The West London Dump. Park Royal. I have used my West London resident chip to dump a rented van load of stuff without paying. I think you get one every year.

Arriving at the dump I immediately recognise the guy who is “supervising”. I think I wrote a blog about him once, when I had the Soul Van and was doing clearances. I got to know him because I told him I had already salvaged the things that were resellable long before I got to him. Back then he didn’t believe me for 3 loads when I said I’d sorted it. He watched everything super closely. After the third he stopped being interested in my output as he understood that I knew value and he trusted me. He let me do one load almost entirely unsupervised. That’s about when I could’ve made a fortune illegally dumping nuclear asbestos bodies.

He knows the perks of his “I work in the dump” job very very well, that guy. He works a low paid job, but he’s managed to make it positive for himself. “I normally work up in the commercial bit,” he tells me and I know that because I used to have him watch my every move as I was throwing every single box. He was looking for treasure. And nuclear waste. But your eye attunes to what is “normal”. I haven’t been in the domestic waste bit before. When I had the van it was normally up in commercial. In domestic waste, you sort things into categories. It takes a lot longer, but you feel much more as if the things you are throwing away will find another life. In commercial waste, where we had no choice but to throw the Rotterdam flats, it feels like it’s just geared for speed. Even though we had mostly wood, it’ll be just munged and burnt. This is not helpful. It means that the individuals have a romantic idea about dumps, where they put everything into bays and then the things go back round. But the truth is, while you’re carefully separating your cardboard, just up the road there are fifteen vans hydraulically dumping random shit that will just be compacted. Unless the guys at the tip rescue it. Like the guy I remembered.

His home is likely a palace of random beauty. He has an active eBay I’m sure. He’s worked it all out. People throw away lovely things.

I had to throw away something like 6 crates of beer once, after a corporate job. “Take them to the dump,” I was told. And then the producer literally actually came with me in the van to make sure I threw them away. “Sometimes people are asked to take things to the dump and they don’t do it,” he said. “I’m here to make sure you do.” I still think that guy was a fucking psychopath, sitting with me to make sure I threw the beer away… But he was paying me and he had bought the beer, so in the end he had the choice. He could have stopped it. He didn’t.

It still burns me thinking about it, but the beer we threw would’ve been drunk by the likes of my dumpfriend. And maybe that’s okay, because all I can remember about the producer who came in the van with me was that he was unbelievably socially awkward and that nowadays I would have just fought him and distributed the beer amongst the staff, but I’m happier for it to have gone to the dump staff than somebody as awkward as him.

I can’t even remember what the job was. But what a tit, supervising me to throw away beer. I remember very clearly, he volunteered himself into the van at the literal last second. Because yeah, you can be absolutely certain, I would not have thrown that beer away if he hadn’t come in the van to make sure I did. But that is the behaviour of somebody literally evil.

“Did that lion just show up one day?” “Yes.” “Thought so. Great work putting it up there.”

A lion on a plinth. But that must be just the shallow end of what is dropped off in these places. Like me with my unwilling six crates of beer. I knew I was throwing something useful, but I had blonde mister high status on my shoulder and I was way too young and obedient to defy him. Worse things happen all the time.

I was listening to an interview with the son of Harpo Marx. Salvador Dali was a huge admirer of Harpo’s silence. Said he was a true surrealist. He constructed a harp strung with barbed wire as a special gift to Harpo, expressing the pain of his creativity. Harpo’s wife thought it was ugly and pointless. She threw it away. Terrifying in retrospect. Surely even in his lifetime Dali was known enough for her to have a sense of how many millions such a harp could command? Maybe not though. Like the people our dump friend relies on for his wonders. “New lamps for old!” Throw away your beautiful things and replace them with molded plastic tack!!

I threw a lot of furniture into those boxes. It was hard but there’s nowhere to put it. There was one chair I just couldn’t dump. I don’t know how it made its way to us but it was made out of oak and leather at least 200 years ago and I couldn’t just hurl it… It’s in my boot. It’ll likely end up on the street.


Failed attempt

I usually have Radio 4 playing when I drive. Sometimes I’m deep in my head and it’s just noise, but other times I key right into what’s being said. They were running a program about mushrooms the other day and my friend Zoe showed up. Max appears from time to time to tell us about beetles. But even when there’s no personal connection, it’s often interesting and it tends to feel like they’re trying to do the best journalism they can do – and trying to keep it balanced.

In the van today I was enjoying The News Quiz. Inevitably they had to joke about how the current administration have got the knives out for the BBC. It’s a bittersweet listen at the moment, that sort of thing.

There’s a good spread of opinion though on that radio channel, and of course you can’t put a pay-wall on a radio so it’s clear that our esteemed culture secretary is not thinking this through if she wants the Netflix model. Damn I would be lost if radio adverts started to show up on BBC. The times I’ve had long drives tuned into a commercial station have always quite quickly reached the stage where I have to switch it off, change it or drive into a tree to make it stop. I rarely have to do that with Radio 4, although I had a long drive on the day Prince Philip died and I had to switch it off.

The only useful thing I’ve done today is drive. Today was a total failure of a day. I wrote it off. Thankfully when I rented the van they have me 5 days for the price of 4 and I took it in case something like this happened. The dump was closed, so I drove across town to Park Royal and you have to book in advance online these days, and they’d used all their slots. So essentially I drove a massive van full of stuff to Stoke Newington, picked up Jack, drove to Wembley, got turned away, drove Jack back home, went back to where I started. Great big pointless round trip. Now I’m booked in for half twelve tomorrow. Not counting the time with Jack, having to bypass the congestion charge zone meant about two hours driving alone, hence Radio 4 to keep me sane and keep my mind ticking over. Some people I know dismiss the BBC calling it “mainstream media”, but the programming there is so much more varied than all the YouTube videos of people sounding important. I think if I was just listening to that stuff I’d have found the right tree to steer at even in central London.

Tomorrow we will chuck the damp furniture. I will get the van back in plenty of time. All will be well.

Got it out

It was bright in the morning. I went off half cocked. I didn’t even realise how cold it was until I was halfway to the van but then I turned around as I wasn’t wearing a scarf or a coat and I was going to be in that warehouse for hours. I ran back up and grabbed some warmer clothes but no gloves. I own some perfectly functional workman’s gloves. Idiot.

Just a few slices, but there’s no first aid kit or running water. Gaffer tape is reasonably functional as a plaster but next time I’m not going to forget my gloves. Ow.

We got the rest of the stuff out of that warehouse, but we finished way too late for the tip which closes at half three. It’s a hard thing to throw something close to me, but the nature of the warehouse is going to make it easier. We are gonna have to throw away a lot of the Christmas Carol bits that have accumulated over the years.

We put it in there just over two years ago. I remember thinking as we loaded it in that we were probably taking more stuff than we needed. But we brought it all into the warehouse.

The roof leaks. There’s now a fine coating of mildew on everything. Lots of the books are damp. As for the serving platters, they are mostly gone to rust. It’s not the best place to store metal and paper, that warehouse. Problem is though, how do you keep London shows that are sleeping? You need a friend with a barn that’s achievable from London, or you need to have your own family pile. If there’s a barn and it leaks it’s still much better than no barn. Storage space is just way too expensive in a city where some people are asking for £80 a night for you to sleep on a mattress they’ve bunged into the cupboard under the stairs.

Tonight the van is sleeping outside my flat, full to the brim with damp furniture and plastic boxes full of set dressing. We will likely salvage some things – hopefully enough to run a bare bones version of the show in London next Christmas if it feels like the right thing to do. I guess anything else we need we will have to find in pre-production. It was suffering out in that warehouse anyway, and for the short term now we can move what we want to keep into Jack’s office, and throw the rest into the expensive tip.

I’m home now, having properly cleaned and savlonned my fingers, soaked myself thoroughly and made a chamomile tea. Bed is calling. One more day with this van tomorrow. Oh joy.

Big load of rubbish

Ah yes I remember now. The economics of rubbish. As soon as you have a van it becomes very expensive to throw anything away.

We loaded up with a whole damn ton of timber. Massive unwieldy flats with cupboards and electrics embedded in them. It was a squeeze getting them all into the back of the Luton, especially considering I was hung-over. Then we drove to Leyton Bywaters. Too big to transfer into a car or carry them in. We were paying tip-weight however we tried to spin it.

Huge open air piles, where trucks are tipping their backs up and unloading so much stuff willy nilly to be compacted by machines. The air is filled with particles. As we approach in the van, a little bit of tape spool blows across the road in the shifting winter wind. Without the benefit of storage and time we had to send the flats quickly back out of the van. Hopefully the wood will be salvaged. Hopefully there’ll be some use for it. It felt terrifically wasteful, but anybody who knows me will understand how I much prefer to try and reuse things than to buy them new. We hurled it all into the anomalous pile.

A literal ton, and with VAT they expect close to £200 just to give us a place to get rid of it. At that rate you can see why fly-tipping in the countryside is such a terrible problem. If you’re broke and you credit card rented a van for a day to take a load of rubble out of your basement, and then you get told that you’ll be paying £180 a ton with a minimum of £90 – I can see why you might be tempted to sling the stuff into a layby and make it somebody else’s problem. And it’s doubly galling when much of the stuff is decent. That was good wood. Gone now. Good throwing-away practice. I’m still terrible at it.

By the time I got home I was exhausted. I’ve picked up a cough somewhere – perhaps the dust in the warehouse. I was coughing before we even got to the dump. Not likely to be Covid if I’ve just come out of it. But I’m in bed now and it’s barely ten. Gonna get some rest.

Another big load tomorrow, this time mostly antique brown furniture that isn’t good enough to sell. That and large damp antique books, and silver plate candlesticks. Things that have found their way into the Christmas Carol stable over the years and have no value. I’m going to try to avoid tipping them as for one month every year they are golden. But they all have to be somewhere else by the end of tomorrow. I’m leaving nothing but the water tank of doom. The heaviest single object on the planet. I have no idea how that’s gonna move. There’s a forklift right next to it and I was gonna work out how to operate the thing, but apparently it’s already broken which saves me doing it by mistake. That’s for tomorrow. For tonight, rest and coughing…

Having to throw away flats

Driving into London from the East on the M11 at sunset you get a remarkable vista of tall buildings set against the fire of the sky.

Jack and I went to Bishop’s Stortford and loaded up with slightly damp costumes and timber. Our mission is to get this stuff out as cheaply as feasible. We had Marcus there with us at the start. His job was to help us know what was to go and what was to stay. His slightly laissez-faire attitude helped me modify my worry. I didn’t want to chuck anything vital, and at the same time I didn’t want to leave anything that needed to be chucked. I think I’ve got a handle on it now. He didn’t seem to mind so long as we took the obvious things. I was trying to be thorough.

The dump is closed at Park Royal – it’s shut every Tuesday and Wednesday, probably because it’s open on the weekend when people do their house clearance. But it means that the van is sleeping outside my house with a load of flats in it, and random bits of wood. Guys, if you need wood and you have a vehicle the next few evenings I’ll be sleeping in Chelsea with a van full of wooden flats and things that burn. It’s ahead of taking them to the tip in Park Royal and paying tip weight. I’d gladly rehouse anything with you but … you’d have to come to me.

We found a clothes bank and hoiked a huge amount of random theatre costume into it for The Salvation Army. There are going to be some homeless people in Essex looking absolutely fabulous because of this. Tomorrow we will be back to get all the bits of London Christmas Carol that have gathered over the years. I think the biggest bits were originally from Mike Leigh’s Peterloo film, channeled through a Hammer Horror show and eventually into Carol. Some of it we will try to rehome, for sure. But faced with a deadline (Saturday) and a limited amount of time with the van, it is likely we will just be hurling wood into recycling and paying for the privilege. By all means message if you think you can house it. If you cover the petrol I’ll bring it to you. But otherwise, I’ve got a job to do.

After work I went out for drinks with Tristan and his agent, who was in my year at Guildhall. Tristan ended up back at my flat briefly. He found the moleskine capes for the first time, and has taken one. “This is wonderful,” be was gushing. And yes. They are. Very specific. But wonderful. And I’m letting them find a bit more time to find their home. He went home with one under his arm.

The flats I’ve got in my van at the moment have been customised so much that they aren’t much use to anybody as generic flats. They are bulky. They were likely made at great expense in a workshop somewhere. In context they are exactly what was needed. Outside of that … they are just unwieldy chunks of painted wood.

I’ve never been very good at letting go. I try to help things go round again. But this job is too big. I’m having to be ruthless. Tomorrow will be harder as it’s going to be Carol stuff so directly connected to me. I just wish I had a country estate. And a barn. But don’t we all?

I took no photos again… Here’s one of some random bits…

Restful admin day

Van is booked and a few days work on the horizon now. Today was for admin. Booking these annoying tests ahead of travel. Digging around in old invoices. Going to the bank.

It’s cold and dark. There’s beauty in the winter but not so much in London. I’ve been comforting myself with projecting forward to getting away for a week on the 29th. But there’s a good two weeks to fill up first.

It’s ten and I’m in bed. Early start tomorrow. I’ve been reading my almanac. This full moon in cancer is at least proud and visible in the night sky. Something bright to look at. And there’s all sorts of advice about what to plant in the garden, and tide charts. Recipes. Even a little story. “The farmer and the boggart.” I’ve bought this little almanac every year for a few years now and it is a companionable read. It helps me know what to look out for. Makes the grey days a little more mindful.

Holly and robins. Mating foxes. A nebula just shy of Orion’s Belt. Chickweed, pheasants and rhubarb. Good fresh gruyère from France. And I should’ve picked it up earlier as I’ve missed The Holly Man of Bankside, swarming over the Millennium Bridge to the Globe with his troupe of mummers on Twelfth Night. Likely I would’ve gone and enjoyed that – something geeky and trying to be ancient right on my doorstep.

Chinese New Year is coming up though. I’ll be in The Azores so I won’t be able to go to Chinatown. It’s going into the year of my animal – The Tiger. I’ll have to mark it somehow out there. I’ll be staying in a spa hotel that night so there’ll be plenty of opportunity to celebrate and luxuriate in catlike comfort.

It makes me want a garden this almanac. Living in a top floor flat is nice for light and for the view, but it sucks for cats and you can’t plant garlic. Best keep up with the tidying, and start to dream of possibilities. Or get a planter and put it on the fire escape…


There is a huge warehouse in the middle of nowhere. It’s out in the vicinity of Stansted Airport. I have a pin saved to my Google Maps. It takes me to a gate where I then have to say specific words into the entryphone. I feel like I’m one of a very small number of illuminated people every time the gate opens for me. I am there today to assess things.

I drive slowly down the long driveway, flanked on both sides by lawns often busy with rabbits. I have learnt to drive slowly after the mistress of the estate remembered my van two weeks after I had driven it too close to the front of her house one winter night at 20mph. You are *watched*. At the end of the driveway, a warehouse. Huge steel sliding doors. I know how to get them open.

Inside? Narnia.

It is a repository for old shows that might come back. Lots and lots of sleepy magic.

There’s a touring set for Wicked in there. Spamalot hides at the back. Piles and piles of wood. Huge lumps of metal. Unusual things made out of foam. Flight cases full of things that would be rubbish to anybody who didn’t need them to tell a story but golden in the right context. The ceiling drips, even when it isn’t raining. You won’t keep anything dry in here. All the flats are a little bit warped and they need repainting. But get them in a dry van, inside for a few days for a touch up and onto a stage under lights and they’ll crisp up in no time and the bedded in damp will help make them fire retardant even if your leading actor keeps telling you they smell a bit.

My job today was to work out which shows no longer needed to be in there, and then establish what to do with them. It’s for Brian, by proxy. I’m probably the best person from his end to know what stuff is from his company. But I’ll likely need to speak to somebody from the other end to make sure I don’t take out too much / too little.

Two sets of flats from Rotterdam. It was a good show at the right time. I think it has run its course now. It helped open a necessary dialogue.

I can likely find a new home for the flats unless I’m asked to keep them. Largely I’ll do what I’m told, but it’s helpful that I know the people and the shows involved. Even some damp bits of Carol are in there. If we want to run it in London next Christmas they’ll be very helpful, although I couldn’t for the life of me find the coffin table. Then it’s a history lesson in the work of Brian. Years and years ago he produced a show about Woody Guthrie called “Woody Sez”. Much of it is in there and I know it’s close to his heart. But it all has to be out by the 22nd. All of it.

I can get it out by then – all of it but the impossibly heavy water tank thing but I’ve already told them that. I could work out how to operate the forklift. But it’s likely better to leave it to the experts.

My expertise is in doing a reasonably human salvage job and rehoming things like the flats and maybe savong some of the sentimental things to return them to the appropriate people. It’ll be a hard graft and I’ll have to rent a van and have a plus one. But it’s a project, and I needed a project, and Jack is on board to be the plus one. Now I’m just waiting for the go-ahead.

It’s helpful to think about this down the line for me. Out of town storage… If I’m planning to make touring theatre – and I am – then I’ll need to think about where to put the set while it’s sleeping. I need a friend with a derelict barn…

Pottering and sorting

Digging through old boxes of stuff, today. It seems that for decades my method of dealing with stuff has mostly been to put it in a box to be dealt with in some nebulous “later” time.

Recently I brought all the boxes down from the attic. I say recently, it was quite a while ago now. The dream was that I would search through them all, process the contents, and chuck vast quantities of it. The reality has been that I look at it suspiciously and occasionally rummage distractedly through one of the containers.

Back when I was at school, Gavin gave me a load of books. “These are good books – why are you throwing them out?” “I’ve read them so I’m getting rid of them.” I still have some of those books. I’ve read lots of them. But I still have them. Maybe I should have learned from Gavin. It’s never too late.

Sometimes it feels good to be ruthless about these things. I’ve filled a few bin bags. It doesn’t really look like I’ve done anything but I know I have…

Now I’m taking a break after a long shift with the phone on silent. I’m running the bath, having a glass of red wine and stretching my legs. It’ll be a while before the flat is clear, but every day like this is positive. But I’m working tomorrow so I’m not gonna let myself get sucked into a late night on it.

In terms of thoughts I’ve been all over the place. A little of my head on Tonga, thinking about seismic activity before we go to a volcano. But the odds are so low. We are more likely to fail the test we have to do to get on the plane. Neither of those things will happen. We will go on holiday. I can’t think of the last uncomplicated actual holiday I’ve had. I’ve been trying not to think about the cricket after England just rolled over to the Aussies and showed their bellies. And I’ve been sad about this announcement that the government is essentially hanging the BBC out to dry. And I’ve just had a lovely long day inside my own head and didn’t have a clue how quickly time was passing…

Small talk again?

Social interaction.

I used to be better at this. I think. I’m pretty sure.

I went to a restaurant where people stand up in clumps and talk to each other. It was a gathering of people who loved my old friend – the one that passed away last week. I knew in advance that I wouldn’t really know anybody there. I wanted to go though, to honour the spirit of my friend. For her these gatherings were life blood. She would be marching from one end of the room to the other with people in tow. “Al, this is Rupert. You’re both actors and Rupert knows Bruce. Talk to each other “

She was there in spirit. But she wasn’t there so I was going to have to make small talk without her greasing the wheels. Oh hell.

I was late. Then I was later. I only finally left the flat when Max messaged asking where I was. I got an uber. The driver got stuck in such atrocious traffic around Chelsea football stadium that I got out and walked. It was cold.

Arriving at the restaurant I found myself very quickly in a conversation with a stranger who was mostly monologuing about traffic. I started to feel a bit panicky. I attempted a few contributions but they didn’t seem to affect the weft of the conversation. I stuck it out for as long as I could before pretending to be a smoker and going out into the garden. I haven’t smoked for over twenty years apart from on set. Did we used to be good at this? That guy will likely be kicking himself just before he goes to sleep. “How the heck did I go on about traffic to that guy for so long?” We needed Sophie to give us a better topic.

Out in the garden the smokers were more familiar company. I spent a few moments in raw companionship with two wonderful people. That, honestly, was enough for me.

Thinking about it I’ve never been very good at it really, the small talk. I might occasionally get the wrong kind of courage at the bottom of a glass and then find myself going on about something – like the traffic guy. I can think back to plenty of occasions where my social anxiety or my booze consumption has led to me kicking myself later. Sometimes I can hit a vein of form. I suppose I’m an extroverted introvert. Kick of adrenaline and I can play the part. But this evening was a sad and reasonably formal evening mostly among strangers. My usual solution is to bomb around being energetic and a bit silly, but it didn’t seem appropriate given the context.

I stayed sober too. I could have driven myself there it turns out as I nursed a single bottle of beer. Then I felt I could handle the mingling no more so I said my farewells.

It was cold. I walked up to the main road, caught a lucky bus, and now I’m back in my nice warm flat running a bath and thinking about pillows.

Up and down

I’m back in the smoke, ensconced with all the familiar things and all the distractions, and I’m running a bath. It’s good to be here and not be sick. That hasn’t happened since November. Now I need to line up some things to do for money before I swan off to live on a volcano for a week with Lou.

Minnie has moved to Twickenham, which I drive through on my way back from Brighton. I’m absolutely thrilled about this. I never passed through sodding Catford so I haven’t seen anything like enough of her lately. Didn’t get to see her today either as she has multiple children now so explosions happen at the last minute all the time. I like to be last minute but I know that’s hard for my friends with progeny. But the fact that she is there means I’ll almost certainly see more of her going forward.

I stopped to see Tristan and Tanya who see me all the time because of this same quirk of geography. They are wondering where the next work will come from too so there’s an understanding. The logistics of movement does loads to our habits though. I’m just observing that simply because they don’t live on the right London Trainline, there are people I love who I barely see. I can’t blame it all on geography… I could have been more diligent. Maybe I should make more effort going forward. This pandemic has driven us apart. Even Sophie dying – her expertise was social glue. Throughout my life I’ve noticed that the first time you make a particular journey it feels longer. Every time you beat a path to a place that path grows wider and more familiar.

Traveling to The Azores – or anywhere outside the uk – carries a brand new set of obstructions that are new and therefore hard to fathom. It was so much easier to travel beforehand. Now we have to find tests and we have to pay for the “right” tests and load up on all sorts of documentation before we’ve even left the house. It’s all very unclear on paper and generally worrying. Before all this there was never the worry that we might get turned away because we didn’t stick the right bit of plastic up our nose two days before we left. We’ve got such an incredible break lined up. I reckon it’ll be fine, but it’s the first time traveling to anywhere but Jersey since Brexit and Covid. Jersey broke the back of the unknown part of it. But Portugal? Not only do people in the Schengen have a vested interest in annoying British travelers, but also we will have to jump through expensive hoops on the way home too. Anybody with actual experience of it, let me know how it was in real terms. It’s always weirder on paper…

A full day today of walking and sunshine and friends. Joyful and I’m not going to worry about this now. I’m gonna soak and sleep and leave this for tomorrow.