a perfectly fine life – playwrought #3, arcola theatre


This is the third year that the lovely Arcola Theatre in Dalston has run their ‘PlayWROUGHT’ series.

These are rehearsed readings with talented actors and directors featuring the work of established and new playwrights. The series is seen as an opportunity for the writers to see hear their brand new work in a professional setting, with an audience.

I went last night to see A Perfectly Fine Life written by Annie Pierce, and I believe this was her first ever play.

There was a very crude ‘set’ (a few chairs and tables and a couple of props), a little lighting and the actors, although obviously familiar with the piece, were reading from their scripts.  They did get up, and move through the different scenes. A narrator gave some indications of scene or time passing that would obviously have been worked out for a final production.

However, it was surprising that after a while, I simply didn’t notice these facts. The story was indeed so gripping, and the actors barely stumbled that the fact that the scripts that they were reading from became almost invisible.

From the blurb:

“Zinnia can’t have the baby she wants. Elizabeth offers to be a surrogate mother. And lawyer Anwen does her best to handle everyone’s interests. But when things do not turn out as expected,what is it like to depend on a stranger for what you want most?”

I loved the story, and I really felt for all the characters in what becomes a very difficult situation – and wasn’t at all what I was expecting. Each of the four main characters – successful couple Zinnia & David who desperately want a baby, and Ghanaian couple Elizabeth & Jacob who initially want to be able to give their children a better life with the money that they can make from Elizabeth’s surrogacy.

Social issues and prejudices weren’t tip-toed around – they were confronted head-on, realistically, even though that may not have been particularly comfortable to witness in some parts.  I guess the only part that I was slightly disappointed with was the ending.  It confused me slightly but also felt a little twee in comparison to the rest of the play.

I’m just sorry that I only just now knew about the PlayWROUGHT series, just as it’s coming to an end again for the year. I will be looking out for it next year for definite. A fantastic idea that attracted a surprisingly large audience and was fantastically presented.

I hope that Annie Pierce got some great feedback from it – and if I ever notice A Perfectly Fine Life on at a London theatre, I will be sure to go along to see how it translates to a ‘proper’ stage!

I’d also like to say that I haven’t been to the Arcola since March 2012 to see The Pitchfork Disney, and they’ve done a LOT of work to it since then – it’s a really nice space. Especially the bar where this week they started serving hot food. A big bowl of veg stew, arancini balls, tasty salads and various condiments (you have the choice of everything, some or nothing – no menu) that totally hit the spot for just £5. Well worth a visit!

the books i read in 2014

As I didn’t keep my blog up to date last year, but DID keep a note of all the books that I read – I thought I’d share my ‘collection’ with you. There were a few stand outs that have really stayed with me, and a few absolute duds. Would anyone like to hazard a guess which were which?

(PS – you can click on the pic to see it full size!)

All of the books I read in 2014
All of the books I read in 2014

my e17 storywalk story

E17 Storywalk
E17 Storywalk

Back in November, I took part in the E17 Storywalk as part of the Words Over Walthamstow festival – which I wrote about before.

I wasn’t sure at the time whether I would post my story here or not, but I have decided to.

All six stories have been printed by the wonderful Paekakariki Press just round the corner from me – and it gave me a little frisson of pleasure to see my words in proper print.

E17 Storywalk booklet
E17 Storywalk booklet

So, here it is, my story based around Lot One Ten under the theme of change.

A time for change? 

When Jane had arrived in 1997, Walthamstow had been bustling but rough around the edges. There was a worn feel to it, like an old camel coat. It was easy to lose herself into the general busy-ness of the place, and that suited her just fine.

That was why she had originally moved from Kendal to London – she hadn’t been able to hide easily enough. The lush, vibrant greens of the hills and the dancing reflections on the lakes and waterways made her feel as if she were purposely standing out. An absence of hue on a brightly painted canvas – all the more noticeable simply for being dull. Here, among the dusty shopfronts and endless commuters, she’d been at home.

Her mousey-blonde hair and pale skin helped make her face unremarkable, certainly no one HAD ever remarked on it. She always wore neutral tones too, thus almost instantly forgettable – intentionally so. She often pondered a career in robbery – no one would ever match an efit photo or grainy CCTV image to her face.

Jane had always had no hope of being anything better than, well, blousy, beige and boring. That was her lot, she accepted it. It simplified everything – from what job she did (data historian in a corporate headquarters – there were delightful days where she didn’t see a single other person) to what dreams she had (ones about misplaced filing mainly) to what she ate for supper (ready meals in front of Coronation Street). She never dreamed or hoped of more. That was until…

One grey, drizzly afternoon Jane was walking home from Walthamstow Central, along Hoe Street. This was Jane’s favourite time to be out. Everything was muted and damp. No one took any notice of who was walking by – they were all too busy trying to get home quickly and out of the rain. She also had the added benefit of being able to hide under an umbrella. But as she walked past Lot One Ten, something caught her eye.

Looking back, she couldn’t pinpoint exactly what it had been. A movement from across the street? The reflection of a car’s headlights in the mist of the rain? She really couldn’t be sure, but she glanced into the window, her eyes quickly scanning the antique furniture on display.

A beautifully detailed tapestry stool sat in front of a dressing table that she believed was probably walnut – its dark wood shining from years of polish and beeswax.

However, Jane’s eyes were drawn up to the mirror.

It seemed rather large for the size of the dresser, a distraction from the beautiful hand-carved detail on the wood. It sat within an intricately carved frame, bracketed so that it could swivel to any angle.

Jane looked closer. Although the dresser must have been Edwardian and at least 100 years old, the mirror was clear. No black marks, cracks or that ‘foxing’ of the glass that makes it look misty. Had the mirror been replaced? If so, it must have been a very skilled replacement as the frame looked untouched.

But this wasn’t what caused Jane to draw a sharp breath. As she looked into the mirror, at what should have been her own familiar visage, Jane didn’t recognise herself at all. The mirror seemed to reflect a different Jane. A better Jane. A Jane that Jane had never hoped or believed she could be.

The dull light of Hoe Street seemed to have been enhanced somehow, as if there was a hidden sun just out of the frame, and the effect it had on Jane’s reflection was astonishing. Her lank blonde hair shone with health, her skin took on a slightly rosy tinge, like that of a young lover. Her lips looked more plump, hinting at secrets and promises, and her eyes were bright – their usual pale green seemingly deeper – confident and bewitching.

Jane was stunned and moved even closer, one hand touching the glass of the window. Her reflection followed suit, but to Jane’s eye it made her look as if she were trying to escape from the mirror – pushing out of the frame.

“I’m alive,” Jane whispered to herself.

A young lad in a hoodie ran past laughing, closely followed by a couple of mates. Jane turned to watch them go past, and the spell was broken. When she looked back into the mirror, all she saw was Jane. Forgettable Jane. Invisible Jane.

Her shoulders slumped. For the first time ever, Jane was somehow disappointed with herself. Being overlooked constantly, suddenly didn’t feel like a great way of living. If she could be mirror-Jane, what then? Mirror-Jane looked as if she could do anything she wanted.

Eventually, her fingers trailing the glass of the window, she turned away, and walked down the road, the puddles soaking through her flat shoes as she trudged on, oblivious; her head filled with images of the fun-filled life that mirror-Jane would have. Mirror Jane continued to dance and flirt and laugh hollowly in her head while she wrung out her umbrella in the hall at home.

Over the next couple of days, Jane spent a lot of time looking at herself in the only mirror she had – her bathroom one. It reflected the avocado tiles she’d never got round to replacing. They were as dull as she was, which was, she now realised, extremely dull. She studied her face at great length, tried putting on a little make-up, brushing her hair to attempt to make it shine. She even bought Optrex Eyedew eye drops that promised to make her eyes dazzle.

Nothing had any effect. Her skin refused to glow – and her inexperienced hands made the make-up appear like a clown’s. Her hair remained dull and her eyes became slightly red and irritated.

Who was she kidding ‑ Mirror-Jane didn’t exist. She couldn’t change her life with a bit of blusher and some eye drops. She couldn’t become a different person. She had the life she had and she should be grateful for it. Jane threw the eye drops in the bathroom bin, grabbed her coat and headed down to the High Street.

She loved the market – there was so much hustle and bustle it was easy for her to drift through unnoticed. But she never bought from the market as she avoided talking to people – especially the loud traders who called everyone “love”. The self-checkouts at Sainsbury’s and Asda were far better – just the occasional “Unexpected item in packaging area” puncturing her idyll.

She hurried along Hoe Street muttering, annoyed at herself, disappointed at how easily she’d been swayed by the dream of a good hair day, how willing she had been to give up everything she’d worked so hard for. She might as well have moved back to Kendal.

As she reached Lot One Ten, she glanced in the window…and stopped dead.

The autumnal sun currently bathing Walthamstow in a cool, yellow-grey looked warmer and brighter in the mirror on the walnut dresser. Jane felt her breath catch in her throat as she looked once again at her reflection.

Emerald green flashed at her from within smooth, soft skin. Mirror-Jane was back, almost sparking with energy. It was like the difference between normal TV and HD. Everything about her was richer, the life bursting forth as if it couldn’t be contained, and Jane realised that this really was the woman she wanted to be. She’d spent long enough in the shadows.

She vaguely registered the insistent bam-bam-bam of a jackhammer from one of the many building sites across the borough. Far from the dreary hidey-hole she had once sought out, even E17 was changing – little pockets of the town becoming brighter, full of life and colour. Did she need to follow suit? Did she dare?

“I can do this,” she said to the mirror. “I can be this.” She looked deep into her own eyes, which weren’t eyes she recognised. “Can you?” said the voice in her head, “Are you ready?” Jane stepped back from the window, took a deep breath and closed her eyes.

“Yes. I’m ready. It’s time.”

She let out her breath and realised that she could no longer hear anything except her own heartbeat. Startled, she opened her eyes, and whimpered softly.

Jane looked out, across Hoe Street. Where the Texaco garage had once been, she could see the big blue and yellow signs for the hand car wash place. She saw a Routemaster bus drive past, its usual rumble curiously missing.

Confused, she put a hand against the warm glass in front of her, as slowly her mind tried to make sense of what she was seeing.

On the pavement, Mirror-Jane looked into the window of Lot One Ten. Jane stared horrified at her as she looked straight into her eyes, her mouth curled into a smug smirk that had never graced that face before.

After a cheeky wave of her fingertips, Mirror-Jane tossed her head back, laughed and walked down Hoe Street and out of sight, with a sultry swing of her hips.

e17 book clubs – more needed?

ImageYou might have noticed that I post quite a lot of book reviews.  I also post whether I have read the book as it was chosen as part of our E17 Book Club.  I think that this has provoked quite a lot of publicity for our book club as I have received many requests over the last year or so by people who would like to join.

We are obviously a rather literary lot in Walthamstow!

Turnover of members of our book club is rather low indeed – we ‘allowed’ a couple of newbies in when one member left in September, but the number of people asking to join and being turned away is growing weekly.

There are other Book Clubs that I know of in Walthamstow, one that meets at The Mill, the Reading Group that meets at Walthamstow Library and Forest Book Group who meet in Peking Chef.

I am sure that there are probably others, and if you know of them please do let me know.

However, my point for this post was to suggest that maybe someone sets up another Book Club (or two!) in Walthamstow – there are obviously enough people interested to fill them (we have found that about 10 people at any one meeting is kind of the upper limit…and about 14 on the list tends to get 8-10 each meeting).

I have quite a large number of people ‘in my archives’, so, if anyone wanted to set something up, I would be happy to get back in touch with peopel that had contacted me in the past and asked to be put on our waiting list to see if they would like to join.

So, come on, is someone going to stand up to the mark and say “YES! *I* will start organising a new book club in Walthamstow!”.

(PS – we now have no idea who ‘runs’ our book club…once you get a few meetings out the way, the members kind of look after it as one.)

***UPDATE*** Someone has kindly taken on the mantle of setting up a new book club, which will meet once a month at The Chequers.  Let me know if you would like more details.

Also, as per Jenny’s comment below, there is a book club set up that meets in The Castle once a month!

We really, really are a well-read bunch in E17!

how mysterious

My ticket to my own Twilight Zone

Something a little odd seemed to happen to me on Thursday.  I am currently reading this very ‘other’ book which is really good (I’ll review once I’ve finished) but deals with the weird, mysterious things that happen to a guy who is cabbing in Brighton.

Firstly, I have started playing an online war game (yes, I know – geek!) and om Wednesday I joined an alliance called Myrmidons – I am not ashamed to say that I have no idea what that is, I have never heard the word before, but due to the type of game, I’m assuming it’s something linked to the Greeks, a little like Sparta.

Anyway, I picked the book up on Thursday and the first thing that I noticed was that the publisher was Myrmidon Publishing…”How strange”, I thought.  I also noticed that the book is signed by the author (I assume it’s really his signature anyway!) and I hadn’t noticed that before. (Unless The Man has been pretend-signing all of my books and trying to sell them on eBay without me knowing).   To be quite honest, I don’t even know where I got the book from.  I’ve seen it in my bookcase for ages, and thought it was The Man’s but he said it isn’t his kind of thing, and anyway, it was published in 2008 and *I* have bought all of his books since then.

That’s not SO unusual though – I’ve been through my bookcases recently and pulled out 3 or 4 books that i don’t remember buying and definitely haven’t read yet.  But this one hasn’t even come from a charity shop (which the others usually have) – there’s no penciled price, sticker etc and the spine isn’t broken.  Odd.

So, I read it on the Tube on the way to work on Thursday, and then on my way home again, I got it out of my bag and went to read it again.  now, I love reading but don’t treat my books with much respect…I break the spines, I read them in the bath and most importantly, I don’t use a bookmark – I turn the corners over (shock, horror!).

So, I looked for the turned over corner, and there wasn’t one.  “How strange” I thought.  So I tried to find the page I was on.  Which I found…with a train ticket in it.  “How strange”  thought.  Then I looked at the ticket – Surbiton to Vauxhall.  A journey I have never made.  “How strange” I thought.  And then I looked at the date.  4 Jun 08  “How strange” I thought.

Now – how the hell did it get there.  if it had already been n the book, i would have seen it in the morning as it was on the right page.  It hadn’t been in my handbag as I’ve only had that bag for a year. Where did it dome from!!!

As you can tell, this little mystery has got to me a bit, LOL

Oh yes, and when I put it a few pages backward to carry on reading the book, I got to the exact page I’d put it in when I got off the train.  I think the ticket is some kind of personal magical bookmark.  Eek!

space…the final frontier?


I have a dream.  Well, I had a dream.  It wasn’t an outrageous dream.  my dreams are never really unachievable, otherwise I’d always feel like the world was dangling something just beyond my reach, and get the feeling that life is unfair (much as the Girl’s dad does – he always feels like life owes him something, and that it should all be handed to him on a plate.)

Anyway – this wasn’t about him, this was about me.  and my silly little dream.

Well, since The Man has been out of work (almost 3 years), I’ve not really had any time at home on my own.  Either he, The Girl or both of them have always been there.  So I feel like I don’t have any space.  We live in a little flat in London, so you can imagine that space isn’t exactly abundant…we’re all hoarders too, which I know we could do something about, but is a personality trait I guess, and almost impossible to shake.

The Girl has her own room that she spends a lot of time in doing her own thing (which lately seems to consist of counting her money in her money box 4 times a day – maybe she thinks we’re stealing from her!), and obviously The Man is here by himself from 9-3 every weekday.  For me, nothing.  And I think that this could be one of the reasons that I’ve stopped reading as much over the past couple of years too.  I can’t read when there’s stuff going on around me.  I’m OK with the radio on, or music, but not the TV or ‘sounds’.  And The Man has the TV on a lot – because, if I turn it off, or if I’m not watching it, even if I have the radio on, he’ll play the XBox.  which annoys the hell out of ma.  i can’t read a story about Georgian Britain’s Worst Husband (Wedlock, that I’m reading now) if there are the sounds of air raids, bombs, and general shouting, shooting and fighting in the form of MW2 full blast to my left!!

So.  I had a dream.  It was a chair.  A winged, chintzy, Queen Anne style chair.  Squeezed into my tiny bedroom, in the bay window which has the best natural light in the whole flat.  So I could shut myself away for a few hours a week, have some me time, read undisturbed with the radio on.  Maybe even start writing again, who knows.  If course, a chintzy winged chair in a bay window also threw up dreams of tea and biscuits and a cat curled up.

So…I have now made this entry from my bay window, in natural light, in a wing-backed chair, whilst listening to 6Music (Cerys is back, and there was just a wonderful live session with a harp that I need to look up), sipping tea, eating the biscuits that I made on Friday, and  have been reading my book in peace.  Even the cat is curled up on the bed in front of me!  The only difference to my dream is that my chair isn’t chintzy…it’s just moss green.  but it’s oh so comfy, and was just £35 from the sally army charity shop at the bottom of my road – and is pristene.  no wear, no tear, no scratches, no stains!

I am so happy.  So, so happy.  Because of a chair.

save me, save me!

Yes - upstairs from the Indian takeaway is the answer to all my problems!

On my way to the station this morning, I was happily minding my own business, humming a little tune to myself  and pondering on my plans for the day (lunch with a lovely guy, and off to see a friend in a play tonight!).

I was one of MANY people wandering along the street in silent reverie when this guy walked up to me, looked me straight in the eye and pressed the above leaflet into my hand.  I just looked at him, carried on and started reading.

“Expert in face reading”…OK, so WHY did he pick me out from all of the other people walking down the road?  There were quite a few of them, and he didn’t give leaflets to anyone else.  What did he see in my face?  If he’s an expert face reader it could be anything!  Am I going to die soon?  Am I going to be unlucky in love?  Is there a huge disaster showing all over my ugly mug (or is it just chocolate as usual – I guess the two could be mistaken for each other!).  I’m almost tempted to go.  If it wasn’t for the appalling grammar used on the leaflet, I might be booking myself a session straight away out of fear, worry and general something-elseness!

The thing is, this isn’t the first time I’ve had this happen.  There have been a couple of times that ‘god-botherers’ have seemed to feel that I need saving from something or other.  I was standing on the platform at Holborn once, and this woman came marching halfway down the platform to me and said “You need to find the Lord!!” at the top of her voice.  Scared the hell out of me, I can tell you.  But (in one of those rare moments when you actually DO think of a retort at the right time) I just calmly said “Why?  Have you lost him?  That’s a little careless you know”…and then luckily the tube arrived.

Another time in the street, this woman came up to me (again, ignoring everyone else between me and her) and said “Your life may be hard, but it WILL get better.  You have a good heart, and good things will come to you – as you deserve.” and then she walked off.  I assume that she did that randomly just to freak the hell out of people – and it certainly worked.

But why me?  Do I look like I need saving?  Am I radiating the aura of some kind of fallen hussy?  I don’t exactly dress sluttily or anything, or wear too much make-up, or too much bling, and I don’t glare at people, meet too many people’s eyes or shout randomly.  I do have fantastic boobs though – so perhaps that’s what it is.

why don’t I read at home any more?

Because of the ‘festive season’, I haven’t been into the office for a week now, and wont actually be returning for another week (as I have a few days off).  For some reason, this means that I haven’t read a single page of my book for more than a week!

I actually think this is quite disgraceful of me – I’m a huge reader, and tend to get through books pretty quickly, but these days I only ever seem to read on the Tube.  I no longer seem to read at home at all.  Whenever I pick a book up at home, it sends me straight to sleep.  I will be reading it, go to turn over the page and realise that although my eyes have been scanning, I haven’t taken a single word in, and have no idea what I just read!

I am currently reading The Secrets of the Lazarus Club by Tony Pollard but it has sat by the side of my bed, untouched and probably starting to collect dust and cat hairs.  I also have a huge mountain of books to get through by the side of my bed once I have finished this one, and at the moment that is looking totally daunting.

Perhaps I will aim to make 2010 the year that I start reading at home again!

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