Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Battling the forces of darkness at Christmas

It was about this time last week that the lights went out.

They'd been flickering on and off for a while as the storm tantrumed like an overtired child before they finally gave up completely.

We were staying with my boyfriend's family at their farm in Sussex for Christmas.  We had a wood burner to keep us warm, a Rayburn to keep us fed and an abundance of piping hot water to keep us clean. All things considered we were in a pretty pucker position, especially compared to the thousands of other people across the country who had none of these things.

We also, however, had a hero in our midst.

Dave's dad.

The day before Christmas eve he unblocked the overflowing pond next to the farmhouse, to stem the rising flood in the cellar. Twice.  The second time he was up to his in neck in the pond (making the waders a somewhat pointless fashion accessory).

Later he put the freezer, which lives in the cellar, on stilts above the flood water when the rain refused to stop pouring down and the water continued to rise.

On Boxing day morning he fixed the leak in the internal water boiler which had burst in the (heavily over used) Rayburn,  before some of us (cough cough) had even got up.

But it was during second milking, on Christmas eve, he had what might be called a 'light bulb' moment.

By the power of a homemade generator, a cable with plugs at both ends (don't ask...) and sheer practical ingenuity, Dave's father was able to bring light back to dark places.

Over the course of the next few hours he worked tirelessly to hook the three households and the farm up to (some limited) power.

Christmas was saved.

It was during Christmas dinner (an evening affair on the farm as cows need to be milked twice daily whatever the occasion) that the power did come back on*.  A moment of respite for our hero?  Hell no.

Between desert and the cheeseboard Dave's dad went around to each of the houses, disconnected the generator and reconnected everyone to the mains power supply.

We watched Man of Steel when we got back to Bristol.  "Pfft," I say to you,  "Man of Steel, get back into your useless fantasy box".  Real life problem solving is much more impressive.

I really hope Dave's dad has a quieter new year however, cos even heroes need some time off.

Wishing you all a heroic and happy new year!

(*hurrah - a huge cheer for the folks out working on Christmas day to make this happen)

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

The 'Bring Back Christmas Cards' Campaign

As a teenager I thought my mother's annual Christmas card writing sessions were insane.


It seemed to me that a whole lot of energy was invested in writing basically the same stuff many many times over to a whole bunch of people you hardly ever see and therefore can hardly care anyhow about you or what you've got to say.  It was, in effect, an activity akin to the sort of 'writing lines' type of punishment doled out at school.

That said, my mother, who in all other activities in life was a big one for efficiency, did not believe in the typewritten 'newsletter' style of Christmas card writing.  Quite early on in life I knew the only response to a printed Christmas letter was to sneer.  That person had not put the blood, sweat and tears into the activity that my mum had.

She believed in handwritten, crafted, personalised letters, tailored to the individual.  And she knew a lot of individuals. It was a marathon, physical effort she put in, huffing and sighing over the cards, pausing from time to time to shake her weary, cramping hand throughout the exercise.

This year I have done the thing that every daughter fears.  I have become my mother.

But (valiantly trying to rescue myself from this admission and move us all along to another thought...tra la laaa...this way please) actually I believe the act of Christmas card 'giving and receiving' is becoming something of a dying art in our generation.  We're all 'elfing ourselves' at best or sending Merry Christmas texts and emails.  It's not even as though eCards have successfully taken over where Hallmark left off, and let's be honest, they're not so easy (or as nice) to put up on a bit of string around the sitting room.

So this year I decided to write Christmas cards because after we've all got over reviving vinyl and mixed tapes, I reckon Christmas cards are set to become the next retro 'must have' in everyones lives.

And actually it's been a revelation.  Firstly I've had to perform something of a 'data cleanse' as 30 - 40% of my address book is, at best, names and mobile phone numbers.  Secondly it turns out that it's really nice to write to people I haven't necessarily seen all year.  Like most people, most years, I've had a pretty mad one this year and haven't managed to move much out of the village that is Bristol to see people, or to generally stay in touch with folks as much as I would've liked.

Initially I intended to just dash off a 'To [insert name] [Insert greeting already published in card] Hope you have a super Christmas and New Year, much love...'.  Job done.  But I rapidly found myself writing a few more lines. And then, before I knew it, I was filling up most of the cards with writing. On both sides of the card!

It may have been noted that I huffed a bit and sighed slightly over the card writing.  I may even, from time to time, have stopped to shake my weary, cramping hand.

But reader, I enjoyed it, and I have every intention to do it again next year, to even more people, even if I don't get cards back because eventually everyone will get back on the Christmas-card-writing bandwagon I am sure...

Yes, you may now leave this blog and go 'elf yourself' (*argh, more mumisms...Help! Help!).

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Se7en Dwarves opens at the Wardrobe Theatre, Bristol

Se7en Dwarfs opened at The Wardrobe Theatre, St Michael’s Hill on Wednesday evening last week.
A cross between nineties Hollywood thriller Se7en and Disney’s version of the fairytale Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the show offers an original and darkly funny adult alternative to the standard seasonal pantomime.
Detective Sner White (Emma Keaveney-Roys), forced into early retirement three years ago, is called back into the police force for her insight into a gruesome new serial killer.
Like all the best cops, Sner White has a flawed personality.  Plagued by comparisons with Disney’s Snow White since childhood and thrown out by her mother when she was just 16 years old, Sner learned at a young age that she ‘had to grow a pair’.
White is a great character, a superbly performed horrible experience.  She is loud, obnoxious and sleep-deprived to the point that she is only just teetering on the right side of sanity (most of the time).
Visually stunning, her bright yellow flares, blue jumper, red bum bag, ebony hair, pale skin and deep red lipstick mirror the colours of her Disney counterpart as precisely as her personality opposes it.
Side-kick Bramley (Adam Blake) by contrast is the familiar, affable dull-witted foil to White, lacking her vision, and the ability to see the obvious.  Dressed in the standard trench coat and hat of a 1940s film noir detective Bramley’s performance is anything but beige, as he sets up and carries off some laugh out loud pieces with aplomb.
The plot is pacey, carried along by a good balance of dry humour and slapstick, and manages to twist neatly at the end.  The limitations of the performance space in terms of set, scene changes and size of cast is incorporated into the humour of the piece with dead guys moving themselves off stage and office chairs becoming convincing (enough) cars.
White’s struggle to repress her cartoon original’s desire to burst spontaneously into song is used to good effect throughout, however the ‘big singing number’ towards the end feels a little unnecessary and out of place.
Equally White is at times a bit too shouty and uses swear words so frequently their effect can be wearing.
That said, director Anna Girvan has created an exceptionally funny show that generates all the informality and chaos expected of a panto-esque production whilst also refreshing it. The use of popular culture references from the film Se7en, the fairy story of Snow White and the Disney cartoon is in keeping with the tradition as is the well-executed ability to take the irreverence of the genre to a more adult level.
The Wardrobe Theatre is a great alternative venue, situated above the White Bear pub.  The show runs for 1 hour 15 minutes and costs a mere £5 so is just the right side of affordable.  Performances are nightly until 22nd December.
Related links:
The Wardrobe Theatre: Se7en Dwarves

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

My Christmastide wish list

The thing that I am most looking forward to at the moment is what the Germans call 'zwischen den Jahren'.  This is the time in between Christmas and New Year, when all the hysteria of partying and present giving subsides.

It is a gentle, grey time, where days can flicker into brightness - sometimes even startling sunlight - for a few hours, before the horizon is once again soothed with tangerine strokes of settling colour.  A crisis of cerise and then the greedy darkness of the long night takes hold.

This margin of time feels magical to me.  The year that is just passing releases it's hold over us; the year to come has not quite started yet.  Here then is time without demand, a secret time, rarely planned and with so little expectation placed over it, anything is possible...

My favourite time to write is late at night.  It's not so much that I'm a night owl, rather that the demands of the day recede like an outgoing tide, leaving behind an empty beach of a page on which it's okay to make my mark without fear of letting someone else down by not doing the things I have promised them I will do.

The 'zwischen den Jahren' is like an extension of that.  It is a time for sleeping and reading and writing and taking walks out into the quieter-than-normal countryside.  A time for staring at the lights on the Christmas tree and talking lazily about nothing-very-much in front of a roaring fire whilst nursing a wee dram of whisky or a mug of tea.

All I really want for Christmas is a 'zwischen den Jahren'.  And the madness before that is more than a reasonable price to pay...

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Kicked into Perspective: Why taking a lunch break is really important whatever your job

I got kicked out this morning.

It was totally brutal.

Kicked out of my own flat, shoved out the door and told I couldn't come back for a couple of hours until I'd wandered around and had some 'Bectime'.

"BECTIME?!?!" I thought. "What the hell is Bectime at a time like this?!?  Term is ending, deadlines are looming, December is a horrifically short month business wise and He thinks I need Bectime?!?!"

The 'He' in question is of course my boyfriend.

Frustratingly, it looks like 'He' might just've been right.

Once out on the street I ambled down Cotham Hill.  I bought an advent candle.  Spent more money than I should've done in the Oxfam bookshop buying books really for me but with half a mind to Christmas presents (as a 'reasonable' excuse for frivolous spending).  I went to a cafe, ordered a pot of tea, wrote my journal, flicked through a magazine about Bristol, did some sewing of a gift I'm making for a friend.  I bought household essentials from Sainsbury's to get us through the next 24 hours and came home.

In that sort of saccharine way that you'll hate if you're a hater of hippie spiritual writings, it kind of turns out I brought something else home with me apart from dinner and some books.  Along the way I appear to have picked up Perspective.  And Perspective is starting to sprout a really calm and collected Plan.

One of the challenges of freelance/portfolio working (apart from dealing with it having a name like 'portfolio' working - I'm renaming it to 'patchwork working' I think) is that you don't really have a normal week.

I've been doing *something* work related - whether MA, business or barwork every day and night for about 10 days.  I'm not complaining (honest guv!) at all but I'm just staring down the barrel of proverbial truism that actually all work and no play leads to unimaginative, unproductive and cross procrastination rather than anything else.  On that basis it definitely makes sense to go take a break.

So wherever you are, whatever you're doing, my suggestion is that right now the best thing you can do for you, your employer, the people you care about in your life, your general mood/state of mind is to go put the kettle on, grab a chocolate hobnob and spend ten minutes doing something totally different.  I can't promise you what you'll do after that is going to be amazing but you'll feel less agitated/angry about it.