The sea

This weird island still feels like home. All my work is done. I’m sitting at St Ouen, looking out past the martello tower to Corbière. I’ll be back here before long no doubt. Meanwhile I’ve stated my case and everything seems to be in order. I think it’s going to work out well. I’m barefoot in the sunshine wondering how on earth I haven’t let my feet see the sun yet throughout this heatwave. I’ve got a hilarious briefcase, my grandfather’s white tie and naval dress uniform, a duvet cover and a Mickey Mouse watch, all in the boot of my hire car. I’m wearing a pair of sunglasses that don’t have scratches on the lenses and aren’t made out of pipe cleaners – thank you uncle Peter. Hugo Boss, no less. Very swish.

I’m letting the little lump in my stomach – the one that drives me the whole time – I’m letting it just unwind for a little bit. I don’t need to go anywhere apart from the airport tonight. I can sit on this beach until then if I want to goddammit. I fly in 4 hours. I can see if I can get my feet to match my hands. Get a bit of skin cancer. Fuck it. After all the healthy living I’m allowed it. I might get hit by a train tomorrow.

After channelling all my energy to a fine point, and getting all your positive energy sent to me (thank you) I had a good meeting. Then I went to the market and threw a coin in the fountain. Then, preoccupied, I walked towards a florist I like in order to get lavender for my godmother’s grave and hydrangeas for my mother’s. I was mumbling as I walked. I needed to find a friend, maybe two, Jersey residents, who would be willing to help out with this jigsaw I’ve been trying to sort out. “Who do I know that would do that?” I said to myself, out loud, literally at the same time as someone called my name. An old school-friend. He lives here. His kids are at the same school as the lawyer’s kids. Normally in these stories people say “I don’t believe in energy and all that nonsense,” but I do. I totally do. And right there, having a coffee in St Helier, was proof. Nam myo ho renge kyo, or however you want to frame it. If you build it they will come.

I’ve moved. I can’t sit still for long. I went to Corbière lighthouse because the tide was out and it’s beautiful. My uncle, I’m told, used to say it looked like Yogi Bear sunbathing with a hard-on.

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You can walk to it if the tide is out, but people do get stranded and drowned if they aren’t careful. There’s a memorial to a lighthouse keeper who drowned saving someone. Growing up in this island you learn to respect the sea. The sea isn’t fucking around, guys. People get swept out or cut off all the time. My great grandfather was taken off a fishing trawler in Folkestone by the waves – long before I was born. I just remember my grandmother’s eyes as she recited it over the dinner table after I’d failed to still a chiming glass. (Her powerful superstition. Never let it ring. A sailor drowns.) “It was his boots. His new boots. He’d saved up for months to buy them, and first time out, all happy in his expensive boots, a wave took him and those new boots – they dragged him down. Down all the way to the bottom of the sea.”

But the sea does feel good to me. There is a strong pull of “home” in those tides. I fly away in just under 2 hours now, and I’m sitting looking at the waves coming in. I just went in for a quick shiver. Now I’m lost in memory.

All these years. All these good people dragged down by their new boots along with their hopes and plans and dreams. I wondered when the tears would come but now they have and now I have time for them. Time. You bastard, time, this is your fault to begin with. I think I’ll sit with this a while. Then off.

Security

It’s crazy, the flight time from Jersey. You’ve landed before you take off. I was in full airhead mode though yesterday evening. I had to go back out of security twice, once to drop off my hire car key and once to get the key back and use it to retrieve my mobile phone holder from the car. Idiot. It’s a good one. I’d rather not lose it. But anything is better than the last time I tried to leave Jersey.

As the plane took off I saw the sea reflecting a glorious sunset through the shoals and onto the beaches.

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45 minutes later I was back in the smoke, elbowing people in a shuttle bus at Gatwick. Security was so quick and painless that I was through it before I even remembered that I had a checked bag that I should have collected. Fuck. I tried to go back through the security  doors but they dressed me down with red lights and a recorded warning. There were no staff there, so I waved at a security camera for a bit. Nope. Just got ignored. Some guy eating a donut says “Look at that prat.”

I see some security staff with coffee and explain the situation. I have to go to departures and talk with the airline. So I do, and thankfully I get someone very helpful. She takes me back through security, all the x-rays again.

Those security guys dehumanise you in the course of their jobs almost immediately. They have to I guess. I’m doing it to them. You are just a pair of steel capped boots, or a belt buckle, or a jacket that’s still on. Even if you ask them a question they respond from habit, eyes flicking over you, more interested in that lump in your shirt than the words you speak. One guy in Jersey said the same thing to me three times back to back as if I were three different people. “It’s just a random bomb check sir, nothing personal, it’s just a random bomb check sir, nothing personal, it’s just a random bomb check sir, nothing personal.” I gently poked it. “Oh so you’re checking for explosives are you?” And sure enough “It’s just a random bomb check sir, nothing personal.” I thought about “But how come I was selected?” But I that would be cruel. And these people can make your life hell if they want to.

Anyway I get through security and start to go towards the carousel but she stops me. Now I’m escorted, someone else has to get the bag off the carousel, apparently. We go to Customer Service, and thankfully, miraculously, against this very situation I TOOK A PHOTO OF MY BAG BEFORE CHECKING IT. The sardonic woman at customer service looks at the photo and disappears. Ten minutes later she’s back with my bag. I was expecting that to take hours. I am introduced to the man in “goods to declare” who was watching me try to get back in earlier I expect. That way he doesn’t think I’m up to no good and stick his fingers up my bottom in a horrible little striplit dungeon. I go back through the door that shouted at me and I’m heading to the trains. London. And a day of invigilating. Now I’m off to see an old friend. And probably have wine. Unless I’m strong.

Prep

I am pumped with adrenaline. I feel like I’ve run a marathon, whereas actually all I’ve done is write my thoughts down and structure them ahead of sitting with a lawyer at 9am tomorrow morning. The problem is that the results of this meeting – I could look back on this as either the single greatest victory of my whole life, or the day that I had a chance and fucked it. “If only I’d gone about that differently.” That old chestnut. I very much want to avoid it. It’s not chestnut season, and I’ve had too much of that shit already thank you very much. I’m going all guns blazing for “Al Barclay you nailed it.” Send me good energy just after nine please. As with auditions I’m running myself ragged with emotions beforehand so I can be calm in the room. But we all know how the auditions have been going lately.

Add to that the fact that I’m consciously attacking my thinking regarding this murderous habit I’ve allowed into my day to day and I’m feeling unusual. The cycle: I’m happy so I have a drink or I’m sad so I have a drink or I just had an audition so I have a drink or didn’t get the part so I have a drink or I got the part so I have a drink or my friend is sad so I have a drink or my friend is happy so I have a drink or my work is hard so I have a drink or my work is great so … you get the point. There’s only one fixed point and it’s the one that literally kills your feelings and then literally kills your life and then literally kills you. And you always think you’re ok because that guy is worse than you or “I can stop any time.” (Apart from exceptions on Tuesdays or after an audition or when the wind is southerly.) Balls. For an alcoholic the drink is more important than everything and any excuse will do. And nobody can help but you. “I’m nowhere near the levels they were at.” (I once went to AA and some guy after the meeting told me I wasn’t a proper alcoholic, because I hadn’t ruined my life or my body or my face yet. He was some big CEO of a company, loved talking about that, and seemed to think I had come to AA to meet girls. It was when I decided to stop going to AA. Even though that’s what the addiction wanted. But it’s not a competition you Irish twat. Whatever level of alcoholism, if it isn’t helpful it isn’t helpful. Stet.)

I’m going to try to prioritise myself and look at things squarely, despite all the sharp hard feelings that brings up. Now is a time for feeling things sharper. For getting things done.

This is where I was born. This is where the world feels right and the stones are the right colour and the gulls aren’t annoying because they mean home. I’ve been with people who have my best interests at heart all day, eating salad and drinking … water. My poor uncle’s possessions are calling my energy one way, the ashes of my mother are on a hill a mile or so from here, pulling me the other way. Tomorrow is twenty years since my godmother died and she’s here, too, in Trinity Church. People had a habit of dying back then.

Today I dropped off a load of my uncle’s old things at the Hospice where grandma died. Pyjamas and socks and underpants. They need them, apparently. I rang in advance. And shoes etc to sell. So … there’s a good deed. And tomorrow I’m going in to an unfamiliar situation to fight for my right to have good things come after all the collapses.

It’s lovely being back in the place where I was born, but I’m nervous about tomorrow. I have a history of people taking advantage of my naïveté and don’t want to fuck it up again with trust. I know where my universal trust originated (right here in this island) and I love it even now despite the people that have kicked it over the years. When I lived on this weird rock, the world was so simple. I was enjoying a protected and lavish childhood in a beautiful place. All those people long gone now – they were radiating love and kindness into my life. I was protected, in the good and the bad sense. I had the privilege to be kept safe. I honour the work that my parents did to make that possible. I wouldn’t have had it any other way. God I was lucky.

I still carry the trust that I learnt in those kind days where the colours and sounds and smells were right. Sometimes it brings good things. Sometimes it attracts spectres. Nowadays I am learning to put on my porcupine suit before running around in the clouds, but I still don’t like wearing the thing. It itches.

The tide is coming in. It is ten past six. I’m going to jump in the car and jump in the sea before we lose the light and get back to this later on.

In fact, I’ve written over 500 so I can chill out. I’m in St Aubin by the harbour having steak. Staying here tonight – it’s great. Harbour View.

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My suit is all laid out, I’ve talked strategy with Max. One more sleep. I found the most amazing bullshit briefcase in my uncle’s effects, which is going to be a theatrical mainstay for absolute certain, it’s one of the best props I’ve ever seen. I was thinking about bringing it and plonking it down on the table even though it’s empty, but my friend said “You don’t want them to think you’re an arsehole.” She’s right. She usually is. Dammit.

As my mother used to say, “Beam on positive” for 9am. I accept all spiritual currencies.

Jersey boxes…

My uncle died a few years ago aged 61. His ex is a friend of mine, and the contents of his property have fallen to me to sort out. It’s slow work and not something I can come close to completing in the time I have on this island right now. I didn’t really know what I was dealing with until I arrived. It’s a mess.

My uncle was an alcoholic. It got him in the end. His stuff is haphazardly flung hither and yon. In a plastic bag full of old toiletries socks and rennies I found a copy of my grandmother’s will, a watch and his old rosary. In an old leather Gucci briefcase I found a load of junk, the broken filament of a lightbulb, a picture of the house I lived in with my mum his sister in The Isle of Man, golf tees, a mostly exploded packet of Lockets, a million plastic shirt collar straighteners and a tie pin.

There’s deodorant everywhere. Papers everywhere. Things scrawled on the back of envelopes that might, to his eye, unlock all sorts of wonders. Bags of ties, newly laundered pyjamas, eye masks. There are the keys to a house in South Africa. Does the house still exist? There are photos of boats, models of boats, drawings of boats, keys that might be for boats. There’s a set of initialled cufflinks in the pocket of an old fleece top. Our life makes sense to us, perhaps, but we all think we’re going to live forever. Looking at his life preserved through these things, it doesn’t look like it even made sense to him, to be honest. It feels like he was lost somewhere trying to find the way out, getting ever more entangled.

He exists in my memory as a kind, awkward ultimately tragic figure. Like my mum, the alcohol took him very early. What can be done about that? I’ve found doctor’s letters from the nineties telling him to lay off the cholesterol. “Take at least two days off drinking every week.” The last time I saw him he got ragingly drunk and that was decades later. I think he did it every night. And then one night he fell over and didn’t get up again and now all his stuff is in boxes however it was shoved, and I’m trying to make sure that we don’t throw away the Gucci briefcase along with the old rennies. Because it’s either me or some guy with a skip. And so goes the cycle of life. 61. He’d be 68 now. He could still be running around at 68. He wasn’t well at 60, and was running a habitual avoidance on himself.

Addiction is rightly thought to be an illness. When it’s killing your life and your happiness but still you return to it endlessly. It’s such a tough spiral to break as well, in yourself and in others. Because, as his ex rightly points out, the addiction is the most important thing. It’s more important than love. Than money. Than happiness. Than life.

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Every neatly folded pyjama bottom I put into the hospice pile, every unanswered piece of correspondence I fish out of the bottom of a washbag, every envelope full of expired currency I find neatly labelled and forgotten, every stolen hotel match box I find in a shoe – it’s all pushing me further towards really hard-questioning the drive there is in me towards alcohol. With one hand I’m actively trying to make my life work despite a faulty career, not much romance and terrible financial management. With the other hand I’m grasping for a crutch that my mother and her brother used to bludgeon themselves to wet and miserable ends and seeing if I can do it as well. Bollocks. The sun is fading. I’m going for a swim. And I’m definitely not having a drink tonight.

Cat nap

This heat. Yesterday I was making over my friend’s flat. I changed the sheets, aired everything, made it lovely, plumped the pillows. It was half two in the afternoon. Terri from airbnb messaged me to say she wouldn’t be there until 4.30. The window into the bedroom was open. I curled up in the breeze, closed my eyes and fell asleep on her beautiful clean plumped bed. “I’ll just close my eyes for a second.” I woke suddenly to the buzzing of the phone in front of my face, still clutched in my fist, like no time has passed. “I’m here!” 2 hours. Gone to busy dreams.

30 seconds of feverishly pulling black hairs off the pillows and replumping and airing everything. 30 seconds of hauling on my shorts and sticking my feet into unlaced shoes and she’s at the door. Thankfully there’s a good breeze through the flat.

Then I went to Hyde Park and played ninjas with Ivo. I think the powernap helped me keep on running from tree to tree even when the energy coffers should’ve been empty. “Let’s run again.” “Ok Ivo. That’s definitely the best plan.”

Today it happened again. I took a coldstream guard’s uniform to the dry cleaners, got home, tidied my room, did some writing and fell asleep in the heat. It’s easy to do at the moment because my room is not a shitshow. Pickle curled up next to me and we simultaneously catnapped on top of the covers. I was woken by Jack at the door. I was glad of the nap.

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Jack and I have been slowly making Beowulf for ages. We’ve both got lots of other stuff on but we needed to reboot the work because we care about it. Jack played some guitar on my roof, I realised I absolutely must buy a new accordion (My old workhorse fell out of a Luton in the rain after Christmas Carol and has been forever destroyed). We are starting the long road to making something we fucking believe in.

It’s another thing to think about. August might be a quiet month in this town. Not going to Edinburgh, though, can sometimes be valuable in my industry if you’re not on the list. “We need an intelligent posho.” “Just get Bunty.” “Bunty’s in Edinburgh.” “What about Runty?” Runty is in Edinburgh too.” “Can’t we fly one of them?” “No, I’ve asked. They’re too busy up there.” “Well, we will just have to say that we can’t cast it. Without Bunty or Runty there really is nobody else that can play that part. Tell them to move the filming.” “We can’t.” “Well there’s nothing – literally absolutely nothing we can do if we can’t have Bunty or Runty… unless … Funty?” “He refuses. New father.” “Tell them it’s impossible. They’ll have to rewrite the part.” “Or maybe… Maybe we can *ORGAN SPIKE* see some different actors????” *cut to two terrified people in an office* *Enter Al Barclay* “So you’re Al … Barcty? Barty? Alty Barty?” “No it’s BarCLAY. It doesn’t end in “ty.” *I told you so glances.* “Well, I suppose we have to see what you’ve prepared anyway.” *Al removes a full size Alpen Horn from his trousers and blows it. A herd of buffalo crash in mooing and knock down the building. Al is swept away riding one of them, naked now and laughing maniacally. The two casting directors remain, sitting in the same two chairs amid the devastation, normalizing. Pause.* “Interesting fellow. Reminds me of Punty before the incident. Shall we give it to him?” “Do you think he always has the buffalo?” “We can ask his agent. Tea?”

Call me Al

Twenty past nine and I’m walking through the dusk in Hyde Park. Paul Simon is playing just the other side of a barrier and I can hear his tired nostalgia as I watch the groups of London people relaxing. He’s just started singing Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes. I believe that, in its time, Graceland was one of the greatest albums ever. But now it’s tired. He lost touch with the now decades ago, our Paul. He’s just rolling out the oldies because he knows we find familiar things comforting, and so does the market. I wonder how much tickets are to this sleepy summer pageant. This sharp angry guy who challenged apartheid with a glorious international pop album, and actively fought the self important sellout bullshit of his partner in early greatness – he’s now rolling out greatest hits that are long past their sell by dates, and replacing the harmonies of Ladysmith Black Mombasa with his own voice shouting “nanana” into a mic. What does he actually think about all of this, I wonder.

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And he literally just started “Call me Al.” I’m right outside the front. If I go on tiptoe I can see him. Bobby the 22 year old security guard says “I know this one. It’s like being in a car with your grandmother.” He’s not really singing it, but he’s out of practice. He’s just getting through it. “How many more tracks before the hotel?” The hunger isn’t on him anymore. That song is over thirty years old and he makes it sound that way. Maybe Annie Hall is bang on and he has a Piers Morgan sized coke habit to support. But either way, he can sing my song and welcome. “Why am I soft in the middle?” I’m working on it Paul. “Don’t wanna end up a cartoon in a cartoon graveyard.” I see the danger Paul. “He sees angels in the architecture.” All the time, Paul. “Call me Al.” Yep.

I will put up with weekly conversations where someone brings in the words “call me Betty” in exchange for the threats and warnings and validations of young man Paul Simon’s biggest hit. We all know uncompromising stuff when we are young that we can express sharply because we frame ourselves in opposition to the compromises we witness around us. We aren’t deadened by necessity or perspective. Popular music is a young person’s game for the expression of these extreme colours that we see more clearly when we haven’t been cluttered by time. But we also know things deeper as we get older, so long as we avoid the ruts. Complacency is the deadener. The temptation to think “I have learnt all there is to learn.” Nah. We keep learning and striving until we die surely. Hopefully.

Nobody wants to be this old dude, rolling out approximations of a redundant youthful passion thirty years after it was great.  c’mon brother, where’s your new music? Leonard left us to “You Want It Darker.” He never stopped teaching us and questioning himself. He wouldn’t be everybody’s weird father if he’d just trotted out Hallelujah every few years with a hat and a helicopter. You have integrity Paul. Shake it up with the truth. Truth is a hammer. It just costs us when we wield it. But I’d be interested to hear yours now.

Complicated

Here I am, back in Hampstead, sitting once more on this lovely evening balcony.

I’ve mostly cleaned the flat, ahead of another Airbnb booking for my friend tomorrow that came through unexpectedly. I’m running a little low on good will where this is concerned, especially as the boiler isn’t working properly. When I show them the flat I say “oh and I’ll just show you this button on the boiler. One time a few weeks ago the hot water cut off, and I pushed this button – look this one here – remember it just in case because I just pushed it and it came back on immediately.” I can feel it going in one ear and out the other. I can’t tell them I know it’s going to happen. And then five days later I get a phone call. “Oh goodness me, has it happened again? I see. There was me thinking it was a one time thing. Oh deary. If I’d only known it was a repeated thing we’d have got someone in to look at it. Have you tried the button I showed you? You can’t remember which button. I could send you a photo? No. I can describe it? Or tell you the location? No? Oh you’d like me to come round. Of course you would. Wonderful. Well I’ll just do that then. I’m working all the hours that god made and I live in Narnia but fine. I’ll be with you this evening.” It happens either once a week, or whenever Bruce the boyfriend goes in to fiddle with the settings because he reckons there must be air con and that it must be operated from the same console as the central heating so if he twiddles with all the knobs then Man Make Cold Fire. Oh no, darling. Man Fuck Up. This is the UK. There’s no aircon. We all get a little hotter instead of making the climate a little hotter. Still, I wish my friend would fix the fecking boiler. I offered to get a plumber in. She says it’s the landlady’s responsibility and doesn’t want to pay. Even though she’s basically a landlady too. She doesn’t know what her landlady will make of this subletting and so thinks it’s better to keep it all clandestine and under wraps. I have to be careful when bringing people in not to have loud conversations in the stairwell about Airbnb. It’s all so bloody complicated.

Does everything really have to be so complicated? I don’t think it does, frankly. I think sometimes we just make things complicated for ourselves on purpose because we don’t think we deserve things to be simple. We do deserve for things to be simple, people. Most of us are kind. Life is tricky enough without us inventing reasons to make everything infinitely more convoluted. I do it as much as anyone. But right now I crave simplicity.

I’m off to see some plays written by children I’ve helped mentor. It’s with a charity called Scene and Heard – I think I’ve blogged about them before. They’re great. They’ll be a tonic because I’ll get to hang out with powerfully positive humans. Nobody volunteers for that job if they aren’t kind. Thank God. I’m feeling sad and happy, confused and alive, angry and fluid and odd. That gutsnake is still shouting up my neck. There’s a lot that needs shifting. But I’m leaving the house for the right reason. And I’ll get back to finish tidying properly.

Also don’t get me wrong, I thought we were done with flying ants day, nature. There’s one on my hat brim, one on my nipple and one in my drink. It’s as bad as the last time I sat on this balcony, when I wrote about them because I’d eaten one. Maybe there’s just a huge load of nests on Hampstead Heath. Little buggers.