Hosting

Right now my friend is sitting at the table behind me. He makes websites for high end products. He’s good enough at it that he can get a 99% user friendliness google rating for his websites. He comes down to London occasionally and sleeps on the sofa so he can drum up business. He’s based in Manchester and is getting started. Staying here for free has allowed him to take opportunites.” I’m really glad of that. And without my asking recently he paid some money in as thanks.

Last night I slept on the sofa with him. It’s a big sofa, we weren’t tangled. My cousin outlaw was in town and she gets my bed, because she’s great and I get put up in Manchester by the same token. She’s a playwright, and like many playwrights, she has a number of remarkable pieces of work that have never been produced. This is put into perspective by the fact that her first play has been translated into 22 languages, is on the A level syllabus and is loved by most people that love good plays. One day someone will cash in on her wonderful unproduced material.

Cousin-Outlaw is the term we’ve settled on for who we are to each other. She married and divorced my cousin, but not before having a brilliant daughter. We first met when I was 17. I was at Harrow at the time, which is a fee paying school with wonderful facilities. In my personal experience it was not a place that encouraged empathy or kindness. It was all about front and being outspoken and opinionated. I was being very heavily teased over years because I wore my heart on my sleeve although with wisdom it was because I was capable of wearing my heart on my sleeve. I remember trying to learn coldness at the time. That was what was being exampled. But I wasn’t very good at it. I’m still not. But even then I knew I was an actor, even if that was about the only thing I was certain of. I had read Charlotte’s play and she was newly married to my cousin Gordon. My uncle had put us next to each other at some formal dinner in Scotland because, in his measure, we were both “arty”. I was impressed by her. She had a play on at The Royal Court. She was in my industry. She was outspoken and quick and alive. I wanted to astound her with my ability to understand plays. Apparently I opened the conversation with “You’re a playwright aren’t you? I read your play. It did nothing for me.” That sounds exactly like the sort of thing the people that were around me would have said, so I’m willing to accept it. I was even more of an arsehole then than I am now. She says “If you HAD understood the play back then I’d be worrying if I was doing my job right.” I sometimes think back to who I was there. I don’t recognise that guy. It’s been a long, hard, searching journey since then, and despite the hardship I’m glad it happened young enough to shift me. I’m still perfectly capable of being an arsehole by mistake. But that guy is dead.

When my cousin outlaw left this evening, she said “I love your flat. It’s the only flat I’ve ever come across in London where people just drop round.” I was moved by that, and it’s true. People often just ring the doorbell. It’s something I’ve cared about for ages. Community. London is too expensive. I’m cash broke because I’ve never properly monetised my craft. I’ve been more interested in getting better at it. This year I want to try to cash in on my ability. But I’ve got this amazing home.

I put my room on Airbnb last weekend and as a result we couldn’t have a massive Sunday lunch with lovely people and we had to tiptoe around and be polite and it felt wrong. I’m a hippy, my mum trained me well. This place only goes back on Airbnb if neither of us will be home. There are other ways of making money that leave you with a happy house to come to. And that’s what I’ve been working on for years. A dear friend once said “Your flat is like an Australian Backpacker motel.” Yes. It is. So for now, if you need a place, come into our lives and make them better by being there. Money will look after itself one way or another. This crumpled sofa is open. It’s more comfortable than it looks.

SOFA

No Change Man, and the dangers of gambling

Day 72. If any of you have heard screaming in London lately, don’t worry, it was probably my subconscious. I’ve been building up to today, which is my explosion day. Best to get it all out the way in one go. Both of my parents died on the same day in different years. 

Rather than go easy on myself I decided it would be the perfect time to put my bedroom on Airbnb. It filled with a French couple who I discovered were interior designers. Chic and opinionated people staying in my run down boho flat. Arse. I apologise to anyone who saw me in the run up to their arrival. I could think of little other than my futile attempts to Elastoplast over the cracks in the decor, and try so hard to make a silk purse out of a cows bum. And with this day looming fast, I went a little splat.

 

Of course it turned out fine. They were lovely and very happy here – but then I have a great home. I fed them bacon and eggs, because that’s what English people eat. They took photos of their breakfast, and ate it all. Then they asked me how I made it. I was glad they’d finished. “Beurre. Trop de beurre. Tous la beurre du monde” I didn’t pay much attention in French. Doctor Holland was a grade A motherfucker. But I can make myself understood. Hopefully they’ll write a nice review before they get the heart attack.

 

Next it was to the launderette to wash their sheets. Knowing how I’m likely to feel this evening I’ve made sure there are people staying in my flat. My cousin outlaw will be in my room, and I’ll be on the sofa with my friend Tom. I’m about to roast a chicken and drink a bottle of red wine before I go off alcohol and meat for a month. But I needed to wash and dry their sheets fast. And a launderette makes sense after being in America where they are a big part of the landscape.

 

Unlike in America, though, British launderettes suck. No ATM. No change machine! Where am I my gonna get my quarters? Coral betting shop, just over the road. Smiley Al comes in, laundry bag over shoulder. No change machine in Coral. “Hello! Can I get some change for the laundry?” This guy isn’t smiling. This guy doesn’t move his face. This guy doesn’t make eye contact. “No. No change. No. No change.” Shit. I’m not getting angry though. He’s behind a sheet of glass and he’s bored enough to want a bit of fun by fucking with me. I’m wearing a suit. I had forgotten until I got that reaction. I look at the machines.

 

The machines don’t give change. They give tickets. I put a tenner in, click on the top left game, wager the minimum of one pound, win nothing, click collect, get the token, take it to the man. He looks at my token, my suit, my token. He scowls. He gives me a five pound note and four ones. “Oh er, can I get five ones instead of this fiver please?” “No. No change. No.” I think he is enjoying this a little. “Come on, I only put it in the machine so I could get change.” “No change.” I need six pound coins plus two for the drier. My reaction to him is not frustration or anger. It’s faint amusement at the situation. He’s breaking up the day for himself. I go back to the machine. Five pounds in. Top left game. Minimum stake. Spin. Bing. £24.20. That’s unexpected. I click collect and take it back to Captain No Change. I hope to get some sort of reaction. He stirs when I come back. I think he is ready to fight me when I ask for four pounds, and tell me I am gaming him or something. But the figure surprises him. He looks at my suit again, then the ticket, then the suit. A long lingering look. Perhaps he is in love with me. He gives me the money with an offhand gesture. “Thank you,” I tell him, and mean it. He’s just washed my clothes for free by being weird. There’s something about karma to be learned there. Maybe he is unhappy. He’ll do himself no good if he keeps saying “No change.”

  

In the launderette I put my coins in the machine and push the button. I watch my clothes spin round and round. When they are done I am disappointed there is no token for £24.20. I try again with the tumble drier. No change there. That’s the problem with these machines. You get a win at the start and then you put it all back in. All I’ve won is dry fragrant sheets. I hump them back home to put them on my bed.

Mother’s Day

My mum died in the Springtime. She was the second of my parents to go. If we are lucky then we will always live to see our parents die. But it shouldn’t happen before you get to 30. Although considerably worse things happen to people on a daily basis at younger ages. Nonetheless it was a formative experience. I came to the hospital to see her – apparently she’d been moved to a ward, which I thought was great news. “She’s finally improving,” I thought. I arrived at the desk and asked how her readings were and the nurse said “Come into this room please, sir.” I remember so clearly the ice that shot through me. Her manner instantly signalled what had happened. But then I had to honour the nurse’s training. I said, “Oh shit, is she dead?” She had been trained to get the person into the room first. “Come into the room, please.” “Just tell me.” “Come into the room, please.” “Is she dead?” “Come into the room please.” etc for ages. The room was a little office behind the reception desk. Eventually I went in. She followed with another nurse. Then the whole rigmarole started again with “Sit down”. There was no way I could sit down, knowing already what she had to say. “Just tell me if my mum’s dead, please, I won’t smash the place up.” I couldn’t sit. I remember in that moment having to find enough compassion for the nurse to make it easier for her by sitting. She still had to follow due procedure. On the 27th March at blah blah blah. I just wanted to see her. Shortly afterwards I did. She wasn’t cold yet, but was departed. Whatever had made the life that was her had gone elsewhere. She had a daffodil on her.

 
When you see a loved one dead it shifts you. First you have to come to terms with the incontrovertible reality of their departure. Then it can take a while to remember how they were when they were alive. That shock of seeing the life you once loved reduced to inanimation – it can temporarily rejig your memories. It took me years to unsee her like that. I will never fully, but now when I hear the word “mother” I think of more than that daffodil laid upon an empty vessel. I think of days on rainy beaches energetically looking for things the sea had brought in. I think of dancing hippy wild in the living room aged fifteen to records. I think of how she could become closer to my friends than I was sometimes. I think of how everyone in all the shops near her flat knew her as “Mrs B”. I think of how a homeless woman found my bag when I was at college, and rang her new mobile number because I’d written it by the word “mum” in a pad. The two of them ended up scheduling regular telephone conversations. Mum would ring a certain payphone at a certain time and they would talk about whatever they needed to talk about. Mum spent her life on the phone.

 
We always fight with our parents, and I fought with her. She wanted me to be happy and comfortable, and to her mind that entailed me not being an actor. I respect that desire in her. And I know what she meant now, as it hasn’t been easy. But it’s been joyful, and I know if she could see that joy she’d understand my choice. I still sometimes wish I could see her for advice, or for that basic unconditional nurturing love that comes from a parent and no other source.

 
Today, with Mother’s Day coming the day before her deathiversary, it’s inevitable that my thoughts fall to her. Mum’s are great. Look after yours if they’re still around. Honour them if they’re not.

 
I just went round my brother’s house and found loads of photos of my mum. This one is from 1969 when she was modelling, courtesy of my niece…


Happy Mother’s Day.

 Fitzrovia Radio Hour

I’ve worked in the entertainment industry long enough to know that there’s almost nothing a little bit of tape won’t fix. Smashed a prop? Something wobbling? Broken heart? Something smoking in the rain? Costume problems? Sole coming off? “Tape it, mate.” I thought I’d apply that philosophy to the problem with my iPad going kablooie. The screen was coming off the front to that extent that typing my blog entries was driving me nuts. I used to enjoy it. Turns out it was nothing a bit of tape couldn’t fix. Now it’s as good as new. Well, not as good as new, but I can write this. 

Today I am doing the most English show you can possibly imagine. I’m in a little back room of a church in Blackheath eating shepherds pie. I’m in a jacket and bow tie with my hair slicked back. In just over 40 minutes I’ll be going on stage to perform with The Fitzrovia Radio Hour. It’s a show made a decade ago by a bunch of lovely misfits, and they got me in for the last five years. They started at the Bourne and Hollingsworth Bar in Soho ten years ago. After three years up at Edinburgh they’ve toured extensively, touching Ambassadors Theatre, The Globe, The Vaults, St James Theatre, and loads of other venues and theatres in London and all over the country. I just asked Jon for a sound bite, and he said “We’re the Fleetwood Mac of theatre.” I bought this iPad three years ago with the money I got from touring with them. It seems appropriate that I’ve used their LX tape to jerry rig the thing back together. Ideally I need another lovely job so I can just replace it the thing and have done with it.

 

Over on stage, there are two Victorian style microphones, and a foley box for sound effects. The game of the show is that you are the studio audience for the famous Fitzrovia Radio Hour in the 1940s. You will watch us perform episodes of our long running soaps, and long form complete tales of horror, bravery, derring do and social impropriety. This evening we have episode 869 of The Romance of Helen Sims, “A London secretary sets out prove what all women long to prove – that romance can exist beyond the age of 35.” We have an adventure story set in the untamed Pacific – It Came From The Black Abyss. We also have some elocution lessons, as we are in South East London, so we must teach them to “speak proper like what we do.” And the evening is sponsored by Rose’s Carbolic Soap, so there are three adverts with lovely songs about body odour.

 

We have a huge pile of random objects with which to make sound effects. My effects range from typewriters and phones to dying krakens and harpoons. It’s going to be ridiculous. And with this amount of rehearsal it’s bound to go wrong somewhere.

 

We are raising the roof and raising money for the church roof. I told you it was the most English show in the world. I was asked to come in and do it in my last week in LA, and I thought it would be great to have an immediate point of focus when I got back. It’s to get money to mend the spire in this lovely Norman church in Blackheath. St Michaels and All Angels. We rehearsed evenings and weekend so we could all do our various day jobs.

 

I’m on in fifteen minutes so I suppose I need to screw my new head on. I just wanted to get this written before the show, knowing how things can sometimes go afterwards. Wish me (redundant) luck.

Odd job

I’ve ended up doing a huge amount of very odd stuff over the years, when I haven’t been doing the thing I am supposed to be doing. We need to tick over in the gaps, and I am willing. When someone asks “what’s the weirdest job you’ve ever done,” I have to think, as it’s hard to work out the answer. Perhaps dressing as a giant elephant, knocking over a shelf full of Kotex products to reveal the new tampax jumbo pack. Perhaps one of the many times at parties where I have been Robin Hood or Henry Viii or Phileas Fogg or a paparazzi, sometimes loving it, sometimes just thinking of the paycheck and hoping nobody recognises me. Last summer I was Doctor Frankenstein with his monster in rush hour in Southwark. One time I had to improvise a scene about how salesmen persuade supermarkets to give more shelf space. Someone had just bought some “actors” for a few hundred quid. It came through my agent and we showed up on the day and the guy said “So you’ll do your scene at 2.15”. We said “What Scene?”. He said “Oh, you know, just something about sales technique and our brand values.” We made something in two hours with a silent comedy soundtrack that involved a salesman giving ever larger bags of money to a reluctant buyer. It was awful, but the delegates laughed.

 
About three years ago I was frequently going to Amsterdam to hold bottles of Sol lager and say “Espiritu Libre”. I ended up doubling the job with playing Oberon for The Dutch Factory on an island off the coast, which made it worthwhile. I’ve sold all sorts of things, including fine leather sofas and advertising space in a black men’s lifestyle magazine. I’ve ridden unwieldy bicycles with advertising hoardings around run down areas of middle England, announcing a new Tesco. I’ve driven hideous slow three wheel scooters on the streets of London, also advertising as people honked and swore and undertook. I’ve been a Santa hologram projected into a booth on Oxford Street and seen genuine wonder in people’s faces when they’ve realised I can actually see them. I’ve been Santa in many other bizarre contexts. I’ve been sweating buckets, cooking, weeping with exhaustion as beaming children have shouted “Pudsey” and hugged me. Pudsey is silent. He cannot beg for help. He can just wave. You sign a form saying you understand that Pudsey is silent before you wear his head. If your spotter isn’t paying attention you could easily bake your own head. I almost did. For some years I worked on speedboats on the Thames. At this time of year I often think about that job. Of all of the day jobs I used to do, it was my favourite. But you can’t get too attached to your dayjob if your priority is elsewhere. As I learnt.

 
Today I went into a school and tried to help a load of kids to be more employable. It’s lovely work, and thankfully pretty sporadic as it’s exhausting. But at the end of the day they gave me this, which hasn’t happened before. My beard is looking dope. I could be a farmer.

Westminster Bridge

Last night I walked home by Westminster. The streets were thronged with people walking, but quiet due to lack of cars. There was a cordon around Westminster, and police stationed all around it. Many of them were talking to Londoners looking for a way home. I heard a compassion in their voice which is often absent. They were not speaking as authority figures, enforcers or instructors. They were speaking as fellow beings. One of their own had been knifed to death. Another had taken the life of the attacker. Innocent people had been arbitrarily killed out of hatred or ideology, and one man had killed another man as part of his job. Details were sketchy. Speculation was rife. Thank god we don’t have easily accessible guns here. But last night, as is often the case after an event like this, Londoners came together.
Shock makes people talk. I wanted to listen, so I let people talk to me. I had conversations about how our liberty may or may not be affected. One man said “ten years ago, people were happy.” I didn’t agree but I just let him talk. He wanted to. I thought of my childhood. My grandmother from Jersey warning me not to go out in London in case I got bombed by the IRA. Some conversations were innocuous: “I wonder where we can get across the river” and so forth. Some were loaded. I came upon a pale smartly dressed woman who was shouting. She was at the top of The Aldwych. I asked her if she was alright and she shouted swear words at me. A mixture of English and another language, her mother tongue, not one I recognised. She had been crying, she appeared mad. And yet she had sat down in the morning and put makeup on. Had she witnessed it and got knocked off herself? It felt like she must have been affected by it. She shouted at me a while. It was hard to understand her and her eyes were wild and panicky. I tried to check if there was anything I could do, but even though she seemed to need to tell me something, I had to walk away because it was packaged with hostility. I hope the right person found her and helped her come back to herself, as she was buried deep. I hope she ended up okay. Maybe she woke up this morning and went to work. People died yesterday for literally nothing, and some of them were visitors to our country. What a foul thing to have happened.

 

On social media people started policing other people’s reactions, which is never smart or pleasant. Some marked themselves safe, others said that doing so was sensationalist behaviour and feeding the disruption. The people that had marked themselves safe felt indignant or upset for being criticised, the people that thought we shouldn’t fan the flames composed eloquent monologues analysing motive and fallout and implications. The people that marked themselves safe did it to make themselves feel a bit better, the people that monologued did it to make themselves feel a bit better. But it’s hard to feel better when you’re arguing about the right way to respond to something. Sometimes it’s better to just respond. Perhaps the shouting woman had it right, to just stand on a street corner and howl in multiple languages until all that badness is out of her. Like lancing a boil. I sometimes scream when loud trains are coming past near me. People think it’s the train if you pitch it right. I considered having a go, but there were too many police with guns, and I’m heavily tanned with a beard right now. Jumpy police and screaming beardy guy = bullet in the face.

 

No matter what we think of the ramifications of this, let’s try and be kind to each other in the next few days. As I said, shock makes people talk, and it’s a shock, so we need to talk. But let’s accept that some people will be emotional, and sometimes they’ll need to just shout or cry. And other people will be analytical and consider the repercussions and the aftereffects quickly and eloquently. Neither reaction is wrong. Analysis is as vital as emotion in the nature of how we process things as a society. Some people are better at one thing, and some the other. That’s what makes us mighty.

 

I’m going to end with this short poem by Wordsworth. He wrote it while on Westminister Bridge over 100 years ago. Wordsworth tried to live his days in a way where he was as emotionally connected and open as possible, and then after the experience he’d go back and try and recollect what he felt and put it into words. This is one of the poems that just pinged out of him on site, where the emotion he was experiencing forced the poem before the luxury of getting home and thinking about it.

 

Earth has not anything to show more fair:

Dull would he be of soul who could pass by

A sight so touching in its majesty:

This City now doth, like a garment, wear

The beauty of the morning: silent, bare,

Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie

Open unto the fields, and to the sky;

All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.

Never did sun more beautifully steep

In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill;

Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!

The river glideth at his own sweet will:

Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;

And all that mighty heart is lying still!

 

I’m not feeling his tranquility. I’m conflicted, torn between my analytical part and my empath part. But in such times, poetry is a strong resource. Arguably it’s what it’s for. Plus it’s lovely to consider that bridge in such a calm light. It will long be tainted with darkness now. This mess we’re in…

 

That’s my 1000 words worth.

BAFTA

Since I’ve been in LA sticking shiny things to myself, it’s only appropriate that one of my first nights back is a shiny London night. I went to BAFTA to see the screening of two films from the Ghetto Film School. Ghetto works with kids “from backgrounds traditionally underrepresented in the film industry.” They get to work with amazing equipment provided by Sky, they are hands on in every part of the process from script to grading. It’s a great chance for these kids to pick up skills that will pay them well in life, and to gain confidence in the process. 

I met them on Skype last summer. You periodically have to do Skype auditions. They’re odd. I had two theatre directors with me at the time and had co-opted one of them to hold the phone while the other one read everybody else. She did it with that huge attack that theatre directors often have when they act. I was reading for the angry ghost of William Shakespeare and the utter balls-out irreverence that Holly read with helped me land it, I reckon. Three weeks later I was at the National Theatre costume hire trying on different ruffs and earrings. A month later I was in The Coronet in Elephant and Castle, watching a 17 year old girl that had never spoken in public confidently instructing 150 extras, and feeling proud of her for it. That was when I really made sense of what a lovely thing I had got involved in. The kids grew through the work. Our director Nico was 16. Every note he gave me was playable, which is more than from some of the experienced people I’ve worked with. It was a busy week, but morale was high. Everyone was enjoying it. What a glorious project Ghetto Film School is.


When you film something it goes very fast. It’s hard to remember what you did. You move around the story in a non linear manner, committing to isolated snippets. By the time you get in front of the camera for a shot, loads of people have already done loads of work. You’ve been driven, made up, powdered, costumed, tweaked, microphoned, fed. You’re in a little area that has been beautifully lit and dressed. You stand in the light. All around, people are working on details. Maybe someone asks you to say something for levels. Maybe someone explains the shot to you. Maybe you’re there with other actors, maybe not. Quiet is called for. Someone is usually doing something to your hair right up to the wire, or powdering you, or brushing something off your shirt. Then there’s a sort of rhythm which varies depending on the group. But camera rolls and that’s announced, and then sound might call “speed”, which is only necessary when you shoot on film but some people do it for old time’s sake. Then there’s the clapperboard, everybody knows the clapperboard, calling the shot, making it easier for the editors. Then “Action” which is your cue. The camera is looking at you but you’re just a tiny part of it. You say whatever it is you say, and do whatever it is you do, and someone shouts “cut,”. If they’re old school and they’re happy they’ll shout “check the gate”. I like that tradition. It’s left over from shooting on celluloid where a good shot could be ruined if a hair got in the gate where the film hits the camera. Once it’s cut, there’s a breath of relief as everyone carries on the conversation they were having or bangs the thing they’ve been waiting to bang. 

 

Either it resets and you go again or everyone moves to the next shot. By the time you’ve been on set for a while you’ve lost track of what you have and haven’t done and how you’ve done it, but thankfully someone else is keeping track of that for you. You have to do your job and trust that everyone else will do theirs. The editors will hopefully cut it together nicely. You go home and probably forget all about it. Sometimes it’s ages before you see it and you’ve almost entirely forgotten the whole process. And that was me last night.

 

Watching the finished product last night at BAFTA was delightful. We had some of the kids over from America, and some big industry people like Barbara Broccoli watching their work. Emma Thompson was there too but I sucked in the desire to fanboy her. The kids got to do a Q&A afterwards to a packed audience. I think they’d have got a lot from it. And the film played nicely. I didn’t want to throw things at myself on screen. In fact I had a glorious evening. In many ways.

 

At some point the movie might appear online and if it does I’ll link you to it. But to have been involved in what must have been a hugely empowering experience for kids so young was great. And now I’ve always got a captured memory, and a useful calling card in the endless quest for the next job.