Remembering my priorities

Just in time I remembered that my industry will wake up again at some point soon and I need to be ready. Ok so I had a week off, that’s legit since I’ve been working like a train. Another week off coming though… By the end of it I will spontaneously defeat myself in mortal combat if I don’t find a thing. Especially since after that there’s likely another week off. And another? Oh hell.

Someone called me and offered me a thing. I almost went to the thing because money. It was a money for time thing. I know them well those things. I tend to shun them. I’ve just done three but I could mostly drive around and not be anchored so I could do it on my own terms.

After a sleepless night I walked away from the temptation of quick money for this particular thing. Many reasons but the main one is that this hibernation period feels like a blessing. The economy is going to be reeling when we all come out into the light again. But my industry will pick right up and I want to be ready. There’s loads that’ll need to get in the can. Loads of regular shows that will have run out of content and will need quick learners and quick unruffled actors to get the fuck on with it and do all the scenes in one take. I’m that guy, but my shopfront is wonky and my showreel is arseholes. But this is a rare opportunity. “Get guy I’ve worked with before!” “He’s busy.” “Ok, what about other guy I’ve worked with before?!” “Busy too. They’re all busy.” “All of them? Even guy I worked with before I decided I was important?” “Yeah, he’s playing the lead in a Netflix…” “Bastard! So that means… that means … ah fuck I’ve got to employ a guy I’ve not worked with before? What if he explodes?” “We have no choice.” “We have no TIME either! Send out the breakdowns YESTERDAY.”

I can smash a few more doors down with the help of my glorious agent.

This has been a good year for work. This hiatus is something of a retraction before springing forward, to my imagination. I’m in an excellent headspace. I want to make sure I’m ready when opportunity knocks.

But that involves refusing an opportunity to work from home cold-calling.

Tomorrow I’ll be donning my mask and gloves and picking up the essential shopping for an 80 something year old who lives near me. Since I’m risking viral load anyway I’ll likely stop at the DIY store and get a bunch of light fittings to replace the ones in my flat which have all fallen to pieces. I’ll be an essential worker for a day, as apparently the woman I’m buying for had no clue how she would get food. I am even going to go so far as to knock on every door in my block and ask, from a distance, if they need anything before I leave.

Then I’ll go home, think I’ve switched off the power. Maybe I’ll explode myself in a shower of DIY incompetence, but it’ll be fine because Jacqueline will have had her “NAIRN’S oat cakes”. And if I live through my attempts at rewiring I’ll be able to start day one of my online video editing course. (Buying not teaching. I can’t do everything. Yet.)

For the next half an hour I’m back to my old failed career of “dead mouse puppeteer” for he who must be fed.

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Wish me luck…

Touch / Screen

A few days ago, as I was walking down the Embankment outside my flat on a sunny morning, I failed to hear a jogger approaching behind me. Despite very wide pavements, he had decided I was in his way. Even though he was out in order to do non-vital bodymovement in order to collect endorphins and make himself more healthy, the extra movement involved in running around me was too much for him. He knew I hadn’t seen him or heard him. So he felt justified within the frame he’d built for himself to put both mittened hands on my side from behind and to silently and violently shove me out of his way. I was momentarily shocked. “What the fuck!”

He was plugged into his headphones, head down, on a mission to run, likely listening to some power ballad written by overweight drug addicts in the 1980’s. I shouted imprecations to his deaf ears as he receded, aware that if he chose to turn round and beat the crap out of me he could do a pretty decent job.

Why am I thinking about it still?

Because it’s the only physical contact I’ve had all week. It’s likely to be the only physical contact I’ll have this month. He put his hands on my side. It was sudden. It wasn’t affectionate. It was unwanted. It enraged me.

But it was communication. More effective than me shouting “I hope you fucking catch corona you antisocial dickhead!” to his tight ass as it vanished into the distance.

Touch is a big part of how we transfer energy and information. Everybody is learning new technology because of this isolation. Zoom and houseparty must be spiking downloads. But we are already too isolated. We are already starved of touch. It’s dangerous to normalise things that tear us even further from each other.

An angry man was shouting at me on the tube years ago. Some instinct made me put my hand on his shoulder. He stopped shouting. “I see that I upset you, and I didn’t mean to.” I told him into his momentary silence. It defused a weird moment that might have escalated. But it wasn’t the words, it was the hand on the shoulder.

We are more and more living in bubbles now. Negotiating crowds, I will still do a less impactful version of what the jogger did. I’ll put a hand on someone who hasn’t seen me, so long as they’re roughly equivalent to me in age and not wearing a shoulderless dress or somesuch that would necessitate hand on actual skin etc etc. Even that’s a minefield.

Touch has been getting rarer and rarer anyway, before it became acceptable to greet each other by pointing elbows.

A handshake is a moment of actual connection. Eye contact and skin contact. Simultaneous contact of two major signallers. We gather more information in that moment than we can in ages of conversation. Because there’s more than we understand about how we are connected to one another. And it can’t be transferred through a screen. I know immediately if I’m going to get on with someone from that first moment. I go in for a hug too if I think it’s warranted.

I have no idea when I’m next going to come into contact with another human. That’s crazy. The person who plays arm-pressure wrestling on the shared arm rest. The momentary brush of fingers as the dude hands you your coffee. The handshake, the hair adjustment, “there’s something on your shoulder I’ll get it.” When we get out of this madness we’re going to be conditioned away from touch. Another thing that brings us together, that unites us. We are nothing without each other.

It’s terrifying to think it might be a month or more before I even get shoved away by someone else.

Come back, angry jogger. All is forgiven.

I think I just need to get laid.

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Shakespeare in windy streets with the Rabbi.

A sharp fresh wind is persistent in the quiet streets of London, moving the air from corners that have been stagnant for decades. The sun is bright and clean, like alpine sun. I have been describing a large circle through a town in lockdown, avoiding contact, observing and considering. It’s 11.45. There’s a queue outside Marks and Spencers. Everything else is shut and isn’t going to open at all. M&S open at noon. The queue is longer than it would normally be as each person in line is isolating themselves from the person in front of them. It’s hilarious and strange and sad. I walk past semi visible in my triple filtered gas mask, ski jacket and gloves.

For breakfast I had cold gammon and eggs with reblochon. I mourned the lack of good chutney. We all have a cross to bear. On the whole I’ve eaten very well in this enforced downtime, primarily because I’ve got a well stocked larder and the time to think about how to put it all together. If I could find a way to manufacture the peaceful headspace I’ve found myself in over the last few days and keep it despite having a show in the evening… Pehaps if could learn that trick I’d live a bit longer.

The city is flushing. That’s what it feels like. All the shops have colourful signs on the doors telling us how much they value our custom but sorry they’re closed. The wind rushes past their bolted doors, down the empty roads. The traffic noise, usually my constant companion at home, is now just an occasional engine. For however long it takes, people are cutting back on moving. On everything.

I am joined in my sunny morning walk by my local rabbi. We’re making friends through the mask. He loves his Shakespeare. In some ways he’s a valuable consumer. A fan. He brings me a box set of BBC Shakespeare on DVD. It’s a lovely thought and I accept it smiling. I’m not sure I’ll watch much of it. I’ll try a few. It stinks of miscast famous people being impressively impressive on camera. The rabbi loves his Shakespeare but he’s clearly dumping it on me. “I’ll get it back to you when this all blows over.” “No no, keep it keep it.” I might even have to watch one ahead of the next time we meet: “Oh and wasn’t Helen Mirren just wonderful as Rosalind?” I’ll dig out the boxes and see who’s in them. Maybe watch one of the plays I don’t know so well.

The magnolias are out and nobody is on the streets to see them. This precious time when we shift into Spring. The daffodils and the warm winds, the sun and the memories. Partly I was walking to think. I can’t think too well alone in the flat. I grew up playing in the garden. And it’s Mother’s Day today. I always need to think at this time of year, as the death anniversary swings round again and hits me in the back of the head like a wiffle ball. And I am terrible at thinking without moving as many of you who know me well will attest.

Happy Mother’s Day. Happy Spring. I hope this blows out with the spring winds, or we are going to have a shitty summer. I’m off to chant for better things.

Tomorrow I might stop leaving the house altogether despite all my precautions… Lockdown means lockdown don’t you know? Oh the times…

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Thoughts in semi lockdown

Right now I’m enjoying this lockdown as a kind of obligation free holiday from the norm, but there is no government plan for the self-employed – we’ve been shunted towards universal credit. Lots of people are popping up with online projects as a result. Resourceful people by definition, in a very different state of affairs…

I have a friend who is Italian and has wanted for a while to soften her accent. She has to do panels at film festivals etc and is fed up of being asked to repeat herself. I went online yesterday and tried to deliver a WhatsApp lesson to her on a new vowel sound, plosives and fricatives. The success was mixed. I couldn’t really hear her so it was hard to say helpful things. I couldn’t really see her so it was hard to monitor her tensions. She seemed happy after and offered to pay me, but I told her I wouldn’t take money as I needed to work out better tech, and improve my ability to work remotely like this. I ended up with an open invite to stay in an empty flat in Rome though. In a barter economy that’s a great trade so I’m pretty pleased. Once the world starts moving again I’ll be off to the Trevi fountain, and dancing on the Spanish steps.

But this online stuff is a shift for me. For many of us.

While teaching just as much as while working in a live room, I rely deeply on the instinctive part of me where I can read the room and respond to the immediate needs and bring everybody with me. It’s a big part of what I bring to a live experience, that “understanding of the audience,” plus oodles of charm.

Cookie cut “listen and repeat” type stuff belongs in the 1950s, and even though it might teach others, it won’t teach me. In the same way I struggle to act by numbers. Finding the “live” online will be tricky for me, but I’m good with tricky. It’s a question.


As ever outside today I got some funny looks for my gas mask. It’s pretty full on. It’s not quite the sewn up leather beak of the plague doctor, or the dark familiar glass eyes of the WW2 blitz mask. But I’m sporting my construction respirator in a high street shop, looking like Bane in Peter Jones, while the bemused clerk tells me they’ve been out of bread machines for days.

Marks and Spencers had loo rolls so I bought a pack and dropped it to my neighbor who is older and less willing to risk the shops than I am. I also bought a gammon to replace the one that went rancid. I’m calling the rancid one Nigel. I’m calling this one Boris. I’m hoping it’ll provide for me. It’s cooking as I write.

The mask is unnecessary, part of me says. But I’m still trying to bank on avoiding this disease, particularly at its peak as that’s when the hospitals will get flooded. I’m also aware that right now I’m a healthy free agent that can do things like get bogroll for the neighbors. If I had a scooter I’d be using it off the scale right now picking up and dropping off bits and bobs in a helmet and gloves as the world gets sicker.

It was a beautiful clear morning today though. The roads were comparatively empty. People are enjoying the honeymoon of not working before the cabin fever kicks in, and the self employed –  who are so woefully unprovisioned for – start to have to do something to not lose their homes. I’m very worried for my friends who have regular horrible rent payments to meet. This could be the end of a lot of potentially wonderful artists.

I would always have been on holiday this fortnight. It was the logical point after a huge snowball of work. I can look around without fear for now. But not for months. Not for months. Please.

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Home alone

Max came round to pick up a letter and we kept a distance from each other. My communication with him was rusty as he was the first human I’d spoken to in the flesh for a while. I’m here in my flat, alone with the snake. I’ve been looking at my family’s past, thinking about my own future.

Last night I stubbornly cooked a gammon that went off on the 14th. It smelt a bit off, but I thought maybe cooking it would help. “Might be just the outer layer”… Two hours later I took a slice of rancid cooked meat and put it in my mouth. The body knows immediately. I spat it, washed my mouth out and retched.

I’m pretty loose with use by dates as they’re to protect the seller from idiots. But don’t fuck with pork or chicken. I had to throw the whole thing out. Damn. Sorry piggy I wasn’t paying attention. I had sad runner beans and gravy for supper. Still tasty. Gravy helps with everything.

This morning I hardboiled all the eggs that went off on the 7th. They’re fine so far, and I’ll know when I crack one that isn’t.

There’s not much choice in the local Tesco when I try it out. Tortilla and quiche seem to be the ones that don’t get picked for the team.

The delivery comes and so come the scared people. “The army is going to close down the streets, there’ll be a curfew,” says one of them on WhatsApp with the certainty of someone who hasn’t a clue. They buy all the food on the shelves almost immediately so they can take it home and sing to it it as it rots.

I have no idea when in the day the Tesco delivery comes but I imagine there’ll be a queue of angry people as soon as the van arrives and I’m not going to be one of them. Every time I go near that place it feels bad. There’s always some arsehole trying to make the staff accountable for the fact that another arsehole already got all the X. “Someone told me yesterday if I come at this time etc etc” It feels negative and sick in there, with all the bad energy and the shelves literally teeming with whatever this thing is.

I bought a load of stuff a month ago when my army friend predicted this, so I guess I am in a lucky position. My larder can do a month. But obviously I’d sooner not be burning into emergency supplies right away in case I get properly sick, as I’m on my own here and I understand it can last a good week at high symptoms, this bug. Better to get a modest amount of fresh food daily until symptoms kick in and I’ve only got the headspace left to open a tin. But I guess most people don’t have a prescient army friend or the luxury to risk the supermarket.

On my Facebook timeline my friends are just starting to manifest sick children etc. I’ve been doing my best to totally isolate but I wonder how things will go now.

Seeing my brother was a blessing though. I’ve only really started to understand how fundamentally alone I am now that my social life is no longer a thing. Thankfully I have a beautiful flat, and an attractive pudding of a snake holed up here with me. I’ll be ok for however long it takes. I might need to be a little more proactive with the shopping. And I wish that I had a bread machine. I have wanted one for so long I might go to Peter Jones tomorrow in my mask and see if I can get one over the counter. Then I’ve got warm bread from flour water and yeast and you can be sure that even though all the ready made loaves are being gently stroked in their precious rotting piles by the trembling hands of the fearful, all the flour and yeast is just sitting on the shelf looking pissed off.

A machine is nice because you can set it to wake you. Or I might just make it with my hands.

I hate being in supermarkets in the daytime right now. Normally it’s only like that in the evening, at lunchtime or on weekends. But suddenly all the people who keep themselves locked in boxes are living at home all week. Get back in your boxes! The world is mine on the weekdays, dammit. Even Friday.

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Virus

Fifteen people in my local area logged in to Skype and held a Nichiren Buddhist meeting virtually this evening. I was expecting it to be digital carnage. It worked out very well. It’s strange but maybe the spectre of this horrible illness will bring us closer together. I keep expecting to wake up with a temperature. I’m scared of it. My lungs have taken damage already with the double pneumonia and lung collapse aged twelve. I think they’ve come back stronger. But there’ll be cracks where this little lung eating fucker can set up shop. It’s going to kill some of us…

It’s not the end of the world though, even if going into a supermarket today was a bit like the zombie apocalypse but with no brains. I walked into two and walked straight out. Elbows and sweat and high levels of contagion. Not the place to be while people are panicking. Although I guess I loaded up on survival stuff a month ago when my ex army friend predicted this. “Don’t be a civvy,” he exhorted his civvy friends.

We’ve been forced to switch off our greed for a while, and step away from contact, that’s all.

Sure, there are still greedoutlets, like the blank faced yahoos who are cleaning the aisles of looroll or pasta or hand sanitizer to resell. I’m sure there are also huge stinking dicks rolling other people’s lives on the stock market with their leviathan bags of playmoney. But mostly we are on lockdown wondering what the fuck to do.

And meanwhile the world starts to breathe. Nature is remarkable. Apart from the fact that this particular disease isn’t fatal enough for nature’s needs – (we are the virus), it’s a paracetamol.

Nature got sick a long time ago, with humans. For a long time humans was beneficial to nature, and so it spread through nature’s systems and nature’s home quite freely. Nature eventually had humans throughout her system in symbiosis. It was only then that humans manifested as a parasite. It started with a mutation.

A small strain of humans mutated into a contagious pathogenic cancer called “the Industrial Revolution.” It was unstoppable. The IR cancer spread like wildfire, with IR cancer cells quickly destroying original cells and replacing them and self-replicating. Parts of nature’s body that were entirely healthy and filled with human cultures were replaced overnight with IR cancer human cultures that mutated again and again into more and more dangerous forms.

Nature went to the pharmacist the other day. Its friends were saying “go to the doctor!” but so far nature still thinks it’s not bad enough. “Humans used to be nothing to worry about,” nature is telling itself. It’s only in very recent past that humans has been terrible. So nature took a Covid-19 pill. And it’ll see some benefit from it.

The next month or so nature’ll be thinking “Great, so I took that Covid and actually the symptoms are right down straight away. I might take another stronger Covid in a bit just to make sure but for now maybe I don’t need to flush my system with antihumotics, despite what my good friends tell me.”


Let’s try and learn from this. We are a pathogen. We don’t trust each other. We have been trained to believe that everybody wants our stuff.

We can be what we were. A positive community where the advantage for one is the advantage for all. Although we have learnt from the past.

Communism doesn’t work because of fundamental human greed. “Oh you think that nice thing is YOUR nice thing? Well I’m reporting you to the State because all nice things belong to all people and to start with I’m taking it from your possessive capitalist hands.”

But because the glorious ideal was fundamentally flawed by being too idealistic… Does it mean we have to abandon all kindness and sharing? No. Find a way to share.

Oh, and if you’re healthy and in the UK sign up for the red cross reserves just in case.

Home

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Ancestry

“Anyone fancy me running their family tree,” says Kerry. “It’ll give me something to do while I’m isolating.” She has no idea what she’s just bitten. I have an inkling there’s some crazyass ancestry going on based on word of mouth and heirlooms.

I send her some names, along with the truth – that I don’t really know much about my family. I was young when dad died and still too young to be interested when mum died. Names of cousins and relatives fall out of my head quickly to make room for sentences like “good that you used a transactional control and didn’t just rely on a management review control,” which is the sort of thing I’ve been saying on camera recently.

There’s so much hearsay and speculation about families that you have to wade through months of crap. It doesn’t help that we were living frequently in bailwicks and protectorates, and that everybody on both sides of my family were haring around the world all the way back to the 1500’s. “It looks like he was going on holiday to the Americas at a time when it was extremely dangerous to travel that far…” says Kerry of one of my distant antecedents, a man whose spirit I have always wanted to believe still partly flows through me.

It’s kind of comforting. There are common themes that chime with me. On my mother’s side, there are a surprising number of diarists. I suppose that’s what I am now. Diarist after diarist, sometimes documenting interesting times, sometimes just reflexively documenting. Like this blog, sharing the day to day and letting perspective work.

On dad’s side of the family tree we find the speed and the fascination with things that go forwards. There’s a picture of dad racing an ancient dragster in the early days of motor racing. He was one of the pioneers of motor racing, but his MOTHER was doing it before he was. Just a few days ago I was at Brookwood museum admiring the Barnato Hassan that he used to race before he sold his share to his best friend. Keith only died recently, and there are still some shared vintage cars. I’d love to try and find a way to memorialise the friendship of these two men, dad and Keith Schellenburg, and raise some money for cancer research and Alzheimer’s along the way, and go forwards quickly in something old and dangerous for legacy and for charity. Here’s the photo somebody uploaded to ancestry of dad in a dragster a decade before I was born. The thing looks terrifying. I want a go. Photo of a photo.

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It’s comforting to know that dad was a fucking maniac long before I existed. I’m finding the whole process of digging strangely satisfying. But it makes me want to breed… I see the lines and the connections, the legacies and the priorities. I see branches of family going and being good at one thing or another but I start to see the themes that my grandparents knew by word of mouth. “The sea is in your blood” “there’s healing in your heart” “we are a diplomats”. There’s a lot to understand from seeing how you follow patterns. What did I learn from these people? And what have I forgotten…