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Favourite quote today, from Andre Gide: “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

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Cirque du Soleil – My day at the circus

My Day at the Circus 

‘Don’t forget,’ said my husband, ‘Sunday. Cirque du Soleil. Albert Hall.’

‘Oh yes,’ I said, ‘Can we park?’

There followed the usual discussion about travelling anywhere in London these days.

‘It’s Sunday – surely we can park anywhere?’

‘They’ll all think that.’

‘We could go early.’

‘They’ll all do that.’

‘Tube?’

‘Too far to walk.’

‘Taxi?’

‘Expensive.’

‘Cheaper than being towed away.’

‘They’ll all think that.’

‘Shall we eat first?’

‘Where?’

‘Anywhere we can park.’

We took a taxi.

Doors open at 7pm, the tickets said.  By 7.20 the queue winding around the Albert Hall perimeter was shaking with cold.  A few people hovered nearby and we all stiffened in that way we do when we think someone is trying to jump in.  Before open hostility could erupt, the interlopers disappeared, and the queue resumed the all-important task of shivering.

At 7.30 the doors opened and a tannoyed voice apologising for the delay was drowned out by the surge of heavy coats whooshing through to the warm.  We were in.

A solitary kiosk offered one option of sweets: a bag of Minstrels.  Nice touch: the show’s name – Alegria – means ‘minstrel’.  Even cleverer to sell a small bag of Minstrels for that price…. We took our seats.

I wasn’t looking forward to the show.  Apparently it was a ‘new take’ on circus.  So what?  I never liked the old take.  But I changed my mind.

Cirque du Soleil is an amazing confection, difficult to describe without a welter of clichés, and devised so cleverly that it holds your attention at all levels of sound and vision.  Yes, it’s circus – there are acrobats, clowns, a very strong strongman, trapeze artists, ‘animals’ – but Alegria takes this traditional theme to a new dimension.

While the individual displays of strength, acrobatics and dance are breathtaking, undoubtedly the triumph of Alegria is attention to detail. Every move of the artistes, every scene shift, the way different characters come to sit or kneel at the edge of the stage or in the audience during the acts, every entrance and exit is beautifully choreographed.

The clowns have you applauding at the lift of their arm and suddenly you’re competing with the other side of the auditorium to see who can make the most noise.  Simple stage ‘business’ – but so effective.

Alegria enthrals from the start, as the minstrel band weaves through the audience piping and drumming its way to the stage.  From the hump-backed, pot-bellied, stick-legged ‘ringmaster’ who capers and cavorts around the stage, while somehow managing never to be in the way, the strong man who strides on at the end of the contortionists’ act to carry them effortlessly off the stage; to the clowns who ‘help’ with scene changes and test out the acrobats’ equipment and the beautiful distinctive voices of the principal singers, it is an astonishing spectacle. Frankly, it blew me away. We’re going again. By taxi, of course.

Social Media – all you need to know

The golden rule, people: if you are in business, don’t link your Twitter comments to your LinkedIn feed.

 

If only the Mid-Staffs victims had had their phones hacked instead….

If only the victims of Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust’s lack of care had had their phones hacked, instead of suffering and dying in miserable, dirty hospital wards.  If only the 1,200 patients of Stafford Hospital alleged to have died prematurely had had their voice mail messages intercepted or removed, not just basic nutrition and water.  And if only they had been celebrity victims.  Then perhaps Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg and Harriet Harman and Oliver Letwin might have sat up for THEM till 2.30am. Then perhaps Ed would have thrown open his offices to THEIR vocal lobbyists, listening to their concerns and thrashing out a plan to deliver a regulator with teeth, a regime where penalties for poor performance are underpinned in law, a regulator that will demand and secure proper apologies and exemplary damages.

Where are the celebrity lobbyists, multi-millionaire donors, Labour Peers and business leaders campaigning for the Mid Staffs victims to have a ‘proper’ regulator?  Who is helping the victims’ families to find their way through the bureaucracy, make the lawmakers care, have the people responsible brought to book?

Miliband, Harman, Clegg and Letwin are way too busy meeting with Hacked Off, with their wealthy and organised backing from the Media Standards Trust and Common Purpose.  Too busy focused on a high-profile group with the funding and contacts to make things happen for ‘their’ victims, to command political attention, to set the national agenda.  To make sure that the dwindling band of print journalists not currently under arrest or on police bail, from the dwindling number of actual printed papers, will operate under greater strictures than ever before.

Meanwhile, the healthcare regulator the Care Quality Commission continues to report on poorly performing hospitals and care homes.  Only this week they identified that one in five hospitals is failing to meet basic standards of care.  Where are the arrests, the suspensions, the sackings?  Where’s the celebrity outrage?  For the victims there, what must their families be feeling to see so much attention, funding and support from party leaders, MPs, all targeting tougher press regulation?

Safe, trustworthy hospital care – way down in the priority list.  But ‘hold the front page’ till we’re happy no-one is misrepresented?  Yes, that’s what we really care about in this country.

 

We all loved Borgen until….

Sharon Pink talks Borgen – the women:

We all loved Borgen Series 1 until…. we thought about it.  And realised that this was a world where nothing good comes from being a woman.

Fascinating, compelling, absorbing television, with a woman taking over as Prime Minister in Denmark. A modern, thoughtful, campaigning woman, cushioned in a seemingly happy marriage of equals, with an intelligent, attentive, caring husband not overawed by the role his wife had attained, proud of her achievements while also continuing his career and sharing in the childcare and domestic arrangements.  Such a good marriage that one columnist, presumably having not seen the last four episodes when the relationship fell apart, posited that Borgen might be screened in schools “under the pretext of educating pupils about politics, in the hope that English girls and boys absorb the finer points of juggling a modern marriage”.

While Birgitte’s relationship with Phillip disintegrated, her dealings with other people weren’t exemplary either.  In fact, are any women at all in Borgen portrayed well?  Let’s take a look:

Episodes 1 and 2: the sitting PM is forced from office following a scandal about his neurotic, hysterical wife, while seasoned journalist and broadcaster Hanna is fired for being drunk and suspects only her younger, more attractive rival Katrine of engineering this.  None of the other young and ambitious (male) journalists on the team are singled out.

Katrine herself is constantly chastised by her boss Torben for initiating investigative journalism to identify news scoops for the station.  Ultimately she walks out (instead of demanding he resign and give her his job) when she discovers he has given editorial control of news footage of the PM’s family to Birgitte’s spin doctor, Kasper (or Kesper as the charming Danish accents style him).

‘Kesper’ himself has a sad and complex back story but even that involves a weak mother who supported and protected his abusive father.  And no retribution for the father except that he died with no friends, with the son he damaged so much only attending the funeral to check the flames were burning hot enough to reduce his abuser to cinders.

Back in the parliamentary cauldron, scheming Pernille only secures the role of Chancellor by political blackmail. Tokenism?  And that scenario provides us the unedifying sight of Birgitte giving her most loyal lieutenant, confidant and mentor Bent the tap on the shoulder to dismiss him from the Borgen dance floor… when he’d stuck by her, advised and guided her as she found her feet in the PM role, and brought her home-made rolls, comfort and absolute discretion as she separated from Phillip.

In an earlier episode, another forgettable female Minister and former friend of Birgitte was sacrificed for a youthful photo shoot indiscretion, with intense lobbying from the charming Pernille destabilising her position anyway.

While bullies like former opposition leader Laugesen continue unchecked, loyal female toil goes unrewarded.  Consider the running theme of the imminent replacement of kind and seemingly-efficient PM’s secretary, Sanne, who was even happy to baby-sit Birgitte’s young son in the office.

With our ‘heroine’ Birgitte showing ultimately that she doesn’t seem capable of having any of it, let alone having it all, you do indeed wonder, as the Sunday Telegraph’s political editor Patrick Hennessy Tweeted so succinctly “Why didn’t Birgitte and husband in Borgen just hire a nanny?”

Terrific story-telling, great production values and cinematography.  Can’t wait for more, but a note to the Borgen ‘storyliners’ : any chance of some more sympathetic, truly aspirational women?

 

Word spin

Can words really fail you?  Or do you fail them?

Considering how many words are available to us, with their different nuances of meaning, can there ever really be a time when you couldn’t think of a word for the situation or activity you want to describe?

 

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“That’s all we have, finally, the words, and they had better be the right ones.”  (Raymond Carver)