Day 3 rehearsal

Even in a short rehearsal process you still go through all the usual stages. Today was the “fuck fuck fuck I’m never going to sustain this” day.

All I’ve got to do is have fun with people under a tree, do a wee spot of scene acting and force noises out of my accordion. I’m hip with the scene acting. Have targets, think on the line, mix it up a bit, stay alive. And I’m hip with the fun under the tree, but I need more content so I can wade through the groups who have no play in their hearts and still be confident and lively. I think I’ll learn some emergency flufftext so when it’s 12 bemused people checking their emails and saying “I’m sure it said we were watching Shakespeare, darling, not playing silly buggers with some crazyman under a tree” I can click into something performative and impressive and leave them happy despite their dead hearts. “Oh yes, we met the king and he did that lovely poem.” I’m even hip with the accordion now. I reckon I’ll be able to play it without my eyes glazing over and my face freezing into a panic rictus. I’ve just got to get my head straight, generate some content, learn some actual Shakespeare and be armed with options. I need to get to the bottom of why my king has gone feral, and what he thinks has happened to everybody else etc etc so I can story it and take people on a little fun journey with me. It’s The Marquis all over again, without the hallucinogenic tea, but with all the gifts of nature, random cyclists, running water, ducks, dogs, nettles and weather. Once I’ve got my head round it it’ll be huge fun. Until I’ve got my head around it …

Thankfully it’s a damn fine company. Kind unusual thoughtful brave humans the lot of them. There’s a lot of fun to be had here and once I find my way out of the other end of the white noise I’ll have it.

Early bed tonight. That’ll help. Also I bought a load of vitamins and a razor so I can make myself feel a little bit less heavy and look a little bit more fresh. I can use this busy summer as a means of accidentally getting fitter if I treat myself well from the outset. So I just had a load of greens and I’ve put myself firmly back on the wagon after walking into a pub after rehearsal and bouncing straight back out of it without ordering a drink. Tick.

Now I’m in bed. It’s still light outside and all the kids are still up.

It’s pleasant being here in Oxford. There’s a bit more actual nature to be found rather than designated areas of nature-like stuff artfully displayed by the kerb. I spent a good few minutes on the way home just watching the bees flitting around and being glad I’m in Oxford . It’s a great town.

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Who is fit anyway?

Some scientists showed up at rehearsal yesterday. They want to put the equivalent of a Fitbit on us during the show in order to back up whatever experiment they are making. I remember leaving my Fitbit on one thoughtless night under my nightie for Christmas Carol. It was an insane spike in heartrate until I discovered it and shoved it off from under my nightie, thankfully before any reformed handstands exposed it to the audience. But that show is Jack and I alone with sixty people, where we offer them freedom and then have to put up with the consequences. It’s high stress, full on, acting and managing simultaneously.

These scientists are looking at performance stress, ostensibly. To hear them talk about it they’re looking at what they call “the lowest paid professional job with the most stress”. That’s me and my industry for sure. They tell us they want to see what the stress levels are like. Super high, of course. But also, for me here, I’m not sure how much help I can be for their research. I’m in a comparatively super-relaxed place right now. I have literally forgotten that it’s possible to be in a piece of theatre where I am not constantly on stage. It makes me want to bring more and more to the wee bit I’ve got. I think this show is going to be unfamiliarly relaxing for me when held against Carol, or Factory, or most of the squeaky bum stuff I end up making surrounded by gloryfools where the buck stops OW.

This company is a joy. You never know what you’ve signed up for until you’ve spent a bit of time. I’m very happy to feel that I’ve landed surrounded by consanguineous misfits in this pile. I’m happy here and I can make something of the part they’ve handed me that honours their needs and my tastes simultaneously.

Meanwhile, I’m in Oxford. I’m staying at Ginny’s. She was at Ashdown House with me back when we were younger than her eldest daughter is now. It’s a piece of my past I keep thinking was long gone but which keeps resurfacing positively. Damian – an actor I admired – waited for me after my first premier, forever ago, to say well done to his fellow Ashdonian. A hell of a gesture back then. I didn’t understand it at the time even if I appreciated it.

I think finally now I’m learning, partly through this blog, that the things that make me who I am are not to be ashamed of. My past happened. So yeah, Ashdown House was an amazing paid for preparatory school in Sussex and it’s where the likely future PM went to prep school and I was there too. I didn’t coincide with clownface. His brother was my authoritarian dorm captain for a term though.

I introduced Brojo to the stage a few months ago as a guest speaker at some dinner at The Globe. I snatched a moment beforehand to tell him he had been my dorm captain. He didn’t really know what to do with it but it was a bit of unexpected past and none of us can be ready for it. That’s fine though. Sometimes people from my past come to my shows and I don’t know them immediately as my head is elsewhere. They have all the time in the world watching, and I have none when they catch me. I’m trying to avoid calling everybody darling but the older I get the more tempting it is as a catch all. “darling, how are you!” Not sincere but safe…

At Ashdown I was dorm captain for Small Boys dorm, and I tried not to be a dick. Who knows how my cackhanded attempts at leadership fell. I know I looked after some fragile hearts for the few months before I was taken away from the school by my parents. But it was so long ago now… I often wonder if I’d recognise the kids I tried to nurture now we are all ancient. It’s good that I’m still in touch with Ginny, for certain.

Two things about Ginny and I: 1: We never behaved like we were super important with no basis then. 2: Neither of us are MPs now.

Maybe we should run for office. I don’t think I deserve it, which would make me stand out… Ginny would be awesome. If anyone needs a stress monitor it’s her, working for the NHS, 4 kids and still putting an old actor friend in the office on a pull out bed…

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Hitchiking from buses

Up early, throw clothes randomly into a case. Flesh my body in cloth from corners in my bedroom. Fuck fuck fuck I might be gone for a week do I have enough underwear? No. Matching socks? Who am I kidding? Are these even clean? They smell clean. Go time? Almost.

Ready to go. Early. No coffee! Fucking fucking shit I’ve run out of bastard coffee. Cup of tea then. Fuck. Oh and BIKING GEAR. Oh tits I’ll have to carry it all into rehearsal. Maybe not. It’s only six am. Get to the bus station. They’ll sell coffee there. Maybe I can get to Ginny’s early and drop bike stuff.

Ahhh bus station coffee. And I’m on the bus. I’ll be there in plenty of time. New people. Winning. I should’ve shaved. Fuck it. Got beard now. No time. Tomorrow. Where’s my clipper set? Balls. Bearded king. Jacob Krichevski homage. Following in good footsteps.

This bus is great. Oxford tube! Ha. Yeah, cos it’s like part of the tube network. Funny. Oxford and London. Connected. Nice young bus driver too. Seems a bit unsure. Learning his trade. There with his supervisor. Just as well really as I haven’t printed my ticket. Didn’t realise I was supposed to. Supervisor lets me on anyway. It’s only a single. Phew.

Tum te tum. Off to Oxford. What wonders await? Book to read. Day in the life of Ivan Denisovitch. Hour passes.

Oh. We are pulled up in a layby. All the doors are open. Driver gets out. “Where are we?” I think. He walks to the back. I get out, from curiosity.

His engine coolant light has gone on. We are 29 minutes from destination. But the light is on and there is a smell of oil. My brain shifts up a gear, from basic survival to immediate problem solving.

This guy is on one of his first trips. He’s not going to fuck this up by breaking the bus. The coolant light is on. There’s a smell. He opens the back. We both look pointlessly at the engine. A woman takes the opportunity to smoke. Everyone else sits in their seat. “What’s up?” “Engine coolant has run out. Better safe than sorry. There’s another bus twenty minutes behind us.” Oh God. He said “Better safe than sorry”

I know what that means. I don’t rhyme with it. I think of when I drove back from Sheffield at Christmas in a Jaguar where the engine was falling off and even though the windows were fully open so I didn’t die of fumes, if anyone had struck a spark I would’ve been immediately immolated in the core of a moving fireball. It was just me at risk though. So be it. If I’d gone up in flames it would’ve been personal and in the slow lane and probably just given someone a great story about their drive home for Christmas and that poor guy in the jag. I’d sooner not be sorry, but if it’s just me I’m ok with a bit of not so safe.

The driver goes to make the announcement telling us all to stay in our seats. I hear it distantly. I’ve already got my stuff and I’ve gone to the end of the shoulder to stick my thumb out. Fuck it, it’s worth a try.

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Last time I tried to hitchhike in Oxford it took two and a half hours. Eventually a policeman stopped on his day off. I could hear his teenage daughter screaming “no daddy please daddy don’t daddy.” When she discovered I’d been filming a short film she went quiet and sat forward, and her daddy said “You see?” She was just about to audition for drama school. I gave her some tips. I hope she got in.

This time it was no better. In half an hour I just saw a lot of frightened or mimbly pasty faced people try to look like they hadn’t seen me. After about fifteen minutes of contemplating the fear and indifference of middle England, someone from the bus walked up to me. “Are you Al Barclay?” “Yes?!” “I figured it’d have to be you, doing that. I’d looked at everybody else on the bus.”

I had messaged the WhatsApp for the theatre company – my first message. “Bus has broken down. Might be late.” He was on the same bus. He plays my son. Solidarity! “At least I’m not the only one late,” we are both now thinking. This unlikely circumstance on the first day of rehearsal becomes believable with two. And he took the photo, to try to get confirmation before he went and spoke to the weirdo.

Every other passenger is meek, either obediently sitting in the bus waiting to die or standing near it like it’s an anchor until it explodes. “Please remain in your seats.” That’s the party line. Fuck the party line.

It’s another of my dad’s lessons and it makes me an awkward bastard. “In any emergency situation, a voice will tell you what to do. Always look for a different option where you aren’t herded. The most danger and the least opportunity lies where everybody is told to go. If everybody dies in the same confined space it’s easier for them to account for you. Always splinter if you can and ignore them.” I’ve lived my life by that. I annoy my friends a lot.

I start to try to hitchhike for two. Nobody stops though of course. This is Oxfordshire. Pigfuck central. Strangers are bad.

Eventually the bus arrives, and some of the exploded passengers who have watched my ridiculous failed hitching attempts look at me with actual sneers because they haven’t exploded. I spend a moment wondering what it would be like to live as small as them, grin winningly, and go and have a brilliant day of rehearsal.

This’ll be fun, for sure, this Tempest. I can smell craic a mile off and this’ll certainly be craic. Bring it.

Lazybones

Falling off the wagon last night left me pretty fragile all day. I start rehearsal tomorrow morning in Oxford but rather than go up there tonight I ended up burrowing into piles of softness and lounging with Pickle for hours. It’s 8pm and I just woke up from a snooze. I think I’m going to get another glass of water, set an alarm and crash back down until like 5am tomorrow. I’ll get an early bus up from Victoria with whatever I can hastily pack into an overnight bag for the week. Rehearsal doesn’t start until ten so I’ll have a few good hours in the morning to get my shit together. This sounds like a good plan right now. Tomorrow morning at 5 I might disagree with myself. But that’s for tomorrow morning me. Sleepy Sunday Al is thrilled with this idea.

Last night might have been very different sober. I wouldn’t have lasted so long though. We had to pay £15 on the door to get assaulted by mostly terrible music all night. There was a brass band playing dance music which started hopefully but it devolved from there. I’m amazed I stayed as late as I managed, and I’m not surprised that it basically wiped out the entirety of the next day for me. So much for all my plans around vacuum bags and clothes, and selecting the right things to take to Oxford. I’m going to get whatever ill thought through bits and bobs morning Al shoves into a bag and have them until the weekend. ‘Twill be fine.

I had a hot bath. I think it’s part of why I’m so sleepy. It was boiling and I gently poached myself in it. Then I managed to keep down a bowl of Shreddies. I didn’t trust myself last night. There’s a bucket by my bed. But the Shreddies stayed down and were the beginning of the long road to recovery involving Dr Pepper and expensive pizza that at last finds me here under the cat forging inanities so I can crash in plenty of time.

Meanwhile there are two WhatsApp groups that have just been created for The Tempest and tomorrow morning I’m going to meet a load of new people who I’ll end up doing fun stuff with for the next few weeks in Oxford. Some of them are in Jericho having a drink and I’m glad I’m in London in my pajamas contemplating a really early bed and early wake. I think I’ll get back on the wagon as it’s a lot clearer up there and nothing like as expensive. All the unlearned and half learned lines are pinging around in my head and we are only going to have a little more than a week to ping them all together and get this show on the road. It’s a quick turnaround, but I trust the creative team here. I don’t think I know any of the other actors but the company are old friends. Something to look forward to. A change of pace. But for now, brush teeth and back to Dreamland.

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Bike and pride

“Have any of you done Mod 1 before?” “Yeah. I did it on Thursday and dropped it on my leg in the slalom.” “So there’s your first lesson. These bikes are heavier than you’ll be used to. Keep them moving. Anyone else?” “I did a skills day like this a year ago,” says Kevin. He describes the instructor. Richard knows him. His tone stays instructional. “Oh yeah. Good guy,” he says. “Dead now. He was filtering on the north circular. Lorry driver was stationary. Opened the door on him. Broke his neck. I went to his funeral. So … if you’re filtering, don’t go at 30. Go at 10. Anyone else…”

After another morning working on taming these monsters I get the tube to Tottenham Court Road. I’m getting contact lenses from Specsavers. I’ve forgotten it’s Pride until I emerge into rainbow heaven. It’s a happy atmosphere in town today. I’m in my biking leathers, but most people are bright, smiling, festooned with ribbons. There are a few guys in leather but without the crash helmet. I don’t feel out of place. I drink in the atmosphere a while, and go to my lens fitting feeling imperceptibly happier. Then I go for a walk through town to Camden just to see the colours. The pennants flying. People have even beribboned their dogs.

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Makeup and bright colours everywhere. A happy and free celebration. Funny to think this started as a riot 50 years ago in a different world. 1969, fourteen years after Alan Turing who had cracked the enigma code, poisoned himself after he was chemically castrated. Desperate. The summer of love. Nixon as president before he was impeached. The days my parents always looked back on with nostalgic longing.

I walked through the celebration and up northwards to Camden enjoying the festival feeling but not really feeling it was for me to join in fully as a straight white male with nothing but the occasional gender dysmorphia like everybody. I’ll be an ally but this day is not me to dress up in tassels. My people though. Lovely alternative rebellious and colourful. A lovely atmosphere and I didn’t see any of the paste-brigade wobbling their chins in indignance at the dirty differentpeople with their notlikemeness.


Then I went out. I hit a hard beat in a warehouse I know well. I wasn’t feeling it and pulled out early, still with all my motorbike gear. I had a security guard check out the Kevlar lining in the jacket as if it was a stash of rigid acid tabs or similar. Then me and my friends danced to music that was egregious and high volume enough that I kind of wished I had a load of acid sewn into my jacket.

Now I’m asleep in all but name, having pulled myself away from the night and into a peacefulness. Pickle has just jumped on my stomach and she’s going kind a chainsaw. I reckon I’ll be in good company when I dozilyb roll over….

Finishing things

I’m on a train to see a friend. This makes a change. Even though I’m pinging around all over the country it’s rare that I go somewhere purely for social reasons. I tend to mix business and pleasure. This is symptomatic of the way in which I’ve made my life work recently. Constant activity, constant change, different place every time. “I’m in Oxford, who lives in Oxford? Let’s hang out.” Occasionally we need to make space for long term loved ones though. Catford and Minnie and Zeph. A last blast of friendship before I get so distracted that I’ll barely be able to write my daily words.

This weekend was meant to be for buying a motorbike, but now I’ve fucked it so it’s a bit more freeform. No point buying a bike I’m not allowed to ride.

Chances are it’ll be season pass on the train and chalk it up to experience. It’s that or a lethal daily trip up the motorway on a puttputt. I’ve looked at the logistics around rehearsals / performance to retake and it’s really just … not very possible. A beautiful dream, stamped on by an indifferent reality. I might snatch a lucky 8am cancellation before a rehearsal next week. But I’m not holding out hope. I got screwed over, but I could’ve rallied myself against it rather than letting it fuck me. I was the one that dropped the bike, irrespective of the circumstances that led to it. Worth contemplating that. Perhaps I was scared of winning. I wonder how many times I’ve let a bit of adversity affect my mindset and fucked something up for myself. It’s another thing to police. I don’t like finishing things.

As I write this, I’ve got Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows on my knee. I read all the Harry Potter books as soon as they came out, but I never finished the last one. I’m trying to do it now just to tick it off the list. I’m only a few chapters from the end, but as I get closer to finishing I distract myself more and more. There are many books like that in my life, many computer games saved just before the final battle and left forever, many tasks that I just need one more drive at to sign off. I don’t want this biking to be another one like that. I don’t want to be forever just about to get the documents I need to ride a big bike. Even if it’s impossible to do it for the reasons I found this time round, which it might be. At least I can write my blog every day if I’m commuting by train. But I’ll always know it’s a compromise.

I have to get better at finishing things. I love the period of uncertainty, the liminal space, the place between places and the time between times. But you can be as much of a hippy as you like. If you’re pathologically incapable of finishing stuff you shouldn’t start it. I’ve got some nails to hammer. And I’ll start with Harry Potter…

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Fail

Oh deary me.

About time you read about me screwing something up for myself again. I’ve been having far too nice a time recently.

In many ways I blame the bike school, despite my extraordinary propensity for self sabotage. They are taking on too many students and the instructors are run ragged. If and when they get investigated it’ll be the instructors under the bus and someone in the office off to Turks and Caicos with a pillowcase full of gold.

First of all, I didn’t need to pass mod 1 today. Getting my license now would’ve given me more time to sort the bike and more relaxed practice time before the pressure riding from Brixton to Oxford when I’m tired. Yeah I can still get the certificates I need in order to get up onto a big bike. It’ll just involve a bit more juggling, and mean I’m a bit less experienced and a bit less safe when crunch comes, plus it’ll affect my work a little more. Ho hum.

I went into the test this morning thinking I needed it. So I failed it immediately. Because there’s nobody better at making things hard for me but me and I was helped massively in the sabotage by the school. It was like they were actively trying to make life harder for me. Perhaps they were. “They told you it’d be easier to take it here than in London, didn’t they?” said one of them yesterday with an edge. “Uh. No?” I replied.

I got there today to be told I had to make my own way to the testing centre on a 125cc small bike. Fine but annoying and they could’ve told me. The big bike I was supposed to be testing on was there already, apparently. So I worked out my route and puttered over with a bit of time to spare but still with no idea which bike I was testing on. The instructors are still treating me like a tourist and are passionately disinterested in making my life easier.

I get to the testing centre twenty minutes before my test and I still don’t know which bike I’m on. The instructor who is there gives 0 shits about helping me and fucks off with a student almost immediately. He doesn’t return. The rider before me fails their test for the fourth time and sits disconsolately in the car park. Great school this. Three students. No instructor. And I’m not sure what bike I’m on.

My test time arrives. Alan appears with a clipboard. I show him my papers. “I don’t know what bike I’m on. I need to practice a bit as I’ve been on a 125 all morning and the weight is going to throw me. Also it’ll be good to get a feel for the clutch and so on. Can I get a later slot?” “No, your slot’s now. You might as well use that bike.”

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I don’t even know if I’m insured on it. I don’t even know whose bike it is. I think it’s the school’s. I get on this unfamiliar big bike having been on a tiny one. “This is shit,” I’m thinking. From the moment I arrived at the bike school I’ve been pinged around.

Now a totally different type of machine. It weighs a ton. I only need a few minutes to change my head but I’ve forgotten and I’m nervous and pissed off. I’m not in the headspace to take a control test here. In fact I’m actively angry. I’ve been building towards this for ages and I’ve just been dropped in a hole.

So I drop the bike on my leg at the very start of the first maneuver and then stand there like a drunk trying to pull a carrot until it’s upright again.

Alan walks up to me with his clipboard. “That’s that fucked isn’t it” I say. “Don’t suppose we can just pretend it hasn’t happened and start again?” “Nope.”

Fail before I’ve started. So much for plan A. The only school in Oxford is the one I’ve been with and they’re clearly cowboys. But they’re the only option I’ve got if I’m going to make this work in time and it’s just got a lot harder. I’ve got to wait until Tuesday to retake now by which time I’ve started rehearsals for The Tempest so I’ll be too busy. So I’ll have to wait until performance starts, and then try again on a show day in the morning. Apparently they’ll give me a free day of mod 1. But this is turning into far too much time spent. I’ve got lines to learn, dammit. Aargh.

You’re not supposed to pass first time as then you don’t value it etc etc etc. I’m too old for this shit. Fucking cowboy school. Fucking idiot me.