NYWF15 – Sunday

Still from video by Ash Berdebes.
The sun is very, very bright on Sunday morning and I feel much more awake than I should considering how much sleep I’ve had. 
Most of the others are setting up for the zine fair. On my way, I go to Scotty’s and order ten chip butties.
“Ten?!” the woman behind the counter asks.
“Ten.”
“Was that ten?” yells a man from somewhere inside.
“Ten,” I say.
“Would you like a receipt for that?” the lady asks.
“Yes please,” I reply, “Why would I be buying ten chip butties except for the kind of reason that needs a receipt.”
When the chip butties are ready she asks if I would like a box to carry them in. The staff of Scotties continue to be perplexed by my order and I want to tell them that I need all these chip butties to feed severely sleep deprived and hungover arts administrators but I’m too tired for that conversation. So I thank them for the box and walk to the foreshore.

At zine fair I enjoy being the Chip Butty Santa, distributing delicious sandwiches to all the boys and girls. I sit in an armchair (which Lex has conjured) and eat a chip butty and it is good.
Rachel and I walk across to the Gun Club to watch Across the Ditch. The room is quite empty and basically everyone who is there is from New Zealand which seems a bit counterintuitive. I have long maintained that some of the best NYWF panels are the ones that almost no one goes to. There’s a strange magic in this, these almost secret moments that only a few people are privy to. I know I should be sad that such great panels are so badly attended but the fact we are able to have sessions like this (since we don’t rely on ticket sales or attendance numbers) is such an intrinsic part of the magic of NYWF.
I go to the zine fair and make myself buy some zines. I do not buy zines in my usual casual, contemplative way. I buy them with the purpose and determination of someone on a very tight schedule. At one stall I pick up a tiny handmade statue of a frog. The lady at the stall asks me if I’d like it. “Yes,” I reply, “Yes I would.” I handover my $4 and feel so free for impulse buying such an amazing tiny frog.

When I can’t squeeze another moment out of my schedule (and I have spent every last dollar in my wallet) we head toward my brother’s car. In reality we should have left much earlier than this, but did I mention all the cool stuff I had to buy? We walk much, much too far to get to the car. It is very hot. We drive to the museum and it’s still hot and we’re running later than I wanted to. I feel hot and stressed and suddenly quite tired.
The first thing I notice when we get to the museum is how air conditioned it is. I immediately decide all the effort I put into this event was worth it for the air con. Immediately I feel much less hot and stressed and (not for the first time) incredibly grateful for the museum and its staff who have been so fantastic.
Newcastle Story is one of the events I have treasured. There was so many times when I thought it wasn’t going to come off, that everything would fall apart. This event endured more minor disasters than all the other events I worked on combined.  As if all the hassle needs one final hurrah, the AV (despite our best efforts) doesn’t work. But the crowd is lovely and I keep having to put out more chairs and people have even wandered in from the museum to have a look which is just the best.

Photo by Carissa Tan

It is one of my favourite events all weekend. Maybe it’s all the minor disasters (the AV does eventually kick in). Maybe it’s the combination of readers (most of whom have never done a reading like this before and all of whom I am extremely proud of). In most cases I relish the fleeting nature of our events, which exist so briefly and then are gone. But for once I wish I could go back and watch Newcastle Story again, to appreciate it more fully when I am a little less hot and stressed and tired.
A fairly large part of me wants to rush over to another event as soon as we leave the museum but I ultimately decide that I should spend the next hour or two getting chips. Sometimes chips are important. We end up back outside Scotties. We buy a lot of chips. Lying on Beth’s giant picnic rug under some palm tress, I eat chips with some of my favourite people in the world. I think about how stressed I was on Sunday at last year’s festival. I think about how hopeless I felt a year ago, how out of control my life seemed. I think about how impossible it would have seemed to spend an hour eating chips in the shade. I think about these people, who I love so dearly and the magic of NYWF which allows us to be all in one place, under a palm tree, eating chips. I think about how much I love NYWF. I think about how this year is maybe my favourite NYWF ever.

Photo by Lizzy

Eventually we wander over to the Royal Exchange (which is, once again, full to bursting) and I install myself on some floor for News Vs. Satire. This was another event I loved in the face of a lot of all obstacles. Namely that no one else really understood the concept and I just had to insist over and over again that it was definitely a good idea. It was a good idea. It is very funny and I am so cosy squashed in the beanbags, between more people that I love.
Afterwards, I go down the hill for Facty Fact. I call Bill because the AV is… not as ready as we’d hoped and he says “I’m right outside and I probably have exactly what you need”. Bill and Dave (who are now quite good friends, having bonded over complicated AV two years in a row) spend the next hour or so fighting with a series of extremely uncooperative microphones. I get them drinks and stand where they tell me to so we can test the mics. The event starts late but the bar is open and no one seems to mind.
Finally, all microphones are functional and I settle into a lounge. From nowhere Alan brings me a large cheese pizza which he refuses to let me pay for. I eat a large cheese pizza, sitting on a couch and watching one of my favourite comedy shows featuring quests I programmed myself. It is a kind of “best of” Facty Fact and as a long term Facty Fact devotee (I’ve been to every version of the show that Dave has done) I appreciate this a lot. During an argument about whether a horse is sitting, standing, squatting or maybe not actually a horse at all (you probably had to be there), I laugh until I can barely breathe and tears are streaming down my face. Tom Ballard gets very mad at Dave when he doesn’t get any points for misidentifying the horse as a dog.

Photo by Bri Lee

Instead of staying for the next event, Alex, Lauretta, Dave and I go back to the Air B&B. We sit in the dark courtyard and record an episode of Lauretta’s podcast – Dog Chat. There are actual dogs (borrowed from next door) and we keep having to wave our arms wildly to stop the sensor light switching off. I’ve spent so much of the weekend being overwhelmed that it’s as though I have lost the capacity and it somehow seems almost normal that the four of us should be sitting in a dark courtyard recording a podcast about dogs. It’s only in retrospect that I realise how very not-normal Past Alex would find this situation. Past Alex would have a had very hard time with this whole weekend.
The final Late Night Reading is themed “Breakups and Breakdowns”. The theme was partly inspired by my own breakdown which happened almost exactly a year ago, behind the curtain before the final Late Night Reading of 2014. It wasn’t intentional that this was the theme which was programmed exactly a year later. It’s just a coincidence. Another tiny sign to remind me how far my life, and my mental health, has come in the last twelve months.
At the end of the reading, all the staff stand up to say goodbye. I almost cry, talking about how much this festival means. Everyone cheers our little team, who have held this festival (and each other) together for the last two years. As the room clears, we all stand on stage, huddled in a circle clutching tightly to each other. Over the next few months there will be more goodbyes, more endings, more small moments as we farewell this job. But this moment, when we are all so close together, is an important one.

Still from video by Ash Berdebes

We go to the baths. Directed by Ash, we line up along the wooden bridge down the middle of the pool. The large mess of people on the concrete steps, rising opposite us, begin to count down. Our jumping, like their counting, is slightly less synchronised than we’d planned.
Despite spending many, many hours at these baths late at night, this is the first time I have ever swum in them under the cover of darkness. It’s important, cathartic. This swim is washing away an awful lot of things. I float on my back and look at the stars and I feel so profoundly at peace. Someone brings beers and I drink one, the rim of the bottle salty from the water that keeps sloshing over it.

Still from video by Ash Berdebes

Someone starts a whirlpool. We kick ourselves around the pool in a circle, faster, faster. Despite all logic, this is somehow effective and soon the whole mass of us are being swept around in a gyrating, messy loop. More than once, my feet lift off the ground completely and I feel myself being swept along by the current we created. There is a sing-along, then a short sermon. I imagine someone arriving at this moment, walking into the baths at two in the morning to discover a hoard of cheerfully exhausted young people, singing as they spin in a circle in the black water.
A blood moon rises over the lighthouse. Eventually, the beer runs out and we get cold. I climb out of the baths and wrap myself in a towel. Sophie and Seb and I sit on the edge of the concrete barricade, our legs dangling into the emptiness. We watch the moon shimmering over the sea. Nearby Beth and Casey and Lauretta and Alex shout the word PARKOUR over and over. Despite this, it is peaceful.
After the festival, several people ask me what my favourite part of it was. I reply that it was probably the baths on Sunday night. At least one person is very surprised by this. I can understand how odd it must seem when, having programmed four days of events, for my favourite part of the festival to be swimming in the ocean at 2am. But that’s NYWF for you.
I’m not going to write a farewell blog. I could write thousands and thousands of words about what this festival means to me and how much I will treasure my time working on it. Being a Co-Director of NYWF was literally a dream come true. I could not have asked for a better team to run this festival with. It has been magical. But I am ready for it to be over. I’m ready to pass it on and to see what the next batch of people make out of this ridiculous, beautiful thing. 
Photo by Ash Berdebes
Check out more great stuff including a daily comic by Suus, on the NYWF Press Room
You can support NYWF via Patreon.
This year’s NYWF wrap-up video is available here.

Further reading

December – home

I spent the first minutes of 2018 on the beach. I’ve never actually spent New Year