ALL WHITE - feels so indulgent.
Wessex Mill strong white flour
Started Saturday morning - before rehearsal in a state of utter exhaustion.
Finished Sunday morning an hour before delivery!
I text half an hour before we are due to meet. it feels reflective of this week - because work.... work at every angle - frustrating and brilliant in equal measures. "Let's meet at ours" - the reply shines from my screen "and then we can drink coffee and decide if we want to walk - Jude is in the river as we speak but will be back soon".
As I cycled there I saw next weeks recipient and had a brief chat and then one of my over 50's dancers who had lost her husband just before christmas. I stand and chat to her for a while. she is a keen gardener and, at the end of term used to bring me the amazing bouquets from her allotment. she is "finding solace in nature"she says - something many of us have experienced over the last year. Meeting her and hearing her news is a reminder that normal is an ever shifting / spinning plate that we balance on, often precariously - often unaware that we are near the edge. About to be thrown off into a time of unsettled ungrounded un-normal. The chats to familiar faces makes me late for my coffee meeting bread exchange. But as I turn the corner they are there, outside their house, chatting to neighbours with kids, neighbours with dogs, neighbours on the way to tend to a wild garden. They live on a busy street, opposite a gorgeous pub which makes their house an already sociable location. One neighbour stops to talk about a play her partner ( I assumed) had written about woven stories - I'm amazed how ideas seem to drop into the ether to get picked up by multiple people at the same time. I'm currently directing a community play about stories and dreams woven together (Sleeping Beauty - you can read about it on the homepage of the website).
The Cherry trees are in blossom which always sets my 'intend' programme into jam making overdrive. I think I've made cherry jam once in my life but every year the intention is there. spring is shining through the leaves on a typically cold but bright April morning.
We go through to the garden, its sunny but chilly. They haven't eaten breakfast in the wait for the bread - still warm. They seem to enjoy it. There's something ritualistic in sharing bread, of course there's the religious angle but also the notion of breaking bread together. In retrospect I'm sorry that I declined a slice, it felt wrong to give with one hand and take with the other. so we sit and there is a flurry of catch ups. I know these two women through various paths. I used to teach one of their daughters dance at the local primary school- I always loved her quiet confidence at being herself, then we all work in theatre at times. Jude has stage managed shows that I've been involved with at Arts at the Old fire station and Becky was chair of the board at the Pegasus Theatre.
I mention that I find it easier to recall the conversations when I walk with people because my brain pictures the route and recalls key points in the chat. They talk about how they did a coast to coast cycle ride and when they returned they could remember snippets of their conversations before - because it was inextricably linked to the sights and sounds around them. I like this idea, that conversations somehow remain rooted in the place that they were dropped, ready to be picked up when the owner returns. I wander off in my mind to the fictional conversation lost property cupboard. There's an idea for something ?
We chat about how are kids have been doing through lockdown and through changes of school. I say that my daughter wants to be a journalist but doesn't necessarily want to go to uni and Becky brings up the brilliant Caitlin Moran who followed a similar route (except that she had a dysfunctional family and often lived in the library - as I write that I realise that my daughter might think this is the same for her).
Lockdown has been a strange time for this family. Jude has been diagnosed with Alzheimers having felt strange for a while. It's taken a push to get the diagnosis. I say that I don't have to mention it if Jude feels uncomfortable about it - in truth I suspect it's me feeling uncomfortable about it because I can't change it and can't make my mate feel ok about it. "I don't mind" says Jude - "shit innit".
There have been these amazing things that lockdown has thrown up" says Becky. The Ukulele group has been having open mic nights online, so people that would be too intimidated to play in a pub, or might not be able to get down there have been able to join in. It's great, and my band met in a garden the other night - we are beginning to open up again."
They are both sat in these fabulous Oodies - fluffy calf length ponchos with fleecy linings and hoods. They look snuggly. I'm fighting the urge to squidgy up on the bench and get the benefit of one. Covid times eh?
They tell me about how they met at a Gay switchboard 25th anniversary gala.Jeremy, a friend
of Judes' (a company manager and chair of London Lesbian and Gay switchboard) told her that he had met the person she was going to end up with, and as they were talking to each other their friend was jumping up and down and pointing excitedly behind Becky. And here they are 23 years later. They met the same year my partner and I met "oooh it's a long time" says Jude lightly.
I ask how Judes dad is getting on. He lives up near Tynemouth and moved into sheltered accommodation last year
'He's great! Having a great time" says Jude, and then shows me pictures of the sea there.
"I miss the sea" I say "if I see it I have to go in " . "Lets go" says Jude. "Find a weekend you're free". I'm going to put that on the pile of intentions too.
Becky talks about how empty and beautiful the beaches are. They feel a million miles away at the moment.
As we natter away becky drops it in that they both had Covid in January. Jude has been tirelessly volunteering with the Oxford Food Hub and the food banks. They think thats where it came from - on one of the supermarket pick ups.
"It was awful, we were laid really low" I'm sorry that I didn't know. "We didn't have to go to hospital but it was close, it's the temperature that gets you. We were in bed for a week. Told the girls they had to provide for themselves, they ate their body weight in crisps with some cheese".
How are you feeling about coming out of lockdown? Becky is fired up, she has been writing a book entitled the Art of enough. she ignites into a whirlwind of how in her coaching role she finds people feeling like they are not good enough, that we are endlessly overwhelmed by complexities and demands. We need to remind the simple, create boundaries and be healthy within our limits. I love all this. "Caterpillars have an imaginal cell within them" she rallies" they carry it throughout their time as a caterpillar while they are eating everything ... never enough and never enough.... and then at certain point the cell kicks in, takes over and transforms them into a butterfly"
Becky's book "The Art of Enough" will be published in the autumn. I'm amazed at the focused productivity of people.
It's lovely hanging out with these two, I feel comfortable in their company. They have moments and looks that couples have - intimating other understandings which I'm not privy to. I know why I feel comfortable, they are the least judgemental people. we talk gender and fluidity, Becky says that she always felt like she was a third sex - this feels familiar! "Me too, I wanted to be a boy - but not stop being a girl - but not really belonging to either" We laugh about tales of mistaken gender - me getting thrown out of the ladies toilets as a teenager by an old lady reprimanding me " You're too old to be in here sonny'' Becky, as a being called a 'young man' by the waiter at a family dinner and liking it and then insisting that everybody called her Pete after that. Jude recalls family members introducing her with etc tag line "she's a girl you know".
It has begun to snow, they have guests coming in a short while and panic about how they can remain outside and still warm enough. "The girls are really up on all the rules - they've been telling us that we can't have people inside" Good on the young people eh?
I'm packing up to leave when Jude reiterates - come on - lets go up north for a weekend.
Later on that afternoon, I feel a weight of sadness for the time we have missed. I'm a hermit but I've missed my friends - the people that I would normally have occasional but meaningful contact with. I text them to tell them this - "it's a tonic reconnecting" comes the reply. That's enough.
You can support this project and my community work here.
Any money received goes towards travel costs, production costs and artists time.
Becky would eat her bread with KD LANG or her band and would listen to You've got a Friend by Carole King
Jude would break bread with Maya Angelou and they would listen to "Aint got No - I got Life" by Nina Simone