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Returning from Ascot I find my old life waiting for me. Dear friends staying on my sofa, auditions for weird short projects, messages asking me to do acting or presenting or dressing up or facilitating. The house is filled with home made alcohol. Brian has been busy. There’s cherry brandy and various ciders. We have enough to poison a whole church. I’m looking forward to getting stuck in. But now I’m off into a week of work in schools. More early starts. More mentoring. Sure I’m good at it. Sure I care about it. But bring me a role in a play for crying out loud. This is the longest it’s ever been now.

Ascot was like a holiday from myself. Partly because there’s a distance between who I am on the floor and who I am. I’m glad it’s done. I’ll be pleased when the money comes in, but the money is not enough for the work. I do miss the guys on my team. Adversity brings people together. We used each other to make it better. They even bought me farewell chocolates and wrote a lovely note. I couldn’t get them anything. My routine was work drive sleep drive work drive sleep.

Today my body shut down at 1pm. I had to sleep for an hour. It’s like it remembered that it’s normally the crazy time and just went “NO”.

Tara, my old flatmate, used to work shifts like that all the time in Intensive Care. She was stopping people from dying. And earning fuck all for it. I was oiling a money machine and shoving food into peoples gormless faces. At least within that I could make a community. And I’m glad I did. But it’s not worthy work. I want to do it on my terms if I do more of it. On more human, kinder terms. My direct manager didn’t treat my staff as people. It wasn’t her fault, she was in over her head. But when you’re in over your head sometimes you sink, sometimes you swim, and very occasionally you fly. She had rocks in her pocket.

I was offered a meeting for a commercial today, for The Sun. I turned it down. My ethics are confused in the sense that I’ll sell my week to Ascot and give it my all, but I won’t meet for a single day’s work for The Sun that would pay me as much as the whole week at Ascot. Beggars can’t be choosers? I choose not to beg. The right work will find me and I can wait until it does. Says the man that just lost a week.

Post audition I hung out with my friends Jon and Fliss and their little son Ethan who is 1 today. It’s hard not to be broody when so many of your friends have made or are making people. I’m so aware of the inevitability of death. If I had a kid now and I was lucky, I’d live long enough to see them married. I’d like that. This world is a shitstorm at the moment, but the pendulum has to swing. Maybe it’s okay to try and bring another person into the fray, and hope that they’ll be converting negativity to light. I suppose that’s the best we can hope from our kids.

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Exhausted AGM

Well, that’s done. Royal Ascot. It’s a fascinating logistical exercise. You get sent a load of staff on the first day for training. You train them. Then the next day they send you a completely different bunch of staff who haven’t been trained. Then throughout the week they constantly reassign your staff and send you new people.

Added to that they randomly assign jobs to people who have never worked in catering before. “I’m a wine waiter. It says that on my wrist.“ “Open that bottle of champagne.” “Er…” *squeek* *pop* *sploosh* “shit” “I’ve already got a wine waiter. You’re better off in back of kitchen.” “But I’m a wine waiter! It says it here.”

I’m not entirely sure of the point of the training day if they can’t keep any consistency of staff. And I don’t understand why they assign duties regardless of our assessment of their capabilities. Thankfully I built a loyal team. Or at least they built me. They were looking after me by the end. Here’s the bulk of the core team and me. We were all exhausted but I felt sad to see the end of it because they were just a bunch of legends.

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Because I’m usually a mentor and am reasonably clueless about the detail of service, I treated this whole floor management shenanigan as a mentoring job. I wanted to help people come into their strength. I chose people who I thought were future leaders and I tried to help them understand that about themselves. It allowed me to have a great time watching them realise how good they were in the roles I found for them.

Now I’m back in town it’s back to the acting. I went to the AGM for Actors From The London Stage. I’ve just had a curry with Scott who runs it in Notre Dame Indiana. AFTLS is part of the reason why I write this blog. I had to write as part of the last tour I did for them, and people responded well which helped me allow myself to write this. I was proud to see that they were using a shot of our company as their publicity material too.

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That was happy job. I imagine/I hope I’ll do it again one day. AFTLS is also the perfect actors community. For actors who are willing to make something complicated without an outside eye, take ownership of it, and deliver it beautifully. The company has been running for over 40 years. The AGM was mostly a time to reconnect and I sat in a room full of old friends. I ran into a friend from years ago whose daughter was in the room. I then had a brilliant chat with a six year old. She’s moved around her whole life and she’s made of bricks. When she lived in Kenya, a banana tree fell on her head and she didn’t cry. Now she’s in Dubai but she’s staying in Bolton but it’s okay because she can Facetime her dad every day.  I told her how I couldn’t do that when I was a kid, but I’d sometimes see him on the telly if the winner Olympics were on. We actually made friends. Anna, her mum, was grateful to have her distracted so she could catch up with friends. She kept thanking me when she came back which was unnecessary as I’d had a good conversation. It made me feel broody. I’ve only got a limited time left to build a human. I’ve always liked the idea. I’ve got enough useless knowledge to be a pretty effective dad. Problem is, that involves falling in love….

 

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It’s all done. I’m trying to reground myself by staying up all night despite no sleep for a week. Because that’s always the best solution.

Fuck. That was a week. I feel emotionally stretched. A beautiful week but a hard week. I’ve been thinking about frames of reference. It takes as great deal to shake someone from privilege into a state of empathy. The final day is when the people with less money tend to come. We had lots of competition winners in the room, and generally the people were more grounded. One guy had won a trip from Australia by filling in a competition on the neck of a bottle. The crowd today were considerably more generous to my staff than the CEO’s of the major companies that were there earlier in the week. If you don’t know what it is to be a waiter, you don’t know how hard the work is for terrible money, so you are less inclined to be generous. “They’re just minions”. I was pleased to sign off tips today that meant my waiters had been paid more than I had.

Now I’m home and coming in under the word limit for the last time, now with no photo either. I’m too tired to be sad, but I’ll miss my staff. They all flourished. Tomorrow I’ll be sad. Right now, I’ll refer you to my Father’s Day blog and use the Get Out of Jail Free card I embedded there:

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Morning after. What a week. I completely failed to even manage to copy and paste the content before I passed out. Tristan, Roxana and I all stumbled back home fraught and in flux, and deconstructed all the poison we had been converting throughout the week while necking red wine. Poison can be turned into medicine. Now I’m trying to establish the best way of getting a foot massage without walking anywhere.

I had one guest take me aside to talk about one of the hosts. Their job is to greet and troubleshoot, like the managers. They are paid the same as the managers, with the advantage of not having to work so hard. Whenever anyone leaves the table, the host appears as if by magic, and makes sure if they can that the tip doesn’t go to the waiting staff. My guest was impressed with a host and pulled me aside. “You see that girl? She’s an actress. She isn’t just in hospitality. You, this is what you do and you trained for it. But she’s an actress, not a professional. And she’s brilliant at it as well. But she’s an artist too. She’s multitalented.” “Yes sir,” I responded. “I understand that professionals in the arts must learn to be adaptable in order to put food on the table.” “Well she has. It’s remarkable.” “I agree with you entirely sir. Can I send one of my staff to bring you anything for the table?”

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I’ve been staying in the Korean wing of Royal Holloway University, out in Egham. It’s bloody luxury. When I were a student it was little tiny beds made out of rocks. This place has double beds and ensuite bathrooms, and the room gets turned over every morning.

It’s got down to a smooth machine now, the service. My waiters have it all worked out to the extent that I feel I could leave the floor and not panic that I’d get back to dead guests and fire. And it makes me feel proud. Although as I touched on yesterday it’s not surprising. These kids are all just making a bit of money while waiting to finish their degree in nuclear brain surgery. When my head falls off they’ll be the ones stitching it back on.

I can’t really remember what happened yesterday to be honest. Mostly it was me surrounded by tables being charming while thinking about 8 things simultaneously. The good thing is that by simply filling out lots of forms I’ve successfully got gadgets for loads of my guys. Laura won a Fitbit and they surprised her with a TV camera. She just laughed in a mixture of horror at the camera and surprise at the Fitbit. They wanted her to speak in a complete sentence for their internal footage but there was absolutely no possibility that that was ever going to happen. They asked her tons of questions and she responded with giggles. She quite proudly said to me afterwards “Well they won’t be able to use any of that.”

We are driving in for one last push. Today will be fine, by comparison. We’ve got all our stuff which means we have to play car Tetris.

We look so much healthier here than we actually feel.

My feet have no sensation left in them. My head is full of cotton wool. I talk to everyone in my manager voice. My name badge calls me Alex which is convenient as it lowers the chances one of the waiters goggles me and discovers I’m an actor. But of course some of them are trying to get into drama school.

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Changing things

My assistant on the floor, Emily, is only about 20. She has an incredibly level head and a mathematical brain. Very unlike me. I only do people and words. I picked her out of a team of 80 because I clocked that she’s just exceptionally capable, organised and kind too. Yesterday she told me she’s got a fast track into KPMG. She’s going to change the world.

This is the hardest work I’ve ever done. By the end of the lunch shift there wasn’t a single manager that hadn’t found themselves with tears in their eyes. Aside from a small core group of young men and women, there are many new faces every day, and they all need training in the practical aspects of this work, and there’s no time, so half of them are baffled. There are many little details, but the work is in the details, because people who have paid huge amounts for a silver service are looking for ways to make their money back, particularly if they’ve lost on the horses.

Strangely, though, I enjoyed the service. It was ridiculously high pressure. I have no idea how I stayed positive and upbeat. But also, by sticking with my teams and training them up, my work on the floor is so much easier. I kept on arriving to troubleshoot potential concerns and discovering that one of my waiters has learnt enough that they’ve done it for me and done it well.

Obviously I still had to smile as people shouted at me about unpolished glassware. One man actively threatened me when I suggested that if all ten cakes were the same for afternoon tea then there would be no variety. I kept smiling and so did my team. Laura and Keegan arrived on the first day physically shy and awkward, unable to make eye contact, and in love with each other. I took a risk and kept them together, with Laura as head waiter. She was terrified of the guests on day one. By the beginning of day two she was looking them in the eye. By the end of day two she was upright, shining and making them laugh. And Keegan adores her and is constantly making sure she’s okay, while bussing trays with one arm behind his back like a waiter in a film. None of these kids are vocational restaurateurs. Very few people are these days. But all of them are growing through this work.

The service is tough but it’s fun (although one of the managers broke down yesterday because of the pressure and I doubt she’ll be back today). I love it BECAUSE it’s so damn hard. I got an on the spot job offer from two Irishmen who turned out to be The Comer Group. I’ll never take it. But they watched me on the floor, called me over and sat me down at the end of service. Nice to know I’ve still got it. The things I’ve turned down to keep acting. I shiver to contemplate it.

Especially when, finishing a tricky service, I watch all the agency workers clock off knowing that they have to go because they’re as tired as I am. and then having to relay all the placements with a tiny exhausted team, only to discover that there isn’t enough polished glass and silverware to cover all the tables.

I feel happy but utterly drained. My feet hurt and are a little bloody. But I’ve watched kids grow into adults. I’ve watched people understand concretely how they can be leaders, how they can use their natural abilities and just the truth of who they are to make an impact on any task. There’s satisfaction in properly hard work. And Laura and Keegan have worked until the end every day, sitting next to each other polishing cutlery after a hard service, and then rushing it out into the floor as a team.

Emily is going to change the world. That’s a hugely important destiny. All I can do is change people like Emily. But that’s important too.

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Pins and wins

In the middle of a crowded service my manager comes up to me. “Come off the floor, and go to reception.” I am immediately worried that I’ve done something stupid and not noticed. But it turns out that they want to pin an A on me for Ambassador. On my first day there was a manager’s training, and loads of people watched a load of videos in hot rooms. As soon as it was done they all left, but I was slow to go. I noticed a single cleaner contemplating a room full of detritus. “Call themselves managers,” I said, and went round with a bag. Krissy came up much later, tapped me on the shoulder, and said she’d nominated me for a rewatd. She gave me a slip and told me to fill it and what to write (she hates writing) so I did. Turns out I came out of the draw!

I go back to the floor smiling. Everyone in my section seems happy today, but the hours are beginning to wear on me and on the kids. It’s a huge job. And it’s a steep learning curve for them and for me.

On the first day I thought I might be looking to put some bets on. At the time I didn’t know that staff shouldn’t bet. I suppose it makes sense, as if you were to win big in the middle of service it might be a little much to see the floor manager throw off their apron, sit down and bellow “bring me Bollinger!” But if I had been betting on my phone in the morning and then looking at it on the way home I’d be pleased to discover that one of my horses came in while I was working and oblivious. I would be choosing horses by name as I haven’t time for science. I would just go with things I feel speak to me in some way, and “Heartache” would be quite a maudlin choice. But it would’ve been a good one.

Unfortunately my phone went mad in my pocket and sent incomprehensible messages all over the place, so by the time I stopped the battery was gone so I’m writing this in the morning before I start, as it’ll go live at the time I usually schedule it anyway

I’m utterly shattered and I haven’t started yet. Going to wind myself up and spring into Ladies Day. But I haven’t got time for a photo. Got to dress up nicely…

Old friends and lady racers.

I don’t even know who I am anymore and that was day one of operation. I made a lot of people very happy but I also made a lot of people very tired. Thankfully as far as I could tell the happy people were the ones who were paying and the tired people were the ones who were being paid. It was a hot hot day. Looking back it was a 15 hour day but made a little harder because one of my kids lost their lunch so I gave them mine and only had an orange. But I only stopped for long enough to eat an orange and have a wee. Lazy bastard. Mostly I was having to be present and troubleshooting and making decisions. Now we’ve done it once we know the size of it. It’s vast. But we’ve got the staff. And they’re so willing. Good on them all. Some of them had a long day too.

A highlight for me was meeting a “lady rider” from Australia. Forty years ago she was jockeying horses in Oz, and she gave me a photocopy of some of her race cards. At the time they wouldn’t call her a jockey, she explained. She had to be a ”lady rider”. And she had come all the way with a huge party to watch Michelle Payne, and just to BE here. I hope she had a wonderful day. She certainly seemed to. And there’s pleasure in this unbelievably pressurised work when you briefly meet someone like that. A trailblazer.

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It’s hard to remember or break down everything. Fifteen hours on my feet with constant demand on my attention. I thought it would be easier without the white noise. But it seats up to 800 people in there and they all had things they needed and my kids had never done something on that scale before and did it so well. I remember one of them hobbling up to me with blood on her shirt smiling. “Are you sure you’re okay?” I ask her. “Yes, I’m fine!” as a smile that seems genuine. How?

At some point I found myself talking about computer games. My old friend from Drama School was there and even if it was lovely to see him it’s hard not to be a floor manager when that head is on. In one of the rare quiet moments I went up and chatted to his husband and that’s where the conversation went. Computer games. Who’d’ve thunk it.

Meantime over the course of the day some people were winning extraordinary amounts of money while enjoying the free bar very very much indeed. I found myself thinking that if I have a lucky year, I might experience this madness from the other side one day.  But right now it’s only going to get bigger and more high pressure so I am going to sleep for a couple of hours and then do it all again.