On Friday night, I can’t sleep. My mind swirls from thought to thought, idea to idea, impression to impression. My dinner was a large glass of red wine in the Waterfront Museum just before the performance of STOLEN and a coffee and two Welsh cakes bought in the leisure centre opposite in the interval. My room in the Town House annex of Morgan’s Hotel has regency sash windows and a space-age bathroom with a shower designed for double occupancy. I’m staying here alone. As I walked from the station, Swansea shocked me with its deprivation then surprised me with its pockets of beauty and friendliness. It’s colder than I expected and then warmer too.
A recurring image in Daniel Morden’s performance is the missing woman and the red thread that will bring her home. I’m missing from my everyday life but no one’s looking for me. I am here following the red thread of memory back through my life and intention forwards through the power of story.
Re-Live opened their presentation with images of Romanian orphanages and the red thread led me back thirty years to the time when Europe changed for ever. Those events are now history and for my younger friends and relatives, I’m a story-keeper of what it was like to cross the border into Eastern Europe.
The politicians speaking on Friday morning took me back twenty years to when I first began to work in Arts for Health – their same emphatic endorsement of the power of this work, the same articulated need for us to convince the powers-that-be, the purse-string-holders. The red thread here is hard to see in the giant weave of political narratives, a stories with no progression that will be told for decades to come.
More interesting for me were the veterans discovering their voices, a fairy tale of the wizard king with eagles and parrots, the drama of a medical error told from ten different angles where you could hear a pin drop, the talk over coffee and lunch with people from distant countries, the rendition of Shenandoah by Live Music Now’s soprano so three of us stopped dead in our tracks, eyes filling with tears. Dan Yashinsky made us laugh and then my heart stopped again seeing the tiny white feather float from his parka onto the dying man’s hospital bed, the red thread of loss tugging at its strings.
Most of the sessions I attended were in the Reading Room, once Swansea’s Reference Library, an architectural masterpiece, turning us into tiny creatures, talking and telling beneath the petals of a vast glass flower, surrounded by shelves of uniform books that turned out to be empty covers. The red thread takes me back to childhood where libraries and reading were where I lost and found myself. What stories should we include in those empty books?
Lying awake, following the red threads of this amazing – in both senses of the word - conference, I’m haunted by the gaze of the young mining trainee looking straight to camera in a giant blown-up photograph in the museum. He could be alive now, an elderly man. He might be one of the daytime drinkers in the dispiriting Kings Arms Tavern next to the Volcano Theatre? Or the man moving slowly on sticks who smiled at me in the Quadrant Shopping Centre where I went looking for the heart of the city? Perhaps he was able to go to evening classes for the workers and became a city elder making use of the spectacular Reference Library and advocating arts for health. Or perhaps he changed himself into an eagle to retrieve a lost daughter?
In the ravelled ball of the red thread of story, it’s all true.