Sonam Chöpel’s Chicken Story

Although I can’t remember exactly why, Ron asked me a few years ago if I’d write up Sonam Chöpel’s chicken story. (It was something to do with producing a text to read out loud to test a recording device—Ron will remember.) I agreed because I’m a bit of pushover, but as Sonam Chöpel never tells a story the same way twice, I had to take notes for a couple of weeks (Rinpoche was asking for it every other night) before putting fingers to keyboard. The result was the following, which, as you can see, is a pastiche of the Heart Sutra. Looking at it now I can see it doesn’t really work, certainly not as well as the Football Sutra, but I’ve decided to swallow my pride and post it nonetheless, as it’s topical.

Homage to the Master of all Chicken Stories!

Thus have I heard. Once when Sonam Chöpel was serving supper at Khyentse Labrang, together with a great gathering of the Sangha from Vancouver, Hong Kong and Taiwan, he entered the samadhi that expressed the paranoia of the Chicken Farmer from Bhutan.

And at the same time, noble Ron Stewart, the bodhisattva raconteur, whilst eating his food, saw in this way: he saw a vision of the story of the paranoid Bhutanese Chicken Farmer.

Then, through the power of Sonam Chöpel, he-who-must-be-obeyed Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche asked noble Ron Stewart, the bodhisattva raconteur, “Tell us a story, Ron.”

Addressed in this way, noble Ron Stewart, the bodhisattva raconteur, said to he-who-must-be-obeyed Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, “Oh Rinpoche, there once was a Chicken Farmer in Bhutan who hated his nasty neighbour and felt sure that one day he would do him wrong. And sure enough there dawned a day when one of the Farmer’s chickens was gone! ‘Oh, Oh, cried the Chicken Farmer as he jumped up and down with glee, ‘My neighbour’s robbed me! I must go to town and seek justice from a court of law!’ And off he went to court.

At the law court, a lawyer told the Chicken Farmer, “Oh Chicken Farmer, you cannot press a suit against your nasty neighbour for theft unless you have a witness to the crime!” And so the Chicken Farmer hurried to the local bar where he asked a poor Nepali immigrant, “Oh poor Nepali immigrant, my nasty neighbour stole from me, but I can’t take him to court without a witness to the crime. Here, take the handsome sum of fifty rupees and come to court. Tell the judge you saw the crime, and justice will be done!”

Bent and brown, the poor Nepali immigrant thought over the Chicken Farmer’s proposition, then replied, “Honorable Chicken Farmer, I really need the handsome sum of fifty rupees, so kindly offered, but if my lie is found out I will be ejected from Bhutan before you can say ‘Bob’s your uncle’, so please find yourself another stooge.”

“No, no,” cried the determined Chicken Farmer, “my poor Nepali immigrant, that is not how things will transpire. You will not be found out! And I will give you the princely sum of one hundred rupees, and justice will be done!”

Again the bent and brown, poor Nepali immigrant thought over the Chicken Farmer’s proposition, then replied, “Honorable Chicken Farmer, I really need the princely sum of one hundred rupees, so kindly offered, but if my lie is found out I will be ejected from Bhutan before you can say, ‘Where is Ali!’, so please find yourself another stooge.”

“No, no, no, no, no!” bawled the frantic Chicken Farmer, “you infuriating poor Nepali immigrant, that is not how things will transpire. You will not be found out! Just say two words, “I saw”, when the judge questions you and I will give you the kingly sum of two hundred rupees, and justice will be done!”

Once more the bent and  brown, poor Nepali immigrant thought over the Chicken Farmer’s proposition, then replied, “Honorable Chicken Farmer, you have won my help. I really need the kingly sum of two hundred rupees, so kindly offered, and will say the two words you require.” And off they went to court.

Beady-eyed, the judge stared hard at the poor Nepali immigrant and asked, “Did you, poor Nepali immigrant, see the Chicken Farmer’s nasty neighbour stealing something from his farm?”

“I saw!” replied the poor Nepali immigrant, much to the relief of the Chicken Farmer who clapped his hands with joy.

“How big was it?” continued the judge, beady-eyed and staring hard.

Shocked and confused, the poor Nepali immigrant raised his bony hand up as high as his shoulder—he had no idea what it was the nasty neighbour stole! The judge’s beady eyes bulged bigger and he exclaimed, “Can a chicken be so big?” And the poor Nepali immigrant raised his other hand in graceful mudra to indicate the height of an ordinary chicken.

Thus concludes the story of the paranoid Bhutanese Chicken Farmer.

Telling Stories

Have you ever met Sonam Chöpel? He’s one of Khyentse Rinpoche’s Bhutanese attendants who trained as an artist (as in ‘thangka painter’), but most of the time assumes the role of ‘fool’ to Rinpoche’s King Lear (not that Rinpoche has three daughters… yet). Sonam Chöpel is famous, amongst other things, for telling ponderously long and wholly pointless stories at Rinpoche’s behest, often as a kind of cabaret after dinner. And he landed this job in spite having a memory so colander-like as to rival even my own. Perhaps if he could at least extemporize… but alas, that particular art was missing from the curriculum of the monastery he attended, making even the thought of being forced to sit through another rendition (the ‘chicken story’ and the ‘pig story’, for example, not to mention the ‘eagle story’) makes solitary three year retreat in a toilet-less cave, living on grass and cold water a far more attractive alternative.

Have you ever met Suresh? He’s a filmmaker and one of Rinpoche’s Indian friends who is famous for his many long, convoluted arguments with Ron (everyone knows Ron). Well, I say ‘argument,’ but the reality is something less easy to define. It’s more like an unstoppable monologue, punctuated with Ron’s valiant, if sluggish, attempts at opening a rebuttal that almost always fail to penetrate Suresh’s instantly renewed assaults (usually tangential), mounted with such vivacity and commitment that he might well have been an American divorce lawyer in a previous life. Six year retreat without the grass and water would be my preference.

Over the winter months of 2006-7, Rinpoche gave the Kangyur lung for the better part of ten hours a day in the icy shrine room of the Dzongsar Institute in Chauntra, and one of his favourite forms of relaxation was to ask Sonam Chöpel to tell a few of his stories at dinner (the ‘chicken story,’ the ‘pig story,’ and the ‘eagle story’), over and over and over again.  

In those days (a mere six or seven years ago…), we still used the old dining table which was long and thin and only sat about a dozen. In those long-gone halcyon days, no one even thought of bringing a camera to the table (come to think of it, I didn’t even own a camera), and we therefore have no record of the regular performances Sonam Chöpel was chivied (by Rinpoche) into giving Suresh (the rest of us were incidental to the process).

Why is this relevant? Because try as I might, I really can’t think of any other reason why Rinpoche (who is now inseparable from his iPhone 5) would even think of setting Sonam Chöpel on Suresh again, as he did one lunchtime in January this year (see photographic evidence below). But Rinpoche being Rinpoche, I doubt we’ll never know.

P1070504_2P1070506P1070509

Feel real nice…

After two and a half months in India—cold, crowded India—I really ‘wanna feel real nice.’ But how? Feeling nice hasn’t been a priority for decades. How does one, at a certain age, go about it? As I pondered my dilemma, a familiar, albeit rusty, recklessness enticed me to dig a little deeper for ideas, which was how I found myself dredging up images captured by the teenage sensualist I once was (can you grow out of it, do you think? or does it just trickle away with your hormones?) of a cornucopia of hedonistic pursuits, played out against a surprisingly eclectic musical backdrop.

Truth to tell, it all started on the train down from Chakki Bank to Delhi. I had no choice. It was either distract my mind or commit murder, and I opted for the former as a way of drowning out (with, in this case, the blues… mostly) the wheeler dealer in the opposite bunk, who owned the longest lasting mobile phone battery every invented. Anyway, somewhere between Freddie King’s Ain’t No Sunshine and BB King’s The Thrill is Gone, I established, for the record, that it’s more than twenty-five years since I gave away my blistering record collection, and with this single act of penitential self-denial, I effectively deleted a large chunk of early 70s atmosphere from my life.

Little Feat, for example, and the beautiful Lowell George.

So, after the requisite ten days of feeling like a lump of shit and proclaiming my state of mind (and body) loudly, and in no uncertain terms, at all hours of the day and night—my husband self-medicates at such times, and very effectively, with Guiness—I did some research. Did you know that Lowell died in 1979? That particular tragedy passed me by completely—a year into music college and Little Feat was already passé! What was I thinking?

You’ll find Rock ‘n’ Roll Doctor below, which I think is my favourite of their songs, but it was the very first chord of Dixie Chicken (thankyou youtube) that whisked me back to a damp and rather nasty terraced house somewhere off the West Wycombe Road. I can still replay in slow-motion the moment our very stoned tortoiseshell cat toppled over sideways, like a falling statue (second-hand smoke… I’ve mentioned it before, methinks), and am aghast when I think of the hours and hours ten of us spent squashed up together on stinky armchairs in a ten foot by twelve foot back room, with a pile of the ‘latest’ albums that we listened to from cover to cover (so to speak), full blast, on a state of the art ‘music centre,’ without saying a word until stylus left vinyl. The only time the inescapable fug of ‘black,’ ‘lebonese,’ or Pete’s home grown pot pourri was allowed to disipate, was when the Pakistani landlord made his weekly visit to collect the rent (cash only). My memory has edited out the bathroom, for which I am grateful, but I can still see the 1930s kitchen sink, alive and putrid, which I doubt human hand ever emerged from untainted.

My long-haired boyfriend at that time (21 to my 16-ish and as far as my memory is concerned he looked like a ‘man’ rather than the boy he must have been) was a big fan of Little Feat and Steely Dan, the Doors, Cream, Alex Harvey (the Sensational…), Velvet Underground, etc. The small of my back still tingles when I hear any of that music, my tongue tastes vodka and lime and Walker’s barbecue crips, and of course, my nose registers every one of a variety of competing aromas. Hmmmnnnnn….

By the way, my three month PAP, the permit to stay in Bir that I applied for last September, arrived and was given to me in the taxi on the way back down to Delhi… a sign, I think, that one should never give up hope about anything.

Lama Godi by Penelope

In Bir yesterday we bumped into Lama Godi who was sitting in the coat, shoe and blanket shop by the taxi rank. I say, ‘taxi rank’, but the reality bears no resemblance whatsoever to the European equivalent. Unfortunately, a precise vocabulary for describing the scrap yard of rather high-smelling, unhappily-parked vehicles and pack of forlorn, yet jackal-like Indian drivers squatting on the concrete steps as they lie in wait for an Inji fare, simply doesn’t exist in my world. So unless we go for something like ‘crouching taxi, hidden driver,’ (did I really write that? has a demon entered my keyboard?) ‘taxi rank’ will have to do.

My companion, Ang from Malaysia, has been coming to Bir since the late 80s and knows Lama Godi quite well. So he made an offering to Lama, and I smiled and bowed with my body, as my mind fled back to my computer and a photo Penelope had sent me.

This kind of thing happens to me all the time, even with Khyentse Rinpoche, who we see so rarely these days. Too often when I am with him, my mind skedaddles off, at great speed, to check through lists of questions and difficulties, instead of allowing itself to enjoy basking in his presence, or look at its own maneuverings, or do anything remotely beneficial spiritually-speaking. Ach ja. Twenty-five years of so-called Buddhist practice, and I’m worse off than a beginner.

It reminds me of a story I heard some twenty years ago. Sogyal Rinpoche had been teaching about how older students (I counted myself as a beginner in those days, and was horribly smug about it…) who have heard the same teachings many times over can become so jaded that however applicable a teaching might be to their state of mind, it doesn’t even occur to them to apply it to themselves. The words simply slide off their slippery minds and they become like a block of wood.

One of the people Rinpoche was directing this teaching at was a man called Francois. He came from a very good French family, had been educated to within an inch of his life, was witty, generous, charming… well, you can imagine. And knowing that the teaching was aimed at him, for the next session he left a large log of rotting wood in the place he usually sat… not something anyone is likely to dare to do today.

Back to business, though…  I love this photo. Penelope went to see Lama Godi at 7am in his room (there really is a room there, underneath all that stuff) and not only came away with untold blessings, but this marvellous portrait which she has very generously offered to ORM. Thank you again, Penelope.

Lama Godi

Rainy Day

It started raining at breakfast and hasn’t stopped all morning. If it’s raining in Bir, it’s snowing on the mountains behind us, and that means it’s truly brass monkey’s weather. The electricity is on and off (mostly off) because the cables are often exposed (and hung on branches of trees instead of hidden underground) and the plastic casing rarely intact, so it’s also disturbingly dark. And I live in a house with a marble floor.

So today is the day for revisiting sunnier times, like the day on which Amaya, with the help of her mother Summer, added to the art on the downstairs wall of Rinpoche’s library. And I’ve thrown in a couple of cows and a deranged goat doing a balancing act, for good measure.
P1060926
P1060931P1060955P1060940P1060939

Irish Music

Andreas, as you probably know, is something of an Irish traditional music fanatic (he sings rather well, even if I say so myself!) So Ireland, for him, was more about the music than anything else, and he sang every day—even at Dzogchen Beara. Here’s a recording of him singing My Son in America to the residents of the Dzogchen Beara hostel one night, illustrated by a few snaps from our holiday.

Malevolent Irish Donkeys

At Dzogchen Beara, if you turn south (facing the sea, go right) you can go on what they call the ‘river walk.’ The idea is that you end up at a river, some say a waterfall, but frankly, it may turn out to be one of those sights that can only be seen by the pure of heart. We certainly couldn’t find it, but then, we were handicapped by my lack of mobility (sciatica appears to be contagious) and compulsive blackberry picking. Jerry, a musician staying at the hostel, found it, and he definitely had the feel of an innocent about him. Two other guys (I liked them, but my brain is a colander) set out to look for it but like us, struck out.

Not finding the waterfall didn’t bother me a bit, actually, because my main focus was the blackberry bushes. They gladdened my aging heart. I felt like a six year old as I hobbled from one large outcrop to another, plucking and devouring the biggest and juiciest berries I could find, and reluctantly surrendering the odd one or two to my patient husband. He was equally entranced by our slow motion exploration, you’ll be relieved to hear, as it gave him ample opportunity to light up some killer weed and rest his gaze on the sea and sky. Ever the contradiction, my husband, combining in one cheerful soul a fondness for both the sublime and the terminally dangerous. My big find was wild strawberries—in September! They were divinely delicious, and the best reason yet for upping sticks and relocating to the wilds of south-west Ireland.

It was on the river walk that we met a pair of donkeys. They were guarding the swing gate that would take us onto the road. We couldn’t move them, so we ended up (after trying to make friends) climbing over the larger, five bar gate next to the blocked one. The lighter coloured donkey was rather a bland being, the dumb follower of her more charismatic mate. He was not a happy creature. I petted him a bit, but the vibe was one of temporarily hooked back malevolence ready to spring at any moment. He reminded me of OT Rinpoche actually. Well, not OT Rinpoche himself, but the shopping trip we took with him in Berlin—the one I wrote about on 21 September last year. Rinpoche invested in more than a hundred model animals at KaDeWe, but couldn’t find a good donkey, complaining that none of them had the right energy. He illustrated his point by pulling a funny face, and I can now show you a picture of what that face looked like, but curiously, it was the dark and dangerous donkey who displayed it.

Friendly Irish Cats and a Japanese Novel

Throughout our time in Ireland, we found ourselves in the presence of keenly communicative cats. And being catless cat people, each encounter was a joy.

The first cat to find us was at Errisbeg b&b. It’s a 20 minute walk from MacCarthy’s Bar and one of the prettiest houses I’ve seen in Ireland. (We stayed there for one night at the beginning of our holiday because Dzogchen Beara didn’t have room.)

Actually, there were two cats at Errisbeg, one of whom we met at about 2am when she jumped through the very slightly open window, (English people need to breathe at night, unlike most Europeans. Andreas has now been thoroughly trained, so whatever the weather, we open a window) padded around for a bit, then having located the most comfortable (from her point of view) and inconvenient spot (from our point of view), curled up between us on the bed. A comfortable bed, as it happens, but about a foot and a half narrower than we’re used to (Andreas is 6’5″) and therefore a little less spacious than strictly necessary. But the cat found her place and settled in. Until about 4am, when she wanted to go out. Naturally.

The other Errisbeg cat came in as we were dressing and, as you can see in the photo, distracted Andreas for a while. Then at breakfast (a particularly delicious breakfast, I remember) we caught another glimpse of our nighttime visitor. She looked rather forlorn out in the rain, but turned her nose up at the open conservatory door when we tried to invite her to join us. Cats!

At Dzogchen Beara there are many cats, but we only really became friendly with two. The big ginger and white, Marlon Brando’s Vito Corrleone in the furry flesh, remained aloof, but kept his eye on us to make sure we didn’t overstep any cat-set marks. We were tolerated, nothing more. The white fighter and the little ginger and white were friends, and as you can see, the little ginger and white became very attached to Andreas, slept with him, sat on him, and searched for him diligently on the few occasions she lost sight of him.

There were others, of course, but I’ve run out of steam now, mostly because I want to tell you about a character in Haruki Murakami’s wonderful book Kafka on the Shore. Have you read it? One of Khyentse Rinpoche ‘s recommendations, but I must confess it didn’t appeal at all me and so I approached it with some trepidation—I was on holiday after all, and Asian metaphysical mindbending wasn’t, initially, my idea of relaxing reading. But the dutiful student in me kicked in and, sighing a little wistfully perhaps, I turned on my kindle the day before we left and began to read. (I can’t start a book at an airport or in a plane, so unless I’m well into something before I travel, I just space out or reread Hello! magazine until my brain turns off altogether.)

In three pages I was hooked and am now eager to evangelize. It’s a marvellous book. My only quibble (there has to be one) is that it was translated into American not English, and somehow American slang doesn’t, for me at least, sit well with what little I know of the Japanese character and culture. American publishing is wiping out English at a rate of knots, and I don’t think anyone these days really cares. What to do?

Anyway, one of the main characters, who had his mind wiped during a mysterious incident involving flashes of light in a forest as he picked mushrooms with his schoolmates (very X-Files, but no Scully or Mulder), found subsequently that he was able to talk to cats. Of all the super-powers I’ve ever come across (and these days, that’s more than a handful), talking to cats sounds has to be the best. I think Andreas can already. And his mother can talk to birds. So I’m the odd-one out, because I can only communicate through a computer keyboard—a realization I’ve only recently allowed myself to accept. And which, I suppose, is another very good reason for regularly removing myself from my computer by taking more holidays.

Posh Irish Sheep

Dzogchen Beara faces the tail end of Bere Island, which looks like a bloodhound rising up out of the water under a green baize sheet, and was part of the view from our cottage window. So we went there one day, on the ferry (only takes 15 minutes), to have a look around.

I hadn’t quite anticipated how little there would be there, and was disturbed to find there were no public toilets on the island. As I’m definitely not a ‘do it in the bushes’ kind o’gal, I was extremely grateful to a very nice Chinese lady—one of the 200 people who live there—who let me use hers. We also noticed that the advertised cafe was shut, but as we hadn’t gone to drink tea (especially once we discovered the lack of facilities) we weren’t much bothered. It was the closest I’ll probably ever get to the kind of walking the Bhutanese engage in routinely, especially when travelling to the wilder, even less civilized east of their country. Or to Philip’s experience last year of hiking to Sengye Dzong with OT Rinpoche.

Naturally, we weren’t at all prepared for our hike. Or at least, I wasn’t. Number 1 priority should have been the acquisition of gum boots, which I’d thought about, but not acted upon (what’s new?). So I spent most of the walk trying to avoid the squelchy bits, which meant skirting the uniformly squishy trail and leaping like a mountain goat over the worst patches. (Andreas didn’t manage to capture this unlikely activity on camera, for which I am extremely grateful.) And of course, I had to keep my head down and concentrate, so from that point of view, it was not unlike my normal working day.

The point of this post, though, is to report on the sheep we met on our hike.

First, though, I must confess a guilty, nay, shameful secret. When I travel I usually buy a Hello! magazine to browse through on the plane. Sad, but true. I only mention it because on our flight over to Dublin, I’d read about Victoria Beckham, the pouting pop princess turned fashion designer, and her latest ‘collection.’ The breathlessly enthusiastic fashion reporter noted that the collection featured three colours, black, white and bright orange—this year, it seems, black is the new black, once again.

So, back to my tale. As we left the lighthouse, which had been our goal, to make our way back to the ferry landing across the hills (equally mushy, by the way, however high we climbed—I thought water obeyed gravity and flowed down to the sea, but not on Bere Island) we met some sheep. As I tried to capture decent images of them with my trusty camera (I’ve been known to photograph paint drying…), Victoria and her clothes popped into my mind. In the time it takes to wrinkle one’s brow, as most of us do when we try to make a connection or clarify a thought (not something you’ll see Victoria do much), I realized that the sheep weren’t as cut off from civilization as I’d assumed. Their faces and legs were black, their woolly coats white (well, sort of) and on them was emblazoned a single colour. Orange. Victoria’s cutting-edge fashion had even penetrated the wilds of south-east Ireland. Of course, it was only the sheep who seemed keen on Victoria’s vision, but nothing in life is ever truly perfect, is it.

Lerab Ling

Lerab Ling inhabits a unique place in my memories of this life. It is, for me, the home of excruciating extremes, and a place I haven’t, in the past, visited willingly. Having said that, I spent a great deal of time there between 1993 and 1999—all of every summer and many bits in between. I lived there for a while too, 1993-94, dividing my time (or should I say having it divided for me) between what was then little more than a mud farm and Paris. Eight or nine of us survived a winter there, sharing a bathroom and the big kitchen, the damp fog and a desperately uncomfortable van. Things have certainly changed since then.

This August visit was the first time I’ve made the trip to Lerab Ling, without having to be summoned, since I returned there in 1993, the year after the first three month retreat. During the noughties I was hardly there at all. In 2006 I went with Harry and Boris and their crew during the shooting of their documentary about Sogyal Rinpoche. John Cleese was there too and Graham took a photo of us in Rinpoche’s garden after the interview Mr Cleese very kindly gave Boris. And Sogyal Rinpoche was kind enough to invite us in 2008 when HH Dalai Lama opened the Temple and Sarkosy’s wife (Eric Clapton’s ex!) graced us with her presence—arriving in a helicopter without a bra, completely oblivious, it seemed, to the inappropriateness of her fashion choice.

For years I was convinced I would have to up sticks and relocate to Lerab Ling—the dream of so many Rigpa students. But for me, a confirmed misanthrope, who is very attached to the illusion of privacy, it was the worst possible nightmare. One that never came to be, actually, so I now wonder at all the hours of anxiety I put myself through and wish I hadn’t wasted so much time on such energy-sapping imaginings.

So how did I feel about the place this time round?

It’s changed. The land itself has changed, and so have the people—the three-year retreat may have had something to do with it. Thankfully, though, Sogyal Rinpoche is still his glorious self—just even more so.

How, then, has Lerab Ling changed? Well, for a start, there’s a lot more of it. The temple is always a surprise  (I keep forgetting it exists). The old tent that used to be the shrine room is now where people eat, which I find oddly disturbing. So many extraordinary teachings happened on that spot, I can’t ever bring myself to take a plate of food and eat it there. And this time I didn’t have to, because I stayed with Phil in his tiny chalet on the hill. Although spartan by German standards, it’s the lap of luxury when compared with the tent I was allocated for the 92 retreat—the one that was washed away in the big July storm, the one I never managed to sleep in, and the one in which I broke almost all my vows.

Many more people ‘live’ in Lerab Ling now. And the community includes wonderful gardeners, like my friend Susie, who have transformed the wild mushroom farm into a softer and far more lush kind of paradise. It’s as if the land itself has been tamed. And the people too, as it turns out. There are so many practitioners there now, and their more spiritual way of life shows in the very fabric of their personalities. More peaceful. Less discontented. And you can somehow feel all that practice and ease in the atmosphere.

It’s still super-intense, though. Particularly from the point of view of scheduling. The full-time team who make everything work don’t sleep much because there’s always something going on. But as I was visiting rather than participating, I could pick and choose what I did. It was great!

Sogyal Rinpoche showed me where Khandro had passed away, the extraordinary shrine he’s created in his old room in the farmhouse and the new shrine in his cute chalet. It was like walking into a magical realm, even a buddha realm (but I’m just guessing, as I’ve never actually been to one myself). The colours were brighter, my eyesight seemed better and sharper (hmmmn!), the air fresher. Rinpoche even took me to see his mother as she ate her supper, and delicately chose the dishes he knew she wouldn’t touch so he had something to offer to me. Humbling, to say the least.

OT Rinpoche is extremely at home in Lerab Ling. As you know, he guided Sogyal Rinpoche and his team through the process of designing and building the Temple, and was instrumental in commissioning and overseeing the creation of the immense Buddha statue in the main shrine room. Lerab Ling would not be what it is without OT Rinpoche.

And all in all, I was very happy there—which was the biggest turn-around of all. It just goes to show that the one thing we can truly count on in this life is change. And that miracles really do happen.

Tirelessness (2)

Being tirelessly flexible is difficult. Imagine never allowing yourself the luxury of digging your heels in and calling a stop to a situation you can no longer endure—a marriage, or a lousy job, or a delayed lunch break.

From what I can gather, merely to make a judgement about something or someone is the opposite of being flexible. Certainly, I’ve noticed that when I make a decision about something—that someone is beautiful, perhaps—it’s as if I’ve dropped a concrete breeze block into my mind. And I manufacture these conceptual bricks at an astonishing rate. They pile up like a vast restraining wall that relentlessly forces my flow of consciousness into an ugly, sharp-edged monolith. Then if I practise (a rare and uncomfortable event these days) I can almost feel the cold, unforgiving thickness of the bugger! I squirm and wriggle under the force it exerts on my world view, crushing it into a dense, narrow, distainfully cool and distinctly unpleasant prison of givens. The few times Rinpoche has had the gall to set a wrecking ball to it, it’s hurt like hell at first. What to do? Being tirelessly inflexible is a painful business. But after the initial shock, the tiny hole in the breeze blocks he’s shifted feels like a window into heaven.

Rinpoche himself operates quite differently, as you know, and I’m sure you could all tell a story to illustrate just how tirelessly flexible he can be.

I remember Jamyang Chödrön telling me about her experiences of working on Travellers and Magicians a few years ago. Making films is an expensive business, which is why film producers work so hard to schedule time and resources as economically as possible (theoretically, of course). So when all the cameras broke at a crucial point in the shoot in a remote part of Bhutan, and had to sent to Delhi for repair, leaving an entire crew expensively idle for several days, any ordinary director would have manifest some sign of irritation—thrown a wobbly, got drunk, screamed at some lacky, something. Not Rinpoche. The cameras were broken, there was nothing he or anyone else could do about it, and the only option was to wait. So he did. He just relaxed into the enforced break. Jamyang said everyone was amazed by his attitude. I couldn’t have relaxed in such a situation, could you? But then, I can’t relax in any situation…

One thing about Rinpoche, though, is that he never wastes a moment. His schedule in Bir, for example, appears to me, to be unnecessarily punishing. But I must say, he seems to thrive on it. A couple of hours for practice, twenty minutes for breakfast during which he gave his attendants their instructions, half an hour for a meeting with a lama here, ten minutes for a meeting with his sculptor there, fifty minutes writing his book, half an hour to work on his script… and so on. Everyone involved is stationed in separate rooms and Rinpoche then swoops in, does his business, and swoops out again at a rate of knots.

One day, a gaggle of monks and perhaps even a khenpo or two turned up for some kind of transmission. Rinpoche’s secretary, Elise, thought it would take about twenty minutes, then he’d dictate the next bit of his book for quarter of an hour, and still have ten minutes to see students before lunch. Rinpoche sat on his throne and began to do whatever it was for the room full of monks. Then his phone rang. He answered it. and I expected him to ring off immediately so he could get on, but he didn’t. Neither did he speak much, he just listened. And listened. And listened. For ten minutes, twenty, thirty… Lunch was late, the book was unwritten, western students with questions had gathered like a swarm of ants in the courtyard, and even Elise, who generally keeps a very efficient finger on the pulse of Rinpoche activities, had no clue what was going on.

After more than a hour, Rinpoche put the phone down, finished the whatever it was, and finally emerged into the sunlight. We were, naturally, agog to find out what had happened.

“My father called,” said Rinpoche, smiling. “He wanted to teach me, so he did.” And that was it. Thinley Norbu Rinpoche had phoned and Khyentse Rinpoche’s schedule was shot. But Rinpoche showed no sign of irritation or impatience or anything. Actually, he looked quite radiant, and just rescheduled the assembled hoards and carried on. How I wish I could be like that…

Enough! Time for breakfast. And your reward for getting through all the above is one of Emily Crow’s pictures of Rinpoche from a year or so ago when he was location scouting in South India for Vara.

Tirelessness (1)

We were at a wedding a few weeks ago. Andreas’ cousin Christian married his lady love, Daggie, who wore a beautiful empire line lace wedding dress with a moss green velvet ribbon tied in a bow at the back. I’m not a big wedding fan, but that dress was a work of art. Lovely!

I, on the other hand, was tired. We sat at the back of the church for the ceremony (contrary to tradition, because we still had our suitcase with us after a 6 hour train ride from Berlin to leafy, rich Heidelberg) and I found, tucked away under the stairs, a lovely painted wooden sculpture of an angel offering a goblet to a kneeling man, whose three companions remained soundly asleep. It’s a famous story, I’m sure, but I can’t, at this moment, place it.

Why do I bring it up at all? Well, I realized the moment I gazed on the three sleeping companions that, had I been around at the time, I would have been one of those men. OK, my beard isn’t as well-established as theirs, I am a woman after all. I’m not quite bald, not yet at least. And I would have had to have been incarnated as a man even to be in such a situation at such a time. But my propensity for exhaustion and uncanny ability for nodding off at the most crucial moment would have drawn me there like an Irishman to a pub.

I wonder if that’s the fundamental difference between truly spiritual beings and those who play around with the romantic ideal of being on a ‘spiritual quest’, like me?

I remember one retreat I attended when found myself in a kind of overflow room because the main shrine room was jam-packed. It was a relief, actually, to watch the proceedings on the TV—I’m not at my best when I have to share space with more than one person—and I was thoroughly enjoying the teaching. In fact, the Rinpoche concerned was on such a roll that there was no sign of him stopping for lunch. One o’clock came and went, and the other person watching TV with me was getting irritated. Quarter past one, half past one, quarter to two, and the Rinpoche kept talking (nature of mind was his subject, as you’ve probably already guessed). He was clearly building up to something.

Suddenly, my companion snorted loudly, announced she was hungry and had to eat, then stalked out. Within three minutes the Rinpoche had reached the apex of his subject and, even through the television screen, managed to shatter, albeit momentarily, the ordinary minds of every one of his audience. It was quite something. But my original companion missed it because she couldn’t tirelessly endure a lack of food.

I felt for her, actually, because I’d been in her position a million times before and knew what it felt like. At the time, I was also grateful to her, because that was the moment I began to think about what ‘tireless’ really means. We know it’s not about filling our time with activity—any international banker, or ambitious politician, or socialite can do that. From what I can tell, it seems to be more about being willing, continuously, to be flexible.

But more of this tomorrow. It’s breakfast time and I’m hungry. I guess it’s obvious that the snaps I’ve included are of Daggie and Christian (a bit blurry because they were a long way away) and the wooden sculpture in the church.

Sleep

My poor husband hasn’t slept this week as a result of unremitting pain from a pinched nerve in his back—goddamn sciatica. Among the many other thoughts and emotions that have crowded my mind during his agonies, blotting out most of the rest of the world it must be said, is the memory of a song I used to sing thirty years with words by John Fletcher. Wonderful, somewhat poignant words in Andreas’ current situation, and indeed for all those who suffer from insomnia. I’ve also attached a lovely but not particularly well recorded version of the Gurney song itself, Sleep, here sung by Ian Bostridge, not me (I wouldn’t do that to you!)

Come, sleep, and with thy sweet deceiving
Lock me in delight awhile;
Let some pleasing dream beguile
All my fancies;
That from thence I may feel an influence
All my powers of care bereaving

Though but a shadow, but a sliding,
Let me know some little joy!
We that suffer long annoy
Are contented with a thought
Through an idle fancy wrought:
O let my joys have some abiding.

 

Too Lazy…

… to write anything, but here are a few completely unrelated snaps, the memories of which dropped into my mind from nowhere just now, as I thought of something else entirely. 

Confounding Expectations

One of the reasons I love the Rinpoches I’ve met is that they continually debunk my most beloved prejudices and never cease to confound my expectations. Not always comfortable, it has to be said, but according to the Buddha and the great bodhisattvas, a sign that they are authentic teachers—I’m lucky to have met them.

I mention this because I’m still reeling from Khyentse Rinpoche’s most recent reorganization—I should more truthfully write ‘decimation’—of many of the spiritual misconceptions I’ve acquired over the years that I didn’t even know I had. For example, why am I practising Buddhadharma?

Truthfully, I started trying to practise in the first place because I was mesmerized by some extraordinary men—as I thought of them—and keen to feel less discombobulated. Neither Sogyal Rinpoche nor Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche were like anyone I had ever met before. They fascinated and appalled me in equal measure because they operated on such a radically different level, each with his own quite a distinct style. Most disconcerting of all, they seemed to know me better than I knew (and know) myself. So, when they strongly suggested I learn how to meditate, I had a go. But Buddha, honestly speaking, had very little to do with it.

In those days, I had rather black and spotty ideas of what being ‘spiritual’ meant. A left-wing liberal who valued ‘art’ above all things, I therefore picked up a few bumps and bruises as I learned to roll with the many punches and perforations and shatterings my most highly esteemed ideas were then subjected to.

One of my earliest memories of being in a teaching is of a Saturday morning at the Rigpa Centre in St, Paul’s Crescent, Camden Town (London). Sogyal Rinpoche was late. Not very late, actually, just twenty minutes or so, but the teaching was supposed to have started at 10am and it was hot. As he settled himself on his huge orange seat (I had yet to learn to call it by its traditional name ‘throne’—as an anti-royalist when I did discover the seat’s name I confess it stuck in my throat for many, many years) a woman at the back asked Rinpoche, a little tetchily, what the schedule for the weekend would be. Would lunch be late because he was starting late? And would we therefore be finishing later that evening? She needed to know! She had things to organize! And anyway, if an organization takes out an ad in Time Out announcing a teaching will start at 10am, it’s unprofessional to deviate.

At the time, I felt she had a point. But I’d only just met Rinpoche and the process of chipping away at my preconceptions had only just begun.

Instead of responding to the woman clearly and ‘professionally’ with an apology and a neatly printed schedule, Rinpoche proceeded to tease her about what it was she had really come for. Did she want to receive teachings, or a schedule?

The woman was upset and left in a bit of a huff. It often happens, and sadly some of those who react quickly and walk away from such an encounter harbour grudges and misconceptions for the rest of their lives. I must admit, I considered following her, but decided to stay. Which was fortunate because Rinpoche went on to explain the difference between attending a teaching to accumulate information and facts, or attending to learn how to fundamentally change the way you operate. And I’m still grateful for having at least rubbed shoulders with those ideas so early on.

Of course, back then, I wasn’t at the teaching because I was interested in following the Buddhist path or becoming a spiritual person. I was a singer—a rather screwed up, highly-strung singer, it must be said—who wanted to learn how to relax and wondered if meditation might help. I had no clue about the different yanas and traditions, who Buddha was, why I should care about what he said, and what the point of all this spiritual stuff really is. I certainly didn’t know that Buddhism is about self-moderated brainwashing—the vajrayana shows us how to adjust the way we look at ourselves and our world, and the mahayana shows us how to learn to love all sentient beings so much that their wellbeing and enlightenment is more important than our own. Basically, you’re signing up to change the way you think from top to toe. If I had, I’d probably never had turned up at a meditation weekend in the first place. All that was gradually revealed over the years, to be wrestled with and contemplated and rejected and reconsidered, etc, etc, etc. You know how it is.

By the way, I say ‘brainwashed’ because being by nature a rather misanthropic creature  (to the point of being a full-blown sociopath) my brain was—some might say still is—in serious need of an industrial strength wash and blow-dry. Namby-pamby, lubby-dubby, flower-power-type ‘love your neighbour’ stuff would have had no chance. So for me, the great bodhichitta and pure perception teachings necessarily needed to behave like a powerful brainwashing… But it’s probably not a word you’ll find much in the traditional teachings.

Anyway, back to my current state of chagrin. After all this time, you would have thought that my mind and attitudes must have been so neatly retuned that nothing could surprise or unsettle me. Not so. Not by any means. I’m presently reeling from the horror of having unearthed the fact that in spite of donkey’s years of so-called Buddhist practice, I still don’t really know what it is to genuinely long for enlightenment. Worse! I realize I make absolutely no concessions to my need for personal comfort and ease for the sake of spiritual progress. I like sleep more than practice, I usually chose lunch over encouraging a teacher to continue to teach, and, far from trying to remember to be aware in every moment, I love to lose myself in a great book or movie. Sad, but true.

I wonder if I’ll even get close to genuinely longing for enlightenment before I go completely ga-ga? Gott Buddha im Himmel!

Patrick

Thinking about Adam yesterday (because of his book) led, naturally, to me thinking about Patrick this morning. Typically, memories started flooding my mind as I tried to do some practice—a rare enough event in itself. I should say in my defence that I struggled, ‘personfully’, for a good half hour to cut this particular chain of thoughts, but failed. And instead of doing a Riwo Sangchö, I find myself back at the computer with very, very itchy fingers.

I wonder how many people outside Rigpa (the organisation, obviously) know about Patrick? I’m not sure I know him that well myself, yet he is in my top five of those who had the greatest influence on the way I operate. So he has not been an insignificant figure in my life.

You probably came across his name when you read The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche, where he’s listed as editor, along with Andrew Harvey. But what does editing Sogyal Rinpoche really involve? Rather more than you might imagine, as I discovered when I started working for Sogyal Rinpoche in 1993.

I’d rubbed shoulders with Patrick on many occasions over the previous few years, but never really got to know him. But then, noone really did because he was always working, putting together the teachings and supporting Sogyal Rinpoche’s work. One of his two right hand men, actually, the other being Philip, my ex-husband and very good friend.

Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche always used to be fascinated by the process Sogyal Rinpoche put himself through when he taught. In order to capitalize on the spontaneous realisations that arose in particularly inspired moments, Sogyal Rinpoche’s students, and in the first instance Patrick, would gather every word Rinpoche would say over what used to be described as a ‘cycle’ of teachings, and continually present a complilation of those moments to Rinpoche for further clarification. It’s like doing a jigsaw puzzle, actually. And for those involved in the process, it was the most wonderful exercise in ‘listening’ to pick up where new clarifications happened, where they should fit into the whole, how to inspire the completion of incomplete bits—always based on traditional models of course and the teachings of Sogyal Rinpoche’s own masters—and which bit was better than another. This is a gross simplification of course, but it’s the best I can do for now.

Clearly, it is neither a simple nor an easy method, but the results are often magical. The writing of TBLD is the supreme example of how this method works, and I think you’ll agree, the result was not at all bad.

So he’s a Buddhist scholar and captivating writer—I think both these qualities are pretty well-known. The thing about Patrick that really impressed me over the years, though, was that he never, ever gave up. Of course he is also brilliant, cultivated, radical, a polymath, a poet, a musician, extremely witty, occasional rambunctious, a fatally precise perfectionist and outrageously courageous. But far and away his most extraordinary quality is that he’s still there. He is still serving Sogyal Rinpoche as he has for the past forty-odd years. How many clever, well-educated right hand men last that long in such a position? Most are off after their 18 year stint to gather students for themselves. Not Patrick.

He told me once that not long after he first met Sogyal Rinpoche in the 70s, he tried his hand at transcribing a teaching Rinpoche had given. Once he’d finished polishing his meticulously accurate transcription, he presented it to Rinpoche—no doubt, spiced with a little youthful hubris (my addition—Patrick was a Cambridge scholar, an historian who studied Egyptology and worked for a while at the British Museum in London, so I don’t think it’s beyond the realm of possibility that he might have been just a little full of his own education, if you know what I mean.) Glancing over the absolutely faithful rendering of every word he had spoken, Sogyal Rinpoche handed the manuscript back to Patrick and said, “I didn’t say that.” Another student who was with them, I don’t know his name, agreed. Yet, Patrick said, it was word-for-word what Rinpoche had said.

What Patrick himself hadn’t realized at the time was that what Rinpoche wants to say takes time to mature and never comes out all in one sitting. So, what Patrick had transcribed was, from Rinpoche’s point of view, just a scrap of what ultimately needed to be said. But perhaps that first transcript was the starting block for their joint rather relentless pursuit of perfection.

So, the teachings are quite right when they tell us that, particularly in the vajrayana, things work best when the blessings of an authentic master meet the devotion of an authentic student. Khyentse Wangpo’s accomplishments, we are told time and again, were so great and numerous that it’s difficult for later generations to believe that one person could achieve so much in just one lifetime. It’s even more amazing when you consider that Khyentse Wangpo retired to his room in his forties and threw his shoes out of the window saying he’d never need them again. Leaving us to wonder, if he didn’t cross his own threshold for the rest of his life, how did he get so much done? From what I’ve heard, he had the help of his two great compatriots, Chogyur Lingpa and Jamgon Kongtrül Lodrö Taye—a great double act to have on your team, it must be said—and upwards of one hundred extremely good students to help him. The blessings of this sublime master mingling with the devotion of his remarkable students resulted in the resurrection of Tibetan Buddhism in the 19th century, and without their efforts we probably wouldn’t be practising Tibetan Buddhism in the 21st century. It’s food for thought, don’t you think?

I have one funny memory from our time in Paris in the early 90s. A group of us, around twenty or so I think, had gathered at the Rigpa Paris Centre in rue Burq, Montmatre. Therapies of all kinds were becoming very big in the ‘new age’ world—’wellness’ was a term that had yet to be coined—and one of the fashionable themes was how Buddhism and therapy might cooperate.

Why we all decided to sit in a circle to try a sharing session, I have no idea, as my memory, being selective, only switches on at the point where twenty French, German, Dutch, English, and indeterminate beings, none of whom have anything in common except their devotion to Sogyal Rinpoche, gaze, embarrassed and uncomfortable, anywhere but in the faces of their neighbours. God it was awful. The atmosphere was leaden! None of us knew what to expect and were nervous and tense. Rinpoche, being the perfect mirror, looked exhausted and depressed too. Noone moved. We barely breathed.

Then Patrick intervened. He leaned over to Rinpoche and said, quite loudly, directly into his left ear, “Wakey, wakey!”

I was deeply shocked. So shocked, in fact, that, like those who experience road accidents, time slowed down almost to a halt. What was Patrick doing? How would Rinpoche react? What the *!@? was I doing in this mad-house?

And suddenly, everything changed. Sogyal Rinpoche started giggling and each member of that circle relaxed, shrinking two inches from their previously frozen states. One by one, a little hysterically in some cases, we cracked up until everyone in the room was helpless with laughter. Needless to say, the dramatic change of atmosphere was the perfect prelude to a profoundly moving session, though I remember not one word of what passed between us. But Patrick’s profound sensitivity to Rinpoche’s moods and his courage to act impressed me deeply.

I see from my word count that this post is at least four times longer than usual, so I’ll stop now, a little abruptly perhaps, but I have no wish to try your patience. And I’ll close with words translated into English quite early on by Sogyal Rinpoche and Patrick, which remain some of the most beautiful in the new English canon.

Mesmerized by the sheer variety of perceptions,
which are like the illusory reflections of the moon in water,
Beings wander endlessly astray in samsara’s vicious cycle.
In order that they may find comfort and ease
in the luminosity and all-pervading space of the true nature of their minds
I generate the immeasurable love, compassion, joy and equanimity
of the awakened mind, the heart of bodhichitta.

Repetition

…apologies to those who have already seen these photos. I put them on facebook, but then deleted them. And even though this blog is just a figment of my imagination, and not the kind of album I’ll ever come across in the dusty corner of an attic, my old-fashioned nature compels me to keep even my illusions in some kind of order. So, here are some snaps from Dordogne August 2010. The baby is Summer’s. 

Pogorelich

So, now my mind is back in the 80s and busily sifting through memories of many wonderful theatrical and musical experiences. Between 1978 and 1985, I usually spent four or five nights a week at some Lonodn theatre or other; these days I prefer a plate of steamed veggies and a dvd. How things change.

I was at music college when the shit hit the fan at the 1980 Warsaw Piano Competition. Ivo Pogorelich, the boy Martha Argerich dubbed ‘a genius’, was placed third by the panel of judges, much to Madame Argerich’s disgust, but had his revenge by going on to become one of the most talked-about pianists of his generation. As I’ve completely forgotten who actually won the Warsaw that year, losing seems to have been a pretty good game-plan.

I was lucky enough get tickets to sit in the orchestra for his Festival Hall debut in 1982. The place was packed, not a seat to be had, and I must say, he gave an astounding performance. Tall, a bit gangly and thin, but very romantically beautiful, not only could I not unglue my eyes from his physical form, what I heard was so intense and unexpected that I could barely breathe. It was all so strong and in-your-face. But there’s no real point in trying to describe in words how he played back then, especially when it’s so easy for you to hear for yourself.

He was also ‘interesting’. All kinds of gossip flew around about his relationship with his piano teacher, who was thirty years older than him (I think he was in his early 20s) and whom he later married. She died a couple of years ago of liver disease. One journalist wrote that as her husband bent down to kiss her good bye, her liver burst, plastering him in her blood. She was dead. And he didn’t wash for days…

Anyway, his debut was stunning. The programme included some Boulez, which I couldn’t be much bothered with, and his supremely muscly interpretation of  Schumann’s Symphonic Studies. I bought the recording the moment I left the concert hall, on credit, naturally, then played it dry.

Ten years later I travelled up to Oxford to hear him at the Bodleian Library. There, instead of the beautiful boy I’d fallen for so heavily a decade before, I found a vile, fat, sycophantic alien who, lacking any semblance of musical aspiration, sneered smugly at his audience then beat the piano into submission with laser-like precision. I endured his Mozart, but left before he started flagellating anything else I loved.

Richter didn’t like him at all. Or at least, he didn’t like his early recordings—I don’t think he ever heard him play in the flesh. I wonder, though, if it was really the wife he didn’t like. I think she turned up on his doorstep to promote her protégé husband and extract some kind of endorsement from him, which, naturally, he twigged immediately and as a result took against her before she’d even opened her mouth. He wrote in his notebook that the boy didn’t understand Beethoven at all. But I loved the Op. 111 recording, and the Schumann (as I’ve already mentioned), and his Gaspard la Nuit was quite astounding.

Pogorelich has played in Berlin since I’ve been here, or at least, advertisements pasted in the U-bahn have announced, optimistically, that he’d been booked at the Philharmonie, or the Konzerthaus, or somewhere. But as far as I can tell he cancels more often than he actually plays. Nevertheless, when the Konzerthaus wrote to me this week saying there were a couple of tickets left for his concert next Tuesday, I snapped them up immediately.

The thing is I really want to love him again. I want to reinstate him in my pantheon of ‘greats’. And that’s why I seized the tickets with such eagerness. So, as part of my attempt to rehabilitate the now Croatian musical superstar, here’s a clip from youtube of one of the pieces he played during his controversial performance at the Warsaw Competition. It’s one of Chopin’s virtually-impossible-to-play Scherzos, and I think this recording shows just how keenly he fingers the keys. My great hope is that the 50 year old Ivo will have rubbed off a few of the sharper corners that afflicted the 30 year old. Let’s see.

Panache

I remember reading an article by Anthony Burgess, or was it in the interview he gave to Antonia Byatt? I can’t remember. What stuck in my mind was his story about being told he had an inoperable brain tumour. Obviously, he recovered, but for a while he thought he was going to die, and made a conscious decision to spend what time he had left making money for his family. So, he started writing novels. Naturally, he had no choice but to work quickly and in this interview/article announced quite coolly that he found it quite easy to knock off 2,000 words before breakfast. I don’t think I’ve ever recovered from the shock of that statement, and ‘2,000 words before breakfast’ has become the unattainable bar of productivity that I never have and never am likely to attain this lifetime. I can barely manage a 300 word daily blog entry…

So, Anthony Burgess has a great deal to answer for, yet until now, I’ve avoided reading his novels. His translation of Cyrano de Bergerac, though, is a great favourite of mine. It was commissioned for a production by the RSC in the early 80s and Derek Jacobi was cast as Cyrano. I went 5 times, and as the RSC tended to decamp to the restaurant I worked at after the performance, I served Derek and his boyfriend, Pete Postlethwaite, Alice Krige and Sinead Cusak, plus many other members of the cast, throughout the play’s run. Gerard Depardieu’s very popular version was in the cinema’s at the same time, but I didn’t like it. I much preferred this theatre piece.

Sadly, one or two prominent critics of the day lambasted the RSC for wasting the talents of their company on such unutterable rubbish. It made me sad at the time because there was so much to enjoy in this extremely rich, albeit extremely romantic play, not least the marvellously vivid language Burgess had conjured from the French original. Personally, I feel it was the end of one of the RSC’s richer periods—especially when you remember that their next big hit was the inexorable ‘Glums’.

Anyway, all the above was inspired by the discovery that some kind soul had videoed the BBC TV presentation of this production that was aired in 1985, and posted it on youtube. I vividly remember sitting on the floor in a friend’s tiny Alma Square apartment (I was crashing on the sofa for a couple of months between ‘jobs’) to watch the show, and both loving and hating it at the same time: ‘loving’ to hear the words again, especially as spoken by the wonderful Derek Jacobi, and ‘hating’ the sad lack of excitement and atmosphere that I always felt in the theatre.

And now, after more than twenty years, we can see it again. True, it’s been broken it up into 17 parts, so if you’re interested, you’ll have to endure a fuzzy picture and ten minute mouthsful, but if it lives up to my memory of it, you’re in for a treat. I feel I can’t wait, but am determined to discipline myself to save it for the weekend.

In the meantime, here’s a good bit— the humour and vibrancy of language deserves the description ‘good’, not the quality of the video. Here’s Cyrano’s first appearance on the stage and his masterclass in wit to the pom-pom wearing men of fashion he despises so roundly. Sadly, this clip lacks the final stanza of the speech, so if you have time, do find the next bit and let Cyrano finish.