Monthly Archives: September 2011

NEXT!

Another way I (don’t) make a living is by (not) working in theatre.  (Is there a recession on or something???)  I’m very adept at (not) directing, (not) script-editing, (not) producing and (not) doing myriad other jobs that require sixteen hour days for laughable reward. (At last – something funny!)

Of course, when I was living in France this was a(nother) line of (non) work closed to me – for some reason, they tend to employ French-speaking French people in French theatre across the Channel – but on returning to London, finding a job connected to the stage was one of the things at the top of my list.

[It’s somewhat ironic that the first time I worked with actors – DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME! – was as a keyboard musician for a musical. The luvvies flounced around on stage and off, extravagantly greeting each other with loud voices and louder egos, and I sat there completely horrified at the spectacle (classically-trained musicians tend to be a bit of a serious lot, quietly worthy in their mission of channelling the music of the gods to the mere mortals of the audience who have been foolhardy enough to purchase tickets for Bach’s three-hour long St Matthew Passion in the freezing cold (unheated) church in the middle of a freezing cold (unheated) London winter; one particular violinist I used to sit next to made himself extremely popular with a few of us fiddle players by passing around, in the six-hour long rehearsal in the freezing cold (unheated) church in the middle of a freezing cold (unheated) London winter, his large flask containing a delicious hot liquid, which appeared to have been liberally laced with some kind of alcoholic fortification.  Thus by the time the performance started, some of us were very happy to launch into the opening chorus of the magnificent piece.  Although perhaps a few in the front row did express a little surprise at the different selection of keys the second violin section in the first orchestra plumped for, but frankly, it’s quite difficult to clearly differentiate between F and F sharp whilst wearing inch-thick knitted Shetland wool gloves. OK?  HIC!)]

And so, incorporated into my busy schedule of moving apartments every other Wednesday, once in London I sent around my CV to assorted theatres.

Surprise, surprise, nothing was forthcoming.  Not even a rejection letter.  (Look, the world’s in economic meltdown, there’s a shortage of the letters   P  I  S  S   O  F  F.   As I said, you’re lucky to get one rejection letter, never mind 7 of them).

However, one Monday morning around 11.00am my phone rang.  The voice asked me if I was coming in a couple of hours to my scheduled interview. What scheduled interview, I enquired? The one we invited you to in an email last week, was the reply.  What email last week?  Who are you?  It then became apparent that this was a job I’d applied for some two months previously, and that a crucial character had been omitted from my email address by this TOP LONDON THEATRE IN LONDON’S WORLD FAMOUS THEATRELAND JUST OFF LEICESTER SQUARE.(Oh dear.  That came out in upper case).  Never mind, the voice said, could I turn up in a couple of hours anyway?

What do you think???

As a (BBC) director I’m professionally trained to be calm in a crisis, and so I waited until the call had ended before I went into COMPLETE PANIC MODE.

OMG, got to wear a dress…and shoes…and tights…NO TIGHTS!!!  AAAARRRGGGHHHH!!!!

<EXIT NOTNICEETOILE APARTMENT LEFT, PURSUED BY BARE LEGS>

Forty minutes later I was back in my flat* and ten minutes after that I was on my way to the station.  [PUFF, PANT, PANT, PUFF]

Naturally, I got there early and had to mooch about for a while. On arrival at the stage door I was told I’d be met in the office.  On the fifth floor. No lift.  [PUFF, PANT, PANT, PUFF] (Bloody tights, who needs them in the summer???)  I was then asked to wait – for twenty minutes – whilst they finished interviewing somebody else.

Eventually I was taken to meet these TOP LONDON THEATRE PRODUCERS OF SOME VERY WELL-KNOWN SHOWS INDEED.  (Hmm. Upper case again). They said ‘so you’re the BBC person are you?’  and we chatted for a while, during which time I made them laugh a few times. They told me they were just seeing who was about really, but that there would be a second interview the following Tuesday, intimating I would be invited to it, and that I was ‘a joy’.  Smiles, handshakes, much eye contact.  Bye bye.

A few days later I hadn’t heard anything, and so I sent an email asking if I was indeed to be asked back to a second interview the following Tuesday.  That was three months ago.  I’m still awaiting a reply.

Of course, it’s not easy interviewing people, either.  Or auditioning them – something I have quite a lot of experience with, and actually hate.  But at least some people helpfully rule themselves out of the running.  But I’ll leave that for the next post…

* The author wishes to thank the second floor lingerie department at M&S for its contribution to this blog post.  And very comfortable they are, too.

A NATION OF SPARE PARTS

NB: British readers should apply the traditional colloquial definition to ‘spare parts’ in this post’s title. Non-British readers – please apply your imagination.

My refrigerator packed up on 9th July.  The engineer came to tell me my refrigerator had packed up on 13th July.  He told me he would order a new compressor for it, but that it might take some time to arrive.

On communicating this to my landlords, they subsequently got back to me saying they’d called the shop where they’d bought the appliance a couple of months previously, agreeing with them that an entire new refrigerator would also be ordered, and that I’d get whichever arrived first – the part or the new fridge.

Some two weeks passed, during which time I put up two different sets of house guests.  Fresh food had to be bought every day (which is an expensive way of eating, especially in this part of London), and accurate calculations had to be made about just how much to buy, since nothing left over could be stored until the next day.  Bit of a bore, to be honest.

Anyway, guests left, new refrigerator was delivered on 25th July.  The door opens, you put stuff in it, you close the door, you open the door a bit later, you take cold stuff out of it. Result.

This Monday, 5th September, I was called by the refrigerator company. The part’s in for your fridge!  the voice at the other end of the phone proclaimed in triumph.  Err…they gave me a new fridge 6 weeks ago, I replied.  Did they???  The voice sounded a bit upset. Nobody tells me anything here.

And she hung up before I could discuss with her the interesting question of the new part having arrived 8 weeks after it had been ordered (nearly a week after my fridge stopped working in the first place), with the implication that I could have been living for well over two months – in the ‘summer’ (hmm) – without some sort of chilling device.

When they say this country’s going to the dogs, they probably mean half the population is forced to eat cheap takeaway food because there is no such thing as customer service any more.

(Extra onions and lots of mustard for me, please.  Ta.)

MIND THE GAP

When I was pregnant with my son (my only child, if you don’t count three ex-husbands) my local health authority in a leafy part of London withdrew all but essential midwifery services because they were re-training the midwives in aromatherapy, acupuncture and other lovely relaxing things beginning with ‘a’.  Never mind alternative therapy, I called up to inquire about alternative provision for ante-natal classes, to be told by a cheerful soul on the end of the phone that there wasn’t any, but wasn’t it fantastic that they would be able to offer so many additional services next year?  Indeed, it was wonderful, I said.  I’ll try and keep my legs crossed for the next 12 months, then.

So it was that these ‘improvements’ meant that I, along with other women similarly expectant, had to figure out for ourselves how best to get through the excruciating pain of a long labour by utilizing our partners, in conjunction with the correct breathing.  Whatever that is.

(For anyone interested, I recommend Look at what [BREATHE] you’ve done to me [BREATHE] you bastard!!! [SCREAM]).

Last Sunday (it’s OK, you can come out now, he’s 19 years old at this point) I had occasion to venture into the centre of London (luckily, my balaclava was back from the cleaners).  There was a choice of several routes I could take, and – in the grand tradition of selecting a queue in a bank or a supermarket – it transpired that I naturally plumped for the worst one.  (There is something to be said for consistency, don’t you think?)

I had actually checked on the net before I left my apartment, and saw that one part of the District Line on London’s tube network was suspended for engineering work – at which point I congratulated myself on having the foresight to be impressively organized – so consequently made plans to divert my route with my smug knowledge.

What the net didn’t inform me, though, was that 6 other lines were also disrupted thanks to ‘engineering work’.  (If the engineers are so bloody good, why don’t the trains run on Sundays???)  It duly took me two hours to traverse 8 miles from SW London to NW London.

Twenty minutes of this two hours (can’t exactly call it ‘travelling’ time) was spent sitting in a tunnel, thanks to a signal failure.  During which period I found myself gazing at a sign underneath a map of the system (what’s the point of that, then?) which informed me Improvement works may affect your journey.

Sigh.

While we’re at it, another bone I have to pick with London Underground PLC is the discrimination against non-dog owners.  Never noticed the signs at the top and bottom of escalators stating  Dogs must be carried???  Fortunately for me, I have a dog. (Nothing to say they can’t be stuffed). Phew.

Meanwhile, back at my tale of woe, when I – eventually – arrived at my destination, the rain had started with avengance (wish it didn’t have such a grudge against me personally), but the designated meeting place looked lovely from the outside.  Didn’t get to see it from the inside, however, because it wasn’t open. Due to ‘unforeseen circumstances’.  (No, it wasn’t a meeting of psychics.  I’ll do the jokes, thank you very much).

People get days like that.  Only I seem to get lifetimes like it.

I once went to Wales, only to discover it was closed. (Sorry Welsh people. I’m a comedian. But you have to admit…oh, never mind).

Anyway, it’s a jolly good job the Olympics aren’t coming any time soon, isn’t it?

(What???)

TRISTE E DOLOROSO

It’s a funny thing when I tell people I’m a writer – they usually say oh, what kind of books?

I don’t understand why they always assume it’s books. (Do I really look like a literary type??? I’ve never so much as thought about wearing thick socks with my sandals, thank you very much). Actually, that’s the one genre of the literary arts I’m not even vaguely interested in; I do the odd bit of journalism, comedy columns for print and radio – not to mention occasional stand-up and after-dinner speaking (SPECIAL DISCOUNT RATE FOR READERS OF THIS BLOG! AVAILABLE FOR WEDDINGS, BARMITZVAHS, RIOTS…CONTACT ME TODAY FOR A QUOTE!) – but essentially I see myself as a drama writer – plays, sketches and screenplays.

Of course, I’ve tried penning a novel (hasn’t everyone?  My stuffed dog’s working on his second one as I type this.  He recently negotiated a three-book deal with his agent.  Woof), but personally, I just can’t get to grips with the descriptive stuff, which always ends up coming out as dialogue:-

MIRANDA:  Oh, look, Roger!  What beautifully-defined tiny, yellow birds on the exquisite hand-painted wallpaper to which the sun – shining in from the window immediately to my left four feet away – gives an ethereal glow!

ROGER:  Indeed, Miranda, it’s charming!  And notice how well it effects a glorious backdrop to the scuffed brown Ikea furniture circa 1986, which is so reminiscent of my digs in my second year at Oxford when I was reading Medieval Sophistry in Palladian Architecture with Special Reference to Gibbons!

You see my problem.

Anyway, where was I?  Oh yes. Well, I was extremely fortunate, so my friends at school told me, because I always knew what I wanted to do with my life.  I didn’t have to think about it, my passion was so great there was never any question.  That’s right, I was going to be a concert pianist.

Thus I spent four years at a well-known London music college – during which time I discovered a deep love for being an accompanist: singers – and lieder – a speciality. It was all looking very good. I had already discovered I am related on my mother’s side to Vladimir Horowitz, and when I met my college piano tutor for the first time he cried out very promising name! as he ticked me off his list of new students.  My next piano professor had studied with Michelangeli, the great Italian virtuoso, who had perfected a totally different – brilliant – technique from other pianists, which gives a very warm tone. This was, in due course, passed on to me.

But then life didn’t quite go according to plan. When I left college I did indeed work as a musician, ending up as Music Director for a theatre sketch show…which I started to write, before directing and becoming its Script Editor…all of which eventually got me into BBC Comedy as a Producer/Director.  I stayed on staff for five years, before leaving to starve go freelance as a writer, and to return to my second love, the theatre.

Most of my adult life, however, has been experienced as a struggling writer.

I have, actually, lived in a garret in Paris. I’ve enjoyed (or otherwise) numerous unsuitable love affairs. I can make one hot chocolate last four and a half hours in a cafe. I wake up at three in the morning with lines of dialogue spinning around my head that I just have to get down, I wrestle with a problematic scene and am surprised to find that I’ve been at it for eight hours and not just 30 minutes, I can knock up a three course meal for unexpected guests from half a Rice Krispie, an old Twiglet and some carefully preserved mouse droppings.  (Who needs Pot Noodles anyway?)

Recently, having been asked by a publisher to submit some material by email, there was delivered to my home a week later an enormous tome of some 300 pages written by a Professor Moriaty. I’m sorry to say the manuscript was soooo dull, the postman fell asleep before he could even ring my bell, and just left it propped up against my door.  The envelope was addressed to me – as was the rejection letter inside. Hmm.  My knowledge of the fishing industry in late 19th Century Argyllshire IS a little sketchy, I have to admit, and I would have been a fool to attempt 120,000 words on such a topic, but this was a fact that had apparently passed by the publishing company.  (My own rejection followed two weeks later by email. Which was a little kinder on my postie, if not myself).

And so it shouldn’t really come as a great shock to have to sell my beloved piano. A fine, upstanding Yamaha of an instrument, I’ve had it since my dad bought it new for me in the late 80s from Chappel of Bond Street. It’s a professional’s instrument. (Don’t try it at home!).  All shiny black lacquer, white, perfectly-weighted keys, three pedals (accelerator, brake and clutch). I haven’t lived with it for two years since I left for Nice, and now back in London, I’m already in possession of the lovely wedding-present bowls and picture frames it supported on the top (bit of a waste of money in the end, sorry everyone!) and there’s no prospect of me living with it in the foreseeable future, so…

Poignant evening. Memories of my father, of all those scales and arpeggios, of Chopin, Schubert, and my kittens on the keys, exploring their own form of aleatoric music. (You have to be educated to read my blog you know, I don’t write for just any old riff-raff). For tomorrow morning – I won’t be there, thank goodness – the removal firm will shift it into their van to take it north to a family with a 12-year-old who is working her way through the Associated Board exams.

I’m keeping the expensive dimpled leather stool as the idea is – once I’ve got my first Hollywood blockbuster behind me – to acquire one of those 7-octave electric things that feels exactly like a real piano.  A little like buying a dress that’s several sizes too small, as a long-term incentive to lose weight.

In the meantime, though, I’m not quite as sure as I was all those years ago as to what I’ll turn out to be when I’ve grown up.  The only thing I can say with any certainty, decades later, is that I’ve finally decided I definitely don’t want to be poor.

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