Monday, April 27, 2009

Radio voice transmission

I am so noughties I could eat myself. Not only do I 'know' lots of people on Facebook, do predictive text and appear on videos on YouTube but I have now been on a rather trendy actually programme on the radio. Surely that qualifies me for fully paid up media hooo-er status.

Yesterday S and I appeared on South:Live, a new music programme that covers the Solent and Sussex areas. We spent all day rehearsing two numbers and arrived at the allotted time for the soundcheck only to find that the other band doing a session had turned up late and were now doing theirs. No matter we thought, noticing that Dan the poor technical bloke was under considerable pressure.

The other band were your typical trendy types with the right jeans and well thought out hair. S and I on the other hand arrived with some cushions from S's sofa to put the waterphone and handbells on and a nice box of tissues in case of runny nose emergencies. We really are so rock n roll.

Our session was towards the end of the programme which gave us the opportunity to see exactly what a radio producer does. I'm amazed any of them live beyond forty as it seems to be a highly stressful job. My heart was in my mouth as she counted us down to our live performance and then suddenly I seemed to relax into it. There was nobody in the room but us and the engineer and it didn't seem as if there was an audience out there at all (there was at least one!).

We are now waiting with baited breath for Jools to call us. Surely he's got room for a couple of forty something eccentrics with their own cushions and Kleenex. We've been on the wireless you know.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Serving up cold turkey

Patrick is a computer addict: official. He is glued to his PC from sunrise to sunset or at least would be if school and the small matter of eating and, er, going to the toilet didn't intervene. I've been increasingly concerned about this obsession. Added to this I have spent the last school year asking again and again if he has homework or, even more importantly, coursework only to be told that he doesn't. A few times I've had to dig him out of a hole, I give you the Holocaust essay.

So yesterday I was fuming to receive a letter from school telling me he had failed to complete his geography homework. What geography homework?! I decided at that moment that his laptop, Playstation etc had to go. It was time for him to go cold turkey!

He is now exhibiting classic addict behaviour. One moment he's confrontational and aggressive, the next he's blaming me for his woes, then he's wheedling followed by a show of being oh so rational.

The sad thing is he is a victim of cynical manipulation by the computer industry. The games he plays are designed to create this addiction. There's never a right time to stop as the player moves from one stage to another, their levels of excitement and involvement increasing as they go. The problem is the games become the players life. My experience is that the very structure of the games makes it almost impossible to establish set gaming hours. They are inexorable, there literally is no where to jump off.

And so I've made the decision to make him go cold turkey. It's made me unpopular and the villain of the piece but I know I am making the best decision for my son who is actually a funny, intelligent and perceptive boy. I know it's going to be a rough journey but it's definitely worth it.

Trying to be a good friend

My dear friend has had breast cancer. I can't write her name next to those words, one because I want to protect her privacy and two because I can't bear seeing her much loved name next to those awful words.

She has been through utter hell over the last few weeks, an absolute helter-skelter ride where just when she thought she'd knew where she was everything changed again. She has now had a major operation which hopefully will put paid to this dreadful, unfair bastard of a disease. I've already told her if breast cancer was a person I would go out and beat it up for her, pacifist and utter wuss though I am!

Trying to be a good friend to someone when they are under this kind of pressure is a challenge. On the one hand you know they have to invest an enormous amount of emotional energy in just coping with the day-to-day issues so you don't want to overwhelm them with your sympathy and emoting, a lot of which I suspect is as much about you as them. On the other hand, you want them to know that you are there for them, would do anything to help them and won't abandon them when the going gets tough.

And so today I did what I do best. I went shopping! I got her a few little things that she wanted that will make her feel nice. In the big scheme of things it isn't a lot but at least it's something practical I can do to help and looking for special things she needed gave me a positive focus for my own feelings about what has occurred. There really is such a thing as retail therapy then.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Special Offer: Short back and sides and a lamb's liver

Yesterday saw me wandering through Luton Indoor Market with my bag on wheels trundling behind me. My bag, which I purchased recently, is a lifesaver. It contains everything I need for my job - which as I am more often out of the office than in it is a must - and it saves me from hoisting a huge load on my back. I really don't mind what people think and actually for a bag on wheels it's quite cool really.

Anyway, Luton Indoor Market. This is a place where Luton's multi-cultural profile really finds it most potent expression. There are Irish stalls clad in green playing Irish music and selling Mikado biscuits, Caribbean stalls piled up sweet potatoes and cooking up jerk chicken, Asian stalls selling sparkly pumps and bright headscarves and Polish stalls with all manner of pickled stuff in tins. Added to this you have the stall that sells fascinators (not a type of vibrator but a little bandeau you wear on your head usually decorated with a bobbing feather), the nail bar, the bag seller, the shoe menders. Basically if you need a version of Paddy Reilly singing a reggae version of 'The Fields of Athenrye' in Bengali, then you've come to the right place.

The market is keen to advertise this amazing variety and has invested in a blackboard on which this weeks special offers are advertised. This week: a gent's haircut and a lamb's liver!!! 'A short back and sides and a lamb's liver for the weekend is it then sir?'.

The indoor market always has a feeling of vague threat - the dusty fragrance of cheap sweets, the buzz of the nail filing drills, the mixture of music, the waft of unfamiliar food, the youths hanging about by the entrances to the carpark and the horrid 1960s setting - yet it is far more vibrant than the anodyne shopping centre from which it borrows this corner of seething humanity or any kitsch farmer's market with its stallsof overpriced sundried tomatoes and posh bread.
Good for Luton Indoor Market say I. Next weeks offer? Nail jewels and a packet of sprats perhaps. You never know your luck!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Ripping up the ground rules!

I have just completed my learning journal for a course I am attending. The journal is supposed to be a chance to go over what you have learned that week and look at ways of reflecting on and applying the session to your own practice as well as thinking about how to develop yourself in the light of the learning. All very laudable and to be honest I quite enjoy doing it.

Today though was a moment of devastating irony. The subject of the latest session was managing behaviour in the classroom. Tips include not raising your voice, not losing your temper, not engaging in conflict, ignoring bad behaviour and giving positive reinforcement to good and not touching students. I might have nodded sagely at all this worthy advice except I was fresh from a blazing altercation with Flora where I raised my voice, lost my temper, engaged heartily in conflict, failed to ignore bad behaviour and by God I wanted to touch her!

Another piece of advice was to employ the language of choice e.g: 'I notice you haven't started yet. Can I help you?'. So what I really needed to say was 'I notice you are banging away with that ball inside the house. Can I help you to play with it outside?'. Right got it! Or 'I notice your room is like the bottom of a guinea pig hutch. Is there anything I can do to help you?'

What I should have done is to model the behaviour of choice but I am human. I modelled the behaviour of a seething, slightly hormonal fiend who had had quite enough of listening to a ball being banged about inside and tidying up after a pair of slobs. Apparently I should have set ground rules at the beginning but I fear it's too late for that!

So it seems I'm a failure in the managing behaviour stakes today but you know what? This is real life. 'I notice you're disagreeing with me. Can I help you with that?'

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Night thoughts from a rare insomniac

A few things have conspired to make me feel rather stressed lately: Flora has been ill this week and it looked for a while like she might have to return to hospital, I'm still worn out from her previous hospital time, I'm very worried about a friend, work has been slightly stressful and inexorable, and I've been suffering from nausea myself. The upshot is that last night I could not sleep and was wide awake at 3am with my heart thudding and my brain buzzing.

As I lay in bed in that strange state of being awake but not quite, I heard a taxi draw up with the familiar thrum of a diesel engine and the dull thud of car doors being slammed. I was immediately taken back to the days before my ex-husband left me, when I would lie alone in bed waiting anxiously for him to come home from London after a drinking session. I never knew what sort of state he'd be in and quite often he'd lumber up the stairs smelling of drink, and sometimes vomit. Often he'd be keyed up and irrational and want to talk and talk , in an all too familiar circular fashion, regardless of my own tiredness while at other times he was so drunk he'd lie on the bed fully dressed like a heavy lump. Good times for either of us they were not.

Lying there in the wee small hours a moment of panic came over me. Suppose the last few years were just a dream and I was about to hear his key in the lock and hear him coming up the stairs. Rationally I knew this wasn't so but it took me a few seconds to compute this.

And then the people went into their house and I realised that I really was on my own. No one was going to come up the stairs, no one was going to demand anything of me. Being a single mother can be a lonely business and I imagine many women coping with families and the stresses of life on their own wish they could turn round in bed to someone who could hold them and tell them it's all OK. But I didn't have that when I was married anyway and last night I was glad there was no one there but me and my slumbering children. Our lives may not be perfect, I am a good enough Mum I hope but we all love each other, there is a kind of peace in our home punctuated by the odd disagreement we can all handle and I rarely lie awake at 3am in the morning wondering 'what next?'

Friday, April 3, 2009

A wonderful singer bar nun

This afternoon I was driving along with the windows open listening to one of my favourite pieces of music. It has bells, nuns, top Cs, romance and tragedy, not to mention a possible Nazi sympathiser. I give you 'The Nuns' Chorus' from Casanova.

I was brought up on Elisabeth Schwarzkopf. She was a rather wonderful introduction to the world of opera through her recordings of Viennese operetta and a little Mahler. Her beautiful, flawless voice was part of my childhood and though I may now appreciate that her delivery could be occasionally mannered and of its time and place, I don't think any singer can doubt her amazing technique, the sheer quality of her tone and the sensitivity and intelligence of her performance.

Of course, when I fell in love with Schwarzkopf there was no suspicion of Nazi sympathies and no talk of her infamous 'Desert Island Discs' appearance when she chose all her own records. My Elisabeth Schwarzkopf was the stunningly beautiful woman on the record sleeve with Hollywood hair and cheekbones like knives dressed in a sheeny silk gown. This, coupled with the swooning romanticism of Viennese operetta, of which she was a peerless exponent, made her a major influence on the life of a hopelessly romantic child with a weakness for glamour.

At eleven I could sing along with 'The Nuns' Chorus, 'Einer Wird Kommen' and the deeply unsuitable 'Meiner Lippen Sie Kussen so Heiss' in a personal version of German, with little idea of the meaning except for what I had gleaned from the cover notes. Of course I now realise that an eleven yera old singing Viennese operetta to herself in 'German' might be considered somewhat weird but I consider Schwarzkopf, despite her possible history and faults, one of the major artistic influences on my life. She taught me about beauty of tone at all times, holding back to create tension, how thoughtful and beautiful delivery can make even the most banal music potentially exquisite - so many things. I don't say I can do all these things but Schwarzkopf offered something for all singers to aspire to.

Later I discovered other recordings and she never disappointed. She is famed for her interpretation of lieder and later I watched her school singers in a masterclass (including a young Bryn Terfel), a fearsome and exacting perfectionist and clearly a consummate artist. Singers trembled as she uncompromisingly dissected their performance to the 'enth'degree but patently benefited from her advice and experience.

Above all she is for me the beginning of my lifelong appreciation for and love of beautiful singing of all kinds and in all genres. The fact that ,despite developing more 'sophisticated' tastes, I can still be sent by Schwarzkopf soaring to a desperate climax over the women's voices in 'The Nuns' Chorus' is for me telling. Some music remains a deeply visceral experience yet sometimes it's not the stuff you want to admit to your friends you enjoy! For me little compares to driving along with the windows open listening to Schwarzkopf begging the Virgin Mary to release her for her torment as she soars effortlessly to the top of her range in a desperate but refined, polished and beautifully executed agony.

Camp? Maybe. But none the worse for it.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Achieving Electroplasm

Last Sunday saw S and I trying to make a video for our newest outing at the Brighton Fringe - 'Electroplasm'. It will be an evening of spooky death ballads, theremin and automata, culiminating with a reconstruction of a Victorian seance. Edgar Allan Poe kindly popped back from beyond the veil to describe it as 'drop dead brilliant' and he should know.

Our first task was to record me singing the first few bars of 'My Death'. Previously we've done it in a rather full-throttle, passionate style but for this outing we are doing it in a more introspective way. So there I was singing into a little recording machine, trying to get that contained feeling, when Dolly the Lakeland Terrier decided to join in with a bit of barking. Dolly can detect another dog going past the house without even seeing it (how she manages this I don't know) and likes to say hello and show the other dog they are in her 'hood. The fact that she's a bit of an armchair gangsta doesn't bother her in the least., from her chair in the window she is Queen of the Castle. After a few duff takes we were getting a bit frustrated with our doggie friend. I bet Martha Wainwright or Alison Goldfrapp don't have to contend with canine interruptions.

Then came the video. S instructed me to look mysterious. All very well but my face doesn't do mysterious. It's very hard to look sinister when you are blonde with chubby cheeks. Added to this I was recovering from being 'ill' the night before and look more than a little jaded . So I did the nearest I could to a 'sinister' and 'mysterious' face and mimed to my own singing - badly by all accounts. and had to mime to my own singing - badly by all accounts. The result: I ended up looking slightly mad and a bit confused but S promised to improve things with some judicious addition of shadow and black and white.

It was then my turn to video S playing the theremin. Try as I might I couldn't prevent myself from a) wobbling the camera b) including the very unsinister radiator and TV in the shot and c) chopping the top of S's head off. I was surprised then on viewing the finished article this week to see some rather wonderful shots, complete with gloomy shadows and not a hint of radiator or TV. I was soon taking back my shiny however as I realised that my wobbly shots had hit the bin and the clever ones had been taken by C.

The video is now out and the three of us are committed to doing 'Electroplasm'. The music we are planning to do is gorgeous, the seance promises to be chilling and the venue is suitably spooky. All we need now is an audience.