Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Scenes From New Cross: Tea Bag

Scenes From New Cross: Teabag

We are between workshops, seated on the patch of grass that is sandwiched between the main building at Goldsmiths, the Gym and a building site. Christ Church Quad it is not. As I am being something of a girl and feeling cold I have endeavoured not to remove my cape and so have been sitting on one half of Breakfast Club Boy's coat for the last ten minutes or so.

"You might want to be careful" Breakfast Club Boy says eventually.

I wonder what is coming. "Why?"

"There's a split tea bag in one of the pockets and I think it's the pocket you're sitting on".

"There's a tea bag in your pocket?" It is something that clearly needs repeating in order for my brain to process it. Just as I also process that I probably have tea-bag marks on my predominantly white dress. Obviously the law of maximum stain damage would mean it would in my half rather than his.

I move slightly and begin to rifle through the inner pocket closest to me. It is only when I have begun doing this that I realise that going through someone's pockets is not actually a polite thing to do. Especially when you have commandeered half of their coat. This, however, does not stop me as I find said teabag. Which is indeed split.

I hold it in my hand.


There is, of course, a perfectly valid-ish reason for Breakfast Club Boy having a teabag. The same kind of reasoning which means I usually have sachets of coffee in my handbag. What moves it into the realm of abnormal behaviour is the fact that it is leaking.

I cannot help the obvious question, speaking as if I am a Primary School teacher and he has put his PE shorts on backwards. "And why didn't you bin it when it split?"

He smiles as if we are having the most normal conversation in the world. Of course the teabag is still in his pocket.

There is nothing I can do. I take the teabag and return it to the pocket, making sure as I do that I am no longer sitting on the offending area.

It is fair to say that I mostly do not understand boys.

Monday, April 27, 2009

It's Like 2005 All Over Again

It's Like 2005 All Over Again

I had thought that the fact that this time around I am not facing seven exams in nine days would mean I would be without the weird-dreams, lack-of-life and sitting in the library pale of face* and with unwashed hair as I came to the business end of my degree.

Turns out I couldn't have been more wrong.

Okay, I haven't stooped to such levels as reciting Andrew Marvell poems whilst in the shower or getting excited about Chaucer or scaring award winning Playwrights with the look of fear in my eyes. And, for all I like the idea of the writer-in-the-garret, there's been something curiously social about this experience. Library Lock In may have involved lots of computer time (erm, and twitter) but there's also been coffee breaks, extended lunches and on one only moderately painful occasion, Badminton. Oxford turned us into solitary fact eaters. Goldsmiths has turned us into a group with a level of co-dependency that means we can just about go to the toilet on our own.

But writing this new play has, in its own way, been just as crazy-inducing as those weeks of 12 hour revision sessions. There's been a 4,000 word essay for my Prisons, Punishment and Performance contextual course (in which I wrote 2,500 words on Bad Girls The Musical - see, working at the WYP really did pay off) but since I spent exactly four and a half days on that it would seem a bit churlish to lay much blame in that department. But the new play. That has been something altogether rather different.

Because this play of mine, not only does it have to stand up to a workshop, and the prodding and poking of my fellow writers, and then (in, shudder, six weeks) a thirty minute reading at the Soho Theatre, and beyond that the final project deadline and the small matter of it counting for a stonking 60% of my final grade - this play matters in terms of what I do next. Which is PRESSURE. And that makes me go a bit high pitched and squeaky. Or unsteady and hysterical as Arsenal Fan commented of me on Sunday evening when the library printers stopped working and I went to that place where only dogs can hear me.

Though I recognise, even sat here now, how wonderful in many ways this time has been. For so long my writing has been something that was made to fit around other things. A worrying proportion of Films About Ghosts was written in the FoH office at the WYP. This new play - oh, I should stop hiding the title, and just come out and say it is called foreverafterwards** - has been for the past few weeks priority number one. The time I have been able to devote to it, to simply researching or playing with ideas has been utterly wonderful. And that part of the process hasn't finished yet. Indeed, if anything, it will get stronger, more intense. Suddenly I realise that those seemingly endless Press Nights and vomiting children have bought me the time to do this. And that time is a wonderful, amazing thing which, even if it never comes round again, I will always treasure. I want to come back to the process of writing foreverafterwards in another blog soon, as it's raised some issues I've never experienced before, but for now let me say: the insanity has been worth it.

There have been other things that have contributed to the high-pitchedness. Obviously I've been ushering 3 to 4 times a week. There's been some job hunting for what I might do come the Summer. I've started reviewing for TotallyTheatre and have been shortlisted for What's On Stage's Blog Correspondent. I'm dramaturging two plays for StoneCrabs that have an inbuilt deadline of their production in June. I've also been given a project for StoneCrabs that not only thrills me but might actually pay me properly (I shall divulge as soon as possible). There's also something bubbling that might make next year very interesting indeed.

Oh, and in four days time I leave Forest Hill to take up residence with Dean and Director Boy.

Which all means, I suppose, that if I've hit levels of pre-finals crazy-ness in April, then May is going to be very interesting. I apologise in advance.

*So, yes, I am usually pale of face. But paler still.

**Yes, with no capital letters and as one word. Should you be interested it's stolen taken from a letter from Zelda to Scott Fitzgerald: "happily, happily foreverafterwards - or as best we could". You cannot imagine the number of different typographical combinations that this title inspired.

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Berlin Diaries: The Adventures of Mini David

The Berlin Diaries: The Adventures of Mini David

Whilst Charming Canadian, Irish Boy and I were spending lots of time walking around Berlin, attempting to find ice cream at 11.00pm and generally confusing the locals (or, when we accidentally wandered into the red light district, generally being confused by the locals) there was a fourth member of our group who had his own very special experience of Berlin. Only without the language barrier because when you can speak Judoon (and indeed five billion other languages) a bit of German isn't really going to phase you...

Even Mini David has to be tourist some times.

Mini David thankfully didn't have too many problems getting through security at the Reichstag, even given his sonic screwdriver. And what is there to do when you've climed to the top of the Reichstag dome other than get a holiday pic with the German flag in the background?

Coveting a bike in Potsdam

Taking a stroll in the utterly beautiful Potsdam.

Would you mess with this man? Me neither.

I think a historical Doctor Who episode might be coming on here. Big dresses, possibly a horse, certainly the invention of a cocktail three hundred years too early...

On the lookout at Sanssouci

And why not throw in the Summer Palace whilst we're there?

Hide and Seek

Though there's always one who has to go and make a comedy pose on a statue...

Mini David. Comic and Educational.

Mini David did manage to redeem himself by being a very effective (and informative) tour guide.

Rousing the crowds in Bassinplatz
Until, that is, he decided to start a revolution. Some things never change.

Mini David would like to thank Charming Canadian for acting as his official photographer whilst on tour. Charming Canadian took his role so seriously that he even laid in the middle of the high street for several minutes, whilst various locals laughed at him, in order to get Mini David's best angle. Clearly should the playwriting thing not work out, there's a new career for him.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

The Berlin Diaries: Theatre

The Berlin Diaries: Theatre

We find our seats in the incredibly cute Duetsches Theater in preparation for my second Medea of the year. Given that Medea number one lasted over six hours and stands as a defining moment in my theatrical going life it is probably fair to say that this one has a lot of ground to make up. But I am in a theatre I have never been to before, a theatre which works in rep and is showing productions of Alice in Wonderland, Simon Stephen's Pornography and (hear this!) Mrs Dalloway so I am more than willing to take a leap here. Indeed were it not for the whole language-barrier issue I think I could quite happily come and work here (they have six - count them six - people employed in their dramaturgy department. Clearly I should start German lessons as soon as possible).

The house lights begin to dim and I feel the familiar thrill.

Then, just before the lights have dimmed entirely, Irish Boy leans over.

"Is this in German?"

There is a fleeting second when my brain registers this. What with us being in a German theatre and all that.

I do the only thing I can do: I nod and then spend the next ten minutes almost choking in an attempt not to laugh.

It is safe to say that nothing in this Medea makes me laugh anywhere near as much.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

The Berlin Diaries: Stones

The Berlin Diaries: Stones

I look out to the sea of stones, rising and falling in front of me.

If I am honest I am not sure what I make of them and the fact that to my eyes, in the dull light of a grey afternoon in Berlin, they look almost ugly. Certainly they do not make my heart stop like the willow in Budapest.

Excited Tour Guide! says that the Designer has refused to explain what the piece means and then gives us a few versions of possible interpretations which have been suggested (her favourite being that the differing heights of stones represent layers of anti-semitism, culminating with the stones which tower above human height representing the Holocaust).

And then we are told to walk through, making sure we stay in a straight line given how easy it is to get lost within them.

I begin walking just as the first spots of rain begin to fall. I notice that some teenage boys are standing on some of the stones further along, just as tourists brandish cameras, posing in front of the stones.

Do they smile in the photos? Look at my holiday snaps - here's me smiling at a memorial for six million dead.

The thought loops around my mind as I walk further until the stones obscure everyone and everything around me, the path unsteady rising and falling beneath my feet.

The rain starts to become heavier, the path harder, the light darker.

And trapped between the stones, following this path, I am caught entirely unawares.

I do not know what this memorial is about. I could theorise, of course I could, but that would be intellectual posturing. A flippant, well worded, lie.

But I feel this. I feel it so much that it hurts. And there, just out of reach, on the periphery of my ability to articulate I, for that fleeting moment, understand.

I come out of the other side blinking in the grey light and, suddenly cold, wrap my scarf around my head, wondering where it is possible to go from here.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

"In your pink knitted wool dress"

"In your pink knitted wool dress/ Before anything had smudged anything/ You stood at the altar. Bloomsday."

This has nothing to do with Berlin (did I mention I just got back from there?), or indeed anything to do with the list of things I absolutely must blog about before I forget but I really wanted to flag up the utterly wonderful Free Verse on Flickr. It's quirky, intelligent and poetic photography. What's not to love? And it's all in honour of it being National Poetry Month in America. As I'm one of the 75 people in Britain who buys poetry for pleasure things like this make me very happy indeed. So, go look.

And since my MA has (if nothing else) given me a hugely increased knowledge of all things Canadian* I need to add that this is rather wonderful too. By the end of the month I shall be smug due to (possibly) knowing more about contemporary Canadian poetry than either of the two class Camericans. Poetry and smugness. It's a winning combination.

*I would not be mean enough to bandy about a phrase such as over compensating, but when you get an email which includes a capitalised sentence about the apple pie being Canadian such a phrase does spring to mind.

The Berlin Diaries: Language Divide

The Berlin Diaries: Language Divide

Charming Canadian, Irish Boy and I are seated in a restaurant on Unter Den Linden (yes, I shall be using German names in a bid to sound glamorous until it gets really, really annoying), having decreed that if we do not eat soon then we will be drawing straws for who will be eaten first. Given that we have been in Berlin for all of three hours this is the first real language barrier test. I did two lessons of German back when I was 11 and had to choose if I was going to study German, French or Urdu (yes, really; remember I went to an all girls school in Leeds). I undoubtedly had romantic notions of France and predictably made that choice. Which is not exactly much help currently. The only thing I can remember from that original German class is how to count to three. Which may or may not come in useful.

Unnaturally Blonde Waiter comes over to us, handing out menus. There is an automatic scuffle for the one Phrasebook we have between us. It turns out that German would be quite distinct from either French or English, the only two languages I am (reasonably) capable of decoding a menu in.

Unnaturally Blonde Waiter comes back. At least there is some form here, clearly he is going to ask us what we would like to drink. Not too difficult.

Charming Canadian is already prepared: "Wasser".

I am immediately impressed that he knows the word for water without prompting.

Clearly he has been far too convincing, though, as Unnaturally Blonde Waiter rattles off a question that I suspect none of us understand.

There's a half second of a pause.

"Oui" Charming Canadian says.

Now, I understand that. It not being German and everything.

Irish Boy and I order drinks, resorting to English and pointing rather than French.

Once Unnaturally Blonde Waiter has gone Charming Canadian puts his head in his hands.

"It just came out!"

And though I should not throw stones in cases like this I cannot help but laugh.

Unnaturally Blonde Waiter comes back with our drinks and then proffers another menu.

"This might help you".

I manage "Danke" as places the menu in front of me, silently glad that we're not going to have to decode German with only a visual phrasebook for company.

It is only when I glance down at the menu that I realise there might be another problem.

We have been given the menu in French. And to think we had assumed that at some point we would be mistaken for being American because of Charming Canadian's accent.

"He thinks we're French because of you!" I exclaim.

There is nothing else to do, Charming Canadian puts his head back into his hands.

It looks like those five years of French might come in useful after all.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

The Berlin Diaries: Ich bin ein Berliner

The Berlin Diaries: Ich bin ein Berliner

Back in January, sitting in Nice Pub, Charming Canadian raised the topic of getting a cheap flight to some unspecified location in Europe. Given that we are students which means that we get things like reading weeks and four weeks holiday for Easter (how completely decadent) this was decreed a very good way of spending time when we really should be working for that MA thing we're supposed to be getting. I, of course, agreed, for I love a crazy plan. After some plotting and planning and suchlike Berlin was decided upon. There was a false start, and we both lost and gained people on the way (yes, we missed you), but last Friday we flew out and I learnt that being fluent in Cabaret is not the same as being able to speak German.

So, what was Berlin like exactly?

Well, the official version went something like this:

Walking into the centre of Berlin down 17 Juni Strasse and the Brandenburg Gate rising to meet us for the first time, trekking to the top of the Dome in the Reichstag and surveying a city that still seems to exist of two separate identities, taking a four hour walking tour of East Berlin with a very excited (and only occasionally factually incorrect) Tour Guide, spending almost an entire day on the aptly named 'Museumsinsel' (Museum Island for those of you who, like me, speak only Cabaret) including seeing the Pergamon Altar, watching what can only be described as a very German production of Medea at the Deutsches Theater, riding the train out to Potsdam and seeing the utterly beguiling Sanssouci Palace and Park, taking a trip up to Schloss Charlottenburg and wishing that I had a big dress and spending our final evening inside the Sony Center, a landmark with its beautiful tented roof which is so irrefutably the Berlin of 2009 that it makes my heart soar a little.

There is lots more I want to say (and, of course, the unofficial version to come) but I feel compelled to say that Berlin caused an odd mix of feelings to arise in me. Maybe because I feel so acquainted with its history, because I trotted out the events that played out in its streets in order to score points in my A Level exams (ah, how right was Alan Bennett in The History Boys), it forced me to confront something that isn't in a text book but is real and happened and people, these people, lived through. Because Berlin doesn't hide its scars, the bullet marks are there for all to see. And because the city Berlin is now feels so familiar, so recognisable to me with its towering buildings and neon lights and expensive cocktails, that it pierced me.

I'm not sure how much more I can articulate until I've had time to digest but I do know one thing: I am incredibly glad I went.

And if you're wondering about the title of this blog - well, our hostel was just across the road from where JFK made that speech.