Sunday, 12 December 2010

Hidden Jewels and Gin

It has been delicately pointed out to me that I haven't been updating this blog as regularly as I had originally planned and so the age of snippets of life columns is upon us. This week, I was very very excited to read Liz Hoggard's interview in the Evening Standard with one of my favourite people in the world, Emerald Fennell (above), who recently completed playing Lady Lottie, the first wife of the main character in Channel 4's four part television drama Any Human Heart, based on the novel by William Boyd. Emmy and I did a lot of drama together at Oxford and I'm still at the stage where seeing her on television or in the newspapers makes me achieve kid-going-to-Disneyland levels of hyper-excitement. Ultimately my plan is to acquire a sort of Simon Cowell-Dean Martin levels of louche sophistication about the whole thing, but that is still some way off! I'll provide a link at the bottom to read the full interview and also earlier blog posts about Any Human Heart.

Anyway, the last couple of weeks have been ones of triumph and humiliation. (I refer you to my earlier article, "Embarrassing much, ice?" for my humiliation.) The triumph came in the form of finally being able to figure out what Skype is, after several years of pretending I understood it (i.e. nodding wisely when it was mentioned, much like when I decided to use the phrase "credit crunch" and "recession" at random points in conversation) and generally assuming that Skype was some weird sort of thing you did on MSN chat. Either that or a type of phone I couldn't seem to find in shops. The push over the edge came when my friend Joel said "We should Skype," to which I initially gave the usual BS about what a great idea that was and let's do it some time next week. 

And that's when I realised that Joel has a horrifying tendency to figure out when I'm lying and then wait until we're surrounded by mutual friends to announce it and point out in excruciating detail how I managed to embarrass myself. (National Anthem-gate being high on the list of examples.) This raised the stakes and I knew I had to figure out what Skype actually was. Luckily, after a mere 57 minutes in which she was forced to resort to sending me articles from Google, Wikipedia and finally to telling a parable, Alexa managed to explain the entire thing to me and it turns out that Skype is not only a delightful invention, but also one astonishingly easy to use. So, to all those friends over the years who I promised to Skype with but didn't because I was lying, I sort of apologise. Sorry Lucas, Will, Coco, Kitty, Sophie, Noah, Alexa, Amy, Tom, Matthew, Andrew ... etc.

Another high was attained when I shimmied round to my friend Natalie's for a quiet evening gin. Natalie (left) is one of my favourite drinking partners, if for no other reason than she and her mother have taken to serving me gin in some sort of novelty pint glass and Natalie thinks regular measuring cups are "for dwarves." We managed to discuss all the important things - how she had decided to insure her ChloĆ© handbag for far more than she ever would her boyfriend, how for some reason The X Factor isn't that exciting this year and why is it that so many people are so ugly? Also, Queen's University students who flounce around the city centre wearing a glorified version of your pyjamas - you disgust us! Wash you hair, clean your clothes and remember that, right now, there are some well-heeled dogs in Malone who are better groomed than you are. Sort it out.

I also want to talk about last night when I went back to my old high school, Down High, to see their annual school play - this year a production of the musical The Sound of Music. I was back in Down High about two months ago to do an after-school talk about Popular and I got to meet some of the drama students there, all of whom seemed really nice and it was great chatting to them afterwards. My old drama teacher, Pamela Mills, (we plan to make her part of my celebrity posse) sent me two tickets to come and see The Sound of Music on its closing night. Thank you, Pamille. 

I invited my friend Aisleagh to come along as my plus one. Aisleagh is only back in Northern Ireland at the weekends for the next six months, because she flies over to London during the week to be a high-powered lawyer. Very useful to keep Aisleagh on side, considering I will almost certainly need one of those before I turn thirty. Which will be happening in about fifteen years, give or take. Aisleagh was a big participant in Drama in our days at Down High, both curricular and social, and she also loved music, so I thought she was a sure bet for TSOM. Plus, I haven't seen her properly in ages and we used to share a flat together in Oxford, so it would be good to catch up and revisit La Mills.

However, half-way to Downpatrick, Aisleagh turned to me in the car and said in her most dread voice, "Just so you know - and I'm just putting it out there - there is no musical in the world I hate more than The Sound of Music." 

I glanced at her, in shock and fear, "Seriously? How do you hate it? Which songs do you hate the least? Climb Every Mountain?" 

"If I told you I didn't like any of them, would that make it clearer?!"

Part of me was mortified, but the other half quietly pleased, because there is literally no-one in the world more fun to sit next to than Aisleagh when you're watching a movie, play, show or production that she hates. She is hilariously vicious.

We arrive at the school and things don't get off to a great start when the people collecting tickets at the door are my old Biology and Maths teachers, neither of whom exactly saw me at my academic best. I still live in fear that the Maths department will one day figure out that Sarah-Jane and I are not cousins and we did not therefore share a permanently ailing grandmother, who conveniently relapsed every time our coursework was due. 

Aisleagh and I swanned in and chatted with Miss Mills, before curtain-up and I have to say that both Aisleagh and I were pleasantly surprised. I was a bit worried that having met and liked so many of the drama students back in October that they wouldn't actually be amazing on stage, which is always really upsetting, I think, when someone is nice to talk to but doesn't measure up in the talent stakes. Aisleagh, naturally, had settled into a mood of merry bile, prepared to hate everything except the sight of her own name on the board of old Deputy Head Girls and her cunning plan for us to storm the stage half-way through and launch into our monologues from our final school production of The Canterbury Tales. I don't exactly remember mine, but that's OK - I didn't remember it when I did it the first time round, either. Luckily, as the sick grandmother shows, improv was not something I ever had a problem with. 

The show was sensational and half-way through, Aisleagh clutched my hand, tears in her eyes and sighed, "How could I ever have hated this? It's the cutest thing I've ever seen!!"

Firstly, a word of praise for the girl who played Maria: I've never met Poppy, but she was so, so good! She's only a Year 10 (i.e. about 14) and I hope that doesn't sound too patronising, because she was sensational, both as an actress and as a singer. Also I was literally staring open-mouthed at how good the Reverend Mother's singing was. Wow. The entire cast was really excellent and whilst I may have queried the dramatic decision that led to several of the junior school being dressed as machine gun-carrying Nazis, the whole thing was superb. I really, really enjoyed myself and I'm so glad we went. Aisleagh, needless to say, had some sort of spiritual conversion half-way through and was actually singing along to Edelweiss at the end, a euphoric expression on her face.

So, anyway, huge congratulations to Miss Mills and Mr O'Hara and to all those involved and especially those I met when I spoke at Down High and who were in The Sound of Music - Ruth, Michael, Lydia, Charlotte, Louis and Robbie - thanks so much for a great show and I hope the cast party was riotously inappropriate. 


For the full interview with Emerald Fennell, click here and for this blog's post about Any Human Heart, click here

For last week's less than delightful ice-capade, click here

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