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.