Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Some Thoughts

1. Things I'm not entirely sure how to pack include: a bowler hat.

2. Percentage of my floor I can currently see: 2%

3. My paper goods weigh disproportionately more than everything else I own combined. (But only as long as we're not counting the tree trunk I like to call a 'djembe.' Because it is a tree trunk.)

4. Why isn't my room packing itself? And paper work, why hasn't that been completed while I sleep? WHY,

5. If a pair of shoes are *perfect* for a number of outfits, but are also falling apart- do I bring them to Seattle because I want to look right or throw them out and figure I can buy a new pair when I get to the US? This is actually a serious question. Help. (Note, this applies to three pairs of shoes, all slightly different.)

6. I have sustained several mysterious injuries in the last week. The cut on my finger I remember, it was from brussels sprouts, but the cut on my thigh? Seriously, how did that happen without my noticing?

7. My improv group is doing a fundraising show for Make-a-Wish on Sunday. And I can't be there what with a continent and an ocean making that a difficult commute. So my head has been recorded on an iPhone and then using Dropbox has been transferred to an iPad from which I will issue the scene challenges. How high tech are we? I'm just annoyed the holographic pad won't be working yet. Lame.

8. Too many people to say goodbye to. So instead I'm hanging out on the internet. Productive!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Schooner or Later

On Thursday evening there was the last Sandpit of the year. The Haberdashery (sometimes formerly known as 'Casework,' formerly known as 'Capricious,' sometimes referred to as 'La Louche'), our new game design collective, ran 'Schooner or Later' (formerly 'The East India Company Game') again and it went really well.

Next time we're hoping for fewer name changes.

Do you remember how the game works?
Let me remind you: It's a trading game based on the East India Company. Everyone has to give up their bags as collateral and in exchange are given the rental of a company boat (their hands, cupped together. We take their bags so that they don't have more carrying capacity.)

There are three countries involved in this particular trade triangle: India, China, and Great Britain.

Britain will buy most things at a very good price, but due to the trade monopoly agreement it has with the EIC, if you trade there you have to take British made goods with you- a whole heap of wool (cotton balls!). No one will buy the wool, but sometimes India and China can be persuaded to take some for a fee. Mostly it just fills up your boat.

India sells pepper (pepper corns!), and also grows opium. (balloons! hard to hide! easy to pop!)

China sells tea (tea bags) and will, angrily, accept opium. As a reward for getting the opium (un-popped balloon with your name on it) into China and helping to disrupt the economy and therefore drive down the price of tea, the EIC will give you a £200 bonus at the end of the game for each load of opium you smuggle into China.

Smugglers need to be wary of the roving coast guards, but above board traders have nothing to fear. All of this takes place in as wide and varied a playing area as we can manage to get. In this case? Most of the ground floor of the National Maritime Museum.

We had about 35 people playing and some of them made trade agreements with each other and convoys and official distraction people while others did the opium running. It was kind of great. One man in a tricornered hat (the whole evening was shipping themed) decided to collect the cotton wool balls and place them in his hat. I decided he was a floating "America" and secretly hoped he would start making crafts out of them to re-sell to England.

At one point, due to a mis-calculation by one of our port representatives, for £50 one of our players was sold *all the tea in China* 

Excellent. Also, that's a ridiculous price.

Figuring out what to use for currency in the game was a challenge since last time a limiting factor was that there simply wasn't enough money. Turns out that plastic coins were prohibitively expensive in the quantities we needed, so the cheapest option (we weren't allowed to use food, so spray painted beans were out of the question) was pennies.

Do you know how heavy 2,000 pennies are? REALLY, REALLY HEAVY.

Fortunately Josh took them home. They're no longer my problem.

(ps. Do you know how weirdly bank tellers will look at you when you ask for £20 in pennies?? £13 cleared out one bank's supply, so I actually had to go to two different banks to get it all. "Do you want some 2p coins?" Nope.)
(pps. Josh is threatening not to let me name games any more since the two the The Haberdashery put on at the NNM were named "Schooner or Later" and "Unlimited Port-ential" and that was 90% my fault.)

Friday, September 30, 2011

Edinburgh Mini-reviews

In Edinburgh I had a notebook where I constantly wrote down things to remember. Here are a selection of my mini-reviews I wrote that week. I'm pretty sure these are in order of what we saw. I should also point out that I have typed verbatim what I wrote that week and so I make no promises about comprehensibility. 

“Answer Me This,” podcast book signing (free book fringe)
Lovely and wonderful and kind of charmingly brilliant. We sat way in the front row and first they asked if anyone didn't know who they were. Egged on by Kevin, I raised my hand. They then proceeded to spend most of the show explaining asides to me, “festivals, they're these things that happen in the summer...” They also explained The Blitz, and Bovril. It was funny, and I'm not gonna lie, not always unhelpful. They were excellent at calling back to earlier jokes and were a delight to watch REALLY close up. The panel finished with Ollie singing to me his musical version of 'The Wanderer' that he'd made up in college to help him pass his English lit degree. I blushed. It was awesome.

Super fun sweaty excellence. Lots of older Scots in swingy kilts and a lovely and adorable German scientist with charmingly mismatched dancing parents who were in Scotland to visit her. The caller made a bunch of mildly racist comments. Stretching outside afterwards led to a drunken mooning by a Scotsman. His friends bundled him into a cab and waved as they drove away. End result? Total endorphin high and beer and nachos. Oh! And Greek Dancing! With a surprise bridge move! That was fun. Kevin and I are musicians and therefore had mad rhythm skillz.

Interpretive Dances to My Diary (72% non-Fiction), devised show
These guys come from Neo Futurists stock and it definitely shows. Short, choppy, punchy bits put together for something that felt complete. The show was small, intimate, and clever. It worked best when they were relaxed and interacting with the audience rather than doing their 'actor voices'. A charming bit about first kisses and an EXCELLENT recurring bit where they pulled 'and' sentences out of a fishbowl. “and...slow mo dance break.” or “and...when I said I loved you for the first time, it was an accident, not a mistake.” They seemed like my kind of people, but maybe a little more...actorly. Multi-media, good use of sound clips, lovely text animation, chopped carrots, and bright red jump suits.

Music Box Impro, Improvised Musical
We sat in the 3rd row or so after waiting a while in the onsite bar and falling a little in love with the venue. (It felt like a slumber party in a lot of ways.) Music Box had us chat to the people sat next to us to come up with locations for the musical- result? Zombie Pompeii. (“I've never seen anyone cross their fingers for a suggestion before!”) Supremely silly, spotty singing, excellent calling of mistakes, (“I'm very stupid.”) goofy song about how a zombie can't smell z-o-m-b-i-e, and a plan for zombies to run and international coffee cartel (“using zombies...to manage business!”). Dancing magma when Vesuvius blew up and a head zombie named...Boris? Wonderful lesbian busybodies. Good fun.

Soldier and Death- Relief Theatre, Puppetry
A Slavic tale of a soldier battling Death with magical items like cards that will never let you lose and a sack that will compel anything in to it. Small, wooden puppets and a young, thin cast. (Seriously, their belts were wrapping twice around some of them.) I kept wanting to call the production ernest, but that wasn't quite the right word. Kevin came up with “sincere” and that settled in just fine. It was a very sincere production. We chatted briefly afterwards and discovered that they're all students at Edinburgh Uni and this was their first time working with puppets. Charming more than excellent.

Sarah Millican- Thoroughly Modern Millican, stand up
Gosh she's cute. She's really really cute. She had a signer translating her show which was HILARIOUS- particularly when Sarah made her repeat things “I want to see what Katherine did for Tugging....” Mellifluous, mellow Geordie accent. An exercise bit where she wanted a video called “fat lass as a go” and its sequel, “fat lass tries again.” She talked about poo and called people 'flower.' Charming.

Dave Gorman's Powerpoint Presentation, stand up 
Brilliant. Totally awesome and fabulous. First hour long show that didn't DRAG anywhere. And so funny! And cute! And clever! 10:08 is a happy time. Graphs about punching above his weight. And an epic explanation of how many many people think he is jewish. He made me love the internet more than I already do. Dave Gorman + Social Networking FTW (Rick Stavios)

Lady Cariad's Characters, stand up 
Small, crowded, sweaty room that we snuck into after apologising to the Music Box folks for leaving them and not going to their show. They said it was okay since Lady Cariad was so good. And she was, I mean, fine. Cute characters and clearly enjoying herself. I enjoyed the parkour guy character the best, I think because he was the most clearly not her. Fun, but not the most amazing thing ever. Maybe suffering from the trouble that being immediately after Dave Gorman is? Lovely that we got squeezed in though.

Picture Book Perfect, Children's book panel, book festival
Viv! Yay Viv! I don't like book festivals, I want to be entertained, not told to buy more things. That being said, getting to know Viv has meant an incredible uptick in my interest in illustration. Especially in the process of making a book. Super cool. She and Levi were weirdly mismatched stylistically. Weirdly. Viv was simultaneously awkward and totally in control. She painted some emotional animals, a toddler bopped around with some purple headphones and an iPhone, Levi showed some gorgeous tempura paintings, and Kevin bought “There Are No Cats In This Book” after participating in the inaugural “reactions to Viv's books” video I made him make. She wanted to make a book personification of a cat. I think maybe she succeeded. Yay, concept books!

Give the Fig a Roll- Queen Mary Theatre Company
I hated this show, but apparently I didn't really get it- so here is someone else's review.

Couch Impro, sketch improvisation
Tired, a bit shaken from the Fig show and desperately hungry it was so excellent to be greeted, taken to the venue (which was warm and relatively quiet and filled with older, comfortable Brits drinking in a way that made you certain you'd be called 'pet' at some point) realising that I knew half the cast, having someone come up and say they'd seen me perform in London, well, I felt welcome and unclenched my muscles... Amazing that I went to the show based on the description in the guide. They were great- the best three headed expert I've seen, excellent calling of absurdity, a wonderful genre switching bit, and a lot of quick thinking. Using the audience's anonymous relationship problems as a starting point was a brilliant way to hang a short from show together. It totally worked. Then they asked it I was here with a a show. "Um...no." A woman named Silvia was my favourite.

Stream of Piffle, Taking the Piff, sketch show
Was that mimed rape joke really necessary?  I appreciated the big words and the Macbeth sketch was great, but having two women in your cast does not excuse you from misogyny.

Beowulf, musical retelling of said epic poem
I want to have made this. Barring that I am delighted to have seen it. We sat with one of the Ryans from "Interpretive dances of my diary" who recognised us in the queue. (The show was in a wooden music hall tent I played in at the Brighton Fringe when Latana sang Milhaud.) The acting was fabulous (Grendel and his mother were particularly riveting) they made extraordinary use of the space. SO well written and SO well sold. Wow. Just, wow. Beowulf was basically The Dude from Big Lebowski, the back up singers had PIPES, they did epic battles through thumb wrestling, I identified with Grendel's mother, the underwater fight with the buckets, the beer streaming down Grendel's shirt signifying his switch from narrator to monster, just wow, wow, wow. Kevin and I both want to work with them (horses and swords, horses and swords, horses and swords..and HORSES ed. This is a song I've had periodically stuck in my head since we saw the show) Oh! And the Old English Song at the end: I was annoyed with the academic character by that point, (glasses are awesome. Hmmph.) but then she sang the song (as the dragon) and Kevin is right, it was the sexiest thing ever. I was giddy at the end so while Kevin networked I made Grendel nervous and then hugged him. Not. Awkward. At. All.

Catie Wilkings: Chip off the odd block, stand up
A small audience in a small venue. She was charming and middling. Excellent concept of anti-semantic jokes. She said we had brilliant laughs. Meh.

Prepare to Be Tuned: Anyone For Tennis? Musical comedy duo
Not quite Flight of the Conchords but super cute songs- also, excellent random asides (the ghostly voice they just ignored, the penguin suit). Definitely worth YouTubing. God that was embarrassing when they were thrown by how loud our laughs were... (TIME PORTAL IN OUR LOUNGE ed. this is a song that has been periodically stuck in Kevin's head since we saw the show.)

Nina Conti, ventriloquist
Ventriloquism! Wonderful ventriloquism. Foul mouthed monkey, poetic owl, prank calling grandma, and a roving accent. Nina is very good at cracking up- thereby totally holding the illusion while at the same time using the puppets' voices to point out that it is all just her. Good improv with the audience and the wonderful dancer at the end! How great was he?? Also, the clearly adulterous couple in the front row (dude! don't announce it!)

Constance and Sinestra, musical
We checked the time more than once. The first time only halfway through the show. They clearly really liked Sweeney Todd and the space (site specific as it was) was good- but there were no characterisations, I couldn't sing you ANY snippets of any of the songs, they told everything and showed nothing, they killed a character in the least dramatic way possible, they didin't utilise the instruments and it was just so. damn. shouty. Stupid and boring. But the taxidermied mother had pipes.

Baby Wants Candy, improvised musical
This wasn't our last show, but we're pretending it was. A whole musical about the festival, on the last night of the festival, made by people who've been at the whole festival, for people who've been working the festival. It was so cozy and familial and full of in-jokes with fabulous singing, a weirdly evil plot, and  a pub full of Scotsmen all named Ewan. So much fun.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Nov 10 at 2:35pm

Is when my flight leaves from Heathrow.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Baba Yaga- The Thank Yous.

I'm sitting in the cafe of the V&A in a room designed by James Gamble, right directly next to the William Morris room and listening to a pianist improvise while I eat salmon and a pair of beautifully dressed salads. (They taste good, they're not wearing fascinators or anything like that. Oh, English and your myriad meanings.) A man is rocking a newborn baby in his arms near the piano and shushing him to sleep. What I'm saying here is that life is beautiful.

Here's what else is beautiful: The number of people who popped up to help me get Baba Yaga made.

Months ago I decided I wanted to make a maze out of yarn. Because it would be fun. I considered finding out how annoyed Ella would be if I made it in our living room, but never got further than musing.

Then an email arrived asking for proposals from GSMD grads to use the Barbican Pit Theatre for week long research and development residencies for creative projects. A game, obviously was what I needed to suggest, but what? A thank you needs to go to Holly who pointed out that I could make my maze there, and then for nodding her head while I blathered on about the story that could go with it. “A comb. There are stories where a comb gets turned into a forest. And there's, like, a mirror? And that turns into a lake? But the maze- the maze could be a forest if we put leaves on it and stuff. Right? Validate me here. I need validation.”

I wrote my application to use the Pit Theatre at midnight in a lovely old house in Fountainbleu. Gwen's mother Clare smiled at me as she went upstairs to sleep, “You'll get it done.” She said, knowingly. And I did, just barely in time. Impishly and groggily I decided to call my new venture Casework. Because naming things after yourself is totally not lame at all. (Gwyn insists on calling it “Caseytronics” which I kind of feel is fair enough.)

Thrillingly and unexpectedly given that I had written the application on a whim- the Creative Learning department and the LAB project decided that I could use the theatre from September 5-9th.


That meant that this was real and I actually had to figure out how to do this and fulfil what I said I was going to in the application.

I did an appallingly poor job of getting my team together and, when I did finally contact them, I failed to give them enough information about what I was planning. Magically and mercifully Jonah trusted me on the basis of, “want to do a project with me? It's about Baba Yaga.” He kept texting me and pointing out that I should really tell him about this project he had agreed to do. Dave made a perfect drum line that exactly captured what I wanted for the witch almost instantly during our first, belated, meeting. Viv turned down work in order to keep her week clear. I can't thank them enough.

Planning the maze and the game would have been impossible without the whole Fire-Hazard Pints & Planning crew who inundated me with examples of cool structures, suggestions of game mechanics, and generous offers to take a day off of work to help me build the maze. I sat at our table in the Pembury Arms with two notebooks in front of me and at least three smart phones being passed around with pictures of things that might work for the maze. Without them I still would have tried to make the maze out of yarn, which would have been lame and wouldn't have led to the purchase of 4 kilometres of cling film.

Kevin showed up in the midst of all of this on a holiday to visit London, me, Ella, and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Points to him for arranging his vacation so that he could help with Baba Yaga. Things moved more smoothly because of his presence and excitement. Also, when I decided at half eleven one night to start building a maze in the hallway, (Not the living room Ella! This was even more disruptive!) Kevin was the one who started wrapping around the lines we had tied creating a tunnel that ended up being the main design element of the maze.

Monday morning of this week I had somehow collected a team of four to start building the maze. The first thing we needed to do was place the scaffolding poles. It was at this point that I realized that I had very little clue about what I wanted this to look like. Adam, Jonah, Kevin and Viv were all very patient as I wandered more or less arbitrarily around the space shouting, “Here. And, um, here. Also there. Thank you!!” They were also patient when I managed to twist my ankle skipping excitedly down a step I hadn't realized was there. (This was, like, an hour into the whole process. Embarrassing.)

At lunch Jonah invited his dancer friend Georgie to come and meet me. Thank goodness for that because without her we really didn't have a working game mechanic and she dances so beautifully.
Pretty much the best firebird I could have asked for.

As soon as the scaffolding went up, we started twisting rope with our hands and tying it onto the poles. This was how we spent about two thirds of Monday before Keith, the stage hand, quietly left the room and came back with a power drill he'd attached a hook onto. I'm not sure how much rope he managed to make before we noticed and realized that, um, that would A) Work B) Work better, and C) Mean that we weren't blistering our hands. Building the maze continued much faster after that.

I don't think I can say enough about how helpful and gung-ho the staff at the Barbican were. Keith and Steve jumped right in and helped us build the maze. Steve in particular spent way more time than he was technically supposed to designing the lighting for the maze and just generally making himself invaluably useful.

We learned to stretch the rope so it wouldn't twist up- walking backwards to pull and pull and pull. We learned how to keep the cling film taut when wrapping or creating a tooth. We learned that dropping a roll from a high height is not a terrible idea as long as one end it attached to something because it is so sticky that it takes a while to roll off itself and sometimes you even have to help it along. We learned that there's no sense in trying to talk in a room filled with people unwrapping cling film because it is So. Loud. (And I learned to tie a square knot and a half hitch, but everyone else already knew how to do that.)

Day one ended and it felt like we had made a lot of progress. So off to the pub we went.

Day two brought a different group of people (thanks Nick!) and started off with teaching the newbies the tricks of the material. We built and built and built and somewhere in there Viv decided to make the fire bird costume. She showed up on day three with a bag of fabric and feathers and a sewing machine. We built and built and built realising that the high stuff needed to be finished before we wrapped any more lower panels because otherwise we couldn't place the ladders. Weirdly, the more we built the less finished it became. By the end of day three I was panicking that we'd never get the maze done. Also, we'd run out of cling film which resulted in all of us using the wireless network on various devices trying to find a shop in London that would courier us another 750 metres of cling film. Somehow we found one and an hour or so later a taxi pulled up with three more rolls.

You know. Just a day in the life.

People came for a day or an hour to help us build and test (thank you Patrick and Ruth and Holly). Jo was the first to try going through the maze with the characters and the music, but Elena helped too and said it was one of the most terrifying things she'd ever done. Excellent. It was then that we realized that even if nothing more happened, we had something that worked. We also realized that we were dreaming in cling film. I mean that literally, I kept seeing the organic twisty shapes we were making in my sleep.

At this point we're not even to the performance day. First we have to get through Thursday. At 5 (we we meant to be out by 6) the three of us who had been there the whole week (Viv, Jonah, and myself) started getting perfectionistic about the maze. I was going around with a pair of scissors taking the loose ends off of any and all knots I could reach. Viv kept wrapping more things and making sure pathways existed- noting which entrances let to the most direct and/or most convoluted passages. And Jonah got a bit compulsive about one of his tunnels. That night my father patiently dealt with me as I had a mini breakdown over skype; “so few people get to see it! And then it's all going to disappear!” I grieved, certain that this was a representative microcosm of my time in London.

At one in the morning the day of the performance Elena, Viv, Jonah and I were still passing emails back and forth writing and re-writing the game instructions which were now made up of rhyming stanzas. (Each message ended with, “okay, off to sleep now!” but then someone else would respond and we'd all start emailing again.) Also that evening we finally figured out what sort of a gem we had on our hands. All of us sent off as many messages as we could to as wide a network as each of us possessed: “Yes, this is during a working day, but it's AMAZING. Please, please come- not for us, but for you. Don't miss this.”

And so Friday took off. Viv showed up with beautiful instruction sheets she'd made that morning and sewed Georgie and I into our costumes. Elena volunteered to be the doorman, and then after the first round of players she and Adam decided that there needed to be an internet presence for the game- so they set up a tumblr account. Clare ferried people up and down the labyrinthine workings of the backstage of the Barbican. Steve brought in his camera and started taking quality photographs of the maze. Adam volunteered to make a video out of all of my time-lapse photographs. Jonah, Georgie, Dave, and Viv all cut their lunch short so we could film. Kevan and Emily both came back after they played and stuck around long enough to help us with the tear down. People were patient waiting for their turn. People tweeted and texted and emailed and our guest list grew DURING THE DAY. Jonah overheated and the paramedic wouldn't let us go on again for another forty minutes (“Just a plaster. Couldn't I just have a plaster?” Jonah said plaintively as the paramedic stuck a thermometer in his ear and took his blood pressure.) and still people waited their turn. My camera's memory filled up and other cameras appeared in my hands. Gwyn put all the digital files on to his computer. Elena set up a drop box for all the documents we'd created. The pile of positive feedback forms grew. People I hadn't seen in ages showed up and I glowed and felt so honoured and humbled by everything.

It was magic. The whole experience was magic. Still is magic.

God, I'm blessed.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Edinburgh Bullet Points

1. Dear Uncle Andy,

Many years ago you went to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and when you came back you brought exciting stories and an album of songs from an Australian performance art band that I can still sing most of due to the fact that I spent years listening to it too much. Because of you I have always wanted to go to the fringe.

Thanks for planting that desire, I had a freaking amazing time.

2. Kevin flew in from New York and then had two days to attempt to get over jet-lag and hang out with Ella before I put him on an overnight train up to Edinburgh. We arrived at 7:30 in the morning, climbed a giant, ridiculous hill, dropped off our bags and then got started. Because with something like the fringe it's better to jump right in rather than wade slowly.

3. 24 shows in 5 days (22 each). We saw 1 scripted musical, 2 improvised musicals, 2 sketch comedy troupes, 1 “wtf was that??” devised play, 2 improv groups, 2 panel talks, 1 ceilidh, 7 stand up comics, 1 neo-futurist alumni show, 1 ventriloquist, 2 comedy bands, 1 puppet show, and best of all? 1 Folk musical version of Beowulf. God, that was good. (We not at all secretly both want to work with these people.)

There were also 2 shows that we either forgot we'd bought tickets for or completely failed to accurately read the map for.

4. Kevin and I turn out to be excellent travel partners with an almost uncanny ability to get really hungry and lose it at the same time. This might sound like a bad thing but was actually and sincerely wonderful because it meant that we'd get quiet and withdrawn (due to low blood sugar) at the same time and then fix that (by eating) and perk up at the same time. The only real difference is that I need, like, a sandwich in the morning and Kevin needs a giant coffee or three.

5. Edinburgh is beautiful. Ridiculously rainy, but stunningly gorgeous. We kept catching our breath and sighing at how pretty it was. Bonus of all the rain? Numerous rainbows.

So, so, so pretty.

6. I kept running into people that I knew or had connections to. Walking into rooms or new venues or down a street and going, “Oh. Hi there.”

The city was filled with my people, both figuratively and literally.

7. The fringe is totally overwhelming. I had the catalogue sent to me beforehand and barely looked at it because it was so full of things. We arrived and I went through a period of panic because we were going to MISS things. Which, of course we were- we only had 5 days, things were already finished or finishing, there's only so many shows you can see in a day and only so many tickets you can afford. But the anxiety of missing something extraordinary took some getting used to.

8. Best Decision I Made: Joining Friends of the Fringe. It cost £25 and meant I got the catalogue sent to me. I figured I was happy to support the festival and too lazy to find a catalogue in London, so I went for it. This turned out to be an accidental stroke of brilliance: the 2-for-1 ticket deals meant that the membership paid for itself, but the real jewel was the ticket hut.

When buying tickets non-members have to stand in an epic queue that, because this is Edinburgh, is frequently soggy. Members, however, get to skip the queue and hang out in an adorable, dry little hut and take their own sweet time choosing what to see.

At first I kept apologising for hemming and hawing and taking so long at the desks, but they kept pointing out that there were few or no other people waiting so it was totally cool. Best £25 of the festival. Highly recommended. Five stars.

9. Flyering. We were there for the last five days of the festival, so a lot of people had festival fatigue. Not us, we were PERKY. Which endeared us greatly to the flyerers all over the city. There are SO many shows that lots of times the only way you hear about something or notice it is by being handed a flyer. Streets are covered in people trying desperately to get audience members for their shows. Kevin and I would go out of our way to get flyers and were always enthusiastic about taking them. We got profusely thanked for that a number of times...

10. The festival is so large and full of so many different things that any number of different festival experiences can be had. Want to get drunk and heckle a lot? There's a festival for you. Want to see a lot of dance? Only stand up comedy? An entire run of musicals? Things that make you cry? Political drama? Children's theatre? Want to make a study of different uses of puppetry? There's a festival for all of those.

After excellent and and appropriate-for-us shows Kevin and I would turn to each other and talk about how we had found our festival.

D'awww. I'm in love with the fringe.

Things I do with my time.

I've been collecting suitcases of games recently. 

That makes it sound like I am collecting ridiculous quantities of marbles or jacks or chess pieces or something like that. This is not at all what I mean. 

What I mean is that I have a suitcase full of The Fox Hunt (Hide & Seek), I have a suitcase full of Apocalypse Games (fire-hazard), and because at this point I've run out of wheely suitcases and a tank of helium is kind of hard to pack neatly in a bag: a pile of Baba Yaga (Casework).

Oh, and I totally forgot I also have a bag full of The East India Company Game (Capricious) which desperately needs a new title and is just in a tote bag so is easy to forget.

I spent yesterday working long into the night. (Must remember to never drink tea after 3pm. I can't handle my caffeine.) And while some of what I did was invite people to my events, get writing and emails done, sort out scheduling, have a meeting with some of my collaborators, etc. Another thing I did was cover my entire hallway in a cling film maze that blocked every single door to every single room (and the outside world) and inflate a single cow patterned helium balloon.

May every night be as eventful. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Fox. Pictures. Fox.

Map of the Magical Fox Territory

Fox Parkour!

Tom, our Fox Poo Man.

A Young Fox With A Rules Sheet

Fox Tail Construction

Talking To The Magical Fox! Oooooh.
We played a fox game. It was a success. 52 kids played even though it rained heavily for half the time we had. I came home and passed out asleep.

I should mention that the lovely fox costumes in the parkour photo and the one of the girl holding the information sheet came from The Fox Project, a charity devoted to helping and rehabilitating foxes in the area. If you want to go check them out they can be found here.

I went to yoga.

I have never felt so much like a wet noodle. (This is not me. This is just what I did.)

Friday, August 19, 2011


Last week I went to four Proms over the course of seven days. For those that don't know, the Proms are a series of concerts that happen every summer at the Royal Albert Hall in Kensington. They are truly epic with a concert happening every night, sometimes twice an evening and with afternoon concerts on Saturdays. Extraordinary music, extraordinary performances, and the chance to see people you wouldn't normally be able to for a totally reasonable price. (I can't tell you how bummed I am that I missed Steve Reich. Man.) The concerts are broadcast on BBC radio 3 and some of them are filmed for television as well.

Royal Albert Hall is a giant tube of a building, and for the proms the centre circle of seats are taken out and the resulting flat floor space becomes the arena for standing room tickets that you queue up for and then pay £5 for on the day. The proms are named after the standing promenaders that fill up the arena. (Pronunciation Tip: promenAHders not promenAYders)

Last Thursday Meredith played her first ever prom as part of one of her trials. Being the good and dutiful friend that I am, I agreed to come listen and stand for the duration of the concert. I arrived about half an hour before the concert, jumped into the little queue, paid my £5, wandered past a cellist warming up on the staircase ("Nowhere else to sit!")  and then wandered back and forth trying to find the door to the hall (I expected it would be propped open, it wasn't. I felt more than a little stupid when I eventually figured out that just because the doors were closed, that didn't mean that they were locked...), up another small set of stairs and ta-dah! The arena.

Royal Albert Hall is a little overpowering. Ornate and large and filled with people. I hunkered down in my chosen floor spot, but it wasn't long before I realised that I knew the man over there to the left with the little round glasses. Peter conducted the baroque ensemble that I performed with a bit last year and he is a lovely guy. He has a season ticket to the proms and shows up nearly every night over the summer.

Season ticket holders have their own queue and have a guaranteed spot in the arcade as long as they show up at least 20 minutes before the show begins. This is significant when the lines are super long and wrap around the entire block since only about 1,000 people can fit in the arcade. (Or 700? I've heard conflicting accounts of the capacity.) Season ticket holders, it turns out, are their own special breed.

When I went to Peabody my favourite game to play during audition week was, "guess the instrument." It worked best when they weren't carrying their instrument and you had to guess entirely based on looks and how they moved. (Best. Game. EVER.) Sometimes specific instruments were difficult to pick out (harp, flute, and singer have only subtle differences) but I had a 100% success rate with guessing the genre. Jazzers look significantly different to orchestral musicians, and early music geeks have distinctive hair. (I'm so not even kidding about that.) My point with all of this is that Peter claims you can pick out Season Ticket holders. (More or less, some of them are tough if they work in offices and have to wear a suit.) That being said, if the fellow in question has a lengthy beard and is wearing a cycling outfit: that's a season ticket holder.

Being new to this whole environment (Thursday was my second Prom ever, I went to one last year but that is it.) I asked Peter to explain some of the Prommer culture. There's a passel of hardcore prommers who all have season tickets. They stand up at the front, stage left. At the end of the interval they stand up and, with their chests puffed up tio the sky, chant in awkward and weirdly scanning unison: "Arena. to. audience: promenaders. will be. collecting. for. musical. charities. after. the. concert. So far. you have. donAted. over. (Wednesday it was £40,000) pounds.  Thank you."

There are weird little regulars' tics as well:

You can get season tickets or day tickets to stand up at the top of the hall in the gallery as well as in the arena, ("Why would you do that? You can't hear anything from up there!") and whenever the lid of a piano is opened, say for a piano concerto, then the arena hollers, "heave!" and the gallery responds back, "ho!"

If the concertmaster then gets an A from the piano instead of from he oboist- then everyone applauds.

There was, for many many years, a fountain in the middle of the arena. This fountain has been removed this year and there are some people who are not pleased. These people also happen to be season ticket holders of good standing and lengthy service, so they've started a petition. Some even wear T-shirts with the fountain printed on them. Peter, being the crotchety old man he's not old enough to be yet, is stubbornly against signing the petition.

As Peter was explaining the ins and outs of the Proms, another season ticket holder joined in our conversation. Alex is a Classicist. His PhD has something to do with the god Aries and associated war gods. Alex is nocturnal and wakes up in time to come to the concerts, so he talks about getting lunch after the show.

On Wednesday the London Philharmonia was playing, so I went to that as well because I don't pass up opportunities to see Gwen perform. I had been having a lovely picnic with friends in Kensington Gardens (I learned how to bowl for cricket!) and then leisurely walked over to the hall intending to check out what the programme was going to be. Except the line was unexpectedly long and an hour and a half before the concert already went around two corners and halfway up the third side of the block. Did I mention it was raining and I didn't have an umbrella? I was very wet when I made it in, but I still made it.

My first summer in Britain I had the opportunity to play a Handel Opera in a residency programme out in  the countryside somewhere. It was delightful and a powerful learning experience; being completely immersed in baroque recitative meant that for the first time I understood it, and how to play it and how the form of the music seriously affected how the bow needed to be used and where the emphasis of the phrases were and all that. It was fabulous and I got it.

This week of concert going has resulted in a similar realisation- as soon as the Philharmonia started playing the penny dropped- orchestras sound different to each other. I mean, I knew that, but I didn't GET it before that concert started. The basses are amazing and there were all these textures that I could pick out and hear and they were smiling and in to it and it was totally delightful in a way that was unique to that week.

So that's what I've been up to.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Foxes, the game.

Most of Hide & Seek is up in Edinburgh right now for a big project for the fringe, but they've got a game on Saturday for the Hayward Gallery- so I've been brought in to run it. (I can't tell you how thrilled that makes me.) The game is for some unspecified number of families (or adults, but probably families) in the afternoon. I'm preparing for somewhere between 50 and 80 groups with the option to expand significantly if we need to.

The game is a sort of naturalist fox hunt. There is a fox who magically can turn into a human somewhere in the Southbank centre. We know what the boundaries of his territory are, but we're not quite sure where is earth (den) is. Can you help us? Foxes mark their territory with scent and faeces markers. They also mark important landmarks within their territory. Find some poo and dissect it, hopefully what they have been eating will give us some clues as to where they are currently. Oh, and his foot prints look like this...off you go.

Today I needed to pick up quite a lot of odds and ends for what has turned out to be rather a crafty game set up. It was great fun, and quite a lot like a treasure hunt looking for all the things I need. (still don't have fake flowers...will continue to hunt tomorrow.)

Something it would have been good to keep in mind:
Meters and Yards are quite significantly different. I now have three METERS of orangey brown fake fur...This is a ridiculous quantity.

At the end of the game when the earth has been found there will be a craft table with supplies for making fox tails to take home with you. It turns out that construction paper is difficult to find in London, particularly if you want only one specific colour and not a rainbow. So I was delighted when, after dejectedly finding absolutely nothing of use in the craft store, I went to the bookstore next door and found a bin filled with rolled up pieces of thick, brown packing paper. Which is perfect  for what I need. And totally unexpected. Also, they had sidewalk chalk. Best store ever. Also, what? You're a bookstore!  

In addition to making fox tails, players will need to dissect the fox poo that they find. (In order to discover what the fox has been eating to aid in locating them....this totally makes sense. Go with it.) So that means that A) I had to make quite a lot of salt dough to be used as fox poo and B) I had to figure out how to make it brown.

You know what people don't seem to sell? Brown food colouring. So I bought, along with 5 kilos of flour and bunch of salt: cocoa powder, soy sauce, onion gravy granules, and instant coffee. It's been exciting discovering what sorts of weird chemical reactions happen when you try to combine all of that together. So far the best in terms of colour has been cocoa powder mixed with a bit of oil and then kneaded into salt dough which has been made with coffee instead of water. It's a perfect colour, but unfortunately REALLY difficult to knead. Which I'm not particularly interested in considering how much of this I'm making. More experimentation proceeds apace.

My hands are currently covered in the lingering smells of soy sauce and cocoa powder with a just a slight hint of onion gravy.

It's gross.
Best Shopping Trip Ever

Monday, July 18, 2011


Gwen's family are doing a house swap, just outside Chicago for just outside Paris, and I am the lucky duck who gets to horn in on the vacation. I took the Eurostar this morning (less exciting than I had expected. It's a train. There's a long tunnel. Whatever.) and arrived to smiling faces at Gare du Nord. Today we wandered around a bit and took a bus tour! I loved the bus tour!

The audio guide on the tour suggested that it was possible to purchase video cassettes on the Champs-Élysées. I would like to suggest that perhaps the audio guide has not been updated recently. The narrator was delightfully emphatic and alternated between chatting about things to our left or right (you may notice the Eifel tower in front of you...no, seriously, she said that.) and playing a piece of music that both Gwen and I were certain we'd played but completely failed to identify.

I took some pictures.

I'll share them with you in a moment, but first let me tell you that I declined the offer from a nun to take Gwen's and my picture. In some ways I regret declining that offer from a nun, but on the other hand I was having way too much fun attempting and then failing to take self portraits in front of famous Paris landmarks.

Here, let me show you:

Gwen and I in front of the Arc de Triomphe.
What, you can't see it? Oh, right. Sorry! The zoom was still too far in...

Gwen and I in front of the Arc de Triomphe.
Um, okay, so the angle is a little bit off. 

Gwen and I in front of the Arc de Triomphe
Eh. It's alright. Not the most amazing photograph ever, but all of the principal players are represented.

Some thoughts on the Eifel Tower: 
1. It's brown. Did you know it was brown? 
2. Somehow, in person, it is significantly more industrial looking than I expected. 
3. And less pointy. 

I had gained some skill by the time we actually stopped by the Eifel Tower, and am almost pleased with these ones: 

The zoom! Don't keep it all zoomed in! Also, change the angle, this is never going to be a good picture. Your head is in the way. 

Ze Tower! (Is it rude to write in a fake French accent while sitting in a gorgeous house in Fontainebleu? Probably.)

It worked! A self portrait that worked! With an important landmark!

Some notes about my clothes: I'm wearing a coat. I'm clearly in Paris.  It is mid-July. Pssht. 

And it was a bit windy. 

ps. The spell check on blogger is currently set to French. Currently 98% of this entry is highlighted due to misspellings.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Harrow Suzuki Group

The final Harrow Suzuki school concert was this morning which means that now all of my school year things are finished with. The little ones all wore fancy dress (costumes) and looked adorable. (I'm hoping that one of the group photographs will wend its way to me!) My favourites were the two boys who had substantial plastic helmets as part of their attire, because how do you play the violin with a helmet on??

The younger group sang a princess song with lots of actions and a pirate song with lots of jumping. They were excellent. We've been practicing them a capella because I'm not so great with the piano, but the pianist who was accompanying the violin portions of the concert decided to help us out as well. That was great except that at the beginning of the first song we turned out to have begun in two completely different keys. It took a minute for us all to work that one out and start again. Oops! Embarrassing! Fortunately Suzuki parents (or at the very least THIS group of Suzuki parents) are the nicest people ever so they just chuckled and we carried on.

The older group did a rhythmic vocal warm up that they had written new words for, a dancing song with actions and “ai-yi-yi”-ing, and pease pudding hot in 4ths. Thank goodness for the piano in the pease pudding song; we always get there in the end, but this time they were able to sing the 4ths straight away. A relief since this was, after all, the concert. Phew.

I have a great fondness for any number of these students. They're clever and focused (more or less) and nearly all of them are hilarious goofballs. One of the girls was sat directly in my sight line during the violin pieces and for one song proceeded to follow the line of the music with her face. Does that make any sense? She was squinching her face all up and then popping her eyebrows up to her hairline following the melody that the violins were playing. Now, if I were a responsible adult I probably would have silently shook my head to get her to stop. But I'm not. So I joined in. (And hoped it wasn't *too* obvious!) After the concert her mother laughingly asked what the pair of us monkeys had been doing. (Tum ti tum....nothing, geeze)

I'm keeping this group until I leave because I love them so much.  

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Birthday Week!: Mommy Edition

It's birthday week here at londoncasey, and I've just realized that because I've been titling all of these posts with what I actually call my relatives- that means that this one is titled "Mommy" and though I'm not 100% certain that I wanted the internet to know that I call my mom 'Mommy', well, meh. Let's go with it. (She typically gets called "Betsy" by those who know her.) 

I'm leaving London.

My visa is up in mid-November and though I have spent most of this year trying to figure out how to stay, I  couldn't manage to find a method that would both work (you know, legally) and feel right. So I'm heading back to America and I am (ever so tentatively) starting to get in to the idea.

About a month ago, when this decision was really made and I closed the doors on the half options that were still floating around- I talked to Laine and *FREAKED OUT* about things like...phone bills. And health insurance. And the price of food in America. Because I've not really dealt with those things in the US, only in the UK. (She promised me that I would be able to figure it out and then forwarded a link to a freelancers union in NY. She's an excellent sister.)

At the end of this month I will be done with all of my contracted work, though the tykes may continue to pull me in for supply/substitute teaching the first couple months of school. What this means is that though my income drops dramatically come September, I do have this glorious gift of time coming to me. And it feels like a good bookend in a lot of ways- I showed up in London (and, in fact, started this blog) with a whole month of time on my hands, a travel card, and a sense of exploratory adventure. Now I get the chance to leave like that as well.


I'm done with teaching for now. I'll be moving in the middle of the school year and it's not something I've been particularly excited about for a while (you may have noticed the diminishing number of tyke related posts). It very well may be something that I come back to, but I shouldn't think I would look for classroom teaching positions in America. (For one thing, I really really don't have an education degree.)

I'm done with the bass. I don't think I posted this to the blog, but I don't own a bass any longer- the one I had been playing in London now has a happy home in Norway and my American bass is helping out the Seattle Youth Symphony.

And maybe I'm done with London. (Maybe just for this round.)

Things I still want to do before I move back to America
1. Go punting. Andrew is moving to Oxford in October, this may become his responsibility.
2. Do some more rambling. There's an awful lot of the country I've not tromped through yet, and some more tromping needs to happen.
3. Go to Kew Gardens. I still haven't made it there yet, which is ridiculous given how much I like plant museums.
4. Have a massive birthday party of goodness. I did a bouncy castle last year, this year needs something new.
5. Do some European travelling. I'm going to France (finally) in, oh, a week! I'd forgotten it was so soon! But I want to see Berlin and maybe Hungary too.
6. Go camping! I want to burn things and sleep outdoors and get really, really muddy.
7. Get my English finances in order so I don't worry about having messed something up once I'm far away again.

You know why this list isn't longer? Because I do the things I want to in London. I go to improv class every week and I have a marvellous yoga teacher, and I get to be involved in all of these cool and exciting games and I walk in a London park at least three times a week, and every time I get on a bus I sit on the upper deck (and very often in the front), and I wander over to Trafalgar Square and squee at all of the squee-ing Harry Potter fans just because it is there and goodness me I am blessed. Not least because everywhere I go I am surrounded by some pretty extraordinary people.

Lucky, lucky, lucky me.

I'm going to miss here. But maybe it's time for something else.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Birthday Week!: Grammy Edition

This week is birthday week, where about 50% of my family officially gets older. My grandmother Ruthe is the only one to have her birthday on a day that is not divisible by 3. Forewarning: I am *exhausted* and likely to be rambly....here goes!

Have I told you about the theatre project I'm doing? It's a site specific devised theatre piece/game for the opening festival of a new youth arts venue near Finsbury Park. We're working with a bunch of teenagers from the neighboring estate. It's a fun project in a lot of ways, but particularly exciting for me because I am listed in all the programmes and flyers as a game designer. Or games consultant, or something like that. It makes me feel hip and cool and like I seem like I know what I'm talking about.

Last month I went to Bristol for igFest (The Interesting Games Festival) it was pretty spectacular and involved a three hour long chase game through the centre of town on a Saturday night where you had to avoid getting eaten by zombies (or crashing into the truly remarkable number of becostumed hen and stag nights wandering the town and getting into fights).

The pièce de résistance was running away from zombies in an empty mall. I had an epic moment where I was climbing backwards up a down escalator in order to stay in once place because I needed to avoid the zombies milling around both the bottom and the top of the escalator. I eventually got caught about 20 meters away from the final safe zone, which was excellent because it meant that I got to have a face full of zombie makeup for the after party. 

City Dash
I also helped to run two games- one for fire-hazard and one for hide & seek. Fire-hazard's game involved having a map and codes stickered to the players' front and back. The players snuck around the city centre using their maps to find small, hidden stickers with codes to text in for points while avoiding guards who would text in the players chest plate codes to take away points. It is our most tech heavy game and it went off surprisingly well. We ran it twice; the first day I was a guard and the second day I bossed people around. (The pictures are of me bossing people around.) The running of the game mostly involves tracking the course of the game in order to recalibrate it half way through if needed, so I spent the 45 minutes or so that it was running after everyone had their stickers and their texts all set up hunkered down in the corner of an alleyway that led to a lovely covered market, staring at the computer and clicking "refresh." I think I prefer the bossing people around aspect.

Hide & Seek's game was about ceilidhs and involved dancing, trading ribbons, and running away from "Evil Morris Dancers." My role there was mostly to be bossy (yay!) and instruct people in how to weave  between each other while doing the dance. It was a great deal of fun and also involved a pair of bemused musicians who remained reticent when asked whether this was the weirdest gig they'd ever done. 

On the last day of the festival (I make it sound like this big thing, but it was just a weekend) there was a game designers brunch to discuss questions about what we do. Er, they do. I wanted to go, but wasn't sure if it was really something I was part of (Casey, you were there with TWO games companies. Shut up) but having crashed in my friend Holly's hotel room after the zombie game (I needed a shower and the person I was staying with was heavily pregnant and far away and it was very late and oh my gosh the water flowed pink from all of the fake blood/zombie makeup) she and I went to the brunch together. 

At first I stayed quiet, listening carefully to other people. Then someone asked about fire-hazard and I wasn't sure if I should really answer the question or not because it isn't *my* company and I'm not 100% privy to Gwyn's plans for it. But blah blah blah by the end of the meeting I was yabbering away like a talkative macaw. 

At some point recently Gwyn and I were planning/hanging out and recalled a rumor that Jane McGonigal's book Reality is Broken had a chapter about our friend Kevan, so we tried to get an ebook copy to see if we could find it, but that was kind of a pain and whatever system for reading ebooks that Gwyn had downloaded didn't have a search function so we were just randomly scrolling through the book. This was remarkably ineffectual in terms of finding Kevan, but did mean that I noticed a picture of a bunch of people jumping down some stairs,

"Hey, Gwyn?"
"Isn't that you over on the right?"

With two fire-hazard members now confirmed as being in the book; we decided that Gwyn would buy the book, send it to me, and I would mark it all up and then report back. The first three steps of that process happened...Sorry, Gwyn. 

I've just noticed that on the last page I've written and underlined, "Superfly" which I think is a good shorthand for how I feel about this book. Some of the pages aren't underlined! I got chatty in the margins and circled a lot of things. 

My friend Josh and I have teamed up to design some games for Hide & Seek's next 'sandpit' game testing session in a week's time. We've worked on about 5, only one of which is going to be used for this  Sandpit, but hopefully more of them will see the light of day in August.

So the point: starting with the second day of Bristol and the brunch and developing through working with Josh and getting hired to be a game designer/consultant for the theatre project and continuing to work with both Holly and Gwyn...I'm starting to feel like this is something I can say I do. 

Bossing people with my hands full
Bossing people with a ridiculous expression on my face

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Birthday Week!: Papa Edition

It's birthday week here at londoncasey, where once a year we celebrate the 50% of my family who managed to be born during BIRTHDAY WEEK. It is, I think, exciting for all of us. Next up is my father, Dan. For his birthday he gets a blog about some tykes....

In spite of numerous leaving parties and speeches and class parties and general end of the year-ness, I am still at school. This is because I decided to work for the summer camp. Down in the junior camp ("down" because we're in the basement) we've got a surplus of tykes. On Monday morning we were expecting around 25, but as I was registering they just kept coming and coming and coming. When the dust settled we had 35. Maybe 10 doesn't seem like that big a number, but in terms of tyke corralling, it is significant. Fortunately we've now got six staff people, so it has actually been a pleasure so far this week.

We do, however, have one child who is literally a hand full. When he wants to be he is an absolute sweetheart and I genuinely enjoy working with him. That being said, when he starts acting up there is very little that we can do. Explaining quietly and in a deep voice while making lots of eye contact that throwing things at other children is not okay only makes him laugh. When he gets worked up he starts getting violent as well. This morning, and I don't even remember what set this off, I was holding him back and trying to get him under control. He kicked me, pinched my neck, and bit my hand- all of which I could handle and while it wasn't enjoyable didn't really phase me. Then he bent my glasses and I lost it.

I injure myself often enough that I don't mind some bruises or cuts (I have a foot long self inflicted bruise on my thigh right now from where I accidentally tripped and fell onto a bench in the hall during lunch last week. That was embarrassing. I threw food everywhere. One of the year 1 children came up to me after I had cleaned up and sat down again to tell me not to worry because he had fallen down as well and he was okay now.) But don't touch my glasses.

I felt weirdly exposed with my glasses broken. The right earpiece was bent wide to the side. Nothing was actually broken off but it meant that in order to stay on my head the ear piece needed to be outside my ear rather than behind it. If I looked down, say, to talk to any of the tykes, they slipped down my nose. Linda took the boy away from me immediately after my glasses got bent and I rushed outside to try and get myself under control. I cried. Liz came out and gave me a hug. Chetna came over and gave me a hug. I gulped some air and let myself be led over to the shooting range where the Senior camp was later going to do some archery. So that was cool. I at least managed to hit the target. (And didn't further injure myself like I did the last time I did archery as a 9 year old when I somehow managed to shoot the fletching into my index finger.)

We called the kid's mom and sat him in the room next door away from everyone else. (With the door open so we could still see him.) He calmed down quite a lot once he was by himself and ended up sitting there for over an hour while we waited for someone to come and pick him up. I suspect that being in a dark, empty space was probably a good thing for him- less stimulation. By lunch time he was back to being his charming, smiley self. But we still sent him home. 

I went to an opticians after school and they were able to bend the ear piece back, more or less. They hang behind my ear now but the fit is still looser than I would like it to be and probably now is the time to get a second pair of glasses so that I am not completely bereft if this happens again. 

Um. Happy Birthday, Papa! I understand now why you used to get to annoyed when I went for your glasses as a kid....

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Birthday Week!: Mical Edition

It's time to launch Birthday Week! This is the week that about 50% of my family was born, so it's an important one. Today, kicking the whole thing off is my grandma, Mical. What does she get? A completely random blog entry....

Today I washed my teddy bear.

It is sunny and warm out and I figure he has as good a chance as any for actually *drying* today. I've tried washing him once before, the first year I moved to London. He had started to smell and, well, that was at least as gross as it sounds. I washed him in the sink of my dorm room and the water turned a disgusting, dark brown. I was discouraged. Also, he took many many days to try. I was further discouraged.

So I did what any normal person would do and ignored the problem for another three years. Until today! Today I fixed the problem! Today it occurred to me that while the water may turn a truly vile dark brown colour, filled with grime that does not bear thinking about, I could continue to wash him. Today it occurred to me that this wasn't a one sink full of water kind of a job.

Twelve. It was a twelve sinks full kind of a job. And my hands and wrists hurt from squeezing that much water out of essentially a fragile sponge. But by the 12th sink full? The water was running clear. Thank goodness.


Also, can I just say that 25+ years of anthropomorphising Soft Bear makes it VERY difficult to push his head down into a sink full of water? I had to consciously keep reminding myself that I was not being evil, that teddy bears do not need to breathe, that his eyes weren't accusing me from underneath the water, that, really, it was good for him to be washed and he would thank me later even if at this current moment he couldn't understand why I was doing this to him, that when I pulled him, sodden with water, out of the sink that the reason I was holding him like a baby and supporting his head was because the fabric was fragile. Yes.  That's why.

I fear I may have revealed too much here today.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Anne Frank: An RE class

We're learning about characteristics of heroes in RE currently, and this week discussed Anne Frank. We read a short biography about her and in between paragraphs discussed World War II, racism, and the Nazi party.

"Did Christians get killed by the Nazis?"
"Woo!!! Go Christians!!"
No, no, no. This is a sad story, not a football game, no one won the Holocaust.

We discussed the gas chambers.

"They dug big pits and threw them in where they were eaten by crocodiles!"
"Well, the Nazis did kill people in lots of different ways, but I don't think they did that."
"I maybe am getting them mixed up with the Egyptians."

We looked at pictures of Anne Frank and the floor plan of the annex online. They wanted to hear some of the diary and one of the girls knew just where in the library it was, so she raced downstairs and back up again with the book in her hands. I read to them and they curled up on the floor listening.

"Is this a real story?"

Usually I answer that question like this: "Well, a lot of people believe it is true."

Today? "Yes."

Sunday, June 19, 2011

What I Have Been Eating Recently

This doesn't have a good name, I mean, it doesn't have *a* name. I've been referring to it as "the lentil stuff" which I suppose is descriptive if not appetizing.

The Lentil Stuff

Chop an onion, sizzle it in a pot.
Crush a handfull of brazil nuts, pop in the pot.
Dump a bunch of puy lentils in, a mug's worth?
Open a can of chopped tomatoes, bung that in too.
Decide that that doesn't look like enough liquid- fill up the can with water and pour it in.
Cook covered for a while.
Remember that you were meant to put some bullion in, toss a vegetable stock cube in.
Oh yeah, and some sugar. Decide that honey is probably even better and spoon some in.
Look at it for a while.
You know what that could use? Some more tomatoes. Open another can and add those.
It's still really watery, take the lid off.
Get bored.
Discover that you have some fresh tomatoes, chop up a couple of those and throw them in.
Bet that some freshly chopped basil would be really nice on top...

Decide that the lentils are *cooked* and spoon it into a bowl. Add some basil.

Make the ultimate decision: spoon or fork?
Choose fork.
Regret that decision.

Num num num.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


Nemo's funeral was today.

He was killed two weeks ago crossing the street on his way home from school.

This morning I got to school and went straight to the library (it's my safe place) to chat briefly with my favourite librarians and prepare for the day. I started reading "Someone has died in a road crash: a guide for professionals caring for bereaved children and their families" which is a booklet put out by a charity that does what the title suggests it might. It's full of good information and well written, but I had to go out into the garden for a minute to cry.

There's a condolences book on the table in the library for people to sign and leave messages. Nemo's parent's don't speak English, but seeing the book filled can only be good. (And really, it's more for us anyway. To share in one place.) One of my favourite mothers was there when I came back into the library. Her eldest was signing the book and her middle boy, who has been in my classes the entire time I've been teaching, saw me, flung his arms open, and ran over for a hug. Thank you sweetheart, that was exactly what I needed.

The funeral was at a church near the school, near his home. In the bulletin notice the church said, "Nemo had greatly endeared himself to the 9.30 congregation-- nearly always coming alone, demonstrating a deep faith, sense of curiosity and fun." It turns out he used to take himself to church, and rarely missed a Sunday. It was also clear from the service that he did a remarkable job of connecting with people of all ages and walks of life and built himself a community wherever he was. At one point during the service someone said, "I don't think Nemo knew how loved he was."

It's true. School was closed this afternoon not because the kids were all coming to the funeral, but because all of the teachers and staff wanted to. There weren't enough staff members left in school to be able to keep it open. There are very few children in the school that everyone knows, and Nemo was one of them. Frankly, he might have been the only one. The staff and students walked (with a police escort to direct traffic!) from the school to the church. It felt like a solemn pedestrianized funeral cortege. It felt appropriate.

Nemo was a cellist and loved music. He would frequently be chatting to people and absentmindedly blocking the hallway with his cello on his back like a giant, black, Nemo sized turtle shell. Last year during the Key Stage 2 musical I let him try out my bass, which he loved and always asked me about whenever I saw him.

The service was as lovely as a child's funeral could be. The students sang a song, the readings were translated for his parents, the church was full, and there were stories about Nemo that made us chuckle through our tears.

But still, lets not do that again soon, okay?

Highgate Cemetery

Saturday I took advantage of the sunshine and did something I've been meaning to do for the entire time I've lived in this city: visit Highgate Cemetery. I started on the wrong side of Hampstead Heath, so took the opportunity to wander across the heath in the sunshine and get a bit lost. Having taken a wrong turning out of the heath I turned around and walked towards highgate, marvelling at the beautiful houses and gardens, and then realizing that my “right turning” was actually the wrong one and now I was going to have to climb up the massive hill. Again. From the bottom.

I remembered a bicycle trip I'd taken when I was in middle school where we'd, for some reason, cycled up a mountain. I suspect it was a smallish mountain, but I was definitely the last person in the convoy and in order to help myself along I belted songs the entire way up. Finding that this was a useful tactic for me when faced with steep slopes, I sang to myself some more. I hope I didn't annoy any of the highgate residents. The houses were mostly set fairly far back from the road, and there wasn't really anyone on the road (the vertical slope of Highgate) so I think I was probably fine.

Once I got to Highgate Village I realized I still wasn't in the correct spot for the cemetery and tried to use a bus map to orient myself. When that didn't work I figured I'd just head down the other side of the hill. That didn't work either, but I did end up in a charming little park where I decided to take my sandals off and walk around barefoot. I was momentarily distracted by a very determined and upright toddler pushing a scooter just taller than her down the path. Her name was Ruby and she was heading away from the picnic, which I know because her mother was trailing her at a distance and calling to her.

Having reached an exit of the park I realized that the cemetery was on the other end of the park, so I wandered backwards and FINALLY- ended up in the correct place. Just in time to have a tour of the West Cemetery sold to me after what must have been the easiest sales job ever.

They made me put my sandals back on, but man that place is glorious. I had the mystery of the triple lined dollar signs explained (It's a J an H and an S, which has something to do with either translating 'Jesus Christ' from Greek or some other story that I don't quite remember.)(Okay, so it made *me* feel better about the weird but common Victorian symbol. I realize this doesn't really help you...) We went through the Egyptian wing, the Circle of Lebanon, past the giant sleeping lion of one of the UK's first successful Menagerists, heard stories about a handful of London's Victorian eccentrics and trailed through huge swaths of ivy. I spent a (possibly) embarrassing proportion of the tour chortling aloud to myself about how I loved the Victorians.

Our tour guide was from Inverness and had a delightful accent as well as a charmingly self deprecating demeanour. I thought she was great and when she pointed out that the cemetery always needs more volunteers I leapt at the chance to get a leaflet. (Who doesn't love leaflets??) She recommended a stack of books to read as well (while getting downright pissy about the Bloomsbury Group) and I'm hoping I get a chance to follow through on both things this summer. (Volunteering AND reading- in case that wasn't clear.)

Monday, May 23, 2011

500 Posts!

I think 500 posts counts as an accomplishment worthy of celebration- and so I will appropriate pictures of another celebration-- My friend Elena had a birthday picnic yesterday and I finally got around to getting out my camera. I know Elena through fire-hazard and at any of our events there are, necessarily, nerf guns. It was a gorgeous day, my kite was attached to a bike and happily darting around in the sunlight, and there was hummous in 1 litre containers. A perfect setting for an all out nerf war.

The sky was blue, and I was sitting on the grass which meant that the sky kept beautifully framing people trying to shoot me. I started taking pictures and that soon developed into figuring out the best way to photograph a dart in flight. Most of the time this ended up with me being shot in the face and a menacing picture devoid of darts. Everyone once in a while it actually worked  and that was tremendously exciting:

Josh got hit in the face. 

I got hit in the face twice and totally missed Josh, but look! THREE darts flying through the air!!

Tom was out to get Ruth.

Gwyn looking all badass and trying to figure out how to cock two nerf pistols at once without the aid of a third hand....
Group Shot. (Heh. Pun.)

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Happy Birthday Uncle Andy!

Dear Andy,
You asked me if I had eaten any British strawberries as they are your favourite and you remember eating many of them around your birthday. Well, I am here to say that YES I have, and in fact, I made your grandmother's strawberry pie with them in honour of your birthday. I think these ones were from Norfolk.

Here's the thing though, I got the recipe from my mother's (your sister's) cookbook, and it actually is a little difficult to translate it from American into British. Things like "2 large packages of Jell-O" and "2 packets of graham crackers" are a bit difficult to find/guage volume wise in a country where Jello-O is called "jelly" and it comes already woobley. The crackers I replaced with digestive biscuits and then I guessed at all the volumes. I'm not used to working with jelly or hand whipped cream (thanks, Ella!) so this is not my most aesthetically pleasing result ever, (excuses!) but it was delicious. And enjoyed by many at the picnic today (it disappeared in minutes). We toasted you and your birthday!

Also, this morning I taught some tykes- I had them make you a little birthday card:

So happy birthday, Andy. You're the best uncle a niece could ask for! 

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Odds and Ends

I taught in Harrow today and it was a bit of a mixed bag. Unsurprisingly, the lessons that I was prepared for went well! The ones that I wasn't? Not so much...Really, must learn from this.

We're on to a new term which means news songs for my two groups of singing tykes! I'm determined to start part singing with my older ones (5-8), which means I need to make sure that I'm not wandering all over the place pitch wise when I teach them the songs. (I like using teaching as a way to force myself to learn things I ought to have learned years ago.) We're working with "pease pudding hot" which I had them sing, use kodaly hand signals for, hocket (pass) between the boys and girls where one group sang only the words the rhymed with temperature words and the other group sang the rest of the song (pay attention, kiddoes! If you don't you'll get all confused!), and then tried signing with two different starting pitches.

We also had a big discussion about what, exactly, pease pudding is. A boiled pudding a la treacle pudding? A  pot pie filled with peas? Some old Victorian food that no one eats any more because it is gross? No one knew. Fortunately Wikipedia has come to the rescue: "pease pudding is a boiled vegetable product, which mainly consists of split yellow or Carlin peas, water, salt, and spices often cooked with a bacon or ham joint." So there you go. Huh.

 (Incidentally here's a conversation I had with one of my girls:
"Casey, have you heard of a man we're studying in school?"
"....Do you know his name?"
"I think, I think it's, um, William Morris?"
"Oh my gosh, yes! Have you been to his house in Walthamstow?"
"No, but he was born in Walthamstow!"
"Exactly! What is it that you are studying in school, The Aesthetics?"
"...um. No? The Victorians."
Because 7 year olds will not be studying aestheticism, you ninny.)

The younger group was meant to be singing "rain rain go away" but I got all muddled so they sang "pease pudding hot" as well...which threw off my whole mental lesson plan. Mrhg. Oh, well. I lost three or four of them to their mothers, which is my highest attrition rate ever in this school. Must actually have a lesson plan next time. Ah, well. Their version of a rhythmic rhyme called "chop chop choppity chop" took a delightful turn when one of the four year olds waxed poetic about a "nice piece of meat with a bit of fat around the edge" that we ought to throw into our stew pot. He continued talking for quite a while about this meat with the fat still on it and I grinned at him trying not to giggle at the tiny gourmand.

Speaking of delightfulness, I had a quick visit for tea and ginger cake at Peter's house yesterday. He and Gail say hello and also gave me a clipping from the Guardian of one of the Westminster vergers (who happens to be a friend of theirs) doing cartwheels down the aisle after the Royal Wedding. I've got it tacked to my bedroom wall now. Fortunately, YouTube has many, many versions for you to peruse. Here's one:
Happy American Mother's Day!