Home before New Year

I arrived home to find Brian and Mel sitting in a pile of presents – (mostly gin), with Amy and Rob on the sofa.

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A full flat, as it often is. Plenty of warmth and fun and gin. I’ve cocooned myself among them and I’m listening to them playing some sort of Rick and Morty card game. It’s good to be home, especially considering I’ve worn the same two mismatched socks for three days now and they’re getting stinky. After all that time away I got home and immediately went visiting, despite essentially just wanting to cocoon myself in warmth and home for a few days.

The conversation here has randomly turned to cosmetics. How you feel about your own teeth. How you feel about your own body. The motivations we have to change physical aspects of ourselves. I’m just sitting in the corner listening. Identity is so strangely located. When do you make a change that stops you from being you? Never, I suppose, if other people let you.

Even thinking about my journey in this year that’s almost done now, I feel my sense of self has shifted noticeably with that time spent walking. It’s been lovely to visit friends and step into their lives for a moment this week, but there’s been an element of avoidance where I’ve not stepped back into my own life yet to see how I fit now I’m a different shape.

I’ve left the jaguar in Sussex. I’m as broke as I was at the start of the year but it isn’t affecting my self esteem. It’s affecting what I can do though. I was hoping to go to Jersey and sort some stuff out but I’m not sure I can afford to now, owing to family not coming together when needed. If I’m going to Jersey I have to fix the car. If I can’t fix the car I lose the ferry which is already booked I don’t think I can afford to fix the car. But I’m going to find a way to make it work, rather than let it make me feel powerless. Where there’s a will there’s a way. I have no idea where I’m sleeping in Jersey yet. But I’ve never been freaked out by the unknown.

Lovely to hang with my friend and his kids. Kids are a lot of work but they’re defining themselves as humans. It’s lovely to see the sparks of individuality flying around the edges of the hammer of obedience. By necessity we define firm boundaries for kids, but there’s no difference in their mind between rules that stop them from dying and rules that make them easier to manage. Many adults carry these boundaries through their whole lives, while others throw the baby out with the bathwater when they realise they were being manipulated.

I’m enjoying this space I’ve come to occupy where most of this behavioural stuff means very little to me. I’m going to find a way to mark this New Year as a big positive step. I hope you all do as well. Let’s leave behind the stuff that burns us…

Family Fun

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I like this picture. It’s a metaphor. A middle aged dude and a child. We are on a boat that doesn’t work. The middle aged dude is having a fabulous time, yet he has his back entirely turned to what’s ahead, taking up lots of space. The four year old is at the helm already, but he’s not really looking where he’s going either, besides the middle aged dude is in the way. Even if the boat is moving it’s not moving in any significant way. It’s just … wobbling around to give the impression of movement. The only woman is walking away from the whole construct. Maybe she’s realised it’s pointless…

We all went to Bewl Water. Three adults, two kids and some scooters. It’s a man made reservoir in Kent. They flooded a small area to make it, including some empty houses. It holds enough water for 200 million people. We might need it before long. We went there for a walk, but we really didn’t cover much ground. My Fitbit hasn’t come close to minimum distance and we were outside for hours. Having two kids along with you slows you down considerably. One of them always needs the loo or they’re tired or arguing or upset about something or hungry. Sometimes they get absorbed in something for a bit but it rarely involves walking. It mostly involves repetition.

We had a good twenty minutes of throwing stones into the reservoir, a fair amount of time on slides that are utterly pointless being made out of sticky stuff on purpose, and a lot of time carrying scooters because they don’t work on wet grass, but we had to bring them with us. I don’t know how people have these creatures every day. They’re delightful in small doses, but exhausting over the course of a whole day. Right now we are all enjoying a moment of peace on the sofa. The eldest is doing her homework on my leg. The youngest is absorbed in My Talking Tom. Gemma is reading her book, James is lighting the fire. It’s all rather peaceful and comfortable here in this sleepy village, and this pleasant and warm home.

We went for a pub lunch and heard slow-talking men in their fifties toasting “The end of the European Union.” Definitely in Kent now. I had a pint of Guinness and a prawn linguini, and thought about how easy its been for me to accept short term work in Amsterdam and Croatia and Germany and France over the years. Those jobs have kept me going. Then we went to Lidl for some affordable food. Who can predict what will change when the last few wheels stop bouncing around in this internationally observed slow motion car crash. But I hope that sort of thing will still be possible for myself and other British actors. I don’t feel like toasting it though. Leave that to Putin and those slow moving men.

We have moved on to Waffle the Wonder Dog in terms of children’s shows. It’s mildly distracting as my friend James Merry plays the dad, plus sings the song. I keep seeing him pop up. He’s a lovely man. Right now he’s trying to get a dog through a hole in a home on telly next to me. The kids are rapt. He actually looks like he’s enjoying himself too. He’s doing a good job. I like seeing mates pop up in lucrative ongoing gigs, especially when we have shared the same dayjobs. Reminds me how quickly things can change in this delightful arbitrary profession. You never know where you’ll end up even in a few months. Two years ago today I impulse booked the two months in LA which led to the inception of this blog. Since then everything has changed internally. I’m very much looking forward to this year…

Godfather

It’s more or less exactly midnight. I’m in Crowborough, East Sussex. Hal, my Godson, is asleep upstairs. He’s 4. I’ve just had a beautiful evening with the parents.

When I was asked to be a formal Catholic Godfather I was surprised. I don’t have a great history with the Catholic faith, my mother being excommunicated and all. The priest at the ceremony made me renounce Satan and all of his works and all of his false promises. He was much more severe with me than the Godmother almost as if he was worried I wasn’t the renouncing type. He has been told I was an actor. Perhaps he thought I commune with spirits. Perhaps he’s right.

James, the father, said to me afterwards “I’ll do the God bit. Think of yourself as more of a worldfather.” That’s something I can understand. Still I have a responsibility. This is a smart boy. His parents were both actors. Good hearts in the industry too. Teachers now, and living in a beautiful house with two great kids. He likes dinosaurs. There’s no more money in paleontology than there is in acting, but I’m going to support him where I can.

I was at university with James, the dad. He played Christian when I was Cyrano de Bergerac. (That’s a part I need to revisit.) We made friends and subsequently both trained at good drama schools, and hit the industry. Then at one point he was on a summer tour of Twelfth Night with a young theatre company, and the director/producer had sacked their Malvolio. This was 7/7/2005. “You should call Al” he said. I got a call and I wasn’t comfortable in a London that had just been bombed. “Can you come to Eastbourne to play Malvolio tomorrow?” “Yes, sure, I know the lines from drama school. I might have to be guided around the stage a bit but let’s do it…”

The company still exists and I’m still friends with them. The stage manager recently lent me a cat carrier. We got rave reviews in Edinburgh, even if the press release still had the previous actor’s name. The company, Original Theatre Company still tours, and it wouldn’t surprise me if I ended up back in the fold one of these days. They build community within the industry and have their head screwed on. They’re goodies.

Partly because of them I get to hang out now with these two good hearts – James and Gemma. Our friendship was cemented on that tour. It has stood the test of time. When I was asked to be Godfather they were moving out of London. “This will bind you to us,” Gemma said. And it’s a fair point. I feel a duty of care as a Godfather. Peter Rittmaster, my version of a Godfather, rang me up shortly after my dad died and told me his duty was over because I was over 18. He said “Do you have anything left to say to me because this is the last time we ever speak.” I said “I hope that isn’t the case,” but it was. He stuck to it. His own issues, but upsetting. I’m going to try to be a good God/worldfather. As much as I’m able. But that involves going to bed, as i expect James will sic him on me early in the morning. I got him and his sister to sign a pact last night after I got tired of getting killed by them… Who knows what tomorrow will bring…

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I’m in Twickers, dahling x

Tis this strange time of year with no official name, where nothing is functioning, but some people are back to work despite the huge shadow of the approaching New Year freight train as it comes to smash us out of ourselves and into 2019. Some of my friends call this time of year “Malcolm” which pleases me because at least then it has a name…

It’s cold and strange. Some people are at work. Some are just lounging. All I had to do was a creative conference call about the next sackfull of madness that I’m throwing at the universe. That and accept a gig. January is looking a little busy now I’ll be juggling again. I’ve taken on a bit too much but there’s always room for more. So long as I can make sense of a whole lot of unknown I’ve bitten off. The unknown is always bigger than the known. Weird that.

I’ve just asked Perdi what I should call my blog today. I’ve been sitting here with a load of adopted family being antisocial and it made a sort of sense to pull them in and make them feel included, as a way of buying myself more time to vanish into my phone screen – that deeply stigmatised behaviour – in order to write my blog.

There’s a societal habit where, if you are crossing the road and a car is approaching, the driver of the car will speed up in order to force you to speed up in order to make the point that you shouldn’t be crossing right now. There’s a similar thing developing with mobile phones. If you pick up your phone, the person who has just been ignoring you will immediately start asking you complicated questions until you put down your phone at which time they will resume ignoring you, having rammed home that if you’re ignoring someone you shouldn’t have a prop. They have a point despite unconscious passive aggression. We spend so long in those little crackscreens.

Apparently we are going to play Articulate. Oh joy. Yes, at the moment, we are indeed in Twickenham dahling. Tristan and Tanya have moved here, to a part of town I know very well because my best friend’s parents live here. We went for a walk down the river in the sunset. We hit up The White Swan. It is cold here – the winter has started to show. Cold. Dark.

I’m going to drop the screen and play this game.


We won. The blog helped. The answer was “clams” for an all play with someone who reads my blog on the team. “The mollusc I blamed for my sickness on Camino.” There you go. This blog does serve a purpose after all!

This has been such a delightfully middle class day and evening. I think I shall have a glass of wine now, and then we’ll all sup and play another game. We only lack a fire, an army of resentful servants and an impermeable sense of entitlement.

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Movies and Recovering

I’ve never watched the whole of Lawrence of Arabia before today. I didn’t want to watch it on a small screen. But with surround sound rigged to an outlandishly large telly, I reckoned Boxing Day to be the right chance to see this classic, the “introducing” film for that wonderful actor and absolute legend Peter O’Toole. I was lucky to have met him before he went, at the Bright Young Things wrap party. He was charming and disarming and mischievous, and he got me completely hammered. No matter how badly I felt the next day I’m glad I met him. It’s taken me this long to see his debut. Fuck me it’s worth it on a big screen. He’s incredibly mercurial, does a lot with a little and positively radiates charisma. I knew it was a cinema movie and I’m glad I waited for a big screen. It was worth it.

David Lean and his crew knew how to frame a shot. All Freddie Young the DoP had in shot sometimes is desert and a couple of dudes on camels. But with the skill of the crew, smart storytelling, the soaring score, and use of the camera, he sucks you into a world. I was lost in it, lost in the desert. I am beginning to get behind this whole “giant telly” thing. I made it through a 3 and a half hour film without motion sickness. Now I’m hungry for more classics. Hit me up with big screen movies I should’ve seen but might not have. I watched Zhivago and Kwai as well as Gone With The Wind obsessively as a kid. I’ll probably do them again over time. And I’ll take your recommendations. There are a lot of great movies in the world now. But those big screen epics are the ones I’m seeking, where the scale of the shots are considered for the scale of the cinema screen.

Watching long movies should probably be down my current list of priorities. The flat is still full of Christmas. One of our guests tidied and cleaned throughout the day yesterday so it was nothing like as bad as it might have been this morning. Still there’s work to be done and it’s work I haven’t done. After the movie I said sad farewell to the last of our Christmas elves and put her in an uber. Another guest had been sober, had a car, and had taken everyone else home in it at midnight. An incredible act of kindness for which I’m intensely grateful.

Christmas done, I started to rebuild my existence in London, around my different sense of self from Camino. Helen came round for dinner, bringing wonderful news of her life, and using random ingredients in my fridge to make a healthy and attractive looking tasty Christmas salad. I introduced her to pickled walnuts. She introduced me to a tasty repeatable salad using them, that she rustled up from my fridge in seconds. Damn it was good, and it was so good to see her too. To know I’m home. To be in reach of so many of my friends again.

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And that’s Christmas! For another year. Yay

It’s only just gone midnight. Last year, Tanya arrived unexpectedly with a boombox right about now. I think that won’t happen this year. Barring surprises I’ve got the place to myself already, and the night is young. I’ve been a bit stressed about it in the run up. I’ve been a bit misbehavey too. I haven’t had the lead time I like and it made me worry that Christmas would somehow randomly explode.

After swearing that I’d never drive that car again until it was fixed, I woke up remembering I was going to have to use it to grab a whole load of people to get them here. They lived miles from each other. Off I went, Odin on wounded Sleipnir, banging through the streets of London in my horrible mess of a wagon.

The whole drive round took about two and a half hours because of extreme geographic bad luck. The passengers were lovely despite living at every corner of London. My first pick up was someone I met as I picked them up. They were mostly unaware of the things I was stealthily doing to stop the engine from noticeably cutting out. We’ve ended up getting on well. Nevertheless I drove for two and a half hours with the windows down and the blowers on full, and it still stank of petrol. “It smells like a gas station” I was told at one point. Yes it does. Because it’s throwing petrol like Jackson Pollock throws paint and literally it couldn’t be a worse time of year for this to happen, both financially and in terms of cashflow. While I’ve been away walking in Spain and playing Scrooge, the legal people who only communicate with me by post have been asking me for a huge amount of money for unexpected maintenance on my leasehold property. They finally saw fit to email me when I was past their payment deadline by paper letter as if normal communication only happens in emergencies. Hi bye Christmas Carol money. Humbug. Humbug. Humbug. But… Christmas for the contractors.

We had a Christmas! I forgot my blog until just now so I asked 0 permission to mention people. But it was the usual mix of joyful people and I’m breaking my own etiquette by using this photo of them noshing but fuck it, it’s not like I throw this blog wide.

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What did you learn, Al?

I learnt that goose is a fucking weird one to cook and carve, and it generates a staggering amount of fat. I do now have enough fat to cook incredible roast potatoes until the end of time but in the process of discovery we turned the kitchen into an ice rink of grease. I learnt that you can outsource the making of blinis and achieve staggering results. I re-learnt that Christmas can be made into something wonderful by just a few people bringing themselves. We played a terrible trivia game that was wonderful for the awfulness. We played other strange card based games. We watched a Derek and Clive clip, in short form, riffing on the Nativity.

It’s taken me two hours to write this, around tidying, distractions and phone calls. So now it’s closer to bedtime. And I’m going to crash down on my sofa. There’s already someone asleep in my bed and they need a good night’s rest.

If you’ve read this far then merry merry Christmas, and I pray for nothing but joy for you in the coming year. It humbles and astonishes me that anyone still reads these daily rambles to the end. Next time you see me, tap me to for a pint with the code word “Aardwolf”. (Subject to availability)

Driving Home For Christmas

Fortunately Sam doesn’t drive. I was dropping her in Sheffield in the Jag on my way home. Half an hour out of Sheffield something started shouting at me from the front right of my V6 engine. Four hours from home. Half an hour from Sheffield. The speed is unpredictably surging and breaking suddenly. I’m having to focus to keep the thing from jumping. There’s the smell of petrol. Sam may not drive but shortly after it starts she asks “Is that your car?” I’m using my calm voice despite panic, or at least I think I am. But I know I’ve gone silent unless questioned. It’s Christmas Eve. The RAC are going to be run off their feet and hire cars are going to be in very very short supply, if not impossible. I’ve got a goose in here, and tons of booze. Getting this on a train will be hellish, expensive and will leave my car up north.

I go quiet and sit forward. Sam knows full well I’m worried sick. But we get as far as hers. I drop her off, and pop the bonnet. I throw in a load of oil, and get to the local Quick Fit half an hour before they shut for Christmas.

“Mate, I’m going to try to drive to London in this. Do you reckon it’s going to explode or gas me?”

“It’s misfiring badly. I think it’s the injector. You’ll be costing yourself a fortune in petrol. But you might not do any permanent damage. You’ll have to go with the windows open. It’ll stink.”

“Just as well I’m not a smoker.”

They can’t fix it. So I’m stuck with driving home for Christmas with my engine occasionally spewing petrol all over the place instead of putting it in the engine where I need it. I have no idea how far I’ll get. Every mile makes the recovery cheaper though. As I’m reversing out of the garage the engine cuts out.

“That’s going to happen a lot,” he shouts, waving and smiling as he locks the store. “Merry Christmas!”

Fifty to sixty miles an hour is optimum it seems, so that’s where I end up, in the slow lane but still getting beeped occasionally when I lose power. My hazards are at the tip of my fingers, going on and off as the fuel supply cuts. All the windows are down because of the smell of petrol, and the heating is on full blast to counteract the cold air. Unpredictability is the problem here. When it misses, the engine drops out from under me and I’m down to coasting. If I hit the accelerator when it’s out I’m just wasting fuel and exacerbating the problem. But it is still new enough that it sorts itself out after a bit. I learnt to stay patient and calm. The longest was a lurching 30 seconds just outside Watford where there was no hard shoulder and I coasted down to under 30mph before it let me have it back. Thankfully I was alone. Had I had passengers they’d have been persuading me to stop. Oh no.

I was listening to the King’s Carol service and occasionally muttering Nam Myo Ho Renge Kyo or swearing or praying, staying wide angle forward space super focussed, looking at the possibilities, listening to that fucking engine. Every time it cut out, I hit the hazards and eyed the hard shoulder. Every time it cut back in and let me work the accelerator again I was genuinely surprised and relieved. Every waypoint was a milestone, particularly when I got inside the M25.

I  learnt to tell from the dashboard when the fuel was back, because it would tell me that cruise control was unavailable when it cut out. It made for an extremely focussed and extremely tense afternoon. I’ve never been so pleased to see the North Circular. But London driving with all the stop and start is very honky indeed. I need my indicators, so hazard lights can only be temporary. Better for people to be angry about you being slow than to not know where you’re going. But acceleration from standstill is painful as the injector hates it if I rag it and I’m trying not to damage it any more than it already is.

Now the engine light is flashing most of the time. But she got me home, Sleipnir, my Christmas pony. I’d be insane to go back out in her…

Anyone know anyone who can help me fix up some parts for a 2002 X-type? I’m gonna need a fuel injector and a bunch of wheel nuts. So far. Plus some bodywork but I’m less bothered about that. I still love it. But this might turn into the most expensive cheap car I’ve ever bought… Maybe I’ll get in touch with that Imam, oh constant reader, and take him up on his offer to help me fix it up…

Oh and MERRY CHRISTMAS! I hope you all made it where you are heading as well!! Have a wonderful day tomorrow!!

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