Archive | March, 2017

thankyou Carl Djerassi

3 Mar

THANK YOU CARL DJERASSI  a personal memoir by aline waites

‘This is my son, Jacob’ said the Jewish lady.          He was visiting from Israel and she had brought him into the office to introduce us.

‘Hello Jacob’ I smiled and held out my hand.

The young man gave a start and took a step backwards, putting both hands behind him. On his face was a look of disgust.

I stood for a moment with my rejected hand still held out and felt waves of anger and embarrassment permeate my being. I sat down and continued with my work.

When I asked the Jewish lady why her son had behaved in this impolite manner, she laughed as if it had been merely a charming eccentricity on his part.

‘He is thrum’ she said

‘What does that mean?’

‘I t is against his religion to touch women in case they are unclean’

‘Unclean?’

‘He doesn’t know you. You could be menstruating’

She dismissed the event in such a frivolous manner that I could feel the killer instinct, usually dormant in me, rise to the surface. However, I restrained myself from physical violence and instead called another Jewish friend and told him the story.

‘She spoke of it as a perfectly normal thing to do.’

He took the incident seriously and was indignant not only on my behalf, but on behalf of his race.

‘It was not normal at all’ he said. ‘He could have been part of some fundamentalist sect, but this is the kind of rudeness that promotes racism.’

This incident lingered in my mind and triggered off a long forgotten memory – a traumatic happening of my childhood.

Until I was about four years old I accepted my mother as she appeared to all who surrounded her – beautiful – like a Goddess. Thick waves of hair the colour of burnished chestnuts fell to her shoulders. Her highly mobile face, with its retroussee nose and perfect teeth, was always lit up with smiles and her laughing hazel eyes were framed with the kind of eyelashes that they said, ‘could sweep the gravel path’. People argued about whether she was most like Greer Garson or Hedy Lamarr.

Although it was rarely put to her mouth, a cigarette appeared to grow between the fingers of her left hand. Its function was as a convenient prop to emphasise the gestures that punctuated her conversation.  A cloud of L’Aimant – her favourite fragrance, surrounded here wherever she walked. L’aimant – The magnet – it could have been named after her. I always think of her in the centre of a crowd of happy people. She was amusing with a sense of humour that was sometimes cruel but always funny, and often aimed at herself.  For instance, she bitterly regretted not being able to sing. As she reached for the high notes, her eyebrows would rise up into her forehead and she would stand on tiptoe as if to capture the sound above her head, but the voice inevitably came out in a kind of breathy wheeze. The effect was very funny and she used it to great effect at parties. It was admirable that she managed to turn her one failing into an advantage.

My father was tall and blond with a roman nose and forget me not blue eyes like Steve McQueen, he could sing and play the piano and spoke several languages, but he was shy, wrapped up in his books – neither so available nor so popular with their many friends. I got used to hearing people say as they looked at me               ‘What a pity she takes after her father. She’ll never be like her mother.’

Why is it people talk about children in front of their faces as if they were deaf? Anyway, how could I possibly aspire to be like my mother? She was a princess in my eyes.                Until I discovered there was something vile inside her.

My father had driven us to Leeds to do some shopping. He set us down in the middle of the vast shopping area and went off to look at masculine things like golf clubs.

My mother and I had tea in Fenwick’s – our favourite place. The café was not yet full but there was a muted buzz of conversation from the other tables which all added to the cosy atmosphere. For little people the management supplied special high chairs carved and painted like Disney characters. I always chose Snow White. I had decided to be Snow White when I grew up. Hair black as ebony, skin white as snow. I was blonde and freckled, but a girl can dream.

I took sips of my milk shake – a delicious malted concoction that frothed up in a special kind of long straight glass encased in a silver holder, with a handle that could be held like a cup. Toasted teacakes arrived on a silver platter with a domed covering to keep them warm. My mother laid one on a plate for me and the delicious smell of toast rose up – toast and butter and sultanas all mingled together and, hovering around my mother, the constant smell of L’aimant.

I liked to watch her as she poured her tea from a little silver teapot into the thin china cups – smaller than the ones we had at home. The sugar was in dice shaped lumps in a silver bowl and there were tongs with birdlike claws to pick up the lumps and drop them into the tea with a satisfying plop. My mother used the tongs neatly – although she would never have bothered to do that in the kitchen at home. Grown ups always did things differently when they were ‘out.’ The plop of the sugar into the tea made us giggle. We were good friends having a happy time together.

But as I gazed at her, my mother’s face changed. Her usually rosy glow disappeared and she turned a kind of plastic almost transparent yellow – the colour of Vaseline. She gave a cry and clutched her stomach.

She rose to her feet and snatched my hand, pulling me out of the high chair. Her usual springy step had turned into a curious staggering gait as she dragged me into the Ladies room. Ignoring the woman who sat there at a table with a bowl of money beside her, she opened the cubicle door and pulled me inside with her. She bolted the door, but before she had time to lift the seat, it happened.

I stood beside her and watched in fascinated horror as it seemed my mother’s whole insides were emptied out in front of me. The blood was dark red with bits floating in it and it had a curious dank smell which mingled strangely with the sweet powdery smell of L’Aimant.

I watched the disgusting mess pour out of her as she gasped and wept with pain.

There was a knocking on the door as the attendant called out ‘Are you all right?’  With a great effort of will, my mother pulled herself together enough to call out in her normal voice.

‘Yes, thank you. My little girl has an upset tummy. She’ll be all right in a minute’

I never quite understood why the blame had to rest with me. Many years later I realised that she could not allow her narcissistic image to be defiled even in the eyes of a lavatory attendant.

After a while the flooding stopped and she seemed to notice my stricken face for the first time. She smiled at me through her tears.

‘It’s all part of being a woman’ she said ‘you’ll find out one day’

She tried to put her arms around me but I flinched from her touch. She shrugged and pulling almost the entire contents from the toilet paper dispenser she, with unusual efficiency, managed to clean up the mess on the cubicle floor.

For months afterwards the smell of her blood assailed me whenever she came near me. It lingered in my nostrils. I drew back from her, was not even able to look at her without remembering the awfulness that had poured from her. Now I was glad not to be like my mother – or Snow White.

 

Shortly after the birth of my son, I was introduced to the birth control pill. To my joy, my periods almost completely disappeared.  Now I was in control of my own body. My mother was angry with me, she considered the pill was immoral and unnatural. So she continued with her heavy periods until they culminated in an appalling menopause and a hysterectomy. She was never my fairy princess again and I have never been able to smell L’aimant without the accompanying odour of menstrual blood. Incidentally, the perfume I use is called ‘Escape’

This story remained a secret until now. But the memory somehow reconciled me to Jacob’s hurtful and insulting behaviour.   The hostility received from a complete stranger was certainly no worse than my rejection of my own mother and for precisely the same reason.

Thank you Car Djerassi for inventing the birth control bill while other scientists were concentrating on the Atom Bomb.

 

 

 

Linda Anderson prompted me to write this.

The prompt helped of course – and the idea of linking sketches together with a single theme.  The first sketch is the encounter with the Jewish man, followed by the extraordinary reaction of his mother. To explain this away I needed another Jewish character to restore the balance.  I have many Jewish friends of both sexes and I discussed it with them. They all responded with the same shock horror so I condensed them into one. It was originally female, but I thought all the “shes” might be confusing, and besides, making it a man highlighted the difference in masculine attitudes.

The incident with the orthodox Jewish person was amazingly traumatic. I was deeply humiliated when he refused to shake hands with me and even more distressed when I heard the reason. It brought back to me the feeling that merely being a woman was something disgusting.

The second sketch begins with a description of my mother. Had I been writing fiction I would have inserted it drop by drop into the Fenwick’s scene, but as it is a non fiction piece and autobiographical, I felt a factual and fairly detailed description was required. I was trying to get over the glamour of the woman and I didn’t want anything to interrupt the feeling of extreme happiness in Fenwick’s which leads to the terrible climax of the story.

Originally, I had thought to carry the story on into adolescence, how my friends dealt with the onset of the curse, and my own reaction to it and to them. However, it turned out to be irrelevant and too long so I cut straight to part three. This was my refusal to follow my mother into the inevitable suffering of womankind by going on the pill.

It is no wonder madness and menstruation used to go hand in hand. Even the condition known as hysteria is named after the womb. I recently saw the film “Tom and Viv” again. The hormonal imbalance of T.S Eliot’s wife, Vivienne which caused her violent mood swings also caused her to have frequent periods. He was not able to conceal his repugnance and this drove her completely crazy. His guilt made him treat her so badly – he had her sectioned and incarcerated for the rest of her life. I believe Marilyn Monroe had a similar problem, causing her various absences and her often reluctance to go on set. However, this was hardly a suitable subject for Photoplay Magazine and her reputation suffered in consequence. So many women have suffered in silence because menstruation was for years a taboo subject.

Thank God for Carl Djerassi, the scientist who invented the pill while his contemporaries were probably intent on creating weapons of mass destruction..

 

 

Advertisements

LIZZIE

2 Mar

LIZZIE at Greenwich Theatre

Concept and Lyrics by Steven Cheslik-Demeyer and Tim Maner

Book by Tim Maner

Music by Steven Cheslik-Demeyer and Alan Stevens Hewit

There was a song back in the day that went ‘Oh you can’t chop your poppa up in Massachusetts’ A song that was of course a reference to Lizzie Borden the life of whom also prompted the nursery rhyme and this rock opera.

This is a tremendous production with just four powerful female singers and a six-piece rock band. The story sheds another light on the old melodrama. Giving a feminist slant on the true-life story of an evil man slaughtered by Lizzie the daughter he bullied and used as a sex slave.

Everything in this production is big. Big sets, dramatically lit with varying colours often illustrating the bloody nature of the story,

Andrew Borden was a billionaire – the richest man in town, but the family was kept in penury. After the death of his wife he married again, a woman loathed by her two stepdaughters who believed that she was marrying Andrew for the money she would inherit after his death. The elder sister Emma is the first one to say ‘She must die before Father’ so the daughters would not be left penniless.

Emma is played by Eden Espinosa, Lizzie by Danish actress/singer, Bjorg Gamst. The cast is made up of the maid Bridget (who they call Maggie) and Alice Russell, the neighbour who loves Lizzie and these were both witnesses at the trial.

These are four passionate and powerful young women who have been kept down by the patriarchal laws of the land. It seems as if the final straw for Lizzie was when Andrew, in a fit of jealous rage disposed of  her pet pigeons, after she sings of her love for them, ‘The soul of the white bird,’ by chopping off their heads and sending them to his daughter in a blanket

In Act one set in a steamy heat of august 1892 they wear Victorian Dress, The conservative clothing a symbol of their imprisonment in the rage, fear and frustration caused by their female station in life. But in Act two after the murder, they celebrate their freedom dressed like Burlesque queens in suspenders and corsets. .

There is tenderness and true love between the women as well as their collaboration in hate for the father. Alice loves Lizzie and sings the love song ‘I dream of you’. Unlike the song Lizzie sings about her relationship with Andrew ‘This isn’t love’ which is very moving and is followed up with another area ‘I gotta get out of here’

Lizzie Borden took an axe and gave her mother forty whacks.When she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty one.

Directed by Victoria Bussert, Choreography by Greg Daniela and Martin Bergmann Konge is musical director.

A brilliant work set in United States but performed with true Scandinavian sensibilities. A great combination.

roundelay

1 Mar

ROUNDELAY

Schnitzler’s La Ronde a sexually explicit play in seven scenes has been adapted many times and in many ways but never before has it concentrated on passion in the 3rd age – illustrating the mature kind of love which can be even more powerful than that of younger people.

Clare Perkins, dressed as a circus ringmaster in fishnet tights is the puppet master of this circus of life and love. Her voice has the smooth sweetness of an angel but it can turn harsh and aggressive when she cracks her whip and very funny when she lets fall an exclamation in broad cockney.

She gives a Stunning performance that dominates the proceedings. She announces the scenes, bringing on the whole company dressed in fanciful circus gear who dance in a circle like children playing ring a ring a roses and then break off to dance with each other, changing partners regularly. These scenes happen throughout the performance between the short plays with some of them performing acrobatic stunts on two long white cloths hanging from the ceiling.

There are seven short plays each with two characters showing an aspect of their love life – and one protagonist from each play goes on to appear in another episode of their amorous life. The stories come in different forms from a Private Lives type scenario to an event in a gay club.

For me, there are two outstanding scenes. One is heart breaking –  about a caring and patient man looking after a wife with Alzheimer’s, sensitively played by Holly de Jong and Roger Alborough. The other one is of a bedridden widow who still yearns for a lover’s touch. ‘I love fucking’ cries Ann Firbank to her youthful friend Elan James. This is sensationally done and is probably the sexiest scene I have ever witnessed on stage.

We end up with one of the partners from the first play. We have come full circle and the company do their final dance. The circus theme brought alive by their colourful eccentric costumes designed by Moi Trans.

The clever, witty and moving script is by Sonja Linden and it is vivaciously brought to life by director Anna Lewich and choreographer Diane Alison-Mitchell.

 

Aline