I did a performance of the ‘Testy Manifesto’ extract at Grant Sharkey’s album launch at The Art House in Southampton. Such a lovely evening in so many ways. Grant’s audience were very welcoming to me, and although not everything went to plan for me as usual, we all had a good time. I had an interesting conversation with a man in that audience, who told me that his wife had been in an abusive relationship before she had met him. He said he thought she should see the show, that it would help her. And so now I know that I’ve at least helped one person, even if it was indirectly. And that was all that got me through the making of that show; the thought that someone who needed to see it, would/could see it, and that it would help them. And if not, then at least it would help me. Which it did. In the course of March 2019 to July 2021, which was the span of time it took to get ‘Testy Manifesto’ out, I recovered from PTSD. And neither one was an easy process. Parts of the show still trigger me when I return to them after a break, performing the show is still emotionally taxing, and I am often a bit shell-shocked afterwards, and need a couple of days to recover. But overall I’m feeling quite safe in my life, and returning to it over and over again, from a different place each time seems to help.
I’ve seen some great theatre this season. I’ve spent a lot of time sat at a sewing machine. I’ve started taking my weight training a tiny bit more seriously. Performing helps keep my mind sharp, I need to keep doing it. I need to read my new poems out loud – that’s my goal for next year. I’m putting myself back at square one and writing a new show. I’m taking ‘Testy Manifesto’ to Brighton Fringe in May and hopefully Dublin Fringe in September. Next year will probably be the last year I perform that show, I have grown so much from doing it. Perhaps another film version, probably a book at some point. But the show is done. I remember the desperation I felt as I wrote it, and as all of the pieces started coming together, and I started to share it with people, I started to understand it. I’ll do it as often as I am invited to, the same with ‘Frontal Lobotomy.’ Making ‘Testy Manifesto’ didn’t ‘cure’ my PTSD, and I definitely have more healing to do, but it started the process that I’ve thrown everything at in the last three years in particular.
Now what I need is a good long rest over the winter, and to hope that the creativity bubbles up in the spring. Here is my monologue from warmer days in France this year.
Paris and Versailles
Fifteen years late, the woman with the thorn in her heart, sweats and side-steps taxi drivers, looking for a name she couldn’t pronounce, peering past open doors into cavernous courtyards, seeing what had changed since she last walked these streets. Fifteen years ago Pigalle was grotty enclave, now littered with bars she will be too afraid to enter. Alone, with nothing to do but walk, and take photos of her feet. The feet that throb as if they were hearts. She envies the paddling pigeons, she gazes at cakes too beautiful to eat. On a park bench by a not too noisy road, a croque monsieur is devoured. Two men call out ‘Bonjour madame’ but knowing her accent will betray her disguise, she only nods in response. An hour long queue is rewarded with a hall of mirrors and ludicrous fountains spurting Baroque. Sustained with madeleines and apricots, she discovers a book shop filled with nooks, and is drawn to the area under the stairs. It so happens to be the ‘Death and Grieving’ section, and she parts with 18 euros. Long shadows and glass pyramids, the house where George Sand lived, the pilgrimage to lay her hand on the brass plaque outside Ecole Jacques Lecoq. Sensing what lies beyond, in the deeper side of Paris, trusting that the promenade plantee will lead her to the next thing.
The heat assaulted her the second she stepped off the train in Avignon. So the cicadas are here, a sound that had always amazed her, though she’d never seen even one. Until the day one fell on her and became lodged in her clothing. Shaking it free a bit too roughly, she watched in horror as the helpless, hideous creature was consumed by ants. I’m sorry, she said. Here is a chance to observe myself she thought. My favourite flowers are sunflowers and lavender. My favourite supper is cheese, nectarines and wine. I have seen enough Roman Ruins for the time being. Wine is the dominant religion here. The churches are empty but the restaurants are full. Shadow and shade are the same word. The word for diving board is ‘Le Plonge’ and they do actually say ‘Ooh lala’.
A crocodiles head in a pram, an empty marionette theatre, bubbles, a lullaby, a lone trumpet player, his seated audience of one, ‘My Way.’ She finds any patch of grass to put her bare feet on, she hires a bike for one euro and encounters a troll smelling of weed. A deep voice asks her in French ‘What have you found?’ Le velo n’est pas pour la compagne. A windy beach, sand in her ears and nostrils. A nudist beach, sand in every crevice. Leathery, naked men standing sentinel, a thousand flamingos but not one decent photo. No sound but the waves, sea water that is fresh but not cold. The word for chilled sounds like ‘fresh.’ It takes me a minute to relax she thought, but maybe I’m not very good at holidays. An epic crepe for three euros and a bus ride full of local people comparing sunburn. A croissant eaten in Van Gogh’s garden.
It twinkles here, the city appears upside down in the Rhone, my god it’s so fucking beautiful. A scoop of lavender ice-cream – three euros. A man hiding in the bushes over the bridge gets out his penis in broad daylight. His penis is red, she is so fucking angry. Maybe I cannot truly be invisible, she thinks.
A whole new region, giant skies, fairytale castles clinging to mountains, she had never seen so many varieties of mustard in one place. She stores her food in a terrifying cellar, the host follows her everywhere asking questions about the Royal Family. The dog is called Papillon, and is disabled. A disabled butterfly. There are gnomes, witches and toadstools with faces in the windows, she spends an afternoon in the toy museum, she is now brave enough to wish the bus drivers a bonne journee. An explorer who chooses when to reveal herself. A day trip to a whole other country where she watches swimmers in the Rhine being taken by the current. The weather changes constantly and the church bells on Sunday morning are relentless. A last encounter with the astronomical clock, inside a cathedral so daunting. A final invitation into the unknown. While we are alive the days will pass, but time seems to stretch when everything is unfamiliar. She now knows what too many steps feels like. She vows to never again hide herself in her mother tongue. She wishes everyone could be this free.