Thursday, 12 May 2016

a dad & his girl

I see a dad and his girl
Suncream applied in streaks of white they sit - waiting.
As the train moves off the girl braces herself, excited
She whispers something inaudible to her dad
She's shy and she wishes it was just them
Her and her dad
Beneath Mickey Mouse sunglasses, she believes it to be so

I start to fill in the blanks
Let the mum become a mystery

I imagine she's a nurse
That she's sleeping after a night shift
That they've kissed her goodbye and made their way
She wishes she could go but knows she needs her slumber
So she drifts into dreams of sea and sand and lets them be

And I imagine a divorce
Gone their separate ways, they struggle but survive
Have special Sundays and quality time
They keep smiling, and settle into a different way

And I imagine she's a writer, working to a deadline
Stressed but reassured thinking sometimes
Dad and daughter need their time too.
She shuts out the world and keeps typing

Or she's a long time passed

That this is their life but they're doing ok
They've made peace with sadness, it lingers still,
but they carry on

They talk about her, always.
She says mum would like this, too young to know if it's true,
but then of course she would

She's with them still, he knows,
and yet he can't help feeling alone
But he's not.
He's got his giddy whispering girl
and memories that make him smile, but make it harder too

the distance between what should have been and what is

But the sun is shining and they're off to the seaside
So he lets that be his world for today

I imagine her turning 18
A photo of that day placed on birthday card,
With words about his girl, now all grown up.

She's not seen it in years, it takes her back

She remembers those glasses, and pink jelly shoes
An ice-cream melting in the sun, making a mess,
And her dad, chasing waves with her, laughing

She tries to play it cool, make a joke,
But she's moved by the memory
She's felt a chaos lately but this brings her calm
Brings her back to what she knows and what she needs

And I settle back into my surroundings,
and remember it's not real,
But I smile, anyhow, at hypothetical hope
And the possibility of glancing at strangers

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Hardy Animal review [a performance about chronic pain & human resilience] - Battersea Arts Centre

Photo: Paul Blakemore
When I mentioned to people I'd been to see a performance about chronic pain - I often got a bit of a grimaced reaction. I wondered about people being uncomfortable with illness, particularly when chronic, but landed on the conclusion that any discomfort was with the idea of illness in entertainment, particularly as a one-woman-show. I guess there's a presumption of a bleak, heavy experience. But Laura Dannequin's Hardy Animal really wasn't.

For me, a performance about chronic pain was always going to be of interest because, having a chronic illness, I relate. So when I saw Laura Dannequin was bringing her one-woman show about her experience to the Battersea Arts Centre I knew I had to go.

The performance begins with Laura standing, a fair distance from us. A voiceover begins. We focus on Laura's physical presence, and our imagination follows the directions of her voice. She tells us of how she's standing still, how parts of her body feel heavy, how she wonders if anyone's clocked how disproportionately large her hands are to her frame. She comments on our act of looking, and hers too - meeting us with her eyes, she talks of connecting with members of the audience.

She talks of all the dances she wanted to do for us - a big fuck off of a dance, or a dance so beautiful it moves you to tears but you won't know why.

All of these comments, thoughtful and funny, bring us back to her stillness and to an absence. It feels like too long without movement. I wonder if she's swaying or if it's my imagination, and I wonder if she feels it too. We know she's imagining dances for us because she can't do the dance she wishes for us, for herself, and there's a real sadness to this and a sense of  loss - a distance between what she wants to do, and what she can do.

This stillness, and the tender, funny voiceover, reminded me a lot of Ivana Muller's 60 Minutes of Opportunism which I saw and loved back in 2011. For different reasons both artists play with ideas of performance, and prove that power can come from holding back and going against expectation. I was also reminded of the work of Forced Entertainment, in their use of microphones and lists, and the humour in the knowing of the audience-performer relationship.

At one moment early on, Laura (again, via voiceover) comments that some in the audience aren't quite sure if it's for them yet, and to hang in there. Perhaps she knows that on paper, or even in person - in the beginning, this isn't going to be for everyone. Her commenting on this, in an endearing but matter-of-fact way, is both reassuring and funny.

Once we finish this lengthy introduction Laura moves further back in the space, the lights go down and she is lit by torch light alone. She removes her top and, facing away, speaks, live, into a microphone. We learn about her pain, how it started, how it continued, the things she tried, the other things she tried, the things she was told.

It feels repetitive but it doesn't feel dull, it feels painful and truthful, and almost funny if it didn't carry so much real frustration.

As she speaks, she moves her bare, lit back. And it makes me think about invisible illness, and how even with clothes removed we're no closer to seeing what she experiences, but it's all happening beneath the surface. And that's difficult, as is the telling, and the inevitable isolation of it all, and maybe that's why she faces away. It's powerful.

The funniest moment in the performance though comes from Laura recounting conversations she's had with people about her illness. Without anger or bitterness in her performance, just a slightly weary fatigue of repetition, we see the patience involved in knowing people really have no idea and the many difficult conversations. She also manages to be informative re the nature of her pain, scientifically, which is illuminating without feeling at all dry.

I've previously felt a frustration at never seeing my situation reflected in art but I've realised there's no big drama in chronic illness. There's emotion at times for sure, and it's bloody hard, but the chronic aspect is key - it's enduring and it's exhausting. Hardy Animal was a brilliant exploration of that experience and the resilience and strength involved, but it also showed something really important - that illness does not define someone. Even when she couldn't dance, Laura was a performer. She was, and is, funny and charming and interesting.

And in this performance Laura gets to take back some control, of how her story and her body is seen, and I loved that.

So, if you're someone that suffers with chronic pain or illness I urge you to see this - it will make you feel less alone, you'll laugh and potentially cry in recognition.  But also crucially if you have no experience with chronic pain, I still think you should see it. Because it's funny, interesting (and great to get an insight into a more-common-than-you-realise experience) and because it's a really playful, powerful contemporary performance.

Keep an eye on Laura Dannequin's website for future performances of Hardy Animal.

And, just because I love him (how can you not?), here's a quote from Daniel Kitson on the performance:
"Entirely blown away by it. Hardy Animal is a spoken word and dance piece about a woman dealing with and working through her chronic back pain. I know. I know how it sounds. But it is entirely excellent. It's defiant and angry and sad and funny and beautiful, really beautiful, and brave, and just so very very good indeed."
Daniel Kitson
If you have a chronic illness, or are just interested, here's what I've written about my experiences

Monday, 2 May 2016

What I read in April

Bossypants - Tina Fey ★★
Pretty much exactly what you'd expect: insightful, fun, funny.

Strange Weather in Tokyo - Hiromi Kawakami ★★
This was a gentle and captivating story about friendship and love. Not a huge amount happens and yet it managed to be completely absorbing and addictive, and just really believable. I loved it.

Our Endless Numbered Days - Claire Fuller ½
I hoped I'd love this as everyone seems to but I really didn't. It might just be that I don't read a lot of YA and it's not for me, if it is indeed classed as YA. As strong as the world-building was, I found myself frequently irritated with the narration style - perhaps that the protagonist is so young and this is reflected in the descriptive prose, but I just kept wishing sentences to end sooner that they'd be more powerful for it.

I've also consumed several stories in this trope recently of someone coming back to society years after an abduction of sorts (not a spoiler, we know from the beginning) so my lack of enjoyment may have been fatigue with that too.

Then for Genrethon I read:
The Complaint - Nick Whitby (play) 
The Diving-Bell and the Butterfly - Jean-Dominique Bauby (memoir) ★★
The Collossus - Sylvia Plath (poetry) 
The Martian - Andy Weir (sci-fi) ★★
Bird Box - Josh Malermann (horror) 
Not The Worst Place - Sam Burns (play) 
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass - Lewis Carroll (classic) ½
Lungs - Duncan Macmillan (play) 

You can read my thoughts on all of these books and the readalong itself here.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves - Karen Joy Fowler 
This is a novel that I've heard about a lot, the name thrown around as a strong read, but without really knowing what it entailed and now I've read it I see why - it's hard to discuss as something so central is held back for so long. But I'll try!

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is an interesting look at family and identity, and belonging and alienation. The author plays with storytelling not just as writer but how we do this as people, what we want people to perceive a situation as and how we want to control their judgement. So that was interesting, but I struggled to really connect to and enjoy the story, perhaps because of the intentional slight bitterness of tone, and the feeling created by the very thing the novel explores - the positioning of the protagonist as an outsider. Though it builds to something more positive, there is a subtle sadness to this book that I found hard to shake off when reading, even when the action was exciting and intriguing.

So my not completely loving it I think was because the writing was strong and left an effect. I did enjoy the book overall - I wanted to know what would happen, or indeed what had happened previously, and I appreciated the playfulness of the plotting.

Let me know if you've read any of these and what you thought, or any other recommendations! I'm on GoodReads & Twitter.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

What I Wonder About The Royal Family

When I wonder about the royal family, I wonder about their day to day lives. I wonder if the Queen washes her own hair, and what she has for breakfast. I wonder if tea is only made in dainty china, never mugs. I wonder about the process of making a shopping list, the little treats they like. If they've ever had a Magnum.

I wonder how they process being princes and princesses. I wonder if, when the children are of an age to have a sort of understanding, they have a talk with them. Explain how it works. Explain that they're special. And how they do that without inflating egos. I imagine anxieties over little boys running riot at nursery, stealing toys - because mummy says they're royal.

I wonder if the Queen reads, and who her favourite author is. I wonder if she watches telly and I wonder if she secretly loves Loose Women.

I wonder about secret scandals, hidden romance and mental illness, and I wonder about their Sunday lunch - making small talk around the table and settling onto the sofa for a lazy afternoon.

I wonder if they see the humour, in a lifetime of waving and smiling, and I wonder if they ever wish for anything more.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Genrethon round-up

This week I took part in Genrethon - an online readathon encouraging trying out different genres.

As much as I was excited to get involved I was also wary of the concept of a readathon, worrying I'd get carried away and focus less on enjoying the reading experience and more on finishing books. 

I needn't have worried, the readathon didn't change the way that I read, it just changed what I read - meaning I tried genres I haven't ventured into before (horror and sci-fi), and picked up books that have been sat on my shelf for far too long (plays). I loved a classic I didn't expect to and finally got round to reading a brilliant memoir that I will now be recommending to everyone.

My reading list for the week was made with the idea of picking and choosing as I fancied, but I actually read so much more than I expected, hugely helped by mostly reading really short, quick books!

So overall I read eight books from six genres, and here's what I thought:

The Complaint - Nick Whitby (play) 
This was a play I'd bought as part of a mystery bundle, and I didn't love it. The set-up of a complaint within a crazily bureaucratic nonsensical society was kinda interesting, but I just didn't really feel any kind of reaction to it.

The Diving-Bell and the Butterfly - Jean-Dominique Bauby (memoir) ★★
This poetic memoir was stunning. Former Elle editor Bauby writes (via a transcriber, blinking for appropriate letters) of his life with locked-in syndrome, contemplating his new situation and the life he left behind. It was funny and thought-provoking, and just a wonderful read.

The Colossus - Sylvia Plath (poetry) 
This wasn't for me. There was more focus on nature than I'd expected, and amidst the mellifluous writing I struggled to connect.

The Martian - Andy Weir (sci-fi) ★★
So much fun! I enjoyed this way more than I thought I would, and found myself really needing to find out what would happen. As gripping as it was, it was also funny and generally a light read. I'll definitely be trying more sci-fi after this, and think it's the perfect accessible entry point into the genre.

Bird Box - Josh Malerman (horror) 
Horror is a genre I never read and now I have no idea why - I loved this. Really tense and genuinely scary at times with those fun hold-your-breath moments you get in good horror. I could completely imagine and believe in this world and found it really intriguing, nervously anticipating what would happen next.

Not The Worst Place - Sam Burns (play) 
Exploring two teenagers at a point of deciding whether to stay in or leave their hometown, this was an enjoyable read with a believable relationship and characters - though not powerful enough to leave me thinking about it for long.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass - Lewis Carroll (classic) ½
So I started reading a novel I've got high hopes for but wasn't really engaging in to begin with, and the protagonist mentioned Alice, so I decided to pick that up instead! And I'm so glad I did. It was a really fun read that I'd like to write about more. I loved the pure imagination of it and also Alice as a character - how curious and precocious she is. I did find, because it was so random, I needed reading breaks from it so I didn't grow tired of it but could just really enjoy it for what it was: fantastical, nonsensical fun.

Lungs - Duncan Macmillan (play) 
This is one of my favourite plays I've ever seen on stage and I finally got to reading it. Watching the play was completely absorbing and emotional, and on taking it in for the second time some of that emotion was lost with the surprise factor gone, but I still think it's a remarkable piece of work to read. It's a realistic, powerful look at a relationship that captures everyday moments and builds up to a snapshot of a lifetime. I think if I hadn't watched it I would imagine it would be a much more heavy watch whereas there are actually so many funny moments. I'd be curious if that comes through when just reading it.

Thanks to the lovely BookTube ladies who ran the readathon: UnderTheRadarBooks / Lauren And The Books / squibblesreads / ViennaWaitsBooks   

Let me know if you took part and what you read during the week :) You can follow me on Goodreads here, and also on Twitter.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Recent TV & film recommendations

I don't tend to write about TV or film but there are a few things I wanted to recommend and talk about a little, so here goes!


Behind Closed Doors
 aired on the BBC last month and was a shocking insight into domestic abuse, following the stories of three women over a year. This was a really difficult watch. Obviously I knew the situation was awful but seeing this footage was something else, and I found myself in floods of tears. I was also taken aback by the criminal justice system in dealing with these situations - it's just ridiculous. Though it was hard to watch it was really worthwhile and I would urge you to watch it if you can. It's on iPlayer until 14th April (1am).

Also on this issue (though watched a few weeks later), I watched the BBC one-off drama Murdered by my Boyfriend which originally aired in 2014. The story follows a 17-year old girl who meets someone and falls in love. Early on things don't seem healthy, and we watch the situation escalate over the following years until the conclusion of the title. And again, even though you know the premise and the ending going in - this was still a shocking watch. Simply done, well performed and definitely worth seeing. On iPlayer until 19th April (4pm).

Keeping with dark subject matters but definitely an easier watch was Thirteen, one of the first series to be produced by BBC Three and only available via iPlayer. This mystery drama begins with a girl's escape from the captor who abducted her 13 years previous, when she was 13 years old. The police investigation into this increasingly odd situation is shown alongside protagonist Ivy Moxam's reactions to the changed world around her, settling back into family life. Thirteen was a really intriguing, enjoyable watch - even if it didn't quite pan out how I'd expected with a slightly disappointing ending. Currently on iPlayer until August.

And to lighten the mood a little, this was originally on telly but obviously I just watched on YouTube - here's Jennifer Lopez's Carpool Karaoke, because I always love these but also it's made me remember JLo exists. What a babe.


I went into 10 Cloverfield Lane knowing nothing about the plot and I'm so glad I did. I don't want to say too much here except that I thought it was brilliant - a really gripping watch that kept me guessing.

The Big Short was more fun than I expected. I suppose if you're making a movie about the financial crash, you need it to be accessible and understood - and the way they handled this was really playful. The film was also more than important than I'd anticipated - exploring the deceit and manipulation of the banks, and how this affected people especially those earning the least, and with the least insight. It was also interesting realising you're rooting for people who will be making money out of other people's losses and the guilt from that, realising there's no heroes in this situation - it was just one massive mess with some more knowing than others.

An older film I caught this month (and by older I mean not in the cinema) was The Untouchables - a French film telling the story of a man who rocks up at an interview only wanting a signature to prove he's been. To his surprise, he gets the job - caring for a wealthy quadriplegic man. It was a really heartwarming, funny watch. It refused to patronise either character (often the case) and it was a joy watching their friendship grow.

Any recommendations please do let me know in the comments or over on Twitter :)

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Genrethon TBR: reading outside my genre comfort zone

Some of the lovely ladies over on BookTube (YouTube - about books: my new obsession) are hosting a readathon that I wanted to share a post on as I loved the idea of it.

From 10th-17th April they're encouraging you to read from different genres to your usual choices - reading at least three books from different genres. They'll be talking throughout the week on social media via #genrethon, and there'll be a live streamed chat on Sunday 17th April 8pm (UK time). So yeah, it'll be a lot of fun! And no pressure involved.

Personally, I tend to read mostly literary fiction and non-fiction memoirs. This is a good chance to try something new and see how I get on.

I struggle with the concept of a TBR (to be read list) because I always want to go with how I feel at the time. So I thought I'd treat this as a wishlist to choose from across the week.

I love theatre and see so much of it, yet I rarely read plays since I left uni. So I'll choose at least one from these three that have been sat on my shelf for far too long.
  • Life After Scandal by Robin Soans 
    This is a non-fiction play crafted from interviews with famous figures who have suffered downfalls and shaming at the hand of the media.
  • Not The Worst Place by Sam Burns
    Originally produced by Paines Plough (who make wonderful work), this is the story of seventeen-year-old couple Emma and Rhys. Having grown up in Swansea, they face the decision of if and how they can leave the place that shaped them.
  • The Complaint by Nick Whitby
    Described as a chilling play that begins with a work complaint but escalates into "a Kafkaesque world where nothing is quite as it seems". I'm intrigued!
Poetry: The Colossus & Other Poems by Sylvia Plath
I've been watching performance poetry online and live for a while but only recently got into reading it (I loved Andrew McMillan's Physical last month). I've heard great things about this collection.

Sci-fi: The Martian by Andy Weir
I never read sci-fi and so this seems like a good, accessible starting point. If you haven't heard about the plot via the film or much-discussed novel - it's essentially about a man stranded on Mars. Good starting point I think!

Horror: Bird Box by Josh Malerman
Again, I love horror films but never read them. Last one was probably from the Goosebumps series I reckon. Good times. I've heard a lot of buzz about this so have high hopes.

Memoir: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby 
Now I know I read a lot of memoirs but I really want to get to this ASAP. Former editor-in-chief of French Elle Magazine Jean-Dominique suffered a severe stroke aged 43, leaving him almost completely paralysed and suffering from locked-in syndrome. The book was dictated by him blinking his left eye to select letters to a transcriber, and the memoir explores his new life and perspective.

Graphic Novel: tbc
The last graphic novel I read was Daniel Clowe's Ghost World when I was about 16 and obsessed with the film. My plan is to go the library and see what they have - so any recommendations please let me know!

Fiction/YA: Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller
Because I started this the other day and may still be reading when Sunday rolls around. Which apparently counts towards Genrethon. Sneaky sneaky.

Let me know if you'll be taking part and what you'll be reading!

There's also a giveaway involved in the readathon, with details in Brittany's announcement video here: