The Annual Conundrum

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My son goes back to school on Tuesday, so why the conundrum, you ask?  Aren’t you pleased to be shipping your offspring back into the daily routine of uniform-wearing, packed lunches-preparing, playground days, breathing a huge sigh of relief as you skip him (not literally) merrily on his way?

To me, going back to school harks of the end of Summer, and more scarily enough, the beginning of Autumn, looming onwards to the Yuletide season (I refuse to use the “C” word usually associated with December to early in the year).  Cue darker nights drawing in (they’ve sneakily started already).  The BBC have started to advertise “Strictly” too which is as sure a sign of Autumn as the leaves falling gracefully from the trees (next Saturday, by the way, set your recorders now!)

To me, going back to school is reminiscent of freshly sharpened pencils in new pencil cases, yet untarnished by inky stains and loose pencil sharpenings and some clever person decorating it’s virgin cleanliness with clever comments, or idle declarations of who they currently love.  Its a brand new uniform all crisp and clean, still starchy from the packet and itchy name labels scratching the back of my neck.  Its new timetables to learn, new places to be throughout the “working” day and new teachers to either love or hate.  A (school) year older but do we return any wiser following an almost 2 month sojourn from classes?

Now I’m an adult of many years standing (a point we won’t dwell on…) and having sustained many “back to school” moments in my lifetime, I can now merrily pack my son off to school knowing exactly how he’ll be feeling.  A renewed sense of optimism, of trying harder, and doing better in an attempt to please both parents and Father Christmas along the way (damn, I said the “C” word!)  The personal vows you make to yourself after a holiday abroad, which soon dissipate with the reality of day to day life and of the rain clouds and grey days of Autumn.

My boy is thrilled to be going back to school.  Despite his over-indulged summer holiday of cinema trips, parties, days out, staying with Grandma, staying up later and care-free days in general.  He’s looking forward to something as simple as seeing his mates again, swapping summer holiday stories and getting back into the daily routine now he’s an “older boy”.  He’s 7 and a half, bless him.

So onward to Tuesday’s new start.  We’re all ready for it, new uniform, bags, books, swimming gear, sports gear et al, and besides…. it’ll soon be Christmas!

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SOPHIE – a Tribute Poem to the memory of Sophie Lancaster

Written by me today, in memory of Sophie Lancaster who was killed 6 years ago just for being “different”.

In spellbound memory of an angel,

Who’s dominion stood dark and true.

Her life taken far too early,

It could’ve been me, or you.

 

She was murdered for being “different”

For having the conviction of truth,

For being herself. For being a Goth.

Her life was the burden of proof.

 

We will never forget you, dark angel,

Since you exited this mortal coil.

And the passion that lives on in your memory,

Will be carried by your kindred spirits, loyal.

 

A legacy left of being defined 

As being to thine ownself true.

And though your loss hurts, deep within souls

Sophie, we will never forget you.

 

There but for the grace of God, go I

With Goth buried deep in my soul.

I’m ready to stand up and say that I care,

So Stamp Out Prejudice, Hatred and Intolerance Everywhere

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http://www.facebook.com/notes/ange-chan-writer/sophie-a-tribute-poem/505835656160398

 

 

Weekend in the Dam (Part 2)

Continued/…

I managed to locate my hotel with very little trouble.  Luckily my room was ready for occupation, however FINDING my room was to prove more troublesome.  My room number was 409, and I was directed to the lift by the Receptionist.  I pressed 4 and exited at the 4th floor.  I walked around the corridors of the floor only to find the rooms went to 407.  I even checked the fire escape map just to check I wasn’t going mad!  I couldn’t locate room 409 for the life of me!  So, I went back to Reception, by this time hot, frustrated and rather less fragrant than previously, where a second receptionist told me to go to the SECOND floor and follow the corridor around.  Of course!  How stupid of me!

I eventually found my room which was located in the newly refurbished annexe.  I opened the door to find a huge room, akin to a barn complete with beams!  All I wanted to do was get out of my travel clothes, shower and rest.  I read two chapters of my current book and dozed off for 30 minutes.   I awoke to Paul calling to make arrangements to meet him, Jim and John-John.  I eventually located the guys in C&A buying clothes.  I was sorely tempted to make a few purchases myself but reminded myself of my vast wardrobe at home, and my small hand luggage travel case which was already full.  With amazing restraint, even for me, I resisted… especially when I learned that they operate online! 😉

The guys wanted to go to a market they’d heard about, so I grabbed some Frites and Mayo (local delicacy) to eat en route.  We eventually found the market, which sold all manner of produce.  I bought an ethnic style necklace and we decided to go for a much needed cooling drink afterwards.  We found a street side café with a free table and ordered some soft drinks.  The weather, by this stage, was glorious and we lapped up the rays as we chatted and drank.  At 5pm we parted ways for a siesta/rest with plans to meet later that evening at the bar of the American Hotel in Leidesplein by 7.30pm where we would also meet the rest of our 15 strong gang and celebrate with the birthday boy!

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Many cocktails later 6 of us decided to grab a bite to eat, and found a Dutch style restaurant called Mirabelle.  The food was OK (I had shrimp croquettes and rib eye steak) then afterwards, by this time it was 11pm; service was slow! we re-grouped with the rest of the gang in a bar on Amstel called “Café Rouge” which bears no connection to the restaurant chain of the same name.  We drank, we sang, we enjoyed each other’s company.  Then, at 12.30am I hit “the wall”.  A combination of too much to drink, and not enough rest, finally hit me.  Well, I had been awake for nearly 22 hours.  I bade my farewells and walked back to my hotel which took me about 25 minutes.  I have walked across Amsterdam in the wee small hours on my own before and had no qualms about doing it again despite the protests of some of my friends.  I convinced them I’d be OK as I’ve always found Amsterdam to be as safe a place as I have ever known.  Pity I can’t say the same about London!  Nonetheless, the more concerned blokes in our party insisted I text to say I got back safely, which I did.  My main concern was walking across the city in my heels which were starting to run and cause a blister!

Finding my room much easier than I’d done previously that day, I read a couple more chapters from my book, and fell asleep after 1am.  I had a very pleasant night’s slumber and woke around 9am the next day – unheard of, for me!  Having a 7 yo child, I’m normally pre-set to wake around 7am, no matter which day of the week it is!  It was so nice to have a proper sleep in!  I woke to a text from Paul, arranging to meet him, Jim and John-John for breakfast in Leidesplein.  I checked my bag into left luggage at my hotel and met the guys as planned.  A restorative glass of orange juice, a strong coffee and a Croquet Monsieur later, we were ready to make our way to the Rijksmuseum which was a short 5 minute walk away.

Once at the Rijksmuseum, I was delighted to find two huge Henry Moore sculptures located outside.  I am a huge fan of his work and am lucky enough to live 10 minutes away from his old home, Hoglands, in which the Henry Moore Foundation displays a significant number of his sculptures and features his old workshop with working models and maquettes galore!

Going to the Rijksmuseum always reminds me of an old friend, who, having consumed too much alcohol one night, stumbled his way to what he thought was Centraal station, only to arrive at the Rijksmuseum which is a very similar looking building.  In his drunken state he wondered why there were a distinct lack of trains!!

We decided which bits of the Rijks we all wanted to view, and agreed to meet back as we wanted to see different areas.  John-John and I made our way to the 3rd floor where the modern art was located, and walked around the museum together as our tastes as fairly similar when it comes to the arts.

We were all delighted to find that there was a more extensive collection of Henry Moore sculptures in the gardens outside the museum so we agreed to view those before heading back to collect my case, then onwards to Centraal for me to catch a train towards Schipol and my eventual flight home.

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We caught a tram to Centraal (hurrah!)   I bought a train ticket and checked out the times (conveniently every 15 minutes) then went for a coffee and snack.  My flight back was rather uneventful;  I bought the obligatory Toblerone from the airport shop and walked halfway across the airport to my gate.  On arrival at Stansted I was very surprised to find my hubby and son waiting for me at the Arrivals gate – a perfect end to a lovely weekend!

A Weekend in the Dam (Part 1)

10th August 2013

So here I am, sat in Café Luxembourg, Spui, Amsterdam.  The local time is 10.30am.  I’ve been awake since 3am UK time, this morning.

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The flight was quite straightforward; just like catching an aero-nautical bus, which I suppose it is in a lot of ways.  I’m eating breakfast of a rather well done croissant, Guernsey butter and delicious blackcurrant jam; my favourite!  It’s accompanied by a small cappuccino, although “technically” it’s my second meal of the day, the first being 2 slices of wholemeal toast, peanut butter and raspberry jam and a strong tea at 4am this morning.

My taxi journey to the airport was mildly interesting; my rather rotund, dishevelled taxi driver, who looked as though he wouldn’t say “boo!” to a goose, asked me about my destination.  “I’ve never been there” he said, and then proceeded to tell me all about the red light district, prostitutes and sex shows on offer in the Dam.  He was incredibly knowledge on the subjects in hand, despite the fact “he’d never been there”!

When I arrived in this city, a place I’ve visited some 3 times previously but not for 9 years, I didn’t walk my usual route from Centraal, namely along Damrak, Rokin, past the flower market etc, but instead chose to walk along an adjacent street, off the tourist track instead.  It conveniently took me directly to the centrally located Spui and later, onward to Prisengracht where my hotel is located alongside one of the city’s main picturesque canals and adjacent to Prisenstraat, one of the main through-fares, leading from Dam Square to Leidsplein.

A few moments ago I sent a text to my friends, who I’m meeting here, and who all arrived the day before.  There are 15 of us in total all here to celebrate Jon’s 50th birthday.  He replied to say “it’s the middle of the night”.   He exaggerates.  It’s 11am by this time.  Paul texted to say they were eating breakfast (“they” being Paul, Jim and John-John) and would catch up with me later after shopping.  No reply from anyone else.

My current plans are to enjoy my solitary breakfast, people watch, take in the sights of the city from  this street-side café spot, then, locate my hotel and dump my small trolley case (carried as “hand luggage” to avoid costs and waiting time of checking it into the hold).  The sky is blue, but grey clouds are passing over from the harbour area of the city.  I am not wearing a coat and actually don’t need one.  Travelling light has been a tad of a challenge for me, despite only being here overnight, several outfits have been thoughtfully packed and I’m hoping that I chose well.  Time will tell.

I eat the mini Stroopwaffel which accompanies my coffee, relishing the crispiness of the biscuit coupled with the cinnamon-tinged flavour and caramel soft centre.  All of my favourite things wrapped up in one delicious bite.  If only life were so similarly and conveniently packaged.

The English chap sat behind me is requesting “gin and gin” instead of a gin and tonic.  For some reason he finds this hilarious.  I inwardly cringe at his crass-ness.

I glance skywards; the clouds passing over now look as though they contain rain, so I locate my mini umbrella from my trolley bag, ‘just in case’, and place it in my handbag.  Sunny weather was promised by both my friend who is resident in Amsterdam, and the iPhone weather App.  I trust the former but not the latter, especially now those black clouds are looming, and looking perilously dark.

The air is heavy with the scent of tobacco.  I’ve already walked past enough “brown cafes” and the sickly sweet scent of “brown” pervades the atmosphere.  Smoking is popular here, in its many forms, as it is in most European cities; it’s what sets it apart from the UK and its smoking ban inside various establishments.

Another tram rumbles by, bound for Centraal station.  Despite its extensive network, I have never partaken of the excellent and well-connected tram system in the Dam.  Note to self: I must rectify that situation this weekend.

Bikes are the most popular mode of transport here; they’re everywhere.  All lined up haphazardly when parked, like a row of well-placed dominoes ready to topple over at the first sturdy gust of wind.  They defiantly never do of course.  Howeve I’m convinced that many bikes wind up in Amsterdam’s world-famous canals on a daily basis.

I order a second cappuccino and a minute later, every efficiently, it arrives with another mini Stroopwaffle delight.  I think “it’s a good job I’m only here for the weekend, else I’d be the size of a house.”  I can resist anything but temptation.

The grey clouds have dissipated, and the blue although not cloudless skies, have returned.  I think how foolish and ready I was to retrieve my umbrella earlier.  Sometimes (most times) I’m SO British!  Old habits and all that, I suppose!

Sat next to me on my street side location, at the other end of the long table I’m occupying, is a woman and her dog.  She is similarly aged to me, at a guess, but with dark hair which is rather inexpertly tied on the back of her head in a rough, messy top knot.  She is drinking a latte, looking intently at her iPhone whilst her small white dog is sniffing around the feet of the people on the table behind her.  They are completely oblivious to their canine companion.  The woman’s brown canvas and sequinned bag sits wide open, and is precariously balanced on the seat which divides us.  From its casual manner I conclude that she must be a local.

I devour the Stroopwaffle and take a virgin sip of my coffee, thus displacing the perfect milk swirl patten on its surface.

More bikes pass by, and another tram.  Two people on their Vespa’s whizz by and are notably not wearing helmets.  I lament inwardly about British health and safety laws and wonder which country has got it right; Holland, with its carefree attitude, or Britain, with its rigid rules and regulations.  I sigh.

I finish my coffee in a couple of gulps, pay for what I have consumed, and leave the comfort of my café to find my hotel.

A large group of pot-bellied, bald, middle aged men wearing various “witty” slogan t-shirts wander aimlessly by.  I immediately conclude that they are a British stag party.  Sure enough, one of them is wearing “I’m The Stag” on his top.  Their Geordie accent concludes my suspicions. 

I walk off the main street, into a side street which leads me to the heart of the canal district.  I love how Amsterdam can do that; instantly transport you to another world.

(to be continued/…)

Where Are We Now (Part 2)

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Back in early March this year, I blogged about how lucky I was to be able to attend the Preview Day of the V&A’s “David Bowie Is” exhibition.  I was completely blown away by the numerous exhibits including over 60 of Bowie’s famous costumes and handwritten lyrics from songs which have meant a lot to me in my life.  Unfortunately, the exhibition was extremely well attended and despite my best efforts, there were some parts of it that I was unable to view due to the sheer volume of people such as Bowie’s film work, which was showing in a small side room which accommodated 12 people at best, when full.

It’s been a long hot Summer and much has happened since March (not least my mother-in-law being in hospital with serious medical issues since 18th May until now).  It was always my intention to view the exhibition again before it ends this Sunday.  I’d also had hopes for attending the Club to Catwalk exhibit at the same time, making a day of it at the V&A.

The “David Bowie Is” exhibition ends this Sunday, and as I’m away in Amsterdam for a friend’s 50th birthday celebrations, my chances of viewing the exhibition one more time were dwindling fast.  I resigned myself to the fact that I bought the book and worn the t-shirt, and was lucky enough to see the exhibition at least once.  It’s been *that* popular that some people were unable to view it at all.  So I counted my blessings and put it to the back of my mind.

Then, as fate would have it my friend Jonathan, who’s the Mayor of Camden had managed to organise for 20 people to attend the exhibition on Wednesday morning this week, as a private view.  I of course jumped at the opportunity, paid my contribution to his charity, the Amy Winehouse Foundation and thanked my lucky stars!  I mentioned to Jonathan that I fancied seeing the Club to Catwalk exhibit too, and he kindly offered to allow me entry to this as his guest, as he’s a V&A member.  Double bubble!

So, early on Wednesday morning I got up and played the role of commuter from Epping station to make my way to South Kensington to arrive at 8.50am prompt.  I actually arrived at South Ken at 8.15, so took the opportunity to grab some breakfast.  The day was sunny and the popular London borough was bustling already.  I consumed by breakfast and took the short walk to the main entrance of the V&A which was to be our meeting point.

Viewing the exhibition for a second time was a completely different experience.  I was able to view the parts I had missed completely last time, but found that there were exhibits that had totally passed me by the first time round, such as the pile of oranges near the entrance, which was reminiscent of an early art performance piece Bowie was involved in, in the 1960’s.

The “Starman” exhibit still ran shivers down my spine, especially at the part when he proclaims, “I had to phone someone so I picked on you-ooooo”.  I was able to view the handwritten lyric sheets and see the short video about Bowie’s invention “the Verbisizer” which is a method he also uses to construct lyrics and provoke ideas for song writing, alongside his infamous “cut and paste” technique.

I specifically looked out for the “We Can Be Heroes” book by Blitz photographer Graham Smith, in which I am mentioned (along with my great friend, Samantha Reynolds) but alas I couldn’t locate it again for the second time round.  If anyone actually knows where it is in the exhibition, I’d be very grateful if you could let me know!

I was also able to enjoy the “actor Bowie” section in its fullness, and view the “Berlin” section with  greater appreciation than I’d been able to the first time around.  I’d missed the Bowie art back in May, or perhaps hadn’t appreciated it was by him, as there was so much to take in!  Thankfully this time I could immerse myself in it all!

Once the viewing was complete (1.5 hours although it passed very quickly!) we went to the gift shop; I bought a couple of small Bowie-related items (having already bought numerous souvenirs first time round!) and when chatting to the V&A staff found that some people had travelled literally halfway across the world to see the exhibition, and one person had viewed it 35 times!

I then went for a very much-needed cup of tea, with Jonathan and Gill.  We had a good long chat and just after midday, Gill had to leave to go to work, so Jonathan and I made our way to the “Club to Catwalk” exhibition, which was based on costumes from clubbing days in the 1980’s.

I did my growing up in that decade and it is very close to my heart.  In 1980 I was just turning 13 years old and already into music in a very big way.  Fashion and Clubbing were soon to follow in my life in the mid 1980’s, mostly around the alternative scene in Manchester so I was keen to take a trip down Memory Lane and be reminded of my formative years.  Once we were in the exhibition, Jonathan left as he had a meeting to attend, so I perused the costumes alone.  There was a video playing of a fashion show from St Martin’s College in 1986.  There were a handful of people watching this, and when Kate Bush came on as the background music, the woman stood next to me, turned to me and proudly announced that she was the model on the screen!  We chatted briefly about how this had come about; she was obviously very proud to see herself on the screen some 27 years later!

I went upstairs to view the Goth/New Romantic section which appealed to me more than the Kathryn Hamnett slogan t shirts and knitted garments located downstairs.  I managed to take a few photos with my iPhone until I was annoyingly asked to refrain from doing so.  The costumes upstairs were definitely more my kind of thing than the others, so I was quite miffed when the aforementioned security guard then watched me like a hawk to ensure I complied with his request.  Damn! 😉

I left the small exhibit and looked in the gift shop and bought a book “80s Fashion” as a souvenir.  I then left the V&A to make my way to Chinatown where I met my hubby and son and went for a very nice Chinese lunch before going home, shattered by sated.

All in all, it had been a great day!

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My Polari debut

This week has been a pretty incredible one for me, even by my standards!  On Tuesday night, the culmination of several months’ work came to fruition, when I took to the stage of London’s Southbank Centre in the shadows of the Houses of Parliament and London Eye, to read my short story, entitled “12.42” at Polari, “London’s peerless literary salon”.

I have been a regular attendee of Polari for some 3 years now, so much so, that there’s a group of us who are now known colloquially as the “Children of Polari”.  Last October, it was Polari’s 5th anniversary and I organised for some special goodies and treats to be put together by the aforementioned group of friends, for Polari’s curator and founder, Paul Burston, including a specially illustrated card signed by everyone, a photo book from the last 5 years, choccies, champers, amongst other treats.  I was asked by the others to take to the stage and say a few words.  As the presentation to Paul was to be a surprise, I literally had to storm the stage, with the help of DJ Connell and VG Lee!  Paul was quite literally gobsmacked and was quite taken with it all….

My short story is a fictional work, inspired by something which happened in my past, but with very different outcomes.  I had practised and practised and practised my story, cutting it down from the original 4.5k words to 2.5k words to ensure that it fit into the 15 minute slot that was to be allocated to me, for reading it.  My good friends Samantha, and Wayne, were each brilliant in listening to my story, suggesting edits, and re-reading it back to me.  I’m very lucky to have such skilled Editorial Assistants. 😉  After several edits I was more than happy with the concise format the story now took.

The day had arrived and all that day I tried to keep myself busy, ensuring all my “stuff” was packed up and ready to go.  Checking and re-checking in case I had forgotten something.  I had already selected my outfit, a black and white spotty dress, with red suede shoes.  The pre-printed professional fliers were all ready to go, and I printed out a final version of my story.  The “live” version was on my Kindle, which I was planning to use for the actual reading.

The tube journey from Epping on the Central Line ran like clockwork (thankfully) and before long, after changing for the Northern line, we were soon at Waterloo and making our way to the Royal Festival Hall.  I arrived at the Southbank Centre at 6.45pm with my hubby, and had arranged to meet my guest, ex- colleague and friend, Rosina, in the bar.  After a brief chat, I made my way to the 5th floor venue which is the regular haunt for Polari events.  En route I bumped into my good friends Tony and Jayne, who boosted my confidence.  Alone in the lift it was all becoming an real adventure.  I stepped out and made my way to the entrance doors of the room, telling the security people, “I’m performing here tonight”.  Walking into the green room, I was introduced by Paul to Stevie Hendon, and Denise Marshall who were to be fellow performers .  Neil Alexander was already there, and I already know Neil through Facebook and Twitter.  Headliner Marco Marcassola was the last to arrive and we all chatted briefly about ourselves; a bond had formed between us already, we were all in this together.

I was up on stage first, so I stood at the sidelines whilst Paul introduced me, talking briefly about me being a Polari regular, and my poetry collection.  Applause from the audience, signalled my cue to walk up on stage.  “Well that was a much more dignified entry than my last time on this stage!” I quipped.  I thanked Paul for the privileged opportunity to read my story and launched into it, curtailing any nerves I had;  “It’s funny what pops into your mind when you least expect it…..”
I had to keep on reminding myself to read slowly, add intonation and interest to the dialogue, and breathe!  Inside my heart was racing but afterwards, my friends all told me that I seemed nerve-free, which was good to hear!  The story is quite an intense and emotional one, capturing raw passion at a particular point in the main character’s life.  As I approached the end of the story, I remember looking up and seeing that the entire 130-strong audience was captivated.  They were all intently listening to me and only me… I felt the nerves pound within, even more intensely, but ploughed on towards the final conclusion of the story with its epic ending.  I delivered the final phrases with aplomb before uttering the words “The End”.  The audience resumed their applause as I left the stage and went back into the green room, to congratulations from Paul and my fellow readers.   I felt great that I’d done myself proud!

Stevie was up next with an excerpt from his latest book, then Neil with his clever and witty poetry.  During the break I had lots of praise from both close friends Tony, Jon, John-John, Paul, Wayne, Gabriel, Toby, Emma and my hubby as well as from other Polari attendees.  I was delighted that I had seemingly exceeded their expectations of what I would deliver.  The break went by in a bit of a blur, to be honest!

After the break came VG Lee, who announced the long list for this year’s Polari First Book Prize.  There are some excellent titles in there, some of which I’ve read and enjoyed and some of which are new, but soon to be discovered titles.

Then came Denise and her story of a lover’s betrayal and subsequent fall-out, and finally Marco with his recently translated into English-from-Italian story about the Secret Lives of Superheroes.  I felt honoured to be placed with such literary talent.  The final curtain call of all the performers came at the end of the evening to rapturous applause from the appreciative audience, and one final photo by “official” photographer Krys before my Polari debut was over.  More congratulations from friends before hubby and I headed for home, and to get some sleep before we headed up the M1 and M6 motorways to the North West to collect my son who’d been staying with his Grandma, and for us to stay a few days.  We’re now (Sunday) finally home after the surrealism of my week on a London stage.

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My friend Jon Clarke’s blog of the evening http://t.co/0sfiDa1TTT