Charmian Hughes comes to NZ Fringe for the first time, stopping with our friends at Auckland Fringe first, and then making her way down to Dunedin Fringe, and I am so delighted she is here with us! She thought she’d be an adult by now - but her ten year old former self wants to know what she’s done with her life, whether she’s kept her promises and what on earth is she wearing.
In this beautiful piece of writing Charmian tells us how she got here and what happened before to get her to this place now.
Thurs 16th Feb 2017
Touch down in rainy Auckland, the furtherest I've ever been from home, but the wet summer weather comfortably familiar. I've had 30 hours in the air, three transit stops involving frantic jogging through security totally disorientated to find the right gate, and lunch every 80 minutes, no sleep. My Australian friend Salina who I haven't seen for over 30 years got on the same flight at Sydney.
Through security and out into the airport. Where are my friends who are meeting us? Then we see them, the signs on sticks that every traveller secretly desires should bear their names. In loud wigs, flower garlands and Dame Edna sunglasses, Patsy and Shelley. Shelley and Patsy. Because we are not just here for the New Zealand Fringe Festival. We are also here for a sixtieth birthday party of one of these women I first met in London in 1979.
A hungover early morning in a South London squat. The photo shows all round emotional devastation. The friends who have changed my life and filled it with anarchic joy are heading off home to New Zealand after three years in London. We've spent all that last night together, between us a mixture of excited anticipation and cheerily suppressed grief. We travel together on the tube to Heathrow Airport. I feel like a dog being taken to the vets- they love me but they are still going to have me put down.
There is no talk of coming back. Sad farewells and then their homesick eagerness propels them through security and they are gone. We watch for the plane through the airport viewing window long after it has disappeared into grey London skies. And I feel the chill of being returned to that cold English world of disapproval and being disapproved of, without the gang who have kept me warm ever since I fell in love with them in 1979.
Fresh out of university but feeling lost, everyone I was at school with have smart jobs, know what they are doing in life. I am living back home in London (after going to uni in Scotland -as far away as I could from my family ) home with a difficult mother who doesn't like me, my estranged dad who she hated anyway has just died, stiff upper lip, get on with it, sort yourself out! You think at 23, 24 you are an adult, the way should be clear,but you are the same person as you were when you were so optimistically ten, or fourteen, it's not even knowing your dreams don't come true that makes you sad-it's not having any in the first place.
I get a job, temping as a messenger in an engineering company, anything for a bit of cash so I can escape. Carrying a huge chip on my shoulder for what I should be doing with my life compared with what I am doing. I spend days running down to the Libyan embassy to get visas for American oilmen. It's a world of macho men in a hurry and I'm the sensitive girl who scuttles home to write self pitying poetry.
I drop a bundle of papers on the office floor. The copier machine has gone crazy and I'm on the edge of meltdown. 'Do you need a hand?' I hear in a strange accent but one which will become all immersive in the months to come. This is Patsy and then there will be her friend Shelley with the crazy colour pillar box red hair and 1950's floral frocks. There will be lunchtimes down the pub, parties in squats, ill attended gigs where we are the few scattered people dancing to Nick Cave and The Birthday Party, picnics, copious booze and a holiday in Europe where we sunbathe on Amalfi beaches in 1950's skirted swimsuits, clutch each other terrified in Naples from the imagined mafia, go to a secret nightclub in Paris while staying in one of their numerous random friends romantic Paris courtyard squats.
All through this we hold down our boring jobs because there is nothing like a New Zealander to show you how to work and play and not become defined or confined by what you do for a living. It was my breakout from an English world where your value and self worth was measured by how interesting or well paid or high status your work was. Before this huge romantic and adventurous Friendship I had an agonised sense of self from which there seemed no escape.
Out of the airport. I get on the tube. They have gone. There will be no letters. They might as well have gone to the moon for all the communication we will have. But I will not let my deep sorrow return me to where I was before. I will fly the flag of fun and taking a chance. Soon I realise it doesn't matter about the lack of letters. What is the point of letters when over the years they will turn up, return and leave again as randomly and unexpectedly as Dr Who and his tardis and we will pick up the thread of friendship as if it was never broken.
18th Feb 2017 The Coramandel Peninsula
A cabin. Here we all are again, Shelley the birthday girl, Patsy and other New Zealander's who made the London pilgrimage over the years. Jumping in the sea, playing twister, walking and laughing, me screaming at everything in my English cautious way, the Kiwis showing me how life is really done.
My show Charmian Hughes Soixante Mirth (pronounced 'croissant') is about Time, Memory and what it's like to run into your younger self after all these years.
Book tickets at fringe.co.nz