Back to Swansea for the final time in this first run of experiments and to the Junction Cafe in Blackpill. Many thanks to Hannah and all her staff – Bev, Michelle and Sofja – for being so incredibly warm and welcoming. The venue itself proved to be quite a tricky one with the bizarrest acoustic I’ve ever come across in such a small space. Sound simply didn’t carry at all which made for some interesting times as I had to repeat a lot of what people said so other people could hear it too. Nevertheless some really exciting and lovely experiments took place, culminating in my largest audience to date last Friday, the 17th.
There has been quite a bit of negative reaction to the piece this week – a letter of complaint from a disgruntled audience member and some sense of people feeling aggrieved and angry with me for what I’m doing. Now, I’m the first to admit that this may be because I’m coming towards the end of the six weeks and am feeling tired and oversensitive. And I’ll also say that part of me is secretly (not that secretly now!) delighted since I’ve always believed that if you’re not pissing people off then you’re doing something wrong. But it’s really important to look at people’s concerns about the work and address myself to them.
I think an easy mistake to make about these experiments is to suggest that somehow I’m indulging in a form of ‘group therapy’ by setting up a forum which encourages people to speak and share openly about their lives, foibles and concerns. The implication somehow being that I’m not qualified to do such work and that it’s therefore dangerous to set up such a space. I have to say, however, that I absolutely do not believe that’s what I’m doing. If anything I’m attempting to create a space where people can share anything they want to and holding it in such a way that certainty of any kind is questioned and examined. I’m not seeking to give anyone answers to life’s problems – shit, I can’t do that for myself so I can hardly do it for anyone else! Nor am I seeking to preach or teach. Rather I’m looking to find common ground between myself and other people and allowing them to do the same. Sometimes it works, sometimes it fails and I can’t speak for how people will arrive at the experiments, what is happening in their lives or what they seek to get from it. If that’s ‘dangerous’ then so be it. I firmly and passionately believe that communication and interaction is the only way we are ever going to reconnect with each other and develop more empathy and understanding for other people. The one thing I seek to do is to suggest that we are not alone in our fears and insecurities. I do this by attempting to share my own in as unguarded and open a way as possible. And sometimes that means that I’m a hypocrite – as I believe we all are. And sometimes that means I swear or say something that people might find offensive. If so, I would hope that the space I have set up in the experiments is open enough that they might feel able to challenge me about what I have said there and then. I have no intention of attacking anyone or indulging in one-upmanship as is common amongst stand-up comics. On the contrary, if I am accused of hypocrisy or bigotry or unacceptable language, then I will be the first to acknowledge it. Because these experiments are about acknowledging weakness and failure as being healthy and part of normal life. Not some ludicrous notion of perfection and certainty which bears no relationship to reality.
So, with the caveat that all of that may have come from my being a tad oversensitive, I feel content that the experiments are moving forwards in an interesting, exciting and challenging way. I’m looking forward to the final tranche this week at the Vaults in Cardiff Bay. And then I’m looking forward to having a couple of weeks off before I start to think about what I have learned and how I might want to continue this work in the future. Because the one thing I can say with any degree of certainty right now is that I absolutely do want the work to continue. I really believe that I’m onto something good and useful and unique here. The question is how to apply it and continue it onwards.
Obviously, the first thing I need to address myself to in the autumn is my commitment to fulfil the wishes of my audiences in what I will henceforth refer to as the ‘Days of my Life’ project. I need to go back and update the list and I’ll do that once the experiments are complete. But, I have begun by taking part in the first one – the Midsummer Skinny Dip at Rhossilli Bay on Gower took place this past Sunday 20th and I was there alongside the lovely lady (whose name I sadly don’t know) who suggested I do it.
And it was fantastic! 400 people all stripping off and running screaming into the cold sea was quite something to be part of. It was life affirming and wonderful in all the best ways. Interestingly, I wasn’t in the slightest self conscious about being naked since everyone else was too. Below are a couple of Youtube docs about it – the first one is from the National Trust and you can see me being interviewed at about 3.15. The second one (avert your eyes, mother!) was taken by someone whose partner was in the next row to me – you can just about make out my flabby arse as I drop my kecks and leg it for the sea to the left of frame. Enjoy or something ...
If you’d like to donate something to the charity supported by the skinny dip then head to their website – http://www.midsummerskinnydip.co.uk/ - or donate direct to Marie Curie - http://www.mariecurie.org.uk/
So, the next phase of the project has already begun and I will inevitably want to tell people about all the experiences I have fulfilling my promise to give away days of my life. Looking forward to the final few offerings in Cardiff and then a rest and then ... who knows? Nothing about life is certain after all.