At 6am last Monday morning, I mistook my alarm for a phone-call. In my dream woven mind it was someone incredibly exciting calling with me some amazing news. The bubble of excitement was swiftly burst, though, when I found myself answering my alarm clock, the remnants of its pretty bubbly iridescence then being crushed by the realisation that I had a five and a half hour journey ahead of me. Richard Marsh, the other half of our romantic rhyming comedy, Dirty Great Love Story, and I were off to Edinburgh, or, as Rich has insisted on calling it for the last few weeks ‘the city of dreams’ (to be said in a whimsical voice, ideally whilst staring out of a window).
We have now been working on this show, in one format or another for a year and a half and as with all big projects, the climax of it feels somewhat unreal and like it’s happening way too soon, even though you’ve been willing it to hurry along every day, like a fringe that won’t quite grow out. (As we’re headed to Edinburgh, I could probably write an effective fringe pun here, I have chosen not to - you’re welcome.) I had imagined myself traveling to Scotland feeling calm, assured, in control, ready for anything and wearing a tremendously great outfit. I suspected that it was unlikely for me to achieve this state of being, however, when I was flailing around my bedroom the night prior to leaving, throwing random items of clothing - some of which I hadn’t worn for at least two years - into a suitcase and piling black tights up on the bed like a crazed Rumplestiltskin, whilst my sister hurled the occasional packing suggestion from her reclined position on the bed. “Waterproof!” whilst I was locating my camera. “Ear-plugs!” whilst I was deciding whether or not to take my birthday Topshop voucher (I brought it and now I have no idea why). I was meant to be organised! I was meant to have suspended my gym membership. And to have actually gone to the gym in the build-up. I am pretty sure I was not meant to have spent the entirety of Saturday night dancing with other poets in Shoreditch only to arrive at work on Sunday morning in the same clothes I had gigged in the night before. When we pulled away from Euston at 8.43am on 30th July I had not done at least half of the things I had hoped to before boarding that train, but we had written a play and I was wearing a pretty good outfit. It could have been worse.
We are not good travelers, are we? The British. We like to complain a bit too much and our country is a bit too small for us to accept long journeys gracefully. They always feel horribly inconvenient. I recently witnessed a woman nearly give herself a panic attack on a train from Guildford to Woking because someone had asked her to move her bag off the seat beside her. She did not hold back in telling the entire carriage how angry she was with British Rail. No one pointed out that British Rail didn’t actually exist anymore, it seemed a fruitless endeavour. Despite always being happy to move my bag, I am not a good traveller in general. Journeys seem to take too long and be too cramped and they make me tired and grumpy, like a toddler with chicken pox in the heat.
My inability to travel well was shown up when our carriage filled with Americans at Crewe, praising the smoothness of British trains and cursing the availability of luggage storage on board them. They’re good at traveling aren’t they, the Americans? One man had a matchstick in his mouth. An actual matchstick. And his voice whistled slightly through his front teeth when he spoke. They floated through the journey like characters from a Tarantino film, batting away inconveniences like fruit flies whilst the Brits huffed and puffed and moaned and sweated, heaving over-stuffed cases down the aisle, blushes of embarrassment at brushing people’s arms burning into anger as they did so. The Americans have no such qualms. They proclaim their concerns about seat allocation, boldly over our heads and lean on our head rests whilst doing so. They speak to us all, like they are our leaders and we listen, with slightly awkward smiles on our faces. Richard made a joke, but then he generally does that anyway.
I started to have a transatlantic face-off in my head: Things Americans Are Better Than Us At Doing. My list included flavours of boiled sweets, seasonal Starbucks coffee, bulk buying and looking cool with a matchstick in their mouths. It turns out I don’t really know very much about America. One thing they definitely beat us on, though, is writing and performing duet and group poetry, which was the starting point of our little play. Dirty Great Love Story began its life as a ten minute duet poem and when we took it for its first outing it felt a rare thing to see poets writing and performing together. When we first met in one of our living rooms in Tooting and started writing together, we had expected it to be a simple and free flowing event. We thought that we were so similar as writers that a poem would blossom between us effortlessly. This is not quite what happened. Maybe it isn’t like this in America. Maybe they’ve got the difficult writing bit whipped. Maybe they high-five each other into a state of shared understanding rather than grump and heave and sweat away at it like us, dragging our rhymes around like suitcases down tight train aisles. This makes the writing process sound horrible. It wasn’t horrible......but there was a lot of heavy lifting involved.
As with all long-term projects there have been many companies, people and places that have helped to breathe life into our show along the way. The nabokov Arts Club back in London at the Battersea Arts Centre was one such place. What I mostly love about the Arts Club is that it feels like a massive house party in an incredibly beautiful public building. As the night wears on, people loll on stairs, usually reserved as a thoroughfare for well-behaved audience members, having emotional exchanges, secrets are whispered over strange booze concoctions in darkened corners and after a certain point in the evening, everyone dances as if they’re in their front-room with Spotify on high and wall lights dimmed low. There are always artistic discoveries to be made, like-minded humans to be bonded with and eyes to flash smiles into across the room. Gearing up for the Edinburgh edition of this big house party, it occurs to me that the face-off has become redundant. Americans may have incredibly cool dispositions whilst traveling and prolific duo poetry writing ability, but the Brits know how to have a mother-licking house party. And no one needs to be good at packing or organising their life or not confusing their alarm for a phone-call or not being grumpy on a train to get involved, luckily.
Catch Dirty Great Love Story at 13.20 every day at Pleasance Dome (it's really good).