Archive for the ‘It’s Personal’ Category

I write as the UK reacts to the murder of Sarah Everard, taken as she walked alone at night. I write as a 60 year old female with experiences since early teens of low level, gender based harassment, and as a survivor of failed hetero relationships. Am I a man hater? – Read on.

  • Trigger warning.

In today’s UK it seems to me that men’s behaviour will not change unless they experience the same daily fear of harassment and sexual violation that women do.

Why would men even think about change if they don’t fear to wear certain clothes or walk alone? I suggest role exchanging exercises might be helpful. With a dash of comedy here, let’s have men literally walk in women’s shoes on a city Saturday night!

I wish that the focus could change. To blazes with what women should /shouldn’t do – teach men not to rape!

But at age 60, after living abroad and in the UK, I’m sadly convinced that a lot of men simply cannot control themselves. They appear to be biologically driven. Cultural / family upbringing influences their behaviour but there seems to be swathes of males who can no more refrain from mistreating females than they can, for example, stop themselves from pissing in the street when they stagger out of the pub.

Not for a second do I assume that “All men are…” It’s just so sad that, after wonderful improvements since the 1970s, I now see male-female interactions regressing.

There’s a core problem. For centuries, in societies around the world, men have feared women at a very deep level. Women are messy and smelly, women change over time (maiden, mother, crone), the next generation can’t happen without women’s wombs and milk. So men have used their superior physical strength to control women’s reproduction. Topped up by control through rules of religion, social acceptance and politics.

I observe that certain types of male human base much of their social status on being seen to control females. Like stags with hinds. Unlike wolves with their alpha pair and unlike matriarchal monkeys and meerkats!

Yes, I do know that some men get abused. By women or other men. A young man was raped 300 metres from the flat where I used to live in Cheltenham. I can only imagine these victims know the same fear and society-imposed shame that women endure.

Paris, early 1980s: my employer warned all us young women newbies about the high risk of being assaulted. I wore a big cover up coat in the street (because I was told if the rapists didn’t get me, the gendarmes would…) I rarely went out after dark alone, took expensive taxis to get home (and that wasn’t safe, either). I was hyper aware and ready to react, even trying to read a book in a busy park on a sunny day. You can develop a body language which says This is not an easy victim. It was a very lonely existence.

My friend’s daughter studied in France more recently as part of her uni course. She said the sexual harassment was relentless and that it permanently put her off having anything to do with the country.

Despite all this, I still believe that workplaces and creativity thrive best with a mix of masculine and feminine energies. The French, despite everything, have it right with “Vive la différence”.

How do we make friends again and support each other in mutually respectful yet warm behaviour styles? From office gossip to the law, we need to be whole orders tougher on stopping sexual harassment cold. Women and men must pressure the slimy minded. It’s not easy because good grief we want to stay human. It’d be a sorry day if we’re not allowed to admire each other and flirt a little!

So the current conversations are important: what is appropriate? What is acceptable? If you see someone being made uncomfortable, how do you challenge that – and not get yourself beaten up or fired?!

Was this a long read for you? Then imagine how tedious and tiring it is for women to constantly double check what we’re wearing, where we’re going, what time we might have to travel alone, what to do if the car breaks down on a lonely road, what to do if a scary man is near us in the street, how to handle “workplace banter” that’s just coarse innuendo, what to do if this, if that, if the other…

Because women in today’s UK are not safe to walk alone after dark.

For #NationalTellAFairyTaleDay I offer the heart of an odd project that never quite happened. I loved learning French. Uni careers advice person sneered at me and said, there are no jobs with French. In 1984 he was correct. But the language enchants me. I’d love to tell stories in French.
I apologise for all the language mistakes in this piece. (Please do let me know in the Comments below!) Apart from the traditional start –
Once upon a time, there was… – I keep to present tense and simple-ish sentences. The story was originally intended for school children.
Of course this has limited appeal. Yet there are images here which flow in French, that I’d never have devised in English.

Il y avait une fois un roi et une reine.  Ils habitent un grand château. Ils sont très riches.

Mais le roi et la reine sont malheureux parce qu’ils n’ont pas d’enfant. Tout d’un coup, la reine est devenue enceinte. A la fin de 9 mois – voilà un bébé. C’est une fille.

…Une jolie petite fille avec de toutes petites mains, avec un tout petit nez, avec des touts petits pieds, des cheveux marrons, et avec des yeux bleus comme le ciel.

Le roi et la reine font la fête, avec toute la cour. Tout le monde est invité. Le roi et la reine invitent aussi les 7 fées qui habitent au royaume.

Les 7 fées arrivent. Elles portent des robes magnifiques. Elles ont des ailes qui brillent comme des bijoux. Et chaque fée a une baguette magique.

Chaque fée offre un cadeau à la jeune princesse: on la donne touts les vertus – la beauté, la grâce, une belle voix pour parler et chanter … qu’elle joue parfaitement à la guitar et au piano… qu’elle sait bien monter à cheval… qu’elle fait parfaitment son broderie…   enfin, tous qu’une princesse du 16ième siècle doit savoir faire.

Ensuite – à table! On mange et on boit. C’est bon! C’est beau! C’est délicieux! Toutes les fourchettes, tous les couteaux, même les verres sont faits d’or. Qu’est-ce que ça brille dans la belle lumière des bougies.

Mais tout d’un coup la salle devient noir comme la nuit. Un grand vent souffle et ce vent éteint toutes les bougies – pouf!

En haut de l’escalier, la grande porte de la salle s’ouvre – claque!

Et dans un nuage, tout le monde voit entrer une fée habillée tout en noir, avec des bijoux et une couronne d’acier. Elle descend l’escalier. Ses ailes sont fait d’acier, eux aussi. Elles font un bruit affreux.

C’est la fée Carabosse! Elle est vieille. Elle a beaucoup de puissance magique. Et elle est de mauvaise humeur. Elle est super fâchée! Parce que personne ne l’a invitée à la fête pour la princesse. Le roi et la reine pensent que la fée Carabosse est morte. Soit morte, soit ensorcelée. Alors bien sûr personne ne l’a invitée.

Furieuse, la fée Carabosse s’avance jusqu’au berceau de la princesse. Ses ailes d’acier claquent comme les dents d’un dragon.

La reine pousse un cri de peur. Elle court vers la fée Carabosse, elle veut l’arrêter – mais la fée méchante repousse la reine avec sa magie. La reine tombe par terre. Elle pleure.

Carabosse regarde la petite princesse, elle regarde toute la cour et, d’une voix forte, elle dit: “Maudit soit ceux qui m’oublient! Malheur à vous, roi et reine! Et mort à la princesse! Jamais plus personne de ce royaume va rire ou sourire, car – je vous le dis, je vous le jure – le jour de son seizième anniversaire votre jolie princesse va mourir! Ella va trouver un fuseau, elle va se percer la main de ce fuseau – et la blessure va l’empoisonner et la tuer avant la fin de la journée. C’est moi Carabosse qui vous le dis. Ainsi soit-il!”

Et dans un nuage de fumée verte – pouf! – la fée méchante est partie.

Dans la cour tout le monde est effrayé. On pleure, on s’arrache les cheveux.

Mais alors une des 7 fées avance. Elle lève sa baguette magique, et voilà! Du calme. La fée porte une robe argentée. Elle a des ailes et une couronne d’argent. Elle a même des yeux argentés.

Tout doucement la 7ième fée dit, “Majestés, ne vous inquiétez pas. Je n’ai pas la puissance magique pour défaire entièrement la malédiction de Carabosse – mais je sais la modifier.
“Alors, majestés: le jour de son seizième anniversaire votre fille la princesse va bien se percer la main d’un fuseau – mais au lieu de mourir, elle va tomber dans un profond sommeil de cent ans.
“A la fin de cent ans, c’est un beau prince qui va venir la réveiller.
“Et pour que la princesse ne se réveille pas toute seule, toute la cour et tout le château vont aussi dormir cent ans. Tout sera protégé. Tout va se réveiller, sain et sauf, dès l’instant que la princesse s’ouvre les yeux.
“Mais vous, majestés, quand votre fille s’endort, vous devez la quitter, vous devez quitter le château et passer le reste de vos jours ailleurs, loin d’ici. Voici combien ça coûte, pour sauver votre fille.”

Le roi interdit de filer au fuseau, sous peine de mort. Ainsi passent les seize ans. La princesse est jolie, elle est gentille, elle est sympathique. Elle aime bien se promener, à la campagne et dans le château.

Le jour de la 16ième anniversaire de la princesse, il fait beau temps. Personne ne pense plus à la malédiction de Carabosse. Surtout, la princesse pense seulement à sa fête – et aux cadeaux! Elle se promène dans le château. Elle cherche sa bonne, elle veut sa nouvelle robe de fête. La princesse ne trouve personne et elle est presque de mauvaise humeur.

Tout d’un coup, au fond d’un couloir, une petite porte s’ouvre. Voilà une chambre que la princesse ne connaît pas. Et là dans la chambre il y a une vieille femme. La vieille s’occupe d’une … chose, une machine, que la princesse ne connaît pas.

Alors la princesse entre dans la chambre. Le soleil brille fort par la petite fenêtre. Mais les coins et le plafond sont ombreux et plein de toiles d’araignées.

“Bonjour, grand’mère,” dit la princesse.

“Bonjour, bel enfant,” répond la vielle. Elle sourit. Elle na pas de dents.

La princesse regarde le fuseau. “Qu’est-ce c’est? Que faites-vous?”

“Eh bien, c’est un fuseau. Je file. It faut filer le lin ou le coton, ou bien la soie, pour faire le tissu de vos belles robes. Tenez, ma belle, venez voir…”

Il semble que la vieille ne connait rien de l’interdiction du roi.

“Oh, qu’est-ce que c’est joli!” dit la princesse. “Faites voir!” Et elle met la main sur le fuseau. “Aie! Ça fait mal! Ça me pique…  Tiens, grand’mère, je ne me sens pas bien, je suis tellement fatiguée…”

La princesse tombe par terre. La vieille sourit horrriblement – et elle disparaît dans une nuage de fumée verte.

La princesse commence à ronfler.

Au bout de cent ans un prince vient se promener à la campagne. Il est grand. Il est beau. Même son cheval est beau.

Le prince entre dans un bois. Il perd son chemin. Au coucher du soleil, parmi les arbres, le prince se trouve devant une grande haie. Partout il y a des épines affreuses. Le prince voit des squelettes, il voit des épées et même les restes d’un cheval – tous morts en essayent de traverser la haie d’épines.

Le prince se souvient d’une vieille histoire: il a entendu parler d’un ancien château caché et oublié derrière une grande haie d’épines affreuses. Et dans ce château, dit l’histoire, se trouve une belle princesse endormie depuis cent ans, que seulement un prince peut réveiller – avec un bisou.

Alors le prince tire son épée et se prépare à attaquer la haie. Il a très envie de voir la belle au bois dormant! Les oiseaux chantent, les étoiles sont au ciel, et le prince s’étonne de voir les épines affreuses qui s’écartent devant lui.

Le cheval du prince a trop peur. Il ne peut plus continuer. Donc le prince marche à pied jusqu’à la grande porte du château. La porte s’ouvre – avec des grincements horribles.

Le prince entre dans la cour du château. Il s’effraye: parce qu’il voit partout des morts… Mais au bout de quelques instants le prince voit que personne n’est mort. 

Partout – dans le jardin, dans la cour, sur l’escalier, dans la grande salle – il y a du monde qui dort. Et qui ronflent de leur mieux. Il y a des soldats. Il y a des gentilhommes et des dames de la cour royale. Les uns dorment par terre, les autres dorment assis. Sur le toit dorment des pigeons. Il y a un chien étendu par terre, comme s’il court toujours, il a la bouche ouverte – évidemment il est sur le point de mordre la queue du chat qui le fuit. Mais les deux animaux sont allongés par terre, et ils ronflent comme tous les autres.

Le prince trouve une belle chambre toute dorée. Dans la chambre se trouve un grand lit. Et sur le lit dort la princesse. Elle porte une robe blanche brodée de fleurs et d’oiseaux bleus. Ses cheveux marrons sont très, très longues. A travers ses pieds dort un chaton blanc. 

Le prince voit la belle princesse et il tombe amoureux sur place. Tout doucement il s’avance vers le lit, il se penche en avant et il donne un tout petit bisou à la belle au bois dormant.

Le chaton ouvre des yeux bleus et dit, “Miaou!?” Il se lève et s’étend d’un air content.

La princesse ouvre des yeux bleus et dit, “Te voilà enfin!”

Et la princesse se lève et s’étend d’un air très content, parce qu’elle fait de beaux rêves depuis cent ans. Elle reconnait le prince de ses plus beaux rêves. La bonne fée, elle n’est pas bête!

La princesse dit, “Mais j’ai faim! Allons trouver à manger! Et il me faut absolument une tasse de thé…”

Quand le prince et la princesse descendent dans la cour du château, ils voient toute le monde qui se réveillent. Les soldats bâillent énormément. Les pigeons se mettent à roucouler.  Même le feu à la cheminée se r’allume. Et le chien aboie et achève de chasser le chat, qui lui donne une bonne baffe au nez.

Partout dans le château on allume les bougies. Heureusement il y a très peu de poussière, ni de toiles d’araignées, grâce au charme protecteur de la bonne fée.

Alors on fait la fête de mariage la nuit même. La viande, le pain, le vin, les légumes et la soupe sont toujours bons – grâce encore à la bonne fée.

Après avoir bien mangé, la princesse et son prince se promènent ensemble dans le jardin du château, sous la lune, parmi les belles fleurs de la nuit.

Le prince est beaucoup trop amoureux pour dormir. Et la princesse n’en a vraiment pas besoin.

❦ FIN ❦

Image credit: Spinning wheel by WikiImages from Pixabay

Snow day in the Cotswolds: if the power goes off, can you find your matches to light a candle or the fire?


I’ve become a proper countrywoman. Or as good as an incomer can get. A few nights ago I held a newspaper across the front of the fireplace to make the chimney draw stronger. The fire was feeble: I didn’t even have to think what to do.

The boyfriend who taught me the trick is long gone. But I learned all the back lanes between Malmesbury and Moreton in Marsh from him, plus multiple knacks of making rural life comfy.

I was eight years old in 1969 when my father’s work moved us from East Anglian suburbia to the edge of a small Berkshire town. Our gate opened onto a potholed lane with Green Belt woodland opposite.

Nobody told me about vixens.

Night after pitch dark night, searing screams and screeches woke me in paralysed terror. I wasn’t allowed a bedside lamp. I was too frightened to switch on my torch. It was Not Done to wake my parents. 

Presumably I worked out that some wild creature in the woods made the noises, but it was years before I could put a name to it. Meanwhile, my dreams were troubled and Dr Who didn’t help.

Learning to love the night

At age 12 I won the nasty battle for parental permission to cycle alone to the shops and library. Down the lane, around the end of the woods and across the wasteland, under the railway bridge and into the village with its sticky heaven of a sweet shop. Nowadays I’d shun that route as a rapist’s paradise. In the early 1970s it was independence.

By my early teens, on summer camping expeditions I was the Girl Who Loved The Night. I walked at the front of the group across fields under vast starry skies. How did I manage that? As an only child, asking for help was Not Done: I faced fears alone and head on. So I learned to love rural darkness. Here in the Cotswolds I still walk without a torch on star sparkled nights. If I must carry a light, I prefer the warm glow of an old fashioned miner’s safety lamp. Just one of my quirks.

Paris to popcorn

London and Paris featured in my student life. They were only fun if you had money. Marriage brought me to suburban Luton, to recession, redundancy and depression.

Running away with my then husband to a gamekeeper’s cottage beyond Newbury couldn’t save the marriage, despite good will all round. Even so, I was developing rural skills all the way. Keeping in a solid fuel burner. Keeping out damp and rodents. The tiny 19thC cottage efficiently circulated warmth from downstairs. The cats grew glossy and athletic, hunting rabbits and rats nearly their own size.

I probably saved the whole neighbourhood one night when I alerted the farm manager to the grain dryer fire alarm. If I hadn’t, there’d have been popcorn raining down all over West Berkshire!

Power cuts and indoor camping

Since 1993, when I gave up trying to be married, I’ve enjoyed renting accommodation in the countryside. From a room at small dairy farm held together with bailer twine, to neatly trimmed modern feudalism.

I tamed a coal fired Rayburn, with gritted determination on mornings when the dratted contraption would heat neither kettle nor eggs. (There were electric options but I’m stubborn!) That Rayburn moistly and tenderly cooked the biggest Christmas turkey I ever offered to guests. Fancy stuffing and all.

Solo neighbours took refuge with me on nights of storm and power cuts. I like thunder and lightning: they didn’t.

The first Saturday after moving into a beautifully redecorated farmworker’s cottage near Cirencester, I woke to the mewing and scratching of my two cats – and looked outside to see a red fire engine with hefty firefighters moving briskly. Chimney fire next door, right behind my bed. Luckily, order was swiftly restored. My neighbours were in fact the kindest people, born and raised in the countryside. They showed me how to stack wood tidily and now I get compliments. 

Candles, lanterns and the wood burning stove turned regular power cuts into camping adventures: you can very nicely heat baked beans, cook sausages and make toast with a woodburner. A small camping pan boils water for tea. It was comforting to potter about in the dark and quiet, with the crackle of logs and the gleam of candlelight on my ornaments and picture frames.

At least by then I knew about vixens’ screaming. And the dogmess stink of fox on morning paths.

Hot water bottles that purred

At my next home, owls duetted on the fence at dusk just metres from where I sat on my garden sofa. Small, rounded shapes uttering friendly “towhoos” in the summer dusk.

But it was an odd village: a hamlet of wealthy recluses, who seemed to regard a 40-something single female with cold suspicion. The husbands were not seduction material, believe me.

The down to earth, unobtrusive friendliness of my farmer neighbours made everything bearable. Cups of spontaneous coffee on sunny morning benches. Fascinating conversations about what farmers really do and think – their bone deep love for the land, for their animals domestic and wild. Hard truths: “If you’ve got livestock, you’ll have dead stock.”

When snow was deep and the temperature fell to -12 degrees C, as in earlier homes I slept in two duvets on my sofa next to the woodburner. With furry hot water bottles that purred.

In 2017 the farm was sold. All cottage tenants had to leave. After 16 cosy years I decided on total change – after all, I’d lived in London and Paris – and sought “café society” in town.

Drunks and druggies kicked off every night until dawn, pissing and vomiting all round the square. Seagulls used my elegant oval skylight as watering hole and toilet. Noise assaulted the flat from restaurant kitchen fans, an air compressor, shop alarms, idling engines and amplified buskers. Town air was like diesel soup. My health imploded. At least the flat was within walking distance of the hospital oncology department.

In the valley of power cuts

December 2019 brought me “home” to the Cotswolds again: a tiny cottage on a hill. Talk about timing.

Throughout Lockdown chemo, shielding and after serious surgery, village neighbours I barely know and old friends have brought me supplies and giggles.

As I recuperate, everything I’ve loved and learned about living in the countryside has sprung back into relevance. From watching buzzards and kites circle over the fields, to double checking the outside tap isn’t dripping. I stock up tinned and dry goods in summer against winter bad weather. I bring firewood indoors to dry on the hearth before use. I’m restored to my countryside quirks, such as wearing the colours of the day that I see out of the window in the morning.

Back in the valley of power cuts, a certain life hack is crucial again: leave the tail of at least one match sticking out of the box so you can find it and light your candle in the dark. And put the box in the same place all the time, so you always know where your matches are.

One day, Chloë of the Midnight Storytellers will buy batteries for all the modern torches she has in the cottage.
Meanwhile her spoken word performances are going online for the rest of UK Lockdown and beyond.
It’s a great way to reach a worldwide audience.
To commission your own bespoke Story Cabaret set for grown-ups, or family storytelling, email chloe@midnightstorytellers.co.uk

Headshot of Chloë showing weight loss and undiagnosed illnessIn April 2018, three weeks before I was hauled into hospital for emergency surgery, I completed a storytelling workshop project for Cheltenham Poetry Festival.
Today I found that I wrote this account of it:

When ordinary life scares you rigid, imagine what order of heroism is required to step up and tell a story – live without notes – even to a handful of people you know.

I’m Chloë of the Midnight Storytellers and I’ve been a gabby, über confident diva since I was four. Since 1999 I’ve worked full time as a performance storyteller.

But I remember when I was just as terrified of public speaking as anybody else. And for forty years I’ve experienced phases of not handling the world very well.

Cheltenham Poetry Festival 2018 invited me to deliver an Outreach programme to people supported by the Independence Trust in managing their mental health issues, notably anxiety. I wanted to deliver workshops that I hoped would help empower participants to break free of habitual thought patterns and explore happier scenarios: to discover their own ‘hidden hero’.

Positive fantasies

I workshopped with the group to develop their storytelling skills and devise pieces for performance. We based ideas on a folktale or fairytale of their choice; or they could create an original story. Many of the group already took part in drama and creative writing sessions run by Independence Trust. They were up for something new.

Above all I encouraged the group to create positive fantasies in which the hero was an aspect of the person at their very best – confident, capable, feeling good. I hoped it would be a chance for some participants to step into the imaginative opposite of their regular experience.

Working with traditional story allows people to explore ideas at a safe emotional distance – story action happens to a fictional character not to themselves. Most participants adapted fairy tales. And two people created moving, original stories.

Huge achievement

Five participants braved the microphone at our third workshop, a recording session at Independence Trust’s music studio.

Part of the challenge was to complete the story devising and rehearse in personal time. It was also seriously daunting for some of this group to speak in front of other people let alone into a microphone, and it was a huge achievement that they did it.

The final performance and recording took place in April 2018 at Independence Trust music studio. Four people spoke live. Two recordings were played.

Stories presented were:

A Brave Little Girl – This Red Riding Hood boldly enters the forest and sorts out the wolf.

Blue Roving Hood – A Red Riding Hood who wins the day despite being tricked into taking drugs; plus a woodcutter with caring good sense.

Cinderella Story – Cinders leaves home and starts her own business.

Moving On – Original fiction about the conflict between family duty and life changing romance.

The Little Tree – Original fiction, styled like a folktale and enhanced with mini puppets.

Bra, Knickers & Beanstalk – Benny Hill style romp through the Jack & the Beanstalk fairytale, complete with naughty names and magic mushroom dream.

For some of the group, summoning the courage to attend the event was already a big success. For others, quietly telling a four minute story with only a couple of glances at notes was quite simply a heroic triumph.

You can tell I’m proud of them all, can’t you? I’m also hugely grateful to Hugo Poyser at Independence Trust for his kind and energetic support, and to Anna Saunders / Cheltenham Poetry Festival for giving me the opportunity to deliver the project.

You judge someone by their actions. The real life effects of Conservative government policies are killing sick and disabled people, and leaving others to starve ( = rely on food banks). In the 21st century. In a developed, wealthy, modern nation.

I can’t escape the deepening, sick suspicion that Conservative advisers have decided to cull the population. Looking at the horrifyingly frequent reports of critically ill people having heart attacks or dying within days of being assessed as “fit to work”, I wonder if those responsible should be charged with murder?

At the very least, I believe that voting Conservative is a vote for cruelty.

Labour’s Mr Corbyn stands out by virtue of the flatness of the surrounding countryside. A warm human being in a sea of sound bites. It’s clear he cares. He wants the population to thrive in rich diversity.

But Corbyn is on his own, even within his party. He doesn’t understand national defence and his team is a bickering omnishambles. I have no confidence in their ability to handle Brexit let alone day to day government. And certainly not national / international finance.

This, dear reader, is all our fault. We elected each government. And if you didn’t vote, if you shrugged Oh They’re All The Same then it’s even more your fault.

If you voted for Brexit, you are part of just over half the nation who’d rather see Britain go to hell than thrive. Because you’re scared of foreigners. Because you wanted to bash posh Mr Cameron. Because you didn’t think through how this would play out over the next 50+ years.

Under Conservative rule there will be no arts at all after Brexit except rich people indulging their hobby. Because we’ll lose European support for the last projects that haven’t already been cut in recent UK budgets. Most of you reading this will say, too bad – who needs the arts anyway? Just so you know, without my art form I have nothing to live for. We can’t all be mobile phone sellers.

OK, something that might matter to more of you: Brexit has handed the UK’s food supply to importers on a plate. British farming is going to fall apart because all the European farm subsidies, on which most of our better (smaller) farms get by, will vanish. I guess you wanted to have only imported, tasteless, nutrition-less, mass produced food that destroys the environment for all other plant life and wildlife. Remember I’ve lived in a farming community more than 20 years…

Britain will also have to import energy and pretty much everything manufactured, too – at cutthroat disadvantage prices. Because Britain can’t make anything any more. And we certainly haven’t the money to invest in the huge amount of new farming and manufacturing startups that would be required to make the UK self sufficient. Hmm… Are you looking forward to WW2-style rationing? It’s what you Brexiteers have voted for; except you couldn’t see it.

Who can you vote for on 8 June? Liberal Democrats have been emasculated. Except… the only effective local politician I know is one. Greens are nowhere to be seen. Independent candidates are being denied BBC airtime. UKIP if you want to, I remember what my parents told me about the Nazis in 1936 and I’d rather swallow ground glass.

Oh dear oh deary me, scary isn’t it? Because this election will decide how you spend your old age, how you die, as well as the life chances of your children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Who ya gonna call?! Who will you vote for?

Stupid has won. Twice, if you were disappointed by Brexit. I can hardly bear to write this: Donald Trump is set to become the next president of the United States.

Brace yourselves for hunting down (I mean it) of blacks, Native Americans, gays. Racism, xenophobia and homophobia are ok now, the president says so.

Stand by for the crushing of women’s rights. Starting with our devaluing and belittling. Bring on the trophy wives. Be ready for massive increases in rape because it must be ok when the President does it…

Say goodbye to clean water and clean air, give up hope for great swathes of natural habitat and wildlife.

Be ready for a huge, important nation to dive headlong into shit and wallow there for 4 years, splattering everyone around with their festering crap. Stupid is very loud, and can’t listen to anything else.

I cling to the hope that everything we suspect about corridors of power remains true… That people will NOT “just follow orders”. That behind the scenes, the administrators, senators, judges, law enforcement, CIA / FBI and all of them who blocked and corralled Mr Obama’s instinct for decency will for once put their insidious influences to good use. To save the world.

If you have any sense of history at all, consider the fast run-up to WW2. Today we’re on the path to WW3 as nuclear missile launch codes are handed to a person who thinks it’s ok to lie, slander, bully, dodge taxes, hate non white people – and violate any woman he chooses.

May our gods help us all.

photo-on-15-09-2016-at-20-14

 

The family show that brought me happy audiences all summer just bombed at a theatre festival. This morning I feel worthless and irrelevant.

I’m drinking coffee from my Never Give Up mug.

What can I learn?

  • I am amazing at going on stage and delivering the full experience to an audience of 2. They bothered to turn up. They get their money’s worth, in fact I work harder for them so that, in a big empty room, they feel relaxed and welcome. I believe it’s called being a professional.
  • The festival organiser possibly should have known that, despite last year’s feedback saying “not enough shows for families”, in fact this festival is popular for decidedly grown-up theatre including experimental pieces. But with my previous experience of the festival I should have known this too!
  • The other storytelling show in the festival – that sold out and needed extra chairs, oh my poor crushed heart – featured modern / personal stories, stand-up comedy and adult themes. This is what sells. Traditional storytelling [folktales etc] suits only a very limited number of venues and audiences. I need to devise and offer work with more awareness of this.
  • It’s time for me to grub out the crippling fear that took root in me when I was starting out in storytelling – a fear unleashed when influential storytellers publicly sneered at me, even shouted at me, for wanting to do ‘new’ material. More than ever, I must keep my confidence and continue to create new work. Yes, the magnificent heritage of traditional story must be kept alive through regular retelling. But 21st century themes and styles are also worth exploring in spoken word ‘telling. The person who roared at me “Nothing you’ll ever do can ever stand up in comparison with the traditional tales that have been tried and tested for hundreds of years!” was very, very frightening – but wrong. That is simply not true.
  • Of course nothing really new is possible … but I’m good at bringing old pieces into new settings, new twists, new life.
  • Who’s to say my show must be all storytelling? Why not include, say, one piece of dramatic reading? People love talking books. Actors do well giving theatrical readings. Reading a story aloud can be interestingly different from telling.
  • Many artists / performers make a big deal out of their personal battles with life. I won’t trade on personal misery – although I’ve struggled with depression since the 1970s. As an apparently white middle class ‘privileged’ person […hollow laughter…] I’ve felt it was out of the question for me to make personal sadness part of my performance territory. But perhaps I’ve missed a trick?
  • Audiences choose where to spend their money based on minimal information: usually just the image … and the title. Do not expect people to read any blurb. So I know I look like one of those overweight, chinless, greying arty-farties in ridiculous clothes. There’s no point in me trying to be edgy. And I’m not naturally sweary, I can’t go all Jimmy Carr. But being my age puts me in a great place to have seen the way the world works and to still have energy to rage against it. The London spoken word venue that told me last year to “Stick with storytelling in libraries, dear” might have missed out…

A friend reminds me Don’t make plans on the basis of what you should do, don’t make yourself fit into somebody’s else’s idea of acceptable – pretend there’s a fairy godmother and plan for what you really want to do! Ok: so that’s Chloë presenting a roller coaster ride of exquisite traditional tales, hair raising contemporary pieces, a piece read from the page to provide a contrasting tone and pace – alongside (a) gypsy jazz musician(s) connecting sections of the show with very different sounds and that gypsy energy of heart and blood… There! Easy! ‘Love, Death & the Invisible Woman’ … hmm… Booking now for autumn 2017. Thank you!

profanities

 

Chloe of the Midnight Storytellers

Chloe of the Midnight Storytellers

I’m an entertainer not an economist or political expert. I’ve stayed out of the UK Referendum rows on social networks. But I have been looking at history … hearing feeble reasoning everywhere … and I see sensible people, people I hold dear, spewing out hatred…

I believe 23 June 2016 could the most important vote I ever cast. With all the unwisdom of my 55 and three quarters years, and knowing it’ll cost me friendships, I still want to say:

A friend posted on Facebook. “If you wouldn’t vote to join the EU today, why vote to stay?” Oh, gor blimey – look at the tottering, overloaded juggernaut of the EU. Asphyxiating in its own bureaucracy. Paralysed by its own layers of crazy regulation.

But voting to leave isn’t the same as not joining in the first place. Things have changed since 1975.

  • 100 years ago, millions of lives were thrown away in meaningless European conflict. And just one lifetime ago, Europe crawled out of its own wreckage and vowed NEVER AGAIN.

For some weird reason, among all the desperate stories of World War 2, I always think of sailors dying in the North Atlantic convoys: burning alive; lungs filling with oil; crushed under tons of metal and sea… weeping, screaming, screaming down into the dark…

If you have anything like that in your heart, you will not risk European peace and prosperity.

Because the UK leaving the European Union will subtly and fatally weaken it. Not in your lifetime, oh yes you’ll be all right, Jack; but your grandchildren could face what Syria is enduring now. Will you risk that?

  • From the faint traces of fact that have ‘informed’ this debate, and watching the decisions of public figures whose humanity and (or!) common sense I respect, I see that nobody can predict the full consequences of a Brexit.

I don’t drive around corners in the dark if I’m not sure the road is there.

Gut feeling based on months of observing the arguments: there’s enough doubt about leaving to make me choose to stay with the devils I know. Oh, and to get serious about chivvying my Euro MP – no idea, since you ask! But I will, oh I will! – out of their comfy chair and into reforming action.

  • I no longer trust a UK government of any party to act in the best interests of the people.

Look at the NHS, schools, emergency services, public transport, defence – everything that makes life safe and liveable: Thatcher’s, Major’s and Blair’s governments began the dismantling and Cameron’s crew have sped up the process. All hidden under “we’re giving you more choice”. Ssssptttt!!!

It’s the EU that protects pensions and working conditions. If you think your job is tough now, just wait until those European protections are stripped away.

  • It ain’t broke so don’t… Oh. Ahem. The European Union does appear to be at or near breaking point. It’s been described as “failing”. So this is no time to run away bleating about sovereignty! It’s time to get in there and be more bolshie and more influential. Or can’t British politicos and civil servants cut it any more?
  • If Britain leaves the EU, be prepared for a generation of racist, xenophobic madness to roar through our streets.

This insanity has guns and knives, and online social networks, and the infected ones are already crawling out of the dungheap. If Britain officially rejects ‘them furriners’ then gods help you if you have a dark tan, a funny accent, a foreign-looking name. And don’t dare speak up for those who do.

  • I have lived in France and visited Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal and a couple of Greek islands. Time was, they all just laughed at the Little England mentality. After a Brexit, the leading countries of Europe will, out of sheer spite – and to prove their point – bring down the shutters on UK/continental trade.

Imports will become extortionate. Exports won’t happen. There will be no ‘new deals’ with the EU for 20 years.

Can we replace our European business by doing more with China, India, the USA? Possibly. At a price. Because they’ll have us at their mercy. Will we deal (more) with those regimes and others – Russia? Saudi Arabia? – that are vicious tyrants to their people? Oh, I could get very detailed and very poetical about your food and your services coming from places where people are slaves, where women are less than slaves… or people… But hey, it’s all right Jack, you “want your country back”.

  • In self interest I must note that there will shortly be No More Money for the arts in Britain. Whatever June 23rd’s decision, austerity Britain is set to drag on. And on. They can’t afford not to. The only funding for creativity will come mainly from European sources.

Yeah, yeah, you hate opera and highbrow crap. You’re a pie-’n-a-pint bloke, or bloke-ess, yeah, right? Working class means no posh rubbish, right? BOLLOCKS TO THAT! The arts are for everyone – from Game of Thrones to sharks in aspic – and the more you learn about humans through different kinds of art, the better you’ll handle the stupidity and cruelty you face in everyday life.

By the way, I work office hours plus evenings and weekends so I count myself working class. Just paid less. (And I can’t cope with operatic singing.)

Humans need the arts. Britain without the gentler moments, the wry reflections, the sharp questioning provided by ‘the arts’ will be drab, inarticulate and vicious. Going backwards. D’you want that, for the people you know who shine with creativity? For your next generation?

People who want to Brexit want to run away from how hard it is to be European.

That’s not British.

OilSpill

90,000 gallons of crude oil are polluting the Gulf of Mexico – Image credit: Telegraph

Shell’s second spill in two weeks: why are we silent? (Article by Shannon Lawn)

Truly it doesn’t make the news any more. It barely circulates Facebook.  If we get ‘compassion fatigue’ do we also get ‘disaster fatigue’?

As an alleged communication expert, I feel something is not being done right. You’re unlikely to bother to open the report … probably because you can guess it says, in a heavy tone, We Must Do Something Or We’re Doomed.

This is hard to pay attention to. Even though the writer is clear, logical and (I have to assume) well informed. But I suspect we’re into ‘boy who cried wolf’ effect. Also what can we do? Everything is run by and for Them … big corporations, government… Never before have people been so empowered to communicate. We’ve never been so aware of our controllers – nor ever felt so powerless.

Hey, it’s not that we don’t care, right? We’re just keeping our heads down. We’re desperately hanging on to our rotten jobs, we’re exhausted from the daily slog of keeping going… There’s a lot of sea, isn’t there? Does this sort of thing really matter? So many other horrors nag at us, from barbarous acts of terror to the permanent background threat of losing our home if we can’t keep up payments – all the payments, all the time…

Distracting, isn’t it? And of course you and I sitting at our laptops are not gagging on the stench of oil, our food isn’t smothered in poisonous gunk or unfit to eat because of the pollution it’s absorbed. Although you might want to wave a Geiger counter over anything coming out of the Pacific these days: that Fukushima radioactive waste water is spreading far and wide! But hey, as a friend says, we all gotta die of something!

It took a no holds barred TV report and Bob Geldof to focus useful public attention on the Ethiopian famine. And now we mock Live Aid…

For you and me, the ocean environment is largely out of sight. We can count the (lack of) bees and birds but we’ll never see dolphins choking to death… When green fields get covered in shoddy houses we understand the loss of productive farmland and wildlife habitat. When sheets and gobbets of crude oil disperse for hundreds of miles under water we have no concept of that destruction. 

So … Which celebrity naturalist / pop star / hip film maker will take on the thankless task of inspiring the fight for our oceans?

UK flag A newsletter alert from a nursery school was shared on Facebook: “Prevent duty: From the 1st July 2015, all schools and childcare providers must have due regard to the need to prevent people being drawn into terrorism…”

Comments were scathing.

“They’re literally assessing the children to check they’re demonstrating British values… *shudders*”

“I hope they’re also teaching [toddlers] how to root out and report illegal immigrants at nursery. Hmmm. Which side of the Iron Curtain were we on?”

We need to get past the clichés. Prevent strategy contains several worrying bits – but I see an opportunity to connect all British young people with a magnificent heritage of story (eg traditional folktales) and some rather important bits of history. Plus of course we can make clear what we’ve learned from national mistakes of colonialism and exploitation.

I sighed with boredom at school over the list of Factory Acts created in Victorian times. Only recently have I understood how important that legislature was: locking into law the protection of workers’ rights; saving childhood and guaranteeing children the right to education.

Now our rest days and right to withhold labour are being whittled away. There isn’t even a Workhouse for people to go and die in when cut off from essential benefits … But that’s another story.

A sense of belonging (or not) really does start among small children. People who feel part of a nation, and who feel they have a chance to contribute to and profit from that national community, are less likely to want to blow it up!

Hmm… What are ‘British values’?

Cleverly, even the Prime Minister who ringingly asserts their importance has shied away from defining British values in his public utterances. But of course there is Department of Education advice for grant maintained schools.

 My version includes a nice cup of tea; generosity and quiet kindness – sometimes, admittedly, only when things are dire; respect for privacy; and an irrepressibly wicked sense of humour!

My British values encourage everyone to be self directing individuals within their group of family, cultural and social circles: to think clearly, form their own opinions, build resilience to life’s downs and ups, treat people fairly, protect the vulnerable, know the difference between authority and bullying, and to have the knowledge and courage to speak truth to power. Or at least to lampoon the powerful – and those who try to control us – without mercy, until they get over themselves…

So here’s a cliché for you: as a pro storyteller working with British cultural stories, I’ll be putting Prevent front and centre of my approach to schools. So there.

A nice cup of tea

“My idea of heaven is a nice cup of tea”

• What are YOUR British Values? What mindset do we need to live together well in the 21st century?