Know Your Audience Before You Open Your Mouth

The Theatre Royal in Plymouth is a clumsy concrete and glass structure which lacks the charm and romance of the more historical theatres such as the Alhambra in Bradford but to be fair it’s played host to a number of excellent touring productions over the years including Wicked, Cats and the Lion King.

On my youngest niece’s birthday we all trooped up to watch “Dirty Dancing” which was also excellent although no one is ever really going to be able to fill the dancing shoes of the late great Patrick “snake hips” Swayze. For me personally Claire Rogers as Penny stole the show as the resident dancer leaving every little girl watching her begging their parents for dance lessons.

Our tickets cost over £40 each and for a party of five it made theatre night an expensive excursion not to mention pre-show meal and drinks. Money well spent if it’s a good show and whilst that certainly applied in this case, some of the theatre ushers were less than courteous. I appreciate that not all customers are sunshine and flowers but is it really necessary to speak to patrons as if they are unruly children. It is not the first time I have attended a show at the Theatre Royal whereby I have felt that some of the ushers were less than civil and it occurs to me in these times of recession that audiences should be encouraged not discouraged by brusque and ill-mannered individuals taking the joy out of an expensive occasion. Whilst we enjoyed the show immensely, what theatre management should remember that they are supposed to be providing a memorable and positive theatre experience for audiences to ensure that in these slow economic times that they keep coming back. Personally I feel quite strongly that surly jobsworths have no business working within the customer service sector so maybe Theatres need as much attention spent in recruiting their in-house teams as they do in marketing their productions.

A few years’ ago I attended a pantomime where the theatre staff were also dressed in costume which not only added to the party atmosphere but made you smile as soon as you stepped into the foyer which I’m sure that many theatre goers like myself remembered for years to come. What a pity that many will go away from the Theatre Royal Plymouth remembering it for all the wrong reasons.

theatre

The N Word

As many of you know I am the proud auntie of two beautiful mixed-race nieces, the eldest one has enlisted as an army medic so we will shortly be waving her off with mixed emotions knowing that we reared her the best way we could and hoping that our family values have equipped her to face the challenges ahead. We have never had a problem with race, religion or sexuality and are always interested to learn another viewpoint. Additionally none of us have a life so rich that there is no room in our lives to welcome a new friend. The girls have also been brought up to be non-judgemental and embrace any opportunities that they have to experience other cultures.

In our cosseted world racism had never raised its ugly head until the girls were at primary school many years ago at around the age of seven or eight another classmate called my eldest niece, Ayesha the “N” word. A horrified dinner lady overheard and the offending child was made to apologise to Ayesha in front of the rest of the school at assembly. Ayesha is a sunny natured girl and very little manages to bring her down so I asked her if she was upset by the name calling. This resilient child who’d been educated to know her own worth and that of others, shrugged her shoulders and ran away to play with her sister thankfully not spending another second wasted thinking about this child’s racist slur.

One has to wonder where her tormentor heard this demeaning insult and I very much think that at such a young age he would not have had any comprehension of the word or the implications involved, just reciting it parrot fashion from people who should have known better.

The girls although no angels, have grown up in a liberal household where they have been encouraged to make their own choices and decisions but also made to understand that there are consequences for their actions both good and bad. As Ayesha embarks on the next stage of her life I hope that she will always continue to make us proud and vehemently defend her rights and that of others regardless of race, religion or culture.

The New Recruit

The New Recruit

Driving Miss Daisy

A few weeks’ ago early one morning the old fella jumped in the car & said he wanted to see if he hadn’t lost any of his driving technique having been unable to drive for the past eighteen months owing to the stroke.

“Jump in” he said.

To say that I was astonished was a slight understatement and as I hadn’t yet had a superhero strength breakfast I wasn’t exactly sure that I was up to the task in hand.

After putting the key in the ignition his size eleven feet hit the pedals and the roaring noise coming from the engine must have awoken the entire village. As we juddered away from the kerb I regretted not having brought a pair of ear defenders along with me.

A few minutes down the road my Dad pulled over and smiling said “I’ve forgotten where all the controls are” which didn’t exactly fill me with confidence.

I suggested we take the back roads, “nonsense” he scoffed. The white knuckle ride down a steep incline nearly resulted in my forehead smacking into the dashboard three or four times as my Dad hit the foot brake just a tad too heavy and I tried to negotiate with the Almighty about extending my life expectancy a little further than that morning in exchange for less erratic attendance at our local parish church.

The journey took three times longer on account of all the detours we took to avoid hills so that the old fella wouldn’t have to carry out a hill start; our home county Devon is all about the hills.

Not for the first time that morning I wondered whether I was in some Bob Newhart sketch where I was the terrified driving instructor and my Dad was the clueless pupil; no doubt the amount of expletives I was muttering under my breath would probably ensure I was never going to Heaven anyway.

“Deborah, will you just jiggle those mirror thingamys around” as he was parallel parking outside the medical centre. As he revved the engine harder than Lewis Hamilton’s Formula One Mercedes and smoked billowed out from the exhaust, he managed to attract an appreciative audience who were beginning to take bets on whether he would manage the herculean task. As it happened the receptionist had been alerted to my father’s arrival by the speed of sound and brought his repeat prescription out to the car.

Turning to me Dad said “That was good of her, wondered how she knew we were here”

I replied that it was likely that they had probably been able to hear us in Yorkshire unless they were in a medically induced coma and not wanting a repeat performance suggested he leave the car on the drive when we returned home.

As we pulled up we were met by my two nieces who were brandishing their provisional driving licences and trying to cajole me into taking them for a driving lesson

Jumping out of the car I smiled sweetly and said “No problem, Grandad’ll take you, I’m all out of brave pills”.

village 2

The Sweet Smell Of Success

No one can deny the power of marketing, we seem to be so easily influenced these days by the promises of becoming more attractive, thinner, & younger if we use the latest must have beauty products most of which will probably cost us a week’s wages. Completely different to my Grandma’s day when she remained a Pond’s cold cream girl throughout her life after a dab of Yardley’s freesia talc followed by a spritz of 4711 cologne and I never saw her without a Max Factor compact tucked away in her handbag. With the absence of television advertising I am unsure what the lure was back then or maybe it was the scarcity of products available that ensured customers continued to use the tried and tested cosmetics of that time.

As a very young teenager I pleaded with my parents to buy me fragrances such as Tramp, Charlie and Babe; which in hindsight all smelt not unlike cat urine and were significantly overpriced no doubt to pay for the costly television advertising campaigns. None made me more attractive with boys (no surprise there) or increased my popularity with my peers. My sister didn’t fare much better with her Body Shop favourite of Dewberry sadly the bees also found it very attractive so after a particularly nasty sting it was discarded in favour of Yardley’s Panache which frankly didn’t smell much better.

These days as neither my sister nor I don’t have much in the way of disposable income our downfall is household detergents. We are far too easily enticed by promises of the cleanest or sparkliest bathroom or in my case my particular weakness is something which makes a housework task less labour intensive. I am all for shaving minutes off anything which shortens the amount of time I spend doing dreary chores.

It seems that every Christmas in an attempt to boost festive sales we are bombarded with expensive television advertisements which have become mini feature films with supermarkets and department stores vying for the top spot. Cosmetic companies in particular must spend their entire advertising budgets at this time of year in promoting their latest product endorsed by some celebrity headliner to manipulate us into believing that some perfume could inject a touch of glamour to our lives.

The truth is would we buy some luxury cosmetic with a less opulent sounding name something a little more fundamental for example;

MONSOON: Persistent downpour

DUNE: Sand mound

ESCAPE: Prison break

OBSESSION: Stalker

POISON: Arsenic

Are we really so easy swayed by the hint of the exotic or are we tempted more by a sexy sounding name & would we buy the same product if they were a little more ordinary? So tell me what marketing campaigns seduce you?

A woman’s perfume tells more about her than her handwriting – Christian Dior

A little more upmarket in my choice of fragrance these days!

A little more upmarket in my choice of fragrance these days!

The hardest thing is watching somebody you love forget they love you

Dearest Dad

I know you’re scared and if I’m honest I am too and more than a little devastated. As you have always said to me life is seldom fair and you are so right. Your stroke had been a bitter blow for the family but we have been so proud of the way you have dealt with your rehabilitation and will always be grateful to the medical team who have supported you throughout.

It was a truly priceless moment when you were able to sit behind the wheel of the car again for the first time in eighteen months beaming ear to ear with joy from regaining your independence which regrettably would be short-lived. I have been right here alongside you throughout the highs and lows and cheering you on from the side lines. It’s been a big learning curve for all of us and I think I’m a better and more patient person as a result. You have borne this struggle with grace and humility which is something many would have wrestled with. You have fought valiantly against all odds and overcome every challenge so it seems a cruel disappointment to ask you to do that again particularly as there will ultimately be no reprieve or happy ending this time around.

We’ve both known for some time that things just haven’t been right. A bigger and more fearful spectre has crept into our lives whilst we were busy focusing on your rehabilitation one which we both chose to ignore partly through fear and partly ignorance. We all quickly dismissed your forgetfulness as tiredness or a side effect of your medication. Forced smiles and pretence isn’t something that you or I can do very well for any length of time and inevitably we have had to face up to the consequences.

I’ve always thought that you need to roll with the cards you’ve been dealt but I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t feel a little dismayed at having my new-found freedom brought about by your recovery, snatched away quite so soon. As much as we would like to even we can’t beat this malevolent condition.

By the time you read this we will have started the process of tests again and yes there will be changes some good and some less welcome. There will, no doubt, be a few less than sunshine days when we will all rage with frustration but amongst them will be precious moments too. So let’s make these the best days of all filled with our favourites things; picnics, blackberry picking, kite flying and sitting on the porch watching the sky ablaze with lightning during a summer storm. Neither of us can change the future but we can make every cherished moment count.

So for now old fella, whilst this is just another setback along the road it’s a journey you won’t have to walk alone. We will always be able to smell the flowers and there’ll always be more dances but as with everything else in life we need to take this one step at a time just as we’ve always done.

dad & girls 2

Keep Your Coins They Need Change

As most of you know I’m an early commuter to work each morning and I am always intrigued by my fellow travellers that I meet en route. One of those is a homeless girl, about the same age as one of my nieces, who I often bump into on my way to pick up a newspaper. There’s very obviously a pretty girl under all those tatty layers and in another time & place she would be planning nights out with her friends or buying make up. We always exchange pleasantries and I always stop to pet Billy, her beautiful Staffordshire bull terrier who like many homeless companions is probably better cared for than many pets. Occasionally, I’ll pick her up a cup of tea when I collect my first coffee of the day.

Last week she told me that someone had given her the money to purchase a coat for Billy as he didn’t like the cold and I nodded as like many cynical souls thought the money would probably be spent on booze or cigarettes. However, I was pleasantly surprised when I next bumped into them to see that Billy was proudly sporting a very nice fleecy lined jacket and looking a lot happier for it

The other morning, however, she was quite distressed and said that another homeless person had stolen their tent and contents including the dog food. “Can you believe stealing from the homeless? It’s not like I’ve f***ing got that much in the first place” and I could have wept as she shyly showed me a sweater she’d discovered carelessly discarded next to one of the litter bins.

I was deeply touched by her plight and like I know many of you would have done, I bought her a few items from the shop just to keep her going. As we shared a McDonalds breakfast, I tried to reassure her by telling her that life wouldn’t always be this bleak for her but from someone who’d never been hungry or homeless a day in their life, I’m sure my words sounded hollow. The daily grind of finding somewhere to take safe shelter out of the bad weather for the night and just getting through the next day to start the drudgery all over again. It’s no wonder that many turn to drugs and alcohol to blot out the harsh reality and at the end of the day who I am I to judge them. What do I know about sleeping fitfully just in case you’re attacked, asked to move on or have your entire world stolen from you. Like so many of us I know nothing about being so cold and hungry that I don’t know whether I will make it through the day let alone week.

The fact is whatever city or country we live in there are always going to be insufficient safe accommodation for the amount of homeless people who live on our streets whilst our governments spend billions in foreign aid. I see many homeless on my way in to work many being moved along by retailers as they open up for the day; have we really become that desensitized to those in need on our doorstep?

A conversation with our grocery delivery driver, who also confided in me that he had also been made homeless after the break-up of his marriage, made me realise that we are all only one step away from finding ourselves in the same situation. The loss of a job followed by eviction is an all too common tale. Don’t believe me? In a heartbeat you can find yourself on the same downward spiral as many others before you and it may take several years to turn your life around; some just aren’t that lucky and will end their days on the streets. Try securing a job without an address and then tell me how easy it is.

So in the true spirit of paying it forward this year the very next time you pass a homeless person at the very least spare them a smile because that really could be you.

For those finding themselves with housing difficulties or just want to become involved try contacting Passage or Shelter

IMG_0887

Where There’s Çay & Wynonna, There’s Dancing!

A chance encounter on Twitter reminded me of one of my Turkish road trip stories when we made one of our many sixteen hour journeys from Tinky Town back to Ahmed’s family in Kahramanmaraş

You may remember Ahmed’s reluctance to spend money and subsequently on one overnight trip when our hunger pangs got the better of us we decided to stop for something to eat. Ahmed speedily passed all the brand new roadside inns and pulled up in a tiny remote village alongside a ramshackle building with a corrugated iron roof.

I was less than impressed with Ahmed’s choice of venue but not altogether surprised nevertheless at this point as I was so famished and tired that I grudgingly climbed out of the car, slamming the door behind me to register my displeasure.

On walking through the door the biggest surprise of all was hearing the golden tones of Wynonna Judd coming from a ropey old sound system in the corner of this tatty café where the only customers were two elderly Turks drinking çay, sat amongst the mismatched plastic tables & chairs. Well I thought if it’s good enough for Wynonna it’s good enough for me and if the worse should happen and I should perish from food poisoning then at the very least the last thing I would hear would be a decent tune.

The elderly Turk behind the counter sporting a white apron informed me “very, very good girl” pointing to a very old but treasured picture, taking pride of place on the wall “you know her”?

I assured him not personally but I was the very proud owner of the Judds’ greatest hits CD which I had played to death especially “Grandpa“. How could one not be a fan of Wynonna; she has the voice of an angel, is a fellow animal lover and as a bit of a wordsmith myself who appreciates a great lyric, sings some kick ass songs.

My mood lightened and I relaxed whilst Ahmed placed the order which was swiftly delivered to the table by the elderly waiter. A few minutes later calling to his colleague he turned the volume up for “Mama he’s crazy” and accompanied by the other two customers performed a traditional Turkish dance to the melody. I’ve never laughed quite so much but I’d like to think I was laughing along with them as they hopped up & down waving their white napkins in the air and singing the word “crazee” with abandon.

It occurred to me as they danced that Wynonna had probably never dreamed that when she recorded this track it would be playing in a dusty old café on the other side of the world but I felt sure somehow she’d approve of people united in laughter and music, regardless of race, culture or religion, on one crazy hot summer’s night in Turkey.

pide

When Mother Knows Best

After watching one too many television programmes extolling the benefits of renovating your house on a shoestring, I grabbed the bull by the horns and decided somewhat naively that I would move back into the old cottage that I had shared with Serial Shagger and practise my limited interior design skills; after all they made it look so easy! Temporary insanity (I blame it on the fever) had convinced me that I could transform the fleapit into an oasis of sumptuous luxury using just a couple of rolls of wallpaper and a faux fur throw. Unfortunately, only two nights into the project I became ill with blinding headaches and nausea. I googled all my symptoms and became convinced that I needed to write my last will & testament pretty damn fast; a little bit of information can clearly be a dangerous thing! Obviously the plaster dust combined with the old horse hair used to bind the walls when the house was originally built had not helped my condition any.

So when my mother called she reassured me that I was not going to be expiring any time soon and I could cancel my funeral arrangements post-haste as she was on her way. So I shelved all thoughts of gifting my Yankee Candle collection to the local animal shelter charity shop for the time being. Arriving with her bag of tricks wrapped in a Marks & Spencer carrier bag, she laid all the items out on the table; Menthol Crystals (not to be confused with crystal meth), a rather dubious looking cough mixture (in the same coloured box as rat poison but minus the skull & crossbones logo) and the most important ingredient of all; a bag of frozen peas. Although to be honest it was peas & carrots picked fresh from Dad’s allotment at the end of the season and then frozen but you get the gist!

Protesting that I had no appetite,“Deborah, just listen to your mother” she sighed and filling a bowl with hot water she instructed me to put my feet in it whilst placing the frozen peas on the back of my neck. I have to admit that the throbbing pain in my head began to subside. The next remedy involved another bowl of hot water infused with a pinch of the menthol crystals and draping a towel over the back of my head I began to inhale one of the old dear’s “cure-alls” followed by the most popular one of all; a cup of tea.

Feeling substantially better I realised that as my demise was no longer imminent I now had to reassess the DIY situation because no amount of floating shelving or discreet lighting could transform my surroundings from dump to Des Res. This was going to be somewhat of a mammoth challenge and required a superhero in a red cape with blue “go-faster” stripes!

Choose Your Poison

Choose Your Poison

Turbo Rides Again

A knock on the door at 9pm on Xmas Eve heralded the arrival of Turbo, one of our next-door neighbours. My Dad answered the door as mum and I were busy wrapping up the last of the Xmas presents before we got ready to go to Midnight Mass at our local Parish Church and Turbo explained that it was his work’s Xmas night out and he’d forgotten to book a taxi so could I give him a lift? Reluctantly I grabbed my car keys, muttering under my breath as I climbed into the car. It was only when I switched the engine on that he dropped the first bombshell of the night that he was meeting them all in another village some thirty miles away.

Grimacing, I set off for our destination with my mother’s warning about not being late for Midnight Mass ringing in my ears. Halfway there Boy Wonder was desperately rummaging through his pockets before asking me for our home telephone number explaining he wanted to ring the old fella as he thought he’d dropped his keys. I pointed out that I didn’t think it was a wise decision to ask my Dad with just his one good arm to root around in the cold and dark subsequently I was left with no choice but to turn the car around. As we pulled into the street, our neighbourhood genius announced he’d found them in his pocket after all.

Restraining the urge to throttle him we once again set out for our destination. I double checked with him twice that I was depositing him in the car park of the local village and once there he tried phoning his pals again but all their mobiles appeared to be switched off.

“Are you telling me that you don’t know where you’re supposed to meet them?” I asked through gritted teeth.

“Well, I think we need to go back to the Duke of Cornwall” he shamefully admitted. Who’s the “we” kemosabe? Clearly he had no intention of the using the legs God had given him for the short trip back to the pub. I turned the car around & drove along the road to the Duke, pulling up alongside I reached across to shut the passenger and hightail it back home but as he climbed out as he said “Wait there and if I wave you can drive off”.

Really! That’s so very thoughtful of you as I can’t think why anyone would want to hurry off back home at 10.30pm on a Xmas Eve. By now I was seething with rage and frankly ready to draw him a gasoline bath and hand him a lit cigarette.

“Thanks Dallas, really appreciate this, got something really special wrapped up for you at home”. Thinking that a bottle of something nice would in some small way help to compensate me for a night of taxi driving in arctic conditions, I snuggled into my coat and decided in true Xmas spirit to suck it up.

Unsurprisingly, his friends were not waiting for him at the Duke of York and further attempts to contact them by mobile phone weren’t successful either. Climbing back into the car he said “Well, we’ve only got another seven pubs to check out, shouldn’t take long”.

Sadly it was a long night so as I raced into midnight mass just as the congregation were settling down for a chorus of Silent Night, I was greeted by one of my mother’s frosty stares. The personal welcome from the vicar “Deborah, so nice of you to join us” was enough alone to guarantee me a diet of muesli breakfasts for the remainder of my natural-born.

The following day late into the afternoon, no doubt after his hangover had worn off, Turbo sheepishly knocked on our door again. Fortified by several glasses of the bubbly stuff I was determined to rebuff any further taxi driving requests. As I swung the door open he stood there in the cold with his hands behind his back.

“I told you I had something special for you” grinning he handed me a battered paper plate with 3 of the sorriest looking mince pies surrounded in cling film. Needless to say our own Mary Berry (the old dear) took the gesture as a personal insult so I think it unlikely that he will be gifted any homemade bakery products this year fresh from the Dyson Abbey kitchen.

mince pies

Stardom Isn’t A Profession; It’s An Accident

Our unhealthy obsession with all things “celebrity” always makes me a tad uneasy particularly as anyone who has enjoyed fifteen minutes of fame in the bright media spotlight is routinely overnight awarded the esteemed title of “star”; a term which is liberally thrown around these days like confetti. I have always held the belief that it is something which is earned over time with genuine talent rather than an automatic reward for a brief appearance on a reality television programme.

I associate the term “star” with the golden glamorous age of Hollywood when Bette Davis, Marilyn Monroe, Lauren Bacall and my particular favourite, Ava Gardner graced the silver screen. The frocks were classically stylish and a glimpse of shoulder or cleavage was considered daring. Their private lives were discreet no doubt strictly controlled by the film studios PR departments endeavouring to make their stable of actors behave in accordance with the stringent morals clauses in their contracts. One has to ask whether their inaccessibility made them more attractive and enigmatic to the public than the readily available intimate details of those now featured between the glossy pages of magazines.

I frequently admit to not knowing anyone headlining the showbiz pages of a national newspaper and magazines but then again neither will I be rushing out the door anytime soon to buy any celebrity endorsed products. I do, however, wonder about their influence over impressionable and gullible young people.

It appears that column inches in national newspapers are guaranteed in exchange for fewer inches when it comes to attire. Surely most celebrity party organisers nowadays must be unsure what to print in the dress code section of an invite; dress optional? Is less really more? Have many publicity hungry celebrities made a deal with the devil by exchanging elegance and integrity for sensational headlines? Regrettably, we live in times where an indiscreet picture can earn someone a substantial pay-day from salacious tabloid newspapers therefore encouraging outrageous behaviour from many. Sadly, it may not be long before some celebrities attend parties and nightclubs entirely naked and not only will it have become the norm but as jaded tabloid readers we will no longer care.

Here’s a much-treasured picture of my teenage mum with the actress Beryl Reid (best known for The Killing of Sister George) who during this particular public appearance clearly knew the importance of an elegant fashion statement and was mightily upset when someone cut a four-inch square out of the back of her magnificent dress as a memento.

Beryl 2