Wednesday 21 December 2011

Merry Christmas

Christmas is here and it’s time for our own E-Christmas Card, of sorts. This slide-show features pictures taken in our very own back garden, by my partner Martin, and set to the music Clair De Lune by Debussy. So turn your computer’s sound on, take a minute or two and enjoy the music and pictures here.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.


(P.S. if you enjoyed this, why not have a look around my blog)

Tuesday 13 December 2011

They’re Saying My Words

The other weekend Martin and I spent it in Brighten. We went there for a little winter break, but we also went to see The Treason Show. This month’s show they included two of my sketches.

As the two actors came on stage, to perform the first of my sketches, I felt a tight lump in both my throat and stomach. They were speaking the words I’d written and I had no control of it. I had to just sit back and trust their performances. Then the audience starting laughing, laughing at the words I’d written and the way the actors were performing them. The best part, the only person in the audience who knew it was my sketch was Martin. I felt just the same as they performed my second sketch.

That’s my favourite part of writing, being able to communicate with people anonymously. Most people who read my writing have never met me and never will. I love that about writing. Those people will know me only by my writing, and often by only reading a few things I’d written. It’s the anonymity of writing that I do so like.

Writing satirical sketches is also such great fun, I can put all my anger and frustrations into them, especially when our Government screws up, again. Instead of shouting at the television, I can put all that anger and bile into a sketch.

What would I do without writing?


Tuesday 29 November 2011

“What Five Words Best Describe You?”

I hate questions like this one, or “what animal would you be?”, “how would your friends describe you?” or worse “what colour would you be?” I’ve been asked all of these questions and I find them impossible to answer. How do I distill down my personality into such simplest terms? How does anyone? We’re complicated, social creatures, not the one-dimensional caricatures of people that pass for characters in soap operas.

I’m currently job hunting and I’ve been asked all those questions at interviews and even when recruiters call me up about a job. Often, though, when recruiters call me they have a tick-list of requirements for the latest job they have to fill and, no matter what my experience and what I can bring to a role, I get rejected because I don’t exactly match all those tick-boxes, even if I have transferable skills that could meet those requirements. Increasingly, I’m getting frustrated and want to scream back at these people, “I can do this bloody job, if only you’d listen to me!”

I was rung up a recruiter this morning about a job but, just because I don’t drive, she rejected me for it, before my CV or details could be sent to the employer. The job was a community nurse role in Central London, I job I am doing at the moment. My frustration goes beyond irony.

This also made me think as a writer. So often, characters in fiction fall into easy categories, “the hero”, “the cheating wife”, “the corrupt journalist”, “the shy virgin”, “”the camp gay man”, “the bitter old lesbian” etc... These characters can be summed up in five words or less. But how real are they?

At the moment, I’m writing a crime story revolving around the friendship of four people. The more I write this story the more complicated the characters get, the more they behaviour “out-of-character”, one of them is actually a murderer and another character is willingly covering up those murders, and the more I get involved with them. I don’t like any of these four people, I think they’re all corrupt and I’d feel very uncomfortable in their presence, but I’m fascinated by them.

I think that sums up my writing, I want to write about people who fascinate me, and those people will always have their complications and contradictions.


Friday 18 November 2011

Oh Lord Make Me Funny...

Q: What’s white and falls out of trees?

 A: A fridge.

Above is one of my favourite jokes. It’s logical and yet surreal both at the same time, and it doesn’t make many people laugh. Most people just stare oddly at me when I tell it.

That’s been my problem with humour. I have a sense of humour, I enjoy things that are funny, but I’m not that good at telling jokes, I’m not one of those who can have a room full of people falling about with laughter. My sense of humour is very sarcastic and left field. I never thought there would be any place for me to use my sense of humour in my writing.

This summer I came across a call for sketches for The Treason Show, a bi-monthly Brighten satirical review. I checked out their website, which had videos of some of their sketches, and wondered if my sense of humour would fit here. I wrote a few sketches and sent them off and, to my deep surprise, received a reply saying they found my sketches very funny and to send more. I’ve submitted work to the two most recent Treason Shows and had sketches included in both shows, I’m just balled over by this.

It seems I can be funny after all, but I need to find those who understand my humour. So, what next? I don’t think I’m going to be the next, great sitcom writer; but it has re-fired my interest in play writing. I started off, as a teenager, wanting and trying to be a play writer, but for years I thought it was something I’d put behind me, well maybe not.

Watch this space.

The next Treason Show is the beginning of December and Martin and I are going to Brighten to see it. Fingers crossed I get sketches into that show too, it would be wonder.


Thursday 27 October 2011

A Quick Read

Today I found out that a review of mine has been published in this week’s edition of Nursing Standard magazine.

It was a review of the book Dying To Be Men (Psychosocial, Environmental, and Biobehavioral Directions in Promoting the Health of Men and Boys). Now that might not sound like a much of a page-turner but it was a very interesting book and very informative. At looked at men’s attitudes to their health and how that affects their accessing healthcare. As a nurse and someone who writes about health this was fascinating. But this book had a real drawback; it was very American in tone and content. All its data and references were about American healthcare, a very different environment to our British system.

These reviews are short, often only two hundred words or so, but I do enjoy doing them. They force me to be concise and say simply what I feel, is this book worth buying/reading or not. Also, and not to be turned down, I get paid to write them.

Read more about this week’s Nursing Standard here.


Sunday 23 October 2011

Silent Too Long

I’ve been silent on this blog for too long now. My excuse isn’t original but I’ve been so busy and distracted. Back in April I was made redundant. The company I worked for went into financial crisis. They did a lot of work for the NHS and weren’t being paid, because of all the NHS cutbacks. All this lead to me taking redundancy. Since then I’ve been looking for a permanent job, and that hasn’t been easy but has taken up so much of my time. Must employers only seem to be taking casual staff. At the moment I’m working as a Bank Community Nurse, in Central London, but fortunately there’s plenty of this work to go around. I’m still looking for a more permanent/long-term job though.

Enough of my woes. I have still been writing and fortunately have been having quite a bit of success with it.

I’ve had several articles and reviews published in Nursing Standard magazine, I’m so fortunate to have such a good relationship with them. The most recent article of mine they published was a nurse’s guide to the Equality Act. To me, this is such an important piece of legalisation, not the “political correctness gone mad” as our media likes to call it. For nurses, too, it’s very important because nurses are called to respect equality, it’s in our code of practice. Equality is far more than just “treating everyone the same”, it’s about creating a level playing field for everyone, and unfortunately we need laws to ensure this.

I had a short story included in Gazebo (No 11 Summer 2011) magazine, it was called Appetite. It was about a gay man who’s suffer from anorexia, though he just feels he needs to lose weight to do attractive. It’s another of those subjects that I feel important about, mental health, and how it affects people’s lives. It was certainly one of my tragic themed stories.

My biggest writing success has been The Treason Show, a monthly Brighten satirical review. So far I’ve had sketches in the two most recent shows. I started writing, back as a teenager, writing sketches and now I’m back to it again. It has also re-fired my desire to write plays, so watch this space, as they say.

My short story, Love & Need, can be read here. It’s about a man whose boyfriend is needy and demanding, but this makes their relationship instead of breaking it. My twisted take on everything.

Also, watch this space because I’m going to be trying to post a short story on this blog each Friday. This is so I can enter the Mad Utopia’s Flash Friday writing. It all sounds complicated but it’s another showcase for my writing and I can’t turn my nose at that. You can read more about it here.


Tuesday 19 April 2011

Good and Bad Campaigning

This week sees two very different forms of campaigning using the Royal Wedding to gain publicity.

The first (Good Campaigning), Pater Tatchell wants to use the Royal Wedding to high-light marriage inequality, Civil Partnerships do not have all the same benefits as heterosexual marriage (It’s not just the names that are different). This is campaigning in the best tradition, using a public event to high-light a cause or an equality. Not high jacking that event.

The second (Bad example) came to light today. The Muslims Against Crusades (The extremists who staged the poppy-burning stunt on Armistice Day) have applied to protest outside Westminster Abby, during the Royal Wedding. Not to be outdone, The English Defence League (So far Right there is no left) are demanding the right to counter-protest.

Either of these two groups are interested in open debate, they just want to beat us over the head with their views until we give in. In the case of the English Defence League they just seem to be out there to start a punch-up, so much echoing Oswald Mosley’s Black Shirts. Neither of them are campaigning, they’re just bullying.

Peter Tatchell is a real campaigner and has been doing so for decades, though only recently he has got the recognition he deserves, though his style of campaigning has been overshadowed by our medias’ reporting of the likes of The English Defence League and Muslims Against Crusades. If you read our newspapers you’d think they were both huge and influential, rather than the tiny nut-job, fringe groups they actually are.


Thursday 14 April 2011

And Now for Something Very Horrible

This is almost too shocking to believe, yet it is very real.

The Government is thinking about scraping the Equality Act.

They have launched a website called “Red Tape Challenge”, were members of the public can leave suggestions on how to cut bureaucracy. One of the first things under consideration, on that website, is the Equality Act.

I applauded when the Equality Act came into law because, put briefly, it says that anyone providing a public service (Public or Private Sector) cannot refuse someone that service because of that person’s sexuality or perceived sexuality. It’s no longer lawful to say, “We don’t serve queers in here!”

It took away that shadow of prejudice that has hung over my shoulder all my adult life, being turned away because I’m gay. Turned from a hotel, a taxi, medical treatment, the list is almost endless.

Now, the Government wants to take that protection away, because they consider it’s “too much red tape”. My blood boils with anger.

This is a quote from GMFA about how serious this is:
Last week the LGF in Manchester had the Speaker from the House visit. His speech touched upon how organised the religious right is in this country, when it comes to letter writing and letting MPs, Ministers and Civil Servants know about their concerns about equality legislation in favour of LGB&T people. He said that any time positive legislation was put before the House, politicians’ mailbags were full to bursting with constituents encouraged to speak against the gains by some religious organisations and, although politicians generally know that there is a lot of favorable support out there for our inclusion in equality advancement, we as LGB&T communities are often silent.”

The irony is that the Equality Act extended to sexual orientation the protections already enjoyed, in law, by those with religious beliefs.

This Link is where you can leave a message of support for the act and call on the government not to scrap it:

This link will give you more details on the act.

Please help keep Britain a fair country.


Wednesday 13 April 2011

Now it’s War, with Bedpans.

Today, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) voted almost unanimously to pass a vote of No Confidence in Andrew Lansley’s (The Minister for Health) handling of the NHS. 98% of the delegates, at the RCN’s conference, voted for the motion.
(I also jumped for joy when I heard this. The RCN is my union, nursing is my profession and the NHS is something I believe passionately in – the alternative is too horrible to consider.)
Lansley is forcing onto the NHS reforms that it doesn’t need and will destroy so much that is good about the NHS. Lansley seems to want to turn the NHS back into some fantasy of the 1950’s were “Doctor Knows Best”, yet ignoring its real needs, to move patient care out of hospitals and into the community. Do we need to go hospital for every medical treatment? Can’t a lot of it be done away from hospital? A lot of it could be, to the benefit of patients and make the NHS more “cost-effective” – healthcare is certainly not cheap.
The RCN is rightly to be concerned about Lansley’s behaviour, he’s been less than honest about it. He’s the first Minister of Health, in eight years, not to address the RCN Conference, instead he’s meeting with a group of 50 nurses to “listen”, he says. In reality, this is an appalling act of disrespect. He refuses to face the RCN to explain his “reforms” and if he wants to “listen” why can’t he listen to the RCN Conference, instead of meeting just a selected few. What’s he afraid of?
Lansley has been less than honest about these reforms:
They were never mentioned in the Tory manifesto, at the last election, therefore there was no debate on them during the election.

There seemed very little consultation on these reforms, certainly no nurses or other allied health professionals were consulted. Only now has the Government announced a review panel to look at this health bill, only three of the panel are nurses.

He wants to introduce more “competition” into who provides NHS services, hospitals competing against community providers and the private section. We’ve had this before, Thatcher’s Internal Market, and it was a disaster and wasted billions of pounds.

The worst conceit is that Lansley claims the reforms are based on his own experience of the NHS, but the reality is very uncomfortable.
In 1992, nineteen years ago, Lansley suffered a stroke. He received terrible treatment, he was dismissed as only has having an ear infection and it was only a CT Scan, at a private hospital, that confirmed he’d had a stroke. It was this experience, and his recovery from that stroke, that he says has caused his “desire” to “reform” the NHS. But there are discrepancies in his story that he isn’t being honest about.
When he suffered that stroke the Tories were in Government and in charge of the NHS. The NHS back then was an organisation that was very underfund, under-resourced and staff morale was very low – I worked in the NHS back then.
The NHS has had a lot of change since then, for good and bad, but it is not the same organisation as when Lansley had his stroke, yet he’s claiming the NHS is disparate for reform. How much does he know about the NHS today, from what he’s said I feel it is very little.
Lansley claims GPs know patient needs best so they should be the ones almost totally in charge of the NHS, but GPs, like all Healthcare Professionals, only know the patients’ needs they see. They’re not involved in sexual health, HIV & AIDS care/prevention, maternity care, elderly care, cancer care, they don’t perform operations, are not involved in Emergency Care, and so on and so on. So can they decide what is best in these areas? I’ve never worked in paediatric care; I couldn’t decide what is needed for a Child Health service.
(My partner, Martin, has only seen his GP once, the four years we have been living here. How can his GP know what Martin’s health needs are?)
Lastly, something else I don’t think Lansley will be listening to:
In 2007 Atos Healthcare (A private healthcare provider) won a ten year contract to run an East London GP Practice. Yesterday it was announced that Atos has pulled out of that contract because it couldn’t provide the services that GP Practice needs. This should be a warning to Lansley, if he opens up more of the NHS to private providers we are going to have more examples like this.
Andrew Lansley says he’s listening, well listen to this.
STOP THESE “REFORMS” NOW, before you totally destroy the NHS.

Sunday 3 April 2011

Mothers This Day

Today is Mothering Sunday, but often now I forget what date it falls on. It has lost it significance since my mother died. Its no longer the date that I have to make sure that I have ordered flowers before, enough days ahead to ensure they are delivered on time. I must not disappoint her, not on Mothering Sunday, I always told myself. But this year marks the tenth anniversary of my mother’s death. Mothering Sunday has lost that panic-to-be-prepared feeling, now it is a date that creeps up on me unexpectedly and leaves me full of memories.

Increasingly, and especially this year, I’ve noticed how mawkish and sentimental people have got over Mothering Sunday. It seemed that Facebook was awash with posts about wonderful everyone’s mother was. The worst I saw was posted by my own sister. She had a facebook message about how good her mother had been and what a wonderful person her mother was, supporting my sister in all her choices. It bared no resemblance to the woman I had known as my mother. As loving as my mother could be she was always very critical, finding the bad even in loved ones.

I feel we do as much a disservice to someone’s memory to whitewash it and paint them as “perfect”, as we do if we only remember them as heartless and cruel. I want to remember the whole person, their faults and their virtues; but my view doesn’t seem popular. now a days it seems that no one nasty dies, the recently deceased are always "loving" and the "life and soul of the party". All memories now HAVE to be the "most wonderful person who every lived", the rose-tinted view has won over.

Below is an essay I wrote about my mother. I wrote it in the days between her death and her funeral. Writing it was one of the ways that helped me come to terms with her death, but most importantly it is one of the ways that I want to remember her.

Those Pictures Mothers Carry Around With Them.

The first time I saw it was when she was visiting me and took out her purse to pay for a purchase. There it was, inside her purse, a picture of me. An old and not very flattering picture of me. It was one of those passport photograph booth pictures, taken years ago. My hair was a different style, short and flat, one I had not had for many years. I was staring fixedly into the camera, no smile on my face. The harsh light making my skin look pale and unhealthy. I wondered why she had chosen that one but I said nothing. Not an easy question to ask.

I have many pictures of her. Ones from her youth, as a bright and happy young woman. Her hair short and dark. Dressed in pale or white summer dresses, ones with wide belts and full skirts. Pictures of her in motherhood, her clothes changing over the years, showing her own slow change in tastes. Pictures of her taken only in the last few years. Pictures of her as the rosy cheeked, white haired grandmother that she grow into. (I have no pictures of her at the end, a tired and ill old woman, nor do I want to remember her as this.)

I don't keep any pictures in my wallet. Even if I did they would surely become lost in the chaos of pieces of paper, some only scraps, cards of paper and the plastics ones I now require, loose coins, my different IDs I must have and all the other things tucked away in there. For me pictures are to be placed in frames and hung upon walls so that all can see them, enjoyed at a glance. Such are my favorite pictures of her. Not hidden away in the dark and clutter of my wallet. (I have heard others say that they carry pictures of their loved ones, their partners or children or parents, with them so they can glance at their likeness whenever they want. I carry around my memories of her, as bright as many photographs, with me in my mind, never to be forgotten).

It was always a wonder to me why she choose a picture of me to carry around with her. I am not her only child, I have both an older brother and sister, but I am her youngest. Maybe that was the reason she choose. I was her youngest child, the last one to leave the nest, after I had gone she was no longer required to be a mother - a role she been for forty years. Maybe there is a special bond between a mother and her youngest child, I do not know, not having any children myself, for if there ever was I am ashamed to admit I never noticed. Why did she choose that picture, of all the ones she had of me, such a harsh and unemotional one, to carry with her. (It is too late now to ask these questions.)

At the end, as she lay there in that bed being cared for by nurses who it had only taken her a few weeks to grow close to, I was unable to ask any but the simplest of questions. I had thought at the end I would be able to ask her all those questions I had been yearning to know the answers to, ones over which I had puzzled and wondered for years, not least about that picture. When the time came all I could ask were those basic questions, "Are you comfortable" and "Is there anything you want". The profound ones forgotten and replaced by the important questions.

As a child I had questioned and questioned her, why this and how that, my search for knowledge. As an adolescent I had distanced myself from her and her rules as I was fighting my own demons in my head. What did she know? Only as an adult, when I had become a professional in my own right, were we able to reach an understanding and peace with each other. I was still her son but now we could talk as equals. 

After it was all ended, the funeral and cremation and final spreading of her ashes, did someone find that picture of me? As my father and my sister were clearing out her handbag, the final act of tidying a life away by disposing of their now unneeded things, did they find her purse? As they emptied the purse did they find that picture of me and what did they make of it. These questions are unimportant; I will forget them and never seek their answers. Instead I will hold those memories I have of her, memories that live outside of pictures.

For Joan Margaret Payne
12-1-30 to 2-5-01


Friday 25 March 2011

Just A Quick One.

Just a short blog to say that I’ve had something else published.

This week’s copy of Nursing Standard contains one of my reviews. This one is of a website, C3 Collaborating for Health. I’m afraid that I wasn’t very impressed by the website, it seemed set-up solely to promote some very elitist and expensive health conferences – the type of conference only very senior healthcare managers can afford to go one. But, they liked my review and published it.

I’ve had a full article accepted by Nursing Standard too, will blog when its published; plus yesterday Gazebo accepted one of my short stories, again more on that when I know the publication date.


Sunday 6 March 2011

Ruby Wax – Losing It

Yesterday, we went to see Ruby Wax’s two women show, Losing It. Again, it was another autobiographical show, but fortunately Ruby Wax has something very interesting to say.

The format of this show was simple, Ruby Wax told her story and Judith Owen supplied the accompanying songs and music; but this wasn’t Ruby Wax talking and then stopping for one of Judith Owen’s songs. Almost seamlessly, the two women slipped between Ruby Wax’s monologue and Judith Owen’s songs, both perfectly complimenting each other.

The theme is Ruby Wax’s experience of depression. Not just what happened to her when she had a mental breakdown but what lead up to this. It was an almost cautionary tale of the damage that fame can do to someone, especially when fame starts to slip away from someone who was once on the top of it all. Her view of fame is unflattering, especially the things she tried to do to keep that fame (She described it as addictive as Crack Cocaine), also her account of the little she had to do when she was famous was also unnerving.

Her description of her breakdown was all too real, the sudden stop in her hectic activity then fall into a deep and unmoving depression. Her depression was a real depression, not the kind so often portrayed in fiction, which is no more than feeling a little blue or down. Her depression robbed her of energy, her personality and her desire to do anything.

Fortunately this show portrayed depression in all its reality. This wasn’t a show were Ruby Wax turned her mental problems into a tragedy on the lines of “poor little me, how terrible it was”, or a “look how funny mad people can be”; neither was this a new-age-spiritual-journey whereby she becomes a “better” person because she fought depression. This is an uncomfortable but unsentimental look at one woman’s experience of depression.

Ruby Wax has a very engaging and animated stage presence, her energy levels during the show pushed it forward in a way that held your attention, yet when she was slowed down by depression it was almost heart-breaking. Judith Owen’s songs were a perfect addiction to Ruby Wax’s monologue, not drawing away from it, and delivered in a clear and soul voice.

The moment telling moments came in the Q&A session after the show. Ruby Wax was asked did coming through depression make her a better person, she flatly replied “No”. I wanted to cheer with relief. So often people will talk about how depression can make someone more caring, compassionate or whatever, ignoring the pain and suffering that mental illness leaves in its wake. I was so grateful for her honesty.

Hopefully people will come to see this show because of Ruby Wax’s fame but I hope they’ll leave with a better understanding of what depression actually means, Ruby Wax is certainly able to deliver that.

More details on Losing It can be found at these websites:


Ordinary People’s Lives

Yesterday was World Book Night, and part of that they’re giving away books free. They requested people to volunteer to give away the books. Both Martin and I applied to this but only Martin was accepted (“mutter... mutter... mutter”). He was given forty-eight copies of the book A Life Like Other People's by Alan Bennett.

This long memoir was originally as part of his book Untold Stories and is the story of his parents’ marriage, but told in the context of their time and their family relationships. It’s a fascinating tale, as Alan Bennett places his parents’ marriage into the social context of their times, from their marriage in austere 1930’s Britain, civilian life through the second World War, through the changing social times of the 1950’s and 1960’s, and their retirement in the very different 1970’s (his parents’ fantasy of what a cocktail party involved was truly priceless).

First reading this memoir I was struck by the similarities between this and my parents’ lives, their relationships with own their siblings. Alan Bennett obviously had parents and family who liked to tell their stories, recount their lives; and the writer in him listened and remembered.

I wasn’t as fortunate, my parents would tell stories about their childhoods, but they were often along the lines “it was so much better when we were young”, my parents were great fans of the rose-tinted nostalgia, but they rarely told stories about how they met, about their wedding, their move to Liverpool, the birth of their children, etc... My mother did tell me some details when I was an adult, actually after I qualified as a nurse (after this my mother seemed more open with me over many subjects), but often these were only passing comments.

My parents met because they both lived on the same street in Barrow-in-Furness, though my mother first went out with my father’s older brother, Arthur, before dating my father. I have always wondered about this. What didn’t my mother like about my Uncle Arthur, though him and my father were very alike, how did my father feel dating his older brother’s ex-girlfriend, was he jealous of his brother for dating the woman he wanted? What were the dynamics going on at the time?

Both my parents are gone now so even if I had the chance to ask all my questions I can’t; but that still doesn’t stop my mind wondering about all of this.

I believe that we are very much the product of our upbringing and our environments, but that often we ignore this or even down place it, but also our environments change as we do.


Wednesday 2 March 2011

Not-so-Glad to Remember

Previously, I have written in this blog about the watershed moment, as a teenager, when I first heard Tom Robinson singing “Glad To Be Gay” (

Last week I was surfing the web, when I stumbled upon a website that had, for download, had almost all the different versions of “Glad To Be Gay” there has been ( With a delight I started to listen to them, but I didn’t get far.


The very first version was an upbeat, celebration. Then, Tom Robinson re-wrote it as a protect song. The first version of that was the one I heard him singing on the television. Listening to it again took me right back to the early 1980’s, when I was still terrified of my sexuality. The song took me back to that time, a time when homophobia was almost at plague levels.

The song deals with the police persecution of lesbians and gay men, the rank homophobia and hypocrisy of the British press, queerbashing, and society’s homophobia that generates internal homophobia. The images in it were harsh and angry, yet all too real. Back then, I was terrified of all those, the world seemed a very homophobic and threatening place; listening to it I felt that stab of sadness because I remembered it all.

So much has changed and in such a short space of time, within my living memory, and for that I am very grateful. But listening to “Glad To Be Gay” reminded me of how bad things were, and they have been worse before that. As grateful as I am for all the equality gains we have now I also feel we shouldn’t forget from where we came.


Sunday 20 February 2011

Company, at the Southwark Playhouse.

It’s not so hard being married, it’s much the cleanest of crimes,

It’s not so hard being married, I’ve done it two or three times.

Lyric from The Little Things We Do Together, Company.

Company is musical that takes a sideways look at marriage. Most musicals follow the plot of boy meets girl, there is an obstacle in their path, they overcome that obstacle, boy and girl lives happily-ever-after. Not so with Company, it takes a look at marriage and relationships and finds them wanting.

The plot here isn’t a simple journey from A to B, the plot or lack of it revolves around one man and his friends and relationships. Bobby, the central character, is a man living in New Year and on the eve of his thirty-fifth birthday. He’s single and has a reluctance, even fear, about being in a relationship; he can’t commit to a relationship and is running three girlfriends at once. The musical takes the form of different scenes of Bobby with his friends or girlfriends, with the songs acting as commentary on the action or forming part of scene.

The different married couples all have different problems in their relationships. There’s the overly competitive couple, who even complete when they give things up. There’s the couple with the repressed and mousy wife and dominating husband, but theirs makes for a sort of wedded bless, not wife abuse. There’s the couple who are happier together once they are divorced, though they don’t separate. There’s a woman marrying the man she’s lived with for years, on the morning of her wedding day decides she doesn’t want to get married (this scene was both painfully funny and very touching). Then there’s Joanna (the character who gets two of the best songs in the show), a very bitter and angry woman whose has driven away two husbands but her third husband is deeply in love with her and won’t leave her. Threaded all of this is Bobby and the mess he’s making of his life.

Bobby is a character not often seen today, an adult male, who doesn’t act like an overgrown teenager, afraid of marriage and commitment. We’ve see many female characters like this and male characters who are no more than overgrown teenage boys, but rarely are they adult men like Bobby. The musical never examines why he’s like this (there’s no song about his awful childhood, etc...) but it looks at the effect it has on his life. He doesn’t want to be alone but he doesn’t know what or who he does want.

Also, for a musical, there is a large number of female characters here, the wives being more interesting than their husbands, but this is more about its characters than it is about the musical’s plot. Each character having their moment of revelation in their scene with Bobby – Joanne’s bitterness falls into place with her scene with Bobby, late in the second act.

The Southwark Playhouse’s production certainly puts the spotlight on the character’s. The bare stage, with its three level platform upstage, doesn’t just give the characters space to breathe but to shine. It is very much about the people on stage and not the scenery around them.

For a musical, especially one on at a fringe theatre, there wasn’t a bum note sang here. All the cast had fine and on key singing voices. Their acting too hit all the right notes, though some of husbands certainly having the weaker roles. Rupert Young, as Bobby, was both handsome and charming, he brought a sort-of boyish charm to his role, giving his female friends mothering of him a sexual edge. Of the supporting actors, Siobhan McCarthy (as Joanne) and Michelle Bishop (as Bobby’s very New York girlfriend Marta) stood out. It was a surprise and pleasure to see Mark Curry (The one time Blue Peter presenter) here in the role of Larry, Joanne’s long suffering husband.

I first saw this musical over fifteen years ago, when I was single and not being successful at relationships, and found it very disturbing. In Bobby I saw a character that I didn’t want to turn into and feared that I might. Now, I’m older and have been with my partner over ten years, I didn’t find Company that uncomfortable. Now, I was able to sit back and enjoy the portrayal of the characters here, the crazy and unhappy people, I was also able to watch Bobby twist himself into knots over relationships.

Company was first performed in 1970, it’s over forty years ago and yet it hasn’t aged a day. This production is set in the present day and feels completely appropriate. It certainly doesn’t feel like a period piece or a story very much of its time. How many other musicals from the early 70s are still relevant today?


Saturday 19 February 2011

Trinity Buoy Wharf, by The Thames

Today, on the last day of our annual leave, we went to visit Trinity Buoy Wharf, another one of those hidden treasures scattered around London. Originally, it was the only Lighthouse on the Thames (Though it was used to test different types of lighting, not as a navigation aid) and the wharf used to harbour and maintain the lightships that served the Thames. Now, since the lighthouse and wharf closed, it is a "a centre for the arts and cultural activities"; which translates into an area filled with artists’ studios and workshops, and small media businesses.

Many times I’ve glimpsed Trinity Buoy Wharf as I’ve travelled to Woolwich on a DLR train, but until today I’ve never visited it. When we arrived there we were very pleasantly surprised at what we found. The place does have the feel of an artists’ community, there are pieces of sculpture all around the place, and everywhere you turned there seemed to be a different workshop or small business.

The buildings there also seemed to be wide mixture, but a mixture that actually sat well together. There are Victorian dockside buildings, including a squat lighthouse, sitting next to “Container City” offices and studios (buildings made from re-cycled shipping containers), with a 1950’s American style chrome and glass dinner sat in the middle of it all. Yet none of these buildings seemed out of place, they sat well next to each other, though the overall feel of an Artists’ Community certainly helped this.

Trinity Buoy Wharf is one of those places that making living in London so enjoyable, for me. Those strange, unusual or just unknown places tucked away in a corner of the city that you almost stumble upon, or hear about via word-of-mouth. There are so many of these places here, not widely known, like Trinity Buoy Wharf, and so I’m glad about that.

More details on Trinity Buoy Wharf can be found at:


P.S. The pictures in blog entry were taken today by Martin.

Tuesday 15 February 2011

"My Trip Down The Pink Carpet"

“I was sweating like a paedophile in a Barnie costume”
Leslie Jordan

Three days ago we went to see Leslie Jordan’s one-man-show “My Trip Down The Pink Carpet”, which is adapted from his biography of the same name. Leslie Jordan is famous from his roles of Beverley Leslie, on Will & Grace, Brother Boy in Sordid Lives, and numerous other supporting roles in TV programs like Ugly Betty and Boston Legal. But this wasn’t a show business story, where he spent the whole evening bragging about which stars he’d worked with the kind of performer who only values their worth through the stars they’ve worked with.

Leslie Jordan is short, effeminate and gay, all qualities that didn’t single him out as Leading Man material. His show, as does his autobiography, chronicles his experiences as a gay actor in Hollywood trying to find his big break, as his tries to deal with the shame and self-hatred about his sexuality, from his up-bringing as a Southern Baptist, and the drug and alcohol and male hustler addictions that came from all that self-hatred. Though he has a very natural gift for comedy (this man could make reading medical notes sound funny, and that’s a gift) so much of this show was heart-breaking in his honesty.

His breakout role on Will & Grace wasn’t even written for him (it was written for Joan Collins, but he tells that story better then I can) and he nearly missed the audition because he took a phone call from his mother, which was a strange tail about a woman in her church who got shot (!!).

His show did contain other bizarre and funny stories like this (The one about his first experience of phone sex had me nearly crying with laughter), but they often contained a darker edge – the story of his first experience on a Hollywood TV show soon turned into a nasty experience of homophobia because wasn’t “butch enough”. These stories, so neatly woven together by Leslie Jordan’s so natural stage presentence, told of the flip-side of Hollywood, those who work hard just for a career (Not fame).

But the overall theme of this show is survival, not just in Hollywood, but also from the homophobia that he was almost smothered with growing-up. Leslie Jordan lived through many years of drink and drugs addiction, which he’s not shy about, and then lived through an even harder recovery from that. His description of his own rehab and recovery was both painfully honest and painfully funny, this man can really tell a story. Of all he has achieved he is proudest of his sobriety, another telling moment.

This one-man-show is far more than just the tale of gay man in Hollywood, Leslie Jordan’s story is much more about the homophobia in American society and its effect upon him. He has a natural feel for comedy, which saved this show from being sentimental and melodramatic, but more than that he’s a natural storyteller. This is one of those shows that is more than worth the price of its tickets.

I’ve now started to read the book this show is based on.

P.S. The second picture on this blog Martin took of Leslie Jordan, at the book signing after the production we saw.