Saturday 31 December 2011

Off The White

I like that feeling. In the pit of your stomach. After you’ve jumped off something. Not just off a chair, or even a wall. Off something too high. Something so high you’re gonna hurt yourself. Unless you hit water.

Walsall Gala Baths. You weren’t allowed to jump off the diving boards. You had to ask permission to even dive off the highest. The White Board. Colour coded (in Jubilee Year). Red – fairly high; Blue – high; White - fucking high. Strict safety measures in place. A dressing room door, wedged across the stairs from The Blue to The White. Marker pen warning: “NO ACCESS TO WHITE BOARD WITHOUT PERMISSION! That includes you, Wilson”.

The pool looked so small from up there. A whistle. Everyone stops and looks up. No pressure. If you dived badly, (belly flop, back flop) it really hurt. But if you got it right, fantastic. But not the same as jumping. Diving tells your body it’s safe. Head first. You know what you’re doing. That stomach-pit panic doesn’t grip.

Winter 1980 (81?), mid-week. Dark outside. Kick out time. Just you and your mates left. Ask the attendant. (Not life guards. Not in the Midlands). Ask the attendant:

- Can I just go off The White?
- Yeah, alright. If you’re quick.

Pad round the pool side. The water is already becoming still. You used to think it would take half an hour for a pool this big to quiet. But look. It’s only moving gently now. As your trot up the rough wet stairs to the side of The Red. Turn left. Steps up. Pulling yourself up by the hand rails. Left. Onto The Blue walkway. Left. Steps. Up. Over the wedged cubicle door. Top board. The White.

Walk to the edge. Toes curl round the hard concrete. Shivering. Pool shifts slowly. One big ripple. Your mates, halfway down the poolside. You sway. Look down. Instinctively, your hands move. They cup your bollocks.

It could really fucking hurt your balls jumping from this high, and there’s that thing you’ve heard about hitting water so hard it pushes your bollocks back up into you body, but that’s probably like that story that if you are in a falling lift you should keep jumping because if you’re in the air when it hits the ground it will reduce the impact and you might not die.

You jump. You drop fast. Your stomach tightens. The feeling starts lower; moves up your body; towards your chest. You count.




The dark blue of the deep end. You don’t quite hit the bottom. Kick legs. Break surface with a shake of your head. Swim to the side. Pull yourself up the cold metal steps. The attendant... laughing. 

Showers. Shouting. Changing room. Chip shop. 


This short story was included as a chapter in the solo performance versions of Words & Pictures. It was also the piece that inspired the title to the performance of Off the White (actually about benches) and also partly Learning to Swim, both pieces I made with Paula Diogo. Reading this lovely piece by Emma Adams reminded me that I had been meaning to post it here for a while. So here it is.


Friday 16 December 2011

A Christmas Single

When I was six, I got a Bionic Man action man for Christmas. I remember that I knew that that was what it was from the size and shape of the box, when it was still wrapped under the tree. I suspect I was very familiar with the dimensions of its packaging from coveting it in toyshops.

My Mom used to let me open one Christmas present on Christmas Eve – probably, I now realise, as a way of diffusing the extreme Christmas morning excitement which would have seen me waking her up at 5am. So I chose the present I knew was my Bionic Man and was overjoyed. I don't remember much else about that Christmas, but I remember he had a red tracksuit and trainers, and some sort of peel-up-able skin on his arm to reveal his bionics.

If you'd asked me at any point in my life what my Favourite Ever Christmas Present was, I would have said that it was that Bionic Man. Mainly because I wanted it so badly, and the massive helping of joy it delivered when I opened it. But I did love it and played with it a lot for the next couple of years.

A few years ago, though, I was lucky enough to get an espresso machine as a joint Christmas and birthday present. And that brings me a little shot (or two) of joy every morning. If I weigh it up, I suspect, the espresso maker has made me even happier, over the years, than my red-tracksuited bionic man.

And then about six months ago I thought I had lost the watch I was given one particular Christmas, and I went a little bit mad until I had found it again - ten minutes later in a pocket in a bag I hadn't noticed before. "Ah," I realised, "it turns out I'm really rather attached to this watch." 

Is 'favourite' favourite now, favourite at the time you opened it, or most important over a longer portion of your life?

Last weekend at the Slung Low Christmas Fayre in Leeds, with help of Hannah Nicklin, and last night at the Inbetween Time Christmas Party in Bristol, I asked people what their favourite ever Christmas present was. I asked them to make cards and write about their favourite presents, and took their addresses so they can all receive someone else's favourite ever present in the post.

People were, as people are, really thoughtful; people had, as people do, some great stories. It was a joy to hear and read them. It was planned as a one-off for the Christmas Fayre, so the invitation to Bristol was a nice surprise – and means I can send cards to/from people in different cities. I'd like to do it again. So perhaps this is a mini-performance equivalent of a Christmas single, and we'll re-release it next year.