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Thou Art Alive: Not Liking Shakespeare

Thou Art Alive: Not Liking Shakespeare

Andrew didn’t like Shakespeare.

“Well,” he said, “when I say I don’t like Shakespeare, I don’t mean I don’t like Shakespeare, I mean I wish I did like Shakespeare. I just can’t get on with him. All that thee-ing and thou-ing. Men in tights. Complicated words.”

It sounded to me like Andrew had never met Shakespeare. I invited him to come over. We could hang out. Have a chat with the man himself. Andrew was naturally amused and not at all sceptical. He thought I had lost my mind, but he said he’d put the paramedics on speed-dial and be over that afternoon. I cracked the lid on a new bottle of single malt while Will and I looked out some of his favourite scenes involving two actors.

Andrew arrived. Sadly, I had to tell him, Shakespeare had been called away. Andrew rolled his eyes.

“Are you persisting with this daft idea of Shakespeare still being alive?”

Will just stepped out, I insisted. He was sorry not to meet you. But he left us a couple of pieces to try. They’re marvelous. Look. The ink’s barely dry on this one. Oh and Will said he was sorry to hear you had a problem with him. He hoped these scenes might change your mind. (Actually the pages weren’t written in ink but poor Will hasn’t got his head round our new technology. I mean he still thinks a tablet is a little personal writing slate, about the size of a roof-tile, with a layer of wax on it that you write on with a bone stylus… which in a way is all it is. Plus ça change…etc.) I had been trying to tell Will how easy it is nowadays to access his plays on a tablet and how we didn’t have to print reams and reams of paper to give all the actors a copy of the script. But Will said they didn’t do that in his day anyway so the idea wasn’t that new.

“So how did Shakespeare’s actors get their scripts?” asked Andrew. I said we’d get to that. I wanted him to know how much Will had been looking forward to hearing his Juliet.

“I’m a forty year old man!” Andrew protested.

I know. Juliet plays really well when a forty year old man does it. Mind you what Will’s really excited about is that women are playing his male roles more and more. Of course what he’s most looking forward to is the day completely random and gender-blind casting really takes off. He loves that it doesn’t have to be all men and boys, like it was in his time. Everybody can play anybody. He loved my Hamlet and as for Meg’s Polonius and Sheila’s Prince Arthur, not to mention Danielle’s Prospero. He said it was thrilling. I asked him what he thought about Dr.Who being played by a woman but he said that was probably one of those later collaborative concoctions so he couldn’t possibly comment. But then he said ‘But what about Michelle’s Terry’s Henry V!’ Will’s so delighted about The Globe, by the way. I told him about the struggle Sam Wannamaker had had getting it built. Will sympathised. He knows all about rebuilding old wooden theatres. ‘They’ve built it facing the wrong way round mind you … but Michelle Terry, eh? An actor as the director! That’s more like it.’ Will wonders if she’ll be writing plays too, because that’s what he did, so if they really want to be authentic … but anyway, Andrew, to get back to why we’re here, it was Richard’s Juliet that Will particularly enjoyed and Richard’s a lot older than you, so a forty year old man playing a timeless young female romantic lead is nothing. I suggested we should read the scenes Shakespeare had left for us and definitely do the balcony scene. It’s a favourite of Will’s. He said it brought a tear to his eye when he was writing it, but he fills up every time he hears it.

“I haven’t prepared the part of Juliet!” protested Andrew.

That’s OK. We’re just going to cold read.

“I’m hopeless at that!” Andrew squealed. “I have to prepare my lines for ages in advance.”

I tried to reassure him we were just having a look at some scenes. It wasn’t an audition. It wasn’t an exam. It was just a bit of fun to show him how the website worked. If he got something wrong that was OK. But anyway, I said, I know you can cold read. I’ve heard you before.

“Ah, but that wasn’t Shakespeare.”

I think you might be pleasantly surprised how clear and simple Shakespeare’s language can be. Can we just try?

“OK. So long as it’s not a test and you won’t laugh if I make a mess of it.”

I promise. Besides, we won’t look at Juliet first.

“Oh good. That would be a stretch.”

We’ll look at Audrey in As You Like It.”

“Who?” Andrew was not familiar with Audrey, or the play.

“I don’t know anything about As You Like It!”

“Look, you don’t have to be some sort of expert to read Shakespeare you know. You don’t have to have a PhD to understand him.”

“Don’t you? I always feel as if I don’t know enough about it all, if I’m honest.”

Audrey would be a great part for you, Andrew, I said. And you’d be a great Feste, or a Touchstone, or Lear’s Fool, or what about Cordelia, or Sir Andrew Agucheek?

I had asked Andrew to bring along a laptop or a tablet or a smartphone for our reading. Not knowing why, or thinking he had misheard me, he had arrived with a great heavy tome of the Complete Works of Shakespeare, a handful of Penguin editions of Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, and The Tempest, and an old battered copy of a script of Measure for Measure he had hung on to since drama college. Will would have been flattered to see this person who claimed not to like him having all these examples of his work on his bookshelves. But we don’t need all those, I said. That’s so last century. I switched on my iPad, fired up my smart phone and turned on a laptop for good measure. This is the latest thing. Mind you, I added, here’s the part I want you to look at first, handing him a little wooden contraption I had made for him; a neat pair of wooden sticks with a scroll of paper wrapped around it.

“What’s this?” asked Andrew.

Audrey's role 1o-

That’s your “role,” I said. It has your lines and your cues written on it. You can turn the rods and see each line in turn.


It’s a lo-tech version of what we can do online today. In some ways it’s superior because you can read it in daylight and it won’t run out of power but then again it doesn’t let you switch parts at the click of a mouse and do all sorts of other amazing things and it doesn’t contain the entire canon of Shakespeare’s works or weigh as much as that doorstop of a thing you brought. I mean a website weighs as much, effectively, as your smartphone does. We called up and clicked on As You Like It. It’s easy to find the part you want. We chose the parts and cues format for Audrey  in Act 3, Scene 3 [Click on the following link to see Audrey’s part in ‘Parts and Cues ]. I said I would read the other parts by choosing the full script format. That way I could read Touchstone and Jaques. We started the scene, Andrew tackling that fetchingly raw creature of womanhood, Audrey. All he had to do was wait for his cue (written in red) listening out for them as I spoke the other lines. [And here’s a link to Audrey’s other main scene, Act Five Scene 1, again in Parts and Cues].

“That was easy,” said Andrew. “What a great character. I love her.”

How did you like only having her lines and cues and not the whole play in your hands?

“It was a bit weird. But not difficult. I mean I didn’t know when the cue was going to come. And if you did that in a performance how would you know where to stand? What if you didn’t hear your cue? How would you know who was going to say it? What if you were looking at the wrong person…”

Andrew’s questions came flooding out. But his next question was the one I was waiting for. “Can we do another?”

We read the Balcony Scene from Romeo and Juliet. [Here’s a link to the Balcony Scene] Twice. The first time, I read Juliet and he read Romeo. Then we swapped roles and read the scene again just to prove how different it was with different actors and yet satisfyingly the same. Andrew loved playing Juliet, finding her, seeing her from the inside as it were, a much more savvy creature than he had thought. We turned to her solo scene where she takes the poison. I had shivers running down my spine as Andrew read, and we discussed how well the verse works and why.  It’s the diving in and doing it that matters most; not being intimidated by the words on the page but getting them off it, reading them aloud, finding how they feel and sound. Andrew was encouraged by how easy it was to access a role and see it through a cue script, instead of reading all the other lines as well as your own.

“It really makes you listen!” he exclaimed.

To cut a long story short, Andrew and I read for two hours from plays he had never seen before, King John being a particular hit. He left in a buoyant mood, confident that Shakespeare wasn’t so hard; just a little misunderstood. Andrew texted me later that evening.  “Eliza, thanks so much for today. Could we do another few hours next week? Maybe a few more scenes. I’d like to. xx”


Shakespeare, whisky glass in hand, read Andrew’s text over my shoulder. It’s a pity you missed Andrew’s Juliet today, I told him, but you were with us in spirit, as I topped up his tumbler.

‘And you say you can read all my texts on that wee tiny thing?’ said Will, his voice slightly slurred, his breath nicely malty.

Will, we look you up on Wikipedia, watch videos of your plays, interviews about you, buy and sell books about you…

‘They set up this world wide web thing just for me?’

It’s not all about you. I mean you’re a genius and all that but it’s not all about you. Anyway what were you working on today?

‘I don’t work,’ said Will. ‘I don’t have to. My plays are what keep me going.’

It is a shame you died when you did, I said, wistfully.

‘Because I might have written more plays?’

You’re so popular. You made another friend today. Andrew will be back, with bells on.

‘Ah yes. It takes a real star for the clown roles.’

Andrew thinks I think you’re actually alive, Will. Imagine if you were. Just think of the royalties. Will? His chair was empty as was his glass on the table. There was no bottle. Andrew and I had had tea. Fancy that.


You can find scenes for two here: Playreadings for 2 players

You can see another post like this at: Playreading Report: Professional Actors playreading session, May 11th 2017

Thou Art Alive: What’s My Through Line?

Thou Art Alive: What’s My Through Line?

It was my first experience of playing Shakespeare using parts and cues. As I got up to read I asked ‘what’s my character’s through line?’ It was a gift to the workshop leader. ‘Aha! ‘ said he. ‘That’s one of the main differences you’re about to experience.’


I was perplexed. I was a young student of modern theatre. The ability to sustain a character through a whole play was something I and my classmates were judged on constantly. I had been told, had had it drummed into me, that when working on a role I should look for my character’s ‘through line.’ [1]  It was the mark of a good performance. But ‘Aha! ‘ had said the workshop leader. This would have to change.


If only for the duration of this workshop, if I wanted to learn something new – a contradiction in itself given the cue-script technique is so old – a paradigm shift was coming for me. It wasn’t about not sustaining the characteristics of a role recognisably and consistently throughout the piece so much as not

A cue script scroll


deciding in advance too strictly just what those things were, or what the director wanted them to be. The text was the guide. The text was the director. But oh what alchemy was at work in this too? It wasn’t going to be easy. It was going to be exhilarating. Playing with the big kids now. Working with the method for which Shakespeare wrote? What wasn’t to like? Parts and cues. This was going to challenge everything I knew, or thought I knew, about acting. The ‘through line’ thing? A modern convention. More likely to restrict or diminish my grasp of the text’s intentions than guide my performance of it. OK. My confidence wobbled at first. But then I could feel the energy of the text ringing through the whole company around me. The power of it all seized us; the surprise, the quickfire moments of reaction, and the sheer pleasure of discovering oneself in character without weeks of trial and analysis. Just doing it. Right there and then. The roles we were playing took us soaring and diving through the text on wings of fire. It felt at first, as anything new does, like being taken along for the ride but then – then — something magic happened. We found gold.


Of course working this way is not the only way to approach a Shakespeare play. Of course not. And it’s understandable that after 400 years of constant repetition we may fear over familiarity will have a stifling effect on creativity and want to ring the changes by setting a play in a different period or place. We may choose to emphasize a single theme, or style, or mood for a production and make a premeditated decision about such things before a show is designed or cast. Such visions will exert their own influences upon how the characters will have to be played and how the text will have to be edited. I am not saying that’s wrong. But being wedded to a through line of a character, in any stripe of production, can also be restrictive — especially with a text that has other ideas — and when you adopt the cue script approach those ideas come at you thick and fast. You’d better be ready to jump on or dive out the way. Agility is required.


The immediacy one feels and the flexibility one must cultivate when working with cue-scripts has to be experienced, however. At the end of the day there’s nothing like doing it yourself to put a theory to the test. You can do that right here of course. On Click on a play. Click on a character. Click on ‘show parts and cues.’ (At our playreading of Macbeth on Sunday I toggled back and forth between my cue script and highlit text, it’s so easy to switch from one format to the other, even scene by scene.)


As a slight digression, shall I tell you something I only found out about the character of Lady Macbeth  through using her cue script? It was something she herself doesn’t know — until the electric moment that she finds it out, that is. It was such a surprise. No I won’t tell. You probably already know. But if you don’t, I’ll spoil it if I tell it. The point of mentioning it, however, was the realisation that Shakespeare intended Lady M to be surprised. Having no advance warning and not seeing the other actor’s lines until I heard them being spoken, I was (therefore so was she) suddenly alarmed by this detail. (I had never noticed it before yet it’s clearly there in the text and what an effect it had!) But don’t take my word for it. You might disagree. Let’s have that discussion. If you want to read not only about cue scripts and how to use them but also some amazing discoveries they can reveal, my new book: ‘Shakespeare Thou Art Alive – Cue Scripts and Open Secrets’ is out this month. It’s a short book for readers who may want to make discoveries for themselves about what’s waiting in the text for their characters to reveal.


[See more like this here:  Shakespeare Thou Art Alive – Cue Scripts and Open Secrets


Some things are best understood when put into practice. Go on. Do it yourself. You may never look back.


[1] Playing a character  and sustaining its characteristics recognisably and consistently throughout the entire piece.


Drowning in Metaphor

Drowning in Metaphor

The river water was clear, clean and deep, the weather hot. Aberdeenshire was a gentle place that summer, the countryside of Monymusk, lush and green. I was staying with friends, of friends. They owned this stretch of river. The kids all learned to swim here in its pools and runs with its stretches of stillness and brown peaty deeps. Lazing along at the end of the paddock, it seemed a docile family pet. I slipped in and thought I might practise my only stroke. Wow! My speed had improved!

I didn’t know I was in trouble till I heard the shouting, the children running along the bank waving their arms. I turned in the water, seeing how far I had come. It had nothing to do with my swimming.

Metaphorically, socially and literally I was in over my head. “She’s never swum in a river before.” No indeed but it was more perilous than that because I had learned in a municipal pool with sea water pumped straight from the Firth of Forth. Fresh water, to my horror was proving a different beast.

With the bend approaching and deep water I had to find a foothold. Somehow I did and beached myself gasping on a shingle bank. Exhausted but safe I was still out of my depth, however, never having swum in a family owned river. Docile pet indeed.

This morning, in the shower, the metaphorical truth of that day came to me. Water. And the forces that work upon it to support, teach or sweep us away. Gravity pulls us down. Bouancy holds us up. Whether we descend or rise in water is a balance of skill when immersed and wisdom to get into it, or not, in the first place. But then we too are — what percentage? — water. Water needs respect but how much more the forces that work upon it? And while we may learn to swim in all waters, so are we a mix of salt and fresh and tides and currents, deeps and eddies too.

You are a Force of Nature!

You are a Force of Nature!

You wouldn’t argue with a force of nature, would you?  You couldn’t argue an avalanche into a change of course or cajole a bolt of lightning not to strike. You couldn’t, by argument, stop the Aurora Borealis doing its thing. Things of that kind happen and, if you’re lucky, they roll right through. If you’re really lucky, you watch; you stand and stare. But what about you? What are you doing with the forces within you? You are a force of nature, are you not?

The force within, through and around you, can’t be argued with. It is perfect. It may not be responding the way you want it to but that force will have the last word in any confrontation you start. So what’s the answer? What’s the question?

“Why is everything such a struggle?”

Whatever way your energies are driving you, that’s where you’re heading. If you want to be grabbing that helm any time soon, you’ll need to be getting in touch with what’s grabbing you. And if what’s grabbing you is pulling in the opposite direction, well … put it this way, the helm is only responding to what the heart and mind are telling it.  Heart and Mind. Two forces that need to pull together.

Get in agreement with yourself. You are a force of nature. You wouldn’t argue with that, would you?

I Screech to a Halt at Lairg

I Screech to a Halt at Lairg

I screech to a halt at Lairg because I’ve been starting to think about lunch or at the very least a tea break on my journey from Lochinver to Thurso and this new-build, glass and wood, loch-side café looks, in this corner of Scotland, like it might have Wifi. It doesn’t. The girl behind the counter says the restaurant up the road has. But the food here is better though–-and somehow I don’t think ‘well she would say that wouldn’t she?’ –-no, I take her word and stay. And she’s right. The Victoria sponge comes with one perfect strawberry on the side and a cake fork to slice the sponge off into mouthfuls of such perfection it’s demolished before I’ve even tasted the tea. I’m rewarded for my trust. But there’s more such sustenance to come.

A bookshelf in the corner of the café beckons and, as there’s no Wifi, I take look for something to leaf through with my tea. There are also two tables and a sofa occupied by a gaggle of comfortably blethering teenagers. Must be on a school or a club trip I suppose as I edge past to get at the bookshelf and, as I do, a young voice says, “Hello.” I turn. A young lad with thick and shiny black hair answers my replied “Hello to you,” with a smile and another simple, “Hello.”

“So who are all of you?” I ask.

“Pals,” he says.

“I know,” I say, “but what’s the occasion? Why are you all here, in a group?”

“That’s what we are. A group. Friends.”

“Not an organised thing?” I ask.

“Not particularly,” he says. “Well …  it’s her,” pointing to one of the girls at another table. “Birthday. On Tuesday, anyway. So we’re kind of doing a birthday thing for her but we’re also just hanging out.”

I tell him I’m surprised at being greeted so openly by such a group. “You’re so nice to say hello,” I say in an elderly sort of way.

“We’re very nice,” says one of the girls.

“We’re the nicest people in Sutherland,” offers another. Something in what I say suggests I take them for being 15 or 16.

“We’re mainly thirteen year olds,” says one boy. “Twelve and thirteen year olds,” says another and points to the birthday girl who’s going shortly to be the one that leads them into being fourteen, starting on Tuesday. It’s something this group have gathered to help her to do and when it’s each their turn, they’ll accompany one another then too, I suppose. “Oh yes!”

Later, as I pour myself a second cup of tea, I realise they have all, quietly… gone. I didn’t see them leave though I’d expected I would and would have said goodbye. There was a dozen of them but they must have all tiptoed.

These are the moments that explain why this part of the world feels so secure, benign, easy.

The café is filled with the murmurings of friendly conversation. People en route. A grandmother holds a skein of stretchy cheese up with her fork while an eleven year old enjoys the experience of his toastie and coke, winding the lengthening drooping string into his mouth, his grandmother’s hand never getting closer, the cheese never breaking.

I take a picture of my empty cup and plate.

Onward. I scrape my chair and hover by the counter as I wait to pay. A voice behind me orders Victoria Sponge. I smile a full-up smile at the rosy cheeked man and his wife ordering tea as if it was prohibition gin – such decadence.

I’m glad there was no Wifi. Oh! But I find I do have a strong signal on my mobile phone, a novelty after a week of radio silence up at Glencanisp Lodge, Lochinver.

Half an hour down the road I screech to a halt once again, a poem forming half-baked in my brain. This is the effect of spending a week amongst writers on a retreat dedicated to relaxation, good food and time. The girl who served me the cake and invited me not to go to the restaurant for the Wifi (I must write about what wifi means in Scots, but I digress) is occupying my thoughts. I grab my notebook. If I only scribble the first verse, that’ll be better than doing what I usually do which is to let these things form like soap bubbles and we know what happens to soap bubbles when we let them drift away on the wind.


Girl from the north lands
We meet at every turn
Though where I never know
Or when

Her hair is red or black or brown,

she wears it loose, or up, or down

or short. Ah no it’s fair and shines in sun.

She brought me tea today and cake
She spoke and smiled
She climbed a stair
She showed me in

Girl from the home lands
Here and where I turn
See in the glass

Where I belong

Just Home from Singing a Sad Song and Getting a Laugh

Just Home from Singing a Sad Song and Getting a Laugh

The red nose helped. The ancient and august cathedral helped. Acoustics sublime. The Steinway helped. The genius playing the Steinway helped — that’s you, Will. (Pickvance to any as yet uninitiated.) The genius who composed the song helped (that’s you, Mr Sondheim.) It helps to be helped by geniuses. Even the man who gave me his parking place outside the cathedral, and his ticket with 50 minutes left on it, helped. (It was a forty five minute concert).

This all started last year. In my car. Freewheeling round a bend. A thought. On a rare respite break from my caring role at home. Running away from responsibility. Repossession of self. You become invisible when your life revolves around the duties of caring for someone who has lost their hold on the details of life. And thus, with the details, goes your identity, like so many ball-bearings disappearing under a sofa. I had three days to find them and, if you’ll forgive the mixed metaphors, keep them in a jar with holes in the lid. I did. Some of them hatch, every now and again. This time, one of them caught a thermal into the vaulted ceilings of St Giles Cathedral.

On my three day break, (it was yoga, it was sleep, it was exquisite raw food, it was in a lodge where Beatrix Potter first met Peter Rabbit, so we were told) we were asked if we’d had had, during our stay, any moments of bliss. I hadn’t. But I went for a last walk. The river Tay was sliding by, black and fat and deceptively fast. I had tried to keep pace with it without breaking into a run. It beat me easily. The air was darkening. I longed to sit by the water but visions of me in my purple anorak waving unseen as I boiled along, drowning, stopped me; the rocks were damp and the banks steep. But the, two steps along the bank, here in the long grass was a chair, left precisely where my legs needed it to be. I sat and pointed my knees at the river at the self same moment as my bliss came along. The splash and the silver flanks of a salmon breaking the water, appeared exactly in my line of sight.

This is right, the moment told me. This is now. This is where you are supposed to be.

It did not do it while my back was turned. It did not do it three seconds earlier. It did not do it three seconds later. It did it just and only once, right then.

With enough light left to walk the length of the garden back to the house, I shared my bliss with my new found friends, knowing they would get the significance, without knowing what the significance actually was, other than yes, this is it, whatever it is.

And in the car, on my way home, the thought returned as I freewheeled again. Such thoughts are not conscious or rational. They come when you try least to have them. The trick is to add action to thought and wait for an equal and opposite response. It became an email, a wish, sent on a whim; sent to someone who perhaps, just perhaps, could make it a reality.

I had been awake all night with mum. Hallucinations are a symptom of Alzheimers but complicated when fever occurs; reality seems less convincing than the fantasy being acted out. But I had an appointment with opportunity at noon. There was something as yet intangible waiting to be conjured that day; a single ball bearing to retrieve from under that sofa. I handed my wired mother over to a team of carers and headed out for an hour, ashen with tiredness, to sit in the audience of Will’s weekly concert and try to imagine us bringing my thought to life the following week. The thought was of a song that works well half-spoken rather than sung. But in a stone cathedral the spoken word is a thready thing. These churches were built for music. How hampered must the Reformers have felt speaking the new testament in these places built for a Latin Mass? I couldn’t imagine my performance in there. I couldn’t hear it. Never mind the ecclesiastical setting. I had no fear of that. In fact I applauded the church for allowing this secularity in the first place. But I offered to back out. I couldn’t see how it could be done. Let’s try it anyway, said Will. Let’s do it. Now.

I had no faith that my voice would work after a night without sleep but the audience had gone and only a few tourists were mooching about. Alarmingly one girl sat down to listen. She took it as a sign she was somehow meant to be here in Edinburgh. This was her favourite song. Signs and portents again. We decided, though I was not impressed with all the sounds my vocal cords were making, the acoustic was thrilling. Perhaps next week they would be up to the challenge. But I so wanted to act the song, not sing it. Ah well. What the hell. Ok. We’d meet the following week, an hour or so before. Rehearse. Then do it.

In the intervening days, I walked the streets after dark, learning the words, mother safely tucked up in bed. I wondered about an entrance, a performance style, a character to assume, what to wear, an exit. It’s really important once you’ve got on, to know how to get off. I pictured a bag lady, wandering into the cathedral, stopping with her carrier bags, hearing the music and, unabashed, opening her throat to sing. She’d just appear, sing, and go. An impromptu thing. But no. Would that work? I didn’t know. I went to the joke shop for a little red nose. The sponge ones fit on and come off with ease. The song’s about clowns after all. Two thoughts to play with. Maybe Will would have another. An hour before the concert we’d figure it out.
Such thoughts come when you try least to have them. The trick is to relax and take note of them, while you’re doing something else. I get a lot of chores done that way. I got on with learning the lyrics and letting whatever was going happen, happen.

At these events, these lunchtime concerts, Will asks for requests. Never knowing what will come up, he plays them all, finding his way through Bach into Cole Porter, shifting from Fats Waller into a Chopin nocturne. My cue was Abide with Me followed by a vamp on the opening chords of Send in the Clowns. I would be sitting as if enraptured with the rest of the audience and rise, as if moved by the Spirit to come forward and … well testify I suppose, in song. The idea was to make as if I was not part of the act at all; just a woman with a brass neck and a yen to sing. There would be no bow at the end. I would just go. The audience would possibly be embarrassed if it didn’t work, if I sang badly, if we didn’t manage any rapport on stage, but it didn’t matter. It was an experiment. Or they’d think I was a stray woman in off the street and gone. No harm done.

We chose to drive to the cathedral and it wouldn’t matter if I arrived after the start. All I had to do was drop Will off and go find a parking place. Middle of town. Royal Mile. Round and round I went. I have a naïve trust in things working out, with nail biting moments to spare. I don’t know where this faith comes from.

To digress for a minute, the first time I evoked the Parking Angel, was outside the Royal Festival Hall. After half an hour of driving around, and around, I thought I might as well give it a try. And I kid you not, there, slap bang in the middle of Waterloo Bridge there appeared a space. The parking angel likes beginners. You get the best view of London from Waterloo Bridge, and the best view of the Royal Festival Hall. The parking angel was showing off that day.

But I was running late for St Giles. The concert started at 12:15. It was already 12:15. Will would have started playing. What if I didn’t get to do it at all, because I couldn’t park my car! A passenger in a perfect parking place told me they’d be moving in ten minutes. I’d been twice round the block. I decided to wait it out and prayed. A man was waving to me through his windscreen. He was pulling out. I pulled in. He wound down his window. “I don’t know how long you need but there’s about 50 minutes left on this ticket, if you want it?” The 45min concert had started. “You’re an angel, I said.”

As I entered the cathedral there were fewer tourists than normal. I could hear piano music as I tiptoed in, the audience on this dismal January day a smaller than usual, scattered assembly. I took a seat at the back.

“Abide with Me,” I told myself. “Wait for Abide with Me. Don’t panic till Abide with Me .. and don’t panic even then.” When the basket came round for requests I put in Send in the Clowns, a signal I had arrived, in case my presence in the audience wasn’t clear.

To let you understand, I’m used to dressing rooms, to backstage areas, to warming up, to rehearsing even. To taking a last look in the mirror for lipstick on your teeth, or to check your skirt’s not tucked in your pants. I’ve never sat waiting to go on thinking about getting back to the car. The performance is usually uppermost in my mind, not a parking ticket. The church bells tolled. I know now both Will and I thought that meant it was 12:30. It wasn’t. It was 12:45 and he was playing on, and playing on.

Come on, Will, let’s be having Abide With Me. I’m getting a bit light headed here.

I was wearing no make-up, preferring to look pale and colourless instead of streaked or smudged. I dragged a brush through my hair and checked my nose was in my pocket. Why did I not think to bring a bottle of water? My throat was a desert. I sawed my tongue over my upper teeth. It makes you salivate. But water is better. I gazed longingly at the font.

Will was delighting three ladies in the front row with his version of Highland Cathedral, a pipe tune that fitted the setting well. Their heads were nodding in appreciation. He was warming them up. Other ladies had asked for Three Little Maids from the Mikado. He was playing through them all going from here to there, from Autumn Leaves into Joplin into … abide with me, fast falls the even tide, the darkness deepens, Lord with me abide, when other helpers fall and comforts flee moonlight becomes your sonata and you rise to your feet and walk to a seat nearer the front as the chords morph and change and snatches of Send in the Clowns start to resolve into the opening bars and a place to begin, as I reach the edge of the Steinway and place my handbag on the end of the piano, “isn’t it rich?” And we’re off, Will looking bemused as he’s supposed to, the three ladies in the front row nudging each other, people looking confused and there’s nothing to do but listen, but sing, but play, but deliver the lyrics as if they’ve never been heard before, to get to the last line of the song, to let the acoustics possess the high notes and bring the song to life till the final pause, “There ought to be clowns” the nose is out of the pocket and for a tremulous moment the sad, heart rending lyrics stop. The audience are laughing. Hadn’t thought of that. That’s good. But the moment is passing and the nose is coming off, back in the pocket. “Well … maybe next year” Pick up handbag. Exit. Applause. Hadn’t thought of that either. As I leave, I wonder at what point they realised this was part of the act? Was it long before the appearance of the red nose, or was it only then that they twigged? Because they have twigged. They’re clapping because they’re in on it now. I should acknowledge that. I keep walking. I’ve worn my clickiest shoes so they know the footsteps are not returning. Leaving Will playing, I’m out of the doors and heading back to the car. I’m talking to myself as I go. Will’s playing but I somehow can’t hear. You should have turned back and bowed to him too. Thank-you. Thank-you for this! But we both liked the idea of just walking off. Keep walking. Suddenly I remember. Shit! What’s the time? Did the church bell ring? Is it past one o’clock?

Oh hell, what if it is. That was awesome!

I had worked so hard to be calm, sitting in the audience waiting to step up to the piano, and I am still cool now on the cobbles of the High Street. There is a cold wind blowing. There is traffic. I’ll feed the meter, pop back and slip in through the cathedral shop.

I arrive back at the car. It’s one minute past one. Isn’t it bliss! The ticket expires at one oh three.