Dead Man’s Hand

Today was the last day for a while that I’ll be pretending to be a miniature golf professional practicing on a tiny circle of grass just outside Haberdasher’s Hall in Smithfield. It’s been a lovely way of ticking over on weekends for me, and a lovely company to work for. It’s a good idea and it works. It’s a treasure hunt in an incredible part of town, employing lots of people and using them very creatively.

People buy a ticket to an unusual experience, normally on a Saturday, at the very heart of this ancient city. (Today was an exception as we were doing a private party.) They sort themselves into teams and walk the streets of London looking for clues. I have been part of the fabric of this beautiful thing. I have, essentially, been a human clue. I’ve never played the game so I have no idea if what I’m doing is in keeping with the other human clues, but the guys who have overarching vision on this trust the thing they’ve made, and trust their actors.

I’m off now, but it’s a jobshare anyway so we can go and do other work. Just because I’m off to Oxford and elsewhere doesn’t mean you can’t come and play the game. And typically for me I’m telling you about the job only when it’s too late to see ME do it. The job will still run though.

It’s called Dead Man’s Hand. Book here. I know I’d enjoy playing it.

They’ve really thought about it. It’s a deep game with many layers of which my interaction is but a crust.

From what I’ve gleaned it’s a tale of murder and gambling. But I know virtually nothing about the audience experience apart from my bit, where they almost always seem to be having a lovely time.

The teams explore a truly ancient part of town searching for clues. In the process they find all sorts of unusual hidden secrets. They also meet a few pretendy humans like me, who make them do stuff. I make them play mini golf, but I also just … play with them for a bit. There’s a WhatsApp group where we all track numbers and logistics. Most of us have never met one another, but we are all enjoying and sharing the utterly random nature of the interactions we are having. The company – A Door in a Wall – have managed to find and gainfully employ lots of playful people like myself, who then just listen to the people that come through and work out how best to play with them and make them enjoy themselves. We have clues to give out. I give my clues out as a reward when I see they’ve had fun. It’s heartening, after many weeks having done this, to know for certain that there’s almost always a way to jink someone into a childish place. Even if – as they once did – they open with something hideous like “You’re an actor and you have some clues for us. We want them.” Needless to say that team had to complete a large number of very difficult miniature golf challenges, and ended up laughing like children. As the gatekeeper I can do what I think is needed, and my job is to make it fun if I can. My only deep brief is to keep the interaction reasonably short, and don’t say things that sound like clues but aren’t as that way madness lies.

If you’re visiting London and have a weekend, this is an unusual way to see a historic bit of town that isn’t in the guide books, in a way that could never be replicated.

And it works even if it’s raining!

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Maccers again. So lovely.

I only managed two hours sleep last night, on a sofa. I crashed to sleep when I started to notice my driving judgement was blurring. Better than the other crash option.

On the M25 yesterday I drove past an articulated lorry that was stationary in the middle lane. Despite being huge it had a low dent in it big enough to fit a quarter of a car. The impact had shattered the windscreen. The driver of this behemoth of a vehicle must have gone into the back of a queue of traffic. You must need quite a hit to shatter and puncture the windscreen on something that big. What was the driver doing? Hopefully not texting. I hope they didn’t kill anyone. It was an upsetting sight, not to mention the time it cost us.

As an experienced driver in control of a larger vehicle than usual, I called it last night as soon as I noticed I was knackered.

Technically I got four hours sleep but there’s a cat in the home I slept in that likes to lie on my face. She was either breathing into my mouth or trying to lick the skin off my arm all night. I was too tired and kind to hurl her across the room. So I got back in the van without decent rest but with a nuclear coffee from Tanya, which did the trick as I knew I could focus for the final 40 minutes. I got the van back in time to prevent a late return fee.

This beautiful summer morning prompted a walk down the Camden tow path after drop off.

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I had time and inclination for breakfast with a dear friend in at Greenberry in Primrose Hill – highly recommended, particularly the vegetarian breakfast.

But the lack of sleep stacked up and I had to suddenly cut off.

I had a costume fitting and rehearsal in my flat this afternoon THAT I HAD ARRANGED and then a last minute gig this evening. I got home at 12:30, slept a desperate hour, and let a load of actors into The Antiques Roadshow whilst still feeling a long way off human.

We tried to remember very hard things to learn in the same room as one another, but thankfully I’ve got them hard wired. This was for Dan, who will likely be wearing my hat while I’m in Oxford and America.

That done I barely had time to wash, to drag some boxes out of Brian’s room, throw on a three piece and rush back out towards Edgware Road to do a show. Argh.

The Factory again. My happy place. Hardworking open hearted deeply skilled humans making theatre because it’s hard to do well. There was a Macbeth at The Cockpit Theatre. We were short-handed. I didn’t want to be free, but they put a call out. I love doing difficult things, so I threw myself in and ended up playing Banquo, Lady Macduff’s son and Menteith, which was a strange relief as I’ve done them all before.

We experimented with getting props from the audience to differentiate characters as we always work without costume. We may never do that game again but we were very short handed so it made sense and it was interesting. “Go to one person. Get three things. Use them in the order you get them.” I went to Mohammed. I was sent there by his mates, who were a solid bunch of lads. We were the only people in a three piece suit in the building, Mohammed and I. He and his mates were were there to have a good time in an unfamiliar context. My fave audients.

He gave me a fucked brolly first. Then a packet of cigarettes with a “Buy your own fucking lighter” lighter in it. Then a tiny tie pin in the shape of a sword.

So Banquo had a brolly and I thought I’d just use it and let it resolve. Foul and fair allows a brolly, a lot of the time Banquo was clearly just paranoid about rain, but umbrella indoors made for an unusually twitchy Banquo. It was only just as I was murdered that I noticed by speaking it that his penultimate line is “It will be rain tonight.” Old learn. I am glad I forgot. It surprised me and vindicated my persistence with a tricky prop.

Macduff’s little boy had cigarettes. “Your father’s dead,” says his mother. “And what will you do now? How will you live?” My mother, in the form of Jonno, gave the child his first cigarette. I remembered my mum doing that to me when I showed interest. Didn’t work for me but I clocked there was an agenda. I hated it but I somehow knew I was supposed to. I smoked for as good ten years. Now I hate the things again. Rebellion, eh?

Oh yeah and Menteith, who your aunt would describe to her friends as a “spear carrier” if you were doing it at the RSC. Mohammed had, perfectly, a tiny tiny sword which I didn’t ask for but he gave me. Nobody really knew about it but me as it was miniscule but it pleased me as the “spear carrier” to wield it.

I returned the stuff to Mohammed at the end of the show saying “Your stuff was brilliant, considering you had no idea. It gave so much. Thanks man. Perfect.” “You’d have been brilliant with anything.” He says, with concrete honesty. I literally wept a splash with pride when he wasn’t looking as I didn’t expect him to get us. And sometimes when you’re tired you can crash the juggernaut with a moment of bad focus. Good that it didn’t happen tonight.

What a lovely thing to have in my life, this group of very unusual hardworking makers. Long may The Factory continue to roll the stone.

We only usually announce shows three days in advance. There’s no guarantee anyone will be involved – there are many of us who play. This link sometimes has shows. And if you ask me I’ll usually know if I’ll be playing them. But I’m about to get busy…

Southampton and back again

It was far too early in the morning to have my card declined. I don’t have a plastic version of my one card with funds left in it. It exists only through my phone…

I’m at H&H van hire, in Kentish Town but they need more than the numbers and the CVV now I’m standing here. I heartily recommend them if you need a big van at short notice. They had a long wheel based Luton. The receptionist is lovely but his scrupulous efficiency really gets on my nerves. He’s too damn good at his job, so I keep instinctively poking him in the OCD and looking for his chaos because I feel the smile can’t be genuine. But maybe it is! He was unhelpful about the prospect of just taking my payment as if it was over the phone, but he was unexpectedly helpful as I looked for other solutions. Plus there’s free coffee while we wait. The solution came in the form of an employer friend who owes me some extremely overdue money. He put it on his credit card. Thank God for him. 9.30am and I’ve got wheels. Long day – HO!

My flat is between the van hire and Southampton so then it’s back down to pick up Tristan and load up with disgusting dusty crap from the attics. Then off to Southampton where they throw stones at you if you’re gay.

The temperature noticeably changes when we hit Southampton. It’s like we’ve suddenly gone through a time portal. Angry looking men walk out of one fishing tackle shop and cross the road to go into the one opposite. Angry looking young women talk animatedly on mobiles while pushing prams. Everybody seems to be conforming to gender stereotypes  – or is this my confirmation bias considering I’m at Gaystoner-500? We drive past a pub painted with a George’s cross on two sides.

Unless you’re Bulgarian, which seems somehow to be tolerated, you don’t want to break down in this area if you’re a bit swarthy looking and an artist. I feel a bit American Werewolf. I get a bit lost – oh God – and I pull into a quiet lane to work it out. Someone is immediately at my window. “Wherever you’re going it’s not down here,” is the opener, and not in a tone that’s designed to be helpful. It’s “Who the fuck are you, are you scoping us for robbery?” I respond instinctively in my Harrow accent using deliberately complex syntax and even guffawing at the end to my eternal shame, but it does the trick and I get the directions I need, swarthy or no swarthy. (Sorry, I used to get called “swarthy” when I worked hospitality. “You’re not from round here.” “Ascot, madam? No. I’m not. I grew up in Jersey.” “No that’s not what I mean.” “Oh. What do you mean then?” “Well where were your parents from?” …. etc … ending in the word “swarthy.”) And that’s ME, Poshyface Magoo, ten years ago too, before it was internationally government funded to be a poisonous bastard. My grandfather was an aristocratic Spaniard heavily decorated in the Royal Navy in WW2 and I’m fortunate enough to have inherited his olive skin. “Who was your father, with those dark eyes?” I was asked one November at Clapham Junction as part of an unprovoked harangue for not having a poppy on, delivered by someone with eyes that were almost animal. I remember these nonsensical hostilities, because it is stressful to find yourself suddenly unexpectedly attacked for your appearance and not your actions. God. And I don’t feel any insecurity about belonging here whatsoever and I can count the number of incidents on one hand and am not afraid or feeling marginalised already.

People like that bring us nothing but international shame as a nation. Before Brexit, arriving in Dubrovnik for work, I asked the barman on the first night how to order beer in Croatian. “American?” he asked. “No. British.” He was surprised. “Britain? Terrible international responsibility.” Those were his instinctive words, immediately. A Croatian barman. Hands up if you can say that in Croatian.


We find the place we need and load a set. God I love theatre designers that have the budget and the understanding to make a set like the one I carried today. No steeldeck. No chipboard. Just good timber, in slats. Smells and feels lovely. Light. It was a pleasure to load in. Just a long drive. And I’m up at dawn tomorrow to get the van back in time. Night night.

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Attic dust

Last night, while he was sleeping, our tiny little cat crept up to Tristan and … shat on top of him. The mercy for Tristan was that he slept long enough for the smell to dissipate into his dreams. He awoke in the morning to a damp hand. He then conducted himself heroically. Next time he comes round he won’t close the bathroom door behind him. But his stoicism was laudable. I put him to work today.

I was cooking breakfast. “So what’s the order of the day?” Tristan asks. I haven’t really thought about it. Its Father’s Day so I know he’ll want company. I’ve asked him to come and help with the stuff-mountain. He’s come and he has put his work hat on. “Make space, then fill it.” I offer.

After a slow bacony morning throwing things away from plastic boxes, the inevitable attic sort begins. My mother used to put things up there that she couldn’t throw away. They were still there, haphazard, with fifteen years of dust. Old blinds, broken frames, bits of timber, cupboard doors, boxes of junk, unwanted VHS players, broken phones. All in boxes in a dry and airless attic with a beautiful complete pigeon skeleton in pride of place that must be twenty years old. I have never experienced so much dust, once I started disturbing it. I was loading it down, Tristan was taking it out onto the fire escape. It’s a redundant fire escape that doesn’t go anywhere. There’s moving air there though. And this stuff was so thick with dust that I occasionally had to come down. One time I was actually sick from dust inhalation. I’ve never experienced that before. My nose, my eyes, and then I had to be sick into the sink and lie down and breathe for twenty minutes.

Then an improvised breath mask out of a scarf and back up to hell. It’s hell up there, but there’s a hell of a lot of space. Especially now. I’ve got everything my mother didn’t know how to throw away, in a shared space in my block – but not actually a fire escape. But there’s more room up there than I imagined. So out with the old, in with the new. This can be dealt with in January when i finish my run of work. This antique dealing is a fine sideline and needn’t be rushed. I’ve got a lifetime of being an actor ahead and now I can make pennies in the quiet times on my own terms, instead of ordering slow teenagers to polish cutlery for entitled parasites to lick their honey off.

Tomorrow morning I’m renting a van for a job. I can keep it here another day perhaps and get all the things done that have to be done. My fee will cover a second days rental.

I’d forgotten how much room there is in the flat. We’ve really made a hole in this huge massive job. It’s a few more days work to get things looking sexy as fuck, but I reckon I’m going to have a fucking awesome pad by the time I’m commuting from Oxford…

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Reflection

I’m with Mel, who caught up with me on Camino by bike. We’ve been talking about that whole walking experience. I’ve not really thought about it since. The two of us threw some theatrish stuff together afterwards, unrelated. Neither of us stopped to blink about Camino. But I underwent a profound internal change. And then went back to old habits for ease while thinking about it.

I learnt so much on Camino. And then I immediately slammed myself back into London existence. Brian quite rightly noticed that I didn’t let the lessons of the path drop in right away. He didn’t phrase it that way. But he made me realise that I walked 700 miles and then immediately slotted into an existence that didn’t take that into account. But I suppose those lessons take time. I’m better placed now to establish what that walk brought me than I was when I arrived home tired and seeking home comforts and wanting the happy old shit.

God, Camino was powerful, taking that time and making that commitment. Rising long before dawn every day and wondering why other people weren’t doing the same when you were on top of a hill alone with l’aube astonished by beauty. My headline photo was set up by walking away from a dawn and propping my camera on a rock with a timer. It is both sincere and insincere. Sincere because, if you look the other way it is a glorious dawn that I wanted to be recorded, and I wanted it to be a picture about rebirth through work. Insincere in that I set my camera to a timer and walked away from it three times before I was happy enough. Curated truth.

Camino was ace as it’s lovely to know what you have to do every day, occasionally. That’s the thing I don’t usually have in my life and – frankly – don’t usually want. I don’t miss knowing my every day. It would definitely kill me to be trapped in an office. But for a little bit I merely had to walk every day. That was all. And it was fine. I’m really not used to jobs that last more than 3 months. I’m fine with this.

Camino.

Get up. Pack efficiently. Walk fifteen miles alongside lovely humans many of whom believe in that patriarchal God. Start looking for a place to sleep. Rely on the infrastructure. Meet lovely humans, eat far too well for the money, go to sleep in a farting room full of bunk beds, wake up when the old guy’s alarm goes off at full volume at 5am, do it again.

That’s part of Camino. And you meet people on the way, even if – like I was -you’re actively trying to be solo. I’m only now taking stock. I think it takes that long to sink in. Good to think back though.

I’d advise it to anyone. I saw some huge beauty, challenged my fears about my capacity, and deepened my spiritual sense. A better use of my time than sitting in an art installation in Smithfield…

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Train and park

It’s a long time in the train from Cornwall to London. By the time I got back into town I really needed to move my body. I walked home from Paddington.

Despite the schizophrenic and entirely unpredictable weather, it mostly was a lovely day. Only about an hour to walk from Paddington and it took me through Hyde Park. On a weekday the park is reasonably empty, although still filled with that modern phenomenon – lines of young men and women sitting beside one another on sunny benches smiling at the things they are individually consuming through their phones. I consciously only took the thing out for photos. For 4 hours on the train I just let my face get sucked into the glowing rectangle.

The squirrels are loading up with nuts, busy and reasonably fearless. Nature knows it’s summer even if the weather hasn’t calibrated it yet… I found the illusion of solitude for a moment, there in that green spot in the middle of the thronging metropolis. London town. Good to be back. Very different from Newquay in feeling.

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“I’ve got to get out of Newquay,” says my cab driver this morning. He’s earning £50 to take me to the station. “It’s alright in the summer, but there’s fuck all in winter.” I ask him about the crack-heads. The whole main street is pulsing with crack heads, aimlessly wandering through the crowds asking for money like you’re at the outdoor bars in Soho in high summer. “Who can blame them?” He says. “There’s no work. They’ve probably never worked a day in their life. They don’t know what it IS to work.”

He came from South Africa to London. Then he moved from London to Newquay chasing change and a good life. “I dunno mate. There was this poster near my work every day. Had a picture of Newquay, telling us to come to Newquay. Looked great. So I needed a change. Get out the city. Shows there’s a difference between pictures and reality. I gotta get back to the city. I can’t do most of the work here either, I’m too old.” It’s interesting how many times I had variants of that conversation down there. People telling me Newquay was dead in winter. It’s pretty there though, make no mistake. I enjoyed exploring. But it feels right to be back here in this strange and busy city where there’s always something going on and you’ve always got somewhere to go to if you can afford the tube fare. Or the time to walk. A couple of little rain squalls, but I got home mostly dry. Much to do now in terms of stuff-logistics. Not my strong point so I’m having to gee myself up for it. But I’m off in a few weeks for a busy busy time, and there is no way in hell I’m leaving things even slightly like this. If I’m really organised I can get things so good that someone can use my room while I’m gone. But that feels like an impossible dream right now in the land of boxes…

Wrap

And it’s a wrap.

I thought I’d write a sober blog. I’ve been a bit drunk and moany recently. I guess we all have phases. But it’s odd. I think I’m pretty happy, but then I wake up and notice that a sleepy version of me felt like ranting about some poor maitre d’hotel. There there darling, you’ll feel better in the morning. Perhaps I need to stick that on my bedroom ceiling.

It’s sweet how they clap you off after your last scene, even for a small part. It’s a lovely bunch, here in Cornwall. And filming is such … unusual work.

Today I had just seven words. So many people working to make them ping. Let me take you through the mystery…

I am picked up from the hotel in a black BMW and driven to a remote farmhouse. Someone in hi vis tells us where to park. They’re connected by earpiece to the walkie talkies. They know things we cannot see. People are driving trailers with expressions of fierce concentration. Others are carrying bits of kit. Reflectors, booms, tripods. I get out of the car and a man in a hat tells me exactly where everything is located even though I’ve been here before. I grab a coffee from the machine on the trailer. Two people are diligently preparing lunches listening to obscure nineties albums. Rhythm and Stealth! “Your costume isn’t here yet. Go straight to makeup.” So I go to makeup. I check I haven’t missed anything shaving now the light is bright in the mirror. “Make me look beautiful.” My face is brushed with base, my hair is combed with comb. “I said make me look beautiful!” “It’s the best we can do”. I am helped into costume. It’s arrived, pristine. Someone is adjusting my starched cuffs, moving my braces an inch to the left, wiping a speck from my shoe as I put in my cufflinks. Before I’ve even had time to get my jacket on someone else is taping wires to the back of my shirt and fixing a mic in my tie, popping the pack down my newly ironed trousers. I walk towards set but stop at the boundary instinctively. It’s raining. Actors in film literally cannot touch rain unless it’s for the scene. We dissolve.

Someone appears wordlessly with overshoes moments after I stop, because the ground is muddy. They even put them on for me. Someone else appears with an umbrella. They hold it over me. I walk through the mud in overshoes, pulling up my trouser legs, selecting each footfall, flanked by a careful umbrella, wary of mudsplash. Then I’m in a barn. Umbrella is down. I take off my own overshoes. “Are you okay doing that yourself?” asks the person whose job it is to do that. “Sorry. Yes?”

There are lots of very clever very quiet people and thousands and thousands of pounds worth of equipment, and everybody has a very specific remit. “We’re going for a rehearsal, they say in German and then in English.” Two people speak quietly for a bit in German. I listen at a door. Someone stands behind me, umbrella open almost vertical against the wind, making sure no rain comes close to me from the squall outside. Someone else stands unnaturally close to me just … flickering a light switch on and off.

Then I call out three words in English, Max jumps onto a crash mat and … Scene.

Everybody talks about things very seriously for a while. People put bits of stuff on the floor so we know where to stop walking. How to act in film? “Hit your mark. Find your light. Know your lines. Don’t be a c*nt.” Simple. It’s a lovely medium to work in.

We do it again with small adjustments. “Ok we go for a take.” The familiar calls, interestingly in English despite German crew. “Camera rolling.” “Speed!” … ! … “Action.” We all keep doing it until everybody seems happy. Then they move things around a bit. “How long have you been acting?” “Twenty years mate. How long have you been flickering light switches?” “Four weeks.” “Enjoying it?” “Loving it.”

Then we do it again only now the clever quiet people are standing in a different place. Occasionally someone appears and puts powder on my face, or brushes dust from my lapel. I say the four words I have left and actively listen to someone speak German for a bit. And then it’s a wrap. It’s my wrap from the job. People clap. It’s a tradition. I’m not quite done though as sound requests a wild track. My last bit of work for the day, after all the other actors have been sent off and I’ve had my wrapclap, is to take five steps and rustle a newspaper in a room where twenty fully grown adults are being so quiet it’s literally like they’re holding their breath. In fact, some of them probably are.

As I am about to turn around to wade back to the barn the first AD shakes my hand. “You make a very convincing sleazeball.” he offers. I laugh. “Yes I do.” And I know it.

Back in the trailer I hang up my costume and get dressed. Lots of people hug me. I grab another coffee, but I’m wrapped before lunchtime. Shame. It looks good. Someone drives me back to the lovely hotel.

Showbusiness, baby. There are far worse ways to earn a living, and I’ve done many of them. More like this thankyouplease.

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