Odd job

I’ve ended up doing a huge amount of very odd stuff over the years, when I haven’t been doing the thing I am supposed to be doing. We need to tick over in the gaps, and I am willing. When someone asks “what’s the weirdest job you’ve ever done,” I have to think, as it’s hard to work out the answer. Perhaps dressing as a giant elephant, knocking over a shelf full of Kotex products to reveal the new tampax jumbo pack. Perhaps one of the many times at parties where I have been Robin Hood or Henry Viii or Phileas Fogg or a paparazzi, sometimes loving it, sometimes just thinking of the paycheck and hoping nobody recognises me. Last summer I was Doctor Frankenstein with his monster in rush hour in Southwark. One time I had to improvise a scene about how salesmen persuade supermarkets to give more shelf space. Someone had just bought some “actors” for a few hundred quid. It came through my agent and we showed up on the day and the guy said “So you’ll do your scene at 2.15”. We said “What Scene?”. He said “Oh, you know, just something about sales technique and our brand values.” We made something in two hours with a silent comedy soundtrack that involved a salesman giving ever larger bags of money to a reluctant buyer. It was awful, but the delegates laughed.

 
About three years ago I was frequently going to Amsterdam to hold bottles of Sol lager and say “Espiritu Libre”. I ended up doubling the job with playing Oberon for The Dutch Factory on an island off the coast, which made it worthwhile. I’ve sold all sorts of things, including fine leather sofas and advertising space in a black men’s lifestyle magazine. I’ve ridden unwieldy bicycles with advertising hoardings around run down areas of middle England, announcing a new Tesco. I’ve driven hideous slow three wheel scooters on the streets of London, also advertising as people honked and swore and undertook. I’ve been a Santa hologram projected into a booth on Oxford Street and seen genuine wonder in people’s faces when they’ve realised I can actually see them. I’ve been Santa in many other bizarre contexts. I’ve been sweating buckets, cooking, weeping with exhaustion as beaming children have shouted “Pudsey” and hugged me. Pudsey is silent. He cannot beg for help. He can just wave. You sign a form saying you understand that Pudsey is silent before you wear his head. If your spotter isn’t paying attention you could easily bake your own head. I almost did. For some years I worked on speedboats on the Thames. At this time of year I often think about that job. Of all of the day jobs I used to do, it was my favourite. But you can’t get too attached to your dayjob if your priority is elsewhere. As I learnt.

 
Today I went into a school and tried to help a load of kids to be more employable. It’s lovely work, and thankfully pretty sporadic as it’s exhausting. But at the end of the day they gave me this, which hasn’t happened before. My beard is looking dope. I could be a farmer.

Westminster Bridge

Last night I walked home by Westminster. The streets were thronged with people walking, but quiet due to lack of cars. There was a cordon around Westminster, and police stationed all around it. Many of them were talking to Londoners looking for a way home. I heard a compassion in their voice which is often absent. They were not speaking as authority figures, enforcers or instructors. They were speaking as fellow beings. One of their own had been knifed to death. Another had taken the life of the attacker. Innocent people had been arbitrarily killed out of hatred or ideology, and one man had killed another man as part of his job. Details were sketchy. Speculation was rife. Thank god we don’t have easily accessible guns here. But last night, as is often the case after an event like this, Londoners came together.
Shock makes people talk. I wanted to listen, so I let people talk to me. I had conversations about how our liberty may or may not be affected. One man said “ten years ago, people were happy.” I didn’t agree but I just let him talk. He wanted to. I thought of my childhood. My grandmother from Jersey warning me not to go out in London in case I got bombed by the IRA. Some conversations were innocuous: “I wonder where we can get across the river” and so forth. Some were loaded. I came upon a pale smartly dressed woman who was shouting. She was at the top of The Aldwych. I asked her if she was alright and she shouted swear words at me. A mixture of English and another language, her mother tongue, not one I recognised. She had been crying, she appeared mad. And yet she had sat down in the morning and put makeup on. Had she witnessed it and got knocked off herself? It felt like she must have been affected by it. She shouted at me a while. It was hard to understand her and her eyes were wild and panicky. I tried to check if there was anything I could do, but even though she seemed to need to tell me something, I had to walk away because it was packaged with hostility. I hope the right person found her and helped her come back to herself, as she was buried deep. I hope she ended up okay. Maybe she woke up this morning and went to work. People died yesterday for literally nothing, and some of them were visitors to our country. What a foul thing to have happened.

 

On social media people started policing other people’s reactions, which is never smart or pleasant. Some marked themselves safe, others said that doing so was sensationalist behaviour and feeding the disruption. The people that had marked themselves safe felt indignant or upset for being criticised, the people that thought we shouldn’t fan the flames composed eloquent monologues analysing motive and fallout and implications. The people that marked themselves safe did it to make themselves feel a bit better, the people that monologued did it to make themselves feel a bit better. But it’s hard to feel better when you’re arguing about the right way to respond to something. Sometimes it’s better to just respond. Perhaps the shouting woman had it right, to just stand on a street corner and howl in multiple languages until all that badness is out of her. Like lancing a boil. I sometimes scream when loud trains are coming past near me. People think it’s the train if you pitch it right. I considered having a go, but there were too many police with guns, and I’m heavily tanned with a beard right now. Jumpy police and screaming beardy guy = bullet in the face.

 

No matter what we think of the ramifications of this, let’s try and be kind to each other in the next few days. As I said, shock makes people talk, and it’s a shock, so we need to talk. But let’s accept that some people will be emotional, and sometimes they’ll need to just shout or cry. And other people will be analytical and consider the repercussions and the aftereffects quickly and eloquently. Neither reaction is wrong. Analysis is as vital as emotion in the nature of how we process things as a society. Some people are better at one thing, and some the other. That’s what makes us mighty.

 

I’m going to end with this short poem by Wordsworth. He wrote it while on Westminister Bridge over 100 years ago. Wordsworth tried to live his days in a way where he was as emotionally connected and open as possible, and then after the experience he’d go back and try and recollect what he felt and put it into words. This is one of the poems that just pinged out of him on site, where the emotion he was experiencing forced the poem before the luxury of getting home and thinking about it.

 

Earth has not anything to show more fair:

Dull would he be of soul who could pass by

A sight so touching in its majesty:

This City now doth, like a garment, wear

The beauty of the morning: silent, bare,

Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie

Open unto the fields, and to the sky;

All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.

Never did sun more beautifully steep

In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill;

Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!

The river glideth at his own sweet will:

Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;

And all that mighty heart is lying still!

 

I’m not feeling his tranquility. I’m conflicted, torn between my analytical part and my empath part. But in such times, poetry is a strong resource. Arguably it’s what it’s for. Plus it’s lovely to consider that bridge in such a calm light. It will long be tainted with darkness now. This mess we’re in…

 

That’s my 1000 words worth.

BAFTA

Since I’ve been in LA sticking shiny things to myself, it’s only appropriate that one of my first nights back is a shiny London night. I went to BAFTA to see the screening of two films from the Ghetto Film School. Ghetto works with kids “from backgrounds traditionally underrepresented in the film industry.” They get to work with amazing equipment provided by Sky, they are hands on in every part of the process from script to grading. It’s a great chance for these kids to pick up skills that will pay them well in life, and to gain confidence in the process. 

I met them on Skype last summer. You periodically have to do Skype auditions. They’re odd. I had two theatre directors with me at the time and had co-opted one of them to hold the phone while the other one read everybody else. She did it with that huge attack that theatre directors often have when they act. I was reading for the angry ghost of William Shakespeare and the utter balls-out irreverence that Holly read with helped me land it, I reckon. Three weeks later I was at the National Theatre costume hire trying on different ruffs and earrings. A month later I was in The Coronet in Elephant and Castle, watching a 17 year old girl that had never spoken in public confidently instructing 150 extras, and feeling proud of her for it. That was when I really made sense of what a lovely thing I had got involved in. The kids grew through the work. Our director Nico was 16. Every note he gave me was playable, which is more than from some of the experienced people I’ve worked with. It was a busy week, but morale was high. Everyone was enjoying it. What a glorious project Ghetto Film School is.


When you film something it goes very fast. It’s hard to remember what you did. You move around the story in a non linear manner, committing to isolated snippets. By the time you get in front of the camera for a shot, loads of people have already done loads of work. You’ve been driven, made up, powdered, costumed, tweaked, microphoned, fed. You’re in a little area that has been beautifully lit and dressed. You stand in the light. All around, people are working on details. Maybe someone asks you to say something for levels. Maybe someone explains the shot to you. Maybe you’re there with other actors, maybe not. Quiet is called for. Someone is usually doing something to your hair right up to the wire, or powdering you, or brushing something off your shirt. Then there’s a sort of rhythm which varies depending on the group. But camera rolls and that’s announced, and then sound might call “speed”, which is only necessary when you shoot on film but some people do it for old time’s sake. Then there’s the clapperboard, everybody knows the clapperboard, calling the shot, making it easier for the editors. Then “Action” which is your cue. The camera is looking at you but you’re just a tiny part of it. You say whatever it is you say, and do whatever it is you do, and someone shouts “cut,”. If they’re old school and they’re happy they’ll shout “check the gate”. I like that tradition. It’s left over from shooting on celluloid where a good shot could be ruined if a hair got in the gate where the film hits the camera. Once it’s cut, there’s a breath of relief as everyone carries on the conversation they were having or bangs the thing they’ve been waiting to bang. 

 

Either it resets and you go again or everyone moves to the next shot. By the time you’ve been on set for a while you’ve lost track of what you have and haven’t done and how you’ve done it, but thankfully someone else is keeping track of that for you. You have to do your job and trust that everyone else will do theirs. The editors will hopefully cut it together nicely. You go home and probably forget all about it. Sometimes it’s ages before you see it and you’ve almost entirely forgotten the whole process. And that was me last night.

 

Watching the finished product last night at BAFTA was delightful. We had some of the kids over from America, and some big industry people like Barbara Broccoli watching their work. Emma Thompson was there too but I sucked in the desire to fanboy her. The kids got to do a Q&A afterwards to a packed audience. I think they’d have got a lot from it. And the film played nicely. I didn’t want to throw things at myself on screen. In fact I had a glorious evening. In many ways.

 

At some point the movie might appear online and if it does I’ll link you to it. But to have been involved in what must have been a hugely empowering experience for kids so young was great. And now I’ve always got a captured memory, and a useful calling card in the endless quest for the next job.

Above the Arts

It’s good to be back in town. Today I’ve been catching up with old friends, and have just spent a few hours with my partner in crime. Jack and I have worked together so many times over so many years that we’ve started to do it on purpose. I first met him in 2008, in a valley in Yorkshire. We were staying in a semi-derelict farmhouse, with a filthy pool full of newts out front, indignant chickens clucking in the garden and a permanently whistling faucet three foot from my bug-infested bed. I was Malvolio and he was Feste, which is a pretty good indication of how our on stage relationship works. It was a truly happy summer and led to many more. The show was promenade in the grounds of Ripley Castle, and it was the first of six summer shows that I’d do with Sprite Productions. Those hot months of summer became about the evening shows there, falling in love in the sunset, swinging round trees, rubbing mud in my own face, sprinting through greenhouses in a nightie, blowing bubbles, carrying sheep, feeding horses, laughing so much. Jack and I were in The Tempest and As You Like It together there. I carried on to do Comedy of Errors, Shrew and Dream. I still look back on those times with huge joy. It doesn’t feel like summer now if I haven’t done a Shakespeare somewhere. The Sprite shows were the start of a collaboration that took Jack and I across America with Much Ado About Nothing, and then to the West End, Above the Arts with Christmas Carol. Now we are going into business together, and we’ll be making a large scale Viking feasting skaldic poetic Beowulf show. It’s going to be epic, musical, physical, visceral, sensual. The two of us met this morning in Above the Arts to read the latest draft. We more or less had the space to ourselves at that time, so could make some noise. It’s in a really good place. We’re looking at ways of telling the story that are different and exciting. Watch this space.

  
The new Above the Arts space is excellent, and people need to know about it. While I was banging around in LA, the dusty room that we used as Scrooge’s Parlour on Great Newport Street was transformed into a gorgeous private member’s bar. It’s a great atmosphere, welcoming and fun and calm in the day. It can get vibey at night. And it looks superb. It’s easy to get free membership at the moment if you’re in theatre. And it’s the perfect central place to wind down after or wind up before auditions.


 I’ve often wished I had a club in town and not been able to justify the membership fee. This is the ideal solution. Jack and I are done working, but I am off to BAFTA in a little while to watch myself playing the ghost of William Shakespeare. I am relaxing upstairs in my trusty three piece, piggybacking the free wifi to write this blog while unfamiliar luvvies talk shop loudly in the window bay, and the Immersive Ensemble occasionally has punters stumble up and awkwardly ask for the book keeper as a prelude to their next show. I love this crazy creative town and the self aware self deprecating crazy shy idiots that make theatre in it. Here’s to the next six years and more.

Home

For many years, the word “home” troubled me. “Where are you from?” You get asked it all the time. It’s a tough ask. I’ve been asked by prospective employers, prospective girlfriends, surveys, and casual acquaintances. There is an assumption that it’s an easy question to answer, thus a safe topic for small talk. Like “What do your parents do?”. There was a period in my early thirties where I would answer that question with “They rot.” Then I stopped being so insensitive. But it’s a minefield. People want small talk to be harmless. I’ve been on a crusade to make small talk into talk talk for years. And I’ve confused and annoyed lots of people along the way. But that’s mostly because I’m shit at small talk, and if you can’t work something properly, hit it.
I never know what to say when someone asks me where I’m from. It’s not a question demanding truth, it’s demanding an answer. Ideally something simple. But the truth is not simple. I am not alone in this. Many people know this conundrum. So. Where am I from? Hmm

 
I was born in Jersey, in the Channel Islands. Jersey is a red granite rock, carved down by the sea over eons, closer to France than it is to England. Some people will try to tell you that it’s the last bastion of the Normandy that conquered England with William. Now it’s the last bastion of the doily. The Germans occupied it in WW2. It’s strategically well placed. Considering how small it is it’s very crowded. Bergerac in the eighties made it a desirable and familiar place to the telly watching public. And it’s full of bankers because there are various taxish things which make sense to the numbery people. My mother was born there, her father was on a naval appointment as ADC to the governor. I miss the island frequently. The colour of the rocks is right. That colour of granite, it’s not often I find it. When I see it I get a prickly feeling that says “home.” Also there are landscape details that I passed every day as a child, and they are still there. Somehow they root me into the fact that once upon a time this hairy giant was that little boy. It feels impossible.

 
But we moved to the Isle of Man, so one bucolic seaborne idea of home got left behind, and home became a humongous yellow folly of a house that I still dream back to. Still by the sea, in a house you could get lost in. Parties were amazing for me, as for my parents. There were turrets and steeples, a vast stained glass window, so much space. Looking back now it makes no sense at all how much space we had, but it was frequently filled as dad knew how to throw a party. The thing I remember from there is the outdoors, though. Wind. In my dreams, I dream I am outside the house, in the grounds, in a windstorm. I suspect the house imaginatively signifies a beautiful thing that my father gave to me as a child that I could never give to my child, hence my dreams of being an outsider. Also it was sold without my being able to say farewell.

 
Then there’s Switzerland, where dad trained for his bobsleigh, where I worked my first job. We lived in St Moritz every winter and spring for years. No sea, but the mountains! Dad is buried there still, with a granite stone. The Swiss are a practical lot though. They disinter you to make space 25 years after you go in. Once he is out I plan to pick up the urn and scatter him in the sea in the Bahamas – another place we spent lots of time. His wish was “Chop me up and feed me to the fishes.” I think taking him out in a speedboat off Nassau would solve that. My mum was having none of it when he died. I’d have to clear it with my brothers.

 
But “home”. I got distracted by memory. The point is I have no idea where “home” is for me. But coming to this city again, seeing old friends last night, going to the pub with drama school buddies and dear friends, chanting with Helen. That feels a bit like home without the red granite. Right now I’m sitting with Brian and we are both enjoying being in each other’s space while doing our own thing. I’m writing this, he’s playing Fallout. Here he is:


I suppose I’m saying that we shouldn’t feel tyrannised by the need to know where we’re from. I have no idea where I’m from. I’m from wherever suits me best in the conversation I’m having, as long as I’ve lived there. Jersey, Isle of Man, Switzerland, Ashdown Forest, Oxford, Reading, London. All those places as a child and many more as an adult. I can add LA to the adult mix now.
Asking people where they are from is weird. But for the moment I can call this home without feeling like it’s bullshit. Here in London. With my glorious misfit friends. I’m glad to be back. See you all soon, I hope.

Jetlagrunk

At US customs you have to take all your books out of your bag and put them in the tray. My bag goes from completely full to nothing but a floppy bit of canvas. It had nothing in it but books. They send the trays through the X-ray. When it’s too late it occurs to me that I have a small bottle of sandalwood beard oil in my jacket pocket, in the X-ray machine. I mentally say goodbye to the beard oil, but amazingly they don’t spot it. They’re after the books. I had about 8 books in my hand luggage. Books are too heavy for checking and I haven’t converted to kindle yet. Even though I write on my iPad. I just don’t like a book that can run out of battery.

 
The attendant evidently has to go through the books. She flicks through the pages to check for fake pockets, but then she reads the title of each one carefully. Is she making sure my books aren’t dangerous material? That’s an uncomfortable prospect. What if I had a book called “The genesis of extreme Islam”? My desire to be educated would probably mean I missed my flight. “Red Alert! The tanned guy with the big beard is carrying the first book in the bible of extreme Islam! Shoot him!” Joking aside it’s strangely invasive that they read the titles. What are they looking for? The Catcher in the Rye? The Koran? The Art of War? Or was she just curious?

 
I drugged myself with melatonin all the way home. It was the strongest I could find so I bounced up every three hours like a slo-mo yoyo. Now I am back in my flat and it’s still in my system coupled with alcohol. It’s really good to be home. Friends old and new are here, and we are about to have Sunday lunchdinnerbreakfastWHAT. I’m not used to the cold, and my brain is not working very well. Its morning in LA, afternoon in London, evmortoon in my body. I’ll eat it if it’s put in front of me – I’ve had a fair amount of Buck’s Fizz. My discernment is as shoddy as my conversation. I’d eat rat and think it was pork. These sentences are probably complete, but that’s more to do with habit. I’m very aware of the word count with my 500 self imposed minimum.
It’s great to have friends who are willing to come over like this. My friend Tanya is on the sofa next to me as I write. She’s hungover to all hell, but she jumped in an uber because she knows my flat is a place of rest and food. I’m wrapped up in multiple layers as if it were midwinter. I’m glad my place is a place of relaxation and recuperation. Its my home, I’ve missed it, and it wouldn’t be home if it didn’t involve an enthusiastic bunch of beautiful misfits.

 
It’s going to be unusual blogging every day in London, simply because I never did it before. Which is why I must. Occasionally though, they’ll be splintered ramblings. As I expect this is. I’m so confused about who I am and what is going on. I asked everyone to express that in a photo.


Pork time. Omnomnom

This blog

“At the end of each day message me with something you’ve done,” said Brian on the day I landed. Brian is my housemate and friend, and a contender for the loveliest man in the world. I met him in a semi derelict office block in York, where I was being encouraged to howl incredibly loudly in the basement. They needed me to make enough noise to drown out a snow machine. A very noisy snow machine. “How loud can you howl, Al?” said the director. Red rag to a bull. The people upstairs called the police because they thought someone was being tortured. A scared and hesitant officer appeared in the doorway and we had to tell him Scrooge was being dragged off to hell and we were all perfectly fine thank you very much. That night we all we all went to the pub. When the show went on in Manchester and York we laughed and pubbed more, and nobody called the police. A year later the show was in The West End, Above the Arts. Thankfully with no snow machine, although there was a noisy smoke machine. Mercifully it usually overheated. The job has become a feature of my Christmas, and Brian has become a feature of my life.  

So when he asked me to write him something every day it germinated the seed of an idea that had been planted a week or so before I flew. I was with Rachel, who is another long term collaborator and friend. We were humping 15 bags of peat out of the basement of The Natural History Museum, as one does on a Tuesday. “I’ve booked a flight to LA.” I told her, trying to make sense of it. “I don’t really know why, where I’m staying, or how I’ll afford it, but it’ll be an adventure.” Words to that effect. I don’t speak like I’m in The Famous Five. Swearier language, fragmented sentences. I talk like I write, fuck it. “You should blog about it.” She said. “I Iike it when you blog.” 

 

So I did. It’s useful for me to do something every day, I’ve discovered. There are nights where I’ve mashed it out in a ten minute rush while someone smoked (wahey etc), one night I had to take myself off the dance floor and find a quiet corner of a party with no quiet corners, another night I where I did it in an uber pool between venues (ooer missus). But people engaged with it. And thank you for that as it kept me feeling it was worth doing. When the forces of darkness kidnapped my car, Lyndon covered the extortionate recovery fee, but it would have put him in a very tricky situation if I hadn’t been able to repay him swiftly. I didn’t know what to do and reached out to you here, and people I would never have thought to ask for help made it possible for me to pay Lyndon back. That was one of the most emotionally conflicted and glorious mornings of my life, as the little pings came in. I am going to find ways to pay back that kindness, and I’m determined to pay it forward. Thank you to everyone who helped and also to everyone who helped by sending positive energy or just engaging with it or smiling. To be LA about it, I’ve been harvesting a lot of positive energy out here.

  

I’m about to board the flight home. I’m writing this in the airport, but if I get too involved I might miss the plane which would be ridiculously dumb. The point of this blog today is to slap myself in the face with a gauntlet. I challenge myself to continue this for a year. So there’ll be over three hundred more of these. Worth seeing if I can pull it off (vicar). It’ll be hard in London. So that’s why I want to do it. But for now I’d better put this in. Before I get off. 

  

Here’s a picture of the place I stayed in for most of the trip. Happy times. More to come. See some of you in London. 12.30 my place. Message for address, as I don’t want to get crashed by a load of total strangers.