Accidental pub quiz

On my way up to Manchester the other day, Dean walked, by coincidence, into my train carriage with his two dogs. On the day of storm Ciara I ended up in Chorlton catching up with him, along with Nathan, Ruth, and Mat. We consumed vast quantities of red wine and a whole family of chickens.

Dean waited for me to get my shit together the next morning and we traveled back to London together. “I’ll call you when I get to Hampstead,” I told him, knowing I’d be house-sitting this week.

I didn’t feel very sociable this evening. London is a big place though, and you can be very efficiently alone in public. I felt like letting someone else cook, so I grabbed a graphic novel – (Necropolis from 2000AD if you must know) – and I wandered down to The Garden Gate. My plan was to get a quiet plate of sausage and mash, read an iconic story that I’d missed from my childhood, and then roll home tipsy and full of sausage.

I had been in the pub for less than a minute when someone clocked me. Turns out Dean was there with some other old friends for pub quiz night. “You’re usually on the winning team!” says Ruth. “I just came for a quiet drink and sausage and mash…” “Join our team!”

I join them. I sit opposite Dean. Again. The world is tiny and strange and wonderful. We are following each other around.

I have sausage and mash and social anxiety. The anxiety passes quickly and I get stuck into the quizzing.

Yes it’s true what Ruth has noticed. We frequently win this quiz. It’s Mel’s local and Mel is good at quizzing. But Mel is in New Zealand and suddenly I’m moonlighting on the quiz with other friends. London! I’ve been in this city so long there are people everywhere who I’ve done stuff alongside. Sometimes I see them in supermarkets or on buses. Sometimes I say hello. Sometimes I hide. This evening I had no choice but to muck in when I was feeling antisocial.

It was Ruth that clocked me. She pulled me from a deep thought where I was engaging with an article on my phone, and more or less oblivious to the world. I had to completely recalibrate my evening plans for myself. It turned into a great night.

 

We didn’t win. But second comes right after first, as Buzz Aldrin said.

Our team ended up being called “Sausage and Mash” and just by chance there were a lot of questions that my weird memory held. We won wine for the table, and it’s memorable winning a prize in a pub quiz. Too often it’s just the one same team of four old blokes winning week after week, year after year. The one I used to go to at The Magdala, right near The Garden Gate, they had such a team. The quizmaster solved their monopoly by giving an excellent prize to the team with the funniest wrong answer.

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We played to win tonight. And came close enough to winning that we can feel good about it. Especially because it’s almost certain that the winning team Shazammed the music round. Bastards.

Storm and sleep

This darn storm.

Mat put me up on a spare bed near Chorlton. I realised how many friends I’ve got up that way. I could’ve been stuck for a fortnight and stayed in a different lovely person’s spare sleep place every night. There are loads of ace people I didn’t see at all.

I slept beautifully as the winds blew overnight. My sleep might well have been augmented by the fact that I had resigned myself to a slow return and that I had written today as a work day off completely in favour of just making sure I got home before they shut the trains down again.

Now I’m in Hampstead. I’m keeping an eye on a friend’s flat up here and she has terrible flooding. Considering the ongoing weather outside, I thought it would be worth changing buckets etc.

As it happens it’s been better than I thought. But I’ll live here for a night or two as the storm rages outside. I’ve brought a few changes of basic clothes, and enough reading material for a week or two – although in fact I’m going to get through what I brought in no time. I’m writing this blog at 3am with one eye open having been compulsively reading until I was about to sleep soundly, and then the biological blog alarm reminded me I still had to make words.

The window to my left is full facing the wind tonight. My friend lives on the top floor as well, and has some problems that are familiar to me in my flat : high wind, the people below hating you for existing, atrocious water pressure.

I’m enjoying the winds now, nestled as I am in a better made bed than the one I normally make for myself at home. I like hearing the cold hard world smashing against my lucky wall.

Tomorrow I might go for a walk on Hampstead Heath. I’ve got a fair amount of work to do but I can do it from home in this instance, and it’s pleasant work – it’s basically just finding people who are reliable and giving them work. But home until Thursday is going to be here in South End Green. A lovely high part of London. And one where I’m going to close my storm-tossed eyes and go to sleep listening to the buffeting of the waning tempest on the window as I lie cocooned in this insanely comfortable bed wondering how the hell I got so swept up in my reading that I forgot to do the writing.

A highlight of my day was when I discovered that I can make cauliflower into a food I enjoy. I rolled in in mayo and breadcrumbs and spices and then roasted it for half an hour, but I mention it because it’s the only photo I took today despite all the stormy things I witnessed. My photo muscle is not strong at all. I’ve been aware of it for some time but repeatedly do nowt…

Hey ho.

Sleep.

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Old friends, bookends, obsessions

Waking up in The Principal this morning I had no idea of the carnage that had been going on overnight. Great big old hard walls protected me from the storm as I dozed in my vast hotel bed. The world could’ve ended and I wouldn’t have noticed. I just hit sleep.

Today my plan was to go for lunch with Nathan, my old mate from drama school, and then to get a train back to mine. The storm had other plans. I’ve never had to hold onto my trilby so hard as I have today. The tram to Chorlton was interrupted with concerned messages from the driver about trees on the line, and flooding. I got to Nathan’s. We had chicken.

It was only shortly thereafter that I realised that I was going to end up stuck here in Manchester tonight. The trains are all buggered because of wind and flooding and unfamiliar things and basic lack of infrastructure. It would be magical if the hotel rang me up and said “I understand you might be stuck in Manchester – we have booked you into our sexy hotel room for another night.” But that’s not how But hotels work. So I’m stuck in Manchester with no hotel.

It’s fine. Manchester has treated me brilliantly. I have many friends in Manchester, and some of them have sofas, or spare beds.

Mat has got a place for me to lay my head tonight. Tomorrow I should be able to get back into London town where there is toothpaste and broccoli and I can start pretending to be a normal human being again. 

Today was meant to be a work day on social media things but this weather has fucked it and so I’m using it as an opportunity to physically catch up with old friends.

Nathan lived with me for five years after Guildhall. We forged paths together. We went on the pull together, catalysed by him, reluctantly but inevitably. We both tried to work out how to be a working actor in London together in the early noughties, and have sex in our lives as well.

He’s living in Manchester now with two daughters and a brilliant wife. Today his house has been a nexus of old kind friends and dogs. I’ve been part of the mix.

We ended up in a warm circle talking shit to each other and enjoying the rare reality of each other’s company. Right now husband and wife are fiercely debating about whether or not their daughter is “Catholic”. Outside the storm is raging.


Now I’m at Mat’s. He’s rolling himself a smoke, and gave me a gin. We are listening to Simon and Garfunkel playing live in Central Park in 1981 on vinyl through the most incredible sound system. Mat’s flat in Manchester is the same size and design as my friend Helen’s in London. Helen shares her flat with two other people she can’t really choose. This is just Mat’s.

He’s got a gin box.

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I do find myself wondering what I’m doing in London. It’s bollocks. It really is. You get nothing for everything. But at least you’re near the job…

Good to hang out with old friends from college. I was just starting to worry that I was the wreckhead before I got back to Mat’s and realised we are peas in a pod. He’s about music like I am about story… Love this. I’m clocking off to enjoy his home, the music and the gin…

Hopefully the trains to London tomorrow will be running. Cowards.

Old books on set

I’m sitting in a very quiet room full of books in Manchester, wearing a vintage suit. Forty people are crammed into a corridor just round the corner, moving equipment. There’s the hum of activity and the occasional squawk of a walkie-talkie. Space is limited. There’s a lot of crew here and they’re all busy. We have a few things left to shoot, and an hour in which to shoot them.

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This little peaceful room has been designated the Green Room for us. As Green Rooms go it’s not so bad. Thousands of ancient tomes from the days when printing was not commonplace, collected by an earl and bought for a few hundred thousand in the 1890’s. Now they’re stored here, in sealed climate controlled glass cabinets, worth a good million now I expect. Operatic prompt books, scriptures, histories, books on philosophy and annals and languages. They are pretty even in their cages. So are we. We all look lovely all dolled up.

A few of us will sit here until we’re needed. This is often the reality of filming for an actor. Hours of sitting. Intense moments of activity. More sitting.

There are lots of extras somewhere as well. God knows where they’ve put them. They usually fence them off in a bus or a dungeon somewhere, but wherever they are I bet there’s tea.

Artificial light is streaming through the windows in the corridor outside confounding our body clocks once again. Outside the land is dark. The storm is rolling in. The wind’s gonna blow…

Once we’re done here I’ll have to go to back to unit base through whatever the weather has turned out to be. It’s on the other side of town. I’ll change clothes. Then I’ll have to come back – back to a hotel just round the corner from here. Sod it. I should’ve brought my stuff to set.

I’m hoping that Nathan and Dean will still be awake by the time I’ve checked in. I fancy a stormy night on the town in Manchester. It’s Saturday, and I don’t get to come to the city very often. It’ll be a good chance to catch up with old friends.

Even though time is running out, I have faith in the machine of this set finishing on time. They are very sharp at speeding up when they need to. My first time on this set a few weeks ago I was blinded by the efficiency of the unit, as they whizzed through the shots but got every one of them nicely done in time to wrap us bang on cue, not a minute to spare. I’m expecting they’ll work similar magic in the 45 minutes remaining.

There goes the call. “Rolling!” They’re shooting something which means they’ve set up.


Yep. Sure enough, lots of walking and I’m done for the day. It’s raining. I’ll throw my clothes back on and hopefully I’ll get to hang out with the lads in Chorlton. If not I’ll be me vs a 5 star hotel bar, which will leave me shirtless and still sober at 4am.

Old friend phone drop

I was getting home from the lovely day when I realised I needed a poo. The train left in 4 minutes. I rushed through it but there appeared to be no loos on board. No way I was going to make it home. Flustered, I got out of the loo-free train onto the platform at Guildford, where I accidentally punched my own phone out of my hand and hard into the concrete platform face down.

Barely caring in my time of need I swept up the phone and did the “is it working test” while hunting the loo on the platform. I found the loo on the platform, but the phone failed the test. Whilst I was in the loo on the platform the loo-less locomotive left and my phone stayed broken.

In the ensuing half an hour before the next train I paced the platform at Guildford somehow hoping against hope that resetting it would fix it. Nope.

My ticket was on that phone. My life was on that phone. Suddenly faced with a brick I found myself wondering what to do.

I’ve often disliked iSmash. Big chain, on the high street, charging way over the odds to fix your device. I haven’t got a spare phone though.

I got on the train. I tried Google assistant. “Ok Google, what time does iSmash on the king’s road close?” Miraculously, my phone told me: “iSmash King’s Road closes at half seven”. So the phone isn’t dead. Just the screen.

Ok. Sod it. A destination.

I get on a bus from Clapham Junction. I walk up to the King’s Road and get to iSmash at 6. I’m thinking I’ll have to pick it up tomorrow somehow but no. Half an hour! How much?

Eye-watering. Two hundred and fifty quid. It’s like getting your car towed. Ow. But half an hour at six in the evening?! I guess that’s what you pay for. I’m off to Manchester tomorrow, early. I’ll need this phone. I’ll be paid more for tomorrow than I paid them to fix it. Balance?Karma? Fucknose. I’m just glad to be able to write on my phone.

I’ve been at the home of my dear old friend Dan. I’ve been recording some samples for a game he’s making. I haven’t seen him since I got politicked out of attending his wedding three days before the event in a way that still fills me with rage and powerlessness when I think about it. It was the single worst thing that has ever happened to me in the course of my job. I really hate some aspects of this insecure career.

It’s a mountain to climb to get back, but thank God we are old enough friends to stick the picks in and start hauling. We worked for a bit, then went for a walk in the park with Matilda who is a streak of lightning and hates anything speedy her size that doesn’t have nice smelling bollocks. Then we had a burger. Then a bit more work.

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It’s good to have his friendship back, and Guildford is highly accessible compared to his old haunt of Canada. I’m looking forward to more time hanging out there in the near future, especially since Jack is about to play Macbeth down there.

Next time, though, I’ll make sure I go to the loo before I leave the house. Or keep a tighter grip on my phone.

Things in random order

Normal service resuming. Yesterday was essentially a theatre review. I hope you enjoyed it.

I ended up naming people and writing what was both a blog and a review. I remembered a blog over the summer where everybody was mentioned but two of us in The Tempest and the two were very aware of the silence. I realised I had to name more names or nobody. It snowballed from there. I neglected to name people connected as well for fear of it becoming an unpalatable list – in particular the individuals in the production team that organised two tickets to a packed house for me and Tristan.

Someone in Oxford might have been smashing up effigies of me made out of teeth for failing to call attention to their creative input. I hope not. This is why I don’t write about theatre, though. It’s my world and I love it unconditionally, but it can get political in here.

“You should be a critic,” Kitcat said after I tried to answer one of her many many questions in detail after she said “What was the show like?” I disagree with her about being equipped to be a critic. I’ve got too much skin in the game to write about theatre successfully. What the hell happens if it’s made by friends of mine and it doesn’t work to my mind? I’m so glad I loved Bleak House.

I’m not one to compromise my integrity so I’d be compromising my connections instead if I hated something. I guess this is why we have the loosely anonymous online theatre writers that exist online these days.

I write unfiltered daily, sometimes drunk, sometimes extremely drunk, sometimes angry, sometimes cosmic. Occasionally maybe I can write a concrete review of something that’s struck me – that counts as a blog, aye? Just I can’t do that all the time, or transactionally. I need to choose my material or I’d probably have tried to solicit a column in a weekly rag somewhere. Al Barclay is unwell, anyone? I mean… It’s tempting. After all they pay you for the words. I’ve switched off ads for this, so I get bollocksycustard for a book’s worth of insight/ranting. In fact I have to pay WordPress ‘undred pahnd a year for the privilege of hosting it, the monsters. Better internet people than me might be able to help me port it to a website. I own albarclay.com. Tim Evans once did shit-tons of work porting old posts and then the hosting fell off and I wasn’t tech savvy enough to solve it and he hauled me out for starting again on WordPress.

My PayPal is alhimself@hotmail.com. But I’m not in financial crisis at all right now or doing a Wikipedia. I’m just looking at the shape of things in a little period of change and rethinking.

Bleak House was a wonderful watch. Go see it.

Full disclosure: I’d thought I might end up being involved in it, and sent a ridiculous tape from Chicago, but it fell another way. And thank God, because now I’m doing some filming which is not only lovely and very well paid, but will really bolster my CV. It wouldn’t have been possible if I was theatreing in Oxford. The lord giveth, the lord taketh away.

“This is what happens when you give us space to work,” says my agent, and I fucking love her for it.

Onward. Bedtime.

All this thought about Oxford has made me REALLY WANT A FUCKING MOTORBIKE AGAIN… This too shall pass.

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Bleak House at Creation Theatre

Bleak House is one of Dickens’s long form serial novels, turned out in the 1850’s, telling a story about love and identity against the backdrop of a seemingly endless legal case, mired in dense fog at the Court of Chancery.

It isn’t necessarily the most obvious choice for a piece of musical theatre, but Creation Theatre are not the most obvious theatre company, and they’ve got the creative team and the raw experience to make something very special.

They’ve been lighting up the town of Oxford for decades now, making beautiful theatre in all sorts of different spaces. And for this Bleak House they’ve chosen one of my favourite places in the world. Blackwell’s Bookshop on Broad Street, Oxford.

It is after hours when we arrive but the tills are open. We are presented with 15% off vouchers as we walk in. I’m already thrilled. The shop is a treasure house of wonder bound in paper. So many books, so beautifully laid out. It feels so full of books that you can almost hear them sing. The smell of it! The feel of it! Oh I love it so. There’s nothing like a good book, and doubly so in this age of scrolling.

We descend into The Norrington Room, where a stage has been built amid the books. A little grey square of wood tricked out with trapdoors and crawl-spaces.

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The last time I was here was 2012 for The Odyssey as a performer. This stage is a clear evolutionary leap from the one I knew so well, and it’s beautifully and cleverly lit by Ashley Bale. I am able to appreciate it more as well, knowing that I’m not going to have to make up a whole Homeric Odyssey for 200 strangers. Other people will be doing the hard work tonight, turning the bookladen shelves into other worlds in other times for our entertainment.

And there they are, the actors, immediately pinging out in simple but effective flexible costume skillfully organised by Ryan Dawson-Laight. Three women and two men standing around the edges of the stage, in the reflected murmur of the settling audience, screwing on their show-heads, watching the watchers wander in, adrenaline speeding up their thoughts: “have I got my plectrum oh look there’s the bishop of Oxford is the bird-book set in the right place have a good show guys God I’m a bit nervous ok so the director’s sitting over there is my fly zipped up what’s that line again”.

It begins and I’m immediately lost in it. This sprawling strange book has been crystallised beautifully by Olivia Mace, who fits everything we need in, keeping the spirit and poetry and theatrical vigor and adding a dash of mischief and a wash of music. Not content with just adapting and converting Dickens’s opus, she provides us all with songs and some tender choral moments.

Deborah Newbold’s direction encourages truth and focus so that the broader characters can ping with movement when they need to, and uses every method possible to shift and change the space and keep her audience following this complicated tale through its many changes. All the actors are playing multiple parts, aided in changes and safety by movement director Cydney Uffindel-Phillips. Frequently they’re grabbing instruments as soon as they are out of the main action of the scene and feeding back into the soundscape. When they can they keep that soundscape going, but there’s only five of them so I guess it couldn’t be a constant underscore without totally frying all of their brains. I wished there could have been, but budgets are budgets, and we all tend to have a maximum of two hands.

Eleanor House brings violin and great humour to her work, making, among others, a fantastically awkward singing prat of Mister Guppy and a delightfully funny Hortense motormouthing GSCE French. Some of my most unexpected laughs were courtesy of her choices. Joanna Holden has the job of playing the most characters, and pulls all sorts of shapes and voices out while swarming up and down the ubiquitous stepladders in boots with surprising assurance, snapping from high status to low and back again, bringing surprising humanity to Lady Dedlock. Sophie Jacob is the heart of the play with Ester, setting the tone with the opening lines, and working with such specificity and clarity that it came as a surprise to read that this is her professional debut. Offstage she brought great music as well on keyboard. Bart Lambert is still and sharp, smouldering in moments and bounding in others, veering deftly from warm to cold. And my old mate Morgan Philpott, playing a load of parts plus guitar, heartbreaking when he had to be, when the wind was in the west.

It’s easy to forget when you watch theatre how many people go into the making of it. So many people from conception to execution. This show was rumbling along in summer when I was up in Oxford doing the Tempest. The Creation Team and Olivia literally made it from nothing but an idea and now hundreds of people will come to Blackwell’s and buy lovely books and watch lovely actors and have a lovely time in Oxford from now until the 7th March. You can be one of those people!

This is a very warm hearted telling of an eccentric and wonderful novel. It moves along at great pace guided confidently by good people in a beautiful place. Catch it if you can!