Zoom filming for others

I’m helping a friend record a corporate video on Zoom. In front of me right now there are two lovely men in their middle age – on a screen. They’re going into business together and they’re making a video about the services they offer, and the overlap between their skillsets. Believe it or not, I’m onboard as a tech consultant and general person with an eye on performative things. It’s fine. They’re doing great – but it helps me see how much those of us who do this kind of thing for a living take for granted. I can think of dozens of people I know under the age of thirty who did really badly at school but who could deliver this content swiftly and engagingly. Drama is useful, kids.

These guys are dropping the vocal energy constantly, and falling into speech patterns, but it’s difficult to help them hear it in themselves. As a result it’s hard to hear their content through their tics.

Right now my friend is getting them to say “Wahoo” before each line just to raise the energy a little bit, and I’m snatching a downtime to write this.

It’s been an interesting process, helping them. They’re both in their own home made greenscreen studio, so there’s been all sorts of hijinks with lighting. It’s moving towards 4pm now so the balance of natural to artificial light is shifting in their homes, which will probably throw up some issues before long. And we aren’t in the same room as each other, so much of the environment tweaks we make are guesswork. We might have just discovered what was reflecting in one of their pairs of glasses… It’s all such a lot of business… I love it but I also love being in the room with people.

Two years ago I hated self-taping auditions with a bitter passion. Now I’ve adapted, and partly because of the learning experience working through Zoom for The Tempest, I’ve come to enjoy the process. I’m not busy working twelve jobs suddenly, which helps as it’s easy to get angry at the fact you know that you’ll be up against some fucker who has all the time in the world and their own studio while you have to throw it together with an iPad gaffered to a picture on a hook in your kitchen at 2am against a recording of yourself before starting work again at 8. Now I’ve accepted self taping is part of my craft I’ve agreed with myself to apply to mastering it even when pushed for time. I tr with all aspects of my craft. And that involves finding it less stressful and more fun when I’m having to improvise a studio in my home.

These guys are thinking of this shoot as a difficult thing, which I think is making it harder for them. Often, the easier you think something is the better you are at it. But often, ease, like inner peace, can be hard to find.

Anyhow. We’re going for another take.

“If you did that on a movie set you’d be fired,” says my friend to one of these lovely men – smiling. He just let out a huge yawn to camera while his scene partner was talking, and binned the take in the process. We are almost at the end of it though. The light is going and soon one of them will start inevitably glitching into the greenscreen. I’m gonna stop snatching moments to write and focus on what they’re doing.

All said it was an interesting day. One of the two guys has had a fascinating history, betrayed in snippets of his life casually stated over the course of the recording. He’s been flying to some of the most dangerous places in the world at short notice to try and stop people dying violently. You wouldn’t know it to look at him, but he’s seen things, certainly by my standards. To most people’s standards. To him his stories are commonplace, so he needed to be reminded occasionally how unusual his truth is for most listeners. We are all like that, to a lesser or greater extent. The things we take for granted are frequently the most unusual for others. Everybody’s story is fascinating if you dig past their reluctance to accept that of themselves.

Apart from mine this evening. Not much I can do to make what I’m doing swashbuckling. I’m once more ensconced in my cosy bed with chamomile tea and a sleepy Lou. Mmmm.

I’m gonna turn in. Nice to be helping out on some sort of filming again. I need to get in front of that camera again. Never felt readier, just as the industry is buried in poo. Roll on the changes…


February is coming and the daffodils are starting to poke their heads up. There were still snowdrops in Herefordshire, but things are beginning to angle towards the memory of spring. We need it as well. Winter is helpful, in that it has made us all nest – although it seems everybody is still getting Covid left right and centre somehow. Ugh. Another one I knew just died.

It seems so long ago that this all started. Over a year now. Although this time last year we were mostly oblivious to it over here, even if I was wearing a mask every day. I was part of a team tearing down the set for Wolf of Wall Street, and today’s the anniversary of a little goblin called Josh trying to nick my respirator – he even wrote his name on it. Looking back, perhaps Josh knew how useful that mask was going to be in the first few weeks of the pandemic when nobody had PPE. PPE…

This bastard year has given us so many new words, and I hate all of them. “Social Distancing” is the one I hate the most. I wonder what will come when the wedge is finally removed. Whether we will all ping together again or whether there will be a generation of slightly frayed slightly suspicious people crossing the road to avoid each other and glaring at you for existing long after this madness has ceded to whatever we decide to call normal… Will January 2022 feel as remote from today as January 2020 does? I kind of hope so.

We still managed a walk in Richmond Park. A little under 1000 hectares, it’s an amazing stretch of protected urban parkland – formalised by Charles I before he lost his head, for hunting. They don’t chase them with dogs anymore (barring Fenton – Jesus Christ!) but they still have to control the population. There are signs up about it on the gates. They’ll be closing the park at night next month for a “deer cull”. At night?! How are they killing them? Is it some sort of sanctioned nocturnal hunt with rifles? Does Boris Johnson cover himself in woad and go in personally with a club? Why at night? To prevent photography? But how do they shoot straight in the dark? I guess there’s money in it. Maybe they’ve got all the infra red kit and silencers… Most likely, to be honest. Three or four highly skilled park rangers with enough kit to rival the garage contents of some of those oafs who stormed the capitol. Red dots and heat vision and a button you can push to make the world slow down for a few seconds.

There’s not much about it online apart from the numbers. About 180 males are gonna get nobbled in February. The meat will make pots of money for luxury game vendors. “Have a lovely London deer pie, Mrs Venables. Only £80.” It’s an economy, I guess. And the deer are a captive herd with no predators but us. There are already signs up saying “please don’t take the chestnuts – the deer need food”. They want fat deer for Mrs Venables. But also if there are too many deer they’ll start starving. Plus disease risk. The risk of disease in captive populations often gives rise to somebody calling for a cull…

Well, it’s a glorious park most of the time even if we were there on the eve of a battleground. We saw no deer, which is rare. Likely they were hiding, and can you blame them?

Spot the Al. Do not cull the Al. It is a peaceful animal.

Accidental Wales

Google maps doesn’t seem to understand local lockdowns, or perhaps it was the most expedient route from Hereford to Somerset. However it happened I ended up on the Severn Bridge, and Lou took a photo. I love the bridge – it’s gargantuan. You used to have to pay to get into Wales but it was free to get out. They’ve scrapped it entirely now, which is a relief. We didn’t get out of the car in Wales and I only mention that she took the snap so people don’t worry I’m the type to drive into the river for Instagram.

She’s beside me as I write. She’s finished making curtains and meditating. About 100 pairs of curtains she made, and likely more than a hundred in hours of silent meditation. God knows how many malas, and now she’s drifting to sleep next to me as I write. I said to her a few weeks ago that I knew it would be a bit like harvesting a lettuce when I picked her up. When you’ve been ascetic for a long time, the world seems overwhelming. I remember being a shocked immediately after Camino, and integrating slowly. And she’s not going back to her place immediately, where all her stuff is. She’s coming to join me and Hex and fishies and clutter.

I bought some brushed cotton sheets so she’d be able to sleep here without coming out in hives, and now I’m snatching a blogtime with a candle burning and chamomile tea.

I combined a delivery with her pickup, and threw in a site visit for good measure. A friend of mine is doing something extraordinary in Hereford and he wanted to share it with me. He emailed me yesterday out of the blue, and he was 20 minutes drive from my pick up location. Coincidence? You might have gleaned that I’m a big believer in that thing we call by so many names – the universe, fate, divine providence, coincidence – what you will, I watch for its work and encourage it when I can. I was able to go for a site visit and dream into his dream for a wee while. I have very little doubt I’ll be writing more about it later on, and spending even more time in Hereford engaging with this incredible thing he’s made possible. My head is literally rushing with it right now and has been all day, but until I’ve collected my thoughts I’m just going to dangle it here for a bit like this and move on.

Eight hours driving and it shot by with thoughts and company. Much of it involved having Lou in the passenger seat and even when brassicated she’s a good talker. I’m glad of her being here as I’ve been quietly going feral on my own. The new sheets likely helped prevent her exploding with discomfort when faced with all the pictures and socks and boxes of hats and half finished mugs of tea and cold blooded animals. The sheets are ASDA sheets by the way and you get good cotton – a whole set for thirty quid. And I’m not getting free sheets for saying that. Dammit.

Now the rain and the road is behind me, both in time and in space – it’s pouring again out there behind my back and I’m hyper-aware of the traffic noise coming in through the window, and the drunk people talking and the sirens, knowing how much of a light sleeper she is. But these sheets feel great compared to the crap I usually sleep wrapped in. So all in all, a good day. And so to bed.

Rain bath and vivid dreams of the fallen

I’m listening to the rain behind me, glad of a warm comfortable haven, even if it is still full of clutter. I’ve been in the bath. Water without and water within. It’s a big part of my wind down, plonking myself in hot water. I get a lot done in the bath. Catching up on reading for one. Books work great in the bath so long as you don’t drop them. Even so it’s less risk than a phone. It’s something of a blessing that mobile phone screens go crazy in steam. I get lots of my reading done in the water.

Candles, chamomile and bubbles

This evening I’ve been back into The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen – it’s a rich contemplation of many things and very helpful for winding down, even if it makes me desperately want to pull on a pack, hit another trail and walk for a month in a new place. He’s in Nepal. It’s always been on my list. So much world. Such short lives. The list is already longer than the time remaining. Once things switch on I’m gonna have to prioritise.

I’m getting better at staying in the bath though, for now. Time was that I was so active in my head I’d run the bath and only be in it for five minutes before pulling myself out again to “do” the “thing”. I’m getting a little bit better at switching off the constant spinning and allowing myself to just be for a while. That kind of thing is more possible in lockdown.

Tomorrow I’m driving for about eight hours though. I’ll likely be missing the splishy sploshy before long, giving the Audi the runaround. I’m delivering a box of plates to Somerset. On the way over I’m stopping to scout a venue, and then I’m picking up Lou, who has been meditating quietly in the Welsh borders for ages. Once again I’m overloading myself. I should’ve booked an Airbnb in Somerset. I’ll have to leave pretty early in the morning to drive long hours. I know myself well enough that I’ve already put the plates in the car so I don’t arrive in Somerset without them. “I’ve got your plates. Oh. Oh fuck.” Done that sort of thing before. Just so long as the idiot that smashed the window on the Nissan doesn’t fancy some Scott’s of Stow cockerel plates I’ll be fine. And it’s raining too hard for idiots.

I always find the sound of rain comforting when I know I won’t be out in it. It’s warm in here, I just put the heating on for a bit so I have a toasty sleep. Twenty to one and the alarm is set for seven. I’m gonna sink down now into the sound of the water and find those dreams I enjoy so much.

Last night I hugged my dad, in the garden at Eyreton. I hugged him and he hugged me and I remembered in my dream the sensations – the feelings and the smells. It was as if his spirit came and spent some time with me. I woke with him so near, so vivid, so clear after twenty years and more. Even the smell of him, forgotten until just upon waking, conjured back in a dream. Then today, clear memories of mum – circular regrets about what wasn’t and what might have been. These are the people that made me – long gone now, but the sense of them is so close in memory today that it’s as if they are just a flicker away.

I’ve been on my own too long. Haven’t we all?

Chocolate, books and eBay

Such a slow day today. Heavy. Like I’m carrying weight. By back hurts for no reason. Maybe it’s atmospheric. Maybe it’s the all the negative energy flying around. Social media is my window into everybody these days and everybody I’m seeing on it is popping out with unhappiness. I feel like joining in. This has been a long old slog from March until this cold January evening.

Normally I’d have had a Burns Night yesterday. I’ve kept the busts of Burns out of auction, and I’ve got a Victorian plate of him to put the haggis on top of. They all just stayed on the shelf. No friends round to get drunk on whisky and read poems. “Bring a poem” is the only rule. You don’t even have to read it yourself if you’re shy. There’s usually no shortage of willing actors, and me in an emergency.

Not this year. This year I didn’t even eat any haggis. I should be ashamed of myself. I had jerk chicken and buckwheat, and Hex had a mouse.

Keeping it colourful

Perhaps I should wander to the supermarket and get myself haggis before it leaves the shelves. I could do a belated Zoom poetry sharing session tomorrow evening. It might cheer people up. Hmm maybe this is a good plan. It might even cheer me up, and stop me just constantly refreshing eBay.

One of the pictures on my eBay has garnered quite a lot of attention. It’s a virtually completely shredded antique oil painting of a kid with a vase. I’ve had a few messages from people who are thinking of using lockdown to learn how to restore art and they’re going to start with this one… And it’s been bidded up from £25 to over £100 already. The horse will likely go well too and I’ve got a feeling about the pheasant. Others don’t seem to have any interest at all.

Selling pictures is a brave new world for me, and I’m having seller’s remorse about one or two of them, knowing that once they’re gone they’re gone. I might end up pulling the Wilson… But space… I STILL have way too much stuff for the size of my home. I never want to have too little, but perhaps it’s ok to let more things go. It’s easy to cling to things that remind me of people, because we have no means of clinging to people at the moment and I miss you all and your funny smells. The picture I’m thinking of keeping is a picture of an art class. It wouldn’t be allowed right now. Maybe that’s why I want it. Maybe I should let it go. I should stop opening my eBay and looking at it or I might even start bidding on it myself without thinking.

But that’s how slow my day has been. I could’ve been painting a wall in the spare room but I just can’t find it in me to do that on my own – certainly today. It’ll get done in its own time one way or another. But today was for nesting. Thank God for central heating. I’ve been holed up in my bedroom with the radiators on eating chocolate and reading for just hours and now I’m going to go to sleep in the hole that I’ve made here and probably dream of eating chocolate, reading and Ebay because my brain doesn’t remember anything else. I haven’t even been motivated enough to go into the living room and switch on the PlayStation. Impressive, huh? I only made food because I knew it would cheer me up and it came out of a kit from Mindful Chef. A useful if expensive way of making sure I don’t starve.

Post audition walk

So I had a walk. I needed one.

Morning found me sitting in the corner of the spare room once again, under the lights. “Try and look away at the same time,” says the director to me and the actress. We are in separate rooms and our eyeline means we can’t see each other at all. We will never be able to synchronise without being in the same room, which we will be for the shoot when we get the job. It’s one of those things where the skillset I have to demonstrate to get the job is different from the skillset I have to employ once I’ve got the job. The comfort is that all the other actors will have run into the same bollocks I did. But how many are they seeing? These online zoom recalls… My agent says “Oh, some of our clients are going in for third recalls on similar jobs”. So if there’s a neurotic client, the expense of renting the room is no longer a reason to gently suggest they have seen enough actors and let’s just pick one please!

So yeah. Post audition walk in the sunshine. Get all that twattery out of the system. This is just a commercial. It’s money. Be good to get back on the horse though, even if it isn’t the great artistic oeuvre I dream of finding when the world wakes up.

Today was shanks pony and I walked from mine to Westminster on a sharp and crisp morning. The abbey is shut of course. I could look but not touch.

I was thinking of what might be under it – thinking about the fact there used to be a druidic college there. Not many people out and about today though and a disappointing lack of druids teaching me things. I walked up the Aldwych to Trafalgar Square. It’s empty in the square. Some half-hearted cordons and a beleaguered looking private security guard whose job it is to politely request you don’t climb on the lions. I’ve had my fill of lion climbing – just wanted to see the place empty on such a sunny day. But a reminder that no public space is public anymore in this town. I walked down Fleet Street.

Frozen puddles beneath my feet, and everywhere are workmen in hi-vis and hard hats, getting some work done while the buildings are closed. The Temple is shut. You won’t be sneaking into the inns of court. And nowhere is open for a pee. Halfway up Ludgate Hill to St Paul’s, I chose to echo the ancient Londoners on these age long roads, and I found a parked van off the main drag and used its shadow. Not such a frozen puddle. A little bit of me for the stones.

From St Paul’s, across Millennium Bridge and left towards the Tower. Up to Tower Bridge and then back through unfamiliarly empty streets to London Bridge Station. A woman catches me looking longingly into a pub window. Her expression is one of wry shared companionship in mourning.

Back to Tower Bridge and over to The Tower before the long track home. Landmarks and familiar places, but all unfamiliarly empty. Many a time after auditions I’ve had similar walks, but never without the regular stops for a pint by the river or a paella in the yard or a prayer in the cathedral or coffee in the market. By the time I was at Victoria I would have rung somebody and persuaded them to meet me for one in the Shakespeare. Then maybe a stumble home via The Antelope, The Potter, The Surprise and oh it’s closing time.

I still have the same amount of money in my bank account as I did this morning, which wouldn’t normally be the case after a post audition day in London. So there’s a bright side. And it’ll be even brighter if I get the part. Now shut up about it, Al.

Ancient kings of Britain

I’ve been thinking about Malmutius. About Brutus and the Trojans. I love this city I’ve adopted, but I sometimes forget the actual history of the place. This city is OLD. Long before Londinium, thousands of years before even Lud’s Dun and Lud’s Gate, 1200 years before the Nazarene prophet died in Jerusalem and kicked off a modern era there was a bitter war in Turkey between the two great superpowers Greece and Troy. It’s undeniable that it happened and that it was huge and that it changed the world forever. It is so far removed in time that it’s hard to think of it as anything but a story in this world where people find it convenient even to deny things in living memory like the holocaust. But unlike much from that distant era when the Gods still walked the earth, there’s enough to satisfy everybody who seeks it that Troy stood and that Troy fell to the Greeks.

Maybe there was a horse. Maybe there wasn’t. But one of the greatest ancient cities was deliberately turned to just a memory, and Poseidon was angry. Troy was deleted, as Cato later deleted Carthage. The fields were sown with salt. The topless towers of Ilium were burnt, and so efficiently was it done that the location of the ruins was lost for thousands of years. Even as Odysseus got lost on his way back to Ithaca, so from the other side went Aeneas, the wandering Trojan, on his own epic voyage. His brood were citymakers, as was he. Rome came out of his loins via Alba Longa and all that mess with Carthage. And one of his sons, Brutus, went wandering through Gaul. He founded Tours before forging North and crossing the channel. Eventually he settled in what would eventually become Lud’s Dun. He made his New Troy (Troy Novant) here on this island he had named for himself – The seat of what would become the Great Brutian civilisation.

Many generations down to Lud and beyond, his Brutish kin held this fortress with the mound where the Tower of London stands today. Kings and centres shifted around and borders were drawn and redrawn by warring tribes, and by ambitious warlords. Writing was scarce and conquest disrupts oral traditions, so we know next to nothing of these hundreds and hundreds of years of life before the Romans who brought a period of chronicle before another age of dark descended as they all suddenly pulled out and left the doors swinging. But we know a bit.

In this dark time – hundreds of years after Brutus – Malmutius, who could claim direct ancestry to Aeneas, laid down laws in triad in the druidic tradition. Memory works best in threes. They knew all about memory, and how to exercise that muscle, and hold things in. Universal writing took as much as it gave. But these laws were kept because they were written. We might have had a lot more if so much hadn’t been burnt in Henry’s divorce. But we have these.

By our standards, many of the Malmutian laws made sense. Universal suffrage. Hospitality to strangers. Sanctuary. By the same standards, other laws were not so great. Trial by combat and similar Brutian brutalities spring to mind.

“Can’t say fairer than that. Oh. You’ve killed me with an axe “

When looking for anchors in this city it’s useful for me to remember that there’s still stuff available. Really old stuff, just the way I like it. Westminster and the Isle of Thorns is right by my flat, even if the rivers are held in vast pipes now.

It’s a brisk day’s walk to go from Thorney Island to The Tower. If the weather is good I might get my boots on, strike out tomorrow and call it exercise.

Selling art

I’ve been learning about art.

I got my big drill (ooer missus) and I stuck a hole in the white wall I’ve been using for self tapes. I stuck in a rawl plug and a screw. Now I’ve got a photo studio for pictures.

In my living room, propped casually against a radiator blocking the heat lies hundreds of pounds worth of unwanted art. Not good enough for auction houses, who charge to photograph and to list. Not bad enough for the charity shop, especially in lean times such as this. Hard to sell well on eBay without knowledge. And if you sell without knowledge on eBay you just sell to the dealers who then apply knowledge and get a better price.

Today was about accruing enough knowledge to try and bypass the dealers.

I have scheduled lots of very different pieces of art to pop up on my eBay between noon and 6pm Sunday. All of them listed for a week, minimum bids between £6.99 and £99 depending on how good I think they might be. There are some doozies. And there’s some tut.

Three of them – the three I set the cheapest – I know to be the work of my dear departed uncle Peter. Peter dabbled in painting as a youth but then decided he preferred to be an estate agent. Two are of the same church in Jersey and the other is The French Riviera. They’re very ambitiously framed and I worry I don’t like them because I know them to be his. But that’s the advantage of Ebay – things find their price. One of his has a racy unfinished little nude on the reverse that gives me an idea of where his true interest and talent lay. I bet he turned it round when his mum wasn’t home. I’m still selling it. I have plenty to remember him by, including most of my formal clothing.

“Shall I lie like this?” Peter de Las Casas

There are Victorian lithographs and prints, there’s a huge modern limited edition etching of Brisbane.

Treasury Building – John Hockings

There’s a great big oil painting from an American woman in Venice in the ’50’s called Maud. All are listing tomorrow. A Lunette Chromolithograph of the Crucifixion after Fra Angelico.

There’s a life painting by the teacher of an 1870’s life class, drawing the participants with great character and depth that’s almost impossible to photograph being monochrome black and framed in reflective glass.

There are plenty of boats and Corbière lighthouse was ever popular.

There’s an oil painting of a horse where I kept drawing blanks on an artist called Chichester before just giving up and listing it as “Antique Oil painting of a horse”.

B. Chichester. 1890? Your guess is as good as mine.

Some of the pieces I like enough to keep. I’ve already put one of them up on the wall. More will follow, while others I’m hoping will get a good enough price that I’m gonna let them go. Seventeen of them scheduled so far and tomorrow morning I’ll keep going and get it into the twenties, with some old prints like this one of Jersey Races – one in slightly better nick sold at Christie’s for 1k in 2014.

I ran out of battery twice over the course of my research and photography. I’m not very good at photographing glass frames. I took lots of charging breaks as I’m doing it all on my phone. Such incredibly versatile devices now, despite the horrendous pillaging of minerals to feed our addiction with being up to date.

Photographing. Researching. Writing up. Recording measurements. Working out a decent starting price. Scheduling. I keep falling in love with them as I’m researching them and deciding not to sell them.

Hopefully the ones I’ve scheduled will all sell next Sunday and some might sell very well. Then I have a plan with a potentially huge gaping flaw. I’ve put them down for £12.50 each on postage. That’ll cover Hermes, but Hermes plays football with your parcels…

Essentially my plan is to courier as many as possible to their new homes myself.

I bet they all get bought by Channel Islanders and people from Aberdeen and Cornwall. I’m going to order a roll of bubble wrap online.

So long as they are no longer blocking my radiator, no matter what happens I’m going to call it a win.

“Venice” Oil on Canvas. Maud Maraspin C1960

Soon will the wellerman come

It’s the story we all need right now. Nathan Evans, 26, was working as a postman in Airdrie, between Glasgow and Edinburgh. Landlocked, about an hour’s drive to Leith or to the Firth of Forth. He sat down with a bangybucket in December and he sang a sea shanty to put out on TikTok. I’m in my forties. TikTok is a foreign country. I’m aware of it though. I leave it to the young’uns. This all kicked off ages ago in terms of the internet. I’m late writing about it. But…

There are loads of people making and consuming content there, and the good people of TikTok liked this sea shanty. Like any good content generator Nathan did another shanty in order to surf the wave of popularity. This one was The Wellerman – an old whaling song. And it went completely viral. And I’m thrilled about it, because sea shanties are awesome.

Now all over the world people are playing around with this ancient form of group singing – easy enough for anyone but with loads of depth and history. I’ve been loving the videos of Americans playing it while driving and various celebrities joining in the growing online chorus. Millions of people now – actually millions – from everywhere in the world and they’ve all joined in with Nathan and his hard eyes and his practical hat. There are pop remixes and there are ones with crunchy bass, and the certainty of Nathan’s version combined with the perfection of his burr, his intensity on camera and his grounded nature in interviews – he’s a good vessel for it.

So good that he’s signed with Polydor. A month ago he was a postman. Now he’s got a recording contract. They’ve probably given him a shiny penny and three magic beans in exchange for fifteen generations of his family in slavery, but that’s a pretty good deal these days from record companies. Likely he’ll be thrilled until the magic beans are gone and he reads the small print.

For now, it’s a happy story about people singing together. And maybe Polydor weren’t evil. Ha ha ha. Ha ha ha. Ha. But maybe.

Singing together is breathing together and breathing together is everything. It’s how rallies work. It’s how football supporters and churchgoers get their endorphins. It’s how I do my job. And it’s lovely to think that this guy has changed his life through a song, and made us all happy doing it.

It’s a good song too, even if you’ll get it stuck in your head. I’ve tried a few times to get Sea Shanties into plays I’ve been devising because, frankly, it’s pretty easy to make them sound awesome. The Wellerman is a verse and chorus song, designed for a different crew member to take the verses and the whole crew to join on a simple hopeful chorus. You’ve got some nice archaic language and it ends with mischief in the last moment, when the tonguing is done and they take their leave a final time and don’t sing the last word.

So thanks, Nathan. Of all the things to come out of this atrocious mess of a year we’ve just had, the resurgence of sea shanties in the popular imagination stands up.

What’s it about? It’s about an untenable situation that goes on for too long. It’s about a ship that harpoons a whale and the whale keeps fighting and pulling them by the harpoon. It pulls for 40 days. And still it pulls, long after it should all be over. For all we know the Billy of Tea is still being pulled around, and has been since 1870. The crew are in constant danger and fear for their lives, losing boats from the fleet, and comforting themselves by singing, and by hoping for the wellerman’s arrival with all the good things. Before long, kinder times will come for the Billy of Tea.

“Soon will the Wellerman come, to bring us sugar and tea and rum.” Soon. All will be well. This article has his version embedded, with plenty more. It’s exactly the sort of thing I love, as you go down the videos there – lots of people coming together to add to something beautiful for the sheer joy of it.

I’m here

We have to be careful with each other. We really do. I never thought I’d say it, but thank God I lost all that time to depression and grieving back in the early 2000’s. It’s given me tools for this madhouse.

It’s dark. It’s cold. We are constantly fed division and fear. Our leaders are so narcissistic they don’t think they need to hide the fact they only care about themselves. Many of us are completely uncertain about the future of things we worked incredibly hard to build. Institutions are crumbling, character is fading. Horrible unimaginative people are cornering even more of the capital. And we all have to stay at home.

You remember somebody saying “God it’s so good to see you,” and touching your arm? Group hugs? Jumping in water together? Sharing a cake? Glastonbury is already cancelled this coming summer now. Another avalanche to come. Footballers earn a higher percentage of their wage by isolating so they can sweat and barge and bleed at each other. We can’t sit in the huge stadiums, but at least there’s a show. Not like most of the empty stages – huge wonderful historic buildings that might well end up being turned into pubs or flats by neutral faced clay men with collars, clipboards and contacts.

The only shot we seem to have at togetherness is rioting. Maybe the queue at the supermarket, but there’s no endorphin rush there. It’s why people seem to have started making up shit just so they can have a good riot.

Outside of riots we can’t be with friends – with strangers – with humanity. We haven’t been able to for ages now. In summer at least the outdoors was appealing. It’s the dark days of the year and we are stuck in a bubble with our heads and maybe Zoom which doesn’t do the invisible things. It’s like we’re being stretched from our daemons. Please be kind to yourself in this all. Please.

Another school friend jumped off Beachy Head. They found her this morning.

We were at the boarding school I was sent to when I was eight. I knew her as an adult too. There’s a bit of contact between the few of us. A little bit. A pleasant bit. She was great. I haven’t seen her for ages, but the call came nonetheless. She had kids. A partner. Like with one more old friend I find myself wondering how many of us she drove near to. How many of us would have wanted to welcome her, to listen to her, accept her, allow her to just be.

All the patterns are different at the moment and people are flooded with unfamiliar stimulus. We go to the internet for refuge from the world but everybody else is doing it too and lots of them are screaming into it. And I find myself honestly wondering, with my brittle history, how I seem to be perfectly okay and with enough headspace to sponge up anything you might need to offload.

Call me if it’s dark in there. I’m not sure how good at it I am but I’m very good at being distracted by shiny things and that appears to be a pretty useful trait right now. Shiny things combat the darkness and they’re everywhere. Plus I’m good at accepting. Not as good at it as Lou, but good in a kind of distracted way. Shiny distraction. And yes, I’m feeling it too. We all are. It’s just not an easy time.

A friend sent this picture. I used to go to church with the artist so I’m sure he wouldn’t mind me putting it up for you. He’s a huge heart, and a great talent. Like she was. Like you are.