On this day in 1886 my paternal grandfather was born, on a farm in Aberdeenshire. Seven years later his father died of a lung haemorrhage. Somehow my determined great-grandmother managed to keep family and farm together. Her children grew up with a profound love of nature and deeply engrained work ethic.
Life on farms in C19th N.E. Scotland was extremely hard. Nevertheless my grandfather and his sisters grew up surrounded by animals, loved wrestling on horseback, skating and sledging in winter and helping their mother run the farm. In 1908, my grandfather graduated MA from Aberdeen with a joint Arts and Sciences degree (combining Latin, English, Logic, Political Economy, Chemistry, Agricultural Biology, Geology and Zoology).
Gateside farm was surrounded by unreclaimed hills and woods where rabbits bred. Rabbits decimated crops. Aged 10, my grandfather was tasked with emptying rabbit traps. This meant leaving the house before dawn and memorising the exact position of each snare, training which, he said, stood him in good stead twenty years later on the desolate battlefields of the Somme.
Older son frequently texts me fun (medical) facts or asks me to guess something. On Wednesday his question was which birds he’d seen gazing out of the university library in Toulouse. The answer was a kestrel, pigeons (of course), magpies, crows, a seagull, starlings, finches, tits, sparrows and a green woodpecker.
Yesterday new Members of the Scottish Parliament were sworn in to what has been described as Holyrood’s most diverse parliament to date. They took their oaths in British Sign Language, Arabic, Urdu, Punjabi, Doric, Scots, Gaelic, Welsh and Orcadian. It was the first election to give voting rights to refugees.
Meanwhile in the west of Scotland, over 200 protesters surrounded, got under, lay in front of a van after another Home Office dawn raid. Carrying placards that read “Migrants and Refugees Welcome” “Migrants make our NHS” and “No one is illegal” residents in the Pollokshields area of Glasgow showed their solidarity and support for neighbours born other countries and conflict zones.
What a privilege last night to hear Ariane Mnouchkine in conversation with Katie Mitchell. For over half a century Mnouchkine has been making groundbreaking, collaborative, non-hierarchical theatre that combines traditions from East and West in plays inspired by political and historical themes. Mnouchkine talked of the unfathomable mystery of theatre, of its miraculous intensity.
When the French military abandoned an old munitions factory in the Bois de Vincennes, a young theatre director, Ariane Mnouchkine, moved in to squat with her troupe, Théâtre du Soleil. They staged a production (1789) that was so successful it gave birth to new Parisian theatre, La Cartoucherie.
In 1996/7 I toured with Tim Supple’s magical production of Comedy of Errors. Supple delved deeper, found what most directors miss. The wonderful cast at least one actor who had trained with Jacques le Coq in Paris. Le Coq taught a physical theatre inspired by Artaud and Commedia dell’Arte, acting that transcends language.
Theatremaker Ruth Mitchell says in England, while theatre audiences are largely made up of middle-aged women (45-65), the shows they see are mostly written (and directed) by (white) men. Only an average of 37% of roles men write are for women, compared to at least 60% in plays written by women. Ruth’s project Invisible Other, aims to redress the balance.
In 2014 I took my kids back to California and wanted them to meet the artistic director of the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival, the man who gave me my first job in the USA. I Googled him, found he’d left the festival… then learned he had died, an alcoholic drug user on the streets of the Mission, in 2010. He’d been homeless for five years.
The UK National Living Wage is £8.91 an hour – or £4.62 for 16-17 year olds. In 2020, 322 MPs voted against free meals for children in dire circumstances, among them the Conservative MP for Thirsk & Malton, Kevin Hollinrake, a businessman and enthusiastic supporter of fracking. In 2019/2020 Hollinrake claimed £88,197.05 in expenses alone.
Polling ahead of next week’s elections suggests Scottish Independence is a step nearer. 170 European cultural figures have signed a letter urging that Scotland be given a ‘unilateral and open offer’ to rejoin the EU. Among them, director Richard Eyre (England), political scientist Kalypso Nicolaïdis (Greece), novelist Elena Ferrante (Italy) and philosopher Slavoj Žižek (Slovenia).
Scottish poet and former makar (National Poet) Jackie Kay writes that it’s “in the DNA of our country to be open-armed and internationalist in spirit and it goes against the grain for Scotland to be torn away from our European family”. Writer Ian McEwan believes Scotland will thrive again in Europe “as other small nations do.”
Everything That Rises Must Dance, Complicité’s dance celebration captures large crowds of women weaving fragments of folk dance into the minutiae of daily life. A living archive of contemporary female movement, a political gesture, an anthropological exercise, exploration into the gestures that make us us. It’s a joyous communion, the creation of a new ritual.
Another (unpaid) work meeting at work. The last was to tell us our hours had been slashed, the one before bad news about pay. “Ushering in the next phase of education” this week’s meeting will take place in a virtual co-working space “so realistic it’s like you are actually there”. Entering “a virtual 3D world” we’ll “move through the building with our personal avatar.” Guess where this is leading…..
Playgoers in 1594 might have seen Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors, a play directors often get wrong making it slapstick, two-dimensional, rather than dark, beautifully poetic, magical. 1594 was probably also the year Shakespeare’s theatrical equivalent of a video nasty, Titus Andronicus, was first performed in which Livinia has her hands cut off and tongue cut out to prevent her from naming her rapists….
Flash mobs are appearing in France to perform Danser Encore. Here they are in fine voice at the Gare de l’Est in Paris protesting government restrictions: “Fear of death does not kill you but it does prevent you living” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GN5B27zT29Y&ab_channel=PiafEdit
Shakespeare’s birthday and I’m listening to his sonnets read by a wonderful cast that includes David Tennant, Fiona Shaw, Patrick Stewart, Simon Russell Beale, Jemma Redgrave and Cis Berry (to name a few). Each poem read is both familiar friend and new delight. Or, to borrow a phrase, Age cannot wither him nor custom stale his infinite variety …
“Shakespeare has more wisdom and insight about our lives, about how to live and how not to live, how to forgive and how to understand our fellow creatures, than any religious tract. One hundred times more than the Bible. I’m sorry to say that. But over and over again in the plays there is an understanding of the human condition that doesn’t exist in religious books”. Trevor Nunn interviewed, 2014.