Let’s go for a walk
Say, isn’t the weather lovely today? It’s really warm in the sunshine. In fact, no, I’m going to say it’s actually hot in the sunshine. Like t-shirt hot. It’ll probably be winter tomorrow. Tell you what, let’s all go for a walk in the evening sun and I’ll tell you what I’ve been up to for the last couple of weeks.
I guess the last time I really gave you a general update was — mind the pavement here, it’s kind of uneven since they basically shattered it building the new school — um, was after my flat-warming party, right? Except for the Wednesday before last, which I told you about in exTENSive detail. Um.
Well! What has been happening since the party? I’ll tell you what’s been happening since the party.* REVELS. Revels has been happening. We had auditions, and supplementary auditions for a couple of people who couldn’t make it to the main auditions, and although we had far fewer people auditioning than last year the standard was very high. If we’d had space in the cast we could gladly have taken several more people than we did, but — Okay, I don’t think I’ve explained before quite how Revels works. I told you roughly what it was in that post-party post, but at this point I need to explain a bit more. (You see how I carefully do only as much exposition as the audience needs at any given point, like the books say you should? I don’t craft these things like Garland or Sady or Anaïs, because they’re writers and I’m just someone with a blog, but I do try to observe the basic niceties.) Once you’ve done a successful audition for Revels, you’re in for as long as you want: you don’t have to re-audition every year. So by the time we do the auditions every year we have a rough idea of how many Revellers from previous years are coming back, and that dictates how many new people we can take on before the cast becomes unwieldy. The other thing you need to know is that, because we write the sketches and songs after auditions and over the course of the two and a half months leading up to the show, it isn’t a case of auditioning for parts. There are no parts at that stage. We just assemble a group of performers and see what happens. People do, though, audition to act or to sing or both, so there’s specialization to that extent. All performers are encouraged to get involved in writing, though.
So, uh, where was I? Yes, this year’s auditions. So we couldn’t take all the good candidates, but we took a decent number, and they’re working out very well so far: all seem nice (though there’s one I haven’t really talked to yet) and enthusiastic and game to have a go at writing too. The first ‘rehearsal’ — if we turn here we can walk along the river, shall we do that? — the first ‘rehearsal’ was on the 30th, though at this stage of the process ‘rehearsal’ is a misleading name because there’s no material to rehearse. We played a getting-to-know-you game and watched a selection from the DVD of last year’s show so the new people knew what to expect, and then sat around in the pub and chatted. At this stage rehearsals are held in the pub, which conduces to a sense of fun and relaxation and is good for the collaborative writing process. Since then we’ve had a couple more rehearsals consisting of dividing into groups and attempting to write sketches and songs, and they seem to have been quite productive.
On the Friday before last I went… Oh, now, look at that. Sorry to interrupt, but look at that light reflecting those windows there. Ladies — and I use that in a strictly gender-neutral sense, you understand :P — ladies, I can’t tell you how much I love sunshine. I just — I was talking to Awesome Bookshop Lady last Sunday — sorry, this is getting out of chronological order, but it doesn’t really matter — I was talking to Awesome Bookshop Lady, whose pseudonym is getting kind of unwieldy, isn’t it? Shall we shorten it? I don’t know whether ABL is very… How about just Bookshop? Sounds a bit Dickensian, like the way Oliver Twist gets called ‘Workhouse’. But it’s more fun than ABL. Bookshop, then. Okay, so I was talking to Bookshop about how in the last ten years or so they’ve finally started building futuristic buildings. What took them so long? I always wonder. I mean, we’ve known since at least the 60s that in the future there were going to be amazing oddly-shaped buildings that looked like mushrooms or shards of glass or whatever, yet until the late 1990s nobody bothered to actually build them. How does that work? But now we’ve got some — I’m thinking of the Gherkin and the Headlamp in London, and the Bullring in Birmingham, and then there’s the Guggenheim in Bilbao, and so on. So that’s okay. But then Bookshop also posed the question why we aren’t living underground yet, and we talked about how that would work, and yes I guess there are clever ways you could filter daylight down into subterranean complexes, but I’m just a bit horrified at the idea of going without direct sunshine. We already have to do without it quite a lot in the UK just because of, you know, clouds and stuff, but when there is some I just have to have it. If I can’t go out in it because it’s too hot or I have to work indoors or whatever, I still try to sit by a window in a beam of light, or at worst I want to be able to see it shining outside. Where I sit at work is on the wrong side of the building, and I genuinely find it quite distracting to be able to see the sun shining on the next building but not to have any of it coming through the window and gently toasting my neck. That’s how much I love sunshine.
AAAAAnyway. Shall we just sit down on this bench for a bit? We can maybe get the last of the sun before it goes behind St George’s Wharf. Now, on Friday of last week I went to see a play in Latin. It was Plautus’ Menaechmí at Harrow school — do you know it? It’s a posh boys’ school in north London — and, well, frankly it was quite ropey. Most of the actors didn’t know their lines and, after initially relying on the prompt, fairly quickly resorted to whipping index-cards out of their pockets and reading from them. I mean, it’s pretty hard performing in a foreign language, especially one that isn’t taught as a spoken language, so I don’t blame them, but still it made the theatrical experience rather lacking. What made it worse was that two directorial decisions made it virtually impossible for me to follow the dialogue. One was that at least half the cast wore thick full-face masks that badly muffled their speech. I mean, seriously, how does a play get through three weeks of rehearsal without anybody at any point saying, ‘People, this isn’t working because we cannot hear what the actors are saying.’ Srsly. The other thing was more understandable but still a major problem. So — uh, I don’t know how much you really want to hear at this point about how to speak Latin verse? Possibly not very much? Okay, well, I see some of you looking a bit dubious, so anyone who does care can ask me another time. But basically the tricksy thing about Roman poetry is that the metre isn’t based on where the stress in the word goes, it’s based on the ‘weight’ of the syllables, which is only indirectly related to the stess of the syllables. So if you speak it like you would speak English verse, stressing the syllables according to the rhythm of the verse, you end up putting the stress on syllables where it doesn’t go in normal speech and it all sounds like an Alanis Morrissette song. (You know that bit in Heart of the house that goes ‘you saw ME run from THE house in THE snow meLOdramaTICally’? Yeah.) But if you speak it as if it were prose, putting the stress in the right places, you lose the rhythm of the verse. Now, shockingly — shockingly, I tell you! — we have no audio recordings of ancient Romans reciting poetry, so there are various contested theories about how it was done. But a chap called Prof. Wilfried Stroh says something that to me sounds very sensible and was, I think, further supported by my experience at Harrow: there is no language in the world in which the pronunciation of words in poetry is significantly different from their pronunciation in ordinary speech. He has a way of pronouncing both the ordinary stress and the metrical rhythm. It’s pretty tricky to do without a lot of practice, and not all academics accept that it’s how the Romans did it. But anyway, back to the Menaechmí (which, incidentally, is the source of Two gentlemen of Verona, in case you want to have a rough idea of the plot): they did it by putting the stress on the metrically ‘heavy’ syllables even where that was different from where you’d put it in ordinary speech, and it just sounded bad. Of the relatively few times when I could hear what they were saying at all from behind their masks, about half the time it just sounded ludicrous (imagine if Alanis wrote an entire musical at the level of metrical achievement represented by the line I quoted earlier) and the other half I couldn’t even identify what the words were. All of which made it pretty clear that this performance wasn’t intended for people who could actually understand Latin as a spoken language. Which is fair enough, because there are probably only a score of us in the whole country, but it does make me wonder who they were doing it for. I suspect maybe the presence of the audience was irrelevant and that the value of the exercise, from the school’s point of view, was as a way of engaging the boys in a new and fun way with their Latin lessons. But really, if you’re interested in doing that, why not, you know, teach them Latin as a spoken language?
That all sounds very complainy. I’m glad I saw it, and it was certainly worth the price of admission, which was £0.00. But still.
Other than that and Revels, the last couple of weeks have been work, a couple of birthdays, and clothes-shopping. I still haven’t managed to get any guidance on how much I can blog about work. I’m inclined to say to the HR people next week that I feel I’ve tried harder than most people would and now I’m just going to start applying my common sense, and I’ll try to err on the side of caution but I hope if I ever get it wrong they’ll bear in mind that I asked about half a dozen different people and read all the staff handbooks and searched the intranet, and really it’s hard to see what more I could have done. But anyway, there was work. It’s still going fine. Hey, did you notice the sun going while we were talking? I sort of did but I guess I got a bit too into it with the Latin stuff. Shall we start walking back? Actually we’re closer to Vauxhall station now, so why don’t I walk with you to there and you can get the train? Okay. Still nice and warm, though, isn’t it?
The birthdays were nice. I like my friends. Astonishing, isn’t it? But you know what I mean. I gave one a Mary Poppins umbrella, which he found very amusing (though his other half was not desperately impressed), and the other the first volume of Strangers in paradise, which she looked a bit baffled by but I hope she’ll like when she reads it. I quite like giving people comics because by and large one can be confident they won’t have read them before (unless they’re comics people, which my friends mostly aren’t), but it’s a bit of a risk because some people just find it very difficult to read comics. You forget when you’ve been reading them on and off since childhood that actually there are quite a few conventions that aren’t totally obvious, especially in some modern comics where the layouts are less regimented than, say, Tintin and it isn’t always completely clear which order to read the panels in or how the dialogue balloons relate to each other. Anyway, we’ll see.
And clothes-shopping. I don’t think I told you that I left my raincoat in… a city other than London and other than the other one I was in recently for work. I’m not used to staying in hotels. I forgot to check the wardrobe. Anyway, it was really old and had several holes in it, and in the end I decided the cost of getting them to post it to me wasn’t worth it. So since then I’ve been ‘looking’ for a new coat. I say ‘looking’ in inverted commas because I didn’t try very hard for a while, and then suddenly it started raining and getting cold, so I started putting some effort into the whole project. For many years I’ve been wanting to find a nice black overcoat that would go down below my knees, but the fashion seems to be getting shorter and shorter. I tried second-hand shops and vintage shops and army surplus shops but it’s really hard to find second-hand clothes when you’re a non-standard shape. I’m just a bit too narrow in the chest and shoulders for my height, apparently, or to put it the other way round I’m just a bit too tall for my breadth. Basically I’m about the shape of a pencil. But at last on Friday I found a coat that comes at least as far as my knees, and at this stage I’ll settle for that. So now I have coat. Hurrah! Also in my searches for a coat I inevitably saw some other clothes I liked too, and could even afford some of them. Which is good, because since I started working somewhere that doesn’t have a dress-code I’ve discovered that I haven’t really got enough casual clothes for seven days a week. So now I’ve got some new trousers and socks and a new belt and shirt and scarf, plus a couple of more fun things from second-hand shops. One is a black velvety jacket that’s actually a ladies’ jacket but was in amongst the men’s stuff and was a good fit. I’m still finding it a bit disconcerting having the button on the other side — how long does it take to get used to that? But actually it’s a better fit than men’s jackets usually are for me because I do go rather more in at the waist than men are apparently meant to. The only thing is that it’s built to accommodate slightly wider hips than I have, so it looks a bit odd in that area. But I’m pleased with it. The other is a rather amazing black satin thigh-length double-breasted jacket. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. It’s also got a bizarre pocket on one side with the opening actually significantly behind the centre-line of the jacket, meaning that you can’t get your hand into it without twisting your arm uncomfortably behind your back. Not sure what the thinking is there. Maybe it’s so that other people can put things in your pocket without you seeing? For some reason? Anyway, the jacket’s a little big in the waist, but I’m going to try moving the buttons a centimetre or two. I also noticed today that it’s missing a couple of buttons on the cuffs, so I’ll need to find some more, but they look fairly standard. Quite excited about it, though. I might try to incorporate it into a hallowe’en costume. Like, um, perhaps inexplicably shiny Victorian gentlemen are the new inexplicably sparkly vampires? Hmm. Needs work.
Well, here we are. You can get an overground train from here or take the Victoria line north into the tube system. Thanks for coming! That was a really nice walk. I hope we get a few more sunny days this year so we can do it again. Have a good journey.
* (If at this point you thought of the intro to the title song from Guys and dolls, I award you thirty points.)