It's the seventh week of 2019. Which is also, coincidentally, the seventh week of the theatre marathon. And right now, I have more theatres than days checked off on the calendar. I should by rights be feeling pretty proud of myself. I'm doing well. Really well.
I'm about a fifth of the way through my list, and we haven't even got to the end of month two. I'm ahead of schedule.
But I don't.
If anything, I'm dogged by the constant thought that I need to up my game. Fit in more theatres.
Which is ridiculous, I know.
But here's the thing: the marathon keeps on getting longer.
Only last week @weez sent me a tweet with the name of a theatre I had never even heard of before. Which I am incredibly grateful for, don't get me wrong. I'd rather find out now than on 31st December.
But every time I get a new theatre to add to the list, I end up feeling like I am yet another step behind. Or another theatre behind, rather.
I didn't help that the show I had been planning to see on Friday night had gone and cancelled. A one-night performance at a venue that, shall we say, doesn't have the fullest of programmes.
It was a serious blow.
It was all starting to feel like it was getting away from me.
I had to do something. Knock a whole pile of venues down in one go. Help regain some control of this damn mess.
So, on Saturday, I was going to go full festival mode and head back to the Vaults to hit up four shows in one day.
Because that is how sensible people react when they are only a sixth of the way through a year-long challenge. Especially when they are feeling rougher than an emery board. They panic, choke down enough cough syrup to treat a tuberculosis ward, and prepare to have their emotions pulverised by seven hours of theatre, finishing with a riot.
Yup, I was going to that Belarus Free Theatre immersive thing. Well, it's not actually Belarus Free Theatre. But it has people from Belarus Free Theatre connected to it. And I wouldn't be partaking in the immersive elements. But still. It was my last show of the day. At 9pm. And I'm old. And sick. I should definitely be in bed at 9pm on a Saturday night. Not watching other people mess around pretending to be revolutionaries.
Still, I figured I would worry about that once I got to it.
It was going to be a long day. No point working myself up about these things too early.
When I got to the Vaults, I headed through the main door. I was pretty excited by that. I hadn't as yet managed to see a show at any of the theaters that lay beyond. Unit 9 was all the way down the other end of the tunnel, the Studio was accessed through a small door just to the right of the main one, while Seance was housed in a van parked up on Lower Marsh Steet.
My hopes were soon dashed when an usher, no doubt sensing my pre-paid anxiety plan, asked what show I was going to see.
"Ah," he said, grabbing a small map from the box office counter. "You need to go back outside, all the way to the end of the tunnel, turn left and then left again. You'll be there in thirty seconds. And there's a Greggs right on the corner."
I'm not entirely sure whether he mentioned that last bit as a landmark, or if he thought I was in need of a good vegan sausage roll. Both, quite possibly.
I did what he said. Walked through the tunnel to the end of Leake Street, turned left, and turned left again, and ended up in Granby Place. No sign of a theatre, and more importantly, no sign of a Greggs either. That wasn't right. I turned around and headed back. Leake Street. Turn left. Ignore Granby Place. Walk on, keeping an eye on any openings on the left and... yup, there it was. Greggs on the corner of Launcelot Street. My knight in pasty armour.
And further down there was a metal gate, small queue, and the now familiar sight of the pink-jacketed usher.
I'd made it.
I joined the queue.
"Can you open your bag," the pink-jacket on queue duty asked the man at the head of it. Hey duly unzipped it and pink-jacket rummaged around inside. "You can't take that in," she said, pulling out a bottle of water. "You can tip it out and fill it again inside."
I watched in horror as the man poured out his water onto the pavement. Oh no. I definitely didn't want to empty out my own water bottle. Not with my nice cold water from the fridge at home. Who knew what the water at the Vaults was like. Or if it was even properly cold.
I unzipped my bag and checked to see that my own bottle was well hidden.
I had done good work that morning. My bottle was utterly invisible, under cover of my umbrella, book, makeup bag, purse, and all the rest of it.
As I reached the front of the line, I presented my own bag for inspection.
Pink-jacket, reached into my bag and pulled aside the book. I held my breath.
"That's fine," she said, waving me through.
I breathed again, and with the smug smugness of a smug person who has never yet had a bottle confiscated at the theatre, I headed in.
"Name?" asked the woman on box office.
I gave it.
She checked it against the list, and nodded to herself. "You've got a restricted view ticket, but I'm just going to upgrade you so that you're an Observer now."
I stared at her.
That wasn't right. What did she mean Observer ticket? There were only Observer tickets for the riot show. Not this one. Unless this was the riot show. Wait. No. That was this show? The one I was at now? I thought I'd be doing that in the middle in the night.
"I need to stamp your hand," she said slowly, holding the stamp out ready.
Shit. I wasn't prepared.
"Oh, right," I managed at last, presenting her with my hand.
Too late I realised that I should probably have thanked her for the upgrade.
Shit. It was too late. I'd already found myself into another queue. My third one of the afternoon.
An usher stepped out and raised his voice over the din of people chatting and drinking. "If you are an Observer with a green stamp, you can go straight in and take your drink, bag, and coats. If you are a Protester or a Front Line Protester with a blue or purple stamp you cannot take anything in."
I clutched my bag, with its secret water bottle.
I had made the right decision.
The Forge, like all the other Vault venues, is housed within a railway tunnel. For Counting Sheep two banks of seating had been set up at both end. And in the middle - a long table with bench seats either side. If you squinted, you could almost make pretend that it was the Grand Hall at Hogwarts.
I ignored the benches. They were for the Protesters (Front Line and... Rear Protesters, I guess). As an Observer, I had access to the real seating at the ends, protected from the action going on in the middle by a metal barrier.
The show began with a short speech, and a bowl of borsht.
Enamel crockery was piled up at one end of the table alongside a matching jug of spoons, with instructions to take one of each and pass them down.
Next came steaming pots of the red soup and tiny cups of a white topping.
"This is sour cream," explained one of the cast members as he started handing out the cups.
Wooden trays of bread followed, then bottles of vodka.
The smell of the borst made its way to the Observer's carrel.
My stomach gurgled in anticipation of a meal not meant for me.
Only Protesters get to eat.
But then, someone came over with a tray. And then another.