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Popular in mainland Europe and America Howard Barker's plays have not reached the same level of success in the UK. The Fence, then, is a bold collabaration between The Wrestling School, the company which was set up in 1988 as a focus for Barker's work as both writer and director, and a clutch of British theatres. Whilst admirable in its ideas and some of its experimentation, one cannot help but feel that the production is curiously lacking at its heart, something which all the conceptual gilding cannot ultimately disguise.

Set in a world initially dominated by a giant fence which seperates the haves from the have-nots, the elite from the "thieves" as the characters express it, The Fence settles around the journey of blind Photo as he learns who he is and the reality of the world around him. When we first meet him, at the funeral of his aunt's third husband, Photo is 15 (and prodigously gifted he notes). He quickly reveals that he is sleeping with his 'aunt' - for he has been adopted. Minutes later his aunt will reveal to her fourth husband that she is indeed not Photo's aunt. She is in fact his mother. Thus, as the play unravels, it comes to explore both physical boundaries of a divided nation and the social bounadaries within it. Ultimately both types give way to internal ones. Life and death. Individual and ruler. Seeing and blindness. Sanity and madness. How are these boundaries created? What upholds them? What are the effects if there is a hole in the apparently well constructed fence?

Certainly The Fence poses interesting questions, parralleling several different types of boundaries to question the very notion of what a fence means to humans. This complexity is ably carried by a more than capable cast with both Philip Cumbus as Photo and Victoria Wicks as the Duchess giving brilliantly controlled performances. Wicks in particular, as she teters on the brink of insanity, proving destructive to both herself and those around her, is particularly chilling. It is Nigel Hastings as her servant Kindey, however, who, bumbling and ineffectual, comes closest to giving the play some much needed humanity (and indeed even a flash of humour). Endlessly loyal, despite his knowledge of the Duchess's actions, he simply decides that he cannot allow himself to think. He is someone who must uphold the fence.

The Fence is undoubtedly influenced by Jacobean tragedy - itself not afraid of the subject of incest or the boundaries which we create. Indeed as Wicks, imprisoned and heavily pregnant asserts "I am the Duchess" it seems to be a calculated re-telling of the Duchess of Malfi's "I am Duchess of Malfi still". But here we see where Barker's play, for all its intellectual rigour, starts to slip away. Confusion is certainly not alien to Jacobean theatre but for chunks of The Fence the play becomes simply unintelligible. This is undoubtedly not something that Barker would argue about, his programme notes state "no greater satisfaction might be expressed by a member of its audience than to say 'I did not understand the play but I felt it...". But if we take the play on its own terms, as to what the audience feels, then it is still found wanting. The Fence becomes a series of ideas and images, often thoughtprovoking, sometimes beautiful, but it is never a feeling. For a play that repeatedly evokes the Duchess's apparent sterility it is ironic that the play itself becomes rather sterile. I certainly understood more than I felt. Whether the noticeable number of non-returners after the interval was as a product of them feeling too much into the controversial subject matter or as a result of the fidgety boredom that was beginning to be in evidence was unclear. Certainly the rather subdued applause at the end of the production would point to the fact that there was little satisfaction, of either thought or feeling, amongst this particular audience.

Barker's final words in the programme are quite simply "If the play has no message, the performance of it has a message for the theatre itself". Given the stillborn nature of this play as a theatrical event, I'm not entirely certain that this is a message which the theatre should heed.

Oxford Playhouse, Wednesday 8th June, 2005.

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I have to confess that I don't think that I'll be running to see another Barker play in a hurry. But then I'm not someone who's entirely gripped by experimental theatre, or theatre where form and concept takes over. Call me old fashioned but I like a good story with some gripping characters. And I think, from the new writing that I've seen/read this year, there's a lot of incredibly good writers out there doing that, catering towards my taste. And saying very important things at the same time.

Pants

Pants

So Big Blogger has officially started today, and already I've got my wish - there's talk of pants.

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Well, I wasn't going to pass up such an opportunity was I?

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Sleep No More

Sleep No More

So last night I ended up reading Oryx and Crake until the early hours because I was trapped in the 'oh-this-is-an-exciting-bit-I-can't-stop-reading-now' vortex. This vortex quickly turned into 'oh-there's-only-fifty-pages- left-I-might-as-well-keep-reading'. And this is not a good thing. Fantastic book, crammed with lots of amazing ideas and, unusually for dystopian literature, absolutely beautifully written*. But all this means that Oryx and Crake makes you think. And think hard. Even without the thinking going to bed with the destruction of the human race in your head is not the smartest move. Coupled with which my head was also buzzing with how the art vs science theme, which shadows Oryx and Crake, is expounded in Brave New World and 1984. Or at the least in which of them one of the characters goes off to the island of poets near the end. What can I say, I know the rats belong to 1984 and the hanging to Brave New World. But beyond that...it's three years since I last read them and they've blurred. So, all in all, not conducive to good sleep.

Tonight I've just come back from one of my free ticket jaunts having seen Howard Barker's The Fence. And I'm feeling mildly traumatised. Not because it scared me, or pushed my thoughts in an interesting direction [though it did have its moments and I had to laugh when the characters were playing chess and then at the end of the scene one of them knocked all of the chess pieces off of the board***] but because I'm wondering what the heck the point of it was. Other than trying to be clever and slightly pretentious. Expanding theatre, apparently. Hmmmm. Another one for my brain to puzzle over.

Tomorrow I think I may read trashy magazines and reap the benefit of intellectual stupor.

*Are you listening at the back Mr Orwell, that was directed at you.**

**Excluding Animal Farm which I do think is rather beautiful. So that'll just be 1984 then.

***Again for readers who don't know SSoB, there's a game of chess that runs through the play and Harry, crumpled and alone near the end of the third act, knocks all of the pieces off in his great Byronic moment. The hilarity (read mild amusement) was only increased by the fact that one of the characters in The Fence commented 'I don't like Chess, Chess is for metaphorical people'. In the production of SSoB - though not in the script I would argue**** - chess was the overwhelming symbol*****.

**** In the script, at least to me, water's the dominant symbol.

*****Really I should stop adding footnotes that only five or six other people reading this will understand but I can't stop myself. Blame Barker for twisting my brain. Erm, this footnote did have a point. Namely that as well as being rubbish for talking about vikings, it really bugged me that the BBC Oxford review used a chess piece as its photo image and captioned it 'chess is a theme of the play'. No chess is not a theme. It's a metaphor. There's a difference.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Dear Heat...

Dear Heat...

So I admit that I may have taken this idea from PopJustice but I never made any claims about my originality. Indeed to joyfully misquote TS Eliot; immature bloggers imitate, mature bloggers steal.

Why Corinne should not be allowed access to a scanner following sitting in the sun.*

[For anyone who may be wondering, Richard Hammond and Dermot O'Leary]

*click to enlarge.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Farewell Phlegm, Hello Drum Solo

Farewell Phlegm, Hello Drum Solo

After a few days of phlegm/mucus inspired ponderous blogging, you may well be pleased to know that the excess fluid in my head seems to be receding. As of the last couple of hours I even feel vaguely human. And if you can't muster joy at my returning to health then I'm sure you can muster joy at the fact that this will mean I will stop blogging about phlegm. This does not, however, mean that I will shirk from my responsibility to post gratuitous pictures of Griffin in his pants where necessary. That had nothing to do with the phlegm. That was all my warped mind.

I have a sneaky suspicion that now my schedule is targeted towards finishing the first draft of The Four Right Chords before I leave Oxford that you could be in for some writerly blogs. Mainly because if something excites me I tend to write about it. So apologies in advance. But today was officially start day and that excites me a little. No, I should be honest and not try and hide behind an apparently nonchalant exterior, that excites me a lot. I'd go as far as saying it excites me almost as much as Neighbours' Dr Karl Kennedy singing McFly's 'Obviously' on Jo Whiley's show last week. Almost, but not quite.

And I'm excited because it feels so different from SSoB. When I started SSoB I had a whole underlying level of symbolism that I wanted to use. I had Eliot's The Waste Land as my backbone. This time I don't know what's going to pop up in that respect. I've also got more of an exterior to create for the characters, the time scale's much bigger, their world is bigger. Much of SSoB happens inside the characters' heads but in Four Chords the outer world matters as much as the inner. It's what the characters do, equally as much as what they say or have done. Most exciting of all, however, are the new voices. No one's yet grabbed me and written their character in the way that Will wrote himself in SSoB but it's early stages and I'm already starting to see flashes of who they might become. Ah, brave new world...

And because I'm feeling chuffed at just how different the tone is, and how it seems to be flowing, here's possibly my favourite couple of lines from today's writing:
Ben: There wasn't a band before I joined.
Jude: Yes there was.
Ben: It was just you. And your drums.
Jude: Exactly.
Ben: That's not a band. That's a fucking drum solo.
Now I just need to get that to work for the 99.9% of the population who don't think drum solos are inherently comical. Ah well, there's several re-writes to come.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

You Know The Words!

You Know The Words!

You know the headache you get when you've been crying? The one the exists right at the front of your forehead as a dull thud rather than a pumping, lights flashing extravaganza? I like to call it a 'Titanic headache', given that despite the fact that I have seen that film a million times and I am not 12 I still cry for the last hour and twenty minutes of it*. Yes, that's right, I cry for eighty minutes worth of that film. Not all at the same level I would add, there are peaks such as when Rose first gets put into the lifeboat and the camera cuts between her and Jack with the music playing loudly in the background. Or when you see the Irish woman put her children to bed telling them a story, knowing that they're going to die. Or the old couple embracing on the bed as water gushes in. Or when you realise that there's nothing Rose can do, and however many times you watch this film the ending is not going to change and Jack is still dead. Don't let go, Rose! Rose! Nooooooooo. Where's the bloody tissues?

But anyway, the Titanic headache. That's what I have now. Not because I've been crying due to the captain going down with the ship or the fact that lovely Irish Tommy just got shot, I'd hasten to add. Or even because I've been crying. Just because I have so much fluid in my head at the moment that it cannot get out quickly enough and hence seems to be congregating somewhere behind my eyes. Personally, I think I preferred the phlegm. At least I knew where I was with that. And it didn't actually hurt. Bring back the phlegm I'm telling you.

But the odd thing about the Titanic headache is that it's making me feel as if i've been crying, as if I've been sobbing my heart out about the the fact that the band are still playing. They're still playing. They're going to die. And they're still playing. I really need to get that out of my system don't I?

So my body is telling me that I'm feeling emotional and I get all warm and fuzzy remembering those pictures that I posted yesterday. And then, because I'm getting ready to start writing The Four Right Chords in earnest tomorrow, I've been working through all of my Griffin stuff to try and remind me of emotions and events that I might want to steal. So, amongst other stuff, I realise that I've got to read A Year In The Army*. I start reading and within a sentence I realise that I've got to read this properly. Because I haven't for such a long time and, listen to my ego rattling, I find I'm laughing at things that I've written. I'm also seeing where I need to edit and change things too if that helps deminish the ego a little bit. But most of all I'm getting thrills of emotions that I haven't felt for such a long time, that I'd almost forgotten. The first time I saw Al on stage suddenly came back into my head. How wonderfully innocent and exciting that moment was. I felt the thrill.

As I read on I felt more thrills from that time, a point which now seems like another lifetime. The whole experience of being a fan, of supporting someone to the extent that I've supported Griffin is more jaded now. I see the bad stuff as well as the good stuff. I'm less naive. I enjoy it as much as I ever have but it has lost its innocence. And in reading back I felt I touched that innocence again in a way that I will never be able to in real life, even if I wanted to. Unlike Gatsby*** I don't want to go back, but it's important that I always remember what it felt like that first day in Boro, as Griffin waded his way through the orchestra, wearing a Boro scarf and clutching a copy of Brian Clough's autobiography. And I have to remember this when writing The Four Right Chords. That innocence of emotion deserves its place in there. Because it's honest.

Equally re-reading A Year made me realise just how much I have to finish it. I'll never have another year quite like that one and it needs its record. I need to write it just as much as I need to write The Four Right Chords. Maybe they both need each other.

When I'd finished stewing in A Year, I chanced across of a file of Griffin quotes that we'd haphazzardly collected and I'd stored away with all the reports I'd written of my Griffin adventures in order to fuel A Year. At once, as the words evoked memories, I started smiling. I laughed. I got surges of sheer happiness. And a couple of embarrassed disbelief. But it was the ones that I'd forgotten entirely that in my Titanic headache state knocked me most off kilter. Two in particular made me pause for reflection. Both undoubtedly entirely selfish quotes but ones which touched something as I sit here, knowing what I know now. The first is marked by the innocence of those early days coming as it does from album release day in Newcastle:
Me: Can you remember my name?
Griffin: Of course, you're the clever one.
It wasn't the first or the last time that Griffin used that phrase in my direction but somehow that one time, in retrospect, moved me. Maybe it was because I genuinely thought that he might not know my name. That, having forgotten that the exchange took place, the emotion came on me again.

The second quote struck me as rather wistful, being as it is from Griffin's last UMTV single signing:
"I'm sorry about not being able to spell it. People expect me to be able to remember Anne with an 'e' or Lynda with a 'y'...You're my only Corinne".
Maybe because it shows exactly how the situation with Griffin has changed since that original day in Boro. At one point the 'us' following Griffin was small and Griffin undoubtedly gave us more of his time than he probably should have. Now the peripheral fans that made up those seemingly endless signing queues have dissapeared but the returning hardcore is bigger than it's ever been. There isn't time. And Griffin can't be expected to do what he once did. But I will always have the memories of those early months. And maybe that quote, for me, possibly more even than the Troilus and Cressida mid-gig banter, sums that up.

If my overly emotional Titanic Headache has achieved anything other than making me wish for the good old days of the phlegm then it's that I've processed why I have to write The Four Right Chords a lot quicker than I processed why I had to write SSoB****. Because whilst I'll twist and turn the material, spread it about, generally to quote Griffin "use my imagination because that's what writers do", my emotional starting point really is the Griffin experience. And I'd be foolish not to acknowledge that, however it turns out, at its heart it's going to be a tribute to both Griffin and those who walked the journey with me.

*It could be the Saving Private Ryan Headache as I cried so much in the cinema when I went to see that that I was in desperate need of a paper bag. However, I've only allowed myself to watch that film a couple of times because of my paper-bag tendencies, so the Titanic label stuck.

**If you're using firefox, as I discovered today, that link won't work. I'm going to move A Year over the next week or so though, so if you're that interested you can come back then!

***Sorry to any non-Gatsby fanatics.

****So are we going for Chords? Four Chords? TFRC doesn't work as well as SSoB, sadly.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

I'm not a stalker. Really.

I'm not a stalker. Really.

I know that I promised phlegm, but, really, I don't want to talk about my phlegm. And, undoubtedly, you want to hear about it even less. So we're both agreed, right? No phlegm.

So, with no reference to the phlegm and only a minor nod to the fact that I have taken enough painkillers to make me rattle, I think instead I'm going to blog about a little issue that I have. I can say little now. It used to be huge. But now it's little. Confused? Yes, me too. Welcome to the phlegm club.

Aherm.

But, back to the issue. Reality television. There is, of course, every reason why I should not be someone who is drawn into it. I have a vocabulary which extends beyond expletives for starters. But the fact remains that I clearly carry the reality television gene. I look back fondly on summers of watching the big brother contestants wash up. Of voting for Will. Of laughing at Ant and Dec's banter and Dermot's dancing. Big Brother Four - you know the one won by the guy from Orkney - was loudly condemned as being the dullest series ever. And you know what? I loved it. I even compared it to a modernist novel. The reason I loved it? Because I came to care about what happened to those inside the house. That's where reality television truly holds its pull. Once you get sucked in and begin to care, basically you're buggered. You too find yourself indignant at Nasty Nick's actions. Or Simon Cowell's comments.

But if BB4 proved to be the highpoint of my reality television addiction, then it got taken to a whole new level by the tortuous-reality-television-show of that summer. For the first time I cared so much about people within a reality television show, for here the stakes were so much higher, there were dreams on the line rather than D-list celebrity parties, that it had the power to make me cry. And because I began to care so much it also made me see the flaws in the system. Bias. Manipulation. Editing. Possibly even down right cheating. And as I watched that final, trying hopelessly not to cry, consumed with indignant anger, my reality television bubble burst. Maybe I'd simply expended all the energy I could. But I also know my principles had kicked in. I'd seen what those newspaper columnists had been sprouting first hand.

That was two years ago. I haven't followed or voted on a reality television show since. For the first time ever I didn't watch streaming for Big Brother 5. I watched episodes when I was in, and I still garnered enough knowledge to be able to tell you roughly what went on last year, but it was all strangely distanced. Take it or leave it, almost. Which is something I could never have believed would be my attitude the previous summer. I didn't care. Equally so far this year I've seen the last five minutes of the opening show. I don't even feel any sort of craving to see more.

But if I've got my ethical head on that will forever stop - protect? - me from reality television and anything that has the Endemol logo on it, it doesn't mean that the gene has been removed. Oh no, it's still there. Which is why I find the idea of Big Blogger absolutely hilarious. So you won't get to see the participants wandering around in their pants...

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or be able to watch them eat their dinner...

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or even see what odd positions they sleep in...

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And your voting judgements won't be based on how many amusing jokes they can get out of a bale of hay...

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Or how well they play the guitar...

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Or have anything to do with their pants...

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Aherm. But you get the power of deciding who goes and who stays. Power.

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Sorry, I meant you get to enjoy their offerings. You might even like some of them.

Me? I can't wait.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Twist and Shout

Twist and Shout

This morning as the sound of my scout's voice wafted through the door I stuck my arm up to hit the radio. And then quickly withdrew it. I attempted the manoevere again to no avail. I tried to shift myself into a better position. The moment I did that it seemed as if someone had grabbed hold of my middle and twisted my upper and lower body in different directions. Which, by all the normal laws of physics, should not happen.

Stop it with the twisting, I yelled.

Or I would have done if there had been any point. Or any actual twisting, rather than just the shooting pain across my middle. Instead I settled for feebly and gingerly edging myself over.

Would you stop it with the twisting, you f**ker.

No, it wasn't working. I rolled over again, vaguely glad of the fact that there was no one present to observe the sight of me behaving like an arthritic eighty year old. Albeit one wearing miffy pyjamas. When I'd gotten myself into a position where the first thought was not to shout some heavy duty expletives, I looked down to my middle, just to check that my body was still in the correct alignment and that the lower half of hadn't popped round the wrong way during the night, like some defunct store manequin. No, everything seemed to be as it should. My feet were still the right way round.

But that didn't solve the issue of the twisting feeling, or the aching pain that was gathering around my right hand side. My back had been sore for most of the week, but I'd put it down to the beds at Evil Eye. They might want to invest in matresses for those things. But this couldn't be the reason for the twisting.

As I was pondering whether it was going to be feasible for me to find my painkillers or whether I was going to need the heavy duty morphine, I realised what I'd missed given my preoccupation with the twisting. My throat felt rather like it had been scraped with a sharp metal instrument. My nose felt clogged in that particularly unattractive way that requires extensive blowing. And I knew what the twisting pain was telling me.

You're getting ill. [Cue cackle and some more twisting].

It's not that I have some particularly developed, over-articulate hip bone, but ever since my haematologist in his wisdom thought it necessary to stick a wacking great needle in there to suck out some of the bone marrow, my hip has been a fool proof indicator of illness. It's a shame that it can't indicate something more useful. Like the lottery numbers. But instead it contents itself with gleefully announcing that I am about to be ill. Now I don't know the reason for this, maybe it's just that when I'm ill I'm more susceptible to feeling its odd pains. But I've come to see its activities as a warning light for when I should abandon my plans, curl up in bed and fester in my own illness.

I guess I probably should have seen this coming in that I haven't been properly ill since Christmas. That's probably the longest time I've gone since my immune system first started playing havoc. Which I count as a good thing, a real life indication of what the blood tests statistically say. But I equally know that when I get ill, I have to stop and accept it. There's no point me trying to battle through it, doing as I did in sixth form and attending lessons with a scarf wrapped around my head because I had the earache from hell, because my body doesn't work like that anymore. Just in the way that it can't pull those all night work fests that it used to be able to do. Maybe, in its own little way, my hip enacting the twisting, torture mechanism of its own creation is making sure that I don't keep going. That I retreat to somewhere warm and quiet until I feel better and it can stop the twisting.

So today I pretty much did that, I turned up the heating, slunk off back to bed with a copy of Dealer's Choice*, some ibuprofen and a lemsip or twelve. Tonight the twisting pain has moved into being what I can only describe as toothache down my hip and thigh. So on its behest I've cancelled my plans to go to the theatre and have pencilled in an afternoon with Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake.

Tomorrow, if everything goes to schedule, you can look forward to me blogging about my phlegm. Nice.

*Paddy's first play if anyone is wondering. I'm re-reading his oevre in light of my current obsession.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Tomorrow?

Tomorrow?

The college electrician came round today brandishing plans and a tape measure.

I know, I too had assumed that the college were going to allow the occupants of 48 Woodstock to either drown when the piping explodes or be burnt to death as a result of an electrical fire.

It quickly emerged, however, that the college electrician appearing at my door was not in order to make my remaining fortnight here any more comfortable but in order to plan what they're going to do with my room the minute that I move my belongings out and wave goodbye to the dreaming spires. So we're still good to go on that electrical fire thing.

I've known that the college have been itching to get us out of here for some time. The only reason that they let us keep our big, football pitch size rooms when they turfed out the second years and turned the rest of the house into teaching rooms was because we're finalists. And the deal is that the finalists are the ones who get the good rooms. Shoving us into one of the box rooms that were left after the rest of the room ballot had occurred would not have gone down well. So we were allowed to remain in 48, knowing that after years of student occupancy we'd be the last ones to do battle with the plumbing. But now, with the college rubbing their hands at the prospect of getting the moaning students who only pay one hundred pounds a week for their accommodation out, it's all change.

Within seconds the electrician had commented on the fact that the internet point is under the sink and that there's only one plug socket in the room. That this has been my refrain for the last year to no avail seemed meaningless. So, with his assistant, he measured up and, as I went back to pretending not to be spying on what they were doing, it hit me that this was the beginning of Oxford slipping away from me. The only thing that I can compare it to in my experience is when you're doing a play, caught up in the momentum and excitement, and then the show who are on next in the theatre come in for their pre-show meeting, checking your set and your get out plans. Whenever I've done a show I've always found that part incredibly sad, pointing as it does to the transitory nature of your experience. And now I've got the college actively preparing for my get out. In just over two weeks time 48 will no longer be my house, the room where I type this will no longer be my room, I will no longer live in Oxford. And I'm not sure how I feel about that.

I've been defined and defined myself by Oxford for such a long time that it almost feels like something is being taken out. A brick of my identity is being removed. I was the girl who was going to Oxford. Then I was an Oxford student. And whilst my year out managed to put the whole Oxford experience into perspective, I certainly didn't define myself by the tag that year, other people still did. And what comes next, what tag I will get in its place, is both liberating and scary. I know people who have graduated and yet are still hanging around, being to all intents and purposes Oxford students. All year I've wondered why, why they don't want to get out of what is an incredibly insular and idiosyncratic environment. I never understood. Today, facing the electrician measuring my room for some unspecified seating to be brought in, I understood. Letting go of the indentity thing is hard. Letting go of the Oxford experience is harder.

Up until now there's always been a safety net of some sort. I can honestly say that, so far, I've achieved everything that I've set out to achieve. Now, however, there's a whole new area of expectations and desires on my own part. And not ones which can be fulfilled by hours of revision or jumping through intellectual hoops. The stakes are higher and the safety net's gone. I'm not walking into a job in the city or some graduate training programme. Yet I've still got the alpha Oxford expectations on my shoulder. I've written every day for as long as I can remember. Fake Smash Hits articles and short stories when I was in my early teens, pretencious poetry, fake sitcoms and entertainment shows in my later teens, lots of autobiographical stuff since I hit Uni before, with SSoB, writing my first entirely serious and not tongue in cheek effort. I know that I will always have to write. It's more than a compulsion or obsession. It's simply something that I have to do. But I equally know that, given the standards that I impress on myself, if in five years time if it hasn't worked out, that I'm not writing professionally, then I'll have to move on. During that time I'm going to do everything possible to make it happen, but if it doesn't - and I have to accept that there is the chance that it won't - I have to acknowledge the fact that my own expectations will mean that I can't hang on to the 'what if' forever. I want to write more than I've ever wanted anything. The knowledge of this has always been there, but it's been half hidden, concealed for its own good. In the last couple of years, however, it's come to the forefront. But with the knowledge comes the realisation that, for the first time in my life, in embracing this desire I have to embrace the possibility of failure.

Maybe that's why there are still those people hanging around Oxford. Because to leave the protective covering is to have to attempt to live up to the potential we've all been told that we have. I can remember my first week here attending Fresher's Dinner. The acting Principal got up and said that we were the most talented people of our age group. At the time I was full of free wine and preoccupied, along with two of my near neighbours, as to whether it was possible to flip the dessert over without it imploding*. Since, however, it's haunted me a little. And I know that belief has haunted other people. It's impossible not to shudder at the amount of anti-depressants that Oxford students get through. Or the white faces of utter-exhaustion that litter examination schools. Potential's good as long as it doesn't suffocate you.

In watching the electrician, as the march at Oxford continues relentlessly with or without my approval, I also realised that whilst I may now understand those who continue to sit under the blanket of the university it doesn't mean that I want to join their ranks. To do that is to defer the inevitable. Or to attempt to avoid it. There has to be a point when you stand up to be counted. That you do something with all the praise and promise which has been dripped into your ears. When the 19th comes, and I leave Oxford, I don't know how I'll feel or what emotions will be rattling through me. I know even less about what will come afterwards. But I do know that whatever happens I can't sit back and let it all wash over me. Getting to Oxford was difficult, getting through some of the stuff that happened here has been even more difficult, but I'm here, writing this. I've made it this far, and there were times when I honestly wasn't sure if I would or not. And tomorrow? Sans safety net, cowboy boots in place, who knows?

*It wasn't.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Where I Talk Some More About Paddy...

Where I Talk Some More About Paddy...

Today was Paddy Marber's final lecture as the visiting professor of drama. I love the whole idea of the visiting professor, it's yielded some of my favourite experiences in Oxford. In my first year Stephen Daldry, director of Billy Elliot, held the title and brought in David Hare to read Via Dolorosa. I can quite honestly say that the experience of seeing Hare read Via Dolorosa will always live with me. It was one of those moments where the entire audience felt bonded together. And, relatively, there are so few people who will ever see Via Dolorosa that I feel hugely privleged to have seen even a read through*. Paddy's commitment to the post has been rather impressive, he certainly didn't have to come and see the New Writing Festival plays, or take part in the youth theatre programme that went with them, or even be willing to talk to students. I think meeting writers whose work you love can go one of two ways. You'll either love them more or you'll be devastated and never be able to look at their work in the same way again. I'm a huge Hare fan but from what I've heard I wouldn't want to meet him, my illusions would be shattered. Meeting Paddy, however, has only increased my fascination. That teasing line between writer and play is hopelessly intriguing and with Paddy it seems noticeably blurred. And, anyway, he's charismatic, witty and played 'Desert Island Shakespeare' with me. I love the guy.

Today Paddy brought along Cate Blanchett who turned out to be both somewhat stunning and noticeably intelligent. Maybe it was odd to hear someone who is unequivocally a 'film actress' - though she does still do theatre - talk about acting with real interest. It was startling, and rather wonderful to see her interest not in the circus around it all which she finds increasingly 'moronic'**, but in the process of acting. 'Reflecting humanity' she called it. Paddy's 'were you in the school nativity play?' may have been less sublime, but was equally amusing.

Paddy had started the talk by saying that he and Cate had almost worked together. Cate had been cast as Anna in the film of Closer originally. Then, however, she got pregnant, so it was bye bye Cate, hello Julia Roberts. As the talk progressed it emerged that Cate is starring in Paddy's next film [alongside Judy Dench] this summer. When Paddy revealed what this film is I had a hard time not spontaneously combusting and/or leaping from my seat. Paddy has written the screenplay for Zoe Heller's Notes on a Scandal. Now let me establish some things here:

1. I love Notes on a Scandal. I read it last year and couldn't put it down. I loved it so much that I've re-read it twice since then. And I re-read very few books, especially over such a short time scale. If I re-read then it's a book I'll love for life. If you don't know the story, it's a first person narrative of the events between an art teacher and one of her 15 year old students. But it's told through the perspective of another teacher, a rather sinister, oppressive woman who's somewhat obsessed with the art teacher. In short it's one of those wonderful books where you don't quite know what's going on or who you should trust. Given my obsession with The Great Gatsby and Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day I was always going to love such a novel. And don't just take my word for it - it was shortlisted for the Man-Booker prize.

2. I love the book on another level because Zoe Heller studied English at St Anne's. Given that St Anne's has only been co-ed since 1979 it's not produced any famous men but, along with famous Tory women - Edwina Curry, Mary Archer, it's got a history of having women writers in its ranks. Helen Fielding, Penelope Lively and Libby Purves are all alumni of St Anne's. And I love this little literary tradition. One day I'd like to be part of it. It rather makes me proud that so many female writers have popped up at St Anne's in such a short space of time.

So taking those two things and adding to them what you already know about my feelings on the subject of Paddy's writing and hopefully you'll get somewhere near the excitement I'm feeling about this. Obviously it could go horribly wrong. I might hate the adaptation. But somehow I doubt it. I trust Paddy. It's like hearing that David Hare had written the screenplay for The Hours all over again. I'm almost wetting myself at the prospect.

Away from my barely muffled over-excitement, the talk turned to Cate's reviews and the fact that she hasn't read them since she appeared onstage in Plenty and one reviewer said that the only thing that the production could have done worse than cast her would have been to have cast Dame Edna Everage. Paddy, on the other hand, revealed that he is obsessional about reading his reviews. Any reviews, anywhere, he has to read them however random and obscure. When Closer came out he spent hours searching the internet to see what people were saying. He gorges on the bad ones, but then maintains that after 48 hours he'll have gotten them out of his system. As for the good ones: "I've never bought into this 'the good ones are bad for you' thing". I'm with Paddy, how can you not love a good review? When SSoB finally got a couple of good reviews it had me smiling for days. Plus I know that I'm of the Paddy tendency, I'd be obsessionally reading anything I could get my hands on. It was also nice to realise that even people I think are hugely talented get stung by reviews, and hoard up those bad quotes. On the more worrying side it also means that Paddy must google himself a lot. Now I knew that he was more than internet savvy, he wrote a play in 1996 which featured an internet chatroom after all, but I hadn't worked through that fact. Eeek. If, by the laws of google, you ever end up reading this - I'm sorry for the 'Paddy' thing. You should forgive me though, after all I love Dan. And people who love Dan are a very select grouping.

At the end the cheers for Cate - and indeed Paddy as he'd been very engaging and witty - were louder than I've ever heard at one of these events. There was even what suspiciously sounded like whooping.

*Proper footnote alert; Via Dolorosa is the monologue which Hare wrote about his trip to Israel/ Palestine and it's written to be performed by him. Hence there's unlikely to be a revival.

**Both she and Paddy were very enlightening on the issue of the Oscars. According to Paddy winning votes requires "talking to lots of insane people in nursing homes". Cate said that she'd never actually done this, despite Paddy telling her to. Paddy, ever the pragmatist, would be "doing it like a shot if [he] got a whiff".