Of Jet Lag, Disappointing Theatre and Amazing Poetry and Science

I thought I was over the jet lag. I’ve been back at work since Saturday, and MasterB’s insistence on breakfast at seven in the morning has helped get at least that part of my routine re-established pretty quickly. I had one evening when I went to bed shortly before six. It was that or nod off on the sofa. The dark evenings haven’t helped me stay awake. By eight it feels like midnight. I tried having a second cup of coffee one day, but that was disastrous; I was jittery and jumpy, and speaking so fast my tongue felt seriously tired. However, day by day I was gradually staying awake longer and later.

But this week I had tickets to two events in the evening. The first, on Wednesday, was to a play at the National Theatre, the second to a poetry and science event at the Shaw Theatre. Both were with Celia and we have had the tickets for some weeks.

I love the National Theatre. It is quite simply one of the best theatres in the world in terms of the three auditoria it comprises, in terms of its creative vision and commitment, in terms of its productions. actually, it is probably the best theatre in the world. This is the home of War Horse, and the puppeteers who work their magic in that production say there is no other theatre in the world where this play would have been staged; the work that went on for months behind the scenes to make it possible would not have been contemplated anywhere else. You get spoiled in london. It is the the theatre capital of the world.

So you’ll understand I had high expectations of the evening. The play was by David Hare, a writer I respect. On the way there Celia told me the reviews had been mixed. We were surprised to see many of the seats were empty. My experience of the NT is almost uniquely of full houses and anticipatory audiences. The lights dimmed. The opening scene was great, snappy, clever, promising. bUt after that it was slow. A lot of polemic and not a lot to watch. My eyes began to close. I was still listening, but the voices were sounding more and more distant.

I made myself open my eyes. I’m a fidget at the theatre. some people stay in the same position throughout a play. I don’t. I move about in my seat, cross and uncross my legs and arms, reach for my water bottle, lean forward, lean back. This time a lot of my fidgeting was to keep awake. I thought I was doing quite well, but then my head dropped and woke me up. I didn’t last beyond the interval. I wasn’t sure if it was me or the play. Celia stayed. She texted me when it was over: thumbs down. Oh well, put that one down to experience. Continue reading



Until Friday, I was a WOW virgin. Now I am already blocking out dates in next year’s diary to make sure I don’t miss it. The Women of the World Festival has been running since Wednesday and ends today. So if you’ve not been to anything at WOW (which I keep mistyping as WOE, rather worryingly) and you can push aside other demands and commitments, make a dash for the Southbank as this will be your last chance until 2015. I am shocked that this is WOW’s fourth year, yet the first time I have attended any part of it.
Five of us had a Girls’ Night Out on Friday attending the WOW Laureates’ Night.
Did you know that for the first time in history, all five poet laureates in the UK and the Republic of Ireland are women? Isn’t that amazing? The event was sold out. The QEH was packed. We cheered, we clapped, we sat in awed and appreciative silence. I cried. I suspect others did too. Poetry is the new rock ‘n’roll. There were too many stand out moments to list. Carol Ann Duffy’s two tributes to her mother hit personal nerves, especially as the Londonderry Air/Danny Boy was played in accompaniment to one. It was one of the pieces of music we chose for Mother’s funeral. She was a girl from Co Derry. Another that made me tingle was Sinéad Morrissey’s Genetics, and after the performances had ended it was her book with that poem that I bought. The personal made the first great impression, but by yesterday morning I was ready for a wider appreciation, and the poem that was sounding in my head, and is sounding again today, was Gillian Clarke’s Six Bells, commemorating the 1960 mining disaster. I had read it before, and found it beautiful, now its full strength became apparent, and I love the way it captures the ordinariness of life that goes on when something major happens, and those ordinary things embody the significance of the moment and acquire significance themselves.
Six Bells
28 June 1960

Perhaps a woman hanging out the wash
paused, hearing something, a sudden hush,
a pulse inside the earth like a blow to the heart,
holding in her arms the wet weight
of her wedding sheets, his shirts. Perhaps
heads lifted from the work of scrubbing steps,
hands stilled from wringing rainbows onto slate,
while below the town, deep in the pit
a rock-fall struck a spark from steel, and fired
the void, punched through the mine a fist
of blazing firedamp. As they died,
perhaps a silence, before sirens cried,
before the people gathered in the street,
before she’d finished hanging out her sheets.

Gillian Clarke

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