Tuesday, 25 February 2014


Good morning.

Rigorous as these past couple of weeks have been, what with starting rehearsals for a new show, instrument lessons and getting back on the dance bike, it was quite possibly a rare display of impeccable timing on my part which prompted me to take a hiatus from Facebook two weeks ago on Thursday. I've been quiet on Twitter, too, although that was more from a lack of time in the first place.

As it was, things on my particular News Feed were getting a little fraught.  I have noticed more than once that when we are faced with disaster or tragedy, quite often the very best of people shines through in the heat of the moment (Except for those who slow down to get a good look at accidents. You people are THE WORST). The recent (extreme and unusual) floods have turned the local community into a swarm of Blanche Dubois-es. Helpless, lost, and miserable, relying On the Kindness of Strangers to ensure that they, at the very least in some cases, can sleep under a roof at night.

In the same way that truth of heart and strength of compassion flourishes during such times, that little blue button with it's innocuous-looking 'f' peering up at you from your iPhone presents you with the opportunity to say "What's on your mind?"

Putting that inviting little phrase into the Status box was the Worst. Idea. Ever.

Aside from the scaremongering that comes with any potentially perilous situation, what with facts being misunderstood then misquoted then misquoted again then put as someone's status, we had those who, if we are being brutally honest, felt they hadn't quite gotten enough of the action.  Some of those very lucky folk in the area who did not have water lapping at their door or creeping up on them via the overflowing toilet ("That's where it gets you! Sandbags are no good when it comes up through the loo!" - My Dad) were feeling Left Out. A Thing is happening! It is not happening to me! I must fix this!

It's one of the many facets of human weakness. We want to be included. It's in our nature, and responsible for many a mountain that started life as a molehill. The thing is with Facebook, it's a very passive-aggressive way of causing a fuss. No one has a good old-fashioned argument any more. I scream, you scream, we say what we feel, we remind ourselves we're basically flawed creatures incapable of being perfect at all times, we make up and eat ice cream. Facebook provides a forum on which to say, frankly and tactlessly, things we would never in a million years dream of saying to someone's face.

[Note: I have been one of the worst Facebook offenders. I know my stuff, y'all.]

I had people who I knew to be very lovely suddenly complaining that people would "Shut up about these floods, already!!!!1!!" followed by a long list of comments from those who had lost their homes and were certainly not going to shut up about it.

And, my favourite, the knights in shining armour - the ones who we would LOVE to admire for their community spirit and large hearts, their unbound generosity and all-round good-guy-ness. We'd love to say "You're great! You inspire me! I'm gonna go help too!" But we find it difficult to love them for their deed when you discover a self-made Facebook shrine to their day of good deeds which takes you three hours to scroll through, complete with comments including "The Army are useless! The police are idiots! Look at all the things I gave away! LOOK AT THEM! Aren't I fantastic? Look, I've even included tinned kidney beans because I'm just That good. SHAME ON YOU ALL FOR NOT GIVING AWAY YOUR FOOD TOO. Here, have several selfies of me pulling distressed faces at the water."

The best and most effective acts of kindness, having been lucky enough to have received many myself, are spontaneous, quiet, and sincere. And do not require publicising.

Facebook is important to me because it allows me to keep up to date with dear friends who are not close by, in some cases not even in the same country. It's great for finding people you used to know, keeping track of loved ones when things get busy, and sharing information without having to ring round everyone. But that's it.  That's all it's meant to be.  It isn't a lifestyle.  People spend every waking moment refreshing their newsfeed. I'll be back on Facebook on Thursday, most likely with a link to this nonsense, and then I'll most likely forget about it again, because I have realised that I am no less without it - I certainly am not missing out on any excitement, I'm following the news with more clarity and when people want to talk to me, they have to call and have a proper conversation.

Let's not only be able to say what's on our minds when Facebook asks us too. It's a lot harder to connect with someone face-to-face, but the results are infinitely more satisfying.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Theatre Review: The Final Revelation of Sherlock Holmes.

Last night's performance of Dick Backard had to be cancelled - the threat of the tube strike had scared away any prospective audience members (six, that we knew of), and considering our A Capella "trio" would, in fact, have been sung by one person plus whatever I could improvise, it was probably a blessing in disguise for all involved... Amusing though it would have been watching one person sing three harmony lines. Also, audience participation doesn't quite work when there are more people on stage than there are in the seats. Awkward.

I was lucky enough, however, to be invited along to The Final Revelation of Sherlock Holmes at the Pleasance Theatre, accompanied by Lisa of that most marvellous group of ladies, the Baker Street Babes.

(Warning: Oh, look! A tangent! *Jumps on*)

The play is something of a hidden gem for Holmesians, written back in the 70s. Similar in it's basic set up to The Secret of Sherlock Holmes, Act 1 is a window into the domestic life of our two favourite Victorian gents, Act 2 delves into the darker reaches of Holmes' mind, seeking to explore, to an extent, the torture of genius.

The production as a whole was balanced excellently. It is terribly easy with any two-hander for the action to become too static, or for the set to distract from what is being said. Director Danny Wainwright and Designer Ele Slade sidestep this potential issue very well indeed.  The set - arranged on the revolve so that the seemingly sparse 221b exteriors fully masks the living room within - is fairly simple, a few chairs, a couple of desks. However, there was still a sense of cosiness and the feeling that this is a room which had been lived in - the clutter on the desk, the toppled books on their shelves, set the scene without being too noisy.

And what a celebration of Doctor Watson! Played with that awed curiosity coloured by years of frustration by James McGregor, there is not a Holmesian in the land who will not stand and cheer when any Watson says something along the lines of "I am a qualified Doctor, you know."

We must ask ourselves why on earth Watson puts up with Holmes, and there are two answers. The first is that Watson must be, as he was portrayed for many years, a first class idiot. We establish early on that this is not the case. The other, as Holmes points out both in the Canon and various incarnations, is that he is simply a Good man. McGregor's Waston encompasses all that keep us coming back to the Holmes stories - dedication to his profession, patience with his friend, sporting humour, and a desire to know and learn. The reason why Holmes, the most unsociable man in literature, has been the catalyst for so many friendships is that Watson demonstrates, time and again, how to be a good friend.

And then, of course, there's Holmes himself.  It's difficult to say too much without giving things away here - however it must be said that, as once again we saw in The Secret, we are allowed a little further into the heart of this "great brain" than we would be in a Canonical production. Nico Lennon's Holmes is twitchy and restless, curling and uncurling himself out of his armchair like a cat with springs for paws. As mentioned, a few of Holmes' personal quirks come up in the course of the play and Lennon handles them well - awkward and petulant at times, but never too much, and never without the dignity with which he regards himself. Holmes is a man who carves out his own world - he is not an adapter. At least, not without Watson's guiding hand. And, as a final nod to a man who created his own profession, dips in and out of private police cases at will, and picks up and puts people down when it suits his need for information, we see no limit to his infamous stubbornness is the play's twist...

...Which I will NOT reveal here, because you must all go and see it.

I will say that the references to it being set in 1930 jarred me to begin with.  Hang in there. All will be revealed. Because it IS 1930, we get a Tango. There, all better now.

In short, The Final Revelation of Sherlock Holmes is close enough the the general familiarity of Holmes as a public figure for someone who hasn't read the books to enjoy, yet jam packed full of the wit, case references and, ultimately, the battle for friendship that is so well loved by Holmesians. Excellent acting and direction compliment a funny, engaging script. Go and see it. Running until 2nd March at The Pleasance Theatre, nearest tube Caledonian Road.

Friday, 7 February 2014

On Panic, and understanding, and maybe we can fix this.

Good Morning.

I am panicking today. Not a hysterical, flapping, screaming panic, but the kind of silent, painful, creeping panic that is so so much worse. In my mind, everything I'm doing is wrong, I cannot satisfy myself that any task is done right (even though most of them HAVE been done right) and I can see absolutely no way in which anything will ever get any better. I will continue to accidentally mispronounce things, forget to fill the dishwasher and feel slightly awkward whenever I speak to someone new until I spiral into a big useless mess, my parents will pass on and my sister will move out and I will be alone and penniless in a cold, desolate bungalow in a road full of pensioners. Today, this morning, that is all I can see in my future. Yesterday, I was happily making plans to backpack around New Zealand.

My senses are heightened to terrifying, razor sharp precision.  I can't bear hearing my own voice being fed back into my headphones with a half-second delay - on any other day it is mildly off-putting and I just shift my earpiece to block the sound. Today I cannot be rid of it. Today my own voice being fed through a tube to Ipswich and back again is frightening and though I lift away the source of the feedback I can hear the whisper of an echo still, can feel the vibrations through the foam on the edge of the headphones.

The slightest noise behind  me makes me jump and whip round in my chair. The slightest shift in light, and I'm convinced someone is standing behind me, peering over my shoulder. My eyes pick out the tiniest blemishes on the computer screen and suddenly these minuscule specks are huge, obstructive, I spend my shift swiping at them. The fear manifests itself in a physical, feel-able pain. It feels like someone is trying to bore a hole between my eyes, all the while tightening the vice around my chest.

I lose my sense of time. I mentally try and plan a whole lifetime of work to be completed in two weeks. I set impossible tasks in impossible timeframes and mock myself when, inevitably, I fail. I sit down at my desk at 6am, and am gripped with cold fear when suddenly it's 10 o'clock at I've only done the work I was supposed to do. I become completely blind to the fact that I was in near-constant acting work last year, and that this year is looking the same way, and that I've lived in France and worked in a circus and was part of a project to bring theatre to rural Romania.  But because I'm not a clarinet virtuoso/amazing cook/multi-linguist/someone's partner, I have failed.

If you're still reading and haven't brushed this off as a self-indulgent rant (which it partly is, and I do feel a bit better now, thank you) you most likely have some concept of that what it really going on. You may recognise these things yourself, have experienced them first hand perhaps, or have had someone close to you go through something similar.
Mental illness is at it's most destructive when it is not understood.   And often, it is most difficult for the patient themselves to grasp what is happening to them.

Every one of us has said or done things when we've been angry, upset or disappointed that has been hurtful to others. Imagine for the moment that, for no reason apparent to you at that time, you live in a constant state of misery. You think you're doing what you love, but you feel so numb you cannot remember the last time you really enjoyed yourself. You can't stand it when people try to talk to you but you yearn for company when they stop. You cannot give an answer when people ask what's wrong and you snap, you cry, you say incredibly stupid things and eventually, the people around you quite rightly leave you alone and get on with being happy.

The problem lies, as with any illness, in symptom recognition. for years people have campaigned for more awareness of the symptoms of the various types of cancer, a heart attack, a stroke.  People are now prepared years in advance for any of these things to happen and as a result many illnesses are caught early, many lives are saved.

I cannot recall "getting" depression. I wonder if I would be able to, if someone had sat us down in a classroom at school and spent half an hour talking to us about how to lead a happy life.  A few NLP and positive thinking exercises during form time.  How much quicker would I have come to the conclusion that actually, things don't have to be this way - if only I knew then that bawling my eyes out every single day for a reason I could not provide was a red flag, instead of assuming I must just not be working hard enough.

Why do our children not know how to listen to their own minds? Why are they not being told how to recognise signs of potential mental illness in themselves and others? How many years of unhappiness, broken relationships, even suicides could have been prevented if only those people had been educated properly? If we are going to strip the taboo of mental illness in it's many forms, we need to start before the damage is done. We need to reach out to the children who will take in the knowledge, so that they can grow up with the tools to deal with difficult emotional times.  We need to instill knowledge of what to do if you are despairing early on, where it will be held for life, and it will NOT be a surprise when suddenly, years of illness down the line, one of them looks back at the amazing times they could not enjoy and the friendships they could not appreciate, and only then, perhaps too late, learns that help can be sought and changes can be made.