June 25, Luang Prabang, Sok Dee Guest House

July 1, 2010

My new travelling companion, who on the morning we were due to leave Chiang Mai had acquired an ominous pair of high heels outside his room which didn’t bode well for our 9am departure, slept like the buddha during the 2-day boat trip up the Mekong from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang. Slumped on a table, sprawled across some rice bags or just on the floor in everyone’s way, Markus mastered sleep as we moseyed up the river to the sleepiest town on the South East Asia tourist circuit. As my Lonely Planet says, time slows down when you come to Laos from Thailand. People walk slower, talk quieter, and even the tuk-tuk drivers can’t really be bothered. Only my remaining internet time, ticking down to zero in the bottom right corner of my screen, is in a hurry.

I met Markus on the Mr Whisky trek, which took a few days to come together thanks to the post-protest tourism drought in Thailand. We needed at least three people on board for the trek to be possible, and I was alone on the list for about three days before our ‘SpicyThai too far’ tuk-tuk lady sidetracked Markus and Thomas to Chiangmai Inn. As the three of us sat down for the trek’s evening-before briefing, Dave and Marie jumped on board. Dave, as it happens, was in the seat next to me on my flight from Heathrow a week earlier. Now he was checked into the room next to mine, courtesy of our consistently impressive tuk-tuk lady.

An Israeli girl, a vegetarian, I’ve since met was disgusted by her river boat guide in Vietnam when he scooped a snake from the waters and popped it in his full whisky bottle, where it squirmed for a while and drowned. Creepy crawlies bring great health benefits when soaked in whisky in this part of the world, and I didn’t do my budding friendship with Sapphira much justice when I explained to her that on my Chiang Mai trek we caught a tarantula and drank whisky from its carcass before cooking it on a campfire the next day and snacked on its legs.

I set my alarm for 5.30am for a 6am start to our three-day trek. We jumped in the back of a four-by-four with our monsoon-proof backpacks and ricocheted between the railings in our rickety 3-hour drive out of civilization. We stopped at a nameless place, at a small Karen village, where we had noodles and coke for lunch before being shown to a household, a musty kitchen-bedroom duplex, and introduced to their tenants. There was a wood fire burning in the kitchen and the smoke stung our eyes. We had a go on their bomboo bong, smoking a tasteless root of a tree which apparently relieves headaches. After all our daft questions about the “bong thing” our Karen host learned the useful English word bongting and was pleased enough with our company to give us the bong (easy enough to make a new one next time he’s in the forest) and some root for the road.

He accompanied us for a little while, just to the edge of the ambiguous borders of the village where he showed us how to trap animals. First a small noose trap for small mammals, then a bigger one for large rats, and finally a deadly spear trap for wild boars, or even tigers. We carried on up some steep slopes, cutting up any impeding jungle with our knives, stopping here and there to learn about plants that come in handy in various situations. This one for stomach pains, this one for fevers, this one to light camp fires, this to swing on Tarzan-style for a bit of fun. At around five, we arrived at an elephant taxi stand where we exchanged sugar cubes for rides. Just as it started pissing it down with the obligatory evening monsoon, the jungle opened up onto some paddy fields and we dragged our soggy feet to a Hmong encampment, our home for the night.

Even after two deafening cracks of the rifle, two missed shots, the animal kept its spot in the canopy, a pair of eyes gleaming like raindrops in the darkness, reflecting the light from our head torches, giving itself up. The gun traveled to Thomas for the third shot. The animal indulged him, kept looking with its signpost eyes, as he took his time steadying and aiming, then bang, bright sparks, whiff of gunpowder, scattered leaves, and finally it came tumbling down through the tree’s layers. It was like freeing a frisbee from a park tree. I rushed to the plop and found the small flying squirrel on its side, eyes three-quarters closed, breathing shallowly. It’s alive! You have to kill it! I had no idea how and the thought scared me a little but hesitating would be cruel. I grabbed the nearest weapon, a moldy branch, and smashed it over our prey. The branch shattered into smithereens, the squirrel lived on, and Markus, as if he knew what he was doing, knelt down on one knee and pressed the point of his knife vertically down into its neck. Is, our guide, was still reloading the rifle, letting the4 children play. When she finally strolled over to inspect the prize, she seemed pretty unmoved. Not a lot of meat on this one. She picked it up like a toy, spread its wings, and revealed a tiny, hardly bloody wound in its chest . The gun was loaded with a cluster of small pellets that sprays out towards the target when the trigger’s pulled. All it takes is for one of those to hit a minor animal like this to send it falling.

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June 14, Chiang Mai, Chiangmai Inn

June 14, 2010

The guy who greeted me at Chiangmai Inn, Mr Whisky, seemed pretty pissed off by my Bangkok cynicism. Getting off my sleeper carriage train at Chiang Mai at eight in the morning, I breached a two-layered wall of touts and tuk-tuk drivers at the end of the platform before giving in to a confusingly female tout-cum-driver just outside the station. She said I should go to a certain guest house. I said no thanks, I plan to go to hostel called SpicyThai where I’m going to find the guy I accidentally gave 500 baht to on my England-USA night out on Khao San Road. SpicyThai too far. She showed me her map, and sure enough, it was a little out of the way, so I said ok then, take me to the government tourist information centre and I’ll take it from there. I hopped on her tuk-tuk and a couple of genial exchanges and back streets later, I ended up at Chiangmai Inn.

200 baht for an en-suite room seemed a little too good to be true, so I said to Mr Whisky, who was sat in front of a big board of trekking photos and prices, this is too cheap for a private room. Am I going to be tied into a trekking tour to get the price? What are you talking about, man?! Trekking tour has nothing to do with room. Trekking tour different. Take it, leave it, I don’t care. It sounded like a good deal so I checked in for one night and took my first shower in over two days from the comfort of my new room.

The rain that decimated Lub D’s satellite coverage of the South Africa-Mexico match had stopped and it was a hot, relatively dry day on my first day in Bangkok. I got up at eleven and headed out with the vague intention of catching a boat up the river to the tourist centre with all the big buddha statues and other cultural obligations. I walked West, which meant that at some point I would end up at the river. For a while I enjoyed the streets enough to shrug off two or three tuk-tuk offers. Then came Tuk-Tuk Tony, along with the whim to my head that, actually, a tuk-tuk ride is an experience that embodies the spirit of the city and one I should embrace right away.

So I hopped on for 20 baht- a ride, I though, to the river pier via some local temples for some sightseeing. And then there were shops- three of them. First a small travel agent, which if I stayed in and showed interest for over five minutes, Tuk-Tuk Tony gets some petrol vouchers for in commission. Stay long time, please, long time, for me, to help me. Of course Tuk-Tuk Tony, it’s a hot day and business hasn’t been great lately after the Red Shirt protests, of course I’ll help. So I went in, got my notebook out and took notes as the travel agent told me about trekking in Chiang Mai. Then I was taken to a tailor, a suit shop. Again, I diligently went in with my notebook and took down notes as the tailor told me about the different cuts of fabric and prices. He looked pretty suspicious, but why should I be in the wrong? In the third shop, another travel agent, the guy at the desk busted me with the business cards I’d received from the other travel agent and tailor as I opened my notebook for a third time. He got up and sent me to the door. If I’m not going to buy, go now, otherwise he will have to pay the driver 300 baht. You want to pay me 300 baht? No, so I left. Next stop was the final stop, some sort of impressive tourist attraction which I didn’t go into, near-ish to a pier but not the right one. It was getting late, too late to make it to Wat Pho before closing time, so I strolled back to the hostel, guided by a very tall Sofitel that stood next to it in the distance. Back at the hostel, everyone had been through the same tuk-tuk shop routine on their first days.

Today, Mr Whisky’s sales pitch for his special trek costing four times the average street price, went something like this. If I go into the centre of Chiang Mai I’ll be bombarded by touts to go on treks, but all of them are working off commission for the same handful of organisers who have been running the same trekking schemes for 30 years. He pointed at two close-by towns on the map, Mae Rim and Hang Dong, said that all treks go to one of these two places, renting the same elephants from the same farms and visiting the same mountain communities who after all these tours have learned to supersize their share of the touristic tart by dressing up super-indigenously and posing in photos for baht. His treks are carefully planned to give a ‘non touristic’ experience, led by committed, knowledgeable, and long-established guides who understand the ecosystems of the places we’d be trekking to. He pointed to an unmarked place on the map, and said that the people here will be our hosts, people who haven’t been tainted by Bangkok and mass tourism.

Serendipitously, two couples turned up at the entrance to the inn just as his ended his spiel. They’d just come from a Mr Whisky designer trek. Was it worth 6500 baht when the typical price on the street was around 1500? It sounded pretty good, and on his way out one of the guys, a serene English blond with two bars of music tattooed on the underside of his upper right arm, farewelled his tour guide with a kiss on the head, a good look I thought. After my shower I went exploring the area, popping into a few travel agents to see if what Mr Whisky said was accurate. They all had colourful pictures of elephants and huts and rafts and mountain people. And sure enough, when I asked for details inside they all pointed to Mae Rim and Hang Dong on the map.

After lunch, I sat with Mr Whisky back in Chiangmai Inn’s reception where one of the housekeepers was beating a snake with her broom, and worked out a discount on the premium trek. I leave the day after tomorrow at 6.30am, returning two days later in the evening.

June 11, Bangkok, Lub D

June 11, 2010

My return ticket from Heathrow to Bangkok International via Mumbai, booked hot on the heels of the May protests, cost me about £420. I flew with Kingfisher Airline, as in the beer, and had a turbulent night’s rest having taken good advantage of their hospitality via two large air-cabin cups of whiskey on the rocks. The beautiful Indian stewardess, who the airline’s chief assured us earlier in a video welcome message was personally handpicked, made me mince my words as she leaned over me to take my order. Mumbai airport, India’s busiest air hub, is an island of flat tarmac carved out in the middle of a shanty town. Where the runways end the slums begin.

At Bangkok International, they gave me a free 30-day tourist visa. My 9.5kg rucksack was already on the conveyor belt by the time the sharpest, least sleep-deprived out of us worked out which one of the 30 carousels related to our flight. Nobody tried to sell me anything or take me by the wrist as I stepped out of the main airport building onto the bus terminal. Where were those entrepreneurial taxi drivers? Lub D’s website recommended the 150 baht AE1 shuttle to Silom. All the people I met during the course of my flights paraded merrily onto the 150 baht AE2 to the Banglamphu district, which the only other passenger on the AE1 explained contained Khao San Road where Westerners go mental late into the night.

At Lub D, lads from England hung around a projector screen that displayed ‘Sorry, no signal!’ until the very end of the monsoony evening when South Africa tied 1-1 with Mexico. The same bunch has gone around the corner with a bucket of booze to look for somewhere with coverage of the 1.30am France-Uruguay match.

I like the look and feel of Bangkok. My preliminary instinct was to touch base and then shoot off on the earliest bus heading north the next morning, but it reminds me of Tokyo in the 90s and the muggy, slightly sewage-like smell that the English lads don’t like are reminding me of my childhood. Tomorrow I’d like to take a 5 baht boat trip up the river to the reclining Buddha and Thai massage homeland, then head to Khao San Road in the evening for England-USA’s 1.30am kick-off.

Back on the flow

June 10, 2010

After a dry spell, the flow is going again. I’m jumping on a jet plane to Asia tomorrow and won’t be heading back to England until the end of August. I’m really not sure what I want out of my travels, but here goes. Flying into Bangkok, making my way up north at a gentle pace over a week or so and into Laos. A couple of weeks there, then down into Cambodia at the beginning of July to meet Aya. A plane from Phnom Penh to Kuala Lumpur to Kota Kinabalu in Borneo around about the 12th July when Hannah will be getting in.

I’ve booked a bunk in a hostel. Looks exceptional for a £5 bed. The website says this:

At lub d, “cleanliness” is not an option. It is the basic package of everything we do or offer. If ones ask for a not-so-cleanly room with some discount, oh !, we just don’t have that. Besides, our shared bathrooms are large, air conditioned, and so clean. you will love them 🙂

Not a lot to say at this stage- just wanted to get the engines revving. Farewell and hello!

member of staff

November 19, 2009

A tempting job offer in beautiful Engrish. Do you think they misunderstood the term ‘member of staff’?

Six Characters in Search of an Author @Oxford Playhouse BT Studio

November 9, 2009

(seen 3rd November 2009)

During its opening run at a Rome opera house in 1921, Pirandello’s edgy enquiry into the art of theatre cut into audiences’ sense of decorum so trenchantly that they shouted things in protest. From today’s point of view, Six Characters in Search of an Author is rather mild-mannered, a whimsical investigation into theatre’s identity that’s gently challenging to the student of humanities and frightfully boring for everyone else.

Six fictional characters, transcending their reality, rock up to a drama rehearsal with a curious request for an impatient director whose cast are late. They say they’re characters in a possible story needing to be realised by a dramatist. The director is comically appalled by their indecent intrusion onto his set to begin with, but is gradually proselytised by the pithy tragedy they forcibly (re)present to him. The main point being made – deep breath – is that characters in a play are meaningless until they’re mediated by actors, but that once mediated they become necessarily distanced from their essence, and so ultimately characters in a play are stuck between a rock and a hard place. The moral of the story is theatre is a place for illusion and anyone striving for realism on stage is kidding themselves. Which is why this play should be hammed up with lots of artifice and pomp, like it was in Mark Thomson and David Harrower’s colourfully comedic production last year.

Of course, Oxford University undergraduates have nothing like the kind of resources that the National Theatre of Scotland has and it wouldn’t be fair to penalise this production for its frugality. The price of admission patently reflects this- for a conveniently located and fit-for-purpose venue like this £5 is the closest we’re going to get to free, and what we ought to expect is a modest but insightful production based on an astute reading of a difficult play by thoughtful students who have spent time mulling over the detail. But that’s not what we get in this rendition by Pint Flusher Productions. If this student clique did get to grips with this play, it doesn’t show, and we get no helping hand in understanding what the playwright’s getting at and why what he’s saying is interesting.

This version is apparently a new translation. It’s by second-year classicist Chiara Crean who spent a summer working on it, and, frankly, I can’t fault it. Nor can I comment on where the nuances are, what’s remarkable about it, or why it needed a new translation, but it seemed good. Director Madeline Wright’s contribution is inconspicuous with the actors running amok in wild competition with each other. Mickey Down, in particular, is overbearing in the role of the energetic ‘Director’, and he should never have been allowed on stage with that ridiculous cobra staff which hyperactively slides up and down his grip when he speaks. It’s like a spasm, and very distracting. Hillary Stevens is poignantly tearful as ‘Mother’ and Joshua Hall is commendably controlled in his role as the conflicted ‘Son’. Both performances are humiliated in the raucous farrago of the ensemble. The lighting scheme is effective in conveying the different levels of reality in the play whilst the decision to stage this in the round is trivial and boggling. Surely a play about drama is best off with a traditional proscenium arrangement?

American Pilot @North Wall Arts Centre

October 30, 2009

(seen 29th October 2009)

I attended this for leisure and don’t intend to work on a long and structured review but feel I need to make a brief comment having browsed the local reviews. American Pilot is a play by the prolific David Greig, first performed in 2005, and here reincarnated by the reputable amateur company Oxford Theatre Guild. An American soldier crashes his plane in an unnamed, politically fraught foreign land and, recovering in a remote barn, finds himself at the mercy of a local militia. It’s a play that investigates the meaning of America to the world through the responses of the bemused local community who have candidly deified the superpower for its omnipresence (the farmer smokes Camel and recognises Daffy Duck) and its inaccessibility (they know America mythically through television broadcasts and consumer brands). The pilot, then, is either a son of god or a fallen angel. What do we do with him?

I don’t want to pontificate about the themes as it’s coming up to one o’clock and I want to go to sleep, and really all I wanted to do was congratulate James Silk who plays the part of  ‘the translator’, and who has unreasonably been left out of other reviewers’ roll-calls of praise. Perhaps it’s because he plays an overeducated, bookish, and generally unlikeable type? Well, frankly I think it’s an injustice he hasn’t had a mention yet, because his was a particularly intelligent performance that made his character the most believable in the play in spite of the often overreaching lines he has to deal with. And judging from the overarching theme of the play surely his character is the allegorical protagonist? Why hasn’t anyone flagged this guy up?

Separately, one reviewer says that the production is “agreeably rough around the edges.” If by that he means quaint, then this is another injustice. This isn’t a school play, it stands on its own two feet, and doesn’t require a compassionate pat on the back, thank you very much. The set is limited but resourceful, the acting is good to memorable, and the production should be seen, not because it does the local culture a service but because it tells a thought-provoking, multi-layered story tremendously well.

I’m done.

REVIEW: Deep Cut @Oxford Playhouse

October 29, 2009

Deep cut

(seen 30th September 2009, written for Culture Wars)

Between 1995 and 2002, four army cadets training at Surrey’s Princess Royal (Deepcut) Barracks died in circumstances that have remained ambiguous to this day. Mired in military bureaucracy, the cases saw little light of day until an investigation by BBC Frontline Scotland lifted the lid in May 2002. The ensuing media furore and the snowballing scandal culminated in the Armed Forces minister ordering a 15-month examination into what went wrong. What came out the other end in March 2006 – and the entire thing was carried out behind closed doors – was a forbidding document that ran to over 2000 pages and a press conference in which Nicholas Blake QC who conducted the review announced his conclusion that the deaths probably were self-inflicted. It was a sobering anticlimax.

The eagerly awaited conclusion reached headlines but that was where the buck stopped. Faced with all the heavy reading, journalists could do little more than relay the summary to the expectant public, and it was only weeks later when the saga was already a lesson learnt that the most engaged journalists were able to come to their own conclusions. Writing for the British Journalism Review, Brian Cathcart’s was that journalists were outmanoeuvred by the government. It knew the workings of the media and adroitly doused the flames of public excitement with a brick-like mass of information that the press couldn’t possibly penetrate in time. By the time Cathcart managed to go through it all and publish his thoughts, Deepcut was no longer news. “Journalism,” says this play, “dropped the ball.”

Not that journalists were given nothing to chew on. The review stressed that there was a lot to be desired from the way things were run at Deepcut, confirming accusations that bullying had become rife in the institution. It shed light on further aspects of negligence and profligacy which we could shake our heads at, and recommended in no uncertain terms that management needed to be tightened up- and of course it was, promptly and visibly. Then in January 2008, when the media storm had ostensibly calmed, the Armed Forces announced its plans to close Deepcut and put its land on the market for residential development. Mission accomplished.

But for the bereaved parents who continue to campaign for an independent public inquiry the problem extends far beyond the perimeters of a poorly run training ground. Their children died there for reasons that have never been fully clarified, and those in charge have relentlessly buffered their concern, first with a bureaucratic wall and then with a dead-end review undertaken in the shadows. What this affair has revealed is just how inaccessible the system is and just how difficult it is to hold the military to account. That much we saw and that much we mustn’t forget, cries out this play, and on leaving the theatre we are handed print-outs urging us to fight for transparency.

Deep Cut is an example of verbatim theatre. The script is a selection of interview excerpts, documented speeches and press items reproduced word for word and strung together into a narrative. The characters on stage are the cited individuals and feature Nicholas Blake, Brian Cathcart, and Private Cheryl James’ (1977-1995) parents whose long quest for answers forms the story’s backbone.

A verbatim script is a label of the playwright’s commitment to impartiality in approaching a contentious political subject they wish to discuss, and is driven by the ethos that the truth is shocking enough, that there’s no need for invention. Here there’s a third element. This verbatim script is an emblem of Philip Ralph’s support for Des and Doreen James who have said that after all these years their persisting distress is less about their daughter’s death than about the government’s thievish attitude towards the truth. In the play’s subdued denouement we hear their wistful pleas for a government that can tell the unembellished truth, and the unembellished truth is what Ralph’s script presents, symbolically at least. And by extension we get a play whose very format is a criticism of the way the government responded to Deepcut.

It is, of course, ridiculous to suppose that any piece of theatre can be entirely objective and ‘unembellished’. The very act of staging confers nuance and, besides, Deep Cut is a markedly dramatic play, propelled in this production by a fast tempo, exuberant acting, and a handsome set design. A play could never simply ‘tell the truth’, and the Cardiff-based Sherman Cymru are right not to hold back on theatricality. The aim here is to promote a cause using all the tools of persuasion drama has in store, and dramatic is what it has every right to be (just as court proceedings are).

Deep Cut’s setting is the dour but comfortable James family living room, aka ‘an ordinary household’. An irrelevant but thoughtful Christmas tree sits unobtrusively in the corner – glowing mellowly for Britain’s fragile integrity, shall we say – near a photo of the late Cheryl in uniform. The characters, who generally address their lines to the audience and rarely interact with one another, occupy the James home figuratively. The set is non-essential to the action and adjectival to the play- we could have had, say, an army barracks instead and the script would have kept its coherence for the most part. But Deep Cut is ultimately about the reality of the relationship between Britain’s government and Britain’s governed, and home sweet home is where the heart of the matter lies, where Deepcut hurts most, and where the message of this play is most pertinent. As the plot progresses, stacks of boxes and paperwork gradually pile up on set in an oppressive, tetris-like mess, overwhelming the living room as the affair overwhelms their lives. They need our help to tidy it up.

The overall feel of the production is far from dour or comfortable. It’s a punchy 75 minutes, paced like a rolling news channel during a crisis, with each speech urgently taking over from the last in a raucous fiesta of opinions. The actors drive the play like jet engines, pumping the polemic with fiery vigour. Amy Morgan puts on a wonderfully jubilant performance as Cheryl’s hyperactive best friend at Deepcut, speaking volumes about the happy-go-lucky atmosphere at the barracks in the few lines she has, whilst Pip Donaghy and Janice Cramer in the symbiotic roles of Des and Doreen James keep the play rooted in a poignant family tragedy without ever turning to blatant pathos. Tremors from Derek Hutchinson’s virtuosic turn of the ‘passionate investigative journalist’ archetype as Brian Cathcart could be felt in the Netherlands.

Deep Cut has been widely praised for its hard-hitting journalistic qualities, and scooped a number of awards during its Edinburgh Fringe debut run, including the Amnesty International Freedom of Expression Award. It has since had a run at London’s verbatim stronghold Tricycle Theatre, and been picked up by Revolution Films (The Road to Guantanamo, A Mighty Heart) for a possible adaptation. As long as Deep Cut tours on, Deepcut blazes on, and Des and Doreen’s campaign for justice continues at http://www.deepcutfamiliesfightforjustice.co.uk.

REVIEW: Dial M for Murder @Oxford Playhouse

October 8, 2009

dial m

(seen 6th October 2009, written for Culture Wars)

Best known for its 1954 Hitchcock treatment starring Grace Kelly, Dial M for Murder is an iconic number that many will be familiar with. Retired tennis player Tony Wendice knows that his wife Sheila is having an affair, but rather than getting too worked up about it he decides that this gives him some splendid moral leeway to murder her for her inheritance. So he spends a year laying down the pieces of his devious stratagem, dapper as ever in his day job as “professional husband”, until there’s just one thing left to do- pick up the phone and dial her death sentence.

But what he hears down the line on the fateful night isn’t exactly what he had in mind. Blast! It’s all gone wrong, and now he’s going to have to be extra devilishly clever to clear up the mess he’s made. But with Inspector Hubbard on the prowl, can he continue to be so insouciant?

This is a genre piece written over 50 years ago, and it goes without saying that the genre’s moved on somewhat since then. M would rather stand for mentally unstable – or how about mutilation? – in contemporary crime drama, and Dial M for Murder, in all its earnest attention to suspense, feels quaintly amicable by today’s standards. Besides, everyone’s seen and talked about the Hitchcock; the very phrase Dial M for… has a sort of proverbial ring to it. This is a play with vintage, and what it means to us now is something very different from what it would have meant to its contemporary audiences. You can’t just pull it off the shelf and say ‘here you go.’

Thankfully, director Lucy Bailey knows this and has rather spectacularly played up the kitsch in this production by West Yorkshire Playhouse. She’s painted the set lipstick-red with a danger-red telephone as its centrepiece. A viscous sense of malice oozes seductively from the stage throughout, with heartbeat and tinnitus sound effects punctuating some of the more wicked moments, and a revolve constantly turning the set – sometimes imperceptibly slowly – to shift and distort our perspective à la Hitchcock. The effects used in the climactic murder scene sent me into orbit.

With the whole murder plot explained by the plotter in the opening act of the play, and with no twists in the pipeline to speak of, Dial M for Murder is never a guessing game. So when the inspector turns up in the second half smelling something dastardly in the air, we find ourselves idly waiting for the penny to drop, privy as we already are to the mystery. The play’s writer (Frederick Knott) is going through the painstaking ritual of restoring justice to the world in line with the genre’s stipulations, and frankly the plot gets pretty dull at this stage.

But Dial M for Murder is all about suspense, about building tension, and the reason why we’re forewarned about the murder at the beginning to the detriment of mystery is so that we can nervously anticipate it. It’s an exercise in form, and one which West Yorkshire Playhouse pulls off tremendously well, with suave acting, innovative stagecraft and a playful direction that fondly celebrates a loved classic with a great sense of fun.

kneeling in front a train

October 2, 2009

David Letterman was blackmailed $2m for having adulterous sex in the past with women who worked on his chat show. One day he found a mysterious letter on the back seat of his car which threatened to expose his promiscuity through a book and a film screenplay. Letterman recounted this incident live on his chat show to an audience who laughed sceptically. Police have since arrested a suspect following a sting.

The story as told by the Guardian then recalls a number of other intrusions the $31m per year king of television has suffered in the past. The first was about a stalker called Margaret Ray:

The star has had to contend with a number of stalkers during his career. In 1998, Margaret Ray, who has schizophrenia, spent two years in prison and a mental institution for breaking into his home and driving his Porsche. She then killed herself by kneeling in front of a train.

By kneeling in front of a train. She didn’t jump in front of the train, as we’re used to hearing; she made a decision, and carried out her plan with clarity and composure. She knelt (kneeled) and waited. Nor did she sit. She wasn’t haphazardly resting or idling while waiting for her train, she was kneeling.

What a disturbing image. People kneel when they pray, it’s a profoundly thoughtful act. Getting hit by a train should be a spontaneous act, a decision as explosive as the impact, a crudely concluded fuck-it and bang. But here the image is eerily contemplative, the gesture frighteningly humble.

Kneeling. It jars in the sentence, it jars in the punchy article, and it jars in the world of American television whose hyperactive audience can’t tell a confession apart from joke.