Douglas/Southport

Southport is full of Manx flags, and no surprise. There is something reminiscent of the Isle of Man here. Windswept shrubs, sand flies, gorse. Constant wind. Roads. Pebble dash. Hydrangeas. Sea air. About 3 years behind

If I had a really powerful catapult I reckon I could get myself plastered on the harbour wall at Douglas head. Just like old days, but messier. If I squint on a clear day I can make out the outline of one of my old mates telling me I still owe him a pint of Okells and a kipper. Or it could be Douglas Head. If I have time when I’m done here I’m tempted to get a ferry and see the old place for a night or two. Or a catapult, I guess, but a ferry for preference with this rib. I could go walking in the hills and shout at sheep in the wind. It’s a thought. Although my agent has got the hump with me for not putting my availability into her agenting software. Against all odds I have had two meetings on two consecutive days and have had to turn them both down. I’m sure I told her my dates. Sometimes it feels like fate does this stuff on purpose to fuck with me. They were only commercial auditions, so no career stuff there, and a bit like a lottery ticket. But money is the reason I’m here, and commercials still do money, although not as much as they used to. I think this might be lesson learnt, already. I’m slow at learning lessons and also a humongous masochist. So I needed to take a bit more punishment post Ascot. But I’m here now. No more of this shit. (We shall see).

I’m in the 1860 restaurant, which will be my only existence for the coming week. I have an ubergruppenmanager who I met today. Sean. He’s sweet, although he’d never self describe like that. His wife had her first ultrasound today and he couldn’t be bothered to try to hide his joy and excitement at “seeing” his son for the first time. His behavior over the next day or so will directly affect my experience here so I’m hoping he stays happy. He’s South African, but doesn’t appear to be a megalomaniac or a panicker. He seems perfectly happy for my staff to answer to me if I answer to him. He’s OCD as holy hell and inevitably I’ll be swearing about him by the time I’m done, so it’s worth me documenting for myself that I don’t think he’s an axe wielding lunatic now for referral later when I’m tired and angry.

After work we had the luxury to go and watch the sun go down with a beer. We stood on a wide sandy beach like the beach at the end of the world, and toasted the sunset.

IMAG1215

I’m willing to believe that, rib or no rib, this will be less of a disaster than the last event. I meet the staff tomorrow, and then all my mentoring instincts will kick in and things will change. Today was just logistics, butter and pain management.

Pontins

Oh man this week is going to be a blogmare.

IMAG1225

I’m condemned to a gulag in Southport. No amount of colourful squirrel pictures on the walls will persuade me otherwise. “Pontins” is the name of this hellhole. You might think the vegetable police are more powerful than I gave them credit for, and they’ve put me in a soviet era punishment block for crimes against cucumbers. But no. This isn’t the veg police, despite yesterday. This is all my own doing. I did this to myself. I knew loosely what I was getting into when I signed up for this. Although imagination can sometimes be so much kinder than reality. After the last event I should know better, but I haven’t learnt yet.

After driving from London to Southport, the pleasant but totally useless reception people sent us to our chalet. Problem was there was a 50 year old Australian man in pants there already, with his stuff aggressively strewn about. He was very friendly, but agreed that perhaps there wasn’t room for all of us plus his Y-Fronts.  These “chalets” are tiny.

So began hours of me gradually discovering through a fog of pain after a long drive that everyone here is a totally incompetent Fuckwit, and nobody gives a shit about anything other than correctly following whatever unearthly bullshit arse-faced dickeryschlock some varnished child has written down on a piece of paper the evening before. As it transpired, the Aussie guy was chancing it. But it caused ages of running around and calling people, in a place where there is no phone reception or internet. Like anyone gave a fuck.

Now I’m ready and past ready to go to bed. I have a pallet shaped thing into which I am going to insert my body and try to make it stay still for a few hours. I think it might go by “futon” in some circles. I doubt my body will thank me in the morning based on what it feels like on a brief foray, but I’m willing to be surprised. I’ve definitely slept well in worse, but then I can say that in almost all circumstances. One of the legs keeps falling off which will be an ungodly pain if it happens in the night when this cocktail of pain relieving narcotics has worn off.

My major concern right now is “How the hell am I going to post this nonsense!” – not just tonight when all that’s happened is I’ve driven across the country and gone to war with some idiots. How’s about when the 16 hour days kick in and some Latvian Crown Prince has been howling about the temperature of his caviar for 5 of them, while I respond by being effortlessly exhaustingly charming? I’m too tired to write a coherent blog today so I’m just ranting. Bear with me, it’s an experiment 

And having written my minimum I’m going to try to post it, because I fear that it’ll involve going for a long walk. I’ll try to put in a photo on. There’s an incredible beach. People are here with their families on holiday. They are here to have fun. I mustn’t overlook that. I might think of it like a gulag, as I’m here to work and there’s no privacy and virtually no comfort. But that just highlights how spoilt I am. If it’s good enough for those families on holiday I should have nothing to complain about. They’ve even given us ten quid credit for the electricity, the hot water only takes half an hour after we switch the immersion on, there’s endless free flowing cold water, we are allowed to use the cups and there’s a lock on the door. There’s even sheets provided made out of sandpaper, but thankfully I had advance warning and brought my own from home. And I should try and sleep in them now as it’s late. Hopefully I can schedule this. Fingers crossed.

Cucumbers

Chase Lorck. An unlikely name for a hero. But today, Chase – today is your day.

Those of you who know me well will recognise the  burning eyed zealous fervour with which I have scoured the country for that perfect holy grail of cucumbers over the years. Many of you have turned away from me in shame as I have made conversation after conversation all about Cucumis Sativus. Oh lord that gourd! In auditions, time after time when it gets to “Any questions?” I let myself down. “Yes … um … do you think my character might actually be a cucumber?” And then those occasions, thankfully getting rarer as I grow older, when I have innocently spoken half of that old cliche “Is that a cucumber in your pocket?” not even considering the possibility that they might be pleased to see me until IT’S TOO LATE, it’s all out in the open, sometimes literally, and once again my credibility is tarnished by my adoration for that delightful cucumiform vine fruit thing.

My last girlfriend – all those years ago. God. I remember it like it was yesterday. There she stood at the base of 30 St Mary Axe: “It’s either me or the cucumbers!” she said. I had taken her there for her birthday. There in the shadow of that lovely building I gave her a perfect bunch of parthenocarpic Persian Burpless that I’d imported from Canada. “They’re ideal for Raitha,” I tried to tell her. “Or we could just eat them now. There’s another one in my pocket.” She slapped me and left, taking the Persian Burpless with her. I never saw her again – or those cucumbers which to be honest weren’t cheap – I had got them in Borough Market off this overenthusiastic bearded man with a handlebar moustache who charged me about three times the value because – as he put it – “These are the hep-cucumbers at the moment.”  I hope she made them into raitha and enjoyed them on her own in front of Netflix. Preferably crying. I would’ve made great raitha with her. She would never have been stuck for sandwiches at Henley. The pain of recollection! The way I used to make her Instagram selfies with face-mask on just so much more on trend, using expertly hand sliced Dosakai. But sometimes we have to let these things go.

It was a long time ago. I remember that night, walking all the way home, I took out the Schälgurken that I had had in my pocket and desolately munched it. They’re better fried. But I was sad.

Today I went to The Lambeth Country Show. It’s in Herne Hill. There are sheep and birds of prey. The sheep get rosettes for being good at sheeping. There are many people milling around trying to establish where to get cider in the sunshine. None of the people get rosettes even though they herd together and join long queues making monosyllabic howling sounds. They probably ought to. I was there with Flavia and Ivo, and Eve. This information probably means nothing to most you. I mention it for documentation purposes only. They are not cucumbrists.

At one side of the fair is the vegetable tent. Oh yes, the vegetable tent. This is where the vegetables lie. I went there with a lump in my throat, a desperate surge of adrenaline. Maybe … Dare I hope … Maybe there would be cucumbers!

First I had to put up with butchery. God save me. God save us all. The carved novelty vegetables. “The artist formerly known as Quince.” “The Peaple of Lambeth.” IS THIS COMPETITION JUDGED ENTIRELY ON THE STRENGTH OF THE PUNS? More to the point, where are the cucumbers in all of this??

Just as I was losing my cool – and I pride myself on my cool – I’m very cool. As cool as a very cool thing that is cool. From the hands of Chase Lorck, to your eyes. The perfect cucumber. Right there. In my grasp.

IMAG1169

Marvel at this rosette winner. It is not too cucumbersome. It has a darling little stem, or “cue”. It bends gently towards the viewer, reminding us that this is a vine from which things can be plucked. The body is not too shadowed, or “umber.” The shadows are balanced by the lines, suggestive of the determined continuation of human life. We emerge from shadow, we run parallel to one another, some for different lengths. Sometimes we are interrupted or shine brightly, but then we all go back to shadow. Apart from some of us, who go round the bottom end and back the other way but we don’t talk about them. Here she is. The cue and the umber blending where we can “c” it.

Chase Lorck has grown the cucumber of thunder. The gourd of the Gods. Oh cucumber. How I love thee. You are the one I have been waiting for.

There were loads of vegetable police officers at the festival. More than I’ve ever noticed at a gathering in London. They have their own designated area. This is in central London, and it’s a big gathering of people. We have to get used to this reality, it seems, that whenever many of us are milling around there will be loads of vegetable law enforcement officers banging around with guns watching the edges. And the vedges.

Reader, I stole it. I stole that cucumber, and I ran. Like a gazelle. Down Herne Hill I sprinted, clutching my gourdgeous trophy. Sadly with my rib as fucked as it is all that sprinting took me less than 5 foot in ten minutes before twelve vegetable police officers jumped on me and set about  me with their asparagus. Not before I had stuffed Chase’s cucumber into my mouth. Crammed it all in with its glorious perfection and crunched and slathered and drooled. Om nom nom nom nom.

Now I’m in holding for crimes against vegetables. But it was worth it. CUCUMBRIVALIS, my fellow cucumberists. Together we will rise!

Scene and Heard

Mister Gravel was a Travel Cup. He really didn’t want to spill the drink, but could carry all kinds of drinks for his owner. “Coffee, cappuccino, tea, hot chocolate, milk, Seven Up, Sprite, Coke, Diet Coke, Pepsi, Fanta, Dr Pepper, Pepsi Free and water…..and juice.” (As you can imagine it’s a bitch to learn.)

Mister Gravel was unlucky in love. (Again I hadn’t even told 8 year old Aliyah I was single. She just smelt it.) One fine day, whilst reading “How to get a girlfriend” in the park he met Sally, the Sardine. She needed someone to help her get out of her tin. Together they fell in love despite the odd advice in the book. They danced into the sunset.

That was my first role for Scene and Heard. Based in Camden, it’s a charity that helps empower kids from one of the poorest estates in London. They work with the kids from Somers Town Estate, and help them understand that they can make an impact. I just went to see an example of their work, and it was – as always – revealing and beautiful.

Starting as early as 8, the kids can go to a club near their estate and get involved. Now, after 18 years, it’s a known quantity in the area. After a while some of them get involved in “Playmaking 1”.

I only know their journey from one angle, that of the actor, coming in on their journey and helping as we can. The programme is supported by so many volunteers: dramaturgs, composers, prop makers, costume designers, stage managers, directors etc etc. Everyone is giving their time for free for these kids. It’s about making them understand concretely that they can impact the world around them. Among other things.

Here’s how it works for an actor volunteer:

5pm on a weekday. You’ve likely been working doing something you hate. You’re struggling with the old self loathing about lack of consistent income, or you’re minted and struggling with pride and integrity and all that. You sit for an hour and talk to a child who is starting from a much tougher place than you can contemplate with all of your middle class guilty concerns. You even have time to feel bad about having the headspace to be guilty when put into perspective. Then you actually start to listen to the kid. The kid is smart and they’re listening to you. They ask really incisive questions about what matters. You find yourself reflexively being baldly honest and detailed. You tell them things you never even told your pillow. You let go of your crap.

The kid then writes a script with a dramaturg. They have to make it a scene between two things, rather than two people. It’s fair game, as long as they don’t write for Ariana Grande and Justin Bieber. A necessary rule. No people.

Our job as actors is to honour their script exactly as written. The grammar we speak may be strange, and frequently it’s broken, but we have to make it our choice to express our thoughts that way. They always cut to the quick, the thoughts. These kids often have a tighter insight into how to solve interpersonal problems than we do, even if the characters are A Missile, Geography, A Pickle, Spain, Regret, A Blush, A Shoe, A Seagull. The plays they’ve written are always human.

At the end of each of the ten pieces, the actors bow once. Then the child playwright comes down from their throne (they get to sit in a throne when their piece is playing). They bow a lot more than the actors. Everything is predicated to making sure that they understand that this is their creation. It is their words and thoughts that have entertained this full house of strangers. They get some agency out of it.

It’s a lovely charity and I’m thrilled to be involved. So far I’ve only played to my strength by acting. But there’s lots of room for all skillsets. Before long I’ll try and dramaturg. I haven’t before because of my infinitely changing availability. I could never build props, they’d fall apart, but if I’m free then there’s always envelope stuffing to be done. The shows are always free for audiences, but always sold out. You get to see the results of a highly qualified and focused team of professionals supporting the work of a child playwright, and playing to their strengths. I have witnessed some of the funniest and most touching bits of theatre that I’ve ever witnessed through this charity.

Here’s the photo they posted after my last outing, courtesy of Ahsan.

IMAG1151

I was a mole that helped a broken missile become a robot, channeling my ability to fix people. Unfortunately I had overlooked that the robot wanted to kill all things, so once it was fixed I was the first to go. My last words were “If you kill me, just leave everyone else alone. If you find my family … leave them alone. Goodbye.”

This evening I saw my friend Dissy as a sausage dog. I saw my friend Jo as The Movie “Corpse Bride”. And I watched numerous less close friends anarchically examine the human condition via naive strength and forced invention. It’s a beautiful charity. Worth getting involved.

https://www.sceneandheard.org

Nelson

Tonight’s shoot was in Chatham at the Historic Dockyard. It’s amazing, although I barely had time to explore. We were alongside the Ocelot, which is a 1962 submarine, decommissioned 5 years ago and now in dry dock as a museum piece. A sleek oily black hellhole that must have seen things in the cold war. How could anyone bear to work in one of these?

IMAG1142

One of my dad’s best friends was a submariner. My grandad was a naval man too, but he was on destroyers. I’m sure both John and Oz would have been delighted to explore my workplace this evening. So much naval history.

Next to the Ocelot lies the Victory Dock. This is where Nelson’s flagship was built and launched. The famous boat that carried him to his victorious death at Trafalgar. Shot by a sniper. His last words were “Kiss me, Hardy.” His first mate kissed him. “Now I am satisfied.” As I child I remember a teacher telling me with the fervour of a zealot and the eyes of a child that it was in fact “Kismet, Hardy.” Because men don’t kiss other men oh no yuk yuk and certainly not men who are erected on a column near Soho. This revision, although prevalent, is obviously bollocks – the word wasn’t even in common parlance to mean fate at that time, and still really isn’t now.

Nelson was a hugely significant imaginative figure. So many stories about him, and to die on your ship when victory was assured – golden. From what I understand of him he always led from the front, and he followed his own intuition to the extent of disobeying when he felt it was right to. At Copenhagen he was given the signal to disengage, but with better assessment of the odds he raised his telescope to his blind eye and said “I really do see no signal.” He went on to win a great victory.

Trafalgar, where he died, is right down on the south coast of Spain, near Gibraltar and Tangier. It takes a long time to get back up to London from there by boat. They had to preserve his body for the journey, and they did it by putting him in a barrel of “refined spirits” – so either brandy or rum. Problem is you’ve got a ship full of victorious men who’ve been through hell and lost friends. And there’s a limited amount of booze and it’s a long voyage. By the time the boat hit London the “refined spirit” had all been illicitly tapped. The pickled body was still good to lie in St Pauls. So Nelson was buried as pickled as a tequila worm, and his men drank his mortal wounds diluted. Perhaps it’s a naval version of what Trelawney tried when he ate Shelley’s heart. The phrase “Tapping the admiral” is still used to mean sucking the dregs, in naval circles. There’s a romance there, of sorts, drinking your fallen commanding officer. “Who hasn’t had a shot of Nelson? Anyone else want to make a case for why they deserve one?” The man was worthy of his fame. He stayed in the thick of it until the sniper got him.

So that’s what I’ve been thinking about as I’ve finished this shoot. But my last day worked out even better than yesterday. Amazingly, almost impossibly, I’m done already. Once again I lucked out on schedule. It’s possible they know about my rib by now and jigged it in my favour. I don’t think so. But I was expecting to finish at 4.30am. I was bedding in for a long one when I arrived this evening. And somehow … Somehow I was on the 22.03 from Chatham with everything they needed in the can. I get to have a Saturday awake! Thank you random God of filming!

Shoot

I just spent the evening in Barnehurst talking to a countess. She’d been robbed. As an officer in the US army it was important for me to put her mind at rest. “We will get to the bottom of this, ma’am,” I assured her, slowly, channeling my Clooney.

IMAG1125

This is my second day on set with this crew and they’re wonderfully efficient in a haphazard way. I was supposed to wrap at 3am, and was contemplating a long trip home, with another all nighter to follow. It’s not even 11pm and I’m on a train to Victoria. Many people would’ve kept me until 3 anyway, “Just in case.” It’s happened loads. “We might need you in the back of shot.” I’m very used to being kept on until wraptime even though I know I’ll not be needed. It’s when I’m booked to. They’re getting their money’s worth. Nevertheless it’s delightful to work with people who spend the time while they shoot, and then are confident they have what they need, and human enough to know what it means to get off early. Particularly on a night shoot, to be wrapped while the trains are still running is great.

Although the downside is I don’t get a car, which is usually standard in both directions. This is low budget though. No such luxury. Although it’s always struck me as a little indulgent. It’s lovely when the doorbell rings at 4am and you know you can look at your lines in the back, just as it’s lovely to get taken home after a night shoot. But for normal start and end times it feels closer to indulgence. But at this level it’s a rare luxury. I’m essentially slumming it. I guess I have to keep slumming it until people catch on I’m here again. (Yes I’m being glib. Although there is some loose truth in it…)

I’ve been clinging onto the bottom of the net for years. Now I’m trying to clamber my way back up past the entangled bodies, linking arms with the survivors above and below me, the ones who have almost slipped through but are still clinging. Together we can stay in this net that we might otherwise have slipped through. And then we can be gutted and cooked and put in a pie. Like we’ve always wanted.

As with most filming it’s mired in secrecy. I haven’t signed an NDA yet but it’s likely that’s because the producer hasn’t gotten round to putting the printout in my hand. So I can’t be too specific about detail.

It was an odd situation today, in that an American woman was playing an aristocrat and speaking in a version of my native accent, while I was sitting opposite her equally murdering her native accent. I don’t think either of us flinched visibly, which is a feat in close up.

We sat opposite each other for about an hour all said. We played the same scene over and over again as the camera looked at our hands, our props, the backs of our heads, our shadows, our lips our eyes. They have plenty of time allocated per short scene. They can get all the angles. At the end of the hour, we changed back into our own clothes and went our separate ways home. We said goodbye. I don’t think I can remember her name, I’d be surprised if she remembered mine. But this long forgotten footage will outlive both of our corporeal bodies. It’ll sit in a dusty server somewhere, or in a forgotten archive online, until the fire comes and this human experiment finally runs its bitter course.

Meanwhile my brother was speaking at the launch of the new main hall of The Natural History Museum this evening. He was hanging out with royalty. He had a chat with Kate, and David Attenborough. While I was in a semi derelict hospital pretending to be an American soldier.

This decision I made all those years ago, when he decided to be a scientist. It seemed so logical at the time. “I’m an actor. That’s what I am.” Now I can’t quite fathom it. I still agree with the little tyrant. I’m still so happy when I work that it makes the gaps in between worthwhile waiting. But I still struggle to make peace with the lack of consistency – financially as much as for my own happiness. Rib or no rib I want to be working. But you can’t always get what you want.

Won’t stop most of us trying though, will it? Onwards.

Rest

IMAG1090

There’s lots of stuff on the horizon and much of it promises to be pretty full on. Tomorrow and Friday I’ll be up all night filming outside of London. Next week it looks probable I’ll be doing the Open Golf Tournament, unless a miracle happens and I land this advert. My body still hurts. Not just the rib. There’s lots of collateral. All I did was fall a short distance, dammit. But my body really wants to stop, so today I let it. Tomorrow I have to pretend to be healthy. So me and the cat have spent most of the day lounging around. We read some stuff, had some food, played some games. I lay in the bath for an hour. It has been the most relaxed day I’ve had for ages.  The most strenuous thing I’ve done is change my sheets. The hardest thing I’ve done is sneeze. God that hurt. I almost passed out. If I suffered from hay fever I’d probably have tried to drown myself by now, with this rib.

I’ve achieved so little I feel quite tired already. Being idle is exhausting. No wonder it can become addictive. I think I feel heavier

About the only thing of note I did today is go for lunch with an old friend. “Maybe you should only write your blog once a week, Al,” she said as I tucked into my Eggs Benedict. “That might be better for you and mean you have more to write about.”

“That would defeat the object.” I explained, drooling egg. “I’m doing it partly to make myself accountable to something. If I just lounge around all day then I still have to write a blog at the end of it.” Also, I’m honing my style. Once this year is done I probably WILL stop the daily updates, but only because I’ll be shifting my daily writing habit to something more concrete and perhaps marginally less self-obsessed.

“I liked it when you were traveling,” she goes on. Yes. So did I. Very much. I need to get back on that and soon. Moving around is a big part of what makes me happy. But unfortunately right now I’m not traveling. Right now I’m doing random stuff in London and occasionally wasting a day under the impression that I am in some way recuperating.

I did just get a call from a friend asking if I wanted to go to a festival in early August and perform a short one man show every day in a caravan. It would mean I have to write it for myself between now and early August, learn it and be ready to smash it. It’s tempting. I’d be in good company. And there are some good friends of mine who’ll be there doing it. It’s a potential frame for me to test some of the material that’s been roiling around in my head lately about death and gender. I get the sense I’ll probably end up doing it. But I’m going to sleep on it. I’ll probably sleep pretty well, but I’ll need to sleep strange as well to get myself ready for two consecutive night shoots.