Last night my boyfriend and I went to see the wonderfully entertaining (and occasionally outrageous) Hurly Burly Show. Although this was my idea, having never been to a burlesque show before I didn’t know what to expect and was a little apprehensive. My apprehension was aided in part by the train we caught, which took just too long to get into London, causing us to run like morons to the tube station (my heels clattering away like gunfire on the slippery floor) and out again hoping to god I had remembered correctly where the Garrick Theatre was.
We had just enough time to purchase the alcoholic beverage necessary after a stressful journey and sat down with literally a minute to spare. As in, we toasted our impressive legging-it-across-London and the lights went down.
As you can imagine, my apprehension was short-lived and pointless – for the simple reason that I had forgotten how integral comedy is to burlesque. As Miss Polly Rae herself says (somewhat paraphrased by me) “it’s not about the tits, it’s the eyes” i.e. the attitude. The show was – obviously – of a sexual nature, but it was funny, it sent itself up by placing the sex in the midst of something completely different; the French Revolution for example (“Let them eat cock!”, indeed). The show was less about the strip, more about the tease – including the laughter that can go along with it. Discussing this with my partner in crime, I detected only slight disappointment at the revelation that the show was not as ‘sexualised’ as expected. Instead, it was bloody hilarious. And therefore incredibly entertaining. Later on, walking home, we decided that it had been a lot like actual ‘sexual things’ are – good fun, sexy and funny.
And that was kind of the beauty of it. As you can see from the reviews, the Hurly Burly Show has been described as a ‘celebration of the female form’ – which now I’ve seen, I believe. One memorable moment was a number in which Miss Polly Rae had the (willing) audience members stand up and shimmy or gyrate, calling out “this is what burlesque is all about!”. It was very clear that burlesque is not just for the girls on stage (all of whom were different in shape, size, colour – although all remarkably talented), but for any woman or man who wants to take part in the great tease. The emphasis was on inclusion, the audience were constantly being addressed, be it through winks and exaggerated nudges or direct address to individuals themselves. I, and I’d like to think all of us there, felt included in the joke and that we were taking part now and – godammit! – could take part at home whenever we liked.
This is something I have to say I feel lacking in a lot of celebrity culture. While we have shows like The X Factor and American Idol suggesting that Joe Public can take part in the fame game and showcase his or her talent, that’s not really what these things are about. They emphasis eccentricity and individuality, sure, but the majority of the time the only showcasing of such uniqueness is the light relief in each show, the “comedy gold” of some overweight no-hoper screeching her heart out and truly believing she sounds like Christina Aguilera. We laugh at these people, and we idolise the special ones, the winners - for they have been touched and gilted by God and Simon Cowell and we lowly audience members can only marvel at their talent. They were that one in a million lucky enough to have been discovered and rescued from where the rest of us reside – reality.
Burlesque isn’t like that. There was something there we could all take home, we could all join in with. There wasn’t any idolisation of the women on stage as remarkable specimens that we could all aspire to if only we were all a six 6 or 8 with a history of dancing lessons since the age of 3. Because I’m under no illusion that the women there weren’t special, weren’t talented – they were amazing! But they makde us feel included, and special too, and that was the real celebration. We were in on the joke, not just to laugh at the non-achievers, but to identify with the success stories.
Having got on my soapbox, I want to take things down few notches and share with you some of the other more memorable parts of the evening:
And with that, wordpress tells me I have reached over 800 words. Enough is enough. Moral of the story: I love burlesque for its potential to make anyone feel special, in spite of first appearances. And I want to wear everything in the show. Just once.
PS. Incase you wanted to read a more comprehensive and less “profound” review, please go here.
Last night I finished Haruki Murakami’s Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World.
Courtesy of Wikipedia, here is a plot summary COMPLETE WITH SPOILERS:
“The story is split between parallel narratives. The odd-numbered chapters take place in ‘Hard-Boiled Wonderland’, although the phrase is not used anywhere in the text, only in page headers. The narrator is a “Calcutec,” a human data processor/encryption system who has been trained to use his subconscious as an encryption key.
The even-numbered chapters deal with a newcomer to ‘the End of the World’, a strange, isolated walled Town depicted in the frontispiece map as being surrounded by a perfect and impenetrable wall.”
Eventually, as you might guess, these stories converge in that the End of the World is part of the coded subconcious of the protagonist of the Hard-Boiled Wonderland. Other than that, though, I won’t go into what actually happens.
I found this book mostly disappointing. I hate to say this, because I’m still convinced I like Murakami. I loved Kafka on the Shore so much. But Norwegian Wood, while pretty, was disappointing in plot. Although it did make me engage and it did make me think and when I got to the ending I forgave it completely.
The problem with Hard-Boiled Wonderland, though, was that it was the language that was disappointing. I’m not trying to place blame, but I do wonder how much this has to do with translation. Perhaps something was lost? Reading the plot summary in Wikipedia, I think I might have a point.
In the original Japanese, the narrator uses the more formal first-person pronoun watashi to refer to himself in the ‘Hard-Boiled Wonderland’ narrative and the more intimate boku in the ‘End of the World’. Translator Alfred Birnbaum achieved a similar effect in English by putting the ‘End of the World’ sections in the present tense.
I can’t say I agree with that. I can see where it’s going, but present tense by no means suggests the same intimacy. I suddenly get why I felt disappointed when I found out how the two parts interact, it was because I wasn’t sure I had seen it coming whereas if I had known this intimacy perhaps there would have known that the End of the World was in the narrator’s head.
Overall, though, this book feels to me a lot more like clumsy from the off, and that’s in part due to its attempt to include quite so many genres in so few pages and with such little characterisation. It is hard to suggest film noir/detective fiction subtley, when you are also trying to subvert the norms by chucking in a load of science fiction, and writing a mythical side piece. I get that. But from reading the blurb, I kind of thought Murakami was the man to do it.
The tone, I thought, was flat from the very beginning. The narrator does not suggest film noir – for which I expect disdain, cynicism, analysis and propensity towards alcohol. What I got was a dull, uninterested, lacking-in-personality narrator and while he did have a fine collection of whiskeys, this seemed mostly a nod in the right direction, something to tick the box of Detective Character rather than add to the characterisation at hand. Again, he fits the bill as a divorcee, but this he takes with the same disinterest and pragmatism as everything else. There seems to be no emotion to this character, and as such I found it difficult to engage not only with him, but as the others as my sole method of getting to know them was through his tiresome descriptions. The best way of describing the failure to produce characters I could engage with I am stealing from this review: ” The book’s chock full of pop-culture references, most of them Western, that attempt to stand in for a personality but fail”. And it’s true! While there are some beautiful passages and thoughts; Bob Dylan’s voice described as “a kid standing at the window watching the rain”, most of the book jumps from event to event without much room for reader-engagement.
As well as the tone, the narration itself was uninteresting. I imagine this is because our nameless narrator is so uncaring for the world he is living in and unwilling to engage with it. But again, the descriptions of the science fiction aspect - which, frankly, is brilliant – were rushed and forced to the point where I didn’t understand and then didn’t much care. It seemed that the plot was going to carry on without me, and as the protagonist himself was entirely passive about the situation, I didn’t see why I should be upset either.
I’m going to say this again, because I think it’s worth saying, the idea of having a code produced by a cipher which is totally unique and indistinguishable to the person producing it is brilliant. I just think it’s a shame it was all so rushed and clumsily exposed.
I have read reviews since which suggest that there is something more to the book, that it is a consideration of the internal space we inhabit versus the external world where everything else happens, and I can kind of see that. But I don’t want to read the book again to look into this further. However, it’s an interesting line of thought, and I’d be interested to talk about this further, should the opportunity arise.
Having said all that, I don’t want to be entirely negative, so. The last four chapters were beautiful, exactly the kind of Murakami I had expected. The narrator engaged, I knew what was going on, I found myself reading passages again and not just to try to remember what they were all talking about. Perhaps the sense of inevitability helped at this point, the narrator was less restrained and taking more care of his thoughts, and it was this (along with the culmination of the second part of the novel) that I really enjoyed. So, if you get that far, it’s lovely. But it by no means makes up for the clumsy writing beforehand.
Incase you would like to read a more favourable review of this book:
Which, for future reference, is approximately where the little ‘A’ is:
(Thank you, Google)
I had been invited on behalf of the university library to view a new scanning service available nationwide to those who deal with the request and provision of digital resources for teaching. We get all of our scans from the British Library, and all of the high-tec (debatable…) scanning procedures take place up here in Boston Spa. As it turns out, they are rolling out a brand new interface and requesting procedure for people such as me (and the Inter-Library Loans team) who deal with this kind of request for the university.
All very exciting, I know.
However, the most exciting part of all this is the tour of the site. Now, I thought the first view of that amazing column of old books in the British Library’s London Site at St. Pancras was the most impressive shelving I’d seen. Not so. Not so at all. Beautiful as it is, it really is not as impressive as the new ASB building at Boston Spa – which I am now terming ‘The Matrix for Books’.
The ASB Storage building is 21m high and has a total capacity of 262 kilometres. Even now, I can’t say I really know what that actually means. I am going with absolutely huge, and impressively so. It is staffed by 7 automated cranes, who shelve either one of the 110,994 A1 containers, one of the 2775 A2 containers or one of the 26,361 B1 containers. Now, again, I can’t really tell you I know what that means. So, to illustrate better what this building consists of, here are the pictures I (read: the sci fi geek in me) took:
Scary, isn’t it? And brilliant. To make things feel yet more futuristic, the room itself is very low-lit and rather cold due to the low-oxygen enviroment (to prevent fires breaking out).
It’s purpose? To move low-used books from other British Library sites so that they are securely and safely stored and still accessible. The figure I remember is 7 million books. Again, impressive.
How does it work? Lorry-loads of books arrive at the Work Area warehouse adjacent to the futuristic storage facility. These are unpacked, scanned, recorded and packed into one of the containers – all of which are also barcoded, scanned and recorded. These are then placed on a conveyor belt which takes them into the storage room. They are loaded, automatically, onto one of the cranes, which then whizzes off down its little corridor into the distance and shelves the container, marking its location.
So when a book is requested, it is searched for on the system and its last location in the building is brought up. This is told to the relevant crane which whizzes away and retrieves the relevant container using its barcode and location. This is then brought back, and the book retrieved.
Scary thing number one: when requested books are returned, they are shelved in the next available slot. This relies on the crane to record correctly where it last left the container. Imagine if a computer glitch switched some numbers around? How would the books ever be seen again?!
Scary thing number two: These cranes are doing my job. No, I don’t shelve 7 million books in a purpose-built, climate controlled warehouse, but when someone asks me for help I go to the shelf and look for the book, or when a book is returned I can shelve it. If this little crane does all the shelving and searching – and gods know it’s quicker than I am- what’s the point of me?! We could drill down through Egham Hill and install the same thing there.
We won’t obviously. Founder’s would most likely sink into the abyss and we can’t have that. But seeing the ASB building did make me wonder whether I should feel excited or redundant. I am feeling excited, mostly, and I really do feel as though I’ve seen into the future here. This building was more than impressive, and ingenious, and even though I might be becoming a librarian I can still be progressive- it seems they’re not all stuck in the past or dusty shelves after all!
I want to put poetry on one of these.
Or, Things I Wrote on the Train Yesterday (mostly descriptive)
I seem to write so much more when I’m travelling, and when I say travelling I mean the physical act of sitting around while a kind train driver, pilot, parent or friend takes me to a place. Once I’m there: useless. I can’t write for anything, unless it’s one of those trips where there are long times spent sitting in the sun with sunglasses on and quiet all around. Otherwise I’m too busy trying to get involved in things and Live My Life.
Funny, that. I’ve just noticed. I write more in the summer, when I’m relaxed and when I have nothing to do but contemplate and notice. All three are the perfect combination but I guess this explains also why I wrote so much more holed up in my bedroom with cosy lights and music on with no pressing deadlines than I did in the dead of winter with my housemates all around, or when I’m busy at work, or have any sort of deadline – including a creative writing one! This is an important thing to remember: I write in quiet (or at least monotony), sunshine and without pressure.
Just need to work out how to replicate that ‘on holiday’ feeling…
Anyway! On the train to Harrogate yesterday I got my Moleskine out and sat it on the little pop-up table in front of me beside a pen. It was a beautiful sunny day and as I watched the countryside fly past I wrote these little things (mostly descriptive). Although I know that colleagues sometimes read this, I was not thinking about libraries at all and it was a lovely journey (the two, I hasten to add, are not connected!)
On the way to Waterloo, I.
He has a very tiny mouth, and features all clustered together in the middle of wallowing face. When he coughs – inside his mouth, a disgusting habit – his cheeks bulge our like a bullfrog’s. Later, I notice that he has fallen asleep and his neck is spilling over the top of his mismatched shirt like too much cake mix in a tight case.
On the way to Waterloo, II.
A beautiful curve to his neck, he turns and gazes out of the window and then falls asleep. At first he is statuesque, the long lines of his features accented by the strong swells and contours of his cheekbones. I notice that his cheeks themselves are totally flat, planing up from the corners of his mouth to his eyelids where it is as though they have risen up to cover his eyes - not as in other people where the eyelids themselves come down like shutters.
Then, as I was admiring his full lips, his mouth falls open and he begins to snore. Nevermind.
London King’s Cross to York: A Whistlestop Journey
Country punctuated by train stops.
Ponds dip into existence while resevoirs rise out of the earth.
Gone as soon as they began and the Green stretches out as far as you can see.
Canals ride beside, calm and serene,
and sometimes stately homes appear regally amidst the boxed hedges and gravel pathways deposited on the land.
Not knowing the way without the (very ) occasional roadsign
it feels the way a kingdom might well before the invention of the M25.
Only settlements and tree-edged fields for miles.
York to Harrogate: A Note Macabre
If you look at a cemetery with no one you know in it, it becomes an acre of skeletons.
A final thing for my own sake: all unedited as it the purpose of this blog.
I do find it funny that I only want to write in summer. Can creativity (if you can call it that) come in such cycles?
Dodging low-flying pigeons and tiny hands
grasping dripping ice cream,
Walking down the South Bank with bare legs,
pimpled by the cold breeze
Which persists – in spite of heavenly sunlight.
Illuminated cages hang
Above our bowed-together heads. We collude
over lunch, the sights, each other.
Tourists. Testing the water, arms around each other,
sunglasses hiding our gaze.
(Wrote him last week, but forgot to post. Now I don’t like the last line, but we’ll see how that goes.)