Oh Hazel

Originally Published here:

http://www.dementiablog.org/oh-hazel/

Oh Hazel

By  on 24 February 2014
http://www.dementiablog.org/oh-hazel/

http://www.dementiablog.org/oh-hazel/

 About 20 minutes into Arthur Smith sings Leonard Cohen (Volume 2) I speak a poem I have written that drastically shifts the mood of the show.

Tonbridge, Kent

Pulling up late
after the party,
they see her,
their neighbour,
standing in the street.

She is looking, she says,
for a lift to London.
She needs to get home.
‘Hazel,’ they tell her,
‘This is your home –
‘you live here, in this house.
London is 30 miles away.’

The door is open.
They take her in
and see she has packed a bag
(if a jumper and a packet of biscuits count as packing).

Oh Hazel,
It is 35 years since you left London
to live, as you liked to say, ‘in the shires’.

But there she still is
that grammar school girl
from Camberwell Green
kissing sailors and dancing
In Trafalgar Square.
It is VE day
and the rest of the century
Is yours.

Hazel Smith is my mother and the incident above was described to me by her neighbours, Paul and Lucy. When I started writing this Leonard Cohen show I had not intended to talk about her but I came to realise that one of my themes was loss and that my ma was struggling with her own losses.

Hazel bravely entered widowhood 10 years ago and did her best to embrace living alone for the first time in her life (she resisted moving in with us), but I knew how much she missed my father. Over several years she began to lose some of the things that had sustained and defined her – she stopped doing the garden, reading novels, making cakes, sending cards and letters. She began to repeat herself and mislay things and she began to drink alcohol in alarming quantities.

arthur-smith© Steve Ullathorne

I was uncertain at first about discussing her decline into dementia publicly – was it disrespectful? Too personal or too sad for what was essentially a comic enterprise? My brothers encouraged me and I did a try out in front of a small audience. I found that the sections in the show about Hazel affected the audience; afterwards several of them shared stories of their own parents and grandparents.

I won’t tell you any more about Hazel – you will have to come to the show for that – but, suffice it to say, she is now in a care home and her situation is miles better than it was last year; in some ways she is happier than she has been for years even though her short term memory is no more. My brothers and I visit her often and are always impressed by how diligent and understanding the carers are.

People say ‘live in the moment’ and I see that you can do this very easily if you can’t remember the last moment and have no idea what the next will be. On a recent visit Hazel and I watched the news headlines on TV together – famine and flooding. I remarked, “What a terrible world we live in”

“Yes,” said my mother, “I would hate it.” We laughed long and loud together.

  • Arthur Smith sings Leonard Cohen (Volume 2) The Extended Remix at the UK Jewish Comedy Festival – Thurs 3rd Dec – Tickets & Info

Strange Gigs

 

 

 

 

Picture from: http://bit.ly/NjTfat

Picture from:
http://bit.ly/NjTfat

With Boycott & Aggers

No doubt we all consider other lives we might have led. What if I had accepted that offer to train as a teacher when I was 24 and appeared to have few other prospects? Maybe I would now be a head teacher in, say, South Yorkshire with a wife who is a nurse and a regular part in the village panto?

Whatever other job I might have done I doubt it would be as varied and faintly ridiculous as the one that is being a comedian. As evidence of this let me list 5 of the gigs I did in the January that has recently floated off down the swollen river.

January 19.   Arthur Smith’s walking tour of Soho. I meet my audience in Soho gardens and take them off round the thronging streets where they pass a man in a tree, a couple snogging vigorously at every street corner they pass, a chorus line singing ‘Happy days’, a man dressed as a banana and, er, Paul Merton. I had planned the first 2 of these but the others have arisen by chance. Back in the gardens I signify the end of the walk by dancing dervishly in my new silver onesie.

Jan 22nd.       I have agreed to do a ten minute spot at the Comedy Cafe in London for an audience of French people. Thus I must deliver my set en francais. As it turns out  je me debrouille.

 Jan 23rd.      A late booking this, but one that intrigues. I journey to Birmingham Symphony Hall to join Sir Geoffrey Boycott and Jonathan ‘Aggers’ Agnew to talk about cricket and the disastrous Ashes tour that is just dwindling to a dismal halt. I try out a few shots in front of Sir Geoffrey who is suitably unimpressed…..

Jan 24th        MC-ing a comedy night in my local school (Ravenstone Primary School) for the parents, many of whom I have passed in Balham as they hurry to collect their kids. Tonight, however, they are all pissed and extremely aimiable. They make a great crowd and me and the other 2 comics (Ivo Graham and Jo Caulfield) all have a brilliant gig. It is nice to have a 2-minute walk home after too.

Jan 26th      Compering the NATYs – the New Act of the Year Awards in the Bloomsbury Theatre in London. This is the oldest and most respected of the New Act competitions and the list of its finalists contains many names of comics who have since become famous. There is a superbly wide selection of styles but most of the audience agree with the judges’ choice for the coveted title, ‘Top of the Bill’ (the word ‘winner’ seems to have banned), Alasdair Beckett-King, a suave stand up with some killer lines.

Jan 28th    Lunchtime finds me in the downstairs bar at the Prince of Wales theatre where I do a turn to kick off the Critic’s Circle Theatre Awards. There are some distinguished actors and all the number one critics who nod sagely when I say that being a theatre critic these days is like having Kim Jong-Un as your nephew.

 

So that was January. In February my itinerary is more predictable – I am doing Arthur Smith Sings Leonard Cohen (Volume Two) at the Soho theatre from Feb 16th for 2 weeks and, although that Yorkshire panto would no doubt have been fun, I am pleased to be a stand up comic with all its ludicrous adventures. Not too long to the bluebells now….