Wednesday, December 17, 2014

So much beauty in the gift of a kimono

Last night there was a knock my hotel door. I knew it would be Yukiko, my Japanese translator’s mother, because we were going to have dinner together.

The last time I met her was in the bar of the Traverse theatre over ten years ago, when I was teaching her daughter, Nozomi Abe, on the Queen Margaret University post graduate playwright’s course.

I was her daughter’s professor, John Clifford in those days, and she came with her husband, and the meeting was extremely pleasant. But quite formal.

It wasn’t till she knocked on the door last night that I suddenly wondered how she would respond to this time meeting Jo Clifford…

With complete naturalness and kindness,as it happened. Actually with far more than simple kindness. She said she had a present to give me and began to unpack this utterly beautiful silk kimono, which she then helped me put on.

And this is me wearing it…. Surprised and touched to the very depths of my being.

“You were handsome and distinguished when we first met”, she said, “And then I saw you with your daughter on Facebook at the opening of Great Expectations and you looked beautiful. Like an actress.  And so i wanted to give you this…”

As a piece of clothing, it is absolutely gorgeous; and it all comes with what she called a “happy coat”  also in silk, and with the most beautiful embroidery and calligraphy in the lining.

I don’t think I have ever worn anything so beautiful.

But I think what matters more than the enormous material generosity of this gift is the extraordinary generosity of spirit. The level of acceptance. The depth of kindness.

It is the hugest thing. I don’t think I have the words for it just now.

But I must find them: so I can say thank you properly.

“Arigatou gozaimasu” is a beginning. But there is far more to learn.

Meantime, Yukiko is teaching me to count. “Ichi, ni…” But I quickly get lost.

This is an extraordinary and complex and beautiful world I will probably never really even begin to understand.

But it all begins with kindness….

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The taxi driver and the edge of things

It’s half past four in the morning when the taxi comes.

As soon as I open the door he’s telling me what a terrible hour he’s had, with him having a puncture, and having to call into the garage, and changing the tyre, and getting black all over.

He’s calling me ‘ma’am’ which I find is the one thing I’m really concerned about, but I’m being as sympathetic as I can and agreeing with his choice of route to the airport and laughing at his suggestion that maybe the apocalypse has finally come, given that we haven’t seen a single car on the road and maybe us two are the only people left alive in the whole world

And then it’s his 7 children and four grandchildren and isn’t it a joy having grandchildren but doesn’t it all make Christmas expensive, and this is where it happened just here, and he saw the pothole and tried to avoid it and missed it with his front wheels but just got it with his back and he heard the air escaping, and he thought “Oh no”

And did I hear him calling me ‘sir’? And does it matter?

And then another “sir” just as we’re pulling in to the terminal and I think, yes, yes it does matter and start explaining he was right the first time with his madam because I’m transgender.

And he starts to apologise, oh dear I’m so sorry I hope I haven’t offended you

And I say I know my voice is quite masculine I really should do more of those voice exercises

Just to make him feel better, and he’s saying how he clocked the nice earrings as I got into the cab, and he thought my wife would really like a pair like that and do you mind if I talk about you with my pals in the pub, nicely like

And you look very feminine, absolutely, he says as I leave, and “Here you are y dear the waiter says as he brings my eggs in the Heathrow terminal where I’m having my breakfast and I think I really should stop getting pleasure out of men condescending to me

But then why not, another voice says, why not take pleasure, in this daily journey I am every day taking  across inner and outer frontiers

As I sit feeling happy on the far edge of things

Eating my breakfast.

The Good Fairy And The Voice Of The Future

I have a facebook friend who has a part in a pantomime. He’s posted before and after pictures of himself: dressed in his street clothes, and in make-up and costume.

The make up makes him look both more than his usual self - brighter, handsomer, more engaging - and also, strangely more like his real self. More like the inner self he maybe feels himself to be, somewhere, as we all do, yet which in normal life he never quite manages to manifest.

Looking at him made me remember my first panto - Bristol Hippodrome 1962 - which was also my first experience of professional theatre. 

And how that was what I most loved: the fact that the people on stage were recognisably people and yet also so much more. Funnier, more full of love and pathos, brighter. More vivid. Bigger. More alive.

And maybe that's how I still want my characters to be...

He’s playing Buttons from the look of him. Buttons who I used to love and feel so very sorry for. And -absurdly - I found myself feeling a pang of envy. Sadness, too: that I’ll never get to play Buttons. Not ever…

Another facebook friend, also in pant, is playing the Good Fairy. She shared a lovely story of how she was holding a little girl’s hand on stage just after the song sheet and the girl looked at her and asked:

“Are you real?”

And she thought about it a moment and then said


And then felt guilty about it, but didn’t need to.

Because of course she was. Absolutely real.

And I realised I also wanted to play the Good Fairy…

I seem to have spent a lot of energy this past week reading pant reviews and struggling with the same regretful pang.

And the same anger, too:

That an incompetent and malicious music teacher made me ashamed of my singing voice; and that a viciously prejudiced culture made me ashamed of my whole self.

And that together they prevented me, all those years ago, from really hearing the message that panto gave me. From really understanding that the stage was my artistic home and that was where I truly belonged.

But I won’t feel sad.

I’m sitting down on the plane to study Nova’s amazing, beautiful and visionary speech from Peter Handke’s “The Long Way Round” which Chris Goode wants me to perform in a reading.

A reading that forms part of his project to form a permanent Company.

It’s not quite the Good Fairy: but it is the voice of New Age, and it really excites and inspires me.

Though I doubt Chris’ll give me a big frock….

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