Getting ready for getting out

And suddenly I’m embarking on a regular existence for a while. This will be unfamiliar. I will rise in the morning at the same time as many many other human beings in this city, and I will be forced to put myself onto those angry morning tube trains where everybody hates you. I will follow my drama school footsteps to Moorgate Station, alongside all the unfortunate souls who push buttons in front of screens all day in the square mile while pretending they actually care about that company they hate.

I won’t be pushing buttons though. I’ll be derigging cables. I’ll be packing lights. I’ll be smashing walls in and carrying stuff to skips. I expect I’ll be cold and tired a lot, but I’ll be in good company and in all likelihood there’ll be music playing. I’ll have to make sure I take care of my shoulder as this is likely to be as physical as I make it. But irrespective of the fact I still don’t know what’s wrong with it, I suspect that careful usage is going to be better than no usage at all. Even if over about two months now there have only been two days when I haven’t been woken up by pain. I need to get my body up and running again. 4 press-ups in 7 seconds is shameful, bad shoulder or no bad shoulder.

I’m quite looking forward to the regularity of this coming fortnight. It’s nice to be an ant for a bit, and get stuck into some actual labour rather than the usual pretendyface stuff I do. It helps ground me. And it’ll likely make me fitter.

Today we went to a meeting about the lovely tour we did in the good old US of A. The University of Notre Dame has a beautifully located London premise just off Haymarket, and we all gathered in there to discuss what went well and to express any concerns we had about things.

We went to so many different places on that tour, and had such immensely different experiences in all of them. But looking back it’s clear how remarkably well looked after we were everywhere we went. Four out of the five of us were there for the meeting and when we were gathered in the foyer it immediately occurred to me what an excellent working unit we happened to have become. Despite wildly varying worldviews and priorities, the five of us formed a very positive company that cared as deeply about the work as we did about one another’s welfare. I was sad not to see Katherine as it felt like a family reunion missing one member. Still it was lovely to revisit that group. Often in this industry you form a unit, share some very deep experiences, and then never ever find the same people in the same room again. Companies are made and exploded and remade job to job. The repertory system of old is mostly deceased. The chance to repeatedly work with the same actor is rare and precious. It’s what binds me to Jack. We’ve got an extremely detailed shorthand given to us by chance and time.

But it’s past twelve. The bath is run. I’ve lined up some sleepy-drink tonight. My breath mask and gloves have all arrived and they fit. It’s time to wash, dose up on painkillers, drink the sleepy drink and sleep on only my left side once more… How much longer?

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Last Wolf

Quarter to ten and I’ve just come out of watching the last night of the immersive Wolf of Wall Street in Moorgate. Right now the building is still open to the public and they’re gently shepherding the muggles away so the people who worked on it can get stuck in to celebrating the end of the run. There’s plenty of fizz left behind the bar so I’m worrying about this whole damp January getting a little wetter. I’m here by virtue of the fact that I’ll be on the team for the get-out, running around with tools deconstructing and carrying things in this very cold building. I’ve ordered a proper breath mask and some heavy duty gloves online because sometimes it’s worth having good kit and I’m going to be here for two weeks.

It’s a big old show. Three floors it was, loads of big rooms made into more small rooms and then dressed up to look like it’s the nineties and we’re in Long Island. It’s been a tough one in terms of the audience and the basic logistics of it. I think most of the company are relieved it’s finished and they can get back to more sensible jobs. But I can still sense from the atmosphere tonight that they’ll find themselves missing aspects of it. The decompression is a big part of the job when it comes to theatre. And these guys are decompressing like they’ve got The Bends. And the party hasn’t even started yet.

I came on my own in a trilby and ended up being pinned as “Frank Sinatra” by most of the actors that didn’t know me, and roundly victimised by those who did. I had to do a press up competition with a very healthy looking twenty-something Argentinian called Dennis and was roundly humiliated (with my shoulder as my silent excuse to myself.) I managed four to his twelve in seven seconds. I really need to get more exercise. Perhaps that’s February. Although this get-out will be a good start. Fuck me it’s going to be a lot of work. I wouldn’t even know where to start with it. Maybe a sledgehammer.

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The company marshalled and awarded each other numerous certificates. The bar was out of beer and red wine at the start of the evening and most people in the know had brought their own. It stands to reason they wouldn’t restock when we are coming in with the hammers on Tuesday but I hadn’t got the memo about no booze left. It was lovely to watch them decompress with nothing to decompress from myself and I remained mostly sober although Sam did give me a Budweiser.

A tough show. They are bunch of troopers. And I thoroughly enjoyed my evening watching them work despite the reviews.

Rebecca and I did a French exit, as we were both feeling the end of our engagement while the party was just kicking off. She lives on the same side of town as I do which is rare for currently working theatre professionals. We shared a number 11 bus home and tried to unravel reach other’s bullshit.

All in all a lovely night and I got home at a reasonable time, oh joy. Bed now.

R&D with songs

Today was a Research & Development reading for a play about a singer from a very specific part of the world some time ago. I was in at the last minute as an actor reading the scenes in between the songs. I signed another Non Disclosure Agreement. They are rife in this industry, and anyone that knows I blog might not trust my instinctive and hard-wired discretion. But this is why I’ll be vague.

Much of the idiom was completely unfamiliar to me culturally, which made for an interesting experience even while the woman sitting to my right sometimes inadvertently giggled as I  confidently banjaxed my attempts to sightread a language so unfamiliar that I literally couldn’t tell you its name. If it were the million dollar question I’d guess at “Arabic” and be roundly humiliated for my basic ignorance of anything outside my narrow frame of reference. Some of the text was not translated into Roman characters, but mostly that was the songs so I was able to attempt it phonetically.

It’s a play with music, and the creative team love the music. It’s more like music with a play really. There wasn’t much for us to do, partly because there’s not much dialogue and partly because nobody in that room cared about the nuance in what little dialogue there was. It was just fluff before the next song. And it was all a little bit “on the nose”. A frequent thing in new theatre writers. People just speak their inner life to each other. “I am angry with you.” “I am happy with you.” “I like your singing.” “I am in love with you.” Still. The script is a frame for the songs.

Some of the songs, complete, can last 55 minutes. There didn’t seem to be any concern, although I expect they’ll be cut down for the final edit. There are many interludes in the script that are specifically timed to music, where nothing is happening on stage for two minutes while we hear the song. This is culturally completely over my head. The snippets I heard are achingly beautiful though. And beautifully delivered, sung live to us with drums and synth by skillful musicians playing in a tiny room above a shop in Mayfair with an extremely oversolicitous caretaker. Sometimes you get to have remarkable and unfamiliar experiences in the course of this line of work. A lot of the script I encountered required specific knowledge of the person and their life to make sense of it, though, which I definitely didn’t have. The assumption must be that the audience will know it.

It’s a frequently occurring issue in our industry. I think it’s something we fell foul of in The Factory from time to time. We can all forget that we are the only people that know the things we know about the art we are making. We can make work that is extremely powerful for us because of our specific knowledge base and set of experiences, but we totally overlook the need to fill in people who have a completely different context. The greatest work can inspire connection and familiarity with everybody no matter what context – which is arguably why Shakespeare still persists as the greatest of all theatre makers. Even despite the now archaic nature of his language, and the fact he was writing largely in verse, he still has a close eye on keeping the groundlings happy in case they start throwing shit at the stage, whilst ministering to his extremely dangerous highly strung aristocratic patrons that at best could pull his funding and at worst could have him done in for treason.

This piece will have great beauty but it is also divisive. It will have more beauty for those with context than those without. It’s the sort of thing I much prefer to be in than to watch. If I were to tour with it I would come to learn the idiom and love the detail. But it takes time to understand how to appreciate anything, from unfamiliar music to olives. It’s always worth it when you do. Perhaps I should see if I can get on board in a small part for the tour. So long as I don’t have to sing. Then I’ll be surrounded by it.

Perhaps the most delightful part of the whole affair was that one of the other actors was in my year at Guildhall. Wonderful to be in the room with her again. And of course I took no photos so it’s a winter window shot…

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January Friday

It’s so warm in London. It took going back over last year’s blog to remember just how bum-clenchingly cold it was in town this time last year as I was trying to staple material to a wooden frame inside a van in a parking bay in London Bridge. This time last year was a frantic freezing few days, making a space for something that we didn’t even know the shape of at Vault. Today has been calm. Peaceful. I have neither done anything nor have I felt the need to do anything. If I hadn’t gone to the shop almost just for the hell of it then I wouldn’t have left the house at all. I didn’t need to go to the shop either. I just found myself putting my boots on and walking out the door in a vague attempt to trick myself into thinking I was achieving something.

My bedroom is a pleasant cocoon where I can wrap myself in sheets as the winter wears away and read books and plays and play games and write out these thoughts and keep the world at bay for a day or so. Sure I’ve been emailing and writing and even booked a little bit of work for tomorrow. I was meant to meet a friend for evening drinks but her kid isn’t well so she had to rush straight home to take care of him, so I just stayed at home and took care of me. It’s only just 9pm and I’m winding myself towards sleep. I don’t start work until 2 tomorrow. Ahhh mild winter laziness.

I have too much stuff at home, accumulated from so many different sources, much of it with a story. If I’m trying to get things done it can be very distracting as there’s just loads of things to pick up and become momentarily fascinated with. It’s perfect for a lazy day like this though. A bit of Spitfire fuselage that I’m using to keep coins and dice inside? Check.

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“Our Lady the untier of knots” taken from a voodoo altar in New Orleans? Check. A papier maché bust of my head wearing my father’s old battered trilby? Check. Great big intricate model boats, multiple busts of Gladstone and Disraeli in cast iron or red stone. Check. Guitars and accordions and a very sophisticated steaming iron that I honestly don’t think I’ll ever use particularly considering I threw away my ironing board when I noticed it had an asbestos heat-plate. Old stuff mixed with technology mixed with mystic stuff mixed with things of beauty mixed with junk. Thankfully always in the back of my head is a voice telling me to keep moving stuff on. Otherwise I wouldn’t be able to move in here. I’m a stuff conduit. Annoyingly it isn’t a maximum £1 listing weekend on eBay or I’d have made better use of my time. But it’s always nice to do nothing until it gets repetitive. I’m glad I’m busy tomorrow. But this has been a fine January Friday.

Four years

“Your blog doesn’t show on my Facebook.”

“I used to like reading your blog, why did you stop?”

Grrr


This is me embarking on my fourth year of a semi-documented existence. I’m still here. This is still happening daily. It’s still hit and miss. I hope it still helps people frame their random shit, or helps them find fellow feeling, or sheds a different light on an old pattern. I sometimes get surprising messages from people who are touched by it. These messages are the main reason I continue to write. That and the fact that the habit is so deeply ingrained…

Three years ago I had just moved to a hostel in Venice LA and had walked up the shanty town by the river in Glendale. Two years ago I was fretting about my health, my career and the cost of gym membership in a cold London. Last year our show in the van went on sale and Ethan built me some stairs. Come to think of it, did I ever pay him for that?

I’ve inadvertently created a journal – an aide memoire for when I bang my head and get amnesia. It’s far from comprehensive as I usually try to avoid naming people unless I’m certain they’re ok with it or I’m pissed off with them. I’m also frequently writing around the subject, avoiding NDAs or hurt feelings or ruining surprises. Frequently I dash this out on my phone before bed in whatever state I’ve got myself into. Occasionally I try to give it time and craft something. The thing I don’t do is miss it. Even if I’m really not feeling it.

Today’s a bit like that. It’s been dark and I’ve been back in pain. I went for brunch with an old mate and couldn’t see beyond it while we were talking. I’m trying to use painkillers only when I must as it’s been a long time now. He’s no stranger to back pain. We are all getting old… He told me that if the x-ray turns up a blank then he can hook me up with a good physiotherapist for cash. I’m kind of hoping the x-ray gives some clarity as if not I’m properly stumped. This pain is way too acute for it to be going on much longer.

We went for a walk and soaked in a bit of vitamin D, which cheered me up and distracted me from pain. I even took a photo, which is rare.

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Then I headed back home. Tristan was bringing my microphone back and I wanted to help him make sense of how to use it. It’s a good bit of kit, if only I didn’t live on a main road. We did a bit of recording and then both slunk off to our respective dry Januaries. He’s going to a fiftieth birthday party on the weekend and is going to give himself a free pass. I think I might do the same. It’s too cold and dark to deny myself nice things just for the hell of it. Sure, I’m not going to get mashed up. But a glass or two of wine with a good friend might be just the ticket…

Meanwhile another blog year. Despite Facebook’s attempt to make me vanish unless I pay them. I still hate that. I might start sharing these manually, although I’m still not even sure if I’m writing them to be read or just writing them for my own weird reasons.

Nevertheless, if you’re still here, thank you. If a tree falls in a forest etc.

X-rays

I go in to my GP to meet a young doctor for shoulder diagnosis. The receptionist gives me a feedback form to fill in on how satisfied I am with the treatment. The doctor has a young woman observing her practice. I think the young woman might be a student.

I’m determined not to underplay the pain I’m in. Yes, I have high tolerance but this definitely hurts lots. I tell her so, and that I’ve deliberately come in painkiller free for diagnosis. She manipulates me until I reflexively swear at her and then she refers me for an X-ray. “Go after 5 pm,” says the receptionist. “It’s less busy.” The form says that it’s open until 19.45. I fill in my feedback and go home for a few hours.

At ten past five I am in reception at the hospital. One receptionist is behind the desk.

“We’re closed now. Didn’t your GP tell you? Since September this department has started closing at 5.”

“Oh. It says later on the form…”

“We had to change it. It’s Brexit. In 2017 Theresa May sold the NHS to the Americans. Boris is no better. In two years time there’ll be no NHS unless people mobilise and they’re doing nothing. There’s supposed to be two of us here, but they can’t afford it. I’ve referred you to ED downstairs and checked you in. You can get it done there.”

The doctor is also the receptionist at ED. She is 25 minutes with a patient before she can check me in. She then takes my details and I sit down to wait. I have a feeling that I’m going to be here for a very long time waiting, but I’m still lucky enough to get this referral and by the end of the night I’m likely to have an answer. I’m curious to know what they find. The painkillers have worn off and I’ve no more with me, and after two days of relative respite the pain is back with a vengeance today. I must have slept badly on it. I wish I’d brought a book now. Because of the early closing I’m in A&E essentially, and because I was sent from upstairs I’m a low priority patient. You can wait in these places for days as a low priority patient, but it’s worth it to not have to pay for the x-ray…


It worked out quicker than I anticipated, but because the radiologist is a one woman army, working through the patients kindly one by one without a nurse or a receptionist. She was having to position me, photograph, position me photograph etc. She can’t look closely at the images herself with the time she has, so now they’ll get sent to someone for review and I’ll have to check in with my GP. Hopefully it’ll turn up whatever is wrong, as if not I’m going to be very confused. I wonder how long before I can check in with her… 

It’s so understaffed. It’s such a shame. And they are all working so incredibly hard, these kind generous thoughtful considerate healing people. What have we done?

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Smart home

The boiler guy came round in the morning and changed all the remaining parts but then he called me in, with doom in his voice. It’s to do with the water pressure. I now have a number on it. I get 2 litres a minute of cold water through my taps. It’s not enough to top up the boiler properly. He told me that the boiler can’t run.

It can run, and it is running. But now he’s told me that I need to do something about it as any damage taken from it running on empty is likely going to obviate the insurance. The flat is warm again at least.

Some years ago there was a water pumping system put into my block. I was quoted £1,200 to get connected to it, and I declined. Now, a decade later, it seems I can connect to it for the cost of a plumber – although if I were to get my share of the freehold I expect the system cost will be added to the total cost. I am going to connect to it and hopefully that’ll solve that. It’ll just cost me a plumber’s fee.

The guy this morning was decent enough to leave me with a working boiler even though he technically shouldn’t have signed off on the job with it underpressured. Another good guy but it took some pleading and holding my ground. And then Ajaz came in to install a smart meter…

Now I have a little display that tells me exactly how much power I’m using per hour. I’ve been running around switching things on and off and working out what they cost. It’s a lesson. I can really see the difference between incandescent bulbs and fluorescent ones. Now I’m running a bath and I will be able to see precisely how much a bath costs to run. I’m expecting to be unpleasantly surprised, as my power bills have been very high for the last few years. It’ll probably be worth putting a powershower in for the savings alone.

I was meant to go to a market research group tonight. One of those things where you speak your opinions as a consumer to the people working out how to sell a product. The last one I went to was for Lilt and I swear to God they quoted me on the eventual packaging.

I don’t know what this one was for. I arrived way too early, so I sat in the pub round the corner. Better a busy lively place than a sterile silent waiting room. I showed up about ten minutes before the group started, and then someone read out a list that didn’t have my name on it. Everybody went in and a few minutes later they apologised to me. “We book too many people on purpose. You have been randomly selected and you can just go. Here’s £50”.

Well, that’s a result. “Randomly selected” my left testicle, I had “actor” on the form and someone wanted contributing members of society. Nonetheless, I’m very glad of a crisp £50, and I’m home in my expensively warm flat running a £2.00 bath…

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Boilers

It’s like I predicted what was to come when I called yesterday’s blog “Nice Warm Flat”. I booked a boiler service through the insurance. The boiler is the only thing I’ve got insured in this flat, remembering the long cold winter three years ago when I was Scrooging in a freezing warehouse and then coming home to a freezing flat. The guy came round, took the face off the boiler and swore. I got out of the way and let him work. I wasn’t going to give him any excuse to duck it. He cursed and spat and replaced a load of parts. But then he realised the gas intake was rusted at which point he lost his shit and condemned the boiler. “I should’ve called it at the start. I’m in too far now. You can’t switch it on. Someone will be back tomorrow. Sign this.” “Thank you.”

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Again this culture of not doing it if there’s a way out. It’s to his credit that he persisted, and replaced all the parts that needed replacing until he hit a wall as he didn’t have a gas intake in his van. He’s a goodie.

He says he’s coming back tomorrow to fix it. Half of me believes him and half of me is expecting someone else to come around, tell me my insurance isn’t valid for whatever reason and plunge me back into freezing Hel for the rest of winter. It’s down to the individual, and that guy was a good guy. I suspect he’s in the minority.

I can’t wash tonight, but I’ve got an electric heater in my room so I can stay toasty. You don’t miss these things until you need them. I hope I don’t get one of those negative lazy bastards tomorrow like the oven guys who fucked my back.

Tomorrow I’ve got the guy from Bulb Energy installing a smart meter, and to double down I also bought a Nest Learning Thermostat on Amazon, so with any luck once tomorrow is over the whole heating situation in Barclay Towers will be more energy efficient, cheaper and sexier. Either that or it’ll be more than everybody’s job’s worth and I’ll end up installing my own boiler without blowing up the house, carrying the old one out of the flat and dying of apoplexy surrounded by expensive intelligent machinery.

Today was a big day. I woke up before the pain woke me. I held off taking painkillers and as it happened I got to hold off all day. There’s a persistent mild discomfort but the shocking laser of hard constant pain didn’t rear its head today. Perhaps bodies mend themselves after all. Perhaps I’ll just get better now. I’m still going to go to my doctor’s appointment on Wednesday and ask for a referral to a physio as I don’t want this shit recurring, but FUCK YEAH.

As if in celebration, Flavia came over this evening and we watched Kiss Kiss Bang Bang curled up under a blanket on the sofa. Old friends…

 

Nice warm flat

I’ve been very aware of the darkness today. This is the hardest month, and I’m glad there’s been distraction in the shape of this filming and various other projects on the horizon. I’m back at home and tired much earlier than usual. I’ve got an appointment with my GP on Wednesday morning, but part of me is tempted to just pay a physiotherapist. I really want to know what’s wrong. The mornings are still stark with pain and the over the counter drugs have stopped working so well now. My body has got used to them.

Today I was turning a friend’s flat over in North London. It looks likely I’ll be shifting my base to Hampstead for a month or so to flatsit for her. It’ll mean I can go for long walks on the heath on bright winter mornings, which can only help with the January blues. She had some guests over the New Year who trashed the place and ended up being so egregious that she’s not allowed to have anyone stay but me from now on – I’m ok in that I’m known to the landlord, and he understands that I’ve got my own place and am just there for maintenance purposes. So be it. It’s a lovely thing for me, to be able to kick around in Hampstead for a few weeks and see London from a different point of view, at the cost of occasionally changing a fuse or collecting mail. This city changes it’s shape geographically and socially depending on where you lay your head in the evenings. It’ll be good to see it North-headed for a change. I’ll probably end up seeing friends I don’t see so often living in the South West. London is basically lots of little self contained cities under one big umbrella, with excellent if expensive transport links connecting them together.

I’m back in Chelsea for now, again. Back in my warm flat and finding it much more like home than it felt when I got back from America and the cat was gone. Incense burning, bath running and I’ve booted up the laptop for a game of Half Life 2 just for the nostalgia while I work out where the fuck I put my Christmas book tokens after finishing my novel.

I’ve got plans for the flat now which I think I might finally be able to achieve in a month or so. I’ve been researching companies that could come in and sort out the bathroom. A shower, tiles, new carpets, new doors and a bit of work on the electricity and a bit of sorting in the kitchen and I can start to feel I’m living in a grown up flat instead of student digs full of antiques. Oh and a big push on eBay to get the rest of the random junk moved on. If I go to Hampstead I’ll make sure my room is tenanted and I can use it as practice for potentially lucrative Airbnb fun at significant times of the year, such as the Chelsea Flower Show, or if I book a tour…

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On the job

I spent most of the day sitting in a perfectly realistic living room. Furniture and lovely ornaments, including some Wedgwood Jasperware pots and ornate antique vases. Big decorative pictures on the walls. Daylight outside the windows. A chandelier. It was only when you look up that the cracks begin to appear. The ceiling is torn to allow the cable for the chandelier, which runs up thirty feet in the air and more to the REAL ceiling. It’s only then that you might start to realise that the daylight outside the windows is burnt in by arrays of halogen bulbs. The walls are just flats. Outside it’s a box in a huge empty space. Inside there’s smoke blowing, heaters burning, cameras and microphones and so many people and all the paraphernalia of a set in full work mode. The other actors and I are milling around, coming in and out, doing this, doing that, talking and walking and sitting and fretting. The work of today will translate to just seconds on screen. I might see three of the many words I spoke make the edit. I might see none. It’s happened before. I’m not going to rule it out. But it’s a good gig for me right now. I’m thrilled to have booked it even if I can’t name it and don’t speculate publicly please. I’m up to my knees in non-disclosure agreements and leaky actors don’t get re-employed.

After the wrap I walked back to my trailer and was startled by the reality of darkness. It was DARK. After all the artificial light, I’ll probably end up with jetlag.

Now I’m in Mike’s Audi, driving across London to Shoreditch to see my best friend. I love how you get a driver for the day you’re on set. All the VIP treatment just for remembering words and doing a voice. Reality again tomorrow for a while. Boo hiss.


Now I’m installed in a booth at Busaba Shoreditch waiting for Minnie. Good on the driver for being okay with changing my drop-off to accommodate my need to see my best friend. If he’d taken me back home it would’ve been too late by the time I got back out here. I owe him one. I’ll have to get him a present for next time I’m on set. He’s a Manchester United fan. I’ll think of something.

This set is very much a community and I’m glad to meet it. Lovely people working together for a common goal. There is some wonderful work going on.

I’ve just resisted the temptation to get some celebratory alcohol, and I’m making do with an Appley minty ginger thing, which is nice enough and won’t make me feel like shit in the morning. Roll in another photo of my drink.

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I’ve learnt a lot today by observing. I want to be on as many sets as possible with people of the caliber I’ve just been on with. There’s so much to learn from watching people who have had loads of screentime. I remember observing an old Trojan years ago for just a couple of days in Bangkok and stealing the way he behaved on set. You always grow through working. This has already been a learning experience for me.