March 23 / Day 33

March 23, 2010

old skool 23 sort of a Day

started out a workaday producer’s day-to-day, receive and reply to emails, try to tie up loose ends and stray threads…

Then, it being March the 23rd, and believing as I do in the power of that prime number to open invisible doors, I decided to trust my producer’s intuition and resume the er…  Quest for God.

Simon Callow, Tim Spall, Arthur Smith – working, away, would’ve loved to but alas. Anna our publicist suggests we try Graham Norton, Paul O’Grady – either of whom I could just imagine being fabulous celebrity Gods – though Alan Carr? Heaven defend us!

But before we ahem… lower our sights…

The part of God is written to be a cameo for an hugely famous and respected actor, someone of true stature who may be willing to gently send up their own celebrity in the name of transformational community drama. Although true to form, the Devil has some of the best lines, IMHO, God has the ABSOLUTE BEST line in the play:

‘When I was offered the part of God, I was given to understand it was the lead.’

So I write Sir Ian McKellen a cheeky letter: ‘Dear Sir Ian, What do you offer the man who’s played all the great parts from Gandalf to Estragon? Well, how about playing God in The Southwark Mysteries in Southwark Cathedral?’

etc. I bundle it up with a copy of the production script, a flyer and a copy of the book, address it to him at the  Haymarket Theatre and determine to deliver it by hand this very day to the stage door.

First though, today being a 23rd –

I have my voluntary duties as John Crow the keeper of Crossbones Graveyard to attend to. Katie managed to obtain some cleaner greener funding for the new ivy planters for our shrine at the gates in Redcross Way. She’s recycled the old planter troughs which are now bright with primroses and violets and has done a new pot of sweet peas she’ll trail up the gate. We hired a zip-car to cart the planters up to Crossbones, then spent an hour or so sweeping the area behind the gates and around the Red Cross Mary Virgin / Goddess statue,  clearing the concrete block ‘altar’ behind, setting out the candles in their glass bowls –

preparations for the monthly 7pm vigil.

We work up quite a sweat. Then Katie goes shopping while I come back to pick up the bundle for our intended God, then can’t find my travel-card, also can’t find four of the seven tabards worn by Goose Samurai (it’s complicated! – you’d have to read back to Day whatever!), the long and the short is I’m getting flustered and a tad stressed – like I often say, it’s the little things… So I’m just leaving when Katie comes back with the heavy shopping and rather than offering to help her carry it upstairs I’m stressing about my travel-card and being lumpy and unfair.

I’m still fuming away about this and that on the tube, so when I come out at Piccadilly I make a conscious effort to slow down and breathe and put myself into that trusting state of surrender to The Goose and Her Mysteries through which so much good is already come, especially to JC on a 23.

My spirits lift when the angelically pretty girl inside the Theatre Royal – when I ask: please where’s the Stage Door – comes outside and to point the way round to the back of the theatre. On my way there, to deliver the bundle for Sir Ian, I walk past the great man – not as I tend to think of him (immaculately turned out) but bearded and slightly scruffy, the Estragon persona but unmistakably – Ian McKellen, talking to a woman who reminded me of my agent Nicki (though she wasn’t). They’re still talking when I come back and even I’m not quite such a clod as to interrupt a private conversation. However…

As I turn out of the street I glance back and see that Sir Ian has left the woman and is ambling up the street. Carpe diem and fortunately without too much forethought I quickly discover that, by retracing my steps at a slightly faster pace, I get to intercept him on his way to the stage door:

‘Sir Ian McKellen? It’s OK – I’m not a stalker.’

Well you have to say that, don’t you? Under the circumstances. Because he did look just very slightly alarmed. And truth to tell, I HAD been stalking him, even if only for roughly 20 seconds and with entirely honourable intentions.

He was, as I expected, very gracious, listened politely – once I’d established that I was a writer who’d just left him a script and a book at the stage door and wanted to offer him the part of God and ‘this isn’t a joke!’

I think I may even have said that twice, which shows that, plucky as I may have been to presume upon Greatness upon its way to its Place of Being Great, I was still a bit star-struck and nervous and blurty.

Sir Ian thanked me courteously. We shook hands and parted. I am not about to say it’s a done deal. There are many reasons why he may nay say. But even if he does, he kind of made my Day. And at least I can sleep easy in my bed tonight, knowing I went that extra mile for God – because if you never ask.

At least I didn’t blurt out that I have be off now because I’m officiating at a Christo-pagan vigil at the gates of the Crossbones Graveyard, where John Crow received The Southwark Mysteries from The Goose.

Too much information. 😉

Although I trust anyway who saw me in action at the gates tonight or on any other 23rd vigil when I’m doing the honours might say: He’s not quite as mad as he first appears!

And this 23rd, the honours were well and truly done.: with flowers, by the plinth, by Red Cross Mary, and growing in the planters behind the gates and in the vases tied to them; and lights, the star of candles at the foot of the Virgin, the candelas on the walls, in jars, inside the little box shrines; and songs…

I sang John Crow’s Riddle with everyone joining in the Apocalypse Chorus – and then I introduced Charlie and explained how some people think I am John Crow and well, yes, tonight standing at the gates, I am – but in a months time, I’ll be in Southwark Cathedral watching Charlie be John Crow in The Southwark Mysteries, because John Crow like The Goose is not a fixed entity, more an energy, an activity, a shape-shifter.

When I am John Crow at the gates on a 23rd it’s like everything I think of as “me” just goes silent and clears out of the way and then John Crow speaks and I hear him and listen carefully to what he says. It’s not THAT spooky!

Tonight, for instance, i heard him explain that a lot of people want to get into the garden and try to possess it, but Crossbones teaches that the more we possess the more we are possessed. This is why we focus here, for now, on the gates, where we, the living, stand in the public space, in the little spur of pavement around the gates (our Goose Samurai in their reflective tabards keeping the living inside the yellow line, safe from the rat-running traffic – we don’t want to add to the estimated 15,000 resident dead!) and look through the gate, through the PORTAL

to the empty space behind, to commune with the transmission of intelligence that links the dead, the living, the unborn. Some say.

Those of you of a more secular, agnostic or atheistical bent, may be uncomfortable or unfamiliar with the urban shaman paradigm. You are welcome to view the Crossbones shrine, the works and the vigils as a collective work of performance art / living art-work. And The Southwark Mysteries as a matrix of performance works which climaxes every decade in an epic (in scope, not length) performance of the Mystery Play.

We hold lights in silence to remember the outcast dead – and to remember who we are – then make our own totemic offerings, the ribbons, the necklaces, the little artifacts that keep our shrine forever changing, forever new, all speaking the whisper prayer: ‘Here lay your hearts, your flowers, your Book of Hours…’ – spoken here every 23rd for 5 years and more, and every Halloween for the past 13 years.

New old friends – Lila, Susanna, Kevinj, Noyumi, Nancy and Sondra, and Bernie – and Ion Will, frail with a walking stick back from his hospital operation, tells the crowd his big idea that we have to do The Southwark Mysteries every year!

I do a mock collapse in exhaustion.  Say if it’s to be done every year we need a producer – and having given it a try, so far, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it.  Good to have him back, expounding his Big Ideas!

Dorothy is there with daughter Juliet, small but fearless, interrupting John Crow to ask: How can you have been dead if you’re alive here? John Crow deftly segues from death and rebirth to the flowers growing back in the spring. The cycle, says Dorothy helpfully. Juliet is fine with that. She likes the way John Crow plays guitar. She plays a ukulele.

There’s Ed, Kelfin, Ivan and Leslie from the community cast – Jennifer too, though she’s Crossbones family, time out of mind, our tattooed Sister of Redcross – Alison and others who know The Ballad of Mary Overie and The Green Man Is Come To Bless Our Garden which we sang towards a rousing finale. Sarah Scarlet did the honours with the gin, sealing us in close to the gates for our final benediction:

‘Goose, may your Spirit fly free!’

One comment

  1. Lovely John

    Well timed, its all in the now, wow and there he was how purrfect and whatta great god he would be…

    The word for the gate wayd is LIMINAL among others , .. the threshold and indeed we dont necessarily wantto cross over too soon. Like the Crow crow, dontch know cleansed of the ego you can play and play is the most liminal of activities.

    “liminal entities are neither here nor there, they are betwixt and between the positions assigned and arrayed by law, custom, convention and ceremonial. As such their ambiguous and indertiminate attributes are expressed by a rich variety of symbols in the many societies that ritualize social and cultural transitions. Thus liminality is frequently likened to death, to being in the womb, to invisibility, to darkness, to the wilderness and to the eclipse of the sun or moon” so says Victor Turner.
    I was sitting in circle for the healing heart on this evening so alltogether now. love Clouds

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