Monday, October 26, 2015

The Irish Bits


From O. Reader (ten points for adapting to American spelling and mostly succeeding.)



A DAY OUT

Mrs O and I went to the theater in Cardiff this week and sat in the dress circle. I surveyed a sea of shiny bald heads before me. Was I the only old codger who still had his own hair? We were at the matinee performance of Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore.
The average age of the audience was - well, shall we say a bit older than me. Struggling to get refreshments in the interval meant mixing it with assorted walking aids that may have served their owners well, but risked Occasional taking a header straight into the bosom of the girl selling ices on the stairs.
I have a soft spot for HMS Pinafore. The daft plot revolves around the old English attitude towards class, and double standards, and patriotism, and cronyism. The “ruler of the Queen’s Navy” (that is Queen Victoria) gets his position through never going to sea. And the plot device - babies switched at birth was sort of reused by W S Gilbert’s scripts rather a lot. If you liked old-fashioned British humor, irony and puns, and knew a bit about late 19th century British society, you would be in your element. And if you didn’t, but just liked silly songs and silly dances - well, you could still enjoy it.
My grandfather used to produce G and S operas at the Alhambra Theater, Bradford, in the 1920s. My grandmother, who was always short and rotund, played most of the comic middle-aged women for him in these operas. Gilbert had a very cruel streak to him when it came to writing about women of “a certain age” - and “Little” Buttercup in Pinafore was one of my grandmother’s favorites. After some bad experiences with people ripping off their stuff - generally featuring America - G and S tied down their domestic productions to the letter of the dialog and stage directions. It was only when the copyright expired 50 years after Gilbert’s death that things could be relaxed. The first “unauthorised” production by Sir Tyrone Guthrie in London was of HMS Pinafore. My grandmother was still short and rotund, but a little old lady by then, and took me as a young lad to see it. She spent the whole performance noting how they’d changed a lyric here, and changed the stage around there, and that bit of “business” - THAT wasn’t in the original.
Now of course G and S can be done every which way. We used to go regularly each year to the festival held in the Spa Town of Buxton, and various companies rang changes with modern dress, modern references in patter songs, and even audience participation. But last year we did America instead. This year we did rather a lot of folk festivals, so this theater trip was our only G and S experience for a while. But we knew the theater company and had seen a number of the cast before. They had ‘done’ the regular festival in the summer and were now taking out three operas in three days on tour.
The age of the audience probably reflected the time of day, as well as the age of the material. But at G and S festivals we have seen audiences full of teenagers laugh at fellow teenagers performing. And very good they were too. We have seen university drama clubs put on the operas - generally very badly. But probably the worst experience was a university production we saw - not at the festival, but at a theater linked to a university on the British South Coast. They put on The Yeoman of the Guard, which is a lot more serious than the rest of the canon. But there was one violin in the orchestra that was out of tune. Only slightly, but with a violin that is more than enough. Every time the orchestra struck up, there was this off-putting sound - off-putting to both the audience and increasingly to the players as they tried unsuccessfully to keep straight faces and stay in tune. A gentle murmur and titter sort of increased each time the offending instrument struck up and totally trashed the pathos of the piece. We thought that at half-time they would do something about it, but maybe the player was a professor’s wife or a director’s girl-friend or something. She stayed. We contemplated leaving. But there are some things in life you can still enjoy for all the wrong reasons.
Perhaps my worst G and S experience was a version of The Pirates of Penzance we saw at an open air theater at the Welsh Folk Museum at St Fagans. The players were good, the weather was good (always a plus for open air) and we were all set to enjoy the afternoon, when the two seats next to me were finally occupied - about ten minutes after the start of the performance. A gentleman who could probably have made the record books for obesity, came and plonked himself down next to me, and on top of me - so great was the overlap. A very strange grey-haired old lady who may have been his mother, sat on the other side of him. As the singers were getting into their stride with “We Sail the Ocean Blue”, he suddenly started eating his packed lunch. I remember it was a strange kind of salad that would normally feed four, which required a plastic fork, which he promptly lost down the back of the seat in front. His mother downed a bottle of coke - from the bottle - which was incongruous to say the least, and then decided that she needed to go to what Americans quaintly call “the rest room”. I may have remarked before in a long-forgotten piece, but in Britain these are not rooms where you would choose to rest or even linger longer than necessary - certainly not when attached to an open air museum celebrating the joys of the past. Back and forth she came several times. At the interval we thought they had gone and breathed a sigh of relief, but five minutes into the second half, they were back - for more.
What made the experience memorable for all the wrong reasons is that I knew about thirty in the audience. We had very recently visited a congregation for a week’s visit, and they had all seen us in smart suit, smart bag, encouraging smile, that sort of thing. I think they’d obviously organised a sort of group outing, and just seeing us there in casual clothes was a novelty. But when they saw our plight, you could see it made their day. Forget G and S - watching Occasional (although they didn’t know him as such) be swamped and crushed and battered throughout the performance, sort of gave them a spring in their step - even though they were seated. I can still see them all trying to keep straight faces and shove handkerchiefs into mouths, while making continual covert backward glances throughout the performance. I know from later contact that many of them also gleefully remembered that day - and it wasn’t opera that made it.
But what is it they say about humor? It’s nearly always based on someone else’s misfortune.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Purloined Carts and Other Adventures - O. Reader

PLASTICS

“Plastics” was one of the funniest lines said to Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate. But “plastics” is currently BIG news in the UK.
England has recent gone over to charging for plastic bags previously given away by supermarkets and other shops. It has created a furore. One paper, The Daily Mail, shrieked in a headline “PLASTIC BAGS CHAOS LOOMS!”
Previously the population had regularly been issued with several dozen plastic bags each time they went shopping, which were then bundled into cupboards and drawers back home, causing near tragedies as housewives and househusbands could be easily buried under them just opening a cupboard door.
Then adding them to landfill, with a 500 year degradable date on them (give or take a decimal point or two) the practice was obviously leading to the ice caps melting and polar bears coming south to roam in the streets in leafy suburbs and feasting on little old ladies.
But now - no more free bags. If you wanted a plastic bag, now you had to pay - at 5 GB pence a bag. Apparently, rather than spending out their small change, the worthy salt of England were now making off with the wire baskets and shopping trolleys normally left at the supermarket entrance. Whether it was leading to cupboards full of purloined shopping trolleys in place of the bags was not revealed by the anonymous researchers who shrieked that this was Plasticbagageddon - or the end of civilization as we know it.
As an Englishman, long resident in Wales, it has to be noted that this new law has already been operative in Wales for several years.
Amazingly enough, the world has continued to turn in Wales. For a start, every 5 pence spent on a bag was not kept by the store, but the law dictated that it had to be donated to charity. In just a year or so there was a report that around 90 thousand GBP had been donated to charity as a result. So even if you bought a plastic bag you still felt a bit virtuous about it.
But then it tailed off. Why? Because now when we go shopping we all take our own bags. We have learned the lesson that officialdom wished us to learn in the beginning - reuse, recycle, don’t keep on dishing out unfriendly plastic that doesn’t degrade and kills wildlife if left in the wrong place, and previously filled cupboards with detritus.
It may smack of what is sometimes called here the Nanny State, but this time, it’s an idea that really has worked in Wales - without revolution and social upheaval. England - over to you.

 


"zakat tax"
"zakat tax"

Monday, October 12, 2015

Harry has started a new story ...



A Son’s Inheritance

“I need to tell you something
important my son.” Father breathed heavily and shifted uncomfortably as he sat
up in his bed. I had just brought him a cup of strong broth and we were alone in
his chambers. I pull a chair close and leaned in to listen.

“I need to tell
you about the portal. High up in the mountains where the spring flows that
begins the stream that becomes the Great River.” He paused to sip the broth and
take several breaths before he continued. “There is a cave. Follow the right
wall until you reach the portal.”

“What is this portal, Father, and why tell
me, your youngest son?”

“Because it is your inheritance. I know, I know,” he
patted my hand. “I will give you land and a house, your rightful share, but I
know your brothers. I am sad to say that they won’t obey my wishes and allow you
to keep what is rightfully yours.”

“The portal is a doorway to another world.
It’s a world like ours, but inhabited by a different people. I can’t tell you
much about it. I was only there twice and I had a pixie for a guide.”

“A
pixie? One of those foul, blue insects that spoil the milk, and scratch and bite
the babies?”

“No my son. These are larger, looking human like us, except for
the wings, and female.” He smiled… “Very female. Her name was Sha’leya and she
showed me the portal and how to use it.”

“And this portal leads to her
world?”

He shook his head and took another sip from his cup. “No. Their world
and many others are reached through different portals. This one leads to one
world where I was able to gain a small fortune and return here to build our
holding and grow it to what it is today. You may find another portal there. This
other world, Daventh, is something of a crossroads. Many travellers can be found
there wandering through its wonders.”

He was stopped by a racking cough that
left him weak and sweating as he fell back into his furs. I sat by his side
holding his frail hand. The room slowly darkened; the only light coming from the
flickering flames of the hearth. Finally he gripped my hand with only a small
measure of its once great strength. I moved closer and he finished his story,
whispering his secrets to me with his final breaths. He died that night and I
wept.

Thursday, October 01, 2015