According to Garrison Keillor “a postcard takes about fifty words gracefully, which is how to write one… fifty words is a strict form but if you write tiny and sneak over into the address side to squeeze in a hundred, the grace is gone and the result is not a poem but notes for a letter you don’t have time to write…”  These are my Postcards from France:


Older son phones on way home from night shift to tell me about a patient who sounded like a velociraptor that had swallowed a crow.  There followed a fabulous imitation, for which he has a true gift.  The medical diagnosis was that a schizophrenic with Alzheimer’s was suffering from pneumonia.


Here’s Joan Littlewood, creator of The Theatre Workshop and Oh What a Lovely War! – “People ask why I came into the theatre. I didn’t come in to it. We’re all part of it, because theatre is the soul of the people. It’s the joy they feel in life. It’s the way they express the art of living.  Let’s set the clowns free, the villains and the nutcases – and what they make will be theatre.”


In French, to rehearse is répéterRépétition is both a rehearsal and the actual performance of a piece of music or theatre.  And that’s what the man did last night on stage for an hour and a half.  But theatre is about so much more than repeating lines. It has to do with being utterly present, connecting with an audience in the moment.


That said, the audience loved the show, which was, in part, about paths not taken and the loneliness of ageing.  Turns out it was a performance for residents at a local Old People’s Home for whom I imagine it came as a blissful change to wheelchairs, corridors and pills.


A brilliant treatise by Daniel Swift – Shakespeare in the Anthropocene – gives numerable examples of C16th predictions of the mess in which we now find ourselves, from over-population to destruction of the planet and terrible suffering in nature at the hands of men. An anxious Elizabethan squirrel  says “My house and barn were taken / One dark night, and all my nuts.”


Even in Tudor times deforestation was a major cause for concern.A poem written in 1598 by a satirical clergyman called Thomas Bastard says “Our fathers did but use the world before/ And having used, did leave the same to us… We spill whatever resteth of their store. / What can our heirs inherit but our curse?”  


The sky this morning as dawn broke and I walked back form the market was insanely beautiful. A small child was trundling, head down, to school with a rather abrupt mother.  I wanted to say “have you seen the clouds?” and show her the extraordinary interplay of colour and light but she was staring at the pavement.  And she’s right.  You have to in this town or you’ll step in dog poo.


Given how much my brain loves dates it’s astonishing I got through the entire C19th of blogging without giving you a single history lesson or family anecdote about my paternal great- and grandparents. Here we are though in the C20th and this one is about my immeasurable excitement at having got a place on two courses – for pruning and grafting trees!


It’s hard reigning in shoals of red herrings. An example: I’m reading a book by Richard Eyre, who directed King Lear – and a famously successful production of Guys and Dolls at the National Theatre in 1982.  Guys and Dolls leads to Ian Charleson (who played Sky Masterson) and to Eric Liddell (the part Charleson played in Chariots of Fire) and suddenly I’m standing at Holy Corner in Morningside, where you’ll find the Eric Liddell Centre, which supports vulnerable people in Edinburgh.


Eyre also writes about The Pajama Game which sends me down a Shirley Maclaine/Bob Fosse route and before I know it I’m watching the opening sequence of Fosse’s masterpiece All That Jazz which gets me thinking… why has no one written an opera or ballet of Lear? So I google… and find a wonderful Chinese dance version…


So before the sun is even up, I’ve been to the American midwest, Scotland, China and London and I need to get back to the field that’s my PhD. I have an image of a great earth digger, constantly moving earth around in wonderful new formations.  Like art, a PhD is really a question of taking something that already exists and remodelling it to create something new.


Shakespeare was a great adapter of other people’s stories. People going to hear the original version of Lear (‘audience’, from the Latin audire) would have been familiar with the story of a king with three daughters who decides to divide his kingdom – it had been around for hundreds of years.


Around 1135 Geoffrey of Monmouth published Historia regium Britanniae, an inspirational source text for Shakespeare, whose King Lear could be likened to a great oak tree in the field above (see 1898), with an elaborate root system extending back hundreds of years (these are Shakespeare’s sources) and branches reaching forth 400 years –  the countless productions and adaptations of Lear (see #1681).


I came up with a brilliant analogy this morning – that Darwin’s conclusions might serve as an analogy for art/theatre, which is continually evolving, adapting to reflect changing tastes, times, budgets and politics.   Then open Richard Eyre’s What Do I know? and read “The dictates of artistic endeavour are very harsh.  It’s a Darwinian universe whose creatures are governed by the law of survival of the fittest.”  Damn!


I’ve been reading Richard Eyre’s diaries. The former Artistic Director of the National Theatre writes well, but about a very male-dominant world. All of the plays he’s mentioned so far were written by men, directed by men, with predominantly male casts. All the designers and lighting designers are men as is his executive director and most of the Board/governors.


January 1st. Another New Year’s Honour’s list.  Britain’s parliamentary Upper House is made of 780 – predominantly white, Conservative male – Lords Spiritual and Lords Temporal: Viscounts, Barons, hereditary Lords, the occasional Lady and 28 members of the clergy.   Some get there through talent, others through privilege and cronyism.  Boris Johnson’s brother is a Baron.  Is that what a C21st democracy should look like?


No less extraordinary perhaps than people waking up in palaces. Or belief that someone has a divine right to be head of church, army and state.  Or the private school system which can cost over £40,000 per child per year in a country where the average wage is £29,990.  PS. Wikipedia tells me there are 809 hereditary peers in the UK: 30 dukes, 34 marquesses, 191 earls, 111 viscounts and 443 barons.  


Perhaps slightly eccentric (eccentricity a characteristic not unknown on my dad’s side of the family…), inspired by the Dickinson event (see #1863), surrounded by gloomy headlines and a surging pandemic, I’ve made spicy little Welsh cakes for my dad’s birthday tea.  He was born 96 years ago today. He died when he was 38.


Born in the aftermath of one world war, my dad grew up as Hitler busily engineered another, a war in which his 22-year old brother was blow to pieces on D-Day. My dad died after a skiing accident, the year Japan hosted the summer Olympics.  His absence a huge presence.