My Portobello Affair

I have a confession. I am totally cheating on the Thames Estuary with the North Sea. Right now. Today. It’s my day off and I needed to get out of the city to realign my noggin so me and the gals hopped on a bus down to Portobello and after 20 minutes of jiggling here we are. The beach. As I walked down the hill, eyeing up the big bad blue-grey of the indomitable seething waves, I couldn’t even pretend I was going to behave myself. There it was. The irresistible sea. I can’t figure out if temporarily switching affection from home to exotic waters is that bad. In one way it feels like having an affair with your beau’s fit uncle. The one that works out. Naughty. But in another, less mental scenario it feels like you’re loyally exploring your lover. The waters of the world all link up, don’t they. So really it’s like I’m just visiting another side of my partner. A day trip to another part, paying my respects to a lesser seen facet. Really, my Portobello affair is like a couple’s retreat. One where you fall into natural appreciative contemplation of each other, your life together. Not one of those expensive ones where you get to air your differences with a counsellorwho encourages you to bash each other with polystyrene bats though.

 

Is it strange to feel loyal to a thing that’s not a person? I feel loyal to our little strip of Estuary. It’s like a person to me. A tumultuous lover, a steadfast friend, a welcoming aunt, a projection of my father, a swirl of everyone and everything. A dipping pool of everything you need. I’ve lost count of the number of times the 7.4 or whatever mile stretch of seafront has sorted my head out. It’s always there. It stays in your blood when you’ve grown up by the sea. You can almost feel your body angling itself towards it. The sea is the North in my compass. I’m always pointing that way. You feel a bit hemmed in when you go inland. Where’s the water? It’s not right somehow. And coming home, the first sighting of the water is when you really know you’re home. That’s when your insides settle and your traveler’s equilibrium is righted.

 

I can’t believe this is the first time in ten years of doing the Edinburgh festival that I have thought to come down here and have a spot of sea goodness to clear my head. You fall into a groove that becomes a rut easily up here. Pacing the same streets to get to the same places, your schedule rotating around four or five points. Theatre and bars and restaurants and Tesco and your temporary home.

 

But not this year. I needed to get out. So Portobello it is. Smooth yellow sand, very unScottish sunshine. The sea looks so full it could spill out; drip down and out of the sky, wash towards you with the excitement of a waggy-tailed wetly-greeting dog.

 

I’m going to go for a paddle. I’m going to take off my shoes, roll up my jeans, and go and stand and wince in the water. Feel the lower degrees of the ocean coldness, the kinder tendrils of the killing cold of the deep, still brusquer than the chill of the Thames. Feel the roughness of it. The shifting sands, gurgling and gushing away, never the same thing twice. The frantic assault of the toes. Be righted by it for now, a tonic, a day’s affair, a rough kiss. Finish the festival. Then come back to the familiarity of home. 

 

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Feck. Arse. A Girl’s Lament.

I had forgotten the promise I made about celery. It was only as I pulled my punky fishnets on for the first time and caught a glimpse of myself performing that graceless shimmy requisite for getting tights on that I remembered my play required me to get my arse out. Every day. For a month. It’s a girl punk play, with a scene that briefly requires a moment of indelicate bearing. And now here I was about to do it for the first performance of the run, and my arse was… there. Bare derrière de bleurgh. Like a nemesis I’d forgotten I had because it’s always behind me, like the past, or that man who spits in a cup outside Iceland. He gets everywhere. Everywhere you turn. He gives me the heebies.

I immediately blamed the writer for this heinous scene. Which, as she was standing in front of me in the mirror getting into costume, was quite easy. Who was this idiot? This girl in the looking glass giving me a shifty look? She knew she’d messed up, I could tell. I shot her an evil then looked away. (She copied my move to the letter so I think we know which of us has the real imagination.)

The tights, by this point in my inner dialogue, were mostly up. The legs part isn’t difficult, you kind of just stick them on your feet and pull like you’re trying to start a lawn-mower from the 80s, but the real coordination comes a little higher, around the gusset, tummy and waist. You can’t just pull and leave it where it lands. You must seek the precise coordinates for comfort, the latitudinal-longitudinal bullseye for the fabric to stick to, each patch in the elastic weave has its right place against the right bit of skin. You know when it’s right; you can just feel it. The Dance of the Tights is an epic search for Perfection, a metaphor for the Struggle of Life squeezed in to anywhere from thirty seconds to three minutes depending on how much time you have for this most symbolic of acts. Part peekaboo dress-tease, part wrestling-style hoiking appended with the very real danger that one wrong jerk could temporarily deaden the bit that makes you go ooh.

So. My arse.

I’d promised myself a fad diet of celery and spinach to deal with the partial nudity. Boiled water with hint of lemon. No cider when the summertime hit, a big no to bread. Fresh air with mashed cloud and a drizzle de rien. But then I had forgotten these rules instantly and carried on living my life. Panic-cramming cashews into my mouth while slumped with exhaustion at my desk, licking unidentified smears off the fridge door in case it once had Vitamin D in it at any point during its shelf-life, and carrying a banana on my palm to work to test the potassium-osmosis theory. (Don’t google this – I just made it up. I feel immense pressure to like bananas. But I never really do.)

And now I was doing that crick-necked craning thing people do over their shoulder, trying to look at parts we have no anatomical business looking at. The bum, the arse, the bottom, the heiny, the tukkus, the butt, the “You will never be Beyonce, bitch”. That thing we’d have no personal aesthetic awareness of if we lived in the wild. Who invented the mirror? Who developed that trickery of glass so that we could see ourselves? Before we would just walk around beautifully unaware of what we looked like. We might glimpse ourselves in nature’s mirrors – ponds and lakes, shiny stones or waxy leaves – but nature is kind enough to obscure us with ripples or dappled light, we never see the full reality. And I bet, pre mirrors, few people in history ever stood by a lake, lifting their skirts, trying to look at their own butt.

In the end I just went out and did it. I did the play and I got my arse out and then I put it away again. And despite my dressing room fear and loathing I didn’t think much of it. It was too brief to dither about it and I had to move the story on through to the end, an arseless denouement, so I could hotfoot it offstage and have a beer. With some celery in it like a Belgian Bloody Mary, a tip of the hat to forgotten promises.

 

N.B. This is not my arse.

fishnets

 

Home for the month, Home for The Madness

Well here I am. Again. Edinburgh. The place I come every August for just shy of a whole month, but an event around which the whole year seems to revolve. I’m back in the same flat we rented last year so it feels almost like the last twelve months haven’t happened and I’m still here, a doll that fell into a nap, reanimated by the braying of approaching revellers. Like a sleepy nymph of Bacchus, waiting for a pat on the head to awaken her. I’m sat at the same kitchen table – rustic worn pine squiggled with markings that hint of late night debates and civilised smoked tea breakfasts, edges beveled by fraternal elbows. A chap called Quintus rents it out every festival – the whole flat, not just the table, though he’d probably find some student company willing to bed down for a cut-price rent while they peddle their a capella musical version of Texas Chainsaw Massacre. He presumably uses this month’s long cacophonous ego display as a sane man’s excuse for a holiday. You might as well make some money and dash for the highlands when the city is invaded by nutjobs. If I wasn’t one of those nutjobs, (and I owned expensive property in a nice part of one of the world’s most beautiful places) I’d definitely do the same.

I like this place. It feels like home now, but I suppose a place where you’ve had a month of condensed experiences with all the highs and lows and sideways emotional jousting of Life is always going to feel a bit familiar when you return to it with your carefully managed hopes and your battle scars.

Dear Quintus left a lovely ‘welcome back’ note that made us coo like cosy pigeons, with some bread and eggs and butter and wine and fruit and oat cakes and soft garlic cheese and most importantly the wifi code. I have done the obligatory space check. The re-acquainting perambulation of the place, the respectful hands-behind-back stalking of the book shelves, nodding sagely at his choice of art and colours, as though I’m walking around the drawing room of a stately home, reading the visual language and all that it tells us about people.

He has very good soap, our Quint. You can tell a lot about a man from his soap. And his books. I like both his choices in this matter and I’ll be sure to inform him in the form of a hurriedly written slightly mental note when I leave; a husk in four week’s time. And I don’t know if he shoved it at the back of the drawer for the rest of the year and got it out like Christmas decorations, but a flier from my play last year, Pramkicker, is on his fridge, held in place by a cute fridge magnet. I don’t know if our Quintus is a bit of a flirt, but that stuff definitely works on me. We’ve got a future, me & he. Even if that future is never actually meeting but me nodding approvingly as I finger his white sheets the same time next year when he goes on a yoga retreat to Bali with money I should have spent better.

Now that the August home has been settled into, my clothes flung around his room most never to be worn, all that remains is the rest of the city. The world outside. The show and the people and the inevitable madness. The toil of fun, the searing self-doubt, the mini unpredictable surprise glories should there be any due, and the knowledge that no matter how tired and emotional I get, however battered by whatever is coming for me, I am a very lucky girl.

Sadie’s new play Fran & Leni is published on Tuesday by Bloomsbury Methuen Drama.

It is playing at Assembly for the entire run of the Edinburgh Festival 2016.

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