Tuesday, 30 November 2010

He meets us at the lift waving his walking stick

I woke up this morning to discover Highgate under a blanket of snow. As I left the house, I realised the snow was very wet under foot, and decided it wouldn’t stay around for long, so immediately ‘phoned Nic to ask if she wanted a walk around Abney Cemetery in Stoke Newington.

I drove there and arrived ridiculously early, so busied myself sending letters and looking for a pair of Wellington boots. I’m off to Newcastle tomorrow, where the snow is apparently ridiculous, so want to make sure I’m as prepared as I can be.

Nic was well. We ate lunch in a cafe on Church Street. It was all a bit organic for my liking; own brand cola, tepid baked beans which arrived looking like cat food, bread which I could only swallow with gulps of water – and the cafe was freezing cold. Nic was given the wrong plate of food entirely! The staff, however, were incredibly polite! At the end of the meal, Nic paid, which was lovely of her and we set off for a stroll around the cemetery.


The snow had started falling again by this stage, and it was getting more and more intense. We met up with a couple of Nic’s friends who were doing a photo shoot for an album cover. The artist, Vashti, was dressed in nothing but a black tutu and a tiny lacy top. I couldn’t feel my toes. Heaven knows how she must have been feeling!

Nic was given the task of holding an umbrella over the photographer to protect the camera but after about 20 minutes, it got a bit too intense for everyone, and we all went our separate ways.


I drove back home through a blizzard, dumped my Wellingtons in the kitchen, and hurtled into Central London to drop off the collar studs, which I'd fortunately managed to find yesterday. For some reason they were nestling in our bed – on Nathan’s side. I think he must have slept on top of them for two nights without realising. Talk about the Princess and the pea... or not.

Oxford Street was as miserably crowded as ever, and the central line from Tottenham Court Road was about as horrible as tube trains get. I took it to Liverpool Street and then walked to the Barbican to see the world premier of Badenheim 1939, by Arnold Wesker. It is a devastating and haunting piece about blind optimism in the face of adversity. It was wonderfully acted by the students at Guildhall, extraordinarily staged, and, though it pains me to admit it, the music was spot on!

Sir ‘Nold was there, and did a Q and A beforehand. It upset me to see him looking considerably less robust than he had when we last met just over a year ago. He now walks with a stick and is suffering from the early stages of Parkinson’s, which makes travelling into London intimidating. This makes me sad. Arnold is my mentor. He spotted me when I was at drama school, and we wrote our first piece together when I was just 22. He intimidated me in those days. I looked up to him and soaked up everything he told me like a sponge. We used to drive across the country together, trying to whip up interest in Letter to a Daughter. During those long car journeys he taught me Jewish folk melodies and I sang English folk songs to him. He told me endless stories about the theatre world in the 1950s and 60s. The days when everything was politicised and the Workers Revolutionary Party under Redgrave and De La Tour ruled the roost. The days when theatre mattered.

I arrived with him and his wife, Dusty. I went up to a woman who was holding programmes (all of which said Wesker's name in large letters) and said "I'm here with Arnold Wesker, is there anyone here to greet him?" The woman sucked her teeth at me before saying; "who's that then?" "He wrote the play" I said. She sucked her teeth again; "what was his surname?"

He may no longer be a household name for the younger generation, but he knows how to write a play!

I congratulated Arnold and left. I wanted to be on my own to contemplate the final image of the piece; thirty young people carrying suitcases and musical instruments rushing into a cloud of white smoke; the flames of the gas chambers turning them instantly into silhouettes.

I left the theatre and snow was falling from the sky and swirling around the City skyscrapers like ash.

On a balcony in New York, it's just started to snow
He meets us at the lift, like Douglas Fairbanks waving his walking stick
But he isn't well at all
The buildings of New York look just like mountains through the snow


Just being alive
It can really hurt
And these moments given
Are a gift from time
Just let us try
To give these moments back
To those we love
To those who will survive


And I can hear my mother saying
"Every old sock meets an old shoe"
Isn't that a great saying?
"Every old sock meets an old shoe"
Here come the Hills of Time

(Kate Bush, Moments of Pleasure)

On the last day of November, 1660, Pepys was horrified to learn of the King’s plan to pay sailors with “tickets”. These glorified IOU's were being offered because there was no money to pay up front. It was hoped that the navy boys would be lured into accepting these essentially worthless pieces of paper by promises of incredibly high rates of interest. Pepys, being a man of great integrity, realised the tickets would only temporarily solve the problem. Money still needed to be found to pay the sailors – but now with a great deal of interest. Sadly, Charles II had less integrity. By 1667, these tickets, which in many cases still hadn't been paid, were causing mayhem and mutiny. The Navy was on its knees and the Dutch were sailing merrily down the Medway!

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