Halcyon Days

Calm days.

Ceyx was the king of Thessaly in ancient times. This was back when the Gods walked among us more openly. Aeolus, the wind God was one of them – a minor deity blowing around sewing his wild oats. He fathered a few kids with mortals.

His daughter Alcyone fancied a bit of Ceyx and decided to marry him. She was very happy with Ceyx. She loved Ceyx. I can only assume he was well named.

These old stories about Ceyx and all that though – they never end well, and this was no exception. Ceyx drowned. Oh no!

Alcyone was distraught. “Without Ceyx I am nothing!” she likely howled, rending her clothes, tearing her hair, pausing a moment to pose for a pre-Raphaelite painter from the future, and hurling herself into the Aegean sea to drown with Ceyx.

Problem was her dad was a minor God. She didn’t drown. She transformed. Specifically, she turned into a kingfisher. She was then blown by her dad the wind to where her husband was flapping around having also turned into a kingfisher instead of drowning. This is not a regular occurrence in the Aegean Sea – or anywhere. If you want to be a kingfisher, this isn’t the way to do it. I’m not sure there is a way to do it anymore but it’s not drowning yourself. If anyone knows how to turn into a kingfisher let me know. So long as I can change back, it might be fun to occasionally be a kingfisher. Especially at the moment.

Alcyone the kingfisher was happy with kingfisherishness for sure. She had Ceyx again. Lots of Ceyx. Inevitably she made a nest and laid some eggs. This was around the 14th December. 7 days to lay and 7 days to hatch. 2 weeks in the run up to Christmas.

In perpetuity, her dad tries to go easy on the wind for a fortnight in December. Two weeks of calm for Alcyone. A good time to go fishing and stock up on food for a feast in the dead of winter. The Alcyone Days.

Folklore goes that if you hang up a kingfisher carcass it’ll predict the wind direction with its beak because of this ancient storylink between the bird and the wind. Don’t go killing kingfishers to find out. Folklore says a lot of stuff that just turns out to be a bit stinky and unpleasant. Why use a dead bird when there’s an app?

Of course you give a story to the oral tradition and it changes. People quickly forgot the time of year, and started noticing calm times and calling them Alcyone Days, then Chinese whispers made them Halcyon Days.

We could use some Halcyon Days right now with all the pandemic mad panic and the quiet simmering rage.

I’ve got some. But the ones I’ve got aren’t the ones we need. The ones I’ve got are just branded enamel boxes “by appointment to the Queen”, made to be collected by people who have retired. I’m listing them on eBay gradually over time. This is why I’ve been thinking about the phrase, its origin, and how nice it would be to be a kingfisher.

Soberman

Last night was the first time I have ever found myself evangelising about being sober. I need to watch that. It was solicited on this occasion but it’s a slippery slope, that sort of thing. You can very quickly get very boring when you start to talk in detail about your lifestyle choices and the little thoughts and habits that imaginatively separate you from the rest of those other people over there.

“I’m sober.” “I believe in Jesus.” “I work out.” “I watch a particular TV show obsessively.” “I take drugs.” “I’m an actor.” “I’m a sex addict.” Your choices don’t define who you are. They’re just a part of the web.

With that in mind, I’m going to evangelise about being sober on my blog for a while and bore the shit out of you.

But it’s just saved me some money. It’s almost nine on a Sunday night and I’ve just realised I left my iPad and microphone in Hampstead and I’m filming tomorrow in Chelsea and need them. I’m not pissed though so I can drive over and get them. An uber is usually about £20. So that’s money saved.

Not to mention all the money I’m not spending on wine and beer. That’s the practical bit. I’ve already saved loads by not spending.

Fuck me I still miss a good glass of red though. But I’d have one glass of red and then neck the rest of the bottle, look for another bottle, have a whisky toddy to sleep with, finish it wide awake and have a second. Then I’d sprawl open mouthed until morning snoring my dreamless face off. Then I’d wake sore throated, dry and heavy with a nameless indignance at the very existence of the world and the fact I have to interact with it.

I reckon it’ll be a good year before I can fully reprogram my brain, and it might move to longer if I discover that I truly am powerless, like the AA lot are encouraged to admit. But I don’t like being powerless so I’m gonna see.

Right now I feel good and I’m making change. It’s slow but it’s happening. There’s much to do, sure. Kitcat is still very much in the flat so plans have been pushed back. She’s on track to be gone on the 26th which is only a fortnight after her extended deadline without a whisper of rent. It’s good that I’m saving my boozemoney. I’m looking forward to having the place to myself a while.

So yeah. For me it’s a strange magical adventure, sobriety. I’ve been mostly drunk in the evenings and weekends for the best part of two decades. Turns out I can still have fun when I let myself feel things. The first month is far and away the worst bit. Thankfully I had good influences. Lou and her joyful sobriety. Tristan putting himself through the booze free wringer too. And then there’s Covid making sure that all the tempting parties and press nights and shows where the audience buys you a drink are off the table.

On which subject, I’m having a birthday party on Thursday, but only if the weather is nice. Because it’ll be outside on Hampstead Heath. I’m gonna just show up there at about noon and bring my book and make little friends out of sticks and mud if nobody appears. I’ll stay until it’s too dark and cold. I’ll be hideously wonderfully sober, watching sticks or people booze and carouse safely in the outside world. I’ll join in the wassailing if there is wassailing. I’ll drop a pin on my Facebook and share it with anybody who fancies rolling up, and I won’t be incomprehensible by 8pm.

Somebody might even bring a frisbee.

Chickens and cars

It’s rutting season in Richmond Park, so they’ve closed the road through the middle to cars. This made it awkward for Tristan and I. We were following a pin he has dropped leading to a suspected Chicken of the Woods. Not to take, mind you. Foraging is illegal in the royal parks and I am a law abiding citizen your honour. We just wanted to identify it, m’lud. For reasons of curiosity and personal growth through knowledge of the natural world, guvnor. Nature red in gill and spore.

We walked half an hour to the thing, thankfully without getting attacked by horny stags. It wasn’t a chicken. It was some sort of polypore but it was so old it had mostly gone black and it definitely had no desire to be plucked and cooked had we been of the inclination which of course we aren’t, your majesty. Jethro hazarded a very old beefsteak fungus and maybe he’s right. Either way it was a delightful walk in the early evening through the largest of the Royal Parks.

Spot the deer

Back in the day, when the world was less complicated, I used to go hacking once a week through Richmond Park, out of Stag Lodge Stables. I still know exactly where my jodhpurs and chaps are and I still find myself longing to get back on the horse. It’s on my CV – horse riding. I believed it might help me get on the plane to play minor aristocracy in some BBC period piece set in Somerset and shot in Bulgaria. But I literally just don’t know enough casting directors, it seems. A minor oversight. I didn’t think it important at the start of my career

I should probably pay to do some of those “meet the casting director on zoom” workshops but it always seems to be too needy and I wouldn’t be friends with someone who paid to meet me. Still, if I get to say “Shall we go hunt, my lord?” from the back of a beautifully trained Bulgarian steed, before wheeling and galloping off into the sunset then it’ll pay for some of the lessons and be lovely and worth the pride hit. When the industry wakes up fully again.

I’ve got my small part in a Netflix coming out soon and I bloody hope I’ve got a shot or two left in the edit. If I only sorted out my dreadful showreel I might get that sunset shot. But first I need the footage so I can sort out my showreel so I can get the footage. Round and round we go.

Meanwhile Tristan and I went to Waitrose and paid money for some chestnut mushrooms, which was the plan all along and not influenced by the inedible state of the suspected Richmond Chicken which we weren’t going to eat.

We had another driving lesson, with the poor Nissan, which will be no more than a pile of scrap metal before long. Somehow I’m going to get some better wheels now. A car that people can roll their eyes about affectionately. “It’s his pride and joy,” they can say, and they might be right. Problem is it needs to be a transformer, as I want one that is an attractive sleek jaguar type number that turns into a Luton van for moving lots of things and also into a big talking robot. And a kitten. That’s what I want. I might have to compromise on something…

Who am I kidding though? It’ll come down to what I can find that’s in whatever tiny price range I set for myself.

Fires in the trees

I’ve got one tiny glimmer of something akin to hope attached to the fact that there’s a front of rain moving into California. It burns me to hear of those huge ancient trees on fire. Driving through the redwoods on Labor Day in solitude and contemplation last year, I felt the weight of their years. I didn’t know how lucky I was to hit them on a public holiday where I could be alone. Sure, I couldn’t find food or water easily, but I have always felt an affinity with those trees after the boarding school I was sent to aged 8 had one in the grounds. I got to spend a flash of time with them before they underwent more hardship.

Most of the papers are quick to inform us that it was sparked by a pyrotechnic device at a “gender reveal party”, where expecting American parents tell their friends what gender their baby will be and fire a crap firework. I’m not sure why we need to know the cause – it’ll be shit for the kid growing up and I don’t even know if it’s a girl or a boy. Knowing how it started might help to make accidental firestarting more possible to people who think of things like gender reveal parties as commonplace. “Fires are easy to start,” might be the message. “And not easy to put out. Don’t be a tit.”

Walking in the hills last year around this time, looking down on San José from a wood of new growths I commented on the amount of dry birch bark by the sides of the path. “Surely just a cigarette could start a blaze,” I said. “It has before,” said Lisa, and she showed me a chimney tree. Redwoods can survive pretty well in fire, as they become their own chimneys, but nothing could survive the fires I’ve been reading about. And a firefighter lost his life today.

It’s one thing after another at the moment. And now the unkempt sock puppet is starting to close bits of the North and everybody is talking about lockdown again and I really can’t bear to contemplate it happening all over again but colder. At least I’m better now at building a Green Screen with distance and perspective. I can have fun with boys toys. But I’m worried sick about money plus I’m about to speculate on Airbnb. Kitcat is packing her stuff at last. We are gonna try and fit it all in the Nissan and shoot up to Glasgow next week. London to Glasgow. 8 hours. I drove longer than that through the redwoods and thought it nothing…

Corgi Dinky bits

Now it’s toys. I’m learning about toys. While the blacklight torch and the special polish arrive in the post I’ve turned my curiosity, the internet and my Worthpoint subscription to Uncle Peter’s fucked collection of Corgi and Dinky toys from the sixties. Playtime with Peter appears to have involved a vice and a crowbar judging by the state of some of them. I’d be surprised if I picked up much value here, but it’s something to do when I’m not doing all the other things.

I also found – with the help of Max – some potentially very useful pieces of paper. It’s yet another plate to start spinning, and I’m up for it.

Up until recently, the bulk of the things I’ve been sifting through haven’t had any personal connection to me so it was easy. Now I’m handling the childhood toys of my poor departed uncle. It’s sobering – quite literally when you contemplate the means by which he made his exit.

You wear many hats as an actor. My antique dealer hat is getting more and more comfortable. I’m not yet at the level where I can walk into a room full of stuff and go “that one,” I still can’t identify bakelite as I’ve never knowingly handled it. I’m as useless as ever at furniture. But piece by piece my understanding of the different markets is growing. I think it’s the hunger to learn. If I’m playing an astronaut, I’ll geek for weeks about astronaut things. I love researching characters and background and making it live. But the hand of Covid on my industry has shifted my practice into one of the only potentially lucrative roles that were available to me – picker through boxes of random stuff.

This Sunday I’ll list a load of Halcyon Days eggy box type things and whatever I can salvage from this mangled pile of 1960’s metal vehicles that are currently on the bed in Hampstead. Then I’ll go home and make more space in the flat so I can rent it to anybody that wants to come live in central London right now when the world is teetering.

With unnervingly bad timing, service charge has gone up. Now I’m paying the equivalent of a healthy rent payment monthly in service and council tax just to stand still before bills – and with theatre in the bin, it’s completely untenable.

But it’s my birthday soon, and beforehand I get to pick through all these lovely strange goodies. And we keep finding nice little things that neither of us remember. And the only time I’ll ever regret this is when I move into a huge house in the country and realise I haven’t got enough stuff for the space. But when that time comes I know enough now that I can just nip to the auction houses and snap up a few lovely pieces and bish bash bosh.

I even put up a chandelier today. Cor blimey.

Accordion practice

After many years of hacking sounds out of my little squeeze box, I’ve gone on the internet and bought myself a book. It’s time. I want to know which buttons correspond to the numbers people like to shout out while playing music. Music is about spirit and sound and joy and connection, but it’s also about mathematics and practice. I’ve got the abandon bit of it sewn up and in these new careful times it’s probably worthwhile to see what it means to look towards the mathematics. If I can write this every day, I can practice every day as well. I think I’ll earmark the morning and see how it goes, and not consider it broken if I miss a bit. I might even start taking grades so I can put things on my CV for when we emerge from the ruins of our industry in our blasted motley and painted smiles to tell mournful stories to the ones who still have souls.

Right now it’s painfully slow. I’m going through the beginner exercises and practices and having revelations about how quickly the dots on the bar can transfer through the brain to an impulse to move the correct finger. Slowly, piece by piece, this old dog is going to learn an old trick properly. Hell, at least I’ll have something to work towards if we go back into lockdown. And as the owner of two accordions – one for travel and one for stage – it would be a waste to continue to be as clueless as I am about it. Besides, the medicine told me to play. At Medicine Festival, loads of the practitioners brought music into their ceremonies, and later in Glastonbury there was music at the heart of the night we spent awake in the circle. It’s one thing to be a folk musician and play by ear, but I want to be more reliable in my music than that so I can safely play tender pieces without jamming into a complete discord because my fingers are in the wrong place. If we somehow manage to put Christmas Carol on again I want to be able to talk and play at the same time without my eyes rolling backwards in my head. Time for some facility with it.

Although I’m juggling too many plates as it is right now. I’ve got dinner plates to sort out and maybe sell, I’ve got this flat to turn around, hex to take care of, all the random bits and bobs in the world to move around and rehouse and sort and catalogue, plus lines to be easy with for the 21st. Plus I’ve got Kitcat who is clinging like a limpet to London and yet has already paid rent to somebody else in Glasgow. She says she can’t pay me now. I’ll likely have to run her up as a swansong for the old Nissan just to get the room back, although frankly she should just get a Megabus and have done with it. It’ll be like an adventure for her, so long as nobody is throwing up.

All that plus my birthday coming on the 24th. I’m hoping it’s going to be good weather as I’m planning on dropping a pin on Hampstead Heath and then sitting there with a rug and seeing who shows up. It’s outdoors, and it’s lovely on the Heath and there’s enough space that people can sit miles away from each other and shout things.

With all this to do you’d think I’d be motivated, but today I’ve been pretty low energy. I’m confused and a little upset at Kitcat being so willfully oblivious to my needs over her own. I went to the Chelsea Physic Garden and sat on benches in the sunshine under arbours enjoying the heat and distracting myself from the frustrations. There’s so much to do… I have learnt by now that big things get smaller by chipping away, but for today I retreated a little in contemplation of the size of it.

You learn an instrument by playing scales regularly. You solve a mountain of stuff by doing little things often. I’ve been effective this month. Time to switch back.

Back into the fray

Kitcat was supposed to move out on the first of September. I extended it to the 12th as she’s been freaking out a bit.

I got back today wondering if she’d managed to do some packing. I had gone away for the weekend allowing her to spread out and get stuff done. Nothing – or at best very little. I have a feeling this will be a longer process than I desired.

But I’m back in town. I’ll help as much as I’m able. The car is not well though which limits my help.

It’s my birthday on the 24th and I’m filming on the 21st so I don’t fancy making a return trip to Scotland right now especially with the dying car so full of her stuff that I can’t take another load to Tennant’s. I have a suspicion that a laden trip to Glasgow will finish the car off, and I’m pretty much certain I won’t be compensated for my time.

I’m not feeling like being stuck in the lake District broke with a fucked car full of clothes and a sick Kitcat. It’s safer she makes her own way, with her stuff. But it’s gonna need prompting. So I’ll prompt her.

I didn’t do all this cleansing and rebalancing work to immediately get myself tangled up and stressed with other people’s shit so I’m trying to keep an eye on the situation without getting swallowed up in it. I can still continue to work without her unpaid presence being too much of an issue, even though every day that room isn’t monetised is money wasted.

Tomorrow I’m going to suggest she pays another month and then I can just extend my deadline for the works a little. I factored on having the space she’s filling to do stuff in. It’s hard enough moving towards this change anyway, and harder still if she’s not helping me do it.

Still, I feel great apart from that one little issue.

It’s astonishing how effective we can be at ignoring all the good things that are happening and looking at the one thing that isn’t working as if it’s the only thing. Things are good right now. It makes such a difference for me, having a vehicle.

The rattly old Nissan is a perfectly decent workhorse until the MOT falls due next month, even if the numberplate fell off on the way back home, even if the exhaust is attached with bulldog clips, even if the heatshield is rattling again, it hates going into third gear and reverse, one of the tyres has a slow puncture and it makes a horrible banging noise when you turn the wheel. It’s not decent enough to go to Scotland, but it got me to the Tor and back, it’s taught Tristan a fair amount about basic driving skill and it’s made a lot possible despite the initial 6 points and big fine fiasco. The weather is glorious. It’s my birth month. Life is pretty good.

Today I sent off all the junk I sold on eBay and gave my brother his cut minus fees. I’m only selling junk on eBay until there’s a maximum one pound selling fee weekend. But I’m beginning to get to the stage where I’ve moved enough that I can see the end of it.

Long may this Indian summer continue.

I’m gonna have a bath and wind down. I sleep early these days!

Glasto to London

We woke up and watched the dawn at Glastonbury, rosy fingered, light creeping across the ancient hills. The ground was soft and lush as we stomped through long grass in boots and spotted some huge agaric mushrooms in a vast clump in the field like abandoned white balls from a distance, beautiful from close up. We took two for further analysis and possible munching. Not going to take more. Not until there’s a beyond positive ID and even then I’m unlikely to break my “three certainties before I eat it” rule. I am so glad we spent another night in those hills, staying in a hut and dug out of the side of a hill by a lovely man with no neck who makes hydroelectric dams when the world is working, and whose family seems to have left him a good chunk of the best part of Somerset. I’m glad he’s turning the land into places where hippy twats like myself can feel like we are connecting with nature as we trample the fields and rip up mushrooms with mobile phone in hand.

Then we drove back to Brighton, braving the horror of the BP garages in the North Downs where they shout at you if your door is open at the pump. Static electricity igniting the gas apparently. It happened over 170 times across the world in the last decade, although the bulk of those statistics are likely to have been in lightning storms. Nonetheless they shouted at three people in the course of the ten minutes we were there. Safety first.

As sunset was approaching we stopped and slogged up the hill to Chanctonbury Fell, to sit on a bank and connect with another glorious ancient bit of land. I still had half an eye out for mushrooms, but no luck. A beautiful stand of trees on top of a hill though. It’s so good to have wheels again, and be able to safely move around to different outdoor spaces. And to have like-minded company suddenly.

Now we are back at Lou’s. We are both exhausted. Loads of walking and for me, the drive as well. Who knows how I thought I’d do it yesterday. I’m thrilled that there was such a beautiful Airbnb available at short notice last night, and tonight it’s a familiar place and a takeaway curry. There’s road noise out the window but it feels like a homecoming. Tomorrow back to London and to the grind of the plates and antiques and preparing the flat for rental and sending stuff that sold on Ebay and life, but this has been a beautiful and powerful extended weekend. I’m ready to plug in again. But first one more lovely sleep by the sea.

Kambo

I thought I’d be driving three and a half hours to Brighton. We wouldn’t have arrived there yet if we’d done it, but I was in no fit state so I changed plans and booked this amazing Glastonbury Airbnb instead. Why was I in no fit state? Well, Kambo had something to do with it.

Kambo was given to Amazonian warriors before they went to battle, so you’d think I’d be good for a drive afterwards. But I wasn’t. If someone started throwing spears at me the best I’d have managed today is to climb a small tree.

Last night I spent about 8 hours in dialogue with medicine before going out into the open air and seeing the stars. At about 4am I fell asleep in a bivouac on a trampoline under a universe spread wide. To those few of you who haven’t slept on a trampoline in a bivouac, it comes highly recommended. The creepy crawlies aren’t interested so you’re much less likely to wake up within spiders in your ears. The only real issue is condensation and the fact it’s bouncy when you wake up suddenly wondering why the hell you fell asleep on a trampoline.

After my bouncy dreamtime, the frog had to happen, despite my dread. Kambo. I blogged about it before at length with science! Knowing what I’d experienced last time I can’t say I was looking forward to it. But since 2017 I’ve been heavily ingesting toxins, and I’ve always been an exponent of ordeal medicine. Might as well try and wring out the old liver now I’m staring down the barrel of a long time sober still.

I was first in the circle, and thankfully had the forward thinking to remind the practitioner how I passed out last time – in 2017. Nothing has changed. I was out like a light almost immediately but this time we were ready for it and I had that forever lost time in darkness before I switched back home to my body and to somebody saying “You’re back with us”. He was right. Somebody else was gently holding me upright. It was probably only a few seconds of nothing but it could have been infinity. I woke up to a very strong awareness that my belly and my cells and my gall bladder and my liver were fighting with each other to propel their unwanted stuff into my unwanted stuff up through my mouth into the white bucket I was cradling like a pedigree cat.

I pretty much filled that bucket. I was gulping down water in the brief respite moments so I had something to bring back up in the next wave of extreme nausea. It lasted quite a long time. The well being afterwards and the sense of grounding and clarity about my next move – all of that was there, sure. I feel great. But given the choice I wasn’t going to drive back to London. I could barely get through a gate.

So I’ve booked a lovely luxury last minute Airbnb cabin, and I’m writing this in front of the log burner. There’s a bed that isn’t a trampoline, a hot shower, and cooking facilities. It’s marvellous and I’m thrilled.

I’ll likely blog in more detail about all this when I’m not knackered. But for now, beddiebyes.

My dots are now in a cross – (ish). Or will be when they heal. Mixing my metaphors again.

Gearing up for the Tor

Despite it adding a good half an hour to the drive precisely because of people like me, I took the road past Stonehenge to Glastonbury. I always like to catch a glimpse of those ancient stones as I head this way. The edge of an ancient and powerful part of our land, buoyed up by coastline close on both sides, and plenty of tin.

I’m back on top of the Tor, looking out over Somerset in a relatively gentle wind. No ants today. Last time I was here, but to breathe was to have a mouthful of flying ants. Now it’s just the sheep. They’re oblivious to the vista of Somerset spread out below them, head buried in the same old grass. Stupid sheep.

Lou is beside me stuffing her face with baked enchilada with garlic potatoes and a green salad with tamari and ginger dressing. It smells amazing. I’m fasting. I can’t even eat flying ants, which is just as well as I’m hungry enough to yawn a bit of protein in if there were any.

The weather is perfect again, although at 3pm it feels like evening. You get a great perspective from up here on the omphalos but fuck me it’s crowded.

A sunny Saturday.

I shouldn’t be surprised. Snippets of conversation drift on the air. “Is that the sea?” “Are you gay?” “Hush your moaning.”

I’m moving energy around again. I’ve let go of a huge amount of old energetic weight and immediately got an extremely positive text message from one of the many plates I’ve got spinning. Plates can’t send text messages, of course. The plate is a person. I’m using metaphors again.

Considering the state of the world things feel astonishingly positive in my life at the moment. The last few times I’ve sought advice from Grandma it’s been darker days for me. Now it’s dark days for my industry and the world in general and I feel surprisingly upbeat. There’s my healthy contrarian side in full swing as ever.

This time going to the grandmother I just have certainty that she wants to tell me something, so I’ve come here to listen. Not my real grandmother. My grandmother is a plant. My actual grandmother isn’t a plant. Well, in some senses she is now I expect.

This is getting too complicated. Just ignore me, shrug and mumble the words “Fecking hippy”. That’ll cover most bases when I go rambling off again.

I’m going to spend the night in a tent again so I’m glad it’s warm at least. This was something of an impulse, brought on by the fact that I’m starting to shift things in my life and my flat that have been stagnant for far too long. I just felt called to it. Tonight I might feel differently. Tomorrow morning when I’m yarking into a bucket after somebody burns my arm and puts frog poison into the burn I might think differently. But right now this feels like the right thing at the right time for the right reasons. Aho. It’s gonna be a long night.