Home again home again again

Yesterday I was looking at the edges of the box. Today I’ve been closing the lid. I guess we go in cycles. Days like today serve a useful purpose in a week more ordinary. I plugged in my battery by switching off my communication. I’ve barely spoken to a soul, and even the messages I’ve sent have been terse and for communication purposes only. Even Hex only got a little bit of hands on time. He’s spent most of his day literally under a rock. My rock is more figurative. But I’ve been under it.

In the normal scheme of things this would be the winding back before the springing forth. There’s the concern. I’ve been instinctively preparing myself all day for some leap into another unfamiliar social or work situation. A temporary office or a rehearsal room or a film set or the party of a company where I’m the entertainment, or I’m the award ceremony or I’m running an exam with 150 people or I’m going to a party with people I don’t know or a date or an audition… None of these. I’m winding back in order to wind back. It feels fine today but tomorrow I’ll have a load of pent up social energy and nothing to spend it on. I’m in my bath again with a glass of red wine again winding down again after another day at home.

I’m not a creature of habit. My habit is basically the absence of habit. Home is a recharging station for the many different shapes of world out there. I’m fully recharged now. No world is possible. So I’m at home again tomorrow. And the next day. And the next day.

And so are we all, the world over. Winding back but unable to spring. Problem is, like my old clockwork mice, if you wind back too hard they stop working altogether. I need to spring.

There’s stuff in the diary tomorrow. That’s something at least. Online teaching, information to learn, a rehearsal. It feels like an ordinary weekday of sorts but for the fact that the three different points of focus will all take place in the same physical location, in front of my sedentary laptop in my living room. That’s the thing I’m sure many of us are beginning to struggle with.

I can’t work more than a few days in an office without going mental, but that’s mostly to do with insincerity and unnecessary miniature demonstrations of power. It also doesn’t help that if I can’t move while I’m thinking I say things out loud instead. In zoom meetings I frequently have to mute my microphone, or switch off my screen as I get up and walk around the room and mumble things to myself. Innocuous things as often as not. But out loud and to nobody in particular.

But I’ll be banging around my living room like a pinball tomorrow. I think we are still allowed exercise outside, in London. Perhaps I should hit the streets in the morning and have an actual run. But I literally haven’t opened my door for two days. If I hold out then eventually I’ll know I’m clear…

I’ve been avoiding Battersea Park. The one time I went there it was like going to Oxford Street in the January sales. In terms of maintaining distance between people it was harder in the park than on any road between my flat and the park. Oh how I wish they’d kept Chelsea Physic Garden open. A members’ only garden would be just the ticket right now in the absence of a garden of my own…

I should get more plants. But how?

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Enforced hibernation

When I’ve thought about the possibility of an outbreak of this proportion I’ve always imagined I’d get myself to The Isle of Man. As it happens I’m still here, in Central London. It’s not the right place to be in a crisis. If society is gonna collapse I’m either gonna burn or be burnt, and living as I do in Chelsea the smart money’s on the latter.

In my zoom rehearsal today we were talking about comparative quarantine in the various places people have ended up. In parts of Spain you get informed on if you make unnecessary journeys. The police are enforcing lockdown hard. In parts of Ireland you aren’t allowed to go more than 2km from your home, and you might get stopped and asked what you’re doing if you’re moving about at all.

Here in London, the security and hygiene in shops is through the roof, but the disaffected are using the atmosphere of fear to deliberately sneeze on people, and police are being kept very busy while being spat on. Because the streets are so empty, police presence is much more noticeable. But they aren’t yet getting involved despite often being the only traffic on the roads.

The next week is likely to be a changing time in London as the number of people presenting symptoms starts to skyrocket. Right now we are largely complacent still although most of us know a few people who have been on the whole 12 day rollercoaster. It would be lovely to think that we are over the worst of it. But I fear that it’s yet to come and then some.

The chancellor has thrown together measures that, so long as this doesn’t last too long, will prop up the economy. Even the self-employed have had a bone thrown our way. For a long time we were worried we’d be thrown to the dogs. It’s never going to be perfect, but for now there’s no rioting. There’s no looting. It feels lighter than dark. We are all still bemused, going into hibernation, slightly surprised this is all happening.

Many of us are trying to find ways to bring this to the positive. Enrolling in online courses and reading that book or meditating or putting your poems up on YouTube. Long may that continue even as we get used to the new structure, or lack of it.

It doesn’t much feel like the weekend here. I’ve been doing a bit of basic cleaning and changed my sheets, but I’m feeling a little run down and coldy so I’m going to get an early bed with a hot water bottle. Today’s the first day that I literally haven’t left the house. Just video conferencing, eating and thinking about The Tempest.

When this is all over it’ll be like when Winnie the Pooh eats so much food at Rabbit’s house that he gets stuck trying to get out. Maybe I should get into one of those online workout classes that many of my good friends are starting to schedule as we move everything online. Meantime I’m getting in the bath with a whisky lemsip.

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Lack of clarity

I try to think about the extent of the business with this virus and it makes my head hurt. The amount of work that has stopped. The way in which, in London, this quarantine situation has become normalised already. There’s tape on the floor of the shop, telling us where we stand. Most people are in masks. We keep distance from each other. And yet we talk. I’ve had more conversations with strangers than usual, even just in the corridors of my block.

I guess it’s because we are all sharing this unusual circumstance – pretty much worldwide. Everybody is at home most of the time. We are adopting new technological means to play with each other remotely even as we are all getting either starved of contact or fed up of each other. Part of me is glad to be alone here. Although it does engender bad habits. I had a load of early “zoom” meetings from two companies both of whom are using the software to do something Shakespearean. I’m starting to think about the new mediums as opportunities. Zoom is a good bit of software for talking in large groups, but how do we use it to tell stories? And for how long will we need to be thinking like this? Turns out if I take a picture off the wall then I’ve got a good greenscreen. So I’ve learnt something useful.

It seems ages since I’ve been in a crowd. I was being careful for a while before it was official. But now I’m wondering when and how this will end. Bearing in mind what I witnessed yesterday, that there are people with full blown symptoms who still pop to the shop, this quarantine cannot contain it. Does summer kill it? Or are we just locked in until they perfect the vaccine?

Still, this morning about twenty of us logged into zoom and tried to read Shakespeare in a group. We were originally building towards a show in Wales in summer, but the feeling is that it won’t happen now. But if all the theatres lose their summer season, will that be it? So many arts institutions are hanging by a thread anyway.

It’ll be a new world at the end of this. And the thing to remember is that it’s global. I’ve been talking with friends in Eastern Europe, deep far north and west coast USA. We are all asking the same questions. In the absence of a precedent, what do we hope for?

Boris has been diagnosed. Ditto the heir to the throne. They’ve been able to get tests. More of my friends on Facebook are documenting their symptoms and I can tell you for sure that I don’t want it. It sounds miserable, even though none of them have had an official test. Most people can’t get tests. We just have to stay clean and hope we don’t catch it at peak, when there’ll be no beds and no ventilators.

I’m off to bed after a very unusual Friday spent almost entirely looking at faces on screens. My head hurts but that’s because I had a bit too much to drink a bit too early. Hopefully there’ll be clarity before long… But how?

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Clapping the NHS

My body feels strange. I’m not used to being so inactive. I’m worried about the sprightly old folk who can’t so easily go for their daily accidental exercise. I normally get my accidentals running for buses or ramping up heart rate to crazy levels about almost completely pointless things when viewed from outside.

Now I’m here in my flat surrounded by tech, wine, mice and food. I’ve been improving my cooking and teaching myself to edit videos and now I’m involved in a production of The Tempest that will take place totally online. It’s a recurrence of the bonkers one I did at the beginning of this whole run of work, so it makes sense that it’s what I end up doing again now we have all momentarily retreated into our homes. I can remember the warmth of last summer whilst I’m in strange isolation in my home.

This evening just before 8pm I went into Kitcat’s room and threw open the window. She’s in the countryside somewhere so the temperature drop won’t bother her. I threw the window open wide and felt the wind rush in from the river. At 8pm I started cheering and clapping, thinking I’d be the only one. There was a social media drive about clapping for the health workers. I respect that. There are a lot of people I love who are staring down the barrel of this nasty respiratory virus. The next week is likely to be the worst time for them in their work, and while many of us sit at home playing games and drinking wine, the people who will do everything to stop us from dying are turning up to work and making the world a better place. Some friends are even working as cleaners in specialist Corona-wards. Chapeau.

I stood in my window overlooking the river, while to my left the majestic Edwardian blocks thronged around. I didn’t really expect much. A jogger was pounding the pavement as I started, and moments from my first “whoop!” I heard cheering and clapping from all around. Directly below me Christine was in her window clapping as well. The whole crescent lit up with noise. The jogger stopped short, momentarily confused as the whole world cheered at him. Then he just started clapping as he ran, automatically, clearly aware it was “a thing”.

It was very moving, to feel the connectivity. Just for a moment to be more openly part of this nebulous sea of linked humanity even here in the “fuck you!” part of London. There were people standing in the porches where their windows look on nothing.

To my right is opus dei, now fronting a school. To my left and opposite is depressed sheltered housing where the fire trucks needlessly come once a week. My direct neighbor to the left is the Lithuanian cultural attaché. Directly in front of me is the Thames. My crescent proves to be a single line of houses leased by The Royal Hospital.

With all that in mind, there was a lot more activity and noise than I would have expected from this sleepy line of houses. Good on you, Embankment Gardens…

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Shopping in a time of Corona

Her shopping list is very specific. I clutch it as I walk through the sunny morning in mask and ski jacket. We are not receiving pathogens today, thank you. We have a stranger’s shopping to buy.

There are some capitals in the shopping list. JUMBO rolled oats. NAIRNS oatcakes – (just like dad). I even know the breed of chicken that laid the eggs she wants. There are brand names and enough evidence to teach me that I am going to Waitrose whether I like it or not. “Duchy organic x.” “Waitrose brand y.” Despite this she’ll get out for under £35 and there’s smoked salmon in the order. This shop is a learning experience for me. I have expensive tastes.

I stand in a queue outside Waitrose in my gas mask. I listen to a creative conference call that I’m part of as I’m waiting. It’s a long queue. The numbers in and out of Waitrose are strictly monitored. The wind is blowing from me to the people behind me in the queue. (This is significant).

There’s a fuss that I’m mostly oblivious to as I get near the front of the queue. I don’t really understand what’s going on, but it’s something to do with the woman behind me. A woman in an electric wheelchair has been speaking very actively with a security guard and pointing at her. I notice the woman behind me sheepishly leave the queue after all this time, but I’m in my own island full of noises, thinking about strange fun and theatre online and tech and paper darts.

I get to the front. Men in masks let me in. It’s like an airlock. I’m suddenly playing Half Life 2 and I’m part of The Combine.

There’s a man whose job it is to clean the handles of trolleys. There’s an employee talking out loud to anyone who’ll listen. “She had full on Coronavirus and she was trying to get in the shop! Jesus! Who does that? Who actually does that?” she asks the world. “Who had?” I reply and immediately she’s into my eyes. “The lady right behind you in the queue! She has full blown Corona!”

I stop a moment. She was 6 foot from me and wind was blowing DOWN the queue from me to her. And then to everybody else patiently waiting.

“How’s she going to get her shopping?” is still my first response, before, very quickly “Thank God the wind was in my favour.”

She points at the woman in the wheelchair: “Her helper’s getting it. They’re neighbours. Why did she come? Who does that?”

I missed this whole thing as I was into the video call. Hopefully I missed the pathogens as well. Certainly I was very careful about hands to mouth and eyes, handles etc. And the wind was right for me, but … the people behind her …”

There are many staff members spraying anti-thing-stuff on bits of the Waitrose. It’s refreshingly empty in the shop but people still visibly tic if you get too close by mistake and then notice. It doesn’t help that I look like a blue tank in my skisuit and mask. About 45% of people in Chelsea are unmasked now. Compare that to a week ago when it was about 95%. The cretin behind me in the queue is a good illustration of why we should all have masks, I guess, even though – from memory – she was thoughtful enough to be wearing one of her own. That’s where those little white masks really come into their own. That’s the point. They’re to reassure others.

But yeah if you’re sick AND you’ve managed to find someone to do your shop for you… What the heck are you doing showing up anyway, mask or no mask? Too embarrassed to ask the wheelchair lady in your block for 8 bottles of vodka? But then if you’ve got full on symptoms surely you don’t still want the vodka?

The whole situation was weird on both sides and I wish I hadn’t been on a video conference so I could have used instinct to smell the truth of it…

I got a black cab from Waitrose to Jacqi’s. £8.00 for a short hop.

I drop my headcontents to the cabbie and “You’re just doing this out of the kindness of your heart?” he asks? It makes me feel good when he says it, because I hadn’t thought of it like that and he sounds impressed, like I’ve discovered a new thing.

“Yep. We all need to do this sort of thing these days.”

“Where do you live? Lemme take you home after!”

I laugh and thank him. “No mate that wasn’t me leading you – you go find another fare. It’s a lovely walk for me down the river and I need the exercise. Hats off to you guys though – you’re protected in there, it’s perfect for London right now, the black cab. Thanks for showing up to work.”

Work.

I’m home and I’m thinking again about my own creative output – my work. What am I making? I’ve been generating content but I might not broadcast it. I’ve been learning skills but I might not use them. But this is the perpetual motion with me. I have a million blind alleys. Somehow, this thing. This lump of words. This daily splat. This is the thing I somehow allow myself to put out unmonitored. And it’s rarely bitten me and never too badly.

My lesson now is to quieten down my other output monitors so I can start making things with actual impact and power in mediums other than this stream of consciousness style I have honed for for years out of early adoration for Virginia Woolf and Douglas Adams..

 

We can all learn from this. I put this stuff out because I’ve decided I have to. No matter what. Daily. It allows me to bypass the “what if” thoughts.

I heartily recommend this – a lot of people are doing it now suddenly in different forms. Regular, unmonitored content. Why the fuck not? Make it. Judge it once it’s made. Too many times the things that people have really connected to have not been the curated bits in this blog, they’ve been the bits that showed under the face. Even the bits that I might have questioned if I’d noticed them.

This was meant to be about shopping.

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Remembering my priorities

Just in time I remembered that my industry will wake up again at some point soon and I need to be ready. Ok so I had a week off, that’s legit since I’ve been working like a train. Another week off coming though… By the end of it I will spontaneously defeat myself in mortal combat if I don’t find a thing. Especially since after that there’s likely another week off. And another? Oh hell.

Someone called me and offered me a thing. I almost went to the thing because money. It was a money for time thing. I know them well those things. I tend to shun them. I’ve just done three but I could mostly drive around and not be anchored so I could do it on my own terms.

After a sleepless night I walked away from the temptation of quick money for this particular thing. Many reasons but the main one is that this hibernation period feels like a blessing. The economy is going to be reeling when we all come out into the light again. But my industry will pick right up and I want to be ready. There’s loads that’ll need to get in the can. Loads of regular shows that will have run out of content and will need quick learners and quick unruffled actors to get the fuck on with it and do all the scenes in one take. I’m that guy, but my shopfront is wonky and my showreel is arseholes. But this is a rare opportunity. “Get guy I’ve worked with before!” “He’s busy.” “Ok, what about other guy I’ve worked with before?!” “Busy too. They’re all busy.” “All of them? Even guy I worked with before I decided I was important?” “Yeah, he’s playing the lead in a Netflix…” “Bastard! So that means… that means … ah fuck I’ve got to employ a guy I’ve not worked with before? What if he explodes?” “We have no choice.” “We have no TIME either! Send out the breakdowns YESTERDAY.”

I can smash a few more doors down with the help of my glorious agent.

This has been a good year for work. This hiatus is something of a retraction before springing forward, to my imagination. I’m in an excellent headspace. I want to make sure I’m ready when opportunity knocks.

But that involves refusing an opportunity to work from home cold-calling.

Tomorrow I’ll be donning my mask and gloves and picking up the essential shopping for an 80 something year old who lives near me. Since I’m risking viral load anyway I’ll likely stop at the DIY store and get a bunch of light fittings to replace the ones in my flat which have all fallen to pieces. I’ll be an essential worker for a day, as apparently the woman I’m buying for had no clue how she would get food. I am even going to go so far as to knock on every door in my block and ask, from a distance, if they need anything before I leave.

Then I’ll go home, think I’ve switched off the power. Maybe I’ll explode myself in a shower of DIY incompetence, but it’ll be fine because Jacqueline will have had her “NAIRN’S oat cakes”. And if I live through my attempts at rewiring I’ll be able to start day one of my online video editing course. (Buying not teaching. I can’t do everything. Yet.)

For the next half an hour I’m back to my old failed career of “dead mouse puppeteer” for he who must be fed.

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Wish me luck…

Touch / Screen

A few days ago, as I was walking down the Embankment outside my flat on a sunny morning, I failed to hear a jogger approaching behind me. Despite very wide pavements, he had decided I was in his way. Even though he was out in order to do non-vital bodymovement in order to collect endorphins and make himself more healthy, the extra movement involved in running around me was too much for him. He knew I hadn’t seen him or heard him. So he felt justified within the frame he’d built for himself to put both mittened hands on my side from behind and to silently and violently shove me out of his way. I was momentarily shocked. “What the fuck!”

He was plugged into his headphones, head down, on a mission to run, likely listening to some power ballad written by overweight drug addicts in the 1980’s. I shouted imprecations to his deaf ears as he receded, aware that if he chose to turn round and beat the crap out of me he could do a pretty decent job.

Why am I thinking about it still?

Because it’s the only physical contact I’ve had all week. It’s likely to be the only physical contact I’ll have this month. He put his hands on my side. It was sudden. It wasn’t affectionate. It was unwanted. It enraged me.

But it was communication. More effective than me shouting “I hope you fucking catch corona you antisocial dickhead!” to his tight ass as it vanished into the distance.

Touch is a big part of how we transfer energy and information. Everybody is learning new technology because of this isolation. Zoom and houseparty must be spiking downloads. But we are already too isolated. We are already starved of touch. It’s dangerous to normalise things that tear us even further from each other.

An angry man was shouting at me on the tube years ago. Some instinct made me put my hand on his shoulder. He stopped shouting. “I see that I upset you, and I didn’t mean to.” I told him into his momentary silence. It defused a weird moment that might have escalated. But it wasn’t the words, it was the hand on the shoulder.

We are more and more living in bubbles now. Negotiating crowds, I will still do a less impactful version of what the jogger did. I’ll put a hand on someone who hasn’t seen me, so long as they’re roughly equivalent to me in age and not wearing a shoulderless dress or somesuch that would necessitate hand on actual skin etc etc. Even that’s a minefield.

Touch has been getting rarer and rarer anyway, before it became acceptable to greet each other by pointing elbows.

A handshake is a moment of actual connection. Eye contact and skin contact. Simultaneous contact of two major signallers. We gather more information in that moment than we can in ages of conversation. Because there’s more than we understand about how we are connected to one another. And it can’t be transferred through a screen. I know immediately if I’m going to get on with someone from that first moment. I go in for a hug too if I think it’s warranted.

I have no idea when I’m next going to come into contact with another human. That’s crazy. The person who plays arm-pressure wrestling on the shared arm rest. The momentary brush of fingers as the dude hands you your coffee. The handshake, the hair adjustment, “there’s something on your shoulder I’ll get it.” When we get out of this madness we’re going to be conditioned away from touch. Another thing that brings us together, that unites us. We are nothing without each other.

It’s terrifying to think it might be a month or more before I even get shoved away by someone else.

Come back, angry jogger. All is forgiven.

I think I just need to get laid.

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