Hockney and cats

Day 19 and after a morning’s work I’m restless. I’ve been sitting editing with the dogs in the garden but it’s cold. So I go to a nearby David Hockney retrospective. Hockney is 79. He is from Yorkshire, near Bradford, and has spent many years painting and working in Los Angeles. He’s a legend. He has recently released a new book, Sumo, a journey through the bulk of his art, retailing at $2500. Taschen, the publisher, has some copies on display not far from where I am. And the man is in the news tomorrow so it seems like the perfect time to celebrate his works.


I spend some time absorbing his life’s work. At one point he said he paints because he knows that the world is deeper and richer than the one we can capture in a photograph. His paintings are often wonderfully celebratory, and sometimes deeply human. He is playful. And he works hard. Properly hard. Twelve hours a day. I feel guilty taking time off to see them on a weekday. But it’s galvanising stuff. Wild bright colours, the colours that things really are before our eyes before our expectations mute them. Bodies with heft and movement. I’m captivated. And he’s a cheeky bugger. He’s accepted a commission to paint the masthead for The Sun tomorrow. He’s done a spectacularly naive job, and released this as a public statement : ” I was delighted to be asked. Once I thought about the idea it didn’t take me long. The sun and The Sun. I love it.” If anybody thinks that that is anything other than a brilliant troll of the naïveté peddled by that paper, they’re barking up the wrong tree. Good on Hockney. Take the money and spend it on good things and good people. I love it.
As I leave the exhibition I get a video sent to me by a friend. It’s advertising a place called “Crumbs and Whiskers” which is a café come cat sanctuary, where you can get a latte and sit in a fluffy room full of cats. It’s only twenty minutes away on google maps, and my friend is sad so the least I can do is go and spend some time there. She can’t. It’s essentially a convivial version of Battersea Dogs Home filled with overexcited single people running around grinning like idiots. I join them. It’s a great idea.


All the cats are from sanctuary and all are up for adoption. They have a tally on one wall of how many cats they’ve found homes for. Considering cat sanctuaries are often free but you donate, this is actually pretty expensive. You have to pay a minimum of 9 bucks to get in, and coffee is also more expensive than anywhere else. Essentially they are using customer cash to help rescue animals live with a much higher degree of comfort than they would in a sanctuary, and simultaneously raising their chances of adoption. It’s the sort of business model that should take off, both over here and in London.
I play with the idea of setting up a Dog cafe in Hackney, before coming back down to earth and realising that I’ve got a lot of catching up to do with Hockney regarding hours put in to my acting career. On the way home I fantasise about having a Hockney picture. And a cat. And a dog. In my big house in Larchmont that I’ve paid for with a working career.

Speakeasy

Day 18 and after far too long editing cutting and chopping my script, (it ain’t over when you submit) I’m in need of some fun. Thankfully Debbie from the Griffith Park day has invited me to a soirée. It’s at a place called “No Vacancy”. Starts at eight. The way that my body clock is wired that’s already pretty late for me. I was up and out for 7.30 this morning. So I get there on time. It’s in a parking lot, with a neon “No Vacancy” sign. Looks like a dive, and it isn’t open when I arrive at 8. There are three lads sitting outside talking about the Superbowl, and an oily guy in a suit industriously moving around some velvet barriers in order to appear busy. When I ask him if I’m in the right place, he indicates his walkie talkie. “My girls ain’t ready yet. You just gotta wait.” I wait. The lads are being very laddish. I don’t sit with them, I walk around the parking lot. It’s not hot tonight but it’s manageable.

 

At quarter past eight he says “ok lads. You can go in. Welcome to the oldest bawdy house in California.” I follow the lads up the stairs to a corridor full of doors. They all go in one door, and I almost follow them before noticing that it leads to a small room with a woman sitting on a bed. For I moment I back off. “Er… I think I might have…” I trail off. “No, it’s alright.” She says. “Yeah this is right,” says one of the dudes. His energy is not that of someone about to pay for group sex. And her energy is a performers energy. Having been a little slow, and genuinely worried, I wise up. I shut us in the room. The five of us together. “Welcome. I am the madam.” *eek* “The rules are, no flash photography.” *phew* And then THE BED OPENS AND THERE IS A STAIRCASE. This is awesome. I go down. Not like that.

 

It’s a bar, dressed up like an old prohibition era whore house. Lots of open fires, loud music, expensive drinks. I know I’m not drinking but I think this might call for a whisky. My friends aren’t here yet so I take a shot of bourbon and sit by the fire. Somewhat perplexingly the first place I sit smells of… well… could it be a Bradford pear? Or is that just my overactive imagination? My friends haven’t arrived yet so I move  back to the bar, nurse my bourbon and write this.

 

I like the fact that the look and feel of basic currency hasn’t changed in this country for as long as I’ve been alive. British currency has changed frequently, enough that it would be totally unrecognisable in its current form to someone from the ’70s. Here I’ve got my roll of dollar bills, and if the music wasn’t a bit shit I’d be able to believe I had traveled back in time.

 

And then suddenly everyone in LA film descends on me, and I’m having animated and fun conversations with interesting diverse people. A room full of producers, all of them lovely, and it helps that one of my best mates is a producer as I know the dynamic. Inevitably some of us end up in a photo booth. 


One guy, the only other actor, says “how the hell did you end up at this party after only two weeks?” I say I have no idea, because I don’t. Although probably because I’m just here to have fun.

 

But there’s a crash coming. I’ve slept very little in the last few days, and drunk nothing in weeks. That bourbon was all very well, but I’m at a point where it’s either drink five more or get an uber. I choose the latter. I say farewell to this remarkable bar, the last surviving Victorian townhouse in Hollywood. I get home, have a shower and then have to coax the sleeping dog from my coat. She always sleeps on my coat. But then she farts. Let sleeping dogs lie my ass. Out you go, Janey.

Writing about writing

Day 17 and my friend and business partner rings me up from Indiana. He’s out there doing Shakespeare with Actors From The London Stage. They’re a beautiful creative actor led company that has been touring for 50 years. The two of us did Much Ado with them two years ago and it’s a very happy memory. When he rings I’m in full Hemingway, sitting writing in the garden with my shirt off, surrounded by dogs, eating an orange just plucked from the tree. 


I can hear the cold in his voice. He’s popped out of rehearsal to touch base about some of the work we’re making. It’s good to hear from him but crazy to think that we’re in the same country and he’s freezing. But then this country is vast. And Trump is president of all of it. We talk for a while. It’s good to talk to a friend. Eventually he has to go – his hands are getting cold. I contemplatively munch my orange and get back to writing. It’s great to know that there are plans afoot already, and when this excursion comes to an end I’ll have things I can get stuck into in springtime London. 

As I write to you I’m extremely relieved. Today is a red letter day. I managed to submit, on time, my first draft of my first ever screenplay. It’s for the spoof Oscar night I’m doing, and it’s a parody of Denzel Washington’s Fences. The films were chosen randomly out of all the Best Picture nominees. I used FadeIn to do the formatting. It’s free, which is great, although it forces you to use Dropbox to export. I had a choice with the script between playing it safe and getting in something I knew would pass muster but wouldn’t amuse me, or playing it fast and loose and putting some of my humour into it, while taking some risks with tone. I chose fast and loose, of course, and sent it off with my heart in my mouth thinking “they’ll hate it they’ll hate it.” It was written in 2 days with very little time to review, consider or plan, so it’s never going to be Citizen Kane. To be honest I had no perspective left on it. I just had to finish it and send it. As soon as it was submitted I switched off everything and went to yoga, and when I came out I didn’t have lots of hate mail. Namaste. I think I’m going to be using a lot of that software going forward.

 

The only other thing of note I did today was record a pop video on my smartphone… One of my old friends is releasing a video for Valentine’s Day and wanted to have a mishmash of all her single friends lip syncing along to her voice. Obviously I’m game, but Mark was in cooking dinner which meant I couldn’t sing along in falsetto like I wanted. So it’s me, mouthing along with my huge fluffy beard, and her high pitched gospel soaring out of the speaker. Once it’s edited I’ll work out if I can post it on here.

 

The last two days have mostly involved me writing, which doesn’t make for good blog action. I’ll do my best to get myself into some scrapes tomorrow.

Supermarkets

Day 16 and I have to go shopping again. My first few shopping trips in this country were unmitigated disasters. The first time was when I walked to Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice and ended up in a place called Erehwon. That was my third night here, and I wasn’t to know any better. There was a man in cargo shorts with a waxed beard and a Mohawk talking earnestly about the healing properties of quinoa. I thought at the time that he was an actor stationed there to validate all our prejudices regarding hipsters. And they could have paid him healthily. 8.99 bucks for bread, 14 bucks for a chicken salad in a plastic packet. Robbery. 

The second time was when I went to Whole Foods, but I knew I was going to get skinned going in.

 

Tonight was closer to my childhood memories. A great big basic supermarket. As a young man I used to come to the states frequently. First of all to Nassau where my dad was working, then later on to Maine where my wonderful ridiculous godfather lived. I remember at the time being captivated by the cereal selection. Over in the UK there’s nothing even close to what they have here. Probably due to food standards. Froot Loops in bright fluorescent colours that rip off the roof of your mouth and inject the sugar directly into your bloodstream. Lucky Charms with marshmallows that squeak as you eat them. Corn Pops that are so big and round you can only get a few on the spoon. Flintstones, captain crunch, cinnamon toast crunch, leprechauns and toucans and bears and rabbits all waving at you from the shelf in gaudy packets. And free stuff! Trolls, Star Wars, cars, animals, a chance to win a console… “mum can we have this? Pleeeeease” Even the steeliest parent would be worn down. I wasn’t allowed fizzy drinks in England. I started every day in America with a sugar rush like you wouldn’t believe, which was then carefully serviced by regular injections of fluorescent drinks with shouty names, and with multicoloured chocolates that had nothing whatsoever to do with milk and everything to do with sugar. No wonder everyone’s so cheerful here. They’re wired. Most of my American childhood memories involve running round in circles. I found a photo of myself aged 14 at my godfather’s place in Maine and I’m properly tubby after only two months. Most likely having guzzled 8 cans of Mountain Dew every day. I loved that stuff. In the UK they have to call it an energy drink because of the sugar content.

 

I had to parent myself today, and I didn’t do a good job of it, I’ve come home with a six pack of Root Beer, a box of Lucky Charms, and a couple of packets of Reeses Pieces. They were on multibuy! I’m thinking of it as comfort food, as I am deep in work mode now, having to throw out a nicely formatted script to the wolves before tomorrow evening. I’ve never written a script to a deadline before, and despite being very glad to have been thrust into it without time to second guess or overthink, I could use a bit longer. I had to force myself to go to yoga, and writing this is just so I can have a break from writing.

 

Just getting used to the formatting, the way that shots need to be expressed, the visual nature of it all – it’s a steep learning curve. I spent most of this morning sitting in a garden swearing at my iPad. I can certainly think of worse ways to spend a day though, and everybody in this city is supposed to be carrying around a screenplay. Once I crack it then perhaps I can put the fact that I enjoy making things with words towards the circumstance that I am always sodding broke.

 

A photo. Damn I never remember to take photos for this. Here’s one I took of an auspicious waxing crescent moon with The Evening Star shining brightly as Venus sits at her peak.


 I took it as I am trying to look for positive signs at the moment, and had just left yoga, where the instructor had been protesting, took her dog into the studio, immediately remarked that there was only one man, and made the class about putting people back together. There’s anger and fear under the surface here, popping out occasionally. It’s a strange time. I think it’s allowable for me to have some root beer. And a lucky bowl of lucky charms.

Books and stories

 Day 15 has been mostly about stories. I woke up in a little Reiki studio in the valley. As usual I went walking almost immediately. Lots of lovely houses and then I hit a cul de sac, where the wind was bringing me the very distinct smell of death from one of the houses. Not wanting to go back past the smell, (I was running all sorts of fantasy scenarios) I climbed a fence and walked down the side of a main road until I got to a shopping mall. The usual smattering of strange food concessions, but I was drawn in by the promise of “Barclays Coffee and Tea.” I needed a coffee and what better place? I wish they’d had branded mugs. They didn’t but the coffee was fine. 

And the shop next door is the 10 dollar bookstore. The best shop I’ve found so far in the states. I love this place. I was in heaven. It’s a huge second hand bookshop with great prices, really nicely organised. It feels like a library where you can buy the books. There were tables for people to sit and read, even. And while I was in there I saw good trade. I decided I could budget ten bucks and buy a load of books that I hadn’t read. I went seeking American classics.

 

Despite having studied it at school and written essays about it parroting received wisdom, I’ve never read To Kill a Mockingbird. I was mostly distracted bored or angry at school, and my essay technique usually involved attempting to mask a total lack of information with an entertaining prose style. As anyone that reads this every day might have noticed by now. I also picked up this lot:


I’m already halfway through To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s great to put faces to names, like Atticus Finch and that dreadful ’90s pop band “The Boo Radley’s”. I probably would have loved the book at school but I was put off by having to study it. Or maybe I was just pissed off or distracted. But I’m happy with it now. Although after this evening I’m not sure I’ll have time to get through all of them.

 

This evening I went to Scott’s house, the team leader for this Oscar spoof thing. He lives opposite a dog sanctuary so I arrived to a deeply confusing, varied and wild cacophony of barking and howling. I was upset despite him ensuring me that it’s a pretty good sanctuary. The noise was crazy.

 

We watched Fences. It’s good, but I instantly feel uncomfortable spoofing it. And it seems that scribing duty has fallen to me. After the screening, (and a little bit before the screening) Scott started churning out gallons and gallons of unpasteurised ideas, which I noticed were just being said and then a new one was being said and no one was recording them. I recognised this instantly. One of my oldest friends and collaborators, Tassos, should be followed by a scribe at all times. I knew that someone had to take the mantle so I grabbed a pen and spent the next forty five minutes saying “wait what? Explain that? And then what?” Someone had to. At the end he said “So great, Al, I take it you’re going to turn that into a script for us?” Fuck.
  

Now it seems I am going to have to turn all of his ideas and the structure we managed to bang out into a tasteful but funny pastiche of a 1912 Pittsburgh tale of self isolation, family ambition and parenthood. Well, It was only a few days ago I wrote on here that I felt I should do more writing while I’m out here. Willing or unwilling, that’s what’s happening… and to a tight deadline. Wish me luck.

Donkeyman

Day 14. I’m stubborn. I foolishly consider it to be a positive trait. I wouldn’t still be banging my head against this way of making a living if I wasn’t. But I have to learn that it’s not always the best way.
I had a pedicure. My first ever. Probably my last. It cost me 15 bucks on groupon. It was pleasant, despite the 2 year old running around dressed as a samurai in the salon. But then it all went wrong.

 

It began when I looked at my phone and said to myself : “39 bucks for an uber pool? Stuff that, there must be a cheaper way.”

 

Three hours later I have tried and failed to sign up to zipcar twice, been on the phone to their customer services three times. I have been into most of the car rental places in Santa Monica. “Come on, if I had booked yesterday online you’d be able to release a car for 16 bucks. I can pay you 20.” “I’m sorry sir I can only do what the computer says.” I’ve made the lady at Sixt fill in the form to tell me how much I can get the only car left (a corvette) for, and then tried to knock her down to 22 bucks from 220. “You close in ten minutes and you’re not open tomorrow. You might as well just knock a 0 off.” “Even if I could we’d need a 1000 buck deposit, sir.” “Oh, um…” 

 

All this time I have been obsessively checking and rechecking uber pool, lyft line, uber pool, lyft line. No change. 37 – 42 bucks ballpark. Damn you Santa Monica and all your internet money, racking up the price of transport. Uber certainly prices to the market. LA pool prices go as low as $2.99. You never get less than a fiver in London. But getting a car from Ocean Drive in Santa Monica…? Not smart. It’s one of the places where they take the chihuahua out of the Louis Vuitton and give it 10 buck horchatas.

 

Eventually I find a lyft for the right price. hallelujah. 10 bucks. IT TAKES ME TO THE WRONG ROAD. There are multiple roads with the same name. Oh god I am so angry by now. All I needed to do was spend 40 bucks for a luxurious one way trip. I could’ve chilled out. Read my book. Now I’ve blown ten bucks to go the wrong fecking way. I sit and chant for five minutes to get my head back, and then find an uber pool, to the right road, for another tenner. 20 bucks. It’s mounting. But then my friend texts to say he’s in a hurry. He’s been waiting with his son in the cafe at Whole Foods. This is a pool, but I’ve noticed my driver has a Russian accent. So when the pool thing beeps, and he’s about to leave the damn interstate to pick someone else up, I instantly offer him five bucks to ditch the guy. I take it out of my wallet and put it in his hand. He does. According to my sister in law that’s how most business is done in Russia. 25 bucks now though. But I get to my friend on time. 2 hours later than planned after about 4 hours of running around in the sun talking about car prices. That’s 4 hours for a saving of 15 bucks. I’m an idiot. This sort of behaviour is the source of most of the arguments I have with friends and loved ones. Because despite all of that, I still have a little grin on my face. “Ha, great. I saved 15 bucks. That’s the pedicure.” SMACK

 

Where was I going? To an old friend’s house. He’s made a home over here, and built a network around him of good things and good people. The last time I saw him we walked in Richmond Park and he said he was off to LA. I most likely reflexively said “Ahh that place isn’t for me. I’ll never go there. I’m the opposite of LA” Now I’m here, in his house, in a little room that his wife uses to practise Reiki, about to turn in. He’s enjoying his work, he has a lovely family, and he seems calm and solid while I’m running around stressing about the price of a pedicure. It’s past time to employ my epic stubbornness more lucratively than for a 15 buck saving. 20 bucks at least. And a big house in LA, a 22 buck Corvette, and an acting career that pays the bills. Thankyouplease.

 

I took no photos today. You’ll have to look at my treated feet. If that doesn’t put you off nothing will.

Theatre in a shop front

Day 13. My lucky number. My dad always liked to derail superstitions. If I said something was unlucky he would say “Ahh but it’s lucky for Barclays”. He adequately trained me in a wide variety of contrarian ways of thinking which have informed the mess that I am today. But appropriate that the 13th brought me an audition, thus already matching my haul for the last six months in London. And also perhaps appropriate that it showed me some people in this city that I could work with. I went to the theatre. 

There are so many places like this in London. It’s a theatre in an abandoned shop front with a load of neon stuck on the outside. There’s art strung to fairy light chains in the yard, and a Mexican street food taco stop just outside the fence doing two great tacos for 5 bucks. Which of course I scarfed down for dinner. Everyone smiles and says yes. The name of the theatre has me worried though. “Son of Semele”… Classics geek break:

 

Semele was a mortal woman who had lots of sex with Zeus when he was disguised as an eagle. There’s no accounting for taste. She got pregnant. She then messed up by asking to see Zeus as he really is. The force of his divinity incinerated her immediately, but Zeus quickly scooped the unborn baby from the ashes and sewed it into his leg. You would have done the same, right? A bit later he was born out of the leg and became Dionysus the twice born. AKA Bacchus. Half mortal but all God as Zeus is technically one of his mums as well as his dad. He is the God of wine, frenzy, wild careless anarchic parties, and theatre. Bacchus partied lots, rode around on a chariot pulled by leopards, and occasionally tore people limb from limb in vast orgies brimming with priapic fauns, before forgetting all about it the next morning. Standard stuff for a night in Haggerston. When I was at drama school I was called Bacchus. It was a derivation of my surname, Barclay, to Barkers, to Backers. I gave it the last push to Bacchus as at the time I liked the idea of being named for the god of wine and theatre. Now I look back on that boy and think he was a pretentious gobshite. So when I see a theatre named for Dionysus I worry that the play will be a load of academic bloat. Especially as they go one step further to “Son of Semele.”

 

Thankfully it really isn’t academic. It’s a devised piece in celebration of this city. In terms of my collaborators, it sometimes put me in mind of Fanshen and sometimes of The Factory. It opens with a load of boxes in the space, and actors and audience together fluidly improvising games with the boxes. For the first 15 minutes I was in the space I honestly neither knew nor cared which were the actors and which were the audience, because we were all genuinely playing together. We made forts out of boxes, built towers and kicked them down, created, adapted and abandoned games. I won a dollar blowing down a tower. It was genuinely playful, and allowed them to segue into the story from an effortless playful and fun place. 


The show was a mixture of “viewpoints” and set pieces, with occasional frames for the actors to tell truthful things about themselves to the audience. I ended up knowing a lot more about LA. I’m perhaps a little more concerned about earthquakes and jaywalking than I have been up until now. “The big one’s coming.” “That’ll be $175 for the ticket sir.” I  also have points of contact for my own sense of alienation in this town, and am much better informed about where to go if I want good meatballs. The actors spoke frankly about their arrival here, and recommended their favourite restaurants. People around me in the house were audibly agreeing with their choices. I went home feeling happy. It was fun open hearted geeky people making something because they wanted to, and making it well. And those are the people I spend my life with in London. Everybody in the auditorium left smiling, and full of yummy tacos. I felt I’d had a lucky Friday the 13th day.