Burning a noose of snakeskin

Hex likes to shed his skin and to poo at the same time. I found him this evening nonchalantly sitting under his rock having made a right mess of his terrarium. The skin he had shed though – it was remarkably neat. He made a perfect little noose, and then he went through it. I put him on my head, shiny and new, and I started cleaning up.

He immediately removed my glasses, and then settled against the warm bits and started snuffling in my ear innocently as he watched me sort out his mess.

This perfect noose of skin was surrounded by his stinky pellets. When I took the time to notice, it was as if he had made the perfect topical present, keying into so much of my work towards myself at the moment. Going all the way through nooses and shedding skin and basic snake imagery – these were all things that came up in the woods very clearly. I’m not one to overlook a chance for ceremony. So I made use of his old discarded skin.

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It’s full moon tonight, with the wind bringing in a cleansing rain. The pubs might be open but I’m not feeling it. I banked up a fire in the fire pit on Mel’s balcony. I wrote out a load of stuff I needed to burn for good – stuff I’d been carrying that there’s no room for any more.

I made a fire and burnt some writing, and I put the shed skin in the hottest part of the fire and sent it up with the rest of the crap. I did my usual thing of improvising a ritual. Closing off the changes from the woods with the Skinner. Literally mixing metaphors as I do.

Then I dumped rocks on the fire and sat in drizzle until I was happy it was extinguished and wasn’t going to burn down anybody’s Hampstead pied a terre. Practicality is still present alongside my improvised mysticism.

I went back into the flat stinking of acrid burnt snakeskin. I’m learning smells through Hex.

Snake is a very specific smell. Unmissssnakeable. I’ll be like Indiana Jones now. I’ll know if I’m in a snake pit by smell.

Mouse too, although it’s a bit less of a concern to be thrown into a mouse pit. I know the mouse smell from all the puppeting back when Hex wasn’t eating properly. And from opening the packet near his nose to waft the tempting yummy mousey smell…

Burnt snakeskin isn’t as unique a smell but it clings. It’s in the same world as burnt hair and nails. Familiar and sharp. You don’t want it in your face when you’re sleeping. It stuck to me as I came back into the flat.

I had a hot bath and moisturised. Yeah baby. Now I smell of coconut.

I’m tucked up in bed listening to the wind and rain outside. Sometimes that can be one of the most beautiful feelings in the world. To be safe and warm in a storm.

I’m right on the edge of the heath. Occasionally there’s a fox, yarking like it’s stuck on a fence, firing all the instincts of the idiot local dogs. “Gaaaark gaaaark!” once. “Rolf Rolf Rolf Rolf Rolf” for ages.

Occasionally there’s an owl too, staking territory for the hunt. “Screw youuuu, it’s myyyy shreeew!”

But right now it’s too rainy for foxes. It’s too windy for owls. No owl in its right mind is gonna trust big wings and hollow bones to these unpredictable gales. The shrews will be holed up for the night as well, snug in their little hole. And so am I.

Summer has taken a sabbatical. She’ll be back. Plenty of time left thank God, even though we’ve spent the best of it locked in our own homes, and the days are already getting shorter again. I’m going to enjoy this storm for now and let it blow away old terrors and unpleasantnesses.

Tiger king

I have a television. I forget this.

Not only do I have a television, but it’s a gargantuan television. And I rarely if ever switch it on. I did my best to chase the last film on Mubi for a while, but then the lure of paper pages suckered me back into the beautiful endless world of books. This evening though, having been an epic consumer of printed words, it seemed only right to lie back and let some words and pictures happen. I thought I’d go with something cultural. I put on Tiger King.

The Impostor. Making a Murderer. There’s something about the whole “Redneck Documentary” genre that draws me in. This one is about arrogance vs self righteousness. It’s about lack of perspective. Narcissism. Greed. It’s about big cats and about the broke idiots and the rich hypocrites that keep these creatures for their own self aggrandisement. And it’s about betrayal, lies and money.

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It’s a well put together little piece, and one that landed just as we all got shut into our own homes so it had a wide reach. I felt I ought to have a reference point, so I could make sense of the memes. I prefer to try to be loosely up to date with the shit that people use as reference, (except for the talent shows the fake reality and the competition guff).

There’s a lot to mull over in Tiger King. It’s full of cowards and criminals, liars and losers. It reinforces the warning that you should never make yourself too visible. It’s about cruelty and intrangisence. And it’s about hundreds of wonderful beasts living from birth to death in cages, almost completely overlooked by the self serving fuckwits who think of them as an income stream or a chance to be cute. It’s worth watching even if it’s depressing. The cats are constant. The central people – all of them – are manipulative, self satisfied, mean spirited and generally more appropriate as fodder than keeper.

Maybe this is why I stick to books. At least the fantastic “true” construct of Shantaram keeps leaving little gems of beautifully expressed morality scattered in with all the perfect coincidences. I go to bed smiling and feeling connected to the eponymous author as he hacks together his personality through liberal application of trust, through almost supernatural stoicism and through almost impossible synchronicity. Reading Shantaram I somehow find myself thinking “I could’ve gone that way,” apart from my conviction that I’d be enthusiastic but ultimately dead if I got into a street fight. I go to bed dreaming India.

Watching The Tiger King just leaves a sour taste in my mouth and I’ll probably dream shouting manface. Bunch of self serving bastards. Watching it we forget so quickly and completely the names and behaviours of any of the animals and instead dive into the thorny criminality and ultimately the weakness and changeability of the humans who are exploiting their connection with these vast beauties of nature. There’s no excuse for doing that to so many lovely beasts. Not fragile masculinity. Not money. Not the cult of personality. Not self righteousness. The way that it’s cut, it feels like none of the humans give two fucks about the animals they have in their custody. Smart though. Three years or more of filming with no guarantee of distribution let alone the traction it has gained. I wonder how many years have gone into similar things that ultimately went to nothing. But keeping predatory animals? There’s a story there. And they tell it very well.

I’ve got Hex. A single predator, looked after temporarily. I worry when I bring him into The Tempest. He needs to be happy and comfortable or its no go. He is just one snake and I worry about him loads and watch his well being. He’s already carrying burns from a previous keeper the poor wee beasty. He needs to be loved.

I have him with me for a few minutes of a piece of work. And I worry enough about his well being through that. I’m having to shoot up and down to Hampstead loads just to satisfy myself that he’s watered and hasn’t pooed and has had some gravity. Usually I get there and nothing needs to be done but a clamber. But he is just one extremely easy animal and he’s enough worry for me thanks. Over 200 tigers? Maniacs.

 

Mobile and thinking about flow

It seems this week is all about people asking for money. I get it. We need to move the stuff around I guess. Whatever it is.

The long and short of all the fuckery with the cops is that now there’s a red Nissan Micra parked outside my flat. I’ll be glad of it once my breathing gets back to normal. It means that I have basic freedom of movement, and for the price of petrol I can go and shout at friends through their windows in various parts of the country. Much less of a faff than the tube at the moment, and likely cheaper over time than taking those Ubers (if we don’t take into account the impending fine for the insurance fuck-up. )

Motivation has been slippery this week. I feel like I’ve been booting myself back into the world, back into my flat in Chelsea. Apart from all the energy I spent chasing cars I’ve just been reading my book and wandering around in the Physic Garden. The knowledge that I’m going to have to start finding income streams again is tempered by my iron trust in fate to work its magic. I’ll probably give it a helping hand by getting back on the eBay wagon and so forth. But something will come.

This time last year I had just started a run of work and flow that took me right into lockdown with The Tempest. It was such a beautiful rarity to know for months and months not only what my immediate work was but also what was coming next. It paid off the credit card that I’m about to start racking up again. A year ago I walked through the early morning to a last minute motorbike lesson for the test I (thankfully) failed. I was in digs in Oxford, marveling in the beauty of the world and revelling in all the meaty Shakespeare laid before me for the summer. It was a summer that was to take me all over the USA and help me ground deeper into the weight that I wanted – to facilitate my journey from jester to king, from air to earth. I’ve been floating so long I’d almost forgotten how to tether.

Now I haven’t a clue what’s going to happen. Very few of us do. There’s a Tempest on 11th July -(God love the Creation and Big Telly team)- but aside from that the old familiar actor’s fear : ” maybe I’ll never work again” is amplified by the little voice that says “because nobody will ah ha hahaa”.

Live art, historically, has burnt bright in times of crisis. But it needs to have an audience. The pubs open soon but I’m really not sure how I feel about it. Recently I’ve gained so much in terms of peace from being part of a society that goes to nature to relax.

Evenings have often found me striding barefoot through The crowded Heath, my familiar bag of little hand knitted prayer mats in my hand, smelly things, burny things and thinky things, enjoying the warm winds carrying with them the sound of laughter. Stinky crowded rooms pumping music too hard and selling drinks too dearly – the theory isn’t firing me up at the moment. I’d sooner spend my money watching people take charming risks and telling me a tale together on a stage, as I sit rapt elbow to elbow with a wriggling stranger.

I worry so much for these buildings – the rich and varied network of gorgeous theatres around this country. The masterpieces and quirky gems in small towns – with wide reach, giving needed jobs, honing the craft of the future industry leaders, sharing great skill and passion and beauty even if your aunty hasn’t heard of them at Christmas – Pitlochry, Keswick, Newcastle under Lyme, St Andrews, Mold, Leicester, Frinton, Dundee many many more, so many. The old tiny beautiful buildings kept alive by passion and the Christmas season – gems like Margate and Richmond Yorkshire. I cut my teeth touring. How many friends did I meet in those places watching or playing who are now making work that touches people all over the world?

Not to mention the networks and webs they cast in their areas, these buildings, giving people purpose and employment and joy.

The Globe! I love that building passionately, and it had such a journey to even get built.  It’s in a powerful place, visible and so crowded in season. You get the best view for a fiver and you feel like you’re part of something. Even that incredible building is under threat as much from uncertainty as anything else. You can’t start paying people to rehearse if there might not be a show…

Ugh. Better out than in. Something’s gotta shift. I am sick from hearing worrying news now…

Fallout of my own dumb behaviour

I can’t tell if I’m more angry with myself or with the system.

So I fucked up. I drove a car that was not yet insured. It was insured in my head because all I needed to do was click go. But crucially … I hadn’t clicked go. I’m in a bus heading masked to spring it from the pound now.

I went to the post office to sort tax. The counter clerk told me that I couldn’t get it taxed with just a photo of the new keeper supplement. I’d have to pay £25 for a new log book I was told. The photo is no good. The counter clerk was completely wrong, but thankfully I sensed they didn’t give a crap. I didn’t let them steamroll another £25 out of me. I sorted it online. I should’ve done it all along. Still, unhelpful fucker. Spots. Lots of annoying spots next Tuesday for them please.

Once it’s out of the pound I’ll probably have to live in it, because the parking permit money is going on the pound release so the car will be under threat from wardens between 8.30 to 6.30.

Meanwhile I was woken up by an automatic phone call from Thames Water. They want £50 more than the fine I’m about to get in the post and have clearly been picking their moment. I’m just going to bury my head for now.

I’m fully expecting somebody at the pound to tell me my treads aren’t legal or there’s a reason why I can’t drive it away or whatever other obstructive nonsense they decide to make up. I’ll likely have to push it through the gate anyway as I can’t imagine the coppers will jump start it for me. They’re not there to be helpful. But I’m going to try to get them to be. I’m attaching a happy face. I’ve done all the admin. Let them do their worst.

The weird thing is how different my anger is now to how it would’ve been ten years ago. Ten years ago would’ve been screaming incandescent rage. Five years ago would’ve been simmering weeping resentment. Right now? I’m getting on with it and meeting all the little resistances with a kind of exasperated silent activity. And writing about it here. I’m angry, yes.

But it’s done. Being angry won’t change it. The letters will say what the letters will say. Eventually everybody will get their money but me. All I need to do in the meantime is the basic work to pay that money, somehow, when the only acting role went elsewhere and the industry feels to be boiling on the edge of an irretrievable collapse, carrying with it the hopes and dreams of most of my favourite people.

About time I got resourceful again. No point just despairing for the future of my industries. Time to activate again somehow.

In times of change and advancement, tendrils of the past can cling on and try to stop us forging forward. In this fearful and judgemental and depressing time I’m trying to spread new wings. The whole of this city is mired in terror – the whole of the world is in shock. Nobody is supposed to be trying to fly. It’s almost an act of defiance to be happy. That’s why I’ll keep on flapping my arms around even if I hit myself a bit in the process. And that’s why I’ll beat every one of those coppers with smiling. (*Edit : They tried to keep obstructing with this thing they’ve made up about how your insurance policy needs to specifically cover collecting from a pound. They are utter scum. My insurance company was lenient thank God.)

I’ve got a fully paid off credit card. It’s a shame knowing that it’s swinging back into red. But what a privilege to even have the option.

This is just a momentary stumble. Two steps forward, one step back.

But generally it feels like dark dark times right now. I’ve never seen so much flat despair on my social media. I have to work hard to remind myself to keep positive, even in the face of my own incompetence and the reminder that the law is an ass.

Let’s look after each other actively. It’s getting dark out there. Hold hands.

Big fat fine

“You know what?” asks Sergeant Don companionably ; “I pulled this car over last time as well. Last July. What’s your friend’s name again? I remember him.”

£400 and six points it’ll cost me. Plus £150 to get it out of the pound. I reckon I can classify this as a massive fuck up. Although there’s a chance I’ll be able to take a course and make things a bit less expensive.

Oops.

It was in an underground car park. No internet. I was moving it having just taken possession of it temporarily as a favour. We had just jumped it back to life so I wanted to turn the engine over before stopping it long enough to do the admin. You know, insurance and all that?

Uninsured car. “Have you got the insurance documents?” “Oh no officer it’s not insured yet I’m doing that when I can find a place to pull over!”

I’m an idiot. The cops no doubt agree with me. I was trundling through the City of London, where there must be more cameras per square foot than any other part of the UK. The car I was driving was falling apart, number plate taped on the back, loud rattle in the undercarriage, unhappy and covered in dust, and full of random shit. I had a quote from the insurance company queued up and ready to go on my phone as soon as I found a place I could stop and do it. Then I was going to sort out tax etc and work out what needed to be done to make it happy. It was gonna be my project. Keep me occupied for a bit.

Now it’s a punch in the face before I even get home. It’s a load of money out the pocket, and a hard lesson learnt. At least if I’d been a baddie rather than an idiot I’d have been stopped just as effectively by those officers. And I’m sure you could tell me I’m a baddie. I don’t know what I was thinking really. It was just bumbling idiocy, and I’m not the prime minister so I can’t get away with that shit.

God help me, I actually quite liked the coppers too. I don’t think they usually deal with people quite so cheerfully incompetent as I proved to be this evening. It was all an exciting learning experience. God though. I’ll feel it as the months peel away. That’s the water bill. That’s lots and lots of food. And what is coming up? Ugh. Months and months more of nothing? And with six points how manageable does my driving income stream become? It’s another nail in the coffin of hope. But thankfully hope can sneak out through the cracks somehow, and it will…

Now I’m back home wondering why I’m not angry. It just felt inevitable. I’m sad. I’m heavy. I’m suddenly much broker. But it just feels like it’s the clinging on of the energy that has tried to block my freedom and happiness with shit like this for decades. And it still won’t work.

Perhaps though it’s because this is the end of an old frame. I don’t need to be jolting around in an old jalopy. If I’m going to be on the road maybe I should just put down the sort of money the coppers are taking in the first place and get a car that doesn’t scream “CRIMINAL!” I got myself out of debt just before lockdown. I kept the credit cards open knowing shit like this might try and pull me back in. Off we go again.

Meanwhile, if you’ve got a way I can make a few hundred quid, I’m game. So long as I don’t end up with the lovely bastard coppers again. It’s the sort of thing where one might consider crime just for the one payment, just to spite them. Agents of the letter of the law, inconsiderate to the spirit of it. It’s all just energy. Off it goes. By doing their job they’re negating their purpose and undermining themselves again, as they so often do. Protectors should protect. Not steal and niggle. No wonder so few people trust them.

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Starting Shantaram on a grey day

This damp grey sad day has caused me to escape into a book.

In Chelsea where I woke this morning I found a small victory by opening a window that has long been painted shut. It didn’t need to be opened today, the heatwave having passed, but when I’m here I’m often attempting to make small changes and improvements. That change is necessary, as for the few short days of heat in this country my flat becomes a sauna if a breeze can’t be coaxed through it. I should’ve broken the paint a long time ago.

My need to do something – anything – drew me to the Chelsea Physic Garden with Kitcat. Open to limited numbers it is a tamed wild on my doorstep. An apocalypse might cause it to be the hub of a new ecology as quinine and coca and maple trees and tobacco march in through the cracks in the pavements and spread down the banks of the old father Thames. For now the garden is pruned and manicured, a place to take a turn around and observe these wildlings tamed. The greenhouses are roped off to humans but still there’s an approximation of nature and a certain degree of peace to be found right on my doorstep. Nothing like the ancient peace of the heath, but something nonetheless. A little fenced off oasis. Fifty pounds a year. There’s even a café where you can buy absurdly priced wine. I didn’t look to see if it was open.

Now I’m back by the river, book in hand, happy not to feel the urge to rush to Hampstead. I have to record a monologue for a friend there soon, and do my tax returns, but all in good time. For today I’m content to sit here on my sofa above the road and the river, in companionable silence with Kitcat.

I’m happy to read to read the beginnings of this strange and human memoir someone gave me – a traveller’s book – Shantaram. I’m happy to stop on a Monday and feel.

Sadness is still in the air. The clouds and the wind and the drop in pressure and in temperature. As we walked down Royal Hospital Road earlier we saw the removal vans, spelling the end of a London dream for another household. This city is losing its lustre. We came from all over, drawn by the promise of work, willing to destroy ourselves just to make rent and be there for the endless idea of the chances. “You have to be in London. It’s where they cast everything. Even if they shoot it in Yorkshire it’s cast in London.”

I might as well be in The Isle of Man at the moment. I can send The Tempest from there, record my audio, my self tapes, join the zoom meetings that bring variation to the week, say hello to the fairies, blow down marine drive, spank my bike up to 200mph legally, jump in the sea, make conversation with wheyfaced bankers who have a “repeat” button jammed down in their foreheads, sink into desperate boredom, go fishing, eat kippers for breakfast, stare for hours at a pebble dashed wall clutching a pint of Okells while somebody tells me about their cousin’s uncle’s son’s lumbago, get mired in petty bureacracy… Ok I’ll stay in London for now. One day I’ll go back to the sea. But fuck it, this shit can’t last forever.

Shantaram makes me want to travel again though, to open up to new faces and places. It’s going to get dark, but it carries great light. I am not myself without the travel, but for now it has to be in my imagination.

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Sad bomb

Quite suddenly, at about six o’clock this evening, a wave of sadness cut through me. I was walking down the river, past empty rowing clubs and football fields. The sadness came in like a bludgeon. It isn’t just my sadness, although that’s present, mixed up with uncertainty about the future. But this is me in my capacity as sponge. I’ve long considered it to be an unspoken part of my job, to try to convert negative energy into something positive. I can soak up quite a lot of it and convert it before I have to spit the flies out. But today, suddenly, just now, it crept up on me. It’s everywhere, at the moment, clinging to people’s shoulders as they walk, steaming in puddles where their heavy feet have trodden, swirling from the edges of their eyes in dark and muddled tendrils. Discomfort. Rage. Pain. Fear.

I’ve been totally open since I got back from the woods. Wide open, feeling and observing. And I’m remembering why that’s difficult in this town at the best of times. So many stories, so much tightly pushed in pain. The simmering rage of fragile egos and of victims. Entitlement crashing against resentment. Messes of jumbled emotion. All stirred up with masks thrown in for good measure. And we in theatre are not alone in having no idea if there’ll be an industry to come back to – if this murderous uncertainty ever comes to an end. The structures we relied on, the things we took for granted… All gone. Hubris to think there was a structure. That there was longevity. That there was logic or justice.

Dark clouds are rolling in over the river as I walk. The atmosphere is depressurising after the heat of the last few days, bringing the release of wind and rain and of this sadness. I’ve stopped for a moment in an unobserved cornice, the wall of what was once a pub and will be again, but now is just an empty house, loosely sheltered from the wind and the dashes of wet in the air. I’m trying to untie the knots in my stomach that seem to have come from nowhere – a demonbaby of anxiety.

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I just phoned my friend and it was clear she’d just been crying. This pressure shift. It’s easy to lose track of how subject we are to basic atmospheric events. The pressure is a huge one – it’s why I fill my house with barometers. We’ve been shoved into our boxes and stifled behind masks as the atmosphere pushed us down. Suddenly it’s lifting again and we can breathe and the sadness is shrieking out of us.


So I went to see an old friend and her dog, who were both nearby when the sadness bomb dropped.

I looked after that dog for a few months of her honeymoon. He is a calm and wise friend, carrying trauma, but filled with that immediate doggy love. We got on very well back then and still now.

It was good to see him again. And very good to see my old friend. The longer you’ve known someone the easier it is to find equilibrium through their eye on you. I feel mended. But watch out for sad bombs.

Litter in the sun

In Barnes people crowd next to each other all the way down the river wall. I am sent videos from Brighton of thousands of people on the beaches. Hampstead Heath is infested with people, young and old, sitting in groups, booze and stories and laughter. “Nature is the only show.” Maybe that’s a good thing? Huge groups of fashionable young people are scattered over the grassy patches on the heath

These kids, when they might have been revising for their exams (or celebrating the end of them.) They’re outside, plugged into what nature they can find, the sun on their skin, the ground beneath their feet, experiencing reality with bugs and flies and plants, rather than a curated sanitised version of reality sold to them by cruel billionaires.

A normal summer would find them all packed into plasticated basements and buildings made up to look the same whether they’re in London or in Lima, buying painburgers, or £7 pints of chemically treated lager, or £12 glasses of headache wine, or munged up chickens that never saw daylight. Now at least they’re under the sun, even if it’s a plastic packet of ground up pig bits they’re faceshoving.

At least the places look different and there aren’t screens constantly bombarding them with information and a sense of relative unimportance. The call to the familiar won’t be so hardwired in them as they grow older, perhaps. Maybe they won’t be so afraid of things that they haven’t experienced already by the time they reach what passes for adulthood. “Shall we go to the park?” might be a suggestion that is met with approval. Maybe they’ll be slightly wider angle than the adults we seem to have at the moment who are looking for a single reason to dismiss each other’s entire argument so they can carry on being self-preserving garbage grinders.

The downside to it is, in the pub, in the stadium, the fast food outlet, the cinema – in the usual indoor haunts, there is frequently somebody whose job it is to pick up the crap we drop. Not in the park. Not on the beach.

We are descending on these gorgeous outdoor spaces, enjoying a few hours of connection with them and each other through them, and coating every inch of them with tiny bits of plastic and packets and bags and cans and tissues and bottle caps. It’s worse on the beach where the sea will take them quickly and add to the mess of suffocating plastic that, if nothing else does, will eventually be enough to trigger a proper extinction event. But even on the Heath I tend to come home with a bag full of other people’s crap, (when I can be bothered to and have remembered a bag).

It might only be a few weeks before all the London parks are stinking flyblown dumpgrounds. If we are the custodians of this planet we are doing a spectacularly awful job of it. Pick your own stuff up, and why not take more than just what you made? It’s so beautiful here and this is a glorious summer where many of us can rest for a change. Let’s set some intentions. But let’s do it in a way that isn’t judgemental or passive aggressive. People are looking for any excuse to dismiss things that don’t fit their convenience.

Lazy buggers. But we can only do what we can do. Enjoy the sunshine!

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Making hope, somehow

Going through Waterloo and seeing “We’ll be back” on the outside of The Old Vic sends a bolt of sadness through me. I’ve never worked there. I’ve never met for them. I hope it’s true they’ll be back. But…

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This lockdown has come at a time in my professional life where that sort of meeting was looking like a possibility. Just in time for this universal shutdown. I’ve got some lovely credits recently in the can. I was hoping to roll with some momentum. Hum.

There are so many people in my industry, so many good hearts committed to making shared experiences in theatres or telling wild and wonderful tales on camera. And the cinemas are reopening but not the theatres, and this government plan for the theatres makes very little sense and certainly isn’t looking at how to cover the often astronomical cost of renting the buildings which is why tickets sometimes rise to the hundreds of pounds, and why you have to pay in gold for a thimble full of beer.

Even if the actors on those major stages haven’t frequently been me yet, I still want to see those actors being paid handsomely for their work and for the time it took for them to hone their craft.

I always dared to think – I still DO dare to think – that eventually my openhearted gung-ho tenacity will result in a period where those jobs and that joy looks in my direction and I can butter more parsnips. The constant low income over years and years hopefully balances out after decades of tenacity when you get to be part of a community in a beautiful place making stories for a decent wage. So long as you don’t then blow it all on £40 glasses of wine in late night clubs.

But there’ll be none of that if the whole industry goes tits up. It’s starting to happen. The dominos are falling.

Beautiful buildings outside of London, anchoring communities – some are already winding up, others on their last legs. We can’t let these places – the result of generations of love and sweat and passion – we can’t let them turn into JD Wetherspoon’s, even though the beer will be much cheaper. Surely there are new business models and new ways of engaging audiences. The internet can be better used through the creative process to drive connection and ownership. It would be a comfort to know that the government might help financially, but if they aren’t going to do so what else can be done to do the work and to connect that work to community, to that specific building and to the all important money?

Not that I know. But all that work and time and passion… Lifetimes of it measured across thousands of thick skinned good hearted optimists… I’m scared to see what might happen to my industry if we don’t all find ways in which we can pull together to make delightful things that work and that sell and keep the buildings open.

This hot day I’ve been meeting old friends. Good hearts and makers, all of them, in different ways. I’ve got a whole weekend of it coming up. Planning and plotting and making and laughing and connecting. Remembering and forgetting together.

Apparently we will be allowed to rehearse soon. For WHAT?? For broadcast. WE CAN DO THAT IN OUR LIVING ROOM ON ZOOM. THEATRE NEEDS TO BE LIVE AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA

All will be well, somehow. But this is a dark time for the people I love. Many of my friends are in tatters. I’m very glad I went to the woods.

Words and meanings

I’m lying on the heath thinking about words.

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Some people can get very exercised over the names we have chosen to give things, as if accuracy was more important than intention and meaning. It’s strange. As Shakespeare observed, “that which we call a rose / by any other name would smell as sweet.” If the intended meaning is conveyed, then the word has done it’s work, surely?

As a kid I wrote a long form essay, terrible from beginning to end, attempting to talk about the whole history of the world from beginning to us. “Primeval soup” was a phrase I used, and one of my teachers said “technically you should have said primordial soup”. I asked him “to mean what?” and he said “all the mess of matter and liquid at the earliest point in history,” and I thought “well he knew what I meant so what’s the issue?”

Sometimes language becomes about ownership. The in-crowd.

Arrogant ugliness. “I know the jargon better than you ipso facto I am better than you.” How many of you have been momentarily excluded from a conversation because some statusarse corrected your jargon?

I did a Latin in the last paragraph. You didn’t have to know precisely what it meant because the sentence and the context – hopefully – told you. So that’s fine. It’s when you use your specialist knowledge to deliberately exclude others that you should have your nose shaved off with a cheesegrater.

At the Buddhist meeting the other night we were talking about “Nam myo ho renge kyo,” which we chant. Nam is Sanskrit, the rest is Japanese. There’s a lovely mischief at the heart of Nichiren’s practice that says it doesn’t even matter if people don’t know what it means, it’s just about the chanting it.

“If the meaning doesn’t matter, what if we just chant it all in Sanskrit?” asks one of us. And yeah, why not try it? But I guess some of these words and phrases, these sounds and these praises – we’ve arrived at them after years of hunting and perhaps the time spent securing them has deepened their usability. Nam myo ho renge kyo is a choice. It could have been Plip plop bingle bungle boop, but it isn’t, and if you start chanting that one you’re likely on your own, even if it might be fun for a bit. If you chant Nam myo go renge kyo you’re inevitably doing it simultaneously with loads of people all over the world, and plugging in a little bit to that huge web of connection and resonance that shoots through every living creature in every time and every version of reality in this mess of space we’re stuck in.

It’s rife in the spiritual community, this linguistic one-upmanship. It’s a useful way of seeding out the true practitioners from the frauds who do it for ego and money. If somebody slaps you down for getting it wrong they’re probably male and definitely arses.

I was talking with Louise the other day. “Nobody was using the phrase ‘holding space’ ten years ago,” she observed – “but it’s very helpful and we know exactly what it means. I wonder where it came from.” She’s right. It is helpful – and sounds American to me… So we use it. And as long as you don’t correct somebody for saying “running the experience” or “being in charge of the ceremony” then I won’t get the cheesegrater.