America Day 48 -Giants

In 1968 at the Olympic Games, American athlete Tommie Smith took the podium after winning gold at the 200 meters, with his teammate John Carlos at bronze. They both were shoeless in black socks, with a black glove. They stood and made a fist, wearing Olympic Project for Human Rights badges. Peter Norman the Australian stood there at silver. He wore the badge as well, and was known to be an outspoken critic of the White Australia Policy.

Tommie and John both raised a fist and dropped their head when The Star Spangled Banner played. It was a simple but powerful gesture identified by the media at the time as “Black Power,” identified by Smith in his autobiography as a “human rights” gesture. It was extremely controversial back then, loudly shouted down by angry red faced men established in well regarded word outlets. “Ignoble”, they decided. “Juvenile!” they sniffed. The usual assembly of dismissive rhetoric. History remembers it better than it was received at the time. Especially here, at San José State University. This was where the bronze and gold medalists went to university. This is their training ground. And they are proud to be so.

There’s a gigantic statue on campus of the two men standing like gods with their fists upraised, that defiant bold gesture immortalised to inspire future generations of students here. Peter Norman’s spot is left unoccupied, but with a plaque encouraging passers by to join them and raise a fist in solidarity. I like interactive art. I have no doubt at all that all human beings should be treated equally. I stood and raised a fist, a little embarrassed, a little galvanised.

Now I’m watching the modern day giants here. The Spartans. They aren’t quite as big as the statue. But some of them are monstrously large. I had one of them saying “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow!” for me. If I’d pissed him off he could’ve made me into jam.

They are playing the San Diego Aztecs at American football. “Just so you know, we are almost certainly going to lose,” we are told as we go in. Good to be warned. Not that I understand it completely yet, but I’m getting better at it now. It’s a lot more stoppystarty than football football because it’s designed with commercial breaks in mind. But it’s still a fun night at the game.

And they lost alright. Only by 10. 27 to 17. And I saw some very good throwing and catching happening even to my amateur eye. Nobody did anything very controversial, although number 79 got a little bit fighty towards the end causing the enthusiastic drunk guy behind me to loudly call him out. The stadium’s small enough that the player would’ve heard “Hey, 79! You’re an asshole!”

This has been a pleasant residency. Tomorrow we will finally get the chance to go and look at thousand year old trees, but for now it’s just about enjoying the last vestiges of warmth before Indiana and then Colorado bring in the cold winds that blow.


America Day 47 – Two show day

It’s the half.


It’s the first time we have had a two show day this tour. We did a matinee to a large amount of high school students at 11am. It really is far too early to act, 11am. I was essentially leaking coffee out of my ears as I fudged my way through the show. It only started to unravel in Act 5 where I had processed most of the caffeine and made a noise like an owl instead of saying one of my words. I momentarily couldn’t remember if it was “two” or “twain” so it came out “to-whoo”. It’s not by any stretch the worst fluff we’ve had this tour. There have been some corkers.

San José has considerably improved in my estimation now I’ve realised it is so well located for all sorts of natural beauty. The redwoods are still to be found – it’d better not rain on Sunday. Also my mood has considerably improved since I burnt £115 on steak and lobster tail last night.

I’m going to switch my head into show mode again. It’s easier having done one already this evening. But boy I’m tired.

Interval. That’s the thing with evening shows after a matinée. No matter how well you warm up, it’ll never be as effective as doing the whole fucking show once already. We’re having a lovely time up there, and nary an owl in sight.

No more classes this week. It’ll be weird next time we are in a show where we aren’t stage management, transport, director, props, company manager etc etc. Where we do a thing in the evening and a couple of matinees and then don’t do millions of constantly changing workshops. I do love it though. The constant variation and stimulus fits my taste.

Show’s down. Everybody is changing. I’m usually pretty quick out of costume. Sometimes I’m in the bar before the audience but there’s no bar here. I’m not sure I’d go if there was. My body feels good but tired.  involved. Playing Sir Toby involves spending a considerable amount of time with my legs wide open in a kabuki drop. It’s safe and my voice is not restrained in it. But it’s a workout for the legs. Twice in one day but only once tomorrow, although it’s an early show. But once it’s done we’ve got a day and a half free before the last of the long travel days.

Three weeks left on the road. I’ll really miss this one when it’s gone. But things are beginning to look interesting back at home too. It’s likely to be an interesting winter.

Everybody is changed at last. Lisa just bundled into the dressing room with tickets to a college football game tomorrow. “Our team will probably lose,” she warns us. I’m fine with that. It’ll be an experience.

I lose WiFi when I leave this building so rushing this out before we drive to the hotel as it’s pretty much due. Time to wind to sleep. First a burger, I hope…

America Day 46 -Driftwood

My work was over by lunchtime today, and Jono’s as well. What better opportunity to get out of San José. Although I’ll need to see some redwood trees before I leave this area for good, today’s agenda became about getting to the Pacific Ocean. It’s not far, and after yesterday’s blog you’ll know I’m in need of something a bit wild and unruly. You can’t do much better than an ocean on that front.


We stuck a pin in the map at a place called Pescadero, and drove out there as soon as we were finished. Off to the ocean. Winding roads through woodlands without much traffic, narrow with dead hares and “Beware of the deer”. As my old friend and teacher Martin helped me realise, it doesn’t take much to get out of the concrete jungle here. Pescadero itself was settled by the Portuguese in the 1860’s or thereabouts and commands some good vistas and beaches. We stopped near an island full of pelicans and contemplated the vasty ocean. Nothing to the west until Hong Kong. I went for a stroll along the beach. Not much in the way of shells. Plenty of crab carapaces, big bits of wrack, and lying up on the rocks, many curious bits of driftwood, bleached clean by the sun. I drift through the driftwood, looking for a piece I can take home – a memento of this moment that will sit on a table in my home full of meaning to me, bereft of meaning to anybody but me. As I’m there, lost in the rocks and wood, I realise I’m not alone. Between me and the sea two lovers sit, contemplating one another. She sits on his feet as he faces the sea. They are locked into each other’s eyes. He has the sea before him but all he sees is her. She has her back to it, barefoot and wet – when I reached this piece of beach she was running in the surf. While I’ve been looking for wood she has come to him and when I notice them together I feel like an intruder. Their regard is so intense. Here I am, this wildhaired man drying out with all the other driftwood. There, too close, these two strangers. And amidst the driftwood here at the end of the world I remember firmly what I lack. I don’t think of it often, that hole in my life where love might be. I’ve found so much intimacy with friends, so much ease to shoot each other’s shit. I’ve filled all the holes but that one (wahay). Seeing them together with me in the driftwood really brought it home to me.

We got back in the car and struck for home down the coast road, better to be back in time to connect with our friends as they finish work, we think. But they’re all massively exhausted and going to bed immediately.

I need a conversation and I’m back in this faceless hotel room. That’s the lack. If you’ve got parents or a lover there’s a reliable place for that. You can give and receive these heavy conversations and make them lighter. I’ve got a weight in my chest. I don’t know quite what to do with it.

Get on with it I guess. Hi ho. Stiff upper lip and Netflix.

Early bed is good if I can sleep. It’s a two show day tomorrow. It’s gonna be harsh.

I was wandering in to get some food and ran into my friends heading home, equally emotionally confused. Good to connect for a moment and know I’m not alone in conflict.

We have all been on the road a long time now. It’s to be expected. I’ve decided to solve my malaise in one of the tried and tested ways for me: Expensive food, solo. Oh God. No wonder I’m often broke. But tonight, my dears…

Tonight I’m sitting at a place that I think is called Fleming’s Overpriced Steak and Fuck You House. I put a shirt on for it. I’m getting a rib eye and lobster truffle bearnaise caviar monstrosity and to hell with the lot you. I’ll wash it down with a solid quaff of Chateau Bastard and my bank balance can go suck a goat.

America Day 45 – San José

I’m sitting in a circle of young actors. They’re rehearsing Hamlet. Before rehearsal they all go round and they talk about how they’re feeling, one by one around the circle. They’re checking in. “I feel amazing,” “I feel excited.” Such a positive lot. Oh how delightful. My turn is towards the end. I always try to be honest. “I feel sad,” I say. “Really sad. But I often do. I just cover it with energy.”

It got me out of leading the warm-up. Katherine and Kaffe went in with both feet instead. Katherine even had time for asking if I needed to go outside for a bit. But I’m fine. It comes in waves. I’ve been on the road a long time. I feel slightly disconnected from my life, I’m aware that my home situation will be very different when I get back, I miss our cat very much and I don’t know where she is. Yeah I’m sad. And it’s ok to be sad. I’m not depressed. But the tears are near the surface today, and that’s allowed.

San José is a town without a centre so it’s hard to feel centred. I remember that from LA. “This place has no centre because in LA everybody is the centre,” said Peter back then. I’m not sure it’s the same with this place. “This city is still finding out who or what it is,” remarked Sarah Jane on our first day here. I know what she means by that. The most impressive old building near first and Santa Cruz is boarded up with numbers on the windows.

And yet we are right in the middle of Silicon Valley. Intel is next door and I can see the McAfee building from my bedroom window – just across the road. The hotels are so expensive here we initially ended up in the place you go if you want to get murdered in a Coen Brother’s film. We gingerly kicked up a stink. Deb in the office worked wonders. Now we’ve been moved to an incredible hotel but I know that the company is losing money on this week now and it’s because of the budgets of most of the temporary travellers coming through this area. A glass of pinot noir in the bar downstairs costs $21 after tax before tip, and I know that because I had three of them on before I got the cheque and was almost sick on the barman. They can charge what they want, so they do. And every time I’ve ever sat in the bar downstairs I’ve felt like I’m surrounded by lizards. The barman himself is the only good guy. I said farewell to him after I saw the prices though. “I’m never coming here again, but you’ve been great.”

When I walked through last night a man had been employed to sing and play guitar because that is the thing you have in the bar in such places so we too shall have it. The lizards were all as far away from the music as possible in their dressdowniform. Kaffe and I made eye contact with the musician and smiled. His reaction was that of a parched man getting water. I wonder how long he had been playing in a vacuum. But that’s this whole area. A personality vacuum. The rooms are fantastic, but somehow in this little corner of California, I can’t find the character. It could be that I’m looking in the wrong places…


America Day 44 – Little Earthquakes

So far no big one, but the ground is moving around us here. I’m in San José. Yesterday when I was just into my hotel room in the evening I felt the room shake. There’s a main road outside my bedroom. It’s soundproofed but I see the traffic shooting by. I stood in my pants by the bed regarding the nighttime road. “Big fucking truck,” I mumbled to myself. Nope. 4.5, but a good way north. “Expect after tremors.”

So today I’m on rubber legs, more curious than worried. Assessing movements. Shortly after I was done in the morning I felt a tiny shudder. I dismissed it as nothing but those physical judders we all get where we think our phone is vibrating in a pocket it isn’t even in. But then, this evening in Claire’s room, the telly is on and while she’s talking I see the telly folk tell us there was another quake today, when I felt the wobble, further south of us than the first one was north, but a little bigger. 4.7. I disconnect momentarily from the conversation as my pattern-seeking brain wonders if tomorrow it’ll land under us.

“It’s only a matter of time until the big one,” is bay area wisdom. It’s not quite Krakatoa here where they actually lived on land created by the previous eruption. It’s not even Naples, where 2 million people live near a volcano that destroyed two cities in 79AD. But there’s an inevitability about the San Andreas fault line. One day this whole area is gonna drop into the sea. In 1906 there was a big one that killed thousands, partly because buildings hadn’t been adapted for it. In 1989, 30 years ago to the day on Thursday, a slightly smaller one killed 63 and caused over 6 billion bucks of damage.

North of here there’s a natural gas facility on fire after the first earthquake. There’s footage of people trying to put it out by airdropping water from helicopters and it’s like watching someone try to stab an elephant to death with a drawing pin. I expect Flumpkin insisted on it. He thinks airdropping fixes everything. He was wobbling his flubby lips about why France didn’t drop tons of water onto Notre Dame and destroy what has been saved in a show of power. The tit.

But yeah, that’s some of the last natural gas in the world turning into carbon and hitting the atmosphere and there’s nothing that can be done but contain it and try to starve it. Meanwhile the hotel I’m staying in has a long pointless gas fire burning outside all evening every night with nobody standing or sitting anywhere near it. In fifty years time if people can still watch videos they’ll watch videos of stuff like that with utter incomprehension.

Meanwhile I’m just chilling out in my lovely hotel room, wondering if that’s it for the quakes. We did have one more a couple of hours ago but it was smaller, in Pleasant Hill, just north of here. 3.4. I felt nothing. It’s funny this place. People live hard here, like they do in Naples. And it’s kind of understandable when the sword of Damocles hangs over their heads. I’m only here for a few days, but it’s been good to understand the moving earth first hand, and feel a little bit of it. I’d sooner not have it any more than I’ve had, thankyouplease. We were listening to Tori Amos on the way in. Now I’ve got a better handle on the title of her first album…


America Day 43 – In the air

We’re off to California. San Jose. It’s not on my bucket list, but Annapolis was a pleasant surprise and I’m ready for more sunshine so I’m glad to be heading west. By all accounts it’s bucketing with rain in the UK. I’m not looking forward to coming back to winter. Still, I’m on the road for another month…

The only downside of Annapolis was that we were there on boat show weekend. The place was heaving and most likely everything was marked up as well – and so slow. It took two hours for food to come from the Indian restaurant just two minutes drive from our hotel. And everybody opened conversation with “Are you here for the boat show?” with the disinterested interest of the flooded local.

It seems that the way to San Jose is by direct flight from Baltimore, which is a relief as it’s a long old way to go and a transfer makes it the much more worrisome when you’ve got an accordion that positively has to fit into the overhead locker. Thus far I’ve got it on every flight, no small thanks to the alacrity with which Jono the travel monitor checks us in online the day before.

Right now we are flying over the corner in the map that intersects Nebraska with Kansas and Colorado. The ground below is barely populated but split into strange circles of brown earth. I can’t tell from here what crop might just have been harvested, or why they’re done in circles, but they stretch out as far as the eye can see as though the Gods had dropped a load of tiddlywinks. It seems so unnatural to divide a huge nation up into geometric shapes. Box upon box, grid upon grid, and then these circles inside squares. I like organic places that flow with the landscape. It speaks too much of arrogance to just blast through it and the sheer lack of corners must make long distance driving pretty hateful. And we are at our best when we incorporate and exist alongside nature, not when we sanitise everything and whip it into familiar patterns. No wonder the planet is starting to hate us.

They’re still passing by below, these weird boxed circles with an occasional settlement breaking them up. I get the sense it’s pretty sparsely populated down there. We’ll be over Colorado before long so I’ll get a sneak preview of the Rockies.

Thankfully the person in front of me on this flight doesn’t hate me like the last one. I’ve been able to relax. I watched an unusual Wim Wenders movie with Mel Gibson sending himself up brilliantly and Milla Jovovitch being beautiful and strange. Million Dollar Hotel. Last night I ambitiously downloaded nothing but obscure movies which was a great idea, sure, but perhaps I’d sooner have had lined up the Breaking Bad movie or something a bit less thoughtful now that I’m actually in the air. Still, I’m going to delve into “Moka” now, by Frederic Mermoud.

Moka was great. I’m glad to be back on Mubi, they do have great movies. Now I’m watching the desert part to squares of green as we begin our descent to San Jose. I’ve done no research whatsover about this town. I’m curious to see what we find.



America Day 42 – Rainy

Somehow, inadvertently, a few blogs ago I hit 1,000. Christ. I’ve done this for over 1000 days, rain or shine, happy or sad, minimum 500 words. That’s minimum half a million words, probably a lot more. All about whatever is crowding into my head. Bless you, oh constant reader.

Right now it’s time to leave Annapolis for California. Brian has moved out of my flat, to be replaced by Kitkat. I have spent too much of my time recently organising keys for plumbers and making the changeover work as best I can. I’ll be sad to see him go, frankly. We rolled along well together, and there was nurture and care when we had time. We played well together too. It felt like a positive arrangement and one which helped catapult us both forwards. There’s a lot we will still do together, but I’ll miss the breakfast hugs, the decompressions, the moments of stillness and companionable silence, the late night Rick and Morty binges, the VR madness, the easy shared humour. I’ll miss Stormtrooper Pete. Unexpected pizza. Landfill coffee. Last minute roast. Silly voices to process difficult things. I’ll miss ALECKSHA!! Dammit, I’ll miss Brian, basically. That’s the long and short of it… He’s a rare human. A true gem.

Three years we rolled along together. It’s been a changing time for both of us. It’s time though for both of us to step further forward now. There’s a lot more world to conquer, and only the two of us to do it.

I like sharing my home – if I’m alone too long I start speaking in tongues or twitching imperceptibly. Kitcat is there now, and we will see how that goes. Meanwhile, I’m finishing up in Annapolis. It’s a good town. We were here in maybe the worst possible week, with the boat show. The infrastructure in the town is pushed to the limit. Everybody is overstretched but printing money. Claire and I ordered takeaway and it took an hour and a half from a restaurant 8 minutes walk from our hotel.

I’ve got to leave at stupid o’clock tomorrow. I’m not looking forward to it. It’s been worse, but it’s a long way to California. I should probably download a movie onto my iPad or something to make it better. Even if they’re long, the internal flights haven’t got those banks of screens on the seat backs like the international ones do. I might rejoin Mubi and download something important. I always enjoyed that membership. It’s a curated site that has old films from all nations, remastered.

It was raining today. We just did laundry and hung around the hotel. At one point we drove to the supermarket, got some basics and then stopped at a place that had a fire and an indolent bastard behind the bar, just so we could pretend we were doing what most of the people in England would be doing on a rainy sunday. I should perhaps have gone to a gallery. Here’s me at the ICA in Boston. Katherine just takes great photos and sometimes I want to share them even if they have no relevance.