Sunday, August 31, 2008

31st August.

I'd bought a ticket for the Jerusalem Qusrtet. Without thinking at all, really, about the implications. I simply wanted to hear Haydn and Janacek and get to know Brahms.

The concert was at the Queens Hall at 11.00 am. These are generally impeccably well mannered affairs, and so i was a little surprised to see protesters picketing the entrance.

I never grasped why this particular group was targeted by pro-Palestinians. It's true they have served in the Palestinian army; but then every Israeli adult is obliged to; and it's also true that 3 of the quartet members belong to Barenboim's East-West Divan Orchestra, which is profoundly committed to the cause of peace in the Middle East.

Nonetheless, i was grateful to be reminded of the political dimension to their presnce by the protesters at the door.

I walked past them, however: I don't believe in cultuiral boycotts.

What was harder to deal with were the protesters who, in a very well organised way, disrupted each of the movements of the first quartets.

I felt for the artists; I know I would feel it very unjustified to be held to account for my government's war crimes.

I felt for the protesters, too. Though i could not help but wonder how they would respond to Zionist protesters barracking a group of Palestinian musicians.

And I felt for dear Haydn. Whose beautiful slow movement was such a totally beautiful and dignified assertion of the human centred values the Middle Eastern conflict so desperately needs.

But I did not feel for the audience. These supposedly cultured and civilised music lovers responded to the very dignified actions of the protesters - who were communicating undeniable truths - with a petty minded rage I found utterly repulsive.

And that is why I left. I did not want to be part of such a vile bunch of ignorant and prejudiced people.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

28 August 2008

A blog I discovered today from an LGBT group in Kyrgyztan:
“A transsexual woman was raped three weeks ago in Bishkek by three men, they burnt her nipples and genitals with cigarettes and burnt her bra, she did not dare to seek help and did not believe that it was possible to address the rape in court. This was a hate crime which could’ve been prevented. We could not register the rape because her legal gender is not female and only females can be raped according to the Kyrgyz law.”

I put it in here because it matters: because it forms part of the context in which I work; and partly explains my disgust at the utterly contemptible show I saw this evening.

Today I finally managed not simply to read acts one and two (so far) of “Everyone” but also to make some progress on act two. And I translated a love letter for a friend. And I had a massage: something so sweetly restful I fell into the softest sleep you could imagine. I cooked myself a delicious aubergine curry. And then this evening I went to the theatre.

A world premiere.. Heiner Goebbels: “I Went To The House But Did Not Enter”.
“A staged concert in three tableaux”
Scene one: a Kafka-esque interior. A huge amount of work has gone into creating a dull interior. A 1950’s vacuum cleaner has been meticulously sourced. Four men in grey overcoats meticulously wrap up the crockery, the flowers, the carpet, the curtain, the pictures, and place them in two large grey cardboard boxes.

They give each other a signal and they start to sing: it turns out they are the Hilliard Ensemble. They sing a dreary setting of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”. Then, they painstakingly unpack the furniture again. The black flowers have turned white, the white vase has turned black. It’s all done with their bodies and faces blank and glum.

The curtain goes down; the curtain goes up; the scene changes. From dull interior to dull suburban exterior. A two storied house. The four singers each now inhabit a different room. The (equally dreary) text is by Maurice Blanchot: “La folie du jour”.Much of it is spoken. The singers, and who can blame them, have been unable to learn it by heart, and there is a certain amusement to be gained from watching their po-faced attempts to glance surreptitiously at the concealed portions of text.

The speak a senseless text. Sample: “Always the same. Always the same morning light”. They perform an unspeakably tedious series of meaningless actions, all realised with the kind of astronomical production values a theatre here (or just about anywhere) could not dare to dream of.

The last words: “A story. No. No stories. Never again”. And all the shutters come down. The curtain falls.

The merciful ice cream sellers gather. But no: now it’s a piece by Kafka. “Der Ausflug ins Gebirge”.

“I don’t know. I cried without being heard. ..Nobody will help me. A pack of nobodies”.

The third text, predictably, is Beckett’s. “Worstword Ho” (1983).
The period when the wretched man had finally written himself into a corner.
A meticulously realised dreary hotel room for the dreariest words.
An expensively recreated inept slide show. The fascination with outdated technology is somehow characteristic of the whole reactionary outdated exercise.
The lazy notion that its somehow enough to communicate nihilist senselessness.

I kept thinking of Jidariyya: the National theatre of Palestine show which was the last one I saw in this theatre. A company in desperate difficulties, under funded, facing real danger. Often prevented by army checkpoints from assembling in rehearsal.
Yet who created an immeasurably rich and beautiful and life affirming text.

As opposed to this: where millions were placed at the creator’s disposal. Millions he squandered in dreary, life-denying, dreary half baked nihilism. For which he was very comfortably feted and paid.

Which in a way sums up something appalling about the European West. With all the riches of the world at our feet, we can do no better than wallow in self-pity.

When he came out on stage to take his bow, I yelled out at him over the applause: “You are full of shit! Shame on you! You should be ashamed!”.

I’m glad I yelled. Even if no-one heard.


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Last night I saw something astonishing who significance I can barely begin to understand.

I can’t claim I was bowled over by it at the time; it’s only afterwards, on reflection, that I begin maybe to glimpse something of its significance.

It was called “Devil’s Ship” by Bazi Theatre Company. Performed in Parsi by a company of five women. And although the company seems to be run by men, who I noticed fussing around self-importantly after the show, the piece is about (and ultimately, I suspect by) the women. The only men on stage are in their graves.

The position of women in Iran is so extreme we can barely imagine it. And so the show came from a place utterly alien to us. The two protagonists introduced themselves by statements like “I am fifty” and “I am the daughter-in-law”. Statements I can now, perhaps, begin to decipher in terms of family relationships and the status of age.. and understand partially and with some difficulty statements that would immediately and profoundly resonate when spoken on their first stage.

The three other characters were the older woman’s two young and rebellious daughters; and a mysterious companion to the younger woman whose identity was never revealed. I don’t remember her introducing herself. Her mask was red, which meant something; she manipulated sinister looking voodoo dolls which she placed in the sand as if to have them crucified. And her veil was of silken fabric and impossibly, unmanageably, long.

Perhaps even the presence of these five women on the stage carried a meaning that we, outside their context, cannot really understand.

Their bodies were all covered in clothing. There was so much attention paid to their concealment. To their cloaks and veils. How must it be to live day in day out with the notion that your body is a thing of danger and shame that must be continually hidden from public view?

In fact I do understand in the sense that my whole life has been spent hiding, concealing, cloaking and veiling the secret of my feminine danger and shame. And like the women continually having to twitch and adjust and take care of this veil.
But somehow I have taken mine off. Which is why my world has suddenly become so different.

That was not possible for them... It is so difficult to explain this story! The women were prisoners, quasi prisoners, on an island of sand. With Sharja, the Gulf, modern living, visible yet inaccessible. The daughter-in-law was having a liaison with a man who offered her the possibility of escape. This violated the memory of her dead husband; and the mother-in-law was blocking her freedom. As they traditionally do.

But something amazing happened: the mother-in-law relented and gave her consent. And then the daughter-in-law refused to go. She wanted to honour the older woman’s choice; and she did not want, yet again, to give her freedom into the hands of a man.

She had a iPod, and this was a strangely shocking thing. On this stage, which was a kind of timeless space of fairy tale and myth. And there was this iPod: a reminder that this story does not belong to the realm of the fabulous alone, but also to a hard weary contemporary reality.

And at the end she gave it to one of the rebellious daughter: who listened with wonder.

A new reality was about to emerge.

I wrote all this, and then went to catch a bus. It didn’t come, as they tend not to, and I was watching a woman, and then a man, and remembering how tormented I used to be at the frontier between men and women. I felt stuck on the male side of it, where I didn’t want to be. And I could see no way I could ever cross it.

Whatever that frontier was in my mind, I have now crossed it. And am taking the first steps on the other, unknown side. This play I think has done the same.

Which is why in some ways it doesn’t quite work: the language is too tentative, too muted somehow. But that’s how it is, at the beginning. New worlds take a while to be fully born.


Monday, August 25, 2008

Monday, 25 August 2008

I was at such a beautiful concert today.. It was this morning, at the Queen’s Hall, and it was only half full, perhaps because the Fringe is ending today, or perhaps because it had a high proportion of modern works on the programme.

But the people who stayed away missed such pleasure!

It was a chamber group – two violins, lute and harpsichord – and they began with Biber. (1644-1704). The programme called him an exponent of “stylus phantasticus”, which I loved. It’s him in every sense: working with etxtremes of emotion. With ecstasy, rapture, dejection, fury, despair. And pushing the language of the baroque to extremes to communicate them.

Berio (1925-2003) does the equivalent now. And besides him, there was an amazing work by a contemporary Mexican Hilda Paredes (b 1957). A neighbour was sitting in front of me, and he said that it was as if some of the music was beyond the limit of his hearing. It was like a beautifully structured celebration of life’s possibilities.

She wrote it for solo violin; and the musician spread improbable quantities of music paper over four large music stands which he placed right across the front of the stage. I imagine because the virtuosic demands of the piece were so extreme he simply couldn’t afford to stop to turn the page. He did the same for the Berio Sequenza; and as he played he moved from one side of the stage to the other. From left to right.

I liked him: there was something immensely pleasing about the way he placed his feet so warmly upon the ground.

They ended with Biber’s Partia no. 3 – a wild and beautiful dance that left us stamping, and then out into the rain with the memory of the music dancing right through my body.

Then I went to the supermarket, which I suppose should have been a let down, but wasn’t: because the lady at the check-out was glowing. It turned out she’d been showing her 3 dogs – Orkney terriers I think they were – at a dog show at Ingliston over the weekend and they’d been accepted for Crufts.

And every part of her was glowing with love and pride.

Perhaps it’s always like that: when we take pleasure in the act of living. Because life then arranges it so new sources of pleasure come to us.


Sunday, August 24, 2008

Sunday, 24 August 2008

A long time ago now, when I still wrote dance reviews, I remember reviewing an early show by Matthew Bourne. I was very naive about reviews in those days, and thought that my job consisted in being very clear about my own response to the piece, and at the same time describing it, and the audience response to it, so my readers could make up their own minds about whether or not to go.

This was before the arbitrary and absurd star rating system reviewers use nowadays. And also before reviewers began to see their task as trying to figure out what they think they ought to say to save face. As opposed to saying what they actually feel.

Anyway I remember I hated Bourne’s show and said so, no doubt as scathingly as I could. And the show was a huge hit and he went on to be the huge star he is today. (What hasn’t changed is my capacity to hold exactly the opposite view to almost everyone else).

Tonight we went to see his latest show, Dorian Grey. It didn’t move me enough to make me want to hate it: instead I just thought it silly and incompetent. For one thing, it was obviously fascinated by the world of celebrity and fashion that it affected to condemn. But more importantly, its dance language was so impoverished, and its blindingly obvious take on the story so superficial.

The night before, I’d seen Ruhe at the Hub. An utterly different world. About two hundred wooden chairs were scattered at random around the room, and as we entered a group of male singers were performing an utterly beautiful Schubert part song. As they sang, they stood on the chairs; when they were silent, they sat down among us.

And then a woman started telling us her story. She was Dutch, she had joined the National Socialist party, and she had ended up working in a special SS hospital north of Berlin. She had cried bitter tears when she heard Hitler had died. Her years in the hospital were the most satisfying in her entire life; and she couldn’t understand why she had to continue to suffer for them.

And then the singing began again. Lovely songs, Schubert largely wrote for groups of friends at private celebrations. Amazing, inventive, profoundly moving harmonies.

And then a man interrupted. A terrifying man. Powerful. Who interacted with the audience he mingled with in a very terrifying way. He, too, was Dutch. He had joined the SS, and really enjoyed it. Admired the bravery, the camaraderie, the toughness. The best years of his life.

And then more singing. Ending with a much darker but still so beautiful song from a young woman composer.

And at the end I think we understood: that evil is not something “out there”. Not something performed by the others, by the monsters. But by all of us. And that goodness and genius, too, were not just “out there” but among us and something we were and still are fully capable of.

There was real compassion here. And a sense of wonder.

The ex-soldier said: “Victors have heroes in their ranks, but the defeated have only war criminals”. I was thinking of the idiocies of Gordon brown the other day, talking to the troops in Afghanistan. This war we cannot win, and where the longer we stay the more we can only commit crimes. This war begun in utter ignorance of history. And Brown, oh so predictably, called ‘our’ soldiers “heroes”.


Saturday, August 23, 2008

23rd August

I used to so hate going to public loos.

But something I've noticed about going to the festival is that now, miraculously and strangely, it has become a pleasure.

But this evening I did a foolish thing. The restaurant we were in was crowded, and after we had eaten we went to the loo. Whic was also quite full. And then, when I was in the cubicle, I coughed. I have had flu the past few days and could not stop myself. In fact, it did not even occur to me that I should stop myself until after I had coughed.

My appearance has changed in ways I do not fully understand so that without my especially trying I am taken for a biological female; and my voice, also, it seems. At least people don't respond with shock and embarassment when I talk to them so I have to assume that there is nothing incongruous in it.

But my cough is a man's cough.

And sure enough, as soon as I had coughed, and was thinking, "You shouldn't have done that" I heard one woman say: "Are we in the right loo?" And another said, "Sounds like there's a man in here".

And I froze. There was something rather comical about it, and I laughed afterwards with my fried: but I was also afraid. And as I sat there waiting for them to go, a strange thing happened.

I wanted to pee, but I could not. This is precisely why going to men's loos was always such an ordeal: if ever I had to pee in the common trough, I would feel so acute an anxiety that my sphincter would refuse to relax. And I would be unable to pee.

I think, in retrospect, it was because my body knew what I was unable to consciously recognise: that I was in the wrong place.

And, absurd as it will sound, part of the joy in peeing in the ladies is (and this forms part of a much wider, much deeper joy) because, for the very first time in my life, I know I am in the right place.

This is, of course, profoundly unreasonable.

But joy is not reasonable.


Sunday, August 17, 2008

17th August 2008

I staggered down from the orgy of mourning into Jidariyya by the National Theatre of Palestine at the Royal Lyceum.

I don’t know what the word means, and my Dictionary of Modern Literary Arabic has disappeared. But according to my Hava, the root “jdr” means: “To sprout (plant). To be covered in blisters (hand). To conceal oneself behind a wall”.

Which all by itself sums up what an amazing ricj and allusive language is. There is a noun, “jadrun” which means “Wall. Enclosure, fence. Manure, dunghill”. And, to judge from its form, it could be that “jadariya” means something like “state of enclosure”.

Which would describe rather beautifully the state of Palestine.

The play was adapted from a poem by Mahmoud Darwish, who wrote it when on the boundaries of death and life after a heart operation. He wrote:

“A sense of reality had taken its grip on me when I realised that the ultimate death is the death of language. Under the influence of anaesthesia, I imagined that I still knew my words but could not pronounce them; so I wrote on the doctors’ forms. I had the language when I had nothing left. The author’s struggle with the qasida is self-evident, yet it is our entire life that is in a state of collective struggle against insignificance and the death of our identity. The triumph of poetry over death signifies the dawning of resurrection.”

The first scene could have been about me: entering the hospital with my little suitcase, being stripped of my identity along with my clothes. Entering the boundaries of death.

And he was writing about the same place, in a way, that I am writing about in Everyone. The fact that i saw all this happening in the same theatre I, too, am writing for helped give me courage.

The qasida is an ancient poetic form, predating even the lifetime of the prophet Muhammad: and one of the amazing things about this work was that you felt in the presence of an unbelievably ancient and unbroken tradition stretching right across the Middle East. One that had its roots very deep in the earth; that took no notice of the boundaries of war and hatred, but did indeed speak to everyone.

In a stunningly beautiful and life affirming way.


Saturday, August 16, 2008

15th August.
The day begins in the eye hospital. Last year an optician noticed a pimple on my retina which apparently needed to be checked. So my eyes were squirted with a substance to dilate the pupils to enable a specialist to peer inside. She told me my pimples were very dull.
The good lord preserve us from interesting pimples, I was thinking rather vaguely at the bus stop, feeling a little dizzy and strange, when a young Spanish couple who happened to be passing stopped me and asked me if I was Jo Clifford.
This is the second time I have been recognised by Spaniards who saw me on the travel programme item I did a while ago, and had forgotten about. Again they remembered my name, which i think miraculous, and ask me how my plays are doing.
What did I do? From the expression on the faces on the film crew afterwards, i had been as dull as my pimples.
An odd morning for being seen.
And then I go home and try to write.
The blankest wall in living memory.
I am even miles away from being able to read what I wrote before.
I make a hot dhal. For comfort, I suppose.
I have a ticket for something called “Tazieh” at six. I cannot remember what it is.
Someone gives me a programme while I’m waiting to enter the hall. It is a documentary made by Abbas Kiorostami. “Tazieh” means mourning; it is a kind of passion play performed in Iran since the 10th century as a collective act of mourning for the Imam Hussein who was martyred at the battle of Kerbala in 680.
In the hallway, I meet an Iranian companion, and we enter together.
At the top of the stairs you have to choose: left or right.
We decide left. The audience at these performances is segregated, men from women, and there is a large screen devoted to each section of the audience.
The women are on the left. These are huge images, in black and white, of the women in their veils. To the right are the men.
There is a stark contrast between the two worlds. I am glad to be with the women.
In the centre is a small screen with a colour image of the performance.
For now the stage is empty. Expectation builds.
A voice explains that in the performance the martyrs, which include the imam and his children, wear green. Green signifies innocence. His enemies wear red. Red is for wickedness and vice.
At first the villains dominate the action. They look corrupt: their mocking voices reverberate evilly through the loudspeakers.
The Imam, by contrast, has a noble presence and a harmonious voice.
He rides a white horse.
At some point he puts on a white garment: and the garment is spattered with stage blood.
He is carrying a baby. He carries the baby and he rides his horse. He carries a baby and he sings a lament.
The baby is being tied up in a shroud.
A boy in the audience is beating his breast. Beating his breast with his fist.
And everyone, men and women alike, beating their breasts with their fists.
There’s a boy running to comfort his daddy. Slumped on the ground in his bloodstained garment. The boy runs to comfort him, and they sing a lament.
Their enemies snatch the boy away. But he runs back, he runs back to his dear, noble, dying father. And then the evil men have snatched him and smeared his garment with blood.
Everyone is crying. Women are covering themselves with their veils and are shaking convulsively. Or great fat tears are coursing down their cheeks. Down the cheeks of the men, too. Everyone in that arena is transfixed with grief.
Even here, sitting on the floor watching the screens, the impulse to weep is irresistible. The power of the spectacle all encompassing.
And afterwards my companion too is weeping.
It is her country she has seen, her land, her people. She cannot bear it.
“This is so hard” she is saying. “This is so hard.” And: “They are weeping for their country”.
And, heart-brokenly, “I do not know that place”.
But I suppose I would say and we are there too. Because we are weeping for the state of the world.
And so we know this place.
This is the place where the good are defeated and where evil wins.
This is the place where hope dies.
And so we know it. We know it only too well.


16 August 2008

I was taught I think that saints are saints because they are good people. Super good people: and that is why they are saints.
But it occurs to me now that all that is just a lie. Another of the lies we were told as children.
I think saints are saints not because they are good, but because they are themselves.
And that’s why they perform miracles. And that we, too, will perform miracles the day we stop becoming our own shadows and enter fully into our own selves.
Our own amazing selves.
All this prompted by going to Duddingston and seeing Theatre Alba do Shaw’s St. Joan.
And the other thing about St. Joan is that she never censored herself. As we always do. She heard voices, and she said so. She heard voices that seemed overwhelmingly to her to offer a positive way forward and she obeyed them.
I have heard voices. Always at moments of profoundest crisis.
Once was in 1978, telling me to give up nursing and go back to writing.
And the second time was in 2004, telling me to live as a woman after Susie’s death.
It’s hard to acknowledge these things, because you feel crazy. And in fact I know there have been many many other times, but I have not been able to fully acknowledge.
And if I have on these occasions, it is because the experience was so overwhelming that I had no other choice. Just as it also felt impossible not to obey.
And all that helps me appreciate the amazing quality of Shaw’s writing and the beautiful devoted skill of Theatre Alba bringing it to life.
I love this company. Its director, Charlie Nowoskielski, is someone of huge artistic integrity who absolutely refuses to be anybody but his own dogged artistic self.
In that sense, he’s very like St. Joan. And he gathers around him a band of like minded St Joans whose enterprise in its own quiet way is as crazy and as inspired as her aspiration to drive the goddam English out of France.
Which is of course in the end what actually happened.
They created a piece of amazing theatre. And the goddam English have left France.
Common sense turns out to have no sense to it at all.

Friday, August 15, 2008

15th August
I met a friend on Tuesday who has always seemed to me to be a very fulfilled person. And someone who epitomises a very wonderful kind of luminous calm beauty.

But what she told me when we met was of the demons that haunt her from a dark childhood of violence and neglect.

And of how when she was growing up her creativity was blocked at every turn; and how she is now becoming so aware of her unfulfilled creative capacities. Capacities which, because they lack full expression, are causing her acute suffering.

I came away in awe of her courage.

And also aware, yet again, of how cruelly and consistently our culture blocks creativity; and how horribly often we are prevented from really flowering as our true selves.

Often, too, by the institutions that are supposedly there to allow us to grow and flourish and mature and express our abilities; but which so horribly often stunt and inhabit us instead.

I'm thinking of schools, obviously. Also of book festivals. Because later that day I met the writer who had made such a poor impression on me there the day before. She turns out to be a delightful person: humourous, vital, courageous. Warm and well-grounded.
And the author of some really delightful and witty poems for children (

All of which also shows how often my impressions of people are utterly and totally mistaken.


Monday, August 11, 2008

11th August

i went to a reading at the Book Festival this afternoon.
A friend of a dear friend of mine has just had a collection of short stories published.

I have to say that the success of book festivals everywhere has always been a bit of a mystery to me.
Prose is prose because it is meant to be enjoyed in private in the act of solitary reading.
Reading aloud is a different thing altogether. What works on the page may very well not work off the page.
And almost certainly not when read by the author; who generally is an author because they are a private person who shrinks from the exposure of performance. And as a result read extremely badly.

So the fact that publishers and their publicists have managed to persuade people to pay out for the dubious privilege of hearing works which weren't in general intended to be read aloud being read aloud by people who generally do not have the skills to read them... it seems to me to be an instance of the triumph of marketing over good sense.

this was case in point.

To make it worse, it was chaired by a person who, as far as I could tell, had no inter-personal skills at all. What she was good at was saying "Does anyone want to ask any questions?" in such a way that it drove all questions out of anyone's head.

Mine included.

She was also utterly joyless and dull.

So these, in a way, are the questions that have occurred to me now. the questions I would have liked to ask if I had had my wits about me.

Each of the three writers described situations that had strong elements of joy and pleasure about them.

The first was about the friendship between three men who went swimming every day one summer. The act of swimming; the friendship between the three of them; these were clearly important for all of them.

The second was about a man and his girlfriend. obviously they had good sex together; and in a strange and limited way, he cared about her suffering (she had chicken pox) and wanted to alleviate it.

The third was about a couple of gay men who took care of their elderly neighbour who lived alone. The relationship mattered to them; and it mattered to her also.

Yet the focus of each story was on unhappiness. On limitation. On disgust.
Why should that be?

The purpose of art might be about giving pleasure. one of the pleasures of a short story might be in the relishing of language. Yet this was completely absemt from all three stories; except possibly the second, whose author seemed to take a delight at one point in describing the repulsive aspects of his lover's illness.

The first two stories, written by men, were exclusively phallocentric and heterosexist. They allowed no space for the possibility opf different perspectives and different ways of being.
The third, written by a woman, actually did: if only in a rather limited and timid way.

Do the writers have any sense that we are all inhabiting a very repressive culture that causes great suffering? Do they acknowledge that perhaps one function art can play in such a world is to explore different ways of living and being? Are they aware that art has a moral dimension?

I feel cross with myself for not asking these questions at the time.
But they need asking now: of almost every artist who is allowed to be currently active.


Sunday, August 10, 2008

10th August

On my way to the City Art Centre to meet my daughter at an exhibition.

In the far distance, I see a colourful woman coming towards me, without really distinguishing who she is.

"What an interesting looking woman" I'm thinking, a little vaguely.

And then I see it's her! We run to each other in slow motion....

...And then walk, happily, arm in arm, to the exhibition. "China - A Photographic Portrait".
About 600 images taken by 250 Chinese photographers on three floors.
Selected from over one hundred thousand works taken by more than one thousand photographers.... It is utterly vast.

Every picture tells the most amazing story.

The first room gives the most eloquent impression of vastness. Of the hugeness of the Chinese people. Massive, massive crowds. The captions are so eloquent:

"Some farmers live off giving blood".

"So many people, not enough trains"

"Queue for ladies' rest room"

"Unemployment line". This was a picture of a man with a young child standing together in a dole queue. Becca drew it to my attention: we used to do that when she was small.

"The stamp collecting fans queeing to buy new stamps".

"A farmer's wife and her ten children". Exhausted, exhausted woman.

"A man carries his wife home following her sterilisation operation". She's lying on her back, still semi conscious, in a special sling across his shoulders. Her face is covered with a cloth. She looks like a corpse.

"A woman feeds triplets". Huge swollen breasts; one baby at each breast; a third on the floor howling his eyes out.

"40 pupils must cross this bridge every day to get to school". A little crowd of them swaying perilously on ropes high above a rocky torrent. They are led by a young girl looking especially grave.

"A car stuck in the mud in a village street, being pulled out by water buffalo".

"The blind woman in her massage clinic". Behind her the sign reads: Wonder Working Hands Bring Back The Springtime!

"A 95 year old wearing a Pekin opera costume being carried on stage"

"Sparrows are a plague, so they are caught and killed wherever they are seen".

"A run down Sichuan opera house is going to be torn down"

"Farmers at the 'Bitter Memory - Sweet future prospects' gathering eating the rice of the 'bitter memory'".

"Holding a portrait of his deceased wife, an elderly man fulfills their dream of visiting Beijing".
I say to Becca: Mum would have loved this exhibition. And think of the picture of her in my purse.

"A church choir of female trombone players rehearsing in the countryside".

"Undesired intruders are expelled from the city with force". Women behind iron bars in cattle trucks crying bitterly.

"Female prisoners hoping to have their death senstence repealed".

"The new styled fortune telling booth". A very sternly dressed young woman with spectacles, I think also in a white coat, sitting at a ramshackle table in front of a sign which reads "Calculated Instruction for Life; Protection From Illness; Avoidance of Plights; Business Success".

"Uighur farmers electing their leaders with beans".

"On the village stage, farmers perform plays they have written themselves".

"In the mountain area, extraordinarily fat pigs are bred".

And we couldn't manage the third floor. Glutted with powerful images and amazing stories, we went off for a cup of tea.


Friday, August 08, 2008

8th August 2008

A weird experience tonight: a concert performance of Brecht/Weill's "Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny".

It seems there always was a tension between the two of them when it came to this piece: Brecht wanted write a piece of music theatre that would effectively denounce the evils of capitalism; but Weill wanted to write a piece that would finally win him recognition as a serious composer of opera.

Brecht called it "culinary". By which he seems to have meant it gave audiences pleasure and it made them feel instead of think. The tension came to a head after the Berlin production of 1931, when Brecht called Weill a "phony Richard Strauss".

Obviously no collaboration could survive such an insult.

All these tensions were weirdly enacted in this performance. The "culinary" elements definitely won.

Because it was the opening concert of the Edinburgh Festival, the Usher Hall was packed with a fine showing of representatives of the capitalism Brecht wanted to denounce. The dress circle contained a phalanx of people in evening dress; looking at the whole audience made it very clear that this was definitely not an evening for the poor.

The orchestra were all in white tie and tails; the male chorus in dinner jackets; and although the female chorus had been instructed to wear brightly coloured and low cut evening dresses, come in individually and provocatively flirt with the male chorus (presumably to give the impression of being prostitutes) they did so very half heartedly. One of them sat very self-consciously on a tenor's knee and promptly blushed even pinker than her bright satin dress.

The narrator was a very classy actress whose upper class accent you could cut with a knife; and the perfectly modulated vowels of the operatic soprano sounded very odd as she sang
"Show us the way to the next whisky bar..."

It all sounded so weird as to be surreal.

And I don't know what had changed in the second act. Maybe the conductor was really beginning to draw something special out of the performers; or the music's quality had shot up a notch; or maybe I had simply somehow adjusted to the whole situation.

The conductor - the composer HK Gruber - clearly had a total respect and love and enthusiasm for the music which he communicated with every gesture. By the end the piece had built up to something of utterly brutal, uncompromising, amazing power. Against the background of the burning city, they sang
"Nothing you can do will help a dead man....
Nothing will help him or us or you now!"

And the piece ended, and all the cheers started.

There is something distinctly weird about the way a well heeled audience will applaud and cheer the news of their forthcoming destruction.

True and powerful and amazing as it all was, i didn't feel like joining in.

I did love the conductor, though. He never took a bow for himself. Instead, he was so palpably delighted with everything and everybody, he rushed about applauding them.
He almost crushed the diminutive chorus master to death in a bear hug, kissed all the soloists, dashed up into the female chorus to kiss a woman who had sung three words solo ("This is murder") in a way of which he thoroughly approved. And then he rushed into the orchestra like a happy bear, dragging individual players to their feet and applauding them ecstatically.

I loved that. It sent me home happy.


Wednesday, August 06, 2008

6th August

I went to a communion service this morning led by Bishop Gene Robinson in a church whose location had to be kept secret.

These really are mad times.

When the vicar bade him welcome, there was a incredibly warm burst of applause; and in the moment of the service when the congregation is invited to greet each other and give each a greeting of peace, there was an incredibly warm display of affection and pleasure and excitement the like of which I don't think I've ever seen in an Anglican church.

Today is the Feast of the Transfiguration; and the anniversary of the Hiroshima bomb, whioch was, of course, another transformation.

For me there was something very moving to be back in an Anglican communion service, following the traditional church calendar, listening to and particpating in, a service based on the old words.

He gave the service beautifully; in his sermon he spoke with eloquence, compassion, vision and amazing good sense.

He is clearly an immensely gifted man, and really must be a wonderful bishop. It is utter madness to exclude him from the Lambeth conference, to which he could have given so much; and even worse madness to try to remove him from his post. Or to argue that somehow he is unfit for his post.

But I won't dwell on that.

The main thing is gratitude for the chance to meet such an inmspiring and delightful human being.


Tuesday, August 05, 2008

5th August 2008

Death came back.
Not when I expected; or how I expected.
But there he is.
And I finished the first act.


Monday, August 04, 2008

4th August 2008

A struggle today. I am so close to the end of act one of EveryOne.
But I am stuck. Again.
I have to start at the beginning. Again.
What floored me this time is the moment where I had envisaged the stage direction:
"Enter Death".
But it seems he has nothing to say. Worse still, he is preventing everything else.
So I have cut him.
It's a desperate tactic: but if he is truly necessary he will demand to speak again.
But he has not.
Nor has anyone else.
I have to wait.
Just before it's time to leave, something shifts: and the lines start coming.
So I go feeling comforted.

I am going to see Bishop Gene Robinson speak at the Festival of Spirituality and Peace.
The Guardian tells me that the Archbishop of Canterbury blames liberals like him for the rify in the church.
He talks of how when young he desperately wanted to change himself; of how when consecrated he had to wear a bullet proof vest; of the hate that gets focused on him; of how ultimately all he wants is not to be "the gay bishop" but to learn to be "a decent bishop".

He came across as lovely human being; doing his best in an impossible situation.
I felt happy to have shared a space with him.

Then to dancing: a gentle, gorgeous class.

And then tomorrow the struggle resumes.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

3rd August
In a way, I don't want to be writing this.
It's been a long day, and I want my bed.
But maybe because I've just come back from the Traverse, and met friends who work as critics and who therefore once, when I worked as a critic, would have been my colleagues, all a bit jaded already, though for me this has been the first things I have seen, I must be tired as i can't quite figure out the shape of this sentence: I mean seeing them stirred a memory in me of seeing plays and having to have opinions about them, and not being able to go to bed until I had got these opinions written down.
So here I am, trying to record this day.
Which began early, in the rain, going to the West End for a Peace Walk.

"The purpose is to be in the present moment and be aware of our breathing and our walking, to enjoy each step..... Although we walk all the time, our walking is usually more like running. When we walk like that, we print anxiety and sorrow on the earth. We have to walk in such a way that we only print peace and serenity on the earth. We can do this, provided we want it very much. Any child can do it..."

It is a beautiful practice. Very difficult. There are suggestions for co-ordinating your breath with your steps, for reciting a little poem as you walk to help you remember.

In spite of all that, I always forget. My mind skitters off everywhere, and constantly I have to try to re-collect myself. But even in failure, in this constant trying again: there is great pleasure.

To walk silently, alone, yet in a group, slowly, co-ordinating with the step of the person ahead, and yet freely also... along the street, through the gardens. aware of the scent of the morning air. of the small, amazing, vivid white flowers growing in the clinker at the railway's edge...

I felt very blessed to walk this earth.

And then afterwards sit and drink coffee with a delightful man, who wouldn't let hiumself drink coffee but enjoyed the hot chocolate instead; to learn of his work for an organisation called
and enjoy his enthusiasm for it; to try to describe my work as being concerned with trying to find an aesthetic, and put it into practice, that is not simply concerned with chronicling disintegration and decay, but is also about trying to dream into being a new future.... all this was pleasurably encouraging.

And then I went to church. I really was very well behaved this morning.
The Metropolitan Community Church has had to move to a strange little basement and meet on Sunday mornings; and the new pastor spoke very movingly about Jacob wretsling with the angel.
He related it to his struggling with God: "Why me?" he as asked God as a boy; and I recalled my long angry monologues with God as a twelve year old, under the grey blanket in the iron bed in the dormitory named after a famous general and where I was trying to be brave: "Why did you let mummy die?"
And he never answered, but I'm so glad I asked... just as I was glad to be there in this basement, where the Pastor was also talking very inspiringly of his hopes and ambitions for the church... and that afternoon I was inspired, going back yet again to the play for the Lyceum. Because my ambitions, I understand, are as ferocious as ever.

I went through many indecisions getting ready to go out. Trousers or skirt? Long skirt or short? Or how about that dress... There was a stime in my life when the Traverse at the Festival felt central to my existences (I always seemed to be having a play running there) and returning after quite a gap felt symbolically very important.

I packed my handbag for every eventuality: notebook, two pens, make-up bag, hairbrush, phone, water, umbrella... as if I was making an excursion into unknown territory and needed to cover every eventuality.

Which, in a way, I was.

I was dreading walking up the Royal Mile. I remember walking up there with Susie, the last Festival of her life, and having the most immense difficulty because she had lost half her peripheral vision and had the greatest difficulty not bumping into people. And the constant strain of guiding her through an impatient and utterly unforgiving crowd and trying to still the monstrous fear at the back of my mind.

That was a Sunday; and after a week of steadily increasing pain it was the Friday they drilled the hole in her skull and found the tumour.

And is it that which leaves me feeling psychically bruised, somehow, still as if bruised all over, and so really unwilling to go to a play full of desperate distress, where it's as if all these bruises get beaten all over again with a hammer...

Or maybe it also was the time I saw the scan show up an image of my heart on the television screen. With such clarity that I could see the blood which should have passing through the valve, falling back instead from the place it came from. And could see with utter clarity that my heart was no longer functioning properly and could kill me. And so thought: "I need never see another image of horror or terror again. This one image has filled me with enough for a lifetime".

I don't want to judge the plays, I don't think I have the right to, really. I met the author of one, and felt for her. She seemed to be in a state I remember only too well: for of course it is great to have your play on at the Traverse in the Festival. You get a level of exposure of the kind you may have craved for; but the exposure leaves you most horribly exposed. And the whole event puts your private parts on display in the arena. Where you are poked and prodded and judged like a pig up for auction.

I don't want to collude with that process here.

Both struck me as really fine; and the second one began in a way that reminded me so strongly of the way I am trying to write the Lyceum play, it cheered me hugely. "Someone else" I thought, "Someone else understands how we need to develop the form".

There was a scene in the first where two lovers were sharing a bath together. It was a rare moment of tenderness, and I enjoyed it. I was thinking "I want more of that. I want more tenderness". And then suddenly in her despair she was asking him to drown her, and he did, and it was movingly and skillfully done, but I found myself thinking: "I don't want to see this".

And then later on in the second play I found myself thinking: "I don't want to hear bad language."

And what, I wonder, what on earth is happening to me?

What am I wanting to achieve?

Perhaps I will find out more tomorrow...


Saturday, August 02, 2008

2nd august

I remember happening to stumble across the end of a cop shopw a few months ago in which dear sergeant lewishad identified the murderer. I forget how many people she was supposed to have killed, a good many, and she was obviously especially deranged because she was now trying to murder Lewis by trapping him in the house she was about to set fire to. She was also planning to die in said conflagration: and when Lewis escaped at the last minute and managed to rescue her, she broke free and ran back into the blaze just before the credits.

To add the final touch to this portrayal of maniacal madness we learnt she was a transsexual woman (played, naturally enough, by an impossib;ly glamourous biological woman). Clearly in the eys of the programme makers that made her irredemiably demented and dangerous.

It was a classic case of mad tranny syndrome. Generally we're portrayed as ludicrous (if possibly lovable) grotesques or embodiments of evil; and I was thinking about all this in the context of the Chinese olympic authorities determination to prevent us cheating in the Olympic Games.

Women athletes of insufficiently feminine appearance will be hauled off to undergo a gender test to be performed by a scientific insititute whose work, in saner times, has actually been among those which demonstrate that it is impossible to define the borderline between masculine and feminine.

These oppressive tests to establish femininity do nothing but cause suffering; but they reflect some very deeply held demonising.

A man beat a transsexual death in the USA last week when he discovered that she had male genitalia. According to one press report circulating on the internet:

"He became angry and hit (victim) with his fist before grabbing a
fire extinguisher and hitting her in the head twice, according to the

(Killer) explained to police that he thought he "killed it,"
referring to (victim) but when she made gurgling noises and started to
sit up, he hit her with the extinguisher again."

Someone commented on this story:

"I don't believe in murder, but if I went on a date with what I
believed to be a women and then later found out it was a guy I would
beat the s*$t out of them.
Seriously how many guys do you know that if they had found out
that their girl was a guy, how many of them would have beat the crap
out of that person......
He/She/It.....let him to think that He/She/It was a woman....then
he felt the weenie....

Then he got really mad......Killing It was a bad idea..."

I keep trying to understand why we inspire such fear and rage.

A Christian commentator on the subject:

"We now live in an age where women are men and boys are frightened. If
you are a Christian tonight, then you have to help shape and formulate
in the wisest of ways, legal plans and practical protection for your
congregational futures and finances. More than that, somehow we need
to learn how to preach the gospel to people who have travelled the
transsexual road and try and imagine the shape and direction of a
journey of sanctification and spiritual recovery they will have to

Listen: - You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an
abomination. ( Leviticus 18:22-23 NKJV.)

Pray:- Lord, we need wisdom. Lord, we need grace. Lord, we need
protection. Lord, we need men to be men and women to be women and strong
models for both. Have mercy upon us O God and assist us to walk with
great grace and great truth in these most complicated of matters. In
Jesus name, amen."

It is so tempting just to condemn this kind of stuff out of hand, or asume it's just garbage one picks up on the internet.

But I internalised these kind of values, too. If I could begin to understand it all better perhaps i could understand myself more.

And then perhaps find a stronger voice to express and celebrate who I am.



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