A punch in the RIB

An old friend of my father and I today suggested on Facebook that I get “a full time job” for a few months, based on my recent public musings. Today was my last day on the dodgems. There are more days, but I am not going to do them. Two people came in to learn from me. My teachings were obscure and random, as is only right. It’s a facilitation job, but it’s performance related. I tried to encourage them that their instinct was the best thing to follow. They could try and copy-paste what I do, but then it wouldn’t be theirs. I only do what I do because before my first shift I asked everybody what they needed and none of them knew so I just DID SOMETHING. Then everyone took it as the standard, because I accidentally created the role.

I’ve done so many things for money over the years. I think there is no shame in an actor doing part time work outside of acting to pay the bills. Our job is to play people. How are we supposed to play people if we don’t hang out with people who aren’t actors? I have been told, with great enthusiasm :

“Gordon Twat has left the office – we have a full time place available. We’d love you to take it.”

“A full time position – no – no that’s no good for me – I’m good with part time work.”

“Yes, but this is full time! You’d join us in the office! *noises about bonuses and ladders etc*”

“Thanks – but honestly I can’t. It has to be part time. I’m here because you need me part time.”

“What do you mean? Don’t you care about Mumphit Mumphit Hasbox & Cock?”

“That’s not even a real question. I care about the fact that I work hard, and then there’s a cheque. I am very very happy to work hard in exchange for a cheque. As long as I can take time off for auditions.”

“Oh… Um… auditions um… But – our company values? Mumphit Mumphit Hasbox and Cock….?”

I’ve had variations of that conversation twice, and that’s effectively been the end of two lovely day-jobs. Because I prefer honesty to party line. I always make it clear that my acting is primary, from the outset. But people miss the point. I will work very hard for you. But I will always prioritise my craft. Some people get it, thank God. You’re getting a very highly skilled temporary worker.

And then there’s the boats. The happiest day job I ever had was working for a tour company on the Thames. Many of you would’ve heard me enthusing about the company constantly when I worked for them. They’re great. I loved it. It’s the best way to see the city, from an open top boat. There are only 12 people per boat. At this time of year it’s glorious. I was guiding people down the Thames, sharing my encyclopedic brain and my improvisation and facilitation skills. I utterly utterly loved it. I was one of the only guides that didn’t mysteriously become unavailable in the winter, so I worked all the hardest shifts through the ice and rain, cheerfully and joyfully. Then when summer came I went to my regular summer Shakespeare at Sprite and didn’t mind missing the warm toasty shifts. Unfortunately, I often fail to notice when people don’t like me. Particularly when I like them and they don’t reciprocate. I remember telling one of the guides as I went past my flat in Chelsea “I live there.” He responded “Why do you work here then?” As if having the post code also meant having the money. As if somehow if I lived in Chelsea everything was made out of gold.

The same guy eventually became “head guide”. First among equals, I thought. Until he almost immediately sacked me for a four star review on Tripadvisor which said that I had my lunch. Which I did. She was a regular customer who had always come on a different tide direction. She expected to be guided immediately, but the tide was the other way so I just did the safety brief and then said I’d have my lunch, knowing I would guide on the way home. That is standard. She wrote a hatchet job on her phone, while we fought the inward tide because she thought I was bunking off the guiding to have my lunch – (Once again I’m too honest – I told the boat I was having my lunch – I can’t deal with poisonous people. I constantly refuse to admit they exist.) Then when I guided on the inward tide (The engines don’t have to work as hard and we aren’t miked), she had ALREADY WRITTEN HER REVIEW and she appended a paragraph and changed the star rating to four. Reading it, and her previous reviews for the same company it’s really clear. And then reading her other reviews for other holidays it was clear that she is a monster – (I vanished down that “should” hole. Someone had to. Not that it made the blindest bit of difference to the guy.) He wasn’t interested in engaging with his staff member. He had his own opinions. And he spun it. Oh he spun it. He was looking for an excuse.

I have since been told by another guide it was because “I turned up drunk for work” (Another sacked guide, – not me. “Fake News”.) Also more recently because “I swore in front of children” (I described City Hall as a gonad in front of the same woman’s 12 year old, and she was looking for any crack she could for her review. I work with kids all the time. I have never sworn at the front of the boat, nor would I.) It’s all just guyface trying to make his distaste for me legitimate, and justify the fact he didn’t like me. He disliked the idea of me, for his own reasons, that I’ll never properly understand. I try to rationalise them, because I have always been deeply upset about what he took from me, so unexpectedly and perniciously. I foolishly liked him, as well. I cared a little bit about him. I was looking forward to years of joyful work, doing something I both loved and was good at. I thought he was part of my community. Pfft.

He never knew the me of me. But I have to make peace with this, and I have tried to, even if old pain comes out in this blog. It is old enough now that it is processed. It was so unexpected, unnecessary, unwarranted. His action, though – it’s human behaviour and I must remember that. If I don’t like someone it’s because they make me uncomfortable in some way. I’ll never know how I made him or the Skipper uncomfortable outside of having a flat in Chelsea they both knew about. I’m certain they have their reasons beyond that. If me having a flat in Chelsea was the reason it would be an absurdity, but I know they are both more evolved than that.

They gave me the only two panic attacks I’ve ever had, and taught me an important lesson. That how much you love something, and how good you are at it – neither of these things mean anything compared to people’s own shit towards themselves. I’d still go back  to work there like a shot. But that’ll never be possible while the guy is “First among equals”. Which is fine because these jobs are short term, and strangely I was loving it too much. Casting directors were asking “How are the boats.” I’m an actor, dammit. The boats are irrelevant.

I didn’t know where I was going tonight with this, as is often the case. I’ve laid a huge amount of pain open to you. Some of my friends will remember me in the wake of getting the almost ridiculously callous email sacking. Thank you to those friends of mine who helped stick me back together in that period – particularly my business partner Jack. And the guy… No. I have nothing to say to him. I hope he’s well.

Be kind, people.

 

 

Rays of sunlight

Not having a boiler or a working electric shower is getting pretty wearing now. I’ve just finished an 8 hour shift on this hot day and I’m feeling … sticky. Yep. I’m really aware of my feet. I’ve had to cover myself in aftershave to mask the smell of death. But I discovered that the smell is not all coming from my feet. A pigeon had got trapped in the stairwell, died, and was reeking, festering and engendering maggots. I thought it was me. Thankfully the job of clearing it up didn’t fall to me. If I’d got there 5 minutes earlier it would have. My friend Jay got there first. Thankfully. Yuk.

Today was more performance art crazy facilitation work, now with added linelearny funtime in the gaps. Back on the Dodgems, all too aware that outside in the world, the sun is smiling on everyone. Reaching for the rays.

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Now I’m stickily awaiting the arrival of another Jay. We are going to talk about process driven Shakespeare as I absorb the last rays of the sun. At the moment I’m not clear on even their gender, but they know a load of people I know. I think they’re male and I’m guessing they’re American because they know my work on Shakespeare at Notre Dame Indiana, which is a pretty obscure point of reference.

While I’m waiting, I’ve texted everyone I know who lives in walking distance asking if I can use their shower. It would be horrible getting clean and then putting these socks back on. But I’ll do it if I must. It’ll still have a positive net result of some kind. Hot water. We take it for granted. I’m paying a massive quarterly bill for it. The less I have it, the more I want to hang draw and quarter Stuart Walkley, who sold my immersion heater for copper and charged me for the privilege.

Does anyone know a plumber that will put in a shower in Chelsea without taking one look at the post code and quoting a price that makes me bleed through my ears? It’s all very well living in my lovely flat but one of the reasons I’ve had so little work done over the years is the tendency I’ve noticed for people to add 50 quid to the quoted price once they see my flat. Or, as with Stuart, to just take what they can take.


I met American Jay. He was a man. And lovely. He came recommended to me because he cares about craft instead of ego. He wants collaborators. He’s found one. After I met him, my shower options all lined up at once. I went towards my good friend Helen.

But then I ran into Scott on the street. I often meet people like Scott, somehow. He was a stranger, crying copiously from every orifice. He was desperate, angry, and alone. He had death in his countenance. He was validating his sense of loneliness deeper with everyone who ignored him. He wasn’t after change. Just the way to Waterloo Station.  I think I know what he intended. I’ve not come across such a complicated-simple energy for a long time. There was powerless empty rage. I decided to derail him before he did it for himself and a train. I hope I did enough. I spent a long time with him. He has put up with horrible neglect all his life. It had reached a fine honed point tonight. We just spoke as equals.

There’s so much negative shit floating around in the air at the moment. We spoke in great depth. We went deep, before sending him off, hopefully more positive than he had been. Then I checked, and Helen’s flat was still good for a shower. Thank God  Now I’m wearing my sticky socks again, and it’s not as bad as all that. Compared to the things Scott has tried to normalise, stinky socks are nothing. Gods, what a fucking world. Be kind. We are so lucky.

These Are The Things That Matter

Yesterday I wrote about feeling sad. I was a little under the weather and I felt the need to talk about it in public.

This morning I woke up to hear that a man had taken time to build an explosive, crossed Manchester, waited for a crowd and blown himself up at the exit of a gig attended mostly by girls and young women. It’s hard to even contemplate it. My petty daily worries fade into insignificance.

I don’t want to call the perpetrator a “monster” because a monster has power. This guy was a total coward. I don’t even want to start trying to fathom the  chain of events that led to him planning and executing this.

I’m sure the media will pick over it all in close detail over the weeks to come with headlines like “The making of a monster” and big pictures of him looking weird and his victims having fun with puppies. It’s a huge psychic shock when something like this happens close to home. It will subtly affect how we all think when we’re in crowds, for a while to come. I wish it wouldn’t, but it will. If we’ve seen someone struck by lightning, we are more concerned when walking through thunder. I’ve always been a little more aware of crowded tubes since I said goodbye to my girlfriend as she got in the tube to go to work on the London tube bomb day and then panicked until I heard from her.

The village is under attack from the monsters in the trees. This will be used by individuals just as misguided as the perpetrator to justify acts of hatred against people who might be associable with the guy that did this. His dark work will punch a hole in the air. Bad things will come through that hole. We must combat that.

I like that much of the social media I’ve seen on this bombing has been talking about how people in Manchester are clubbing together, donating blood, making cups of tea, driving people home. Surely we have to try to come together and not apart, so the socially awkward misfit who feels ostracised is included and welcomed rather than left alone to contemplate perpetrating horrors.

This evening I went to The Globe, and entertained people with sonnets and snippets. Gyles Brandreth was present, which surprised and pleased me. He came to see me as Malvolio in Edinburgh many years ago, and was wonderfully positive and supportive in the months after the show. It was good to see him again even if I was working. We did our best to make a lovely night in a crowded room.

All of us must continue to go about our business untouched by the actions of this lonely misfit. We can’t constrain our movements or our natural behaviours. The monsters in the woods feed on our fear. Occasionally a mixed up human does a horrible thing and destroys so much trust, so many lives. If we react with fear it empowers his deluded intention. Please come together now. React with love. Here’s John Cooper Clarke (on climate change) but still –

These are the days that matter.


The dangerous rays, I would argue, are the tendrils of fear and hate that will come out of this hole that is blown in Manchester. Let’s gather together to try to close it quickly if we can. Meantime my heart hurts for the loved ones of the victims. For their families. I’m writing this is the shadow of St Paul’s Cathedral, returning from work so I thought I’d take a picture of that.ZOE_0023

Be kind. Be generous. Try to act without fear. X

Free Cosmic Axes

I felt sad this morning. Sometimes sadness can just hit you. I was walking around with it. I couldn’t shake it. It’s odd how it’s hard to unpick negative emotions. I couldn’t work out why I felt sad. So I just felt sad. And all the sad things jostled for supremacy in my imagination. Sometimes our insecurities can get hold of megaphones and just start riffing to us. And if we’ve been drinking for two consecutive days, it doesn’t occur to us that it might be just a chemical malaise.

I had the good fortune to get a call from Hannah this morning when I was deep in sadness. She is a warrior, and she’s got perspective. With little to no effort she transformed the inside of my head. She then got me to send her a list of ten things I was grateful for. Easiest list I’ve ever made, but an important list to make. How unutterably brilliant to have met someone like her. She’s a healer.

Once, thanks to Hannah, I was done with the self doubt, I met up with my business partner Jack to get a load of spears and axes that had been donated to the Beowulf project by someone I barely know. Thank you Aisleen. She’s another theatre maker and knows enough about how this all works that she knows we’re the right people to say “I’ve got a load of oversized weapons, do you want them?” We went to a self storage locker in Chiswick armed with all the codes, and not knowing what would be there. “Just leave it empty when you’re done.” Ten foot spears and axes is what we found. Lots of them. Somehow we managed to get them in the car. Here’s Jack modelling some of the axes.

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Also I got a message from the universe via my friend Jethro, right when I was trying to be sad. Some of you may remember how struck I was by  Cosmic Trigger, the psychedelic show he’s in about the life of Robert Anton Wilson. He tells me they have a spot for an actor to play William Burroughs this coming Friday 26th May. They use a different actor every night. I’ve said yes to Friday, so that’s what I’ll be up to, at The Cockpit Theatre. I think I’ll get sent some lines in the next day or so. It’s a very small part, of course considering they shift it every night. As far as I remember, what I say has to do with the significance of the number 23. I could probably riff it if I get nothing as it’s only a small part, but I’ve been youtubing the dude since I got the call and oddly his voice and his look are not far from mine. I have qualities in common with him. It’s fun playing someone real and recent because you can vanish into a youtube hole. Then you have a choice: do an impression, get his point across, or do both. Ideally I want to do both, but I am more concerned here about content than form. Still I am going to be working on my Burroughs voice a lot in the next few days. So, dear reader,  if you want to see something beautifully trippy, very different, interesting, fun and strong, WITH ME INVOLVED come this Friday the 26th to Cosmic Trigger. Remember it is 3 hours 45 minutes long and I’ll be on for 5 of them. Remember it is about the beat generation, and hallucinogens. If that still feels okay, COME PLAY. If that doesn’t, don’t. You’ll either love it or you’ll hate it.

 

Surprises

IMAG0723Newsflash: We have a birthday every year. When we’re kids it’s great fun. We get to eat loads of jelly and play pass the parcel and get presents. They’re days that stand out as out of the ordinary. My oldest consciously located memory is on my fourth birthday, on a staircase in Jersey, contemplating the inevitable passage of time properly for the first time while catching a glimpse of myself in a mirror. Last week it was Brian’s birthday, and he spent it flying to New York. He had me jump on him at midnight, and cook him birthday breakfast before he flew, but that was it. Airplane birthday. So we had a surprise lined up for him today.

The people I love seem to enjoy springing surprise parties on their friends. Minnie organised one for my birthday a few years ago. Before I flew to LA, Brian organised a surprise farewell bash for me. It was great. I got to hang out with some dear old friends. This time we made one for Brian. Mel, his girlfriend, organised it and put the word about and people came from all over the country to meet at Above the Arts. It was delightful. I had to say goodbye to him as he left the flat, looking like I wasn’t going anywhere. As soon as he was out the door I threw clothes on and sprinted to the tube station so I could beat him to the party. Sprinting was no fun, as you’d appreciate if you read between the lines of last night’s blog and made sense of quite how catastrophically hammered I was yesterday. I was feeling pretty horrible by the time I got into the train, sweating old booze through my eyes.

It was worth it for the look on his face. Considering he loves springing surprises on others, he hadn’t thought to expect that we’d do it for him. Mel had organised a Pirate and Princess kids party. There was cheese instead of jelly. We played pass the parcel, pin the patch on the pirate and musical bumps. It was delightfully immature, augmented by actual kids who were playing as hard as we were. I’m glad I took the day off work for it. Sometimes it’s good to just get a load of friends into a room together and behave like children. And today was the first day I’ve had for a while where I haven’t put pressure on myself to turn up. I could just relax, enjoy good company and be a bit hungover. A proper Sunday. Now I’m sitting on the warm sofa at home, listening to good music, and playing silly games with lovely people. I’ll probably be in bed very soon charging up for the coming week. But right now I’ve been given a can of JD and coke and told that if I don’t drink it I’ll be “a gimpy bellend”. *Rolls eyes* *cracks can* *signs off*

Tristan

I’ve been working with Tristan Beint, who has surprised and challenged me in a ridiculous job. When I first met Tristan I really wasn’t sure about him. He was the boyfriend of my very dear friend Jo, and it wasn’t going well. He’s about my age and about as obsessed as I am about making a living as an actor. We were both young (youngER) and he was in a disfunctional relationship with my best mate. Also he appeared to be aspiring to be “posh” where I am “posh” and aspire not to be. Both things are true and false. Depending on who we are and what you think of us.

This craft we have developed can feel unforgiving sometimes. I have spoken to actors I admire who have said “I feel that I’ve been blacklisted.” They say it because they aren’t getting meetings. It’s no fun telling them “You haven’t been blacklisted. It’s just that there’s a vast crashing indifference in the industry.” But there is. Of course there is. It’s really not personal and we have to remember that. I’ve heard people – far from the industry – say “God I’m fed up of the same actors cropping up again and again.” But proven box office is necessary for a pitch. There’s a lot of money involved. Enough people are going to be happy that Eddie Redmayne is playing that part that you can see a few unknowns but you might also want to try for more proven box office in the supporting cast. So you don’t work unless you’ve worked. It is totally understandable. The eternal question is, how do you get the first one?

I went for a meeting with a good agent last month. She’s brilliant, dedicated, connected and full forward. I found myself thinking “finally, someone who is as driven as I am, has the connections and gets me.” She was why I shaved my beard and took new shots. She then, unexpectedly with no explanation, changed her mind. In the meeting she spoke of the work it would take to “launch me.” She also worried about the fact that I started my career with a “legitimate” job and then had a long period of things that are not saleable. My mum died. I shunted out. I also, perhaps erroneously, believed that a dead mother was not a good excuse for being broken, so I didn’t tell my agent. “Leave it outside the room.” Business should be separate from life – that’s what I had been taught at drama school so I stood by that.

Too many years later I have processed all that and made sense of my various griefs. I’ve settled into an understanding of how I can tick over. I want more, but it’s a start. There are people who love to work with me and I can tick over doing lovely things with them forever. It’s harder to get meetings for “interesting” jobs. Perhaps one day I can get that chance again when I’m not recently bereaved and trying to negate myself. Meantime it’s glorious to play and hone my craft.

We have been on a mirrored journey, Tristan and I. And our mutual desire to work has pushed us on. I’ve always felt that my emotional depth is at odds with my accent. It’s not an accent that speaks of depth. Tristan is a paradox. He picked up the accent from his grandad, and moved towards it as I was moving away. In the end it’s arbitrary and we shouldn’t lose so much time worrying how we come across. I did a little video about voting recently though and three people picked me up for flattening my vowels. I wasn’t even aware of it. But i definitely did it.

I love TristanIMG-20170521-WA0001His new agent was in my year at drama school. Tristan is with me right now trying to help sort out emotional tangles. I love my fellowship of actors, those of us that are eaten by it, and I wish I wasn’t utterly exhausted as I write, and very very drunk because otherwise I’d conclude this better.

Time to be Late

I have been completely unable to dress myself for work over the last couple of days. I’m a robot. Yes I hear you say “So are we all.” But I’m an old fashioned robot. I’ve been a tin man, encouraging commuters to help me learn what it is to be human. It’s back to Oz. “Help me have a heart.” It takes a few people to get me into the costume, which strongly reminds me of a suit of full plate mail. It makes me think that the early cybernetic engineers might have had armour in their minds when they thought about how a metal man might look.

It has been lovely how deeply people have engaged with my foamy metal man. It’s for a branch of Merge Festival in Southwark called “Time to be Late.” The point of it is to bring momentary play and joy to people on their ordinary day in rush hour. No more than that. Frequently people just get on with their day despite a huge robot-man trying to be their friend, but often those same people come back later to play, once they realise we aren’t selling anything. When it becomes clear that the purpose is nothing other than to bring joy, even the most guarded London people tend to thaw. Performance art mixes with begging in this town, so people are automatically wary. There are guys I’ve seen with fake blood on their faces or hands, working the same spots week in week out. “Help, I got mugged.” One time, outside my flat, a Glaswegian dude told me he had been “knocked out and robbed by a load of black people” and had woken up in the hospital near my flat with nothing. (It’s a private hospital for orthopaedics, gynaecology, dermatology, gastroenterology, ophthalmology and plastic surgery, there is no ITU). Apparently they had stolen his ticket back to Glasgow. As it happened I was driving to Scotland that day. “Brother, it’s your lucky day. I’m driving to Edinburgh in an hour. I can take you home.” I meant it. I showed him my car. “All I need to do is finish packing my bag and you’ve got a free ride. ” He told me he preferred to take the train, which was only 60 quid but he’d reimburse me three times over because he is very rich and runs his own company. I said the lift was on if he wanted it.

I sat in my car reading for 20 minutes just in case before leaving, despite the implausible story. He didn’t show. I was left with the impression that he was a liar and a racist.

Anyhow, back with today, I wasn’t the only one doing random shit. There were three Charlie Chaplins, keystone cops and Marilyns, some bizarre helmeted cyclists, dancers, silent disco on the streets.

People often forget to play. Having been an actor for years, I’m pretty good at it. I enjoy getting people to have fun when they aren’t expecting it. This whole festival has been joyful for that reason. It’s remarkable to have found multiple outlets in my life where people are willing to pay me to play. I’ll miss Time to be Late now it’s done. Like so many jobs around my skillset it has been a glorious fellowship of delightful people having ridiculous fun. I’m so glad that I agreed to do a 3 page iambic-pentameter monologue in a car park a year ago. Often, saying yes can lead to loveliness. Now I’d like to do some straightforward theatre, but we don’t get to choose. It’s time to make my burlesque drag show, or something.

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