Back from Italy

Sometimes when I’m traveling I buy a bottle of whisky on the way home in duty free. But the last few times I’ve had no inclination to do so, for the simple reason that all the airports force you to slalom through expectant shops with all your bags. Even if there’s a good deal to be had I want to choose to go shopping. I hate being funneled like that. The shop is collaborating with the airport simply in order to tempt purchases. We all have to walk further with our bags in the hopes we buy chocolate. It brings home to me the fact that they must be making loads of money, and consequently that the deals aren’t as good as we are expected to believe. So I don’t get myself a cheap bottle of whisky any more. If I want one I’ll go online. Which is probably for the best anyway, as I’m trying to ease back on the amount I drink.

But I’m back in town, whisky or no whisky. I got home to mouldy dishes in the sink, which was slipshod. I also got home starving. It’s only an hour and a half flight, but you ain’t getting an inflight meal with easyJet for less than the price of a house.

I roasted a chicken and Brian and I shoved it into our faces. Now I’m stuffed, tired and happy. Seems I can still nail roast potatoes when I’m rushed and shattered. This trip to Milan has wrought havoc with my tendency towards teetotal veganism. But it’s been brilliant to come away and recalibrate. The coming week promises to be as odd, varied and unpredictable as ever. I’ve got a diary full of madness already, and more in potentia. So this evening I’m just going to get ready for the week, lie back, blog, bath, bed.

Europe is so close, and the competition in the aviation industry plus Airbnb makes it really affordable. I want to book more gigs in other countries and extend my stay before Brexit potentially makes it much harder. The last couple of years have brought so much joy through travel. I used to go off to random bits of Europe a couple of times a year. I stopped doing it as I always had to cancel meetings. This was perfect. I was being paid for half of it. It was tough in terms of shuffling meetings. But bitch as I might about the rise of self-taped preliminary auditions, it means that you can roll the dice without flying back from holiday early. All I missed was a drive to Lake Maggiore when I put down that Hindi scene, and something might come of it. Hassle or no hassle it’s better than having to come back from Italy for a test of the odds, which I’ve done in the past.

Here’s to a good week of delightful ridiculous varied fun. If it’s anything like last week, it’ll be a blinder. I’ll miss the fellowship we had in that villa in Como.

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Bird

A bird that I think is a variety of pigeon got into our conservatory this morning. The poor thing panicked and flew full tilt into the windows repeatedly as it tried to escape. It must have cracked its skull before we got it out. Since then it has staggered in the autumn leaves outside, occasionally hopping around, seeking height, catastrophically insane. We tried to give it water and food, but it still understands that humans are danger so it is using the last of its energy to get away from us. It’s dying. There’s not a great deal we can do. When we get too close its movement sends up a cloud of flies that are probably already bedding eggs into its feathers. Its instincts are more finely honed to avoid humans than they are to shrug off flies. I suspect that it avoids us for preference because we are big, clumsy and obvious. Not because we are a destructive plague to nature. But perhaps it’s a combination of the two. Maybe the insanity has given it perspective.

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8 artists who live in London relaxing in the countryside. There are donkeys next door, flies everywhere, loads of birds, bats, bugs and bloodsuckers. I’m trying not to kill anything, which makes it hard with the mosquitoes, but thankfully they are infinitely more interested in the pale skinned members of the group. I never really get bitten if there are alternative food sources. Brian and Rebecca are dish of the day. I’m emergency rations.

I had to spend ages getting this Hindi self-tape down, which became antisocial. I tried not to let it eat the whole day, so I familiarised myself and sight-read it while filming myself in the sunshine as that pigeon glared at me. “Look at you, messing around while I’m dying.” I could hear it think. Everyone else was off having fun. I was filming myself talking to myself in a language I didn’t understand while that mad skullcracked pigeon reflected me back to myself through its little dark eyes.

Brian had tried to give it water earlier. I tried again. It still feared humans too much though. So I sat in the conservatory and it came and stared at me through the glass as I tried to upload videos of myself to the internet. Slow slow upload. So slow. I couldn’t stand the avian scrutiny. I went for a drive, leaving my phone at home to work.

We rely on technology so much. I got in the car and realised I didn’t know my address. I had no map. I know nobody’s number. If I got lost I would get very lost. But I found a wood and walked in it. I found porcini mushrooms, but didn’t have my phone with me to confirm so I left them. Even if I’d been certain I probably wouldn’t have brought them to the table as I don’t want to kill my friends from idiocy. But all my habits revolve around grabbing this phone. I write my blog on it. I play my music on it. I navigate, film self tapes, upload movies. This morning I spoke to a man in India on it. He was on a bus and he taught me how to pronounce some phrases. It’s amazing what these things can do. Impossible. Wonderful. I took a photo of a dying pigeon covered in flies on it. Here it is. It just looked at me. Four foot was its boundary for me.

Self tape is uploaded. Time to get stuck into the last night prosecco and enjoy the fact that people have come home now and the pigeon has slunk round a corner. We’re making too much noise.

I suspect I’ll wake up in the middle of the night and it’ll be sitting at the end of my bed. As I rub my eyes in disbelief it’ll keel over and die. Meantime I’m going to help cook dinner. And drink more prosecco.

 

Barbecue

Today has been wonderfully relaxing. The quality of the produce round here is so high. I’ve been eating mozzarella and salads, tomatoes and beautiful cuts of meat, baked camembert and probably far too much prosecco because it’s €2.99 a bottle.

After driving to Como yesterday it felt justifiable to lounge in the villa all day today. We’ve been ambling around barefoot to a varied but excellent soundtrack. We wrote a murder mystery for ourselves just because it might be fun. That’ll happen this evening and either be a car crash or an entertainment.

Rebecca is convinced we’re all going to get murdered here, so it makes sense to create towards the fantasy. She’s running off classic horror movie tropes. 8 varied personalities having a lovely time in a villa in Italy. Friday 13th. Lots of weird stuff on the walls. Straps and cast iron pokers and so forth. It IS pretty odd here. There’s an antique sewing machine in every room. Old keys and irons are displayed prominently in the communal areas. There’s an autonomous mower that wanders around and tries to eat the things you leave. It hacked into a pool noodle yesterday and I ended up scolding it like you would a bad child. Then I tried to adjust his settings and ended up inadvertently shutting him down. I miss him. He’s just sitting there on the lawn, inert. We had given him a name. I hope he’s not angry with me for accidentally shutting him off.

The power to the villa cut off randomly in the middle of the afternoon. I’m hoping that doesn’t happen once it’s dark. It’s beautiful here but having written this murder mystery it would be weird to suddenly be plunged into darkness. Especially considering how the temperature plunges at night.

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We are having a barbecue now, and I picked up my phone to write this and intercepted an email from my agent wanting a self tape for tomorrow in English and Hindi. They know I don’t speak Hindi but that doesn’t seem to have bothered them. It’s a very strange existence I’ve chosen. I have no idea how I’m going to pull that off, considering my Hindi speaking friends are all in London and I’m lounging around in a villa in Como. Still, I can certainly hack something out. But tonight it’s barbeque and the rest of this prosecco.

My dear old friend is also messaging me with phrases that he wants read into a microphone for a computer game pitch that he’s assembling. It’s already feeling a little like the random work world is trying to suck me back in immediately, as soon as I allow myself to take my foot off the gas and chill out.

To the extent that actually fuck it I’m going to put my phone back down for the rest of the night and just enjoy the good company and tasty barbeque without disappearing into this Hindi script. If they will contact me when I’m on holiday, with less than 24 hours notice and no mention of how much I’ll be paid, then they’ll get what they’re given…


Murder mystery was ridiculous fun. It was mostly cross gender and I ended up as Bianca Castafiore and also the murderer. I poisoned one of my biggest fans, stabbed the arsonist kid in the back, clubbed the Mafia Don to death and ran away, and gave a heavy overdose to the young woman that sang me a song. Then I managed to frame the chef and got away with it. All those times I’ve played werewolf paid off…

Here we all are…

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Como

“What’s your blog going to be about today?”, asks Mel as Marco jags the convertible Opel Cascada round a headland and Lake Como spreads itself out beneath us, spiked with evening sun. I feel like a 1960’s model. I trust Marco not to force me to give him a blowjob too. So I can just enjoy the ride as the sun goes down. Mel’s question isn’t rhetorical either. It’s been a full day.

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It’s not summer any more. In fact it’s freezing once the sun is gone. That won’t stop us keeping the top off this ridiculous car as the night closes in. We are heading back to the villa now, for spaghetti puttanesca, way too much red wine and… well you never know, if Marco plays his cards right maybe it’ll happen naturally. Don’t get me wrong, it’ll be a first for both of us. But this place is full of surprises. And I’ve said the word Rimula a great deal lately so things like that are close the surface.
We’ve finished the thing that we were doing. I won’t say we’ve finished working because it was barely classifiable as work. Rimula job firmly rimmed. Heavy Duty Diesel Engine Oil is lubricating trucks in the world, but the future holds even lower viscosity oils, and even tighter fuel efficiency. Hooray etc. 

Half of the team are already back in the UK. The rest of us have gone to Como. And Marco upgraded his rental car to the hilarious convertible which has just been described by Mel as a “pussywagon.” Armed with such an egregious set of wheels, what choice do we have but to spin through the sunset roads by the lake?

This is the first uncomplicated holiday I’ve allowed myself for a while. I’m having a few days to switch off and recalibrate. Although having said that my manager just got off the phone, and I’m likely to have to send a self tape to her tomorrow. But for the most part I want to eat good food, catch the last of the Mediterranean sun, and stop banging my head against the wall for a second.

Last time I went on holiday in Italy, I came home and immediately shot a WW1 reconstruction. This was ten years ago, and I wasn’t able to get emails abroad. I learnt the soldier I had auditioned for. Then I arrived on set to discover that I was cast as a different soldier who also spoke a lot. I had to learn it during hair and makeup, while trying to make out like I wasn’t fazed and was totally prepared. I had to stash a load of bottles of pretend alcohol in my coat and then come and be terribly terribly posh in the trenches in a telling of the famous Christmas armistice. I wished the alcohol was real. It was not a pleasant shoot, internally. Went fine on the outside. I can’t imagine making that mistake now. My skin crawls thinking about it.  That job still pays me though. Every December I get money for usage. Every year it gets smaller. Last year it was down to 42p, efficiently paid direct to me by BACS just before Christmas by my old agent.

It still looks likely I’ll be shooting just after I get back from this holiday. I’ll be learning the right part this time round though… Fingers crossed.

Rimula Day 3

As we walk through the city at dawn, the trees are alive and swarming. Thousands of starlings, their sound almost as if it has been electronically amplified. They flow through the branches of these tame urban trees in the piazza, as they wait for the moment to launch. If you clap your hands there’s a flash of silence as they link their hivemind to ascertain there’s no danger before going back to their squabbling. Soon, when the sun rises behind the station, they will all simultaneously launch and circle above the square, weaving and spiralling in their impossible vast cooperative murmurations. My grandparents always thought of these flocks as significant. “Someone is thinking of you.” I find them fascinating. Do we have the capacity to move so gracefully together, united with no leader? Under what set of circumstances can we move like that, connect like that, fly like that?

It’s lovely to be away from home again. Lombardy is still pretty warm, and the work is far from punishing. This morning was just a short high energy shift in the morning, and nothing until evening. I took the time to pound the streets, as is my wont, and try and connect with the flock of people here. The apartment blocks are often beautiful, with marble colonnades and modest sculptures. Old men sit outside coffee shops smoking. The streets are nonsensical, winding round arbitrarily hither and yon. Roots push up through the tar. The basilicas are open and virtually unstaffed. Huge low dark buildings with painted ceilings and shrines. “Don’t come in unless you’re here to pray.” I lit a candle for my Catholic mother. I’m slowly candling my way through the Catholic world, speeding mum through purgatory as best I can. Another city in Italy, another incompetent but earnest prayer, another few hundred years off the ticket.

I’m a fan of mixing my metaphors, so the afternoon took me to the Buddhist Centre. I went with Max and Chanie. Max is a fashion photographer and he’s just had a baby with Chanie, an ex model from London. I hadn’t met either of them before but they’re friends with a friend,  good people, and despite neither of them being Buddhists they wanted to go to the new Milan Buddhist Centre and had a car so that was a shoe-in. We spent a sunny day getting to know each other which has now ejected me onto the steps of the Duomo as the sun sets. I can see no starlings, but there is a huge murmuration of tourists in the piazza, chittering, weaving and squabbling as they go about their business. If I were to make a loud enough noise, they would all simultaneously stop and assess the danger, then continue where they left off. There’s so much colour here. So much variation. So many different humans milling around doing their own thing but not bumping into one another. I could sit here and observe them for hours, only I’m supposed to be doing some sort of award ceremony later this evening. As far as I understand I’m the guy that says “And the winner is…” Simon Cowell wasn’t available.

I’m still in my costume. The advantages are that I don’t lose my sunglasses and hat, and that I can people watch without making people self-conscious. The disadvantages are that I stick out like a sore thumb in this city of fashion, and that there’s an ever present danger of falling into a manhole or walking into a lamppost with these glasses on  I can safely sit and watch the people for a while, even if I can barely see them. I can try to find a way to link minds with everyone in the square and get them to fly with me, even if just for a moment. It’s got to be worth a try. Then I’ll go to work. Or fall into a manhole.

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Rimula Day 2

“It’s a show car,” says Nessie. His Scottish accent is so strong I hear “short car.” A what car? “A show car,” he repeats with emphasis. “It’d be stupid to bring a real one to an event like this. First reason is weight. This is just a load of carbon fibres. There’s no engine. There’s no anything. Even the wheels. They’re the heaviest bit but they’re not polymerised like they would be on a working car. They’re just basic. They look the same but they’re no use – they’d burst. Second reason is damage. Someone gets drunk, tries to get in, damages a mirror – that’s only about 300 euro and quick to replace. They damage a real mirror on a model like this, first of all Ferrari have to go into the archive, that’s three months. Then they get back to you and it’s 3,000 euro.”

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Nessie clearly speaks from experience. He and Stu are changing the show wheels on the show car in a concrete sun trap. I know his name isn’t Nessie, but clearly he enjoys being the Scotsman abroad as it’s how he introduces himself. “It’s because I’m hard to find.” Stu is ex army, and the butt of all his jokes. He immediately decides to call me “Big Al,” which I suppose makes sense as I’m, notionally, a trucker.

We are in the National Museum of Science and Industry. There’s a submarine through the window, and next to it a 1959 fighter jet. There is also a human cannonball cannon, which looks absolutely lethal. I’m fascinated and terrified by it. How do you shoot someone out of a cannon without breaking their legs? I never want to find out in practice. It must be a combination of technology and technique. The thing is covered in filth and what looks like it might be crusted dried blood from someone’s exploding kneecap.

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My little area is in an aircraft hangar that has been meticulously cleaned and painted and evidently plays host to numerous conferences on this scale. Right now there are lots of people walking busily back and forth in Shell uniforms. Some of them are tweaking projections of oil drops on the walls. Others are interviewing people in corners with TV cameras. “How has Shell changed since you’ve worked for them?”

I did a show about the oil industry in Nigeria some years ago. Speaking to people as part of my research I came across the phrase “Shell build shells.” I was told that, in exchange for oil pipelines they promise to build schools. They do build them. But they don’t staff them. So they sit there empty. It’s a curious thing now to be employed by Shell after some of the things I’ve heard. I’m going to have to spend the money well. I recently refused to audition for an advert for The Sun. But protest as I might, clearly I’m a gun for hire right now. Roll on that gig that means I can be more choosy. I’m blissfully happy in this company though. These vast monoliths – they employ lots of lovely humans.

I’ll be up in a few minutes. “It gives me great comfort to know that Shell Rimula Heavy Duty Diesel Engine Oil is tested to the highest standards on vehicles like my truck.” Tough gig… Nessie has found out where the free food is and he’s making it his business to disseminate the information. You can take the man out of Scotland… I’m immediately fond of him. Ack here they come. Work time.


I now know a great deal more than I ever thought I’d know about viscosity and fuel efficiency. I have watched a man called Frank passionately expound the fine details of real world engine oil testing. You pick up some strange little nuggets of learning in this job. Tomorrow I might be standing on a Jeep in Como. Let’s see…

Rimula Day 1

The hotel we are staying in is next to San Siro stadium. San Siro seats 80k people and is the home of both AC Milan and Milan Internationale. The two rival teams share it, which must be a strange arrangement in practice. The fact it’s there means that it’s mostly car parks in the local area. We were rehearsing this morning in one of them, in the blazing sunshine. I couldn’t go too far afield for food even though in the end I still don’t really know what I’m supposed to be doing tomorrow and they never got round to my bit. I ended up getting a hot dog from the generic American diner, which was the only place I could find. At least it was cheap, but my dream of beautiful bowls of spaghetti vongole, vast pizzas, entire dead horses – that has yet to be realised.

We are doing a job for Rimula. This Rimula job is logistically complicated but promises to be satisfying. Some people might feel that a Rimula job is beneath them, but I’m very happy to get stuck in. Rimula.

Rimula is a lubricant. It’s the new heavy duty engine oil from Shell. When products like this are launched there are large scale conferences and there’s frequently plenty of odd work to be had for performative people. Mostly in the past I’ve done this sort of thing for alcohol. I was a monkey gangster in London with free whisky, a leathery bar owner in Ijmuiden having to drink Sol in the scene halfway through a teetotal year, a newspaper vendor in Amsterdam with free Heineken, a weird sex party type guy in King’s Cross with free Courvoisier. Now I’m a trucker in Milan for engine oil. I’m less likely to be drinking the freebies. But the work is familiar. If I felt like it I could draw up an impressive looking CV for this sort of thing. The more I think about it the more I remember I’ve done. Perhaps I should pitch for it more. I love to travel for work and enjoy doing random things. When The Globe went to every country in the world for Hamlet – God I wanted an audition for that gig. I’ll have to try and instigate something like that again. Can’t think of anything I’d sooner be doing than Shakespeare and world travel combined.


Still, this is pretty good. I’m in a huge marbled hotel in the centre of town. There’s a beautiful jazz quartet noodling away in the room next door. In this room, three musicians are passing the time by jamming beautifully and playfully together. People keep bringing us free food and water. In fact a waiter just dropped a load of Montepulziano d’abruzzo on the table in front of me.

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It doesn’t look bad but we have a small duty this evening. In about half an hour, we are going to come and stand by some doors and be courteous and charming to a whole load of people who really really care about engine oil. Then we’ll go off into Milan and find a bowl of spaghetti vongole, a pizza as big as the Ritz, and a dead horse.