Before I go any further with my meandering conversation with myself about identity I want to write up a little bit about the boots and also the Walk a Mile project.
Quite a while back at the beginning of the summer my facebook-feed threw up a flyer for Zannie Fraser's intergenerational Walk a Mile project, a series of ten free workshops leading up to and culminating in a performance session. Now I don't really see myself as a performer (more about this later) but the project looked really exciting. Zannie is a professional puppeteer working all over Britain using shadow puppets and the project was based around the clothes we wear and the stories that are linked to them. I love clothes, stories, puppets and shadows. And I had crossed paths with Zannie a few years previously when she was researching a work based on Rumplestiltskin so I knew she would be interesting to work with.
The brief for the first session was to bring an item of clothing with a story. I took my boots, boots that had seen me through the past ten years, four just about identical pairs. Why buy four pairs of the same boot, oh because they fitted like a dream and I don't love shopping but I do love walking.
The story of these boots really goes back to before I had them. Way back when my children were small and I really was struggling to keep my head above water, I used to read books about the Holocaust. Grim reading you might think, a bit dramatic, maybe. But in bed hungry and cold and feeling wretched and alone they somehow gave me the strength to keep going. I used to think that if people could survive that then i could surely get through what I was going through which was nothing in comparison.
As a result of reading around this period of history I came across Primo Levi and various books by him including 'If this is Man' and 'The Truce'. One of the things that hit home was how footwear made the difference between survival and demise in the lager at Auschwitz and later on the journey back to Germany. I think good boots may also have came up in 'All Quiet on the Western Front' by Erich Von Remarque which I also read at this time. Anyway the message hit home, especially as I had just spent a winter walking around in boots with holes in the soles because I couldn't afford new ones, that keeping my feet well shod would likely make a difference to my life and ever since then I have had at least one good pair of walking boots.
The boots that relate to the workshop had only been around for ten years but all of them were/are reaching the end of their days. One pair is no longer useable even in the garden and only two pairs are good for walking, and even they couldn't do the long walks they did back in the day.
Oh boots. They are only boots, but they are marvellous boots. Boots that hold the memories of that decade.
One of the things that was very exciting about the workshops was that it was mixed age groups, this is uncommon. The mixing of teenagers with pensioners and myself and Zannie and a couple of assistants in between made for a challenging but very inspiring atmosphere. Sometimes it felt quite chaotic but somehow Zannie would pull us all together and I would always leave with my head full of thoughts brought on by the sessions. Now a month on there are still things that spring back to mind that I'd like to follow through.
But, there was a pitfall, I had seen that the workshops led up to a performance on the flyer, but for a good six or seven weeks I was in denial, I think I was hoping that everyone else would be desperate to be centre stage and that I could hang back in the wings pouring squash or sweeping up or something else kind of menial. However as the performance date drew closer it became clear this was not an option. And I felt unprepared which as someone nervy and unused to performance made the whole shenanigans a tad too much. I bottled it. Or really nearly bottled it.
But Zannie and her partner Bob came to the rescue, gave up a couple of hours on a sunday mid morning to lunchtime, by the end of which there was something showable. And hats off and gratitude to them for doing that because, as they said at the time, if I'd bottled it I would have been disappointed.
The night came and each participant and/or piece of clothing got given a moment in the spotlight. And Zannie and Bob showed us the multiple pieces they had been working on which was fascinating and worth the gulping down of stage fright just to see. How they pulled off the show they did in ten weeks is beyond me, I am always astounded at other people's capability and cleverness. Huge hand clap for all the work they put in.
And oh boots, what a wonderful hero's send off. Those boots have been a part of me and my life. They have been to Cornwall, Devon, Scotland, Wales, Yorkshire, the Lake District, the Dordogne, Italy, Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam, Edinburgh, Manchester, Bristol, and all over Norfolk and Suffolk and even a little bit of Kent and London. They have seen me through university, various jobs, rapturous love and desperate deadbeat love and heartbreak and coming back to myself after heartbreak, and illness, and from full-on mothering to my children leaving home and on to becoming granny. Those boots represent a seminal chapter in my life, a period in my history when the changes came so fast they were falling over each other, an exhilarating, exhausting and enormous period of time in my life. And so it seems a bit appropriate that I should have had to face up to one more fear to celebrate their being before they take their final bow.
Thank you Zannie.