Dirty protest

We cut Pickle’s claws for her this morning. “She’s surprisingly good about it,” we said. We gave her some treats. She seemed calm. Last time, she hid and stared balefully with vast, cool and unsympathetic eyes. Little did we know that slowly but surely she drew her plans against us.

It wasn’t my bed. Dear God it could’ve been. It could’ve been my bed. But no. Brian made the cuts. Brian receives the punishment.

An hour has passed since we first found it. I’m in the tube, and I can still smell it. Thicker than marmite, the smell of her dirty protest. This was a smell with a name, and its name was Tartarus. We shouldn’t have clipped the nails. WE SHOULDN’T HAVE CLIPPED THE NAILS!

There it was, lying on the bed. Perfectly central. Soft and wet. Settling gently into the fluff, sending it’s airborne horror far and wide. Pigeons died outside the window. Across the river a bloodhound vomited. Mutant fish bobbed lifeless in a line across the Thames from the bedroom window. A long way from here, the man from Delmonte said no to a perfectly good crop of oranges.

Retching, scarf over nose, I gathered it up in loo roll. It was reluctant to do my bidding, this soft cat shit. It rolled and broke and stuck. It tried to attach to my clothes, to jump in my face. It did not go softly. It raged. At one point it growled at me. All the while a small cat looked on passively. “Nothing to do with me. Love me.”

It’s gone now. Or I think it’s gone oh God I think it’s gone. Mel and I are on the tube into work. But we can still smell it. It’s like we’re still back there. YOU WEREN’T THERE! Mel and I have just checked each other’s clothes. It’s like we missed a little bit of the sinister shitworm and it’s hiding in our wake, reforming as we head for Carol. When the meal comes out in the matinee, there it’ll be, bigger than ever, plumb in the middle of the table, laughing maniacally as the audience dissolves.

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Well. There were no turds on the table. Just food – believe it or not. Now, post show, six of us are all loaded into a crammed uber XL, with shitloads of clothes, bits of a fuel tank and shielding for a Benelli Tornado, and a load of old “fairings” for the same bike. It’s just as well that Mel and wee Bobby are small. The driver didn’t think there was any way of getting us all in. But we are. We are going back to the flat where today, almost as if it knew that I had finally saved enough to power flush the system and get the central heating back on, the hot water has packed up too. The boiler is fully dead. Now we have no hot water AND no heating. FML. I think – I hope – that Pickle has got her rage at the claw-cutting out of her system. If I get home filthy to a cold flat where I can’t wash and something like this morning’s toxic shitworm is lying on my pillow… I’ll just go sleep on the riverbank. I’m so fed up of being cold…

Work before booze before work

This season never stops. This morning I hauled myself out and headed to Putney for yet another Christmas meal. Lunch. Red meat. And loads of salmon and salads and lumpfish caviar and blinis and FOOD FOOD FOOD…

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Inevitably everyone was hammering excellent champagne and beautiful wines. I had a cup of tea and some water. I have a lifelong rule never to drink before I work.

It’s occasionally frustrating, that rule. But I know myself and I know I’m a man of extremes. If I make it hard and fast that I just never ever do it then it prevents any potential disasters. My work is terrifically important to me, and a lot of the work I’m called on to do requires me to be quick witted and present. If I relaxed the rules I’d potentially get swept into a situation where I couldn’t adequately do my job. Safer to avoid that by being an extremist. All my friends know I prefer to go big. Even my biggest wreckhead friends understand and appreciate that they won’t be able to talk me into drinking before I work. Frankly if you try I’ll just lose respect for you.

Nonetheless I was in a room full of people who were bouncily getting Christmassed on lovely fizzy things that I wanted. I ate lots to make up for it.

Then I went to do a show and realised I’d screwed my routine. I husband my energy quite carefully before I work. And part of that is having a small meal with lots of carb about two hours before showtime. Today I went with a big meal with lots of protein about 5 hours before. What I really wanted at the half hour call was a snooze. Thank God I hadn’t had champagne or the story would’ve been very different. It would’ve been about a man who occasionally mumbles humbug and then falls over.

I love that generation of pissed actors. You could never do it now with the numbers stacked against you. There’s something wonderful about the stories you hear about Ollie Reed. I never met him, although I drank a bottle of gin with O’Toole once and it was an elucidating and fun evening, with alcohol poisoning as a consequence. I’d just left drama school at the time – it was the wrap party of my first job. I got a lift the next morning to Stratford to see multiple drama school friends on The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe. I puked out of Scott’s car window about 4 times during the drive. It would’ve been around this time of year. When I got to the theatre I spoke to the ushers and explained that I was sporadically vomiting. They gave me a seat right at the back by the door so I could discreetly run out of I needed to. I did, once, just after Lucy first arrived in Narnia. Post show, I slept for about 3 hours in my friend Kesty’s digs. And then I hit their last night party and danced with a load of people who are still my friends now.

Onwards!! Three more shows for Carol! There are apparently a few tickets left for these last ones. I might be able to get you cheapies (still 25 quid). Just in case you fancy more turkey and some humbug.

Friends and cats

A year ago today I booked the flight to LA which kicked off this whole blog thing. It was a glorious, sunny but expensive way to start off the year. I had a punishing cost on accommodation and the exchange rate was not favourable. I did budget LA perforce, and wrote about it every day – as some of you know only too well. Then I came back with a suntan, a writing habit and a manager who is also a friend.

I’m considering going back. There’s a guy I know who says he has a residence in a ridiculous hotel in Beverley Hills that I can stay in. He also says he has a car I can drive but he says it’s a sports car and when I asked him the excess on the insurance he quoted a figure that blew my face off. It’s tempting – if a little overly luxurious for my tastes – but frankly I’m being pointedly skeptical. If it’s just affectionate bullshit and I book a flight and arrive in Beverley Hills with my bags to find a confused concierge, an eye watering price list, and no alternative place to sleep, then that’s me firmly rammed up shit creek, or back to the pink Airbnb in Compton. But also, sometimes these things are true, and sometimes nice things can happen. I’ll sort out life at home first though, before fucking off over the Atlantic on a shoestring and a prayer. If I can get to a place over here where I think I can take the chance and not come back broke then I’ll roll the dice again. Can’t do any harm. It’s warm over there, and things are definitely being made. And living in bullshit central directly underneath mister superfamous will mean I can probably open a few doors. But things are being made here too and I have a network of lovely genuine people who don’t give a shit where I live and what I’m driving. Maybe my money and effort needs to go towards updating my showreel and getting to know more lovely people in this country before I blow everything on a plastic month in the sun. Either way I’m very aware of it being the anniversary of booking the flight. It marked a positive change in me and my patterns.

I’ve spent the morning taking advice about money. I’ve mentioned before the irony in me playing Scrooge, who does numbers but not people. I’m habitually baffled by money. I’m trying to recalibrate and change that story so I can stop getting myself into trouble. Thankfully there are many varied kind people in my life who are giving their time to help me. Just today I was floored by the kindness of some of my friends. I sat on a bench underground in Euston Station and wept with bitter joy at how my friends have been helping me out – the unexpected acts of kindness. I couldn’t have asked for a lovelier network of people than those I have found through theatre. 

I’m back home after a great show. Tom, the director, came down from Hull Truck to see it. We had a potentially tricky audience, but we knocked it out of the park. Jack and I have this down to a fine art now. In previous years I’ve been ready for the end by now. This year I’m wishing we had more shows

No pictures today. I always forget. Once again it’s Pickle, in her usual station, purring like a train as I wind towards sleep. She’s another lovely new friend.

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Wheatfields

The charity collection after the show has been going very well. We’ve raised over 2k for Centre Point now, which is amazing considering we only have 75 in the house at capacity. I’m thrilled we’ve done so well. But I say at the end of the show (because it’s true) that since I’ve started doing this I’ve definitely seen more people sleeping on the streets of London at this freezing time of year.

There are so many people in this city, so many stories, so much need. Last week I was doing my old game of trying to read people’s stories on the tube. It’s how I pass my time if my phone battery is low. 

A woman walked into my line of sight and my immediate recognition was “Shit, she’s a meth addict. That’s rare in London.” And then she spoke to all of us. “Hello ladies and gentlemen, I’m sorry to bother you…” “Looking for her next fix,” I think. Which I’m sure she was. But worth noting that that’s where I went first. But then “My sleeping bag was set on fire. I’m covered in burns.” I can see some of them. A grey haired man, clearly moneyed, responds loudly but as if he’s dealing with an aggressor: “Go to a cash point, they’re free.” We all think “What?” She says “What?” He says as if he said it the first time, same inflection “Go to a hospital, they’re free.” I don’t understand his slip, it’s strange. Which is why I’m recording it. She says “I’m going there now. I go there every day to change my dressings. It costs me money to go there and back.” We are at a station. The guy, who was stammering as he replied to her in his excellent RP, silently exits, without acknowledging her words. His whole body is tension.

I remember a guy about a year ago. It was summer and I really needed to blow my nose. We were on the Bakerloo at Maida Vale. A woman put a pack of Kleenex out, with a note. She wanted a pound for it. I took the Kleenex and gave her a pound and gratefully filled one with snot. The gray haired man opposite me, with defense in his weak eyes, blustered to me “You’re funding crime.” I was wearing a suit at the time. I responded, a little too quickly: “You’ve got a bank account haven’t you? So do I. We’re all funding crime.” Not the best, I know. But I didn’t have time for better. We both got off at Warwick Avenue, and awkwardly walked towards Little Venice, one of the richest parts of London, on opposite sides of the road.

Traveling back from Liverpool Street at this time of year I’m hearing more stories and seeing more pain than I’m used to. Of course some people are gaming it, but others aren’t. There are meth addicts using the NHS. And then there are people who think it’s legit to set fire to their sleeping bags. But if they didn’t do that, then there would be no need for their victims to use the NHS. How do we work at undermining the hate, finding the people that burn others and teaching them somehow not to hate – despite the fact that their victims are on the fringes of society and they’re being encouraged to blame the fringes for their own shortcomings.

Like bullies, the weak attack those who they perceive to be weaker than they are. Not only are they costing the taxpayer, but also they are selecting who they dehumanise. Clearly they’ve experienced damage themselves and need help. It’s fucking thorny. Even writing about it is weird.

Both of these grey haired men were nervous at speaking out, yet they both did so. Both were in roughly the same age bracket. Both appeared to be frightened by and hateful of a younger, vulnerable female outside of their frame of reference, who needed something. I doubt that those two terrified but outspoken men are setting fire to any sleeping bags. But their processed and legitimised fear and contempt witnessed is giving permission to the idiots that are.

We all need to be listened to and understood. It’s a trick of humanity that we can only truly empathise with what we’ve experienced. So we do not know what it is to be older than we are and we have to shift our understanding to get there. I want to know why it’s only elders of my gender that I’ve seen publicly attacking young female homeless, because it makes no sense to me. Elders are supposed to be compassionate and wise. We are in such a mess – surely it’s time for some wisdom. Where are the statesmen? Where are the people with depth and life? In our country we have a scared little grammar school girl. In America we have a backwards child who has always been told he’s special. These are our leaders. No wonder people get so angry and strange. Is it possible to have statesmen when we have a media that excoriates anyone who shows proof of fallible humanity? No wonder we end up with these idiots.

It’s another tricky one. True life experience comes with thorns, and thorns are treated like they’re a bad thing by the media. So our leaders are either beige or sociopaths. But who are they to lead us? Those with little that is interesting, or those who have followed a track prepared by their parents obediently – almost slavishly – buoyed up by their own self-myth of superiority. “You’re my special and independent little darlingy poopoo. Be utterly obedient to what we want you to do and you’ll be the best.”

Anyway. I’m ranting. Three people came through my tube train on the way home and told a story. I gave nothing to any of them. Here’s a photo of the last guy’s back. I gave to none of them. That’s how inured I am. I hear his story, use his image, and don’t pay him. Well, that’s my chance at politics fucked. I’ve told the truth about my behaviour. Should’ve stuck with spurious bullshit about running through wheatfields.

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Pete’s Annual Review

Despite the morning being beautiful I pretty much slept through the whole of it. I eventually hauled myself into the living room, managed 2 Ibuprofen and half a banana, and lay down again, this time on the sofa. The company was better. One friend had stayed over – which was lovely. She came last year, and there was a time shortly after she arrived from New Zealand that she was a regular sofa guest. The three of us hung out playing cards and computer games and being silly. A proper day with no commitments, but the need to recover. I got smashed last night. I was varying my intake a little too much.

Brian got himself a Star Wars game for Christmas. I watched him play it a while before having a go. It’s not easy. It’s one of those games where you’re playing with lots of other people and half of them are trying to kill you, but death is merely an inconvenience. As far as I can tell, the longer you manage to not be dead, the more points you get. We have both realised that it’s a very good thing we aren’t involved in any infantry wars. Sometimes I was dying almost as soon as I moved. It got to the stage where we invented a character for Brian: “Stormtrooper Pete”, very well meaning, thoroughly incompetent, just wants to be a Stormtrooper, worried about his annual assessment, thrilled when he can not be dead for more than a minute, revelling in the small things “I saw him! I saw him before he killed me!” And so the day passed, interrupted by cats and dimsum.

By evening I needed to leave the house. My dad would always insist that we go for a walk down Marine Drive on Boxing Day, whatever the weather. If I was still in the IOM I’d probably have done that today, despite the volume of my complaining when he dragged us there as children. Without access to any windswept coast roads here in London, I’m making do with a stroll down the Thames in the rain, followed by a bus ride. Off to see a dear friend and healer.


Damn that was a fine evening. I just went to Waterloo and hung out. Good friends and good conversation. The perfect coda to a day spent mostly being killed by lasers. Despite my morning, I ended up having some white wine, and when I thought I was probably just going to be there an hour I ended up gladly staying three. Now I’m heading home feeling galvanised, to get stuck into leftover Christmas food.

I wonder if Stormtrooper Pete has managed to keep himself alive for a bit longer in the time I’ve been away. I wonder if maybe I should see if, after I’ve stuffed myself with cheese and turkey, whether I can help make sure that Pete does a little better in this year’s annual assessment.

This year has been pretty shoddy for many people, not just Pete. 2016 had a reputation for being shit. 2017 has been godawfully terrible. Another year coming. Time for optimism?

Here are my friend’s 2 diaries. One for 2017 and one 2018. That’s how different these years are going to be. Bring it, spangly 2018.

Christmas with guests

I’ve been talking with a lot of people about Christmas over the last few weeks. Feels like it’s been a long time coming. I’m not feeling particularly blogtastic though. I’m sitting on the sofa with a glass of bandol. A few friends are chilling next to me, it’s warm here for the first time in months thanks to commandeered panel heaters from Carol, turkey cooking, and bodyheat. I’m writing now because I think it’s likely I’ll not be capable of connecting my brain to my thumb in a few hours time. So now seems like the right window. One of us has her scarf over her head and probably won’t wake up for an hour or so. I posited the idea of watching a movie. But it was nixed. So we’re listening to The Cure.

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The idea of a guest paragraph has come up because I’m already half cut and not feeling 500 words worth. And also it feels like a good Christmas game so in order that I receive them, here are some Christmas thoughts from people at my flat and friends of the heart. Be warned, they’re unedited as I’m already too sloshed for discernment.

1: “The reenactment of Christmas time is both melancholic and sentimental. Exactly 365 days ago I was floating in the sea staring back at the Goa shoreline – imagining the world beyond the horizon behind me.

As Oscar Wilde said, “A sentimentalist is simply a man who desires the luxury of an emotion without paying for it.”

This year I feel somewhat indebted to sentiment. I find myself amongst a cosy group in Al’s flat where neither sentimentality nor emotion costs anything. With this I am confronted immediately and somewhat inconveniently with the true notion of Christmas. In the end, it doesn’t really materrrrrr.”

2: “Christmas is about bees, innit. Not like normal bees. I guess it’s more about beekeeping, the more I think about it. You know – with the hat – beekeeping. And sometimes when you need to keep bees calm, you need smoke. You know like a turkey. Always forwards. And bee suits. They probably have a name other than bee suits. Like a Christmas jumper could also just be(e) a jumper. You get worker bees, Queen bees, soldier bees, but less and less jumper bees. What’s that about? And let’s be honest, nobody likes a fucking bee. Done. Sorted.

3: I’m a kiwi who normally Christmases in the sun with a mother who hates Christmas traditions, who also performs as Father Christmas’s Elf Helper. I’m not really sure what Christmas is supposed to be, but chilling out with food and friends in Al’s living room feels like a sweet way to pass the time.”

4- So this new carol of yours is just eight verses of you demanding figgy pudding with increasing hostility.”

“Yep. Absolutely”

“And it’s called We Wish You A Merry Christmas?”

“Yes”

“Buts it not really about Christmas is it? It’s mostly about figgy—“

“—figgy pudding yeah. Also I noticed you have a cat. If a pet owner dies in their house, a dog will wait several days to eat the corpse – A cat will only wait two days. Merry Christmas. Now give me some Figgy Pudding or you’re cat chowder”

 

This is the Al’s blog equivalent of those clip shows like “Interdimensional Cable” on Rick and Morty. I had a few more contributions but I’ll have to find a way to scale them in. But here we go. Christmas.

Wonderful life

Because we are putting on a show in December an empty warehouse with some serious electrical problems, there are these low power panel heaters that look like whiteboards. Now that the show is down until after Christmas, I’ve loaded two of them into an uber so my flat isn’t freezing tomorrow. I’ve thrown in the Christmas tree, an entire unused orange pavlova, shitloads of leftover show food (backup in case of sudden people-flood) and Brian bought a case of beer from the show. Tasty beer from the London beer factory. I’ve also got my costume to wash and dry – it’s getting pretty stinky. And another 1.5 litres of gravy. There’s definitely enough food in the flat now, come what may.

This evening Brian and I ran around the flat sorting out the shape of it and getting it ready for whatever comes tomorrow. The panel heaters make a difference. Now we are watching “It’s a Wonderful Life.” I’ve never seen it before. I’ve avoided it.

Back when I was at school I got cast in a musical version of this story. I was thrilled to be offered the part of “George Grimstone” because I was at school and I wanted to act. Back then I had no idea that the character’s name was “Potter”. I had never seen the film. I just obediently did the job in front of me. I honestly thought that the film was about lots of people in spandex doing bad showtunes. It’s not. It’s about so much more. God I now see it was woeful. But I reckon I was well cast, back then, as the darkness. But I now know that I shouldn’t have agreed to dress up in a shiny black suit and sing one of the tunes, transposed up an octave so out of my comfortable range, in the Queen Elizabeth Hall on the South Bank to a panel of judges including Bob Holness, who fronted Blockbusters but has also been radio James Bond for ages, which perfectly illustrates the magic of radio. Why were we there? Some sort of competition for schools. We won “Best original musical” but I think it might easily have been called “only original musical.” Back then I already knew I was doomed to this vocation, so any straw was worth clutching.

I like the message of the movie – put into the mouth of an angel: “Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?” “Remember no man is a failure who has friends.”

I wouldn’t have the panel heaters, the Christmas tree or the cash to buy the food if Brian and Louis hadn’t decided to punt a load of money on Christmas Carol this year. Building a theatre and a kitchen safely into that massive unplumbed warehouse space was a fucking nightmare and carried unexpected emergency costs that could never have been anticipated. When the month closes it won’t have made a loss. But a lot of people wouldn’t have made the punt. Thank God we’ve got a robust show. And a sexy double act. I love working with Jack. We can read each other’s minds now.

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Here is my view as I write. Pickle. Tree. Lights. All is well. Brian is snoring on the sofa by me. I’m going to make him more comfortable and hit the sack. Happy Christmas!!