Starting Shantaram on a grey day

This damp grey sad day has caused me to escape into a book.

In Chelsea where I woke this morning I found a small victory by opening a window that has long been painted shut. It didn’t need to be opened today, the heatwave having passed, but when I’m here I’m often attempting to make small changes and improvements. That change is necessary, as for the few short days of heat in this country my flat becomes a sauna if a breeze can’t be coaxed through it. I should’ve broken the paint a long time ago.

My need to do something – anything – drew me to the Chelsea Physic Garden with Kitcat. Open to limited numbers it is a tamed wild on my doorstep. An apocalypse might cause it to be the hub of a new ecology as quinine and coca and maple trees and tobacco march in through the cracks in the pavements and spread down the banks of the old father Thames. For now the garden is pruned and manicured, a place to take a turn around and observe these wildlings tamed. The greenhouses are roped off to humans but still there’s an approximation of nature and a certain degree of peace to be found right on my doorstep. Nothing like the ancient peace of the heath, but something nonetheless. A little fenced off oasis. Fifty pounds a year. There’s even a café where you can buy absurdly priced wine. I didn’t look to see if it was open.

Now I’m back by the river, book in hand, happy not to feel the urge to rush to Hampstead. I have to record a monologue for a friend there soon, and do my tax returns, but all in good time. For today I’m content to sit here on my sofa above the road and the river, in companionable silence with Kitcat.

I’m happy to read to read the beginnings of this strange and human memoir someone gave me – a traveller’s book – Shantaram. I’m happy to stop on a Monday and feel.

Sadness is still in the air. The clouds and the wind and the drop in pressure and in temperature. As we walked down Royal Hospital Road earlier we saw the removal vans, spelling the end of a London dream for another household. This city is losing its lustre. We came from all over, drawn by the promise of work, willing to destroy ourselves just to make rent and be there for the endless idea of the chances. “You have to be in London. It’s where they cast everything. Even if they shoot it in Yorkshire it’s cast in London.”

I might as well be in The Isle of Man at the moment. I can send The Tempest from there, record my audio, my self tapes, join the zoom meetings that bring variation to the week, say hello to the fairies, blow down marine drive, spank my bike up to 200mph legally, jump in the sea, make conversation with wheyfaced bankers who have a “repeat” button jammed down in their foreheads, sink into desperate boredom, go fishing, eat kippers for breakfast, stare for hours at a pebble dashed wall clutching a pint of Okells while somebody tells me about their cousin’s uncle’s son’s lumbago, get mired in petty bureacracy… Ok I’ll stay in London for now. One day I’ll go back to the sea. But fuck it, this shit can’t last forever.

Shantaram makes me want to travel again though, to open up to new faces and places. It’s going to get dark, but it carries great light. I am not myself without the travel, but for now it has to be in my imagination.


Sad bomb

Quite suddenly, at about six o’clock this evening, a wave of sadness cut through me. I was walking down the river, past empty rowing clubs and football fields. The sadness came in like a bludgeon. It isn’t just my sadness, although that’s present, mixed up with uncertainty about the future. But this is me in my capacity as sponge. I’ve long considered it to be an unspoken part of my job, to try to convert negative energy into something positive. I can soak up quite a lot of it and convert it before I have to spit the flies out. But today, suddenly, just now, it crept up on me. It’s everywhere, at the moment, clinging to people’s shoulders as they walk, steaming in puddles where their heavy feet have trodden, swirling from the edges of their eyes in dark and muddled tendrils. Discomfort. Rage. Pain. Fear.

I’ve been totally open since I got back from the woods. Wide open, feeling and observing. And I’m remembering why that’s difficult in this town at the best of times. So many stories, so much tightly pushed in pain. The simmering rage of fragile egos and of victims. Entitlement crashing against resentment. Messes of jumbled emotion. All stirred up with masks thrown in for good measure. And we in theatre are not alone in having no idea if there’ll be an industry to come back to – if this murderous uncertainty ever comes to an end. The structures we relied on, the things we took for granted… All gone. Hubris to think there was a structure. That there was longevity. That there was logic or justice.

Dark clouds are rolling in over the river as I walk. The atmosphere is depressurising after the heat of the last few days, bringing the release of wind and rain and of this sadness. I’ve stopped for a moment in an unobserved cornice, the wall of what was once a pub and will be again, but now is just an empty house, loosely sheltered from the wind and the dashes of wet in the air. I’m trying to untie the knots in my stomach that seem to have come from nowhere – a demonbaby of anxiety.


I just phoned my friend and it was clear she’d just been crying. This pressure shift. It’s easy to lose track of how subject we are to basic atmospheric events. The pressure is a huge one – it’s why I fill my house with barometers. We’ve been shoved into our boxes and stifled behind masks as the atmosphere pushed us down. Suddenly it’s lifting again and we can breathe and the sadness is shrieking out of us.

So I went to see an old friend and her dog, who were both nearby when the sadness bomb dropped.

I looked after that dog for a few months of her honeymoon. He is a calm and wise friend, carrying trauma, but filled with that immediate doggy love. We got on very well back then and still now.

It was good to see him again. And very good to see my old friend. The longer you’ve known someone the easier it is to find equilibrium through their eye on you. I feel mended. But watch out for sad bombs.

Litter in the sun

In Barnes people crowd next to each other all the way down the river wall. I am sent videos from Brighton of thousands of people on the beaches. Hampstead Heath is infested with people, young and old, sitting in groups, booze and stories and laughter. “Nature is the only show.” Maybe that’s a good thing? Huge groups of fashionable young people are scattered over the grassy patches on the heath

These kids, when they might have been revising for their exams (or celebrating the end of them.) They’re outside, plugged into what nature they can find, the sun on their skin, the ground beneath their feet, experiencing reality with bugs and flies and plants, rather than a curated sanitised version of reality sold to them by cruel billionaires.

A normal summer would find them all packed into plasticated basements and buildings made up to look the same whether they’re in London or in Lima, buying painburgers, or £7 pints of chemically treated lager, or £12 glasses of headache wine, or munged up chickens that never saw daylight. Now at least they’re under the sun, even if it’s a plastic packet of ground up pig bits they’re faceshoving.

At least the places look different and there aren’t screens constantly bombarding them with information and a sense of relative unimportance. The call to the familiar won’t be so hardwired in them as they grow older, perhaps. Maybe they won’t be so afraid of things that they haven’t experienced already by the time they reach what passes for adulthood. “Shall we go to the park?” might be a suggestion that is met with approval. Maybe they’ll be slightly wider angle than the adults we seem to have at the moment who are looking for a single reason to dismiss each other’s entire argument so they can carry on being self-preserving garbage grinders.

The downside to it is, in the pub, in the stadium, the fast food outlet, the cinema – in the usual indoor haunts, there is frequently somebody whose job it is to pick up the crap we drop. Not in the park. Not on the beach.

We are descending on these gorgeous outdoor spaces, enjoying a few hours of connection with them and each other through them, and coating every inch of them with tiny bits of plastic and packets and bags and cans and tissues and bottle caps. It’s worse on the beach where the sea will take them quickly and add to the mess of suffocating plastic that, if nothing else does, will eventually be enough to trigger a proper extinction event. But even on the Heath I tend to come home with a bag full of other people’s crap, (when I can be bothered to and have remembered a bag).

It might only be a few weeks before all the London parks are stinking flyblown dumpgrounds. If we are the custodians of this planet we are doing a spectacularly awful job of it. Pick your own stuff up, and why not take more than just what you made? It’s so beautiful here and this is a glorious summer where many of us can rest for a change. Let’s set some intentions. But let’s do it in a way that isn’t judgemental or passive aggressive. People are looking for any excuse to dismiss things that don’t fit their convenience.

Lazy buggers. But we can only do what we can do. Enjoy the sunshine!


Making hope, somehow

Going through Waterloo and seeing “We’ll be back” on the outside of The Old Vic sends a bolt of sadness through me. I’ve never worked there. I’ve never met for them. I hope it’s true they’ll be back. But…


This lockdown has come at a time in my professional life where that sort of meeting was looking like a possibility. Just in time for this universal shutdown. I’ve got some lovely credits recently in the can. I was hoping to roll with some momentum. Hum.

There are so many people in my industry, so many good hearts committed to making shared experiences in theatres or telling wild and wonderful tales on camera. And the cinemas are reopening but not the theatres, and this government plan for the theatres makes very little sense and certainly isn’t looking at how to cover the often astronomical cost of renting the buildings which is why tickets sometimes rise to the hundreds of pounds, and why you have to pay in gold for a thimble full of beer.

Even if the actors on those major stages haven’t frequently been me yet, I still want to see those actors being paid handsomely for their work and for the time it took for them to hone their craft.

I always dared to think – I still DO dare to think – that eventually my openhearted gung-ho tenacity will result in a period where those jobs and that joy looks in my direction and I can butter more parsnips. The constant low income over years and years hopefully balances out after decades of tenacity when you get to be part of a community in a beautiful place making stories for a decent wage. So long as you don’t then blow it all on £40 glasses of wine in late night clubs.

But there’ll be none of that if the whole industry goes tits up. It’s starting to happen. The dominos are falling.

Beautiful buildings outside of London, anchoring communities – some are already winding up, others on their last legs. We can’t let these places – the result of generations of love and sweat and passion – we can’t let them turn into JD Wetherspoon’s, even though the beer will be much cheaper. Surely there are new business models and new ways of engaging audiences. The internet can be better used through the creative process to drive connection and ownership. It would be a comfort to know that the government might help financially, but if they aren’t going to do so what else can be done to do the work and to connect that work to community, to that specific building and to the all important money?

Not that I know. But all that work and time and passion… Lifetimes of it measured across thousands of thick skinned good hearted optimists… I’m scared to see what might happen to my industry if we don’t all find ways in which we can pull together to make delightful things that work and that sell and keep the buildings open.

This hot day I’ve been meeting old friends. Good hearts and makers, all of them, in different ways. I’ve got a whole weekend of it coming up. Planning and plotting and making and laughing and connecting. Remembering and forgetting together.

Apparently we will be allowed to rehearse soon. For WHAT?? For broadcast. WE CAN DO THAT IN OUR LIVING ROOM ON ZOOM. THEATRE NEEDS TO BE LIVE AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA

All will be well, somehow. But this is a dark time for the people I love. Many of my friends are in tatters. I’m very glad I went to the woods.

Words and meanings

I’m lying on the heath thinking about words.


Some people can get very exercised over the names we have chosen to give things, as if accuracy was more important than intention and meaning. It’s strange. As Shakespeare observed, “that which we call a rose / by any other name would smell as sweet.” If the intended meaning is conveyed, then the word has done it’s work, surely?

As a kid I wrote a long form essay, terrible from beginning to end, attempting to talk about the whole history of the world from beginning to us. “Primeval soup” was a phrase I used, and one of my teachers said “technically you should have said primordial soup”. I asked him “to mean what?” and he said “all the mess of matter and liquid at the earliest point in history,” and I thought “well he knew what I meant so what’s the issue?”

Sometimes language becomes about ownership. The in-crowd.

Arrogant ugliness. “I know the jargon better than you ipso facto I am better than you.” How many of you have been momentarily excluded from a conversation because some statusarse corrected your jargon?

I did a Latin in the last paragraph. You didn’t have to know precisely what it meant because the sentence and the context – hopefully – told you. So that’s fine. It’s when you use your specialist knowledge to deliberately exclude others that you should have your nose shaved off with a cheesegrater.

At the Buddhist meeting the other night we were talking about “Nam myo ho renge kyo,” which we chant. Nam is Sanskrit, the rest is Japanese. There’s a lovely mischief at the heart of Nichiren’s practice that says it doesn’t even matter if people don’t know what it means, it’s just about the chanting it.

“If the meaning doesn’t matter, what if we just chant it all in Sanskrit?” asks one of us. And yeah, why not try it? But I guess some of these words and phrases, these sounds and these praises – we’ve arrived at them after years of hunting and perhaps the time spent securing them has deepened their usability. Nam myo ho renge kyo is a choice. It could have been Plip plop bingle bungle boop, but it isn’t, and if you start chanting that one you’re likely on your own, even if it might be fun for a bit. If you chant Nam myo go renge kyo you’re inevitably doing it simultaneously with loads of people all over the world, and plugging in a little bit to that huge web of connection and resonance that shoots through every living creature in every time and every version of reality in this mess of space we’re stuck in.

It’s rife in the spiritual community, this linguistic one-upmanship. It’s a useful way of seeding out the true practitioners from the frauds who do it for ego and money. If somebody slaps you down for getting it wrong they’re probably male and definitely arses.

I was talking with Louise the other day. “Nobody was using the phrase ‘holding space’ ten years ago,” she observed – “but it’s very helpful and we know exactly what it means. I wonder where it came from.” She’s right. It is helpful – and sounds American to me… So we use it. And as long as you don’t correct somebody for saying “running the experience” or “being in charge of the ceremony” then I won’t get the cheesegrater.


Yesterday afternoon I was driven back from the woods, and started trying to plug myself back in to reality. I hadn’t slept at all the night before. I wrote the most sense I could, left a few incomprehensible messages on people’s phones and joined a Buddhist meeting on Zoom where I probably came across as batshit crazy. Even the blog yesterday was bulked up with a poem.

Today I’m still screen averse. I want to be alone with nature to properly try and break down what I might have learnt over the course of the healing. Eternity is a lot to sift through, and it feels like we went round a number of times. Having been in the woods a few days I was wide open, and trusting Jethro totally I let him work on me and opened myself wide.

If souls go round and round then lots of us have been doing it since the dawn of creation. The splintering from silence to reality. The word, or the thought, or the explosion that bust us from nothingness into everythingness. Then the splintering of consciousness over time to form all these worlds and all these times existing simultaneously a fingers breadth away from one another, filled with exchangeable opposites – light and darkness, death and life, creation and destruction – it has carried a lot of shards of awareness.

I completely lost track of who I was quite early in the process. My personal consciousness got whacked out of me and replaced by webs of connection and thoughts coming at a speed and frequency that defied time. We went deep into a journey through spacetime connecting with aspects of possible past lives and things totally outside my comprehension that somehow made some sort of sense. At one point I believe I was speaking an ancient version of Chinese, at another a dead language, but my recollection of these moments involve a totally different place and shape to me, and vocal placements and sounds that I didn’t know I could make, coming easily. It’s nice to use the word “I” now, as that seemed ludicrous for a while. I’m going to use it, although “this one,” or “we” makes a lot more sense.

Anybody that does this sort of thing recreationally is a fuckwit. I almost jumped into the fire at one point and I’ve got a history of lucid dreaming. And the fact I didn’t put my shoes in the fire thinking they were logs is testament to the fact that even in one of the most cosmic states of being I’ve ever experienced I can still occasionally look out for myself. Base level self preservation. It’s a skill.

There was a moment where I grounded for a second and thought with perfect clarity: “this is the DMT release from the pineal gland at the point of death, slowing time and providing strange visions. I’m dead. How unusual that I’m hallucinating three nights in the woods. Or did I just have a heart attack? Damn. There’s still so much left to do!”

There were three moments where I was wiped out violently – assassinated by cosmic beings. I came back because I had a scratched up two pence piece in my back pocket that I didn’t even know I had that somehow came to represent the secret spark of life. “Didn’t know about that did you you fucker!” They did, of course. They had let me back. It felt like I was playing out a reflection of some ancient moment – Prometheus stealing fire, perhaps. It was hellish. Temporarily saved by mischief, and all of creation in a mangled 2p piece.


I wanted to go back into life. So clearly I’m enjoying whatever this is. And clearly there’s stuff I need to do or they wouldn’t have let me.

It feels like I trod a fine line between life and death for a while but I’ve got a chance to do things better going forward. After they killed me a few times they took everything out and put most of it back but it was a hard thing to experience. It seems to have changed some things inside me though. Quite a lot didn’t go back in and I don’t think I’ll miss it.

I don’t want booze right now. It was my weapon of choice against myself and now it feels I’ve been given a sense of where I was heading with that relationship. I also don’t want to eat meat, which is a very unusual sensation, having sat by the fire gorging rare ribeye steaks with my hands just two days previously. In fact I’ve been vegan since I got back although I doubt that’ll last but it’s worth a try for a while.

Considering I got out of the cosmic tribunal literally by the skin of my teeth, I need to make sure I make some use of this chance to go back and pretend I’m called Al Barclay and that I have meaty arms and legs and am subject to time.

It took me a long time to find myself again in the morning. “I’ve got my wife and kids,” says Jethro. “They’re a strong draw to life. I worried about you as you haven’t got so much to pull you back”. Ow. Yes. But somehow my call to life is strong. My friends. My joy. My calling.

Dawn had broken. I refused to sleep though – I couldn’t sleep – the threat of oblivion hung too close for me to risk sleep until I was sure it wouldn’t stealthily bring death.

Instead I wandered in the woods mumbling to myself. I knew my name but my memory was clouded to the point of being totally unapproachable. I was a few unfamiliar people simultaneously. We sat beneath an oak and chanted, trying to use this empty-headedness as an opportunity channel the Shakyamuni who we blearily understood found Nirvana under a tree.

I started to remember pieces, but in the back of the car I was still about as useful in conversation as a Furby. I then went on a mission back to Hampstead, partly to make sure the snake was watered, and partly because if I’d wandered into my Chelsea block as I was, covered with mud from head to toe, the gossip would’ve been inevitable and dull. So I got a cross town Uber to Mel’s.

“Excuse the mud,” I said to the driver. “I’ve been gardening. Digging around, cutting off the bad stuff. I’m exhausted. It’s hard work, gardening.” True on one level. True enough not to be a lie. “What’s it like, being a gardener?” “You get dirty. But if you cut the right bits off then you can make something beautiful. So long as you keep maintaining it. It’s the maintenance that’s key.”

Miles and miles… Here we go.

But I have promises to keep. And miles to go before I sleep. And miles to go before I sleep.

It’s a poem, of course, by Robert Frost. I started quoting it in yesterday’s blog when I don’t think any of us could have anticipated how many times we’d have to go round and round to come out the other side.

“Whose woods are these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.”
I wonder what it means when people say they’ve had a healing. Have you had one? I thought I had but then last night helped me remember what I’d forgotten again. I had a healing and didn’t quite expect how huge it might be and how deep we’d go. A lot extracted and dumped. So much. And now what are we doing?
It’s all in the last three lines. I have promises to keep. And oh hell the break of the rhyme scheme to bring in the way those miles are going to take their toll but they must be gone and gone and gone and who will go if we don’t do it? So we’ve got to. Because we love it. Because we’ve got it. In all the senses. We’ve all got it if we look. The good bits and the weeds. It’s this or nothing. Let’s make it this and make this good.
A gardener has to make a judgement to cut or to keep. If it’s not doing something helpful, might as well cut it, another one will come that might be better might be worse. That’s realities as much as individuals of course. And it’s only when the gardener starts thinking about how clever the gardener is that oops you missed a bit, clever you, but mostly we cut the bad bits and leave the good bits because otherwise what are we doing because it’ll all just come back anyway so might as well make it as good as we can… …
We kept on cutting my head off in multiple realities only to have it come back into the corner of my eye laughing at us. “Did you experience total ego death,” I’m asked at one point by someone and it’s a question and phrase I haven’t heard before in this one but yes I CV suppose there was that involved a few times forever as we kept on going back to nothing on purpose or deliberately putting it into the trap just to see what happened after a while and maybe this time it’ll work but somehow from the beautiful silence of nothing there was that moment again where everything started with the noticing how well we were doing the nothing and oh fuck here we go again.
Now the Hampstead sun is warming my gnarly tootsie hoofs and I’m going to have a lovely sleep in a bit and I’m aware that there’s nothing to get hold of here because that was the problem apart from : Why am I repeatedly trying to smash myself out of existence and failing by the skin of my teeth? Because I have promises to keep and miles and miles and miles and that’s ok because look at them they’re beautiful and we’ve all put all sorts of stuff in us and we haven’t even looked at half of it and there it all is jumbled up and there we all are jumbled up and it’s ok so long as we put the miles in and keep our promises and do the work and fix what we can and hold each other. Here goes. You’re next.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep

I woke in the dead of night as the fire was dying. Body full of sleep in the deep deep dark, alone. Strange noises on the wind. This used to be a deer park. I know bucks drag their antlers on the side of trees at night and make a heck of a sound. Maybe that? The trees seemed like they were communicating too. Even the shrew – or rat – in the logs near my head was emboldened by the darkness, shuffling and hoffling indignantly.

We are the firekeepers. With knowledge and care we can guide this primal thing to bring us light, to bring warmth, to transform one thing into another. If I’m to share this wood I need to do my job. Plus it was cold.

I banked up the fire but I wanted it to take quickly as I was still clinging onto sleep. Into the tent to get some cardboard from a packet. Then back out and was it a dream or did a little voice somewhere in the dark say “It’s coming back out!”?

Sleep until morning and blearily wake to find that a horsefly has come to my warmth. Buddhism or no Buddhism it wanted to eat me and I’ve already got some nasty welts from them or Lyme’s disease. Morning Al is going to kill this horsefly. They slow down as they seek a landing pad, so I hold myself still, standing arms and legs apart, coiled like a spring, watching it choose a spot. It will land on me, test for penetration, and move if it’s on clothing. I’ll have about a second to strike while it tests. A decisive whack, from directly above, and no more horsefly.

I’m not much good in the morning.

It lands on my balls.

Reader, the horsefly is dead. I struck fast and hard, unthinking as the spring I had coiled released. As I fell to the ground next to it, howling with something that was pain and something that was baffled laughter, I took comfort in the fact that right there – that’s the Buddhism in action. Kill a horsefly, punch yourself in the bollocks. Done and done.

Once the pain subsided, that fundamental pain, we went for a walk. Country lanes and coppices eventually give way to roads and then to Budgens, where you go for your plastic straws and microwave meals if you live out here by nature. I probably should have bought a plaster for the suppurating bite on my hand, but it’s on my right hand. I’ll only knock it off or set fire to it. For now I’ll just have to let the air work and pour Florida Water on it, which hurts like hell but probably stops infection since it’s basically just smelly alcohol. And understood pain can be medicinal, so long as our understanding is that it’s a warning signal for something minor.

Time is strange out here. I’ve been hunting mushrooms and gathering wood ahead of another night doing my job. Jethro will arrive at some point this evening though, and join the circle. One more night in the woods.


The woods! The woods!

About two years ago, at this time of year, I fell out of a tree. I was lucky. Just a broken rib. I lay there for a moment wondering if this was it and wryly observing that my last strong sensation would likely be annoyance at the guy who kept on asking if I was ok when I was unable to speak.

Then the film didn’t go over my eyes and my breath struggled back.

Then I wiggled my toes and never has such a simple action elicited such a huge experience. I AM NOT PARALYSED. Then I got cocky and got someone to jam their elbow into my back “It’s nothing broken, trust me. It’s muscular. If you get in really really hard and deep it’ll help.” Oops.

Then I had a hot bath and accidentally flooded the bathroom.

Then I did Macbeth twice and decided maybe it was a broken rib after all, especially when Macbeth gave Banquo a hearty slap on the back and Banquo involuntarily screamed. Loudly. “Ooh how clever,” they thought. H”was injured in the fight against the merciless Macdonwald.”

Buy that was two years ago!

I haven’t been up a tree since until just now.


Glad to have finally broken the back of it (no pun intended). It’s like falling off a horse, I guess. An unmoving, tall wooden horse that’s shaped differently.

I also did a yoga headstand for the first time since ribday and got in and came out fairly tidily – which means that under all the beer there still might be the remains of stomach muscles. Who knew?

Now I’m sitting in the evening sun. Glory.

I was shocked awake in my bivvy by drops of rain on my face. Apart from bouts of snooze I’ve been awake mostly and just existing here since then.

The woods! The woods!

It’s just Helen and I now. She’s camping at the opposite end of the acreage, in the pines. I can sleep wherever the hell I want with my bivouac though. Even though Jack is gone there’s no way in hell I’m sleeping under canvas, although it makes sense to be near canvas in case it rains.

All the cars are gone, most recently Anna Helena and Cherry who were unexpectedly here as well. A mother with her 3 year old, making memories just before her 4th birthday. What a magical thing to be doing for her. Cherry is now convinced my name is Owl, which makes sense as we met in the woods.

It hasn’t taken me long to go pretty feral. For me though I’m doing well. Just one burn, and I had brought ice for the food so I spent all night clutching something cold and it already doesn’t hurt – (not that feral then). Numerous gouges and scratches. Filth on every exposed surface, be it charcoal or grot. Horsefly took a chunk out of my neck. I’m terribly happy.

I love the fact we can’t get out except by walking until Jethro comes with his car. I’m thinking of things we can make here, in the way I couldn’t be me if I wasn’t.

A bird directly above me is insistently repeating the word “dick” at me, but if that’s the only darkness then I’ll take it. Now there are two of them both doing it. This is how they got the idea for Twitter.

Time passes. I’m by the fire again, under the stars. Wind in the trees. The settling woodland around me. Not even midnight yet but I’m knackered.

First night in the woods

Right now I’m lying by a fire. Above me through a gap in the trees, the stars are bright. I’ve burnt some past, and built foundations for some future.

I’m somewhere in Kent, with two friends, ringing the changes. Apart from a sheep that seems to be going completely mental about something there’s no sound but the roar of the fire. I’ll be sleeping by that fire tonight, in my army surplus bivouac. Mosquitoes aren’t really a problem here tonight – there’s not much standing water nearby. It’s a hell of thing, being here though. In the woods. Under the stars.

Jack is with me as I’m writing, the other side of the fire. “I’ll do this later,” I attempt, knowing that I’m growing tired and the eclipse is early tomorrow for ceremonial purposes. “Write your blog. Get it done. I’m happy with that.”

More and more of my friends get it now. This unmonetised constant expression of my thoughts. Thank fuck for that. It’s hard wired. Even out here. And thanks. Without people engaging, as so many of you do unexpectedly through private message knowing how I’m actually pretty private, I’d have stopped ages ago.

But for now, I’m gonna hang out with Jack despite him making room for blogging. I can write this later.

Hello! This is me, later. I think I might have made the right decision with the bivvy by the fire. When I arrived I put my little area a distance from the pit.


That was misguided. It’s not a tent. It’s a canvas bag that’s a tiny bit more waterproof than a sleeping bag. I bought it from army surplus. Jack is in my emergency tent while my festival tent is at the doctor’s until I have new poles. It makes me understand how many weeks of the summer I habitually try to spend camping. But at Festivals – where my time and expenses are compensated. But where they would never let me build a fire like the one that’s just to my right. And if they did they certainly wouldn’t let me sleep by it like this.

I just wandered barefoot over to Jack’s tent after I realised he had left his music on as he slept. It was playing Don Giovanni, Procession. I really really didn’t want to be listening to  electronic music all night. Sure enough, he was dead to the world. I switched it off.

Now it’s just me and the crackle of the fire, the sound of the wind in the trees and the late late night. A little earlier we also had the drunk kids of Kent singing their way past us on the way home all too close. But now, the leaves, the fire, the air and the gently insistent voice of nature. I’ve never slept next to a fire like this, despite having done it a thousand times in books. There’s a patch of sky above that was clear before but now is clouded. I can hear the unfamiliar cries of animals, the road, the sheep, a small private airplane right now at 3am… But mostly I can trick myself into thinking I’m alone, and it can be about me and the wild. It’s better than anything else I could find so quickly. And it’s perfect.

I’m getting back to nature. I’ll lie here another hour as the fire dies and I’ll feel the world. Then I’ll probably catch a couple of hours nap, and back up early.

I spilt Florida water on my bivvy. If ever there was a way to remind myself of intentions set, it’s that smell as I lie here. Aho. Xx