Thursday, December 24, 2009

I've found Christmas harder than usual this year.
It's the spectacle of so many people making themselves miserable and tense spending money they don't have to buy presents for people who don't need them and destroying the planet in the process...
I suppose I should be hardened to this by now, but this year it strikes me as obscene.

Things have got better since my younger daughter arrived: we decorated the tree, we put out the Christmas crib, we ate and talked together with great pleasure, and her grandma is so happy she's here...

The expression of love makes a certain sense of it all. Grandma's Jean's religious sect does not believe in celebrating Christmas, on the grounds we should try to be holy (and mindful, i would add) on every day of the year.

And maybe they have a point: love should be expressed every day of the year. And not with things we buy each other: but how we treat each other.


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Jesus, Queen of Heaven

“And don’t tell me
There were no shepherds. Or that there were no flocks.
Because they all went years ago when they built the city by-pass.
Or that it wasn’t a manger. But a plastic box in a run-down maternity ward. Without enough midwives.
Or there were no wise men,
Maybe just your dad, and him a bit pissed maybe, being so nervous.
Think poetically.
Because what I tell you is true.
The whole truth and nothing but
Because, Beloved sisters and brothers and every kind of sibling in Christ,
Because I am the truth.
And I am also the way and the life and a million other things besides.
And the angels were there at your birth
And there was rejoicing and great gladness
And wise men did come with the most beautiful gifts.
And the angels just so delightfully framing the sky....”

Sunday, December 20, 2009

19th december
Hard not to feel despairing these dark days, with the abject failure of the Copenhagen summit, the manifest failure of political loeaders of ever party to come to grips with the situation that confronts us...
but i did what everyone seems to be doing and tried to forget all about it.
Went to see 'The Red Shoes' with some old friends.
It looked so beautiful; I love the way the Powell and Pressburger films are absolutely not afraid to portray an inner landscape and make poetic films...
But this was tosh. The idea that you cannot love and be an artist; that the pursuit of art is somehow mad and destructive... the usual British anti art tosh.
But I was gateful to it just the same...


Tuesday, December 08, 2009

There's been an uneasy feeling in the house since I came back from Cracow.
A sound of scrabbling in the walls. A sense of being under siege.
And then last thursday I came up to the kitchen and met a rat. A big one.
We looked at each other in mutual fear and loathing a moment and then the rat scuttled off behind the fridge.
Since then the feeling of being under siege has intensified.
The night before last the rat was gnawing away at the wainscoting at the top of the stairs; and the noise was unbearable. About 2am i started banging with my shoe wherever I heard the creature moving.
There were showing a horrible film on the TV that was using horror movie language to portray the Marquis de Sade in his asylum.
I felt like someone in a horror movie: threatened by monstrous creatures preparing to burst in through the walls.
And then yesterday the rat man came.
He was a cheerful man. They all seem to be. One difference, however, was that he was wearing a shirt and tie. Perhaps the profession is having a makeover.
"I enjoy the job" he told me. "It's good fun".
He flung bags of poison in strategic places and left me with his bill.
Soon afterwards an old student of mine came who wanted my advice about a film he is about to make.
And then we heard it: the rustling of a plastic bag. Just under one of the kitchen units.
I told him it was a rat eating poison.
And I said sorry to the rat when my friend was gone.
I had become uneasily aware of the Buddhist injunction not to harm the life of another living creature.
Curious how even so apparently simple a moral command is also so complicated. That should preserve us from complacency and arrogance.
And as I heard it munching away I was aware too of the proximity of two worlds: the acceptable one on the surface. the chaos and the filth underneath.


Saturday, December 05, 2009

I am reading a wonderful book called 'Imperium' (Ryszard Kapuscinski) - an account of the author's travels around the old Russian empire.

He writes about a visit to Ufa, a city in the grip of a massive ecological disaster.

It involves the chemical phenol, which has catastrophically contaminated the water supply.
He describes with extraordinary vividness the queues that form of people waiting in line for water.

In the book we never know if these people, whom he writes about with such humanity and compassion, ever receive the water they require.

Or how many die, or what happens to the city, or whether it ever gets cleaned up.

This seems to have happened between 1989 and 1991, but i have no memory of it. Wikipedia tells me Ufa really exists, and is a big city. Over a million people. Ufa's football club is FC Bashinformsvyaz-Dynamo Ufa play in the Russian Second Division. The city ice hockey club Salavat Yulaev Ufa play in the Kontinental Hockey league (KHL) and were five-time champions of the Russian Major League. The Ural Volleyball club are also based in Ufa.

.. which is of course indispensable. It tells me it is twinned with Ankara, Halle, Las Pinas,Paldiski and Orenberg.

The next site in Google tells me there are thousands of beautiful and willing women there eager to become western brides.

But there is no mention of this disaster anywhere.

This must be one of the myriads of appalling events that get their brief spotlight before media attention focuses elsewhere more important, like Katie Price's marriage, or someone's fashion disaster at a premiere.

There are pictures of Bhopal just now. It's the anniversary of hat disaster. The people who were poisoned have never received adequate compensation; those responsible for their suffering have never been brought to justice; the site has never been properly secured and still leaks poison out into the surrounding countryside.

That is one thing both these economic systems have in common: an utter and appalling disregard for humanity.


Friday, December 04, 2009

Yesterday I am with my mother-in-law while a social worker visits.
She is "assessing Jean for a care package".
Meanwhile Jean is concerned because her disabilities mean she can no longer take either a shower or a bath.
However that is to be the subject of a "bathing assessment". The bathing assessor will report back to the social worker who will then decide whether there needs to be a re-assessment of the care package.
I think.

Meanwhile the social worker, who is a perfectly decent and helpful individual, starts to fill in a form. It's a thick and complicated form and I have to translate both the questions, so Jean can understand them, and the answers, so the social worker puts the right interpretation on them.

Jean, being a proud person who wishes to live an independent life, minimises her difficulties and is reluctant to ask for help.
I on the other hand am keen to maximise her difficulties so she gets all the help available.
Delicate negotiations ensure.

Meanwhile the social worker is explaining the form in terms of the freedom of information act - which restricts information - because, it turns out, when she gets back to her office she will have to fill out the form again to put it into her computer.

I, meanwhile, am trying to learn from the social worker what are the numbers to call and what are the services to ask for - the right words to use - if Jean gets ill again and we start to need more help.
The social worker has given us her direct line number and her name... but that may not necessarily be the way forward. Because what you are meant to do is phone something called Social Work Direct so that they then contact the appropriate social worker.

Almost certainly we will end up having to contact both.

Meanwhile, she fills in the form.
The day before, Jean had given similar information to the hospital doctor.
This doctor had his own struggles with the system: he spent a long time trying to log into the hospital computer to retrieve an x ray that was taken the last time the doctor was there. And that the doctor that time could not retrieve either.

Then the doctor writes out a letter - by hand - for Jean to give to her GP - by hand - so the GP can write out a prescription for her to get antibiotics for her chest infection.

And I discover yesterday that the prescription never reached the chemist...

Meanwhile the directors of the Royal Bank of Scotland - which the governmnt owns - are threatening to resign en masse in utterly furious indignation if the government does not allow them to award each other million pound bonuses for, among other things, investing billions and billions in Canadian shale oil extraction whic, besides wrecking the environment in Canada, is also wrecking the Copenhagen climate change talks.

I imagine their computer systems work perfectly.


Thursday, December 03, 2009

There's a meditation group that meets in a church on Tuesday lunchtimes.
We meditate sitting, walking, and eating in silence together.
And there's a space for sharing what happens.
The whole thing is inspired by the writings of Thich Nhat Hanh and made possible by the devoted work of a lovely man, Jon Bagust, who organises it.

I love being there, but the intensity of the last weeks and months has hardly made it possible.

I was there the day before yesterday. I was at a meeting and arrived a little late, just after it had begun.

The silence and the peacefulness in the church was so palpable and so strongly in contrast with my curent state of mind it was as if it hit me like a blow.

If its appropriate to use such a violent image to describe so quiet and yet so powerful a thing.

The reading spoke of the need to bring joy into the world. I thought that seemed a bit ambitious for what I try to do in my work; but at least i always try to give pleasure and inspire a smile.

But then I became aware of how much anger and hatred my play about Jesus has inspired. How hard not to get caught up in it. How the words we speak and the actions we do can have results that are totally opposed to our conscious wishes and intentions.

And painfully aware of how much this fills me with turmoil.

Turmoil that somehow needs to be assimililated and resolved.

My companions said some very sweet and supportive things; and I seem to have plunged right back into the fray.

I've been so dismayed that the evangelical groups who have noticed my work and been most vocal in the world-wide opposition to it are also almost certainly funding the Christian movements in Ugnada promoting the vile bill to make homosexuality a crime punishable by death.

Knowing this makes me all the more determined to try to use my art as best I can to resist.

A first step has to get help from people who know the business. So yesterday I travelled to Glasgow to see an independent producer to see what can be done.

On the train on the way there i was working on the final draft of my radio adaptation of "La Princesse de Cleves". it was such a pleasure, this fine tuning. Over the years I have built up so many skills, I know precisely what I am doing, and I feel comfortable and at home there.

I enjoyed the meeting in many ways, and learnt so mjuch from it. Not least how far such encounters take me from my comfort zone, into a new world where i feel painfully ignorant.

Then i remembered: soon after my mother died i was sent to a new boarding school. It was a terrifying place. Bullying was institutionalised and systematiclly used as a method of social control.

It was crucially important to "fit in".

I didn't, of course.

Early on in my second term there I said or did something wrong and was sentenced to "being sent to Coventry". So for the next ten weeks no-one spoke to me, and everyone acted as if i didn't exist.

I suffered so intensely at that time. In the midst of my fear and my shame, a particular torment was that I couldn't even be certain of what i had said or done that had caused this to happen to me. That made it all worse, somehow: it made my whole being in the world seem doubly shameful and embarrassing and unacceptable.

It was soon after that that some bigger boys got me involved in acting: and it was in the rehearsal room that for the very first time I felt myself totally at home.

Playing girls' parts. And how sad that the pleasure that gave me should have then plunged me again into the deepest fear and shame. A hideous and so easily avoidable cycle of suffering that I am still struggling to escape from.

All that happened 45 years ago: but I can still so intensely feel it.

How strange that the huge issues the Jesus play involves, the global struggle between repression and liberation, should somehow also, and so intimately, be bound up with so individual a trauma.

How tempting to retreat back into the safety of words.

But it's not enough.

i suddenly think of lines from "Losing Venice":

The clouds gather. The storm is rising.
And it will come. Nothing can stop it.
We know. We laugh when we can;
We live, as we must.
Fear eats away our hearts. Will it spare us,
We wonder, will it spare or children?
Yet what can we do? Tear down our city?
Label the stones and move them, stone by stone,
Rebuild them on the higher ground?
All our energy is taken up with living.
Besides, is there any mountain high enough
to hide us,
Is there depth enough in any cave?
I doubt it. Crying is easy.
Laughter requires a little more strength.

I wrote that in 1985.
Somehow I saw what was coming.
I was right.


Tuesday, December 01, 2009

1st december
I read yesterday that catholic and evangelical church groups are using the senate discussions about Obama's health bill to try to limit women's right to abortions.
It is utterly disgusting that church groups, instead of seizing this as an opportunity to make the US a more compassionate society, are using it instead as a chance to pursue their misogynist life hating obsessions.

They rant and whine about people like myself marginalising and ridiculing Christian values. But the damage they are doing themselves...

It's like a massive capital of authority and moral energy they are squandering.

Yesterday was St Andrews day: an old church holiday that still, in spite of everything, matters.

The postie was looking very splendid in a kilt. I have never seen such a thing before. He was a bit self-conscious about it, and didn't really respond to my complimenting on it (to judge from his voice he is by upbringing English).
But there were rather a lot of men in kilts, and the whole city had a vaguely festive air. Massive fireworks last night.

And in the day there were young men singing on the tops of trees.


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