Sunday, 6 April 2014

review, sort of: savion glover, sole sanctuary

It's not often you'll find one of my reviews on this site but as no one asked me to review Savion Glover's latest show "SoLe Sanctuary" (currently at Sadler's Wells theatre in London), here it is. Actually, this isn't a proper review; it's more of a response to the lukewarm reviews I came across on t'internet (of which there were only two, but both for major British newspapers.)

So here's the thing - most people here will know Savion Glover as the tap dancer who was digitally tracked to animate the feet of Mumble, the penguin from "Happy Feet". For those of us from North America, we also know him from the wildly popular production "Bring in Da Noise, Bring in Da Funk" that had a good run on Broadway in the 90s. We also know him from the films "Jelly's Last Jam" and "Tap". And yeah, probably "Sesame Street", too. The point is, we know what to expect when we see him tap.

We know he's not going to leap into the air and turn a sofa on its side or shuffle his way up a grand staircase. He's not going to do jazz hands and big-toothed smiles to big band music. He's going to use his feet like percussive instruments, moving very little else. He is going to blow us away with his intricate rhythms and make us wonder how he's making any sound because we can't really see his feet  moving.

His latest show, SoLe Sanctuary, does exactly this. It's 80 minutes of percussion, sometimes with music or singing, but mostly just his and Marshall Davis Jr's taps. He strips tap down to its essence: sound. He doesn't look out into the audience because he doesn't need to; I spent the entire show staring at his feet, my jaw on the floor.

His segments with Davis Jr were like conversations, moving between finishing each other's sentences and trying to outdo each other. They smiled broadly as the other danced, showing a longtime familiarity but also marking respect. It was difficult to tell if these segments were ad libbed; their faces made us believe that some of the steps were being seen for the first time on that stage.

I think drummers would enjoy this show or at least get something more out of it. I don't think I fully appreciated how intricate these rhythms were and my rudimentary understanding of tap didn't help much, either. Still, I was transfixed. I found myself shaking my head at these impossible steps and nodding along to the sounds. The audience erupted with applause and whoops at the end of each segment and gave a standing ovation at the finale.

There was no intermission but I think a break would have disrupted the flow of the show. It also left us wondering how the hell these men could tap for that long without collapsing. It was, in a word, astounding.

Thank you Savion for educating me about traditional African American tap and for blowing me away with the sounds that came out of your feet. I am inspired.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

and then the kate bush ticket gods smiled upon me

My first year at York university was in 1986. I had really big hair and I thought I was pretty cool because I was a Fine Arts Student. I was on my way to get my BFA (or as most of us fondly called it, a "Bachelor's of Fuck All") and I wore a lot of black and was very, very deep.

I made friends with a guy called Tony during the first week on campus. He was gay, so don't get all excited - this story doesn't involve true love or anything like that. It mostly involves nose piercing, hair dying in the co-ed residential bathrooms, and Kate Bush.

Tony was a massive Kate Bush fan and a vegetarian. "I'm vegetarian too," I blurted out. I wasn't, but from that point on, I was. I did know who Kate Bush was thanks to "Hounds of Love" becoming a huge hit that year, and I was already a fan. So Tony and I became inseparable, did a lot of very silly things at university, and I was now a Kate-loving vegetarian because I was incredibly impressionable and keen to please. Good thing I didn't bond with a heroin-smoking Kajagoogoo fan, really.

Tony introduced me to Kate's back catalogue along with some B sides from his "The Singles File" boxed set. I made cassette recordings of everything and Kate became my soundtrack to my weekend job; the graveyard shift at the Shell station. Her music was also a handy way to coax my uni roommate out of our room. Playing this at full blast usually had the desired effect:

I fell in love with her music. I still know every word to every song and certain songs always evoke specific memories. "The Dreaming" will always remind me of my job at Shell because it was my favourite album and I played it over and over during my shifts.

When I moved to Montreal, "Sensual World" came out which introduced us all to the wonderful Trio Bulgarka. I learned that one of her songs was based on Molly Bloom's words in James Joyce's Ulysses and immediately set out to read it and love it. Which was a really stupid idea because I had absolutely no idea what the book was about (although a later course in Irish literature would help me decipher the story.) And of course there was Book of Dreams by Peter Reich ("Cloudbusting") and millions of other references I would pick up over the years.

28 years later (god, really?) my friend Steph alerted me that Kate is going on tour. WHAT? A quick Google confirmed she was indeed touring for the first time since 1979. Oh. My. Giddy. Aunt.

I knew I had a one in a bazillion chance of getting tickets. She has a huge fanbase and this was to be her only tour, made up of just 22 shows. I cracked my knuckles last Friday morning, opening up a few browser tabs, and hoped for the best. I didn't expect to get tickets, but I had to try. But I did. I got tickets. I got opening night tickets in row E. I just kept refreshing the page and magically the little icon went green and I clicked madly, not even looking at what night or what seats I was getting.

Even with the confirmation page staring back at me, I couldn't believe I actually got tickets. I wouldn't close the window until the confirmation email came in and even then I had to read the email a dozen times to make sure I had indeed secured tickets to Kate Bush.

I don't know how I managed it, but by the gods, I am absolutely thrilled about it. My 45-year-old self is high fiving my 17-year-old self. And telling her to stop smoking and acting like an idiot.

(I'm not vegetarian anymore, sorry Kate.)

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

(not) an open letter to other mothers

Dear stay at home mums and working mums,

I recently came across open letters from a working mum to stay at home mums and vice versa, and it was pretty cool. It went against the Mommy War grain and put forth messages of support for those in the trenches at home and in the office. How lovely to see something written about mothers that didn't make anyone feel like shit. That's a big step forward for the Internet.

I'm a both a working mum and a stay at home mum. I work in an office and I work from home. I'm employed part-time by several clients, which actually totals more hours than I ever put into my Monday-Friday job. Then I do this mummy thing which takes up quite a lot of time, too.

"What will you do with all your time?" people asked me when my youngest started school. I replied through gritted teeth "I'll still be doing all the jobs and errands I was doing before." This is the stay at home mum dilemma: people think you have nothing to do unless it involves childcare or physically going into an office. Legally, you are allowed to poke these people in the eye with your car keys.

All school events seem to fall on my office days, meaning I miss out on things like sports days and assemblies. Sometimes I can go into work late, but I can't swap my days due to childcare and after school activities. This is the the working mum dilemma: you miss out on kid stuff because you're stuck in the office or putting your nose to the grindstone to meet deadlines. Legally, you are allowed to consume vast amounts of gin to help cope with your deep resentment for conference calls. (Take the bus on these occasions though, obvs.)

In the end though, we are all mothers. We all give up sleep, money, personal hygiene, food, sanity and a host of other things for the sake of our kids. I see you staggering around the aisles of the supermarket, trying to do your weekly shop in 3 minutes before your child has a meltdown (who is not at all happy despite the fact that you've given him a baguette, a punnet of grapes, and a bag of chocolate chip cookies.) I see you in your office raising a cup of hot tea to the sky, eyes closed in a prayer of thanks for the opportunity to consume a warm beverage in its entirety. I see you at home, your eyes fretfully oscillating between your laptop that contains a looming deadline and the enormous pile of laundry. I get it. And as an in-between mum, I am totally with you.

I would hold up my fist in solidarity, but then you'd see my bingo wings.

Another Mum

*(I can't call this an open letter because it'll vex my friend Heidi.)

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

for my littlest one, left behind

Yesterday, we took our nieces and our oldest two to see Wicked in Milton Keynes. We didn't think our youngest would be able to sit through a 3 hour (plus intermission) musical and we wouldn't be home until almost midnight. Feeling very guilty, as mothers are wont to do, I booked a babysitter for her while the rest of us were out.

I'm an only child so my only knowledge of sibling dynamics are through my own children and my husband's experience. According to him, the youngest always misses out on stuff (although apparently the youngest always gets away with everything, so I'd assume this would all balance out) and an incident involving the Harlem Globetrotters traumatised him for life.

His sad tale begins in the 70s, when Paul was a young boy. All he knew was that his family had gone out for a bit, but he didn't learn the horrible truth until years later: they'd seen the Harlem Globetrotters without him. Like us, his parents thought he was too young to sit through a whole show...however he learned that they'd taken his cousin and middle brother, who are only 3 years older. The man is now 44 years old and he still talks about this deception to this day. Not that he's bitter or anything.

When Isla isn't included on something he is adamant that she's told outright. Amazingly, she has never once thrown a hissy fit about this. Her siblings have been to Disney, Legoland, and Chessington without her. Either she has no concept what a theme park is about, or she's genuinely not all that bothered about not going. Paul took the other two camping while Isla stayed at home with me (and at nursery.) She was thrilled to be able to sleep next to me and watch movies on my laptop in bed. Yesterday, she was pleased as punch to have a babysitter all to herself. This morning she woke me up with a hug, beaming "I had a great night! I had three bedtime stories!"

So here's to you Isla, my littlest who often gets left behind. Thank you for not having a temper tantrum when you're not included and for finding great joy in the little things that are all yours. This year, you ARE going to Disneyland.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

girls can't do tech: thanks a lot, Lottie

The Chancellor of the Exchequer and Education Secretary have today (Tuesday 4 February) announced a new £500,000 fund to train teachers in software coding, so our schools can inspire the next generation of tech entrepreneurs.

Teaching kids how to code is a great idea. Not only does it teach them about logic, it gives them skills that can be applied across many careers. Getting kids familiar with tech and into the nitty gritty of the architecture of those endless games they play is hugely beneficial.

Except that Lottie Dexter, the director of this initiative, can't code. Nor does she seem to have a fundamental understanding of what's involved in coding. She told Jeremy Paxman that teachers could be trained to code "in a day" and that programming basics could be learned "in an hour." When asked to explain what coding is, she paused then admitted that she didn't actually know how to write code.

My understanding of programming is very basic; I took a course in C+ a bazillion years ago and I know enough HTML to put together a fairly basic web page without using a WYSIWYG editor (which isn't a programming language, I know.) I can decipher developer's comments in the code enough to put together an SDK. That's about it. But that's okay because I'm not in charge of anything that involves programming. Like most normal people, my job is doing something in which I'm actually qualified.

How Lottie Dexter got this job and then managed to make a mockery of herself on Newsnight is beyond me. Who let her go on national television without briefing her on the definition of code? Not only did her television appearance show that she's out of her depth and ignore the complexity of programming, it reinforced the stereotype that us laydeez don't do tech.

I watched the interview through my fingers, cringing at Dexter's responses. In comments below blog posts about the interview, people made references to her good looks and Tory connections. So not only can girls not code, pretty girls most definitely can't code and only get jobs because they're hot and know people.

The problem is, this interview happened a year too soon. Dexter said that she was devoting a year to learning how to code (which is a vague statement, but let's assume she means learning the basics of a particular language.) What would have been great and inspirational is seeing a woman learn a high tech skill and then have a chat about it on national television. In an age where parents struggle to teach our kids that there are no "boy toys" and "girl toys" despite what the ads tell us, this would have been a very good thing.

I don't mind that she is learning along the way and that she's not an experienced programmer, but for goodness sake, don't throw her to the Paxman when she hasn't got a clue. Despite all the sneering comments and this shambolic interview, I genuinely hope that this initiative does teach the next generation about tech. Particularly, I hope that it inspires girls who think being technically inept is "cute" to give it a go.

Programming isn't for everyone -we're not all wired for it - and I'm never going to get excited about Java or C#. I want my kids to be able to visualise logic like a flowchart and program a Raspberry Pi. I want them to understand the technology in the world around them. Let's just hope that whoever trains these teachers is far more prepared than the person leading this initiative.

the unfairness of germs

When my children get any sort of bug, they might seem a little tired for an afternoon or maybe go off their food for an hour or so. When they pass the same bug along to me, I want to die. I want to crawl into bed, take all the drugs available over the counter at Boots, and cry. I can't move, I can't think, I can't speak, I can't even stand upright. Meanwhile, my children skip off to the toilet to be sick then sashay into the kitchen asking when it's time for lunch.


I've got a lousy cold that's settled into my chest. I'm on extra inhalers and my head is pounding from coughing so much. All three of my children have had this cold, and the most I've heard about it is "Mummy, I'm a bit snotty." Well good for you! Aren't you lucky! Why don't you make yourself useful and look up a YouTube video about how to make mummy a hot toddy, there's a dear.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

my glamorous life

Poor Jack has been unwell for two weeks now. Well, I say "unwell" but he's actually been his normal self but with extra coughing and being sick for an awfully long time. Paul took him to the doctor for the second time and was sent home with a little plastic jar in a clear bag and instructions to get a sample from Jack to check him for stomach bacteria.

All morning I was willing Jack to have a poo when Paul was home because lord almighty, I did not want to be picking up poo and trying to stuff it into a tiny bottle. All of our kids are out of nappies now, I'm done with poo. I've got a horrible, hideous cold and I can't cope with such things at the moment. And of course I was the one who had to deal with it, in the middle of the afternoon when all three kids were home and the dog decided he was going to tear his bed apart and eat it.

So I shut Max in his crate, instructed the girls not to set anything on fire, and headed upstairs to put cling film over our toilet bowl. "You've heard of YouTube", I said to Jack, holding up the sample pot. "Now there's POO TUBE!" Much hilarity ensued, including using a very tiny little scoop that came with the pot to chase the poo around the cling film and having to put the sample in the fridge as it was too late to take it to the surgery.

We all found this pretty funny and really, you've just got to laugh. Otherwise, you will realise that you've just spent your afternoon scooping poo and you will fall into a deep depression.

And how was YOUR day?