Domestic Bliss

I take out the bin for pocket-money. It’s only 10p, she tells me it’s all she can afford. We both hold onto the washing machine for its spin-cycle rock’n’roll. Unhung pictures have collected weeks’ worth of dust, but we vacuum – now and then – and she scrubs. She’s taught herself to program thermostats, heating, even TV, but parental locks are beyond her. So my brother chats inappropriately with Tibetan monks and louche gamesters in France late into the night. She leaves the room quickly when the Skype jingle heralds another call from our dad. She tells us she is learning so much new stuff, foists recipes upon us too exotic for our tastes. Luckily, every two weeks we relax for a couple of days with Dad’s frozen pizzas or chicken nuggets galore.

Doorbell dings. ‘We’ve noticed your patio could do with some cleaning – we kill weeds, pressure wash, spray and all.’ I don’t know why she shakes her head smiling feebly, nor why she leans quite so closely on the door she slams behind them.

Overgrown, from bbc.com

My scabs grow new scabs –

each layer a way

to pave my path out of hell

into good intentions but

I scratch till fresh bleed.

 

 

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Theatre Review: Classics Revisited

Over the holidays, we had the opportunity to compare and contrast two children’s classics performed onstage. ‘Peter Pan’ at the National Theatre and ‘The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party’ (based on Alice in Wonderland) in a collaboration between the Royal Ballet and Zoonation. Instead of giving you my personal reviews of the two shows, I will let my older son do the talking. This is the one who likes both watching and participating in theatrical productions, but usually merely grunts: ‘Yeah, fine’ when I ask him what he thinks of something. For you, dear blog readers, he has agreed to be more eloquent on this occasion…

Scenes from the production, from culturewhisper.co.uk
Scenes from the production, from culturewhisper.co.uk

Peter Pan

‘The pictures advertising the show and the set we saw when doing the backstage tour earlier that day made me expect a very modern version of Peter Pan, but actually it was just the usual old one, with very few extra twists. Yes, Mrs. Darling played Captain Hook, and the staging was very modern, full of recycled materials, but I was hoping for some alternative storytelling. Perhaps the Lost Boys could have been from a deprived council estate, struggling to grow up and find things to play with. The pirates could have been a drug gang.

I also found the whole musical thing unnecessary. The lyrics were bad and barely audible, and the songs themselves were not very hummable or memorable. It was also muddled about exactly what age group it was for: too serious for little ones, but too many childish jokes for older ones.

OK, maybe I’m being a bit grumpy because I was tired after a whole day in London and had a bit of a headache. There were some good bits: the performances were generally good, especially Captain Hook; there were some really funny moments (Tinkerbell); and the flying and special effects and sets and props were all great.’

The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party

From the Evening Standard.
From the Evening Standard.

‘This was the exact opposite of the Peter Pan show: very original idea of setting the characters in an asylum and showing all sorts of mental health issues. It was unexpected, but executed very well, mostly through hip-hop dancing. The message is not told to you: you have to deduce it. Wonderland is the place that accepts all people, with all disabilities, but not everyone wants to go there.

It was all far too dark for the younger kids in the audience though, but if you were at least 10 or over, it was very good fun. Great music, very acrobatic and energetic dancing, and, though it was quite sad in the first half, it finished in a very upbeat way. They could have pulled fewer people on the stage at the end, though, as it was a bit embarrassing for them, but other than that… Really liked it! Sick!’

Peter Pan is playing until the 4th of February at the National Theatre (Olivier), while The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party (Roundhouse) closes after the 22nd of January.

 

 

Wind in the Willows – stage adaptation

windKenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows was not an integral part of my own childhood. I had read it at some point, probably when I was a little too old to fall under its storytelling magic, but too young to be gripped by nostalgia. I liked it well enough, but I only really understood it and began to love it when I moved close to Cookham, the small village on the River Thames where Grahame had grown up and where he lived with his sickly son Alastair, for whom he wrote The Wind in the Willows. When I had children of my own, we read it together and often visited the River and Rowing Museum in Henley, where there is a loving recreation of the story. My older son knew big chunks of the text by heart at the time.

So you can imagine that, five years later, when he heard that Simply Theatre in Geneva (where he attends weekly drama classes) would be producing a stage version of his beloved book, he was desperately keen to get into it. He had been unsuccessful in all of his previous auditions, and this was his last chance to get into a show before our move back to the UK, so we didn’t hold much hope.

But, in a wonderful instance of karma or poetic justice, he managed to get in! Just a small role and a member of the ensemble, but that was all he needed. Suddenly, my lazy, disorganised, dreamy teenager who moans about having to do homework, that he never gets enough time to play, that he can’t get up in the morning… well, he’s become disciplined, focused and incredibly hard-working. Not a word of complaint about all-day rehearsals at the weekends, going straight from school to 5 hour rehearsals in the evening, missing out on all the fun of playing with his younger brother and his friends.

Banners_980x340px-wind

Last night was the premiere (which is why I am posting twice today – plus I never know when I will next have access to the internet). The audience consisted mostly of parents, prepared to be indulgent and forgiving, as the young actors had warned us that there were still some glitches to be ironed out. However, huge sigh of relief, I could give my maternal bias a rest…

This is an excellent show! You can bet your life it’s not your average school production. Actress/director Selene Beretta certainly does not make life easy for her cast in this complex and ambitious retelling of the story of Ratty, Mole, Toad and Badger, rabbits and weasels. There is constant movement, countless sound and light cues, so many costume and set changes, a very imaginative recreation of the river bank, Toad’s mansion, the prison, Badger’s home and so on.

Although the adaptation has a funky modern feel to it, it stays close to the original and has captured many of the elements which make the book such a unique reading experience: the wit, larger than life characters, rollicking good story, but also the more lyrical aspects. I particularly loved Mole’s sense of yearning for adventure and Badger’s sage reminder that human civilisations rise and fall, while the rivers and wildlife remain. There were even some scary moments in the Wild Woods, reminding us that nature is not all cutey-wootey. But there are also those perennial moments of relaxation we all aspire to: just messing about in boats, having picnics by the river, chatting to friends…

Ratty-and-Mole-in-Boat-with-Dragonfly

Congratulations to everyone involved in this production! For those of you who are based in Geneva and would like to experience it for yourselves, the show continues until Sunday 29th May and you can book tickets online on the Simply Theatre website. I’ll certainly be going more than once (and not just to pick up my son after the show).

Greasepaint and Stage Fright

Two lines in Act Two, that’s all I get…

She treats us like five-year-olds and…

how can you remember all those steps

or carry high notes?

In the film they look cool but we are too giggly.

There’s no way I’ll learn that

when I’m not even in it!

So the squeaks and squeals thrill on…

Teenage acne and tantrum

hidden by make-up and costume measurements.

Toothless smiles and furtive chortles.

Each one the greatest star of the stage

in parents’ brimful eyes.

Image courtesy of Simply Theatre, Geneva.
Image courtesy of Simply Theatre, Geneva.

Back to School Poetry

Sharpened coloured pencils,

notebooks all in a row,

It’s the night before school and

I DON’T want to go.

Thank goodness it’s over, this summer a mess,
boring old grandma, my cousins all stress
over revisions, exams, they’re all older than me,
they’ve turned into a silly old goody-goody!

New teacher, new classmates,

Homework galore,

I’ll have to sit still

for two hours or more.

Finally be with my soulmates, those who understand,
together cut classes, or make a stand
against sarky teachers and all that brain freeze.
Put like that, ‘la rentrée’ is a breeze!

backtoschool

I imagined the thoughts going through the head of my two sons – one in primary school, one in secondary school – as the school year approaches. School doesn’t start until the 2nd of September here (and is known as ‘la rentrée’), but the shoe-shopping and hair-cutting dilemmas are starting already.

This is linked to Gabriella’s fun prompt at dVerse Poets tonight. Please visit us there for more reminiscing about the good old school days…

Review: No Other Darkness by Sarah Hilary

nootherdarknessSarah Hilary has a talent for revisiting a topical theme and making something very unexpected out of it. In her debut crime fiction novel Someone Else’s Skin, it was about domestic violence. In this book it is about parenting and child protection. Let me be perfectly honest: this is not an easy book to read as a parent of young children. I had to put it aside at certain moments, to regain my composure.

DI Marnie Rome faces that most disturbing of cases: two dead children, buried for several years in an abandoned bunker, with a new development built on top. There are no clues to help identify the children – no one of similar age was reported missing in the area five years ago. How can a child simply fall through the cracks of the social system?

This is a solid police procedural, as well as a tense psychological thriller, so there is a lot of steady legwork and realistic step-by-step detecting involved. However, is Marnie allowing her own experience of foster siblings to colour her judgement of the family who lives in the house on the site where the bodies were found? We have a limited cast of characters (and suspects) and a fairly well-defined geographical location, which all add to the claustrophobia of the story.

You can imagine the emotional effect on me of the opening chapter describing the two little boys imprisoned in what will become their underground tomb, gradually realising that no one is coming to rescue them. I had a lump in my throat. This is writing which really pulls at your heartstrings, without sentimentality or cheap gimmicks. There have been recent debates about crime fiction focusing too much on graphic violence and sensationalism, to the detriment of compassion, but this book is full of deep caring for the victims and the people around them.

Bunker
Swiss bunker, from Inhabitat.com

There are some other intriguing elements here as well, such as the ‘preppers’ (people who believe in impeding apocalypse and therefore prepare themselves for it by sheltering in underground bunkers). I knew these people existed in the US, but was not aware they had arrived on British shores too. Of course, they would probably do best in Switzerland, where (by law) ‘every inhabitant must have a protected place (a bunker) that can be reached quickly from his place of residence”.

Well-written, well-observed, never simplistic or obvious, this is a strong follow-up from a writer I will certainly be keeping an eye on.

Positives of the Year 2014

No matter how horribilis an annus horribilis is, there is always a mirabilis aspect to it as well. Translation: no year is so bad that it doesn’t have its golden moments. Readers of one of my more self-pitying previous posts will know that 2014 was not that great for me. But what are some of the things that I will remember with pleasure?

BookPile21) Reading: quantity and quality. 189 books, roughly 56200 pages, exploring new horizons, huge diversity in terms of languages, themes and genres. 14 of those got 5 star reads on my Goodreads ticker tape (mostly poetry and non-fiction, oddly enough). Only 1 got one star (Katherine Pancol, in case you’re wondering. Not that my modest opinion will affect her outstanding sales figures!). And although quite a large chunk of the books I read were published after 2000, there was quite a good spread of decades, going back to 1908. I’m not sure how they count the classics published before the 20th century!

2) Poetry: I’ve not only started reading more poetry this year in printed format (full collections rather than the odd poem here and there online), but I’ve also completed a poetry course via Fish Publishing, from which I learnt so much (even if it has temporarily paralysed me a little with self-censorship). I’ve also been much braver about submitting poetry, even if it has tailed off in the last few months of the year. I submitted to 17 literary journals and anthologies (multiple poems in each submission, I hasten to add) and have had a total of 9 poems published. (I’m still awaiting a couple of responses.) One of my poems was also longlisted for a poetry prize, which was an additional boost to morale.

3) Community: It may seem sad, but the online community of writers, readers and bloggers has become more real to me than the people who physically surround me. Call it expat isolation, arrogance or depression, but I choose to put a more positive spin on it. It’s easier to establish common ground and become friends with people who share your passions, even if they are scattered all over the globe, rather than try to pretend common passions with the people with whom you just happen to be living in close proximity. As a global nomad, I’ve become used to the fact that most of my best friends are an email or telephone call away in another country, rather than within easy visiting distance. It simply makes the times we spend together even more precious!

Having said all of the above, I should add that the Geneva Writers’ Group has been a wonderful ‘real’ community of people passionate about literature. Even if I haven’t been able to attend all of their workshops, it is a wonderfully diverse, supportive and inspiring group of people.

Zozo54) My Cat: This year in February, a cat finally came into my life, after about 4 decades of hoping and wishing for one. I say ‘my’ because she is most certainly ‘my girl’, rather than the family cat. She ignores my husband, tolerates my sons and even sometimes plays with them… and adores me. She follows me around everywhere, and is happiest when she is cuddling up to me, kneading the blanket and sucking onto it – I must remind her of her mother. She may be a bit of a wuss when it comes to other cats and dogs in the neighbourhood, but she’s a good climber and outdoorsy type. She is the most gentle, affectionate, obedient cat you can imagine. She has taught me so much about patience, unconditional love, quiet support (with a purr and a rub) and just generally being calm and relaxed.

5) My Boys: Well, you didn’t think I was going to forget about them, did you? They’ve been one of the greatest sources of stress and anxiety this year, but also one of the biggest joys. Intelligent, opinionated, argumentative, droll and completely unsentimental, they make me laugh and cry many, many times… each day! I just hope I won’t mess them up too much on their way to adulthood.

DrawMama

 

Hope you’ve all found plenty of positives in your year, and here’s to wishing you all a very good 2015! Thank you very much for your wonderful company and see you in the New Year.