Monday, 12 May 2008

Mother's Day and Furry Children

Today is Mother’s Day in the States. As I didn’t have the many reminders that the card shops thrust upon you nearer the time, since Mother’s Day in England is in March, I’m worried I didn’t post my card in time, so I will ring my mother in the States as well. I’m just waiting for her to return to her home, as she spent the weekend with her own mother in Pennsylvania, and is now miles above the east coast on a quick flight south.

It’s not the happiest Mother’s Day for her. One of her children is in London, and the other one, who could normally be depended upon to drive the four hours to her home and take her out to brunch or dinner, is away and in mourning. Sadly, yesterday he had to put down his absolutely adorable, most beloved Golden Retriever, who has been like a child to him and his wife for 10 years. Dear Dutch even took part in their wedding.

Like most Golden Retrievers, he seemed to wear a constant smile on his face and absolutely embrace life, bursting with enthusiasm and adoration for his owners. Unfortunately, he was recently found to have cancer and went downhill quickly. I know my brother and his wife are utterly devastated in a way that people who aren’t true pet lovers can never understand; it is like losing a close member of your immediate family for whom you’ve been entirely responsible as a full-time carer. The void left where all that love and energy so recently existed is massive and deeply painful. I went through such a death of a beloved furry one a few years ago and dread the day when my miraculous survive-all but very frail 18-year-old Persian can no longer surprise me and the vets with his amazing staying power. It’s an awful loss, particularly painful when so many people around you consider your sorrow to be a silly indulgence for little more than a possession.

But I didn’t mean to focus on that sorrowful situation, although my brother and his wife are definitely in my thoughts, and bless dear Dutch, may he rest in peace now.

It is a coincidence that the Mother’s Day card I sent my mother—well, a regular card that I turned into a Mother’s Day card, as after all, she usually likes the ones with dirty jokes that are embarrassing to buy, so she’s hardly a traditionalist---has an animal/offspring theme. She and I both seem to prefer animals to children, at least in our own homes. The Paw Play greeting card produced by pictured cute cats and a dog on the front, with the words:-

“Dogs and cats are better than kids because they eat less, don’t ask for money…and if they get pregnant, you can sell their children.”

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Lansbury in London On Stage---A Missed Treasure!

As a Londoner, I try to take advantage of many of the wonderful cultural things on offer, particularly the one-off opportunities, such as seeing the triple bill some years ago of Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard and Chuck Berry, or seeing Simon and Garfunkel in Hyde Park, or even the Chinese Terracotta Army in the British Museum’s First Emperor exhibition.

Unfortunately, I had to forgo such an opportunity on Sunday, which is a treat I know I would have enjoyed. Having grown up a huge fan of Broadway tunes and worshipping at the shrines of musical gods like Ethel Merman, I always loved the song Bosom Buddies from Mame, where Angela Lansbury and Bea Arthur sang a pally-catty duet. When I was much younger, I would have seen these two women as the star of Murder, She Wrote and The Golden Girls (and Maude), respectively, but I was aware that both had big stage careers in the past and I was familiar with the young, then newly discovered Angela Lansbury in my favourite version of (George Cukor’s) Gaslight, which earned her an Oscar nomination. She also played the original Mrs Lovett in Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, the role recently recreated on screen by Helena Bonham-Carter, for which Lansbury won one of her four Tonys.

So I was thrilled to hear rumours that she would be performing on the London stage for the first time in about 30 years in an event called Jerry Herman’s Broadway at the London Palladium on 4 May. Even before her presence had been officially confirmed, I had my mouse hovering over the final click to book a prohibitively expensive seat (I couldn’t think of anyone else who would be remotely interested in attending such an event with me), but then I checked and found my trains would not be running owing to engineering works. Certainly, I could have made the significant effort to get there and back somehow, although it’s hard enough getting back from town at night after shows when the trains are running, but I dawdled too long and missed my chance.

The concert, for which I’ve found no reviews, was in the end presented by Lansbury and celebrated the career of Broadway composer Jerry Herman, with “a host of stars” performing his songs from his musicals, which included Hello Dolly!, Mame and La Cage Aux Folles. The proceeds went to HIV and AIDS charity Crusaid. Herman himself has been suffering from AIDS for about ten years, so it was particularly great news that he would be in attendance.

The only appearance by Lansbury promoting the show beforehand that I came across was on Channel 4’s Paul O’Grady Show, of all things. As that’s on too early for commuters, I recorded it on DVD, but like most things I record, I haven’t watched it and will probably lose it in a stack of unlabeled DVDs soon. But I did see the end, and despite looking a bit tighter around the face (from age, not surgery, I’m pleased to say), Angela Lansbury looked just the same as Jessica Fletcher in Murder, She Wrote, radiant as always even though she’s now 82! And she’s still working.

Morgon Falconer got to interview this British-born actress (whose mother was an actress called Moyna MacGill—a surname used in Murder, She Wrote for relatives of Jessica Fletcher, including an actress cousin in London—and whose grandfather was former leader of the Labour Party George Lansbury) for the Times recently, and the article, cleverly titled “Life After Murder” is worth a read.

Coincidentally, the Biography Channel has been showing a programme on her this week, and certainly Lansbury has had a troubled life, with her first husband, who she married when she was 19 and he was 35, turning out to be bisexual; fire destroying her house; her children struggling with drugs in the past; and various tragic losses of loved ones. But it all seems to have made her quite a formidable woman, and she is still going strong. I only wish she would return for another performance so I could grasp the cherished opportunity that I so foolishly missed last weekend!

Meanwhile, after dreaming for so many years of what it would be like to witness Angela Lansbury and Bea Arthur performing the great Bosom Buddies on stage, I get the next best thing: a clip on YouTube of the two reprising their roles for an appearance much later, which I recommend viewing. (YouTube also includes a clip from the film where Bea Arthur reprises her role, but Lucille Ball takes Lansbury’s part, most unfortunately.) Ain’t YouTube grand.

Monday, 5 May 2008

A Dull Boy Lost in Magazine Clutter

I’ve been a failure as a blogger and must rectify that and many other things. I seem to have become a lifeless person, a female dull boy. I have a place full of fun things to do and play with, projects to delve into, a head full of things to write, but I just don’t have a spare second to do anything, no me time. Is this because I have 30 children? No, thank God. That’s the mystery; apart from an elderly and infirm furball I’m caring for, I only have myself to look after, and I seem to be doing an awful job.

Basically, I spend every waking moment either doing work for my job or struggling under the weight of the burden that I need to get work done, and I don’t have the sort of job that should require that. I used to thrive on being a workaholic but now I’m exhausted by it and left longing for some free time. I even once considered calling in sick just so I could carry on working uninterrupted on professional stuff that day and not feel such a failure turning up at work having not finished what I needed to have completed overnight. But I’m not the sort to call in sick when I’m not sick; I barely call in sick when I am.

Never mind the stress and the fact that sleeping most nights now means nodding off accidentally on the sofa with my laptop in my lap, and waking at ungodly hours in a panic and continuing to work in a sleepy drug-liked state. The novels in my head aren’t getting written, the concerts and plays and art shows I used to take in regularly are being ignored, friends and even their e-mails are long neglected, so I really need to get my life together.

I recently realised that I don’t even read books anymore, despite being a voracious reader as a youngster and now living in what could easily be mistaken for a Borders warehouse, or more of an HMV warehouse these days, with most of the many DVDs I’ve ordered over the past year remaining unwrapped, and the newer of the disturbing number of CDs standing silent. Wouldn’t it be great to take a year off, work on fun life projects and watch movies, play music, read and write, without the stress of work demands and commuting? What gets me through the reality is focusing on the ‘fact’ that I will win the lottery on Wednesday, or when that doesn’t happen, then on Friday, or on Saturday. If I didn’t count on that, I wouldn’t be able to cope with work right now. I don’t always buy a lottery ticket, but that only marginally reduces my chances of winning. I’m no fool, I know it won’t happen, and I’m not the extravagant sort who would buy helicopters and party hard with my winnings anyway. I’d contribute to the list of charities I’ve compiled for such an occasion, help my struggling family members and any friends (or strangers who touch me—definitely not literally) who need help, and possibly get a property in town (if I win billions and can thus afford central London property) so I can get out to the concerts, art galleries and theatre more easily. Principally, I’d give up work for a couple years, write down the novels in my head and work on other projects, and then get another, less stressful occupation of some sort.

In the meantime, I am surrounded by clutter that I never have time to tackle, but I always manage to add to it with enormous ease. The laundry is done regularly but then folded on enormous ever-increasing piles on chairs in the bedroom. I haven’t vacuumed for an age as it’s not a priority when I have a work deadline in the morning and I’m not expecting company, and my cat and I can cope just fine with our hair covering the carpeting. I’m not very domesticated anyway.

I do seem to have some sort of crazed inability to stop bringing magazines into the house as though they’re stray cats in need of a loving home. I don’t have the time to read the ones I subscribe to, but get very excited with their arrival, although I then just flick through and fold up the corners of pages that I hope to come back to one day when I find time for a proper read. I subscribe to loads: Time Out, Radio Times, Word, Mojo, Uncut, Q (have been meaning to cancel that one for a few years), PC Advisor, DVD Review, InStyle (to prove I’m female), and some membership magazines such as the RSPCA. I'm thrilled when they appear but barely have a chance to look at their covers to judge them.

So with all these unloved litters of magazines at home, why did I go to Smith's yesterday and bring home the Sunday Times (haven’t read Saturday’s yet), the Independent, Acoustic magazine (well, it had homeboy James Taylor on the cover), Record Collector, Private Eye, Spectator, Scientific American Mind, PC Pro, Personal Computer World, and Writing magazine? What is wrong with me?

Incidentally, I can’t recall ever actually having read a Writing magazine. I buy them because I’m drawn to the promises on the cover. ‘Win over a top agent’. ‘Get your novel published with a big advance’. ‘Turn your ideas into hard cash.’ Never mind that I’ve not had time to write down the ideas in my head, which would take many months to thrash out properly. I’m sucked into these sentiments, buy the magazine, never open it, but never feel I can throw it away. It’s the same way that I buy fitness DVDs, sit them on the coffee table, and when I find I’ve not lost weight for some reason, I order another fitness DVD….although no doubt if I actually watched the first one or actually did the exercises it guided me through, I would have a chance of getting into shape.

This crazy compulsive magazine hoarding means that I have a scarily massive stack of magazines and newspapers in my home, but I can’t just throw them all in the recycle bin. First, because that would make the recycling lorry tip over and crash. Second, because that would be throwing an absolute fortune in the bin, if you figure that, say, the PC magazines are usually about £5 a shot and I have a bazillion of them (so, to save you doing the maths, that would equal £5 bazillion). Third, when I try to speed-plough through them the night before the recycling is collected, I am always thrown by how enormously enjoyable they are, so interesting, full of recommendations to make me healthier, make my computers run better, make me discover some music that will change my life….So the gigantic towering, wide wall of magazines remains. Pretty soon I will become W H Smiths, and they will become an empty shop unit save a few lad mags loitering on their shelves.

Consequently, one of my big fears now is that, if I were ever to go missing (God forbid) and the police came into my flat to search for clues, I can see the press reporting that I was some sort of crazy lady who collects rubbish, when really, I was just about to clear it out….Honest, if I could just have a day off work where I’m not doing work, then I’d get through at least part of the magazine tower, clear the stacks of bills and post that need attention on the coffee table, find somewhere in my bursting wardrobes to put away the clean laundry alps in my bedroom, and start living slightly more like a human again. No doubt, after a few months, the police would find that I actually had been in my flat all along, not kidnapped, but perhaps buried under an awful lot of Stuff. Stuff that I was going to get to sorting soon, honest…..or have my maid clear after I win the lottery tomorrow. It could happen. Yes, it could; it will have to!

Anyway, I fully acknowledge that I need to get my act together and write down the millions of things I have in my head and on my (recently stolen) USB drive, and stop stockpiling ideas like I pile up magazines. I must work through them all and be less of a ‘dull boy’ and a more frequent, briefer and better blogger. Maybe there’s a self-help DVD, a Dummies Guide or magazine I can get that will show me how to accomplish that…...