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West Side Story January 31, 2010

Posted by Fiona in Theatre.

So it’s over.

Ups, downs, very dark corners and very bright colours, fifteen trips to A&E (or so I’m reliably informed), stress, tea, hard work, bad backs, pizza, gin, five different types of tape, late nights, early mornings, black shirts, sore throats, Pro Plus, and the most fun you can have of a week with people you love in a place that is what it is because of the people who’ve had fun in it.

I’m sad that it’s over.  I’ve spent the day partly recovering, and partly mourning.

You know when you work hard at something, and even if it only lasts a week in the end it’s so damned worth it?

(photos by Tim Foster)


Thursday January 29, 2010

Posted by Fiona in Bwargh, Sheer bloody-mindedness, Theatre.
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Thursdays are rubbish.  There is no getting around it; Thursdays are just not a good day.  Not a good day at all.

For what it’s worth, yesterday involved the joy of nightmares, back aches, several hours in the library trying to catch up on work that turned out to be utterly pointless, a telephone call after which I am fairly sure of the myriad of ways at which I fail at life, more Pro Plus than I’ve ever taken in a day before, and a lukewarm shower.  And all this before I even entered the theatre.  At which four members of the cast received separate, unrelated injuries, one burst into tears shortly before the end of the interval, the gun didn’t go off, one of the crew got caught on stage just before the curtain call, and in short it was a typical bloody Thursday.

The girl who got caught on stage had apprently had a worse day than me because she took a little calming down.  I felt for her so much – she, when she’s angry and sleep deprived and kicking herself, reminds me very much of me, angry and sleep deprived and kicking myself.  It is thus a very, very bad idea for us to this in the same place at the same time – luckily I was in autopilot last night, but my heart absolutely went out to her and because that’s what people have to do to me when I’m panicking, I assaulted her with logic (‘Look, even you know it’s not your fault and if you try and tell me it is, you also know that’s wallowing – shit happens, right?’), gave her a bear-hug and bought her a drink.

I earned that G&T.

Today hasn’t been much better, really, except for I was really late to a lecture, did no work and browsed Etsy for ages.  I can’t afford a gorgeous teal-coloured vintage Laura Ashley velvet dress, but my god I’d love one.  (The buttons on the back are such a perfect touch.  I love Laura Ashley so much.)

I feel like I’m banging my head against a brick wall here.

Sod this for a laugh.  My call time is in half an hour; I’m going to make some more fake blood, mosey down the road, and get me some falafel.  I’ve been looking forward to falafel all week.

Tomorrow: crew brunch, matinee, evening show, get-out, aftershow.  Wish me luck.  I’m the one that reeks of espresso.

ETA: Oh, while I remember – the i-whatever it is has been out for a whole two days now, so I’m going to go right ahead and assume you’ve seen the Mad Men video clip.  Therefore I shall make one witty observation, and direct you to someone else who says it better than I do.

They didn’t say that about the Wii, did they? Here you go, have a little of my technophobia.

Shopping January 28, 2010

Posted by Fiona in Craftiness, Lovely people, Really good day, Theatre.

You may or may not have noticed that something I love is handmaking.  The knitting, for a start, obviously.  The theatre, if you think about it: it’s all doing things from scratch, taking the slow way round to having a show in front of you, working at and enjoying everything in the process before you get to the final product.  I love the time that gets invested in making things – I promise not to wax lyrical any more about that at the moment.  I love crafting supplies – yarn, embroidery thread, buttons, fastenings, good scissors.  One of my treats these days is to go into Durham Indoor Market and buy a few metres of narrow satin ribbon, for the colours, for tying around presents, for finding in a paper bag in my rucksack later and thinking ooh, what shall I do with this?  I love the supplies for themselves as much as what they eventually become.

Another way this has manifested itself recently, somewhat to the detriment of my bank balance, is Etsy.  If you know Etsy at all, you’ll know it’s an absolute treasure trove of anything you can think of, handmade, with a conversational link between buyer and seller.  For instance, browsing through sellers local to Durham, I found this absolute gem, the store of a woman who makes notebooks from recycled beautiful things, hand-bound, with enough textures to keep me happy for hours.  (I bought something from her yesterday, it arrived this morning, and I am having a severe crisis of conscience about the fact that I bought it intending it to be a gift.)  If anyone ever feels like buying me this beautiful bag, I will be very much indebted to them.  The whole thing just makes me very, very happy.

Incidentally, if you happen to be in Durham in the next few days, there are four more shows of West Side Story left.  (Matinee and evening performance today, I was out last night and up at 7ish this morning working, I’m shattered.)  It looks amazing – some very impressive fighting, more dancing than you can shake a stick at (I’m sure people aren’t meant to bend that way!), and possibly the cutest heroine in the history of dinky people under five foot three.  It sounds pretty good too.  For reference if you do see it – the blood’s my doing, don’t sit in the front three rows or you may get splattered, orchestra or no orchestra, and if you happen to spot Maria wearing a very pretty blue beaded shawl at the end… ah, well, that “squee!” you heard from the stage right wings was probably me.

I’ll be sad when this week’s over.  I always am.

Hero of the hour January 24, 2010

Posted by Fiona in Law, Lovely people, Uncategorized.
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I read on Wikipedia this afternoon that he’s America’s Favourite Hero.  He’s a single father.  He’s about a million lawyers’ Why Am I A Lawyer, You Say?  Well Sit Back I’m Going To Tell You A Story of choice.  He’s all man, he’s bringing sexy back, and he puts the electric into Electra Complex, yes, hero of the hour:

It’s Marcus Tullius Cicero.

Jokes.  All beast though he may be, and I *might* have named my computer after him (cough) but frankly… he went on a bit.

It’s Atticus Finch.  Clearly.

I read ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ a very, very long time back and, like all good aspiring lawyers and people who Wanted To Read Something American but couldn’t be doing with Steinbeck, I adored it.  (To be honest, at that point I wasn’t really so interested in the law so much as the politics, and thirteen-year-old Fi took Atticus Finch on as part of her Let’s All Be Militant phase, alongside Sylvia Pankhurst and Winston from Nineteen Eighty Four.  What can I say, I’ve never particularly wanted to be a politician because even I would be scared of myself.)

Atticus is such a fantastic character, I think, because ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ comes under the category of books that can be roughly summed up as Situations I Wouldn’t Want To Be In.  Before that sounds flippant, let me qualify it: there is a certain type of book that is grim.  The subject matter is grim.  The situation is grim.  A lot of the characters are not particularly nice people.  If somebody said to you, would you like to spend a day in this book, you would say not on your life.  I’m thinking like, ‘Lord of the Flies’ – I hated that book.  I can’t name that many off the top of my head because I tend to put them down very quickly and never pick them up again – unless, like TKAMB, they have some kind of redeeming feature.  The fact is that whether we would act like Atticus or not, given the situation, everyone while they’re reading it would like to think they would.  He does the right thing.  He keeps on doing the right thing, ad infinitem, and he stands for all the things that we’d like to think that as liberal, open-minded bearers of the standard of justice and equality for all (hoorah), we also stand for.  He was built to be a role model.  I think a lot of lawyers who say they take their inspiration from him are idealists: they’re proactive people, and really, they want to be the kind of person who is just that plain awesome, so that’s the route they head down.

The law, as a profession, as an area of study, doesn’t have a stereotype: it has lots of them.  Atticus Finch is a stereotype.  This is a stereotype:

How do you get a group of lawyers to smile for a picture?
Just say “Fees!”

And this is another one:

How many lawyers does it take to change a light bulb?

Such number as may be deemed to perform the stated task in a timely and efficient manner within the strictures of the following agreement: Whereas the party of the first part, also known as ‘The Lawyer’, and the party of the second part, also known as ‘The Light Bulb’, do hereby and forthwith agree to a transaction wherein the party of the second part (Light Bulb) shall be removed from the current position as a result of failure to perform previously agreed upon duties, i.e., the lighting, elucidation, and otherwise illumination of the area ranging from the front (north) door, through the entry way, terminating at an area just inside the primary living area, demarcated by the beginning of the carpet, any spillover illumination being at the option of the party of the second part (Light Bulb) and not required by the aforementioned agreement between the parties.

There’s also the stereotype that they’re all over the age of 60 ad look like John Thaw, and that they work ridiculously long hours, all read the Telegraph and have libraries full of books that are all leather-bound and look exactly the same.

Law is not a sexy subject.  The old men in wigs image is the prevailing one – even if you have such exciting things like the criminal law, human rights, international law, principles of justice (ooh it’s a controversial one) – it might be interesting.  It might be as intellectually stimulating as you like, but nobody’s mental image of the barrister reeks of sex.

Which makes it quite interesting, I suppose, that one of the stereotypes that is fixated upon most by lawyers themselves… is Atticus Finch.  What can I say?  You would.  You know you would.  It’s the glasses, isn’t it?  Poor Cicero, he never had a chance.

A little bit about why January 22, 2010

Posted by Fiona in Craftiness, Knitting, Look what I did.

I came across this blog post this morning, about the reasons that some people knit, and I thought yes, that’s quite right.

It’s amazing, as someone who has no fear whatsoever about knitting in public, and never has (I can’t understand why you wouldn’t knit in public, after all, you’re in public most of the time…) the number of times I’ve been told that you can get five pairs of socks at Asda for a pound, or asked why don’t I just buy a hat?

(Actually, there’s another answer to why I wouldn’t buy a hat, and that is, have you seen the lacy beret-type hats they sell in, say Accessorise for £15, or New Look for £5?  So have I.  I could make them with £10 worth of decent 100% wool, with my eyes closed, in about three hours.  And then I would know that they were warm, because I’d recced the yarn, and they’re not made of acrylic that is good for some things, and might be soft but you can just feel the slight sweatiness on, and I’d have got the satisfaction of three hours of something I love into the bargain.  Also it gives me some idea as to what the wholesale price of those hats are, and if you’re asking me to pay £15 for them, I WILL just laugh at you.  My sister says I’m not allowed to go into Accessorise with her any more.)

The fact is that every single item that I knit, socks, shawls, hats, whatever, is associated with something for me.  This very moment as I type, I am wearing a blue beaded shawl as a scarf.

(That’s me.  Hi.)

I know for a fact I’ve blogged about this shawl a number of times, it’s one of my favourites.  It’s made with a lovely slightly haloey yarn that I can remember buying (Easyknits skinny semi-solid in Midnight, if anyone’s interested), and I remember meeting the guy who dyed the yarn at the iKnit Weekender last year and being utterly shell-shocked (partly because the iKnit Weekender was pretty overwhelming for me, I’d never seen so many knitters, who knew what they were talking about and all knew each other, in one place before.  And meeting someone who’s dyed the yarn for a scarf that you’ve made?  That you’ve read about and probably Ravelry stalked?  It’s a bit like meeting Harry Potter, y’know?).  I remember buying the beads for it, two days before my resit up in Durham over the summer, and I remember winding the ball of wool over the back of my chair on the morning of the exam, to calm my nerves before I left the house, and I remember casting it on, on a train in wonderful sunshine on the way home and knitting at Birmingham New Street when the next train was delayed, and finishing the whole thing in about ten days, at work, in the evenings, taking it with me everywhere I went because I couldn’t put it down.  This shawl was my life for ten days.  It was the most exciting thing in the world to block.  And then I took it out into the back garden with my sister and we took photos of it in the twilight and pulled faces.  That’s why I knit, you know.  I knit because otherwise that time would have been entirely unremarkable, and now I’m carrying round ten days of my life – longer than that, if you include buying the wool and finishing time and everything – and it’s like I’ve done something important with that time, and good.

I finished a shawl the other week, that says to me New Year, and lying in bed last term really ill, watching Merlin and knitting, and the day the yarn arrived over the summer when a friend came over and we watched Coupling and I convinced him to help me wind it.  It’s yet to be photographed properly, because the weather’s been crap and I simply haven’t had time, but here is a sneak preview, because I couldn’t resist:

Isn’t it beautiful?  That’s the border, by the way.  The border took forever.  I got so irritated with it at the time, but now it’s done and it’s wonderful, and I can remember spending ages on the border and, well, girl done good.

So I suppose knitting for me is about the process, and enjoying things as they go along, and ergonomics and choices and personalisation, but it’s also abut having something to take with me.

The same goes for gift knitting – which I’ve done a lot of, recently.  The blog post puts it like this:

‘See your kid standing near the door in hand-made socks, ready to pull on shoes and head out? Those socks are loving that child–the kid is wearing a hug on each foot, and the knitter and the kid both know it. This is process and product combined: knitted object as connection between people.’

I think that’s a beautiful way of putting it.  Over the last few months, I’ve knitted quite a lot for other people, and while a few of those things have come from patterns, I’ve found it a lot easier to just improvise a pattern of my own when it’s with someone else in mind – and I’ve done that a few times now.  I now automatically connect esteem for some people with images of making things for them: finishing a sock for my dad on late Christmas Eve, watching Victoria Wood with him sat directly in front of me, and stuffing the sock down the arm of the chair every time he looked around.  Sitting on a train at about nine o’clock at night with low blood sugar levels ripping back the beginning of a beret for THE FOURTH DAMNED TIME because the ribbing was irregular and I couldn’t get it right because my fingers couldn’t stay still.  Those occasions are worth something because of what came out of the end of them, and what came out of the end of them is worth something because of the situations.

I kind of like that.

Return to the theatre January 17, 2010

Posted by Fiona in Big things, Craftiness, Theatre.

This morning consisted mainly of hyperactivity, fake blood, and sitting on the kitchen floor eating cake.  The fake blood was excellent – my own recipe perfected last year for Bizet’s Carmen and a particularly eventful production of Terry Pratchett’s Wyrd Sisters.  In West Side Story, two of the main characters get stabbed in a knife fight, so there was much messing about with sellotape and cling film in such a way that they can fight as acrobatically as they like before dying dramatically and bloodily.  They used it during the run-through this afternoon and it looked amazing.  I love it when something you work on comes together so beautifully, and I also love it when something of the tech really enthuses the actors.  Everyone loves fake blood.  I was so proud, it’s like I’m saying hey, my job’s exciting too, look!

This is during the second act (here is the film version – ignore the subtitles, you honestly don’t need them and the dancing just makes me happy) – and it’s excellent.  Sondheim Does Social Commentary.  It is my personal opinion that this song makes up for the train wreck that is I Feel Pretty a scene beforehand.  Officer Krupke.  Yes indeed.

Treading water January 16, 2010

Posted by Fiona in Bwargh, Sheer bloody-mindedness, University.


I’m probably going to be a bit quiet for the next week or so.  I’m not going to give you The Usual Rant – I’ve got three essays due, and two plays, and Durham is cold and wet and grey and I’m horrendously unfit and don’t like looking in mirrors, but I’m just going to assume you know all of that.  Linguistic housemate is a godsend when you take a sudden dive, but I’m going to assume you know about that too, and also that I wish there were another three hours in the day so I could actually sleep some.  I’m coping with knitting, when I can occasionally find time, and with being on Facebook when I can’t afford to be and bingeing on chocolate and Seth Lakeman albums… yeah.  Same old aching-stressed same old.

Knitting projects of choice at the moment are going to leave you speechless, though, when you see them.  Honestly – you’re so going to love them.  I do.  I’m thinking psychadelic colours, and yarnly gymnastics.  I’m having so much fun – when I actually get a moment.  Try this for size – Laughing Yaffle, my new favourite sock yarn:

The colours!  The pretty!  And the rest of the stuff is fairly awesome too.

What this post is to say is that, unlike usual, I’m not going to give up and mope for a few days this time.  I know I can’t afford to but you’re not going to hear a moany to-do-list-hating word from me for at least two weeks.  Possibly three.  I promise.  Ditto anything remotely resembling “Actors! *shakes fist*” – although I promise nothing about aftershow parties! *shakes fist*.

No, ladies and gentlemen, this is the new Fiona.  I have willpower.  Somewhere.  I probably put it down somewhere in my room but I’ll find it in a minute.

Blergh.  I think I’ll be needing the rest of this:

And another thing January 14, 2010

Posted by Fiona in Big things, Durham, Look what I did, Lovely people, Uncategorized.

I’ve been off the radar a bit recently, for which I apologise – I started coming down with something on Friday and on Saturday evening I was reduced to lying under two blankets in a room with a blazing fire, shivering.  But all is better now, hopefully, and I’ve finally made it up to Durham okay – albeit with no work done and frankly, the wish to be back home again and not having to worry about so much.

The train service yesterday was an absolute adventure, especially carrying a term’s worth of stuff.  My plan was to be dropped off at Basingstoke, because my dad was heading that way anyway, change at Reading, and stay on the same train all the way to Durham.

One stop after Reading, at Oxford, there was an announcement saying there was a fatality on the line* and the train was cancelled.  All you people going to The North, get on this train to Worcester, and from there to Birmingham, and from there to wherever you want to go.

I went on five trains yesterday.  I had a seat on three of them, and met someone else going up to Durham, and someone going to Sheffield who went to the same college as me at the same time, also several lovely people going to variations on Newcastle, Sheffield, Derby.  I got bought a coffee, and a taxi home, which was nice (and got unequivocally explained to that this is the North East, and chivalry is not dead here).  I got on the first train at Basingstoke at five minutes past one.  I got off at Durham station almost exactly eight hours later.  I am shattered.  I didn’t know where I was half the time.  I had most of my body weight in bag to carry about.  But you know?  It was so much fun.  I don’t have much trouble with the trains, usually, and I love public transport.  I even love it when it’s running horrifically late, apparently, because you get to talk to strangers and complain about the snow and see places you haven’t seen before.

And knit.  For hours.  Without feeling in the least bit guilty.  (Well, maybe slightly.)

I came across this recently – I’m aware that it’s a knitter’s thing and most of you aren’t knitters but I’m thinking in the light of recent events you’ll appreciate the concept.  It’s called p/hop, or pennies per hour of pleasure, and it’s set up for Medecins Sans Frontieres, who do all kinds of wonderful things and at present are on the ground in Haiti doing things that the government can’t do because of all kinds of unintelligible things like infrastructure and per capita.  The idea of p/hop is that they offer free patterns, and in exchange you give a donation to MSF based on how much fun you reckon you’re going to have knitting them.  In hours.  Of pleasure.  Beyond that it’s up to you.

Anyway, I love the idea.  I think it’s brilliant.  I’m also a student, and therefore Officially Penniless, and just generally crap at giving money.  But I’ve just donated a little bit, because it’s the beginning of term and therefore, I suppose now more than usual I have the money.  So do you, if you want to do the same – either do it through the p/hop website because it’s quick, and easy, and you can use Paypal and it’s done in about thirty seconds, or through somewhere you feel more affinity with.  Because yes, there will be aid if none of us reading this do anything, and yes, it will get to the right place eventually.  It might just be, well, a bit later, or maybe too late for somebody.  It’ll matter to somebody.  And right now, that somebody doesn’t have safe drinking water so while of course I urge nobody I do give you this small but indignant prod.

Also I like it cos it has hop in the title.  What a genius idea.

*Sounds so clinical, doesn’t it?  This also shook me, especially after this not so long ago.  I hope that whoever it was, they’re happier where they are.  I hope it doesn’t impact their family forever, or the driver forever, or anyone who saw it forever, although it probably will.  A fatality on the line?  What you mean is SOMEONE DIED, and they probably meant for it to happen.  In The Running Of Our Services There Was Unintended Collateral Damage, We Apologise For The Inconvenience This May Cause.

I was interested January 9, 2010

Posted by Fiona in Big things, Breaking the fourth wall.

This webcomic.

Sometimes I wonder if I want kids, or if I want to feel grown-up and vitally important to somebody.

I wonder how many doctors these days would say what this one is saying.

Most of the readers of this blog are, I believe, not mums.  One day I’ll ask a mother who isn’t a relative of mine exactly why.  And I’ll ask someone else who isn’t a relative why not.

Five games customers play that ought to earn them the death stare but never do January 5, 2010

Posted by Fiona in Breaking the fourth wall, Sheer bloody-mindedness.

Last day at work today til Easter 🙂 top stuff.  No more freezing shop floor, horrid lavender shirts or Covering Shoes.  No more Go And Tidy Down The End, no more trying to keep out of the politics, no more biting my lip every half-hour when Mentioning No Names goes into the shoe cupboard for another can of knockoff Red Bull and expects you to stay focused.  So in celebration of this and acknowledgement of ohgodtheessay that succeeds it, have a list of five games customers on ladieswear departments seem to love playing with the assistants that they wouldn’t dare play anywhere else, and with good reason.

1. The Changing Rooms game

This involves taking all the clothes they can fit on both arms into a changing room, and painstakingly counting them out in front of you (“seven… eight… nine… nine.  Is that too many?”).  This shows conscientiousness, which is all the more irritating when you find eight of the nine items still in the changing rooms next time you check in there, with customer nowhere to be seen as they have headed to the till with one tiny t-shirt that you swear wasn’t among the things they counted out anyway, leaving you with several armfuls of stuff and no free hand to sort them with, wandering round the shop trying to work out where they all came from and whether you can manouvre them back on the rail without breaking your wrists.  The A* hardcore players of this game will stand at the till looking really concerned and say, “I’ve just left the rest of them in there, is that okay?”  This is the cue for everyone else on shop floor to remember they have other things to do and stare meaningfully at the Saturday girl.

2. The “Have you got any cardigans?” game

A personal favourite, this one involves sidling up to you and asking the single question, “Have you got any cardigans/dresses/trousers/leggings?”, and then refusing to answer any more questions about what colour, price range, make or anything else vaguely distinguishing until you personally take them around the entire shop pointing every separate cardigan out, in all sizes, materials and colours.  If you don’t take them around personally they will wander about the shop looking entirely lost, and always just within your line of sight, until you reconsider.

This game is particularly effective because the customer doesn’t even necessarily have to be present.  I have played it over the phone before (by a woman who wanted a cardigan, not v-necked, and not polyester, in size large-ish), and then there is the mother of all cruelties which is sending their husband in to play by proxy.  A few weeks ago a gentleman came in looking very apologetic saying, “My wife was in here last week.  She saw a green top she liked, apparently it was over here somewhere…” (gesturing widely at a collection of three displays in lime green, bottle green and teal respectively).  The nature of the top any further than this, or the size of the woman, he could not say.

3. The Shop Assistant Knows All Game

I hear complaints all the time about customers who assume that because you’re a shop girl, you know nothing.  I’ve rarely had this problem – there’s always one, obviously – but a problem I have had is the customer who assumes that because you’re a shop girl, you know the chest/waist measurements, material composition, maiden name of the first wife of the manufacturer and ethical integrity of each and every single garment on shop floor.  After a while I learned off by heart the conversion from continental shoe sizes, care instruction symbols and some of the symbols on shoes to tell you what they’re made of, and of course being a knitter helps because you know a bit more about a few of the materials because you’ve worked with them yourself.  However, being presented with a hat and asked, “Was this angora ethically farmed?” is somewhat beyond my line of ordinary knowledge.  It’s also not fair to ask a question about a garment while deliberately witholding the information on the label.  Nobody’s that good at guessing.  Even if I can now spot alpaca from thirty paces.

4. The Am I Being Served Yet Game

This one is only ever played in two situations: when I’m wrestling with the hoover and have cables all over the floor, and when I am five minutes away from my lunch break.  The customer will try and get your attention to whatever they would like you to help them with.  If you are hoovering, they will follow you around the shop with an increasingly sour expression until you drop the hoover and attend to them.  If you drop eye contact for a minute they will exclaim loudly to the world in general, “Is anyone serving here?”  Clearly not, at the moment.  If you are raring to go on your lunch break, anything up to a half-dozen of them will play the game together, with five of them following you around shop floor while you serve the sixth, who also expects your undivided attention.  This one is easiest to fall for when fitting shoes, partly because they have you stuck in one small corner of the shop, and partly because not on their life does anyone else want to come and help you.

5. We Would Like To Remind Our Customers That The Store Will Be Closing In Five Minutes’ Time

Shop time works differently to any other time.  If it is your tea break, fifteen minutes is synonymous with twenty-five.  If it’s the last half-hour of the day, that lasts about four times as long.  If a customer hears that they have five minutes left, that means at least ten, and probably closer to fifteen.  Some of them will attempt to placate the nearest shop assistants with, “Don’t worry, we’re going to buy something!” to which the standard response is for everyone to gather by the till and mutter that you couldn’t care less, and that they’re only paying you til half past five anyway.  One glorious couple a few years’ back wandered around the shop explaining to each other and the rest of us that in Costa Rica, it wasn’t like this at all and if you wanted to shop they’d keep the store open for you.  It didn’t go down very well.  Whenever they left a department for the next one, we turned off all the lights in the place they’d just been.  Eventually, they marched down the no longer moving escalator, and left.