Wednesday, December 24, 2014

On the 21st Day of Advent, 2014 -- JINGLE BELLS

I must be honest with you. I really hate this song. However, I hate it less now I've researched it. Here's a little back-story from Wikipedia:

"Jingle Bells" is one of the best-known and commonly sung American Christmas songs in the world. It was written by James Lord Pierpont (1822–1893) and published under the title "One Horse Open Sleigh" in the autumn of 1857. It has been claimed that, even though it is now associated with the Christmas and holiday season, it was actually originally written to be sung by a Sunday school choir for American Thanksgiving. However, historians dispute this, stating that it was much too "racy" to be sung by a children's church choir in the days it was written.

It is an unsettled question where and when James Lord Pierpont originally composed the song that would become known as "Jingle Bells". A plaque at 19 High Street in the center of Medford Square in Medford, Massachusetts, commemorates the "birthplace" of "Jingle Bells", and claims that Pierpont wrote the song there in 1850, at what was then the Simpson Tavern. According to the Medford Historical Society, the song was inspired by the town's popular sleigh races during the 19th century.

As mentioned, "Jingle Bells" was originally copyrighted with the name "One Horse Open Sleigh" on September 16, 1857. It was reprinted in 1859 with the revised title of "Jingle Bells, or the One Horse Open Sleigh". The song has since passed into public domain.

The date of the song's copyright casts some doubt on the theory that Pierpont wrote the song in Medford, since by that date he was the organist and music director of the Unitarian Church in Savannah, Georgia, where his brother, Rev. John Pierpont Jr., was employed. In August of the same year, James Pierpont married the daughter of the mayor of Savannah. He stayed on in the city even after the church closed due to its abolitionist leanings.

"Jingle Bells" was often used as a drinking song at parties: people would jingle the ice in their glasses as they sung. The double-meaning of "upsot" was thought humorous, and a sleigh ride gave an unescorted couple a rare chance to be together, unchaperoned, in distant woods or fields, with all the opportunities that afforded. Sleigh rides were the nineteenth-century equivalent of taking a girl to a drive-in movie theatre in the 1950s and early 1960s, so there was a somewhat suggestive and scintillating aspect to the song that is often now unrecognized.

The 1857 lyrics differed slightly from those we know today. It is unknown who replaced the words with those of the modern version.

Dashing thro' the snow,
In a one-horse open sleigh,
O'er the hills we go,
Laughing all the way;
Bells on bobtail ring,
Making spirits bright,
Oh what sport to ride and sing
A sleighing song tonight.
|: chorus :|

Jingle bells, jingle bells,
Jingle all the way;
Oh! what joy it is to ride
In a one-horse open sleigh.

A day or two ago
I tho't I'd take a ride
And soon Miss Fannie Bright
Was seated by my side.
The horse was lean and lank
Misfortune seemed his lot
He got into a drifted bank
And we—we got upsot.
|: chorus :|

A day or two ago,
The story I must tell
I went out on the snow
And on my back I fell;
A gent was riding by
In a one-horse open sleigh,
He laughed as there I sprawling lie,
But quickly drove away,
|: chorus :|

Now the ground is white
Go it while you're young,
Take the girls tonight
And sing this sleighing song;
Just get a bob-tailed bay
Two forty is his speed
Hitch him to an open sleigh
And crack, you'll take the lead.
|: chorus :|

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

On the 20th Day of Advent, 2014 -- A SINGLE GIRL CHRISTMAS IN DUBAI

When I worked for an irrigation/landscaping company near the Dubai Trade Centre, I was provided a charming apartment in Satwa, just off what we called "Satwa High Street," quite close to Jumeirah beach. The apartment building was named, "The Pizza Inn Building" though it had a real name which I cannot remember. I was a "Satwa Sally" -- a single girl living alone and supporting myself. A married, non-working woman who lived in Jumeirah was referred to as, "a Jumeirah Jane."

Here is my apartment at Christmas, 1991. I worked really hard to get my decorated tree high enough to be seen through the window so it would be the one lone Christmas tree visible in that sandy part of town. As you will observe from the exterior shots, there was no way it was going to work. And it didn't.

Christmas tree at third floor window

Take a look at the drinks table on the left. I'm stunned to note the amount of available booze and wish I could remember if this was purchased just for Christmas or if I always stocked my bar so well. I didn't like most of the stuff I had to offer.

The Pizza Inn Building, rear view
Check out the sandy car park where I used to park my snazzy little Mazda. It's covered with buildings now.

Close up on rear view of my apartment building, nothing visible.
Look above the green awning for the second floor (third floor) window just to the left. Using English language, the shops are on the ground floor, then there is the first floor, and I lived on the second floor. In the US, the ground floor would be called the first floor so I lived on the third floor. The two French windows on the left were mine, and the square window is the Christmas tree window. Then the little window directly above the green awning was mine, and the big balcony to the right is mine. Any questions?

To give you some perspective, here are shots of the Pizza Inn Building from the side and the front. It's all changed now apparently but it was a brilliant place to live back in the early 1990s.
Pizza Inn Building on left, Satwa High Street looking towards the Trade Centre
Pizza Inn Building, front view, from other side of Satwa High Street

On the 19th Day of Advent, 2014 -- THE LAST OF THE SPIRITS

And now, as we get closer to Christmas Day itself, here's Ebenezer Scrooge's confrontation with "The Last of the Spirits"

Scrooge with the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come

Chapter 4 - The Last of the Spirits

The Phantom slowly, gravely, silently approached. When it came, Scrooge bent down upon his knee; for in the very air through which this Spirit moved it seemed to scatter gloom and mystery.

It was shrouded in a deep black garment, which concealed its head, its face, its form, and left nothing of it visible save one outstretched hand. But for this it would have been difficult to detach its figure from the night, and separate it from the darkness by which it was surrounded.

He felt that it was tall and stately when it came beside him, and that its mysterious presence filled him with a solemn dread. He knew no more, for the Spirit neither spoke nor moved.

"I am in the presence of the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come?'' said Scrooge.

The Spirit answered not, but pointed onward with its hand.

"You are about to show me shadows of the things that have not happened, but will happen in the time before us,'' Scrooge pursued. "Is that so, Spirit?''

The upper portion of the garment was contracted for an instant in its folds, as if the Spirit had inclined its head. That was the only answer he received.

Although well used to ghostly company by this time, Scrooge feared the silent shape so much that his legs trembled beneath him, and he found that he could hardly stand when he prepared to follow it. The Spirit paused a moment, as observing his condition, and giving him time to recover.

But Scrooge was all the worse for this. It thrilled him with a vague uncertain horror, to know that behind the dusky shroud, there were ghostly eyes intently fixed upon him, while he, though he stretched his own to the utmost, could see nothing but a spectral hand and one great heap of black.

"Ghost of the Future!'' he exclaimed, "I fear you more than any spectre I have seen. But as I know your purpose is to do me good, and as I hope to live to be another man from what I was, I am prepared to bear you company, and do it with a thankful heart. Will you not speak to me?''

It gave him no reply. The hand was pointed straight before them.

"Lead on!'' said Scrooge. "Lead on! The night is waning fast, and it is precious time to me, I know. Lead on, Spirit!''

Sunday, December 21, 2014

On the 18th Day of Advent, 2014 -- PANTO IN LIBYA, 1985

Those who have followed my ramblings about life in Libya, both from TEA IN TRIPOLI and my blogs, will know that the search for seasonal spirit during my only Christmas in that country was rigorous and futile. I've always wondered whether my mood could have been lifted if the Tripoli Players' pantomime, Puss in Boots, had been mounted before Christmas rather than in early spring. Either way, here is the program from that show, which took place in the Recreation Hall at the Oil Companies School in Tripoli.

Please note that, while I was invited to audition for this show, I politely declined, being far too shy in those days to take the stage, even though I secretly dreamed of being an actress. My name -- Berni Willett, as it was back then -- is listed on page 3 under "Make-up/Hair." This is a joke in itself: any of my theatre colleagues will confirm that my talents at hair and make-up are laughable to this day. The title, "General Dogsbody #1" might've suited me much better.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

On the 17th Day of Advent, 2014 -- GIFT GIVING

Given the frenzy of gift-giving that takes place around the holiday season, I've been researching the history of Christmas presents. I found the following in my thrift store almanack:

Gift-giving at the winter solstice goes back to the Roman festivals of Saturnalia and Kalends. At first the gifts consisted simply of twigs from a sacred grove as good  luck emblems. That soon escalated, however, and food, candles, statues of gods, and small pieces of jewelry became the standard gifts. These presents were called strenae and survive still in France, where gifts called etrennes are exchanged in January. To the early Church, gift-giving at this time was a pagan holdover and therefore, severely frowned upon. However, the people would not part with it, and some justification was found in the gift-giving of the Magi and later figures such as St. Nicholas. So by the Middle Ages, gift-giving was accepted. This was especially true in the court of kings, where a formal exchange of gifts was often very carefully regulated as to the correct amount to be spent. Today, gift-giving is such an important part of our festivities that the whole year's budget has to be carefully planned to allow for the expense of Christmas presents, often with the help of a Christmas club, and retail firms count on December as their biggest sales month of the year. That's a far step from passing out a few evergreen wigs for good luck.

The Christmas Almanack, Gerard and Patricia Del Re
Originally published, 1944
This edition, 1979

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

On the 16th Day of Advent, 2014


Oh no, Santa's lost his hat!

We'd better come back this way later to see if we can help.

Walking by St. Cross, just outside Winchester, St. Catherine's Hill in the distance

"Maybe Father Christmas lives here?" "Don't be silly, he lives at the North Pole!"

Beautiful winter berries and evergreens

St. Cross Hospital through the local allotments
Heavenly winter sky over the allotments
Winter weeping willow down the lane by St. Faith's

Walking to Winchester through water meadows over Winchester College land
Alongside the college cricket grounds. Winchester Cathedral in the distance.
River Itchen running high this year.

Locks on the River Itchen which runs through the Water Meadows
We thought we saw a heron but it didn't come out in the photo
Gorgeous winter countryside in Winchester

A swan resolutely swimming against the flow of the high water
Very high water along the Weirs towards down-town Winchester.
Nearly at the City Mill, looking back at the fast flowing Weirs

At the Christmas Market, I can't help myself and become part of the Nativity scene.
Passing behind Winchester Cathedral, I spot a traditional Christmas window

Nearly home, we leave Santa's hat on a pole for next year

Monday, December 15, 2014

On the 15th Day of Advent, 2014...


Who's this, arriving in a Rolls Royce all covered with balloons?

When there are no chimneys to speak of, how does Father Christmas, a.k.a. Santa Claus, arrive? Well, when I worked at the Jebel Ali Hotel in Dubai, UAE, he visited the residents in a Rolls Royce!

Sammy Sunshine greets Father Christmas with our beloved F&B supervisor, Pedro Pido, looking on and smiling.

Sammy Sunshine greets Father Christmas!

For the children, it made no difference how Father Christmas chose to visit them, there were over the moon with excitement.

Yvette Skinner helps Father Christmas prepare to greet the children

In those days, I struggled with the incongruity of Santa on the beach surrounded by palm trees and a lounge band; now I see only the joy of the children and the efforts of their parents to make Christmas real for them. There's no doubt that capitalism is the name of the game but at the same time, I know how hard Yvette Skinner, a brilliant organizer, and the rest of the hotel employees worked to put this together. There was something quite special happening here, though it's possible that I didn't quite get it at the time.

On the 14th Day of Advent, 2014...

As I head out this morning to begin a week's worth of school presentations of Charles Dickens' A CHRISTMAS CAROL, I thought I'd share the little lexicon I distribute to help students understand the story a little better. This is also in the program for public performances. 

A Christmas Carol -- Lexicon

            A song or ballad of joy celebrating the birth of Christ
            The legislature of Great Britain
Union workhouses: home for the poor and destitute where people worked in exchange for room and board; often riddled with disease and death
The City of London                          
            Business district of London
            A device, usually metal and ornamental, attached by a hinge to a door, used for knocking
A dowerless girl                               
Dickens deleted the word “orphan” from this description.  Apparently, Belle is in mourning (hence the black dress) due to the death of her parents who have left her nothing.
            A servant hired by the day to do odd housework
Old screw
            Slang for a miser
Half a crown
            Two shillings and six pence (an eighth of a British pound in old currency)
Next morning
St. Stephen’s Day, the day after Christmas Day, called “Boxing Day” in England, when gratuities (or Christmas boxes) are given to those who have provided services during the year.
Christmas bowl of smoking bishop
            A spicy punch like mulled wine (a popular tavern drink in the 18th century)

Sunday, December 14, 2014

On the 13th Day of Advent, 2014...


According to Sir Thomas Malory's Morte d'Arthur, the fifteenth-century romance of the semi-mythical English king, Merlin the magician called the nobles together on Christmas Day for a sign as to who was their rightful king. There was a sword embedded in an anvil (or stone.) Whoever could draw it out would be king. All tried and failed. It was young Arthur, who knew nothing of the sword's significance, who finally succeeded. He was just trying to find a sword for his brother who'd left his own behind, and the sword in the stone seemed the handiest source.

From The Christmas Almanack, Gerard and Patricia Del Re

Friday, December 12, 2014

On the 12th Day of Advent, 2014...


Yesterday, I told stories at Lake Travis Community Library, one of my favorite places to tell. Morgan the librarian and I have been working together for many years, ever since the library was in a strip mall and I performed in the shop window. Now they have a grand new building which better represents the Lakeway community.

Librarians never know how many patrons will turn up for story-time but summer can be pretty busy with parents trying to find things for their children to do, and Halloween is always packed. It looked like yesterday's seasonal story-time would be a wash-out -- at ten minutes to performance time, there wasn't a child in the building and I was already telling Morgan that I'd come back do a show on another day. At the last moment, several parents with children arrived and I had a small but attentive audience for The Shoemaker and the Elves and The Baker's Dozen.

I always ask the children to join in with my stories, and both parents and children (Morgan the librarian too!) participated from start to finish. One particular little boy, who'd come along with his dad, was rapt with delight -- you might have thought he was the storyteller, so involved was he. When story-time was over, he approached me with, "Thank you for the stories. May I tell you a story now?" To be honest, I had to get back in 5:00 o'clock traffic so as to prepare for my evening show at the Austin Playhouse, Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Jersey Lily, but how could I resist such a request? It's a storyteller's role to be story listener too, and we're always encouraging children to tell tales. These are the storytellers of the future, after all.

This Kindergartner began, "'Twas the Night Before Christmas, when all through the house..." telling the poem, word for word. At one point, he forgot what came next and his little face crumpled up, eyes filling with tears. I didn't know the text well enough to prompt him so I said, "It's okay, it'll come to you..." but when it didn't and he was ready to sob, his dad said quietly, "I sprang from the bed..." And the little boy was back on track!

When he got to, "Now Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen! On, Comet! On, Cupid! on, on Donner and Blitzen! To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall! Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!" he was so radiantly happy that he brought tears to my eyes. I wanted to hug him! I didn't though because I didn't want to interrupt him. It was his moment to shine!

When he'd finished (perfectly, I might add) I applauded his presentation, and thanked his dad for teaching him. Seriously, I love my job!

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap,
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tinny reindeer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;
‘Now Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! On, Cupid! on Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!’
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of Toys, and St Nicholas too.
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St Nicholas came with a bound,
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
and his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.
A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler, just opening his pack.
His eyes-how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
and the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
and I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
and filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
and laying his finger aside of his nose,
and giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
and away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,
‘Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

On the 11th Day of Advent, 2014...

BRER RABBIT'S CHRISTMAS -- Traditional American Folktale

One winter morning, Brer Fox stole into Brer Rabbit’s garden and dug up a big sackful of his best carrots. Brer Rabbit didn’t see him as he was visiting his friend Brer Bear at the time. When he got home he was mighty angry to see his empty carrot-patch.

“Brer Fox! That’s who’s been here,” cried Brer Rabbit, and his whiskers twitched furiously. “Here are his paw marks and some hairs from his tail. All my best winter carrots gone! I’ll make him give them back or my name’s not Brer Rabbit.”

He went along, lippity lip, clippity clip, and his little nose wrinkled at the fragrant smell of soup coming from Brer Fox’s house.

“Now see here,” he called crossly. “I just know it’s my carrots you’re cooking. I want them back so you’d better open your door.”

“Too bad,” chuckled Brer Fox. “I’m not opening my door until winter is over. I have plenty of carrots thanks to my kind friend Brer Rabbit, and a stack of other food for Christmas as well. I’m keeping my windows shut and my door bolted, so do go away. I want to enjoy my first bowl of carrot soup in peace.”

At this, Brer Rabbit kicked the door, blim blam! He hammered on the door, bangety bang! It wasn’t any use. My, he was in a rage as he turned away. Kind friend Brer Rabbit indeed! He stomped off, muttering furiously. But soon he grew thoughtful, then he gave a hop or two followed by a little dance. By the time he reached home he was in a mighty good temper. Brer Rabbit had a plan all worked out. He’d get his carrots back and annoy Brer Fox into the bargain!

On Christmas Eve, Brer Rabbit heaved a sack of stones on his shoulder and climbed up onto Brer Fox’s roof. He clattered round the chimney making plenty of noise.

“Who’s there?” Brer Fox called. “Go away at once. I’m cooking my supper.”

“It’s Father Christmas,” replied Brer Rabbit in a gruff voice. “I’ve brought a sack full of presents for Brer Fox.”

“Oh, that’s different,” said Brer Fox quickly. “You’re most welcome. Come right along down the chimney.”

“I can’t. I’m stuck,” Brer Rabbit said in his gruff Father Christmas voice. Brer Fox unbolted his door and went outside to take a look. Certainly he could see somebody on the roof so he rushed back inside and called,

“Well, Father Christmas, don’t trouble to come down the chimney yourself. Just drop the sack of presents and I’ll surely catch it.”

“Can’t. That’s stuck too,” yelled Brer Rabbit and he smiled to himself. “You’ll have to climb up inside your chimney, Brer Fox, then catch hold of the piece of string around the sack and you can haul it down yourself.”

“That’s easy,” Brer Fox cried, “here I come,” and he disappeared up the chimney.

Like lightning, Brer Rabbit was off that roof and in through the open doorway. There were his carrots in a sack, and on the table was a fine cooked goose and a huge Christmas pudding. He grabbed them both, stuffed them into the sack and ran. Chickle, chuckle, how he did run.

That old Brer Fox struggled up the chimney, higher and higher. He couldn’t see any string but he felt it hanging down so he gave a big tug.The sack opened and out tumbled all the stones, clatter bang, bim bam, right on Brer Fox’s head. My, my, he certainly went down that chimney quickly. Poor Brer Fox! He’d lost his Christmas dinner and the carrots, and now he had a sore head.

That rascally Brer Rabbit laughed and laughed but he made sure he kept out of Brer Fox’s way all that Christmas Day and for some time afterwards

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

On the 10th Day of Advent, 2014...


Dubai Drama Group Poster for ROBIN HOOD, December 1991

In the summer of 1990, I was invited to join the Dubai Drama Group. This didn't come a moment too soon. I needed something to do, besides going to pubs, parties and balls. The Dubai Drama Group was a blessing in easily recognizable disguise.

At first I wasn't much involved in the group productions, just the socials, but in November 1991, this predominantly English theatre company began preparing for ROBIN HOOD, its annual Christmas pantomime. Ah, the pantomime, a strictly British entertainment. Many professional theatres in the UK still produce an annual panto. They're very popular with amateur dramatic societies, or AMDRAMS, and the Dubai Drama Group was nothing if not an AMDRAM. 

At the auditions, it was suggested I try out for the lead role of Robin Hood. What? No way! I kinda wanted to be Maid Marian but she had a solo to sing. I could carry a tune in bucket, but honestly, the bucket was probably the best place for it. I wanted a small role, just not the back-end of a panto cow...

I was cast as Derek - a merry man - a small "but significant" role. I was happy as long as I got to frolic about in green tights and jaunty jerkin! I had ten proper lines, and in one scene, I had six words, all of which were, "Well?" I was in all the Sherwood Forest scenes and was surprised how difficult it was to be on stage when you have nothing to say. I tended to face the audience with my arms limp at my side, an insipid smile on my silly face. To combat this, I developed some facial expressions and practiced, "How not to Stand Around like a Gumby" at home.

At the last minute, a dance number was added: lots of thigh slapping and stepping on and off logs, all to the tune of the Gary Glitter hit, "Do you wanna be in my gang, my gang, d'ya wanna be in my gang, oh yeah!" A less Glittery, more miserable gang of Merry Men, you would never wish to meet.

By dress rehearsal, I still didn't know the dance routine and had no idea where to make my first entrance. We had a full house made up of kids from Al Noor and Asseef Schools for the mentally handicapped. They got a free show; we got a appreciative audience, who chattered throughout and laughed at everything, whether funny or not.

Opening night was more frightening than having a machine-gun held to my head or hiding from the Libyan Morality Police. I didn't dare eat; I'd already lost my lunch from both ends. I stared longingly at the exit, and thought: "I could leave now. No one would miss me, my ten lines, my six 'wells.' I don't want to be an actress; I want to be a secretary." I heard, "Places!" and broke into a cold sweat, a regular theatrical occurrence in years to come. I went into a kind-of sickly trance. Then the lights went down, I took a deep breath, and stepped forward along with the other merry men. I was completely blinded by the lights, exactly as I'd heard would happen. No worries--I didn't want to see the audience anyway. However, after a short while, they began to emerge from the gloom. Frozen by stage fright, I couldn't remember a single instruction. Even my ears had stage fright; I couldn't hear anything. It's possible that I didn't say my lines. Somehow I managed to get off stage.

Our next scene: the song and dance number. Please kill me now, I thought. Our log was set stage right, ready for us to pick up as we went on stage, but no one told me that the log had been painted black since dress rehearsal and in the black-out, I couldn't see it. I somehow fell right over it and onto my hands and knees. There was a lot of scrambling in the dark during which I lost my sense of direction altogether. I kept reaching for the hand holes on the log but it wasn't until I hit a wall that I realized the log had gone. As the lights went up, I was still messing about in the wings when I heard my stage gang begin the song: I'd missed an entrance in my very first show. I ran to join the routine but was so discombobulated, I never quite got into rhythm. It was actor's nightmare, like being naked on stage or learning lines for the wrong show. I hated myself; I knew the audience hated me too. They were as quiet as church mice and it was all my fault. I just wanted to die. 

It did get better (it had to, didn't it?) and then the ad-libbing started, which was all very well for the seasoned panto peeps, but mortifying for me. Every time a fellow actor changed a line, even if it wasn't my cue, I'd stand there with my mouth agape, transfixed with horror. My mind would go completely blank. Nothing new or extra was available to me once I was out on stage.  

I never lost the stage fright but it eased off once we mastered the dance, for which we got resounding cheers by closing night. Also by closing, I'd mastered a different way of delivering each of my "wells" (in fact, I'd added three more) and they were making people laugh. This made me truly happy! Word on the street was that ROBIN HOOD was the group's "best panto ever" so I was proud to have been a part of it: my very first show.   
The Cast List
The Program Cover

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

On the 9th Day of Advent, 2014...

In England, snowfall is a regular occurrence; in Libya or Dubai, not so much! In central Texas, we sometimes get lucky and see half-an-inch of late-season snow which lasts for just a few hours. I am therefore especially fond of poetry about winter weather. Here's one of my favorite seasonal poems -- not Christmas, but seasonal by John Updike.

“December,” by John Updike

First snow! The flakes,
So few, so light,
Remake the world
In solid white

All bundled up,
We feel as if
We were fat penguins,
Warm and stiff.

The toy-packed shops
Half split their sides,
And Mother brings home
Things she hides.

Old carols peal.
The dusk is dense.
There is a mood
Of sweet suspense.

The shepherds wait,
The kings, the tree -
All wait for something
Yet to be,

Some miracle.
And then it’s here,
Wrapped up in hope -
Another year!

First and Only Snow in Austin, Texas, February 2011
Our Garden Fox in Central Texas Snow, 2011

Monday, December 8, 2014

On the 8th Day of Advent, 2014...


by J.P. McEvoy*

from A CHRISTMAS ALMANAC (Gerard & Patricia Del Re)

That's right. Green! Who started all this breast-beating for a white Christmas? Irving Berlin.** What was he doing at the time? Having a green Christmas out in Hollywood -- writing movies for that green folding stuff. For many years I have met Berlin in the winter -- in California, Florida, Honolulu -- usually under a palm tree, never a snow-bank. Irving Berlin is always as brown as a Waikiki beach boy. How does he get that year-round tan? Dreaming about white Christmases, but staying away from them.

*Joseph Patrick McEvoy (January 10, 1897 – August 8, 1958) was an American writer whose stories were published during the 1920s and 1930s in popular magazines such as Liberty, The Saturday Evening Post and Cosmopolitan. 

**Irving Berlin (born Israel Isidore Beilin, May 11, 1888 – September 22, 1989) was an American composer and lyricist of Russian-Jewish origin. Widely considered one of the greatest songwriters in American history, his music forms a great part of the Great American Songbook. 

The 1942 film Holiday Inn introduced his song, "White Christmas," one of the most recorded songs in history. It sold over 30 million records and stayed no. 1 on the pop and R&B charts for 10 weeks. Bing Crosby's single was the best-selling single in any music category for more than fifty years. Music critic Stephen Holden credits this partly to the fact that "the song also evokes a primal nostalgia—a pure childlike longing for roots, home and childhood—that goes way beyond the greeting imagery." The song won Berlin the Academy award, one of seven Oscar nominations he received during his career.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

On the 7th Day of Advent, 2014...



A Tuna Christmas at the Paramount Theatre, Austin, Texas

I arrived in Austin, Texas, not long before Christmas 1992. In an effort to "get in the mood," I bought a ticket to a show called A TUNA CHRISTMAS, playing at the Paramount Theatre on Congress Avenue, near the Capitol. I had walked around the downtown area a few times, riding the bus from north Austin, where I was living with my penfriend, the only person I knew in America at the time. I had already "done the tour" of the Paramount Theatre, and I loved that historic building! I didn't know then that I would work there for three years in the development office, nor that I would perform as an actress in the State Theatre next door. I only knew that I wanted to witness something on that old-fashioned stage, and I'd heard good things about this Joe Sears/Jaston Williams comedy.

I dressed in my theatre finery--I had not yet learned about Austin's reputation for casual chic--and took my nose-bleed seat at a December Sunday matinee (the above photo is from a later year.) I'd like to tell you that I was as delighted as publicity had assured me I would be, but that would be a lie. Certainly, my fellow audience members, all twelve hundred of them, were helpless with laughter, tears streaming. And it was a sight to behold, with its bright, colorful set, and those two remarkable actors, playing more than ten characters apiece, male and female. I was in awe of their speedy costume changes and incredible transformations. Wow, if I could ever be as good as they, wouldn't that be something! Unfortunately, and this is extremely important, bearing in mind that the show had a real plot, I could not catch a single word either of them was saying. Whole sentences, indeed, whole paragraphs, were spoken without my understanding a thing. They were loud enough; that wasn't the problem. It was the broad Texas accents.

At the intermission, the lady sitting next to me leaned over and said, in an accent almost as thick as Sears and Williams, "How're yew enjoyin' it?" We'd introduced ourselves at the start of the show and she was over the moon to discover that I was English, telling me all about her English ancestors who'd been in Texas for generations. I think she was anxious that I should appreciate a bit of her culture. "I'm sorry," I admitted, "but I'm unable to grasp what's going on. I know they're talking English but I can't make sense of a word." She laughed long and hearty. "Yep, that'll be them accents! It's like that in small town Texas. Wait 'til you meet folks in the Panhandle. You'll never git a thang!"

I didn't have time to ask her what she meant by "the Panhandle" before the lights went down for the second act. About half-way through, I miraculously caught the rhythm of their speech, and I began to "feel" the language. By the end, I was understanding everything. "What a shame," I thought, "I never really found out what it was all about." The next day, I purchased a ticket to the following Thursday evening's show: a seat in the stalls, close to the front, and I saw these brilliant actors strut their stuff a second time. Now I followed each word (it helped to be a bit closer) and appreciated every nuance.

In 1994, I started work at the Paramount Theatre, and received complimentary seats for subsequent runs of A TUNA CHRISTMAS. I've never stopped loving the show; it brings back such memories of my early time in Austin. How I'd love to watch the masters at work again! Oh, and to bring the anecdote full circle, I spent a week performing in the Panhandle last August so I now know what my fellow TUNA companion meant.