I write to you from Ayr, beside the river. I moved here just a week or so before our world changed. Actually. That’s inaccurate. The world had already changed. We just didn’t know it yet.
I know, weird, right? I’m writing to you from Ayr. I thought I’d always be an Edinburgh lass too, but times change… scenes change, priorities shift.
I grew up not far from here, and Ayr was the nearest big town. The old music shop I used to work in is now a wedding shop, closed for now, with dresses possibly ordered and paid for, for events that won’t take place for a while. I now live overlooking a river I used to take a 30 minute bus ride to on school days, to skive off, walk its banks, and read and write. I left Ayrshire for Edina in 1999. So much has changed in the town and yet, I can feel ghosts of myself walking around...
I’ve got one of your bill posters framed on my wall by my desk, by the way, and one of Chris’s photos of our first Variety Night line-ups in the spare room too. Man, we all got pretty dolled up didn’t we? That final dance we did before the final bow - hah! We’d all been so darn nervous. For a lot of us, that was the grandest venue we’d ever performed in. What ye like. Thanks for making us all so welcome!
From my wee balcony, I can see the first theatre I performed in with Borderline Youth Theatre. As a really shy 12 year old who adored the theatre and dance, my Mum felt I needed a community of young folk to help bring me out of my shell, and I wasn’t getting it at school: too shy, too quiet, too.... weird. It worked - clever lady. Taught me so much that youth theatre. How to socialise, how to memorise, how to play with words and character, and that ‘weirdos’ could be communities too, that the jostle and bully of school life wasn’t all life. It also taught me that stage-fright, which I had once and will never forget, is something you can survive, if folks have yer back. What happened was: I was one of three Alices in Alice in Wonderland: The Musical (there was one wee Alice, one medium Alice, one big Alice - I was the latter) and I had one solo verse to sing for the finale song. I croaked. Had to get saved by the chorus, who just jumped in and sang my part, as one of them squeezed my hand throughout. We got it done - the show went on. Wee blips smoothed out. I’ve reconnected with some of my old youth theatre friends since the lockdown - we’ve got a big group chat going on. We’re going to meet up when this is over. That’s nice, isn’t it? It’s been… gosh…. Twenty years or more since I last saw most of them. Since we stood on that stage, singing that chorus, it’s been twenty five...
Now, that stage in an abandoned church hasn’t been tread on for years, though there’s a local initiative that’s trying to spark it back to life: it was a cracking venue. I’d like to be part of that, eventually. Helping to build something new, find new ways of living and creating, was one of the reasons for my leaving my flat just up the road from you… And now there’s not much, really, I can do but write. That’s ok, though! Hecks, in fact - whisper it - some of this is quite nice. But gosh, I miss you - and all yer brothers and sisters. You are where so many of us found our purpose.
Ocht, pal, that abandonment is not going to happen to you, I know it isn’t, look at all these letters, and all of the brilliant folk who’re ensuring your name still burns bright, even though you are feeling - and are - so empty now. If you were a character, they always said you were ‘the Old Lady of Grindlay Street’, but you’ve got far more love than older women often get… Far more attention too, and you kick butt alongside the young team! Mind, after the first time I brought along the variety troupe, and Joyce McMillan’s coverage had the headline, ‘Who Let This Lot In?’ Hah! True though. Never thought your grandness was something someone like me would ever see. And what brilliant fun we had, in your back-stage and front and centre. A performance poet with a dressing room? Ocht, what a change! I was pretty intimidated by ye, I cannae lie. But older women get that a lot too, don’t they? Intimidating. Stand-offish. Usually means: knows her own mind.
And you’re going to spend this time in contemplation, lady, before the chorus of all of us support you back to live. In the meantime, a slow gin, perhaps, a quiet dance as ghosts of your various characters flit around your wings, and prop up your silent bar. We’ll all see you again, and we’ll get ye dancing. We’ll fill you with folks of all stripes, and all characters, and you’ll get scrubbed up for another season. So, until then, lady, grand lady, you take care.
All my love, from the banks of Ayr.