This bag has been in my attic for two years.
Contents: 1 pith helmet. A molded leather breastplate. A lion costume. A plastic thornbush. An improvised almanac. A wearable lino-printed wall with a hole cut in it. A Carthaginian Falcata, disturbingly heavy and sharp. A feather boa. An oversized black dress.
“It’s a show in a bag!” says Lou.
“That’s what we do!” replies Jon.
And it’s true. One light bag. Everything needed to mount a reasonably efficient piece of dinner theatre around the three mechanical scenes in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Painting Pyramus and Thisby in broad strokes, usually with half a rehearsal and plenty of goodwill. It used to go down a storm with an audience that gradually got more and more tanked up. Then Brexit started to dry things up and Covid killed the rest. It went up to my attic always with the expectation it would come down again in no time for another ridiculous outing. But no and no and no. And then suddenly the phone rang and it’s gonna be needed in Margate next week.
“It’s cool, I’ll drive up to London tomorrow, get it and then turn round and go back,” said Jon, condemning himself to a miserable four hours on the road. “Sod that, why don’t I come to Margate with Lou on Saturday”. Which was me condemning myself to the drive instead. But it’s a good excuse to see a less familiar place. Lou and I both enjoy seeing new places. I’m always one for a jolly.
This is the problem when your friends live out of town. Seeing them always involves a long drive. It’s hard enough when you’re at different ends of the tube network. But … I’m in the long drive mindset right now anyway. I’m basically commuting from Brighton to London. What’s another four hours on the road when Bergman and I broke 2000 miles together this afternoon. I can definitely handle a trip to Margate.
“The skies are amazing here,” says Lou as we drive into the Thanet evening. And they are. It’s wide and flat and you’ve got angles on the sea as well as on the land. No wonder Turner went there often to paint the light. Fog and shafts of sun through the roiling cloud that’s blown so fast by the wind that it’s only there long enough to surprise you before it’s just big clear sky over flat land with plenty of history – and then in the dark the Aquarius moon one day off full.
On the way back to Brighton we stopped in Canterbury and walked the ancient streets drinking in the weight of a past full of pilgrimages. We stumbled upon the fingerbone of Thomas a Becket in a reliquary just off the main drag, surrounded by the oblivious Saturday night crowds – shouting lads and lasses dropping glasses on cobblestones that were laid 800 years ago and more, mingling their momentary peals of laughter with that of churchbells that had been ringing every Sunday for 100 years before Genghis Khan founded his empire in Mongolia. Bells that have almost rung their way through a thousand years in that town.
Sitting among this blur of ancient and modern, we ate dinner in site of the spires and I thought about Jon and his friends in Margate, using that bag to mount their five hundred year old spoof of bad dinner entertainment as … well as a piece of dinner entertainment. I thought of all the times I’ve performed it and things like it just once and then immediately forgotten about it. The hundreds and hundreds of short jobs I’ve walked into worked into and walked away from. My work like that laughter on the wind. The words of the text is often like the bells. Long dead writers giving me a present. Ringing their meaning through the centuries and occasionally mingling their meaning with the wind of my laughter. I’m ok with being that laughter on the wind. But I wonder if I could also forge a bell or two before I shuffle off. It’s worth a thought.