One of the last loads?

It’s approaching the end of the time I have with this van, but it’s taught me that having a big van in London is a very good thing for me.  Even my agent approves. I suspect I’ll be getting one of my own pretty soon once I work out the finances.

The last of the plates are finally in it, and will be up to my flat tonight. This means I will then be able to sort them into sets, inventory them, squirrel away the ones we want for Carol, and get rid of the rest. We will get our living room back and then I can just gradually pick over the contents of boxes. Serendipity is my friend in this. I’m in Hither Green at the moment, waiting for a friend, and I get talking with a guy who is refurbishing his own house here. “Only two ways you get a house like this in an area like this. Be a banker, or spend years making it,” he tells me. “A good friend of mine is doing something similar in Margate,” I tell him. He’s been at it six years. He sees the sheet music in the back of my van. That’ll be going to a museum of Music Hall in Dover. “This is a very musical street.” He tells me. “The guy in that house collects pianolas.”

I’ve got three rolls of music for a Victorian pianola. Now I’ve got the phone number of a man that collects exactly that sort of thing, and he lives just round the corner from one of my best mates. Another thing almost ticked off. More to go. Celluloid film is high on my list now as it can spoil. Time to get it digitised and find out what footage I’ve found before it disintegrates. Then there are busts to think about. A show with a room full of busts… But right now I’m still on basic ceramics – mugs cups and plates – and by the end of this week I want to have that in a good place, rather than all over the living room. I’m not even close to sorting my own crap yet. I’m still deep in other people’s.

Right now though I’m waiting for a friend who is moving house. That’s the best way to keep the crap levels down. Moving house lots. Although “Just a few boxes,” is a lot of boxes. Plus she neglected to mention that they wouldn’t be full when I got there so she’s filling them while I write this. Moving out is stressful enough without someone hustling you about time. And these days I’m good at spotting a blog window. So I’m sitting in the cab getting this written. Once it’s scheduled I can switch off the internal alarm that occasionally makes me say “fuck” out loud just after switching off the light.

All this space, on wheels. It’ll be full of furniture tomorrow so we are dumping out first thing.

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In this city you can monetise a broom cupboard. Big yellow want something close to 400 quid for the size of this van in their real estate empire, and lots of showy security technology even if it’s just guarding junk you’ve got nowhere else to put. Lyndon has paid £250 for a month in a damp garage in East London – for his timber. Hopefully he’ll get to use the timber. Better to try to reuse materials than the dump and buy new every time. But always – always “where do we keep it?”

Here she comes. I reckon we can go. Out.

Heavy steel doors

The amount of times I’ve had a plumber over to do a simple job and I’ve mentioned that the water pressure isn’t great in my top floor flat. “I could take out those old taps in your bath, and replace them with nice mixers,” they invariably say. Because the taps are lovely, and valuable, and they want them. One plumber said “Watch out, people will be after your taps.” “Will changing them affect the pressure?” “No, not really.” He’s the one I use.

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When I cleared out the bounteous storage locker I said “Some of this stuff is worth money. I’ll likely sell some, keep some and put some in theatre. Are you sure that’s okay?” The family I was working for accepted, understood and even encouraged that. I’ll give them tickets to Christmas Carol this year and they’ll eat off their mum’s plates. Good on them for supporting the arts. It’s okay if it’s all in the open and their only other option was the dump, where they’d pay for weight and everything would be broken.

Stuart the drunk plumber rinsed me for whatever he could pull out, charged me for weight and sold it. Bulfords swapped my windows for breezy balsa wood and nicked the period weights into the bargain. I’m much more aware now as a result of these guys. But I’m not going to operate like them.

I get the sense that Ryan from Oxford is operating a bit like that though. I met him today. He’s been changing doors. He’s taken out a steel Crittel door and probably replaced it with some plywood. It’s a hell of a thing, and it weighs a ton. He’s probably said “ooh this is heavy but I’ll dispose of it for you for an extra fifty quid.” He’s listed it on eBay. Someone who is refurbishing a house in Walthamstow has bought it for over £800. These things go for thousands new. But they need to be moved around in a van. It’s a friend of a friend. I am sent off to Oxford with over £800 cash in my jacket pocket, to get this monstrously heavy door. I like to dress smartly when I’m working. I’ve got a suit for loading and unloading. I wear it. I put the money in the inside pocket and don’t stop. I’m not taking any risks.

Ryan takes one look at me in my suit and hat and sees money. Suddenly he’s got a dicky back and a limp and “ooh I’m going to feel this in the morning”. I don’t think he realises I’m not the person that bought his door. His whole being is focused on showing me that this is hard work for him, and letting me know the value of the door. “Careful of that key! That key’s £500 right there!” “We’d best lay this carefully, these things retail for 6 grand new.”

Once we’ve worked up a sweat and it’s almost done I casually say “I bet you got these for free, didn’t you?” “Yeah,” he says. “Yeah I did.” *Pause* “But I … I gave the guy a discount on the job. Yeah. I took £500 off the value of the job. £500 off I gave him, off. £500.”

I give him his sheaf of cash. He doesn’t count it. I never do either but it surprises me.

At the other end there’s a lot more ground to cover. These doors are just SO HEAVY. It’s incredible. Eventually two smiling women and I get the things into the house. They are visibly thrilled with the doors. While I have my traditional workman’s tea, one of them is already measuring whilst the other – (familiar face, have I seen her in something?) – charms me utterly with small talk. I’ve got a “striking face” apparently. It “makes sense I’m an actor”. Yes. It does.  I think she is too. She’s certainly good at it, and good at doors too by the sound of it. “This is my thing. I’m going to strip them right back, clean them, make them black I think. They’re going to be beautiful.”

I’ve learnt a little more about doors today. There really is a market for everything if you have the knowledge. It’s the knowledge that’s hard to come by.

Fleabag and saucers

I’ve been sorting plates and saucers and finally watching Fleabag. It’s hard to do the two things simultaneously as Fleabag frequently pulls everything so tight that you have to give it your full attention. I’m glad it lives up to the hype, for me at least. I saw it scratched as the one woman show and it was great, but I’ve delayed watching the TV series for that old familiar reason of “I want to give this my full attention.” For some reason, surrounded by boxes of plates, I felt that my full attention would be available today. It was, but just for Fleabag. The plates aren’t done. Admittedly it’s a huge job. I’ll get it done but I’m going to have to get better at bulk selling, throwing stuff out and making ill informed decisions quickly instead of well informed decisions slowly.

I’ve put a lot of stuff up into the attic for #later. But the attic has been a convenient oubliette for years and I don’t want to fill it even fuller and then leave it for decades. Things need to be steadily leaving the flat. Right now they’re still steadily coming in as I empty the storage onto my living room floor.

With typical understatement Brian tells me “it’s not my favourite thing you’ve done, this antiques thing.” The living room is full of boxes. All the surfaces have things on them. Tomorrow afternoon I’ll suddenly have to box this week’s eBay haul for postage so some things will go. But until I know about bulk postage discounts etc it’s all just sitting on the surfaces waiting to be packed. Periodically I have to take a photo of one of the pieces and send it to the person who wants very specific details about condition. There are many versions of that person, despite my exhaustive photographs. I think they really just want satisfaction I’m a real account.

I’m writing this from a hot bath with piano music and candles. I’ve been winding myself up all day, and Fleabag is a tough watch in terms of empathy so I’m winding myself down. After this I’m going to finish the last two episodes and still manage an early bed I hope. Tomorrow I’m off to Oxford briefly, then more plates. I’m keeping the fire burning under this work because it has to be done constantly and if I get an acting gig out of town then a lot of stuff will either go into storage or crammed into the attic, so better to deal with it now before that comes in. So it’s good that I’ve allowed myself a little plinky plonky candlelit bath. Although I’m using it to write this rather than relax . Permission to stop.


I lay and looked at shadows for a while. I don’t do that enough, looking at nothing in particular with brain untethered. It’s always a screen or a face or a cat or a road or a plate. It’s nice. People used to do it for days but now we have the world in our pocket. Sometimes it’s worth remembering that watching random things like shadows in candlelight or clouds and sky or running water or living fire – watching those things can be as powerful and fulfilling as watching curated things like YouTube and David Attenborough and Fleabag.

But Fleabag is brilliant. She writes everybody so well. I’ve got so many points of resonance. Glorious. I’m going to watch the end of it now and I’ll be sad it’s over.

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Fun audition

Two auditions in two days, for two lovely companies. Familiar companies. I’ve worked for both of them in the past and had a lovely time. This week for three consecutive years has brought that rare thing – auditions. For three consecutive years I have auditioned for two different summer jobs. For two consecutive years I haven’t sealed the deal which is not a nice feeling. Props to the producers for getting me back in though. Comforting if frustrating, but I’ve noticed a shift in my outlook today.

For a few years, auditions have been super important to me financially – in my imagination. I’ve been worried about and blocked with money and have been thinking of any audition as a potential solution to the ever present threat of hitting rock bottom. I remember two years ago romanticising the idea of a US tour of Dream as the solution to a whole slew of financial problems. In reality, in retrospect, it would’ve been avoidance. What I actually needed was what the world gave me. Time. Time to address the root rather than to gad about doing lovely plays away from home. I went into those meetings, and a few others, feeling I needed the job. The need for validation was there somewhere. Various ancient insecurities… Wanting a stranger to say “I choose you!”. But for selfish reasons. Something has shifted since then – perhaps since Camino. Certainly I’ve never felt like this before. I enjoyed both auditions. I went in and had no concern in sharing my present moment with them. If the jobs come they come and I’ll enjoy them, but somehow I haven’t projected hope into them. I’ll gladly work with them if they wanna work with me. It’ll be fun.

I think this means I’m in a better state than I’ve been for ages, which is remarkable considering my early Spring was as hard as it’s ever been and I was on a self destruct tip.

After my fun audition today I went to Big Expensive Self Storage, and filled the van with plates. Left just a few weird things in there. Haunted dolls and celluloid.

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Tomorrow is plate day. There are so many plates, but they’ve all been thrown willy nilly into different boxes, so until you’ve got all the boxes in one place it’s impossible to establish what is there. I’m hoping I’ll be able to co-opt Brian into helping because by the end of tomorrow I want to know exactly what we have for catering Christmas Carol, exactly how much we have of all of it, and exactly what is surplus to requirements so I can step up the eBay machine on Sunday and throw all the stuff we don’t need back into the ether either by way of charity shops or eBay. Christmas Carol has been the acting job that has bound together my last two years and helped me keep in touch with my craft. If I can bring a full set of period plates to the table then I bloody well will. It’s all about adding value.

It’s nice to be peaceful about these auditions. “What’s for you will not go by you,” they say. Nam Myo Ho Renge Kyo. Have a good weekend.

Postman Pat gets his mallet out

Now I know why it’s called “second class”. I sent a mug up to Elgin. It made it surprisingly quickly, but the guy sent me a photo of the package as it was when it arrived with him. Some idiot had basically dropped a gigantic marble slab on it or something, and taken a proper chunk out of the mug. I refunded him in full on the spot. A useful lesson. I thought my first major eBay firefight would come out of some asshat trying to play the system. Nope. It came from Postman Pat indiscriminately throwing whales into his van somewhere between Southwark and Elgin.

I’ve started to trust eBay a bit more. The first few weeks of this I kept expecting people to scam me. Historically eBay has a bad reputation for scammers. I still get bailiffs for an old flatmate who refused to pay his seller fees for an item that was bought with a stolen credit card and then the transaction was returned after he posted the item. It was originally something like £3.87, and he wouldn’t pay it on principal, and nor should he. Years later they still try. It might even be a decade now…

It queered my trust with the site, that they failed to have any understanding that they’d facilitated a scam, and persisted in chasing him down for fees on money he never received for a valuable item that he lost after being pressurised into sending it quickly.

If Pat chucking bricks at my mug is the worst I get in this eBay process I’m thrilled. It’s still early days of course. It’s when you start to relax that the crazy people strangle you. I’m thinking I should start to use “fragile” stickers even if the guy in the post office said “Those stickers just make them throw it harder when they’re angry.” But it’s never what you expect. Someone will return an item but actually send me a dead horse, or I’ll post something to someone and one of Pickle’s hairs will be on it and they’ll go to hospital with anaphylactic shock and my picture will show up next to their red and puffy face in the Daily Star. “Evil Actor Sent My Son A Toxic Mug.”

I’m sticking with Royal Mail for now to send these things because I sent one item via Hermes once, and it was promptly and spectacularly lost. That’s a 100% loss rate and the value was more than the insurance. I just can’t trust them enough to go back right now. It’s atrocious. And I’ve received parcels from yodel that look like they’ve been detonated.

Just one broken mug out of hundreds of packages with Royal Mail and at least the money isn’t feathering the nest of some fat bigot. It’s subsidising second houses for twerps instead, and building nukes, but a penny for the NHS. And they got it from London to Elgin in under 48 hours. If only Postman Pat hadn’t replaced Jess with a herd of angry elephants.

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Dumping and moving

I started the day with a trip to the dump. Someone is moving house. I don’t know him. I only know he’s moving. He has an unspecified quantity of #stuff that he’s moving. I’ve got a van. He will pay someone with a van. One of his friends knows me. He will pay me. Hooray.

What’s he moving? Well. Mostly disintegrating costume bags full of clothes. Turns out they’ve only been in the attic for three years but they have turned into toxic self shredding horrors. The plastic has become just millions of tiny flakes for us to inhale or to go into the water tables. They aren’t much use for storing clothes anymore.

“You’ll be doing a lot of sorting through this lot,” I said. “No,” he told me. “My body keeps changing shape and they’re nice clothes. I’m keeping them.” Yeah but, not that I can talk AT ALL here, I wanna say “They take up loads of space. You could sell them and just get a new wardrobe when/if you get fatter/thinner?” I don’t. He’s paying me to drive his stuff and carry it upstairs. He doesn’t need freshly won life advice from a reforming hoarder who currently lives in the antiques roadshow.

In order for there to be space for his bags, I’ve had to throw a fuckload of junk I’ve accumulated out of the van. The dump costs £30 a pop if they’re in a good mood. Last time the bastard overcharged me, but this time he let me off a bit so it balances.

The guy at the actual van pit knows me now. “Since I saw you last, I’ve got a first impression Beatles “Let It Be” record”, he tells me as I pull in. “You?” he asks. “Just a fuckton of ceramics mate. Some of it’s good. Gonna use the rest in a show.” “Yeah there was some geezer chucking boxes of that stuff out of his van here the other day. I could hear it all breaking. I could’ve punched him.”

Moments later he’s onto the rocking horse. Everybody seems to think that the rocking horse is a thing. I’ve thrown it now. It’s filthy. “Might be worth a bit,” he says, rocking it. “Ten pounds for a clean one, two different ones, two different parts of the country, collect it yourself, and neither sold.” I tell him. “I’ve been doing my research.”

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He leaves me alone. Last time I was here he was all over me like a fly. “Doing my research” is poison to him. I deliberately leave some bits of copper piping and a reasonable enough old lamp visible where he’ll find it. He works in a stinking place and he has a family. He clearly supplements his income with valuable findings. And he’s a personality. The day I don’t get to the dump and find him smiling there with “What you got this time?” I’ll be sad. He’s probably got a pile of copper somewhere that he can add that to, and he’ll get a monkey for the lamp.

Then millions of boxes of another man’s life up all the stairs, and the more I drive this van the more I’m with Marie Kondo where we don’t need all this shit. I’m starting to think of my eBay as a useful way of giving people things they can use that don’t need to be made new.

The tyranny of the need for new looking things is a reasonably new pretention and it’s not good for the environment, which is the zeitgeist right now.

Anyway. I’m off to bed.. Meeting tomorrow. And many stairs today, before dinner with a dear friend. I’m exhausted.

Leaky leek

I had a raw leek before breakfast. I can still taste it. It doesn’t really feel like it happened today any more.

Scientists would tell you that “acting” is not possible before 9am unless the perpetrators haven’t slept. I now know this to be a lie. The leek… the leek was real. And reader, I ate it.

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Let me take you back to a few weeks ago. Margate. Frolicking by the seaside. Oh what fun. Learning some new scenes. Joy and friends. “And of course I’ll have to eat a raw leek! Hahaha that’ll be funny! Hahaha” #fadeout

#fadein on a close up of me biting into the leek at 8.25am. Carry through my historic laughter into their present laughter. See my face. See the realisation. See the memory of my laughter curdling. Cut to their faces, grotesque from my perspective.

And they loved it. Oh how they laughed over their breakfast tea. I don’t even know who they were. They worked for … a company. Some of them were French, so I had to learn a scene in French. Some of them were Welsh. So I had to eat a raw leek before 9am.

The thing is, the scene needs the leek to be eaten. And the real eating of the leek is funnier than the avoidance of the eating of the leek. Scientists know this. We like to see people in discomfort. It’s why we all know about ALS now. Because of self inflicted ice bucket  tortureporn.

I bit it. A big bite. Then it was in my mouth. And I had to either swallow or spit. I’ve lived a long time before having to make that call so I can count myself lucky. Turns out I swallow. If I spat it would be momentarily funny because ha ha yuk, but then everyone would be aware of slobbery floor-leek at their smart breakfast. Nope. Not on that hourly rate. Munchy munchy yum yum yum yum.

Some actors have to eat leek every night for months and twice on Thursdays and on Saturdays after one too many in the dirty duck the night before. I directed Noises Off at uni and we poured real sardines on an actor. Poor thing. I’d never do THAT now. But you’ve got to put your money where mouth is, and if I’d seen an actor avoid the full extent of leek munching I would know they were phoning it and I would silently mouth the word “coward” even as I enjoyed the scene. Which I would, as it’s a marvellous moment. And even at breakfast we smashed it.

Which is why I then had an existential crisis in my van. That’s it again. All that learning, all the adrenaline, first leek nerves and then I’m carrying wood for a guy who has had a robust and starry career and is now taking some time off to make actual money. “How are you on the whole ‘acting’ thing?” he asks me. And I witter on about unfinished business and vocations and so on. Before getting into the van and driving to Cambridge screaming into the ether at the top of my lungs every five miles, with my leeky breath. Partly existential crisis. Partly radio 4. But oh yeah. Unfinished. Business.

eBay is going great. I’m making money with the van. This morning paid beautifully. I’ve got an audition tomorrow. Fifteen years plus…

I’ll miss that breakfast leek.