Hark all over the place, London Cringe

In the spirit of recording events it’s been a nice week.

Yesterday I went to our work carol concert, organised by the Music Department and the vicar. Probably the most exciting carol was ‘Hark The Herald Angels Sing’ which had been souped up almost beyond recognition by Mtungwazi. The choir was punching the air and dancing hard – I almost left my seat myself, restrained only by Elizabeth who had at least one raised eyebrow and muttering about Africanisation. She prefers the Mendellsohn version we sang later on. I also really enjoyed ‘There is a Flower by John Rutter – many years have passed since pills and powders so it’s good to remember that you can get intense physical effects from a soaring soprano. During the plenary carols I sang so strongly I nearly blacked out at one stage. Then we drank, I think, coffee-tinted mulled wine from, I think, coffee urns. Or maybe it was just bad wine, or too many cloves, but you don’t look a gift horse in the mouth and I was grateful for it. Elizabeth smelt butter in the mince pies so I forwent those and consequently was quite intoxicated for part of the afternoon.

The next Hark was being written and practised under my nose. The one and a half verses I got to hear had ‘trade unions’ ‘bosses’ and ‘solidarity’ in the lyrics. It scanned but I think carrying the meaning will depend on excellent enunciation.

Christmas aside, I split my sides at London Cringe at Barden’s Boudoir the night before last.

Cringe: The high comedy of teen diary dramas

The guiltiest of pleasures: other people’s diaries. Get your voyuerism/nostalgia fix in one fell swoop at Cringe, with real live readings from the readers’ own old teenage diaries, letters and poems. Listen to hilarious tales of love, injustice and embarrassment when these brave souls come forward and read aloud from their teenage diaries, journals, notes, letters, poems, abandoned rock operas, and other general representations of the crushing misery of their humiliating adolescence. The LA Times wrote of the New York Cringe: “Call it comedy. Call it therapy. The crowd that gathers over beers at Freddy’s Bar & Backroom in Brooklyn calls it “Cringe Night.” Once a month, people mostly in their 20s and 30s read their teenage writings, which have included a long-forgotten unrequited love letter to New Kids on the Block and a song composed in a fit of adulation for Richard Marx.”

It’s better and cheaper than therapy, and it’s funny as hell.

We’re still looking for readers for London Cringe. Contact Sarah Brown (sarahbrown@gmail.com ) if you’re interested. (A good test to determine whether or not your material is Cringe-worthy: when you read it to yourself, do you physically cringe? Then it’s funny.)

There were a few of us there – MattP was reading. We sat on a bashed up chesterman couch right at the front.

Was it a too-ostentatious display of latterday well-adjustedness? Were these people being treacherous to their younger selves? Is that even possible? Was it real? These were all questions I didn’t ask. Laughing at somebody who was trying to make me laugh with an account of being petrified of pigeons as a little girl, to the extent that she had to wrap her writing hand in a flannel to avoid accidentally brushing against the word ‘pigeon’, who dreamed of pigeons “in clumps”, whose mother, during a road trip in the US, bought a frozen pigeon from the bakery to cure her (or was that one of the pigeon dreams), who had stayed in a wigwam built in the 1940s with central heating from the 1930s – was irresistable. And the boy who was crippled with guilt for dreaming about the girls in his class. And the rural schoolgirl’s agonies over a boy at debating club. Or the girl who wrote the name of the boy she craved in her diary with her foot, left hand and mouth, in orange felt tip. G and R were less than happy about the whole thing, I caught D giggling – Matt and I were howling.

Two things jarred. The ruthless-sounding woman who read out the letters from her evidently suffering, subsequently ex, boyfriend – it’s wrong to read other people’s stuff. And the man who sucked me so far into his boarding school diaries that I even interjected at one stage – he was one of the best but it turned out he’d done the same skit recently at The Foundry. It made me take G’s comment about egotism a bit seriously – the idea of people augmenting their entries and practising spontaneous delivery in front of the mirror. And now I’m wondering how much of it was for real.

Sadly I have to face the fact that my crisis-ridden teenage writing isn’t funny. I only wrote in love, loss or loneliness. It’s young vulnerable me taking myself apart, hatchetting out the stuff I don’t like and patching myself up again like Frankenstein. Even though you’d cringe, it’s not funny.

MattP read a skit he’d written for his 6th Form Review.


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