Critical Friend

It has been a while since I went to any kind of corporate training event and I’m afraid I’d just forgotten what they are like.  I have always been a bit of a coffee snob and it’s been a long time since I have accepted a cup of coffee from anyone I thought might make me instant.  If there’s a choice of hot drink, I’ll have coffee if it’s real coffee, otherwise tea, and I’d rather have a glass of water than an instant coffee.

So it was unfortunate that I arrived half an hour early for my Induction Day (as a new member of my local hospital trust’s team of governors) and found there was a neatly-laid tray with a hot water flask and a choice of teabags and … sachets of instant coffee.  Ah well: tea it is.  Next time, I’ll remember to put a coffee bag in my handbag (you know about coffee bags, of course?  They’re like giant teabags containing coffee grounds, supplied in individual foil sachets.  Protip: be careful opening the foil sachet they come in, as it’s easy to tear the inner coffee bag if you’re over-enthusiastic!)

The induction day proper began with us having our photos taken so we could be issued with photo id badges and I’m afraid I marked myself out as Instant Awkward Squad by asking for my photo to be taken three times before I was satisfied I wasn’t going to have to wander round with my bald patch showing for the next three years.  (Bad hair days always happen at times of maximum inconvenience!)  And then we had to complete the Disclosure and Barring Service checks (you know, the thing that used to be a criminal record check).  We’d been pre-warned and I’d already queried the list of documents to be provided as it didn’t correspond with the list I found here on – like I said, Awkward Squad!

Just take a moment, by the way, to look at that last link, and the documents the government thinks it’s appropriate to ask you to produce to prove your identity.  A passport or driving licence?  Well OK, but it’s not compulsory either to drive or to travel abroad and one can be a perfectly legitimate citizen without having either.

But look at the documents listed under “Group 2b: Financial and social history documents”: mortgage statements?  Bank and credit card statements? Utility bills?  Literally all my financial dealings like that are transacted online, and printing out a bank statement is hardly a guarantee of authenticity!  How long will it be before the system catches up with the twenty-first century and offers to verify your id by letting you log on to your internet banking in their presence and show a transaction then and there?  Or uses one of those verification methods that mobile phone companies use like “here’s 5p: log onto your bank and make an electronic payment of 5p into this account…”

That wasn’t, however, the issue on Thursday morning, unfortunately.

The person who was taking me through the checks was typing like a demon and it was all going swimmingly well… until we came to hit “send”, when there was an error message which said my postcode was entered in two different fields and did not match.  And of course sod’s law meant that the one which was still open to editing was correct, and the one which was a typo meant… yes, the poor lass had to go through and type the whole thing again!  As I said to her, not only will they have me down as a troublemaker but also as a criminal!

One final thing before I got my ID card and was officially inducted – the system also offered up an error message because my title is Ms and I had declared I’d never had another surname.  Please! I’ve been insisting on Ms since 1974!  It’s not an unprecedented title, it’s a title intended to be as uninformative as Mr, and it doesn’t designate divorce.  As the little old lady with the protest sign said, “I can’t believe we still have to protest this shit”

Government ID service, get your act together!

Hospital trust… I’m not a troublemaker, honest: just a critical friend!  (Unless I am denied access to coffee, of course…)


Tommy at the Crucible theatre, a musical based on the Who’s concept album/rock opera and its later incarnation on film, is a solidly, hornswogglingly, joyously G O O D production.  God knows I’d love to hear the Who perform at the Crucible, my platonic ideal of a perfect venue, but absent that the musical is the closest you’re going to get.  The pounding bass that makes your breastbone vibrate, soaring voices that sound like angels screaming? Yep, all that.  If you like rock opera, if you like The Who, if you have a soul, you’ll enjoy Tommy.

And the casting!  Great flying spaghetti monster, but it’s a glorious thing to have a cast that is actually joyously diverse.  Yes there are actors who are deaf, who are blind, who use wheelchairs, who have different limbs.  Yes, they comes in different shapes and sizes and colours and why the hell shouldn’t they, and why the hell don’t ALL musicals have signing as well as singing and dancing, and subtitles as well as programmes?  For a minute or two you go “woah!” and then they sing they dance they scream rock music at you and you go “woah!” again but this time it’s not because anyone in the cast is different but because everyone in the cast is goooooooooooooood.

So far so amazeballs.  How does Tommy work as a show (and I’m going to assume that you already know the plot of  Tommy-the-rock-opera).

First of all, Captain Walker keeps appearing to Tommy and it is he, not Tommy, who wants you to “see me, feel me, touch me, heal me…”  Which is all very well, and the actor is sexy as hell and has a fine voice, but it makes no sense for Tommy to be haunted by the sort of ghost of his father, rather than striving to break through the traumatic block in his own mind wanting to be heard and healed himself.

Then there’s Sally, who is a minor character in a single track on the original but has a major role in the musical.  It’s pleasing that she now has agency, and it kind of fits into the timeline that she knows Tommy from a child and her parents run the church where the youth club that they all meet in is located.  But, but but… at the end of the plot she gets a new scene entirely made of cheese where she has to sell us the idea that Tommy’s messiahood (is that even a word???) is all fake.  Maybe there weren’t enough actors left over to do “we’re not going to take it” and still stage a credible riot?

Then there’s the Gypsy, the Acid Queen, who gets one faaaaabulous number in the original (remember Tina Turner in the movie?)  Here’s she’s an ageing drag queen albeit one with a faaaabulous voice, and they decided to give her a second number in the second half.  I mean, of course, obviously once Tommy became famous she’d have turned up wanting to sell her story to the tabloid papers.  But giving her a second number unbalances the piece somehow: I’m not sure how but if it comes to me I’ll update this.

There we are then.  It was a glorious, amazing, absolute joy of a production.  I went with someone who was a Tommy virgin who enjoyed it almost as much as I, a veteran of the album, live, film, blah blah blah versions also loved it.


…well, except I’m free.

“I’m free.  I’m free!  And freedom tastes of reality.”

That’s the line.  Great flying spaghetti monster, you don’t ask this cast to sing it with the tone deaf tin-eared bludgeon of a rewrite that they used.  You just don’t.

“I’m free.  I’m free!  And freedom lies here in normality.”  It does?  Fuck that!