Maybe the last night in Hampstead

I think this might be my last night in Hampstead. I happened to be here this evening, so I came over to check on my friend’s place, as I’ve been doing since she got stuck in New Zealand. Sadly her landlady has used the pandemic to pull the flat out from under her because she thinks it’s made of gold. Maybe it will be for her. Either way, it means my friend will be arriving here at the end of this month – so long as movement is allowed in New Zealand – and she will be immediately having to empty her long time home of everything. She’s been here twenty years and more, outside of getting stuck in NZ recently. It’s going to be an extremely difficult process, both practically and emotionally. The deadline is October 6.

I’m going to help as much as I can, but the final date is imminent and I’ll be in Jersey for most of the rest of this month. In early October I might be calling out for all hands on deck, because this is a good human who is going to need to have things carried downstairs. She’s recently asked me to try to sell random things of hers on eBay, but the truth is that there’s nothing that will sell for enough to justify the time and work, and I can’t arbitrate what might or might not have value to her. I have to admit, I thought she’d be here by now. She isn’t.

I’ll wash the sheets ahead of her arrival, and make sure the dishes are done. I’ll try and turn the place over and freshen it up for my friend’s arrival, even if part of me thinks that they won’t make it back in time for this deadline that the landlady has set. They don’t want it to be true. I get it. But it’s true.

After the deadline I’m really not sure what will happen. I suspect it’ll involve me trying to get the books and the personal things out to somewhere other than a skip. I have a feeling I’ll be asking for help. Watch this space. I’m gonna do my best. For now though, I’m just gonna sleep.

This evening I did a spamthrough of the ghost tour that I’ll be fronting in Hampstead in the run up to Halloween. Typically, after having access to this flat for over a year, the month that I’m finishing my evening work ten minutes walk from it I won’t be able to be here. It will be just after the landlady has decided to start refurbishing the place and I’m persona non grata. Maybe there’ll be the chance of an extension… She likely hasn’t booked the work yet. It all feels like a negative haphazard choice. I’m not sure if there’s enough good will left to overturn it though. It feels like that landlady has somebody in her ear telling her that my friend “shouldn’t” etc. And we all know that as soon as we start to care about how people “should” and “shouldn’t” behave we easily become monsters.

I’ve had a lovely day anyway. Lunch at The Bull and Bush while crunching facts and then leading a pleasant walk with friends across the heath alongside some delightful geeks also working, with a few pub stops on the way.

I’m sure there’s online stuff about this thing I’m doing, but I’m not in the mood to share it right now, frankly. There’s summer rain outside the window, big fat drops. I’m hoping it doesn’t signal an end to this momentary joy of heat we’ve met with in London. At half past midnight, I’m gonna crash down here on the edge of the heath for one last night, and hope that maybe I’m wrong in my assessment of how this flat stuff will all pan out given the personalities involved…

A New Zealand cup belonging to my old friend, who honestly ought to just emigrate there. If she had no stuff.

Long hot drive

Ace Rent a van is in New Cross. It’s my new standard as, unlike my old regular van rental people, they don’t mind that I picked up those stupid points for driving uninsured. Their vans are workhorses though. It’s popular. They keep their prices reasonable for short trips, and they even have a loyalty scheme. It’s often crowded there in the mornings.

I had one of their long wheel base transits booked up, but a litany of minor fuckups meant that nothing was ready when I came to pick it up at arsehole o’clock in the morning. Somebody hadn’t brought my one back. Somebody else had returned theirs with the step at the back kicked in. They’d got caught up in a protest and somebody didn’t like vans. Eventually they let me take the broken one out. It was just cosmetic damage. The van was fine apart from a lack of air conditioning. I’ve been spoilt by Bergman.

I’ve been wishing for summer weather, and the Gods have a sense of humour. It was a beautiful day all day and I was in that van with no air con burning up to Cardiff and back with my strange cargoes.

That van… It cooked me. I’m exhausted. I had thought that perhaps I could fit my cargo in Bergman, but daleks are much bigger than you think, even in four pieces. And beggars can’t be choosers with van hire in London. It was in the back deconstructed and unlikely to exterminate me. I was in the cab trying not to die of heat mostly with the windows down unless I was shouting at somebody over the speakerphone.

At the drop off, Jeff clocked that I needed water. “You’d think a van that new would have air-con,” he says. I wince. He gets me two litres of precious precious liquid out of his campervan. We load in my return cargo. He’s a nice guy, Geoff. He used to holiday in Jersey. Now he works in a warehouse full of strange yet familiar things and he gives me a small box of them to take back to London. Since it’s coming in I’ll be careful about mentioning what it is that I brought back in case it spoils some sort of plot twist.

With my load it was mission tin-can once again. Back in London by half six and empty. Finally home just after nine wishing that I was already asleep.

I’ve always got stamina for long drives. On the news once again they were talking about lorry driver shortages and I was thinking about it but knowing that I couldn’t commit the time away from acting. Still, good to have a long day of driving work today for something creative. I’m so tired now though. It’s like I’ve had all the moisture cooked out of me. Water and sleep. Maybe a lie in tomorrow morning. All will be well. Zzzz

Weekday visiting friends

Symptoms of hayfever this morning and I’m thinking that it’s just because I’ve gone back into polluted London. I sat in my car and took a lateral flow test just in case and almost made myself sick rubbing myself in the tonsils. Brave New World. Just one line.

Rebecca and I went to Phat Phuc with Oscar, a tiny human she made during lockdown. We were remembering how it is in a world where you go and visit your friends from time to time. We had a stroll and a catch up and it feels like I’m doing better than usual in London these days, seeing good people and going for walks with them again. Phat Phuc is one of the last vestiges of what I call “old Chelsea”. It’s in the Chelsea Farmer’s Market and it is still trading, unlike most of the eccentric independent shops and cafes that were there in the nineties. Mostly they’ve been priced out by the landlord. At Phat Phuc you get a pho for eight quid. That ain’t cheap for what it is, but I’ll pay it to help keep them open. I’m glad they survived Covid. Plenty of lovely places had the final nail driven this year and variety is the spice of life.

Post pho it was a short hop across town to Richmond for a breakdown of the cricket and a catch up with Tristan and Tanya. Public transport is still so horrible to be on, so I’m glad of Bergman and relative sobriety. It makes these impulsive visitations a little easier to do. We played backgammon and didn’t drink whisky. Just alcohol free beer. Booze is back to being allowed since Willows but I’m trying to make sure it never asserts dominance again in my ways of winding down.

I could drive home afterwards, which is one of the huge advantages of discovering ways to have fun with friends while sober. So many times I used to end up having a restless night on their sofa and waking up heavier than usual. And I usually wake up heavy…

Against all the odds, after all the driving lessons I gave him where I tried to tutor him in the ways of righteousness, Tristan took his driving test last week in Wales and he passed. I wanted to see him just to have a mini celebration of this small miracle. A lot of the lessons we had over the last year I just sat in the car beside him while he repeated maneuvers. But actually when I think of how he was when I first got in the car with him, he picked it up extremely quickly and I hope he finds it as useful as I do. I’ll be off to Cardiff and back tomorrow driving a very strange cargo – an early start and a good eight hours on the road but it’s a meditation for me, even in a white van. I’m trying to get my head down for an early night though and somehow it’s already five to midnight.

Maybe I can add driving lessons to my burgeoning list of things I do in order to keep ticking over financially. It might help pay for the petrol.

Sportscar

This morning I took my time leaving Brighton. Back up to the smoke.  It’s almost as if the city knew that I was back. I had been there for less than an hour when my phone rang. This is what London is for. “Hi, are you around?”

This is an old old friend of mine from school days. I don’t have many people left over from back then. I was being bullied by large quantities of unimaginative children, and he completely failed to comprehend the bullying. He’s swiss, and he’s practical. He saw no sense in bullying so he chose friendship instead. He did it very well too, and that earnest way has held him strong ever since. He’s a beautiful human.

We drove from mine to his in his convertible Jag.

I found myself channeling shared memories. Decades ago I went to Paris to hang out with him. We were basically kids, but well connected in the same world. Vehicles and speed. One of his friends had a father very high up in the Paris police, and the two of us got on. One Saturday night, the three of us were driving through town with police boy at the wheel driving his dad’s plain clothes car, and he very knowingly got me to put the magnetic siren out of the glove compartment full of wires, through my window and onto the roof. At the age of twenty something I drove through Paris in a cop car with the siren blaring just above my head. In order to go to a bar. It was a strong memory of a successful transgression. It took place just in a time where such a naughtiness was still possible. Nowadays, too many logs. Too many cameras. He’d have got fucked.

We just lived it though. He cut through all the lights and went down loads of restricted pathways. I’m chalking that up as a win vs Marianne Faithfull, even if it isn’t a convertible sportscar. At the age of 27 I knew that I had already driven through Paris in a cop car, having placed the beacon myself…

I remember once sharing that experience in a bar when people were telling similar experiences. I remember one of the forgettable people in the bar doing that thing I get quite often when they forensically break down my memory looking for inconsistencies because they think I’m making it up. All that happened was that I said “yes” enough that it led me to a colourful experience. Too many people have turned out a “no” so often they start to resent the humans who still prickle. “Surely he would have lost his father’s police licence doing that. Surely it must have got him into trouble?” These questions, asked with the hope that the answer is yes. Because the asker wishes it. In order to justify the way they’ve switched off their life for safety. I mentioned the memory to my friend this evening. “Nobody ever believed me when I said that,” he told me. Ach. People are so bruised.

I enjoyed that irresponsible Paris evening, and it does linger in my memory, along with so many other ones. Maybe it was a disgusting abuse of privilege and everybody involved deserves to be executed.

I’ve had an interesting time thus far just from saying yes. Long may it continue. I’m not expecting such abuse of power now. But it was lovely to see my old dear friend, just for an evening. Again soon, I hope.

Speed again

It’s the Brighton Speed Trials 2021. This means they close the whole beach outside Lou’s flat. All the businesses shut down completely. No access to anything unless you pay fifteen quid to go sit in an enclosure and occasionally watch somebody with a car you can’t afford flashing past.

There were a fair few people watching. It wasn’t the least well attended event I’ve ever seen. But I definitely went to events with my dad where the local businesses were still open and many more people were involved. Also there was a very strong smell of smug emanating from the attendees and the competitors we could see. It felt like nobody was really very good at manipulating vehicles, but everybody thought they were. Lots of vintage accessories off eBay and inherited stuff. I was mostly just annoyed at the fact they had closed the seafront. I wanted a coffee.

We drove to Rottingdean and lay on the beach there a while instead, away from all the people revving engines. Maybe they were lovely people. Who knows? I was not inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt while the beach outside Lou’s flat remained closed.

This evening though, mostly inspired by some of the shiny vintage toy cars we saw people slowly hammering, we had movie night and put on The World’s Fastest Indian. It’s about Burt Munro, who was making land speed records on a ridiculous customised motorbike in the late 1960’s. That was my dad’s big era, when he was racing whatever the hell he could get his hands on across land and sea. Powerboats and bobsleighs were his most noticeable successes, but I know he was hammering land speed as well long before I was around. I hadn’t seen the movie before, but it’s a kind movie, and it eulogises those days – definitely the glory days of personality in racing. Even in the film we see shades of the beginning of the regulation and safety that killed so much of the joy for dad. I know that the mainline of adrenaline for him was swept up in the knowledge that his life was on a knife edge. Skill, luck, nerve and reaction time over buffers, failsafes and computer systems. Too many of his friends exploded. I remember his sadness around such things, even later when he didn’t know them as with Ayrton Senna. Good to look at that world through the eyes of my industry.

Made from New Zealand just after The Lord of The Rings blew open possibilities for a lot of makers over there, it had a 25 million dollar budget and took just 18.5 back globally. I think they might have done better with a different name. Still it’ll be ticking over, with Anthony Hopkins beautiful in the leading role, and a pretty robust 82% rotten tomato score. We paid £2.50 for it, but that’ll mostly go to some asshole in California who runs the streaming platform. I would recommend it for a happy chance to lose some time in story. I like a movie without any real antagonist. The villain of the piece is Death, invisible like so many movie monsters, but lurking on the edge of so many of the greatest moments.

It made me want to go down onto Brighton Beach, elbow some tit out of his driving seat and show him how that rally clutch is supposed to work.

As it is I’m just gonna go to bed. I’ll drive to London tomorrow, but Bergman can’t do much more than 120 downhill with time to get momentum, and not as much as that on the heavily monitored roads between London and Brighton. And that’s just theoretical.

Pett Level

“Do you know anything about this building?” This is Lou, asking a lone dog walker. We are on a quiet stretch of stoney beach near Pett. There’s a half built villa with incredible aspect that looks like it should be in Malibu. Palm trees in the garden. Next to it is a smaller more modest stone home flying the Union flag proud, also looking out on the huge sea.

“Do I know anything? Oof you’ve asked the wrong question there. ‘ow long you got? I know everything about it. I don’t wanna bore you though.” He’s walking his spaniel. He has two balls on the go in case he loses one. His thrower has been patched and repatched with gaffer tape. Here, by the sign saying “No dogs on the beach before 30th September” – this is where he walks his dog every day. He has got all the gossip. And he’s on his own, so there’s nobody to roll their eyes and tell him to leave the poor people alone.

“The house with a flag? Bloke that lives there, he’s 92. Used to live in the big house. His parents built it but he moved to the little one next door – downsized. Sold the big one to the current owners. He’s a player, he is. Likes the ladies. He’s got a flag for every country in the world. When he’s gonna bring a lady home, he flies that country’s flag. And he’s 92. Still going.

Anyway yeah so the big place – the current owners, I mean they got property all over the world. Got a house in Richmond Park. This is just a beach house to them but about a year ago there’s flooding, a bit of structural damage… So they pulled the whole place down. Got to fix it, but maybe some changes at the same time. Kept all the stones so it’ll look just the same. There was people whose job it was to scrape all the concrete off of them. Store them in vans. New place is gonna have the same footprint and all but they’ve dug thirty foot down now. Swimming pool and that going into the basement. Round here – this was all soil one day. Then the next day, no soil. One hundred and eighty seven truckloads of soil they pulled up and it all got taken out of there so they can stick God knows what under it. Cinema room? Games room? I dunno. Swimming pool. You name it. 3 million they’ve spent doing it. But, you know, the back stairwell up round the cliff there – that’s theirs but it’s the only way you can get up to a caravan up the top of that cliff there and you know who lives there? It’s that Derren Brown. He lives up there in a caravan. He’s got use of the stairwell for like 800 thousand. And the cliff’s falling down. Used to be all caves up there – smugglers caves and that where they’d take their stuff, bring it through, did it for ages must’ve done and I remember those caves. Right there they were, and I said to myself ‘if them caves are ever gone then that’s it, you know, that’s it for us’. But the caves are gone and we’re still ‘ere. I seen a big chunk go down myself, got it on video. ‘Fffffffff-lipping ‘eck,’ you hear me say at the end of the video. Caught myself just in time remembered I was on the video sound. Said flipping ‘eck but you know what I meant. Just happened to be there at the time, far enough away, saw it starting. Great big chunk came off.”

I like this guy. While he’s jamming with Lou and unfolding his accumulated daily local knowledge I’m watching his spaniel chewing up bits of wood with alarming voracity. It’s a happy dog with a happy keeper.

I’m willing to take some of his info with a pinch of salt but he’s invested in this and all of his numbers are very specific. He loves this stretch of beach. And his imprecations about how foolish it might be to go anywhere near the foot of the cliff – they land very well because I just had a wee in the gorse there and now I’m feeling stupid. I could’ve had a rock on my head.

I did do a bit of “work”. I sent a self tape. They’re coming easier now, but maybe that’s because I’ve got ace friends to help and I took the time to make sure my selected scenes were relatively fluent. But yeah, mostly a day just walking on beaches. A lovely day for it as well. Lucky me.

Last airstream night

This time we lit the fire much earlier.

The sun went down about half an hour ago and still in the air to the west there’s the last of its memory. But it’s before 9pm and already we’re plunged into darkness. The owls called in the change.

The day was overcast but the night is clear now. Venus is up and to my left, the plough (aka big dipper) is right overhead. Both clear tonight with the moon pushing to new. Maybe tomorrow there’ll be sun.

Lou and I are sitting staring into the fire pit and listening to the river behind us, to that guy with a motorbike, to the night birds and the bats, to the wind. Only one more night here and then tomorrow we roll back and plug into the world again. This morning though we woke with peace all around us.

About half an hour ago I grilled some halloumi on the fire. I would’ve put some mushrooms with it had I found some I was confident about. Just a few Russula that didn’t ring any alarm bells. Even so they are still sitting on the table outside the airstream and they won’t go in my belly. I’ve got to record a self tape tomorrow and I can’t do that easily with a dicky tummy. Plus I’ve got my three strikes rule and this wouldn’t even be strike one. I haven’t a fucking clue what they are. Still, this is really really fecund woodland here, and it doesn’t feel like there’s a local shroomer to pluck all the goodies. I’ve ticked off a good few numbers in my system. If I can get out into nature again this season I’m likely to start being able to bring home some interesting things.

Lou is sitting beside me. “The stars are getting clearer,” she says and I look up and yes, since I’ve been writing we’ve lost the last of the sun and now here we sit with the embers of the fire and this bright canopy of constellations crowning the sky above us. One more night. It would be nice to just live here for a little bit, but the world is clinging onto me. My agent rang me today. I’m still learning these bloody lines for taping tomorrow. I’ll be back in London before I know it…

Best enjoy this last night here in Pearl the Flying Cloud.

Pearl the Airstream

It’s quiet here on the edge of The Maplehurst Wood. Yes, I can hear a road, and the electricity buzzes through the pylon cables nearby. But if I filter that out I can hear the softer sounds of nature, many of which will have been unchanged here for thousands of years.

I’ve known about this for ages. A 1953 Airstream – Pearl – lovingly renovated by a friend of Lou’s. Lou did the upholstery. The job is gorgeous. And we’ve been looking for an opportunity to stay here for months. Tonight and tomorrow it’s quiet here. In fact in a three fields full of glamping spots it’s just Lou and I and one family from Brighton in the next field.

“The good thing is, if a self tape comes through it should be due after the weekend now, so we can relax,” I tell Lou, tempting fate. More or less as soon as I utter the words my email goes ping and there’s one due on Friday. It’s not going to stop me relaxing. I’ll just have to mumble to myself occasionally learning lines.

But it’s beautiful and peaceful here and we’ll be able to relax. I’m sitting in pitch darkness right now in front of a fire pit. Occasionally I’m feeding in one of the slats from my old bed that I kept in my car for just such an occasion. Behind me, the wind in the trees and the tawny owls. Old earth beneath my feet, a strange bed in a metal box awaiting me, and it all means a chance to relax and unwind in nature. Unexpected and perfect, despite the fact that suddenly I’m going to have to learn some lines. Arguably that will make it even better. It’s a good part for me. If I can take the time to learn it I can nail it on a tape. And I’m in this game because I love it still, God help me.

I’m looking forward to sleeping in this peaceful field here. To waking up and just spending a whole day in green without all the usual noise and distraction. I’m glad it’s a quiet time for the glamping. I can indulge my misanthropy and connect with nature. And tomorrow I’ll just have to force Lou to read the scene opposite me.

We went for a walk in the old woods as evening fell. We found hundreds of inedible fungus including way too many earthballs – (or poison pigskin puffballs). We found a good amount of birch polypore which are antioxidant in bitter tea. We found one small beefsteak fungus, my second, which means that the next time I find a beefsteak I’m allowed to eat the thing.

I have strict rules with mycology. Even if it’s blindingly obvious I need to have positively identified it twice and not eaten it it before I dine on it. I’m hoping the upshot is that I don’t send myself to an early grave. There’s only a few total killers and I’m getting good at spotting them…

A tawny owl just called long and loud, just behind my left shoulder, warning me never to get too confident.

The bedslats are burning bright and warm in the pit in front of me. Once again I’ve lucked into a magical place. I’m going to stop this, let the flames die down, and listen just for a while…

Then I’ll look at my lines and go to bed. Two sleeps – that’s what I like to have for a decent learn. I wish the buggers had given us the weekend. But work is work and I want this part.

Early winter greyness

Grey skies in London. Grey skies in Brighton. Grey grey skies.

On the phone this morning my friend is sad. On the stairwell this afternoon my neighbour is sad. As I wade through the mountains of admin for most of the day I am sad too.

We are ahead of ourselves. This is how it should feel in the world as time pulls us screaming into October. It’s a month too early. A month too cold. A month too grey. We haven’t had that joyful light of summer yet, and I should know. I was outdoors wearing a badger hat for that one sharp week of hard heat. That can’t be our summer allotment. I’m not ready for winter yet. I’ve barely started on my tan.

I’m back by the sea, with Lou cocooned in cotton beside me. Mao is prowling the flat, occasionally stopping for cuddles. It’s good to be here again. I managed to do most of the admin that I went to London for, while the party boats went past my flat. Maybe this crushing grey is why they seemed to be doing such a roaring trade. It’s time for us to start to huddling together again and making noise and lighting fires to ward off the darkness and the creeping fingers of winter. Too sodding early, if you ask me. I need more summer.

We are having a mini break now the bank holiday is over. We both stayed busy this weekend so we can sod off into the middle of nowhere tomorrow and light fires while everybody else tries to go back to work. I might have preferred it had it been a little bit less grey. But it’s still something to look forward to. Just two nights away and Mao is going to have a lovely friendly sitter while we just … get out of the rut for a second and recharge.

Driving down south just now, the whole sense of impending winter was augmented by the fact that they were playing Wagner on Radio 3. Tristan and Isolde again. This time it’s at the proms. Soaring long epic and sad. As the sea hove into view I had King Mark’s lament, live from The Albert Hall. I’ve only just met that opera properly after watching the whole thing knackered at Glyndebourne on another grey day just after Willows ended. It’s never gonna cheer anybody up, but it seemed appropriate to my mood and to the weather. Frankly if they’d been playing Mozart I’d have switched the radio off in disgust and just driven the rest of the way in angry silence, occasionally shouting a swear word at the window of the car. Seasonal Affective Tourettes. It helps get it out.

Stop the winter! We need a petition on Change.org. It’s a month too early. Bring back T-shirt weather and hats. I’m not ready to wrap up cosy yet. Not after the isolated year we’ve all had…

This was summer. This . For a WEEK. DO BETTER.

Weekend end

“Somebody say BOOM, yo.”

It’s twenty past ten on a Monday.

The party boats are still going past my window, stretching this weekend into a hell of noise and the memory of sweat.

I only left the house today in order to purchase vittels. Then I worked out my turnover for the tax return for the year just gone by. It was woeful. Then I tried to log into government gateway to apply for SEISS. To authenticate me they emailed me a code. I inputted the code. Then I put in all my numbers. They made me look for another code in my old emails. I found it. I put it all in. I felt triumphant. Then they asked me for my memorable word…

I set up my government gateway over a decade ago. I was likely in a hurry and my time was limited. They asked me to choose a memorable word, with no clue attached to it whatsoever. Just a memorable word. Not “First pet name” or “mother’s maiden name”. I reckon I probably put a word along the lines of “unnecessary” or “bullshit” or “pointless” but many years later I have no recollection of how exactly I phrased the sentiment.

This memorable word thing is a little better than it was the last time I tried when it asked me for the exact day that I first registered as self-employed, which there is literally no way on God’s green earth that I would ever remember.

It’s fucking annoying. I’ll be up and phoning them tomorrow at 8am, joining the millions who have come off the party boat and through the sniffles they’ll be trying to do the same thing.

How will they identify me over the phone? Who knows. Maybe they won’t be able to. Maybe I’ll have to send a photo of my birthmarks. It’s all ridiculous and I hate it.

The vittels I purchased comprised of a simple meaty pie and some carrots. I consumed them almost oblivious while trying to coax that fucking government website into letting me in. Imagine how shit it must be if you’re here because your home has exploded and you don’t speak any English and have no email address you can access and suddenly you’re faced with this atrociously designed 24 factor authentication mess of a government gateway. I’ve got WiFi and twenty years of consistent saved email history and I haven’t been able to get in for years.

I guess it would be awful if somebody could log in and say they were me and start changing things. But asking me for a phrase that was memorable decades ago? That’s not the way to ascertain who I am NOW. Ugh.

And I’ve seen nobody all weekend.

Once I’d given up on the government gateway I had a good few hours trying on some of the costumes I’ve won. There are some doozies.

And so the weekend went.