Saturday, 20 May 2017

London Cycle Diaries: Stamford Hill's Orthodox Jews

London Cycle Diaries is both a cycle-based and cycle-orientated series aimed at "discovering" hidden spots in London from the saddle of my Raleigh.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Diary of Inconsequential Being

Saturday 25th March

I am on my way to collect my daughter. She has decided to go to Thorpe Park with some friends and one of the dads and I agreed on one of us taking them there and the other one bringing them back.

The journey to Thorpe Park goes surprisingly smooth. Too smooth. Just before the M25 meets the M3 I am supposed to take the fifth exit at a roundabout and stay on the A308. For some reason the route seems suddenly awfully long. I am sure it looked a lot shorter on the Google map I consulted before setting off (I don’t use satnav). I keep driving in what I think is the most likely direction. It takes me a couple of minutes to realise that I am hideously lost. I go back to the M25, taking extra care not to join the traffic heading to London. At the roundabout I perform a similar manoeuvre as before. Again, I find myself back on the A308. Again, I get lost.

Finally I pull into a Tesco (future novelists should make that sentence their go-to cliché. There is always a Tesco to pull into, just like “dusk” always “falls”). After a couple of enquiries and suggestions I decide to use my phone’s built-in Google maps app to guide myself to Thorpe Park. To be honest I feel I have no other choice. The two members of staff who help me out look at me as if I am mad after I say that I use neither a satnav nor Google maps.

The voice telling me to pull out of the car park cannot be described as robotic, but neither as human. It is not warm either. But then, again, what do I expect? Coffee and a chocolate muffin? I suddenly feel hungry.

After three quarters of an hour, during which I exhaust my year’s quota of swear words, I find Thorpe Park. All this time my daughter has been trying to get hold of me, concerned that I was not there at the appointed time. When I tell her what has just happened, she just asks: why didn’t you use Google maps?

Sunday 26th March

The papers still carry the Westminster attacker story. It is funny (both strange and ha ha) that Adrian Elms (to call him by his real name) is called a terrorist whereas Jo Cox’s murderer is being given the “lone wolf” label with mental health issues added on to mitigate the effect of his evil act.

The house is eerily silent. It normally is these days. Both my children have given up playing their instruments. My son used to play saxophone first and then went for the guitar. My daughter, on the hand, plumped for cello and later on for flute. There was nothing better than the sound of him playing guitar and her playing flute mid-morning on a Sunday.

Now they both sleep until noon.

I set up the ironing board and switch the telly on. I am being ever so careful and considerate. I know the girls went to bed late last night. As the first goals go in on Match of the Day, I hear the sound of rushed steps on the stairs and eventually voices in the kitchen.

The silence is broken (and that is another cliché for wannabe writers. No worries, I shall invoice you in due course).

Monday 27th March

I am now convinced that we have a birds’ nest in our bush in the front garden. Not being a connoisseur of tweets and songs, I am unable to say what sort of birds they are. All I know is that they sing at night. By at night, I mean, midnight. They must be fearless, too, because the local cats still have not dealt with them in the way that only cats know how to deal with midnight-hour-singing animals of the avian variety. Perhaps, although they sing beautifully (and I can attest to that), they can all copy the Google Maps voice, neither robotic nor warm. Enough to keep the local cats away.

© 2017

Next Post: “London Cycle Diaries”, to be published on Saturday 20th May at 6pm (GMT)

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Thoughts in Progress

I was listening to Thought for the Day the other day and the guest speaker said something very interesting. Thought for the Day is Radio Four’s religion-infused, regular section whose main aim is to reflect on contemporary issues from a faith-based perspective. The occasion was the celebration of Buddha’s Wakening or Enlightenment and the guest was Vishvapani , a member of the Buddhist Order.

On explaining how the Buddha’s new understanding of life challenged all the notions that he had had before, Vishvpavani  said that the Buddha had showed people “how to tap the mind's hidden capacities“. This phrase reminded me of an article I had read in the London Review of Books a few days before. The piece was about Noam Chomsky as a linguist and radical political figure. In the former role Noam revolutionised the field of linguistics. The academic position at the time was a distrust of “the ghost in the machine”, i.e., the human mind. Moreover, both philosophy and psychology followed this trend, preferring conventional wisdom to the prospect of having to deal with subjective experience. Chomsky, on the other hand, claimed that there were things we knew innately, even if they did not manifest themselves explicitly.

Having written a column on how to place adjectives correctly in a sentence in the English language more than a week ago and how this “problem” was hardly a problem for native speakers as they could “feel” what the right order was, I see myself in agreement with Chomsky. Knowledge, both the acquisition and possession of it, can be tacit and unconscious. Watch young children forming their own phrases, sometimes not even using the raw material they are given from birth. More than once when overhearing my own children talking when they were little, I caught myself thinking: “How do they know that?

However, I do have certain doubts. If this knowledge is somehow innate, where does it come from originally? Not being religious at all, in fact, being an atheist, I reject the notion that it is planted in our brains by an external agent. Could this knowledge perhaps be a generational phenomenon? The instincts embedded throughout our evolutionary journey through planet Earth. When Chomsky talks about the difference between the I-language of internal, individual structures of meaning versus the E-language of external expression he is onto something. About the same time I read the LRB article, I was also preparing myself for an entry test to study the Online Celta course at International House London. For the last five years I have been looking at the possibility of returning to full-time language teaching. Here is now that opportunity. I have been accepted at IH for a September start.

As a young graduate I remember being really excited about lesson planning. It was a chance to put some of my wacky ideas into practice. One of them was based on maieutics. This was the method used by Socrates to elicit knowledge from the mind of a person by interrogation and insistence on close and logical reason. Whereas Socrates and his followers were more interested in critical thinking I used maieutics to unlock the linguistic power of my students. English being the unofficial lingua franca of the last seventy-odd years, exposure to it, even in socialist, Fidel-run Cuba, meant that many of pupils had already come across some of the expressions I was about to teach them, perhaps unconsciously.

The first answer of the foreign language adult learner is “I don’t know”. Self-consciousness is their worst enemy. That is why determining the context in which one wants to study is fundamental. That context includes using the knowledge acquired both by conscious and unconscious means. This is where Chomsky and Socrates come together, in my view. The former supports the mysterious “ghost in the machine”. This means that my students have the capacity to generate I-language, which at the same time underpins consciousness. Socrates comes in handy when we, teachers, need to unlock the hidden power of learning in adults. Understanding the linguistic complexities of a foreign lexicon is scary. In order to achieve this, I, the teacher, usually take the grown-up back to a childlike state of mind. Socrates was interested in critical thinking; my goal is to show the adult what they know and how much they know.

Are we humans born with an innate sense of knowledge about certain things? Or, is all knowledge acquired empirically? It seems to me that that “ghost” will continue to be debated for many years, even centuries, to come.

© 2017

Next Post: “Diary of an Inconsequential Being”, to be published on Wednesday 17th May at 6pm (GMT)

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Food, Music, Food, Music, Food, Music... Ad Infinitum

Yotam Ottolenghi’s chicken and prawn gumbo.
Photograph: Louise Hagger for the Guardian. 

If you read my previous post you will understand why I have chosen this Yotam Ottolenghi's recipe tonight. In his latest column in The Guardian, Yotam waxed lyrical about his love for the cuisine of New Orleans, which he found both complex and cryptic. As an Ottolenghi enthusiast myself, I don't need much encouragement to follow the master. I will be cooking this dish this coming weekend. 

Chicken and prawn gumbo

4 chicken thighs, skin on and bone in
Salt and black pepper
60ml vegetable oil
70g plain flour
3 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
1 large onion, peeled and finely diced 
2 green peppers, deseeded and finely diced
2 celery sticks, finely diced
1½ tbsp Cajun spice blend (make your own or buy ready-made)
300g peeled raw prawns 
1 litre chicken stock
2 tbsp tomato paste
200g smoked pork belly (or smoky bacon), cut into 2cm pieces
200g cooked basmati rice (ie, made from about 80g uncooked rice)

Season the chicken with a quarter-teaspoon of salt and a generous grind of black pepper. On a medium flame, heat a tablespoon of oil in a large, heavy-based pan for which you have a lid, lay in the chicken thighs skin-side down and fry for four to five minutes, until golden brown. Turn the thighs, cover the pan, reduce the heat to medium and cook for 10 minutes, checking once or twice that the chicken isn’t sticking or burning (there should be enough fat in the pan for this not to happen). Transfer the chicken to a plate, leaving the fat in the pan (you should have about two tablespoons).
Add another three tablespoons of oil to the pan and warm gently on a medium heat. Add the flour, whisk to a smooth paste, then cook, whisking often, for 15-20 minutes, until the roux turns into a dark chocolate-coloured paste. Add the garlic, onion, peppers, celery and spice blend, and cook for five minutes, stirring often. Roughly chop five prawns, add to the pan and cook for five minutes, then pour in the stock, 350ml water and the tomato paste. Stir in the smoked pork and a teaspoon of salt, then leave the gumbo to simmer, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes more. Meanwhile, remove the skin from the chicken thighs and tear the flesh off the bones in rough 4-5cm chunks.
Once the gumbo has simmered for 20 minutes, stir in the chicken, cook for 10 minutes more, then add the remaining prawns and cooked rice. Check the seasoning, simmer for a final three minutes, until the prawns are just cooked, and serve hot.
This is heavenly food from New Orleans. So, the first melody has to be Dixieland proper. Stand to one side because the saints go marching in, led by the one and only, Mr Louis Armstrong.

That gumbo is thick and filling. That's the way I want my music tonight. Preferably with a bass-driven helping and a guitar-led consistency. Enter Black Sabbath's Paranoid.

Food so exotic makes want to explore the same in music. I love Soapkills and their laid-back sound.

We go as we came. With Armstrong. I have never included the same musician twice in this section. There is enough music to go around. But, for some reason this recipe has given me the New Orleans bug and I cannot resist another dose of good ol' Dixieland. Enjoy.

Next post: "Thoughts in Progress", to be published on Saturday 13th May at 6pm (GMT)

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Thoughts in Progress

The first time I heard it I did not hear it at all. I was not prepared for it. I was too young and my parents did not warn me (I am going to blame my parents, especially my dad; I need to blame someone and parents always come in handy). It was not included in my folks’ small record collection. That is, if a bunch of random LPs bundled together in a corner of a minute one-bed flat can be called collection. If truth be told, years later, when I became a fan of it, I was surprised at its absence from our house. After all, my parents, especially my father, were music lovers. My dad was (is, still) a musician, composer and arranger. If someone was capable of appreciating it, it should have been him. Records by Roberto Faz, Orquesta Riverside and La Original de Manzanillo were amongst the few gems that were played at very special occasions on the old, blue record-player (a relic from pre-revolutionary days). These were big bands that had a lot in common with the Glenn Millers and Buddy Riches of this world. Yet, it did not feature at all chez moi. I do not think that it was unknown to them. I just think that they did not get “it”.

Most of the music played at home when I was a child, was of the dance variety. Later on, when my auntie brought home the first cassette player we ever had it was my cousin (big sister, really) who took over DJ-ing duties. However, we still did not tend to listen to Anglophone music very often.

"It", jazz, was surplus to requirements since its demographic was non-existent in our household at the time.

I went to the kind of college (high school for US readers) which defies conventions about Cuban education’s supposed equality. Though uniform-clad, we all knew where we belonged and which tribe was ours. I was in the scruffy, working-class, rock-faithful one. However, I had one good friend in the “Trova” (New Song) gang. Once I happened to be at his house. We were both playing tapes to each other. And there it was: the piercing sound of a trumpet, if not out of tune, out of everything I conceived at the time as “being in tune”. Seeing the frown on my face, my friend asked me: you don’t like Dizzy? Not wanting to be rude, I shrugged my shoulders. Inside, though, I swore never to return.

There is a certain built-in philistinism in the life of a teenager. It is easier, however, to notice it in others than in yourself. Aged fifteen, I listened to Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and Sonny Rollins at my mate’s and found their sound foreign and alien.

1989. I had just turned eighteen in November and was in my first year at university. What was I doing here at midnight, in the lounge where my cousin and her mum slept on foldable beds? What was that sound, low and mellow, coming out of the old, battered Russian radio? Was that the same piercing sound of the trumpet I had rejected fours year before? What had happened?

Let us rewind to the month of February of the same year. Let us go back to the corner of 23rd Avenue and L Street, one of the most popular corners in Havana. There I was, scruffily dressed as usual, in my rocker’s get-up: skintight jeans, oversized shirt and canberras (steel toe-capped Russian boots). I had no plans that night. My jazz-enthusiast friend from college happened to pass by. He was on his way to the Havana Jazz Festival. He had a spare ticket. Would I care to join him? I said no. He would not take no for an answer. After all these years, I think he saw something in me that night. Perhaps the face of the willing convert who refuses to believe he will be inevitably converted. He insisted. My replies became more elliptical and my reasons weaker.

Together we set off, Casa de la Cultura de Plaza-bound.

I would like to say that a full moon flooded the stage and that in the quiet of the night the sound of a saxophone triggered off my epiphany. The truth is rather more prosaic. It was very noisy when we got to the venue. We went inside, which was outside (the concert was outdoors) but then I went back inside.

I went back inside my own mind.

You see, jazz in Cuba did not have a tribe in those years. Correction, it had its own specific tribe, but it did not function like others. Rockers, salsa-lovers, trovas, pop-enthusiasts; they were distinctive. We wore uniforms; we wore our allegiance on our sleeves. Sometimes literally. Jazz, on the other hand, belonged to old people. That is how we saw it, us youn’ uns.

That night I, the refusenik, sat down. I had my speech ready. I imagined that as soon as the concert ended the words would spill out, of their own accord, without any push or shove from me: I only came because of you. No, I didn’t like it. I don’t like jazz. I don’t like jazz. I don’t like jazz.

And then he came on stage and played the trumpet. He, being Arturo Sandoval, Cuba’s foremost trumpeter.

I cried that night. Moreover, I cried, sitting next to my friend, amongst people I did not know. I cried, conscious that as a man I ought not to. That’s what they always said: men don’t cry. Well, I bloody well did. That was the effect Arturo Sandoval had on me that night: uncontrollable tears.  But also joy. I had found yet another layer of my humanity. A metaphysical one perhaps; its abstract nature not fully decipherable prima facie. Whatever had caused that emotion, I had to get more of it.

That is how I found myself in November 1989, in the darkness of our small flat, listening to a radio DJ, more used to playing classical music than compositions by Gershwin and Coltrane. Every Wednesday night between midnight at 1am I would silently come to our lounge, move the radio to our dinner table and switch the kitchen light on. That was the start of my love affair with jazz. That was the gateway to Ella, Billie and Nina. Through CMBF, the aforementioned station, I learnt the difference between bebop and smooth jazz.

Years later, as an adult, and while trying to rationalise my strong, lachrymose reaction to Sandoval’s trumpet-playing all those years before, I came up with a theory for my conversion. My love of rock was partly responsible for my newfound passion. The musical patterns, or lack of them thereof, of a Yes or Pink Floyd track were not dissimilar to the unorthodox approach taken by the likes of Thelonius Monk or Ornette Coleman. At the heart of it, jazz musicians tried to break or bend the rules. My initial mistake, at my friend’s, was trying to understand a phenomenon I deemed “absurd” at the time. It is only when we stop trying that we become more open to music genres we do not comprehend.

In simple terms: my defences were lowered that February night in Havana at the jazz gig. Then, again, since then I have lowered my defences on purpose whenever I am confronted by the new. A couple of years ago it happened, when I saw Bill Laurance and Snarky Puppy at Jazz FM’s Love Supreme Festival. Not knowing what to expect, I prepared myself to welcome the unknown. The result was the sort of experience some people might call religious.

Jazz bares me. In its syncopated/discontinuous, uniform/wandering notes, lies a truth that calls to a part of me. It is there in Roberto Fonseca’s eclecticism and Aziza Mustafa Zadeh’s vocal range. It is there in Sarah Vaughan’s unforgettable voice and Alice Coltrane’s Vedic-influenced, mystical harp. I didn’t find jazz. Jazz found me.

© 2017

Next Post: “Food, Music, Food, Music, Food, Music... Ad Infinitum”, to be published on Wednesday 10th May at 6pm (GMT)

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Living in a Multilingual World (The One About Adjectives and their Order)

Read the two sentences below and tell me which is the correct one:

He is an ugly little fellow.

He is a little ugly fellow.

You guessed right. The first one is the correct one. That is, if we are to go by a paragraph, gone viral last autumn, from a book called The Elements of Eloquence. The extract dealt chiefly with the order in which adjectives in English should appear (only applicable if you’re using more than one adjective per noun): opinion, size, age, shape, colour, origin, material, purpose. That is why “ugly” (my opinion), comes before “little” (size).

But I bet that you, native English speaker, knew that without bothering to read the why. That is because you “felt” it was the right way. It is a strange phenomenon, this “feeling”. I began to experience it when I started to think in English halfway through my uni years.

This is a life-changing event that does not announce itself. I am not exaggerating with the life bit. Just think of someone having to translate internally every single word and phrase that is said in a conversation before voicing them. It would be exhausting. The way the mind goes from translation-based communication to a native-speaker-level, sentence-building mindset is almost magical. It just happens. One minute you are consulting your grammar book, the next you “feel” that this is the way these adjectives ought to be arranged if you want your sentence to make sense.

Ugly or little? Which one comes first?
English is not a language famous for its rules, yet, there are plenty. The fact that not many people care about enforcing them doesn’t mean that we should ignore them. For instance, I would never think of placing and adjective after a noun in English, the way we generally do in Spanish and other romance languages (in the case of English, since it is a Germanic lexicon, the adjective+noun structure makes sense). It is just a rule we learn by rote and apply it without any second thoughts.

I am not aware that adjectives in Spanish must be ranked following a pre-arranged order. The sentence above could well be “Él es un hombre feo y pequeño” or “Él es un hombre pequeño y feo” (notice the conjunction “y” [and]. That’s another difference between the two languages). Perhaps there is a similar rule that I have not yet discovered but I doubt it. We have far too many linguistic precepts to deal with already to even contemplate adding a new one.

Without blowing my own trumpet, I am pretty sure that I have, unconsciously, placed adjectives in the correct order most of the time since I became a fluent English speaker. But it is always gratifying when we are validated by hitherto unknown laws of grammar or syntax.

© 2017

Next Post: “Thoughts in Progress”, to be published on Saturday 6th May at 6pm (GMT)

Saturday, 29 April 2017

London Cycle Diaries: Truman's Ales and Stouts

London Cycle Diaries is both a cycle-based and cycle-orientated series aimed at "discovering" hidden spots in London from the saddle of my Raleigh.

Next Post: "Living in a Multilingual World", to be published on Wednesday 3rd May at 6pm (GMT)

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Cubafonía by Daymé Arocena

Daymé Arocena’s outstanding second album, Cubafonía, can be summed up in two words: maturity and intensity. The former can be evidenced in her approach to song-writing and arranging. It is bold and with a take-no-prisoners attitude. Opener Eleggua combines multi-layered vocals with looped bass and horns. This is followed by a lively party number, La Rumba Soy Yo. Scatting her way through parts of the song, Daymé reminds the listener that she is a pretty good jazz singer in her own right.

The intensity is found throughout the record, mainly in the first six tracks.  Lo Que Fue builds up slowly, starting with Daymé’s signature low rasp and ending with a Cuban descarga. Maybe Tomorrow (sung in English) deals with hope. Infectious Negra Caridad is a throwback to Cuba’s 1940s and 50s big band golden era. That a 24-year-old can hold her own belting tunes that the great late Celia Cruz took years to master, speaks volumes about Arocena’s standing in the Cuban musical scene at the moment.

The largest island of the Caribbean has always been a hotbed of creativity. However, for the last twenty-odd years the sounds coming out of my country of birth are more boundary-breaking and genre-defying than ever. Daymé joins Roberto Fonseca, Yusa, Danay Suárez and Telmary in the search for an identity which, although still recognisably Cuban, is not afraid to draw from other influences. A good example of this is Cómo, a ballad that would not be out of place in a record by Jill Scott. Performed confidently in both English and Spanish, the track shows off Arocena’s softer and more reflective side.

Special mention to Ángel, a minimalist composition (pared back percussion and piano) in which Daymé demonstrates a total vocal control. And also to the closer, Valentine (in which the chanteuse goes from English to French, to Spanish), a cute changüi number.

Cubafonía is a must-have for any jazz/Latin music aficionado. On the strength of this outing, I can only see a brighter future for Daymé Arocena.

© 2017

Next Post: “One-Minute Cycle Diaries”, to be published on Saturday 29th April at 6pm (GMT)

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Thoughts in Progress

No sooner had the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, announced that there would be a general election on June 8th than the political obituary of the Labour Party was quickly drafted up. Pallbearers were contacted (perhaps Blair and Campbell would do the honours?). Flower shops were e-mailed. What size should the wreath be? And just what song or anthem would be appropriate to play as the coffin was being lowered into the ground?

Here we go again

For the third year in a row the British electorate goes to the polls. Fourth, if you live north of the border. Remember the Scottish referendum in 2014? Bet you had already forgotten about that one. Well, Nicole Sturgeon, the Scottish National Party leader, she is calling for another one. If that sentence does not provoke mental – as well as physical, but mainly mental – fatigue in you, then, congratulations! You have finally succeeded in transitioning into a robot. Your future is secured. It is us, mere mortals, who have reason to worry.

And yet, and yet, and yet…

Although Labour lags well behind the Conservatives in the polls (remember those? They were supposed to be very accurate, until they got Brexit and Trump wrong), May and co. have not had an easy ride. Had you asked me back in July last year if Jeremy Corbyn had any chances of getting Labour’s fortunes back on track, I would had said no. Just like that, a rotund no. After Cameron’s cowardly exit (he and Osborne got us into this Brexit mess and rather than face the music, they both abandoned the ship while it was sinking), May was seen as a safe pair of hands. Even I cast my usual cynicism aside and read Labour’s last rites quietly as soon as Thatcher 2.0 moved into Downing Street. Despite the Brexit-related imbroglio in which Mrs May found herself, she began her premiership with a firm hand.

But the honeymoon is over and Theresa knows it. She is the prime minister under whose guard the Chancellor of the Exchequer broke a Tory election pledge on national insurance. She U-turned on that decision. She is the cheerleader for the return of grammar schools. Even her own MPs are against the idea. There has not been much talk of grammar schools recently. She is the leader who went to Washington to meet the new incumbent in the White House. To say that she did not make much of an impression on him or anyone else worldwide would be the understatement of the century. Here is someone who probably thought that by not giving away much about herself she would be able to breeze through the next four years until the general election of 2020. Yet, keeping one’s privacy (good) does not equate to being boring (bad). Theresa May is boring and she has been shown up by someone who has problems creating punchlines for his own jokes. Jeremy Corbyn looks and sounds like a member of the public watching a stand-up show who has suddenly been asked to come on the stage to finish the act of the top comedian on the bill because she or he has been taken ill. Standing in the spotlight and faced with a hundred expectant faces, Mr Corbyn tries out his best jokes, only to see them falling flat on their faces, stepped on and kicked away by a demanding audience.

And yet, only two weeks ago, before May made her unexpected announcement, the Labour party put out a set of policies that were electorate-friendly enough. Not too scary, not too loony-left-sounding, just sensible enough that people could see Jeremy Corbyn in a different light, with a new pair of glasses, if you like.

Mrs May has been dealt a terrible hand with Brexit. She is the Remain-voting politician who has to negotiate a hard Brexit with the EU. In addition to that, salaries have stagnated and job prospects look grim. From a safe pair of hands ten months ago, she has turned into the grim reaper. Burying recovery, real or potential.

Enough has happened in the last year to convince me that the political landscape has grown more unpredictable per day. This works in Corbyn’s favour. I would probably advise him to ditch the “socialist” tag and concentrate on a progressive agenda. It is also the turn for Corbyn’s merry band of followers to stand up and be counted. The Tories are not interested in anyone else but themselves. Their motivation is not just Brexit, but the total annihilation of the Labour party. Victory on 8th June would also send a powerful message to those pesky Scots with their demand for a second referendum. Faced with these grim prospects, Labour supporters have nothing to lose. Go for broke, then. Canvass on every street, knock on every door. Remember, you have nothing to lose.

I doubt Jeremy Corbyn will be our next prime minister. That would be taking unpredictability to a whole different level. However, good results in the general election for Labour will make a dent on the Conservative armour. A coalition would be a realistic target and one that Jeremy should pursue. Whatever the outcome, I do not think that the pallbearers will be used just yet.

© 2017

Next Post: “Cubafonia”, to be published on Wednesday 26th April at 6pm (GMT)

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Thoughts in Progress

A fellow parent confessed to me recently that she was struggling with her adolescent daughter. Her behaviour was erratic, she had lied on a couple of occasions and she was lagging behind in her exams. All part and parcel of parenting, I thought. Then, she made a comment that left me scratching my head for a nanosecond before realising what she meant: “You see, I don’t want to be like those other parents”. She didn’t point at anyone in particular, there were no other parents around us and she kept her eyes firmly on the ground as she spoke. Whether she was feeling embarrassed or guilty, I don’t know. What I did know was what she meant by “those other parents”.

Retrospective analysis is a powerful tool. Especially for those with no past in the country to which they have relocated. I came to live in London facing the imminent arrival of my son (my wife was heavily pregnant) and an almost-zero knowledge on parenting on arrival. Whatever I had experienced during my previous stay in Londontown (just the one month) was nothing compared to upping sticks and moving here permanently. Talk about challenges! A new culture, new ways of being, expectations (both of myself and of my future home) and a baby craving attention.

A few of the difficulties were overcome pretty soon. I found a job and I got used to the British accent (especially the London twang) almost immediately. It was the parenting bit that took me longer (has taken me longer, I should write). That is why I was able to understand this fellow parent’s concern.

As soon as I settled in London, I, ever the observant, began to listen carefully to what people said and to watch what they did. The outcome of this gave me a powerful insight into the world of parenting in the UK.

Being a parent/carer is not easy. Along with education it is the profession that almost everyone has an opinion on, whether parents themselves or not. Note the use of the word “profession”. Being a parent is a job, just not a paid one. We are raising little human beings with the hope they will become responsible citizens in the future.

What that parent was telling me on that day corroborated the suspicions I had long harboured about parenting in the UK: it is a much divided element of society with a silo mentality that conspires against the very world we want to create for our children.

Let us go back to that parent for a second. What she was confessing to me would not have made anyone bat an eyelid. In fact, we would all have chimed in with our own anecdotes of stroppy teenagers. Yet, the more I scratched the surface, the more I realised she was being snobbish.

Look at the gates of a modern primary or secondary school in Britain and you will be exposed to a modern urban zoo. Whether a comprehensive or an academy, it is the same spectacle: parents forming their own mini-tribes and clans with very strict rules on who is allowed to join in. Forget The Who singing “the kids are alright”. It’s the adults who are screwed up.

Class, I noticed in those early years when my son was in reception, had an overarching, albeit thinly-veiled, influence on parents’ integration into the school community. The scruffy-looking, hair-up-in-a-bun, chain-smoking parent – usually, a mum – was shunned. The 4x4-driving, high-flying, dapper-looking progenitor was welcome. As I mentioned before, this was not openly done. Like a secret language, the way parents interacted with each other was full of codes and signals.

What this other parent really meant when talking to me was that she did not want to be seen as a rubbish parent. After all she did not yell at her daughter on the street. Or, give her fast food for breakfast and dinner. Or, she was not the type who refused to play with her little one, choosing to be on her mobile 24/7 instead. No, she was the other kind: the one who used to take her bairn to the museum, who always took advantage of free drama workshops or who baked cakes together with her daughter.

Let me say something really controversial: there is no such thing as a rubbish parent. There is, however, challenging parenting. How could there not be? You go from thinking mainly of yourself (OK, maybe, the boy/girlfriend, too) to caring for another human being who, in the first years of their life, cannot articulate clearly what their needs are. It is enough to make someone want to blow their brains off. Add ingredients such as class, race, gender and age and public perceptions of them and you have a recipe for disaster. Furthermore, with the government’s latest announcements on the new education policy, there will be even more division in the school community. The proposed return of grammar schools and the expansion of academies will contribute to the entrenchment of privilege. Those parents with greater means will flood the grammar school a mile away, whilst the local comp, unable to compete, will just die a slow death. Guess whose children will attend the former and whose the latter? 4x4 glamour parent’s and chain-smoker’s respectively.

My answer to my fellow parent’s worries was that sometimes we need to get to know the other parent before rushing to judge them on their appearance. An appearance that occasionally includes a sign hanging from their neck with the caption "Please, touch me with a bargepole". By the same token that parenting is hard, it is unfortunately an opportunity to get up on one’s high horse and point our accusing finger to all and sundry. As Philip Larkin said: “They f*** you up, your mum and dad/They may not mean to, but they do”. The trick is in understanding that this is never intentional. Remember: there is no such thing as a rubbish parent. But, boy, is parenting challenging!

As usual, this is my last column before the Easter break. I hope you have a very relaxing time and get to do all the things you have been planning to do but have not found time to. I know I will be doing more cycling around London (if my bike allows me to). I shall return late April. Until then, take care of yourselves.

© 2017

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Let's Talk About...

the good old days. C’mon, you know what I’m on about. We live in times when even people in their early 30s preface their sentences with: “Do you remember when…?” When, what, exactly? When you were born and Thatcher was in power

Let’s talk about a certain epidemic sweeping through these isles. It’s a “selective memory” condition that reminisces about past times, carefully and skilfully leaves the bad bits out and focuses mainly on the good ones.

It is not an ailment that affects solely the Brits. I had the opportunity to see the same phenomenon in my country of birth when I visited last summer. Perhaps, because Castro’s demise was imminent, but I ran into people who went out of their way to romanticise a past they had only slagged off three years before on my previous visit.

The elements that make up this “golden era” evocation in the UK are different, though. We live in times when technology, to mention but one factor, has challenged normal conventions. Social norms, educational practices, human interactions, they have all been transformed. For many, these changes have been for the worse. Loss of manners, addiction to gadgets and lack of social etiquette are some of the side-effects of swiping and scrolling. It is natural, therefore, to look at the emotional spaces carved out in one’s childhood as a comfortable refuge to inhabit.

But beware. Bygone eras do not come all under the same banner and with the same content. Let’s talk about the good old days, but what years exactly? Before the 1910s, you say? If you were a woman you did not have the vote. If you were poor there was no free healthcare and seeing one’s offspring dying was common. 1930s? Rise of antisemitism in Europe, so, if you were a Jew, you were not safe. 1940s? There was a war going on. And whilst Britain fought on the side of what I call “the good guys”, the truth is that when your city is being bombed to bits, you do not look back on those days with fondness but rather with horror. 1950s? OK, I’ll give you that one, but only if you were not gay, you did not need an abortion and you were not black (the racially-motivated Notting Hill riots took place in 1958).

This is not to say that these eras lacked pluses. There were many: outdoor play was part and parcel of growing up; allergies were not as rife as now (as spring time comes upon us, I am already fretting over which allergy will attack me first: pollen-caused hay fever, the tree variety or the grass type?); dieting was mainly the preserve of celebrities and community carried a real meaning.
Say what about my health?

The danger is that as our future becomes more frightening we retreat further away from it. And by moving away we invariably drift towards that “past as a foreign country”. Of course they do things differently there. For starters, they have not got mobile phones. They did, however, cane you. Remember that?

Let’s talk about the good old days. But when we do, let us remember, too, that not everything was rosy pink. Outside toilets, bullying, bigotry, and domestic violence were so normal that people would not bat an eyelid if you brought these subjects up in conversation. That is why I think it is better to think that no era was golden. They all had their pros and cons and idealising them does no one any favours. Plus, at least we have mobile phones now, don’t you think?

© 2017

Next Post: “Thoughts in Progress”, to be published on Saturday 25th March at 6pm (GMT)

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Thoughts in Progress

Before you carry on reading this column, please, do the following: stand in front of a mirror, preferably a full-length one and ask yourself this question: what am I? Not, who are you? You know who you are, but what you are will pose a different challenge to answer. Then, come back to my blog and post a short, one- or two-line response below.

At some point in the last ten to twelve years I posed a similar question to myself. Before that time, however, I never queried what I was. Or at least, not consciously. If ever the question arose, it came from someone, rather than from me.

I would wager (and I am not the betting type) that your answers included categories such as age, race, complexion, body shape and height. Some might have ventured a bit further and included their sexual orientation and politics.

How many of you started your response with the phrase: I am a human being?

There is no catch in this post. Like you for a long time I described myself as Cuban, male, black, young (still and forever), able-bodied, neither tall, nor short, slim and muscular, straight, leftwing (but not romantic), cynical and pragmatic. Two lines that established what I was. No priority in that list. Yet, at some point the pragmatic has taken over the Cuban. Other times the Cuban has replaced the black as a bigger identity marker.

However, hidden under all these thick layers there was one trait that I shared with every other man or woman on Planet Earth: our human experience. What is it about us humans that compels us to “dress up” this essential feature with countless other elements?

Our starting point in life, barring location and economic status, is similar. We cry most of the time as we come out of the womb; we immediately gravitate towards our mother’s breast, seeking nourishment. We react warmly to affection. We begin the long, arduous process of living, knowing that our individual choices must not hurt others, that we are responsible not only for ourselves but also for the world at large.

The challenge is that at some point in our lives and at a very early stage for some, we also start to layer up our identity. The markers we choose might or might not be of our own volition but the decision to act on them is ours.

The reason why I have been thinking about identity markers and our common humanity is the situation of refugees in Europe. The dangers these people face is threefold. First, their situation back home. Second, the journey many have to undertake to reach what they would consider a safe sanctuary. Third, but by no means least, the new life they have to carve out in a land to which they never thought of emigrating in the first place.

The thinking on refugees is usually framed in terms of economic cost: how much is it to feed them, clothe them, house them and employ them? The discussion very rarely delves deeper into the reasons why people with reasonable life standards would risk their lives crossing the Mediterranean or war zones to get to Europe. If we did, we would probably find an index finger pointing back at us. On the one hand, our military industry demands that more wars be waged. Otherwise, how on earth would we manage to sell our weapons? On the other hand, our economic choices have a knock-on effect on Third World countries and their capacity for self-reliance.

I described myself as a cynic a few paragraphs before. Nevertheless, I have confidence in the world we live. I am also a romantic (not of the “plastic socialist” type, though) and believe that the majority of human interactions involve millions of acts of kindness and co-operation. Part of the reason why I hold these beliefs (note the use of what is commonly seen as religious language. I am reclaiming it) is that many years ago I, too, stood in front of a full-length mirror and asked myself what I was. The first answer I came up with still resonates to this day: human.

© 2017

Next Post: “Let’s Talk About…”, to be published on Wednesday 22nd March at 6pm (GMT)

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Living in a Multilingual World (The One About Language in our Post-Truth Times)

Perhaps one of the unintended consequences of Trump’s presidency so far is its effect on translators. I know that I’m going out on a limb here, translators being bottom of the heap when it comes to the White House’s incumbent’s chief victims. Nonetheless, it is an issue I feel pressed to raise, being a part-time (and very occasional) translator.

Our work is usually fraught with linguistic booby-traps and idiomatic swamps. One minute, you are on safe ground and you feel confident of what you are producing. The next minute you are sinking in quicksand and even a bilingual dictionary is of no help at all. It is a cruel world out there already for translators. Therefore we do not need Monsieur Trump to add to our calamities.

The problem arises from the president’s (every time I type the words “Donald Trump” and “president of the USA” in the same sentence, I get a mixed reaction. One is uncontrollable laughter followed by endless crying. Maybe I should work on a translation for those feelings and put it on a T-shirt to sell) use of the English language. He very rarely means what he says and he does not say much. Unless you count his constant tautology.

Take the word “bad”. I have enough on my plate with the “yoot” of today using this adjective to describe something or someone as “good”. Yes, you read that right. “Bad” is not “bad”, but “good”.

For Pussy-Grabber-In-Chief, however, “bad” is something he disagrees with, not necessarily something that lacks quality, i.e., not good. Which would automatically qualify the thing or the person as “good” (if you ask me). It serves Trump’s simplistic, binary vision of the world to offer this black and white concept. Agree with the Muslim travel ban? Good. Disagree? Bad.
How do you translate that hair again?

But as a translator, I work on ideas, not just words. That means that a sentence like “A lot of bad ‘dudes’ out there!” is bound to give me sleepless nights. Note how straightforward it is (muchos tipos malos por ahí), and yet, we know that the majority of people Trump targets are law-abiding Muslims. Therefore, I cannot agree with the word “bad” even if my job is only to translate.

The president is not alone. On this side of the Atlantic, former education secretary Michael Gove lashed out at experts just before the Brexit vote, stating that “people had had enough” of them. The translation of the word “expert” into Spanish is “experto/a”. In both English and Spanish it means “a person who has a special skill or knowledge in some particular field. Well, not anymore. I am not sure whether to go for the dictionary definition (specialist), or Gove’s one (conman, especially of the EU-financed variety). What if the translation is for a Brexiteer? What if Trump’s entourage hires me covertly to translate important documents? Highly unlikely, I know, but you can never be too sure.

It is not just those who worry about civil liberties and human rights who are troubled by what is going on in both Europe and the States. It is also linguists, translators and academics who wonder if our language will ever be the same. After all, what is the translation for “fake news” again? “Noticias falsas”, you say? But the other side claims they are part of an alternative facts world. Pass me the smelling salts, will you! At least that phrase is an easy one to translate.

© 2017

Next Post: “Thoughts in Progress”, to be published on Saturday 18th March at 6pm (GMT)

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Thoughts in Progress

Nancy Sinatra once sang: “Well, these boots are made for walking, and that's just what they'll do/One of these days these boots are gonna walk all over you”. It is not just Miss Sinatra‘s sassiness that sets up apart but also what we do with our footwear.
My boots turn twenty this year. Notice the use of “my” in the previous sentence. I did not write “I have a pair of boots that turns twenty this year”. I could have, though. I have more than one pair of boots, including hiking ones. But when I say “my boots”, there is only one pair that counts. My Mexican boots, bought in 1997, end of February or beginning of March after I found out that I had been given my tourist visa to visit London.

Although I have forgotten the month and date, I do remember the day when I purchased my boots. It was a typical winter’s day in Havana with the temperature hovering in the mid-20s. That morning I went to the British embassy in Miramar, western Havana, and after getting my paperwork in order decided to hit the streets of Old Havana, in the east, for a while.

The first shoe boutique in the Cuban capital – to my knowledge – had recently opened on Obispo Street, a pedestrian-only road that was flanked by shops, paladares and crafts business on either side. It was on one of its corners where I first laid eyes on a mahogany-coloured pair of Mexican boots. They were dear, I won’t lie. The fact I cannot remember the price probably tells you how embarrassed I felt at the time at coughing up much-worked-for cash in exchange for such luxury product. The money came from my free-lancing. It was a fruitful period for me; in addition to my interpreting and translation services I taught Spanish to foreign students.

From that moment I put my boots on, winter/spring ‘97 to now, writing this post in the quiet of my house, listening to Beethoven’s Sonatas performed by Daniel Baremboim, my faithful boots have always been by my side. As if to remind me of their longevity, today one of them paid a visit to our local cobbler’s (yes, believe it or not, we still have a cobbler) and it now has its heel glued back on.

James Taylor’s lines “Winter, spring, summer or fall/All you've got to do is call/And I'll be there, ye, ye, ye/You've got a friend” could well have been written with my boots in mind. They are the ones singing the verses. On my feet they travelled to Dominican Republic, Spain (three times), Cuba (twice) and various places in Britain, including Oban (Scotland), Dorset, Cornwall and Woolacombe (England). They have been worn to pedal down the streets of Londontown and I’ve walked with them from Oxford Street, where it meets Charing Cross Road, to Lambeth Bridge via Whitehall and Abindgon Street. I have got hot and sweaty whilst dancing with them on (in fact, that’s how the heel on the right one came off a year and a half ago).

In a world of unbridled consumerism it would be easy to dismiss my unshakeable and unconditional love for my boots as romantic tomfoolery. Well, I’d better come clear then: I am a hopeless, romantic fool sometimes. Only sometimes, mind, the rest of the time I am a romantic with 99% of reality in my head. Occasionally, I tell that 99% to go very far and stay with that 1% that more than makes up for the missing percentage.

Last autumn, for the first time in two decades I looked in a catalogue for a similar pair of boots to my Mexican ones. I guess that in the back of my mind the idea of the inevitable was forming. My old friends will give up the ghost one day and, whilst nothing can replace them, contemplating alternatives did not feel like treachery. However, I got so upset at the thought of losing my dear, old boots that I closed the pages of the brochure in my hands.

Here's to you, my faithful boots!

It is strange to think of inanimate objects, like shoewear, as friends. It is normal to fall for cats, dogs and other pets and see our relationship with them in the same light as a friendship with another human being. Yet, to me, the fact that this pair of tough, solid, well-made boots have endured for so long and have made such a big impact on my life is proof that sometimes friends are not of the chase-the-ball kind, or the roll-over-the-floor-while-I-tickle-your-belly type. Sometimes all they want is to be worn. Over and over again. All over the city, the countryside and near the sea. Now, whether you decide to walk over someone with them on, well, that one is up to you. And I certainly am not that sassy.

© 2017

Next Post: “Living in a Multilingual World”, to be published on Wednesday 15th Marchat 6pm (GMT)

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Urban Diary

I set off on my run in the mid afternoon sun. As I close the front door of my house, I listen to two voices inside me: one comes from my mind, the other one from my body. Together they either help me achieve my goal or make me give up half way through. My marathon is in almost four weeks’ time and I aim to complete seventeen miles today. I plan to “break the wall”, that invisible, mental construct that defeats runners of all ages, genders and abilities. Last year as I trained for the same event, the Brighton Marathon, I came across certain features in my personality to which I had not paid proper attention before, resilience and stubbornness being two of them (mind you, the latter has been known to me for several years). The “wall-breaking” moment brought about changes in the way I saw running and the elements I needed to work on in order to succeed.

Today both voices are in agreement: you can do it. Still, I look for mental and visual stimulation. Being well acquainted with the route I will be covering makes my physical effort less demanding.

Massed and compact front lawns announce timidly the arrival of spring. Small, buttercup-coloured daisies stand out amongst the lush green, a green that is the result of heavy downfalls (including Storm Doris) in London in the last fortnight. With the temperature in double figures, but certainly not in the teens yet and a weak sun bleeding orange rays I take the first step.

Up and down I go around my urban jungle. After a while the route becomes flatter and my pace steadies. As if in direct contradiction with my surroundings my energy levels rise as the day slowly dies. By the time I reach mile fifteenth, the sun is but a spark behind the buildings on the high road. I get home submerged in darkness. I check my mileage and I feel pleased about reaching my goal. For some strange reason I think back on the buttercup-coloured daisies, springing up amidst the lush green of people’s front lawns.

© 2017

Photo taken by the blog author

Next Post: “Thoughts in Progress”, to be published on Saturday 11th March at 6pm (GMT)

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Thoughts in Progress

The human experience is a moment-hopping journey. Random memories coalesce together in the hope we can make sense of our existence, of who we are, why we are here. We weave a consciously lineal narrative into our voyage through the world and yet our subconscious releases these stories like a bundle of pick-up sticks in a game of Mikado.

Snap! There we are, aged six and our front tooth has just come out. We smile at everyone without fear or shame. The hole in our denture defies ridicule and encourages individuality. Distant is still the feeling of embarrassment that will plague our future years, whenever we are asked on to the dance floor.

Snap! There we are, sitting by ourselves on the cracked wall next to the abandoned, weed-strewn, communal garden. We are the acne-afflicted teenager with pain in his heart and no Plan B on how to deal with it. Yesterday we rose to kiss our loved one. Standing on toes, raised heels. Raised hopes. Dashed now.

Snap! We are the young adult with a frown on our face and a letter in our hand explaining mortgage rates. Our ship moves ever so slowly away from harbour. Soon, we will not have tranquil waters anymore. Instead we will be at the mercy of the ever-changing weather. The letter sits on the table. The mortgage rates fluctuate in the stock market. We are building our monument to Nostalgia.

Nostalgia. Self-lacerating and yet so welcome. One minute you are the mature, decisive adult who handles each child-related emergency with pragmatism and sang froid. The next minute, you are an emotional wreck as memories of that cracked wall flash up in your mind.

Nostalgia. Indulgence in the past or fear of the future? Traps that Time sets for us, unsuspecting humans, or tools to re-imagine easily forgotten eras?

The ball I threw while playing in the park has not yet reached the ground. No, it moved in whimsical ways and continues to move that way. Neither lineally nor predictably, but randomly. Like a bundle of pick-up sticks in a game of Mikado. Ready to be released.

© 2017

Photo by the blog author

Next Post: “Urban Diary”, to be published on Wednesday 8th March at 6pm (GMT)

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Food, Music, Food, Music, Food, Music... Ad Infinitum

 Photograph: Louise Hagger for the Guardian.

Maybe it is the success I had recently with a chicken and avocado salad I made for a colleague’s leaving do at work, but I am getting bolder with my veg and spices. This recipe comes courtesy of one of my favourite cooks, Yotam Ottolenghi. My only addition would be a Scotch bonnet chilli. Just to give the salad a bit of a kick.

Moroccan carrot salad with orange and pistachio

The orange blossom is a lovely addition to the dressing, but don’t buy a whole bottle just for the sake of a quarter-teaspoon. This salad is still lovely without it. Serves four.
650g carrots, peeled and coarsely grated
2 oranges, peeled and cut into 1cm pieces
½ small garlic clove, peeled and crushed
50g pistachios, toasted and chopped
20g coriander leaves
15g mint leaves

For the dressing

3 tbsp olive oil
¼ tsp orange blossom water (optional)
2 tsp honey
1½ tsp cumin seeds, toasted and lightly crushed
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
3 tbsp lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Whisk the dressing ingredients in a bowl with half a teaspoon of salt and a good grind of pepper. Add the salad ingredients, toss to coat and serve.

The music to go with this recipe must have that fresh feel, too. And because it is winter, it must also have that heart-warming quality that this season’s food has. First up are the Four Tops. Just because this song exudes the joy that fills up my kitchen when I’m cooking. Enjoy.

His voice is velvety, smooth and utterly ethereal. Maxwell’s cover of Kate Bush’s This Woman’s Work is as good as, if not better than, the original. It goes hand in hand with our crisp, spicy salad.

We finish with a fine daughter of Africa. Malian singer song-writer Oumou Sangare’s soulful voice is one that suits our aromatic salad very well.

Next Post: “Thoughts in Progress”, to be published on Saturday 4th March at 6pm (GMT)

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Thoughts in Progress

If we do not work on our exterior, our internal characterisation as well as its conception will not reach the audience. Thus spoke Tortsov, theatre and school director whose collaboration with the great theatre practitioner Konstantin Stanislavski formed the basis of the latter’s book An Actor Prepares. His words were on my mind recently as I watched a group of smokers carefully.

Observing them at a distance I came to the following conclusion: they all looked as if they wanted to hold something, anything, all the time. The cigarette in their hands was a mere prop. It could have been any other object, a glass, a dumbbell or a pencil, but I guess the effect would have been less dramatic. This was the second outcome of my observation: their cigarette-holding exercise was a performance.

As a race, we humans are prop-friendly or prop-obsessed (depending on how close we feel towards them). The current mobile phone craze has given us yet another excuse to handle an object. Never mind that the constant swiping and screen-glancing make mobile phone users walking hazards, all they are focused on is the public, unintentional, off-the-cuff (unasked-for) performance they are regaling to an uninterested audience.

This is not a new phenomenon. Go back a few decades and you will notice that cigarettes and alcohol were the go-to props of the day. I have just gone on You Tube to watch a collage of fag-filled clips of the unforgettable Bette Davis. At less than a minute long, the amount of smoke in the video is enough to make you cough. You even forget for a moment that you are watching the late American star … on your computer.

You might disagree with me on the following statement but I do believe that nobody held a ciggie like Ms Davis. Hand on hip, or looking intently in the other person’s eyes, or slowly walking down a set of stairs, or putting the stogy butt out, there was always class in her acting. Precisely what Tortsov insisted that his students have. In another chapter he talks about an actor’s presence on stage, how some have an aura that precedes them even before they utter a word. They could read the telephone book to the whole theatre and still no one would get up to leave. Props very often have a certain influence on this total control of actor over public.

Now, that's the way to hold it

When I was still doing theatre back in my 20s one of my main concerns was what to do about my hands. Not being a smoker or a heavy drinker myself, I did not have the habit of permanently holding an object. To this day I remember my lessons in each of the groups to which I belonged. Once we had a masterclass with a renowned professional Cuban actor. At the end of the session he approached me and said sternly: “I liked your performance. You have a good voice, perfect spatial sense and clear articulation. But your hands let you down. They are all over the gaffe. Rein them in. You are in command. Rein them in.”

I did not mind his comment, it was true. The issue was that I seriously did not know what to do with my hands. The most common mistake for two actors rehearsing a scene is to put their hands in their pockets (if they have them), cross their arms or adopt the teapot pose (hands on hips).

Perhaps this is what Shakespeare had in mind when he stated that “All the world’s a stage”. Now, I wonder what he ever did with his hands. Or perhaps, he was a smoker.

© 2017

Next Post: “Food, Music, Food, Music, Food, Music… Ad Infinitum”, to be published on Wednesday 1st March at 6pm (GMT)


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