America Day 49 – Redwood

They’ve called it “Methuselah” after the oldest person in the bible. But he only made it to 969. This tree is twice that age. The plaque pulls the number 1860 out of it’s arse, and the plaque looks to be fifty years old. I’m going with 2000. I just hung out next to a 2000 year old tree. It must’ve seen some things. Although mostly just nature happening.

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For the first three quarters of its life it lived in comparative silence. Woodpeckers, birdsong, wind. Coyotes and wolves at night. Occasional lions and bears. Right at the top of a hill, deep in a forest, looking down on the huge woods, at it’s kin, many older and wiser trees in more accessible places. Perhaps the nomadic tribes hunted nearby from time to time. Maybe it provided a good viewpoint if climbed, being a huge tree in a high place.

It was there when the Romans came to Britain, this tree. It was there when they suddenly left. It weathered the Dark Ages that followed as people moved into the stone vacuum, and the abandoned infrastructure. It sat there in the wind and weather as Harald got one in the eye at Hastings and everybody started to pretend to be Norman. It was there through the crusades when we had coalesced enough of a united sense of identity that we could pit it that identity in opposition to another worldview. It was there when we fought ourselves at home and won and lost and won and lost. Henry VII hit the throne of England and it was still peacefully growing. Then after this millennium and a half of peacefully existing, the event that was going to lead to a very different existence took place. That Italian brute setting forth with three ships from Spain found a “new world”. Still, nothing would have really troubled this tree until a couple of hundred years ago, when thousands of clever monkeys swarmed into California.

How the hell do you even cut one of these things down? Once it’s down how do you load it onto the wagon? There would’ve been bigger trees than this in the area. Many of them. It would’ve felt impossible to have felled so many at the start, but people realised that the real gold was the wood, to make houses for the people who found the gold.

Pretty much all the ancient trees in this area are gaps on the forest floor, surrounded by younger trees. It is a tremendous endeavour to have managed, to have turned so many of these unfathomably ancient living organisms into houses. But when there’s money to be made…

They are tough trees, these redwoods. Their soft bark protects them from disease and fire. They shoot straight up into the air, so high, amazing vast organisms, living at a different pace from us, providing habitat, making the light beautiful.

We walked to a few but this one was the oldest and it was so old. The hippy in me was thrilled to find it.

Today has been a lovely end to this week in California. A good walk. Great company, and a fantastic tour guide in Lisa. Plus an incredibly old tree, now protected, that probably survived the logging in the 1800’s by being at the top of a hill.

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.

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America Day 47 – Two show day

It’s the half.

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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.

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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…

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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…

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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.

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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.

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America Day 41 – Washington DC

Two consecutive days off. We all bundled into the car to go to Washington DC. The drive is just under an hour from our hotel in Annapolis. I wasn’t sure what to expect. Hundreds of movies and TV shows had given me some idea, but nothing competes with the reality. The layout took me by surprise. It’s really very nicely thought through and executed. I guess they had the money and the time. It is the capital of this nation, after all.

We started with The White House, experienced as is traditional – by looking over the garden, past the fountain. Just a few meters from where we were all taking selfies two uniformed young men with about three guns each were laughing in conversation.

Without coffee we wandered to the Washington monument – an obelisk that’s definitely taller than you’d think. The hub of a wheel of monuments and civic buildings. You’ve got an eye to all these huge stone homages to leaders and warriors. Segway tours are popular here, as there’s a lot of stuff to cover, but we wanted to pound the ground.

It’s the 244th anniversary of the US Navy today. We were walking the trail with lots of veterans in matching T-shirts. At the Vietnam memorial one of them was studying the wall at a particular spot very closely. I saw him find the name he was looking for and spend a moment in the past. Strange to see his haunted eyes. I gave him some space. Too much space. I stepped over the fence to take a call I’d been expecting and got shouted at for being on the grass.

We had a huge amount to consume though and nothing like enough time so we were pushing ourselves forwards. I was hoping for a coffee, but all the vans were either selling bad street food or “MAGA” hats that were (genuinely) made in Vietnam – I checked the label.

There’s artistry here. The Korean War monument is strange and evocative. The relatively new one to WW2 is strong as well. And of course Lincoln, iconic with the long rectangular pond, the huge steps and the man himself, vast and towering above us, fasces on his armrests, his hands spelling out my name in sign language. “A L”

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We broke off to find a museum. We walked down Pennsylvania Avenue past all the vast stone museums and libraries. We stumbled on a little urban garden with hidden benches and sat for a while. We ran in horror, much as Descartes did at the Eiffel Tower, but not from any of the edifices. We ran from the ice cream vans. They are a plague, and each of them has a different version of auditory hell to offer you. One had five hideous electronic seconds of “chopsticks” playing on an eternal loop. The guys working the van next to it must feel like they’re in Guantanamo. Another was playing Jingle Bells and Deck the Halls on the 12th October. Thank God I didn’t happen to be carrying a sledgehammer. I would have done the USA a service by destroying all of their speakers and probably earning a monument all of my own for services to the people.

We went into the Museum of Native American History. It was depressing to contemplate the extent of betrayal perpetrated. Educational, but less story than I had hoped. I was glad they acknowledged the evils we can do. I had hoped for a bit more folklore. I love a good myth. There was some satisfying stuff though, particularly around astronomy. But it was conflicting to engage.

We are driving back to Annapolis now. Kaffe just yawned hugely and said “I wanna beer”. I’m in full agreement. We packed it in today, but we barely stopped. A good meal. And a beer…

America Day 40 – Last day USNA

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.

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