I always forget to eat when I go to give blood. Not forget to eat as in literally wasting away; over the last few days I have been cooking so much food that we can’t get through it. This is last night’s dinner, chicken, spinach and olive pie for the meat eaters, with a butter bean substitute for the vegetarian option. Also, on Saturday I’d rescued 3 Boursins from the village shop, which were just about to go out of date, so I mixed one of them up in the mashed potato.
However, chicken isn’t much good for iron; if I’d decided, in the run up to blood donation day, to eat make a beef pie, I might have avoided the dreaded “second test” for iron.
The first test is when they take a pin prick of blood and drop it into a blue solution. If your drop of blood doesn’t fall within the ten seconds, you may not have enough iron. That’s when they have find a vein in your non-donating arm and take a phial out of that to test more precisely on a little machine. About half the time, my blood goes down fine. And the other half of the time, I am left thinking “Oh yeah, I knew there was something I forgot to do… eat!” And then they do the second test, where your blood has to reach the magic number 125, and mine is always 122 or 123, meaning that I get sent away with a leaflet about eating eggs and spinach and red meat, rather than the Viennese whirls that have been overindulging in, which after all, are practically just butter, held together with a sprinkling of flour.
Anyway, today the digital readout flashed up with 126 and I was so excited that this had happened that I went “Yes!! Look at me!” and the donor carer doing the test did indeed look at me, like I was a total weirdo.
So I was allowed to give blood, but there was a bit of a wait on, just long enough for me to muse on the fact that the experience of donating blood always reminds me of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, one of my favourite books ever, and for me to finish Esther Freud’s Lucky Break.
Lucky Break is an ensemble piece following a group of students from their first year at drama school through the next fourteen years.
It begins with young Nell on her way to her first day at the Drama Arts school, leading us into the first, gripping insight of the students into their new regime. It’s a great beginning, the most gripping part of the book, as we meet Silvio and Patrick, the diva-ish owners of the School. Nurturing they are not. They believe in their methods and there is no room for dissent. Understandably, at the same time as railing against the system, the students vie for their approval, believing that Silvio and Patrick hold their futures in their hands.
After the drama of drama school ends, the plot tails off and everything gets a bit “random growing up-py”, leaving the characterisation exposed for what it is – verging slightly on the “stock” side; for example, the homely, doubt-filled girl, the glamorous beauty, the cosy couple, the weirdo. However, on balance and in the grand scheme of things, I found that this use of recognisable types helped to establish the sheer brutality of the acting business: the “beauty pageant” of castings; the stubborn imbalance between the number of male and female roles; the difficulty that even extremely talented Asian performers have to be cast beyond the standard “arranged marriage” parts; the havoc that the instability of the acting profession wreaks on family life, counterbalanced with the disappointment of the once ambitious when their talent is subsumed into the everyday business of mundane survival.
I did finish the book feeling seared with the reality of what it is to be an actor, and felt that Freud (who trained as an actor) had written comprehensively about the emotional aspects of the profession: what it is like to be scrutinised for your physical being as part of your work; what it is to live your whole life under the possibility of that one “lucky break” call from your agent; the demoralising nature of work that does not fulfil you. At the same time, she also revelled in the getting it right, and getting through to what it is to be another person, which ironically, was the method which Silvio and Patrick aimed so cruelly to mould their students to.
I was particularly struck with Freud’s joyous depiction of what it is to be young and optimistic, selfish , cruel and naive. Seeing her unembarrassed depiction of this last trait made me think about my own writing about the way I find it difficult to make my characters look foolish, just as I myself don’t want to look foolish, or look back to times when I was foolish or naive. Maybe this is something I should come to terms with.