The Papergirl exhibition has come to Bristol, and the organiser (who happens to be a good friend) asked me to submit something for it. Because I cannot draw, I decided to write some art instead. It’s about having feelings and emotions and hating what other people believe. Hope you like it.
Off the Page, The Guardian’s series of ‘microplays’, are all under ten minutes long, each focusing on a topical or political, though sometimes ill-defined, British socio-economic issue. The framing of them under the banner of theatre seems both unnecessary – they are, after all, simply short-form video – and novel; one presumes that this format-merging was as much for accessibility as for a Brechtian impulse to detach the viewer from their ‘suspension of disbelief’ to provoke a verfremdungseffekt.
My impression has been mixed. While each is well made and relevant in its way, some of these videos immediately evoke the stereotype of the “Guardian-reader’s delight”.
School Gate, for example, plonks two middle-class white Mums in front of neighbouring school signage reading Magna Carta Primary (NB: it’s the English school) and Wisdom Primary. The latter is of course the Muslim school, in which the enlightened Mum is totally cool with her white British daughter wearing the hijab as a school uniform, and staying behind for after-school prayer, even though we are to assume that their family aren’t Muslim…
Similarly, PPE’s performative ‘politicians’ repeating humanoid gestures rings true but obvious, and ends with a sweet, innocent child (read: not politician) running around to incredibly annoying music. These reductions just don’t have the nuance to speak at the volumes they believe they are.
Saying that, Britain Isn’t Eating and Death of England fare much better at brief but telling exploration of a single issue (food poverty and national identity, respectively). Not only due to performances by the ever-watchable Katherine Parkinson and Rafe Spall, but also because their monologues and characters leave much more to the imagination. The chaos and unresolved pain that follows Spall’s tirade and Parkinson’s ignorance rang far truer for me than any of the other ‘messages’ in the series.
The few of you who I know read these posts might remember that a while ago, I did a writing exercise with my Dad. Turns out he’s a very good writer, and makes hilarious puns about quarries, which people like a lot. It ended up being one of my most popular entries last year. (2015 resolution: work on stone-based humour.)
He does a lot of driving around the country as part of his work, and offered to give me a lift back to my hometown on his way from a job recently. Packing the last of my things, I found him waiting for me, freewriting to pass the time. I didn’t know he did this (and have subsequently found out that ALL 5 of us in my nuclear family write; we’ve just never shared it with each other.)
It was about happiness. I asked him to email it to me. I had to share it, and to say that I’m very happy at the end of this year, especially to have my Dad still here. Big thanks to everyone for all 2014-related support. If you’re at all struggling, which is often the case for us at Christmas, I hope you find some comfort in the following. Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays.
Look Through Any…
In the van, home along the M27 near Portsmouth, and next to me a box of old tapes unheard for years. Let’s try this one. Small moments of elation come when familiar favourite tracks chase each other through the tape, in the vehicle that takes me to such enjoyable sessions in the planetarium…
Yes, it’s Look Through Any Window by the Hollies. Singing along. “See the drivers on the road; where do they go? Look through any…”
Ahh, the tape finished before the song did.
Elation cut short.
And in the big picture, the happiness we share and create in each other will inevitably end, with us, too; but unlike the Hollies’ voices, which leave not even a faint echo on that roaring road, we have also created images, writings, memories in others that will please down the years.
Happiness inevitably cannot last.
But its monuments are photos and letters, people taught and entertained, people helped and healed. Its monuments are Lydia, Elizabeth and John. And what happiness they achieve is in the same endless river as their children’s, our parents’, and ours too.
I was very happy to watch Question Time with a bunch of friends last night as we had a pre-Christmas reunion, to share in some kind of rare political group engagement. The call to watch was the obvious draw of Brand vs Farage, though the fight never ensued – in fact, everyone behaved exactly as expected. Almost.
Pretty much all responses were business as usual; Farage was a barely-veiled xenophobe, Mary Creagh was a cringe-ily solemn mouthpiece for why the Conservatives are well rubbish and you should definitely vote Labour in the next election which is totally coming up you guys, and Camilla Cavendish fence-sat her way through a far more eloquent promotion of pseudo-liberal-and-kinda-righty values than the Tory MP.
Russell Brand said all his usual bits too – all the things people with screentime refuse to acknowledge and with all the vigour they should be acknowledged with – and he even threw in the most sincere fart joke I’ve ever heard. But surely the highlight was a first glimpse of humility from someone who, in all of his solidarity for those struggling against inequity, has previously refused to acknowledge his own continually misogynist outbursts.
While I was not convinced that by donning a NoMorePage3 t-shirt earlier this year Brand had officially come-out-as-feminist, I was glad yesterday to hear him not only acknowledge and chastise himself for calling Penny Mordaunt ‘love’, but to note “I’m working on it”. Shortly after, Creagh pulled him up on his fraught interruption, noting that men talking over women is perhaps also something he should work on – and his response was to apologise. Clearly, and without defensiveness.
People are far from perfect, and as much as I appreciate Brand, his brocialist attitude is painful. But if he is going to be the only mainstream mouth shouting about injustice and inequity in Britain, I’m glad he appears to be learning and working his way out of it. When we can admit and work on our failings, publicly, we can all actually turn up and work together. Here’s hoping.
Prolific indie music mag Overblown have once again kindly asked me to write a review, and since it was for YOUR FIRST STUDIO ALBUM IN YEARS, I was more than happy to oblige. However, the album did bring back traumatic memories of nightmare propaganda piece Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, so excuse my whimpering take-down of one of my favourite bands.
I hope it doesn’t hurt for you as much as it did for me.