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Thursday, 28 September 2017

TAMS Mentoring 2017

We are delighted to announce that we have selected the Third Angel Mentoring Scheme artists for 2017, produced with the support of Sheffield Theatres, who will host the mentoring weeks.

We had 76 applications this year, and they were brilliant. It was so hard to long-list, let alone short-list, as there were so many exciting projects that we would love to have supported. Thanks to everyone who took the time to apply and share their ideas with us. Big thanks too to Yolanda Mercy and John R. Wilkinson for joining us in the excellently difficult task of selecting.

In the end we couldn’t get it down to just four projects, so we’re excited to be working with five artists and companies in the next few months:

Holly Gallagher, supporting the development of her new solo show about stress, which has the working title Tensile Strength or How to Survive at Your Wit’s End. @hollyrachael_


The Outbound Project, who are starting work on their new show, M.E.H. (working title) exploring Mass Epidemic Hysteria. @TheOBProject


Jessica Gibson, who will be developing an existing solo dance-theatre piece, Feeling. Self. Conscious. (working title) into a full-length show. @JessiJayGibson


Natalie Wong, who is developing a multi-collaboration project inspired by The Odyssey@nataliebw


Jake Bowen who will develop the format and touring potential of his interactive performance Plea Bargain. @JakeBowenArtist


We’re really looking forward to getting started – we’ll keep you posted about how the work develops.

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Edinburgh Fringe recommendations

We’re not taking a show to Edinburgh this August. We have a summer of plotting, planning, holidays, decorating and writing ahead of us, before an autumn of touring and mentoring, and a new show in 2018…

But there are many Third Angel artists and collaborators and friends with work at the Fringe, plus a number of artists who we are currently or have recently mentored. So if you’re going, do check some of them out.

From Third Angel artists and collaborators:

Chris Thorpe has a new play with Rachel Bagshaw and China Plate:
The Shape of the Pain at Summerhall
plus readings of 
Your Best Guess with our Portuguese family mala voadora (above) at Cameo Live
and his new piece 
Status with Rachel Chavkin at the Traverse and Northern Stage.


Photo: Proto-type and Fenia Kotsopoulou

Gillian Jane Lees is co-director of Proto-type Theater, who are at Summerhall with
A Machine They’re Secretly Building.

Artists who we’ve mentored recently, all presenting some lovely work this year:

Yolanda Mercy’s
Quarter Life Crisis is at The Underbelly.


photo: Lizzie Coombs

The Mayers Ensemble’s 
What If I Told You is at Army @ The Fringe in association with Summerhall


Charlotte Blackburn’s
Edgar & Me is at ZOO Southside.


Daniel Bye’s 
Instructions for Border Crossing
is part of Northern Stage at Summerhall.


Action Hero are performing their six-hour epic, Slap Talk, twice!


And LaPelle’s Factory are presenting their new show The Black Cat at Underbelly.


If I *was* going to the Fringe I would definitely be going to see:

photo: The Other Richard

Selina Thompson’s
salt which is part of Northern Stage at Summerhall.

…and checking out some other Sheffield/Leeds pals’ shows:

Javaad Alipoor’s The Believers Are But Brothers 
(Northern Stage at Summerhall)

Forest Sounds’ The Church of Jim is on at
The Black Market Room (The Free Fringe)

Heather Morgan and Lucy Haighton’s BEAM
is also at ZOO Southside.

Aletia Upstairs’ The Artist as Explorer at Summerhall.

Eggs Collective Get Around also at Summerhall (okay, they’re Manchester but they’ve been to Leeds recently, and did great work with my students).

And, let’s face it, I would be spending as much time as possible at the 250 hour durational role playing game performance ADVENTURERS WANTED at Sweet Holyrood.

Table drawing from the artists' conversation workshop at Flare 2017

This afternoon I was invited to be on the panel for the Flare Open Forum. It was an open discussion curated by Cradshaw (Kate Craddock and Teresa Brayshaw), with myself, Beth Cassani and Richard Gregory asked to contribute some thoughts and questions towards the end, particularly in reference to time and place. Here’s what I said.

(Although I tried to avoid spoilers, if you’re at Flare and haven’t seen Party by Beaches yet, probably best not to read this until you have).

**

I arrived in this room about 59 minutes ago, and 57 minutes ago, I started to write something, because Teresa and Kate asked me to say something. Here’s what I’ve written since then.

I arrived at FLARE at about 10.30 yesterday morning. My first experience of the festival was to facilitate a set of conversations which I then realised I had basically excluded myself from.

My relationship with time was then a familiar one from running workshops: “How is it going? I haven’t prepared enough to fill the time I’ve been asked to fill… oh, no, we’re probably okay… oh, no, we’re going to overrun, I’ll have to cut something… oh,no, I think we’ll be okay after all.”

So this is my question: where and when am I, or are you, when I am (you are) watching shows?

In Blind Cinema I am distant. I am at home with my children. I am here, missing them.

In Dead Pig’s A Work of ART I am present, in this room, watching their bodies, in the now, watching time pass for them.

In Emma Gannon’s Civilisation I am here, now, in this world, and sometimes, I think, in a near, possible future. Also, as a maker of shows, I am here, in the room, listening to the way she integrates scientific detail into her narrative, because that’s what I do, too.

In BOG’s One, performed by Lisa Verbelen, I am transported. To her world, to her time. Removed from my own frame. Entirely in the moment of her voice, in the moment of the mechanics of the show, in the moment that the gently scrolling screen tells me will happen next.

In K.U.R.S.K.’s Leopard Murders I am in the past. In the world’s past, in history. In a past I have heard about all my life, but not experienced because it happened before I was alive. I am reminded, though, that this past is only two generations ago.

And because the show is about Timo’s grandfather I am also with my Grandad. I am at Cape Wrath in Scotland six years ago, where I went to remember my him, and his journey to the same place nearly 30 years ago.

In Party, by Beaches, I am, because they place me there, in my own past. I am on a beach in Rio De Janeiro, at night, with my friends Paula and Claudia.

I am in my teenage bedroom, putting the audio cassette of Talking Heads’ Remain In Light into my Aiwa tape recorder (which at the time we called a ghetto blaster).

I am at the Crest Hotel Birmingham/Walsall (it was in Walsall but they thought more people would stay there if they said it was in Birmingham), - where I work behind the bar - Staff Christmas Party, December 1987, dancing with a girl who works in the restaurant, a girl whose name I can no longer remember, a girl who, despite the fact that she has asked me to slow-dance to this, the ballad at the end of the night, I will, for some reason, never kiss.

And then, later in the show, I am absolutely in my body, in this moment, in this room, with the nine people I came in with, plus the performers who are caring for us, thinking only about the sound I can hear, the shape my body is making, the feeling of being here, now.

In this room, in the last hour, I am in this room, now, but also back in those shows, and in the times and places they made me think of, feel of.

I am listening to Kate and Teresa talking about festivals, about time, about places.

Yesterday I was having a conversation about time, about the time it takes to get ready, and I talked about a story from the book Pip Pip: A Sideways Look At Time by Jay Griffiths, which is for my money, one of the best books written about time. In it she tells a story about being in a village in, I think, South America. Whilst she is there, a couple get engaged to be married, and the whole village celebrates. Jay asks them, “When will the wedding be?” And they don’t understand the question. They don’t understand the idea of setting a deadline then trying to get everything ready by that date. They think: get everything ready, and when it is ready, then have the wedding.

That’s maybe not very useful for people setting up and running festivals, but it’s what I think about when we start talking about time.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

My part in Partus

I’m really pleased to be able to share another postcard from the Partus team - this time from actor/writer Laura Lindsay (the previous one from Stacey Sampson is here).

I asked Laura if she would like to write about her take on being part of the Partus project - big thanks to her for sending this over. Partus is on at Barnsley CIVIC this week (10.30am & 7.30pm on Thursday 13 March); you can find Laura on Twitter @mslauralindsay.

**

Laura Lindsay in Partus; photo by Helena Fletcher

Hullo, I’m Laura. I’m an actor and theatre-maker and I am part of the cast and devising team behind Partus. Working on this show has been a hugely rewarding process for me and I thought it might be useful to share some of my discoveries. I have a fondness for subheadings, so here goes: 

1.     The Imposter

Partus, as many of you will know, is a show about birth. Now, I have not had the ‘pleasure’ of the experience, apart from being propelled into the world 30 some years ago. I also have not been part of a devising process, apart from at drama school nearly 10 years ago. So in many ways, I was a strange choice to join a team creating a devised piece of theatre about birth. Where are my credentials? This question is something I am often plagued with, as I think a lot of artists are. The imposter syndrome. However, working with Third Angel and the process of creating Partus together has enabled me to recognise and value my skillset and understand the importance of alternative perspectives in theatre-making.

Firstly, my lack of devising experience is only part of the picture. It is all too easy to focus on the things you can’t do or haven’t done. Being part of Partus has not only developed my knowledge and skills in devising, but it has highlighted and affirmed my aptitude in areas I think I took for granted. My writing experience was fully embraced by Rachael and Alex. I was encouraged in the suggestion of ideas, generating content and structuring the show. Gradually, I began to see my value in the process, because I was a different practitioner. They saw it before me, and for that I am very grateful.

So much of the structuring of theatre ecology is to separate it into different forms, and often as theatre-makers we can become a little blinkered and precious about our own specialism.  I think some of the most interesting theatre comes from blending these forms, from taking input from a variety of influences and knowledge bases to create something truly unique. Partus is a show I’m immensely proud of, but not one I could have ever envisaged making on my own. It blends verbatim accounts, songs, moments of absurd live art, scripted sections, audience interaction and balloon choreography. It’s bonkers. But then birth is pretty bonkers. So it feels apt.

My lack of being a mother – or being ‘child-free’, to put a more positive spin on it - was also an important part of creating this show, rather than a hindrance. I am the only one in the touring cast who hasn’t given birth.  For the first couple of weeks I battled with this, feeling a little bit like I wasn’t ‘in the club’. However, again gradually I began to see my value in this process. When dealing with a subject matter which is so emotive and personal, and is potentially a bit niche, it is really useful to have an outside perspective. My lack of personal experience meant I was able to contribute to objectivity about material, to ensure other voices are acknowledged and to help the process of broadening the appeal of the piece.

2.       The Audience

Integral to the devising process and to experimental live art is a recognition of the audience and the importance of clarifying their role within the piece of theatre. As an actor working on established scripts, which often deploy the ‘fourth wall’, it’s easy to almost forget about the audience, to focus on your own process, the journey of the character, your thoughts, your feelings, etc, etc. But ultimately, it is the audience who we create theatre for, it wouldn’t exist without them. We certainly wouldn’t get paid!  So it was really refreshing to put the existence of the audience at the centre of the conversation when creating the show. Who are they? Why are they listening? What is our relationship to them? What is their experience of the show? The process of devising live art highlights the role of the audience and focusses on the communication between them and the performer.

Touring the show to a variety of different venues has been a really valuable reminder of the potential power of theatre on an individual level. We received some of the most heart-filling, encouraging feedback from a man who was part of an intimate audience at Colchester Arts Centre. The piece had a profound effect on him on a personal level and he was kind enough to let us know. This feedback was a reminder to me of why I make theatre: to have an impact, to move, to stimulate, to ask questions and to start a conversation. And the impact can be more profound in an intimate setting.

As part of the tour we have provided ‘baby-friendly’ shows in the morning where mums and dads can come with their baby to watch the show in a relaxed atmosphere without having to worry about disturbing others. Performing to these audiences has been really special. It has brought the subject matter into sharp relief: the miracle of birth and what is at stake, the joy, the pain, the fear. Sharing these stories with a room full of women (and some men) and their recent family additions has been another reminder of how theatre can be a vital and profound expression of people’s experience. The Partus baby-friendly shows have got me thinking about the work I produce myself and how I can ensure greater accessibility to people who would otherwise struggle to attend the theatre. 

Photo: Joseph Priestley

3.   Generating Material

Being new to devising I had to make a bit of mental adjustment as to the purpose and focus of being in rehearsal. On scripted pieces, a lot is already decided before the cast enter the room – the script, the design, the format. Once in the rehearsal room, there are discoveries to be made, but they are limited within the context of these decisions. Within a devising process this can be blown wide open –  it might be that nothing much is decided before you enter the room – the content, the form, the design… only really the subject matter. This blank page approach can be a little daunting. But it is also exhilarating too – anything is possible, and I had an ownership of the piece I would not have had if I was not part of these decisions.

One of the main things I found interesting about devising is the exploration of ideas. A good general rule of thumb is that there’s no such thing as a bad idea. You simply don’t know which suggestions are going to work and fit into the picture of the whole show until you try them and start to build the wider context. In this way, devising is rather like a first draft of a script where you allow your imagination to wander and the words to flow uninhibited and uncensored. It is after you get everything down that you can start to shape it. There is something more exposing about this process of presenting unadorned, partially formed ideas to other people rather than simply sharing them with your laptop. But it is also brilliant, because so much of devising hinges on sparking something off, a shared discussion and the development of an idea beyond its inception with everyone in the room.

We joked a lot in the room about ‘fridge-dooring’ a lot of ideas. I initially interpreted this as the obligation to display the idea, despite its poor quality, in recognition of the effort it took to generate it – rather like a child’s indecipherable painting lovingly held to a fridge door by a magnet. But in fact, it is more a ‘parking’ of the idea to possibly revisit later, depending on what components are needed – it is an option, or can be a further stimulus for generating something else. This filing is fluid and things went up on and down off the proverbial fridge door a lot as the show developed.

The great thing about generating ideas as a group is there can be no preciousness about whose idea it is and everything should be proposed with generosity and positivity but without being too attached to it being realised. There are moments when you can feel like there’s no clarity and nothing seems to work, but this is part of the process and you have to push on through with the same energy and enthusiasm as when it goes smoothly.

Having a designer in the room as part of the idea generating process was a real eye-opener for me. It was fascinating to explore how design and space impacts not only on the audience’s experience of the show in performance, but the direction of the piece as a whole. The format and setting of the show can influence the content as much as the other way around. The two elements evolve together. In fact the design is an integral part of the content, not a dressing or an imposition on it.  It has made me very tempted to involve a designer at a much earlier stage in my drafting process when doing scripted work.

 

4.     To be continued…

One of the many things I admire about Rachael and Alex’s work is that it is constantly evolving. Nothing is ever finished. There is always room for tweaking and refining even once the show is out on tour. At every venue, for every show, elements of the piece can be adjusted. These may be small adjustments, but it ensures that there is always an active critical eye on the work and that the piece is responsive to an audience.  This gives the work a quality of ‘liveness’ it would not have if it was simply polished and replicated.

Something that has contributed to this process is that the dates of the tour have been quite spread out, in order to be touring-parent-friendly. This has also given the opportunity to have time for reflection and to revisit the performance afresh.

**

I come out of my experience of making and touring work with Third Angel incredibly proud of the show we have made together, but also enriched by their process and excited to let it infuse my own practice of making work

Monday, 27 March 2017

Inspiration Exchange ReROOTed

We set up the Inspiration Exchange in Hull, as part of the #ReROOTed weekender, celebrating the legacy of Hull Time Based Art’s Running Out Of Time Festival. A busy weekend of work from a brilliant range of artists, of different generations of performance art – from current Leeds Beckett University Performance students, to iconic artists like Alistair MacLennan, who I was lucky enough to share a space with.

Humber Street Gallery had set up a pop-up space, further along from and opposite their main space. It was a sunny weekend and Humber Street was busy with the festival crowd and regular punters there for the coffee, tapas, cakes and ceramics rather than the live art. Which meant a nicely diverse audience.

I was scheduled to do a mini, 2-hour Exchange, followed by a 30 minute break and then a short summing up performance. But that’s not how it turned out. Here’s the story of the day.

**


We opened a few minutes early, as we were ready and it seemed a shame to miss the families who were peering in to find out what was on.

I swapped DONALD BUILT A SWIMMING POOL (AND PHYLLIS SAW HIM)
For JIM THE VACUUM MAN
A mum, dad and daughter sat down, and though the mum suggested several possibilities the daughter rejected them all, and asked for the story of Donald and Phyllis. Afterwards there was discussion as to who would tell me a story back. Perhaps the daughter could tell me about sharks? (She loves sharks.) But in the end the mum decided to tell a story, which she told as much to her daughter, cuddled up next to her, as to me.

Mum’s Grandmother Doris used to be a Charlady in nice, big house in Cottingham. One day a door to door salesman – who we would later know to be called Jim – turned up, trying to sell them a vacuum cleaner. But the vacuum cleaner was still a relatively recent invention and people didn’t really know what they were or that they needed them, so Doris sent Jim away.

Undeterred, Jim came back the following day, wondering if they would like to buy a vacuum cleaner and was sent away again.

By the fifth day that Jim turned up on the doorstep, two things had become apparent: Jim was not a very good vacuum cleaner salesman (he hadn’t yet, and never would, sell a vacuum cleaner), and he wasn’t really there as a salesman. The following week Doris and Jim went for dinner together. And a year later they were getting married.

“And what’s amazing about that,” Mum said to her daughter, “is that if Jim hadn’t been so persistent, or if Doris, your Great-Grandma, had said no, then I wouldn’t exist, and neither would you.”

Then Dad gave us the title, to make it a whole family contribution.

I swapped MOTHER’S LOVE
For A BROKEN HEART CAN BE FIXED
Ellie is eleven. She’s had 17 major operations so far, six of them on her heart. That’s 56 hours of open heart surgery. We worked out that if that was all put together and they started now (Saturday lunchtime) they wouldn’t be finished until Monday tea.

Ellie’s mum and dad told me that damaged hearts are the number 1 birth defect in the world, and end up killing twice as many children as all childhood cancers combined. Ellie was born with three major problems with her heart:

1.     Transposition of the Major Arteries
2.     A Double-Outlet Right Ventricle
3.     “There’s a technical term for it, but basically it’s a big hole in her heart. It could be worse though. Some kids are born with just half a heart. You’ve got a friend with only half a heart, haven’t you Ellie?” 

They’d picked this up at the 12-week scan of course, so they knew it was coming. Ellie’s first heart op was when she was just 21 days old.

“But you look fine now, Ellie,” I said, “are you all fixed?”

“Yes!” she smiled.

“Well…” said Mum and Dad, “no…”

“Oh yeah,” continued Ellie, “I do need a new pacemaker, actually, and then when I’m about thirteen, I’ll need a whole new heart.” 

Writing this up, 24 hours later, what I remember most about Ellie is how cheerful she was, how much she smiled during our conversation.

I swapped THE BROKEN TAXI METER
For THE SERIAL NUMBER
Mr. Stockey the history teacher tells his students about when he was at college, and they had a visit from a holocaust survivor. He told them about his experience, about surviving the camps and his life since then. 

After his talk the students asked him questions. Mr. Stockey had asked him about the number tattooed onto his wrist. Why had he never had it removed? 

“Because,” said the man, “it’s a reminder. My life is pretty good now, but even when it’s a bad day, I can look at that tattoo and remember that my life is always better than that time.”

I swapped LETTING GIRLS BE
For EVERYTHING HAPPENS FOR A REASON
When she was seventeen / eighteen Michelle was at college on a Tourism course. They were all on a field trip to Hollingworth Lake, which included rowing across the middle of the lake itself. An argument about who got one or two oars got out of hand – a stand up shouting match between Michelle and another (male) student, which resulted in Michelle going overboard.

The water was cold, dark and deep. Telling this story to her daughter years later, Michelle admitted that she was having a tough time in her life at that point, and part of her, in the water, struggling to breathe, sinking down, felt like giving up. Wouldn’t it be easier not to struggle?

And then, she clearly heard a voice in her head. “Michelle! Michelle! Wake up!” She could see the light, and she kicked her legs, and she found the surface. The other distraught students pulled her from the water, took her to hospital.

B., Michelle’s daughter, told me, “Two weeks later, she found out she was pregnant. So she got back in touch with my dad, who she’d actually split up with, and they got back together.” 

B. tells me she’s not in touch with her mum anymore, but she loves this story. She first heard it when she was about six, and would regularly ask her mum to tell it to her again throughout her childhood and teenage years.

I had to ask. “When she found out she was pregnant, how pregnant was she? More than two weeks? Were you inside her when she was in the water?”

“I don’t know,” said B. “Maybe.”

I swapped  JIM THE VACUUM MAN
For DEAD DOG IN A SUITCASE
A story about unlikely misfortune and teenage tenacity. Remember when you were a teenager and you forgot to water the plants, or feed the goldfish, or the hamster? Well…

T. was dog-sitting for her neighbours whilst they were on holiday. And one morning the dog was dead. She didn’t know what to do. So she called the family on holiday to tell them the bad news. They told her that she had to get the dog to the vet.

It was a big dog. So she lifted it into a (wheeled) suitcase, and then struggled down on to the underground with it.

Trying to manoeuvre the suitcase up the escalator the other end, two lads offered to help. Noting that the suitcase was very heavy, they wondered what had she got in there? Not wanting to reveal the truth, T. said, “Oh, some electrical stuff.”

At the top of the escalator she turned round to find that the lads had disappeared, taking their haul of “electrical stuff” with them.

The mum of one of T.’s friends told me this story. We imagined what would have happened next: T. having to phone the family and explain what had happened, that the dead dog had been stolen, and the two lads opening the suitcase and discovering what they had actually acquired…

I swapped THE SERIAL NUMBER
For PATAGONIA
He was in the Navy in ’65, and in the climbing club. They watched a film about Chris Bonnington climbing in the Andes, specifically the Torres del Paine. 

40 years later, he finally got there himself.

He was on a cycling trip around South America. Thinking he was about 120km away, the locals recommended a short cut that would take 50km off the journey – down a road they were still cutting out of the rock. Not yet suitable for cars, but on a bike he’d be fine. Midway along this track he found himself cycling between two lines of pink cable. It must be to mark the useable bit of track, he thought, until he reached the point where the cables ended in the crates they had been unspooled from, stencilled with the words CORDÓN DETONANTE.

As he neared then end of the track, the clouds dropped. Was he really going to get there, after 40 years, on the one day per year that had no visibility? But as the road ended, the clouds peeled back “like the lid of a sardine tin” and he saw it. Torres del Paine. Where the Andes come to an end. And he cried.

“Google it, if you get the chance,” he told me, “It’s beautiful.” So I did.

I swapped DEAD DOG IN A SUITCASE
For A BUDGIE’S TUMOR IN MY MOUTH
Amidst several un-repeatable stories about working as a veterinary nurse, a story about a first ever autopsy as a student nurse, performed on the titular budgie, with too much manual pressure, resulting in the titular mishap. My favourite detail, though, was how when they were busy in surgery, and the waiting room was full, rather than go out to explain that they were running behind, they would just find an excuse to send someone out front, still in their overalls, hands raised, covered in blood… 

I swapped TAKE AWAY THE SCAFFOLDING
For A PINT AND A QUARTER OF GUINNESS
She used to avoid calling herself a musician. She could play the flute well, but she had a fear of improvisation. But she was invited along to a Gypsy Jazz Jam Session by a (now ex-) boyfriend.

They would set out playing a well-known theme, and then they (all men, the rest of them) would begin to exchange nods, eye signals, and off they would go, taking the lead in turns, and she would sit off to one side, looking at the floor, not making eye contact, just playing along on her flute.

Until one week, she made the leap, she took a chance, looked up, and took the lead. There was something different that week that gave her the courage. It could have been a number of things, but looking back, she thinks it was probably the one and a quarter pints of Guinness she had drunk…

I swapped I’M GOING ANYWAY
For SOMETHING WILL TURN UP
A story about sticking it out. 

He agreed with a friend to rent a new studio together – but then the friend dropped out, after he’d signed the lease. Then he had to move house, and had lots of other stuff to do. After a few months of renting the studio, he realised that he’d been to there less than 72 hours in total – whilst paying more than his new mortgage to rent it. He said to friends that it wasn’t sustainable. Unless something changed, he’d have to get rid of the studio, and that would mean getting rid of lots of kit, which would mean not being able to remount several older pieces of work.

That night in the pub he got talking to a guy who asked him if he knew of anyone who had some studio space. And the following week he got the email asking him to re-mount one of those older pieces of work…

I swapped PATAGONIA
For PANAMA
Panama is an isthmus – a narrow bridge of land – that has a disproportionately big influence on the planet. It’s emergence (about 3 million years ago?) separated the Pacific from the Atlantic, and caused the appearance of the North Atlantic Drift – arguably making the Northern Hemisphere habitable for humans.

Panama connects the two Americas, North and South. But Panama itself runs East – West. It is bisected by the Panama Canal, which in turn runs North - South, and connects the cultures of the Pacific and the Carribbean.

We began to talk about the political influence of this comparatively small country and the canal that runs across it, but we ran out of time… it’s a complex and fascinating place.

A group of four women gathered at the table, shortly followed by two men who I knew had travelled some distance to be there. In theory I should have been planning a quick summing up at this point, but it seemed more in keeping with the feel of the day to keep going. We carried on, running a sort of team ‘chain-reaction’ story-choosing-and-telling process for the last few stories.

I swapped EVERYTHING HAPPENS FOR A REASON
For THAT HOUSE SAVED MY LIFE
Moving house meant having to find a new doctor. After registering the family, E.’s Mum was offered a free screening, a service that was being extended to women aged 40 – 50, just in that area. 

She wasn’t sure she could be bothered – the parking would be a bit of a hassle. But the family said she should go, and Dad drove her in and dropped her off. They found 3rd-stage breast cancer and operated the following week, saving her life.

I swapped A BROKEN HEART CAN BE FIXED
For THE GOAT WHISPERER
A volunteering adventure in Tanzania. After a terrifying, near-death experience with a charging elephant, the volunteers returned to the nearby village. C., who tells me this story, can do a remarkably convincing impression of a goat (she proved it to us all in the Exchange). So convincing, in fact, that goats would bleat back.

The children of the village could see she was upset about the encounter with the elephant. They took her hand and led her out to bleat at the goats for them, as they found it so funny, and because they could tell she needed the distraction… a small act of kindness.

I swapped AN ESCAPED LUNATIC ON CANNOCK CHASE
For SAINSBURY’S ARE NOT MY KIND OF PEOPLE
U. got a new job at a well known supermarket, who she felt, of all the supermarkets, was the most ‘her sort of people’. (Other supermarkets are available).

Her shifts started at 7am, which meant at 6.30am walk to work, when it was still dark and the streets were nearly empty. One morning a man (who she recognised), ran at her, chasing her down the street. She’d wondered before what would happen in a situation like this – how she would respond, how she would behave? She’s “not a quiet person” normally, would she scream and shout?

So what surprised her on this occasion, and what she remembers most strongly, is the quiet. She was silent. Her body just ran. No shouting, no wasting of breath. She was a good runner. She could beat him. Her body knew what to do.

U. asked her manager if she could change her shifts so she didn’t have to do the early walk to work. They told her to turn up as rota’d or hand in her notice. Perhaps Sainsbury’s weren’t her sort of people after all. She quit.

A couple of days later, her friend E.’s mum gave her a rape alarm as a present – a small act of kindness and concern.

U.’s story was clearly a response to the ESCAPED LUNATIC story – the right story to tell. But as a group we asked ourselves where the inspiration in the story was? Then we realised. As well as the kindness and the spirit: her body knew what to do.

I swapped THE LNG LAGOS & THE DEAD JELLYFISH
For CUTTING SOLDIERS
L.’s Mum had him so young (seventeen) that he was lucky enough to know all of his great grandparents as a child. His Nanna still lived with her parents, in fact.

By the time he was 10, his Nanna was caring for his Great-Nanna at home. Great-Nanna would often get up and offer to help, coming through to the kitchen to try to assist with the cooking. Nanna’s repeated refrain was that no, she would be alright, “go back to your chair.”

One tea time L. is helping his Nanna make boiled eggs and toast, when Great-Nanna comes through and offers to help. But this evening is different, and instead of sending her back to her chair, Nanna says yes, you can help, “you can cut the toast into soldiers.”

L. and his Nanna return to the boling pans of water, and it is only when they have taken the eggs out that they turn to to see Great Nanna’s handiwork. She’s been sitting at the table, meticulously cutting detailed soldier silhouettes out of the slices of toast. 

Nanna and ten year old L. were delighted, and the memory still brings grown up L. great joy.

** 

By this point we were half an hour past our finish time, so we had to wrap it up. Thanks to everyone who came in and told a story and/or listened to one.


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