Fyfield Manor

It hasn’t been terrifically easy for Lou and I to simultaneously not be with Mao overnight, so this evening – to help soften the blow of his return to his family – we booked an Airbnb. Not one of the ones I tend to book for work, where I have to live in a shoe for 0.20p and my ears are eaten by spiders. There are spiders here, but they’ve got room to roam. The ceiling in this room is too high to reach by jumping. The room itself is vast, and softly covered with plush and comfy cream carpets. The bed… Would you call it a super king? You’re not gonna find a mattress for this in IKEA. It’s gargantuan, all set about with soft feather cushions. We just had a hot bath in a bath with a built in chair, and now we are curling up for a night away from The Chairman.

We will both miss him. He will likely miss the superabundance of soft things that he is allowed to spend all day on in Brighton. We will miss his twitchy face.

But for tonight we will lie in this vast bed and drift away in the knowledge that we won’t be awoken by his hairy bum in our faces.

Fyfield Manor… Lou has an uncanny instinct for places like this. Slowly rebuilt from semi-deriliction starting in the 1970’s, this place is OLD. The dining room where we will take our breakfast dates from the 1100’s. Now it’s comfortable and well appointed, and the keeper of the house is instantly likeable and recognisable to both of us. Residents here can get 20% off a Pilates class from her, or one on Alexander Technique. Her husband is a builder. Her children include an architect and a mathematician. This has been reclaimed slowly over time, but done to a high standard. I feel like the big ticket price I’m paying for the room will go right back into some sort of positive project.

I’m looking forward to my breakfast in that room. Reading the blurb we are drawn to the ethos with which they’ve driven this refurbishment project. When they lost the Elm trees to Dutch Elm Disease in the ’70s, they had the wood sawed and preserved for the renovation. Sure it’s nice to have the barns. But this has been a lot of work, you can tell. And rather than keep the beautiful medieval stonework covered, they’ve found places to expose it without making the place freezing and damp. This building is in the land and of the land, plus it feels still and ancient and wise. The blurb they have was written in about 2004 and yet it touches into so many of the things that we have learnt to really care about now. The place is powered by solar panels. They are actively trying to compost things and I’ll bet they’re using the compost. They are careful about power usage but not in an ostentatious, shouty or virtue signalling way. Plus it’s warm and cosy.

Lou is dozing off next to me. The bed is as big as a football field so I can write without disturbing her. Outside, I can hear the rain coming down again – that comfort of being in the warm when it’s raining.

It’s only fifteen minutes to Oxford Parkway Station from here. I’m imagining how it would have been if I’d stayed here when I was working for Creation. Impossible of course. Four nights here is a weekly wage there. I’ll just have to find my own semi-derelict manor house, do it up and carry it around with me for when I get jobs out of London…

Here’s Mao, loose in the back of my car, with some of his favourite things…

Sad evening and bins

It’s sad this evening. It’s that time of year when we all feel sad. Even though the moon is waxing, the nights are getting darker and darker. Before long the clocks change, and we all start coming together in order to burn things and go “ooooh!”

I’m back down in Brighton, sitting with Mao, our last evening together. He’s off back to his family tomorrow up near Reading. I am going to drive him, and Lou is coming. He senses there’s upheaval in the air. The mood is fractious, the dark is closing in, and this small fluffy calm and kind lockdown companion is going on a journey tomorrow back to a woman and a little girl who love him very much, and out of our lives.

He’s old. I’m glad I can return him in good health. When he came in April from the expensive cattery he was heavy and covered in tangles. He’s moving better now and his tangles are gone. I’ll miss his little pantaloons and his enormous eyes and his twitching tiny mouth. As I write he’s staring up at me and occasionally spasming like a pirate. He’s a comfort. First Pickle and now Mao. I’m liking how these little creatures seem to be finding their way into and then out of my life. But the ending is always sad.

The job didn’t land and so we go round again. Dammit. It means I can shave the ‘tache off – although I was growing strangely fond of it. Perhaps I’ll keep it awhile. I got a bit spun out by it and ended up being later down to Brighton than planned, so I arrived to get hauled out for thoughtless tardiness. Lou is working this evening. She had made pie for us both. I’m an oaf. She had her half on her own hours ago. I’m heating up mine now and is that rebuke I see in Mao’s eyes, or am I just projecting?

Outside, in the sad darkness, Brighton is slowly filling up with garbage. The bin strike is still ongoing. Every street corner now is loaded up with rubbish. Some private firms have been dealing with the worst areas in the city centre, trying to cut back on rats and stench. But out near Lou some of the piles are getting out of hand. Bags blown into the street and hit by cars mean that down the seafront now there is a liberal coating of plastic just waiting to be swept by the wind onto beaches and into the sea. Fifty mile an hour winds predicted for tonight promise that the area will be a total mess tomorrow, and more of our poison will go into the sea. It’s mostly packaging. It’s ALL packaging. And it’s vile. Too many people, too much stuff, too thoughtless, too tied to convenience. Yuk.

Waiting on a job

And so…

Monday. Traditionally the actor’s day off. I suppose that allows it.

I haven’t been very productive today, my dears. It must be partly to do with the fact that last night I decided that I would say yes to every drink I could say yes to, and stay until the bitter end with whoever was drinking whatever wherever.

It is telling that my recall is limited. I don’t think I did bad things. One tends to remember if one picked a fight with somebody, or randomly propositioned a friend. I believe that I’ve done both things in the past, while in my cups. Not last night thankfully. I think I wrote a ranty blog, but if that’s the worst of it then it’s fine. These word sandwiches get made every night before I go to sleep, for you to munch with your breakfast. Occasionally I say things which I feel are true as I say them but then the next day I feel differently. Other times, if I know what my cards are, I publish and be damned…

I’m trying to be honest here. That’s the key. Honest not popular. If I don’t show the cracks, I’m showing nothing at all and there’s no point in this exercise. Any plastic fuckwit can tell you their shiny shiny life that isn’t really shiny. If I’ve got a job to do with this mess of language, that job is to help us know how unpredictable this existence can be. Those of us in the performing arts can take comfort in me sharing the arbitrary mess of it. Those of you in other lines of work can either think “thank God I quit” or you can get to know the nitty gritty of a largely misunderstood industry, and be better at not being that fucker at the family gathering who says “You should get your agent to put you up for that Star Wars!” *genuine quote from my cousin* GAKKKK

I guess I’m in a bit of a mood, as I think that another lovely little job just went by me. With costume fitting etc I figured I’d probably know by the end of today. Perhaps not… Maybe it’s still all to play for. But I fear it’s gone the other way. I’m used to it if so, but it’s always disappointing… I’ve sent a few barnstorming self-tapes recently. And I think I nailed it in the room for this thing I’m waiting on. Maybe if I ask you all to collectively wish good fortune on me… The fee for this one would have been an actual holiday, to the Greek islands, with Lou and I together abroad, nice hotel, and change.

I’m used to the uncertainty, but when you get really close to a job landing, it’s harder. This one might still land. Maybe maybe maybe… But I was first in for the recall… Often they work out what to say with the first person, and then it’s perfected by the time the third is in. Ach. No point in fixating. My job is to bounce back. I will bounce back. I just so very desperately want a good solid well paid formal acting job thankyouplease. Right now I’d take things I might have turned my nose up at before. I just very much want to click back into gear with my industry.

Ghost walking will at least keep me oiled and occupied, and then off to Jersey with Carol so really – barring gaps for filming – I’m busy until January. November looks slim but it’ll fill…

Ach.

And that’s what happens when I have a day off. I spend most of it wondering how I’m going to get work next month. Relax? Reschmax.

Fingers crossed.

Walkies.

First week of the Halloween Walk is done. In the daytimes I’ve been trying to pack boxes in my friend’s Hampstead flat. In the evenings I’ve been leading people through the dark paths of this ancient settlement, telling them tales. It’s great for somebody with the geekiness I carry. Every tour so far I’ve added another interesting thing that I’ve discovered about a bit of Hampstead that I would never have known if I hadn’t started actively seeking. There’s always gonna be more to add. There’s so much to be found, so many connections to draw. Frequent readers will have inferred how much I have learnt and loved this city since it adopted me some decades ago. The square mile will likely always be a centre for me, as I had my training there and saw and felt an ancient city heart in a concrete trap. Weekends in that area are remarkable. All the empty light in dead buildings built for ego on ancient ground. You can walk around on a Sunday night and feel the history, even if there are only flashes left. Bits of wall. Bits of preserved signage. Mostly it’s a hymn to Mammon. But it doesn’t matter how much concrete you pour, if the place is a beating heart it still sounds out from the ground.

Hampstead’s heart is closer to the surface. Pushed to the top of the hill, this land that is too alkaline and sandy for crops was never bought when the land was being bought. You can’t grow crops in your garden if you have one here. But the height! That made it attractive. It’s been settled since Neolithic times. There are springs. The water table is high. You see out over the whole of the valley below. At the top of the hill your feet are 16 foot and nine inches above the top of the cross on the dome of St Paul’s.

This evening was beautiful and strange for me. I was asked to do this job this year because the previous incumbent was unable. Kidney stones, I think I heard. Something along those lines. He came this evening with his girlfriend, and they both paid. I was worried. I’m making a lot of shit up here, and I’m responding live to the things that the public throw. I’m not a historian. I’m an actor who is yes also a massive geek. But mostly I’m just using my immersive theatre experience: Incorporate everything until it becomes literally impossible not to focus back on my stories. This evening a car alarm became the screaming of a ghost and it was joyful. People want to play and pride can get in the way of joy. If you’re not precious, you can play with humans and not break the story you’re trying to tell. I was worried, but bless him – he was delightful and encouraging and he bought me two drinks and congratulated me on how I dealt with the randoms.

I’ve known immersive theatre actors who are so set on how their “scene” ought to go and so incapable of solving their own problems that they’ve set security guards waiting for a codeword, in case some audience member is out of their own ability to control. I’ve been that security guard. I’ve known exactly how to deal with what they feared had I been playing their part. Ego though. “My scene must go in the way I have decided it must go.” No. It doesn’t. Your imagination is one among many. Listen to the imaginations you have around you. Make it work. If the control freaks hadn’t taken precedence, the skill of guiding and incorporating would have made many “immersive” shows I’ve witnessed recently considerably more satisfying. This evening I enjoyed involving whatever random shit happened, and making it part of things. I honestly think there’s a terrific joy in incorporating random shit.

The whole immersive theatre game is a constant balance between giving audience freedom and giving them a curated illusion of freedom. But in my lifetime it was borne out of mischief and the mischief seems to be getting lost. I guess it’s because there’s money in it. And often, the more money, the less imagination.

Right now I guess the curated illusion is winning.

There was a glorious moment with Shunt where more mischievous possibilities were in ascendance. Bring back Shunt, I say. They were the instigators. They were the heart of the whole “immersive” movement. I last saw them with the baby Jesus in a hotel in East London doing joyful things for shits and giggles. But yes! Not self satisfied. Making their own stuff rather than just glomming onto a big well known film or TV franchise. Shunt should be pushed to the front of any dialogue about making things where the audience can contribute.

Anyway. I’m geeking out. Come walk through Hampstead with me. And then employ me in your hugely well funded artistic endeavour, bearing in mind I might have opinions. Meantime I’m just gonna keep making shit up, connecting people, telling stories, doing what I do. Bite me.

Me as Jack Straw. My heart is glowing with corpse light. Blue fire. I am at one with the moon.

Second walk, bedding in

Full house tonight. Lots of lovely people who wanted to walk across Hampstead and have an experience as they did it.

My day had to peak towards it today. I learnt my lesson yesterday. I had forgotten how exhausting it can be to process adrenaline. I was knackered after that first tour yesterday and could barely think when I got home. More people were booked tonight, and even though it’s tiny in terms of the audience I’m used to, I don’t adjust how much energy I spend based on how many audience I have. Fuck, I remember once on a rainy weekday doing a Shakespearean cruise for a single person on the big city cruisers. She was so into Shakespeare that I gave her a huge amount of energy. It was a wonderful intimate moment between strangers on the top deck in the rain on an otherwise empty boat. I worked for her, and did requests, and connected to something truthful and we both wept for totally different personal reasons within the material. I’ll never forget doing that for a stranger… We caught a moment, performer to audient. I could have turned in something easy even over the mic, for her. I chose instead to work as hard as I might work for a full deck of enthusiasts. Harder even. It paid back, even if it left me drained and elated. What I’m trying to encapsulate is how our job involves being generous with our energy and our vulnerability, and how that can be costly.

I’m not really going anywhere costly and vulnerable in this tour though… I don’t have any past trauma caused by ghosts.

I’m playing a silly character and sharing facts. It’s plain fun. But still I’m finding it knackering, in a good way. I guess I’m a bit out of practice. It’s been a while since I got back from America and the regular Shakespeare that just pre-Covid job brought. Sure there’s filming from time to time again now… Christmas Carol will help me roll back into full fitness I’m sure.

It’s easy to forget how much time we all lost.

How wonderful that we all get to do this again. To gather in heathland and tell tales together. This is why I want to make sure that my days are peaked towards it.

A power nap in the afternoon, and then a scheduled half an hour when I made sure I had everything I needed to be in Hampstead for two nights. Then I drove to The Old Bull and Bush, and it was only when I arrived there that I realised that I’d have to leave my car and my bag there overnight so all the stuff I’d packed would stay there overnight. We start the walk quite some distance from where we finish the walk. Damn.

Still, I brought the key to the Hampstead flat this time. So I’m sitting here in a room still full of things but also full of flat packed cardboard boxes. Tomorrow I’ll try to put as many of the things into as many of the boxes as I can before I run out of boxes. Then on Monday I’ll move them to storage. Then next week I’ll be on the lookout for more boxes.

Now I know how this Halloween Tour plays out, it’s a truly lovely thing to be involved in. It feels like I’ve been welcomed into a friendship group and given my rein. It took them a while to trust me, but it feels like they understand how I prefer to shift and develop my material live, and to respond to the actual audience we have on the night, and to play. I do the spacial logistics and facts. They do the theatre. As we go through the journey of the walk, they commit to scenes that add joy or mischief or poignancy to whatever ancient theme I might have been pontificating on. There’s a lot in Hampstead. So much. I get to grind my various axes, and tell spooky tales. I hope and believe that the paying punters get a peculiar and delightful evening. It’s been hard to leave the final pub the last few nights, just for good conversations with audience members. I’m back in the Hampstead flat now. Tomorrow is a day of work in here…

First tour finished

First tour done. It’s a lovely thing. The thing with walking tours is that you’re doing them very much in amongst the public. If somebody’s on your bench you might be able to hastily explain that you’ll only be there for a minute or so. If not then they’ll just work it out live and move on. People we stopped at zebra crossings scowled at us. At one point, down in the darkness, there was a loud and shouty fight going on just up the hill from my group. I found myself realising that, if anything untoward happens, I’m the guy who has to immediately try and deal with it. I’m very visible with my stick covered in lights and my huge hat. Thankfully I didn’t have to do any fighting this evening. Long may that continue to be the case.

I’m unexpectedly back home in Chelsea. I was planning on crashing post work in Hampstead in order to start properly packing my friends things into boxes. I couldn’t as I had left the key here. Maybe partly psychological as it’ll be a thankless task. But it means that now, post work, I can wind down in my own home rather than in a flat that will increasingly becoming harder to live in depending on how much work and time I manage to put in to make it so.

As with anything, you never know what it’ll be like until it happens. We were well sold this evening and I don’t think it showed that it was my first time. We didn’t get lost. I made up some spooky things. I had my facts largely straight.

I think this promises to be a pleasant way to spend a few nights over the next few weeks. It’ll just help if I remember to bring the damn keys to Hampstead next time. Being able to crash there after work takes the edge off spending my days packing up somebody else’s things.

I’m strangely exhausted though. I suppose that even though I’m not having to spam energy for just 30 people, first night adrenaline plays its part. I have a feeling I’ll be wrapped up in bed very soon now. And I might sack off the packing tomorrow daytime and just double down on it on Sunday.

My brain is empty. I’m just gonna sink into a bath and then into my sheets. Sometimes the blog can take a back seat. Night night you lovely lot.

Rampion warning

I’m up in Lou’s flat looking out over the wine dark sea. Some way out, over the level waters, still pushing their heads up over the horizon, are the controversial blades of The Rampion Wind Farm. Over 100 turbines and it’s windy out there. I don’t find the turbines offensive myself. Some people don’t like new things. Others just want things to be weird about. It’s sustainable power. Got to be a good thing…?

The lonely turbines, all the way out there in the blackness, are sending a message. They flash red in synchronised irregular pulses. “That’s Morse Code,” I say to Lou, who rolls her eyes. I grab a pad, and try to record it. It’s hard on my own. I have to keep my eyes up so I can’t keep writing in a straight line. The pattern turns out to be simpler than I expected though. I almost give up before I go back to it and realise it’s just one letter on repeat. “dot dash dash / dot dash dash / dot dash dash”. Like somebody with a terrible stammer trying to welcome you. “W / W / W” playing on repeat all night.

When I first realised there was a message, I keyed into all my childhood tales of foiling exciting evil Scooby Doo plans. “The windfarm is sending us a secret message! Quick Scooby, write it down!” But nah. Nothing exciting. Just the letter W. It took me ages to work it out, but maybe if I was coming right at it in a lowflying aircraft it would come to me quicker.

I’m reliably informed by “doing my research” (Google) that it is “W” for “Warning”. So there you go. They missed a trick there. You could have jokes or adverts, politics or stories or anything really. The only real requirement of the red light is for it to flash. If they can program it, why not do it properly.

Unless it’s Brighton Council summoning the Dark Lord Crthywwwwwwwwwwwwwwewwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwthotep again and I looked away too early in the ritual.

Brighton Council are going to need supernatural helpers before too long. There’s a bin strike here. In brief my understanding of the reason is that Brighton Council are clueless money-grubbing pigs.

Brighton is a reasonably ethical and recyclish type town. They are into the second week of this bin strike and it’s still possible to open the door in Kemptown. Things are getting bad, sure, but I can’t help thinking it kinda looks like Hackney on collection day but with less vomit.

In town I’m sure it’ll be much worse – they’ll have to dig tunnels before long to get from one artisan coffee shop to another. Here by the sea it’s definitely worse than I’ve ever seen it, but people seem to be trying really hard not to add to it. And maybe that’s a good thing.

We purport to care about the environment. We say we like the wind farm as any ugliness is made up for with sustainable energy. And then we get a plastic bag and everything is packaged in multiple layers of bollocks and we throw so much shit away, mountains and mountains of shit, every single one of us, all the time, and maybe it takes a bin strike to get people to look at it.

I hope the rubbish doesn’t blow into the sea before it’s all settled. Maybe it’s good for the people of Brighton to realise how unsustainable the consumer model we have really is – we take away the people who throw away our crap and we’re only about a month away from living in rats. Maybe that’s what the Rampion is really warning us about. “I’m sustainable. You’re not. Sort your shit out.”

On the subject of sustainable, I went to the fishmonger, bought a line caught sea bass and then hacked fillets out of it with a cross between a knife and a felt tip pen. Sustainable? Who knows. Yummy? Yep.

Variety…

A snatch of a morning in a basement studio in Soho. The walls are painted white. The carpet is taped down with electric tape. The clock on the wall is broken. It shudders every second and goes nowhere. Next to me sits an Italian man, humming tunelessly. I wonder if he’s even aware he’s doing it. There’s a historic atmosphere of nerves down here. The plastic plants don’t do much to help. I am called into a room.

My car is parked at Harley Street. I emerge after another swift encounter with a camera and some friendly people. Who knows how it will fall. It will fall though. Come, fates. Bring this one to me!

Autumn. The light is good this morning. I walk through Soho with a spring in my heels. I did what I could. It won’t be the cut of my jib. It’ll be mine or its beyond my control. Fingers and toes crossed.

Home.

Coffee and a tidy up. A friend is staying in my bed tonight. He’ll be there on his own. I’m off to Brighton tonight. Glad to be of service.

He arrives. I let him in and we catch up a bit but I’m thinking about names and dates – half of my head is already in Hampstead.

Jack Straw. 1381. Jimmy Reid. 1746. Hamilton. 1712. De havilland. 1968. Slowly and steadily the specifics of these historic Hampstead encounters are beginning to stick in my head. It’s one thing to tell a good story. It’s another thing to be factually correct. I need to get the balance straight. Never let the truth get in the way of a good story, sure. But I know from the old days on the river that occasionally there’s an expert who wants to assess your expertise. It was always satisfying back then to know all the things. I’m not gonna be doing this tour eight times a day on weekends thank God. And I’m not gonna have to do it at 30 knots in the driving rain with a grumpy old skipper who hates me. I’m the skipper, and I set the pace. The clearer I’ve got my stories, the more confident I appear to be, the more fun people have. I’m walking strangers through a dark heath in the cold. Best if they trust me. They’ll have more fun and I’ll have more fun.

Our tester audience is willing and entertaining. It’s made up of everybody’s friends but mine. Once again I’ve been remiss and haven’t really shouted “I’M DOING A THING!” We haven’t sold very well on Sunday evenings yet so do come on any of the next three Sunday evenings if you can walk and you like things. It’s a walk with pubs and stories, and happenings, and this idiot in a hat. It’s a pleasant way for me to spend my Halloween season weekends without risking jobclash, and might be a pleasant evening. My passport is being renewed so I can’t get that job in Bulgaria right now anyway. Here’s the ticket link. Tonight was the dress rehearsal. I was WARM. That was unexpected. I do need to think about rain, particularly as my incredible silk stovepipe hat will disintegrate in a rainstorm and it’s so striking and it fits perfectly so I would cry and cry if it was ruined. It was lovely weather today but it would be hubris to expect every night to be like tonight. It’s October, despite climate change.

Now I’m already in Brighton. To my left is the dark of a calm sea. To my right, the flat where Lou is already sleeping. I have to sneak in, so I’m writing my blog in my car as it ticks away the heat of spanking it. I’ve got a sneaky post dress rehearsal can of beer to help edge off the adrenaline that just helped me floor it from Hampstead all the way to the south coast. I think I teleported here. Once I’m in her flat it’s bedtime though, so now is my wind down.

I’m here to be her chauffeur tomorrow. Tonight I’m just the late night gentleman caller. I should probably have brought a box of Milk Tray. Glad to have made the journey, now its made. I’ve missed her.

This is me just before the show. My contact lenses were scratching my eyes so I did it with specs. Nobody seemed to mind.

Long long drivey drivey day

Bleary wake up. Where am I? Why are children? Who?

Ah yes. I’m at my friend’s. It’s the school run. I can sleep longer. Zzzz.

ALARM.

Whut? *fumble* “DRIVE TO NOTTINGHAM”…? *snooze* *repeat until far too late* Oh God!

Stumble up from warm comfy torpor. Coffee? Coffee.

Gemma is working from home. She makes coffee. James went to work hours ago. I am glad I’m not him. Satnav. There’s been a crash. Dart charge? Avoid it. Nottingham.

Stumble to the XTrail. I left the sunroof open all night. It didn’t rain. Lucky, or I would have had a really wet bum. Sit. Close sunroof. Drive, baby.

Hours and hours of driving… Something of a mission. I knew I was only putting it off the other day when I delayed the journey for practical reasons around the accessibility of fuel in London etc. There could be no more delay.

The roads happened, in a flash. I was there in industrial forklift land contemplating three keyboards that had been laid out for me. I was sure there were meant to just be two. Thankfully I question it. I was about to drive home with the wrong fecking keyboards. Glad I checked, especially considering the state I’m in. Lots of ladders and eventually the two correct keyboards are in my car. I’m starving. Interesting great big scene workshop up there serving multiple theatres. Lots of people working circular saws in a huge warehouse. The industry of theatre in full swing. It’s not just about me in a nice frock, darlings.

Loaded up. Happy with myself for not just blindly hauling back the wrong keyboards. Looking for lunch.

EVERYTHING in Nottingham is Robin sodding hood. Lawyers using archery in their logo. Burgers. Surely there’s more to the place than ancient anti-Norman folklore. I find a Pakistani place. They haven’t got menus and ignore me when I come in. Perfect.

I eventually get looked at, and try to behave like I know the score.

“Chicken?”

“Chicken.”

“Rice?”

“Rice.”

“Spicymild?”

“Spicy”

“Got cash?”

“Yes.”

I don’t look for these places for the choice. Nobody does. It’s busy here, so it must be good. The meat is no doubt all halal and you can bet it’s fresh and it’s half the price of anywhere else – with no fuss. I shove it into my face with a plastic spoon on a polished wooden table surrounded by the musicality of a language I don’t know, and it’s tasty. I’ve spent a fiver with a drink – that’s all. By the time I’m finished with it I’m weeping with the heat but I’m happy. Back to the car and back through the traffic.

I’d have been home hours ago if somebody hadn’t run out of petrol on the M1 and ended up causing it to be closed while the fire department and police overreacted. I sat in stationary traffic wishing I’d gone another way and occasionally pulling in to let the engines past. Waze was too slow with the reroute. Maybe we were there for forty minutes.

Now I’m home. The bath is running. Candles are lit. I’m dropping off the keyboards tomorrow morning. And then I’ve got a recall audition in Soho. A different head again. But things do seem to be happening again. At last.

Ghost stories

Ghost Stories. ’tis the season. I had prepared some stories for reading out loud before a Women’s Institute in Tunbridge Wells. “The Wells Angels”. I’ve been working on material for a couple of weeks. Some of you have helped on Facebook. Thank you.

I wanted to try to find a good balance. I had a load of stories suggested on top of the ones that I was already considering. I listened to all of them. This last week involved a great deal of me playing weird YouTube readings of obscure ghost stories. My rule was that if I listened to it by randomer on YouTube and felt absolutely nothing then it was to be abandoned immediately. If there was a moment when I felt creeped out, it was worth considering. Some of the ones where I felt creeped out… – the reader was AWFUL. The stories too were often so firmly mired in ancient thinking. Without a good reader there was nothing left to hear but the actual words.

It’s kind of useful to have these atrocious readings on YouTube. If the story still works when it’s read by an alien then it’s a good story.

I had decided to do three tales over my 45 minute window. That allowed time for audience to refill drinks and to chat. It didn’t allow time for any story I told to last over fifteen minutes though.

I had been suggested a decent and spooky tale by Edith Wharton, but it would’ve taken the whole evening. I stuck with shorter ones, even if I wished that I could’ve found a short one by a woman. The fault, I’m sure, is as much in my search mechanism as in anything else. But these are the ones I chose:

I started with Poe. The Tell Tale Heart. It’s fifteen minutes and it really is delightfully creepy so long as the audience can ignore the wealth of double-entendre on the first page – which mine did. I then went more modern with a Lovecraft disciple grinding a child psychology axe via a creepy story called “The Thing in the Cellar.” It’s a lovely strange piece. I ended with a weird circular tale called “Midnight Express” that I had chosen after having it recommended and then hearing it on YouTube read by somebody as an exercise in overcoming multiple speech defects. There was still something creepy in the story – maybe just in the language. I figured if I can hear it read by somebody who would never be a public reader, and if I could still find something creepy – that speaks well of the story. Weirdly, I tried to find the weird version I played to myself just a day or so ago. It’s offline now it seems. Maybe I am stuck in a similar circular loop.

Twas a lovely night. What a good bunch. How lovely to contribute to their Halloween program. And an unusual experience, to be part of the entertainment and thus part of the group at a very active and forward moving Women’s Institute in Tunbridge Wells…