Cummingsland

What land is this where we allow
The likes of Cummings to be king
All England bow and kiss his ring
For this is Cummings’ country now

What land is this where we allow
One man to say if birds can sing
Or bells be rung, or bees can sting
Must this be Cummings’ country now?

What land is this where we allow
The likes of Cummings to dictate
Are we the masters of our fate
Or is this Cummings’ country now?

What trick of light, what sleight of hand
Turned England into Cummingsland?
Good men of England, take a bow
For this is Cummings’ country now

© Gail Foster 14th February 2020

The Caretaker at The Wharf Theatre, Devizes; a review

 

On Friday night I had the pleasure of seeing Harold Pinter’s The Caretaker, directed by Lewis Cowen and dedicated by him to the memory of the late and lovely Rosemary Shaw, at our wonderful Wharf Theatre.

Much has been written about the Nobel prize winning Pinter’s plays that he seems to have rejected as being irrelevant, including the term ‘comedy of menace’ and comments about ‘Pinteresque pauses’. The Caretaker is said to have been inspired by the playwright’s own experiences of living in relative poverty and his observations of the comings and goings of acquaintances in Chiswick in the 50s and was first performed in 1960.

It’s a play about three blokes in a room with a bucket waiting for something to happen.  The absurdist influence of Beckett, with whom Pinter had a mutually beneficial creative relationship, is strong in this one.

The production began and ended with, according to my fellow back row enthusiasts (it’s a leg room thing), the sound of Charmaine by Mantovani, with rain noises and the occasional timely knell of a drip in a bucket punctuating the uncomfortable silences.  The shabby and well designed set consisted of two old beds, a window with a tattered net and a light bulb without a shade, odd planks of wood leaned up against flaky-painted walls, a toaster with a broken plug, a pristine Buddha on an empty stove, and numerous other pieces of scrap that only a hoarder might consider to have any kind of potential.

Mick (played by Stuart Mayling), a man with a van, and his brother Aston (Pete Wallis), a quiet and slow moving person with plans for a shed, appear to live in a semi-derelict house in West London where nothing much happens, until one night in winter when Aston rescues a tramp from a fight and brings him home to stay for a while in order to help him get back on his feet.  Davies (Lewis Cowen) proves to be a demanding, ungrateful, racist, and manipulative house guest who comes with a multitude of unlikely stories and particular paranoias, and the play deals with how these three very different but all seemingly broken in some way characters relate to each other in the claustrophobic environment of the room.

There is only one moment when all three appear to be truly on the same page in this play, and that is the moment when a drip drops noisily into the bucket and they all look up at the same time.  Otherwise their conversations and interactions are clipped and disconnected, their sentences short, their speeches broken and circular, and their eye contact infrequent.

‘You see’ said Lesley Mills enthusiastically in the interval, ‘they all have a plan, but nothing ever comes together.’  And indeed they do; the edgy and volatile Mick has dreams of turning the flat into a penthouse (‘Listen out for the afromosia teak veneer!’ said Lesley); Aston intends to build a shed in the garden if only given the right tools and circumstances; and Davies – Davies has all manner of good intentions if only the weather goes his way and he can procure the right pair of shoes to take him to Sidcup where he can pick up his papers and prove his identity.

It was around the time that Pinter wrote this play that Eric Berne was engaged in writing papers on transactional analysis, but it wasn’t until 1964 that he published ‘The Games People Play’, in which he describes the game of ‘Why Don’t You – Yes But’, which is a mind game in which a helpful person is constantly defeated in their efforts to assist an individual by various excuses which prevent that individual from ever getting a resolution to a particular problem.

Thus it is to some degree with all three characters but is most observable with Davies and his mythical journey to Sidcup.  It’s not about the shoes that the kindly Aston tries to provide him with being never quite right, or the bed he is offered being in the wrong place.  It’s about his fear of responsibility.  Every time he is taken at his boastful word and threatened with anything remotely like a job or a solution to a problem, he becomes visibly vulnerable and backs away.  We never get to find out what if any trauma made him like he is, or what the nightmares are that threaten Aston’s fragile sleep and peace, and he never becomes the caretaker.  Eventually he goes too far in his efforts to drive a wedge between the brothers and in Aston’s words makes ‘too much noise’, and the play ends with the brothers united against a common enemy and Davies protesting in vain about having to leave.

Pinter did consider killing Davies off, but instead chose to have Aston control his demons, Mick smash the pristine Buddha, and the tramp merely consigned to utter darkness.

One of the reasons I went to see this play was to watch Lewis Cowen in the role of Davies, and whilst during his undoubtedly impressive and sensitive performance of tricky stream of consciousness lines and twitchy movements there were many moments where he seemed to disappear and there was only Davies however hard I looked, I do have to say that I was slightly surprised at the amount of prompting he required so far in to the run.

Stuart Mayling did a great job as the imposing and possibly psychopathic Mick, bringing an air of uncertain threat to the room every time he entered and convincingly playing Davies at his own mind games and winning.

But Pete Wallis’s performance as Aston, damaged in the past by a brutal experience of electric shock treatment and taking refuge in a safe life of silence and simple domestic ritual, was a stunning piece of understated genius.  I couldn’t take my eyes off him for the entire time he was on the stage, except for the moment when I had to wipe away a tear during his monologue as he described the clear and quiet sight he had before they put the pincers on him, and I and the audience caught a glimpse of the livelier, albeit less stable, man he may have been before.

There are places in Pinter’s play where people laugh that are supposed to be comedy but aside from the bit of slapstick where the three characters wrestled with the bag and the bit with the drip, I didn’t laugh at all.

Because this is a world that still exists and that some of us recognise.  A timeless, hidden world where people with mental health problems live in rooms full of junk and never quite get anything together.  Either you know about that world or you don’t, and Pinter clearly did.

The Caretaker was without doubt one of the most thought provoking and well executed productions I have seen at The Wharf.

Well done Lewis Cowen, and well done all.

© Gail Foster 4th February 2020

 

Begone Before We Weep, Young Vicar, Go

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On the occasion of the Reverend Ben Rundell-Evans’ last Holy Communion service at St. John the Baptist, Devizes, before his departure to Upper Stour

We’ll miss you in the vestry, little priest
And in the choir where we hear you sing
And at the altar where you share the feast
On Sunday mornings.  Nineteen bells to ring
In Stourton, Bourton, Kilmington, and Zeals
Three sets of six, and one for chiming hung
And practices on Mondays – silent peals
Unspoken hymns of glory softly sung
We’ll miss you, little priest.  You tidy up
The vestry, and are humorous and kind
The reverence with which you hold the cup
Is absolute.  And oh, your lively mind –
So wise for one so young, so good to know
Begone before we weep, young vicar, go

© Gail Foster 6th December 2019

The Elusive Danny Kruger

Why Danny, so cute, but elusive
Ornamental and yet unobtrusive
Preferring to stay
At the end of the day
In locations a tad more exclusive

Why Danny, you see, while there’s cheese
In the pond and the voters to please
You could pop into town
Take the M4 and down
To Devizes (one ‘z’ and two ‘e’s)

Why Danny, you’ve come from above
Like a glorious bright Tory dove
With the light on your wings
And your parachute strings
And a note signed from Boris with love

Why Danny, we’ve hoodies that you
Can hug if you’re so moved to do
And a little white horse
And a Poundland of course
(that’s a ‘P’ and two ‘d’s and a ‘u’)

Why Danny, we wish you were here
Come the day will you even appear
Perhaps in The Bear
Or the Pelican, yeah
Bet you won’t pop in there for a beer

Why Danny, Devizes is nice
But in Wiltshire there’s mud and there’s ice
And Hammersmith’s so
Very pleasant you know
(Spell Devizes? One ‘D’ and ‘e’ twice)

Why Danny, you’re cute enough, true
But you’re Boris’s man through and through
And you’ll only appear
About four times a year
(There’s no ‘u’ in Devizes. Who knew)

© Gail Foster 4th December 2019

UPDATE:  This morning, much to my surprise, I received a poetic retort from Danny Kruger (see below).   Whilst I won’t be voting for him, one has to say Well Played.

Leaving Brexit Behind Us Forever

 

Why Gail, so full of surprises!

Thanks for the tips on spelling Devizes

I’m sure that we’ve met

But I haven’t seen yet

Through one of your many disguises

 

Are you the farmer from Manton who said

Have Defra gone off their head?

They’ve banned neonics

(The fleabeetle fix)

And so half my rape crop is dead

 

Or were you the soldier who proudly explained

This is how Yeomen are trained:

We leave them out in the rain

For a month on the Plain

And those that survive are retained

 

Perhaps you’re the teacher from Oare

Who said schools badly need more

Money – they’ll get it!

Sajid has said it!

The Budget will cough up for sure

 

But seriously, Gail, I’ll endeavour

To bring our country together

We’re badly divided

(Did you vote Leave? I did)

And I want Brexit behind us for ever

 

© Danny Kruger 6th December 2019

 

If Greta’s Right

If Greta’s right, then we might have to give
our cars up, and stop flying and perhaps
stop eating meat – why how’s a man to live
without a car as big as other chaps

If Greta’s right (how can she be, she’s just
a girl, and what is more she’s slightly odd)
We’ll have to live on lettuce, and a crust
And shiver, and in winter go unshod

That Greta’s wrong. That’s easier to say
Much easier than looking at ourselves
It’s not as if we’ll live long anyway
Sod Greta. Pile the plastic on the shelves

And light the sky up bright with fossil fuels
The children lie. The scientists are fools.

© Gail Foster 23rd September 2019

 

Bus Stop Equinox

Bus Stop Equinox by Gail Foster

A sonnet on the subject of the Autumn Equinox,
and being at the bus stop at Avebury

Has Summer gone? Oh God, she was divine
Those crazy kisses, that incessant heat
Last seen by The Red Lion on the street
And off to Swindon on the 49 –
Another bus is coming, so it’s fine
That Autumn makes an old heart skip a beat
Her hazy colours, and her scents as sweet
As blackberries that tumble from the vine

We stand here by the bus stop, and the breeze
Blows chillier than yesterday – we wait
She won’t be long, although she’s sometimes late
(Devizes traffic, everyone agrees)
Less leaves than yesterday – we watch them fall
She has to come from Trowbridge, after all

© Gail Foster 21st September 2019

American Heresy

I am, said Trump, the Chosen One
There are no other Gods but me
Fall on your knees before the Son
I am, said Trump, the Chosen One
Come not with peace but with a gun
Not for me then against me be
I am, said Trump, the Chosen One
There are no other Gods but me

© Gail Foster 22nd August 2019

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

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