I fumble in my bag, just managing to extract and answer my mobile before the ringtone stops.
‘How’s it going?’ you ask.
‘Great,’ I reply through gritted teeth, stifling a whimper as a thorn pierces my finger.
This is my first day as a writer in residence at 101 Outdoor Arts, a unique creative space set on the former USAF Cruise Missile base at Greenham Common.
‘So, what are you up to?’ you enquire, bright and inquisitive.
‘Nothing,’ I say hurriedly untangling myself from a bramble bush,
‘I mean nothing much, just…um, exploring. You know, nature and its connection to man. As in man or um womankind… well, people and place… like I um…said in my proposal.’
‘I see, that’s really interesting,’ you respond.
Blood trickles, I nestle the phone between my chin and neck whilst pulling a dirty tissue from my pocket. I wrap it around the wound.
‘Have you managed to chat with any of the other resident artists yet?’
‘What’s that?’ I muffle, panic rising.
‘Alternative perspectives?’ you continue, ‘you said you were planning to interview others to interrogate the subject?’
I look around the remote common my eyes fixating on a group of cows. I catch the eye of the biggest one, and she gives me a ‘who the fuck are you?’ stare. I am aware I am on her patch. I step back into dung.
‘I’m working on that’ I murmur, trying to hold it together.
‘And you have everything you need there, enough supplies?’ you probe.
I stare down at the cup of blackberries in my hand, wondering if I would be better off ‘Picking for Britain’ – this isn’t the first time I’ve meandered into a fruit bush whilst working on a project, distracted by nature and the prospect of pie at the end of the day.
I stare at my juice-stained fingers wishing it was ink.
Imposter Syndrome gathers momentum. It’s months since we discussed the initial project and a lot has happened in the space in between. Besides the national wave of despondency, I’ve suffered personal bereavement and a dose of writer’s block.
My passion for gathering multiple narratives, love of psychogeography and fascination with site-specific work, is under pressure, as the COVID cloud hovers, threatening working methods, dominating conversations, and perspectives.
I end the call and arrange a meeting for the following day. I need time out to look back through my notes and connect to the conversations seven months BC. I’m determined to regroup my creativity, insight, and brain cells.
Later, calmer, more focused and weighted with blackberries, I wander back to base, through the gates of the feral common and into the industrial business park where 101 is situated. I ponder the juxtaposing surroundings as I begin to take note of what’s around me, gathering random pictures of buildings, objects, and surreal signage as I go – future material and food for thought.
There are vehicle parks everywhere, crammed with cars, lorries, cranes, and bulldozers. I watch mesmerised as an army of empty buses arrive and depart; ghost vehicles joining a row of coaches on a desolate concrete plot. I stare through an empty window, catching my reflection.
My mind carries me back thirty-eight years. I see my 16-year-old self aboard a coach of women, pulling into the bustling car park at the edge of Greenham Common. The air is sharp, there’s frost underfoot and hoof prints on the ground. I pull up the collar of my donkey jacket, which is covered with CND badges. We wander past rows of muddy tents and caravans. Police on horses’ guide protesters and soldiers guard parameters. There’s an edgy atmosphere yet an overwhelming sense of community and purpose.
Back at 101, I meet a theatre company, setting up in the building. They are here to develop a new touring show set in an old-fashioned caravan.
‘We love this site,’ they tell me. ‘There’s an incredible sense of community here.’
I nod, scanning the images on my phone, piecing together the fragmented layers connecting people and place, nature and humankind. I hurry back to my room and snatch up my laptop, berry-stained fingers at the ready, excited at the journey ahead.Back to news