Quick turnaround

I don’t let myself binge box sets very often these days. Not enough time in the day and the list of unfinished business is seemingly neverending. But today so far I’ve watched 6 episodes back to back of something I’d never normally choose. I can tell myself it’s for work, you see.

Email this morning from my agent, as I was in transit from Brighton back home to pick up the threads of my life here. One of the aspirational casting directors has remembered me from something I did twenty years ago and has called me in. Sometimes it amazes me how that can happen. I’ve got a couple of scenes to learn and put on tape tomorrow, and I’ve got a season to watch if I want full context. I can enjoy it and call it work as I establish how to pitch myself.

I’m gonna need a haircut though. My agent said it’s fine, just tell them it’s lockdown and you couldn’t manage. Maybe… But my guy is traditional. He’s old school. I’ve already shorn myself like a new born lamb. It’s my job to give myself the best shot I can, so I’m gonna find a way to snip the locks tomorrow before filming the scenes and sending them off. For however many years, I’ve waited for a shot at meeting this casting director. A tape is just a tape. But it’ll do, so long as I pitch it right. This could be a nice thing to do as we struggle back up into the light, and I’m enjoying the first season enough to know it’s something I’d be happy to give my head to. Certainly I’ll make myself look neat and learn some words and bother a friend and give up an afternoon for the chance of it. It’s part of my job.

It feels auspicious. They just shot on a beach where I was walking a few weeks ago, and cut to a street behind my flat. I’ve learnt by now not to give my hope too soon, and anybody wishing me good luck will only annoy me, but this is where I write about my day so that’s the thing that happened today. I’m forced by NDA etc to be vague as anything so you won’t hear me name the show. Scripts for these things come watermarked with your name, so if you forward it and it ends up leaked then it all traces back to you and you’ll never work in this town again motherfucker. I’ve got the whole episode I’m meeting for to read before I go to bed. It’s all a bit rushed for me. I could have done with a second sleep on the lines, but clearly they want my tape in before the weekend so they can marvel at how right I am for the part for two days and then call my agent with the good news on Monday.

So tonight, four more episodes and read one, secure lines, sleep. Tomorrow morning select clothing and run lines, groom and pin down friend for help and possible haircut. Tomorrow afternoon to evening record it. Then get it sent and try to utterly forget I ever did anything until the phone rings. Gah. But I said I needed to get on set. Here’s the shot.

Home the slow way

Cheddar Gorge town is totally shut, as you’d expect. I imagine the same is true of Niagara across the water and loads of other tourist towns. These places that only really have an economy because they’re near a thing that people go and look at… Many of them are going to be driven into the ground by now. The windows of the hotels are boarded up at the bottom of the gorge, the lights are all out, nobody walks the streets. It’s like a ghost town. We drove through looking at the shutters swinging in the breeze. We were just glad to check out the gorge on our way home. We stood in an empty coach stop listening to the birds fighting. We saw just two people who were working in the area. A construction worker held a sign saying “Go”, and a single shop was open selling coffee and cupcakes. By the side of the road we also saw a single oblivious brown goat. Cheddar Gorge.

I had chosen the scenic route as I had plenty of petrol. Before long we turned a corner and saw Glastonbury Tor on the horizon – unmistakable. We didn’t stop on the high street, but the wells were still running and bereft of crowds so we filled our water bottles with well water. Back in the car and a bit more south and eventually we were in a car park looking at the Cerne Abbas giant. For some reason, he had been my destination all along – I probably diverted about an hour and a half just to get to him on the way home. I don’t really know why, either. I just knew he was kind of in the right direction. I’ve never been to him before. I just felt called … drawn to his vast priapic cock, your honour.

It was cold and wet. We stood admiring him from the car park, with neither of us wanting to trek up the hill to walk on his member.

The giant. From the car park.

Nobody really knows who he represents. Some say Hercules, some say he marks the burial of a nephilim. Others say that because there is no record of him before 1694 that he is just some obtuse jibe at Cromwell. I call bullshit on that, not in this area. Far too much ancient stuff buzzing around here. His penis called to me because he’s of an older world than Cromwell. Hercules is familiar, but only because he was written down. Our tales were lost with the genocide of our storytellers and druids and wisdom keepers. Who knows who he is. Gog? He’s a colossal ithyphallic clavigerous petrographic figure. He’s got a big cock and a weapon and he’s made out of stones. Who he is doesn’t matter so much as what he is. If you ever need the energy of a dude with a big cock and a weapon, he’s your man. Clearly part of me felt I needed to connect with that energy right now. I was glad to look at the happy fellow from the car park. I might go lie on that vast dick another time, when the summer has come down and restrictions have lifted. That’s what you’re supposed to do, I think – sprawl on his manhood. That’s what I have been led to understand anyway, m’lud.

The rest of the journey was less loaded with ancient sights. The lovely village of Chettle came and went – gorgeous with a manor house to die for that was recently sold because the incumbent family were burning money trying to fight each other for ownership. That’s in Dorset, and we passed just as the rain was starting. We saw a lot of England through the windows of the car before the rain came. Now I’m safely installed by the sea again in Brighton with my emotional support bubble, AKA Lou. Tomorrow I’ll have to go back home to sink into admin hell while she attempts to make sense of her existence here after her long foray into meditation and her brief stint as my plus one on the driving job.

Stop in the Mendips

Blagdon Lake, North of the Mendips, is a little man-made lake near the village of Butcombe, just out of Bristol. Near here a man and his daughter have constructed a tin hut in their garden, plumbed it, and stuck in a wood burner. This can’t be a good time for Airbnb hosts, but tonight they’ve got guests. It’s already dark. I’ve been working. I had two choices and I chose the nicer option – to sleep here.

This morning my lovely assistant and I picked up a box of puppets from a haulage depot in Bognor. “All the boxes were broken so I got the lads to shift everything into this one,” says the big unit I’m picking up from. He hands me a box of broken puppets. They’re off to Bristol. I hope they were broken before they got moved from box to box. I don’t want to get accused of breaking them.

The miles fly by beneath me and Bristol happens almost before my bum gets numb. It’s helpful having a lovely assistant for jobs like this as the journey is peppered with good conversation. I drop the box off and explain what the guy told me. “They’re in for repair,” says perhaps the wife of the man I’m delivering to. So that’s good. No harm done. They’re dropped ready to be made lovely for when the theatres open again. Job done. Time to drive twenty minutes into the Mendips with my lovely assistant and stop in this cabin with her.

It’s basically a garage – or it’s where the garage was. Tin on the outside, wood on the inside, with a burner and a stream running audibly past the windows. It’s a beautiful job, and feels very new. I’ve filled the wood burner and it’s blazing away, roaring and banging as the chimney heats up. I can’t even really remember what it’s like to be cold now. We brought curry to make. There’s a big hot shower.

These well appointed but spare Airbnbs are a reminder for me of how you don’t need a million busts of William Gladstone, sixteen boxes full of music scores, a tank of fish, brass fire implements with no fireplace, three different people’s collections of ceramic ornaments, furniture on all the furniture, a Buddhist Catholic pagan altar by the chimney, all the books about Shakespeare and a snake. I’ll be comfortable here tonight, surrounded by little. A few books, a roaring fire in a wood burner, a trickling stream to sing me to sleep, and my lovely assistant providing company and warmth.

I won’t get the accommodation on expenses, but it’s pretty damn good when you can have a stop like this in the line of work – especially when work is so thin on the ground. I’m glad those puppets needed moving to Bristol, and I’m lucky to have my lovely assistant with me. Now for that shower.

Grumpy Tigger

Sometimes I’m Tigger. Sometimes I’m not. Today I wasn’t. Today I’m not.

I still had to stand in a window for hours being enthusiastic. Looking on Instagram I clearly pulled it from somewhere as there’s videos of me bouncing and looking delightfully happy. It’s just as well they weren’t broadcasting sound though or my jumpy happy dancing would’ve been put into sharp contrast by my heartfelt cries of “FUCK YOU I’M COLD!” or “MAKE IT STOP!”

Nevertheless I’m likely one of the only human beings in my sector who were working live this weekend – despite lack of footfall and the desperate chill. Oxford Street is still deserted – usually such a mess of humanity. I avoid it at all costs normally as you get pushed into the buses on the road by angry walkers, by speeding cycles and by idiots trying to force their beliefs on you. Even the pigeons avoid it. This afternoon I strolled amid the empty grey shops failing to find a sandwich that wasn’t Pret à Manger, barely seeing another human soul. It’s a strange privilege to see the city so shut down. I still allow myself to think of it as unusual, rather than the new way. When it comes back it’ll come back different and it’ll come back slowly. It’s unlikely the landlords will be evolved enough to lower rent after they’ve spent so many years crushing out all colour, so things like Topshop will sit empty until they’re tenanted by some other monstrous arsehole and the whole faceless machine will start grinding into gear once again, and chewing us up with it because in the end we are lazy and will sacrifice our everything for convenience.

I ended up back at Pret because I didn’t pack a lunch. There I was, ordering a quick cheese and ham toasty for a fiver. Not much cheese or ham. But the only other options were Macdonald’s and Starbucks. Pret is owned by Macdonald’s. Starbucks is owned by Beelzebub. All of us are owned by Nestle. Or is it Facebook? I guess it’s split. Like the old belief that having your photograph taken splinters your soul – we’ve mostly been portioned out now, spoonfed bit by bit into the wet fat mouths of shiny looking brandspiders in exchange for a quicker lunch break or a sticker on our shoe.

I wandered back and I shoved my nasty hot sandwich into my face under striplights surrounded by plastic as Marie danced alone to cheer people up. If St Peter keeps statistics and you get them at The Pearly Gates when you die, I reckon I must be pushing 300 lifetime Pret Cheese and Ham toasties by now. I’d sooner not find out. But they’re warm, quick, easy to eat, and EVERYWHERE. And they aren’t a Big Mac, even if they’re basically the same. I need to learn to pack my own lunch.

I’m back home now and I think it’s warmer than it was but it hasn’t got through to me yet. I’ll be driving all day tomorrow. For now I’m just lying on my back with the fish bubbling to my right and Lou packing up things she sold on eBay. We had fish and cassoulet and now it’s chamomile and bed and chances are I won’t be such a grumpy sod tomorrow, and my feet will have warmed up.

Cold love bomb

More cold, damn it all. When will it ever end? London is angry with cold. I stood in the window and tried to cheer a tiny bit of the freezing city up. I may or may not have succeeded. I didn’t succeed in cheering myself up. I was just too cold.

Fashionable leggings. Two pairs, with the most fashionable on the outside. Cashmere jumper under fashionable branded hoodie. Huge pink cat head. Enthusiasm. Check. More enthusiasm? Caffeine? Check.

Joy Bomb is now Love Bomb and there’s a van with videos. We’re backing it up in the window while whoever is left on the post apocalyptic streets of London can be momentarily bemused by this van with a sexy panda.

Meanwhile, opposite our window, Claridges have opened an Épicerie. People stand in short queues and emerge smiling with white boxes full of all sorts of goodies. They see us and wave as they wait. “You must be cold,” mimes a man in full chef’s uniform after he realises we’re entertaining their customers while they wait. “We are absolutely freezing,” we mime back, and a few minutes later there’s a guy crossing the road to us with two hot cups of coffee. Good coffee too. Claridges, innit. “I’m glad I’m back on the caffeine” I think while I sip. My blood has turned to ice and despite the dancing I might shatter if I bang my elbow. The coffee helps.

And so the day passes in coffee, dancing, coffee and cold. By the time I get home I’m tired from it all, so tired from this sodding cold, but Lou is running a hot hot bath and there’s food to cook. We eat and heat and wind down and then watch a documentary about The Isle of Man and the TT races. Now I’m trying to write and getting a constant flow of information about Guy Martin. He’s the centre of the doc and has clearly written his own Wikipedia as it’s full of completely irrelevant information which Lou is imparting to me as I try to hold some form of consistent memory of what I’m writing. It’s not easy, but he’s an unusual fellow, Guy. A man after my own heart in some ways but crazier than me. Addicted to adrenaline the poor lad, although his thing is motorbikes. It’s a miracle all his limbs are still attached, but you can say that of anybody who rides. Which reminds me, spring is coming. It’s nice having a car but …

Cold Closed Lewes

Absolutely glorious day today if you look at it through glass. The sun is falling over the sea now, I’m back indoors and my feet are jammed under a radiator. Bright sunlight, clear skies and a wind from Hel herself.

We drove to Saltdene and managed about seven minutes on the undercliff before we had been stripped to the bone by ice and forced back to the Audi. Thankfully there’s a good heating system in there.

A day’s walking commuted to a day’s driving. I wasn’t going to pass up on such a glorious day, but time outside had to be minimised and time inside is only possible at home. Car time. We drove to Lewes. I didn’t really know Lewes, and frankly I still don’t because everything is closed. We looked at how we weren’t able to get into the castle, marveled at streets full of antique shops that were locked, and eventually found a walled garden where we were able to sit for a while and imagine Spring, with the sun on our face and the wall protecting us from the worst of this katabatic wind, and the squirrels frolicking. Peace for a moment. Just a couple of people and an abundance of living things.

We bought a coffee through the window of a shop, and spun over to the little village where Virginia Woolf walked to her end. A little cottage in a sweet village full of scowling people. A beautiful garden by a pretty church. She filled her pockets with stones and took herself to The Ouse. Fast flowing, deep and sharply cold. Poor spirit. Down she went. Her old house is closed, of course, but maintained by live-in caretakers who clocked us peering over the wall like apple-scrumping Victorian schoolchildren.

We found a church that was open. Most of the churches are still open which is a comfort. Empty as ever, but at least we can drop a prayer and a penny in the pot. Say what you like about the church, at least it’s not the state.

You don’t have to go far in this area to find something beautiful. With these expensive and twee towns, these retirement enclaves and with the South Downs and the many ancient sites mingled with stone vestiges of the Norman duke’s profound and irreversible smash of conquest into the old ways here. I can’t be in the countryside in this area without thinking of Paul Kingsnorth’s desperate and wonderful book “The Wake” where he imagines a man whose world is turned around by the conquest – written in an approximated lost language:

“aefry ember of hope gan lic the embers of a fyr brocen in the daegs beginnan brocen by men other than us. hope falls harder when the end is cwic hope falls harder when in the daegs before the storm the stillness of the age was writen in the songs of men so it is when a world ends who is thu i can not cnaw but i will tell thu this thing be waery of the storm be most waery when there is no storm in sight”

St Leonard’s and Grimms

I really hope we’re coming to the end of the cold now. The seagulls are back in Brighton, yarking on the roofs and ruffling up their feathers, showing the early stages of horny-seagull that we associate with springtime. Today we walked in Hastings, taking in the eclectic architectural bonanza that forms the backstreets of St Leonards. H Rider Haggard lived there in an old toll booth looking down to the sea, along with Alan Turing down the road, and various dignitaries and suffragettes scattered around in Decimus Burton properties. Even George Bristow gets a plaque. Who’s George Bristow?

He made guns. Then he took his guns to France and shot birds that are rare in the British Isles. Then he stuffed them, took them over the channel back here, said he’d found them in Hastings, and flogged them to enthusiastic twitchers for top dollar, simultaneously enriching himself, killing lots of rare birds and causing a terrible headache for future scientists looking at species diversity. He was long dead when he was rumbled in the sixties. Now he’s got a plaque in St Leonards. The Hastings Rarities Affair. Even cheating taxidermists get a plaque these days. And the white winged snowfinch has officially never been indigenous to the UK and is once again listed as such.

Walking was so cold though, and my feet have mostly been blocks of ice. I’ve crawled into bed now and my toes have got pins and needles where the blood is returning. Enough cold. Enough.

Curled up on the sofa this evening we went to the theatre. Strange and sad to see friends at work and not be with them afterwards. It was lovely though – powerful and atmospheric. Appropriate to the weather, my friends at Creation Theatre are doing a creepy Grimm’s Tales, live streamed on Zoom from all over the country with intricate little sets that they must have posted to the different actor’s homes. It’s lovely to see them still pushing the envelope – they really haven’t stopped and it’s an unusual evening once again. Five little tales interwoven, personally told and smartly too. Lots of death and neglect and inevitability and broken plans, and then a moment of togetherness at the end where we hold candles against the dark and see each other doing the same. Moving, and the best we can manage in this shut down world. It made me long for contact as it made me glad of what I’ve got.

So many things I want to be over. The cold. The dark. The separation. How we all feel is a great illustration of how the internet keeps us together on one level but is empty of true contact on most others. I want hugs from all of you. Actual hugs. Not pictures of hugs.

It’s gonna be ok. The light is coming.

Memory of a cat

Into the Audi and through the dark streets from London to Brighton, leaving in a flurry of snow and last minute phone calls. Cars on the road in similar quantities to a normal world, but this is because the trains are empty. Gradually bearing south, and I go through Croydon on the way. Pickle is in Croydon. Remember Pickle? There once was a cat.

I haven’t seen Pickle for over a year and thinking of her gives me little twinkles of anxiety. I hadn’t really understood that she’d be leaving when I went off to America to shout for money. But leave she did, taking Brian with her and perniciously leaving Kitcat in her place. Not the kittycat I liked to snuggle with. Kitcat was a bit bigger and less fluffy.

Pickle lives in Croydon now and ’tis for the best, I tell myself. I’ve upped and gone to Brighton for two nights which wouldn’t be possible were she in the flat. She’d starve and be sad. Also she’d eat all the fishies and tussle with Hex. Doesn’t stop me from missing her when I think about her, which is why I try not to do so. For a long time there was a cold spot next to me in bed – I literally slept with a placebo teddy for a bit after I got back from America. Then I let myself forget. Easier that way.

She’s back in my thoughts because Brian rang me up. It’s past time she was neutered and they’ve had it done, but she had funny things wrong in her tiny little body and for a while the vets were worried. They seem to be satisfied she’s okay now, which is a relief. I really wouldn’t want her to be back in my thoughts only to have her critically ill. But it’s another absolutely bastard part of this lockdown situation, that I’m in an extended enforced separation from my one time daemon. I’m sure I’d have seen her by now if the world hadn’t exploded shortly after I got back from the USA. But it hasn’t been possible. And now I miss her again.

Still, I get to see Lou. She’s a bit bigger than Pickle too, and also less fluffy. But she’s very good at making tasty food where Pickle just ate stinky things, she’s running a bath for me and Pickle could barely turn the tap, and she’s just as good at snuggles while being 100% less likely to shit on the duvet.

I’m sitting outside her flat now, finishing this with the heater running in the car. The dashboard thermometer tells me it’s minus 2 out there, God help us. It’s gonna drop to minus 5 in the small hours. I’ll be glad of not sleeping alone tonight. And of a hot bath and soup. Glory.

Thinking ahead

It’s February and suddenly I’m thinking about Christmas. The last few days I’ve been pinging questions to Brian and getting answers about things I haven’t thought about for many a year. Producing things. It’s a different world. When I shot out the gate from Guildhall I immediately produced a load of stuff, sometimes for my friends and sometimes with myself in it and sometimes just for kicks. Then mum died and etc etc for about a decade before I woke up and looked around at the wreckage and wondered who this person was that I’d gently forgotten about in favour of wine and rage.

Thankfully while I was stumbling around I managed to bump into quite a few interesting kind and creative people who didn’t mind the mess of me. I found quite a colourful existence while I was sad. And today I bent over with my creaky knees and picked up a dusty old ball with the word “producing” on it, blew off the cobwebs and tried it for heft.

Hereford is where the forces beyond our ken are pointing me right now. To the centre of town and a venue. Once again a Christmas Carol, but unlike the last few years where nobody but Brian and Rebecca thought about it until late November I’m trying to start the ball rolling in February. I’m gonna extensively rework it, make it wider and wilder and employ quite a few more people in the process. This thing might not end up being called Christmas Carol at all, but some sort of Dickensian hullabaloo of party and delight that isn’t bound by a short season and could play with tweaks in late June. Fuck it, why not? The actor in me says Scrooge but the producer is thinking about the bottom line and the bums on seats. In the faraway time I blended both roles – actor and producer – but I miscast myself. I’ve learnt better now. I know what I’m selling and I’m bloody good at it, and if the mountain won’t come to Mohammed then Mohammed is just gonna build himself a mountain in Hereford.

If we are allowed by then that is. That’s the new magic “if”. By December either everybody will have had these bad mix and match vaccines with too long in-between and died or lived as they please, or there’ll be measures in place to let live arts come back as plague death rooms where liberally minded people are sent to infect themselves and you have to sign a waiver and give your soul to Boris Johnson and note how many gold teeth you have before entry. Either way I’m building towards it being possible, and devil take the hindmost. Somebody has to start employing actors or the packaging industry will start to suffer because all the cardboard will have been eaten. I’d prefer it if the person doing the employing is like myself or Brian and not like some of the buckets I’ve spun my heart out for in exchange for a thwack in the nose and a shiny penny. It’s useful that I’ve got a friend who knows the score. He’s got a million irons in the fire but he picks up the phone to me. Haphazard boozy Al, well done sir. Good choice of friends.

Now it’s funding application time. Oh hell. Oh double hell. I can barely fill in my measurements.

Every project needs a notepad

Shopping in snow

Six months sober today. If I calculate six pounds per night on wine average, that’s paid for the Audi. Good thing too. It has been invaluable in this pandemic, having the capacity to move around without coming into contact with anybody else. I’m sitting in it as I write, with the heaters on, looking out at snowy London. I took the car for a spin so it doesn’t freeze up. Also I had some shopping to do for Jacky. Pinot Grigio today, mostly, and smoked fish and some other things. Jacky’s a bit weirded out that I’m not buying myself a bottle of wine anymore like she asks. Expensive chamomile tea was my luxury today. The new crack. I’ll pop open the kettle later and have a good long warning draught of the stuff. Nom.

Snow has settled in London, and the amateur artists have come out. My street was full of snowcocks. Jacky’s street was kinder – little love hearts on the snowed up cars. How bouji.

Or are they testicles?

Five days ago spring was really giving a good showing but now any of the overconfident daffodils that stuck their heads up last week have been roundly murdered by this sudden descent of frost. It’s rare that it gets through the ambient temperature in this city – through the fug of warm carbon that crouches over us all. But it’s here, and it came quickly. Traffic cops are up to their eyeballs in injured delivery drivers, insurance companies are laying on more staff to field the calls from dented bodywork and broken legs, salt manufacturers are charging saffron prices by the weight to panicked councils determined to dissolve our shoes in the process of demonstrating a commitment to safety. The trains don’t really have to run on time right now but I bet they are anyway. Snow is in the city. This is why I went shopping for Jacky. She has bad legs – all the martial arts. She is now fully vaccinated, but she ain’t going shopping in this.

As always, at the top of the stairs, we had a little chat about things. Usually we talk about the industry, our shared agent, our hopes. Today, after her vaccine, she wouldn’t stop talking about Bill Gates. “I have a direct line to him now,” she told me. “He sings to me as I sleep. Join us. Come with us.” Then she stuck her tongue out and it was three foot long. Her shopping was weird too. Alongside the Pinot and the fish, the other things were basically two dozen Birds Eye Frozen London Rats (XL).

I’m back home now, looking forward to my sexy chamomile to celebrate six months sober. I should put some honey and lemon in it to celebrate. And malt whisky? Maybe in August.