Nominative Determinism, Psycho-Geography (Again) and a Poet Discovered

I have discovered a poet.  She was a Victorian, her name was Joanna Baillie and I had never heard of her; obviously a great omission as her work has a toughness generally absent from female poets of her time, with the exception of Emily Dickinson and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.  I shall say more when I know her better.

But Joanna Baillie was clearly not an example of nominative determinism: I don’t know where the name Baillie originates from (it may be a cognate of bailiff or something similar, perhaps I’ll look it up*) but Joanna Bard might be more appropriate, especially since as a playwright she was compared in her time to Shakespeare.  Nominative determinism crops up far more than you’d think:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nominative_determinism

How often have you come across someone whose name quite inexplicably describes their job?  Like, say, Thomas Crapper, the inventor of the flushing toilet; or, to give a more recent example, Usain Bolt, until recently the fastest runner in the world?  How does this happen?

Historically it’s easy to see how, given that surnames were likely to indicate a person’s occupation; so, for example, you may be genetically predisposed to become a baker, a butcher or a chandler because, if that’s your name it means that somewhere in history, that’s what your family did.  (I’m not sure what to make of mine, incidentally, since we don’t seem to have a predisposition to go grey early in my family.)  Another explanation is that we may be drawn to occupations which reflect our name through a sort of unconscious egoism, as suggested here:

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/the-running-blog/2018/may/02/nominative-determinism-who-has-the-best-name-in-running

What examples of nominative determinism have you found?  I’m sure there are some corkers out there.

And back to psycho-geography which, as I’m sure you recall, is the way in which the landscape can reflect an inner state.  This is evident in works such as Wuthering Heights (incidentally how many people have the name Bronte?) and much of Dickens’ urban landscapes reflect the turmoil and oppression of his characters’ lives.  It is also in Joyce’s Dublin, Rankin’s Edinburgh and, if you want to see it that way, Dante’s Inferno.  Which brings us neatly back to spirals and to the novel I have once more picked up, determined to finish it by the end of November.  Of course by ‘finish’ I mean ‘complete a first draft’ – which will of course be rough, incomplete and awful.  But as I was decorating it occurred to me that writing is like painting a wall.  First you clean and prepare; then you put the first coat on.  You stand back.  God, that’s awful, you think.  What a mess.  And it’s true – the old paint shows through, the edges are rough and you can’t believe it’ll ever look like it did in your mind.  But you persevere because you realise that this is just the first coat – and once the edges are neatened with a fine brush and more coats have been applied and everything cleaned up, it’ll look much better.  Of course writing is not that simple: would that it were! (that phrase always reminds me of Robert Robinson.  Not a case of nominative determinism).  With writing you have to apply several coats and very often change colour half way through and start again, not to mention sanding down in between.  It’s a hell of a thing.  Incidentally I can’t think of any writers with nominative determinism – can you?

Kirk out

*It’s Scottish and means a kind of steward or sheriff, so I guess it’s not dissimilar

 

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This Post Will Self-Destruct in Ten Seconds

When I was a child one of my favourite TV series was ‘Mission: Impossible’ (not the films – those came later.) 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mission:_Impossible

At the beginning of each programme a disembodied voice would say: ‘Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is…’ and I would be on tenterhooks lest they choose not to accept it and there would be no programme.  In fact one week they did choose not to accept it, though thankfully they changed their minds a moment later.  Phew!  The music was thrilling and there was a fuse burning down across the screen – very exciting:

I must have had a deep attachment to programmes back then (I know my life was ruined if I didn’t get to watch ‘Batman’) but somehow as you grow up the attachment wanes: and one programme I have never been tempted to watch is anything with Matey Popkins on it.  In fact I think as a media troll Matey should get as little publicity as possible, which is why I’ve given her a pseudonym, and why this post will self-destruct once it has been read.

The trouble with trolls is that they feed on attention, which is why it may have been a mistake for Theatr Clwyd to put on a play entitled ‘The Assassination of Matey Popkins’:

https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2018/apr/27/the-assassination-of-katie-hopkins-review-theatr-clwyd-mold

Of course Matey, impulsive little scamp that she is, didn’t trouble to find out what the play was actually about and turned up out of nowhere with a giant billboard saying something about free speech or whatever (yeah, yeah).  But the trouble with satire is that unless you know it’s satire, it can look exactly like the thing you’re satirising: so that if all you know is the title, ‘The Ass of Matey Popkins’, rather than coming across as an examination of social media, seems like something much more sinister and intolerant.

Which brings us back to the world of dear old Matey – who has had enough publicity for one day and needs to go back to bed.  Night, night Matey!

Please click the ‘like’ button, after which this post will self-destruct in ten seconds.  Please stand clear of your computer. 

Ten… nine… eight…

Kirk out

Oh No It Isn’t Panto Season Yet, Is It? Oh Yes It Is!

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, standing, hat, child, stripes and indoor

Oh yes it is!  Panto season has officially begun, and here you see me in my costume as the Prologue (and Epilogue) to Loughborough’s ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears,’ performed last night at John Storer House.

More than just a panto, it was a phenomenon because with no script and only a basic story to work with, we did it all in just one day!  Yes, that’s right – in under twelve hours a cast of seven, one costume person and one props guy produced a sizzling, hilarious production which had a full house in stitches.

My part in it was to write and perform a Prologue and an Epilogue; and to that end, I sat in on some of the improv to get a feel of what was happening.  In an ingenious twist, Goldilocks was done as a stroppy teenager assisted by a magic talking tree, and the scenes were held together by a Paparazzi Pete, a dodgy reporter.  With those ideas in mind, I went home and cooked up these lines:

Prologue

Ladies and gentlemen – good evening,

welcome to the Forest News

(I apologise for reading:

problems with the autocues)

Today, David Attenborough

asks, is there life in Charnwood Borough?

Are we in the Goldilocks zone?

Can our heroine find a home?

 

In other news, if you go down

(sorry, by the way, for the outfit –

wardrobe had a hissy fit)

to the woods outside the town

you may find the strangest scene

three bears and a stroppy teen

and a magic talking tree

(you know, I could’ve been on the BBC!)

 

This just in.  Oh, yes it is

(oh no it isn’t).  Yes, it is:

breakfast theft is on the rise

Papa Bear’s called it a ‘swiz’

with that story now unfolding

(and my dungarees just holding)

over in the forest quarter

we go live to our reporter.

So in comes Paparazzi Pete and the story unfolds.  It ends with a song and then I come on again:

Epilogue

We know we’ll never need to prompt ya

for our efforts so impromptu

cos it’s not an easy play

to make a panto in a day

observing unities of time

as well as writing stonking rhyme

and so, before we are released

and all get stuck into our feast

show us that you understand

and, just once more, give us a hand.

And that was that.  The food was great; the company was a mixture of all the faiths in Loughborough and it was altogether a terrific evening.

Here, courtesy of Kev Ryan of Charnwood Arts, are some other pics of the evening:

cofpanto-7579

cofpanto-7527

cofpanto-7635

cofpanto-7659

Kirk out

 

 

 

All our Daughters? Desperately Seeking Meaning in Manchester

Like many of us I woke this morning to the news that another terror attack has happened in Manchester.  I guess this one was a little closer to home, in that our daughter goes to Manchester a lot, and theoretically could have been involved.  Imagining a loved one caught up in such an event brings it close to your heart in a way that no statistics can.  I got the news via Facebook messenger from our daughter (she’s in Leicester right now, so I wouldn’t have worried) and then went to other news sites for details.  I now know as much as anyone about what happened.  Presumably details will emerge of the who and the how; presumably as usual the why will remain a mystery.

So I go on Facebook briefly – and immediately I am assaulted by a scattering of comments about Muslims, not from friends (who would be immediately unfriended) but by members of groups I belong to.  I won’t repeat what the comments said, since they were fairly predictable; but it goes to the heart of my problems about Facebook.  I go there every day because I want to communicate with friends, to share life events, to find out what my children are up to, and to catch up with the latest news in, for example, the Labour Party (no campaigning today as a mark of respect.)  Yet every day I am assaulted – and that is not too strong a word – by hatred, vitriol, insults and prejudice.  When I post even the mildest of comments I am unsure whether it might, out of nowhere, receive an aggressive response from someone who has read into it a meaning which I never intended.

I’ve tried various responses to this: preventive, ie trying to make my meaning as clear as possible; asking questions, eg when someone posts an aggressive comment, asking why they think as they do, and most effective of all, hiding, unfollowing and in extreme cases, blocking.  I am careful to mind my mental health when on Facebook, and when posts have a detrimental effect on me, I hide them or unfollow the conversation.

All this seems as nothing in the face of an event like last night’s: and yet it is somehow relevant.  How do we deal with atrocities like this?  I am aware that, as mere bystanders, we don’t have to deal with very much, and yet there are our own feelings and responses, and those of others with whom we interact.  So how do we deal with the inevitable upsurge in hatred and prejudice?  Here are some ideas:

Hiding and unfollowing: don’t read the tabloids or follow the trolls.  The tabloids have vested interests and are not open to argument, and the trolls just want the attention.

Asking questions: when in contact with far-right groups, ask mild, polite questions.  Why do you think that?  What makes you say that?  Which particular aspects of sharia law do you disagree with?  Their beliefs are usually unfocussed and emotional – specific questions can cut into that.

Stand alongside the persecuted: when witnessing a verbal attack on someone, stand alongside them.  Ask if they are OK, or strike up a conversation.  (Naturally a physical attack needs to trigger a call to the police.)

Difficult though it is, avoid rage and vitriol: these achieve nothing beyond raising your own blood pressure.  As the Buddha says, trying to hurt someone with anger is like throwing a spear made of fire.  You burn your own hand first.  If situations and people enrage you, come back when you’re calmer and ask questions.  Above all, don’t get into arguments; debate peacefully.

The scenario in Manchester reminded me of Arthur Miller’s play, ‘All My Sons.’  A corrupt aircraft manufacturer allows faulty parts to be fitted into planes, resulting in the death of young pilots, one of whom turns out to be his son.  The title of the play comes from his final recognition that there is no difference between his son and the others: that they were ‘all his sons.’

And there’s the rub.  My daughter, thank god, was not in Manchester last night.  But other daughters were.  All our daughters were.

Kirk out

Charles III and Another Windsor

Camilla (Margot Leicester), King Charles III (Tim Pigott-Smith), Kate Middleton (Charlotte Riley), Prince William (Oliver Chris), Prince Harry (Richard Goulding) in King Charles III

Image result for open source images barbara windsor

(no copyright infringement intended: images will be removed on request)

Notwithstanding Ken Loach’s recent comments about historical drama on the BBC, with which I substantially associate myself:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-37679158

the Beeb does produce some stonking drama; and two gems I’ve seen lately tend towards the biographical; one retrospectively and one futuristically.  They are also royally linked; the subject of the first, ‘Babs’ being about a self-styled Windsor and the second, ‘Charles III’, featuring an actual member of that family.

I have never been a fan of Barbara Windsor.  You could argue that the construction of the dumb bombshell with the humungous bazoongas was a creation of male writers and directors, but it was one in which she was complicit.  Her ‘Carry-On’ persona so completely eclipsed her earlier acting talent that I was completely gobsmacked to find that she’d worked with Joan Littlewood.  You would think that Littlewood, a Communist in early years, would be anathema to the conventional and staunchly royalist Windsor; but work together they did.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02t02pl

Littlewood warns Windsor in this production that if she’s not careful she’ll play the dumb blonde for the rest of her life, a prophecy which came true – at least until Babs moved to EastEnders.

I liked this programme, in spite of it’s following the ‘Lady in the Van’ convention of having two narrators: it showed a side of Windsor I would never have imagined.  But it was as nothing to the stupendousness of last night’s ‘Charles III,’ an imagining of the first months of Charles’ reign following the death of the Queen.

Tim Piggott-Smith plays Charles (Smith was shortly afterwards to die) in a tour de force.  But though the acting is superb, the success of this begins with the script.  With the great soliloquys written in iambic pentameter, it brings to mind every Shakespeare play that ever featured a monarch, and takes us back to the power-plays of Richard II and Henrys IV and V.

SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t seen this yet I strongly advise you to watch before reading on.

Charles is known nowadays to be proactive behind the scenes; this play sees him make some disastrous decisions in his first days by refusing to sign a bill which comes before him, thus precipitating an answer to the age-old question of where royal power resides.  The paradox has been sustained for generations; the Queen signing bills with which she almost certainly disagrees, being fully aware that not to do so would precipitate a constitutional crisis.  You have to pick your battles, and Charles’ tragic flaw in this is that instead of waiting and discussing, he charges straight in like a bull at a gate, prompting the Prime Minister to call his bluff and enact the bill into law with or without royal assent.  The Machiavellian Leader of the Opposition advises the King to follow the example of William IV and dissolve Parliament: this he does, and the ensuing crisis is Charles’ downfall.

What was most interesting was the role of Kate in this.  Bored by her portrayal as a smiling and supportive wife, she urges the indecisive William to take control and intervene.  Kate is the typical Shakespearian female malcontent, albeit with more possibilities open to her than a Tudor princess: and from the moment she persuades her husband to act, the writing is on the wall for Charles.  He becomes Lear; pathetic, outcast, bemoaning the treachery of his children and only giving way when they threaten to leave the palace and take his grandchildren with them.

Also interesting was a sub-plot centring on Harry’s desire to be a commoner: he returns to the fold just in time for the coronation.

And this is how the play ends: with William being crowned in his father’s stead, and stability being returned.  At the last minute Charles snatches the crown from the Archbishop, seeming to be about to put it on his own head.  Instead, in a touching gesture, he places it on William, murmuring ‘my son.’

And there’s even a Shakespearian ghost: Diana returns to speak to both widower and son, telling them both that they will be the greatest king ever: in a nice twist, it seems Charles will achieve this by abdicating.

I can’t sing the praises of this enough: I’m going to watch it again in a few days.  I’ve only scratched the surface here.  I urge you to see it while you can:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p04z0n7s/king-charles-iii

Kirk out

When You Have Nothing to Say…

…say nothing.  That’s advice I’ve been following for the last couple of weeks, but a blog can only stay silent for so long before people Begin to Wonder.  It’s like radio silence – if it goes on too long people begin to question whether the station is there at all.

Speaking of radio silence, the other day this was stretched to the limit during the broadcast of Pinter’s play ‘Betrayal.’  It’s a good title, since the play itself is a betrayal, heaping insult onto injury by making public Pinter’s affair with Joan Bakewell.  She wrote her own play in retaliation (also broadcast) but no such redress was available to Vivien Merchant, the wronged wife, who not only had to suffer the pain of her husband’s affair but then the indignity of having it plastered all over the stage.  I can’t begin to imagine how I’d feel if it was me.

But the Beeb were flirting with danger in other ways too.  As anyone familiar with Pinter knows, his plays are pregnant with pauses, so much so that the phenomenon is known as the ‘Pinter pause’:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Characteristics_of_Harold_Pinter%27s_work#The_.22Pinter_pause.22

A Pinter character can barely say half a dozen words without lapsing into a brooding silence.  Which is not to say that the pauses are contrived or meaningless; far from it – a pause, a silence, can convey far more than any number of words when used in the right way.  Pinter could almost have been a Quaker (except that it is not very Quakerly to have an affair and then write a play about it!)  Anyway, this is me breaking my radio silence and telling you all that I am Still Here.  I’ve mostly been in the garden, digging up stubborn brambles with roots the size (although not the shape) of my head, and ivy that has convoluted and thickened everywhere.  Ivy horrifies me, the way it embraces and kills every other living thing: it’s very cathartic to rip it apart and chuck it in the garden bin.  We have just signed up to this scheme, which gets you a brown bin that’s emptied fortnightly.

I promise from now on to blog more often than the garden bin is emptied.  Hope you all had a good Easter.  Anyway, here’s the play, featuring Andrew Scott who was so brilliant as Moriarty in Sherlock:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01kr71s

and here’s Joan Bakewell’s riposte:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08n4qq5

Kirk out

Best. Shakespeare. Ever.

I was initially a tad dubious about these beamed-in theatre productions where theatres film their output and transmit it simultaneously to cinemas all over the world.  Whilst I could see that it enabled thousands more people to see a play which they might not otherwise get to attend, it seemed a rather dislocated experience.  It must also be hard for the actors, knowing that they are performing for a dual audience and that as well as having to project to the gods at the National (or wherever) they will have cameras on them doing a close-up.

But I am now a total convert, having seen not only Hedda Gabler from the National but also, on Saturday, the completely amazing NT production of Twelfth Night, starring in a gender-bent role, Tamsin Greig as Malvolia.

I always respected Tamsin Greig as an actor.  Her ultra-distinctive voice is rarely heard on The Archers nowadays, as Debbie is permanently in Hungary, but I loved her in Black Books and various other things on the good box.  But I basically thought of her as a soap/sitcom actress and had No Idea of what heights of comic invention she could ascend on the stage.  Her Malvolia was the funniest, most striking, most pathetic, most hilarious and outrageous I have ever seen.  And though she was the best thing in it, the cast as a whole was far from dusty.  Setefane claimed that Phoebe Fox was the finest member of the cast, playing another gender-bent role, Olivia (a woman pretending to be her own brother).  And ’tis true, she was indeed brilliant, but I couldn’t take my eyes off Tamsin Greig.  Best.  Twelfth Night.  Ever.  In fact, possibly the best Shakespeare ever – in my experience at least.

Gender-bending is common in Shakespeare when not only did boys play women, but characters often pretended to be of the other sex.  But recently in more feminist style, roles have been swapped; so recently Helen Mirren has played Prospera in The Tempest and Maxine Peake, Hamlet:

https://www.theguardian.com/stage/gallery/2014/sep/26/female-hamlets-sarah-bernhardt-maxine-peake-in-pictures

If you get a chance to see this production, go.  Sell your house and all its contents, but go.  It’s terrific.

https://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/twelfth-night

Kirk out