Cards on the South Bank

If you’re near the South Bank Sunday or Monday, do come and visit me in the caravan. Or Carnaby Street Tuesday and Wednesday. We are directly outside the Tate Modern for now, 12 – 7. It’s really odd, being there in a peaceful caravan with all those people around. Mel and I organised for a sign to go outside telling passersby what we are doing and why, as it didn’t feel right to bark “Ladies and gentlemen, this is an art installation. We aren’t selling anything. It’s free. We’re playing cards and reading tarot.” Much as barking is second nature – (God I’ve done plenty of that over the years, sometimes until I was ragged) – it’s not right for this gig. This is a peaceful gig.

This is free contemplative art plus a free tarot or a game of cards (most people want the tarot). It’s a moment of engagement and structured thought and togetherness, with no cost but time. Very little in this town comes at no cost. In the context of the South Bank and this necessarily venal city we needed that word “free” written down out the front to derail constant shy conversations about price and give us space to work.

I’m glad it’s the two of us on this job. We’ve made so many strange things over the years, blurring the ground between real and imaginary. We like to play in the territory between the physical and the fanciful. We make “immersive” work in the real world and have done since it was the bête-noir to give the audience agency and everyone tried to tell us it would never catch on and we were wasting our time (even though this wave is not the first wave at all. Augusto Boal, Joan Littlewood etc etc). Right now though people shove the word “immersive” on the press release for a fourth wall show where some guy burns a bit of incense, one unhappy audience member holds a sign without knowing why, and some of the terrified actors occasionally look at you with dead eyes and shout a question in a voice that isn’t asking anything at all, before continuing, oblivious to your answer.

“Immersive” on a press release is getting to be a bit like “tangy” on crisps. You can charge a bit more for the crisps if you call them “tangy”. The right adjectives add value. “Immersive” for many people selling shows is equally vague but has some sense of tangy added value. 

I’ve immersed in shows many times but I’ve also seen things called “immersive” that are just trad fourth wall shows where the audience sits in a kitchen and that’s that.

Anyway, axe-grinding aside, Mel was an actor before she retrained as a director. She reads Tarot fluently and is great at reading people. I was asked to do this as an acting/facilitating job and I got her onboard as the right partner. The job involves – simply – to engage the people that come to the caravan with the beautiful deck that Alice has made. It’s a playing card/tarot deck. The last two days I’ve been doing loads of tarot readings. I couldn’t honour the artist and her beautiful work if I chose to do them in some sort of grandmother character. It would blur my connection with the person I was reading, and make it more about my choices than her art. By keeping it clean people can see the cards clearer. And they’re worth seeing.

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Come play. Come be immersed in a tangy caravan of grandmaternal warmth, with your bonkers beardy Al pal.

Snake

After work today I went with a friend to her home. She’s lived there for as long as I’ve known her – over ten years now. She is an extremely talented intelligent and attractive human being. She has a lot of love to give, and also the inherited fear of being alone that plagues many of my friends and forces them into toxic relationships. I have been her friend for long enough to know that even if I respect her judgement in every other matter, she’s magnetically drawn to men who will hurt her. I often see this tendency in my friends. Perhaps it’s why I don’t often engage with the game of it myself despite sometimes missing that level of companionship. I see too many people pouring themselves into cracked pots. I neither want to be a cracked pot, nor to fruitlessly seek to fix someone else’s. 

Brian said something recently about one of my mates: “That one isn’t just Al-weird. That one’s weird weird.” Brian understands that there’s a basic level of odd running through the people in my life and was warning me that there might have been more to one particular friend (not the one from tonight). I think he was right in that instance, even if I still don’t like that he felt that. I tend to just accept whoever you are, and deal with you now one on one. It can get me into trouble sometimes, and I am learning the hard way not to be too trusting, but many of my most satisfactory friendships are with people who are – objectively – unusual, and who have been extremely hard work at times.

This particular friend from tonight has the supernatural power of excluding all positive things she hears about herself no matter what the source, and focusing, magnifying and dwelling on the negative things. It has made for a hard friendship sometimes, and a circular one at others. But we usually have fun together. My job as a friend is not to fix her and it’s only if I try that it gets frustrating. My job is to talk about fun things, and derail the circular negatives as best I can with my usual brand of naive immediacy.

I went with her to her home because she has just got back from three months away and was worried that the asshat she still loves and who has done nothing but bully and attack her for literally years might have destroyed all her possessions out of spite while she’s been away. I’d been advising her to kick him out before she left but she couldn’t bring herself to. Too damn kind. I get that. Hearing her expectations I was going to walk into a flat with “Lying old crone” daubed on the wall in faeces, dead animals and shredded letters all over the floor, and all the pillows burned. “Nobody would be so petty” I said, but he’s pretty damn petty this guy to be frank. He’s a nasty entitled little bully. It wasn’t as bad as she thought thankfully, but she was still deeply upset at the shared things he took. Their snake was still there, though, alive and well, and she picked it up with relief and care. “It’s crazy that you can give so much love to a snake,” I said, but she didn’t get the inference. Or she chose to ignore it.


A Cherokee Legend

A little boy was walking down a path and he came across a rattlesnake. The rattlesnake was getting old. He asked, “Please little boy, can you take me to the top of the mountain? I hope to see the sunset one last time before I die.” The little boy answered “No Mr. Rattlesnake. If I pick you up, you’ll bite me and I’ll die.” The rattlesnake said, “No, I promise. I won’t bite you. Just please take me up to the mountain.” The little boy thought about it and finally picked up that rattlesnake and took it close to his chest and carried it up to the top of the mountain.

They sat there and watched the sunset together. It was so beautiful. Then after sunset the rattlesnake turned to the little boy and asked, “Can I go home now? I am tired, and I am old.” The little boy picked up the rattlesnake and again took it to his chest and held it tightly and safely. He came all the way down the mountain holding the snake carefully and took it to his home to give him some food and a place to sleep. The next day the rattlesnake turned to the boy and asked, “Please little boy, will you take me back to my home now? It is time for me to leave this world, and I would like to be at my home now.”

The little boy felt safe now, and carefully picked up the snake, took it close to his chest, and carried him back to the woods, to his home to die. Just before he laid the rattlesnake down, the rattlesnake turned and bit him in the chest. The little boy cried out and threw the snake upon the ground. “Mr. Snake, why did you do that? Now I will surely die!” The rattlesnake looked up at him: “You knew what I was when you picked me up.”

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International Women’s Day

Unlike International ‘Still Get’s Confused About Apostrophes’ Day, International I Once Saw A Woodpecker In A Birdfeeder Day and Interational You Put Diesel In A Petrol Engine You Muppet Day, I’m willing to get behind International Women’s Day even if it can be accused of being insulting to women. Every day is a day for something these days, and the way that the internet has made things it’s usually axe grinding or trying to make us buy stuff. Equality is an axe I’m happy to grind. It goes without saying that there are more than 365 axes to grind and also more than 365 niche products competing for market share. So today is also Proofreading Day and Peanut Cluster Day, apparently. Peanut Cluster Day??!? Proofreading day will be just another opportunity for joyless pedants who think that living languages should be governed by standardiszsxed rules. Every day is proofreading day in the post-Truss era. Git thersel offen das highherse. Linguage shud breethe. And peanut clusters? A day. For peanut clusters? Bollocks. What even are they? But women? I’ve met a few of them over the years, believe it or not. None of them have eaten me yet.

As far as I define the word feminist, I’m a feminist. We all understand our own language better than other people’s though, and feminism is another tag that shifts its meaning. There will be people who call themselves feminists who will give me reasons why I cannot be one, such as my presented gender. I’ve heard that before. “You’re a man. Men can’t be feminists.” Although conversely there are people who’ll tell me I am militant because I don’t think women should be… I dunno … boiled in vats – chained to the stove? Or because I’ll look at people like they just farted if they trot out the old “Why isn’t there an International Men’s Day?” – (Bless you. There is. Of course there is. It’s the 19th November for men. Make a peanut cluster in the shape of your or your friend’s penis. A penis cluster! And then…) We can only go by our own yardstick (ooer vicar). I call myself a feminist, so I am one by my definition. And I appreciate that so long as there’s a gender pay gap and so long as there are fewer women than there are people with the names David and John in top board rooms across the UK, we need to keep making noises.

So … I’m glad to start work today on an art project called “Playing Cards with my Grandmother.” I’ll be working with the artist Alice Instone. She has designed a pack of cards and a caravan for us to inhabit. As far as I understand we’ll be in high footfall areas, encouraging people to join us for a game of cards and to talk about their grandmothers. Today and Friday we’re in Canary Wharf, in Reuters’ Plaza, directly beneath the Reuters building. Saturday Sunday and Monday we’ll be on Bankside outside the Tate Modern, and Tuesday and Wednesday we’ll be on Carnaby Street.

I’m heading in to meet the artist now, and I’ll be working from 12 – 7 for the next week – so come stick your head in. I get the sense it’ll be a pleasant and calm little moment in a crazy place. It’s me and a dear old friend and collaborator. Both of us love games, both of us make lots of immersive theatre, and both of us read tarot. We won’t be in character. We’ll just be in caravan. And we likely will be craving coffee and familiar faces.

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Comfort

We don’t need much to be comfortable. It’s worth remembering that. There’s so much encouragement thrown at us to seek more and more and more. I am coming to the conclusion that the only really good reason to accumulate wealth is against bad health or to help others. The likes of Prince Philip and Rupert Murdoch are using it to keep themselves alive. Money is no object for them or they’d both probably be out by now. They are ekeing out their existences, sustained by the blood of virgins or the hidden cure for cancer, or injections of liquid money or just not having to constantly worry about where food is coming from. I wish they were doing more to help redistribute wealth, but they probably labour under the assumption that they deserve what they have and that everybody else is somehow less valid. That’s a hardwired upbringing fault in many people. It takes a lot of overcoming.

All of that aside, I’ve been living out of a rucksack for a few weeks and I’ve been fine. Admittedly the generosity of friends has sustained me hugely in Manchester – first Charlotte and then Robin and Amy. I couldn’t easily pay my way but I will repay their generosity when I’m able. I took a badly paid job (which still hasn’t shelled out) and I let someone stay in my room for free. It was a delight to do both, and a blessing for me and my friend, but I probably should have done the maths. As usual I chased the joy.

Now I’m back home surrounded by my stuff again and I’m glad to be here. But I’m very conscious of being crowded in by past memories – by objects and clothing that I associate with early prototypes of me – by things that were valuable to my parents but not to me at all. I am finally understanding that the next logical step in what I consider to be my evolutionary process is to move from this flat. I’ve been told that countless times. It’s starting to hit home. Then I could perhaps have the money to pay for any medical shit when I start crumbling, or for dating attractive people who might expect things to be paid for, or even for maintaining horrible little screaming shitmachines that grow up hating us. Or for friends in need.

Meantime – I made a bit of cash today interviewing someone. Enough to keep me liquid, just. She’s a Russian technology saleswoman, and one of the most highly qualified human beings I’ve ever met. Her CV – although it needs trimming – is a hymn to her summa cum laude education in St Petersburg and London, and her incredible unstoppable work ethic. She’s personable, smart and brave. She’s working with a friend of mine who helps business people reach their full potential, and my friend realised it would help her confidence – which is a weak spot despite her qualifications – if she had a mock interview. So I sat in a beautiful office in Chancery Lane and interviewed her one on one.

In two years time she’ll have more money in the bank than I’ve ever seen but at least I’ve helped her overcome some blocks on the way to that. Sometimes I wonder what might have been if I’d taken everyone’s advice and gone chasing that dolla. But usually, in my strange cluttered creative bubble, I feel pretty happy. And I still believe that I’m only one meeting away from great change. So long as I don’t get expensive-sick in the meantime, I’m looking ahead.imag3272393073729.jpg

The Best Man

Back in London and my first night was out at the theatre. I went to The Playhouse Theatre, to see The Best Man. It was Press night. The producer is Bill Kenwright, who has been a key player in British theatre for years now. All the major reviewers would’ve been there.

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The play is a thoughtful debate about integrity in American politics. Gore Vidal could never have anticipated the shitstorm we have now, but he wrote a beautiful and thoughtful play back then though and there’s still resonance. It’s taken 58 years to get it to the West End, but I’m glad I got to see it – it was excellent. The actors are all really on point and working with discipline and specificity, and there were many lines and moments that were organised neatly to shine out and resonate through the decades. Simon Evans the director takes us through it really skillfully, and there is some serious coalface time in the company, including Martin Shaw, Maureen Lipman, Phil Cumbus, Honeysuckle Weeks and my lovely friend Emma to name but a few. It’s funny when it needs to be, thoughtful where it has to be and human and recognisable throughout.

After the show I ended up backstage while Emma got ready for the afterparty. A lovely old fellow came into the dressing room to congratulate her, and I gave him a companionable hug assuming he was one of the understudies. It was only when he stood up to make a speech later on that I realised I’d hugged the producer. I’m glad I mistook him for an understudy. I’ve heard Bill Kenwright described as an older version of Brian and I can see the comparison. He struck me as a kind direct and generous man. There was no status play in that dressing room hug. He merely hugged me back. Many people in that position might have been tempted to ask me who I was after the hug, in order to reinforce the notion that, in this context, he was “somebody.” This man didn’t have that problem. I like him for that. And his speech took care to make it clear he understood and respected the nuance of what his team did to bring the play to life – (while also, in the nicest possible way, nudging the reviewers towards what he might like them to have noticed.)

Well, I got a free meal which is a sure way to my heart. We all had a buffet and wine, as if we were at a wedding. A remarkable Press Night spread and I’m glad to see the stars landing in the reviews today.

I ended up in Groucho’s drinking one too many espresso martinis with some of the cast, and one of their parents – an ebullient, hammered and indiscreet man if ever there was one, but fun so long as he’s not your father. He was with “the commissioner of BBC 2,” or so he told me. (Most people are full of crap at Groucho) He must have had something though. At about 2.30am he blinked: “What are you doing tomorrow?” “Absolutely nothing,” I replied. “Otherwise I wouldn’t be here.” “Bastard.” he said. “I’ve got to go.”

But I was right. Absolutely nothing. That’s more or less how my day panned out today. I read. Played with Pickle. Sent some emails (ha ha work). And then went for a walk with a friend in the evening and cooked some Jerusalem artichokes. That’ll do…

Megabus

I’m on a megabus back to London from Manchester. It costs £7.50 and it takes two hours longer than the train. Had I booked a train last night it would’ve cost me anything from £87.50 to £145. For a single. And much of the train would’ve been empty. It’s crazy.

The megabus can be miserable. I crawled through the night from Liverpool once, trying to sleep while a large bald man from Cheshire gurgled into my mouth. Again it was the price alone that drew me. The bald guy was an unexpected extra. It was a memorably shit trip. My passport fell out of my pocket which was almost a disaster. My first instinct was frame the bald guy as some sort of sleep-impersonating international Cheshire passport-thief. Minnie helped me realise that was absurd. I made some well targeted phone calls and got a call from the cleaning lady. She sent it with an early morning bus from Plymouth the next day and I didn’t lose out on a lucrative job in Amsterdam thanks to her. But it was close. And the cost of an emergency passport probably would’ve been less than the train premium.

This bus is over ten times cheaper! And I haven’t got my passport with me to lose. Even if sometimes it’s uncomfortable and often it’s delayed, I can put up with that possibility for 80 quid difference. Surely we should be encouraged to take the environmental train, not priced out of considering it.

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My dad used to strike a deal with me when I went to The Isle of Man: “The plane your mother wants you to take costs X. If you get the coach and the ferry, I’ll give you half of the money I save. You make money. I save money. It only costs your time and comfort.” I chose to be uncomfortable and have more money when I was 15. I’ve habitually deprioritised comfort since. Hence the boiler situation. Old habits die hard. And just as well really considering my average wage.

I have a (cheap) car if I can in London despite the cost of insurance. Running a car is still cheaper than the premium on train travel, and you can sleep in it, and make a few quid here and there doing odd jobs in London for theatre people. Plus: “Oh it’s a lovely weekend, shall we go somewhere?” “We can’t. Train tickets anywhere are six times more expensive than they ought to be, even though the train’s empty. We’ll have to stay in this expensive crowded city and bake.” “If only we had a car…”

The latest in my string of cars was taken for scrap by that Irish crook because I couldn’t tax it and the MOT was coming due. I’m sure I’ll get another by August. I’ve lost track of how many cars I’ve had over the years. Some stick in my mind – the great big old Volvo, the Citroen AX that I learnt in, my Silver Golf, which lasted longer than all the rest, my fabulous exploding Saab, Richard’s old Ford with the noisy exhaust that filled with smoke one day. They got me from A to B, which is the purpose of a means of transport. Now I’m contemplating getting a good quality car for the first time ever, finance gods willing. First of all a good bit of nicely paid acting work please, universe. And then…

I’m off to support a dear friend tonight who has a lovely acting job and is sprinkling some fairy dust my way. She’s opening in the West End and she’s asked me to come to the gala as her plus one. That’s a great offer. Free theatre and free food and free booze. So I’ll get off this megabus, wash, shave and make myself look rich and then walk into a room full of other smartly dressed theatre people who need a free meal and are wearing shoes they don’t normally wear and starched collars. I’m thrilled. It’s the only way I’ll get to see her show, as the Haymarket wants loads of money for house seats. I’m going to enjoy every bit of it. Particularly her company and the free bubbly.

Sunday

Surprisingly I felt reasonably human this morning. Shortly after I wrote my blog last night I ended up holding onto a rope, sliding around behind a moving car in the snow sitting on a rubber ring. I’m still not entirely sure how that happened but it was fun at the time. I think I must have had an entire bottle of whisky by then. We’d been at it since noon. I even tried to get to standing. And failed. And yet I woke up this morning feeling fine, apart from the fact that I slept with my neck twisted around my left toe, mumbling about boilers and chewing the tip of my tongue with vigour.

So my body hurts from bad sleep, but my head doesn’t hurt from bad habits. That’s either down to the remarkable quality of Robin’s whiskey or the fact that I had a month of liver break through February. Whatever it is, I’ll take it. We got up this morning and I had a little walk. Having eaten nothing but crisps and meat for two days I thought it was the least I could do. The world was peaceful up in the peaks. A thick layer of mist was over the melting snow. It was beautiful and quiet. I’ve enjoyed my time out of town. Everyone keeps saying this snow is out of season, but last time I remember it snowing and settling in London it was April. The time before it was February. The Christmas police have encouraged us to expect snow in December but this feels more natural for snow time.

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I’m coming back to London tomorrow, just in time for the last patches of filthy black sludge I expect. This has been a beautiful couple of weeks out of town but it’s time to get back to work. It’s been a week since West Side Story ended. I have some lovely mad stuff lined up in town.

Robin drove us back in the afternoon, and traveling was already a great deal more possible. The wind has died down and the roads are no longer horrifying. We made it back in no time. Now I’m sitting on the sofa watching terrible movies and warming up. I’ve been beautifully looked after these few weeks by Charlotte, and by Rob and Amy.

Now the stag is over, Robin and Amy’s life is going to go into wedding planning madness. I’m going to try to source some fun props for their photo booth to tick that off their list. They have to think about when to order the cake, and what to use as placeholders and where to get them. About who hasn’t received invitations yet, suits and dresses and pocket squares and buttonholes, what to put candles on, what to say for the vows, the ring box, the knife for the cake, the honeymoon, the RSVPs, what does the venue provide. It’s supposed to be the best day of your life, your wedding, and it bloody needs to be considering the amount of planning thinking and troubleshooting these guys are already doing. All I have to do is book my Airbnb in Liverpool, and work out how I’m getting there and that has eluded me so far.

 

Stag

It always comes down to games. 12 men stuck in the peak district, surrounded by snow. One of us brought a bow and arrows so we’ve been shooting trees with arrows. The forfeit for missing was drinking. We also had a firearm – an air rifle, but it looks lethal. Telescopic sight etc. We were shooting cans on a wall like a bunch of Trump voters. The forfeit was drinking. Now we are playing cards. The forfeit? Drinking.

People have invented a gauntlet game that involves no skill and many opportunities to drink. It’s only ten past six. I have to write this now, in this room full of people. If I leave it any longer it only takes a run of bad luck to make me incomprehensible. Or for someone to drop a plastic soldier into my glass and shout “medic” which is a shortcut to incomprehensible, as I’d have to down it to stop the plastic soldier from drowning. Of course.

There are more of us now. I’ll sleep in a bunk bed with Robin and Brian sharing a double in the same room. It’s convivial. But it’s not about sleep comfort. Hasret will be on the bottom bunk. He’s just arrived. He made it almost all the way through the snow but got stuck at the eleventh hour, and somehow dropped the front of his car into someone’s garden. He couldn’t get out forwards or backwards. We got a call. By the time we got there half cut at 11am, the property owner was trying to help whilst his wife watched from the kitchen bemused with two young children. “Mummy, why is the funny man sitting on the bonnet of a moving car with a cup of tea?” “Because he’s a wreckhead, dear. And it’s the morning.”

We built some temporary stairs out of timber from the guy’s woodstore. Then we pushed Hasret’s car down fully into the garden with no further damage. And got back to doing manfun things.

Games and substances and shouting. The stuff of manhood for ten thousand years. No wonder the worldwide economy is a fucking mess, while the gamiest shoutiest man is clinging on to the driving seat of our greatest social influencing culture in the English speaking world. If there was an apocalypse right now and it was just the twelve of us left… well, the world’s already fucked. We’re all snowed in because of money and meat. There’s no point dreaming up scenarios where things would be more fucked. The twelve of us would probably have a lovely time post apocalypse, zoom around in motorbikes, laugh a lot and die in a week.

I just had to play the gauntlet game again. It didn’t go well. I think I have about five minutes before all of this hits my bloodstream.

Brian just nudged me. “Right, I’m gonna recruit you in a minute.” God knows what for. I’d better find out. Fuck fuck fuck. Literally this moment Phil dumped the soldier in my beautiful expensive new glass of bourbon. MEDIC!

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Yeah. That took me over the edge. I’ve ended up instigating my old argument that atheism is the most negative of all the prevalent modern religions. Which will always bait someone. But it only really comes out when I’ve had a few…

Bourbon

This time last year I had my car towed from the parking lot of a pharmacy in Los Angeles, on a hot balmy evening. It cost me every penny I had left. I blogged about it honestly. Iona read it and rang me immediately. She recommended I include my payment details, so I edited it and put them in. Over the following 24 hours, people – ranging from close friends to old schoolfriends to loose acquaintances – made small payments. I spent a lot of time the next day feeling extremely emotional at all of their given reasons: “A bit of help” “You stupid twat” “blog subscription” “acting lessons” “friendship bonus” I harboured all sorts of good intentions regarding these. I wanted to pay everyone who had helped me back. I fantasised that, a year later, that would be possible. It wasn’t. A year later I’m still up against it. Next year though…

Lots of people need a tow today, but these will be welcome tows. We drove over the peaks from Manchester to Buxton and it was terrible. At one point we followed a snowplough up a hill. People were driving past us the other way, shaking their heads at us, but we were behind a snowplough. We got to the top of the hill and the fucking snowplough took one look at the shitstorm in front of it and turned around. Robin was driving, not me. Had it been me we’d probably still be trapped somewhere surrounded by sheep after I stubbornly pressed on. As it is, we tried another route. There were many abandoned cars and trucks at the roadside on the other route. There were parked cars that were almost completely buried. Often the drifts forced us into one lane. We had to turn around a few times and abandon roads that were all but impassable. Eventually we made it, and now we’re in Buxton as the sun goes down. Thank God for that. Let the stag begin.

We have unbelievable amounts of Bourbon here. Remarkable bottles of bourbon. In vast quantities. Even if we are snowed in now we’ll be fine. Robin knows his American whiskies. I can’t call the stuff whiskey knowing my grandfather James had a bullet left in his stomach for most of his adult life as a result of his enterprise running Scotch from Helensburgh to prohibition era America. But this stuff drinks well despite the unpatriotic genesis. It’s sweet. And if I’m going to break into Sexy March from the booze free sexy February, it might as well be with a hit of Willett’s Kentucky Straight “Pot Still” Reserve Small Batch. You can tell it’s good by the amount of descriptive words. I’ve had a whole glass while writing this. Now I’m into the Michters small batch. With coke. My father would be spinning in his grave if I put anything but water in whiskey. But this is bourbon. Different story.

I’m sitting at a table with a bunch of beautiful lads. Mostly they are talking about bikes. We were supposed to be riding this weekend but the weather has messed that up. So we’re talking about them instead. And drinking unbelievably good whiskey-like-drinks. With coke. Nom. Sugar Rush incoming.

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Spring!!!

It’s the first day of Spring. I’m knackered from cold and it’s only half nine. We piled into the car and spun frenetically through the morning, with Robin at the wheel foaming at the mouth and cackling maniacally as he jacked up the handbrake on every icy corner. The snow has come down really hard overnight. Cars were abandoned at the roadside, some of them written off. At the entrance to Bowlee there was a three foot snowdrift. We hit it sideways at 40 and then tried to plough through the remains. The wind was howling as the back wheel spun in the snow. Cal and I ended up in the heart of the storm trying to push the fucking thing over the drift as Robin spun the wheels. Too cold for logic. Problem. Push over problem? Still problem. The wind was turning us into abominable snowmen. Two lads from the local service station stopped and joined us laughing. “What are you mad bastards doing?” Eventually we compromised by getting it back out of the driveway and leaving it at the kerb like all the other casualties.

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To be frank, in retrospect we weren’t going to get down that driveway without a snowplough. But we wouldn’t be us if we didn’t try.

In the morning we messed with the Benelli again. It’s not a bike designed to be taken to pieces and rebuilt. Just as well Robin knows his stuff. But God the cold! It was like working inside an igloo full of petrol. Something of a baptism of ice, learning to maintain bikes in this freezing weather. When it finally comes to summer (when oh when?) I will be glad of this time. It will never be as miserable as this again, and it was still quite fun. Perhaps our relentless entitled species-greed has actually already sparked that second ice age. Perhaps Trump nuked North Korea and this is a mini nuclear winter. But more likely it’s just a bit of snow. And in the heart of it, we rubbed cold petrol into cold metal and tried to do delicate things with numb fingers and listened, for some unknown reason, to every song that Phil Collins ever wrote. I didn’t question it at the time. Now I look over it, I have a feeling I was being punished for something I did in another life. But I’ll feel like it’s delightful when it’s sunny.

And then Brian made it to Manchester, on a miraculous train from Mold where he had been checking out a new production of Gatsby for theatre Clwyd, with some dear friends of mine. I kind of wish I’d been there. I might try and swing by Mold and catch it and them before it’s done.

The 4 of us got back to fixing cold metal machines for the rest of the working day and now I’m home at Robin’s, under a cat as usual, trying to get the warmth into my bones again. Tomorrow is the first day of Robin’s Stag. Most of the plans have fallen by the wayside, but it promises to be a relaxing few days in excellent company even if we can’t ride motorbikes.