Wednesday, 20 June 2018

We Finish With Frasier

One of the comic situations which recurs in Frasier is the moment when another woman ends her relationship with him, usually because of some clumsy misdemeanour: he's accidentally dating two women and they find out about each other, or he calls his date 'mother' in a moment of intimacy, or he brags about his date's celebrity identity, losing her confidence in the process. Much of the humour depends on the way in which, as a psychiatrist, Frasier struggles to apply to his own life the insights he has, and those he ought to have.

In a final twist of plot, both my younger son and I have finished with Frasier, or rather with the eponymous series. After a year, probably two, spent watching each episode of each of the eleven seasons, we finally reached the last one.

We've enjoyed the ritual - sitting side-by-side on the sofa for twenty minutes of undemanding entertainment, which often had the satisfaction of a well-crafted line of script, or an exquisite moment of acting from David Hyde Pierce (Frasier's brother, Niles), or a great put-down from Roz, or simply the panoramic view of Seattle from Frasier's balcony: a backdrop to the series which is apparently not visible in this precise way from any actual apartment. Such was our commitment to the Crane family, that when John Mahoney (Marty Crane, Frasier and Niles' father) died earlier this year, we texted each other our sympathy. I felt gratitude for all the laughter  he (and his dog Eddie) gave us.



Although I didn't think I would be, we were both ready to finish with Frasier when we did. Those early seasons sparkled with wit and originality: by Season 11, the predictability of plot trajectories and the increasing unlikelihood of Niles and Daphne's long-going romance were not sufficiently balanced by wit. I grew tired of Frasier's ineptitude: of the inevitable moment when he would dim the apartment lights, flourish the remote control towards his high-end hi fi in an attempt to set the mood for yet another first date. It was becoming irritating - either he or I would have to move on.

The slow decline eased the ending. And so it was that we finished with Frasier without regret - or maybe, in the end, it was Frasier who finished with us.




Saturday, 9 June 2018

I Complete My 51st

I have finished my Fiftieth (50th) parkrun, but that was last week's news. Today, I ran my Fifty-First (51st). I was fuelled and inspired by the cake and candle Lucy Jay (LJ) gave me to celebrate.


I ate my slice of cake whilst my younger son ate a slice of his birthday cake, leftover from Monday's celebrations of his 18 years. We discussed the significance of 18 (voting, marriage without asking parental consent, drinking in pubs, 18 films). We discussed 17 and driving, then 16 (marriage with asking parental consent, age of consent).

He asked: Who'd want to get married at 16?
I said: Well, I did.
He said: You've changed.

We wondered if reaching adulthood is a process, or attained on one day, or, for him, at 9.04pm on Monday.

For my 50th parkrun, I dreamed of achieving a Personal Best (PB). I ran a harder than usual course in the grounds of beautiful Montacute House in Somerset with my Longest-Serving Friend (LSF), achieving a Personal Worst (PW). So, rather than hanging up my trainers and resting on my laurels, I got up today with renewed determination, did what I thought was a brisk run around my familiar Shrewsbury course, achieving a Personal Average (WTF).

My 50th cake was very good - almond and blueberry - for which it was absolutely worth waiting Two Hundred and Fifty Kilometres (250km).

My son said that the cake I made him, topped by a floppy-haired Hugh Grant, shows that I understand him completely. Now that's what I call a PB.




Thursday, 31 May 2018

I Papier-Mâché


When we were young, papier-mâché meant newspaper made soggy with home-made flour and water glue, and the anticipation of a hill to go alongside the model train set, and the expectation of mould a few days later.

More recently, as part of projects at work, I've learnt techniques which involve more sophisticated PVA glue, and a microwave for speedy drying. Occasionally, this has resulted in small fires. I used these methods to perfect my Allen Ginsberg and 'Scream' Emoji masks. Time well spent, I'm sure you'll agree.



Tearing up something in order to put it back together with glue, and from there making something which will probably only give pleasure to its maker (and that a temporary pleasure) might seem a pointless activity. But there are things which need tearing up, and this can be therapeutic.

I did a lot of ripping in Antwerp recently, acting as assistant to my son for his latest fashion design project - a red top. Biased or not, I enjoyed the wit of it - creating a red felt jacket and embellishing it with papier-mâché pieces made from The Sun, The Mirror, The Mail and The Star bought at considerable cost to my sense of dignity (I Blurt Out Loud). My son had no idea The Star even existed, and this after he'd seen proof of it.

The papier-mâché on this occasion was made by pasting strips of absurdity (MEGHAN IS NO BRIDEZILLA) to a chicken wire stole, layer upon layer, then leaving it to dry before applying varnish. No microwaves were involved but there was a lot of giggling.

Here's his creation - modelled by a co-student, photographed and then painted by him. There's a strength here and a hope: her resolute gaze steady behind what threatened to mask, distort and limit her vision.




Thursday, 10 May 2018

I Look Back At Schooldays

School - one way or another, I've been going to it for thirty, no, thirty-eight years.

I went to school as myself - sometimes with a hop and a skip, sometimes sullenly.  Not creeping like a snail, but weighed down, perhaps by unfinished homework.

I went to school, briefly, as a trainee teacher - into schools in Bristol with hope and adrenalin sloshing around somewhere in the region of my stomach.

I go - have been going - to school for longest of all, as a parent to two boys. 

Here's my youngest on his first day at school, his older brother leaning over him, gently protective.  Look how they match - their coats, their uniforms, their collars poking out.



Tomorrow is the last of the school days.  Yes, there are exams to come, but this is it: this is the moment I've been anticipating - one of those beginning-endings which lift my perspective from the day-to-day, and which lead me to take a long view backwards, forwards, inwards.

I already miss the routine of it - the pattern of my years. The start of the autumn term, which brings late summer heat along with new shoes, oversized shirts, and an upgrade to the next class.  Then the darkening, cooling mornings, the frenzy of preparation for performances, the exhaustion of December before the wide winter skies of January, the walk or drive home under the architecture of leafless trees, red sunsets long before bedtime.

And I'll miss summer sports day which in later years has become athletics day - the day of the year I'd take off work to sit on the grass and watch young people do ancient things - throw javelins, jump hurdles, throw a discus, then run like fury in baton-tied teams.

Then those glorious slumps into long summer holidays - endlessness: endless freedom.  The sheer stretch of it out all the way over August.

For years, we made Monday 'Sweet Day' (why do people choose Friday? - Friday has enough built-in joy).  Monday needs an additional energy - a rationale like chocolate, or ice cream.

We made the best of Mondays and we made the best of the work-juggle - the rush to the school gates for pick up, the days of illness which had to be managed somehow. The exhaustion at my desk, at their desks, the morning after a school concert had gone on past the watershed. 

I'm proud of the way we've have made the best of the my sons' years at school: all that learning done in-between the need to conform - sit down, stand up, be quiet, speak, stand, walk, run, no holidays in term time, no exaggeration of uniform... all that learning we've done, leaning into each other, holding onto ourselves with both hands.





Tuesday, 1 May 2018

I Advertise Poetry


I make a habit of getting involved in the organisation of poetry events - this coming Sunday, I'll be introducing and listening to over thirty poets and musicians as part of a celebration of Wenlock Poetry Festival - the festivals that have happened in previous years, and the ongoing work which happens, with less of a public flourish but with as much dedication, in-between times.

At these events, I am always amazed at the different and complementary ways in which poets express themselves - the variety of styles, the emotional range, the sense of commonly experienced life events expressed uniquely.  I know Sunday will be no different - it's why I keep on getting involved.

This week, I've held a new born baby, sat with someone who's in the depths of depression, congratulated a friend on her marriage, heard of the death of a friend, and yes, done housework, run for a train, seen cherry blossom, despaired at the news from Syria, and felt warm in the sun and cold in the wind.  Life is full, life is hard, life is amazing, life is tragic, life is hilarious - forgive these clichés - but I use them here to illustrate why I have this habit of getting involved in organising poetry events. For me, it's in listening to others make their own sense of these things that I can begin to do the same, and on Sunday, this sense will be made in word and music.

If you haven't already got tickets, just come along on the day, or follow the advertised links below.  It'd be lovely to see you there. 





Friday, 27 April 2018

I Blurt Out Loud

I broke the habit of a lifetime this week, and bought several copies of the Sun, Mirror, Star, Mail - for me, these papers are beyond the pale.

The papers carry stories, such as that about Alfie Evans, which grapple clumsily with issues of life and death, parental choice, the right to life, the right to die, the place of medicine in our lives all under the piercing headline, MY WARRIOR.

When I bought these papers: Sun, Mirror, Star, Mail, Express ... I included the Shrewsbury Chronicle amongst them. I was on the look out for red tops, and the word CHRONICLE appears in bold red text.  On the cover of the April 19th edition is the story of Grace Currie who was evicted from the Shrewsbury Hotel after mistaking the symptoms of her cognitive impairment for drunkenness.  Shame on them.  I know Grace through her artwork, recently exhibited at Theatr Clwyd in Mold as part of Nathan Davies' Save the Welsh Independent Living Grant campaign.  Her work is full of the truth of lived experience.

I also included the Daily Telegraph - as on the cover Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, was pictured in her red dress, straight out of hospital with her son, newly born on St George's Day.  CRY FOR MUMMY, ENGLAND AND ST GEORGE, quipped The Sun. Another red top moment.

I'm sending these newspapers to Antwerp where my own son is designing a jacket, a red top, as part of his fashion design degree.  They will be torn up: made into papier mache. The programme he's enrolled in has received an inarticulate roasting in the fashion press this week following the news that a third year student took his own life a few weeks ago. Students have since been talking to the press about the huge pressures they face on the programme, but the (necessary in so many ways) resulting article is poorly written - perhaps adding to, as much as alleviating, the confusion and sadness, rather than showing a pathway through it.

When I bought the papers, I blushed at the till as I fumbled with my purse. I provided an explanation in bold headline print to the sales assistant:  "THESE ARE FOR A PROJECT"; "I'M DOING THIS FOR MY SON".  The assistant barely looked at me, handing me my change as if what I was trying to say was already fit for tomorrow's chip papers.













Friday, 13 April 2018

I Scoff My Emergency KitKat

My emergency KitKat has served useful purposes today:

ONE - It lay in my unopened drawer, more than a month after I put it there. It signalled (to whomever might have been interested - probably only me -) that I am, in fact, capable of restraint. As long as I hide the chocolate.

TWO - I noticed it [having opened my drawer at 8.17am to look for a paper clip] for the first time for a couple of weeks. The sight of it gave me hope.

THREE - At 3.34pm, when drinking a cup of coffee, I chose to eat it.




FOUR - Yum.

FIVE - My emergency KitKat transformed scoff into a transitive verb.

SIX - Without it, I would have scoffed today. I scoff.

SEVEN - The objectification and consumption of a KitKat saved me from scoffing. An unkind thing to do.

EIGHT - It also reminded me of the other use for KitKats, and the reason I had a spare, emergency KitKat in the first place: their suitability for use as piano keys.