Saltwater Reading at Goldtapped

I moved North to avoid the heat. I’m overweight, pale and Northern, for god’s sake, I don’t do heat. So I was more than a little pissed off when, having spent the morning feeling smug at all the ‘oh god I am melting’ posts from my London and European friends, I stepped outside and realised that, yes, actually, Newcastle was also very hot. (I blame not being used to double glazing: I hadn’t quite twigged it keeps the place cool as well as hot.)

So I admit I wasn’t in the best of moods when I headed into town – which was mobbed, since there was a con on, a university open day and a cruise ship docked – not helped by the fact I managed to get lost on the way to the very event I had dragged my increasingly sweaty arse out of the house for.Still, after a mere handful of wrong turns, I managed to locate Goldtapped Gallery, the place I was supposed to be for a reading (which is actually… um, super easy to find). I admit I was there less because I was interested in the main speaker – author of Saltwater, Jessica Andrews, whose work I wasn’t familiar with – and more to support a fellow theatre bod, reviewer Lauren Vevers, a talented young writer who I have met a few times at various press nights since I moved back. But I’m pleased I went.

Andrews’ book is partially set in the North East, and her descriptions of vintage shops in town and Washington parties felt instantly familiar to me from my college days (I had friends who lived out in Washington, which seemed distant and exotic to me at the time – no, really – despite the fact I spent most of my time there in bus stops). She was joined not just by Vevers, who read a moving essay about her family, but also novelist Carmen Marcus, who read from her novel How Saints Die, and poet Oliver Doe. Despite the venue being a bit crammed – clearly the event was a bit more popular than they anticipated – all the readings were great, the writers all personable, and the space thankfully cooler than I feared. I might even have indulged in a few book purchases… (I know, I know. I’ll stop soon, I promise…)

Vevers will be featured in a forthcoming anthology by 3 of Cups press; you can check out Oliver Doe on his website.

And obviously if you are interested in North East writers feel free to check out MEEEEEEEEE.

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Make and Mend Print Market

Having been to the Make and Mend market in Grainger market at the start of the month, I decided to brave a crowded, sweaty town centre to check out the print edition – and, typically, my ‘I will not spend any money’ promise lasted about 5 minutes in the face of so many gorgeous goodies. Britt Coxon – who designed the cover of my book Bridesmaid Blues – had a stall there, and there was a nice mix of products – everything from tote bags to zines and comics, artwork and postcards. There was also a table where you could try out crafts.

I really wanted one of the embroidered pictures by Rigantona Designs, but I have no wall space (the perils of rented accommodation) so settled for a couple of postcards instead. I was also very taken with Honeycomb Paints, though I can’t show you what I bought as it’s a present.

I could easily have spent more but since I was already over budget, I restrained myself. I’ll definitely be going back, though.

Words Weekend – new festival coming to Gateshead

If you follow this blog, you may remember that I went to the Archive Symposium for Open Clasp recently, a local theatre group dedicated to the stories of marginalised women and girls, whose play don’t forget the birds was one of my theatrical highlights last year. (I was also lucky enough to chat to the company’s Artistic Director Catrina McHugh for an upcoming feature, which made me even more interested in what they do).So I was excited to hear that they will be screening their filmed play Rattle Snake at a new festival coming to the North East this December. Words Weekend is a spoken word festival that’s being held at Sage Gateshead 6-8 December.

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Although, to be honest the phrase ‘spoken word festival’ would normally be enough to have me jumping in the Tyne (don’t @ me – I’ve sat through a LOT of bad poetry by posh boys in my time), this actually looks great. Guests include Grayson Perry, Ben Okri and Kerry Hudson, whose book Lowborn I am currently enjoying, as well as Candice Carty-Williams, whose novel Queenie is on my wishlist (not least because it has one of the best covers I have seen in ages!)

Local talent is represented not just by Open Clasp, who’ll be doing a Q&A with the film, but also by Kema Kay, the charismatic young rapper/actor whose play Shine I enjoyed when it was at Live and who I think is a genuine talent to watch.

Even better, the festival has a strong focus on accessibility: of more than 50 events, 25% are free, and all are accessible and BSL interpreted. See you there?

Details here:

London trip

Last week was a crazy busy week, with trips to London both midweek and at the weekend. The first was for business, though I did manage some socialising, and the second to catch up with a bunch of my best and oldest friends. Although we see each other throughout the year in smaller clusters, the usual reasons (work, money, family, location) mean we are limited to getting together en masse a couple of times a year (I say that like there’s a dozen of us, it’s only 5!) so it’s always a joy.

We picked Casa Tua, a restaurant near Kings Cross – which was good, as my train was delayed both there and back so I’m not sure what state I would have been in had I had to sprint and negotiate a tube journey. It’s a nice place – decent veggie options and friendly service, though I had forgotten how expensive prosecco is in London!

Anyway a good and boozy time was had by all, which did mean my train journey home – where the catering facilities were scuppered by a missing order and the trip was delayed by a lineside fire – was a bit grim. Worth it, though!

Down to Zero at Alphabetti and menopause and me

I am peri-menopausal. What does this mean? Well, while I am not yet in the throes of full-blown menopause, it’s certainly in the post.

How do I know? For a start, a year ago, my periods went crazy. Never the most fun – I’ve always struggled with the full range of horrors a uterus can chuck at you – they now threw wild unpredictability into the mix, arriving without notice on a gusset-flooding crimson tide that no euphemistically pretty ‘feminine hygiene’ protection could withstand, disappearing at a whim, or hanging around in an inconvenient balsamic vinegar drizzle that means you’re never completely on or off, your favourite pants are regularly ruined and you always have to carry supplies in your handbag. (You can imagine how this Russian roulette affects me given a chunk of my job is sitting through plays. You can tell most plays, like most films, are written and directed by men*, since few of them take into account the demands of a bladder wrecked by age or childbirth or how hard it is to concentrate on some wordy theatrical masterpiece when you’re more worried about the drama happening in your knickers than what’s onstage.)

Always prone to flushing, my face now goes red at the least change of temperature – external of internal – so I regularly look like I’m three wines in at the start of the night. My bladder is less ‘sensitive’, more occasionally outright hysterical. My moods are unpredictable, my sleep – never great – is utterly wrecked and I am epically tired all of the time. ALL OF THE TIME. Literally, every single moment of my life. It is, I can tell you, enormous fun. It is also enormously common. And yet, it’s so rarely talked about.

[*I should stress, before I go further, that all my comments here relate solely to cisgender men and women. I’m not qualified – nor would I presume – to speak on the trans or NB experience, which I can only imagine throws up even more complicated physical and emotional issues, especially given the current toxic climate, and upon which the harmful curtain of silence is likely even more damaging].

Menopause is having a bit of a moment, it’s true. There’s that speech in Fleabag. One of the morning TV shows did a whole week on it (a whole week! On an issue that will affect half the population. Truly, we live in blessed times.) But when it comes to daily life, we’re remarkably reluctant to talk about it, and that self-imposed ignorance comes with a cost. It’s a bit of a shock when you’ve been promised a period-free post-menopause to discover that your body throws its own closing down sale first, in which everything must go, including, apparently, the entire contents of your uterus. And yet, when I mentioned this to older female friends, they all just nodded sagely and said, oh, yeah, that happens. Well, hello, then, a little heads up might have been nice.

It’s an issue compounded in the arts, where older women are too often invisible or actively erased, and female experience is so often only shown through the lens of a male writer or director. Sure, we have our age icons, those women who seem to move through the process effortlessly and without any impact on their careers – Judi Dench isn’t begging for roles any time soon, I’m guessing – but too often the old First Wives Club quote still stands, that the only three ages for women are babe, district attorney and Driving Miss Daisy. Theatre is all too ready to explore the myriad messiness of men, but shies away from giving women the equivalent interiority and complexity.

It was exciting, then, to be invited to see a night of women-centred theatre that talked openly about menopause at Alphabetti, which is fast becoming one of my favourite Newcastle haunts. Lizi Patch’s Down to Zero isn’t a play about menopause, per se, but it does centre on a menopausal woman, and is rare in recognising that while menopause can be utterly derailing, life doesn’t get put on pause while it’s happening, so you have to keep dealing with all the other shit as well.

It’s a smartly written, if unadventurous, production – only an hour long, too, which is considerate for all our middle aged bladders (though bold, I thought, to have a play aimed at women of a certain age having a soundtrack of lapping water (it’s set on a boat.) I wanted to pee five minutes in…) (Read my review here.)

In some ways more interesting were the response pieces afterwards, part of a series of works commissioned around the main show. I’m always in two minds about the idea of reaction pieces. I understand the reasoning behind them: they give artists a chance to try out shorter, less structured pieces of work in a low-risk environment, they give audiences a chance to experience things they might not have sought out, and they are a boost for the venue, since they create an interval where people will hopefully buy drinks, which are the lifeblood boost to coffers that venues like Alphabetti needs. But all of that has to be weighed against my pressing desire to be at home on the sofa watching Brooklyn 99 (Because I am TIRED ALL OF THE TIME. Did I mention that?)

But I am glad I stayed, as I really liked the reaction pieces last night, both of which were pleasingly short and compact, so I didn’t feel like my night was unnecessarily dragged out.

Poet Degna Stone’s Probably was a monologue about getting older that smartly addressed what it’s like to feel your chances running out, to doubt your past decisions and worry about your future, as well as what it’s like living as a Black woman in a world where white supremacy seems again in ascendancy, to literally worry yourself sick about politics and the planet.

Beccy Owen’s Fanny Magnet couldn’t have been more different, but both pieces drew audible sounds of recognition from the audience. There was slightly more audience interaction than I’m keen on – please, God, don’t make me sing at these things – but it was a warm and funny look at how openness and communication can lessen the burden of menopause.

The show runs till 29th June at Alphabetti (response pieces Tues-Friday). It’s Pay What You Feel, too, so you can get a night of theatre for a bargain price. Why not pop along?

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The Cheviot, The Stag and The Black, Black Oil at Live Theatre

It’s slightly ironic that I missed the press night for a big Scottish play because I was actually in Scotland, but despite being utterly knackered from my Glasgow jaunt, I dragged my sorry ass out to review The Cheviot, The Stag and the Black, Black Oil at Live, and wow, am I glad I did. (Link to review here).

I had expected a fiercely political and passionate play – and it was – but I hadn’t expected it to be so much fun. I managed to avoid being dragged up for the pre-show Ceilidh and sing-song (I did enough of that when I lived in Scotland) – those were lively enough, but the show itself was a riot. Raucous, loud, extremely funny and often even silly, it was also at times painfully sombre and unflinching in its look both at the history of the country and the problems it still faces today.

Live was really leaning into the theme so I treated myself to one of the single malts that were being sold in the interval (though served in a plastic glass – for shame! – which makes even less sense because at Live they trust you to take actual glasses in, like grown ups, at least downstairs).

At 2 hrs 30 the play pushes the upper limits of what I normally enjoy sitting through, but for once I didn’t spend the last 15 minutes thinking of all the ways it could have been shorter – it’s fast moving, well-paced and without a wasted moment. It’s also one of the most powerful shows I have seen in a long time. It’s on till June 22 at Live then tours – go see it!

June Birchbox

I arrived back from Scotland to find my new Birchbox had arrived. As my trip fuelled my desire to travel more – which has been on hold lately due to work, moving, life and all the usual suspects – I’m keener than ever to get some cute travel sizes, so was excited to receive it.As tends to be the case with subscription boxes, it was a mixed bag of usefulness. A lip pencil and brow brush will be going straight in the ‘stocking fillers’ box, and though the body lotion looks great, I have a massive excess of body moisturiser at the moment, so am unlikely to use it for a while. An exfoliating cloth will get more immediate use, and a travel size bottle of shampoo is already in my toiletries bag for next week’s weekend jaunt.