Crusty Rustic - cobbler
Wessex mill white bread flour
Wessex mill cobbler flour
Started Friday 23rd April finished Saturday 24th April
This is the first loaf life that I haven't met before. That was strange. Normally when I'm making bread for somebody they are, as I stretch and fold or knead the dough, very prevalent in my mind. It's a beautiful, mindful way to give your friends the space in your bain that they deserve but that I'm terrible at managing. They get squished by work commitments and thoughts, family logistics and my own anxieties, only to pop up in my head at 3am, shrouded by the coat formerly known as guilty bad friend.
But here I was making bread for somebody I had never met. I knew that she had found out about the project from a mutual colleague - and my dear friend Jo - who I've worked with on and off for about 30 years and who has known me since I was a snotty A level student with ever changing hair colours, living situations and aspirations in her theatre class. Jo now works at The Oxford Playhouse.
Work commitments are heavy at the moment. Suddenly with the reopening of the world I'm finding that I have of course, faced with etc prospect of very little work, overcommitted. I'm not double booked but I'm back to where I was a year ago, which is in a state of fairly frazzled due to endless changing of situation, that is working with community, working with primary school kids,trying to write a play, teaching teens. Each situation requires its own headspace and approach. It makes me as excited as tired though.
I met Ellie outside the Chester pub for a walk around the nature reserve known as the Kidneys. the pub was busy - it was a sunny afternoon and people were clearly revelling in the newish freedom of pub life. Ellie strode up to me - I felt as though I should be wearing a carnation in a pocket or maybe that we should have some kind of secret code " the bread bakes while the wolf howls".
We walk off, leaving the revellers to the pub life and head for the nature reserve. I'm thrown back to the first interview (#1) with Rowan, when I felt too subconscious to get my notebook out - it's the same today. Before I have time to formulate my first question Ellie is on it asking what I was filming this morning? We had scheduled around that and Ellie's house viewings. I explained that I've been working on a community play, that we usually do a panto - it was my way of getting to know my neighbours, that I could offer the local community something but that of course this year we were thrown into the realm of digital and now, having thought that we could air the production in February we were just able to film as restrictions lifted enough.
"What a great thing to do" Elie remarked and I found myself whitening on about how long it has taken us - and now of course I'm also into paid work again so it's hard fitting everything in and giving everything the attention it deserves and demands. "You know when you need to clear something from your head to move on and make space for the next? " I said. Ellie talked about her role at the Playhouse and in-house director at Magdalen College School , she is currently directing The Last Days of Judas Iscariot at the school and it's got a digital element to it. Ellie is working with the same brothers that I worked with on Under My Skin at the Pegasus a few weeks ago. It's a small world. I think that lots of creatives are experiencing this bundling up of work, it can be tough at the best of times but when you have a number of projects that have been delayed it's tough maintaining that initial flush of creative love and energy. I experience a reluctance to enter rooms of work and then when I get in I love it - yet even at the age of 51 I still get this. We discuss the digital nature of theatre in lockdown. "I haven't really watched much" confesses Ellie, I feel as though film is already there. I've been watching more films than theatre on film". I agree, I tried watching some shows on film but I think the theatre I like in real life doesn't translate so well and the craft of acting for screen is so very different from that in theatre. Deep down it's really about being in a room and sharing the air and laughter and unique experience with others.
"What are you excited to be working on? Ellie asks me. It occurs to me that this is one of the differences when you have a chat with someone you don't know - you are both trying to find out things about each other.
"In truth pretty much everything I'm doing" I answer "I'm incredibly privileged to do what I do. It's the having to do so man of them at the same time in order to keep ones head above water that's tricky. But I'm really excited about this bread project and seeing the community how through to its conclusion and starting a new project with Complicite at the Pegasus theatre with the 16-18 year old company, and working with Crisis at Arts at the Old Fire station on their Hidden spire project. It's all exciting - I love the different groups of people that I get to see. How about you? "
"I enjoy the school work and I'm loving reading the scripts written by the playmakers group at the Playhouse. I'll be directing them, they are really interesting and are tackling big themes such as how the world views teenage girls and cultural differences between two girls who fall in love. I'm in a bit of a limbo because I've been the associate director at the playhouse and MCS , it's usually a year long job, but because of Covid it was extended by a year and now the job is being advertised again, so I'm coming to the end of it and looking to apply for another job. I'm looking at participation, engagement and directing jobs".
I ask if London is calling. "Not particularly, my boyfriend lives there, it would be nice to live in the same place for a while but we can be anywhere, he works from home now so...." "And would you go anywhere for the right job?" Yes, definitely, she replies with certainty and I admire that bravery and freedom. I say that I hate applying for jobs and rarely do it, though I wonder what my career might've held if i did. I mention a brilliant local job that I was advised of earlier in the year and I didn't apply, because I thought I wouldn't stand a chance. " I went for that, didn't get it" says Ellie - I remain convinced that I wouldn't have fitted into the jobs neat box - especially as I walk with this physically organised and careful being who is also clearly hugely intelligent and self contained.
"Are there many opportunities for creatives in Oxford?" asks Ellie. This is a tough one to answer. " I was on the steering committee for Oxfordshire Theatre Makers for a long time, trying to create opportunities and events but its tough to maintain that when only a few people attend all the time, it's a bit disheartening. Really it feels like we need a base or a venue to take on engaging and supporting the professional community". I'm incredibly lucky to be involved with three of the major arts centres in Oxford in some shape or form so I'm aware that these words might sound churlish, but I'm growing older and lots of emphasis is on emerging talent - it's a trend in the arts and has been for a while. We walk on, one older veteran and one emerging talent.
Ellie tells me that as we come out of Lockdown she is directing The Importance of Being Ernest with the 6th form of MCS. "I was worried that they might find it a bit stifling" she muses and I was creating all sorts of concepts and directing strategies but actually when we all got in the room, we had a really great time and they were having fun, and then I remembered that's what it's about, for these young people coming out of lockdown what they need is to enjoy something. And we've had some great discussions - one coming from the girl playing Cecily who pointed out the "Oh , you're my little cousin Cecily " line, wincing at the patronising tone of the male speaker, let alone the fact that they were, later, going to get married.
Yes, enjoyment fosters something for sure and it's the ethos with which I conduct most of my work.
I return to the role of interviewer. "How did you get through Lockdown?" "gardening and sewing", replies Ellie.
NB - As I write this I get a real case of the "am I imagining this? syndrome" and I have to email Ellie to check , she responds with an affirmative and says "you haven’t invented it, it’s true, it’s true. Yep, learnt to sew from a line of talented sewers on my mum’s side – my great grandmother was a single-parent and a seamstress. She used to call her outfits ‘costumes’."
I tell Ellie that nature and crafting have been recurring themes in the bread chats and beyond. The forced return to simpler activities in more basic times. We talk families briefly and I say that I rarely see mine despite living in the same city as them. Ellie would like to see her family more but doesn't really want to live in Tunbridge Wells. I ask if that is where she grew up
"No, my dad was a diplomat so we travelled around a bit , I lived in Portugal of ra chunk of my childhood, I'm trying to learn Portuguese now but it's proving quite tricky. then I went to Cambridge (University) - Oxford is much sunnier than Cambridge".
"You've been here during particularly sunny years" I remark, "it's not normally quite this sunny"
"Maybe it's university life - it's a difficult time of life, I didn't really enjoy it, I wasn't very well". I agree, I found it very tricky too but also found doing my MA much later in life, tough as well. I wonder if there are some structures that some people don't sit well in.
We are on the road that Ellie lives on, having walked out of the nature reserve back into the side streets. We are on the road that my daughter was born on and has mixed memories for me (not least realising that the window had been open as I was swearing my way through delivery!).
I come back to community theatre because it's a shared interest and I'm curious to hear her thoughts. "I'd love to make a verbatim piece about this area" says Ellie, its a great area with a probably rich history of mixed classes, of factory workers and academics. but you need to find a link person she says. I comment on how strange I find it that oxford doesn't really have a community theatre scene like other cities. I know that the brilliant Chris Bush works a lot on big shows in sheffield that draws people from the city. I wonder if Oxford has to large an economic divide, there are poem of the country's richest and poorest people here. That economic disparity in Oxford might make people feel wary. Ellie thinks that maybe we don't have the cultural identity that somewhere like sheffield might have. I agree.
"Do you think you'd be a good link?" Ellie asks me and I waver. "I'm good at getting on with different groups" I say, "but I also fall outside of them - I grew up very working class but I work in the arts with lots of people who aren't".
Ellie opens the door to her garden,
'Have a peek" she says and I see her housemates ejnoying the sunshine. It's a rented place and for a split second I miss the camaraderie of past housemates and the fun times of youth. It's so joyous to spend time with someone at a very different but familiar stage of life, where everything seems possible.
But then I cycled past the bedroom window of my daughters birthing, past the gate to my faithful old allotment and arrived to my home. steady as she blows.
Ellie would eat her bread with her mum Sarah, her Aunty Rosie and her Grandma who died when she was 7. They would eat it with chocolate spread and feel very naughty. They would listen and dance to Motown.
You can support this project and my community work here.
Any money received goes towards travel costs, production costs and artists time.