Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Truth to Our Material Lives



Going back now to June in this Summer of Covid.  I applied to take part in  an online Demostage event for the new  Bristol Culture Channel to discuss the thinking behind and development of Age Queer.  As this link describes it, a chance to outline an idea and get feedback from an audience. The selection of six, five minute presentations was wide ranging, including technology inspired street games, community theatre and novel modes of communication.  I had to come on last on a very hot night!

Being used to fifteen minute conference presentations I found five minutes a tough call particularly attempting to include extracts of the script.  Nevertheless I’m learning that each iteration of Age Queer leads to new insights for myself.  Feedback was positive with virtual claps and comments in the Zoom chat box that suggested the concept of Age Queer appealed to an audience largely comprised of Bristol's arts and culture community. What does stand out was interest in my reference to material culture and its personal significance in later life.  I’d cited the contrast between the sensuality  of pure, linen sheets valued throughout the life course and the peach, polycotton sheets on a single bed in a care home. 

In fact a napkin made from the kind of linen used for bedding that I wish I had!

We agreed that the tactile, sensual elements of the performance really mattered. This led me to think far more about the immersive turn the play should take beyond verbal exchanges with the audience, to the point where they can touch, hold or smell  significant artefacts. At least some time beyond Covid. 

 I initiated the question of funding the project by suggesting that I would have to crowdfund from particular communities.  I pointed out that this week would have been Glastonbury Festival and I felt that Michael Eavis and the wider Festival community would have appreciated and supported the project.  Of course I was not suggesting the Arts Council was ageist!


Here are two extracts from Age Queer  I’d intended to include in the presentation to clarify the project’s purpose.  The first extract is a critique of using chronological age as a determinant of who you are and a hint at the way time and chance will inform the trajectory of the play.  The second an appeal to recognise cultural diversity in later life.  (The first fitted in but there was no time for the second).

From the opening scene (provisionally any of the projected characters): Sometime in the 1980’s  I am on a train back to London.  I pick up a Sunday Times colour supplement and start reading an article about a German soldier, a keen photographer,  stationed in the Lodz  ghetto, Poland, during the 2nd World War. 

And I come across this picture.  At its centre is  a small child.    He or she is   lying  on their  side on a pavement, knees pulled up and clothed in layers of  rags,  with filthy bare feet  and a woollen peaked cap on their head.  He or she is alive,  eyes staring out ,  lips parted.  Passing behind this child are three older children, two boys and a girl.  Only the girl glances down.  Even though her legs are stockinged they are painfully thin.  You know why they are passing by.  They do not want to catch that child’s  imminent death. 

This moment in time is within eight or nine years of my birth.  But this child is born into acute suffering.  I am born into peace, warmth, nourishment and love.   Clarks sandals,  boiled eggs and soldiers…but the difference between me and this child is well under a decade.

That little boy or girl and me.  Such a short space of time between us.

So my birthday age doesn’t fix me.  Not at all. I didn’t choose it.  But this does.  This child and me. 

So don’t fuck about with my age.  You don’t own it any more than I do.  That would be messing with my sense of time which belongs to me.   My being in the world, where I’m at.  Don’t go there. 

The second extract is from a scene set in a local cafĂ© / bar. A representative of a charity for older people has been promoting the range of opportunities and activities for those “over 55”.

Alan: But just clock  that woman by herself over there. Reading the New Statesman upside down.  That’s Evelyn.  Modelled for Mary Quant, Biba, Dior,  photographed by Bailey, Parkinson, the lot in the sixties.  Her daughter leaves her here in the afternoons with an espresso and a baguette.  Wouldn’t dream of taking her to the playschool at the community centre. Anyone here will take her to the loo, buy her another coffee or take her outside for a fag.    She’ll get up and join us when she sees the bottle of Prosecco I’m about to buy.  She just likes to be treated like an adult. And the beautiful woman she still is.  See that framed  photograph up on the wall over there?  The management put it up.  Evelyn modelling a St Laurent dinner suit.  On a summer’s  night, somewhere in Le Marais.  Terry Donovan I think it was.   She just knows where she belongs.

Charity Worker. Surely she has a social worker?

Alan: (pause)  I think perhaps you’d better go. 

These recent iterations of Age Queer have made me realise how much my doctoral thesis, now five years old, left its impression on the way I work now.   “Truth to the Materiality of Later Life: the Significance of the Aesthetic for the Support of Older People”.  The cultural and aesthetic foundations of our life course should be sustained. Instead your later life is vulnerable to the imposition of a false, homogenized version of what passes for support.

My next post will chart the development of Odd Lot Theatre Company established over this Covid Summer and which I feel privileged to be part of.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Life Course Expressions

The last month or so has seen me shifting between divergent expressions of how I feel.  On the one hand, the romantic, pastoral response to new environments I’ve discovered under lockdown, and on the other, an angry, subversive interpretation of the concept of “Odd”. 

First up the pastoral.  Another response to one of Dave Martin’s  and Hannah McDowell’s Artistic Expressions of Ageing workshops when we thought of the impact of the environment throughout your life. My first thought was of the iconic, possibly last  poem by Helen Dunmore “Hold out your arms”.

And then of a wooded, riverside  walk in the St.  Anne’s area of Bristol I discovered during lockdown.  I could truly understand the concept of “forest bathing” walking  along the path.  I used my photo as  driver for experiences across the life course. (I superimposed the following words over the image at the time but am unable to transfer this here).

St. Anne’s Undisturbed

 Trees sheltering, wild garlic and bluebell sap,

Nails splicing a daisy stem and conkers,

Applewood smoking, blackberries simmering,

Frost and leaf mould,

Heart, earth, pulsing, shifting, growing, breaking, settling.

My resting place.


By way of contrast,  the theme of “Odd”  was suggested by Louisa Fearnley who has very kindly been hosting our Odd Lot Theatre and Film Zoom meet-ups. A poem , a monologue or whatever which we would record.  So “Oddly Enough”  (below) came out of this.  I began by trying to film myself on my phone in the back garden.  Predictably this solitary exercise felt and appeared very laboured and I wasn’t happy with it. 

Certainly  I look a bit stressed here. It also evidences that  my hair has started to go white during lockdown!

 So thankfully Andreea Rea agreed to film me, Rebecca Braccialarghe and Liz Cashdan in July (others from Odd Lot to be filmed in August).  We spent a good, two hours at Greenbank Cemetery (another amazing place I discovered during lockdown) and I think we got a much better result.  Hair a mess, old clothes and a less contrived effect. Thank you, Andreea for being both an excellent director and camerawoman!  Screen shot and link to all our films to follow when we put them in the public domain, hopefully  by the end of August.   

I could not help but preface this piece with a quote from Elif Shafak’s TED talk:  “The Revolutionary Power of Diverse  Thought."   It sums up everything that concerns me at the moment.  


‘Slowly and systematically we are denied the right to be complex’ ( Elif Shafak 2017)

Sorry I’m not the way you’d like me to be,

 Sorry I slip through the cracks of your neat, tidy world.

This makes me  interstitial,

This gives me a little power

Should I choose to use it. 

My life, my rules.

Why should I,

Why should I  want to fit in?


Sorry I’m the garbage category that irritates you

Spoiling the software

Because none of the above apply to me. 

Sorry if I linger a while on your conscience,

But I can’t resist

Making you feel uncomfortable,

Just a little bit.

I’m sorry I have zero fucks to give,

I’m sorry my red lips stick it to the Man.

Rather a lot.

But I have a bit of a mouth on me,

I just want  to make you, him and every other fucker else 


That’s all.


Sorry I’m  not  quite the full ticket

So very imperfect

So perfectly odd.

So don’t write me out a moral prescription, Doctor Virtue

Because I just won’t take the pills.


Forgive me, Father but

I’d rather watch Tiger King than Normal People.

(a beat)

He’s a piece of work isn’t he?

(a beat)

 “You’ve got a face on you like a smacked arse.”

Jo Cross July 2020