Happy birthday, Dad

My Dad is 62 years old today. Or, at least, he would have been if we hadn’t lost him to cancer in 2004, when he was 55. The one thing that really pains me is that when I think of him, the first thing that comes to mind is what happened at the end of his life – the loss, the fact that he isn’t here any more. I really wish that I would automatically think of everything I loved about him, about his great laugh, his genuine warmth and his silly sense of humour. Like nearly every lad growing up, I wanted to be like my Dad. When he drove coaches and buses, I wanted to be a coach or bus driver. When he was running pubs, I wanted to be a publican. When he was a postman, I… well, OK, there’s an exception to every rule.

He was a very passionate man. Passionate about everything he believed in, about the musicians he loved, the food he bought, prepared and ate. His cooking was fantastic – his hotpots, curries and roast dinners were to die for. He was a political activist. When he worked at Massey-Ferguson, the agricultural machinery manufacturer, he was a committed trade-unionist and shop steward. Something that eventually cost him his job. He stood as a candidate for The Labour Party in a traditionally Conservative area and, although he didn’t win, put so much work into his campaign, that he increased Labour’s share of the vote significantly. One of the greatest things he ever did for me was to encourage independent thought and to question what I was being taught. Naturally, this didn’t exactly do wonders for my teachers, because I became the annoying kid in the class who wouldn’t just accept what they were saying at face value. My Dad is probably largely responsible for my Agnosticism, because he was the first person to discuss the difference between fact and belief, but he did it in a very ‘live and let live’ manner, because that was his way. As such, his passion for equality, fairness and justice also influenced me greatly.

He loved crosswords, quizzes and learning for the sake of knowledge. Some of my fondest memories of time spent with both him and my Mum are of watching quiz shows such as “Fifteen-To-One” together and trying to beat them both. I managed it sometimes, but getting the better of either of them was a rare occasion. Academically, he was shunted aside at school because of what was probably an undiagnosed case of dyslexia, as he really had real difficulty actually writing, but he loved reading and had a very quick, sharp and often brilliant mind. He was also a wonderful friend to me and was one of the best people to go to if you had a problem, because he would offer advice that wasn’t just the right thing to do, it would usually be the right thing for you to do, in that circumstance. He helped me a great deal through some very difficult times when I was younger. I tried to take his advice most of the time, but when I didn’t, he would usually be proven right which was really quite annoying.

Many people, when they talk about their Fathers, speak of childhood memories of playing football down the park, fishing, play fighting or other things like that. I didn’t really have that with my Dad, but that was pretty much my fault. He tried to do things like that with me, but I was more interested in playing music, chess and other pursuits which were less than sporty. As such, I felt like a bit of a disappointment to him when I was a young child, that I wasn’t the son that he wanted. Luckily, I grew out of that feeling. We loved each other a great deal, but didn’t properly connect until I was old enough to talk to him, exchange ideas, feelings and debate about the small and the great issues in life. Then we were in our element. The main thing I remember about my Dad when I was very little was him working very hard and that I didn’t see him that much. Shift work with lots of nights meant that he was sleeping through the day and working at night. Doing a job which heavily features shift work makes me appreciate everything he did for the family back then and why he wasn’t as readily available for us kids as we’d have probably liked.

The majority of us lose our parents at some point in our lives. Maybe I was lucky to have my Dad until I was 28. Some people aren’t even that fortunate, but it doesn’t feel that way most of the time. I know that I was very fortunate to have a man like my Dad there for me and am happy to know that we were very close, but all of these things don’t stop me missing him and wishing that I was able to pick up the phone and wish him happy birthday. He lives on in the memories of everyone who loved him and I know that there are, at least, three people who think of him often and especially throughout today. I don’t believe in the afterlife. I don’t believe he’s “up there” looking down on me… in a way, I wish that I did. I wish I had that comfort. What does, however, give me comfort is thinking of playing cards with him on family holidays, remembering the days of having a pint in the local pub and a couple of games of Dominoes with him and then the long chats we’d have on the phone after I’d moved away to London. There aren’t many people in my life who have been as important as he was to me. He was a great bloke. A mate, someone you could talk to and look up to at the same time. Someone who didn’t stand for nonsense and wouldn’t get involved in pettiness, but who always made himself available to anyone who had a real problem. When he died, he left a big gap in our lives which will never be filled.

Happy birthday, Dad. I love and miss you.

Fibro…what?

If I can put my customary silliness to one side for today, I’d like to talk about something a little more serious.  Wait.. don’t navigate away – it’ll still be interesting.  I hope.

What I’d like to write about today is Fibromyalgia. It’s a medical condition which is literally very close to home, in that the person I love and am planning to get married to has it.  If you haven’t heard of it, don’t worry, I hadn’t heard of it prior to meeting Corinne, but since I’ve had it explained to me, it now seems to be extremely common for something I didn’t even know existed before 2010.  My cousin’s ex-wife has it.  A friend of my best friend, Robert, suffers from it.  However, most people I talk to haven’t heard of it – and that needs to change.

What is it, exactly?  Well, simply put, Fibromyalgia – taken from the Greek words meaning connective tissue and muscle pain – is thought to be a disorder of the central nervous system and manifests itself as (often severe) chronic and widespread pain throughout the body, often coupled with other symptoms including insomnia, fatigue and stiffness.  Doctors still don’t know for certain what causes Fibro and, indeed, some Doctors still refuse to diagnose Fibromyalgia because of their lack of understanding of it and the fact that there haven’t been any conventional and concrete tests in order to make a cast iron diagnosis.  In short, Doctors, like any other humans beings, have been quick to throw scorn on something they don’t understand.  Thankfully there are more and more enlightened Doctors out there these days, but people still struggle to have their illness recognised and treated for what it is.

Unfortunately, at present, there is no cure for Fibro and many of the medications used to manage the symptoms are usually used to treat other conditions.  Perhaps this is because it’s so rare, right?  Wrong.  It’s estimated that Fibromyalgia affects approximately 2 to 4 percent of the population (which, out of a UK population of 61.5 million in 2009, means that there could be well in excess of 1.5 million people with Fibromyalgia in this country alone), with around 90% of these sufferers being female.  It’s much more common than you’d think, this condition that so few people have heard about.  It’s not a new thing, either.  Sufferers throughout history are thought to include Florence Nightingale and Charles Darwin, although we seem to be no closer to understanding it now than in their day.

People meeting Corinne on a “good day” may be under the impression that there is very little wrong with her.  Her cheerful nature, wonderful smile and positivity would be one of the first things you noticed about her, before you clocked the walking stick.  The fact is, that even on her best days, she is in constant pain and is nearly always managing pain with huge amount of Codeine and Paracetamol, as well as other medication to lessen the impact of her condition.  Doing ordinary things like going out shopping or taking the kids to the park takes planning, resting beforehand and resting afterwards – and these things can only happen on a “good day”.  Even on her better days, she can crash unexpectedly and need to lie down or sleep.

On bad days, it upsets me to see just how much pain she is in.  She looks pale, distressed, older.  She can’t think properly, has sensory overload and nothing she does to manage her pain seems to work.  On those days, there is nothing she can do other than attempt to have complete rest or sleep her way through it.  The majority of days, however, are neither good nor bad, but somewhere in the middle, days where she has to live with pain that, I’m sure, would drive someone “normal” crazy in a short amount of time – but she gets on with her life as best as she can.  She seldom lets it beat her and attempts to live as regular a life as possible, managing to be a wonderful partner and Mother of three.  For that, she has my deep admiration and utmost respect.

It can be difficult living with and caring for someone with a disability, but a lot of the time I am able to almost forget about it, even though it is in the back of my mind.  I keep track of her medication almost as diligently as Corinne does and always make sure that I make her life as easy as it possibly can be – if I’m able.  The fact of the matter is that it is, undoubtedly, a severe disability on Corinne’s worst days and “merely” a significantly debilitating condition when she’s feeling at her best.  Personally speaking, although I would do anything to bear her pain, I couldn’t imagine living with something like this, day-to-day, and the fact that it is so very under-recognised and misunderstood makes it even worse.

Corinne has many “Fibro friends” on Facebook, with whom she can vent and share her day-to-day trials as well as the positive episodes of her life.  She also has done her best and continues to try to help others who need information about the condition, as she has made it her business to find out virtually everything there is to know about the possible causes of, treatment of and coping mechanisms when living with Fibromyalgia.  That’s yet another thing I admire about her is that she makes so much time for others, often receiving private messages from people in the UK and around the world with Fibro and typing out lengthy replies with advice, links and, above all else, empathy and warmth.  She amazes me and it’s just one of the many things I love about her.

So, what’s the point of this ‘blog entry?  Well, it’s spreading the word, really.  I’m not after your hard-earned money.  I’m not asking you to donate, distribute flyers, go on sponsored runs or to eat your weight in lard.  I just want you to know about it.  To be able to pronounce it (Fi-bro-my-al-ja or sometimes Fi-bro-my-al-gi-a), to be able to say that you’ve heard of it, to be able to speak to one of the thousands of people who suffer with it and, at least, be able to tell them that you basically know what it is.  That means something.  There’s a lot of ignorance out there.  Some Doctors still refuse to recognise it as a real condition.  There have even been hate groups on Facebook insulting sufferers, labeling them mad and lazy.  Believe me, it’s real.  I live with it every day.  I see the woman I love in so much pain, it breaks my heart.  If it was a terminal condition, it would have so much more publicity.  If it actually killed people, it would be foremost in people’s minds, along with HIV, MS and Cancer, but Fibromyalgia merely leaves sufferers often wishing that they could die.

There is an awareness campaign called http://www.fibroduck.com/ which aims to get over a million little spotted rubber ducks out there in the world, to spread the word about Fibromyalgia.  See if you can spot any of their little ducks while you’re out and about.  Currently, on the home page, there are photographs of the “fibroducks” from all over the world, which – if you visit the website – will give you an idea of how widespread Fibro is.   However, that’s really up to you.  If you’ve come this far and read this ‘blog entry all the way through, then thank you.  A little understanding of a common condition that people have rarely heard about is all I’ve set out to achieve.   I hope I’ve managed to do that.

2010 – Review of the year

Sorry that I’ve been a bit quiet in the last week or so.  I haven’t been in the best of health and, well, it has been Christmas and I’ve also had to work.  Life has to come before ‘blogging.

So, 2010.  Is it so very predictable to talk about the year just gone when it comes to the end of the year?  If so, then call me Mr. Predictable of Predictable Lane, because that’s exactly what I’m going to do.  However, I do find it much easier to talk about the year 2010 at the end of December when lots of things have happened, rather than to do so in January when you’ve got very little material to work with.  Call me Mr. Conventional of Conventional Street, if you like, but make up your mind.  I can’t be Mr. Predicatable and Mr. Conventional.  Anyway, if I reviewed this year before it happened, at least I’d have been able to accurately predict one thing… that the England football team would (under)perform like a bunch of talentless, over-paid, non-league players at the World Cup.  It’s no exaggeration to say that we were one of the very worst teams out there.  Even North Korea seemed to have more of a chance than we did.

My World Cup, bizarrely, was spent in Milan.  The thinking behind that was that Italians are football crazy and spending a couple of weeks in an Italian city rich in culture with lots of exciting games to watch in the evening would be a great way to spend the early summer.  Unfortunately, the reality was a little different.  The Italians (or specifically the Milanese) seemingly couldn’t give a toss about the World Cup and we struggled to find anywhere showing the live matches other than an Irish Pub with extremely rude staff or a local bar which they seemed to open when they felt like it.  On the whole, I enjoyed the experience, but found it extremely expensive (16 euros for a pint of Carlsberg in one bar near the station) and a bit same-y after a while.  I would have liked it much more if we’d have been there for a week rather than a fortnight.  Oh, and if England had won all of their games and played with a little bit of skill and pride instead of playing like a bunch of lobotomized monkeys… but that would have surely been asking too much.

Let’s rewind to how the new year started. On December 31st, 2009, I was working a late shift and finished at a depot in North London at approximately 11:00 p.m, after which I was to be taxied home.  I was hoping to get to my home in South London in time to see the new year in, but it was looking increasingly unlikely and, as the time ebbed away, I knew that I was going to be spending my first minutes of 2010 with a London taxi driver.  Sure enough, as Big Ben chimed, I was going past a 24-hour convenience store in the Wandsworth area and a group of drunken teenage chavs outside the shop were holding their cans of newly purchased Stella Artois in the air shouting, “Happy New Year, you fuckers!”.  It was at that point, just as the year began, that I got a bit of a sinking feeling about 2010.  Surely things could only get better?

In fact, the whole year has been a bit on the strange side, but also really rather wonderful.  I met someone in late January on a very silly group I created on Facebook, we got chatting, soon exchanged very frank life stories and I began to get some rather foolish feelings of love before I had even met her.  Then, late on February 9th, she invited me to Brighton to come and meet her and I arrived, on my motorbike, at just after midnight on February 10th.  After a few hours talking and, after a bit of a kiss and a cuddle, I left Brighton on Cloud 9, having met the person I’m now planning to spend the rest of my life with.  Unfortunately, that elated feeling was interrupted by me losing control of my motorbike on the way home, coming off at about 40 mph in icy conditions and ending up in Redhill Hospital.  The outcome of this was me tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in my left knee and having about five months off work, which was much less fun than it sounds.  Still, the time off work allowed me to spend more time with Corinne than I could have if I’d have been working, so I suppose being in pain and having trouble walking had its perks.  Probably my single highlight of this year was when, on August 27th, Corinne and I got engaged and, around the same time, I moved in with her.  Life doesn’t get much better than that.

I’ve been fortunate enough to see a lot of great artists this year, such as Jeff Beck (great), Eric Clapton (disappointing), Brendan Benson (superb), James McCartney (promising), David Ford (sensational), Ray Davies (not great), Paul Weller (good, but self-indulgent), Divine Comedy (excellent), Jason Lytle (good) and Squeeze (brilliant).  I’ve been unfortunate enough to miss quite a few concerts too, such as Grant-Lee Phillips (owing to volcanic dust), David Ford (three times – twice owing to my motorbike accident the week before and once, last week, thanks to the snow) and Rufus Wainwright (family crisis).

Apart from my favourite albums (which can be viewed on a previous ‘blog entry, dated December 8th, 2010), my main forms of entertainment have been television and film.  I’m normally much more of a book reader than I have been over the past twelve months, but the only relatively new book I’ve read this year has been Stephen King’s Under The Dome – and that was published in 2009.  I thoroughly recommend it, though.  It’s one of his best.  Many of the films I have gone to the cinema to see in 2010 have been accompanying my daughter, Bethany, who turned fourteen this year and, in truth, I have only seen a handful of new films.  However, out of the ones I have seen, the three films to really stick in my mind as exceptional were Alice In Wonderland, Despicable Me and Inception.  I’ve spent the rest of my film-watching time catching up with a lot of things I missed last year, courtesy of Sky Movies.  In fact, I only watched Avatar for the first time a couple of nights ago, so it’s fair to say that I’m not exactly in the running to present Film 2011 any time soon.

2010 has been a rather good year for television, though.  New programmes I have enjoyed include the rather tasteless Him & Her, which was like The Royle Family with added sex, set in a bed-sit, Coppers, a no-holds-barred documentary on the police force and Frankie Boyle’s Tramadol Nights, an uncompromising, offensive, outrageously funny stand-up and comedy sketch show.  Favourites which have returned and haven’t disappointed are Doctor Who (OK, Matt Smith isn’t half as good as David Tennant, but it’s still a great show), the ever brilliant House MD, Peep Show, QI, True Blood and the criminally underrated Harry & Paul.  The third series of The Inbetweeners was supremely funny in places, but over-the-top and extremely disappointing in others, with the main roles often descending into caricature.

Of course, it feels almost frivolous talking about this year in terms of my life and my favourite music, films and other entertainment.  There have been some devastating world events, killing – in total – hundreds of thousands of people.  Earthquakes, tsunami, floods, volcanic eruptions… some of the news has been difficult to process and unimaginable in consequence for people living a relatively comfortable life in the United Kingdom.  What can we do?  Alleviate our guilt by throwing a pound or two in the collection buckets at train stations or the high street.  Maybe set up a direct debit to help fund the Red Cross.  Go about our safe lives feeling slightly guilty that we have got it pretty good, compared to so many others.  However, it has to be said that you solve nothing by living in a state of perpetual guilt.  There’s nothing to be gained by attempting to absorb all of the pain and suffering in the world and continually reminding everyone that their troubles, compared to others, are minimal.  People don’t want to hear it.  There’s (nearly) always somebody worse off that you, but that doesn’t always make your worries easier to bear, nor is it any great comfort.  Of course, perspective can be lost sometimes – like that woman from Chatham who rang 999 to report the theft of her snowman or, even, the reaction of the world to Mary Bale, the woman who flung that unfortunate cat into the wheelie bin.  Yes, what she did was cruel and wrong, but what was even more shocking for me was the amount of death threats and threats of violence that she received for that moment of madness.

Of course, I can’t sign off without acknowledging our change of Government in the UK this year, from an unpopular Prime Minister that nobody voted for to an unpopular coalition that, well, nobody voted for.  Unfortunately, I was one of the many people who the Liberal Democrats made a complete twat out of, although, in my defence, I was personally attempting to re-elect the affable and effective incumbent Carshalton & Wallington MP Tom Brake.  The fact that the whole party suddenly became the one which I agreed with most was just a happy coincidence.

With the introduction of proportional representation/preferential voting instead if the antiquated first-past-the-post electoral system, the scrapping of University tuition fees, higher taxation of the super-rich and people who earn up to £10,000 a year paying no tax on their income, this was a party I felt I could get behind, after feeling well and truly betrayed by the Labour Party.  I’m not sure that anyone could have seen coming, however, the fact that nobody got an overall majority and the Lib-Dems, holding the balance of power, deciding to form a coalition with the Conservatives, rather than their more natural political allies, Labour.  Of course, all of the Lib-Dem campaign promises have gone out of the window and they have lost a huge amount of support and credibility, as they are seemingly fitting  in with the Tory ideals and policies rather than having any great influence on the present political events.  It’s all very disappointing, but what makes it even harder to swallow is the fact that my vote was, effectively, a show of support for those bastards who are currently in power.

Well, tomorrow will be 2011.  It’s just another day, very much like today, but a new year is often a symbolic event for people.  It’s a time when you can put the events of the previous twelve months behind you and start anew.  As for me, I’m looking to continue building my life with my beloved Corinne and our family, to maintain and build relationships with my two daughters from my previous marriage, to plan for a wedding in 2012, to completely transform the house we live in and, last but not least, to learn to drive.  Yes, although I’ve been driving trains for years, I don’t actually have a license to drive a car.  Shocking at the age of 35, I know, but I’ve never really ever felt the need, until now.  I’m also resolving to keep writing this ‘blog.  That may be good or bad news to you – although if it’s bad news, why are you reading this in the first place?  Are you a masochist, or something?

Other things I’m looking forward to in 2011 are new albums by Iron and Wine, Ron Sexsmith, Teddy Thompson, R.E.M. and the follow-up to The Seldom Seen Kid, one of my favourite albums ever, from Elbow.  I’m also rather excited (already) that I’ll be seeing Elbow at the Brighton Centre in March.  I’ll be very surprised if that isn’t one of the best concerts I’ll go to next year.  In the pipeline are new albums by Coldplay, Julian Lennon, Foo Fighters and Rush.  I’m still hopeful for a new Jeff Lynne album, perhaps a new George Harrison release and maybe even Noel Gallagher will break his post-Oasis silence.  Liam’s group, Beady Eye, are releasing an album at the end of February, but surely that isn’t going to be much good… is it?  As for television, I’m also anticipating the return of Torchwood.  It’s been too long.

Well, it’s customary at this point to wish you all a very happy, healthy, prosperous 2011, full of good fortune, tasty sandwiches, interesting and varied days, wine, song, love, sex, sexy love, lovey sex, vitamin c, decent coffee, frequent refreshing cups of tea, baths, showers, bidets, immersion heaters, step ladders, sunshine, lollipops, rainbows, lucky pennies, dogs, frogs, hogs, logs and snogs.  OK, not snogs.  I hate that word.  So… yes.  I wish you all of that.  Feel free to miss out the parts you don’t want, but life often brings you many things you don’t want, so it’s often better to have an unwanted immersion heater than a poke in the eye with a pointed stick.  That’s my philosophy, anyway.

Happy new year, you fuckers!

Suicidal Simba

I’m worried about our dog. He seems to be happy enough, full of energy, love and licks, but he appears to want to kill himself. It makes me wonder what we’ve done. Is it because we won’t let him sleep on our bed? Or maybe because we won’t let him drink from the toilet downstairs? I don’t know, I’ve been searching for answers, but he seems determined to commit suicide and his favoured method of demise appears to be death by mince pie. Yes, that seemingly harmless Christmas pastry treat. The problem is, grapes and all dried variants such as currants, raisins and sultanas are significantly toxic to dogs and even relatively small amounts can cause renal failure. Simba, however, loves them. Like most dogs, he will want whatever his human family are eating and, not knowing the dangers, we gave him some mince pie when we had opened a box. He reacted even more enthusiastically than he does to most foods, so we gave him a little each time we were treating ourselves which, seeing as it’s approaching Christmas, was frequently.

Simba, unfortunately, soon became obsessed with mince pies, even learning the words and visibly drooling whenever any were around. We were quite amused by his devotion to the pursuit of mince pies and it was mentioned on my partner’s Facebook status that our dog would probably do pretty much anything for a mince pie. The amusement soon turned to concern when somebody pointed out that the fruit filling could be harmful, so we did a bit of research and, there it was. Lots of good reasons why our faithful Labrador cross needs to be saved from his love of Mr. Kipling’s finest. It’s not even just “a bit bad for them”. There have been many deaths because dogs have eaten grapes, raisins and the like. Luckily, Simba hadn’t had enough to harm him, but had we not known and carried on giving him mince pies over the Christmas period, we could have at least been looking at a very sick dog and hundreds of pounds in vet bills – or much worse – so, that Facebook friend could very well have saved our dog’s life.

End of story, you’d think. Not quite. Upon further investigation, it turns out that a few of the human food poisonous to dogs are Simba’s favourites. Onions, for example, and mushrooms. Both ingredients in his most favourite leftovers, Spaghetti Bolognese. He would also guzzle chocolate if we’d let him, too, but that’s one of the more well-known foods toxic to dogs. Oddly enough, he spits out cauliflower in disgust, but it more than happy to munch down broccoli – which is also harmful to him in large quantities. It then occurred to me that, perhaps, he knows exactly what he’s doing. Maybe he’s well aware that he’s endangering his own health and wants to speed his journey to doggie heaven, by encouraging us to feed him poison. I mean, I keep on telling him there’s no such thing as doggie heaven, but he just won’t listen to me. I’ve started to make enquiries about prozac for dogs, as well as keeping sharp objects locked away and making sure that his leash is kept well out of his reach for fear that he’ll use it as a makeshift noose. I’ve also made sure that my Smiths CDs are on a high enough shelf because I really hate to think what could happen if he started listening to Morrissey too, but, honestly, I don’t know how long we can protect him from himself.

Perhaps he’s just a bit daft. That’s another theory. I suppose he does chase his own tail, surprises himself when he farts, loves baths but hates rain, attacks the vacuum cleaner, goes and checks out the back of the house when it’s raining at the front and lists his hobbies as barking at slow-moving traffic and objecting loudly to upside-down bicycles. The trouble is, he’s also quite smart when he wants to be and, for treats, can perform some rather advanced tricks, so I’m wondering if all of the apparent stupidity is a bit of an act to lull us into a false sense of security. Whatever the truth is, we can’t take any risks. We’ve already distributed photos of Simba to all of the local supermarkets with strict instructions not to serve mince pies to him and put our own stash under lock and key. However, he may get desperate, so don’t be too surprised if you hear of burglaries in the Brighton area where the only stolen items are mince pies and the only damage caused is a slightly savaged Hoover.

People of Brighton, you have been warned.

“The Nativity Play”

“The Nativity Play” – a review

I went to a small local theatre production today and, frankly, I wish I hadn’t bothered.  I should have known the calibre of performance we were going to experience by the theatre.  It wasn’t so much a theatre as a small hall in a local infant school!  Please don’t misunderstand my reservations, I’m all for supporting the arts at roots level, but the hall we were led into had very poor facilities indeed.  The “stage” was nothing but a few benches supporting a rudimentary platform and the viewing area was simply row upon row of plastic seats hardly big enough to support a child, let alone a fully grown adult.  Indeed, my ample buttocks nearly rode astride the sheet of plastic, which played merry havoc with my hemorrhoids.  There was no bar, so I wasn’t able to partake in my customary pre-play Martini and, most disappointingly, there were no “nibbles”.  Not even olives!  This was enough to put me in an absolutely foul mood without even seeing one solitary minute of the production.

Well, when they started, I just sat then open-mouthed in horror.  The thespians appeared to be nothing but a bunch of children aged around seven years old!  It was evident that none of them had formal acting training and, I wouldn’t like to assume anything, but I would be surprised if there was a single Equity card between them!  The acting was hammy, the lines were over-cooked, shouted, and, worse still, delivered with little expression.  I simply didn’t believe their performances!  As for the script, well, I don’t think it could have been less impressive if it had been written by a primary school teacher.  The play itself, whilst admirably based on history and fable, was over-simplistic and, quite frankly, tedious.  The story has been told over and over again and firmly believe that they should be ashamed of themselves if they were naive enough to believe that they could add anything to this often covered tale!

I have absolutely no idea who the director was, but they should have been dismissed well before this 45 minutes of tedium made it onto the stage.  The choreographer and musical director should be ashamed of themselves as the music was unoriginal, without any invention, instrumentally, and the singing was flat, disorganised and grating.  The dancing was simplistic, often horribly uncoordinated and amateurish.  This is no exaggeration dear readers – the musical numbers literally looked and sounded like they were being performed by a bunch of primary school children accompanied by nothing but an upright piano!  Have we not evolved musically at all since the 1920s?  Shocking!  On the plus side, their “singing”, if you could call it that, was loud enough not to be drowned out by my tutting, raspberry blowing and forceful booing.  I got many disapproving looks from the rest of the audience, but I make no apologies for expressing my opinion in the customary manner!

The one saving grace of the whole production was our little star, Bethany.  A true pickled onion in a vat of festering puke!  She delivered her lines like she was born to take the stage and acted the rest of the cast off the stage, just with her few lines as Narrator #3.  It was almost worth sitting though the amateurish tosh and staring at the cobbled-together, crepe-paper scenery to see our little darling show the rest of the actors how it was done.  Almost.  Naturally, after the play was over, I threw rotten eggs, cabbages and tomatoes at the cast and crew, many of whom ran around in blind panic and sobbed uncontrollably, demanding their “Mummy”, whilst my companion fended off some of the audience who were misguidedly trying to tear me limb-from-limb.  Theatre criticism is a tough job, my dears, but somebody needs to do it and it has to be somebody, such as yours truly, who has the courage of their convictions and loves true theatre enough to mercilessly pelt small children with rotten vegetables, rancid eggs and small items of furniture.

Of course, as is often the way, it all descended into one huge self-congratulating pat on the back for everyone concerned and no matter how loud I repeatedly shouted “you should all be ashamed of yourselves!” whilst standing on a chair, it didn’t discourage lots of clapping and cheering.  Philistines.  I managed to collar the producer of this farce and told her exactly what I thought of this “Nativity”, but she didn’t take my forthright criticism well nor seemed bothered about me giving her play a terrible write-up in my column.  I didn’t pay heed to her feeble excuses about them “being children and trying their best” either.  That’s simply not acceptable!  If all they can collectively achieve, this artistically devoid pathetic excuse for theatre, then they should have never put this production before an audience in the first place!

Unfortunately, dear readers, I am writing this from a hospital bed in Brighton General, because a few of the actors’ friends and family members were waiting for me outside armed with rudimentary weapons and, sadly, I took a bit of a kicking.  One always suffers for one’s art, my dears… but the pain of the physical blows were nothing compared to having to sit through that 45 minutes of utter dross!  The play closes today, so you couldn’t go even if you were a masochist and wanted to.  Personally, I think that’s a blessing, but it does mean that you missed Bethany’s performance.  Still, if the production tours and you are ever invited to see this “nativity”, I urge you to give it a wide berth, for the love of theatre!  Unless Bethany is in it, of course, because she was simply magnificent.

1 out of 10.