Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Fantastique hair tricks

Interesting weekend. Ended up at a very jolly party with two magicians, one of whom seemed quite depressed. The depressed one was also a hypnotist and it turned out an amateur ventriloquist. After a few drinks he disappeared suddenly and returned with a large and rather ugly ventriloquist’s dummy called ‘Dave the Dog’. He manoeuvred the dog’s mouth open and shut but no sound came out of either of them.
‘Are they already named when you buy them?’ I asked, not really liking the way the dog was looking at me.
‘Of course,’ said the dejected entertainer looking at me as if I was the mad one.

On the Sunday I was wretchedly tired but agreed to go to a concert with my aunt. We were sat upstairs and far at the back so the orchestra were a pink and gold blur to me. We had arrived, of course, late and, panting and whispering, crashed into our seats just before the music began upsetting some old git who managed to be incredibly rude and then pretend he couldn’t hear me apologise for disturbing him. The consequence of this was I sat through the whole of the Wagner Prelude thinking of ways to kill him. (Possibly appropriate for Wagner.)

Then there were ‘Four Elegiac Portraits for cello and orchestra’ and finally the magnificent, moving and creepy ‘Symphonie Fantastique’ by Berlioz. I am someone who believes that sitting still to listen to certain gorgeous music isn’t fair. It is somehow stifling. One should be allowed to ‘air conduct’ at the very least just as one would ‘air guitar’ at a Van Halen concert. Not being able to move around with the music or even sway or bounce in my seat usually leads to me nodding off at least once during such a marathon set. I discovered that my hair is now long enough to trap between my back and my seat and would keep my head firmly up when I drifted off. Very useful. However the Berlioz smacked me awake again. Bloody brilliant.

Saturday, 26 January 2008

Ahh the life of a film producer...

It turns out that I have a cousin who is a forth year medical student at Nottingham university. She is a member of the StopAids society and they invite me to screen my HIV/AIDS documentary ‘On the Frontline’ at the medical school. This is all very exciting and I rise to the occasion by finally getting my hair trimmed. Unfortunately on the Thursday morning I wake to find my eyes on strike. They are sore, swollen and I peer at the world as if through a thick mosquito net with a couple of rents in it.

I like my hairdressers. They talk slowly and loudly to me because I am v I s u a l l y I m p a I r e d and I talk loudly and slowly to them because they are h a i r d r e s s e r s. I explain to the rather perturbed stylist that I can’t really see much in the mirror and am reliant on her not taking the piss. She does not and I emerge with chic, shiny locks that frame my reddened, puffy, haggard face. It’s not a movie moment. On the way out one of the salon’s owners gives me a gentle squeeze and the ‘some of my best friends are blind’ schpeel. ‘Some of my best friends have mental health issues’ I respond nodding kindly, trying to join in.

After lying down with frozen eye pads on for 40 minutes I feel able to travel. The journey is easy and sunlight bounces and glitters across the fens as I chug through Ely and up to Nottingham on the train. The screening goes well. It takes place in the massive lecture theatre in the hospital on a gigantic screen and we have a good turn out. After the Q and A there is .. pizza. Well, they are students so cheese and wine is out. Having seen the place I’ll be staying that night I drink a couple of pints at the pub with a few fresh-faced young medics and nurses. Strangely I am the only one drinking even though I offer a round. This goes against everything I remember of student life where one started breakfast at lunchtime with a yard of snakebite and black. It turns out that many are in the middle of exams and heading back to the library. (It is nearly midnight and I am full of horrified admiration)

At the student house I find my bed has been sweetly made up with a curtain…with full heavy curtain rail still attached. ‘Must have been a good night,’ I think as my cousin sheepishly pulls it to one side and finds some real (clean) sheets). Her housemates return celebrating something and although at first there is much drunken and very loud shushing eventually the festivities get louder and someone starts banging on the piano. Chopsticks at 2am. There will be no sleep this night.

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Dirty Winshield

Dirty Windshield (In Space No One Can Hear You Scream.)

The screen is cracked,
Two bullet holes and
The blackened spidery cracks
Like septicaemia
Towards the veins and brain

The shield is almost down, captains.
Nothing can stop the
Eleven Million Mile High walls of night
Rushing at twice the speed of any light.
We are the fragile gnat

And just breath could now knock through
And rage bore wider holes
And the whisper of air
As you rush pass oblivious
Can knock us
Out of orbit.

Monday, 21 January 2008

Short and bit bitter

There is something more tragic then the situation in Gaza, more nerve shattering then the gathering storm clouds of recession, more deeply, creepy then Peter Hain's puppy dog eyes…the fact that the Scouts now have a badge …for PR. Yes, I know. It rocks the very foundations of the world. Apparently (and I quote the Week) to win the PR award older scouts must show ‘an understanding of the brand’. And he shall walk among us and his name shall be ‘Legion’ etc.

Ohhhh yawn… I am a’weary now. I have been busy but not with anything particularly prose worthy. More job hunting, a bit of cleaning, a visit to the doctor. Actually kicked myself out of the door on Saturday night and went to a friend’s birthday party. There were fairy lights and plastic cups and lots of sweet young post graduates but sadly no dancing which is a travesty at a house party. Good to be out though…and no, sadly none of that either.

Today I had good talk with the radio producer about the pieces I would hope to record in Zambia..now on to the treatments and pitching! Three weeks to go and then the heat, the peeping of tree frogs and cicadas and the constant barrage of bloody awful puns from my dear old Dad.

Friday, 18 January 2008

Ghosts and Shamans

Its funny but no one can say the word ‘innovative’ when they are excited. Just something I noticed today.

I do apologise for the rather long gap in posts. I was finishing up the short story for the national BBC short story competition. I finally finished it today and ran out of ink (of course) printing it off so had mad dash to internet cafĂ© and post office. Oh..you want to know what it’s about…erm…well…okay..it’s about a dead cat… yeah well I’m not really selling it am I. Let me try again..… its about a cat that comes back as a ghost, grows to the size of a hippo, wrecks a house and disappears again. All in 4500 words. It mostly wrote itself. I got very excited about what was going to happen next myself and yesterday sat for nine hours watching this stuff splurge from my brain and onto the computer… all apart from the last paragraph which ended up being hopelessly weak. I just couldn’t figure out how to end the bloody thing. Anywayhohow, its in and that’s the last you’ll hear about it until May or June. Promise.

I got the idea not just because I still look for my recently deceased cat out of habit when I come in the door and worry about her when I put on the hoover but also because for the last few months when I sat watching TV I would se a small creature, I thought at first a cat, nipping past the glass door to my right. At first I would even get up and go and look thinking that a cat out at night might need some succour but after a while I realised there was no cat. Nope I have developed a glitch (yeah another one) on the right eye. Probably something on the retina…its such a mess in there anyway. I only see it at a certain angle and it doesn’t bother me apart from giving me an off habit of glancing up for invisible animals.

Many people with visual impairment see things that aren’t there.. The brain and the optic nerve conspire to fill in the blanks in the visual field and as they are doing it at an incredible speed they sometimes get things a little muddled. I’ve seen polar bears in the aisles of supermarkets, people peering at me out of empty, parked cars. I once did an extra 1000 metres on a rowing machine because I was showing off to a handsome man watching me from the leg extender…he wasn’t there either. For those with macular degeneration there is actually a syndrome.. I have borrowed this from the RNIB website:

'Charles Bonnet syndrome (CBS) is a term used to describe the situation when people with sight problems start to see things that they know aren’t real. Sometimes called “visual hallucinations”, the things people see can take all kinds of forms, from simple patterns of straight lines to detailed pictures of people or buildings.
A Swiss philosopher named Charles Bonnet first described this condition in 1760 when he noticed that his grandfather, who was almost blind, saw patterns, figures, birds and buildings that were not there. Although the condition was described almost 250 years ago, it is still largely unknown by ordinary doctors and nurses. This is partly because of a lack of knowledge about the syndrome and partly because people experiencing it don’t talk about their problems from fear of being thought of as mentally ill.' RNIB

One of the things the website doesn’t mention is that apparently many of the hallucinations with macular degeneration are of Victorian children? Go figure…and extremely spooky. (Another story bubbling methinks)

I also, as do all people with RP, get flashes of light swirling and dashing across the retina. My Mum once gave me an art book about the eye. There was a page about the Yanomani shamans shooting that crazy drug ebeni up their noses and then seeing visions and interpreting the world, past present, future. . As the chemicals affected the brain they would see bursts of light and image on the retina. I saw the simple drawings some had made after their ‘trips’ and recognised them! Now if I could just find a Yanomani shaman I could possibly make more money then Paul McKenna. As it is right now they are all just shapes of light to me…

Monday, 14 January 2008


It’s Monday and I have lost the will to live. I have had no response at all from the last lot of job applications. Not even one of those ‘thank you SO very much for your application BUT ’ letters. I haven’t the energy to do another lot (although I will, I will..) and I have a deadline for a short story competition that I am nearing and here I sit, plucking out all the fruity bits from my trail mix and whimpering along to the Smiths. It doesn’t bode particularly well for the rest of the week.

On Saturday night I stayed over at an old friend’s place near Ascot. He has two sons aged 10 and 12 and they all initiated me in the culinary delights of the Racklette. This is basically a tabletop grill. One takes lumps of various grillable food items, arranges them on a little tiny grill pan and errrr…grills them…. The idea is to create your own mini stylish serving and then whisk it under the noses of the others around the table who have managed to set fire to their bread or lose their bit of pickle entirely, before stuffing the whole thing into one’s mouth and starting on round two. There was a great deal of butter and cheese involved and, for grown ups, a very decent bottle of wine and finally Irish coffee with double cream which meant that – having just been on a two week detox – I couldn’t sleep a wink due to the sound of my cholesterol rising.

I managed a visit in to my sister who is ‘vicar’-ing near Heathrow and got a chance to catch up with my phenomenal nephew. He is definitely 6’4’’ now and has more brains per square inch then anyone I have ever met. My sister has had a very bad flu-like virus for over a month now and is exhausted and pale. I try and get her to lie down after she takes morning prayer but the phone keeps going and chores line up and as I prepare to leave I know she is crossing her fingers when she promises she will take it easy. I raise a sceptical eyebrow to the heavens as I wave goodbye…she obviously believes in you oh sonorous, Anglican, beardy God and given that she is one of the few, it might be politic to cure her flu and give her strength back so she can tend to your obviously needy flock.

Ahh..what do i know eh? I don't even believe I exist.


Wednesday, 9 January 2008

No paparrazzi please!

Last Monday night I staggered off the train in the dark and began the weary trudge home. It was rubbish collection day and my cane got tangled up in the first of the many hundreds of large black bins that were hulking over the pavement. I was vaguely aware of people impatiently pushing past me as it was rush hour. A scruffy man in jeans and some kind of huge jumper brushed past me as I hissed and swore at the second black recycling bin I had just put my foot into and walked quickly ahead..
And then there was a bang.
I looked up, startled, squinting ahead down the long road.
Again, ‘bang’!’ Bang!’ And then I saw that the scruffy man was bashing the black bins, smashing them off the pavement one by one as he walked past them…for me. He didn’t look back or slow down but just kept on solidly smashing the bins off the pavement. I watched him disappear into the night leaving just the sound of slightly dented black bins in the air and everything was suddenly possible as it had been when I was a child….good triumphing over evil, peace and magic and talking pigs, pixies, princes and love. The world shifted slightly and I felt like someone had just given me a huge hug.
Just thought I should share that with you.

Today I was a fashion photographer. (I know, I know, this from a woman who thinks £5 is a bit much for a t-shirt.) The creative and fashion directors of an exceptionally posh bi annual magazine had seen our exhibition, Beyond Sight, in December and had asked if a couple of the VI photographers would like to have a go shooting portraits for the editorial. Myself and M got the gig and nervously pitched up at the large studio in Holloway Road. It was so very cool that the band Fightstar were making their music video on the same lot. (I thought the guy said ‘FIVE Star, the teenage phenomenon of the 80’s and got very excited…sadly I’ve never heard of Fightstar. How cool am I!)

The space was ideal and we had a large spot light and two remarkably beautiful and gangly models to work with; a teenage chap who looked like a cross between Rupert Everett and Morrissey and a young woman who looked like a child when she smiled and serious supermodel when she pouted. We were using our own little digital cameras. M, whose sight is limited to about a metre but who has great creative energy and loves finding the shapes and the textures quickly got snapping and I floundered a little before following his example and just getting on with it. With the huge bright light and the endless shadows cast by the models cheekbones I was able to compose and frame more easily then in more subdued light. I am still worried about the focus but it will be easier for someone else to check accurately. (I can’t quite see the sharpness of the photos even blown on this computer.)
Everyone was supportive and incredibly encouraging, the stylists, make up, hair dressers and the two directors. G, who had run the original workshop was there calmly pulling the lights for us and giving us hints about angles and ideas.
No one seemed to give a hoot that M and I were VI. I was surprised expecting some resistance or disapproval from the pros but there was none. They all just let us get on with it! Not one person tutted in my vicinity. I sat on the train home thinking ‘holy shit, did I just do a fashion shoot?’ I looked at the other commuters and wondered if I should tell them…You will be pleased to know I did not.

Saturday, 5 January 2008

Opps They Did It Again.

How is it possible that today's national TV headline, over and above the meltdown in Kenya or the stabbing of two teenagers in Kent, was Britney Spear’s …again?? How does her self-destruction matter on the global scale eh? What is wrong with us? Wasn’t anyone listening when that brave and inspiring anchorwomen tore up and then burnt the Paris hilton story on live TV last year? Sure, tell us about it at some point so we can ooh and ahh and say ‘I told you so’ as if it matters..but don’t lead the national !!!ing news with it! Stop the madness!

I am moody as I ache with incipient cold and as I am still detoxing cannot turn to my favourite cold cure all, the ‘hot toddy’. Instead I grizzle over weedy hot lemon and honey drinks and stuff my face with paracetomol. The only good thing about a cold is that it an excuse for double whisky and cloves.
I knew I must be coming down with something when, in my khai bo class last night, I thought I might have to kick the instructor in the head to get him to stop. My sight was also down slightly which usually happens when I am trying to fight off a virus. This makes it harder to balance as with just a few millimetres less I am having to readjust and refocus all the time. I can get giddy if I walk too fast let alone doing 200 sodding jumping-jack punches …

Whinging aside, I watched the ‘Bourne Ultimatum’ last night and found several times I was actually holding my breath, caught up in the action. The dark, swift raw style and the intense but suppressed performances, those flight sequences …man! It was incredibly gripping and Paul Greengrass may look just a little like Worzel Gummidge but he is a brilliantly inventive and intuitive director! I can’t remember the last time I actually had white knuckles watching a film….(in a good way…I once was forced to sit through ‘Click’ with Adam Sandler. Different white knuckles…)
As on film, and as I am not feeling very clever tonight, also should give the gorgeous Julie Delpy a huge cheer and ‘Bravo!’ for ‘2 Days in Paris’. It is sweet, clever, funny and rather moving. She manages to catch the cross cultural neurosis better even in my opinion, then Woody Allen. Oh yadda yadda whatever and sod it…grumpy, sore and toddyless is off to bed. Night.

Wednesday, 2 January 2008


It was a good party thanks to the lovely S and her feats with a saucepan and yes, at midnight in kilt and accompanied by a surfer dude on an Irish drum, my buddy the piper led a surreal, random crowd of drunken dancers into the soggy night. We collected about 30 people from various houses in the estate – mostly holding fags and tins of larger ( and that was just the children) and wound our way leaping and bobbing like deranged elves up and down the street. It was quite a sight, even for me!

This morning I was still feeling toxic but have launched a two week plan involving vast quantites of green tea, seaweed soup and fizzy water which should soothe my screaming liver and enable me to concentrate on this frustrating search for a way to earn some dosh.

I need to start planning for the trip to Zambia as I want to do a radio article on HIV and Blindness with my Dad. It needs to be good enough to sell in to ‘In Touch’ on Radio 4 but it will need quite a bit of research. My dad is the volunteer medical supervisor of Mother of Mary Hospice on the outskirts of Lusaka which is where we’ll start. Then I will try and track down a couple of the blind communites that have been set up recently. A few years ago, when filming on the streets of Lusaka one night on a completely different production, my director and I found ourselves hanging out with about 50 blind and visually impaired street people. Their major method of earning was begging and they had over the years formed extended ‘families’ of guides (usually children under 12 who were neither old enough for marriage or prostitution and could not afford school) and visually impaired adults. It was a fascinaitng and very cheerful couple of hours spent chatting around a charcoal fire and nibbling on burnt maize kernals. They seemed to be resiliant and knowing and found my white cane (back then just a signal cane) rather superflous and odd. How could I be going blind? I was a ‘muzungu’ (white). It made no sense at all.

About three months after that chance meeting there was an International HIV/AIDS confernce. Zambia’s method of cleaning the city involved the police loading all the street communities, street kids and disabled, into the back of various lorries and running them out of town. I have no idea where those people ended up and its time I found out.