Gemma Paintin, Co-artistic Director of Action Hero, gives us a flavour for the upcoming Natural Selection performance with an account of a not-very-ordinary invitation to visit Jim (he’s the one pictured right, Rob is on his left with the pants on his head).
“You should visit! It’ll be cool! But it’s not like a normal house… just so you know.”
Growing up myself in a very ordinary suburban house, I couldn’t really imagine what this meant.
“Like, rural? You live in the countryside?”
“Yeah, but it’s not what you think”
He was right. It was a million miles away from what I thought, and a million miles away from lots of other stuff too. Like roads. Or other people. Or shops. I’d never met anyone who lived like this- electricity from a (very unreliable) generator, hot water and heating from the fire, bottled gas and the whole family in a teeny tiny stone cottage (I use that word loosely) which sheep used to live in. It was August, frogs sung at night, the greenery was overwhelming and you never saw another living soul. It was romantic, crazy, wonderful.
I visited again in winter. The thermometer by the door read minus 20 Celsius and there seemed to be a lot of ‘outside-y’ stuff inside. Like snow. And ice. The pipes burst and I was cold all the time. The water was a funny colour and there was never enough to have a bath. The generator broke. Running the house was a full time job, things had to get done in order for the basics to function. There was no way I was up to it, and I was happy to go back to my parents warm, cosy carpeted house where the heating just came on without me knowing how, and you didn’t have to turn the fridge off overnight.
Living there seemed to me to be a Sisyphean task – nothing was ever finished, you could never relax – it took such enormous effort just to survive. It was sort of like camping, but all the time. But Jim and his brother Rob loved it, the whole family did. This huge familial effort in the middle of nowhere, making a life together in a sheep shed. It was kind of incredible.
Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be working with Jim and Rob as we prepare for Natural Selection. They’ll walk from Newcastle to Kielder, past that house. It’ll take them 5 days, and on the way they’ll talk, record conversations and take photographs and videos of the Northumberland landscape which is so familiar to them. When they arrive at Kielder, they’ll tell the story of growing up in that place, of what it means to survive in the woods and in the world. We’ll build a campfire and pitch our tents and we’d love you to join us.
You can follow Jim & Rob’s journey in real time via GPS on our tumblr, and by videos and audio that’ll be posted daily during the walk.