This has been a great week, again. Annapolis is small but excellent. It’s the first new place that I’ve visited. There are a few more coming up. The unfamiliarity has augmented my enjoyment. Even though I’ve spent a single busy week in most of the previous stops, it’s noticeable how my brain packages them as “known places” and doesn’t give me the little chemical hit that we get in entirely new places, to make sure the caveman version of us doesn’t get jumped by unknown hostile things. I was constantly surfing on unfamiliarjuice here. All the midshipmen, being so regimented but individual within the regime. All the officers so varied in their approach. Ex servicemen highly ranked and yet enjoying and understanding the work we were doing.
We are here because of a grant from a remarkable woman and her husband – an alumni now deceased. We met her – in her eighties and authentically full forward. We had lunch with her on the first day. The grant – The Brady Series – lets them have people like us come in. I spoke to one of the teachers after we were done. She was thrilled with the work we brought. It’s always good to get feedback you can trust – this lady would’ve told us if it hadn’t landed. “The midshipmen disengage if they want to. And they disengage totally.”
One time they had a pacifist quaker running workshops – it’s meant to be things that challenge the midshipmen. Five British actors doing Shakespeare fits the bill. If we were anything like as alien to them as they were to us then we would certainly be challenging to their normal expectation of people.
On my first day I had two back to back groups of 40 midshipmen in the most awkward room you can imagine, all in their matching uniforms, throwing balls around with “I see you what you are, you are too proud.” It was brilliant and bonkers and put them in an unfamiliar physical place. A good portion of them came in injured, with crutches or slings or the aftermath of concussion. Despite my telling them they could rest if they needed, they got stuck in, breathed with us, meant things with us.
I was getting them to pass the word “yes” at the start, just to wake them up really. It’s often important with civilian workshops, to wake them up. But this lot was wide awake. They went straight into “hell yeah!” and the room felt so energised and American by the time forty people had said it that I figured I’d make them all say “Jolly good”. It was disproportionately delightful to hear these huge earnest young men and women committing to “jolly good” with all sorts of different intentions, long before I got them onto Shakespeare’s text, which they tackled with the same attack.
After my class the instructor took me aside and shook my hand. There was a coin in his hand. It’s a challenge coin. It’s something of an honour to receive one, and the rank of the giver affects the rank of the coin. As it turns out, Phil Garrow is a Lieutenant Commander. That was my grandfather’s rank. Amazing.
The coin already means so much to me. I’m feeling emotional writing about it. As a young contrarian, I refused to join the navy at Harrow for CCF. I chose “Community Service” as an act of rebellion and because I wanted to be an actor. My grandfather was upset even if he never showed it. He died shortly after the decision and I never spoke with him about it. But his theatres of war with the RN were The Russian Convoys and The South China Sea. He worked very closely with the US Navy in those theatres. I wish he could know that my work in my very different type of theatre led me to working in small groups here to try to get the USNA scholarship students to be more confident in their interviews to go to Oxford and Cambridge for a year. For him to know that my acting, that was so frowned upon when I was a kid, has obliquely helped deepen the upcoming officers in the US Navy. And that a man of equivalent rank to him saw fit to give this wild haired bearded fool a challenge coin in recognition of my positive work.
Life is strange and varied. Long may it continue to be. You’re dead a long time.