Thursday, 16 December 2010
I lie motionless and wait for her punchline,
So begins most visits to the salon whence I trim up my groucho brows. I know it works because after his wife was done attacking my face husband beautician pronounced I looked better. "As opposed to gorilla style earlier I ask?" swapping any frail attempt at a femminist discussion for defensive sarcasm. He laughs. Then another lady swoops in and I open my eyes again, sensing someone else in the room, to find six eyes smiling down at me and my hair. They chat in quick Vietnamese. I hope they are just discussing waxing techniques but can't shirk the feeling they are actually having a good ole laugh at my hairy genes. Took me back to a gynaecological visit some years ago, where I agreed to students being allowed into the room before I had time to actually realise that within a breath they would swarm in, ten eyes scrutinising me. Very very closely. Geesh. Oh I'm not gonna beat around the bush (beg your pardon), I'm feeling sorry for myself. Tail between my legs. Shuffling about with that look on my face. Surprised the boys haven't kicked me out yet. There's always tomorrow...
I put it down to several things. One, boy is running a fever. He is still head-standing, jumping from sofa to sofa, then alternately cuddling up against me, clinging on for hugs and generally looking at us puppy-dog-feed-me-chicken-soup. Last night I checked him for the nth time sticking a man-sized thermometer into his ear and being aghast to find it creeping steadily towards 103 and above. I watched his delirium as his glassy eyes opened and his hands played with some invisible something or someone just before him. I sat, his hot little hand in mine, till the fever broke and he sweated himself back into sleep. Hour later he is sat bolt upright, one liners to dad who has just come home, ordering a marmite slathered tortilla please mum. We sat there we three, picnicking in bed (dad on the chicken, mum on the houmous, boy on the marmite) till just past midnight, when thankfully we all fell into slumber easily. This morning fever was a distant memory until lunchtime when it came back angry once again for attention. We trotted down the way to urgent care where a kindly nurse welcomed us, stuck a swab down the boy's throat receiving an evil look from him in return, "Doctors don't usually do that!" he hissed making absolutely no effort to mask his venomous expression. I have a chilling flash-forward of teenage tornados. We wait for a little while for the doctor. He enters, a small, slight chap, all Arkansas drawl, slight Dickensian hunch. With a little too much enthusiasm he offers 10 days worth of antibiotic for the boy as an injection instead of a week or so's course. I politely decline, erked somewhat by the glint in his eye, but more so by the detrimental effect I know it will have on Boy who forgets almost nothing, including the type of toothbrushes we were using in Detroit last february. To have an injection today would make it an uphill battle to ever return I know this for a fact. We opt for the slow and steady approach. Sam strikes up conversation with him, specifically taking care to inform him that everyone in the show is taking turns to be ill. He is not off the mark. Now that news of Sam's strep will be bandied about everyone will positively avoid us like the plague. Actors and their throats. I can say that because I am one of those hypochondriachal types who sniffs and sprays and burns every natural lotion and potion she can get her hands on. Especially when I am working. I think I remember how to do that.
So long has it been that I have been beavering away in my evening solitude that I feel the beginnings of stirrings and yearnings for a home. Dad and I realised, that some weeks ago, this town was to be our last before heading to upstate new York for christmas and then Blighty to start our new year. A few weeks ago this changed when husband accepted a final contract that will take him to mid May. Boy's and my plans are still uncertain though I imagine a certain amount of backwarding and forwarding to london town will be on the cards. I think it may be about time I contribute to the household and get myself one of those job thingies. Groupie-hood must have a sell by date at some point, even if, on tour to date, I have written the most in my life, have half a show of my own and a bit more of a novel I set out to finish. Who would have thought it would take so long already? I have found I work much better with deadline. I like to harrass Cory by seeing how close to my column deadline I can get every tuesday. This week, with husband at sound check and interviews, I avoided confrontation with Boy by enlisting his help in editing my thoughts down to 600 words (he is a whiz on that ole delete button). It was worth it. At the end, when I had read it to him he turns to me all chocolatey earnest, "That was good mum. Really really good mum. Sooooo good." In the end it seems, my ego is still of a healthy size and kept in check but barely. Hey ho. I suppose a pat on the back is not always a bad thing. Especially when the crick in your neck is still throbbing and you keep getting waves of viral weak-at -the-knees feeling.
But enough of the moans already, if your idea of a main street includes a used/out-of-print bookshop, a good coffee haunt and a tasty Mediterranean ma n’ pa joint then Fayetteville, Arkansas, our home for this week, is for you. Two flight day took us from Durham North Carolina through Dallas Fort Worth - stopping there just long enough to inhale a surprisingly good Tex Mex. Landing in North West Arkansas, four sidesteps to the left takes you to baggage claim, four to the right to rent-a-car. Quietest airport in the country. Not a roar of an engine. No impatient taxi horns. Just streaming sunshine casting luminous country idyll across the parched yellow grasses of the surrounding rolling hills. Driving down Healing Springs Road, through the hamlets of Cave and Elm Springs (population 1,044) we carry on along cow, horse and sheep lined country roads to Tontitown (say that after a few). At University of Arkansas’ campus we catch their huge football stadium open on the road side - the sight of it full, likely to rouse even the un-inclined into a sporty frame of mind.
First stop? Walmart. The educated know that the mega chain started right here in Arkansas. According to two fellow Brits we luncheoned beside, Walmart is responsible not only for importing large numbers of visiting British workers but also for the significant funding of the thriving local arts centre.
Highlight of our first foray at the Walmart Super Centre (open 24 hours for insomniacs and night workers) was a brief interchange with a young gal looking not much older than 20, behind the counter of McDonalds, who tells us her children are affectionately nick named Mc-Babies on account of one of them almost dropping out of her by the fryer three months early. Her sing song swooping Arkansas twang and sleep-deprived free skin, belies the fact that she lives with four of these said children - all under six. Instead she smiles, twinkles at Sam, brings our snack to the table. Back on the floor mothers heave over-flowing Christmas trolleys about and we spy one dad with a hang over moustache, loading up with potatoes, five young blonde boy ducklings swimming behind him in equally descending height.
Back home watching Burt Ive’s Rudolph, our eyes dart from screen to Boy’s, alternately boggling out of his face with delight and terror, and wonder whether we had underestimated the effect a felted abominable snowman puppet from 1964 has on the four year old psyche.
Next morning, Dad out on a last minute TV interview, I play soccer mum to Boy, Chrysler mini van no less, negotiating his barrage of questions whilst trying to remember how to drive on the wrong side of the road and read my phone’s map at the same time. Just past Shagbark Boulevard (one for the Brits) we arrive at Williams Center and befriend Lynne-Lee (5 going on 40) who tells us her life story in those lilting Fayattevillian tones. Post gym we scoff Armenian grilled delights downtown then spend an hour trawling through antique books on Dicken’s street, hefty chunk of our weekly budget used for a copy of Life Magazine from 1928 with a special on Vaudeville, amongst other delights. Boy described everything in every book he leafed through loud enough for Canadians to hear. Now back at home, his armless Shakespeare plastic toy is a race car driver in a convoluted story - think Miami Vice meets King Lear.
It's not all down and out in our little cave. Christmas tingles at my toes, pinkish sundown glow at our window. Secret santa gifts to wrap and exchange before greeting snow capped Walworth for the holidays.
Saturday, 11 December 2010
On our first day out on the prowl we hit Gatorland stopping to buy our tickets from the kindly Anne, who after a few interchanges with Mr. Sam gave us a 20% discount and a wrist band wotsit to let us ride the train around the park as much as we wanted. Chuckling infectiously at her own jokes she points to her name badge and proudly announces that the country named below it, is not, as in neighbouring Disney, the place where she comes from, but indeed the place she would like to go (England). Now the discount makes sense, Sam has wooed her with his British twang (which to my ears is still horrifically mid-atlantic) and promised her a space in his suitcase no less.
Any trace smile left on our faces dissipated upon setting our eyes upon the Gators. Mentally they might haunt me for some time, jaw dropping was the sight of them lounging, in vast numbers, motionless prehistoric predators basking in the Floridian heat. We walked above and beside them on raised wooden walkways, gaps between the boards just big enough to catch the odd scale through or a blink of those all consuming eyes. On more than one occasion we all found ourselves protectively inching within arms reach of the boy as the gator gliding through the murky waters eyed him carefully as mid afternoon snack though it had just gobbled half a chicken moments earlier and was behind glass. On most of the journey through the park, the parameters between human and reptile was a matter of feet separated by short wooden railings and woven netting. These are some of the sensory memories of Gatorland, just a few miles down from Holy Land on route 4. Turns out $25 can buy you a quick jaunt to Jerusalem and get you back for lunch. A trip had been tentatively planned but for now we enjoyed zooming by just slow enough to catch the scaffolding holding up the “ancient” sets, and the bell tower, whose bells were painted murals atop it’s wooden tip.
The following day we took it easy. That is to say, godmama and I took a whistlestop of local spas and hairdressers, where my white wire hairs were painted radioactive chestnut by a Puerto Rican gentlemen who managed to talk more than me. Also without punctuation. Plenty of slinky hip action, in between him flirting with gentlemen customers passing through the salon. I now know the name and reputation of every club in downtown Orlando, none of which I will be gracing for the mere reason of not being nearly half fashionable enough. Even with the luminous locks. As I made to leave he hands me a card with my "formula" scribbled on. To my mind it appears to be a jumbled list of nonsensical algebra, but apparently in the hair world it's like smuggling emeralds form a Brazilian drug baron, which, he has also done, oh wait, was that Columbia? He blurred me with all his tales already, or maybe that was the peroxide.
With floucy poofy hair we flounced and pouffed our way to join the boys and headed to the almost local gym where Sam was put through his paces under the guidance of their pre-school governess. The gym, whose name on advertisements is often abbreviated to O.M.G, as in Orlando Metro Gymnastic, or Oh My God look at the size of this place. Her long blonde tresses high in a ponytail cascading passed her bottom in 1970s curls. From the back she looked every inch the teenage Olympian, if it were not for her booming voice that blasted her pre school class into bemused attention. And several of the parents, us included, into mild uneasiness. When the class was seperated in two and Boy was taken by another teacher the far end with several others we sighed with relief, only to have governess' ducklings booooomed at right in front of us near the end where we were sat, several parents striking into applause every time junior did a trick. I suddenly feel guilty of British reserve un reluctant am I to clap at Sam's every move. My joy is watching him enjoy doing it for the simple joy of doing it. His haminess is perfectly ingrained. I don't feel compelled to train him for the big finish or bow. I am more English than I suspected after all. I look over at Sam's two dad's (godpa and Pa) and their brows are furrowed deep with irritation at Ms Longlock. I wonder what Mr. Puerto Rico would have made of her platinum dye. In the distance Monkey monkeys about with his new friends, around him three or four different classes taking place in the hangar, including one lone 13 year old practicing her five hundred summersault tricks. Again and again and again. My eyes darted from lithe athlete to the next aghast at their focus and stick-to-it-ness as they pumped out gruelling excercise one after the other. My transverse ached just loking at them. And yes I do know where they are. Roughly.
Next day we attacked Disney. Armed with cynic-free shields and loaded with sugar ready bellies we stepped through to the other side. Well, drove, then hopped on a golf buggy, then hopped on a mono rail to be exact. Then got smuggled in for free by a kindly man who pretends to be Tigger and several animals in the Lion King down the way, a friend of one of the troupe. Once in, ready to pay for the boy, a perfect stranger gives us her spare coupon for a free ticket, originally given only to folk who had agreed to participate in the filming of Main street later that day. Once through to Magic land, our friends clued us in the secret ways of the Disney. Fast tracks, top rides, tips on where to go and not. How we would have navigated it without them still baffles me.
Mickey reminding us to “believe in our dreams” during his afternoon show as we left to catch the monorail then triple length golf cart ride back to our rental car, parked in Pluto’s section of the mammoth car park large enough to accommodate the entire nation’s automobiles should they decide to flock in on the same day. Luckily for us rare in early December. Back of the mickey-mobile, me wiping off my moustache plastered on for a speedy clip of my Mariela character getting down and groovy to the swelling Disney string anthems blaring out of speakers hidden in the character topiary and the stage atop the steps of Magic Kingdom’s castle. One eye carefully on the Disney “police”, men and women lining the pavement, dressed in uncharacteristically sombre uniforms, legs wide, feet planted firmly on the immaculate tarmac keeping visitors from crossing main street on account of a film crew’s work at the other end.
Between four self confessed ride-o-phobes, (Sam’s godfolk, husband and I) we barely mustered enough courage to accompany Boy on Aladdin’s genteel magic carpet ride, which, under his piloting, elicited the kind of screams usually heard from 300 m.p.h roller-coasters. Think of our terror then, when my best friend and I boarded what we though was Sea World’s log flume ride later in the week, only to discover, post 60 ft drop, that it was in fact a roller coaster. In pitch black. Exiting, drenched from five bucket loads of water lobbed at us for no good reason as far as I could tell, quivering from adrenalin and cackling at our obvious gullibility. Nothing sticks of chocolate dipped strawberries from the Christmas market, dotted along the palm tree lined lake, couldn’t remedy. Or gawping at the vaudeville prowess of their sea lions. Dolphins and killer whales lacked not in star quality either. Top prize however goes to Donald Duck’s turn in his 4-D movie. Magic glasses let me touch his feathers, smell of cherry pie pumped into the theatre, water splashed our face all to match the action.
No sooner had we done all this, as well as braved the outlet malls strewn with disbelieving British tourists laden with christmas shopping taking advantage of the prices it was almost time to bid them farewell. Not before a quick ride in a cab with the words Disney written on it's roof in multicoloured drawing pins, or being conned into paying $10 for a $3 journey by a cabby who did not switch on his meter. That'll learn us for being lured toward TJ Maxx. I also had the delight of watching my mate run the aisles of the Dollar store, where yes, everything is a dollar. Mops to chocolate to plastic popcorn holders to wooden bird boxes. Ode to la Chine! Both she and I also thought the lady's suitcase ahead of us in the line was included in the price, and, at seperate times asked her which aisle for the Samsonite luggage? Give an inch. Needless to say the lady laughed us off as if we were making jokes, but on seeing our perfectly serious expressions explained she had bought it across the road, for significantly more than, ahem, one dollar. Dollar stores maketh monsters, even if they are a secret obsession of mine.
Scrunching our belongings into our cases, including a space hopper or two for the boys for christmas from the godfolk, we bid teary farewells and headed into the skies for North Carolina. "First in Flight" written across most of the number plates here. Southern drawl to match. I never tire of being propelled into ever changing landscapes. From those swishing palms to the majestic fir and pine tree lined country roads of Durham. I handed in my mother’s license back in the fall at Costa Mesa, CA, when I massacred my son’s bangs. On our first day here, I turned in my wife’s license for poisoning my husband. Whilst gazing at said trees outside our Durham hotel home, husband holds up a small water bottle on the other side of the room and asks whether it’s free to drink. Absent mindedly I nod a yes only to feel the dreadful realisation hitting me in the chest, as he gags his way to the bathroom sink, that it is in fact dishwashing soap I had siphoned earlier. Frantically Googling advice I contact poison control who reassure us it is not life threatening. The throat burning sickly sensation is clearly painful. Ear Nose and Throat appointment to check the chords booked. Literally just scurried back to the computer from a crazed dash to newly acquired hotpot which I left heating up some milk for the patient only to subsequently burn the bottom. One of those days, on his first night no less.
The days that have followed have essentially been a time of hibernation with mini jaunts here and there to get a dose of that Carolinian twang pierced to memory. Especially from the meticulous postal worker who, very, very, very slowly, explained why my christmas card must be accompanied by a customs form on account of it's thickness and potential to be an object rather than mere correspondence. Did I mention slowly? Or that I had allowed only a quarter of an hour for my postal trip which might have expanded to half my day had I not, with as much politeness as I could muster begged his pardon and excused myself with a promise to return at a later date. With a customs form. For my hand made card.
We had a gym to get to you see. For our flipper. Who, by all accounts, made his dad's heart flip when he bounced his way down the inflatable tumble track only to leap about four feet in the air and flip himself round almost back to his feet. I know this is accurate because, unlike his wife, Cory is not pre disposed to exaggeration. Wife was, at this point, shopping the local mega mall for presents for her secret santa gift-ee. This year at the theatre names have been drawn, and unlike back home where one joke gift is exchanged on christmas eve during panto season before a sherry or two, here, many mini gifts are trickled through to the recipient, with the final present due to be exchanged next week in Arkansas before the week off for christmas. So far I am the proud owner of a rudolph Pez candy wotsit, a diary and a slinky. The latter nearly took Dad's eye out this morning and then mine when said Dad lobbed it out of his face from under the covers where Sam had dangled it to wake him up. Cory has been given a ginger bread house to be assembled and gorged with sugar and m&ms, a whoopee cushion and bean-o. For those Brits who may be trawling through these ramblings the latter is a food enzyme tablet which one takes should one be consuming gas causing fruits and veg. Personally I like to keep track of where my food is at all times and have a quiet appreciation for said gasses. Obviously, working alone a lot this disturbs no one but myself. In Cory's case his gastro activity is very much shared, on and off stage at every opportunity. It even warranted a mention in Whoopi Goldberg's biography in the chapter about her time on broadway with whom he performed in the early nineties.
Our hamper has been almost completely packed up, only two more sleeps till the wagon train moves on again. Not before squeezing in a whistle stop jog of the local civil war trails museum whence we got to witness real dressed up re-enacters re-enacting. Civil war style-y. Lady in big 1860s dress was twirling about her huge hearth, bacon bubbling in one corner atop a small pile of coals, pumpkin pie filling reducing in the over hanging kettle, onion soup filling the tiny, cold, wooden cottage with luscious smells, ham simmering in the far corner to boot. She, all farmer's wife vim and vigour took a moment to step out and talk with the men, who sat, sipping a dark whiskey looking something or other, talking with ancient drawls and taking turns to turn the Hog's head burnishing on the fire, sardonic grimace across it's face. We took a moment to spy their tents, play with old fashioned toys and run back to the hotel just in time to leave for the matinee. There, in the back waters of the theatre boy made one with Dad's whoopee cushion, farting his way through both acts. Pizzas have been inhaled at Mellow Mushroom, next the tobacco factory both of which this area is well known. After a slice and a bit via pesto covered lips, boy was dreaming in my arms. He lies in my view now, just over the top of the computer, tucked up in the middle of our bed, cradled in sheets.
I am about to light a candle in memory of my aunt Patricia, who three years ago today left us. It still feels so utterly recent and confusing. Someone, who, in all intents and purposes, appeared to be the kind of woman who sprints well into their nineties with unswerving vim. My second mum. I miss you as I always will. I feel you as close as I always did. Your Sam is growing into quite the little boy. He is going through a growth spurt and eating me out of house and home. He is at the age when you might have enjoyed hearing him truly appreciate your cooking. I practice as best I can, cooking I mean, your cooking bit I relay in detailed stories to him, though I fear some thirty years may have to pass before I can earn your cooking stripes.
And so it is. Another year whizzed by. This time last year Mum, Sam and I were huddled in a downtown Chicago church with lilting hispanic hymnals being sung heartfelt to the heavens. Now, on a cold, wet and windy night in Durham North Carolina I send you a little prayer of thanks from a quietened hotel room.
Wheresoever you may or may not be.
Saturday, 27 November 2010
Yes, me, my very expensive trainers and I got themselves through the 6.2 mile course without stopping, panicking or jumping off any of the bridges we crossed. In one hour, 9 minutes and thirty seconds to be precise. To say I am proud of myself would largely be a mis-representation. I am more or less still in a state of shock, coming out of the training tunnel that was my preparation. Blindly hitting 5 mile runs on countryside courses without stopping to wonder why or how or why again. There you have it. I knew my stubborn streak would surely come in handy one day.
Thursday morning saw all five of us (four from the show one travelling wife-groupie) hopping from foot to foot amongst the mangled crowd of gazelles and wannabe gazelles that are running fanatics. I on the other hand was doing my best impression of a stuffed turkey, in keeping with the thanksgiving theme of course, by wearing my Team Young Frankenstein tshirt over several layers including a thick water proof number. We huddled together for warmth having braved the early morning downpour. Further along inside the inner sanctum of Brown's stadium were the serious panther types, stretching their lithe limbs an extra foot or so this way and that before they glided past us to start at the 6 minute mile post. We, on the other hand, having looked for an 11 minute mile post and failed rallied around the front of the walkers instead, who were placed just in front of the hard core runners with strollers no less. One of our team even spied a family, 3 children one dad, doing the course whilst taking in turns to push the youngest and run. That's dedication for you. Cattle like we herded together at nine o clock slowly inching our way to the starting line, me feeling more 5 ft nothing than ever before surrounded by bodies jiggling with anticipation. And then, we were off.
Pounding conservatively amongst walkers and zip zappers I concentrated utterly on keeping a rhythm and fighting that in bred sprinter mentality to get ahead and do my best at winning. Quickly. Genetically speaking I am more pre disposed to shot put and yet here I was jogging my way into oblivion. Or back to the stadium at least. To my surprise and huge relief there was actually more space between all of us than I had imagined. In my mental run throughs I had envisaged people clambering over one another like wilder-beast at a watering hole. In reality there was a very pleasant, almost laid back feel to our herd. All shapes and sizes. All ages. A myriad of styles. And if there were any chance of flailing spirits there was always the three piece brass band on our first corner, pumping in deep baritone puffs the famous tune from Rent the musical. The song and it's style an unusual choice for the women playing their chosen instruments, somehow making the catchy soft rock theme sound like a marching band anthem. They got a cheer none the less. So did we, when we past on through to Kentucky, by a couple of locals ringing bells and shouting congratulations at us. Pink ladies passed me, gossiping on the way, I am half tempted to join in but think better of it. A lady in her late sixties over takes me as does a man whose feet caress the ground, head barely bobbing up and down. I wonder how his quads will feel after he has completed 6 miles in demi plie. Then I hit the hill of the last mile long bridge at mile 5 and knuckle down and concentrate on finding air. On the last stretch I hear a cheer from some other show folk who have come down to rally us on and my step and spirits perk up just before I pass the ambulance and it's crew tending to a runner prone on the tarmac. That last .8 mile the hardest, especially as the course took us passed the finish line only to double back again in order for us to actually reach it. In between the bodies I spy another luminous shirt and pay attention to catch up with it. Mr. Vargo (of Birmingham tea fame and a swing in the show) and I then neck and neck it to the finish line, trying our best to find our sprint whilst intuitively staying in synch. He teases me later for beating him by 2 seconds. Obviously I gloat. Every. Second. Counts. The boys catch the moment on video, joining me just before the finish line. I look demented. No surprises there then.
What better way to earn yourself a proper slap up thanksgiving feast than doing that 10K? Come five o clock, after a nap, some bucks fizz, much peanut butter and a shower the family and I re spruced up and at em. We head down and join the gang at the Hilton, where the company is hosting a dinner for us all. At the end of the ballroom is a huge table with most of us gaggled about it. The buffet, in the other room has all manner of delights and meats and seafood and deserts. And ice sculptures. And chocolate fountains. And a baby grand with old standards being tinkled on it by a man with a moustache and a toupe. Just like at front desk here at the hotel. The toupe I mean, not the piano.
The other night I had the good fortune to meet all the guests of our place when the fire alarm sounded. I was more terrified of the recorded voice that announced the forthcoming alarm, thinking, as you do, that paranormal forces had turned the radio on in the other room. Scooping boy out of bed and stopping only to pick up our winter coats (it was a freezing night) we were relieved to find it almost a false alarm. Someone had thrown a barely extinguished cigarette into a bin in the alley behind the hotel and the smoke had drifted into the basement here and triggered the alarm. In the lobby we find one of the dancers and her fella, she nursing a kidney stone, and a boyfriend of another actress in the show who holds my coat whilst I carry a confused Sam. A lady sat in the lobby seats is nervously crocheting her nerves away and gives Sam her coat for a duvet. It takes a moment for him to click into party mode and launch into delirious stories from his days, real and imagined. When we get back upstairs it takes a little convincing for us both to relinquish to sleep. Dad comes back all a fluster and wakes me again for a low down. I am drunk with tiredness, and, at the time, pre race nerves for it was the night before the big day.
Now I sit nursing tight calves and sorrowful quads squeaking my way around the place as if I had never done a minute of exercise in my life. A quick visit to the local craft show soon put a stop to that. Austin, head of props, of travelling bar fame, and who had run with us the day before invites me to join a few of them (fellow runners to be precise) on their visit as his ma has her leather goods stall set up. She whisks us in for free and we marvel at the hand made wares (and their price tags!). In truth I was just as interested in the sellers and the vast array of fascinating moustaches on show. Not for sale, but on show nevertheless. Curled, full, pencil. All manner. And gesticulation to match. What a colourful collection of characters. Austin explains that we are walking through his childhood. Happy are his memories of going from stall to stall amongst his mother's artist friends. I can see why. One lady even comments on my felting work (I am wearing a woollen jacket I attacked earlier in the day). It would have put a skip in my step if only my calves could actually stretch enough.
When Cory comes back in between shows today we pack up our hamper together, unusual for it's remarked lack of bickering. Then again we are both in an exceptional frame of mind; my best mate and her husband are in Orlando waiting for us and packing a day earlier than we need to makes us feel closer to being with them. In all intents and purposes they are Sam's second parents. As I type they are returning from shopping spree. We haven't seen them since their wedding in May (flashback to green card quandry) and their trip has been long anticipated. Course our apartment now looks like a mini tornado has torn through it. Hey ho.
The clip clop of Cincinnati's horse drawn carriages below me on the street, the hum of the heaters, Sam's barely audible murmurings during his dreams are the sounds about me. Felt to be put away, swimming costumes to pack and summer clothes to bring back to the top of the case. We're going to the tropical land of magic mice and travel day can't come soon enough.
Tuesday, 23 November 2010
I have been needle felting for the past hour. I put this uncharacteristic behaviour down to pre race nerves. Two sleeps till I prove to myself I can finish a 10K course with good form. Oh alright just finish. Apparently sticking a needle into felt to create colourful woolen pictures is the way to go. Or perhaps, having been surrounded by the gilded serenity of Cincinnati's waldorf school where Sam was attending nursery, their whole earth loving artsy craftsy vibe has been absorbed by this impressionable Brit. Sam has revelled in his time there, and with it being a hefty cab ride away, I have chosen to hang out round the community table with other parents to sip good coffee and organic baked bits and pieces till the end of his morning sessions. That way I get to eavesdrop on discussions about the use or non-use of candles at the lantern festival come december seeing as the fire department has banned open flames from campus. One mum describes an "angel" from last year passing out over a couple of lit candles and of another waldorf school that has gone up in flames twice over. This is after I have joined in the morning sing practice, coughing, spluttering and doing my best impression of a strangled chicken through winter inspired peace spreading songs. The day before I was invited to the book club to join in with the discussions of a book, which I had not read, but enjoyed participating in none the less. One mum even gives boy and I a lift home. Along with her triplets. All in all the magical welcome we have received has been affirming to say the least. Hang around enough organically plant dyed silk scarves and natural fibre dresses and you too would consider needle felting.
The country roads training is sadly behind me. Now I tred the Cincinnati streets, dodging various characters that line the streets. The city is scarcely populated, in a period of significant transition from what I have observed, with new loft style living developed to entice life back onto the streets. I notice shop fronts being renovated alongside Victorian homes that in their day would have been echoes of European splendour. Like the promenade that runs the centre of Garfields Place a church at the end no less-in photos there would be nothing to say you weren't in a small German town. They certainly left their mark here. We have hibernated somewhat this past week. Recovering in part from the whirlwind that was our stay in upstate New York surrounded by wonderful family and friends but which left us nonetheless in need of recharging.
That said, our past week has been a whirl of celebration. Last Friday, come 10 0’clock, our doorbell rang and on opening we found a golden key, a hat and a clue. There began a birthday treasure hunt around the hotel, stopping in several of the troupe’s rooms whereupon they read boy more clues and gave out more keys till we were lead back to our room and “magically” the birthday fairy had left a treasure chest with his gift inside. Slippers. Rainbow coloured. Hand knitted. Few days earlier he told me that he really wished for slippers - his teacher has told him he ought to have them for pre school. I tell him to wish hard and maybe, just maybe, the fairies might deliver. Fast workers. Silently I thank my stars, secretly dreading him asking for something more garish and expensive. Post hunt troupe sips mimosas and scoffs cup cakes back in our room, all celebratory smiles and hugs despite them nursing severe hangovers from downing shots and riding mechanical bulls at Cadillac Ranch round the corner the night before. The crew present Sam with a luminous orange bike, complete with pads for every bony part of his body. They joke about giving him one every birthday, shipping out a motorbike for his 21st. He almost flips with excitement. Then nags me for the rest of the day to go out and ride it.
Moments later however we are all bundled into a coach, boy grinning for having been allowed into the “actor-bus” and a mystery journey begins. Twenty minutes later we are in Kentucky and pulling into the parking lot of a small cinema. I spy a red (plastic tablecloth) “carpet” stapled to the pavement leading up to it’s back entrance, roped off no less, flanked by two huge stand up posters for Harry Potter. Six folk from the troupe stand with flashing cameras (including a thirties-style prop one from the show) posing as paparazzi. Everyone cheers. At my feet a Hollywood star stuck to the concrete with my name. Birthday boy’s next to it. I am an uncharacteristically speechless leopard coated person, cheeks aching with grin. Twenty minutes into the movie, my face fills the screen. The troupe whoop and holler and applaud at the end of my two minute turn. Surreal. I quietly burst with gratitude, wondering how I will ever fall asleep that night.
I do in the end. Apparently you can't stay in a state of elation for twenty four hours straight. I catch sight of my grin in the morning reflection beyond my bed head though and realise it's one special day that will stay with us for some time.
Friday, 5 November 2010
This morning I awoke in a Patricia frame of mind. That is to say, I whipped up breakfast lunch and dinner within half an hour and before the sun rose. Boy sits in sleepy confusion asking why we have woken up at night, and isn't that good and shouldn't we do that all the time. I do my best to convince him otherwise and that we are but for a short time on school schedule and that at no other time must night be taken for day. Worth a try.
We sip our tea, scoff our toast and ease ourselves into the autumnal day. Our four month long Californian summer is very much at its end. After I drop off boy (skipping) at pre school where his teacher suggests I bring in treats next week as an early birthday celebration before we pick up sticks, I take a quick jaunt to the local TJ Maxx for a brief turbo turn about the shop. Under the shower of cold rain I drive towards Webster, a town whose sign tells me is where "life is worth living" just next to the two or more vacant retail spaces up for lease. Along the way I pass a cemetery with a large "Now Leasing" sign above it. Took me a moment to realise the luxury apartments it was publicizing appertained to the apartment block nestled at the far edge of the graveyard rather than roomy coffins.
My father in law is glued to a shopping channel in the background as I type with a chef that looks and sounds like a made man if I ever heard one. He is making chicken soup and I am hungry all over again. I am blaming it obviously on my new running regime. Up to about 4.5 miles and resting on my laurels. Till tomorrow that is when I am attempting to do it all over again. 6 miles due by Thanksgiving. Boy oh boy oh boy. Least Ohio is relatively flat. I am training on the undulating landscape that is Walworth. Even bought me a bit more gear which is slightly worrying to me as my self equipping usually heralds the abrupt end of a new pursuit.
After school we chowed a roast chicken (almost but not quite as good as my late aunt's)and entertained the local pastor. In Italian families the equivalent would be being host to the priest which is one step away from meeting a saint and involves as much kow-towing as is possible. Not that the priest necessarily has a God complex as such,(beg your pardon) but more that the hosts are prone to showering the special guest with honours. Pastor Jenny however arrived in a cheerful outfit, smiles and plenty of time to listen to our son's ramblings through various universes. She is my age roughly, a runner, passionate about sailing and has travelled. I find it challenging to relate to her as another woman my age without fearing to appear too familiar. Catholic schooling is more entrenched than I had supposed.
Tomorrow antiquing is planned with my sister in law whilst boy cavorts with his uncle and cousin. After the excitement and adrenalin of last week a little retraction is just what the doctor ordered. Unfortunately boy's body reacted a little more violently to this need by delivering a brief dose of croup in the witching hours of sunday night. After a moment of indecision dad and I decide to brave the country roads for the hospital in Rochester to have him checked out by a doctor. Twenty minutes later he has been checked over, been fed a popsicle after a steroid dose, been sat infront of a television screen showing Toy Story, a magazine, crayons and stickers in hand. Dad and I looked at each other wondering whether the whole thing was not just a little bit too much like fun to make him want to make a habit of these late night escapades. When we return, boy buzzing somewhere above reality on steroids and E-numbers he announces that it is his waking time and he has decided this is his new morning time. Dad and I exchange looks judging silently who will stay up for the twilight rants. Luckily Napoleon is delirious and sleep overcomes before we can say goodnight.
In the morning monkey is jumping off the walls. I fear he may have inherited his mother's reluctance towards stillness. Perhaps I ought to send him out running. Nothing seems to quieten my mind like pacing these country roads. Not so for the two or three squashed racoons rigor mortis at the side of the roads. Next the squished frogs. And headless pigeon. Opposite side of the road corn husks rustle in the wind under the heavy grey fluffs of cloud. Occasionally a car passes me, swerving almost onto the other side of the road to give me space. I wonder whether I ought to take offence to this, then another hill hits me and I can think of nothing but surviving the climb to the top. I passed hushed homes, moulding leaves, Sherburne cemetery huddled under the leafy shade of ancient trees. Warning signs of tractors and later those of deer leave me wondering with each huff and puff what I will do if a Doe suddenly crosses my path. Or a buck for that matter.
Last night as I returned from the dance studio where Cory's dance teacher suggested Mariela take class and be filmed, I notice me clutching at the wheel a little too tightly as I weave through the countryside lashing with rain eyes wide for crazed wildlife I might harm by mistake. In the darkest stretches wondering whether a UFO might pay me a visit. The corn fields lining route 441 seem perfect for some such visitation. Watched too many movies.
As I squirrel towards winter I watch about me the frenzy that is voting season. Much disquiet on the home front. Frustration at the democrat voters many of whom, disillusioned with Obama have not turned out to vote and permitting Republicans to regain some power. A general malaise with the state of the country, from most of the folk I have met along the way. When I read home news my heart tightens when I read about yet more arts cuts. It certainly dulls any yearnings for home turf. Besides which, my home turf came to see me instead. Spending time with the folks was a great tonic.
I hibernate now whilst dad is out strutting Milwaukee, taking in beer tastings along the way (the emailed video of the troupe caterwauling in harmony was perfect). Soon he will head back new york state way, he and his hump entertaining half of his childhood.
Country living for just one more week. Think my mind will be well and truly cleansed in the deer trotted air by then. And if not, there's always the turkey trot come Cincinnati.
Tuesday, 2 November 2010
There has not been a performance in
This time my producer (I call him husband for short) had coerced 40 or so Walworthian friends and family into giving up their Friday night for a dose of my Sardinian creations. He laid out pizza before hand. They thanked us for our generosity post-show. I was quick to explain the food and beverages were merely bribes to make them laugh.
The “brother” who showed us around zealously described his ghostly encounters in the place. I clock myself checking over my shoulder more than once during rehearsals, wondering whether any vaudevillians would watch my show from the wings flanked perhaps by the apparition of a small Victorian child from the days when the hall was a school house.
Come “opening” night my nerves were such that I had little energy to expend on looking for spooks, spooked enough as I was by my own terror. Boy struts to the front of the stage and booms out the introduction, preceding my first entrance which was greeted by the sorts of confused-repulsed looks I had been frightened of. When husband runs back stage to help me with my quick change into the main character’s daughter (a crazed vision in muddy wedding dress and pregnant belly) I tell him I ought to quit now. He tells me the audience is enjoying themselves, keep up the good work, chin up and get on with it. I do.
By the time I make my entrance as sheep-woman (bunny girl meets lamb chop) their reassuring laughter means I actually begin to enjoy myself. At curtain down (you know you’re doing a one woman show when you have to operate it yourself) I delay crowd-greeting by de-rigging the hung bed sheet and flag “set” till I have summoned enough courage to go out and thank everyone. I am greeted with warm embraces and giggles and find myself grinning with gratitude from beneath my painted facial hair.
At the English family reunion next day, husband is unsurprisingly mugging at the camera as a four year old ham in the projected 16mm home movies. Boy discovered the joys of trick or treating following day, at the end of the legendary Englert’s long darkened drive, where he sang full voice to earn his candy (full size!). So the tradition goes. British Halloween is half hearted in comparison. Our November 5th celebrations often upstage, commemorating the day Guy Fawke’s plot to blow up the houses of parliament in 1605 was foiled. Every year it is customary to “burn the Guy”, literally throwing a patched together dummy on a bonfire. We even let off fireworks. Sort of like building two cardboard towers and throwing burning toy planes at them for a September 11th party in the year 2401. Sardonic British humour isn’t infamous for nothing.
Pa is in
I maintain my training whilst on our quick jaunt into New York City last week. Boy, Ma, Leopard Skin Coat and I strutted into Penn station of a Tuesday morning leaving Dad behind upon the beautiful Proctor’s Theatre boards in Schenectady. On day two I set myself the challenge of crossing the Brooklyn Bridge, joining the army of lithe disciplined New Yorkers overtaking me, speedy cyclists in the opposite lane racing to and from Manhattan. I dodge the tourists committing the bridge and it’s views to digital memory. The autumnal sunshine dancing on the waters of the Hudson, Ms Liberty in my peripheral and beyond, Ellis Island, whence my great greats moored ashore all those years ago. Here I am, sweating to Brooklyn and back for a slice of their dream.
Back at TriBeca HQ I find grandma on ground control patrol trying her best to make sure our son’s incessant mid air flips are executed with safety. Boy delighting in watching his upside down world swirl about him. I continue my blossoming love affair with the city; playgrounds, shops, more shops, more playgrounds - things to keep a three-something and sixty-three something happy. My Leopard Skin Coat and I fitting in perfectly with the uber trendy mamas and papas of downtown. My father arrived mid week, and, after a few minutes on the maze that is Google we tracked down an old friend from 40 or so years ago. Within ten minutes we had found his contact details, sent emails and left messages. A beat later and our day in New Jersey with him is planned.
Next morning I watch, moved by the warm reconciliation of two dear friends who have lost touch over the years. There are hugs, stories, the feeling, as with true bonds, of having been apart for a heartbeat not years. Turns out the man in question has done incredibly well, even been nominated for Man of the Year in England against the mogul Richard Branson. He explains that I am to contact him should I need help of any kind. Not the first time on our travels that kindly folk like this have openly reached out with helping hands. He questions me about our plans, citing the importance of stability for growth. I listen carefully - the man is paid highly by huge corporations for consulting work. When he describes his own life long yearning for a home, being a child of traveling parents, I turn to our boy, mouth covered with ravioli, holding court at the other end of our lunch table and consider.
Next day, surrounded by visiting former cast friends, back in daddy’s Schenectadian dressing room, boy twinkling with delight, reunited with both his dad and once-babysitters, I reflect upon how our journey is nurturing this bright young soul. We will give stability a whirl for the next few weeks - though I would argue the true meaning of the word does not necessarily mean living in one place. Sam is in pre school. Mama will be warbling with the choir.
Time methinks for a run at real life. Not just those photogenic hills.
South Beachers are partiers. By lunchtime a palpable lilt to the promenaders, many of which clad in little more than incy wincy teeny weeny bikinis. After inhaling half a chicken wrap big enough to feed a family (South Beach diet anyone?!) I slunk into the granite bathrooms of The Clevelander, to transform myself into my Sardinian alter ego, a comedy character I am developing into a one woman show, filming her American adventures alongside ours. I catch a pair of sun lizards lounging poolside in their shimmery two-piece beside DJ’s podium where revellers will likely welcome the dawn. Back at the table a nearby customer excuses herself, explains she is nosey (takes one to know one) and asks me what on earth I am doing and why. I describe my project then coerce her and her holiday attired girlfriends to be filmed making friends with my strange Sardinian woman.
My boys and I (big on camera one, small on camera two) hit the streets coercing other revellers to dance, hit volleyball, throw football and generally cavort. South Beach-ers are good sports. One chap, Jamaica cool in tight white vest and ironed jeans insisted on taking several photos amongst the passing rollerbladers. A veiled muslim lady gives me a complicit nod of recognition. I think she has mistaken my headscarf for a veil. I feel like a fraud. At the waters edge it took no more than a moustache’d grin to persuade the lifeguards to pose. Just before I dove in. Fully clothed.
Later I strip down to my swimsuit, wipe off my painted facial hair and take in my surroundings, boy flip flapping in my peripheral at the feet of the mostly African American/Caribbean crowd. Much as it saddens me, I have never been around a group of Caucasian women so obviously happy in their skin. Of the gamut of body shapes I spy none tugging at their suit, hints of negative body image leaking out of their movements. Instead, laughter. Lots of it. Carefree beach behaviour I find deeply affirming. The Caucasians, inconspicuous not so much because of their taut frames (some on that diet after all), but more for the way they carried those frames along the beach.
Boy and I then make a mad dash to dad, who is holding up traffic on Ocean drive, jump into our car (along with half the beach) and pick up grandma at the airport. I waited eagerly at the arrivals window, my hair doing a fine impression of seaweed, whilst she patiently sat behind me, farcically looking in the opposite direction. Family tradition. Off Dolphin expressway, we then stop to snap a picture of Dad outside Joe Allen’s (favourite London/New York haunt) and stumble across a Sardinian restaurant on the opposite corner. Antipasti, pasta and myrtle liqueur later we have our Mediterranean fix. I have decided to take me some of that Miami buzz in my case to upstate New York next week. Along with as many mangoes as care to fall at our door.
Friends back home wonder whether I am missing the British eccentricity. The kind of quintessential madness that can only be truly comprehended, loved and loathed by native Britons. Waves of this warped nostalgia are easily washed away when we meet people like Pedro, the half Belgian half Spanish waiter at our favourite haunt in Fort Lauderdale. Over our seafood linguini Pedro spoke at us for roughly half an hour (without commas) about his journey to Miami, becoming an accidental antique dealer. His first container load, of what he described in his Hispanic gesticulation and thick Flemish twang as 1960s Belgian junk, sold for $15,000 more dollars than which it cost him. Several years of similar sales and he was living the American Dream. Not so for Palm Man, as grey in pallor as Pedro was suntanned, hair clinging melancholically to the sides of his head baseball cap stuffed with the rest of the nesty locks, who comes to our table and begins a demonstration. Two folded palm leaves later, now looking remarkably like roses, we learn this gentleman has copyrighted the alphabet. On the back of “E”-sure and Ebay launches he set about securing rights for the rest of the letters. Must be a long term investment plan, what with the palm tricks supplemental income.
These folk are in the pink sun-setting distance. We have propelled through time into upstate New York’s fall. Descending through the clouds, hazy glimpses of rainbows, rolling forest covered hills undulating below us, rusty coloured fall foliage glowing in the late afternoon rays. The smell of crisp woody autumnal air greeted us at Albany airport, where driver Bill, took us through a stand-up version of Schenectady history. I have a new found joy in travel days surrounded as we are by bon vivant actors - bleary eyed on account of a middle of the night dip in the sea, crew – propping up the bar next the gate and wide eyed three year old - magicking the furniture into pirate ships. Troupe suddenly burst into a perfectly harmonised rendition of Happy Birthday to honour the company manager, spontaneous applause from all the nearby passengers at the final flourish.
On our first tip toe around Schenectady, deserted of a Monday night but for the odd passing SUV, we found a restaurant/bar on a picturesque main street. The brick buildings in their terraced turn of the century glory a world away from the swishing palm tree lined bungalow streets of last week’s tropical lands. Boy is now getting his beauty sleep, grandma much the same, husband has those worry lines upon his brow (top of the ninth and the Yankees are struggling) and ma tries to make her deadline before heading down to the big smoke tomorrow. We are deserting husband for the Big Apple because a. it is but a three hour train ride away (boy is very very excited) and b. my ma looks like she would enjoy a spot of shopping.
Have also, under oath, promised to bring husband back a Yankee win.
Wednesday, 6 October 2010
Thursday, 30 September 2010
Saturday, 25 September 2010
I ought to be finishing up the packing. Instead I am sat here in the air conditioning, reminiscing on our last week in Costa Mesa. My better judgement tells me to keep the sliding glass door open instead for real fresh air but I think better on it, seeing as last week, after a wasp nest was fumigated upstairs one of the poisoned blighters found it's way into our room, crawled across our pillows and stung the boy in the dead of night. Least we're hoping it was a wasp. It wasn't until the morning that I realised his fussing over his hand wasn't just me sleeping on it. The pharmacist, on inspection of the huge red swelling on the fleshy base of his thumb told me it looked like a bite and to keep an eye on it. If, after a spray of Benadryl, it started to spread into a rash or if boy developed strange feverish behaviour I was to take him immediately to ER. I think this is Californian for "it may be a bite of a venoumous spider such as the black widow, keep your wits about you."