Why you should become a FIEND

February 19, 2015 at 2:16 pm | Posted in music | 4 Comments
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Members’ booking opened today for Jonas Kaufmann’s gig at the Royal Festival Hall. The programme’s still unconfirmed, so it may be Yodelling The Classics or perhaps an Eartha Kitt retrospective, but frankly, we don’t care. This is the Greatest Living Tenor, and we want IN. Unfortunately, so does everyone else.

Being a Friend, of course, is the way to go. Pay your yearly fee, and get priority booking. The price depends on the venue. Some charge one flat sum for everyone; others propose a scary hierarchy of increasingly exclusive ranks of Friendship, from entry-level, giving you a badge and a t-shirt, up to £HE,LLO.OO, which lets you jump the toilet queue in the interval, say ‘The usual, please, Fiona darling’ to the bar staff, and lick peanut butter from the belly of your favourite performer up to three times a year.

The arts need supporting, of course, and there’s a long tradition of benefaction (if that’s a word). But what about impecunious fans, unable to cough up membership fees for every venue in which our favourites might perform? After all the Inamorati, Friends-With-Benefits, Exes-We’re-Still-On-Good-Terms-With, Slight-Infatuations, Friends-of-Friends, Facebook-Friends and People-We-Nod-To-Uncertainly-In-The-Street have had their share, there may be precious few tickets left for us to scrap over.

exam

Tension mounts as Joyce DiDonato fans struggle to remember her favourite pizza topping

That’s why I’m proposing a new category of ticket purchaser: the Fiend. Become a Fiend, and book first for all events your favourite is performing in, regardless of venue or price. That’s FIRST. Before EVERYONE else. There’s no joining fee or annual subscription: being a Fiend is entirely free of charge. All you have to do is answer a set of questions, randomly selected from an enormous database, under exam conditions. Examples for Jonas fans are given below:

  1. Jonas was amazed that his Andrea Chénier costumes lacked…
    1. Whalebone corsetry
    2. iPhone pockets
    3. Automatic poppers
  2. Jonas has described learning to use his natural tenor voice as…
    1. Like driving a truck
    2. Like growing a beard
    3. Like waiting for a bus, oh my GOODNESS, totally incredible, you know, how you wait for HOURS and then three come along at once, haha!

(Databases for other stars are still under construction; sample questions can be provided on request. The Iestyn Davies exam, for example, is expected to include advanced matching of Farrow & Ball paint shades, and the practical identification of dog hair on settees.)

The benefits to fans of the Fiend scheme are obvious, but venues will also profit; no longer will they need to employ ushers with long sticks to prod snoring audience members, or devote scant staff resources to fielding 176 phone calls a day from the same person enquiring about returns. And EVERYONE will need to buy a programme. If only to fan themselves with it.

(Thanks to @SecondNorn for the conversation that provoked this, and for her unrivalled JK knowledge.)

Listen. No, shush. Listen*

May 13, 2014 at 10:07 pm | Posted in mental health | 8 Comments
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For Mental Health Awareness Week.

We’re used to having this kind of conversation with friends:

  • Topsy: How are you?
  • Tim: Oh, I don’t know. Not too good, if I’m honest. I just feel worn out.
  • Topsy: Ooh, I know what you mean! I haven’t slept properly for ages.
  • Tim: Mmm. I’m just feeling really down about everything.
  • Topsy: Oh, dear. I know loads of people who are stressed out at the moment.
  • Tim: I think it might be more than just stress.
  • Topsy: It’s hard when your kids are little. Maybe getting out on your bike would help?
  • Tim: I can’t really seem to get motivated to do anything.
  • Topsy: Oh no! Have you been to the doctor?

This is fine, right? Topsy’s making suggestions, giving advice, trying to make Tim feel better. So why does Tim come away from this conversation feeling wretched? He knows Topsy was trying to help, but he feels that his problems were being minimised, that he was being jollied along, that Topsy wasn’t really taking him seriously.

Here’s an alternative.

  • Topsy: How are you?
  • Tim: Oh, I don’t know. Not too good, if I’m honest. I just feel worn out.
  • Topsy: That sounds hard.
  • Tim: Mmm. I’m just feeling really down about everything.
  • Topsy: Oh, dear.
  • Tim: I think it might be more than just stress.
  • Topsy: Oh, really?
  • Tim: I can’t really seem to get motivated to do anything.
  • Topsy: That must be tough.

We fear this kind of conversation because we think: what if I make it worse? What if Tim starts to feel REALLY bad, because I haven’t managed to cheer him up? In fact, the opposite might be true.

Siegfried Neuenhausen Künstlerwand Bertramstraße 1991 Gerd Winner stop-look-listen cautionJust listening to someone is enormously powerful. Giving them all your attention. Putting your own ideas and opinions and concerns to one side, and just listening while they talk. Without:

  • interrupting
  • saying ‘I know what you mean’ (you can’t be sure of this)
  • giving anecdotes from your own life, or those of others you know (this takes the focus away from the person you’re talking to)
  • giving advice
  • making suggestions
  • trying to cheer them up or distract them
  • trying to make them feel their problems aren’t really so bad

It’s hard to do. It’s really hard. We’re not used to it. But it’s worth a try. You won’t make it worse, and you might even help.

* (aka: what I’ve learned from a year of counselling training)

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