Clock room

I’m beginning to lose track of where I am. Plus I’m totally spanked. Got a workshop tomorrow in inner city London again, but right now I’m sleeping in Hertfordshire because I’ve got to drop off a load of lights first thing in the morning here and I just figured it would be less hassle to book an Airbnb for the night right next to the drop off location. I’m getting tired now. Today was a long one and tomorrow looks like it’ll be a hard one. I spoke to Lou after I’d finished today and she heard it in my voice. They ran me ragged. Three two hour long workshops today for a quiet group in Norfolk, so I have essentially been simultaneously talking and radiating energy for six hours, which is pretty much what your friends who ended up as teachers have been doing every day for years so I can’t complain. Nonetheless I feel wrung out. I’m writing to you from bed. A play is only a couple of hours. You rarely have to do three in a row.

After this work I tend to be wired for a while in the evening as if I’ve been on stage. Similar skills, fewer rewards. I’ve been winding down by playing games on my phone in this room full of clocks as the light falls outside. It’s cold in here.

Tomorrow night I’ll get to sleep in my own bed. Tonight it’s an Airbnb in a converted garage attached to a new build somewhere near Hertford East station. Having just settled down to write this I’ve realised I left my phone charger in Norfolk. There’s one in the car, but the engine has to be running, so I’m gonna have to go easy on the wind down games if I’m gonna have something to wake me up in the morning and tell me the time. I’ve disabled all the clocks here but the big one because I hate the noise clocks make when I’m sleeping. Intrusive, insidious, predictable and it reminds me of the inevitable passage of time. I lie in bed feeling the seconds shaving away from life. But … that clock is huge. I daren’t take it off the wall to stop it.

I suppose if my phone runs out it’ll be my way of telling the time. Perhaps I should plug the bloody alarm clock back in as well and sleep in a room full of noisy time tonight so I don’t miss my wake-up. I’ve had a few early mornings in a row now so I’m starting to notice the mild sleep deficit. I’m still going to bed late. It’s unusual for me to wake naturally when I’m on a work tip like I am right now…

At least it’s quiet here compared to my London flat.

Somewhere in Norfolk

Grimsby came and went. Now I’m in Norfolk, staying at the Broom Hall Country Hotel, which looks to be plugged in to the local community here and is certainly better than a Premier Inn. They’ve got a restaurant and a bar, and a friendly hairy dog called Paddy. I was tired but I attempted to eat some risotto before retiring to my room. It’s all bird themed here. I’m in “Nuthatch”. Another early start tomorrow followed by a long drive after work.

The foggy dark nightmare journey last night turned out to be quite pleasant in the daytime. It was through the Lincolnshire Wolds. I pottered back the other way in much less of a hurry. Rolling hills and farmland. I saw a rich variety of tractors on the roads, and smelt a cornucopia of smells. Everybody is out harvesting for spring, using their great big machines. On impulse, because it was kind of on the way, I stopped in Skegness.

Grimsby to Skegness. Some of the less appealing sounding places we have in our eccentric homeland. Skegness reminded me of The Isle of Man before online gambling. As you walk down the seafront you hear animatronic pirates voiced by locals trying to entice you into chip shops. There’s that evocative but somehow dated chanting of the bingo caller, bored to the back of their skull, always slipping into vocal patterns as they conduit numbers to the nice bored old folk. And everything else is bleeping and farting, repeating phrases or playing snatches of jaunty music – bright machines trying to tempt you into burning cash to try and win a bit of tut that you trade for in tickets with an angry looking lady in a booth. I burnt three quid and got a Toy Story vinyl. I was just looking for coffee but I got sucked in. Cheap gambling with no cash prizes. Utterly pointless, and yet somehow compelling.

Even though I got to the hotel in plenty of time, I haven’t managed an early bed. It’s gone midnight. I’d better get my head down as I’m gonna have to go three rounds tomorrow with the renewable energy workshop. Costs me less and less the more I practice it. Time was that I’d have a lump in my throat before a three session day. Now I’m just ready to go. Back in London tomorrow and I think one more day of work before I get up stop and take stock for a moment… Phew.

It’s peaceful here. Really peaceful. The guy in the room next door was playing James Blunt but he’s gone to bed now and I can hear nothing but my tinittus and the sound of my finger swiping this out on my phone. Even though it’s late, sleep is gonna be good here. Night.

Grimsby in mist

I never thought I’d be so happy to be in Grimsby.

A slow morning in Brighton but out before the traffic wardens and up to Woking, just to be certain that the load I had to carry was too big for the car. Worth the check but it was and then the van hire in Woking wouldn’t let me rent without a hard copy of my driving licence so Woking to Croydon where they have got me on the system at Ace.

Back to Woking now dressed in a white van, and loading up a load of props to go to Aylesbury. Everything goes swimmingly and soon enough I’m heading back to Croydon but it’s just a long way. I drop the van off and it’s like I’ve only just left. “How the hell did you do 150 miles?” he asks. “I haven’t stopped. Can I use the loo?” I’m staring down the tunnel of considerably more than 150 miles to go. First I drive home. And stop. It’s half four in the afternoon. I give it until half seven. Four hours to Grimsby, I think. “I’ll be there by midnight.”

Fat chance. It’s 1.20am. They kept closing the roads, which of course the satnav didn’t know about so I was following diversion signs as it’s not a drive I know, and the hours were ticking out. And the fog came down as soon as I was north of Cambridge. Virtually no other cars on the road but if I put my beams on I was blinded and if I had them dipped I could see about three foot in front of me. Over two hours like that bobbling through tiny little villages in the North East because they’ve closed the main road in THREE SEPARATE PLACES on my route.

I’m here now. I’ll be awake again in no time. The room is big, faceless cold and empty and it smells of damp. The fog is sneaking in through the window edges. I’ll have to rush out of this area once I’m done, so there’s no time to discover the better side of Grimsby. Not much time to do anything right now but sleep and then corral a room full of young people tomorrow in an unfamiliar town. At least I get breakfast. I have to remember though that I signed up for the random here. I said a yes when I could have said a no. I have nobody to blame but myself for biting off about as much as I can chew.

They give me mileage. I’m gonna go over my Google location history and invoice it precisely because that was one hell of a schlep. I’m exhausted. This bed actually looks inviting right now. Oh the joys of Premier Inn pillows. At least I can spread out and snore. Hopefully the shower works…


I started the day with a jolt. I was flat on my back, mouth wide open, shouting with snore, taking full advantage of the fact that Lou had gone to teach an early Sunday yoga class and left me with full bed use in the cat palace. She had brought me a coffee. She didn’t want it to go cold. She grabbed my toe. My toenails are ingrown. I WOKE UP.

Ten minutes later I was in the shop buying eggs. An hour later we were driving to Nymans full of said eggs.

Nymans is a National Trust property that I’ve driven past so many times on the way home that I was determined to find out more about it. Lou has access to some Trust membership cards. We got in. I’m sure they budget for that sort of thing.

It’s Mother’s Day. This time of year is always full of the memory of my mother Thérèse. She loved the spring, the daffodils, the end of the darkness. She also died at this season, long ago now. I think of her whenever I see the spring blossoms. Mother’s Day is frequently bittersweet.

Nymans was shocking with colour today. Huge magnolias in full spray, a host of golden daffodils, some other narcissi and snowdrops and all sorts of blossom and proud shock.

As far as recommendations go, I would never suggest you go to any National Trust garden on the first hot Sunday in Spring and doubly not if it’s a day with a name. There they all were with their mums, the families, tottering around the loaded paths, clouds of attendant children shrieking like hungry seagulls, soaking the new cut sunshine.

The gardens and the remains of the house are a beauty to behold through the crowds. They were the demesne of the artistic Messel family until a terrible fire ran rampant in 1947. Now the doors are flung open to the public, displaying the few items that could be salvaged from the flames. There are some striking portraits by one of the last scions of the Messels – Oliver – who fucked off to Barbados after the fire and painted the glamorous high society beauties. He was very active and generative. He was living very well and terribly well connected – his nephew married Princess Margaret. Theatre design and parties and oh how lovely yes of COURSE I can make that happen for you my darling.

Some of the gardens are closed “opening in Spring”. We took the liberty of hopping a fence or two arguing that it’s past the equinox, the clocks have changed, and Oliver would’ve done the same. On the other side of the string fences there was a bit more peace and quiet. Still we didn’t stay there long. Off to St George’s Inn to catch last orders for Sunday lunch and then home to the cat-palace. They can’t be left alone too long, these cats. They have to be attended and pampered pretty much constantly. Lou is the right person for the job, as she’s up so damned early. I’m just along for the ride and enjoying the high ceilings and cute things to stroke.

I’d be very happy with a little country estate. You’d be very welcome. We’d learn the local mushrooms, plant trees and likely make a mystical happy stage akin to The Willow Globe. All we need is the estate, and enough money to make absolutely sure we don’t go Grey Gables. For now though I’ll have to keep going and playing in the ones that are available to the public or owned by friends.

A very lovely Sunday. I’m feeling much more chilled. A proper actual weekend too, as I’m up first thing and right back into dayjoblandworld tomorrow. Ugh.

Time to stroke a cat a bit and pass out.

Attack cat

Lou has been savaged by one of the cats she’s looking after. She has a puncture wound in the middle of the back of her hand and it has swollen up like a balloon. “Isn’t she adorable,” she is saying about that very creature as I write.” Lou is a very forgiving person. Lucky me.

I’m here for the weekend, in the palatial flat where Lou is catsitting. It’s a huge relief to be out of London again, with nature immediately so available. Lou met me at Stanmer Park under the cedars. I just arrived there and collapsed into the grass. Dayjobbery has been pretty full on right now so a weekend actually feels like a weekend for a change. I’m in sync with the other folk…

Having had a lucrative few weeks, I thought nothing of getting stuck into a little bit of weekend capitalism. I bought some cider and apple juice – and some pumpkin soup – from the guy who juices up the fruit that would otherwise get chucked away. Three of anything for a tenner. He gets 33 tonnes of rejects and you’ll always get a free sample. I’m not sure if that’s 33 tonnes annually or every season, but he was very specific with the quantity. The cider is good and fresh. I’m having some as I write. The juice is unpasteurised and so quenching. I’ll neck that tomorrow as it doesn’t last long. Haven’t had the soup yet but it’ll be great I’m sure. I was distracted by fish today. When at the seaside… …

Round the back of Fatboy Slim’s pad there’s one of those fish shops that does the catch of the day. I got a couple of fresh mackerel and then inevitably got sucked into fishworld and came out with a bag full of scallops and razor clams. Back here in the palatial catflat I cooked up a storm. Panfried scallops with garlic and ginger, high heat, two minutes each side. Razor clams in a little tray to catch the juices. Put them in closed with lemon and olive oil and chili and garlic. Ten minutes at 200 and they’re open and spot on. Keep the juices to pour on them. Mackerel: gut it if they haven’t done it for you and if you’re squeamish cut the head off because the eyes go white and it’s creepy. Wrap it in foil with lemon and salt. We had no rosemary. 25 minutes at 200. Nom.

I feel well fed and well rested and it’s only Saturday. The attack cat has ousted Lou from her comfy chaise and it is now cleaning its arse and playing with Lou’s phone while Lou plans a yoga class on the little hard naughty chair. Cats are fuckers. I love them. But they get their own way. And they are adorable.

I’m gonna get back to the cat palace. It’s not often I get to sleep somewhere like this. I’m going to enjoy it while I can.


Yesterday evening I was in my friend’s mother’s flat. She died relatively recently and it has been empty ever since. He had asked me to find something there.

I was in her bedroom. I went to open a drawer in her dressing table and the light went out in the room I was in. It was dusk. I had been there a couple of hours already and the darkness was falling. It’s old wiring. One working bulb in a chandelier attached to an old fashioned dimmer. I went to the switch on the wall and turned the light back on. I went back to the drawer and started to open it. The light went out again. I froze for a moment. A little shiver went down my spine. Just a coincidence. I went and switched the light on again. Then I waited by the switch. The light remained on. One minute. Two minutes. Light still on. I returned to the drawer. My hand touched the handle. The light went out again. She doesn’t want me in her drawers.

That was enough for me that evening. I had a few respectful and apologetic words with the spirit of his mother and after switching all the lights off and plunging myself into semi darkness I hightailed it out of that flat with my hair crawling. I’m not going to be there after dark. Parking is impossible without a permit before five. So my window is an hour or two from five to get anything done in there before I start to get too freaked out to stay there any longer. That’ll be manageable, and as summer comes in the evenings will get longer. And it’s coming. I was too hot in my coat when I arrived at work today. It’s getting to the season when we don’t know what to wear anymore.

I don’t really have any strong opinions about ghosts. There’s something that goes on beyond though. The light switch might just have been coincidence and pattern matching. But it means that from now on, when I go in there, I’m always going to explain what I’m doing and why I’m there to the idea of the spirit of his mother. No harm in it, and it helps me crystallise my purpose being there. There are some things that he wants me to try at auction houses. If we can release some capital from things he doesn’t want, he might be able to come back to London for a short while and move forward with getting the property sold. If I’m taking photographs of her precious things and rifling through her drawers its best I keep her on my side as much as possible.

Brighton tomorrow and a much desired escape from London to Lou. Next week looks busy again and even though I’m getting better at these workshops they don’t come for free in terms of energy. I’m knackered today again even though it was lovely. Off to a good long sober Friday sleep. Night/morning.

Dayjobs and what they mean

Well, it seems I’ve got a bit better at dealing with huge rooms full of distracted teenagers. I was back in Tower Hamlets this morning, and frankly I was dreading it. It’s the most deprived borough in the UK I’m told. I’m the last minute emergency pick-up tutor for these guys, which tends to mean I end up bustling into all the schools that the more seasoned guys try to avoid. This one today, I was meant to be just the assistant guy. It was gonna be one big room, the expert leading it all, me running around after them like a helpful little balding troll giving out bits of paper and nuggets of wisdom. But inevitably it wasn’t to be. I ended up having to run it as well in another room. It’s the same workshop I wrote about a few days ago after I got crucified all day in Canary Wharf. It’s just not a great piece of content. You have to fill the shortfalls somehow. There are long videos, and videos normally provide some relief when you are delivering things like this, but the videos that involve actors are atrocious and the ones that involve interviews are vague and not particularly interesting. It needs charisma and energy to fill the gaps. I was rested though. And I was ready for war.

I’m learning. Yes, if you can hook them early you can win the whole day with positive energy and charisma which is my happy place. But if you can’t hook them early – if the noisy ones are gonna be noisy no matter what… All you can do is speak softly. No point shouting over them, collectively they can make more noise than the loudest voice. Bring them in with quiet if they can out-shout. That’s how I managed today and it’s a useful reminder for my acting too. I’m easy with bombast, but if you go to the audience it’s your energy not theirs that they meet. The best place is in the middle – they come to you, you come to them. You meet through the story halfway between.

I’m in deep cover for this particular workshop now. I find it helps keep the room tight if I tell them engineering is what I do and I’m volunteering my time to share my passion. I’m telling them all I’m an engineer, have been all my life, really care about batteries, want them to be thinking about engineering too because it gave me this wonderful life. I have some dear and old friends for whom that is true. Dan and John will never be far from my mind while I talk about the possibilities. It might have been me too, engineering in a life where the acting hook didn’t slip quite so inevitably into my throat. My friends at school – the ones who have lasted – were that way inclined. I’m not telling my students the truth, but I’m inspiring them as best I can using the friends I have and the knowledge I have. Yep, I’m an actor. But my brother is a scientist. It’s a path I could’ve taken. Plus if I’m gonna talk about myself I’m long past talking about being an actor in an engineering workshop delivered to schoolchildren. Every hand that goes up afterwards is asking what I’ve been in and who I know. Our industry is still slightly wrongly framed, even by people in it, to overlook the huge workforce of jobbing actors.

Like any dayjob though, I’m conscious about the danger of doing it too much – especially since I write my days down here. “Oh he’s an actor but he mostly guides boats these days,” was one that came up before I was doing this. I went into an audition and was asked “How are the boats,” by a casting director who had clearly done her research – but when actors do jobs-that-aren’t-acting we trigger an old stigma – borne out of historic privilege in our industry largely – that we cannot and should not do other things for money and that it is some sort of failure if we do. I totally fly in the face of that. You cannot maintain that without even more privilege than I have. And no matter what the numbers are, some of us just have a work ethic.

I spoke a few years ago to an old friend who was essentially the lead in a multi-series TV drama, and they were telling me how they got a job between series in a local bar but had to pretend they were just a lookalike so as not to trigger some article in the gutter press and way too much unwanted attention.

Anyhow. A better day today in a hard area. It’s nice to know I’m good at this and it’s helpful making young people think about their possibilities and their energy use. And this shouldn’t come to the dreaded moment when somebody says “congratulations, we’ve found a full time position for you,” when I have to explain that I honestly don’t want it. I can pass the time with this. Until Spielberg rings.

And then I went and looked at things in my friend’s mum’s haunted flat

Ocean play

I’ve always been a sucker for a story with monsters. There’s just something about the human in the face of these things that are big and weird and hungry and simple and cruel. I get swept up in it. I love the monsters as much as the ones that fight them. It’s no coincidence that I played the Cyclops more than anyone when we improvised The Odyssey. I never ran out of ways to be curious about why he behaves like he does. Maybe there’s something in the way I’m battling my own set of demons. We all are. Maybe I recognise my own little demons in these loathsome interesting dense twisted charismatic foul things that others have made up. Maybe I see myself in the little people who set themselves up against them fearlessly. Who take hits and get back up again.

“What are the monsters afraid of?” asks Lettie Hemstock. “They’re afraid of us.” I’m paraphrasing. This is from The Ocean at the End of the Lane. I read the book when I was in Jersey fighting childhood demons of apathy and fear and grief. Now I’m forward from that but still struggling to beat off the wings of the anti-life creatures at the edge of my thoughts. I’m drowning myself in dayjobs or in booze. I need to shift my attack. But tonight for a few hours I went back to that story about childhood. It’s on in the West End. I know the designer, the puppet guy, the adapter and a bunch of the actors and I love the story. Still it has taken me this long to get to it. They’ve been soldiering on through Covid. It was shut yesterday as one of my friends has caught the fucker. I really wanted to see her, but her understudy was on for the first time today and there’s an edge in supporting somebody in that first show that is just impossible to duplicate. There must be a lot of people coming on as last minute cover right now in the theatres that are daring to be open. I used to get employed for that all the time because of my absorbent line learning brain. It’s a rush. You simultaneously feel amazing and terrified. I kind of miss the rush. Haven’t been on stage for too long.

Two nights running now though I’ve been to good theatre. Much Ado was wonderful and creative and cheeky and observant – doing what lo-fi theatre does best and honing in on the clarity and truth of moments that can often get lost in noise when money comes into the equation. Tonight, Ocean washed over me. This came out of The National, and so they have budget for great puppets and long rehearsals and clever people making things. With all the lights and trickery they never lost sight of the human. Another wonderful night in the theatre, and the place was packed. Every seat in the stalls was full and they were seeking wine at a tenner a glass at the bar. Good to see, because these old buildings will end up as flats if the current crop of governmental fuckwits get their way. Stories can be dangerous if you’re a monster. They help us understand that even if we feel small, the monsters feel small too sometimes.

Neil Gaiman’s mythical thinking and the profile he has gained through hard work and consistency – it’s a very good thing for the world of modern stories. I love that a weird little book like Ocean can get enough traction to transfer to the West End from The National. Bloody right. It’s a story about so much. Childhood and fear and freedom and the eternal. The things that we crave and the things that kill us. I’ve had a lovely night and the only thing I don’t want to do now is go to sleep but I have to because tomorrow I’m out of the house at 7am. Buggerit. Good night.

Tough day and then Much Ado

Hard work today with the Energy Workshop thing. It keeps me honest, but you get a school like that and you realise why it’s pretty well paid. I was in the dining room with a load of tables thrown in and I felt very alone up there with no relationship between me and the pupils and the only teacher using it as an opportunity to do some marking. It’s not that they weren’t engaged. Complete silence would have perhaps been worse. But they just had tons and tons of pent up energy and silence was not a thing that could be achieved when I was putting across information. There’s a long section where I ask them to talk about what they think about things like Artificial Intelligence, but every time the energy dropped for a second as I waited for somebody to formulate an answer then the room exploded into talking – often on topic, but usually loud enough to obscure whatever the person was trying to say to me. It made the whole thing into a long hard slog.

“How were they,” asked a teacher at lunch time. “It was barely directed carnage,” I told him honestly. “They’re a noisy lot. I’d normally have them for PE in that lesson.” It all suddenly made sense. “Hey kids, we are skipping sport in favour of Al coming and talking about engineering! Yay!”

I like this work so long as it’s just filling a gap in the diary, but I think I should talk to the company that books me about the workshop I did today. Having a noisy and distracted group highlights the weaknesses of the material I’ve been given. It’s weighted heavily on intellectualism and even though there are some videos to play they are all a bit woeful. They get the school to print out tons of handouts – too many handouts – all in colour, most of which will only be used for a few seconds, many of which won’t usually get handed out at all on a normal day. I snuck a load home in my bag today so the teacher wouldn’t see how much waste there was.

Now I’m in an uber across town. AFTLS – the company I toured the states with – are back in London after a tour of Much Ado. That was my first tour with them, many years ago. I had a brilliant time and actually my first experience of running workshops was in Indiana doing Shakespeare with the students at Notre Dame. Very different there, and with all the college football there’s no way they’d be skipping PE.

I know some of the company this time around. I’m off to see them and it – performing tonight at The Cockpit up in North London. It’s not the easiest venue to get industry folk to, but it’s a pleasant place and I’ve had fun there in the past and done work I’ll stand by. I’m really looking forward to it. I’m trying to remember the rehearsal process we had for it, in Brixton all those years ago. I’m thinking of the things we had to solve as a company of 5 playing all the parts. It mostly exists in my memory now as a series of colourful flashes. Utah. Wellesley. Weeks in Texas. Spinning up to Rhode Island to see a friend. NYC and the last time I ever saw Louie. Maybe 8 years ago now? Man life moves fast…

Here’s the stage before the start. I can’t wait.

I didn’t do anything today

I do like a quiet Monday. No work today and back at home with comfortable things and heating. I haven’t left the house. I slept until just before noon. Food was brought to me by Deliveroo and this evening I’ve been just sitting with the fish watching the last few episodes of that terrible compulsive TV programme The Apprentice.

It’s fascinating. It’s hideous. It validates my life decisions. I might have gone chasing a very elusive unicorn with this acting malarkey. But if I had gone after the money I might have had to hang out with people like them.

Writing now at the end of the day I can remember my good intentions for today as I had them this time last night. As I write I’m still surrounded by interesting clutter. I sorted none of it, and I’m not gonna today. It definitely needs to be done, but I wanted a rest. It’s been pretty full on and schizophrenic in the last week. I also have plenty of things I need to write. Nothing today. Nowt. Nil. Nada. Not today. I’ve been in my pajamas all day. It’s very comfortable. The heating is burning away. I’m okay with that too. I’m back into the world tomorrow talking about responsible energy use and I’m about to get into the bath again.

It was lovely to be up in Stratford yesterday, and then visiting friends back home. I think in a normal world days like this were very rare because they’d always involve not showing up to something sociable. My neighbour did invite me to something at the local pub this evening, but I’m not feeling very sociable and I’d have to put some trousers on to go out. Plus I’m working early tomorrow so pints would be silly.

My friend and I tried to book tickets to Ocean at the End of the Lane for tomorrow. I read the book recently and I know a few of the creatives involved. But more or less as soon as we booked it they got cancelled and returned because the cast have got Covid. I’m glad they were refunded, but what a bollock. I really want to see it, and the idea of going to the theatre just appeals to me right now as it’s been so hard to do. If I go watch something maybe the universe will remember that I’m supposed to be doing it. Haven’t had so much luck with the self tapes recently, which can be disillusioning. I always prefer to be in the room to audition so I can radiate charisma dahhling. But something has got to give before long. Or if it doesn’t I might well get to go somewhere interesting again at the end of April…