Cash

Thirteen pounds is what it costs to transfer a parking permit from one vehicle to another in my borough. Kensington Town Hall.

I was there switching the pass for my blue Nissan to my new Ford Galaxy. I need to be able to take more passengers.

The guy at the desk is full of life. Italian. Funny. Switched on. But still at the mercy of the uncompromising bureaucratic machine.

This is an unusual request. It takes a while for us to establish how to do it, but we manage it eventually. “That’ll be thirteen pounds,” he says. He gestures at the machine. My card is in my car but I’ve got one on my phone. “Oh no, sir, there’s no contactless here,” he says.

I pat down my pockets. I find a £20 note. “Do you have anything smaller? A ten quid note. A triumphant one pound coin. And shekels. Not quite enough.

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It is clear that nobody ever pays cash here. He knows what it is, at least. “This isn’t my desk,” he tells me guiltily. “If it was my desk there’d be change.”

He sends my £20 off with a post it note on it. “One ten, one five, five 1. Customer is waiting.”

We wait. We talk.

He came over here so long ago he can barely remember. His girlfriend is Chinese. “People look at her strangely because of this virus,” he says. This tallies with the cabbie I took the other night: “Chinatown is empty.”

But as we talk I’m not thinking about Corona virus. I’m thinking about how I’m here in the heart of my borough’s governance and they can’t change a score.

They’re about to release a new twenty pound note. Chances are it’s gonna be the same horrible plastic stuff that they made the five and ten from. But how frequently do we handle cash any more? In keeping with this outbreak scare that’s hanging over us at the moment, I’ve heard people tell me in the certain voice of learnt information “bank notes carry disease”. Balls.

I waited with the Italian guy long enough to mine into his sadness, and his concerns about the future. He’s a kind man, and his desire to do a good job mixed with my impatience eventually earnt him two quid. He borrowed a fiver from his colleague and came back apologetically.

I told him to keep the two, and left. I’d been there long enough – almost two hours from taking a ticket to getting everything squared off.

I never pay with cash anymore. On this job, perhaps, as I’ve been getting lots out to deal with tips to concierges etc. I also use it to pay the cleaner. But compared to ten years ago…

Ten years ago “sorry we don’t take cards”. Now “sorry we don’t take cash”.

When one of those eloquent homeless guys comes up it’s so rare that I’ve got anything to give that if I actually do have cash I tend to be so proud of myself that I give it all away. And then I haven’t got any again…

I’m going to try to pay for things with cash for the next few weeks. Keep the stuff rolling round. I like having a wodge in my pocket. Why not?

Be kind

I didn’t know who Caroline Flack was until she died. I never watched Love Island – it’s not really my jam. But her high profile suicide has been in my mind a great deal since I read about it the other day.

So many of my friends experience mental health issues. I sometimes joke that it “goes with the territory”. It kind of does. As performers, or presenters or artists in general our job is both to find ways to express humanity with the sticky bits and yet also to pretend to be superhuman and aspirational. The balance is tender and it’s easily tipped either towards the belief you’re just the sticky bits, or that you’re just the superhuman…

“It’s amazing how many people you know,” says Lenka. And I suppose I do know a lot of people, but often quite briefly. We have an experience together, make something hopefully beautiful, and then move on. There’s not much that’s consistent in our lives.

Usually we remember each other, sometimes we don’t. My head gets flooded with faces and sometimes fails when there’s a hair change or it was too brief a time shared, or somesuch. I used to say “Nice to meet you,” but got “We’ve met” back so much I’ve learnt to go with “Nice to see you,” because I sharply remember those “we’ve met” moments, logged in my memory as a kind of failure.

But of all those people, remembered and forgotten, a huge number of them struggle with depression, anxiety, OCD, and so forth even with some friends enjoying the wonders of schizophrenia and so on.

I’ve seen very dear friends in very dark places saying and trying all sorts of things, and I’ve sat next to them. I’ve been in very dark places myself and pretended to ignore the person I was holding on to.

A few of them are gone now. Largely they were artists of some kind. No matter what face people wear, usually it’s a mask.

I’ve been trying to align friends with jobs recently, always aware that if someone doesn’t show up either in body or in mind it reflects on me. I’m pretty quick and instinctive with people and what the mask means and what’s behind it.

I think the people I’ve found will all thrive in the roles I’ve found for them. But there’s always things left to chance… “The bubble, reputation…”

I used to think about it a huge amount, writing this blog. “What if I show too much? What if I damage myself?” It’s always connected to this fucking obsession: my capacity to work.

Because I decided to try to be honest. And because writing every day means sometimes I just have to let the words tumble out in any old order…

Now I just write it. Yes It’s done damage to some friendships. It’s possibly damaged some job possibilities that I’d never know about but who cares? Thank God that the desperate need not to upset anyone has somehow vanished with age. This blog has cemented some friendships from unexpected quarters where people have found fellow feeling, and it has connected me to like minded artists and thinkers and makers. That’ll do.

For the moment it feels like it’s still a thing I have to do. But occasionally I worry.

I’m still careful if I mention people by name. If I was drunk I occasionally wake up and check the rant at 4am when my morning pee strikes.

Reputation is indeed a bubble. It can swell up to be huge. But the bigger it grows the bigger it might burst. And reputation is everything in this industry. Where can you go when the bubble bursts? If all your time, all your thoughts, all your past has sharpened you to become the artist you are despite all the adversity and competition. And then you see it all smashed because of a moment of rage? Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

As a young man I once swung a hard metal soda stream canister at my brother’s face with all my strength and he only just dodged it. It could have killed him. I don’t even remember what the fight was about now. It was just a thing that was to hand and I was enraged. I often think “what if that canister had connected?” because I remember the red mist as I swung it.

I’m sad for another beautiful broken soul lost. Please look after each other and yourselves. Please be kind. We are all so flawed and so delightful. And it’s never broken forever however we might feel.

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Car change

Today involved a spot of driving, but mostly it was to do with recruiting. I’m wearing lots of hats right now. Happy to as well as it means I get to throw work towards friends who need work, while working myself. That’s triple win as far as I’m concerned.

I’m tired though. It’ll be good to get a day where I’m not starting early. But right now it just seems to keep getting earlier. All the planes from America are getting swept across the Atlantic super fast by the storms, and usually my first job is to meet one of them and pick up the passengers. I’m not going to make them wait so I need to get there too early and hang around near all the signs making us worry about outbreaks.

Tomorrow I’ve got to get up early in order to swap my nice new car for a bigger one. I will be very surprised if I ever fill more than three seats but they want the option and I’m rolling with it even though now I’ve got to swap my resident’s parking permit and get used to another set of unfamiliar wheels. It’s a right faff. Enterprise corporate delivers but for some reason I’ve got to be at the branch first thing. Then straight to Heathrow.

I’m glad of the work though and it keeps me occupied. So be it. I’d always sooner have too much than too little. It’s only that I just watched the weekend fly by and I really want a lie in as a good sleep helps me braindump. My head feels full to bursting. I’ve been casting actors, looking for drivers and PA’s, sorting paperwork and driving people in unfamiliar cars around annoying places. One morning soon I would like to sleep until ten.

As it is I’m running a bath at 9pm, and I’m going to try and crash out early if I can switch my head off. But I’m not sure I’ll manage it. My head is full of static. I feel like I’m an electric storm. I haven’t braindumped for too long.

Still, things are flowing. It’s good to be in a phase like this and I’ll ride the storm for as long as it rolls. All I’m really lacking is sleep and that’s because I’m terrible at going to bed at a reasonable time and sober. I reckon I’ll have a chance at a late start in the next few days though, and I can call it a pretend weekend. Maybe.

Often I don’t know the day of the week and this is why. I’m surprisingly aware that it’s Sunday right now, but that’s primarily because everything was closed when I clocked off work and because I’m tired. Also I guess I’m still in a performers pattern where Monday is the day off, so I’m spitting that I’ve got to get up and change cars first thing. But I’m actually also really enjoying myself, challenging myself and stretching myself. That counts for a lot. And it’s why I’m still smiling. Somewhere.

My blog and my bath so frequently coincide that some of you probably think I live in the thing.

Right now I’d quite like to…

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Driving round town

Waiting to pick someone up from Heathrow today it struck me how many passengers were coming out of the gate wearing little white masks. I checked the arrivals. San Francisco. Madrid. LA. Grand Cayman via Nassau. Nowhere on the list of places that are considered to be problematic…

The masks are terribly ostentatious. Over the years I’ve grown used to seeing them worn by East Asian people on public transport. My initial thought, years ago, was “Do they think we are all dirty?” until someone hauled me up and taught me : “It’s a courtesy. They do it because they’ve got a cold and they don’t want to spread it.”

Trust us in the West to just assume that it’s done out of fear of the other, and then to do it ourselves for that reason at the first opportunity. Those masks will just be annoying to the people wearing them. If people really want to avoid catching a virus they’ll need proper respirators like the one I’ve got that says “Josh”.

But there are posters all over the airport, suggesting you self isolate if you’ve been to various countries. I wonder how many people will though? Hard to self isolate without symptoms…

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Jobs are getting cancelled abroad now even though the death toll to infection rate is still pretty low. Secret Cinema all emerged blinking back to London after their Chinese tour was cancelled. It’s made a lot more work for us as well on the TV show I’m helping fix and drive for, because they were going to go out east but have now decided to do a double show here instead. Twice the work! It won’t affect me much apart from being able to find even more jobs for even more friends. I’d be working those days anyway. I’ll just be working more.

I reckon about 50 people I know personally now being gainfully employed because three or four years ago Brian put me in touch with a man called Kester who organised to meet me for an interview for event staff work somewhere in East London. I arrived at the place and he was late. There were loads of people standing round, and a van with the back door open and the hazards on.

“Is Kester here?” I asked. “No. We’re waiting for him.” “What are you supposed to be doing?” “We have to load this stuff into the van.” “Ok. So let’s go. You do this I’ll do this etc etc.” By the time he arrived the van was almost loaded. Now, a few years later, his old company trusts me to find people with a bit more gumption than that lot. Plus I get to drive lots. And I do like driving lots.

Although I do see now why some drivers have a sticker saying “If you have a preferred route, state it now.” I’ve learnt to drive with terrible backseat drivers. Road placement, jolts, braking etc. Those guys – I can usually make them forget they’re in a car, which is the trick.

But this guy always knows the best route so wherever we are he’s wondering why we aren’t going three roads south. It’s not so much that he’s actually interested. More that it’s important we all know he knows the roads. I’m using live traffic on waze. It’s usually pretty accurate.

Tedious bugger. He’s on three times my wage and more. I’d prefer it if he just zipped it up.

 

Valentine’s

Valentine’s Day. How am I going to style it? I’m really not sure how I feel. Part of me quite likes it despite being single.

Yes I could rant on about the commercial aspect, but also isn’t it quite pleasant to have one day in the calendar where we have to remember to be romantic – if we are in a relationship. But that’s the trouble with the styling. For those of us that aren’t, it can feel like another day for other people’s lives. Like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day is now for me.

But still I like it. We can still make little gestures. Life rolls along and we are swept with it, seeking and finding, wanting and having. ‘Remember how you used to buy me flowers?” For one night we can hang up the hang-ups and leave work at the door, switch off the phone and be with those we love. And love comes in many guises.

It’s been a long time since there’s been committed romantic love in my life. There are advantages and disadvantages. “You’ve been offered the American tour!” “Shit, what’s Brunhilde going to say?”

I’m going to spend two or three weeks driving all day and then collapsing face first into my sheets, sprawled all over the bed. I sometimes wake up and there’s a pillow on the ceiling and another one in Egham. I’ve found a way to hook my feet into the bedframe and stretch myself starfish like I’m on a rack. Sometimes I wake up, sit bolt upright and speak complete sentences of garbage out loud. Sometimes if there’s no work I’ll sleep until afternoon. Nobody but I has to suffer the consequences. I can get home and dump clothes on the bedroom floor for five days running and until I run out of clothes nobody objects. One time when I was sick, I blew my nose into the duvet cover. I didn’t change it the next night. Yep. Hi ladies. Just last week I spilt coffee on my sheet and slept on it for three days before I changed it.

So yeah, I guess I’m looking for the advantages. I get to be a slob. But… Being a slob isn’t really that satisfying. It’s just being a slob.

I’d get just as much satisfaction from finishing a difficult task. Like tidying the huge pile of junk I’ve collected. More than just the momentary endorphin rush left over from childhood of “screw you mum I’m not gonna clean today”. I keep my bedroom neater these days unless I’m sick or just crazy busy. Why not? Every time I get home and the bed is made I smile to myself as I go to sleep. Better than wondering why I can faintly smell coffee as I doze.

I’m off to see a friend. Honouring the part of the intention of this day that is to do with connection. There is love between us too, and care and respect. I was going to just go home but she called and invited me. Initially I said “no, I’m too tired”. Then I realised it’s just my dark energy trying to win. I rang her back moments later. Now I’m glad I did.

Happy Valentine’s Day. I hope you spend it with someone you love. Even if that someone is yourself.

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First day driving

8.00 am. The phone rings. I’m dressed, with keys and satnav holder in hand, waiting for it. “Enterprise?” I say. “Hi, yes it’s Dawn from Enterprise Rent-a-car. Your car will be with you in half an hour.” Shit. It’s supposed to be with me now.

8.19 am. Text from unit. “Please tell me you have your car…”

8.25 am. Car arrives. Traffic warden is eyeing it avariciously as will be parked illegally in five minutes. We have admin to do.

8.26 am. Phone rings. Same person that texted me before. I’m being shown the car. I miss the call.

8.28 am I notice and ring back. The guy at Enterprise can’t operate his machine. I think it might be his first day. “I’ll be with you for 9 or just after,” I tell her. He’s faffing.

The car only has a quarter tank in it. Marginally less. “Return it with the same amount.” He says. There are many words he has to say. They’ve sent the new guy. He says all the words. I’m just pissed off about the fuel as I’ll have to get to a station which I shouldn’t really do with passengers. Months of people letting the needle slip back a tiny bit on return.

Thankfully I do get to unit base for 9 but there’s no stopping. Three people bundle into my car. They want to go and look at Heathrow Terminal 2. Then they want to look at Heathrow Terminal 3. Then Terminal 5. I can do that with my limited fuel. Off we go.


Heathrow is a horrible place to be driving at the best of times. I was going round in circles for ages as they don’t let you stop, or they try to trap you in car parks that cost £4.20 to drive through.

Eventually back through unexpectedly heavy traffic to a roundabout near my flat. Everybody goes for coffee and loo while I drive an endless loop around a building site knowing I need to be where they last saw me as my phone is almost empty.

Then, horror of horrors, to Piccadilly Circus. They’ve all gone to the loo and had coffee by this stage. I’m trying to be the unnoticeable robot driver but there’s two problems. 1 : My charging cable died without my notice last night and so my phone took no charge. It has run out completely and they’ll need to communicate with me about pick-up. 2: I’m desperate for the loo, I haven’t stopped for hours, and I’m in Piccadilly Circus. The roads round here are tiny and filled with vans. There is no parking.

After they get out, I end up in an expensive NCP on Poland Street or thereabouts, and I run out to buy a charging cable. Back to the car to put some charge in and find they’ve gone on lunch. Breathe out. And relax.

I like this work but I’d forgotten. Driving through London with time pressure is no fun. When I finally stopped for the first time at about 13.30 my legs were jittering and my left calf was stretched from clutch action. I had just driven 5 hours non stop in a completely unfamiliar car. Traffic was BAD in London today. Unfamiliarly so. Still, we got it done and back to base with 22 miles left on the fuel range. They got out the door and I got myself to the garage and filled up. Then straight to Kensington Town Hall to sort a residents permit, and fuck me if they don’t make it as hard as they possibly can even though I’ve got a load of these permits in my account history and incontrovertibly live in the borough. Sorted though and it’ll save a fortune in parking charges. Back to the hotel to check on what they need. Just staff. Home.

I’m ready for tomorrow now. New charging cable, full tank of gas and I’ve had enough time with the car now to switch off the fucking child locks and patch my phone in too. Not enough yet to switch off the oversensitive radar or work out how to set the Aircon properly but all things in their right time.

Off to bed now as it’s another likely to be another long one tomorrow. I think with time I’ll grow to love my little Nissan… I just need some alone-time. And the chance for a loo break.

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Dreamtime

If only I didn’t live so bloody far away from Mel. Enterprise are dropping a car off at mine tomorrow at 8am. I’m in immediately in order to start moving people and things around. I’ve been throwing another net today looking specifically for drivers. Drivers are in short supply, and we have to have a fleet. If you drive in London you want to talk to me.

I’m about to be steeped in it for a few weeks, this lovely strange work. I have no idea what enterprise is going to send me. Last time it was a Nissan X-Trail and I fell in love with it for the parking cameras and the modcons. I also just enjoy how you can turn your car so easily into an extended version of your mobile phone with wheels. If you’re on a driving job and solo for a large portion of the time, your podcast listening capacity goes through the roof. Just don’t get caught, as I once did, listening to “My dad wrote a porno” by people who don’t know anything about podcasts, see the word “porno” and feel the need to express concern about the extracurricular activities of the driver.

I’m being driven across London in an Uber as the car only comes into my possession tomorrow morning. Camilo. Good lad, he is. Wearing a suit and flatcap to drive me across town in his rented Toyota Prius. I totally get that. I frequently dress up in a three piece to do driving jobs, and I’ve often garnished myself with a flat cap, although my current weapon of choice is a trilby. But it’s above and beyond the call of duty to dress well in an uber where all your passengers are comfortable in the fact they are paying less for the journey than they would with any other operator until all the other operators are finally driven out of business, at which time we’ll all be saying “remember when ubers were cheap?”


I’m home, and abed on the sofa tonight. I got talking to Camilo and then cooked supper and forgot that I hadn’t finished this until now in my post bath post sleepy drink state, as the wind and rain beats on the window and it’s late enough that even the road noise outside is intermittent. It’s so quiet in Hampstead that even after just a couple of nights I hear every vehicle though, as they gun their bike engines or angrily lay on their horns even now in the small hours.

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London. Driving in this city is always an adventure. I’m about to have an adventure.

Right now it’s adventures in Dreamland…