Yes, it’s been so very long. But it was with good reason. I needed the time to recuperate since I was also working full-time. The work was fun, the students were great, the person I worked with directly was a total hero. However, it was everything else that drained me. Instead of calling people out for simply acting in the way they have been trained to act, I will keep that to the emails I sent to its diversity and inclusion service, since the issues I addressed were symptomatic of widespread institutional problems. So? How was your summer? Mine was like this:
When my partner was away at Bloodstock, our friend Roísín came to stay over. Instead of jumping in a field in the 36 degree heat, like he does for some reason, we hid in the coolest room in our house and did a tonne of marking. The fact she was there, encouraging me, meant that I was actually able to beat the deadlines and not crumble into distractibility.
Oh yeah, that. The world’s on fire. I don’t like it. As I’ve written before, I have lost sleep about environmental destruction and the extinction crisis since the very early nineties. It didn’t help. I would have loved to have done a Greta Thunberg, though at the time, I would not have been listened to in the slightest. So proud that she’s been allowed to speak and represent our community. Is she taken seriously? No, but she’s well aware that what we’re demanding is, in a real way, an end to capitalism. We need zero growth and an end to corporate ownership of the means of production. She’s aware of that, so she’s not speaking to the leaders; she’s playing to the gallery. And she’s so goddamn good at it. I’m so proud to live in a time when someone like her will not just be brushed aside or institutionalised, as would have happened not too long ago.
So yeah, it’s been hot. It’s been unbearably hot in fact. The blackberries in Bath were ripe in mid-July, a good two months too early. The first 40 degree heatwave was registered in the UK this summer. There were fires in London. In the meantime, I had to teach in the morning. The day before, the Broadband had gone on the Fritz and I needed to do my marking in cafés, avoiding the heat as best I could. On the day, though, the wifi stopped working half an hour before I was supposed to start teaching. Thanks BT internet. Though, to be fair, they didn’t intend for fibre broadband to be able to cope with climate breakdown. They’re just you’re everyday multinational corporation with blood on their hands.
I had no choice: I had to rush to the café where I’d been the night before. Unfortunately, it was so hot I couldn’t even think. Somehow I taught two lessons and had a few meetings. I was sweating buckets. They had the aircon on, but nobody was coping. I started getting nauseous and couldn’t stand properly. I felt like I was about to faint. I messaged my colleague that I needed to go home.
I had a cold shower and drank tonnes of water. It didn’t help. My partner was worried about me and the fact I didn’t seem to get any better even when lying down. In the end, I had to call my mother, who’s a trained nurse. She said I’d caught heatstroke. Makes sense. I’m going to have to invest in aircon now. Because that’s the world we inherited. Thanks BT Internet.
I needed the next day off. Took it, was in an absolutely vile mood for the entire day. My mood didn’t improve until the weather got less deadly. I actually cried for the world we’re leaving behind to other people and the creatures who would like to live in it if not for us. But, as my partner said, that’s me internalising capitalist realism and imbibing the idea that we as individuals are somehow responsible when we are not. I know that. I told him that very thing. But it didn’t make me any less despairing.
As I said before, he actually enjoys this kind of heat. Because he has a weird sensory profile, like an odd person. I also do – I horrified my in-laws’ live-in Ukrainian refugee by eating the whole lemon slices that came with our drinks. She’s twelve, I needed the vitamin C. I didn’t eat the lemon rind, though, I’m not an animal. Still, it was worth a stressed-out phone call to her patient older sister.
I told him: “Babe. If, at any point after the weather improves, I hear you say: ‘Oh, I do miss the heat…’ I will be forced to murder you.” He has not, thus far. We’re still here, he’s still alive. He’s just one of those people who’s able to do hot yoga and not end up looking like a squished-out sponge.
Anyway, what was I talking about?
Quick question to other autistics: do you get tinnitus when you’re burned out? Or did I get it from my noise-cancelling headphones going bad on me? Let me know.
LOOK OVER THERE!
Yes, I forgot! Have a look at this beautiful art, made by Linkkofish, an incredible autistic artist who is still looking for more commission. He’s also saving money for surgery, so please have your pets, partners, OC or favourite characters immortalised. We’re going to get this one printed and framed!
So that was the beyond part. Let’s go to Edinburgh.
Last week, I went on a real big boy business trip to Edinburgh during the festival fringe. I hadn’t been since 2013. Of course, the first time I came to the UK on my own was during the 2009 Edinburgh Festival. I met my friends Jane and Diane there, who I’m still in contact with, as well as the five 19-year-olds from Esher I shared a dorm room with. I realised that there was a place for me, somewhere. I wasn’t hassled in the streets for being weird. I was able to make friends who liked me for me, not despite who I was. I felt that I could even come out as gay here. I did have some reservations about the kind of gay I could be while doing comedy, but that was a later concern. Being out as autistic was definitely not on the cards for me just yet – too much shame.
I started stand-up that year, in August 2009. Walking around Edinburgh this time pulled me back 13 years, to a me who was shaking with anxiety at the muchness of it all. The smell was still the same. The noise was somehow less intense. I still felt compelled to run everywhere. I remembered the streets and the smells and the drunken nights out and the gigs in front of three exhausted punters. I remember the fabreze at the Cowgate hostel, spritzing lily-of-the-valley every hour on the hour, to try and counter act the unbearable stench of 6 men in a dusty, sweaty dorm. I remember the awful gigs, the occasional brilliant one, the sense of being completely overloaded and loving it. The amazing gigs I did in 2010, after midnight, in an upstairs room, even being asked to host the next night by the MC, who was unwell. The wonderful times flyering for friends’ shows and the joy of seeing punters enjoy themselves because I sold them on the show. The journalism I did in 2011, rushing home to write copy. The drunken laughs, the horrible food, the endless kindness.
I also remember the tears, the despair, the times I talked friends down from suicide attempts. The desperate elation of the 2011 Fringe, when I felt my entire world crumble around me, when I pushed away the last girl who’d ever kiss me, because I was “too fucked up.” I was right. I would be in hospital less than 8 months later. Also, obviously, I was gay, but I was too fucked up to tell her that, too.
I remember less well the final two years I was up, because I was on benzos. I was hugely obese and completely exhausted. I tried to be the person I was before. I couldn’t. My body wouldn’t let me. I did tech work (lights and sound cues) for 4 out of the 5 years. The final year saw me fired from a tech job because I was sleeping on the sofa before the show – they thought I was drunk. I was actually drugged, but I couldn’t really say that. I just took it on the chin and accepted my failure. That last year, I also did a show with Alexander Bennett. I somehow wasn’t as fucking horrible as the amount of drugs I was on should have made me, though I wasn’t far off. I was still not out as autistic, but I was slowly coming out as queer.
Being back at the fringe, 9 years later, and everything’s different with me, but the city remains very much the same. The weather was wonderful: sunny and bright. Very much like that summer, 13 years ago. I saw a boy walking along Leith Walk, eating a hotdog in full view of everyone and not thinking that was weird. I saw posters and flyerers, though the experience was far less overwhelming than before. Granted, I never made it to North Bridge, but the city was significantly more quiet than it had been all those years ago. The pandemic seems to have made an impact on the Fringe, but not as much as the cost of living crisis.
I only saw two shows when I was there: Josie Long at the Monkey Barrel (no idea what it was called before) and The Changeling Girl, from Bristol Drama Society, written and directed by a mentee of mine. My stay was funded by Edinburgh University Press, who I also took to see The Changeling Girl, in a room I remembered seeing theatre in several times over the years. There were ghosts of my past selves about everywhere – and yes, at the start, I was a bit bitter. Half of the shows advertised seemed to be by queer people, even openly neurodivergent acts were starting to do serious numbers. A part of me felt like I’d missed the boat, another felt like shouting: “I was here! I was here every year for 5. Years. And you didn’t want me?”
They would want me now. I spoke about autism and inclusion for Edinburgh University Press and, when I was done, had lunch with some staff at the Edinburgh Larder (another favourite haunt, I remember trying and failing to read Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury there, the day my friend Ben got into university – I was so proud of him, too). I told them what I’ve been thinking about for a while now. When I get Feeling Fast and Slow and Teeming published, I want to do an ‘Audience with’ show. It’ll be quite loose and involve me talking about the books, taking questions and doing “stand-up,” talking about autism and stuff. It’ll be something I can do every day, but without feeling the need to compete in a stand-up comedy field that I don’t feel comfortable with. I won’t have to introduce myself to the audience – something I’ve always struggled with – they can come into my world, not the other way around. It won’t be stand-up, it won’t be a lecture, it will be me telling good stories and talking about stuff I care about. Like this blog, but edited. Y’know, good.
The show will straddle the book and fringe festivals. It will also be a way to practice touring. I want to get a show that’s good enough for me to tour around the UK and elsewhere – I speak quite a few languages, so it’d be a great way to do it. I like touring. Since first touring a theatre show in 2008-09 with De Bloeiende Maagden (link in Dutch), I’ve developed a taste for it. I enjoy the travel, the sense of purpose it gives to my day. I will be able to keep the book sales going, too, since the audience will be coming to see me for and hour/90 minutes and I’ll be able to revise and remake the show every year/two years. It’s sustainable from a business point of view and means I can play arts centres and small theatres where I won’t have to struggle with the sensory unpleasantness of comedy clubs (loud, noisy, bad smells, threats of violence, bad pay etc.). I also won’t have to share the bill with anyone, which is nice for a loner like me. I’ll miss my partner, but if things go really well, I’ll have him along as my emotional support human. I can include him on my tax return, right?
But that’s for a later concern. The Edinburgh Festival had become completely undoable for me financially by my mid-to-late twenties. I pulled out of a 2014 Edinburgh double bill with the comedian and musician Ben Champion, because I couldn’t afford to feed myself. I was put on an interruption of studies that same week. If I’m doing the Edinburgh Fringe/Book festival, I will need to be able to do so in a sustainable way. My health is the most important part of that – I need to be well, sane and happy. That’s also how I’ll be going about writing this book over the coming twelve months: I need to not work myself to the bone, give myself lots of rest and recuperation time. I promise to try and really do that this time.
The talk at Edinburgh University Press went super well. I made friends with a wonderful dog and some wonderful people. I look forward to seeing them again soon.
Right, next week a shorter blog because on the 5th of September, I’m going on holiday! I’ll also be an uncle by this time next week. Aaaahh!! Life does things!
See you next week!