Archive for January, 2010

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Day 86 with a long spoon…

January 29, 2010

SATAN                  Methinks you all know who I am.
Methinks you know me well.
Methinks we can do business
For you all have souls to sell.
And some of you have contracts signed
And sealed, your shares in Hell.

Methinks you know my Moral Tale.
You know the parts I play
From Man’s first fumbling Fall from Grace
To his Last Judgement Day,
When some forever in my debt
Will have all Hell to pay,

Methinks you’ve heard the rumours
How now I do conspire
To fritter Man and all his Works
In everlasting fire.
To tell the Truth… but how can I?
I’m a compulsive Liar.

from The Southwark Mysteries by John Constable (Oberon Books)

New production: Southwark Cathedral 22, 23 24 April 2010
Tickets available now at Cathedral Shop and online.

Today I been trying my best to do the right thing. Not to compromise the spirit of The Southwark Mysteries in the process of getting it on. There’s a thin line between supping with the Devil and discovering he’s brought a few friends and they’re planning to stay the night and are expecting some ahem… in-house entertainment.

No, I haven’t actually spent the night in the sack with the dark one, so far as I know. I don’t even sup with his evil hencemen, not knowingly.

The people I’m doing this dance with, the corporate backers – and fronters? Decent people doing their best, by their own lights, to…

Do the right thing.

May we be present in every moment ready to do our best to and stand by what we do – and then walk it, in the light, to the end of the line.

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87 – blog on!

January 28, 2010

How wrong I was blame the blog. As Katie discovered when she switched it on, it was my computer, my entire cyberworld – with all The Southwark Mysteries production stuff, the revised script in progress, the lot – hanging…

I was out looking for Jesus,  and so protected from the dreadful knowledge until mid-afternoon. I remained eerily calm right through to the early evening when she fixed it – partly by clearing out a couple gigabites of trash files and music I never play. Remain calm in the face of certain uncertainties. Trust – something has shifted – slip lightly around obstacles, like water.

Abloggeration: the tendency of bloggers to blog about their blogs. Filthy habit. I eschew it!

I think we found our Son of Man – and know our players for the other parts – though it’s Sarah the director’s call so until parts are offered and players have said yea –

my lips are sealed.

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two fat ladies Day 88

January 28, 2010

The red cap on yesterday’s “sufficiency” was when my blog post seemed to have lost itself, left hanging in cyberspace.

When I checked today, it had posted, along with a blank page rage titled: “all is vanity”.

Today we just got on with it.

And still the blog wouldn’t post.  So here it is now – short and unsweetened.

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sufficient unto the Day 89 is the evil thereof

January 27, 2010

or “the punishment of a poet who let them talk him into “producing” his own work.

Through the third circle of Hell – the jousting corporate logos – the fourth circle of unconfirmed pledges…

My head’s so full of stuff. Went shopping in Tesco and just spaced out staring at all the packets and tins. Kevin and Noyumi rescued me, gently pointing me the way to the veggie stock-cubes.

The counting of the coins, the entries in the ledgers. Yes, today, we have been doing the SOUTHWARK MYSTERIES accounts for our group’s AGM. And yes, our books do balance! I may be a poet. I’m also the son of a chartered accountant: when entrusted with other people’s money, I’m fastidious to the point of irritating even myself – every last penny accounted for.

Ms K spends the day (and much of the evening) patiently coding the individual entries in our quarterly records so as to transfer them to the broad categories of our annual report. And apart from a few minor panics – a double entry from our bank account and petty cash – all ship-shape and Bristol fashion!

Yes, it is boring – neither of us enjoy doing it one jot – but done it must be, that our group’s finances be transparent, and that we know exactly what funds have been used for what.

Indeed a great deal of this whole production lark is, in my undeniably jaundiced opinion, indescribably boring – to the extent that one finds oneself pondering the meaning of the word “soul-destroying” and understanding why so many people who do this kind of thing for a living are so… well… frustrated and angry.

When I was much younger, I’d sometimes work in offices to subsidise my other lives as poet and performer. These days I tend to write and perform to support my office work.

So now, when it all gets too much, like about an hour ago, I go for a walk around the best block in town – up to Borough tube, then left along Marshalsea Road, right up Redcross Way, right again along Southwark Street, and again right to cut back down Borough High – circumambulating the holy ground of Crossbones Yard, the place of the skull, my cruel-to-be-kind companion, my reminder that all is vanity…

I can just about see the funny side. And tomorrow is, as they say, another day.

12 days already gone,  scratched on the wall of my cell, below the little barred window.

IIII\ IIII\ II

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Day 90 – midnight oil

January 26, 2010

Back to business.

11am. Meet Anna Arthur, our publicist. We’ve got our local networks and viral marketing – and trust Anna to get us into the wider media. She did PR for the 2000 production of The Southwark Mysteries, and before that for Gormenghast and for I Was An Alien Sex God in Edinburgh 1995. She’s always done good work for us – and has already come up with some great ideas to promote the new production.

12.50. only 5 minutes late for lunch with Sarah D-H, director. Over tuna melt and rigatoni putanesca, we have a 30 minute writer-director script intensive. Katie K, production co-ordinator, joins us for another melt and 45 minutes of production meeting covering everything from professional casting, the drawing up of letters of agreement, publicity, marketing, liaison with schools and adult community cast,  the sending out of notices, the confirmation of the remaining funding, updates all round. We are a triumvirate, Trinity Productions.

Home to hours of  decisions decisions questions questions and the positioning of logos. hmmm…

Worked on the letter to the community cast – the invitation to (especially, though not exclusively, south) Londoners who want to be in it.

This evening, dashed off a draft Artistic Director’s report for SOUTHWARK MYSTERIES (that’s the voluntary organisation that exists to promote The Southwark Mysteries (with the “The”))

Our AGM is on 9th February – new members welcome!

Plenty of good news to report to our small membership that helps keep this curious little show on the road: we’re now doing the flagship production which our group formed 5 years ago to do.

Which, Goddes will, show us all something new.

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91 – at heart

January 24, 2010

Sunday. Some rest. Some hospital visiting. Then some total immersion in the Van Gogh colour-bath at the RA, courtesy Ms K.

In one of Vincent’s late paintings – a still life which is ANYTHING BUT STILL – the roses have faded from pink to cream because he couldn’t afford decent pigments. Another was painted on a tea-towel when he ran out of canvas. And these paintings sell for millions in the modern art market.

English medieval mystery plays retold the Bible stories in the language and conventions of their own time and place, their moral purpose enlivened and sometimes subverted by broad knockabout comedy. The sacred and the profane – a nativity scene prefaced by a farcical parody: sheep-stealers disguising a stolen lamb as a babe in a manger.  Satan, naturally, has some of the best lines, frequently inviting the great and the good to kiss various parts of his infernal anatomy.

The Telegraph ran a shock horror story on our original Easter Sunday 2000 production, getting very excited about Satan’s profanities, as if they were not a time-honoured part of the English Mystery Play tradition.

Those cycles of mystery plays were originally staged by craft guilds, drama by and for the community. Guilds were not ashamed to advertise: the Carpenters would stage the crucifixion, drawing attention to the craftsmanship of the cross.

These are the dramatic models for The Southwark Mysteries. In our play Christ’s teaching of forgiveness is tested in the context of a south London borough with a riotous 2,000 year history – including more than 500 years as a Liberty, a refuge and sanctuary to:

“The actor, the whore, the outcast and outlaw…”

These outsiders, ancient and modern, are the souls to which Satan, the Accuser, lays claim on this Day of Judgement at which all the ages of Southwark are present. Specifically, Satan claims the souls of The Goose – the medieval prostitute whose bones were unearthed at Crossbones Graveyard during work on the 1990s Jubliee Line Extension – and her sha-manic street-prophet, John Crow.

The Goose and John Crow already had their story, their journey, told in the seven Vision Books – the first (of three) parts of The Southwark Mysteries – the poems received in trance from The Goose. Her  Gnostic pagan teachings are transmitted hermetically in these cryptic rhymes and riddles, the songs and secret tales of Bankside actors and whores, an integrated left-hand lineage tracing back to the Magdalene, the kiss in the cave and the meeting in the garden.

These were Mysteries in a hermetic tradition going back before Christ to Isis, Inanna, Ishtar, the outcast goddess, to Mary Overie, the ferryman’s daughter, a Thames river goddess, and to Kwan Yin, Goddess of Mercy.

Yet the Goose’s verses also embody a transformational intelligence, a kind of frequency that retunes the mind to itself , so that the recitation of the verses are a kind of benign incantation, producing effects that not infrequently tended to the paranormal.

So it was that the Dean, then Provost, of Southwark Cathedral, was at that very time inquiring as to whether there was an extent London Cycle of Mystery plays, to perhaps rival the York, Chester or Wakefield Cycles. And from this remarkable coincidence – or is it all Divinely ordained?  – sprang the second part of The Southwark Mysteries, the Mystery Plays. They emerged not according to any moral or literary master-plan but a genuine expression of my own inner spiritual journey.

It seemed I had to test this discipline, this dedication to the spiritual state of Liberty, in my own life.  Once or twice the boundaries dissolved with painful consequences: after composing the scene in which John Crow wrestles with Jesus, I found myself hobbling around with a cricked back for months after!

William Blake is the spiritual father of The Southwark Mysteries. In his seminal Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Mr Blake writes:

“Without Contraries is no progression.”

And so, in the unfolding of The Southwark Mysteries, these heroes of the Vision Books become the villains, the wicked souls of the mystery plays, whom Satan lays claim to.  The Goose reveals herself as Mary Magdalene returned to confront Jesus with her own Mysteries, whilst John Crow’s mental health issues are fully exploited by the Evil One.

All is as it is written, not by ‘John Constable’, who was merely the scribe, the third party to the dance of the Goose and John Crow. All is as it should be, that the Geese be received back into the protective bosom of their Bishop in an act of mutual forgiveness and healing.

So may it be:

She is come out of Egypt by Greenwich,
Upriver, the Dogs to her right,
Along the black beach
Around Limehouse Reach,
With the City of London in sight.

In Cathedral Provost may ponder
If he should unbar the Great Door,
With a wink and a nod
To the Glory of God
In the guise of an unredeemed Whore.

Let Bishop’s crook offer him Counsel,
Ways and Means for the Door to unjam.
If needs must be seen
That the Whore be washed clean
Of her Sin by the Blood of the Lamb,

Then let it be so, but then let it go
The Guilt and the Shame and the Sin.
Let go of the Law
That made her a Whore
And then, for God’s sake, let her in.

Let in, let in, let no colour of skin
Nor creed debar Other from ceremony.
Let the gong of Tibet
Bong out an octet
With the Bells of St Mary Overie.

from The Book of The Magdalene
in The Southwark Mysteries by John Constable (Oberon Books)

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Day 92 – Crossbones vigil

January 23, 2010

for a second week, I’ve been granted a Jewish Shabbat – respite from the labours of Mystery Play PRODUCTION – a chance to be still and reflect, to be at the heart of The Southwark Mysteries…

And where better to reconnect? – with the heartland, the Muse, The Goose. Where better to let John Crow out for another magic 23rd?

The Red Gates, Red Cross Way, London SE1, our people’s shrine to the outcast dead at the gates of the medieval Crossbones graveyard.

Where The Goose revealed The Southwark Mysteries to John Crow on the 23rd November 1996, and on many a 23rd thereafter.

30 or more Friends of Crossbones  gathered for the monthly vigil.  A good turn out – for a little back street in south London at 7pm on a Saturday night.

Pete, a seasoned Samurai, and new friend John don the fluorescent yellow tabards to take on the Samurai stewarding duties and do a fine job from keeping us off the road even in the throes of mystical ecstasy.

Plenty of regulars: Crow and kaos, Jennifer, Ali, Lisa, Jon, Kevin, Noyumi, Sarah, Andy, Rosie, James, Hester, Pete and Irene.  Quite a few first timers: pagan Mark, students on a ‘Remembrance’ project: Victoria, Claire.  Some old friends returned: Jonathan C.  and Rainbow Lizzie who asks “Where’s Uncle Ion.”

Recovering, we trust, in St Thomas’ Hospital. Ion has been at every 23rd since he connected with us at Halloween two years ago. We hold him in our thoughts during the silent candlelit vigil, and focus on healing – and prayers for the people of Haiti.

Out of the deep silence Irene sings: “Mercy” accompanying herself on an autoharp. It is followed by an even deeper silence, everyone very moved.

Silence being a relative term, just down from London Bridge, with trains clanking over the railway bridge at the top end of Redcross Way, every few minutes – and between the  ringing of Southwark Cathedral bells… An inner silence, communion…

‘Hear lay your hearts your flowers your Book of Hours
Your fingers your thumbs your Miss-You-Mums…’

performed as ever five times, as an echo prayer, with flowers, ribbons, totems tied to the gate. KateE hung a delicate circle of white fabric flowers.

John Crow then incorporated to speak freely on the pagan festival of Imbolc, and the Christian Candlemass, the Purification of the Virgin, and the reawkening of the Invisible Garden on the site of the old burial ground. Everyone joined the channelled invocation:

‘Bridie, I am here with my Goose feather quill
To trace the lucent songs of the Ancients…
Bridie, I am here with the chalice and snake
To receive and transmit your healing benediction…
Bridie, I am here  with the bellows and tongues
To tend your sacred fire of transformation…’

And called out our own dead to be honoured: Arvind, who made the first film about Crossbones with Andy Lock… Wayland, Zoe’s dad… Fraser Clark… And John Joyce, the actor who played the Bishop of Winchester in The Southwark Mysteries back in 2000, whose ashes are now scattered here on Crossbones – Bishop reunited with his Goose! – may the pathways be open!

And we all called out the Open Pathways.

Aileen said her remembrance for the living outcast.

We ended with the ritual sealing of the circle of gin and the Goose blessing:

‘Goose may you never be hungry!
Goose may you never be thirsty!
Goose may your spirit fly free.’