Saturday, 26 May 2012

I have a job!

After a year of volunteering at Brent CAB and training to be an adviser, I have a full time paid job as an adviser!

It feels awesome. It's my first full time job and it has a decent salary so I feel like a real person finally :)

At the moment I'm doing lots of debt advice for our new project. Despite the cuts, our Project Manager was able to find new sources of funding so we could expand our staff team. One was this debt project Capitalise. 

It's a fast learning curve and quite tiring at the moment. Hopefully in a month though I'll have got the hang of everything.

I recently had a mini success story when I helped stop a disabled couple from being chased by their water company for a water debt. I helped them set up an affordable repayment plan and reduce their monthly bill by installing a water meter. The couple was very happy.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

I Star in Brent Housing Video!

I contacted local video news company BNCTV several times recently about doing a feature on the bureau and soon they were asking for a film on rogue landlords, something I have released a lot of press about recently as we have seen lots of people coming to the bureau with problems with their landlord. The landlord is evicting them illegally or hasn't paid their deposit back when they moved out or hasn't done repairs or has threatened them with violence...the list goes on.

I asked one of my clients who had a particularly traumatic story to participate as well as our Housing Specialist at the bureau. I also say a few words about my client's case.

Hope you enjoy!

Success Story from Work

Thought you might be interested in my first success as a trainee at Brent CAB - a disability benefits appeal:

***Disability Benefits Success***

Adviser Becky recently helped a client successfully appeal against a decision to stop DLA for her twin sons.

Ms Honrado's two sons are 16 but because of their learning difficulties they only have the mental age of a nine year old. They also suffer from ADHD, which means they need almost constant supervision from their mother or a classroom assistant to avoid accidents.

Before their 16th birthday they had been receiving low rate care DLA, then Ms Honrado was sent a letter saying the benefit would be stopped, despite there being no change in her sons' circumstances.

Our Brent CAB adviser appealed the decision, sending medical reports from the twins' school and medical specialist. She argued that the twins' were actually entitled to more benefit as they needed supervision whilst walking and almost constant attentiom inside. As a result, the appeal was successful and the twins will now receive middle rate care and low rate mobility DLA!

Musicals and Plays

I am now 25! To celebrate I went to see Matilda the Musical, one of the best musicals I have ever seen. Fantastic catchy and moving songs, a fabulous plot and a great actress playing Matilda. In addition, the whole stage is covered in letters meaning you are distracted from your fellow theatre-goer's conversation as you are too busy reading the words hidden in the mass of letters.

Based on the book by Roald Dahl, the musical includes the fabulous tricks she plays on her father Mr Wormwood when he treats her badly. The spirit of rebellion is nicely encapsulated in the songs including "Sometimes you have to be a little bit naughty" and "We are revolting children". Miss Trunchball, played by a man, steals the show with her hatred of children, obsession with Phys Ed and her cruel punishments including swinging a girl into the air by her pigtails and forcing a boy to eat a whole gigantic chocolate cake.

Matilda is a must see if you have ever been a child who was frustrated by grown ups. It's only the fact that it's sold out two months in advance that is stopping me going to see it next weekend again!

This month I have also seen Singing in the Rain, another lovely musical with real rain on stage during the classic song - so much rain that the people on the front rows were clad in cagoules and had to put their hoods up! Again this has lovely songs and an interesting plot. Similar to The Artist, it is about the transition from silent films into talkies and how the highly irritating voice of a silent actress is her downfall. Very funny, definitely worth seeing. They sell £25 day tickets which we bought and were able to sit in the fourth row of stalls!

I have seen Belt Up's Macbeth, a scary production set in an underground prison in Farringdon. We had to follow the actors in near darkness, the stage often lit only by candlelight, to watch the scenes of this dark play. The setting was perfect when you consider the key scenes - meeting the three witches at night on the heath, plotting murder, committing murder in the middle of the night, seeing an imaginary dagger. Being small I had to keep running around the audience to make sure I had a good view of the actors, but it was definitely worth it, especially when the actors are standing less than a metre away from you! Not for the faint hearted, but a truly unique experience perfectly capturing the morbid mad world of Macbeth.

Two days ago I took one of my pupils to see the farce Noises Off, which has fantastic five star reviews from all the broadsheets. While not quite as funny as I'd hoped, and with some very predictable slapstick and plot devices (director is secretly sleeping with all the female actors and stage hands), there were moments of utter hilarity where I could not help but laugh myself silly.

It is a play within a play which we get to see in rehearsal, from backstage and live in performance when the props are all wrong causing great pandemonium. Written by Michael Frayn, who also wrote the play Donkey's Years and the film Clockwise staring John Cleese. Frayn based the play on genuine experiences in the theatre, although it is hard to believe the absurd nature of most of what goes on!

I have no more plays lined up at the moment, and would welcome any suggestions!

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Fantastic Busker - Flame Proof Moth

Today I was walking down Southbank from the Royal Festival Hall to the Tate Modern, then on the Millennium Bridge I was arrested by the sound of music. I stopped to see where it was coming from and was amazed to see a guy up to his knees in the river singing at a microphone, also in the river.

I think over half the people watching were curious as to whether he would electrocute himself! His songs were great, especially the one about his favourite pen, in which he laments that now he has to get pens from factories instead of geese and in which he says he will go on holiday to a pen factory and stay in a hotel. Another great song is one where he says he goes to his local shop to buy something, when he sees that there is only tins of peas and spaghetti left, and there's a huge queue for them. Why is there such a queue? The credit crunch is the culprit.

The highlight of his songs, were the bits between lyrics when he was just strumming his electric guitar and wiggling his hips like crazy, creating great ripples in the water around him. It was also exciting to see what happened whenever a wave drew near - would it reach his amp on shore...?

The busker had a great way of attracting money for his music. On the stony shore he had placed a cloth with his name Flame Proof Moth on top of different coloured circles, like a bulls eye. So people could throw money for the music or simply to see how good their aim was!

The musician himself, with his wetsuit over a shirt and a pair of cheeky sunglasses, cut an impressive quirky image. His folky, speech like singing, with the tone of a ballad and hilarious falsettos is very distinctive and unique.

London never ceases to amaze me with such unique events occurring when you least expect them. I hope to see Flame Proof Moth again soon.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Belt Up and The Boy James

Over the past few years I have been consistently impressed and surprised by the quirky compelling plays produced by the theatre troupe Belt Up, who normally perform at Southwark Playhouse, near London Bridge as well as at the Edinburgh Fringe. Audience participation is usually compulsory, at least to some extent.

Belt Up have performed The Trial in the vast disorientating space under the London Bridge underground in almost pitch black. Blind folded when you entered the space, one at a time, you were placed in the room away from whoever you had come with and forced to listen to eery music until everyone else had entered. I sneeked a peek under my blindfold, but there was little use as the room was so dark. We had to follow the lanterns that appeared between scenes to find our way in the dark to the next scene. The confusion and darkness of the space was perfect for a dramatisation of Kafka, whose common theme in his works is his protagonist's complete bewilderment about where he is, who has power and what the rules are.

They have performed a fantastically funny version of Moliere's Tartuffe with funny French men in berets, wonderful slapstick and use of props. The audience was seated on sofas and comfy chairs and I had a cuddly toy lion, larger than me, by my side. It was impossible to avoid getting involved in the play as the actors were remarkably persuasive about getting the audience up on stage at certain points.

In a couple of weeks I will see Belt Up perform Macbeth, not in Southwark Playhouse, but in an old prison! I expect it will be very dark...

Belt Up performed a wonderful dreamlike play a year ago which I remember particularly vividly as I unexpectedly had a key role in it. It was called The Boy James, based on the story of Peter Pan. This came recommended by Stephen Fry who tweeted about how much he had enjoyed it. This play was particularly special for me as I was the main audience member to participate in the play. I read a poem about flying at the beginning and a letter from an adult James to the boy James at the end. So I kind of started and ended the play inadvertently.

The play was partly so perfect because the actor playing the boy - based on Peter Pan perhaps - and the setting created a very childlike atmosphere. On the way into the space we could see pages of books hanging from the ceiling and greenery suggesting a wood with a safe haven inside, perhaps the lost boys den. Once inside the surprisingly small space, we sat on cushions on the floor and sofas behind. It was very cozy and intimate and there was barely any floor space for a stage. 

The only actor on stage was a boy in his pyjamas, who told us all to make friends with the people beside us and then asked if we'd made a new best friend. Then he asked who wanted to read a poem and picked me as my hand was up. The poem was about flying and was very reminiscent of the start of Peter Pan. Then he asked us who knew how to play It. He got a group of four to say two words each in turn to describe the rules. He made us play the game in a circle, then he told us to use the whole room and then he turned the game into Stuck in the Mud. The actor managed this all in a cute boyish voice in his pyjamas.

It is partly the unscripted feel of the play that made it powerful, you felt the main actor was genuinely interacting with the audience, wanting to play. Making the audience talk to each other and play games, and the intimate space where everyone was sitting cross legged on the 'front row' all around the 'stage' meant it was very gripping and hard to distance yourself. 

Next the boy told us to hide behind our coats or other clothing. We did this for a while making silly noises in a circle as the actor playing the adult James - presumably J M Barrie the author of Peter Pan - came in and left.

Then the boy talked about imaginary worlds and adventures and ran out of the space to enter via a cupboard. He gave one audience member a button and one some purple thread. He told the audience and a new character- a girl who appeared from the fireplace, and who he'd apparently met in the park - that we would go on an adventure with James next.

But when James came back he wanted to leave for good. He had contributed to the books and furniture and sheets from the ceilings and passwords but now he picked up his suitcase and tried to leave. He'd written a letter to the boy James explaining why he had to leave but the boy could not read. The boy kept jumping on the man's back to try and stop him leaving until the girl slammed the man James' head on the table so he passed out on the floor.

The girl - presumably based on Wendy - was violent, bossy and tried to kiss and seduce the boy James, showing him how to kiss and saying they had to take their clothes off, which made him curl into a foetal position and sob. She also wanted to play pirates and Tiger Lily. 

The man James recovered from being knocked out, hugged the boy James and left. The boy then asked if anyone could read him the letter. I had wanted to read the letter to the boy since he received it and been so sad that he could not read it. I was so involved in the action I had almost forgotten it was not real. So I got up and sat in the chair next to the boy on the floor and read the letter to him tenderly, emphasising the fact that the man James loved him dearly. Then the boy held my hand and told me to show people out. It was incredibly moving and he was clutching the letter and sobbing til the end. I ruffled his hair out of sympathy.

Afterwards in the bar an elderly couple said me reading the letter was the best bit of the play. They wanted to know if I had been planted in the audience! Another couple also said I was very good. I thought it would be nice to get a copy of the letter I had read as it had made me quite tearful so I snuck back near the dreamlike theatre space. I asked a staff memeber if I could have a copy of the letter and he took me to the changing room and asked. The actor that played the boy James looked surprised but had a pile of the letters and gave me one. He was in a vest and the pyjama trousers but he looked much older and cockier. It threw me out of the make believe world in which I had believed this man in his 20s was an incredibly vulnerable boy. But it was lovely to get a copy of the letter. Here is an extract from it:

To the boy James,

I have to leave you.
It's not that I don't love you, I do. And I know you love me.
I hold a million memories so near and dear. Some lit by the brightest of sunlight on sunny afternoons; others hidden in pockets of moonlight, sneaking past the post-curfew gazes of midnight.
To the fond memory of all our times at each other's side,


Recent Cultural Experiences in London

Last month, I saw a cacophany of fantastic different cultural events in London, including plays, comedy, pantomime and film. It is amazing how culturally rich the capital is.

I saw the wonderful film The Artist, a black and white silent movie with an amazingly talented dog, that marks the change from silent films to the 'talkies'. A star of the silent movies, and a fantastic performer, the main character refuses to jump onto the talking bandwagon. However, he is dismayed to see his fame diminishing in favour of a new talking star, ironically a young hopeful actress he had recently helped get noticed by filmmakers. The film is full of humour, extremely engaging, often very moving and makes me wonder why the genre of silent movies is not more popular.

I saw a queer pantomime, Cinderella, featuring evil stepmother Baroness Thatcher with her sons Boris and David, a gay princess and a polyamorous Cinderella. Simply put together and one night only, the play had an amateur feel. However, the jokes and songs were fresh, with some hilarious political satire, and it was a very enjoyable experience - especially as I knew the actress playing Buttons.

I saw the Ladykillers with the fantastic Peter Capaldi from The Thick of It. This was hilarious and very well put together. It was doubly interesting for me as the playwright, Graham Linehan (who cowrote the fantastic sitcom Father Ted), lives on my road! The comedy, adapted from the 1955 film, revolves around a old lady living in a topsy turvy house with only a sick parrot for company and who often contacts the police with stories about aliens and her newsagent being a Nazi, and a gang of criminals who masquerade as musicians who come and live with her. She is delighted to have musicians in the house and wants them to play for her friends, who have found her boring of late. They however, want to rob a bank and trick the old lady into unsuspectedly helping them. Finally, the old lady finds out and the criminals determine to murder her. Chaos and hilarity ensues. Even from our seats right at the back of the theatre, the comedy and wit was sensational, with a great mix of slapstick, fantastic character actors and bizarre scenarios.

I saw the comedian Adam Riches at Soho Theatre and was very glad I was not too near the front as this show was all about audience participation - he asked two audience members to kiss and snogged one audience member himself - and avoiding being hit by large props members of the audience were asked to wave around. It was highly entertaining whilst often extremely difficult to watch because of the embarrassing topics or scenarios. Adam Riches played a variety of completely different parts, a lazy man in a wheelchair who used a catheter because he could, a squash player, and he was accompanied by two helpers who were seemingly willing to do anything he said including being covered in water. He is great at talking to the audience and responding to them as well as getting people to do things you would think they would be too embarrassed to do. All in all a fantastically funny, laugh out loud covering your eyes and entirely fresh show. Sit at the far back if you want to avoid being forced to be part of the show!

I saw the political documentary Tory Boy about a filmmakers stint at running for MP in the North up against a Labour MP in a safe seat, despite the Labour MP's appalling record for the local area. The film showed how many northerners will vote Labour despite knowing that the candidate is terrible, just because they always have. It exposed how it was impossible for constituents to contact or get a response from their MP. It also depicted the grim reality of campaigning for 6 months in an unwinnable seat, the election tactics, the highs and the lows. Supplementing the filming of events, all filmed live, was some fun animation, some of which explained certain political ideas. Whilst I dislike the character of the filmmaker, this is a very engaging film which gives many insights into the world of local campaigning.

I also saw The Muppets, a fantastic feelgood film that I throughly recommend, the musical Mamma Mia, a lovely light comedy with a great female lead, the political play 3 Days in May, which details a critical point during WW2 when Churchill had to make an important decision about the UK's role in the war, and the wonderful French animation, Monster in Paris, a delightful comic story set in Paris.

All in all, a great month to live in London.