The difference of a year

This time last year I had just done a workshop in a vast 3000 seat auditorium at The Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. We had been looking at their text of Christmas Carol – helping the flyboys with their Christmassy show. It was a lovely end to an incredible job and I was looking towards doing Scrooge myself in London.

On that snowy morning at high altitude I drove my Jeep triumphantly back into the world and our little company of five hit the town and eventually went for a burger. Then I booked an Airbnb for one night in San Fran and started to plan my little excursion. The world was a simpler place. I booked my stay the night before I drove to it every day for a week. I stayed mostly in huts in people’s gardens. I met a bear, felt an earthquake, drove through a tree. The world was somehow smaller than it is today. So many things could be done without thought.

Whatever this lockdown is, it’s nothing like the one we did in March. In March I could’ve had a ten minute nap in the middle of the road outside my window and affected nobody. Now I’d be pancake in thirty seconds. The cars are whipping by. I’ve been at home. In fact I have barely left the house for days. Just me and the snake and the memories. Motivation has been elusive. I think I need other people sometimes to charge up my *doing things* battery. I keep on not knowing where to start with the huge queue of home and life jobs that surrounds me, so I disconsolately start somewhere random just because.

Having said that, I’ve made some progress today. It hasn’t all been eating crumpets and moping. A few crucial things have been shifted forwards in the right direction. I’ve opened a few more cans in the process. More emotional stuff to try and deal with now after all the years of avoidance. More potential long journeys inside and out that will likely result in good things for me if I can see them through. I’ve seen some things through already too. I’m much better at seeing things through than I was.

I still suspect this lockdown will help me in the long run, just to properly examine the unexamined things, and to question the part of me that thinks that just because I’ve never been able to sort it out before doesn’t mean I can’t ever sort it out. I’m sober and I’ve finally got the time without the constant knocking of the need to turn over.

I miss jobs like the American job, and like Scrooge. But I also love to think about what’s possible through the small homescreen and with my greenscreen and mic and all the sexy things that have come into my life as a result of this pandemic. There’s a shot at some interesting play online. Plus my agent rang today, but to ask how my French is. It’s adequate, I told her. Better when I’ve been in France for a week. God knows what that’ll bring. But maybe something.

Chamomile vs the world

The early dark. The strange world. The fact that all the bills have started shouting again. I didn’t feel my best today. I tried to find that light I was talking about yesterday but it was elusive. I think normally I would have opened a bottle of wine at about 2pm and stuck a chicken in the oven, addled my brain with the wine, rolled in grease until I could barely move, jumped in a hot bath. But I’m veggie and I’m off the booze. So I’m healthier. But there’s nowhere habitual to run. Mindfulness was the only option. And phone calls.

“He must have died 9 years ago,” says a friend about my uncle. 9 years for him. 16 for mum. Booze a big part of it with both of them. Better by far to look at these things than to keep on pushing them underwater. But sometimes it’s nice to switch the head off.

Remembrance Sunday. Most of the marches were banned. Just like the fifth of November which went without a whisper. Just a few people firing off crap fireworks in the back garden. Dog owners will have been happy. But it’s another little thing missing from the shape of the winter. “We see no reason why gunpowder treason should ever be forgot.” Apart from an epidemic.

If I was going anywhere these days I’d have ended up buying a poppy at the tube station from one of the well dressed women with the angry eyes. It would have ended up crumpled and I’d have spent a good fiver on replacements by the end of the season. If I was going anywhere.

I could’ve done some work in my flat. I could’ve written something. I could’ve sanded down the wall in the spare room. Instead I mushed up an avocado and had it with eggs and ate it on my bed in my pants with the blinds down. “Ladies and Gentlemen, Mister Al Barclay!” *scronch* *scronch* Then I played Animal Crossing, bought a load of turnips, reset my switch, and discovered they’d all rotted because the console corrected the time and it thought I was cheating.

I’m going to start reading a new book. I’m gonna put a line through today, read until I can’t keep my eyes open, and dream of not having lots of simultaneous time sensitive debt. Then tomorrow I’ll get up early and start the working week.

The good thing is, I adore my huge new/old silver plate teapot. It holds enough chamomile to put the busiest brain to sleep.

Between Equinox and Solstice

So Trump lost.

I went for a walk. The sun is shining down on the UK. Today is midway between solstice and equinox. It’s a powerful time for change. I caught up with Minnie. And Trump lost.

It’s not all suddenly going to be flowers and dancing piggies. There’s still an old rich white dude in charge of America. The UK is still rudderless, with lost children spinning the wheel aimlessly anywhere but towards Europe. But the notional leader of the free world has changed. The health of the head affects the health of the body. He seems like he might have a kindness about him that has been completely absent, this Biden. Flawed deeply, I’m sure. Part of the embedded machine, of course. But maybe he’s able to see beyond himself. Maybe.

“The way I think – it’s POPULAR,” shouts a young man on a video I watched taken on London underground as he enjoys making nasty and thoughtless utterances regarding people who don’t look much like him. “It’s POPULAR!” And he’s right. Shit thinking has been made ok because the big cheese is shit at thinking and it trickles down.

We made Trump. The Apprentice made him. And the habit that people with critical thinking have of forgetting that critical thinking is a hard won skill – that habit compounded his support. Anyone that has ever rolled their eyes at somebody being “stupid” has helped build the wall. Anyone who has dismissed somebody who connects “A” to “B” and makes “X”. Anyone that has ever described simplistic thinking as “shit thinking”, like I just did, has helped entrench fearful people who have found a pattern and just haven’t learnt the rigour yet to check themselves for confirmation bias or inherited prejudice.

Trump was the “stupid” vote. The “stupid” validation. “I get called stupid for saying the same things Trump says, and he’s president. Who’s stupid now?”

There’ll be a backlash. It wouldn’t surprise me if Trump ran again in 4 years too if he doesn’t get his civil war and he hasn’t had the wrong kind of stroke on the golf course. Biden is going to have to pick up a lot of broken pieces, and he’ll be walking into a world brought to its knees by Covid, and a White House in which Trump is probably already burning as much shit as he can, cutting the heads off roses, and smearing misspelled insults on the walls in poo. He’s got his work cut out, Biden. It isn’t going to be easy following that.

It’s not going to be easy for any of us, to try to mend. Strength within kindness. People in pain lash out. This is still all too difficult and there are going to be lots and lots of nasty words spoken and nasty deeds done. Days like this help – when the world is unseasonably warm and I can walk with my best friend down a riverbank in the sun, and see The Tate, closed but still shining for an attempt at Diwali in this bastard of an environment.

If you can’t find the light, BE the light.

Silver Plate

During the first lockdown, in between shows of The Tempest, I spent 45 minutes of my life watching a guy in a garage using loads of chemicals.

One of the boxes in my living room contains a large quantity of silver plate. It looks shiny. It looks valuable. It has the word silver in it. Silver is valuable. “All you need to do is get the silver off it,” I reasoned. “Even if it’s a crap object.”

The guy in the garage video cuts a silver plated dish up. He dissolves it in nitric acid. He tallies up the cost as he goes, and when that little bar of silver finally comes out of his work it has cost much more than the value of the silver in the price of the acid. Plus it’s dangerous and takes him a whole day.

Looking at his equipment and his precautions I know for certain that his route is not for me, even if somebody gifted me with a thousand gallons of nitric acid tomorrow. I’d gas myself, burn my arms off, set fire to the planet and finally emerge covered in soot and blood with a tiny sliver of nickel in my teeth.

If you Google “what to do with silver plate” you get lots of people talking about selling it to arty crafty people or to hipsters. To repurpose or to be retro. “Outside of that it’s worthless.”

Christmas Carol has a box of old plate candlesticks and kettles and so forth that get rolled out every year. With no real value at the moment they just come out in a normal December for set dressing. They live in a box the rest of the year gathering dust.

It even tarnishes, the bastard stuff. You expose it to air and it starts to go black. You have to polish it all the time…

So, I’ve got this box of metal that looks valuable but ain’t valuable. Plus it’s FILTHY with tarnish. Every piece of it is black as hell. I had a few hours free this afternoon.

Can’t sell it. Can’t melt it. No theatre set to build it into. I buffed up some the ones I like. Now I’ve got black hands, and a useful shiny salt bucket where this morning was a cardboard box of Malvern Sea Salt.

I’ve also got a huge decorative teapot for my late night chamomile habit, although the first batch of tea tasted suspicious on account of it lying unused for decades, so I’ve left the tea in there overnight to embed.

I’m finally putting those few bits to use, but space is at a premium and I have to reduce further, not start liking everything. So, what about the rest?

Maybe I’ll buff it up and try it on eBay. Maybe I’ll add it to the Carol pile. Maybe I’ll give it away. The one thing I won’t do is treat my attic like the oubliette it’s been for years and take it back up there. Nothing is going up there unthought.

Another little skill. Another little plan. But I’m lagging behind myself. I need this lockdown to make my launch pad.

Bunch of plants.

I’m glad I didn’t realise my mistake until it was too late.

Midnight on Thursday means Wednesday night. Not Thursday night. Fuck.

I woke up in Yorkshire thinking I had a whole day before official lockdown start. I found out over breakfast I was already late. Oops. Yorkshire to London. If I could prove I was a politician and that I was actively infectious I would be able to travel. But I couldn’t do either. And my car is pretty … visible.

Last night I had Harry look at the old Nissan and he reckons it’ll be cheaper to do the work it needs for an MOT than it will be to just jettison it and get a new car. This is good news. Better than I thought. I’ve grown fond of the old girl so I’m going to give it a try despite London prices being much higher than Yorkshire ones. Before I began the journey I booked an MOT near mine in London so I had a destination. I also decided that, come hell or high water, I was going to buy some pot plants before I had to hole up in my flat or risk getting fined. It was good having Hex for March, but I think having more green around me will make me less inclined to obliterate myself. I started drinking way too early in the day in March. Now I’m completely sober. I want nice things to look at as I’ll be seeing much more clearly.

The roads were as crowded as ever which surprised me. I took the smaller roads on purpose. It was a beautiful day to drive  I kept stopping at garden centres with woeful selections of indoor plants – but all of them were open. Everybody in Yorkshire has an actual garden, and all the garden centres consider themselves essential, but don’t have indoor plants. No good for me and my quest for. Eventually I decided to ask the internet. “Best place to buy indoor plants” turned up just one shop that was loosely on my route. I put pedal to metal.

Hertford, and the city centre is still full of cars. Shoppers out on the streets. Vans buzzing around. I pull into a loading bay opposite what looks like the holy grail to me after all the garden centres. A pretty little shop full of house plants.

They’re cashing up, perhaps. They’re not expecting customers. I think they’ve left the door unlocked by mistake. The proprietor comes up to me fast as I enter, with the look people have when they’re about to tell a stranger to leave. I derail it by speaking first. “I’ve come all the way from Yorkshire to buy lots of house plants from you so I have some green in lockdown.” They allow it (I tried to make an audible kerching sound) and we improvise a way for me to be shown and purchase plants without contact.

Now I have lots of lovely things in my flat. I’m glad to have brought the couple that run it some business just before they close up again into this madness. They seemed like a lovely pair and they have unusual plants, many of which are now in my flat, sitting on unusual antique trays that got rejected by Tennants. If these things are still alive next time I make the journey to Yorkshire, I’ll likely stop by Bedford to buy some more, and some paraphernalia too, and pick up another expensive habit. Looking after plants can be one more thing to add to the huge list of things I need to do in the flat. Circumstances have conspired to perfectly allocate windows to sort my shit out. March was the beginning, to enable, to see what’s possible, to get the ball rolling for the summer. Now November to consolidate, surrounded by plant life, with a much better understanding of the extent of the job.

Onwards. Happy lockdown lovelies. Call me if you like. I’m here.

Quick hop to Tennant’s

I haven’t been inside The Boar’s Head since the last night of Midsummer Night’s Dream, maybe six years ago. I didn’t expect to be back here just before we lock down for the second time during a global pandemic.

I was driving from Leyburn to Harrogate this beautiful day, and I hit a very familiar roundabout. I impulse pulled my wheel into an empty parking space. Now I’m having an expensive fake beer in one of the places we would all spill to after a show in the grounds of the castle. A decade of shows at Sprite. A decade of wages direct to Lord and Lady Ingleby by way of this establishment. Warm happy memories of fellowship, positivity and financial recklessness. The life of an actor on tour. One third sleeping, one third shouting, one third drinking. Maybe a bit of exploring instead of the drinking and sleeping, but doing so in monkish silence because all the drinking and shouting isn’t great for the old vocal folds.

God’s Own Country. The rolling dales. Hell of a place to work outdoors in summer. It’s where my mission took me, once more, just before we lock down. It’s my fourth journey to Tennant’s Auctioneers. I’m catching the last opportunity to jettison bulk and make it easier to organise the contents of my flat once I’m confined to it in the cold dark fearful winter.

They know me by now. One of owners greeted me by name immediately upon arrival. They took the lot, pretty much. Rejected a bag of uncle Peter’s fucked Hornby. Rejected a bag of mixed crap cameras. Took the rest. I can sleep easy in Harrogate tonight knowing that there’s nothing much to lose if somebody decides to have a rummage through the car by way of the broken window. The window is now plugged by a vintage pillowcase which is probably the most value in the whole vehicle. I’ll miss it but it’ll have to go. Might try and swap it at a dealership up here tomorrow.

I did find myself browsing the next Tennant’s sale, which they’ve rushed to get on display in order to give potential buyers a shot at eyeing up the merch before everybody has to shut the doors. It’s a strange experience, seeing things that used to be on my drinks cabinet looking shiny and tagged as part of thoughtful displays on other people’s antique furniture. They’ve laid it out very well. But looking at it all was a mistake, as now I’ve got my eyes on something in the sale. It’ll be an effort of will not to buy it if my stuff sells well before it. Although I don’t want Tennant’s to become a swinging door where I essentially just walk in with a box and walk out with a different box every few months. Freedom to move within my flat without stepping on something is a glorious dream that CAN be achieved…

There’s something about the circle of stuff that’s interesting to contemplate. I wonder the record number of times the same item has been sold by the same auctioneer to a different person over the years. I bet it’s higher than you’d think. Stuff goes round and round. Loads of my dad’s things have the tags still attached from previous auctions. Ditto the fire damaged stuff from different provenance. Even my uncle’s things. These auction houses can be habit forming and I’m sure the idle rich will spend ages and fortunes. I’m relying on it. But I’d advise caution. Like this blog, consume only as part of a balanced diet.

On which subject, I’ve finished my virtuous nonalcoholic bitter. I’m off to Harrogate for a peaceful night with a lovely friend and then back to London to pretend I’m a hermit until Christmas.

Back into the antiques roadshow

My quiet day at home didn’t work out. Construction work has started on the build for Brian’s Doctor Who show, and I’ve got a load of very heavy plates in his venue up against a wall that is going to be demolished during lockdown. An hour after the call I was in his warehouse surrounded by plates and empty boxes, on a video call to a bloke in the North if England. Half of the plates were destroyed when somebody stepped on a box in the warehouse, so I’m not tangled up about the value anymore. I can’t store them safely so best not to store them at all. Some of them I’ve earmarked for future Christmas Carol type shows once we can get strangers to serve food to each other again. I’ve left them against the threatened wall until I can get boxes to put them in. Most of them are now in the back of the Nissan. Seems it’ll have one last gasp. Tomorrow is the last day I can take them up to Tennant’s. Better by far to take them to Yorkshire than to carry them up the stairs and into my crowded flat.

Sorting them was an absolute headfuck. There was a Polish man literally screaming into his mobile phone for an entire hour just to my left. To my right, through the wall, almost continuous drilling. I cut my finger on one of the fucked plates. Loads of them are now baptised in my blood as it was a pretty persistent flow. In terms of infection control it’s not ideal to liberally spread blood on things you want to sell. Hand gel hurts now. But it’s done. They are sorted and many of them are in my car with a broken window overnight, and hopefully will still be there in the morning. I’m going to load up the rest with unwanted glassware and pictures and so forth. I’m gearing up for a long drive tomorrow.

It’s late now too. Max stays up later than me and we went through another box of things from the grandparents forensically, which I wasn’t expecting but it was a good idea. The curator in Max came to the fore and we found ourselves in a production line. I was sorting and categorising, he was documenting and rejecting some of my sorts as illogical and sending them back round. Eventually I got them all past him and he took exhaustive photographs and made an Excel sheet. There’s some interesting stuff there. Nice to go through it so thoroughly. 20 American Dollars in a coin from 1906! If there’s still an America tomorrow, I’m sure somebody will be interested.

Last time there was an election over there I stayed up and watched the result. We all know how that went. This time I’m going to sleep and see what sort of world I wake up in…

Passing the time

The queue outside the post office went round the block. I had two boxes to send for eBay. A Raynaud Ceralene “Morning Glory” butter dish – (ten quid) and a horrible Guernsey crested China cow creamer – (just three pounds). Thirteen quid. Half an hour in the queue. That’s still £26 an hour which is an acceptable rate for unskilled time. The sun was shining on the pavement, but everybody was hugging the wall, shivering in the shade. I shifted a foot and a half from the queue and into the sun. I turned around to face it and let it soak into my skin. This beautiful autumn weather, with the low light coming through the shedding trees.

“Don’t know why we all aren’t doing that,” says the old guy behind me, indicating my sun-seeking. Nor do I. He doesn’t join me either. He wants to talk. Very much. He’s lonely. This coming time is going to go hard for him.

I didn’t catch his name. He was talking through a mask in the wind from a distance and he’s had an operation on his throat. Didn’t stop him from trying. There’s a thing that he is looking for. Normally it’s in Boots but it isn’t in the local Boots. He might have to go to the one in High Street Kensington. You know the one? Just opposite X road. You know X road?

He’s in AA. Has been for nineteen and a half years. “Will you be able to go to a meeting and get your twenty year badge?” I find myself asking. He harrumphs. His head shakes. I don’t tell him I’m almost at three months but not through AA. Mere necessity.

The time passes in the queue with him talking and me attempting to interpret a quiet voice masked in the wind. Then I get a call from Jacky – while I’m talking to the guy. “Sorry I’m going to take this.”

“Are you able to do another shop for me?” Jacky is the old gal I’ve become lockdown Ocado for. She’s taught me a great deal about the stock of Waitrose and how to shop frugally there. I’ll be off again tomorrow.

It must be shit being old at the best of times. “All my friends are getting married!” Cut to “All my friends are having kids.” Cut to “All my friends are retiring.” A few more cuts but eventually, if you’re one of the lucky ones, it’s “All my friends are dead.” And then the final cut.

If we are going back underwater we should look to the older people we barely know who are near us. The ones who are prickly like they don’t want our help. Give them a bunch of flowers or something next time you’re going shopping. “I bought too many”. Fuck knows it’s lonely enough for those of us who have lots of living people in the phonebook.

I’m getting Hex tomorrow and bringing him back to Chelsea. With lockdown coming it’s the only way I can feed him. He’ll be company of a sort. But fucking hell. Here we go again. Let’s look after each other.

I went to Chelsea Physic Garden because it’s still open, and I stood under my favourite tree…

Sometimes there’s wind

I was going to sit calmly in the early evening by the river.

The day had been my own, and I allowed myself the freedom to momentarily forget all the jumbled things that are pulling for my attention. Just to breathe out for a second before breathing in again. It was necessary and helpful to do so. I have a feeling it will help propel me through to the end of the year, as the dark closes in.

I went to the shop before my intended calm evening sit. I bought some houmous and dips. I might be hungry, I argued to myself. “I might want a snack as I sit there in the sunset.” I also bought a Kinder surprise egg. It was at the counter. That’s how they get you. “I can build the toy as I’m sitting in the rays of evening light.” I reasoned to myself. (In reality I just wanted some of that tasty chocolatey plastic stuff they’ve somehow created.) But my imagination had me sprawled on a riverside bench, houmous and chocolate falling out of the sides of my mouth as I marveled at a sunset worthy of The Fighting Temeraire over the pagoda across the full and flowing river. From thence I would telephone my lady friend.

Nature will just do what it pleases, despite all of our plans.

I arrived at my bench in a windstorm. The rain, it seems, was spent. But the world was blowing past my face. Air from Cuba, from Greenland, from Ellis Island, St. Helena, Sierra Leone, from Iquitos.. All these places and more buffeting in seconds past my hat as I clung to it. Not to be put off, I sat on the bench anyway. The tide was out so I couldn’t see the reflections from the water. Rolling clouds obscured the sunset completely. It was windy and dark.

I took my houmous out and resolutely started munching as the dips almost blew away to Greenland. Car drivers shot by behind me as I munched, narrowly avoiding the puddle that would completely drench me if they didn’t avoid it. I realised very quickly that I wouldn’t be able to build the kinder surprise for wind, let alone the constant jeopardy from careless puddledrivers. I went to call Lou. I think by calling her I was hoping to cling one last time to the idea of the moment I had planned.

The wind was so wild we couldn’t hear each other at all. “I can’t hear you. I’ll speak to you tomorrow”.

I had to abandon the whole plan.

I sat instead and looked at the pagoda directly across the river from the bench. I felt the size of the wind and let myself be stationary within it. Leaves and branches everywhere (even if these trees are manicured obsessively by a council that could get sued). It was peaceful. It wasn’t what I’d planned. But it was something.

I think there’ll be a lot of that for the next month. Let’s try and find the light in the dark. Let’s try and be the light so others can find us. It’s going to be alright in the end. This dark time is fleeting, and even when you can’t see the sunset you can still find beauty and connection in the wind on your face. And if somebody soaks you with a puddle, it’ll be a story in the end.

Visiting hex

I’ve missed Hex. He’s back in Hampstead these days so I only see him a couple of times a week. With another lockdown approaching I think I might have to go get him tomorrow and bring him back to Chelsea. He gets more cuddles if he’s with me here, but my downstairs neighbour will die of apoplexy and there’s no way I can move his vivarium on my own so he’d have to live in his travel box and he’s noticeably less happy there. I’m not sure how I’m going to deal with it. I’ll work it out when and if somebody gives me a hard time for crossing London in my own vehicle to look after a snake.

Although I might not have my own vehicle for a while. The Nissan – it should go tomorrow if possible. I’ve got a quote for scrap but the guy seems quite flaky. He wasn’t happy when I told him the window had been smashed by thieves. Such an unnecessary and stupid thing to do, to break a car window like that. Thank the lord it’s the worst I’ve had in terms of incursions into my space.

Can’t make much difference to the overall value, one small window, particularly if you’re just stripping it for parts. But he dropped his quote by £20 and started being cagey. He’ll get even more cagey when I tell him the thing isn’t in my name yet.

I might just drive it into a scrap merchant and see if I can get them to take it. I’ve never really liked selling to people who insist on picking the car up themselves when it runs perfectly well. It just feels like they’re exchanging time for less money, and if I’ve got time I want to be exchanging it for more.

I’m sad to lose the car. If our hastily assembled “Build your own Prime Minister” kit makes good on his lockdown announcement today it might be quite hard suddenly to get across town without wheels in order to put a mouse in the snake. I’m sure other people have considerably more pressing concerns, but that’s mine. Snake gotta eat.

I kid myself into thinking he was happy to see me today. He was certainly happy to see the mouse. But we had a good long play together and it made me realise the amount of time that has passed since we were working together in The Tempest, me and Hex. The world was warming up. Now the streets are full of leaves, and the light is fading.

Winter is coming. Cars are usually a summer thing for me, but this year I might have to go and get another one swiftly so I can properly minister to the snake, and get to Brighton etc. Anybody shifting one? I’ll likely start surfing Gumtree, my usual hunting ground.

Autumnal view from Hampstead