Shopping, the Immersive Experience

Shopping today. It ain’t what it used to be. “No Browsing,” says a sign outside the Halfords next to the Pets at Home where I’m going. The queue is long at Halfords and strictly enforced.

I’ve timed it right for the pet store, but there’s “an airlock” as they call it in immersive theatre these days. I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s come all the way from “Alien War”, the immersive experience in the 1990’s in The Trocadero. I went three times as a teenager. Young actors pretending to be space marines and one in an HR Giger Alien suit. In an immersive show it’s helpful to have someone who changes the world for you from “where did I put my ticket” to ” THIS IS AN ALIEN SPACESHIP”. That job in Alien War fell to a pretend Space Marine in a literal pretend airlock. “This is a hostile environment. Do not stray off the path!” (because unmarked areas aren’t dressed). “Do not get ahead of me!” (Or you’ll see the alien having a fag!” “Most importantly do not #insert playfulness here” so they forget the rest of the hard rules – something like “Do not pull faces at me behind my back, I have a fragile ego and a large gun.” Because remember guys – this is fun rules time!” I loved Alien War. Until the actors got bored and started sending it up. The third time I did it the alien was jazz dancing in the strobe. “Fuck that,” I thought aged like 17. “How do I apply?” It closed shortly after.

At Pets at Home the actor giving me the airlock wasn’t fun at all. She was really pleasant. But we were both seriously socially awkward. I think we are all going to find out we’ve forgotten how to do the in public stuff when the doors open.

Nobody was in the shop but staff. “STAY SIX FOOT APART AT ALL TIMES.”

While she’s talking, and taking deep breaths between sentences, the wind blows directly at my back, whistling round past me first and then past her face and into the automatic doors she’s protecting from the airborne pathogens. I’m aware of wind direction constantly these days.

I don’t think she’s an actor. Her delivery is earnest but poor, but from much of the immersive stuff I’ve witnessed that’s no indicator. But this isn’t bad emphasis and over-play. It’s just flat.

It’s fairly standard for the airlock character not to be an actor though to avoid using one of the core cast so they can stand in a circle together and do tongue twisters and talk about how hungover they are. It’s usually the front of house or spare bar staff or in emergencies the producer’s flatmate doing it with whatever shit they’ve cobbled together from the dressing up box as a costume.

The show itself was over before it began. “What are you here for,” she asks, trying to make it a personal experience for me.

“Um… Dead mice?” That’s all I’ve got. Talking to humans. I remember this from long ago.

She ushers me through the airlock… “Stand there. It’s 6 for 5. How many do you want?” “Oh er 12.” Then she’s got the curveball, to take control in her immersive world. “What size?” Fuck.

Of course dead mice come in sizes. This is what life comes down to. As per blogs passim, they’re 21% protein, 9% Crude oil. 67% moisture. The rest is God. But when we die will someone weigh us and put us in a packet with SIZE MARKINGS?

I guessed correctly on size. Extra Large. Greater than 31g of creature. Twelve of them are in my hands in no time. No less than 93 grams of creature.

Contactless payment, get the fuck out of this shop, job done. Not the greatest show in town but if you come home from the theatre with 12 dead mice in your bag then something has definitely occurred…

I just finished performing in the “eat me” puppet show and now I’ve left him in darkness to enjoy his taste sensations and get the most of out of the wee sleekit dancing defrosted beasty.

I slept a full night last night and woke up at normal time. I don’t want to call it too early, but at least that insomnia shit is over.

Early bed. Back to the tidying tomorrow. Before long all this tut is going on eBay…

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Loo seats and Animal Crossing…

I’m ashamed to say that’s only the second time in my life I’ve changed a loo seat. I hated it the first time, and got my fingers all bloody trying to wiggle some horrible nuts (waheyyy).

This time I was prepared psychologically for the difficulty of it. The nut was made out of plastic so less painful, but the screw was corroded metal so it wasn’t any more willing to do what I wanted it to. After destroying a pair of marigolds instead of my hands (you live and learn) I took a wrecking bar to it and broke the fucking screws. Very satisfying it was too. Then I used an impact driver to screw it back on, which is a little bit of a sledgehammer to crack a nut but this flat eats screwdrivers and I know where my powertools live.

Strangely they posted me two loo seats. I’ve only got one loo so the other one is surplus to requirements. It’s not the sort of thing you can resell on eBay… “One careful owner. Reasonably good diet.” If you’re broke and the one thing you need more than anything else is a good loo seat, let me know. I can think of a bunch of Central London pubs immediately where I’d be tempted to just mail it to them for free in the hopes I could use the only cubicle they have when they reopen.

Maybe I’ll put it on eBay starting at £3 plus postage and see who bites on the second hand loo seat market. Ha. If it sells on a day where loads of other stuff is selling it’s worth the hassle to lump it in with the rest of it.

At least I’ve successfully started the planned work in the flat, despite my new stupid handheld gaming device thing. Ironically the game that comes with it is all about working hard to make your home less of a shithole. I spent a large part of this morning pulling up weeds and picking fruit. Animal Crossing is the perfect lockdown game. You can’t really play it for too long in one day… You run around having banal conversations with saccharine manimal things. I’ve got a monkeydude and a deerwoman. It’s all presided over by a family of raccoons who must be on some sort of a racket as they’re available for you to bust in on them at any time of the day or night just to ask questions like “What should I do … ?” They never lose patience it seems.

The father is even building me a house overnight and he doesn’t mind when I pay him. I haven’t given him a penny yet. One of his kids’ll buy any old shit from me, even weeds.

I reckon me, the deer and the monkey – we’re all gonna end up on a slab with no kidneys with those raccoon twins standing over us saying “CAN WE KILL HIM DAD kill him dad ? ?”. But in the meantime I can go fishing or catch bugs or hit rocks with shovels to get iron ore and there’s even this owl who showed up this morning and wants to make a museum full of whatever rubbish I give him…

An hour of game admin. Minimum two hours of life admin. Repeat. It seems to be working. I had about 2 hours playing and the life work got addictive after lunch.

I’m not sleeping though – and this started before the Switch came through the door in case you’re wondering. Last night 4 hours total sleep 9.15 to 1.15 after absolute 0 the night before. At 1.15 I woke with my first proper uncontrollable nightmare for like 30 years – (I usually have a hand on the tiller). Sleep from thence? Not a chance.

Exercise will do it. Activity. Well… Tomorrow I’ve definitely got to go the the pet shop as I’ve run out of mice… And it’s the real world, not the game, where I’ve got a snake friend who wants a mouse in a packet. Perhaps I’ll be able to trade one for a fish with Tom Nook the raccoon. Or catch one in my net…

This is the raccoon. From a previous version of the game. As you can see you can design your own space. However you desire. Just like life.

I wonder if anyone will put in a carpet in lockdown…

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Hermes the keen eyed messenger?

Every twenty minutes throughout last night I popped up suddenly with another thought, another memory. Things I never said and should have. Things I very much said and shouldn’t have. Things I forgot and things I remembered. Old things. Dead things. Moments where I’ve found myself belittled or frustrated or bullied or grieving. Life stacks up with these things and occasionally in the night our brain decides to run a little slide show of fuckery.

My first night trying to sleep sober for a fortnight… My brain is a bastard. It’ll get easier, I know that from experience. But it’s nights like last night that make me want to slap myself. I eventually stopped trying at half five, switched on the light and started reading. Breakfast at six and now I’m just weathering the day like it’s jetlag in the hopes that I’ll get back into a good rhythm if I can make it to evening.

The incompetents at Hermes are trying to deliver a parcel bless them, so I’m waiting downstairs in case they’re sucked into a wormhole trying to get to my doorway. It’s a nice enough day and an excuse to be outside for a wee while. Never fear, I won’t go near them when they show up. I’ll just shout advice to them from a safe distance. Once, they left a package on the steps of the block next door when I was home waiting for it. Another time they dumped it unceremoniously in my neighbour’s garden and the caretaker found it. I know from friends that they often put your stuff by the bins the evening before they go out.

Yesterday I was in my flat all day. That’s what we do these days. It’s all the rage in April 2020, staying at home. Nevertheless Hermes sent me an email explaining to me how I wasn’t home, which surprised me more than anyone. I thought about leaving a note by the door today explaining that if they push the button with the number corresponding to the flat number written on the label then a bell will be caused to sound inside my home that will alert me to their presence. I decided against it in case they can’t read.

I haven’t slept so I’m cranky.

But it’s a nice Spring day. The caretaker is strimming the lawn where they like to leave packages. There are certainly more cars on the road than there were a week ago, and fewer people wandering aimlessly up and down the Embankment. It’s still pretty quiet though. I can stand in the main road and take pictures.

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I’m checking my email every few seconds in case Hermes suddenly announce that the dog ate my package.

HERE HE IS. Diáktoros! The giant killer. Keen eyed emissary. Son of Zeus. Messenger of the gods! He’s left his winged sandals at home. He’s slouching out of his van like a potato.

I managed to get away without sniping at him because, fuck it, he’s working, keeping things ticking over, and delivering this ridiculous purchase of a Nintendo Switch with Animal Crossing to me.

Oh dear me.

I’m treating myself to an idiotbox with some of The Tempest pay cheque. And why not – YOLO (You only lockdown once) Or I sincerely hope that to be the case.

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Food instead of tidying

I think I had to watch Un Flic by Jean-Pierre Melville for A level French. That might explain why I stopped caring about it halfway through just now and switched off my daily movie to write this to you instead. It’s the first one I’ve given up on.

I guess I don’t have to get something out of everything I watch on Mubi, and frankly I’m pretty tired of French movies as I’m always comparing my version to theirs.

I want something epic in either English or q language I know nothing of. Kurosawa’s “Ran” just came on today, so maybe I’ll go to that tomorrow instead of watching a Brian de Palma scare flick. But then as soon as I bring choice into it then I’ll start overthinking. Maybe best to stick with my discipline of watching whatever film is leaving every day. That’s how you get surprises. And occasionally, as now, how you get bored and switch off.

Knowing I need to tidy, I instead decided to spend time cooking. I cooked up some Hake with tomato millet, and put way too many capers in the salsa verde.

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Then I ate it in a tiny patch of cleared space at the dining room table. I can tidy tomorrow. And tomorrow. And tomorrow.

I haven’t left the house all day. Not even to buy booze. This was a deliberate ploy by daytime Al to foil nighttime Al’s inevitable desire to consume an entire bottle of wine. The only wine I’ve got in the house is special and I’m strong enough to leave it well alone. Perhaps, had I been tiddly, I would have enjoyed Un Flic more. Sober it was all too slow and self-important and French, and everybody was interchangeable.

I do love film though, from around the world, from through the ages. I think it adds to the joy of a good movie when you have a finger on the artifice behind it. It’s like when you go to the theatre and see a wonderfully executed trick. Some moments of artifice will stay with me forever.

I think I also found Un Flic hard to watch because the bastards kept on going into restaurants and bars and art galleries in Paris. I really want to be going into restaurants and bars and art galleries in Paris!

I know that this time will be valuable if I activate it. Now that The Tempest is on a backburn for a while, I can really make sense of my home without the guilt I might normally have about doing something that doesn’t involve chasing the magical actingfish. The only other thing that’ll benefit me is to get a showreel cut nicely before this all opens up again. When the doors open, every unit in UK television will be filming off the scale to catch up on content. My calling card is weak – it still has a montage, which is considered a crime against showreels. And it can pretty much all go in the bin in favour of better recent footage.

Things to do. What will I do? Stay tuned for the next episode of “Al somehow finds anything to occupy his time but for the tidying of his personal space.”

Three shows, late booze

It’s 9pm on a Saturday night and I’ve got a show in two hours. Very weird. Our third show today and the final one of this run.

My post show hand to mouth is ingrained enough that I’m having to distract myself so as not to break my own hard rules about booze and acting. It’s a strange sort of acting this, installing myself in a pool of light in my living room, frequent unusual bursts of activity, spit water over myself, go and unload the dishwasher, get the lasagne out of the oven and eat three mouthfuls, put it down, check teeth, speak poetry with snake on head, finish, prevent snake from falling into lasagne, eat lasagne, don’t eat snake, get tangled up in wires, talk to a load of pets, speak more poetry, hug myself, dance in the living room, dismantle, set up again, repeat. THE TEMPEST!

It wouldn’t be right to do it drunk even though I bet a good 50% of the audience will be trollied.

After the late show tonight then I’ll be out of work again for a bit. Stepping into the world with everybody else. Perhaps a chance to finally tidy up this carnage of a living room that I’ve ended up making as the world shifts into strange summer.

I’m sure I’ll find something else to make or do. But it’s worth remembering that downtime is valuable as well as constant frantic activity interspersed with bouts of numbing myself.

I’d still love to have a holiday but who knows how long it’ll be before we can do that sort of thing again. None of us can predict the future. It’s hard enough making sense of this weird present that we’re all stumbling through.

I’m gonna treat May as a holiday. My original plan was to make the flat lovely and then go away for The Chelsea Flower Show and rent the place. That ain’t happening. Flower Show is cancelled and holidays aren’t possible. Instead I’ve taken all the pictures down and filled the place with lights and cushions and surfaces in weird places and wires. Rationalising it would be a very good use of my time. Sorting cables etc. Making things feel less cluttered. eBay selling instead of buying. Clearance.

Today’s Mubi looks interesting so I’ll likely get stuck into that. Primer. Made by native English speakers for a change so no reading, but I suspect I’ll have to give it my full attention and not let it blow past like last night’s sad alcoholic requiem to a chaosmaster.

Half nine. The bath is close to full so I’m going to get in. I’m gonna be ready for bed by the time this show comes round. Maybe I could just have a snooze and let Hex do my lines. I make most of them up anyway. But no. Max would notice. My brother’s in the audience tonight. With his kids.


Well. I missed the Mubi. Lovely to see Max and family in. Once again a wonderful week helping people share experience. This is a medium that can be explored further. It’s not a replacement, because much of the joy is in the hankering after what we have lost. When I hug my son but don’t. When they pass engagement rings. We will never replace live theatre, but we can make something live through a screen that works for now. More satisfying than a “live” stream video, which is basically just a film with famousy mcfamous.

Depending on timeframes, this’ll be the live medium for a while. Nobody thinks it’ll be like this forever. Right now, though, famousy  mcfamous is having lights and a screen and an instruction video sent. If they need interim craftsman they can look at our company. Maybe they can promote some of the wonderful humans in our company to famousy mcfamous. I’ll sponsor them.

Here’s my playing space. I actually have a greenscreen that I’m not using currently. Because the beanbag is invisible to the wall. And right now I’m happy to roll that way at the expense of occasional tiny glitches, as it allows effects.

Making stories that make people happy is greater than vanishing up your arsehole about your own established self importance. Maybe finally there can be a shift in my industry. Dare to dream! We are making a lovely silly thing that connects people. We are making live art. And I’m half asleep so I’m just going grammatically finish this sentence and go to bed.

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The bottle is the gun

Today I’m writing while a biographic documentary of the life of Sterling Hayden runs in the background. It’s today’s Mubi. An independent soul, Hayden. An alcoholic at the end. A man of chaos and a man of water. Much I understand in him.

This was shot four years before he died, very much alive living on his wonderful boat in France, with validation tics aplenty. I’m not sure how much I trust him and I’m not sure how much I trust the film maker not to stitch him up, this old man who hit a vein in youth and who lived well and forward, and took his luck when it came. Big tall man living hard and well, and bravely. Now sunk into booze.

Another week done and suddenly there’s money in the bank. I talk to my agent and again I contemplate how fortunate I am to know that I’m represented firmly by somebody who gets me and is at the top of her game. This is a launch pad, even in this shit. I got paid today for pretending to be an auditor just before we locked in. Now I’m pretending to be a king and one of the only guys employed in live theatre. Next week I get to wind down and maybe to tidy my flat at last.

Kitcat calls this flat my ship. I know what she means. Nautical things everywhere, water visible from the window. Here I am floating above the world. I have a glass of wine in my hand. And I’m watching an actor with a good twenty years on me as he drinks Jonny Walker Red Label from the bottle and extensively justifies it to the camera. He died four years later, and I know how the body shuts down because I’ve seen it happen to too many people I love.

“I’m all fucked up because I’m alone,” he is telling us now. Classic symptoms of depression. He can’t see what he has. Only what he hasn’t. And how many of us have fallen into these traps? Still, every time I watch this celebrated man swigging without a glass, be it wine or sherry or whisky, my spine tingles.

In this endless April, many of us are drinking more than is helpful for us. Exercise is harder as we have to do it on purpose. I have usually managed to get enough running and yoga in the course of my work. I’m not doing that right now. My spare tire needs deflating. I need to break the habit of a lifetime and go to one of those hideous classes where someone tells you what to do. I have non-hideous friends running them and have missed multiple opportunities to do a free one taught by Claire.

Oh fuck. Hayden is talking about suicide as he slowly drowns himself. He’s namechecking his heroes. Virginia Woolf. Hemingway. Good references. Both took themselves out, one with water one with fire. “Where’s the gun?” he asks, deep in the bottle. The bottle is a gun. A wet gun.

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We mustn’t succumb to this temptation to take a free pass out of life. There’s so much we can change from the inside, nothing from the outside. Particularly if we know death by name. Lots of people don’t. Our fear of death allows us to accept constrictions on our freedom. But death happens all the time, everywhere, and shouldn’t be feared. No need to speed it up for yourself or others, but why kill your life in fear of it ending?

The science of dying and being reborn again

I’ve just watched Testament of Orpheus by Jean Cocteau. My daily Mubi film. It’s an incredible engine for thought, this Mubi subscription. Autumn Sonata with all of the Bergmans still haunts me and I watched it days ago. Cocteau will stick with me even longer.

In the last two days I’ve been guided through Jean from young man playing with a new form to Jean as old man saying farewell whilst being fully aware of his possibility of legacy and irresistibly fucking with it. Over the course of two movies I’ve learnt to adore this weird mobile French poet. He questions authority and destabilises his own platform in a way that I think is terrifically important – for whatever my word is worth, considering I’m usually writing drunk. I’m thrilled to have been introduced to Cocteau and his incisive self-aggrandising self-denigration.

This time at home is powerful if we allow it to be, for the rest as much as for the making. I slept most of the day today and I don’t give a fuck. I needed it. Normally I’d be livid with myself thinking about all the things I might have missed. But my body was tired, my head was tired, I went to bed drunk after ranting about Bezos. I woke up tired and hungover, had a conversation with an old friend, and went back to sleep for 4 hours.

I didn’t get up until afternoon and even then I just made coffee and did nothing and did it joyfully. I feel rested now, lighter, less stuffed with pomp. And it’s ok. This is the flipside to the loneliness.

Nobody was worried about me because nobody knew I was down. I recharged my batteries and when I was back online I plugged back into the world and it was still there. I wouldn’t manage more than 24 hours offline like that before one of my dear friends started messaging everybody they could think of that knows me, so I know I’m supported. That too is incredibly powerful to know. This blog as well – it doesn’t show up and people worry. I’ve got precedent for bad scheduling though, which gives me some wiggle room. But I’m unlikely to be eaten by rats after the big cardiac before someone catches on.

So yes, I’m thinking about film as an art medium, in the light of the fact that I now have loads of kit to make a greenscreen and so forth. I suspect I’m going to be throwing some stuff against the wall that I think is interesting, although rest assured it won’t be me in MCU worthily delivering somebody else’s text for about two minutes longer than our attention span. That particular medium is covered and covered covered. People have either done it wonderfully or horrendously, and either way I’m not feeling the need to add to it. But I’m thinking of other shapes and patterns that might satisfy my interest in the live video medium. Surely it is about making it NOW. That’s what Cocteau would’ve done and I’m now making him my inspiration after the playfulness I’ve seen through him.