Billy and The Angel

The angel sat on the edge of the trench smoking a cigarette as a new dawn rose over the ruined landscape.
‘There’s always someone worse off than you’ it said.
Billy looked around with the eye that he still had left to see.
The trench was full of mud and blood, most of which, observed Billy, was his.
‘I don’t see anyone’ he said.
‘Look harder’ said the angel.
‘My legs hurt’ said Billy.
‘That’ll be the legs that you no longer have’ said the angel.
A tear fell from Billy’s eye.
‘No use crying over spilt milk.’
Billy wiped the tear from his one eye with the one arm he had left.
‘God help me’ he said.
‘Praying for yourself now?’ said the angel, smiling, ‘Tut, tut.’
Billy despaired.
‘Give me a break, for fuck’s sake.’
‘Look’ said the angel, pointing, ‘over there.’
Billy strained his one eye in the darkness and saw, ten foot down the trench under a pile of wooden planks and body parts and broken ammunition boxes, something stir.
‘There you go’ said the angel.
‘There you go what?’ said Billy.
‘Someone worse off than you.’
‘Help me’ said a feeble voice, ‘please help me.’
‘Well go on’ said the angel to Billy, ‘do something.’
Billy looked with his one eye at the arm he no longer had left and the legs he no longer had and the blood all around him that was mostly his and said:
‘I’m sorry.
I can’t.’
‘Help me’ said the voice, ‘please help me.’
‘How the fuck’ said Billy to the angel, ‘is he worse off than me right now?’
‘It’s simple’ said the angel, blowing a cloud of smoke across the last star.
‘Nobody loves him.’
A warm wave washed over Billy’s heart and he remembered the sweet peas in his grandmother’s garden and the warm smell of home.
‘Oh’ he said.
‘Help me’ said the voice.
‘I’m here for you, brother’ said Billy.
‘Goodbye, Billy’ said the angel.
‘I’m here.’

© Gail Foster 30th July 2019

Advertisements

Quis? Ego

~ on the anointing of Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson

So what if it was just a drunken dare
Quis? Ego! Made at Eton long ago
I dub thee Boris of the Golden Hair
Servus, servum, servi, servo, servo
So what if afterwards they went to town
and ordered tiny sparrows stuffed inside
six rare exotic birds and chased it down
with virgins’ tears in mouths so open wide
one could believe designed to fit the poor
in at such times there are no partridges
Amo! Amas! Deus! Deum! and more
Dom Perignon! To Boris! Boris is
The Chosen One! So long ago, the dare
At Eton, or more probably, elsewhere

© Gail Foster 24th July 2019

Boris Made A Little Bus 🚌

Boris made a little bus
That’s lovely, Boris, Nanny said
Another bus. That’s nice for us
And went and put it in the shed

Boris made another bus
And painted it in blue and red
That’s nice, said Nanny, made a fuss
And went and put it in the shed

He’s made another fucking bus!
The Nanny to the butler said
You know I like it when you cuss
He said, a quick one in the shed?

I would, said Nanny, but it’s chock
Ablock with buses. Little shit
‘I’ve made another bus!’ The cock
And straight in to the shed with it

Boris made another bus
I made it all myself, he said
Another bus. That’s nice for us
And went and put it in the shed

Boris made another bus
Enough! said Nanny turning red
I’ve had enough of buses, plus
There’s no room in the fucking shed!

Boris bought another shed
Look, Nanny, now there’s lots of space!
That’s lovely, Boris, Nanny said
A little smile on her face

© Gail Foster 26th June 2019

 

TITCO do Spamalot!

The Invitation Theatre Company at St.Mary’s, Devizes ~ a dress rehearsal review

England, 932 AD, and the country is ravaged by plague, purposeless, pestered by the French, and in need of a firm hand at the helm.  Enter Arthur, King by virtue of the fact that once he was given a sword by a watery tart, and his hapless servant Patsy, coconut clip clopping across the land in search of knights to save the day, the funniest fart joke, and the nebulous Grail.

Such is the plot of Jemma Brown and TITCO’s production of Monty Python’s musical comedy Spamalot, loosely based on the film ‘Monty Python and The Holy Grail’ and first performed on Broadway in 2005.

There’s been a real buzz in town about this show, and I’m sure I’m not the only person to eagerly anticipate sinking into a pew in St. Mary’s and sighing with relief at having escaped from Britain’s current woes and impossible quests for a couple of hours.

I wasn’t disappointed.  Apart from being unable to resist comparing the England of Spamalot with the country today and our own search for a nebulous Grail I was completely lost from the outset in the world of mirth, magic, and medieval silliness that TITCO had created with a little help from their friends (knights who scaled the walls to black the windows out, masters of the lights and smoke, knights with needles and an eye for fabric and design) in what has to surely be the perfect venue for such a show.

For all its silliness, Spamalot is a complicated and fast paced show involving a lot of physical comedy and choreography, and multiple costume changes for some of the characters (particularly Ian Diddams, who can’t quite remember exactly how many but was most memorable as Tim the horny Scottish enchanter).  The cast did a great job of keeping up the momentum throughout, which bodes well for the rest of the run.  Fish slapping and Finnish dancing, creepy monks and can can dancers, flying cows and Trojan rabbits, loose-bowelled knights and mystical misunderstandings – at no time did the action flag and if anyone fluffed a line there was far too much going on to notice.

Anthony Brown stepped out of his role as Musical Director to give a creditable performance as the idealistic but naive Arthur with Debby Wilkinson doing a fine bit of character acting as Patsy; Terésa Isaacson with her powerful voice was an imposing presence as The Lady of the Lake; all the knights were hilarious, although I have to say how much I enjoyed the performances of Chris Worthy as the not-so-brave-or-continent Sir Robin, and Matt Dauncey’s macho-but-underneath-it-all-totally-gay Sir Lancelot (steady with that lance, sir, you’ll have someone’s eye out – just saying); and Will Sexton as Prince Herbert was wonderfully wet.

Then there were the nicely played cameos – melodious mischievous minstrels, legless knights and dancing nuns, political peasants and obstreperous Frenchmen – the old songs (who doesn’t need to be reminded to ‘Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life’?) and familiar jokes, and – my favourite Python thing ever – the Knights of Ni (‘Ni.’ ‘Ni.’ Etc.).

The only negative in my view (aside from the obvious stereotyping of gay people and the French) related to the script, and that was the ‘We Won’t Succeed On Broadway If We Don’t Have Any Jews’ song.  I’m still thinking about that and about what is acceptable in this day and age in the context of performance and historical record.  It didn’t sit well for me at all, but I’m sure that TITCO thought hard about including it and decided to keep it in in the spirit of authenticity rather than racism.

There’s so much that is good about TITCO’s show but for me the best thing about it is that this motley group of people, many of who would not be out of place in professional productions, are one big talented dancing singing and joking happy family, and their wild enthusiasm at working together shows in both the energy they display and the quality of their performances.

And who doesn’t like a good fart joke?

The Invitation Theatre Company’s production of Spamalot, despite its archaic political incorrectness, is just the kind of silliness we need in these ridiculously serious times.

Now, back to looking for that Grail…

(‘Ni.’)

© Gail Foster 25th June 2019

 

 

Oh God, It’s The Conservatives

Oh God, it’s the Conservatives
Dear, must we have them round for tea?
They’re such a shifty bunch of spivs
Oh God, it’s the Conservatives
As slimy as and armed with shivs
For stabbing those who disagree
Oh God, it’s the Conservatives
Dear, must we have them round for tea?

Oh God, it’s Johnson and McVey
and Sayid Javid. He’s a cock
And Gove and Raab have come to play
Oh God, it’s Johnson and McVey
I’m frightened. Make them go away
Be quiet and ignore the knock
Oh God, it’s Johnson and McVey
and Sayid Javid. He’s a cock

Oh God, they’ve seen us. Gove is at
The window waving. Now we’re fucked
Coee! Says Sayid. Rat a tat!
Oh God they’ve seen us. Gove is at
The door with Andrea, and that
Is Johnson with his shirt untucked
Oh God, they’ve seen us. Gove is at
The window waving. Now we’re fucked

Oh God, it’s the Conservatives
Too late to stop them coming in
And cutting lines up with their shivs
Oh God, it’s the Conservatives
All bullshit and superlatives
Lock up your daughters and the gin
Oh God, it’s the Conservatives
Too late to stop them coming in

© Gail Foster 11th June 2019

 

John Simpson at Devizes Arts Festival

P1140708

John Simpson at the Corn Exchange, Friday 31st May

One would expect a reporter of John Simpson’s standing and experience to be very careful and specific with his choice of words.

Simpson has been with the BBC for 52 years and has reported on 47 wars.  He is a man whose words are to be listened to, and on Friday night a packed house at the Corn Exchange were curious and enthusiastic to hear what he had to say and ask him questions about his long career and the state of the world as we know it today.

The man is all bon homie and old school decency, and one suspects that his affability and fair manner have got him out of many a sticky situation.  He starts off light, laughing about being punched on his first day on the job and being mistaken for David Attenborough, and chatting about family.  He has a book to promote but avoids saying much about that at all.

He talks about the BBC, saying that these days there is opposition from all sides towards the organisation and that he’s never been told to tone it down in all the years he has worked for them.  He talks about Trump, his ‘habit of tweeting insanities’ and strategy of giving away positions and key elements before presenting final agreements as amazing victories.  He’s disappointed that the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests will be overshadowed by Trump’s visit to the UK. He says that Gaddafi was off his head, that Saddam Hussein scared him, and that al-Bashir was weak and wanted to be liked.  He liked Thatcher, although ‘When she was good she was very very good and when she was bad she was something else’. He says that Mandela treated people as the best version of themselves and waxes lyrical about his admiration for Václav Havel. He acknowledges that China is to be taken very seriously indeed and thinks that the best strategy is to keep it in play.  China is, says Simpson, surprisingly open and anxious to be part of the international community.

He saves his most emotive words for how he feels about Britain today. ‘The line of confrontation’ he says, ‘is very disturbing indeed’. He compares the UK to France in the 50s, which was, he says ‘extraordinarily violent’.  He says that there is a ‘vicious divide which stirs up the weakest intellects’.  He talks about the ‘disgraceful’ messages that his colleague Laura Kuenssberg gets on social media and says that he holds social media responsible for the current ‘nastiness and violence’, for which he gets a round of applause.  He refers to ‘disturbing threats to freedom’ and says that he feels more able to talk freely about other countries than our own these days.  He’s dismayed to see our reputation plummet in the eyes of the world.  ‘It’s painful to find that Britain has become an international joke’ and ‘It’s important to realise the way we’ve damaged our country’.

He wonders if Brexit was ‘the tinder that started the whole performance’ but stops short of apportioning blame to any particular entity. ‘This Brexit business is going to change things’ he says sadly, wishing that we could be ‘back the way we were before all this started’.

There are points where Simpson catches himself just before he falls into an abyss of pessimism and says something about hope.  He does, after all, have a young son to be optimistic for.  Terrorism is 7 or 8% of what it was in the seventies, he says, and a billion have been lifted out of poverty in the past 13 years.  But when it comes to Britain he struggles to find any positives at all, and this from a man like Simpson is disturbing.  ‘We need to try and be less divisive ourselves and more accepting of other points of view’, he says, wishing for the best but sounding as if he is whistling in the wind.

He sticks rigidly to his three-quarter hour talk and fifteen-minute Q&A plan, but then he didn’t get where he is today by faffing about.  Those who wanted endless war stories are disappointed, but those who wanted his views on current situations are not.  He signs books afterwards and is very approachable.

I ask people what they thought of the great man. ‘His description of Mandela – it revealed that what we all hoped to be true of him actually was’ says one audience member.  ‘Honest’, ‘Genuine’, ‘Empowering’, and ‘Awe-inspiring’, say others.  ‘I was sitting there thinking what have I done with my life’ says my friend. The general feeling is that it has been a privilege to hear John Simpson speak, and that people have been delighted by his wit.

And then off he goes, with shrapnel in his side and a shard of hope in his heart, to his next adventure.

In the Market Place I take a picture of him smiling.

© Gail Foster 3rd June 2019

P1140930

The Stonemason

My Lady’s eyes are blind with smoke
And I must stand and watch her burn
I made her out of stone and oak
My Lady’s eyes are blind with smoke
And flames are catching on her cloak
I pray to God the wind will turn
My Lady’s eyes are blind with smoke
And I must stand and watch her burn

I made her out of oak and stone
And blue and red and light and glass
My Lady mine and mine alone
I made her out of oak and stone
Of blood and sweat and broken bone
But God has spoken ~ all things pass
I made her out of oak and stone
And blue and red and light and glass

Her smoking beauty burns my eyes
But I will raise her up again
Her ashes fill the Paris skies
Her smoking beauty burns my eyes
Behold the Phoenix! See her rise!
What mysteries God speaks to men
Her smoking beauty burns my eyes
But I will raise her up again

© Gail Foster 16th April 2019