This is my last night at home. ...Well, obviously not forever. I mean, I'll be back one day. In fact, to be more specific... I'll be back next Wednesday. Which doesn't sound very dramatic a departure at all, quite frankly. I'll be back just in time for Guy Fawkes' Night, on which date, every year, Janie and I make our way to the nearest common and watch lots of fireworks set off in celebration of the execution of a man who tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament four hundred years ago. We like fireworks. And we like, I suppose to a lesser extent, parliamentary democracy. But I digress.
I'm off to Calgary, and the World Fantasy Convention. I haven't packed yet. I really ought to. I've been looking forward to Calgary enormously, ever since I heard I'd been lucky enough to get two nominations for the awards there - but, if I'm honest, it's never quite been real. Now it's in my face and imminent and really very real indeed, and I can't help but find the prospect makes me wary. I can't quite work out why - it's as if I haven't done my homework for it. Yet there's nothing to do - I'm doing a reading, and a couple of panels, but nothing that needs preparation. I think it comes back to the vague idea I used to have when I was a kid that the impossibility of transatlantic flights only really worked if I concentrated on it hard enough, and took the trips terribly seriously. In this case I've barely had time to open a guide book (and what I've found inside merely tells me it's going to be cold - no, worse than that, it's going to be officially Sodding Cold) - and so part of me doesn't really believe that Calgary exists. So when I get there they'll just be a strange void, and everyone will turn to me, and shake their heads, and tell me that the city's absence is all my fault - I didn't work hard enough at thinking about it before I go.
The one thing I've done in preparation is to have my teeth inspected. A few weeks ago I began to get the odd twinge of toothache. And I don't like toothache, but I dislike going to the dentist even more - lots of childhood visits in which I had to stare up the nose of Mr Silcock (no, that really was his name) whilst he glared down at me, amid a smell of fluoride, and drilled my tongue to make me stop crying with fear. So I was in denial about the toothache, pretended it didn't even exist, and that my growing reliance on painkillers to get me through the night wasn't a medical need but a recreational choice. But it dawned on me that I really didn't want to lose at an award ceremony - or even potentially win! - whilst clamping a towel to my cheek, and that I'm 38 years old now, and surely adult enough to overcome my terror of the waiting room and the drill. I went down town, forthwith, and registered with the first surgery that would take me. I met a very pretty young dentist called Cindy, who was deceptively slight of build and gentle of demeanour. As soon as she looked in my mouth she visibly recoiled - then held me down, brandished a pair of forceps, and extracted one of my wisdom teeth. It was done so quickly it seemed as if it were a ticking time bomb, and she had to get rid of it before it could explode. I take it as a sign of maturity that at the very moment she gripped the offending tooth with metal bits, and then yanked it out with a terrible crack, that I was worried less by the pain than by how much this was going to cost me... For the next day I was walking around with a swollen mouth, trying desperately not to feel the strange new alien world of my upper left side with my tongue (because she told me something terrible would happen if I did), and not to spit out any blood (because that would be even worse). That would have been fine, but I had to be giving a reading of 'Tiny Deaths' at an event in Liverpool, and the very moment when I got up to the lectern and started to read a pretty story about a woman giving birth to a sofa was also the very moment I felt I was able to open my mouth fully wide for the first time since the Cindy Incident. For the entire reading I was terrified I was spraying the front row of the audience with dribble, blood, and small grains of tooth. No-one complained, but I'm sure it affected my performance a tad.
The only certain confidence I can take when my plane touches down in Canada within the next day and a bit, is that however unprepared I am for Calgary or the convention or anything appertaining to either, at least - by now, surely - when I gibber at people with ignorance it will be dribble-free. That will give me a lot of reassurance, actually. And at the award ceremony on Sunday, at which I plan to wear the only smart leather jacket I now own, and even matching socks, it may be the only truly positive thing I hold on to. We'll wait and see.
In other news, this weekend I went to Stratford Upon Avon to see David Tennant do a bit of Shakespeare. The production of 'Hamlet' is very good indeed; it's a clear and engaging reading of a play which can so easily be bogged down in philosophical asides and Too Many Famous Quotes. I adore Shakespeare - if I hadn't had the luck to be picked up as a writer when I was, I expect I'd now be lecturing on him in a university somewhere, as was the plan - but 'Hamlet' has always struck me as the play in which Shakespeare suddenly worked out just how *good* he was, and kicked back, and showed off. It's an extraordinary piece of writing, of course - there's nothing else like it in the world - but it's also the greatest playwright in the world at his most self-indulgent. It's very tempting for a production to be self-indulgent too, and this one laudably managed to be very clean and yet full of invention. Patrick Stewart was the most sympathetic Claudius I've ever seen, a murderer who dearly would love to put aside all his former acts of evil and just get down to being a benevolent king - and who feels increasingly uncomfortable as Hamlet manouevres him into a position where he just *has* to get rid of his irritating nephew. Great comic performance too from Oliver Ford Davies, who managed to make Polonius genuinely funny rather than just tedious. David's Hamlet was fascinating; at first I was a bit concerned by how remote and uncharismatic he was, and this meant that his early speeches of grief and contemplation seemed self-absorbed rather than moving. But I think now this was rather clever - David presented a Hamlet who, against the odds, begins to *enjoy* his new purpose as a revenger. As he plots the downfall of his uncle, Hamlet perks up, becomes ever more playful and teasing, and by the time he's rushing headlong towards death, he's all but capering around the stage in celebration. It's a very persuasive reading of the part, to see Hamlet transformed from the sort of angstful youth who'd sit in his bedroom writing sulky poetry, into a sparkling wit whose intelligence and comic timing and sheer exuberance can run rings around anybody else. It's a tragedy, of course, but I've never seen it performed before as something quite so life-affirming. David's performance as Berowne in 'Love's Labour's Lost' is even better. It doesn't put a foot wrong - it's a triumph of relaxed charm. His soliloquies become conversations with the audience, even singling out certain lucky women in the front row at whom he can wink and flirt. I first met David when he was best known for his theatre work - we became friends because we were both Doctor Who fans, and both hung around the National Theatre a lot. (He was legitimately working there, and I just found the cafe a really comfy place to write in.) As good a Doctor as he is onscreen, I've always thought he was a remarkable stage actor - the theatre just *lifts* when he comes on - and I was so proud to see him being so effortlessly commanding at the RSC.
Anyway, enough of that. I must go and pack. Against the official guide book temperature of Sodding Cold. I'm trying to find nice warm sweaters that somehow don't make me look as tubby as Santa Claus. I think that I may have to give up on squaring that particular circle.