Friday, December 31, 2010

Where is Swords' Buzz gone? - Panto Day 3

Some months ago I blogged about how Swords town was buzzin' - lots of life about the place, kids had plenty of outlets for their creativity, dance schools, choirs, musical groups, sport, music lessons, art lessons - whatever turns you on.

Tonight I feel like taking it all back and agreeing with the Grinch in my office who claims Swords is the most apathetic town in the North County. We had to cancel our evening show tonight because we only had six people in the audience to entertain. Normally we would entertain anyone who showed but in this case all attendees were related to cast members and were happy to wait until tomorrow to see the show. Houses have been very poor throughout the run and it is disheartening to stand on stage and address empty chairs.

But it was the small children I felt sorriest for. Truth be told I was glad for a night off - I forgot how much energy one uses in performing and an early relaxed night is very welcome. But the little 'uns were disappointed. I felt not only for the cast members under ten but for our lovely Sleeping Beauty's daughter who had come along with her father and her grandmother to see us. A perfect peach of a child, as talented and beautiful as her mother. She came backstage to be greeted by us all and to strike a blow with a sword upon the person of the wicked witch for daring to try to eliminate her mother twice a day over a five day period. She loved all the attention and went away happy enough - assuring us that she would be onstage with us all next year.

But the little soldier who marches around manfully for the Teddy Bears Picnic every performance but who has been too shy to take a bow up to now had decided that tonight was his night was more than a little crestfallen. Poor little fella.

However - onwards and upwards. And if you know anyone , ANYONE - within a ten mile radius of Swords beg them to come and see us in Rivervalley Community Centre on tomorrow Saturday Jan 1st or Sunday Jan 2nd at 2pm and 5pm. PPPLLEEEASE!!!!!!!!!!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Panto - Day 2

We were all exhausted today but determined to put on better shows than yesterday. Today was the technical glitches day- spots in peculiar places, overlong blackouts and the occasional burst of music when there should be none. But we got around it all and I think our audiences (small but discerning!) were happy.

I thought about the huge amount of work that goes into producing a panto - and all of it in people's spare time - building and painting the set - the theatre company actually built a stage as there was none in the community centre. Then there is sourcing all the music and rounding up musicians willing to help out, lighting and sound expertise, make-up artistes, costumes, front-of-house, advertising and promotion, stage and music directors and the backstage staff. We have a brilliant hip-hop group perform, The All-Stars - all local teenage girls - and by God are they talented. A huge number of people in the background; then you throw a fairly big cast in on top of it including children - a lot of the actors very inexperienced but full of enthusiasm. It does seem a shame that so few people see all that work.

The show is more polished now (after 4 performances we have probably made up the rehearsal time lost to bad weather.) So if you are in the vicinity of Swords between now and Sunday Jan 2nd pop up to Rivervalley Community Centre at 2pm or 5pm and join in the fun. I can guarantee a laugh and some fabulous singing and a magical tale for the under fives. Plus our Sleeping Beauty is Russian and can say 'Jaysis' with a full Dublin accent (pas devant les enfants..and never on stage!)

I swear, we're worth it!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Panto Queen, Old and Battered, Only Umpteen-teen

Well, we got through it. The first day of our Panto run that is – two shows today and the only thing that didn’t happen was someone falling off the stage. I bet that’ll be tomorrow.

Half the cast arrived with colds/’flus (depending on ones sex), caught, we decided, from third courtier (left) at yesterday’s dress rehearsal in a very large fridge which was masquerading as a community centre. The burst water pipes in said community centre hadn’t helped, although we all arrived for rehearsal suitably booted in wellies. Who says amateur drama is a non-risk hobby!

There were fluffed lines all over the place, people tripping over hems of overlong costumes, a nightmarish ten minutes ( actually two but it felt like ten) when nobody seemed to know what was happening next because the sound man forgot to hit the button with the fill-in narration. He wasn’t a very sound man for long – he was a shook man after the producer got her hands on him, it was alright though she’s married to him. For now.

Seriously…that’s ridiculous because how can any comment about Panto be serious. For a show that only had a full cast twice in the last three weeks because of snow, ice, and flippin’ Christmas we didn’t do too badly. All our really good singers sang their solos to perfection. Our fairies were farcically brilliant and Sleeping Beauty was beautiful - helped enormously by the fact that she is in her mid twenties but looks fourteen and has a delightful Russian accent. The camaraderie between Prince Valiant and Dandini was great and their number went really well – the rest of us muddled through and camped it up big time although the energy was way down by the second act of the second show. Somebody did wander into a scene where they had no reason to be and was shooed off by waspish mad good fairies! Hilarious - for those of us backstage anyway

But despite everything that went awry I sat backstage after my first exit and inhaled and felt the tingle of that - long ago and far away - very first performance again; for one brief minute. That excitement – knowing you are going onstage, not as yourself but as someone that others can relate to on a different level to ordinary everyday social interaction.

If I thought too much about it, I would have the decency to feel embarrassed that I had asked friends and neighbours and work colleagues to come and watch me practising my hobby – and pay cash to do same! I mean, it’s a bit self- indulgent. But as I left the centre (knackered) I met two little girls waiting for their Dad. They recognised me and pointed at me, whispering.

- Hello! I said - Did you enjoy the show?-
- Oh yes, said little girl#1 -The Sleeping Beauty was very beautiful-
- And the funny fairies were so funny - added little girl#2 – Oh! I wish I could have been up there too!

I laughed and waved at them and left the place with a smile on my face. Knowing that at least for those two wee girls it was as magical as I felt it should be. And above all as a cast of ordinary individuals – shop assistants, librarians, office workers, electricians, Mammys and Daddys, real people – we had strived to do out best and tell a story and ‘do all the voices.’

A story of hope, of love and laughter and song and the belief that together we can defeat the evil witch and live happily ever after.

As long as we don’t fall off the stage.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Upstairs Downstairs...again

Halleluia! They didn't make a mess of it. It's not the same obviously. My Mam isn't sitting by the fire, a tiddly on the mantlepiece and her sewing on her lap. I'm not just out of my bath, tartan dressing-gowned and slippered, cup of milky tea and two Marietta biscuits, dying to see the goings on of the Bellamy household. Mam loved the Upstairs crowd, I far preferred Downstairs. The servant classes had to work harder but at least (apart from Mr Hudson) they could more or less be themselves once that Upstairs lot weren't about.

What am I talking about? Why the new three part Upstairs Downstairs that started on BBC1 tonight of course.

No. 165 is revisited in 1936 - a different world in some ways to the one the Bellamy family left and a world that is about to change again, this time irrevocably. Rose, loyal servant of the house for 40 years is the only original cast member back, helping the new Lord and Lady staff and run their house on a shoestring. A sassy kitchen maid, a wonderful cook who loves to cook but only for discerning palates, a marvelous butler with all sorts of little habits. A cheeky chauffeur. A bit of a brat of a sister to the lady of the house. Germans. Wallis Simpson. A delightfully eccentric mother-in-law. A fight over a girl. Superb costuming and casting. And of course that glorious house - always as much a character in the series as any cast member. I laughed when I saw the maid pushing and upright vacuum cleaner on the landing for I remembered being horrified that Rose and Daisy had to daily hand sweep all those stairs 'in the olden days'.

So yes, as a piece of nostalgia it fully satisfied me, I wonder what those viewers without that viewpoint thought? I did feel that the female 'upper' class characters were a little vacuous and somewhat reminiscent of characters from the endless Agatha Christie remakes, I think British TV and film really ought to move on from these - they've been done to death (bad pun - ouch permitted).

However overall it worked for me - gave me that warm and fuzzy feeling Christmas fails to give me now that Santa has deserted the house. I had a little weep and a little smile and was glad to conjure up some happy memories of childhood Saturday nights.

Plus I'm dying to see what happens next.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Randomers on public transport

I only started driving a few years ago and although I don't miss waiting for completely unreliable buses, as a writer I do miss the wealth of material one overhears.

I was reminded of this last Saturday evening as we waited in a freezing station for a Dart. Two young 'wans' - scantily clad and carrying cans of cider waited too and with the neck that only alcohol can bring started chatting up son#1 and his mates. One of the lads has spacers in his ears which create a hole in the lobe that enlarges with time. The girls were fascinated and wanted to put their fingers through it, the poor lad was terrified! So I started to chat to the ladies to deflect attention from the boys. I explained how the spacers worked and young wan#1 said she'd never get them but she had a tattoo.

She showed me a nice little rose on her shoulder, then she said,
- I'm going to get something written in Hindu on the back of me neck.
- Why Hindu? I asked
- Ah I like the writing and it's kinda mysterious like, isn't it
- Unless you go to India, I opined
- Janey, I'll never go to India. I'm terrified of India and Belgium.
This statement made with wide-eyed innocence

We all erupted into laughter.

- Why on earth are you terrified of Belgium? I asked
- I saw this film once about this heroin addict and it was set in Belgium. Terrible it was.
- Where's Belgium? asked the second young wan -Is it in Germany?-
- Well it's not TOO far from it, I smiled
- Ah it doesn't matter sure I'll never be going there either.' said young wan#1!


Saturday, December 18, 2010

For Chrissake......

Fr. Brian D'Arcy was on the radio this morning with Marion Finucane. It was a most interesting interview and I'd say his fellow clerics and the real Christian men and women (outside of the hierarchy) will applaud him.

Brian said that all the old certainties are gone. Church. Government. Banks. Big Business. People are frightened, nothing feels safe anymore and as we always have known but choose to ignore none of us knows what tomorrow may bring.

Brian talked about the message of Jesus Christ - the Beatitudes - and said that they are the real advice for Life, not the commandments. The Beatitudes are messages full of serenity and love. Brian also talked about being chaplain to those in the media glare and his efforts to comfort and console these people in times of great stress. Being under constant scrutiny by the whole country must be incredibly stressful, I'm sure some of our 'celebs' can only feel relaxed when they shut their front doors and seal themselves away from a public hungry for gossip and quick to condemn. To many these 'stars' are the new Gods, they are admired, influence thinking and it is hard when we find that they too have feet of clay. But as always we should practise the maxim 'Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

How did Christ's beautiful simple message get translated into the mess that is the Catholic Church today? It makes me weep and want to rage against Rome, demand that every man and woman within the Church walk away from their fine buildings, their art treasures and the billions in their banks.

The clergy - if they wish to really follow Christ - must walk away from all this power and glory, this - stuff. Stuff that was bought on the pennies contributed by the poor, by my mother and grandmother by your father and grandfather, on laundry made and washed by young women, on the sale of children to wealthier families, on rosary beads made by tots.

Out. Out. Out. You must leave. Throw yourselves on the mercy of your congregations - Let's see if you can REALLY follow Christ's teachings. Many do - but far too many do not. Help us . Please. Guide us through life, console us in our grief, visit our sick hold our hand when we are dying.Do NOT tell us how we should behave. Accept us, in all our wonderful flawed humanity.

TELL THE TRUTH - for it truly sets you free.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Mother Teresa's bin babies and my knitting career

In 1980s Ireland with unemployment and taxation high, money was scarce even for those in employment. Sound familiar?

I was single, living in my parents' home and my social life consisted of involvement in an amateur drama group, one night’s boozing and dancing at the weekend and of course gossiping with friends. We didn’t do gel nails and hair straighteners, clothes from BT2 and designer handbags, we had no internet, mobile phone and few of us drove our own cars but having a laugh with pals, listening to music, chatting about what was on TV and admiring each other on a night out as we searched for a mate we did – much as men and women have always done. Imagine that! We aren’t such dinosaurs after all.

One thing I have noticed a return to in this recession is knitting. A friend of mine alerted me to Springwools in Tallaght. Springwools has been on the go for decades, they’ve always had loyal customers but are now experiencing an upsurge in trade thanks to the attractiveness of a non-expensive past-time and the fact that they use the internet to promote their business, a webpage, a facebook page and secure online shopping – this last a godsend to those of us who have had difficulty in sourcing yarn (particularly something a little different) over the last decade or so. The lovely Zita and her family are doing all in their power to make knitting popular and sexy again, of course those of us who always knit always knew this!

My knitting history started with Mother Teresa in the early 1980s. Two of the girls I worked with were feverishly knitting up little white articles on four small needles everyday at lunchtime (this before such things as flexitime, paninis and lattes) We made tea in the canteen ( now called staff restaurant) brought in out own sambos and bitched our lunch hour away. It was dangerous not to be in the canteen at lunchtime – because conversation always tended to be about the absent one! When my workmates explained to me that the white articles evolving on their needles were in fact vests for Mother Teresa’s bin babies I thought it wonderful. These tiny knitted garments would leave our canteen and wing their away across the world; ending up warming the tiny malnourished body of an unwanted baby. I begged the girls to show me how to knit. I drove them mad for a week, I couldn’t hold the needles or wool properly, my tension was too tight and as I smoked at the time I had to stop after every few stitches for a pull of my fag smouldering in the ashtray in front of me (Imagine! Smoking indoors! In work! Where food was consumed!)

I wasn’t a great pupil but my enthusiasm was infectious and soon I had several others signing up And we all sat around the table knitting and bitching. The lads who normally sat with us left when they saw the needles coming out. I think they intimidated them in some way, as our needles clicked so did our tongues. Perhaps we reminded them uneasily of some powerful matriarchal figure in their lives! Whatever. They left - we knitted and talked about them!

I could not finish off this little vest properly. I was a disaster and as days went by I was ripping back, cursing and attempting again to knit off in a way that would permit a baby’s head to pass through the garment, doing it wrong, re-ripping, re-knitting , re..etcetera etcetera – you get the picture. At this stage my Calcutta baby’s vest was dingy and disgustingly bally from all the abuse the wool got. In frustration one morning on the way into work I decided that I’d had enough and deliberately left the vest, wool needles and all on the bus. I went into work with enormous relief and quite enjoyed my performance of faked annoyance at tea-break that day, ‘all the bloody work’ I wailed ( I was 22 and single with no responsibilites, I didn’t know what work was!).

Hoist by my own petard – as always. My kindly workmate who had so diligently helped me learn how to knit went down to CIE’s Lost and Found that lunch time and arrived back triumphantly to the canteen with the offending garment in hand. My heart sank and I had to come clean. The girls roared with laughter and I was never, ever, let forget it. They finished off my vest and it was duly sent off to India. So at that canteen table I learned how to knit, helped dress a baby and had the best time in the company of lovely women. I went on to knit garments for myself – some successful, others not. I knit lots of little cardigans hats and bootees for the boys when they were babies, some dreadful some gorgeous. I have knit alone and in the company of others – it is intensely therapeutic. It is a skill. You can make garments that are quite truly original (not always a good thing!). But I think the thing I liked most about knitting is the conversations I have had around it. People seem to regard it as a defunct skill of a backward rural populace – and yes I know all about cheap mass produced fleece etcetera. It may no longer be as widely practised but it’ll never be defunct. Not once we have women who like sitting together and blethering, or sitting alone and relaxing while still being occupied.

So off with you now to, buy some needles and wool and start your own little Stitch 'N Bitch group – you might surprise yourself with a new found talent. At best you’ll have a life long hobby, at worst a good night in with pals! And something new to wear.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The IMF and The Magic Treacle Jug........

Listening to Messrs Lenihan, Cowen and assorted hangers-on over the past week, and in particular the Budget speeches from Dail Eireann today, put me in mind of a story by Enid Blyton that son #2 loved when he was a smallie. It was 'The Magic Treacle Jug' and was one of those stories he asked for over and over again. It was about a naughty elf or goblin or brownie (one of them yokes) who spied a little old lady who had a constant supply of treacle for her pudding from a magic jug. All she ever had to do was say 'Pour jug' - or some such command (it's been a while since I read it)- and the jug would oblige with a dollop of thick sweet treacle.

Anyway this naughty little person stole the jug from the old woman's kitchen window and ran home delighted with himself, he now had an endless supply of treacle for whatever pudding he wanted or even just to eat on its own. When the goblin reached home he made himself a pudding and when it cooled a little ( very careful not to burn himself this goblin)he sat down, rubbed his hands in glee and he commanded the magic treacle jug to pour. And pour it did.

Unfortunately for our naughty goblin he neglected to hang around the old woman's kitchen window long enough to learn the magic words which would stop the treacle jug pouring. He paid dearly for his ignorance and deviousness. His pudding, plate, table, floor, kitchen, house and finally he himself were soon covered in black sticky treacle. I think the story ended when the old woman (really a good witch natch) arrived, stopped the treacle jug pouring and after she scolded the goblin she retrieved her property and left him to clean up the mess he made

So there you are - a fairytale designed to teach the under fives the basic life lesson that those who pour from any pot not their own invariably end up in a sticky mess. Maybe I should have been reading that story to the government ( and many of the people) of this god forsaken bog at the same time I was reading it to my toddler. Perhaps then the command 'Pour jug' might not have issued. We mightn't all have colluded in the sticky pouring but by god we're all having to collude to clear it up. It's that or drown in the bloody stuff.

The real problem of course is that in this all too real life there is no good witch to come along and make everything ok. The IMF have scolded us alright and we are shamefacedly trying to clear up our mess. Meanwhile the treacle jug, like the banks and developers, is sitting smugly back on the shelf - empty but intact and gathering dust. I hope if we ever use that treacle again we do so with a spell-book in hand. And a good witch supervising.