Leaving the children

That was a lovely few days. A dear old friend with no car and a train strike. That’s why I ended up in Stratford with her and her kids. She was working down a list. She asked me. I was free.

Minnie and I aren’t counting. My best friends are never counting.

Sometimes I phone somebody up after years of being completely out of touch and they behave like we have to start again. Nonsense. It’s a tyrrany. Minnie and I have seen very little of one another, but we know that we are deep friends. She gets it. If one or the other of us goes dark for a few months it doesn’t affect the depth of the friendship we have forged. And in the same way, I will take you as you were no matter how long it has been since I last saw you. Counting is about ego. “He hasn’t contacted me so I’ll stop contacting him and then I’ll see how much he cares about ME ME ME” I love games. I play them all the time. I’m not interested in gaming my relationships. I care about YOU YOU YOU. I’m just not very good at the everyday because that’s not my life, and yeah if you want me to ask a specific question maybe you should try volunteering the information because maybe I’m trying to let you do it on your own terms.

In practical terms I drove Minnie and the girls from Stratford to London today. It was a surprisingly manageable journey. Zephi had a moment, but was mostly excellent company as always. Bou is milky, and was kind enough to sleep pretty much the whole journey. We made it down pretty easily and in some ways I was sad to drop them all off. I’ve been swept up in their life for the last few days. I’ve been part of their highly charged existence. Zephi in particular is exposed to all the feelings and has very little management of them. She’s not even five yet though. It’s amazing to be part of her negotiation from baby to person.

“This will help put you off for life,” says Min. But I find myself fascinated and horrified all at the same time at these life eaters. Screaming and poo. Screaming and poo. Round and round and round. But then eventually, when we are old, there’s somebody who kinda understands that karmically it’s good that they are coping with your screaming and clearing up your poo. That’s the ideal. Rather than them farming you off to a nursing home.

Zephi made a plate

Fun art

Zephi got to call the shots today for what we did up here in Stratford upon Avon, and she wanted to go to The Spotted Treehouse. We could’ve driven anywhere, but that was her shout. She thought about Warwick Castle just because she had heard of it. Warwick Castle seems to be trying to teach potential visitors about what it was like to be a serf in the middle ages. Some complete bastard has decided that it’s appropriate to charge almost £40 a head if you don’t book in advance. If you do book in advance you are still paying £24. You are paying much much more on the day so they can fleece families who haven’t done their research.

The castle was erected by the Normans as an act of subjugation on the Angles and Saxons who couldn’t fully understand the impact these conquerors would have on their basic way of life. William and his disconnected friends destroyed all the history and all the meaning across this land, and replaced it with frenchish mannerisms and big walls of stone. Warwick Castle was one of his early bastions. A horrible stone memory of when they took our identity from us.

An interesting place yes. But at that price point it’s meaningless. It’s just buying a car for some exec. Zephi was right. We were better off staying local and having fun with art at The Spotted Treehouse.

The Treehouse does stag and hen parties, as well as entertaining easily bored five year old girls. Martin will take you through the process of being crafty. You will make a thing. You then have to wait for it to be fired, but it will have been made by your fair hands. Joyous. For a delightful few hours Zephi was swept up in making things, and was lucky enough at the end to be invited upstairs in order to meet a very pissed off hot bunny rabbit and the most brilliantly zoned out chinchilla. She got to stroke them. No such luck for me. I observed from afar. But the chinchilla was then most temperamentally beautiful creature. We still make it hard for them to live in the real world because their fur is so soft we want to wear it. We are atrocious great big stupid noisy mouthpeople.

I’ve enjoyed being up here with Min in the land of Shakespeare’s niece’s brother’s cousin’s desk which is definitely located in the office of the Shakespeare-related Shakespeareperson who was definitely totally 100% related to Shakespeare Shakespeare Shakespeare that’ll be ten quid please and don’t complain you should see what they’re asking for at the crap castle.

This whole town is swamped in Willy. It’s absurd. All the shops are trying for puns. Even the ice cream parlour is attempting “Romeo and Gelato”. I love that voice – that body of work. There’s so much in it that speaks to me directly. But I wonder if it wouldn’t start to piss me off if I had to be here the whole time. What would this town be doing if he had no connection? I’m more interested in places that don’t trade off it. Although I’ll be back here soon with Lou to see Richard III, and I’m looking forward to it.

It is all about willy. All the time.

Late night words

I’m back on Waterside, just opposite the theatre where all the sanctioned Shakespeare stuff goes off. Man I miss Sprite… The more time that passes the more I see what a gem it was. It was a nurturing ground. The work was just so positive over those long happy summers. We grew together. Wherever the equivalent is these days, I want to find it. Sure, it started to homogenise itself after a while and pull its own teeth to favour a well grown audience. But there was power and there was joy. I remember it today because I first met Hester and Liam up here in this town when I was supporting friends for Lion Witch and Wardrobe, and they were involved with my mates. I met long term collaborators up here in Stratford thinking I was just hanging out with Jake and Kesty. I also met other friends on unusual nights. People who have become important in my life. I’ve spent far too much time in this town visiting my friends who are working for a company that have never acknowledged my existence. I’m ok with that until I look at it as starkly as this. Nobody deserves anything. Whether or not I would have liked a chance to succeed or fail is irrelevant. I don’t often get chances. That’s mostly been the rules. I am good at converting the chances I get, but they are rare and there’s never been a shot at this company which is a shame. insha’Allah.

I’m here now literally just to hang out with my old pal. It’s glorious. She has two fantastic young children. She needed somebody with a car. I was able to make myself free. I haven’t seen her properly for too long.

Most people my age right now have to deal with the stuff we were dealing with tonight. Children’s bedtime. The need to just get them off to sleep so you don’t go completely insane. I tried my best to contribute, reading bits of Dahl, trying to use a soporific tone of voice as the aunties are crushed by the peach. They went to sleep, woke, went to sleep again etc. They will be up at 5. I’ll be down until half eight because I’m not their dad so I don’t have to… But God. I love them to bits. Half the world has these bastards every day. I will hold much closer my moments when I can’t decide if I’m gonna watch telly or read a book. I was part of the life-theft once. “Look at me daddymummy, stop your life and admire my existence parentfool! Arrest everything you are attempting in order to make insincere noises about my tiny achievements! Hooray for me!!?”

I love Min, and her kids. I’m glad I’m free of that. I see the loss, sure. But I’m very much aware of the life I’ve been able to grasp. I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain, and I’ve followed ideas until they broke me. I’ve answered calls at 4am. I’ve remained. I have no idea what I have changed with my big noisy efforts. Everything and nothing. I’ve set things right. I’ve set things wrong. I’ve burnt it all and started again. But at least, if there’s a rabbit hole, I can go down it. Round it. I can set it all off again. And I won’t have to pretend to be the same shape for somebody else’s sanity. I haven’t made a new one, but I’ve worked very hard on the one I’ve got. Seems like that’ll have to do.

It’s late. The Friday night conversations go past the window and yeah it’s all so familiar. Young creatives establishing their identity in response to things they have experienced. I love them. I am still working my shit out. We all are, as these late night conversations remind me.

Bedtime. Tony Sher at my feet as Richard. And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover … Villain time? I should be so lucky. Roll on Sprite Mark II. Roll on permission for me to be brilliant and joyful. Who knows, maybe the flat things in the universe will shift and a tiny tiny door will open in the forcefield.

The Chattri

“Where haven’t you been around here? You haven’t been to The Chattri!”

Up on the South Downs, staring peacefully down the parched hillside to the sea, sunk into a thick copse on grazing land is the marble umbrella of The Chattri. There’s no real pathway. There’s a barely used bridleway and some sheep tracks. Our first attempt takes us through brambles and nettles to the edge of an overgrown barbed wire fence. “It’s just on the other side!” “I’m not going over that.” Twenty minutes later we are at the top and we find the correct entrance, through the gate. We wander in to this peaceful place.

In the first world war, 800,000 men from India fought for the allies. Giving their lives in this distant war, coming from such a different place, such a different culture. Many injured were taken to Brighton for treatment. The king apparently thought they’d feel right at home in The Royal Pavilion with its Indo-Gothic pretentions. Most of the soldiers recovered, but there were some who succumbed to their injuries. Of these, 53 men were Sikhs or Hindus. Trying to respect custom and to answer necessity at the same time, a ghat was built here on the hillside. They were cremated here and then their ashes were scattered in the sea.

The Chattri is their memorial, and it is something of a rarity. There isn’t much in this country memorialising those who joined our causes from other countries and lost their lives. As such The Chattri has become a stand in place to honour the many many such souls lost over the years. Every year there is a memorial ceremony in June, and the poppy-wreaths are customised with “Om”. It remains something of a pilgrimage site, and perhaps the remote location makes it just a bit more special. We were the only people there today. But it is clearly visited and cared for, and it must be very powerful for people living here now from Indian communities, to know it is here and to occasionally pay respects. We sat a long time with the silence and the view, each of us lost in the waves of time and spirit since the bodies of these young men went to the flames over a hundred years ago.

From there we went peaceably to Stanmer Park to lie under the ancient cedars awhile and eat overpriced pasties having been too idle to pack a decent lunch. Late summer is bringing calm to the parks around here, because everybody in town is on the beach. After enough peace, we went to join the throng. After the funeral, all the driving and the Chattri it felt right to walk into the sea. A busy beach, but a good warm English Channel – noticeably barren of life after Greece and Sardinia, and none of the clarity of water. Splash. A restful day, but busy still. I’ll sleep well.

Pinging around some of the South coast

Definitely worth booking an overnight stay near the wake yesterday. I woke up rested in a very practical farmhouse mourning the fact that breakfast was no later than 9.30pm as I was properly hanging.

The lady of the house where I stayed was a very familiar type to me. Small but busy and forward, Hunter wellies and a Barbour jacket. No mess. Super practical. She had been up since 4 mucking out the horses and feeding everything and raising three children and building an orphanage before serving me my excellent late morning bacon and sausages that she had likely made herself. She handed me a cafetiere of real coffee though. This was unexpected as these deep England farmhouses tend to be stuck in the 1980’s. Have we finally graduated from Nescafé?

I fuelled up and shot myself down south to Corfe Castle. It’s a strong ruin. You can walk all the way round the bottom of it for free. It’s only a tenner to get into the ruins if you’re not a free National Trust member, but by the time I got to the turnstile I was feeling perfectly well castled and didn’t feel motivated to pay in order to join the throng. I had a good fix of medieval castle up at Acquafreddo about a month ago. Today I had a reasonable amount of ground to cover and I’m sure I’ll renew my Trust membership but not today.

Down the coast a while, looking for potential spots of interest and I pulled off the road to track a sign of a stooping owl. It led me to a raptor collection that I immediately knew I didn’t want to pay for, but which in turn led me past Crow and into The New Forest. Horses in the road. Calves in the road. Donkeys in the road. Americans in the road. I stopped for a ham and cheese toasty in a traditional English tea room in a tourist village where mules trot up and down the pavement. There definitely was some cheese in the toasty somewhere because I could smell it. £8.95 for hot damp bread with a sliver of pink. The coffee, again, was good. Have we actually started to catch up in this part of it country?

More aimless pottering. Looking out, looking in. I like to drive through beautiful places. Stopping occasionally to admire something or look for fuel, which incrementally got more and more expensive the further east I drove. An article played on Radio 4 about which luxuries we were keeping in this coming recession and there we are. That’s the narrative. We are going back into recession yay thanks guys good old Brexit eh? I’m keeping the car if I can. Even though Bergman is a heavy old boy and likes his drink, we have good adventures. My return journey from the wake was in my own time and on my own terms and I got to stop in unusual places and look at old things and natural things and very very British things.

I eventually wound up at Glyndebourne grabbing Lou at the end of her shift. We had a quick stroll and then went to Bill’s in Lewes. It’s thoughtful there and easy. And after all the driving and wandering and looking, and the disappointing toasty, I wanted a bit of food in my belly. Another luxury, this eating out habit. I love to do it. Two courses at Bill’s was about the same as my ham and um toasty and the flat white.

And now this familiar room in Brighton, the sea to my left, the scrutiny of an extremely fluffy cat to my right. I won’t go rushing off tomorrow.

Farewell to dad’s first wife

The little town of Blandford. I have been here before, for work. I wouldn’t know it but for the fact that my food-radar took me to exactly the same place, and I remembered the layout. Namaste Gurkha. The restaurant that gives a shit about more than just reconfigured American guff or fish and chips.

I’ve ordered an Everest Khasi. There’s max chili in the logo. I’m feeling like it’ll be what I need. I want a purge. I want to purify.

Funeral today. A funeral for Joan. Joan had three children with my father, before I existed. Then Max and I joined the party.

My mother has been dead for over fifteen years. Joan carried on, giving the three older boys the benefit of that longevity. I long ago abandoned the idea of asking my parents for advice about life. There’s very little point if it’s just a pair of stones with a name. But Joan was alive, and we managed to be weird friends. Jamie died, the oldest of our brood. But maybe Rupert and Jeremy had time to make sense of things through her. I hope so. She was fun. We sat next to each other at a wedding once, starting as total strangers.. We got absolutely hammered together and laughed so much. “You’re just like your father,” she told me at the end, knowing what a complicated bestowal that was. My largely absent enraged father. My bright baby blue angel eyed liar father.

I knew she was seeing my complications and enjoying them, having no stake. She had the peace of somebody who had learnt what she wanted through trial and error, and knew it wasn’t Norman Barclay. It felt like she saw me and forgave where I’d come from. To me, I could really see why my father had loved her. She had a wide-angle heart. Joan was good. Complicated. Layered. Full of contradiction. But rooted through with a strong strong inclusive vein of goodness. I’m happy to have had the chance to say farewell. I was conflicted but I think it’s right that I came to the funeral. The happy times of Joan’s life came despite my father. My very existence must have been complicated for her, which is why I love how she treated with me at that wedding. And why I knew she’d understand my presence at her funeral.

And now I’m in Blandford, winding down. I’ve booked a hotel, knowing I’d be unsober by this point. And I’ve somehow tracked myself back to this Gurkha restaurant, and taught myself that even if we try to vary things we end up walking old paths.

The Everest Khasi was not hot enough to warrant three chilis. I worried it was a dickhead-curry. But it was perfect. I have no idea what I had last time. I have no idea what I was doing. A reading about refugees in the village hall? A touring show? A dayjob giving lectures? Helping build an event? Going to a birthday party? Fucknose.

I’m gonna get the bill and sod off to my delightful farmhouse room. Oh joy.

Yum yum yum yum yum. Well done the Gurkha.

Barclays! There are so many of us… Aaaaaaa

Hot night watching tv

Right well I’m up to date with Stranger Things. Don’t worry I won’t spoil it. I got myself up to speed because I don’t like to be behind when everybody seems to be watching the same thing. It annoys me when people tell me things about the plot.

The kids are getting older so they are likely gonna have to wind everything up soon. I wonder if they had a plan from the start or if they are largely just making it up as they go along. Whatever they’re doing seems to be working. It’s a good watch.

The eighties nostalgia is kinda cute. Back then it would’ve been so uncool to like anything like Stranger Things. They trade on that and build it into the story. And they let things take their time. It’s later than I thought it would be. I watched two episodes of a television show and it took about three and a half hours…

This is a new era of TV. It’s a good time to be an actor if you can get in the door. These long form streaming TV shows frequently have the budget to take the time they need. It is proved time and again that there’s an audience for things that take their time. And it means that The Duffer Brothers can give every character a crack of the whip, rather than just refining it all to the tightest version of the plot and leaving huge amounts of work on the cutting room floor. They could cut ages off both of those episodes without losing much, but I’m glad they haven’t. It’s nice to let things settle.

Those episodes were part of my wind-down routine after a day of admin. Everything is ready for me to get down to Dorset tomorrow and then to Brighton for a few days. I’ll need to rethink my decluttering plans though as the Battersea Car Boot is on holiday until September, as I discovered this morning at 8am when I was trying to book a pitch.

But it’s way past my bedtime and I’ve got a long drive first thing in the morning and be need to throw some clothes in a bag first. It’s hot in the city. I’m gonna try to get some shuteye.

Self Tape summer Sunday

Up in the morning a bit later than intended. Coffee and breakfast. I’ve hit a yogurt and blueberry habit these days, and of course there’s good coffee. The last of the milk and I knew I’d forget to replace it. Damn.

Into the bathroom for a shave. Strip off that night’s worth of stubble. I grow a beard in about a week. My stubble is ALWAYS visible but I can get it right back so it looks considered. I’m out of practice with the old razor though. It’s been a long time since I’ve had to keep myself smooth. I take a chunk out just to the left of my lips. Squirt it with aftershave but the blood keeps welling up. I go and pick a white shirt, but I’m not gonna put it on now. Tissue stuck to my face as I find my little dicky bow. My best bowtie got nicked by wardrobe department on The Pack right before lockdown. It was an accidental steal – it was in the back of my car with all the actual costume. But all my attempts to get it back got brickwalled. I’ve given up on it. But the guy I’m auditioning for wouldn’t have a high quality bow, he’d have a prefab dicky, so I’m happy with what I find for today. Black suit. I got a ton of them in the costume haul, and this one fits me like a glove. Looks good too. I shove it all in a bag and drive to Mornington Crescent.

Quick coffee at pret and up to my friend’s flat with it. We build a studio in her spare room. Two big lights, an annoying tripod, a screen, reflectors, muslin. Actors… We’ve all got a setup like this stashed somewhere. She’s got a good room for it in terms of space though. I’ve had to do them in very cramped conditions. The room’s being redecorated though so the floor is covered in plastic for paint. This just means I can’t move my feet when I talk. The tape is only a couple of lines though, and it doesn’t ask for movement so it’s only a problem if I need to walk into shot.

I get changed. It’s hot. The cat looks at me indifferently. “Have you got a comb?” She does. I slick my hair back with water. Phone onto tripod. My friend jiggles it around until she’s happy with the shot. We do the scene. Adjust the frame and do it again. Retakes mostly for tech, which is always the way of it. Once it sounds ok and looks ok, mark the take and do an ident. Name agent height location. Nothing too involved like hands and they haven’t asked for full length thankfully. Play it back. Momentary insecurity. Nobody likes watching themselves. It’s just a self-tape though. If they want me they want me, and I reckon this is a good fit so fingers crossed. Would be nice for me and my agent to hit one into the net. Lovely series. I want it.

Rename files on my phone. Upload scene and ident to WeTransfer and send it over to my agent. Watch the percentage go up to 100. And done. Glad it’s a Sunday as parking was free. One of the best things about self-tapes is that once you’ve got your little self-tape community there’s an ease and a shorthand so you can get it done pretty quick, and then use it as an excuse to catch up.

We go to The Edinboro’ Castle and have large amounts of cooked cheese together and we catch up. It’s a lovely summer evening. All is right with the world.

Staggering around London hungover

The downside of drinking tons of wine and eating scallops is that you feel pretty bleary the next day. There was definitely more than one empty bottle on the table this afternoon when I finally pulled myself out of the little single bed in the Richmond spare room and bumped downstairs in quest of coffee.

Facebook must have been listening to us last night as the Saturday morning doomscroll begun with an advert: Clinical trials for unhealthy drinkers. Then the same old hamster wheel of people talking about politics or war or the selected issues of the epoch. I dropped Facebook for ages. Not really sure how I got swept back in. It’s a ridiculous platform and the way they do EVERYTHING is just smug and unethical. They were the pioneers of the shameless datagrab that has really now caused most of us to sign every inch of our identity over to the likes of that jugeared automaton. They’re trying to pioneer a changed language about how we view all the things we do online. “Metaverse”. To try and bring everything together under one platform so we can buy more things that don’t exist. It’s a clever trick by the malevolent alien that wants to turn us into batteries that he looks and sounds so ridiculous and unthreatening. I’ll keep playing computer games. They aren’t Metaverse. Even if my parrot in Sea of Thieves is called NFT.

Despite hangover though I haven’t been playing games today. It’s just been too much of a lovely day. I went to the barber for a luxury £10 shave. The beard was long and wiry and I didn’t want hairs all over my bathroom. Tomorrow I will need to be “immaculate” for a self-tape so I thought I’d get the hardest bit done early. Everything else is just preening. I took my fresh face up to Camden and wandered around by the lock.

It’s lively up there again. London really is packed. All the bars and pubs on the high street were swollen with drunk people. New punks were on the bridge where old punks hung out in my childhood. I took in the noise and the crowd and the memories. I looked into the garden of The Oxford Arms and thought of all the things I did at The Etcetera Theatre when I was naïve enough to think they might help my career, but committed enough to know that any experience is useful experience. And I stopped at Mildred’s for dinner with a close friend. Yummy vegan food, a bit twee in the way they sell their pretend meat. “chick’n*” I had a sweet potato curry because it wasn’t pretending to be anything other than a sweet potato curry.

Now I’m home, happy and full, and almost certainly in a position to crash between clean sheets and sleep the sleep I didn’t have last night.

Tasty absorbent scallops

Organisation…

This morning we walked down to the sea first thing. It’s the calm before the storm down there in Brighton. Pride weekend is a’coming…

I was only down for a quick fix of Lou and the sea the sea. Wonderful to have a moment, but the admin has been mounting up and Lou has things she needs to make. We sat near the banjo groyne and looked at the waves and the swimmers. A quiet weekday beach moment. Something to hold onto. A spot of peace. I often forget, when it’s quiet, that it goes crazy when it goes. Much like Brighton is gonna go mental for Pride, it’s gonna go mental before long in my diary. Part of me wanted to hang out in Brighton and join in but I need to make sure I’m up to date with the laptop stuff before it all starts to get crazy busy again. I’m carrying my diary around with me now so I know the answer when somebody asks if I can do the thing. That has rarely been necessary since the first lockdown. But the things are picking up and I can feel the momentum gathering even in the traditionally quiet month of August. I can better value and enjoy the quiet moments if I’m up to date with the admin. It’s just a practical thing. I’m self employed. I need to send an invoice to get paid, and every so often I need to chase that invoice down through a chain of out-of-office autoreplies. Then I need to remind employers that I’m back…

I have to be in the right state of mind to get myself to focus on the admin stuff. If I can distract myself I will, too often. I think if I was better with it life would eventually turn out to be much less frenetic. My immediacy can be a skill … but just because I like to address things fresh it doesn’t mean it’s the only way to do it.

So I looked into a load of payments due to me for bits of graft or creativity I did before Sardinia. Chile is likely not far away unless I suddenly land some filming, and it’ll be full on once more. I really want to use the fact that it’ll be my third excursion with Extreme-E to be absolutely ready for what will come both mentally and physically. I went to Sardinia half cocked, well packed but leaving loads of unfinished admin at home. Full of energy, but having to fight fires in my spare time. Time to get some letters and emails sent and think about what needs to be done quickly… That was my afternoon.

Then this evening Tristan and I had a load of lovely seafood from the fresh fish place round the back of Fatboy Slim’s, and then we played loads of games together and caught up properly. There’s the other thing missing in all the bustle : friends! It was great to go out in Finsbury Park the other night and see a few of them together at a party, because that’s such a rarity. So this evening I’m writing to you post a good solid catch up with a dear friend, accompanied by drop too much wine and scallops.

We ended up late at night trying to make sense of Exploding Unicorns…