Transformation and Tragedy

Caitlyn and Rachel

Caitlyn and Rachel

I’m in controversy corner again.

I like Caitlyn Jenner and I like Rachel Dolezal.

They’re dramatic.

One omitted* to his wives and girlfriends, one lied to her employers and the press; one appeared to change gender, one appeared to change race; one is a glamorous Republican, one is a wary liberal. In acceptable opinion one is revealing her true self and the other is a lying impostor, but they’re both roughly doing the same thing – they’re rejecting the roles they were born into and claiming the roles they feel more comfortable with; to greater and lesser success.

Beyond the soap opera appeal (both their former spouses are under attack) this triggers our fears about status, ownership, territory, meaning, dominance, oppression, authenticity and facts because in less conspicuous ways it’s a thing we all do – we all have inner wants and we’re all stuck negotiating a social self. Caitlyn cheers us up because she’s been allowed to carve out a whole new persona without becoming an outcast – it’s a classic Transformation; like a favoured mortal ascending to Olympus. She’s the American Dream – life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. She’s a consumer and up for consumption.  A winner.

There are 3 flash-points:

1. Wronged wives.

2. The Pronoun Police who could – beep beep boop – drive anyone up the wall.

3. Feminists who want to talk about female biology and who don’t want to talk about ‘lady brain’.

Rachel doesn’t have an equivalent of ‘lady brain’ to explain herself. Ideas about ancient race memories have fallen out of fashion (mainly because they went hand-in-hand with theories about racial supremacy and race degeneration).

There are 3 possibilities:

1. Imprinting/Attachment – she really does identify so strongly with her black community that she can’t think of her real self without pain.

2. Double Bind/Projection/White Guilt – she has issues with self-hate and isolation that she extrapolates onto racial struggles.

3. By accident or design she realized she’d make her paintings and diversity work more marketable by posing as black.

That she could be motivated by any/all of them makes her a Tragedy. An attractive, intelligent woman who could have been great but who brought herself down by fibs. Audiences are outraged and disgusted. They use ridicule and insults. They call her racist and a thief. They say she erased them and used her privilege. They worry about her. They think she’s crazy. They think she may have a point. They want her punished and they want her redeemed.

Cait and Rach are the Identity Politics Zeitgeist – but their stories have a deeper resonance. Tragedy and Transformation – two patterns that reach back to the ancient world – and prove – that however much we change we always stay the same.

*yes – I am using this word this way.

Allison and Busby Haul !

I was the winner of one of Allison and Busby’s newsletter competitions (it’s worth a sign-up folks – it’s a brilliant Independent publisher with some especially great escapist holiday reads) and I got this lovely loot in the post:

Booty! With my hamster Endeavour in the background.

Booty! With my hamster Endeavour in the background.

1. Deeds of Darkness by Edward Marston (a 1st world war murder mystery).

2. Monsieur Pamplemousse and the Tangled Web by Michael Bond (French gastronomic super-sleuthing).

3. Snapped in Cornwall by Janie Bolitho (murders in Cornwall).

4. The House at the End of Hope Street by Menna Van Braag (magical life turn-around).

5. An Allison and Busby bag.

I’m delighted!!

Allison and Busby’s website:   

Shrek the Musical – Review!

Gerald Carey as Lord Farquaad - a brilliant performance.

Gerald Carey as Lord Farquaad – a brilliant performance.

Finally I’ve caught up with the UK touring version of Shrek the Musical.

Overall I loved it – here are my musings divided into pros (shreks!) and cons (drecks!).


1. Lord Farquaad! Played by Gerard Carey he steals the show.

2. The Dragon! Fiona! Donkey! – the characters are still as wonderful as the film.

3. A great, funny, heart-warming, book (that’s the script).

4. Witty lyrics (that’s the songs).

5. Some decent tunes.

6. A proper plot.

7. A life affirming message using fairy-tale characters as a metaphor for being gay and/or Jewish while working in Showbiz which is a metaphor for being fat and/or suburban while sitting in the stalls.

8. Dancing! Singing! Puppets! – all round fabulous production values.


1. Diction – I couldn’t hear half of the words despite the ear splitting volume.

2. Shrek’s Scottish accent drifted down South for most of the show.

3. Expensive merchandise (the company’s fault) and expensive snacks (The King’s Theatre, Glasgow’s fault) – some parents must be missing a kidney to pay for all the ears/teddies/ice-cream their kids required.

4. Many of the songs were too long and boring for a children’s show, which meant many adults (me! me! me!) being stuck next to a squirming, sighing, munching monster for what felt like days at a time.

5. Bland, generic music.

6. Too much smut for a kid’s show. I disapprove!

7. It was too long – at least 2 songs could have easily been cut.

8. Not enough development of Shrek and Donkey’s relationship. It was pretty much taken as read.

But the Shreks! outweigh the Drecks! So if you haven’t seen it – I recommend it.

The Bailey’s Prize 2015 Shortlist


UPDATE: I was wrong to snark (although it may be useful for blurb writers and cover designers) – having read them all – they’re all good. 

My favourite? 

Surprisingly : Ali Smith ‘How to be Both’. 

I have managed to not read a single-one of this year’s shortlisted Bailey’s Prize books – so I can give my ‘what I would think in a bookshop’ first impression of them.

First off – every single book cover is either boring, seen-it-before or actively ugly. Putting that aside and ignoring most of the content we have:

The Bees – by playwright Laline Paull – about a rebel bee leading a double life in a collapsing bee colony… it’s apparently an allegory about race or the Monarchy… or anyway… something human.

Outline by Rachel Cusk – a creative writing teacher asks her students to tell her about the one thing they noticed on their way in (which sounds like A Chorus Line without the singing)… I’m sure I read an interview with Rachel in which she had marriage issues and lived in Norfolk.

A God in Every Stone by Kamila Shamsie – is an epic about about Empires falling and Nations rising and archaeologists digging stuff up. I think its main period is the First World War and its protagonists are mainly in Turkey, London and India – but it sprawls – so I may be wrong.

How to Be Both by Ali Smith – has a half decent cover – but one that’s entirely misleading – since it makes it look like a Retronaught novel set in the 1990s’ favourite decade the 1960s. Apparently it’s about a teenage girl now and an Italian Renaissance artist then – who are somehow connected in time – and who both are a bit both.

A Spool of Blue Thread by Ann Tyler is about an American family and is described as homely, spot-on and melancholy.

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters – promises to be genre trash (that’s a compliment) but I have bad memories of Tipping The Velvet having terrible plot development and the prose felt like I was being dragged backwards (I mean I literally felt that – which wasn’t entirely pleasant – although it must take some skill).

So what would I buy if I was in the book shop?

The Bees – it’s about bees – it’ll either work or be funnier than The Swarm (Oh my God – Bees! Bees! Millions of bees!).

The Paying Guests – it’s about taking in lodgers in the 1920s and has a lesbian romp and a murder and got denounced by The Guardian as ‘middle-brow’ – so clearly a winner.

The rest – meh – maybe. Probably not.

The Straw Chair

Selina Boyack as Lady Grange, Pamala Reid as Isabel, the Minister's Wife  - with THE CHAIR.

Selina Boyack as Lady Grange, Pamala Reid as Isabel, the Minister’s Wife – with THE CHAIR.

I’ve fallen behind with my posts about ‘things I have done’ – I have random reviews and musings cluttering up the draft page from months ago – but last things first.

Tonight I went to see The Straw Chair by Sue Glover at The Tron (it’s on tour), directed by Liz Carruthers and produced by Liz Burton-King – for their own company ‘Hirtle’* – which – and for this I will adore and support them for all time – boasts that between them they have 100 years of professional experience. Because it should be a plus. People don’t die at 35. *

(*with Borderline –  ages unknown).

And yes – I will still sound like I’m giving them snark – but that’s my style. I give myself snark.

The Straw Chair had a tiny wee set – representing the Island of Hirta – made out of astro-turf, bouncy stones (a la Classic Doctor Who) and a bed-sheet hung at the back… I couldn’t decide if I liked it – or thought it was too literal – or liked it but didn’t like the way the actors seemed to hold themselves back on it as if they were going to fall or stub a toe.

It also had a tiny wee straw chair – the only one on the island – which seems a bit daft since it was made on the island – so you’d think they could make another one… but maybe they ate it when they ran out of eggs (they mention eggs a lot… eggs and birds… birds and eggs… ).

I liked the sounds of the sea and seagulls that played at the start (and I swear I could smell the sea)… even if it’s a cliche it’s still a powerfully evocative cliche… and what else are you going to listen to in Ye Auldie Western Isles?

The play is set sometime between 1732 and 1745 and is about a young Minister and his new wife sent as Missionaries to St Kilda (Hirta) and encountering a kidnapped Edinburgh aristocrat, Lady Grange, who intended to expose her husband as a Jacobite.

The acting was a bit under-powered… but Lady Grange was magnificently played as Edina Monsoon (from Absolutely Fabulous) and while I’m not sure that’s the way the character was meant to go – it did work… you felt sorry for the poor spoilt cow stuck in the world’s worst rehab… Unfortunately it did leave the two leads a bit adrift with their po-faced lines about marriage and God.

The Minister’s wife was very sweet – but had one facial expression and a monotone through-out and I wasn’t sure why she needed to meet Lady Grange in order to find out she quite liked plucking puffins… or why the Minister needed to spend time on an uneducated Island to find out that Highlanders have weird ideas about fairies and Edinburgh is full of corruption.

Our heroine should have been painfully caught between three things – the natural rhythm of life on Hirta (represented by the servant Oona) – the sexy High Life of Lady Grange – and the piety of her husband (who was a wet fish of a Presbyterian – his character was crying out for a few good rants). In the end she did a bit of everything, nothing bad happened – and Lady Grange was left as she was found.

I wasn’t bored though. With a bit more welly in the vocals and the action I doubt I would’ve had time to ponder what it all meant.

I love Amanda Palmer

Neil and Amanda

Neil and Amanda

I only heard of Amanda Palmer because she was married to the fantasy writer Neil Gaiman. I followed him on twitter and he tweeted to and about her a lot – so I followed her – because I followed her I looked up her videos on YouTube and I liked what I saw.

Her band The Dresden Dolls had a lovely Gothic late-90s/early-00s vibe (they called it Punk Cabaret)… and her solo songs were like Brit Pop’s American girlfriend getting in on the act.

There was a video for ‘Map of Tasmania’ and it was funny… then a hoo-ha about her being too fat for a video that inspired a Rebellyon (fans posted pictures of their own stomachs in solidarity) which prompted her to dramatically leave her record company and raise money on Kickstarter for a new album which raised a million dollars and a heap of ill-will when it was discovered that she wasn’t paying musicians who played one-night gigs with her (that was because they were part of her informal community and it was meant to be a fan jam – not a way of getting work for free – but that’s an alien concept to the media) and somehow – through all that – I developed an unconditional girl-crush on her.

(WARNING: bit rude)

The teeth, the entitlement mixed with variable self-esteem, the honesty, the unshaven armpits, the attention-seeking, the hint of potent smug mutual narcissism wafting off her relationship, the cartoon eyebrows, her family issues, the Bohos in Boston… it should all be irritating – I might even be jealous of her ‘undeserved’ profile – but I found it charming; adorable; absolutely right and just.

She’s a natural, vivid storyteller and her art is her life… Her voice is majestic but not pitch-perfect, her tunes are only nearly hum-able… but it’s the soundtrack to her personality and it’s perfect.


She wrote a book about asking people for money and stuff and help – The Art of Asking – and there are bits of it I can remember far more clearly than I can a novel… her hurting her leg in Scotland… her working in a coffee shop and being a living statue… her drawing a fan in Australia… her being mistreated by fans at a show… She’s one of my all-time favourite heroines. I want her to prosper. I want her to win. I want another chapter.

It’s that fan fervour her ‘haters’ find so incomprehensible… we forgive her her faux pas because they make the narrative more intriguing.

It’s a strange kind of art – asking – being – making your own soundtrack – but it’s still art and it’s beautiful.

To support Amanda – here’s her Patreon Page:


I Love Gerald Harper


Gerald Harper starred in two huge UK t.v. hits of the 1960s and 1970s – Adam Adamant Lives (1966-67) about an Edwardian who gets frozen in 1902 and wakes up in 1966 and who fights crimes while coming to terms with the permissive society and Gazette (renamed Hadleigh – 1969-76) where he played a laid-back country squire/newspaper proprietor who solves thorny problems for himself and the community.

He also starred in a great Francis Durbridge thriller ‘A Game of Murder’ (1966) and as Detective Inspector Alan Milton in ‘A Man Called Harry Brent’ (1965). As well as guest turns on great shows like Thriller, The Avengers and Emergency Ward 10 – and in one-off plays for ITV and the BBC.


His great charm was in his energy and authority combined with the way his voice would become quiet and sympathetic in times of great stress or injustice. If aristocrats were anything like Gerald (and they’re not) the Empire would still be flourishing and I would be doffing my cap at all times. Technically he was no looker – he had a thin face and beady eyes – but he had a warmth and charisma that made him incredibly handsome (which should be a lesson to all actors – and modern casting directors – buff can be bland – personality wins every time).

Gerald is near forgotten by the under 50s – although occasionally he’ll turn up in the press with a much younger girlfriend… but in his day he was constantly featured in magazines, newspapers and on chat shows. He became a radio host on BBC 2 and would give champagne and chocolates away as prices in between playing classic tunes. Since the show ended he’s been touring in theatre productions including Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None for Bill Kenwright.

He deserves to be remembered as one of our finest stars and while his hit shows have dated they’re still well-written romps through our recent(ish) past. *

*many of them are available on DVD.