I went to Fremantle, Western Australia for five days. There are some photographs and here are some thoughts.
Day one/two/god knows what day it is
The first leg of my trip here took me from London to Singapore. Slept pretty much all the way. two hours to kill in Singapore airport was made more pleasant by it being a "no noise" airport - no announcements, no music, just calm placid silence. that's doing it right. Then the (comparatively) short journey on to Perth, which was only un-enhanced by the lovely retired Serbian man sitting next to me and pretty much farting continuously. Got to the point where I could feel them in the back of my throat. Magnificent.
Picked up at the airport by fellow street performer Lee Hayes and driven to my accommodation. Discovering your digs at a new festival is always a risky gambit - I've had some stinkers. I once arrived at my hotel room at a gig in Belgium to find a clown in my bed, in full make up and costume, big shoes and everything. Not ideal. This one, though, is a peach. I'm in an apartment at the Notre Dame University of Arts and Sciences - all dark heavy old wood and thick carpet. On the door of my room is a sign that says "The Studio". Like.
I manage to catch a few hours sleep, then after a quick workout, I go off for a little explore. It’s a rather nice town, but almost everything is closed. I find a chemist that isn’t and ask the friendly Chinese man behind the counter if anything is open. "Everything closed" he says "Easter is a very big deal here. Everything closed, because, you know, Easter and stuff" and he screws his face up in a mixture of distain and annoyance. I feel ya, bro. Stupid Jesus.
Then on to meet Dave, my sometimes double act partner, and his family for a lovely lunch and then back to his apartment where we go out onto the balcony and run through our show script. We haven't done it for about 6 months, so it's rusty, but fun. In fact, I think this is one of my favourite things - me and Dave bumbling through our show, forgetting things and then remembering bits that we had forgotten make us laugh. Giggling at each other while we navigate to the end like someone returning to a hometown they haven't been to since they were a kid and slowly remembering how to get to their old house. Also, our rehearsal gathers a small crowd of two people who watch us from the car park below our balcony. Good sign.
Ok, let’s go with Day two
Last night I managed to get two hours sleep total. An hour from about 10.30pm and then another hour starting from about 7am. The rest of the night was spent either trying to sleep and failing, or giving up trying to fight the jetlag and giving into my shiny-eyed awake-ness and doing stuff. I watched a movie, did some writing and pretty much read a whole book. Thus, later this morning when I arrived, clad in tuxedo and sunscreen, for my first show, it was just the coca-cola and loud iPod that was keeping me alert. The first show went fine, on a stage underneath a gorgeous big fig tree that Dave took delight in telling me probably held dozens of spiders that would get hot and start falling on me during the show. A gorgeous little thing happened in the second show which made me grin for hours afterwards: As we were getting prepped before the show, I noticed a little girl - maybe 9 or 10, slightly geeky, with glasses, sitting in the front row of our audience waiting for us to start, engrossed in a massive book. I chatted to her, and wanted to know what she was reading - expecting some variant on the popular teen Mormon vampire malarkey. But no. Proudly she showed me: The Complete Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse. Awesome. I named her my favourite Australian audience member and found it hard to stop going on about how great she was.
The jetlag is still kicking my ass, so although I went to bed at a respectable 11pm, I was wide awake at 4.30am. Deciding that there was little point in trying to fight it, I got up, got dressed and went out to walk along the coast and take photos of the sunrise over the beach. So I wandered around in the warm humid darkness of the early hours, watched some white middle class religious types park their cars at the edge of the beach and leave the headlights on so they could set up their little picnic table by the waters edge and get going with - I'm guessing - some kind of baptism shtick. Then I climbed the steps up the cliff to the old maritime lookout point, complete with little cannon pointing out to sea. I toyed with trying to shift the cannon over to point at the Christians but thought better of it. From that high up, there was a brilliant view into town, overlooking the street that my apartment is on, a long wide boulevard that leads in one straight line from the beach into the centre of town. As the pink tinged light broke over the horizon it flooded the street with an even bright clean light, and that, combined with the complete lack of any other people, made it all look..fake. Like a theme park street before the gates have opened, or one of those models of what the town will look like once it's built. Wide, clean, perfectly lit, empty and odd.
Down the stairs on the other side, and then as I walked up the street, underneath the gorgeous wrought iron balconies that make this part of town look like New Orleans, it suddenly, and massively, rained. From nowhere, the warm humid morning gave birth to the heavy downpour of fat raindrops. The dusty streets were made shiny, and the thick air was made clear. Gorgeous. Also – wet Christians.
Back to my apartment for a quick shower, and then out to meet my old friend Sharon for breakfast. Hadn't seen Sharon for the best part of a year, so it was great to catch up. As I've said before, one of the crappy things about this job is that most of my friends live in different parts of the world, but one of the great things is getting a gig somewhere crazy like this, and then looking at the festival website to see which of my friends will also be there to hang out with. Breakfast, then a frenzied and over-competitive 2-player game of Galaga in the local juice bar, which she - unbelievably - won.
Back to the digs, into costume, and off to the first show. There's been a drought here - no rain at all for three months, as people keep telling me. No problem - all it takes is a street performer to fly in from London, and there's your rain. Show called off. Boo. Still, at least we have a second show on one of the best pitches later. I get up there early to see the end of Sharons show - which, if you ever get the chance, you should see, because it's very silly. Then it's time for us to go on, aaaaand here's the rain again. Are you kidding me? Oh well, day gets written off. But really, if you've seen a sunrise over a beach, played videogames with a lovely old friend, and had frozen lemonade grantia (as I did), then it's not really a write-off, is it?
Gorgeous sunny day with a cloudless sky that is almost so blue as to be taking the piss. It's Anzac day, which is the same as the UK's remembrance Sunday, so no shows until after 1pm, when the business of being sombre and respectful can give way to a bunch of monkeys in second hand suits shouting at tourists. It's what they fought for.
Our first show is at outside the local prison. It stopped being a working nick in the early 90's and has been a tourist attraction ever since, and today every tour is sold out in advance. It was, according to the nice fellow who works there, one of the most feared maximum security prisons in Australia. The early 90's isn't too long ago, so they've had past inhabitants of the prison sign up for tours, break away half way through, and attempt to set fire to the place. There's nothing like a spot of well-planned revenge.
Second show is in the high street and is a hard slog, as the sun is high in the sky and right in our faces. Audience sits in the shade, and we take it like men. Better we can't see what we're doing, than they can't see what we're doing.
The evening is balmy so we all sit around a big green plastic table outside a cafe and eat Chinese food. I take in the scene and remind myself - in as non-schmaltzy a way as possible - what a nice way to earn a living this is. Chewing on a spring roll as I look around the table - there's Dave and his family, then Leapin' Louie who does a cowboy act, then two Frenchmen who wander around the streets with televisions where their heads should be, and then Beth, who seems to do a bit of everything from playing a double bass to juggling to arial work. At the head of the table, there's Brendan who is responsible for flying me out here - this alone would be a good start to making me like him, but it just so happens that he's also a fine fellow. As the night starts to get a little chillier, we change location for a bar that Beth knows, and have a couple of drinks before going back to our respective apartments, or in Beth’s case, a garage. Don't ask.
I start the day meeting Sharon for breakfast on the beach. There's a cafe round the corner from my apartment, so we load up on food and go sit in the shade and chat. As a way to start the day, a fried egg sandwich while gazing at the surf and chatting to a friend you only see about once a year, isn't bad at all. Then into town for coffee with Julio, kingpin of the USA Break dancers. Julio is big, both literally and figuratively, and lovely company - all positive vibes, handshakes and hugs. I'm from England, he's from The Bronx, we first met years ago in Toronto, and here we are sitting outside a cafe in Western Australia. He notices that my phone has a skin that has a picture of an old school beat box on it. Looking closely, he identifies the make and model. "Double cassette with high speed dubbing, two speakers either side. Nice sound", He says. Julio has been involved in hip hop and break dancing since it first got big in New York in the early 80's. Apparently, he has the same model beat box in his collection.
More shows, more sun, more heat, more work, more sweat and more fun. Gelato in between the shows to keep the energy up, and then we're done. Quick chat with Lucky Rich, officially the worlds most tattooed man, and his very sweet wife Alexis. I've known him since before he even thought about getting inked, and it's true to say that in the past he used to carry himself with an unhealthy dose of attitude and often unpleasantness, but these days is - and I hope he doesn't mind me saying this - surprisingly sweet and intelligent company. It must be strange being always on display, as he inevitably is, and I can imagine how it would create a very defensive mindset, and he certainly used to have that, but in the time I've spent with him this week he's been laid back and cool. Love of a good woman does magical things.
A quick banana muffin, and then off to the bank with Dave to cash in our coins. Then it’s time to say goodbyes as I jump in the van with Swedish football juggler Victor, and the Frenchmen with TVs for heads. Victor is looking the worst for wear after last night’s end of festival party. “I was being so well behaved for most of the festival”, he says in his comedy-but-real Swedish accent, “Then last night..I don’t know Mat..I don’t know what happened..Beer became Vodka and Vodka became Champagne..and Champagne became Champagne with Red Bull..”, “Champagne with Red Bull?”, I say. “I was getting tired!”, he replies, as if it’s the most obvious thing in the world. “Then I was naked in the street and there were two women and another man there. Also naked. I don’t know who they were..”, and he trails off into moans of deep internal pain.
Then I’m checking in, then I’m en route to Singapore watching a documentary about Sex Robots, then I’m having a pizza in Singapore airport, then I’m drifting in and out of sleep as I jet towards London, then I’m getting my suitcase, then I’m on the tube, and now I’ve come to a stop in front of my desk at home. Ruby heels clicked. No place like it