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Sunday, 7 June 2020

A Little Love & Understanding


Like so many others I make my living through the use of words.

The words I use are formulated through a process.

Basically it breaks down as follows.

First of all the act of listening, and most importantly, hearing.

Then comes processing & understanding.

Once we understand then we can move on and begin the process of rephrasing, but not misrepresenting, what we have heard.

We then prepare and then deliver a final piece of work, such as a funeral ceremony.

This process is one I try and use in all my interactions with other people. You know, try and think before you speak. I don’t always succeed.

I sometimes fail to listen, as Mrs B will tell you.

I may hear but not fully understand. This is a common trait amongst human beings I fear!

In trying to understand what others have said, to comprehend their needs, requirements or meaning,  you sometimes have to remove the political, social and perhaps even spiritual filters that make up your own philosophy for life.  Or at least you might be prepared to accept that your perceptions may be coloured by those filters?

To be of use, I have to be open to so many possibilities. I have to be open minded and accepting that some people see the world differently to me because they experience life differently to me.

This preamble is leading to the point I’m trying to make today and tried to make yesterday in a Facebook post about the Black Lives Matters protests.

It should be possible, even in the snake pit of social media, to express an opinion or to pose a question (which asks you to think about things in a different way), without actually signalling support for one view or another.

You’re just thinking, listening, measuring the arguments and trying to comprehend why people do things that you might initially think are daft or dangerous - like march in protest in the midst of a pandemic.

So today I want to ask a question which I hope might make people think and then understand why people act differently.

And I hope we can do it without any judgemental diatribe. We can just be human and try and understand other humans.


Picture it: The Nottinghamshire coalfield, 1984 and it's the height of the Miner’s Strike.

People are picketing and protesting in large numbers. They want to secure their jobs and a future for their industry and their families.

Some of us were there and remember the passions that were aroused. It was a very hard time for many. Some families split asunder for ever. Everyone had an opinion and fought to defend their point of view.

Imagine now, in the midst of all this protest, a global pandemic occurs.

Ask yourselves this…do you think the striking miners would have just packed up and gone home?

Or do you think some of them would have fought on?

Do you think some might still have turned out to stand on picket lines, shoulder to shoulder with their work mates?

Still protested and gathered in enough numbers to show the government that this was so important they felt they had no choice but to ignore official advice?

Do you think you might just think about that?

And through your thought processes do you think you might find some understanding as to why people sometimes feel desperate action is needed?

You don't have to agree with it. Understanding isn’t approval.

And if you find that you can understand why a miner, or anyone, might stand up and fight for their job, (even though there are risks attached), can you now understand why people might fight for other things…like life?


Thats all I hoped for yesterday, today and tomorrow. That we can at least try and understand. And if we understand, maybe we don't judge so harshly?




Wednesday, 13 May 2020

Heroes

Is there in truth no beauty?

Well it was bound to happen. After spending weeks playing Merge Dragons or watching back to back episodes of ‘Murder, She Wrote’, I’ve given in to temptation and headed back to the blog.

I warn you, I have nothing to say of any great pertinence about the situation we all find ourselves in.  I’m not a scientist nor a medical expert (unlike most other people on Facebook apparently) but I did want to raise an issue that’s been bothering me.


Let me say that I have nothing but praise and admiration for everyone working in the health service and other frontline roles during this pandemic. Your service seems to have been exemplary in the face of such awful pressure.

As well as the Thursday night clap, there have been many posts on social media extolling and acknowledging these newly discovered heroes. I think this is great, but I can’t help but ask why we didn't consider them heroes to begin with?

The thing that really bothers me though is that these gestures of praise cannot seemingly stand alone, they are often accompanied by negativity and even hate, with many posts going on to denigrate others.

Why do people feel that you have to knock someone down as you raise others up?

The target of many of these negative posts are ‘celebrities’.

For me there are two categories of celebrity. There are those who achieve fame through hard work and skill, for example actors and sportsmen, authors and artists.

There are others who are seemingly famous for being famous.  Those who have no determinable skill (in my opinion), and who might have the words ‘influencer’ or ‘reality star’ attached to their name.

I have no axe to grind with this latter category, although on occasion it does seem they get caught up in their own self importance. I guess I might fall into this category as I expect you all to read this blog and think I’m wonderful. Please validate my existence!!!

The attacks aimed at celebrities seem to have one main thrust.

You have no value in society now: we have realised that nurses and doctors deserve all of our admiration because they are doing something concrete in the face of this pandemic. They save lives, they tend to our injuries and needs both physical and mental. They risk their lives for others. What are you doing?

Celebrities are just in it for the money and attention. Luvvies and left wingers, snowflakes and…well, endless insults depending on the mindset of the attacker.


I best declare an interest here. I love theatre, film, TV, literature, music & art.  Maybe I’m biased in what I’m about to say but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be said.


Dear Haters, when you’ve been sat on your keyboard all day, warrior-ing away, maybe highlighting the work of nurses for example, whilst also spitting poison at actors; what do you then do to relax?

Perhaps you turn on Netflix? Or Spotify? Or a video game?  It’s likely you turn to the work of the very people you’ve been bad mouthing. Those who create so much for you to enjoy.

A nurse may help save your life, but what is life without art? Without beauty?


I cannot tell you how much I’m missing the theatre. To think I might not be able to go again for months and months is shattering. But I have music, I have TV, I have box sets, I have streaming events, I even have Zoom coffee mornings with likeminded folk.

There’s much beauty in my life thanks to the work of artists and ‘celebrities’ who are using their skill to keep me, and the rest of the world entertained and sane.

One of the biggest problems with being at home, and not working, is that the phone stops ringing. That’s hard. I guess, like so many in the arts sector, I’m currently resting.

You’re worth as a person may be wrapped up in getting a phone call inviting you to work. But for some there is no work in their chosen field.

Of course many are not resting at all. Many are working wherever there is work to be found, like supermarkets.  Anywhere that helps them pay the bills. Some have even been returning to previous jobs in nursing & the care sector.

Still, even in their isolation, artists have been giving us a constant stream of material via the internet. plays, musicals, concerts, poetry…all greedily lapped up by us, the audience.

Can you imagine isolation without this? Or a book. Or a virtual tour of a gallery? Or whichever game occupies your time online.

Heroes come in many guises, and for me those who remind us of the beauty found in life, through the arts, remain heroes.

I hope we never again underestimate the value of our NHS staff, those who care and who put the needs of others before themselves.  I also hope we can see it’s OK to put them on a pedestal without knocking someone else from theirs.

We must continue to value and support the arts wherever and however we can. And to all my friends out there, worried about what awaits them after the storm, you will always find an audience, even if it’s just me.





Saturday, 18 January 2020

Life Upon The Wicked Stage

January 18th

Life Upon The Wicked Stage

Have I ever mentioned I love going to the theatre?

Mrs B & I are heading to Sheffield today to visit one of my favourite theatres, The Crucible.  We shall be seeing a production of Guys and Dolls. I’ve heard only good things about it but then again Alex Young is in it and she’s like a lucky charm for me. I can honesty say I’ve never seen any show in which she was cast, that wasn’t amazing. From Follies to Sky’s Edge - all top drawer stuff.

I’d love to have been in a production of Guys and Dolls, it’s on a list entitled ‘Regrets’, along with not learning to play the piano or to tap dance.  I think I have the physique to have made a good Nicely-Nicely Johnson, but sadly I don’t have the voice to match.

My acting career (everybody laugh) did give me a few chances to appear in plays that were great favourites, but I’d have loved the chance to play Hector in The History Boys or Henry Drummond in Inherit The Wind.

But I’ll be content having played Goldberg in The Birthday Party, Thomas Milburn in Close The Coal House Door, and Juror 11 in 12 Angry Men.


12 Angry Men was the first play I appeared in after moving to live in Mansfield. My recollection of being cast is a little hazy now but I think one of the other actors in the play would occasionally visit the shop where I was working at the time…yes, I was a shop assistant for a while.

I think the conversation came around to them staging 12 Angry Men and how they were looking for people to audition and so I offered my services and was apparently the only one who could manage the middle European accent required of the character. I got the part and in a way that changed the direction of my life because I then also decided to became a mature student and study performing arts! HND Distinction.

The production was extremely well put together and around that table I met a range of actors with varying levels of experience and expertise but we all worked so well together and my friendship with Juror 12 (who won’t be reading this) started around that jury room table. I have lost touch with so many of them but I guess that happens doesn’t it?

The reason this has come to the forefront of my mind today is twofold.

First of all, I ran into Juror 4 yesterday. I hadn’t seen him for years and it was nice to have a quick chat.

The other reason is that it’s around three years since Juror 6 died. Such a sad thing to have happened.


He had worked at The Crucible as part of the stage crew and on the day we learned of his death we went there to see Anna-Jane Casey give a wonderful ‘Audience with’. She was starring in Annie Get Your Gun which we had seen the week previously.

All of these memories are washing around in my head and I guess you could get a little maudlin but actually there is only happy memories associated with that production of 12 Angry Men, so I’m just sticking to the good stuff.

It may well be that I never set foot on a stage again and although I do have regrets they are nowhere near as important to me as the joy I often found being someone else on a stage for a couple of hours.

It was fun. (Just don’t ask me about Romeo and Juliet)



Friday, 17 January 2020

Hello!

January 17th

Hello!

I’m doing some research on Unitarians, because after someone commended me on my delivery of a funeral ceremony, they added I’d make an excellent Unitarian.

I smiled and thanked them of course as I was raised to be polite, but I must admit without reading up on the Unitarian philosophy I wouldn’t have a clue if I was being appreciated or insulted!

Now it turns out there is a Unitarian meeting house in Mansfield so I might have to pop along at some point and find out first hand what’s going on but as I already read it involves hymns and prayers then I’m not sure it’ll be my cup of tea…although they do give you a cup of tea and a biscuit afterwards. I thought they only did that when they took your blood!

I wonder if they wear robes? I think I’d look good in robes. Not keen on a dog collar, nobody would see it anyway as my chins would hide it.

They don’t do wine and wafers I’m guessing as they don’t do the whole Jesus thing so no sneaking sacramental wine under my new robes for later consumption.

Not sure about a calling from god, more a calling for robes that has me hooked…oh well, I’ll read up some more and report back at some point.

You’re never too old to learn something new and you should never stop asking questions about your place in the world. My thoughts on religion have changed markedly over the years and I feel mostly satisfied with agnosticism and Humanism, but who knows what might happen when you allow yourself to be open to the possibilities?

I don’t expect a full scale conversion like some of my friends, and you won’t find me knocking at your door saying ‘Hello, my name is Elder Baxter’…


I have a confession to make.  Not in a Catholic way, I’m not fiddling with my beads as I lie in bed writing this;  I just wanted to confess that as a regular theatre going man and musical theatre junkie, it’s hard to explain why I’ve never seen the Book of Mormon.

Well I’m making amends and I’ve booked tickets to see the show when it arrives in Nottingham later this year.

I had a little session of theatre booking yesterday, found a little spare cash and decided to treat Mrs B to tickets to see Matthew Bourne’s ‘The Red Shoes’ plus I’ve booked to see ‘The Addams Family’ musical again, without knowing who will be in the cast. (Fingers crossed).

It’s also the year when I finally get around to seeing Phantom of the Opera. Now don’t judge me too harshly, there must be a reason why at sometime in the last 34 years I didn’t manage to secure a ticket.

Is Michael Crawford still in it?

I suppose there are lots of shows I have yet to see, like Matilda, Wicked, The Lion King and The Mousetrap but having seen Les Miserable more than once and having booked to see A Christmas Carol for a third time, I think it balances out.

This confessing thing is great! I haven’t seen Fleabag or The Crown or Peaky Blinders!

I don’t make this admission with the intention of wearing it like a badge of honour like the Game of Thrones or Star Wars haters would, it’s just that I never got around to it.

Too busy watching NCIS.

Well that’s it for today.

PS: There’s a squirrel in the garden.




Thursday, 16 January 2020

The Rhythm Of Life

January 16th

The Rhythm Of Life

When you’ve been to the edge you at least know where it  is…

It was most kind of those of you who made comments about yesterday’s blog. All the nice things you said in such a supportive manner, all true of course and accepted with due humility.

I’ve never been short of good wishes but let me once again express this thought before we move on. I currently have the mindset which although noticing the praise, still expects disaster to call at any moment. Pessimist? Anxiety? Whatever, I’m fine but thank you.

Talking is good, but sitting quietly and listening is good too. Whether that be to people who need to get things off their chest or to the best medicine in the world…music.

Last night I sat in the audience at the Royal Concert Hall in Nottingham to hear the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by John Wilson. The concert was entitled Discovering Vaughan Williams, and we began with a wonderfully illuminating guide to his Symphony No 6, which the orchestra played in the second half. Stephen Johnson spoke with such apparent knowledge and passion, explaining the history of the piece and how it was received upon its completion in 1948.

As he spoke, his thoughts were highlighted by excerpts played by the orchestra.

I was enthralled and it took me back to my school days in the early 1970’s, when my music teacher, Mrs Bird, played for us Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture (Fingal's Cave). I shall never regret picking music as one of my O Level subjects and my passion for music, although born much earlier, was sealed as she spoke so knowledgeably and enthusiastically about the composer and the themes explored in his work.

I only wish that the audience last night had more young people in it, to discover the joy of music and the motivations of those who create it. And to those who think they don’t like classical music, well if you like film scores by John Williams or Jerry Goldsmith, you’ll like Vaughan Williams, even a somewhat challenging piece like his Sixth Symphony.

Vaughan Williams was a composer we also studied, his Fantasia on Greensleeves and The Lark Ascending were the pieces I recalled from school days, but I wasn’t aware then but I’d already crossed paths with the one of his themes from the Sixth Symphony as it was used as the theme to A Family At War (1970 - 1972).

A Family At War


Of course, the symphony is much more complex and turbulent than this lovely lilting melody would have you suspect and hearing it played last night reinvigorated my interest in the composer.


But the real revelation last night was the piece the orchestra played before the interval, entitled ‘In The Fen Country’. Described by the composer as a “symphonic impression”, it again summons up images from my childhood as I was born in the Fenlands and knew those great bleak expanses so well.

If you have 15 minutes to spare, I invite you to listen to it.


In The Fen Country




It’s now added to my list of favourite classical pieces.

I’m convinced that music is great therapy, and there are pieces I turn to when I need to feel joy or shed a tear.

Here are three of the classical pieces I love ( there are many non classical pieces of course, Sondheim being my mainstay)  and here are links if you want to hear them, but I’d be really interested to hear your personal choices of musical medicine.

All of these pieces are very accessible I promise you…I left the Mahler out!



Solveig's Song by Grieg

Poulenc: Gloria (6) Qui sedes...

Saint-Saƫns - Symphony 3 (Finale)