Sunday, August 31, 2008

FEATURE No 8 - DV8 Physical Theatre

Until I read about it in The Observer I didn't know this was available on U Tube. I saw an early piece by DV8 at The Place, in London sometime in the mid-Eighties. All I remember now was how impressively raw and upfront it was, challenging confrontational stuff. DV8 were always Lloyd Newsons artistic baby, his performers were trained artists, dancers or actors, yet they brought a sense of freshness, of not being pre-primed about what or how they should perform. 'Dead dreams of monochrome men' shows physical theatre at its best, niether straight play nor dance piece, it nevertheless packs a powerful emotional punch.

I heard about but never saw ' Dead dreams of monochrome men' , it very loosely draws its inspiration from the life of the serial killer Dennis Neilsen. They bring out something in the story that is altogether more elegiac and tragic, rather than grotesque or gratuitous. Though there are many excellent sections in this piece, these two are among the highlights. Unfortunately its on U Tube in a number of short sections, but is incomplete, part 10 is missing ,sadly.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

DIARY 73 - Feeling averse to the swing of things

Though Buddhism teaches the contrary, my current state of mind and body has all the outward appearance of permanence. Persistent and intransigent emotions are it's identifiable qualities. The outward conditioning on my temporal, corporal and spiritual self remains pretty much the same as of last week. I'm mentally in denial about something or other. I await the arrival of some blinding insight with an increasing lack of confidence. Resigned to patience, but not bearing with things out of a faith in things turning out nice in the end, but more from a lack of vision for anything better turning up. The purpose behind this forbearance has a very threadbare vision. Why I am putting myself through this mind warped hell, is now completely lost on me. Perhaps there is a misguided vague sense that 'something good spiritually will come of it', without quite knowing what. Or perhaps a weary despondency that borders on fatalism, that this is the best I can hope for in the years before retirement. Neither is a very inspiring vision for my future. When I examine my internal emotional state, it reveals itself as being riddled through and through with aversion. Each weekend I restore some semblance of balance and harmony, only for it to be slowly and unremittingly worn away by each successive disatisfying day. By Friday, I'm once more edging onto the thin territory of despair. On many many levels, this just will not do!

As Sangharakshita put it 'if all else fails distract yourself' but I doubt he meant all the time. I don't feel very happy about how I'm using my spare time. Too much watching of i-player, not much energy or interest in sustaining anything else. As the missing part of my Cutty Sark model has still failed to appear a month later, my enthusiasm for that specific project has rapidly dwindled. In fact the whole 'nautical' archetype has started to appear insubstantial, a little worn out and past its sell buy date. Ihave loads of study prep to do, but I had to recognise this week that I've not much actual time to do it in, let alone the unpredictable muse of inclination. I can see it all being crammed in at the last minute if I'm not careful, and this just will not do!

This weekend saw the return of The Pink Festival at Cherry Hinton Hall . Loads of stuff happening all over the site, stalls, info and performance stages of all varieties - bands, dance, cabaret and all things in between. It was good to have it back after 2007's 'gap' year. Though it has now strangely morphed into an 'all inclusive event,' where ordinary folk can come hang out with the LesbiGays, and experience its frothy pink,extravagant fun. Now, I'm all for inclusiveness, and a wider appreciation of diversity in our society, but it did blur the boundaries a little about what or who this event was actually for. There was a higher number of couples, kids,prams with infant paraphernalia in tow present. Sometimes, David and I both thought, they were in places where it was definitely not suitable or appropriate for kids. We were watching an entertaining' disco burlesque' troop called Adora, who do song and dance routines frequently involving sexually provocative poses using chairs, fans, feather boas, top hats and basques. Two songs in, the lead singer rips off her corset, releasing her two bare boobies to flap around like escaped ballons topped with silver nipple caps. The latter looked for all the world like a pair of Mr Kipling's small apple tarts had been placed there by aliens, as a joke!. Felicity Flapp followed, never one to mind his P's & Q's at the best of times, though luckily most of the references would probably be over the poor dears heads, but really -watching all of this were kids 3 or 4 years old!!! Call me old an fashioned queen, but gay smut is surely designed for the pleasure of gay ears only, not the pre - pubescent. But thankfully it did get beyond their bedtime. We didn't stay much above a few hours ourselves, just long enough to catch the exuberant drag/dance routines of The Fleurettes, who stole the show simply by virtue of their energy, verve and professionalism.

The whole point of 'Pink' is as a place where all forms of 'queerdom' can be together, to express themselves uninhibitedly and openly, in ways difficult to do in 'ordinary 'life because of fear of an adverse reaction. Being 'inclusive' doesn't mean the homophobe will just wander into the festival out of idle curiosity, to find out if they could have their prejudices transformed. Some folk, in spite of such well meaning public events, will continue to see gays as some sort of threat, or something to be mocked. Recently, I've heard quite a few derogatory comments passed behind our backs, whilst David and I have just been out shopping in Cambridge.

Inclusive is the type of language you use when you're filling in forms applying for funding from political bodies. As we entered, a questionnaire and a pen were thrust in our direction to fill in. This was printed double sided on pink paper, and though willing, we gave up on it four pages in, as we were hardly half way through it. It was full of the usual sort of questions which surveys ask when they're addressing 'an oppressed minority' - what they're really saying is - 'tell us what more can we do for you poor dears.' The increased level of well meaning enquiry that ticks all the right boxes, and more importantly ensures social and political accountability, probably explains why 'Pink' has changed its styling a bit this year, but at least it is back. For I am, my carping aside, grateful that such a thing as a 'Pink Festival' exists at all.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

FEATURE - Catherine Tate

David and I are avid Catherine Tate fans, and can easily fall into a catch phrase at the mere mention of Zimbabwe on the news. After waiting some time for the price to come down we've bought the 3rd Series of The Catherine Tate Show. On the whole the sketches aren't quite as sharp or well written as previously, and tend to go for overdoing catch phrases and easy laughs. Her usual co-writer/performer wasn't involved in this series, and it shows. Often the only way character sketch shows develop is by making them even more outrageous and offensive - such as what happened on the 3rd Series of Little Britain. She does manage to keep on the right side of that particular precipice, mostly. I can understand then, why she might want to give the show a break and do Dr Who, and theatre acting. One wouldn't want her to over exploit the Golden Egg, till we're sick and tired of seeing her characters. Some new characters don't quite work, 'Ma Willow' for instance - perhaps the parody here is a bit too subtle. Whilst Geordie Georgie is a more than welcome fresh addition to her portfolio of slightly unhinged humanity, yet who are unnervingly all too familiar.

But,an episode of Catherine Tate is still miles better than most other TV sketch shows e.g. 'Touch me, I'm Karen Taylor' which is second rate in comparison, mainly because its not lifted by superb comic character acting - at the moment no-one can compete with Catherine Tate.

These extracts below are just some of my favorites from the third series - Geordie Georgie - Derek Faye - Our John's a Gay Man Now (includes scenes from her Christmas Special where John is played by a far less cute young man)

DIARY 72 - Like trapping my bollocks in a vice

The 'koan of unsatisfactoriness' dominated much of my experience this week, growing somewhat in intensity as the week progressed. At one extreme is the gut feeling of unsatisfactoriness itself, at the other extreme is my reaction too it. My experience slipped from one polarity to another, but mostly hovered uncomfortable around in the middle. Either extreme is a painful place to be. Emotionally I'm reacting all the time to the sense of discomfort. Passivity reveals itself as melancholy and despair, whilst aversion arises as the desire to take action, to sweep the cause of the dukkha away and find pleasure. When I'm not falling into a pit of despair, I'm angrily and impatiently wanting to be free of it - to fight it or fly from it. I guess this is what its like when one's stuck, every attempt to step forward causes you to fall into old habits and grooves. I've yet to find what the 'The Middle Way' is in this circumstance, the Dharma Door that liberates, rather than imprisons me.

On the good news front, David returned from his retreat with an invite to be on next years ordination course, grasped in his somewhat disbelieving hands. By this time next year we will have become a fully ordained household. We've obviously spent some time this weekend celebrating, going out Saturday night to have a superb flavoursome curry in the Maharajha Curry House on Castle Hill. This place just seems to just get better and better every time we go. Though there seems to be plenty of time - eight months - before he goes, it will pass all too quickly. In the next few weeks we need to establish a plan for what we want to do before he leaves for Spain. On the list is to move flat within the next two months- if we don't do it then we aren't realistically going to be able to do so until he returns. The rest is mainly sorting out practical things to do with the running of the house whilst he's away, and buying or borrowing things he will need for the course. Also, we need to plan in some breaks away together, and a holiday perhaps in Barcelona before he goes up into the mountains for four months, to return as someone else entirely.

All this can feel a bit daunting for both of us at the moment. For me, it obviously does remind me of my own ordination course and how profoundly enjoyable that was. I felt at my most spiritually integrated and contented whilst up there in the mountains of Spain. Since then, at least from my current perspective, it seems to have been a prolonged and unsettled period of re-examination, during which I think I've matured and know myself better. At the same time I do experience a sense of loss. My spiritual practice and confidence in my Going for Refuge to the Buddha, Dharma & Sangha, feels less robust these days. It's as though I've bought myself a new map but dont recognise where I am or how I effectively operate in this territory. My life, now outside some of the institutions of the order such as attending a Chapter, or living in a Community, can lead me to feel that my life, though enjoyable and satisfying in most of its constituent parts, has a less cohesive, coherent feel to it. The solution is not to just return to these institutions like a babe to the bottle. Without an overall pattern around which a solution is focused, nothing would work. Its as if there is a permanent hole opened up in holistic - through which confidence seeps out and doubt leaks in.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

DIARY 71 - If I had ovaries they'd be screaming

I picked up an extended edition of the film Gladiator for six quid in Fopp. so I've been watching all three of the discs. The film is, as you no doubt already know, excellent, and yet another example, along with 'Master & Commander' of how Russell Crowe can elevate a strong masculine role, beyond a cliched brutal machismo, into a portrayal of a sensitive man with great hopes, moral dilemmas and principles that he's trying, but often failing to live up to.

Also, Russell Crowe, you are just sooooo HOT - if I had ovaries they'd be screaming - I want your babies!

DIARY 70 - Becalmed waters are dead boring

As I enter my second week without ' The beloved', I am becoming reacquainted with a few of my tendencies, which emerge once I am left to my own devices. First, I eat less substantial meals at home. David is de facto the main chef in our household, he loves cooking. I can cook well when I've a pressing motive for doing so, if a friend is coming round for instance, but generally I'm an appreciative, but often passive, food consumer. Paco came round on Thursday for an evenings study, so I pushed the boat out a bit, making a delicious Apple & Blackberry Crumble, served with organic yogurt. Second, I watch tons more stuff on i-Player, listen to the radio, or view DVD's. When I lived on my own before, I found myself listening to the radio all day, it gave me then a sense of someone else being in the room apart from me and my wayward thoughts. Third, I find those thoughts sometimes drift into self-preoccupied spirals, often with a downward emphasis, which David, when he's here, usually catches and prevents me from falling all the way. If David gets invited on next years Ordination Course, spending four months on my own, I dare not imagine what that's going to be like. Forth, this week I've found it particularly difficult to engage with personal projects, such as writing, or the model of the Cutty Sark, or doing some preliminary preparing for my Study Day in a months time. Fifth, I do get a bit sexually uptight and broody, which I suppose is understandable. Sixth, well, I guess I've just felt a little alone with things.

Work was actually reasonable OK, this week. Apart from Monday,the workload for the two of us was manageable, still, I wouldn't want a repeat of it too soon. By the middle of the week I was feeling increasingly weary at night, and waking fed up and bored before I'd even got to work. I had arranged a few too many meetings up with friends, so my lunchtime or evening period of recuperating was blown on a number of occasions this week. I guess this was somewhat exacerbated by not having a full weekend to myself last week. I'm not a naturally extrovert or social person, I value and get a lot from it, but, as an introvert, it is an effort. If I don't get sufficient time to myself, I just can't give that much of myself to others. This has definitely been made worse by the nature of my current work, where I am constantly in a receptive/responsive mode. It can make even meeting up with a good friend feel like more of the same. My batteries got a bit depleted, so I apologise to my friends I was a little low key with them this week.

The nautical theme took a further stride this week. At work I turned an incomplete windchime stand into a rudimentary mast, fixed up some rigging and flags, and made a Buddha rupa into it's figurehead. I don't think everyone at work quite clicks why I'm doing this. To be honest, even Iam only following up on a hunch. I suppose it's something in the area of trying to change my approach or perception of me in relation to my work,making it lighter and more fun. Whether this works, or it just turns out to be empty window dressing, only time will tell.

Early signs are not good, by Friday, I was going stir crazy inside.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

FEATURE No 7 - Yello - Planet Dada

Well at least five years ago there was some life in this duo. This homage to dada via kraftwerk is manic, yet impressive in the sharpness of it's cutting and composition, this is really inspiring stuff.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

FEATURE No 6 - Sparks - Shopping Mall of Love

The 1980's was not an era favoured with success for Sparks, but neither did they do themselves any favours either, as, to be honest, most of their Eighties output sounds insipid. But, there was the odd song which was a gem. On 'Pulling Rabbits out of a hat'- 1984 it was - 'Pretending to be drunk'. 'Music You can Dance to' in 1986 produced this one bona fide classic, and that very rare thing indeed, a song on which Ron takes the lead vocal. I've been playing it constantly since I discovered it on You Tube, in the form of a video taken at their 21 album concert retrospective in June 2008. Here's the original recording.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

DIARY 69 - Bumpy Landings

02/08/08 Recently, returning to work immediately after a holiday or retreat, has become a much more bumpy affair than I've previously experienced. Not a gentle ease into the daily demands of Customer Services, more of being sucked unwillingly into a vortex. The first few days being particularly taxing, as the skin of my retreat experience is flailed off me, right before my eyes. The more positive perspective I return with, takes on the appearance of a mask, a delusive charade -lacking any durability and substance. I move from a context where I felt relaxed and spiritually in tune with myself ,to one which collided with me, that I was out of tune with, not just by a light tinkle but with a resounding dissonant clash. The reverberations of this return experience continue on for quite a while.

08/08/08 Eventually things did settle, or maybe I just became re-accustomed to staring my day to day experience in the face? Anyhow, I've started following up on some of the things Padmavajra pointed my attention towards. First, booking a day in late September for a day of study and devotion near to the anniversary of Dogen's death. David helped me put a poster together on his computer. The day has the general title of 'The Real Dragon', the study will be based on a chapter from the Shobogenzo. I have a few chapters to decide between, but I need to read through them thoroughly to get a sense of how fruitful the material might be in study. I'm quite excited about this. Almost as if it were a portent, I recently received a postcard from a friend of mine whose was in Japan at Dogen's monastery Eihei-ji, he asked me how my Shobogenzo studies were going. Second, this week I booked on the next GFR retreat - The Heart of Ordination - in late October. This seems inordinately significant for some reason.

One evening this week I woke in the middle of the night in a very excited state, as if something great was about to happen, and I needed to be awake in order not to miss it. Alas no midnight surprises! I can often be impatient, with things rarely moving as fast as I'd like. I've learnt from the past, that I should strike whilst the iron is hot or the motivation may not be there to initiate things later on. My resolve seems to have a very attenuated span. At present I appear to be being instructed in the virtues of steady gentle application, rather than my usual incendiary enthusiasm, that is so often a short lived spurt, rarely maintainable.

The nautical theme sails on. I've finished the Patrick O'Brian book, which was very good. The model of the Cutty Sark, had begun construction, but foundered because a major deck part is missing. I'm still awaiting its arrival, over a week later. It seems like reality is again conspiring to ensure I take my time, slow down my expectations and be patient for a change. So instead I've been messing about with pictures of semaphore signals, I've composed a picture which spells out the Buddha's last recorded words - with mindfulness strive on - which was fun to do. So I can't quite sail out onto new seas just yet, I haven't got all the required parts - but I can start getting prepared. This seems almost prophetic.

09/08/08 Today was the Open Day at Abbey House. Abbey House is a Buddhist Community where I used to live before I moved in with David. It's one of the oldest houses in Cambridge, Windhorse Trust bought it from the City Council on the basis that we would open it to the general public at least once a year. Even though I don't live there any more, I know more about the history of the house than most of its current inhabitants. I'm particularly interested in the monastery - Barnwell Priory - very little of which survives. The fact that little remains sort of makes it imaginatively all the more interesting for me. Well, because of my enthusiasm, and because I am admittedly rather good at it, I've sort of become the main tour guide. So I regularly get invited back to do this day. This year there seemed to be more visitors than on previous years, about 300 people passed through the house in the space of the opening hours, between 12 and 4pm. There were only three of us doing the tour guiding, which was a bit of a stretch, so I ended up doing five tours over the four hours. It might not seem an energetic thing to do, but tour guiding is very mentally tiring, remembering what to say, and when, and making sure you can be heard. You end up giving out, and giving out constantly. I rarely look forward to this day, and often don't want to do it when asked, but I do enjoy the day once I get into the stream of things. So, although I can resent it taking a day out of my weekend off, I suspect I'll still be doing it again next year regardless. Although this year it's left me with a thumping headache.

Next week at in Customer Services we are short staffed, only two of us for the next seven working days. I am already anticipating being over stretched and stressed, and using all my treasured time off to recover. Well, I'll keep you informed about this prognosis.

FEATURE No 5 - The Muppets - Habanera

David showed me this one, you just gotta laugh. Sheer genius.

FEATURE No 4 - Yello - Goldrush

Yello seemed never to be entirely in tune with their time, sidestepping, rather than setting trends. Any one who could obtain the supremely gifted Billy Mackensie to simply do backing vocals for them, must have had real artistic credibility, As a band, Yello had more to offer than their one hit wonder status might lead you to think. 'The Race' was actually a creative refinement, the culmination of ideas which had previously been colourfully explored across a whole spectrum of styles. These days they're more borrowed from than played. Somehow they managed to be cinematic, camp, classy and clever, all within the space of this one song. There are visual references in the video to Fassbinder's film of Genet's 'Querelle' which came out about four years before this.