Wednesday, 30 December 2009

continued from Monday's post:

...At first, she dismissed them as coincidences, the kind you notice, think of as a little weird, and then shrug off. Like the day she finally accepted that her favourite pair of shoes - an old pair of combat boots she picked up in a flea market and wore into the ground - were beyond repair and threw them out, and the next day, on the riverbank, there were fourteen shoe soles washed up. Fourteen. She counted them.

Later, the connections - that’s the word she uses for them - moved out of the realm of coincidence and into that of just plain creepy. It was the week after her Aunty Doris died, the old man’s last surviving sister, and she was feeling pretty shook up. She hadn’t spoken with that side of her family in years - still hasn’t - but she’d always liked the old lady. Most of the few memories she can bear to hang on to from her childhood have to do with Aunty Doris, a floral-patterned and talcum-powdered counterpoint to the old man’s tobacco-bitter darkness. So she goes to the river, because thoughts have been stirred up that she figured were burned fast to the bottom of the pan years ago. She doesn’t have her camera with her - she still regrets that now - because she’d jumped on her bike on a whim straight from work. But she can recall the image like it’s a photo of the objects she found on the shore: waiting for her, that’s how she puts it. There was a tea cosy, sodden and mud-stained, sure, but otherwise the exact likeness of the one her Aunty Doris gave her for Christmas the year before she moved away for good. There was an old lady’s cardigan, the loose-knitted kind, short in the waist, like what some old folks wear to bed. She’d never seen her Aunty wear one herself, but when she saw it she got a picture in her head, clear as day, of the old lady propped up in bed with the cardigan round her shoulders. And there was a pair of spectacles, one lens missing, and these she’s willing to swear could have been the very same ones she saw Aunty Doris wear every day that she knew her to read the classifieds in the local paper. She would have taken a photo of each item if she’d been able. She couldn’t actually bring herself to touch them, though she stood there staring at them for twenty, maybe twenty-five minutes solid. The whole incident creeped her out, and for a while she avoided going back to the river bank.

She did return though, eventually, and does still. She carries her camera without fail. She’s become methodical - near scientific - in her documenting of the objects she finds. She’s got a wall in her flat devoted to the images she’s taken, but it’s almost full now and they’re going to spill over onto the next wall, which isn’t as good because it’s got the door to the kitchen right in the middle. But she likes to see them all spread out in front of her - it makes the connections easier to spot. There’s not yet been anything as major as what she calls the Aunty Doris situation, but even the tiny patterns she notices give her some satisfaction. There’s a message in them. Maybe over time the message will become easier to see, and maybe even whoever or whatever’s sending it will turn up. Not a ghost, of course. Something bigger, something cosmic perhaps. She’ll just keep taking her pictures and see.

Monday, 28 December 2009

what happens to the sole after the shoe dies?

She has a theory that she has not shared with anyone. She thinks that someone might be trying to send her a message. She doesn’t believe in ghosts or anything like that -- only crazies believe in ghosts and she’s not crazy -- but she’s always been good at spotting patterns, and lately she’s been seeing a lot of them.

There’s a place where she goes, see, when she needs to be alone. A spot on the river, where it bends, right before the weir. It’s wide and gentle, and it reminds her of a place where she used to go canoeing. There’s a beach, of sorts. Most folk would say that calling it a beach is an optimistic description; it’s more of a pebbly midden of shoreline that juts out from a muddy bank into the shallow rapids, before tapering off into the trees and shrubbery. She cycles there, and clambers down from the path with her bike. Twenty-five minutes from town, but it feels like a whole life time away.

Every river bank is littered with junk, and for a while she didn’t think this place was any different. She’s got an eye for washed-up garbage, an interest in detritus and other folks’ discards. Sometimes she takes photos of the stuff she finds, grainy saturated images on the cheap camera she carries. That’s how she started to notice the connections...

(tbc. maybe.)

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Always Be Prepared

The show's going well: it's good to have it on its feet again, and in front of an audience.

And the following is based on a true conversation...


(in a car)

me: after that I lay in bed figuring out where the best hiding place would be in the house, you know, just in case zombies did attack in the middle of the night.

H: The attic!

me: Yeah, yeah, the attic.

H: With the ladder pulled up

me: Yup. But then I couldn't get this image out of my head... Imagine opening the trap to check if the zombies are gone and just seeing the whole house filled with them staring back at you!


H: (thoughtfully) Maybe we should stash some food up there...


Also, if you're wondering where the zombies came from (in my head that is, not where they come from generally), I think I've figured it out. It's because a friend of mine searched for "ugliest dog" in google the other night, and showed me the picture that came up.

Go on, you know you want to.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Zombies ate my creativity!

Anxiety? I laugh in the face of anxiety!
...(and then have zombie nightmares the night before a new show...)

Monday, 14 December 2009

Such stuff...

I'm in rehearsals for a show right now, so my days are filled mostly with, well, rehearsals (or food preparation, it seems).

Here's a list of images found in my dreams last night (two separate dreams, I believe):

at least four people I know personally: Joel, Jer, the Little One, Dempsey.
Willem Dafoe
William Burroughs
a cocaine factory
my mobile phone
a police raid
picnic benches
an orchard
my old flat in London

I don't pretend that any of it makes sense to me.

Monday, 7 December 2009

I am.

Apologies for the long silence, if anyone is actually following this on a regular basis. I've started a few posts of late but have found them too concerned with gazing at my own navel - and if I find that tedious, I'm certainly not going to inflict it on anyone else.

But I've just had a lovely weekend of lazing about, doing little of note, but all of it in the sort of company that makes my heart smile.

A rest is sometimes as good as a cure...

At the end of last week I made a flying visit to London; I had a rehearsal, a meeting, a ticket to a play, and 30 hours in which to fulfill these things. Two of those hours I passed at the Wellcome Collection, exploring the new exhibition on identity. If you live in London and you've never been to the Wellcome Collection, stop reading this and go now: it's a beacon of rationality on Euston Road. The Collection broadly describes itself as a place where "you can consider what it means to be human". The current exhibition is more specific in its exploration of identity: how we formulate an answer to the question of "who am I?". I left it with a new interest - Claude Cahun - a French photographer and writer born at the end of the nineteenth century, and dissatisfied with the sexual identity presented to her by society at the time. I have to look up more of her writings. Here is a very cool photo of her pulled off the net - presumably a self-portrait as that is primarily what she produced.

In general, it was refreshing to see the vast grey areas of sexual identity acknowledged and presented rationally, which rarely occurs in the media (remember the furor this past summer about the South African runner Caster Semenya?). It's even more rare to be presented publicly with role models, individuals whose choices in their lives reflect the fact that while human sex may have biological determinants, it is more importantly a matter of what you feel you are - where you think you fall on the spectrum of female to male. It's a topic about which I feel quite strongly. At the end of the exhibition, you're invited to fill out a "monitoring form" unlike any I have encountered before. The very first page, in place of the binary identity question of "male/female", instead offers this (apologies for the poor quality picture, but you may just be able to make it out):

Where do you place yourself? Now imagine if we lived in a world where that was the standard...

Thursday, 3 December 2009

navel-gazing what I've been doing too much of lately, so no new post as yet.

In the meantime, I highly recommend my friend Greg's new project and blog here: he's writing a twitter play a day for one hundred days, aiming to be a better person by the end of it. Ninety-seven plays to go, but I think he's not far off his goal already...

Friday, 27 November 2009


(photo from Robb1e's photostream on Flickr here, used under the Creative Commons Attribution licence)

So says Martin Creed's illuminated sign on the front of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. I've been known to have my doubts. I've got a shaky film clip of it, which I quite like, and may eventually get around to posting. I wandered past the gallery last Sunday in Edinburgh with my sister and her boyfriend. We'd left the flat quite late, so only made it to the Dean Gallery before it closed, walking there along the Water of Leith, on the cusp of flooding like every other river I've seen recently. It was almost dark before we entered the gallery, darker when we left; as we walked home along the road, Creed's sign loomed out of the night rain at us, which might be the best way to encounter it.

When I was at high school in Ottawa, Canada, part of my bus route home took me down a winding hill. At the bottom was a church with a neon cross on the top, and in winter it was the only thing I could see outside the bus window, floating high in the darkness. The installation on the front of the gallery reminded me of this; not only because I remember the cross as being in the same cold blue neon as Creed's piece, but also because both signs aroused similar ambivalent feelings in me. I love the tacky aesthetic of neon, but being advised that everything is going to be alright in block capitals is a bit like being told DON'T PANIC. I wasn't going to panic, but I just might now...

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

I'm in St. Andrews, Scotland, visiting my sister. I found these bottle necks on the beach, including one with the cork still intact. I don't know what message that bottle was carrying, but I suspect no one ever received it. The sea keeps its secrets...

Monday, 16 November 2009

Brooded over by mist...

This past weekend I took a road trip to North Wales with the Clown and our friend the Pilot. The Clown had work to do, the Pilot and I were just along for the ride. There were all manner of severe weather warnings issued for Wales; certainly every river we passed on the way up was full to bursting and seemed on the cusp of flooding. I sat in the back of the van, watching the river that seemed a perpetual companion to whatever road we happened to be travelling and ran rapids in a canoe in my head.

The Clown's gig on Saturday was in Porthmadog; we were done there by mid-afternoon and took a winding route to Bangor through a corner of Snowdonia national park. It seems understated to use even the word stunning to describe the landscape in that part of Wales. I spent a formative part of my childhood in New Zealand, and I think I have spent all subsequent years dreaming of a place where the mountains meet the sea: Wales may be it. The road through Snowdonia was all painfully twisting corners, with lush valleys as an unexpected reward after the bends.

That evening we parked beside the Menai Strait to cook our dinner in the van, the lights of Anglesey (Môn) twinkling across the water. We were in the car park of a sailing club, and the wind rattling the rigging of the boats was the background music for our meal (pumpkin soup, lamb steaks and chips; a swig of scotch to wash it down, though not for the driver..). It might also have been the clink of weapons carried by the ghosts of Roman soldiers passing by in the darkness outside. Jan Morris, in her book on Wales, describes this place where the Druids of Celticism made their last stand:
The Romans entered Wales in about the year AD 50 and fought their way with difficulty towards this Celtic Berchtesgaden: not until AD 59 did they stand at last upon the Menai Strait...we do not know exactly where they made their crossing of the strait, which is nowhere more than a mile wide, but we do know just how they felt when, arriving upon its flat green shore and looking apprehensively over the water to the island beyond, they saw the Druids, their captains and their followers lined up on the oppostite bank. 'At this sight', says the historian Tacitus frankly, 'our soldiers were gripped by fear.'
Over the water it really was a fearful spectacle. The warriors were ranged along the water's edge 'like a forest of weapons'; the Druids stood with their heads raised to the sky, howling curses; and all around ran shrieking women, 'like furies', all in black, with hair wildly dishevelled and lighted torches in their hands. Even the Roman commanders, Tacitus tells us, hesitated before crossing the strait into such an apparent madhouse: but they were not the masters of Europe for nothing, and paddling across on rafts, swimming their horses, wading where it was shallow enough, the legionaries fell upon the Celts of Môn, slaughtering or capturing every one. All the holy altars of the Druids, all the magic groves of their culture were destroyed.
We live in more prosaic times: food in a muddy car park and then off to a travel lodge in highway services, rather than camping out in the van; probably a good idea judging by the howling gale that raged all that night.

The Clown's gig on Sunday was in Bangor. We got a chance to wander down to the beach, which was littered with slabs and shards of slate. It wasn't raining, for a change, and the light was beautiful. I tried to take some photos. I'm working only with a poor quality camera on my mobile phone, though I quite like what it does to the colour and texture of the images. I left with pockets full of slate pieces and other beach-combing finds.

I've decided all my Christmas presents this year will be either scavenged or home-made.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Today, just a poem.

Last Post

by Carol Ann Duffy

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If poetry could tell it backwards, true, begin
that moment shrapnel scythed you to the stinking mud ...
but you get up, amazed, watch bled bad blood
run upwards from the slime into its wounds;
see lines and lines of British boys rewind
back to their trenches, kiss the photographs from home -
mothers, sweethearts, sisters, younger brothers
not entering the story now
to die and die and die.
Dulce - No - Decorum - No - Pro patria mori.
You walk away.
You walk away; drop your gun (fixed bayonet)
like all your mates do too -
Harry, Tommy, Wilfred, Edward, Bert -
and light a cigarette.
There's coffee in the square,
warm French bread
and all those thousands dead
are shaking dried mud from their hair
and queuing up for home. Freshly alive,
a lad plays Tipperary to the crowd, released
from History; the glistening, healthy horses fit for heroes, kings.
You lean against a wall,
your several million lives still possible
and crammed with love, work, children, talent, English beer, good food.
You see the poet tuck away his pocket-book and smile.
If poetry could truly tell it backwards,
then it would.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

reason for it all

I watch a lot of theatre. Most of the time it feels like hard work. I often feel disillusioned and frustrated, or worse, indifferent (for a truly inspiring piece of writing about this feeling, read this blog post by Amanda Palmer). And then, occasionally, I'm fortunate enough to have an experience that reminds me why I've thrown myself into this whole theatre malarky in the first place.

One of those experiences was this past week at the Barbican, watching The Team perform their show Architecting. They are astounding. They are unapologetically ambitious - the themes they tackle are epic in scope: reconstruction - personal, national, global. They are for the most part excellent performers. And they are also my age. I was at the theatre with the Texan - we run a theatre company together with a few other people we met at drama school. We left the show near speechless, shaking our heads. It felt like a wake-up call, reminding us that we also should be making theatre like that: we have the abilities, but perhaps of late we have lost the drive. We need to sit down and reassess why we want to make theatre. I don't think there is one correct and constant answer to this - we discover new reasons for working all the time - but the question is important and one that we need to ask ourselves repeatedly.

We need to make theatre from material that is close to our hearts and deeply personal. I don't mean the stuff and drama of our daily lives, although I do not dismiss that either. I mean our ideals, our politics, our beliefs. We need not to be afraid of taking ourselves seriously. The Team take themselves seriously, and so they should.

The day after seeing Architecting, I went to a free exhibition at the Museum of Everything near Chalk Farm. This was also deeply inspiring, a collection of outsider and folk art. Most of the artists never thought of themselves as such and were unrecognised in their lifetimes. I wandered around the exhibit, and felt somewhat in awe of our human desire to create, without hope of an audience. Pieces of art made because they must be made, and then in many cases shut away for years without anyone ever seeing them. Scattered throughout the exhibition are pieces written by contemporary artists; one struck me in particular for the way that it summed up how I felt about watching The Team. The artist described his first encounter with his fellow's piece of art, and said that what he felt was envy, but a positive kind: ultimately he was glad that this work existed.

So, all in all, a thought-provoking few days in London. I'm back in Wales now for a week or so, and glad to be back. I cross the Severn Bridge with palpable relief; I like there is such a tangible boundary between where I've come from and the place that is my home for the present.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

things that go bump in the night

I'm in London for a few days, which means I'm trying to see as much theatre as I can fit in (and afford).

Yesterday evening I went to see this at the Barbican: seasonally appropriate vampire theatre. I walked in fairly confident that I don't ever get frightened in theatre (although films are a different matter entirely; I cannot watch scary films) and promptly had the living bejeezus scared out of me in the first room. Overall a good show; Slung Low have created an absorbing atmosphere very simply. They could probably do more with the concept, but that is probably an issue of time and resources. Still, I walked east from the Barbican with a prickly feeling between my shoulder blades, half-expecting every stranger who walked by to jump at me. It took a beigel and a doughnut in the harsh fluorescence of Brick Lane to shake that off.

I think London likes me better now that I don't live here anymore. She's a good city to visit if you know your way around, but every visit reassures me that I made the right choice in moving somewhere quieter. I'm going to walk as much as I can over the next few days, having more time than money. And also to give myself the chance to observe more.

Friday, 30 October 2009

both a place and a path

A Saturday night in Finsbury Town Hall. A gypsy swing band plays. The noise and chaotic movement of a party swirls around me, but I am pinned to the side of the dance floor, feeling anxious and exposed. The night may not notice me, I think, if I stay in my chair, so that is what I do.

My friend, the Texan, moves toward me through the dancers. We sit and talk. It's one of those conversations that hovers above something large, touching down here and there for the briefest of moments. Life. Art. Work. Ourselves. It's almost a throwaway line as he heads back to the dance floor:

"You should start a blog," he says. "I'm sure you've got more to say than you think."

And so here I am.

But of course it goes further back than that. I'm an actor. I've just entered my thirties. I've always written. Poetry, at times, though not in several years. Journals, for decades (I'm in my thirties now, I can say that). Over the last few years my journal-writing has also slipped. I suffer from depression, relatively mild I suppose, considering just how debilitating the disease can be. I function. I have days both good and bad. Gwyneth Lewis, in Sunbathing in the Rain, an excellent book on her experience of depression, says
The reason why writing is so hard and frightening is that, ironically, the process requires you to abandon your fictions and face up to your own truths. If you don't do this, the form you choose will show you up as a liar.
I have not been able to face myself on the pages of my journal; it has been like standing in an empty room with mirrored walls. Perhaps writing for an audience, however small, will keep me honest. I hope in that honesty what I write may be interesting to read.

This is not going to be a blog about depression, although, being as it is such an influencing force on my life, it will feature occasionally. This will be, I hope, reflections on my experiences as I negotiate what feels like a new direction in my life. I've recently moved to Wales after several years living in London. I have ideas about how I want to develop as a performer and artist that I am beginning to explore. I love theatre and poetry and literature and cooking and being outdoors...all these are also the stuff of my life.

As a starting point: today my friend the Clown landed on my doorstep with his video camera in his hands. He has given it to me to use, with the proviso that I make a film a day, no more than a minute in length. I will see him again in a week; he expects seven short films. I know next-to-nothing about film-making...