Day Seventy: I suppose I ought to address the big talking point of the day, before it passes by and gets replaced by the next pin for the media to try and knock down.
First off are you really surprised? Surely you understand by now after two decades of lies, lies and more lies, something is rotten in Downing Street: something is always rotten in Downing Street. The puppet master Dominic Cummings’ confirmation today in the garden of No 10, to breaking the nationwide lockdown, plays right into the government’s hands.
If you are one of the thousands who feel anger towards him and the tory political machine, your only way to now defy the govt. guidelines, exert your own sense of power is to ignore lockdown rules which, is exactly what they want you to do.
Do not get angry, your anger is impotent we live in a top down hierarchy of privilege and power which exists everywhere in the country. You think those handful of rule breakers that have come to light, are the only ones? Of course not, there will be many, many more who played fast and loose with lockdown. Next week ministers will continue taking bribes, govts. will continue selling bombs to despots, hedge fund bosses will continue to profiteer from Covid, simply because they can. And we will spit out our coffee on cue or swallow it like the good little citizens we are. They believe they are leading men in their own Netflix drama series and we the public will watch on mesmerised, labouring under the belief that we have a part to play in this, all the while being controlled, distracted and ultimately neutralised.
Bojo wanted to be leader, Cummings saw to that, but he never wanted to govern, remember that. The last thing I’ll say about this turgid affair is that the current health crisis has continuously brought out some of the best in people, with well-meaning if sometimes aimless gestures and has brought out the worst in the elite, and will continue to do so.
Britain as you were!
Day Sixty-nine: If I had just left the theatre having seen this, I would have been skipping down the pavement on a high, talking in animated fashion to fellow theatre goers. Almost certainly imitating the style from the performance asking the question over and over, “What does it all mean?”
I think I have seen dance and theatre combine in a new way. New to me at least. I’ve seen a dancer use inner monologue as narration, voicing fears to devise/improvise steps. At one point tonight I’m reminded of John Smith’s brilliant reality/documentary short film The Girl Chewing Gum. So what is it, this thing that has me so excited, enthralled, enraptured?
It is Revisor a dance theatre work based on Nicolai Gogol’s play The Government Inspector, written by Johnathon Young, directed by Crystal Pite performed by eight dancers from Kidd Pivot (and I have to confess to not having heard any of their names before)
A strange (no doesn’t do it justice) a spellbinding dance theatre piece that has had me glued to BBC 4, (good work schedulers) for the past hour and half. Don’t ask me to explain…okay since you insist. What begins with figures on a stage, minimally set with a door, a desk and a voiceover, morphs into a farce, with cartoonish guise and movement to match. Elaborate, (no bigger than that) extravagant, (better) choreography, relates a story of an imminent visit to a provincial govt section.
The arrival of the visitor from Central has all the dept. heads running around like chickens: in fact chickens facing an imminent date with the axe, would have made less fuss. In the first act we are introduced to a nefarious bunch of characters each with some malodorous purpose and witness political ambition, obfuscation, threats of violence, pomp, ceremony and deception, that then shifts abruptly to a hellish world. It might be torture; it might be mind control, it might be I’m living inside the choreographer’s mind and they have subsequently gone mad.
The choreographic language and characterisation is utterly different, no longer overblown but intense, exacting, electrifying and anonymous. Every detail so finely observed, and then bizarrely narrated in voiceover, ‘figure 1 steps to left, turns head, figure two drops shoulder then slides across floor, figure 1 takes higher position…‘ It’s as if you are looking over the choreographer’s shoulder reading the notes. As the story is retold or deconstructed, happening and unhappening, it is as if the director has been replaced partway through the piece. I’ll be honest for substantial chunks of the performance, I really wasn’t completely sure what was going on or why.
The dancing was stunning, so many different ways to be present on the stage, to interact; duets with contact improvisation; complex ensemble phrasing, and mesmerising solos set against eerie backdrops with strobe lighting, dialling up the feeling of unease to seven (seven is a mystical number). The added layer of voiceover affording a unique insight into the relationship between the words and the dance phrases, as each have a conversation with the other, until that too is deconstructed and breaks down.
I can’t imagine many of you saw it, more’s the pity, but I believe I just found my much-longed for source of stimulation this night. I am left with so many questions which is always a good thing in response to performance. Bravo Kidd Pivot: Bravo company. Now how can I watch it again?
Watch Again (Hah! You are indeed fortunate, you have a whole eleven months but if you leave it that long I will be upset, having nobody to talk to about this incredible performance; thank you) Click Here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000jjjj
Day Sixty-eight: I wasn’t going to bother, I was going to see what happened if I didn’t bother. But something wouldn’t let me. I feel like I am running on empty, writers need stimulation to be able to write. They pick things up and store them away to bring them out later to play with on the page. When you’ve drained all there is inside, and there’s nothing else to mine, and you can’t go outside to find more… then what’s writing for? I think lockdown is getting to me. And this on a day when I had a lockdown beer with ma bestie and don’t go getting all hurt, I can have as many besties as I like, it is not a competition. I think lockdown is getting to me. The moments of distanced interaction only serve to remind me that I’m lonely, and there’s no cure for this right now, not the virus, but the way I feel. Each visit is contactless, every damn interaction through a damn screen, so what does any of it mean? The momentary high of finding something to get you by, to pass the hour or the day fades away quicker than you find it, before long you need another one. Another con. A make believe that your world is deeper and more meaningful than the same view from your windowsill, that you have a purpose in all this… that you are somehow making a difference. Because that’s why we do it. Somewhere, somehow I have to believe what I do matters. It’s not about the money now, it used to be about the money sure, not just chasing the coin to keep yourself afloat, but the number in the right hand column as a sign of self worth, a congratulatory notice that says Yes! You are on the right track. You’re only as good as your last piece so you better have been at your best. Every time you put pen to paper you begin at ground zero. There’s no blueprint for this. It happens or it doesn’t happen. They say it is like any other muscle in your body, you have to exercise it and work hard to reap the reward. Right now there is no reward, no reward, no reward. Right now there is no reward. I think lockdown is getting to me. It’s getting harder to put on a brave face, to keep smiling, to not feel empty, I feel there is nothing left to say except…
[Fill in the blank space]
Day Sixty-seven: My heart is at your festival, actor Toby Jones is reading Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood, just one of a handful of readings at an Evening with Wordsworth at Hay Digital. I like Toby Jones in The Detectorists, he is just marvellous with Mackenzie Crook.
Hay Literature Festival has gone online and attracting thousands of bookworms, to spend a few hours in front of the screen, during the next week, to join stars of the stage and page sharing their literary passions. I’ve booked a number of events including Innua Ellams and Sandi Toksvig. During a doorstep catch up my friend said she would choose Sandi at her best dinner party, she is very good so I am looking forward to hearing what she has to say.
The highlight for me? Monty Don reading Tintern Abbey from his garden accompanied by birdsong. It’s true there was a bit of buffering going on, which meant some the reading was interrupted, but with nearly 30,000 people watching at the same time it’s hardly surprising.
Later this evening I checked out a new work in progress from artist Will Dickie, you will remember him from such shows as Team of the Decades and Ravespace which both appeared at Heads Up Festival here in Hull. Over forty minutes he performed a new autobiographical work called White Sun, streamed live from the grounds of his home. for Word of Warning by Hab Arts.
Watch Now! Donations Welcomed by Word of Warning.
In other news the sisterly of Hull convened for our regular meet up to put some more meat on the bones for our July plans. More news forthcoming but this is going to be something a bit special for you all to enjoy out their in lockdown land.
It’s friday, it’s the weekend, whatever you got planned enjoy.
Day Sixty-six: A few little victories to start with. I cut bread today using my new knife. It felt really good to use and to be able to cut even slices, for yet another open sandwich. But you don’t really want to to know my daily bread-based menu, that really would be asking a bit much of you.
The compere turned to the audience seated in the amphitheatre, and challenged someone, anyone, to come and try to lift the iron bar. I can see myself aged eight, my hand shooting straight up into the night sky, looking around with one question on my lips, ‘He did mean anyone didn’t he?’
Like many of the expats living and working in Zimbabwe, we took every opportunity to explore the country. During school holidays or extra long weekends we would drive to places of natural beauty, Lake Kariba, Wankie (Hwange National Park), Great Zimbabwe and Vumba Mountains in the south east. In the far western point on the border with Zambia lies the Zambezi River and Victoria Falls. Mosi-au-tunya Smoke that thunders… That line from Shona, captivated me so that years later I would write a poem, about the political strife and human struggle in the country, that began… ‘Smoke that thunders, masking the coming storm, young men of Chinoyi disappeared…’
We visited Vic Falls at least twice and each time we stayed in one of the hotels, I tell a lie we stayed in the hotel once, the second time we drove from the lodge at the game reserve. I remember a very, very long, long drive back in the dark with Granny London, she’d get panicky about anything more than a snail’s pace. The first time in Vic Falls we went on the Zambezi River, on a booze cruise, typical tourist boat packed full of noisy people hunting out for the crocodile basking on the banks: and scaring each other with phantom hippos. You don’t want to meet a hippo in the Zambezi, boat or no boat.
We visited the rainforest where park staff hand out paca-macs and black umbrellas; the area has its own micro-climate, so is humid as hell and damp like you’d never believe. All the while there is a low rumbling sound and glimpses of smoke as if something ahead is on fire. The sheer power and volume of the water that pours into the gorge, hundreds of metres below, throws up a spray of water, that constantly mists the trees and plants turning it into a tropical rainforest. When you emerge from the forest and catch sight of the falls for the first time words cannot describe the feeling. The roar and ferociousness of Devil’s Cataract and the majesty of the main falls, gallons and gallons of water endlessly falling, it is just breathtaking: mosi-au-tumya.
After the boat trip, where we had managed to see crocodile and gazelle, zebra and elephant and water buffalo we went back to our hotel, where we had an early supper in the restaurant, and then went out to a neighbouring hotel named after the falls themselves. Each night back then, and probably still do to this day, there would be special entertainment laid on for hotel guests and visitors alike, in an amphitheatre situated within the hotel grounds, with an arc of tiered stone seating. For a wide-eyed child of eight out after dark, this felt like something really special. We took our seats just as the sun was lowering on the horizon, branding the skies above in swathes of molten gold.
As it grew darker torches were lit, flames danced in our eyes, as we sat with a hundred or so others. There’s a buzz in the air, the atmosphere is building and my little eight year old soul is loving every second. Then from all around us the low thump of drums begin. The world is transformed as athletic men and women in traditional costume (it is very eighties touristy, so picture ten or so performers wearing elaborate animal skin costumes, Bold patterns and stripes, adorned with bright feathers and beads) We are told the group have lived for generations in a nearby village on the banks of the Zambezi: I suspect, touring the hotels and living in a bus would be closer to the truth.
It’s about performance, drama and storytelling and they are really good at it. During the show we go on a journey through this world and the underworld, commune with animal spirits and learn about muti (medicine) and ancient ritual practices. There is singing and dancing with much stomping of feet on the earth and choreographed fights with shields and spears… I am aware this is all sounding a bit off, raises questions about authenticity and agency etc. But I am eight and this is my very first taste of theatre in Africa, so everything is magical. If they are all getting paid fairly and people visit the gift shop after and buy their curios, then can it be alright just for tonight? [realises: it’s a merch table isn’t it? This is a gig with live music and dancing.]
One of the acts was the strongman, he emerged from the shadows larger and more imposing than all of the others, he strode out into the middle of the arena, and proceeded to embark on a series of feats of strength, culminating in the lifting of an iron bar in his teeth. It was at that moment the compere had asked the crowd whether anyone wanted to try having a go. ‘Go on then if you want to,’ my mom said seeing my hand still in the air.
I am eight years old and I’m hopping down the stone steps, either side of me the crowd are shouting words of encouragement. I walk towards the middle of the arena where the strongman has just left the iron bar. The dancers and musicians have seemingly just melted into the background. The compere tells me to try and lift it, and I bend down and try to pick it up like weightlifters do. Nothing doing. It won’t budge. I can’t even raise it to my ankles.
I can feel the eyes of everyone watching me, and I see myself going back to my seat having failed… I’m already thinking, he meant a grown up not a child, of course he meant a grown up, someone who is strong, what was I doing putting my hand up? He leans down and whispers to me to try to lift it from one end… I look again at the crowd in the darkness, I feel a breath of cool evening air, it is fast dawning on me where I suddenly am, but the spell that has carried me this far, has not yet broken.
I grip the flat end of the bar in my fingers and somehow roll it over, cradling it in my forearms. It is not a trick bar, it is heavy solid, it might not be solid iron, but it is still heavy. I raise it halfway up to a 45 degree angle, still cradling the top end in my arms. I raise myself to my full height, I was tall even for an eight year old. I have it there for all to see, standing up right.
The crowd burst into applause, cheering and clapping. He tells me to take a bow and I do and then while he addresses the audience again, I turn and look behind me, desperate for a glimpse of the dancers. I want to see inside the hut they keep appearing from; to have a go on the tall djembe drums; try on a mask… all these things flash through my mind, as I picture how all that might happen…
All too soon I’m bounding back to my seat, heart pounding, to the sound of more applause. ‘Well done, good for you,’ my mom and dad say as I join them once more in the darkness. The next morning we have to make one more stop off, before leaving Victoria Falls. I’ve been told to go into the town and pick up a special prize from the compere’s shop. It is a white t-shirt with a picture of the performers in full costume on the front, and written in big letters…
Day Sixty-five: Watching The Martian in lockdown is perverse: it adds insult to injury. Lets be clear I’m not comparing surviving on a hostile planet with being forced to stay indoors day after day [spoiler alert] I’m not exactly growing my food in my own shit. Working the problem though, that’s a good mantra for us all.
My life has become all about working the problem, finding ways to adapt to overcome challenges. I have surprised myself at the levels of resilience I have shown so far, I’m wary of putting up the banners too soon – but a streamer or two next week might be nice. I’ve got at least five weeks left.
This week I got a parcel full of magical gadgets that are designed specifically for people with arthritis, knives that work like saws, extra grip peeler, a chopping board with spikes, even an electric can opener. I’ll be unstoppable in the kitchen. Talking about the kitchen, I’ve developed a taste for sour dough bread, it’s yummy in an open sandwich of which, I’ve had a few this week. So thank you to both the gadget gang, and to the baker, I really am surrounded by some of the most lovely friends and I’m under no illusion that I could have survived quite so well without your many generosities.
I’ve been sleeping better lately although I did double my sleeping tabs at the beginning of the week, when Tinnitus was raging at three in the morning. The noise in the ear is bad enough, but weirdly I feel the vibrations in my feet, which spreads throughout the mattress so its like sleeping beside a buzzing washing machine. In half sleep I imagine I’m lain beside a great big roaring machine until I jolt myself awake. I still sleep with Roden Bear and also a line of pillows now, advice from a friendly occupational therapist to help relax the shoulders, so that they are not put under added strain whilst asleep.
All the talk of Hydroxychloroquine piqued my interest, I’ve been taking that as part of my daily drug regime, for two years maybe more. They are prescribed for rheumatoid arthritis amongst a number of other long term conditions and of course for combating malaria. I’ve never had malaria thank God, my dad had malaria in Malawi, he was very poorly apparently but that was a few years before I was around. My mum got stung by a scorpion once and had to have thirty injections in her stomach, apparently they didn’t have a syringe barrel large enough to do the antidote in less shots.
Open sandwiches, arthritis, scorpion stings and electric can openers… it’s all a bit random tonight isn’t it.
must try harder, or not
Day Sixty-four: Double figures in the number of weeks, that didn’t seem imaginable back in early March, yet here we are. In some ways this time has vanished, one day blurring into the next… Monday Nothing Tuesday Nothing Wednesday and Thursday Friday for a change a little more nothing Saturday once more Nothing as The Fugs sang back in ’65.
As different parts of the world test the Reproduction number, with wide ranging easing strategies, here in the house of isolation we are very much deep into lockdown. Each day finding new ways to fill the time, occupy the mind, imagining new ways to cope with being shut away from all we know and love. Remote communications fill some of that void but the very act of talking through the screen only serves to remind us of the new reality.
It is possible that one of the legacies of lockdown will be the adoption of video conferencing, replacing the ‘lets meet for a coffee and talk about a project’ a practice that was almost de rigeur, before Covid-19. I can see other behaviours being ushered in too, such as better work home life balance. There might be more understanding of inequalities across society, as people face mass unemployment, longterm financial difficulties in a new and nervous world, of social distancing and mass observation and testing.
How does that new world look for those groups who are considered vulnerable? How does it look for those at high risk, possibly leading to hospitalisation if they contract the virus? When will the government address those who they have told to stay in lockdown until June 30?
Until such time they do, we have to find ways out of lockdown, inside our homes, in our imagination.
Taking inspiration from Grayson Perry’s art club series and the view from the window prompt. Today I took steps to being able to put a chair by my window so I can watch the trees they are covered in green leaves now. If I’d thought about it I’d have taken a photo every day and cut it together like stop-motion animation, to document the Spring turning to Summer. It would have been a good project to run alongside this blog which is my document of lockdown.
Over the past few weeks I have been noticing the trees out my window. I like the way a gust of wind will catch one branch and the imperceptible movement throughout the tree, out along the branches, picking up more energy that brings the adjoining trees to life. It is a bit like the way light flashes across a shoal of herring, or the intricate patterns of a murmuration of starlings turning balletically against a greying sky in September.