Friday, 19 October 2018

When is a ticket not a ticket?

I was a latecomer to the party that celebrates how a bastard orphan son of a whore and a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean by Providence, grew up to be the hero and scholar known as Alexander Hamilton.

If you weren’t, then chances are you’re already snapping your fingers, and the words I just used have dropped a worm in your ear that will hum and tap for the rest of the day.

Possibly longer.

Yes, I love theatre. And I’ve always had an unhealthily dependent relationship with modern music — music in general. So the combination of the two, theatre and music, usually brings me a huge amount of joy. But I was unsure that a hip-hop/rap show about one of America's Founding Fathers would appeal to me.

Waiting at Checkoint-Hamilton
Yes, it won a squillion awards. But it all seemed to me to be a bit too cool and now-ish. Trying too hard.

And, yes, I enjoyed studying American History. But that was way back in 1974, when Mr Livitsanis made lessons fun. Besides, I was far more engaged by reading Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee and watching Little Big Man than learning about a bunch of dead-white-guy political revolutionaries.

Consequently, with no trips to Broadway on the horizon and little likelihood of the Big H ever coming to Melbourne, I didn’t bother to listen to the soundtrack of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical.
Silly me.
Hamilton hit the West End just after I did in 2017. It opened to enormous fanfare at the not-quite-finished-being-renovated Victoria Palace — spitting distance from Victoria Station. Meghan and Harry even gave it the royal stamp of approval. And, as I had set myself the challenge of having a glass of bubbly at a show in every theatre in London during our sojourn here, I decided it was time I joined the Hamil-narrative.

But one doesn’t just buy a ticket and turn up at the theatre with Hamilton. Nothing so simple. There’s a production before the production.

You see, seats went on sale at about the same time that Robbie Williams was revealed to be something less than squeaky clean. His management team was busted putting tickets to his shows directly on resale sites at hugely inflated prices. Bastards. 
One day I’ll tell you about how pissed off I was that BTS tickets were already appearing on Viagogo et al for £500+ each while I was still on hold in the official on-line queue.

Anyway, knowing that they were about to release the hottest tickets in town, the collective mind controlling the West End Hamilton Juggernaut decided to foil any potential on-sellers, and to keep the prices down — cough…splutter…ahem… top of the range seats are £250, and to make it impossible for scalpers to gouge theatre-loving tourists who rock up on the one day they’re in London hoping to get in. 
Hamilton has fraud thwarting paperless ticketing. Here’s how it works.

1   You purchase your non-transferable seats on-line and receive a receipt by email. A warning advises that the:
a.     credit card used should be valid until after the date of the booking
b.     person whose name appears on the credit card MUST be in attendance, WITH said credit card, in order to gain entry to the theatre.
2. You wait anything up to a year for the date of the show you managed to get seats for.
3    A week prior to the performance, another email arrives, reminding you that you are going to the show. It advises you to plan to arrive at the theatre AN HOUR before the performance in order to get through the entry procedure in time for you to take your seat before the overture starts. And it reminds you to bring:
a.     your receipt
b.     the credit card used for the booking
c. official photographic proof that you are the person who made the booking!  I shit you not: licence, passport or equivalent.
Too bad if you’ve lost your card.
And what if the person who made the booking is unable to attend I hear you ask? Well, then NOBODY in the booking can enter the theatre and you will have to apply for refund with acceptable explanation/evidence of the situation.

These are our not-tickets
4   You arrive at the theatre ridiculously early so that you can join an enormously long queue personned by friendly security guards, one or more of whom will check that you have all paperwork necessary to pass checkpoint-Hamilton.

     Finally at the door, after a bag inspection and body pat-down by yet more security personnel, you offer up said paperwork for further scrutinising. If all identity, safety and receipt carrying checks are deemed to have been passed, the seat-purchasing credit card is swiped through a hand-held machine ... which then PRINTS OUT A BLOODY TICKET. Only it’s NOT a ticket. It’s called a Seat Location Slip. 

Anyway, as I sipped my well-dearned pre-show bubbly, the decor in the bar of the theatre was pleasantly diverting. Almost as enjoyable as the conversation going on beside me between a woman in her late twenties and a man who was older than me, which makes him pretty old. Resplendent in a navy-blue suit, white shirt and spotty grey bow tie, he'd been browsing the glossy programme while she bought the drinks.
As he took his glass of red from her, he asked in gloriously educated British tones, ‘So remind me again why I should care about this piece of pop-culture meets American history?’
‘Oh Dad, it’s ground-breaking. The staging is brilliant and the singing is fabulous. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen. And it has the most wonderfully culturally diverse cast.’
‘Hmmmm.’ He appeared unconvinced. ‘And how many of the chaps it’s about were “culturally diverse”?’
‘Well, none Dad. They were all white males. But that’s the point…’
… crickets…
Wine sipping.
… more crickets…

Feeling quite smug, my hesitations having been so convincingly eclipsed by his prejudging, and hoping the poor girl hadn’t wasted her money as she had just wasted her breath, I headed off clutching our not-tickets to locate PSTALL E 19 and PSTALL E 20.

And in case you’re wondering, by the time I jumped to my feet crying and applauding in equal measure at the end of the show, I had a new entry for my Top 5 fave musicals. Romance, humour, passion, rivalry, hubris, loyalty… Hamilton has all the features of a classic musical, plus so much more.

So I’m finally on the Hamilton bandwagon or chuckwagon or whatever the hell kind of wagon it is, but I’m definitely along for the ride. Indeed, I will be re-subjecting myself to the overkill paperless ticketless process as I intend to go back and see it again. 
It's worth selling that one functioning kidney.

So were you an early starter? or a doubter ilke me? What's your role in the Hamil-narrative?
And I'm sure you have a ticketing nightmare of your own to tell me about. Share the pain.

Friday, 28 September 2018

Mum and me...

My blog was quiet for a very long time. I wanted to write about Mum's death, but I got stuck. 
I couldn't get it right. 
So I didn't write anything.
But there's no right way, is there?

I had waited until she was hooked up to the drip bag for her 123rd dose of antibiotics.
Forty-nine still to come.

 ‘Love you, Mum. See you on the iPad.’

That’s what I said as I leant in to brush her cheek with my lips —our family is like that, lingering hugs and heartfelt endearments rare.
My words were breathy, snagging on the ropy ache of farewell.  
And I left her seated in that now-familiar curtained corner of a shared ward, both of us having lost the battle to remain dry-eyed.

I gave Mum an iPad for her 80th birthday and it rapidly became her constant companion. So I sent photos with my message from the Dubai transit lounge, even though her Messenger account had been inactive for 17 hours.

When she still hadn’t logged on by the time we cleared passport control at Heathrow, I was concerned.

I knew something was wrong when her account was still inactive after my devices reconnected to our home Wi-Fi. If, as planned, she was ensconced in her freshly made bed, finally surrounded by her own things after a month of hospitalisation, she would have told me. 
Something had happened.
Something had gone astray and our trans-global life-line was lifeless.

                                                        * * * * *-

Mine was not a cuddle-filled childhood, but I never doubted that I am loved.

I worshipped my dad. I realise now that I probably shouldn’t have, but ours was the stereotypical family of the 1960s. He was the breadwinner. Mum treated him as the lord of the manor; he treated me as his special girl.

All I did, I did to please Dad. To gain his approval. One of his catch cries was ‘There’s no second prizes’. He’d worked hard for all his success and expected the same from us. And yes, I think his attitude has messed with my head in multiple ways throughout my lifetime. But I adored him.

Mum fulfilled the conventional roles of supportive corporate wife and mother of two with style. I don’t recall ever seeing her flustered. Or truly angry. At least certainly not in the way that my children have witnessed my meltdowns and moments of near-spontaneous combustion. 
I didn’t worship or adore Mum. 
I just loved her.
And took all that she did and was for granted.
That’s how things just seem to go with mothers... isn't it?
She was Mum. 
She was always there, calmly making my life more secure and successful.
I wore Mum's little hat to the Cup Eve dinner
Everything about me was OK by her.
Nothing special.
That’s just how mothers make you feel... right?

                                  * * * * *

For a month I lived in her unit at the retirement village, taking her place at social functions, answering concerned questions and accepting heartfelt wishes for her recovery.

While there, I scrubbed walls and floors, renewed furnishings, filled the freezer with meals, updated the technology and refreshed the pot-plants. I added non-slip bathroom and kitchen mats, a shower-seat, a frame around the loo and organised home-nurse visits and deliveries from the chemist. 
And spent countless hours by Mum's side.

All the while, Mum battled infection and illness. At times almost unrecognisable —frail, childlike, she barely made an imprint in the impossibly high bed and could not remember what had happened. On occasions, her resilience and pragmatism greeted me as I arrived. And sometimes, she was cranky, dissatisfied and uncomfortable.
Mum's gorgeous besties at the Cup Eve dinner

Our roles were reversed.
I was mothering her —administering sympathy and care, bolstering her confidence, bringing her treats, growling at her to eat her meals and do the exercises that she hated. And on cranky days, reminding her that the nurses were busy and she was not the centre of their universe.
But she was the centre of mine.

A  few weeks in, I told her I was proud of how she had battled her way from that frightening intensive care bed to the casual rehab ward. But I had to remind her that her fight was not over. She would have to continue her efforts even at home as she would still be connected to that omni-present anti-biotic drip for two more weeks. 
She assured me she had decided to do whatever it took. 
And she made me promise to return to London at the end of the month as planned, on the same flight that my son had been booked on some six months earlier.

By the day she was due to be released, no cobwebs dared haunt the corners of her unit — her sparkling flowery nest. But, as had happened so often before, the date slipped without explanation. She was now going home on the morning after our midnight flight. 
Reluctantly, I organised for my sister-in-law to collect Mum and taxi her home.
Even more reluctantly, I said my goodbye.
      * * * * *
Moon over Canary Wharf the morning Mum died
By the time we reached Greenwich, Mum was in an induced coma.
She fell getting into the car.
Her head cracked against the curb.
She never left the hospital grounds.
A doctor was awaiting my approval to disconnect her from the machinery.
My mother was gone.

I was 26 when my dad died. I was devastated. Of course. But I don’t think I mourned him for very long.
I missed him. 
I still do. 
I ached to talk to him again. 
I still do. 
But at 26 I was self-absorbed: I had a new job, an exciting social life and the world was full of promise. I was making my way alone, headstrong and independent.

Mourning Mum is different.

More painful.
More prolonged.
Not just because we shared 23 more years — 23 of my adult years. 
Not just because she loved and was loved by my husband and children — who Dad never met.
Nor even because I wasn't there with her at the end.
It's all that plus more.
Much more.
She was my Mum.
She was always there.
She loved me unconditionally.
Even when I didn't deserve it.
Coz that's what mums do, isnt it?

Thursday, 27 September 2018

"I'm not racist, but..."

I don’t remember what prompted me to comment about Australia. I don’t even remember what I said. But I do regret that I said it… whatever it was…

We were in the staffroom at The Old Royal Naval College — some twelve of us, mostly volunteers — awaiting the morning briefing. 
Non-volunteers go by the exalted title of Ambassadors. Basically, they do the same things as we non-exalted volunteers, except that they get to Ambass around with a two-way radio. 
Well, that and they get paid an hourly rate for Ambassing.

That morning was my first session with the Education team, none of whom I’d met before. All of whom know each other. I’d never been to a morning briefing either and am always always anxious and uncomfortable with unfamiliar places and people.
A feeling that was not relieved when everyone turned to look at me as I came in through the door, but only one person greeted me.
Artist's impression of Chris the Ambassador

So, anyway, I made my totally forgettable comment about having recently returned from a trip home to Australia —an inept attempt to join in the conversation, which was probably about the unseasonably warm morning. And one of the Ambassadors (let’s call him Chris, because I think that’s actually his name) commented,
‘Oh, we’ve had a lot of Australians in the Painted Hall this week.’

That’s nice, I thought, he’s noticed. I spoke to a few Aussie couples in there this week too.
But before I could respond with an anecdote or even acknowledge that he’d spoken to me,
‘That’s why our takings are down this week, you know,’ Chris snorted. ‘Australians are cheap. They’re all keen to do the tour until they find out they have to pay. Then they just complain it’s too expensive and walk away.’

Dramatic recreation of  gobsmacked volunteer
I was gobsmacked.
How to respond to that?
It struck me as a pretty unorthodox way for an Ambassador to make a volunteer feel like part of the team.

I’ve met plenty of other stereotypes about we Aussies: we’re crude, we’re uncultured, we’re drunks. We’re naïves who drift around on an island at the bottom of the planet unaware of the way the rest of the world functions.
In fact, I recently happened upon this in an article about Agatha Christie:
Christie relies on certain stock traits for her characters of different nationalities. The French are hotheaded, Scots are thrifty, and Australians are simple.
Ignorant. Maybe.
But cheap?
I find that hard to swallow.
A British boar
Let's face it, those simple skinflints from Downunder have paid not insignificant airfares to travel from the other side of the globe for a holiday, and then come to see Christopher Wren-designed buildings of British cultural significance.
I’ve met plenty of native Londoners who’ve never in their London-lived lives made the 10-kilometre journey to Greenwich to see those self-same buildings.
It's also kind of weird because the people I talk to are in the Painted Hall on the tour they're too tight to fork out £10 to do.
But I didn't say that.

I didn’t cripple Chris with a witty retort or slay him with a sarcastic comeback.
I merely responded with something disappointingly limp.
And polite.
Then I slunk off to the briefing feeling both conspicuous and uncomfortable.
Wishing I hadn’t spoken.

But the question remains: are Aussies cheap?