John Yates ‘Hidden City Writer in Residence’ – Blog & Performance Text

Blog – by John Yates, Elsie Briggs House

‘I live in Marlborough but over the years I’ve become more and more attracted to Bristol. The city has so much going on in the arts. Pleased to be appointed Hidden City writer-in-residence for Elsie Briggs House on Doors Open Day.

In Stokes Croft on the previous day for Part Exchange’s multi-disciplinary Melting Pot session at Jamaica Street studios. Rather than returning home for the night, it makes sense to stay over in Bristol. Chris, the Elsie Briggs House warden has offered me one of their spare rooms.

After Friday’s Jamaica Street session I walk the streets of Bristol alone. A strange city at night. I get lost and start to panic but at last I find the bus to Westbury-on-Trym. Church Road is a peaceful street a minute’s walk off Westbury’s High Street. A warm welcome from Chris. I relax and he shows me to my room. The house has a “presence”, he says. He suggests I try to remember my dreams that night. I explain I can never catch them.

It’s a beautiful, spacious room. Ancient exposed beams and a window seat overlooking the garden. It’s dark as I lie on the bed, close my eyes, and … there is a presence. For six hundred years this timber and this stone have guarded human souls. I feel safe and comfortable. I relax.

{… I can see the flamingo’s legs, but not its body … why not? Because I’m swimming under water in a shallow pool … and its body is above the surface… }

It’s morning. There was more. I’m sure there was more but it’s out of reach.

It rained overnight. The garden is wet. After breakfast, people start arriving. So many. This house has so many friends. And it’s making new ones. I love talking to them. Cakes appear and disappear. Tea is drunk. This is a good place. Rachel arrives to check how her writer is doing. I go through my planned presentation. An awkward moment. I have strayed from the brief. Tactfully and she reminds me of my duties. My performance is at 3:30pm. Two pieces: today’s and the old one from the convent chapel.

I take pen and notebook to the prayer hut to write. Everybody wants to visit the prayer hut. I go to the guest-room. Everybody wants to visit the guest-room. Words appear, slowly at first. Then … it’s time. I set up the camera in the Quiet Room at 3:15pm and go away to rehearse. Back at 3:25pm and the camera has stopped working. Can’t believe it. Then I realise it’s gone into sleep mode to conserve power. 3:30 and I’m ready.

The Quiet Room is a fine room. It has a beautiful fireplace with a huge stone lintel. I have an audience. I read them my new piece. Emotion catches me unaware and I hope it doesn’t mar my performance. I introduce the chapel piece and read it. Again, I have to control the emotion. The audience are kind. I feel it was an honest performance. The house merits nothing less’.


Performance Text – by John Yates, Elsie Briggs House

(Click here to watch the live performance)

Elsie Briggs House

To journey alone is a fearful thing.

They watch over the shaman of the stones as he takes the measure.

They guard his body as his spirit flies in the shadows.

He returns with news of the animals.

The tribe will survive another winter, and another.

To journey alone is a fearful thing.

What lurks in the city?

Who hides in the unknown streets?

Will my journey end?

“Welcome!” says the house, “I will shelter you.

See my timber, feel my stone, read my story. Welcome!”

To journey alone is a fearful thing.

Between the world and the otherworld are the liminal places,

The dangerous places, where the spirit leaves the body.

In this time, who will guard me?

“I will,” says the house. “I will hold you safe. I’ve been doing it for years.”

Under the shallow water I see the legs of the wading bird. Is it a flamingo?

But the water clouds. I can’t get through.

I return empty to the world.

“It’s alright,” says the house.

“Come back another time. I’ll still be here.”


St Mary’s Chapel – Freeland 

In this place,

I listen, never speak,

Sift the stream looking for gold,

A chance to steal blood.

In this place,

I have heard.

Felt the flow,

Of energy, life and tears.

In this place,

I have breathed,

The exhalation of release.

And flown in air.

In this place,

I have been opened up,

Power has flowed through me,

And I have been blessed.

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