Something To Say

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I haven’t written anything in a long time, other than a few letters to friends, and I despair slightly at my lacking correspondence because I can do better.

My lapse in creative writing could be put down to a new job, new town, new flat, “new chapter”…all excusable reasons not to write as much as they are possible experiences for which reflections and musings could flourish. Nevertheless, despite the intention to establish a “work life balance”, a feat which I have achieved to some extent, creative expression has been limited to lesson planning, setting up and reshuffling a classroom, and that one workshop I went to last month.

My dear Suzy has been writing with such a voracity and inspired fervour that on reading I came to the realisation that I had to take a step back from the “9-5” and take a leaf out of my little global adventurers book; I am starting to put pen to paper again!

I’ve dug out my notebook, filling up since we started this shared blog with sparks of ideas and opening sentences of stories which were left unfinished and as yet unpublished. Reading back over the pages, I can hear my voice in the words written down and I can feel to some extent the memory of the feelings I was trying to get across; confusion, admiration, love and friendship. But where to begin today? What do I want to write about/what do I actually feel like writing about?

Since this is a blog that I share with my great friend Suzy, it seems wise to think about what I want to tell Suzy. In the past, in fact occasionally even still, I would pour my heart out in a long-winded stream of consciousness scrawled on paper and send it off to Switzerland stamped and addressed, leaving me to patiently wait the response. Every thought that came to mind, stories about people I knew and what we were all up to, peppered with all manner of “girl talk” in the mix to make it interesting. So, I guess I could start by saying something suitable dramatic and loaded with gossip and intrigue:

Well Suzy, I’ve met someone new…

They say that when you’re not expecting it, that’s when it happens. I’ve always been sceptical of this phrase, it seems too neat and glib, and I still remain unconvinced by most sayings that start with “they say that…” But anyway, yeh, I’ve met someone when I was just out and about living life. I went to a gig with a friend, and danced, and met their friend and we got along pretty well. Simple as that, it was easy, relaxed and fun; there wasn’t lightning bolts and nervous chatter (much) but we have common interests and plenty to say. 

It might come to nothing, a few dates and shared moments, back and forth text messages before one or the other of us fades and it comes to a natural end before it’s really begun. But that isn’t the attitude now is it? I should just feel the feelings, delight in the possibility of romance and enjoy the opportunities for these exciting possibilities to playout. That’s the way to do it, be optimistic and pull down the little bricks we build up around ourselves when life nudges us a little in the ribs; go with it, and let the good times roll in. Why not eh? It might even get beyond the first date, a fabulous one at that, and then where will we be?

If this were a handwritten letter to Suzy, I would go into every detail of the meeting…who said what…the what, where, when of the date etc. However, this is not a handwritten letter sent from one friend to another, and there are plenty things that should be kept between friends and not shared on the internet.

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Identity Chronicles 1.0

If you ask me where I’m from, I’ll always hesitate. I never know where to lead with. If I know a little about you first, I’ll know in which order to start. Grave northern accent? I’ll say my family is from Yorkshire. Slightly reserved demeanour, speaking French? I’ll tell you I grew up in Nyon, Switzerland. From (anywhere in) Latin America? ‘I was born in Chile’ I’ll start with a smile, ‘and my husband is Puerto Rican’. Aussie twang? ‘I spent a while in WA’, I’ll say, nonchalantly. (‘yea, I thought you sounded slightly Australian!’, you’ll say, inevitably). Scottish? ‘I grew up there too’, I’ll say, really quite wistfully.

You see, I want to bond with you. Bond over memories, words that I’ve picked up along the way, places that have shaped who I am.

But, you ask me where I’m from, or where I feel I’m MOST from (many of you put the intonation on that ‘most’), with emphasis on that deep down allegiance… and I have no answers. The countries that build up my identity are constantly jostling for first place, but they never settle. And I’m never able to pick.

Answers that come naturally to some are mysteries to me. What does patriotism feel like as a sensation? Why do I feel hurt when distant family members say I sound American? Which team do I support, why does it matter? If I have children, how will they identify? Am I a migrant, or an expat? I feel like neither. Dual-national, third generation, third culture kid? Will these titles matter in the future? Maybe so many of us will be kaleidoscopes of experiences that we won’t lead our conversations by ‘where are you from’ and we won’t expect only one or two answers. Maybe breaking down these boundaries in our heads may break some boundaries in our hearts. Maybe.

Carlos fondly calls me an identity mongrel, living on the fringes of nationalities. And it’s true that most of the time, I feel like I’m living on the fringes of a variety of different clubs. Clubs I can access the basic membership for, but never the premium version, the version in which you truly belong. In every place, I’m a little too ‘other’.

I’m fine being on the fringes of these clubs; I am not complaining. It does not escape me that I have access to other clubs which oh-so-many do not. I’m just exploring the borderless space on the outside, hoping that there are others out here. Hoping that we can make it a tolerant place to be. Maybe some of you have some questions. Maybe some of you have some answers. Maybe we can be friends?

Little Trinkets

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Four objects sit to my left on the desk beside me whilst I write this, collected from their various places of safe keeping and display in my bedroom and precious to me more for their sentimental than monetary value; the best of things so often are.

img_0190The first, a small cigarette tin which I’m told my mum used to keep her chalks in at school. I like things in a particular place, sometimes in an intentional, seemingly haphazard arrangement reminiscent of an antique emporium filled with second-hand fripperies.

At one stage in my life I lived in higgledy piggledy house and the bedroom which I occupied was a later addition to the original space, squeezed in between the ground and first floor with the staircase wrapping round it. It was a cheap and cheerful living in a cupboard under the stairs just like Harry Potter. In my little room I could touch the ceiling with my hands above my head and just below ceiling height was a little shelf on which I kept all my favourite little items and books including my little red and gold cigarette tin.

Fond memories of this mildly impoverished stage in my life are still shared with my old housemate and friends that witnessed firsthand the eccentric details of the whole place. I see that little room, and relive moments of that time in my life often, the memories woven into stories of mad working hours, late nights and early mornings up to all sorts of capers.

img_0191The hip flask and silver match case were leaving presents from work colleagues and my darling friend A. a couple of years ago before I flew off to the other side of the world. Drinking paraphernalia made quite fitting gifts for our little work family unit, saying something quite telling about the way we passed our time on a day-to-day basis, and I carried these two keepsakes with me to Australia and back again.

Recent binge watching of the TV series ‘Peaky Blinders’ made me polish up my hipflask a few days ago after sighting a similar one being passed around by the 1920s mob of troublemakers and gorgeously stylish bad boys of Birmingham. Next time I’m out with A. I must remember to take it with me, top it up with something potent and share a wee nip together.

img_0192Finally, on the first day of postal service for the new year I received a belated Christmas present from K. all the way from Morocco. She knows how much I love to send and receive letters and must have read my mind from afar when working in Marrakesh because she sent me a beautiful silver letter opener. I love it. It’s just the sort of thing I would choose for myself and put it straight to use the following day to swish open a letter from Suzy.

Violet

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Last month I found the perfect gift for a friend’s birthday: a beautiful recipe book filled with ideas and pictures of baked goods, the stylish cover catching my eye on the shelf and calling out: “pick me, pick me, pick me!”
So I did; the reduced sticker winking at me with a knowing look, you’ll be back, and oh how it had me at hello as I did go back to buy a second copy for myself, and I love it.

It wasn’t just the bargain price tag that made me covet the gift and will me into buying a second copy of my own, but there was something else which rang a bell, as if I had come across ‘Violet’ before. On reading the foreword I realised perhaps my instincts were correct. The ‘Violet‘ bakery finds itself in Hackney, East London and started life at Broadway market before opening as a café and bakery in 2010. I think the darling little bunting bedecked stall was in fact pointed out to me by my friend Sarah when I was in London with her in March, so I knew there was something magical about this purchase a few months later.

Four recipes have already been followed to great success, and I took great pleasure in seeking out the shop front itself when in Hackney once again last week on a wee holiday.

20160819_095234 The summer light rain that morning was the only thing which dampened the mood as my friend Sophie and I sat sheltered under the peach coloured awning of the unassuming ‘Violet’ bakery. We started the day right with black coffee and a slice of sponge cake with coconut cream icing. I may have been slightly overwhelmed by the strange familiarity of finding somewhere I had seen in pictures in a book yet had never actually been to and therefore in retrospect I might have made the wrong cake choice. I don’t actually have a very sweet tooth,  however not a crumb was left and even if the cake was a little too sweet for 9 o’clock in the morning I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of sitting watching the world go by and smiling at the worthy locals popping in and cycling away again.

 

Tucked away on an unassuming residential street in Hackney, ‘Violet’ was a gorgeous find and is truly worth a look if in the area and like me enjoy feeling like a local, people watching, and sampling delectable baked goods at any time of the day.

The successes so far from ‘The Violet Bakery Cookbook‘ are:
-Chewy ginger snaps
-Banana buttermilk bread
-Wild blackberry crumble tart (made for my return from London by my mum for my birthday cake)
-Tomato and marjoram tarts (which we had for tea this evening/as a snack on returning from a dance class later on)

Childhood Memories Shared

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Found, squirreled away for safe keeping and prosperity, this is a typed copy of the transcript of an interview with my favourite childhood babysitter and beloved family friend Morag Turnbull. Recorded on tape and painstakingly written out word for word (in pen, a great achievement at age eleven) to hand in as part of my World War Two personal project in my final year of primary school.
I am about to embark on a career in primary teacher, and it is with great fondness that I look back through the small collection of school work from infancy which I have kept and filed away, knowing and reliving the feeling of pride and achievement that I felt at the time.

This interview has been left in it’s original state, with only minor alterations to punctuation and spelling. I love how Morag so wonderfully captured events of great fear and uncertainty in her own childhood and told some of her story to me with such warmth, a young girl completely naive to struggle and suffering; I was then and am now enraptured by every word. A wonderful woman, and a great story teller, she has all the words.

What age were you at the outbreak of the war?

I was a baby. I was born in 1938 and I lived in China because my parents were missionaries. The Japanese invading China was late 1939/early 1940. The place where I lived wasn’t “captured” ‘til 1942 and after that we were all under house arrest, it was like a constant curfew.

Where about in China did you live?

I lived a thousand miles up the Chiang Jiang (Yangtze River) in a place called Icheng in the province of Hapeh which was a smallish town, though bigger than North Berwick, and it was right on the banks of the Yangtze. My father was sent there as a missionary by the Church of Scotland in 1936.

Could you tell me the story of your life in China?

I lived in Icheng quite happily until the Japanese invaded it, determined to conquer China, and that was happening at the same time as the war was here in the UK. My parents and I, as well as other missionaries, were eventually moved from Icheng and we travelled down the Yangtze sometimes by boats, sometimes by trucks. At night we stopped and some slept in the trucks and some slept underneath them, until we finally got to Shanghai where we were told that we were going to be put on repatriation ships which were meant to take us to our home countries. But Shanghai was full of people desperate to get out of China so our seats were taken by people who could bribe their way on board.

So we were all interned in a big concentration camp, and there were many of those in Shanghai, so instead of being on house arrest we were all put in the same place. The camps were big buildings stripped of everything. We were actually interned in a building which had been called ‘The Canadian Country Club’, which sounds very nice, and looked nice from the outside but, as I said before it had been completely stripped of everything on the inside. Cubicles were made with curtains in all of the big rooms; the bar, the ballroom, the bowling alley were all divided up into cubicles for all the different families. My family was in a tiny cubicle with all of our belongings stacked up the way and you had like a little nest. We had been told when leaving Icheng that we could take two trunks I think it was, so everyone took rugs and warm clothes because Shanghai is very cold in the winter.

By the end of 1942 the camp was all barbed wire and was just like a proper concentration camp with armed guards with guns at the gate so everyone was economical, just as it was in Britain. My father stayed with us, as well as other missionaries who were also trained doctors, and he had previously trained as an engineer so was made the plumbing engineer for the camp. He helped unblock drains and put up cubicles so that kept him with us. There was a Japanese Commandant and every morning we had roll call, and everyone had to come out the front, and no one could miss it, and he called out all our names and everybody had to be there.  Well one day another little girl and I weren’t there and everyone was getting annoyed because we had been told not to go far because it was nearly time for roll call. The guards got angry and fetched the Commandant and eventually, after everyone had searched all over the place, my father found me. He had had told me if I ever heard him whistle in a special way  I was to stop exactly what I was doing and go to the whistle*. Well, I was standing with my head through a hole in the fence with this little girl looking at pigs on the other side, all the barbed wire was around us and we were sitting looking at pigs… We were removed from the fence, given a huge row from the “Jap” guards, and our parents.

We were there from 1942 ‘til the beginning of 1945. That was when we were told to pack up all our belongings because we were being moved to another camp.  We were moved to another place down the Yangtze which was right beside a Japanese ammunition dump, which was so the Japanese bombers wouldn’t drop anything on the Westeners, or the dump. It was a terrible place because the buildings were just like shacks and it was near swamp grounds and was names ‘Changsie pou’. It was a very similar situation to the camp the boy was in in the film ‘Empire of the Sun’. I am still in touch with the Stills, the family of the girl I saw the pigs with.

We stayed there until early 1946. When the bomb was dropped in Hiroshima (August 1945) some of the others in the camp said they could feel the tremors, and as soon as the bomb was dropped the next day the Japanese guards all disappeared, and we were left with no way of getting any food. Soon after this people were told there were boats coming to take them home. The most moving thing about the end of the war was when the big gates opened and my father, who was a piper, brought out his bagpipes and played the pipes.

When it was our turn to get on the first boat, ‘The Glenuern’, we sailed to Colombo in Sri Lanka where the Red Cross had a base where we were fattened up and kitted out with more clothes. Then another ship came to pick us up which was called ‘The Athloan Castle’ which we all boarded and low and behold there were some of the people we knew from the camp. We sailed to Southampton and from Southampton we took a train to Glasgow and there were all of my relatives.

We went back out to China in 1947, but had to come back to Scotland because of the Communist invasion.

*  Sadly, the very endearing demonstration of the whistle recorded on tape at the time of the interview has been lost over the years.

 

Interview with a Friend

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Parachute Dance, who are you and what brings you together?

Parachute is myself, and a few close friends, including my boyfriend, who met through my studies at the University of Edinburgh, and Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, where I’m currently a student. When starting a creative project, you want people who are talented, open and willing to try new things, and I’ve learnt through previous work the crucial importance of trust at the centre of productive creative relationships. One of our producers and I worked previously together on an academic yearbook for the University of Edinburgh in 2012, and Kayla (one of our dancers) and I happily suffered through choreography assessment together as part of our studies at Laban. The arts, while in general are underfunded and offer a very low rate of pay, is full of people who enjoy what they do – I’m here because, ultimately, I find making dance to be highly enjoyable and worthwhile, despite frequent fluctuating levels of stress that it imparts; I like to think the others would agree with me.

-I have to admit I am yet to read ‘Catch-22’, and feel I must do so immediately if not definitely before opening night in August. In what way did Joseph Heller’s satirical novel ‘Catch-22’ inspire you?

“Catch” is such a funny book, really, and I don’t often laugh out loud while reading but with “Catch” it was every few pages.  This only increased with further readings, as I appreciated more the subtlety and craft of Heller’s writing. The end of a sentence is never where you’d thought you’d end up, and the absurdity has a beautiful simplicity.  And yet, what it deals with is that very fundamental aspect of our being – our mortality, and how it is so fragile, especially in the hands of those who see you as disposable.  In Heller’s book, those that are disposable are the young men enlisted to fight.  I’ve always found, however, that the comedy and the more serious message are not contradictory, rather they are two sides of the same coin – it is almost as though laughter sits right next to crying, with Heller we laugh because the situation is stupid and bizarre and horrible and bleak all at the same time. Our laughter is that of absolute clarity and despair.

-Sounds intensely captivating, I can’t wait to see a performance. Can you tell me a little about ‘Entrails‘, what it’s all about, in a nutshell? 

Hmm, in a nutshell… the piece is inspired by, but is by no means a direct adaptation of the book ‘Catch-22’.  So, we’ll be in a place with these three individuals who are clearly trying to deal with a situation that is fused with hostility and indifference. That environmental hostility could come from each other, as well.  I don’t want to impose a strict narrative, really, I prefer pieces that give you a clear setting and atmosphere, but that don’t impose an ‘a then b then c’ storyline.  A bit like Beckett – clearly something has happened outside of the theatre space, but you’re never quite sure what.

 

-Coming from a literary background, as well as one of dance and music, the music soundtrack for ‘Entrails’ must be as significant as the movement on-stage. Is there a specific soundtrack for ‘Entrails’, and if so, where has it come from?

A lot of what I have learnt at Laban is to not slavishly create a dance piece to the rigours of a set piece of music rather that you have an idea, and that the sound and dance are two parts of that idea.  Artists in the Parachute Dance playlist right now include: Goldmund, Max Richter, David Lang and Mira Calix.

-You outlined previously what influences you drew from the literary work ‘Catch-22’, do you draw from any other inspirations? What or who, are these inspirations?

I could list for days my inspirations, and they change each week. Last week I saw Crystal Pite at Sadler’s Wells – I had never seen her work before, so as always I was struck by the specific voice of the choreographer. Pina Bausch is such a dominant figure in dance theatre it’s almost silly to mention her influence, but for me, her humour is very similar to Heller’s – it lies in the border of social conventions and their ultimate arbitrariness. I love ballet, though I’m not sure if it will feed into this piece in an explicit way- but Jiri Kylian and William Forsythe are up there.

-It’s lovely to hear how the things that influence you change and merge from day to day, I find the same thing, and it’s a great way to live in the world. This is the first production from Parachute Dance. How have you found the process of bringing it together and directing?

I was just thinking today, the creative process is mostly a lot of lows with one or two highs.  But those highs, when they come, do make it all worthwhile – I know, pretty clichéd, but I think that it’s true.  Mostly, I’m struggling with the responsibility of bringing together such a long piece having only choreographed shorter pieces before. Obviously the dancers and producers feed a great deal into the project, this is by no means a solo endeavour. A lot of the time I simply worry whether I am pushing this in the right direction, and if my idea can stand up to the needs of a longer work. But I guess, that’s exciting too…

-You currently live and work in dance in London, so why choose the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2016 for your debut production with Parachute Dance?

I’ve worked as part of the Fringe team a number of times so it’s always seemed completely obvious to me that I would try at some point to bring a production to a stage there.  Obviously, it is expensive to embark on such a journey but Edinburgh Fringe Festival is an open access festival, anyone can submit something, so if you can, why not, right?

-Absolutely! My personal attention to ‘Entrails’ was initially caught by an online promotional video that you posted. What made you turn to crowdfunding? How has the process worked for Parachute Dance, and would you recommend crowdfunding to other creatives?

I would without a doubt recommend crowdfunding. I thought we would mostly receive a lot of small donations and the process would take quite a lot of time to reach our target, but people have been incredibly generous. Obviously, you have to make people want to support you, and our producers Aran and Laura have been great at thinking up and providing great perks and incentives for the backers of Parachute Dance.  Going in with this support, not just financially, but from so many different people, takes the sting out of this big step we’re taking.

-Interview with Róisín O’Brien, director and choreographer with Parachute Dance

For further information about Parachute Dance including how to contribute to their crowdfunding pot of gold follow this link.

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