It was enjoyable.
For everyone else.
For me it was an evening for which 'enjoyable' is a pale and watery word. There was, obviously, the pleasure of friends and colleagues and those pickles were fantastic. But. There was a moment when I felt so fulfilled, such a gloriously happy inhabitant of my own life, that, lucky for you - I made a photograph with my heart.
It looks like this:
The front room of a mansion block in Maida Vale: pale teal walls, darker teal carpet with classic and comfortable sofas and arm chairs. The ceiling lights are dimmed.
Connecting doors to a small study are open and wooden chairs are lined up behind the low-backed sofa; half a dozen people stand at the back. Every one faces the fire place in front of which is ANTHONY TONER – Belfast singer/songwriter. Twenty-two people wait..
Seated in a wooden chair, holding a guitar, his hair rock ‘n’ roll long and soft about his collar, he fiddled with a tuner at his feet.
‘It’s very possible this might make you nervous’ he said, adjusting dials as he plucked a string on his guitar. ‘Sitting quietly in front of a man from Northern Ireland while between you is a small, electronic device, wired and activated…’
Anthony explained he had been asked to open the evening because his music is used in MYPC’s hugely successful WeFund campaign – the campaign that continues to succeed and make HOME MOVIES possible (lines are still open) (80% of the target has been reached) (yee-haaa).
The audience, full of goat's cheese and sundried tomatoes on sesame crackers, listened with growing pleasure (you never know what you're going to get in someone's living room) to the incomparably clever lyrics and heartfelt tunes, typified by the opening number, ‘East of Louise’.
I felt everyone relax just the way I relaxed earlier in the afternoon when Anthony breezed in from Belfast, fresh from a gig the night before and leaving in twenty hours to play another. His huge and easy charm, genuine enthusiasm and, let’s face it, distracting good looks are an impossibly winning combination that I defy any sentient being to resist (apparently there is a sitcom in development in Belfast – ‘Everyone Likes Anthony Toner’).
His music and conversation knit us together. I could feel us all thinking ‘Well, this is very simple. And very nice.’ It was Friday night, London was still baring her shoulders and legs to the brazen, second summer (22 degrees at 8pm) and here was someone telling us stories and singing beautifully.
And there was more wine.
If I had been nervous about the first semi-public screening of HOME MOVIES, by the second song – (‘…we’re the people that we’ve always been, so just lie here til the light comes in…’) - I wasn't.
And not because I was suddenly filled with an unshakable confidence that everyone would rise and fist-punch the air to announce this was their favourite short film ever EVER EVER!!! But because I was amongst friends (some I’d just met) who would accept our film in the spirit in which it had been created, the spirit that motivated Anthony’s songs – to move and entertain some people.
Now I was comfortable, I was engaged. What I didn’t know was that I was about to be launched into one of those heightened moments when time and place vanish, where you reach through the insubstantial stuff of molecules and memory to touch some source, some river that’s always flowing and that now and then you notice.
Anthony re-adjusted his guitar and watched the tuner.
‘This next song is the one that Chris and Stephanie have used to promote the film’ he said, glancing up. ‘And I wrote it for Stephanie. She was going through a lot, a rough time, some very big changes in her life – very intense – and I was inspired to write this.’ The guitar was in tune. He settled it in his lap. His hands hovered over the strings as he looked up to assure us ‘And this song fixed everything.’
He played the catchy opening. This was how I’d first heard it – just Anthony and a guitar. And I realised, sitting on the floor of this room, leaning against this sofa, was, achingly weirdly, precisely where I had been sitting when he'd said 'Merry Christmas,' put the CD into the machine and hit ‘play' in December 2008.
On that winter morning it had been over two years since I had left my job, my home and a relationship, swimming, sometimes flailing, in deep waters trying to find the life I knew I was built for: making art, making money, living with people I loved. My mother had written, worried, worried sick, shouldn’t I face reality, shouldn’t I get a job? and in huge frustration I wished I’d never told her the truth. If only I had lied. If only I could film a fake life to send home to her so I would look like a success. So she wouldn’t worry.
Feel the breezes in the leaves above you,
the here and now and the ones who love you…
Finally you find home, and it’s a state of mind.
As the words cascaded out of the speakers, invisible behind the gargantuan Christmas tree Anthony and I had carried home down Elgin Avenue just the night before, I could feel my face tighten and my forehead spasm in what I understand is a hugely unattractive reflex but which I can’t help when I am about to cry from my deepest heart. Tears like water from a hydrant leapt, horizontally, from my eyes. I gasped. Andrea, my dear friend and Anthony’s partner, moved slowly down on the floor beside me and Anthony propped me up on the right. They put their arms about me as I suspect it looked as though I wasn’t going to remain incarnate, and maybe anchoring me to them, and the floor, would keep me breathing.
I hadn’t realised how profoundly I had longed for help – yearned for some huge cosmic billboard lit up announcing ‘You Are Not Fucking Insane!’ And here, in just under four minutes, was every syllable of acknowledgement and affirmation, encouragement and support I could have ever desired.
What you were looking for has finally found you,
The world wants to put its arms around you
It was probably the best Christmas present I had ever received. It was certainly one of the best moments of my life. And here, three years later, I was sitting exactly where I’d first heard that song, surrounded by people who had produced, directed, shot, acted in, sound designed, developed and funded the script – about a woman who films a fake life to send home to her mother. To prove she’s a success.
A wise teacher once said that ‘The standard of success in life isn't the things. It isn't the money or the stuff -- it is absolutely the amount of joy you feel.’
Look at this picture. It was taken that moment Anthony sang. And I want you to note the woman in pink, because she is the most successful woman on the face of the blossoming earth.
(I took a photograph with my heart; more usefully, Chris took this with her phone.)