This is fleeting

Thirty six is far too young to die. What a disaster. The lovely man and actor Alex Beckett, who was working at The Donmar Warehouse, has gone. Suddenly.

Aged 10 I had one of those books you give children where you fill in the blanks “I live in ____.” There was an “ask your parents” section. I diligently got them to answer them all. The last two questions were: “Life is _____. Death is _____.” I found it today and spent a few moments communing with innocent Al, before the fall. My mother had been cautious. “Life is good. Death is not so good.” My dad had put “Life is an adventure. Death is inevitable.” Yep.

Death is indeed inevitable but not at 36 for God’s sake. That’s when you’re having an adventure. I can’t quite think beyond Alex’s death today and I barely knew him. He was part of my community though. There will be many people far harder hit. It’s desperate. There’s an outpouring on my Facebook just because he was such a lovely man.

These deaths smash our happy shelter. How would it be to really truly deeply know death? Like these old white men whose voting preferences some of us excoriate, yet who watched their friends die on French beaches in their youth and now have seen too many of their buddies vanish into the protected ether of a hospital ward and come out on a gurney. To know death like the nurses on those same wards, one of whom I lived with for some time. “I’ve had a shit day. Three people died and one of them was 19 and I thought we could save him.”

Our struggles and squabbles fade into insignificance when faced with that inevitable end. We are all going to die. Some sooner, some later. On a planetary scale human life is but a whisper. As the man himself wrote “a walking shadow. A poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more”. He wrote that six or seven lifetimes ago. And he’s been dead for most of the intervening time. And we still don’t easily accept our mortality.

But he’s right. We’re dead a long time. We need to look at our “now” and make the adventure lovely – for ourselves and equally for those around us. Yes there’s the spectre of immediate sudden death. That’s why we cling on to joy. That’s why we must.

A tendency of mine with bad energy in the past has been – sometimes – to pass it on or to pass it back. Sorry if I’ve done that. I’m going to really try hard not going forward. It’s hard enough as it is. Life’s too short to pass round bitterness year after year – to hold onto things until we twist and darken. We all think we do things for the right reason, because the reasons are ours. Sometimes we forget that other people are people too.

I write this blog every day. No matter what mood I’m in. And then it’s out, concrete, but the work of an hour and a mood. It then exists for much longer than the moment it took to write. What I write is not the extent of what I feel. It’s a moment. I can’t put it down and wait until I’m less sad, less happy, less angry, less hippy. So today I’m thinking about mortality and I’m sad. I’m mourning the loss of a brilliant heart. And I’m asking you collectively to try to let go of past tangles and see how the world looks without them in your face.

And fare forward Alex. If life is an adventure then death, inevitable or not, might be one too. Your kindness, your humour and your energy will be deeply missed.

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Airtasker

I’ve been experimenting with a new app called Airtasker. It suits me well in these weeks where everything is very part time. It’s a platform where people that need odd jobs can post them along with a price. If you like the look of the price then you can pitch for the work.

It’s going to make someone very rich, although it won’t be any of the “taskers”. It already has made someone very rich. Probably a sociopath. It’s been successful in Australia. Now it’s in London and it complements the gig economy of this city. I took and completed my first little job on it today.

Michael X in Pimlico needed 9 boxes carried downstairs. He was willing to pay 40 quid to save his damaged back. He lives 15 minutes walk from me and I had nothing in the diary, so why the hell not. I didn’t present it in those terms but he accepted the offer I made him. The first two people asked for the weight of the boxes. I just (correctly) trusted that he wasn’t an idiot.

I trudged through the fog to Pimlico and rang on his doorbell at 9am. He was a little nervous as was I. It was both of our first time on the app. I could have brought in a hammer. He could have shut me in his porn dungeon. His surname of “X” was never going to fill me with confidence. But it transpires he’s Chinese. Xi. He’s been studying here. He’s back to Beijing soon, and shipping his stuff in advance. Off he goes back home with good English and a degree in Accounting and Finance Management from Imperial. It was mostly clothes that he was sending back. Because London is so fashionable, aye. I did well to dress as I did, in workman costume with big boots. He trusted me based on appearance, because I was essentially in costume.

He’s a thoughtful guy. The boxes were not heavy. He had put the books in half boxes. He’d packed it well and he even gave me a bottle of water. He liked me and I liked him.

The job took about 15 minutes, and it reminded me of getting those comics out but sans dust. Then we shook hands and I walked home. Job done.

45 minutes start to finish including transport (walking). The platform sucks out 25% for “commission, tax and insurance.” So in three working days, once their rat has built up enough power on the treadmill to fire up the antiquated payment system, my bank account will ping in £30. Which is fine for under an hour despite the annoying delay. I reckon 6 quid of it will go direct to the (maybe) sociopathic Australian millennial who built the platform. Right now he’s probably sporting his Ray-Bans and a Rolex on each arm physically uptight and mawkish and vocally downflecting or monologuing in  Belize whilst trying to work out why he can’t just buy people through the window of his Ferrari, all the while blocking the existential crisis and asking reddit if anything matters or if he’s just a bunch of atoms and has none of the value he’s trumped up for himself and what that might mean.

But hey, I’m grateful to that (possibly) jumped up twot. He’s made me thirty quid, despite his probable lack of social perspective. But let’s not rule out the possibility that he is a lovely human being, here. I’m just playing. He’s made me money. Or she. Or it.

My evening job was acting for beer. Road testing a sitcom by reading it out loud with lovely people. Lots of excellent humans, all about my age, and some of whom were new to me despite us having jiggled about in the same crucible forever. We tested out a new sitcom and it was funny. To me, anyway. Lovely to meet people who I’ve probably sat next to in auditions and get to know them better for next time.

Should’ve taken a photo of the boxes or the reading. But I didn’t. Even booting up the camera on this phone is a rigmarole. It’s probably why I haven’t called you lately. Perfect excuse. Watertight.

Here’s a work in progress comic book sorting photo. Maybe I should list this one on Airtasker. Sell all this crap. Get a percentage…

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Food and friends

Minnie’s baby is now way too big to comfortably fit inside her belly. I guess there’s no putting those things back. Once they’re out, they’re out. We all went for breakfast in Catford, and did a spot of bouncing. I tried to project forward imaginatively to when I’m old and she’s in the struggle, but I couldn’t really make sense of the shape of the future. She’ll be in it for sure, so long as I still am. Even if I’ve retired to Raratonga with my millions from that movie. But for now, the simple pleasures of bouncing, mixed with a chance to catch up with a dear old friend who has a lot of her time accounted for these days… Golden.

Once she’s a bit older I’ll be able to babysit. But for her purposes right now my little nipples just don’t cut the mustard for her needs. She wants her mum.

When we did Macbeth on Sunday, two of the actors were pregnant. Before the show there was a “no grabbing Lady Macduff around the stomach when you’re murdering” note. I guess that’s the age I’m at now. Babies. Better than the times that are coming.

Babies. It’s noticeable how completely dependent we are for so long in our early life. Some people never quite get away from that dependence, even if the nature of it changes. If all technology stopped working immediately and unexpectedly, more than half the population of London would be dead within a week, probably myself included. Dehydration, rioting, gangs. But mostly people would starve waiting for their online shopping.

I’m broke still but with plenty of money pending. Cashflow again. Thankfully my friends are awesome. I look forward to paying it forward. Minnie, Rhys, Zeph and I had breakfast together and Rhys showed me the Osho Zen Tarot which he has just ordered from Oregon. It’s a very wise deck and beautifully drawn. He doesn’t know it yet, or the tarot, but we took some cards and played around before it got too busy, and it was great and insightful.

Then I got lunch with Brian and checked in with him. I’m so lucky to live with such a glorious human being. It’s important to hang out without being in the context of work or home from time to time when you have a friendship that exists in all three worlds. We ate noodles which is normally a Minnie and Al tradition. It seems noodles are my go to friendship food.

This evening I was planning on a quiet one and an early bed, but I got fished out of solitude and hauled off to Brixton in an Uber for a few hours of street food on this fine Spring evening. My friend’s control-freak girlfriend was in a plane. Normally she watches him on a tracker but it needs the internet to work, and it’s his birthday on Thursday so he wanted to celebrate this momentary freedom from parole. To his credit he’s about 60 days sober so this was a dry night, but we went for street burger and then a damn good cheeseboard. Here I am – regretfully leaving the cheeseywine place sober.

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We have everything at our fingertips here in this city. Yes it’s expensive. But if I wanted a Yak’s Hoof in aspic delivered to me tomorrow evening by four singing transvestite nuns in a pink Bentley I could probably make that happen. While it works, this city is remarkable. And I can’t wait for summer. Bring the sun. Not the zombie apocalypse though. Just the sun please. Thanks.

 

Arguments

We can be absolute fuckers to each other if we want to. The longer we’ve known each other, the better we get at it. I’ve been out of a relationship so long that I’d momentarily forgotten. In relationships we notice when our loved one is triggered by something. We are compassionate about it and try to avoid that area. Then one morning they go and do exactly the thing you knew they’d do, and you hate them for a second because you were right so you say the thing you absolutely know you shouldn’t and everyone shouts and everyone cries and everyone comes out the other side knackered but probably healthier despite feeling a bit bruised.

I somehow managed to Tess of the Durberville an email. I thought I’d sent it, explaining how I’d popped in to get those comics. It hadn’t been received. Suddenly I’m some sort of unwelcome aggressive violator because I came into my home to get some of my stuff and my brother found out by reading my blog and phoned me up like he was Columbo. It’s my old home now, though, sure. I moved out years ago so my brother could have space with his burgeoning family. I have never been possessive or relative about the way things have been arranged with him. But even if my nephew can come and go as he pleases, I clearly can’t. I’m not welcome. And my brother tried pulling out all the conversational stops to make sure that I felt surplus to requirements. But I also know that’s because I’ve been triggered so I’m angry and upset.  I took advantage of the fact he was away and I had a range rover to get some of my stuff from an attic that would otherwise have remained there until we both die.

Last time I wrote an angry blog I drove a wedge between myself and someone very dear to me. I have no desire to further alienate Max and I know he’ll read this. We’ve fought like cats before. We’ve sent each other to hospital, thrown each other through doors. I’ve never been as angry in my life as he can make me – over trifles – and he upset me deeply tonight because of things that were unsaid as much as what was said. Because I love him and I knew the time would never be “right” for him for me to come do that. I should have asked permission but he’d have told me not to. So I’ve brought this on myself I guess.

He’s got his new family now and they’re great. But he’s probably still awake worrying that I’ve concealed canisters of nerve gas in his bathroom cabinet, or stolen all the screws and replaced them with bees.

I phoned up Minnie incomprehensible with tears and she got me over to Catford. We sat in front of a fire and I slowly mended. Tomorrow will bring what it brings. Your family is what you make of it, and I certainly have a sister in Minnie. Just as I have a brother in Max, even if right now we’re being horrible to each other.

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Tights

This evening it’s the Olivier’s. Brian was there, fixing the industry person by person. Meanwhile I was in a bar in Hoxton with tights over my head.

My living room is full of comics and dust. Boxes and boxes of comics. Metric tonnes of dust. Back in the long ago far away time, young Al spent lots of his copious money on comics. He must’ve known that future Al would not have had that sort of money. So future Al is going to have to work out how to sell three milliontyfivety seven comics. Superfast. Come forward, oh comic lovers. Anyone that knows a good way of bulk selling without getting stitched up, help would be appreciated. The alternative, which is not outside the bounds of possibility, is for me to sink all my spare time into learning a new skill, and eBay the lot one by one. Which could be lucrative, but will take months.

Anyway, that’s for tomorrowAl. Today I zoomed over to my old house in the morning in order to put back the things I’d jiggled around in the process of rescuing the comics. Max and I no longer live in our old house together, because he got married and had kids, and mum died so I had a place to eject to and make space for his wife and his burgeoning family. Growing up we were both convinced that he’d be the first to be married. Another illustration of what a bunch of idiots we are when we’re children and we make these very specific plans for ourselves.

Today we did a very different Factory Macbeth. We were in The Electricity Showrooms in Hoxton. Totally different show and cast. I was mostly murdering people which I enjoyed until I had to use my tights to kill Maz. Tights over your face are a big part of the game. But I had a big learn. This will be incomprehensible to you unless you know the game,  but I felt it was right I murder Maz because she’d been using me as a climbing frame. So I put my tights on her face, and then I had no tights for myself. Next time I go murdering I’ll be carrying spare tights for just such an eventuality. Maz died and my tights absorbed her. But then I was standing next to her signalling “I don’t have tights”. Thankfully Wilf had a tights foot which I could just get over the front of my face, but with a proboscis. I need a gusset for my big face… The long and short of it was that I couldn’t play for the last act without either looking like a comedy elephant or being in pain, so I took myself out and went on book in case someone forgot their lines. Being on book is mostly irrelevant for Factory shows because everyone knows everyone else’s lines so you just ask the universe “What should I say?”. But it was potentially helpful this early in the run, and it got me the hell out of sight with my suddenly crap tights. That was pretty much the only choice I had. Or shrink my head.

Factory shows come with great joy and great frustration. It was lovely tonight. Now I’m sitting by Brian and Mel on the sofa and they’re both fast asleep. They’ve been asleep for the whole of my writing, despite Pickle. I’m about to wake them as I go to sleep… Bed is better than sofa…

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Moving around and Godfathers

That was a long day of driving. They only had a day left with the car, and a huge list of places to check out. We started off nipping to Gatwick airport, where they jumped out in order to get a taxi to Redhill aerodrome while I drove there. They got a taxi purely in order to see how easy it was to get a taxi. That’s what big budgets do, I guess.

Redhill aerodrome is a hidden gem. There’s a cafe on the landing strip with outdoor seating where families can have lunch with the kids and watch us taking off and landing with our little cessnas or copters – these deadly toys. The American associate producer with us knows this shit and wants us to know he does. He has a yacht. He’s had a plane. He’s ten years younger than me and can afford that stuff. Where’s my Breaking Bad? Buggrit. I’d have accidentally killed myself in a wingsuit 10 years ago if I could’ve afforded to. And I’d have died happy. There’s still time, dammit.

We check out the airfield. You have to walk through a museum hangar to go to the loo. It’s full of beautiful old machines. I wanted to stay and play. But we had places to go and I had the keys.

Next was back into town to Camden Market. We stopped for lunch and endless ambling through Stables Market. I had chicken schnitzel for lunch but it tasted of nothing. Still it fuelled the drive to Lee, where we checked out a whitewater rafting area, full of brilliantly designed watertracks for people to cane around in kayaks.

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While we watched someone very nearly drowned himself by flipping and panicking. There are very diligent people with ropes who stop people dying, but the guy was in full panic. Despite his best efforts he didn’t drown. I remember myself, aged 15, and my near-drown. If I’d been like him I’d not be writing.

“Jesus boots.” My Godfather, Peter Rittmaster, out in Maine. I loved him. But he didn’t love me. Oh no. As soon as dad died he phoned me up. “You’re a man now.” (I was … 19?) “My job is done. This is the last time we’ll ever speak. Now your father’s dead, I’m not your Godfather anymore.” So far he’s stuck by it. Uncompromising motherfucker. I completely understand that. Shame though really. I think me now would get on well with him then. Despite that last call being nothing short of abject cowardice.

I used to go spend complicated adolescent summers in his psychedelic hunting shooting fishing range in Augusta when dad was still alive. He was “making a man out of me” which apparently involved throwing people into water, catching fish without bait, sleeping outdoors and survival of the fittest.

He had some prototype inflatable boots back in the ’90s when I was a Christian and the world was unbreakable. “You can walk on water.” He said. “Go try them out. Make sure you strap in tight. Go put them on at the end of the dock. Go walk on water like Jesus.” He had a jetty. A house on a lake in Maine and a load of boats.

I went and put them on as he said, obedient little Al and these big rubber boots. The straps were very involved so I didn’t strap in for a first go. Not that obedient. But I was 16. Fat Christian 16 year old Al with long hair and two large inflatable boots. One on each foot. On water.

Two steps and I fell flat on my face into the lake. Mouthful of water, shock of the fall. Happily my default to major shit has always been peace. I can freak out at minnows but always peace out at sharks. So when I realised I was upside down with my feet in huge inflatable boots and a mouth full of water, I stopped trying to right myself, instead carefully removed one of the boots with the last of my breath, thanking God I wasn’t strapped. I came up sideways, got my desperate breath back and then got the other lethal boot off. Never again, I swore, as I hauled myself and boots back on the jetty.

When I got back in and told Peter I’d gone face first and almost drowned, he said “Why didn’t you strap yourself in properly?”

I’d like to hang out with him now, the absolute bastard. He was a dear friend of my dad. I’m an adult now (of sorts) and I can see with evolved eyes. He might try to shoot me in the face and make it look like an accident. But someone sent me a Vice article about the old fucker recently and it read like a description of many of my mates.

If I can’t see my dad I can at least try for my asshole Godfather one more time. Based on the article, we’d be friends. Based on the experience of Christian confused teenage Al he’d drown me as soon as look at me. Based on my own approach to difficulty, bring it. I’m a very different human being now, although still respectful to that part of me back then. Peter might be already dying somewhere. I suspect he’s not though. Vital fucker. Made out of beef. Terrified of “stick shift” cars though. Thoroughly American. I miss him and his Hemingway approach to art. He recently made “Jesus fishing lures” as an art project.

 

Golden apples

“Have an apple. We eat apples like horses here,” is the first thing he says to me. I don’t want an apple. We’re surrounded by apples. We are in a swanky hotel room full of apples in Knightsbridge and he’s a TV producer, but he’s fully clothed. He’s talking about the show he’s making in London, brainstorming ideas with two other producers and a fixer who’s a friend of mine. I’m the driver. He’s taken a shine to me. He likes my socks.

His brain is going twenty to the dozen. He’s created a show that has run and run, and now his budgets are so lavish he can stay in beautiful hotels, have all the apples he can munch, employ amazing humans, and buy the crown jewels should he desire. He’s still going round the world with the show though, keeping his finger on the pulse.  “I’ve been round the world thirty times or more.” He tells me. “I’ve met a lot of crazy people.” He’s off to Amsterdam now. Then Uganda. “What’s the food like in Uganda?” I ask him. “Breakfast,” he says. “I only eat breakfast and pasta. But these fucking hotels in London – nobody should charge that much for breakfast. How does anyone live in this city? It’s a joke. And I’ve been everywhere.”

We get in the lift and he immediately hits on the stranger in it, proving his own cliché. He must be in his seventies and he’s still on location because it keeps him active. Keeps his mind working. He just stays in better hotels now and has more apples and a driver. I’d do the same, without the apples. “I imagine the first few years you were fired up with the travel and the change but now you’ve seen so much you barely know where you are anymore”, I impulsively comment. My reward is a 1,000 yard stare and a barely perceptible nod. I’d do his job for a couple of years, sure thing, hell yeah, apples or no apples. But 17 years on the hoof? Hoo-eee. “I hate those malarone, they make your kidneys hurt. They make you crazy. I’d sooner have malaria. I had it once already. It’s not so bad.” says his associate.

In the short journey to Heathrow we cover Russia, Grenfell, Silver service catering, economics, British politics, the legacy of colonialism. He’s constantly insightful. He is a mega rich libertarian and he has indeed seen much of the world, even if a fair amount was through tinted windows. “We have to let the money trickle down. We can’t only spend it on breakfast in stupid hotels.” He assures me. I like him. At Heathrow he tells me “Make sure you’re here for the shoot. I want you here for the shoot.” “Of course,” I lie. If there’s an acting job I’m taking that instead. But in the current environment I’ll take driving an eccentric millionaire in a Range Rover over another bloody golf tournament.

Once he’s at the airport I join the team that are location scouting. “He’s a nice guy,” I say. “Oh really? He was nice to you?” Seems I got lucky.

We spend the rest of the day walking around central London looking at rooms in the vicinity of Eros. Never once does anyone ask about price. Money is no object.

And thank God for that. They want me back tomorrow.. A couple of days work like this and the photos are covered, plus some of the bills. I just needed to wait for the sunshine and the apples start blossoming.

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