Day with the fishies

Best £140 I ever spent, the fishies. They might not be in the right place next to the TV with their noisy filter, but I’ve spent much more time watching them than the telly so it’s fine.

The weather loach is still my favourite. He’s busy and friendly. Most of the other fish run away when something new like an arm goes into the tank. He is right on it, nibbling for dead skin or scraps. Lou named him remotely. Chipolata. Then there are two very old angel fish who survived the transfer. I don’t hold out much hope that they’ll last much longer, so I’m calling them Maureen and Sadie after a pair of older women who sometimes used to babysit when I was a littl’un, and died when I was young. The rest currently have temporary names as I get to know them better. I had my first casualty just before bed last night. One of the older, as yet nameless black widows was rolling in the current as I went to switch the lights off. I netted it and flushed it. Maybe it’ll revive and become king of the sewers…

This is a mature tank of fish. None of them are young. They’re all pretty relaxed and they aren’t being territorial – there’s no fighting. The widow likely died of old age, perhaps accelerated a little by the stress of the move. But they’ve been here a few days now and the tank has found equilibrium. I’d be surprised if any more went. The rest can join Hex in keeping me company in these unusual days. Still lots of them.

I’ve been sad today, despite the fish to cheer me up. I’ve been paying attention to the obstructions instead of the ways around them. It’s the last day before the Solstice though, and the longest night of the year coming up. By the time you read this we’ll be over the hill. I’ve likely been picking up on the persistent darkness, and spongeing up the sadness of others. There’s a lot of grief still bouncing around, and I keep witnessing little rage flashes, which I might have reflected the other day as well when I shouted at the van hire man.

I was trying to have a relaxed time today but I ended up writing lots of difficult emails. A man in Jersey who needs to do very little in order to help my brother and I massively is using Brexit as his latest delaying tactic. He thinks there’ll be a positive outcome still. He’s waiting for the “Brexit bump”. I don’t want him to wait because I’m nervous there won’t be one. So I wrote lots of emails and now I’m pulling that little bit of anxiety out, I’m letting my body and my mind relax, and I’m tuning in to the fishies as they go about their odd existence.

A few hours to go before bedtime and, despite the emails I’ve still managed to achieve spectacularly little which is a nice change of pace. Solstice tomorrow so I might allow a continuance of the lack of work and just have a lovely day on purpose with all the positive energy I can muster. The light is coming back, lovelies. Here we go.

Boob Lady and Joy

On one side of the road it’s Marie and I in a window dancing with heads on. Opposite us for this whole season – the boobs.

As we dance and play we gather small pockets of folk. They give us a wave or a smile. Christ knows, they probably need the thing that this installation brings. Lots of us are starved of joy. Boob lady just stands there. She doesn’t attract the same numbers we do, plus the average age is higher. Her fans are dedicated though. They stand for a long time observing her. I finally crossed the street today after weeks, to find out what she represents – this huge proud figure staring at us from across the road. She represents a £1000 metal book about fashion, it seems. Something to leave visible on the glass table at home, next to the little white lines, hoping the guests don’t finger it too much.

We were going to do Joybomb next week until the announcement. Fuckit. Now we aren’t, although amazingly we are still being paid by the artist, which makes Christmas possible financially but takes away from an aspect of the fun. Perhaps I’ll somehow sneak into the window on Christmas Eve anyway. If there’s no costume I’ll just take my clothes off and stand in the window. It works for boob lady – she sells books for a grand each. I could leave a bunch of links to my blog and an izettle set to 500 quid. Surely I’d make a few grand before I was arrested! After all I saw the guy who sings off key Christmas songs into a traffic cone making over a tenner in a couple of minutes at Bond Street Station.

I’ll stay at home, though, I guess. It feels like there’ll be a lot of staying at home going on in London this season. Happy New Tier, London. This one goes up to 4. I wonder if they’ve all gone and bought up the loo-paper again, or if they’ve finally chilled out about that one.

These last minute changes are getting hard to countenance. It’s hard enough to take Bojo seriously. He really fucked up in terms of public trust when he ignored Cummings’s infection-bonanza trip to Yorkshire. The business with Priti and the bullying tastes sour to me as well, and of course the advantages and backhanders given out to cronies makes me feel like we live in the third world. The business of governance must be extremely hard. But they are constantly behaving like they think they’re untouchable. I’m never going to like a government that keeps banging nail after nail into the live arts though, I guess.

Even something where two humans in a support bubble try to cheer up the depressed Londoners before Christmas – even that will have to be cancelled. Boob lady will stand alone, towering over her empty street until we are allowed by the idiot in chief to return to the window.

Stay safe you glorious maniacs. I’m looking forward to a day off tomorrow, I tell you that. I’m pooped.

Sixt Rage

Unexpected rage came quickly this morning, aimed at a manager at Sixt van rental Battersea.

Context. I underquoted for a job. £850, I said. It was a friend.

£560 on van hire, £150 to my nephew. Before fuel that’s £710. With fuel we are at £780. That leaves me with £70 for two days when I didn’t get home until after midnight. My nephew made more than twice my fee.

I THINK I might get £200 deposit back, which will make it less shit. But basically I messed up. I need to get my own van.

That was the maths right up until this morning, when my bank account went BING and Sixt took a further £370 out. For what? I would be paying £300 to do the job. Jab of cold rage right into my middle. Hidden charges. The bastards. Oh the nasty nasty bastards.

It’s a miracle I had my flat keys with me when I slammed my flat door. I’ve never left the house so quickly in my life. Car keys in my fist, down three flights of stairs, into the Audi. Key in the ignition before I’m sitting down.

No seatbelt. A wild eyed version of me gunned the engine swearing quietly. I think I was driving at fifty in a twenty zone with no belt when the direct eye contact of a worried motorcyclist in the other direction grounded me enough to drive more sensibly. Nevertheless it was with a screech of tyres and dust that I came into the Audi lot, slamming the door before the engine was silent, pointy finger right at the manager and the words “You. I want a word with you. I want to know right now how you think you can justify skinning me for £370!”

I am quickly and carefully defused by a wall of men with concerned eyes. Thankfully I have enough grip on myself not to start flailing around. But fuck I’m angry. They don’t let me in until I promise not to punch anybody. It momentarily surprises me that they think I might start punching and then I see myself from their eyes, all sticky up hair and beard and boots and filthy jeans and rage.

He goes on the computer.

I had forgotten to refuel. £190 punitive cost. The Adblue light had gone on to say I needed to top it up in 1500 miles (no kidding – a £10 charge!!). Even though I had dropped the car on time it hadn’t been checked in by the guys until after 6pm. £170. I might expect this sort of thing from a bunch of dodgy geezers. I’m shocked it’s this reputable company. I guess it’s how you get to be big though. We are so used to just shrugging and absorbing the hidden charges. “It’s all there in the fine print sir.” “Yes of course it is.”

It’s amazing considering I came in swinging that they said they’re waiving the late check in – (which is right, as it was back on time). Also I’m no longer paying the punitive extra for the fuel. Just the worth of the fuel.

I’ll wait until I see it actually back in my account but it’s definitely better than it might’ve been and I’m not sure where that rage has gone, any more than I’m sure where it came from. Scorpio rising, I guess.

The sobering thought is that if I hadn’t screamed around that corner like Walter White then I would have never got the fuel charges back. I’m not going to make a habit of behaving like that, but it seems that a certain amount of rage can be helpful in the right context.

My legs were shaking from adrenaline. I had explained the economics of the whole thing to the poor manager, and rather than just being openly bored, he proved himself a good listener. He finished my sentence: “… which means you’d be paying to do the job. I understand. I’m going to see what I can do.” And I think he did. On balance it’s a mixed bag of blame and I’m glad it’s sorted. They checked me in late, I forgot the fuel. The Adblue is a scam by Sixt and they should do it themselves. And that’s that.

It’ll take them a few days to credit it, so I’ll know by midweek if it’s in. I want a nice big electric van of my own please, universe, so I don’t have to spend so much of my time dealing with these bloody rental places. It’s rarely smooth…

Getting to know the fish

Another five hours of driving and more of lifting and then I finally had some time to commune with the fish tank. I can hear it bubbling away next door as I write. I think I’ll be googling “silent filter” before long, as I’ve put it right by the telly. But for now it’s a pleasant bubbly sound. Like lying near a river on a spring morning.

The tank had two little plastic Christmas trees with it – courtesy of the previous owner. I put them in there this evening even though they’re twee. “Do you think he carefully places them on the first day of Christmas with great ceremony, and removes them on Twelfth Night?” asks Max. I think he does. Definitely.

When I was collecting the tank my focus was on the fish and the tank, not on the previous owner. I don’t think I really looked at him much at all. Distancing kept him away, plus I was nervous about fishmoving. My imagination has filled up the gaps in my knowledge in the same way the brain uses past data to approximate half-witnessed events. In my imagined memory he’s wearing shorts. He has sandals on, with colourful socks. These are false memories, but they help make sense of what I assumed about him. He had some lovely fish, well kept but he’d only spent on the animals. They all seem to get on very well, and there’s a lot of personality in that tank. He gave me his Aquarium Owner’s Manual as well as everything else required for fishy delights. I’m gradually learning their ways and naming them.

I’m finding things to put in their tank, with the long term plan of replacing all the tacky plastic shelters with natural things and things with meaning. They’ve already got a scallop shell from Camino and a huge semi-precious stone I found in my grandparent’s effects.

I like the Weatherloach best of all. He is extremely friendly and active. As soon as my hand goes in the tank he is fearlessly gnawing at it for the dead skin. It’s cute, but you know he’d eat you if he could.

I’ve done so much driving and moving and lifting and I’ve worked such long hours for myself and for others over the last 4 days that I feel completely exhausted now in a really pleasant way. Droopy eyed but warm and calm and happy in the knowledge that insomnia is not a possibility. Work, followed by fishwatching. It’s better than booze as a sleep aid. And once more I’m taking the slow train to fishy dreams, with an early alarm as I’m basically working two jobs again tomorrow – but no lifting. One online. One behind a window.

The fish are in

If you haven’t heard from me recently it’s because I haven’t stopped. Partly work, partly life admin and partly sheer mischievous joy. I went to Greenwich and rescued a fish tank. A full fish tank. I am not the best taxonomist, so I can only name the angel fish, and maybe guess at some of the loaches. I have much to learn. There are some lovely big long ones and some little and swift ones.

It’s an involved process, moving a fish tank. I had five huge buckets with lids on them from Halfords, with loads of special fishy bags and polystyrene fish carriers. The owner was moving house, and was worried they’d end up dying. He had been losing sleep about the fish, but didn’t want to take them into his retirement in Tunbridge. They’re nervous little creatures, fishies. It’s very easy to give them a heart attack. Not only did I have to move this huge aquarium without killing the contents – I also had to put the mind of the previous owner at rest. I did my research. Here are some pro-tips!

Don’t feed them the night before the move. They’ll be in little bags for ages. It’s less fun if there’s poo in there as well. And less healthy. I messaged him on eBay and asked him to avoid it.

Catching the buggers? Syphon half the tank water first. Less room to escape. Two nets. Herd them. Then bag them with more air in the bag than water, only one or two fish per bag. Put the bags into polystyrene boxes to keep temperature from changing too much. Once the lid is on your box full of fish in bags, leave it on. Hopefully they’ll go to sleep while you move around doing the rest.

Syphon loads of the tank water into buckets with lids. I managed to take about 100 litres. Heavy as heck, but it’s their immune system. Speaking of which, put the filter unit in a fish bag with water too in order to keep the bacteria alive. It’s good for the fish. I can’t work out how to use the bloody tank heater yet so no pro tips. It works but I think it’s pretty cheap. Max helped me quickly raise the temperature by topping up with buckets full of warm water which then had to be treated and conditioned to make it safe for the little buggers. Sensitive flowers, fish.

I think I’m going to invest in a better heater that lets me see the temperature properly. I’m also going to invest in an automatic barrel feeder with a timer on it for when I go away. Another thing pulling on my time, as if I didn’t have enough already. But one of them has already won a bit of my heart, the cheeky little blighter. He’s incredibly friendly.

I think I’m going to enjoy keeping fish… One thing I’m going to do very soon is improve the decor in there. Right now they live in plastic and filthy sand. I reckon there are considerably better options out there…

So tired

It’s just gone 3am. I’m standing in my kitchen waiting for the kettle to boil and eating cheddar with my left hand as I write with my right. I’m going to have 3 hot Weetabix and fall flat on my face until morning.

Croydon is a long way from Bethnal Green.

My friends had access to a huge abandoned gym in Croydon. They could use it as a store for theatre things that might come in handy one day. What things might these be? Well, the list is endless. Cables, though. Definitely lots of cables. Heavy things. Light things. Lights. Heavy lights. They lost the gym just recently as it was finally bought by a developer. But as luck would have it, Covid chased a business out of a crypt in the green. The theatre folk have moved into the crypt. I put my haulage hat on, grabbed my nephew, and after two pretty full-on days, we have moved all the stuff. I haven’t got much left in the tank to write about it, and despite eventful days my brain has dumped everything but the ability to drive and a vague idea of my name.

I’ve decanted myself to bed. Low water pressure and no shower means stinky Al tonight. I’m probably a bit stronger now. But that’s the sort of thing you say to comfort yourself when weird bits of you hurt. My feet hurt. My fingers hurt. Even my eyes are tired. Cheese was good though. Likely it’ll make for eventful dreaming, but if I hadn’t just bitten into that chunk of cheddar like it was a banana then my dreams would’ve been hungry.

Normally in an average day I get time to stop and write. Two days running I’ve either been driving or carrying every waking hour. Here are some of the people who made the day go quicker. But quick or not, I’ve got nothing left in the can.

Enjoy your day my dears. I’m off to Dreamland on the express train.

Long day on the van

It’s half midnight. I just got home. I walked out the door sixteen hours ago and since then I haven’t stopped working. More than half of it was spent threading a van the size of Denmark through London traffic. Lunch was a sandwich and a packet of crisps behind the wheel. Supper is a banana. I’m running a bath. I need it.

My nephew was with me and dammit I’m proud of the lad. He has worked at KFC and works checkout at Sainsbury’s but I thought I’d try him out on a day in the van. It’s unpredictable work, mostly due to the vagaries of London traffic. Today has been much longer than I hoped and anticipated. But it’s been fun. Morale was always high. Our little van community covered a lot of ground, and talked a lot about movies in the process. Nick knows a great deal about movies it seems. So did Chris, the other passenger. I was likely the least knowledgeable despite having been in a couple and I could only hear half of it through the masks. There was a pretty constant stream of opinion and many many facts as we drove. I’m drained now, but elated – as you often feel after a day of graft.

The driving wasn’t the tricky bit. It just took the most time. We were moving all the bits and bobs of a theatre company, from a big abandoned gym in Croydon and into a crypt in Bethnal Green. The things we keep to use in theatre… It’s ridiculous. Huge old CRT monitors and fax machines. Ammo boxes full of rope. All the furniture that nobody else wants. Mannequins painted up to look like burnt corpses. And flats. Lots and lots of many many heavy heavy flats. Nicholas hadn’t hauled flats before and there’s a technique. I tried to teach it to him as we went. He had enough practice to improve by the end but there were a few drops. It’s amazing being eighteen though – you’ll take anything on. He did, and so long as I don’t get murdered by my sister in law for returning him at midnight then I’ll see him again tomorrow. We will have to finish by midnight tomorrow anyway, because lo and behold they’ve only gone and put us back in tier 3.

Apparently, after we left, the vicar went down to check the crypt and see what all these strange people had been loading in while she’d been having her tea upstairs. Perhaps we should have told her about the burnt corpses. Thankfully nobody was arrested.

Excavation

Slowly and steadily I am digging my flat back. It might not look like it, but I am.

It’s never going to be the soul-free minimalist IKEA catalogue palace that some people feel pressurised into existing in. But I don’t want that. I just want a bit more sense.

There are many boxes of things that are about to fly away from my flat and go to thing-heaven. On Wednesday, Max and my nephew and myself intend to fill a Luton van with EVERYTHING. I will then drive it to Tennants where I will cry like a baby unless they take most of it. Anything left will be gradually shed on my journey back to London on Thursday – to other auction houses, charity shops, you name it, I’ll try it. By 6pm on Thursday, the van will be returned, and in fantasyland, my floor will be visible and we won’t be ransoming the Pope every week with storage costs. There’s the plan. Let’s see.

If some of it becomes money down the line, that money will go into the transformation of the pad. New Carpets! Oh God I want them. I would have a shower in the house by now if it wasn’t for the ‘rona. All the things that some people take for granted. Not having to tiptoe through looming piles of ceramics just to make a cup of tea. Luxury! But I’m done with all this stuff now. I’m over it. It’s been fascinating and difficult, learning. Hope springs eternal when these things belonged to those you love, and it’s never nice to discover that the things that look good are mostly not.

I’ve squeezed this huge pile of stuff for everything it’s worth over lockdown. I’ve had the time. I’ve used it. My knowledge of the relative worth of random items in today’s market is now excellent. People ask me for advice, and I’ve realised how frequently that advice is unwelcome. We are human. “Your valuable thing is shit and your shit thing is valuable.” “I refuse to accept this. I have always believed the opposite so I will continue to do so.” “Very well. Good day to you, sir.”

I’ve checked and double checked all the “valuable things” before jettisoning them casually. These things are going going going now. Going. Apart from the little decorative nice things I’m keeping hold of.

Clockman. He can stay. All the decanters and the beautiful glasses. My guests will enjoy the finest of beverages as I sip my chamomile. Ragpig might have just made the audition when Lou reacted positively to a photo. Maybe one of the Madonnas. The giant clams. Some marble bits and brassy bits. I’ll be googling “is it safe to put weird victorian glass ornaments in a fishtank”. I’m not going to find myself sitting in a bald and empty room in ten years time thinking “I wish I’d kept more of that stuff”. But I don’t want to be sitting in a tiny space surrounded by piles of unobserved tut either. As ever, somewhere in the middle.

It’s going to be a busy week next week and I’m employing Nick, my 18 year old nephew, to help with two days of haulage starting tomorrow. Poor fellow. I’ll sweep him up in the vortex. I’m kind of looking forward to getting to know him. It’ll be bouts of driving coupled with bouts of heavy lifting. If last time I saw him is anything to go by I’ll be saying “use your knees” to him every five minutes. He’s taller than I am. I’m extremely grateful to the man who insisted I use my knees on an early lifting job. Nobody wants a bad back. But I’m off to bed, as he’s half my age and he could be so bouncy I end up knackered.

Stinky cat

I’m lying on my back in bed. Over my feet is a tapestry blanket that my grandmother made when she was in hospital recovering from Polyneuritis, before I was born. It’s kind of a horrid blanket – sorry Da. But … it’s better employed keeping my little tootsies warm than sitting in an expensive storage unit costing money.

I’ve been JoyBombing again. I’m now used to a constant stream of influencers while we work. They come and have their photos taken with me, and I have to be careful to keep in costume and character as the reality of me right now isn’t very much on brand. I’m in one of my “wildman of the woods” periods. My hair hasn’t been cut in months so it looks like I’m one of those bald guys that grows it long to comb over. My salt and pepper beard is bushy like a hedge. I’m Rasputin under the cat head. The same people who are smiling at me as I wave at them would be calling the police if I did it without the head on.

I’m careful to avoid the instagrammers unless the head is on, as most of them are hollow shells. I worry they’ll bang themselves and immediately shatter like Easter eggs, leaving just a pile of broken make-up and a phone. So I just stay in the head all day until I overheat, and lots of people take photos of me yowling.

Overheating is manageable now. I’ve remembered the old drama school lesson : “Excited is not exciting”. It can sometimes feel like I have to justify the fact I get to make money on my own terms by exhausting myself in the process. But today, Sexy Cat found meditation, and was giving just as much joy offering snippets of wisdom to passers by, and soliciting their admiration in return.

I don’t have to expend every last ounce of energy I have every time. Although as soon as it got dark I put on Invaders Must Die and we both mashed it up for the entire album and then for about three albums thereafter. I had to keep changing my head as fluffy heads turn into ovens pretty quickly. Weird Frog is the best ventilated but I’m completely blind in him, so the last four hours went by in a blur of laughter and ridiculous dance.

This is a delightful thing to do, this Joybomb job. It does what it says on the tin, it brings fleeting joy to people in strange times, and it’s exactly my jam despite the fact that I’ll never be the posterboy. I’m very much enjoying the fact that the two of us in our little box are just vibing with the project and each other, and finding true laughter as we seek to give it to others. It’s not gonna be my breakout role, but it’s more character and another angle on craft, costume, the nature of performance, simplicity, and letting the setting do the work. Everything is a learning experience if you let it be. But it’s tiring, all this joy. Hence the bed and blanket. Although I’m going to have to have a bath now because I absolutely pong.

Dancing on speakerphone

I drove uninsured in the summer by mistake. Many of you know this as I got angry with myself in that special way when you secretly know its your own fault. I got picked up in under five minutes by a patrol car at some traffic lights running the plates. £300 and six points. Despite my first offence of any kind it was deep Covid time, so there was no option of a course to avoid the points. Picked up by new scanning technology. They used to need a reason. But I was driving perfectly well and I surprisingly had no flat tyres. I said to the copper at the time: “You’ve likely fucked my earning here.” He looked at me as if to say “Wrong pronoun.” But it’s only a step away from inadvertently dropping a receipt while pulling your wallet out and getting a littering fine in the post from facial recognition tech. And they’ve definitely made my life harder for no real gain – but for revenue generated by the fine.

This morning I was on the phone to Sixt – the van rental company. Having been stung at the last minute on van hire because of the points, I’m now in the habit of checking and double checking. Nationwide binned a booking two days after I made it. Took their sweet time. Almost dropped me in a right mess. Thankfully Sixt had a van free for a similar price.

I had to listen to their hold music for 46 minutes to check about the points. This music right now consists of one unfamiliar Christmas song on loop -it’s a confused young woman naming seemingly random seasonal items into an autotuner. Thankfully I had no axe handy or I might have done a spot of murdering while I waited. Instead I just danced. In a room full of soft furnishings.

My phone was resting on top of an inflatable dalmation as I spoke about insurance through speaker phone in my bright pink powerfully lit chamber. I had a large cat head on, and was gesticulating frantically to the afternoon crowds on the street outside as I spoke. For work. It’s ART, darling. Not one of those orgies. Art. Yah. My gestures in no way mirrored my words. “I’m concerned about an I10 penalty received in July this year.” JAZZHANDS.

This was to the very nice young man in Germany who eventually answered my call, speaking English that runs circles around much of the English I’ve heard from UK based customer care callcentres.

Sixt is a German company. I found this out today. I hope this bullshit doesn’t throw their business out of whack as they’re great. He reassured me, he was patient and thoughtful and intelligent, and he even ended up extending my rental to fit my needs free of charge, which I was gobsmacked by. Nationwide were crap but it turns out they’re a broker which would explain it. They aren’t renting their own vans so they can’t be flexible and the insurance requirements vary so they just blanket ban drivers with any points. But again it’s got me thinking of this cliff edge that we’re approaching of Brexit.

This time last year the British delivery guys from Team Know-How did everything in their power to make sure they didn’t remove my oven despite having been paid for it. They didn’t want to take it down the stairs. “Glad you’ve taken it so well – normally at this time of year it’s the old ladies turning on the waterworks,” one of them said. “Maybe you should just do what you’ve been paid for,” I ventured. (They didn’t. Mouse droppings. “It’s not safe”. Work avoidance was a clear habit for them.)

A few weeks previous to the lazy know-how lads a pair of Latvians had repeatedly refused my assistance getting a fridge up to the fire escape, and then wouldn’t take a tip – “we’ve been paid well enough already”. They gave me a lift to Pimlico in their van. I only mention their nationalities alongside their behaviours as it’s a noticeable trend in my recent experience that the British at work aren’t particularly interested in being helpful. Or working. And soon it’s likely to be the only choice we have. We will never get anything done. I’ll just keep dancing in the window. Like I can talk. I call that work.