Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Trouble With Me...

The Trouble With Me...

I will (usually) have to win. Even with you.

I will talk for hours about Shakespeare and Woolf and Byron and Hare and Gatsby and The Waste Land and Birthday Letters and Beowulf and Stoppard and Marber and the Brontes and - well, I could go on. You've probably heard me. And just because I don't like Dickens doesn't mean that I won't go on about him too.

I will write about you. Not just on here - though I will - but you will pop up elsewhere, amongst the pages I have yet to write, the characters I have yet to breathe life into. I can't help it, you will colour my perception and I will try and capture you, in a sentence, in a phrase, in some oft seen movement that you believe is yours alone.

I will get righteously indignant about lots of things and you will have to listen. This can cross the entire spectrum, starting somewhere around Darfur and ending up with people who consider We Will Rock You to be theatre. You may think I can't differentiate between the two. I can. Just not when I'm talking with my hands.

I will get excited about the latest issue of Vogue and you will not understand. Sometimes I don't understand myself.

I will be arrogant. Not always, and not on a regular basis, but it will happen. You will notice.

I will get drunk, I will fall over, you will have to hold my hair back whilst I'm sick. I'll say it now - I'm sorry.

I will be a Drama Queen. There is no excuse for it; I know I'm doing it, you know I'm doing it but that doesn't mean either of us can stop it. It won't last (too) long. Hopefully.

I will not always answer my phone. My excuse is that I come from a long line of non-phone answerers (some would call us deaf). The vibrate function on my mobile has solved at least some of this problem but it does rely on my being in bodily contact with it. Which isn't, in society at large, always appropriate.

I will cry. You will have to understand that this doesn't necessarily mean I'm upset. I may well be happy. Or just watching Neighbours.

I will play The Mighty Snow Patrol on repeat. I will jump up and down to 'Mr Brightside'. I will cry to 'Fields of Gold' (see above). I will be a teenager again to 'Don't Look Back In Anger'. I will sing the Jesus Christ Superstar soundtrack with the intonations of the 2004/5 Bill Kenwright production because that is the only way to sing it. I will never quite get over Griffin's voice. And I will do all this and claim that in 'Nightswimming' you have something which ranks with the greatest poetry ever written. And whilst this may not be your music - which may be older, or cooler, or cleverer - it is mine and I will love it and you will have to understand this.

I will get scared and you will not realise until you read about it on here or much later still in some half fictionalised account. This is nothing to do with you, it is me.

I will make you read The Great Gatsby.

I will teach you about pashminas and Mulberry bags and standing with your eyes closed in the middle of a crowd and feeling your very existence in every cell in your body.

I will see the baby Einstein CDs in shops and I will pick them up and look at them and make noises about when I have a baby. You will be scared. Don't be.

I will always see the world refracted through the writers I have loved. I wouldn't change this even if I could.

I will be a Snob. Though I chide myself for it, there's something about the Dreaming Spires that does that to you.

I will always get excited about the Boat Race. Even though I can't row.

I will want to alphabetise your books.

I will be not only the sum of my accomplishments but of everything in my head. And that is how I will see you too.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Mulberry Bags - For All Your Life Needs

Mulberry Bags - For All Your Life Needs

Dean and I are seated at one of the high tables in the Slug - my having won the battle (this week) not to sit on one of the sofas where I find it extraordinarily difficult to eat without resorting to spilling my food down my front - winding our way towards the end of Sunday lunch. Because it is a Sunday and therefore it doesn't count I am having sticky toffee pudding. It is sticky. It tastes of toffee. It is therefore good. And if not a million miles away then the events of the last week (and the ulcer I'm sure they're giving me) have been bundled away, post-marked some date in the future where there will be more answers than there are questions.

We've been trying to synchronise our diaries, fitting in Dean's desire to push his socialite status to the max with the laws of geography and physics and whatnot, and talk has turned to next Sunday, when I've been invited to have dinner with Dean and Director Boy.

"You've got to promise me one thing".

Dean says this in such a serious manner that I actually stop eating the sticky toffee pudding, wondering if I'm going to have sign away my soul, my first born, or - more likely - any designer handbag I get in the next decade.

"Go on".

"You've got to promise - I know you wouldn't - but you need to promise anyway".

"Ok"

I'm wondering where this is heading now, sticky toffee pudding (almost) forgotten.

"You've got to promise that you won't sleep with my boyfriend."

Dean deapans it. I almost spray sticky toffee pudding over him as I begin to laugh. Dean, thankfully, is laughing too.

"I don't think that's something you need to worry about - but I promise anyway".

We've both got the giggles now, something which is ok because I'm sure that were the situation reversed (when the situation is?) with Director Boy in my position he would giggle too.

"Swear".

It's at moments like this that I realise that I'm not the biggest Diva in this relationship.

"On what?!"

"I don't know!"

We're all high voices and flailing arms.

"Ok - I swear on any future Mulberry bag I might get, I will not sleep with your boyfriend".

Dean smiles, fully satisfied. I remain eternally grateful that I don't have a Y chromosome.

Friday, February 23, 2007

How To:

How To:

Make me blog non-nice things about your theatre:

*Turn me into a famous Oscar Wilde character by telling me that I can't take my handbag into your auditorium. I understand that you have a policy on huge rucksacks and large Primark bags but a HANDBAG? I will grant you that my lovely Oasis cherry red bag is not small, but neither is it the biggest handbag I own. It has stuff in it that I might want - like my programme, and bottle of water (yes, I'm stingy, but I make up for it by buying ice cream) and my PURSE (thus allowing me to buy said overpriced ice cream). No, however well manned your cloakroom might be I do not want to leave my PURSE, my phone, my MP3 player, my hand crafted mittens, Mini David Tennant, my diary and the new book I bought from Blackwells on the way to the theatre in there. And because you will not let me into the auditorium otherwise I have to trek half way across the theatre (for the cloakroom is at the furthest point away from my door), stand in a queue for five minutes behind a school party before I speak to the Duty Manager who agrees with my mild outrage and tells me what I already know - YOU CAN'T MAKE ME PUT MY HANDBAG IN THE CLOAKROOM.

*When I ring up for tickets at the last minute I understand you may be very busy and therefore that I may not get a great seat. This is fine, I know how theatre works. What I do not expect is to pay for said not-great seat (at the same rate as the brilliant seats) and then to discover that there are at least fifty empty seats in a better part of the theatre. I understand that there are such things as house seats, and group bookings where seats aren't used, Director's club seats and suchlike and reserved tickets that are not collected - how these things, though, can relate to over fifty seats (only in the best seating area since my side was cramned) I do not understand. This makes me grumpy. I am a theatre snob. I will pay more to get a better seat. If this is a regular occurence at the Sheffield Crucible then it doesn't inspire me to make last minute seating purchases.

*Knowing that your production is to go in the Crucible (I'm not sure which theatre it's in when it reaches Stratford) design it so over half of the audience cannot see what is happening when you use the back of the stage. And then use this section for your big symbolic entering Arden and leaving Arden sections of the play which I, and many of my fellow audience members, cannot see. This makes me feel cheated because my seat has not been sold as 'restrictive view' which, frankly, it was bordering on (and I was in the middle of the side section).

*Have programmes which are, frankly, a bit rubbish.

Make me blog nice things about your theatre:

* Minimise my handbag rage by having a Duty Manager who smiled and acknowledged how stupid the situation was.

*Embrace the artifice and theatricality of As You Like It by opening with "All the world's a stage...".

*Put Jacques in high heels...

*And Celia in a gorgeous dress.

*See the darker side of Arden -

*But not get overwhelmed by this enough to forget that this is a comedy and a metal goat on wheels will always get a laugh.

To be momentarily serious, away from my mock rage, the three hour plus running time simply whizzed by which is clearly a good thing. And Sam West had certainly had a very good (and interesting) take on the play. If there was anything I didn't adore it was, with all its obvious theatricality (the calls for music to the sound box did begin to grate somewhere around the first ten minutes), that it was missing that last little bit of magic and sparkle that makes As You Like It my favourite of the comedies. It was too polarised; the first half was a tragedy, the second a comedy. And thus bits of the play got lost. And for all I like my comedies with the required dark undertone I missed some of the sparkle. It is one of the great aspects of the writing that Jacques, who revels in sadness, is stuck in a play which revels in happiness. If we take the setup too seriously, too ominously, then it's difficult to reconcile everything that happens (particularly some of the most questionable character turnarounds in the Shakespeare canon).

For all this though, I thoroughly enjoyed the show - it made me laugh, it made me ooo with delight a couple of times, and it made me think.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

An Ad Break

An Ad Break

If some of us (and by some of us I mean me) have spent the last few days lurching from one alcohol fueled crisis (Saturday morning's not being able to wash my hair because I couldn't move my head without being sick sticks out) to another (Monday night's - or rather the early hours of Tuesday morning's - total freak-out that involved me rather pathetically sort-of-crying in the back of a taxi*) then it doesn't mean that the week has been unproductive for everyone. Oh no, just because I am doing my best to up the 'Binge Drinking Youth' statistics in the Daily Mail does not mean others are not finding safer, more creative (if potentially only minorly less embarrassing) ways of entertaining themselves.

So the Florence to my Fred** has got himself a blog. This amuses me greatly because it is clearly proof that my indoctrination works. It also scares me slightly because after months and months of painting pictures of Dean on DA he now has the chance to paint me. And he knows stuff that would really make me blush. Eeek.

To attempt to be concise - Dean rocks. For lots and lots of reasons he is one of my favourite people in the entire world - and he can knit! So go, read him and tell him you love him too.

*When I'm feeling slightly less embarrassed by the whole situation I may publish the blog I wrote about this. Or you might just have to wait for the memoirs.

**Get it? Ok, it makes us laugh.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Where Life Isn't Like The Movies

Where Life Isn't Like The Movies

"So there we were, standing opposite each other, in the taxi queue in the pouring rain..."

"And?"

"And nothing".

"What is wrong with you? That's as close to Breakfast at Tiffany's as you're going to get!..

[in total exasperation] All you were missing was the cat!"

"Bugger".

Saturday, February 17, 2007

I Believe There Is A Lesson In Here

I Believe There Is A Lesson In Here

Things I Know About Last Night:

There was Opera. Orfeo at Leeds Grand I believe. Or at least that's what it says on my ticket. It didn't have an interval so for the first time ever I had to go to the toilet during a performance.

To add insult to injury I then GOT LOST and couldn't find an attendant to point me in the right direction. And when I came back into the auditorium it was at an incredibly quiet bit so everyone could hear me.

The production itself - rather static. Dean and History Boy, who both know lots and lots about opera in a manner which meant I had to blind them with Shakespeare knowledge for 20 minutes just to assert my own ego, weren't exactly impressed either. Neither were the women in the queue for the ladies after the show.

History Boy and I had a 20 minute debate on why I will not allow Shakespeare to be put in the same bracket as Dickens. Apparently it is cheating to try and win the debate by comparing Hamlet with Oliver Twist.

I drank my body weight (and then some) in alcohol.

At 2.00am Dean had to take me into the gents and hold my hair back. I don't think this was a highpoint for either of us.

Strangely I felt much better after this, almost better enough to protest at being asked to leave even though it was 3.00am.

Things I Know About This Morning:

Not that I am a Drama Queen or anything but I may be dying.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Please Remind Me Of This Next Time I Say How Much I Love Working In Theatre

Please Remind Me Of This Next Time I Say How Much I Love Working In Theatre

In the last two days I :

Have had 10 1/2 hours sleep.

Have worked for 27 hours.

Have seen eight different Shakespeare productions.

There is one more day to go. I may die.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

If Anything Does Happen I Suspect He Will Make Me Draw Up Blogging Guidelines

If Anything Does Happen I Suspect He Will Make Me Draw Up Blogging Guidelines

"I need to get it straight what you said - so I know how much damage limitation I need to do".

Dean takes my hand.

"It's ok".

I look at him.

"Go through what you said".

Dean looks at me, resigned to what is to come.

"I just said that Director Boy and me had been wondering how we could get the two of you together. I didn't mention your name but it was pretty obvious who I meant".

I take a deep breath.

"And what did he say?"

"He kind of put his head in his hands and said that he didn't want to talk about this".

"Brilliant".

"It wasn't helped by the fact that I couldn't look at him either; so I just said -"

It's now Dean's turn to take a deep breath -

"that we didn't have to talk about it but that I knew there was stuff in the way and he shouldn't get held up on that; if he wanted to act on it he should do but if he didn't he shouldn't but that I thought he should".

I look at him, inwardly dying a little.

"It was thirty seconds, maximum - like pulling off a plaster".

I've begun to make involuntary noises. In the middle of Leeds.

"This all came from me".

The opportunity to blame Dean appeases the thought of my life burning quickly in a (Health and Safety tested) controlled dustbin fire.

"Did you say anything else? Anything that made it sound like this might have come from me?"

There's a pause.

"I just said, hint, hint".

I eyeball Dean.

"Hint, hint?"

"That's all".

"Oh no".

I know for all my terror Dean's enjoying this a little too much.

"What made you do this?"

The only acceptable answer to this question is obviously something to do with armed gunmen, slow painful torture or imminent death.

"Because if I leave you two to it then nothing's going to happen".

"Well, maybe that's the right thing".

"I'm not going to sit back and watch you both miss something".

Dean's momentarily entirely serious. It takes the wind out of my sails somewhat.

"And why do you think we're missing something?"

"Lots of reasons, but the thing that clinched it was your play".

If there was an answer that I was expecting it certainly wasn't this.

"My play?". The realisation slows me down, forcing my voice to a more appropriate public conversation level.

"Yes, SSoB".

Suddenly it's starting to make sense.

"Because you think I wrote him before I met him".

"Exactly".

"So let me get this straight, you did all this because of a fictional character. A fictional character who doesn't get the girl".

Surely this gives me the moral highground. I know the plot of SSoB inside out. I press on.

"He does not get Kate!".

It's triumphant. Final. Match point.

Still holding my hand Dean looks at me in a manner that is both strangely innocent and rather disconcerting.

"This time he might".

And for the first time I honestly don't know what to say.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

ABL: "Patch me up boys, take me home"

After Birthday Letters: "Patch me up boys, take me home"

My final retrospective blog comes from a period of my life [Spring 2003] that I've - fictionally - written about before, though never quite as up close and personal as this blog became. Such is the brain of someone who considers themself a writer I can remember sitting on the hospital trolley working out in my head how an online diary of this day might go [these were the days before I used the word 'blog']. For lots of reasons that entry never got written but it's lurked in my head ever since; something that I knew one day I would have to write just because it's too good a story not to. To name drop shamelessly, Paddy Marber told me that one day I'd have to write more on this subject. Having started writing what I thought would be the little anecdote which starts this blog I realised there was more I wanted to say. So maybe he is right. Maybe this is one of my stories that I haven't yet articulated as I would like.

In "An Average Rock Bun" Alan Bennett goes over some very similar ground - though infinitely more eloquently - and it would be remiss of me not to preface this with a quote: "For a writer, nothing is ever quite as it is for other people because, however dreadful, it may be of use". I can't begin to explain how right Bennett is. But maybe this blog goes some way to proving the point.


If ever there was an item of clothing that needs seriously looking at then I for one would like to nominate the hospital gown. Even I can accept that this may be one item where any pretensions to style or co-ordination have to give way to functionality, but what I cannot accept is when it looks like a sack and its supposed functionality is meeting neither my needs nor that of the Doctor who needs to puncture a hole in my chest.

"You'll need to put it on backwards" the nurse had said as she handed the offending gown to me.

"Backwards?" I echoed, rather hoping that I'd misheard.

"Yes, backwards, the holes need to be at the front". She didn't say this unkindly or harshly, but in a neutral tone, the same tone I have come to expect over the last few days. If there's one thing to be said about cancer, it really does give you a license to be dumb without anyone berating you.

I'd hrrumphed a bit as a put the gown on, not sure that I was quite ready to lose the last vestiges of my dignity quite so early in the process. I had wanted to cling on to a little bit of it at least until the bone marrow biopsy that I have a sneaking suspicion will involve showing my bottom to a Doctor I haven't even had dinner with.

As I sit with my back to front gown however, proudly informing the world at large that I am incapable of putting my clothes on the correct way, I have to concede that maybe the battle is lost. Dignity gone. I just hope that I don't accidentally flash anyone.

I've been perched on the trolley - in a hospital corridor no less - for about five minutes when a smiley nurse with spikey blonde hair comes towards me carrying a jug filled with pale orange liquid and a plastic cup. I assume I'm not being offered home made squash.

Blonde nurse smiles as he reaches my trolley. I smile back, pretending that I'm not half naked.

"We need you to drink this"

Blonde nurse hands me the cup and I nod. And then, more apologetically this time:

"All of this"

"All of this?"

"All of this"

It's a demented echo, neither of us able to get past the obvious as I look at the jug. If I were at all mathematically minded I'd be able to work out how much liquid is in this jug, but I'm not so I can't. I know enough just by using my eyes to say that there is far, far too much for my bladder to contemplate. Regardless of anything else I know I'm going to spend the rest of the day on the loo.

"Ok"

I say it as breezily as I can muster, resigned to the fact that I am half naked, incorrectly dressed and quite likely to wet myself. Blonde Nurse smiles and continues his round of jobs.

I'm half way through my second cup of what seems to me to be coloured water when it strikes how ridiculous it is for them to have given me a cup. A nod to something much more civilised than I'm going through. It's not like I'm sharing the contents of the jug, they could have just dispensed with formality and given me a straw. I'd be no worse off and the NHS would probably have saved a few pence.

By cup three even the hilarity of how incongruous the cup is has worn off. I'm drowning in the stupid stuff. I wonder just how stuffed up my Doctor would be if I accidentally poured the remaining contents of the jug down the side of the wall. Would he even know? There's surely enough liquid in my body already to sink a small ship.

For a moment or two I seriously consider this course of action. But then I remember that I'm 20 years old and even if I do have a disease invading my body it doesn't give me an excuse for petulant behaviour. I am not six years old.

Blonde Nurse returns just as I finish the jug.

"Well done"

I wonder if this means I'll get a sticker and a lollipop.

He takes the implements of my torture and smiles again.

"It won't be long now"

I smile back but I don't say anything. What is there that I can possibly reply?

For the last few days, in those odd quiet moments when I've been allowed to sink into my own head, I've wondered about this thing in my chest. It's not been worried wondering, it's not even been angry wondering. It's more...intrigued. Curious. I've wondered if I should name it. I've half settled on Henry. I can't see it, I can't even feel it, but just knowing its presence makes me feel it deserves marking. Instinctively it's a Henry.

Blonde Nurse comes back. It's time.

I'm wheeled into the room where Henry will get his 12th scan of the week and where, if we are both lucky and he isn't buried too deep or hidden behind something too vital, the back-to-front gown will allow easy access to his bulk. Will I wake up to find him in a small jar, a more sinister version of my tonsils?

My Doctor - not the Doctor whose rooms in the upper floors of the John Radcliffe hospital have become almost a second home in the past few weeks, but my Doctor for today, the one who first spotted Henry - goes over the process. Again. Repetition, it's part of the deal. The Doctors don't expect you to take everything in. I realise that he's going to inject me with some substance I don't know the name of. The injection itself doesn't bother me - I'm a veteran of the needle and confess to having very little sympathy for anyone who is even remotely squeamish. What I don't like is the fact that it's a Doctor doing the injecting. Give me a Nurse over a Doctor every time when it comes to an injection. Can't someone get Blonde Nurse back?

Within seconds of the substance entering my body I feel its effects. It seems to be generating its own heat, blistering its path through my veins.

I consider for a second where I will be when I wake up. I've already developed an aversion to the ward where those of us whose bodies are attacking themselves congregate as out patients. Today, a day I suspect is a mass chemo day, the ward is crammed with people attached to wires, complete with their packed lunches. A daytrip gone wrong. There's a strange buzz to the place that I didn't recognise when I was shown around earlier in the week. The whole ward stinks of it.

As I was waiting to see the consultant this morning I could overhear the conversations, the not quite muffled pronunciations of numbers, of white cell counts, things I can't start to understand. I know the makeup of my own blood, I take curious pride in the sheer ridiculous notion that my body seems to have that it can support itself when one particular guard of white blood cells which number less than 2% in most people make up 27% of mine. But these numbers that I overhear this morning, to me they mean nothing. They are neither hope nor despair nor anything but numbers. To the people involved, however, they're either rafts, tenuously pulling them to safety, or weights pushing them further down.

After one particular breakdown of numbers I hear a woman, much older than me and wearing a brightly coloured headscarf, break through the buzz clearly:

'This means I'm dying, doesn't it?'

There's no aggravation, or panic or even despair in how she says this. It's as stark as that, gently probing, mildly perplexed like she's just been informed she's missed the last bus.

And I know why I dislike the ward. And that curious smell.

It's the smell of people dying.

The surge of heat continues, bringing with it strange sensations as my body ceases to be under my command. There's another injection. Then -

Nothing.


NB: The title is a line from David Gray's 'Hospital Food' which, both in the context of the line I used and the title of the song itself, struck me as perfect.

This blog marks the final installment of my blogging birthday retrospective posts (at least for now!). I had to end with this one simply because - if I'm honest - it's the one I'm most proud of. Undoubtedly it cost me something to write - something I didn't quite envisage when I dashed it off a week or so ago - but which I felt vividly when I re-read it today and it made me cry. The writing, I guess, is doing what it should be doing.

Beyond this blog I hope you've enjoyed the chance to peak into my past. Certainly I've enjoyed the experience. And I have to admit - it's good practice for when I write my memoirs...

Saturday, February 03, 2007

ABL: "All That I Am, All That I Ever Was"

After Birthday Letters: "All that I am, All that I ever was"

This blog comes from late Summer/early Autumn 2002 and was one of the first that I knew I'd have to write when I decided to revisit significant moments in my life. It's slightly different to how I imagined it would be - more accusatory, maybe more arrogant, certainly more knowing. Maybe writing in retrospect will always endow the past with such a tinge. Curiously I was writing an online diary at the time that this took place [though a tad intermittently by this stage] but it never seemed the place to write this down. I guess it was a little alien to the inhouse style of the fairly idiosyncratic persona I'd created. And maybe it's a moment that's only become so fixed because of all that happened afterwards. I can't help but think this is because it's my last identifiable moment before life got complicated. At the time I thought this was the Epilogue. In reality it was a Preface.

It's undoubtedly less a love letter to the person I was with, though his part shouldn't be underestimated, than a love letter to Oxford and everything which the name evokes.


We start off walking down Broad Street, hands joined, going nowhere in particular.

The evening's been spent in the hazy, slightly awkward (for me at least) confines of the Union, talking to people who are his friends and not mine. One of them - clearly oblivious to the reason I was in that upstairs room in the first place - had asked if I wanted to go to the cinema with him. I'd politely declined, trying not to betray the fact that I was slightly worried about being dismembered and ending up in carrier bags under his bed if I did. Other than this blip, everyone's been nice; nicer than I would have expected if I'm honest.

This night is just one of many that will happen as we play our relationship out against Oxford landmarks. Usually they belong to him - the Union, with its endless rooms and new people to meet, who shake my hand for slightly too long, and whose names I don't quite remember; his quad which I don't like as much as I do my own; his houses which scream out that they are owned by boys; his rooms which, as a rule, are bigger than mine. Sometimes the places are more neutral, adopted for reasons neither of us quite understand; Christ Church Quad which is beautiful and which we are both secretly envious of (though neither of us would ever say this out loud) and where we are possibly at our happiest; G and D's ice cream parlour, crammed in the available space on high stools eating - in my case at least - which ever alcoholic flavour is on offer that day; The Eagle and Child where we always fight for the booths at the front, hidden from view and yet a perfect vantage point for grabbing anyone entering the pub. Occasionally - ever so occasionally - they belong to me, though this seems to be principally confined to my kitchen where he - who can cook - will admonish me who can't. For reasons I never quite understand I dislike him entering my territory; he turns up in my college bar one night, not invited by me, and I am unexpectedly annoyed.

But as I walk down Broad Street all this lies ahead.

We reach the gates that provide the barrier to both the Sheldonian and the Bod and which are open - are they always open, or is this just tonight, at this time? I can't quite recall - and he pulls me through. As we run across the gravel I laugh, for once tripping this path not because I have anywhere to be, not because there is a drama meeting in Brasenose or a book I have to read in the Rad Cam, but just because I am alive and in Oxford and therefore I can.

As we giddily run across those ancient cobbles as fast as my balance will allow us I think of how many people have done this. Because you can hear those footsteps, if they are anywhere then they are here.

We pause to look up at the Rad Cam, illuminated in all its glory. I turn away from it effortless beauty to look at him, conveying my thanks wordlessly for this.

For making me understand how fucking lucky I am to be here.

We sit down, limbs entwined. As I stare out I get the surge that I have had before and will have in the future, but which is maybe never again this acute; that shot of how much I'm in love with this place.

This shattering brilliance, this Rad Cam, this Oxford; it belongs to me.

Us.

(Though the us is noted as an after thought, something altogether less solid and concrete; something infinitely hazy and not quite formed).

We're here, almost postcard worthy and, I happily note, certainly novel worthy.

In 10, 50, 100 years time others will tred my footsteps and they may hear me, just as I hear those whose footsteps I follow.

It is my story, my history. And, more than that, I'm now part of its.


NB: The title is, of course, taken from Snow Patrol's 'Chasing Cars'; there is no doubt in my head that if this particular blog were a song then 'Chasing Cars' would be it.

Friday, February 02, 2007

ABL: That Goddam Big Suitcase

After Birthday Letters: That Goddam Big Suitcase.

This blog comes from January 2001 [with a little help from the travel diary - named 'Breakfast at Bloomingdales' - that I wrote in the weeks that followed]. For my 18th birthday my parents - to my eternal delight - paid for me to go to New York. I spent the five days I was there almost entirely breathless as I hopped from one iconic image to the next. I hope in the next few years I will return, if only to add to my collection of Bloomingdales bags.

Of the things I did during those five days the subject of this blog is one of the much smaller moments but it chose itself simply for what it says about me; I realised at this point of the trip something fundamental about the person I was becoming. To this day I adore wandering through cities on my own, I find it hugely liberating.

Two days earlier I'd held my breath and waited. And it had appeared - rising upwards, the Manhattan skyline greeting me with an assault of a thousand images. Singing homage to itself through all those films and tv shows. Making me think of Gatsby and Daisy, of Holden Caulfield, of John Lennon, of Chandler and Joey. I hadn't wanted to miss a single second, unwilling to lose anything as we drove to the hotel and I mapped out in my mind all the places I recognised. And then I'd gone to the hotel and watched the episode of Dawson's Creek that was premiering some months before it would appear on Channel Four.

Now, however, I've started to get a hold on my surroundings. I've been to the top of the World Trade Centre which served principally to show that I am a city girl, moved by the sight of bricks and mortar and that New York can almost engulf you with the realisation about how small you are. I've been to the Federal Reserve where I got strangely excited about being given a mashed up packet of old dollar bills and where their lift made me feel incredibly motion sick. I've walked down 5th Avenue, managing to find the time to pose outside of Tiffany's, albeit with shopping bags rather than my breakfast. I've even been to the Jekyll and Hyde restaurant that featured potentially the most comically inept waiter and potentially the most bizarre entrance almost-ride that I suspect I will ever encounter. There's been pictures in Times Square and the biggest breakfasts of my life in the local diner. Tomorrow I have a full schedule - a boat ride out to the Statue of Liberty, more shopping and then a meal and the Empire State Building in the evening where I intend to fully pretend that I am in the closing scenes of Sleepless in Seattle.

Tonight, though, there is no plan. New York is mine for the taking.

Due to my own restlessness and impatience at waiting for my friends on a whim I've got on the subway on my own, arranging to meet them later. If I'm honest I'm longing for some time to myself, to wander aimlessly with my own private movie playing.

It's 7.00 o'clock and though the winter darkness has descended the streets are still busy, lights blazing as the shoppers are out in force. I join the throngs of people, making my way through the shops, buying a DKNY top from Macy's and a fantastic necklace from a tiny jewellery store.

I stop at a crossing, joining an already groaning crowd at the edge of the pavement. The lights change and I start to cross.

As I move over the road, bags swinging, going nowhere in particular but looking to the rest of the world like I am it strikes me - I am alone. For a brief moment I am not a tourist, I am simply another person in this city, owning a little piece of it as I tred the streets.

And though I know only five other people in this huge sprawling city - and at this moment have no idea as to where they are - it doesn't bother me. I feel liberated; powerful; alive.

Mostly importantly, though, I realise with a start - I'm not scared.

NB: The title is taken from memory - and therefore might not be direct quote - but in spirit it comes from The Catcher in the Rye from when Holden Caulfield describes a suitcase being dragged down a New York street. Should you be wondering, The Catcher in the Rye is one of my favourite American novels and the book I think every teenager should be made to read.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

ABL: "Let Me Entertain You"

After Birthday Letters: "Let Me Entertain You"

This blog comes from what was a fairly intense period of my teenage years, sandwiched as it is between my Oxford interview and the eventual acceptance [which would fall through the post about five days later] and a mere month before my 18th birthday and New York. At my school the Sixth Form Entertainment, an annual collaboration between Sixth Formers and members of staff, was a fairly legendary beast. Being placed in charge of it was something of a big deal, but I fell into it more out of organisational despair than any feeling of destiny. Strange how things work out. I'm fairly certain that had it not been for this day I wouldn't have felt so compelled to submerge myself in drama when I got to Uni and if I hadn't done that I'm equally certain I wouldn't have started writing plays or ended up working at the WYP. I guess it goes to show just how accidental life really is.

If there's anything I love about this particular blog then it's the subtext. Ah, it's wonderful how much emotional distance six years affords; needless to say there's someone within this who was very important in my becoming the person I am today. A couple of years later he wrote in a Christmas card that I was his 'proudest achievement' and, even though he now thinks I'm a stalker, I owe him rather a lot.


"Is everyone ok?"

I look out at the faces peering back at me, a couple nod but no one speaks.

I turn away and unable to hold my curiosity in any longer I peak out of the side of one of the long velvet curtains.

The school hall, for the last 6 and a half years of my life the scene of assemblies, concerts and aborted lessons where PE teachers would - misguidedly in my opinion - try and make me dance, is once again awash with faces. The pre Christmas excitement is manifesting itself in high pitched chatter and a bewildering array of tinsel adorned ponytails. For the first time I'm not amongst it, I'm separated, looking out.

I feel a little thrill of excitement mixed with something I momentarily can't place. I swallow and then realise the taste in my mouth to be something resembling abject terror. I close the gap in the curtain as quickly as I can.

My eyes slowly adjust to the backstage gloom and I try to shake off the knowledge that we've only had one complete run through. And that there are more costume changes than I like to remember.

And possibly most importantly the little fact that I'm presiding over the most complex Sixth Form Entertainment Show that my school has ever seen.

If there's been one constant in the last six weeks or so then this show has been it. As I sat in my concrete block room in Oxford preparing for my interview I received a call about a problem with the running order and putting George Eliot aside for a minute I sat down and sorted it out. Four hours ago I changed the running order for what has had to be the last time. It's not good for my sanity.

As I fuss unnecessarily with the sound system and go over my cues I spot Science Teacher. He comes over.

"You alright?" I ask, smiling as much as I can muster given the distinct possibility I might be sick.

"You know I haven't slept for a week, right?"

I smile at him.

"Seriously - every time it's always like this".

"You'll be great".

And I don't say it just because it's the right thing to say, but because I really believe it. Everyone likes Science Teacher even if no one would ever say so out loud. I bicker with him chronically; me mocking him for all that enthusiasm for nature he harbours, him mocking me for being shallow and reading and liking Bridget Jones's Diary. In reality I think he's brilliant. I probably always will.

Beyond the curtain I can hear the noise beginning to fade. I exchange looks with Science Teacher and then it occurs to me that I still have people standing on my stage. I run, hands flapping, directing people to where they should be standing. Once I've done this I martial my first set of actors to the entrance they need to come in from.

I take my place by the running order again. There's a small delay. Silence.

Then, as suddenly as the silence descended, I'm overwhelmed by the sound of laughing.

I hear the opening line. More laughter. I realise that I've started to breathe.

After that I don't have time to think, there's too much to do as I get pulled into the rigours of the show making sure everything is happening when it should be. But even in the midst of this it occurs to me that hearing an audience laugh at something you've written - even if in this case it's a glorious pastiche of the television hits of 2000 - there's surely not a better feeling than this.

"Happy Christmas - my arse!"

To the final deafening burst of applause I go round pushing everyone out on to stage to take their bows. I watch from the wings, elated and triumphant. Then I feel someone grabbing my arm and I'm pulled out, forced to the front. I survey the audience wondering what the protocol is, I've left my actress days far behind after all, should I curtsy?

The dilemma's solved by someone filling my arms with gifts and before I can properly process anything the attention of the crowd has moved on. I step backwards and the curtains close in front of me.

Despite the continuing bussle I stand still for what is probably all of ten seconds but which feels like forever.

Then I turn round, noting the destruction that has been wrought in the wings and move away from the spot.

And for the first time I feel this emotion sweep on me:

It's over.


NB: The title owes itself - clearly - to Sir Robert of Williams, though I confess that the song involved is far from being a favourite of mine.