Awards with Holly

“Are you going to be on stage with me?” asks Holly Walsh. She’s a comedian off the telly I think. “No, I’ll be Voice of God,” I reply. “Oh that’s a shame. Because I was gonna make a joke about what you look like. Cos that IS a costume isn’t it?” I’m in a tattered ringmaster’s coat missing an epaulette. My top hat almost has as much moth as my trousers. I haven’t shaved. I have a beard coming… “I don’t normally dress like this.” I assure her. “You know what you look like?” she asks, and hangs the question up.

A young Errol Flynn? James Dean in his prime? No. Evil Adrian Brody? Nicholas Cage? No. “You look like a drunk head concierge at Claridges who lost his job years ago but shows up on the doorstep every morning anyway and tries to take people’s car keys.” I find that man’s voice, and riff on this character for a while, and her attention shifts. “Do you know, I think I’ve met you before.” She says. I mean, she looks familiar to me too, which might be because she’s off the telly box but more likely just because we’re roughly the same age, roughly the same circle. But I think she’s still fucking with me. Comedians…


Time shift. The dinner is underway. Four actor friends of mine have already adulterated A Midsummer Night’s Dream and now they’ve all left. I’m alone in Watkins 2, one of the bland subterranean rehearsal rooms in the bowels of this edifice. Alone I say? Well not quite. There are three catering boxes in here with me, and each of them contains a pile of ice and about fifty bottles of Becks. I have no duties for half an hour. I wonder… Perhaps I’ll emerge for the award ceremony stinking drunk in full Claridges mode and mispronounce all the companies that have been nominated in this year’s Logistics Awards before shouting “I know all the winners,” stealing everyone’s car keys mumbling “It’s still my job you know never wasn’t mine no no never fired not me. I’m THE FUCKING CONCEE hic CONCEEYAAAAAARGHH”, and dropping my trousers.

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Thank God I drove here.


Now I’ve been encouraged into the room with all the clients in it. I’m having to make polite conversation and say no to prosecco but it’s okay because they’re lovely. Last time I did one of these in this capacity the client was a horrendous attempt at a human being. These guys are as far as you can get from that disaster area. We are coming to the beginning of the ceremony. Holly has a terrible cough and she’s worried she might have to pass her stuff to me. She won’t of course. It’s just a variance of nerves. But I’ll have to stay reasonably alert and on point just in case. So it’s just as well I’ve got the car, really.


She’s brilliant. Amazing. Funny about logistics? How the hell is that even possible? She made me laugh about stuff neither of us understand. With her at the front it was a piece of cake. All I had to do was talk into a mic a bit. A second night of corporate whackery. I was going to start my pilgrimage on my birthday but the draw of these two days was too strong. Now it’s one night at The Arcola and gone…

Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

In the room next door to me, 12 Chinese dignitaries are eating cheese. I was supposed to be done an hour ago but they are late and slow. I’m happy to wait though. I’m not doing this for free.

I’m going to take them into the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. I’m going to tell them about the history of the space, fire up their interest in potential donations, and do a bit of Shakespeare for them. Me and 12 Chinese people. I’ll be alone on stage. I reckon I’ll do a short tasteful bit of Hamlet. Important for me to preserve dignity and do something clean. Hard though considering how much wine I’ve been offered. Thankfully I drove in. I’m getting better at this. The perfect excuse to go easy. “I don’t want to lose my license, mate.”

I went down to scout the space earlier and prevented a potential situation when J, who was at the box office, almost exploded with apoplexy at my existence. I’ve known him for all of two minutes but he strikes me as the sort of fellow who temples his fingers and starts sentences with “actually”. He brings down thunder and wrath to prevent this upstart crow from doing anything out of the ordinary in his domain. The next five minutes involves two security guards and the front of house manager with J visibly shaking with adrenaline. It’s in his voice. He instantly doesn’t like me because I’m not usual and I’m calm while he’s highly strung. I’m glad I met him before I tried to come down calm and charming with the richest people in China. He’s not a front facer. He’s the man you want hunched over a computer in a dark room enforcing rules.


When I do come down, he’s still there, stooped over his laptop in the café. I like to imagine he’s emailing whoever he considers to be important saying “down with this sort of thing.” I leave him to his misery and take them into the space.

Ten minutes of me joyfully channeling my own passion for this theatre into a description of all the circumstances that led to it finally opening in 2014. The indoor stage at The Globe. Based on plans found at Worcester College thought to have been by Inigo Jones but later attributed to a less glamorous technician and thus rededicated to Sam, who deserves the recognition anyway and wouldn’t have done it for himself. Great man. Vast legacy. Glad to share it with Chinese dignitaries. I get to be fabulous for a little while too. Maybe there’ll be some Chinese money making its way to The Globe now. I talked about how they ran out during construction. I made them see the names on the seats. “This building was essentially crowdfunded before crowdfunding was a thing, by these people. I like to read the names and thank the people. It was a huge undertaking, and as you can see a beautiful result.”

My dad asked me what I wanted for my 18th birthday. I said a paving stone at The Globe. He almost did it. But then they decided it would only encourage me to be an actor, and they were trying to dissuade me from this path the bloody fools.

What a lovely evening. And they gave me a bag as I was leaving. Containing a Swarovski Zirconium fountain pen… “Sorry it’s only a little thing.” It’s beautiful and I will use it.

I bid them farewell. Another lovely event. Let’s see what damage J can do. He’ll try. I can smell it. I wave to him familiarly as I leave. “Bye J.” Might as well kick the hornets nest.

That said I just edited his name out. Why excite the wrath of the petty? They can be persistent little beasts.

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Crocodile

My right leg swings round weirdly when I walk. I’ve been aware of it for some time as it’s my job to be aware of things. The problem is the distance between being aware of things and knowing how to solve them.

School: “Do you know why I’ve got you to come in here this morning, Barclay?” “Yes, sir. It’s because I have a great deal of potential academically and yet I’m squandering it through a lack of focus.” “If you already know then why aren’t you doing anything about it?”

I don’t know how to stop my right leg swinging round like I’m some sort of posh zombie. I just know it’s a weird thing my leg does because I observe my body. But I’m worried how it might exacerbate over 600 miles. I get into a conversation with the 80 year old father of my dear friend on this subject. Don is extremely mobile for his age. He looks at me with the eyes of a zealot. He knows the solution. “Go to the crocodile. The crocodile will help you. The crocodile knows.”

A few years ago this friend’s boyfriend was playing Peter Pan at the RSC in Stratford. She missed him. They’re in love. Now they have a beautiful girl together. Back then, he hitched a lift into London from rehearsal one night. He knew his girlfriend was having dinner at mine. He missed her. He told me he was coming but he didn’t tell her. I snuck him onto my fire escape when he arrived. Then I interrupted a conversation with her about how she missed him by saying “Hang on. What’s that sound? Is there someone… a boy … at the kitchen window? Can you go and check?” Flying boys, surprises, romance. Peter Pan. We are all young somewhere. Joy.

The world works in mysterious ways, and shortly after that beautiful silly evening the actress playing Wendy got sick. My friend did a lot of work in Stratford back then. She got the call to go up and be Wendy instead, which was a pleasant surprise for her boyfriend and meant I definitely had to shell out for a train to Warwickshire to see the pair of them.

That was when I met the crocodile. I met him in Stratford. Hook’s nemesis. The inevitable approach of age and death embodied in a ticking ancient reptile that has to be played by an actor with a body. No puppets here. This is a movement crocodile.

Show me the actor that doesn’t have a day job and I’ll show you the actor with a trust fund. The crocodile had to do some really really weird physical stuff on stage. He was terrifying. Inhuman. Sinuous. Fast. Brilliant. He had to do it day after day, week after week, month after month. And he did and he did and he did. You can really hurt your body permanently if you don’t know what you’re doing over a long run. The crocodile understands this for himself and others. The crocodile is a chiropractor.

And here I am standing in front of him in my pants. I’m lunging. I’m kneeling. I’m touching my toes. And he’s watching. Betraying nothing. Hard assessing eyes. Tick tock tick tock. He knows things. He sees things. He writes then in his computer. Eventually I lie on my stomach at his behest. He causes me pain. Three broken ribs in my life. None of them treated with physiotherapy. Tick tock. And finally the crocodile is finished with me. He pronounces his diagnosis. It’s arcane. He knows words lost to science. It’s all about the small of my back though, apparently. I bring in detail I thought to be irrelevant, about all the ribs I’ve broken. “Didn’t they offer you physiotherapy?” he says, flashing understanding. No. But still… Then is then and now is now.

I pay for a ball to lie on, and I pay the crocodile very gladly. He takes £57 but leaves me both my hands. I exit his practice.

Captain Hook’s crocodile is the inevitable march of time. This ticking thing that takes us piece by piece. And now I start to feel that. Tick tock. I need to be wary. My body is my instrument. And yes it’s a weird body. I’m a weird instrument. But I need to make sure I can play it and fight the crocodile for as long as possible.

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Fitbit

Alan from eBay is 74. “I don’t know what I was thinking getting a Fitbit.” he has written. “I ain’t gonna use it.” I Buy It Now on eBay for half price. Coincidentally he lives in Gillingham which is between Margate and London, so I might as well pick it up from him on the way home. Problem is, he won’t be home until half four. I’m on my own with the jag and it’s morning. Road trip? Road trip. Down the Kent coast…

The jag already has another new scar to add to its impressive collection of dinks and gashes. I have two great big zip up folders full of CDs. It didn’t occur to me until this morning that they look like laptops if you’re a fucking screwdriver wielding drunk idiot. He’d stuck his thing in the top of the driver’s door and had a good go at levering the door open. What the hell was he thinking? It didn’t work, unsurprisingly. But it did fuck up the door, so now the top corner’s bent back and there’s scratches and holes all over the inside. I’m hoping water won’t get in. I don’t particularly care about the bodywork. But it still made me angry. I hope … I hope he shits himself. That’s a possible curse.

I stop at Reculver Bay because I’ve heard of it. The remains of an Anglo Saxon church, now home to coach loads of old people and an eco friendly creperie. Still they take card and they have flat white, unlike the “Somali Farmshop.” The sign on it is a lion. It’s full of elderly white people talking about what was on TV last night. They have a few pumpkins for sale, and a carrot. Nobody is at the counter. Who knew that Somalia was so like Middle England. I do feel unusual and unwelcome there though, so perhaps it’s one of those clever non-literal immersive experiences.

I go down the coast to Herne Bay, hoping it’ll be pretty. It’s only when I get there that I realise I’ve been there before on the endless trip to Margate this Spring. I despite having two hours in the meter I immediately get back in the car and go down the coast to Whitstable. At least it’s unfamiliar. I keep occupied there for a couple of hours, walking around and successfully not buying oysters. Then Alan texts to tell me he is home early, so I get back in the car and off to Gillingham.

Alan lives on a suburban street in Gillingham. He is surrounded by active old geezers. There’s one washing his car when I arrive. “Are you Alan?” I ask. “Nah mate, he’s uglier than I am.”

The guy ain’t wrong, but when Alan asks “What do you want it for?” I tell him I’m on a pilgrimage. I tell him why I’m doing it. The potted version. Mum. Catholicism. Closure. Purgatory. I leave out lifestyle, fitness, novel research, habit breaking. “A catholic pilgrimage. That’s a good thing to do.” He says. “I’m in a similar world. I’m a Knight Templar.” I smile and nod. And back away slowly.

The Knight’s Templar. By legend they are the keepers of The Holy Grail. And here I am having stumbled into this nondescript community of healthy old men. And one of them has sold me his Fitbit. BECAUSE HE DOESN’T NEED IT ANYMORE. HE IS IMMORTAL! Can he be a true Knight Templar? Or is this like the internet where you just say shit and it’s true. “I’m pretty.” “I’m successful.” “I’m a Knight Templar.” “I’m popular.”

I shouldn’t publish this blog in case it’s true. Maybe they needed to move the Fitbit to put the enemies off the scent. Maybe I’ll be shadowed on my pilgrimage by some implacable homicidal ninja nun that only speaks in Latin and has traced me by the gps on my Fitbit… If she kills me with her ninja skills I’ll regret not buying 6 oysters for a tenner in Whitstable. It seemed too indulgent considering I was on my own…

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Margate visit

Regular readers will know that I’ve got a car. Damn I love it. Which is just as well because despite the relatively small initial price, my insurance is punitive – they know I’m an actor. Plus it’s a jaguar.

“You don’t need a car in London” is the piece of received wisdom I hear most frequently. No. You don’t. But you need a car to impulsively get out of London at short notice. Or a motorbike. But I can play old nineties compact discs in a car. And carry loads of random shit.

Last time I came to Margate on a Sunday it took me 4 hours and it still cost me about £30. There was a rail replacement bus that wasn’t there and then eventually arrived brimming with racist children, to the extent that by the time I got to Margate I wanted to burn everyone and couldn’t because it was raining and I had no petrol.

This time I just jumped in the Jag. I listened to KLF and The Prodigy as I came out of London, which no matter what your music taste sounds like is better than the conversation on that Thanet bus. I stopped briefly in a service station to talk to a telephone man about money. Then I murdered the miles to Margate. There was sun on the beach. I ate roast lamb by the seaside in a little pub next to Dreamland. I once helped shoot a promo in the street outside where I was munching. As I ate I could see the exact spot where I had stood shivering at 3am holding a reflector and wishing I could be warm and happy. There’s something there about wishes and time. My wish came true. But it was slow. I took advantage of my comfort though, and filled my fat face with dead baby sheep.

And then we did that thing where you just sit around in one place because we can’t really walk far as a group and we don’t want to sit inside. Three or maybe four generations on the edge of the beach. I’ve intruded on a family gathering. I’ve been invited, but I see now it’s because I bring wild card. People who haven’t seen each other for ages sit and watch the child rub ice cream in his face. The child is 2. He likes ice cream. He isn’t a great shot yet though so most of it ended up on his face. The rest of it got covered in sand. That great swathe of sand down Margate sea front, surprisingly free of litter today, still edging into sunshine despite autumn bluster. There are still a few weeks left to us perhaps before the claws of winter descend and all the plumbers earn their whole year’s keep fixing our exploding boilers as we crank up the heating to 11. I go for a walk while I can, testing out my internet boots. It’s not long enough to judge. But for £34.99 what could possibly go wrong? All my toes are still attached. We are relaxing with a glass of wine. I’m thrilled it’s so easy to get out of town. And it’ll be no more than £30 petrol despite the hunger of the Jag, to be on this beach.

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Half brothers

Maybe it was ten years ago. I was driving back from Glastonbury Festival. I didn’t keep this blog back then, so people couldn’t stalk me like they can now. (It’s all lies). This means the phone call was serendipity. Because I didn’t know what I’d be doing for the next month and didn’t hold much hope that I would be acting gainfully. My half brother rang me up out of the blue with a crazy plan.

My half brother… One of three. Now sadly one of two. I was taught to call them all brother, those guys. They were the big boys. Jamie, the oldest, my friend, the artist with the musical creative practical splintered brain. He was suddenly hit and eventually dismantled by Parkinson’s disease. Extremely young. I wish we understood the brain better. It seemed so unfair. He was blessed in that he had a loyal and diligent woman in his life, who loved him deeply. She sacrificed a lot but she brought him endless joy until the day she died, and protected him as things fell apart. I respect her hugely. I miss him hugely too. Then Jeremy, the youngest, an artist like me but with paint. He has so many children. It’s almost like children kept happening to him when he wasn’t paying attention. Some of them come and stay in my flat when they’re in London and they’re great. He is off in Thailand now, earning a necessary salary teaching art. I see a similarity in our eye for calling out people who are putting up fronts. We both cut through them. But I often wonder if the fact that I’ve avoided kids has been borne out of seeing how it damaged his artistic practice. His kids are adults now and brilliant humans. Life brings what it brings.

And then Rupert, the one that phoned me coming back from Glastonbury. He’s made an extraordinary life for himself through hard graft over years and a remarkable partnership with an extremely driven and glorious Peruvian woman. He understands numbers. And he also has brilliant grown up kids. Some months before Glastonbury he had sent me an invitation with sticky-out letters through the post. A significant birthday party. In Lima, Peru. I had long ago dismissed it. I could neither afford the flight nor the time. But then the phone rang and he’s on my hands-free on the way into rainy London.

He’s booked a trek into the Andes for a load of people. It’s a week. He’s booked mules so everyone’s walking without a pack. And he’s organised tents along the way, with cooked food. (Money).  But he’s got a spot for me. I don’t have to pay and he’ll cover my flight. Extremely generous. This is suddenly the most remarkable offer I’ve ever had. I’m driving towards a month of emails and frustration. It’s an easy “yes”.

We walked out to Choqueqirao. It was only a week walking. It was an amazing week though and the weather was perfect. Trekking. Without a pack because of the mules. Chewing coca leaves with baking powder. Seeing the Andes. Visiting a relatively untouched Inca town. Styling it up.

It was remarkable, and nothing to do with what I’m contemplating doing from France to Spain. I’ll have a big pack and I’ll sleep in shit. But one of the people I walked with back then got in touch with me today. Up until then she had been pretty much invisible to me on Facebook. Suddenly I messaged her and immediately got a load of backed up notifications about how she’d engaged with stuff I’d been posting. I hate hate hate how it filters my friends. I actively want everyone to be treated evenly. I’m way too changeable for the algorithm to work. But she messaged me and I remembered that week of walking. And even if it was easy as pie back then, I reckon I’m not that much more unfit. I’m gonna be fine so long as my teeth don’t go. It’s only a month…

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Strands

I woke up on a sofa in Hampstead this morning. Second night running on that sofa and no I didn’t have a change of clothes packed. I had also managed to get food down the front of my shirt and I’d kicked over a pint of water in the night onto my trousers. As you may have gleaned had you read yesterday’s offering, I got … angry. Thankfully my friend there keeps a toothbrush for me and a pair of pyjamas. This is not her first rodeo.

So in the morning I’m standing waiting for a 24 bus, stinking in stained damp clothes, trying to remember lines I spoke years ago. They were there back then. I spoke them out with confidence at the 503. I played this character, said these lines, and people clapped and laughed and did all the audience things. It seems like a generation ago. The way I look at the script has changed in that time. Back then I was still involved in “How am I going to deliver this script clearly?” Now I’m also thinking about the message. “Why this piece now?” haunts me and annoyingly my only answer is “because they asked me.” It’s nice writing though and I’m happy with good friends. But they aren’t paying me. I’m not even getting travel. They’d better buy me some drinks. It’ll be the night before my birthday dammit.

We rehearsed at RADA. The Chenies Street building. The stairwell is decorated with RADA stills from the time that I was training across town at Guildhall. My audition intake lot. People I’ve done loads of random stuff with over the years, but all looking younger than I ever knew them. They’re all the way up the stairs. “Oh look there’s Fenella. Oh and there’s John.” I send him a photo. “Is that Aoife! How come there’s no Mel? And there’s that guy from that corporate. And that twat! And who’s she? I’ve done something. What did we do…? Did we kiss in an audition? Or not in an audition? Who knows…”

It’s nice to rehearse in that building, because it sweats acting now. Nondescript studios, black or white paint, usually a grotbag piano. Decades of people sampling humanity. Decades of high emotion either channeled or forced. Decades of detail either owned or obedient. Decades of moving for a reason or just wandering. The process of teaching acting. Refining talent. Understanding and activating weirdness. Telling stories without getting in the way. Helping people to get out of their own bloody way…

It’s good to see in retrospect how useful a good acting training can be in general life. Looking at things and people, keeping your body healthy, keeping your mind quick. (If you ignore the stubborn fuckers like me who refuse to retract their claws from the idea of this being a viable profession.) Some of the people in my year have gone on to great things, way outside of the realm of acting. Front facing front footed people changing the world for the better by noticing. Bringing new humans into it and helping them not be vile. And there’s some of the people in those photos who have done the same. So many good drama schools. So many people paying to service dreams. So many hard clear meetings with reality or time. Life just keeps happening. That lovely guy who was so kind and welcoming and funny – he’s dead. That asshole? He’s lovely. Others still fighting, others having downtime for kids. And time keeps ticking. ticking. ticking.

I stood in my stained shirt rehearsing scenes I did once but have long forgotten. I’m older. Weirder but not so weird. Balder but brilliantly “I remember you as being balder” from one of the actors. The lines fall out differently because we notice different things, care about different stuff. I’ve not had such a concrete example of how we change over time as this remount experience. My character is still a bit of an asshole. But at least he cares about something.

Our piece is one of many. Here’s the event link. Arcola Theatre in Dalston on a Sunday. It’ll be my birthday at midnight so, fuck it, you can come see me do a short play with old friends and then raise a glass to another year of madness afterwards. Although I’m not up for a big one because I wanna get the Monday in full technicolour and see as many people as I can…

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