Clearing more storage

There are no bins at Vanguard Self Storage. There were none at big yellow either. It’s cunning. You throw the boxes in there, usually at a time of grief when you’re brain is too full to adequately sort. Then you discover that the bulk of it is magazines about yachts. You still have to take a car load of magazines about yachts off site to get rid of them. And it is slower and harder for you to sort the stuff you’ve stored. So the storage people get more money. There must be some storage millionaires somewhere. Not least among them the guys who own Vanguard, where our grandparent’s furniture has ended up. They have enough wodge kicking around to commission a replica of a WW1 Mark 4 tank and get it craned 54 foot up onto the roof of their building in the outskirts of London. There it sits as we speed past it going about our lives. A big tank distracting us from the building below us – a brick and mortar metaphor for our inability to let go of the past.

We were storing a box of letters to my uncle at Vanguard. Mostly bank statements. He literally never threw a thing away in his life including tissues. Loads of money a month to keep the unit and there’s stuff like that in there. We were storing boxes of paperback Jackie Collins books. All with a monthly cost. We still are. For everything in there that has value, we’ve already paid for it twice by now to keep it. It’s the chances of finding the things that don’t have value but we like – that’s why we are taking the time to sort it now. Plus trying to make back some of what has been blown over the years. A fraction of it.

If I ran one of these storage units I’d have a courtesy skip for customers. I would also quietly employ a skip picker, with the certainty that people would eventually give up on paying to keep things they’ll never sort, take the things with true meaning to them, and put the rest in the courtesy skip. I reckon it would pay for itself in good timber, old sewing machines, wardrobes, ornaments, God knows what. They could have TWO WW1 tanks on top of the building. And we would have been able to offload a load of magazines that MIGHT have value to a collector…

It’s a mixed clientele at the self store. You see men in their fifties carrying antique oak furniture. You see women with massive piles of fabric. We all look a bit tattily dressed as if we’ve spent all our spare money on a storage unit.

Some people run bookshops out of them. God knows how that pays for itself. They are a very expensive oubliette. A sort of liminal space between throwing things out and keeping them, where you can say to the ghosts that you haven’t chucked it even though you have.

I took home some shells today because I like them. Among them was a Nautilus.

Some gauche idiot had stripped all the natural colour off it so it’s just a big shiny chunk of mother of pearl. It’s still lovely. It’ll end up on the shelf in the bathroom. Illegal to sell so I couldn’t buy one if I wanted it. But a lovely odd thing to own and a reminder of our grandparents. While we work out how to get rid of large amounts of their beloved stuff.

“That’s life though, isn’t it,” says Max at one point. “You’re born, you get a load of stuff, you have lots of opinions, then you die and all the stuff goes in a box for twenty years before it’s thrown out.”

Another slow day…

The wind is roaring across the river into my windows, rattling and battering them and reminding me how cold it is in the world. I’ve been toasty warm in my sanctuary up here, a home which is slowly getting cleared although right now the living room is absolutely full of pictures most of which are worthless and I don’t much like them and they’re taking up space. They’re the sort of pictures you might find on the wall of a pub, the majority of them. There’s not even the chance that one of them is a lost whojamaflip, because I’ve already run them all through a basic check and I’ve got a handle on the painters. Probably one of the best ones is of me by an old schoolfriend. Not that he’s doing as well as he ought to, just that the other artists are doing or did worse. I love some of them despite their notional value being low. I’m having to come to terms with how it works even if I don’t like it.

I’ll put the ones I like on the wall, like I did with this “ancient map of fairy land” by Bernard Sleigh, which cost twice the value of the picture to have it reframed, but I don’t care cos I love it. Picture Framing is a MASSIVE SCAM, right? Sure you need some expensive equipment and some specialist knowledge, but it’s not like you have to train for years, and the hourly rate has got to be worth it. If we lock down again, maybe that’s the next skill I’ll teach myself. Then I can chuck a bit of glass with some wood and by a new car from it.

The pictures I don’t like I’ll just have to find a way to eject from the premises, unless the guy from the auction house who I’ll eventually manage to get round here knows more than I do – (which he will, I expect – I hope…)

It’s been another day mostly deleting paragraphs just after writing them, making another cup of tea, looking out the window, making more words, looking out the window again, swearing, deleting them. A desk would help. I’ve officially drawn a line under it now for the day and I’m having a cup of chamomile tea. Then I’ll likely play a computer game that sounds like porn for a while – Divinity Original Sin 2, anyone? It feels like things are slowing down again like they were in February. Maybe we’ll all be asked to stay in our houses again. Maybe we already have been – I’m not hurrying to switch the news on in the morning. It’s never nice. I want the world back please.

I’m inevitably losing the Nissan in the next week. MOT falls due and parking permit expires. It’s going to the scrapheap but I’m going to immediately try and replace it. In my dreams I’m going to get a lovely shiny big car that I can drive as an uber and fill with boxes too. Reality may have other plans. But it means one guaranteed week of transport. If it’s not closed I might spin to Yorkshire one more time…

Quiet day in thought

A year ago today I was in smalltown Indiana, watching old folk do scenes from Macbeth and Henry V in a home. Then we did our five person Twelfth Night, and I doubtless got tipsy on Pabst Blue Ribbon and fell asleep in a hotel room with an alarm set for the first class of the day. We had a pretty disappointing Halloween a few days later. We were in the Christian heartland of Indiana, and there’s nothing in the Bible about Halloween. Denton Texas provided a much livelier example of American Halloween some six years previously where we went to a frat party, so my high hopes were dashed by Winona Lake, where it was just a stinky bar and a man in a stetson howling into a microphone.

I occasionally look back on my blogs from last year to remind myself how quickly everything can change. I found myself thinking about the fallout of Brexit and worrying from afar about how things would be when I got back – would my movement be restricted? Ha. And then some.

Less than a year ago, five of us were flying to a different state every week. We were going into rooms full of strangers and getting them to throw balls around, visiting old folk, standing on stages facing rooms full of people sitting next to one another. We’d play foursquare and then hug each other properly. It all seems like visions of another lifetime. I adore traveling for work – it’s pretty much my number one thing to do full stop. Seeing new places and acting? My two big ticks. Can’t easily do either of them right now, although I’m giving it my best shot.

On set yesterday we had to limit numbers, be very careful about masks, sanitise our hands frequently, be two meters apart… To the five actors in Indiana we would have looked like absolute neurotics. But if I was to say I’d gone into an old folk’s home to talk about Shakespeare today you can be sure I’d get a barrage of messages asking what the heck I thought I was doing. People wouldn’t be pulling punches. People very quickly get very nasty about this disease on social media, I’ve noticed. Nothing directed at me yet, but the tone shifts FAST. It’s a nasty insidious little disease. And it’s not helping anything if we forget to be kind to one another. The less we are able to connect the more we have to try to connect. It serves nothing to sit in the endorphins of our own sense of doing it right, and to throw stuff at the people we think are not.

Anyway, I haven’t left the house. I did some writing and some cleaning today. That’s it. That’s all she wrote. I made the corridor neater. So now I have a nice kitchen, bathroom, bedroom and corridor. This is called progress.

I’ll be ready to take Airbnb guests right about the time that nobody in the world is coming to London. But I’m gonna keep plugging at it. Tomorrow is another worky day. So much to do…

Filming around an emptying city

It’s warm again. I’ve been filming all day. I asked the director if I could blog it and he told me I could blog it once it’s made, by which time I’d have forgotten about it and I’ll be doing something completely different. So with no clear line on what I can or can’t say I’m not going to say much. Always err on the side of caution.

We’ve been going around London landmarks with a bunch of great big polystyrene things. Set them up, get a quick shot, into the van, next stop. We buzzed by Parliament, Downing Street, Buckingham Palace and Covent Garden Market. We met a few nice cops, and a slightly more insistent private security bloke. The less power the more bluster.

Polystyrene is light, in theory, but oh God my fingers and my triceps are aching after some long hauls. We got some nice shots though so it was worth it. I think it’ll look good and serve the purpose for which it was commissioned, and I’m happy with my part in it, which was lots of carrying and a little bit of improvising around a script.

I finished work at 4pm in Old Street. It’s just a couple of hours walk home from Old Street. Despite being tired, I’m not a fan of public transport when I’m not in a hurry these days. Too expensive anyway, and now there’s way too much neurosis. So I’m halfway home by shanks’ pony and I’ve stopped in an old City of London boozer for a non-alcoholic beer. Cheers.

I love walking this city, and it’s interesting to see what’s functioning and what’s shut. I think we are only now beginning to contemplate the extent to which this pandemic will reshape the city centres. We still think it’ll all ping back at some point. Maybe it just … won’t.

The food outlets that cater to city workers are mostly closed with signs telling us they’ll be back. The hairdresser’s academy is going great guns though – packed with young men and women in protective gear snipping away.

My friend wrote on Facebook that she had to get her stuff back from the office. Everybody talks as if it’s temporary, but it wouldn’t surprise me if working from home becomes the new ant farm. I fucking detest offices for all the little powerplays and the one-upmanship and the false friendships. But actually it’s got to be good for people to not be able to choose who they spend their time with. Plus you end up getting much better at being a person if you have to work around the shape of other humans. You can even make actual friends.

Social Media is pushing us hard enough into isolated bubbles, and in the UK we are still favouring the politics of sitting in a locked box scratching at the sides. A lot of people don’t like anybody that isn’t exactly them.

If the office buildings sit empty though, what’s going to happen to them? They won’t turn into hotels because “Sven is just going to Zoom us from Germany – we don’t have to fly him over”.

Maybe they’ll end up full of hairdressers and artists. Maybe they’ll mostly sit empty. Maybe all the cities will start to look like Detroit in the wake of this fucker. Who knows. But I’m happy to set up a charitable company and take custody of an empty building to make good theatre that I believe in. If anybody has the building going. I have a few good ideas bouncing around right now.

Meantime I’m glad to be back on set. More of that please… More. Of. That.

Words on the page, words on stage

Time is moving so quickly. It’s crazy. In April it was like wading through soup but now the days are just galloping by. I’m trying to do some writing in the daytime as well as for this evening blog but it’s so easy to distract myself. I’m making progress but I am learning that the only way to do it properly is to have a dedicated space where I go and treat writing like a job – and currently there isn’t room in my flat for an office so my bed is the only option.

I could probably blog while taking off in a rocket because the habit is so ingrained, but despite my little screenplay blog a few days ago when the car got broken into I’m finding it very slow going working out who says what and when they say it in a script for stage. It’s a different discipline, all this writing from inside the practical constraints of a play. Multiple voices but not as many as I need. A new set of limitations. Trying not to ask for the impossible whilst asking for what would be fun. Trying not to just sound expositiony or empty or trite or explainy. This is going to take some serious selfshaking.

Playwrights, I take my hat off to you. I’ll try not to mangle your words next time I’m acting them out. Prose has always fallen out of my head in some form of vague order. Verse assembles itself effectively but I’m too shy to share it most of the time. Dialogue tumbles disordered into my iPad where I’m constantly reassembling and doubting it.

As an actor I’ve sworn too many times at scripts where writers make me speak their needs or perform their transparent fantasies. I’ve grumbled as I’ve had to learn huge tracts of exposition that could be reduced to a gesture and word, or when I’ve had to walk into a room, speak my needs, and then change the subject to the next needed conversation with “but anyway”. “Hi Bella. I’m here to get the gun so I can go out hunting for pheasants. But anyway, have you heard back from the police about your lost puppy?” You’d be amazed how often it gets sent out to the actors like that. (Example made up for illustrative purposes).

Now I’m finding out how easy it is to fall into those lazy playwriting traps myself. I’ve had to go with the overused adage : “Don’t get it right, get it written.” I’m gonna get it written and then rewrite most of it while swearing at myself for being a clumsy fool the first time round. There’s the beginning of something I think I’ll enjoy. But time’s a ticking. I should have had a first draft by Monday. I’m way behind schedule. And I’m filming tomorrow. Still, I’ll get something out there I reckon. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from doing this daily blog it’s to just put it out there. If you build it…

The office

Hill House in Ross (tired blog)

Oh it’s strange to be back in London. Just two nights, we had, in Ross on Wye – just on the border of a Wales about to close the doors again. We stayed in The Hill House. It’s one man’s glorious folly and one man’s foolish glory. I adore Duncan. He inhabits the building completely – with his two friendly old bull mastiffs. He’s going to get some chickens and some pigs before too long, or so he plans. It’s a big old building atop the hill, windblown in winter but looking out over Monmouthshire and Wales with a glorious aspect. He doesn’t charge what you’d expect for what you get. We were both delighted at the amount we paid. It might not be to everybody’s taste, because it has actual personality. I doubt Duncan is making much profit from his business, considering the generosity of his welcome. But he’s making whoever stays with him very happy. He’s a kind and good man and he’s working like a train on his own.

We stayed in The Dryad Suite, in a bed that spans the borders of at least two countries. Draped and custom built for the room, it has a warm and comfortable vast mattress. Lou rises early and even she found it easy to just roll over and bury back down as we reset ourselves completely over two nights away. It’s basically the honeymoon suite, empty because of the cove. We got lucky when we booked and he offered it to us. I slept like a log in there last night after a huge bath. I’m not used to the silence or the dark, and we had both in abundance. I feel so rested. Ready for a full day’s writing tomorrow and then some random filming on Friday. Ready for more of the stress of this fucking year.

As I was writing the last paragraph I got a text from one of the Steves that we met there. The representatives of the metropolitan police. I just got a photo of retired Steve on the river bank with a fish almost as big as he is. Yesterday they caught nothing and they were there at first light. Today, clearly, a whopper. I’m glad it worked out. He’ll throw it back of course. Tough lads, the Steves, with a huge amount of heart despite a difficult job. I can see why they keep coming back to Hill House to relax. Any ghosts that try and fuck with them will get arrested.

Because apparently it’s haunted. I didn’t feel anything malevolent. Maybe some mischief. But it draws in the ghost hunters as well – and the pagans and the wiccans. They give a discount for The Children of Artemis, who I had to Google. It’s a witchy society. There’s a little ceremony place in the woods that we found.

They also discount for things Duncan clearly thinks are important – RSPB members for instance. $5 surcharge for Daily Mail readers…

It’s one of those special places that isn’t trying to be anything other than what it is. There’s no way in hell I won’t try and stay there again if I’m in that neck of the woods. And I think I will find myself back that way because there’s great beauty there. There’s ancient land and vast calm. Plus the dinner is yummy.

Tintern and death cap

Pulling into the car park at Symond’s Yat it was there in a patch of sunlight, beckoning. I stopped the car immediately. My knife was in my pocket so I cut it out and brought it into the car with us. I wasn’t sure what it was. I probably would’ve been a bit more circumspect if I had been sure. Now I’m pretty sure it was a fucking Death Cap. I pulled the top off and it bled purple. It smelt of raw potato though so might have been a false death cap. Either way, after a while the smell in the car bothered me so I threw it out the window – after photographing it to identify at leisure later. The reason I have strict rules about three positives is because I know some of these things can be killers. This one first among them, but it was my first near positive on Amanita Phalloides. Little bastard. If it was, i’m pretty sure inhaling the spores won’t take me out. I’ll know in a day or so one way or the other. It’s a pretty slow but inevitable way to clock out, so it’ll make the last few blogs … interesting. Here it is:

Apart from that it was a lovely day.

We went walkies. Up and around the Yat, which is a big rock with views. Then into the car and over to Tintern Abbey. I had an appointment with Wordsworth. A little over a year ago I read “Tintern Abbey” to a rapt Texan audience in Austin. It was ferociously hot, and a little tear surprised me as I read it, more for appreciation of the clarity of his expression than from any deep emotional personal connection. Despite my pragmatic / stoic streak – (see previous paragraph for reference) – I can be a right snowflake for old words well spoken.

We walked up to The Devil’s Pulpit where Lou had to hear me read it to the abbey. The pulpit is a jut of stone overlooking the skeleton of the abbey with a beautiful aspect. It’s where legend has it that Old Nick stood trying to lure the monks into the pleasures of the wild. It’s as good a shot as any other at being the place where Wordsworth stopped with his sister and had a rare moment of spontaneous poetry writing – rather than his usual emotion recollected in tranquility stuff. I honoured his spirit as I read his thoughts, and a little robin came and hung out right by my foot as I read. It stuck around, hoping no doubt for crumbs.

And now I’m in the bath. On balance, so long as I don’t die, this has been a delightful mini-break…

(nb for those of a nervous disposition: “You can even chew and spit a small piece of deathcap or any other poisonous mushroom and be totally absolutely fine. Eating and swallowing the mushroom is the dangerous part, smell, taste, and touch are not.” Reddit. WHICH IS BETTER THAN SOME OF THE NEWS SOURCES YOU SWEAR BY.

Haunted house

Ross on Wye. Ross Angeles. Somewhere near Wales. I’m lying on a seven foot four poster bed in a haunted house. Downstairs people have written advice on the walls such as “Never summon anything you can’t banish.” There’s a mural to my right on the shutters of naked dryads hugging a tree. Lou is running the huge bath next door. I’m taking a moment to recover from having eaten everything in the whole world. I’m sprawled under the damask drapes, watching my breath condense in the night air.

After the drive we went for a walk in the woods. Mushrooms and toadstools aplenty including a panther cap, deceivers, oysters and a lovely branch covered in birch polypores which I thought about making into tea before I remembered my rule of three positive identifications before consumption is allowed. A black cat stalked us throughout, flanking us as we walked, approaching to yowl at us and bang its head on our hands as we gathered chestnuts or inspected fungus. I half expected it to suddenly transform into a twenty foot being of fire and time howling with the breath of the void between dimensions. It remained a cat, sat on Lou, purred a lot. We decided it was a she, and asked the keeper its name. “Cats don’t have names,” Duncan chided us. I call it Bertie but I could call it anything and it would still only care about food.

We went on a mini break. We aren’t the only guests here. It’s Duncan’s family home – huge and old and strange and definitely haunted. Duncan himself is a little bit fae – a little bit possessed – but boy oh boy he squeezes a hell of a meal out of that Aga. We sat at a table downstairs and gradually pushed it all into our faces sitting opposite the two other guests.

The two other guests… Not what you’d expect of a place like this. They’re both metropolitan policemen called Steve. One of them is retired and the other is still active. They’re here for the fishing. Conversation at the table was lively and unfamiliar. I don’t regularly hang out with coppers, although I got involved in training detectives at Hendon for a few years back in the earlier noughties. I’d pretend to be an arsonist and they’d interview me. It was refreshing to sit and talk with people who have seen the things they’ve seen. Their worldview is so different to much of what is familiar to me as an artistic type in privileged London. Retired Steve was talking about Thomas Tallis and his favourite piece of classical music. Then he put on Led Zeppelin and insisted that there are some humans that are just unremittingly evil.

We can’t easily go anywhere far away from the UK, so we might as well go to the Welsh borders and hang out in a haunted house full of pagans and cops and with a demon cat on a Sunday and Monday. There are definitely worse ways to spend an actor’s weekend. Tomorrow we’ll likely wander into more woods for fun and forage. Right now I’m gonna warm up in the bath…

Not my dog. Not my house. Photos lie.

Last joy bomb

It’s been a lovely couple of days but fuck me it’s exhausting being happy all the time. I’ve been back in the window prancing for the public. Reuters came yesterday and took some photos and ran an article : “Fun for fun’s sake“. Lovely for the artist to get Reuters to cover her first installation. They scared off all the public with their cameras, but took a good interview from Amy the artist. She’s an excellent human, and that sort of thing can only be helpful in terms of pitching for more joy. She provided some much needed and scarce employment in a performative medium in these dark times. The constant expenditure of energy and time on something joyous but ephemeral has been my number one jam for decades now, so this ticked the boxes.

“This is better than dinner at Claridges” said one fellow. He’d just come out of Claridges with his family and I’m not sure if it was an excoriating review of their dinner or high praise for us. I’ll go with the latter.

It’s been glorious and strange. There was a little girl who was allergic to cats who fell in love with my cat a little bit. She was giving me instructions in mime for ages. It was like being the jester for a benevolent empress. I ended up having to copy her dance moves. She was trying to teach me to floss – that’s the dance all the kids are doing. She was considerably better at it than I was. She was so sad to say goodbye that I was sad too. I passed a balloon to her and her mum and purred through the door a bit. I never thought my well studied cat noises would come in so handy. It’s funny what life turns up.

All this madness has helped me keep fit. I think I’ve actually lost weight this week. “I don’t know how you two keep it up all day,” we are told. Nor do I. I have a feeling the lucky coincidence of both of us being on the wagon really helped. There were some great bottles of red wine being opened and consumed directly above us. I was very very aware of them. We were frequently offered glasses that an earlier version of me would have necked as soon as the work was done. Instead I’m stone cold sober, running a bath and boiling the kettle for a hot water bottle. I feel worked out and I’ll sleep heavy and late because the adrenaline takes time to clear, but I’m driving long tomorrow in my dying car with a newly smashed window. I’ll need to be rested as I’m not using caffeine to keep bouncing.

I’m still surfing the wave of feeling good about being off the chemicals. No coffee and I can still dance all day. No booze and I can often sleep all night. I miss good wine still, but I’m already pretty cool about no coffee. That’s a broken habit that will save me thousands over time. I used to think I couldn’t get up without the stuff.

But that’s the end of that for now. Another random lockdown job. What will be next? Inevitably something ridiculous and wonderful. And hopefully a new car, as that idiot smashing the window yesterday has driven pretty much the final nail into the viability of the Micra. He / they even did some crap graffiti on the wall outside:

Chelsea Thief – The Screenplay

EXT CHELSEA STREET NIGHT. 1am. A small crescent street by the river. Autumn, but unseasonably warm. 2020, the year of Coronavirus. We see a young man – NERBERT – with a torch and in a balaclava. He is sweating. Visibly uncomfortable. His eyes are desperation sick. He’s casing the cars for valuables. He’s mumbling to himself, looking from side to side. The streets are deserted.

We see him approach a red Nissan Micra. The rear numberplate has been replaced by a piece of paper, the numbers on the plate are written in sharpie. There are dinks and scratches all over the back bumper. There’s some gaffer on the rear window, just randomly stuck there for no reason. The rear driver’s side tyre is flat. Nobody in their right mind would think there was anything of value in this car. It clearly belongs to a broke idiot.

NERBERT: (to himself) This is a good’un. Gonna be something good. Gonna find it here. Gonna get Molly her Euros.

NERBERT approaches the car. He shines his torch over the contents. A book about mushrooms. A tatty blanket. An old sleeping bag. Papers. Boxes. Rubbish. Tarot cards. Then his torch lights on an open black leather holdall. He looks closer. Money. Euros. He can’t believe his luck. A black leather holdall full of Euros just casually slung into the back of the car. They’re spilling out of the bag like they have no value. NERBERT checks his surroundings, takes out the claw hammer he might have used to steal one of Brian’s motorbikes, and shatters the small rear window in one practiced hit.

CUT TO

INT CHELSEA BEDROOM NIGHT. AL – handsome, dashing, devil-may-care. He sits upright in bed to the noise, and we see his ripped abs glistening in the moonlight. He’s heard it. He listens for a while, alert, completely still so we can gaze upon him. We get lost in his eyes. Eventually he puts his head back down to the pillow.

AL: (to himself) Prolly nothing.

Those eyes close. Darkness.

CUT TO

EXT CHELSEA STREET NIGHT

NERBERT has been quietly winding down the rear window of the Micra. He scrambles into the car and hastily grabs two fistfuls of fifty euro notes. One of them floats unnoticed from his fist back onto the back seat. His eyes look bright with triumph. He backs out of the car, leaving the door open, and walks away from us, a spring in his step, clutching two fistfuls of Euros. He is a long way from us before it occurs to him to stuff them into his pockets.

CUT TO

EXT CHELSEA STREET DAY. Al walks towards the Micra, a spring in his step. He takes his keys out of his pocket, but we see him stop in his tracks as he sees the mess left by Nerbert. He reaches in through the hole and picks up the single note that fell from Nerbert’s hand. He inspects it.

AL: Oh for fuck’s sake.

SLOW FADE TO

INT NISSAN DAY – driving. Al is on speakerphone.

COP: (through phone) Was there anything valuable in the vehicle.

AL: Well … the bag was worth a couple of hundred but they left it. There were some crocodile skin watch straps, a bit of German porcelain. Silver candlestick… They left all that. The only thing they took was a stack of joke money that we used when we were running a game last summer. I was moving the bag back from Hampstead yesterday and left it in there.

CUT TO

INTERIOR BASEMENT DAY

NERBERT is still wearing his balaclava. He’s clearly walked all the way to this basement. It’s not nice in here. Natural light comes through little windows in the top of the room where we occasionally see the feet of people walking past at street level. Nerbert seems both nervous and triumphant. A bit too close behind him stands GONK. 6′ 5 if he’s an inch. Wearing a surgical mask, GONK looks like he pulls the legs off kittens for fun. Truth is he prefers puppies. In front of NERBERT sits BIG MOLLY behind an ornate leather top desk loaded with ledgers and, unusually, with little ceramic ornaments and figurines. She is unmasked, dangerous, short. Big Molly is thinking. Palpable tension.

BIG MOLLY: Show me.

NERBERT reaches into his pockets, starts piling the money on the desk.

NERBERT: It’s all here. Euros too, like you asked. There’s more than you want. You can have them all. We’re square, though, yeah?

BIG MOLLY reaches across and we see an incongruous plastic strap on her expensive diamond wristwatch. She slowly picks up a magnifying glass. There is practiced pantomime here. She lifts a single note. She squints at it. We see what she sees.

NERBERT: So … we’re good right? We’re square?

BIG MOLLY: Is that a duck, or a goose?

NERBERT: …

BIG MOLLY: Hey Gonk – whaddaya reckon?

GONK: Mallard.

BIG MOLLY: Mallard? (To NERBERT) And is mallard duck, or is it goose, asshole.

NERBERT: I don’t…

BIG MOLLY: ANSWER THE QUESTION.

GONK, professional behind NERBERT, puts the tip of his little finger into his mouth.

NERBERT: A duck. It’s a duck.

BIG MOLLY: It’s a duck. And what the fuck country in Europe has a fucking duck on its fucking note?

NERBERT: Belgium?

BIG MOLLY: This is fake money, asshole. You come in here, you try to give me this shit, whaddaya think I am?

NERBERT: It’s real! It was in Chelsea in this … this amazing car.

BIG MOLLY: Oh Nerbert Nerbert Nerbert. I told you three months ago. You either pay me in Euros or you replace the things of mine you lost: A vintage leather holdall, a crocodile skin watch strap, a silver candlestick and an antique German ceramic figurine.

GONK: Meissen.

BIG MOLLY: I’d even take Sitzendorf. But … no. No. You try to pay me in ducks. In DUCKS! Hey, Gonk – he’s ducking payment!

(She laughs at her joke. GONK smiles and makes eye contact with Molly. Something passes between them. A tiny nod. Gonk takes his little finger from his mouth. We see the tip of it glisten wet with saliva.)

BIG MOLLY: (standing) You know what this means?

NERBERT: Please! It’s delayed because of the virus! I’ll do anything! I’ll get the stuff for you! I’ll find it somehow! I need more time!

BIG MOLLY: You know what time it is? It’s wet finger time.

NERBERT: I’m supposed to be isolating! I’ve got an aging grandmother! I do the shopping for her!

We pan out as we see Gonk rip off NERBERT’S balaclava revealing the sad face of a chinless opportunist, with big tempting ears. Gonk’s slimy finger goes into Nerbert’s ear with the precision of long practice.

NERBERT: (screaming, desperate) EEW NO IT’S WEIRD STOPPIT IT MIGHT BE CONTAGIOUS YUUUUK

And we pan out to wide on this scene until we see the feet of somebody walking past the window at ground level and we follow their movement, up through the window into …

EXT STREET ABOVE BASEMENT CONT.

… where we pan slowly up the walker’s firm body from behind pausing overlong on that tight butt. For who is it but AL? He’s striding delightfully past the window just at this moment with his usual unnatural gift for timing. He’s walking alongside Olivia Coleman, who is dressed as a panda mascot. He’s on the phone and she doesn’t seem to mind.

AL: Yeah it’s fine. They left the bag and the watch straps and the silver and the Sitzendorf. Just took the fake money. And I’ll be scrapping it in a week or two so nothing really lost but security. Silly fuckers. I hope somebody sticks a wet finger in their ear… Hang on I’ll call you back.”

They have faintly heard Nerbert, behind and below, screaming : “Not the other ear! Ewww” They pause for a moment.

Al: (to Olivia) Someone screaming?

Olivia Coleman: Prolly nothing.

And they walk away from us.

FADE TO BLACK