Crabs In A Kerosene Can

This has been a really interesting week. I’ve had some mental understandings and I don’t always know how to tell people what I mean. It began in the Royal Exchange. There are a lot of assumptions made to keep society’s engines running. I get that. What would happen if you threw all the rules away? Anarchy? Insanity? Everything would go to pot. I used to find that exhilarating when I was a teen in the 70s. Everything turned upside down: the world on its head, and us living a different way. Now I am almost 60, and a lot has happened in between. I know where to start.

When my daughter was 16, 1996, they wouldn’t give me the dole any more and I was supposed to sign on. I did it for 2 weeks. Couldn’t stand it. No alternative, I had to get a job. I remember walking into the post office where I was about to start work, and they were all going on with them selves about what leaflets have to be on what shelves. I’d led a free pot smoking putting the world to rights life, I couldn’t believe the shit that was coming out of their mouth and how seriously they were taking it, and talking like their fucking life depended on it. And I swore to myself this would never happen to me. I had a plan. I would become a writer. I was extraordinary at it at school. They would rip my poems out of my hand to put them on sugar paper. I remember staring out that post office window at the birds in the trees feeling trapped. It took me 5 years to reach my dream. I gave in my notice in 2001. I was going to be on attachment at the National Theatre. But do you know what was bothering me as I was leaving: the leaflets on the shelves. They weren’t in the right order.

I did a 5 years stint. The people I was teaching in the Royal Exchange on Monday had done 30, 40, 50 year stints in teaching, the NHS, social services. And each profession has its own version of leaflets on a shelf. Do you know what was exhilarating was to take them back. To use a writing technique I have perfected over many, many years to take them back, like a magic wand, to their time before leaflets.

Then oddly enough when I watched tonight’s video back I noticed in our poem rehearsal pep talk I am angry again. I am accusatory again. When on Monday night when I left the Royal Exchange I was feeling the magic of what we had learnt together. There had been a time in their life too when they wanted the world to change: a time before leaflets on a shelf; a time when they were Beatniks and Mods with panstick and mascara and Mickey Mouse t-shirts and CND marches. And taking writing lessons at 70 plus is like me fighting for my freedom when I was 36. And actually when they come to join us to tell their story I want to share the freedom we have found with them. What we are really good at is laughing. I want us to share that joy we unearthed with them. 

I want us all to refuse we are any different and once and for all acknowledge we are all the same. They had their tribe. We had our tribe. At 17 tribes is everything. In reality if you take away capitalism tribes is all we've got. And maybe one day global warming will ensure tribes is all we've got again.

I watched 79 years old Doreen transform into a mascara, eyeliner, pale makeup, meeting in cafes to debate how to change the world babe. But she ends with: ‘it seems almost laughable now.’ But it isn’t. It is the truth of every generation. There will definitely be kids in cafes at this moment. Maybe what we should be discussing isn’t the divisions of class, colour, and gender: but the divisive nature of the right leaflet on the right shelves. Or, as West Indians call it, crabs in a kerosene can: that incessant clawing at each other to get out. But if we were clever and patient and all leaned the same way the can would fall over. And we could all walk out.  

Filming has gone a bit serious this week. We have just finished rehearsal, trying to understand our poetic timeline we are about to deliver. John or Sean haven't filmed our rehearsal because they've been busy sorting out our professional lighting.  I do the accusatory pep talk. There is no sound in the first 30 seconds. 

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