Ley Lines

75. Some of you may have noticed, if you’ve been reading a lot of these, that I frequently think of people, places and things in terms of their energy. I think through a spiritual frame and care about the things we can’t see and can’t prove. My belief structure is both inclusive and exclusive and likely infuriating to the dogmatic. People thousands of years ago understood some things more profoundly than we ever can with all this concrete everywhere, perpetual light in darkness, and the other convenient perks of our species and its war on nature. I think it’s more interesting and more positive to try accept and process ideas if they do no harm than to dismiss them.

I’m back at The Globe Theatre again, working underneath the stage. This is a building that has called me back again and again to work. Sometimes performing or rehearsing with The Factory or reading a forgotten Jacobean play for academics, or doing a sonnet walk, sometimes consuming and celebrating the work of dear friends, sometimes, as now, entertaining people after dinner.

It’s a pleasant way to earn a buck, although it can be strange. Often the diners are very drunk, sometimes they speak no English. We try to tailor the show to the audience. One time i played Oberon in a potted Dream to about 60 loud Russian oligarchs. A bald man that could’ve ripped my head off with his little finger leapt up at the end. He had me in a bear hug and then he punched this huge glass of freezing vodka into my hand. I hadn’t touched alcohol for months on one of my abstinence binges. We were intimidated into chugging the stuff as he roared with laughter and battered our backs until we choked. This is great vodka, I thought through the pain. Soon the pain didn’t matter. I’m surprised I didn’t fall in the Thames going home. It’s not always so raucous but I’ve got used to expecting the unexpected.

With my unstructured spiritual leanings, I allow myself to believe it’s no coincidence that the place keeps bringing me back. Sam Wanamaker was very interested in the ancient ways, and things that we might term mysticism. He was very aware of the significance of the site of the theatre,  just over the river from St Paul’s, right on a convergence of Ley Lines. In his correspondence about the plans for the project and the placing of the building, the Ley Lines come up again and again. Who’s to say that there’s nothing in it? I certainly feel glad to be here now, so soon after returning from my little journey of self discovery.

I’m really early for work so I’m sitting in the underglobe behind the stage writing this on my phone and hoping that being here at the convergence of all this energy will help me to recharge. I had a lovely meeting today that could help transform the way things work for me in terms of life and earning so now i just want to tap into some positive forces and forge forward, and hope that if I work in tandem with the universe, good things will come my way.

While I’m topping up my spirit level I’ll get to speak the words of one of the greatest mystic poets in our culture. And eat free dinner, and get paid for it. I’ve an early start tomorrow though so hopefully nobody will make me chug a pint of vodka.

It’s a weird place, the underglobe, despite the ley lines. In fact, the upstairs space hasn’t had a very pleasant run of it lately, if we’re talking in terms of energy. But perhaps it’s all part of some greater plan. If you’re going to be spiritual, you might as well be groundlessly optimistic.

Here’s a photo of some guy doing a sound check near a plastic tree.

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I’ve worked out how to schedule posts. If all things go according to plan this will automatically pop up at 8pm LA time while I’m sleeping. It means i can cheat if I’m going to live in a cave for two days.

The Future

74. If any of you have been wondering what the future of law is in this country, I can tell you it looks pretty good. I’ve spent the day at one of the top law firms in the world, banging up against the CEO, helping find the next generation. Kids in the final year at school deliberately selected to be as diverse as possible. They all come to head office in The City of London for an assessment day. 200 of them. I am one of the assessors. It’s the sort of place where they have people whose job it is to lay out fruit like this:

FROOOT

I’ve been thinking a lot about the fact that my job was to mark and channel these young’uns. I worried about it, considering who I am. But I think it’s right. I know nothing about law. I know next to nothing about working in an office. But I know people. That’s my special skill. Socially awkward or not, I have a pretty well honed perception because that’s been my focus. I’ve pointedly followed my instinct for years in order to run interference on my overactive mind. When my mind drives I crash. When my instinct drives, I fly. And I’ve flown to some interesting places. And right now I’m letting my instinct have the helm in the day to day. Mindface can have the blog-party, and overanalyse things in tranquillity.

So this morning there am I in the City of London wearing my trusty three piece (Which has also been places) and I’m engaging with these awesome young adults. They’re all taken out of context, they’re all working with people they don’t know from totally different backgrounds and perspectives and cultures. It’s interesting and beautiful to see them negotiate the minefield of the unfamiliar. To see them sink or swim. To see some of them rise up within themselves and find out that here, in a different context, they can really be whoever they wish to be. That that’s okay. I’m observing them, marking them on numerous different criteria. It’s hard to put numbers to people, and as I’m doing it I am contemplating what we all know. That a mark is an arbitrary measure, but the accumulation of these arbitrary measures can make or break a person’s future.

Tomorrow I have a meeting on a level that I haven’t had before. I’m trying to work out if I’m nervous about it or not. I think I probably am, on balance, as it could positively affect my future. I’ll be wearing my three piece, which is essentially like being constantly hugged by my own clothes. And this experience today has hugely helped me contextualise things. I’ve been assessing young adults while they forget they’re being observed. I’ve noticed that the people that most interest and engage me every time are the people who are just themselves, and getting stuck in. So I’m going to take the cue from these young adults and get stuck in tomorrow. Take me or leave me.

But I am pleased to report that there were some brilliant, creative and diverse kids who will be the next generation. In the Q&A both groups asked what the panel of lawyers thought about Brexit. The answers were diplomatic, but one person said “Well in the short term it’ll make more work for people in our sector.” What I loved is that, in both the morning and evening sessions, one of the few questions from these young adults was motivated by politics.

So if English law remains the dominant law as we isolate ourselves, if we don’t get nuked as collateral of transatlantic warmongering for profit, and if the UK doesn’t shatter and everyone relocates to Scotland, then the future of English law looks great.

 

Hosting

Right now my friend is sitting at the table behind me. He makes websites for high end products. He’s good enough at it that he can get a 99% user friendliness google rating for his websites. He comes down to London occasionally and sleeps on the sofa so he can drum up business. He’s based in Manchester and is getting started. Staying here for free has allowed him to take opportunites.” I’m really glad of that. And without my asking recently he paid some money in as thanks.

Last night I slept on the sofa with him. It’s a big sofa, we weren’t tangled. My cousin outlaw was in town and she gets my bed, because she’s great and I get put up in Manchester by the same token. She’s a playwright, and like many playwrights, she has a number of remarkable pieces of work that have never been produced. This is put into perspective by the fact that her first play has been translated into 22 languages, is on the A level syllabus and is loved by most people that love good plays. One day someone will cash in on her wonderful unproduced material.

Cousin-Outlaw is the term we’ve settled on for who we are to each other. She married and divorced my cousin, but not before having a brilliant daughter. We first met when I was 17. I was at Harrow at the time, which is a fee paying school with wonderful facilities. In my personal experience it was not a place that encouraged empathy or kindness. It was all about front and being outspoken and opinionated. I was being very heavily teased over years because I wore my heart on my sleeve although with wisdom it was because I was capable of wearing my heart on my sleeve. I remember trying to learn coldness at the time. That was what was being exampled. But I wasn’t very good at it. I’m still not. But even then I knew I was an actor, even if that was about the only thing I was certain of. I had read Charlotte’s play and she was newly married to my cousin Gordon. My uncle had put us next to each other at some formal dinner in Scotland because, in his measure, we were both “arty”. I was impressed by her. She had a play on at The Royal Court. She was in my industry. She was outspoken and quick and alive. I wanted to astound her with my ability to understand plays. Apparently I opened the conversation with “You’re a playwright aren’t you? I read your play. It did nothing for me.” That sounds exactly like the sort of thing the people that were around me would have said, so I’m willing to accept it. I was even more of an arsehole then than I am now. She says “If you HAD understood the play back then I’d be worrying if I was doing my job right.” I sometimes think back to who I was there. I don’t recognise that guy. It’s been a long, hard, searching journey since then, and despite the hardship I’m glad it happened young enough to shift me. I’m still perfectly capable of being an arsehole by mistake. But that guy is dead.

When my cousin outlaw left this evening, she said “I love your flat. It’s the only flat I’ve ever come across in London where people just drop round.” I was moved by that, and it’s true. People often just ring the doorbell. It’s something I’ve cared about for ages. Community. London is too expensive. I’m cash broke because I’ve never properly monetised my craft. I’ve been more interested in getting better at it. This year I want to try to cash in on my ability. But I’ve got this amazing home.

I put my room on Airbnb last weekend and as a result we couldn’t have a massive Sunday lunch with lovely people and we had to tiptoe around and be polite and it felt wrong. I’m a hippy, my mum trained me well. This place only goes back on Airbnb if neither of us will be home. There are other ways of making money that leave you with a happy house to come to. And that’s what I’ve been working on for years. A dear friend once said “Your flat is like an Australian Backpacker motel.” Yes. It is. So for now, if you need a place, come into our lives and make them better by being there. Money will look after itself one way or another. This crumpled sofa is open. It’s more comfortable than it looks.

SOFA

No Change Man, and the dangers of gambling

Day 72. If any of you have heard screaming in London lately, don’t worry, it was probably my subconscious. I’ve been building up to today, which is my explosion day. Best to get it all out the way in one go. Both of my parents died on the same day in different years. 

Rather than go easy on myself I decided it would be the perfect time to put my bedroom on Airbnb. It filled with a French couple who I discovered were interior designers. Chic and opinionated people staying in my run down boho flat. Arse. I apologise to anyone who saw me in the run up to their arrival. I could think of little other than my futile attempts to Elastoplast over the cracks in the decor, and try so hard to make a silk purse out of a cows bum. And with this day looming fast, I went a little splat.

 

Of course it turned out fine. They were lovely and very happy here – but then I have a great home. I fed them bacon and eggs, because that’s what English people eat. They took photos of their breakfast, and ate it all. Then they asked me how I made it. I was glad they’d finished. “Beurre. Trop de beurre. Tous la beurre du monde” I didn’t pay much attention in French. Doctor Holland was a grade A motherfucker. But I can make myself understood. Hopefully they’ll write a nice review before they get the heart attack.

 

Next it was to the launderette to wash their sheets. Knowing how I’m likely to feel this evening I’ve made sure there are people staying in my flat. My cousin outlaw will be in my room, and I’ll be on the sofa with my friend Tom. I’m about to roast a chicken and drink a bottle of red wine before I go off alcohol and meat for a month. But I needed to wash and dry their sheets fast. And a launderette makes sense after being in America where they are a big part of the landscape.

 

Unlike in America, though, British launderettes suck. No ATM. No change machine! Where am I my gonna get my quarters? Coral betting shop, just over the road. Smiley Al comes in, laundry bag over shoulder. No change machine in Coral. “Hello! Can I get some change for the laundry?” This guy isn’t smiling. This guy doesn’t move his face. This guy doesn’t make eye contact. “No. No change. No. No change.” Shit. I’m not getting angry though. He’s behind a sheet of glass and he’s bored enough to want a bit of fun by fucking with me. I’m wearing a suit. I had forgotten until I got that reaction. I look at the machines.

 

The machines don’t give change. They give tickets. I put a tenner in, click on the top left game, wager the minimum of one pound, win nothing, click collect, get the token, take it to the man. He looks at my token, my suit, my token. He scowls. He gives me a five pound note and four ones. “Oh er, can I get five ones instead of this fiver please?” “No. No change. No.” I think he is enjoying this a little. “Come on, I only put it in the machine so I could get change.” “No change.” I need six pound coins plus two for the drier. My reaction to him is not frustration or anger. It’s faint amusement at the situation. He’s breaking up the day for himself. I go back to the machine. Five pounds in. Top left game. Minimum stake. Spin. Bing. £24.20. That’s unexpected. I click collect and take it back to Captain No Change. I hope to get some sort of reaction. He stirs when I come back. I think he is ready to fight me when I ask for four pounds, and tell me I am gaming him or something. But the figure surprises him. He looks at my suit again, then the ticket, then the suit. A long lingering look. Perhaps he is in love with me. He gives me the money with an offhand gesture. “Thank you,” I tell him, and mean it. He’s just washed my clothes for free by being weird. There’s something about karma to be learned there. Maybe he is unhappy. He’ll do himself no good if he keeps saying “No change.”

  

In the launderette I put my coins in the machine and push the button. I watch my clothes spin round and round. When they are done I am disappointed there is no token for £24.20. I try again with the tumble drier. No change there. That’s the problem with these machines. You get a win at the start and then you put it all back in. All I’ve won is dry fragrant sheets. I hump them back home to put them on my bed.

Mother’s Day

My mum died in the Springtime. She was the second of my parents to go. If we are lucky then we will always live to see our parents die. But it shouldn’t happen before you get to 30. Although considerably worse things happen to people on a daily basis at younger ages. Nonetheless it was a formative experience. I came to the hospital to see her – apparently she’d been moved to a ward, which I thought was great news. “She’s finally improving,” I thought. I arrived at the desk and asked how her readings were and the nurse said “Come into this room please, sir.” I remember so clearly the ice that shot through me. Her manner instantly signalled what had happened. But then I had to honour the nurse’s training. I said, “Oh shit, is she dead?” She had been trained to get the person into the room first. “Come into the room, please.” “Just tell me.” “Come into the room, please.” “Is she dead?” “Come into the room please.” etc for ages. The room was a little office behind the reception desk. Eventually I went in. She followed with another nurse. Then the whole rigmarole started again with “Sit down”. There was no way I could sit down, knowing already what she had to say. “Just tell me if my mum’s dead, please, I won’t smash the place up.” I couldn’t sit. I remember in that moment having to find enough compassion for the nurse to make it easier for her by sitting. She still had to follow due procedure. On the 27th March at blah blah blah. I just wanted to see her. Shortly afterwards I did. She wasn’t cold yet, but was departed. Whatever had made the life that was her had gone elsewhere. She had a daffodil on her.

 
When you see a loved one dead it shifts you. First you have to come to terms with the incontrovertible reality of their departure. Then it can take a while to remember how they were when they were alive. That shock of seeing the life you once loved reduced to inanimation – it can temporarily rejig your memories. It took me years to unsee her like that. I will never fully, but now when I hear the word “mother” I think of more than that daffodil laid upon an empty vessel. I think of days on rainy beaches energetically looking for things the sea had brought in. I think of dancing hippy wild in the living room aged fifteen to records. I think of how she could become closer to my friends than I was sometimes. I think of how everyone in all the shops near her flat knew her as “Mrs B”. I think of how a homeless woman found my bag when I was at college, and rang her new mobile number because I’d written it by the word “mum” in a pad. The two of them ended up scheduling regular telephone conversations. Mum would ring a certain payphone at a certain time and they would talk about whatever they needed to talk about. Mum spent her life on the phone.

 
We always fight with our parents, and I fought with her. She wanted me to be happy and comfortable, and to her mind that entailed me not being an actor. I respect that desire in her. And I know what she meant now, as it hasn’t been easy. But it’s been joyful, and I know if she could see that joy she’d understand my choice. I still sometimes wish I could see her for advice, or for that basic unconditional nurturing love that comes from a parent and no other source.

 
Today, with Mother’s Day coming the day before her deathiversary, it’s inevitable that my thoughts fall to her. Mum’s are great. Look after yours if they’re still around. Honour them if they’re not.

 
I just went round my brother’s house and found loads of photos of my mum. This one is from 1969 when she was modelling, courtesy of my niece…


Happy Mother’s Day.

 Fitzrovia Radio Hour

I’ve worked in the entertainment industry long enough to know that there’s almost nothing a little bit of tape won’t fix. Smashed a prop? Something wobbling? Broken heart? Something smoking in the rain? Costume problems? Sole coming off? “Tape it, mate.” I thought I’d apply that philosophy to the problem with my iPad going kablooie. The screen was coming off the front to that extent that typing my blog entries was driving me nuts. I used to enjoy it. Turns out it was nothing a bit of tape couldn’t fix. Now it’s as good as new. Well, not as good as new, but I can write this. 

Today I am doing the most English show you can possibly imagine. I’m in a little back room of a church in Blackheath eating shepherds pie. I’m in a jacket and bow tie with my hair slicked back. In just over 40 minutes I’ll be going on stage to perform with The Fitzrovia Radio Hour. It’s a show made a decade ago by a bunch of lovely misfits, and they got me in for the last five years. They started at the Bourne and Hollingsworth Bar in Soho ten years ago. After three years up at Edinburgh they’ve toured extensively, touching Ambassadors Theatre, The Globe, The Vaults, St James Theatre, and loads of other venues and theatres in London and all over the country. I just asked Jon for a sound bite, and he said “We’re the Fleetwood Mac of theatre.” I bought this iPad three years ago with the money I got from touring with them. It seems appropriate that I’ve used their LX tape to jerry rig the thing back together. Ideally I need another lovely job so I can just replace it the thing and have done with it.

 

Over on stage, there are two Victorian style microphones, and a foley box for sound effects. The game of the show is that you are the studio audience for the famous Fitzrovia Radio Hour in the 1940s. You will watch us perform episodes of our long running soaps, and long form complete tales of horror, bravery, derring do and social impropriety. This evening we have episode 869 of The Romance of Helen Sims, “A London secretary sets out prove what all women long to prove – that romance can exist beyond the age of 35.” We have an adventure story set in the untamed Pacific – It Came From The Black Abyss. We also have some elocution lessons, as we are in South East London, so we must teach them to “speak proper like what we do.” And the evening is sponsored by Rose’s Carbolic Soap, so there are three adverts with lovely songs about body odour.

 

We have a huge pile of random objects with which to make sound effects. My effects range from typewriters and phones to dying krakens and harpoons. It’s going to be ridiculous. And with this amount of rehearsal it’s bound to go wrong somewhere.

 

We are raising the roof and raising money for the church roof. I told you it was the most English show in the world. I was asked to come in and do it in my last week in LA, and I thought it would be great to have an immediate point of focus when I got back. It’s to get money to mend the spire in this lovely Norman church in Blackheath. St Michaels and All Angels. We rehearsed evenings and weekend so we could all do our various day jobs.

 

I’m on in fifteen minutes so I suppose I need to screw my new head on. I just wanted to get this written before the show, knowing how things can sometimes go afterwards. Wish me (redundant) luck.

Odd job

I’ve ended up doing a huge amount of very odd stuff over the years, when I haven’t been doing the thing I am supposed to be doing. We need to tick over in the gaps, and I am willing. When someone asks “what’s the weirdest job you’ve ever done,” I have to think, as it’s hard to work out the answer. Perhaps dressing as a giant elephant, knocking over a shelf full of Kotex products to reveal the new tampax jumbo pack. Perhaps one of the many times at parties where I have been Robin Hood or Henry Viii or Phileas Fogg or a paparazzi, sometimes loving it, sometimes just thinking of the paycheck and hoping nobody recognises me. Last summer I was Doctor Frankenstein with his monster in rush hour in Southwark. One time I had to improvise a scene about how salesmen persuade supermarkets to give more shelf space. Someone had just bought some “actors” for a few hundred quid. It came through my agent and we showed up on the day and the guy said “So you’ll do your scene at 2.15”. We said “What Scene?”. He said “Oh, you know, just something about sales technique and our brand values.” We made something in two hours with a silent comedy soundtrack that involved a salesman giving ever larger bags of money to a reluctant buyer. It was awful, but the delegates laughed.

 
About three years ago I was frequently going to Amsterdam to hold bottles of Sol lager and say “Espiritu Libre”. I ended up doubling the job with playing Oberon for The Dutch Factory on an island off the coast, which made it worthwhile. I’ve sold all sorts of things, including fine leather sofas and advertising space in a black men’s lifestyle magazine. I’ve ridden unwieldy bicycles with advertising hoardings around run down areas of middle England, announcing a new Tesco. I’ve driven hideous slow three wheel scooters on the streets of London, also advertising as people honked and swore and undertook. I’ve been a Santa hologram projected into a booth on Oxford Street and seen genuine wonder in people’s faces when they’ve realised I can actually see them. I’ve been Santa in many other bizarre contexts. I’ve been sweating buckets, cooking, weeping with exhaustion as beaming children have shouted “Pudsey” and hugged me. Pudsey is silent. He cannot beg for help. He can just wave. You sign a form saying you understand that Pudsey is silent before you wear his head. If your spotter isn’t paying attention you could easily bake your own head. I almost did. For some years I worked on speedboats on the Thames. At this time of year I often think about that job. Of all of the day jobs I used to do, it was my favourite. But you can’t get too attached to your dayjob if your priority is elsewhere. As I learnt.

 
Today I went into a school and tried to help a load of kids to be more employable. It’s lovely work, and thankfully pretty sporadic as it’s exhausting. But at the end of the day they gave me this, which hasn’t happened before. My beard is looking dope. I could be a farmer.