I said I'd write something for the B31Voices hyperlocal blog, so this is a kind of draft for that.
I went back to school on Saturday. My old school. My junior school to be precise. From 1972 to 1975 (because I left early) I was a pupil at St Laurence's CofE Junior School on Bunbury Road in Northfield. I'd started school at the Infants, which then was on the original site at the top of Church Hill, three years earlier. I was also baptised at St Laurence's Church when I was 6 years old (it seems my parents waited until my brother was born to baptise all three of us at the same time).
I have very fond memories of the Junior School. I had all sorts of mixed feelings about school after that, but Junior School rocks. You get to sit with the same people all day everyday and make good friends, and there's no huge academic pressure (bar the 11-plus, which I left to avoid) instead there's a good mix of reading, writing, arithmetic, art, music and physical stuff. I strongly remember thinking about writing a poem for the first time, the thrill of moving up a colour on the reading scheme, making tie-die t-shirts, doing finger painting and getting carried away getting poster paint all over all the desks, someone (a pupil) doing a streak (!), just running back and forth over the back playground, having a three-a-side football league playing with those little plastic skeleton balls on the front playground, planting a tree not in '73 but '74, learning French with "Madame", starting to write with an ink pen, crisps going up from 3p to 3 1/2p to 4p all in one term and the crisp-strike that ensued. And it was where I first remember being on stage and seeing others on stage, doing readings at Christmas - "And it came to pass that there came a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed, and all went to be taxed, each unto his own city." And doing old-time music hall songs -"Hello, hello, who's your lady friend?".1
And as it was a Christian school, I also remember loving the stories about Jesus and the Disciples. Healing the sick, getting lame people to walk, miracles, the excitement of Christmas, the bitter-sweet story of Holy Week. And the hymns, starting every day with a jolly good sing song - brilliant!
Now, today's children are having that experience and on Saturday we got a glimpse of it, in between the waves of nostalgia and occasional pangs of half-remembered trauma (being late for assembly, scraping your knees on the tarmac, not wearing the right clothes when the photographer was coming).
There was a fire engine in the drive when we got there. Of course I'd have loved to climb on it, but they were only letting kids on. There was a long, long queue (almost the length of the drive itself) for pony rides on one field and there was a mega bouncy castle on the other field. It felt a bit naughty walking down the drive rather than going round to the Innage Rd entrance. There were a lot of people there. Lots of them probably were former pupils but there was no formal system for identifying them. I happened to bump into Gail Battersby (née Alldrit) when we were in the "old photo" room and saw her pointing to herself in a picture that I was also in. We had a moment of saying hello and watching each others faces go in and out of focus before we could connect the names with the 1972 faces with the 2014 faces. She's looking a lot better 40 years on than me!
I needed to catch up today with Nick, who's going to be my Best Man in September, so we arranged to meet at the Tate for a coffee. We ended up not talking about September very much at all.
He'd been delayed a little, and when he rang to apologise he also said "Do you want to go to a thing at the Globe this afternoon? I've got comps." I had no idea what "Last Days of Troy" was but I said yes, as is good practice.
Once we'd found each other and grabbed a coffee from Monmouth in Borough Market, we toddled back to Tate Modern and had a stroll around the Matisse show. There's a lot of it. I could easily have spent another hour in there, going back to the beginning and going more slowly, but really lovely stuff. Those shows are a bit pricey, but if you can find a member to go with, always worthwhile. I came out refilled. There's something about seeing those paper-cut pieces close up, seeing the gouache on the paper and the lines not as even and rounded as when you see a print or a digital copy scrunched down to 320x240px. And there's also something about seeing these pieces after seeing years of copies and derivatives and trying to grasp the newness of this stuff in the 1940s.
We went up onto the members' room balcony to get rehydrated and have a chat about art and us and what we do and why we (I, actually, he's doing alright!) don't do enough and the importance of saying what you want to do, to the right people.
And then we went round to the Globe. I hadn't realised it was going to be 3 hours and that our "comps" were for the £5 groundling tickets anyway so we'd be standing up for 3 hours. But still, it's theatre, innit? I also wasn't really sure who Lily Cole was. I kind of recognise her face, but didn't know she was a model really. Have I seen her act in anything else? Well, 3 hours was too long, whether you were standing up or not. I spent a lot of time trying not to think about how much my feet were hurting. Luckily there was some space in the shade otherwise I'd have been applying heavy layers of after-sun by now.
Michael Billington, in his review of the show when it was at the Royal Exchange in Manchester, described Lily Cole's performance as "inexpressive". For once, I agree with Billington. And I'd add "to the point of almost invisibility" - there were times when I didn't realise she was on stage until she spoke and I can't believe that's deliberate. None of the women are very strong and the men don't come over as warriors - Achilles has spent a lot of time in the gym, but even when riled, I didn't believe he'd ever seen much fighting. The centrepiece Hector vs Achilles fight was very dancey and all the men do this kind of big, meat-chewing, declaiming, straining every facial muscle they have while they strut up and down and prowl around each other. As a play it's not a bad take on the Iliad, it assumes that you know the backstory of how Helen ended up in Troy and how they're all related and how the Gods were involved - there's some apple business but nothing's said about why. I liked the way that the Gods were handled, remembering that they're immortal, but have been sidelined, and a kind of family business. Still.