Transformations.

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The fabric of a life
is woven from the mundane,
shot through with strands of joy
and streaks of pain.

On a familiar day,
if you just keep looking,
you may watch the ordinary
weave itself into a strand of bliss.

Once There Were Ponies.

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When I was a child there were ponies.
waiting in line or trotting out on the sand.
I knew all their names.
Capino, Girlie, Shandy, Fred,
Danny Boy, Calypso, Sherry, Ben.
All sizes, all shapes, all tempers.
Round bellied shetlands,
long legged thoroughbreds,
chestnuts, blacks, skewbalds and bays.
All special.
All mine.

I learned about girths, bits, bridles and reins.
I groomed, picked and polished.
I was taught to rise to the trot,
discovered the easy rhythm of a steady canter,
and the heady fear of a full out gallop.
I was shown how to stop.
Sit deep in the saddle,
grip with your knees
and resist with your hands.
No lessons, no pay,
just experience soaked up
by a longing to know.

Every morning I rode out
with the wind in my hair
and my thoughts flying.
No hard hat. No worries.
Ten shillings eagerly exchanged
for an hours worth of freedom.
The beach rushed by
under the feet of my horse,
and the sea roared its approval.
The cliffs changed shape
while the town shrank behind us-
This was new territory,
outside my limits.

For the rest of the day
I walked proudly up and down
leading small children
as far as the beach hotel.
Plod and turn,
plod and halt,
and sometimes- just sometimes-
I was allowed to jump up
and lead a faster, older child,
from a horses back.
That was a badge of honour
that the local kids didn’t like.
“Gerroff my horse.”
Yeah right.
“Joan said.”

For two weeks or more
my world smelled of horse.
It was a time of soft noses,
hard hooves and flickering eyes.
A time when anything seemed possible-
I was young and in love.

German Skerries. Up in Arms and Orange Tree Richmond at the Stephen Joseph theatre, Scarborough.

 

Howard Evans and George Evans in German Skerries. Production photograph by Manuel Harlan.

Robert Holman’s play, German Skerries, an award winning play from 1979, is a subtle, realistic look at Britain through the eyes of three characters on a hillside overlooking both the sea and the industrial heart of Middlesborough in the North East of England. There is plenty going on offstage, as a middle aged teacher and a young couple talk, think, watch birds, boats and industrial unrest through binoculars and a small telescope but not a lot of action on stage. They talk, flirt, argue, and work through their own thoughts and concerns while we watch. It is a portrait of the times seen through a the microscope of a small group of people. We are shown the impact of the wider world on their lives through gentle dialogue and delicate interaction- all very English- rather than high drama. In fact the only time that something dramatic does happen to a fourth character on stage it is perhaps the least convincing scene in the play when set against the gentle realism of the rest.

The actors have to be very good to make writing of this kind work. There is no chance for them to grandstand or rely on events to bolster a performance. The only way to make it work is to show real, vulnerable people on stage- to be convincing as a character from the inside- and the cast of this first major revival from Up in Arms and the Orange Tree Theatre Richmond do exactly that. Howard Evans is a very recognisable type, one which I have met often, a likable, well meaning, ageing teacher and Katie Moore and George Evans are a convincing young couple, bickering sometimes but very much in love. There is a lot of warmth to enjoy.

The set is realistic and beautifully made, a small shed, a path and a patch of hillside, and it sat very comfortably in the round at the Stephen Joseph- a perfect backdrop for a tiny slice of life.

I enjoyed my afternoon very much, but theatre is a strange, organic business and on the afternoon I saw German Skerries from the back seats of a small audience it didn’t quite seem to take off. The round at Scarborough is a strange, unforgiving space and there is a sweet spot which makes things work, a kind of chemistry between what is happening on stage and the audience who are clearly visible. When this comes alive in the hands of a company who really know the space it is magic and when it doesn’t it is sometimes nobody’s fault.

 

A Shot in the Dark.

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You don’t know me.
You may see me,
look me up and down,
say the odd word
to criticise, condescend or praise,
but you don’t know me.
You never have
and you never will.

Do not make assumptions
about my thoughts and feelings-
I am not you.
My feelings are not yours to appropriate.
You do not know my story.
Life is long and complicated
and truth is hard to find-
don’t make things up.

You are wasting your time
on a jigsaw puzzle
with pieces missing
and you don’t even have
the lid of the box.
Here’s a clue-
the edges are not as straight as you think
and it isn’t a basket of kittens.

Wind rush.

The wind is ripping up the beach,
shattering the surface into
a million shards of wild sand
and sending them flying,
changing the landscape
one grain at a time.

This is a day of flickering water,
salt breath and sharp air,
when sunlight creeps along the bay
from one end to the other
escaping the racing clouds,
playing catch with the afternoon.

Good Friday in Scarborough.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Superheroes, meercats,
home made tattoos.
Queueing, pushing,
coming on through.
Full bellies, smart answers,
raised hands and shouts.
You do that again
and you’ll be getting a clout.

Speedboats, pirates,
Yo ho ho!
That house looks scary-
mum, can we go?
A rolling gait,
chilly knees,
he wants to get some clothes on
or else he’ll freeze.

Tiny princesses
fresh off the beach
stretch out for candy floss
just out of reach.
A woman sits silently,
ill at ease,
sending sparkling bubbles
into a sea breeze.

Easter bunnies
are serving in Greggs,
ice creams made from rainbows
and chocolate eggs.
I told you already-
pack it in!
Mam, what are you DOING?
Get it put in the bin.

Children bounce in the sky
on an elastic string,
mam is worried-
she can’t do a thing.
Watch that dog our Nathan-
he’s after them chips,
the dogs eyes are darting-
he’s licking his lips.

A man with a display stand
in dark glasses and hat
wants to tell the crowds
about God and all that.
What does the bible REALLY teach?
A world on the brink.
He’ll give you a free copy.
See what you think.