Oh, I wish you had seen this with me so we could talk about it

Snappy title, huh? But I do. I really do.

I’m a Chris Goode fanboy. I love him. I love his work (not unconditionally, and I haven’t seen it all, but I do love it) and no other theatre-maker has ever made me produce such a variety and quantity of bodily fluids in public. I do tend to leak emotions in liquid form quite readily, but grace à lui, I’ve almost drowned by inhaling my own giggle-snot, almost choked to death on my own chortle-phlegm and almost suffocated from trying to turn back a tide of molten sadness.Yesterday, I ended up with a soggy cowl neck jumper as it was the only handy absorbent material substantial enough to mop up the range of water-based feelings my facial orifices were emitting.

If you can, do see The Adventures of Wound Man and Shirley at the Pleasance Baby Grand and, even if you’re less leaky than I am, I’m sure you’ll leave feeling different to how you went in. I’m simultaneously laughing with delight and holding back tears just thinking about it. It’s on tomorrow and Monday, so hurry!

And then we could talk about it.

Clearing the decks

A few weeks ago, before the mass rioting took grip of the country, before our Government decided to respond by donning jackboots and stamping rather than even attempting to understand why this eruption had happened, and before I went on an intensive driving course and had to leave early due to being generally impossible (*blushes*), I had a wee trip out to the sticks to do a spot of sorting and clearing.

I’ve spent a significant portion of the past year sorting and clearing and splashing industrial strength cleaning products about. There have been times when, standing atop a seemingly unclearable heap,  I thought it was never going to end. But progress has been made. We really are almost there. Or at least ‘there’ enough to be able to start picking up certain threads of my life’s rich tapestry from where I put them down a year ago. Phew.

There have been two houses to sort and clear and the snapshots below are of the second.

Compulsive hoarding is almost impossible to adequately describe to people who haven’t witnessed it first hand (I had a go at describing here, talking about the first house). I can see why it’s hard to understand just how horrific it is if you’ve not been in amongst the piles; a heap of stuff is just a heap of stuff, surely? The stuff itself is overwhelming, but the stuff is so much more than material objects – it’s memories and people and happy times and sad times and hopes and ambitions and love and anger and fears and regrets and intentions and failings all densely packed and congealed with remnants of rotten food, mysterious gungy matter and rat droppings. And even if the heaps are gunge- and dropping-free, they’re still great big immoveable objects that restrict access to sinks, toilets, bathrooms, cookers, chairs, beds, windows, doors, floors and living. How can you have visitors if all the chairs are buried? How can you get someone to mend the leaky sink if the kitchen floor is four-foot deep in stuff? How can you turn on the central heating if the boiler or thermostat is behind a two-metre high heap?

Fundamentally, if you’ve got really bad piles, then they dominate your life.

The farmhouse I was clearing up had been overrun by rats when my father was living there. My aunt had cleared out all the bags of rotting food (the top layer of ‘matter’, exactly the same as in the other house) a few years ago when it was no longer possible for my dad to live there. After that, the rats moved out and the burglars moved in, but they didn’t make much of an impression…

The first house took a long time to do. I’d started clearing up when my father was living there but then the clearing continued for a different reason, so it was hard to get rid of things at once. There are right times to say goodbye to things. Recently acquired objects were easy to throw away or take to the charity shop, but I needed a respectable pause before tackling the things that had been in the house for 30 years. (I don’t think this is a hoarding characteristic; I think it’s completely normal when dealing with the belongings of a family member who has died). However, almost a year on, I’d become pretty ruthless. For me. So I hired a big skip. (Yes, it is the width of the house).

Big skip

Big skip

I also took my camera with me as, over the past year, I’ve  found that one way of making mucking out a house easier is to take photographs of items that you would have liked to hold on to (for a little while, at least) had gunge, droppings, time and space not dictated otherwise. I now have several hundred digital photographs of things. But they take up no physical room.

And so the clearing began.

Well, once we’d hacked down a Sleeping Beauty’s forest of nettles in order to get to the door and then sledgehammered and jemmied and angle-ground the boarded-up and astoundingly strong remnants of the burglarised door in order to get in, the clearing began.

Kitchen

Kitchen

Kitchen

Kitchen

Sitting room

Sitting room

Scullery

Scullery

Front bedroom

Front bedroom

Landing

Landing

Master bedroom

Master bedroom

The job required gloves, masks and a gung-ho attitude.

What was in the heaps?

Off the top of my head: endless newspapers and magazines, books on every subject under the sun, stacks of videos, shelves of videos, telescopes, microscopes, chemical balances,  the cassette recorder from my childhood, the car blanket, the tent, drawings by a five-year-old me, mirrors, more mirrors, more and more and more mirrors, 1950s radio sets, wind-up gramophones, portable gramophones, weighing scales, paraffin lamps, hi-fis, typewriters, broken printers, ancient computer monitors, sewing machines, a broadsword, an epee, two pianos, one harmonium, one electronic keyboard, a piano accordion, a broken guitar, hundreds of framed pictures from charity shops, the odd airgun and shotgun or so, Fordson Major tractor manuals, the traditional car engine in the kitchen, shotgun cartridges in boxes, Ferguson tractor manuals, shotgun cartridges loose in unexpected places, air rifle pellets, Dyson vacuum cleaners, a Nazi armband, a gas mask, new telephones, vintage telephones, Pocahontas-shaped bottles of bubble bath, a whip, a remoska, boxes of pans, sheet music, cameras, miniature steam engines, warming pans, theodolytes, light bulbs, copies of the Magna Carta, a Millennium dome keyring, Christmas cards, framed photographs, model aircraft engines, model aircraft, model aircraft plans, model aircraft magazines, wine-making flagons, chunks of lead, a small bottle of mercury, thousands of semiconductors and diodes, drills, socket sets, drill bit sets, electric screwdrivers, electronic callipers, slide rules, thousands of old photographs, barometers, a three-in-one pocket voltameter, miniature brass cannons, yo-yos…

etcetera

etcetera

etcetera.

And a lot of that went into the ‘keep’ heap.

As for the rest, before the skip arrived, we created piles outside:

Starting to move 'rubbish' out

Starting to move ‘rubbish’ out

More for the skip

More for the skip

And more...

And more…

And some more

And some more

As we worked down through the layers, we exposed things long forgotten:

Kitchen table! (And cutlery drawer)

Kitchen table! (And cutlery drawer)

 

Chair!

Chair!

Cupboard and drawers!

Cupboard and drawers!

Fireplace!

Fireplace!

Floor!

Floor!

More floor!

More floor!

Not too sure what's in there...

Not too sure what’s in there…

 

Sofa!

Sofa!

Granddad

Granddad

Irony?

Irony?

We left the bathroom for another time.

Bathroom

Bathroom

Once the skip was full, my cousin made cunning use of a couple of big round bales and compacted the contents, giving us space for another third of a load.

Squashing it in

Squashing it in

Scrap metal went in a separate heap for a separate skip, but we didn’t even attempt to move the collection of broken washing machines in the undergrowth.

And, eventually, this is where we got to:

KItchen

Kitchen

Kitchen

Kitchen

Sitting room

Sitting room

Scullery

Scullery

Landing

Landing

Front bedroom

Front bedroom

Back bedroom

Back bedroom

Master bedroom

Master bedroom

And the sun shone through the rain!

And the sun shone through the rain!

There was a very good BBC documentary broadcast recently about hoarding and Jasmine  Harman, who tried to help her mum clear the decks in the programme,  has set up this excellent site for helping people with hoarding problems. The documentary was so good because it showed how ‘stuff’ can privately dominate a publically ‘normal’ family and how horribly painful it is for the hoarder and family to get to grips with the problem. Hoarders are undoubtedly impossible to live with and can be aggressive and hurtful if you pass comment or offer assistance, but they’re in a terrible muddle and, though the powers that be are still shillyshallying about classifying hoarding as a psychological condition, it seems logical that  there are reasons and triggers for this sort of behaviour, such as some sort of loss, be it emotional or physical. I think that it’s a very sad condition, as the objects sometimes seem to become substitutes for other things; emotions, interaction, people.

I remember a conversation about a decade ago, at the farm, while trying to help my father do a bit of tidying up. I went out on a limb and suggested that maybe we could throw some things away. This suggestion wasn’t received too well, so I searched around for a suitable, harmless object to use as a guinea pig. My eye alighted on a battered and broken peach-coloured lampshade.

‘What about this? We could throw this away.’

‘But it was my mother’s’

‘Yes, but it’s broken. You can’t use it any more. We can throw it away.’

‘But wouldn’t she be upset with me for throwing it away?’

‘Well, she’d be more upset to see the state of the house!’

And he looked so forlorn that I gave up and we just shuffled a few objects from pile to pile.

The lampshade has now been thrown away.

Incendiary

This, apparently, is not newsworthy.

Woolwich burns, 8th August, 2011

Woolwich burns, 8th August, 2011

It makes me want to weep.

And this makes me want to cheer –  and weep a little bit at the same time because it’s so gentle and heartfelt after the horror of scenes such as the above. (It’s a video, by the way, of Woolwich youngsters helping to clear up).

Brilliant work, guys – three cheers for you all. I think your work is eminently newsworthy – far more so than Boris with a broom.

*UPDATE* 11/08/011 The Guardian has finally added Woolwich, specifically only the burning of The Great Harry, to their incident map. However, they have omitted the Woolwich incidents from their new map which cross-references rioting with poverty.

Report from the invisible quadrant

I live in the part of London no-one likes to talk about – south east London. I have got used to the fact that this means many people think I don’t exist but, nonetheless, I’ve been furious at the lack of concern or interest shown by the major news outlets at the horrific riots that took place here last night.

I’d been working at The Woolwich Grand Theatre and had wondered aloud to Adrian, the creative director, if the north London riots might be replicated down here. Which they were.

Adrian had dropped me home at about 7pm, and by the time he had driven back into Woolwich, a riot had started and a police car was ablaze. He went back to the theatre and called me through the night with updates as the roiting and looting unfolded. I then timidly posted his information in the comments thread on The Guardian website as there seemed to be no other coverage of Woolwich. As I type this, after a night of fires and looting and a day of cordoned-off streets, The Guardian still hasn’t added Woolwich to their ‘riot map’. I can only imagine this is because they’re categorizing reports from Woolwich as ‘unverified’. I’m not sure how they verify their reports, but maybe sending a reporter across the river on the DLR would do it. Just a thought. It’s been odd watching the news focus change as riots started to happen in west London. Coverage of Clapham* and Ealing has been almost constant and, though the riots there should most certainly be covered, London does actually extend beyond Ealing and Clapham, and Guardian-readers and BBC-watchers do exist across the Prime Meridian.

To be fair, the BBC had a 5 Live producer on the scene in Woolwich last night, but his excellent audio report wasn’t repeated today anywhere as far as I can make out. The BBC chose to have a distressed shop-owner from Ealing and an angry Clapham resident on a loop. I’m not saying that these reports aren’t important – they clearly are – but when all major news outlets seem to be focussing on the same areas and you know that there are other areas being ignored, you do start to wonder what drives their choice of location and story. And whether it has anything to do with the number of journalists and BBC employees living in Ealing and Clapham. Cynical? Moi? No. I think I’m probably bang on.

So, anyway, fury at the newshounds’ ignoring of the area where I live aside, here’s what faced Woolwich residents this morning.

The streets were cordoned off and guarded by police. A burnt-out police car stood opposite the DLR station.

The main shopping street, Powis Street, was like a war zone. A war where glass, rubbish, fire extinguishers, rubble and mannequin body parts were the major weapons. I couldn’t see all the shops as parts of the street were totally blocked off, but this incomplete list will give an idea as to what it was like: Argos – looted; M and S – windows smashed and looted; all the mobile phone shops looted and smashed; all the pawnbrokers in the side streets – CashConverters etc and smaller independent jewellers-cum-pawnbrokers – smashed windows, forced security grilles and looted; New Look – windows smashed and looted (I thought it was really bizarre that all their window mannequins had gone), Burton – windows smashed and looted; Bon Marche – smashed and looted, video game shop – smashed and looted; a now-unidentifiable shop (possibly a mobile phone shop) – burnt to a shell with walls collapsing into the street and firefighters still putting out the flames; Natwest bank – smashed windows and looted.

Adrian had seen the Natwest bank being attacked. Inside, a very diligent cleaner had been vacuum cleaning, iPod earphone firmly in lugholes, completely oblivious of the baying mob smashing the plate glass frontage a few metres away from her. I hope she scarpered sharpish when she looked around.

Adrian and several other people reported a priest standing alone against the rioters, gently telling them all to ‘go home’. There had been some police present, but only a handful and, once the fires started, the police had had to provide an escort for the firefighters to stop them being attacked.

Riot Police in Woolwich, August 8th, 2011

Riot Police in Woolwich, August 8th, 2011

There had been least three major fires and other smaller ones. The new Wilkinson on the bus-stop side of General Gordon Square had been set alight. Wimpy (come on, what has Wimpy ever done to anyone??) had been smashed up and, possibly because it was below a CCTV camera, had been set alight – not all that successfully. Greater success had been had with the Wetherspoons pub on Wellington Street, on the other side of the road from the theatre. The Great Harry, scene of many a Woolwich Grand Theatre painting team lunch and named after a Tudor warship accidentally destroyed by, ahem, fire in 1533, was a burnt-out shell. The traffic lights next to it were melted.

This is the picture Adrian took last night before the flames fully took hold:

The Great Harry on fire, Woolwich, 8th August 2011

The Great Harry, Wellington Street, Woolwich, 8th August 2011

The pub had been set ablaze by rioters starting fires on two tables. Adrian and another man went into the pub to try to put the fires out before they took hold of the whole building. They couldn’t find the fire extinguishers (these may well have been taken by looters to smash windows with) and were forced back out after a few minutes because of the smoke. Firefighters lobbed bricks at the upper windows to smash them before they exploded and the place is now a shattered, ashen husk.

The rioters also did goodness-knows-what damage to the almost-completed, much-anticipated, refurbished General Gordon Square. I say goodness-knows-what damage because the Square was cordoned off today so it wasn’t possible to see what had gone on there. Adrian said he saw some kids trying to smash up the (admittedly horrific) Big Screen, but all this light in this picture looks like someone had turned on some of the workmen’s machines… or is the light fire? And yes, that sign does say ‘Investing in Woolwich’.

General Gordon Square, Woolwich, 8th August 2011

General Gordon Square, Woolwich, 8th August 2011

Today, we good burghers of Woolwich and environs wanted, like many other London residents, to help clear up the damage. Alas, no broom-waving with Boris for us southeastern types. The damaged streets were cordoned off all day, what with buildings still potentially about to collapse and, presumably, evidence to be gathered. Greenwich council also advised the organiser of a clear-up Woolwich facebook group that the cordons might still be up tomorrow and that they had their own team to do the clean-up anyway. If the area’s still dangerous, then fine, but if not, then letting willing locals clear up the mess – or even stand and hold things while official clearer-uppers clear up – would be a bloody good thing for morale. There is a strong community feeling out here (working on setting up the theatre has demonstrated that amply, with all the help we’ve been given and interest and support that’s been show), so why isn’t it being celebrated and encouraged at this dark hour? Maybe community clear-ups are only encouraged if the mayor’s popping down for a photo-opportunity.

And today, all the shops that had managed to open closed early and Woolwich was like a ghost town when we left the theatre at about 6pm. A ghost town with a huge police presence. As we were leaving, we saw 2 policemen on Polytechnic Street dealing with a drunk-seeming chap and dog multiply in a matter of seconds to a massive 18 boys and girls in blue. Possibly two or three times the number on the scene last night. So, fingers crossed for a peaceful night. I can’t smell any burning, so that’s probably a good sign.

Anyway. That’s my rambling report from this invisible quadrant. There’s also been massive pretty-much unreported vandalism and looting in the big shops – Currys, JD Sports ( the looter’s favourite) etc – in Charlton and lower-key trouble in Plumstead (including an unsuccessful attempt on the Tesco Express). I’m sure there are other areas in the UK that also aren’t getting coverage, so I reckon doubling or tripling the incidents reported by news outlets would give a more realistic picture of what’s happening in the UK right now.

Horrendous, non?

Hope that things are safe where you are and that this insane destruction stops soon.

Much love,

ctxxx

* A friend has pointed out that it wasn’t Clapham, but Clapham Junction, which is actually Wandsworth. Apologies. Much of the press has also decided to call the area Clapham for the duration of this event.