Baby’s eyes

Today I woke up knowing I had a free day and wanting to capitalise on the time and send some emails etc. Then it occurred to me that I hadn’t met my best friend’s baby yet so I thought maybe I should do that instead. Classic avoidance tactics. I ended up driving my car to Catford, so I could do an IKEA run. My car stinks of oil after I’ve driven it for any distance. It hates stopping and starting, the exhaust bangs horribly, if you don’t control the clutch extremely carefully the engine just cuts out. I shouldn’t be driving it. But Minnie needed an IKEA run and I wanted to see her baby. So I did.

I limped across London and finally met her little girl, Zephia. The house was full of life when I arrived. Min was having her hair done. The guitars were out. Min and Rhys and Brooklyn and Dolly with the baby.

imag23801771003544.jpg

I held her for a while as she slept, this tiny little parcel of life occasionally wriggling or exclaiming in my arms.

Then Rhys and Brooklyn and I went on the IKEA mission. I tried to warn them about the car, but nothing I said could have prepared them for the reality. It’s a hunk of junk. But it can do the Kessel Run in about 45 minutes, dammit. I know how to make it work for me, so I coaxed it to IKEA. We had meatballs. We bought the wrong thing. We made lots of people hate us by doing a double U-turn. I got a new bathmat, this time without rubber underlay, so you can wash it without it immediately going horrendous. Rhys got the wrong thing back home, everyone wanted to go to sleep, I left..

A while ago, an optician said to me, casually: “Oh, you’ve got blepharitis. Well, that’s you for the rest of your life, then.” I had red eyelids, and loads of crap built up on my lashes. She gave me the life changing news casually, almost as if it was nothing. “I work in a cosmetic profession. Surely there’s something I can do?” I responded. “No. Nothing. Just clean daily. Here, buy these expensive medical wipes. You need to use them every day for the rest of your life.” It was an ongoing source of distress and expense for about a year. I had new headshots done with red eyelids because it was impossible to stop them inflaming from the wipes. Minnie, as my best friend, fielded some of my distress, because I was silently sitting on a load of anxiety about it which only popped out with a few people.

I looked tired with red eyes consistently for about a year and a half. I tried Sananga, where you have an extremely painful sap applied to your eyes. I found it useful in other ways, but the blepharitis didn’t clear. I went vegan, wheat free, alcohol free, everything free for a month to see if it was dietary. Nothing. Then I cut my thumb in the kitchen at the Golf. I got infected and went on erythromycin. It cleared up almost immediately.

Maybe it will come back, but that optician was a nightmare, drawing me to a lifetime of expensive wipes and red lashes. I had recounted the story to Minnie before the happy resolution and never told her the ending. But while I was round hers, one of her baby’s eyes started watering and went red. And now she’s taking the baby to the doctor and I’m terrified that I am some sort of infectious monster, stumbling in to this glorious new person’s existence and giving it the emotionally complicated illness that I no longer have symptoms of.

I hope it’s the inevitable terror that comes with being a new parent. It’s worth checking it out though for peace of mind. The alternative is that I can never go near babies again and for a brief moment of peaceful contemplation, I’ve instantaneously infected my best friend’s beautiful first baby with a chronic eye condition…


Calming message from Minnie. Turns out the wrong IKEA thing was the right IKEA thing, which is just as well as we ended up sticking with it. Also she says it’s likely the eye is just an infection and not leper-Al. Maybe I’m not infectious after all. I do feel like I might be though. It would fit with my occasional image of myself as a vast awkward pachyderm.

I think I need to find a delicate person who makes me feel less ginormous and mawkish by association. Maybe it’s time for this blog to become a dating blog for a while. (It won’t. I’d sooner die )

Planes, Trains and Audition-Ithaca

“Have you been here before?” the man at the audition asks. I think I recognise him.

“Yes. I have. I didn’t realise until I walked in, but yes. It must’ve been eight years ago. I recognise the place from back then.”

It’s a house in Kentish Town. I’m at a meeting for a stills shoot. I was going in for these before I trained, when I had a modelling agent. I’m the only person dressed in brand colours because Carol at Needham’s models taught me to do that back in the 1990’s. It helps keep my hit rate high with commercial castings. I don’t get in the room often, but I’ll usually win the director. It’s about winning the client. I’m grateful to her for the tip, even if I dumped her when I hit the 3rd year at Guildhall. Idealism over practicality. “I’m an artist now. I don’t need to do these stills shoots.” Al(ex) Barclay 2002.

This man at the casting is lovely. He must be 15 years older than me. He’s an actor too. He’s taking names and it’s like he finds an understanding with me. Then, out of nowhere, he says “Yeah, sometimes we can miss the plane.” I’ve never missed a plane in my life, says my rational brain as it feels targeted. I’m in pre-audition head. I think I might have missed the part of the conversation that led to his comment. “Yeah” I say, bewildered. He continues “I missed the plane some years ago. I had to take the train. Lots of interesting things happened to me on the train.” I’m still lost. I humour him, a little clueless but I like the guy. But I feel like there’s a layer to the conversation I’ve missed. I go in precipitately early. Apparently Tom was in front of me. Sorry Tom, I rushed up the stairs, I didn’t want to be involved in a conversation where I felt I’d missed the start, just before a casting. The casting itself was lovely.  I come out and go to my next meeting. And with a thunk, my brain clicks out of audition head and into normality and I realise he was talking in metaphor. “Sometimes you miss the plane.” To celebrity-land? To workyland? To moneyland? To whichever land he feels neither of us made it quickly. Shit. He was making friends.

I’ve been walking, though. I don’t want the train. If you walk you see what stuff actually looks like. You can touch it. You can eat interesting food, and stop to admire something beautiful. You can spend time with people who, in the train would just be flashes and in the plane would be invisible.

Train? That’s for people that are happy with being forced to eat nothing but the shit sandwiches provided by the railway. Then eventually you find yourself jettisoned in the worst part of whichever place you’re going and finally you understand that you still have a long way to go to get to wherever you think you’re going. You don’t know the buses, and everyone else on the train wants a cab too.

I’ll keep walking. I liked that dude, but I’m glad I only got his inference late. Because I refute the unspoken assumption of his metaphor. I’m not seeking to go anywhere in particular, outside of working as constantly as I can and not having to worry about this fucking boiler as the world gets colder. Where is there to go? Constant interesting work is the only aspiration to have, and on that basis I’m close to landing. My main source of hunger is the need I have to position myself so I can still work when I’m old. I shot with Sir John Mills on his last ever film. He was pretty much completely deaf and in a wheelchair, but they accommodated it because he was Sir John Mills. I need position in the industry for when I’m crazy or lame or blind etc. By then I won’t be able to rag myself stupid as a medieval king.

The guy at the audition, his chosen metaphor is transport, and he assumed I’d understand it. My chosen metaphor is the endless line of brick walls that you individually have to break with your head. I respect his optimism in thinking that there’s a destination. Although if you miss a flight or a plane, your friends can’t help. My friends and I are constantly saying “no need to bang your head on this one. I already made a hole in it. There’s a whole field on the other side. Problem is, after the field… Yep you’ve guessed it. Another wall!! And two for women!!!”

I’ll share C.P. Cavafy’s Ithaca poem about journey vs destination. Wyn Jones gave us all a copy of this when we left Guildhall. It has deepened for me over the years, particularly when I did The Odyssey with The Factory. Odysseus is just trying to get to Ithaca but his life happens on the way. He can’t get the plane, or the train. He gets the boat but it keeps sinking. Sean Connery and Jon Vangelis (who wrote the music for Blade Runner) have a version of it on YouTube. Click here if you have five minutes for something lovely. 

If not, and for those who have no sound, here’s the text. Read it out loud to yourself as if you were a lisping Scottish Rutger Hauer in the rain as Junior Indiana Han Deckard finally catches your replicant hide: 

As you set out for Ithaka
hope your road is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.
Hope your road is a long one.
May there be many summer mornings when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you enter harbors you’re seeing for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to learn and go on learning from their scholars.
Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you’re destined for.
But don’t hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you’re old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you’ve gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.
Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you wouldn’t have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.
And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you’ll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.
 port_bathy_and_capital_of_ithaca1939120214.jpg

 

Geek blog

Today was about rest and being a total geek. Sometimes I let it come out.

I didn’t get out of bed until 11. Well, apart from a brief interlude to feed Flavia’s cat. Meg started cavorting on me at about 7 and stepped up her game at 9. I staggered grunting and subservient to her plate and squelched in a packet of her horrible fishy cat stuff. Then I went back to bed, couldn’t sleep and read comics for two hours. (2000ad anthologies. Halo Jones, Shakara and Strontium Dog in case you’re wondering.)

Even when I got up, I just stumbled around playing stupid games. I realised I’d left a bag in the performance venue, so I booted up Pokémon Go and walked there and back. You can only hatch eggs by walking long distance, you see. The game means very little to me. I am irretrievably behind everyone that plays and I’ll likely not switch it on again for months. But I was looking for things to do that didn’t involve talking with anyone so I could have full vocal rest. My upper register is back already which is great. There’s something to be said for not talking. Next time I’ll remember to think of the expensive training that I so wilfully ignored in my pursuit of authentic medieval kinging.

I’m glad I wasn’t talking though, as it stopped me answering the phone. I was getting text messages and answerphone messages and calls all over the shop from people that want money from me. Thames water, council tax, EDF, Vodafone, credit card. All in one day. Gah. It’s like a conspiracy. They must know that Aldi is due to pay me any minute now, and they want their pound of flesh to make sure I can’t fix the boiler. What they don’t know is that something is round the corner that will allow me to have loads of fixed boilers – all the fixed boilers I could dream of! I have no idea what it is yet, but it’s coming…

I went home and had pasta Bolognese with Brian (the reduced Gods decreed mince). Then we watched Rogue One. That’s a good Star Wars film. Just as well, because if people are watching them chronologically it’s the first one they’ll come across, and it’s a lovely franchise. I like the fact that, through the blind guy, they move the force back to what it was before Lucas puked midichlorians all over our imaginations. And his use of a mantra associates the force with Buddhism. “I am one with the force, the force is with me.” It might as well be Nam myo ho renge kyo. It protects him from lasers! I’m not expecting any lasers but I’m hoping it’ll help me protect myself from creditors.

Now I’m going to have a bath, and get to sleep by midnight in my own bed. I’ve done sod all today apart from pass the time. I saw Flavia for about half an hour when she got back from Crete, and then I went home. Sometimes it’s good to do sod all. It means I can regroup. Tomorrow I’ll be auditioning and thinking about money. I am one with the force, the force is with me. NMHRK. All will be well and all will be well.

imag2373145650019.jpg

 

Tristan and Isolde

…and another random job comes to an end. Four days is enough to build a community it seems. Principally, this was 3 of us and a piper, in a cavernous room. 120 audience, with 3 actors and a musician, while they eat hog and laugh -the happy bastards.

As you know I’m the king. Of course I’m the king. Benevolent but sad, and prone to fits of rage. Nathan was the jester. Another Guildhall actor, ragging his body while I ragged my voice. Dancing to the pipes like a fiend. One of my closest friends at Guildhall was called Nathan. They share the same name, they share the same trope. Meanwhile Cat – (Guildhall too, natch) – was the grounded witch, the apothecary – mysterious, joyful and busy. Two brilliant, open actors. Virtually no brief. Like the line in the Christmas Carol script “and then the dinner comes in.” An hour long stage direction. We had to bring people into the medieval world of Tristan and Isolde and give them a composite experience, while getting them to have fun with strangers and letting them eat without pressure. Getting people to have fun with strangers is one of my fortes. As it happens it’s the same for Nathan and Cat. My friend Mel cast it, and she knew what she was doing. We all let the audience play. In fact, we positively encourage them to mess around. To be frank, that’s a big part of what I do instinctively, but in this case it was delightful. I could – and did “pimp” Nathan repeatedly. And he started to pimp me back.

Pimping, in improv terms, is when you say to an actor in front of audience something like “Sing me that wonderful song about flies that you sang last night.” It’s not the most chivalrous thing to do, but it’s a good acid test. The actor does one of two things. “Oh no my lord, I couldn’t possibly for X y reason etc etc.” That’s the way of fear, and all too common. Afterwards in the green room you get “I wasn’t ready,” or “If you did it now…” Cowardice! Although you can get a polite snigger if the reason for your “no” is creative, which is only going to validate your “no” but actually proves that you had the facility but not the courage. “Ah yes, my lord. It is the best song that I, or dare I say it any of you have ever heard, let me sing it again but better, for I am in the best vocal form of my life” followed by an improvised song about flies with no voice that might be atrocious and might be remarkable but pleases the audience because the pimper continues the fantasy that it’s great. That’s joyful to do and to witness. And then the balance of power shifts to the person you did it to, and they know they can pimp you next. I pimped Nathan on the first night – unsolicited or discussed. He instantly improvised a song. I can’t remember the theme I gave him but it was along the lines of “The crab that gets a house.” It doesn’t matter. He immediately sang something about a crab getting a house or whatever and I loved him for it, as did the group watching.  He then freely pimped me back with some glorious strange offers over days. It got very playful.

It’s such a shame though that that aspect of the language of improv is rooted in the language of prostitution and of power. It could’ve been called “spotting”. But “Impro”, the seminal book on the subject, was written in the 1970’s. It’s a brilliant, practical workbook and has been a bible to many. And it brought us “pimping”. Is that still appropriate? Probably it’s okay, but recently I’ve been made aware that this blog is no longer just for friends who get me – it has to be conditioned for a wider audience.

Semantics/misconstrued intentions aside, our wayward bawdiness left Adam – our Le Coq trained storyteller actor – with a job to do. By the time they got to him, in his quiet room upstairs, they were rowdy as hell. We left it to him to stop them being rowdy, as they’d need to be quiet before they got to the  fantastically beautiful orchestra and soprano in the third room – (The audience covers a lot of ground.) 

Adam managed, with some ructions, to calm the banter, most likely whilst inwardly cursing us for geeing them up in the first place. What joy though for the court of King Mark to be a happy anarchy, while everyone eats and talks to strangers, and messes with boundaries. My line on the king was that this was his last ditch attempt to remember how to be happy despite his heartbreak, by throwing his cold halls open to the hoi pollioi to learn from their naive happiness. “If you with your desperate life of endless drudgery can eke happiness from your misery, surely you can teach me that simplicity and allow me to be happy just like you. Look at you laugh. Show me how to laugh at nothing” etc etc. It ain’t rocket science. But if you then don’t roll with whatever comes at you, you look like a prat. All three actors in my room rolled and kept rolling. And the piper was masterful! I can’t imagine my court without him. Banging tankards as the fool danced and Branyen got the guests hammered on gin cocktails dressed up as potions. 

What a lovely temporary community. Here’s to the next one. Do I have any photos of the show? Hmmm here’s one of the orchestra and the ghost of Isolde.

imag23604969209.jpg

 

Cats kings and croaking.

I’m living between two cats right now. Heading home to Pickle having fed Meg. I have a few too many obligations, owing to me not paying attention when I booked this King Mark job. I had no idea we had three shows tomorrow. But then I had no idea we had four shows today. I energy-budgeted for two and then found out in the morning. I sound like a dalek. My voice teachers would strangle me and it would be a mercy.

Before bed I’m going to hit the home studio with no voice, to put some short dramatic stuff down for my old mate Dan. He’s running his own studio in Canada making computer games and I’m helping him out with a pitch. I’m going to use my damage to give him some good old crackle. Then I’ll hit the hay as early as I can considering it’s almost midnight now and I’m on a bus. Don’t call me tomorrow, I won’t answer. It’s all about silence and steam.

I like having so many demands on my attention, this blog included. Always better to not have enough time than to have too much. But glad as I am to be busy it’s really not a time I want to be busy. My best mate had her baby and I haven’t seen her yet. I really want to go and marvel at this little person that has been brewing in her for so long, and to welcome her into the world. I have a feeling she’ll be a big part of my life. I don’t want her to get any bigger before I see her so that when I’m an old pantaloon I can piss her off by telling her that when I first met her she was X big.

But nope. I’m off home to record and feed the cat in the morning. Pickle is tiny, and eats very little. It’s only now that I’ve understood how comparatively small and frugal she is, because Meg is a heffalump. When she jumps on you in the morning it’s like the ceiling has collapsed. You have to squeeze her food packet into the plate quickly, or she’s eaten it all before you’re gone and then she’ll take your fingers.

300,000 years ago our only predator was a cat. Smilodons dropping out of trees to bite into our necks and gut us. We made tools though, and were capable of organising things, so we hit back with our spears. We wiped them out eventually. But their evolved relatives have won by stealth.

“Cats of the world, there is no need to hang out in trees all day waiting for some idiot to wander under you! We must look cute and make helpless noises. The idiots will lavish us with attention and with gifts. It is but a momentary indignity. When there’s a cat in every household, we will hear the signal, rise up and avenge our saber-toothed cousins. We will wipe these slow and arrogant apes from the face of the earth, and herald the beginning of Catworld. Today the biscuits, tomorrow the world.”

imag23692103618035.jpg

Night’s Darkling Glory

I’ve accidentally got myself involved in another random wonderful event. “Night’s Darkling Glory.” It’s a rare and lovely thing. It was sold out long before I was booked. So I’m under no pressure to market it. But I do think it’s gorgeous.

You arrive at a car park in London Bridge, about 5 minutes walk from the warehouse that Gatsby plays in. There’s a fire pit, and pigs turning on the spit. If you hear swearing, that’ll be the chef, Natalie Coleman, who apparently won masterchef with a scotch egg. They’re cooking hog with slow braised lentils. As you’d expect, it’s exceptionally good and as you wait in the car park the smell wafts over you, which is fine if you’re not vegetarian. Occasionally a jester will pop out, or even the king himself if there’s lots of faffing. The king is devilishly handsome. He is very happy to spend time messing around with punters until the tables are laid. He has a crown and tights. He looks ace.

You’re ushered into a banqueting hall with beautifully laid tables, some items still vibrating from hasty placement. A small army of bemused waiters in jerkins parade up and down with trays of food. At the head of the top table sits King Mark of Kernow.

imag2347725088644.jpg

Sad, when he isn’t troubleshooting something or getting swept up in it. Addled with mead, or at least pretending to be. He has invited the commoners to a feast so he can take comfort in their simplicity, hear their laughter and try to remember what it was to be happy. Most of the time he’s a grumpy sod, particularly when he has various stressed out event organisers giving him conflicting messages, drunk guests trying to get him to give them free mead, and a chef standing behind him trying to persuade him to just get all the covers to leave so she can relay: “Just shout at them, you’re the king.” “I think the people who have employed me to be the king might not be very pleased if I did.” Eventually, however, once everyone is happy that people hogged all the hog, the action changes. There’s a little scene. The King starts doing his Brian Blessed impersonation and tells everyone to get out while making everyone who has ever done formal vocal training feel a little uncomfortable by ragging his vocal folds.

You get out obediently, despite a bottleneck at a small door and the fact that everyone knows it’s only urgent in pretendyland. You leave the king sweating on his knees in a pile of filthy straw, dreading the fact that it’s all about to happen again like Groundhog Day.

You go upstairs. Upstairs is dressed like a ship. Actors do scenes, and you laugh. Before long, a man tells a long tale, accompanied by a cellist. The tale is that of Tristan and Isolde. One of the ancient tales of star crossed lovers.

Isolde was my bride. But she met my nephew, who was far more age appropriate and hot. Despite this, she wouldn’t have done the things she did with my nephew Tristan, had she not drunk a love potion. So it’s down to me to forgive them because their argument is “It’s not our fault. We drank something ” Anyway, the details are told to you, accompanied by cello. It’s very sentimental and lovely. Then you go upstairs to the top of the building. And there, in the eaves, you hear a good sized chamber orchestra playing Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde, interspersed with bits of narration, and enhanced by a brilliant soprano, still at the Royal College, dressed beautifully in unutterably restrictive clothing that looks fab and somehow still allows her to sing.

It’s a really cultural evening. I’m glad to be part of it. The music is brilliant. The food is superb. Downside is, the actors are being paid in fruit pastilles, which is nothing unfamiliar but is certainly disappointing considering what has been spent elsewhere. I decided to suck on that particular bitter sweetie this time. I’ve turned down a lot recently when I’ve been asked to work for expenses. My entire fee should be my nightly fee. But I respect the director and know she is campaigning for more if this comes back. She went to my old drama school too. I want to support her where possible. It’s strange to work so hard for so little. But the event is glorious, and I’m glad to be a part of it even if it hurts. So I am. I’m the king. From now until Sunday. But you can’t come because we’re sold out. Ha ha ha.

Hiccup

I’ve got hiccups. Right now, as I write, they are happening every couple of seconds. To give you an idea of frequency, I’ve hiccuped 10 times since I started writing this. 11 now. One time, years ago, this exact painful spasming went on long enough for me to despair utterly. I couldn’t stop it. Hiccups get painful after a while. I’ll never forget that night when my hiccups became prime aggressor. I was still at college.  Hiccups are funny, to a point, but if they keep on going they’re horrible. Particularly when you measure them in hours.

I honestly don’t know how I’ll sleep unless i can break this somehow. Last time I eventually passed out from sheer exhaustion, and at some point while I knacker-slept, they stopped. Right now I’m going to do the things that traditionally break hiccups…


Reverse drinking an entire glass of water. That’s the one that worked. Now I’m lying in a friend’s house, having done a classical music event. I can’t think very well tonight. It’s very late now. I don’t know my own contract.

Today I’ve been the king. It’s not an unfamiliar role, the king. I know my way around high status. Hiccups aside, I’m a medieval king in a medieval banquet. I can pull that off and have fun. In fact it’s the sort of thing I love.

This evening was mostly about exactly that – having fun with people who wanted to have that fun. I did have the heads of 4 hogs lined up in front of my chair. Everyone was eating hogroast, nothing was strange or unexpected enough to give me those crazy hiccups…

Mister Charles Osborne was also exposed to hogs and ended up stifled by hiccups. He hiccoughed for 68 years after trying to weigh a hog.

My hiccups have stopped. I have no idea how I’ve avoided that horrendous sleep. I know for sure that this is the drunkest and most tired I’ve ever been while laying down words. So I’m not posting a photo in the hope it’ll prevent poor fools from reading whatever randon shit this is … Zzzzzx xxxxx