Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Play vs TV vs Book

Yesterday, I saw Birdsong in the Theatre Royal in Winchester.

I've read the book, seen the TV adaptation, and now the play. So is it fair to compare them?

Not really - they are different art forms. They take the same material (for those not familiar with Sebastian Faulks' book, it's set in the trenches of the World War 1 with flashbacks to an affair), even tell the same story, but they work with different tools. However, it is impossible for forget any encounter with this story before, even if it comes in a different shape.

A writer has nothing but words and white space on the page. And, of course, the imagination of the reader who must do some of the work - taking those words and providing his or her own images. The reader engages as he or she chooses; there are times then this books is gruesome - a reader is free to put the book down, take a rest from the misery, go outside and smell the roses, listen to the birdsong.

When I saw this televised, the director seemed to understand this need for respite from the trenches: the flashback scenes, while painful to watch in places, were full of sunshine and - in spite of the heartache - there was an optimism in all that loving. It left the viewer with a feeling that the carnage was worth it for love, in the form of a child, would survive. And, if it was too full of blood and mayhem, the viewer could turn it off - or go and make a cup of tea and hope it was more cheerful when he or she came back.

There is no such respite on stage. This production handled the flashbacks seamlessly, so 'present' morphed into memory with little more than a flicking of scenery and change of lighting. Characters slipped from past to present with comparable ease. However, the backdrop - the barbed wire and mud of the trenches - never moved. The audience was never able to forget the context of this play, no taking a trip to the loo, no slipping into the garden to remind yourself of sunshine.

The result - it was harrowing. It's hugely powerful - and important to remember just how futile it all was, how pointless all that carnage. The acting and staging was superb. But not for anyone who, for whatever reason, is looking for light entertainment. - I don't see this as 'criticism' - this is a magnificent, important play and this production was wonderful. Harrowing was what it needed to be.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

The White Horse Bookshop

I had planned to return with News, but this is far too wonderful to let it go by.

A few weeks ago I wrote about the refurbishment of our lovely independent bookshop. Well, last Saturday was the official reopening.

I don't know about your town - but ours can do 'stuffy' when it comes to celebrations. We call them respectable, of course, but often they're stuffy. Sparkling wine in sparkling glasses. Canapés. Men and women greet each other with air-kisses and agree that this is wonderful darling. Maybe a local worthy to do the opening honours. Such celebrations have their place, of course - but sometimes I think my town needs a bit of a kick up the bum.

And then came the reopening of the White Horse Bookshop. With Jacqueline Wilson. Whose fab idea was it to invite her? For the great and the good of the town were shoved to the margins as the shop filled with children. You could barely hear yourself speak above the hubbub of children's voices - subdued briefly when she walked by them and then resuming forte proportions once she'd gone by.

The official ribbon-cutting done, she sat on a low sofa - low enough to look children in the eye and talk with them. A queue (of sorts) snaked through the shop - she had time and a smile for them all.

Oh how truly wonderful. Nobody could move in the shop for children, and parents, and grandparents. For what can be more important than bringing books and children together?

(Far more important than my News, anyway!!)

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Well, Easter is nearly here.

I know, that's stating the obvious. You can't move in the shops for eggs and chocolate rabbits and hot cross buns. The children are home from school - and fill the streets with scooters and bikes and laughter. The town's noticeboards are full of invitations to Easter fĂȘtes and bonnet-making and suchlike.

Easter means different things to different people. For some it is much more than a holiday - it has spiritual significance that goes far beyond the razzmatazz of parades and bonnets. Like Christmas, your celebrations seem to be drowned in all the glitz. I hope you find the peace you need for your reflections.

For me - it's a holiday. Time to doss about, play, sit in the garden, maybe drink a little wine. Friends and family will call. If the sun shines I might walk a little. If it's cold and wet, I've a woodburner and books. And so I'm taking a short blog-break - just a week or two. Battery-recharging time.

But when I come back - I might have News. After all, I've not been idle since I got home from Cuba. And that manuscript is beginning to fester ...

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Today I shall buy books!!

Today I shall buy books.

Not such as a surprise, surely?

But our lovely independent bookshop has been closed for three weeks. The owner retired, though he hung on for long enough to make sure it was taken over by someone who would keep it as a bookshop. So it closed, and there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth, and bitten nails as we wait for the-look shop. A skip appeared outside, and four men and one woman lugged stuff out and threw it away. Then lorries arrived, and four men and one woman lugged more stuff in.

Everyday people would peer through the doorway - watching the far end of the shop was opened up; as ceiling and walls were painted; as shelves filled, as if by magic, with books.

And today a woman who works there waved me in, so I could have a quick look. Oh how wonderful it is. Lighter, brighter, and extended to give more shelf-space. Still a place for children to sit on the floor and read. And that lovely smell of new paper.

What's more, it's still independent. No profits disappearing into corporate coffers. A local independent bookshop to respond to local reading needs. They'll still do good deals for local book groups (they give a 10% discount off our book group books); they'll still find anything, order anything; and get to know their customers by name.

So - what am I doing today? I'm off to the White Horse Bookshop, in Marlborough High Street.

I might be a little while.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

The spring is sprung, the grass is riz ...

The spring is sprung
The grass is riz
I wonder where
The birdies is?

(Attributed to Ogden Nash, to Spike Milligan, and to Anon!)

My mother used to recite this every year - it was a sort of annual ridiculousness. And irrelevant, really, as we had plenty of sparrows and starlings in our garden nibbling on the goodies she put out for them. (Those that weren't eaten by my brother, that is - who often refused his breakfast only to be found eating bread put out for the birds. A long-ago story.)

I, too, have a bird feeder. And I live near a forest, so my garden should be full of them. In the past, as well as the usual blackbirds, robins and tits, I've had nuthatches and woodpeckers. Plus some I don't recognise. It's one of life's pleasures, standing by my back door and watching birds squabble.

So where are they all? My garden, this April, is unnaturally quiet. The nuts grow soggy for lack of attention. The seeds fall to the ground and wait for passing pigeons.

I blame the mayhem out there over the winter - the fallen tree and decimated shrubs. It was a mess. It's cleared now but still looks a bit surprised. Maybe the birds haven't forgiven me for allowing their hiding places to disintegrate like that.

But yesterday I learned of another reason. For everyone around me is complaining that the birds have abandoned them - so it's not just me. It seems the birds are all staying in the forest. Which, when you think about it, is where they should be - and where, after our mild winter, there is plenty of food. Insects already out and about. Berries unscarred by late frosts.

They've no need to venture into gardens where there is a risk of cats, or in full view of the red kites and sparrowhawks. Far better to hide in the forest than take a risk like that.

I get that - I miss them, of course, and there's a corner of me that still feels a twinge of abandonment. My bird food isn't good enough, that sort of thing.

But the birds are doing what they need to do. They'll feed their babies in greater safety.

Last week the woman who runs my Life Writing group left to take a sabbatical. She, too, is doing what she needs to do. I wish her well, too.

Sometimes, however much we may prepare a feast, birds (and people) need to eat at a different table.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Distracted by Sarahan dust.

Yesterday I drafted a reflective post about writers and book groups - but today I've been distracted by the Sarahan dust. (There's a sentence you won't see repeated too often!)

For those of you living far away English towns and villages, I'll tell you what's happening. Apparently it's natural for dust from the Sahara to be blown high into the atmosphere and fall almost anywhere in the world. It replenishes minerals in the Atlantic Ocean, and even performs some vital function that I don't understand in the Amazon rainforest. (A salutary reminder of the interconnectedness of our weather systems, and how vital it is that we think in global terms, meteorologically.)

Well, the wind is now blowing northerly, bringing with it not only dust from the desert but also pollution particles from the continent (those pesky French who insist on driving their cars, I presume), and making the air quality in the south of England - well, unpleasant. I can taste it. If I try to hurry I wheeze more than I ought. Those with lung or heart conditions are instructed to stay indoors; the pollution is serious enough to cause breathing problems.

I'm not bothered about dust on the cars, or on the windows. But my concern today is for people who are not simply uncomfortable, but whose lives are affected by it, such as:

Postmen with asthma - who may struggle to breathe but still lug bags of letters to our doors.

Farmers, busy lambing. Lambing sheds tend to be dusty anyway, with all that straw - today it must be thick with it.

Anyone in construction, who has to cope with brick dust as well and anything blown in from the south.

Teachers, and those on playground duty - who must stand and keep children safe while they play.

Gardeners, tree surgeons, groundsmen at cricket venues getting ready for the summer.

Mothers who have children with asthma. How do you persuade a six-year old that he or she cannot run around because there is dust from the Saraha in the air and it might make them ill? (One mother in particular, with three small boys - one of whom has asthma and might need sitting on to keep him still.)

Anyone I'm not sorry for:

Bankers. Who might get a little light dust on their city suits. It would be great if they could realise that dust falls on all of us. But I don't suppose they will.

Politicians; ditto.