Oh, Southend…

Good morning Southend,

Did you sleep well? I did. I woke up when you elbowed me in the head but it didn’t hurt. It’s fine. No, seriously, it’s fine.

So, Happy Valentine’s Day, my love. Let’s just lie here for a bit before the days gets all bonkers. Hang on, you’ve got a bit of sleep crud in your eye. Wait. Got it.

How long have we been together now? 31, 32 years? YOU GET LESS THAN THAT FOR MURDER. Seriously. You really do get less. Ah dear. We’ve had some right old times, haven’t we sausage? Do you remember when I got bored of everyone at the casino and went swimming in the sea fully clothed instead and lost my shoes? And you just rained on me the whole way home but it’s alright because I was drenched anyway. Never did find those shoes.

I just don’t think I’d feel at home anywhere else. I’m not saying there aren’t other places that would make me happy, I don’t believe in soul mates or that there’s just one town for everyone, we live in a big beautiful world, and I certainly wouldn’t kick Paris or New York out of bed, and, ok, if that filly Florence came calling I’d have to pinch myself hard to keep myself on the straight and narrow, but for now, and for a long time, you have been the one I choose to wake up with. I have chosen to stay with you. That must mean something, right? I know there was that time I got a bit mad at you and was going to move to Stoke Newington but I’m glad I didn’t. Likewise, Clapham. Lucky escape. I’ve known people who moved to Clapham and I’m not sure I feel the same way about them now.

I love your ways is what I’m saying, Southend. There’s no one I’d rather snuggle up to at night. You big bear. I even love your morning breath. Like wet sand blowing up from the beach. I don’t even mind you on bin day when you’re not at your best. I don’t mind all that. I love you for all that you are. Not just the sunsets and the seafood and the estuary skies and your ‘Let’s pretend we’re in Miami’ palm trees that I suspect might actually be dead. I love your gulls squawking and your sea mists and your changing light, but I also love your peeling walls and spilled chips and your fights. You’ve got spunk, Southend. I like it.

I love all your familiar places. I’ve nestled into your nooks, your pubs and bookshops, shoved my head in the crook of your arm for comfort. I’ve lain on your beaches and rolled in your sand and swum in your waters and walked your streets. I’ve got beautiful friends scattered along you. Your skin is like a constantly changing tattoo. I like to scooch up to you and look at the new pictures, see how you’ve changed, see how you’re reflecting us and our lives. I love finding secret parts of you I’ve never seen. Just when I think you’re all about change, seeking sleekness and self-improvement, I look up and see a faded Lending Library sign from the last century fading into old bricks but holding fast. Your wrinkles are endearing. I wouldn’t wish you smooth. You’re a complicated creature Southend but I love you for it. You’re grand and humble and peculiar and a bit oversensitive and grumpy but you always remember your sense of humour just in the nick of time.

Oh Southend. You’ve still got a bit of crud in your eye but I love you.

Looks like it might be a nice day. Spring is coming. You look really pretty in the spring.

 

 

Metal are launching Love Letter to my Hometown – a chance to tell Southend what you love about her in her 125th year. The work will be displayed at Village Green Festival on 8th July. If you’d like to contribute, words or art, pick up a postcard from Chalkwell Hall or email chalkwell@metalculture.com 

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Doing It

About twenty one months ago or thereabouts, I blurted out something in bed that’s gone on to change my life. I was talking to my best friend (texting, on the phone – she hadn’t just swung by and hopped in to keep her feet warm) – and having a moan about some idiot we worked for. A shambolic cretin who never paid anyone, who – we had just discovered – wasn’t even using his own name such was his checkered past of shady incompetence. We were hacked off. We knew something had to give. So I blurted. “I just want to do plays all the time, like, run a theatre company.” There was a pause just long enough for Hew to type “LET’S F***ING DO IT THEN, WENCH.”

So we did. Or started to. Our complicity in those moments turned our energy from low and despondent to wired and exuberant. It was quite an unceremonious beginning really, I suppose. I was in bed for one thing. But it felt important.

Few things we say in a day actually bring about change in our lives. There are small things, like “But I don’t fancy steamed fish tonight, I fancy steak, a bloody big one.”, but rarely something monumental to altering the progression of your time, thoughts, actions, and priorities for a considerable proportion of your future. Something that in its simplicity and brevity at once casts out all other options.

“I just want to run a theatre company.”
“So let’s do it then.”

Our company Old Trunk will turn two in June. I will turn 34. It seems a good age to have realised suddenly, after a life of drifting from thing to thing, that you know what you want.

We have had, I’m sure, an untypically blessed start for a new company. Since our eureka moment we have produced two plays I wrote which have been very well received locally and in London, been funded by Arts Council England twice in an increasingly difficult financial climate with cuts being made left right and centre, represented the Arts at the House of Commons, and appeared in the Sunday Times magazine. Lots of other lovely stuff we’re proud of.

I know that our success so far is largely down to our defiant determination to work our socks off constantly to the exclusion of most other things, to the amazing talent we are lucky to have in our cast Charlie and Edd, but we also owe the angle of our trajectory to some other wonderful people.

We’ve been lucky enough not only to have wonderful patrons, but also to be mentored by an arts organisation called Metal. They heard of our work, and asked us to curate the theatre tent for last year’s Village Green festival. We were honoured. They mentored us through the Arts Council application, offered invaluable help, introduced us to a whole industry load of thinking that we, being new, simply didn’t know and stood no chance of rapidly discovering for ourselves. They came to see our shows, and spoke up about us to other arts groups who didn’t know who we were. We were nothing but a couple of plays and a big bag of vague wishes that might never have been realised, but then we were given the clarity and support to do something with it. Because of their mentorship we are now being funded to take our two plays to the Edinburgh Festival and we’re so happy and excited we can barely make it to the end of an hour without sighing like girls.

We don’t know what the future will hold. We’ll work hard to keep ascending, doing the things we love, and are actually now bolstered even further by the desire to not let our supporters down.

It took a moment of ‘sod this’, of saying “Let’s bloody well do it”, but it also took people believing in us and opening a door as wide as our own scope to dream.

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The Vagabond Diaries – ‘Clarence Larchsap’

The Vagabond Diaries – stories of being human by Sadie Hasler accompanied live by M G Boulter & The Lucky Strikes – premiered in the Old Trunk theatre at Village Green Festival 2013.

The piece was read by actor David Streames.

Thursday, April 5th, 1922

This is the 47th year of my writing a diary every day. I would say I have written it religiously but there have been days, as we are all like to have, when I have not been all that religious. There have been days, as we are all like to have, when I might say I have written in poor reverence to the lord. I have had bad thoughts, I have cheeked people without their knowing, stolen small and large items according to need or want, have cast my eye too long on a raised skirt far more than a Christian man might, and I have cussed, but have always seen fit to scribble the badness out. My diary has more black lines than words. Some days are just great black lines, and now that I am in my 62nd year I cannot always remember what went there in the first place.

I feel a little like starting again. Writing a new date, that has never yet existed, of telling you, whoever you are – for who do we write to when we write a diary? I do not know – telling you, a you whom I do not know, who I am. If anyone ever knows such a thing.

I would start, I suppose, with my name. I could do that. I can and so I will. My name is Clarence Larchsap. I had a nickname once, but I forget what it was or who saw fit to give it me.

I suppose I might next tell you I was born in a little town in South Carolina. For I was. The name, I suppose, does not matter. Its topographical features, how I travelled around them and what I did within them matters not either. I could inform you of a great many biographical details, as people seem so set on doing, as though telling you things about themselves makes them exist a bit more, but I shall not.

Schooling, love, happy days and friendship, they didn’t last and mean little to me now. Parentage, even, those broken souls who forerun our own blighted journeys, that too has come to mean no more than a quick sigh and is not something I can stretch out to lay on the paper.

So why do I write, what do I store in these pages? I think I write to pass the time. If I did not write as I sat I would not know what to do. I cannot just be.

I suppose you might call me a man of few roots, a traveller, a vagrant, a vagabond.
I move about. People don’t tend to want a man with such a character to stick around. And so I keep moving. Having such an…anti-social proclivity does not invite your welcome in most places. People like their stuff to remain intact. Unburned. I try to respect that by not sticking around after I have reduced their property to cinders. Sometimes I will pass through without giving in to the calling of the match in my pocket, which always burns there even before it is struck. And sometimes I permit myself. Sometimes I plan it in detail, and sometimes I do not know I have done it until I stand there with the hard honest heat on my cheeks.

Was I set off at a state of unrest, born as I was during an earthquake? Did the noise and chaos of nature set itself thudding in my heart from the moment I burst out into the air? I don’t suppose to know. I know only one real thing. As soon as my eyes could flicker, as soon as my fingers could curl and pinch and reach towards the things I wanted, I was drawn to flame. I would disregard all toys and books, I would ignore all beauty and spectacle, if I could look instead at fire. Even a lamplight in its last juddering breath would hold my attention more than the desire-struck face of the most beautiful woman in the world. She is nothing next to it.

You might say I was an arsonist. I suppose most people would. But I do not think the word does justice to the sight of something reducing itself down to ash in the blinding searing heat of a man acting in the thrall of his own secret will – something condemned to nothing in the smallest of moments. The word says nothing of this, so I prefer to leave myself uncategorised.

Perhaps it is sickness. Perhaps it is a revenge against something I cannot remember from my past. Perhaps it is a struggle with myself, with the world, with God himself.

Dear Diary, I do not know or I would tell you. But I will say, with the candour you can stow in a diary – this most loyal of friends, silent as ash – I will say, as a final thing before I take my night-time’s perambulation around all that dry matter people build up, those frames for future fires – I will say, before I move on in the morning – nothing shines quite a light like a thing you have set aflame yourself. Simply put, between two friends, I just like burning stuff down.

SONG – ‘BEAST’ – THE LUCKY STRIKES

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Tambourine Girl

The last time I shook a tambourine it was quite by accident. I was carrying it for someone in a band who let me help load a car so that I could pretend I was a rock star. As it jingled lightly I felt guilty – as though the Gods of music might smite me for daring to unsettle their percussion with my arrhythmic clumsiness.

The time before that was as the backing singer in a staff band named Detention when I was a teacher, but it didn’t count because we only played to a hall full of nonchalant kids at the end of term. ‘As a treat’. It didn’t matter if they didn’t think I was any good because a) what did they know about anything anyway, and b) I could just give them Ds to make myself feel better.

I’m one of life’s tambourine shakers. Because it’s the only way, other than humming, that I can join in with that almost celestial art, Music.

But a tambourine accidentally fell into my hand again last week, drawn to my fingertips by that powerful sorcery of wanting to make a ruddy noise. I was very privileged to be the only non-member to enter the rehearsal room of awesome band The Lucky Strikes. I thought that I might disintegrate on entry to that hallowed ground, but instead I walked through the door and was whammed in the nostrils by the smell of stale farts that had soaked into the sound-proofing over the years. It put me at ease somehow – despite the fact breathing had become markedly harder.

I was there to work with the boys on a show I’ve written called The Vagabond Diaries, which sews together stories inspired by their songs. Collaborating with proper musicians was a new thing for me. I was a little daunted by having to speak up in case the language and methods of an actor-writer sounded dumb to cool musicians. I didn’t want to sound like a wanker. But once they started playing (‘jamming’ I believe it’s called in the trade), I got so excited to hear the words I’d written coming together with their amazing songs that I forgot that I wasn’t actually a part of the band.

That’s when I may have picked up the tambourine. I may have tried to do a bit of shaking against my leg like a hippy in a scout hut. The boys looked at me. I put it down and said something very clever and droll about the cross-pollination of genres being really liberating. (I didn’t. I reminded them that I had brought them cookies and hoped that would prevent them from beating me with the sullied tambourine).

I left ‘the studio’ (jargon) feeling a bit high. It may have been the vapours of ghost farts I’d inhaled, but I think it was because we all felt like we’d stumbled onto something exciting and new.

I went home humming, and as I fell into bed I thought about the old adage that music is what all art aspires to. I think it must be true. I wasn’t thinking about the words I’d written, or the stories or characters within, or the themes of the piece, or even the brilliant lyrics that had inspired me in the first place, I was humming. Just the tune. The notes repeating in that magical order. The music is what stayed with me as I fell asleep, and it’s what was there as I woke in the morning.

The Vagabond Diaries – tales of being human accompanied by the music of The Lucky Strikes – can be seen in the Old Trunk Theatre Tent at Village Green on Saturday 13th July.

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