Monday, 2 October 2017

All the world's a stage

interesting times as the world increasingly seems like a dystopian novel of characters, none of whom you can relate to or want to know of. like nightmares coming alive, characters appear the grotesque exaggerations of spitting image puppets - the strings being pulled by greed, hatred and above all fear. the media are swaying more easily than Gove does which is saying something.  and politicians, having wished for transparency are regretting it now as they are all coming across as the boring boorish and vacuous individuals they are, but then again, so are the various medas. men are fearful and are hitting out at the people they know who are able to take it and are stronger than them - women, and the women are wondering what is going on, having lived in denial about the incipient misogyny which never went away, only had a thin veil of civility pasted over it.    women have been allowed out of the kitchen but no thanks to their men, but to the technology which has allowed them that freedom.   if we were to have another world war, the women would take over the world, and that would not be a bad thing.   pity. I like men. I just don't think many of them are very good at being one.  but then the role models are appalling.
I visited an interactive theatre in a friend's home on Saturday evening.   it as a performance of the vanek trilogy, which was part playground mafia, part ealing comedy, and part political commentary on life, love and human nature.  sounds heavy and obscure, but it wasn't thanks to a cast of four who tried their hardest to stir up comment, emotion, anything from an audience who seemed deeply suspicious of what to say - either because they thought it was part of the game and couldn't say anything, or like some listener who had taken the courage to phone into lbc, would look stupid if they decided to open their mouth.   I became as fascinated by the reaction or inaction of those sitting in the room being an audience who refused to speak up, even when the characters in the play were provoking comment, they remained silent.     I started to talk and then perhaps thought I wasn't meant to, but you know me - or think you do - and I asked questions and gave opinion, trying to remember what my character was meant to say - a character who was a writer, who believed they were having their phone tapped and wasn't being published.   I smiled when I read my 'character' as it appealed to my paranoia, but then again, I think it was meant to.   The play was meant to engage the audience - there was even some nudity and how to save the world debate, a bit like reading the Sun I suppose, in the comfort of someone else's home, but it failed to stir a predominantly Richmond audience who were unsure of how to behave, and forgot they could be real. or perhaps they were being.   that was what made me curious.  were they really this fearful or were they just pretending to be.  I can never tell these days.
for those interested to know more about the interactive theatre contact
and the 101 company who were excellent and chatty. I'm posting a podcast I did of interviewing some of them afterwards. ironically theres a lot of noise in the background because the audience became very chatty afterwards.  its amazing what happens when they feel no one is listening...

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Madagascar - the real middle earth

David Attenborough wept when he visited a year ago, seeing the rainforest, which had been scorched and burnt to build the rice terraces, which would have been charming if you didn’t know what they were before.  Tolkien’s Middle Earth, the trees cut down to build the furnace, to create the monstrous Orks, is replaced in Madagascar by the terraces of blood red earth, which give the Malagasy’s more rice to eat than the Chinese.    There are men working digging deep to create bricks from mud, placed in prosaic piles and then fired in kilns made of the same brick.   A fifteen day tour of the island is not enough to do justice to the place, but on the whistle stop tour organised by tour company Explore, it was enough to realise Madagascar is going through an Industrial revolution and it looks ugly.  But we went through one of our own, so who are we to judge?  
I went with Explore, a company which has excellent guides who know their country and tell it like it is, not how the brochure tells it as it is.   No travel show clich├ęs here. This is Madagascar in the raw and myself and ten others (including Tom on our last big holiday adventure together) travelled in a coach 1000 miles in fifteen days from the cold wet highlands of the East to the hot, arid desert and beach coast of the west.  
The best way to express the experience of Madagascar is through emotion.
On seeing the level of deforestation, initially I felt angry.  The more our guide for the fifteen day trip with Explore told us – the excellent Claude – the more I realised how complex, contradictory and confrontational the culture is.   The rainforests have been decimated on a scale I could not have imagined all within a decade.   There are pockets left and what is left is being eaten away by locals who do not understand the value of lemurs, chameleons, geckos and the tourists who pay money to visit them.  Why should they? If they are able to feed their family on rice and get money for the sapphires they mine for, what good is a lemur?  The wide eyed all dancing all singing animal is something that have grown up with but either have to be paid to not kill or penalised with twenty five years imprisonment if they do.   There are initiatives to integrate the community into understanding the importance of the rainforest but the lack of understanding shows in the poor quality of guiding.     At only one Park we visited, the Lemur Park outside the town of Tanna, which has traffic resembling Fulham Road on a Chelsea Cup Final, we were told to not approach the lemurs, they can approach us, but we don’t approach them. No smoking, no loud voices and no feeding.  All other Parks we visited – and we visited over fifteen in our time there – there was no direction, the guides were noisy and ‘lion fever’ ensued when lemurs were spotted, as all the groups trekking through the forests rushed to the sites, pushing each other over, while the hapless lemurs looked down from on high wondering what all the fuss was about.     The lemurs that ventured down – some more confident than others – looked curious but most looked scared.   They have reason to be.   On the edge of Sapphire City, a village which has built up over a year following the find of sapphires, a small amount of rainforest (
Zombitse National Park – now protected by the World Wildlife Fund – is the last place of the nocturnal (vampiric) lemur, and the Madagascar buzzard, cuckoo roller and black parrots and Greenbull.     It is a rainforest zoo with tours which last about an hour and a half, but we are told the locals from Sapphire Town come in at night and kill the lemurs because they believe if there are no lemurs to save there is no need for a rainforest, and they will be able to mine this area too. One of the other guests in the group tells me in South Africa they have solved this problem. They kill poachers on sight.  No jail, no excuse, no burial.  
And what of the Malagasy themselves?    Their culture is self-sabotaging by its very nature.   Heaped in ancestral ‘it’s always done this way’ with a healthy dose of fear and cruelty.   Take the fate of the majestic Zebu, native to the island. Any man worth his many Zebu herd, receives a tomb at his death accustomed to his wealth his life.   In the Barra tribe,  a man steals a Zebu, a majestic animal with a beautiful face, and then buys a wife with it.  The prettier the wife, the more Zebu he must steal. The tribe is polygamous, as are most of the tribes in the west, and so he ends up stealing a lot of Zebu. When they marry they kill the Zebu.  A man is only worth as many Zebu he has.  He steals them and then creates a herd – which again all are slaughtered at his death.  The Malagasy believe when a man dies his children should not inherit, as they need to prove their own worth.   Vast herds are killed and the meat is wasted as even in the grandest of ceremonies not all is eaten.   There is no way to store the meat either.    Next, Zebu are slaughtered as part of a ritual ceremony to awaken the spirits.  The Zebu is pierced through the throat with a spear, so the animal screams and awakens the spirits. The throat is then cut and the blood encouraged to flow onto the ground.   It is not good to be a Zebu in Madagascar.   The chickens are something else here.  There was a tradition to have all new borns left in a Zebu enclosure and if the Zebu stepped on the baby, the baby was a bad spirit and was meant to die, and if the baby survived it was a good spirit.  They don’t do that one any more. The normal size of family use to be eleven (despite the Zebu ceremony) and is now four.   The population has increased from five million in 2010 to twenty five million in 2016, most being young.  
The animals do not stand a chance. 
Is there any light relief?   So called Sporting Chickens because they have long legs and long necks and are able to run very fast, they are, like the Zebu, a main stay of the cooking, which is mainly rice, rice and more rice, sweet potato in the west and vegetables.   The influence of France dominates, as do the number of visitors from France.    Breakfast is bread and jam, sometimes with croissant and pain au chocolat although that is mainly for the tourist as it is in France.
And what of the lemur?   You need a good camera. An iPhone is not good enough. You need a zoom.   The lemurs rightly stay up in the trees away from the visitors, bewildered by the noise down below.    In Ranomafana National park, where the new species of lemur the Gold Bamboo can be found, when we found it, so did four other groups, all pushing each other out the way, guides shouting to each other, trekkers chatting away.    No one was told to shut up.  In the fifteen days I was there, I saw over eighteen species although there are suspected to be over eighty and many more yet to be discovered before the cut down all the rainforest.   You will get neck ache looking up for so long.    I was taking photos of what I thought was a diademed sifaka lemur at the Analamazoatra Reserve, only to discover five minutes later I was staring at a clump of wet moss.   It was here we also spotted chameleons, including the smallest and largest in the world, and geckos and insects, which look like, dried leaves and twigs.    You end up looking at everything much more closely and for longer.   The lemurs are utterly enchanting. They to ‘move it move it’, dancing between one tree to the next and singing to each other, and huddling together for warmth and comfort.  Unlike the Malagasy, they are monogamous. 
Some traditions are bizarre.  The bones are kept of the deceased family members in carefully constructed tombs, some of which are painted.    The more important the man, the bigger the tomb. We saw some the size and shape and image of small boats.   Others are for families and the skeletons are piled one on top of each other, the average number each tomb takes is thirty.   The skeletons of brother in laws are brought into the house and the men of the family are able to insult or swear at the bones as they were not able to do so in life.    When I asked if the women are able to do this, Claude smiled and shook his head. “The women don’t need to. They do it while the man is alive.”
And what of the people? They are lovely.   Having read the above you may think they should be a cruel, hard people, but with the exception of Sapphire Town, where we weren’t allowed to stop because it was too dangerous (full of prostitutes and drug dealers, and mirror-sun glassed fat mafia types guarding gem palaces, and stores selling everything from spare ribs to spare parts, women panning for the small sapphires amongst the other stones by the side of the road. Elsewhere the people are welcoming, friendly, engaging and curious.    We stopped off at Fianarantsoa, a village on market day where the locals on the cooler days, wear coloured scarves around their bodies – both men and women. Women and men carry baskets of wild spinach and sporting chickens (if they are able to catch them).    Large baguettes and small sweet donuts are sold with piles of rice, and chocolate which sort of resembles our own.   (Kitkat is called Kingfat there). 
The East side is cool and wet, with more rainforest, and the highlands, the locals looking more Indonesian than African.   Their straight hair and lighter skin only being betrayed when they are asked to dance and sing which is infectious African beat.
The West side is hot and dry, they call the sun the eye of the day and the blanket of the poor people, and the lemurs seem to love bathing in the warmth, while they spend most of their time shivering in the rainy season.   In the parched desert landscape, this is where the balboa trees survive, like giant carrots, sticking their fat fingers up into the air and surviving centuries although they may find the next decade the toughest. Claude tells us the Chinese give the Malagasy jobs in the East, but other guides blame the Chinese for stripping the land. In the West, the Indi Pakistan treat the locals ‘like dogs’ according to Claude, but everyone blames the government. No money the government has received over the past three years has gone to any good cause.  Claude explains. “Since the political uprising, they just want to get as much out of the country as they can while they are in power.  They don’t think about the good of the people or the long term, they just think about how to line their own pockets. But then are your governments any better?”
Our last few days were spent on a beach.    I kept calling it an island, but it wasn’t. It was just further down the coast from Toliara.   We stayed in a hut on the beach, which had no running hot and cold water, and where you had to shower from large buckets and hot water was provided in a bucket on request.  I became extremely adept at washing myself, remembering how I had watched the ladies by the roadside bathe their children.  There was an option to go snorkelling on Nosy Ve, a sacred island where albino birds were spotted where we found Dory and Nemo and Octopus in the Indian Ocean. As well as whales. There were lots of whales.

Souvenirs are beautifully calved inlaid wood. Don’t buy sapphires or any precious stones for that matter.  Say you want to see the lemurs. I believe nature always finds a way and there is hope for them thanks to the work of Theo, Patricia, Claude and people like them either doing something or sharing what they know, although by the end of the trip, I completely understood why Attenborough sobbed.

Sunday, 2 July 2017


I remember Caroline coming into the room at the hospital and I had Tom cradled in my arms and her saying ‘baby Sarah, Sarah baby, does not compute’, because the person least likely to have children out of the group of us was me. I was too independent to have children and there I was, with a baby in my arms.   And I remember the first day of nursery and the first day of infant school and junior school and public school and Reeds. I remember every feeling and smell of those days.   I have loved every moment of Tom. Every time I have travelled with him, be it for work or play, I’ve enjoyed his company and loved his cuddles and he has made my life richer and fuller and more meaningful than anything else in my life.   He has made my life have value. And I hope to God, I've been a good mother.  We will see. 
We’ve been tiger trekking in India. I remember when we met that young male tiger on safari and he was only about two hundred yards away and he looked at Tom with curiosity and Tom looked at him, and I wanted to cry. Tom was born in the year of the tiger and that year was the year of the Tiger and it seemed just right.  And then we went to Antarctica for Christmas and saw the seals and whales and albatross and the icebergs like Henry Moore sculptures. And the garden route safari in South Africa where we were stuck in a van with another family who bickered all the time, and saw four of the Big Five and Tom was fascinated by the tortoises crossing the road and the dung beetles because they ate poo.  He was only five.   And the trip to the Gold coast of Australia and Brisbane and Tangalooma Island, where Scooby Doo One was filmed – Tom told me.  And when he went sky diving in Mauritius, and paragliding in Umbria, and we went on the California loop and he gave me a new perspective on Las Vegas. “Do you realise how cool this is mum?  A city of lights in the middle of a desert”. I put that line in the article.   And he wrote his own pieces in National Geographic Traveller and was featured on the front page of the Guardian Travel Section when he was three, his first time on skis.   And we’ve been filming for the BBC Holiday Programme in Mallorca, and New York and Thailand where he thought he had three extra daddies, one carrying a camera, one carrying a boom mic and one bossing the other two about all the time.  And we’ve been to the Galapagos and Ecuador, and I’ve driven an RV sixteen hundred miles around the Yukon with him following in the footsteps of the goldrush stampeders. And did we see a bear? No we did not.    If we had run out of diesel we would.  And he’s fished in the Bennett river and helped carve a genuine totem pole.  And we’ve been swimming with seals and dolphins and stingrays, although we gave the sharks a miss.  He’s hugged and stroked a leopard, and baby huskies and the giant tortoises, and played chicken with seals.   We’ve been to Eurodisney three times and on the Peter Pan ride well over fifty times.   We both loved the idea of flying in the stars on a flying pirate ship.  Tom has met Father Christmas in Finland three times, although the first one was the best, as he had a real beard and Tom was so intimidated he couldn’t even say hello or ask for the Lego he wanted. 
He’s met Norman Wisdom when he was three months old in his home in the Isle of Mann, and the cast of Wicked, although again, he couldn’t say anything to them.  And the late Robin Day and David Frost and Yehudi Menuhin but he was just a baby.
And this year we’re going to Madagascar. I must remember to book the malaria tablets and the other injections.
And now he’s all grown up, and its the last speech day at Reeds, and the jazz band starts playing.  
The governor makes a good speech and not too long. The head makes a better speech but half an hour too long and Tim Henman, an old boy, makes a good speech about him being much better at tennis than he was at economics.   And then the boys go up for their prizes and Tom takes his bow and shakes hands and takes a cup and then he’s gone.   So quick.
Then the head girl speaks and she’s funny and articulate and manages to keep it together. And then the head boy speaks, who’s warmer and not as funny but more sincere and nearly breaks down at the end and so does everyone in the marquee. I’m so pleased the jazz band is playing something jolly.
And then it’s the end. And we go out and everyone mingles and we take photos of each other and I thank his geography and drama teachers, as I can’t find his English teacher. 

Tom is going back with us to have lunch at the pub at the top of the road, and then I turn and that’s it.   That’s Tom’s School Days gone.  Unless I can offer him a trip to the moon.  Or California at a push.

Sunday, 4 June 2017


I was in London last night at the Opera, watching LElixir of Love at the ROH.  Its a happy opera, so rare these days.  As I left, London was buzzing and I walked through Covent Garden.  Such an interesting place, you forget how good it is because the tourists never do.   There was a woman singing her heart out to a blues song and the restaurants were full of sushi, falafel, German sausage eating smily people.  
I got home to turn on the radio and find there had been a shooting. I texted Tom who is with his dad in London. In the City. No reply.  So I texted his dad.    Tom replied. I am fine. Its not a terrorist, he texted back sagely.   He's fine, his dad replied.  

But how many mothers texted their sons that night and didn't get a response. Not because they are at that monosyllabic age but because they're dead, stabbed in some hellish lottery for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  

Thursday, 1 June 2017


I attended the Marie Claire Future Shapers, which was a collection of workshops in a day, telling the good and great how to build a personal brand, build confidence, start a business from scratch, switch careers, how t get a head in the digital world, how to be your own influencer and the power of collaboration.  I stayed for one talk to see a friend speak and then left, but you can get all the talks on line.   #futureshaperslive


Ostensibly to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Eurodisney, this trip also celebrated what is great and good about Paris, namely, what's outside of it. Eurodisney #eurodisney itself is about an hour outside Paris - travelling from the Gare du Nord, if you arrive by Eurostar (still very good and with a business lounge now which you will only be able to enter if you travel business class - not premium economy).  Sorry.   (we tried)

We also visited a fabulous chateau just by Meaux, where the mustard and brie are made, where one of 
my favourite films Dangerous Liaisons was shot.


Stunning chateau with a fascinating history - the Pompadours were regular visitors, and Charles de Gaulle entertained loads of dignitaries here. 

Originally owned by a banker, who was caught embezzling money from the state, and promptly (and rightly) executed by the King, it was given over to another family who were very forward thinking and installed electricity and bathrooms all over the place (the French allegedly wash the least in Europe - the Italians (four times a day) the most).   All clean living here.  Wonderful weekend and Eurodisney, 25 years on, still has its magic, although you ideally need a four or eight year old to make you see with better eyes when you walk around.

Buffalo Bills Wildwest Show, is still, in my opinion, one of the best things to see - although I will aways have a soft spot for the Peter Pan ride. I do, I do, I do believe in fairies....


Happy Pictures in all this stressy time with Brexit and elections and Donald Trump.    Sometimes downward dogs are just not enough and you need to walk in countryside and get the fountain in the courtyard flowing.    So we did.

One pix is of the fountain that has taken fifteen years to install in my courtyard.  And the others are of the Isabella Plantation which is stunning even when the flowers have lost their colour.

It is God's Cathedral.   Stunning.


the fountain.  Yeyyyy it works!!!