Friday, June 22, 2007

Day Fifteen: Plymouth - Blood and Fire

Photo: Orson joins Nick for a bite.

The schizophrenic weather of Plymouth kept us on our toes all day. The folks took a lovely boat ride in the harbor, while it intermittently pissed rain and shone bright, warm sun. Meanwhile, Kelly and I met Nick at the hall for tech.

It's a big room, the Salvation Army meeting hall, and Nick had high expectations. There were twenty seats purchased in advance, there were notices in local papers and he did an interview which was played several times, yesterday and today, on the radio station, Plymouth Sound.

I asked him what the pitch was, remembering the kind of comments which were made on BBC Lincolnshire. Nick is quite familiar with the show, having seen it last October at the AGM, and listening to the radio drama several times. Describing it over lunch (he helped us all find a great cafe near the boat dock where we were able to escape the rain) Nick made I HATE THIS sound like a gripping, exciting drama, one that anyone could get into. So that sounded great.

They'd set up chairs for maybe two hundred on the main floor, with overflow capacity in the balcony for another fifty. I know he was being cheeky when he suggested we might need all those seats, but I alos know he was holding out hope for a large turnout.

You can see where I am going with this. In fact, if you have any previous knowledge about the history of this production,the fact that the house was small shouldn't surprise you. It didn't surprise me, and I was not disappointed by it, I only felt bad for Nick and his wife Tracey, whom I knew had spent a lot of time and effort putting this together. I believe it was particularly upsetting that almost half the people who had made paid reservations did not show up, though there were a few walk-ups.

That included one very tall man (sorry I didn't catch the name) who had made a reservation for the Exeter performance, and called the day-of to ask for directions, and was surprised to find only that way that the event had been cancelled. He said he drove like mad to get here tonight.

It was challenging balancing the small crowd (I am thankful they were asked to move to the front of the house) and the large space. There were points where I stepped down off the stage and stood right in front of them (Memorial Day, The Future) and I was ready when they did not laugh at the "Cloisters" joke - as most do not. Sometimes I say, "Huh, they love that joke in New York."

Tonight I said, "Huh ... they loved that joke in Belfast."

I thought that was funny. So did Kelly.

Following tea and cake, our Q&A was almost like a group session, we treated it as one. Toni and I weren't up on the stage, we were down with everyone, talking about our stories.

That reminds me of an interesting thing ... yesterday, after we'd split into two groups, Nick and Kelly and I were wandering through Drake's Circus. Kelly went off to the loo, and Nick and I were just standing there in the middle of this busy mall.

I just blurted out, "So, Nick, what's your story?"

He blinked, inhaled, and told me about Sarah Louise. And that was good.

You know, over the course of the past two weeks, Toni and I took a little time to grow into our role as child loss ambassadors, or whatever you might want to call us. In Carlisle we were a bit too scattered to be as personable, or sensitive as we might have liked. I'm not saying we were impolite, but my interactions with Libby were very business-like - I need this, I need that, do you think these things can be taken care of by tomorrow - and we spent most of the intervening time relaxing, making sure the kids were adjusting, and so on.

We'd even showed up late that first afternoon, because we were enjoying ourselves in Glasgow, and didn't bother to call her to let her know.

Photo: The famous Plymouth King Prawn.

It wasn't until after the performance that I had a chance to chat with her husband Ian about their little boy, and then say something to her some time shortly before we departed for the evening. I can make excuses about being wobbly, nervous and uncertain, but I still wish I'd started off better.

And yet, "What's your story?" I don't think I'd ever asked anyone about their child so bluntly in my life. It didn't hurt that Nick (being so much, you know, like Nick) seems like aguy who you can talk to like that. I also wondered after the fact if it's because I don't usually ask guys about their children, I usually start with the women and the approach is much softer.

The discussion was very warm and everyone was very kind. There were an awful lot of men in that small crowd, and it was good to see them, sitting so stoically in their seats. But when the time came I heard what I am always glad to hear, that this story is like theirs, there is so much in common in my story to theirs.

Toni observed a few days ago that she sometimes feels it is odd, sitting up on a stage, talking about our loss, and having so many people ask us about it, as though our loss is more significant than theirs. I don't see it that way. Maybe I am the guy who stands up publicly to tell his story not because my story is more poingnant, it isn't, but it's a story, and I tell it and people can point to it and say, that's my story. Like, it makes their story more poignant, because of the great similarlities of emotion and circumstance, and they can share it with friends and say, see, that's what I am going through. That story is my story.

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