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I set up the Inspiration Exchange at Derby Theatre and In Good Company’s Departure Lounge festival, with our friends at S.H.E.D. The SHED was set up outside in ‘Derbados’, behind the theatre itself, near the entrance to the Studio.

We varied the format for this run of the Exchange, and people could book in to half-hour slots, as well as just dropping in, with the plan for me to do five of these 30 minute cycles, with a 15 minute Story Of The Day summing-up performance at the end.

We set up the table with ten official, book-able chairs for audience members, plus another layer of SHED-provided tyre-stools and benches. This meant the Exchange ran more as a show for a small audience, rather than as a one-to-one as it sometimes does, and this felt entirely right for the day.

We even had some intro music.

Although it was only a short Exchange, it was one of the busiest and we swapped some great stories. My initial temptation was just to write up all of the stories I was told in as much detail as I can remember and post them here as the Story of the Day.

But that’s not the deal. 

I know from experience that some people tell a particular story in the Inspiration Exchange because it is not recorded – because it is oral history. It is conversation. They tell the story to me, and other audience members, knowing it might get re-told that day or another day. But that is different to putting a full written version online. So when I’ve done that previously I’ve tried to check with the story-sharers that that’s okay.

Occasionally people ask me what I’m going to do with all the stories collected – will there be a publication…? I understand this question – many of our projects have collected stories towards a ‘final’ show. But for me the Inspiration Exchange is a growing collection of stories that are re-told in conversation. At the same time, I like there to be a trace, a record of each day, an acknowledgement of the generosity of the people who shared stories with me. So, here is an attempt to strike a balance.


I swapped MY MUM SAID: “YOU WILL CALL THIS CHAPTER, ‘WAITING FOR THE LADS’”
For ONE DAY YOU’LL WRITE A BLOG ABOUT THIS
This first swap seemed to establish one of the themes for the day – looking back at chapters of our lives, realising that something good can come from not always great experiences. In this case, a disastrous outdoor dance performance, cancelled at the last minute, meant that two of the audience of 700 who were sent away, went back to their hotel room and made a baby!

Also, however stressful it was at the time, in the immediate aftermath of the cancellation, a friend of one of the organisers pointed out to him that eventually it would be a good story to tell: “One day you’ll write a blogpost about this.” 

Continuing the chapters theme,
I swapped WE’RE NOT RACING
For WE’RE NOT RACING, WE’RE JUST TESTING
A story about a new job and a new chapter. And about definitions. 

A new chapter deserves a new car. A silver VW Golf GTTDI Red Eye. A great car, by all accounts. But the job? Not so great. 70 hour weeks, hard work. After three years it was time to move on again, start a new chapter, sell the Golf, buy a Camper Van, hit the road.

Selling the Golf was more drawn out than expected, and culminated with the Golf and the would-be buyer’s beat up Honda Civic lined up on a stretch of disused road ready for an an illegal race – sorry, a ‘test to see which was fastest’.

I swapped SAINSBURY’S ARE NOT MY KIND OF PEOPLE
For SHIT AT TRAVEL ARRANGEMENTS
A story of discovery. Sometimes your travel agents aren’t quite as Shit At Travel Arrangements as they appear. Sometimes it might be the lack of a forwarding address that means your tickets haven’t arrived.

But sometimes, lying on the floor and crying means they will let you on the plane. In fact, this is so effective, you might use it more than once.

I swapped A MOTHER’S LOVE
For FULL MOON
A story that begins with the end of another chapter, and introduced a run of stories about parents.

A Dad passes away leaving a Mum, a Brother and a Sister. Mum decides that she will try to find the positive in this, try to treat it as a new beginning. She will start doing some things she has never done before. 

She takes the children travelling around Vietnam. Whilst on this trip, the Brother and Sister, young adults, both notice a shift. They both notice themselves becoming the parents, their Mum becoming the child.

They get home from Vietnam. Life carries on. Mum continues to try new things.

Because of his work, the Brother is used to being asked about the effects of psychedelic substances on the brain. What actually happens physiologically when you take X? What would happen if you took Y and Z at the same time? But he is still surprised when he gets a message from Mum asking how she would go about taking ecstasy?

He acquires some for her, and she and a friend give it a try. They have a great time. This becomes Mum’s thing. Taking the occasional e with friends.

Recently to the telling of this story, the Mum, Brother and Sister all went to see a concert by The Jacksons, one of Dad’s favourite bands. Dad’s name was Mahtab, which means ‘moonlight’, or ‘full moon’. The Jacksons concert was outdoors, on the night of a full moon. The Mum, the Brother, the Sister all took an e, and they danced to Dad’s favourite music beneath the full moon, and it was joyous.

I told THE LNG LAGOS & THE DEAD JELLYFISH
But L. needed a bit longer to think about it before she gave me a story back.

I swapped TEN-POUND POM
For SPORTING EXCELLENCE
The weird experience of getting to the pub at 7am in order to watch England play in the Rugby World Cup, taking place on the other side of the world.

The tension when it was still a draw after 80 minutes.

The feeling when Johnny Wilkinson scored that drop kick in the final moments.

I swapped THE LNG LAGOS & THE DEAD JELLYFISH
For LADS BEING BASTARDS TO OTHER LADS
L. decided to tell me one of her Dad’s stories. 

A bunch of lads doing up a rural shed*. An old one, big enough to fit a few bunk beds in. Some laddish pranks involving A Spider As Big As A Fist**. But the prank backfires slightly when the lads realise they have lost track of the enormous spider, and so have to retreat to the pub.

*Back in the 70s it was not unknown to ask a farmer if you could build a shed in the corner of one of their fields, to use as a base for your outdoor activities – trekking, rambling, scouting and so on.

**L. admits that her Dad may have exaggerated this detail.

I swapped AN 86 YEAR OLD AUNT WHO SMOKES 40 A DAY
For SPOOKED OUT BY THE ATTIC
A story in the wrong time. Spooky noises from the attic, a mystery unsolved. But it doesn’t happen at night, having just moved in to the house, it happens in the middle of the afternoon, two years later.

In the Exchange we talk about the things you say in these weird situations, when you are (almost definitely) alone, but call out to people who (almost definitely) aren’t there. 

I swapped THE WILD CEILIDH
For TAKE MY CAR
A story of surprising generosity, set in the almost mythical New York of the mid-1990s. The Bronx. Queens. Harlem. Central Park. Lexington Avenue. A story that includes lessons on the need to ‘look hard’ and how we can mis-judge the times we need to do that.

On the day that the only non-American team taking part in the ‘World Series, the Toronto Bluejays, had indeed won the ‘World’ Series, two Brits win a lot of money from their new American friends at a Poker Party.

Unsure how they’re going to get home after the trains have stopped – a stranger offers them his car. More adventures lost in night-time New York… but eventually they get home safe. Drop the car off, leave the keys, never see their benefactor again.

I swapped LETTING GIRLS BE
For YOU DO YOU
A story about a Mum swapped for a story about a Dad, and about a Mum.

A skiing accident leaves S.’s Dad more accident prone and clumsy. A second visit to the hospital back home reveals that he had been having a slow brain haemorrhage since the accident.

The hospital kept him in, and what S. now knows, but didn’t at the time, was that the hospital told her Mum that her Dad wouldn’t make it. Her Mum protected her from this.

They waited. And the hospital were wrong. Her Dad made it. And he came round as a new person, with a new perspective on what was important. “S.,” he would say, “you do you.” And if she was ever having boy trouble, for example, his advice would be, “Just get rid.” Be yourself, he seemed to understand now, and don’t waste time on stuff that causes you stress.

I swapped YOU DO YOU
For LATECOMERS POLICY
A story about being in a bad situation. A situation where you are under-trained, and under-prepared. Where you don’t know what the ‘correct’ thing to do is, and you have to make an instinctive choice of what action to take. A story about choosing to help.

A story of how making a good choice in a bad situation can stay with you and how you can continue to learn from that choice and that experience, years later.

I swapped FULL MOON
For I’M STILL STANDING
A story with its own special dance.

I swapped I’M GOING ANYWAY
For HAY HILL IN THE DARK
The story of a 10th birthday adventure, out on bikes at night, speeding along winding country lanes. Fun-scary. The thrill of your Mum and Dad not knowing – everyone told their parents they were going to someone else’s house. And at the top of the hill, a lovely view.

Yes, you get caught. Yes, everyone is in trouble. Yes, your Mum is furious. But, bundled into the car on the way home you realise: if there’s something you really want to do, if you’re clever enough, you can find a way of doing it.

I swapped AN INSIDE OUT SHIRT
For THERE’S MORE TO ME THAN MY TITS
Years ago now. Talking to a friend, a few months after the events in question, you both realise that you wore very similar tops on the nights you lost your virginity. Tops that you had thought about, had chosen specially. But the boys didn’t seem very interested in those tops. They just wanted to get them off.

A revenge ritual is decided upon. You take the tops out with you, and go to the houses that each boy lives in with their parents. You hang the tops on their garden gates, entwined with the bars, arms outstretched. Making them see the tops.

What, you wonder later, did their parents think?

I swapped DONALD BUILT A SWIMMING POOL (AND PHYLLIS SAW HIM)
For DON’T LET IT BE
A pub crawl around Liverpool with your Mum. In the Cavern Club she volunteers to sing Let It Be onstage. It isn’t good. In fact, it’s bad.

But it’s the first time you realise that she is brave, she has courage. She wanted to get up and sing - so she did.

And this moment changes her, too. She quits her job as a Carer and becomes a Hairdresser, like she’s always wanted to do. She’s still doing it. You get her some business cards made for her birthday.


At the end of the afternoon, during the Story of the Day performance, I ran out of time. So I didn’t get to tell the last five stories. But I did show everyone the I’m Still Standing dance.

Thanks to everyone at Derby Theatre, In Good Company and the S.H.E.D. team for their support, and of course special thanks to the brilliant audiences and story-tellers - here’s hoping I got the balance right.

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