Having fun

One of the most enjoyable artistic collaborations I have engaged in recently was to work with my daughter on ‘a comic’. (Seems an odd term to me, I think of The Beano, but it is a genre in its own right). Taking time out to retrain as an illustrator she used linocutting to draw a set of images depicting the Bob Dylan song, Desolation Row. She contacted Bob Dylan’s agency who requested a huge amount for permission to use the words so she asked me to recreate them. I feel a bit of a fraud as it took me about an hour, compared to the hours and hours that Alex put in to create the drawings. Well, her work is getting some attention and been mentioned on a few blogs. Maybe a new career awaits me too (joke!)

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The gift of listening

I am doing a course in Listening Skills. I’m not the trainer, I’m the recipient and that makes me the worst critic. We didn’t get off to a good start when I arrived at the venue, along with a few others, and there was no signposting. When we eventually found the room the trainer had her head down, in her equipment, and didn’t acknowledge us. Then it started 30 minutes late! I nearly left. I find training so slow and don’t understand how a lot of trainers expect people to listen endlessly. And sit. After two hours I asked for ‘a two minute comfort break’ but was told to wait til after the next exercise. So much for practising what they preach!

There are 13 women on the course and one man. That’s a laugh as who does most listening?! The man obviously feels uneasy because his interventions consist of pointing out what might be wrong and helping the trainer with her equipment malfunctions. So far I have done an evening and a full day yesterday. There’s an evening to finish off this week. Then I pass. Yippee!

Why did I want to do a listening course? Well I’ve thought about doing something for a while. I think because it’s one of the greatest gifts you can give to somebody and I dont believe I’m very good. I get distracted or give advice or make judgements. And often want to wind people up to make them speak faster. I wish I’d listened more to my Dad. But because he was always so grumpy I found it hard. Now I realise he was grumpy because he was unhappy and I might have helped if I’d really listened. It always came round to the War and I switched off. Of course in the 40s there wa no such thing as post-traumatic stress and counselling. On this day I am reminded that my Grandad sold my Dad’s clothes because he didn’t think he would return. And he lost his mother whilst he was at sea. When he came home he said she was hardly mentioned. I can’t bring my Dad back but I can try to do for others.

In the exercises we do I have found it hard to listen, really listen, witout commenting. The firs time my partner used a real situation and I listened. Not feeling obliged to comment or ‘solve the problem’ makes it easier. I said little, just made noises to let her know I was listening. At the end she thanked me profusely and said how much better she felt.

I don’t think its just being heard. I think it’s being given the time and space to articulate your thoughts and come to your own conclusions. I do believe that most of us know the answers to our problems deep inside. When Stewart was in hospital and things were grim I was fortunate in having good listeners around me. I very quickly learned who to turn to for different reasons. Most of the time I didn’t want advice. And because I am not ‘feelings driven’ I didn’t want to talk about them. Not that I submerged them, how could I? I just didn’t want to be paralysed by negativity and I wanted the girls to see that everything would be alright. Which it was and is. Because people listened.

I was thinking about all this during the priest’s homily this morning. (Yes I know!). At the moment the teaching feels a a bit process like. Mechanistic. And i wish they wouldn’t constantly use our name, it drives me mad! Particularly when they get it wrong and call me ‘Christine’. But there are some really useful bits. And I like how they ended yesterday…

Every meeting and sharing of people is an exchange of gifts. My gift is me; your gift is you. We are gifts to each other.

I was telling Stewart about the course ans what I was learning. After about 5 minutes he said ‘They’re odd things to be learning on a knitting course!’ Aaarrgghh!

Staying in other people’s houses

We’re in Copenhagan for the weekend, staying in a flat of someone whom we briefly met when she gave us the keys. She has vacated it for our stay and left it more or less as she uses it. But clean, tidy and accessible to us. It’s an odd experience as we look at personal belongings and mementoes to try to get a picture of the owner. This one is defintely shabby chic. A bohemian owner with a partner who looks like an older Brad Pitt. And she loves Marilyn Monroe, there are images everywhere. Scandanavian chic, bleached wood doors and floors and light neutral furnishings. There are some strange artefacts: a small snake in a jar; a condom machine; quirky bare lighting. Everything looks handmade or bought from flea markets. There are two beaded evening dresses hung on our bedroom wall. There’s a cute lion rocking horse, an Indian display cabinet full of silvery trinkets and a sewing area with adorments that could have come straight out of Pinterest. It’s provided some great ideas for Alex, Dave and Sooz in their new London flat.

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Female book heroines

I love female heroines in books. My favourite of all time is Madame Bovary. In fact I loved it so much I named our first daughter Emma. Hopefully she won’t have the same life or fate though, as Emma Bovary takes arsenic and dies. When I studied it for A level set text our male teacher interpreted her as a silly fantasist who got what she deserved. And this said to an all female class. How passive we must have been in those days. When we studied it at uni my interpretation was different. I was much more sympathetic to Emma’s few opportunities for advancement and fulfilment in a stifling 18th century French society. She is ‘everywoman’ and just as relevant today.

I was reminded of this book when watching ‘Anna Karenina’ last night. I haven’t read the book. Shame on me! So again I was dependant upon a male (Tom Stoppard screenplay) interpretation. It’s an ambitious enactment of the book: magical and elaborate, played out as a piece of theatre and alternating with outdoor scenes which must be confusing for some audiences. The horse race scene that took place on a stage was clever and artful.

Anna came across as a selfish woman who abandoned her husband and children in the pursuit of love. Condensing a long book into two hours inevitably meant that some of the subtleties of the Tolstoy novel must have been lost. The parallels of the different love stories needed more words to be developed. And I felt that the story was let down by the characterisation. Keira Knightley makes an exquisitely beautiful Anna. But when I watch her I am aware of the artifice of the performance. The pouts, the dimpled smiles, the crestfallen looks. You remember where you have seen her do this before, say ‘Atonement’. Unlike Meryl Streep, or Kate Winslet, in any role, where you tend to forget her previous characters.

And the relationship between Anna and her lover (Russian name) forgotten was less than credible. Actor Aaron Johnstone was too unattractive, wearing a Shirley Temple wig, to match her charms. And probably hasn’t lived long enough to understand and act out the final traumas of their relationship. He seemed to give little in the final scenes. Unlike Jude Law, whom I didn’t recognise. He played Anna’s upright, uptight, moralising husband. Like Charles Bovary he is dull.

Some scenes reminded me of ‘Doctor Zhivago’. The snow, the harshness, the shallowness of Russian society (look out for Downton’s Lady Mary), the politics of Russia. There are great tableaux: the opera, the races, the meadow. But they were better brought out in the former. ‘Anna Karenina’ is more like a musical without the music, a show for the theatre. I imagine it lacks the complexity and moral messages of the book. I say ‘imagine’ for I should read it now!

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She’s leaving home

Youngest daughter is leaving home tomorrow to live in London and it will be a sad day. Most of her possessions are here today but will be gone tomorrow. An empty bedroom and one less toothbrush in the bathroom. There is no rite of passage like marriage, university is over, she’ll just get on the train and that will be that. I understand of course. Who wants to stay in a Midlands market town with few attractions and poor employment prospects, of the kind she wants? If I was her age I would do the same. But that doesn’t make it any easier. It will be the first time for a long time that the house won’t be full of young people’s chatter. It will be tidy and there will always be plenty of hot water (why do they spend so long in the shower?). There will be no loose leads hanging from plug sockets. Nor odd trainers lurking under sofas. Or sleepy heads on the sofa, after a late night, covered in a throw mid-afternoon. But those are scant compensations for interesting conversations, volunteers to cook meals, constant smiley faces and weird films by unknown-to-us European directors to watch (ok I won’t miss those!). I can do without the unpredictability but will miss the spontaneity. I might have to take in lodgers (haven’t mentioned this to Stewart!)

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I love Oldham

Driving into Oldham today reminded me of my teaching days when cheeky kids used to try to leave early by telling me they had to ‘go fert buzz’. As I believed it was my duty to teach them English before I could teach them French I made them repeat it correctly til they got it right. By which time the bell had rung (and they still hadn’t got it right.)

Oldham has always had ‘a buzz’ about it, even if you have to look hard to find it. I should know, as I lived there. In fact for a couple of years I was in the catchment area of the school where the paperboy, milk girl and local kids were in my classes. The disadvantage of being so invisible was compensated by a short journey time. My friend Patrick has just returned to Oldham after living in London (Notting Hill and Holland Park actually). We were talking about the differences. You can still buy a house in Oldham for £45,000; you wouldn’t get a garage in London for that. There’s a theatre in Oldham, but not in Notting Hill. Vintage shops in London are called charity shops in Oldham. Oldham has a real baker (not a supermarket fake baker) who bakes bread on the premises and sells onion bread, foccaccia. and other delights. They even sell pie n mash (What’s all that about? says Peter Kay). It’s not exactly The Hummingbird Bakery but the prices are affordable and quality good.

Oldham doesn’t do ‘gastro pubs’ but we did have lunch in a pub selling real gutsy food. Ignoring the ‘sandwiches with roast beef and gravy’ and ‘panini with prawns and Marie Rose sauce’ (ugh, all those drips!) I opted for freshly cooked fish n chips. Oldham being nearer to the sea than Loughborough makes it a safe bet. The landlord chatted to us in a neighbourly way, not because he was looking for a tip. It’s no good looking for fusion food in Oldham. Patrick says the nearest they get is a Chinese takeaway with chips. In Notting Hill there’s a canal they call ‘Little Venice’ lined with wine bars. Well Oldham has the Rochdale canal lined with pubs. Patrick says that people are definitely friendlier in the north but he does object to loud conversations about medical conditions in the street and in queues. In fact Oldham has its own charm but ‘it’s still boring and there’s nothing to do’.

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