So, I'm back from New Zealand, and thanks to the jetlag everything currently feels as if it is viewed and heard through a gentle fog of white noise. Urgh. I'm not complaining though - it was a hell of a trip, and I couldn't be more honoured to have been invited. As regular readers of this blog will know, I used to travel a lot more than I do these days, but one of the great things about a trip like this is that I get to hang out with some people that I haven't seen for a while. For much too long, in many cases.
It was a precious thing to be able to spend some time with people like Minnie Maniac, the DareDevil Chickens, Fraser Hooper, Sam Wills, Lili La Scala, Miss Behave, Peter Mielniczek - some of which I hadn't seen for many years. Also, of course, it's a chance to make new friends, and there was a fair share of that, too. Of all the festivals I've worked, I think this one had the best casting. There were no egos, no competitive macho awfulness - just a bunch of people who were good at what they do and happy doing it. This made for a very laid back, pleasant backstage. The problem with all this, of course, is that however lovely the couple of weeks in close proximity with these wonderful people is, at the end of the fortnight we all have to go our separate ways. It was only as I left the last night party that i realised that I'd been so happy to see some of these people after so long that I'd forgotten that I have no idea when I'll see them again. So spread around the world they are, and so unpredictable is the lifestyle of the performer, that none of us know when we'll be in the same place at the same time again. The pain that this realisation gave me I found surprisingly strong. The joy of seeing them all outweighs the slightly indulgent sadness of leaving them again, but still, it's hard.
One of my final shows was in a suburb of Christchurch called New Brighton. It was a little seaside town, and before I was driven there, I was told that it was in an area that had been hit the hardest by the earthquake, and even before that, had been one of the more financially troubled areas. It was implied that it was not a happy place to visit, and sure enough, on the drive down you could look down the streets feeding off the main road and see rows upon rows of houses trashed by the quake and abandoned. Piles of rubble still stood in garage forecourts, and children's swings sat rusting and left behind in the front yards of ruined bungalows. When we arrived at the coast, though, things were very different.
The venue for the show was an amphitheatre right by the beach, and it was full of smiling people of all types. Dozens of colourful kites filled the perfect cloudless blue sky behind them, and ice cream stalls were doing a brisk trade on the gorgeous hot day. The show went very well, and I had a great time, but I wanted to look around the town a little more, so arranged to ditch my ride home, and spend a little more time here.
I walked up the main street - a classic seaside town street - and was bowled over. The street was full of life - jam packed with people actively taking a very hands-on approach to the regeneration of their town. It was wonderful to see, and reminded me immediately of the bridge in William Gibson's Bridge Trilogy of books. In those novels, the Bay Bridge in San Francisco is also post-quake, and has been colonised by a population of small off-grid businesses - hackers, bars, street food trucks etc, and almost becomes it's own little self-created town. This felt like that. There had been an obvious effort to reclaim the street and make it into something good. Many of these people had lost a lot, if not everything, and were making the best of the situation in the most positive, life-affirming way I could imagine. Community groups sold hot ham sandwiches, local women made and sold jewellery, people sold and exchanged their old books, there were handbags on sale - handmade out of old records, an Indian family cooking their speciality on a street stall, and then the perfect example of making lemons from lemonade: In a town where dozens upon dozens of wooden bungalows had been flattened by the quake, someone was taking donated timber and making picture frames from it. I bought one.
The street was busy, people were gossiping, smiling, eating, drinking and shopping. It felt vibrant and fresh and great. It felt like what a town centre looks like when it's created by the people who live there, and not dictated by politics or corrupt little local councils mired in red tape. It felt like the best-case scenario for whatever your personal apocalypse fear fantasy is. It felt like a very nice future.
Also: This was on the window of my room in Christchurch. So..is the balcony safe or not? Doesn't sound like it.
MAT RICARDO'S LONDON VARIETIES
Tickets are selling..get yours now!
starts on Feb 9th at the Bethnal Green Workingmens Club, London.