A shyness that is criminally vulgar...


There are worse things than having behaved foolishly in public.
There are worse things than these miniature betrayals,
committed or endured or suspected; there are worse things
than not being able to sleep for thinking about them.
It is 5 a.m. All the worse things come stalking in
and stand icily about the bed looking worse and worse
and worse.

From Selected Poems (Oxford University Press)
copyright Fleur Adcock (New Zealand, Britain)

Well, quite.

On Saturday I went to the theatre (it sounds unremarkable enough, doesn’t it? Let me explain further). On Saturday, Mrs Gripes and I went to a studio theatre production of an adaptation of Jackie Kay’s Trumpet at the Citizen’s Theatre in Glasgow. Mrs Gripes is not exactly a theatre person – we went just the once before, and left at the interval because she was huffing, puffing and wriggling so much – and me? I used to do theatre (dahling…) very badly indeed and I got fair scunnered wi’ it, I can tell you. For a few years now I have been giving almost everything containing actual live actors a wide berth and a deep scowl. I realise that this is probably anathema in a city that hosts the largest festival of arts and theatre pretty much anywhere in the world, but there you go... As you might guess, it would have to be something fairly special to get me to skip willingly towards the close, intimate, actorly space of a studio theatre dragging Mrs Gripes with me – and in Glasgow to boot.

And so it was. Trumpet is one of my favourite novels and I was intrigued to see how it could be adapted to the stage: multi-layered, sensitive, delicately written and filled with clearly distinct voices and big ideas about identity, gender, grief, I was not going to let my anti-theatre prejudice get the better of me. As for Mrs Gripes, well, she’d just have to sit still… Which she did (bless). Luckily, the production was good - and let’s face it, studio theatre is extraordinarily intimate: it would be difficult not to feel involved when you can feel the breath of the actors on your skin.

For me though, the real drama came once the production had finished, for there, standing next to Mrs Gripes and me at the bar is Jackie Kay… (I may have omitted to mention that Jackie Kay is a favourite writer of mine. I may also have omitted to mention that she is beautiful: small, uncontrovertibly womanly, stylish and with a confident, open, expressive face and lively eyes - and that for a long time I have lusted after her from the depths of my soul. Oh, I also may have omitted to mention this to Mrs Gripes: well, one does if one is to survive, I find …)

Generally speaking, when faced with strangers I can just about manage polite small talk (I’m shy, you see…No. Honestly!) When faced with someone attractive, talented and famous- and about whom I have entertained all manner of unmannerly thoughts- I can just about manage to breathe. Turning round and smiling (smiling!) Jackie Kay looks enquiringly to the oblivious Mrs Gripes, who makes some kind of comment about having travelled from Edinburgh to come here, as though that were in itself impressive (which for us it is, admittedly, but to the rest of the world? Probably not…) Slightly less smilingly, she looks at me - who by now is somewhat flushed, inwardly panicking and trying to formulate a sentence of some kind that doesn’t sound sycophantic and yet wittily conveys a deep love and respect for her work, maybe with a top-spin of flirtatiousness that is dripping with conversation possibilities – and I manage to squeak a bumbling, “’ello” with appropriately blank, glaikit expression. Cue Jackie Kay edging carefully away from the dull nutter to a place of safety, the far side of the bar (where she is joined by other writerly heroine Liz Lochhead.) Oh fuck.

Mrs Gripes by now is looking at me quizzically, wondering if perhaps I have choked on a cocktail cherry, or have been temporarily abducted by aliens. Only when we have reached the safety of the car, and the soggy Glasgow night air has managed to restore my blazing face to a slightly more healthy hue, can I tell her with whom she was passing the time of day and thus why I temporarily lost my tongue. Mrs Gripes sniffs dismissively, “Well, you could have said…”

If only, I thought. If only…


The Cynic said...

Oh, God - you've just described a similar encouter with Jackie Kay myself and my ex had at the book festival! We went to hear her reading her poetry one Saturday morning, and I did not have a clue who she was. It was fairly obvious my girlfriend did, though. She went into stalker mode as soon as the woman went on stage and did not stop obsessing about her for the whole day afterwards. Liz Lochead was there too... Is there a pattern emerging?!? Poor Ms Kay's life must be blighted by red faced stammering lesbians acting like they have a crush on their PE teacher!

C'lam said...


my ex did some work for the book festival when rhona cameron was about - and was unable to stop staring at her all moonfaced and doey eyed.

clealry, rhona found the whole thing hilarious

Anonymous said...

Ack, I had a similiar run in with my favorite writer once. He was the guest of honour at a convention, which I had known in advance and considered bring my read-to-tatters and falling apart book for him to sign, but decided against.

I was friends with the organizers of the con, who decided it was completely neccessary for me to meet said writer.

*dies and is ded*

I just stood there and stared at him in awe as my friend explained that I was a big fan and that I would have brought books but I couldn't, and I don't know what else. I managed to choke out "I like your books" before actually running away.

The Gripes of Wrath said...

Must be great to have that power over complete strangers, all the same... I just wonder if it is as tiresome to constantly meet flushed stumble-tongued acolytes as it is to feel like one? *sigh*
(-Best I can manage is when my students look blankly at me: generally after I've asked them a question concerning something I was speaking about mere moments before...)

-And I never had a crush on my PE teacher: the memory of my history teacher can still keep me stocked in fantasies for days, however...

Dee Sunshine said...

I really enjoyed reading about your enounted with Jackie Kay. You are very witty and amusing.

Anonymous said...

Yes. Beautiful women leave me tongue-tied. I'm often able to gaze longingly at them from afar, but gods know I can't actually talk to them or, you know, act like a normal human being around them. Just imagining meeting, say, Suzi Quatro circa '73 in the checkout line? No, I'd be long gone.....

Dee Sunshine said...

Your experience with Jackie Kay made me think about a few of my own encounters and inspired a meandering train of thought in my latest blog post, in which you get an honorable mention