Night’s Darkling Glory

I’ve accidentally got myself involved in another random wonderful event. “Night’s Darkling Glory.” It’s a rare and lovely thing. It was sold out long before I was booked. So I’m under no pressure to market it. But I do think it’s gorgeous.

You arrive at a car park in London Bridge, about 5 minutes walk from the warehouse that Gatsby plays in. There’s a fire pit, and pigs turning on the spit. If you hear swearing, that’ll be the chef, Natalie Coleman, who apparently won masterchef with a scotch egg. They’re cooking hog with slow braised lentils. As you’d expect, it’s exceptionally good and as you wait in the car park the smell wafts over you, which is fine if you’re not vegetarian. Occasionally a jester will pop out, or even the king himself if there’s lots of faffing. The king is devilishly handsome. He is very happy to spend time messing around with punters until the tables are laid. He has a crown and tights. He looks ace.

You’re ushered into a banqueting hall with beautifully laid tables, some items still vibrating from hasty placement. A small army of bemused waiters in jerkins parade up and down with trays of food. At the head of the top table sits King Mark of Kernow.

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Sad, when he isn’t troubleshooting something or getting swept up in it. Addled with mead, or at least pretending to be. He has invited the commoners to a feast so he can take comfort in their simplicity, hear their laughter and try to remember what it was to be happy. Most of the time he’s a grumpy sod, particularly when he has various stressed out event organisers giving him conflicting messages, drunk guests trying to get him to give them free mead, and a chef standing behind him trying to persuade him to just get all the covers to leave so she can relay: “Just shout at them, you’re the king.” “I think the people who have employed me to be the king might not be very pleased if I did.” Eventually, however, once everyone is happy that people hogged all the hog, the action changes. There’s a little scene. The King starts doing his Brian Blessed impersonation and tells everyone to get out while making everyone who has ever done formal vocal training feel a little uncomfortable by ragging his vocal folds.

You get out obediently, despite a bottleneck at a small door and the fact that everyone knows it’s only urgent in pretendyland. You leave the king sweating on his knees in a pile of filthy straw, dreading the fact that it’s all about to happen again like Groundhog Day.

You go upstairs. Upstairs is dressed like a ship. Actors do scenes, and you laugh. Before long, a man tells a long tale, accompanied by a cellist. The tale is that of Tristan and Isolde. One of the ancient tales of star crossed lovers.

Isolde was my bride. But she met my nephew, who was far more age appropriate and hot. Despite this, she wouldn’t have done the things she did with my nephew Tristan, had she not drunk a love potion. So it’s down to me to forgive them because their argument is “It’s not our fault. We drank something ” Anyway, the details are told to you, accompanied by cello. It’s very sentimental and lovely. Then you go upstairs to the top of the building. And there, in the eaves, you hear a good sized chamber orchestra playing Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde, interspersed with bits of narration, and enhanced by a brilliant soprano, still at the Royal College, dressed beautifully in unutterably restrictive clothing that looks fab and somehow still allows her to sing.

It’s a really cultural evening. I’m glad to be part of it. The music is brilliant. The food is superb. Downside is, the actors are being paid in fruit pastilles, which is nothing unfamiliar but is certainly disappointing considering what has been spent elsewhere. I decided to suck on that particular bitter sweetie this time. I’ve turned down a lot recently when I’ve been asked to work for expenses. My entire fee should be my nightly fee. But I respect the director and know she is campaigning for more if this comes back. She went to my old drama school too. I want to support her where possible. It’s strange to work so hard for so little. But the event is glorious, and I’m glad to be a part of it even if it hurts. So I am. I’m the king. From now until Sunday. But you can’t come because we’re sold out. Ha ha ha.

Hiccup

I’ve got hiccups. Right now, as I write, they are happening every couple of seconds. To give you an idea of frequency, I’ve hiccuped 10 times since I started writing this. 11 now. One time, years ago, this exact painful spasming went on long enough for me to despair utterly. I couldn’t stop it. Hiccups get painful after a while. I’ll never forget that night when my hiccups became prime aggressor. I was still at college.  Hiccups are funny, to a point, but if they keep on going they’re horrible. Particularly when you measure them in hours.

I honestly don’t know how I’ll sleep unless i can break this somehow. Last time I eventually passed out from sheer exhaustion, and at some point while I knacker-slept, they stopped. Right now I’m going to do the things that traditionally break hiccups…


Reverse drinking an entire glass of water. That’s the one that worked. Now I’m lying in a friend’s house, having done a classical music event. I can’t think very well tonight. It’s very late now. I don’t know my own contract.

Today I’ve been the king. It’s not an unfamiliar role, the king. I know my way around high status. Hiccups aside, I’m a medieval king in a medieval banquet. I can pull that off and have fun. In fact it’s the sort of thing I love.

This evening was mostly about exactly that – having fun with people who wanted to have that fun. I did have the heads of 4 hogs lined up in front of my chair. Everyone was eating hogroast, nothing was strange or unexpected enough to give me those crazy hiccups…

Mister Charles Osborne was also exposed to hogs and ended up stifled by hiccups. He hiccoughed for 68 years after trying to weigh a hog.

My hiccups have stopped. I have no idea how I’ve avoided that horrendous sleep. I know for sure that this is the drunkest and most tired I’ve ever been while laying down words. So I’m not posting a photo in the hope it’ll prevent poor fools from reading whatever randon shit this is … Zzzzzx xxxxx

 

Depression and biscuits

Tristan is in a show about friendship, love, depression and the human spirit. It’s on until the end of this week at the Tristan Bates, a studio theatre in the West End. Gin for Breakfast. It’s a two hander and it’s great. Stephen Fry is talking on a panel this evening after the show, so all the seats for tonight were sold on the first day. I was in the audience last night, and there were a couple of empty seats. If good studio theatre is your bag, you could fill them!

It’s good casting for Tristan, if not immediately obvious. He’s in a Stockport accent and he hates people that wear cufflinks, whereas in reality he usually wears cufflinks and sounds as posh as I do. But he’s the joker in the pack, and the embodiment of self destructive hedonism, both of which roles he understands well. The collision of Tristan and Stephen Fry in the same small room – that’s two people with a deep understanding and transcendence of self-sabotage. And his co-star, Jess, brings a poise and a deeply mined, complicated and layered humanity. I like watching both of these actors work, as they’re doing it for complicated personal reasons so there’s never any sense of smug about their power. Both of them are less “daddy look at me” and more “sod off and let me work, daddy.” My favourite type of actor.

I lost a lot of time to a depression brought on by grief so now I try to catch and derail it when I sense it rear its head. Despite watching that play, today has been one of those days. I’ve had to constantly remind myself to stay positive. After that threatening red sky day of the hurricane, the rain has blown in. My manager phoned to bring news that the job with the big buyout fell through. My bank is shouting at me. But all of this is about perspective. There’s beauty in a dark rainy night, there’s plenty of joy to be had without getting a ridiculous paycheck, and happiness is where you put it.


I’m catsitting this week. I just walked in for the first time to my friend’s home to find that Meg had pulled a jar of biscuits onto the floor, smashed it, licked the jagged bit to get to the biscuits and eventually, somehow, she’d totally broken the lid off, likely by rolling around with the jar. Then she’d spread biscuits and glass and bits of metal jar fastener all over the floor. She seems totally fine despite this. When I came in she was positioned geographically as far as possible from the evidence, as if to say it was all the fault of some other cat. I hope she didn’t swallow any bits of glass. I’ll have to keep an eye on her closely, as that’s a catsitter’s nightmare.

It’s the perfect antidote though to all these self reflective darknesses and indulgent concerns. Feeling weird about your own crap? Look after something that doesn’t think and licks broken glass to get biscuits.

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Meg and I have a lot in common. We both want biscuits. We both know the biscuits are there. We’re both willing to hurt ourselves to get the biscuits. But sometimes you get the biscuits, sometimes you just eat glass.

Bobsleighs, bikes and bull.

I’ve been moving furniture for a couple of days. 

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The furniture belongs to Brian’s Gatsby show, and it was rented by a celeb for a party. I never actually met the celeb but she paid me immediately so she’s alright in my books. I only met her PA – she sorted the payment. Janine. I love her a little bit right now. I was able to give my brother back the £50 he stumped me.

I had to get into a warehouse in London Bridge armed with a trail of vague photographs and a shit handwritten list on jpeg. I was given a code for a key safe but no indication as to where the safe might be located. I had to get my burglar on, and after a big old adrenaline kick, eventually sorted it out in time for John. John was driving the van.

John was driving the van for Lady and Van. He’s about my age, but with dreadlocks, and very much not a lady. This surprised me at first. I assumed the point of the van was the lady. But he’s ace despite lack of ovaries. We drove across town and he told me about his YouTube channel. He is pioneering aerodynamic pedal powered vehicles in London. Torpedo bikes. Apparently he keeps getting pulled over by cops who think it’s motored. His vehicle is a remarkably sleek beast. I can see the things taking off, both literally and figuratively. They look fast, rainproof and comfortable. He calls them “velomobiles.” 

These bikes are using the same aerodynamic mouldings and fibres as a bobsleigh. I dread to think what my dad would have thought of them. Dad was driving Olympic bobsleigh for years for the BBA. I mention this to John, who tells me that, because of the combination of his look and his vehicle he is frequently identified with one of the guys from the Jamaican bobsleigh team in Calgary. I tell him my dad was in Calgary as trainer. I haven’t seen Cool Runnings, but it was a popular film. All I know is that the Jamaican team kept losing control and flipping the bob, which would damage the run and take time off any team that followed them, so dad didn’t want them there. He would jokingly say that there’s a baddie in the film that’s based on him.

Today John wasn’t biking. He was a lady in a van. He didn’t come close to flipping the van. We were moving furniture for a starry party.

The party was in a house that nobody lives in. Armies of electricians and plumbers descended on it before the party, alongside myself and John. We arrived and it had just been painted. Decoration was ongoing. For one night, the cameras came in, someone pretended to live there and had a big visible party. Then everything was deconstructed once the cameras were gone, and John and I offloaded the furniture from a gutted house. Smoke and mirrors. It was like making a film set. About a month ago my dear old mate Jake had his home turned into Christmas for a Christmas ad. Snow on the roof, trees, decorations, the works. The machine of pretend turns over and over so frequently selling stupid fun fantasies. I love it. But I’m weird. Which makes sense of why I’m in this Aldi ad

“Me too”

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I recently sat with some friends in a restaurant and heard, blow by blow, an extended account from one woman about how she had to deal with the unwanted sexual attention of a man at the top of my industry whose work I admire. She spoke about power structures, about her fear of speaking out about it, about people’s reactions to her before, during and after she did. About unexpected support and unexpected attacks. She spoke compassionately despite my sense that she was shaken and discomfited. I listened with anger, respect and care, but also a deep frustration. In my industry so in every industry. Women being marginalised, sexualised, patronised. Just because something is endemic doesn’t mean we have to put up with it.

Right now, the notional leader of the western world is a man that once said “I’m automatically attracted to beautiful  — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.” The women’s march in LA was a huge, joyful event. But he’s still sitting pretty, his misogynist white supremacist poison is trickling down, as it always does. Justifying behaviours and opinions that used to be the province of guilty shuffling hard-ons in darkened rooms.

Meanwhile Harvey Weinstein checks himself into a clinic for sex addiction, hoping that the visible protestation ”I have a condition” will somehow forgive the fact he only started caring when he was called out on it. And people are blaming the victims already, overlooking how much of this is to do with power.

“Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” We should consider the reasons why people seek power. Often narcissism and entitlement, often rage, often a deep hunger to fill an inner void. You don’t get many Gandhis or Mandelas. And as often as not they are created by circumstance outside their capacity to drive, not their own hunger for control. I’ve often wished there was a way to put power in the hands of those that don’t want it. “When you’re a star… you can do anything.” No Don. No you can’t. You have a responsibility. You could do so much good for the unhappy masses that idolise you. But you don’t even have the width to perceive that. You’re too blinded by your own shit towards yourself. Across the world in the rooms at the top of the tall buildings squats an army of scared little boys with hard cocks. “I worked hard to get here.” Yes, you did work hard. But not on yourself. And no harder than a lot of the people that didn’t get there. And now, more than ever, you have a responsibility not to be a dick. People without power, it’s easier to kick ’em in the dick when they letch on you…

“Me too”. I’m reading it so much today. It’s upsetting. Unwanted sexual advances as normality. I’ve done it. I’ve been so drunk I’ve been unable to see past my own needs, leering on some unfortunate who is wondering what they’ve done to encourage me. I’m not proud of it. I certainly don’t think it’s my right to do it. Not now and not if I was powerful. But if I think about it, I’ve contributed to the problem.

I’m glad people are starting to be called out. I’d like to think people will stop and think a bit. But this morning I was moving furniture for Daisy Lowe. I think she’s a model – she’s on Strictly. She’s having a 1920’s party. Friends suggested I should get myself an invite. Maybe we’ll fall in love. “Maybe she’s single?” As if single Daisy Lowe might be hankering for Al Barclay. Okay I’m a reasonable human. But how does our thought process go so quickly to making these links? No wonder Harvey thinks it’s okay if all I have to do is carry someone’s chaiselongue to be considered a romantic prospect. Harvey’s gonna make you a star and all he wants is a naked massage and fuck knows what else in his hotel room. Al’s gonna carry your bench. Gotta be worth a snog, right? Fuck off.

Transactional desire. The idiot belief that if I have feelings they must be reciprocated. Basic human needs mixed with lack of awareness of others. Penisblindness. Come on men! This fucking society, where there’s a whole industry churning out videos of cockworship that has led some men to think that sending a picture of your todger to someone you barely know is legitimate seduction. If you send me a photo of your teeth it really won’t make me want you to bite me.

So many friends are stating that they’ve experienced sexual harassment in one form or another. Many of them are saying that even writing those words “me too” was hard for them. And then details – fear, unwarranted shame, anger, powerlessness. Come on humans. Share joy, share pleasure, share space. Listen and watch. Have enough self knowledge and care for others to notice when someone doesn’t want what you want… God. It’s simple in theory. But for every “Me too” there’s a “You as well?”

Back from Italy

Sometimes when I’m traveling I buy a bottle of whisky on the way home in duty free. But the last few times I’ve had no inclination to do so, for the simple reason that all the airports force you to slalom through expectant shops with all your bags. Even if there’s a good deal to be had I want to choose to go shopping. I hate being funneled like that. The shop is collaborating with the airport simply in order to tempt purchases. We all have to walk further with our bags in the hopes we buy chocolate. It brings home to me the fact that they must be making loads of money, and consequently that the deals aren’t as good as we are expected to believe. So I don’t get myself a cheap bottle of whisky any more. If I want one I’ll go online. Which is probably for the best anyway, as I’m trying to ease back on the amount I drink.

But I’m back in town, whisky or no whisky. I got home to mouldy dishes in the sink, which was slipshod. I also got home starving. It’s only an hour and a half flight, but you ain’t getting an inflight meal with easyJet for less than the price of a house.

I roasted a chicken and Brian and I shoved it into our faces. Now I’m stuffed, tired and happy. Seems I can still nail roast potatoes when I’m rushed and shattered. This trip to Milan has wrought havoc with my tendency towards teetotal veganism. But it’s been brilliant to come away and recalibrate. The coming week promises to be as odd, varied and unpredictable as ever. I’ve got a diary full of madness already, and more in potentia. So this evening I’m just going to get ready for the week, lie back, blog, bath, bed.

Europe is so close, and the competition in the aviation industry plus Airbnb makes it really affordable. I want to book more gigs in other countries and extend my stay before Brexit potentially makes it much harder. The last couple of years have brought so much joy through travel. I used to go off to random bits of Europe a couple of times a year. I stopped doing it as I always had to cancel meetings. This was perfect. I was being paid for half of it. It was tough in terms of shuffling meetings. But bitch as I might about the rise of self-taped preliminary auditions, it means that you can roll the dice without flying back from holiday early. All I missed was a drive to Lake Maggiore when I put down that Hindi scene, and something might come of it. Hassle or no hassle it’s better than having to come back from Italy for a test of the odds, which I’ve done in the past.

Here’s to a good week of delightful ridiculous varied fun. If it’s anything like last week, it’ll be a blinder. I’ll miss the fellowship we had in that villa in Como.

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Bird

A bird that I think is a variety of pigeon got into our conservatory this morning. The poor thing panicked and flew full tilt into the windows repeatedly as it tried to escape. It must have cracked its skull before we got it out. Since then it has staggered in the autumn leaves outside, occasionally hopping around, seeking height, catastrophically insane. We tried to give it water and food, but it still understands that humans are danger so it is using the last of its energy to get away from us. It’s dying. There’s not a great deal we can do. When we get too close its movement sends up a cloud of flies that are probably already bedding eggs into its feathers. Its instincts are more finely honed to avoid humans than they are to shrug off flies. I suspect that it avoids us for preference because we are big, clumsy and obvious. Not because we are a destructive plague to nature. But perhaps it’s a combination of the two. Maybe the insanity has given it perspective.

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8 artists who live in London relaxing in the countryside. There are donkeys next door, flies everywhere, loads of birds, bats, bugs and bloodsuckers. I’m trying not to kill anything, which makes it hard with the mosquitoes, but thankfully they are infinitely more interested in the pale skinned members of the group. I never really get bitten if there are alternative food sources. Brian and Rebecca are dish of the day. I’m emergency rations.

I had to spend ages getting this Hindi self-tape down, which became antisocial. I tried not to let it eat the whole day, so I familiarised myself and sight-read it while filming myself in the sunshine as that pigeon glared at me. “Look at you, messing around while I’m dying.” I could hear it think. Everyone else was off having fun. I was filming myself talking to myself in a language I didn’t understand while that mad skullcracked pigeon reflected me back to myself through its little dark eyes.

Brian had tried to give it water earlier. I tried again. It still feared humans too much though. So I sat in the conservatory and it came and stared at me through the glass as I tried to upload videos of myself to the internet. Slow slow upload. So slow. I couldn’t stand the avian scrutiny. I went for a drive, leaving my phone at home to work.

We rely on technology so much. I got in the car and realised I didn’t know my address. I had no map. I know nobody’s number. If I got lost I would get very lost. But I found a wood and walked in it. I found porcini mushrooms, but didn’t have my phone with me to confirm so I left them. Even if I’d been certain I probably wouldn’t have brought them to the table as I don’t want to kill my friends from idiocy. But all my habits revolve around grabbing this phone. I write my blog on it. I play my music on it. I navigate, film self tapes, upload movies. This morning I spoke to a man in India on it. He was on a bus and he taught me how to pronounce some phrases. It’s amazing what these things can do. Impossible. Wonderful. I took a photo of a dying pigeon covered in flies on it. Here it is. It just looked at me. Four foot was its boundary for me.

Self tape is uploaded. Time to get stuck into the last night prosecco and enjoy the fact that people have come home now and the pigeon has slunk round a corner. We’re making too much noise.

I suspect I’ll wake up in the middle of the night and it’ll be sitting at the end of my bed. As I rub my eyes in disbelief it’ll keel over and die. Meantime I’m going to help cook dinner. And drink more prosecco.

 

Barbecue

Today has been wonderfully relaxing. The quality of the produce round here is so high. I’ve been eating mozzarella and salads, tomatoes and beautiful cuts of meat, baked camembert and probably far too much prosecco because it’s €2.99 a bottle.

After driving to Como yesterday it felt justifiable to lounge in the villa all day today. We’ve been ambling around barefoot to a varied but excellent soundtrack. We wrote a murder mystery for ourselves just because it might be fun. That’ll happen this evening and either be a car crash or an entertainment.

Rebecca is convinced we’re all going to get murdered here, so it makes sense to create towards the fantasy. She’s running off classic horror movie tropes. 8 varied personalities having a lovely time in a villa in Italy. Friday 13th. Lots of weird stuff on the walls. Straps and cast iron pokers and so forth. It IS pretty odd here. There’s an antique sewing machine in every room. Old keys and irons are displayed prominently in the communal areas. There’s an autonomous mower that wanders around and tries to eat the things you leave. It hacked into a pool noodle yesterday and I ended up scolding it like you would a bad child. Then I tried to adjust his settings and ended up inadvertently shutting him down. I miss him. He’s just sitting there on the lawn, inert. We had given him a name. I hope he’s not angry with me for accidentally shutting him off.

The power to the villa cut off randomly in the middle of the afternoon. I’m hoping that doesn’t happen once it’s dark. It’s beautiful here but having written this murder mystery it would be weird to suddenly be plunged into darkness. Especially considering how the temperature plunges at night.

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We are having a barbecue now, and I picked up my phone to write this and intercepted an email from my agent wanting a self tape for tomorrow in English and Hindi. They know I don’t speak Hindi but that doesn’t seem to have bothered them. It’s a very strange existence I’ve chosen. I have no idea how I’m going to pull that off, considering my Hindi speaking friends are all in London and I’m lounging around in a villa in Como. Still, I can certainly hack something out. But tonight it’s barbeque and the rest of this prosecco.

My dear old friend is also messaging me with phrases that he wants read into a microphone for a computer game pitch that he’s assembling. It’s already feeling a little like the random work world is trying to suck me back in immediately, as soon as I allow myself to take my foot off the gas and chill out.

To the extent that actually fuck it I’m going to put my phone back down for the rest of the night and just enjoy the good company and tasty barbeque without disappearing into this Hindi script. If they will contact me when I’m on holiday, with less than 24 hours notice and no mention of how much I’ll be paid, then they’ll get what they’re given…


Murder mystery was ridiculous fun. It was mostly cross gender and I ended up as Bianca Castafiore and also the murderer. I poisoned one of my biggest fans, stabbed the arsonist kid in the back, clubbed the Mafia Don to death and ran away, and gave a heavy overdose to the young woman that sang me a song. Then I managed to frame the chef and got away with it. All those times I’ve played werewolf paid off…

Here we all are…

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Como

“What’s your blog going to be about today?”, asks Mel as Marco jags the convertible Opel Cascada round a headland and Lake Como spreads itself out beneath us, spiked with evening sun. I feel like a 1960’s model. I trust Marco not to force me to give him a blowjob too. So I can just enjoy the ride as the sun goes down. Mel’s question isn’t rhetorical either. It’s been a full day.

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It’s not summer any more. In fact it’s freezing once the sun is gone. That won’t stop us keeping the top off this ridiculous car as the night closes in. We are heading back to the villa now, for spaghetti puttanesca, way too much red wine and… well you never know, if Marco plays his cards right maybe it’ll happen naturally. Don’t get me wrong, it’ll be a first for both of us. But this place is full of surprises. And I’ve said the word Rimula a great deal lately so things like that are close the surface.
We’ve finished the thing that we were doing. I won’t say we’ve finished working because it was barely classifiable as work. Rimula job firmly rimmed. Heavy Duty Diesel Engine Oil is lubricating trucks in the world, but the future holds even lower viscosity oils, and even tighter fuel efficiency. Hooray etc. 

Half of the team are already back in the UK. The rest of us have gone to Como. And Marco upgraded his rental car to the hilarious convertible which has just been described by Mel as a “pussywagon.” Armed with such an egregious set of wheels, what choice do we have but to spin through the sunset roads by the lake?

This is the first uncomplicated holiday I’ve allowed myself for a while. I’m having a few days to switch off and recalibrate. Although having said that my manager just got off the phone, and I’m likely to have to send a self tape to her tomorrow. But for the most part I want to eat good food, catch the last of the Mediterranean sun, and stop banging my head against the wall for a second.

Last time I went on holiday in Italy, I came home and immediately shot a WW1 reconstruction. This was ten years ago, and I wasn’t able to get emails abroad. I learnt the soldier I had auditioned for. Then I arrived on set to discover that I was cast as a different soldier who also spoke a lot. I had to learn it during hair and makeup, while trying to make out like I wasn’t fazed and was totally prepared. I had to stash a load of bottles of pretend alcohol in my coat and then come and be terribly terribly posh in the trenches in a telling of the famous Christmas armistice. I wished the alcohol was real. It was not a pleasant shoot, internally. Went fine on the outside. I can’t imagine making that mistake now. My skin crawls thinking about it.  That job still pays me though. Every December I get money for usage. Every year it gets smaller. Last year it was down to 42p, efficiently paid direct to me by BACS just before Christmas by my old agent.

It still looks likely I’ll be shooting just after I get back from this holiday. I’ll be learning the right part this time round though… Fingers crossed.

Rimula Day 3

As we walk through the city at dawn, the trees are alive and swarming. Thousands of starlings, their sound almost as if it has been electronically amplified. They flow through the branches of these tame urban trees in the piazza, as they wait for the moment to launch. If you clap your hands there’s a flash of silence as they link their hivemind to ascertain there’s no danger before going back to their squabbling. Soon, when the sun rises behind the station, they will all simultaneously launch and circle above the square, weaving and spiralling in their impossible vast cooperative murmurations. My grandparents always thought of these flocks as significant. “Someone is thinking of you.” I find them fascinating. Do we have the capacity to move so gracefully together, united with no leader? Under what set of circumstances can we move like that, connect like that, fly like that?

It’s lovely to be away from home again. Lombardy is still pretty warm, and the work is far from punishing. This morning was just a short high energy shift in the morning, and nothing until evening. I took the time to pound the streets, as is my wont, and try and connect with the flock of people here. The apartment blocks are often beautiful, with marble colonnades and modest sculptures. Old men sit outside coffee shops smoking. The streets are nonsensical, winding round arbitrarily hither and yon. Roots push up through the tar. The basilicas are open and virtually unstaffed. Huge low dark buildings with painted ceilings and shrines. “Don’t come in unless you’re here to pray.” I lit a candle for my Catholic mother. I’m slowly candling my way through the Catholic world, speeding mum through purgatory as best I can. Another city in Italy, another incompetent but earnest prayer, another few hundred years off the ticket.

I’m a fan of mixing my metaphors, so the afternoon took me to the Buddhist Centre. I went with Max and Chanie. Max is a fashion photographer and he’s just had a baby with Chanie, an ex model from London. I hadn’t met either of them before but they’re friends with a friend,  good people, and despite neither of them being Buddhists they wanted to go to the new Milan Buddhist Centre and had a car so that was a shoe-in. We spent a sunny day getting to know each other which has now ejected me onto the steps of the Duomo as the sun sets. I can see no starlings, but there is a huge murmuration of tourists in the piazza, chittering, weaving and squabbling as they go about their business. If I were to make a loud enough noise, they would all simultaneously stop and assess the danger, then continue where they left off. There’s so much colour here. So much variation. So many different humans milling around doing their own thing but not bumping into one another. I could sit here and observe them for hours, only I’m supposed to be doing some sort of award ceremony later this evening. As far as I understand I’m the guy that says “And the winner is…” Simon Cowell wasn’t available.

I’m still in my costume. The advantages are that I don’t lose my sunglasses and hat, and that I can people watch without making people self-conscious. The disadvantages are that I stick out like a sore thumb in this city of fashion, and that there’s an ever present danger of falling into a manhole or walking into a lamppost with these glasses on  I can safely sit and watch the people for a while, even if I can barely see them. I can try to find a way to link minds with everyone in the square and get them to fly with me, even if just for a moment. It’s got to be worth a try. Then I’ll go to work. Or fall into a manhole.

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