Corner of the year in Brighton

It’s a peaceful night in Brighton. If I listen closely I can hear the waves breaking on the stones of the beach not far from me. The strange thing is that I’m here at Lou’s on my own. She’s down the road. I’ll be sleeping here. She’ll be sleeping down the road. It’s about pets and logistics. It’s funny being here without her.

Lou has a friend with two ragdolls – the same breed as Mao – but a little more particular than The Chairman. She is catsitting for a few weeks and there’s no way they’d allow this friendly fluffball to encroach on their territory. My friend Tom is very allergic to things, and he’s staying in my flat. His ladyfriend is even more allergic than he is and will be coming for press night. Rather than risk a double manslaughter by bringing Mao and his fluff back to Chelsea, I’ve come to Brighton so he isn’t alone at nights and he has cuddles and play and his water topped up. I’ll be here a while this time. Longer than the usual three days. I’ve brought my laptop and I probably get more done when I’m not at home than I do when I am at home, so it’ll likely be a productive time. Plus I’ll get to see more of Lou, which can only be a good thing.

Until the industry picks up there really is no need for me to be in London. I’ve got the Audi, so commuting is pretty easy from here if I need to. I might as well be by the sea for a few weeks in the summer time if I can. Not that it’s feeling particularly summery right now, at the corner of the year. The solstice. The longest day. I always feel slightly sad knowing that the light will start to fade now. But we have a long long way to go before the darkness closes in. And being here will bring opportunities for us to frolic in the waves, as well as for me to get more out of the long quest started in Jersey. The energies are good in this flat, I’ve got a little twitchy fluffy companion, and I’ve brought my latest tome, impulse bought off the internet, looking like a more schlocky Golden Bough or a less dense Joseph Campbell.

There are no footnotes but lots of diagrams. It’s full of interesting tasty things to consider. Ancient ways of thought and understanding that can shed light on how we think about things more than some rich kid in LA with hippy parents pontificating on YouTube. Still simplified and Americanised as only the Americans can do with mysticism. But done in the 1920’s before we all vanished quite so far up our own arseholes. I’ll report back.

Right now I’m going to sprawl out in pretty much the first double bed I’ve had to myself in over a month, listen to the sea, and hope that fluffy little monster won’t sniff me awake at dawn as he does with Lou. Happy Solstice.

Edges

Somebody posted a picture of my dad on Facebook today. In it he’s about the age I am now. His unruly hair is sticking out from behind his thick rimmed glasses. I look at him and I see my similarities with him. Some are clearly deliberate on some level, like my choice of eyewear, and the fact I like to wear a hat. Clothing. Others are less conscious, or just the result of genetics. The way I hold my arms. The sticky out hair. The cast of his countenance. His body shape. For all the similarities, there are the huge differences too. His face is pale. His eyes are blue. But there he is, looking through time at his youngest son and his youngest son is looking back at him.

I wonder what we’d make of each other if we met now. He was pretty much over the whole concept of children by the time I showed up. “I don’t really have any actor friends. Actors hate me,” he told me once when he was trying to advise me about my life choices. “They tolerate me if they play golf, but only because they suspect I’ll buy the drinks.” Well I barely play golf. Plus I’m off the booze.

I like fast cars though. And going fast in general. He taught me to ski well by telling me I had to always know where the edge of my ability was and then push just beyond it. Not too far. But never settle. As a result I found my edge and improved, rather than just pootling along. That’s good dad-style general life advice, from skiing to most things. Find the edge and push just beyond it. Too far too fast and you’ll wipe out in a rolling pile of sticks and snow. Too cautious and you’ll never improve. If you find and know the edge of your ability you can grow by stretching it. You might fall over occasionally but it’ll be a fall that teaches you.

But this is what I do with him, having lost him to the present moment so long ago. I sift my memories for things that have stuck, and then I develop them into my own versions of these lessons that were probably just intended for the moment they were given. It would never have occurred to him that I’d still be thinking about his advice regarding the edge of ability. He probably just wanted to make sure he didn’t have to wait at the bottom of the slope for me to catch up. But I’ve extrapolated that moment of advice into a whole philosophy.

He probably would’ve gotten a bottle of something out of me today. I wonder how old he would’ve been. Father’s Day. “And everybody’s wounded” as Leonard would have it. I miss him. I see Max getting presents from multiple sources and I ponder the series of choices and happenings that led to me to where I am now.

I’m wrestling with him now. I’m learning his world a bit by necessity. We are both addicted to that edge. I’ve put it mine into acting. He put his into numbers, which funded the speed. I’m going towards the numbers now to see if I can push an area of behaviour and thought that I have allowed to atrophy unused for decades, so it can fund my quest for other edges.

Oculus Quest migraine

It’s just gone 11pm. I’m awake now.

Tom is standing just in front of me, killing robots. I lost pretty much the whole day to a migraine so I’m happy to watch him and do very little. “I need to stop this in a minute otherwise I’ll be here all night,” Tom says. He’s doing a sort of tai-chi. His eyes are covered by the Oculus Quest which is sending a 360° artificial digital world into his brain. It kind of fools you into thinking you’re in the game. He’s playing “Super Hot” which makes you feel like you’re Keanu Reeves but makes you look like the bearded dude at the back of beginners Tae-kwon-do in North London.

Unfortunately I think it’s why I had a migraine today, that remarkable machine. I’m not really prone to migraines but even moving today was problematic and I had to close the blinds. I couldn’t keep anything down until about 4pm. Probably because my poor brain had to deal with me putting a screen directly in front of my face for ages yesterday.

To buy one of these things is about £300. I’ve always balked at it as it’s too much for a toy, especially if you then have to buy the software. So Dan lending me this one has opened up a whole world of stuff that I’m going to have to be very careful about engaging with if my head today is anything to judge by. Terrific fun. So immersive. But it’s almost a shock to lift the thing up and realise that you’re still in your flat and there aren’t any robots trying to kill you. As far as we know.

I’m sure there are some lovely narrative games to get immersed in as well – long form beautiful stories with moments of wonder. I know Brian had one called Skyrim but it would make me sick after about ten minutes and the whole game takes hours and hours to complete. I rarely have time to give too long to these things, and I’m gonna have to be super-double careful if there’s a chance it’s going to flatten me the next day as well. At least it’s been a pretty crappy day. It’s worse when you lose a beautiful day, and if it had been too hot in here it would have made me feel even worse.

I’m glad I’ve got a huge bath. And I’m very glad of Deliveroo who brought me easy to eat stodgy food once the headache had retreated to being just a bitter pulse at the back. I’ll probably finish writing this and try to ease myself to sleep with chamomile and books, because any screen right now is pretty wearing. I’ve turned the brightness right down on this. But I’m going to put it down. Phones before bed can’t help the sleep patterns. They’re much better for waking up in the morning.

Touchpoints

As the nation gears up to watch the football, I’ve decided to let myself get swept up as well, in a middle class middle aged manner. I’m with Tristan. We went to Waitrose in Richmond, don’t you know. There we purchased two big boxes of “Big Drop” non-alcoholic beer, and an unbelievably vast tomahawk steak that’s in the Father’s Day sale for £15 a kilo. On balance we decided not to do the steak tonight, but at some point, with our brace of dead dads, we will eat the gift designed for them ourselves. My dad wouldn’t want it of course. Meat on the bone wasn’t his bag at all. Football wasn’t either, but I’m thinking of him tonight nonetheless because of the divided loyalties brought on by this particular football rivalry.

England are playing Scotland. Dad would’ve been rooting for Scotland all the way – if he cared about football. Dad flew a Scottish flag from the British Bobsleigh that he drove. Probably not in the actual Olympics, although in those days there was more room for personality over science in sport. At his funeral I read a sturm and drang poem from the Scottish poet Walter Scott – about identity. I had blonde hair at the time, bleached for a part in a university play (or perhaps just as a youthful experiment). This was what I considered appropriate for my very Scottish father back then – it was fun to deliver:

Breathes there the man, with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said,
This is my own, my native land!
Whose heart hath ne’er within him burn’d,
As home his footsteps he hath turn’d,
From wandering on a foreign strand!
If such there breathe, go, mark him well;
For him no Minstrel raptures swell;
High though his titles, proud his name,
Boundless his wealth as wish can claim;
Despite those titles, power, and pelf,
The wretch, concentred all in self,
Living, shall forfeit fair renown,
And, doubly dying, shall go down
To the vile dust, from whence he sprung,
Unwept, unhonour’d, and unsung.

I’m not sure I identify as Scottish. I don’t really even identify with the memory of being that peroxide blonde firebrand with the recent hole where his dad used to be. Watching this match though, I’m not going to be cheering for either team with any great gusto. I’ll enjoy the game as best I can with my slightly limited understanding. I’ll be curious to listen if people boo when any players kneel for the anthem. And I’ll crack open a non alcoholic beer or five and I’ll participate in a cultural touchpoint for a change. Sure I’m not up to date with the talent shows. I barely follow the soaps although I’m curious about what’s going to happen with Alice in The Archers. I don’t even consume the news and views as voraciously as I used to after the taste it leaves in my mouth with these horrible bastards we seem to be stuck with. I’m going to watch the kickyball on a Friday night. And why not. Hurrah. Cmon, somebody.

Don’t f**k with tropical fish

I started watching “Don’t f**k with cats” this evening just as a thing to pass my eyes over while I changed the filter on the fishtank and now I’ve got totally sucked in and I thought I’d pause it and write this before I got too tired. I’m back in the flat, surrounded by all the distractions that have done very well at shaking off my focus over the years. This huge TV is playing Netflix through the PlayStation while an Oculus Quest charges nearby. Next to that there’s a bucket full of filthy pond water…

Some sort of algae has started to accumulate in the tank. It had clogged up the filter to the extent that it was struggling to circulate the water, so I made it my priority this evening to get things cleaned up a bit. Considering I’m watching a documentary dealing very closely with animal cruelty I didn’t want to feel responsible for forcing all those unusual little creatures to live in a suboptimal environment. It’s a balance though with captive fish. I expect the fish are happier if they aren’t visible at all, but we keep them so we can observe them. They’ve still got plenty of places to hide in there, but the water itself was beginning to fill with algal bloom and darkening. I think I might invest in a kickass filter, as the one I inherited from the headmaster is old and cheap – he was economising on everything. It makes a hell of a lot of noise and doesn’t really do very much.

Anyway – it’s now making all that noise again, which is a good sign. The water is once more being aerated. I’ve still only lost one fish, which frankly is nothing short of a miracle. The longer I can keep them all alive the happier I’ll be. And I think making sure the filter isn’t on the edge of packing in – that’s a good way of extending their little fishy existences. Tom’s girlfriend is a writer and found them helpful when she was writing. I like them as a calming influence in here and something to look at that isn’t digital. That fucking filter though! I have to sleep in this room and it is endlessly chuntering along like the engine of a fucked old car. There has to be a better way than this.

I’m letting it settle tonight. I’ve got the filter clean and I’ve scooped out buckets of algae. I need time to work now to clear the water, and then tomorrow I might cause more disruption by trying to suck out the remaining algae with a syphon and then refilling. We were never allowed tropical fish when we were kids. “Too much maintenance”. It’s not all that bad in reality. I find it restful. Zen and the art of fishtank maintenance. Right there, that’ll be my bestseller.

Post audition elephants

Boiling hot, I sat in the reception of Observatory on Poland Street, and somehow it felt like an adventure in the familiar. A casting! In the baking heat of a London summer. In a 3 piece suit. The usual wait beforehand. The usual feeling that it’s over before it’s begun.

Name. Agent. Hands? Last time I was in that particular casting room I sang a song and clicked my fingers and a few months later my agent paid me a few grand. That was three years ago. This time I improvised quickly direct to camera and did a spot of oozing. With any luck the result will be much the same. In the end these things are the bread and butter. They pay for the slump periods.

Now I’m in Berkley Square. I’m walking home, still in my winter suit, picking my way through the streets. It’s busy here now. Oxford Street feels closer to the familiar. People walking too slowly, people walking too fast, people walking. It’s good to retread the roads that have become my pathways. To be back here and to immediately hit that recall, almost before I’ve landed. No matter how it falls I still get fifty nicker for my work today. Fingers crossed the job comes in. I fancy a day on set. Hell, I liked the director. It’s down to the client now, and of course to the cut of my jib.

Berkeley Square. Twenty years ago I walked disastrously in this square before my first agent’s meeting, just after rain, treading mud up three flights of stairs and into their office. “Is that your feet?

The square might carry a version of my name, but it wasn’t lucky for me then. A sliding door shut. Maybe for the best. There’ve been so many doors opening and closing and here I am still, putting on the suits and doing the talking and enjoying whatever work I can carve for myself in this strange job in this strange town in these strange times and fuck-it-all I still love it. And I’m finally learning how to process this post audition adrenaline without the magical numby-juice. Walking. Thinking. Breathing.

Berkeley Square is full of wicker elephants, made in rural communities in India, touring the world for #Coexistence. Art that’s trying to do something. It’s why I’ve stopped here. I wanted to be with these elephants for a while as the adrenaline pumps through my brain. There’s been a certain amount of Ganesha energy flowing through me these last few weeks, unlocking obstacles in my life and in my outlook, and grounding me as it does so. Despite my immediate hayfever from those bloody plane trees, I’m sitting with these beautiful wicker elephants a while as the words I’ve just spoken zing digitally to a client somewhere whose decision will directly inform how nice the bathroom will be in my refurbished flat.

London again eh? ‘ere we go. I’m ready for you if you’re ready for me.

Enjoying the calm of summer

I’m sitting under a tree in Stanmer Park near Brighton. Lou is in a little village in the downs today working, and I thought rather than sod off back to London to sleep on my own sofa, I’d pick her up after work and spend one more night in earshot of the waves and in her good company.

It’s the perfect English countryside moment in the modern world. The ring necked parakeets are fighting with the starlings as they have been for just over half a century now. They seem to think, like we do, that impossible territorial disputes can be solved if they just shout at each other for long enough. If I tune it out I can hear the wind in the trees, the calls of the calmer birds, the lowing of domesticated animals nearby, the barking of dogs as happy as I am to be loose in nature on a day like this. But it’s an involved battle, and it’s right over my head.

Tomorrow I’m going to recall for an audition tape I sent from The Mornington. It went in a rush on the day I checked out so I condensed the scene to make it fit my purposes, cut all the other voices, sent my first take and didn’t disguise the fact that I was still laughing at myself when I recorded the ident. Sometimes recently I’ve taken twenty versions before there’s one I’m happy to send and then I’ve had nothing back. I guess there’s a lesson somewhere about how much time we can lose on these things trying to perfect them, when we don’t need to. “What’s for you won’t go by you,” I think is the saying. It’s not mine yet of course – just a pencil – but I’ve got a feeling about it. Probably the old truth that the more you need the job the harder it is to even get close to getting the thing. But yeah, I’m not sure when I’m going to recall yet tomorrow or what it’ll involve but it means things are slightly up in the air as always. I’ve only been back a day in England and that old unpredictability is right back. I’ll put up with it. Not a glory job this – a money job. My character name will involve a number. It won’t be going on the CV. But it’s good to tick over for me and for my agent.

London is most likely a furnace right now, and my top floor flat even more so. I was thinking of going on a mission for some of those sexy new fans for Tom and I, but when you think of it is never when you should get it with that sort of thing. Sexy fans are gonna be best to buy in December. Right now they’ll be thrice the price – although if I get this job I could buy ten of them. It’s only hot in this country for seventeen and a half seconds, so I reckon I’ll just enjoy it and have strange dreams.

For now though, I’m going to get up and engage the old calves. I’m gonna stump around these ancient tame woods, and then this evening Lou and I will get to stretch out on the dusky hillside at ditching beacon just a week before solstice, and get to be together in this blessed period where the days are filled with light and even the heat enthusiasts are thinking about buying fans.

Wells, trauma and packed lunch

A hot day back at the Sussex coast. I’m lying on a lambswool rug at the end of a long day with Lou and Mao. Mao is ridiculously cute as ever – very few creatures could piss all over your favourite things and still earn our unconditional love. Lou is pretty cute too. She’s watching “The wisdom of trauma” with Gabor Maté and actually I think that’s how I’m going to spend the next hour.


Well that was worth it. He’s a remarkable man and his work is important more than ever. We all need to be as in touch with ourselves as we can be right now. We are coming out of an event that has shattered so much humanity, driven huge wedges between people, polarised and traumatised most of the population of the world in some way. Compassion and understanding are going to go a long way in the next decade, especially as the machine is going to start to try to click into gear and tell us to forget by buying and numbing and dying. If you’re not aware of the man and his work, it’s worth catching it – as much for the intense humanity of Caroline Campbell’s photography as the content and the way it’s all been arranged. A good watch. An advert for Gabor Maté, sure, but carrying much food for deep thought, and maybe catalysing others to move into similar work.

Good to have a warm contemplation like that after such a glorious peaceful day. From one coastline to the next, we went to Eastbourne and walked through The Italian Garden and the lush littoral landscape of our neighbouring seaside town, before taking ourselves down to a quiet patch of sea near the Holy Well, far from the madding crowd, and swimming. Now I’ve got used to getting in the water I want to do it more and more despite the fact that my left ear has been half dead and full of water for the last month. We cooked and swam and cooked and swam. The well itself is a quiet spot on a beach, full of chalky fresh water, frequented by the inevitable young man with a guitar who is in a band and hitting on somebody.

I’m glad of the summer. Been waiting for it a long time. Happy to have been in familiar company like this for the whole day. I was getting to miss that ease that you get in very familiar company. The Mornington has carried with me though despite being in a single room alone. The packed lunch has adjusted my habits. It seems a month is enough. I’m eating fruit now, and I get hungry at breakfast time where I’d normally just have coffee. Then at lunch I want a snack.

I’m sure Gabor Maté would tell me that my history of bad eating habits comes out of childhood trauma. But it seems all I needed was a month in a cheap hotel.

Back in blighty

As the light falls, I’m sitting in the staff car park at Glyndebourne Opera House. I’ve found a little block of wood to sit upon and I’m drinking in the sound of the birds, who are singing their hearts out for the setting sun. I just heard a high note coming from the building itself where the soprano is going at it full pelt, and it genuinely seems that the birds around here have been working just as hard on their delivery. Even the crows and doves seem to have more musicality than usual.

I woke up this morning in Poole, refreshed from a deeper sleep than I’ve had for a month in an Airbnb room right by the ferry port. The morning found me down at Poole harbour, looking at the Sunday morning crowds as I ate a full English breakfast outside. Much more litter this side of the channel. And the people somehow look a bit less fresh. I could take a higher percentage of them in a fight. Probably all the full English breakfasts they’ve been eating.

A slow puddle over to Southsea, stopping on the way to find a geocache or two and grab coffee, and then a delay in Southsea. I’m picking up sunglasses and a microphone from Dan, but he’s out frolicking so I fill the time watching England beat Croatia and eating roast beef. This hot summer day is not deterring me from filling myself with heavy meat, it seems. I barely get time to pass the time of day with Dan, though. I get the tour of his new place in Southsea and once again wonder why anybody lives in London. As I’m leaving he lends me an unopened Oculus Quest Virtual Reality Headset. This is his work. Hopefully there’ll be some bad weather before long, because that’ll be a whole week lost at some point in the not too distant future. But for today, no time to mess around. Back on the road through the heat, and here I am in the dying light, listening to the birds and the high notes as I wait for Lou to be released.

Lou sleeps early, but she finishes work here late – it’s tricky for her. She doesn’t have a car to rush herself home so my evening talks in Jersey have been filled with her tired tales of Odyssean disasters post show – missed trains and late buses, whirlpools with names, unexpected rainstorms on bicycles, one eyed giants eating her friends and late night cat piss surprises on her eventual return to the flat in book 15. I am here in plenty of time to operate as the winged sandals of Hermes for her tonight, although right now the car is not a comfortable ride for a passenger. It’s a carnage of potatoes and headsets and clothing and microphones and bottles and boxes and bags and jumpers and wires and coffee cups and packaging. I’m writing this first, then I’m gonna try and make some sense of it in the half an hour I’ve got left before she emerges so when she does I can just get her home. Then we can see Mao and relax properly on this warm summer night before it gets too late.

I’m probably not supposed to be here. But I am. People have started emerging and rushing off – a smartly dressed man – (maybe the conductor) – was out long before the audience. Smart work. That would’ve been me. I’m often in my own clothes with a pint before my friends in the house get to the bar…

Boat away

The Duty Free shop on this boat wants £7.99 for a packet of biscuits. It might be free of duty, but it’s clearly got something else added to it. In front of me, a passenger was buying cigarettes and was so seasick I thought she was going to puke inside her mask. She was doubled over at the counter, monosyllabic and panting but she still stuck her card on the machine correctly. We’ve only just started this crossing. The sea is really pretty calm. Cigarettes plus mask won’t help with not feeling sick. You need to be able to breathe. It looks like she’s in for a rough crossing.

Me? I’m fine. I’m hungry. But I’m fine. I’m regretting not saving that final Mornington Hotel sandwich for dinner. The only option on this boat is the school canteen. You have to eat it on the pull out table in your chair. It costs the same as biscuits and it looks like slop. I’m going to stay hungry. I’ll find breakfast in Poole tomorrow morning. After a month of croissants I’m after bacon and eggs. We get in at midnight and I’m having to let myself into somebody’s Airbnb bungalow in the dark so I can crash out ahead of hunting breakfast, visiting in Portsmouth and eventually getting to Brighton.

Technically I can charge my phone at my chair but I only brought a wire with me and it’s a plug socket instead of the USB I expected. Book and plug are in the car, as once again I remember in the moment that I’m not so good at thinking outside of the moment.

Not that I can complain. I get to sit right at the front of this boat. There’s Guernsey, up ahead, and there’s that line of light to my left where the sun is drowning in the ocean.

For the next hour or so I’ll be able to enjoy the sea view and pretend I’m the captain. I might even be able to sneak down to the car deck when we get to Guernsey and grab the plug and book. This boat is fully sold out. Very different to the one I took to get to Jersey. Things are changing.

I’ve been in Jersey for over a month. I’m not sure if this boat feels more like it’s going home or leaving it. I’m going back to things that have become familiar, to larger volumes of people I can call deep friends. I have a roof over my head on the north side of the channel. I still pay for it but at least I can call it mine, despite the fact I’ve rented out the spare room, filled my bedroom with boxes and chucked out my bed. I can sort that out when I’m back in London. Brighton first. Movement again. I love movement. Time to do some work, perhaps, and plot what’s next. But movement seems possible again. And there’s no time like the present.