Graft

I never want to look at another polyvinyl floor tile in my life. I have no idea what I’ve done to my wrist getting them up, but I hope I noticed in time not to go down another painhole now that my weird shoulder thing appears to be on the mend. This whole experience is giving me solid physical reminders that I’m neither as young as I used to be nor as young as I think I am. I feel like I’m disintegrating.

I wandered over the road to the bar in Theatre Deli to write this and wait out the rush hour, as has become my routine for the duration of this job. I’m covered in chips of wood and paper and dust and fiberglass and dead insects and ground up bone and pain and age and time and human skinflakes. Every bit of me is a gritty shade of grey. I’ve been rolling around on a sad floor. Tristan left at lunchtime so I’ve been on my own. My bones ache, my wrist in particular. The repeated impact of slamming my wrecking bar under a hard glued floor tile only for there to be another one immediately afterwards.

Pirates have been here today, loading up an articulated van with junk. They are a well named company that sends a crew of big burly people to take your stuff. They clear sets for the theatre industry. Their banter overheard is always amusing. They seem a little disaffected though. They were commenting today that this is more like a construction site than a theatre set. It really does feel that way but I knew what I was getting into. There’s a shitload of stuff here. And there are definitely too few of us to get it out. There is so much to be done and literally not enough time in the day. We either need an army on Monday and Tuesday or we need longer days.

The orc and the goblin are here. They’ve been making friends with the pirates all day and carrying stuff to the artic parked out front rather than doing work that only they can do, so I’ve been on my own all afternoon in the growing gloaming, pulling up floors. I know the orc by name now. He’s Ryan. I still like him, the big lazy galoot, despite how clumsy he was about my respirator. He’ll never know I like him because I’m an antisocial fucker when I want to be and I’m not going to be doing any banter when there’s so much work to be done. I’m such a fucking puritan when I choose to be. And right now I choose it. Too many people I love lost too much time, blood, sweat and tears in this building. I’m going to rip it up until it’s ripped. It’s the least I can do. The production manager is so sick they’ve gone back home to their parents. I know their parents and that home. It’s a good place to recharge. But this is what this building does to people. My migraine the other day? I’m an energy sponge. I suck in negativity, process it and convert it. This is hard work physically and spiritually. I’m glad to do it. I’ll be glad when it’s over.

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Respirators

There are two work-shy carpenters on site, with us from an agency. I only know one of their names so I’ll call them Josh and Bosh. They spend most of their time chatting shit with each other. They know exactly what they’re doing work-wise though, so when they do work they swarm through the room like termites and leave everything arranged beautifully in piles of like. If only they worked.

When I wasn’t on site yesterday, Josh grabbed my respirator and wrote his name on it. That’s why I know his name. It’s written on my respirator.

There are a couple of respirators that were bought for the site that people were encouraged to take. I got myself a good one a few days before that for the job and left it there, you see. I knew they’d become necessary and I thought of it as an investment. Besides I need it in my attic. If I work up there without one I’m coughing for days.

He must have found it and thought he had a nice freebie. It wasn’t easy to get back. Possession is nine tenths of the law. Josh was willing to be nice about it but Bosh wasn’t having it. “That’s his respirator, mate. It was given out to him yesterday.” “Yes but I wasn’t here. Whoever gave them out didn’t realise it was mine.” “A respirator’s just a respirator right?” “Well… No…”

I had to check the brand of all the other ones, and point out to them that it was different. Even that didn’t sway them. Eventually I came back to them with a photo of it. They then gave it back in the most aggressive manner possible and told me to “jog on”. I successfully bit back the words “Go fuck yourself,” and then broke the hell out of some things for money for an hour or so in masked silence and rage before I calmed down enough to go on a coffee break.

Then one of the filters from the mask vanished when I was on lunch and found it in a totally different part of the building…

I’m not going to get swept up in this bullshit but I hope they don’t start hiding my power tools just because I held my ground about a respirator.

If they try anything else I’m creative and persistent enough to improvise an unexpected and unpleasant response. I’m not going to drop to their level if I can help it.

It’s not even Josh. It’s his mate Bosh. Josh is the goblin. Bosh is the orc.

He’s a funny lad, Bosh. I kind of like him – more’s the pity and he’ll never know it now. Bosh is the most popular twelve year old in the playground. Poor nervous Josh walks around with his shoulders around his ears apologising for his existence, while big Bosh has enough front for both of them. Anyway, I barely know them outside of observation. I’m too busy actually working, which is what I’ve noticed they aren’t doing so much.


I could probably wear my respirator on the tube and not look out of place right now. We are looking to be in closer alliance with America after “getting it done” in Europe which means the media needs to try to get us all to hate China ASAP which is a bit of a stretch compared to what we’re used to. What better crowbar to start the China-hate than by trumpeting Corona virus as a bigger threat to our existence than the sale of the NHS? As a result lots of well meaning people have started to wear breath masks in rush hour – to protect themselves rather than other people, as the Chinese tourists have been doing on our tube system for years. Next it’ll be long form articles about animal cruelty to catch the liberals and about weapons capacity to catch the tories.

Some of the masks on the tube look to be very high quality. They are mostly worn by well dressed people over 40 so far, but that’ll filter down. I thought about wearing mine on the tube. It looks like a gas mask. I decided that would only make matters worse.

Here’s Tristan, aspiring to the Main Office. Like so many people that aspire to such things, the door just leads to another door. And another after that. Until eventually there’s a brick wall.

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Bad head

I didn’t see that coming. I’ve never had a migraine before. It’s the most viable explanation for the fact that I woke up to be sick at about 6, went back to sleep for an hour, switched off my alarms in some sort of personal hell and then vanished for most of the morning. At one point someone tried to communicate with me by telephone and it was as if I was a dog trying to understand human speech with the volume all completely wrong.

Sometimes I’d get home and find a trail of carnage leaving to Brian’s room and then the man himself flat out on his belly fully clothed in the bed. He was incommunicado or he was monosyllabically responding that no he didn’t want a nice cup of tea and yes he was fine thank you very much. Thinking about it, those occasions would frequently combine with when he was on the crew for Get-out – the job I’ve been doing. Low light. Dust. Fumes. Physical impact. Labour. And the constant need to focus on the tiny tiny thing that is the head of a screw. Thousands and thousands of screws.

I didn’t go to work. I can make up the day anyway as I’m being paid for 6 days a week and this will go longer than two weeks. But I didn’t go to work and I feel okay about that. At first I was trying. I had convinced myself it would all pass and then I’d go in. I hadn’t had much to drink the night before but maybe it could just be like a hangover.

Tristan reminded me that if I hauled myself in like a sack of shit I’d still have to operate power tools all day and the very idea of having one of them in my hand made me almost sick at the thought. In the wisdom of advancing age, I’m aware that sometimes it’s better to choose your battles. Rather than coming in useless I just went back to bed and rested all day. Now in the evening, still fragile, I’ve managed to eat good food and drink lots of water. It’s just past nine and this is my last obligation before bed. I’ll be good for the rest of the week after this, but I think I just needed to shut down.

Not that the day was wasted. Far from it. I looked at a few actor friends of mine for some low key casting I’m doing, and I started to draw up some lists of people to send to the client. I’ll have to finish that in my spare time but at least the work is underway now. Then I loosely tallied up all the income from the last tax year and threw a vague figure towards Marie for an estimated tax return, knowing I have definitely not got the time to do a proper one and getting the estimate in will be enough to prevent a fine until I can get the figures done properly. It wasn’t a bad year unfortunately, considering its all spent now. Self assessment. Hate it.

Here’s my head in a wok.

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Design?

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They say that quantum physicists often have religion…

There’s something about breaking big things into smaller and smaller things that make you really start to wonder about the design of the things you’re deconstructing, and then about the personality of the designer.

There is no way that these walls I’ve been destroying evolved gradually over millions of years, of course. Some idiot that didn’t know when to stop pushing on their impact driver was building the things I’m destroying while I was in America. I might even know the idiot personally. They might even be reading this, and they might sit down opposite me one day and say “You know that idiot you wrote about,” and then tell me that the reason they threaded all the screwheads when they built the set was because they were making sure the screwheads were safely screwed in. Really really safely. So safely.

Ooh it’s satisfying though, tearing this stuff to pieces. The cracking snapping noise as you wrench the last few lost cause screws out of the wood and throw another big lump of timber into the timber pile. It’s lethal with jagged edges that timber pile, as I’ve discovered to my detriment.

I bought some good quality Stanley fingerless padded gloves. I need to be able to feel with my fingertips. But I’ve more or less shaved the end of most of my fingers off. My left hand in particular is messy with cuts. I was woken up with septic pain in one cut the other night so I opened it under running water, squirted it full of aftershave and put sudocream on it before going back to sleep. Miraculously that worked. Now the finger next to it is behaving similarly from a nasty little jag under my middle fingernail that’s harder to get to. Even as my shoulder eases off…

My brother Jamie was a chippie before he got Parkinson’s Disease. He had a place in London and was gradually working through it when I was at school, as many of my friends do now, to add value. I’d sometimes go and spend the weekend with him for school “exeats” – (weekends where you were allowed to leave the grounds). I hung out with him and his friends when I was aged about 11. It was that or stay at boarding school in an empty dorm while everybody else was with their mum and dad. My parents were in far flung places and even then I was too proud/stubborn/independent to admit I was missing them painfully. If they didn’t show, I would hang out with the three or four other kids whose parents also didn’t show. We would see a different – kinder – side to the teachers we knew. But sometimes, when they didn’t show, Jamie would show with his busy messy car and his silly jokes and whichever girlfriend it was at the time. I loved those weekends more than he would ever know…

He continued to work for a while despite the increasing physical unpredictability of his condition. He knew the job and the tools far better than I do. But he had to stop after an interaction between his fingers and a saw. He was living in France by then.

A few years ago he went to hospital in Poitiers for a routine check up. He stayed overnight. A superbug found him. Just like mum. I rushed to find him before the end. He died, and the cause of death was probably logged as his condition rather than the superbug, as is the habit, because hospitals are becoming deathtraps internationally, and fudging the cause of death is a way of warding off mass panic about superbugs.

So Jamie died arbitrarily. Another screw threaded. I feel very close to him now, doing his kind of work for a few days. Although he was many things.

He was a musician. He would make pipes from cow parsley and play them well. He played guitar too. To this day I call cow parsley “Jamie pipe weed”.

He was a poet. Campbell, my nephew, still remembers his strange and beautiful poetic outbursts online.

He was a maker with his hands. We understood each other, Jamie and I. We lived together very briefly in The Isle of Man after dad died. I still can’t fully understand that he’s dead…

And then on the way home I shut down an evangelical shouter on the tube. I spoke with him about his faith from a point of view of knowledge and suggested reasons why his methods were unhelpful. I know a lot about Christianity, so I was able to give him specific chapter and verse about why shouting at a captive audience was not the best way to bring people to the word of God. Revelation 3:20. “There’s no point berating people for not opening the door. That will only push them further away from it. Just keep being the knock. If it looks like people aren’t hearing it, trust that they are. And don’t let negativity that you have received transmit into negativity that you broadcast. Because if that happens you can undo any good work you might have done”. The perks of almost becoming a vicar…

But there we are. Back at the start. Intelligent design vs happenstance? I lost my faith, because if someone made this world they made it worse than whoever threaded all those screws. They threaded humanity. They made a bunch of self righteous hateful wankers, divided them evenly over both sides of numerous deeply held standpoints, screwed them in so hard they were threaded and fucked off while they were throwing shit at each other. Nobody can unscrew them.

Meanwhile loads of good hearts like Jamie’s were crippled and then stopped. I need to get to France in Spring and see Danuta, who was in love with him at the end. Thank God for her. He was happy and loved and cared for until the end…

Nothing to report

And so to bed. A relief to do nothing all day. I didn’t leave the house. I had duck. I watched South Park. I let myself recover. Last week came as something of a shock to the system but now I’m in the swing of it and I reckon another week will come more naturally to me.

This is the beginning of a new decade and now we are into the Chinese year of the metal rat. January is a time for regrouping and gathering our strength before the light starts to become more apparent in February and things start to come to life again. I’m tearing down something old in the cold, and paving the way for new life and new creativity. I feel very positive right now, and a day of rest has helped me be thankful for the fact I have been and will be so busy. I almost have too much on, but that’s ok. I can partition my time.

Kitcat has returned from her wanderings, so after a month or so of no flatmate there’s the sound of something streaming on a laptop next door. We had dinner together, although it was pretty rudimentary. Nice to break bread though, and she tells me there is a friend who might need some housecats to be looked after for a while. This immediately interests me. I haven’t seen Pickle since I got back from America. I still have a certain amount of separation anxiety. Some other cats might be fun for a while, with the benefit that they then go back to their owner and I don’t have to stress about what will become of them if I book another long tour in a foreign land. Plus there’s definitely a minor incursion of mice in the flat which I’ve been delaying murder on simply because I don’t like it.

I don’t want to call it too early, but something has changed in the shoulder department. It’s still painful and I can’t sleep on my right yet. But it’s not the sharp constant shouting of pain that pushed me to codeine. I’ve been painkiller free all day – although not out of the woods yet. I’ll see how it goes tomorrow. Maybe activity was the right way to go with it, although when I’ve got more to do I notice it more.

I’ve got a group physio appointment on Wednesday which will clarify things I hope. Although it’ll likely be doctors stating the obvious to people who don’t use their bodies very much. I’ll give it a go though and apparently we get a bit of one on one time.

Not much else to report. Couple of glasses of red wine. Packed a little bag with an eye to maybe moving to Mel’s in Hampstead for a little while for a change of scene. Now I’m off to bed early. With a hot water bottle. Life is alright.

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Burns night and exhausted

God I’m pooped.

There’s a pub next door to the site where I’ve been working. The Flying Horse. I am covered in dust. I’m sitting like a sack of potatoes with my phone in my hand writing this as I stare past an untouched pint of porter at a similarly fucked Tristan. I do not feel like a flying horse. We’ve been earning our keep this week. Day off tomorrow thank the gods.

I thought I was going to have a Burns Night at my flat but I really really can’t be bothered to play host to anyone but my demons so I sacked it off. Tristan can come. He’s an honorary demon anyway. I’ll buy haggis on the way home and kill it in a few hours. We will eat. I will sleep. Tomorrow there will be no work. Oh the joy the joy. I don’t intend to do very much. I will certainly not take down any walls.

We tore all the walls down across a whole floor. As darkness set in we pulled the last bit out of an awkward corner where it was hiding and we ripped it into component parts, and stamped the skin off it.

We are swift, silent, uncompromising. Today we have at least been accompanied by the mimblings of cricket commentators.

England is playing South Africa men’s and it looks like they might have discovered some opening batsmen that aren’t going to fold up like wet paper. We had the BBC cricket social playing all day, which is an endurance exercise no matter how you look at it. People discussing wallpaper or obscure points of cricketing history while occasionally telling us what is happening in the game. Aggers sitting with a gin in South Africa getting overexcited about parachuters. It’s good that I enjoy the game or it would have made the day even harder. As it is it helped pass the time – when we could hear it over the drilling, tearing, swearing and banging.

My knees are wet from sweat behind the kneepads. My back is crawling with dust and aches. My hair is full of bits. Don’t ask about my shoulder. But I’m still here, I’m still able to work, and as always I much prefer to have a focus to my time. Better learning another new skill, challenging myself against another idea of what I can and can’t do, throwing myself into unusual work in an unusual building.

Now I’m going to stop writing, and cross town to find a haggis…


Burns Night festivities mostly cancelled I ate meat with Tristan after work and we broke down this week we have had in one another’s company and found poems. There’s a lot of poetry in the world. Just as the day is winding to a close and my stamina is spent I got a message from Brian, miner of good poems, once again on form. I will share it with you while I get in the bath with a poetry anthology.

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SURVIVORS by Norman MacCaig

The last wolf in Scotland
was killed two centuries ago.
I’d like to meet it.
I wouldn’t ask
why it opened the throats of deer and
tore mountain hares to pieces.
I wouldn’t ask why it howled
in the corries and put one paw
delicately in a mountain torrent.
–It would have nothing to ask me
except, `Why am I
the last wolf in Scotland?
I would know what it meant,
for I am the last of my race
as you are, and she, and he.
We would look strangely at each other
before it loped back to its death
and I again put one foot dangerously into the twentieth century.

Fail better

I moved upstairs on site.

Tristan and I destroyed pretty much everything in the mushroom basement of doom. Now it’s just the ceiling and a couple of bits of dressing on the walls. The bulk of it is in piles of timber, perspex, metal and rubble. Now we are in the offices of the FBI.

My mind is behaving strangely now when I look at things. I immediately try to establish how they were created with an eye to taking them to pieces. On site I have invented personalities for the people that built the set. Some of them really cared about doing a good job, and I don’t like them for it. The better the build, the harder it is to wreck it. “Glue-gun guy” in particular can fuck right off. He’s made a lot of work for me. And “Screw crazy lady” who would never use one screw when 27 will do. Although removing screws is somehow satisfying even in their thousands.

Some of the carpenters did a fantastic build, with multiple layers, shoring it all as they went, adding insulation. Fuck that, it’s theatre. Make it out of balsa wood and gaffer and then paint something pretty on the outside? Although I guess this had to be as nicely turned as possible. It was a huge scale immersive show with a high ticket price, giving gainful and respectful employment to so many people, including Tristan and myself as wreckers. It was an ambitious large scale drive.

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In this case it didn’t work out financially. Arguably part of the fact it didn’t work out is because it was opened before it was made, both creatively and physically, and it never recovered from some atrocious press. Immersive shows often reach a point where they can no longer be rehearsed without an audience.

I’ve spent far too much of my time with well meaning directorpeople trying to pretend to be audience members but you can’t prepare for the random joyful mixture of willingness and fear, insecurity and bombast, nonsense and sheer fucking JOY that a real human watchy-person will bring to the half finished character concept you are fleshing out with the creative team. The wider the frame the more fun people can have. I’ll never forget some of the people who have surprised me in Carol – old ladies sharing their own Christmas poem, Romanian folk singers taking my accordion and showing me how it’s really done, lovers proposing just before the spirit of Christmas yet to come…

But as a performer you’ve got to be secure enough in the direction the scene needs to go. You have to know the end point and be flexible enough to get any group’s energy there. It’s not about scripting for all eventualities. It’s about collaboration, shared trust and the act of creation in the moment. Know what you can and can’t say. All of this deepens with time… The guys on the show I’m taking down now – they were just making sense of it. I saw the last night. It was smart. Witty. Occasionally flat still, and occasionally arbitrary. But it was alive at the point it had to die. I wonder what might have been.

I’m having a lot of thoughts, as I work extremely hard with a crowbar, hammer and impact driver, deconstructing this thing. Sic transit. Everybody involved talks in terms of what they’ve learnt. I think that’s a thing. The upshot of all this is a better entertainment industry. Fail. Fail again. Fail better. And eventually you make a masterpiece.