Well, it’s been an up and down sort of year. It started with something of a feverish burst of creativity – working with The Three Belles to craft their stage show Sing Sing Sing into a brand new beast for performance at The New Theatre Royal, Portsmouth on 5th February. Two weeks of intensive collaboration, co-directing the show and helping out where I could came to a conclusion on that chilly night, with a packed house and a very happy audience.
For me, this was one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever done. Working closely with the Belles, chucking ideas at Anneka, Izzie and Sally and playing creative tennis by email with the script was joyous.
After that day in early Feb, I hit a low, I have to say. The cold nights of winter continued. A trip to the Tunisian desert with Jackie was fascinating, but she had to put up with me being a grouch. It was great to see her loving it, though. And there was a moment, when the desert foxes barked in the distance and the star-filled night froze the water in the washing-up bowl to a thick sheet of ice, that I realised a little bit more about the strange nature of the world.
It was extraordinary walking across a lunar landscape with a wind blowing for 500 miles off the snowcapped mountains of Morocco across the flat lands, bringing sand and dust and a reminder of the great empty spaces outside of civilization, and dumping it all in my salad. How much sand I ate that week, I do not know.
Strip out the machinery and the creature comforts and you see humans at their most impressive – living despite the harshness of their surroundings.
Slowly winter opened into spring, and in a moment of optimism I decided that I would take on the house. I ripped up the floor in the dining room to investigate a damp patch in one corner of the room, and ended up renewing the joists, rebuilding the walls (and nearly collapsing a corner of the house), mixing by hand and laying half a ton of concrete to build a hearth and tanking a wall after the replacement of the damp proof course didn’t have the desired outcome.
All this took many months while I worked on other projects. In the writing sphere, I continued my articles for The Best You magazine, and I conceived a whole series of ideas for stories, wrote a radio play starring The Three Belles, commenced a novel starring them, wrote a little horror story for the Day of the Dead event organised by Will Sutton and developed different talks for different audiences on the nature of writing.
This year also saw the departure of Dom Kippin, the Literature Development Officer with Portsmouth City Council, who had brought so much to city culture. I stepped in for him after he departed to give a talk entitled: “Portsmouth The Home of Great Writing” – and demonstrated how the city itself had shaped the thinking of some of the greatest writers of the last 150 years, including Conan-Doyle and Rudyard Kipling. The talk was well-received, and I think that’s one I’d like to do again.
Other connections with the council included me writing the educational resource material for the City Museum’s Egyptian exhibition – which included its own real mummy. This was utterly fascinating and took me back to the time I lived and taught in Egypt. I have a mass of resource material on this amazing country, and it was fun to delve into the old knowledge and reuse it for kids. This is something I adore doing.
Other connections with the Council were less fruitful. Having a series of ideas knocked back by the City Development and Culture Service in a manner that was both rude and combative hit me hard. I remain deeply committed to Portsmouth, but will find other ways to express my love for the place, and am looking elsewhere for for ways to promote the city and my ideas.
The hypnosis has been fun. I have several people now wandering around able to give talks to crowds, who were absolutely terrified of getting up in front of others before I put them under the ‘fluence. This, I have to say, has been deeply rewarding. I love to give people more freedom. There have been some wonderful successes in this line, including some people who were very low who I’ve really helped to see things in new ways. This is not boasting, just a reflection of their feedback. We have to do what we can for others, I guess.
The later half of the year saw some projects outside my normal workload. Developing the relationship at The Three Belles’ In The Mood show between Charles Fallowfield-Smith and Gail was fun. The first time Gail gave me a slap in front of the Gen Pub was interesting – especially hearing the audience’s gasp…
This got me thinking about how you work the emotions of a big crowd. Stepping in to compère The Three Belles‘ show at Gravesend gave me an opportunity to do more of the same. I was given about 45 minutes’ notice to get a talk together. I had a hoot and the audience loved it. Developing Gail and Charles’s relationship further at St Ives was really cool. The black eye she gave me after our drunken row at that show was great fun – as was extemporising a speech when I had no idea what I was going to say even as I stepped on to the boards. All good stuff and genuinely not nerve-wracking.
The character of Charles that I play fits like a glove, and it was fun in December to compère again for the ladies at Portsmouth Guildhall in front of a crowd of 350 on that big stage. Where else would I learn to play with an audience? Thanks to the Belles for that.
There have been other moments. Waking on a hillside not far from Evesham with Jackie was lovely. There is a magic that happens when we go on holiday in the camper van. Back at home, helping to get the house together with her, creating a home space that works for both of us – this has been new territory for me. It has stretched me, too – but I’m pleased with the results we have started to achieve together and I forever look forward to being with her when we are apart.
The year ends with new ideas and thoughts. I want to work more with actors and write more stage works. The Three Belles have shown me how my words can really come to life in a way I never expected. There is a new project in the offing with them, too.
A fascinating year. I feel like it has been one of transition. There is more to tell, but this, I think summarises the important stuff.
Thank you for being my friend. Have a wonderful New Year.