My grandmother, as a young woman, had polyneuritis after being in a field that had been sprayed with DDT. Essentially she shut down and couldn’t move. But she could hear everything.
She lay for days, unresponsive, while doctors and nurses and visitors went about their business. Decades later she would often talk of how she could hear everybody but was completely unresponsive and couldn’t contribute. About how frustrating that had been.
When her movement came back, which thankfully it did (otherwise no me) she would proudly tell her listeners that the first thing she did was told the young doctor that the nurse he was in love with loved him back. To hear her tell it, they got married immediately.
I was thinking about this today because, for all of half an hour, I was lying on my back unable to contribute but able to hear all the conversations around me. It was a bit like dying, only afterwards I went to the theatre rather than the oven.
I ended up in an office block, in Liverpool Street, sitting half naked in the Board Room staring at a pot of vaseline. Me and who knows how many other people. But this wasn’t a job interview.
“So … I just put this vaseline all over my face?”
“Yes. Especially the hairy bits.”
I don’t know if you’ve ever covered your own face with vaseline before. It’s a very strange thing to do, lubing your own face. Especially when you get to your eyes, and you realise that if you don’t want to lose your eyelashes you have to slather them extra thick and then you’re blind.
There was no mirror anyway, so being blind was fine. I did it by touch. But I didn’t think to do my neck and under my chin…
Kids, if you’re ever putting vaseline all over your bearded face in order to make a plaster cast, for god’s sake don’t forget to lube your neck and under your chin.
Lying back, Sue began to apply the modrock. We had a load of alginate and straws as a harder option, but Sue is merciful and thinks that modrock has less chance of killing me via suffocation than alginate does. I’m, obviously, gung-ho to take the risk. Which is why it’s good to have people like Sue. She would prefer not to suffocate me. Certainly not until after the run.
I lay back and listened silently to people’s conversations as the plaster dried. Breathing calmly through my nose. Nobody fell in love. As far as I could tell.
Once the plaster had hardened around all the hairs on my bearded face, we had to pull it off.
Oh God. I can still hear the underside of my beard screaming. “AL WHY DID YOU NOT VASELINE ME??” “I’m sorry, neck. I thought the plaster wouldn’t be on you.” “YOU SHOULD’VE WORKED IT OUT. I’VE ALWAYS HATED YOU.” “Yes, neck. I know. I hate you almost as much as I hate that liver. But you’re both part of me.” “YOU HURT ME.” It was an oversight. Don’t be so stiff.” etc …
Now I have a cast of my face. Including bits of neck. And there’s no visible blood on the underside. Here it is at the tricky beard stage. Note the mixture of rage, fear, resignation and stoicism in my eyes.
Hopefully it’s good enough, the mask. Or there’s to be much more vaseline, alginate, and accidental beard plus skin waxing in my immediate future. Plus the risk of arbitrary suffocation in the name of art.
It’s for Christmas Carol. I’d risk a lot more than suffocation for this show. It’s a glory. I’m so excited we are underway in earnest now. Happy happy times.