Having led last week on “artists aren’t snowflakes”, I had a meltdown yesterday in the face of an application form. I don’t believe in karma, and I don’t believe the gods punish hubris, but I do think this was inevitable sooner or later. Constantly putting yourself out there to be judged eventually always turns into judging yourself. Perhaps one reason I enjoy working on other artists’ applications is that I can exercise this skillset without consequences for my self-esteem.
And some forms really are nastier than others. The questions seem to be asked with narrowed eyes. They all seem designed to imply the real question: “you’re a fraud, aren’t you?” Once that question’s in the room, it’s hard not to answer “yes, yes I am, please don’t tell anyone”. I’ve become immune to it through high exposure, but Grantium definitely has this effect.
Artists directly involved in these recruitment or commissioning processes isn’t the only way to avoid this effect. Humans would do. But it’s certainly easier to make a process empathetic if you’ve been on the other end of it.
All of which is by way of introduction to saying that last week’s blogpost got lots of responses. I’ve done a bit of a round-up of them below.
I had a terrific week last week making a deep dive into Arthur, the Edinburgh show. At the end of it I did a work-in-progress presentation, maybe half-expecting to come out of it thinking, yep, pretty much nailed that. All I need to do before the festival starts is learn the words.
Not a chance. There’s still a huge amount to do. And the ways in which the challenge is unfolding itself are fascinating.
The living room setting, so fundamental to a show about the meeting point between genetics and the domestic environment, also ruthlessly exposes particular kinds of writing. Usually in my shows I’m able to make unvarnished statements of my own opinion, by arranging them as a series of jokes, or gathering them into a space created by story. I’ve never bought the standard opinion that you can’t get away with saying what you really think; the problem is much more often that it’s done badly than that it’s done at all. But in this show, the space for that kind of writing is radically reduced. Likewise the sudden deep dive into emotional self-exposure, the sudden shedding of a layer of skin, something I did a lot in Going Viral, for example, easily feels icky here. Basically, it seems rude. It's like when you meet someone at a party and after nineteen seconds of small talk they break into a lecture on their thesis subject or their relationship breakdown.
But we’ve all been at parties where people have earned our trust enough to embark on that conversation. The advantage of the living room setting is that it facilitates a lightness that I hope characterises all my work. Participation is much easier to navigate. There’s a genuine conversational feel, and it is often a genuine conversation. The corresponding challenge is that the lightness is so baked into the performative context that it’s harder to introduce weight.
The show, for those who've missed the announcement, is performed by me and my baby son in the living room of whoever books it. It's about genetics, class and inheritance: the things that make you you. For better and for worse. For richer and for poorer. The baby in a living room seemed an elegant way of bringing into play the interaction between genetics and the domestic environment. It's the nature-nurture debate in show form. Except of course nature-nurture isn't really a debate: almost everyone instinctively agrees that it's a bit of both; it's nature via nurture. So the show embarks on a journey through some of the current science, which is by turns surprising, alarming and challenging to some of those instincts. In some ways you have way less control than you think you do: the fact of being you is in some ways utterly inescapable. But in others, you have far more control than you think, perhaps even more than you'd like. Combine this with some really astonishing stories of child development, twin-snapping and dog-cloning, and you have loads of ingredients for a really fascinating, provocative and enjoyable hour.
Anyway, the work-in-progress was incredibly valuable, because it finally revealed for me the spaces in the show where the lightness can let the weight in. Fascinating, provocative and enjoyable are brilliant adjectives, but there's an emotional one still missing, and now I know how to fill the gap.
It was the Clougha Pike fell race on Saturday, and with a trail ultramarathon coming up this Saturday, I planned to take it nice and easy. No point getting injured, and I’ve done nothing of even close to high intensity since before my ankle injury in March. Then the gun fired and off I went, racing as hard as permitted by my shaky fitness and the blazing heat of the afternoon.
It’s a glorious route, with loads of different kinds of terrain: firm grass, rough bog, bouldery scrambles and even the occasional earthen trail. After the initial melee, a group of about six of us were trading places all the way to the summit. I was desperately thirsty in the heat, and pathetically grateful whenever the terrain briefly evened out enough to pick up a bit of speed: moving faster produces a breeze. But it also elevates your heart rate. I don’t know if I’ve ever been hotter and I was playing chicken with collapse through overheating. By the top I was still in this group of five or six, but I was at the back of it. The woman just in front of me had the exact same shoes as me and they were weirdly hypnotic.
Then we passed the summit and it was possible to cool off without keeling over. It’s really rough ground most of the way down, but there are still opportunities to pick up speed. By halfway down I was at the front of our little group; by two-thirds I’d broken away and by the time I put on an extra burst for the final downhill to the finish I couldn’t see any of them. I’d never thought of descending as a particular strength of mine, but it might be a relative strength when I haven’t the lungs for climbing.
I don’t know where I placed overall as they still haven’t published the results, but I’d guess I was about 30thout of 150. Not a spectacular result but given my total lack of appropriate training I was delighted. I thought it might take me an hour; I finished in just over fifty minutes.
Since coming back from injury I’ve passed the pain around both legs and although you wouldn’t say I’m re-injured, I’m yet to have a single comfortable run since March. The current niggle is a slight pull in the middle hamstring on my left leg, which has nagged quietly for just over a week. On Saturday this little niggle made me wonder whether maybe I shouldn’t run, and was another good reason why if I ran, I shouldn’t race. I started towards the back of the pack to keep myself sensible. By thirty seconds in I’d forgotten about it and I spent the first half-mile or so moving gradually up the field. Half an hour after the race, there it was again, where it’s been ever since. I went to the physio this morning and I’m hoping the battering I sustained at his hands means it’ll ease up before Saturday’s race.
55 kilometres will leave nothing unexamined. Again, I’m planning to take it very easy, and it should be a little easier to reign myself in over this sort of distance. Slow and steady wins the race. Except in this case it won’t be slow and steady, it will be Damian Hall. Last year he won this event by a clear 35 minutes, a few weeks before going on to place fifth at UTMB. While I was racing Clougha Pike this weekend he was in the process of setting a new record on the Paddy Buckley Round, a 70-ish mile course over about thirty Welsh mountains. He’ll still win on Saturday by another huge margin. If I finish within two and a half hours of him I’ll be over the moon.
Then they came for the left-wing playwrights and I did not speak up, even though this was quite obviously the thickening end of a fucking massive wedge.
The establishment rallying around Boris Johnson this week has been quite the sight to behold, and in this case it has involved them ripping to shreds the integrity of people whose integrity surpasses that of almost anyone I know. What Would Eve Leigh Do strikes me as a decent moral barometer for quite a range of questions.* This savaging has also involved the right-wing press shredding plenty of their own previously-stated values, because the principle of free speech is all very well unless it’s used to attack one of their own. Then you must be silenced, and silenced forcibly. Your right to write plays critical of establishment positions will be called into question. Your support of progressive causes will be used to undermine you. Your past will be raked through, exaggerated, distorted, and lied about. The trigger-phrase “left-wing playwright”, used to set loose the attack dogs, should be terrifying to anyone who knows anything about the early 1930s.
From the sublime to the ridiculous, next we got Boris’s bus story. I’ve been enjoying the number of people who interpret this ludicrous episode as part of a Machiavellian plot, a "distraction tactic". It seems to me quite clear that Boris has no strategy, no plot, and that he really is that loose of a cannon, that casual of a liar. As observers of Trump can confirm, this doesn’t make him any less terrifying.
And it’s not as though Hunt would be any better: the fact that he’s mostly, I think, honest about the damage he wishes to inflict doesn’t make him any less damaging. But it’ll be Boris, god help us all. Domestic abusing, serial philandering, pathological lying, lazy, inattentive to detail, perennially prone to huge blunders, ferociously racist, dyed-in-the-wool misogynist, conspiracy-to-assaulting Boris. His tendency to lie in relation to buses may be the most charming thing about him. Maybe it is a distraction. I still don’t think it’s a tactic.
I’d like to finish with some of my responses to the many responses to last week’s blogpost. It's a massive subject and any one of these brief notes could form the basis of a whole other essay I don't have time to write. So instead there's this:
- No, there’s absolutely no guarantee that artists would treat their staff any better than anyone else does. Some artists are massive arseholes who shouldn’t be put in charge of anything. I don’t want to suggest that more direct involvement from artists in the running of institutions would be a magical fix-all for the entire system and culture in which we operate.
- Producers are mostly brilliant and creative people. Curation is a creative role, and in the post I name several individuals among many who do brilliant and important work with and for artists. I do not want to drive a wedge between producers and artists. That is literally the opposite of what I want. I want to remove that wedge. As well as wanting more artists in positions of responsibility, influence and leadership, I'd like more ways for producers and administrators to be creative.
- I’m under no illusions about how hard it is to run an institution, and how possible it is for this to bring you into conflict with your values as an artist. There are plenty of examples of artists getting consumed by the system, and merrily fucking people over just as they themselves were previously fucked. There are plenty more examples of artists spitting themselves out of that system bruised and nearly broken, with little or no change effected. I’m grateful to these artists for the visible efforts they made and in most cases they made more difference than they realise. Several said they wouldn’t do it again. That’s ok. Thank you for what you’ve done. It’s someone else’s turn.
- Yes, it is important that artists are more represented at board level of arts organisations. It is equally important that more people who work in the arts in any capacity are represented at board level of arts organisations. I’m honestly astonished by how many theatre boards have literally no one on them who knows anything about how theatres are run, or really anything at all about the industry. (There’s one example very close to my heart that makes my blood boil, and I’d happily name and shame if there wouldn’t be substantial collateral damage to people I hold dear.)
- Collective and cooperative management structures and more balanced remuneration structures would, likewise, be a bloody good start.
- A lot of people think artists should start their own spaces, not just get jobs in existing ones. Yes, that would be great. But the power and the money are in the existing ones. I repeat my call for an insurgency.
- Plenty of people in administrative roles in many organisations are (or were) practising artists but the current structures require them to leave that at the door. I’ll be told I’m being naively dreamy here, given huge pressure on capacity, but what about a half-day a week, like google?
- No, having the ability to navigate an excel spreadsheet is absolutely no benchmark for leadership.
- If you've read this far, your reward is to be told that I put my money where my mouth is and applied for a Programmer job in a theatre I admire. Watch this space.
Book of the week: Landskipping by Anna Pavord, a personal cultural history of our relationship with the idea of landscape. Lightness and weight.
TV of the week: It’s still the cricket world cup, where Eoin Morgan’s “pressure off” captaincy is surely going to have to admit that the pressure is on. The spectacle of England pretending to be relaxed has been deeply weird. They were never relaxed before. They were intense and brutal. You don’t take the heat off by pretending there’s no heat. That leads to the sort of lackadaisical fielding we've seen more often in the last three weeks than in the last three years. You take the heat off by admitting there's heat, and loving it. The last week or so feels like a rare mis-step by the England captain, despite his extraordinary flat-track-bullying of Afghanistan.
All that said, it seems harsh to blame Morgan for anything after the extraordinary work he’s done over the past four years. The real problem here is that James Vince is to Jason Roy as a beautiful painting is to the wild sea.
Edinburgh Fringe tip of the week: I spent last weekend doing a couple of days work with The Roaring Girls, your favourite theatre company that you’ve only heard of if you’re from Hull. Their show Beach Body Ready takes on body image culture, and it’s very funny, very frank, and at times blisteringly furious. Those are my favourite bits, but the whole show is super. It’s at the Pleasance.
* This piece is worth going back to again and again
The organisational orthodoxies are rapidly changing in our industry, and they’re doing so with very little strategy, so among other things in this short messy essay I’m going to arrogantly propose one, because fuck it, why shouldn't it be up to me.
An increasing number of venues are moving away from being artist-led. And let me start by saying that I don’t think a venue being run by a non-artist in itself means there’s a problem. Fifteen years or so ago there was a wave of this in Scotland in response to the brilliant job done by Neil Murray at the helm of the Tron: the model became tenable because Neil demonstrated it could work. Around the same time an increasing number of theatres across the UK gradually moved away from a sole leadership role where the Artistic Director was also Chief Executive, to either a joint leadership role, where there were two separate figures with hierarchical parity, or a model where the AD sat underneath the Chief Exec. This all became tenable in the face of mostly pragmatic considerations and there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with this either, but it's now clear these changes were the thin end of the wedge. It is increasingly unorthodox even to assume that an arts organisation should be led by an artist.
The usual logic underlying this, very often at board level is that the “business” should be run by someone with “business skills”, allowing the artist to get on with the art. This is done with good intentions: and of course, the business side of things should serve and support the artistic side. But there aren't two sides. You don’t have to buy into the logic of free market capitalism to note that the business is the art. The business is art. Art is the beginning and the end of why we’re all here. There’s no harm in getting a decent pint while I’m in the building, but I didn’t put on the show in order to drive bar sales. If we drive a wedge between the arts organisation and the art itself, we get into very murky territory.
Even though the number is shrinking, there are still buildings run by people who direct plays, but even this isn't a particularly heterodox model. The Lyceum in Edinburgh is the only theatre I can think of run by any other kind of theatre artist. Why not more theatres run by writers? Why not a theatre run by a lighting designer? It becomes even more rare when you look not at mainstream theatre but at the section of the industry I exist in. Why not buildings run by Selina Thompson, Greg Wohead, Emma Frankland and Rachel Mars? I have absolutely no idea whether any of them would be interested, but I do know they’d be fucking great. These artists are all intimately involved in the producing side of the variously-constituted organsiations that serve as vehicles for their work. They combine a clarity of vision in their own work and an ability to nurture and support the development of myriad other artists whose visions differ. You don’t know the half of what most of them do for others. They all have an imagination and a capacity for problem-solving that would blow the doors off Fort Knox.
But not only are there almost no figures like these running arts organisations, there are barely any comparable figures twenty years older doing so. It’s hard enough to imagine any of us making a confidently sustainable living making our own art, never mind doing so at the helm of an organisation that exists for others.
There’s a presumption that the current generation of artists wouldn’t want this. I argue that we must want it. Otherwise arts organisations will get further and further from artists. Worse, the presumption that artists wouldn’t want the responsibility of leading an organisation is one part of a widespread well-intentioned infantilisation of artists. It’s necessary for artists to muster just enough of a grasp of producing skills for their career to take off. Then, all being well, someone else will take over these roles and the artist will no longer have to worry their pretty little heads about it. For some artists, this is the absolute dream and I wish those artists well. For plenty more, it’s massively disempowering. It limits your understanding of the context within which your work operates. It contributes to a drift away from artists having a place at the table in conversations about how our industry operates. But most artists are not special snowflakes who will melt if shown a spreadsheet. The industry does not need to operate on our behalf. The industry is our art, and there’s a danger of artists, by wittingly colluding in this infantilisation because it buys us an extra half-day a week, gradually giving up the tools we need to participate in conversations at the highest level.
This relates directly to artists’ understandable frustration at the increasing number of producers and programmers there are in the world, existing on salaries and making decisions about whether we get to earn a living. It’s important to note that many of these people do brilliant and valuable work, not least because curation is an art form in itself, with its own set of skills and crafts. But of course it’s frustrating for artists, because it establishes a clear hierarchy of value in which we consistently come off worse. I’m nearly forty, I’ve got two kids, I put an awful lot of time and energy back into supporting younger and emerging artists, and I still don’t know whether I’ll be earning a living in September.
There’s no big conspiracy at work. This is all done out of love for artists. But I do think that the best producers and programmers work on behalf of artists by working alongside them. Here are a few examples: Annabel Turpin, Katy Snelling, Ali Ford, Ben Rothera. I’m arguing not against the enormous achievements of these and many other remarkable individuals, and I'm certainly not arguing that they shouldn't continue doing what they're doing. What I'm arguing against is the increasingly orthodox assumption that the Venn diagram of producing skills and artistic skills is two separate circles. Buy this assumption and you get for free the assumption that no artist can ever run an arts organisation again.
So with the increasingly rare exception of a small number of mainstream theatre directors, the people at the helm of arts organisations have largely spent much of their careers up to that point working in those arts organisations in more junior roles. It’s a terrifyingly precarious time across our industry, and boards have an understandable aversion to the risk of appointing someone to a position when there’s nothing on their CV indicating their aptitude for the duties of in that position. Therefore it’s obvious we won’t get more artists in leadership positions if there aren’t more artists elsewhere in the organisation. In mainstream theatres this used, sometimes, to be the experience gathered by people in Associate Director roles. These days there are barely any such roles. And in our corner of the industry there never have been.
I have a very simple proposal: give an artist a job. Structure your jobs in arts organisations so that they can be done by artists: if an artistic director can direct two or three shows a year, a programmer or producer can make and tour one. More to the point, there can be no more important subsidy for the arts than paying an artist a salary.
Artists. We need an insurgency. Apply for programmer and producer jobs. Explain why an artist’s eye is of value in these roles. Demonstrate that artists have the skills required by these roles: we understand the funding context; we can use Excel, Word, Grantium, even YesPlan; we see a lot of work; we have a deeply embodied understanding of the challenges faced by emerging artists. It is our job to imagine the previously unimaginable. Imagine that.
Venues. Allow yourselves to imagine that this is not crazy, and equally importantly, it is not sour grapes*. Be open to structuring these roles to make it possible. Artists are not special snowflakes with no ultimate grip on hard reality. We will bring dynamism and diligence. Who better to hold relationships with artists than someone who has had the same set of experiences? How better to structure mentoring and artist development than in the person of someone for whom it is lived experience? What better way of demonstrating that it doesn’t have to be sheer bloody slog until the industry slowly forgets you? And fundamentally, who better to charge with the task of continually reimagining the industry than the only people, in the final analysis, it can’t survive without?
* Not in general, or in my case. I wouldn’t want you to think that I’ve written this because of some job application I’m annoyed wasn’t successful. Like everyone else like me, I thought those jobs were for other people: there’ve been no such applications. But there will be now.
Book of the week: As part of my research for Arthur I’ve been reading Far From the Tree by Andrew Solomon, a beautiful book about the experience of parents whose children have lives far from what they could have imagined. He introduces the concept of vertical and horizontal identities, an incredibly useful construction which may pre-exist his work but which is new to me. A vertical identity is one that tends to be passed down from parent to child: skin colour is the clearest example of something that is thus inherited and around which identity is constructed, but other examples include nationality (with the exception of immigrants) and to a greater or lesser degree religion and class. Horizontal identities are those which children as often as not don’t share with their parents (although as in the above cases there are of course exceptions), and thus must be formed in relation to a peer group. Solomon’s own example is his homosexuality; others include traits as varied as genius, deafness and dwarfism. It’s a brilliant book about the contexts and processes of identity formation, but most of all it’s brilliant about the experience of parents:
“[My mother] didn’t want to control my life – though she did, like most parents, genuinely believe that her way of being happy was the best way of being happy. The problem was that she wanted to control her life, and it was her life as the mother of a homosexual that she wished to alter. Unfortunately there was no way for her to fix her problem without involving me.” Despite being a vivid depiction of these struggles, the book ultimately documents many ways in which parental love has managed to triumph. “We live in xenophobic times, when legislation with majority support abrogates the rights of women, LGBT people, illegal immigrants, and the poor. Despite this crisis of empathy, compassion thrives in the home, and most of the parents [in this book] love across the divide.”
Run of the week: I’ve been at ARC for a week working on Arthur so on Sunday I took the opportunity to run to Roseberry Topping, a hill piled high with memories for me. It’s about twelve miles away, so last time I did it I looped round from there via Captain Cook’s Monument and dropped into Great Ayton for lunch. This time I’m in training for a long race next weekend, so I joined the Cleveland Way and doubled the distance by carrying on all the way to Saltburn. Moors, peaks, rivers, streams, woods, cliffs, and seaside: this route had every kind of scenery and I can’t recommend it highly enough. Since then I’ve eased off a lot, partly to taper down for the 55K next Saturday, but equally because it’s the Clougha Pike fell race the day after tomorrow. It’s my first time at my local fell race, and while I don’t want to go all out and knacker myself for next weekend, equally, I want to be sharp enough not to have to stop and walk the steep bits.
TV of the week: I’ve paused my rewatch of season three after The Wire until after the cricket world cup. Eoin Morgan! In the meantime my list is piling up: Chernobyl, Years and Years, The Virtues, what else have I missed? Was Gentleman Jack good? What was that one about the woman who’s been released from prison? And for some reason I never did get round to the second season of Deadwood, which I want to see in order to watch the film. Is this an actual golden age of television? Perhaps, but it’s still not as good as The Wire and in next week’s TED talk I will explain to you why.
Writing report: it’s been a full week of writing for the first time in a very long time. So far I’ve been working on Arthur for odd days and half-days, with two days at a time a rarity. I’m far enough along that this isn’t too worrying in terms of the deadline, but you can only get so deep in this time. This week at ARC Stockton has been a blessing in that I’ve been able to fully immerse myself in it and thus get in way deeper. It’s also been well-timed in that I can never plunge straight into something without first spending time tracing its edges and contours. I need to develop a sense of where its centre is, where the heat is, where I can get deepest. Then I need time to put everything else aside, take a deep breath, and get into an unfamiliar land. That’s what this week has been. By the end of tomorrow I’ll have a finished draft and even though I’ll only have three or four half-days on it next week, having got this far I’ll be able to plunge straight back in at this depth with increasing confidence. I may even get a bit further. But perhaps I’ll just circle around another plunge pool until the week after when I have three days at a time again.
God, it’s really difficult to talk about the process of writing without sounding like a wanker.
Kids say the funniest things report: “Hello cat, hello dog, are you poorly? Better, better, better, better, better. All done now.”
Two weeks ago today I wrote most of a blog post about anticipation. A childcare emergency interrupted me before I could finish it, and I’ve been waiting to find time ever since. If you’re the sort of person who’s amused by very minor ironies, then there’s something in that for you.
In the blogpost I wrote about the various things I was waiting for at the time, mostly in my professional life, but also in my personal life. That evening I was off to an awards ceremony (Everything There Ever Was, which I made in the summer with Boff Whalley and Unfolding Theatre, was nominated for a Journal Culture Award). I had skin in the game of two separate pending Arts Council applications. I had two separate applications for jobs and commissions. And in the days after writing the draft post, one after another, each of those decisions came back in the negative. So most of what I wrote that day no longer applies. Instead I should write the usual blogpost about dusting yourself off. Getting back on the horse. About how it never gets any easier.
All of which is true, except of course I’m now waiting on a whole series of different decisions. There are about six different commissioners sitting on decisions about two or three of my upcoming shows. There are three or four more pending ACE applications in which I'm a named member of the team, ranging between two days' mentoring and full creative collaboration. There’s another job application in. And all before I start tour booking tomorrow, and multiply the agony exponentially.
A couple of weeks ago I said it sometimes feels as though my job is answering emails. It isn’t. It’s waiting for the replies.
I’m often struck by gratitude that I’m not beset by the lack of control experienced by actors. But when playing this waiting game, it’s hard not to feel an almost total lack of control over one’s life. I'm not even exaggerating when I say that seventy percent of my time this year has been setting up work, and in the remaining 30% I have to do my actual work full-time in order to remain alive. I'm thirty-nine and I've got two children. Fucking hell.
In that context, taking a new show to the Edinburgh Fringe is an obviously unhinged decision. It’s even possible only because of the mass depopulation of my summer: for various unrelated reasons, four separate projects moved from the next few months into next year, and I was suddenly faced with a long empty stretch. I could collapse on the settee in despair and frustration. I wouldn’t judge anyone for whom that felt like the right choice. For me the right thing to do was spend the time on a show idea I’ve been sitting on for three years, and which happens to be relatively cheap.
You can read more about the show here. There’ll certainly be more about it on here in the next few weeks and months. Having met a writing deadline yesterday, with a shambles of a first draft, it’s my only creative focus between now and opening.
Let me know if you’re going to be in Edinburgh this August and fancy booking it. I’m not kidding when I say it’s going to sell fast: it already is.
The other major element of anticipation and uncertainty in that blogpost from two weeks ago was the question of whether or not I would run the Edinburgh marathon three days later. Close followers of this blog – both of you – will know that until two months prior I was hoping to run it under three hours. A tendon injury in my foot meant that I then lost six weeks of training, only starting again less than two weeks before the race. With three days to go, I had no idea whether my aches and pains were down to the sudden launch back into training, or because I genuinely was a wreck. I felt more sure Theresa May couldn't last the week than of what I was going to do that Sunday.
Reader, I went to Edinburgh. I decided to start, and give myself permission to not finish. I decided to take it fairly easy, around 7:30 a mile, and just see how I felt. If I was able to sustain it, I’d reach the the sixteen mile mark on almost exactly two hours, whereupon I could make a decision. If I was feeling great I could pick it up to just under 7min/mile and thereby shave a few seconds off my PB. If that seemed too ambitious, holding steady at sub-7:30 pace might see me sneak under 3hr15, which seemed like a decent B goal. And if I was feeling dreadful I could slow down or just stop.
For the first eight or so miles 7:30 felt incredibly comfortable but then I started to ache. By the halfway point I was struggling badly and decided that if I didn’t feel better at sixteen miles I was definitely going to pull out. When I hit sixteen miles, on almost exactly two hours, I suddenly realised that I felt fantastic. The PB charge was on. I put the hammer down to sub-7s and went for it.
It didn't last. On about eighteen miles, the route turns 180 degrees and the last eight miles take you back the way you came. I’d been warned about the wind on this course but I couldn’t quite believe its brutality when it hit me. No wonder I'd been feeling so good on the outward leg. I'd had a following gale. Within two miles of turning into it, the wind had blown away the unlikely goal of a new PB, and the B goal of around 3hr15. Despite the ridiculously remote probability of these goals having been achieveable on one week of training in two months, I hadn’t thought how I’d approach the race if they became unattainable. There was nothing left to motivate me. I fell to pieces.
For the last four miles I was running around ten-minute miles, which I'd consider slow uphill. I creaked home in 3:23:41. And I immediately felt quite pleased. Under the circumstances of training and conditions, this is a respectable time. A mate was coming to meet me for lunch, but I’d finished before he got there, because it never occurred to him I might finish that fast. This is good for the ego.
My ankle is still not entirely reliable. It seems pretty sound on the flat. But as soon as I get on the trails or the hills, I can’t quite trust it.
My next three races are this (the 55K, not the 100), this, and this. And though they'll be the hardest races I've ever run, they're mere warmups for this. If any has any magic ankle magic, please magic it to my ankle.
TV of the week: While you’ve all been going on about Chernobyl and Gentleman Jack (I will, I will), I’ve been rewatching The Wire. All I have to say is that it still stacks up. Season Two, by many considered to be the weakest, does have some wonky moments, but at its best it is Arthur Miller and Brecht in one. It is a portrait of an entire society and of how all the pressures of that society combine to produce immense human tragedy. People were doing top five TV shows on twitter last week and I wanted to say:
5: The Wire, season 5
4: The Wire, season 2
3: The Wire, season 1
2: The Wire, season 3
1: The Wire, season 4
I have to admit that this is stolen from a top three footballers list that goes around Middlesbrough circles:
3: Juninho (second spell at the club)
2: Juninho (third spell)
1: Juninho (first spell)
Show of the week: In that draft blogpost from a couple of weeks ago, I wrote about why you should all go and see Selina Thompson’s Saltat the Royal Court. You’ve missed it now. But anyway, to finish, here’s what I wrote about why you ought to have gone.
As a straight white man, it’s relatively rare I see a show that feels as though it’s not talking to me. Even shows about racism or gender inequality, rather than primarily representing those experiences for those who might share them, are often directed at people who look like me, for the purpose of persuasion or plea. I’m sure there’s value to this, by the way, and I’m not having a go at anyone. It’s also of course possible to do both.
But when I do see a show that very clearly isn’t talking to me, it’s often thrilling. I love the work of Rash Dash because they so often feel as though they’re principally talking to the women in the room. By all accounts Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s Emilia, which I’m devastated to have missed, does the same. The men can come if they want, sure, but it’s not forus. This refusal to pander to culturally dominant perspectives is also certainly the basis for plenty of critical fuckwittery.
Anyway, I bring this up because Selina Thompson’s Saltis now on at the Royal Court. I’ve seen it twice and I’d go again. Selina is one of the most brilliant artists (and minds) at work right now. She is absolutely talking to a primary constituency of black British people, and I fucking love that doing so this unapologetically (because why should it be something to apologise for?) has got her show to the Royal Court. She is absolutely talking to a primary constituency of black British people - which makes it all the more important that white British people go. And look, if you look like me, I’ve made it sound as though it’s something you should do because it’s good for you, like cabbage. But you should go because it’s searing, human and alive. If you can get over not being the focus of attention then it’ll be the best thing you do all year.
Pessimism of the Intellect, Optimism of the Will