Tales from the Changing Room

Any breach of my table manners caused my father to remark that I would never be asked to dine at Buckingham Palace. And he was right, I have not been asked to dine – a reception with an 8.30pm start suggests one is expected to have had one’s tea. No worries about using the correct cutlery then, only worries about what to wear on an occasion which requires White Tie or National Dress. Orkney’s national costume of boiler suit and bunnet paired with floral pinny and headscarf was a delicious prospect – for all of 30 seconds.

In reality, it is easy for him; a trip to Moss Bros and he is sorted. I, unfortunately, have to go shopping for a floor length evening dress and I am a big woman.

Many shops later, I have learnt several facts. The choice in size 18 is limited and within that miniscule selection, the gowns which suit a wrong-side-of-55- but-not-yet-70, 5ft 10in matron with bat wings are non-existent. A green beaded number made me look like a sickly armadillo; a navy silk and lurex number would require corsetry a la Queen Mary; a black number with a raised collar, which looked initially promising on account of the sleeves, turns me into a cross between Mrs Danvers and Snow White’s stepmother; Grecian, with a flowing skirt hides the fat but requires a cantilevered bra to produce a (crepey ) cleavage and some sort of shrug to hide my shot-putter shoulders and the aforementioned bat wings. (Barbara Cartland boleros are not the answer.)

And there is another lurking problem. Etiquette states that white tie for him means gloves for her, and a sleeveless gown means above-the-elbow ones, preferably silk or kid. A quick Internet trawl confirms my suspicion that these come expensive unless one is willing to settle for nylon from the dominatrix website. So, if anyone knows of a shop stocking extra long flowing dresses with sleeves and only the hint of a cleavage, please let me know. Then I just have to find some shoes for my size 8 bunioned feet.

 

 

 

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Today The Show Moves To Edinburgh

Today, I am moved to do housework. Those who know me well, will realise this is unusual. I normally have a high tolerance of dust, crumbs and toothpaste-encrusted basins, but today is the  Edinburgh launch of THE TROUBLE WITH KEEPING MUM and I am nervous – hence the displacement activity.

It’s not actually the occasion itself that bothers me. It is a show at which I am in control of what I will say; what I will read. The loss of control comes with the fact that more people will buy it and hopefully even read it. Then they either tell their friends its rubbish or that they should go and BUY it. (NB telling an author you lent your copy to 10 friends who all loved it, may raise the ego slightly, but it does nothing for the royalties) Judgement Day approaches.

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 John Knox is on my shoulder again, warning me not to get bigsy ( a good Orkney word meaning  ‘I kent your faither’)while my personal neuro-linguistic programming is telling me to believe in myself and I will succeed. So, If you live in or near Edinburgh, please drop by Blackwells Bookshop  on South Bridge at 6.30pm for a glass of wine and  the chance to buy a signed copy.  Come and see whether or not I have been successful in sending  Rev Knox  back to his plinth at the Assembly Building.  
In the meantime, I shall don the marigolds, clean lavatories with unaccustomed vigour and watch the Olympic dressage when I need a break. My nerves must be trivial compared to these riders. On the other hand, I can’t blame the horse.

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It’s Publication Day!

Publication day  for The Trouble with Keeping Mum   is here but, sandwiched as it is between two launches, it is rather a non day.Though I say it myself, opening night in Orkney was a success – a case of wine, a friendly audience, and 70 copies of The Trouble with Keeping Mum sold. The transfer to Edinburgh is a work in progress, but as I am no longer the director or stage manager,  it shouldn’t concern me till curtain up. It really shouldn’t………….

        ImageIllustrator Britt Harcus at the Orkney launch

With 12 days between launches, I have been enjoying being part of an audience – firstly watching the Olympic Eventing  cross country in the beautiful auditorium that is Greenwich Park with its panoramic views of the City of London. Although we are now a horse free family and no longer see £20 notes disappear into the hands of vets, saddlers and rug manufacturers, this was a horse lovers dream. We revelled in a rare family day out with our two daughters, complete with Union Jacks and a Silver Fern for our New Zealand links. We met up with Orkney friends with a German connection, so you could say our support got all three teams onto the podium -Team Germany taking gold, Team GB the silver and Team NZ the bronze. Bet they were glad we came.

Image       Wallace family               Image Mary King GB

               Yesterday, I went to Walton on Thames to watch the cycling. If pressing the camera shutter at the correct moment to catch a horse in mid air was difficult, achieving a photo of a cyclist was well nigh impossible. Bradley Wiggins went past at such a speed, far faster than those before or after him and it was obvious he was on course for victory. 

.Image Froome          ImageWiggins! Missed!!

Today I am housekeeping and watching daytime television with a clear conscience. Not property, antiques or relationship angst, just dressage, rowing, swimming and even a bit of beach volleyball, but there is a bottle of bubbles in the fridge for later.

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Keeping Mum and other Troubles

Less than a week now until opening night and I am managing the Orkney production from a distance. The launch of the The Trouble with Keeping Mum is next Thursday, and I am, at present, keeping Mum in Dumfriesshire. Not my Mum – I am an orphan – but my mother-in-law, who has had a recent hip operation and is less than mobile. As a respite carer for six days, while  brother in law and his spouse have absconded to Cyprus, I make soup for the freezer and insist that the dishwasher will be used. I have not come all this way to unnecessarily wash dishes.
I chop vegetables, barefoot and clad in thin t shirt, on account of the central heating being at high, and I worry.  There was some consolation, yesterday to learn that two copies have arrived at my Orkney home. So it has been printed then. Other questions, however, remain unanswered. Will those despatching the Orkney copies know that guaranteed 24 hour delivery usually means 3 days  and can mean up to 5 if you get the boats ‘wrong’ and miss a sailing? Will there be enough copies? (Waterstones ran out for the Edinburgh launch of A Small Town Affair)  Perhaps everyone is waiting for the paperback and there will be too many!
As I listen to the TV at high volume with accompanying subtitles, I reassure myself that the stage management of the Orkney production is firmly under my control. I have ordered wine. I have booked the venue. I have arranged friends to refill glasses and deal with the empties. I have a pen. Edinburgh, however, is a different matter. The only thing under my control is the audience. At least they might be friendly. In the meantime though, I shall concentrate on the matter in hand. Keeping Mum (and Dad and Auntie) really isn’t a problem. There is appreciation and there is the disabled parking badge. Auntie and I are off to park on a yellow line outside Marks and Spencer in Carlisle while we buy pop socks, ready meals, and anti-depressants from the Marlborough Region of New Zealand and perhaps something red too!
So, Orkney residents and visitors, if you are free, please come along to the St Magnus Centre in Kirkwall for 7.00pm on Thursday 26th where you will be offered  a glass of anti-depressant and the chance to purchase and autographed copy of  The Trouble With Keeping Mum, (Providing the books have arrived, that is!)  Hope to see you there!

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30 Days and Counting – Book Launch on the Horizon

We are in rehearsal for Launch of My Second Novel in a month’s time – opening night in Orkney and a subsequent performance in Edinburgh. Exciting, one might say – terrifying is more like it. Stage fright in spades.
Putting an about-to-be-published novel out for review is akin to putting one’s infant in a Bonny Baby competition –the fruit of one’s labours will either be declared a winner or, unlike the baby show when the unattractive child is merely unplaced, it will be denounced as rubbish. Having had some success and good reviews with my first production, A Small Town Affair, I should be brimming with confidence, but my inner Presbyterian is whispering that I am about to be found out. A more distant voice, the rational me, knows this is an extremely stupid way to behave, especially when I am not even certain who, if anyone, is going to review it.  No reviews would be much worse, wouldn’t it?  Perhaps the  novel’s title,  The Trouble with Keeping Mum, should be a mantra. All publicity is good publicity.
And the show needs an audience. A mid-summer launch means some friends will surely be away, but what if others use it as an excuse not to attend?  John Knox be gone! And those who do come, how much will they drink?  Not enough plonk is unthinkable, but with budget constraints in publishing houses, being left with bottles could be a disaster. There are only so many raffles into which one can offload the surplus.
There is still a month to go. Will the production be slick, the reviews excellent and the venue a sell out?  Inner Presbyterian tells me, if this is the case, I will be heading for a fall.  Failure is good for the soul. But I will be brave and head for the cliff. Only on the edge, is it scary. Once I step into space, rather than plummeting to earth, I might find I can fly. Aye, Right! says Mr Knox. Watch this space says I.

                                                                         

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A View from the Auditorium

A few days away and there is need for stage management at home. So for a week or so, I was wardrobe mistress, groundswoman, general handyperson, catering manager and walker of the theatre mascot. Once things were again semi-shipshape, I took the opportunity to reabscond, this time to be part of the audience.
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The first show was Barcelona. The set was by Gaudi and the cast huge. It is easy to please an audience when the sun shines and the evenings are warm. There were scenes on an open-topped bus, a rowdy tapas bar and a roof terrace with a harbour view. What not to like?

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The Diamond Jubilee River Pageant was next. Unwilling to pay out for the lunch-theatre seats on the House of Lords Terrace, we were destined for the pit on the Embankment. It is not often that I am upgraded, but elevated I was, to a private box, a 5th floor balcony near Lambeth Bridge complete with champagne and a banner proclaiming Vivat Regina.  What it is to have friends with high places. The Bell Boat opened the show and there followed a well-rehearsed pageant with a cast of thousands. Weather, however, has always been a pitfall of outside productions and after the Royal Barge came not only boats of all shapes and sizes, but the rain. The six-deep audience below voted with their feet and went home to view the final scenes on TV – a shame, because many hours had been spent ironing costumes and repainting vessels. Sheltered by the balcony above, I manage to wave to the end.

Today I am backstage again in Orkney. A moth-eaten Union Jack my parents displayed at the Coronation hangs from the window as we watch the service from St Pauls. As the sign said – Vivat Regina

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May Travels Act 2

ImageNext stop was Edinburgh. The stage, Holyrood House; the play, ‘A Sleepover with the Lord High Commissioner of The Church of Scotland.’ Not that I was sleeping with His Grace,  in fact I was able to choose whether or not I slept with my husband as he was allocated a small room with a single bed overlooking the inner courtyard and I had the palatial accommodation with the double bed and view of Arthur’s Seat. Corridor creeping was rife, not I fear, in an Edwardian house-party sense, but because 16th century palaces are not equipped with en-suite bathrooms. Woe betide those who forgot a dressing gown. Various costume changes were required from smart casual on arrival, to evening dress with best jewellery, to something with a hat for the communion service on Monday morning. Brightly coloured millinery, being unsuitable, I unearthed a battered black number which was relegated to the back of the wardrobe in case I was ever asked to a Royal funeral. With a small addition of some white ribbon, some judicious steaming with the kettle lid open and I was ready for curtain up. I think I remembered my lines. It was not an occasion for the ad-lib.

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May Travels Act 1

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I’ve been away from home recently for one of my regular walk-on roles  in The House of Lords, a favourite theatres of mine. With its liveried officials and strange customs, those cast as waiters have lines such as ‘More potatoes, M’lady’ and ‘Something from the sweet trolley, M’Lord’.  The director needs people whose hair colour is predominantly white for the scenes in the Chamber and while some will have lines others are slumbering extras. It’s not all boring though. There are health and safety issues that wouldn’t be tolerated in the other theatres in which I appear and I’ve learned not to be run over by the many motorised wheelchairs. It’s a very traditional theatre in many ways, with the old guard reluctant to modernise. But the bar is congenial and the canteen’s not bad. Whatever happens, I do hope they don’t get rid of the marble wash hand basins and chaise longue in the Ladies.                                       

                                                                      

 

                                                                              
 

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The Nature of Friendship

Earlier this week, I made the journey from Orkney to Edinburgh to see my bridesmaid. (no, she is not called Madge) who was on a flying visit from Canada. We do not see each other often but minutes after meeting in John Lewis we were acting as each other’s personal shopper, knowing that the news would keep till the wine. It was familiar, comfortable and safe. Neither of us had changed. All was as it had always been.

Throughout my life, I have been lucky enough to make friends. Some I shared a paddling pool with, some I went to school with, some I shared flats with and some I have met more recently. Within these groups, there are those who are now relegated to the Christmas card list, those I see occasionally and those I see more often. In each category, there are some with whom I share secrets and offload worries and  there are others  who remain little more than acquaintances.

Women need friends with whom to share their joys and  sorrows, with whom to give and take advice. Women ask their friends how they are, how they are getting on (or not) with their partner, how their children are faring and will receive the necessary information. It’s called verbal communication. Men, on the other hand,  use their friends as a supportive column to prop them up as they discuss football, politics and anything but personal problems. Is this part of the ‘my equipment is bigger than yours’ way of looking at life – real men don’t have issues that they can’t cope with?

It starts early. Observe in any nursery, and you will see little girls playing games involving words, turn taking, role-playing and you will see little boys playing with cars or riding toy tractors with half an eye on the competition and verbal output limited to car noises. Perhaps it was aye thus. Not much conversation need when hunting a Brontosaurus. Conversely back at the cave, the women were required to  collaborate in the skinning and cooking and child-minding while keeping an eye out for the approach of a sabre-toothed tiger.

Friendship is in my mind at the moment because I am plotting. Not in an evil sense you understand, I am merely trying to tease out the storyline  for my third book. The nature of  friendships, both male and female, could well form a part. Perhaps I should mix up the stereotypes -a self-sufficient woman and a ‘touchy feely’ man – or is there comfort for the reader in the familiar? Comments welcome.

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Practising for Retirement

Like a couple of seventy somethings, Jim and I have just completed a short motoring tour of the Northwest Highlands. A two day window of recess suddenly allowed a holiday and we found ourselves in the ferry queue at Stromness, bound for Scotland.As we waited to board, I realised  that while I have done the ferry journey many, many times in the past 29 years , Jim was able to count his journeys on his fingers. Part of the p*ssed off wife syndrome – we need a car south: I am the one with time (and in times past, the children) to brave the Pentland Firth and drive, while a full diary dictated that he went by air.  

           

The relatively novel experience of  journeying together was uneventful, with a smooth crossing followed by pleasant drive at a steady, retired pace to Brora where we joined the really-retired lunching in the pub. Folk who live in Orkney rarely stop on the way up or down the A9. They are either hurrying south to the delights of big shops or they are constrained by the ferry departure time on the way north so Brora is usually no more than a pee and of course, an ice cream.

The afternoon produced passing places and therefore an even steadier pace from Lairg to Achlitibuie and we marvelled at the trees,  mountains and rivers, all unfamiliar to Orkney residents.   Our destination, The Summer Isles Hotel, was reached in time for a cup of tea and a short rest before dinner. Pretending to be retired can be quite exhausting. 

Excellent food, wine and comfortable bed saw us ready for our return journey the next day, the long way. More stunning scenery, more passing places, a walk to falls that we never reached and a chance to browse Achins bookshop near Lochinver – a wonderful establishment, the more so for having two copies of A Small Town Affair on the shelves .                    

Up to Durness and round the corner to the north coast and eventually to the Forss House Hotel for more food wine and comfort. Then we were home again after a pleasant break, with no fall outs.

So, is this a preview of life to come – short motoring holidays to as yet unexplored parts of the UK?  This recent trip involved expensive hotels with award-winning restaurants. The idea of a B&B and a fish supper does not have the same appeal. The pension for years of service as an elected representative will not stretch to such a lavish lifestyle on a long-term basis. My only hope is that The Trouble With Keeping Mum is not only a best seller, but also becomes an Oscar-winning film ( I see Celia Imrie as Minty). Then we shall become a connoisseurs not only of British Country House establishments, but of Great Hotels of the World. (It goes without saying, that we will be turning left on entering the plane.)

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