a toilet

The Latitude Festival is apparently not what it was but I wouldn’t know. I was there when it is what it is. That was a few days’ ago. I still have my bracelet because Jonathan promised he could get it off with a tool he has – then he went to Liverpool and I don’t want to chisel a hole in my wrist while he is not here to look after the kids so it is still on my wrist.

I have cleaned it.

This is the first time I have been to a Festival with no children. This is the second time I have been to a Festival.

I did not pay £120 to go – I went with the Factory. I was a Performer. (Actually I stood around taking a lot of notes.) So my wrist band was yellow and I was allowed anywhere I wanted. In theory. I found out moments before I left that the Performer’s toilets were the only toilets on the entire site that were not… what is the word? …let’s say confronting.

Although the toilets are not a headline attraction and we are a very laid back and hip band of theatre people who are happy in our bodies and everyone here at this Festival is here to let it all hang out and pursue both relaxation and stimulation on a level not possible in normal life, we are all a bit obsessed with Festival toileting issues.

The festival latrines are basically troughs with benches suspended over them. Being entirely made of metal they ring. Yes: every step, every door slam, every shift of weight, every event that occurs on or in them is accompanied by some level of chime. This adds a certain level of Wagnerian drama to the moment.

A relative of mine by marriage (I’m being coy on her behalf) tells me that where she grew up, toilet paper was rare. Let’s just say it was East of Dresden. Her grandmother would tear up strips of newspaper and hang them near the loo. When you went to the toilet you would use as few of these as you could, obviously as they were not in great supply. She describes how you would roll them into a ball and spit on them and them rub a lot, unravelling them then screwing them up again repeatedly to make the paper as soft as possible.

Another conversation I had recently, and this was quite a posh conversation, veered suddenly into the fascinating territory of the Loss of the Squat. We are designed, it is asserted by those who know, to squat. In those areas of the world where toilets require squatting (or indeed, those areas that are toiletless and therefore demand squatting) heamorrhoids are rare. As are other related bowel and digestive issues.

There is also the matter of the flush. Toilets should not require water. The world is short of water. We use an awful lot. Yet we insist on flushing rather than composting toilets, even though the composting toilet is superior, does not smell, and is also immeasurably less wasteful.

A friend of mine, let’s call him Jethro but he might also be called Jesus, was listening to a lot of us actor’s thinly disguised uptight conversation about the toilets at Latitude. He said: ‘I was at Glastonbury a few years ago. I’d done a lot of mushrooms. I don’t know how I got there but I came to one night in the latrines. I was on the floor with all this mud and poo,’ he describes great slow circles with his arms so we can see just how vast and deep was the sea in which he sat, ‘and I decided to accept it. Just become one with the poo.’

He takes a drag and when he speaks again he tries not to lose too much smoke.

‘I’ve never had a problem with it since.’

Alan Morrissey atop the Lats @ Lat

Alan Morrissey atop the Lats @ Lat


Buda Treat

I have been to Budapest before. It was perhaps a year after the Communists… left. 1990 perhaps. I was naively interested in the Soviet legacy although as far as I could see it consisted of a great, brooding anger and a strange admiration for Margaret Thatcher.

Last week I saw a Budapest which might as well have been a different city altogether. Margaret Thatcher is now no more solid an idea than the Hapsburgs. Andrassy Utca is a glamorous boulevard reminiscent of Bond St or perhaps the Champs Elysees – whereas I remember it being just terribly wide.

I spent a lot of time writing in this cafe. It was as anarchic as the best of Melbourne’s craziest cafes. Everyone there was in intense discussion or reading or, love us, writing. Does this not happen in London – or do I not notice it? I spent a week taking in strange sounds, an impenetrable language and passively enjoying the company of a city of intense, complicated and often beautiful people. I came away profoundly refreshed. Oil changed.

I just want to write without stopping at the moment – there is nothing more important. It is not possible of course, because there are children and duties and a groaning shelf of quotidian demands. But I am grateful for those too.

The way we (Factory actors) rehearse the Seagull project is to circle and circle the play like a pack of hyenas around some perfect kill. The rehearsal is entirely about tangents – we are just looking at what the Seagull is NOT. Imagine cricket practice in which you spend the entire session trimming the wicket with nail clippers. Like that.

Behavioural experiments have been conducted in which two groups of equally skillful basketballers practice for two weeks. The first group practices shooting baskets by, well, shooting baskets. The second group sit in a chair for an equivalent number of hours picturing themsleves successfully shooting baskets. When the two groups’ skills are compared at the end of the two weeks, of course, the results are the same.

We only get to perform our Seagull once a week (if that) so when we come to perform we go at it like hungry things. It is no bad thing to be so restrained, to go at your work with a tinge of resentment, thinking “about bloody time”, and at the some time for the feasting to be so furious there’s no time to grunt thanks or to recall your best plans. It’s all about what happens in the spaces in between – these spaces are the chalk on our hands, the spikes on our shoes, the reason we don’t notice the blood until after.

It is good for an artist to get lost in a strange city, daydream when a deadline looms, not speak Hungarian, read rubbish books, have conversations with pre-verbal children – it has to be all about how you fill the space.

Sign up here if you want to come and see The Seagull. Tell me when you’re in and I’ll try and make it too. Come as though to a party. We do.

Out There Somewhere


I was sitting on a bit of ruined abbey nursing the book I was supposed to be reading, enjoying the breeze and the faint brown smell that mulched York.
I tweeted something like: “What a magnificent city this is. Like a goddess! I am stumbling around like a primitive something.”
This was not altogether true, I was now sitting and stumbling only inwardly.
I started trying to write what follows in the past tense which I find very awkward, like writing left-handed. But here I went.

A friend of mine spent her school years abroad. She studied English literature and history and watched a lot of BBC television. After about eighteen years she finally set foot in Europe, was granted some sort of residential permanency and set about the serious business of assimilation.

She started in Rome. Being a trusting and naive member of the European diaspora she believed Europe to be some sort of cultural aggregate. (She later learned this to be an accurate but uncommon view which for a time she found confusing.)

In her far away studies she had spent many hours poring over street plans and elevations of urban, C 14th Rome. She knew which chapels bristled from which naves of which cathedrals and whose canvases and sculptures would be found in them. She knew which galleries and palazzi owned which works by whom and even which were of doubtful provenance. She knew the mythical stories depicted in fountains and on plinths and how the whole buildings had once looked, where now stood roped-off stony outlines. She knew these outlines too.
But, she said, no essay or exam preparation had prepared her for the shock, the smack of realizing that THIS Rome, thrumming with Piaggios and boys with nice jumpers and combed hair, THIS Rome was THAT Rome. The microfiches and slides, the imported catalogues and postcard reproductions of Great Works she had consumed, the material that constituted her entire education was this: this gelato, this boy in D&G glasses, this nappied toddler scrambling over this fallen column lovingly guarded by this black moth of an Italian Mama – this was that.

And here she was in it, drinking in the sun, the shameless admiration of Italian boys, and the starry glasses of prosecco.
She could recite this literature, she could draw maps of these streets possibly better than the people who lived on them, but she still thought: “Why didn’t anyone say?”

It wasn’t that she felt deceived or deprived, she said. Neither was it like she had turned up to a party the morning after, only to find everyone gone – though she admitted it was sometimes a little like that.

It was more like, and she said this was the best she could explain it, that she didn’t know who to thank.

As I wrote this I thought, as I often do, that had I been sitting where I then was, exactly 400 years earlier, I would have been part of a thick stone wall. I wondered how many centuries-dead people might have leant against that wall crying or laughing or bursting to go to the toilet, praying or farting? What might I, Wall, have seen or heard?

I finished writing and was walking away now remembering a documentary in which a scientist described how one day we will be able to hear all the sounds that have ever been emitted on the earth. Yes. Everything that has ever whispered, plinked or fizzed. He said it was all out there – the sound was all still out there: dinosaurs’ yowls, Shakespeare’s discarded drafts, Jesus’ teachings – we just have to develop a way of capturing it. An ear for the universe.
And then we will know.
What a reckoning that will be.




I just had a conversation with a friend who tells me that the “politicized deaf” don’t think of deafness as a disability.  She tells me that profoundly deaf people can communicate without words – that means without even signs which signify words.  That’s right – without anything we might recognise as – like now – communication.
When I hear this I suffer an immediate and profound failure of imagination.  I cannot see how this can be possible.
I can’t imagine this is true.
I am deeply, deeply envious – my view of the world is so boxy.
Why can’t I imagine this is true? Continue reading

Factory Dream at The Willow Globe

Hill near Penlanole, Wales - by Faye Thomas

Hill near Penlanole, Wales - by Faye Thomas

This week I have been struggling to put it better.

We spent last weekend under a magnificent hill.
A hill that rose out of a valley like a great, green knee in a great, green bubble bath.
A hill that hung above us like a magnificent, green, full-breasted moon.

Under this hill we performed A Midsummer Night’s Dream on grass, on stone and wood, clouds of insects and stars.  Most of it in a little theatre-round made of willow that strained for the sky, growing and whispering along with us.  I am not making this up. I really don’t know where to begin.  I am struggling not to write about the battery in my car giving up on us and the four hour journey to Wales stretching to nine.
Halfords in Greenford.
That after nine hours there was this hill. Continue reading


Sports Day

Sports Day

Late last night I was sitting in the kitchen when I heard a small noise in the living room.

We have mice.  On current evidence I would say we were outnumbered by mice in our house at a ratio of about 25:1.  The other day we found one in a box. It must have accidentally slipped off the end of a shelf into an empty toy-box.  It was then caught there all night like a schoolboy in the Somme.  We found it in the morning, quivering.

Continue reading

Pressing Send

balloons_450x350-1I have new speakers on my computer.  Yesterday, when I sent an email there was a slight rustling sound from beneath the desk; like a mouse tossing a mouse-sized post-it note into a mouse-sized bin. Today, when I click send an exocet missile screams past my nose from one side of the room to the other.

I swear to you.  I duck.  It is alarming.

Continue reading