Permission To Direct

Everybody has weak moments. One of mine was at an after show party when somebody (you know who you are, James) twisted my arm into agreeing to direct a “Green Room”.

In our little theatre group a “green room” is a one-act play put on, for one night only, for the members as a social occasion and as an audition piece, as it were, to be considered able to direct a full show. In this instance there were two of us, potential directors, and we agreed to put our plays on together.

I won’t bore you with tales of the stress of trying to organise everything, cast the show, actually directing and working backstage (in my case lighting) that went into making the evening happen.
I will tell you it was a fascinating challenge and an awful lot of fun, that we had wonderful cast and crew who made it possible and that the audience thoroughly enjoyed themselves. I will also tell you that all production meetings should also involve ice cream sundaes.

So, whatever the official verdict (and I’m still waiting for that) I think we did ourselves proud.

Why am I telling you this now you ask. Because somebody (you know who you are, James) gave me a very special Christmas present; a framed copy of our programme. And it turns out, just for a moment, I felt like a real director.
Priceless.
Front Cover

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Five Handshakes From Beethoven

Thank you James for a wonderful Christmas present.

“You’re busy on the twentieth of December”, James told me “it’s your Christmas present and it’s a surprise”.

Well I like my Christmas presents to be surprises so I waited patiently for the day to arrive trying not to find out what might be in store.

Off we went to London (I had been told of that at least, so had my Oyster card handy) with a bottle of water (another tiny bit of information) and a degree of nervousness.

Finally we arrived at Kings Place near Kings Cross, a venue I’d never even heard of before. After a little more misdirection (James was stringing the surprise out for all it was worth) ended up discovering that my present was a “Come and Sing” day led by John Rutter.

Surprise, shock, amazement…singing Christmas carols with the John Rutter. Nothing could be more perfect. On the other hand I suddenly wished I’d warmed my voice up that morning.

As someone who was introduced to his music (particularly his carols) as a child this was a somewhat overwhelming but exciting experience. It was also incredibly challenging as I attempted to sing carols I’d never heard before by sight and to sing an unknown alto line to carols I knew very well but had never before sung chorally.

Left hand photo ©James McCann (@MovingScenes)

Left hand photo ©James McCann (@MovingScenes)

Between carols we were treated to an array of entertaining anecdotes including an explanation as to how John Rutter could claim to be only four handshakes away from Beethoven. He had, he said, shaken hands with Herbert Howells, who as a pupil of the Irish composer Stanford would have shaken his hand. Stanford surely shook hands with Brahms when they met in Germany; Brahms must likewise have exchanged a handshake with Liszt, who would, Rutter speculated, surely have shaken hands when he met Beethoven.

Finally there was time to sing a few more carols, now with a beautiful baritone soloist, a final chance to perform what we’d rehearsed earlier, both to him and to the observers in the gallery.

When the afternoon was over I queued up with my newly acquired book of carols to get it signed by John Rutter, a lasting memento of a very special Christmas present and naturally I also took the opportunity to shake his hand.

Why I Wish It Was Always Winter And Never Christmas

NarniaWhen I was a child Christmas was uncomplicated. It started on Christmas Eve when we spent the day making and hanging paper chains and putting up the Christmas tree. On Christmas Day there were presents and turkey and it was wonderful.

As a teenager Christmas began to gain new complexity. There was the weekend in November when I would help my mother make the Christmas pudding and the added bonus of helping to finish up the bottle of Guinness that had gone into it. Then there were presents to buy for my parents and siblings and a pack of Christmas cards for my form at school. Christmas Eve expanded to include helping to make bacon rolls, dividing sausages and peeling parsnips. Christmas Day included the task of laying the table for dinner. All still good fun.

These days, as a grown up, the responsibilities and the time needed have increased enormously, even though I am lucky enough to have someone else to take on the responsibility for the dinner itself.

Christmas cards need writing early enough to send abroad rather than waiting until the end of term. The list of presents I am responsible for thinking up, buying, wrapping and sending has expanded from my immediate family to include their partners and children, and my own, and to the similarly expanded list of my partner’s family too, plus a few special friends. Now six times as many presents as in my teenage years! Some of those presents also need sending abroad, so I spend November torn between planning for Christmas, stressed that I’m running out of time and cursing that it is far too early to be doing any of this.

Really by this point, I’m looking to 25th December when I can relax with no more responsibilities until twelfth night (when the decorations come down).

Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas. I love carols, tinsel, roast goose (I’ve moved on from turkey) and huge piles of discarded wrapping paper. Most of all I love all the people that I send cards to and buy presents for and I sincerely hope that they will get joy and pleasure from opening whatever it is I send them (if only I knew what that should be). I just can’t help wishing that I didn’t have to love them all at once with such an immovable deadline.

As far as I know I’m the only person who feels this way. Everyone else is happy preparing for Christmas without feeling stressed out by the expectations it causes. So, please tell me, what’s your secret?

Actually I’d prefer always summer if possible. Surely that would have been a more sensible spell for the White Witch?