The tube

I just don’t remember it being this bad, on the tube. It’s so hot I can feel the sweat trickling down my back. The front of my fresh laundered linen shirt is soaking wet in patches. The air is so still in here, and so close. Every inch of space is taken up with people. I’ve managed to get a seat, and I’m writing to you as my neck and forehead trickle, in the hopes that this will all be over soon. Kings Cross next stop. I’m going to Finsbury Park. I’ll go home by bus, as this is unbearable. The constant chatter of all the conversations in all the languages. Children screaming. The regular announcements too slow, too slow. And when we move, occasionally, the little cooler whiff of moving air from the window at the end, barely getting past the crowd of bodies here to where I’m sweltering into my phone at you. A moment of unsatisfactory relief.

I think there might be a football match… Mass exodus at Highbury and Islington. We were on the route from Victoria to Emirates Stadium. Maybe that was it. If so, good on them for not adding to it by being tanked up and chanting. The sardines are not so tightly packed. The air can move a little. Whatever it was that caused us to be jammed like beans in a jar, it has reminded me of the extent to which I hate the tube.

Right so yes, Arsenal were playing. They won 6-0 against Sevilla at home. I’m not sure which competition. But that’s why the tube was so incredibly packed. I chose the wrong time. With that in mind, I decided to risk coming back on it now, long after the game has ended. It’s a long way to Chelsea from Finsbury Park. A taxi would be profligate. A bus takes hours. That inward journey though … it was quite something. It had a profound effect on my body. I was heated up to such an extent that I had to keep going outside when I was at my friend’s party, to go put my face in the wind. I was carrying terrific heat and radiating it uncomfortably. I love being hot. But that was like post Bikram Yoga on a hangover and then straight into the bar to have pints.

I had four pints, and the thing that’s most remarkable about that is that I was counting them. I am pretty sure that an earlier version of me would have had more, quicker, without counting. But that was plenty, interspersed with water over quite a long time, for my purposes. Helen had an extra fish taco which she gave me. Absorbent.

Resocialising… Keeping track. I think the kamikaze version of me who doesn’t count the rounds and doesn’t mind where he ends up because he’s firmly glued to the moment – I think he’s coming out a bit less frequently unless he’s needed to wake things up. Maybe that’s for the best. We all change as we grow. And there were very dear old friends who were very much bringing the party. I really enjoyed being out, seeing old faces, hugging and connecting and catching up. And I left when I noticed I felt drunk. Rather than trying to be the last man standing.

I’m writing to you from a pretty empty train, just before my stop. Maybe the tube isn’t so bad after all. Everything at the right time.

And I’m home. Before midnight. That’s a win.

Post job Malvolio thoughts

Tristan put his finger on it yesterday when I explained my inner life to him. I haven’t felt particularly motivated since I got back to London and I’ve been wondering if that’s okay. “Sounds like a post job slump.”

I’ve been in what they call the gig economy for so long I don’t really know any other way. Join a team, work hard, say goodbye, invoice. Join another team. In the gaps between I’ve found a few little solo things, like the workshops about energy. But mostly it’s the old tale of fully on / fully off / fully on / fully off. I’ve been fully off this week. Sometimes you run off the cliff and your legs keep moving for a bit.

It’s not like I’ll be down for long either. Maybe I’m just taking the chance while I can. I already know two of the next gigs. The old happy group The Factory will be back at The Willow Globe on September 10th, just for two shows doing Twelfth Night. I woke up this morning with Malvolio’s letter running in my head – I haven’t been back to the text yet as I’ve only just found out. But it’ll be something of a homecoming – both Twelfth Night and The Willow Globe. I first played Malvolio at drama school. Peter Clough made a lovely version in the studio at Guildhall for a third year show. Many old friends and memories. Scott played Feste, and we still work together all the time with The Factory. I played him again as a last minute replacement for The Original Theatre Company on tour and up to Edinburgh. Then a third time in my first year at Sprite up in Yorkshire – a job over many summers that changed my confidence for the better and really built my skillset and my friendship group. Jack from Christmas Carol was Feste that time. Feste and Malvolio always work closely. I remember that as a beautiful slow happy summer in Yorkshire – the first of many. I’m in touch with many of the company still. Viola is now internationally famous. Funny to think of her at the crossroads. That slow happy summer was the last time I played Malvolio though. I was always too young. When I toured America the year before last, it was as bombastic Toby Belch. Maybe now is a good time to revisit the steward, and find out who he is through me with another decade and a half of life and skill to draw on. Scott will be Feste again. A happy reunion, and some names on the list that make me excited and nostalgic. Friends and colleagues from years ago, and we will all get to reunite in that beautiful theatre made of living Willow out in the Welsh borders. Then the very next day I’ll fly to Chile for another race. So I have to tell myself this, but it’s okay to wind down for a bit. It’s ok.

I had Friday night solo steak night tonight. Rock and roll, baby.

That’s one thing that I’ve carried back from the Mediterranean. An appetite. I never used to have breakfast, but now the fridge is always stocked with yogurt and blueberries. And I’ve been enjoying cooking simple – and not so simple – comfort foods. Sometimes it’s the little things. I’ll have to get stuck in to life a bit more next week though.

Quick stop at the pub

This used to happen the whole time, but since all the pandemic misery it’s a rarity. “I’m passing by your flat after work. Fancy a pint?”

The advantage of living on a pretty major thoroughfare is that people pass by the flat reasonably often. The disadvantage is that they are either in an Uber so they can’t stop, or they’re driving so they can’t drin or park. I occasionally wave out the window as people go by. This time though, Tristan was driving but it was after half six. Free parking time. One pint? Why the hell not?

Tristan and I went to The Rose and Crown in Chelsea. It’s a basic pub, but it used to have the best Thai food for miles. We both went in the hopes that the food was still available, but it turns out the chef finally retired just before the first lockdown. Good timing. Not for us. So… we just had a pint.

We sat outside. We joined a solitary guy at a table. Remember pubs? You meet people. I’ve met a few folks in pubs over the years and kept them. We joined Robert this time, as he was sitting alone. He’s partially sighted and works as an extra / playwright / cyberneticist. He opened by telling us about the website StarNow, which connects people to acting jobs, even though the name they’ve chosen makes me uncomfortable about the thinking behind it. Neither Tristan nor I told him we were actors, but he wanted to talk about our industry so we let him. Within ten minutes he was showing us a short verse play he had written, using his thumbs as actors, speaking his verse very clearly and well, in his element “Thank God it wasn’t doggerel,” Tristan commented later. It was only a couple of minutes long, set in WW1 and present day, echoing a short snatch of Kipling. “I’ve written a play about my life and how I lost my sight,” he continued. He has a white stick, and a tiny amount of vision in his right eye. He’s covered a lot of ground in his life, has our Simon. From what I’ve known of him on a brief acquaintance it will be good writing. An interesting character to meet in a pub in Chelsea. I haven’t had that for years.

Robert’s mum rang though, so Tristan and I made excuses and moved to a recently vacated seat indoors to give him his space. We only had a limited amount of time to catch up, so catch up we did, nursing our beer as the light fell, sad about the fact there is no more Thai at The Rose and Crown.

And dammit, I never remember to take photos until it’s too late. Here’s one of my house plants. They’re all thriving but one, which got missed out from the water rounds for the whole time I was away and which sadly I think is not salvageable…

Happy plant
Sad plant

Queer Britain Museum

Out of the house again and off into London. To get to the tube I walk up Tite Street and five minutes from my door I pass by the blue plaque that reminds us: this is where Oscar Wilde lived for the good years.

I really don’t like the tube these days. It’s always been a neurotic and condensed atmosphere, but it’s getting out of hand now. Nevertheless it’s quick to King’s Cross. I follow the signs from the Victoria Line platform saying “British Library’ thereby avoiding the tunnel of doom. I emerge blinking into the early afternoon light, hungover and craving coffee. Black Sheep have taken up residence in the square. I usually avoid them if I can (“What size flat white, sir?”) I need the caffeine though so I get a latte to avoid the question and it’s actually not bad. Sipping it, I wander up past the old Guardian building to Granary Square.

Beth has my bag. I left it at hers last night. We have arranged to meet in a place about halfway from our homes. The bag only really has a charger in it, but if you leave it too long when there’s nothing important in the thing, you can end up leaving it forever. We have agreed to meet at Queer Britain’s shiny new free museum space. It’s the first dedicated LGBTQ+ museum in the UK, and one of our mutual friends is on the operations team.

It’s brilliantly crowded for such a little museum. We are in companionable close quarters with quite a few other interested people, really taking the time to look at documents and artifacts that mark turning points in the history of queer Britain. They’ve pulled together some unusual and delightful things, and others that give pause. On one wall is this door, with a book beside it.

The door, somehow, is the very door in Reading Gaol from behind which a very different Oscar from the one that lived in Tite Street wrote his charged and sumptuously bitterbeautiful letter to Bosie – “de profundis”. Beside it is a copy of the book found by a curator with heartfelt personal scribbles in the margin – written by someone finding comfort in the book. Even in the depths of his unfair imprisonment, Oscar found ways to send hope into the future. Thank God the new warden let him write, poor sod. What a great tiny museum, and the team were so welcoming. If you’re ever waiting for a train, it’s only a short walk from King’s Cross, and it’s free! I can only imagine the collection getting deeper and deeper over time. I’m glad I left my bag at Beth’s.

Evening in the Docklands


What a divine evening.

Docklands is just… so far away. To stay sober and drive? An hour and fifteen. To go by public transport? An hour and fifteen. To get an Uber? An hour and fifteen and thirty quid each way. To drive but to take out the “avoid toll roads” stricture? An hour and ten. Five minutes saved.

I got on the tube.

The tube used to be second nature to me. All of us who have learnt it properly – we feel a kind of ownership. It’s much the same now. There is a new avoidable bullshit tunnel at Victoria – like the old one at King’s Cross. There are more and more of them springing up. But I get it. People need to be corralled. It’s a Wednesday and I walked down King’s Road on my way out of the area. It has never ever felt more like New York in Chelsea. Footfall near Sloane Square was vast. I had to stay alert or be walked at. It’s never normally that bad. Usually it’s just a few slouching addicts in their daddy’s clothes who don’t really even know you’re there, and their fantastically rich siblings attempting to show off their whatever. Every so often on the weekend they all just drive around in their arsehole cars. But today, just a Wednesday, all the Japanese, all the Americans… Everybody is still on desperate rescheduled holiday.

Beth organised an evening of cheese and wine in the Docklands. It was marvelous but I left my bag. I made it all the way there by trains and tubes after the plastic COVID nosejudge told me I was ok to do what I wanted. Now I’m home I’m just gonna pass out. But my bag is in the Docklands. I could say I’ll sort it out tomorrow, but truth be told, Beth will bring it in and we will go to our friend’s museum in the fullness of time.

I’m happy after an evening of being social.

Here’s the view… Part of it:


About a week ago today I found myself sitting on a balcony somewhere near here.

In one hand I had a glass of ouzo, and in the other a glass of rosé after a comprehension error by the barkeep. “I like a glass of ouzo as I write my blog,” I say to Lou. I sip it thoughtfully. Somehow it tastes good.

That ouzo-feeling led me to purchase a big bottle of the stuff in duty free. You know- to take home. So I can enjoy the ouzo in my own dwelling. This evening I thought it would be jolly nice. Let’s have a glass of ouzo while I write, I said.

Context is everything, ladies and gentlemen. This is something that advertising executives run up against all the time, I’m sure. If I’m sitting on a warm balcony listening to the cicadas and contemplating another swim in bath-warm sea come the morning, then a glass of ouzo is just the picture. Little drop of ice to make it cloudy and keep it cool. Lovely. And now I shall write…

I’m overheating in a muggy flat in London. Outside it’s been grey but wet heat all day and my duvet is gonna be way too heavy for my needs. I’ve got the damn ouzo but it just tastes like sharp aniseed. It’s taken me forever to get halfway through a small glass. Ouzo is all very well on a summer night in Greece, but it can stay there. I can’t imagine that bottle will be even halfway empty this time next year.

Deliveroo was doing £10 off on groceries so I treated myself to comfort food from Waitrose. Now I can have crumpets to get the taste of that stuff out of my mouth. Third day without leaving the house. Full disclosure here – somebody had Covid on the plane near me, so I’m just taking three days. I haven’t got any tests, so I’m unsure how much of my headache and overheating is psychosomatic. We have had so much drummed into our heads about this thing. I haven’t got any tests though so I might venture to a careful boots tomorrow to purchase one before taking a call on whether to attend an actual real life social gathering tomorrow evening. The Bletchley Park cast are having a cheese and bread and board games night. I’d love to be able to get there. BYOB? Hmm. Perhaps I’ll bring this ouzo. *spits*

Down day

We go on holiday to relax, sure. But I’ve never been one for staying in one place. Kefalonia was new to me and I do like to see the world when I can. New places need to be explored thoroughly. We managed a bit of lying down. But we also kept moving. So today I just let myself stop entirely. Just a day at home, surrounded by familiar things, doing very little. I thought I was gonna do my receipts but I honestly didn’t want to. Thankfully the guys have advanced me half my invoice so I’m not out of pocket. The rest can come in time. I’ll get it done. It’s just time consuming and punishingly boring.

It’s lovely being back in a place where there’s a bath, but these hot summer evenings aren’t conducive to my usual bathtub habit, which is to make it just below too hot for human tolerance and then lie in it and broil. I just got out and I’m thinking I need a cold one now to bring my temperature back down to vaguely normal. I won’t though. I’ll just swelter.

Slowly I’m working through the list of things that I missed about being home. Coffee my way. Toast my way. Hot bath. Familiar bed with clean sheets. Too much time playing computer games on a Sunday. I haven’t had a curry yet but it’ll come… Problem is, I’ve got a headache. It’s hard to want to do anything much through a headache.

A quick rummage through my shelves just now has yielded a single sachet of Lemsip. I just had a brainwave regarding self care. In my bag there is a little bottle of Rakomelo that I picked up in a lovely crafty little shop halfway up a mountain. It’s a pokey brew, consisting of local honey and quite a lot of Raki, which would be familiar to anybody who has been to Turkey. It’s not clear how strong it is. The Greeks use it as a cure all, especially for sore throats. I’m adding it to the mix.

Alchemy! I’ve just concocted an unusual brew of Lemsip, Acacia honey and hopefully not too much Rakomelo. The last of the light is just fading in the summer sky and it’s getting to the temperature when I can sip it.

I just had a sip. This is a successful experiment. I’m sure it would work just as well without the Lemsip, but get that paracetamol liquid into my veins. No way I can sleep with that headache.

I suspect my body is just processing. I haven’t stopped really since I flew to Sardinia. Time for a brief rest.

Kefalonia to London

There’s a shortage of air traffic controllers. This is why nearly all the planes I’ve met for weeks that have something to do with Gatwick are delayed. I can see why controllers are needed. You can’t land a plane without knowing for sure that nobody is taking off. Who knows where they’ve all gone. Found better jobs in Covid? Don’t want to work in a tiny room looking at planes? Whatever the reason, it’s happening. The shortage caused a two hour delay to our flight. That was plenty considering Greece is two hours ahead of the UK. By the time I had my checked baggage we were walking wounded at past 3am Greek time. We still had to get Bergman back and sleepdrive him to Brighton.”Drive on the left, watch out for cops”. I think my tax might have run out. That’s a tomorrow thing. I know I’m insured so it’s all good. Not gonna make that mistake again. Thankfully it’s a short journey and the roads were clear.

It’s cold. Comparatively. I can still walk about in shorts and sandals. But where’s my pounding sun? Still, there’ll be another month even here when I rarely have to wash my socks cos I’ve been in sandals. I’m looking forward to August and what it might bring. There’s nothing in the diary. I’ll always find something to do, which today involved driving back to London.

Just yesterday at the time of writing I was eating my last plate of Spaghetti Napoli next to a bay full of turtles. I can’t recommend Kefalonia enough at this time of year. So long as you’re resourceful you can avoid the crowds unless you want to go towards them. Tourism is so vital to the economy there that pretty much everybody is happy to see you and speaks English so well that it’s hard to learn the basics of Greek. In just over a week I stayed in six different parts of the island and tried to plug into the vibe there. There’s a lot of real estate for sale, speculating on the return of tourism, but there’s still the spectre of everything being shut down again hanging over the industry – as with ours. I really don’t think it will be shut down again – not for Covid. But basically we have all been collectively traumatised and it’s gonna take a while to regain trust.

I’ve been in an airplane and airports and boats and occasionally crowded tourist caves. I haven’t been licking everybody but I might just give it a couple of days before I pop round for tea. But I’m here, in town. I’ll miss the sea.

Looking at the beaches

This is Myrtos Beach.

Lots of the books and websites tell you how this is the best beach in Greece.

Like all such places, it’s mostly worth avoiding, particularly at noon in peak season, which is when we arrived. We juggled the car through a busy one way system to the bottom of the cliff, where we took one look at it and kept driving back up the one way system and back out. We stopped to get this photo. Then we went to Assos for lunch.

The morning had already seen us becoming part of the tourist machine as we joined a conveyor belt queue of families walking through a man made cave to a docking point where about 7 simultaneous boats were shunting around a natural flooded cave with an underground bit. It was revealed by an earthquake about three and a half thousand years ago or more and they’ve called it “Cave of the Nymphs” because Odysseus sells round here. Our boat trip was over before it began and the pilot whacked us around with his locked in oars while scattergunning high pitched Greek peppered with snatches of English. There’s not much you can say when you haven’t got a clue. “This is a cave. It is old. Stalactites and stalagmites. It is deep water. Look it is dark now. Next.” It felt a bit like striking out over Styx only to have Charon change his mind and drop you off back where you started.

After lunch we overheated for a bit before driving to the less populous part of the island because I had left half my clothes there. I got them back and then we found Politos beach. Much less of a scrum to get there. Sure there were hopeful looking young men at the very bottom standing around signs saying “Parking €7” but it was clear enough that we could just sling the car at the side of the switchback with all the others and go down on foot.

Azure sea. Swirling tiny marbles where there might be sand. Some shade near the rocks. Plenty of sunshine. We charged up. Sun. Swim. Sun. Swim. Sun. A quick cold freshwater shower. Change in the car. Dinner in Argostoli.

Our flight is delayed by an hour and a half but we all still had to go to the airport. Now we are waiting here, through security. It’s barren. There’s nothing. And they just told Lou we are gonna be kicked out of this shonky café as it’s closing. The only option will be to go join all the corralled brits on their way back home to Gatwick. Man I don’t want to go back… It’s comforting that it’s not gonna be freezing back home. But I’ve enjoyed being in the med. I could murder a curry though. It’s funny the things you start to miss. I’m also looking forward to trying to see more of my friends. But that’s been hard enough to do for ages anyway.

Farewell lovely hot place. I’ve brought back some ouzo, honey and olive oil. And a rock.

Quietening down

Getting quieter. A holiday can involve relaxing. Who knew?

We managed a touch of running around all over the place though. After all, I’m one of the two of us. We found a lovely beach at Antisamos after rejecting all previous options. There’s a huge cruise ship in the bay nearby and it is sending coachloads of enthusiastic Americans to selected parts of the island. The skill of the game is to work out where they might be going next and RUN LIKE THE WIND from that area. We were caught once as the island almost sank in one corner as they all simultaneously lumbered into the queue for a cave. We immediately left the queue and got back into the car.

The road to Antisamos is not conducive to coaches. I sensed that we would be safe there, and Lou had it on her list. We walked away from all the people shouting about umbrellas and found a patch of peace on the marble stones. I filled my ear once more with salt water, and we flolloped about with the fish and the urchins until hunger forced us back to the madding crowd and we shared a bowl of pasta and a salad where the music was hypnotically awful del mar style guff. I would have spent too much on a jetski, but the too much was too much too much. €70 for twenty minutes and they can go and fuck themselves.

Afternoon exploring took us up hills and into close communion with the goats. We explored the various abandoned and largely uncared for ruined structures that make up what’s left of ancient Sami. A castle and an acropolis. Various monasteries, more recent than the ruins but equally ruined. It’s all just rubble now. Rubble and goats and olive trees. We picked our way through it all. The money we all spend as tourists isn’t going towards looking after antiquity on this island. It’s going into bulldozing more flats into mountainsides. The roads are already flooded with hire cars. You are as likely to hear English spoken here as Greek. Tourism, like it or lump it, is a huge part of the economy. But thankfully it’s not Zakynthos and it’s not trying to be the party yet. Long may it stay this way, with sleepy cats and goats and not much atrocious music like they had at the beach. I’m fine with all the friendly people marking things up a bit too much and smiling with dollars instead of eyes, just as long as they notice what’s unique about this sleepy place, and go towards that instead of the idea of party-money that zaps all character.

The highlight of my day was hanging out with a friendly cat at a monastery. I was lying on my side to let eardrops work. It decided it was going to be my friend – maybe it wanted to help make my deaf face better. I rewarded it with all the water it could drink. But… that was the highlight of my day. As I say, it’s a sleepy island and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

We hung out for a while, that cat and Lou and I. The cats are everywhere and they’re a highlight. Here we are together.