For some reason hitting dates and marking moments can be important to me - not only does it bring an excuse, it allows the seasonal reminders to come into play. And in the same way I left Bubble exactly 30 years after starting, so I have chosen to start this last blog at the same time and day of the week as we met up in Oxleas Woods. Midday, Sunday 3rd August 2020.
Then, as today, the sun was shining and up around the cafe on the hill people were doing Sunday - longer dog walks, the proper breakfast, maybe a newspaper.
At the bottom of the hill Dan was not alone - Clive Llewellyn, actor of this parish and his partner Janet were waiting. Sandy, Wilf and Carlotta - arrive with their coffees. Andrew Stern - a Greenwich resident, activist and connector, with fellow participants Judith and her daughter Danielle who have brought their inter-generational relationship to our inter-generational projects. Then Sam and Lukas, friend and actor Tanya. Pip, May - and yep, Nao Ngai - who first worked with the company as a technician many years ago and has lit shows and provided support, connections (and Japanese late night picnics) over the years. Then another Tania, - Tania Peach, production manager, another Greenwich-ite who made early outdoor shows possible.
And Oxleas was the venue people who wanted the hard core promenade experience, came to. These are ancient woods, dense, hilly and wild. Every year that we did a show here I would come and plan the route. Every year I would get lost. Occasionally the stage manager leading the audience would get lost. There’s a lot of old magic here.
Before we set off we have a task. Jools Voce - artist, performer, workshop facilitator, writer and thinker (who I should have mentioned at Canada Water because she was a key artist on the Great Outdoors) cannot be with us in person but has sent a series of tasks for us to undertake.
We follow the instructions and listen to Jools’s words…
Jools has written seven - postcards. We read them at the next stops facing in the directions asked. They explain her and her families connection to the woods, of her brother being a park keeper. They describe her work-journey with the company from participating performer to director, they explain the need for good boots, they talk about the show Jools made and performed here, about the fact she and Amanda called me Aslan and they talk about the community of theatre making and how it touched her and others. She nails it.
We need to visit some of the performance sites. We set off into the woods past the outdoor gym and up on to the plain to talk about the various images we remember from scenes which we performed here. Then to a clearing on the edge of the woods where we are joined by Ken and Farhana - who has written various scripts for the company, and a tall man on a bike Mr Nick Khan - who gave many fine performances with Bubble in summer and Christmas shows and who is yet another local!
As ever Oxleas offers us a variety of environments. We stop and enjoy Jools’ words and remember bits and pieces of projects but the power of the woods rules. The overhanging branches break the sunlight, the leaves gel the rays and coloured light bathes our eyes. The wind moves the grass and strokes our faces. The different surfaces of the paths play into our muscles in subtly changing ways. There are smells and sounds too - it’s all very primal and I’m having a bit of a moment.
Up tp Sevendroog Castle and finally out of the edge of the woods and overlooking London - well the South Circular/Shooters Hill but. We cross Woolwich Common and talk briefly to a woman who is trying to collect the litter that has been left. She works up to and along a invisible borderline - her aim seems to be to keep a certain zone clean while the adjacent zones remain covered in detritus.
We cut across Charlton Park - the grass is baked hard here and meet up with Iris - company archivist, supporter and participant. She has been in quarantine but we are passing her house and she will join the caravan for a stretch. We wind through Maryon Park or is it Maryon Wilson Park? There are two, and Andrew tries to explain the difference to me - but it won’t stick, why give two different patches of greenery the same name? We visited one or the other just the once. There was a spectacular electrical storm, the show was abandoned, but that night some of the inhabitants of the park decided to de-construct our set and seating. They left the pieces laid out on the damp grass like an airfix kit - attach piece A to component B, proceed to part C..etc.
I had announced at the start that the theme of the day was to be images - and yes we have conjured up memories - henges made of fridge freezers, singing sirens, fighting lovers, flaming arrows. But images of rain, interrupted shows and the sodden crew are just as strong. Water pouring off the roof of the beer tent. Steam rising from the damp rugs left out to dry the following day.
It’s a bit of a schlep now to our next stop, Greenwich Park. The procession gets strung out. I worry that we might be pushing it but people are chatting away - Farhana and I talk scripts and writing projects and Ken and I talk about failing eyesight and hospital appointments. Sandy and Nao have their photograph taken.
Nicole comes to Deptford but can’t find us. In the pub friends come and go, Angie Bain turns up - she too has been looking for us, searching the streets of Greenwich without luck. But she’s here now. Then Tania Peach drops in with her daughter, Katie - another young artist making her way in the world.
I enjoy the London Pride as Nick Goode, another Bubble alumni, plays fiddle with the band in the garden.
There’s been 27 friends today and just the one dog. The endeavour has worked - it has eclipsed recent events and exorcised some ghosts. It’s been a slice.
There will be one or two more Re-Markings coming up, but in the meantime...
To all who came and made it.
To Dan for advice on flaneuring and pics.
To Sandy for ordnance surveying and yarns.
To Fran for natural history and pics.
To Pip for proof reading and love.