Glastonbury Pantomime: Where it all began…

Having been a member of Wrington Drama Club since 2001, I was keen, nay desperate, to get involved in local thespian activity when I moved to Glastonbury at the end of 2016.

A chance conversation with a friend, over lunch at Rainbow’s End, has led me to Shadow of the Tor Productions, as an actor, and the Glastonbury Town Players as reviewer.

Last night, I was most privileged to watch a rehearsal of the metaphorical offspring produced by an association between these two companies (one a venerable, much-loved institution in Avalon; the other an exciting new birth, laboured over last year and delivered on New Year’s Day 2017) : ‘Dick Whittington comes to Avalon’.

Those living in, and around, Glastonbury have got a veritable smorgasbord of dramatic delectation to look forward to. It ticks all the pantomimic convention’s boxes: The Principal Boy played by a girl; Dames a-plenty; a fusillade of funny catch-phrases; a Punnet of Puns; sly digs at local dignitaries; opportunistic Spoonerisms; enough slapstick to please the most exacting audience member and easily recognisable music to brighten the spirit and cause involuntary tapping of the feet.

It is very much a Glastonbury take on the original story-line. Local references and habits are gently lampooned to excellent effect, the Glastonian soul scrutinised minutely under humour’s most astringent microscope.

I shall be reviewing an actual performance next week, so will refrain from letting any cats out of hessian sacks for now. Suffice it to say, that the show is very funny, at times moving, and the spirit informing the cast convivial, lively and redolent with the spice of genuine talent.

So where did it all begin?

Back at the start of World War One, in 1914, when classical composer, Rutland Boughton, set up The Town Players in an attempt to recreate the operatic success of Bayreuth. This 1914 musical delight became the first Glastonbury Festival. Though very different from the modern Festival – more ‘The Immortal Hour’ than anything written by Bastille! – this genesis of musical inspiration has given rise to one of the most celebrated annual events in the world.

I shall be mentioning cast members, both past and present, in my review of the pantomime. Meanwhile, the show runs from April 4th until April 8th, at Glastonbury’s Assembly Rooms, and tickets can be purchased from Gothic Image.

Do go along if you can! A splendid evening’s entertainment awaits you!

Elixir:An Exciting Parcel!

The doorbell ba-dunged. A lady stood without, bearing a large brown box. I knew immediately what it was: The copies of my five books I ordered recently (and wasn’t expecting to see for another month!).

Scrabbling inside, removing packing paper and cardboard dividers, I drew out the twenty-five volumes. Such delight! Such excitement!

This is a welcome physical reminder that I am a writer as well as a supply teacher; that my books are real paperbacks and not just words floating in the firmament of the mind.

Even more touching and important, to me, is this fact: This is the first delivery of my works I have received since moving to Glastonbury three months ago. It marks another step forward in the liberation of Alienora!

Elixir, indeed!

Jumble, Pippa and the Garden!

I love my animals dearly – which is why I volunteered to have custody of them after the divorce (not that my ex put up much of a battle!) – but, corporately and individually, they have tried my patience in recent days.

Last week, my friend, J, very kindly gave me a bag of raspberry canes to plant – and, Lad and Lass about to arrive for for a Mothers’ Day visit, I decided to utilise their youth and strength in order to create Phase One of Alienora’s Garden.

All went swimmingly. It was, as some of you will know, an exceptionally beautiful and warm springlike weekend – and the Young Things dug and planted and hoed while I did a mercy dash to B&Q for compost.

The canes went in a treat, as did the tulip bulbs from another friend and two lovely plants, one my all-time favourite, honeysuckle, from my son. Green garden wire was then dug in around the two most vulnerable patches, compost drizzled like some delectable coulis in a fashionable restaurant and, in a blast of sun-baked optimism (or possibly madness), the Rabbits of War were released. Okay, technically there is only the one – but she is so vast that the plural seems more apposite!

Now – indulging myself in a little aside! – you know what they say about rabbits! Yup! Well, by the time they are two-ish, most female bunnies have had more pricks than a second-hand dartboard, and have warrens of kits to prove it. Pippa, by contrast, is, as far as I know, virgo intacta, and, if I am any judge, not overly thrilled by it! Rotund, rampaging and randy, that’s my rabbit!

Spring is in the air. The sap is rising. Buds are shooting out all over the place. The urge to mate is strong. Pippa, her double dewlap wobbling in ecstasy, is, I suspect, in season.

So there we had it: Three enticing new areas, gravid with bulbs and potential fruit, and a rabbit keen, if you’ll pardon the phrase (and even if you won’t), to fuck a buck.

I can only think that she saw the third, unprotected, patch as her nest (for those phantom kittens) because, sighting it, she was in like Flynn, first burrowing deep and uprooting most of the bulbs and then spraying the whole area with urine. Putting, as you might say, her micturational mark on the place.

I rushed out and moved her on. Not easy with a rabbit of that size! Stupidly, I turned my back for about five seconds – whilst I located a part of my spinal column numbed by the sheer leporine weight – and, blow me down, she had, somehow, found her way into the enclosed raspberry patch and was merrily trying to dig the canes up!

This time, I descended like a Mongolian Horde, screeching, shrieking and showing my teeth in a growl. She frolicked up and down, evading my hands, for a while, but I caught the little sod in the end and, muttering darkly about jugged rabbit and dumplings, hauled her out, and back into her hutch/run combo.

Releasing breath pent by frustration for what felt like hours, I sat down upon the garden deckchair to relax – and allowed Jumble to wander round the garden. Not my best idea, as it turned out. Being a complete novice about gardening, I had not fully realised the extent to which compost is composed of – er, well, basically, poo!

Jumble didn’t need telling, however. As I said to the Younger Generation later, he must have thought he’d died and gone to Heaven. With an arthritic grunt, he waddled into the faecal fray (so to speak) and began to eat his way through as much of it as he could cram in before I noticed.

Fortunately, he no longer has the leaping power required to gain entry to the raspberry patch, though he very kindly (?!) hoovered up all the spillages around it – but he did manage to denude the raw, already peed-upon, patch of most of its succulent goodness before I let fly with a most unladylike fusillade of Anglo-Saxon and chased him back into the house.

Phase Two I completed yesterday morn, without either of the animals this time, and now have a line of pots in front of my shed’s suntrap wall. Herbs, tomatoes, flowers – they should brighten up all the senses once they begin to sprout.

If, that is, I can keep Pippa from eating the seeds and Jumble from siphoning off the composting layer!

I love my animals dearly…

The Corset: A (Fictional) Whale of a Tale…

Have you noticed how something deemed ordinary in one century is seen as exotic in another? Here we have a tale of the ordinary Victorian corset turned on its head by twenty-first century Young Things!

So there I was, having always believed that whale-bone looked better in a whale, struggling home from the local shop of ill-repute, a bag of corsetry under one arm. Embarrassing doesn’t begin to cover it! I was little more than a child, in my early twenties, and had been unable to resist the hilarious lure of the sex shop that had suddenly sprung up in the town in which I was then living. Besides, my boy-friend, with whom I had a wonderfully humorous and variegated under-the-duvet life, had suggested, one gin-soaked evening, that a corset would be great fun to try out.

Always game for a laugh, and roused by the sheer naughtiness of the whole endeavour, I put foot to asphalt (this being the days before I could drive) and, slinking nippily into the aforesaid emporium, had a good old gander at the merchandise.

Well! My gob was immediately smacked by the diversity, the neon colours, the out-and-proud nature of the whole place. I have never seen so many dildos in my life! There were butterfly-shaped objects which looked as if they could be jolly useful when it came to cutting pastry. There were handcuffs and whips and chocolate genitalia – and costumes, a pleasing plethora of clothes for the soon-to-be-unclothed!

Like the proverbial excited child in a sweet shop, eyes bigger than Gobstoppers, I wanted it all, NOW!

Twenty heavenly minutes later, I emerged, my purchase duly wrapped in the obligatory plain brown paper, and made my way back to the flat. My expectation was that I’d be into the corset and duvet-diving within two squeaks of a greased weasel’s ball sack. After all, I’d been getting dressed (and undressed) for over twenty years, hadn’t I? What could possibly be difficult about that?

Ripping open the package, and letting my laughter ring un-stifled around the room, I took the thing out – and turned it over in my hands. The first doubt assailed me. It looked well-nigh impregnable, like trying to climb into a castle with archers dense along the battlements and boiling oil a very real next experience. The picture provided was unhelpful in the extreme – and it looked as if I’d need to call upon the local Tug-of-War team in order to get the laces tight enough.

It also looked, if I may be so vulgar, as if the devoutly-desired wasp waist (which all Victorian women aspired to) would cause my baps to burst their moorings and end up perched on my shoulders. I dreaded to think what the pinching in would do to my internal organs – and confidently expected them to join me and my lover on the bed shortly.

But, I was young, lithe, adventurous and, prepared to try anything once (even Morris Dancing), unfurled the accursed garment and looked at the instructions. Frankly, I have seen more sense on the pre-translated Rosetta Stone. These words of wisdom – which gave every appearance of having been written in Braille for a double upper limb amputee – availed me not. Twisting and turning every which way, like a pig in a burlap sack, I grunted and groaned most unattractively, rivers of sweat pouring down my body, as I tried to squirm into tart gear.

I could’ve done with a gallon of engine oil and a can of WD40 quite honestly, that or a catapult. Boyfriend did suggest getting the slab of lard from the kitchen, but I felt that the smell would probably affect his prowess.

Eventually, finally, I was in. Breathing appeared to be an optional extra. I was convinced that I could feel my spleen inching its way up my throat – and was terrified that the man in my life might meet my descending liver when Rivet A finally met Hole B (if it ever did!).

Here we encountered an unexpected problem. The Man was sprawled on the bed, guffawing so much that he was in imminent danger of a hernia; laughing, in fact, so hysterically that he was a spent force when it came to the dreaded laces. I had vile visions of my having to do the job with my teeth and ending up toothless at the end of it all.

Fortunately, a stern word (along the lines that he wouldn’t even be getting to First Base if he didn’t get me into the bloody corset) did the trick – and, bracing himself, hands on the laces as if I were a wild horse, he pulled for dear life.

I looked warily around the room, just to make sure, you understand, that it wasn’t awash with squoze-out abdominal organs – and, reassured, if somewhat light-headed, turned to look at myself in the cracked mirror.

The Man’s stertorous breathing and whimpered, ‘Cor!’ told me all I needed to know and, with an exultant, ‘Chocks Away!’ he leaped upon me.

As Fanny Hill is rumoured to have said, ‘There’s always room for another trollop!’

We had a whale(bone) of a time!

The Wool Shop and Me: A Tale of Telephonic Torment!

‘You couldn’t make it up!’ – as one of my siblings commented when I divulged the story I am about to share on here! Frustrating though it has been, I am now able to see the funny side – and make my own sardonic little aside, ‘At least it was a wool, rather than a knocking, shop!’

So, when I moved here three months ago, I asked for, and got, my very own telephone number – or so I thought! However, weird, and downright worrying, phone calls started almost immediately. In many, I was asked if I were the proprietor of a shop selling wool in the vicinity; in a few, I was informed that invoices were awaiting my dosh; in still others, that arrangements I had, apparently, made were welcomed, or not as the case may be!

I did wonder, for a while, whether I had entered some kind of alternative telephonic universe – this is Glastonbury, after all! – in which coded messages were being passed using the hair-products of ruminants as a symbol. For all I knew, the words, ‘Are you the Wool Shop?’ could have been code for advanced Illuminati meetings and/or dodgy handshakes and peculiarly-adjusted hose a la Masons!

Today, after the twenty-fifth (I have been counting!) such communication, I finally blew my top – and, intimating forcefully that I gave not a toss how many online links told my caller that I was a purveyor of woollen articles, slammed the phone down in some degree of pique.

I then got onto my telephone company, which I shall call Peace of God Com (because, having been kept waiting on the blower for half an hour, methinks they do, indeed, pass all understanding and endure for frigging ever!) – and, having finally got hold of a human being, tersely outlined my reason for calling. I explained, with firm clarity, that I had evidently been given a number already owned by another and that I felt I was entitled to my own set of digits! I also made the point, assertively, that, of the twenty-eight phone calls I have received since mid-January, twenty-five of them have been concerning this mysterious, possibly Diagon Alley type, establishment which, unlike me, caters to those of a knitting and sewing frame of mind. I forbore to let him know that my record – with both awl and knitting needle – would gain me Nul Points from any right-minded seamstress, let alone that any advice I might give with regard to wool would be very much a case of the blind leading the blind, and contented myself with a somewhat glacial air as I maundered on.

Fortunately, he saw my point. Just as well: I was in no mood to be trifled with and, had he given me any lip, I would, without a doubt, have given it to him with both barrels.

I am now in possession of a new number, my very own – or so I have been led to believe! Knowing my luck, I will probably now find that I am sharing the number with the local House of Negotiable Affection (if such a thing exists, which I am sure it does not!) and that wool will be the very least of it when I am phoned in future!

I still have absolutely no idea where, or what, this ruddy wool shop is!

Fat = Unfit? Slim = Fit? How simplistic! Symptom of Malaise?

This obsession with being slim and ‘fit’ at all costs speaks, to me, of a worryingly dangerous malaise in society and is, I feel, a symptom of deep dissatisfaction with the bodies we have been given!

But, this may just be a symptom of my own defensiveness, denial and determination to keep eating chocolate!!!

I thoroughly enjoyed writing my ‘FAT’ post yesterday – and it has certainly inspired a great deal of attention, and some most interesting comments. It has also, as I knew it would, thrown up some of the more questionable (in my view: don’t forget, this blog is full of my opinion; I am not trying to claim infallible knowledge or intrinsic rightness!) assumptions made about those people who carry extra flesh on their bodies.

The first links to an area of weight which I deliberately did not go into yesterday, considering it, I think rightly, a minefield best avoided, and that is the whole Weight: Health conundrum. There is, I think, an unspoken assumption that fat people over-eat, eat all the wrong things and do no exercise whatsoever. There is an implicit judgement that the overweight do it to themselves by being lazy, mouth-cramming slobs. This may be true in some cases, but by no means in all.

But to me, the really worrying – I would go so far as to say ‘scary’ – aspect of this kind of thinking is the link in all too many people’s minds between being slim/thin and health, beauty and fitness. It seems to be the case that a rigid article of belief, almost a God in its own right in a world which has turned away from more conventional deities, is that being THIN is good and being FAT is bad. Very Orwellian, isn’t it? I am always reminded of ‘Animal Farm‘ when I think of this – and how ‘Four Legs Good; Two Legs Bad’ had, by the end, become the exact opposite.

My question – and it is just that: I am a writer, not a dictator/evangelist – is this: Is the oft-fanatical pursuit of the perfect, slim, fit body any healthier than the faults attributed to those of us who do not pursue perfection quite so avidly? In a world which includes anorexic teenagers, of both sexes, who refuse to eat and pace the walls of their homes, vomit the lining of their teeth away and stop the next phase of their sexual growth, this insistence upon a slim and toned body has, to me, a hollow ring of mockery about it.

We learn our food and exercise habits from our parents, either in following them slavishly or rebelling against them. It is my contention that too many impressionable young people see their primary caregivers – and, to be blunt, it is often the mother – off to the gym every day, exercising on the mat at home and casting daggers at the child for wanting to eat anything on this Frown List (which we, as humans with an infinite capacity for creation, have largely made up!). This, my friends, is the kind of oppressive, Big Brother atmosphere which breeds furtive binge-ing and vomiting. This is the kind of nonsense which spawns young girls who weigh five stone and wear huge garments to cover their furry, bone-protruding, dying bodies.

My opinion is clear: If you want to exercise, fine; there is nothing wrong with it, in moderation (and it has clear health benefits, both physically and emotionally) – but do not make it your religion or cast out those who do not do it as often as you do. Do not condemn your precious children to a life-time of eating disorders by an overly-righteous attitude towards getting thin. Do not, above all, make the mistake so many make whereby Food: Bad and Exercise: Good.

But the sickest irony, to me, in this need to be slim is the fact that we live in a world which still contains World Hunger – and that, in Third World Countries, putting flesh on is a sign of health. We handily forget the damage that being too thin can cause in our quest for perfection. We forget the osteoporosis waiting for us down the line, the infertility, the psychological problems. We forget that exercise can become an addiction in its own right – and one that is every bit as hard to break as cigarettes or drugs.

Food is not an enemy. Foods containing fat are not the Antichrist. You won’t go to Hell if you occasionally splurge on biscuits or eat chocolate. Butter is not Beelzebub! I do not think we do our children any favours by making them feel guilty about eating certain things. In fact, I would go as far as to say we do them harm because many of them then grab the forbidden fruit (metaphorically) in secret and thus begins a lifetime’s habit of sorrow, sickness and shame.

Let me share something with you: During the year in which I was divorcing my ex, while still sharing a house with him, and selling the house, I was so anxious that I ate almost nothing other than the occasional bowl of Granola. I started to lose weight. But was this healthy? No. I looked at a photo of myself from that time the other day and, yes, I looked trimmer, but I also looked white as a sheet, gaunt almost.

Now? My diet is mainly vegetarian, but I am experimenting with, enjoying and sharing treats from my childhood. I am getting back my lusty joy in food. I am luxuriating in the delight of preparing home-cooked meals. My love of food is fast returning!

I am also exercising regularly – but not in a gym. I am doing what our forebears did before expensive gyms were invented: Walking the landscape, and working with it, my faithful dog at my heels. Since Glastonbury is hilly, much of my walking is uphill, sometimes vertiginously so! I love it and am getting stronger.

But for me, it is not about reaching a certain weight on the scales, or getting into a size ten skirt (perish the thought); it is about my love of life returning; it is about connections with the earth and other people starting, like spring’s awakening, to bud and flower; it is about feeling good about who I am and where I am at. It is, that is to say, about enjoyment rather than punishment.

I have nothing against losing weight or becoming healthy. But I do feel very great loathing for the attitude which insists there is only one way to achieve this, one goal weight/size and that, if you carve your own, alternative path through the whole thing, you are wrong-headed, a sinner and will end up broken.

Once, many years ago, I was nine and a half stone and a size twelve.

‘Wow!’ you might think. ‘Fit and healthy and slim!’

But I wasn’t. I was drinking, smoking and binge-eating/starving to excess. I was, as I said yesterday, using laxatives to control my intake. I was waking up most mornings with a hangover and in floods of self-hating tears. I was running at least three miles every day in order to try and achieve this Holy Grail, this fantasy of female beauty: The Perfect Shape. I was punishing my body for its human love of food.

Frankly, if I had a daughter, I would rather she read this than the hundreds of Flesh is Wrong, Gym is Right, Carbs are the Devil sort of articles which are so prevalent in our time.

It is not about you agreeing with me. Many of you won’t – and that is your prerogative as thinking beings. It is about the right to live my life in a way that suits me – and my right to express my own views openly and candidly and, I hope, articulately!

Acceptance: On being FAT: Facing the final taboo!

I am fat! There, I’ve said the ‘F’ word that lurks in closets and writhes with shame. F.A.T. According to many, I dare say I am not simply fat, but grossly, morbidly obese – and should, I am sure, be marched off by the Diet Nazis (those who genuinely believe that a size 12 equals extra large!) and force-fed fresh air until my unsightly curves dwindle to a more acceptable size…

I am fat! And, for the first time in my life, I do not give a shit! I have given up weighing myself, though I know that my current weight lies somewhere between twelve and thirteen stone. I have stopped obsessing over diets created by Sadists and measuring myself tearfully to see if my vital statistics are anywhere near the ideal. I have ceased to see my fat as an automatic deal breaker when it comes to men and sex.

To use a vile glossy magazine-type euphemism for all fatties everywhere, I celebrate my curves – and if, on the beach, I look more like something in need of harpooning than a conventional Beach Babe, who cares?!

Yes, I have extra flesh! Crime of the century, this appears to be in modern parlance. Ye gods! My overhang – a result of giving birth and not been a zealot when it came to busting my balls (as it were) in order to spring back to a size and shape acceptable to the world at large – makes me laugh. Yes, shock horror, I admit in public to an overhang, to plumptiousness in the abdominal area; to a weight so far above the idyllic size zero that slim women are torn between shooting me (though not eating me: The carbs, darling!) and patronising me to death.

According to those lovely little weigh yourself machines in major supermarkets, I have a BMI of an elephant and am well into the obese section of the graph. I am, therefore, according to some, a weak-willed, unattractive, greedy pig of a female, a disgrace to womankind and one who wilfully lets the appearance-related side down.

To compound this catalogue of sack-able offences, I am not the slightest bit interested in designer clothes, handbags, vaginas or anything else which, to my mind, puts a label and loadsamoney way above common sense and comfort. I have one handbag. I do not do shoes for every occasion. Or coats! To me, spending more than I make from teaching in a month on an item of apparel or a pointless accessory is daft.

I am also not in vogue when it comes to bodily hirsuteness – and would rather have root canal treatment without anaesthetic than have some bugger, no matter how well-trained, rooting about with wax and God alone knows what else in my hold! If I wanted to look like a pre-adolescent in the minge department, I would have been a bit more fanatical about dieting myself into perpetual childhood when I was eleven or so.

We say the word ‘fat’ with much the same dread and disgust as we say, for example ‘paedophile’ or ‘axe-murderer’. Spare flesh is regarded as abnormal, revolting, a sign of gorging in lonely bedsits with only a cat for company and the shopping programmes on the telly all day long. It is, in many people’s mind, right up there with moral turpitude and a one-way ticket to Hell.

I am FAT. FAT. And I am not ashamed. Because there is nothing to be ashamed about. I do not have a waist men could encircle with both hands – but why would I want to have one? I am a woman, not an egg-timer!

I have, in the past, been down the whole diet, laxatives, binge road – when I was size 12! Ridiculous! I damaged myself for a size which, in any sensible person’s head, is on the slimmer side of things.

In truth, our size, our fat quotient, has no automatic connection to our levels of happiness, aliveness and well-being. It is society’s rigid expectations, and the comments of others (gleaned from the more cretinous articles in the glossies) which sting and draw blood and make us feel that we are abnormal, revolting and hideous.

I have been fat for most of my adult life. I have also been a nude model – and a locally successful one – at both a pottery class and a life drawing one. Beauty does not lie in a minute waistline or a perfectly flat stomach. You do not have to be eight stone or less to feel good about yourself as a person, as a woman. You do not have to beat yourself up because you wear size eighteen clothes.

I am FAT – and I am proud of who I am!

Acceptance and liberation!