Category Archives: Going out

Hip hop concert in Los Angeles

Run the Jewels album cover

The cover of album Run the Jewels.
Don’t ask me what it means.

There are certain things in life that you gradually start discarding as you get older. One of these is going to concerts where you have to stand for the entire show, jumping around to music while you clutch a plastic cup of beer. I prefer going to dinner and comfortably sitting through the whole thing.

So when my brother mentions a hip hop concert in Los Angeles with underground rappers in a new venue in Echo Park, I want to laugh.

‘I need to know if I should buy you a ticket,’ he says.

I don’t want a ticket, but I need a ride to Los Angeles and this is my best opportunity.

‘I don’t know,’ I answer hesitantly. ‘Will it be dangerous?’

When I went to college in Los Angeles in the 90s, Echo Park was in gangster territory, the war equivalent of no-man’s land. You only went there if you wanted drugs or if you had a death wish. When my friend’s car got stolen some years ago, it ended up in Echo Park. I didn’t want to be some sad statistic on the local news: 40-year-old mother-of-two attends hip hop concert and ends up shot in gang fight.

I have visions of being sprawled on the floor, dressed in my Macy’s jeans and Crocs shoes.

‘It’s not going to be dangerous,’ he laughs. ‘Echo Park is really yuppie now. Most of the people there will be young hipsters.’

It’s hard to know who I should fear more – the gangsters with baggy jeans or the cool hipsters who casually throw together mismatched clothes like some people are able to throw together a gourmet meal with three ingredients. At my age it’s hard to know.

‘Fine, buy me a ticket,’ I say with little conviction. Turning 40 has made me realize that I don’t have much time before I genuinely look ridiculous in certain settings. Seize the moment.

A few days later we are in the car, heading towards Los Angeles and our big concert night. I’m feeling anxious. Part of my anxiety derives from the fact that my wardrobe choices are limited in San Diego. I packed in a hurry and ended up with only one sweater, a creamy cotton thing with a shaggy fringe on the pockets. It looks like a ‘mother’ sweater, a wardrobe staple I’d wear to the park but would be embarrassed to wear anywhere else.

‘Maybe someone will think you are making an ironic statement,’ my brother says when he sees the sweater, which I’ve paired with my plastic Crocs shoes in a leopard print.

I’m doubtful.

We drive up to the Echoplex in a grungy LA cab and I realize I had nothing to worry about. The outside patio is strung with cute lights; a number of white men, mostly in their late twenties and early thirties, are hanging out in American Apparel hoodies. They only know gangsters from movies which they possibly produced.

The opening act is Despot, a white diminutive rapper from Queens – but we find out that he’s not on until 10.30pm. We exchange dismayed looks. It’s not even 9pm and I’m already yawning. We debate leaving, but we can’t come back in.

So there’s nothing to be done but to start drinking and it costs $35 for each round of three drinks. Two long hours later, Despot makes it to the stage in a shirt that could rival my sweater. It looks like a bad holiday souvenir that inexplicably has Italian Riviera written on the back. I think he is being ironic.

To my surprise, I like Despot. He’s funny, clever and engaging. He actually talks to the audience and says much more than the standard ‘Hello Los Angeles’. His raps focus on the stereotypical aspects of gang life – drugs, buying fast cars and watches, drugs – but you get the feeling he doesn’t really believe in it.

Finally, at 12.45am, headline act Run the Jewels comes on. The act is a collaboration between EL-P and Killer Mike. Both are talented hip-hop veterans whose eponymous record received near-universal acclaim from music critics. I’m starting to flag after my seventh vodka soda, but my brother is happy (a rarity) and his girlfriend is laughing. I don’t know why the rappers yank off their chunky gold chains and start rapping about running the jewels, but I blend in with the crowd by screaming some of the words back to them. I’m kind of just making them up.

Tonight was a lesson in being middle-aged. Go out of your comfort zone once in a while. It’s too easy to get stuck in a rut. Shame my rap revelation had to cost us about $300 in drinks, cabs and tickets.

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Coffee snobs

Harris and Hoole signage

Posh coffee sign

England 1996. I am freshly arrived in London and I know nothing much about it, apart from what I’ve read in books and learned through watching Masterpiece Theatre. One thing I quickly realize is that the English don’t truly like coffee. They regard it as inferior to tea, which they drink at every opportunity. For some people, it’s a bit like water.

So I don’t buy coffee from anywhere and I rarely think about it. Before arriving in London, I was working for a coffee chain in Los Angeles. I’ll admit, my diet consisted of a variety of frozen coffee drinks, made with powder, so this switch to no coffee is pretty extreme.

But I’m young and carefree. Who wants coffee when you can have beer or gin? I live my life in the pub anyway.

England 2012. I have two children, precious little spare time and regard copious drinking during the day as something guaranteed to give me a headache and make me incapable of feeding the kids, bathing them and putting them to bed, which requires the energy of an athlete on steroids.

So what do I? I drink coffee and lots of it. I spend my weekends generally lurching from one coffee to another, always looking for the next high or something to get me through an hour in the park on a drizzly and cold day.

In other words, I’m an expert. The English are becoming experts too. Gone are those dark days when the English used to drink milky tea with sugar and not much else. Now they regard themselves as coffee snobs. Coffee shops have sprung up everywhere. Getting good espresso has become some people’s idea of a pastime.

I happen to live in a part of London where I can walk to about 15 different coffee shops in about 10 minutes. From this, any Londoner can infer something immediately: this area is so gentrified you wouldn’t be able to afford a house unless you are:

  1. very rich
  2. a banker
  3. or you bought 50 years ago

Which is why we live in a tiny flat being devoured by mold.

A few months ago a cheap greeting card store went out of business. For a few weeks there was tantalizing advertising on its boarded-up exterior. ‘Harris and Hoole is coming’ it proclaimed. I had no idea what Harris and Hoole was, but I was intruiged.

Honestly, I should have guessed it would be yet another coffee shop. This one, though, is aiming a bit higher than its neighbor, Starbucks, who is literally next door.

You see, it’s not enough to be a good coffee shop – you’ve got to elevate it to an art form. When I walk into Harris and Hoole, I notice the cool-but-chic interior. It’s understated, in the way black pants are understated. Yes, it tries to exude class but not too much. Hence, there are strange chalkboard drawings on the wall, designed to make it look artistic, perhaps, or a bit bohemian. It reminds of a child’s art project.

When I go to order, I realize the drinks menu is minimalist. There’ll be no triple-shot, venti, gingerbread latte with whipped cream. Nope, you just get the basics.

So I order a latte. I am told my barista’s name and today’s recipe, also helpfully on the board. The recipe is this: espresso extraction time, 23 seconds; extraction temperature, 93 degrees Celsius; and the coffee is served at a coolish 60 degrees because it will bring out the natural sweetness. Who am I to question this quest for perfection?

Inside Harris and Hoole

The Raging Bull likes the juice

I get the coffee and it’s good, as you’d expect, but it’s also a little too cool for me. It says you can ask for it hot from your barista, but I imagine that your request will be met with a stare that says, ‘you are nothing more than a coffee heretic, why don’t you just go next door and order from the enemy because all you really want is dessert?’ So I will probably never say anything.

I am sure I will go back to Harris and Hoole. I might even grow to love it. But there’s just something vaguely irksome about a place that takes itself a tad too seriously. Lighten up. Great coffee is great, but must we really venerate it so much?

It’s like when I went to San Diego and tried to order vodka from a bar. You’d think a bar would have vodka. Uh, no. I was told – by a poker-faced master spirit distiller (bartender) – that vodka tasted, well, just a bit too plain for their liking and they didn’t serve it. I would have laughed if it wasn’t so damn preposterous.

Next thing you know, people will be trying to sell us upscale water. Oops, that’s already happened.

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An inflatable Stonehenge

Bouncy Stonehenge

The inflatable Stonehenge – it was made by the inventors of the bouncy castle, Inflatable World in Nottingham

Going to see an art exhibition in a gallery is the kind of thing I used to do Pre-K (pre-kids). Galleries and small children don’t tend to mix well. The last time I went to a musuem with four children, we ended up bypassing all the artwork and headed straight for the cafe. On the way out we had to frantically pull the children off a marble statue that looked to have been there for 200 years. It would have taken them about 20 seconds to wreck it.

So, generally, I avoid this kind of stressful outing. Today, though, I got a chance to take the kids to an interactive art installation they could actually enjoy and which they couldn’t casually destroy.

Sacrilege, by artist Jeremy Deller, is a life-sized Stonehenge made out of the materials used for bouncy castles (jumpies in the United States). The inflatable replica of Stonehenge is touring the country (today it was at Alexandra Palace, a 10-minute bus ride from me) as part of the mayor’s cultural events in London this summer. People are encouraged to jump around the rubbery Stonehenge on a green bouncy platform. Best of all, this cultural event is free.

In a short video about Sacrilege, Deller says he likes looking at history in serious, intense and playful ways. This work is both playful and perhaps a bit controversial. ‘Some people would be very annoyed by it, which is why I called it Sacrilege. Might as well get the criticism in first,’ the artist explains.

I love this kind of art. Of course I enjoy pensively looking at paintings and pretending I have a clue what the artist intended (I always have to read the caption), but this is far more fun. The kids really enjoyed bouncing around the fake stones, too. You get 10 minutes per session and it’s enough. The combination of a rare heatwave and a mild hangover made me feel like an old penny flying loose in someone’s handbag.

Chatterbox

The Chatterbox in one of her more pensive moments. ‘We went to see art today,’ she said afterwards.

All three of us walk off the bouncy Stonehenge feeling winded, thirsty and with a mild degree of heat stroke. I also had that fleeting parental feeling which I find hard to identify because it’s rare. I think it’s what you’d call a sense of wellbeing or maybe it’s satisfaction.

We managed to combine something fun, cultural, educational and free – and I didn’t lose my sanity in the process. The long walk home – over half an hour with a moaning, tired child – did nearly tip me over the edge, but I held it together.

My kids still don’t have a clue what Stonehenge is – and will probably forever associate it with rubber – but that’s just a minor matter.

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Dum Dum Girls

Dee Dee

The lead singer of the Dum Dum girls in trademark tights and black clothing

Wednesday night – I’m standing outside the Belly Up Tavern in wealthy Solana Beach, a coastal town with a thriving community, to the north of San Diego.

There are four of us – all girls, most of us wearing red lipstick and jean jackets – and we’re waiting to hear the Dum Dum girls, a group of four girls who also tend to wear red lipstick and black clothes with fishnets.

Killing time in front of the Belly Up. I am crushed to discover the band comes on late

I don’t know much about the Dum Dum girls. I played a couple of songs on YouTube before the gig tonight, and I heard a selection of songs in the car on the way to the venue. What I do know is that they’re all attractive and have similar-looking haircuts with a heavy fringe. I am here mostly because I am desperate for a night out, particularly one that takes me outside my 5 -mile comfort zone around my mother’s house.

Because I woke up this morning feeling like a 60-year-old who ran a marathon in her sleep (bad night), I am actually hoping this Big Night Out doesn’t drag on past 11ish. But this hope is dashed when we’re told by the person at the ticket booth that the headliners we are here to see won’t be on until about 11pm. I gather this is not unusual for the Belly Up. I’m wondering how I will make it to 11 without collapsing into a heap on the floor with red lipstick smeared down my chin. With beer, of course.

An hour and a half later, my friends and I are standing at the front of the stage. We don’t have to fight our way there – the venue feels half empty and I’m reassured that there are some people who definitely look older than I do. I’ve got to the point in my life where I feel like I’ve got a sign on my forehead telling people that I’m nearly 40 and should be at home sipping a glass of red wine and watching Dancing with the Stars with my mother.

The main act

Before the band comes on, I’m kind of afraid the main act might be hijacked by a couple near the front – they are engaging in the most astonishing PDA (public displays of affection) I have ever seen. I try to stand as far away as possible; the last thing I want to do is inadvertently brush up against them. I’m silently wishing someone will tell them to leave, but it doesn’t happen. So for the remainder of the show I know that they are there, to my right, looking a bit like they are taking part in some sort of tribal dance ritual that includes writhing and hip gyrations.

Just as I think I’m getting queasy, Dee Dee (the lead singer) takes to the stage and distracts me. Her once-dark hair is now platinum blond and she looks tiny and frail but with a strong, clear voice.

I’ve never stood so close to a band before and it lends them some vulnerability. I can see the messy tangle of wires on the floor, the drinks at their feet – bottles of water and what appears to be whiskey – and a small tear in Dee Dee’s black tights.

I’m not sure how to categorize the band. They are a bit melodic, occasionally punky, and remind me of a rockier Mazzy Star. I recognize one of their latest hits, Bedroom Eyes, written during the fog of jet lag.

Dee Dee

The lead singer of the Dum Dum Girls says that she admires Chrissie Hynde

After reading a bio on the band, I learn that Dee Dee writes all, or most, of the songs. She is a talented singer-songwriter who takes her inspiration from very personal and painful memories. Most of the songs on her previous EP, He Gets Me High, were about the tragic death of her mother from cancer. She also unsparingly talks about her separation from her husband, also a singer, because of the constant touring.

The show ends with Coming Down, an epic ballad from the latest album (Only in Dreams) that deals with the grief of death. It’s strange to watch this small girl belt out these incredibly personal lyrics, but it gives the Dum Dum girls some emotional credibility. I feel a bit like a voyeur, though. I wish I knew their songs a bit better and didn’t feel like I was faking it.

For those in the UK, Dee Dee (minus the band) will perform at Hotel Street on Charing Cross Road on June 8. You can watch her for a ridiculous 3 pounds.

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Legoland over spring break

Legoland Las Vegas exhibit

Las Vegas without the gambling

Spring break stretches ahead of me like the Grand Canyon – staggeringly huge and slightly scary. I don’t remember ever doing anything particularly memorable for my spring breaks as a child, but I feel somewhat obligated to do something special for the Chatterbox, who is only five. Not doing this puts me in the realm of the Bad Parent – or so I have told myself.

I don’t know who first utters the word ‘Legoland’ but once it is floating through the air, the Chatterbox grabs hold of it and never lets go. For several days she keeps mentioning Legoland and telling any child who comes within five feet that she is going. At this point I am willing to empty our bank accounts so that she can go, if that’s what it takes. I suspect Legoland, and other theme parks of its ilk, know they have parents over the barrel and maximize this knowledge to their advantage.

It costs $87 per person to visit Legoland California on a combined ticket. Children are something like $65. We get the Chatterbox in ‘free’ with a special deal at Denny’s. We have to eat at the diner to get the coupon, which costs us $35 for two adults and one child. The night before the big outing we read the fine print and find out that we have to buy the more expensive combined ticket (an extra $15 per adult) to get our child in with the deal. I’ve never been good at mathematics, but I’d estimate that we saved ourselves absolutely nothing. The whole thing smells of a scam for people who don’t know better. I suspect we didn’t even need the coupon, just the right URL to enter online.

But we put these thoughts behind us and brace ourselves for the day ahead. It’s going to be fun, fun, fun, I tell myself. If I repeat it enough times I might actually start to believe this. Before we’ve even stepped one foot inside the park, we’ve had to fork over $12 for the parking. Legoland may be for children, but these prices are totally grown up.

San Francisco

The streets of San Francisco

Our first stop is a tour of small cities put together with a bewildering number of Legos. We go through Las Vegas, see New York skyscrapers and the Statue of Liberty; we sail past the Sydney Opera House on a cruise boat and walk past San Francisco’s downtown. Washington D.C. is particularly impressive – the White House stands out against a green lawn, tall and bright. Some of the exhibits, however, are looking a bit worse for wear, especially the ones on water. Sailboats look dirty and tipsy, leaning heavily to one side. The New Orleans exhibit is getting remodeled, and I suspect it hasn’t aged well.

This tour, however, does not capture my daughter’s interest for long. She is impatient to get on a ride. Unlike Disneyland, I don’t know what kind of rides Legoland has to offer and it’s not entirely clear from the visitor’s map either. We strike out in a random direction and stumble across a dragon ride with a line that doesn’t look horribly intimidating. It’s a hit.

Lunch is not. We walk around the park looking for something that won’t cost us a fortune and settle on a tacky restaurant with a medieval theme. It’s expensive and not great value, but we kind of expected this. After lunch there are more rides – we wait about an hour for a rollercoaster that is just on the wrong side of scary for a five-year-old. We also tour an exhibit inspired by Star Wars and pose next to Darth Vadar. This, mercifully, is free.

We are tired and it’s getting cold, but the three of us drag ourselves to Legoland’s new water park. We paid an extra $15 and we are going to get every penny’s worth, even if we freeze to death. The English Husband, who is well used to a stiff breeze, strips off and drags the Chatterbox to some water rides. I take shelter on a chair and wrap a small towel around me. I am still cold. The water park looks great for a summer’s day, but right now I just want to get in the car. I’ll even take refuge in the Volvo car made out of Legos if I could get the door open.

Volvo Lego car

Not our car, but I wish it was

On the way home I think about whether or not the experience is worth it. It’s all a matter of perspective. As an adult, I could really live without ever going to Legoland again. Sure, the Lego sculptures are interesting for about half an hour, but it’s hardly worth the hefty price tag you pay as a family. And while Disneyland is something that adults and children can enjoy, this park doesn’t quite have the ‘wow’ factor.

The next day I take the Chatterbox to the swings behind our house. A little boy sits down at a swing next to her and she tells him about her trip to Legoland. I hear her chatting about how cool it was and what she did. Maybe this experience is something she will remember for a long time. At that moment it’s worth the money. Next time – if there ever is a next time – I think I will skip Denny’s.

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Brunch: Snooze AM

Snooze frontageI have missed brunch during my many years in London. We had a great little place called Banners, near our flat, where we would sometimes go at the weekends. It was one of the few places that served anything like brunch.

More common in the UK is lunch. Over the weekends this generally means eating anywhere between 1 and 3pm, often at a pub with friends. It’s usually a heavyish meal that involves meat or fish and some sort of vegetable. Lunch has come a long way in many pubs – and the standard of the food has got much better – but brunch still remains a mystery to many Brits, who have yet to experience the pleasure of an imaginative breakfast/lunch hybrid, accompanied by a mimosa or bloody Mary.

Snooze AM excels at this concept (sort of). I’m not sure what PR machine is behind the popularity of Snooze AM, but they are hardly napping. I’d say they’ve been in overdrive since its opening in November last year, because news of this little brunch place in Hillcrest has spread faster than the news of Whitney Houston’s death. To go there at the weekend is to exercise Patience with a capital ‘P’. You wait and wait and then wait some more. You wait so long that you lose the will to eat.

I’ve been there twice and it’s a bit like being at a nightclub – there’s a mob of people out front, while a trendy young person holding a tablet takes your name and tells you how long you might need to wait. I waited 45 minutes on the first visit (arrival time 12pm), and nearly an hour on the second (arrival time 10am). They tout this as a good place for kids, but I don’t know what child will want to wait that long. Parents would need to ply their offspring with an endless supply of snacks to keep them from destroying the place and/or screaming bloody murder – and this kind of defeats the purpose of going out to eat.Snooze booths

All this waiting gives you ample time to inspect the surroundings. Snooze has the feel of an industrial warehouse crossed with a 50s diner and a Jetsons cartoon, with design accents reminiscent of space exploration. There are booths in primary colors, contemporary lighting, a big television behind the bar and extremely high ceilings. The front of the restaurant is made up entirely of glass; this gives the space an airy, modern touch that invites you to feel part of the urban landscape beyond.

Is it worth the wait? I’ll ask you this, is any breakfast item worth over an hour of your time? Although the menu offers some interesting items such as Sweet Potato Pancakes (their signature pancake) and Vanilla Almond Oatmeal Brulee, it’s not exactly groundbreaking stuff. On my second visit I get the huevos rancheros. I regret it almost as soon as it gets to the table. The portion is huge and somewhat off-putting. I see congealed cheese gathered near the edge of my plate, and I wish silently that I’d ordered it without the cheese. I can tell I’ll be dragging myself out of the restaurant feeling as heavy as an elephant.

I preferred the choice on my first visit: a variation on eggs Benedict with ‘a ragout of tomatoes, white beans, kale and squash’, served with a spicy sauce. It was delicious and accompanied by some amazing hash browns. There are five different Benedict options for those who like this dish.

My dining companion goes for a lighter option – eggs, toast and hash browns. It looks good, but you could probably find a decent version of this just about anywhere. Our coffee is nothing special, either, and I’m glancing at my watch too often, knowing that I’ll need to run outside and move the car that is parked at a meter. This adds a layer of stress to my visit which I could really do without. Astonishingly, we’ve been in Hillcrest for nearly two hours and I’ve barely had time to gobble my food.

Huevos rancheros

Come hungry and bring quarters for the parking

There are also some teething problems, with servers bringing the food to the wrong tables and forgetting things we’ve asked for. When I enquire about our food, after waiting more than half an hour, I get a very pleasant but vague reply, ‘We are running a little behind.’

I suggest you go to Snooze during the week, during a blizzard (which will never happen in southern California), obscenely early (they open at 7am at the weekends and close at 2.30pm) or wait for the hype to die down.

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Amateur dramatics

program coverSome years ago I saw Kevin Spacey in a theatre production in London. The play was called The Iceman Cometh. He was riveting for three hours. An actor like him doesn’t just act, he embodies the role. If a play is done well, you will lose the self-consciousness that comes with watching something staged.

But these days the closest I get to good acting is my two-year-old, who swears up and down that her older sister is to blame for everything, even when caught red-handed. She lies through her teeth and looks at me with her chocolate-brown eyes, framed by a curtain of long, dark lashes; she never looks away. It’s almost as if she believes her own lies. Almost.

I miss the theatre, though, and have thought about it often. It’s just one of the many things I used to do, way back before children, which I hardly ever do now. When there was a new staging of A Raisin in the Sun recently, I wanted to go – but I couldn’t think of anyone who would go with me. I kept telling myself I would buy tickets, but I never did.

Off to the theatre we go!

Just as I thought I’d have to make do with reality tv or my child’s manipulation for entertainment, I finally get my chance to relive my theatre-going days. The Chatterbox is invited to a production of Tom Sawyer with local children playing the roles. Her ballet friend is cast as a townsfolk and we thought we’d go along to lend her moral support.

The production starts at 7pm, which I feel is already bordering on the witching hour for small children. And then there’s the small matter of what the play is about – Tom Sawyer’s adventures with Huckleberry Finn. It’s hardly reading material for a five-year-old. Couldn’t they have picked something a tad more child-friendly, like Goldilocks and the Three Bears? But I cast these doubts aside.

The theatre is in a one-story building with a cavernous interior. I very much doubt it was purpose-built for plays. My guess is that it was once an auditorium or a church. The volunteers, who run the youth theatre group, have done their best to spruce up what would otherwise be a plain room with high ceilings and old, threadbare carpet.

We take our seats and I try my best to explain, in about five seconds, who Tom Sawyer is. The Chatterbox is hardly listening – all she wants to do is spot her friend on stage. After a nervy beginning, the kids start to relax a little. I’m distracted by small microphones they have taped to their face. Luckily, the 14-year-old playing Tom Sawyer is actually pretty good. Unlike some of the other actors, he doesn’t muffle his speech or deliver lines woodenly. He seems totally at ease with the ambitious role, which is quite a feat for a child who’s barely in high school.

I think I’ll go to sleep

The Chatterbox, who is sitting on me so that she can see better, starts to fidget after about 20 minutes. I glance at my watch and realize that this show is not going to be over after an hour as I’d hoped. Just before the interval, the Chatterbox whispers to me, ‘Is it almost over?’ Coincidentally, the lights go up. I have to explain patiently that we are only halfway through.

Five minutes into the second half of the play, my daughter announces in a too-loud voice, ‘I think I will just lie back and go to sleep.’ I’m starting to feel the same way. We’re getting to some of the more difficult material – Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn have just witnessed a murder in a graveyard. Injun Joe, the perpetrator, blames the murder on a hapless local who doesn’t remember committing the crime but accepts his punishment, which is death by hanging.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph – my acting moment

My mind is wandering. I remember being cast as the lead angel in a play about the birth of baby Jesus when I was not much older than the Chatterbox is now. Our drama teacher, Mr Rush, believed that he was either destined for greater things or that we were. Neither was true. Despite endless rehearsals in which Mr Rush screamed at us like an army sergeant leading a platoon into war, I forget how to exit the stage and end up jumping off the front of the stage in panic. Everyone follows me, including Mary, Joseph and a menagerie of animals. Mr Rush had an apoplectic fit, and I was never again given a role with any responsibility for the rest of my elementary school years.

Tom Sawyer wraps up just before 9pm. These kids, I can tell, worked damn hard and they deserve the applause from the small crowd. I gather our things and run for the door. In the car I ask the Chatterbox what she thought of it. ‘I dunno,’ is her reply. I explain how Tom Sawyer is a mischievous, misunderstood boy who does a good thing at the end – he saves someone’s life by being brave and telling the truth. I sense I’m not getting through. I change tack.  ‘He’s a bit like the Raging Bull,’ I say. ‘A bit naughty sometimes, but a good person.’ She seems to accept this. I don’t explain that, unlike Tom Sawyer, the Bull has not yet learned the value of telling the truth.

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