Winter childhood meant cold and frosty mornings, barely daring to get out of bed to shiver while washing in an icy bathroom, before returning to an equally icy room to muffle up in a vest, a blouse, a cosy cardigan and a sensible pleated skirt. Little girls didn’t wear trousers in those days and tights didn’t seem to exist, but I don’t remember my legs resenting being bare between sock-top and skirt bottom. But then boys of my age were wearing short trousers too.
I remember Jack Frost too. He had spent the early hours of the day sketching dizzyingly complex and beautiful patterns in luminous white on the inside of my bedroom window. It’s rare to see these intricate motifs on house windows these days. But the other day, arriving early in town, I passed a car park full of vehicles exhibiting examples of his artistry. I had to take a shot or two.
‘Just walk round the room. Any direction – no, not in a circle.. Just … don’t bump into anyone’
That’s how we began every rehearsal for our improvised drama ‘The Lie of the Land’, which played to a pretty full house in the Frazer Theatre Knaresborough last Monday. Those first minutes of every session provided time to focus and to learn how to use available space.
We brought in stories about Brexit that mattered to us. An ex-Science teacher deplored the ‘brain drain’ and the fact that foreign nationals no longer want to come here to pursue their careers. A mixed race woman observed the casual and less-than-casual racism that the Referendum seems to have legitimised. A deaf member of the group worried about the possibility of arts funding dedicated to people with disabilities being withdrawn. Someone gave vent to his anger on behalf of his children that the British Government has turned its back on the Erasmus programme. A management consultant spoke about his worries that England, perhaps less accessible because of visa restrictions, and no longer part of Team Europe, will become increasingly isolated. I, having spoken about no-longer-welcome long time residents known to me, talked about a much loved Ripon restaurant that has recently closed because it can no longer easily access the European staff on whom it has come to depend. British workers aren’t interested…. And so on.
We worked with these stories in turn, Chucking ideas into the pot, junking some, adapting others, polishing them into short tableaux and vignettes. Mine for instance, had two of us being shown into a restaurant, with staff busy serving relaxed diners. As I told my tale, the staff gradually disappeared, until, as I finished speaking, all the diners found themselves alone in unstaffed premises….
As the Management Consultant finished speaking, a group of us, friendly, cheerful, wrapped in our EU flag, welcomed trading partners sporting the flags of nations from around the globe. The lonely bearer of the Union Flag found herself increasingly ignored, until finally, Mr. America tossed her a raddled and threadbare looking soft-toy chicken.
When the Science teacher spoke, his discourse was regularly interrupted between paragraphs by speaking members of various tableaux. ‘Three years to finish your research? Ah… that could present a problem’. ’I’m vairy sorry, I don’t want to accept ze job. I don’t want to come to ze UK any more’. And finally ‘ Yup. I’ve decided to take that job in Sweden’.
And so we continued till each of our stories had been told.
We’d begun the play though as proud members of the British Empire, sovereignty intact. We came on stage, upright and military, singing a rousing sea shanty ‘A Drop of Nelson’s Blood’, completely overlooking the fact that as we advanced, we were trampling over the body of a slave.
We threw ourselves to the floor to allow the showing of a short stop-motion animation in which Playmobil figures told the early history of the EU, Britain’s membership and the Referendum, after which there was a full-ensemble mime sequence suggesting our individual feelings of loss.
So it went on, with our individual stories interspersed with comic mini-moments when Mr. or Ms. Sensible would try and prevent an ardent Brexiter leaping from a cliff in quest of the Unicorn.
Our finale had our splendid and multi-talented musician Tim declaiming from a megaphone those fake news stories about the EU of which the likes of the Daily Mail is so fond (‘EU bans barmaids from showing cleavage’, ‘EU will force .uk website addresses to become .eu’ etc) , all of which we greeted lustily with ‘No! Really? Bastards!’ before a final vocal surge in which a susurrating murmuring wind was gradually replaced by whisperings which culminated in a vociferous shout for a People’s Vote.
After the interval, some of the troupe took on roles as Shadow Minister for Trade, the very recently appointed Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, a German industrialist, a wealthy Brexit backer and so on, for a Question Time in which members of the audience were encouraged to ask genuine questions. It went surprisingly well and authentically.
For those of us who’d not done any drama since we left school, this has been a moving, stimulating and thought-provoking experience. Cathartic too. Perhaps we should have invited Theresa May.
I hope there will be photos later, when we’ve scavenged them from those who were charged with taking some. We were too busy to take any…..
Father Christmas came early. Three months without a camera was enough, he reckoned. He lacked a beard and red clothing, and looked remarkably like Malcolm, but he helped me choose, provided the credit card and carried the new camera home for me.
I’ve got two daughters who have the acting gene: who’ve often performed and entertained on stage over the years. Where did they get this gene from? Not me. I was a servant once in a school play, and spoke two whole lines. That’s my Drama CV.
Yet apparently, Malcolm and I will be part of a troupe appearing on stage for one night only at the Frazer Theatre Knaresborough, to perform an improvised drama about … well, what else?… Brexit.
It was Phil’s idea. He’s a professional theatre director, and he’s one of our People’s Vote team. He thought we needed something to entertain the campaigning troops all over North Yorkshire and bring us and a wider public together for something a little different. Adrian, also part of the team, offered practical and technical expertise.
And suddenly … there we were, rehearsing, about a dozen of us. Most of us had never met each other before. No script. No lines. No clear idea where this might go…. yet. This was to be Improvised Theatre. We played games. ‘Think of one thing you like about being part of Europe.’ (Just one?) ‘Now make a statue of it.’ We’ve made more statues, taught our poses to others, worked with them to make vignettes. We’ve played ball games, word games. We’ve told stories about our own experiences of Europe and of the-Brexit-to-be, and with Phil, woven these into scenes and tableaux . We’ve sung a sea shanty, improvised ‘Question Time’. Phil and Adrian persuaded someone to confect a video. All this weekend, we’ll be working solidly to pull everything together. Well, Phil will. He’s got an eye for when there’s a nugget worth mining for, a gem worth polishing.From the latest North Yorkshire for Europe newsletter.
On my way to yoga last Friday I was stopped in my tracks. There, high above me was that unmistakeable raucous calling that only flying geese can deliver. I watched, as ever transfixed by the cooperative and graceful weaving flight of these birds. They maintained their traditional V shape as they journeyed on, but I realised they weren’t constantly following the same Top Goose. First one, then another would fly forwards, only to be succeeded by another, only moments later. Always, however, they remained connected, a purposeful team.
I saw these geese at Marfield Wetlands exactly this time last year. Disobligingly, they did not formed perfect Vs for me.
Later, lying on my back in the yoga group, I glimpsed a red kite, wheeling and diving directly above the skylight.
A Good Morning.
These photos were taken this time last year. I still have no camera….
Ragtag Tuesday. It’s still there. As is Ragtag-every-other-day-of-the-week. Have a look. But I’ve moved to Saturday’s Ragtag Daily Prompt.
Everyone knows I’m a Christmas Refuser. Oh, I enjoy Christmas alright. I made our cake weeks ago, and Malcolm and I regularly ‘feed’ it with doses of brandy to make sure it’s good and sozzled. I’ll happily rehearse Christmas music at choir too.
But that’s about it. I do an about turn in any shop belting out Christmas Muzac and leave immediately. I haven’t bought a single card or present, nor shall I until …. oh…. about the end of next week . Then it’ll all get done in a flurry of cheerful activity, and I’ll enjoy it, because I haven’t been thinking about it since September.
Then the other day, I came across this six-years-old blog post, written in France. Simpler times, simpler customs. I wonder how often the window displays I wrote about here are seen these days? Innocent pleasures….
December 9th, 2012
Christmas on the High Street
It was 5 years ago when we were first in Laroque round about Christmas time. There were no signs of its coming until well into December, and we thought it wonderful: no decorations, no adverts, merchandise or muzak, just a bustle of festive activity from about two or three weeks beforehand.
The first signs, as in England, were in the shops. Unlike England however, most shopkeepers didn’t usually buy tinsel, baubles, and several packs of cotton wool to introduce a Christmas theme into their window display. Instead they had a seasonal design applied directly to the window. We once saw a scene-painter busily decorating a local window, and wondered what he did the rest of the year. Shops in small town high streets like Laroque’s would all be unified by being the same but different. The same folksy interpretations of Christmas motifs, the same limited palettes of white, red, greens and yellows. Some would choose scenes of reindeer amongst the Christmas tree forests, others Father Christmas, snowmen, or radiant candles.
Five years on, hardly any shopkeepers are keeping up this tradition. They’re decorating their shops, but in their own way: dressing up their window display with baubles, snowflakes and Santa Claus figures. They’re nicely done too, but I miss the particularly French idea, which I’ve seen nowhere else.
Here are the few traditional window scenes I’ve been able to find this year. Maybe next year even these will be part of the past.