Botanic gardens with hot springs

This morning we were up early and downstairs quickly for a breakfast showcasing local produce. Good cheeses and fresh fruits, bright eggs and tasty juices. The sun was out so we stretched out on the terrace a little. It’s warmer than our bodies are used to. Edgar then bounced us around the pineapple farm. They grow custard apples here as well, and avocados and bananas. “Growing pineapples is never going to make you rich,” he tells us. It takes two years for them to be ready, they take up a lot of space, and each crop usually just yields one. It’s a labour of love. In the summer they have to spray the greenhouse windows with whitewash so they don’t cook. In winter you let it wash off so the sun gets in. Once there was an accidental fire in one of the greenhouses. All the pineapples went into stress mode with the smoke and pushed out big flowers that became an excellent crop. Now they set fires in there on purpose. Clever.

One of the greenhouses has a jacuzzi in it. Lou and I end up in there briefly before checking out.

Then it is into the car and up the side of a volcano. And the rain comes.

This volcanic island is almost impossible lush. The colours are so bright. The vegetation is like nothing I have ever seen before. The birds are all overjoyed. But such incredible fecundity comes with the price of extremely regular rainfall. It all gets soaked up into the vegetation, or it sinks down to purify and well up again as natural hot springs. It’s a small price to pay for such beauty. But our first stop, the lake of fog – it lives up to its name. We stand in a cloud, with sudden gusts of impossible wind. For a moment the clouds shift and there is a huge volcanic lake below us.

Then the rain comes again and we run back to the car. We drive back down to Ribeira Grande and eat fresh fish stew overlooking the Atlantic and one moment there’s hail and then sunlight and then rain. We have seen so many rainbows already we might get jaded before long.

After lunch we arrive at our spa hotel. You can never predict an upgrade, but we lucked out again. For €200 we get two nights in this room which would cost us €700 if we tried to book it. To my right as I write the most incredible botanical gardens are falling to evening darkness. The birds are crying the death of the sun. The hotel is switching on the uplighting in the trees. “We’re going to go to the jacuzzi in the dark,” says Lou. And yes. The public are out. The evening is coming. The rain is stopping, and a short walk from this room the natural iron hot springs have been tamed into little flowing jacuzzis surrounded by old trees, some from before settlement and others introduced by generations of enthusiastic rich men with boats before that sort of thing was discovered to be irresponsible.

This island is beyond description. The weather is operated by a drunk chimp with a bunch of random levers. But I’ve never been anywhere so bright. I have no idea how I lived to be this age without anybody raving to me about The Azores. I would recommend it to anybody. Good food. Good people. And just so astonishingly fecund.

However, I’m starving and I want a swim in the hot springs. The iron is so strong in the water that the ducks are dyed brown. I have brought some crap trunks. I’m going to stink of blood and be happy about it.

Arriving in São Miguel

Somewhere in the middle of The Atlantic Ocean, way out beyond The Pillars of Hercules: the island of São Miguel. We are about forty minutes away from the main city of Ponta Delgada now, on the weekly plane from Stansted. There are 73 passengers on board out of a capacity of 198. There are only 137,000 people living on the island. It’s 287 square miles.

If you look on the map The Azores will be drawn bigger than they are – just to make them more visible. It’s an archipelago but none of the other islands can be seen from São Miguel. They are far flung lush volcanic islands, boiling with life. Situated as they are atop mostly dormant volcanoes, they are peppered with hot springs – there’s even a warm waterfall. Hot springs don’t care that it’s winter, even if most tourists seem to. Lava doesn’t need the sun to be warm, but nevertheless it’s about ten degrees warmer in the air here than the UK air. Ten degrees. That’ll do.

This flight would’ve been £7.99 if we didn’t have overhead locker bags.

All the cabin staff are extremely happy and full of laughter despite the fact that the airline probably pays them in socks. I get the sense they’re glad to live in such a beautiful place. And they only have to work once a week this season if this is their only route.

Thank God mass tourism hasn’t come there yet. The weather is perhaps too changeable – everything tells us to pack for all seasons. Also I suppose that if one of the three volcanoes on the island pops there is nowhere for anybody to go. But hey! What are the chances? I’m happy to roll the dice on that.

We are hotel hopping. Not by constraint. By design. We had so much choice we chose 4 and we’re only here for a week. Tonight, even though we land after 10pm UK time, I insisted we stay one night in the pineapple farm. Tomorrow morning we get a tour, and I intend to eat a lot of pineapple. Then we drive in a cheap rented car to Furnas and we check into a luxury spa hotel in a nature reserve for two nights. There are hot springs in the garden that are closed to all but guests after hours. I’m so excited about all this.

We might land and discover that the books are a lie. We might find out that the Azores is just a conspiracy. We might be crushed into goo and fed to horses. But I have a feeling we are about to have an incredible week, and seriously, it cost us nothing compared to what you would expect.

After all the Covid travel anxiety pre flight, so far, things have been easy as pie. We had to show a doctor certified antigen test certificate, which cost an extra £39. But with the flights so cheap and the accommodation prices slashed for the winter I reckon we hit on an absolute blinder booking this when we did, and this next week, with apologies, I’m hoping to make everybody jealous with incredible photographs. I promise I’m not being employed by Azores tourism.

Even if it rains every day its not London. And it’s out in the middle of the ocean. And we land in ten minutes. We shall be landing shortly. Aaaaaaaaa

I hope we get through passport control okay.


We are IN. The car rental place didn’t like the cut of my jib so they charged me a 1350 Euro deposit! It is refundable. But if I didn’t have a card I could put it on, I would have HAD to pay 135 Euro extra for the bonus insurance scam thing. That aside it is immediately gorgeous and so friendly. Andrea just welcomed us to Herdade do Ananas. Everything is pineapple themed.

I’m having a free glass of pineapple liqueur on the terrace. Palm trees and red walls.There’s the smell of woodsmoke. I’m in my jumper with no coat outside at half past ten. It feels calm and unfamiliar here. It feels beautiful here.

All the alarm clocks rang between 5.45 and 6am. I cancelled every single one of them. Then the failsafe one across the room forced me out of bed at 6.12 swearing into my socks. Ten minutes later I was behind the wheel of my car. Eight minutes later I was in the queue at Gregg’s in the Applegreen garage south of Vauxhall. Flat white and a bacon sarnie for three quid. Back into the car trying not to get ketchup all over my legs. Omnomnom and I’m out of London before the traffic has had time to wake up and I’m on the open road and about half way to Tonbridge before I start to remember my own name.

8.15 and I walk into a school in Tonbridge and they want a paper copy of my DBS which I don’t have. She’s not making it easy when my contact shows up and tells me that the workshop I’m supposed to be assisting is no longer at 8.45, it’s at 11.45. “But I’ve got my preflight Covid test at 13.20 in Putney,” I say. Ben is leading. I’m here just because with 80 students it’s helpful for the leader to have cover. “Don’t worry mate. You go back. I can do this on my own. It’s the office’s mistake.” I would’ve said the same thing.

It’s 8.45 and I’m wide awake now. I’ve had a self tape come in with an NDA. They haven’t sent the sides over yet and America is sleeping. I want to try to get it taped before we fly tomorrow but I can’t if I don’t know what I’m saying.

I drive to Richmond and have a haircut while I wait. Then to Putney for my test. Negative of course. I grab a sandwich in Pret. The office emails me to tell me they are still gonna pay me. Result.

I go back to Richmond as the sides have come in. Two tiny scenes, but character will keep coming back in the series. Even if right now he has no name.

Tristan shoots the scenes with me. I wear one of his suits, open at the collar. Don’t want to look too stiff for this guy. They want a full length ident. That’s always a big ask in a self tape. We do it in Tanya’s Pilates studio. There’s a skeleton to my left. We cover plug sockets and blemishes with stuff. It looks like an arthouse pop video from the nineties. Name. Agent. Height. Done. With a manual zoom. (Aka Tristan walking).

I go home. Lou arrives. We fill in lots of forms. I somehow get my birthdate wrong on one of them and I can’t resubmit it. Tits. I’m tired. It’ll be fine.

Hot bath. Company. Warmth. Sleep. Zzzz

The Tourist. Soon I will be one.

My pre bedtime crack this week has been The Tourist on BBC one. I didn’t seek it out. Frankly it just started autoplaying on iPlayer and I was hooked in so I stuck with it.

It’s not super starry, which always pleases me. Jamie Dornan sticks it all together as the baffled lead. But his supporting cast is unusual and human and funny. It’s not the usual array of idealised creatures. Gary Davy in the UK and Ann Fay and Leigh Pickford in Australia have worked well as casting directors to populate it with quirk. I never felt pushed away from it as a result. It’s escapism for sure, and it is occasionally far fetched, but a bit of personality will always sell things to me.

Add to that, it’s shot in the outback, which feels like such an incredibly hostile environment and very alien to my experience. They must’ve been covered in dust and coughing on flies. I would have loved it for the sheer difference of it. Characters spoke in their own language when appropriate, and there was a strong Greek showing from one of the baddies who apparently used to be on Heartbreak High.

It rolls along in these great big sweeping vistas, with everybody having fun in their work and a gentle touch of humour reminds us that despite the thriller feel to it, it’s not trying to take itself too seriously. It has definitely helped me wind down these last few nights, and now it’s finished just in time for me to up sticks and go on holiday after just a tiny bit more work. First though, tomorrow when I have to drive myself to Tonbridge leaving at something like 6.30 in the goddamn morning. I’m going up have to surround myself with alarm clocks and maybe even take some cough medicine to shut my head up and knock me flat.

Today was delightful with very thoughtful year 9 students and old fashioned equipment. I’m absolutely exhausted though and not looking forward to the early exit. Add to it the fact I’m going to have to try to learn and shoot a self tape tomorrow after work and they haven’t sent the sides yet…


Fruit Battery

A momentary visit to the normal world. “The world of work”. Not an office though. Heaven forbid. Today and for the next two days I’m going into schools as a visiting workshop leader talking about Engineering, and guiding young people through a reasonably simple and messy experiment with an orange and some copper and some zinc. You can imagine I’m sure. A fruit battery.

It’s ten at night. I’m in bed with incense, a hot toddy and plinky plonky music. They start early in these schools and I’m always in the first blimming session. Today it was close to me, in South East London. Tomorrow I’ve got be right up past the North Circular at bastard o’clock, and I’ve got to be chipper when I get there. “In terms of my working life this sort of thing is … maybe 5% of my time,” I tell the group. It’s not my calling, but it is constantly invigorating and enlivening to connect with these young people. “But I always make time for this when possible because, believe it or not, coming in here and having you lot try and sass me helps me feel connected and alive and happy.”

It’s paid nicely too.

Another of the strings I managed to attach to my bow over the years. Sometimes they break, like the boats. I’ve learnt that if people get me they want to use me lots. But if they don’t… they don’t. I’m not very neutral. I’m noticeable. It’s why I don’t go well in the poison of office culture. People either treat me as a curiosity or a problem in those places. But I can go into some inner city school and mix it up with a load of gobby 16 year olds and trick them into momentarily giving a shit about science, and in that moment I care about science too. Then I go home and I only care about a nice hot bath and my minimum seven hours kip to be high functioning. I need my sleep. The gradual crawl towards middle age hasn’t dulled my ADHD but I need to retract so I can expand.

So yeah. Copper and zinc electrodes. Orange as an electrolyte. Alessandro Volta did it with brine in 1800 and occasionally some of the students work out that it’s about the juice and not the orange. When that happens it gets messsssssy. We could use a potato with the phosphoric acid instead but it’s harder to sell the idea that they might have a potato in their bag. So an orange it is. And sometimes they get surprisingly high readings when they connect the thing to their ammeter. It’s always the disconnected ones that suddenly show up when we are doing practical things. I was that child.

Discipline was good today at least. Rare for an inner city London school. Yeah sure there were gobby ones who tried to derail everything, but the staff had systems in place that they mostly responded to. The ones who were in “shut up I’m trying to learn” mode – hopefully they picked up something. It’s a positive thing to do for a few days, to go shovel some thinking into people who’ve always had the thinking done for them. “You lot are the future,” I sometimes tell them. Because they are, and they are just as wayward and precocious and bored and angry as we were. But they are inheriting this incredible joyful mess we’ve made. I hope they do okay in it.

Didn’t take a photo so grabbed one from a vid instead

No haggis

Burns Night.

When I was in my twenties I used to make a big deal of it. Clinging to scraps and memories of my father, and having inherited his kilt. Dad liked poetry. I remember reading Keats to him as he lay dying. I was never sure if it helped or made it worse. But my childhood was punctuated by moments where he would be caught by a memory and would quote a scrap of a poem. I found a good number of poets through this shared interest with my father. He left me books to find. Other Men’s Flowers.

Burns Night felt like the best opportunity to have a regular annual blast, as none of my other friends had staked it out and it isn’t one that people tend to make private plans for. Dad liked poems, liked parties and Dad was very Scottish. Back in my twenties I was still trying to work out who I was in relation to his loss. A Scottish party poem night was a place to start. With haggis both meaty and vegetarian. I realised I could coerce my brother into addressing the haggis and he would do it with vigour to the applause of all my young friends who, like me, were definitely going to make it big in the acting world.

I would procure a vast haggis some days beforehand. I would ask people to bring a poem they liked. After dinner there would be a soiree. I’d break out the absinthe and the whisky. If for shyness you didn’t want to read the poem you had brought you had no shortage of people to nominate. There would be a mix of my old friends and the crowd of complicated misfits who I have met through my line of work. One year Steve swore blind that this was genuine Burns:

Ode to a Hangover

I stand upon the pier at Leith. Spewing through my arse and shitting through my teeth.

I haven’t done a Burns Night for so long now. That sort of thing seems harder now somehow. Time was I was plugged in to a big crowd of noisy friends. Every night there’d be something to decide whether or not to go to. Sometimes we’d leave one party halfway and go across town to catch another two or three in one night. Remember those days? Man. Now it didn’t even occur to me to ask a few friends over for a spot of haggis and shouting of a Tuesday evening. I just put a fish pie in the oven and then ran myself a bath and now I’m off to bed.

I even saved some Victorian Burns memorabilia specially. Two busts and a wee plate, perfect for going on the table and holding the veggie haggis.

I might just have to have a big bash in a years time. Get the kilt out of mothballs. Surely by then this shitshow will be starting to make a bit more sense.

Up and down up and down

It’s possible that I got drunk last night before I wrote my blog. The circularity. The bad short term memory exhibited. The extreme conclusions about half remembered people. You poor people.

I read it this morning because I wasn’t sure I’d remembered to post one at all. Open bottle of wine syndrome, I shall call it. “This is good wine. It’s open now. It’ll probably be spoilt tomorrow so I’m better off just having the whole thing now yum yum. Food? Food’s for chumps. More wine. Glug.”

Somehow I hauled this body from the sticky sheets and I dropped it behind the wheel of the car and my brain and hands drove it, assisted by good coffee, all the way to Alcester. How do you pronounce it? You make it rhyme with Ulster. The rest of it is in your head. On the way up my friend Lanna read me a chapter of a book called “Worn” on Radio 4 and it was really interesting. I slowly woke up. I had coffee. I sent her random messages of appreciation.

At eleven I walked into a school in order to watch a man I’ve met once before delivering a workshop about engineering. I sat on a table with 3 twelve year olds. Between us we made a semi-functioning battery out of an orange and some copper and zinc. They’ll pay me for doing that. I’ll send an invoice and money will hit my account.

Two hours later I drove the man who did all the work to Worcester and we laughed about the strange and wonderful life of a jobbing actor. He’s 53. His lady has got a new baby. “It’s one of the adventures I haven’t tried yet.” I asked him a few questions about the workshop. I’ll be delivering it twice on Wednesday in London you see. And once on Thursday. Pays to be prepared. That’s why I went up.

I’m back home now. I really spanked it on those roads. A man possessed. I didn’t know the XTrail could get up to those speeds. I wanted to get home to lasagne and peace.

I’m home now. I don’t think I’ll have anything to drink tonight after last night’s abomination. I’ve got to be super organised all of a sudden (ha) because it turns out that as soon as I get back from The Azores I’m off half cocked somewhere else to work like a train for three weeks in the blazing sunshine. Life, eh? Seems like the old random element has woken up again. And I fucking love it…

“ok Google take a photo”


The West London Dump. Park Royal. I have used my West London resident chip to dump a rented van load of stuff without paying. I think you get one every year.

Arriving at the dump I immediately recognise the guy who is “supervising”. I think I wrote a blog about him once, when I had the Soul Van and was doing clearances. I got to know him because I told him I had already salvaged the things that were resellable long before I got to him. Back then he didn’t believe me for 3 loads when I said I’d sorted it. He watched everything super closely. After the third he stopped being interested in my output as he understood that I knew value and he trusted me. He let me do one load almost entirely unsupervised. That’s about when I could’ve made a fortune illegally dumping nuclear asbestos bodies.

He knows the perks of his “I work in the dump” job very very well, that guy. He works a low paid job, but he’s managed to make it positive for himself. “I normally work up in the commercial bit,” he tells me and I know that because I used to have him watch my every move as I was throwing every single box. He was looking for treasure. And nuclear waste. But your eye attunes to what is “normal”. I haven’t been in the domestic waste bit before. When I had the van it was normally up in commercial. In domestic waste, you sort things into categories. It takes a lot longer, but you feel much more as if the things you are throwing away will find another life. In commercial waste, where we had no choice but to throw the Rotterdam flats, it feels like it’s just geared for speed. Even though we had mostly wood, it’ll be just munged and burnt. This is not helpful. It means that the individuals have a romantic idea about dumps, where they put everything into bays and then the things go back round. But the truth is, while you’re carefully separating your cardboard, just up the road there are fifteen vans hydraulically dumping random shit that will just be compacted. Unless the guys at the tip rescue it. Like the guy I remembered.

His home is likely a palace of random beauty. He has an active eBay I’m sure. He’s worked it all out. People throw away lovely things.

I had to throw away something like 6 crates of beer once, after a corporate job. “Take them to the dump,” I was told. And then the producer literally actually came with me in the van to make sure I threw them away. “Sometimes people are asked to take things to the dump and they don’t do it,” he said. “I’m here to make sure you do.” I still think that guy was a fucking psychopath, sitting with me to make sure I threw the beer away… But he was paying me and he had bought the beer, so in the end he had the choice. He could have stopped it. He didn’t.

It still burns me thinking about it, but the beer we threw would’ve been drunk by the likes of my dumpfriend. And maybe that’s okay, because all I can remember about the producer who came in the van with me was that he was unbelievably socially awkward and that nowadays I would have just fought him and distributed the beer amongst the staff, but I’m happier for it to have gone to the dump staff than somebody as awkward as him.

I can’t even remember what the job was. But what a tit, supervising me to throw away beer. I remember very clearly, he volunteered himself into the van at the literal last second. Because yeah, you can be absolutely certain, I would not have thrown that beer away if he hadn’t come in the van to make sure I did. But that is the behaviour of somebody literally evil.

“Did that lion just show up one day?” “Yes.” “Thought so. Great work putting it up there.”

A lion on a plinth. But that must be just the shallow end of what is dropped off in these places. Like me with my unwilling six crates of beer. I knew I was throwing something useful, but I had blonde mister high status on my shoulder and I was way too young and obedient to defy him. Worse things happen all the time.

I was listening to an interview with the son of Harpo Marx. Salvador Dali was a huge admirer of Harpo’s silence. Said he was a true surrealist. He constructed a harp strung with barbed wire as a special gift to Harpo, expressing the pain of his creativity. Harpo’s wife thought it was ugly and pointless. She threw it away. Terrifying in retrospect. Surely even in his lifetime Dali was known enough for her to have a sense of how many millions such a harp could command? Maybe not though. Like the people our dump friend relies on for his wonders. “New lamps for old!” Throw away your beautiful things and replace them with molded plastic tack!!

I threw a lot of furniture into those boxes. It was hard but there’s nowhere to put it. There was one chair I just couldn’t dump. I don’t know how it made its way to us but it was made out of oak and leather at least 200 years ago and I couldn’t just hurl it… It’s in my boot. It’ll likely end up on the street.


Failed attempt

I usually have Radio 4 playing when I drive. Sometimes I’m deep in my head and it’s just noise, but other times I key right into what’s being said. They were running a program about mushrooms the other day and my friend Zoe showed up. Max appears from time to time to tell us about beetles. But even when there’s no personal connection, it’s often interesting and it tends to feel like they’re trying to do the best journalism they can do – and trying to keep it balanced.

In the van today I was enjoying The News Quiz. Inevitably they had to joke about how the current administration have got the knives out for the BBC. It’s a bittersweet listen at the moment, that sort of thing.

There’s a good spread of opinion though on that radio channel, and of course you can’t put a pay-wall on a radio so it’s clear that our esteemed culture secretary is not thinking this through if she wants the Netflix model. Damn I would be lost if radio adverts started to show up on BBC. The times I’ve had long drives tuned into a commercial station have always quite quickly reached the stage where I have to switch it off, change it or drive into a tree to make it stop. I rarely have to do that with Radio 4, although I had a long drive on the day Prince Philip died and I had to switch it off.

The only useful thing I’ve done today is drive. Today was a total failure of a day. I wrote it off. Thankfully when I rented the van they have me 5 days for the price of 4 and I took it in case something like this happened. The dump was closed, so I drove across town to Park Royal and you have to book in advance online these days, and they’d used all their slots. So essentially I drove a massive van full of stuff to Stoke Newington, picked up Jack, drove to Wembley, got turned away, drove Jack back home, went back to where I started. Great big pointless round trip. Now I’m booked in for half twelve tomorrow. Not counting the time with Jack, having to bypass the congestion charge zone meant about two hours driving alone, hence Radio 4 to keep me sane and keep my mind ticking over. Some people I know dismiss the BBC calling it “mainstream media”, but the programming there is so much more varied than all the YouTube videos of people sounding important. I think if I was just listening to that stuff I’d have found the right tree to steer at even in central London.

Tomorrow we will chuck the damp furniture. I will get the van back in plenty of time. All will be well.

Got it out

It was bright in the morning. I went off half cocked. I didn’t even realise how cold it was until I was halfway to the van but then I turned around as I wasn’t wearing a scarf or a coat and I was going to be in that warehouse for hours. I ran back up and grabbed some warmer clothes but no gloves. I own some perfectly functional workman’s gloves. Idiot.

Just a few slices, but there’s no first aid kit or running water. Gaffer tape is reasonably functional as a plaster but next time I’m not going to forget my gloves. Ow.

We got the rest of the stuff out of that warehouse, but we finished way too late for the tip which closes at half three. It’s a hard thing to throw something close to me, but the nature of the warehouse is going to make it easier. We are gonna have to throw away a lot of the Christmas Carol bits that have accumulated over the years.

We put it in there just over two years ago. I remember thinking as we loaded it in that we were probably taking more stuff than we needed. But we brought it all into the warehouse.

The roof leaks. There’s now a fine coating of mildew on everything. Lots of the books are damp. As for the serving platters, they are mostly gone to rust. It’s not the best place to store metal and paper, that warehouse. Problem is though, how do you keep London shows that are sleeping? You need a friend with a barn that’s achievable from London, or you need to have your own family pile. If there’s a barn and it leaks it’s still much better than no barn. Storage space is just way too expensive in a city where some people are asking for £80 a night for you to sleep on a mattress they’ve bunged into the cupboard under the stairs.

Tonight the van is sleeping outside my flat, full to the brim with damp furniture and plastic boxes full of set dressing. We will likely salvage some things – hopefully enough to run a bare bones version of the show in London next Christmas if it feels like the right thing to do. I guess anything else we need we will have to find in pre-production. It was suffering out in that warehouse anyway, and for the short term now we can move what we want to keep into Jack’s office, and throw the rest into the expensive tip.

I’m home now, having properly cleaned and savlonned my fingers, soaked myself thoroughly and made a chamomile tea. Bed is calling. One more day with this van tomorrow. Oh joy.