Left over currency

Some of my friends hate cash. “It’s filthy.” “It allows crime.” “It’s annoying.”

This pandemic has not been kind to cash. There are lots of outlets that don’t want it these days. Places that just a year ago would have insisted “cash only please” are now insisting you pay with contactless. I don’t like it, not because I particularly like cash, but because I prefer cash to the alternative – to notcash. To a cashless society. I like people to have the option.

Obviously first it’s about the homeless and people who want to live off grid. Government can say that they’ll “solve” homelessness and that people shouldn’t live off grid. But that’s still narrowing our options. We might allow or even champion the phasing out of cash. But even if it doesn’t affect us very much, it shrinks the world around us, it limits options. And eventually we are affected, by which time it’s too late. The business of governance desires an easy populace. The fewer options a populace has, the easier we are to channel.

I’ve had my hands in a load of cash today, getting it out of my possession and making it digital. It’s a lifetime of spare change, spread now over three containers. Filthy filthy coins, not at all sorted, just jumbled together in various containers. I was repeatedly washing my hands as I sorted it all. I figured it would pay me a half decent hourly rate to turn it into PayPal money. Auditions seem thin on the ground at the moment despite the industry waking up. There’s something around the corner I’m sure. But for now I’ve been sorting old coins – it’s like a little journey through my past. Hong Kong dollars, Czech Krone, Thai Bhaat, Peruvian Soles, French Francs, Greek Drahme… The largest pile was Channel Island pennies – (not technically sterling although easy to fob off in bars). Then US dollars. Then Swiss Francs and Rappen. All still current, but now all bagged up and logged online. I also found tons of expired random currency from UAE and Bosnia and Macedonia and old strange textured 1950’s French Francs and all sorts of other unusual bits, some of them firing memories and others leaving me wondering how the hell they found their way to my flat when I’ve never been anywhere near the country they’re from. A hundred Leones, anyone? 25 Rhodesian Cents?

It’s all sorted now. I’ve logged all the expired currency, along with the Swiss Francs and the dollars and I’m posting it to leftovercurrency dot com where they give pennies on PayPal for stuff that has been out of circulation for ages, and they take the lot. I even chucked in a few coins I couldn’t identify. Last time I used them they adjusted my receipt by like £0.0076 for some shekels I didn’t bother logging. It doesn’t come to much. It’ll be just over £50. But for about two hours work that’s ok.

As for the British currency, I’m gonna take all the tins to the car and see if the banks will take it. If they refuse, I’ll end up pouring it into one of those cages where Sainsbury’s or ASDA or somesuch take ten percent and give you a receipt for store credit.

I’m starting to worry about money now you see. The antique sales have tailed off. I’ll need to get on set and do the thing I’m supposed to do before long. Something’ll show up. Somehow it always does. But for today, I’ve been a friend’s Uber driver for less than Uber. And on the way home I stopped for some chips at a kebab shop that was open. And they told me “cash only”.


My friend has basically been stuck in New Zealand for over a year now. I’ve got her snake, and periodically I go and check that nothing has exploded in her Hampstead flat. She’s lived in that flat for twenty years, since she left college. While she’s been in New Zealand she has kept up the rent and council tax. She isn’t allowed to sublet, so she hasn’t. This hasn’t stopped the landlord from announcing out of the blue that my friend has to leave immediately. No notice. No lead time. No hint. Just a sudden heave-ho by email. Evictions have been suspended, but my friend isn’t living there right now. New Zealand time is no good whatsoever for communication either. I got a call in the morning and I’ve been trying to make some movement in the waking hours of the day. No joy.

The landlord knows I haven’t got a key to the deadlock and they’ve deadlocked the flat so there’s no way for me to get in. I’m not getting any replies to my messages yet. I can’t even get my own stuff out, let alone start making sense of the volume of my friend’s stuff to be sorted through. The thing I can’t countenance is how there’s been no notice. I rent out a room here on a casual basis and even I give a clear two months and then don’t particularly mind if there’s an overspill while people get their shit together. I’m hoping I’ll get a word with the landlord of my friend in the near future, but I’m not expecting much sense out of them. As the occasional caretaker I’ve met them. I was essentially made to feel unwelcome at the flat some time ago and now it’s developed further. This landlord is another person sitting on an asset and doing very little with it – I’ve been like that for frustrating years to my friends. They too have historically charged very little rent, but now they’ve got a bee in their bonnet. It’s this Covid bollocks. It’s sharpened a lot of us as we have been forced to find other avenues – particularly the self-employed who have been left behind in the furlough or overlooked altogether because they had a baby or somesuch.

Today though I dropped my shit for that of my friend, and now I only have a week left to make my flat inhabitable for the Jethro’s parents. Right now they would die of horror. A week, with the brand new temptation of somebody else’s drama just up the hill in North London.

Time to knuckle down in some way. I’m never sure which job to prioritise first so I prioritise none of them. But with a week left I’ll have to leap to the deadline. Not just try to get into a flat, leave a load of missed calls and go look at a bunch of trees on the Heath.

The Wellingtonia

I went to a school with a proper fucking garden. When I was eight and a sea away from my parents the extent of my privilege didn’t occur to me. There I was, in my pajamas, pissed off about the fact that the former Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation had sent me out of Lower White Dormitory for talking. I was unaware that most kids of eight didn’t go to a school where there was a jungle, a lake, flowing water, acres of grass, redwood trees and future politicians playing cricket in the Sussex sunshine. They even built a theatre when I was there. The maths teacher directed the shows and he was dead inside and preferred blonde boys. But the theatre still inspired me.

The redwood tree is my biggest takeaway, though. I’m not likely to go into politics, or any of the other industries which are colonised by graduates from that place. There’s one more actor that I know of from Ashdown House – a good man and doing fucking well. Contemporary with me. I can stretch towards his career and maybe touch the edges of it. He waited for me after a premier once where I was in the film and he wasn’t. I was a bit starstruck even though it was supposed to be my movie night. He was a prefect when I was a little one, and even went to the same drama school as me. I’ve never heard him talk about his background though and so I’m gonna be discreet for him and not connect his name with my beautiful tiny school in Sussex.

I love that tall red tree.

A Sequoiadendron – frequently colonised as a “Wellingtonia” in the UK to honour the Iron Duke who died in 1852 around the time most of the first saplings were brought to the UK. My childhood love for this tree is what took me to drive hundreds of miles up the 1 from San Francisco over a year ago, and then to hike into the depths of a reserve that may well be ashes now.

The school has just been closed forever. The trust that owned it lost too much money and had to drop a school. They chose this one despite the incumbent Prime Minister and his brother being alumni. I was driving through Forest Row and thought I’d take what may well be a last chance look at the place before something happens to it. There’s still a deer skull in the porch. It’s still made out of that incredible stone with wide ranging views over Sussex to the forest. And the Wellingtonia is still there, next to the stand of rhododendron that’s now inhabited by chickens.

I didn’t spend long there. I barely saw a soul. I stayed long enough for a quick clamber and to grab some souvenirs of pine cones in case the next time I’m passing, the way is barred by a huge iron gate.

It’s a beautiful place, a peaceful place and a possible place. Many powerful lives have been launched from the calm there, many good lives, many kind lives.

Should you be that billionaire philanthropist I’ve been waiting for all my life, let’s talk about how we can get hold of that magical property in the heart of powerful land in Forest Row and turn it into an artistic spiritual Wonderland with a destination theatre and facilities for so many people to make so many things in peace and beauty. It could be a thriving community. It needs to be filled with life there. A place takes on the power of its use, and this place has been charged up with launching many small lucky lives into the world. I struggled with boarding. But memory is kind.


The magnolias are in bloom across London – those fragile and gorgeous blossoms that come for such a short while but brighten up the city in Spring. The cherry trees are shooting out as well, with pink fairies in the air. There are daffodils everywhere there’s grass. It’s a glorious time of year, signalling hope for the summer to come. Speing. A typo. For a time if being a bit like Spring. Speing has spig.

I’ve been pounding the streets with Lou. We went to Notting Hill Farmers Market and ended up with a punnet of mushrooms, some speing flowers and … well … and two packs of smoked sturgeon.

It’s just a bunch of stalls in a car park, mostly selling meat to us but with pockets of variance and two young lads selling caviar and smoked fish, which of course drew my attention. Last time I was at the market in Notting Hill I was the one selling the smoked fish. Tom Hollander bought two Arbroath smokies. So it’s nice to turn the tables and be the actor buying the fish. “It’s bred in the UK” “I’ll have two!”

I’ve never been to Kensal Green Cemetery before despite Harriet living right by the place over a decade ago. We kept on meaning to go for a walk there back then but somehow always went somewhere else instead. Today was as good a time as any to hit an attractive place of death. It’s still very much the parental deathiversary season, so the transient nature of mortal pride sits squawking at the front of my mind. It’s a quiet and beautiful space, and there are still people going in there amongst the ancient tombs. Some parts are crumbled in, others are shining. We come across a huge open plan tented memorial to a young boy killed in a riding accident. There’s a statue of him with a football, adorned with a clean yellow arsenal scarf. Some of these memorials are all about letting go. Others seem to be all about holding on. Further down we find balloons from recent cremations, and at one point we pass a car with tinted windows blaring out shonky house music. Hard to tell if it’s mourners distracting themselves from grief or local gangster wannabes hotboxing with the dead on a Saturday morning.

Down the canal to Meanwhile Gardens and the Trellick Tower.

Mel and I built an installation there ten years ago on a summer night, filling it with sound and light, fire jugglers and a treasure hunt led by strange recorded voices. “Take a calabash and draw me some water”. Projections on the tower, little snippets of story and memory about the area and its history. I haven’t been there since. We sat by the lake where we had a guy stinking of petrol as he twisted his burning poi. There are benches on the little wooden bridge. It used to be rustic and quite lovely. Now all the gaps in the wood have all been strung across with wire or plugged with plastic barriers and traffic cones and hi-vis tape. Some idiot has said it’s wasn’t safe, so they’ve fucked it up in order to prevent notional people notionally drowning. Safety again. Screw you, safety, and your mission to steal the colour from the world.

British summertime starts tomorrow. And a full moon in Libra. My sign. Speing. Being it on.

Jealous cat

Gorringes. It’s not the sexiest name. I guess auction houses aren’t the sexiest places (although I’m still a big fan of Tennants). Nevertheless today I brought a picture to Gorringes. I’m widening my sphere. Working out what works where. So far I’ve learnt that – from my point of view – Tennant’s can sell ANYTHING but they’re in Yorkshire, Rosebery’s know what they can sell and what they can’t and Lot’s Road… well, they’re five minutes drive from me and I’m still never taking another thing to sell there again.

Now I’m trying Gorringes as it’s in Lewes – only twenty minutes drive from Lou. This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

I dropped a picture off with them today. It’s no lost Picasso. It’s by Maud Maraspin, an American woman living in Venice in the sixties and painting large decorative studies of the canals in oil. It’s pretty, and they reckon it should get £200 – £300. I’m good with that. I’ve only got a limited amount of time left to shift the biggest things. Another item I have no space for is now winging its way to find love somewhere else.

It was also an excuse to pick up Lou and bring her back with me to my lovely new bedroom. She has made a blind for the window, to keep the heat in and stop me from being awoken by the sun earlier and earlier as the days grow longer. It’s a beautiful thing – lucky me for finding such a clever human. We’ll put it up tomorrow. She’s with me as I write. And there’s an unforeseen side effect…

The pussycat is jealous.

Poor wee scrap. He was in a cattery for far too long and then this hairy strange man suddenly happened and filled his life with snuggles. He adjusted almost immediately which surprised me because he’s an old fellow and might easily be set in his ways. But there have been no stinky surprises, and he’s been right on his food. He’s bonded with me, and he has chosen territory in the flat and he inhabits and shares that territory comfortably with me.

But he just got massively pissed off with Lou when we were sitting together and not giving him full attention. He went into such a sulk that he was off his Dreamies until he got a marathon stroking session from me on my own. He’s fine again now, back in his wardrobe, but it helped me see what a delicate ecosystem this flat has become. Snake territory by the kitchen door, fishlandia at the far end with the noisy filter, the fine and peaceful bedroom of The Chairman, with his chaise for grooming and his sleepy wardrobe. I might have reached capacity with animals in this flat. Don’t ask me to dogsit, as of course I’ll say yes but then I’ll end up sleeping in the corridor.

“Pet free house” is considered to be a phrase that helps things sell. I’m glad I got the picture out of here today as if I were a jealous cat I’d be looking at things to wee all over…

Time has passed and he’s completely over his jealousy I hope. We’ve just had bellyrubbing time and now it’s time for me to go to bed and him to prowl and have noisy poos in the litter (hopefully). I’m glad to still be moving unwanted things towards people who want them. I’m glad there’s a fluffy little creature. And I’m glad of some company here.

Digital legacy

Mubi has gotten more experimental since last I switched my interest to it’s little clutch of curated films. One film leaves every day, and one film arrives. My habit had always been to watch the one that’s leaving no matter what it is. Today it was a sixteen minute computer generated wide-screen contemplation of digital legacy, narrated by some dude on his phone on top of a hill in the wind. This is why I watch it no matter what. I wouldn’t have chosen it. But it kicked off some decent thoughts.

It naturally started with me thinking about this thing I’m doing right now in your face. My daily blog. Hmm. I haven’t gone into the stats for ages. Bear with me… 1533 posts including this one. Seriously, what the fuck am I doing?

“Whether or not you like it, it’s still going to be there,” says the narrator about the shit we leave online. Even if it’s deleted it’s still there somewhere. When I shuffle off I’ll stop paying for WordPress and most of these blogs will just instantly vanish when the subscription lapses. I guess that’s ok. It’s a living record and a conversation. I probably won’t still be doing it every day by the time I’m dead anyway. But once I stop giving WordPress their pound of flesh, pop goes the weasel unless I’ve worked out how to move it. Hey ho. But nothing is ever truly deleted online. It’ll exist somewhere.

I’m not sure how I feel about this. I barely publish this anyway. I’m just shipping out a bunch of words every day to try and help me feel connected to myself, to you lot, to that world out there that’s been gently receding for so many of us for so long – that strange busy world we used to know.

“Our bodies are temporary but what we do is permanent,” says the narrator. But we make so much to pour into this digital void. “Look everybody look I saw a thing that’s visible!” “Here’s me and another human overusing our facial muscles!” “Here’s a person without very many clothes!” Billions of people like me and you creating things for free. “Generating content,” people used to say. Noise. Digital noise. Blah blah me blah blah.

I was helping a friend this morning who teaches people how to breathe on zoom. She loves it. She was an actor, and a fine one too, and now she’s turned what she learnt in theatre into a business where she helps executives to improve their communication skills and confidence with public speaking. It’s good work and it’s always lovely to hear men and women of all ages having little breakthroughs about all the things we have completely forgotten in this digital world – the way that our breath drives our movement and our thoughts as much as it does our oxygen. The balance of body and mind, and how easy it is to tip too far into one or the other. And just how to speak into the forward space with the appearance of confidence clarity and authority. She makes videos where she talks to camera about using the tongue or easing out the spine or intoning vowels. Those videos will still exist somewhere in 1000 years time, if the narrator of that short is to be believed. They’ll be kicking around with my daily noise and the billions of pictures of somebody’s lunch and the weird insects and the porn and the babies and the product shots and the health warnings. Maybe just on some dusty server in a museum basement somewhere marked “The social media bubble” and accessed digitally on occasion by PhD students of this foolish era of humanity.

This afternoon I drove a friend of mine to various paint shops where she’s colour matching prints and framing artworks that she’s been lovingly crafting for months ahead of an exhibition. They are beautiful and I’m proud to be able to help her. But once again, knowing how quickly the antiques I’ve been finding can deteriorate, I’m wondering if the Instagram photos of her art will outlive the art itself…

Or maybe it WILL all just burn. Eventually it will for sure, when the sun explodes into a red giant and consumes us – but that’s in 5.5 billion years. Those creatures will be the ones who hate us the most. “They plundered the minerals we would have needed to power communication devices that also sent pictures and videos.” “What things were so important to communicate that they destroyed so many resources in doing so?” “Pictures of cute cats.” “Ok. That makes sense I suppose.”

William Huskisson RIP

I was on my daily perambulations when I came upon this statue, in a tiny park near Vauxhall Bridge.

On the socle is his name: William Huskisson. His dates are given – 1770 to 1830. For information we merely have the word “Statesman”.

I become curious. For hundreds of years it would have been impossible to easily gather more information on this man. A library perhaps… Thirty years ago, if you’d spent £200 you might be able to ask Microsoft Encarta – the limited and subjective attempt at a digital encyclopedia before the internet grew up. Nowadays information has a superhighway that we don’t even question. Wikipedia might be written by the users. Perhaps it can be partisan at times and even more subjective than Encarta. But its incredible. And its free. And you should donate so it doesn’t get polluted like so much of the internet these days. I went there to find out more. Standing in front of this proud replica, I found myself laughing at the poor man, not for the way he lived, but for the way he died.

If he WAS a true statesman, as the statue tells us, then he was an exceptionally rare creature. We have none in parliament at the moment. We have rarely seen one in living memory. I’m not sure he was one. I have a feeling that the park we were in was his old townhouse garden. He gives the people some land, we erect a statue to pretend he was important. Deal done.

Unfortunately his lasting claim is not the way he lived. It’s the way he died. He was the first widely reported railway passenger casualty. And he was killed by that great innovation, Stephenson’s Rocket itself. Run over by a train with a top speed of 30mph, probably as it was going at less than 10.

In September 1830, William made an appointment to see the royal doctor, William George Maton.

“What seems to be the problem?”

“It is my waters. They are more and more urgent, more and more frequent. Even after I have passed, I am almost immediately seized by the need to pass once more. The act itself is accompanied by great pain, and despite a sense of need I am often disappointed by just a few small strangled droplets, produced with great discomfort.”

“Let me just inspect you a while…”

“Are you sure this is quite necessary, doctor?”

“It’s the only way I can be quite certain, Sir. Yes. Mmmm. Yes. You appear to be suffering from Strangury, sir. It’s an inflammation of the kidneys. You are to rest yourself immediately. I advise you strongly to cancel any public engagements, and remain at home. Drink plenty of water, lay off the sherry and dance clockwise around a horse every sunset wearing a top hat and matching codpiece.”

“Preposterous. I cannot cancel my appointments. And I shall not lay off the sherry What rot. Why, It is the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester railway on the fifteenth. The Duke of Wellington himself will be there. Even if we never saw eye to eye with his absurd ideal that a minimum wage should be laid into law, now he’s left parliament and the danger of such foolishness has passed, I would like to mend bridges with him. After all, he still has much power in the Lords.”

“Very well, sir. But don’t blame me if you end up dead.”

That’s the scene set. Off goes William Pisskidneys, secretary of state for war and colonies, to see the remarkable Rocket up close.

One thing I haven’t mentioned of William is that he was known to be rather clumsy. An exceptional man with figures, no doubt. He served the enshrined duty of elected officials in this country to be certain that the greatest possible sums of money are taken from the hands of the many and put into the hands of the few. Had he lived now he would have been a hero of the current cabinet, breaking the ministerial code with the fearless impunity that is traditional. But he would have tripped over paving stones on television interviews, and fallen down on the steps of airplanes. Even his statue has lost most of the fingers, not to mention that he’s forgotten his clothes and been forced to wrap himself in a sheet.

So we have a clumsy but clever man who is unwell. And we have a locomotive that can reach the impossible speed of 30mph. And we have The Duke of Wellington, and a hatchet that needs to be buried. And we have a grand opening that doubtless involves large amounts of free sherry. And we have low kidney function.

William got on a special train that was laid on for the Duke and the dignitaries. He wanted very much to talk to the Duke and bury the hatchet, but of course he was not alone in that. He had a reasonably long journey waiting for his moment, sitting in an unfamiliar moving locomotive, drinking free sherry with bad kidneys. By the time he saw his chance it is likely that this clumsy fellow was three sheets to the wind. “Do not alight here,” the announcer called as the Duke got out at the then tiny Parkside Station to stretch his legs. Just a bit of track really. Fifty people alighted after the Duke. Among them was William, hoping to seize his moment. His moment hadn’t come before the announcement came: “An engine is approaching. Take care gentlemen.”

Stephenson’s Rocket was the approaching engine – the famous groundbreaking train in its heyday was slowing down, approaching on the other track.

“Another train is coming. I must get out of the way. Where is the Duke? Perhaps I can shelter with him as it comes in and we can bond in a shared moment of wonder. It is coming closer. I must evade it. But which side of these tracks should I choose? How should I best position myself to catch a moment with his excellency?”

As the train approached in slow motion, William began to panic. A train on a track, so understood by us all, was virtually completely new to William. He crossed the line to one side, realised perhaps that he would then have the train between himself and the Duke, crossed to the other side, realised he might then get left behind, and attempted to clamber back into the train he had originally left, entering from the tracks and not the platform. The half door he was clambering over was not latched closed and it opened slowly under his weight, swinging him back into the path of the approaching Rocket.

It’s all happening in slow motion. There he is, tired sick and tipsy in his finery, turning to face the Rocket helplessly as he clings to the top of an open half door dangling over the tracks. There’s a scream as the great train applies the brakes too late. There’s his scream as he realises it’s unavoidable. In the carriage, the Duke stops mid sentence and drops his gin as he looks through the window. “By God, is that Huskisson? What are you doing, you bloody fool!”

Rocketing along at some 10mph the famous locomotive grinds the door off the Duke’s train and hurls our William into the track before rolling over and absolutely destroying one of his poor legs. He is rushed to the vicarage in Eccles by carriage with an attempted tourniquet but nobody really knows how to treat such a severe injury so they have tea and he makes a will. He is dead from shock and blood loss by 9pm. RIP William.

Now his statue, inexplicably wearing a toga, stands in a tatty garden in Vauxhall. One hand holds a scroll, the other has no fingers. He never got to patch it up with Wellington. Carpe Diem. Poor William. Sic Transit Gloria Mundi.

The 23 Enigma

Apophenia is a word relating to the tendency that we have to connect unrelated things by the very action of seeking that connection. There’s a lot of it about at the moment.

On the 23rd May 2017, I was asked by email to come to a theatre in London and play the writer and thinker William S Burroughs for Daisy Campbell’s Cosmic Trigger. In a certain light we might be related, Burroughs and I. I was 23 when he died, but was aware of his work. This extremely mischievous and beautiful piece of theatre frequently had a different guest actor in to play him, with no rehearsal. I love doing that sort of thing, of course. I ended up doing it a few times and hell yeah it was an incredible and eye-opening piece of work to be involved in. Here’s my first speech – on page 23 of the script.

“In the early 60s in Tangier I knew a certain Captain Clark who ran a ferry from Tangier to Spain. One day, Clark said to me that he’d been running the ferry for 23 years without an accident. That very day the ferry sank killing Clark and everybody aboard. That evening I was thinking about this when
I turned on the radio. The first newscast told me about a crash of an Eastern Airlines plane on the New York-Miami
route. The pilot was also called Captain Clark and the flight was listed as Flight 23.”

This coincidence – recorded and repeated by Burroughs – is thought to be the beginning of what is now called “The 23 Enigma”. Burroughs and his friends began to record unusual coincidences they came across and found them littered with the number 23. They were looking for it. And so they found it. But would it have been the same for a different number? Or for Captains called Clark? Or anything else? Maybe. Maybe not. You never know until you look.

The joy of it is the mischief of it. If you look for it, you find it. It’s a thought experiment. It has great power, like any good thought experiment. Maybe there’s something in it. Maybe there isn’t. But it exists and once you’ve been exposed to it, it starts to crop up more often.

It’s March 23rd. The day both of my parents died, many years apart. Just a coincidence. A long time ago now – maybe 23 years since dad died. A double wham but at least then it’s over for another year.

Dad had read Burroughs and enjoyed the mischief. We once played roulette at the casino in The Isle of Man when I was a very young man. “Put your chip on 23. It comes up more often than any other number,” he told me with his usual twinkle. My memory has it that it did come in. Our memory lies outrageously to us. It tells us stories we want to hear. But maybe it did. I’d like it to be what happened. And magically, that’s enough to make it something that happened. I can never prove or disprove it to myself or to anybody else. It happened and didn’t simultaneously forever.

Today has frequently been hard for me with the double anniversary. Have I got the dates wrong? I don’t think so. I went and checked a few years ago.

I think of the forks in the road. I think of what my parents wanted from me versus what I’ve ended up making of myself. Dad would be fine with me having fun but he would definitely have preferred me to be making more money and being more obviously successful in my field. Mum wanted me to be safer than I’m comfortable being, and probably living in a country pile with an annex for her, rather than a London flat full of other people’s pets.

Perhaps it’s okay that suddenly March 23rd has become “British lockdown anniversary”. Maybe that’s why Boris delayed it so long – is he a disciple of Burroughs wanting to make another significant 23? No! He’s an oaf!

But it means I’m able to split my focus on this day. They say we should hold a torch vigil this evening in memory but won’t we get arrested? The 23rd March. Lockdown Day. Where future generations will think it’s cool to dress down in the evening and join great big “Tiger King” watch parties and then cry lots, put on a fat suit and arrest each other.

It’s worth looking into Burroughs and the other boys if you haven’t by the way. A lot of words, but you can dip in and out. Robert Anton Wilson. Timmy Leary. Powerful playful modern philosophers, breaking patterns to find patterns. Fractals and interconnectedness and fucking with the laws of nature through psychedelics and belief and maybe even actual magic. Never too self important though. Never. In terms of their application to confirmation bias and pattern matching it’s so much less tedious and ego driven than the latest crop of proto-mysticism we’re dealing with where talking heads on YouTube behave like they’ve just invented thinking. Back then the thinking was about releasing potential and opening the doors to playfulness and connection. Sure they wanted to make a living and be loved too, but that didn’t seem to be their prime mover. I dunno maybe I’m getting old but I’m mighty bored of a lot of the fundamentalism and smugness around accepted outlets for alternative thinking. I like a bit of muck with my weirdness. It’s all too self-important.

It’s 18.23 and I’m about 23 minutes drive away from where I need to be to help my friend do three self tapes. She’s got tons to do, although disappointingly it’s only 19 pages. I want four more. Still, her brain is exploding and it’s gonna take hours as it is. Happy 23rd.

By the time you read this it won’t be the 23rd anymore – but keep an eye out – 23 shows up all the time.

Cat whispering

The reality of a cat is always easier than the idea of a cat.

With all the fragile things in here, with an open topped fish tank up high and a royal python in a tank at ground level, I wasn’t really sure it would be a good idea. But it’s always a good idea to have a cat. I forgot. That’s all.

Pickle exploded into my life and astonished me by not breaking things very much at all. Sure her poo was toxic and was frequently left as a present on one of our beds. But she showed a degree of understanding and sensitivity that surprised me at the time. She never jumped on my altar. She occasionally shredded things. That’s what cats do. But she didn’t break the piles of plates somehow. She was remarkably dainty. She would have ended up with her paws in the fish though – she was extremely good at catching flies and she’d have had a loach out for inspection. I’m not sure The Chairman here can be bothered with fish any more than flies, thankfully. And he still hasn’t met the snake. I’m keeping them apart.

He’s settling in, bless him. He sheds an astronomical amount of hair, and has taken to lying on my pillow when I’m not watching – and when I am. It’s just as well I’m not allergic to cats because he’s a major moulter – apparently it’s the season. My pillow has an extra layer. This is why counterpanes exist. I understand now. He’s calm already though, this little old fellow. He’s made sense of me fairly quickly and we get on swimmingly.

Today he slept on my pillow for pretty much the entire day and now he’s come yowling to me for cuddles. He’s got his arse in my face and he’s dumped a good skipload of fluff all over my jumper. I’ve been trying to get things done but he’s very distracting. It’s a good distracting. But… He very much likes to be brushed and I’m a very inexperienced and hesitant cat brusher. We’ve been muddling along in between me taking shifts on the business of life admin etc etc. I reckon he’ll be thoroughly spoilt by the time my friend manages to get back from Australia.

I’ve moved a little bit forward from where I was yesterday with the multiplicity of stuff that must be done. I very much need to find my bloody passport next though. It’s such a conundrum. The forms I’m filling in need the fucking thing, and what I don’t want right now is the stress of a last minute acting job in Tunisia when I have no idea where the damn thing is. In a dream I put it between two heavy things to flatten it down… Was that a dream? I could ask Mao-Mao for help but he’d just push his head into me and make a noise like a duck. Besides he doesn’t want me going anywhere as he’s just started carving out a happy home with me.

He lets me have my bed back to myself at night. Pretty shortly after the light goes out he drops down with a thump like a sack of potatoes and slips into the wardrobe. He didn’t get much exercise at the cattery, so he’s a bit heavy. I’ve rigged him some cushions in the wardrobe so he can moult on the tails of all my suits in comfort. But right now he’s with me on this chaise making it very hard to ignore him.

It’s taking me forever to write this blog. He is far too cute and soft and fluffy. It’s hard to believe that he’s a predator.

My pop

Today I found a bunch of old newspaper cuttings kept by my maternal grandmother, mostly about dad. She didn’t like him much on the surface but there was a strange love running under. She was a year older than he was and he was married to her daughter.

Despite traditional animosity, she collected the cuttings diligently – all about this unusual human who swept off with her daughter and seemed to spend the best part of his life steering around in anything from powerboats to vintage Bentleys to hot air balloons while somehow having time to help Max and I become people. I’m glad she kept them. I haven’t gone through them yet but I will – it’s a good time for it. It’s a time of year when I think about them a great deal – late March. We are coming up to the shared anniversary of their respective deaths, years apart.

I remember the balloon across the Alps thing in the article very well from my childhood.

I was at boarding school when he and his friend Gunter were in the air. Mrs Beale the art teacher got us all to paint our parents and it was a strong image in my head. I was eight. Balloons are cool. I remember the painting because dad loved it and kept it. I made a little stick man in a massive colorful balloon over some mountains. There was a sun and he had both of his arms up with joy. I got into trouble because I didn’t paint people in a garden holding hands. “You’re supposed to paint a parent!” “That’s my daddy, he’s crossing The Alps in a hot air balloon!” “Now what have we told you about your overactive imagination.”

I’d do it tomorrow like a shot, even though I’d probably drop the thing into the side of a mountain. Bring me a balloon and a frozen lake and I’ll give it a go anyway. Didn’t they use large bottles of booze as ballast? Sign me up. Come with me. Let’s get the hell out of here in a sodding great balloon with a bat on the side of it and go to Imaginationland where the trees and flowers look beautiful all the time ha ha.

Over 50 years ago now, dad and Keith from the article tried to race from London to Sydney in a vintage racing Bentley with a supercharger that steered from the rear. They drove it off the road in Afghanistan, but eventually rolled it into Bombay from whence they were supposed to get a specific highly monitored ferry to Perth (no repairs) before the Australia leg of what was then the inaugural Daily Express London to Sydney Marathon. They missed the boat. No surprises really – they weren’t in it to win it. They were in it to try and do it in a ridiculous but beautiful car. “Bombay Bound” was the title of a painting they had done of it. I’m lucky he didn’t get killed before I was born really. It was a different age. I’d give my eye teeth to drive from London to Bombay in that car or in one like it. It would probably make a great documentary – a journey of the soul and reconnection with my dead father. I’m not famous enough to get the doc made yet. Plus I’d get shot in the head in Afghanistan. But it’s on the list for if I get that call from Spielberg with, perhaps, an adjusted route to avoid the warzones…