Louise Ashcroft live at The Function Room

Live at The Function Room, 9 April 2014

Performances by Louise Ashcroft, including:

The Square Circle

A spoken-word performance with police cordon tape as blindfolds and recorded sound of a South London amateur boxing match between each ‘round’ of text.

Round one

You are enraged, because I am deliberately bouncing your new basketball in a brown puddle and as a punishment you are forcing me to tread on all the snails. I have put your contact lenses in the microwave and you have made bespoke itching powder with my crunchy nut cornflakes and added it to all the clothes I'd planned to wear for the party.

Round two

You don’t know it, but I am polluting your cups of tea with small amounts of London clay and fragments of controversial London buildings like Senate House and Centre Point, which I have scraped off using a garlic grater and collected in an envelope. I long to add bits of The Shard but 1. I don't want to hurt you 2. The London Bridge security guard has noticed me and 3. It's impossible to scrape off glass using this technique.

Round three

You are describing to me, in excruciating detail, that dusty, artificial jungle display which is just above the revolving doors in Surrey Quays shopping centre, by the 24-hour Tesco’s.

In response, I am lowering your house price slightly by bribing all your neighbours to hang England flags from their bedroom windows

Round four

I am informing you that the chair you are sitting on has never been washed and that this is true of most chairs in public places, although I admit that it is highly unlikely that you would catch a sexually transmitted disease from it.

In an attempt to reassert yourself, you have carved out breezeblocks and forced me to tape them to my shoes so that I am taller and heavier - you have calculated it so that I experience the exact size and weight of different political leaders throughout history.

Round five

You are making me stare into the floodlights of the Prince Albert memorial and wait for them to turn on at dusk. You are saying something about this moment being the official boundary between day and night.

Later that evening, I am talking you through a catalogue of industrial paints - JCB yellow, John Deere yellow, Caterpillar orange, dark admiralty grey, camouflage beige. inducing synaesthesia by simultaneously making you smell the sweaty residue of the copper coins that I have been clasping in my hands the whole time. For you, this smell most strongly relates to the light blue Pantone of Lewisham council’s branded street signs

Round six

I don't want to knock you out completely, so I am applying the usual 400 lbs of pressure to your temples, but I am doing it one pound at a time over the course of an hour by lightly poking them. This is distracting you from your work.

Frustrated by this, you have dragged me to Piccadilly Circus and are commanding me to painstakingly measure the difference in speed between those passers by who are happy or hopeful and those who are sad or defeated. By drawing a simple graph, I have worked out that the modal average speed difference is twenty-eight metres per kilometre, except when the sadness and defeat are combined with anxiousness, because this anxiousness increases the pace and therefore cancels the difference out.

Round seven

Against your will, I have arranged for you to do work experience at the Millwall reuse and recycle plant, despite your phobia of windowless spaces, and, - in an effort to restrict your leisure time to minimal sensations - I have set all channels on your TV to show BBC Parliament and I've gaffer-taped over the screen, except for a tiny square of pixels in the middle.

I have done this because you have thrown all my possessions into the sea at Margate, making a separate trip for each one to prolong the process.

Round eight

Pulling out all the stops this time, you’ve had me airlifted by window-cleaners to the top of One Canada Square, the tallest tower in Canary Wharf. You have positioned me on the peak of its silver, pyramid-shaped roof so that the red aircraft-warning lights are shining directly into my eyes and so that I have to breathe in the vents of the air conditioning units as they are released into the sky in a cloud of steam. You tell me that, because of the light shining on it, the steam is visible to an old lady in Bermondsey who is staring out of the window of her nineteenth floor apartment at Lupin Point, a high-rise residential block which made local headlines in 2011 when it was set on fire by a lightning storm.

I can’t speak back to you because you have Sellotaped my mouth to the air vents so that I am forced to inhale from them, and you are describing in great detail how the steam being extracted is twenty four hours of the breath of a thousand office workers, and that 317 of these people have serious infectious diseases, one of which is a dormant strain of leprosy which was previously thought to have been eradicated in the UK in the eighteenth century. You are telling me that the air contains high levels of cortisol stress hormone and that this is a natural steroid, which suppresses the immune systems of the weak but makes the strong even stronger.

I am trying to hide the fact that the Sellotape over my mouth is starting to become unstuck because of the steam and I am pretending that I am not now breathing comfortably through the nostril that has been freed. You are shouting at me in an animated way, so that momentarily you lose your footing and almost fall backwards off the tower, 50 floors, 800 feet, onto the reinforced glass shelf that architects have installed to protect street level pedestrians in the event of a suicidal falling body.

You are reminding me that you knew that I was obsessed with this building, this tower because it made me feel both powerful and powerless at the same time, and that you knew I had spent a day pointing my finger up at it with my arm out stretched until it went numb or until I was stopped by one of the wardens. You knew that I hated the fact that the blue and white sign that said ‘polite notice’ was deliberately made to look like it said ‘police notice’ from afar.

You are saying you are aware I have been making more videos about the tower, like the one where I walked to it from Greenwich, with my camera focused on it the whole way so that it grew and grew as I got nearer, until I was right at the bottom of it looking up, videoing my reflection in its mirrored glass wall, by the entrance, on a Sunday, until my camera is covered up by the hand of a middle aged, middle eastern, female security guard who is mouthing ‘no’ through the glass and putting her palm out, telling me to stop filming. You think that I am angry at the tower because it had encouraged me to feel part of its powerfulness from a distance, in an iconic way, but then prevented me getting close to it.

Now you are saying that if I had really wanted to get close up I should be happy now that I am on top of it inhaling the breath of its inhabitants as my own. You thought I’d like that idea because you knew that I liked that thing that people say about the water cycle, when they say that your cup of tea once passed through the kidneys of Henry the eighth, or something like that.

You are mocking me about the excitement I had felt when I had walked past the ice rink in Canada Square park and found a security access card belonging to a staff member from the tower, who must have dropped it. I had picked the card up with the initial intention of returning it to the reception desk as an alibi to enter the tower, but in the end I had kept it and researched its owner, convincing myself that this was so that I might post it back to him like any good citizen, although I knew it was really just so that I could find out more about him and imagine his life so that it would make life inside the tower seem more real, more human.

The card had a Citi Bank logo on it and the name Martin Shipman, written in a bland typeface a bit like Andale Mono or Arial Unicode. Below the text was a photograph of a grey haired, middle aged man with glasses and a sheepish, uncomfortable half-smile which, when we looked it up in an online 'expressions index', was described as communicating the feeling 'back to the drawing board’. Is 'back to the drawing board' an emotion?, I asked.

We thought it looked more like a disappointed smile, politely requesting that we respect logic and rules.

Some hours later, when we were down on the ground again, Martin Shipman would become the thing that united us.

‘He is a lead software architect at Citi Bank, before that he worked for HSBC and Credit Suisse,’ you said, staring at the laptop screen. ‘He has a 2:1 in maths and computer science from the Open University’, I replied.

You were happy with me when I found out that Shipman lives in a small village called East Barming in Kent and we wanted to visit the village and eat at ‘The Bull’, ‘a fine, traditional pub’ at grid reference TQ7254.

We imagined Martin Shipman’s family and his daily dog walk.

We knew that it was surprisingly convenient for him to take the 7.32am train from Barming station to London Victoria before changing from district to jubilee lines at Westminster and that if he missed that one there would always be the 7.50am train.

Martin Shipman, whose name, to our delight, implied he had sailing heritage, became our navigator. He was more an idea to us than a real person - a way of living and finding meaning, a way of mediating the power struggle between us. It was no longer about the man who'd lost the card, his name just came to embody a concept that we'd needed all along. Loving him and hating him brought us together

Once, at the height of our research, I had typed the words 'Martin shipman's dog' into Google, on a whim, but I'd made a typing error and accidentally wrote 'martin shipman is god', instead. It seemed very poignant to me at the time, like a message from the cosmos, but I didn't believe in God as much as I believed in typing errors.

It had obviously been playing on your mind as well, because, one day, walking down the Old Kent Road, while discussing our mutual appreciation of those London roads that colloquially feature the word ‘the’, you cut me off mid sentence and exclaimed.

He isn't God, you know, he's just the referee!


DING DING DING (bell sounds)

see also 10 May 2014
see also 21 June 2014
about Louise Ashcroft