The Tourist. Soon I will be one.

My pre bedtime crack this week has been The Tourist on BBC one. I didn’t seek it out. Frankly it just started autoplaying on iPlayer and I was hooked in so I stuck with it.

It’s not super starry, which always pleases me. Jamie Dornan sticks it all together as the baffled lead. But his supporting cast is unusual and human and funny. It’s not the usual array of idealised creatures. Gary Davy in the UK and Ann Fay and Leigh Pickford in Australia have worked well as casting directors to populate it with quirk. I never felt pushed away from it as a result. It’s escapism for sure, and it is occasionally far fetched, but a bit of personality will always sell things to me.

Add to that, it’s shot in the outback, which feels like such an incredibly hostile environment and very alien to my experience. They must’ve been covered in dust and coughing on flies. I would have loved it for the sheer difference of it. Characters spoke in their own language when appropriate, and there was a strong Greek showing from one of the baddies who apparently used to be on Heartbreak High.

It rolls along in these great big sweeping vistas, with everybody having fun in their work and a gentle touch of humour reminds us that despite the thriller feel to it, it’s not trying to take itself too seriously. It has definitely helped me wind down these last few nights, and now it’s finished just in time for me to up sticks and go on holiday after just a tiny bit more work. First though, tomorrow when I have to drive myself to Tonbridge leaving at something like 6.30 in the goddamn morning. I’m going up have to surround myself with alarm clocks and maybe even take some cough medicine to shut my head up and knock me flat.

Today was delightful with very thoughtful year 9 students and old fashioned equipment. I’m absolutely exhausted though and not looking forward to the early exit. Add to it the fact I’m going to have to try to learn and shoot a self tape tomorrow after work and they haven’t sent the sides yet…

Thunk.

Fruit Battery

A momentary visit to the normal world. “The world of work”. Not an office though. Heaven forbid. Today and for the next two days I’m going into schools as a visiting workshop leader talking about Engineering, and guiding young people through a reasonably simple and messy experiment with an orange and some copper and some zinc. You can imagine I’m sure. A fruit battery.

It’s ten at night. I’m in bed with incense, a hot toddy and plinky plonky music. They start early in these schools and I’m always in the first blimming session. Today it was close to me, in South East London. Tomorrow I’ve got be right up past the North Circular at bastard o’clock, and I’ve got to be chipper when I get there. “In terms of my working life this sort of thing is … maybe 5% of my time,” I tell the group. It’s not my calling, but it is constantly invigorating and enlivening to connect with these young people. “But I always make time for this when possible because, believe it or not, coming in here and having you lot try and sass me helps me feel connected and alive and happy.”

It’s paid nicely too.

Another of the strings I managed to attach to my bow over the years. Sometimes they break, like the boats. I’ve learnt that if people get me they want to use me lots. But if they don’t… they don’t. I’m not very neutral. I’m noticeable. It’s why I don’t go well in the poison of office culture. People either treat me as a curiosity or a problem in those places. But I can go into some inner city school and mix it up with a load of gobby 16 year olds and trick them into momentarily giving a shit about science, and in that moment I care about science too. Then I go home and I only care about a nice hot bath and my minimum seven hours kip to be high functioning. I need my sleep. The gradual crawl towards middle age hasn’t dulled my ADHD but I need to retract so I can expand.

So yeah. Copper and zinc electrodes. Orange as an electrolyte. Alessandro Volta did it with brine in 1800 and occasionally some of the students work out that it’s about the juice and not the orange. When that happens it gets messsssssy. We could use a potato with the phosphoric acid instead but it’s harder to sell the idea that they might have a potato in their bag. So an orange it is. And sometimes they get surprisingly high readings when they connect the thing to their ammeter. It’s always the disconnected ones that suddenly show up when we are doing practical things. I was that child.

Discipline was good today at least. Rare for an inner city London school. Yeah sure there were gobby ones who tried to derail everything, but the staff had systems in place that they mostly responded to. The ones who were in “shut up I’m trying to learn” mode – hopefully they picked up something. It’s a positive thing to do for a few days, to go shovel some thinking into people who’ve always had the thinking done for them. “You lot are the future,” I sometimes tell them. Because they are, and they are just as wayward and precocious and bored and angry as we were. But they are inheriting this incredible joyful mess we’ve made. I hope they do okay in it.

Didn’t take a photo so grabbed one from a vid instead

No haggis

Burns Night.

When I was in my twenties I used to make a big deal of it. Clinging to scraps and memories of my father, and having inherited his kilt. Dad liked poetry. I remember reading Keats to him as he lay dying. I was never sure if it helped or made it worse. But my childhood was punctuated by moments where he would be caught by a memory and would quote a scrap of a poem. I found a good number of poets through this shared interest with my father. He left me books to find. Other Men’s Flowers.

Burns Night felt like the best opportunity to have a regular annual blast, as none of my other friends had staked it out and it isn’t one that people tend to make private plans for. Dad liked poems, liked parties and Dad was very Scottish. Back in my twenties I was still trying to work out who I was in relation to his loss. A Scottish party poem night was a place to start. With haggis both meaty and vegetarian. I realised I could coerce my brother into addressing the haggis and he would do it with vigour to the applause of all my young friends who, like me, were definitely going to make it big in the acting world.

I would procure a vast haggis some days beforehand. I would ask people to bring a poem they liked. After dinner there would be a soiree. I’d break out the absinthe and the whisky. If for shyness you didn’t want to read the poem you had brought you had no shortage of people to nominate. There would be a mix of my old friends and the crowd of complicated misfits who I have met through my line of work. One year Steve swore blind that this was genuine Burns:

Ode to a Hangover

I stand upon the pier at Leith. Spewing through my arse and shitting through my teeth.

I haven’t done a Burns Night for so long now. That sort of thing seems harder now somehow. Time was I was plugged in to a big crowd of noisy friends. Every night there’d be something to decide whether or not to go to. Sometimes we’d leave one party halfway and go across town to catch another two or three in one night. Remember those days? Man. Now it didn’t even occur to me to ask a few friends over for a spot of haggis and shouting of a Tuesday evening. I just put a fish pie in the oven and then ran myself a bath and now I’m off to bed.

I even saved some Victorian Burns memorabilia specially. Two busts and a wee plate, perfect for going on the table and holding the veggie haggis.

I might just have to have a big bash in a years time. Get the kilt out of mothballs. Surely by then this shitshow will be starting to make a bit more sense.

Up and down up and down

It’s possible that I got drunk last night before I wrote my blog. The circularity. The bad short term memory exhibited. The extreme conclusions about half remembered people. You poor people.

I read it this morning because I wasn’t sure I’d remembered to post one at all. Open bottle of wine syndrome, I shall call it. “This is good wine. It’s open now. It’ll probably be spoilt tomorrow so I’m better off just having the whole thing now yum yum. Food? Food’s for chumps. More wine. Glug.”

Somehow I hauled this body from the sticky sheets and I dropped it behind the wheel of the car and my brain and hands drove it, assisted by good coffee, all the way to Alcester. How do you pronounce it? You make it rhyme with Ulster. The rest of it is in your head. On the way up my friend Lanna read me a chapter of a book called “Worn” on Radio 4 and it was really interesting. I slowly woke up. I had coffee. I sent her random messages of appreciation.

At eleven I walked into a school in order to watch a man I’ve met once before delivering a workshop about engineering. I sat on a table with 3 twelve year olds. Between us we made a semi-functioning battery out of an orange and some copper and zinc. They’ll pay me for doing that. I’ll send an invoice and money will hit my account.

Two hours later I drove the man who did all the work to Worcester and we laughed about the strange and wonderful life of a jobbing actor. He’s 53. His lady has got a new baby. “It’s one of the adventures I haven’t tried yet.” I asked him a few questions about the workshop. I’ll be delivering it twice on Wednesday in London you see. And once on Thursday. Pays to be prepared. That’s why I went up.

I’m back home now. I really spanked it on those roads. A man possessed. I didn’t know the XTrail could get up to those speeds. I wanted to get home to lasagne and peace.

I’m home now. I don’t think I’ll have anything to drink tonight after last night’s abomination. I’ve got to be super organised all of a sudden (ha) because it turns out that as soon as I get back from The Azores I’m off half cocked somewhere else to work like a train for three weeks in the blazing sunshine. Life, eh? Seems like the old random element has woken up again. And I fucking love it…

“ok Google take a photo”

Stuff

The West London Dump. Park Royal. I have used my West London resident chip to dump a rented van load of stuff without paying. I think you get one every year.

Arriving at the dump I immediately recognise the guy who is “supervising”. I think I wrote a blog about him once, when I had the Soul Van and was doing clearances. I got to know him because I told him I had already salvaged the things that were resellable long before I got to him. Back then he didn’t believe me for 3 loads when I said I’d sorted it. He watched everything super closely. After the third he stopped being interested in my output as he understood that I knew value and he trusted me. He let me do one load almost entirely unsupervised. That’s about when I could’ve made a fortune illegally dumping nuclear asbestos bodies.

He knows the perks of his “I work in the dump” job very very well, that guy. He works a low paid job, but he’s managed to make it positive for himself. “I normally work up in the commercial bit,” he tells me and I know that because I used to have him watch my every move as I was throwing every single box. He was looking for treasure. And nuclear waste. But your eye attunes to what is “normal”. I haven’t been in the domestic waste bit before. When I had the van it was normally up in commercial. In domestic waste, you sort things into categories. It takes a lot longer, but you feel much more as if the things you are throwing away will find another life. In commercial waste, where we had no choice but to throw the Rotterdam flats, it feels like it’s just geared for speed. Even though we had mostly wood, it’ll be just munged and burnt. This is not helpful. It means that the individuals have a romantic idea about dumps, where they put everything into bays and then the things go back round. But the truth is, while you’re carefully separating your cardboard, just up the road there are fifteen vans hydraulically dumping random shit that will just be compacted. Unless the guys at the tip rescue it. Like the guy I remembered.

His home is likely a palace of random beauty. He has an active eBay I’m sure. He’s worked it all out. People throw away lovely things.

I had to throw away something like 6 crates of beer once, after a corporate job. “Take them to the dump,” I was told. And then the producer literally actually came with me in the van to make sure I threw them away. “Sometimes people are asked to take things to the dump and they don’t do it,” he said. “I’m here to make sure you do.” I still think that guy was a fucking psychopath, sitting with me to make sure I threw the beer away… But he was paying me and he had bought the beer, so in the end he had the choice. He could have stopped it. He didn’t.

It still burns me thinking about it, but the beer we threw would’ve been drunk by the likes of my dumpfriend. And maybe that’s okay, because all I can remember about the producer who came in the van with me was that he was unbelievably socially awkward and that nowadays I would have just fought him and distributed the beer amongst the staff, but I’m happier for it to have gone to the dump staff than somebody as awkward as him.

I can’t even remember what the job was. But what a tit, supervising me to throw away beer. I remember very clearly, he volunteered himself into the van at the literal last second. Because yeah, you can be absolutely certain, I would not have thrown that beer away if he hadn’t come in the van to make sure I did. But that is the behaviour of somebody literally evil.

“Did that lion just show up one day?” “Yes.” “Thought so. Great work putting it up there.”

A lion on a plinth. But that must be just the shallow end of what is dropped off in these places. Like me with my unwilling six crates of beer. I knew I was throwing something useful, but I had blonde mister high status on my shoulder and I was way too young and obedient to defy him. Worse things happen all the time.

I was listening to an interview with the son of Harpo Marx. Salvador Dali was a huge admirer of Harpo’s silence. Said he was a true surrealist. He constructed a harp strung with barbed wire as a special gift to Harpo, expressing the pain of his creativity. Harpo’s wife thought it was ugly and pointless. She threw it away. Terrifying in retrospect. Surely even in his lifetime Dali was known enough for her to have a sense of how many millions such a harp could command? Maybe not though. Like the people our dump friend relies on for his wonders. “New lamps for old!” Throw away your beautiful things and replace them with molded plastic tack!!

I threw a lot of furniture into those boxes. It was hard but there’s nowhere to put it. There was one chair I just couldn’t dump. I don’t know how it made its way to us but it was made out of oak and leather at least 200 years ago and I couldn’t just hurl it… It’s in my boot. It’ll likely end up on the street.

Stuff…

Failed attempt

I usually have Radio 4 playing when I drive. Sometimes I’m deep in my head and it’s just noise, but other times I key right into what’s being said. They were running a program about mushrooms the other day and my friend Zoe showed up. Max appears from time to time to tell us about beetles. But even when there’s no personal connection, it’s often interesting and it tends to feel like they’re trying to do the best journalism they can do – and trying to keep it balanced.

In the van today I was enjoying The News Quiz. Inevitably they had to joke about how the current administration have got the knives out for the BBC. It’s a bittersweet listen at the moment, that sort of thing.

There’s a good spread of opinion though on that radio channel, and of course you can’t put a pay-wall on a radio so it’s clear that our esteemed culture secretary is not thinking this through if she wants the Netflix model. Damn I would be lost if radio adverts started to show up on BBC. The times I’ve had long drives tuned into a commercial station have always quite quickly reached the stage where I have to switch it off, change it or drive into a tree to make it stop. I rarely have to do that with Radio 4, although I had a long drive on the day Prince Philip died and I had to switch it off.

The only useful thing I’ve done today is drive. Today was a total failure of a day. I wrote it off. Thankfully when I rented the van they have me 5 days for the price of 4 and I took it in case something like this happened. The dump was closed, so I drove across town to Park Royal and you have to book in advance online these days, and they’d used all their slots. So essentially I drove a massive van full of stuff to Stoke Newington, picked up Jack, drove to Wembley, got turned away, drove Jack back home, went back to where I started. Great big pointless round trip. Now I’m booked in for half twelve tomorrow. Not counting the time with Jack, having to bypass the congestion charge zone meant about two hours driving alone, hence Radio 4 to keep me sane and keep my mind ticking over. Some people I know dismiss the BBC calling it “mainstream media”, but the programming there is so much more varied than all the YouTube videos of people sounding important. I think if I was just listening to that stuff I’d have found the right tree to steer at even in central London.

Tomorrow we will chuck the damp furniture. I will get the van back in plenty of time. All will be well.

Got it out

It was bright in the morning. I went off half cocked. I didn’t even realise how cold it was until I was halfway to the van but then I turned around as I wasn’t wearing a scarf or a coat and I was going to be in that warehouse for hours. I ran back up and grabbed some warmer clothes but no gloves. I own some perfectly functional workman’s gloves. Idiot.

Just a few slices, but there’s no first aid kit or running water. Gaffer tape is reasonably functional as a plaster but next time I’m not going to forget my gloves. Ow.

We got the rest of the stuff out of that warehouse, but we finished way too late for the tip which closes at half three. It’s a hard thing to throw something close to me, but the nature of the warehouse is going to make it easier. We are gonna have to throw away a lot of the Christmas Carol bits that have accumulated over the years.

We put it in there just over two years ago. I remember thinking as we loaded it in that we were probably taking more stuff than we needed. But we brought it all into the warehouse.

The roof leaks. There’s now a fine coating of mildew on everything. Lots of the books are damp. As for the serving platters, they are mostly gone to rust. It’s not the best place to store metal and paper, that warehouse. Problem is though, how do you keep London shows that are sleeping? You need a friend with a barn that’s achievable from London, or you need to have your own family pile. If there’s a barn and it leaks it’s still much better than no barn. Storage space is just way too expensive in a city where some people are asking for £80 a night for you to sleep on a mattress they’ve bunged into the cupboard under the stairs.

Tonight the van is sleeping outside my flat, full to the brim with damp furniture and plastic boxes full of set dressing. We will likely salvage some things – hopefully enough to run a bare bones version of the show in London next Christmas if it feels like the right thing to do. I guess anything else we need we will have to find in pre-production. It was suffering out in that warehouse anyway, and for the short term now we can move what we want to keep into Jack’s office, and throw the rest into the expensive tip.

I’m home now, having properly cleaned and savlonned my fingers, soaked myself thoroughly and made a chamomile tea. Bed is calling. One more day with this van tomorrow. Oh joy.

Big load of rubbish

Ah yes I remember now. The economics of rubbish. As soon as you have a van it becomes very expensive to throw anything away.

We loaded up with a whole damn ton of timber. Massive unwieldy flats with cupboards and electrics embedded in them. It was a squeeze getting them all into the back of the Luton, especially considering I was hung-over. Then we drove to Leyton Bywaters. Too big to transfer into a car or carry them in. We were paying tip-weight however we tried to spin it.

Huge open air piles, where trucks are tipping their backs up and unloading so much stuff willy nilly to be compacted by machines. The air is filled with particles. As we approach in the van, a little bit of tape spool blows across the road in the shifting winter wind. Without the benefit of storage and time we had to send the flats quickly back out of the van. Hopefully the wood will be salvaged. Hopefully there’ll be some use for it. It felt terrifically wasteful, but anybody who knows me will understand how I much prefer to try and reuse things than to buy them new. We hurled it all into the anomalous pile.

A literal ton, and with VAT they expect close to £200 just to give us a place to get rid of it. At that rate you can see why fly-tipping in the countryside is such a terrible problem. If you’re broke and you credit card rented a van for a day to take a load of rubble out of your basement, and then you get told that you’ll be paying £180 a ton with a minimum of £90 – I can see why you might be tempted to sling the stuff into a layby and make it somebody else’s problem. And it’s doubly galling when much of the stuff is decent. That was good wood. Gone now. Good throwing-away practice. I’m still terrible at it.

By the time I got home I was exhausted. I’ve picked up a cough somewhere – perhaps the dust in the warehouse. I was coughing before we even got to the dump. Not likely to be Covid if I’ve just come out of it. But I’m in bed now and it’s barely ten. Gonna get some rest.

Another big load tomorrow, this time mostly antique brown furniture that isn’t good enough to sell. That and large damp antique books, and silver plate candlesticks. Things that have found their way into the Christmas Carol stable over the years and have no value. I’m going to try to avoid tipping them as for one month every year they are golden. But they all have to be somewhere else by the end of tomorrow. I’m leaving nothing but the water tank of doom. The heaviest single object on the planet. I have no idea how that’s gonna move. There’s a forklift right next to it and I was gonna work out how to operate the thing, but apparently it’s already broken which saves me doing it by mistake. That’s for tomorrow. For tonight, rest and coughing…

Having to throw away flats

Driving into London from the East on the M11 at sunset you get a remarkable vista of tall buildings set against the fire of the sky.

Jack and I went to Bishop’s Stortford and loaded up with slightly damp costumes and timber. Our mission is to get this stuff out as cheaply as feasible. We had Marcus there with us at the start. His job was to help us know what was to go and what was to stay. His slightly laissez-faire attitude helped me modify my worry. I didn’t want to chuck anything vital, and at the same time I didn’t want to leave anything that needed to be chucked. I think I’ve got a handle on it now. He didn’t seem to mind so long as we took the obvious things. I was trying to be thorough.

The dump is closed at Park Royal – it’s shut every Tuesday and Wednesday, probably because it’s open on the weekend when people do their house clearance. But it means that the van is sleeping outside my house with a load of flats in it, and random bits of wood. Guys, if you need wood and you have a vehicle the next few evenings I’ll be sleeping in Chelsea with a van full of wooden flats and things that burn. It’s ahead of taking them to the tip in Park Royal and paying tip weight. I’d gladly rehouse anything with you but … you’d have to come to me.

We found a clothes bank and hoiked a huge amount of random theatre costume into it for The Salvation Army. There are going to be some homeless people in Essex looking absolutely fabulous because of this. Tomorrow we will be back to get all the bits of London Christmas Carol that have gathered over the years. I think the biggest bits were originally from Mike Leigh’s Peterloo film, channeled through a Hammer Horror show and eventually into Carol. Some of it we will try to rehome, for sure. But faced with a deadline (Saturday) and a limited amount of time with the van, it is likely we will just be hurling wood into recycling and paying for the privilege. By all means message if you think you can house it. If you cover the petrol I’ll bring it to you. But otherwise, I’ve got a job to do.

After work I went out for drinks with Tristan and his agent, who was in my year at Guildhall. Tristan ended up back at my flat briefly. He found the moleskine capes for the first time, and has taken one. “This is wonderful,” be was gushing. And yes. They are. Very specific. But wonderful. And I’m letting them find a bit more time to find their home. He went home with one under his arm.

The flats I’ve got in my van at the moment have been customised so much that they aren’t much use to anybody as generic flats. They are bulky. They were likely made at great expense in a workshop somewhere. In context they are exactly what was needed. Outside of that … they are just unwieldy chunks of painted wood.

I’ve never been very good at letting go. I try to help things go round again. But this job is too big. I’m having to be ruthless. Tomorrow will be harder as it’s going to be Carol stuff so directly connected to me. I just wish I had a country estate. And a barn. But don’t we all?

I took no photos again… Here’s one of some random bits…

Restful admin day

Van is booked and a few days work on the horizon now. Today was for admin. Booking these annoying tests ahead of travel. Digging around in old invoices. Going to the bank.

It’s cold and dark. There’s beauty in the winter but not so much in London. I’ve been comforting myself with projecting forward to getting away for a week on the 29th. But there’s a good two weeks to fill up first.

It’s ten and I’m in bed. Early start tomorrow. I’ve been reading my almanac. This full moon in cancer is at least proud and visible in the night sky. Something bright to look at. And there’s all sorts of advice about what to plant in the garden, and tide charts. Recipes. Even a little story. “The farmer and the boggart.” I’ve bought this little almanac every year for a few years now and it is a companionable read. It helps me know what to look out for. Makes the grey days a little more mindful.

Holly and robins. Mating foxes. A nebula just shy of Orion’s Belt. Chickweed, pheasants and rhubarb. Good fresh gruyère from France. And I should’ve picked it up earlier as I’ve missed The Holly Man of Bankside, swarming over the Millennium Bridge to the Globe with his troupe of mummers on Twelfth Night. Likely I would’ve gone and enjoyed that – something geeky and trying to be ancient right on my doorstep.

Chinese New Year is coming up though. I’ll be in The Azores so I won’t be able to go to Chinatown. It’s going into the year of my animal – The Tiger. I’ll have to mark it somehow out there. I’ll be staying in a spa hotel that night so there’ll be plenty of opportunity to celebrate and luxuriate in catlike comfort.

It makes me want a garden this almanac. Living in a top floor flat is nice for light and for the view, but it sucks for cats and you can’t plant garlic. Best keep up with the tidying, and start to dream of possibilities. Or get a planter and put it on the fire escape…