Treadmills

I’m back in my armour. I’ll be sad when this three-piece finally wears through which it will considering the amount of use it gets. Putting it on today has made me understand practically that I’ve been eating too many pies. Or perhaps drinking too many tasty sugary drinks. A couple of months ago there was a bit of flex in here. Now I’m stuffed into this waistcoat like sausage meat. I think I might have to turn my legendary stubbornness into an exercise regime and tie it to the blog. Obviously I won’t be smashing myself on a treadmill, but It’s around this time last year that I started my daily yoga routine, and I loved it. Admittedly that was in LA where doing yoga is like having milk in the fridge. Over here they make it much more expensive and those lovely sunny walks with my yoga mat to airy talkative spacious classes are replaced by slogging through squalls to a soggy reeking cupboard full of people that won’t make eye-contact in the changing room.

One of my friends has started an exercise regime recently. It’s inspiring. It’s tempting to copy her. I want to focus on making myself mister employable and that’ll help. Might help me feel more eligible too and to get off my arse about dating. But right now, because I’m mister not-freezing-my-tits-off-at-home, I haven’t the filthy lucre for classes or dates. And Gods I detest running.

It’s ridiculous how much people pay for gym memberships, especially considering that the majority of them tick over month by month virtually unused. It’s a huge scam. They often don’t even list the prices so that some jumped up chunk in a T-shirt can use his limited empathy to try and determine what you’re worth and then ask for a little bit more than you can easily spare. Tip: Never get excited about anything when they show you round. If you’re in a job you hate that pays a regular salary you might just sign up to that monthly pound of flesh for the fantasy of a new you that looks like the model in the photo and doesn’t have to input numbers in a cell for 8 hours a day while an angry sociopath bellows at you about productivity.

A good thing happened to me today that will help keep me from those sociopaths a bit longer and might mean I don’t find gym prices quite so offensive a couple of years from now. I’m thrilled about it, but I’m going to do that annoying thing that people do on social media where they intimate that something lovely has happened but then go all coy about the details. I’ve got to do some groundwork before I can throw this news out widely. But apparently nice things can happen to bearded fools. I’ve been grinning all evening. It’s good timing too, just after my blogiversary and shortly after the turning of the year. All this combined has catalysed these thoughts about rendering out the bearded adonis version of Al Barclay so I can swagger into auditions, flex my rippling chinceps and shatter the lens with the dazzling smile of a happy man. Here’s to 2018.

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Humping

There’s a tunnel in Waterloo which is a throwback to the eighties. I have no idea what it’s supposed to be called. It’s usually called “The graffiti tunnels.” In the tunnels, the war between creatives and morons is played out in microcosm. One person comes and works hard for hours making a beautiful thing. Then they leave, and some prat calling themselves “Spunz” or whatever comes along to spray their dull tag all over it in twenty minutes before walking away feeling like they’ve achieved something. Spunz has no handle on the distance between creation and destruction – which is a major societal problem but that’s for another blog. This graffiti is all sanctioned anyway. Nobody is doing anything subversive by spraying here. The zone is using up spray paint money and earning time that might otherwise be used to write political slogans in unwelcome and obvious public places.

I was working in “The Vaults”. That’s the name now. It’s a network of old tunnels in railway arches. I’ve been building-in a show. We were very much on that boundary between creation and destruction. I was helping build “Neverland”. But first I had to destroy the remnants of “Hair, the musical”, which had been left there by whoever was supposed to get it out. I broke a lot of stuff, and threw a lot of things away.

When I arrived on site they gave me a face mask for dust and a fifteen minute talk stating the obvious – along the lines of “If there is a large pit full of spikes, don’t jump into it. Make sure you don’t try to eat the tools. If you have a blow torch don’t hold it to your eye.” The only unusual part of the brief was “There are no fire drills today, so if there’s a fire alarm … um … stay where you are because it’s probably not an actual fire… um … yeah… we’ll tell you…”

A face mask – to wear on site. “What a load of nonsense,” I thought, conditioned by the brief, almost throwing the mask aside. Then I walked into the dustiest room in the history of mankind and immediately attached my mask, thanked God for my mask, and made sure my mask was sealed. Mask firmly in place I helped bang together a load of scaff alongside a bunch of people who had named their company after some Irish mercenaries who show up in Macbeth. After a few hours they kicked off because the job was different from how they thought it would be. I absented myself, washed unbelievable amounts of grease from my hands, found SOME GLOVES and started humping vast amounts of furniture in from vans.

I’ll be back in the next few days for more humping. There’s much to be done. After all the humping we’ve done already I’m exhausted, but I’m happy to hump in the name of good theatre. I can hump with the best of them.

Neverland is going to be wonderful. It already is. It ran in Sheffield for December with exactly the same run as my Carol. I’d love to have seen it. I took up a vanload in November for them, and I read the script with some of the makers before rehearsal started. I heard the songs. It’s a glory. You’d have to be soul-dead not to be moved by it. And there are lots of lovely people (and me) working bloody hard to build in the set on multiple levels, and to make it all magical and beautiful. Plus, most importantly, I can confirm that we have been properly briefed at length about health and safety.

Here are two of us – (both beautiful humans who fearlessly but ambitiously make glorious things.) They’re humping stuff together. Maybe if I put a photo of  two attractive young men humping it’ll get me more followers. I’m told that’s how the internet works.

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Year 2, Day 1. Here we go again.

It’s a year ago today that I landed in LA and wrote the Facebook post that kicked off this blog. I didn’t think at the time that I’d do it for a year, but sometimes we take ourselves by surprise. I’ve written 244,413 words. That’s a couple of novels-worth. And I didn’t miss a day. Which is remarkable considering both how drunk and how distracted I’m capable of getting.

Now I’ve got a habit, fully formed. Around 7pm if I haven’t blown out some kind of wordthing I get anxious – distracted. Like in a bar when you’re not drinking. I start trying to manipulate a bit of downtime. If it gets to midnight and it’s not written I extract myself temporarily from whatever company I’m in to get it done. Occasionally I’ve got swept up and then I guiltily write multiple consecutive loosely linked sentences in bed at 3am while the screen swims in my vision. Then I click “publish” if my finger can find it, and then I instantaneously pass out as if I’ve been tasered.

It’s 11pm right now. I’m sitting on a sofa with a cat. This writing habit might perhaps be put to better use than a blog. But I needed to engender the habit first. I’ve been skimming over my last year and it’s a helpful thing to be able to quantify the difference between last year and now. The days go by and we learn things. People (and animals) come to the front or momentarily retreat into the shadows. What is life but the day to day? I’ve had a changing year since I’ve been living in your face. Even though it’s been the usual disjointed rollercoaster, a lot has happened and most of it has been conducive to better quality aliveness. I met a cat, got a tan and a manager, saw myself on screen at BAFTA, discovered my heart still works, trained kids, played broken artists, was a broken artist, played a llama enthusiast, William Burroughs, King Mark, Scrooge, a green monster, the fool. I’ve been to LA on a crazy jaunt and Amsterdam and Milan for work. I’ve done Cosmic Trigger, worked with the KLF exactly 23 years after they burnt the money, eaten some mushrooms, worked on Dodgems and filmed at Dreamland. I’ve volunteered at Grenfell, got my motorbike certificate, and received gohonzon. I’ve consumed remarkable steaks, months of vegan food, powerful psychedelics, great theatre, too much wine. All these things have stuck to me in little ways, now they’ve been filed in the “done” box. I might not constantly think of them, but every little action effects our journey. And still I’m living every day present, although perhaps with a little bit more of an eye to the future than I was managing this time last year.

On which subject, for now I’m going to keep this blog up. Year 2. Let’s see how quickly I get bored of myself. But it’s useful to keep the pressure on to be accountable to you – oh constant reader.

Thank you those of you who have been dipping in and out of my journey – and any of you bonkers enough to have read the lot. It often surprises and pleases me to find that people I rarely see have a handle on my existence, my preoccupations and all the conflicting interior monologues. Relative strangers have expressed relief that I “finally got that boiler fixed.” Friends are pleased when they meet Pickle at last.

I hope for a changing, positive, interesting and challenging year. There’s already some auspices in place. But let’s see what time brings.

Last year I wandered the streets of a bad area, and stumbled into a church. This year, I walked a dog. Woof.

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14th January 2017

Ferryman

Jerusalem is one of those plays that are universally acknowledged as being excellent. I caught it at The Royal Court for .10p standing, and managed to slip into an unoccupied seat by timing it right and keeping an eye out for latecomers. When these positive opinions are so universally upheld about a piece of art, I find myself wanting to fly in the face of them, knowing that all art is subjective: “Oh yeah, I saw Jerusalem. It didn’t do it for me.” It’s tempting, and I’ve heard people try it. But it’s bullshit as far as I’m concerned. I adored Jerusalem. There was depth and dimension in the work, there was terrific immediacy nuance and presence in the performances. I am part of the throng of people blithering on about how glad they are to have caught it. It was a tour de force. I still haven’t been blown away like Rylance managed to blow me (ooer missus, no he’s not Spacey) at the end, as he called on the old Gods, and made us all part of his summons.

I’ve been wary of going to Ferryman. It’s another long form play by the same author – Jez Butterworth – and this time the word of mouth is more complicated. “Too long” “Paddywhacking” etc are getting thrown about by actor friends. We’re a demanding lot. But I’d have been pissed off if I didn’t catch it, after loving Jerusalem so much. And my major stopping point was price. It’s the perfect opportunity tonight. Dean is in it and can get me house seats. Even if house seats are much more than my habitual maximum price, they’re still a bit cheaper, and well placed.

I met Dean last millennium, when 23 of us strode into the striplit cupboards of the old Guildhall School of Music and Drama and learnt how to not be so full of shit on stage. We learnt ensemble. Now with my grey beard, more depth, a bit less frantic energy, and a voice two octaves lower, I’m meeting up with some of the other bright eyed kids from that ensemble and we’re celebrating Deano in the West End, while catching each other and this interesting piece of work.

Too much time has passed since we were the kids from Fame. Life has pulled the 23 of us in all sorts of different directions, but those three years together were intense and they inevitably forge invisible strings. I’m worse than many at staying in touch, but I’ve always kept a loose sense of how people are doing. I’ve seen more of Dean than others because he’s still rattling around in the bottom of the crucible so we inevitably bang into one another, sometimes on purpose. I’m going to love watching him in this, just as I’m looking forward to getting a drink with him and Carla and Nick and Eva afterwards.


Yeah it’s great. I suspect it’ll run and run. It’s a bold and big web of humanity cast over a story, and there is an ensemble of powerhouses pushing in the same direction. Everyone gets a crack at the whip. There are two stories at the heart, but so many more stories in the evening. The supernatural is not so front and centre as it was in Jerusalem, but still runs through it and it’s about love and pain and time and family. It’s beautiful and sad and human. What a lovely night. Here’s a crap selfie of us all.

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Exhausted again

Brian got knocked off his motorbike last night. He’s better than he might have been. But that was a bit of a shock to the system, getting the news just before bed last night. I went to sleep not knowing whether or not his leg was broken. He was getting seen to by the lovely NHS and was okay enough to let me know he was hurt. I woke up relieved to the news that it was just badly squished – (just?), but I’m still feeling pretty worried for him. He almost cut his thumb off fixing some pipes at Carol. He literally almost stubbed it with a Stanley knife. That crazy thumb was just starting to behave like normal people’s thumbs might, plus a bit of pain, and then some idiot doesn’t check their blind spot and Brian’s on crutches and making out like he’s not in agony when he is. I need to feed him a lot of protein and red meat in order to rebuild that body. I wish there wasn’t an internal flight of stairs in my flat as he’ll have to get up and down them daily.

He’s in Croydon at Mel’s right now and I haven’t been able to hang out with him and laugh at his bruises because of dayjobbing. I was offered a week of day-job and after the boiler I need to make sure that some short-term money is coming in. So I worked the week, and kept trying to sort out the life-stuff around it, and have found myself at the end of it sitting in front of my terminal listening to the bath running in the background and wishing there was a way to sleep and write simultaneously. There probably is an app. But I don’t know it and I’m too fucked to look. I’m done for the week. Totally shattered.

Thank God Brian only fucked his leg. If you ride a motorbike you take your life into your own hands. I know this better than many considering most of my childhood was spent in a house that was on the TT course in The Isle of Man. Every year there would be multiple fatalities, spoken about almost as if they were just par for the course. Some of them were on Quarterbridge Road right outside my home. The first time I went on dad’s bike he was doing donuts in the back garden with 10 year old Al pillion and the bike slipped. I jumped clear being young and swift and surrounded by grass. Dad went down on his leg. Mum was angrier than I had ever seen her and dad was reflexively trying to pretend he wasn’t in pain but was in plenty. I never went on the back of dad’s bike again. But these memories and this early lesson that bikes are heavy and hot – it’s never going to deter my interest from the monstrous noisy lovely fuckers. If anything it’ll do the opposite. I love to poke a hornet’s nest. I just haven’t the spare cash for the bike I’d like.

If money was no object I’d have blown myself up by now somehow. I’d have been smiling all the way but I’d have got into a wingsuit and flown into a tree, or shot myself out of a cannon into the ocean or something. I still might manage it. I just need to get rich. I might prefer exploding into a tree in a laughing winged fireball than dripping my weeks into a day-job so I can have hot baths until I wake up and realise one day that my hips need replacing.

Brian’s accident has helped me remember that even the little journeys can be touch and go. I might as well put on the wingsuit if I know the route. Fuck I’d love to fly a wingsuit. But right now I’m totally battered. Put me in one right now and I’d be as agile as a coconut.

Still I had a lovely evening. A great friend came over and we helped fix each other’s heads. I feel looked after, loved and happy. Then my nephew got home. He’s off tomorrow. “It’s been great,” he said. “You’ve taught me that you can live well and happily without getting hung up on the little stuff.”

Caves

Last night I went to Flavia’s. She’s been a hugely positive force in my life for years. I first met her at a party when I was at Guildhall and she was very young. She wanted to be an actor. She was auditioning for drama schools. I helped her out by challenging her. In my experience that’s a good way of helping young artists, and artists generally. They either rise to the challenge, or take themselves out of the mix.

She tells me: “I’m auditioning for drama schools in two weeks.” “What speeches are you doing?” “No idea.” “If you come to Guildhall tomorrow evening with two speeches I can help you. If not I can’t. I’ll meet you out front at 7pm”

She showed up. She had some speeches. It’s a sad thing but monologues are still the backbone of the drama school acceptance process, despite being the least efficient way of getting a sense of an actor. I met Flavia after college and we snuck into a room and worked the ones she had chosen. It was lovely. She was hilarious and brave. I encouraged her to play and she played. She didn’t get into Guildhall dammit but she still went to a decent drama school and since then she’s been on a journey. She decided very quickly that she wasn’t an actor though.

Now she’s in theatre PR and has a brilliant bonkers son who has become a friend of mine. We play well together, Ivo and I. We always have. Back when he was a toddler we used to improvise games with each other and it seems that’ll never change. Yesterday the two of us spent a good long time improvising games. Here’s another photo of us, since I took none today. Ivo is in disguise as me. You might not be able to tell who is who.

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It was beautiful to hang out with Flavia. Friendships only deepen with time. We’ve had lots of time.

I hung out with her and Ivo last night, and then got home to find my brother Jeremy. His son Campbell is on my sofa this week, but I didn’t expect Jeremy. He’s been in Egypt teaching art, and before that in Hong Kong. Now he’s back, and looking towards making a habitation out of some troglodytic caves that he inexplicably bought in the Loire Valley many years ago. By the time I was home I was already smashed and suddenly I was having to think practically about how my brother could live in a cave. Of course my go-to was unhelpful from his perspective. “Make it a massive party venue. If you do it right there’ll be people from all the nearby villages that are desperate for somewhere cool to go.”

I spent the morning with him, mostly motivating action. The caves he owns are huge and beautiful. There’s not much room for audience or I’d be thinking of them as a performance venue. They’re a venue for happenings though. But Jeremy is terrifically demotivated regarding them. They just sit there. With work they could be a living space or a performance space or – anything you care to make of a big empty cave. But it’s got to be better than what they are now. Right now they’re just big damp caves in France.

Free work

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Someone emailed me yesterday asking me to work for free. This happens more frequently than you would credit in my industry. Sometimes I dismiss it immediately – usually when it’s evident that loads of money is being spent on production and they’ve just gone “ahh we can save by not paying the actors.” This time I haven’t said yes yet, but I haven’t said no yet either. It’s a very short time commitment. I might enjoy myself. All those treacherous little thoughts are swimming through my head.

I like my work. It’s a craft I’ve spent a lot of time and money honing, and for which I have made some quite significant sacrifices and life-choices. But there are plumbers out there that could likely say the same thing. Dean who fixed my boiler was learning on the job. He was enjoying his work, despite running into difficulty. He got shot with adrenaline when he overcame the problem, and he drove home smiling and probably about £700 richer. If I’d put an ad up saying I couldn’t pay but it would be a great opportunity to fix an interesting boiler, with as much coffee as you want and a friendly cat… well, at best I’d still be cold and at worst some idiot would’ve blown my flat up. Just because I like my work, it doesn’t follow that I am therefore happy to do it for nothing – (or in these circumstances, technically I’d be paying to work, factoring in tube fares etc.)

And yet, I haven’t said “no” yet. What’s that about?

Let’s look at my history here. I did an unpaid gig in a pub theatre. I didn’t even like the script and I still did it. The journalists didn’t like the script either. More harm than good. But then I frequently volunteer for Scene and Heard. I help kids grow in confidence and I make good friends, and have fun being moles and bacteria and travel-cups. More good than harm. I accept an unpaid film and die ridiculously in a council block fire escape, killed by a terrible werewolf. I get soaked and ruin a shirt I love. The footage is never edited and the director vanishes. One day maybe it’ll show up on a clip show. “Do you remember doing THIS?” *facepalm* But then I do a short for a quid and it leads to good exposure and good friendships, and money down the line…

I’m going to sleep on it. And then I think I’m going to say “no”. She’s a young director, she’s not profiting, I’d like to help her out. It won’t be a huge amount of time. But there’s no point working if you’re not 100% sold, as my reputation stands on every choice I make. And now I take the time to write about it I realise that I’m not sold on the script either. It’s a single joke stretched into ten minutes, and it’s very much on the nose.

All that aside, I told myself I wouldn’t work for free outside of Scene and Heard and, circumstantially, The Factory, who have often been able to pay me and have always paid in challenge, love and friendship.

And yet still I’ll sleep on it. And then tomorrow like a sucker I’ll wake up all optimistic and say “Yes yes I’ll do it! I’m helpful Al! Hooray for helpful Al.”.

Punch me if I do.


Time passage

(I hung out with Ivo as per the photo.) I said no. But it was hard. Everything seemed predicated against me writing  tonight. All my WordPress apps crashed repeatedly. Done now. Sleep…