This evening is gearing up to be about fire. Sue, who is the beating heart of this extremely varied residency, is very used to working with fire. “I think the smell of paraffin is my favourite smell,” she told us all half an hour ago, with a huge grin. She’s looking forward to this.
We are up in an abandoned fort on the Jersey coast. Fort Catel. Napoleonic, I believe, and very much like the one I came within an inch of renting for one night in May for exorbitant amounts of dosh. Guy and I just set a fire in a trashcan, which is behaving very well. Inevitably the rain has started to spot on us as we sit here outside, but it’s warm here as we sit around this can like a group of New York tramps in the 1960’s. “There’s always rain when I run a fire workshop,” says Sue. I don’t think it’s going to set in but it’s the only damper. I’m looking forward to learning some new techniques. I’m looking forward to playing with fire and calling it learning.
The week we’ve had has involved skill sharing and large amounts of making. We’ve made theatre and film, we’ve made art and sculpture, we’ve been really busy and we’ve been remembering how joyful it is and how quick it can be to make things with other creative people. All the ideas I’ve had and then blocked in recent years – I suspect this will be the catalyst for a period of getting on with it. So long as I don’t set myself on fire tonight, which is always a possibility.
“shall we?” says Sue. I’m about to get covered in smoke.
I’m writing to you with filthy fingers and yep, I reek of paraffin. It feels great. There’ll be a queue for the shower – we have one between about eight of us so it’s a delicate negotiation.
Up in that fort jutting out over the dark sea, we learnt how to make very good paraffin torches that throw a surprising amount of light and also happen to be extremely good fun. I got some of my youthful fire-poi fantasies ironed out via playful wild dervishes, flying and blazing to the sound of the waves by moonlight. The whole experience has probably made me marginally less likely to burn my face off in overambitious experimentation with hot coals on chains or something similar.
Also, bean cans… I will be looking at bean cans in a whole new light now. They can make excellent short term fire effects with a bit of hessian and paraffin. I have always loved fire. We always had a fire when I was growing up, and I have many happy memories of staring at fires and telling myself stories. Perhaps there can be some more use for fire in the stories I want to tell others. Christmas Carol was always at its best when there were a fuckton of candles everywhere. Nothing beats the living light of a naked flame. And we learnt some small simple tricks that just add to the joy. Flour… Milk powder. Magic.
Next year’s festival season I’m gonna have something crazy and gorgeous to bring joy to people. And I’m pretty sure it’ll involve fire.