I spent last weekend at the wonderful WROUGHT Festival. It's been a pleasure to be able to support this festival with some mentoring, and it was a real joy to perform at it. (See previous post for what else we were doing/what else was happening).
For five and a bit hours on Sunday I was happily tucked away in a corner of The Hide in Sheffield, running the Inspiration Exchange. At the end of the day, at the start of the closing discussion of the Festival, I gave a little 'summing up' performance, trying to say just one thing about each story I was given. I said something like this:
I swapped DOGS WITH SQUASHY FACES
For THE SPEED DATE
Which is a story about how finding yourself in an unusual social situation, where the normal rules don't seem to apply, means that you find yourself behaving differently, more openly, than usual; and this raises the question as to whether this version of you is the real you?
I told A 6B PENCIL, but didn't swap it for anything straight away, as the woman who chose that card had to go in to another performance. I'll be back, she told me, with a good story. Though it occurred to me after she had gone that as we had also talked about seeing photos of the process of Picasso creating Guernica, and about her Dad's drawings as an aeronautical engineer, she had actually already shared some inspiration with me.
I swapped DENDROCHRONOLOGY
For FRAGMENTS OF GLASS ON THE BEACH
A story of a little girl walking on the beach, head down, like this, looking for beautiful jewels of glass, seaglass she calls it, in amongst the stones; it's the story of this girl now grown up, and preparing to move house and realising that she has pieces of glass, and pottery and beach stones, washed up on windowsills, shelves and under tables all over her home. She packs them up, and moves with them, confirming that they are, indeed, valuable to her. Now she just has to decide what to do with them, how to display them.
I swapped BARBERS CHANGE LIVES
For THE LOCKED DOOR
A mystery story. A story about getting a phone-call from your mother when she knows you are on a plane home from Osaka to Tokyo, and knowing, therefore, that this is a serious phone-call. A phone-call about a locked door - a door that has been locked from the inside, when the only people who could, or should, have been able to lock that door, are on the outside of it. And it is an unsolved mystery. When you eventually get through the door, into the house, there is no one inside.
I swapped FRAGMENTS OF GLASS ON THE BEACH
For ORIGINALITY IS NOT ALWAYS SO ORIGINAL
Which is the observation that in the arts there is often a desire, a pressure, to be original, to come up with something new, to not be derivative; whereas in academic and scientific research, it is assumed that you are completely familiar with the work of your peers, and that your own research builds on theirs.
I swapped INSIDE-OUT SHIRT
For MUSTN'T CHANGE MY INSIDE-OUT T-SHIRT UNTIL 12 NOON
A story about not being superstitious, but actually being a little bit superstitious, about how we carry things with us, things that might seem small at the time, from childhood to adulthood, whether we like it or not, and how these things can still affect our behaviour as grown ups.
I swapped TAKE AWAY THE SCAFFOLDING
For FOR THE LOVE OF SCAFFOLDING
A story, or perhaps rather a declaration, or a sticking up for, scaffolding; a recognition that the structure of something, the bones, the construction, the scaffolding that enables something to be built, allows, therefore, something to be beautiful, can sometimes be as beautiful as the thing itself.
I swapped DO I DRAW THE ACTORS OR DO I DO WHAT I SAW?
For A CAR RIDE WITH STUART
A story in which after a number of threatening conversations with a a grumpy Edinburgh landlord, due to a banking error, which involve him actually driving you to the bank, to a cash point, to get money for the rent that that bank hasn't processed, in a sequence of events that includes him threatening to throw you out onto the street, after all of these fractious, aggressive encounters, after finally getting the money out of you, he does at least drive you back into the city centre, during which he then attempts to make small talk, and resume everyday social niceties as if this hadn't all happened.
I told LETTING GIRLS BE, but again didn't swap it for anything straight away, as the woman who chose that card had to go in to another performance. I worried, momentarily, that this might become a motif of the afternoon...
I swapped BUILDINGS AS TIME-TRAVELLERS
For ACTING IN FEAR
A story about how, just because your 8 year old son was brave enough to visit an interactive, immersive, Dr Who experience, with full-size Stone Angels, that doesn't mean that he's old enough to be taken to a fully immersive performance set in a nightmarish dystopian future, within the huge concrete expanse of Park Hill flats, in which teenagers are being rounded up, apparently, and imprisoned, nor that teenagers, just because they're still children, aren't going to make a serious, dark and terrifying show.
I swapped THE IDEA OF A RETRONYM
For IS IT THE PERFECT DRESS
A story about realising that just because a particular social occasion demands that you should dress in a particular way, it's fine for you to choose a dress that you feel comfortable in, a dress that makes you look like you.
And the woman came back and I finally swapped A 6B PENCIL
For DONALD BUILT A SWIMMING POOL (AND PHYLLIS SAW HIM)
A long and complex story with a series of important plot points, of which this can only be a summary.
But a young girl growing up in the in the 1930s has a very controlling father who thinks that he will - eventually - decide who she will marry.
But her mother inherits some money and decides to put her foot down and pays for the daughter to train as a nursery nurse.
She completes her training and becomes a live-in nurse for sick children.
When the Second World War breaks out she's already half way to being a fully trained nurse.
So she enrols, completes her training, and finds herself as a military nurse stationed in Palestine.
There are a group of Canadian airmen being treated in the hospital, and once they are better, but not yet well enough to return to active duty, they decide to build a swimming pool, for everyone to use, but mainly to impress the nurses.
One day, once the pool is finished, Phyllis steps out of one of the hospital tents for a break, still wearing her full military nurse uniform.
She sees, in the pool, a single swimmer (there may be other people around, but we just see the two of them), a big Canadian airman, in the middle of the pool, who raises his head from the water and their eyes meet.
And they know.
He climbs out of the pool, and says, I just have to go and organise my men [there's a sports day on and he's in charge], but then I'm going to come back, and I would like to take you to dinner.
And they know.
And one day, years later, their grandaughter will tell me this story.
I swapped AN UNBOOKABLE PIECE OF KIT
For A TALE OF TWO GIANTS
A story that draws a parallel between two feuding technical offices in a university who will not speak to each other, and a children's story about two giants who have been throwing boulders at each other from their two islands for so long they have forgotten that they are brothers and it is only when they rush out into the sea to try to hit each other with clubs do they see that they are both wearing one sock from the same pair and then remember that they are brothers and that they shouldn't be fighting.
I swapped 01369 870212
For I DIDN'T KNOW I WAS IMPORTANT
Which is about discovering, much later in life, after you have grown up, that back when you were a child, when you were looked after by someone who lived with you, when you had an au pair, who much later, when she has grown up and grown older, and lost her husband and her son, decides to go back to revisit the people in her life who were important to her, how when that happens you discover that even though you were only a child, you were important to someone, without you even knowing.
[I realise now that I forgot to mention that I swapped
ORIGINALITY IS NOT ALWAYS SO ORIGINAL
For THE VALUE OF A LITTLE BIT OF FREEDOM]
I swapped IS IT THE PERFECT DRESS?
For A BIG PILE OF [TALKING] SHIT
Which, however improbable this might sound, is about good always triumphing and evil always being defeated.
I swapped FOR THE LOVE OF SCAFFOLDING
For VEG TALK
The story of how Greg Wallace started on the radio presenting a Radio 4 programme, Veg Talk, back in the day when to complain about BBC programmes you used to have to phone up to complain, and people would complain about Greg Wallace having a regional accent, and how at the time there was at least one person in the complaints office who thought this was not a valid complaint so whenever anyone did phone up to complain about this they logged the call as praise, as someone phoning up to say, this is great, lets have more of it, and so, possibly as a consequence, Greg Wallace got a second series.
This story also features the fact that back at this time, regular complainers would give themselves pseudonyms to hide behind: "Hello, this is The Red Shadow! I'm phoning to complain..."
And the second woman came back and I finally swapped LETTING GIRLS BE
For THE INSECT HITCH-HIKER
The story of how a small, simple act of kindness, such as flicking an insect from a stranger's shoulder, so they are no longer standing paralysed with fear and can continue across the road, can make the day of both the flicker and the flickee.
I swapped AN 86 YEAR OLD AUNT WHO SMOKES 40 A DAY
For HUMANITY LOOKING ON
A story about scale, about how life size figures looking out of a painting can make eye contact and implicate you, the viewer, in the scene of an execution that you could not even have been present at because it happened before you were even born.
I swapped ACTING IN FEAR
For BEING EAVESDROPPABLE
A story about how someone sitting close to you, in a pub, can assume that this conversation you keep having with different people is a job interview, an interview for a job behind the bar, but then realise after it is explained to them that it's an interview for a job in a performance, oh, no, actually it is a performance, and how they have learned quite a lot about British law by eavesdropping on this, what is it, a performance, and how that seems entirely appropriate.
I swapped MONKEY VISIT
For SWAN PROTECTION
Which is a story about grief. About how pikes are dangerous fish. About how swans are monogamous. But I suppose really this is a story about a mother protecting her children.
And then we were out of time. Thanks to everyone who swapped a story with me, and thanks for listening.