We are still in London so stop reading now if you don’t give a toss about life in SW17. Spring has sprung. But, in this in-between time, the heavy coats are kept out for easy access. Winter can return at any time and without any warning. We are all doing the things we cannot access in Bim – albeit some of us rather reluctantly. I sent the young men off to the Natural History Museum to experience the “Ice Station Antarctica ” where you can see, feel, hear and smell what it is like in such extreme conditions. Sadly my young men are not made of hardy stuff and no one came home saying they can’t wait for us to take a trip to the South Pole. Actually they came home begging for hot chocolate. Andre claimed it was worse than being in a freezer. He is even threatening strike action.
“Persaud,” (I am never Ingrid when he is complaining) “if dat is what you want me to see in dem museums me eh going nowhere again. Man dat bare cold eh good for humans.”
Tomorrow they are off to see The First Emperor: China’s Terracotta Army, at the British Museum.
“Why do we have to see the Terracotta Army? I want to go to Lego Land.” wails First Born.
“It is an amazing exhibition and you will enjoy it and you will learn lots. Didn’t you like the exhibition on Tutankhamen that mama took you to last week? You did like it, didn’t you? I know you did even though you cried and said you didn’t ever want to go to another museum.”
Three pairs of eyes stared blankly back at me.
“Guys, trust me. You’ll thank me when you’re older.”
No one looks convinced – least of all Andre.
With the temperatures rising it really is getting harder to keep the kids interested in gallery and museum hopping. They want to be in the park playing football with Andre or on their micro scooters. The Husband thought it best if he spent time with the boys while they scootered around Wandsworth Common. After the first of these outings he came home exhausted from running to keep up with them. If you can’t beat them, then, he concluded, you join ‘em. He disappeared yesterday into a department store and emerged the proud owner of the most flash, most revved up scooter I have ever seen. Shadowfax, as he has named it, was immediately taken for a spin in our park.
A couple hours later the doorbell rang and the little ones ran through the door laughing and asking if we could have Chinese takeaway for dinner because we don’t get good Chinese food in Bim. There was no sign of The Husband.
“What have you done with your father?” I asked suspiciously.
“Oh, he’s outside. I think he said he can’t move or something.” shrugged Second Born.
Slumped against our front garden wall is The Husband. Shadowfax is lying on the pavement.
“Are you okay?” I asked tenderly.
He was still panting.
“Only just. Those little bastards made me go for miles. And scootering is like sprinting.”
“Didn’t Shadowfax outfox two little boys on cheap razor scooters?” I inquired.
“Leave Shadowfax out of this.” he snarled.
It may be called Shadowfax but you still need major fitness or at least Gandalf-like magic to keep up with two active boys. (If you have no idea what I am on about then you have been asleep for the Noughties and missed a trilogy that has spawned a whole industry of wannabees. And you particularly missed sex-on-horseback, Aragorn a.k.a. Viggo Mortensen).
I however have been getting little sleep since we came to London. Every minute is crammed with work, friends, galleries, plays, movies as well as attending to the quotidian details of life. The best experience I have had has been a production by Punchdrunk of The Masque Of The Red Death. Based on the writings of Edgar Allan Poe, (apart from Masque there are bits from at least seven short stories, including The Black Cat, Berenice and The Fall of The House of Usher), the experience plunges you into the macabre world of all that haunted a writer plagued by depression and alcoholism.
I use the word “experience” because this is a unique theatrical adventure blending live performance, music, mime and installation art, with no physical boundaries between "audience" and actors. Punchdrunk have taken over all four floors of the Battersea Arts Centre and every part of it is the set. On entering you are given a Venetian, carnivalesque mask – white with a long, hooked nose – which you wear at all times. This is the only real demarcation between the actors, and we, the other participants, who at times become part of the performance. Having achieved masked anonymity, you are left to wonder around the building as you choose. You go where you want, when you want. There is no path to follow. The only other rule is that you do not talk.
No two people can have the same experience of Masque. I walked around in the dark, opening doors. Sometimes they led to magical, empty rooms where I could imagine the scenes that might take place - the love, the anger, the passion. You could come back to that room later and find a whole scene taking place. Sometimes rooms seemed to disappear. At other times I would stumble onto a scene – like the back stage dressing room where two young men argued while getting ready to perform in a cabaret. Another time I came across a character and decided to follow him. I stood right next to him while he introduced himself as a doctor to a young girl in her bedchamber. He tried to hypnotise her. I think she was playing the role of Madeline, Roderick’s sister from The Fall of The House of Usher.
Knowing these details only deepened the enjoyment of the production but you certainly don’t need to know anything about Poe or the short stories to be spellbound by this intense, irredeemably sad, mad, world. I left soon after the doctor did and after many other adventures stumbled upon him again – this time shaking hands with a portly gentleman on the main staircase. I followed them into the basement where they drank wine. Then he "murdered" the fat guy and buried him in a cavity of the wall. It is hard to explain but you are not just a voyeur. You are with them, seeing their sweat and feeling their breath. You are made to consider your own moral culpability. Should you intervene? Could you intervene? Where does art end and life begin?
For the most part the actors carry on as if you are not present - simply pushing you out of the way if they need to. But you have to be prepared for anything. I was not. My pal Kate reported that a nice man wearing very little came and sat on her lap and said she had the firmest thighs he had felt in ages. My thighs had no such luck. Another time I was exploring a tiny room that looked like a surgery. It smelled of formaldehyde and there were dirty, blood soaked cloths everywhere. I was just about to leave when in burst a man about to vomit and a woman who was attending to him. Once he was stable she helped him with his jacket. They kissed passionately and he left, having barely spoken to her.
I was about to go too but the woman held me back. She pushed the others out and locked the door. We were alone. Slowly she turned around and looked me straight in the eye. She was whispering. At first I did not understand. Then it became clear that she was saying over and over, “Show me. Show me. Show me.” When I did not respond she threw a glass of water at me. I was now even more shocked and unable to respond. But the tone of her voice became more and more insistent until she was inches away from my face. By now her hands were on me and she was yelling, “Show me! Show me!” I was already wet, and, with nothing to lose, decided to play. She was now pushing me against the wall, trying to remove my mask. I shook my head and pulled it firmly to my face. We struggled for a bit and then I put my hand on her chest and shoved her away. She backed off. With a look of utter disgust she said, “The world is divided into adventurers and cowards. I usually pick correctly.” And with that she unlocked the door and vanished into the darkness.
Several times later in the night I tried to find my way back to that room and to the woman who now haunted me. When I finally did, she, of course, was not there.